Kurt Busch — His contract expires after this season. Car owner Chip Ganassi has suggested in media reports that a deal will be done. Busch declined to discuss much about his contract status before the Sept. 29 race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, stating: “We haven’t really started talks. I felt like it was good to get the playoffs underway and go as far as we could comfortably. Man, there’s a lot going on and we’ll see how things play out. Again, it’s all about all the stars lining up with Chevrolet, Monster Energy, myself, Chip. For me, I feel like things haven’t progressed because of the focus on the playoffs.”
Daniel Suarez — He has said that both he and the team have an option on his contract for next year. He has remained confident that he will return to Stewart-Haas Racing to drive the No. 41 car and noted upcoming meeting should solidify his situation.
Sponsorship for Stenhouse and his car number will be announced at a later date.
“I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to join JTG Daugherty Racing next season,” Stenhouse said in a press release. “To be able to see what (team owner) Tad (Geschickter), Jodi (Geschickter) and Brad (Daugherty) have built over the years says a lot about the team and the organization both on and off the track. JTG has grown from a small team in a barn to a two-car team with more than 100 employees, and I’m looking forward to joining the family. I’m grateful for the opportunity, and ready to go win races with the ultimate goal of making the Playoffs and competing for a championship.”
Stenhouse joins JTG Daugherty Racing after a decade of racing with Roush Fenway. He earned two Xfinity Series titles for the team before moving up to the Cup Series full-time in 2013.
In 251 Cup starts, Stenhouse has two wins. Those came at Daytona and Talladega. He failed to make the playoffs the last two seasons.
Tad Geschickter shared some insight into why he went with Stenhouse on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “SiriusXM Speedway” Wednesday afternoon.
“We looked at the whole field of people that were available and accomplished enough to run at the Cup level,” Geschickter said. “Really narrowed it down to two. At the end it’s Ricky’s resume and experience and to see it alongside Ryan, whose still learning his craft at the Cup level, we just thought it made sense to have that veteran experience that’s won races be part of the program as Ryan continues to develop into that winning presence.”
On Monday, Stenhouse led 32 laps in the race at Talladega, his most laps led this season.
“(The deal was) definitely pretty much done at that point, but it sure made me feel good about the decision if there were any worries,” Geschickter said. “Ricky’s just fast everywhere. He’s a tremendous talent. I think we’re blessed to get him. We’re going to miss Chris. I don’t think we’ll miss a step here.”
Geschickter was asked by SiriusXM if Stenhouse’s reputation for being involved in wrecks as a result of aggressive racing was discussed during the negotiation process.
“I did not know him well until I met him a couple of weeks ago and talked a lot obviously over the last couple of weeks,” Geschickter said. “He’s breath of fresh air. You can talk pretty frankly with him, he talks frankly back to you. We certainly had that discussion. But as we discussed it, I’d rather go to the bit than go to the whip. He wants it badly. We’re kind of excited to have that dynamic in here. Ryan’s the same way, by the way. he want’s it badly.”
It’s the bedrock upon which superspeedway racing happily has rested for three decades in the interest of entertainment (and, ostensibly, safety in ensuring speeds are manageable enough to prevent cars from sailing over catchfences with disturbing regularity at Daytona and Talladega).
After an off-year in 2018, NASCAR found its sweet spot in Sweet Home Alabama this season.
The most arbitrary form of racing delivered by NASCAR’s premier series again felt as predictably unpredictable as it ever had since the restrictor-plate era began in 1988. There were colossal crashes, double-crossing duplicity and razor-tight finishes.
That was great for fans. It wasn’t necessarily good for Cup drivers.
Of course, it rarely is in the finicky and violent environs of Dega, which was unusually tame last year with only two wrecks of at least a half-dozen cars across 1,013 miles (this year, there were three times as many).
The knock on plate racing in 2018 was the lack of driveability. It’s hard to make passes when cars aren’t stable at 200 mph-plus in the draft.
NASCAR addressed this by raising spoilers to 9 inches with the advent of the spacers. That didn’t do much for handling, but it did punch a bigger hole in the air that caused massive acceleration in the draft and eradicated the “aero bubble” barrier that drivers said made it difficult for trailing cars to pass last year.
So the ability to catch the leader improved … even though handling didn’t nearly as much (look no further than Joey Logano’s in-car camera, which was a furious blur of hands manhandling the steering wheel on every shot).
That was a recipe for the return of the huge wrecks that felt like Dega of yesteryear. Holes in the draft vanished much more quickly, and blocking became futile as drivers scrambled (and often failed) to adapt to the higher closing rates.
As analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. noted in the NBC broadcast, though the bumpers don’t line up as well with the Gen 6 as in the previous iteration (which spawned the nefarious tandem drafting), the bump-drafting has become even more aggressive in the era of stage points and playoff berths tied to wins.
With bigger runs coming from every direction, an increased susceptibility to being passed and cars just as unstable when in a pack, the lead no longer was the place to be at Talladega.
There were more lead changes Sunday-Monday (46, up from 38 in the April 28 race) than the combined total (40) for both 2018 races. There were 22,214 green-flag passes (59 per lap) at Talladega in 2019, up from 13,294 last year (35 per lap).
A NASCAR without restrictor plates?
Talladega still served up the action for fans — on a silver platter strewn with twisted sheet metal, of course.
The situations weren’t entirely analogous, but NASCAR’s non-call on the final lap Monday was reminiscent of its controversial non-call on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s winning pass of Matt Kenseth in the April 6, 2003 race at Talladega. In both instances, officials claimed the spirit of the yellow-line rule wasn’t violated even though the letter clearly was.
Here’s how the rule was presented in the drivers meeting at Talladega: “Drivers, this is your warning. Race above the double-yellow line. If in NASCAR’s judgment, you go below the double-yellow line to improve your position, you will be black-flagged. If in NASCAR’s judgment, you force someone below the double-yellow line in an effort to stop someone from passing you, you may be black-flagged.”
It’s indisputable that, just like Earnhardt did in passing Kenseth 16 years ago, Ryan Blaney went below the yellow line before taking the lead for good Monday from Ryan Newman. It’s possible that contact with Newman caused Blaney to dip below the boundary, and that seems to be NASCAR’s explanation in why no call was made.
But it also seems like the rule demands that (as it did in 2003) a penalty should have been called on either Blaney or Newman. NASCAR can rule that “in its judgment,” Blaney didn’t intentionally go below the yellow-line to improve his position … but if that’s the case, it means he had to have been forced there, right?
As many have noted, manufacturer alliances at Daytona and Talladega were invented long before the 21st century. In the 1990s, Chevrolet and Ford drivers regularly worked together – when possible — to try to ensure their makes won the race.
Chevrolet’s decision to call an in-race meeting at Garage Suite 3 in full public view was ill-advised, at best. The references afterward to shilling Corvettes and watching PowerPoints were too clever by a factor of maybe 100, and they also were indicative of why the optics were problematic.
Chevy’s extremely disciplined approach felt too corporate, and it seemed micromanaged to the point of making Michael Scott blush. Chastising drivers for racing three wide instead of single file while still in Stage 1 is hardly palatable to anyone in NASCAR, which has an appealing undercurrent of cutthroat intensity (especially at Daytona and Talladega).
The focus on manufacturer alliances wasn’t all bad, though.
It forced some good discussions on awkward topics into the open, and it raised important issues about how much influence manufacturers and teams should have in effectively determining race winners. If younger drivers for midpack teams essentially are told to subjugate themselves for the greater good (or risk being stripped of perks), is that a just sacrifice at a track that might offer their best opportunity at winning all year?
That conversation got shoved to the forefront by the weekend’s manufacturer debate. And it was nice that none of it actually mattered at the conclusion of a race that featured a passel of unheralded underdogs vying for the checkered flag.
It also could be indirectly good for NASCAR while continuing to court new manufacturers to enter with its next generation engine (which probably won’t happen until 2023). With the overall decline in the corporate sponsorship spend over the past decade, there are few entities investing as much in stock-car racing as the automakers.
At least they got good bang for their bucks at Talladega, particularly if you ascribe to the idea that there is no such thing as bad publicity.
Ryan Blaney still isn’t a favorite to reach the Championship 4 this season, but Monday might be remembered as a turning point if the No. 12 driver eventually wins a Cup title.
There is enormous pressure on the 25-year-old to perform at Team Penske, which has been enjoying a worldwide results bonanza well beyond NASCAR that is impressive even for this storied organization. Never mind championship teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, Blaney also is competing against winners of the Indianapolis 500, Bathurst 1000 and Rolex 24. If he makes the playoffs but still goes winless this year, it gets noticed more than it would at a less successful team.
The confidence-booster of making every right move over the final two laps (including the bold decision to choose the outside for the lead on the final restart) should go a long way toward making Blaney feel his place is secure at one of racing’s greatest teams.
NASCAR executive explains yellow line rulings at Talladega
Scott Miller, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition, said the instances of vehicles going below the yellow line on the last lap of the Truck and Cup races at Talladega Superspeedway “were very, very different from one another,” with one being “a lot more blatant” than the other.
Miller made his comments on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”
“First of all, one guy won the race or appeared to have won the race by making that move and the other didn’t,” Miller said. “When you’re talking about Johnny’s situation, he drove all four of his wheels under the yellow line to force (Herbst) down there. It was obviously a lot more blatant in our opinion than what transpired on (Monday). Blaney was down there, Ryan (Newman) wasn’t down there, but certainly in our opinion drove him down there.
“We reserve the right to call a car that forces another down below the yellow line. We can kind of use our judgement to assess the situation.
“No two ones of those situations are the same. There’s some subjectivity in it, which isn’t the greatest thing for us. But I think we’re very happy with the calls that we made and feel like both of them were right.”
Miller was asked by SiriusXM NASCAR Radio whether the yellow line rule is one that will be addressed going forward.
“The language of the rule is fine,” Miller said. “There’s always going to be judgment unless we put a wall down there or grass there or something like that. Those things would have their own set of large problems associated with them. We’ve looked at the language many times and have landed on where we are to let us make the calls we feel like are necessary for certain situations.
“If we didn’t have the yellow line rule, there’s no telling what might ensue with all the skid paths and everything leading into the back straight being so wide. We would find guys getting to the other end having no place to go but the apron. We have to enforce the yellow line rule and we are where we are. We look at everything every time when we have to make a call, all of our rules, not only race procedures, but technical rules as well.
“We’re constantly trying to get better. … I mean the yellow line rule is not something that we enjoy by any stretch of the imagination. But we have to have it. If we didn’t, there’d be even more mayhem more than likely.”
Miller also addressed why no caution was thrown on the last lap when Parker Kligerman and Chris Buescher wrecked on the frontstretch as the field approached the start-finish line. Both drivers were turned nose-first into the outside wall in the tri-oval.
“When it feels like that it’s not hampering us from dispatching the safety equipment we’ll let things play out,” Miller said. “That’s kind of our criteria for judging that. Everybody wants to see a checkered flag finish and not a field freeze. We’ll do everything that we can safely to make that happen.”
“That’s always going to be subjective, right?” Miller said. “You’re going to have a race and there’s going to be teammates working together and there’s going to be cars from different camps working together on the situation out there in the race. … I don’t know why it got publicized this weekend as much as it did. I think all of the manufacturers and all of the teams internally meet and try to come up with a little bit of strategy to stick with one another in the draft.
“It’s not something that we can really officiate effectively. We can ask them not to talk about it I would assume, but it’s not something we can really officiate. If something becomes extremely blatant and you have people stopping or doing crazy things, then obviously we have to look at that. But as far as going out there and working together in the draft, that’s something that’s going to change every single lap depending on who you’re around. So there’s really no way to officiate that.”