Roush Fenway Racing will not field a team in the Xfinity Series for the first time in more than a quarter century, RFR President Steve Newmark confirmed Wednesday night on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
Roush Fenway Racing first ran in the Xfinity Series in 1993 with Mark Martin, who won seven of 14 starts that season. The organization has won a record 138 Xfinity races. Roush Fenway Racing also has captured five Xfinity driver titles — Greg Biffle in 2002, Carl Edwards in 2007, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2011-12 and Chris Buescher in 2015.
Newmark told Claire B. Lang on SiriusXM’s “Dialed In” that the focus is on strengthening the Cup program with Stenhouse and Ryan Newman, who joins the team to drive the No. 6 car this season.
“We’re going to focus exclusively on both of those Cup teams (in 2019) and realized we needed to allocate all of our resources there,” Newmark told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We’ve fluctuated on the number of the teams in the Xfinity Series and a lot of that has been based on need. We’ve been four, we’ve been one, and I think (2019) we’ve decided on how we’re positioned we’ll step out of that for a year and see how that goes and just focus all the resources, all the engineering, all the wind tunnel on making sure that we perform to our expectations at the Cup level.”
Asked if sponsorship was a key factor in the decision, Newmark said: “There’s no doubt that sponsorship plays a factor in everything that we do. For better or worse that’s the way NASCAR is structured right now and sponsorship is the lifeblood for the teams. My hope is that at some point in time we continue to evolve to a model that moves a little bit way from that. But that was just a factor. We had a great run with Lilly Diabetes, five full seasons, we handled the Ford driver development program last year and the Xfinity Series is something that Jack (Roush) has always been passionate about.
“But when we look at where we are and what we needed to focus on, we just felt like that all the resources should be dedicated to Cup. We’ve always used Xfinity as a feeder series … for Cup, and when we look at our drivers, we’ve got those guys locked up and we think that they’re going to be with us for a number of years. We look at the engineering talent, we look at our crew chiefs, and we kind of felt like we had all the pieces of the puzzle in place and so really what we need to do is go out and execute at the Cup level and we’ll see where we end up in Xfinity in the future.”
Last season, Roush Fenway Racing fielded two full-time Xfinity teams: Ryan Reed in the No. 16 and Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric and Ty Majeski splitting time in the No. 60 car as Ford development drivers. Reed finished 11th in the points.
Noah Gragson wins Snowball Derby for Kyle Busch Motorsports
Noah Gragson took the lead from Harrison Burton with a handful of laps remaining in the 51st annual Snowball Derby to give Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) back-to-back wins in the prestigious Super Late Model race.
Last year, Kyle Busch scored the victory.
Ty Majeski held on to finish second ahead of Jeff Choquette. Conor Okrzesik and Casey Roderick rounded out the top five.
It appeared to be Burton’s race to lose. He chased down Majeski with 25 laps remaining and held the top spot for five laps before a caution waved for Kale Bryant’s spin. Most of the leaders pitted under that caution, but Burton chose to stay out on old tires.
Burton faded to 10th in the final rundown.
With 16 laps remaining, Majeski was instrumental in the final caution. He and Bubba Pollard spun after making contact in Turns 1 and 2. The incident put an end to Pollard’s Snowball Derby bid for the 13th time. Pollard finished 11 laps off the pace in 26th. Last year, he finished third. KBM kept their drivers in contention with fast work in the pits and on the track.
On Lap 90, Noah Gragson came in running third and left with the lead. KBM teammate Raphael Lessard came in fifth and left second.
The Snowball Derby started during the day time and ended under the lights for the first time in its history.
When the lights came on about the Lap 175 mark with Choquette, Lessard, Gragson, Pollard, Majeski and Burton were in the top six and they remained in contention until the final laps.
On Lap 213, Majeski took the lead from Choquette just before Stephen Nasse backed hard into the wall. Nasse had charged from the back to challenge for the top 10 by lap 100, but a mistake in the pits cost him a chance at victory.
After the incident, Nasse confronted his pit crew for leaving two tires loose on the last pit stop.
Jeffrey Earnhardt is tired of being “bullied” on the track and says he’s “not going to take shit” from other competitors.
Earnhardt, who has had an indirect role in key moments in recent races, made his comments Wednesday night on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Dialed In” show.
“You don’t want to feel used, and I feel like we have been used here lately,” Earnhardt told host Claire B. Lang. “We’re tired of being the victims. Whether we start making the other people the victims, whatever it takes, but we don’t want to keep feeling like we’re being bullied and we feel like we are right now.”
Earnhardt’s latest frustration is with Daniel Hemric. They raced together into the final chicane of last weekend’s race at the Charlotte Roval. Earnhardt’s car spun after contact from Hemric’s car.
Earnhardt’s car stalled less than 100 yards from the finish line. That allowed Kyle Larson’s wrecked car to pass him and gain the one position he needed to advance to the second round, which begins this weekend at Dover International Speedway.
“I like to think that I race clean and give people room and then they do shit like that, it gets under your skin,” Earnhardt said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio about the contact from Hemric.
This marked the third time in the last four races that Earnhardt has had an impact on a race.
At Indianapolis, he and Landon Cassill wrecked, setting up the final caution that changed the race’s outcome.
Of that incident, Earnhardt said: “We went into the corner and his story and my story are two different things.”
“The meaningless driver comment was just not smart,” Earnhardt told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “It shows a lack of respect for me or anyone else that are back there that are fighting to make a career out of this.”
At Richmond, Earnhardt caused the only caution of the race — other than the two stage breaks — after contact from Matt Kenseth. NASCAR penalized Kenseth for a commitment line violation and speeding entering the pits on Lap 321. His contact with Earnhardt led to a caution at Lap 327.
On the radio after the incident, Kenseth said: “Tell him, my bad. I drug up the splitter and hit. My bad. Tell him I’m sorry about that.”
Earnhardt was frustrated about that incident as well.
“He can say he was on the splitter if he wants … I don’t agree with what he says,” Earnhardt said.
“It does suck. These guys that feel they can pick on us and use us as a crutch to make their day better. Who knows. There have been several races we didn’t fire off that great, I was wishing for a caution. Maybe I’ll start doing the same. Maybe I’ll use them to get a caution so we can come in and work on our car and make it better.”
2. Manufacturer support
Throughout NASCAR’s explanation this week for deciding on a 2019 rules package that includes a tapered spacer to limit engines to 550 horsepower at many big tracks and 750 horsepower at other tracks was how that could help entice more manufacturers to enter the sport.
It’s no secret that NASCAR would like at least another manufacturer at the Cup level.
“It’s not just today,” Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said about the impact of the new rules package. “It kind of falls into where we want to go with the next Gen car.
“A lot of that is going to be based on new technology in the car and a lot of that is going to be based on efficiencies, potentially for the team owners, (manufacturers), putting an engine in place from a horsepower level that could be more relevant in the future that could attract new (manufacturers), which is key and make the owners that we have in this sport healthier and also attract new owners.”
A new manufacturer or manufacturers could be critical to the sport. Even with the charter system, teams must still rely heavily on sponsorship to fund teams. Additional manufacturers could provide greater financial support for charter teams and potentially balance the competition.
Toyota, which backs five teams, has won 12 of 29 races this season. Ford, which backs more than twice as many teams as Toyota, has won 15 of 29 races. Chevrolet has two wins this season (Austin Dillon in the Daytona 500 and Chase Elliott at Watkins Glen).
O’Donnell said that NASCAR is hearing from manufacturers investigating the series.
“Lot more of our calls are being answered, a lot more meetings are taking place with potential new (manufacturers),” he said. “I think where we landed on 2019 sets us up well for the immediate future but long-term as well.”
We’ll find out.
3. Step forward
Chase Briscoe’s victory in last weekend’s Xfinity race at the Charlotte Roval was another key moment for Ford and its driver development program.
Briscoe and Austin Cindric joined Brad Keselowski Racing’s Camping World Truck Series team in 2017. Each won a race.
Cindric is in the Xfinity playoffs this season. Briscoe isn’t because he’s not running the full schedule. Other Ford development drivers are Cole Custer, who also is in the Xfinity playoffs and has one career series win, and Ty Majeski.
“It won’t pay dividends until they actually get to the Cup level because that’s ultimately the goal of what we want to do,” said Mark Rushbrook, Global Director, Ford Performance, of the driver development program. “But we are happy with the start that we’ve had to our development program over the last two years and look forward to continuing to expand that,”
It was his first time back at the track since the Sept. 4 announcement. He plans to be at many of the remaining nine races as Martin Truex Jr. seeks a second consecutive Cup championship.
Each week, though, brings Visser closer to the end of a remarkable run in NASCAR that saw his organization start as a part-time team in Denver, elevate to full-time status, score its first win in the Southern 500, align with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing, expand to a second car, win the Cup title, downsize to one car and seek to repeat as champion.
Visser admits it was a hard decision — and an easy decision — to not continue the team after this season.
“You got your soul and you got your heart and you got your mind,” Visser told NBC Sports. “Two of the three are hurting, and my mind is saying you got to do this.”
The announcement in July by 5-hour Energy to leave the team and the sport after this season left Visser facing a gap of millions of dollars. With budgets already set for many companies, the likelihood of replacing 5-hour Energy’s millions with one company was slim. Visser would have to put more of his own money into the team if he wanted to continue. Then, he would need to renew deals with Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing and sign Truex to an extension.
“The family, we had all sat down and decided together that there would be a limit on what we could put in any given year,” Visser said. “We were talking about that the last couple of years. This (gap) was so far off.”
Visser’s tale could prove cautionary for the sport. He was an outsider who came into NASCAR, built his team, won races and captured a championship. There are few such success stories in Cup in recent years.
It’s not that others don’t try but they don’t have the success for various reasons. Ron Devine and a group of investors started BK Racing in 2012, ran as many as three full-time teams, but never had the success, struggled to find sponsorship, fell behind in payments on loans and to the IRS, among others, filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy before this year’s Daytona 500 and was sold for $2.08 million to Front Row Motorsports in August.
Visser, though, doesn’t think that his exit will mean the end of outsider owners coming into NASCAR. But change will need to take place, he admits.
“Hopefully they’re going to standardize the equipment more, and they’re going to find a way to maybe protect sponsors from leaving, from going with drivers and protect the teams, just some kind of standard contract, that would be good,” Visser said, although he admits such a contract “wouldn’t have saved us” with 5-hour Energy.
“There’s not going to be a shortage of drivers in this sport, there’s going to be a shortage of quality teams. We’ve got to get that figured out.”
Standing about 30 feet from Visser on Sunday was Gene Haas, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing and also the owner of Haas F1.
He’s searching for a driver for the No. 41 car for next year and noted the importance of a driver bringing sponsorship.
Haas laments the decline in the number of teams.
“We used to have 40-50 cars showing up for some of these races and now you’re barley filling the field,” Haas told NBC Sports. “From an economic standpoint it’s not working. There’s not enough money for teams to do that.”
Can friendship carry over to the track? And should it?
The issue came up at the end of the first stage in Saturday’s Xfinity race.
Ryan Preece was two laps down after an early incident. Leader Ross Chastain, a teammate to Preece at JD Motorsports in 2016, slowed his Chip Ganassi Racing ride coming to the line to end the first stage. That allowed Preece to beat Chastain to the line and get a lap back.
I actually agree with Chastain letting Preece get one of his laps back there. Would think that will come back around to help Chastain at some point, and it cost Chastain nothing. It’s the long play.
“I was hoping,” Preece told NBC Sports that Chastain would allow him to get a lap back there. “That was something he didn’t have to do. I’m sure one day I’ll return the favor.”
Mike Shiplett, crew chief for Chastain, told his driver on the radio not to do that again.
“He was already a couple of laps down and he was torn up,” Chastain said of letting Preece get a lap back. “I’ve been on the other side of that. I wish they would just give that little bit. I know Mike wasn’t happy, and I didn’t do it again.
“I ran as hard as I could to prove a point to him that I listened to him. If I could go back, I wouldn’t change it. I would do it again. It did let the second-place car close up to us for pit road, but our guys were so fast it didn’t matter.
“It didn’t matter if it was Preece or whoever. Those are the guys that I have raced with for years and I just wanted to be nice. Be nice every now and then. It’s not going to kill you. Just give a little bit.”
Preece got back on the lead lap less than 20 laps later when there was a caution and he got the free pass. He ended up having issues later in the race and never put himself in position to challenge for the win, but the move by Chastain to allow Preece to get a lap back could have backfired.
“When he got the free pass later, I was like uh oh,” Chastain said. “I didn’t know if he was fast or what. If he comes back and beats me, I’m never going to live that down. It all worked out. I was just trying to be nice.”
When a car doesn’t have the speed to challenge the top cars, a team has to do other things to win.
Such is the case for Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 team, led by crew chief Paul Wolfe.
After each of Keselowski’s last three wins, Keselowski or Wolfe have talked about needing to find more speed. So, how have they won three races in a row?
It has helped that the Big 3 have had their issues in those races. Martin Truex Jr. was among the strongest at Darlington in the first half of the race before an uncontrolled tire put him a lap down and he didn’t get back on the lead lap until the end.
“Our car was very good on restarts, would run fast for a few laps,” Wolfe said. “I think our car had some good stability. That’s really what it comes down to those first couple laps when everyone is jammed up and you don’t have a lot of clean air is having a lot of security, and our car seemed to be able to fire off really well, and the pit crew was really flawless.”
Four times Keselowski was first off pit road, gaining positions, and a fifth time he entered pit road first and left first at Las Vegas.
At Indy, Wolfe’s pit strategy put Keselowski in position to win on a late restart because of fresher tires than Danny Hamlin.
At Darlington, Keselowski beat Kyle Larson off pit road for the lead on the final pit stop and shot out to the lead on the restart. Keselowski led the final 22 laps to win.
“We have not been the best car the last three weeks,” Keselowski said after his Las Vegas win. “This week we were probably a top‑three or ‑four car. I didn’t get to see (Kevin Harvick) before he had his issue, but I thought he was running pretty good. He was obviously in front of me at one point. And him and (Martin Truex Jr.) were very strong.
“The 78 (Truex) was clearly the best car, and we put everything together when it counted, and kind of stole it today. Same scenario the last two weeks.
“I thought (Larson) was the best car in Darlington, and we hit the strategy right and executed the last pit stop and that put us in position to win.
“And in Indy, we were nowhere near probably even a top‑10 car. We were probably a 15th‑place car, and Paul Wolfe hit the strategy right, and I hit the restart right to make all the passes when it counted and won that race. With that in mind, no, I feel like we stole the last three races. We’re not complaining, but we still have a lot of work to do to go out there and win heads up without those issues.”
It has been a rough year for the No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing Xfinity team.
Austin Cindric, Chase Briscoe and Ty Majeski have shared the ride throughout the season but last weekend’s race provided an all-too-familiar scene for that team — the car hitting the wall.
Briscoe’s crash at Las Vegas marked the 10th time in 26 races this season the No. 60 car has been eliminated by an accident.
The team has had only four top-10 finishes. Its best finish is seventh at Iowa with Ty Majeski.
Briscoe’s crash at Las Vegas was eerily reminiscent of Jeff Gordon‘s crash there in 2008 before a SAFER barrier was placed on the inside wall.
“I’m really disappointed right now in this speedway for not having a soft wall back there, and even being able to get to that part of the wall,” Gordon said after the crash. “That kind of hit shouldn’t happen. It’s just uncalled for. There’s no reason why any track should have that (kind of opening).”