Turns 3, 4 proves treacherous during Charlotte road course test

Leave a comment

CONCORD, N.C. – A second batch of drivers got to shake down the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course Tuesday, a week after the first open test on the 17-turn, 2.28-mile road course that will host its first Cup race on Sept. 30.

This test was more eventful than the first, with multiple incidents over the course of its eight-hour run.

The session had three incidents in the morning. Alex Bowman spun in Turns 3 and 4 of the infield road course – a sweeping right hander – and hit a tire barrier. His No. 88 Chevrolet received minor damage and the team replaced his splitter.

“It looks fast in a Legend Car but in a Cup car you’re barely on the throttle for most of the infield,” Bowman said. “It’s just different.”

Ryan Blaney went to a backup car after he wrecked in the same turn, damaging his left rear when he hit the tire barrier.

Erik Jones also spun in the same turns, but didn’t hit anything.

Joey Logano described the sequence of turns as “sketchy.”

“It’s an off-camber, downhill entry to Turn 3 and it’s pretty tough,” Logano said. “I was actually here last week doing something for Snap-On and had an old Cobra here running around. I went into Turn 3 and chased it up the race track in that thing. I said, ‘This is pretty loose corner. I wonder if we’re going to fight that in our cars?’ Pretty quickly I realized, ‘Yes, we are going to fight that quite a bit.’ The corner itself, you’re turning right, no banking and you’re going downhill and the car’s super, super loose there.”

Clint Bowyer echoed Logano in calling Turn 3 “sketchy.”

“I think I would use sketchy,” Bowyer told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “Scary? I won’t go any further than that. It’s just sketchy. From the time you get on the race track to the time you’re getting off it, you’re just tip-toeing. There’s no room for error at all. The grip level, you get to sliding. Like in (Turn) 3, you get into sliding a little bit getting in there and you’re looking over at them tires and there’s no room.

“If that thing comes out from underneath of you … you’re going to hit hard. It’s not something you’re going to limp away from and finish the race. Your day is done. Game over. It’s the same for everybody. We’re kind of inching on it more and more.  …
“It’s going to wad up a lot of cars. There’s just not a lot of room to get out-of-the-way.”

The biggest wreck of the day came an hour into the afternoon session when William Byron lost brake pressure and plowed into the tire barriers located in Turn 1. Unlike Blaney, Byron did not have a backup car for the test and was done for the day.

The test was briefly stopped in the morning in order to remove a set of rumble strips from Turn 8, which exits from the infield section onto the oval’s Turn 1.

The strip was in place to help define the turn, but drivers ran over them as if there weren’t there, just like last week with the chicane on the backstretch.

“I think those rumble strips probably weren’t doing any favors to the tire, anyway,” Logano said. “Getting those out is probably good. It probably gives Goodyear a margin to work with, which is a good thing. We’re going to run the same line anyway.”

Also part of the test was AJ Allmendinger. The JTG Daugherty Racing driver was the first to experience the Roval in its earliest form in January 2017.

A year-and-a-half later, the former open-wheel and sports car driver said “I have no advantage here” due to every team getting the opportunity to test on the road course.

Allmendinger expects a race filled with contact.

“Through the infield, it’s fairly narrow,” Allmendinger said. “Maybe once you get all the cars here, whether it’s Xfinity, Cup, (it will) kind of clean up both lines through the infield, because right now if you just miss your apex a little bit, you slide all the way through the corners. … But in general, through the infield I think there’s going to be a lot of contact.”

Allmendinger wasn’t the only driver getting a second taste of the road course.

Roush Fenway Racing’s Trevor Bayne took part after being in a test back in March.

“From that test to today they’ve added a lot of high-risk situations to the race track,” Bayne told NASCAR.com. “You’ve got a (tire) barrier back there between the chicane and what’s the oval Turn 3 and 4. That barrier is pretty risky. Used to, when you went through the chicane too fast you kind of just went off the curb, went straight, no big deal and you actually found you could make speed doing that.”

Bayne said the road course “does not provide a lot of opportunity to catch your breath, get your switches right or talk on the radio. Every part of the race track has some kind of a spot that can bite you pretty fast, so you have to be careful.”

TOP TIMES FROM TUESDAY’S TEST

1:16.9 – Kyle Busch

1:17.1 – Joey Logano

1:17.4 – AJ Allmendinger

1:17.4 – Ryan Blaney

1:17.4 – Clint Bowyer

Cup teams to test Charlotte road course today

1 Comment

The second half of Cup tests on Charlotte’s road course will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET today. It is open to the public.

Testing today are: Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Alex Bowman, William Byron, Austin Dillon, AJ Allmendinger, Trevor Bayne and Ty Dillon. Chris Buescher is in a Chevy wheelforce car.

Last week, several Cup drivers tested on the course for a day. Bubba Wallace crashed early and left the test because his team did not have a backup car.

Jimmie Johnson had the fastest lap in last week’s session, according to NASCAR timing and scoring. Johnson had a lap at 1 minute, 17.4 seconds. Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin each had a lap at 1:17.5 last week.

 

 

 

Several teams test Charlotte Roval

Leave a comment

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. 

 and on Facebook

 

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

Leave a comment

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.

 and on Facebook

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

Leave a comment

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.

 and on Facebook