NBC’s Steve Letarte offers his take on Austin Dillon’s crash, restrictor-plate racing


NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte offered his thoughts on Austin Dillon’s crash after last weekend’s race at Daytona International Speedway, restrictor-plate racing, safety and more with NASCAR Talk.

Here’s what Letarte said:

NT: What can be done in regards to what happened to Austin Dillon and with restrictor-plate racing?

Steve Letarte: Well, I think the first thing we have to really look at is the inherent danger of racing in general is something that has been around since the conception of “I’m going to try to beat you in a race.” We saw that essay that Ken Squier voiced over (on NBC) during the rain delay and the dangers of Daytona have existed since they were running land-speed records in the ‘30s up and down the beach. I’m not trying to diminish the scary accident at the end of Sunday night’s race. I think the important thing is to look at the work that NASCAR and the tracks have done to diminish the injuries.

As crew chiefs, we try to break the laws of physics every week. We try to go through the corner faster than that car wants to go through the corner. Well, unfortunately, when things go wrong, physics take over again. A 3,500-pound racecar traveling at 200 mph has a certain amount of energy in it. That energy is really underappreciated sometimes until we see them leave the ground and make contact with either the wall or the catch fence. That is the simple way to explain that I know in my heart that there is no guarantee for safety in racing. There are 43 guys that strap in every Sunday and they’re aware of that, whether they talk about it or not.

As a sport, we have an obligation to give them the safest playing field to put on the display of their talents as possible. We have to ask ourselves at what measures we’re willing to go do that. I think removing Talladega and Daytona from the schedule would be just unacceptable for a sport that has been grown around those types of racetracks, and we have legends that have been built at those tracks. I think we have to look at the positives of this issue first and see what we’ve done as a sport that made this crash safer. The reason we do that is to see what other steps we have to take.

NT: What could be changed before the next restrictor-plate race, which will be at Talladega Superspeedway in October?

Letarte: We need to not knee-jerk, not making major changes without understanding them. For every cause there is an effect. For every change, there are repercussions. NASCAR has done a very good job of weathering these storms over the distance of time on how to get these things handled. I think their somewhat methodical approach, while it can be frustrating and people would like to see more bells and whistles and alarms going off, they have made strides. Thank goodness we’re talking to Austin Dillon on the TODAY show today, and we see him doing interviews. That’s because of those methodical approaches. I think we need to continue down that road and not create an issue that we don’t currently have. Yes, we have issues, but we don’t want to create new ones trying to fix the ones we have.

NT: Dustin Long wrote that NASCAR should do away with green-white-checkered finishes for restrictor-plate races to reduce the possibility of a major crash and car going airborne at the end of a race. Knee-jerk reaction?

Letarte: I think from a competitor’s standpoint I wouldn’t have an issue eliminating the green-white-checkered as long as we know it going in. I was a part of that Jeff Gordon team that won (under caution ) at Talladega (April 2007). I was Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s crew chief when we lost to Jamie McMurray when the caution came out on the white flag lap at Talladega (Oct. 2013). Even the green-white-checkers don’t guarantee that we’re going to finish a race under green. It seems the fans that have paid good, hard-earned money to come out and watch the race feel like they want every opportunity to finish these races under green. That would be the question I pose.

The bigger item, and I think Austin Dillon touched on it, and I don’t know if this could be done for Talladega, but I do question that is it necessary to run 195 mph and have the same exciting race as we did at 175 mph? But I’ll follow that up with I’m not engineer or physicist. I don’t know if 20 mph keeps Austin Dillon’s car on the ground. We have seen Joey Logano flip at Dover. I’ve been to Saturday night Late Model races my entire life, and I have seen cars go upside down. I’ve seen drivers hurt at 100 mph racetracks. That’s why I’m a big proponent of looking at the safety aspects.

Here’s the problem you have, races are spectacular because everyone wants to win. That’s the same at my son’s go-kart race all the way up to what Austin Dillon did. Whatever rule package, whatever change you try to make, competition and egos take over and that’s what makes NASCAR and every form of racing special. It’s our responsibility as a series to make sure we make it as safe as possible.

Chad Knaus to move off pit box for executive role at Hendrick

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Chad Knaus, whose success as a crew chief is nearly unparalleled in NASCAR, will step down from that role after this season and move into a leadership position at Hendrick Motorsports, the team announced Tuesday.

Knaus will become vice president of competition. He will oversee technical development for Hendrick Motorsports, including implantation of the Next Gen car in 2022. He also will be responsible for personnel for each of the four teams, including crew chiefs, pit crews, engineering, fabrication, assembly and other team-related staff.

Knaus won seven championships as Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief. Only Hall of Fame crew chief Dale Inman won more titles. Inman won eight, scoring seven with Richard Petty and one with Terry Labonte. Knaus has 82 career Cup wins. All but one came with Johnson. William Byron scored his first career Cup win in August at Daytona with Knaus as his crew chief. Byron was eliminated from the playoffs last weekend. The 49-year-old Knaus is the only crew chief to have competed in NASCAR’s postseason all 17 years.

Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus before the 2005 Coca-Cola 600. They combined to win that event four times.  (Photo by Harold Hinson/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images)

“When I started at Hendrick Motorsports (in 1993) working for Ray Evernham, my goal was to be a crew chief,” Knaus said in a statement from the team. “Starting at a young age, I wanted to win every race we entered and battle for every championship.

“Mr. (Rick) Hendrick has given me the chance to do exactly that, and I could not be more thankful to him. After all these years, my competitive desire has not changed at all, but now I have a family that deserves my attention. This new executive role will allow me to compete in a different way with all four of our teams while spending more time with my wife and two young children.

“I appreciate the company supporting my decision, and I’m truly excited about the challenge ahead of me to help us grow and win. I’m also looking forward to working closely with Jeff (Andrews), who I admire and have great respect for. I owe so much to Mr. Hendrick and everyone at Hendrick Motorsports, and I’m ready for the next chapter.”

Knaus and his wife Brooke welcomed a baby girl July 30. Vivienne Mae Knaus is the couple’s second child. Son Kipling was born in 2018.

A new crew chief for Byron will be announced at a later date.

Chad Knaus, car owner Rick Hendrick and Jimmie Johnson displaying their rings after Johnson claimed the 2013 Daytona 500. (Photo by John Harrelson/NASCAR via Getty Images)

“In life, it’s rare to witness true excellence first-hand, but that’s precisely what we’ve been treated to with Chad,” Hendrick said in a statement. “Today’s announcement is bittersweet because, in my opinion, he is the finest crew chief our sport has ever seen.

“Although we’re going to miss him atop the pit box, I’m heartened that Chad has made this decision for himself and his growing family and that he is energized about the opportunity to move us forward in a new capacity. There is no one with higher standards or a stronger passion for winning. He will continue to elevate Hendrick Motorsports and instill his championship mentality throughout the company.”

Knaus served two races as crew chief for Casey Atwood in 2000 and then did one race for Stacy Compton that season. In 2001, Knaus was paired with Compton. Knaus rejoined Hendrick Motorsports to be Johnson’s crew chief in 2002. They remained together until 2019 when Knaus moved to Byron’s team.   

Knaus will report to Andrews, 55, who has been promoted to executive vice president and general manager, effective immediately.

Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus celebrate their seventh NASCAR Cup championship after winning the 2016 season finale in Miami. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Andrews joined Hendrick Motorsports in 1992 and most recently served as vice president of competition. He had held that role since 2017.

Previously, Andrews held a leadership position in the team’s engine department, including director of engine operations. In his expanded role, Andrews will oversee all competition-related departments, including powertrain, manufacturing and racing operations. He will continue to support the organization’s technical relationship with Chevrolet and remain its primary liaison with NASCAR’s competition group. Andrews reports to Hendrick Motorsports president Marshall Carlson.

“In my almost 29-year NASCAR career, I’ve been fortunate to work for just one organization,” Andrews said in a statement from the team. “Mr. Hendrick is a racer and a fierce competitor. His drive to win is contagious, and I’m grateful to have a team of like-minded people who share that passion. Racing is all I have ever done professionally. When I left my home and my family 33 years ago to pursue this dream, I never could have imagined the opportunities that have been provided by so many people, most importantly Mr. Hendrick.”

Said Hendrick in a statement: “As we look to the years ahead, Jeff and Chad are going to play significant roles in our success. They’re tremendous leaders who are respected within our organization and across the entire auto racing world. In addition, they each bring unique strengths and skillsets that will complement each other extremely well and benefit all of Hendrick Motorsports. We’re in the business of winning, and this combination is going to help us do just that.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick still No. 1 after quiet Vegas

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Kevin Harvick didn’t have a flashy night Sunday in Las Vegas, but it didn’t keep him from retaining the No. 1 spot in this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings.

After winning the Bristol night race, Harvick finished in the top 10 in the first two stages in Vegas before placing 10th at race’s end.

Kurt Busch’s win at his home track vaulted him into the top 10 as 12 drivers received votes.

More: Playoff standings after Las Vegas

Here is this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings:

1. Kevin Harvick (Last week No. 1): In the last eight races he’s won three times and finished outside the top 10 only twice.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (Last week No. 5): Placed fourth for his 11th top-five finish in the last 14 races.

3. Alex Bowman (Last week unranked): Finished fifth for his second top five and fifth top-10 finish in the last six races.

4. Denny Hamlin (Last week unranked): Left Vegas with a third-place finish to snap a three-race streak of finishing outside the top 10.

5. Kurt Busch (Last week unranked): Snapped a 46-race winless streak with his victory and advanced to the Round of 8.

6. Kyle Busch (Last week No. 3): Finished sixth after a “dismal” night. He has four consecutive top 10s.

7. Brad Keselowski (Last week No. 5): Finished 13th to give him two finishes outside the top 10 since he won at Richmond.

8. Chase Briscoe (Last week unranked): Opened the Xfinity playoffs with his second consecutive win.

8. Chase Elliott (Last week No. 2): Led 73 laps, but had to settle for a 22nd-place finish in Vegas.

8. Joey Logano (Last week No. 3): Finished 14th for his second straight finish outside the top 10.

Also receiving votes: Erik Jones and Chris Buescher.

NASCAR announces changes to Kansas playoff weekend

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Citing “programming changes,” NASCAR announced shifts in the race dates and start times for its visit next month to Kansas Speedway.

The Xfinity, ARCA and Truck Series races have been shifted, while the Cup race remains at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 18.

The biggest move is the Truck Series race shifting from Friday night to Saturday afternoon.

Here are the changes.

Friday, Oct. 16, 8:30 p.m. ETARCA Menards Series on FS1 or FS2; network TBD at a later date (previously at 10 p.m. ET)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 4 p.m. ETTruck Series on FOX (previously Friday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m. ET Xfinity on NBCSN (previously 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)


Xfinity Series playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Chase Briscoe opened the Xfinity Series playoffs by earning his second consecutive win.

His victory Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway gives him 57 playoff points and an automatic spot in the Round of 8.

Harrison Burton holds the final transfer spot. He has a two-point advantage over Ross Chastain.

Behind Chastain below the cutline are Michael Annett (-10 points), Riley Herbst (-14) and Brandon Brown (-20).

Below is the full Xfinity Series playoff standings going into Saturday’s race at Talladega (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance. Drivers in yellow are in the remaining playoff spots.

Xfinity Series playoff standings