Natalie Decker

Long: All-Star Race shows value of shorter distances for Cup events

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The All-Star Race is billed as an event that also serves as a test session.

While cars had some new parts that may be used on the Gen 7 vehicle — expected to debut in 2021 — there’s something else that can be taken from Saturday night and applied to more races.

Shorter distances.

A night that saw two stages in the Monster Open end in spectacular finishes, the All-Star Race crown a new winner and punches thrown on pit road afterward, featured 150 laps compared to the 400 laps that will be run on the same track this weekend.

While there remains room on the Cup schedule for a Daytona 500, a Coca-Cola 600 and a Southern 500, the All-Star Race showed that sometimes shorter distances can be better.

There certainly didn’t seem to be any complaints from fans Saturday night about seeing fewer laps of racing than most weekends.

Instead, the talk was about Clint Bowyer running to Ryan Newman’s car and flailing at Newman in retaliation for being wrecked on the cool-down lap.

Or the talk was about Bubba Wallace’s dramatic win in the second stage of the Monster Energy Open that saw Daniel Suarez slide off track and then Wallace finishing fifth in the All-Star Race.

Or the talk was about Kyle Larson winning is first All-Star Race and collecting $1 million after holding off Kevin Harvick at the end.

All this over an exhibition race.

Imagine what might happen if this was a points race and the winner secured a spot in the playoffs — something Larson initially wondered if he had done before being told no.

Shortening some races shouldn’t be done as a way to find younger fans that some would suggest don’t have the attention span for longer races. The sport doesn’t need to go chasing fans that way. It did that years ago and alienated its older fans.

But if some shorter distances heighten tensions in races and lead to more water cooler moments, then it’s something the sport should consider.

The notion that most races need to be marathons is outdated and outrageous. Few cars suffer mechanical failures. The downforce is so great that few cars spin, let alone crash. Racing is no longer a test of a car’s survival over long distances.

While longer races allow drivers and teams to overcome handling issues or mistakes early and contend for wins, that shouldn’t be the main reason to keep some races 400 or 500 miles.

Turn some of these races into sprints, add points and watch the pressure build. There will be no time for pleasantries. It will be about charging to the front.

Saturday night’s race provided such action. Although not every short race will capture the essence of the All-Star Race, there’s a greater chance of it happening.

Just think about what often makes a longer race special. It’s a restart at the end that forces drivers to make bold moves. In essence a late restart turns a long race into quick sprint.

Why not add a few more of those in the future?

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The All-Star Race will be in Charlotte next year but what is the event’s future?

Provided the Gen 7 car debuts in 2021 as NASCAR states, there will be no need to use the All-Star Race that season as a test session — as has been done the past two times — because teams still will be trying to figure out the car.

That would make it a good time to consider moving the All-Star Race to a different location. Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway would be a logical choice but there are challenges.

Provided NASCAR releases the 2021 schedule next April — the 2020 Cup, Xfinity and Truck schedules were all released by April 3 this year — it gives the folks at Bristol Motor Speedway (and Speedway Motorsports Inc.) less than 11 months to complete a deal with the city and the fair board, which oversees the track, get funding approved and make the changes that are needed to update the track.

While all of that is happening, the city will have elections in August for mayor and other city positions. With multiple candidates running for mayor, a run-off might be needed and that would be held in September.

Those in the sport who have had to work with government entities know how deals can be all but done and then suddenly change at the last minute, throwing everything in doubt. The more layers of government, the longer something takes.

Anything can happen. A deal could be completed in time and could provide the opportunity to move the All-Star Race to Nashville in 2021. If not, maybe there is another place to hold it besides Charlotte, which already has two points races.

If not Nashville, maybe Iowa Speedway or some other track that would need a limited number of upgrades to host NASCAR’s top series. It could be time to think about moving the All-Star Race to places that don’t already have a Cup event.

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Synthetic turf at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Daniel Hemric, Daniel Suarez and Ryan Newman showed during Saturday night’s races at Charlotte Motor Speedway how valuable it is for a track to have a synthetic turf instead of grass.

The track installed 88,000 square feet of synthetic turf last summer, along with a new drainage system, to replace the grass along the frontstretch. It was in place for the inaugural race on the Roval.

Hemric slid through the turf during the second stage of the Monster Energy Open after contact with Ryan Preece. Suarez spun through the turf at the end of the second stage in the Open. His car was not damaged, allowing him to continue.

Newman slid through the turf during the second stage of the All-Star Race and also suffered no damage and was able to continue.

“That was big,” Newman said. “I was able to finish my race. If there was grass down there, I wouldn’t have. That was a big deal.”

As long as vehicles have splitters, NASCAR should look to require speedways to use synthetic turf instead of grass in areas near the track to limit the damage when cars and trucks go through those areas. If not turf, then pave those areas. 

While not every accident is the same, just look at what happened to Natalie Decker in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series race earlier this month when she slid into the frontstretch grass at Kansas Speedway. Decker was eliminated because of the damage and finished 25th.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said Monday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that series officials will “continue to look at” synthetic turf in place of grass at tracks.

“While it does present some challenges at some other tracks, I think that is a system we’ll continue to look at,” he said. “Certainly performed great. It looks good from a fan perspective and certainly helps the cars when they get in the turf during a race.”

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With Kevin Harvick chasing him in the final laps, Kyle Larson did not make a mistake and give away the All-Star Race.

It was much different from the 2016 All-Star Race when he hit the wall while leading with two laps to go as Joey Logano challenged him. Logano went on to win. Larson finished 16th in the 20-car field.

Saturday night, there were no mistakes.

“This year has been different for me,” Larson said. “I’ve never worked out before, and I’ve been in the gym a little bit more this year with (trainer and former driver) Josh Wise and just working out with him, and being around him puts a lot more confidence and ease into me. I feel like I’m just more calm.

“I wasn’t nervous at all that last restart, and I think part of that is just from feeling like I am prepared. And also losing close races.  I just — I feel like I’ve done a good job of not getting stressed out, even with me losing the Chili Bowl (on the last lap to Christopher Bell in January). I felt like I was really calm until the last two laps and I gave the race away. (Saturday) I wasn’t going to let that happen.

“With those losses that I’ve had, you grow from each and every one of them. Hopefully we can continue this, and I feel like  — everybody becomes a better driver the older they get, but I feel like I’ve put more work and effort into it this year.”

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Kyle Busch wins sixth consecutive Truck race

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CONCORD, N.C. – Kyle Busch scored his sixth consecutive Gander Outdoors Truck Series victory, winning Friday night’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Busch also won six in a row from the end of the 2013 season to the early part of the 2014 season.

Friday was Busch’s final Truck race of the season. Drivers who have competed in more than five full-time Cup seasons and score Cup points are limited to five Truck races in a season.

“Wish I could do more,” Busch said on Fox Sports 1 after winning.

Busch had to overcome a late caution when Brett Moffitt lost a tire with less than 10 laps left. That led to a restart with three laps to go. Busch held off the field and pulled away to score his 56th career series win and eighth at Charlotte.

Brennan Poole placed second and was followed by Stewart Friesen, Ben Rhodes and Matt Crafton. Friesen went from 10th to third in the final three laps.

MORE: Click here for race results

MORE: Click here for points report

Busch had won his past five starts entering Friday night. He won at Pocono in his final start in 2018 and won his first four starts of this season, winning at Atlanta, Las Vegas, Martinsville and Texas.

Stage 1 winner: Matt Crafton

Stage 2 winner: Kyle Busch

Who had a good race: Ben Rhodes followed his runner-up finish last weekend at Kansas with a top-five finish. … Matt Crafton scored his sixth consecutive top 10.

Who had a bad race: Natalie Decker crashed before the end of stage 1. She finished 31st in the 32-truck field.

Next: The Truck Series races June 7 at Texas Motor Speedway, the first race in the Triple Truck Challenge where the race winner earns a $50,000 bonus.

NASCAR Avengers: Endgame edition

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It’s April, so that means it’s time for another Marvel’s Avengers save the world yet again in movie theaters around the globe.

Avengers: Endgame will be released tonight and it’s expected to make an impressive amount of money despite being three hours long. Yes, three hours.

We decided to exploit the series’ attention for the second year in a row by making our own Avengers lineup of NASCAR drivers.

Just like in the comics/movies, the roster has changed some, but not due to a contract dispute/scheduling conflict/being snapped out of existence.

Send your Avengers/NASCAR recommendations to Daniel McFadin.

Stan Lee – Since our first Avengers posts last year, Jim France has assumed the position of NASCAR Chairman and CEO. He’s the perfect person to make a cameo in our NASCAR Avengers movie like the late comic book creator.

Nick Fury – Steve Phelps took over as NASCAR’s president last year. Now give that man an eyepatch.

Iron Man – Austin Dillon has that outlandish Tony Stark style and he parties like the billionaire playboy philanthropist would if he owned a barn and some fancy cars.

Rocket RaccoonTony Stewart isn’t a talking animal. But the talking raccoon is a weapons expert who likes to make things go boom and isn’t afraid to speak his mind. If you’re ever in a tight spot that requires the use of a flame thrower, Stewart is your man.

Star Lord AKA Peter Quill – Nothing changed here. Clint Bowyer is still from the Midwest and he’s still the driver most likely to call someone a “turd blossom.”

Captain America/Falcon/Winter Soldier – Captain America and Falcon bring to mind the Ryan Blaney/Bubba Wallace duo and NASCAR’s best bromance. Chase Elliott gets the nod as the Winter Soldier anti-hero because he doesn’t get invited to their hangouts. Also, Blaney has to shave his facial hair every year like Steve Rogers in Endgame.

Spider-Man – The 18-year-old Harrison Burton takes Spidey’s web-shooters from William Byron. Somebody born after Y2K should get in on the action here.

The Incredible Hulk – Don’t make Daniel Suarez angry, especially in qualifying.

Thor – Since the “God of Thunder” got a hair cut and trimmed his beard recently, Jeffrey Earnhardt is replaced in the role by Kyle Busch and his beard.

Doctor Strange – Last year, Brad Keselowski was the pick here, but Ryan Preece gets the nod in 2019. Magic is the only reasonable explanation for how he’s avoided some wrecks this season.

Drax the Destroyer – Just like this Guardian of the Galaxy, it takes a lot to make Paul Menard smile.

Captain Marvel – The newest Avenger on the scene must be played by two-time K&N Pro  Series West winner Hailie Deegan.

 

Natalie Decker adds six Truck Series races to schedule

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Natalie Decker will race deeper into the Gander Outdoors Truck Series season with the addition of six races to her schedule, DGR-Crosley announced Tuesday.

The 21-year-old driver will compete in 17 races in the No. 54 Toyota with support from N29 Technologies.

Decker competed in the first three races of the year and earned a best finish of 13th at Las Vegas.

Her schedule includes all but four of the remaining races. Decker will not be in the truck at Eldora, Talladega, Michigan and Canada. The Truck race at Charlotte Motor Speedway will take the place of the ARCA race there.

Decker will still run the ARCA race at Talladega.

“I’m so excited to add more races with DGR-Crosley,” Decker said in a press release. “I’m very thankful for the opportunity to be with this team. David [Gilliland] does such a great job with putting the right people in the right positions, and I’m learning so much and enjoy working with Frank [Kerr, crew chief] and all my guys.

“I didn’t think that I would be racing this much this year in the Trucks, but I’m so excited that we are. I love competing in the Truck Series – it’s challenging but so fun. Looking forward to continuing to learn as much as possible and putting together solid finishes. This year is all about learning and getting experience.”

Kyle Busch grabs pole for tonight’s Truck Series race at Las Vegas

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Kyle Busch roared to the pole for tonight’s Stratosphere 200 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Busch earned his 22nd career Truck Series pole with a speed of 178.903 mph.

Brett Moffitt was second-fastest at 178.359 mph, followed by Harrison Burton (178.224 mph), Grant Enfinger (178.036 mph) and Cory Roper (177.895 mph).

Sixth through 12th were Austin Hill (177.731), Stewart Friesen (177.521), Brennan Poole (177.509), Sheldon Creed (177.433), Ryan Reed (177.293), Johnny Sauter (177.235) and Natalie Decker (176.794).

The race, scheduled for 134 laps/201 miles, kicks off tonight at 9 p.m. ET. It will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1, the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Click here for full qualifying results.