Friday, Sep 22

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and Xfinity Series wrapped up a double-header weekend at Watkins Glen International for the Zippo 200 and the Cheez-It 355. Here are five takeaways from the weekend in Upstate New York:

·Crowd: Watkins Glen was able to have their second consecutive sell-out for their NASCAR weekend. With a strong crowd attendance, it is obvious what NASCAR can continue to work on to bring fans to the track, that is on-track product.  Watkins Glen provided one of the better races in 2016. Watkins Glen did not disappoint.

·Carousel: Over the past few years, the carousel at Watkins Glen has brought some of the most vicious wrecks in NASCAR history. Safety has to be the number one priority. However, with other racing series racing at Watkins Glen and using “The Boot”, this will provide a challenge.

·Cup drivers in Xfinity: When Joey Logano won Saturday’s Zippo 200, there seemed to be no outrage among fans about a Sprint Cup driver racing in the Xfinity Series. The issue with most fans seems to be when Kyle Busch wins the race. If fans are going to complain about Cup drivers in Xfinity, it needs to be for all Cup drivers, not just one.

·Road-course racing: Road courses once used to be a drag to drivers, crew chiefs, and fans when it was their turn on the schedule. However, over the past couple years, there has been a renaissance among road course racing. I am a firm believer that a road course should be placed in each chase for the championship. Why? A driver must have the prowess on every type of speedway on the NASCAR schedule. It will be interesting to see where road course racing will go within the next couple years.

·Rivalries: I am a huge proponent and believer that NASCAR needs a good rivalry like Petty/Pearson. Watkins Glen produced the potential of a couple new rivalries among Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski and among Kyle Larson and AJ Allmendinger. Truex and Larson were dumped by Keselowski and Allmendinger on the last lap. My hope is that these spur into new rivalries because that is what NASCAR desperately needs.

What are your takeaways from this weekend in Watkins Glen?


In a media availability on Friday with Truex and Garone, the idea of a second car was hinted by Joe Garone, general manager of Furniture Row.. “It’s certainly a part of it for the growth of the team. It’s been over this journey we started off and Barney (Visser, team owner), his company has funded our car all along and are still there, but Bass Pro Shops really coming onboard this last year has really opened up a door for other sponsorships. And, it’s kind of settled us to where we feel we’re getting strong enough to support a second effort and it’s no secret we’ve been working on that and we’ll see where that takes us. If we can get it all pulled together it will be ’17. Yep.”


However, after weeks of speculation and a preliminary report by, Furniture Row Racing made it official Sunday before the Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen that Erik Jones will move from NASCAR Xfinity Series competition to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition in 2017 to field a second car for Furniture Row, alongside Martin Truex Jr., who re-signed this week with a two-year contract extension. 5-hour ENERGY will be the primary sponsor for the new no. 77 Toyota, leaving their current sponsorship of Clint Bowyer, driver of the no. 15 HScott Motorsports Chevrolet. 


Barney Visser, owner of Furniture Row Racing, explains how quickly this deal came together. "We're very excited to have all the components of a second race team pulled together here.  It's all come together in the last month.To find a driver like Erik, a sponsor like 5-Hour ENERGY, along with our technical agreement with Gibbs, we think we're going to be able to run right up where we need to run.  We're very excited to get it all pulled together here.”


Rise Meguiar, vice president of Living Essentials, was also in attendance in today’s press conference. “They came to us and presented the program for Erik.  I've been watching Erik and seen his talent in both series.  We have watched what Furniture Row has done with the car that they have.  We just felt that it was going to be a good place for us to be.  It was just a really good fit.”


"It's hard to say I'm not excited but anxious at the same time, anxious for this day, and excited to be here.  It's pretty cool for me to be partnered up with Furniture Row and be part of them growing and part of 5-Hour, too.  To have such a big company like that be partnered with me is pretty cool this early in my racing career and something I've always wanted,” said Jones of his new partnership with Furniture Row and 5-hour ENERGY. 


Toyota Racing Development is pumped to have a new team in Sprint Cup Series competition. "I think Erik ascending to the Cup level, for Toyota, this is the first time a Toyota driver has grown from the grassroots ranks all the way through NASCAR's national series.  I think it's a great story for Toyota, but probably a greater story for NASCAR and the future of our sport,” said David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development USA.


Furniture Row Racing will be seeking charter status for the no.77 entry in 2017. "There's several charters out there that we're hearing are available.  We've been looking at it some.  We're not exactly sure where we're going to be on that.  We are going to get a charter, but we're not sure who we're going to get it from yet,” said Visser. 


Adding a second team, according to Garone, will not affect day-to-day operations because the team has already begun modifying the shop in Denver, Colorado to accommodate two cars.


Visser and Furniture Row hope the one-year deal with Jones will turn into many more to come.


5-Hour ENERGY will also be proudly displayed for two races on Martin Truex Jr.’s car, which includes the NASCAR All-Star Race in 2017. 


Jones is the reigning NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion. He currently holds the top seed in the Xfinity Chase with three wins. He has clinched 11 top-five finishes in 2016. He also has six poles under his belt in 2016. With an average start of 2.7, Jones has an average finish of 11.4. Jones has a couple NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts under his belt from 2017, filling in for Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth in 2015. Jones also filled in for Denny Hamlin in Sprint Cup competition during the Food City 500 in support of Steve Byrnes and Stand Up to Cancer at Bristol Motor Speedway in early 2016. 


With a one car operation, Furniture Row has clinched a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup in three of the last four years. In 2016, the team has one win, three top-five’s, three poles, an average start of 9.6, and an average finish of 13.4.

NASCAR VP of Competition, Scott Miller, was made available to media after Sunday’s night’s Quaker State 400. 

“I think the low downforce package helped this race on the repave,” stated Miller, “I think the corner speeds would have been extremely high with the higher downforce, stepping out of the groove, and would have more consequences than we had tonight.”

Miller stated that NASCAR will look this week and collaborate with teams and OEM’s on whether or not they will test out the package used here tonight at Kentucky. 

“There were some strategic reasons we chose to do it. We engaged the entire industry on putting the plan together about when we are going to do it. That certainly does make since, but the timing of that, some testing we had, lots of things go into making these decisions with the schedule. It just didn’t line up for us to be able to do that with the initial plan."

Miller also stated that NASCAR will not be making any aero changes during the Chase for the Sprint Cup. 


NASCAR wraps up a triple header weekend at Kentucky Speedway. William Byron won in Thursday night’s Buckle Up in Your Truck 225, Kyle Busch won Friday’s Alsco 300, and Brad Keselowski won Saturday’s Quaker State 400. Here are five takeaways from this weekend in Kentucky:

1.    Tires: Tires were a main concern coming into this weekend’s events at Kentucky Speedway after blistering was found in a tire test in June. Although tires were not a main issue in the Sprint Cup Series race, they were an issue in the Xfinity Series. Whenever the drivers came down to change tires on pit stops, the tires were blistering. This is probably due to the fact that the Xfinity cars have more downforce than the Cup cars. If Goodyear had an ample amount of time to reconfigure the tire after the June test, tire wear would probably not have been an issue. Teams were asked by Goodyear to scuff the tires during practice to help with tire wear
2.    Repave/Reconfiguration: The repave and reconfiguration was a great collaborative effort from SMI and NASCAR. I applaud the organizations for making the effort to make sure that the track will not be like any other repave with only one groove. The repave and reconfiguration also brought new strategy to the race. The speedway spent two weeks running tires on the track to help “age” and widen the groove. If the speedway had time to get the whole racetrack, we probably would have seen a multi-groove repave.

3.   Fuel mileage: The Quaker State 400 ended in fuel mileage. I personally don’t mind fuel mileage race, but would not want to see them every week. Fuel mileage adds another element to the multi-element event in NASCAR.

4.    Low downforce package: The “2017” lower downforce package provided another element into the weekend’s event in Kentucky. According to drivers, it had significant impact on how they raced. The question is, Does NASCAR have enough data to sift through to continue on with this package.

5.    Race Weekends: Race weekends need to be shorter. The NASCAR Xfinity Series had four practice sessions on Thursday. Instead of making this a four day weekend, three days would have sufficed if NASCAR would have combined the Camping World Truck Series and the Xfinity Series races into one day, like Atlanta. I know this has been a topic for NASCAR and the Driver’s Council. It will be interesting to see what happens after those discussions.

What are your takeaways from this weekend at Kentucky Speedway?

Brad Keselowski steals the show by saving enough fuel to win the Quaker State 400. Carl Edwards finished second followed by Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, and Tony Stewart. This is Keselowski’s third win at Kentucky. Keselowski continues the streak of winning at Kentucky in even numbered years. 

"I’ve got to give credit to my guys, the Roush Yates Engine shop, and everybody at Ford.  We knew the fuel mileage.  We went out and we set a really fast pace there on that restart and was just using fuel, and then it became obvious that you were gonna have to save fuel at the end, but I already used so much.  It’s a testament to our guys to have the fuel mileage that we did to be able to get back what I burnt early in the run and get the Miller Lite Ford in Victory Lane.  It’s number four this year.  Gosh, that’s great.  Usually these repaves are kind of my Achilles heel, but to get a win here at Kentucky.  I know it’s been a good track for us in the past, but this isn’t the same Kentucky, I can tell you that.  These cars were tough to drive today, but a good tough.  This was a hard-fought battle and I’m really proud of everybody on the 2 crew to get win number four and take that first place,” says Keselowski in victory lane.

The Quaker State 400 experienced 16 lead changes among nine different drivers. Kevin Harvick led the most laps at 128 followed by Brad Keselowski with 75, Martin Truex Jr. with 46, Kurt Busch with 10, Matt Kenseth, David Ragan, and Danica Patricl all led two laps, Austin and Ty Dillon both led one lap. 

The caution flag flew 11 times to tie the record set last year for 53 laps. The first caution flew for an accident by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in turn three. The second caution was the competition caution. The third caution was for an accident by Jimmie Johnson off turn four. Joey Logano brought out the fourth caution with an accident in turn three. Matt Dibenedetto caused the fifth caution with an accident in turn three. The rookies of Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott brought out the sixth caution for a spin in turn three. The ‘Big One’ involved Danica Patrick, Regan Smith, Chris Buescher, Kyle Larson, Brian Scott, AJ Allmendinger, Ty Dillon, and Cole Whitt to bring out the seventh caution. The eighth caution was brought out by Smith. Patrick and Clint Bowyer brought out the ninth caution with an accident in turn four. Allmendinger brought out the 10th caution. Landon Cassill brought out the final caution with an accident in turn two.

Kevin Harvick maintains the points lead. Keselowski is four points behind Harvick followed by Kurt Busch (-16), Carl Edwards (-33), and Joey Logano (-66).

Keselowski retakes the top seed in the Chase Grid with four wins. Kyle Busch is currently seeded second with three wins followed by Johnson and Edwards who have two wins, and Hamlin, Harvick, Kenseth, Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, Logano, and Stewart. 

The average speed of the race was 128.580 mph. The time of race was 3 hours, 6 minutes, and 55 seconds. The margin of victory was .175 seconds. 

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series packs up from Kentucky Speedway to head to the flat one-mile oval, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, for the New Hampshire 301. Performance Racing Network and NBCSN will have coverage from New Hampshire beginning at 1:30 pm eastern on July 17.


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