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Silly Season: More rides changing for 2019

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Trevor Bayne is the latest to be looking for a ride for 2019 after car owner Jack Roush said Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that Bayne would not return to the team after this season.

Bayne, the 2011 Daytona 500 winner, had struggled this season before Roush Fenway Racing brought back Matt Kenseth to share the No. 6 ride with Bayne.

Since he began driving in Cup for Roush in 2015, Bayne has zero wins, four top fives and 11 top-10 finishes in 124 starts.

Here’s a look at where Silly Season stands at this point:

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2019

Bubba Wallace will remain with Richard Petty Motorsports through the 2020 season (announcement made July 28)

CUP RIDES NOT YET ANNOUNCED FOR 2019

No. 1: The Associated Press reported Sept. 10 that car owner Chip Ganassi had offered Jamie McMurray a contract to drive in the 2019 Daytona 500 only and then move into a management position. Ganassi was awaiting McMurray’s decision. The move means the No. 1 will be open for 2019.

No. 6: Car owner Jack Roush said Sept. 12 on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that Trevor Bayne would not be back with Roush Fenway Racing after this season. Bayne, who has shared the No. 6 ride this season with Matt Kenseth, has driven in Cup for Roush since 2015.

No. 23: Front Row Motorsports purchased the BK Racing team in bankruptcy court. Front Row needs the team to run the rest of the season to maintain the charter. After this season, Front Row could run a third car, lease this charter or sell this charter.

No. 31: Ryan Newman announced Sept. 15 that he would not return to the No. 31 after this season. Car owner Richard Childress told NBC Sports: “We’ll announce who our driver is in the near future.”

No. 32: Go Fas Racing is looking for a driver after Matt DiBenedetto’s announcement Sept. 7 that he won’t return to the team after this season.

No. 41: Kurt Busch signed a one-year deal last December to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing. He said Aug. 31 at Darlington that he has two contract offers for 2019 but did not reveal what teams they were from. Busch said Sept. 7 he had no updates on his status.

No. 95: Kasey Kahne announced Aug. 16 that he would not return for another full-time season. Also, this team has told Richard Childress Racing it won’t be a part of its technical alliance next year. Car owner Bob Leavine said Aug. 5 that “in our talking to the manufacturers this year, Toyota has been head-and-shoulders above the rest so far.”

DRIVERS WITHOUT ANNOUNCED PLANS FOR 2019

Trevor Bayne: 2011 Daytona 500 winner is looking for a ride after the Sept. 12 announcement he won’t return to Roush Fenway Racing in 2019. He told NBC Sports on Sept. 14 that he has been calling car owners looking for a ride and would look at any of NASCAR’s top three national series. 

Kurt Busch: 2004 champion’s contract expires after this season with Stewart-Haas Racing.

Matt DiBenedettoSaid he was betting on himself by leaving Go Fas Racing and looking to race elsewhere. While he would like a full-time ride, he would entertain a part-time ride in the Xfinity Series with a winning team, following what Ryan Preece has done.

Daniel Hemric: The Xfinity driver for Richard Childress Racing was asked Aug. 17 at Bristol about his future and he described it as: “Cloudy, very cloudy.” He said then he has not signed anything for the 2019 season, adding: “I’m trying to do everything I can on the race track to prove to somebody that would be willing to put me in a car and give me a shot.”

Jamie McMurray: Although he has not revealed his plans, car owner Chip Ganassi told the AP that he had offered McMurray a contract for only the 2019 Daytona 500 before McMurray would move into a management role.

Ryan Newman: He announced during the weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that he won’t be returning to Richard Childress Racing. He intends to remain in Cup for 2019 but has yet to reveal his destination.

Ryan Preece: Modified ace who has run a limited schedule in the Xfinity Series with Joe Gibbs Racing and had great success has not announced his 2019 plans.

Daniel SuarezWith reports stating that Martin Truex Jr. will go to Joe Gibbs Racing and drive the No. 19, Suarez would be looking for a ride. He said Sept. 9 at Indianapolis that “I’m not really allowed” to talk about his situation and then added: “Everything happens for a reason. I think we are going to be in good shape.”

Martin Truex Jr.Reigning series champion has not announced a ride for 2019 with the Sept. 4 news that Furniture Row Racing is shutting down after this season.

XFINITY SERIES

OPEN RIDES FOR 2019

1: Elliott Sadler announced Aug. 15 that he will not run full-time in NASCAR after this season, creating an opening at JR Motorsports for 2019.

NASCAR continues work on aero package for next season in Cup

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NASCAR continues to look at employing an aero package next year in the Cup Series similar to what Xfinity teams ran Monday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Steve O’Donnell, chief racing development officer for NASCAR, made the comment Tuesday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Monday’s race at Indy was the third and final time this season that the Xfinity Series used a package intended to limit the separation of cars during a race. Such a package debuted last year at Indianapolis. The package was used this year at Pocono, Michigan and Indy in the Xfinity Series. 

A similar package that included a restrictor plate was used for the first time in the Cup Series in May’s All-Star Race. After support from fans and some car owners, NASCAR considered using the package at other races this season before deciding against it.

A universal complaint Cup drivers had after the All-Star Race was about the limited throttle response and horsepower. 

“I think one of the things that we’ve looked at on the Cup side is putting more power into the cars around that package, which will give drivers a little bit more opportunity to get on and off the throttle,” O’Donnell said. “That’s something we continue to look at and are discussing with the industry to where we go next year in the Monster Energy Series.”

O’Donnell explained on Sirius the purpose of using such an aero package in Cup.

“There’s a lot of talk, I see it out there, even from some in the media of we’re just trying to create pack racing everywhere,” he said. “That could not be further from the truth. The key for us is to always having on the intermediate tracks the best car out there and the best driver still be able to win the race and one of the big positives that we’ve seen when we’ve run this package, that has happened. That’s key. You haven’t seen four-wide every single lap. You’ve seen cars closer together and the ability to pass and that’s what we’re looking at.”

“The key is when you drop the green flag, yes it’s racing and the best car wins, but should there be a seven-second lead within three of four laps and can you make it to where the best car and maybe the best five cars are up there exchanging more opportunities to pass for the lead?

“It’s not trying to manufacture anything other than more lead changes, bringing cars closer together. Ultimately what NASCAR is about is still the best car and driver winning the race and that’s going to be the foundation of what we put out there.”

For better racing, survival of teams, Michael Waltrip sees answer in spec parts

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Michael Waltrip used to be an owner of a multi-car NASCAR Cup Series team.

“Used to” is the key part of that sentence.

The two-time Daytona 500 winner owned Michael Waltrip Racing from 2002-2015, fielding cars in 783 starts and earning seven wins.

Then the sponsorship money dried up.

It’s similar to the situation that found Furniture Row Racing announcing Tuesday it would be shutting it doors following the 2018 season, a year after it was atop the NASCAR world as the Cup champion.

“I have an intimate knowledge of spending more money than you got coming from sponsorship,” Waltrip said Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint.” “It was the reason our team doesn’t exist anymore.”

Waltrip, now an analyst for Fox Sports, said a closer look needs to be taken at NASCAR’s business model to “try to figure out a way to make it more viable to have more owners that want to participate. The more that want to play, the better it is.”

For his part, Waltrip championed the further exploration of using spec parts. In the Truck Series, many teams have gone to the spec Ilmor engine. In the Cup Series, spec pit guns are now used by teams. The Xfinity Series has transitioned to a composite body for its cars.

“You have to be competitive for the sponsors you have, whatever it costs to be competitive is what owners will spend,” Waltrip said. “That being said, sometimes you gotta save competitive people from themselves. … We need a spec chassis. A chassis that maybe Richard Childress Racing produces it and supplies to the industry or … maybe there’s a couple of suppliers. (We need a) chassis that we’re not spending millions of dollars developing … right after you just completed a new chassis.”

Waltrip then pointed to the differences between Brad Keselowski‘s No. 2 Ford that he won Sunday’s Southern 500 with and the car it was made to resemble, Rusty Wallace’s No. 27 Pontiac from 1990.

“You just look at a picture of them, you see basically the same thing,” Waltrip said. “But what’s going on underneath that car? There’s some crazy stuff happening with some exotic metals and things that move around and then when you stop they’re back to where they’re supposed to be and all of that is unnecessary. A race fan can’t see that. A race fan just wants to see their favorite guy outrun the rest and we’re spending a lot of money on moving parts and pieces and I just don’t think it’s necessary.”

Waltrip added: “I just feel like there’s a way for us to find common parts and pieces on the car where the crew chief and engineers can still adjust on those cars, but it comes down more to just a driver racing another.”

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Noah Gragson addresses where he stands with Todd Gilliland, 2019 plans

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Noah Gragson said he doesn’t know where he’ll race next year but stated Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio where things stood with Todd Gilliland after their last-lap incident Sunday at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.

Gragson attempted to pass Gilliland for the lead on the last corner but made contact. Both trucks spun, allowing Justin Haley to win the playoff-opening race in the Camping World Truck Series and secure a spot to the next round. Gragson finished ninth. Gilliland placed 11th.

Gragson addressed the incident with Gilliland, his Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate, on “SiriusXM Speedway.”

“I’ve talked to Todd a little bit,” Gragson told host Dave Moody. “We’re back on good terms. I wanted to get his opinion on that last lap. He wanted to get my opinion. At the end of the day, we were racing for a win. I hate the result for everybody at Kyle Busch Motorsports. Not my intention. We’re both going to move on from it and keep racing each other hard and going out there and trying to beat the rest of the competition.”

As for what car owner Kyle Busch said to him, Gragson said: “I don’t think he’s too happy. He’s been on vacation this week. I’m sure we’ll hear about it later on.”

Another question for Gragson is about his future.

Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported Wednesday that JR Motorsports is expected to sign Gragson for next season in the Xfinity Series. Gragson would replace Elliott Sadler, who announced earlier this month that this would be his final full-time season in NASCAR.

“I think the key word to that whole phrase,” Gragson told Moody when asked about being a part of the rumor mill, “is rumor. Right now it’s not really my focus. I know my guys at Clutch Management have been working really hard on finding me an opportunity next year. My main focus is to win a championship at Kyle Busch Motorsports and compete for wins on a weekly basis.”

Asked about how quickly he’d like to advance to the Xfinity Series, the 20-year-old Gragson said: “I’m not really sure what I’m going to do next year. I think it would be a great opportunity if I was in position to race in the Xfinity Series.”

Gragson finished second in his Xfinity debut at Richmond in April and followed it with a fourth at Talladega and a seventh at Dover for Joe Gibbs Racing. Those were all Dash 4 Cash races and Cup drivers were not allowed to compete in those events.

Gragson is in the Truck playoffs and is third in the points after one race. He has one win this season.

Friday 5: Former Cup champ proposes rule change for road courses

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Are there too many stages in a road course race?

Former champion Kevin Harvick wonders that after racing at Sonoma and Watkins Glen this year — and a playoff race at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval to come for the Cup Series.

“I don’t like the two stages for the road races,” Harvick said on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show this week. “The reason that I don’t like the two stages is we waste about 8-10 laps of caution between the end of the two stages. It takes some of the strategy out of the race. This week we had three sets of tires. You had two stages, so most guys put two sets of tires on and you had to stop one time (in the final stage). Then you had another set of scuffs that you used in qualifying that were available as your emergency set of tires.

“One thing about road racing to me is strategy. You see so many strategies as you go through the years and you see guys doing different things and put themselves in position to win. To me, it might be worth looking at a single stage with double points for winning the stage.’’

He’s for putting that stage beyond a fuel window, meaning teams would have to pit before the stage ended. Harvick noted that the Watkins Glen race was 90 laps and suggested putting the single stage at Lap 40 since the fuel window was about 35 laps.

“To me it doesn’t flow well at the road courses,” Harvick said of two stage breaks at a road course race. “I would like everybody to think about and look at eliminating that second stage and going to maybe just one stage, double points.”

OK, let’s look at the issues.

At Sonoma, each stage break lasted three laps. So, six of the eight caution laps in that race were related to the stage breaks.

Still, that means that 92.7 percent of the race was run under green — the second highest percentage of laps run under green in a Cup race this year (the most was the spring Martinsville race, which had 93.4 percent of the laps run under green)

At Watkins Glen, each stage break lasted three laps. So, six of the 11 laps of caution were because of stage breaks.

That means 87.7 percent of the laps run were under green. That ranks 13th best among the first 22 races.

Strategy still was a factor in both road course races. At Sonoma, teams decided if they wanted to win the stage and get the playoff point or put themselves in position to win the race.

Sonoma winner Martin Truex Jr. pitted from the lead with two laps to go in the opening stage, sacrificing one playoff point to better position himself to win the race and score five playoff points. AJ Allmendinger won that stage.

Harvick pitted from the lead before the end of stage 2 to set himself up for the finish. Denny Hamlin won the stage. Harvick went on to finish second to Truex that day.

At Watkins Glen, Kyle Busch pitted from the lead before first stage. Truex stayed on course and won the stage. Truex went on to finish second in the race to Chase Elliott, who pitted before the stage ended.

Elliott stayed on track and won the second stage. Most of the field did not pit before that break.

Strategy seemed to matter in both races even with two stage breaks.

2. A rule change to consider

Denny Hamlin’s pole last weekend at Watkins Glen wasn’t official until about 13 hours after he completed his run.

NASCAR impounded the cars after qualifying on Saturday night and inspected them Sunday morning. Any car that failed inspection the first time through had their qualifying time disallowed and started at the rear of the field.

Had Hamlin’s car failed, he would not have been recognized as the pole winner. That would have gone to the next highest qualifier that passed tech.

If NASCAR continues to have inspection the day after qualifying and take the chance of the pole winner failing, maybe it’s time for the sport to do more for race winners who fail inspection.

An argument used to be that the sport didn’t want fans who watched the race to find out hours later that there was a different winner. Admittedly, any winner that fails tech after a race loses points, loses playoff points, can’t have that win count toward playoff eligibility and that result can’t count in any tiebreaker scenario. That’s pretty powerful.

But if NASCAR is willing to strip the pole from a driver because his car failed inspection the next day, then it would seem time to do the same for a win — either leave the position vacant or give it to the next highest finishing driver that passes inspection.

If the team still wants to claim the victory and put up a winner’s banner in the shop so be it, but let the record book show something else.

3. A memorable win

Without a full-time ride, Bubba Wallace was unsure of his future last August when he competed in a Camping World Truck Series race at Michigan.

Wallace went on to win that race. It’s his last victory in NASCAR’s national series.

So how does any driver deal with such a gap since their last win?

You go through these moments where you get signs of success and the other times when you’re fighting and crawling,” Wallace said. “And those moments make you stronger, I believe. So, those days when you do click and find something, you have extra fuel to add to the fire from those tough days to go out and really get the job done.

“So, it’s not a matter of us dwelling on not winning, it’s just a matter of us trying to find something that makes our cars much more competitive. That’s a win for us right now.”

Wallace enters this weekend 25th in the points. He scored a career-best second-place finish in the Daytona 500 for Richard Petty Motorsports. His only other top-10 finish this season was eighth at Texas in the spring.

4. Bidding for a playoff spot

JD Motorsports driver Ross Chastain holds the final transfer spot for the Xfinity playoffs with six races left in the regular season. Chastain is in that position while also running the No. 15 Cup car for Premium Motorsports.

With Cup and Xfinity in two different locations this weekend, Chastain will be with the Xfinity team at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and head to Michigan after Saturday’s Xfinity race (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN). He’ll have Reed Sorenson practice and qualify his Cup car (the Cup race is at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN).

Chastain told Jay Robinson, owner of Premium Motorsports, that he would never miss an Xfinity on-track session if he got the ride in the No. 15 car.

“There’s no fair way I can take away from the 4 car,” Chastain said of his Xfinity ride.

Chastain leads Michael Annett of JR Motorsports by 40 points for what would be the final playoff spot. Ryan Sieg of RSS Racing is next, 75 points behind Chastain.

5. Familiar phrase

Since Brian France’s arrest and leave of absence from his role of NASCAR Chairman and CEO, a phrase is starting to be uttered more often by competitors.

After each wishes France well with his health, drivers have a commonality in what they say next:

Kevin Harvick said on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show this week: “I think from the drivers’ perspective, it’s really important whoever is in that position to become more connected.”

Brad Keselowski, who has been outspoken about the need for this sport’s leader to be the track more often, said: “I would definitely be encouraged to have a relationship with (Jim France, interim NASCAR Chair) and see the garage have a relationship with him. That’s never a bad thing.”

Tony Stewart, who also has been outspoken about NASCAR’s leader needing to be at the track, said: “Jim is very grounded and I feel like Jim is a guy who is in touch with what is going on and that’s what you’ve got to have.”

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