toyota

Getty Images

Dale Jr. Download: Joe Gibbs and the mystery of Carl Edwards’ retirement

5 Comments

It’s been roughly two-and-a-half years since Carl Edwards stunned the NASCAR world in January 2017 with the announcement he was stepping away from the sport.

No one was more stunned than his owner at the time, Joe Gibbs.

“I would have to say that conversation might have been (in) my top five as far as shocks for me in life,” Gibbs said on this week’s episode of the Dale Jr. Download (airs at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

“They said, ‘Hey, Carl’s outside,'” Gibbs recounted. “It was after the season. I figured he was going to come in and wish me a happy offseason and good Christmas.”

Instead, Edwards sat down and said, “Joe, I think I made up my mind. I’m going to step out of racing.”

“I was sitting there and I go, ‘You do realize that every young guy your age wants to drive a race car and make a ton of money? Are you sure you’re doing the right thing?'” Gibbs asked Edwards.

What’s even more shocking is that in June 2019 Gibbs still isn’t fully aware of the reasons behind Edwards’ departure after the 2016 season.

“Never really ever really got to the (reasons),” Gibbs said. “He said, ‘I’m not going to share with you, I’m not going to share with anybody the real bottom lines.’ … I will say this right now, I feel good about it from the standpoint, we still talk every now and then. Last time I called him he was on his boat in the Bahamas. I said, ‘Well, you’re doing pretty good.'”

Edwards sudden departure sent ripple effects through the sport that are still being felt today when it comes to drivers.

Martin Truex Jr. now drives the No. 19 Toyota that Edwards piloted for JGR, having replaced Edwards’ successor, Daniel Suarez, after the 2018 season.

With a drivers stable of Truex, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones, Toyota and JGR find themselves with the challenge of what to do with Xfinity Series star Christopher Bell beyond 2019.

“That’s one of the challenges you’ve got, particularly in bringing along young guys,” Gibbs said. “It’s happened to us before and man, you get caught up in that, what’s the right decision? There are options there. We’re kind of considering everything. You’re trying to work your way through them. Of course, what we just talked about, the sponsor. How does the sponsor fit in all that. It gets to be really complicated.”

Gibbs discussed Toyota’s influence on Bell’s future.

“Honestly we don’t make any decision (without them), we’re constantly talking back and forth,” Gibbs said. “It’s a real partnership from a standpoint, we’re the ones that have to get the sponsors. So the race team is hard after it. … Some of these problems, if you remember back when we took Erik and he wound up going to the 77 over at (Furniture) Row (in 2017) and everything that happened there, those are tough decisions to go through and work through, but that’s the challenge of our sport. You can say what you want, but you’re not going to go anywhere unless you have great drivers.”

Also discussed in the episode:

  • Gibbs’ Hall of Fame NFL coaching career
  • Why Gibbs returned to coaching the Washington Redskins in 2004
  • Being elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame with his former drivers, Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte

 

Hybridization of NASCAR cars not expected by 2021, Toyota executive says

Photo: Dustin Long
6 Comments

NASCAR and manufacturers have discussed the hybridization of future cars but one manufacturer executive said it won’t happen soon.

Relative to hybridization and electrification, quite simply, it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of how and when,” David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development said Thursday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “A hybrid type of strategy is absolutely something that we’re looking at.

“Candidly, it won’t be something that we see as early as ’21. That’s, realistically, a little further down the road.”

NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton said May 20 on the Dale Jr. Download that a key to the Gen 7 car — expected to debut in 2021 — would be to “make room for what might happen next. Not in the short-term, but if the automobile industry and the racing industry go down the road with some type of electrification, the chassis should have room for that. In the motor component, whatever evolution we go to in the next generation of power plants for the cars … we have the opportunity with a clean sheet of paper to build a chassis that can accommodate that easily without having to tear a car apart.”

Brad Keselowski wrote an essay last May titled: It’s time: The NASCAR hybrid. Keselowski wrote: “Not only am I sure that hybrids are the future of NASCAR — I believe it’s essential to the success of the sport that we embrace hybrid technology as soon as possible.”

Hybrids have become more important for manufacturers, Wilson said on “The Morning Drive” on Thursday.

“You look across the motorsports landscape, you’re seeing hybridization and electrification everywhere you look,” he said. “That again is simply a reflection of the automotive culture on a global basis. Today, Toyota has eight different hybrid vehicles in their lineup.”

Jim Campbell, Chevrolet’s U.S. Vice President of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, also was on “The Morning Drive” on Thursday and expressed the value of the Gen 7 car being able to incorporate hybrid elements in the future.

“I think Gen 7 gives an opportunity to bring more relevant elements of the car and the technology to what we’re selling in the showroom or what we’ll be selling more of in the future,” Campbell said. “Along with that is the ability of if we do that have an opportunity to attract more (manufacturers). So it all does really fit together. There’s still much work going on with the Gen 7.

“In terms of hybrid, I will tell you that every series we’re involved in, every single series Chevy is involved in … is looking at what is the opportunity to package protect or what are the options to include some element of hybridization. That’s really where it is right now. It’s in a discussion phrase. It hasn’t been locked down.”

In regards to hybridization coming to NASCAR, Wilson said on SiriusXM: “It is an inevitability from our perspective.”

Before the season, Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance, said of hybrids: “As we change road cars, we’re not going directly from an internal combustion engine to electric. We’ll have hybrids along the way. I don’t know NASCAR needs to go full electric.

“Even if you continue racing the internal combustion engine, we get a ton of benefit from that and connection with the fans. The ability to put the hybrid in when the time is ready, that’ll continue to connect as fans’ cars and trucks go hybrid.”

Talladega winners and losers

Leave a comment

WINNERS

Chevrolet — Facing questions about its performance, car and cohesion among its organizations, Chevy officials told its drivers to work together at Talladega. Showing a commitment to each other that Chevy drivers had not shown, they scored a 1-2-3 finish with Chase Elliott leading the way and quieting the Chevy critics for now.

Hendrick Motorsports — A 1-2 finish with Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman was needed relief for an organization that had yet to win this season before Sunday. For Bowman, it was a career-high finish.

Rookies — Ryan Preece finished a career-high third, and Daniel Hemric placed a career-best fifth. Preece’s best Cup finish before Sunday was eighth in the Daytona 500. Hemric’s best Cup finish before Sunday was 18th.

Gray GauldingHe finished a career-high second in the Xfinity race to Tyler Reddick but was as excited as if he had won. Gaulding had not finished better than 12th in 16 previous series races. Gaulding said: “This is freaking awesome. This is what every driver wants to have is that last-lap chance to win a race and we did. Just came up a little short.”

LOSERS

Bubba Wallace His mistake triggered an early accident that ended his day and that of Kevin Harvick and others. Wallace finished 39th. He has finished 30th or worse in three of the first 10 races.

Toyota  With Chevrolet dictating its teams work together, that ended the alliance Toyota had with Hendrick Motorsports from the Daytona 500. Speedway racing is about how many cars you have. Toyota had seven cars, including two from part-time teams, in the 39-car field. Ford and Chevrolet each had more cars in the field. After going 1-2-3 in the Daytona 500, Toyota had only one car in the top 15.

Kyle Larson — His bad luck continues with a last-lap tumble. He’s finished no better than 18th in his last five Cup races.

Long: Chevrolet victory went just as planned at Talladega

5 Comments

TALLADEGA, Ala. — A fan arrived to Talladega Superspeedway this weekend carrying flowers to his seat, looking for the woman he has dated online but never met in person.

In much the same way, Chevrolet teams came to NASCAR’s longest and most ferocious track, agreeing to help each other in ways they’ve never done amid questions to if they could actually do it.

The fan, Omar, was to meet his date, Amber, at the track. At last report, he had yet to find her.

But Chevrolet teams made an instant connection Sunday, fortifying the bottom lane and outmaneuvering Fords and Toyotas for a 1-2-3 finish led by Chase Elliott’s fan-pleasing, drink-raising victory at a track his Hall of Fame father Bill Elliott reigns as the fastest man. Chevrolet, which scored its first win of the season, had five of the top six finishers.

“Every Chevy driver was all in on it and all in on trying to get a Bowtie to win,” runner-up Alex Bowman said.

They had little choice.

Hendrick Motorsports’ decision to work with Toyotas instead of fellow Chevrolet teams in the Daytona 500 put this weekend’s plan in motion.

“That’s kind of what pushed us to be a little bit more firm I’d say with the teams,” said Pat Suhy, Chevrolet Manager of NASCAR Competition Group.

Chevy executives met with drivers, crew chiefs, technical directors and directors of competition Saturday, then met with crew chiefs and team executives afterward to formulate the race plan. Sunday morning, Chevy executives met with crew chiefs and spotters to finalize the plans and make sure all were onboard.

The message was clear.

“Look, we all know you know that there is power in numbers and we know that you’d like to be able to pick your dance partners,” Suhy said Chevy officials told teams. “We’re going to ask you — maybe some would say we told them — very firmly to work together as a group of Chevys and see how that works out.”

Drivers understood.

“We all have egos and we all think we’re a tick better than the guy we’re sitting next to, but we were all able to put that aside and focus on the betterment of our manufacturer,” fifth-place finisher Daniel Hemric said.

The Chevrolets worked together throughout the race. Bowman’s spotter, Kevin Hamlin, even referred to fellow Chevy cars as “friendlies” throughout the race. Chevrolet drivers pitted together under green and often ran the bottom lane together. The cohesion among the Chevy camp impressed those who tried to beat it.

“It’s harder than ever to stay in a line,” said fourth-place finisher Joey Logano, the only non-Chevrolet driver in the top six. “When you’re in line you’re running three-quarter, half throttle, you’re just waiting to go and cars are really tight and packed up. I was surprised to see how much that worked for them.”

There were numerous instances of Chevy drivers helping each other and letting them in line off restarts. Typically in the final laps, the orders go away and everyone understands it’s each driver for themself.

Yet on the final restart with four laps to go, Elliott, starting on the inside of third row, slowed to allow fellow Chevrolet driver Kurt Busch to come down from the top line, hanging his brother, Kyle, out and moving in front of Elliott.

“If it had been a green‑white‑checkered, I don’t think it would have been favorable,” Elliott said. “I think having it be more than three laps, I felt like there was going to be enough steam and momentum up to where the pack was going to be kind of back to normal.

I felt like there was going to be some power in numbers with it being that many laps to go. That’s what we did. I was really trying to stay with him and trying to stay the course on all that, be the best friend I could be at that point in time. He went to make a move on Joey. Honestly, I couldn’t get up there to push him fast enough. If I did, somebody else behind me probably wasn’t going to do the same. At some point that was going to hurt.

That’s just kind of the way it goes. You have to realize the shoe could be on the other foot next time. It’s not always going to work out for everybody. I get that. It’s easy for me to say today. That’s just the way it’s going to be at these places.”

Although Kurt Busch fell to sixth, he was “impressed” with how the Chevrolet drivers worked together.

“I feel like Chase did a perfect job to put himself in a good position,” Busch said. “I feel like I just gave the win away. I had a run and didn’t change lanes quick enough and got bottled up. Chase was a perfect wingman and in a great spot. I’m happy that Chase got the win today.

“I’m really disappointed that I didn’t close the deal. It was in my hands and I let it fall through.”

For a time this weekend at least, a fan holding flowers waiting for his date, could understand Busch’s feelings.

 and on Facebook

Erik Jones ‘working through an extension’ with Joe Gibbs Racing

Getty Images
1 Comment

Erik Jones told NBC Sports on Thursday that he and Joe Gibbs Racing are “working through an extension” for him to remain with the team and that he has “no plans to leave JGR.”

“I don’t think there’s any plans to change anything,” Jones said. “It’s just a matter of both sides agreeing to an agreement, which takes time. I imagine here soon we’ll have something ironed out.

“I think both sides are pretty set on staying on the path we got.”

The 22-year-old is in his third year in the Cup Series and his second at JGR after moving over from Furniture Row in 2017.

JGR did not respond to a request for comment on if 2019 was the last year on Jones’ contract.

Jones earned his first Cup win last July at Daytona, but hasn’t found victory lane this season. He’s coming off a fourth-place finish at Texas where he led 33 laps, his most since leading 64 laps in the same race last year.

“We’ve been pretty happy with the growth over the last couple of years, from my side and from the team’s side and what we’ve done and where we’re heading,” Jones said prior to the unveiling of his Craftsman ”Racing for a Miracle” car for this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“I think we’re so close to breaking that little wall down of winning many races. We’re just right there, it seems, of making that big step to be consistent race winners. I feel like we’re right there. We’re close. Hopefully, here pretty soon it will be set in stone.”

The potential of a Jones’ extension raises questions about Xfinity Series driver Christopher Bell‘s future in the Cup Series after his second Xfinity season with JGR.

The organization recently announced Kyle Busch had agreed to a multi-year contract extension with the team and sponsor Mars Inc.

Martin Truex Jr. is only in his first year with JGR after coming over from the defunct Furniture Row Racing.

Denny Hamlin, who has two wins through seven races including his second Daytona 500, announced a contract extension in early 2017. He said last year on the Dale Jr. Download that 2018 was the first year on “a good long-term contract” and “that goes for a while.”

Bell, who won a Xfinity Series rookie-record seven races in 2018, said last year he felt he was ready for Cup. 

In Cup, Toyota gives full support to just JGR and the one-car team of Leavine Family Racing, which replaced Furniture Row Racing when it closed.

But Leavine Family Racing felt it was prudent to go with veteran Matt DiBenedetto in the No. 95 in its first year with Toyota.

Team owner Bob Leavine said last year he planned to ask Toyota for an engine to be able to run Bell occasionally.

“That’s for them to decide,” Leavine said. “We’re just going to be available if they want to do it to put it all together and make it all work.”

David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, told NBC Sports last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, that “for the moment there is no plan, there’s no consideration to put Christopher in one of those (Cup) cars (this year).”

Wilson cited the extra work needed to put a car together for Bell this season but also added that “you never say never.”