Several teams test Charlotte Roval

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Eighteen drivers are expected to test today on Charlotte’s road course, the first time many will run on the 2.28-mile, 17-turn course that will host a playoff race in September.

Scheduled to test are: Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez, Brad Keselowski, Paul Menard, Trevor Bayne, Jamie McMurray, Austin Dillon, Chris Buescher, Kasey Kahne, Michael McDowell, Gray Gaulding, Landon Cassill  and BJ McLeod.

The session goes from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is open to the public.

NASCAR anticipates lap times of around 78 seconds. Lap times are expected to be about 80 seconds in race conditions. The Sept. 30 race will be 400 kilometers. 

Denny Hamlin will be making his first appearance on the course that incorporates most of the track’s oval, along with an infield section.

“It’s kind of quirky,” Hamlin said of the track Charlotte Motor Speedway is calling a roval. “It’s not your normal cup-of-tea road course. I’m going to try to survive first through the test. That will be the object … and then try to get competitive when we come back for the race.”

Brad Keselowski, who also has not been on the course yet, has a simple goal for the test.

“I’m going to try to go there and not wreck,” he said.

There will be a test July 17 for the other teams not at Tuesday’s session. 

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. always in motion whether at home or at track

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For a kid who liked to play in the dirt and later raced on it, the name of his property pays homage to dirt track racing and a move that has gained notoriety in NASCAR in the last week.

Slide Job Ranch.

This is Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s home. His sister lives on the property. He has a spot for his parents to live when his mother retires.

Tucked near the woods in one section of the property near Mooresville, North Carolina, is a patch of land where grass grows in sections not run over by dirt bikes. There are mounds for jumping, banked corners and a path through the woods.

For the defending winner of tonight’s Daytona Cup race (7 p.m. ET on NBC), this is his place to relax, shed the pressures of trying to make the playoffs and get dirty.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after winning last July’s Daytona race. (Photo by Getty Images)

Stenhouse’s victory in this race is the last time he’s visited Victory Lane in Cup. He won two races last year, earned a spot in the playoffs and finished 13th in the points.

This season has been more challenging at Roush Fenway Racing. Stenhouse has three top-10 finishes in the first 17 races. He enters tonight’s event 23 points out of a playoff spot. Teammate Trevor Bayne also has struggled. Roush Fenway Racing brought in Matt Kenseth to drive Bayne’s car in select races and help diagnose the team’s woes.

Kenseth has found that organization has much work to do, echoing comments Stenhouse has made throughout the season.

Stenhouse’s frustration grew during last weekend’s race at Chicagoland Speedway. He told his team on the radio: “It’s almost like we’re designing these cars to see how slow we can run.”

Stenhouse recovered to finish 16th. It was his best finish in the last three races.

“We’ve had some tough conversations these last few weeks,” Stenhouse said Thursday at Daytona International Speedway. “I think I’ve been pretty vocal in the shop and sometimes whether it be in an interview or on the radio probably when I shouldn’t, and I definitely need to respect all of our guys at the shop that are working hard and trying to provide new stuff for us. 

“We just haven’t got that new stuff as quick as what we wanted.  I think last week I got a little frustrated hearing other teams bringing new cars to the track and kind of seeing their performance have an uptick and then some of those cars we’re racing to get it the playoffs, so that’s kind of where the frustration comes in. 

“We got a better finish out of it than I thought, but we’re working hard. We’ve got some things in the works, it’s just not here right now. That’s a bummer. We’re hoping that we can get some new stuff soon.”

After days like those, time on his dirt bike can help him push such performances in the past.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at his dirt track. (Photo: Dustin Long)

“Building this track and just drawing it on a piece of paper and then kind of trying to make it come to life out here was pretty fun,” Stenhouse told NBC Sports on a warm May day as he leaned against one of his bikes before joining Ryan Blaney on the course.

It takes him back to his youth. Stenhouse got his first dirt bike when he was 4 years old. His father had grown up riding dirt bikes.

“It was what we did when we weren’t racing,” Stenhouse said. “Sundays after church we would always go dirt bike riding with a group.”

Stenhouse’s path went in a different direction when he was 5 years old. His dad took him to a dirt go-kart track. Stenhouse spent half the day riding his dirt bike and the other half in a go-kart.

He was racing go-karts at age 6.

“I don’t know why I chose the go-kart,” Stenhouse said. “I guess for maybe one thing watching my dad race sprint cars. I knew that go-karts would probably lead more to that direction. To me sprint cars are probably the purest form of racing there is and something I’ll always love going to.”

Even so, dirt bikes have always remained something Stenhouse enjoyed.

“Growing up, I was a big fan of Jeremy McGrath,” Stenhouse said of the seven-time AMA Supercross champion. “Obviously, he was dominating every race at the time and then when I really got into the sport and met people, I became a huge fan of Ryan Dungey. He’s a big supporter of us and NASCAR and comes out to a lot of races. I just really admired how he went about racing and what he does on and off the track.”

While Stenhouse enjoys dirt bikes, he doesn’t regret his decision to focus on racing cars.

“I’m glad I choose the direction that I did because I want to be able to race for a long time and dirt bike careers are fairly short,” Stenhouse said.

Now, he can run his dirt bikes whenever he wants at the Slide Job Ranch.

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Friday 5: Here’s how to address NASCAR’s ‘issue with star power’

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — International Speedway Corp. President John Saunders created a hubbub Thursday when he cited an “issue with star power” as among the reasons for a 10 percent decline in attendance at the company’s six NASCAR events from March to May.

So if the sport is looking for someone to build around, how about …

Kyle Busch.

No other active driver elicits as a visceral reaction as Busch. Many heartily booed him after he won last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, while his fans cheered, creating a confluence of noise.

Detractors seethed after Busch spun Kyle Larson to win, conveniently forgetting that only seconds earlier Larson’s contact sent Busch into the wall and out of the lead.

After retrieving the checkered flag, Busch walked to the camera and rubbed his eye to mock those crying about his victory.

The boos continued and Busch taunted those fans, telling them: “If you don’t like that kind of racing, don’t even watch.”

Busch, who is tied with Kevin Harvick with a series-high five wins this year, has long accepted there will be a vociferous segment of the fan base that detests him. He never had a chance. He notes that early in his Cup career he was booed as much for being Kurt Busch’s little brother as anything. Kyle Busch’s intensity and antics infuriated some fans and made his backers more determined in their support.

Busch knows he likely will never win most popular driver but isn’t the main goal to win championships?

“There you go,” he said.

As for wearing the symbolic black hat, Busch doesn’t worry about it.

“I’ve had the black hat for a long, long time, so it doesn’t bother me as long as it doesn’t bother my sponsors and they can accept that, as well, too, and … know who I am as a person outside the race car rather than the one minute tidbits of TV that you get from a guy on television,” he said.

This topic of star power is not new. International Speedway Corp. has cited declines in ticket sales in the past to the absence of Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.

Thursday, Saunders cited weather as impacting attendance at some tracks, added: “We still have an issue with star power and hopefully this stable of young drivers coming along will start to win and build their brands.”

Ryan Blaney scoffed at the notion that the weight should be just on the young drivers.

“How many winners this year? Six. Come on now,” the 24-year-old Blaney said. “You can’t just put that on the young guys for not winning. That’s a lot of other people that aren’t winning too.”

Ultimately, the best selling point for the sport is going to be the racing. Have more races and finishes like last weekend will help the sport but it will take more than that.

2. A tale of two trips

Daytona in February is about hope. Daytona in July is about reality.

When NASCAR arrived here in February to begin the season, Hendrick Motorsports was hopeful of getting past its “rough” 2017, Matt Kenseth was not at the track and numerous driver changes provided their teams with hope.

With Cup teams back on the beach, Hendrick Motorsports continues to search for its first win, Kenseth again is not around — but will be back at Kentucky for Roush Fenway Racing — and four of the drivers with new rides this season are in a playoff spot with nine races left in the regular season.

The gear celebrating Hendrick Motorsports’ next win — which will be its 250th in Cup — has been in storage since Kasey Kahne won at Indianapolis. That was 33 races ago.

Hendrick Motorsports entered the season with two new drivers. Alex Bowman took over the No. 88 after Dale Earnhardt Jr. retired, and William Byron climbed into the No. 24, taking Kahne’s spot with the organization. Hendrick also entered with questions about sponsor Lowe’s (it was announced a month after the Daytona 500 that Lowe’s would not return to Jimmie Johnson’s team for 2019).

With Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch dominating, there have been few chances for Hendrick Motorsports or other teams to excel. Also, Hendrick and many other Chevrolet teams have struggled with the new Camaro this season.

While Hendrick has seen progress — Alex Bowman has scored back-to-back top-10 finishes the past two weeks for the first time this season and Chase Elliott has three top 10s in the past four races — there have been challenges. Elliott has led only eight laps this season. Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson has led two laps this year. Hendrick’s four drivers have combine to lead 106 laps — 65 by Bowman.

At Roush Fenway Racing, the struggles continue. Matt Kenseth’s run in the No. 6 car for Trevor Bayne did not lead to significant improvement.

“We’ve had some tough conversations these last few weeks,” said Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who is battling for a playoff spot. “I think I’ve been pretty vocal in the shop and sometimes whether it be in an interview or on the radio probably when I shouldn’t, and I definitely need to respect all of our guys at the shop that are working hard and trying to provide new stuff for us. We just haven’t got that new stuff as quick as what we wanted.”

Drivers in new places who are in a playoff spot heading into Saturday night’s race are Blaney (Wood Brothers to Team Penske), Aric Almirola (Richard Petty Motorsports to Stewart-Haas Racing), Erik Jones (Furniture Row Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing) and Bowman (no full-time ride to Hendrick).

3. Slide job!

Christopher Bell is enjoying how prevalent the slide job is becoming in NASCAR. It’s a skill Bell and Kyle Larson learned while racing sprint cars on dirt. Other drivers have picked it up, especially at tracks where a high groove is the preferred line.

At those tracks, a driver charges into the corner, cuts to the bottom and lets the car drift up the banking to pass a car and stop that car’s momentum.

Larson attempted the move on Kyle Busch but it didn’t work and Busch went on to win. Noah Gragson tried it on Brett Moffitt on the last lap of the Camping World Truck race at Iowa Speedway but Moffitt got back by.

“It’s cool to me to see that coming to fruition,” Bell said of he move. “Like Iowa, man, the truck race, the Xfinity race, everyone was sliding each other, and I think it’s passing, right, so you get more passes. A guy passes someone going in, and then another guy passes someone coming out. I think it’s exciting to see more guys using it and it becoming more common in NASCAR.”

But that also means drivers are learning how to defend the move better. So what will Bell do?

Hopefully do it some more, right?” he said. “It’s going to be tough here at Daytona, and Kentucky (the groove) is on the bottom, so I won’t get to do it anymore there. But it’s just another trick in the bag, right? So if you get the opportunity to pull it, I’m going to do it.”

4.  Less practice

Rain canceled Thursday’s final Cup practice before any car could run a lap at speed. That left teams with only the 50-minute opening session to prepare for Friday’s qualifying and Saturday night’s race.

Should that be the norm for next season? In the Xfinity Series, only 10 cars went out in the final practice session. Are two sessions needed?

“I think if you had, say, one practice but it was an hour and 20 (minutes) long, I think you’d be fine with that,” Kyle Busch said. “I think that would be enough and that would be beneficial to being able to go straight into a qualifying and into the race. Fifty (minutes) may be a tick short for what some guys want to do.”

5. Will the streak continue?

There has been a different driver win each of the last eight July Daytona races. The streak started with Kevin Harvick in 2010 and he was followed by David Ragan, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Aric Almirola, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

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Driver odds for the Overton’s 400 at Chicagoland Speedway

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The NBC and NBCSN portion of the NASCAR schedule begins this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.

The Cup Series holds the Overton’s 400 on the 1.5-mile track.

Here are the betting odds for the race courtesy of Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.

It’s should be no surprise that the top three drivers on the odds list are Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.

Odds to win

Kevin Harvick 9/4
Kyle Busch 7/2
Martin Truex Jr. 7/2
Kyle Larson 7/1
Denny Hamlin 12/1
Ryan Blaney 15/1
Brad Keselowski 15/1
Joey Logano 18/1
Erik Jones 20/1
Kurt Busch 20/1
Clint Bowyer 20/1
Chase Elliott 25/1
Jimmie Johnson 30/1
Aric Almirola 40/1
Daniel Suarez 100/1
Jamie McMurray 100/1
Ryan Newman 100/1
Paul Menard 100/1
William Byron 100/1
Alex Bowman 100/1
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 300/1
Austin Dillon 300/1
Trevor Bayne 500/1
Kasey Kahne 500/1
Bubba Wallace 500/1
AJ Allmendinger 1000/1
Chris Buescher 1000/1
Ty Dillon 2000/1
Michael McDowell 2000/1
FIELD (all others) 500/1

Ryan: The secret to success for NASCAR’s smartest man? It’s simple

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The smartest man in NASCAR doesn’t care if you think he’s clever.

Actually, he’d probably prefer you think he’s a moron.

“Yeah, we’re not that smart,” Cole Pearn replied in that wonderfully dry wit when asked if he and Martin Truex Jr. communicated in code on the duplicitous pit stop that carried their victory Sunday at Sonoma Raceway. “We probably would screw it up.”

MORE: The story of how Cole Pearn got that large gash on his forehead

The self-deprecating answer playfully obfuscated the obvious: Pearn won by brilliantly fooling rival crew chief Rodney Childers into bringing Kevin Harvick from the lead into the pits earlier than planned.

The No. 78’s only path to victory lane was by virtue of getting off-sequence from the fastest car in the race, which means the defending series champion won by staying true to the core belief underpinning the team’s run of wild success the past three years.

Do what the other guy isn’t doing.

Furniture Row Racing adheres to that philosophy in spades.

It’s the only Cup team based in Denver, Colorado, a few thousand miles from a 100-mile radius in North Carolina that contains (and some might say sometimes constrains) the rest of the field.

–It’s a one-car powerhouse in a series where bigger always has been regarded as being better.

–It’s a strong-willed group that embraces the anti-establishment; outcasts who didn’t fit in at other outfits because they exist outside the norm.

Do what the other guy isn’t doing.

It’s a simple approach but yet also sophisticated – a dichotomy that makes perfect sense when viewed through the prism of meshing high-tech engineering principles that put cars in front and the gut-busting instincts that determine if they stay there.

The Cup garage is a breeding ground for groupthink. Haulers are parked inches apart on endless swaths of pavement, encouraging everyone to cheat off each other’s work. Even in a championship structure that rewards gambling for victories, the tendency of staying between the lines seems more prevalent than ever.

At Richmond, more than a dozen cars had an opportunity to gamble on a golden ticket to the playoffs, and yet none did.

At Michigan, only the winner even went slightly outside the norm despite literal storm clouds that hung over the notion of playing it safe (which had some crew chiefs tellingly blaming their weather apps).

There is logical grounding for this trend. More data is being crunched with algorithms and simulations to determine courses of action than ever. And if you step outside the lines and get risky with your strategy, you still can be punished.

All of which makes what Pearn did Sunday at Sonoma even more impressive: He didn’t just do something unconventional, he did it by forcing the competition off its game with a mind trick (“This is not the pit strategy you are looking for”) that would have left Obi-Wan blushing.

It’s how the No. 78 Toyota team turned the series on its ear and won a title last season: By constantly staying a step ahead of where its rivals wanted to go.

In 2018, the results haven’t been as bountiful, but the team’s spirit remains strong – underscored by something as amusing as a massive power saw. When your gadgetry is still being banned by NASCAR, it’s a sign of how effective you are in outmaneuvering the opposition – particularly at the tracks where being tactical is critical.

Truex now has led the most laps in three consecutive road-course races, the longest streak since Tony Stewart in 2004-05. His win was the first on three stops by a Sonoma winner since Carl Edwards in 2014.

Do what the other guy isn’t doing.

And use a dash of humility and understated bravado to help undersell it.

“It’s tough,” Pearn said. “Everybody is so good in this, it sometimes takes something different to mix it up to pull one out.”

Pearn’s right. It does take something different.

It takes boldness and brains.

He has both – and is using them to a degree currently unmatched by any crew chief in the Cup Series.


Kevin Harvick is a smart guy, too. But he sometimes disguises that intelligence, particularly when he intentionally tries to cover for his team.

This happened Sunday when he was asked about Pearn snookering his team with the final pit stop.

“It didn’t affect our day at all,” Harvick told reporters with a straight face in his postrace media center interview. “I don’t think it would have been any different of an outcome.”

As a star who has been taken his share of criticism for assailing many of his past teams’ pit stops and tactics throughout his career, give Harvick credit for abstaining from any further piling on of Childers and company.

But his assessment of Truex’s strategy was spurious at best. Childers told Harvick on the team radio that he was outwitted by Pearn. If the No. 4 Ford had pitted within a lap or two of Truex, Harvick easily had the long-run speed to win Sonoma for the second consecutive year.

Since 2014, no one has been better than Childers and Harvick at consistently fielding fast cars in Cup, but it’s been well documented that they also have left some wins on the table.

The sting of Sonoma will linger, but the No. 4 team has learned to shrug off the disappointments, in part because Harvick is willing to go to bat for his team and its leader in a way he didn’t as often before joining SHR.


The Big Three – Truex, Harvick and Kyle Busch – have been established for a while as the triple threat to win the championship in NASCAR’s premier series. At least two of those three have finished in the top five of the past six races.

But it’s time to add Clint Bowyer’s name and rebrand the title favorites as a foursome. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver’s third at Sonoma marked his first back-to-back top fives in a year, and it’s more than just Bowyer’s numbers that are turning heads.

He’s comfortable at SHR, has learned to trust crew chief Mike Bugarewicz and has rediscovered a tenacity that’s been lacking since his best season in 2012.

NBCSN analyst Jeff Burton recently picked Bowyer as the driver most likely to join Truex, Harvick and Busch in the championship finale. This was on a NASCAR America episode before Bowyer’s breakthrough at Michigan two weeks ago.

Burton also was way ahead of the curve in predicting Bowyer would emerge as a championship contender. Two days before Bowyer’s inaugural win Sept. 16, 2007 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Burton said his Richard Childress Racing teammate (then in his second year in Cup) was “the future of our sport.”

Nearly 11 years later, and after five winless seasons mostly wandering in the Cup wilderness, the future seems to have returned.


A curious moment occurred when the yellow flag flew with four laps remaining in the second stage Saturday night during the Camping World Truck Series race at Gateway Motorsports Park – and stayed there.

The caution that began on Lap 67 was for the slowing truck of Matt Crafton, whose Ford apparently had a mechanical problem. It stopped at the entrance of the pits but was rolling again with more than two laps left in the stage, which ended after Lap 70. A NASCAR spokesman said the stage wasn’t restarted because the pits couldn’t be opened.

Of course, opening the pits didn’t matter two weeks ago at Michigan International Speedway, where NASCAR kept the pits closed during a two-lap yellow and instead opted for a one-lap restart. Cup Series director Richard Buck told reporters that NASCAR’s policy was to make every attempt at ending stages under green.

Yet for some reason, there was no such alacrity at Gateway despite a caution that required no discernible cleanup. The second and final stages were bridged by a nine-lap caution that was the race’s second-longest (and longer than three cautions involving multicar crashes).

While it’s admirable to attempt to end stages under green, the policy should be consistent. If opening the pits wasn’t necessary at Michigan, it shouldn’t have been at Gateway.


Bid the drafting package goodbye until 2019 (and maybe forever – out of sight, out of mind is a racing truism, and there’ll be limited Cup lobbying of it for months), let’s lament again what its absence means for Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The 2017 edition of the Brickyard 400 was among the best in history, in large part because the two best cars were eliminated when Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. crashed on a restart while racing for the lead.

NASCAR has been racing at Indy for a quarter-century, and last year’s finish was easily the most memorable. But it felt more circumstantial than a trend, and the success of last year’s Xfinity race with the aero ducts and plates demanded trying it in Cup (as did the overwhelmingly positive reviews of the All-Star Race).

It’s understandable why the package won’t be used elsewhere, but IMS is the most important racetrack in the world, and NASCAR needs to put on a show that rivals the Indy 500.

The fact that the race will make its debut as the regular-season finale should have only heightened the case for using the drafting package at Indy. With so many playoff points positions potentially up for grabs, a repeat of the quasi-pack racing in the All-Star Race would have been a welcome sight in enhancing the dramatics.

There are only two years left in NASCAR’s sanctioning deal with Indy, and the decision to punt on the aero package reduces the chances of the Sept. 9 race delivering the needed narrative change that would help in securing a long-term future.


A few other stray musings from a Sonoma race whose 10.5-second margin of victory belied the fact that it still felt thrilling (a caution flag in the last 20 laps would have turned Pearn’s strategy upside down, after all):

–Finishing eight spots behind Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wasn’t ideal, but Trevor Bayne made a mostly respectable return to the No. 6 Ford after a five-race absence (he was the highest qualifier for Roush Fenway Racing last weekend). Bayne almost certainly isn’t returning to Roush next year, but he still has much to play for, especially if he can shop the AdvoCare sponsorship to his next employer (whether it’s the Cup or Xfinity series).

–So much has been made of the deficiencies of Chevrolet teams and the new Camaro, competitive developments involving the Ford lineup have gone overlooked. Sonoma’s finishing order reaffirmed a clear hierarchy for the Blue Oval: It’s Stewart-Haas Racing first in class, then Team Penske and Roush.

Good on him taking heat for missing a shift, but AJ Allmendinger didn’t deserve all the blame after his team inexplicably pitted off sequence from the fastest cars, playing for stage points instead of the playoffs (a win is the No. 47 Chevrolet’s only option, and Sonoma is one of two tracks Allmendinger is most likely to get it). If he made an uncharacteristic mistake while trying to scramble toward the front, it was understandable under the circumstances.

The number of winners through 16 races indicate there seemingly is less parity in NASCAR’s premier series than at any point in 40 years, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Familiar faces at the front don’t diminish plotlines so long as some measure of equality is retained among contenders. Sonoma proved that … and if an underdog sneaks into the picture, it just makes it that much more compelling of a story.