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NASCAR Richmond Notebook: Mending Fences Just Part of the Game

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NASCAR Notebook: Mending Fences Part of the GameSean Gardner - Getty Images

When it comes to mending fences NASCAR Cup drivers agree there is a difference between settling disputes with teammates than with other competitors. That’s because when two drivers are on the same team, they are forced to work out their issues with one another.

“Typically, when I have an incident with a teammate you have your Monday morning meeting and then you talk it out after everyone leaves the room,” Denny Hamlin said at Richmond during the Toyota Owners 400 weekend. “The others, you can just avoid it if you want to. You don’t have to return calls or text message back. You don’t have to answer to them in person. They’re not allowed to retaliate back to you on the race track anymore.”

Ryan Blaney said a dispute with a non-teammate might be mended with a nail whereas with a teammate “you’re gonna mend that thing with screws and wire and maybe even a little bit of glue.”

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“No matter if you’re a teammate, worst enemies, best friends, you do this enough, you’re gonna get into it with everybody intentional or not,” Blaney said. “Those things just happen.”

Kyle Busch believes a team owner plays an instrumental role in solving issues between teammates. When Busch drove for Hendrick Motorsports, he had an issue with Jeff Gordon.

“Rick (Hendrick) brought us in, sat us down and we talked,” Busch recalled. “Myself and Denny (Hamlin) once or twice; once for sure in the All-Star race, but then after that there were a couple of speedway racing incidents where we had to agree to disagree on our philosophies on speedway racing. That was where Joe (Gibbs) had to get involved and kind of talk us through our differences.”

Busch said when he had an issue with a couple of his drivers at Kyle Busch Motorsports he first talked with them individually.

“Then I bring them together and I talk to them together to try and go over that stuff,” Busch said.

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You ask 10 different drivers about why there is some much contact in NASCAR these days and you’re likely to get 10 different answers.Meg Oliphant - Getty Images

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Changes Within Sport Contribute To Racing Tactics

Denny Hamlin cites the numerous rules that now exist in NASCAR as the contributing factor to the lack of respect on the race track.

“They frown upon hand-to-hand combat after the event,” Hamlin said. “They frown upon retaliation on the race tracks. So, really, what’s the worst that can happen? There’s just no repercussions. You just try to do the best you can for your team and screw everyone else in the process.

“It’s just different now than it used to be because of all the rules that we’ve got.”

Brad Keselowski notes that in addition to the sport’s rules other contributing factors are the car’s durability and different track layouts, specifically the road courses.

“Certainly, the drivers have changed, too. I wouldn’t want to write that off,” Keselowski said. “All of these factors aggregated together have generated that type of racing and in some instances I think it’s really good. I think it’s really compelling to watch, so I wouldn’t say it’s all bad. But at times, it’s like anything, it goes too far. It’s like having a candy bar. One is probably good. If you end up having four, five, six, probably not so good.

“I think as a sport we are evolving, the drivers are evolving, the cars are evolving, the tracks are evolving, and things pop up like this and we just have to go fix them.”

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Kevin Harvick has yet to win a race this season, but he’s a solid fifth in the points.Logan Riely - Getty Images

Harvick Leads Ford Camp

Kevin Harvick was the top performing Ford in Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway, recording his third, fifth-place finish this season.

Harvick never led in the 400-lap race at the three-quarter-mile track, but he ran in the top 10 for most of the race. The only time he found himself outside the top 10 was during green flag stops.

“We didn’t have a very smooth day and the car didn’t really do anything that I wanted it to do to have a shot at winning,” Harvick said. “We were definitely expecting to be a little bit better, but that’s the way it goes.”

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Richmond was a race in the right direction for Michael McDowell (34). Jared C. Tilton - Getty Images

McDowell Secures First Top-10 This Year

Michael McDowell, always considered a victory threat at superspeedways and on road courses, produced his first top-10 this season in Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at one of the oldest short tracks in NASCAR’s Cup Series.

McDowell’s sixth-place finish was his first top-10 since Talladega last October and his first at a short track in nearly a year. His last top-10 finish on a short track occurred last April on the Bristol dirt track when he placed ninth.

A strategy call by crew chief Travis Peterson put McDowell in position to claim his top-10 finish.

“I think we were gonna be 15th or 16th, so you might as well go for it and see if you can’t come up with something good and it worked out,” McDowell said.

“We needed a little bit more speed on the front end and not lose so much track position early on, but the long run speed was great. I feel like our short-track program is turning the corner, at least I hope so.”

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Ty Gibbs is making a habit of ninth-place finishes during his rookie season in the Cup Series.Logan Riely - Getty Images

Third Top 10 for Gibbs

When Ty Gibbs pitted with 19 laps remaining during the eighth and final caution period in Sunday’s Toyota Owners 300 at Richmond Raceway, crew chief Chris Gayle told his driver he was out of new tires. That if there was another caution, there was no reason for him to pit.

Gibbs sat 10th when the race restarted on lap 387 of the 400-lap race. With 10 laps remaining, he had fallen outside the top 10, but by the time the checkered flag waved, the 20-year-old driver had clawed his way back to claim his third straight ninth-place finish.

“The biggest thing is just minimizing mistakes,” Gibbs said.

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Martin Truex Jr. was no match for drivers on new tires down the stretch.Jared C. Tilton - Getty Images

Tires Cost Truex Chance at Victory

Martin Truex Jr. led twice for 56 laps, but when his Joe Gibbs Racing crew had to put scuffed tires on his Toyota during the final pit stop with 19 laps remaining, he couldn’t keep pace with the cars on new tires.

Truex restarted third, but then dropped through the field, having to settle for an 11th-place finish.

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William Byron led the most laps on Sunday at Richmond.David Jensen - Getty Images

Spin, Penalties Thwart Byron, Hamlin Victory Chances

William Byron dominated Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway, leading four times for 117 laps, but his victory hopes were dashed on lap 380 when he was tagged by Christopher Bell and spun in turn one. Byron finished 24th.

Denny Hamlin’s nemesis—pit road penalties—reared their ugly head Sunday for the first time this season and they cost Hamlin his shot at victory.

Hamlin’s first penalty for speeding on pit road came on lap 33 during the first caution period, forcing him to restart at the rear of the field. He fought back and eventually led three laps for 71 laps. Then on lap 374, Hamlin incurred his second pit road speeding penalty. That occurred during the seventh caution period.

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Daniel Suarez got hit in the pocketbook at COTA.Jared C. Tilton - Getty Images

COTA Speed Penalty, Massive Fine Surprised Suarez

A $50,000 penalty NASCAR assessed Daniel Suarez after the Trackhouse driver hit Alex Bowman several times on pit road after the checkered flag waved at Circuit of the Americas surprised him.

“I wasn’t expecting it because, based on the sim, we were running below 20 mph. It was very, very slow,” Suarez said. “Also, the (No.) 48 car (Alex Bowman) was brake-checking me.

“If NASCAR wants to send a message, I’m OK with that. It’s not right what I did, but nothing else was going to happen.

“I have been trying to play as a good, aggressive, clean driver, but it’s not working for me.”