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Erik Jones shares thoughts on sequential shifter, aero differences in Next Gen car

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Over the last two days Joe Gibbs Racing’s Erik Jones took part in the latest test of the Next Gen Cup car at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Jones, the third Cup driver to pilot the prototype, shared his thoughts on the test while confirming the car has a sequential gear shift in place of the traditional H-pattern shifter.

“Obviously, it’s a lot different than what we’ve raced in the past, and a different way of getting to where you need to be,” Jones said in comments provided by NASCAR. “I was a bit unsure of how it was going to drive and how it was going to react.”

Jones described the test a “sort of a baseline systems check” for the car on an intermediate track after tests at Richmond Raceway (Austin Dillon in October) and Phoenix Raceway (Joey Logano in December.)

Of the vertical sequential shifter, Jones said: “The shifting has been fun, it’s been different. I’ve never done anything other than normal H-pattern shifting in my career. You can bang right through the gears. We did a restart at the end of the day (Wednesday) and it was fun learning about that and how you can push that gear box. That really gets you excited for the road courses and what it’s going to be capable of there.”

Jones said the Next Gen car, scheduled to debut next year, is a “big aero change” compared to what the Cup Series cars have now.

“We have a lot of sideforce in our cars now and there is a lot to lean on – when you get loose the car kind of corrects itself and straightens itself out,” Jones said. “This car doesn’t really have any of that. The quarter panels are so short and there’s no offset in the car – it’s very symmetrical – so there’s not a lot to lean on in this car.

“I think a lot of the aero changes they’ve done are going to help as far as racing goes, especially racing in a pack. Other than that, as we were working on things, some driving characteristics are similar. I think there is definitely more grip to be had as far as what the car is capable of. I think as far as development goes, there is going to be a lot more mechanical grip available than what we currently have.”

John Probst, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing innovation, discussed the car’s development after three tests.

“We continue to work in the wind tunnel, we’re developing rear diffusers to generate more rear downforce,” he said. “One of the big things we have here that we didn’t have at Phoenix is we added some of the lift-off devices that we’ve developed over the winter, including roof flaps. We also have a few other related items in development that aren’t on the car right now such as flap-down doors for the diffuser to get the liftoff speed even higher than what we run today.”

Of the reasoning behind going to Miami for the third test, Probst said the 1.5-mile track “has a lot of different lines you can take through the corner. The progressive banking here allows you to start at the bottom, and if the car is tight you can ride it up and complete the turn. This is a very forgiving track for us to come to and continue learning about the car as we develop it.”

During the two-day test, Probst said NASCAR learned that “some traditional ‘rules of thumb’ don’t apply to the new car.”

“We’ve got the parts to deal with that,” Probst continued. “But those are important lessons to learn as we go to new track types. Moving to a larger track, you really look at gearing to make sure we have the right RPMs, obviously safety is important when you come to a track like this and speeds get up in the 190-mph range. You really have to be prepared if something were to happen where a car gets sideways or backwards that it stays on the ground.”

The car’s next test is scheduled for March 2-3, the two days following the race weekend at Auto Club Speedway, the 2-mile track in Fontana, California, with wide, sweeping turns.

“There are some logistical reasons that make sense for us to stay and test,” Probst said. “But it’s also important to get some rubbered in conditions of what it’s like in a race. We want to replicate that as best as we can so when we go back to race, there are no new lessons to learn. We still look forward to taking this to superspeedways and road courses, we have a lot to learn there as well. We’ll go back and iterate on what we have now, but we feel like we’re in a good spot. We’re going to keep developing and working on what we’ve got, and we think we’re going to end up with a really good product.”

Probst said NASCAR has already begun production of a “Phase 3 prototype” that will include “all of the lessons learned” from the previous tests.

“Once that is built, we’ll probably start using (the cars used in the first three tests) as a ‘second car’ to start simulating cars in traffic to see what we can learn from that,” Probst said.

NASCAR President Steve Phelps said during championship weekend in Miami that the car is expected to be delivered to teams in July of this year.

Sources told NBC Sports’s Nate Ryan in December that at least three companies are being strongly considered to build the chassis for the Next Gen car, including Joe Gibbs Racing.

 

Kyle Busch to compete in Feb. 20 Super Late Model race in Las Vegas

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When the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Las Vegas in February, hometown native Kyle Busch will pull double duty as he returns to compete at the The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the first time in 13 years.

The defending Cup Series champion is set to compete in the Feb. 20 Star Nursery 100, a 100-lap Super Late Model race on the 3/8-mile track. He will then race in the Feb. 23 Pennzoil 400 NASCAR Cup race at LVMS.

Busch developed his racing skills at the Bullring, totaling 50 wins between 1999 and 2003. He last competed there in 2007.

“It’s going to be great to get back to where it all began,” Busch said in a press release. “My family and I spent many Friday and Saturday nights racing at the Bullring, and it will always hold a special place for me. I’m really looking forward to racing against a few guys I raced against back in the day as well as some of the new drivers who are cutting their teeth coming up through the ranks.”

The Super Late Models race begins at 10 p.m. ET followed by the Star Nursery 150 ARCA Menards Series West race at 11 p.m. ET.

Meet the NASCAR Cup rookie Class of 2020

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One of the most talented and promising rookie classes in recent NASCAR Cup history is ready to get its motor racing.

Six drivers have declared for their first full Cup season as well as being eligible for Rookie of the Year honors.

Highlighting the Class of 2020 are the so-called “Big 3,” Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and two-time Xfinity Series champion Tyler Reddick, who all reached the Xfinity Championship 4 round at Miami.

Also in the rookie class are Brennan Poole, John Hunter Nemechek and Quin Houff. Each of the six has an opportunity to become the first full-time rookie to win a Cup race since Chris Buescher did so in 2016.

Here’s a breakdown of each rookie class member (in alphabetical order):

Christopher Bell (Getty Images)

Christopher Bell
2020 team: Leavine Family Racing
2019 team: Joe Gibbs Racing (Xfinity Series)
Number of Cup starts to date: 0
Career Xfinity/Trucks wins: 16/7
What’s ahead: Bell makes the long-anticipated move to the Cup Series in 2020. Because his former Xfinity Series team, Joe Gibbs Racing, had a full driver roster in the Cup Series, Bell has been farmed out to Leavine Family Racing in a partnership/technical alliance with JGR, similar to when JGR placed Erik Jones with Furniture Row Racing in 2017 (which was also the year Bell won the Truck Series championship). Bell will be sponsored by Rheem and Procore and his crew chief from the Xfinity Series, Jason Ratcliff, follows him as his Cup crew chief. Bell replaces Matt DiBenedetto, who has moved on to take the place of Paul Menard at Wood Brothers Racing, who has stepped away from Cup racing

Cole Custer (Getty Images)

Cole Custer
2020 team: Stewart-Haas Racing
2019 team: Stewart-Haas Racing (Xfinity Series)
Number of Cup starts to date: 3 (all in 2018; best finish was 25th at Las Vegas)
Career Xfinity/Trucks wins: 9/2
What’s ahead: Like Bell and Reddick, it’s time for Custer to make the big jump from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series. Custer will drive the No. 41 Ford, replacing Daniel Suarez, whose racing plans for 2020 are still unclear. Custer had a breakthrough season in the Xfinity Series in 2019, earning a career-best seven wins, 17 top-five and 24 top-10 finishes. He also finished second in the Xfinity Series for the second straight season. He’ll bring his Xfinity crew chief Mike Shiplett to the same role in Cup. … Is the son of SHR general manager Joe Custer.

Quin Houff (Getty Images)

Quin Houff
2020 team: StarCom Racing
2019 team: Split Cup season between 13 starts for Spire Motorsports and four starts for Premium Motorsports)
Number of Cup starts to date: 17, all in 2019 (best finish 28th in Coca-Cola 600)
Career Xfinity/Trucks wins: 0
What’s ahead: The 22-year-old Houff replaces Landon Cassill in the No. 00 Chevrolet. Houff’s contract covers both the 2020 and 2021 seasons. … Houff competed in 17 Cup races last season but remains eligible for Rookie of the Year honors in 2020. … No crew chief has been named for the team yet; Joe Williams was crew chief for Cassill last season but was released from the team after the season-ending race at Miami. … Houff’s racing resume includes not only his 17 Cup starts last year, but also 10 career Xfinity starts, one ARCA Menards West start, five ARCA Menards Series starts and 19 CARS Super Late Model Tour starts.

John Hunter Nemechek (Getty Images)

John Hunter Nemechek
2020 team: Front Row Motorsports
2019 team: GMS Racing (Xfinity Series)
Number of Cup starts to date: 3 (all in 2019, best finish 21st in fall Texas race)
Career Xfinity/Trucks wins: 1/6
What’s ahead: The son of veteran NASCAR driver Joe Nemechek moves to Front Row Motorsports to drive the No. 38 Ford Mustang in 2020 after 1 ½ seasons of racing in the Xfinity Series. He earned one career Xfinity win (2018 at Kansas), but reached victory lane six times while driving a Truck (2013-2019). … Barely missed making the Xfinity Championship 4 round at Miami; finished seventh in the season standings. … Takes over the No. 38 from David Ragan, who has retired from active full-time racing in the Cup Series. Ragan’s former crew chief, Seth Barbour, remains in that role with Nemechek

Brennan Poole (Getty Images)

Brennan Poole
2020 team: Premium Motorsports
2019 team: On Point Motorsports (Truck Series)
Number of Cup starts to date: 0
Career Xfinity/Trucks wins: 0/0
What’s ahead: Poole is slated to compete in his first full season since the 2017 Xfinity campaign. He was supposed to run a full slate in 2019 in the Truck Series, but On Point Motorsports was forced to scale back plans due to sponsorship issues. Still, he managed to score one top-five and four top-10 finishes in 13 starts for the underfunded team. … Poole has never driven in a Cup race before, but he has 83 starts in the Xfinity Series, including eight top five and 36 top-10 finishes. … Crew chief is NASCAR veteran Pat Tryson.

Tyler Reddick (Getty Images)

Tyler Reddick
2020 team: Richard Childress Racing
2019 team: Richard Childress Racing (Xfinity Series)
Number of Cup starts to date: 2 (both in 2019, best finish of ninth at Kansas 1)
Career Xfinity/Trucks wins: 9/3
What’s ahead: After winning consecutive Xfinity Series championships, Reddick moves up to the Cup Series in the No. 8 Chevrolet, replacing Daniel Hemric. It’s notable that Reddick won the 2018 Xfinity championship with JR Motorsports, and then won the 2019 title with RCR. … Caterpillar will once again sponsor the car. … Randall Burnett will be Reddick’s crew chief.

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Bubba Wallace feeling positive after reunion with crew chief

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On Jerry Baxter’s first day as crew chief of the famous Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43 car, he called Bubba Wallace into his office.

He had some questions for the driver.

“It almost felt like a principal’s office type visit,” Wallace recalled Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint.” “He was like, ‘Hey man, looking at these notes, some of these races, you guys really didn’t have the best races, just by looking at setup notes … Do you know why we ran this way or why you ran this?'”

The grilling from Baxter made Wallace “excited” for the 2020 Cup season, which is just over four weeks away.

“Because he’s going through, doing everything that he can already, as a crew chief would and should, but just seeing certain things that stick out to him that like ‘Ah, I don’t really know about that,'” Wallace said. “So we can go to some of these places and try new changes, new setups, something that’s totally different, something that’s kind of Jerry Baxter’s style.”

It’s a style Wallace is familiar with and which proved successful for him early in his NASCAR career.

Baxter was Wallace’s crew chief at Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series from 2013-14. They won five races, including four in 2014. Baxter joins RPM after leading Brett Moffitt to four wins in the Truck Series last year at GMS Racing.

Baxter is reunited with the 26-year-old Wallace ahead of Wallace’s third full-time campaign driving the No. 43 Chevrolet.

“I don’t think there’s been a birthday or a holiday that’s gone by where we haven’t communicated with each other or just random times throughout the week,” Wallace said. “I keep my boat at his house. I see him usually about every weekend. Any day we have off throughout the summer … Or he’ll send me a picture right before I climb in the race car and say ‘Hey, thanks for letting me take your boat out.’ It’s good to have that relationship off and away from the race track, then once we get to the race track we know kind of how to work with each other. It’s just a matter of going back to old files and digging up that relationship.”

Together Wallace and Baxter will try improve on a 2019 season where Wallace only had one top-10 finish, a third-place result in the Brickyard 400. That was down from three top 10s in his rookie year. He placed 28th in the standings both years.

But with Baxter’s process at play, Wallace is allowing himself to be positive about his prospects in 2020, which is unusual for him.

“I’m not really the one to carry a lot of optimism,” Wallace said. “I like to keep it real and then be realistic about everything. Going into this year I’ve said it to many people, that I’m very optimistic about this season, I feel good about it. It’s the best I’ve felt about a race season in a long time. It’s going to be fun when we go to Daytona.”

When the Daytona 500 arrives on Feb. 16, it will be Wallace’s 77th Cup Series start and his third start in the “Great American Race.”

But for Baxter, who has been a crew chief in NASCAR off and on since 1986, including 12 Cup races, it will be his first Daytona 500 calling the shots atop a pit box.

Wallace gave Baxter some advice on how to approach the Daytona 500 experience recently over dinner with him and his wife.

“Him and I are kind of the same,” Wallace said. “We both love racing, but we never had dreams of being where we were. It just kind of worked out. We’re here together, we met and crossed paths. God put us in situations to help us work together and grow together.

“I told him, ‘No matter what, when you get down to Daytona … you’ve been on the Truck and Xfinity level for a while, but when you get to Daytona and you get to experience your first Daytona 500, it’s the coolest thing ever … don’t forget to set aside some time for yourself to be able to take in the moment, whether it’s race day, whether it’s the middle of week down there, whatever it is because there’s only one first time Daytona 500.’

“Obviously, mine was pretty remarkable, but I want Jerry to kind of sit back, relax, take it all in and enjoy the show. … If you can, separate yourself from your job for a split second and just kind of put yourself in a third-person perspective and see everything around that’s going on.”

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Chad Knaus: ‘We’re better prepared’ for new Camaro model

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The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season will see Chevrolet teams competing with the new Camaro ZL1 1LE model two years after the Camaro’s debut and one year before the Next Gen car’s scheduled debut in the series.

Chad Knaus, entering his second season as crew chief on William Byron‘s No. 24 Chevrolet, addressed the new Camaro model Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”

“The unknown is obviously the car. That’s just going to take a little bit of time,” said Knaus, the last crew chief for a Chevrolet team to compete in the Cup Series’ Championship 4, when he and Jimmie Johnson won their seventh title in 2016.

In the Camaro’s first two years, Chevy teams have won 11 races, including four in 2018, while Ford won 29 races and Toyota won 32 races.

Another factor in the change was the problems with the ZL1’s pointed nose when it came to pushing other cars at Daytona and Talladega compared to Ford and Toyota and their flatter noses.

Knaus predicted the rollout of the new model will be “significantly different” to the Camaro’s debut in 2018.

“We’re more educated, we’re better prepared,” Knaus said. “What happened when we we brought out the new car is at the exact same time NASCAR changed the way they were inspecting the cars and employing the Hawkeye laser scanner, right? The older car, when it was designed, wasn’t really built for that. We had a little bit more leeway, we could have manipulated it let’s say just a little bit better to get some performance out of it. Well, with the restrictions that NASCAR’s put on us with the surface conformance all the way around the car, we didn’t have that ability.

“So that car was, it came out behind, does that make sense? With those rules, we weren’t able get on top of it. I do feel this car is coming out of the gate stronger. You never know that until you hit the race track, obviously. But I do feel it’s better and we’re going to be able to go out there and race a little bit better, which is great for Axalta and all our sponsors, they’re expecting that.”

The Camaro ZL1 1LE model will see its first track action Feb. 8 when teams practice at Daytona International Speedway for the Feb. 9 Busch Clash and Feb. 9 Daytona 500 qualifying.

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