Road Course Ringers

Everytime NASCAR heads to the road course there are a few familiar faces and new names that arrive at the track. This past weekend. Road course ringers at Sonoma included Billy Johnson, Alon Day, Josh Bilicki, Boris Said, and Kevin O’Connell.

 

The age of more than 10 road course ringers arriving at the track are gone. Road course racing was something that the normal drivers were not privy too. Many teams would commission these “ringers” to race at Sonoma and Watkins Glen.

 

These drivers are considered the best of the best on road courses. However, when they arrive at road course on the NASCAR circuit, that knowledge seems to disappear. The highest driver to finish of the “ringers” was Johnson, who finished 22nd on Sunday.

 

The days of the road course ringer is finished.

 

Silly Season

Discussions about silly season in the NASCAR world have arose over the past week. After a fairly calm silly season in 2016, 2017 is going to be considered “crazy”.

 

The biggest domino to fall will be who will replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 car for 2018. Earnhardt Jr. will retire at the end of the season. Once the domino falls, the rest of silly season will ramp up.

 

Another discussion is what will happen to Danica Patrick and Kasey Kahne at the end of this season. Both drivers have not had the performance in recent years, which is taking its toll on both drivers. The future of Kahne and Patrick will be crucial in how silly season unfolds.

 

Eldora Channel move

 

On the Iowa NASCAR Camping World Truck Series broadcast, FOX Sports announced that the Eldora event for the Truck series will be broadcasted on FOX Business Network.

 

FOX Sports is slated to air soccer on Fox Sports 1, instead of NASCAR. The soccer event is the CONCACAF Gold Cup Quarterfinal that is expected to feature the U.S. Men’s National team.

 

This is not the first time that a race has been started on FOX Business Network.

 

Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, was not to thrilled about the switch to FOX Business and expressed his concerns on social media.

 

 

Iowa Speedway

Every time the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the Camping World Truck Series goes to Iowa Speedway the calls for a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event to be run at the Newton, Iowa facility is amplified.

 

There are numerous problems with that statement. Fans complain that the Xfinity Series and Truck series mimics the Cup series. Because they are the only series to race at Iowa, this allows for them to keep what little identity they have left.

 

Another problem with Iowa Speedway is the infrastructure. Iowa Speedway does not have the infrastructure around its facility to potentially host the Cup series with the other two series.

 

Another issue to highlight is that NASCAR, International Speedway Corporation, and Speedway Motorsports Inc. are locked into five year sanctioning agreements that expire in 2020. What many fans tend to forget is that NASCAR owns Iowa Speedway. ISC and SMI have had numerous Sherman Anti-Trust lawsuits filed against them because of their stronghold on the NASCAR schedule.

 

Stage Racing at road courses

 

Whenever stage racing was announced back in January, drivers, fans, and media were curious how this new competition enhancement would play out at road courses.

 

Stage racing at Sonoma played a crucial role in the first two stages as many drivers strived to pit before the pit lane was closed two laps before the end of the stage. Many positions were lost and gained in the first two stages based on the pit strategy of teams. The final stage at Sonoma went caution free as Kevin Harvick took to victory lane.

 

Stage racing seemed to be accepted by all parties involved.

In a game of saving fuel and varying strategies on pit road, Kevin Harvick scored the victory in the Toyota Save Mart 350 from Sonoma Raceway.

 

“I am so excited. I think as you look at it, getting our first win with Ford, this has been a great journey for us as an organization and team. Kurt winning the Daytona 500 and we have run well. Everybody from Bush, Jimmy John’s and Mobil 1, Outback, Hunt Brothers and everybody,” said Harvick. “It is a great day. It finally all came together and we were able to not have any cautions there at the end. Rodney had great strategy and I was able to take care of the car and get out front. I felt like the 78 was the car we had to race and then he had problems and from there we were in control.”

 

This is Harvick’s first victory of 2017 and his first victory at Sonoma Raceway. Harvick also won the NASCAR K&N Pro Series race from Sonoma the day before. This is Harvick’s 36th career victory. This is Ford’s 656th win in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

 

After a spin earlier in the race and a late race charge, Clint Bowyer finished in the second position.

 

“You get there back in traffic and you’re so much faster than them you have to check up to save a mistake. You run over them and you don’t mean to; you get frustrated and get a little bit farther behind and a little bit farther behind. I saw the 42 check up and I get into him and I was thinking, ‘Well, we’ll both survive this’. And then all of a sudden the 47 was coming through him and I smoked him and hurt the left front,” said Bowyer. “We were fast all weekend. With clean air and an long run, that’s always my strong suit. We got the long run, we just hard to start dead last to get it.”

 

After pitting from the lead for fresh tires and fuel with 22 laps remaining, Brad Keselowski was able to finish in the third position.

 

“The Freightliner Ford was really good today. We didn’t have the qualifying fun we wanted. We had amazing race pace. That’s a credit to everyone at Team Penske. It felt really good. I just wish I could run this race again I think I might have had better car than driver today and I learned a lot. Just an amazing fun day,” said Keselowski

 

Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top-10.

 

There were 13 different lead changes among 10 different drivers. Martin Truex, Jr. led the most laps at 25. The caution flag flew six times for 12 laps.

 

Next up for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is a return trip to Daytona International Speedway for the Coke Zero 400. The race will be on Saturday, July 1st on Motor Racing Network and NBC beginning at 7:30 p.m. EDT.

Kyle Larson will start from the pole in Sunday afternoon’s Toyota Save Mart 350 from Sonoma Raceway. This is the first time one team has swept the front row at Sonoma, and the third time in Chip Ganassi Racing in its history has swept the front row.

 

“I was surprised and I was happy about that. This is cool to get a pole on a road course at my home state. This is my closest track to Sacramento or Elk Grove where I grew up. I have lots of friends and family here. We’re going to celebrate with the team,” said Larson. “The Target Chevy was good. And then we’re going to head out to Calistoga and go watch some Sprint Car racing. So, I’m excited about that.”

 

As varying strategies played out during the opening round of qualifying, Chase Elliott was fastest at a speed of 95.371 mph. Martin Truex Jr. was second fastest at 95.265 mph. Kyle Busch was third fastest at 95.229 mph. Jamie McMurray was fourth fastest at 95.056 mph Chris Buescher rounded out the top-five with a speed of 95.051 mph. All drivers are able to participate on Sunday due to 38 cars being in the field. Because of an engine change, Matt Kenseth will start from the rear of the field as the team did not post a speed in qualifying. Notable drivers who did not advance to the final round include Clint Bowyer (P13), Denny Hamlin (P14), Kurt Busch (P17), Joey Logano (P18), Brad Keselowski (P23), and Jimmie Johnson (P24)

 

In the second round, Larson posted a speed of  95.295 mph to start from the pole. McMurray will start from the second position with his speed of 95.204 mph. Truex Jr. will start from the third position with his speed of 94.947 mph. Ky. Busch will start from the fourth position with his speed of 94.939 mph. AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top-five with his speed of 94.821 mph.

 

Patrick, Blaney, Elliott, Buescher, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top-10.

 

The Toyota Save-Mart 350 will be broadcasted on Fox Sports 1 and Performance Racing Network on Sunday at 3:00 p.m. EDT.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads west for the first road course event of the season, the Toyota Save Mart 350 from Sonoma Raceway. The event will be broken into three stages. The first two stages will be 25 laps in length, while the final stage will be 60 laps in length.

There are only 38 drivers on the entry list for this weekend at Sonoma. Because Sonoma is a road-course, there will be a few ringers in the field. Ringers participating this weekend at Sonoma include Boris Said, Kevin O’ConnellBilly Johnson, and Boris Said. Alon Day will become the first Israeli driver to participate in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series joining BK Racing.

Defending race winner, Tony Stewart, will not be in the event due to his retirement at the end of 2016.

This will be the 29th event from Sonoma Raceway. There have been 17 different pole winners while 18 different drivers have been able to find their way into victory lane. Only five races have been won from the pole with Jeff Gordon being the last driver to do so in 2004. In 2012, the race record was set by Clint Bowyer at 83.624 mph. in 2014, Jamie McMurray set the qualifying record at 96.35 mph.

Sonoma Raceway features more than 160 feet of elevation change. Over the course of the event, drivers will make over 1,100 left and right turns. The speedway has been named Sears Point and Infineon before Sonoma Raceway was landed on.

Teams will be using the same Goodyear tire code as last year. Teams will have four sets for practice, one set for qualifying and five sets for the race. Goodyear will also be bringing a wet weather tire in case it rains.

Drivers talk about the challenges of the California road course.

“I can’t wait to get out to Sonoma this weekend and make my first-career start at this historic road course. It will certainly be a challenge, but I know my STANLEY team is up for it. I was able to get some good work in on the TRD Simulator last week, so I think that will help me as I learn my way around the road course during the weekend. I also think the K&N race will be a huge help as well. I really enjoy road course racing and I’m really looking forward to returning out west and having a good weekend in the STANLEY Camry,” said Daniel Suarez, who will be making his first start at Sonoma.

"I think the hardest part of the road course is kind of containing your emotions because you are falling behind in so many corners because you cannot pass. You just kind of struggle mentally to not want to beat the guy up that you have in front of you, turn them around or whatever. You might have a fast car but there really is only two or three good passing zones on the track,” said Ryan Newman.

“Sonoma is a real technical racetrack,” Allmendinger said. “It’s like a short track. You are beating and banging on each other. You can make passes there. The tires go away quick, but if you can conserve the tires better you can make passes. It’s a challenging racetrack,” said AJ Allmendinger. The strategy has got you wondering when that last yellow is going to fall. If that yellow falls, do you pit, do you not pit? It’s a challenge from start to finish because the opportunity is there to make a lot of mistakes and slide off the racetrack or to run into each other, which makes for great racing. In the end, I think it puts on one of the best races. It’s a home race for me. So, hopefully, we’ll get the Kroger ClickList Chevy finally in Victory Lane or at least a top-10, a top-five, something!”

Teams will have two practice sessions on Friday, June 22nd at 3:00 p.m. EDT and 6:30 p.m. EDT. Teams will qualify on Saturday, June 24 at 2:30 p.m. EDT. The race will be run at 3:00 p.m. EDT on Sunday, June 25th. Everything from Sonoma Raceway will be broadcasted on Fox Sports 1 and Performance Racing Network.

BK facing turmoil?

Will BK Racing be around when it comes to the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season? In recent weeks, the future of the organization is up in the air. Ryan Sieg was in the car at Michigan that was driven by Gray Gaulding. Alon Day, the first Israeli driver to compete in Cup, will replace Gaulding at Sonoma this weekend. Gaulding and Sieg went to social media last week before Michigan to discuss what is going on. At Dover, Sieg was in the car for Corey LaJoie

Over the past couple of weeks, the organization has also reorganized their crew chiefs. Randy Cox moved from the No. 83 team and take over duties as the No. 23 crew chief. Doug George has been named as crew chief for the No. 83 Toyota. Patrick Donahue was relieved from his duties as crew chief for Gaulding after Pocono.

BK Racing has been the joke of many fans and drivers alike because the organization tends to bring out a caution each week.

Ron Devine told "The Pit Stop" on the Speedway Digest Radio Network earlier in the year that they would remain consistent with two drivers throughout the season no matter what and use a third car, if needed, for a rotisserie of drivers.

BK Racing only has one charter in 2017. In 2016, they had two, but over the offseason sold the charter to Front Row Motorsports then leased out to TriStar Motorsports. Because of the charter setup, Front Row will either have to start a third team or sell the charter they acquired.

On the preliminary entry list, BK Racing only has the entry for Alon Day at Sonoma.

Truck count at Gateway

Only 30 trucks in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series made their way to Gateway Motorsports Park this past weekend. At Texas Motor Speedway, the truck count was 28.

When the Truck field is paired with the Cup Series, the field is at capacity or teams are being sent home from the event.

Many fans and media were worried about the truck count. However, it is going to be ok. Many standalone events do not have a high enough purse for many teams to even consider showing up. It would usually be cheaper for a team to sit out of an event that doesn't pay well, than to show up and wrecking the vehicle. 

GMS Moves to Cup?

News broke early Saturday evening that GMS Racing could potentially field a team in the Cup Series. According to a report by Motorsport.com, that decision couple come within the next month.

This move would be welcomes as the Cup field has struggled to have 40 or more cars arrive at every single race. Although NASCAR deems a full field as 36, it is concerning that only a couple of "open" teams show up on a given weekend.

Last week, GMS Racing hired on Mike Ford to help run the Xfinity Series program. Ford was a Cup crew chief for Denny Hamlin and Bill Elliott resulting in 21 Cup wins.

With the lose of Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports lost a key player in the Cup series. The addition of GMS Racing would allow more information to be shared among teams at Chevrolet.

Because sponsorship and charters are crucial in Cup today, GMS and Maurice Gallagher are looking at running one car. However, if the move to Cup happens, the organization will use Spencer Gallagher for a test run.

It is also interesting to note that just a few short years ago, GMS Racing was a team that would be sent home for failing to qualify in Truck competition. Now, they are a power house in that series as well as a strong dark horse in the Xfinity series.

Standalones

It is a love hate relationship when it comes to standalone events in NASCAR’s top-three national divisions. In 2017, the Truck series will have a stand alone event at Texas, Gateway, Eldora, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, and Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The NASCAR Xfinity Series has standalone events at Kentucky, Iowa, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, and Road America.

In 2018, the Las Vegas Motor Speedway standalone for Trucks and the Xfinity standalone at Kentucky will be no more.

Standalone events have become more cost consuming for many teams. The Xfintiy Series has been called “Cup Lite” because of how many races they run with Cup. The viability of these series is contingent on the performance and presence of drivers in the Cup series.

The slogan for the Xfinity Series is “Names are Made Here”. That slogan is true in the fact that when an Xfinity regular is able to run alongside and compete against a Cup regular it shows that they can beat and compete against the “best of the best”.

The crowd at Gateway was one of the best that has been seen at a standalone event in quiet some time. However, not many Trucks arrived at Gateway.

NASCAR should look at potentially moving the Trucks away from contingent weekends with Cup and Xfinity, but look at ways to help promote the K&N Series at some of their own tracks. This could help NASCAR get reconnected with the grassroots of the sport, something that has been lost as NASCAR has become more corporate.

Debris cautions. 

Debris cautions have been a hot topic after the FireKeepers Casino 400 from Michigan International Speedway. The third to last caution was thrown for debris within the final 20 laps of the event. After that caution, the caution flag flew a total of two more times to do incidents on the restartL Tony Stewart went to Twitter to explain his frustrations:

NASCAR threw the caution for a trash bag on the racing surface, but did not throw the caution for debris due to a straw hat on the racing surface.

Scott Miller, NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Racing Competition, went on SiriusXM’s “The Morning Drive” to discuss this situation.

"We use all the resources that we have to try to identity what it is that is out there - that being camera, turn spotters and the communication that we've got around the race track to different people who may be able to see it," Miller said.

"If we are actually able to identify what it is and feel like it's something that is OK to leave out there, then we'll do so. But if we can't identify what it is exactly and it could pose something dangerous, then we'll usually, or almost always, error on the side of caution and safety and put the caution out in those circumstances. Sometimes it's untimely and a little bit unfortunate, but we do have to do our job and make sure that everybody is safe."

NASCAR needs to work with its TV partners to show why the caution was flown for debris. This will help clear the air of the black helicopters that encompass debris cautions.

Since instituting the “crash damaged vehicle” policy in 2017, the number of cautions for debris is at 12, while the number of debris cautions in 2016 were at 21.