Rob Kauffman

Matt Kenseth scores top-10 finish in NASCAR return

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After placing third in Sunday’s Cup Series race at Darlington, Kurt Busch exited his No. 1 Chevy and looked at the infield scoring pylon.

The pylon showed the top-10 finishers of NASCAR’s first race in 71 days. Seven spots below Busch’s number was the No. 42, representing Busch’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate.

On March 8, the date of the last Cup Series race, that number belonged to Kyle Larson. But 10 weeks later, it has a new owner.

“There’s old Matt Kenseth, No. 42, finishing 10th,” Busch said in a post-race Zoom press conference.

Sunday saw the beginning of the Matt Kenseth era at CGR as the 48-year-old driver made his first start with the team and his first NASCAR start since the 2018 Cup season finale.

Kenseth was hired by CGR to replace Larson, who was fired by the team on April 14 for his use of a racial slur in an iRacing event.

Kenseth called the first few laps of the race “kind of nerve-racking.”

“Then it was sort of back to racing and thinking about what we needed to be better,” Kenseth said. “Everyone on the team has worked extremely hard the last couple weeks to prepare for today, and I’m proud of what we accomplished today. I learned a lot throughout the race about the way the car handles and reacts to different situations, and it was nice to really get acclimated to the Camaro and the team in a real racing environment. It’s always a good feeling to get a top- at a place like Darlington, but to have done it under these circumstances feels that much better. I still have some room to improve, but today shows all of us we have a lot to look forward to as the season continues.”

Prior to the start of Sunday’s race, Kenseth expressed his gratitude to the team given the trying circumstances they’ve faced.

After the first caution for a Ricky Stenhouse Jr. crash, Kenseth had a lot of info for his crew chief, Chad Johnston. The two traded humorous barbs over it.

Kenseth displayed more of his trademark wit during the first stage break.

Throughout the race, Johnston helped Kenseth out by relaying him info on how much drivers were on and off the gas in the turns.

In the end, Kenseth was able to crack the top 10 by Lap 210. He raced as high as ninth before settling into 10th.

Kenseth’s top 10 at the track “Too Tough To Tame” came despite him not getting any on-track preparation before the drop of the green flag Sunday, which put him in a similar position to the rest of the field.

“That’s what he will do everyday, all race tracks,” Busch said. “That’s Matt. That’s what he does. So for him to balance out with (crew chief) Chad Johnston, Ganassi and everybody first day out to get a top 10, that’s huge. That’s sets a big tone. I’ve yet to be able to call (team co-owners) Chip Ganassi or Rob Kauffman, but I’ll be calling Matt Kenseth on my way home. It’s really a neat day for us to be able to bounce back like that.”

The performance by Kenseth, the 2003 Cup champion, reaffirmed the belief of race winner Kevin Harvick that Kenseth shouldn’t have been out of NASCAR racing to begin with.

“Matt Kenseth was winning races when he (stepped away from full-time race in 2017),” Harvick said. “As you look at that whole situation when he got kind of moved out at (Joe) Gibbs (Racing), Matt Kenseth is going to be a huge part of that race team and making Chip Ganassi Racing better. He’s going to be great for the sponsors. … Experience and skill go a long way in our sport. If you have those two things, like Matt does, you’re going to be successful. You don’t just forget how to do that. Matt’s a pro and a very good one at that.”

Felix Sabates to end tenure as NASCAR owner

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Felix Sabates, who has been a NASCAR owner in some form since his team SABCO Racing began competing in the Cup Series in 1989, will retire from ownership in 2020, Chip Ganassi Racing announced Thursday.

The Associated Press first reported the news.

Sabates, 74, is leaving his role as a co-owner of Chip Ganassi Racing, which he sold controlling interest of SABCO Racing to in 2001.

Together they have earned 43 total wins in NASCAR’s top two series, including the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400.

In addition to NASCAR, Sabates and Ganassi fielded entries in IMSA, where they won seven championships, 64 races, including a record eight Rolex 24 At Daytona races, the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 12 Hours of Sebring.

The Cuba-native has experienced health problems in recent years. In 2016, he suffered from an illness that put him in intensive care for 73 days and in a coma for 29 days.

“I look back to the 1980s when I first started in this sport, and I can tell you that the landscape has really changed,” Sabates said in a press release. “It’s been challenging at times, and tremendously rewarding watching the sport grow. When I started the NASCAR team, it was just a different time —a smaller regional sport. Then NASCAR grew and grew into a big business and continued to grow after my partnership with Chip. I’m proud of what I’ve done over the last 30 years. I have friendships that will last a lifetime.

“I hope that what I have tried to give back to the sport — whether it be bringing NASCAR to Mexico or being instrumental in starting the sports car program with Chip — will be equal to what the sport has taught and given me. I’ve always said that I never wanted to be an old man walking around at the track; this is my way of honoring that commitment I made to myself years ago. I wish Chip and his teams all the success in the world and will be keeping a close eye on the sport from afar and maybe even make an appearance from time to time.”

Said Ganassi: “Where do you even begin to describe Felix Sabates? He’s done so much for the sport of racing. I teamed up with him almost 20 years ago, and he’s been a great business partner and an even better friend. In that time, the only thing we’ve had an argument over was who was picking up the tab at dinner. Felix helped me develop as an owner as well as an individual. His track record in this sport certainly sets the bar high for anyone that follows. I’m proud to call him a friend and wish him all the best.”

 

 

Race Team Alliance purchases Speed51.com site

Race Team Alliance
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Speed51.com confirmed Sunday night that it has been purchased by the Race Team Alliance, the organization of a majority of the NASCAR Cup teams.

Chris Knight first reported the deal on Twitter.

Speed51.com streams a variety of short track races from across the country.

Speed51.com’s statement read:

“Speed51 confirms that it has been purchased by the Race Team Alliance. Post-acquisition, Speed51 will continue to operate in the manner as it always has and remains committed to providing the best in live, short-track racing to the racing fan base. The RTA, with its mission to promote North American stock car racing, is ideally suited to provide Speed51 with access to an overall larger racing fan base over time.  Founder,  Bob Dillner, will continue is his role as the President of Speed51.”

Cup teams in the Race Team Alliance are: Stewart-Haas Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Team Penske, Hendrick Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, JTG Daugherty Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing, Germain Racing, Leavine Family Racing, Go Fas Racing and Wood Brothers Racing.

The Race Team Alliance issued a statement to NBC Sports on the purchase of Speed51.com:

“Race Team Alliance confirms the purchase of Speed51, a leading live, short-track racing distribution company based in Concord, NC.  The RTA, which represents the common interests of its 13 NASCAR Cup Team members, looks for strategic opportunities which both compliment the RTA’s core principles of promoting and growing the sport and advancing the common interests of the member Race Teams. The RTA identified Speed51 as a growing company with strong synergies to RTA’s commitment to the racing community and aligns with our fan bases’ enthusiasm for grass roots racing. The Speed51/RTA combination will explore ways to create and distribute to race fans exciting new Team related content, and allow the Teams to better connect directly with their fans.

“Speed51, which first started operating as a short-track news and information site in early 2000’s, has become a prominent player in the live, short-track world, streaming over 400 races each year to a dedicated fan base.  Founded by racing and sports broadcasting personality, Bob Dillner, Speed51 has consistently grown throughout the years and the RTA identified the company as one with great potential.  Post-acquisition, Bob will continue in his role as the President of Speed51 and report to RTA’s Executive Director, Jonathan Marshall.”

Rob Kauffman, chairman of the RTA said in a statement: “On behalf of our Member Race Teams, we are very excited about  our new initiative with Speed51. Bob Dillner and his team have created a great platform to cover grass roots racing , which touches the core fanbase of our sport – as well as many of our past, current and future racers and team members. We are looking forward helping him grow the business and plan to work together to create even more interesting content for our fans.”

Bob Dillner, founder and president of Speed51 stated: “Speed51 has always had an intense passion for short track racing and the RTA shares the same desire to bring more attention to this style of racing.  The RTA member teams are undoubtedly some of the most influential race teams in the world and at the same time understand grassroots racing because it’s where they came from.  I am thrilled to be partnered with this group of owners and with their help, not only will Speed51 be able to grow, but so will the industry surrounding short track racing, from track owners and promoters, to series organizers and the racers themselves.  This initiative will create better access for fans to witness the rise to stardom of some of the sport’s future prospects.”

 

 

 

Long: The curious case of what’s taking place at Cup short tracks

Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images
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For years, the cry has been for NASCAR to add short tracks for all the action they provide. But a curious thing is happening in those races.

Cautions are declining.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you like green-flag racing, but it also takes away from the imagery of cars beating, banging and wrecking.

Through the first five races on short tracks this season, cautions are down 25.5 percent from the same time last year and down 37.5 percent from this time two years ago at those tracks.

Last weekend’s Richmond race had three cautions — the fewest cautions there since the September 2010 race there. Two of those three cautions last weekend were for stage breaks.

Richmond’s April race had six cautions. The March Martinsville race had four cautions, including two for stage breaks.

So, what’s going on?

Chase Elliott cites the cars.

“The big one for me is just how fragile these cars are now,” Elliott said this past weekend at Richmond Raceway. “And you can’t really even lean on anybody and continue forward.”

Kyle Busch, who started at the back and won last weekend at Richmond, says that there is still a lot of hard racing in the pack.

Kyle Busch leads the pack at Richmond. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“I ran with (Alex Bowman) and (Kyle Larson) and (Austin Dillon) and somebody else, and … you would you have thought we were all racing to save our lives,” Busch said. “It was nuts. It was pretty crazy how hard those guys were running.”

Joey Logano wasn’t shocked that there were few cautions at Richmond.

“There’s race tracks that are just like that,” he said after his 14th-place finish. “A lot of times if you go to high-wear race tracks, tire wear, it kind of lends itself that way.

“There was a lot room to race and move around. People were trying to save their tires, they’re racing the race track more than they’re racing the other cars. That kind of makes it to where there are just long green-flag runs.

“There (also) are not as many, for lack of better word, junker cars out there that used to blow up or blow right front tires from overheating beads. Those cars aren’t out there anymore and that’s where a lot of your cautions used to be generated from, and then we would race hard because there was a caution and we were all bunched up. Just the nature of the beast these days. That’s not a bad thing.”

This is not to say that accidents don’t happen at short tracks. The Bristol race in April had 13 cautions and the August race had nine cautions — the highest totals at short tracks this year.

Still, the trend is noteworthy. Here is a look at average number of cautions for short track Cup races in recent years and how it has declined in recent years 

2018 — 7.0 average cautions *

2017 — 9.6

2016 — 10.2

2015 — 11.2

2014 — 10.5

2013 — 11.0

2012 — 7.8

2011 — 11.3

2010 — 9.0

* Through five short track races (one remains this season). All other years are average over six short track races.


Change is coming. It just takes time.

That’s the message from Rob Kauffman, chairman of the Race Team Alliance.

Some change coming soon will be the 2019 rules package. Car owners are expected to vote on it this week.

Other changes will take longer. Among the key items for team owners are controlling costs and increasing revenue.

The decision by Furniture Row Racing, the reigning championship team, to cease operations after this season was a shock to the sport. While there were many contributing factors, having a major primary sponsor announce in July that it wouldn’t be around after this year showed how vulnerable teams can be to when a sponsor decides if to stay or go.

5-hour Energy’s decision left minimal time before the end of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, a calendar many companies go by. That made it more difficult to seek the million of dollars the team needed from companies to remain competitive next year.

With the gap more than car owner Barney Visser was willing to pay out of his pocket, he decided to close the team after this season.

“It shows that even billionaires can get tired of writing checks,” Kauffman told NBC Sports, although Visser is not a billionaire.

RTA Chairman Rob Kauffman. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

“The sport needs a sustainable model and a better balance of league revenue vs. third-party revenue to run a competitive car. In defense of NASCAR and some of the other teams, no one tells you to spend more than you get. It’s like any business, it’s up the owners of the business to match their revenues with their expenses. No one is forcing anybody to spend more than you get.”

While it’s easy to say give the owners more money, that won’t solve the issue if they increase spending based on the extra money they receive.

“To try to remedy the situation probably requires a combination of things,” Kauffman said. “It requires a better balance of contractual revenue with third-party sponsorship and then also some sort of cost management that is sort of like other sports that keeps you from spending an infinite amount of money to go faster because teams will do that.

“If the top guys are spending $35 million and the bottom are spending $5 (million), that’s not going to provide a good show.”

It’s just a matter of how to enact the changes.

“Everyone agrees that we need to address the issue,” Kauffman said. “It’s not a consensus of how to do it. There are certainly some advocates of a cost cap, then there’s equally people saying how do you enforce that, how do you monitor that, is that really the solution, we should be looking at revenue instead of expense. There’s different voices. That’s one reason why it hasn’t bubbled out yet. It’s still in the formation phase because it’s big.”


With the 2019 rules package expected to be approved by owners this week, it appears that teams will run a package that has some similarities to what was run in the All-Star Race.

One change is that the engines are expected to have a tapered spacer instead of a restrictor plate. The goal is to give drivers more throttle control than they had at the All-Star Race so drivers just don’t have the accelerator pressed to the floor throughout a whole lap. This package is expected to be used in several races next year.

Kyle Busch has been outspoken about taking horsepower away from drivers and nothing has changed his mind.

“I’m not a proponent for the change,” he said Monday during a break in testing at Kansas Speedway. “Just have to take what happens and what comes to us and deal with it.”


Stage points are already making a difference after the first two races of the first round.

Ryan Blaney holds the final transfer spot to the second round heading into Sunday’s playoff race on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC). Blaney has 2,060 points.

But Blaney has scored only three stage points in the playoffs. That’s left him in a precarious position.

Stage points have helped others against Blaney.

Alex Bowman has 2,061 points, giving him a one-point lead on Blaney. Bowman is ahead of Blaney because Bowman has 18 stage points to Blaney’s three.

Chase Elliott has 2,066 points, giving him a six-point cushion on Blaney. Elliott has 24 stage points to Blaney’s three, giving Elliot 21 extra points compared to Blaney.

Kurt Busch has 2,071 points, giving him an 11-point cushion on Blaney. Busch has scored 22 stage points, giving him 19 more stage points than Blaney.

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Friday 5: A new way of thinking about NASCAR’s future?

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When examining NASCAR’s future are most people looking in the wrong direction?

There are those who say the schedule — 36 points races, two non-points races and the Daytona qualifying races in a 41-week stretch — is too long.

Maybe it’s not enough.

So said Brad Keselowski earlier this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

While some says less is more for the sport, Keselowski suggests that the Cup schedule should have 50-60 races a year and no weekend off in the summer.

His plan is this:

Cup should race on Sundays and the middle of the week from February to early October (instead of ending the season in November). Keselowski also says that no track should host more than one weekend race. So, a track with two dates would get a weekend date and a midweek date.

One thing he notes is that any midweek race should take no more than three hours, meaning a number of races likely would need to be shortened

Keselowski’s idea is a novel concept and presents a new way of thinking when looking ahead in NASCAR. It’s always good to be forced to look at issues in different ways. But there are many challenges to his plan.

One question is what about the costs to teams. It would be easy to see teams saying such a schedule would cost them too much with the additional travel, expenses of preparing cars and repairing cars for example.

“The race teams will adjust, they’ll figure it out,’’ Keselowski said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Here’s what most people don’t understand. When a car owner complains about money, almost every race team out there has 20 or 30 engineers that don’t build the cars that make good wages and are smart people. What that tells me is they’ve got money and they’re just deciding to allocate it.’’

That might be a harder sell to teams. Rob Kauffman, co-owner of Chip Ganassi Racing and chairman of the Race Team Alliance spoke during All-Star weekend about cost to teams.

“It’s a joint concern, so it will be a joint solution to come up with how it works,’’ Kauffman said of working with NASCAR. “To get something like that in place will require quite a bit of collaboration.’’

Another concern would be tracks. A reason why there hasn’t been a midweek race yet is because a track executive has not volunteered to be the first.

The challenge with a midweek race is that the track likely won’t draw as many fans. Track officials note that they still have a significant percentage attend their races traveling from a few hours or more away. Not as many of those fans would probably make such a trip in the middle of the week. That could be lost income for the tracks.

Those are just among some of the key issues. It is a tangled web of trying to appease, teams, tracks, media partners, sponsors and fans as NASCAR forges ahead.

While there are many challenges to Keselowski’s plan — making it seem unlikely — that doesn’t mean such thinking should be immediately dismissed. Keselowski could be right in that bold thinking is what the sport needs as it looks ahead.

2. Kyle Busch could have company

While Kyle Busch became the first driver to win at every Cup track he’s competed with his Coca-Cola 600 victory, a couple of other drivers are not far behind.

Kevin Harvick has won at all but two tracks on the circuit (not including the Roval). He has yet to win at Kentucky (0 for 7) and Pocono (0 for 34).

Jimmie Johnson has won at all but three tracks on the circuit (not including the Roval). He has yet to win at Chicagoland (0 for 16), Kentucky (0 for 7) and Watkins Glen (0 for 16).

3. Back in the Day

LeBron James made his eighth consecutive NBA Finals appearance Thursday night. The last time he wasn’t in the NBA Finals was 2010.

That season in NASCAR:

Jimmie Johnson was on his way to a fifth consecutive Cup title.

Jamie McMurray won the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and Charlotte fall race.

Denny Hamlin won a series-high eight races.

Kevin Conway was Cup Rookie of the Year.

Joey Logano had just turned 20 years old.

Brad Keselowski won the Xfinity Series title.

Kyle Busch won 13 of the 29 Xfinity races he started.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was Xfinity Rookie of the Year.

Kyle Larson finished 10th in the Chili Bowl Nationals (Cole Whitt was second to winner Kevin Swindell).

William Byron wouldn’t turn 13 until November of that year.

4. France Family Group adds to portfolio

In a recent SEC filing, International Speedway Corp. stated that the France Family Group owns 74.11 percent of the combined voting power of common stock.

The France Family Group owned 73 percent, according to ISC’s 2016 annual report.

The France Family Group owned 72 percent, according to the ISC’s 2015 annual report.

As a comparison, Bruton Smith and son Marcus own 71 percent of Speedway Motorsports Inc.’s common stock. They owned 70 percent, according to SMI’s 2016 annual report.

5. A year later …

There will be much talk this weekend about how Jimmie Johnson has gone a year — it will be a year on June 4 actually — since his last Cup victory, the longest drought of his career.

But something else to ponder: In the last 36 races (a full season’s worth), Toyota has 19 wins, Ford has 12 and Chevrolet has five.

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