Dave Burns speaks with Kyle Busch’s crew chief Adam Stevens about Busch’s return to racing. In his first race back Stevens was worried about his physical stamina, but is confident he can make it into the Chase.
Dr. Diandra: Data points to speed as key to breaking Blaney’s losing streak
Richmond Raceway presents a chance for Ryan Blaney to break a losing streak that started after his win at the regular-season-ending Daytona race in 2021. A fast scan of his stats suggests Blaney is off to a good start to do just that in 2023.
Despite a poor showing at COTA, where he failed to run any higher than 16th all race, Blaney has a season average finishing position of 12.8. He’s tied with Kevin Harvick for fourth-best average finishing position among full-time drivers.
Blaney finished second at Phoenix, where the new short track aeropackage debuted. But he has not won.
Things look good on the surface
Before getting too worried by Blaney’s drought, remember that the season is only six races old. Two of those six races were superspeedway events, and a third was a road course where running through other cars has become the norm.
With 30 more races in the season, it’s far from time to hit the panic button.
Basic statistics suggest that Blaney is matching (and sometimes beating) his teammate, defending champion Joey Logano. I’ve included the statistics for sophomore driver Austin Cindric in the table below, as well.
Logano won Atlanta and has two top-five finishes. No driver has more than three top fives thus far. Despite Logano’s win, Blaney’s average finishing position beats Logano’s.
Cindric has two top-10 finishes and an average finish of 16.5. His best finishes are sixth-place finishes at Las Vegas and last week at COTA.
After the National Motorsports Appeals Panel rescinded the 100-point penalty assessed to each Hendrick Motorsports driver and team, Ryan Blaney occupies eighth place in the season points standings.
Things would appear to look good for breaking Blaney’s losing streak this year.
But a different pattern emerges upon diving into the loop data. The next table compares more detailed statistics for all three Penske drivers. I’ve highlighted the lowest-scoring driver’s numbers in red for each metric.
Cindric lags his more experienced teammates in number of laps led, number of fastest laps and number of laps run in the top 15. But in the other stats, Blaney is the third out of three at Penske.
Average running position measures driver performance across all laps of a race, instead of just the last one. Blaney’s best average running position of the season was at Phoenix, with a 7.47. His worst was last week at COTA, where his average running position was 29.28. Apart from Phoenix, Blaney didn’t break the top 10 in average running position at any race this year.
The average speed-on-restarts rank compares a driver’s average speed in the first two laps of each green-flag run to other drivers’ speeds. Blaney ranks 32nd out of 35 full-time drivers in average restart speed rank. That places him behind Logano and Cindric.
Speed early in a run and speed late in a run measure a driver’s speed compared to everyone else on track during the first and last 25% of each green-flag run. In both metrics, Blaney again ranks 32 out of 35.
The fact that top-ranking Penske driver Logano only ranks 12th and 16th in early and late speed respectively suggests that the problem is at least partly company wide.
In overall green-flag speed — the average speed over a full green-flag run — Blaney ranks 29th out of 35. Logano ranks 12th and Cindric 19th.
These numbers identify one challenge that must be overcome to break Blaney’s losing streak.
Year over year
I’ll set aside Cindric’s numbers in this section for the sake of clarity. Blaney’s first six races this year show a large drop-off in most metrics relative to the first six races of 2022. Logano, however, either improved or stayed relatively constant in the same metrics.
In the table below:
- Green indicates a 10% or better improvement in 2023.
- Red indicates the 2023 value is at least 10% worse.
- Black indicates a change (either way) less than 10%.
Blaney has led a little more than 10% of the laps he led in 2022 and has less than half the number of fastest laps. His drop-offs on the speed metrics (the last four rows) are much greater than Logano’s changes.
In 2022, Blaney was beating Logano in all four speed metrics. This year, Logano is ahead.
The Promise of Richmond
The encouraging news to pull from this analysis is that Blaney’s numbers for Phoenix are the best of the 2023 season so far. He ranked seventh in green-flag speed, second in restart rank, eight in early-run speed and fourth in late-run speed. All of that bodes well for a good finish at Richmond.
Blaney won the pole in last spring’s Richmond race and finished seventh. He finished 10th in the fall race after qualifying 10th.
And Blaney himself is optimistic.
“Richmond will be a good gauge of where you stack up – slow, a bunch of mechanical grip, tire conservation,” Blaney said. “So I’m optimistic for it, for sure. I thought we had good cars there last year in both races from the whole team, and I’m excited to get there.”
But breaking Blaney’s losing streak is only the start to a successful season. He must improve his speed metrics at other tracks if he is to contend for a championship.
NASCAR weekend schedules: Richmond/Texas
NASCAR’s three major national series will be in action this weekend at two locations.
The Cup and Xfinity Series will race at Richmond Raceway in Virginia, and the Craftsman Truck Series will share the weekend with the IndyCar Series at Texas Motor Speedway near Fort Worth.
MORE: Drivers to watch at Richmond
Tyler Reddick won last Sunday’s Cup race at Circuit of the Americas to put Toyota in the win column for the first time this season.
Here is a look at the weekend schedule for both tracks:
Richmond Raceway (Cup and Xfinity)
Friday: Mostly cloudy. High of 72. Winds 10-20 mph. 13% chance of rain.
Saturday: Light rain early. Sunshine later. High of 75. Winds 20-30 mph. 24% chance of rain at start of Xfinity race.
Sunday: Sunny. High of 62. No chance of rain at start of Cup race.
Friday, March 31
(All times Eastern)
- 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. — Xfinity Series
- 4 – 9 p.m. — Cup Series
Saturday, April 1
- 6 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series
- 7 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup Series
- 8:05 – 8:35 a.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
- 8:35 – 9:30 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)
- 10:05 – 10:50 a.m. — Cup practice (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
- 10:50 – noon — Cup qualifying (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
- 1 p.m. — Xfinity race (250 laps, 187 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
Sunday, April 2
- 12:30 – 10 p.m. — Cup Series
- 3:30 p.m. — Cup race (400 laps, 300 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
Texas Motor Speedway (Truck)
Friday: Scattered thunderstorms in morning. Sunny and windy later. High of 79. Winds 20-30 mph. 50% chance of rain.
Saturday: Intervals of clouds and sun. High of 74. Winds 10-15 mph. No chance of rain at start of Truck race.
Friday, March 31
(All times Eastern)
- Noon – 5 p.m. — Truck Series
Saturday, April 1
- 8 a.m. – 10 p.m. — Truck Series
- 10:35 – 11:05 a.m. — Truck practice
- 11:05 a.m. – noon — Truck qualifying
- 4:30 p.m. — Truck race (167 laps, 250 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
NASCAR fines Daniel Suarez $50,000 for pit road incident
NASCAR fined Daniel Suarez $50,000 for running into the cars of Alex Bowman and teammate Ross Chastain on pit road after last weekend’s race at Circuit of the Americas.
Suarez was upset after a potential top-five finish was lost in an incident in overtime.
MORE: Appeals Panel rescinds 100-point penalty to Hendrick drivers
Suarez restarted fifth in the second overtime restart but left the inside lane open. Alex Bowman, with Ross Chastain and Chase Briscoe aligned behind, charged and got beside Suarez as they approached Turn 1.
As Bowman slowed to make the tight turn, he was hit from behind and that sent him into Suarez, who clipped the left rear of Martin Truex Jr.’s car. Truex spun in front of Suarez and blocked his path, allowing the rest of the field to drive by and costing Suarez a top-five finish. Suarez finished 27th.
Suarez spoke briefly with Bowman before having a discussion with Chastain.
“It’s uncharacteristic of Daniel,” Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “There’s no excuse for what happened.”
.@Daniel_SuarezG not happy with @Alex_Bowman. He raced to catch up (even booted his teammate out of the way) and hit the back of the 48. No real confrontation, though. #NASCAR | #NASCAR75 | #EchoParkGP pic.twitter.com/ZszBAALAhs
— JJ (@TomcatNASCAR_2) March 26, 2023
Appeals panel rescinds 100-point penalty to Hendrick drivers
Alex Bowman is back leading the points after the National Motorsports Appeals Panel rescinded the 100-point penalty to each Hendrick Motorsports driver and team Wednesday. The Appeals Panel also rescinded the 10-point playoff to each Hendrick driver and team.
The Appeals Panel found that Hendrick violated the rule by modifying the hood louvers on the cars of Bowman, William Byron, Kyle Larson and Josh Berry at Phoenix. The louvers were taken after practice that weekend.
The Appeals Panel kept the $100,000 fine and four-race suspension to each Hendrick crew chief: Cliff Daniels, Alan Gustafson, Blake Harris and Rudy Fugle. All four sat out the past two races, meaning they’ll miss this weekend’s race at Richmond and next weekend’s race on the dirt at Bristol before returning the following weekend at Martinsville.
The Appeals Panel did not give a reason for its decision.
Bowman had been 16th in the standings with the 100-point penalty. He now has a 15-point lead on Ross Chastain after getting all those points back.
Byron goes from 22nd to third after getting his points back. He’s 29 points behind Bowman, 14 points behind Chastain and five points ahead of Kyle Busch. Byron also gets his 10 playoff points back for his wins at Las Vegas and Phoenix.
Larson goes from 27th to ninth with getting his points back.
“We are grateful to the National Motorsports Appeals Panel for their time and attention,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “Today’s outcome reflects the facts, and we’re pleased the panel did the right thing by overturning the points penalty. It validated our concerns regarding unclear communication and other issues we raised. We look forward to focusing on the rest of our season, beginning with this weekend’s race at Richmond (Raceway).”
NASCAR stated its displeasure with part of the penalty being rescinded.
“We are pleased that the National Motorsports Appeals Panel agreed that Hendrick Motorsports violated the rule book. However, we are disappointed that the entirety of the penalty was not upheld. A points penalty is a strong deterrent that is necessary to govern the garage following rule book violations, and we believe that it was an important part of the penalty in this case and moving forward. We will continue to inspect and officiate the NASCAR garage at the highest level of scrutiny to ensure a fair and level playing field for our fans and the entire garage.”
The panelists on the appeal were former driver Bill Lester, Kelly Housby and Dixon Johnston.
Here is the updated points
1. Alex Bowman 226 points
2. Ross Chastain 211
3. William Byron 197
4. Kyle Busch 192
5. Joey Logano 186
6. Kevin Harvick 186
7. Christopher Bell 184
8. Ryan Blaney 177
9. Kyle Larson 170
10. Austin Cindric 166
11. Martin Truex Jr. 165
12. Brad Keselowski 162
13. Tyler Reddick 161
14. Denny Hamlin 161
15. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 159
16. Chris Buescher 157
17. Daniel Suárez 144
18. Corey LaJoie 139
19. Michael McDowell 125
20. Ty Gibbs 118
21. Bubba Wallace 103
22. AJ Allmendinger 103
23. Erik Jones 99
24. Chase Briscoe 96
25. Todd Gilliland 95
26. Austin Dillon 93
27. Noah Gragson 86
28. Aric Almirola 70
29. Ryan Preece 69
30. Harrison Burton 66