Sunday, Nov 27
The NASCAR Sprint Cup and Xfinity teams wrapped up a weekend at the .75-mile Richmond International Raceway for the Toyota Care 250 and the Toyota Owner’s 400. Here are some takeaways from this weekend’s events:
 
·      Cup Drivers in Xfinity: Dale Jr. won the Toyota Care 250 ‪on Saturday afternoon‬ holding off many Xfinity Series regulars. However, there was no backlash about the victory for Jr. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver did not receive any backlash like there would have been if Kyle Busch had won the race. It is not a Sprint Cup driver in the Xfinity Series problem for most fans, but a Kyle Busch problem. If you are going to complain about one Sprint Cup driver, then you should complain about them all.
 
·      Tony Stewart: It was great to see the return of Tony Stewart on Sunday in the Toyota Owner’s 400. He experienced some struggles, but was able to overcome them for a 19th place finish. When he got out of the car, he stated that he “could go for another 800 laps.” Hopefully, Stewart will continue and improve on this performance throughout the season. NASCAR is much better when Stewart is around.
 
·      Tires: Goodyear brought a softer tire this year to Richmond. There were no tire issues throughout the race weekend. Enabling a tire strategy with the other strategies being played, called for a great race on Sunday
 
·      Day vs Night: When Richmond announced that their spring race would return to the day, it was received greatly by fans. It allowed for many younger fans to be brought to the speedway. There seemed to be younger fans in the stands on Sunday than normal. I believe all tracks who have two events should have one day and one-night race, if they have the MUSCO lighting. 
 
·      Last Lap Pass: The last lap pass on Sunday between Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch was typical short track racing. It was apparent that there were no team orders in place from Coach Joe Gibbs. This pass was completely different from what we saw at Kansas and Martinsville last fall. This is typical short track racing, and I hope to see more of it. Would you rather have teammates racing for the win or parading around?
 
What are your takeaways from Richmond International Raceway?
On Monday, Brian France, NASCAR Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, joined Dave Moody on SiriusXM Speedway, in an important visit to discuss topics facing NASCAR today. France covered a wide range of topics without holding back his position. 
 
The first topic of conversation was lugnuts. Earlier in the day, NASCAR announced a new rule where teams must have five lugnuts on each of their tires post-race. If they fail to do so, they will be penalized. “There’s all types of things that teams are obligated to get right with their individual cars. Our job is that whenever there is a safety improvement to make or policy to enhance things, we will just do that. It is as simple as that. Our whole system is based on safe and competitive racing. If we can make an adjustment to make things safer, we will,” stated Brian France, “In terms of loose or tight, we obviously have a lot of technology now to where we can monitor that. We obviously have a deterrent system of putting penalties in place. We will get the policy and rule right where safety is always at the forefront.”
 
When asked about the Tony Stewart fine, France stated, “Tony’s very aware of how we approach the criticism of the sport and the product of the racing itself. We are the most liberal of any sport in terms of allowing drivers to express their views. We want drivers to express themselves. We are thick-skinned.”  
 
France went on to talk about heat races in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. “I think it is a work in progress. I liked some of the things I saw. I think we are going to continue to look at it. This is our effort to listen to fans, drivers, and teams to see if we can make all the formats better.”
 
The final topic included a stance on North Carolina’s H.B 2, France stated, “We have been very clear about this from day one when the law was announced. We did not think it was appropriate. We did not care for it. We did the same position in Indiana, although that was a religious based law. Both of these laws fall under what we think are discrimination. With that said, our job is to take a lot out of the communities, taking and giving back. I have spoke to the governor myself. We have worked backchannel in expressing our views. We are very clear about that. We hope that they will change that law. There is no ambiguity where NASCAR stands. When it comes to discrimination, you can expect us to take a firm stand on that.”
 

Tony Stewart has caused a raucous in the NASCAR world this weekend heading into Richmond.  Stewart, who is in his final season as a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver, suffered a L1 vertebrae injury back in January made news two times on Thursday.

 

First, around 11 am Eastern, Tony Stewart announced that he would return back to competition this weekend at Richmond International Raceway. Stewart will have only missed eight races in a quicker-than-expected comeback. Although he will return to the track this weekend, at Talladega Superspeedway, Stewart will practice, qualify, and start his Chevrolet in the Geico 500, where Ty Dillon will take the reins. Stewart went to Twitter to make the announcement stating, “Well, the long wait is over. I’ll be back in my Mobil 1 Chevy this weekend at Richmond. I can’t wait to race again. The Dr’s said my scans ‘looked much better than they thought they would after 3 months.’ So they cleared me. Thanks for everyone’s support & well wishes.”

 

About an hour after the announcement, NASCAR announced that Stewart would be granted a waiver to compete in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. "NASCAR received the appropriate medical clearance documentation allowing Tony Stewart to resume normal racing activities. We also have granted the request from Stewart-Haas Racing for a waiver for Tony to be eligible to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. As he begins his final season, we wish Tony the best of luck,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer.

 

Nearly a few hours later of the announce of Tony’s return, NASCAR placed an absurd $35,000 fine for his comments earlier in the week about lug nuts. Tony expressed safety and concern for the tactics teams are taking with their tires on pit stops. Stewart denounced NASCAR for leaving their mandatory five lug nut rule from years past. In an event with Mobil1 on Wednesday this week, Stewart stated “You see the problem getting worse. Well if you see a problem getting worse like that, where’s the bottom of that trend going to happen? It’s going to happen when somebody gets hurt, and that’s going to be one of the largest black eyes I can see NASCAR getting when they’ve worked so hard and done such a good job to make it safe. In this one particular area, they are totally dropping the ball on and I feel like really made a grossly bad decision on.”

 

Late Thursday Evening, the NASCAR Driver’s Council released a statement about the Stewart penalty. The statement from the council was released by councilmember Denny Hamlin. The statement announced that the nine members of the council were going to equally pay for the fine. In a statement to NBC Sports, the Driver’s Council stated, “We as drivers believe Tony has the right to speak his opinion on topics that pertain to a sport that he has spent nearly two decades helping build as both a driver and an owner. While we do not condone drivers lashing out freely at NASCAR, we do feel Tony was in his rights to state his opinion. We as a Council support him and do not agree with the fine. Therefore, we fellow council members have agreed to contribute equally to paying his fine."

 

Today at Richmond International Raceway, drivers were supportive of Tony and his comments. Many drivers continue to question where the line is of making comments to not make NASCAR mad.

 

After activities at Richmond, NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Competition, Scott Miller, spoke to the media about where NASCAR stands. It was announced that NASCAR is reevaluating the policy for lug nuts because of the driver’s concern. Miller was adamant that there are rules in place to penalize teams for loose wheels if the lug nuts are not tightened correctly. “Technology is the way to see us home on the matter,” said Scott Miller.

 

This has been a crazy 72-hour news cycle. Here are my thoughts:

First, I am glad to see that Tony Stewart is returning to the track. NASCAR is better when Tony Stewart is around. Hopefully, this return will bring a boost to attendance and TV ratings, which have been at an all-time low, but have beat other sports. I wish Tony the best in his final season.

 

Second, Tony Stewart does know how to keep people on their toes. This is the second time in 2016 that fans have been blindsided from announcements from Stewart-Haas Racing. The first happening earlier in the season when it was announced that SHR would transfer manufacturers from Ford to Chevrolet. The announcement of his return was also a shocker because at the day before, Stewart was adamant that he did not know when he was going to return.

 

Third, NASCAR needs to get thicker skin. Why would you fine a driver who has legitimate concerns about safety more than someone who stated that you “fix” races? Why is one penalty more than the other? The concerns from Stewart about safety are valid. Why did you not fine the sports most popular driver, Dale Jr., when he basically made the same comments as Stewart? NASCAR wants the drivers to be open about their concerns, but this penalty basically gives the mentality that “If it is something that NASCAR does not like, then they will penalize.” NASCAR has taken away the personality of the drivers. To me, the penalty shows that NASCAR is not taking the concerns very seriously. NASCAR should rescind the penalty handed down to Stewart after today’s statement from Steve Miller.

 

Lastly, I applaud the Driver’s Council for taking a stand against the rule of NASCAR. I was amazed to hear that the members agreed to equally pay this penalty for Stewart. My hope is that this council will continue to take a stand on important issues facing NASCAR. 

The NASCAR Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series have completed their first trip to the .533-mile Bristol Motor Speedway. Here are five takeaways from the Food City 500 and the Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300:
 
·      Heat Races: Back in January at the NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte, NASCAR announced that the NASCAR Xfinity Series will participate in heat races in the Dash4Cash events in 2016. This was a great first run of this style format. However, the heat races need to be worked on because there was no excitement in the heats. Qualifying should not happen when we use this format. There were no eliminations which made the races lackluster. In order to divide the field into the two heats, NASCAR should use the average speed of practice to divide the field or have slips of paper in a hat labeled 1 or 2, and whatever number you draw, that is your heat. I know this is the first run of this format, but it is obvious something needs to change to add more drama and excitement. We need the “Norm Benning Moments”. 
 
·      Tires: The tire combination used at Bristol has not changed. Goodyear needs to try to bring softer tires. Drivers were complaining that the tires were making it hard to pass. In the Food City 500, we saw couple of drivers who had melted beads when they wrecked. That is not a Goodyear issues, but a setup issue. It is not a tire problem when only a couple of drivers experience problems.
 
·      Old vs New Bristol: This ever going debate continued into the weekend. For me, they are both the same. The only difference between old and new Bristol is the racing line. In Old Bristol, drivers would race the bottom lane and the top lane would be hard to pass. New Bristol has the same idea, but the racing groove is on the high lane. Drivers say that the racing is better on “new” Bristol. Does our debate come from how many wrecks were experienced on each configuration? Honestly, that seems to be the issue. 
 
·      Matt Kenseth: Matt cannot seem to catch a break this season. He is always running up towards the front, but something always happens to where he cannot finish where he started. The other Joe Gibbs Racing cars have won a race, leaving Kenseth as the only driver to not have done so. Hopefully, the tide will turn for Kenseth and his JGR team so that Coach Gibbs will have all four of his cars into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
 
·      Solid Finishes: The Food City 500 saw some unfamiliar names in the top-10. Trevor Bayne, who finished fifth, had his best career finish since he won the 2011 Daytona 500. Matt DiBenedetto, who finished sixth, has an amazing story and created a new career best finish at Bristol. Clint Bowyer, who finished ninth, has struggled throughout much of the season with HScott Motorsports. Short tracks should now be considered the great equalizer, just like plate tracks. Martinsville also had some new names in the top-10. Will Richmond provide the same?
 
 
What are your takeaways from the events at Bristol Motor Speedway?
 
The Duck Commander 500 from the 1.5 mile Texas Motor Speedway was one of the better spring races seen at the speedway. Here are five takeaways from this weekends festivities in the Lone Star State:
 
·      Kyle Busch: He is definitely in the prime of his career as a racer. After his injury from the season-opening NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway in 2015, fans have started to turn a new leaf with Busch. When he was doing his celebratory burnout at the end of the race, fans were cheering louder than the occasional boo’s heard when he wins. 
 
·      Joe Gibbs Racing: Just a couple years ago, fans and media were asking “What is going on at Joe Gibbs Racing?” Well, that has turned into “Who can stop them?” In the NASCAR Xfinity Series, JGR teams have qualified 1-2-3 in all but one event in the 2016 season. In the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, JGR teams are towards the front of the field throughout the race. Joe Gibbs Racing has found something that the other teams have not found yet. Will JGR have all four cars, including the affiliate, Furniture Row Racing, in the Chase for the Sprint Cup in September?
 
·      Texas Motor Speedway: It is time to shorten the spring race at Texas to 400 miles and/or switch this race to the daytime. The race was over 3.5 hours long this weekend. This is not okay for the “millennial generation” that NASCAR is trying so desperately to reach. The fans were not packed this weekend at the track. Are fans not buying tickets to this race so they could go to the Chase race in November? Eddie Gossage does a great job promoting his events, but is there anything else he can do to wrangle in more spectators? 
 
·      Green/Yellow Situations: The Duck Commander 500 started under a Green/Yellow situation to help NASCAR dry the track, after late afternoon showers. Jet Dryers and Air Titans were doing yeoman’s work on drying the track. Personally, NASCAR should go away from these type of situations. Fans pay and want to see the race start on the first lap. If the track was not ready to race, then do not put the cars on the track. Luckily, weepers were not an issue this go-around at Texas Motor Speedway, but NASCAR needs to look at this policy.
 
·      Cup Drivers in the Xfinity Series: LET IT GO! Xfinity Series regulars enjoy having the Sprint Cup drivers racing with them. Having Cup drivers in this series allows for fans to see what these up and coming drivers are made of. “Names are made here” is the slogan for the Xfinity Series. Wouldn’t you love to actually see what these drivers are made of?  Cup drivers in this series allows for people who are unable to see their favorite Cup drivers race on Sunday, due to whatever circumstances, see them race. If Xfinity drivers are okay with this dilemma, then why aren’t the fans?
 
What are your takeaways from Texas Motor Speedway?
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