Scott Miller

Long: Aretha sang about it, Kurt Busch says he has it with Chip Ganassi Racing

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SPARTA, Ky. — As Kurt Busch decided last year where he would drive this season, it didn’t take long.

A short meeting with car owner Chip Ganassi laid the foundation for a deal that was completed in about three hours, announced in December and bore fruit last weekend with Busch’s first victory of the season.

In the 30-minute conversation Busch had last year with Ganassi about driving for the car owner, Busch found what he sought.

“(Ganassi’s) level of commitment as a racer is something that I saw,” said Busch, who had run the previous five seasons with Stewart-Haas Racing. “Yes, Tony Stewart is a racer, but I was more on the Gene Haas side. When Chip said, ‘I want you to win for me, I want you to make these guys winners, and if you can bring that (Monster Energy) sponsorship with you, I’m going to pay you this,’ it was just like the most respect that I had felt in a long time when it came to a contract negotiation.”

Respect was a word the former Cup champion used in multiple interviews Saturday in discussing his move to Ganassi.

Busch said on NBCSN’s post-race show that when a contract extension with Stewart-Haas Racing didn’t work, he called Ganassi and quickly had a deal.

“That’s just the respect factor that I was looking for,” Busch told Krista Voda, Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett.

Busch went on to say in the media center after the race about how quickly a deal was agreed upon: “It meant that I was wanted. And when you have that, that’s that extra desire to push and to make this group a winner.”

When the deal was announced in December, Ganassi said: “It’s not oftentimes that a NASCAR champion, a Daytona 500 winner becomes available. When you’ve got a guy that is a racer like Kurt … you’ve got to take a serious look at it. It didn’t take me long when he became available.”

As Busch, who turns 41 on Aug. 4, looks ahead to the playoffs, he also has to focus on what he’ll do next season. The deal with Ganassi is only for this year. So what’s next for Busch?

“For me, it’s a matter of just having the dominos line up and everybody fall together and to make it happen,” he said. “I guess the easiest way to move things forward is request for proposals are going out Monday with sponsors, with manufacturers, with team owner. 

“Yes, a win, that might have happened last week at Daytona, is one of those moments. Tonight is one of those stamps on — this 1 team is a powerful team, and it would be stupid not to keep this group together, and that’s part of my leverage, but at the end of it, we just want to make it work for all parties.”

After a night like Saturday, Busch said: “It gives you that energy of, yeah, it’s fun, and let’s get our sponsors lined up and let’s do this (again).”

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Ryan Newman has a simple rule on blocking, a tactic that has become more prevalent with the race package this year.

“I don’t do that personally, that’s not the way I race, I race hard,” Newman said. “Because it’s not the way I want to be raced. It’s not right.

“You don’t change the way that you enter a corner to choke somebody off knowing that it’s going to slow you down. You as a racer are supposed to go out there and race as hard as you can to try to catch the guy in front of you, not let the guy behind you stay behind you.”

Newman also noted a conversation he had with Ryan Blaney earlier this season after he was blocked by Blaney multiple times.

“Ryan Blaney and I have had it out after the race, not in a mean way,” Newman said. “(I) just told him, I said, ‘Listen, the next time you do that, it’s not going to be good for you. That’s not the way I race. You want to block me, it’s not going to be good.’ I don’t mean it as a threat. I’m just telling him that’s the fact of it.

“I don’t race that way. If I block you, you’ve got the right to turn me around, but if you choke me down going into the corner just to try keep me behind you, expect to get loose.”

Blaney admitted he threw “a couple of big blocks” on Newman in the Charlotte races in May.

“You make those decisions in a split-second,” Blaney said. “You’re not trying to screw that guy over, you’re just like ‘I have to help myself.’ Between me and Ryan (Newman), I’ve always liked that you could talk to someone afterwards and have an understanding about it.

“Newman said that was a big block, that was a kind of a late one. I said, ‘Yeah, I knew it was close, sorry.’ You could tell how close it was by how hard he hit you on the bumper. It’s good to talk about it and not kind of let it brood over. Me and Ryan have always been good friends. He’s someone I’ve looked up to for a long time. He’s been a friend of my family’s for a long time. It was good to talk to him and understand it.”

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To NASCAR,  it was a simple call in penalizing William Byron for jumping the restart at Kentucky Speedway.

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, explained the penalty on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Monday.

“(Byron) fired first in the restart zone, and he wasn’t controlling the restart,” Miller said. “It’s kind of as simple as that.”

In the rules video that was played in the drivers meeting at Kentucky, it stated: “It will be the control vehicle’s discretion to restart in the zone between the double marks and the single mark on the outer wall and on the racing surface.”

Clint Bowyer was the leader at the time.

The penalty took place on Lap 184 of the 267-lap race. Byron went from second place to a lap down after serving the penalty and never recovered. He finished 18th.

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Paul Menard confirmed this past weekend his contract status for next season, saying:

“I have a good job, for sure. I love the Wood Brothers. I love my race team. They are good people. I have a contract for next year. I guess it is getting to be that time of year when people start talking about things. I have a contract and I love my team. We just have to perform better, that is all.”

Menard finished 11th Saturday. He is 20th in the season standings, 54 points out of the final playoff spot.

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Sponsorship issues nearly cost eventual Truck champion Brett Moffitt his playoff eligibility last year and threaten the playoff eligibility for Tyler Ankrum this season.

Ankrum won last weekend’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Kentucky but lack of sponsorship could be an issue for him.

Ankrum was set to run a full season for DGR-Crosley once he turned 18 in March. He announced in June that he would not be running a full season with the team because of lack of sponsorship.

He started races at Iowa and Gateway for NEMCO Motorsports and retired after less than 20 laps in both races, finishing 31st at Iowa and 30th at Gateway. By starting those races, he kept his playoff eligibility. Ankrum received a waiver from NASCAR for missing the season’s first three races because he was not 18 years old at the time and could not run at Daytona, Atlanta and Las Vegas. He’s run the remaining races.

DGR-Crosley is a Toyota team and it leads to the question of what responsibility Toyota has to ensure that one of its playoff teams remains eligible for a championship run.

David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, said the company will help in ways its best suited to do so.

“Our focus is on providing technical support to our team partners, and David Gilliland and his family, they’re not maybe at the (Kyle Busch Motorsports) level but make no mistake, we do have a strong technical partnership with them,” Wilson told NBC Sports after Ankrum’s win.

Wilson said that Toyota had been with the team when they took what was the winning truck to a wind tunnel earlier.

“We obviously are engaged and hopeful that they can put enough (sponsorship) together to keep Tyler moving forward, and we’d love to have him in the playoffs,” Wilson said.

Wilson admits a focus for Toyota is on Kyle Busch Motorsports. Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland are both outside a playoff spot with three races left in the regular season.

Toyota has two teams in the playoffs as of now with Ankrum and Austin Hill, who won at Daytona for the reigning Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship team, Hattori Racing Enterprises.

Whatever Toyota teams are in the playoffs will get Wilson’s attention.

“Obviously we’re going to focus our resources on whomever is fighting to win the championship,” Wilson said. “There’s not a question about it. If it happens to be non-KBM trucks, so be it.”

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Clint Bowyer attacks Ryan Newman for contact after race

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CONCORD, N.C. — Clint Bowyer sprinted to Ryan Newman‘s car after Saturday night’s All-Star Race and began swinging at Newman while Newman remained in the vehicle.

Bowyer’s action came after contact on the cool-down lap sent Bowyer’s car into the wall.

Both drivers were called to the NASCAR hauler after the race.

Asked what was the deal with Bowyer, Newman said: “You ask him.”

Newman later told Fox Sports 1: “(Bowyer) chopped me on the front straightaway earlier in the race. “Then after the race, I just tapped him in the back, let him know I didn’t appreciate the way he raced me. Then he body-slammed me, then I hit him back on the back straightaway and he cut across my nose in Turn 3. It doesn’t take much of a man try to fight someone with a helmet on. I think he should be embarrassed by himself.”

Bowyer told Fox Sports 1: “It was a damn sure surprise fight. “I don’t know what his beef was. I thought he was a lap down. Our day was over, we lost track position there, got sideways and crossed up and basically just biding time there, seeing if something is going to happen there at the end. … I thought he was a lap down.

“I checked up and he run into my left rear and that’s the last I saw of him. Then after the race, he comes and runs into my back and turns me all around. I pull up next to him and he dumps me in four. Where I come from, you get poked in the nose for that. That’s what he got.”

Bowyer finished 12th. Newman placed 13th.

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, met with both drivers after the race.

“Obviously they had a little difference of opinion out there on the race track and they had a little difference of opinion here in the trailer but we think we understand what happened out there. We think they’re in a pretty good place We’re going to keep an eye on it. We think we’re in a good place with them. We’ll have to certainly monitor that next week and moving forward with those two.

“If there starts to be any shenanigans, we will intervene.”

Asked if there will be any penalties, Miller said: “I don’t think so, no.”

NASCAR returns to single-car qualifying for Cup, Xfinity & Trucks

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NASCAR will go back to single-car, single-round qualifying for all three of its national series at all race tracks except road courses. This begins this weekend at Dover International Speedway.

At oval tracks measuring 1.25 miles in length or less, qualifying will consist of two timed laps. At oval tracks measuring more than 1.25 miles in length, qualifying will consist of one timed lap. The group qualifying format will remain in place at road courses.

“We talked about a whole lot of other things but nothing really jumped out as something that would work for us over the long haul except this,” Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said Wednesday of the changes.

“Group qualifying worked at some tracks. There’s no question about it, but to be consistent … this is where we landed, this is what will work in our eyes everywhere.”

Asked why NASCAR didn’t go to a single-car qualifying format when it made changes to the car this year that encouraged drafting, Miller said: “We obviously want to put on the best show that we can. We thought that had potential. That’s why we gave it a go.

“Obviously, it didn’t work out like we thought it would. We’re in the business of trying to put on great racing and a good show at the same time. We will adjust and do what we feel like we need to do whenever we feel like we’re not delivering as much as we should be.”

The qualifying order draw will be determined by the previous race’s starting lineup. For example, in Cup, the top 20 starters from the previous race will draw to take their qualifying lap in positions 21-40 (the second half of qualifying). The remainder of the cars will draw to qualify in positions 1-20.

“To make a compelling show, we need to make sure that a car that stands a chance to win the pole is actually the last car out,” Miller said. “We think that typically that everybody that qualifies in the top 20 at an event, stands a chance of sitting on the pole at a subsequent event.”

Other than at road courses, Wednesday’s announcement ends group qualifying, which was introduced in 2014.

The first series to use this format for qualifying will be the Gander Outdoors Truck Series. That series has qualifying at 1:10 p.m. ET Friday at Dover. Cup qualifying is scheduled for 3:40 p.m. ET Friday at Dover. Xfinity qualifying is scheduled for 10:10 a.m. ET Saturday at Dover.

Miller said that officials expect qualifying to be completed in an hour. He said there could be some places where there will be two cars on track to speed the process. In those cases, a car could take off from pit road as the car on track completes its first lap. Miller also said that there will be three breaks, lasting two minutes each, to allow TV to go to commercial so fans watching will not miss any of the qualifying.

The change comes as qualifying has been plagued with complaints from drivers, fans and series officials this season.

Drivers said they warned series officials before the season what could happen in the group qualifying format with the draft so important at some tracks. No one would want to go first. 

The result was cars sitting on pit road for much of a round waiting for someone to go out. No cars completed a lap before the final round ended on March 15 at Auto Club Speedway, giving Austin Dillon the pole since he had been the fastest in the second round. Miller said that day that what happened had made a “mockery out of the qualifying.”

Miller said then that “we really don’t want to go back to single-car qualifying. There may not be another way. We want to exhaust every possibility before we do that because that’s not as fun, not as intriguing of a show as the group situation.”

NASCAR responded by keeping the group format but increasing penalties for failing to complete a lap in a round.

NASCAR stated that competitors who did not start a timed lap before the clock expired due to “excessive waiting” would have their qualifying times from earlier sessions disallowed and start at the rear. Previously, if a car failed to complete a lap before time expired, it started behind all the cars in that particular round.

If NASCAR determined that a competitor blocked or impeded another vehicle from taking off properly or blocked on the track, that competitor would have their posted qualifying times disallowed from the earlier sessions and start at the rear.

The changes didn’t stop most teams from waiting until the end of a round to make a lap March 29 at Texas. More complaints from drivers followed.

“I guess this is a make-up-the-rules-as-we-go event in qualifying,” Clint Bowyer said. “It’s sad. Those people up (in the stands) there paid a lot of money to bring their families here and watch a qualifying sessions and people try to go out and do their best. You’re just sitting around (on pit road) and waiting because you only know your best is good enough if the guy in front of you does a good job. That’s not qualifying.”

Jay Fabian, Cup managing series director, said that day that series officials would look at all options.

“We’re obviously disappointed with what happened,” Fabian said. “We’re disappointed with what we saw. Nobody deserves to see that. Our fans don’t deserve it. We’re going to take whatever steps we have to to clean it up so we don’t have this problem again. Pretty much everything is on the table as far as what we’ll do moving forward.”

NASCAR made another change to qualifying for Richmond only. The first two rounds were each cut to five minutes, matching the final round. Car owner Tony Stewart complained April 12 about what NASCAR was doing with qualifying.

“They make one bad decision and then they compound it by having to make three more bad decisions to try to make up for the first bad decision they made,” Stewart said.

NASCAR alters Cup qualifying format for Richmond

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All three rounds of Cup qualifying Friday at Richmond Raceway will be five minutes each, NASCAR told teams in a memo Thursday.

The change cuts the first round and second rounds from 10 minutes to five minutes each. The final round remains unchanged.

In the memo from Scott Miller, senior vice president of competition, the reason for the change this weekend was “in an effort to improve the quality of our qualifying broadcast.”

The change is intended to reduce the time teams sit parked on pit road waiting to go out. When the second round of Cup qualifying started last week at Bristol Motor Speedway, none of the 24 cars eligible to make a run went on track in the first five minutes of the 10-minute session.

NASCAR stated that the change for this weekend at Richmond should not be viewed as the new qualifying format moving forward for Cup.

Also, the change does not impact Xfinity Series qualifying. The first and second rounds of Xfinity qualifying will remain 10 minutes each. The final round of Xfinity qualifying will be five minutes.

Click here to see the memo NASCAR sent teams

 

 

Kevin Harvick says NASCAR official should not air ‘dirty laundry’

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Kevin Harvick fired back Wednesday at a NASCAR executive for wondering if drivers parked at the end of pit road during group qualifying to force a change back to single-car qualifying.

Harvick made his comments on his “Happy Hours” show on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

The show played comments Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, made on Monday’s “The Morning Drive” about qualifying. O’Donnell said: “I know the drivers did not like this qualifying before the season. Part of you says, ‘Are we doing this on purpose to get rid of it?’ “

After O’Donnell’s comments were played, Harvick was asked how the format can be fixed.

“Well, one way is not to air your dirty laundry on the radio,” Harvick said. “I feel like calling the drivers out and saying that they’re sitting at the end of pit road on purpose is probably not something that you should publicly say even if you think it.

“I wouldn’t flatter yourself with that thinking because of the fact we’re all sitting down there trying to figure out how to be first. I don’t want to be fourth. I want to be first. The best way to be first with this particular rules package is to be last. Qualifying is a drafting game and you have to wait. Nobody wants to go out first. Daniel Suarez went out and made a lap by himself and he was good with being fourth.

“I think as I look at that side of it, our job is, if it’s coming down to NASCAR and the teams trying to outdo themselves, that’s bad for everybody. (O’Donnell) referred to the drivers having a meeting. Those were driver council meetings, private meetings that were held, and I think a lot of us voiced our concern. … We all like group qualifying. Group qualifying is great. You’ve got multiple cars on the race track, you’ve got a lot of things happening, but it doesn’t work when you can draft because you wind up in these situations.”

On changes to make, Harvick said:

“The only way to fix qualifying with cars that draft is to have single-car qualifying on the superspeedways and the mile-and-a-half race tracks. That’s the only way to fix it.

“Any time that you have a draft, the guy in second is going to be faster than the guy in first as long as he’s close enough. That’s one of the unforeseen consequences that have come with this rules package that have impeded qualifying sessions that we’ve had this year at Texas, at (Auto Club) Speedway, at Las Vegas.

“It didn’t happen at Atlanta. I don’t know if that was for handling or we just didn’t know enough at that particular point, but it doesn’t work and we told them it wouldn’t work in September and now we’re kind of getting the finger pointed at us from a drivers standpoint and referred to as trying to sit at the end of pit road and do this on purposes so it will go away. That’s not the case.

“We’re all sitting down there and trying to figure out how we can somehow manage ourself in a hole to be first. That’s really what it’s about. Whatever the rules are, however you want to manage everything, it’s about being first at the end of the day and trying to be the pole-sitter and the best way to do that is to wait until you get in position behind the most amount of cars to be last (in line).”

At Auto Club Speedway, all 12 drivers in the final round failed to complete a lap before time expired because they waited on someone else to go out to lead the draft.

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said that day: “I saw obviously what our fans don’t want, obviously, having the last 12 cars wait until they couldn’t get a time posted on the board and kind of making a mockery out of the qualifying is not what we expect for our fans.”

After NASCAR sent a memo to teams about changes to how cars are to be aligned on pit road during qualifying, there were still issues last weekend at Texas. Harvick’s teammate, Clint Bowyer, failed to advance from the first round and expressed his displeasure with the format.

“I guess this is a make-up-the-rules-as-we-go event in qualifying,” Bowyer said. “It’s sad. Those people up (in the stands) there paid a lot of money to bring their families here and watch qualifying sessions and people try to go out and do their best. You’re just sitting around (on pit road) and waiting because you only know your best is good enough if the guy in front of you does a good job. That’s not qualifying.”

What can be done?

“Learn from your mistakes,” Bowyer said. “That’s how you get better. Learn from your mistakes. We already had this failure and here we are doing it again. Come on.”

O’Donnell was asked Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio about qualifying and what could be done.

“We’re going to look at every option, including the possibility of going to single-car qualifying,” O’Donnell said. “The reason we haven’t is that’s on the teams. That’s parts and pieces. We’ve tried to be as efficient as possible trying this method of (group) qualifying.

“But we’re definitely going to look at it and see what we can do. We’ve got a couple of weeks to do that. We’ll make adjustments as needed.”

Asked if he was angered by what’s happened in qualifying, O’Donnell said “absolutely” and added:

“I think it’s ridiculous, candidly,” he said. “I know the drivers did not like this qualifying before the season. Part of you says, ‘Are we doing this on purpose to get rid of it?’ I know it can be done. I know we have the best drivers in the world and crew chiefs to figure it out. We seem to want to outdo each other, and that results in sitting on pit road.

“We’ll react to it. We’ll make the right call and get it right. We don’t want to see cars sitting on pit road for 8 minutes. That’s not NASCAR racing. We’ll make the fix there.”