Stewart-Haas Racing

Clint Bowyer
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Clint Bowyer wants to provide ‘bang’ for fan’s ‘buck’ when racing returns

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As it stands, the NASCAR Cup Series won’t be seen in action in real life for 45 days.

With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the postponement of seven NASCAR race weekends, the next scheduled Cup race is May 9 at Martinsville Speedway.

If that race is able to be held as scheduled, it would mean race teams and fans would be in for a fast and furious remainder of the season, as NASCAR intends to hold all 36 of its Cup points races and the All-Star Race.

But what would that look like and what do drivers think of the possible layout of the rest of the season?

Stewart-Haas Racing asked its four Cup drivers how they’re preparing for a potential resumption of the season and what they’d like to see in a condensed schedule with doubleheaders and mid-week races likely in the mix.

“If you’ve followed me, you know I’ve been pretty vocal about changing things up when it comes to the schedule,” Kevin Harvick said in a media release from SHR. “When it comes to the 2021 schedule, NASCAR was already looking outside the box of things we can do differently. Out of necessity, how we configure race weekends and when we race will have to be figured out for when we get back to racing this year.”

Harvick observed that “change is different, but it can be good.”

“We’ll have to think differently and be open-minded to what the rest of this year’s schedule ends up looking like,” said Harvick.

Aric Almirola believes the introduction of mid-week races for NASCAR’s premier series would “resonate really well.”

“Fans who worked all day can come home, eat dinner and then relax on the couch while we put on a show,” Almirola said in the media release.

The prospect of same-day doubleheaders between Cup and NASCAR’s other national series was a real prospect at Atlanta two weeks ago before the race weekend was postponed just hours before cars took to the track for practice. An initial plan had Cup and Xfinity both competing on Saturday.

“I think as soon as everyone got to Atlanta and saw the schedule change, it raised an eyebrow,” Clint Bowyer said in the release. “We said, ‘Hey, we can do these races in a day.’ I was fine with it. You know we need to do whatever we can do to put on a show for all these fans across the country. If all we have time for is a one-day show, then so be it. I think we can provide enough bang for their buck.”

A one-day show could also mean little or no practice for teams. But that sits well for Almirola.

“Teams have a lot of data simulation to predict how their car is going to drive and handle at a particular track, but it’s not always perfect,” Almirola said. “Practice is always helpful, even if it’s just a little bit. It would present a challenge to not practice, but it would at least be the same for everybody.”

However, a lack of practice would take away some valuable track time for a driver like Cole Custer, who had his rookie campaign paused after just four races.

“It would be a little harder just getting one or two qualifying laps in and then going racing,” Custer said in the media release. “Any time on the racetrack as a rookie is huge – the more, the better. If all we did was qualify, like we were set to do at Atlanta, it would put a lot of emphasis on our preparation going into the weekend. For me, practice is just really important so we can work on the car and get used to the track.”

In the meantime, with a little under two months to the next potential Cup race, Almirola is doing his best to prepare himself for the physical toll of what could be awaiting him and other drivers if and when the season resumes.

“During the offseason, I’m very relaxed, but this is so different,” Almirola said. “My mind is still so focused on racing. I’m continuing to work out and I go through the week with a schedule and stay in shape because, quite honestly, I think it’s going to be even more important to be in tip-top shape when we’re ready to go and the season does start back up because we’re going to be racing a lot.

“We’re talking about running races on the weekend, then midweek, then another the following weekend. If we do that, running three races in a week is going to be a lot. Recovering after the race and getting your body and mind prepped for the next race in a short period of time will be important. I’m focused on eating right, getting plenty of protein, and staying in shape to be as ready as possible for whatever this season has in store for us.”

More NASCAR teams under stay at home order

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Cabarrus County in North Carolina became the second county that is home to NASCAR teams to issue an order for residents to stay at home because of COVID-19.

The order was issued Wednesday after two individuals in the county died of coronavirus. The order takes effect at 5 p.m. ET on Thursday. The order, which restricts non-essential travel and bans gatherings of more than 10 pepole, goes through April 16.

The order impacts those also in the cities of Kannapolis, Concord and Harrisburg. Cup race shops in those locations – and subject to the order – include Stewart-Haas Racing (Kannapolis), Chip Ganassi Racing (Concord), Roush Fenway Racing (Concord), Leavine Family Racing (Concord) and JTG Daugherty Racing (Harrisburg).

Previously, Mecklenburg County issued a stay at home order that begins at 8 a.m. ET Thursday and goes through April 16. Joe Gibbs Racing, based in Huntersville, is in that county. Hendrick Motorsports has a Charlotte address in Mecklenburg County.

Race shops in other counties are not under such orders at this time.

Here is the Cabarrus County order.

 

 

Some NASCAR teams close shops because of COVID-19

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Some NASCAR teams have closed shops or limited staffs to a skeleton crew this week as the sport idles because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

NASCAR continues to work through scenarios in light of Sunday’s announcement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that it recommended that for the next eight weeks that organizers cancel or postpone events that consist of 50 people or more in the United States. NASCAR officials are scheduled to have another call with teams Monday night.

Many teams announced last week that they were closing their shops to visitors to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19.

NBC Sports reached out to Cup, Xfinity and Truck teams to see what their plans were for Monday and beyond:

Front Row Motorsports — Business as usual for the smaller team. Organization notes that all employees are taking the necessary precautions/recommendations of washing hands and keeping distance as much as possible.

Hendrick Motorsports — Its campus is closed for business for the rest of the week. Those who can work from home are doing so. There is some essential work being done on site with very limited staffing.

Joe Gibbs Racing — Closed shop on Monday and decisions would be made about what to do about the upcoming days.

Richard Childress Racing Measures have been put in place to protect employees and keep them safe, including social distancing, hand washing and sanitizing work stations. Team continues to assess the situation and will adjust as needed.

Richard Petty Motorsports — Shop is closed this week with only a limited number of essential people working in the building.

Spire Motorsports — Operating with essential personnel only.

StarCom Racing — Sent every employee home Monday.

Stewart-Haas Racing — Has closed its shop until March 22 and will reevaluate facility access and processes then.

Team Penske — Has closed its shop.

JD Motorsports — Xfinity team is business as usual as the team finalizes plans moving forward.

Kaulig Racing — General Manager Chris Rice said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that the team is limiting staff in the shop and going with a staggered system so work continues but with limited staff.

ThorSport Racing — The Truck organization is operating under normal business hours with a full staff on site preparing for the Texas race weekend in less than two weeks.

AM Racing – Temporarily closing its facility.

Phoenix winners and losers

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WINNERS

Joey LoganoMade a spirited charge late to rebound from a slow pit stop when the jack broke and then held off Kevin Harvick in an overtime restart to score his second win this season, matching his win total from the 2019 season.

Stewart-Haas Racing — Still winless this season but placed all four cars in the top 10 at Phoenix: Kevin Harvick was second, Clint Bowyer was fifth, Aric Almirola placed eighth and rookie Cole Custer was ninth.

Chip Ganassi Racing — Placed both its cars in the top 10 for the first time this season. Kyle Larson finished fourth and Kurt Busch was sixth. Both had gritty performances.

Brandon JonesPassed Kyle Busch for win with 20 laps left in the Xfinity race. It took Jones 134 races to win his first Xfinity race. He needed only seven races to score his next series win.

MORE: Phoenix race proves tantalizing for title event 

MORE: What drivers said after Phoenix Cup race 

LOSERS

Ryan BlaneyCollected in crash triggered by Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski early in the race and finished 37th. Blaney has had one of the best cars all season but never got to show what he could do at Phoenix.

Martin Truex Jr.If it’s not one thing, it’s another for him and his Joe Gibbs Racing team. He started at the rear for the second consecutive week but worked his way up to the front with the help of his pit crew, which had let him down the past couple of weeks. This time, contact from Aric Almirola put Truex in the wall. Almirola said the contact was unintentional but the damage was enough too ruin Truex’s race. He finished 32nd.

Chase ElliottIn one sense, his seventh-place finish was not satisfying considering how strong a car he had. On the other hand he still scored a top 10 after he had to pit for a loose wheel under green and later hit the wall, slowing his progress. But when one has among the strongest cars, one has to take advantage of the situation.

Denny Hamlin — Last November, Phoenix was magical with a win that put him into the Championship 4. This time, his contact with Brad Keselowski sent him into the wall. While Hamlin continued, the damage kept him from contending and he finished 20th.

Tony Stewart coming back to run Indy Xfinity race

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Hall of Famer Tony Stewart will make his first NASCAR start since 2016 when he competes in the July 4 Xfinity race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Stewart-Haas Racing announced Wednesday morning.

“Everyone knows what Indy means to me, so I can’t think of a better place to race on Fourth of July weekend,” said Stewart, who grew up 45 minutes from Indianapolis, in a statement. “It’s going to be cool making history by turning left and right in a stock car at the Brickyard, and the racing will be full of action and contact. Any time you can drive any racecar at the speedway is special, and you know I’m going for the win. The date is already circled on my calendar.”

The Xfinity race at Indy will be broadcast on NBC.

This will be the first time the Xfinity Series races on Indianapolis’ 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course.

The 62-lap race will mark the first Xfinity start for Stewart since 2013 and 95th series race in his career.

Stewart made 18 Brickyard 400 starts in Cup, winning twice (2005 and ’07). He also has competed in five Indianapolis 500s and four IROC races at the historic track.

Stewart has eight career Cup road course wins: five at Watkins Glen International and three at Sonoma Raceway.

Stewart’s most recent road course outing came in a demonstration run last October at Circuit of the Americas when he took a Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang outfitted with a passenger seat and drove Haas F1 Team drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen around the track.

“It was a lot of fun for me to get in one of our Ford Mustangs and do that exhibition run at COTA,” Stewart said in a statement. “It kind of got my juices flowing to get back in a car again, and what better place to come back than Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

Details about Stewart’s car number and sponsor will be announced later.

“People sometimes say, ‘We miss seeing you behind the wheel,” and I’m like, ‘Well, you’ve just got to go to different places now,’ ” Stewart said in a statement. “I’m racing 100 times a year in a sprint car, but seeing some of these road-course races – especially the Roval at Charlotte – piqued my interest a bit, and running the stock car at COTA, it kind of fed my hunger. All of it has led me back to the place I’ve always called home – Indy.”