Driver Reports : Previewing the Daytona race
Earnhardt Jr. eyes sweep; can winless driver jumble Chase field?
NASCAR announces race package for XFINITY Series race at Indianapolis
BUY TICKETS: See the races at Indianapolis Teams competing in the NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway later this year will do so with a race package that incorporates three major modifications aimed at one goal -- improved competition at the legendary 2.5-mile speedway. Designed specifically for the 100-lap race scheduled for July 22, the modifications consist of a taller rear spoiler and splitter package; aero ducts on the lower front bumper area; and a 7/8th-inch restrictor plate currently used for superspeedway events at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. The static ride height of the cars will remain at 4 inches, which is unchanged from the current 2017 rules package. The Indy package was crafted after much in-house simulation and development and then field-tested on Oct. 12 at IMS for verification. XFINITY Series teams from Richard Childress Racing, Roush Fenway Racing and Kaulig Racing participated in the test. "We (develop) the analytical package and come to some conclusions," Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR Senior Vice President, Innovation and Racing Development, told NASCAR.com. "But then we also need to go on the track and verify this. So this approach has been a two-step approach, analytical creation of the package and then on-track verification. "We race at 29 tracks (across all three national series) and they're all very special," Stefanyshyn added. "Indianapolis has a long history; it's a wonderful track. Our objective is to give our fans the best possible show we can. We are very proud of being able to participate at Indy; we want to put our best foot forward. We believe we have come up with a package that gives us the best opportunity to do that." MORE: IMS announces updated race weekend schedule Stefanyshyn said officials had teams run various packages during the test. While the use of the restrictor plates enabled the cars to run closer together, the ability to pull out and pass remained difficult. "We saw the cars were closer together, but we weren't able to create some passing until we introduced the aero ducts," he said. "That's the main purpose of the ducts, to give the trailing car more of an advantage … we always hear about clean air and how the leader has clean air. Our objective here is to try to give the trail car more benefit." Without the aero ducts, cars running down long straightaways such as those at IMS hit a wall of air, which creates "a significant horsepower deficit" when they get within approximately one car-length of the lead car, Stefanyshyn said. The aero ducts direct air in through the existing brake ducts and out through the wheelhouse on each side. The high speed air flowing out creates a larger hole or "envelope" for the trailing car. Use of the aero ducts should increase the amount of horsepower differential for the trailing car by approximately 25 percent. "We're giving the driver more momentum from four-five car lengths back, gaining coming into within half a car length; when he gets right into that bubble, he's still got to cross through it, but he's carrying momentum and he can break through it," Stefanyshyn said. Stefanyshyn said incorporation of the package isn't "a slam dunk," but studies and testing have thus far validated the changes. "Our belief is that we will create a situation where they can pass on the straightaways," he said. "That's been done analytically, it's been done with three cars. The question is when we turn 40 cars loose on the track can that still manifest itself and that's still what we’re hoping will happen." Speeds likely won't vary greatly with the new package, and the use of restrictor plates isn't expected to generate the big packs of traffic on the track similar to what typically is seen at Daytona and Talladega. Stefanyshyn said it's more likely that there will be several groups of five or six cars each, "and in each of those groupings we're hoping to see passing on the straightaways." The XFINITY Series has competed at IMS since 2012, and the lack of passing on the big, flat track has been a concern for NASCAR and speedway officials. Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing) led more than half the laps in winning the last two XFINITY Series races at Indy and he led 92 of 100 when he won the race in 2013. Dale Earnhardt Jr. addressed the racing package this week during his weekly Dale Jr. Download podcast. Earnhardt Jr. competes in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for Hendrick Motorsports. He is also co-owner of JR Motorsports, which fields four full-time teams in the XFINITY Series. "I'm curious to see (the changes)," he said. "I think NASCAR sees this as an idea on how fix racing in general at Indianapolis." According to NASCAR officials, there currently are no plans in place to utilize the package at any other venue or in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Lambert relishes first Monster Energy Series win
BUY TICKETS: Celebrate Auto Club's 20th anniversary MORE: Race results " Post-Phoenix standings Richard Childress Racing crew chief Luke Lambert led Ryan Newman and the No. 31 Grainger Chevrolet team to one of the gutsiest and most popular wins in recent NASCAR history last Sunday at Phoenix Raceway. While most of the race field made a final pit stop with a handful of laps remaining, Lambert told Newman to stay out on track. And the veteran driver made the decision look brilliant leading the final six laps to win his first race since 2013 -- a dramatic win from the pole position at Indianapolis. It was Lambert's first ever Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory as crew chief and came in his 157th Monster Energy Cup Series race atop the box and fourth season working with Newman. Looking at the next few races, Newman has five top-10 finishes in his last seven races at this weekend's venue, the two-mile Auto Club Speedway. He scored wins at Martinsville Speedway in 2012 and Texas Motor Speedway in 2003. Lambert, 34, was understandably optimistic when NASCAR.com caught up with him on Tuesday and feels that this team certainly has the potential to win again … and again before season's end. MORE: Childress, Newman win together " Crew call with the No. 31 team HOLLY CAIN: What a memorable way to get a first win as a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series crew chief? LUKE LAMBERT: It was spectacular for sure. We are thankful for being able to put it all together. It was a good day. CAIN: Now that you've had some time to digest this great win, what has the reaction been like from others? LAMBERT: There's certainly been a lot of very gracious congratulations from a lot of people. A lot of people are giving me a lot of the credit, which I think is not completely all due. Ultimately I'm just one cog in the wheel. Everybody at the company has worked so hard to get us there. I think everyone deserves a lot of pride and exuberance for us to be able to get the victory because it certainly took every one of us." CAIN: The win meant so much to the organization as a whole. How did it feel to do something so important for not only the team but for team owner Richard Childress, whose teams haven't won since 2013 either? LAMBERT: It was almost surreal in a lot of ways. We'd been working tirelessly for so long and felt like we had been making gains and getting closer to that mark. But it's almost as if chasing a moving target because of how competitive the sport is. You hope and plan to reach your goals but you can’t be sure it will happen. It was surreal we were actually able to follow through and really enjoy that moment. I felt like the first few races of the year, we've had great cars. I felt like we've had cars that, in the right circumstances, could win the race. Our car at Atlanta was really strong. The Vegas car was strong. We just fought unforeseen circumstances at both of those races -- electrical at Atlanta and tire at Vegas. I really felt like we've had a lot of momentum with the team but the results on paper weren't really reflecting the direction we were going until Sunday. CAIN: With the change in the points structure, how different does it make your approach for the rest of the season having already secured a win only four races into the schedule? LAMBERT: Ultimately it's still a huge step towards being closer to making it into the championship. Getting our win puts us in a scenario we have not been in for the last few years. It does move our season along a lot faster than in years past. The last couple of years we've been holding onto that points position as our transfer spot into the playoffs so we really had to preserve solid finishes and couldn't take gambles for bonus points. Now, we are really racing for those bonus points, for wins and stage wins. So we can take chances that might sacrifice a solid finish in order to go after stage wins. So that's the scenario we’re in and as a team that will be really fun to race like that. As a team we will try equally as hard as we ever have, it just changes the risk-reward balance and affects some of the decisions we get to make. RELATED: Newman pumped to be back in Victory Lane CAIN: Have you spoken to Ryan post-Victory Lane and how are you two still savoring the win? LAMBERT: We hung out for a while yesterday (Monday) and neither of us had really gotten much sleep. He got like an hour and I actually never laid down Monday night (laughter). We got lunch together today and we were both kinda starting to hit that wall. He was physically exhausted and he was burnt up pretty bad from the heat in the car -- his feet and the backs of his legs actually have some pretty severe burns on them. He was kinda hurting. I was tired. More than anything else, we were elated but exhausted at the same time. We talked about how glad we were to be able to accomplish that, but we also talked about Fontana (Auto Club) and started working on our plans to have a car that could win at Fontana this weekend. CAIN: How does this early success change things going forward for your team and the whole organization? LAMBERT: It absolutely can (change things). The thing about racing, they don't give the checkered flag to the fastest race car. They give the checkered flag to the one that crosses the finish line first. You have to have a really good car to do that. Sometimes the fastest car doesn't. It takes certain circumstances to fall your way and you have to do everything right and get a little fortune along with it for most races. For everything to all come together Sunday, proved and reiterated to our group that we have what it takes. And it changes our position in the playoffs as far as having that win and gives us a little more pep in our step to be able to operate a little more aggressively. Having that early is just a big boost of excitement that I think will propel our season in a really strong direction. &amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Nos. 2, 4 teams penalized after violations at Phoenix
RELATED: Details on NASCAR's deterrence system NASCAR levied L1-level penalties against the No. 2 car of Team Penske and the No. 4 car of Stewart-Haas Racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series on Wednesday following Sunday's race at Phoenix Raceway. The violation for the No. 2 car is detailed in sections 220.127.116.11.2 of the NASCAR Rule Book (post-race general inspection measurements), and driver Brad Keselowski's fifth-place finish in the Camping World 500 is encumbered, per section 12.10 of the NASCAR Rule Book. Meanwhile, the violation for the No. 4 car is detailed in sections 18.104.22.168 I-4 of the NASCAR Rule Book (track bar mount and supports) and driver Kevin Harvick's sixth-place finish at Phoenix is encumbered. As a result of the violation, No. 2 crew chief Paul Wolfe was fined $65,000 and suspended from the next three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points races. The team was assessed with the loss of 35 driver points and 35 owner points. Brian Wilson will serve as the No. 2 team's crew chief this weekend at Auto Club Speedway while the team "evaluates our approach relative to today's penalties," Team Penske said in a statement. Appearing on a Wednesday night edition of FS1's "NASCAR Race Hub," Keselowski discussed the impact of not having Wolfe atop the pit box and his history with Wilson. "Well, first off, my crew chief, Paul Wolfe, is an elite crew chief, and I feel really lucky to have him, " Keselowski told the program. "...To lose a guy like that, it definitely hurts. He's a great asset to our team, but this is one of those setbacks that I think every team faces and we're just going to have to get through it. It looks like it’s going to be a handful of races and we’ll do the best we can during that time. "The good thing about Brian Wilson is he comes from the XFINITY side as a crew chief who just won with Joey Logano at Las Vegas. But even before that, he was on the 2 team as the lead engineer, so a lot of knowledge and experience, and we look forward to working together with him." The No. 4 crew chief Rodney Childers was fined $25,000 and suspended from the next Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points race. The team was assessed with the loss of 10 driver and 10 team owner points. On Thursday morning, Stewart-Haas Racing officials said that the organization "has officially requested an appeal hearing regarding the penalties ... and have also requested a deferral of the penalties until the appeal process is complete." The appeal request means that Childers will be allowed to participate in this weekend's race activities at Auto Club. Team Penske also has the option to file an appeal to the National Motorsports Appeals Panel. As of Thursday morning, the team was still evaluating its options. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;g
No. 47 team's L1-level penalty from Atlanta upheld
RELATED: NASCAR levies L1-level penalties after Atlanta The National Motorsports Appeals Panel upheld penalties against the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing team that competes in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series following a hearing Wednesday at NASCAR's Research & Development Center in Concord, North Carolina. JTG officials appealed L1-level penalties levied against the team, driver AJ Allmendinger and crew chief Randall Burnett following the March 5 Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The penalties were the result of three unsecured lug nuts on the No. 47 Chevrolet found during post-race inspection and resulted in a loss of 35 championship driver and owner points and a $65,000 fine and three-race suspension for Burnett. The points loss dropped Allmendinger, who finished 26th at Atlanta, from 11th to 35th in the standings. Following last weekend's Phoenix race, he is now 31st in standings. RELATED: Details of the updated deterrence system Ernie Cope, the organization's director of competition, has served as interim crew chief during Burnett's suspension. Minimum penalty options for an L1-level infraction according to the NASCAR deterrence policy, consist of a deduction of 10 to 40 points, suspension of crew chief for 1-3 races, a fine of $25,000 to $75,000 as well as the team's finishing position being declared encumbered. Specific lug nut violations/penalties are: a $10,000 fine for one unsecured lug nut; $20,000 fine and one-race suspension of crew chief for two unsecured lug nuts; $65,000 fine, loss of 35 driver /owner points, three-race crew chief suspension and encumbered finishing position for three or more unsecured lug nuts. The panel consisted of Richard Gore, Bill Lester and Steve York. JTG Daugherty can appeal the panel’s decision to Bryan Moss, the National Motorsports Finals Appeals Officer, if it so chooses. JTG Daugherty Racing is located in Harrisburg, North Carolina. The organization fields two full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams featuring Allmendinger and the No. 37 team of Chris Buescher.
Furniture Row No. 77 hauler damaged in accident
Two Furniture Row Racing hauler drivers were uninjured after the No. 77 team's transporter was involved in a hit-and-run highway crash early Thursday morning. The No. 77 hauler was damaged on Interstate 15 on the way to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, site of this weekend's NASCAR races for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and XFINITY Series. Driver Travis Watts and co- driver David Shano escaped injury. According to the Denver, Colorado-based team, a car pulled off to the road's shoulder then back onto the interstate directly in the hauler's path. There was no damage reported to the trailer, race cars and equipment, but the team has rented a replacement truck to complete the trip to the 2-mile California track. "We're all very relieved no one was injured in the incident," team president Joe Garone said in a release provided by the team. "There was substantial damage to the tractor but everything in the trailer was checked out thoroughly and is OK. We've rented a tractor and the No. 77 hauler is on schedule to arrive at Auto Club Speedway later today." The car and its two occupants left the scene of the accident, approximately 15 miles north of Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Both were later located and arrested by the Nevada Highway Patrol. Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Erik Jones is in his first year driving the No. 77 Toyota for Furniture Row. He sits 18th in the series standings ahead of Sunday's Auto Club 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), the fifth race of the season.
Luza strikes it rich at Las Vegas
RELATED: See the complete iRacing schedule At the onset of the 2017 NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series, many of the series’ tenured drivers looked to NASCAR Pro Series Champion, Ryan Luza, as the biggest threat to dethrone 3-time and reigning champion, Ray Alfalla. After a lackluster start at Daytona, some cast doubt on the abilities of the young gun; however, after his dominant win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Round Two of the season, series rookies and veterans alike should take notice. Matt Bussa, driver of the #34 WinView Games Toyota Camry, started the race at the helm. A regular in the NASCAR iRacing Series, Bussa looked to capitalize on his superb starting position. However, he would have to wait for a few laps to show his hand as the 167-lap event was slowed before the completion of its opening lap, as Mitchell Hunt spun at the exit of Turn 2, collecting Byron Daley, Michael Johnson, and Nicholas Johnston. Hunt and Daley immediately retired after sustaining irreparable damage, while Johnson and Johnston mustered on for the remainder of the evening. Bussa led the field back to green on lap six, with Alfalla, Luza, and Marcus Richardson in tow. The #34 machine led the opening twenty-eight laps, before succumbing to an insurmountable challenge by Luza’s eventual race winning #1 Racerboost Ford Fusion. Luza held station at the top spot for the remainder of the race, only losing the lead during several green flag pit stop cycles. With the race slowed by just one additional caution period, efficiency whilst entering/exit pit road was key. Over the course of the event, cars began searching for new grooves, as grip was at a premium. Competitors ran from the top of the racing surface to the track’s white line. Front runners mimicked each other’s lines, thus trading fast laps back and forth. As one competitor found a faster groove, the rest followed and vice versa. Amid the constant search for the fastest way around LVMS, former series champion Kenny Humpe found trouble off of Turn 2, slapping the outside retaining wall. He suffered damage that would ultimately take him out of contention for a top dozen finishing position. Facing issues at the opposite end of the track, Taylor Hurst made contact with series rookie Christian Challiner, which resulted in Hurst’s #78 Chevy side-swiping the SAFER barrier. The sim racers completed their final pit stop sequence with about 35 laps remaining. Luza cycled around with a two second lead, and built on that until the race’s completion. Michael Conti, who started 30th on the evening, made a charge to second-place following the last round of pit stops only to fall victim to a pit miscue that shorted him three laps of fuel. The 2014 series champion made a stop with three to go, which resulted in a 34th place finish by the #5 Chevrolet. On a happier note, Cody Byus, 2016 championship runner-up, PJ Stergios, Alfalla, and Logan Clampitt rounded out the top five behind Luza at night’s end. With two races in the books, it remains to be seen whether Luza showed his true form with his win in Vegas . . . or his tenth place finish at Daytona. Meanwhile, although he has so far been shut-out of victory lane, with two top five finishes to his credit Alfalla is itching to notch his first W of the season. So too are former champions Humpe and Conti and a host more. Who will rise to the top in Round Three? We’ll find out in two weeks’ time when the series rolls into its second stop of its version of the West Coast Swing -Auto Club Speedway. Tune into www.iracing.com/live at 8:45 p.m. eastern time on April 4 to catch the action live!
Daniel Suarez stars in first national television ad for Subway
BUY TICKETS: Celebrate Auto Club's 20th anniversary Daniel Suarez is debuting in his first national TV ad as a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver with sponsor Subway this weekend as the series wraps up its NASCAR Goes West swing at Auto Club Speedway. Suarez will drive the No. 19 Subway Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing in Sunday's Auto Club 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.) The accompanying television ad focuses on Suarez's drive and desire to reach the pinnacle of the sport, his path to get here and his competitive fire. "I came here to race," the Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender says. "I came here to be better. Now, I stand here a challenger …" Get a sneak peek of the ad here: When Subway came on as a sponsor for Suarez earlier this year, the young star said, "I'm extremely grateful to Subway for their continuing sponsorship of our Joe Gibbs Racing team this year. I enjoy eating healthy, and Subway has always been my go-to choice to refuel my body when I'm on the road or at home. I'm looking forward to a great 2017 season in the Subway Toyota Camry." Subway is primary sponsor on Suarez's No. 19 ride for four Monster Energy Series races this season, including the May 28 Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte; the July 1 Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona; and the Oct. 15 Alabama 500 at Talladega.
Auto Club Speedway by the numbers
BUY TICKETS: Celebrate Auto Club's 20th anniversary RELATED: Full weekend schedule Jimmie Johnson was driving a Superman car and wearing a cape the last time he saw Victory Lane at Auto Club Speedway in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series' stop there in 2016. It's appropriate since he almost owns the place. Johnson has six wins at Auto Club, spanning a decade and a half. He also has five runner-up finishes, an impressive average finishing place of 6.5 and has led 980 laps around the 2-mile circuit in Fontana, California. Roger Penske has a stake in the place as well, having been one of the architects, alongside Les "Coach" Richter. The track officially opened June 22, 1997, and it's celebrating its 20th anniversary as NASCAR returns to Fontana this weekend for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and XFINITY Series racing. Penske got his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win at the track on April 29, 2001 with Rusty Wallace piloting the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford. Brad Keselowski put Team Penske back in Victory Lane at Auto Club Speedway in 2015. Penske's open wheel drivers also have had success at the track. Penske built a fast race track, leading to some stout stats in the speedway's lore: -- A 188.511 mph qualifying speed record set by Denny Hamlin in 2016 -- A 155.012 mph race speed record set by Jeff Gordon in 1997 Digging into the numbers a bit more: -- Hendrick Motorsports has 10 wins, the most of any team -- Ford has 11 wins at the track, and Chevrolet has 13. Kyle Busch has taken home two Auto Club 400 trophies for Toyota in back-to-back races in 2013-14. -- Farthest back in the field a winning driver started: 31st, Matt Kenseth, spring of 2006 -- Pole-sitting winners: Only one, Johnson in 2008 -- The closest margin of victory was 0.144 seconds, as Kevin Harvick edged Johnson in 2011
Pete Hamilton passes away at age 74
RELATED: Every Daytona 500 winner in history NASCAR driver Pete Hamilton, who won the 1970 Daytona 500 driving for Petty Enterprises, passed away Wednesday. He was 74. Hamilton won four times during a career that spanned six seasons and included 64 starts in what is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. He won the series' Rookie of the Year title in 1968. NASCAR issued a statement on Hamilton's passing Wednesday afternoon that read: NASCAR extends its deepest condolences to the friends and family of Pete Hamilton. Hamilton’s career may seem relatively brief at first glance, but a careful study of the gentleman racer makes it abundantly clear that Hamilton achieved excellence during his extraordinary tenure in NASCAR. Hamilton captured the NASCAR National Sportsman championship in 1967, the premier series Rookie of the Year Award in 1968 and an abundance of victories throughout a variety of NASCAR-sanctioned series. But, of course, he will be remembered most fondly for his stirring victory in the 1970 Daytona 500 while driving for the iconic Petty Enterprises race team. And for that, his legend will live forever. A native of Massachusetts, Hamilton earned three of his four wins while driving for the Randleman, North Carolina-based Petty organization. Both seven-time champion Richard Petty and Maurice Petty issued statements on Hamilton's passing. Richard Petty said: "We ran two cars in 1970, and Plymouth helped introduce us to Pete. They wanted us to run a second car with him on the bigger tracks. 'Chief' (Maurice Petty) led that car and started in the Daytona 500. Pete and 'Chief' won the race, and it was a big deal. Pete won both Talladega races that year. It was great to have Pete as part of the team. He was a great teammate. We send our prayers to his family." Maurice Petty, who ran the team, said: "Pete was as fast as anyone on the superspeedways in 1970. We had support from Plymouth to run two Superbirds, and they connected us with Pete Hamilton. He was a good match for us, and we won three races together. I enjoyed being around him and will miss him." While Hamilton was competitive on tracks of all sizes, he excelled on the series' largest speedways with his wins coming at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. His Daytona 500 win came in his 21st career start and featured a late-race battle with David Pearson. In addition to driving for Petty Enterprises, NASCAR Hall of Fame car owner Cotton Owens as well as Banjo Matthews fielded cars for Hamilton during his brief career.
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