NASCAR simplifies manufacturer points system
Scoring will mirror system used for drivers for all three national series
Chase-clinching scenarios at Pocono and Iowa
The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup doesn't begin until September, but several drivers could officially clinch a spot in the postseason field this weekend at Pocono Raceway. So far, the five drivers who have clinched Chase berths are Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth. Below are Chase-clinching scenarios for this weekend's Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono: Possible to Clinch: Kevin Harvick (1 win, 671 points , +434 points ahead of 31st): Can clinch with a win. Kurt Busch (1 wins, 627 points , +390 points ahead of 31st): Can clinch with a win. Joey Logano (1 Win, 606 points , +369 points ahead of 31st): Can clinch with a win. Martin Truex Jr (1 win, 573 points , +336 points ahead of 31st): Can clinch with a win. Denny Hamlin (1 win, 542 points , +305 points ahead of 31st): Can clinch with a win. All of the above drivers have already clinched a position in the top 30 in the drivers points standings, but need to clear the multiple wins hurdle. It's possible that no drivers will clinch a Chase berth this weekend if a driver wins his first race of the season or an already-clinched driver wins. XFINITY Series The XFINITY Series Chase doesn't begin until September as well, but several drivers are looking to close their playoff position up with a win. At present, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez and Elliott Sadler are locked into the postseason. Below are the Chase-clinching scenarios for XFINITY drivers at Iowa this weekend. Possible to clinch: Ty Dillon (0 Wins, 558 Points , +460 Points Ahead of 31st) – Can clinch with a win. Justin Allgaier (0 Wins, 542 Points , +444 Points Ahead of 31st) – Can clinch with a win. Brendan Gaughan (0 Wins, 535 Points , +437 Points Ahead of 31st) – Can clinch with a win. Brandon Jones (0 Wins, 520 Points , +422 Points Ahead of 31st) – Can clinch with a win. Brennan Poole (0 Wins, 519 Points , +421 Points Ahead of 31st) – Can clinch with a win. Darrell Wallace Jr. (0 Wins, 486 Points , +388 Points Ahead of 31st) – Can clinch with a win. Ryan Reed (0 Wins, 433 Points , +335 Points Ahead of 31st) – Can clinch with a win. Ryan Sieg (0 Wins, 420 Points , +322 Points Ahead of 31st) – Can clinch with a win. Blake Koch (0 Wins, 403 Points , +305 Points Ahead of 31st) – Can clinch with a win. Camping World Truck Series The Camping World Truck Series Chase doesn't begin until September, but several drivers are looking to firm up their playoff position up with a win. At present, only William Byron and Matt Crafton are locked into the postseason. Below are the Chase-clinching scenarios for Camping World Truck Series drivers at Pocono this weekend. Possible to clinch: Johnny Sauter (1 Win, 253 Points , +207 Points Ahead of 31st) – He has clinched a Top 30, but needs to join the multiple winners club in order to clinch a Chase berth, so he only clinches with a win. Christopher Bell (1 Win, 245 Points , +199 Points Ahead of 31st) – He has clinched a Top 30, but needs to join the multiple winners club in order to clinch a Chase berth, so he only clinches with a win. John Hunter Nemechek (1 Win, 232 Points , +186 Points Ahead of 31st) – He has clinched a Top 30, but needs to join the multiple winners club in order to clinch a Chase berth, so he only clinches with a win.
Duval earns first victory after chaotic finish at Indy
Dylan Duval ( The TEAM ) scored his first career victory in the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series by turning a pit mistake into the race lead and holding off PJ Stergios ( ineX Racing ) and Ray Alfalla ( Slip Angle Motorsports ) on two late-race restarts to win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Duval had run in the top 10 for much of the event before a strange turn of events saw him capture the lead with nine laps remaining. As the laps ticked down, Duval had miscalculated the amount of fuel needed to finish the race and had to pit under green with 15 laps to go. After the stop, Duval was 33rd in the running order with seemingly no chance at earning a solid finish. However, the caution flew two laps later with Duval still on the lead lap. Nearly every lead lap car pitted for tires, leaving Duval to restart in second position, with fresh tires, alongside Trey Eidson's ( Aftermath Motorsports ) damaged car. On the ensuing restart, Duval quickly overhauled Eidson, who dropped back before being involved in a crash off Turn 2. The caution was a blessing for Duval, who was trying to hold off the two most dominant drivers in the field -- Stergios and Alfalla, but four more potential green flag laps still stood between him and the checkered flag. When the green flew again, Duval jumped out front after a great restart, but Stergios quickly erased the small margin and was hot on the leader's tail as they headed down the backstretch. Although he was close, Stergios was not quite in position to challenge for the lead and elected to ride in line as Duval passed under the start-finish line marking three laps to go. As he did on the prior lap, Stergios got a run off Turn 2 and this time Duval blocked the bottom line. Instead of forcing the issue, Stergios took the high side, attempting to set up a pass off Turn 4. He never had the opportunity, as a crash back in the field triggered another caution, ending the race with Duval the improbable victor. Stergios was second while Alfalla finished third after leading a race-high 56 of 100 laps. Justin Bolton came home fourth and Mitchell Hunt ( High Performance Motorsports ) rounded out the top five. As has been the case for much of the season, Stergios and Alfalla had the cars to beat, leading a combined 79 laps. Stergios had the first crack at the lead after Kenny Humpe's connection trouble allowed Stergios to inherit the pole. It was Alfalla, though, who had the most speed on the long runs, but eight cautions broke up the race into relatively short sprints. Even with the race not playing to his strength, Alfalla held the lead after passing Stergios with 17 laps to go, and looked poised to take his second win of the season before Duval's unlikely strategy was made possible by a timely yellow. With Stergios (454) finishing just ahead of Alfalla (467), and Alfalla earning the bonus point for most laps led, the championship picture remains unchanged at a 13-point margin after Indy. Jake Stergios is third, 98 points back of the lead and nine in front of Chris Overland. Humpe (350) fell to fifth after a 40th-place result due to a crash after his connection issues put him back in the sim racing traffic, while Duval's win propelled him to sixth in the standings with 347 points . Only five races remain in the 2016 NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series, all on unique tracks. Next up is the lone road course date on the calendar, Watkins Glen International. The 2.45-mile road course features high speeds, tight racing, and a chance for some unexpected faces to shine at the front of the field. Alfalla, Humpe, and the Stergios brothers have been strong on road courses in the past but look for sim racers such as Michael Conti and Nick Ottinger to be contenders as well. Can Alfalla keep his points lead after an unpredictable race or will PJ Stergios use his extensive road racing experience to close the gap? Catch all the action on iRacingLive in two weeks' time to find out!
NASCAR reveals start times for 2017 races
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- NASCAR, along with FOX Sports and NBC Sports, today announced 2017 race start times and network coverage for the NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series -- based on the previously released schedule dates . Through collaborative efforts with its broadcast partners, race teams and tracks, NASCAR was able to finalize full 2017 start times for all three national series almost six months earlier than in recent seasons. Seventeen national series events will start closer to primetime, helping to bring NASCAR's photo finishes and close, side-by-side racing to larger audiences. Seventeen NASCAR Cup Series points races will air on broadcast television next year, including the DAYTONA 500 and Coca-Cola 600 on FOX; and the Brickyard 400 and the NASCAR Cup Series championship race, the Ford EcoBoost 400 from Homestead-Miami Speedway, on NBC. "It's our responsibility, collectively as an industry, to ensure the sport is healthy, strong and growing by delivering great racing in a way that best meets the needs of our fans," said Steve Herbst, senior vice president, broadcasting and production at NASCAR. "Earlier insight on start times benefits not only fans, but also our teams and tracks, as it provides more opportunities to plan travel and to purchase race tickets." Since the initial release of the 2017 schedule, NASCAR and its partners have shifted two dates for the NASCAR XFINITY Series and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Road America will move to Sunday, August 27, on NBC. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park will now take place on Sunday, September 3, airing on FS1 prior to the NASCAR Cup Series event at Darlington Raceway on NBCSN. Looking ahead to the 2018 season, the DAYTONA 500 will move to Sunday, February 18, during Presidents Day weekend. NASCAR and its partners are working collaboratively on the remainder of the 2018 schedule, which will be finalized and released at a later date. In addition to watching the live broadcast, fans can catch all the on-track action by visiting NASCAR.com, downloading the NASCAR Mobile app or live streaming on FOX Sports Go and the NBC Sports app. Fans can also listen to Motor Racing Network (MRN), Performance Racing Network (PRN), IMS Radio Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90, throughout the season. 2017 NASCAR Cup Series Schedule Date Location Network Race Start Radio 2/18 The Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway FS1 8 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 2/19 DAYTONA 500 Qualifying at Daytona International Speedway FOX 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 2/23 Can-Am Duel at Daytona International Speedway FS1 7 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 2/26 DAYTONA 500 at Daytona International Speedway FOX 2 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 3/5 Atlanta Motor Speedway FOX 2:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 3/12 Las Vegas Motor Speedway FOX 3:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 3/19 Phoenix International Raceway FOX 3:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 3/26 Auto Club Speedway FOX 3:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 4/2 Martinsville Speedway FS1 2 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 4/9 Texas Motor Speedway FOX 1:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 4/23 Bristol Motor Speedway FOX 2 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 4/30 Richmond International Raceway FOX 2 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 5/7 Talladega Superspeedway FOX 2 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 5/13 Kansas Speedway FS1 7:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 5/20 NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway FS1 6 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 5/28 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway FOX 6 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 6/4 Dover International Speedway FS1 1 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/11 Pocono Raceway FS1 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/18 Michigan International Speedway FS1 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/25 Sonoma Raceway FS1 3 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 7/1 Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway NBC 7:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 7/8 Kentucky Speedway NBCSN 7:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 7/16 New Hampshire Motor Speedway NBCSN 3 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 7/23 Indianapolis Motor Speedway NBC 3 p.m. IMS / SiriusXM 7/30 Pocono Raceway NBCSN 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 8/6 Watkins Glen International NBCSN 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 8/13 Michigan International Speedway NBCSN 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 8/19 Bristol Motor Speedway NBC 7:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 9/3 Darlington Raceway NBCSN 6 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/9 Richmond International Raceway NBCSN 7:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/17 Chicagoland Speedway NBCSN 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/24 New Hampshire Motor Speedway NBCSN 2 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 10/1 Dover International Speedway NBCSN 2 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 10/7 Charlotte Motor Speedway NBCSN 7 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 10/15 Talladega Superspeedway NBC 2 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 10/22 Kansas Speedway NBCSN 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 10/29 Martinsville Speedway NBCSN 1 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 11/5 Texas Motor Speedway NBC 2 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 11/12 Phoenix International Raceway NBC 2:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 11/19 Homestead-Miami Speedway NBC 2:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 2017 NASCAR XFINITY Series Schedule Date Location Network Race Start Radio 2/25 Daytona International Speedway FS1 3:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 3/4 Atlanta Motor Speedway FS1 1:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 3/11 Las Vegas Motor Speedway FS1 4 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 3/18 Phoenix International Raceway FOX 4 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 3/25 Auto Club Speedway FS1 4 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 4/8 Texas Motor Speedway FOX 1:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 4/22 Bristol Motor Speedway FS1 12:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 4/29 Richmond International Raceway FS1 12:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 5/6 Talladega Superspeedway FOX 1 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 5/27 Charlotte Motor Speedway FS1 1 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 6/3 Dover International Speedway FS1 1 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/10 Pocono Raceway FOX 1 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/17 Michigan International Speedway FS1 1:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/24 Iowa Speedway FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/30 Daytona International Speedway NBCSN 7:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 7/7 Kentucky Speedway NBCSN 8 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 7/15 New Hampshire Motor Speedway NBCSN 4 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 7/22 Indianapolis Motor Speedway NBCSN 3:30 p.m. IMS / SiriusXM 7/29 Iowa Speedway NBC 3:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 8/5 Watkins Glen International NBCSN 2 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 8/12 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course NBCSN 3:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 8/18 Bristol Motor Speedway NBCSN 7:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 8/27 Road America NBC 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/2 Darlington Raceway NBCSN 3:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/8 Richmond International Raceway NBCSN 7:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/16 Chicagoland Speedway NBCSN 3:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/23 Kentucky Speedway NBCSN 8 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 9/30 Dover International Speedway NBCSN 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 10/6 Charlotte Motor Speedway NBCSN 8 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 10/21 Kansas Speedway NBC 3 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 11/4 Texas Motor Speedway NBCSN 8:30 p.m. PRN / SiriusXM 11/11 Phoenix International Raceway NBC 3:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 11/18 Homestead-Miami Speedway NBCSN 3:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Schedule Date Location Network Race Start Radio 2/24 Daytona International Speedway FS1 7:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 3/4 Atlanta Motor Speedway FS1 4:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 4/1 Martinsville Speedway FS1 2:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 5/12 Kansas Speedway FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 5/19 Charlotte Motor Speedway FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/2 Dover International Speedway FS1 5:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/9 Texas Motor Speedway FS1 8 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/17 Gateway Motorsports Park FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 6/23 Iowa Speedway FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 7/6 Kentucky Speedway FS1 7:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 7/19 Eldora Speedway FS1 9 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 7/29 Pocono Raceway FS1 1 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 8/12 Michigan International Speedway FS1 1 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 8/16 Bristol Motor Speedway FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/3 Canadian Tire Motorsport Park FS1 2:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/15 Chicagoland Speedway FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/23 New Hampshire Motor Speedway FS1 1 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 9/30 Las Vegas Motor Speedway FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 10/14 Talladega Superspeedway FOX 1 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 10/28 Martinsville Speedway FS1 1:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 11/3 Texas Motor Speedway FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 11/10 Phoenix International Raceway FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM 11/17 Homestead-Miami Speedway FS1 8 p.m. MRN / SiriusXM All times eastern. Subject to change.
Hard tires, reworked curbing present challenges at repaved Watkins Glen
RELATED: Before and after: Watkins Glen repave WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams wrapped up a two-day organizational test Wednesday at newly repaved Watkins Glen International, emerging with better ideas of the challenges they'll face when the series returns for the Aug. 4-7 race weekend. Among those challenges: reworked curbing, a fast circuit and a harder-compound tire that has made grip elusive. A total of 16 Sprint Cup teams -- one permitted from each organization -- tried to unlock the novelty of the $12 million resurfacing project, using a Goodyear tire that emphasizes durability at the expense of traction and wear. The rubber compound chosen is similar to that used July 9 at Kentucky Speedway, site of the Sprint Cup Series' most recent race on a repaved track. At Kentucky, the tire selection made for treacherous conditions in certain spots and made passing a delicate process. Though road courses don't lend themselves to the multi-groove racing seen at several well-aged oval tracks, Watkins Glen might still be a tricky place to maneuver when the series reconvenes for the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen. "The main thing we've learned so far is how hard the tire is," said Jamie McMurray, driver of the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1 Chevrolet. "It just seems to be no wear at all or lap time fall-off right now. This place didn't ever wear tires like Sonoma, but it seems like the tire is pretty hard." Sonoma, the other road course where the Sprint Cup Series races, is a much more intricate circuit with qualifying speeds roughly 30 mph slower than at Watkins Glen's open, free-wheeling layout. The Goodyear tire compound designated for both the Watkins Glen test and the race weekend is the same used for right-side tires in XFINITY Series competition at Iowa Speedway. Those Iowa right-sides will be used at all four corners for the Sprint Cup event at the 2.45-mile road course. Racing with a softer tire with more adhesion would potentially introduce the threat of excessive wear or blistering. It's a trade-off that Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Chase Elliott says he's willing to accept. "I think a lot of it is just having a fresh surface like this, you've got to have a tire that's pretty hard," said Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports' driver representative for the two-day test. "It's fast, and to ask a tire to hold up, you've got to bring something that's durable. It puts Goodyear in a tough spot, but I think they do a good job of trying to make the most of tough situations. There's been a lot of repaves here lately and I know they're working hard." David Groseclose, NASCAR's lead tire engineer, said Wednesday that the benefits of competing with a more rigid rubber compound outweighed the potential drawbacks. "As with all repaves -- same thing as Kentucky -- if you don't have a hard tire, you're going to blister them up," Groseclose said. "The way that works is if you've got a soft compound and you use it, the soft compounds tend to retain heat. It's just the nature of a soft compound. But on a repave, it's not going to wear so that heat's not going to be dissipated out of the tire. It has nowhere to go, so it stays in the tire, so that's why it blisters up. That's what we saw at Kentucky with the XFINITY and Truck Series." In addition to the surface itself, the track features new concrete for the rumble strips that border the circuit's turns and run-off areas. Some drivers found the differences barely noticeable, but Kurt Busch discovered a distinction the hard way with an early Tuesday spin as he bounded over the apex points in the backstretch chicane on one of his initial laps. "It's a lot different," said Tony Gibson, Busch's crew chief on the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Chevrolet. "Kurt's like, 'I've got to learn all the curbs again.' The curbs over in the bus stop (chicane) are probably the biggest change. They're way more aggressive, and they've tightened up, so it's a lot tighter lane through there." Said Elliott, who will race here in Sprint Cup for the first time next weekend: "Some of the curbs may be a little different here or there, some a little rougher, a little smoother just depending on how they laid the asphalt in or however it worked. It's as close as you could make a track from an old surface to a repave, for sure." Five Sprint Cup teams participated in a Goodyear tire test May 10-11, and another 16 were present for this week's organizational test. For the remaining half of the field, the work toward finding the proper handle begins with opening practice on Friday, Aug. 5. "If you get your balance right, it'll be a no-drama," Gibson said. "Man, I told Kurt earlier, 'I'd hate to know I had to come here next Friday and hit the track for the first time and try to figure out these curbs and how much the race track has changed.' It'll be a handful in the short amount of time we get to practice. "It'll be interesting to see when we come back who has issues and who doesn't. But it's definitely going to be a plus to come and learn the race track, even if your car is not right or whatever, just getting here and getting behind the wheel and getting time on the race track is going to mean more." Pit notes: -- The full roster (in alphabetical order) of drivers and teams participating in the test: AJ Allmendinger (JTG Daugherty Racing), Ryan Blaney (Wood Brothers Racing), Clint Bowyer (HScott Motorsports), Chris Buescher (Front Row Motorsports), Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas Racing), Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing), Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing), Chase Elliott (Hendrick Motorsports), Brad Keselowski (Team Penske), Michael McDowell (Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing), Jamie McMurray (Chip Ganassi Racing), Casey Mears (Germain Racing), Brian Scott (Richard Petty Motorsports), Regan Smith (Tommy Baldwin Racing), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Roush Fenway Racing), Martin Truex Jr. (Furniture Row Racing). -- Casey Mears turned the fastest lap in the two-day test, which was divided into four sessions of four hours apiece. Mears pushed the Germain Racing No. 13 Chevrolet in the closing session to a best lap of 126.7 mph, a good bit slower than the track qualifying record of 129.491 mph set by Marcos Ambrose in August 2014. -- Brad Keselowski returned to the track Wednesday, one day after his severe, nearly head-on crash in Turn 1. He turned 74 laps over both sessions in a reserve Team Penske No. 2 Ford. -- Two teams -- Furniture Row Racing (driver Martin Truex Jr.) and Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing (driver Michael McDowell) -- were absent from testing's opening day, arriving in the Watkins Glen garage Wednesday in time for the two closing sessions. -- Wednesday's final session was extended 30 minutes to a 5:30 p.m. ET close because of a nearly hour-long clean-up for fluid on the track. After Chase Elliott's No. 24 Chevrolet suffered a broken axle, Clint Bowyer's No. 15 Chevy ran over the part, damaging the car's transmission. -- NASCAR XFINITY Series teams are scheduled to turn their first laps on the new Watkins Glen surface next Thursday. The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East will stage a support race the following day on the 2.45-mile course.
Almirola reflects on career, heritage as he makes 200th start
Aric Almirola insists he was absolutely prepared to climb into his No. 43 Smithfield Ford this Sunday for the Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway completely focused on nothing other than scoring a victory and working toward earning a position in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. But his public relations team brought up an important milestone that even he conceded was definitely worth noting, if not celebrating. This Sunday's race marks the 32-year old Almirola's 200th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start -- a significant measure of his staying power and a testament to how far he's come. Literally. He is the son of a Cuban immigrant on his dad's side of the family and the grandson of one of Florida's most celebrated and accomplished racers -- Sam Rodriguez -- on his mom's side. That has created a unique background dynamic that gives Almirola motivation and pride. And makes this weekend a heartfelt measure of success. "I think here I am and my dad came over from Cuba and 50 years later I'm making my 200th start in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Richard Petty," Almirola said. "It's so crazy to me, what living in this country affords you and allows you to be able to do, and my grandparents made that decision to come over here and take this chance." The sheer number of starts represents a mark of opportunity for Almirola. Making it into NASCAR's big league was always the harder path, the road less travelled. But he has made it. And that's only the beginning. "I don't think anybody dreams about running two hundred races, they dream about 'a' race," Almirola said. "So as a kid I dreamed about driving 'a' Cup car, running 'a' race. So, now the fact I've had the opportunity to do it two hundred times, when you realize that, and the marketing department brings to your attention that, 'Hey, Pocono is going to be your 200th start,' it really makes you kind of reflect on everything that's led up to this. "From being a kid racing go-karts all the way up to all the opportunities I've had. I realize by reflecting on all that stuff how fortunate and blessed I am." The thing is, Almirola could have just as easily been a star baseball player as a winning NASCAR driver. His native city of Tampa, Florida is a ballplayer's town. It produced Wade Boggs and Lou Piniella. Both Dwight Gooden and Gary Sheffield graduated from Almirola's Hillsborough High School. A calendar year in this part of the country has traditionally been delineated by baseball and football seasons. That just makes Almirola's success climbing the NASCAR ranks even more impressive. "I was in somewhat of a hot bed there for athletes," Almirola said smiling. "But I had a really strong passion for racing and I know that made me somewhat of an outsider at school growing up. When friends would ask, 'Hey what are you doing this weekend?' I'd say, I was going racing. "That kind of separated me from a lot of kids at school -- not in a bad way, I wasn't an outcast in a negative way, but I didn't have as close a relationship with kids at school because I didn't go parties at their house Friday night after football games. I was always working on my race cars or go-karts and racing on the weekends. "I wasn't looking for something to do on the weekend. I already had it." "I was always going to be a NASCAR guy. My grandfather raced sprint cars, so obviously the open wheel path was there, too. He'd race at East Bay every Saturday night and occasionally travel around the country going to races. But every Sunday it was normal, to get up, eat breakfast, hang around the house and then watch the Cup race. That was routine around my parents and my grandparents. We love NASCAR." The result for Almirola has been a starring role driving his sport's most iconic car -- the No. 43 -- for the sport's biggest legend, Petty. NASCAR's crown jewel, Daytona International Speedway, is also Almirola's "home track" and fittingly the venue he won his first Sprint Cup Series race in 2014, the Coke Zero 400 -- exactly 30 years after his boss Petty scored his historic 200th victory at the track. Consider this: Petty's win total would be equivalent to Almirola winning every start he's made. RELATED: Almirola's Darlington scheme honors Petty " Darlington schemes Though that remains the only Cup victory so far for Almirola, it was enough to propel him into the 2014 Chase and make him only more eager to return. His team's best finish this year is a 12th-place in the season-opening Daytona 500. He's had four top-15 showings -- three in the season's opening four races. He ranks 25th in points entering Pocono, hopeful to score a win in one of the remaining six races to set the 16-driver Chase field. "I think the reality is we have struggled this season and you can tell by watching the race and looking at our results," Almirola said. "This year has been a struggle and we can't really put our finger on what's wrong. People often ask what's wrong and it sounds like a smart-aleck answer, but if I knew, we'd fix it. "There are a couple places looking ahead that have been strong for us. Bristol comes to top of mind. We had a chance to win there a couple years ago battling with Carl Edwards. And then there's (regular season finale) Richmond. Last year we went there kinda do or die to make the Chase and finished fourth, but had a really strong car and a legitimate chance to win that race, too. Those are kind of top of mind to me where we might go in and get a win." Listening to Almirola reflect on his first 200 races, there is both a fond memory of what it took to get to this point and a distinct urgency in his voice to succeed in a way worthy of the hard work already put in. "Making my 200th start really forces me to reflect and when I do that and think about doing it for Richard Petty, who is very much an American icon. And I can't help but reflect on my family, which has done so much and sacrificed so much to get me where I'm at," Almirola said. "It really is amazing."
Superspeedway cars will get safety enhancements in Sprint Cup and XFINITY series
NASCAR will implement structural enhancements to vehicles competing in the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series next season for races at its two biggest facilities, Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, in an effort to provide additional protection to its competitors. A rules bulletin to teams Thursday detailed the safety measures which affect the front firewall and foot box areas, rear roll cage area behind the driver as well as along the left side door area of the driver's compartment. Referred to as anti-intrusion panels, the thickness of the pieces has been increased for additional strength and to allow each to be welded more significantly, according to officials. The structural changes, part of NASCAR's on-going comprehensive safety initiative, strengthen the interior area of the car surrounding the driver. "We've been doing a very significant body of work over the last year and a half," Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR Vice President of Innovation and Racing Development, said Thursday. "… We've done quite a bit of analysis, crash testing and we've come to the point now that we believe that the package is mature and we want to introduce it. The changes impact existing pieces already in use with one minor exception -- a new piece of material has been added behind the driver that extends from the existing anti-intrusion plating on the door bars into the rear sub frame. The changes are not expected to adversely affect the weight of the vehicle or change center of gravity, impacting balance. "Basically we are making the structure that encapsulates the driver more robust and susceptible to manage energy in a better way," Stefanyshyn said. "It's been implemented … with the teams so that it can be done in the most efficient, quickest and easiest way." By making the enhancements optional for 2016, they could be implemented for this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Talladega, the only remaining event to be held on a superspeedway. The new pieces will be mandatory on superspeedways for 2017 and likely for all events in '18. Defending Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch suffered a broken right leg and fractured left foot in February of 2015 when his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota struck a wall front-end first during an XFINITY Series race at Daytona. Busch missed the first 11 points races of the season due to the injuries. The area of impact in the Busch crash was not protected by SAFER barrier at the time; it has since been added. SAFER barrier is a softer, energy-dissipating material mounted on the track wall. Earlier this year, driver Danica Patrick was involved in a similar crash at Talladega, however the wall was protected by SAFER barrier. Other than bruising and some soreness, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver was not injured. RELATED: Danica discusses Talladega wreck Even with the SAFER barrier, Patrick's impact bent the gas, brake and clutch pedals inside her No. 10 Chevrolet and according to Greg Zipadelli, Vice President of Competition for SHR, "the steering column was moved a ton. "But it was intact," he said a week after the incident. "They've been talking about doing some work in the foot box (area); I think this is the perfect case of what happened. Would that help? I think it probably would have. I think she's lucky she has short legs. Her feet got banged up but once she got going in that direction, she said she just kind of picked her feet up." Patrick underwent x-rays in the infield care center at Talladega and told FOX Sports 1 a week later when the series was at Kansas Speedway that she felt "totally fine." "I've got a couple of bruises; my arm came across and bent the steering wheel," she said. "My foot went past the clutch pedal and came back on (after hitting the wall) … I've got a couple of bruises but I feel really good." Zipadelli said the sport "has come a long way" in the area of safety. "You think about what happened a bunch of years ago, compare these cars," he said. "We're going faster; these guys are hauling the mail every place we go now. When they do wreck, knock on wood, there aren't many complaints. I think they've done a really good job."
From the Vault: Stewart scores special win for SHR at Pocono
Tony Stewart won Stewart-Haas Racing's first NASCAR event in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race in 2009. In June, at Pocono, Stewart scored the first points -paying victory for his organization.
Fast facts about NASCAR's team owner Charter system
RELATED: NASCAR announces landmark new ownership structure NASCAR Chairman & CEO Brian France joined with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team owners on Tuesday in Charlotte, North Carolina, to announce a landmark long-term agreement on an owner Charter system . The agreement provides teams with an increased business certainty and the ability to work more closely with NASCAR to continue to produce best-in-class racing. Below are fast facts about the comprehensive agreement. • This long-term agreement is for nine years. • There are 36 Charter teams, currently from among 19 organizations. The number 36 was not pre-determined -- NASCAR analyzed which teams showed a long-term commitment to the sport by attempting to qualify every week for the past three years. That criteria yielded 36 Charters. • Because of the above criteria, the following teams do not have Charters: the No. 19 of Joe Gibbs Racing , the No. 21 of Wood Brothers Racing , the No. 41 of Stewart-Haas Racing and the No. 46 of HScott Motorsports . • A Charter guarantees entry into the field of every Sprint Cup Series points race. Qualifying speeds still determine the lineup. • Sprint Cup Series fields will shift from 43 cars to 40 cars. That means 36 Charter teams are guaranteed to make every points race, and four non-Charter (or "open") teams will complete the rest of the field. • Charter owners may transfer their Charter to another team, for one full season, once over the first five years of the agreement. • Charter teams are held to a minimum performance standard. If a Charter team finishes in the bottom three of the owner standings among all 36 Charter teams for three consecutive years, NASCAR has a right to remove the charter. • Teams may sell their Charters on the open market. • Organizations now have a hard cap of four cars; there will be no fifth car for rookie drivers.
Albert: A true win-win in Charter system
RELATED: NASCAR announces landmark new ownership structure If there was ever a perfect anecdote to illustrate how hard NASCAR executives and the alliance of Sprint Cup team owners worked to reach their historic Charter agreement this offseason, it's the one provided by Brian France himself. The NASCAR Chairman and CEO offered a glimpse with his Tuesday remarks, providing visions of working the phones on Christmas Eve against the backdrop of gift wrap, trimmed trees and mulled cider. In addition to pushing through the typically sacrosanct time around the holidays, France also navigated around offseason knee surgery to help broker the deal. But a more evident, powerful visual from both sides came during Tuesday's groundbreaking announcement. When the eight representatives -- four from NASCAR's executive board and four from the team ownership group -- took the stage, each sat intermingled across company ranks. No divisions. When the Race Team Alliance formed in July 2014 with the hopes of providing owners a unified voice and a path to a better financial model, France was among the early skeptics, telling SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that he didn't think such a coalition was necessary. A year and a half later and with any battle lines erased, the eight reps sat on stage in harmony -- loose, amiable, and with both sides sharing smiles and the feeling of mutual benefit. "To me, this is the second-most important thing that's ever happened in NASCAR, because now the drivers and owners and stuff now can really work across the aisle," said King Richard Petty, who ranked Tuesday's landmark announcement behind only the meetings that set the foundation for NASCAR's formation in 1947 and '48. "I was telling him a while ago, it's sort of like the Democrats and Republicans, they've been doing their thing, we've been doing our thing, meeting in the middle a little bit. We're getting rid of that. We're all going to be in the middle of the deal now." Based on the newfound collegiality, the Congressional halls in Washington could take a cue from the boardrooms of Charlotte and Daytona Beach. Though both sides had to yield on certain points to reach a compromise, each emerged with a considerable number of positives to create a true win-win scenario from the nine-year agreement. For team owners, the plusses include stability and palpable value for their Charters, an enticing selling point for sponsors. The agreement also provides a share of revenue, which may conceivably help smaller-budget teams reinvest and make modest performance gains on their well-heeled competitors within the Charter system . For NASCAR, the premier stock-car series stands to benefit from seeing its current Charter members thrive, but also in seeing value build for prospective new sponsors and owners. The sanctioning body will retain a firm grasp on its governance of the on-track product, but the newly forged bonds of cooperation and open communication with its team owners should buoy the sport for many years. WATCH: France calls Tuesday a 'historic day in NASCAR' "It's not surprising there were a lot of different opinions, lots of different perspectives expressed during the process," said Roush Fenway Racing president Steve Newmark. "You expect that with the diversity in our sport that we have. There was always an unwavering commitment to a single goal, a single mission. That was to make our sport better and stronger for our fans and partners. That commitment translated into a willingness of everyone involved to pursue and explore a complete paradigm shift in how we operate and to create a much stronger and stable foundation going forward. "If you poll everyone involved in this process, the prevailing sentiment would be the collaborative precedent we set during this process bodes very well for our future." The spirit of collaboration -- with team owners, with tracks in reaching a five-year sanctioning deal last October, and with the drivers' council that was created just last season -- represents a major advancement for NASCAR's brass. It's a reason why France, when asked what his father and predecessor, Bill France Jr., would think about the Charter agreement, politely joked that he'd expect a largely conservative approach. But this isn't your father's NASCAR, or even France's father's NASCAR. That both sides drew inspiration from the ownership models of other professional sports such as the NFL, European soccer and cricket -- cricket! -- rams that point home. NASCAR has long operated under a system with its participants acting as independent contractors. Now team owners can claim a degree of equity for their investment in an expensive sport. "We always have said, because we mean it, that our owners and their success and their viability is very important to us," France said. "That remains true yesterday; it remains true today. But these agreements and this new course that we're on today gives us a chance to really back that up. We get to align our interests in a way we never thought we could. I'm excited about that. We're going to be partners in a different way going forward. I couldn't be more thrilled." France and the team owners may have interrupted their holidays to keep hammering away at negotiations in the face of a hard deadline -- the season-opening Daytona 500 -- looming just several weeks off. The culmination of those efforts made a historic holiday all its own, turning an otherwise ordinary Tuesday in February into a turning point for stock-car racing.