A bit of a different start for the ’19 season

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Denny Hamlin, who didn’t win a race in 2018, started the ’19 season with a victory in NASCAR’s biggest event.

For the second time since 2016, Hamlin won the Daytona 500.

It was messy and long and it ended well after sundown but none of that mattered to Hamlin or his crew or the Joe Gibbs Racing organization. This one was for J.D.

J.D. Gibbs, 49, the former team president, died last month from complications due to a degenerative neurological disease.

There were decals in his honor on the JGR entries and Hamlin had previously announced that he was dedicating this season to his friend and pledging $111 for every lap he leads to the J.D. Gibbs Legacy Fund.

The effort supports Young Life Ministry, a program in which Gibbs, the eldest son of team owner Joe Gibbs, supported and actively participated.

Sunday, Hamlin led 30 circuits around the 2.5-mile superspeedway. A nice start for a very good cause.

“The whole (Gibbs) family, they did so much for me over the course of my career,” he said.

• Toyota drivers swept the top three spots, Hamlin was trailed by teammates Kyle Busch and Erik Jones across the stripe, and that pretty much completed the cycle from a manufacturer standpoint.

Each of the three automakers had reason to bark about races here in Daytona. Toyota the loudest, of course.

A Chevrolet driver, Jimmie Johnson, won last Sunday’s Clash after Chevy drivers swept the front row in qualifying. Ford drivers Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick then won Thursday’s duel qualifying races.

• The race went into overtime, and overdrive, and by the time the checkered flag finally did appear, 207 laps had been run. That’s seven beyond regulation.

Not the longest, but six of the last 10 have gone beyond the 500-mile mark.

More bang for your buck. Literally.

• Overall it was a strange opening weekend for NASCAR. A Friday night Truck Series race saw only nine entries still running at the finish due to attrition, or maybe it was inexperience.

A day later, Saturday’s Xfinity Series race was uneventful to the extreme. Practice sessions provided more passing.

Sunday’s opening Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race didn’t disappoint but it did remind everyone of how utterly insane restrictor-plate racing can be.

Blame the rules package or the drivers or the full moon. But it’s rarely pretty at the end.

Sunday’s race, the 61st running of the 500, made it past halfway with only three brief pauses in the action – only one of those involved a handful of cars.

Compare that with what was supposed to be the final 25 laps – but in reality was the final 32. Six cautions, two red flags and 29 cars wrecked, some on multiple occasions.

“Brains come unglued,” Busch offered. “That’s all it is.”

Lemonis: Gander series switch made sense

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World and Gander Outdoors, said the decision to re-brand the NASCAR Truck Series with Gander as the entitlement sponsor wasn’t what he had in mind when he purchased the bankrupt company in 2017.

But as with most sponsorships, there eventually becomes a time of “diminished return,” when the name is still on the product but it’s taken for granted or overlooked and the newness of it all has faded.

“I think what happened for Camping World, maybe it happens for some other sponsors, there is some diminished return after a period of time,” Lemonis said Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, site of Friday night’s season-opening Gander Outdoors Truck Series race. “You’ve made your message, people have it. They almost auto tune you out at some point.

“We felt like the series needed a jolt.”

That “jolt” comes at a convenient time as the Truck Series is experiencing something of a revival – at least here at Daytona. The entry list for Friday night’s Nextera Energy 250 featured 40 teams vying for one of 32 starting spots. Last year there were full fields for all races, something that hadn’t happened in several years.

“First time that’s happened in a very long time,” Lemonis said of the 2019 entry list. “I joked and said maybe we should change series sponsors every year.”

Camping World was the entitlement sponsor for the series from 2009 through 2018. The company replaced Craftsman, which was the first to jump behind the series in 2005 as the SuperTruck Series by Craftsman in 1995 and the Craftsman Truck Series from ’96-’08.

The series has evolved, the schedule has changed somewhat, but one thing has remained – it continues to provide some of the most exciting racing in NASCAR.

That’s helped keep Lemonis and his companies wired in. And why that will remain the case for his company going forward – now with new branding.

“When we first made the acquisition of the bankrupt assets from Gander Mountain, in that moment we didn’t think about the NASCAR connection,” Lemonis said.

“What we knew we wanted to do was to create a competitor to Camping World, which we owned. We felt like the marketplace needed to have more than one option to buy an RV or their outdoor stuff.

“As the concept evolved, as we picked the locations, as we decided that Gander was going to be in the RV business, it did make sense to transition the Truck Series to Gander.”

Had the acquisition not come about, there was no reason for concern, he said.

“Had we not done Gander, Camping World is committed to the sport,” Lemonis said. “Our company is committed to the sport.”

Jimmie’s misstep; Harvick, Logano win

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Jimmie Johnson said he isn’t worried about having to prove himself to his fellow racers and as a guy with seven championships and 83 wins, he’s probably right.

“I’m sure fan perception will be different,” the Hendrick Motorsports driver said on pit road following an eighth-place finish in the opening Gander RV Duel at Daytona International Raceway.

He’s probably right about that, too.

Two races at the 2.5-mile superspeedway this week and two incidents involving the 43-year-old. He’s putting a new wrinkle in the notion of a Daytona sweep.

The 2018 season saw everyone asking when Johnson would win again. He still hasn’t, not until Sunday’s Clash anyway and in that one he went to victory lane after contact with Paul Menard led to a 17-car pile-up.

Thursday night it was contact with Kyle Busch and Johnson said he made a mistake and Kyle didn’t seem to disagree and now the question may be can Johnson finish a race here without putting the right front of his No. 48 Chevrolet against the left rear quarterpanel of a fellow racer and creating a problem.

“We were three-wide coming through the turn,” Johnson said, “I’m looking out the windshield, my rear-view mirror and my third mirror trying to judge if the line is going to follow me, if the line is going to follow Kyle, and where that third (lapped) car is.”

Johnson said he wanted “to get back in behind Kyle” but he misjudged. “I thought I knew where I was with my right front and I just had it wrong.”

Busch, who finished 18th in the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, may or may not go to a backup although that didn’t seem to be the case afterward. Busch hit nothing but who knows what damage a drive back to pit road with a flat right front can do.

• Duel winners were Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano and Ford teams finished 1-2-3 in both 60-lap qualifying races that set the lineup for Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Maybe someone forgot to tell the them the Mustang is new in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and not likely to be competitive until teams get the bugs worked out.

Harvick was dominant, leading 44 laps. Meanwhile Logano seemed content to ride until it came time to write the check. Then he checked out on the white-flag lap, thanks to an assist from Team Penske teammate Ryan Blaney and a scary fast No. 22 Ford.

• Racing their way into the 61st running of the Great American Race were Parker Kligerman (12th) and Brendan Gaughan (15th). Tyler Reddick and Casey Mears earned the final two transfer positions based on previous qualifying speeds.

Two drivers failed to qualify – Joey Gase and Ryan Truex.

Media Day: Clean and green at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Media Day for the Daytona 500 is a lot like the two qualifying races for the season-opening event.

Typically not a big deal, most folks just trying to make it through the day with as little damage as possible.

There was nary a caution here Wednesday. Nobody wadded ‘em up.

• Jamie McMurray spoke about making his last start in NASCAR’s Cup Series, a one-shot race with Chip Ganassi Racing in Sunday’s 500.

It will be the shortest NASCAR farewell tour on record.

He’ll drive a No. 42 Chevrolet, the number reflecting his first start for Ganassi in ’02 as a substitute driver for the injured Sterling Marlin.

That was at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway and wouldn’t you know it, McMurray won the very next weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The television booth is the new driver’s seat for NASCAR competitors. McMurray is the most recent to make the transition from steering wheel to microphone.

“What I know of talking with my friends who have retired is there’s this period when you’re away you want to come back but then after a while that goes away,” McMurray said of exiting the car for the final time. “I’m hoping my TV job (with FOX) carries me through that part.”

• Elsewhere, Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet) and Paul Menard (Wood Brothers Racing Ford) mentioned they’ve spoken to one another in the aftermath of Sunday’s Clash crash at Daytona.

Johnson, the race winner: “I don’t know if there’s really anything different.”

Menard, not the race winner: “Looking in rearview mirror on that one. What’s done is done.”

• William Byron, pole winner for the 500, is still a student at Liberty University, a junior this year, and when was the last time a professional athlete in any sport was in a similar position?

“It’s busy, but it works out,” the Hendrick Motorsports driver said.

There have been athletes who took classes during the offseason in order to graduate. But during the season? Perhaps, but it’s not the norm.

I can hear it now.

“My homework blew out the window on the backstretch at Daytona.”

• A glimpse of things to come? An unusual story from Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota) on Wednesday.

Asked if any Daytona 500 memory stood out, Hamlin, who won this event in 2016, recalled the 2004 race, won by Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Hamlin, in the process of signing with JGR as a development driver at the time, was at the 500 as a guest of Earnhardt.

“I remember walking from his bus to victory lane, or to the race track, and I go out on pit road and I see the (No.) 20 pit box and I see his and … I don’t know where I’m supposed to go,” Hamlin said.

“I’ll never forget when he won, being able to carry that trophy back to his motorhome and I was just thinking how awesome would it be to have one of these.

“Of course, 12 years later, I did get my own. I was wondering for a while if it was a jinx since I touched the trophy, I’d never get it.”

• Kyle Busch said he and JGR officials have been hashing out details that will keep him with the organization. Next step is to put it all on paper.

Busch has won one Cup title (2015) and 47 points races since joining Gibbs in 2008.

Hemric’s Cup arrival right on time

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It’s 8 a.m. and the first rotation for Wednesday’s annual Daytona 500 media day featured drivers Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Daniel Hemric.

Larson, at 26, is the youngest. Stenhouse, 31, is the senior member of the group.

Together, their numbers include 28 victories, one Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship and 768 career starts.

Two of the starts belong to Hemric, 27 and a rookie of the year candidate this season.

Late to the Cup party?

In an era when the age for drivers making the jump to Cup continues to get younger, Hemric says simply, “I know the way I’ve done it is the only way I could do it.”

He made two Cup starts last season with Richard Childress Racing, at Richmond, Va., and Charlotte. In 2015-16, he ran full seasons in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series; in ’17-18 full seasons in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

He didn’t win races in either series and that’s a point folks seem to point out. But he did accumulate plenty of experience and maybe that’s something that gets overlooked.

Others failed set the woods on fire in lower series before going on to remarkable Cup careers, by the way.

On Sunday, Hemric will make his first start in the Daytona 500. He’ll be driving the No. 8 Chevrolet fielded by RCR. Fifth fastest in qualifying on Sunday, his starting spot will be determined based on his finish on Thursday’s opening qualifying race at Daytona International Speedway.

“I’ve always believed that timing is everything and for whatever reason my time was not to get to this point until now,” Hemric said Wednesday. “I can’t rewrite history … I just have to do my thing when I get the opportunity and that’s what I’ve tried to pride myself (on).”

Guys such as Logano, Larson and Stenhouse “have had incredible breaks throughout their careers, no different than I have; (those breaks) just came at different times,” he said. “The end goal was to get here no matter what it took and that’s why I’m sitting here.”

Logano is the defending series champion and he’s seen the other side of the coin – that of beginning a Cup career at a very young age and then watching helplessly as it crumbled all around him.

At 18, Logano was pushed into a Cup ride, willingly of course, at Joe Gibbs Racing when Tony Stewart departed. Four years and one win later, Logano was shown the door.

“It’s just different, right?” Logano said of the timing of Hemric’s arrival. “And I think it’s, in a way, probably good for him because a lot of times – I know just from my experience, if you start too early and you make a name for yourself the wrong way or you don’t make it and you get put back down to Xfinity or Trucks, that’s usually it. It’s over, right? And that’s the end of your Cup career, most likely.”

Logano knows because he was that guy.

“I started too young, I made a lot of mistakes,” he said. “I didn’t succeed. I lost my job and God … gave me an amazing shot to race for Roger Penske. How does that happen?

In Hemric, he says he sees someone who is “more prepared, he’s more ready, he’s more mature.

“He’s been through some stuff in his racing career,” Logano said. “He’s more ready to make that big step, which I think is probably a smart move on his part.”

Austin Dillon, 28, is Hemric’s teammate at RCR. He’s also the defending Daytona 500 champion and winner of Xfinity and Truck Series titles in 2013 and 2011, respectively.

The ’19 season will be his sixth full-time season in Cup.

He and Hemric have been friends since racing in Bandolero and Legends cars at Charlotte Motor Speedway as teenagers.

“The first time I met him he was in an orange firesuit, had orange hair over his ears, no shirt on,” Dillon said of Hemric. “His firesuit was hanging at his waist and he was walking down pit road. I was like, ‘Man, who is this guy?’ We were like 13-14 years old. I was like, ‘Whoever that is, he’s cool. I want to be friends with him.’

“From that point on we were pretty much buddies.”

Reaching the top rung of the racing ladder at 27 shouldn’t pose any problems, Dillon said, noting that “He’s here. He’s done his job. He’s young enough to do it for a long time and hopefully he’s successful at it.”

Hemric is seen as a throwback, a driver who paid his dues in lower series and worked his way up to earn a shot at the big time. Money didn’t put him in the seat of the No. 8.

He’s also from Kannapolis, N.C., and that’s Dale Earnhardt country and maybe the two are cut from the same cloth or maybe they aren’t. Where one was raised doesn’t determine talent.

If the the image of a dues-paying, hard-working, blue collar driver is the one that’s been put out there, Hemric said, then “it’s 100 percent accurate.”

He’s no Lone Ranger – he’ll quickly tell you he pulls for fellow driver Ryan Preece because “I feel like his situation is very similar to mine … he builds his own race cars and he’s grinding to get to the race track week in and week out no matter what it takes.”

Preece, 28, landed his own Cup opportunity this season, taking over the No. 47 ride at JTG Daugherty.

Hemric won’t quibble over the timing of his own arrival. He’s here now and that’s all that matters.

“Call it what you want,” he said, “but it got me here.”

A fresh start with the usual twists and turns

NASCAR began its 2019 season Sunday with qualifying for next week’s Daytona 500 and the non-points Advance Auto Parts Clash taking place at Daytona International Speedway.

Hendrick Motorsports teams swept the top four positions in qualifying, an admirable achievement particularly in light of the organization’s overall struggles in 2018. That’s five in a row, perhaps an even more impressive feat, for HMS teams by the way.

But it was an achievement soon overshadowed.

The big story, of course, was the finish of the Clash.

Officially, the end came after rain hit the track for the third time, forcing officials to pull the plug with 59 laps of the 75-lap race completed.

Unofficially, it ended after one of two things happened:

• Jimmie Johnson wrecked race leader Paul Menard

or

• Race leader Paul Menard crashed while trying to block Jimmie Johnson.

Maybe it was just “one of them racing deals” we’re always hearing about. The race, and the track, have certainly had their share through the years.

What we do know is that once the smoke had cleared, 17 cars were listed as having been involved in the crash.

It was a 20-car field so this is one instance where it really is easier to just list everyone who wasn’t involved. That would be Kurt Busch, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney.

The three finished second, third and fourth. Fast closing but not fast enough to catch Johnson, who was making his ’19 debut with new sponsor Ally and new crew chief Kevin Meendering.

“I didn’t hit his rear bumper cover,” Johnson said afterward, meaning he didn’t slam the No. 21 Ford out of the way.

“I’m here to win races … but I didn’t drive through a car and create a wreck.”

While he said he hated that others wound up with torn-up race cars, the seven-time series champion reminded everyone that “I have a split-second decision to try to win a race, and I set up the pass and got position on him clean. 

“I don’t know what triggered his car wobbling and then the accident started from there,” Johnson said.

Menard said he wasn’t aware of what caused the wreck until after watching a replay of the incident.

“I felt like it was aggressive side-drafting,” Menard said. “I got turned to the inside and hooked to the right and all hell broke loose.”

It was a disappointing ending for Menard, who had led 51 laps up to that point.

It was a relief for Johnson, the Hendrick Motorsports racer who is still looking for a points-paying win after getting shut out in 2018.

For everyone else, it was nothing more than an expensive afternoon.

Punctuated by the type of finish that surely surprised no one.

• William Byron, the 21-year-old who won the Xfinity Series title in 2017 and was quickly hustled up to Cup to take over the seat of the No. 24 Chevrolet at HMS, will start on the pole for the 61st running of the season-opening race.

He’ll be joined on the front row by HMS teammate Alex Bowman, driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet. Byron sped around the 2.5-mile layout at 194.305 mph; Bowman clocked in at 194.154 mph.

Johnson and Elliott were third and fourth fastest, respectively.

Only the front row is locked in for the Daytona 500, with the bulk of the starting lineup determined through next Thursday’s two 60-lap, 150-mile qualifying races. Byron will start on the pole in one, Bowman out front in the other.

Byron may be a youngster, but he’s got a veteran in his corner. Chad Knaus, who guided Johnson to his seven titles and all but two of his 83 career wins, is heading up the No. 24 team this year.

It was Byron’s first career pole in 37 attempts in the Cup Series.

The fastest non-Hendrick car was the No. 8 Chevrolet of rookie Daniel Hemric (Richard Childress Racing), who checked in fifth. Defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano was sixth (Ford) and Martin Truex Jr., making his first start with Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota) seventh.

For the record, Daytona 500 pole winners and Daytona 500 winners haven’t been the same in quite some time, since 2000 as a matter of fact.

Busy days ahead for Decker

MOORESVILLE, N.C. – There will be drivers who will run more races in 2019, but it’s unlikely anyone will run in as many different series as 21-year-old Natalie Decker.

ARCA? She won the pole in the season-opening event at Daytona International Speedway last year and returns for this weekend’s race looking to improve on a fifth-place finish. Last month she was fastest in preseason testing on the 2.5-mile superspeedway in her debut with the DGR-Crosley Toyota team.

The Gander Outdoors Truck Series? A 12-race schedule awaits the Eagle River, Wis., native, her debut scheduled for the same legendary DIS layout later this month.

Toss in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, where she is scheduled to make one or more starts, beginning with Bristol Motor Speedway.

What about road racing? Decker has a five-race Trans Am schedule with Ave Motorsports that consists of stops at Daytona, Watkins Glen, Sebring, Road American and Virginia international Raceway (VIR).

Had enough yet?

The diminutive Decker hasn’t. She’s also one of 28 finalists for the all-female W Series, a European-based racing series that will debut this year and will feature 18 racers (plus two alternates) running a six-race schedule in Formula 3 entries.

The final cut comes next month following a second test session/tryout in Spain.

“I wanted to think I was good enough to advance to the next round, but I was up against all road racers,” Decker said of her W Series experience. “I was shocked but at the same time I had a feeling I could make it to the next round. All 54 (racers) that were there were amazing but the 28 that are moving to the next round … this next round is going to be hard.

“I’ve got to study for Daytona, I have to study for (Trans-Am) cars, I have to learn the new F3 car that I don’t even know anything about. I’ve got a lot of studying to do.”

Which begs the question- why? Why run all over the country, and potentially outside it as well, competing in various racing series? Why not focus all that talent and attention on a single series?

“Some people probably wouldn’t want to be doing what I’m doing,” said Decker, who will run stateside this year for the DGR-Crosley outfit. “Because I’m really spreading myself out. But I’m really looking forward to it.

“The big thing is everything I going to learn in all the different cars I’m driving.

“Ever since I was really little, a lot of older racers would tell me ‘Drive anything and everything you can because seat time is seat time. And you’ll learn so much from all the different types of cars.’”

David Gilliland, operator of DGR-Crosley, said he’s seen “flashes of what it takes to be competitive” in Decker.

“It takes something so different to get her comfortable in a truck or a vehicle than anybody else,” Gilliland said. “From the pedals and the steering … getting it to where she is comfortable and can be 100 percent.

“I’m really looking forward to giving her the opportunity that I think she needs to be as successful of a race car driver as she can be.”

A former Xfinity Series winner, Gilliland, 42, started his organization for folks just like Decker. The group fields everything from Late Models to Trucks.

It’s also competitive. Tyler Ankrum won the 2018 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East title while teammate Tyler Dippel finished second.

And that’s what helped draw her to DGR-Crosley after an ’18 season with Venturini Motorsports.

“First of all, when they would show up at the track, they were stupid fast all the time,” she said of DGR-Crosley.

“But a big reason is that everything is under this roof here. You’ve got Truck, you’ve got K&N, you’ve got ARCA. I’ve got the same owner, the same team I can work with, so I won’t be bouncing around my sponsor (N 29 Technologies).”

She’s only been with the group a few weeks but thus far she said she likes what she’s seen.

“I think it’s a good fit,” Decker said. “I already love it.”

The season-opening Lucas Oil 200 ARCA race is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. ET at Daytona and will air on FS1.

Gen 7 could expand OEM involvement

CONCORD, N.C. – Word that NASCAR officials will begin taking wins away should a team fail post-race inspection wasn’t the only news that came out of Monday’s media gathering at the sanctioning body’s Research and Development Center.

Chief among the other topics – the new Generation 7 NASCAR model, scheduled to debut in 2021, has helped pique the interest of outside auto makers.

“It’s ongoing,” Steve O’Donnell, executive vice president and chief racing development officer for NASCAR, said Monday about talks with other auto makers not currently involved.

“I mean, you never know until obviously something happens, but I think we’ve stated our goal is to get to five (auto manufactures).

“We continue to have dialog. I have a call (Tuesday) with one, was at the 24 Hours (in Daytona) having discussions … I think the potential … design and where we may go in the future from an engine standpoint has certainly opened up those conversations. No guarantees but it’s something we continue to pursue.”

The 2019 rule package includes a new areo platform on the outside and engine package (tapered spacer) inside the cars.

“I can tell you that the work that’s already been done on this project has already opened doors for a number of manufacturers to have conversations that we haven’t been able to have in the past,” he said.

“There is still work to do … but I think it’s really opened the door up to have a new NASCAR in terms of what you may see on the track, what you may see under the hood in the future as well.”

The rollout of the Gen 7 car is scheduled for the 2021 Daytona 500, while a new engine package would follow in 2022, “to give everyone enough lead time,” O’Donnell said.

Three auto manufacturers currently compete in NASCAR – Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota.

Joey Logano gave Ford its first driver’s championship since 2004 when he won last year’s title and Ford won the manufacturer’s championship as well.

Toyota joined NASCAR’s Cup Series in 2007 and won back-to-back manufacturer titles in 2016-17. Driver championships have gone to Toyota drivers Kyle Busch in 2015 and Martin Truex Jr. in 2017.

Chevrolet enjoyed a run of 13 consecutive manufacturer titles from 2003-15.

Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson was the last Chevrolet driver to win the championship, earning his record-tying seventh title in 2016.

The most recent departure of a manufacturer came at the end of 2012 when Dodge ended its NASCAR involvement. Ironically, Dodge driver Brad Keselowski captured the series’ championship that season.

• Ben Kennedy, the former racer and great grandson of NASCAR founder William H.G. France, has been named Managing Director, Racing Operations and International Development.

Previously manager of the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, Kennedy will also “play a really pivotal role in our international development,” O’Donnell said, which includes racing interests in Canada, Mexico, Europe and China.

• Kennedy was on hand to unveil the Triple Truck Challenge for the Truck Series, a three-race program that will award race winners a $50,000 bonus for one win, $150,000 for winning two of the three races and a staggering $500,000 should a drive win all three.

The Challenge will be in play for races at Texas Motor Speedway (June 7), Iowa Speedway (June 15) and Gateway Motorsports Park (June 22). Drivers earning points in either the Cup or Xfinity Series are not allowed to compete in the Triple Challenge events.

• The opening round of qualifying at all tracks other than superspeedways and road courses has been shortened from 15 minutes to 10 minutes, according to Scott Miller, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR. Second and third rounds will remain 10 minutes and five minutes, respectively.

Miller said the break in between rounds has also been shortened from seven minutes to five minutes. The change is in effect for all three national series.

A monumental move for NASCAR

CONCORD, N.C. – NASCAR took a monumental step Monday when officials announced that going forward, infractions uncovered during post-race technical inspections will now lead to an immediate disqualification of the car involved.

For the first time in decades, a winning entry could be stripped of a victory.

“The bottom line is that car will be disqualified,” Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said during a media briefing at the sanctioning body’s research and development center.

“Everything that goes with a win goes away. We’ll obviously inspect second-place and a random. Second place (if cleared) will receive all of the benefits of winning that race. Playoff bonus (point), everything will go with that.”

O’Donnell called it a change in the NASCAR culture.

“And that comes with a lot of challenges,” he said. “We’ve tried to do it one way and it hasn’t worked. …”

“We have also heard loud and clear from our race fans … (complaints about) Tuesday post-race penalties, Wednesday post-race penalties, the storyline dragging out. …

“I share those same feelings, I think all of us at the R&D share those same feelings. The objective for us was always, candidly, not to have those. … Unfortunately, we went down a path where that became a storyline.”

Officials have wrestled with how to handle the issue of cars failing post-race technical inspection for years. They haven’t taken a victory away from a “winning” entry in one of the three major series since 1995 and that was in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. In the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, the sanctioning body’s top division, a race winner hasn’t been stripped of victory due to a technical infraction since the early ‘60s. (There have been rare instances of drivers losing a win for non-technical issues.)

O’Donnell said post-race inspection, which previously consisted of on-site checks as well as a more intensive tear-down at the R&D Center two or more days after the race, will now be completed at the track following the event.

“We expect it to be about 90 minutes at the track” O’Donnell explained, after which time the winner will be declared official. Should a winning entry be disqualified, the team has the ability to appeal.

“If that does happen, it will be an expedited appeal that will take place at the latest Wednesday,” he said. “When we leave the race track Sunday night, we’ll know who the winner is from our perspective.

“We understand the challenges … but we’ve also made it very clear to the teams over the last six months that this is where we’re headed. Bring your stuff right. Let’s concentrate on the best drivers in the world going out there and beating each other on the track versus the wind tunnel. And we think this is going to do that.”

Engines will still be subjected to inspection at the R&D Center as well as randomly chosen cars from time to time.

Previously, any failure during post-race inspections, whether at the track or later at the Research and Development Center, would likely result in a fine, suspension of a crewmember (crew chief and/or car chief) and a loss of points.

The process has continued to evolve. Infractions were given different levels (L1, L2 and L3) based on severity. Wins became “encumbered,” meaning any benefits such as points or having the win qualify the driver for the playoffs were taken away.

Now, officials have made it simple.

According to Scott Miller, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, “all of the owners and all of the teams are tired of the same thing that we’re tired of and that’s playing all these games.

“And the only way to stop these games is what we’re doing.”

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season officially opens Feb. 17 with the 61st running of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.

Package, teams put to test at Las Vegas

NASCAR teams will get their first on-track crack at the 2019 rules package Thursday and Friday as Las Vegas Motor Speedway hosts the season’s first organizational test.

Fourteen teams from the Monster Energy Cup Series are scheduled to participate as well as four from the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Each of the three auto makers, Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota, will get track time with individual wheel force cars as well.

For Las Vegas, one of eight 1.5-mile tracks hosting Cup races, the rules package will include the use of a smaller tapered spacer that will reduce engine output from 750 to approximately 550 horsepower and aero ducts which divert airflow from the front of the car.

Other aerodynamic changes are a wider radiator pan (located underneath the front of the car), larger spoiler (8 inches tall, 61 inches long) on the rear deck and a two-inch overhang on the front splitter.

The package is scheduled to be used in 16 of the 36 races in 2019, for events at Las Vegas, Auto Club, Texas, Talladega, Kansas Charlotte, Michigan, Chicago, Daytona (July) Kentucky and Indianapolis.

A similar package, minus the aero ducts, will be used in five events, at Atlanta, Pocono (twice), Darlington and Homestead.

The package for 14 races at shorter tracks and road courses will feature a larger tapered spacer that won’t curtail horsepower and no aero ducts. Tracks hosting those events are ISM (Phoenix), Martinsville, Bristol, Richmond, Dover, Sonoma, New Hampshire, Watkins Glen and Charlotte’s Roval.

Only the season-opening Daytona 500, scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 17, will feature the same aero package as was used in 2018.

The hope is that the changes will generate closer competition and more side-by-side racing much like what was seen in last year’s All-Star Race when a similar package was used.

Chad Knaus, the seven-time championship-winning crew chief at Hendrick Motorsports, said recently that the Las Vegas test is important, but “when you go to a test like that everybody holds their cards pretty close to their chest.”

“Nobody is going to know exactly what you’ve got 100 percent,” he said. “So it’s going to be interesting to see how we as a company and how Chevrolet in general stacks up under this new package with the new horsepower.”

Knaus won seven titles as crew chief for Jimmie Johnson. The 2019 season will be his first as crew chief for William Byron.

Johnson, now paired with crew chief Kevin Meendering, will take part in the Las Vegas test for Hendrick’s four-car organization. Only one team per organization is allowed to take part in an organizational test.

“We will be completely connected for sure,” Knaus said. “There will be two representatives from the No. 24 car going to help the No. 48.”

In addition to Johnson, other drivers scheduled to participate in the test are: Landon Cassill (StarCom Racing No. 00 Chevrolet), Kurt Busch (Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1 Chevrolet), Brad Keselowski (Team Penske No. 2 Ford), Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing No. 3 Chevrolet), Ryan Newman (Roush Fenway Racing No. 6 Ford), Ty Dillon (Germain Racing No. 13 Chevrolet), Clint Bowyer (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Ford), Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota), Paul Menard (Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford), Bubba Wallace (Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Chevrolet), Ryan Preece (JTG Daugherty Racing No. 47 Chevrolet), Cody Ware (Rick Ware Racing No. 51 Chevrolet) and Matt DiBenedetto (Leavine Family Racing No. 95 Toyota).

Xfinity Series drivers participating are Zane Smith and Noah Gragson (JRM Motorsports Chevrolet), Riley Herbst (Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota) and Chase Briscoe (Stewart-Haas Racing Ford).

Practice is scheduled for 11 a.m.-10 p.m. ET Thursday and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday.

For fans in the area interested in attending the test, the grandstands and infield will be open.

NASCAR.com will offer a live, four-hour show from the track on Thursday beginning at 11 a.m. ET.