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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Sonoma Notebook

Friday Sonoma Notebook

Notebook Items:
·        For Kyle Larson, a breakthrough victory at Sonoma is not far-fetched
·        New race management system is major technological step
·        Gateway Motorsports Park spearheads rebirth of local play area
·        Short strokes

June 24, 2016

By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service

For Kyle Larson, a breakthrough victory at Sonoma is not far-fetched

SONOMA, Calif. – As proficient as Kyle Larson has been on high-banked ovals, you might be tempted to discount his chances of getting his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory on a road course.

Then there’s his lack of experience at venues like Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International. Interestingly, Larson credits his dirt-track background with the ability to get a quick handle on road courses.

“I don’t have hardly any road course experience,” Larson acknowledged on Friday at Sonoma. “My first road course race was (at Road America) in 2013 when I ran Xfinity full-time. Then I have done the Rolex 24 now three times and then just the few road course races we get to run in the Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series.  I’m getting more experience, but still I probably ran a little over 10 road course races in my life. 

“But I like them because you can feel the car kind of move around a lot more. You can feel the suspension, so it feels more similar to kind of a dirt track. I don’t know if it’s the dirt track, but just sprint cars and stuff the suspension moves around a lot and you can feel the balance of the car. On this stuff you can, too, where on the ovals our cars are so stiff and rigid you can’t really feel a whole lot with them. 

“I think that’s why I can feel the car little bit better and these tracks get really slick and you have to hit your marks every lap, which is something I feel like I’m okay at.”

Friday’s opening Sprint Cup practice did nothing to disprove Larson’s assertion. The driver of the No. 42 Chip Ganassi racing Chevrolet topped the speed chart at 95.141 mph. That’s not particularly surprising, given that Larson set the track record of 1 minute 14.186 seconds (96.568 mph) during the first round of knockout qualifying last year.

In his two previous Cup starts at the 1.99-mile road course, Larson has qualified third and fourth but hasn’t brought home comparable finishes (28th and 15th).

Nonetheless, he’s willing to contemplate a possible breakthrough victory at the track.

“It would be awesome,” said Larson, who grew up in Elk Grove, Calif., roughly 90 minutes from Sonoma Raceway. “We’ve been close a couple of times this year now. If I was able to get it in my home state here, close to home, that would be awesome.”


Microsoft and NASCAR have worked in concert to develop a race management system that will consolidate six different aspects of race-day data into a single-screen interface, providing one platform for data management using Windows 10 and Microsoft Azure.

The system, which is being rolled out this weekend at Sonoma Raceway, will revolutionize the way NASCAR runs races, both in terms of the inspection process and data analytics.

“NASCAR has really put an emphasis, especially over the last 18 months, on new technology,” NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell said Friday morning during a press briefing at Sonoma.

“(It involves) how we can bring things more quickly to the fans, really put them inside the driver’s seat, but equally as important, how we can work together to be more efficient from a governing standpoint, especially when it comes to race control.

“We’re really proud to have partnered with Microsoft, obviously a global leader in technology. What they’ve been able to do for us in a really short 18-month time span is incredible.

From the single-screen interface, officials can follow the positions of every car in the field using a layout of the track, or they can isolate individual cars or groups of cars by category (top 10 or lead lap, for example). Data for the individual cars also is available, as are video captures of pit stops and potential pit road penalties.

The partnership with Microsoft will even help inform NASCAR with respect to new rules decisions.

“For us, this is not only about being more efficient and transparent at the race track but improving each week when we go back and building our team off of this platform and learning together,” O’Donnell said.

In addition, the new platform could accompany a move toward more real-time data acquisition with respect to the cars themselves.

“It’s still something we’re looking at,” O’Donnell said. “With the digital dash and with all the data that’s capable, we’re in a lot of discussions with the race teams right now of what we should share with everyone and what might be or might not be a competitive advantage—and then really kind of containing costs.

“You look across at F1 and the enormous amount of money that’s spent on data and telemetry. We can learn from that, but we want to do it and manage it in a smart way and get what fans want to see out to them, but also to try to contain the arms race that you see on all the potential data that’s out there.”


Gateway Motorsports Park, which is hosting Saturday’s Drivin’ for Linemen 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race (at 8:30 p.m. ET on FS1), has been instrumental in the revitalization of nearby Kinder Park, a local play area for children that hasn’t been updated since the 1950s.

Gateway owner Curtis Francois had mentioned to Illinois State Representative Jay Hoffman that he wanted to find a way to give back to the community. Hoffman suggested Kinder Park in neighboring Fairmont City, a town of approximately 3,000 residents that features the largest per-capita Hispanic population in the Metro St. Louis Area.

“Children of all economic backgrounds need fun, safe, exciting places to play,” Francois said. “When I learned about Kinder Park, I called a few business associates and asked for their support. They jumped in, willing and ready to assist with this need, and here we are today ready to get this playground rebuilt.”

All told, more than $100,000 has been praised to complete the project. Construction will begin in the next few weeks, with plans to open the park in the fall.

“We are proud to see Gateway Motorsports Park continue to play a leading role in their community and in motorsports with this important project,” said Jim Cassidy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations. “The people in the St. Louis region are incredible motorsports fans, and this initiative is a win for the entire community.”


Tony Stewart and Ernie Irvan were inducted into Sonoma Raceway’s Wall of Fame on Friday afternoon. “Any time you get inducted into anything it’s a huge honor,” Stewart said. This has always been one of my favorite race tracks. To be on their Wall of Fame means something to me.”…

Dale Earnhardt Jr. posted the fastest lap of the day in the second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice, running 95.298 mph in qualifying trim. Earnhardt was fourth fastest in opening practice. His only top five in 16 Sonoma starts came in 2014, when he finished third…

Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Toyota had a too-close encounter with a jackrabbit during second practice. The rabbit lost. “That thing came out of nowhere,” said Busch, who exhorted the rabbit to continue across the track—to no avail. “He stopped, and we looked eye-to-eye, and then it was over.”


Friday, June 24, 2016

Sonoma & Gateway Weekend Preview

Sonoma & Gateway Weekend Preview

June 23, 2016

Staff Report
NASCAR Wire Service

Road-course maven Allmendinger attempts to crack Chase at Sonoma

Win and you're in.

That's the ticket to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup – and a phrase AJ Allmendinger knows as well as anyone.

The road-course ace scored a surprise victory in 2014 at Watkins Glen International to capture his first-ever Chase berth and first career win. Last year, he was favored at both NASCAR Sprint Cup Series road courses – Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen – after winning their poles, but failed to reach Victory Lane and missed out on NASCAR's playoffs.

Allmendinger, from nearby San Jose, California, returns to Sonoma for Sunday's Toyota / Save Mart 350 (3 p.m. ET on FS1) focused on earning one of the remaining six Chase spots.

“Sonoma Raceway is a place where the last two years we’ve been really fast, but have had some bad luck, or self-induced luck," Allmendinger said. "We've been fast enough the last few races. However you want to look at it, we haven’t gotten the job done. Sonoma and Watkins Glen International were always the races that we circled on the calendar to know that those are going to be the chances to win to get in The Chase.”

In seven starts at Sonoma, Allmendinger claims only two top 10s, but has been hurt by bad luck in the last two races there, placing 37th in both. In addition to winning the pole at the 1.99-mile track least season, he started second there in 2014.

On Sunday, the No. 47 JTG-Daugherty Racing driver will attempt to become the 11th winner in the last 12 Sonoma races.

Allmendinger sits 19th on the Chase Grid, 27 points behind 16th-place Ryan Blaney for the final berth in NASCAR's playoffs. With Kasey Kahne and Trevor Bayne between him and Blaney, as well as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. tied with him, a win is Allmendinger's best shot at landing a bid to The Chase.

"I love Sonoma Raceway; it's a special place," Allmendinger said. "You try not to have any race be more special than others, but I would love to go there and win a race. Beggars can't be choosers, but it's a hometown race for me and one of my biggest sponsors The Clorox Company... It's where I grew up so it would be a very big deal if I won there. It would be pretty special."

Custer eyes Gateway repeat, Chase berth

Maybe a shake-up is all Cole Custer needs to perform to his potential in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

In his first race with new crew chief Marcus Richmond, the youngest winner in NASCAR national series history registered a season-high runner-up finish last Saturday at Iowa – his second top-five and third top-10 showing of the season.

"We are definitely headed in the right direction," said Custer, 18, who ranks 11th in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series standings, 14 points behind eighth-place Ben Kennedy for the final spot in the series' Chase.

Although he's behind in points, a victory would automatically qualify Custer for the seven-race Chase. He has eight contests left to complete the task, beginning with Saturday's Drivin' for Linemen 200 brought to you by Altec at Gateway Motorsports Park (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1) where he is the defending race winner.

In Custer's only other start at Gateway (2014), he became the youngest pole winner in NASCAR national series history and finished sixth.

"Coming into Gateway, we’re always looking to win," Custer said. "We are just trying to get our stuff better and we know there are a lot of things that we can get better on the Haas Automation Silverado. I think you’re going to see that in the next few weeks.”

NASCAR Race Weekend Preview

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Race: Toyota / Save Mart 350
Place: Sonoma Raceway
Date and Time: Sunday, June 26 at 3 p.m. ET
Tune-in: FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 218.9 miles (110 laps)
What To Watch For: Tony Stewart, the active NASCAR Sprint Cup Series leader in road-course victories with seven, tries to win his third career race at Sonoma and earn a Chase berth. ... Kyle Busch returns to Sonoma as the defending race winner. He jumpstarted his run to the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship at the 1.99-mile track with his first win since breaking his right leg and fracturing his left foot just four months earlier. ... Ten different drivers have visited Victory Lane in the last 11 races at Sonoma. ... Chase Elliott hopes he can continue has banner rookie start. He's produced 11 tops 10s and six top fives through the first 15 races this season. ... Nine Californians are on Sunday's entry list. ... Canadian Patrick Carpentier makes his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start since 2011. ... Six Chase berths remain with 11 races left until NASCAR's playoffs. A driver is virtually guaranteed a spot in the Chase with a regular season win.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Race: Drivin' for Linemen 200 brought to you by Altec
Place: Gateway Motorsports Park
Date and Time: Saturday, June 25 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Tune-in: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 200 miles (160 laps)
What To Watch For: Series wins leader William Byron goes for his third straight victory and fourth overall this season. ... Eight races remain until the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase. Four Chase berths are left for the eight-driver playoffs. ... Tyler Reddick, who spent six years as a teenager living in nearby Du Quoin, Illinois (85 miles from Gateway) tries for his fourth consecutive top-five finish.


Friday, June 17, 2016

Iowa Weekend Preview

Iowa Weekend Preview

June 16, 2016

Staff Report
NASCAR Wire Service

Dillon attempts to score a win for dad on Father's Day

Ty Dillon possesses quite the racing lineage.

The No. 3 Chevrolet driver's grandfather, Richard Childress, earned entrance into the 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame induction class last month and has captured six NASCAR Sprint Cup Series owner championships in his career.

Dillon's father, Mike Dillon, made 158 NASCAR national series starts and serves in a vital role at Richard Childress Racing as its vice president of competition.

Ty would like to do nothing more than win his first race of the season for Mike on Father's Day in Sunday's American Ethanol E15 250 presented by Enogen at Iowa Speedway (1:30 p.m. ET on FS1).

“My dad is one of my biggest supporters," Dillon said. "Without him, I probably wouldn’t be racing right now. He’s taught me so much from the time I decided to go racing when I was 13 years old. He had a good racing career and understands some of the things that I go through on a weekly basis – he’s extremely smart when it comes to how to race and what to look for when driving the car. He’s a big part of our family business and I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.

"This weekend is very special to me – racing and family are intertwined in my life. I hope I can score him a win on Sunday.”

Dillon has displayed good form lately with five top 10s – including three top fives – in his last seven races. He ranks fourth on the NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase Grid where he sits a hefty 140 points above 13th-place Ross Chastain on the cutoff line. He can lock himself into the Chase with a win.

In four career starts at Iowa Speedway, Dillon claims two top-five and three top-10 finishes with a high result of fourth last August.

“This weekend is a great opportunity to lock ourselves in the Chase and improve our positioning in the driver point standings. We realize that the field is mostly XFINITY Series regulars and that Iowa is a track that I’ve had experience racing, and racing pretty well. We’re definitely at an advantage this weekend and feel that we should run well.

Adaptable Byron finally faces familiar track

New track.

No problem.

William Byron has yet to visit an oval twice in his brief, eight-race NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career. Although inexperienced, the quick study has piloted his Toyota Tundra to two wins this season, including his latest visit to Victory Lane at Texas Motor Speedway last Friday.

On Saturday, Byron gets to bullet around some familiar scenery in the Speediatrics 200 at Iowa Speedway (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1) – a track where he won on his way to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship last season.

"I think our strong suit this year has been going to different tracks and being able to adapt quickly, so going to a track I've been to before is going to help us get up to speed a lot faster and be able to work on the truck even more," Byron said. "I think it's going to help us overall and help us be a little better for the beginning of the race. In the races we've won I feel like our truck was the best at the end of the race, so hopefully this weekend we can start the race as well as we finish."

The NASCAR Next alum has exceeded his own expectations in his first full truck series season, registering three top fives and four top 10s in addition to his two wins. Byron ranks third in the points standings and leads the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings. He has also already captured a berth in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase playoffs by virtue of his victories.

"I was expecting Iowa to be the first place I might get a win just because it is a short track and a place I have been to before," Byron said. "To get two wins on two 1.5-mile tracks where I didn't have any experience at all was a surprise. That was the biggest learning curve so far this season, so it's definitely exciting to have those finishes and I'm ready to try and get more wins this year."

NASCAR Race Weekend Guide

Race: American Ethanol E15 250 presented by Enogen
Place: Iowa Speedway
Date and Time: Sunday, June 19 at 1:30 p.m. ET
Tune-in: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 218.75 miles (250 laps)
What to Watch For: Daniel Suárez, who became the first Mexican to win a NASCAR national series race last Saturday, goes for his second straight win. He will race in both the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and NASCAR XFINITY Series races at Iowa this weekend. ... Brad Keselowski, the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, readies to compete in the NASCAR XFINITY Series during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series off weekend. ... Ben Kennedy, great grandson of NASCAR founder Bill France, makes his NASCAR XFINITY Series debut. ... Series wins leader Erik Jones tries for his third victory of the season after finishing fourth at Michigan. ... Sam Hornish Jr. prepares for his first start of the season in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. ... Sisters Paige and Claire Decker will make their NASCAR XFINITY Series debuts this weekend.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Race: Speediatrics 200
Place: Iowa Speedway
Date and Time: Saturday, June 18 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Tune-in: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 175 miles (200 laps)
What to Watch For: Series leader Matt Crafton goes for his fifth consecutive top-two finish. He boasts two wins during his current streak. ... NASCAR Next alum Rico Abreu sets his sight on his first win after running second on final lap at Texas before scraping the wall and finishing ninth. ... Brad Keselowski Racing's Daniel Hemric and Tyler Reddick – fourth and sixth, respectively, in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series standings – try to lock up Chase berths. ... Johnny Sauter attempts to continue his run of three straight finishes of fourth or better.