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NASCAR Cup Series

Hall of Fame Inclusion Ensures Parsons’ Legacy Lives On

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The list is complete.

Before he passed of cancer in January 2007, Benny Parsons left his wife, Terri, a list of 10 things to do. With his name being the first one called by NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France on Wednesday evening for the 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame Class, everything on the list has now been crossed off.

“Not to let people forget him,” Terri revealed of the last remaining item, which Parsons feared would happen. “I think this handles that one, don’t you?”

Parsons received 85 percent of the votes for the eighth class of inductees, which leaves Terri to believe his legacy has now been cemented. He had been on the ballot each year since the Hall of Fame started inducting members in 2010.

Terri has made the trip every year to sit in the audience, waiting to hear Benny’s name. Upon finally hearing it her reaction might have been tame to those observing her, but it was only because she had gone numb.

“I wanted to make sure I heard it right and make sure that picture turned around right (on the prompter) and that I wasn’t mistaking anything that I shouldn’t for what it was,” she said. “Believe me, it was an awesome moment.”

An underdog champion in 1973 with L.G. DeWitt, Parsons quickly became a fan favorite. He captured a Daytona 500 win in 1975 and became the first driver to qualify a stock car at more than 200 MPH in 1982 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Of his 526 career starts, Parsons claimed 21 wins and 20 poles. When he retired from driving in 1988, Parsons transitioned to a TV role and became a memorable voice for NBC and TNT.

A significant portion of the fan base and those within the industry have repeatedly called for Parsons induction, but each year Terri left the announcement having heard the names of their friends instead.

However, she knew it might take a while for Benny because there were so many other individuals who deserved to be in first. Some who had laid the groundwork for NASCAR.

Leading up to Wednesday’s announcement, Terri had a different feeling mostly because of all the positive messages she had been receiving. Ones that were then heightened when she arrived and there was someone waiting who asked, “Are you Mrs. Parsons? Hurry, hurry.”

“For some reason (today) felt different. It just felt different than it had any other year and I think a lot of it had to do with friends and family that had been encouraging me,” she said. “I had some very good advice from some people that were already in the Hall of Fame that said, you really need to put together a campaign and post on Facebook every day reminding people to vote because it’s not that they don’t want to vote, it’s that they forget every day to vote.

“So, boy am I worn out from doing that. I don’t have to do that anymore, and I’m sure y’all are sick of seeing it. So I think that helped a great deal. But yes, it was a very different feeling in the air today just coming in.”

There is also now a different feeling leaving than year’s past, but one that has been a long time coming.

“At last. Benny would have been very, very humbled and he would have thought he could have gone on more years because there was a lot of people that I know that he felt deserved to get in before he did,” Terri said. “Everybody that knew him knew how he was, that he was a very humble person.

“At the beginning of the Hall of Fame he knew then that he was on the first list, he found out about three months before he was told he had cancer. He was aware of the fact that he was on the list for the Hall of Fame, so somewhere tonight he’s saying, fantastic, I’m sure. We all know the smile that he’d have on his face, and there’s certainly one on mine because I’ve been here for nine years waiting for this. All I can say is thank you, thank you, thank you.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

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Commentary

Making a Case for the 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame Class

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The NASCAR Hall of Fame will have six new members by the end of the day.

Discussions and voting are currently taking place in downtown Charlotte around the 20 nominees, as well as the five individuals nominated for the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. Those lucky enough to hear their name called by NASCAR Chairman Brian France tonight at 5 p.m. will officially be inducted in January.

Just like in year’s past, the nominees for the eighth class are a who’s who of NASCAR history.

Legendary drivers, crew chiefs, car owners, engine builders and even broadcasters are all included on the list. There are also five first-time nominees, such as four-time Camping World Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday; car owner Jack Roush; former driver Ricky Rudd; broadcast pioneer Ken Squier; and championship engine builder Waddell Wilson.

Even after tonight’s announcement, the debate will continue over those who were and were not chosen. While I am not on the voting panel, my ballot would reflect a belief in the NASCAR Hall of Fame serving as a celebration of the sport’s past.

But to do that, those who played a significant part in that past must be honored. It has been a bit disappointing that those who are responsible for large portions of NASCAR’s history have not yet been recognized. Instead, it seems modern and well-known names are called each year.

With that in mind, here are the five individuals who would be on my 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame ballot (in alphabetical order):

  • Red Byron – Not only one NASCAR’s first drivers, Byron was the winner of the first sanctioned points race in 1948, as well as the first season championship. It had come in the NASCAR Modified Division before he went on to win the first Strictly Stock (now Sprint Cup) title a year later. What Byron’s accomplishments even more impressive, he did it all after being wounded in World War II – he served as a flight mechanic – which left him needing a special brace for his injured leg in order to use the clutch.
  • Ray Evernham – Each year, it seems the newest class has a modern name included and Evernham is certainly worthy of the nod. A three-time champion crew chief with Jeff Gordon, Evernham earned 47 wins atop the pit box, including a pair of wins in both the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400. Evernham also tried his hand as a car owner, bringing Dodge back into the sport in 2001 and fielding the car Bill Elliott drove to victory at Indianapolis in 2002. And let’s not forget, Evernham was one of the first to focus on the importance of performance on pit road.
  • Ray Fox – A mechanic, crew chief and then team owner, Fox was also one of the earliest and successful stars of the sport. Known as an innovator, Fox built the engine Fireball Roberts won the 1955 Daytona Road & Beach race with after leading wire-to-wire before being disqualified for modified pushrods from Red Vogt. The, while working for Carl Kiekhaefer in 1956, won 22 of the season’s first 26 races and went on to be named Mechanic of the Year. Fox also built the car that Junior Johnson won the Daytona 500 with in 1960, the same year David Pearson also won in cars prepared by Fox. In 1962, Fox became a car owner and fielded both Johnson and Buck Baker, both of whom won races.
  • Raymond Parks – Parks was practically there from the beginning and is one of the sport’s first team owners. In 18 starts through four season (1949, 1950, 1954, 1955) in the premier series, cars owned by Parks won twice, earned a pair of poles, 11 top-finishes and 12 top 10s. His career began with drivers Lloyd Seay and Roy Hall and with a Red Vogt serving as the mechanic, the team quickly became the best in the business. When Red Byron won the Modified title in 1948 followed by the Strictly Stock title in 1949, he did so in a Parks-owned car. Over time, Parks also fielded cars for Bob Flock, Flonty Flock, and Curtis Turner.
  • Benny Parsons – While newer NASCAR fans will recognize the Parsons name for his impressive work as a TV commentator, his story goes much deeper. Parsons went from driving a taxi in Detroit to NASCAR’s premier series. In 1973, Parsons won the championship. In 526 career starts, Parsons earned 21 wins and 283 top-10 finishes. His resume also includes the 1975 Daytona 500.

Landmark Award

  • Ralph Seagraves – When you’re looking for an outstanding contribution to NASCAR, how is the man responsible for the first series sponsor not already in the Hall of Fame? Story has it that Seagraves, an official with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company met NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson when Johnson was looking for a sponsor for his car. But Seagraves had eyes on a bigger prize and soon the Winston Cup Series – as it was known until 2003 – was born.

The announcement of the 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame class will air on NBCSN and NASCAR.com, in addition to being broadcast on MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

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Categories
Home Tracks

NASCAR Next: Alon Day Ready to Take America By Storm

Alon Day fits right in.

He’s one of 11 drivers participating in events for the new NASCAR Next class. There are trips to GoPro Motorplex; visits to the NASCAR R&D Center; gathering with the media at an upscale Charlotte restaurant. Photo shoots and interviews all on the schedule for young drivers NASCAR believes are ones to watch.

It’s not until you get to know Day or he begins to talk, that you realize he’s bringing an international flavor to the program. Hailing from Ashdod, Israel, Day is in his second season of the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series with CAAL Racing. Through the first four races, he’s already scored a win after winning three times in 2015 and finishing second in the championship.

“This is something really special because as you know Israel is a country you can read in the news, it’s pretty popular in the news, unfortunately not in a good way always,” said Day, who speaks both English and Hebrew. “We don’t have motorsports; go-karts are the only motorsport in Israel.

“I was really thankful and lucky to have my family that can support me and send me into Europe immediately when they realized there is some talent, just go to Europe and do something. In this case, I was lucky because pretty sure if I wouldn’t have the family I have I wouldn’t be a racecar driver.”

Day started his racing career at age 9 when he got a go-kart. At 15, he was testing a single seater, and he’s even competed in the Indy Lights Series. The cars he’s currently driving he compares to those in the K&N Series, which many of his peers have experience in. Although things are going well, the transition was a tough one for Day, who was used to driving machines that heavily relied on technology.

“I used to drive with traction control, with ABS, with pit stops; long races – endurance races and changing drivers. A lot of things really completely different,” he said. “Then just switching to the car, which you have only a steering wheel, shifter, and pedals and you actually need to drive it by yourself, you don’t have any computer to help you.

“At the beginning I thought that was going to be easy, it’s just a car, but then you realize you have to drive it by yourself, and you have to be really good to drive it good. It was a new challenge, and I’m really happy getting to speed with this car really quick.”

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As he takes in the Charlotte skyline, Day remarks that the weather – it’s in the high 60s – is freezing to him. Back home he’s used to the temperature being upwards of 100 degrees. He’s enjoying himself, however, and hopes to one day be in the United States regularly as a NASCAR driver the American fan base will recognize and support.

The goal is the Sprint Cup Series. Through the NASAR Next program, Day hopes he’ll be able to become more involved in the industry, which will help with sponsors and potentially getting some experience in the States. It won’t be easy, and he acknowledges that, but Day’s looking forward to having to put in the hard work.

“I always said I don’t want to just drive in Sprint Cup, I want to win. Right now I’m racing in the European championship – it’s going pretty well, we won the first race and I really, really hope I can win the whole championship,” Day said. “As soon as I win the championship I know I can go here to the States and start to develop my career.”

There’s just one thing Day needs to learn when it comes to keeping up with his fellow Next members, who are quick to remind him of it. While he can outrace them on the left and right-handers, Day will focus on perfecting the art of oval racing to prepare for his NASCAR future.

“I’ll try to get some races to get familiar more and more with oval racing because as you know, I came from Europe and road courses, from GT, from single seater,” he said. “For me, oval is always something a bit harder to understand, but I’m pretty sure we will get to speed pretty quick.”

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Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

NASCAR: We Ran Into an Unexpected Situation

Joey Logano won the 32nd annual Sprint All-Star Race on Saturday night, but he was not the main talking point.

Competing under a new race format, many drivers and teams expressed frustration and confusion about the rules throughout the night. Especially after Matt Kenseth failed to pit during the allotted time period in the first segment, which resulted in a penalty to his Joe Gibbs Racing team and trapping half the field a lap down.

NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition, Scott Miller, was made available to the media for comment afterward to explain how the race unfolded.

Here’s a full transcript:

On the confusion over the race format and rules:

“We had a format here that we’ve never done before and we worked diligently trying to come up with every scenario and answer for every scenario that might crop up. This is not something that we do every day with this type of race, so we ran into a situation where our race procedures didn’t give us the opportunity for a wave around and it created a lot of confusion. It’s something that we certainly – if we continue on with this format we have to look at. But you have to expect that certainly circumstances are going to happen in this type of race and we had one crop up tonight that maybe we could have been a little bit more ready for and weren’t. That’s basically where we were there.”

Did you talk about a way to get teams back on the lead lap after Kenseth had stayed out?

“It was a very unique situation and we did not in our race procedures have a mechanism to correct that.”

How could you have not anticipated someone would have stayed out that long?

“Well because why would they stay out that long when we told them they had to make a mandatory pit stop?”

Is it the teams trying to snooker the system?

“No, because it didn’t benefit them. It hurt the whole race that they actually did that.”

In hindsight, if you had Kenseth come in and serve his penalty and let the wave around cars unlap themselves, obviously it’s tough to think on the fly what’s going on …

“Hindsight is really easy and as I said before, we didn’t really have a mechanism to do that in our race procedures that we had laid out.”

Outside of the confusion, how did you feel that the quality of racing was tonight?

“From watching all the battles that ensued on the racetrack it’s just very unfortunate that we had this this controversial situation because it was one of the best races we’ve had in a long time. The really good part of the about it is two of the future stars of the sport battled for the million dollars and sparks were flying and it was a fantastic finish. It’s just very unfortunate that this situation cropped up and there was a lot of people that walked away from here disappointed and we’re disappointed as well that we’re having to answer these questions.”

Is it frustrating that this happened when you’re trying to make this exciting?

“Absolutely, you don’t want things to go wrong. You want everybody to walk away from here satisfied and happy and again, we had a potential miscue there. But don’t want that to overshadow the fact that we really did have a good racing because we’re in the racing business.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

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NASCAR Cup Series

Keselowski Defends New All-Star Race Format

CONCORD, N.C. – On a night where confusion reigned, Brad Keselowski felt the new format for the Sprint All-Star Race served its purpose.

“There was a next to last lap pass for the lead. There were several passes for the lead,” Keselowski said. “The last four races, there hasn’t been a pass for the lead in the last 20 or 30 laps. I think our fans deserve a better format than that, and they got that today.”

The Team Penske driver played a large part in the creation of the format in hopes of delivering a more exciting event.

The 32nd edition of the $1 million exhibition race was split into three segments (50, 50, and 13 laps) with mandatory green pit stops during the first two segments. However, that’s where it got tricky as the pit stops needed to occur prior to a certain lap in each segment. When Matt Kenseth failed to make it to pit road by that designated lap and the caution subsequently flew, the confusion and frustration started.

Who was a lap down? How did they get ahead of the leader? What happened to the wave around?

Radio communications were laced with irritation for the rest of the night as many fought to understand the rules. Tony Stewart, the 2009 winner of the All-Star Race blasted the format after crashing out on Lap 23 of the second segment.

“I’m as baffled as everybody. I don’t know how in the hell we were scored a lap down after they stopped the 20 car and they pit everybody together, lap down and lead lap,” said Stewart. “It’s the most screwed up All-Star Race I’ve ever been a part of. I’m glad this is my last one.

“I’m all right, I’m just madder than hell because I don’t understand how in the hell they’ve officiated this whole thing from start to finish.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., the 2000 winner of the event, admitted while the ideas were great, he too was confused all night. He finished third.

“I was pretty confused right up until it was 13 laps to go, and then I knew, well, we’re racing from here to the end, and this is all the normal rules. But everything before that was really out of my – I was out of my element,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I think they ran into some scenarios tonight that they didn’t really anticipate and got caught off guard. I think the 20 (Kenseth) obviously not pitting, however that worked out, that threw them for a loop and everybody was confused from that minute on.”

But Keselowski felt it all played out fine.

“I don’t know how you can get much more compelling racing than what we saw today,” he said, “so they need to get unconfused and enjoy the racing.”

NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition, Scott Miller, was made available for comment following the race and said officials did not anticipate a situation arising like one did.

“We had a format here that we’ve never done before and we worked diligently trying to come up with every scenario and answer for every scenario that might crop up. This is not something that we do every day with this type of race, so we ran into a situation where our race procedures didn’t give us the opportunity for a wave around and it created a lot of confusion,” Miller said.

“But you have to expect that certainly circumstances are going to happen in this type of race and we had one crop up tonight that maybe we could have been a little bit more ready for and weren’t. That’s basically where we were there.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

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Trucks

Byron Building Momentum for Summer Stretch

CONCORD, N.C. – Things are beginning click for William Byron and his Kyle Busch Motorsports team, but there is still work to do.

Courtesy of his quick lap during practice on Thursday night, Byron started on the pole for Saturday’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He ultimately finished 10th, which was a bit disappointing for the 18-year-old rookie who criticized his personal performance afterward.

“Today’s a little disappointing because we were running top five and we had the lead there. I just have to execute better on restarts; I’m learning, but I have to be better on green flag stops and stuff like that,” he said. “That was the first one we’ve had (a green flag stop) and just learn from it and come back stronger for Texas.”

Saturday may not have ended as well as it began for Byron, but the 2015 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion has been trending upward since Martinsville Speedway last month. A third place finish at the short track preceded his first career win at Kansas Speedway on May 6.

Since then, Byron has added two poles in the last two races and sits fifth in points on the strength of four consecutive top-11 finishes. He’s also led a total of 139 laps.

With one of the fastest trucks again in Charlotte, the lack of track time due to rain on Thursday and Friday barely affected the No. 9 Liberty University Toyota team. After practicing during the evening on Thursday in overcast conditions, the 201-mile event was run in the heat of the day Saturday afternoon with the sun out.

Byron led for a total of 25 laps and contended for a top-five finish before fuel mileage came into play late.

“We were sliding around a little bit, but that’s just nature of this racetrack in the sun like this,” Byron said. “It’s a good learning experience because it’s what it’s going to be like in the summer time with our races coming up, so I’m looking forward to that.”

The Camping World Truck Series will not see action again until June 10 at Texas Motor Speedway, another facility Byron has not yet competed at. But that’s nothing a little confidence and momentum can’t overcome.

“Luckily we got a top 10 out of (today); would have been good to get a top five but I think we’re rolling with some momentum as far as speed wise and confidence wise,” Byron said.

“We can just move onto Texas, another mile-and-a-half; I really like them so far, and hopefully we can compete with (winner Matt) Crafton there.”

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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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

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Trucks

Charlotte Performance Solidifies Hemric’s Spot

CONCORD, N.C. – There were a few small victories for Daniel Hemric on Saturday afternoon in Charlotte despite the disappointment of a ninth place finish.

A Kannapolis, North Carolina native, Hemric led 15 laps early after starting from the sixth position. He came through the field to challenge and overtake 2015 Sprint Cup Series champion, Kyle Busch, before the North Carolina Education Lottery 200 was 50 laps old.

It was a welcomed sight for Brad Keselowski Racing, as Hemric admitted Thursday the Ford camp has a little bit of work still to do to catch the dominant Toyota teams. Being able to get up front and show that the No. 19 team has the necessary speed was a great feeling, Hemric said.

“It felt real good, especially to get out front there in front of the home crowd and put our DrawTite Ford 150 up where we feel like it needs to be every week,” he said. “Really proud of all my guys. They built a brand new truck to come here and kind of redesigned some body stuff, some chassis stuff and it really paid off for us.

“It’s disappointing to end up ninth after it’s all said and done, but it’s tough when it comes down to fuel mileage like that. We took two tires there that last stop hoping maybe we’d get a late caution and have two and nobody else have tires. Just a gamble how it was all going to shake out, but I’m truly proud of everybody. Crew chief Chad Kendrick is really stayed on top of the racetrack all day. We didn’t get our last adjustment in there being under a green flag stop but all in all, something to be very proud of.”

The Toyota team of Matt Crafton ended the day in Victory Lane for the second consecutive week, giving the manufacturer four wins in the first six races. Hemric going door-to-door with Busch for the race lead, however, wasn’t overlooked and serves as a confidence booster for both himself and the organization.

As they look for their first championship, Hemric, a series sophomore, has been knocking on the door to his first career win. Saturday was his fifth top-nine finish in six starts.

“When you can get our front there and pass Kyle (Busch) and solidify yourself here in the series and know that you do belong here, and you can do it, it’s only good for me and my entire group going forward,” Hemric said. “I hate we have a couple weeks off here, I wish we could go to Texas tomorrow, but just part of it but definitely something solid to build off of.”

Hemric remains third in points with ten races remaining before the Chase starts. Before looking ahead, though, Hemric took time during the weekend to acknowledge where he came from and how much fun it was to not only race at his home track, but to have the opportunity to run as well as he did.

“That’s what it’s all about. I was telling people earlier it’s often overlooked how hard it is to get to this level and then get to this level and try to put yourself in situations to be successful,” Hemric said. “We tried to pull it off for them today, just came up a little short there. But just really proud of everybody and can’t thank everybody enough that helped get me to this point and hopefully it’s just the beginning of great things.”

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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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Black Flag Hinders Blaney’s Chance at All-Star Spot

CONCORD, N.C. – Ryan Blaney will not race for the $1 million bonus in the Sprint All-Star Race, and he’s not sure what he should have done differently.

One of the favorites to advance through the Sprint Showdown, Blaney started second and was pressuring leader Chase Elliott when the caution came out on Lap 18 of the first 20 lap segment. On the ensuing restart the No. 21 Motorcraft Ford beat Elliott out of the restart box and then found himself in a battle for the lead with both Elliott and Trevor Bayne, who made it three-wide off Turn 2.

At the conclusion of the segment, NASCAR black flagged the Wood Brothers Racing driver and put him to the rear of the field for the start of the second segment. On four fresh tires, Blaney charged to the sixth position by segment’s end. He then finished third in the final segment and by not receiving the Sprint Fan Vote, failed to make the Saturday night main event.

“We had a shot at the first segment and the 24 (Elliott) kind of took my line away there, which is what you’re supposed to do, and then we had that restart. He was spinning his tires on the bottom, and the 6 (Bayne) was pushing me, and I was half-throttle on the brakes, and I don’t know what to do.

“I’ve got someone driving me forward, and the 24 (Elliott) is spinning his tires. I don’t know what I could have done to stop. I really don’t, and we maybe beat him by two feet. I don’t know. It’s such a weird and tricky call to make. It’s a judgment call and it’s unfortunate it bit us, but I think one thing we can look back and be proud of is how fast our car was. It’s a shame we won’t be racing tonight, but it’s definitely something to look forward to next week.”

NASCAR has been much stricter with the restart rules in recent weeks. A week ago in Dover, Camping World Truck Series driver Cole Custer was penalized for a restart violation, which he said this week he was told was a very close call. The following day, Elliott Sadler found himself in the same position as Blaney when he took off before the lead while also being pushed by the driver behind him.

Ironically, many drivers have called for NASCAR officials be more consistent in their calls.

After the call was made, Blaney and crew chief Jeremy Bullins pled their case but to no avail. As for whether certain situations can be policed differently, Blaney said NASCAR has enough information nowadays to determine if a driver is spinning their tires.

“It’s pretty easy with all the throttle traces we have. If you see RPMs go up, and you’re not really going much faster, and he’s spinning his tires, obviously, and if you’re getting shoved from behind, it’s something I can’t help if I’m getting pushed from behind,” Blaney said.

“I was half-throttle on the brakes and trying to let the 24 (Elliott) by me or get even to me at least, and I couldn’t do it because the 6 (Bayne) was pushing me so hard. But we have enough information and technology that we can figure out if someone spins their tires for sure.”

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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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Dover Victory Felt ‘Really, Really Good’ for Kenseth

CONCORD, N.C. – At least for one week, the black cloud has left Matt Kenseth.

With a victory last weekend at Dover International Speedway, Kenseth heads into the Sprint All-Star Race breathing a little easier. He went 11 races into the season finding trouble in numerous ways, keeping him not only from victories his teammates were scoring but decent finishes.

Last Sunday, Kenseth won for the first time since New Hampshire last September.

“It always feels good to win races. I will say that at least for me, the longer you’re around, the older you get, the more races you’ve run, all that stuff, I think you enjoy and appreciate the wins even more,” Kenseth said Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I think it feels like everyone I appreciate even more than the one previous.”

It could be argued Kenseth’s rotten luck began with the crash heard ‘round the world last Fall at Martinsville Speedway when he retaliated against Joey Logano. Since then, Kenseth has been passed on the last lap (Daytona), black flagged from the lead (Atlanta), sped on pit road (Fontana), shuffled out on a restart from second (Martinsville), and everything in-between.

None of it was for a lack of effort, though. The No. 20 Dollar General Toyota continued to experience misery while running at the front of the field. The results, however, were a different story as Kenseth led 350 laps but had just three top-10 finishes.

In Dover, Kenseth again ran up front and was the one taking advantage of an opportunity following an 18 car crash on Lap 356 of 400. It was his third win at the Monster Mile in 35 career starts.

“Certainly the way our year’s been and the way we ended last year and everything, it felt really, really good to get that win,” said Kenseth, the 2004 winner of the All-Star Race.

Kenseth will be one of 20 drivers looking for a $1 million payday on Saturday night. It’s NASCAR version of All-Star weekend, where points don’t matter and the only thing on the line is bragging rights.

But when the series gets back to business next weekend in the Coca-Cola 600, the 2003 Cup champion plans to carry on as usual.

“As far as what we do from here on out, it hasn’t really changed my outlook or my goals or how we prepare or anything like that,” Kenseth said. “I think you still go each and every week, bring your best stuff and put your best foot forward and do the best job you can do and go out and compete.”

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Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Roush Turnaround a Complete Team Effort

CONCORD, N.C. – Roush Fenway Racing took a long hard look in the mirror.

It was about 18 months ago when Steve Newmark says the organization began to realize they were off. The performance began dipping. Drivers were frustrated. And nothing was working. Welcome to big time auto racing, where quickly honing in on the problem isn’t always easy.

“In racing, it’s not as easy as other sports to identify. You can’t say, well it’s because your elbow is out and you’re shooting 30 percent from the free throw line. There’s so many other variables, and so you kind of had to do the diagnostic of going through and looking at everything,” Roush Fenway president Steve Newmark told POPULAR SPEED.

“Is it pit crew? Is it aero? Is it engine? Is it car? Is it drivers? Is it crew chiefs? So, we really did that analysis and it was not a fun process because we weren’t running where we wanted to be; we were throwing resources at everything and realized that maybe we hadn’t identified the areas well.”

For the first time since its inception, Roush failed to have a car in the Chase when neither Greg Biffle, Trevor Bayne, or Ricky Stenhouse Jr. made the 2015 version. The organization also went winless and they haven’t been in the winner’s circle since Carl Edwards captured the checkered flag at Sonoma in June of 2014.

Edwards, like Matt Kenseth in 2013, departed the company for Joe Gibbs Racing, but it was during that season when things slowly started to decline. Roush shifted their focus into three full-time cars, but it was early into last year when Biffle publicly stated they were “dying a slow death.”

With a 20th place finish in the points, Biffle carried the company banner. Stenhouse was 25th and Bayne 29th.

“We kind of took a step back and everyone at the Ford group thought that the simulation program had gotten a little bit behind the times, and so Ford has really stepped up,” Newmark said. “We put a lot of time and energy in migrating to a new simulation program but unfortunately, although we want it to, it doesn’t happen overnight.

“It’s not like you flip the switch, and you load your next version of Microsoft Word on and all of a sudden it fixes. So it was a process, so we’re seeing the fruits there.”

As the Sprint Cup Series hits the All-Star Race break, the turnaround has been evident. Not only in speed during practice, qualifying, and the race, but results.

Bayne leads the way with three top-10 finishes and a 19th place position in the points. While Stenhouse Jr. has a pair of top 10s (he’s 20th in points), his fifth place finish in Fontana, an intermediate track, further proved of how far back Roush has climbed.

Team owner Jack Roush placed a large emphasis on the engineering side of things after spending years doing things with a crew chief approach. The sport had evolved so much, however, it was time to adjust to the newer way of doing things.

That ended up being the biggest transition. Kevin Kidd from Joe Gibbs Racing was hired, as was Kurt Romberg from Hendrick Motorsports and Mark McArdle from Richard Childress. All took on high-level roles within the organization.

“It’s really been a process of integrating that entire group because we were very fortune that even though our performance fell from our historic standards, the board’s commitment said, hey in times like that you actually have to double down and invest more,” Newmark said. “And so instead of cutting back when we started struggling we invested more.

“We’ve seen a lot more speed this year although the results on the track haven’t always been what we wanted,” Newmark said. “But we’ve been running top 10, top 15 quite frequently.”

And with light now at the end of the tunnel, taking back a spot in the Chase no longer seems like a steep hill to climb.

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