Clearing off the desk with spring break around the corner:
Charlotte Motor Speedway will once again be the 1.5-mile NASCAR version of a laboratory as officials announced the details of an updated aerodynamic package to be used in the 85-lap test case otherwise known as the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race.
NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell and Speedway Motorsports, Inc., president Marcus Smith unveiled the particulars for this year’s non-points exhibition race Wednesday evening on the Fox Sports program “RaceHub.”
On the technical side, the updates consist of a radiator duct that will direct air flow from the engine compartment out through the hood and a one-piece splitter/radiator pan made of carbon fiber.
The purpose of the first is to address aero issues while also helping reduce engine temperatures; the purpose of the second is to provide help in the area of ride height sensitivity.
The ’19 race will be five laps longer than the ’18 version, and will consist of four stages of 30, 20, 20 and 15 laps.
The race winner will collect $1 million.
Changes to the aerodynamic package first put into play in the ’18 all-star race became the basis for the current ’19 aero package. Should these changes produce the desired effect, it’s likely a version of the package will be incorporated into the rules platform for the Generation 7 car scheduled for a 2021 rollout.
While a restrictor plate was used in the ’18 race, tapered spacers became part of the ’19 package. Both devices restrict air flow into the engine.
“Last year’s all-star rules package resulted in one of the most exciting all-star races in history,” O’Donnell said in a news release. “With a similar package and added elements that we could see in the next generation race car, we expect another must-watch event.”
Qualifying for the all-star race is scheduled for Friday, May 17.
Three segment winners from Saturday’s 50-lap Monster Energy Open (20-20-10 laps) will advance to the All-Star Race. A fourth driver will advance via fan vote.
Green and yellow flag laps will count in the first three stages; only green-flag laps will count in the final segment.
Drivers who have already earned a berth in the All-Star race (as a 2018-19 race winner, previous All-Star Race winner or former series champion): Aric Almirola (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 10 Ford), Ryan Blaney (Team Penske No. 12 Ford), Clint Bowyer (SHR No. 14 Ford), Kurt Busch (Chip Ganassi Racing No. 1 Chevrolet), Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota), Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing No. 3 Chevrolet), Chase Elliott (Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet), Denny Hamlin (JGR No. 11 Toyota), Kevin Harvick (SHR No. 4 Ford), Jimmie Johnson (HMS No. 48 Chevrolet), Erik Jones (JGR No. 20 Toyota), Brad Keselowski (Team Penske No. 2 Ford), Joey Logano (Team Penske No. 22 Ford), Ryan Newman (Roush Fenway Racing No. 6 Ford) and Martin Truex Jr. (JGR No. 19 Toyota).
• Talk of the need for more short tracks (and road courses) sent some folks to the archives …
Modern Era (1972-): The high-water mark for short tracks during the modern era came began in 1973 and ran through ’84 when there were 10 short-track races at five venues each year.
In ’73, the 10 races were part of a 28-race schedule; the tracks hosting two Cup races each season were Bristol, North Wilkesboro, Martinsville, Richmond and Nashville.
In ’85, the number of short-track races fell to eight when Nashville came off the schedule.
By ’97 the number had dropped to six, where it remains today, when North Wilkesboro was no longer hosting Cup races.
Prior to 1972, the number of short-track races fluctuated. In 1964 when the schedule consisted of 62 races, 48 were contested on tracks less than 1 mile in length.
As far as adding short tracks going forward, until the current five-year sanctioning agreements end (after 2020) there won’t be any changes in venues.
• An off week means Christopher Bell might go more than seven days without being asked when he will exit the Xfinity Series for Cup competition. It’s been one of this year’s early storylines and it’s a legitimate item of interest since the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has the tools and the talent to compete at the Cup level.
He has 10 wins in the Xfinity Series, including two this season.
“That’s not really for me to decide,” Bell said at Bristol, where he pocketed a $100,000 bonus for winning the first of this season’s Dash 4 Cash events. “I just wait until they tell me where I’m landing.”
JGR fields four Cup teams with drivers Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones and Martin Truex Jr. It also fields Xfinity series entries for Bell, Brandon Jones and a third for various drivers.
Exactly where Bell, 23, might land in a move to Cup isn’t known. Besides JGR’s four Cup entries, Toyota is also aligned with Leavine Family Racing.
Two other organizations field Toyotas but are not competing fulltime – Gaunt Brothers Racing and Motorsports Business Management.
JGR owner Joe Gibbs has said that Bell “has a place with us long-term,” as does Jones.
“That’s our goal; that’s what we’ll keep working on,” said Gibbs.
Bell said he hopes to continue to race outside of NASCAR when the opportunity allows. Even before he won the Bristol bonus, he said the six-figure windfall could become seed money for his own racing efforts.
“I think my ultimate dream, short term, is to have a sprint car for me to go race whenever I can … and then long-term I’d like to have a team that maybe runs the World of Outlaws or maybe just has a true outlaw schedule,” he said.
Could he focus just on NASCAR? Sure. Just don’t ask him to. He’s been racing some sort of open-wheel machine since he was six years old.
“It would be very, very difficult,” Bell said. “It’s been my life.”
Bell isn’t eligible for round No. 3 of the Dash 4 Cash bonus after finishing 16th last weekend at Richmond. Cole Custer, Austin Cindric, Justin Allgaier and Tyler Reddick will be competing for the bonus when the program resumes at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway April 27.
• In case you were wondering: Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson ran his first marathon Monday, completing the Boston Marathon in 3 hr., 9 min. 7 sec.
Johnson began his NASCAR Cup career in 2001 and since that time, there hasn’t been one Cup points race that lasted exactly 3:09.07.
A couple have been close.
Coming in just six seconds shy was the 2009 Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (3:09.01). Mark Martin was the race winner and Johnson finished fourth.
The time of race for the 2004 Golden Corral 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway was a shade longer – 3:09.15. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the race; Johnson finished fourth, again.
There was also the Chevrolet Monte Carlo 400 at Richmond Raceway (Sept. 8, 2001), a race that lasted 3:09.11. But Johnson made only three starts that season, and Richmond wasn’t one of the three.