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New Cup driver, spotter combinations set for 2019

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A number of Cup drivers will have new spotters this season, including former champion Brad Keselowski.

Coleman Pressley will be Keselowski’s spotter this season, Team Penske confirmed.

Pressley replaces Joey Meier, who had been Keselowski’s spotter since 2006. Meier announced in November that he would no longer be Keselowski’s spotter.

Meier will spot for Paul Menard this season, a team official confirmed to NBC Sports.

Pressley, the son of former NASCAR Cup driver Robert Pressley, had been the spotter for AJ Allmendinger at JTG Daugherty Racing from 2015-18.

With rookie Ryan Preece taking over the No. 47 car for Allmendinger this season, Preece will have Stevie Reeves as his spotter, a spokesperson with JTG Daugherty confirmed to NBC Sports. Reeves had previously been the spotter for Menard at the Wood Brothers.

Former champion Kurt Busch also will have a new spotter this year. He’s moving from Stewart-Haas Racing to Chip Ganassi Racing. Tyler Green, who had been the spotter for Jamie McMurray, will remain with the team and work with Busch this season.

Michael McDowell also will have a new spotter this year. He’ll work with Frank Deiny Jr. Rookie Matt Tifft will have Chris Monez as his spotter. Monez worked with multiple drivers in the Xfinity Series last year.

Matt DiBenedetto moves to Leavine Family Racing this season and will be paired with Doug Campbell, who was the team’s spotter last season.

Racing community reacts to David Pearson passing

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David Pearson’s passing at the age of 83 was marked by homages and condolences from around the racing world.

While Pearson ran his last race at Michigan in August, 1986 – scoring his 366th top 10 in the process – he continued to touch the lives of the racing community until his final days.

Friday 5: Martinsville finish sets mark for most last-lap lead changes since 1981

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FORT WORTH, Texas — When Joey Logano bumped his way by Martin Truex Jr. on the final lap to win last weekend at Martinsville Speedway, it marked something that hadn’t been seen in Cup since 1981.

Logano’s move was the fifth time this season that the lead changed on the final lap of a Cup points race.

And that doesn’t include the duel between Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson at Chicagoland Speedway this summer since there was not an official lead change at the start/finish line (although Larson passed Busch down the backstretch before he was bumped out of the lead in Turn 3).

Bumps played a role in three of the five last-lap lead changes this season. Austin Dillon hit Aric Almirola and sent Almirola into the wall while Dillon passed to win the Daytona 500. Jimmie Johnson spun into Martin Truex Jr. at the Charlotte Roval, helping Ryan Blaney win. And there’s Logano’s bump.

The other two races this season where the lead changed on the last lap was Daytona in July when Erik Jones won and at Talladega last month when Aric Almirola passed Kurt Busch as Busch ran out of fuel.

Nine of the last 69 Cup races (13 percent), dating back to the start of last season, have ended with a lead change on the last lap. Six of those races came at Daytona and Talladega. The other three were the Charlotte Roval and the fall Martinsville playoff race each of the past two years.

Since 2009, Brad Keselowski has won five races on last-lap passes, most in that period. Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick and Logano have each won three races on last-lap passes in that span.

On the other side, Busch has lost five races in the last decade on last-lap passes. Truex and Kurt Busch are next with three such defeats.

2. Early prep work for Miami

Joey Logano’s Martinsville victory gives his team a couple of extra weeks to focus on the championship finale in Miami. Crew chief Todd Gordon said that could be helpful.

“It allows you to just not be so focused on Texas, what we’ve got to do at Texas to win,” Gordon said. “In our situation, you look at (Martinsville) and Texas both being great racetracks for us, Phoenix probably has been a struggle for us the last year or so.

“It allows us to kind of turn one eye towards Homestead, work on the preparation for what we have to have there, knowing we’re in a position that we can be at least broadly looking forward to that.”

Since 2014, the winner of Martinsville, the first race in the third round, has gone on to win the championship once. Jimmie Johnson won at Martinsville in 2016 to make it to Miami and captured his record-tying seventh championship that year.

3. Return to dominance?

It has been five races since either Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch or Martin Truex Jr. has won a race — the longest drought of the season for the Big 3.

If they fail to win this weekend at Texas, it could mean that one of the three won’t make it to the championship race in Miami. Joey Logano secured one of the four spots in the championship field with his Martinsville win. If another playoff driver wins Sunday, that would leave two spots left heading into next weekend’s race at Phoenix.

The odds are good, though, of a Harvick, Busch or Truex win at Texas.

Harvick has a series-high eight consecutive top-10 finishes at Texas. Busch has scored a top-10 finish in 10 consecutive races on 1.5-mile tracks, which includes Texas. Truex and Kyle Larson are next with six consecutive top 10s at 1.5-mile tracks.

4. A new sensation

Jimmie Johnson was at the Atlanta Goodyear tire test on Tuesday driving a Chevrolet wheel-force car. He was asked about what’s different from inside the car with the 2019 rules package

“This is unlike anything I’ve experienced over my years in Cup,” Johnson said. “I had only a couple of years in the Busch Series and even there we had more power. I had very, very few starts in a Late Model stock, and in some respects with the size of the track and throttle response, it reminds me of that. So it is a far different power curve and acceleration sensation inside the car.

“We’re used to having the horsepower underneath our foot to accelerate up off the turn and you can’t even feel the accel now. You’re at a high speed. You lift to half throttle and you put it back down, you don’t feel the car pick up.”

5. One last ride 

Trevor Bayne makes his final Cup start of the season for Roush Fenway Racing. Matt Kenseth will drive the No. 6 the final two races. Bayne’s last start for Roush comes at the site of his first career start. He made his first Cup start in Nov. 2010, placing 17th for the Wood Brothers. In his second career Cup start, Bayne won the 2011 Daytona 500.

Bayne continues to look for a ride for next season.

Cup teams testing Monday, Tuesday at Kansas Speedway

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Before Cup teams race on the Charlotte Roval this weekend, some will take part in an organizational test Monday and Tuesday at Kansas Speedway.

At such a test, an organization can have one team participate. Six playoff drivers are scheduled to test this week. Not all organizations chose to take part in the test.

Scheduled to test at Kansas Speedway are:

Chris Buescher (JTG Daugherty Racing)

Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas Racing)

Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing)

Cole Custer (Rick Ware Racing)

Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing)

Ty Dillon (Germain Racing)

Chase Elliott (Hendrick Motorsports)

Matt Kenseth (Roush Fenway Racing)

Joey Logano (Team Penske)

Jamie McMurray (Chip Ganassi Racing)

Paul Menard (Wood Brothers)

Martin Truex Jr. (Furniture Row Racing)

Truex is scheduled to test Monday only. Also, Justin Allgaier is scheduled to drive the Chevrolet wheel force car, David Ragan is scheduled to drive the Ford wheel force car and Drew Herring is scheduled to drive the Toyota wheel force car.

Playoff driver listed in italics

Friday 5: Could further limit on Cup drivers in Xfinity take place?

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For the second week in a row, the NASCAR Xfinity Series will run a race without any drivers who score points in the Cup series.

Cup regulars are barred from competing in Dash 4 Cash races, which pay $100,000 to the top Xfinity drivers in each of four events.

The result last weekend at Bristol was a race where Xfinity drivers battled for the win and to be eligible for the Dash 4 Cash bonus tonight at Richmond Raceway. Ryan Preece won the race and the bonus at Bristol. He isn’t entered for tonight’s race. Competing for the Dash 4 Cash bonus will be Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler, Spencer Gallagher and Daniel Hemric.

Along with Dash 4 Cash races, any driver who scores Cup points is barred from competing in the final eight races of the Xfinity season (regular-season finale and seven playoff races). Cup drivers with more than five years of experience are limited to seven Xfinity races in a season.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, hinted earlier this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that more changes could be made to limit Cup driver participations in Xfinity races.

“We’ll continue to monitor what do our fans think, what do our partners think in terms of what they’re seeing on the race track and the storylines,’’ O’Donnell said.

“It’s one thing to say we like this, but fans need to turn out, ratings need to be there and those sorts of things. Only one race, but we saw some really good indictions in terms of the TV rating for that event. That’s something that we’ll continue to monitor, but our gut tells us that’s the direction we want to continue to go, even more so in 2019 and beyond.’’

2. Dominance

Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick have ruled the beginning of the season, combining to win five of the first eight races and finishing runner-up four times.

The two also have combined to lead 37.2 percent of the 2,645 laps run this season.

Busch heads into Saturday night’s race at Richmond having scored six consecutive top-three finishes, including back-to-back wins at Texas and Bristol.

The last time two drivers won three Cup races in a row in the same season was 2015 when Busch won Daytona, New Hampshire and Indianapolis, and Joey Logano won Charlotte, Kansas and Talladega in the playoffs.

3. The race within the race

While multi-car teams garner much attention, single-car teams shouldn’t be ignored.

Here’s a look at how single-car teams have performed relative to each other in the first eight races of the season.

Not surprisingly, Furniture Row Racing and Martin Truex Jr. have been the top-finishing single-car team in five of the first eight races. Darrell Wallace Jr.’s Richard Petty Motorsports team has been the top finishing single-car team twice, and the Wood Brothers and Paul Menard have been the top-finishing car in class once.

Menard has finished second among single-car teams five times. Wallace, Leavine Family Racing’s Kasey Kahne and Germain Racing’s Ty Dillon have each finished second in class once.

The last two races have been good to single-car teams. Nine single-car teams finished in the top 22 at Texas, led by Wallace’s eighth-place finish, Dillon’s 13th-place finish and Matt DiBenedetto placing 16th for Go Fas Racing.

Three single-car teams placed in the top 20 at Bristol — Menard was 13th, Wallace 16th and Landon Cassill gave StarCom Racing its best career finish at 20th.

4. No need for announcement

When teams announce long-term sponsor extensions, it can come with news of an extension to the driver’s contract to match that time.

The news this week that Roush Fenway Racing had extended sponsor deals through 2021 with Fastenal, Fifth Third Bank and Sunny D didn’t include any news about Stenhouse’s contract.

Didn’t need to.

“Ricky’s contract was already extended that far and we didn’t need to do anything else on that front,’’ Steve Newmark, president of Roush Fenway Racing, told NBC Sports.

5. HUGE news!

Matt Tifft wrote those words in a tweet this week followed not by a sponsor announcement or anything related to racing but that doctors say the area of his brain where a low-grade tumor was removed in July 2016 is stable. He now only needs to have an MRI checkup every six months instead of sooner.

Tifft enters tonight’s Xfinity race at Richmond 11th in the points.

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