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NASCAR Cup Series

The Motorsports Group, Circle Sport Combine Forces for 2017

As a new season nears, the future of many in the sport becomes more apparent. This was the case for Circle Sport and The Motorsports Group, who announced Friday that they would merge for the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.

“It’s great to join forces with Curtis Key (Owner of TMG), I’ve known him for a very long time and know we share the same feelings about racing,” said Joe Falk, the owner of Circle Sport.

The team will operate out TMG’s shop in Mooresville, NC, and will field one car, the No. 33 Chevrolet, with a driver and sponsor to be named at a later date.

Pat Tryson, who worked with TMG in the past, will return to the team to serve as crew chief.

““It’s great to have Pat back with us, he was instrumental when we got started with our Cup program, and we look forward to his insight in 2017,” said Key.

Both teams are familiar with the Cup Series, as both competed in NASCAR’s top-tier series, including fielding car throughout the 2016 season. TMG competed in 30 out of the 36 events last season with Josh Wise and Gray Gaulding, tallying six top-30s and a season-high 24th place finish at Kentucky. Meanwhile, Circle-Sport spent the year with Leavine Family Racing, working with Ty Dillon and Michael McDowell to secure two top-10 finishes.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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

McDowell, Parrott Return to Leavine Family Racing

Thursday was a banner day for Leavine Family Racing as they announced Michael McDowell and crew chief Todd Parrott will both return to the team full-time this season.

“With both Michael and Todd returning to the team this season we are looking to maintain the consistency we found towards the end of last year and continue to push forward and build off the positive momentum,” said Jeremy Lange, Vice President of Leavine Family Racing. “We had great performances on the track last year and we’re hoping that continuing in that direction will lead to more sponsorships for the team. We do have some partner renewals that we will be announcing soon and are excited to add more.”

McDowell, who has been with LFR since 2014, will compete across the whole 36 race Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule for the first time in his career. McDowell led LFR to 16 top-25 finishes last season.

“I’m excited to be returning full time with LFR for the 2017 season,” stated McDowell. “I look forward to continuing to work with Todd as well and kicking off our season with a strong start at the Daytona 500 in February.”

Parrott, who was the crew chief for 1999 Cup Series champion Dale Jarrett, returns to the team after taking over crew chief duties late last season. In addition to Jarrett, he has worked with some of the biggest names in the sport including Ryan Newman, Bobby Labonte, Elliott Sadler, and Ty Dillon. In seven races together last year, McDowell and Parrott scored six top-25 finishes, including a top-10 in the season finale.

“I can’t wait for the 2017 season to get here and look forward to having a great year with Michael and the team,” said Parrott. “I’m appreciative of the opportunity LFR has given me to once again assume the crew chief role for the team and am ready to get started on the upcoming season.”

EMAIL JUSTIN at tuckerjustin65@yahoo.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @JustinTuckerWeb

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

NASCAR XFINITY Series 2016 Recap/2017 Outlook – Erik Jones

It was an interesting 2016 for Erik Jones, as a solid rookie campaign in the XFINITY Series garnered him an opportunity to do the same in 2017 with one of the top teams in the Cup Series.

 

Car No.:  20

Crew Chief: Christopher Gabehart

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

Wins: 4

Top-Fives: 15

Top-10s: 20

Points Finish: 4th

2016 Quick Summary: The season started off on the wrong foot for Jones and his team, as an early accident at Daytona forced him to settle for a 31st place finish. Following the season-opener however, he quickly emerged as the championship contender he was expected to be. In the next five races, he’d place himself in the top-three in all but once.

Despite his early success, Jones still didn’t have a win, as he constantly found himself chasing his JGR teammate, Kyle Busch. That would change at the spring race at Bristol, where he’d get the best of Busch and fellow Cup Series regular Kyle Larson, on a late restart and capture his first win of the season.

He’d proceed to follow up his victory a few races later with another one, this time at Dover. But, as the race to the Chase carried on, poor finishes would became a bigger and bigger concern for the 20-year-old. From the May race in Charlotte to Chicago, Jones had an impressive stat sheet with two wins (Iowa and Chicago), seven top five’s, and 10 top-10’s in 16 races. But when he wasn’t in the top-10, a bad trend was emerging. Excluding Watkins Glen, whenever he finished outside the top-10 in those 16 races, he’d finish 21st or worse, with two finishes outside the top-30. Part of Jones’ issues came as a result of a continuation of pit road penalties in some of those events.

In the Chase, his poor finishes nearly gave him an early elimination, as he started the Round Of 12 with a 28th at Kentucky following a crash and a 16th at Dover after an unscheduled trip down pit road. Luckily a fifth at Charlotte would kept his title hopes alive.

Despite not having the flashiest of stats in the Round Of 8, Jones did enough to advance to the Championship 4. However, during the Championship race at Homestead, Jones wouldn’t have anything for his teammate and eventual Champion Daniel Suarez. Jones placed fourth out of the four drivers eligible for the title, resulting in his fourth place finish in the final points standings.

2016 Highlight(s): His four wins during the season will serve as a highlight for his XFINITY Series season, including an emotional win at Bristol after his father passed away. But, the most notable highlight for the young driver was the announcement he’d be moving up to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2017 with Furniture Row Racing.

2016 Lowlight(s): His poor finishes throughout the year and average performance in the Chase, as well as coming up short of the Championship, will be moments Jones will try to forget as he enters the new season.

2017 Outlook: As noted above, Jones will join Furniture Row Racing in 2017 to drive the No. 77. In 2016, FRR took full advantage of their alliance with JGR and established themselves as Championship contenders with their driver, Martin Truex Jr. It’ll be interesting to see if they can continue to do the same as they move from one car to two.

As for Jones, he has shown potential in his limited appearances in NASCAR’s top series, leading laps and finishing in the top-20 in two of his three starts. If he can continue to expand on that potential and continue to grow as a driver, it may be a very good year for him. However, he definitely needs to shake the lingering issues, in terms of penalties on pit road, as track position is a priority and he may be able to fight back as he has been able to in the past.

One thing for certain, he’ll be a rookie that will draw a lot of attention once the season starts.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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
Commentary

WAID’S WORLD: The Time When Season’s First Race Was In California – Not Daytona

The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season (I’m not sure I’m ever going to get used to that) officially begins with the Feb. 26 running of the Daytona 500.

It didn’t use to be that way.

Believe it or not, from 1970-82 NASCAR’s elite series got underway with a mid-January race at Riverside International Raceway in California. The Daytona 500 followed a month later.

This came about after NASCAR streamlined what was then known as the Grand National circuit. For years before 1970, Daytona was the fourth race on the schedule following events at Macon, Ga., Montgomery, Ala., and Riverside.

NASCAR came to realize that 50-52 races per year, several of them in relatively small-town venues that offered little exposure and even less money, was an unwieldy situation.

So by 1970 several races, many of them on short tracks, were removed from the schedule. That allowed Riverside, a 2.62-mile, nine-turn road course, to claim its role as the season’s debut event.

This seemed to make little sense, for several reasons.

First, it was held in a state not known for much affection for NASCAR – at least back then. The sanctioning body’s form of stock car racing was still a regional sport with a strong support base in the South.

Certainly the race received media attention but not nearly as much as it could have if the hard-core motorsports writers who worked south of the Mason-Dixon line were able to attend. They were not because their newspapers simply weren’t going to spend the money – airline fees alone were prohibitive – to cover a single race.

Stalwart NASCAR fans weren’t very interested in the race. It was an anomaly. The real racing didn’t begin until Daytona.

And many of the NASCR regulars simply couldn’t afford to make the trek to California. They didn’t have the budget needed. In reality, only a handful of organizations had sufficient sponsorship to go west – they were always battling for the championship and could not afford to lose points.

But that didn’t necessarily mean the Riverside race was devoid of talent. Many top-flight competitors from the West Coast who built their reputations in other forms of motorsport made regular appearances.

Drivers like Dan Gurney, Ray Elder, Herschel McGriff and Mark Donohue turned to NASCAR at Riverside and did very well. Elder and Donohue were winners. So was A.J. Foyt.

The NASCAR regulars of their day, who competed with the best in sponsorship, equipment and personnel, were routinely victorious at Riverside. They included Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip. Fact is, these drivers won all but three races from 1970-81.

I have always theorized that what started the notion that it made little sense for NASCAR to open its season with a race at an outpost was the 1979 Daytona 500.

You know all about that race. It was first to be covered flag-to-flag by a major TV network, CBS. It had that smashup finish culminated by a wreck between Yarborough and Donnie Allison on the backstretch on the final lap that allowed Petty to win.

And then came the fight between Yarborough and the Allison brothers.

A massive TV audience witnessed the drama and mayhem and NASCAR’s popularity began to soar.

Given that, I am certain that NASCAR reasoned it would be far better to start each season with possible big bang – and that meant at Daytona, not Riverside.

In 1982, Riverside’s first race on the schedule was in June and it remained there.

But the road course did have something going for it. From 1981-86 it staged the last event of each season. Many times the championship was decided in California.

By 1989 Riverside was gone, a victim of residential and commercial expansion.

But for a time it held the distinction, however improbable, of staging the first, and then last, race of each season.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

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

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 2016 Recap/2017 Outlook – Kevin Harvick

2016 proved to be a good year with a bad ending for Kevin Harvick. It was a year full of good finishes, which would be soiled with a few poor ones at the wrong time. It was also a year where a shocking announcement resulted in him leaving Chevy for the first time in his career, as his team Stewart-Haas Racing moves to Ford in 2017.

Car No.:  4

Crew Chief: Rodney Childers

Team: Stewart-Haas

Wins: 4

Top-Fives: 17

Top-10s: 27

Points Finish:  8th

2016 Quick Summary: Similar to his 2015 season, Harvick’s year started off on a high note, finishing inside the top-10 in the first three races, and then proceeding to edge out Carl Edwards at Phoenix in one of the season’s closest finishes to capture his first win of 2016.

Well, it’d be until the night race at Bristol before he’d win again, Harvick remained consistent. From Fontana to Watkins Glen, he garnered seven top five’s, as well as 12 top-10’s in the 18 race stretch.

In the final three races before the Chase, he continued cement himself as one of the biggest threats for the championship with three straight top-fives.

The Chase began in an interesting fashion for the 2014 Champion, as in the first two rounds he had just as many finishes 20th or worst, as he did inside the top-10. Results like that would normally result in a driver’s elimination, but not for Harvick, as two clutch wins at New Hampshire and Kansas kept his title hopes alive.

The Round of 8 started off poorly for him, finishing 20th at Martinsville. He was able to rebound and capture a sixth-place at Texas, but it wasn’t enough to lock him into the Championship Round. In order to do that, he needed another win Phoenix. Unfortunately for him, he’d come up short and for the first time in this Chase format, he entered Homestead with no chance at the title.

2016 Highlight(s): Edging out Edwards at Phoenix in a classic photo finish will be a highlight that no one will soon forget. But something may have gone unnoticed by many is Harvick’s impressive stats. Specifically, his 27 top-10’s, which was more than any other driver.

2016 Lowlight(s): As noted above, the lowlight of his season will be missing the Championship 4 for the first time. Another moment he will want to forget would be his performance during the fall race at Martinsville, a race you could say cost him his season.

2017 Outlook: Harvick will continue to be a part of Stewart-Haas, as the team transitions from Chevy to Ford. There also comes a change in the form of a new teammate in Clint Bowyer, with team owner/teammate Tony Stewart retiring. Harvick and Bowyer have previous experience as teammate during Harvick’s time at Richard Childress Racing. Notably, the change means he and Kurt Busch will serve as the drivers with the most experience at SHR.

Overall, 2016 wasn’t a bad year for Harvick, despite the sour ending. In fact, if you look at his stats, it was one of his best. However, it was inconsistency and bad luck in the Chase that cost him in the long run. If Harvick can continue to have good consistent finishes throughout the season, as well as a stronger Chase, there is no doubt he will be a championship contender.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

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
Commentary

Three Resolutions for the 2017 NASCAR Season

The New Year is approaching, and people tend to set goals for the upcoming 365 days. Resolutions involving cutting carbs and frivolous spending top everyone’s lists, and they swear this time is different, that they will see these objectives through. Even if they break those resolutions, they had the right idea.

Maybe NASCAR should give it a go. To ring in 2017 and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, here are three goals the sport should work toward over the next 12 months.

Strike a Balance

As the era of Monster Energy begins, the sport will scramble to harness the buzz surrounding the entitlement change. They will also narrow in on the younger crowd; that’s a large part of why they wanted an energy drink sponsor, of course. All of this is expected. However, NASCAR cannot abandon the mainstays who have staked out Sunday couch space for over 25 years. The new demographic is alluring, and it should be NASCAR’s focus. That does not devalue those who keep coming back year after year, change after change.

This big swing could impact the older fans and how much money they contribute. NASCAR will need that money since the Monster deal is a fraction of what Sprint paid. The lifelong fans should give the sport some leeway as they construct their new identity – but NASCAR should not take advantage of that graciousness. The sooner they discover a way to please much of each demographic, the better.

Find Consistency

It is hard to maintain strict rules in sport; it’s a constantly moving target, and new situations arise occasionally. This does not excuse glaring inconsistencies in officiating and penalizing drivers. From 29-lap cautions to unjustified yellows, it was a year of questionable calls. Mistakes were so abundant that two of the sport’s most neutral drivers – Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson – questioned its legitimacy. Ouch.

The sport cannot afford to lose the support of fans and media, so they must prioritize consistency. What constitutes a caution with 290 laps to go should also bring out a caution with six laps remaining – and vice versa. If ‘pulling up to pit’ is an issue, clear it up in the drivers’ meeting, so they aren’t surprised when a penalty is handed down. Setting precedence early in the season should cut down on controversy later on. If the sport makes an active effort to right the wrongs made in 2016, it’s an improvement.

Be Proactive – not Reactive

Out of these three resolutions, this one has the largest implications on the future. Dealing with fan relations and perfecting punishment is necessary, yes – but all of that could have been prevented with more initiative. There are bound to be rough patches during Monster’s inaugural season, and NASCAR can prepare for those obstacles right now.

While doing that, thought can be put into others issues. Other pressing matters include teams loaning charters (and cutting down the field size), the general dislike for splitters, and tweaking 2018 Chase details for the NASCAR XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series. There are a lot of things that will need attention in the not-so-distant future, so NASCAR should get ahead. A lot of good can come out of trying to build this sport up. There is potential under the surface; it’s just whether they get to it in time.

EMAIL KRISTEN AT kristen.schneider@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KristenS_Writes

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.