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Commentary

5 Thing We Learned at the Monster Mile

Twelve drivers are still in the hunt for the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

championship with Kyle Busch making a dramatic late-race pass of Chase Elliott to win Sunday’s Apache Warrior 400 at Dover International Speedway, the third and final race in Round 1 of the Cup playoffs.

The win was the second in a row for Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing team and the ninth in the last 12 races for Toyota. Elliott finished second ahead of his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson.

Here are five things we learned following a typically raucous afternoon at the Monster Mile.

Thrill of Victory Agony of Defeat

Chase Elliott put on a tremendous show, but with two laps to go, he got passed on the backstretch by Kyle Busch, which means Elliott’s first career Cup race victory will have to wait.

Busch won his fourth race of the season and gave Toyota a sweep of all three races in the first round of the playoffs.  “I don’t know, man, that was hard fought,” Busch said after taking the 42 checkered flag of his Cup career. “That was everything I had, obviously. I was trying to get there … I got momentum on the straightaway and that carried me by the 24 (Elliott).”

Elliott, understandably, was crestfallen afterwards.

“I’m just so disappointed in myself,” said Elliott, who led 137 laps, but couldn’t hold off the onrushing Busch when it mattered. “Golly, couldn’t have had it any easier. It went green from the stage break until the end and I gave it away.

Points

For the first time this season, NASCAR modified the points system so that: A. Drivers could earn playoff points during the 26-race regular season; and B. Those playoff points will carry over from round to round.

That means there is a huge separation between the three guys at the top of the points — Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch — and everyone else. In theory, Round 2 means 12 drivers are racing for the eight available slots in Round 3. But with Truex, Larson and Busch having so many points, it’s more like nine guys racing for the final five spots to joint the three leaders.

The Survivors

Talk about equality. Each manufacturer will send four drivers to Round 2 of the playoffs. Toyota drivers advancing are Martin Truex Jr. of Furniture Row Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth. From Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray are onto the second round, along with Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott from Hendrick Motorsports. The Ford contingent is represented by Brad Keselowski of Team Penske, Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing, Ryan Blaney of Wood Brothers Racing and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. of Roush Fenway Racing.

JGR is the only team with three drivers still in the playoffs.

You Just Never Know

One of the day’s stranger incidents occurred on Lap 87, when Jeffrey Earnhardt slid and slammed into the sand-filled barrels at the entrance to pit road, which brought out a red flag. Because green-flag stops had already begun, there were only five cars on the lead lap – the ones who hadn’t pitted yet, which included Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Danica Patrick and David Ragan.

Stenhouse, one of the playoff drivers, benefitted hugely from this, as he finished fourth in Stage 1 and picked up 7 points as a result. He was the only bubble driver to get stage points.  And those 7 points were what allowed him to knock Ryan Newman out of the playoffs.

No Seven-Time Miracle

Jimmie Johnson has seven Cup  championships and 11 wins at the Monster Mile, but he came up short this time, finishing a respectable third. Johnson led 5 laps — the first laps he’s led since Daytona in July — but he was hardly the dominant force we’ve come to expect at Dover

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NASCAR Cup Series

Bonus Points the Difference for Kyle Busch

For the just-barely-advanced-in-the-Chase Kyle Busch, the most important championship-preserving effort thus far seems to have occurred during the Sprint Cup Series regular season.

One of the most often-scrutinized aspects of the current championship formula over the past two seasons has been the topic of bonus points and the questions of …

a.) Do they even really matter?

And …

b.) Do we reward winners enough?

In the case of Busch this season, we learned that bonus points absolutely do matter in the first round and they could potentially save a season from the brink of elimination. When NASCAR announced that it was moving towards a win-and-you’re-in playoff format, some observers opined that a team could win early in the season and simply mail it in until the final 10 weeks of the year.

Ignoring for a moment that these are competitive professional athletes who always want to win regardless of the circumstances, this weekend at Dover served as a reminder of just how valuable those extra victories can be.

Following the final race of the regular season, NASCAR takes each of the 16 playoff drivers and resets them at 2,000 points for the start of the Challenger Round. In order to seed them, drivers are also given three bonus points for every victory earned during the regular season.

In other words, Busch began the Chase with 2,012 points by virtue of his tour-leading four victories. His efforts started well enough with a ninth-place at Chicagoland but became derailed when a flat tire sent him into the wall at New Hampshire and left him one point out of the second round with one race remaining.

Busch finished second at Dover, enough to get him through to the Contender Round. But if not for his bonus points, it would be a completely different story with Busch on the outside looking in. Take away three of Busch’s four victories, everything he achieved after becoming Chase eligible, and this is what the bottom half of the standings would have looked like on Sunday night.

 

  1. Brad Keselowski 2100 +10
  2. Ryan Newman 2099 +9
  3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2098 +8
  4. Jamie McMurray 2098 +8
  5. Kyle Busch 2090 -8
  6. Jimmie Johnson 2082 -16

 

Sure Busch had to push for wins because he was outside the top-30 in points for much of the season, but that’s still cutting it awful close.

In other words, it seems NASCAR got it right with how many bonus points they award drivers for wins in the regular season. Busch is arguably a more-deserving advancee than McMurray, opinions on his 11 missed starts aside, and those victories and bonus points is what made the difference.

With that in mind comes the debate if NASCAR should also award bonus points during the Chase to be carried over to the following round, but that’s a debate for another time.

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattWeaverSBN

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Commentary

Eliminations Spruce Up Dover and Gordon Makes a Championship Statement

By Matt Weaver — Well, that certainly lived up to expectations, didn’t it?

Dover will likely never produce the most spectacular racing on the schedule but the added element of playoff eliminations absolutely made up for it and transformed the AAA 400 into one of the more dynamic and dramatic races of the season.

Jeff Gordon won his fourth race of the season on Sunday but was somewhat overshadowed by those eliminated from the Chase for the Championship, a list that includes Kurt Busch, AJ Allmendinger, Greg Biffle and Aric Almirola.

To NASCAR’s credit, they have created a system that certainly generates a considerable amount of talking points at a time of the year when it is needed most, during the first peak of NFL Football season.

While many fans have criticized the lack of passing for the lead and the predominance of clean air, there appeared to be more passing at Dover this year than in season’s past and the Chase bubble provided additional storylines to focus on, even when the battle for the lead grew stale.

Let’s talk about the winner first.

As the regular season champion, Gordon garnered much of the attention as the de facto championship favorite, but the Drive for Five took a backseat to Team Penske when Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano won the opening races at Chicagoland and New Hampshire. With a win on Sunday, Gordon recaptured the spotlight and made a statement in the process.

Gordon passed Keselowski on the track with 95 laps to go and never looked back, sending the message that the No. 24 team had also saved their best for the final 10 lap stretch of the season.

Their victories entering the second round of the playoffs raise another interesting question. During the regular season, wins resulted in bonus points that carried over into the Challenger Round, providing a cushion of sorts for Keselowski, Logano, Gordon and their fellow race winners. But that rules does not apply to the Contender Round as each of the remaining playoff drivers have been reset to 3000 points regardless of wins.

NASCAR spent all off-season telling teams, media and fans that winning means everything. Now on the eve of a three-race bracket that includes combustible Kansas and Talladega, when bonus points could mean everything, the value of a victory in the Chase means considerably less.

This wins during the Chase should pay the same dividends in the playoffs up until the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

And while that would only mean a three-point advantage for Keselowski, Logano and Gordon respectively, this first round proved that a single point could conceivably make all the difference between a championship and staving off elimination.

As for the four eliminated on Sunday, there were no real surprises to come out of Dover. Despite winning at Martinsville in April, Busch never had the look of a champion this season as he battled to develop chemistry with his new team at Stewart-Haas Racing.

The struggles of Biffle have been well-documented and it could be argued that he and his team exceeded expectations given the engineering missteps that Roush Racing made during the spring.

Uber-underdogs Allmendinger and Almirola gave it a more impressive effort than most in the sport believed them capable of but they weren’t perfect, a likely prerequisite for both the No. 47 and 43 teams to advance in the second round. Almirola will be haunted by the blown engine at Chicagoland that ruined his championship run before it truly began while Allmendinger never had the handling to compete with those remaining in the Chase.

The Chase has field has been reset to 12 with seven races remaining. Onwards to Kansas and the Contender Round.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Talladega Looms Large in Contender Round

By Matt Weaver — It’s three races away but Talladega Superspeedway is already deeply embedded in the minds of the 12 teams that just advanced into the Contender Round of the Chase for the Championship.

The upcoming bracket consists of three events at Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega respectively. Kansas and Charlotte are the standard intermediate tracks that make up the bulk of the schedule while Talladega — the next elimination race — is contested under combustible restrictor plate rules.

The large multi-car accident, often called the Big One, looms large for the remaining contenders and makes winning at Kansas or Charlotte more important than ever before. It’s so vital that Team Penske used a test at Charlotte last month with top-seeded Brad @Keselowski saying this round “scares the shit out of me” during the Chase Media Day three weeks ago in downtown Chicago.

It’s a sentiment that Keselowski is taking with him into the second round.

“In some ways, all the brackets are survival brackets but this particular bracket is probably more so than the others,” Keselowski said. “Surviving Talladega is its own horror film title but it’s also a reality. That place is going to be a crazy place to finish that bracket out.

“Certainly there’s going to be a lot of guys on the bubble, and it’s probably all going to change on the last lap in the last corner.”

@JimmieJohnson has won six championships over the past eight years under a variety of playoff formats and says he wants to win one of the next two races so he doesn’t have to worry about surviving in North Alabama.

“I’d love to win at Kansas or Charlotte to take Talladega out of the mix and not have to stress about that but we’ll see how things go,” Johnson said. “Talladega is definitely the wild card. If I’m one of the guys that wins at Charlotte or Kansas, it’s sure going to make the race at Talladega fun.

“Otherwise, you’re just going to be on pins and needles and stressing like crazy. That’s the strategy; really try to win one of those first two so you can go to Talladega, pull them tight and let it rip.”

The recently concluded first round of the Chase shows just how close advancing may be in three weeks at Talladega. Nine drivers were separated by only 12 points this morning at Dover. Imagine the nerves down pit road should a similar scenario play out before elimination Sunday at Talladega.

One mistake or misstep in the pack could change the entire complexion of the Chase. As a result, @JeffGordonWeb says he expects teams to take chances and gamble on pit strategy in order to win the first two races of the next bracket because those who don’t will have virtually no security entering Talladega.

“To me, the chances of wrecking at Talladega these days are about 80 percent,” Gordon said. “The chances are so high … that even if you survive the wrecks all the way to the end, there is still probably going to be a wreck at the end. You don’t want to go in there worried about having to finish ninth or got to finish fifth.

“That would just add a lot of stress.”

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NASCAR Cup Series

Dale Jr: We Need to Find Something Quick

By Matt Weaver — @DaleJr successfully advanced into the second round of the Chase for the Championship with a 17th on Sunday at Dover International Speedway. But he knows his current pace and results will not get him far in the second round, a bracket that includes races at Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega.

Earnhardt opened the season with a bang by winning the Daytona 500 and won two other times at Pocono but he hasn’t looked like the same championship contender over the past two months of the season.

He has finished no better than ninth over the past six races, including a 12.3 average finish in the Challenger Round races. Due to his nine bonus points entering the Chase, Earnhardt was never at real risk of elimination but there will be no cushion to fall back on during this second stage of the playoffs.

“The team worked hard but 17th was as good as we could run,” Earnhardt said. “That’s not good enough to win a championship. But we get to move forward and start from scratch on the next weekend. Trust me, we’re going to go to work and try to find everything we can to get better. But we’re concerned. It’s not been a good couple of weeks. We need to find something quick.”

The turnaround will likely have to start with qualifying. During the six race stretch of frustration, Earnhardt has only qualified inside the top-12 once, including 25th this weekend. That has placed the No. 88 team on the defensive early. As for Dover, NASCAR’s most popular driver simply said they were not very good.

“We struggled with our car all day long,” Earnhardt said. “I thought we had a lot better car in practice but we made some changes. I guess they didn’t really work out for us. We were real loose on entry and real tight in the center. The balance was bad at the start of the run and the end of the run.

“So we never had a moment during the race where the car was very good and competitive. We just missed the set-up pretty bad.”

The bright side for Earnhardt and his team is that he starts the Contender Round on equal footing with the remaining 12 Chasers. He finished fifth at Kansas in May and has displayed shown his usual strength on restrictor plate tracks, including a win in the Daytona 500.

Things have been tough over the past two months for Earnhardt but everything starts anew next weekend.

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XFINITY

Buescher Finds Dover Sweet Spot for Top-Five

By Kelly Crandall (DOVER, Del.) – From the moment the track opened for Nationwide Series practice at Dover, @Chris_Buescher was near the top of the speed chart.

Saturday afternoon in the Dover 200 he remained at the top of the board as he challenged Dover dominators @JoeyLogano and @KyleBusch. Buescher eventually brought his Roush Fenway Ford Mustang home fourth, his fifth top-five finish of the season.

After qualifying sixth, which was the lowest he ran throughout the 200-lap event, Buescher made a quick charge to the runner-up spot behind early leader Logano.

He never led a lap though and soon stabilized in third position. Losing a position did nothing to dampen the team’s spirits as comfortably held a residence in the top-five.

“That was a lot of fun. It was cool coming here for the first time (in May) and ending up 11th. We were able to build from that,” Buescher said afterwards.

“These Roush Performance Parts 60 guys did an awesome job today. We were really good on pit road the whole time. We were nice and consistent and we had a lot of fun racing these guys. I’m looking forward to the next one.”

In what now have been, for Buescher at least, 27 of 28 races, he’s improved his average finish to 12.6. Following a difficult first six races of the season, the team went on a hot streak that consisted of four top-10s in weeks. Buescher then grabbed his first career win in late summer and hasn’t finished lower than 13th since.

“Every week you’ve got to continue to get a little better. Our consistency has been there. Our speed in practice is coming and it’s just putting these races together,” he said of how the team has progressed.

“Our last couple of weeks have been really good. This is our best finish since Mid-Ohio, so I’m looking forward to getting to the next one and keeping this going.”

The Rookie of the Year contender (he’s currently third in those standings) has been holding strong at seventh in the overall championship standings for the past 10 weeks. Over 100 points behind the leaders, Buescher and company have been working towards cutting down the gap in hopes of gaining a few more spots before season’s end.

After missing the race at Daytona in February, the theme of their year has been battling from behind. Something that while they’ve been able to overcome to make waves, Buescher admitted still comes to mind as what could have been.

“Yeah, we always think about that. Not getting to make our first Daytona start due to the new format, rain – we were extremely fast – but we took it for what it is and we’ve been going forward understanding that we missed a race and we’re still seventh in points,” he said.

“I look at it as a big plus for our whole team. I’m really proud of these guys for sticking with it and going out here. We’ve taken a lot of chances this year. We’ve been in position to do it now. We have nothing to lose in the points, so it’s almost been a blessing for us to be able to experiment a little bit and take some chances that you usually wouldn’t do.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KellyCrandall

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NASCAR Cup Series

Sprint Cup Garage Reacts to 2015 Rule Changes

By Matt Weaver — NASCAR announced sweeping changes to its rules and competition package for the 2015 Sprint Cup Series season, generating a huge unknown for how teams will operate when they arrive in Daytona for Speedweeks next year.

While most elite organizations are still focused on winning the 2014 championship, drivers and front office personnel have already started to consider the implications of the changes that will soon arrive to the highest level of stock car racing.

The testing ban and decreased downforce package has many in the garage optimistic, especially because it allows for more time to be spent at home and with friends and family. But the changes also will present challenges, both financially and in trying to find a competitive edge once next season begins.

While using the same foundation as the current engine spec, the new rules call for a decrease in horsepower from 850 to 725. In short, this will require the production of what is essentially a brand new engine according to Roush Yates Engines CEO Doug Yates.

“In a lot of ways, (it is a new engine,)” Yates said. “It’s not a total tear-up by any means. Gene Stefanyschyn and the guys at NASCAR have done a good job of talking to the engine builders and trying to get our input and feedback on how we would like to go about it and that process went through many different ways of reducing power.

“But at the end of the day I think we as a sport have made a good decision and a good cost-effective decision going forward for the engine shops and the teams and the sport. There are a lot of ways you can do it, but this makes sense for the current engine we have today.”

NASCAR hopes that by decreasing the power, they can extend the life of an engine from one race to two.

As for the testing ban, six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion @JimmieJohnson says teams will just double-up on simulator and wind tunnel time. He believes taking downforce off the cars will satisfy both fans and drivers, both who have been clamoring for that specific alteration.

“I feel that we made a good step in helping the drivers smile, with taking downforce out of the cars,” Johnson said. “Hopefully that will allow the tire to soften-up and then we can have falloff. I still think the drivers would love to see another big step in the aero department and less aero on the car and a softer tire yet, to really put the importance back on the drivers and the teams.

“The tires — for the most part — are pretty solid with not a lot of give-up or falloff in them. And that, in our opinion as drivers, doesn’t allow opportunities to pass and make passes for the win.”

Carl Edwards has been a frequent critic of the current direction and has advocated for less downforce and softer tires. On Friday, he said NASCAR has made a positive step in the right direction to aid the on-track product and satisfy everyone in the sport, even if they had to take a little horsepower away.

“The way it was explained to me, the engine move had to be made,” Edwards said. “The way I understand it, we’re … going to be about where we’re at right now. NASCAR is looking at more and more downforce and aero dependence being taken away for the future, which that’s really exciting for me.

“They know where I stand. You guys know where I stand. If it were up to me, there would be no downforce, no side force and we’d just race stock cars. As long as we’re headed that way I’m happy.”

In regards to the decrease in horsepower, @JamieMcMurray agrees with Edwards, believing that engine builders will have a lot of challenges and opportunities next season.

“I don’t think anyone wanted less horsepower but I think the thought was that we could make the engines run two races in 2016,” McMurray said. “That is good for the teams and good for the sport if we can save a little money on the engine side.

“That creates a new challenge for the engine builders, but I think it’s going to be a really good package. I hope that in 2016, we can go toward taking more downforce away and can get a softer tire yet again. But I think baby steps are better than just a Hail Mary at it.”

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Editorial

Dover Says No to Night Race … Rejoice!

By Matt Weaver — Dale Earnhardt Jr. arrived at Dover International Speedway on Thursday afternoon, and for a brief moment, believed that he had discovered a major development for the one-mile Delaware venue that has been in operation since 1969.

Earnhardt spotted a metal box grounded in freshly paved asphalt just outside the catch fence and reached the most logical conclusion given the available information.

“I see foundations for light poles @MonsterMile,” he tweeted. “#NightRacing.”

As it turns out, the assumption was incorrect and short-lived as Dover spokesman Gary Camp told USA Today that the posts were simply in place to upgrade the fencing in advance of next season. Nevertheless, the seeds had been planted, and perhaps, the damage done.

One fan, @vizabledreamz, tweeted back, “@DaleJr @MonsterMile That would be an amazing race.” Another, @NASCARfansUK, tweeted, “How cool would that be?!”

The answers are “no” and “not very.”

While NASCAR and Goodyear have made questionable missteps with the Car of Tomorrow and Gen-6, nothing has damaged the on-track product more than lights over the past two decades.

Look, I get it.

Night racing is a neat visual element that provides a short term boost to ticket sales, especially with vibrant paint schemes, shimmering sparks and glowing brake rotors. But know what else is considerably neater? Side-by-side action and nothing is a greater hindrance to cars going two-or-three wide on speedways than freshly laid asphalt or running an event under the bright glow of MUSCO lighting.

If you don’t believe me, consider this from Earnhardt himself.

“I think everybody understands that the best racing is the racing where the track gets wide and the track gets wider when the track is hotter (and) the surface is warmer,” Earnhardt said on Friday at Dover. “You want to run in the warmest part of the day. You want to race when the conditions can produce the best style of racing and that is when the track temperature is up.

“So you definitely hope for a warm Sunday afternoon when it is 85/90 degrees where the track is real slick and guys are really looking around the race track for grip. The cooler the track is the more it really funnels everybody to the bottom.”

To emphasize the point, remember the recently planned night races at Texas this spring or Kentucky last summer which were both rained out and contested under the blistering heat of day? The sun single-handedly turned traditional single-file parades into pass-happy instant classics. Even long-time borefests at Auto Club Speedway have been transformed by adopting a daytime format and other events should consider the same approach.

Night racing does have a place in NASCAR.

Half-mile and restrictor plate events are the most conducive for prime time due to the close proximity inherent with that style of competition. Simply put, the sun doesn’t make much of a difference at places like Daytona, Talladega, Bristol and Martinsville. For those reasons alone, a night race at the Virginia paperclip makes more sense than a prime time affair at Dover.

For all the reasons that the Bristol Night Race has become a great spectacle, an event under the lights at the Wrigley Field of NASCAR has just as much merit. But like the venerable park that hosts the Chicago Cubs, tradition often trumps novelty.

With that said, Tracks should certainly have lighting to help combat Mother Nature but speedways should only use them as a matter of last resort. The Monster Mile is the last place on the tour that needs artificial lighting. Times are tough and attendance has dropped but there’s nothing cool or amazing about the concept of a night race in the Mid-Atlantic.

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Editorial

The Most Famous Monster in NASCAR

By Jason Schultz – A race weekend at Dover International Speedway never goes by without multiple mentions of the track mascot, “Miles the Monster.” This concrete beast fits right in at the “Monster Mile” and challenges drivers on each and every lap. From its debut as mascot in 2000 to the creation of a statue standing almost five stories tall, outside Turn 4, Miles has become a fan-favorite attraction.

When the speedway underwent its “Monster Makeover” improvements prior to the 2008 season, the statue became the centerpiece. Its construction during the winter of 2007 had it ready to greet race fans during the upcoming May race weekend. Remarkably, it took less than six months to build.

The dimensions of this car-crunching beast are impressive. It stands an incredible 46 feet tall, weighs 40,000 pounds and holds a full-scale NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car.

When comparing it to other famous sports structures, it’s taller than the “Green Monster” found in Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. It also stands higher than the typical field-goal post used during every National Football League game.

It’s even more impressive up close as it sits at the center of the speedway’s “Victory Plaza” and has been attracting fans for seven years. If you stand far enough away, you will be able to snap a picture with Miles or take a “Monster Selfie.”

At the statue’s base, there are plaques for each competitor who has tackled the “Monster Mile” and come out on top. Drivers including Richard Petty and Bobby Allison have larger plaques to recognize the amount of success each has found in “The First State.”

All facilities like to have one feature that makes them stand out and Dover has found it with “Miles the Monster.” Over the years the monster has attacked, ruining some drivers’ days on the intimidating high banks and will continue to do so this weekend. As this is an elimination event, Miles will be extra hungry and change the outcome for some of the drivers competing for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

Jason Schultz is a Popular Speed Development Journalist

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

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NASCAR Cup Series

Bayne Discusses Wood Bros. Future, Full-Time Cup Debut

By Matt Weaver (DOVER, Del.) — After six seasons dealing with sickness, inconsistency, spurts of brilliance but an uncertain future, Trevor Bayne is set to make his full-time Sprint Cup Series debut next season when he joins Roush-Fenway Racing and the tenured No. 6 entry.

Despite the fact that he will likely be labeled a rookie, Bayne will have over 60 starts in the Sprint Cup Series when he arrives at Daytona for Speedweeks but it will be the first time he starts the Daytona 500 in a car other than the Wood Brothers No. 21 Ford.

While Bayne is excited for the opportunity to chase a championship at the highest level, he also feels ambivalent, having invested the better part of five years with the Wood Brothers, even winning the 2011 Daytona 500 with them. He’s the modern face of that organization.

“They’ll move forward with Ford,” Bayne told Popular Speed over the weekend. “Roush will have a say in the conversation but I’m not sure who that next driver will be. I think it will be another young guy because they’ve found some success with that formula.

“But I don’t know how I’m going to feel about seeing that car at Daytona with someone else in it. That’s my car, you know? It’s going to be a huge opportunity for someone and I’m grateful for that team for everything they’ve done for my career.”

Read More: Going the Distance with Trevor Bayne

Roush Fenway Racing president Steve Newmark told Popular Speed on Sunday morning that his organization will have dialogue with the Wood Brothers about the No. 21 car but that the next driver will be decided entirely by that team.

“We’ll definitely keep an open line of communication with them,” Newmark said. “We’ve had a great relationship with the Wood Brothers and with Ford but (picking their next driver) is up to them. I think they are in a good spot given the timing of our deal with Trevor because they have some time to see who is available and make that decision.”

As for Bayne, Newmark actually played a practical joke on his driver when telling him that he was graduating to the Sprint Cup Series. Bayne knew that Roush was close on convincing AdvoCare to move up but felt the announcement was still over a month away.

“Jack and Steve called me and my manager into the office and they tell me that I’m going to have to convince them why I should move up to the Cup Series,” Bayne said. “Jack was on the phone and said that he was sorry that AdvoCare wasn’t interested in continuing with us … in the Nationwide Series … and decided to join us in the Sprint Cup Series. They scared me to death because that’s not standard procedure and I didn’t have a hard sell prepared.”

But Bayne is prepared to go Cup racing and feels fortunate that Roush stuck with him through the bout with multiple sclerosis and struggles at times in the Nationwide Series prior to this season where he currently runs fourth and has been a contender for wins all season.

“Going to Cup has been the idea since AdvoCare came onboard and I’m so grateful that they believe in me, that Jack believes in me and that the Wood Brothers believe in me. It was a risk to back a young kid and that’s what Jack has continually done. We wanted to do it in 2014 but it didn’t work out until next year and I’m excited to do it.”