Sweeping changes for NASCAR schedule

A change in the championship venue, a two-fer weekend at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway, and big moves for the playoff races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series highlight sweeping changes announced by officials with the sanctioning body on Tuesday.

The 23 venues are the same – those might or might not change next year with the end of the five-year contracts between NASCAR and the individual race tracks. But the order in which they fall on the schedule has undergone a major shift.

The 2020 title-determining race, dubbed the Championship 4, previously contested at Homestead-Miami Speedway will now be held at the newly renovated ISM Raceway in Avondale, Ariz.

The date of the event, Nov. 8, is also a change with the season officially ending a week earlier.

The Arizona facility, one of 12 NASCAR-sanctioned tracks owned by International Speedway Corp., recently underwent a $172 million renovation.

Homestead will host its lone Cup race March 22.

Cut-off races for the 16-team, 10-race playoffs have also shifted –Darlington will now open the playoffs on Sept. 6 while Bristol’s night race moves to Sept. 19 for the final race of the opening round. Charlotte Motor Speedway will now host the final race of the Round of Eight on its Roval (Oct. 11); and the final race of the third round will now be at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway on Nov. 1.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said that “fans and the industry as a whole have been vocal about the desire for sweeping changes … and the 2020 slate is a reflection of our efforts to execute against that feedback.”

Meanwhile, Pocono Raceway will hold both of its annual MENCS races on the same weekend – Saturday and Sunday, July 27 and 28. The 2.5-mile venue has typically had about a five-week window in between its two Cup events.

Other notable movement in the schedule will include:

Daytona will continue to host the season-opening Daytona 500, but the second race at the 2.5-mile superspeedway, held in conjunction with the July 4th holiday weekend since 1959, will move to Saturday, Aug. 29 and serve as the final regular-season event.

Atlanta Motor Speedway gets a later date and potential weather break with a move to March 15; Martinsville’s first Cup race will be held on Saturday, May 9, the day before Mother’s Day, and will be contested under the lights; Indianapolis Motor Speedway replaces Daytona as the July 4th holiday weekend race.

The 2020 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Schedule:

Sunday, Feb. 9 – The Clash (Daytona)

Thur., Feb. 13 – Duel at Daytona

Sun., Feb. 16 – Daytona International Speedway

Sun., Feb. 23 – Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Sun., March 1 – Auto Club Speedway

Sun., March 8 – ISM Raceway

Sun., March 15 – Atlanta Motor Speedway

Sun., March 22 – Homestead-Miami Speedway

Sun., March 29 – Texas Motor Speedway

Sun., April 5 – Bristol Motor Speedway

Sun., April 19 – Richmond Raceway

Sun., April 26 – Talladega Superspeedway

Sun., May 3 – Dover International Speedway

Sat., May 9 – Martinsville Speedway

Sat., May 16 – All-Star Race, Charlotte Motor Speedway

Sun., May 24 – Charlotte Motor Speedway

Sun., May 31 – Kansas Speedway

Sun., June 7 – Michigan International Speedway

Sun., June 14 – Sonoma Raceway

Sun., June 21 – Chicagoland Speedway

Sat., June 27 – Pocono Raceway

Sun., June 28 – Pocono Raceway

Sun., July 5 – Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Sat., July 11 – Kentucky Speedway

Sun., July 19 – New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Sun., Aug. 9 – Michigan International Speedway

Sun., Aug. 16 – Watkins Glen International

Sun., Aug. 23 – Dover International Speedway

Sat., Aug. 29 – Daytona International Speedway

PLAYOFFS

Opening Round

Sun., Sept. 6 – Darlington Raceway

Sat., Sept. 12 – Richmond Raceway

Sat., Sept. 19 – Bristol Motor Speedway

Second Round

Sun., Sept. 27 – Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Sun., Oct. 4 – Talladega Superspeedway

Sun., Oct. 11 – Charlotte Motor Speedway

Third Round

Sun., Oct. 18 – Kansas Speedway

Sun., Oct. 25 – Texas Motor Speedway

Sun., Nov. 1 – Martinsville Speedway

CHAMPIONSHIP

Sun., Nov. 8 – ISM Raceway

A first, and last, for Burdick

Sunday, March 26, 1961 – Bob Burdick, a 24-year-old youngster from Omaha, Neb., outlasted a field of racing’s top drivers to capture the Atlanta 500 for his first NASCAR premier series victory. Burdick, racing for his family-owned team, led 44 laps.

• Defending series champion Rex White finished second while Ralph Earnhardt placed third. Only 13 of the 46 drivers were running at the finish of the 334-lap race.

• Burdick made just 15 career starts at NASCAR’s top level, between 1959 and 1962. He called the Atlanta race a “must-win,” in order for his team to have the finances to continue to compete.

• Two years earlier Burdick had scored an impressive runner-up finish in the legendary Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.

• Burdick made just four more starts following the Atlanta victory. His final start came in the 1962 Daytona 500 where he finished 35th, falling out due to a broken crankshaft.

Martinsville postscript

It’s hard not to be impressed with Brad Keselowski’s performance Sunday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. The Team Penske driver led 446 of 500 laps in winning the STP 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.

Leading 400 or more laps in a single race is a rare occurrence. Keselowski’s achievement was the 12th time in 141 races dating back to 1949 that a driver has done so at Martinsville.

His laps led count checks in at No. 5 overall.

Topping the list is Fred Lorenzen, who led 493 of 500 laps in the fall race of ‘64. The only laps he failed to lead were paced by Richard Petty (5), Junior Johnson (1) and Ned Jarrett (1).

That rout capped a three-race Martinsville run that had already seen the popular racer lead 421 laps in winning the fall race of ’63 and 487 in winning the spring race of ’64. Three races and Lorenzen led 1,401 of 1,500 laps.

The 400-plus laps led list for Martinsville:

1. Fred Lorenzen                493           1964 (F)

2. Fred Lorenzen                487           1964 (S)

3. Junior Johnson                481           1965 (F)

4. Richard Petty                  480           1970 (F)

5. Brad Keselowski             446           2019 (S)

6. Bobby Isaac                     445           1971 (F)

7. Bobby Allison                  432           1972 (F)

8. Bob Welborn                   435           1957 (F)

9. Jeff Gordon                     431           1997 (S)

10. Fred Lorenzen              421           1963(F)

11. Rusty Wallace               409           1993 (S)

12. Ernie Irvan                     402           1993 (F)

All were race winners with the exception of Allison, who finished second to Petty. (F) Fall race & (S) Spring race designation.

Only one other facility, Bristol Motor Speedway, hosts 500-lap Cup races. Thirteen of its 116 races have seen a driver lead 400 or more laps, including the 1973 spring event that saw Cale Yarborough lead all 500.

It was interesting to hear Keselowski mention the NASCAR Hall of Fame when he was asked about milestones he hoped to accomplish. I don’t know that I’ve heard any competitor put win numbers to induction before.

“I would like to hit the 30-win mark before the season is over, which looks like we’ve got a great shot at that,” Keselowski said after career win No. 29. “I … look at a few markers for the Hall of Fame and one of the markers to me as a Cup driver is probably that 30-win mark. Championship is one of them. Kind of adding that 30-win mark in there and I think that’s kind of – you’re there.

“I think anyone who has 30 wins on the Cup level is going to eventually be in the Hall of Fame. So that’s a good mark for me.”

He has a point. Of the 21 drivers with 30 or more wins who are no longer competing, 19 are in the Hall of Fame. Tony Stewart, with 49 wins, is a 2020 nominee. Matt Kenseth, with one Cup title and 39 career wins, was not among this year’s list of 20 nominees.

In case you were wondering: A Martinsville tidbit. The track was the site of the final career Cup win for several drivers – Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace, Nelson Stacy, John Andretti, Earl Ross and Red Byron.

Keselowski has 29 career wins, 28 coming with Penske. Career win No. 1 came in 2009 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway while driving for car owner James Finch and Phoenix Racing.

The win broke a three-way tie for 27th on the all-time win list, a mark he shared with Carl Edwards and 1960 series champion Rex White.

Will Keselowski wind up with more victories for Penske than Wallace, who remains tops in Cup competition with 37 victories for the team owner?

As impressive as Keselowski’s Martinsville run was, the effort from runner-up Chase Elliott was equally noteworthy.

How many laps was Elliott’s No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in second place, pursuing Keselowski?  Is there a record for laps completed while running second?

Car of Tomorrow debuts at Bristol

Sunday, March 25, 2007 – Kyle Busch becomes the first winner in a race featuring NASCAR’s Car of Tomorrow when the Hendrick Motorsports driver captured the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Seven years in the making, the COT featured a front splitter and rear wing as part of its aerodynamic enhancements as well as numerous structural changes to make the car safer and less costly.

“I’m still not a very big fan of these things; I can’t drive them. They suck,” Busch said following his victory. It was his final win at HMS before his release at season’s end. The win was the 600th in NASCAR for Chevrolet and the auto maker debuted its new Impala SS in conjunction with the arrival of the COT. It was also the 200th overall victory for team owner Rick Hendrick.

NASCAR rolled out the Car of Tomorrow at select events in ’07 before teams began competing full-time with the piece in ‘08. The COT was phased out following the 2012 season.

Keselowski overpowers field at Martinsville

MARTINSVILLE, Va. –Brad Keselowski thoroughly dominated the race while Kyle Busch saw his two-race win streak snapped and that’s about all you need to know about Sunday’s STP 500 from Martinsville Speedway.

The bumping and banging and close quarters competition fans are accustomed to witnessing on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ shortest venue wasn’t missing entirely, but it was surprisingly limited.

That will occasionally happen at places such as Martinsville, a .533-mile gem of a layout, just as it will happen on the bigger circuits of Texas and Talladega, Darlington and Daytona.

Blame any shortcomings Sunday on Keselowski, who led 446 of the race’s 500 laps. Or his Team Penske pit crew, which got him off pit road with the lead time and time again. Or his No. 2 Ford, which was overtaken only once all afternoon.

Chase Elliott, the only driver to pass Keselowski on the track, finished second in his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

“The stats made it look a little bit more dominant that I think it really was,” Keselowski, 35, said. “I thought Chase was probably the best car most of the day. He passed me there with 150 or so to go and I thought that might be the end of our day, but I was able to learn a few things from him and kind of dissect his strengths and weaknesses.

“We made some adjustments of our own, came back out and were a little bit better. The pit crew did an excellent job all day gaining or retaining our position, which is critical here at this race track.”

The younger Elliott did keep it interesting, pressuring Keselowski throughout the day. Only once, though, was he able to drive around the leader and take control.

That came shortly after the day’s fifth of seven cautions – and Elliott led 49 laps, from 325-373. Keselowski won the subsequent race off pit road during another yellow-flag break, and held serve for the remainder of the race.

“When I did get the lead, I felt like there was a little advantage to being out front and being able to work traffic your way and play off it,” Elliott said. “I tried to move up there (off the bottom) at the end and I don’t know if I could have gotten to him. Maybe if I moved up a little sooner.”

“It’s hard to be good here for 500 laps,” said Paul Wolfe, crew chief for the winner. “Pit road was a big part of it. The … guys were flawless all day.”

Busch entered Sunday’s race after back-to-back wins at ISM (Phoenix) Raceway and Auto Club Speedway but finished third in his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin completed the top five.

It’s been that kind of season for NASCAR thus far – Keselowski’s win was the third of the year for Team Penske while JGR drivers have accounted for the other three victories

There’s been no sighting of anyone else in victory lane.

For now, it seems those are the two groups to beat.

Crash sidelines Hamlin four races

Sun., March 24, 2013 – Denny Hamlin suffered a compression fracture in his lower spine after contact with Joey Logano on the final lap of the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway. He was airlifted to a local hospital where he was kept overnight. The incident took place in Turn 4, following a side-by-side battle for the lead. When the two cars hit, Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota slid down the track and struck the retaining wall front-end first. Logano’s No. 22 Ford slipped up the track, made contact with the outside barrier but was able to continue on.

There were not SAFER barriers in the area where Hamlin’s car hit the wall at that time. The injury would force the JGR driver to miss the next four NASCAR Cup races; in his absence Mark Martin and Brian Vickers handled the driving duties for the team.

Logano managed to finish third but was accosted on pit road after the race by an upset Tony Stewart. Logano had blocked Stewart on the final restart.

It’s a Logano, and a Ford day, at Martinsville

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano will start from the pole Sunday when the STP 500 gets underway here at tiny Martinsville Speedway.

The 28-year-old pushed his No. 22 Team Penske Ford around the .526-mile oval at a speed of 97.83 mph, to nudge fellow ford driver Aric Almirola (97.643 mph) off the top spot in the final round of qualifying for the series’ sixth race of the season.

Logano won here last fall, securing a spot in the Championship 4 where he ultimately won his first Cup championship. He’s already won this season to likely secure a berth in this season’s 16-team playoffs and he finished second a week ago at Auto Club Speedway.

To say he and his team, led by crew chief Todd Gordon, are running well would be an understatement.

But Martinsville, the only track that has hosted NASCAR’s top series since its debut in 1949, has been a bit of a mixed bag for the New England native. Logano has finished in the top 10 in nearly one-half his starts here (nine of 20) but he’s also finished 20th or worse five times.

In qualifying Saturday, he and his team’s efforts were short and sweet … and fast. Logano needed just two laps to land at sixth quickest in the first round and one lap in the second round to remain sixth best. That sent him into the third and final round with remarkably fresh tires.

“That really paid a reward as we got to the third round,” Logano said, noting his team chose not to make any mock qualifying runs during practice. “It’s important to win a pole here – to start up front is obviously safer, but you can also run your (race) pace and (it’s) a safer place on pit road as well.”

Tire conservation in qualifying isn’t exactly the norm at most tracks – but at Martinsville it can be a deciding factor.

“It’s not just one lap like most tracks we go to,” he said, “(where) you lay down one and you’re done. Here, you’ve got to run quite a few laps to be able to lay down a fast one, which makes me run out of breath, by the way. It’s like the most intense qualifying session for me. … We go slower here than anywhere else we go and I’m breathing harder than anywhere else we go, so there must be something to it.”

Ford teams swept the first four spots with Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski third fastest and Kevin Harvick, Almirola’s teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing, fourth.

Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota) was fifth in the final round, after posting the quickest times in the first two rounds.

Logano, who has 22 career wins, hasn’t won a Cup race from the pole since 2016 (at Michigan International Speedway).

No driver has won a Cup race from the pole since Martin Truex captured the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway last summer.

Seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson will carry a 64-race winless streak into Sunday’s event. A nine-time winner at Martinsville, Johnson will start 12th.

Kyle Busch could muster only a 14th-best qualifying time for Sunday. Busch, driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota in the Cup Series, has won the last two Cup races – at Phoenix and Fontana, Calif.; he also has two wins in the Xfinity Series this season and a win Saturday at Martinsville was his third consecutive Truck Series win.

Opening-lap accident claims life of Staley

Sunday, March 23, 1958 – Gwyn Staley, 30, dies as a result of injuries sustained in a crash that occurred on the opening lap of the 200-lap convertible race held at Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway. Staley, a native of North Wilkesboro, N.C., was the younger brother of Enoch Staley, one of NASCAR’s early promotors in the Carolinas and owner of North Wilkesboro Speedway. The younger Staley’s car flipped several times after contact on the first lap, then struck the board fence surrounding the track. He was pinned under his vehicle. He was pronounced dead upon arrival at Richmond Memorial Hospital.

• Staley was third in the National Convertible points standings heading into the Richmond race. He was driving a 1957 Chevrolet owned by Julian Petty, brother of premier series driver Lee Petty. A week before his fatal crash, Staley had finished second to Curtis Turner in a 150-lap Grand National race at Champion Speedway in Fayetteville, N.C.

Enoch Staley named the spring NASCAR race at North Wilkesboro in his brother’s honor – the Gwyn Staley 400 (the Gwyn Staley 160 in ’59-60).

The Richmond race was resumed following Staley’s accident with Joe Weatherly collecting the win.

Jarrett, Fords undaunted by rule changes

Sunday, March 22, 1998 – Dale Jarrett’s victory in the TranSouth 400 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway was just the second victory for a Ford team in the season’s first five races, but it came on the heels of a second NASCAR rule change aimed at taking away a perceived aerodynamic advantage the auto maker enjoyed on the race track. Earlier that week, officials had instructed Ford teams to decrease the width of the spoilers on the back of their cars by two inches. Eight of the top 10 finishers at Darlington were Fords.

NASCAR had previously required Ford teams to decrease the height of their spoiler from five inches to 4.75 inches after the auto maker swept nine of the top 10 spots at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

At Darlington, spoilers on Ford entries were decreased from 57 inches wide to 55 inches, the same as that on Chevrolet and Pontiac entries. Ford teams placed five or more teams in the top 10 in all of the season’s first five races.

“We built a good race car and all they’ve (NASCAR) done from the second race on is take stuff away from us,” Jarrett said afterward.

Ford drivers led all 293 laps in the TranSouth Financial 400 at Darlington.

Marlin tops Wallace for legends win at BMS

Saturday, March 21, 2009 – Tennessee’s own Sterling Marlin came out on top in a 35-lap legends race dubbed Scott’s Saturday Night Special at Bristol Motor Speedway. A native of Columbia, Tenn., Marlin bested Rusty Wallace in a race that featured 12 NASCAR “legends” competing in Late Model entries on the high-banked half-mile.

Marlin was still competing in NASCAR’s premier series, although not on a full-time basis.

In addition to Marlin and Wallace, others taking part in the event were: Junior Johnson, Cale Yarborough, Harry Gant, Terry Labonte, Phil Parsons, Jimmy Spencer, Jack Ingram David Green, Larry Pearson and local standout L.D. Ottinger from nearby Newport, Tenn.

Two-time premier series champ and five-time BMS winner David Pearson was the grand marshal.