Travis Geisler

NASCAR suspends crew member one race for role in altercation

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NASCAR suspended Team Penske crew member Dave Nichols Jr. one race for his role in an altercation on pit road Sunday between Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin at Martinsville Speedway.

Nichols, a tire specialist for Logano’s team, can be seen in the video above grabbing Hamlin from behind and throwing him down to the ground.

Todd Gordon, crew chief for Logano’s team, said that Nichols was trying to help separate Logano and Hamlin but did so too forcefully.

“The direction that our organization has is separate drivers,” Gordon said Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We don’t want to have drivers beating on each other.

“Unfortunately, in this situation that happened there, the separation was with too much power afterwards and I don’t think the crew member … he was trying to separate the drivers and did so with probably more force than he anticipated and he’s regretful of that.”

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, explained Monday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio why a penalty might be issued in this case.

“You had a crew member who, honestly, I don’t think realized the force with which he made that move,” O’Donnell said. “We have some light drivers and some big crew members and unfortunately that’s what happens when those situations take place. I think they understand what’s coming. It’s not something we want to see or encourage but we’ll have to address.”

The issue started after Logano hit the wall while running side-by-side with Hamlin late in Sunday’s race. Logano went to Hamlin to discuss the incident after the race and punctuated his conversation by shoving Hamlin and walking away, triggering the scuffle.

NASCAR met with Travis Geisler, competition director at Team Penske, Gordon and Nichols after the race.

NASCAR hints at penalty for crew member who tossed Denny Hamlin to ground

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A NASCAR official hinted Monday that a penalty could be coming as early as today to the crew member who yanked Denny Hamlin to the ground during a confrontation between Hamlin and Joey Logano after Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway.

NASCAR met after the race with Travis Geisler, competition director at Team Penske, Todd Gordon, crew chief for Joey Logano, and the unnamed Team Penske crew member who threw down Hamlin.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, addressed the issue on “The Morning Drive” on Monday.

“As we always say, we know emotions are going to run high, especially at this time of the season,” O’Donnell told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “The drivers, we don’t encourage it, but we know that they’re going to address each other after the race when they have an incident and you saw that happen.

“Then, unfortunately, instead of kind of breaking up a fight, I think what we saw was an aggressive move by a crew member, so we called the team into the hauler, including Todd Gordon. … I think in this case, you’ve got a crew member who was maybe trying to break it up but certainly an aggressive move that we viewed on our part and unfortunately we’ll probably have to take some action to address that later today or tomorrow.”

Gordon discussed what happened after the race Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and took some responsibility for the incident.

“I probably take some of the ownership myself to start with,” Gordon said. “Stopped Joey when he got out of the car and he’s frustrated. He got run up in the wall with 50 to go and was frustrated about it and justifiably so. I went back and rewatched it. He pretty much got put in the wall on a straightaway. There’s frustration with that.

“Stopped Joey at the car and said we just don’t need to handle that right now and let his emotions get down, and I thought they were at a point where he could go talk. Unfortunately, in the conversation there got to be a push (from Logano).

“The direction that our organization has is separate drivers. We don’t want to have drivers beating on each other. We’ve had the conversation internally, we want situations diffused and separated. Unfortunately, in this situation that happened there, the separation was with too much power afterwards and I don’t think the crew member … he was trying to separate the drivers and did so with probably more force than he anticipated and he’s regretful of that.

“See what NASCAR does that and where it goes. There weren’t any punches or anything pulled. Denny got pulled out there and got pulled down pretty hard. Apologized to Denny for that and how that was handled. Ultimately, I’ll put that one back on me to start with. I shouldn’t have let Joey down there to start with. I probably made a poor decision in letting him go down and talk. A little bit of that is on me and we’ll work forward from that. Understand Joey’s frustration. I think it’s genuine. What started the whole situation was what happened on the race track.  We can talk about what happens in short track racing and all, 50 to go to get pushed up into the wall side-by-side it’s going to frustrate you. I think if the roles were revered it’s probably frustrating as much the other way. … We’ll see what NASCAR does and we’ll adapt to whatever comes forward.”

This is the second consecutive weekend where drivers scuffled on pit road and crew members were involved. It happened after the Kansas Xfinity race the week before. Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick scuffled and crew members converged. NASCAR issued no penalties.

“I think if you go back to Kansas, we spent a lot of time reviewing that video and in our mind, always a judgment call but different incident,” O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We didn’t see anybody really trying to escalate the situation.

“I think in this case (at Martinsville), you had a crew member who, honestly, I don’t think realized the force with which he made that move. We have some light drivers and some big crew members and unfortunately that’s what happens when those situations take place. I think they understand what’s coming. It’s not something we want to see or encourage but we’ll have to address.”

Asked what kind of message NASCAR can send to crews about jumping into confrontations between drivers, O’Donnell said:

“I think we have. I think we’ve been consistent in our reaction and will be consistent here. This is a team sport and with any team sport, I think you’re going to take care of your quarterback so to speak and you see that.

“What we can do is when we need to do address this with a penalty we will. When we see drivers, or in this case, crew members in Kansas trying to break something up, we won’t react. It’s case-by-case, but it’s a passionate sport and there’s a lot on the line and sometimes emotions go a little too far and we’ve got to react.”

Michael McDowell cleared to race after hospital visit Friday for kidney stone

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CONCORD, N.C. – Michael McDowell was cleared from a local hospital and is at Charlotte Motor Speedway for Friday afternoon’s Cup qualifying session after successfully passing a kidney stone.

After experiencing abdominal pain, McDowell went to the infield care center at the track before he was transported to a local hospital Friday morning.

“I woke up this morning, had a little bit of a side, back ache,” McDowell told NBC Sports. “Nothing too big. As the morning went on just started having more and more pain. I was driving my kids to school and broke out into sweats and I’m like ‘Man, what’s going on?’ The pain just kind of steadily got worse and worse and started to move around.

“Wasn’t sure what was going on. I was heading to the track anyways. The garage opened and got in. It got to a point where I was just in bad shape so went to the infield care center. Now, going through the process I had some kidney stones and I was fortunate to pass one. But leading up to it you feel like you’re dying. It was a rough morning to say the least. Obviously, to get back in the race car, couldn’t take anything for pain and all the things that come with it, just throwing up and nauseous and all the things. This morning it felt like I was dying, this afternoon I feel really good and ready to go qualify.”

McDowell, who qualified 22nd, said that he doesn’t expect to have any more kidney stones this weekend.

“I had a scan and ultrasound done and things like that and they didn’t see anything else,” he said. “I should be fine, but you just never know. More than anything I know now. I know the pain and symptoms and feelings are like and now I know I’m not going to die.”

Austin Cindric drove the car for McDowell in Cup practice. Cindric was 24th on the speed chart. He ran 15 laps.

This is the second time this year Cindric has been a relief driver in the Cup Series. At Atlanta, Cindric stepped into Brad Keselowski‘s car in a practice session when Keselowski was experiencing flu-like symptoms.

Austin Cindric stands next to the No. 34 car for Front Row Motorsports. He’ll drive in place of Michael McDowell, who was hospitalized Friday after suffering abdominal pain. (Photo: Daniel McFadin)

What drivers said after first drafting session at Las Vegas

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Cup drivers were on track Thursday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, running in a pack for the first time with the new rules package.

The rules package kept the cars closer together in a 25-lap run Thursday afternoon. Two more drafting sessions were scheduled for Thursday and two more for Friday.

Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch spoke to the media after the session. Here is some of what they had to say:

CLINT BOWYER

“The cars seemed like they handled well. Obviously a lot of wide-open throttle time, a lot of the things we knew going in. It’s going to be a work in progress how you balance that drag with downforce. Kind of business as usual for a test.”

“This is an important test. Everybody knows that. We need to learn as much as we can. The neat thing about what you just saw is a lot of different variations of what we can do with these race cars on the race track, whether it is pulling that drag out and making that thing go cat go and not handling the best or go for handling. That happy medium balance is going to be important when we come back and race.”

“Aric (Almirola) is already on my phone and Kevin (Harvick) is waiting on a phone call. They’re home watching. There are a lot of people watching what is going on because there’s opportunities within these changes and everybody is looking for those opportunities to beat the next guy to the punch.”

KURT BUSCH

“It’s been a good start for us on the (Chip) Ganassi team. For us, we’re just trying to do a lot of checklist items to make sure we were getting up to speed on all the communication items, all the little checkmark items as far as switching teams, as far as seat, mirror, a lot of little things that we were working on this morning. It seems like we’re off a little bit on speed. It’s because we really haven’t turned up the wick on how aggressive we were going to attack this package with. I’m expecting more out of the afternoon session. It will be fun to get out there with a different setup and see how it blends in with the traffic with all the cars mixed in.”

“This new package, the way that it drives, it is as radically different as when we switched to the Car of Tomorrow. That’s how much a dramatic difference it is. It’s a lot to adjust to, lot of differences. It’s wide open all the way around but when you do crack the throttle, you do lose a lot of speed and lose a lot of momentum and you’re trying to keep focused on the handling.”

“What we’re trying to do with this package is have a better on-track product and that is to get the cars side-by-side, have the draft down the straightaways, have the drivers have the option moreso than the engineers as far as where the speed comes from. It’s more a chess game, trying to balance out this setup and package right now. We just have to have better racing on track. That big draft that we saw earlier today, I was wide open and lost the draft in the back. That’s very similar to what you would see at Daytona and Talladega, so it’s just going to happen at a mile-and-a-half track instead of a big track.”

KYLE BUSCH

“I faded back to see how far back I could get, where I could find a relatively safe hole, I think it was sixth or seventh. I was able to pass a couple of guys and a couple of guys kind of quick and a couple of guys it kind of took a little bit to get by them. Then got back up to third or so and then the 3 (Austin Dillon) was fading, he was dropping back and then I was I behind the 14 (Clint Bowyer), trying to work over the 14 and the 14 pulled over and that’s how I got the lead back. There was no like once I got to second, it didn’t seem like you could anything with the guys in front of you.”

“It reminds me a lot of the trucks when we were with the truck race last spring with myself and Brett Moffitt. We ran 1-2 and kind of drove away. We could get in a draft and kind of drive away from the rest of the field. We were the ones that weren’t lifting as much as the rest of the competition was and I had a hard time passing Brett. I couldn’t get by him. I was behind him for 30 laps and couldn’t do anything to get by him. There’s just not enough off-throttle time for handling to come into play. You’re under the tire. You’re driving through the corners under the limits of the tire, so your speeds are just too slow. That doesn’t allow you, the runs on the straightway doesn’t allow you to get big enough runs to blitz guys on the inside or outside or whatever it might be. I did a couple of those today because guys were getting out of the gas. Once you get into race situations and guys figure out what they need to be a little bit better, those aren’t going to happen as easy they were today.”

“Guys are going to figure out how far they can trim their stuff out for how bad they can get the car to drive and then there’s going to kind of go back the other way a little bit, they’re going to put a little bit of drivability back into the cars. Right now, I feel like there were a couple of guys out there that looked a bit evil, their cars were ill-handling. Ours was driving pretty good, so we’re going to step their way and get my car to drive bad so we can figure out how bad is too bad in order to kind of play the fence a little bit and see what is going on.”

“Predictions (for what the March Cup race at Las Vegas will be like) are tough especially this early. But if I had to say, yeah, I think the competition is going to be closer together than what we’ve seen in years past. I don’t know that you’ll see a lead guy be able to stretch it out five, six, seven seconds or whatever. You might see the top three, four, maybe five guys that will kind of keep within two seconds of one another. As far as the racability and the maneuverability and the passing back and forth and runs and such, slingshot moves, I don’t foresee that coming. There’s not enough draft effect on the straightaways that give you enough speed to launch you into the next corner. When you get closer and closer and closer to the car in front of you, like you’re drafting off him because it’s helping you, then you get within a car length of him and it’s start to push him away. Like I tried to move out when I was behind Brad (Keselowski), I had a run on him and I tried to move out from behind him and I just hit the wind and my car was not as trimmed out as his so mine fell backwards. There’s not enough draft effect.”

“We’ve taken the driver’s skill away from the drivers in this package. Anybody can go out there and run around there and go wide open. It’s a lot more of a mental game. It’s going to be a lot more skill, it’s going to be a lot more chess match, thinking how you’re going to make moves and how daring you will be in making some of those moves and how hard of a time the guy that you’re trying to pass is going to give you back and suck you around or spin you or whatever it might be. We’ll see, we’ll see how that plays out. Overall, it’s going to be interesting.”

AUSTIN DILLON

“I thought it was pretty interesting. Really reminded me of the truck days, and I always feel like the Truck Series really races well and gets some exciting racing going. Restarts are going to be really aggressive. I thought we stayed together pretty good so there will be groups of guys racing really hard together at different points of the races. We have a lot to learn. We haven’t really quite hit the balance that we would like in our race car, but it shows some pretty good speed. I’m pleased with it and I’m having fun right now.”

“I thought that first drafting practice was solid. No one was kind of just out there riding around. I thought everybody was pretty aggressive and it’s a hard balance because you don’t want to tear anything up testing. I thought we got pretty aggressive. I got three-wide a couple of times off of Turn 2. That’s good. We can see what the package can do. I’m sure a lot of guys are like, whoa, we’ve got to change our direction because some guys were really good, some guys weren’t and some guys were OK.”

“I think my biggest thing was Clint and I hooked up a couple of times and I tried to push him by a car and it was kind of frustrating that I couldn’t push him past the side-by-side battle but … the side-by-side battle was pretty intense and it created three-wide. I think you’ll see a lot of three-wide this year to clear someone. If a guy is slower and guy goes under him and can’t pass him for a lap, then the next guy gets a huge run from that bubble and can create a three-wide pass down low. I think there’s draft studies that will continue to go on from each team to figure out where to place their car to make the best pass. It’s definitely going to be hard, but you’re going to see passing. It’s going to be more passing than we have in the last couple of years I feel like.”

JOHN PROBST, NASCAR VICE PRESIDENT OF DEVELOPMENT AND INNOVATION, to NASCAR.com:

“I’d say that kind of the takeaway that I took from that (first drafting session) was that if you watched the beginning of the run, there were some cars that were pretty good that stayed at the front there and if you watched the 1 (Kurt Busch) and the 21 (Paul Menard), they kind of hung out at the back there, the last five laps they were actually coming pretty quick through the field. I stopped by and talked to Travis Geisler of Penske before I came up here and they’re talking about having to make compromises. If you just want pure speed or do you want to be better later in the run, which should make for some pretty good strategy decisions that the teams are going to have to make kind of on how they feel yellows may fall during the race. If they want a fast car to check out and hopefully get a lot of yellows and keep doing that, or if you think there’s going to be a lot of green-flag runs and you got to set your car up, maybe you’re not so good at the beginning but by the end you’re coming to the front.”

“We’re encouraged by what we saw on the track. But by no means, we’ve all done this long enough, we’re not going to sit here and declare victory or anything. We know that teams are going to keep massaging on this package and we’ve just got to stay with them to make sure that we put on some really exciting races for our fans.”

“We’re trying to make it as competitive as we can from the top to the bottom. I think the one thing you know that is important out of this, we’re not trying to create some artificial level of competition. I think you’re still going to see the good guys are going to go out and win and compete for wins. That’s kind of the way we wanted it to be. That’s probably the way it should be. We want to have entertainment, but we want to keep the competition in it as well.”