NASCAR explains lack of caution at end of Talladega Cup race

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Kurt Busch criticized NASCAR for not throwing a caution on the last lap of overtime Sunday when there was a multi-car crash, but NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell said the sanctioning body made the right call in letting the race end the way it did.

Had NASCAR called a caution for the incident that included Matt DiBenedetto, Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch, it would have sent the race to another overtime at Talladega Superspeedway. A caution would have ended the race since the field had taken the white flag.

Also, the decision to let the race finish under green was in contrast to Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race that ended under caution after contact by the top two cars led to Noah Gragson crashing and collecting others.

O’Donnell was asked Monday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio to explain those two calls.

“Two different races and every race is different,”  O’Donnell said. “Every call is a judgment call. The (incident) on Saturday was in front of the field, you saw a couple of wheels get off the ground, and any time you’re going to have more and more of the field driving into that caution, we felt the need in that case to throw the caution. We always want to try to end under green, but in that case we just felt like we couldn’t.

“Then on Sunday, very similar in terms of a car hitting the wall but where it happened was different and in terms of where the field was. The 32 car (DiBenedetto) then kept rolling, which is certainly a sign for us that we’re OK to keep going. The 9 car (Elliott) where it stopped (on the grass inside the turn) was right in front of our safety vehicles and had communication from the tower that that car was in good shape so we elected to not throw the caution and finish under green.

“You could say in this case that could have gone either way and could have. I talked to Matt (DiBenedetto) after the race and he was supportive of the call and understood. Our first job is to always make sure everybody is safe, and we felt we did that in this case. Certainly go back and review it as we do but stand by the call and thought it was the right one.”

Friday 5: Why Christopher Bell won’t have a full-time Cup ride in 2019

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Leavine Family Racing’s announcement Wednesday that it will align with Toyota and have Matt DiBenedetto drive the No. 95 car next season was not a surprise.

But it’s understandable to ask why Christopher Bell isn’t in that car next year.

Bell has been dominant in Xfinity for Joe Gibbs Racing this season and said in August he feels ready for Cup. He has finished in the top five in nearly 60 percent of his starts this year and set a series rookie record with his sixth Xfinity win last weekend at Dover International Speedway. This is after he won the Camping World Truck Series title last year for Toyota at Kyle Busch Motorsports.

So why wasn’t Bell introduced as the driver of the No. 95 car?

“Between ourselves and Joe Gibbs Racing, we’ve been very intentional about Christopher’s development,” David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, told NBC Sports. “Was there some conversation? Absolutely. But we collectively decided to stay the course and genuinely believe it will serve Christopher to invest another year (in Xfinity). It’s not going to hurt him.

“One of the challenges of this new alliance is next year we’re … starting from some respects from ground zero (with a new partner in Leavine Family Racing). I don’t think it’s fair to put a rookie driver in the midst of that. This is why Matt will be a good fit. His experience will lend itself to building this alliance and building the level of competitiveness.”

Leavine Family Racing owner Bob Leavine watches the action during the Southern 500. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Leavine Family Racing replaces Furniture Row Racing, which will cease operations at the end of this season, in the Toyota camp. But the two teams are very different. Leavine Family Racing is behind where Furniture Row Racing was when it joined Toyota in 2016. Furniture Row Racing had already won in Cup. Leavine Family Racing has not. Even though both are single-car teams this year, car owner Bob Leavine said his team has 35 employees, about half the number that work at Furniture Row Racing. Leavine also said he doesn’t have the budget Furniture Row Racing has.

Wilson’s focus of building Leavine Family Racing is understandable.

Wilson confirmed that Toyota Racing Development will support five Cup teams next year — the four Joe Gibbs Racing teams and Leavine Family Racing — and no more.

But there’s still a way for Bell to run some Cup races next year. Leavine said he planned to ask Wilson about Toyota Racing Development providing an extra engine to run Bell from time to time.

“That’s for them to decide,” Leavine said. “We’re just going to be available if they want to do it to put it all together and make it all work.”

Joe Gibbs Racing, which will provide the cars to Leavine Family Racing, also would have to be able to build cars for those extra races.

Wilson is open to the idea of a second Leavine Family Racing car running at times if it makes sense.

“We’ve not made any definitive plans along those lines but certainly it gives us some options,’’ he said. “The challenge in doing that is making sure that you do it in a manner, not that you expect to win per say, (but) you can risk spreading your resources too thin.

“Next year will be our first year with LFR and the priority needs to be building their capabilities and building their success, so if we have the opportunity to do something creative like that without compromising our primary mission, then we might take a look at that.”

2. What’s next for Toyota’s youngsters?

Even with Noah Gragson leaving the Toyota lineup after this season to drive in the Xfinity Series for JR Motorsports, Toyota still has a bounty of young talent.

Among those who have yet to reach the Truck Series are Hailie Deegan and Logan Seavey.

Deegan returns to the track this weekend for the first time since her K&N Pro Series West win two weeks ago in Meridian, Idaho.

The 17-year-old is fifth in the points in her first season in the series. Is her win and two runner-up finishes this season enough to have her run a Toyota Truck at Martinsville or Phoenix later this season?

“There’s no plans right now to put her anywhere this year,” David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, told NBC Sports. “We’re still working very closely with Hailie and the family about the right steps, the next steps. I don’t think we’ve made any definitive decisions at this point.”

So what about a Truck next year?

“There’s not a plan,” Wilson said. “You need to put her experience in perspective. She’s literally only run 20-something races on pavement and is 17 years old. She just need mores races, more laps, more seat time. There’s not a burning urgency of we’ve got to get her in a truck.”

A possibility for her could be to move to the K&N Pro Series East next year and run the full season there.

Another Toyota driver looking to move up the development ladder is Seavey, who leads the USAC National Midget standings and seeks to become the third rookie to win that championship.

The 21-year-old Seavey, whose background is on dirt tracks, made his Camping World Truck Series debut in July at Eldora Speedway and finished eighth after leading 53 laps.

So what’s next for Seavey?

“We have a lot of faith and belief in Logan,” Wilson said. “What we’ll see with Logan is just more pavement time. We’ve got some great relationships across the Super Late Model ranks and I would expect next year that we give him some more opportunities with (those) races and maybe some K&N and ARCA. He’s definitely on the right track and we’re excited about his potential.”

3. Right from the start

Kyle Busch and wife Samantha have been open about their struggles to have children and that they had to go through in vitro fertilization to have son Brexton in May 2015.

Since their son’s birth, they’ve created the Bundle of Joy Fund that gives grants to couples who need such treatments to have children. Those treatments can cost $15,000 or more and insurance doesn’t cover it.

Kyle and Samantha Busch pose with son Brexton and many of the families that have had children through grants from the Bundle of Joy Fund. (Photo: Dustin Long)

The Bundle of Joy Fund has led to the birth of more than a dozen children. Many of those families gathered in August for a play date and to all be together for the first time.

Kyle and Samantha both recently announced that they are wanting to give Brexton a baby sister and said they planned to share all the ups and downs they go through during this process publicly.

“If we only showed the good times, and we only showed when it was a success and went well, that’s not fair to all the women that have (not had stories that have gone like that),” Samantha Busch told NBC Sports.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen, and it is a little scary to know that things may come up down the road that may not be as easy as last time, but for all those couples out there that need to go through this or have gone through this and need to know that they’re not alone and need to understand that this can happen to anybody, I think it’s important to start from the beginning this time.’’

Samantha said she has begun taking a shot a night to prepare her body for the process and will be scheduled to have additional shots before the in vitro fertilization takes place.

4. No to the Roval theory

The notion that the end of the Charlotte Roval race was the final straw that led to Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus splitting after this season is not true, they say.

“Not even close,” Johnson said.

“I think it was already done” by then, Knaus said of the decision.

Johnson was second and in a position to advance to this round of the playoffs but challenged Martin Truex Jr. for the win and spun in the final chicane. The result was that Johnson lost enough spots and Kyle Larson gained a spot on the last lap to forge a three-way tie among Johnson, Larson and Aric Almirola for the final two transfer spots. Larson and Almirola advanced based on their best finish in the first round was better than Johnson’s best.

Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson discuss their plans to split after this year. (Photo: Dustin Long)

That was … heartbreaking,” Knaus said Thursday of the Roval finish, (but) that was not part of it. I wanted to win that race just as bad as he did. 

“I beat myself up more than I probably ever blamed Jimmie for what happened there. I could have probably come on the radio and said one or two things and he probably would have maybe thought and checked up a little bit, but my last words to him was ‘go get his ass.’”

Said Johnson: “I was crossing the start/finish line watching the white flag wave when he said that… yeah, that is what we do, we are there to win.”

5. New frontier 

With Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus splitting after this season, Knaus will become William Byron’s crew chief.

Byron is excited about the opportunity to work with the seven-time champion crew chief and knows it will push him to be better.

I think Chad is going to be brutally honest with me, and I’m okay with that,” Byron said Thursday. “I want to succeed in this sport. That’s my number one goal, and I’ll do whatever it takes to do that.”

Although Knaus is 47 and Byron is 20, Byron says he sees similarities with Knaus.

Probably attention to detail,” Byron said. “Type A personality. I don’t like excuses so that will fit well.”

Knaus said he’s “so geeked up” to be working next year with Byron and the No. 24 team, a team Knaus worked for when he started at Hendrick Motorsports in 1993.

Jimmie Johnson said he thinks the pairing of Knaus and Byron will be good.

“I am really excited for William,” Johnson said. “We have chatted quite a bit about it, and I feel that William is a lot like me. He likes to be coached along. I think there are some personalities that liked to be coached and others that don’t thrive or succeed in that environment. William is a lot like me in that he likes to be coached and with Chad’s wisdom and years and experience his intensity and desire to win, I think it could do a lot of good for him.”

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Silly Season includes crew chief moves at Hendrick Motorsports

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Matt DiBenedetto, whose career has often been overshadowed, got to bask in the attention surrounding his 2019 ride at Leavine Family Racing for a couple of hours Wednesday.

Then Hendrick Motorsports shook the sport by announcing it was splitting Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus – one of NASCAR’s greatest driver/crew chief combinations – after this season.

That just added to a Cup Silly Season that has already seen four drivers announce new rides for next year – and more to come with future announcements for Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Suarez and Kurt Busch, among others.

Here’s a look at where things stand in Silly Season:

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2019

No. 6: Ryan Newman joins Roush Fenway Racing for next season (announcement made Sept. 22)

No. 13: Ty Dillon said he will remain at Germain Racing for the 2019 season (announcement made Sept. 24)

No. 31: Daniel Hemric replaces Ryan Newman at Richard Childress Racing beginning next season (announcement made Sept. 28)

No. 43: Bubba Wallace will remain with Richard Petty Motorsports through the 2020 season (announcement made July 28)

No. 47: Ryan Preece replaces AJ Allmendinger at JTG Daugherty Racing beginning next season (announcement made Sept. 28)

No. 95: Matt DiBenedetto moves to Leavine Family Racing for 2019. Leavine Family Racing also switches to Toyota beginning next year (announcement made Oct. 10)

CUP RIDES NOT YET ANNOUNCED FOR 2019

No. 1: The Associated Press reported Sept. 10 that car owner Chip Ganassi had offered Jamie McMurray a contract to drive in the 2019 Daytona 500 and then move into a management position. Ganassi was awaiting McMurray’s decision. The move means the No. 1 will be open for 2019.

No. 23: Front Row Motorsports purchased the BK Racing team in bankruptcy court in August. Front Row needs the team to run the rest of the season to maintain the charter. After this season, Front Row could run a third car, lease this charter or sell this charter.

No. 32: Go Fas Racing is looking for a driver after Matt DiBenedetto announced Sept. 7 that he won’t return to the team after this season.

No. 41: Kurt Busch signed a one-year deal in December to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing. He said Aug. 31 at Darlington that he has two contract offers for 2019 but did not reveal what teams they were from. Busch said Sept. 7 he had no updates on his status.

DRIVERS WITHOUT ANNOUNCED PLANS FOR 2019

AJ Allmendinger: He has not announced what his plans will be for 2019.

Trevor Bayne: 2011 Daytona 500 winner is looking for a ride after the Sept. 12 announcement that he won’t return to Roush Fenway Racing in 2019. He told NBC Sports on Sept. 14 that he has been calling car owners looking for a ride and would look at any of NASCAR’s top three national series. 

Kurt Busch: 2004 champion’s contract expires after this season with Stewart-Haas Racing.

Jamie McMurray: Although he has not revealed his plans, car owner Chip Ganassi told the AP that he had offered McMurray a contract for only the 2019 Daytona 500 before McMurray would move into a management role.

Daniel Suarez: With reports stating that Martin Truex Jr. will go to Joe Gibbs Racing and drive the No. 19, Suarez is looking for a ride. He said Sept. 21 that “we’re talking to a lot of people.” Suarez is the favorite for the No. 41 ride.

Martin Truex Jr: Reigning series champion has not announced a ride for 2019 with the Sept. 4 news that Furniture Row Racing is shutting down after this season. Truex, though, is expected to move to the No. 19 at Joe Gibbs Racing and replace Daniel Suarez.

CREW CHIEF CHANGES

No. 24: Chad Knaus replaces Darian Grubb as William Byron‘s crew chief in 2019 (announcement made Oct. 10)

No. 48: Kevin Meendering will replace Chad Knaus as Jimmie Johnson‘s crew chief in 2019 (announcement made Oct. 10)

XFINITY SERIES

ANNOUNCED CHANGES FOR 2019

No. 1: Noah Gragson replaces Elliott Sadler at JR Motorsports beginning next year (announcement made Sept. 25).

Leavine Family Racing signs Matt DiBenedetto, joins Toyota for 2019

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Leavine Family Racing announced that it will field Toyotas and has hired Matt DiBenedetto for next season.

DiBenedetto will not join the team early. Car owner Bob Leavine said that Regan Smith will finish the season in the No. 95.

“There is no rush to get him in there,” Leavine said of DiBenedetto, noting his confidence in the driver and also allowing DiBenedetto finish the season with Go Fas Racing.

Levine said the team signed DiBendetto to a 2-year deal. Levine said the team’s deal with Toyota is “the same with JGR …  two years with a third-year option. Hopefully, a long time but that is what it is on paper.”

Leavine said the crew chief, engineer and car chief positions have yet to be determined.

As part of the partnership, Joe Gibbs Racing will be aligned with Leavine Family Racing. JGR will provide cars to the team. As part of its current deal with Furniture Row Racing, JGR provides the chassis but Furniture Row Racing hangs its own bodies. JGR also will provide the pit crew for Leavine Family Racing, same as Joe Gibbs Racing has done for Furniture Row Racing. Toyota Racing Development will provide engines and technology to the team.

“Our vision is to get better from where they are today,” said David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development.

Car owner Bob Leavine and Matt DiBenedetto at the announcement that Leavine Family Racing will drive for the team in 2019. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Leavine Family Racing debuted in 2011, running four races with David Starr. The team never ran more than about half a season until 2016 when it switched from Ford to Chevrolet and ran a full season with Michael McDowell and Ty Dillon splitting duties.

The move to Toyota means the organization will have been with all three Cup manufacturers within a decade.

Leavine Family Racing replaces Furniture Row Racing in the Toyota camp beginning next season. Furniture Row Racing will cease operations after this season.

Furniture Row Racing had won two races before joining Toyota and being aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2016. The organization has since won 16 races (15.7 percent of all the races run in that time) and a championship with Martin Truex Jr. He is among the 12 drivers racing for a championship this season.

Leavine Family Racing has never won a Cup race. The team has had Kasey Kahne and Regan Smith driver for it this season and is 25th in the owner standings.

DiBenedetto moves to the best ride he’s had in Cup. The 27-year-old is in his fourth season in Cup. He is 30th in the points, which would be his best career finish.

He drove for BK Racing in 2015-16 before moving to Go Fas Racing in 2017. He announced in September that he would not return to Go Fas Racing after this season.

DiBenedetto made his Xfinity debut in 2009 at age 17 at Memphis for Joe Gibbs Racing. DiBenedetto drove six Xfinity races for the team in 2010. He ran in the K&N East Pro Series in 2011 before returning to Xfinity in 2012 to start and park seven races. He made six Xfinity starts in 2013 and never finished any of those races. In 2014, he ran 29 Xfinity races, starting and parking in more than a third of those starts.

Underdogs benefit from Roval chaos

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The smoke is starting to clear on the chaotic finish to Sunday’s Cup race on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

The inaugural Cup race on the road course saw many underdog teams come out with impressive finishes, as they capitalized on the 15-car crash with six laps to go and the mayhem of the final three laps.

Here’s who emerged with something good to take back to their race shop.

AJ Allmendinger – Finished 7th: After qualifying second, Allmendinger never led a lap. He finished eighth in Stage 1 and was one of the drivers to take advantage of Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr.‘s last-turn incident. It was his first top 10 since the July Daytona race.

Matt DiBenedetto – Finished 13th: Earned his best finish of the year on a non-restrictor plate track.

Regan Smith – Finished 15th: Second top 15 in his fourth substitute race for Kasey Kahne. Finished 20th or better in three of the four races. Kahne has finished 20th or better in three of four races just once this year. He only has two top 15s in 25 starts (Daytona II, fourth), (Bristol II, 15th).

David Ragan – Finished 16th: Best finish since placing 15th in the July Daytona race.

Chris Buescher – Finished 17th: Third finish of 17th or better in the last five races.

Cole Whitt – Finished 20th: Second-best finish in 11 starts this year.

Ross Chastain – Finished 24th: Seventh finish inside the top 25 in 27 starts with Premium Motorsports.