It was a tale of two days for Roush Fenway’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and NASCAR Xfinity Series teams this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 from Bristol Motor Speedway was not the best race in 2017 for Roush Fenway Racing’s Ryan Reed and Darrell Wallace Jr.
In qualifying early Saturday Morning, Reed qualified 24th and Wallace Jr. qualified 14th. However, both drivers had to start in the rear of the field. In pre-race technical inspection, NASCAR found an unapproved splitter mount on both the cars.
For Reed, the first stage of the race was his last. After dropping to the rear of the field to serve his penalty, he began to make strides towards the front. Due to a tight handling race car in the early stages, Reed was put a lapped down by the leaders. Reed never had the chance to make a pit stop to fix the issue.
Reed’s day ended on lap 79 of the 300 lap event. The right front tire blew sending Reed into the wall. Reed also suffered a sprain to his wrist as he did not let go of the steering wheel in time before contact was made. Reed and his team deemed the car as unrepairable to finish 38th
“It was a tough day altogether, starting in the back,” said Reed. “The balance wasn’t very good and we went a lap down early. We were trying to fight through it, but had a tire go down and that ended our day. We’ll move on. We’ll go to Richmond, which is one of my favorite tracks, and rebound. The good thing about getting a win at Daytona is that buys you some insurance in case you have some days like this, so we’ll rebound. I’m really proud of everyone on the Lilly Diabetes Ford Mustang. It’s a tough group mentally and physically, so we’ll persevere.”
After getting out of the car, Reed though his wrist was fractured. However, He went to social media to confirm it was just a sprain.
Ohh and wrist is all good. Just a little tight. ??— Ryan Reed (@driverRyanReed) April 22, 2017
For Wallace Jr., his day ended with 40 laps remaining ending his streak of five consecutive sixth place finishes.
In the first stage, Wallace Jr. worked his way towards the top-15 after starting from the rear. He improved over 20 positions in the stage, but went a lap down to the leaders due to a long green flag run. Wallace finished 15th in the first stage.
The second stage saw Wallace Jr. fighting to get his lap back that he lost in the first stage. Wallace Jr. battled Matt Tifft for that free pass position through much of the second and third stage. However, an accident on lap 259 that damaged the left rear of the car regulated Wallace Jr. to a 33rd place finish, tying his worst finish of the season at Daytona.
“It’s just an unfortunate day,” said Wallace. “I was just fighting hard for the lucky dog. We were put in the back for some circumstances we’ve got to get straightened out, but we were trying to make the most of it. We were fast. We were so fast there with our Leidos Mustang. It’s just unfortunate. We were clawing ourselves out of that lap-down spot and just ran out of time and ran out of luck.
The Food City 500 provided Roush Fenway’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers, Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., with the best luck of the weekend for the organization. Both drivers ran up front most of the day and ended up with top-11 finishes.
Bayne started in the 12th position due to qualifying being cancelled on Friday. Bayne maintained a top-20 position throughout much of the first stage. As the track rubbered up, Bayne began to experience a tight handling race car towards the end of the stage. Bayne finished the stage in the 15th position.
The second stage Bayne continued to work on his handling working his way up into the top-10. Bayne held off Stenhouse Jr. towards the conclusion to score two points by finishing in the ninth position.
The third stage saw Bayne going from tight conditions in the middle of the corners and loose on corner entry. Bayne was on and off in the top-10. Using the top lane, Bayne gained track position to finish in the 11th position to score his sixth top-15 finish of 2017.
Just like Bayne, Stenhouse Jr. ran up front throughout much of the race and scored a ninth place finish.
Stenhouse was almost going to a backup car after contact with the wall in the only practice session on Friday, but the team repaired the car to full glory for the race.
Stenhouse held onto a position in the top-20 throughout much of the first stage. while battling a loose car. Once the loose condition was treated, Stenhouse marched his way to the front of the field. Stenhouse worked his way towards the top-10 at the conclusion of the second stage.
Stenhouse used the high lane to work his way up to seventh, but ultimately ended up in the ninth position in the Food City 500.
When NASCAR announced the idea of stage racing at NASCAR Media Tour in January, they mentioned that there would be time between the start of one stage and the next for TV and radio to hit commercials, pit stops, the chance to interview the driver and crew chief before the start of the next stage, and then hit another commercial before the race resumes under green conditions.
However, the laps between the completion of the stage and the start of the new one count. This caused much uproar among the NASCAR fan base.
After seven races of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, Speedway Digest takes a look at the time it takes for the first and second stage to go to completion together. NASCAR mentioned at Media Tour that the breaks would be roughly five minutes each. Is that the case?
At Daytona International Speedway, the stage breaks lasted for 10 laps total, equating to 0.36 hours or 21.8 minutes. The laps accounted for 5.5 percent of the race.
At Atlanta Motor Speedway, the stage breaks lasted 13 laps, equating to 0.364 hours or 21.84 minutes. The laps accounted for four percent of the race.
At Las Vegas Motor Speedway (400 miles) and Texas Motor Speedway (500 miles), both 1.5 miles in length, the stage breaks lasted 12 laps, equating to 0.324 hours or 19.44 minutes. At Las Vegas, the breaks accounted for 4.5 percent of the race, while Texas’ stage breaks accounted for 3.6 percent of the race.
At Phoenix Raceway, the stage breaks lasted for 12 laps, equating to .26 hours or 15.6 minutes. The breaks abounded for 4.8 percent of the race.
At Auto Club Speedway, the stage breaks went for 12 laps, equating to 0.327 hours or 22.32 minutes. The breaks accounted for 5.9 percent of the race.
At Martinsville Speedway, the stage breaks lasted for 22 laps, equating to 0.33 hours or 19.8 minutes. The breaks accounted for 4.4 percent of the race.
Stage racing has added flavor and flare to the middle portions of the events. However, NASCAR is looking at ways to transform the stages in the future.
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer, joined Mike Bagley and Pete Pistone on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” to talk about stage racing and its future.
“Those caution laps, running just laps off, do they have to count? The break is put into place to allow for commercial breaks and to allow some of those green-flag breaks that we’ve seen in the past not to occur. So we want to look at how do we make this still a strategy and possibly not count those caution laps in the future. That would be for 2018 and see how it plays out throughout the year,” said O’Donnell.
The idea of not counting the laps in the stage breaks was brought up for this year, but officials decided otherwise.
“We debated that for a long time,’’ he told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “The one reason we didn’t go that route was that we didn’t want to extend the races for a really long time and have the unknown fuel mileage if you continued not to count those (laps),” O’Donnell stated. “It was kind of TV and everybody, the tracks, sitting together and saying, look for year one let’s go with the known and that’s how many laps we’ve got for this race and then if we need to adjust we can. That’s definitely something you put on the notes and say hey, let’s look at possible solutions for next year if we can.’’
O’Donnell told ESPN that TV is now showing 18 to 20 percent more green flag racing due to the stage breaks, but they are looking at ways to become more efficient.
What should NASCAR do to make the stage racing even better?
Five practice sessions, two qualifying sessions, and one 300-mile event was not enough for officials at Texas Motor Speedway when it comes to a second racing groove on the newly repaved and reconfigured track.
Officials at Texas will run the Texas Tire Monster and the Kentucky Tire Dragon, which came overnight from Sparta, Kentucky to Fort Worth Texas, to help facilitate the movement of a second groove.
The Texas Tire Monster lays down rubber using heigh weight with highly cambered tires to put rubber on the track, but relies on the sun and heat for it to work. However, the Kentucky Tire Dragon creates heat through friction to grind the rubber into the track.
From now til race time, more rubber. pic.twitter.com/uW2hV0gg5F— Texas Motor Speedway (@TXMotorSpeedway) April 8, 2017
Officials will run both machines from 10 p.m. CST to 1:00 a.m. CST and then resume at 6:00 a.m. CST until the start of the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.
Officials will also use the Team Texas Driving School, which is slated to run laps around the track from 6:30 p.m. CST to 10:00 p.m. CST, to help facilitate rubber lay down in the higher grooves.
The O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 from Texas Motor Speedway will be live on FOX and Performance Racing Network at 1:30 p.m. EST. The O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 will consist of 334 laps broken down into two stages of 85 laps and the final stage consisting of 164 laps.
Darrell Wallace Jr. scored his sixth six place finish at Texas Motor Speedway in the My Bariatric Solutions 300. He now holds second for the longest streak with the same top-10 finish. Jack Ingram currently holds that record at six straight races with a second place finish set back in 1983.
That streak almost came to an end at Lap 66. Wallace Jr. and Tyler Reddick made contact going into turn three sending Wallace Jr. into a spin. The spin also collected Justin Allgaier, Brennan Poole, and Daniel Suarez.
Wallace Jr. suffered damage to the splitter and the car’s body, the least amount of damage from anybody involved in the accident.
“We were on the free side pretty much every race and I haven’t had enough to lean on to run with those fast guys up there for most of the year. We had some good calls and good strategy today,” said Wallace Jr. post race. “The 42 got into us there in entry. Just a racing deal. I was a little pissed off at first but you have to remember there are rookies out here and I am still learning myself.”
At the conclusion of the stage, Wallace Jr and his crew chief Seth Barbour elected not to pit in an effort to gain valuable track position at Texas.
Wallace started the third and final stage in the second position, but fell back to around 10th as drivers who had fresher tires went by.
Despite the early spin, Wallace Jr. enjoyed his time in the car.
“What a blast out here today. Texas is tough now. Giving up that bottom groove is like pulling teeth. I really fought hard there and did look with about nine laps to go where I was and got it mixed up between us and the 9 and we were sixth.”
Although the effort was made by Wallace Jr. on the track, he was quick to credit his pit crew for their performance.
“Shout out to my guys. My pit crew was on it all day and all year. They put us in the game there on the green-flag stop. I saw we came out a couple spots ahead of the guys we were behind and I knew it would be a good day,” said Wallace Jr.
Wallace Jr. currently sits fourth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series points standings 49 points behind points leader Elliott Sadler. Wallace Jr. currently holds zero playoff points.
Texas Motor Speedway looks different for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series this weekend during the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 and the My Bariatric Solutions 300.
Over the offseason, Texas repaved and redesigned the first and second turns. The first two turns have decreased from 24 degrees of banking to 21 degrees, while also expanding the width to 80 feet.
There were no Goodyear tire tests ran at Texas due to the repaving project finishing a few weeks ago. However, the plans are for Goodyear to use the same tire compound used at Kentucky Speedway, last year.
Cup teams will have nearly two and a half hours of practice time on Friday an a hour and 45 minute session on Saturday. Xfinity teams will have two hours and 20 minutes of practice on Friday before their race on Saturday.
Chris Buescher was the only driver to make laps on the new surface at Texas. While making those laps, Buescher’s cinematography held numerous drivers see the changes at the track. However, the video was only meant for Buescher and his JTG Daugherty Racing team.
“I’m not sure who posted it or how it got there, but I wish I had thought of that. I was trying to help our team, not everybody. But, it kind of worked out that way. We were here right after the Vegas race before they had lines on the track and just taking a look. I think the speedway did a pretty good job of paving it. It was extremely smooth,” said Buescher on Friday before practice.
When the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice, the caution quickly fell as Denny Hamlin spun into turns one and two. Kyle Busch tagged the outside wall in turns one and two, but was able to fix the primary car. Things did not go so well for Erik Jones and Chase Elliott. Jones was coming off the fourth turn before his car went towards the wall resulting in a backup car. Elliott was coming off of the second turn before he spun and crashed into the outside wall before working his way to the inside wall for more damage, also going to a backup car.
Drivers were on edge during the practice session and many called the track “sketchy” throughout.
As the session progressed, speeds continued to increase as more rubber was being laid onto the racing surfacee. Before his spin, Hamlin laid down a lap at 174.053 MPH. After two hours and 27 minutes of practice, Ryan Blaney was fastest at 194.182 mph, Michael McDowell was second fastest at 194.056 mph, Buescher was third fastestest at 193.361 mph, Jones was fourth fastest at 193.154 mph, and AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top-five at 192.836 mph. Over 1,000 laps were run by drivers in the session.
In 2016, the first practice session of the weekend at Texas saw Martin Truex Jr. fastest at 192.892 mph. In qualifying last year, Brian Vickers laid down the fastest speed in the first round at 196.014 mph.
The notes from previous years are no longer valid at Texas as the playing field becomes equal with the repave.