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NASCAR declines ThorSport Racing’s request to reinstate teams to playoffs

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NASCAR has denied ThorSport Racing’s request to reinstate its two Gander Outdoors Truck Series teams that were eliminated at Las Vegas Motor Speedway because of a motor issue that Illmor Engineering claimed responsibility.

ThorSport Racing sent NASCAR a letter Sept. 27 seeking reinstatement into the playoffs for Grant Enfinger, the regular-season champion, and Johnny Sauter. Both failed to finish at Las Vegas because of engine issues and were eliminated from the playoffs.

Ilmor Engineering provides the NT1 engine that is run by nearly every team in the Truck series. After multiple engine failures during the Sept. 13 Las Vegas race, Ilmor and NASCAR investigated the matter. Ilmor Engineering cited the cause as “the combination of the high engine load condition combined with the extreme weather conditions in Las Vegas resulted in some engines suffering severe detonation.”

ThorSport Racing sent a one-page letter Sept. 27 to NASCAR with its request.

“We feel the right thing for us is we were never allowed to race at Vegas for the playoff positions,” David Pepper, general manager of ThorSport Racing, told NBC Sports on Sept. 27. “We’re not asking to reset Vegas. We’ll take our last-place finishes. We’re just asking to move the cutoff date to Phoenix, eliminate four of us instead of two (after Vegas) and two (after Phoenix.)

“Allow it to be settled on the race track and not by an outside source that has openly said, ‘Hey, we made a mistake.’ I don’t want to beat on them. They made a mistake, but we shouldn’t be the victims of the mistake.”

The six drivers remaining in the Truck playoff are: Reigning series champion Brett Moffitt, Austin Hill, Ross Chastain, Stewart Friesen, Matt Crafton and Tyler Ankrum.

The second round of the playoffs begin Oct. 12 at Talladega Superspeedway.

ThorSport Racing requests NASCAR reinstate its teams to Truck playoffs

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CONCORD, N.C. — ThorSport Racing sent a letter Friday to NASCAR requesting that series officials reinstate its two teams eliminated from the Gander Outdoors Truck Series playoffs because of engine issues that the manufacturer claimed responsibility for.

ThorSports Racing teammates Grant Enfinger, the regular-season champion, and Johnny Sauter were eliminated in the first round Sept. 13 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after their engine issues. Teammate Matt Crafton’s engine also failed but he advanced to the second round, which begins Oct. 12 at Talladega Superspeedway.

ThorSport Racing made the request for reinstatement in a one-page letter to NASCAR.

“We feel the right thing for us is we were never allowed to race at Vegas for the playoff positions,” David Pepper, general manager of ThorSport Racing, told NBC Sports. “We’re not asking to reset Vegas. We’ll take our last-place finishes. We’re just asking to move the cutoff date to Phoenix, eliminate four of us instead of two (after Vegas) and two (after Phoenix.)

“Allow it to be settled on the race track and not by an outside source that has openly said, ‘Hey, we made a mistake.’ I don’t want to beat on them. They made a mistake, but we shouldn’t be the victims of the mistake.”

NASCAR and Ilmor Engineering, which provides engines to nearly every Truck team, each issued statements Thursday about the multiple engine failures at Las Vegas, the cutoff race in the opening round of the Truck playoffs.

Ilmor Engineering stated that “we deeply regret the impact that the engines issues created for our NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series partners.” Illmor cited “high engine load condition combined with the extreme weather conditions in Las Vegas resulted in some engines suffering severe detonation.”

Asked about ThorSport Racing’s request to have its teams reinstated in the playoffs, NASCAR issued a statement Friday to NBC Sports: “NASCAR’s focus remains on this weekend’s races at Charlotte Motor Speedway.”

Pepper notes that while the rule book doesn’t contain anything about reinstating playoff teams, it would follow under section Section 1.6 of the Truck Series rule book.

Section 1.6.b states that “On occasion, circumstances will be presented that are either unforeseen or are otherwise extraordinary, in which strict application of the NASCAR Rules may not achieve this goal. In such rare circumstances, the NASCAR Officials, as a practical matter, may make a determination regarding the conduct of an Event, the eligibility of a Competitor, or similar matters that are not contemplated by or are inconsistent with the NASCAR Rules, in order to achieve this goal.”

Illmor Engineering’s NT1 engine is used almost by nearly every Truck team. It was introduced before the 2018 season as a cost-savings move for teams.

Pepper said action should be taken for ThorSport even though nearly every team uses the same engine and was at risk of the same issue at Las Vegas.

“People keep bringing up that we choose to run them,” Pepper said of the NT1 engine. “Well, not exactly. That’s not entirely accurate. We are presented the NASCAR Ilmor motor and it is the motor of preference because the rules have been changed several times to impede the built motor.

“You cannot be competitive and win with that built motor (from a source other than Ilmor). They’ve cut RPM. We’ve changed the gear rule. I want to make sure that everybody understands there are reasons why we are forced into running that. It’s not by coincidence that everyone ran the Ilmor but one or two trucks (at Vegas).”

Pepper said if the NT1 and one built by another manufacturer were more even, the team could have the choice of which engine to use.

“If we chose one and it blew up, then that is on us because we’re controlling our own destiny,” Pepper said. “We want to be able to control our own destiny. Our outcome of our season and our races should be a product of what we choose to run, not what we have to run because of just the way things are.”

Cause of multiple engine failures in Las Vegas Truck race revealed

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NASCAR and Ilmor Engineering announced Thursday the results of their investigation into multiple engine failures at the Sept. 13 Gander Outdoors Truck Series playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Five trucks – including three from ThorSport Racing – suffered engine failures during the race. ThorSport drivers Grant Enfinger, the regular-season champion, and Johnny Sauter were both eliminated from the playoffs after their engine failures. ThorSport teammate Matt Crafton also had engine failure but managed to advance to the second round of the playoffs, which begin October 12 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Ilmor’s NTI engine was introduced to the Truck Series before the 2018 as a cost-effective alternative to engines developed by teams and manufacturers. It is used by most teams.

Here are statements from both Ilmor Engineering President Paul Ray, as well as NASCAR:

Paul Ray: Ilmor Engineering is committed to our partnership with NASCAR and to the long-term development of the NT1 engine. To that end, following the issues experienced by a number of different teams and competitors during the Sept. 13 race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, engines were returned to the NASCAR R&D Center for technical inspection and data review. The combination of the high engine load condition combined with the extreme weather conditions in Las Vegas resulted in some engines suffering severe detonation. Ilmor is taking new measures in engine calibration to ensure to this situation is corrected for all future races.

We deeply regret the impact that the engine issues created for our NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series partners. We have requested every engine that raced at the Las Vegas event be returned to our technical facility in Plymouth, Michigan. All the engines will be disassembled and inspected by our highly experienced team. Any damage as a result of the Las Vegas event will be corrected and the engine returned to the race teams as soon as required.”

NASCAR: We commend Ilmor Engineering for their thorough review and the forthright way they’ve claimed ownership of the engine issues suffered by teams during the Sept. 13 race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The NT1 engine has played a vital role in the health of the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series and that’s been evident in the tremendous competition we’ve seen all season. We’re confident that will continue in the years ahead.”

Following the Las Vegas race, Enfinger told FS1, “It’s just a shame our season hopes come down to quality control on a spec part that we had nothing to do with. I definitely share our owner’s frustration with the parts.”

Sauter’s team tried to repair the issue and got him back on track, but he didn’t complete a full lap before the engine let go for good, ending his night.

Just inferior engines, I guess, I’m not sure,” Sauter told FS1. “It’s just disappointing that our season comes down to that. This is a fresh engine, obviously something’s wrong with it. … It’s just a shame … but if something happens and it’s out of your control, what are you going to do?”

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Friday 5: Kyle Larson showing strength as Cup playoffs near

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While many of his competitors relax far away from a track, Kyle Larson is using the final off weekend of the season for Cup to go racing.

Why not keep going when things are good?

Larson enters this break having finished in the top 10 in each of the last four Cup races. While Joe Gibbs Racing drivers rank 1-2-3 in points scored during that stretch, Larson is the best of the rest. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver has scored 146 points to rank fourth among all drivers during the last month.

That run has helped Larson go from being in danger of falling out of a playoff spot to having a comfortable margin with two races left in the regular season. Larson will head to Darlington Raceway next weekend for the Southern 500 trailing Alex Bowman by 10 points for 10th in the standings.

The recent run of success comes as Larson and his team avoided problems.

“I feel like our race cars have gotten little bit better and any time that happens, it makes your job a little bit easier and you can be less aggressive and still get good finishes,” Larson told NBC Sports. “I would just point to our cars getting a little bit better.

“I’ve crashed enough stuff early in the year and really still recently, but I’m trying to race a little bit smarter and make moves a little bit smarter and not try to run fifth with a 10th-place car and take my 10th or even if I fall back to 11th or 12th. Just being a little  bit smarter about things.”

Larson might have had a streak of six consecutive top-10 finishes but he placed 33rd at New Hampshire in July. Larson was ninth on a restart about 80 laps from the finish when he went low to try to pass Bowman entering Turn 1. Larson was on the bottom in a three-wide situation and spun, sliding up the track and backing into the wall. His woes were compounded when he had a right rear tire go down about 40 laps later and he crashed.

Larson knows he needs to make better decisions in the car.

“I should have just stayed in line and not push the issue,” he said of that restart against Bowman. “I had a fast car.”

That’s not the only time he’s had an issue. He looks to the Pocono race in June. On the final restart, he made contact with Clint Bowyer’s car and that forced Larson’s car into the wall. Larson finished 26th after having won both stages.

“I tried to clear myself up in front of Clint and not be quite enough clear and put myself in the fence with a few laps to go,” Larson said. “I cost myself there (Pocono and New Hampshire) a combined at least 40 points. That could put us inside the top 10 in points. Those are just two deals. I’ve had other races that I’ve been overly aggressive because you have to be.”

Even so, he’ll be in a good place when the Cup series resumes at Darlington Raceway. Larson finished third in last year’s Southern 500, the second time in the last three years he’s placed third there.

“I just think our team and myself just have a good feel for worn out surfaces at intermediate tracks,” Larson said. “You look at Atlanta, we were really fast. Chicago, we were really, really fast. Homestead, we’re always good. Darlington, we’re always good. So I think we’ve got a good package for that. It just fits my driving style.”

2. Chasing the right away around Road America

While the focus this weekend at Road America (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN) will be on if Austin Cindric can win his third consecutive Xfinity Series road course event, Chase Briscoe will be looking to extend his streak of top-10 finishes at a track he’s never raced.

Briscoe has scored six top-10 finishes in a row, tying Tyler Reddick and Justin Allgaier for the longest active streak in the series. 

Unlike those two, Briscoe’s only experience at the track is on a simulator.

“Road America is going to be a challenge,” said Briscoe, who won last year’s inaugural race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. “I feel like Watkins Glen is one of the easier road courses just to go to the first time. It’s not really that technical, it’s pretty easy. Then Mid-Ohio … I ran an IMSA race there and an Xfinity race there. I felt like that was the one track I would have the opportunity to run good. But the Road America deal is going to be a struggle I feel like.”

Briscoe spent time on a simulator for the 14-turn, 4.048-mile track on Aug. 14. 

“I feel like at a track that big, it’s really hard to get into a rhythm,” he said. “At Watkins Glen, there are seven corners. You go through that same corner it seems like pretty quickly. At Road America, it’s going to be another two and a half minutes it seems like until you get back around there. It’s going to be a challenge. I feel like I kind of struggle on how to pass guys on the road course. It’s just a different style of passing and setting guys up.”

How so?

“Just seems like on the oval, you can catch a slower guy and it’s so easy to go to the other groove and pass them,” Briscoe said. “On these road courses, it’s typically one groove and you catch one slow guy and you might be stuck behind him for eight corners before you get to a passing zone to pass. I don’t know if Road America is going to be bad. For example, at Mid-Ohio, once you get to Turn 5, you can’t pass until really I think Turn 10 or 11, so you’re just kind of stuck. It’s hard to kind of have patience and ride behind people and know you can’t push it in those areas.”

3. Woe is the No. 3

This was not the season Richard Childress Racing imagined for its 50th anniversary.

Heading into next weekend’s Southern 500, Austin Dillon is 23rd in points, two spots ahead of rookie teammate Daniel Hemric.

Dillon’s 34th-place finish last weekend at Bristol marked his fifth finish of 30th or worse in the last seven races.

“We’ve got to do a better job in our group of controlling our entire weekend from the time we unload off the trailer, it’s been a little bit inconsistent,” Dillon said before last weekend’s Bristol race. “But in that sense, motors are good, feel like our bodies are good. The core stuff is there, but we’re beating ourselves. That’s what’s frustrating about this year. I feel like we’ve had more speed than we had in the past but haven’t been able to execute.”

Dillon won stage 2 at Daytona in July before he and Clint Bowyer triggered an 18-car crash battling for the lead. Dillon finished 33rd. A transmission and alternator issue led to a 35th-place finish for Dillon at Kentucky. He was 32nd at New Hampshire after a right front tire went down and he hit the wall. Dillon placed 31st at Watkins Glen after struggling most of the weekend on the road course. Dillon’s Bristol finish was hampered by a tire that went down and sent him into the wall and Jimmie Johnson into the back of Dillon’s car.

Dillon admits this has been his most frustrating year in the series.

“It’s been really trying mentally,” he said. “Just beats you down because every week you have to come back to it, what’s next? What’s going to happen next?”

Most weeks, at least recently, the answer to that question has not been good for Dillon and his team.

“I just want to do so much for RCR in their 50th year, for the No. 3 and for myself,” he said. “I hate running bad. It sucks. You want to get those finishes and you see bad finishes piling up and it gets you down.”

4. Feeling comfortable

As William Byron nears his first playoff appearance, the Hendrick Motorsports driver says he feels more comfortable in his role with the team in his second season in Cup.

“This is the first time I can walk into the shop and I don’t feel like I’m on pins and needles with the guys, in terms of them just trusting me and me feeling comfortable with them to tell them what is exactly on my mind,” Byron said. “It’s the first time I can walk into the shop and feel like I can say what’s on my mind; if I’m not content or I’m not happy with something or even when things go great.”

Byron is growing into his role with guidance from crew chief Chad Knaus, who joined the team after last season. Knaus has Byron 12th in the standings with races left at Darlington and Indianapolis before the Cup playoffs begin.

“I would say Chad and I are both kind of, the two pillars of the team,” Byron said. “Chad’s job is to encourage those guys, give them the resources they need, make sure they’re staying on task and make sure they’re focused. My job is to kind of I guess cheerlead a little bit in terms of motivation but also to be honest with them and say, hey this was good, this wasn’t good, this worked well, this didn’t.”

5. Back again

While the Gander Outdoors Truck Series makes its annual visit to Canadian Tire Motorsports Park for Sunday’s playoff race, it won’t be the first time this year for ThorSport’s drivers.

Grant Enfinger, Ben Rhodes, Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter competed in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge at the road course, driving Ford Mustang GT4s. Rhodes and Enfinger shared driving duties and finished 13th. Crafton and Sauter shared driver duties and placed 14th.

With Sunday’s race the second in the three-race opening round, Enfinger, Crafton and Sauter will be looking to win to advance. Reigning series champ Brett Moffitt won last week’s race at Bristol to move on to the second round.

Havoline returns as NASCAR sponsor in three-race deal with Ben Rhodes

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Havoline, the oil brand famous for sponsoring drivers like Davey Allison, Ernie Irvan, Dale Jarrett, Ricky Rudd and Juan Pablo Montoya, is back in NASCAR this weekend as a team sponsor after an 11-year absence.

It will be a sponsor on Ben Rhodes‘ No. 99 ThorSport Racing Ford for the next three Gander Outdoors Truck Series races, at Pocono Raceway, Eldora Speedway and Michigan International Speedway.

Havoline is subsidiary of the Chevron Corporation, an integrated energy and technology company. Other subsidiaries include the Texaco and Caltex brands.

Havoline has not been a primary sponsor for a team since 2008, when it sponsored Montoya at Chip Ganassi Racing in the Cup and Xfinity Series.

It first was a major team sponsor in 1987 on the No. 28 car owned by Harry Ranier and driven by Allison. It then moved with Allison to Robert Yates Racing in 1989, where it remained until 2002.