Five takeaways: Truex rolls, Harvick errs as NASCAR heads East for first short track race
Five takeaways from Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway as teams prepare for Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and the first short-track race of the season this weekend:
Martin Truex Jr. returned to 2017 form in winning Sunday’s race in blockbuster fashion, leading 125 of 200 laps and rolling to the checkered flag 11.6 seconds in front of Kyle Larson.
How good was that? “We couldn’t even see Martin,” Larson said from second place.
Kevin Harvick admitted that he made a “dumb mistake” challenging Kyle Larson for position on the backstretch early in the race.
When Harvick tried to side-draft off Larson’s car, they bumped, and the impact sent Harvick into the outside wall. He finished the race but was nine laps down, a far cry from the previous three weeks, when his car was in victory lane each time.
“The race car was there; it was just a mistake,” Harvick said.
Much of the post-race discussion centered on whether Harvick’s car was strong enough to challenge Truex at the front if the early-race incident hadn’t crippled the Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.
“He had his issues,” Truex said. “We’ll never know. I’m sure we’ll have plenty chances to race each other throughout the rest of the season.”
Jimmie Johnson continues his journey in from the cold.
Johnson had a steady Sunday and finished ninth, his first top-10 run of the year (in fact, his first since last October).
“Each week we have been getting a little bit better,” Johnson said. “We are definitely not happy with where we are right now, but we are seeing the improvements. We have been seeing it internally. We are making the cars drive better and better, and we are getting more competitive.”
Ford has won three races (all by Harvick), and Chevrolet won the Daytona 500 with Austin Dillon.
Toyota’s Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch own the first two spots in the point standings, but Fords sit in six of the top-10 positions. Larson, in seventh, is the only Chevrolet driver in the top 10 in points.
After three weeks of NASCAR’s West Coast Swing, the Cup tour continent-hops this week to land at Martinsville Speedway in south central Virginia for Sunday’s STP 500.
The 500-lap race will be the Cup Series’ first short-track event of the year, an event the teams generally welcome after dealing with the aerodynamic issues that faster tracks cause.
Martinsville is all about strong cars, smart drivers, bumping and banging and brakes that last the distance.
Jimmie Johnson’s recovery provides silver lining for No. 48 team
If a 12th-place finish, one lap down, can ever be considered heroic, Jimmie Johnson had such a result in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion entered the race a dismal 35th in the standings after crashes in the first two races of the season, at Daytona and Atlanta.
And Sunday didn’t start on a high note. Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet failed pre-race inspection three times, costing the team the services of car chief Jesse Sauders, who was ejected from the event. Johnson started the race from the 37th position and went a lap down to race winner Kevin Harvick on Lap 34.
Throughout the race, however, Johnson was able to stay far enough ahead of Harvick to stay one lap down, notably during the long green-flag run that made up the second stage. Damage to the front end of the car also was an impediment.
But Johnson got back on the lead lap as the “beneficiary” (highest scored lapped car) under the fourth caution and salvaged the 12th-place finish. It was a small step, but a significant one.
One of the keys to Johnson’s recovery was patience — resisting the urge to overdrive the car.
“At the end of last year, and even in Atlanta, I was trying too hard,” Johnson said. “Just giving 100 percent and driving the car where it’s at and bringing it home is what I need to start doing.
“I’ve been trying to carry it, and I’ve crashed more cars in the last six months than I have really in any six month stretch or whole year stretch. (I’m) just trying to drive it 100 percent and not step over that line.”
NASCAR Cup Series | Results and 3 takeaways from Sunday’s Daytona 500
Austin Dillon won the 60th Daytona 500 on Sunday, his second career victory, but there are other implications from the race as well. Here are the three biggest takeaways from Sunday’s race:
1. NASCAR’s youth movement is for real
At 27, Dillon isn’t even the youngest rising star in NASCAR’s pipeline, but his win keeps momentum going for the sport’s next generation. Three 24-year-old drivers finished in the top 20. Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. finished second, Ryan Blaney came in seventh and Alex Bowman 17th in a depleted field. That doesn’t even count Chase Elliott, 22, or William Byron, 20; both crashed out of the race despite running well early. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that this feels like the season NASCAR’s “young stars” turn into just “stars” – and that’s exactly what NASCAR needs right now.
2. Impressive start for the new Chevrolet
Last season, it took a few races before the new Toyota Camry was up and running to its full potential. That led many to expect a similar grace period for this season’s new car, the Chevy Camaro. So much for that. Elliott gave us a taste of the new Camaro’s potential during Thursday’s qualifying duels, but that was only the beginning. Both Dillon and Wallace drove it with success on Sunday, and ultimately three of the top-five finishers were Chevrolets (with one Toyota and Ford, too). Now, expectations should be tempered. Daytona is a restrictor-plate track (which along with Talladega makes it one of NASCAR’s most unpredictable), and a large portion of the field crashed out. Which brings us to …
3. A great race, but …
What did we really learn about this season tonight? Probably not as much as some would like to think. Are the young drivers good? Yes … but we already sort of knew that, right? Is the new Chevy good? Yes… but again, we knew that was coming, too. Realistically, it won’t be until next weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway that we see how good these cars are. There figure to be fewer wrecks, less craziness and more traditional driving that fits a 1.5-mile track. There, you’ll see which cars have the pure speed needed to collect stage points and wins over the long haul. Maybe it’s the young guns and the Chevrolets that stand out there too, but there’s also a good chance we see more of a return to the average. Again, we won’t know until Atlanta.
At Daytona International Speedway
Daytona Beach, Fla.
Lap length: 2.50 miles
(Start position in parentheses)
1. (14) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 207 laps, 0 rating, 42 points.
2. (7) Darrell Wallace Jr, Chevrolet, 207, 0, 39.
3. (2) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 207, 0, 35.
4. (5) Joey Logano, Ford, 207, 0, 41.
5. (21) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 207, 0, 32.
6. (16) Paul Menard, Ford, 207, 0, 42.
7. (3) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 207, 0, 48.
8. (13) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 207, 0, 29.
9. (22) Michael McDowell, Ford, 207, 0, 39.
10. (20) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 207, 0, 27.
11. (37) Aric Almirola, Ford, 206, 0, 33.
12. (29) Justin Marks, Chevrolet, 206, 0, 0.
13. (18) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 206, 0, 28.
14. (39) David Gilliland, Ford, 206, 0, 0.
15. (10) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 206, 0, 22.
16. (19) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 205, 0, 21.
17. (1) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 205, 0, 29.
18. (24) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 205, 0, 30.
19. (38) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 204, 0, 18.
20. (34) Gray Gaulding, Toyota, 204, 0, 17.
21. (27) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 204, 0, 16.
22. (40) Mark Thompson, Ford, 203, 0, 15.
23. (33) William Byron, Chevrolet, 203, 0, 14.
24. (30) D.J. Kennington, Toyota, 201, 0, 13.
25. (12) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 200, 0, 12.
26. (11) Kurt Busch, Ford, accident, 198, 0, 21.
27. (36) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, accident, 198, 0, 10.
28. (25) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, accident, 198, 0, 9.
29. (9) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, accident, 197, 0, 15.
30. (15) David Ragan, Ford, accident, 107, 0, 7.
31. (6) Kevin Harvick, Ford, accident, 105, 0, 10.
32. (31) Brad Keselowski, Ford, accident, 102, 0, 5.
33. (4) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, accident, 101, 0, 7.
34. (26) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, accident, 101, 0, 3.
35. (28) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, accident, 101, 0, 2.
36. (8) Erik Jones, Toyota, accident, 59, 0, 1.
37. (17) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, accident, 59, 0, 1.
38. (35) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, accident, 59, 0, 1.
39. (23) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, accident, 59, 0, 1.
40. (32) Corey Lajoie, Chevrolet, engine, 8, 0, 1.
2018 team preview: JTG Daugherty Racing
JTG DAUGHERTY RACING
Engine: ECR Engines
Drivers: Chris Buescher, No. 37; AJ Allmendinger, No. 47
Crew chiefs: Trent Owens (Buescher), Tristan Smith (Allmendinger)
2017 standings: Buescher, 25th in final standings; Allmendinger, 27th in final standings
What’s new: Namely a technical alliance with Hendrick Motorsports, which JTG Daugherty Racing officials confirmed in November 2017. The aim? Improve the team’s simulation abilities and aero development. The No. 37 team also has a charter of its own after leasing one last year; the organization purchased it from Furniture Row Racing in the offseason. That brings added stability to an organization that grew to two teams in 2017 and rotated three crews chiefs on the flagship No. 47 Chevrolet. And of course, the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 is a new — and welcome — addition for all teams that run Chevrolets.
What to watch: If a more consistent operation brings more consistency to results. It’s Year 2 for Buescher with JTG, and he enters the season more comfortable in his ride and with the team’s personnel. For Allmendinger, having Smith return as crew chief brings stability he didn’t have last year.
Key question(s): Will AJ Allmendinger return to his road-course ace form at Sonoma and Watkins Glen? Those road courses likely represent the team’s best shot at winning and advancing into the playoffs … where another road course, at Charlotte, looms as the Round of 16 elimination race.
NASCAR moving closer to team budget cap
Facing downturns in audience and sponsorship, NASCAR might soon do something that once seemed unimaginable: Institute a budget for teams.
Across the professional sports landscape, financial mechanisms are used to prevent stick-and-ball teams from spending themselves into oblivion while at the same time leveling the playing field to improve competition. Not too long ago the notion that a salary cap or luxury tax similar to what Major League Baseball, the NBA, NFL, and NHL utilize could ever be applied to NASCAR would’ve induced laughter and eye rolls. Teams, after all, are regarded as “independent contractors,” essentially separate business entities who even though they share certain revenue streams are still autonomous of one another and keep their respective financial records private.
But what if NASCAR, at a time when costs to compete remain astronomically high while television ratings and attendance are flat, implemented a cap or tax akin to what others sports leagues have in place? Perhaps this would serve as the conduit to overcome the financial gulf brought about by Corporate America not as enamored with NASCAR as previously. Once an idea that would’ve been soundly dismissed, it’s now being seriously considered. NASCAR and its teams have had multiple discussions about such an idea, and the consensus among the multitude of NASCAR executives, team owners and executives, drivers, and manufacturer representatives that SB Nation spoke with is that while a budget cap won’t be instituted in the immediate future, it is likely to come within the next three to four years. The exact framework of the budget cap is still being crafted, but a rough outline has emerged that will serve NASCAR and its teams on two primary fronts: 1) It will help teams reduce and better manage operating costs that are no longer practical in an economic climate where teams face a sponsorship deficiency, and 2) A way to induce better competitive balance and bridge the gap between the powerhouse organizations and the minnows.
“For any professional sport to be a viable long-term, it needs to be a reasonable business to the team owner,” Chip Ganassi Racing co-owner and Race Team Alliance chairman Rob Kauffman told SB Nation. “You look at football, baseball, English football, Formula One, and there are a variety of models and ways — some more successful than others — to make that happen. NASCAR is no different.
“Part of trying to have a reasonable business, revenues and costs have to balance. In general, revenues within [NASCAR] are not going up and like in any business, you have to address your costs.”
What is covered under the budget cap remains undecided, though it is unlikely to encompass salaries for drivers or even key high-level team personnel? Under the most-often-discussed proposal, teams would have a yet to be the determined dollar amount that could be allocated toward engineering, research and development, equipment, and crew members who travel to races.
Due to competitive reasons and teams not wanting to reveal trade secrets that may be the difference between winning and finishing 30th, independent auditors would be assigned to monitor and examine each team’s expenses. A hard budget cap wouldn’t go into effect immediately, instead gradually to allow time to make appropriate tweaks as necessary and for teams to adjust to the new rules without incurring a penalty. Formula One is mulling a similar proposal that would limit teams to a budget between $116-174 million and go into effect beginning in 2019, according to Auto Motor und Sport.
“A cap of some sort is something this sport badly needs if it’s to remain financially sustainable,” a team executive told SB Nation on the condition of anonymity. “We’re making gains to get to that point and hopefully we can get there soon because we absolutely need to find a way to get this done. If it were up to me we’d have this done already.”
That NASCAR is open to a budget cap would’ve been unheard of 15 years ago when North America’s top racing series was rivaling the NFL in terms of popularity. Money freed fully into the sport with teams flush in capital to the point little thought was given that eventually, the well may dry up.
Icing on Christopher Bell’s birthday: Indoor midget-car win in Illinois
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Christopher Bell toasted his 23rd birthday with a special treat Saturday night, winning the Junior Knepper 55 race for USAC Midgets in Du Quion, Illinois.
Bell started third and led just the final four laps in the 55-lap feature on a 1/6-mile dirt track inside the Southern Illinois Center. The Oklahoma native edged runner-up Chase Briscoe, the Truck Series’ Most Popular Driver and Sunoco Rookie of the Year from last season.
“To be able to win the last race of the year like that is pretty cool,” Bell told USAC’s website. “I’ve been pretty close and really fast here in the past, but I just haven’t been able to win. The team’s always been really good here too, but finally, it all came together tonight.”
Bell also prevailed in the Turkey Night Grand Prix in November at Ventura, California.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished 20th out of 21 drivers in the main event. Former Truck Series champion Matt Crafton, making his midget debut, finished 13th in the second B-Main and did not qualify for the final.
NASCAR legend Jack Ingram hospitalized after severe car accident
One of NASCAR‘s biggest legends has been hospitalized after he was involved in a car accident, NASCAR.com reported.
Hall of Famer Jack Ingram, 80, is in the intensive care unit close to his home in Asheville, N.C., where he is recovering from the Sunday wreck.
“We are currently by his side, managing his care with his clinicians and will decide next steps,” Ingram’s family said in a statement. “We remain hopeful and positive and appreciate all thoughts and prayers. We will provide updates as information becomes available.”
It’s unclear the severity of Ingram’s injuries, or how the accident occurred.
Ingram was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2014. He won two championships in the Busch Series (the forerunner to the current Xfinity Series), in 1982 and 1985, and earned three titles in the Late Model Sportsman division, which preceded those two series.
Ingram won 31 races in the Busch Series between 1982 and 1991, which is sixth on the career list. He also made 19 career NASCAR Cup starts from the 1960s through the 1980s.
Racing for a cause with Kurt Busch
Latest in NASCAR: Have you ever dreamed of racing a NASCAR champion?
On Tuesday, NASCAR Driver Kurt Busch will offer a lucky fan that opportunity—through the Racing to Keep Vegas Strong go kart event.
The Las Vegas native will host the fundraiser to benefit victims and first responders from the shooting that occurred at the Route 91 Harvest music festival on Oct. 1. All proceeds from the event will be equally distributed between the Keep Vegas Strong and Drivers for Vegas charities.
I’m looking forward to hosting and supporting my hometown with Racing to Keep Vegas strong at Pole Position Raceway on Tuesday,” Busch told Motorsport.com. “I’ll be meeting with fans, racing go-karts and raising extra funds for through a silent auction for the Las Vegas victims, their families, and first responders.”
The event will be held at Pole Position Raceway, 4175 S. Arville St., Las Vegas, NV 89103. Drivers looking to participate in the event can RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. A donation of $20 will be required to compete.
The 1969 NASCAR Rule Book Was Shockingly Simple
In the Latest In NASCAR Today, the public can’t even see NASCAR’s rule book. That wasn’t always the case.
Want to send someone on a wild goose chase? Tell them to go online and find a complete copy of the current NASCAR rule book. After all, NASCAR has rules and everything is online these days, right? Good luck with that.
You cannot find the complete NASCAR rules online, or anywhere for that matter, unless you are a team racing in NASCAR. And apparently, those with access to the forbidden book of rules are told to not share it with those who are not in the NASCAR world. You can find SOME rules online and NASCAR sometimes publicizes the more important rule changes. But the nitty-gritty details? Those are top secret.
It wasn’t always this way. The NASCAR Rule Book used to be widely available. Then again, they used to race actual stock cars too. Times have changed. The “1969 NASCAR International Stock Car Racing Rule Book,” as it was called, cost $1.50 and ran 90 pages if you count the inside back cover with its schematic of the official “Tire Measuring Device.” The pages are only four by six inches and only the first 45 pages applied to the Grand National division. I suspect the modern rulebook is about as thick as an old phonebook, if it were printed and bound.
Even so, the old rule book shows us a glimpse into less complicated times. In 1969, the NASCAR membership fee: $25. Members could confirm by telegram that their entry fees were received at NASCAR headquarters but the telegrams could not be sent collect. NASCAR reserved the right to inspect cars at any time and the method and type of inspection was at the sole discretion of NASCAR. Some things never change, apparently.
What cars were legal to race in 1969? Any of the following models: The AMC Rebel, Buick Skylark, Oldsmobile F-85, and Pontiac Tempest. Seriously, those cars were allowed to race in case you couldn’t get your hands on the cars which actually were competitive, like the Dodge Charger, Plymouth RoadRunner and the Ford Fairlane.
And that gets us to the meat and potatoes of stock car racing. In 1969, the races were open to “steel bodied 1967, 1968, 1969 models of American-made passenger car production sedans available to the general public.” Likewise, “It is mandatory that a street version engine be produced by the manufacturer as a regular production option for installation and sale to the public in a regular product offering, and that 500 of the type car and engine must be available to the public before it will be eligible for competition.” I can’t imagine how the modern day corresponding rule reads.
Then again, it was that rule which led Chrysler to sell its 426 Hemi to the public. By selling 500 to the guys on the street, drivers with Chrysler rides could race them in NASCAR. Likewise with the 1969 Charger 500 and the 1969 Charger Daytona. Sell 500 to the public – or tell NASCAR that you did – and the teams could race them.
In 1970, NASCAR was forced to change this rule in an attempt to raise the bar and force the companies to sell even more of a specific model to qualify for racing. And when Plymouth built and sold 1,920 Superbirds NASCAR realized that some of their rules needed to be completely rewritten. Exotic cars built specifically to race – and sold publicly as an afterthought – would be outlawed. From that point forward, NASCAR would keep a tight rein on what the cars would look like that raced on its tracks. And NASCAR would stop making the rule books widely available.