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Friday 5: As season nears, a bigger deadline looms for NASCAR

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While the Cup garage opens in two weeks at Daytona International Speedway to begin the 2020 season, a bigger deadline is looming.

It is less than 10 weeks from NASCAR President Steve Phelps’ self-imposed deadline of announcing the 2021 schedule around April 1.

Phelps made it clear in November what will be key elements to the upcoming schedule.

“We’re looking at where we’re going to have the most competitive racing that we can have, where we’re going to have full grandstands, and what does that market look like, is it a new market that we can service,” Phelps said the morning of last season’s finale in Miami.

Tracks that host Cup races — now mostly owned by NASCAR — were put on notice by Phelps’ comments.

“The two things that teams need: We need butts in seats and eyeballs on the TV,” said Steve Newmark, Roush Fenway Racing president, this week.

He stated how important attendance is for teams by noting the growth at Watkins Glen International, which had its fifth consecutive sellout of grandstand seating last year.

Fans at Watkins Glen in 2019. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“When I started in 2010, we didn’t take a lot of partners to Watkins Glen,” Newmark said of sponsors. “Now you take a partner to Watkins Glen in a heartbeat. It is sold out, the energy there. I understand the capacity at Watkins Glen is not the same but it has this feeling, and I think really what we’re trying from a team perspective, from a Roush Fenway perspective, that’s the most important thing.

“I want to go to areas that embrace having the race, that people show up in the stands, that there is a lot of energy. That’s where I want to take my partners. I want them to see their brand in that type of setting.

“Some venues can do that with two races. Other venues it’s been more of a struggle. I would love to see us try these new venues. There will be an energy around that.”

Among Newmark’s suggestions of where NASCAR should consider racing at some point: “Mexico, Canada, street courses, different road courses, different short tracks, look at it all.”

Ryan Newman, who enters his second year at Roush Fenway Racing, said that NASCAR should consider running a Cup race on dirt.

“I’m not trying to bash anybody, we just can’t keep doing the same things we’ve been doing,” he said this week. “We just can’t. We’ve got to mix it up as a sport. We’re working on doing that and I know that.

NASCAR Trucks at Eldora Speedway in 2019. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

“But we’ve got to mix it up and make the fans want to see something different, want to see something new. A different driver. A different venue. A different type of anything. Not just a Next Gen car, that’s a part of it. … Going dirt racing can be done with the Next Gen car. If Junior Johnson was here, he’d tell you, ‘Let’s go race dirt.’ I’m telling you.”

Only the Truck series races on dirt, competing at Eldora Speedway. Cup last raced on a dirt track Sept. 30, 1970 at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, North Carolina. Richard Petty won that race.

As the sport continues to evolve — adding a night race at Martinsville, a doubleheader weekend at Pocono, and the debut of the Next Gen car next season — the makeup of the schedule in the coming years will be among the biggest tasks for NASCAR officials.

2. A big deal

After winning the Chili Bowl for the first time in 13 attempts, Kyle Larson said moments after the triumph on the MavTV broadcast: “Its a pretty different range of emotions 365 days later. I feel like I’m going to pass out. I’m sorry NASCAR, I’m sorry Daytona, but this is the biggest (expletive) race I’ve ever won. I hope to win Daytona in a few weeks but this is bad ass.”

Larson, who lost the Chili Bowl the previous year on the last lap, later explained his comment in his press conference.

“It will be fun to watch the dirt fans and the NASCAR fans go at it and maybe get a text from (NASCAR’s Steve) O’Donnell and probably (Chip Ganassi Racing chief operating officer) Doug Duchardt,” Larson said.

“I think they understand the energy that this race brings to me and how much I want to win and have wanted to win it. Obviously, I’ve said in the past that the Chili Bowl, to me, is bigger than the Daytona 500. Obviously, it’s not just because of the size of the crowd and the purse of the Daytona 500, nothing compares with that I’ve raced in.

“On a personal level, just how close I’ve been to winning this race, I think that’s where I think this race has meant more to me. But now maybe after winning the Chili Bowl, the Daytona 500 will be that next race that’s going to mean the most to me that I want to win. It’s just been a great little run and hopefully we can turn this into some good momentum into the NASCAR season.”

Ryan Newman, who competed at the Chili Bowl Nationals for the first time, defended Larson’s excitement with winning that event.

“There’s 360 drivers, 360 teams going for one trophy. That’s spectacular,” Newman said. “I raced midgets races before where I won and there were 16 cars that entered and I felt really good about it. Going back to the Kyle Larson (comment), when there’s 360 (drivers) and you have been working … your whole life to get that trophy, it makes it special. It makes it more special than anybody who is out of his shoes to understand.”

3. Memorable win

NASCAR’s test this week on the Indy road course for the Xfinity Series will give those drivers a chance to accomplish a first — be the first Xfinity driver to win on that circuit.

Brad Keselowski after winning the 2012 Nationwide race at Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Brad Keselowski won the first Xfinity race at Indy (it was known as the Nationwide Series at the time) in 2012. That remains a special accomplishment.

“It sticks with you,” he told NBC Sports. “I’m proud of it. … It makes me … a little sad because I don’t get to compete in that series anymore with all the rules, it’s not feasible. So there is a little bit of sorrow I have with that question (of winning there) but it certainly was a defining moment for my career.”

Keselowski also won the final Xfinity race at Lucas Oil Raceway — where the series competed from 1982-2011 before moving to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

4. 15 and counting …

Call it a good sign for some, an omen for others or one crazy coincidence but each of the past 15 Cup champions have had an even-number car number.

The last driver to win the championship with an odd number on the car was Kurt Busch. He won the 2004 title (the inaugural Chase) driving the No. 97 car.

So, if one believes in signs, the even-number streak could be a bad sign this season for drivers with odd numbers, such as Busch (No. 1), Chase Elliott (No. 9), Denny Hamlin (No. 11) and Martin Truex Jr. (No. 19) among others.

5. NASCAR at Rolex

Kyle Busch is the only active Cup driver competing in this weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway (coverage will be on NBC, NBCSN and NBC Gold: Track Pass), today’s IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge will have some additional NASCAR flavor.

MORE: A “crucial” year for Hailie Deegan’s career begins today at Daytona

MORE: Full Rolex 24 Hours coverage at MotorSportsTalk

The four-hour endurance race begins at 1:10 pm. ET (and will be streamed on the NBC Gold: Track Pass) and includes Xfinity drivers Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric. Also competing will be Hailie Deegan, who moved from Toyota’s development program to Ford’s in the offseason. She’ll spend most of her time this season running in the ARCA Series. Deegan and Briscoe will co-drive the No. 22 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4.

Dominique Van Wieringen fastest on Day 2 of Daytona ARCA test

ARCA Menards Series
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The ARCA Menards Series capped off a two-day test at Daytona International Speedway Saturday in preparation for its Feb. 8 race at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.

Dominique Van Wieringen posted the fastest speed of the day at 181.397 mph. She only made four laps.

“I was really surprised when (owner) Mark (Rette) said we went to the top of the charts,” Van Wieringen said in a media release. “I was practicing trying to time the draft for qualifying and I didn’t get it times just right. Hopefully when we come back for the race I can time it out a little better in qualifying and get even more.

“It’s been a good experience. It’s really intimidating because you go really fast and when things go wrong they go wrong really fast. For the first time out, it was better than I thought it would be. It was actually really relaxing. I don’t know how to explain it, it was just really relaxing.”

Out of 41 cars to make a lap, the top five was completed by David Gravel (181.236 mph), Sean Corr (181.174), Michael Self (181.145) and Drew Dollar (181.134).

Gravel, a World of Outlaws driver, will make his series debut next month.

Hailie Deegan was 16th on the speed chart after recording 62 laps throughout the day, which was the most.

 

Top 19 moments from the 2019 NASCAR Season

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We’ve spent the last four days looking back at NASCAR in the 2010s through its most memorable quotes, its 10 best driver, best finishes and most memorable moments.

Now it’s time to look back at 2019 and the moments that defined the sport.

In chronological order, here are the top 19 moments from the 2019 season (watch the above video for more).

 

February 17, 2019 – DAYTONA 500

Following a restart on Lap 191, Matt DiBenedetto spun (after contact from Paul Menard) and sparked an accident that collected a total of 21 cars. This was the first of three multi-car wrecks in the closing laps of the race (Lap 195, Lap 199). Only three of the race’s 40 cars were not involved in crashes during this race (Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Ross Chastain). In the end, it was Hamlin taking home the victory, leading a 1-2-3 finish for Joe Gibbs Racing. The victory took place just over a month following the passing of team president J.D. Gibbs.

Hailie Deegan’S TWO WINS

Rising star Hailie Deegan earned two wins in 2019 in NASCAR K&N Pro Series West competition. Both wins came on exciting last-lap passes: Feb. 28 on the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Dirt Track, June 8 at Colorado National Speedway

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March 8, 2019 – CUP SERIES AT PHOENIX

After the first round of qualifying, Daniel Suarez and Michael McDowell were involved in a scuffle on pit road. Suarez was upset with McDowell for getting in his way during the session. McDowell was unhappy because he felt Suarez tried to wreck him. McDowell’s crew chief, Drew Blickensderfer, rushed in and shoved Suarez onto the hood of McDowell’s car. Suarez tried to kick McDowell while still on the car.

March 17, 2019 – CUP SERIES AT FONTANA

Kyle Busch led a race-high 134 laps in his victory at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. The victory was Busch’s 200th across NASCAR’s three national touring series (Cup, Xfinity and Trucks), becoming just the second driver to reach that milestone. Richard Petty had 200 wins during his career, all in the NASCAR Cup Series.

April 13, 2019 – CUP SERIES AT RICHMOND

Martin Truex Jr. held off a late challenge from Joey Logano to earn the win. It was Truex’s first Cup Series victory on a short track, having gone winless in his previous 80 attempts. This was the first of Truex’s series-leading seven victories in 2019.

May 18, 2019 – ALL-STAR RACE AT CHARLOTTE

Kyle Larson took home a check for $1 million by winning the All-Star Race. His victory was overshadowed a bit when Ryan Newman made contact with Clint Bowyer during the race’s cool down lap. Afterwards, an angry Bowyer rushed over to Newman’s car and threw multiple punches before crew members hauled him away. Neither driver was hurt.

FIRST-TIME WINNERS IN CUP SERIES

The NASCAR Cup Series saw its only first-time winners of 2019 in consecutive weeks. First, Alex Bowman passed Kyle Larson with six laps to go and held on to win at Chicagoland (June 30). The following weekend at Daytona (July 7), crew chief Peter Sospenzo had driver Justin Haley stay out during a caution following a massive multi-car accident, earning his first Cup Series win when the race is called due to weather.

July 13, 2019 – CUP SERIES AT KENTUCKY

Kurt Busch went from fourth to first during the overtime restart. He would then battle his younger brother Kyle on the final lap, passing the eventual Cup Series champ coming out of Turn 4 to take the checkered flag.

July 21, 2019 – CUP SERIES AT NEW HAMPSHIRE

Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin engaged in a classic last-lap duel at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Harvick held off the hard-charging Hamlin in one of the best finishes of the year.

August 4, 2019 – CUP SERIES AT WATKINS GLEN

Following their epic duel the previous year at Watkins Glen, Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. went head-to-head again on the historic road course. Their battle came down to the final stage, and once again, Elliott was victorious. The race also featured Bubba Wallace spinning out Kyle Busch on Lap 62 after the two drivers engaged in some aggressive racing on the front stretch. On the previous Lap (61), Ryan Blaney spun Jimmie Johnson, leading the seven-time champ to confront Blaney after the race.

August 17, 2019 – CUP SERIES AT BRISTOL

Matt DiBenedetto was in pursuit of his first Cup Series win and led a career-high 93 laps at Bristol. However, he could not thwart the effort of Denny Hamlin, who made the winning pass with just 12 laps to go. During the NBC Post-Race Show, Hamlin and DiBenedetto embraced in a show of sportsmanship.

THROWBACK WEEKEND AT DARLINGTON (AUG. 31 & SEP. 1)

NASCAR honored its past during Throwback Weekend at Darlington as many drivers sported retro paint schemes belonging to the heroes of the past. Fans also welcomed back Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the driver’s seat just two weeks after a plane crash involving himself and his family. The weekend was capped by Erik Jones’ victory in the Southern 500.

September 29, 2019 – CUP SERIES PLAYOFFS AT CHARLOTTE ROVAL

Chase Elliott overcame his miscue on the Lap 65 restart on the Charlotte Roval, when he crashed into the Turn 1 tire barrier. Elliott rallied to pass Kevin Harvick with six laps to go and held on for the win. Alex Bowman, who finished second, grabbed the final transfer spot into the Round of 12. The event also featured a post-race altercation between Bubba Wallace and Bowman, who were involved in an on-track incident during Stage 2. Wallace walked up to Bowman, who was sitting next to his car, and splashed what appeared to be an energy drink in his face.

October 14, 2019 – CUP SERIES PLAYOFFS AT TALLADEGA

In a race determined by just .007 of a second, Ryan Blaney advanced to the Round of 8 with a thrilling victory over Ryan Newman at Talladega. The race featured three large multi-car wrecks, with the third and final one on Lap 182. During this crash, Brendan Gaughan‘s No. 62 car completely flipped, landing on its tires. Incredibly, Gaughan walked away from the crash.

October 19, 2019 – XFINITY SERIES PLAYOFFS AT KANSAS

A heated conversation between title contenders Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer turned physical following the playoff race at Kansas Speedway. The two drivers fell to the ground as they were swarmed by members of both teams. Reddick sustained a red mark above his right eye following the altercation.

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October 27, 2019 – CUP SERIES PLAYOFFS AT MARTINSVILLE

Martin Truex Jr. secured the first ticket to the Championship 4 with a dominant performance, leading 464 of the race’s 500 laps. The bigger story took place after the checkered flag when Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin got into a heated argument that led to a physical altercation. Team Penske crew member Dave Nichols Jr. was suspended one race for violently pulling Hamlin to the ground.

November 10, 2019 – CUP SERIES PLAYOFFS AT PHOENIX

Entering the Round of 8 elimination race at ISM Raceway outside Phoenix, Denny Hamlin was 20 points below the Championship cut line. As the race played out, Hamlin needed to win to advance to Miami. Hamlin pitted from the lead with seven laps to go and took just two tires only, winning the race off pit road. The decision paid off as Hamlin won to secure his spot in the Championship 4. Kyle Busch finished second to advance on points, joining Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick.

November 16, 2019 – XFINITY SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP AT MIAMI

Tyler Reddick became the sixth driver to earn back-to-back Xfinity Series Championships, and the first to achieve the feat while driving for different teams (JR Motorsports in 2018, Richard Childress Racing in 2019). The highlight of the race took place with 19 laps to go as Reddick and Cole Custer exchanged the race lead three times in one lap.

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November 17, 2019 – CUP SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP AT MIAMI

Kyle Busch earned his second Cup Series Championship with a hard-fought victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Following the race, he shared a victory lap with his son Brexton as the two cruised into Victory Lane.

 

Hailie Deegan looking forward to being a ‘focus’ of attention at Ford

Photo by Daniel McFadin
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CONCORD, N.C. — Hailie Deegan‘s future with Ford started in style.

The 18-year-old began the next chapter of her career Tuesday at the Ford Performance Technical Center by slowly piloting a blue Ford Shelby 350 through a set of dark curtains before taking questions from the media.

That followed a hype video showing Deegan doing donuts in another Ford car.

Hailie Deegan emerges from a Ford Shelby 350 as part of her introduction as a member of Ford’s driver development program. (Photo by Daniel McFadin)

The theatrics on her behalf are one of the reasons why, after a few years with Toyota, she’ll be be spending “a lot of birthdays” as a Ford development driver.

But it mostly came down to there not being enough rides for her in Toyota’s stable to properly propel her up the ladder.

“At the end of the day, Toyota, they introduced me to the NASCAR world … they pushed me into it, they gave me a really good base and that’s something I’m super thankful for,” Deegan said. “But at the end of the day, there’s so many Toyota drivers and there’s not many seats. I think we made the best decision for my career long-term.”

Deegan joins a development program that boasts Chase Briscoe as its founding driver.

“There’s going to be more of a focus,” Deegan said. “That’s something I was super adamant about. I want to be focused on, I want to have the attention over here to be a better driver and get developed and that’s something that stood out to me and I think that’s going to help my career.”

Ford recently entered a partnership with the David Gilliland co-owned DGR-Crosley that will add to its efforts.

A three-time winner on what’s now the ARCA Menards Series West, Deegan will compete full-time with DGR-Crosley in the ARCA Menards Series while also competing in select IMSA races, beginning with the Jan. 24 Michelin Pilot Challenge endurance race at Daytona International Speedway.

The looming ARCA season won’t be Deegan’s first interaction with DGR-Crosley. She competed in one ARCA Menards Series East race with the team this year at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“I got used to the team, I got to feel everyone out, see what I liked, didn’t like and there was a lot of things that I liked about them,” Deegan said. “I saw how hard their work ethic was. I really like how David, he was a racer. He understands it. He has a son (Todd Gilliland) that races, he knows the game of trying to build your kid into the ranks of NASCAR and running a team at the same time while still being a racer. That’s something I think is a really good combo that’s just going to help his team get better and better. Especially with how much Ford is supporting them, getting behind them.

“The resources they’re giving them is insane.”

Among those resources now at her disposal is Ford’s “marketing push.”

“That’s something I didn’t really have in the past with the team I was with and the manufacturer, that’s something (Ford wants) to push more,” Deegan said. “Push more stuff that’s away from racing, that’s ‘OK, let’s gets you in a Mustang, lets get you in a truck and let’s do some cool videos and stuff like that’ and that’s something I’m big into. I love social media. I love doing stuff like that and that’s definitely a push they want to connect us with.”

All this is work towards one goal: reaching the NASCAR Cup Series.

Both Deegan and Ford Performance Motorsports’ global director, Mark Rushbrook, preached the importance of Deegan moving up each step on the stock car racing ladder when she’s ready.

“We want to make sure, and Hailie wants to make sure, her team wants to make sure, she progresses to those levels when she’s ready to ensure success at each step,” Rushbrook said.

While Ford didn’t announce an expected plan for her progression, Deegan’s father, action sports star Brian Deegan, hopes the opportunity arises for her to “dabble” in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series at some point this year.

“I think she needs that,” Brian Deegan said. “She wants to race Eldora for sure, just because it’s a dirt race.”

He even mapped out the ideal structure for his daughter over the next few years.

“It would be ARCA (in 2020), 2021 trucks, 2022 trucks, 23′, 24′ (in) Xfinity is kind of what we’re hoping and laying out, is kind of our goal for her to have that path and then get to Cup,” Brian Deegan said. “By then I think she should have enough experience on everything to be ready, to be competitive.”

Hailie Deegan admitted it’s been difficult to see her fellow competitors from the ARCA East and West Series get a shot at the Truck Series before she does.

“It’s been really hard, just going to ISM (Raceway) at Phoenix (in November,)” she said. “It was so hard for me because my teammate (Derek Kraus at Bill McAnally Racing), he was racing in the truck race and I was sitting there on pit road and I was like, ‘Man, if he can do it, I want to do it.’ Seeing all my friends reach trucks, that’s something hard for me to kind of hold back on, ‘Ok let’s race ARCA, let’s gain experience, let’s get better before I go there.'”

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Hailie Deegan is Ford’s newest development driver

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CONCORD, N.C. — Ford Performance Motorsports revealed Hailie Deegan as its newest development driver Tuesday at its Technical Center, with her joining Chase Briscoe in the program.

Deegan will compete in multiple series in 2020, including the full ARCA Menards Series season with DGR-Crosley driving the No. 4 Ford and select events in the Mustang GT4 with Multimatic Motorsports in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

Neither Deegan or Mark Rushbrook, Ford Performance Motorsports global director, would say how long her deal was, but Deegan said she’s be with Ford for “a lot of birthdays.”

At the unveiling, Deegan said all of her funding is focused on the ARCA Series, but if the opportunity to race in other series comes up this year, they will pursue it.

Photo by Daniel McFadin

“I could not be more excited to join Ford Performance and DGR-Crosley,” Deegan said in a press release. “It became clear quickly that I align with the Ford Performance vision of driver development and our shared drive to win.  It is also extra special to get to race with Ford, a family company, that already had ties to my family. Growing up watching my dad race a Ford, and now to be able to do the same thing is very cool.

“It’s also important to me to be teamed up with a hardworking group such as DGR with like minded vision and goals. We are all committed to work as hard as it takes to finish on top.  I look forward to the upcoming season and learning as much as possible to get me closer to accomplishing my goals of winning races.”

Deegan, 18, will be leaving the vaunted Toyota Racing Development pipeline, which has helped groom Erik Jones and Christopher Bell for NASCAR’s premier series. But with Toyota’s Cup and Xfinity rides mostly filled for the foreseeable future, Ford’s larger team lineup might offer Deegan a better path for accelerating through NASCAR’s national series if she can improve on her two wins and 11 top 10s in 14 K&N Series (now the ARCA Menards Series) starts last year.

“Hailie has shown in her brief time behind the wheel of a stock car that she’s got what it takes to be successful,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports, in a press release.  “Our goal is to put her on a path to realize our shared goal of winning championships and part of that is gaining experience on tracks such as road courses and superspeedways.  We feel this year will serve as a good foundation for what lies ahead.”

The daughter of action sports star Brian Deegan, Hailie Deegan is just the second woman to win a NASCAR sanctioned race, following Shawna Robinson. She’s earned three wins in 28 ARCA Menards Series West races over the last two years, and she has a knack for winning in dramatic fashion. She finished third in the K&N West standings in 2019.

One of her ARCA Menards Series East starts this year was with DGR-Crosley, which recently announced its switch from Toyota to Ford with the intent of being part of the company’s development program.

Deegan made six ARCA Menards Series starts this year, earning one top five and four top-10 finishes.

MORE: Hailie Deegan on the Dale Jr. Download: “I’m a racer, not a model”

MORE: Hailie Deegan on the struggles of finding sponsorship