NASCAR on NBC podcast

Podcast: Kyle Petty on wounds being reopened by Ryan Newman’s crash

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Kyle Petty had a hard time getting to sleep Monday night.

That was partly because of the uncertainty surrounding Ryan Newman’s condition after the terrifying last-lap wreck in the Daytona 500.

But it also was because of the dark memories it dredged up for the NASCAR on NBC analyst, whose son, Adam, was killed in a May 12, 2000 crash at New Hampshire Motor Speedway – one of four fatalities during a nine-month period culminating in Dale Earnhardt’s death in the 2001 Daytona 500.

“Look at pictures of Adam’s accident between at New Hampshire, if you look at Earnhardt’s, so many, many people gathered, but nothing going on is what it looks like,” Petty said on the latest NASCAR on NBC Podcast, comparing those crash scenes with the response to Newman’s wreck. “All of a sudden, 20 years of having that in a box, someone ripped the top off the box, and you can see right down in it again.

OVERTIME STAYS: NASCAR won’t adjust rule at superspeedways after crash

“So for me, it was very emotional. I didn’t sleep much Monday night, honestly. Worried about Ryan, praying for Ryan. But at the same time so many emotions that I thought that time was supposed to heal those wounds. That wound is right there. It’s just under the surface. So it was a tough day or so.”

Petty’s anxiety subsided Tuesday with the news that Newman was alert and talking. The Roush Fenway Racing driver walked out of Halifax Medical Center with his daughters Wednesday afternoon. He is being replaced this weekend by Ross Chastain in the No. 6 Ford at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and no timetable has been provided for his return.

NASCAR hasn’t had a fatality in a national series since Earnhardt’s on Feb. 18, 2001, and Petty openly wondered during the podcast about a youthful generation of budding Cup stars who have yet to experience what it’s like when a peer perishes in a crash.

“When the last fatality happened in a NASCAR upper division, they were in kindergarten or first grade,” Petty said. “So they’ve never seen anything like this. I grew up where you go to the racetrack and you’re playing with a bunch of kids, and their mom comes and gets them, and you never see those kids again. When Friday Hassler got killed at Daytona (in 1972), I never saw his kids again. Have run into them since but never saw them again at a racetrack.

“So many times, you’d go to the racetrack, and a crew member would be killed. A driver would be killed. Whether it was in a qualifying race, practice at Daytona. It was just there. You got used to it. This is an exaggeration, but it’s almost like you’re in a war zone. You just become numb to it. Now we don’t understand it because we don’t see it. We don’t know how to react to it. When we do see something, everyone turns it into a joke, and we laugh it off. … The sport has gotten to a point that it’s incredibly safe, as safe as it’s ever been. But it’s never going to be foolproof safe.”

Since Earnhardt’s crash, NASCAR has mandated the HANS device, SAFER barriers and numerous other safety elements in the car and cockpit. While it’s decreased the danger Petty also worries if it’s led to a false sense of security.

“We just got complacent to the fact that auto racing can be a dangerous sport,” he said. “Now the element of danger has decreased, but it’s always that deep water, flowing really fast, and at the bottom of that well, there’s death.”

During the podcast, Petty also discussed:

–His thoughts on “slam drafting” on superspeedways and how it should be addressed;

–Reacting to Corey LaJoie’s recent comments that no changes need to be made;

–How a driver such as Newman rebounds after such a vicious wreck;

–The laudable way in which Denny Hamlin captured his third Daytona 500 victory.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the embed above, or via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play or wherever you get your podcasts.

There also is a video version of the podcast available at the Motorsports on NBC channel on YouTube.

Podcast: Denny Hamlin on a NASCAR drivers union that nearly happened

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CHARLOTTE – With several established drivers in contract years, 2020 could be one among the most momentous years for free agency in NASCAR history.

But imagine how different the landscape might be if Cup drivers had organized a few years ago.

During the most recent NASCAR on NBC Podcast, defending Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin recalled the formation of a union was imminent about five years ago.

“I had every driver’s signature on a document forming this whole thing except for one, and he was on his way,” Hamlin said. “Just for archive purposes, I still have all of these drivers’ signatures on this document that officially made us an association.”

Hamlin was the ringleader of organizing drivers during the 2014 season when NASCAR was debating new direction on its rules (high downforce vs. low downforce). He successfully had recruited virtually the entire series when NASCAR called a sitdown with him and Jeff Gordon.

“I remember (former NASCAR CEO) Brian France sitting us down and kind of giving us the whole long, ‘Be very careful of antitrust here. There’s contracts and you know, this could get very illegal and blah, blah blah,’” Hamlin said. “They did not want a drivers union for sure. And I still don’t think they want a drivers union.”

NASCAR is among the only major professional sports that doesn’t have collective bargaining with its athletes, and its longtime opposition to unions is well documented.

Tim Flock and Curtis Turner were banned for trying to unionize in 1961. When the Professional Drivers Association boycotted the Sept. 14, 1969 opening of Talladega Superspeedway, NASCAR brought in a field of replacement drivers, and the organization quickly dissolved.

Mindful of the history and the effort that would be required, Hamlin decided to back off on the project.

“I thought about it quite a bit, and I realized what I really needed to focus on was like on track,” Hamlin said. “This was going to take time to really do it right. I mean we’re going to have to hire staff. We were all going to have to split a lot of attorney’s fees for this whole thing.

“And I think it just lost some steam and, and NASCAR then came out with that driver council thing that went on for a few years.”

The Drivers Council, whose origins Hamlin discussed in a 2017 episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast, was formed midway through the 2015 season and lasted through 2018. A group of eight to 10 drivers met quarterly with NASCAR to discuss major competition initiatives. Since last year, Hamlin said feedback to the sanctioning body has returned to the informal format of when drivers regularly visited the series’ official hauler that serves as NASCAR’s at-track headquarters.

“You’re just texting saying, ‘Hey, you know, you really should think about changing this or that,’ but they also sit down with us at least twice a year to get our feedback,” Hamlin said. “They do it differently than they did 15 years ago and it’s all for the better.”

Hamlin said more could be done, though, noting the progress by the Race Team Alliance, a consortium of team owners who formed in 2014, in lobbying NASCAR.

“I still think personally that drivers should have an official voice,” he said. “Now we have a voice. Don’t get me wrong, I think NASCAR definitely listens to us, but you have the RTA and they have a seat at the table when it comes to rules. They have a vote. And I think that that matters. And I think that the drivers should have that as well.

“Now how you organize it? Who does it? I don’t know, but I definitely think it’s important, especially with there’ll be in the next few years, tracks will have their (sanction) agreements redone. The TV (rights fees) will have agreements redone. The drivers need to be protected.”

The decline in driver salaries has been a major topic of discussion in recent years as Cup teams have weathered a decline in corporate sponsorship that once could support a $10 million salary for a superstar driver.

In 2017, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said that the youth movement in Cup had led to drivers “being offered and accepting contracts that are a fifth to a 10th of what veterans are getting paid. A lot of these veteran drivers are getting paid multiple millions of dollars. A lot of these young guys coming in are getting a fraction of that.

Kyle Larson (who has been open on his status), Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney (who recently discussed his job status), Clint Bowyer, Erik Jones, Alex Bowman and Aric Almirola are among many drivers in contract years this season, and it’s unlikely any will see a bump in pay – though Hamlin said being highly skilled still helps your market value.

“I still think if you want to budget your race team and get a budget driver, you’re going to have budget results,” Hamlin said. “And one thing that Joe Gibbs Racing has done has always went out and hired the best drivers and they did whatever it takes to get the best drivers and they get the best results because of it.

“I think 2021 will be the most different the sport has looked as a whole in a long time, certainly. I think that there’s going to be some motivated drivers out there in contract years for sure. As a driver, you find a way. When all of a sudden that the team owner comes in there and they put your stats down for the last five years or 10 years, and they always give you the sample size that makes you look the worst, because they want to pay you the least that they can get away with, but if you’ve got a good (business) team around you like I’ve got, you find a way to make it positive.

“It’s just definitely one of those sports where the drivers, when they know that their performance is getting looked at, they find a way to step up.”

During the podcast, Hamlin also discussed:

–The input that drivers had in NASCAR’s new short track rules for this season;

–Becoming an iRacing team owner with Michael Jordan, who helped design their car’s scheme;

Being a #GirlDad and how he learned of Kobe Bryant’s death;

–How he outdueled Kyle Busch for the Daytona 500 victory last year;

–His outlook for the 2020 season.

To hear the podcast, click on the embed above or listen via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play or wherever you get podcasts.

Podcast: Dale Jarrett believes Joey Logano (wisely) spun intentionally

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NASCAR on NBC analyst and NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett believes Joey Logano intentionally spun his car late in the Martinsville race after contact with the car of Denny Hamlin.

The reason in Jarrett’s mind? Logano’s spin brought out a caution that helped keep the Team Penske driver on the lead lap instead of losing two laps if he had limped into the pits under green to change tires.

There’s no doubt in my mind he spun his car intentionally and finally in a place when he realized he had a problem, and he was going to need a caution because they were going to go a couple laps down if they had to pit under green and make this change,” Jarrett said on this week’s postrace playoff edition of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast with Nate Ryan.

After contact with Hamlin that squeezed him into the wall and left his left-rear tire flat, Logano nearly lost control of his No. 22 Ford in Turn 4.

After traveling down the frontstretch on Lap 458, the car looped in the outside lane of Turn 1 without hitting the wall or another car. That brought out a caution that allowed Logano to pit for four tires.

Logano essentially forced NASCAR to decide if his action was intentional, Jarrett said. As it turned out, NASCAR did not penalize Logano. Officials told NBC Sports that the incident wasn’t reviewed by the scoring tower.

According to ground rules provided to Cup crew chiefs, NASCAR officials can penalize at their discretion if they determine a driver intentionally caused a caution. There also have been postrace penalties in the past after NASCAR determined that drivers spun intentionally to cause a yellow.

“Why not put the ball in NASCAR’s court to try to decide?” Jarrett said. It’s a ball and strike call. I’ll take it even further than that: Did the pitcher intentionally hit a batter? There’s only one person that really knows for sure if that’s the case. And in this case, there’s only one person that knows 100 percent.

“I think I know as a driver and competitor in that situation that I’d rather take my chances on NASCAR having to make that call and said I created a caution intentionally. I think that’s a one-lap penalty if you do that. That’s less than what they were going to lose if they went in under green and change tires.

Why not put (NASCAR) in that position? They might not make that call. It might look like (Logano) was carrying too much speed and just spun.

“But there’s no doubt in my mind that he did the thing that most of us – most of as drivers – would have done in that situation. I don’t fault him at all. It’s no different than a crew chief pushing the limits of what he can get through inspection. A driver is doing the same thing. And in this case, I think he’s going to come out with a better end, whichever way the call went there.”

Logano salvaged an eighth-place finish at Martinsville that kept him in the final transfer spot for the playoffs, 14 points above the cutline. If he had pitted under green with 40 laps remaining, he likely would have finished outside the top 20.

“Now those guys that are below the cutline kind of wish that would have played out that way so that everybody’d be a lot closer to that cut line,” Jarrett said.

Noting how hard Logano raced at Dover while 24 laps down because every playoff point matters, Jarrett said Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon have skillfully maximized points while minimizing potentially negative outcomes for the No. 22 during the playoffs.

This is four races in a row for Joey Logano and his team to make something of literally a disaster for them,” Jarrett said. “They didn’t make that much at Dover once they had that problem, but the other two races in the Round of 12, they came back and made something after getting crashed at Talladega and here again (at Martinsville), having another problem that could have put them outside the top four here, but they came back and saved that.

He was able to keep his wits about him – which is hard to do for a driver – and drive up through the field and get something of it.”

You can listen to the NASCAR on NBC Podcast via the embed above or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and Google Play. You also can watch the podcast via the Motorsports on NBC YouTube channel.

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Podcast: NBC’s Jeff Burton understands Kyle Busch parking car at Roval

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With a broken suspension hindering his car and nothing to gain, Kyle Busch parked his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota late in Sunday’s playoff race at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval.

While some observers criticized Busch, NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton understands why Busch did it, even if a part of him doesn’t totally agree with the move. Burton gave his take on Busch’s decision to exit early in this week’s NASCAR on NBC podcast

Part of me is like never quit,” Burton told co-host Nate Ryan. “I grew up in an era where you took pride in doing whatever it took to be on that race track when that checkered flag flew. However, (Busch) was right. There really wasn’t anything to gain (to remaining in the race).

If they come down pit road and if they can fix it, what is he going to gain that will help him win the championship? He’s not going to get a playoff point, so what is he going to gain? That’s probably one of the negatives in this rules package, is that Kyle and his team really could say there isn’t anything to gain.”

Busch, winless in his last 15 races after placing 37th at the Roval, tweeted after the race that the problem with his car was a broken sway bar. Given how few laps (nine) remained when he exited while the race was under a brief red flag, replacing the piece would have been futile.

(A broken sway bar doesn’t make it undriveable) but it makes it completely uncompetitive,” Burton said on the podcast. “The thing is horrible to drive and you might pass some guys that are horrible that might have had some issues but listen man, Paul Menard ran good all day and he finished 16th. Ryan Preece finished 21st. You weren’t going to pass him. So I hear what Kyle is saying with that.”

Now the focus for Busch is on Dover International Speedway. Last weekend at Charlotte, Busch was asked about his expectations for Sunday’s race at Dover (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Not very optimistic. Let’s just go with that,” he said.

Busch applauded teammate Martin Truex Jr., who won the spring race at Dover while Busch finished 10th, leading just one lap.

Yeah, my teammate was really, really good there in the spring obviously,” Busch said. “He passed everybody and won the race. I sat there in 10th to 14th all day and just complained about it. I guess I need to get better at passing.”

In this week’s race preview media release, Busch further expressed his frustration.

Obviously, the race in the spring there was really frustrating for us, so I’m hoping that we find more than we did there the last time with these cars the way they are now,” Busch said.

Even with last spring’s disappointment, Busch has a good record on Dover’s 1-mile concrete oval with three wins, 12 top five and 18 top 10 finishes in 29 Cup starts.

It’s definitely a roller-coaster ride and you need to treat it like it’s fun and not to be scared of the place, I think, because you can get so much out of that place,” Busch said. “There are two ways about it – you can probably be really, really good there, or really, really bad there. Some days you’re going to be better than others, obviously, with how you can get your car set up compared to the competition.”

Despite some struggles in the opening round, Busch enters the second round as the points leader because of his season-high 46 playoff points, including 15 for winning the regular-season title. 

Kyle’s going to haul ass at Dover,” Burton said. However, the former Cup driver also understands if Busch isn’t exactly optimistic about returning there after his showing in May.

It’s going to be hard to pass at Dover, period, end of story, and Kyle’s going to have to brace himself for that, brace himself for a very difficult race where aerodynamically if you’re in second, you’re going to be disadvantaged. It is what it is and he’s going to have to find a way to get above his dislike for the package. I believe that. I believe you can’t race with anger, you have to race with passion. But he’s an extraordinary race car driver that can get by with some things that I surely couldn’t get by with.”

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Podcast: Life as a gay team member working in the NASCAR community

Ryan Hines
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As a racing fan growing up in rural Ohio, Ryan Hines heard the generalizations about intolerance in the testosterone-charged world of motorsports.

But his first-hand experience has been the opposite.

“I think NASCAR gets a generalized and stereotypical outlook that it’s homophobic and hypermasculine and there’s not any room for people who are gay to be in it,” Hines said during the latest episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast. “From my experience, it’s really a great community. I’ve met nothing but love and respect from everyone I’ve come across in the sport.

“It’s crazy that growing up I never thought I could be gay and work in NASCAR. I feel a lot of people who may be gay and have aspirations probably have that same mindset that I had growing up. I think it’s important there are role models for those people. Being an example of this guy is gay and is working in NASCAR and able to be himself and do what he loves to do, people being able to see that and know they can do it, too, is a step in the right direction. Having that representation is important.”

Hines, 23, is a coordinator of Xfinity brand content at Stewart-Haas Racing, where he works primarily with handling Chase Briscoe’s schedule and also handles media requests, video content and the team’s podcast.

He entered the NASCAR industry a week after graduating from Ohio State in May 2018, starting at Hendrick Motorsports. The Pleasant Hill, Ohio, native has been around racing (also working at Eldora Speedway through high school and college) for longer than he began publicly talking about his sexuality.

Hines has been out as a gay man since his junior year of high school and initially was concerned about how that would be perceived by racing co-workers.

“You’re told the stereotype of what racing is, and that fans and people involved aren’t accepting,” he said. “You hear that it’s a ‘redneck’ sport, and you associate Southern redneck roots with homophobia, whether it’s true or not. Now that I’m working in the sport, I see past those stereotypes and generalizations and have come to realize that most people in the sport are average people. They don’t care. They want you to be you. If you are who are to them, they’ll respect you for that.”

Hines said his sexual orientation comes up in casual conversation with other team members and without “anyone reacting negatively to it.” In sharing his story on the podcast, Hines hopes to help make it easier for other gay members of the NASCAR community who are reticent about being comfortable enough to discuss it.

“People don’t realize how much effort it takes to hide,” he said. “It’s exhausting because you have to worry about what you do and say.”

NASCAR has launched many initiatives (most famously its Drive for Diversity) over the last 15 years aimed at increasing its fan base among minorities and women.

As Major League Baseball, the NBA and other pro sports leagues have held gay pride nights that help build audience inclusion, Hines would like to see the same in NASCAR but said it’s also trickier.

“You have to be careful with that because there’s the stereotype of what the fan base is,” he said. “You don’t want to seem opportunistic. Launching a clothing line or holding an initiative, you want it to be genuine. I think NASCAR definitely needs to show they are welcoming, but they are struggling with how they do that and don’t seem opportunistic.”

Hines isn’t the first to discuss being gay in the NASCAR industry, but there have been no high-profile members (such as drivers or crew chiefs). In auto racing, five-time Rolex 24 champion Hurley Haywood is likely the most famous driver to have come out (discussing it in a documentary this year that he talked about as a NASCAR on NBC Podcast guest in April).

Hines believes it would be difficult for a driver to come out, but “I think they could come forward and find a lot of acceptance. You’re always going to have people who will say negative things. You’ll have that in any aspect of life. I’d love to see a driver, crew chief or an engineer come forward and embrace who you are and being truthful and honest. You’ll find a lot more acceptance and respect than you’d ever think you could.

“By and large, most large companies in NASCAR sponsoring in some capacity, they wouldn’t bat an eye as long as you aren’t bringing negative publicity and being authentic to who you are. They won’t have an issue with it. As long as you’re performing and a good ambassador to the brand, I don’t think the sexuality really matters.”

Hines said it is a delicate issue to discuss because he doesn’t want to be viewed as “a huge agent of change.

“I don’t want to be this huge trailblazer and try to take on a huge campaign,” he said. “But it’s important to be open and honest about it. The more people who see it as everyday life, the easier it can be.”

To listen to the podcast, you can click on the embed above or via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play or wherever you download podcasts.