Friday 5: A new way of thinking about NASCAR’s future?

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When examining NASCAR’s future are most people looking in the wrong direction?

There are those who say the schedule — 36 points races, two non-points races and the Daytona qualifying races in a 41-week stretch — is too long.

Maybe it’s not enough.

So said Brad Keselowski earlier this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

While some says less is more for the sport, Keselowski suggests that the Cup schedule should have 50-60 races a year and no weekend off in the summer.

His plan is this:

Cup should race on Sundays and the middle of the week from February to early October (instead of ending the season in November). Keselowski also says that no track should host more than one weekend race. So, a track with two dates would get a weekend date and a midweek date.

One thing he notes is that any midweek race should take no more than three hours, meaning a number of races likely would need to be shortened

Keselowski’s idea is a novel concept and presents a new way of thinking when looking ahead in NASCAR. It’s always good to be forced to look at issues in different ways. But there are many challenges to his plan.

One question is what about the costs to teams. It would be easy to see teams saying such a schedule would cost them too much with the additional travel, expenses of preparing cars and repairing cars for example.

“The race teams will adjust, they’ll figure it out,’’ Keselowski said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Here’s what most people don’t understand. When a car owner complains about money, almost every race team out there has 20 or 30 engineers that don’t build the cars that make good wages and are smart people. What that tells me is they’ve got money and they’re just deciding to allocate it.’’

That might be a harder sell to teams. Rob Kauffman, co-owner of Chip Ganassi Racing and chairman of the Race Team Alliance spoke during All-Star weekend about cost to teams.

“It’s a joint concern, so it will be a joint solution to come up with how it works,’’ Kauffman said of working with NASCAR. “To get something like that in place will require quite a bit of collaboration.’’

Another concern would be tracks. A reason why there hasn’t been a midweek race yet is because a track executive has not volunteered to be the first.

The challenge with a midweek race is that the track likely won’t draw as many fans. Track officials note that they still have a significant percentage attend their races traveling from a few hours or more away. Not as many of those fans would probably make such a trip in the middle of the week. That could be lost income for the tracks.

Those are just among some of the key issues. It is a tangled web of trying to appease, teams, tracks, media partners, sponsors and fans as NASCAR forges ahead.

While there are many challenges to Keselowski’s plan — making it seem unlikely — that doesn’t mean such thinking should be immediately dismissed. Keselowski could be right in that bold thinking is what the sport needs as it looks ahead.

2. Kyle Busch could have company

While Kyle Busch became the first driver to win at every Cup track he’s competed with his Coca-Cola 600 victory, a couple of other drivers are not far behind.

Kevin Harvick has won at all but two tracks on the circuit (not including the Roval). He has yet to win at Kentucky (0 for 7) and Pocono (0 for 34).

Jimmie Johnson has won at all but three tracks on the circuit (not including the Roval). He has yet to win at Chicagoland (0 for 16), Kentucky (0 for 7) and Watkins Glen (0 for 16).

3. Back in the Day

LeBron James made his eighth consecutive NBA Finals appearance Thursday night. The last time he wasn’t in the NBA Finals was 2010.

That season in NASCAR:

Jimmie Johnson was on his way to a fifth consecutive Cup title.

Jamie McMurray won the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and Charlotte fall race.

Denny Hamlin won a series-high eight races.

Kevin Conway was Cup Rookie of the Year.

Joey Logano had just turned 20 years old.

Brad Keselowski won the Xfinity Series title.

Kyle Busch won 13 of the 29 Xfinity races he started.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was Xfinity Rookie of the Year.

Kyle Larson finished 10th in the Chili Bowl Nationals (Cole Whitt was second to winner Kevin Swindell).

William Byron wouldn’t turn 13 until November of that year.

4. France Family Group adds to portfolio

In a recent SEC filing, International Speedway Corp. stated that the France Family Group owns 74.11 percent of the combined voting power of common stock.

The France Family Group owned 73 percent, according to ISC’s 2016 annual report.

The France Family Group owned 72 percent, according to the ISC’s 2015 annual report.

As a comparison, Bruton Smith and son Marcus own 71 percent of Speedway Motorsports Inc.’s common stock. They owned 70 percent, according to SMI’s 2016 annual report.

5. A year later …

There will be much talk this weekend about how Jimmie Johnson has gone a year — it will be a year on June 4 actually — since his last Cup victory, the longest drought of his career.

But something else to ponder: In the last 36 races (a full season’s worth), Toyota has 19 wins, Ford has 12 and Chevrolet has five.

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Bump & Run: Will Kurt Busch be last driver to do Indy-Charlotte Double?

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Kurt Busch was the last to do the Indy 500-Coke 600 Double in 2014. Will we see a driver run the Double again anytime soon? If so, who might that be?

Kyle Petty: For me, the bigger question is why? Why try it? It’s been done. By multiple drivers with various levels of success. John Andretti for me will always be “The Man” for being the first. Tony Stewart ranks because he truly had a shot at wins in both. Any driver now trying “The Double” could only hope to be a contender in one and a footnote in the other. Both series have upped their game, it would be tougher to win. I’m not saying someone won’t try, but once you’ve watched the same PR stunt three or four times … well, you know.

Nate Ryan: No.

Dustin Long: No. Cup car owners aren’t going to let one of their drivers run in the Indy 500 because so much is tied up in those drivers on the Cup side. Unless an IndyCar driver comes with money, they’re not going to get the chance to run the Coca-Cola 600 because of relative lack of performance from such drivers in NASCAR (Tony Stewart notwithstanding).

Daniel McFadin: Yes, and it will be Kyle Larson. Both he and owner Chip Ganassi have indicated they want it to happen. Someone just needs to cave and say “Let’s do it.”

Dan Beaver: Unless IndyCar moves the race into an earlier, less desirable slot no one is going to be able to do it. But if they do, Kyle Larson is the most obvious pick. His passion for racing in general will eventually get the best of him and get him to test those open wheelers.

Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Aric Almirola, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman are among the drivers who have yet to win this season. Who is the next driver to win for the first time this season?

Kyle Petty: Erik Jones … Pocono! That’s just one of those tracks. We’ve seen it with Blaney, Hamlin when he first came into Cup and a few others. It’s so different from everything else that they run that someone with a good team (JGR) and a young driver with talent (Erik) can sneak up on the usual suspects!

Nate Ryan: Denny Hamlin. Though he hasn’t been as good at Pocono since the 2012 repave, he could break through Sunday or next weekend at Michigan given that Joe Gibbs Racing has turned the corner.

Dustin Long: Brad Keselowski. Fords will continue to dominate and Keselowski will get a win soon enough.

Daniel McFadin: Denny Hamlin. He has three top fives and one top 10 in the last five races and aside from the threat of speeding penalties, he is the only driver among those listed who has really managed to put together complete races in the last five events. 

Dan Beaver: Denny Hamlin stayed out of trouble last week at Charlotte and earned his fifth top five in the last six races there. Perhaps that means he is returning to predictability on tracks that have been kind to him in the past, so he not only gets the next win, it could happen this weekend at Pocono.

Chevrolet teams did not lead a lap in the Coca-Cola 600 but had four cars finish between fifth and 10th. How do you evaluate where Chevy is at the halfway point of the regular season?

Kyle Petty: For me at this point in the season, the Chevys have made gains but not enough to run as a group and consistently with the Fords and Toyotas. It’s a long season, and I’m sure we’ll see wins this year from Chevy drivers, but as a group, they are third best in class. 

Nate Ryan: Making steady gains but still short of being on the verge of consistently winning. There’s enough promise there to indicate the Camaro could be a factor in the playoffs.

Dustin Long: A step forward but still many steps to take to for Chevy to show it can beat the top Fords and Toyotas straight up.

Daniel McFadin: Since the 2017 regular-season finale, Chevy’s most consistent hope of winning a race has been Kyle Larson. But despite being a front-runner this year, Larson can’t seem to go from green flag to checkered flag without something going wrong. As of now, Chevrolet needs to hope its fortunes take a turn for the best in the second half of the season, like Toyota’s did last year with a new car model.

Dan Beaver: They’re not out of the woods yet, but it finally appeared that the Chevrolet drivers not only finished strong, but ran well as a group throughout the race. They will start to ease their way up the grid and challenge for victories, but it is difficult to imagine they will capture very many wins because Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch will continue to dominate.

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota extend relationship

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Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota have extended their relationship, NBC Sports has confirmed.

No details on the agreement were made available. RacinBoys.com first reported the extension.

The news of the extension comes with JGR’s Kyle Busch in the midst of a three-race win streak, the most recent coming last Saturday in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway.

JGR’s Cup driver roster includes Busch, Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones.

JGR has been partnered with Toyota since 2008 when it switched from Chevrolet.

Since then JGR has one Cup championship (Busch, 2015) and 93 wins in Cup. It also has two Xfinity championships. In that time, Toyota has won the Cup manufacturer’s championship twice (2016, 2017) and the Xfinity manufacturer’s title four times.

Key wins for JGR with Toyota include the Daytona 500 (Hamlin, 2016), the Brickyard 400 (Kyle Busch, twice), the Southern 500 (five times) and Coke 600 (Carl Edwards, 2015).

Since its inception in 1992, JGR has driven under the banners of Chevrolet (1992-96), Pontiac (1997-2002), Chevrolet (2000-07) and Toyota.

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Car owner Roger Penske confirms Ford will have new body in 2019

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Team Penske car owner Roger Penske confirmed after Sunday’s Clash that Ford will have a new body in 2019.

Asked about the challenges of having the oldest body among the manufacturers (Toyota updated its Camry last year and Chevrolet is using the Camaro ZL1 this year), Penske said the team will have help next year.

“We can’t really use that as an excuse,” Penske said of having the oldest body this year. “There’s no reason to. I think we thought the same thing coming out of St. Petersburg last year in IndyCar that we might not have the power Honda had and we won 10 races. I keep reminding the team that. We’ve got to race all year. We’ll have a new body next year.”

Brad Keselowski, who has been vocal since last year about the advantage Toyota had and expressed concern at Miami about Chevrolet’s new body, was asked about Penske’s comment.

“They don’t tell me those kind of things because they know I’ve got a little bit of a big mouth and they don’t trust me, which is probably smart,” Keselowski said after his win in the Clash. “If (Penske) says it, I would say go with him. He’s always pretty trustworthy.”

In a statement to NBC Sports, Mark Rushbrook, Global Director, Ford Performance Motorsports, said: “This is racing, and we are always working on actions to improve performance and that includes engine, body, aero, everything on the car. We will make an announcement on any future body actions when we are ready.”

Toyota won 16 of 36 points races last year with the new Camry body, including 14 of the final 19 races and the championship with Martin Truex Jr. and Furniture Row Racing.

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NASCAR Chairman Brian France upbeat Monster Energy will remain beyond 2018

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NASCAR Chairman Brian France expressed optimism Tuesday that Monster Energy will remain as series sponsor after this season and said that the Cup Series could use one more manufacturer.

France made his comments on “SiriusXM Speedway” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Monster Energy, which completed its first year as series sponsor in 2017, was to have informed NASCAR by Dec. 31 if it would remain beyond the 2018 season. NASCAR President Brent Dewar said last month that the sanctioning body agreed to extend that deadline

“They have had a really good run with us, and we’ve had a good run with them, and my hope and feeling is that that’s going to continue,’’ France said Tuesday. “They’ve been good partners. They’re bringing a lot to the sport. They’ve got a lot on their plate and so do we. We’re working with them to make sure that we have as long an agreement as we can. I think we will. I think it’s working that good for everybody. I’m real pleased with it.’’

Asked by “SiriusXM Speedway” host Dave Moody if there is a deadline on when Monster Energy must inform NASCAR of its decision, France said:

“There’s always that, but we just look at our partners differently. We work though everything. Everything to us is long term, whatever that means in a given relationship. My sense is that it has really worked for everybody. It’s also new. They’ve only been here, my goodness, just completed the first year. They’re working out some things and that’s understandable. It’s all good, actually really good with those guys. Love those guys.’’

Last month, Rodney Sacks, chairman and chief executive officer of Monster Beverage Corp., said during an investor meeting that the company was “evaluating” its future with NASCAR.

Sacks was asked in that meeting about the return on its investments, including NASCAR.

“I think that we have been quite successful,’’ Sacks said. “I think we have got a lot more visibility, a lot more recognition for the brand through the NASCAR sponsorship. It’s very extensive. It’s on TV. It’s appearing on the talk shows. We look at the metrics that the NASCAR folks give us and it certainly does seem to have been enhanced. Now to what degree, that we don’t know.

“Certainly we do believe we have been able to increase penetration but again it takes some time. I think we really started in NASCAR at the beginning of the year — very, very quick decision to go into NASCAR (and) it took us a little bit of time to get up to speed and get our activation going. We think we’ll see lot clearer benefits and more benefits coming from that relationship this year.’’

As for manufacturers, France said he felt there was room for one more in the Cup Series to join Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota.

“There’s a lot of work going on on that. Clearly we believe that the sport could not only absorb but welcome another manufacturer. These are tricky things to do. They’re very difficult to pull off. We’re just going to work toward that goal. I believe over time we’re the best opportunity not only in North America, maybe the world in terms of motorsports. We’re going to be aggressive in talking to other manufacturers as we go down the road.’’

Why just one more manufacturer?

“I think there is a limit,’’ France told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “There’s only so many key teams that a manufacturer can get their hands on and that takes time,’’ he said. “They want to have good performance and the right team alignments. Most importantly, they want to align themselves to the right teams and sometimes the teams aren’t available to do that.

“Using the Toyota approach that they had, that took them a long time to be competitive. I think the next manufacturer would probably like to shorten that timeline a little bit and be more competitive quicker. We will get another manufacturer, but it’s one step at a time.’’

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