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Trucks

OBSERVATIONS: Lucas Oil 150 at ISM Raceway

There’s a reason why ISM Raceway is known as the crown jewel in the desert, and that was on full display Friday night.

The NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series put on a great event as they set their Championship 4 for the playoffs in 2019. The unique track layout allotted for drivers to battle all the way around the speedway, sometimes even four-wide at times with different wide lanes being taken through the frontstretch dogleg. Though it was not just restarts producing solid competition, as the long green-flag runs brought forth close fights for positions, including for the lead in the late stages between Stewart Friesen and Brandon Jones.

The Truck Series has proven to put on the best shows of the weekend with the right race package being put together. However, unlike other weekends where you would be letdown the further you got from Friday, you should expect the same great racing to continue with the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series the next two days.

Traction Compound

ISM Raceway has always been known as a place for great racing everywhere, so the thought of adding a traction compound to the speedway asks several questions. Like, is this really necessary?

For the most part, the higher groove where it was applied was not used throughout the night, except by a couple drivers. Although Sheldon Creed showed a bit of promise with a couple strong runs off the corner, it did not seem to make a difference in the type of battles witnessed. So why bother?

Furthermore, the substance can be tricky especially if it is not worked in properly. Both Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott experienced that the hard way last week in the Cup Series, sliding it sideways and making contact with the wall. Now imagine if something like that happens to take a driver out of contention for the Championship 4 either tomorrow or Sunday. There’d be certainly tons of backlash from fans, considering we’ve proven it’s not a necessary for ISM Raceway. Do you really want to risk that? 

Something Needs to Change

As the field came to the green flag, Friesen would beat pole sitter Austin Hill to the line, enabling a penalty from NASCAR for jumping the start. However, Friesen did not get into the throttle before the leader, rather laying off to try and avoid, except Hill spun his tires causing a slower start.

How is it fair for a competitor to get penalized for another driver’s mistake?

NASCAR is famously known for inconsistency with race calls, and certainly has made some highly visible mistakes through the years. However, they are always looking for ways to improve and that was shown with an adjustment to pit road and where tires can be throughout a stop, whether in arm’s length of a crew member or not.

It’s time for them to take another glance at this rule and perhaps include a judgment aspect that if the leader spins the tires, then the penalty is waved for the second-place car jumping. Sure, it adds a layer that nobody wants to be sitting and deciding, but that’s the nature of the game as proven by the yellow line rule and judging whether a driver was pushed below or not. 

Teammate Etiquette

As the race neared conclusion, Matt Crafton ran behind a pair of his ThorSport teammates sitting just six points above the cutline. Both the No. 88 truck crew chief Carl Joiner and NASCAR on FOX’s analysts Michael Waltrip and Phil Parsons expected both Ben Rhodes and Grant Enfinger to lay over and allow Crafton go by.

Despite the constant complains by the booth through the final laps of the event, they did the right thing running their race.

If Crafton was sitting was in jeopardy of being above the cutline and needed those two points, then certainly it would be nice to see his teammates work with him. However, he was safe where he was racing them for position so it was not a necessity for them to give up ground in their own race for his sake. Let’s say that they let him go by and then a late race caution comes out to set-up a restart. How would they feel restarting further back than intended?

The unique factor in NASCAR is watching drivers compete every single lap against each other as hard as they can – despite being teammates. The day that team orders become a thing is the day that you ruin the utmost important rule of racing in competition.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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News

Roger Penske Committed to NASCAR’s Involvement at IMS in “A Big Way”

The motorsports world woke up to big news when it was revealed that Roger Penske is now the new owner of the NTT IndyCar Series and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The news coming following the current board of directors of the Hulman Company entering into an agreement to be acquired by Penske Corporation. Under the agreement, Penske Entertainment, a subsidiary of Penske Corporation, will acquire all the principal assets of Hulman & Company, including the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the NTT IndyCar Series, and the IMS Productions.

RELATED: Read the full press release at Popular Open Wheel

Although much of the current focus appears to be on what the future of open-wheel racing looks like, the news affects the NASCAR side of the equation with IMS hosting both the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series each season.

While stating that he was looking at other uses for the facility referencing a possible 24-hour or Formula 1 event, Penske expressed his commitment to keeping NASCAR in the equation. 

“The tradition had been broken in adding the NASCAR race, which obviously we’re going to get behind that in a big way because for 27 years they’ve run here,” he said on Monday morning.

Prior the press conference, Penske spoke with NASCAR’s CEO and Chairman Jim France, who expressed excitement about the deal.

“The Hulman-George family has been instrumental in the growth of motorsports through their passion for racing, elevating Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the IndyCar Series to a global scale, and we thank them for their leadership and significant contributions to NASCAR,” France released in a statement. “Roger Penske is incredibly accomplished across both motorsports and business and we look forward to the successful operation of these properties under his experienced leadership.”

Penske was quick to reference the pair have worked together previously, including being partners through International Speedway Corporation with Homestead-Miami Speedway. 

“We actually sold our business to them back several years ago,” Penske commented. “So we have a very close relationship and certainly with Jim and with Steve Phelps and Steve O’Donnell and the entire France family. We would expect to take this for many, many years. They need to run at Indiana. We want them to, and there’s no question that we’re going to look at opportunities to expand the relationship with them in the future.”

Both NASCAR and IndyCar have crossed in several discussions in the past, including potential of a doubleheader weekend with the Cup Series and IndyCar Series. 

“I think it was interesting to see (Josef) Newgarden run around what they call the Roval here down in Charlotte several weeks ago, and I think it was pretty exciting,” Penske commented. “I think some of the fans had never seen an Indy car on an oval or a racetrack. Look, those are things, sitting down Tony will give us some of his input and certainly Mark and the team, are those things we can do, can we execute those so we bring value here to the speedway.

“Look, we’ve got to break some glass on some of these things, don’t we. We’ve got to try some of this. I’m prepared to take a risk. No risk, no reward in many cases. Those are the things that Mark, with you and your team, that we’ll take a look at. But I wouldn’t say it’s out of the possibility.”

Despite the new business venture, Penske was also quick to reaffirm his commitment to his race team, which currently fields three cars in the Cup Series and a pair in the Xfinity Series.

“We’ve got over 500 people down in Mooresville where we have all our teams, and with Tim Cindric as our leader, I’ll be working with him just as I have in the past,” he said.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway

With every point and position mattering that much more, some drivers will be regretting their decisions on Sunday.

Ultimately, it proved to be tough to pass throughout the AAA Texas 500. Some drivers were able to make passes, but being able to balance running the bottom and the edge of the groove that the PJ1 had been applied certainly did not make it easy. That was showcased through the final run to the checkered which saw the field spread out with no big battles for position.

As a result, strategy to gain track position became critical throughout the event – which worked to the advantage of some in being able to get a strong finish.

Costly Mistakes

While several of the playoff contenders were able to have strong finishes, including Kevin Harvick who punched his ticket to the Championship 4, there are others who have made the hole bigger for them moving forward.

Chase Elliott entered Sunday’s race in a hole following a broken axle at Martinsville Speedway. Now he has put himself in a “win or bust, no matter what” situation being over 60 points behind the cut-off following an incident on Lap 9. The Hendrick Motorsports driver tried to run the high line, getting loose and backing the No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet into the wall.

Although he started off the playoffs with tons of momentum from a dominating performance at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, it has been rough since then with a blown motor at Dover International Speedway, a crash at Talladega Superspeedway, and the issues the past two weeks. By contending for the win at Kansas Speedway, he was able to squeak his way into the Round of 8 by a mere three points. Now it will take an even more commending performance if he wants to be part of the title battle.

Denny Hamlin also made a similar mistake to Elliott, getting sideways in turn four and spinning through the infield grass on Lap 80. As a result, he scored a 28th-place finish, giving up any cushion that he had over the cut-off line to now sit 20 behind Joey Logano for the last position.

Hamlin could point his way into the next round by simply beating Logano, but needs to be wary in doing so in case someone like Elliott or Kyle Larson pick up the checkered flag to move up the cut-off line. Therefore, competing for the win would be his best bet and that seems likely as the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has ran well at ISM Raceway previously. He has scored a pair of top-five’s in past three trips to the desert.

Cream Rising to the Top

No matter the format to decide the champion, the best drivers are always going to rise to the top. Over the past couple seasons, Martin Truex Jr. and Harvick have been part of the Championship 4 and will be once again this year. Considering both competitors have been on their game all through the playoffs, it will more than likely take winning the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway to secure the title. 

Over the past couple years, Kyle Busch has joined them, along with a fourth face that seems to change each season. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver appears to have a good chance at doing so once again being 22 points above the cut-off, however these playoffs have proven to expect the unexpected. If he is off on his game at all next weekend, the No. 18 could be left on the outside looking in.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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XFINITY

OBSERVATIONS: O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway

Since the repave, Texas Motor Speedway has been criticized for the type of racing fans have gotten to witness. Some work by the tire dragon and laying down some traction compound, and we may be getting somewhere.

The O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 featured more side-by-side racing than we have seen in recent years, including a lengthy battle for the lead between Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick. If you were able to roll the momentum on the top, you could get a run to make a challenge on the outside of someone, as witnessed by Reddick on several occasions.

As a result, there was the opportunity for drivers to make moves through the field all night long. Justin Allgaier drove from last after blowing a motor in practice to finish fifth, while Bell made a charge through in the final 100 laps following pit strategy to win. 

Peaking at the Right Time

Through the spring and summer months, the focus on the intermediate tracks had been either Cole Custer or Reddick. However, it seems there’s a new sheriff in town with Bell rising to occasion.

Virtue of showing dominance at Kansas Speedway before an incident with a lapped car, combined with a dominating victory on Saturday night at Texas, it’s safe to say Joe Gibbs Racing has their program coming together at the right time. After all, when Bell was taken out a couple weeks ago, it was his teammate Brandon Jones scoring his first career victory at Kansas. 

When Bell has his equipment and game on point, he can be tough to beat, as shown with four wins, four runner-ups, and a fourth across the last 14 races. If you just look at cookie-cutter intermediate tracks alone, he has scored just one finish worse than fourth in the last five events, and that was due to the incident at Kansas Speedway with lapped traffic.

He’s also proven to have the poise needed to be a champion, as well. He reported mid-way through the event on Saturday that he felt the brakes were going on his No. 20 Rheem Toyota Supra. Rather than panic, he took care of his equipment at the time, listened to the advice of his crew chief Jason Ratcliff to improve the situation, and was able to make his way to the front at the end when it mattered.

Bell was fast last year, and entered the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway as a favorite for the championship. However, he would up finishing 11th while his three playoff mates were inside the top-four, with Reddick scoring the race victory. If Bell wants to win the championship, he will need what he’s been missing.

Just Back It Up….

Reddick got himself caught in traffic through pit strategy, and ultimately crashed out of the event on Saturday night. Now rather than being very comfortable heading into ISM Raceway, the gap is smaller to the cut-off line – but still enough that he can breathe easier than most.

However, his interview at the post-race medical center showcased a young driver being overcritical of himself. He took full blame for the incident, saying that he did not do a good job throughout the night and that’s what happens when you get stuck in those situations.

If running inside the top-three until strategy mixed up the field is not doing the job, then something has to be wrong with this picture. Furthermore, it was a clear racing incident as Chase Briscoe checked up quick ahead of him after getting in the wall, and Reddick simply over-corrected in trying to avoid. 

Certainly you want to see young drivers look back on their mistakes through races, analyze them, and correct them moving forward. However, a line needs to be drawn in the sand. Reddick needs to take a deep breath, and realize he can only do so much behind the wheel. Furthermore, he has proven himself beyond a shadow of a doubt this year with multiple victories and being a solid championship contender. Did we mention that he won the title last season, too?

Overaggressive Driving Bites, Again

It’s the same story, another week for Noah Gragson appears as trying to be overaggressive put him in a worse situation than he should have been.

Running just outside the top-10, he tried to make a move of desperation to get underneath Jeb Burton – but wasn’t clear of Harrison Burton yet. As a result, he went sideways, before sliding through the grass and causing enough damage to end his night early.

If you recall Kansas Speedway, it was being over aggressive that got him into the wall on a couple occasions, resulting in an unscheduled trip down pit road.

Certainly we know that drivers are desperate at this point in the season to keep their championship hopes alive. It is clear that Gragson needed to win either at Texas or ISM Raceway to keep himself in the hunt. However, getting yourself into deeper trouble than you should have been does not help the issue. On top of not setting yourself up to move forward, you have given your team more work to do. Sometimes you just need to take what the car will give you, and live to fight another week.

Despite having talent to get the job done, if he continues being over aggressive, he may be sitting on the sidelines sooner than later.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Nigel Kinrade Photography

GALLERY: NASCAR Xfinity Playoff Picture Entering Texas

Although nobody was able to lock themselves into the next round at Kansas Speedway, the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs certainly experienced a shake-up with each of the contenders experiencing up-and-down days. 

With just two races remaining until the Championship 4 is set, there is a lot on the line over the next two weeks.

Jasen Vinlove | NKP

1. Christopher Bell +49

Christopher Bell appeared to have a chance to win at Kansas Speedway after as he led 69 laps, but contact with a lap car while battling for the lead took him out of contention. He was able to rebound to finish 12th.

With only 60 points to be gained per event, it appears that a pair of solid finishes over the next two weeks would see Bell as one of the drivers to fight for the championship. However, nothing is set in stone, because if two of the drivers on the outside looking in were to win the next two races, that moves the cut-up line, with Bell currently just 12 points ahead of Tyler Reddick. Hence why winning is still his best bet to transfer.

In four races at Texas Motor Speedway, Bell has scored three finishes of sixth or better, including a runner-up last season to go with two pole positions. He also has ran strong at ISM Raceway, winning last year to go with three top-five’s and led 68 laps in the spring before crashing out.

John Harrelson | NKP

2. Cole Custer +38

Cole Custer battled up front all day at Kansas, pacing 85 laps, before contact with Tyler Reddick resulted in him fading back to 11th at the checkered flag. He confronted his championship foe post-race, with words and shoves being traded.

Custer is in a similar position as Bell with solid finishes being the key to him transferring forward – but only if nobody below the cut-line scores a victory in the next two races. If a pair of drivers score a win, that moves up the cut-off line, and a single point separating himself and Reddick certainly makes things interesting. Likewise, winning is still his best bet to transfer.

Despite crashing out of the event at Texas in the spring, Custer finished in the top-five in his previous four starts, including out-dueling Reddick to win last season. And since placing 27th in his first trip to ISM Raceway, he has scored a top-10 in the four races since, including fourth in March.

Jasen Vinlove | NKP

3. Tyler Reddick +37

Tyler Reddick battled up front all day at Kansas, before coming up just short of scoring the victory with a runner-up to Brandon Jones.

It’s the same story for Reddick as those in front of him with solid finishes being the key as long as nobody below the cut-line scores a victory in the next two races. If a pair of drivers below were to win, then Reddick would currently be outside of the Championship 4 by a single point.

Considering his most recent confrontation with Custer, it’s apparent they will race each other hard moving forward. But as the defending series champion stated at Kansas, the focus needs to be on doing well the next two weeks and winning as he deserves a chance to defend based on his season to date.

After failing to score a top-20 in his first two trips to Texas, he scored a runner-up in his last two appearances. He also finished in the top-10 in his last three races at ISM Raceway, including a third in March.

Jasen Vinlove | NKP

4. Justin Allgaier +2

Justin Allgaier avoided all the drama at Kansas Speedway, steadily making up ground throughout the event to finish fifth. It seems to be the story of the season for JR Motorsports driver, with consistency keeping his championship hopes alive.

The only concerning factor is he has yet to win a race this season, and a victory may be what he needs if he wants to have another chance to win the title. Now that isn’t to say he has not come close, as there have been some big disappointments in 2019. 

He has had a mix of results at Texas, with just three top-10’s in his last seven races, including a fifth last season. Despite placing outside of the top-10 in his last two appearances at ISM Raceway, he scored seven straight top-10 finishes before then, including a victory in 2017; he has also led 145 laps in the last three events.

Rusty Jarrett | NKP

5. Chase Briscoe -2

Chase Briscoe is putting himself in the discussion for the championship by showing that he can run up front with the contenders. He was battling for the lead with Bell at Kansas when they made contact with a lap car. Despite needing to put a new rear tail on the No. 98 Ford, Briscoe battled back to finish fifth. 

Continuing to fight for wins is what Briscoe needs to do if he wants to be part of the conversation. He could possibly beat Allgaier on points, however needs to also consider locking himself in via a victory, in case one of the drivers behind him in the standings scores a win first. 

He has finished 11th and fourth in his pair of appearances at Texas, while placing sixth at ISM Raceway in March.

Russell Labounty | NKP

6. Michael Annett -12

Running in the teens most of the afternoon, crew chief Travis Mack made the strategy call to leave Michael Annett out on old tires while the rest of the leaders pitted, followed by taking fresh rubber on a later caution. Annett almost made the decision work out in his favor, driving his way to the front and battling for the lead, but ultimately finished fourth after a couple late cautions slowed his charge.

Considering Annett has been just an average consistent driver through his career, it may take a strategy call of that nature by Mack to get his driver into the Championship 4. Certainly solid finishes could beat Allgaier and Briscoe to transfer, but banking on that does not seem plausible based on the recent performance by both.

After going six consecutive races at Texas without a top-10 finish, Annett placed sixth in the spring event. Likewise, he went three events at ISM Raceway without a top-10 before finishing eighth in March.

Russell Labounty | NKP

7. Noah Gragson -17

Noah Gragson would get into the wall on two separate occasions, resulting in flat tires and unscheduled pit stops for the No. 9 Chevrolet. As a result, he would cross the finish line scored 13th despite running inside the top-five at one point.

As noted following the event, Gragson stated he wanted to be more aggressive than before, but ultimately that backfired as he lost valuable ground he could not afford to lose already. He will need to find the balance being fighting hard and staying out of trouble if he wants to keep his championship hopes alive, as certainly it seems a win will need to be his way to transfer – unless those ahead of him cross the line of no return.

He was 13th at Texas in the spring, along with an 11th-place finish at ISM Raceway in March.

Rusty Jarrett | NKP

8. Austin Cindric -30

Cindric appeared to be over aggressive in his approach at Kansas Speedway, making contact with a pair of drivers that resulted in a flat tire, damage to his No. 22 Ford and unscheduled trips down pit road. As a result, he finished 25th and has put himself in an early hole in the Round of 8.

Cindric’s focus the next two weeks needs to be solely on winning, but not being over aggressive that he shoots himself in the foot as he did at Kansas. There is still a mathematical chance to transfer without a victory, but that would only happen if the four drivers ahead of him ran into significant issues the next two weeks.

He has two top-10’s in three appearances at Texas including a third last season, along with a fourth and a fifth in his last two starts at ISM Raceway.

All Images Courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Matt Tifft To Miss Remainder of 2019 Cup Series Season

After experiencing a seizure this past weekend at Martinsville Speedway, Matt Tifft will miss the last three races on the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule.

Prior to the first round of practice for the First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway, Tifft experienced a seizure and blacked out, resulting in being transported to local hospital. He has since been working with doctors to determine the exact cause for the incident.

Matt Crafton filled in for Tifft behind the wheel of the No. 36 Ford Mustang at Martinsville Speedway, finishing 25th. 

Front Row Motorsports announced on Tuesday that John Hunter Nemechek will run theh remainder of the schedule.

“We want to thank John Hunter for filling in Matt’s seat as he continues to recover,” said Jerry Freeze, General Manager, Front Row Motorsports. “Our thoughts are still with Matt and his family. We feel that John Hunter can step up and do a great job for us as Matt heals.”

Nemechek will make his Cup Series debut at Texas Motor Speedway following 48 starts in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with one win, 10 top-five’s and 27 top-10’s to his credit; he currently ranks 11th in the series standings.

“This isn’t the way any driver wants to make their Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut,” said Nemechek. “I am hoping that Matt feels better and can get back in his car as soon as possible. That is what is important. Hopefully I can learn a lot and make Matt, the Front Row Motorsports team and its partners proud.”

This is not the first health scare for Tifft as he had surgery to remove a low-grade glioma in the brain in June 2016. He returned back behind the wheel three months later, making his Cup Series debut in the 2019 Daytona 500. He scored a season-best ninth-place finish at Daytona International Speedway in July.

Since the incident, Tifft has been a strong advocate for brain surgery awareness.

“I think it’s really incredible for how far I’ve come from that,” he told POPULAR SPEED in December 2018. “Even looking back on the 2017 season, there’s a lot of growth in there and it really took me until about halfway through that season to get back to feeling myself again off the track and that started to help me get better on the track again. There’s just a lot of changes and a lot of good things that has gone on since then.

“I love the advocacy work that I’ve been able to do. I’ve gone to Capital Hill and talk to congressmen and congresswoman about policy changes, and more funding for brain tumor awareness and research, so that’s been really rewarding. Being given a clean bill of health has been amazing and I’ve been very fortunate to have that, and being able to continue on my career which is something that I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do again.

“Like I said before, doctors told me that I wouldn’t be able to drive a racecar again. So to be able to have the opportunity to go into the Cup Series and race in the Daytona 500, I don’t think I would’ve believed that in 2016 if you told me that was going to happen in 2019. Just very thankful for that and I know now and I’ve taken my health more seriously. I feel that’s helped me a lot not only on the racing side, but just the general health side. I feel that carries over to brain health and everything. It’s been a journey transitioning and trying to put the pieces together ever since then and the recovery process.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Crew Member Suspended Following Logano-Hamlin Altercation

While the fans were entertained by the theatrics following the First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway, a Team Penske crew member will missing the action at Texas Motor Speedway as a result.

Dave Nichols Jr., a tire technician for Joey Logano’s No. 22 team, has been suspended for a single Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race. His role in the altercation violated Section 12.8.1.C of the 2019 NASCAR Rule Book, a behavioral penalty that addresses “member-to-member confrontation with physical violence.”

After finishing ninth in the First Data 500, Logano went down to speak with Denny Hamlin as he was unhappy with the contact between the pair coming off of turn four, resulting in Logano suffering a flat tire and a spin.  

As the two drivers went back and forth, Nichols Jr. pulled Hamlin from behind, causing him to fall over.

“We were having a discussion and everything was civil and then like Joey (Logano) does, he gives a little push and runs away,” Hamlin said afterwards. “That’s Joey. I mean he said ‘you want to go?’ I said ‘yes, I’m here,’ but then he runs away.”

Logano stated he shoved Hamlin due to being mad, but regretted the move afterwards.

“Like I said, that wasn’t as professional as I should be,” he commented. “I wanted to have the conversation, but, like I said, the answers he was giving I felt wasn’t good enough and made me more mad.”

Although the slogan from NASCAR has been “boys, have at it,” it is meant to remain between the drivers.

“You had a crew member who, honestly, I don’t think realized the force with which he made that move,” NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We have some light drivers and some big crew members and unfortunately that’s what happens when those situations take place. I think they understand what’s coming. It’s not something we want to see or encourage but we’ll have to address.”

The penalty was accepted by Team Penske, with crew chief Todd Gordon shouldering the blame.

“The direction that our organization has is separate drivers,” Gordon said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We don’t want to have drivers beating on each other. Unfortunately, in this situation that happened there, the separation was with too much power afterwards and I don’t think the crew member … he was trying to separate the drivers and did so with probably more force than he anticipated and he’s regretful of that.”

This is not the first incident between the pair, as Hamlin was unhappy with how Logano raced him a couple weeks ago at Dover International Speedway multiple laps down. They also crossed paths on two occasions in 2013 at Bristol Motor Speedway and Auto Club Speedway.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Nigel Kinrade Photography

GALLERY: NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series Playoff Picture Entering Martinsville

After a small break, the stars of the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series are ready to get back after it this weekend at Martinsville Speedway for the second race in the Round of 6. While normally Talladega Superspeedway has been notorious for flipping the standings on it’s lid, five of the competitors managed to get out of there with a top-eight finish. 

Now it’s a matter of seeing who can negotiate through the tight confines of Martinsville Speedway this weekend.

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

1. Brett Moffitt +45

Battling up front all day, combined with a pair of runner-up finishes in the first two stages, paid off for Brett Moffitt en route to finishing fourth. Combined with his four victories and four prior stage wins, he sits fairly comfortably at the top of the standings. As long as he is steady through the next two weeks with a couple more solid runs, he will have a shot at the championship.

He has scored three top-five’s in four starts with no finishes worse than sixth at Martinsville, while winning in his lone start at ISM Raceway. 

Matthew T. Thacker | NKP

2. Stewart Friesen +22

Stewart Friesen ran up front at Talladega all day, including a win in the second stage to secure 10 previous points, en route to a fifth-place finish.

This gives him a sizable gap compared to the rest entering the weekend, but nothing to be comfortable about. You just need one of the drivers behind him in points to score a victory, perhaps two of those competitors, and he’s down to the cut line and only inside the bracket by a small margin. Needless to say, performance is still a must out of the Canadian, best case scenario a victory, if he wants to keep his championship hopes alive.

He enters Martinsville Speedway coming off a track-best performance in April where he placed fifth after winning the pole. For ISM Raceway, though, after finishing 18th in his first trip to the desert, he has finished sixth and fifth in the races since.

Matthew T. Thacker | NKP

3. Austin Hill +12

Austin Hill may be regretting not scoring any points in the second stage at Talladega Superspeedway if he keeps inching closer to the playoff cut-off line. However, he still did not make out too badly, scoring a sixth-place finish. Just like Friesen, performance is still a must because there’s no way that you count a gap this small anywhere near safe. 

He has only posted a pair of top-10’s in eight starts at Martinsville, with a track-best ninth in 2018. It doesn’t get better at ISM Raceway, as he has failed to take the checkered flag in his previous two starts due to brake failure (2017) and engine failure (2018). 

John Harrelson | NKP

4. Matt Crafton +1

Known for a conservative style at the restrictor plate tracks, Matt Crafton survived the chaos to score an eighth-place finish. However a lack of stage points, combined with just three bonus entering the round, have the veteran just barely inside the Championship 4 right now.

Crafton’s performance this season has just been average compared to his past years in the series, with him barely sneaking his way through each round of the playoffs thus far. If he wants to assert himself in the conversation for the championship, a victory would certainly help conversation – and erase any worries over a lone point.

Crafton has won twice at Martinsville, with eight top-10’s in his last 11 starts. He also has 11 top-10’s in 18 races at ISM Raceway, but those haven’t come in his two most recent appearances.

Rusty Jarrett | NKP

5. Tyler Ankrum -1

Tyler Ankrum continue to put together solid numbers, scoring a solid seventh-place finish at Talladega. Now sitting below the cut-line, the rookie is going to need to make a big splash in the next two weeks if he wants to stay in the hunt.

He has finished 18th and 19th in his previous two appearances at Martinsville, and placed sixth in his first and only trip to ISM Raceway.

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

6. Ross Chastain -2

Ross Chastain was the lone playoff driver to not finish within the top-10, wounding up 22nd after being involved in an incident. He is used to having his back up against the all, fighting the odds to secure a spot in the playoffs despite starting off behind in points compared to his fellow drivers. It would shock nobody to see him score his fourth win of 2019 to get into the Championship 4.

He has finished in the top-10 in his last two starts at Martinsville, including a track-best fourth in April. The good vibes continue to ISM Raceway, as despite running into ignition issues in his first trip to the desert in 2012, he came back a year later to finish second after winning the pole.

All Images Courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway

The legitimacy of the champion produced by the playoff system in NASCAR has been, and will be debated for years to come with fans are either side of the fence. However, the post-season is producing what the sanctioning body wanted – drama.

Eyes were focused in on the final laps of the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, with everyone wondering who the eight drivers transferring to the Round of 8 would be. Certainly the late race caution helped up the stakes, but there were plenty of things to watch at the end, from Chase Elliott‘s late-race charge to challenge for the victory, to Brad Keselowski trying to salvage a decent day and losing ground at the end.

Ultimately, Keselowski saw his championships hope end courtesy of a mere three points. Although you could blame the sub-par performance on Sunday, there was also a crash at Talladega Superspeedway and an 11th-place finish at Dover International Speedway. If only he would have finished three spots further up the board any of those times.

Though essentially, Keselowski struggled and handed Elliott a gift – in which he capitalized when necessary. 

Elliott gets another breath of life by transferring. After a stellar first round with the comeback win at the ROVAL, an engine failure at Dover to start this round certainly took some wind out of the sails. Though showing he could contend for the victory on Sunday, combined with statistically having done well at both Martinsville Speedway and ISM Raceway, he could be someone to watch moving forward.

Denny Hamlin will enter the Round of 8 with the most momentum, courtesy of his victory on Sunday after pacing the field much of the second half. Historically known as one of the best at Martinsville and solid statistics through the other two tracks, he could certainly mount a charge for the championship. After all, he has finished four of the six playoff events thus far in the top-five.

Putting aside the drama in the final laps involving the playoffs, the Hollywood Casino 400 was still a great race to watch from the fan’s perspective. Between the aged surface and a new tire compound, drivers were using multiple grooves across the surface to try and gain time on their competitors. This allowed for side-by-side racing throughout the entire duration of the event, including a couple battles for the lead.

If every race could be like what we saw on Sunday, then perhaps other gimmicks would not be necessary for fan excitement.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

OBSERVATIONS: Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway

Although a first career triumph for Brandon Jones and the fight between championship contenders Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer will top the headlines leaving Kansas Speedway, several other things happened during the Kansas Lottery 300 on Saturday.

Lap Traffic Problems

As the laps began to wound down, it appeared as though the battle for the win would be between Chase Briscoe and Christopher Bell. However, those hopes were dashed with 15 laps to go when they were caught up in a wreck with a lap car.

Garrett Smithley told NASCAR on NBC that he wasn’t made aware that the leaders were coming up on him, and he was just riding around on 70-lap tires at that point.

The frustration radiated from Briscoe who was quick to ask on his radio, “What was he doing? Where was he going?” It was a reasonable question considering Smithley was already five laps down at this point in the event. 

At the beginning of a driver’s racing career at the short track level, lap cars are taught to remain on the bottom, allowing the leaders to battle as they should have the right to. Knowing that he was already multiple laps down and off the pace, why did he not remain on the bottom of the track?

Secondly, it is a little disheartening to see Smithley throw total blame on his spotter for the incident. He is the one handling the controls of the racecar, and should be aware of the situation around him. 

This is not Smithley’s first incident as a lapped car this season, either, as he crossed paths with Kyle Busch at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Hopefully he learned something this time around as it is one of the most frustrating things in racing to see a battle for the win ruined this way.

Briscoe was able to rebound, getting a new rear bumper car installed to drive back up to finish third. Bell finished 12th, but thankfully has a comfortable advantage over the cut-off line in the playoffs thanks to a solid regular season campaign.

Overaggressive Driving

Knowing a spot in the Championship 4 is on the line, it was safe to say that several drivers were being overly aggressive on Saturday – namely Austin Cindric and Noah Gragson.

Cindric has been solid thus far through the playoffs to be considered a legitimate threat by some, as noted by POPULAR SPEED’s Mitchell Breuer entering the weekend. However, he wound up finishing 25th on Saturday after having to make a couple unscheduled trips down pit road with flat tires.

The contact was all self-inflicted, too. He grew frustrated battling Harrison Burton for position, saying that “he was driving all over the track,” that he drove in the back of the No. 18, sending Burton up into the wall and ending his day. The contact resulted in nose damage to Cindric’s Ford that was made worse when he made contact with John Hunter Nemechek on the restart.

Considering the issues experienced by fellow championship contenders and the speed Cindric has shown this year – finishing no worse than third in any playoff event entering this weekend, this could have been his opportunity to capitalize.

Although his title chances are not totally eliminated, he will essentially need to win one of the next two events to be part of the championship conversation. If he continues to let the little battles frustrate him, that certainly won’t happen.

Gragson, meanwhile, stated before the event that he was going to push harder than he has before, wanting to be aggressive and take advantage of the opportunity laid before him. It back fired, as he got into the wall on two separate occasions, ultimately finishing 13th with a car that should have placed in the top-10, possibly top-five.

Through Gragson’s truck series seasons with Kyle Busch Motorsports, he was fast on a weekly basis – but mistakes and being overaggressive certainly took away some chances at winning. It seems that cycle is still repeated. If he had not found the contact resulting in the flat left rear in the final laps, he could have been celebrating in victory lane. 

There is something to be said for a driver who wants to push as hard as they can to succeed, but a line needs to be drawn in the sand. That is something the rookie needs to find if he wants to be able to score his first career series victory. 

Great Strategy!

Through his career, Michael Annett has been seen as an average driver – able to find solid consistency, but not become a serious contender for a championship. 

His crew chief Travis Mack deserves all the credit for leaving his driver out there on old tires, while the rest of the leaders pitted. That allowed Annett to take four fresh tires on a later caution, setting him up for a strong charge to the front.

The call was almost a success, as Annett drove his way from outside the top-10 to third before another caution came out. If the additional yellow flag had not waved, he had enough momentum to power past the top-two and snag the victory. However, the additional heat cycle on the tires took any chance that he had away, resulting in a fourth-place finish.

For anybody looking for an underdog for the championship, Annett and more so crew chief Travis Mack made a case for the No. 1 team. If there is a race that comes down to a strategy call, it may just work in their favor next time.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.