Talladega Superspeedway

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Ryan: Are Cup teams still working through the stages of calling a race?

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Nearly a full season into baking stage points into their strategies, have teams in NASCAR’s premier series fully grasped the concept of races with segments?

That was a worthy question at the end of Sunday’s second stage at Talladega Superspeedway.

The segment ended with none of the playoff contenders choosing to stop and avoid pitting during the caution before the final stage.

Brendan Gaughan’s team took the lead under that yellow before the restart for the last stage because his team did pit with three laps remaining in the second stage (the last lap before the pits were closed).

Why didn’t other teams join Gaughan’s, particularly those outside the top 10 that wouldn’t earn stage points and seemingly had no incentive for staying in position on track?

It seems a bit of a mystery.

Per their radio chatter (that was played during the NBC broadcast), Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s team considered pitting but decided against it because of concerns about lacking a drafting partner – which seemed curious given there would have been only a lap and a half under green on a 2.66-mile oval whose size makes it virtually impossible to be lapped in that time.

Perhaps there were concerns about how the race’s second half would unfold without more cars on precisely the same strategy – but Gaughan still pitted with a pack of cars under green on his final stop (and still finished 19th after being caught in the 17-car crash on Lap 172).

In a 500-mile race that featured seven crashes, each involving at least four cars (and many in the middle of the pack), it would seem natural to want to stay ahead of the mayhem – yet about two dozen cars passed on that opportunity at Talladega.

Were they in a stage of denial? Or was it merely tactical inexperience?

Scenarios such as Sunday’s, coupled with Martin Truex Jr.’s runaway lead in stage victories and playoff points, make it intriguing to monitor next season if there will be a revamping in the approach to calling a race – or a restructuring in how those decisions are determined atop the pit box.

Maybe stages necessitate dedicate strategists similar to the roles that are found in IndyCar.

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Aesthetically, Talladega didn’t have much to offer with only 14 cars running at the finish and three red flags that consumed more than 30 minutes and ensured well more than four hours elapsed between the green and checkered flag.

But there was something the race didn’t have: airborne cars.

Thus a race that did feature a last-lap lead change (by the best restrictor-plate driver in Cup) largely escaped an avalanche of the criticism that followed the May 1, 2016 event that included three cars flying off the Talladega asphalt. In fact, it was viewed in at least one fan corner as one of the best 2017 had to offer.

What determines a good race is always arbitrary, but at Talladega, the predictability of the races (large wrecks, tight packs, myriad lead changes) seems to lessen the degree of subjectivity – particularly when one of the track’s largest crowds in years gleefully has a feel-good story to cheer.

Favorite son Dale Earnhardt Jr. led his final start there and avoided the wrecks that wiped out most of the field but didn’t lift anyone’s wheels off the ground.

At Talladega, that’s enough to look good … even with a garage full of cars that looked ugly.

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While the three red flags (all in the final 15 laps) drew much of the attention, it was the caution flags at Talladega that were a real cause for concern.

A 10-lap caution for a five-car crash on Lap 26 was the longest yellow flag in 15 years at Talladega. The last time a caution took so long was for a 24-car pileup that required an 11-lap cleanup in the April 21, 2002 race.

The length of Sunday’s first caution was necessitated by a tracklong oil slick left by the No. 77 Toyota of Erik Jones (who was chastised by NASCAR for staying in the groove instead of pulling down on the apron while returning to the pits). There also was a six-lap caution to clear backstretch debris – twice as long as the yellow to clear a six-car wreck on Lap 156.

It reinforced a seasonlong theme of dawdling yellows that dates to Speedweeks. NASCAR chief racing development officer and senior vice president Steve O’Donnell said the efficiency of track cleanup was a major priority after a spate of lengthy yellow and red flags to remove debris and oil at Daytona International Speedway.

The banking at Daytona and Talladega make it more difficult to apply the SpeedyDry that absorbs the oil, but it would seem the process also could be improved to shorten the time for yellows. Just as it did with track drying (and the introduction of the Air Titan system), NASCAR needs to rethink its methods of track cleanup and update some antiquated techniques.

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Tony Gibson is the guest on this week’s NASCAR on NBC podcast, discussing his future as a crew chief and his past with the championship teams of Alan Kulwicki and Jeff Gordon.

The crew chief for Kurt Busch had a memorable story from the Rainbow Warriors days before a race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway when the team pushed the No. 24 Chevrolet on the grid – to immense negativity from the crowd.

“They were booing, calling us cheaters and everything in the book,” said Gibson, who was the car chief on the team. “We’re standing around the car, and Jeff’s like, ‘Look up in those grandstands.’ And people had these big white T-shirts with a 24 and a circle and line through them. He said, ‘You see all those T-shirts up there? Those people don’t realize it, but I own the company that made those shirts.’

“We just thought that was the funniest thing.”

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

The free subscriptions will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

NASCAR continues to study tire that flew off Kyle Busch’s car in Talladega crash

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas — NASCAR confirmed Friday it is studying the left front tire that flew off Kyle Busch‘s car during a crash last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. NASCAR took the tire back to the R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina, after the race as part of the sanctioning body’s ongoing commitment to safety.

Busch’s left front tire came off the car during a 16-car crash that brought out the caution on Lap 173. The tire bounced away after Busch hit the outside SAFER barrier in Turn 3.

The Cup Rule Book states that the left and right spindles must be connected to the front sub-frame using two fiber cable tethers.

NASCAR mandated a second tether on front wheels during the 2003 season for each of its top three national series.

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NASCAR America: Scan All from the Alabama 500 at Talladega

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“Ol’ Dega is giving me one last thrill.”

That’s the remark Dale Earnhardt Jr. made after he narrowly avoided being collected in the second of three wrecks in the final 16 laps of Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway, his last start at the track.

It’s one of many highlights in the latest edition of “Scan All,” which documents the Alabama 500 at the restrictor-plate track.

In the above video, Brad Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe relive the race, which ended with Keselowski’s sixth win at the track.

Here are more highlights from “Scan All.”

  • Listen to the communication of the No. 48 team as confusion breaks out over whether they can work on Jimmie Johnson‘s car during a red flag.
  • “It is a restrictor-plate race, so I’m not going to promise you anything.” – Brendan Gaughan after remarking he hoped his team wouldn’t have to make too many body repairs. He would be eliminated in a crash with 10 laps to go.
  • “Those stands are packed. They should get a free Dale Jr. autograph.” – Clint Bowyer on the large crowd that took in Earnhardt’s final Cup start at Talladega.
  • “Holy (expletive). What an idiot. That was the absolute stupidest (expletive) thing he’s ever done.” Kyle Busch after a crash involving Jame McMurray, Erik Jones and Jeffrey Earnhardt. The crash began when McMurray slowed down enter pit road and Jones ran into him.
  • Listen as Keselowski and his team struggle to communicate with each other do to a faulty radio system.
  • “How in the (expletive) did we wind up in the (expletive) back? (Expletive) stupid.” – Part of a tirade by Bowyer following a Lap 157 crash that collected him. Bowyer pulled his car into his pit box, exited it, had a brief exchange with his crew chief and walked back to the garage.

Watch the above video for more.

NASCAR America: Dale Jr. ‘just wanted to have fun’ at Talladega (videos)

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When Dale Earnhardt Jr. arrived last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, he hoped to recapture some of the magic that led him to six wins at NASCAR’s longest track earlier in his career.

It would be Earnhardt’s final time that he’d race at his favorite and most successful track and he wanted to take in as much of the experience and commit it to his memory bank as possible.

He had success on the track, earning his first career pole at ‘Dega and finishing seventh in the Alabama 500.

But more than anything, Earnhardt went to Talladega without any preconceived notions. He just wanted one thing, he said on Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America.

“I just wanted to have fun,” Earnhardt said. “We came away with a decent run. We would have loved to have won the race but I think the fans I’ve heard from said it was exciting to watch and we were in the mix all day long. So I’m happy I was somewhat deliver on the promise that we were going to have a good day.”

While Earnhardt approached it as just another race, the fact it was at Talladega took things to a much higher level, as well as being given his father’s former race car from 1979 and 1980 from the International Motorsports Hall of Fame that sits adjacent to the superspeedway.

“It was really emotional,” Earnhardt said. “We had the gift from the track with the car. I’d been going to the museum since I was about 12, seeing that car all those years. … I couldn’t believe they were letting me have this car.

“I was like what museum gives away their prized possessions? It was really a special moment to take the car out and go around the track.”

Listen to more of what made the weekend special for Junior in the video above.

NASCAR America: Changing of the guard in NASCAR already underway (video)

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Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and soon to be, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Three of NASCAR’s biggest stars, upon who much of the sport’s surge in popularity from the early 1990s through the mid-2000s came from, are either permanently on the sideline or will be shortly.

And after that, it likely won’t be long before they’re joined by names such as Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and others.

Fortunately for NASCAR, the changing of the guard from fans who cheered for Gordon, Stewart, Junior, et al, are already starting to gravitate to drivers like Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, William Byron, Alex Bowman, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez and so many more.

Will Gordon, Stewart, Earnhardt and others soon be forgotten with the way the newest crop of young guns is starting to make its way up the NASCAR popularity and influence ladder?

The crew on Monday’s edition of NASCAR America talked about the young stars, particularly Blaney, who appears firmly in the hunt to advance to the Round of 8 in the NASCAR Cup playoffs after this Sunday’s cut-off race at Kansas.

“I think both of them will move forward (to Round of 8),” said NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett.

Added Nate Ryan, “Dale Earnhardt Jr. said when he was behind them (Elliott and Blaney) running 1-2, ‘I’m looking at the future of the sport.”

And Kyle Petty had this to say, “We’re seeing the changing of the guard. These guys learned a lot about restrictor plate racing Sunday. … These are the guys we’re going to be watching and will be in the playoffs in the future years.”

Check out what else our analysts had to say in the video above.