Wayne Auton

Matt DiBenedetto: Indy road course ‘everything we could ask for’

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After a morning spent testing on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Matt DiBenedetto admits the circuit is “tougher than I thought,” but that its 14- and 12-turn formats have “everything we could ask for” competitively.

The Wood Brothers Racing driver piloted a No. 22 Team Penske car around the road course for the only scheduled test ahead of the Xfinity Series’ debut on the circuit July 4 (1:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

“The part that I like the most about this course is that it actually does have multiple passing opportunities, and that was one of the things we wanted to evaluate is how it’s going to race, how technical it is in the passing zone,” DiBenedetto said during a press conference between test sessions.

“So the cool thing is what we love as road racers is heavy braking zones. Clearly, the end of the front straightaway here, you have a very heavy braking zone. You also have another long back straightaway getting into Turn 7, which is a heavy braking zone. And then on the 14-turn course, you have another braking zone coming into (Turns) 12, 13, and 14. When you come up onto the short chute, get on the brakes, get on there.

“There’s high-speed stuff. There’s low-speed stuff. So it’s pretty much everything we could ask for from a competitor’s standpoint for raceability. Also, the little chicane back there coming on the back straightaway is really technical. I’m still figuring out my approach to that. There’s a lot of different elements to the racetrack that makes it exciting.”

DiBenedetto described how the Indy track compares to other road courses that NASCAR series compete on.

“Coming off of that chicane, exiting it, I’ve made comparisons to Sonoma already,” DiBendetto said. “Then some of the low-speed stuff, where you’re in either first or second gear, I’ve compared to Mid-Ohio, which is also a really neat course.

“And then I guess you could compare it to maybe a Watkins Glen or something, where you’re flying down the front straightaway and then you have a real heavy braking zone, which is perfect, which allows the opportunity to pull out and try and pass people and outbrake and all those different things.”

DiBenedetto said there is “no doubt” there will be physical racing come July.

“There’s a lot of areas not only to try and outbrake and pass, but actually set up in the prior corner, to set up for those passing zones and things like that,” DiBenedetto said. “There’s some low-speed stuff where people might just use their bumper and knock them out of the way, whatever. So there’s opportunities for all of that.”

The main goals of the test were to gather data that will help NASCAR determine which road course format to use, how long the race will be, evaluate safety concerns and to gather info for Goodyear.

Wayne Auton, Xfinity Series managing director, said Goodyear brought tire setups from the Xfinity Series races at Road America and Mid-Ohio, as well as the Charlotte Roval. The morning session had DiBenedetto using the Roval tires.

“Goodyear is getting a lot of data with Matt’s feel inside the race car,” Auton said during the press conference. “And going down into this long straightaway and into that real slow Turn 1 area … Matt’s done us a great job, and we’re getting a lot of input. We’ll do some maybe 10-lap runs here this afternoon and see what we find out from that and take that back, and then we’ll decide on which course we’re going to run.”

Auton said that video from a GoPro camera placed in DiBenedetto’s car will be shared with drivers who will compete in the July 4 race (DiBenedetto will not be eligible to compete due to conducting the test) and that some data collected by Team Penske would be shared with competitors.

The main difference between the 12- and 14-turn layout is the final section of the circuit, which empties from the infield road course onto what is Turn 1 of the oval. In the 12-turn format, cars drive completely through Turn 1 (Turn 12) heading the opposite way Cup cars will drive when they race on the oval for the July 5 Brickyard 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

On the 14-turn layout, after returning to the oval from the infield portion of the road course in the short chute between Oval Turn 1 and 2, there is sharp right-hander (Turn 12) toward the infield, followed by a left-hander (Turn 13) which leads back to the frontstretch (Turn 14). It is the same portion of the track IndyCar uses for its race on that circuit two weeks before the Indianapolis 500.

DiBenedetto said both the 12- or 14-turn format “would put on great racing.”

“The 14-turn course, you’re coming up on that short chute, and it’s right on edge, and you get to brake right next to the wall there (in the short chute between oval Turns 1 and 2), which is pretty cool, and it’s just really unique. I can’t compare that to anything actually. So that’s a cool technical passing zone opportunity.

“Then on the 12-turn course, it spiked the old heart rate pretty good coming through backwards through oval Turn 1 … That was very weird.”

 

NASCAR makes changes to pit stops for select Xfinity, Truck races

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NASCAR will implement new pit stop rules for select Xfinity and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series races in 2020, the sanctioning body revealed Tuesday.

The rules will be in place for most Xfinity and Truck races that do not compete with the Cup Series at the same track on the same weekend.

Here are the new rules for the select Xfinity and Truck races this season:

  • The field is frozen when the caution is displayed. Stage breaks will have a full pit cycle (two opportunities to pit). For non-stage breaks there will be a full pit cycle (two opportunities to pit). There also could be an optional quickie yellow (one opportunity to pit).
  • The team roster will consist of eight crew members at these events. The pit crew — four to service the car, one fueler and one driver assist — must come from among those eight team members on the roster. This is a way to help teams save money since they won’t need to pay for the services of a pit crew that is not a part of their team roster.
  • The pit stop must be completed within a designated time period. That time will be determined later.
  • On an oval track, teams may add fuel and change two tires per stop.
  • On a road course, teams may add fuel or change four tires per stop.

NASCAR stated that the following penalties will be issued for violations: 

  • Cars will start at the tail end of the field if they exceed the time limit on pit road.
  • If a car is involved in an incident, the team will be allowed to change four tires at once to avoid damaging the vehicle but will start at the tail end of the field.
  • A car will start at the tail end if it pits other than on the designated lap.

NASCAR will issue two-lap penalties for the following violations:

  • Change four tires and add fuel on any pit stop
  • Change tires under green (unless approved by NASCAR for damage)
  • Perform a four-tire stop on any pit stop (on oval track only)

For the restart, the field will line up:

  • Vehicles that did not pit
  • Vehicles that pitted one time, followed by vehicles that pitted two times
  • Free pass vehicle, wave around vehicles and penalty vehicles.

As for the reason for the change in format at the select races, Eric Peterson, technical manager for the NASCAR Xfinity Series, said: “We believe this procedure will increase competition on track, incentivize different strategy plays to bring interesting storylines for the fans and bring efficiencies to teams that will help help strengthen the garage now and into the future.”

The new rules will be in place for Xfinity races at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (May 30), Iowa Speedway (June 13 and Aug. 1) and Road America (Aug.  8). Truck races at Iowa Speedway (June 12), World Wide Technology Raceway (Aug. 21) and Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (Sept. 6) will use the new procedures.

The Truck race at Eldora Speedway (July 30) already has special rules regarding pit stops.

The exception for the Truck Series is the June 5 race at Texas Motor Speedway. That race will not have these special rules.

Peterson said NASCAR is using these races “as an avenue to test and try this out. … We wanted to dip our toe in the water and do a deliberate, strategic approach to implementing and getting a look at it. The reason why we selected the events we did was because they are standalone events. Any events for the Gander Truck Series and the Xfinity Series that are not with Cup presents some challenges from a logistical end from doing the pit stop. This is a way to alleviate the burden that teams have with performing pit stops at the races that are not companion events to the Cup Series.”

Peterson said the reasoning for limiting what teams can do on pit stops is to alter strategies and restarts.

“All the teams that consistently run in the top 10, our current pit stop strategy really did not mix the field up very well,” Peterson said. “It was an average position change of right around one position. That’s the reason we took this other approach. The purpose of coming down pit road and doing pit stops is to hopefully mix the field up a little bit where you don’t have a follow-the-leader race the entire race. What we currently have at all the other events does not mix that up very well. That was one of the reasons we are going this route with these standalone races.”

The first Iowa race last year saw Christopher Bell lead 186 of 250 laps to win. There were two lead changes in the last 190 laps of that race. Last year’s Truck race at Iowa saw Ross Chastain lead the final 141 laps to take the checkered flag before his victory was taken away when his truck failed post-race inspection.

Peterson said that while each race will still have three stages, the length of the stages will be altered to prevent the need for a green-flag pit stop. In 2019, the final stage was typically longer than a fuel run, forcing teams to stop. The final stage will be shortened for 2020.

Peterson said fans will play a role in determining if this system is used in more races.

“The primary driver of that will be fan interest and engagement and feedback we get from the fans, along with how we see the races play out and utilizing the metrics we have here for passing,” he said.

Peterson also said the focus remains on the Xfinity and Truck Series for these rules.

“Right now there are no plans for the Cup Series,” he said.

Wayne Auton, the Xfinity Series managing director, said Wednesday morning on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that the designated time will be based on when a car enters pit road, crossing a yellow line, and when it exits pit road by crossing a yellow line.

Auton also addressed what would happen if a race on a road course started in dry conditions and then it rained, forcing teams to change to rain tires.

Auton said NASCAR would throw a caution and open pit road and declare the caution is for weather or track conditions. Teams then have the option to come down pit road and change to rain tires. At any time during the race, teams will be approved to come down pit road under green to change to slicks if the track dries. Auton said that teams will have a minimum time that they cannot beat — the time from when the car enters pit road road, performs its service and exits pit road — in those green-flag stops.

 

NASCAR details penalty for missing chicane on Roval

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UPDATE: The same video message was played in the Cup drivers meeting Sunday about what happens if a competitor misses a chicane. Jay Fabian, Cup series director, did not reiterate the matter in his comments to the drivers. There were no questions from Cup drivers in the meeting.

CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR detailed multiple times during Saturday’s Xfinity Series drivers meeting the penalty for missing a chicane during the race.

In a video played for the competitors, it stated:

“Missing the chicane on the backstretch will require a vehicle to perform a stop and go in the restart zone. A vehicle must come to a complete stop in the restart zone. If the stop and go is not performed as described, the vehicle will be assessed a pass through penalty.

“Missing the entry into the chicane on the frontstretch, Turn 15, will require a vehicle to perform a stop and go. A vehicle must come to a complete stop in the restart zone. If the stop and go is not performed in the restart zone, the vehicle will be assessed a pass through penalty.

“Missing the exit of the chicane on the frontstretch, Turns 16 and 17, will require a vehicle to perform a stop and go in the designated area to drivers left on the stage path prior to the start/finish line. If the stop and go is not performed prior to crossing the start/finish line, the vehicle will be assessed a pass through penalty.

“If in the closing laps of the race, there is not enough time to asses the pass through penalty, a postrace time penalty of 30 seconds will be assessed to the vehicle’s total time prior to the posting of the race results.”

After the video, Wayne Auton, managing director of the Xfinity Series, said this about missing a chicane:

“Definition of missing or shortcutting a chicane. You will judged as missing or shortcutting a chicane when all four tires are on the non-track side of the red-and-white rumble strips that define the chicanes.

“If in NASCAR’s discretion a competitor deliberately misses a chicane, that competitor will be assessed a drive through penalty.

“If a competitor is judged to miss a chicane to avoid an accident, NASCAR may, in its discretion, forego penalties and adjust the lineup based on the running position prior to the avoidance of the maneuver.

“Under no circumstances can you miss a chicane and gain positions after a penalty is served.”

Two questions were asked by competitors about missing a chicane:

From Justin Allgaier: “If we miss the back straightaway chicane and there is a caution before we make it to the stop on the front straightaway, what happens?

Auton: “Justin’s question is if we miss the chicane on the backstretch and before you can serve your penalty of the stop and go in the restart zone, you will be assessed a tail of the field on the restart.

From Austin Cindric: “What if you miss the chicane to avoid an accident?”

Auton: “In NASCAR’s judgment if you try to avoid an accident, we may asses a penalty. May.

Also, NASCAR addressed the issue of starts and restarts.

From the video:

“Wave around and free pass vehicles are not permitted to shortcut the chicanes.”

“On the start and all restarts, vehicles that have excited the rear chicane prior to the green flag being displayed may go straight and bypass the front chicane once.”

Auton told competitors:

“On the start and all restarts, vehicles that have exited the rear chicane, you must be clear of the chicane to be able to go straight on the front. If you are on the Turn 10, 11 side of the chicane that’s before you get there, you must run the full course on the front.

Cole Custer declared Darlington winner after NASCAR DQ’s Denny Hamlin’s car

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DARLINGTON, S.C. – NASCAR announced that Denny Hamlin‘s winning failed inspection after the race and was disqualified.

Cole Custer, who finished second to Hamlin on the track., was declared the winner.

Hamlin’s car was the only car among the six cars NASCAR inspected (the original top-five finishers and a random, which was Noah Gragson‘s car) after the race.

NASCAR announced that Hamlin’s car failed heights after the race. The car was found to be too low on the left front and too high on the right rear.

Wayne Auton, managing director of the Xfinity Series, noted that Joe Gibbs Racing has until noon Monday to decide if to appeal the penalty.

With Hamlin being relegated to last, Tyler Reddick finished second. Ryan Blaney was third. Christopher Bell placed fourth. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fifth.

MORE: Updated Xfinity Race Results

MORE: Updated Xfinity Driver Points

Custer said “It’s a really strange feeling” to win this way.

“You don’t want to win that way, but it is what it is,” Custer said. “We all play by the same rules.”

Custer said he was standing by the team’s hauler after the race when he found out.

“I Stone Cold’d two beers,” Custer said of doing his trademark celebration once he found out he had won, “and got a picture by the car.”

This marked the fourth time in the Xfinity Series this season that a car has been disqualified after a race but the first time it has been a winner.

“We’re in the middle of a 15-week stretch (of races), the playoffs are coming and everybody is pushing everything they can to get that little bit they can to win a race,” Auton said of the four disqualifications this season in the Xfinity Series.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell had his third-place finish at Chicagoland Speedway in June taken away when his car failed inspection. His car was found to be too low in the front and too high in the rear.

Kaulig Racing has twice had AJ Allmendinger‘s car disqualified. The car was disqualified after Allmendinger’s third-place finish at Daytona in July was taken away when inspection showed that the engine would not hold a vacuum. Allmendinger’s second-place finish was taken away when his car failed to meet minimum height requirements at Watkins Glen.

The disqualification to Hamlin marked the second time a national series winner has been disqualified this year. Ross Chastain‘s winning truck was disqualified after it was found to be too low in the front.

Friday 5: ‘Everything is in play’ as NASCAR looks ahead to new ideas

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This weekend’s racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval could be a start of new ideas, new races and new ways of thinking in NASCAR.

Steve Phelps, who begins his role as NASCAR’s president Monday, acknowledged the possibility of doubleheader races, ending the season sooner and closer ties with grassroots racing, among many topics in an hourlong session with reporters this week.

“Everything is in play,” Phelps said.

For a sport that divided its races into stages in 2017, changed the tracks in its playoffs this year and is expected to soon announce rule changes intended to tighten the racing in 2019, Phelps’ attitude shows the efforts series officials will make to retain fans and reach new ones.

His comments come as NASCAR soon will enter a key period with its scheduling. The five-year commitments with tracks expire after the 2020 season and gives NASCAR more flexibility to change its schedule as soon as 2021.

NASCAR typically announces the Cup schedule at least nine months before the season opener. That timetable would give series officials about 20 months until the 2021 schedule is revealed.

With the call for more short tracks, can NASCAR accommodate fan interest? Speedway Motorsports Inc. has expressed an interest in bringing NASCAR’s national series back to the 0.596-mile Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tennessee.

With the success of the Truck race at Eldora Speedway, would it make sense to run Cup there or on some other dirt track? Could Iowa Speedway land a Cup date? What about midweek races?

Another key question is what about tracks that have lost significant attendance? NASCAR’s charter system allows the sanctioning body to take a charter from a team that has ranked among the three lowest chartered teams in three consecutive years. Is it time to consider taking races away from tracks that have had a precipitous decline in attendance?

“We need to make sure that the race product that we put on the track is as good as it can be, which is what we’re going to do,” Phelps said. “I do know that the race day experience or the race day weekend is really important and we’re working with our tracks to have them understand that.

“We need to reinvent what I would call the event promotion. What that looks like. That gets back to a collaboration effort, which we are going to see between our race tracks, NASCAR, our broadcast partners and our teams and drivers in order to promote this sport in a way that we haven’t in the past. That is really coming together and creating unique opportunities that reach fans and ask them to come out and see what is going on in NASCAR.

“It’s part of our 2019 business plans. We’re working with the race tracks to have them understand that we need to make a change.”

International Speedway Corp., which is controlled by the France family, saw a 10.7 percent decline in admission revenue from 2012-17, according to its annual reports. Also, ISC tracks removed 172,000 seats at its tracks during that time. In July, ISC President John Saunders cited “an issue with star power” as a contributing factor in the company’s attendance decline recently saying, “hopefully this stable of young drivers coming along will start to win and build their brands.”

Speedway Motorsports Inc., which is controlled by Bruton Smith and his family, saw a 25.1 percent decline in admission revenue from 2012-17, according to its annual reports. Also, SMI tracks removed 183,000 seats at its tracks during that time. 

The declines for both track companies have come in a period that has seen Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr., the 15-time most popular driver, quit driving full-time.

Some in the sport also have raised concerns about the season’s length, suggesting NASCAR should not end in November and compete against the first 11 weeks of the NFL season.

“There’s a lot of discussion about that among the industry,” Phelps said. “There are a lot of things in play. We would rule out nothing at this particular point. We need to make sure that we have all the input, all the information necessary to make an informed decision that will allow us to get to what that 2020 schedule will look like.”

2. Reset button

At the Kansas test this week, Kurt Busch was asked if NASCAR’s leadership issues — Chairman Brian France’s arrest, Jim France taking over as acting Chairman and Brent Dewar’s term as NASCAR president ending — since August have taken away from the playoffs. 

Busch said those events hadn’t but noted a change has taken place in the sport.

“What it has done, though, is behind the scenes, hit the reset button and it’s created a refreshment of communication lines between the drivers, the owners and the way that the sport works,” Busch said. “I’ve never seen so much involvement from Jim France, Mike Helton, Steve Phelps, Steve O’Donnell, the whole group. It seems like a weight was lifted off their shoulders through all of this and now everybody is communicating more easily.”

Jim France has been visible in the garage more often than Brian France had been before his indefinite leave.

“If you’ve been at a race track, you’ve seen Jim France there,” said Steve Phelps, NASCAR’s incoming president. “From the moment he was announced as the Chairman, CEO of NASCAR, replacing Brian, he has been at the race track.”

3. Charlotte surprise?

Erik Jones enters Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC) in danger of being eliminated from the playoffs.

He is 21 points out of the final cutoff spot. As he looks to this weekend, he knows anything can happen and expects it will.

“I’ll bet you will see a surprise winner this weekend, somebody you wouldn’t expect just because it is going to be a little bit of an attrition race,” he said. “For us, we have to survive, we have to make it to the end of the race.

“We can’t wreck out and not put ourselves in a spot to take advantage of somebody else’s mistakes. We’ve got to hope for some trouble from some of the other playoff guys and hope we can be in position to capitalize on it. Obviously, winning would be the easiest way for us to guarantee it but that’s going to be tough to do.”

Others below the cutoff and in danger of being eliminated after Sunday’s race are Clint Bowyer (four points from the cutoff), Jimmie Johnson (six points from the cutoff) and Denny Hamlin (29 points from the cutoff). Ryan Blaney holds what would be the final transfer spot.

4. Special drivers meeting message?

Justin Allgaier, who has won the last two Xfinity races on road courses, is concerned about the start and restarts on the Roval.

NASCAR will not have drivers go through the frontstretch chicane when coming to take the green flag. If drivers had to go through that chicane, those at the front would be accelerating while some in the back would be braking to get through the chicane.

Instead, drivers will do restarts on the frontstretch and skip the chicane. That means they’ll be entering Turn 1 — a sharp left-hand turn — anywhere from 15-30 mph faster. So, as lead cars brake to make the turn, others behind them will be accelerating.

“It’s such a slow, lazy turn in and the speed that we’re going to be carrying, somebody that ducks to the left could potentially wreck a lot of cars,” Allgaier said. “I think we’re all going to have to really be mindful. It’s either going to go one way or the other. We’re either all going to wreck there or nobody is going to wreck there because we’re all very aware of it.

“I’m hopeful that Wayne (Auton, Xfinity Series managing director) will talk about that in the drivers meeting (and say) ‘Hey, let’s at least make it through Turn 1 at the start of the race.’

“We have generated a lot of hype and a lot of buzz around this race, there’s a lot of attention with coming here … the last thing we want to do is go out there and make a bunch of idiots of ourselves.”

5. Still searching 

Eight drivers who won races last year remain winless this season. They are: Kyle Larson (four wins 2017), Jimmie Johnson (three), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (two), Denny Hamlin (two), Matt Kenseth (one), Kasey Kahne (one), Ryan Newman (one) and Ryan Blaney (one).

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