Tony Stewart

Ryan: How did debris yellows get a green flag? Tracking trash over the past 16 years

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Debris or not debris?

The question plaguing NASCAR after Tony Stewart’s accusation of heavy-handed officiating teetering on race orchestration is a tangled mess to navigate, breaching the lines of credibility, entertainment and safety.

There is a clear line of demarcation indicating when the debris caution trend began, however.

Research by NBCSports.com of every Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race report since 1990 (the first season in which caution reasons were listed for every race on Racing-Reference.info) shows the 2001 season is when yellow flags for unsafe track conditions became standard practice in race officiating.

Since the 2001 Daytona 500, which marked the first race in a new era of national TV contracts and the most recent race in which a driver was killed in NASCAR’s premier series, NASCAR has averaged nearly 63 debris yellows per season, reaching a high of 85 in 2005.

Compare that to the 11-season stretch from 1990-2000, which produced an average of 15 debris cautions per season with a high of 20 in 1994 and a low of 11 in 1999.

That means there have been more than four times the number of debris cautions annually in 21st century NASCAR over the previous century’s final decade.

There haven’t been fewer than 40 debris yellows in a season since 2001 when there were 27 in the 35 races after Dale Earnhardt became the fourth prominent NASCAR driver to die of a skull fracture in 10 months. That helped spur a raft of safety advancements that included SAFER barriers, mandatory HANS device usage and enhanced driver cocoons with carbon-fiber seats and energy-absorbing foam.

But mostly overlooked is that NASCAR also took the liberty of being more aggressive in pausing races to clear the track of perceived hazards.

Where once only debris as blatant as a brake rotor lying in the groove might have necessitated a caution, the standards have expanded to include water bottles, balloons and garbage bags – with officials adamantly defending their decisions by noting they always would err on the side of safety.

It hasn’t quelled accusations from drivers – both publicly and privately – about the capriciousness of debris yellows and whether there’s an ulterior motive to keep the racing tight by re-racking the field for a double-file restart. The final yellow was thrown for debris in five of 13 season finales at Homestead-Miami Speedway (and two of the past three) since the advent of the playoffs.

Stewart’s Twitter outburst Sunday isn’t the first time the three-time champion has assailed NASCAR for debris yellows – in a noted April 2007 rant, he compared the officiating with pro wrestling and said officials were “playing God” – but the timing is notably different.

A decade ago, Stewart was angry after a Phoenix race with four debris cautions, which came on the heels of the only consecutive seasons with 80-plus yellows for debris.

Yet in 2017, NASCAR is on pace for possibly its lowest debris caution total since before Earnhardt’s death.

Through 15 races there have been 12 debris yellows – the lowest number to start a season in 14 years.

Subtract Texas Motor Speedway (which holds the all-time track trash record of seven debris cautions in the November 2014 race and is the annual leader with an average of 2.5 over the past 29 races), and there have been eight debris yellows in 2017, which is on par with the average of 7.8 over the first 15 races in the 1990-2000 seasons. The 2016 season also marked a six-year low for debris yellows with 51.

So is Stewart’s ire still justified in light of these declines?

Yes, because debris cautions should be on the wane regardless.

The debut of stage racing in ’17 has guaranteed at least two caution periods per race (and perhaps more next season) that ostensibly is to award points to the top 10 but also could be used to clear the track. Those yellows essentially produce the same outcome as a debris cautions – a pause in the action (not because a car was damaged) followed by a restart.

It’s reasonable for drivers and teams to expect NASCAR to be more inclined to let a race naturally unfold with two predetermined breaks that allow for track maintenance. With the addition of a 5-minute clock on repairing damaged cars, it also is logical there should be fewer wounded cars littering the track with jagged sheet metal or busted parts.

As noted by Steve Letarte and Parker Kligerman in a NASCAR America discussion Monday, it also is valid to ask whether NASCAR is using the most optimized technology to locate and classify debris on track. If transparency would help defuse the implication (by Stewart and others) that officials are tampering with a race’s rhythm to produce more scintillating action, NASCAR should consider releasing detailed explanations of the debris, possibly with visual evidence.

But the easiest way to end the controversy over debris yellows simply is by reducing them – and living with consequences that might be negligible anyway. Managing risk makes sense, but it also is a tricky line to walk with auto racing’s inherent danger.

How many times have drivers or fans been injured over the past 16 years by a piece of debris being hit – or in the 52 prior years when cautions to clean the track were much more infrequent?

Applying consistent criteria is difficult because debris cautions always will remain a judgment call – but there is opportunity to use greater discretion in keeping the yellow flag holstered unless incontrovertible evidence exists of a lurking danger, particularly late in the race.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: How do you strike the most judicious balance between upholding the sanctity of races while ensuring the safety of drivers?

That is the question.

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After being critical of Kyle Larson’s inability to close out races on restarts earlier this season here, kudos to the Chip Ganassi Racing driver for pulling it off from the nonpreferrred line at Michigan International Speedway.

The ineffectiveness of the bottom lane on the 2-mile oval Sunday did illustrate an unintended consequence of track treatment in the current era of VHT and tire-dragging machines to improve traction. It seems all of the work on the Michigan surface might have made the outside line too good Sunday.

That bears remembering as tracks continue to be proactive with trying to facilitate passing.

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Nothing says peaceful like a relaxing weekend of wine tasting in the picturesque solace of Napa Valley – but in NASCAR, this is usually the time of the year when the chatter over contracts gets cranked up.

Silly Season has hit a fever pitch before in Sonoma, where a more limited schedule of track activity, along with increased access and time for a bottle of Cab, seems conducive to setting tongues to wagging.

In 2008, word began to leak that Mark Martin was headed to Hendrick Motorsports to replace Casey Mears. Five years ago, news began to spread on race day about Matt Kenseth’s impending departure from Roush Fenway Racing (which broke a few days later).

There are no imminent signs of wildfire breaking this week, but there are enough possibilities (and beat reporters Jenna Fryer and Bob Pockrass floated a few more this week) to watch the kindling while the vino flows around the bonfires this weekend.

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Jeff Gordon (a record nine road-course victories) and Tony Stewart (seven) have retired. Marcos Ambrose (two-time winner at the Glen) and Carl Edwards (Sonoma 2014 winner) are gone.

Who are the Cup road course experts now?

AJ Allmendinger would rank high on the list, but it’s hard to look past Joey Logano, who has four straight top fives on road courses (including a 2015 win at Watkins Glen International), Kyle Busch (four road-course wins) and Denny Hamlin, who was a final-turn mistake away from sweeping the road courses in 2016.

The right-turn narrative centered (with good reason) on Gordon and Stewart for so long, it seems odd to put that trio in the conversation for road-course greatness, but their results prove they deserve it.

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If you’re keeping track – and we can’t blame you for having lost count given the preponderance of binkies, diapers and strollers in the motorhome lot over the past decade – the birth of Trevor Bayne’s second child and the impending arrival of Logano’s first will push the number of kids born to active Cup drivers since 2007 to more than 30 by the end of the season.

During the baby boom, 19 drivers have become fathers while racing in Cup. The first in that timeframe was Jeff Gordon, whose daughter, Ella, turned 10 this week.

NASCAR weekend racing schedule at Sonoma (Cup), Iowa (Trucks, Xfinity)

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Once again, the three major NASCAR series will race in two separate locations this weekend.

While the NASCAR Cup Series will be at Sonoma Raceway for the Toyota/Save Mart 350, both the NASCAR Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series will be racing halfway across the country at Iowa Speedway.

Tony Stewart is the defending winner of Sunday’s Cup race, which was the 49th and last win of his NASCAR premier series career. Stewart retired from racing in the Cup series after last season.

Iowa Speedway will host the M&Ms 200 Truck race on Friday night, and the American Ethanol e15 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race Saturday night.

William Byron won last year’s Truck race at Iowa, while Sam Hornish Jr., won the Xfinity race there. Erik Jones returned to Iowa several weeks later to win the mid-summer Xfinity race there.

Hornish will once again return to Iowa and attempt to defend last year’s win, racing for Team Penske.

Here’s the full weekend schedule for both Iowa and Sonoma:

(All times are Eastern)

Friday, June 23, at Sonoma

12:30 p.m. – 10 p.m. Cup garage open

3 p.m. – 4:55 p.m. – Cup first practice (FS1)

6:30 p.m. – 7:55 p.m. – Cup final practice (FS1)

Friday, June 23, at Iowa

8 a.m. – Truck garage opens

10 a.m. – 11:25 a.m. – Truck first practice (FS1)

11:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

12:15 p.m. – 1:15 p.m. – Truck final practice (FS1)

2 – 2:55 p.m. – Xfinity first practice (FS1)

5 – 5:55 p.m. – Xfinity final practice (FS1)

6:05 p.m. – Truck qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) (No TV)

7:30 p.m. – Truck driver/crew chief meeting

8 p.m. – Truck driver introductions

8:30 p.m. – M&M’s 200 Truck race (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR radio

Saturday, June 24, at Sonoma

10 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. Cup garage open

2:45 p.m. – Cup qualifying (multi-vehicle, two rounds) (FS1, Performance Racing Network)

Saturday, June 24, at Iowa

2:30 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

6:15 p.m. – Xfinity qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) (Tape delayed at 7 p.m. ET on FS1)

7:30 p.m. – Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting

8 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions

8:30 p.m. – American Ethanol e15 200 Xfinity Series race (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR radio)

Sunday, June 25, at Sonoma

10 a.m. – Cup garage open

1 p.m. – Driver/crew chief meeting

2:20 p.m. – Driver introductions

3 p.m. – Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Cup race (110 laps, 218.9 miles) (FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR radio)


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Kyle Larson keeps winning, adds another dirt track triumph; Kasey Kahne second

http://nascar.nbcsports.com/2017/06/14/kyle-larson-wins-world-of-outlaws-race/
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Kyle Larson is proving unbeatable regardless of the series or track.

He continued his hot streak Monday night, winning the Ohio Sprint Speedweek race at Wayne County Speedway, a 3/8-mile clay oval in Orrville, Ohio.

The Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions sprint car victory came after Larson won Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race at Michigan International Speedway. Last week, Larson won a World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series race at Eagle (Nebraska) Raceway.

Kasey Kahne finished second to Larson on Monday night. Former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Rico Abreu was 18th. Former Cup driver Dave Blaney, father of Cup driver Ryan Blaney, finished 25th in the 26-car field.

The All Star Circuit of Champions is owned by Tony Stewart.

Larson is scheduled to compete in Tuesday’s Ohio Sprint Speedweek race at Sharon Speedway with the All Star Circuit of Champions. The track, located in Hartford, Ohio, is owned by Dave Blaney and associates.

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NASCAR America: Steve Letarte says ‘Debris cautions need to be proven,’ namely in playoffs

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Following the controversy Sunday over a debris caution with 20 laps left in the Cup race at Michigan, NASCAR America analyst Steve Letarte said such cautions “need to be proven” to protect the integrity of the race, especially once the season reaches the playoffs.

“We’re talking about an untimely caution at Michigan in the summer,” Letarte said. “What happens when we get into the playoffs in the fall? I think NASCAR, the sanctioning body and the tracks have a responsibility to create a playing field and a set of rules they can enforce. The debris needs to be proven. …  There’s too many loopholes. ”

The caution with 20 to go resulted in the field being bunched up and two accidents occurring in the final 13 laps.

After the race, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart shared their disappointment in how the debris caution impacted the outcome of the race.

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, explained on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” Monday how the sanctioning body decides to call a debris caution.

“We use all the resources that we have to try to identity what it is that is out there – that being camera, turn spotters and the communication that we’ve got around the race track to different people who may be able to see it,’’ Miller said.

Letarte takes issue with the level of thoroughness in NASCAR’s system to determine when a debris caution is needed.

“If we take for face value what NASCAR says, which is they put safety first and they’re going to put the caution out when they don’t know what it is on the race track … then the issue I have is the resources we use to figure what that debris is,” Letarte said.

Letarte also criticized the fact that NASCAR’s race control both decides when the caution comes out for debris and also determines what the debris is.

“They provide their own information,” Letarte said. “It’s their responsibility to put spotters, cameras and whatever other technology is out there. … I don’t think that technology has changed enough in the last 15 years.”

Former crew chief Slugger Labbe said late debris cautions are “untimely,” but are an “essence of safety” for drivers.

“Just think if there was something was there and they (NASCAR) weren’t sure what it was, if it was rubber or it was metal,” Labbe said. “Someone runs over it, blows a tire at 218 mph at Michigan. We saw what Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray looked liked getting into Turn 1 at Pocono (after their brakes failed). I get it. I’ve benefited from debris cautions and I’ve paid the price on debris cautions. It goes both ways.”

Veteran driver and analyst Parker Kligerman called on NASCAR to be more transparent with its debris yellows, perhaps by presenting the evidence for them postrace — or admitting the error if there turned out to be no debris.

Watch the above video for the full discussion.

NASCAR’s preliminary entry lists for Sonoma, Iowa

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NASCAR heads back out west this week as the Cup Series gears up for its first road course race of the year at Sonoma Raceway, which marks the halfway point of the season.

Meanwhile, the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series go to Iowa Speedway for the first time this season.

Here’s the entry lists for all three races.

Cup – Toyota/Save Mart 350

There are 38 cars on the entry list and they include four drivers who are making their Cup debuts.

Richard Petty Motorsports announced that sports car driver Billy Johnson will drive the No. 43.

Israeli-born driver Alon Day will make his debut in the No. 23 Toyota for BK Racing. Tommy Regan will drive the No. 15 Toyota for Premium Motorsports. Josh Bilick will drive the No. 51 for Rick Ware Racing. He replaces Cody Ware who is out indefinitely with back issues.

Last year, Tony Stewart won his 49th and final Cup race after swapping the lead twice with Denny Hamlin on the last lap, including passing Hamlin in the final turn.

Click here for the full entry list.

Xfinity –  American Ethanol E15 

There are 41 cars on the entry list, meaning one car will not qualify for the race.

There are no Cup drivers entered into the event.

Sam Hornish Jr. is set to make his first start of the year in Team Penske’s No. 22 Ford.

Joe Gibb Racing will have Kyle Benjamin in its No. 18 Toyota and Christopher Bell in the No. 20.

Ben Kennedy will make his second start for Richard Childress Racing in the No. 2 Chevrolet.

Ty Majeski will make his Xfinity debut driving the No. 60 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing.

Last year, Hornish led 183 laps and won this race driving the No. 18 for JGR in his first NASCAR start of the year. Erik Jones won the August race.

Click here for the full entry list.

Truck – Iowa 200

There are 29 Trucks entered into the race. A full field would be 32 trucks.

The No. 52 truck of Stewart Friesen has withdrawn from the event.

Last year, William Byron won this race, his third of the year, after leading 107 laps.

Click here for the full entry list.

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