NASCAR official explains why Michigan race was called early

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Saying it was the “safest decision” for fans at Michigan International Speedway, NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell justified the move to call Sunday’s Sprint Cup race 62 laps from the scheduled end.

O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, made the comments Monday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. He also discussed the notion of track-specific rule changes this season.

NASCAR’s decision to end Sunday’s event gave Kurt Busch the victory in a race delayed four times by rain.

O’Donnell noted that the stands were evacuated because of lightning nearby during the last red flag and that “there were still some pop-up showers in the area. Working with the track, we made what we thought was the safest decision for fans that were in attendance.’’

After the Aug. 2012 Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway had been called, a lighting strike killed one fan and injured nine others. They were struck in a parking lot outside the track.

The National Weather Service has what it calls a “voluntary recognition program” to help outdoor venues, including race tracks protect staff and fans from the dangers of lightning. It advises that when lightning is detected 8 miles from the venue that the event be suspended and spectators evacuated.

The National Weather Service office in Detroit confirmed to NASCAR Talk that there were about 50 total lightning strikes within a 10-mile radius of the track near the end of the race. It reported that four of those strikes were cloud-to-ground strikes within that 10-mile radius. Those occurred at 5:33 p.m. ET, 6 p.m., 6:11 p.m. and 6:18 p.m. The race was stopped for the final time at about 5:45 p.m. and called shortly before 6:15 p.m.

“We’ve got some indicators around lighting, when it gets within a certain mileage we have to work with the track and the track is going to evacuate the grandstands,’’ O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Even when the sun was shining, it was still raining at 6:30 but post that when the sun came out, there was still lightning in the area, it would have been really challenging to have put fans in that circumstance.’’

O’Donnell explained what series officials do and consider when weather becomes an issue during an event. He said series officials will talk to the “weather experts in the area.’’ He says that “ultimately, it’s up to the track, in this case (track president) Roger Curtis and NASCAR to work together.

“We judge it on how much time do we have left – daylight – you don’t have lights in Michigan, and more importantly, what does the weather look like. It takes longer to dry a track as you get later in the afternoon. Once we had to evacuate the grandstands … that put us in a really challenging situation. The fans had stuck it out for a long time and then when you looked at the radar and the possibility of continued lightning and rain, we thought it was the most prudent decision to make at that time to call it a day.’’

Rain also delayed Saturday night’s Camping World Truck Series race at Gateway Motorsports Park. The Air Titans, used to dry a track, were not at Gateway. O’Donnell explained why.

“Ultimately, we make them available but it’s a track call whether or not they want to have them in place,’’ O’Donnell said.

According to NASCAR’s sanctioning agreement with Dover Motorsports Inc. to host last month’s races at Dover International Speedway, a track “may, at its sole cost and expense, utilize the Air Titan track drying system to dry the track in the event of inclement weather.’’

All tracks must sign a similar sanctioning agreement to host a NASCAR race.

O’Donnell stressed change could be coming on the availability of Air Titans to tracks.

“I think we learned some lessons at Gateway,’’ O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I think you’ll see them both at Iowa and Chicago this weekend regardless. Going forward, I think you’ll see that change. We’ll have them available, regardless, for the tracks.’’

The Camping World Truck Series races Friday night at Iowa Speedway with the Xfinity Series racing Saturday night at Chicagoland Speedway.

O’Donnell also talked about possible rule changes this season. Reports have stated that NASCAR is looking for new rules that would create lower downforce for next month’s race at Kentucky Speedway.

“Nothing is off the table,’’ O’Donnell said. “We’re continuing to talk to the race teams, the drivers, the owners and the tracks, not just about ’16, but what if anything could be done for ’15. A lot of those discussions are still ongoing. If we’re going to do something, obviously, we’ve got to do it sooner than later, because we never want to implement anything in the Chase. It all goes back to how do we put the best racing on each and every weekend.’’

On the notion of specific rules for specific tracks, O’Donnell said:

“When we put something in a box of just 2016 rules package, it’s kind of a misnomer when you look at it because at each track you’re going to have a different tire, potentially a different gear, a lot of different things that go into it.

“As we look ahead, I think, we want to look more towards what specific track packages could we have, not necessarily having 36 different ones, but are there some configurations that do change up for particular tracks? That’s been a really interesting angle as we’ve talked to the teams and gotten some great feedback, especially from (manufacturers).’’

 

NASCAR viewer’s guide for Charlotte Roval

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Sunday provides a final chance for drivers to advance to the Round of 8 and keep their Cup championship hopes alive.

Talladega winner Chase Elliott is the only driver who has advanced to the next round. That leaves seven spots available going into Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe holds the final transfer spot by a tiebreaker over Austin Cindric. At least for now.

William Byron is 11 points behind both drivers, but Hendrick Motorsports will appeal Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas on Thursday. Should Hendrick win and Byron get those points back, he would move into a transfer spot.

There’s just part of what to watch for in Sunday’s race.

Favorites to be No. 20

This season remains tied for the most different winners in series history at 19, but there are a few candidates who could become the 20th different winner this year on Sunday.

Among the favorites to do so:

Ryan Blaney, who came close to winning last week at Talladega, won the inaugural Cup race at the Roval in 2018.

Martin Truex Jr., who has four career Cup wins on road courses, still seeks his first victory of the season.

Michael McDowell, who is coming off a third-place finish at Talladega, has had a career-high 12 top-10 finishes this season, including top 10s in each of the last four road course events this year.

Will history repeat?

Last year, the four drivers eliminated after the Roval were Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman, Christopher Bell and William Byron.

Harvick was eliminated in the first round this year, but Byron (-11 to the cutline) and Bell (-33) are in jeopardy of being eliminated in this round again. Bowman stated Tuesday that he will miss his second consecutive race because of continued concussion symptoms. He will be among the four eliminated from title contention.

Bowman missed last weekend’s race because of concussion-like symptoms suffered at Texas. A decision on if he’ll be able to race at the Roval will come later this week.

Will chaos continue?

Consider what some of the former Roval winners have endured on their way to the checkered flag:

In 2019, Chase Elliott drove into the Turn 1 wall on a restart while the leader. He recovered to win.

In 2020, Elliott overcame a loose wheel to win for the second year in a row.

In 2021, Kyle Larson won after his team changed batteries and put the alternator belt back on.

Could a similar fate be in store for this year’s winner? Or will they have a cleaner day?

Entry lists

Thirty-nine drivers are entered including IndyCar driver Conor Daly, former Formula 1 driver Daniil Kvyat, former 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller and former 24 Hours of Daytona winner Joey Hand. JJ Yeley will drive the No. 51 for Cody Ware, who stated that he would skip this event because of his ankle injury at Texas the footwork needed on a road course.

Charlotte Roval Cup entry list

The Xfinity entry list includes 41 drivers for 38 spots. Among those joining the series regulars are IndyCar driver Marco Andretti and former F1 driver Daniil Kvyat.

Charlotte Roval Xfinity entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Saturday, Oct. 8

Forecast: Partly cloudy with a high of 66 degrees. No chance of rain during the Xfinity race.

  • 10 – 10:30 a.m. — Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)
  • 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying (NBC Sports App)
  • 12 – 1 p.m. — Cup practice (NBC Sports App, USA Network coverage begins at 12:30 p.m.)
  • 1 – 2 p.m. — Cup qualifying (USA Network, NBC Sports App)
  • 3 p.m. — Xfinity race (67 laps, 155.44 miles; NBC, Peacock, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 9

Forecast: Sunny with a high of 64 degrees. No chance of rain during the race.

  • 2 p.m. — Cup race (109 laps, 252.88 miles; NBC, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

 

Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

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Hailie Deegan announced Tuesday that she will make her Xfinity Series debut Oct. 15 Las Vegas Motor Speedway on NBC and Peacock.

The 21-year-old Deegan is in her second full-time season in the Camping World Truck Series. She finished a career-high sixth in that series last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

She will drive the No. 07 car for SS Green Light Racing with Jeff Lefcourt.

 

 

Alex Bowman to miss Charlotte Roval race

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Alex Bowman announced Tuesday night on social media that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup playoff race at the Charlotte Roval.

Bowman said on social media: “I am continuing to make strides in my recovery to make sure I can return to competition at 100%.”

This will be the second consecutive race he will have missed because of concussion-like symptoms after his crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

Noah Gragson will drive the No. 48 car this weekend for Bowman.

“Alex’s health is our first priority,” said Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “We’re focused on supporting his recovery and seeing him back in his race car when the time is right. Alex has a long career ahead of him, so we will invest the necessary time and take our guidance from medical experts. We’re putting no pressure on him to return before he’s 100% ready.”

Bowman will be one of the four drivers eliminated from title contention Sunday.

Also Tuesday, Cody Ware announced that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup race at the Charlotte Roval, as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he suffered at Texas.

NASCAR Power Rankings: Chase Elliott leaps to the front

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A slick late-race move by Chase Elliott carried him to Victory Lane Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway — and back to the top of the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Elliott is the only driver with five victories this season. No one else in the playoffs has more than two (Tyler Reddick, eliminated from the championship hunt, has won three times).

Elliott, already qualified for the Round of 8 with his Talladega win, will be among the favorites in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Here’s how the rankings look approaching the end of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Chase Elliott (No. 3 last week) — Elliott’s power move to win at Talladega was quite impressive and gave him four top-five finishes in the past 10 races. Clearly, he has re-established himself as the championship favorite.

2. Denny Hamlin (No. 1 last week) — Hamlin drops a spot despite a strong run (20 laps led and finishing fifth) at Talladega. Count him in the hunt for an elusive first championship.

3. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Blaney simply will not go away despite continuing as the playoffs’ only winless driver (not including the Texas All-Star Race). He was victimized by Chase Elliott on Sunday at Talladega, finishing .046 seconds short of victory and a push into the next round.

4. Kyle Larson (No. 2 last week) — Superspeedway racing generally is not Larson’s strong point. He finished 18th Sunday despite leading eight laps and being in the front group much of the day.

5. Joey Logano (No. 4 last week) — Logano had an unusually poor performance at Talladega. He was involved in an early-race accident and struggled much of the rest of the day, finishing 27th.

MORE: Elliott celebrates, Logano laments

6. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain tied Aric Almirola for most laps led (36) at Talladega and has been consistent as of late with three finishes of seventh or better in the past four races.

7. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron’s worst news last week came off the track as he was penalized by NASCAR for dumping Denny Hamlin under caution at Texas. He finished 12th at Talladega.

8. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe is quietly making the case that he could make the Round of 8 and challenge for the title.

MORE: Winners and losers at Talladega

9. Daniel Suarez (unranked last week) — Suarez maneuvered through the Talladega draft with style and came home eighth. He has three top 10s in the past seven races.

10. Christopher Bell (No. 6 last week) — Bell had a rough day at Talladega and will be looking to Sunday’s race at the Roval for redemption.

Dropped out: Tyler Reddick (No. 10 last week).