Tanner Berryhill

Friday 5: Kyle Busch’s comments address murky issue with no solution

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RICHMOND, Va. — The way to prevent the contact that happened last week between Kyle Busch and Garrett Smithley at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is simple.

Once the playoffs start, only playoff cars can race.

Of course, that will never happen — and should never happen.

But as long as more than half the field features non-playoff competitors, there will be times when those drivers play a role, despite their best intentions, of impacting a playoff driver’s race. It could happen again in Saturday night’s playoff race at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

While the focus since Sunday has been on Busch’s comments after the Las Vegas race, the response from Smithley and the rebuttal from Joey Gase, there is a bigger issue, which Smithley alluded to in an interview on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio earlier this week.

“People don’t understand the technology gap and the money gap that there is in the Cup series,” Smithley told Mojo Nixon on “Manifold Destiny.”

Smithley understands. His NASCAR career of 11 Cup races and 125 Xfinity starts all have been with underfunded teams.

Such teams have fewer resources and struggle to be competitive, all but forcing their drivers to seemingly spend as much time looking out the rearview mirror to stay out of the way as looking ahead through the windshield.

While NASCAR has a minimum speed for races, only one time this season, according to Cup race reports, has a car been ordered off the track because it was going too slow. That was the Spire Motorsports entry at Dover in May. Two months later, that team — one of 36 chartered teams — won the rain-shortened race at Daytona with a different driver.

Corey LaJoie noted on Twitter after the Las Vegas race how a team’s financial situation can impact its driver choice:

Justin Allgaier, preparing to compete in Friday’s Xfinity Series playoff opener, understands the plight of drivers with subpar equipment. Allgaier suffered through such circumstances when he raced in Cup.

“Kyle obviously had some pretty harsh words,” Allgaier said Thursday during the Xfinity Series playoff media day at Richmond Raceway. “I do understand sometimes there are times where lapped traffic does make a big difference in how the outcome goes. But on the flip side, I’ve been in that situation. You’re battling, really your livelihood, just to even keep a ride, and you’re doing everything you can and the last thing you want to do is mess somebody up.

“I thought that the situation we were in last week, personally I didn’t think anything could have been done differently as far as what Garrett did or what lane he ran. I thought he did everything right. He went in and picked a lane and stuck with it.”

Busch didn’t see it that way and ran into the back of Smithley. Busch then ignited a debate on social media when he told NBCSN after the race: “We’re at the top echelon of motorsports, and we’ve got guys who have never won Late Model races running on the racetrack. It’s pathetic. They don’t know where to go. What else do you do?”

Busch’s question has no answer that will appease him because nothing will be done. It’s understandable if he’s sensitive to the issue. Last year at Phoenix, a caution with 18 laps to go by a driver making his first start in either Cup, Xfinity or Trucks in four years, bunched the field and took away Busch’s advantage. Busch pulled away on the restart to win.

“I understand the implications I could cause by messing somebody’s race up, and I’m going to do everything I can to not do that,” said Tanner Berryhill, the driver who was making his first NASCAR start in four years last season at Phoenix, before that event. “That’s not how I want to be remembered in this sport.”

Nobody does. The incident between Busch and Smithley likely will be soon forgotten. But there will come a day when a non-playoff driver is involved in a situation in the championship race that could determine who wins the title and who doesn’t. As long as NASCAR’s playoff races include non-playoff cars, the risk always will be there. It is up to NASCAR to ensure that those competing in those races are qualified to do so.

2. A new experience

Jimmie Johnson got his first taste as a non-playoff driver in a playoff race last weekend at Las Vegas and it was interesting.

One of the debates before and during the playoffs is how much those not racing for a title should race the playoff contenders. As the level of desperation increases in each round among playoff drivers, their patience with non-playoff drivers decreases.

So what was the seven-time champion’s experience like with the playoff drivers Sunday?

“I saw quite a few situations where drivers in the playoffs took some desperate moves out there,” he said earlier this week at Charlotte Motor Speedway after joining breast cancer survivors in painting pit wall pink. “I saw it happen to other drivers, I had a few make that move on me as well.

“It’s a tricky situation to be in, and I know they’re going after every point they need to but so am I. We certainly plan to not allow myself to be used up as I was in Vegas a couple of times.”

3. Game planning

A fascinating aspect of this year’s rules package is how crew chiefs set their cars, particularly at the big tracks. Stewart-Haas Racing focused on speed for its cars last weekend at Las Vegas and took the top four spots in qualifying. When it came to the race, Kevin Harvick’s car was the only SHR car to excel and finished second.

Joe Gibbs Racing, on the other hand, focused on downforce to make its cars better in the race. The result was that Martin Truex Jr. won after starting 24th.

Crew chief Cole Pearn and Martin Truex Jr. celebrate their Las Vegas win. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

That’s a trend for Truex. He has started eighth or worse in four of the five races he’s won this year. Truex qualified 13th at Dover but then started at the rear because of inspection failures, he qualified 14th in the Coca-Cola 600, started eighth at Sonoma and 24th at Las Vegas in his wins. The exception was when he started fifth at Richmond in his April victory.

Harvick’s team has taken a different approach. He qualified third at Las Vegas and finished second. He won from the pole at Indianapolis. He won at Michigan in August after starting second.

“That’s their MO, right?” crew chief Cole Pearn said after Truex’s win last weekend at Las Vegas of Harvick’s team. “They’re dragging the pipes, slamming the backs, just going for all that speed. It’s working for them. All the power to them.

I think for us, we’ve had a couple races where we’ve gone more that way and they haven’t been very good for us. I think everyone has their own take. I think you generally look at JGR as a whole, how well we’ve qualified this year, I think we got one pole, 14 wins.  That’s the variance in the strategy.”

4. Reading time

Denny Hamlin and Noah Gragson have spent time on a new endeavor recently. They’re both reading books to help make them better.

Hamlin and others have cited personal growth as contributing to his turnaround this season after going winless last year, the first time he had failed to win while competing full-time in Cup.

“It’s definitely fact that I am calmer and more confident because I have learned to let go of the things that I can’t control,” Hamlin said. “A lot of that has come through self-improvement. I have done a lot of reading, which I wouldn’t consider myself a reader. I didn’t read a book, I guarantee you, from whenever I had to in high school till I turned 38 this year.

“I just started reading over the last three or four months. I started learning and trying to be a better person in general. I have learned to really let go of things I can’t control. It has really allowed me to think about the process more. I think it really has helped with my on-track performances. Thinking through the processes more and not focusing on and worrying about the things that I specifically can’t control.”

Gragson said that he’s reading a book “25 Ways to Win With People” to be a better team leader.

“That’s what I need to be for this race team,” Gragson said. “It’s really easy to be happy and smiling when things are going good, but I feel like your character comes out when maybe things aren’t going as well as you would want. I’m trying to lean on people who I call my mentors … reading that book and just trying to be better and more positive.”

Gragson said he got the book from former driver Josh Wise, who trains drivers with Chip Ganassi Racing, JR Motorsports and GMS Racing.

“I’ve been leaning on him,” Gragson said of Wise. “He helps me with overall thinking. He was the first person I went to when I felt like we were going through maybe a valley that our communication was off as a team, I was kind of struggling with my confidence and where we were. Leaning on him really helped me. The takeaways (from the book) have been very valuable and it helps me with everyday life, too. I’m willing to try it and it’s been helping so far.”

5. Who is next

Richmond marks the fifth short track race of the season. Consider what the first four races have seen:

Four different winners (Brad Keselowski at Martinsville, Kyle Busch at Bristol, Martin Truex Jr. at Richmond and Denny Hamlin at the Bristol night race).

Four different pole winners (Joey Logano at Martinsville, Chase Elliott at Bristol, Kevin Harvick at Richmond and Denny Hamlin at the Bristol night race).

Four different drivers finished second (Chase Elliott at Martinsville, Kurt Busch at Bristol, Joey Logano at Richmond and Matt DiBenedetto at the Bristol night race).

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Obaika Racing won’t enter Daytona 500

Obaika Racing
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Two days after it revealed its car for the Daytona 500, Obaika Racing has announced it will not enter Tanner Berryhill‘s No. 97 car in the “Great American Race.”

The team issued a statement Friday afternoon about the decision, citing “a variety of circumstances,” including limited resources and funding.

“It is no secret that this is a very small team with limited resources,” the team said. “This is also a very new team to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. The No. 97 team has worked very hard through the winter to prepare cars and to secure funding for the 2019 season, and things did not come together as quickly as hoped or needed. The odds of making the Daytona 500 did not seem reasonable enough to stretch our resources, so the team feels that our assets can best be put towards a future race.”

Obaika’s news means 42 cars will try to make the 40-car field in the Daytona 500.

The team’s announcement on Wednesday, held at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, was also used to reveal a partnership with Wave Sports.

“Adding Wave Sports as a year-long partner was a huge boost to our program, and they will be a very important part of our future efforts,” the statement continued. “We continued with the Wednesday, Feb. 6th, press conference at the NASCAR Hall of Fame with great optimism about our program coming together in time to make it to Daytona International Speedway. Even though that did not work out, we are still very thankful to Wave Sports for continuing their support.

“The team still has big plans for the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. We will compete in as many events as possible, and we will announce our 2019 debut race as soon as possible.”

Owned by Victor Obaika, the team made its Cup debut last year and competed in three races, with Berryhill driving in the last two races of the season.

The team has 78 Xfinity Series starts since 2015.

Casey Mears entered in second Germain Racing car for Daytona 500

Getty Images
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Germain Racing will use the Feb. 17 Daytona 500 to field a second car for the first time since 2011 and it will be piloted by former full-time driver Casey Mears.

Mears, who raced for Germain from 2010-16 in Cup, will drive the No. 27 Chevrolet. The team will be built and staffed through a partnership with Premium Motorsports. Pat Tryson will serve as crew chief.

Mears will be teammates with Ty Dillon, the current driver of Germain’s No. 13 Chevrolet.

“I have considered running a second car in the Daytona 500 for years,” owner Bob Germain said in a press release. “My immediate focus is still on our No. 13 team and the full season that Ty Dillon will run. However, when the chance to field a second car with Casey Mears came together this year with Jay Robinson building the car and providing the at-track crew, I wanted to jump on it.

“The Daytona 500 is a race that our team, sponsors and fans are all passionate about, and I am too. In a race where anything can happen, having a second entry is an exciting opportunity. Casey has been a part of our Germain Racing family for years, and I’m grateful that he’s willing to get behind the wheel for me again in this one race.”

Without a charter for the car, Mears is not guaranteed starting spot in the race.

Mears didn’t make any NASCAR starts in 2018.

He last competed in the 2017 Xfinity season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway for Biagi-DenBeste Racing.

Mears has 25 career Cup starts at Daytona International Speedway, with a best finish of second in the 2006 Daytona 500.

The addition of Mears makes for at least eight unchartered cars that could be entered into the Daytona 500.

With a maximum field of 40 cars, four will not make the field.

The uncharted cars include:

Mears

Tyler Reddick (No. 31 for Richard Childress Racing)

Ryan Truex (No. 71 for Tommy Baldwin Racing)

Joey Gase (No. 66 for MBM Motorsports)

Brendan Gaughan (No. 62 for Beard Motorsports)

Tanner Berryhill (No. 97 for Obaika Racing)

Parker Kligerman (No. 96 for Gaunt Brothers Racing)

JJ Yeley (No. 7 for NY Racing).

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Updated: 2019 Cup Series paint schemes

Richard Childress Racing
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We’re less than a month away from the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17.

That means teams are slowly starting to reveal the cars Cup Series drivers will race throughout the season.

This collection has been updated with schemes from Stewart-Haas Racing, Richard Childress Racing, JTG Daugherty Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing and Leavine Family Racing.

Here’s a look at paint schemes that have been confirmed so far. This post will continue to be updated.

No. 00 – Landon Cassill

Cassill’s Daytona 500 car

Star Com Racing

No. 1 – Kurt Busch

Gear Wrench Instagram

No. 2 – Brad Keselowski

Team Penske

No. 3 – Austin Dillon

Dillon’s Daytona 500 car celebrating Richard Childress Racing’s 50th anniversary.

(Richard Childress Racing/HHP/Harold Hinson)
(Richard Childress Racing/HHP/Harold Hinson)
(Richard Childress Racing/HHP/Harold Hinson)
(Richard Childress Racing/HHP/Harold Hinson)

No. 4 – Kevin Harvick

 

Stewart-Haas Racing

Hunt Brothers Pizza Twitter

No. 6 – Ryan Newman

Roush Fenway Racing
Roush Fenway Racing
Performance Plus Oil
Roush Fenway Racing

No. 8 – Daniel Hemric

The car Hemric will race in the Daytona 500 honoring Richard Childress Racing’s 50th anniversary.

RCR
RCR
RCR

No. 9 – Chase Elliott

Hendrick Motorsports

 

Hooters
Kelley Blue Book

No. 10 – Aric Almirola

No. 11 – Denny Hamlin

No. 12 – Ryan Blaney

Ryan Blaney Twitter account

 

No. 14 – Clint Bowyer

Stewart-Haas Racing
Stewart Haas Racing
Stewart-Haas Racing

 

No. 17 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

 

Roush Fenway Racing

 

Sunny D Racing

No. 18 – Kyle Busch

Joe Gibbs Racing

No. 19 – Martin Truex Jr. 

Martin Truex Jr. Twitter
Joe Gibbs Racing

No. 24 – William Byron

Hendrick Motorsports
Hendrick Motorsports
Hendrick Motorsports

No. 32 – Corey LaJoie

Go Fas Racing

No. 34 – Michael McDowell

Front Row Motorsports

No. 37 – Chris Buescher

Buescher’s Daytona 500 car

Photo: Dustin Long

Buescher’s car will feature seven different monthly themes throughout the season to spotlight different brands sold at Kroger

March

April

May

June and July

Back-to-School

Fall

No. 38 – David Ragan

No. 40 – Jamie McMurray

McMurray is scheduled to make one start so far in 2019 as part of a partnership with Chip Ganassi Racing and Spire Motorsports.

No. 41 Daniel Suarez

No. 42 – Kyle Larson

Chip Ganassi Racing

No. 43 – Bubba Wallace

Wallace’s car for the Daytona 500

Plan B Sales

 

No. 47 – Ryan Preece

JTG DAUGHERTY RACING

No. 48 – Jimmie Johnson

Hendrick Motorsports

No. 88 – Alex Bowman

Hendrick Motorsports

 

Hendrick Motorsports
Hendrick Motorsports

No. 95 – Matt DiBenedetto

 

Leavine Family Racing
Matt DiBenedetto Twitter

No. 97 – Tanner Berryhill

Berryhill’s Daytona 500 car

NASCAR Hall of Fame

Christopher Bell passes Kyle Larson on last lap to win Chili Bowl

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Christopher Bell passed Kyle Larson on the last lap to win his third consecutive Chili Bowl Nationals early Sunday morning.

It was the only lap Bell led in the 55-lap race.

“I ran 53 1/2 good laps and didn’t close it out,” Larson told Mav TV after placing second. “Hate it. … It’s just disappointing to be close to winning a race like that, feeling I did everything I could until the very end. Just gave it away. Hate that.”

Bell charged under Larson and they made contact. Larson tried to get under Bell in Turn 3 and they hit again. Bell held off his friend and denied Larson his first Chili Bowl. Bell celebrated his win by doing several spins in his midget before it rolled over.

“If (Larson) wouldn’t have missed his marks, if he would have stuck the bottom, then, A, I wouldn’t haven’t got there, but I’m not just going to run into the back of him,” Bell said in the press conference after the race. “Whenever he went in there and missed his mark and slid up, I took advantage of it.”

Said Larson in the press conference after the race: “I didn’t think what Chris did was wrong at all. I knew I missed the bottom, so then I’m trying to squeeze him down. I knew that there was contact coming. If anything, I’m more upset with what I did into (Turn) 3 of running into the side of him. I try to pride myself and not race like that and that’s twice now that I’ve done that on the last lap. Just a little desperation out of myself. Got to not do that in the future.”

Justin Grant was third. Brady Bacon was fourth and Zac Daum was fifth. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. placed 21st in the 24-car field.

The A main began at 12:53 a.m. ET and ended at 1:17 a.m. ET.

MORE: Race results 

Among others with NASCAR ties:

Alex Bowman finished seventh in his C main and did not advance to the B main. 

Justin Allgaier and Tanner Berryhill each failed to advance from their C main.

Chase Briscoe missed advancing from his B main to the A feature by one spot.