Upon Further Review: NASCAR’s new speedway leader

Leave a comment

TALLADEGA, Ala. — Car owner Roger Penske’s Sprint Cup teams never won a restrictor-plate race until the 2008 Daytona 500. Now, his organization is the dominant team on such tracks.

Joey Logano’s victory Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway — the sixth in the last nine plate races for Team Penske — evokes memories of Dale Earnhardt Inc.’s dominance and Hendrick Motorsports’ success.

Penske’s run at restrictor-plate tracks the last couple of seasons ranks as the one of the best since 2000. Only DEI, which won nine of 12 plate races from 2001-03, has a better winning percentage over multiple seasons at such tracks than Penske.

The last time any team was as strong was when Hendrick Motorsports won six of nine plate races from 2004-06.

“We have a special group of people at the shop that work all year on the restrictor-plate cars,’’ Penske told NBC Sports of the team’s reign. “You’ve really got to give a lot of credit to Ford and Roush Yates (Engines), they gave us some power.’’

The only thing surprising is that Penske’s streak didn’t continue with Brad Keselowski, who led a race-high 90 laps before his engine failed.

“He could drive up there anytime he wanted,’’ Penske said. “I remember one time he just kind of sat back and decided to go and drove right up to the front.’’

Keselowski looked as dominant as he was when he won at Daytona in July and Talladega in May. In the last three plate races, Penske cars have led 56.9 percent of the laps. Sunday, the Penske cars led 70.3 percent of the race.

It’s not just the team that has gotten better on such tracks. Penske also credits his drivers.

Logano put himself in position to win by what he did before Sunday’s race.

“You prep for each race differently but prepping for a superspeedway is probably more different than most because it’s not necessarily you’re talking about your setup, you’re talking about the changes you made in practice, it’s talking about, ‘OK this guy does this a lot of times,’ and you rewatch films, and you find some driver tendencies and which cars are good,’’ Logano told NBC Sports.

“After practice you rewatch that. You spend a lot of time with your spotter talking. I think about all that stuff, and I work on that. That’s where I can make a difference. I’ve got to understand the draft.’’

He and Keselowski both have done so. No team has won more restrictor-plate races since 2010 than Penske. Here’s that list:

7 – Team Penske

5 – Hendrick Motorsports

4 – Richard Childress Racing

3 – Joe Gibbs Racing

3 – Roush Fenway Racing

2 – Chip Ganassi Racing

1 – Front Row Motorsports

1 – Richard Petty Motorsports

1 – Stewart-Haas Racing

1 – Wood Brothers Racing

STOWAWAY

Joey Logano admits when he left his pit stall after his first stop he didn’t know that the jack was attached to the car.

“I didn’t even know when I first left the pits because of the raised ride heights on these cars, I didn’t notice it until the car kind of compressed in the corner,’’ Logano told NBC Sports. “My crew chief Todd (Gordon) told me that I’m taking a jack with me.

“I was looking. A jack? I looked in my (left-side) mirror and I couldn’t see it, and I turned my head and I saw the jack handle. I said, ‘That’s not good.’ I tried shaking it out, but I couldn’t get it to come loose.’’

Gordon told NBC Sports the plate of the jack got deeper under the car “and when you dropped the jack, the jack post slid off the backside toward the jack and lodged itself in there. It was stuck. It took three guys lifting up and somebody to really work the jack to get it back out.’’

The pit crew made up for it by getting Logano into the lead on Lap 148 after a two-tire pit stop. Logano went on to lead the final 45 laps to score his second victory of the season.

THAT CLOSE

NASCAR stated that Denny Hamlin beat Kurt Busch by .006 seconds for third place Sunday. Had Hamlin finished behind Busch, Hamlin would have not have advanced to the Round 8. Austin Dillon would have.

To compare, Hamlin beat Martin Truex Jr. for this year’s Daytona 500 by .010 seconds — the closest finish in Daytona 500 history.

PIT STOPS

Joey Logano’s win marked his sixth Chase win since 2014. He and Kevin Harvick are tied for the most Chase wins since 2014.

— Kurt Busch’s fourth-place finish was his best result since placing fourth at Kentucky in July.

— Denny Hamlin’s third-place finish marked the fifth time he’s rebounded from a penalty during a race to score a top-five result. He was caught for speeding on pit road.

— Martin Truex Jr. finished last, marking the first time since 2010 at Atlanta that the pole-winner finished last in a race.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s sixth-place finish was his first top-10 result since placing second at Bristol in August.

— How much of an equalizer can restrictor-plate racing be for a smaller team? Michael McDowell finished 16th Sunday. His average finish in the four plate races this year is 15.5. His average finish in 23 other starts is 26.7.

— Half of the remaining eight drivers in the Chase have made the championship round in Miami since the elimination format debuted 2014. They are Kevin Harvick (2014 champion), Kyle Busch (2015 champion), Denny Hamlin (’14) and Joey Logano (’14).

Ryan Reed finished 26th in his Sprint Cup debut.

Brian Scott finished a career-high second, and Richard Petty Motorsports teammate Aric Almirola (eighth) scored his first top-10 finish of the season.

Ryan: ‘Erase the Chase’ is an idea whose time had come

Leave a comment

CHARLOTTE – It was time to erase the Chase.

No, Monday’s announcement by NASCAR didn’t eradicate the 10-race stretch that has determined the champion of its premier series for the past 13 seasons. The structure remains largely untouched aside from a new wrinkle that carries over points from the regular season to ensure less arbitrary title outcomes.

But Monday did mark the death knell of what had become the primary pejorative in a NASCAR vernacular littered with unwieldy and unappealing terminology.

They are seemingly innocuous words that stoke the most hateful, negative and ugly reactions from passionate fans who claim precious ownership of racing like no other sport.

The Car of Tomorrow.

The top-35 rule.

The Chase.

Each of these terms, however well-intended, became the third rail for hyperbolic fan outrage on satellite radio and social media

And each of them now has disappeared into NASCAR’s dictionary dustbin of history.

The Car of Tomorrow was reconfigured and then renamed as the clever “Gen 6” car.

The top-35 rule essentially was erased and then replaced by the more benign charter system.

And now …

“I think that for all the folks that have been asking us to get rid of the Chase for years,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said with a sly smile, “this is a great day for them.”

The Chase is dead.

Long live the NASCAR playoffs.

Slapping a new title on a championship structure that has been maligned during its 13-year existent won’t be a cure-all for those who never have been fans of the format.

This admittedly is a PR and marketing exercise. It will have no impact on competition or the opinions of those who already believe the Latford points system of 1975-2003 shouldn’t have been abandoned.

There are Jeff Gordon fans who remain steadfast in their opposition to the Chase because they believe it cheated their hero out of multiple championships.

And there are others who actually will lament the disappearance of “Chase,” because they believe the term helped differentiate NASCAR.

But in an image-conscious sport desperate for corporate sponsorship, the switch to “playoffs” still matters even without an iota of on-track impact.

This isn’t a rebranding a la the Gen 6.

It’s about appropriating an existing sports term that carries major-league cachet.

The mere utterance of “Chase” became a dismissive rallying cry for many who hissed its name while railing about the system.

It’s harder to sound so disparaging when complaining about the “playoffs” (unless you’re Jim Mora). In fact, it sounds silly.

“Playoffs” are synonymous with indelible moments and must-see drama.

They connote an appealing sports conceit with an elegance and simplicity that always eluded “Chase”.

“When they’re talking about sports, people understand playoffs,” NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell said. “We introduced a new word, i.e. the Chase, and we liked it at first, but when you really talk about it, when (Hendrick Motorsports president) Marshall Carlson is out talking to a sponsor, well, it’s ‘What’s the Chase?’  Well, it’s our playoffs.  And people immediately get that and they understand that.

“This is a big sport built on sponsorship for sponsors to understand, for fans to understand, and it’s a common word that most sports fans know.”

Some of us have been lobbying for ditching the Chase since NASCAR most recently overhauled it three years ago (and ratcheted up the action, intensity and pressure as a result).

But there always had been resistance to calling the Chase a playoff, despite how natural it seemed.

NASCAR heavily messaged the January 2004 news conference that introduced the Chase for the Championship. Reporters repeatedly were told by officials that “this is not a playoff” because “all of our events will continue to be Super Bowl-type races with 43 drivers competing.”

No one wanted to hurt the feelings of longtime fans asked to absorb a sea change that was antithetical to some core principles that were preached as gospel for decades.

There was major pushback on anyone who intimated that the Chase created two distinct seasons. When the Chase was introduced, NASCAR tirelessly emphasized there were no knockout rounds or points resets or anything analogous to how other pro sports handled their playoffs.

But things have changed. All that stuff has been happening in NASCAR since 2014.

There are eliminations. There are points resets (and still are with a few caveats). There is segmentation from the regular season.

It’s a playoff in every sense of the word – which is why the word changed.

The Chase is dead.

Long live the NASCAR playoffs.

Questions and answers about NASCAR’s announcement

5 Comments

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — OK everyone, let’s take a deep breath and we’ll get through this.

NASCAR announced enhancements to the race formats on Monday that are intended to give fans more exciting moments during a race and the season.

As with anything new, there are plenty of questions. Here are answers to those questions.

So what is it with these stages?

Each NASCAR race will be divided into three stages. Points will be awarded for the top 10 finishers in each of the first two stages. That descends one point per position. Thus, 10th place in a stage receives one point. The final stage marks the end of the race. The winner receives 40 points with second-place receiving 35 points, third gets 34 points … on the way down to 1 point for any driver that finishes 36th or worse.

When will these stages take place?

The first stage will take place approximately 25 percent into the full race distance. So, for a 400-lap race at Richmond, the first stage would end somewhere around Lap 100.

The second stage will take place about 25 percent later.

That will leave the last half of the race to be run to conclusion.

So what happens after the first stage?

Once the field completes the lap that marks the end of the first stage, the caution will come out. Pit road is then opened for any teams that wish to stop. Once the pit stops are complete, TV will go to commercial break so fans can see more green-flag racing. Once TV returns from break, the race will resume. NASCAR estimates the breaks should take about five minutes.

How do they align the field for the next stage?

The field lines up the way the cars come off pit road. If not every car pits, then they are at the front with cars that made pit stops behind them for the restart.

OK, so what about those caution laps after the segment ends? Do they count?

Yes. All laps count.

Anything else unique about the stages?

Yes, pit road will be closed for five laps before each of the first two stages end.

Wait, what if there’s a caution right before the end of a segment? Can a segment end under caution or will it be extended?

Segments can end under caution. The end of the race will still have the overtime policy.

What is NASCAR calling these stages?

Stage 1. Stage 2. Stage 3.

What about the Daytona 500?

The 500 will have segments. The top 10 finishers in each of the duel qualifying races will receive points just like a regular segment. One difference is that the segment winner will not receive a bonus point for the playoff (more on these a little further down).

So what is the maximum number of points a driver can earn in any race now?

A driver can earn as many as 60 points. That would be 20 points for the two stage wins (10 points each) and 40 points for the race win.

Wait a minute, you’re forgetting those points for leading a lap and leading the most laps, aren’t you?

No. There will no longer be bonus points for leading a lap or leading the most laps.

Isn’t there a way the race winner can score fewer points than the runner-up?

Yes. Consider if the race runner-up won both stages (20 points) and then had their 35 points for second. That would be 55 points. Say the race winner failed to score a point in either stage. Thus, they would have only 40 points (for the win) for the event. So, the runner-up could score 55 points and the winner 40 points.

What else was announced?

The regular-season points leader after the 26th race will be rewarded — something many fans had requested.

How will the regular-season champ be rewarded?

The regular-season winner will receive 15 bonus points that carry over to their total once the playoff field has its points reset to 2000.

Is that it?

No, the top 10 drivers leading into the playoffs will receive a bonus. The second-place driver in the standings after the regular season ends will earn 10 playoff points, third place will earn eight points, fourth place will get seven points and so on. All playoff points carry through to the end of the Round of 8.

OK, is that it?

No, NASCAR has made those bonus points more valuable. Follow me. Say a driver finishes with six wins in the regular season. They would earn 30 playoff bonus points (five wins for each win). Now, say, they won seven segments in the regular season, they would have seven bonus points (one playoff point for each segment win). And, let’s say they finished as the regular-season champ, earning 15 bonus points. That means they would have 52 bonus points (30 from wins plus seven from segments and 15 for regular-season crown).

The driver will continue to receive those bonus points in each round of the playoffs as long as he/she remained eligible for the title — plus any additional victory or segment points earned in that round.

Anything else I should be aware of?

Yes, NASCAR is now using the word “playoffs” to describe its run to the championship instead of Chase. As Dale Earnhardt Jr. joked: “I think that for all the folks that have been asking us to get rid of the Chase for years, this is a great day for them.’’

Are these changes for the Cup Series only?

No, they are for the Cup, Xfnity and Camping World Truck Series.

What were some things the drivers said about all of this?

Denny Hamlin: There are no off weeks. Every single race matters. Not only that, but every lap of every race matters. From our standpoint, you always felt a little bit relaxed once you got a race win, and you would sometimes maybe go into test mode or something. Now with each accomplishment that you have during each given race, whether you’re collecting points for the overall regular season or you’re trying to collect points through a stage win or a race win, each accomplishment gives your road to Homestead a little bit easier, gives you a little bit of cushion there to be able to get through the playoffs and make it to Homestead, and that’s what it’s all about for us is making it to Homestead and trying to race for a championship.’’

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: “I love the fact that the bonus points or the playoff points will carry through the playoffs all the way to the last round. So everything you do throughout the season is really going to help you throughout the playoffs. That’s a great change.

Brad Keselowski: “Wait until you see it on the racetrack.When you see this on the racetrack, this is going to be the best racing you’ve ever seen.’’

 and on Facebook

How will new in-race stages and points format be impacted by weather? (video)

Leave a comment

NASCAR can only control so much — but try as it may, weather is one thing it can’t.

How will the new enhancements to the points format be impacted if Mother Nature decides to open the skies and wreak her wet havoc upon races and racetracks?

NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell addressed that issue during Monday’s announcement of the enhanced points format.

NASCAR: From now on, it will be ‘the playoffs,’ not ‘the Chase’ (video)

Leave a comment

What’s in a name? For NASCAR going forward, it will no longer refer to its playoffs as “the Chase.” From now on, it will be simply “the playoffs.”

With the name change, the format for the playoffs will not change — with the exception of the enhancements to the points format that was announced Monday. 

NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell said that it was time for the sport to move on from the unique “Chase” monicker, which spawned several similar formats and accompanying names in other sports, including drag racing and golf.