Ryan: NASCAR driver contracts cause consternation after charter system

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – A contract usually means clarity.

It’s the rock-solid agreement that locks in the assurances of everyday life and erases all of the niggling uncertainties that stem from loose ends.

One of the most historic contracts in stock-car history – the charter deal that triggered a sweeping overhaul of the Sprint Cup team business model with guaranteed attendance and revenues – was signed a week ago and stamped by a unanimous chorus of NASCAR and team executives proclaiming it as a overwhelming victory for the industry.

Safety. Stability. Security.

So, let’s check in Tuesday for a sampling of what Sprint Cup drivers said about the landmark deal at Daytona 500 Media Day.

“We’re all scrambling.”

“It’s definitely fair to say the whole group probably felt caught off guard.”

“I may go into the Daytona 500 not actually knowing what I’m earning.”

So much for the 200-mph Magna Carta.

“I think anyone would like to know before the terms of their employment change, but that is not the situation,” Brad Keselowski said. “I am aware of the fact that I am a race car driver, and no matter what happens, I am still going to be OK. I am not looking for anyone to feel bad for me. On the other side it is not ideal.

“It would be like if your employer just said, ‘Hey, don’t worry about it, you will get paid.’ That is kind of where most every driver is.”

While it indirectly shored up the underpinnings of the business keeping them gainfully employed and also erased the stress of qualifying without a safety net, the charter system makeover left NASCAR’s stars with a large and lingering question.

Now that the purse structure has been reworked in a way that makes the previous model outmoded, how do we ensure we make the same amount of money as before?

Drivers are paid through two primary methods: a base salary and a percentage of the race winnings, which were provided in every box score.

Under the new charter system, NASCAR no longer will provide those race winnings nor the total purse, underscoring how radically different the cash is being distributed.

The contracts are based on purses that included contingency plans that entirely have been carved out of the results – necessitating drastic changes in driver compensation if previous income levels are maintained.

“I think that everyone will have to have something redone within their contract,” Denny Hamlin said. “There’s verbiage in stuff that has changed how drivers get paid from the purse. There’s not one common standard that one driver or team offers that’s going to be the same. It’s up to the individual driver and owner to work out those details.”

That’s a lot of billable hours being burned in law firms around the country this month, the byproduct of the loosely constructed federation of independent contractors who compete in NASCAR’s premier series.

Though a Driver Council was formed last year to provide some semblance of a unified voice, there is no collective bargaining unit among NASCAR drivers and thus no uniformity or guarantees on what they are entitled to receive from a team owner.

Couple that with a massively complex deal struck less than two weeks from the season opener, and the timing ensured some level of uneasiness.

“The charter system was agreed upon rapidly and pushed the drivers into a very small window to renegotiate a lot of their contracts.” Earnhardt said. “We’re all still negotiating in some of those areas with respective teams. Hopefully all the drivers are having success there.”

There was no pervasive sense of panic Tuesday. NASCAR met with drivers over the weekend and briefed them on the terms of the charter deal

“They did a really nice job of laying it out and talking us through the process,” said Jamie McMurray, who also has gleaned insight from Rob Kauffman, a minority owner of McMurray’s No.1 Chevrolet and Race Team Alliance chairman who brokered the charter agreement. “Maybe it made a little more sense to me because I’d heard Rob’s side and then I heard their side, and I’m putting it all together. They did a good job of explaining it all to us.”

But when it comes to multimillion-dollar annual incomes, all of the PowerPoint presentations in the world won’t assuage fears of a precipitous drop in earnings power.

“Listen, yeah, every driver has a concern if you’re paid based on the purse,” McMurray said. “That’s how most contracts were structured. You get a salary and get paid based on the purse. That structure changed.

“It’s all for the better, but everyone’s contracts had to be relooked at and reworked, and from what I know from talking to other drivers and our team and listening to what other teams are saying, all the owners were really fair in making that right. It just takes a different contract from what we had.”

Some drivers, such as Richard Childress Racing’s Ryan Newman, hadn’t begun to work out the details of their new deals.

“(The charter system) is a great thing, it’s just it was sprung on us as drivers late,” Newman said. “We all can understand that, but most every owner has been (respectful) of the driver of sorting things out because everything changed so much. And I mean everything.

“But I don’t think you can take the history of these owners and business people and put them in a room and have something worse come out of it. I think they’ve done a really good job of protecting themselves for the future and giving this sport a better direction.”

“Everybody is in that same boat,” Casey Mears said. “Thankfully, I have a great relationship with my team owner. As soon as they did that deal, you hope you have a good relationship with your team. … All the conversations have been, ‘Hey, how can we get you back to, based on this new format, what we negotiated?’ There’s definitely a lot of internal conversations going on having to do with that.

“I think the majority of the teams are going to settle it and make it right.”

Stewart-Haas Racing drivers particularly were assured about their status. Kevin Harvick said his management team hammered out a restructuring “in a couple of hours. It didn’t seem like it was that big a deal,” he said. “I know there’s a lot of guys that have expressed some concern on where they are. I guess I should feel fortunate from that side of it.”

“I’m not in a big rush to address it,” Danica Patrick said. “My team has been nothing but fair for years, so we’ll work it out.”

Said Clint Bowyer, whose deal changes next year anyway after moving to SHR from HScott Motorsports: “I’m really not worried about it. I think it’s just a matter of figuring out what the math is and making it work.”

Of course, drivers won’t know how well the math works until the checks arrive. Many said Tuesday it will take at least a few races to gauge if the renegotiated deals are yielding the desired results.

“I think it’s just a matter of economics,” said Greg Biffle, who had yet to finish his deal with Roush Fenway Racing. “I don’t think anybody is taking it as an opportunity to change driver contracts.”

For the drivers’ sake, there better be clarity on that.

William Byron focused on Talladega, not upcoming appeal

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — William Byron enters today’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway not knowing if he truly is above the cutline or below it.

He’s listed as eight points outside the final transfer spot after NASCAR penalized him 25 points for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

Hendrick Motorsports’ appeal will be heard this week. Should the team win, Byron could get those 25 points back. 

But that doesn’t matter to Byron this weekend. He views himself outside a playoff spot.

“I race eight behind,” said Byron, who starts ninth in today’s race (2 p.m. ET on NBC).  “I don’t think about the hypotheticals.

“Obviously, I feel like we’ve got a good case and a good amount of evidence that we put together, but I race (as the points are). So just move forward with it. Go after the stage points and feel like we’re capable of running really well at superspeedways.”

If he wins today to advance to the next round, the points he was penalized won’t matter, but if he doesn’t win, those could prove valuable. 

The points deducted are an element of the Hendrick appeal. 

“The severity of the penalty, that’s what we were opposed to and that’s what the appeal is about,” Byron said.

His point is that being docked a similar amount of points in a three-race round as during a 26-race regular season is too severe. The suggestion being that point penalties should be modified for the playoffs because drivers have fewer races to make up those points before the playoff field is cut. 

That will be up to the appeal panel to determine. Should Hendrick lose, the team could further appeal that decision. 

Byron is in this situation after being upset with how Hamlin squeezed him into the wall last week at Texas. Martin Truex Jr. crashed to bring out the caution a few laps later. As Hamlin, running second, slowed, Byron ran up to Hamlin’s car and hit it in the back, sending Hamlin spinning through the infield grass. 

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said series officials in the control tower didn’t see the contact. Series officials did not penalize Byron during the event but announced a penalty two days later. 

Hamlin had wanted to be placed back in his original spot after the contact but series officials put him back in the field where he blended in. Asked if he was satisfied with the penalty to Bryon, Hamlin said: “It didn’t help my finish. … It didn’t change the fact that I could have won the race instead of finishing 10th.”

Byron said he and Hamlin spoke this week.

“It was a good conversation, learned a lot from him,” Byron said of Hamlin. “Got a better understanding of what he was thinking.”

Byron’s incident shares similarities to what happened to him at Darlington in May. Joey Logano was upset with Byron for crowding him into the wall with 26 laps left. Logano caught Byron and hit the back of Byron’s car, knocking it out of the way with two laps left. Logano won. Byron finished 13th. NASCAR did not penalize Logano.

That incident was under green and in the final laps — when NASCAR is more likely to allow drivers to settle the race between themselves within reason. Byron’s contact of Hamlin last week was under caution and NASCAR typically frowns upon such action.

Earlier this season in the Xfinity Series, NASCAR did not penalize Noah Gragson for wrecking Sage Karam and triggering a 13-car crash at Road America. Four days later, NASCAR penalized Gragson 30 points and $35,000.

Dr. Diandra: Is Talladega really the biggest, fastest, fiercest track?

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Talladega Superspeedway has a reputation as one of the wildest tracks on the NASCAR circuit.

Is it hype? Or do the numbers prove the point?

The biggest

Talladega is the longest oval track in the NASCAR circuit. At 2.66 miles (14,045 feet), one Talladega lap is the length of about 468 football fields. Talladega is longer than Mauna Kea is tall.

If we measure lengths in terms of Talladega:

  • The distance from Charlotte to Nashville (the location of the NASCAR awards ceremony) is 339 Talladegas.
  • If you flew direct from Los Angeles to New York City, you would cover 2500 Talladegas.
  • Martinsville is just 0.20 Talladegas.

Talladega also holds the record for banking in current Cup Series tracks with 33 degrees. Talladega’s banking is so high that the outside lane of the 48-foot wide racing surface is 26.1 feet higher than the inside lane. That difference is about the height of a two-story house.

Talladega is a tri-oval. Think of it as three straight lines connected by three curves.

A graphic showing the tri-oval shape and how it got its name

 

While tri-oval describes the track shape, it is also used to refer to the frontstretch — the most triangular part of the track.

And Talladega’s frontstretch is formidable. The 4,300-foot segment is banked at 16.5 degrees. Talladega’s frontstretch has more banking than all three of Pocono’s turns.

The backstretch, known as the Alabama Gang Superstretch, isn’t too shabby, either. It’s 1,000 feet longer than Daytona’s backstretch. If you were to unroll Richmond, its entire 0.75-mile length would just cover Talladega’s backstretch.

Talladega’s infield is so large that it could hold the L.A. Coliseum, Martinsville, Bristol, Dover, Richmond and the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

A graphic showing that it's possible to pack five smaller tracks, plus the NASCAR Hall of Fame into Talladega's infield

The Fastest

Bill France Sr. originally envisioned Talladega as Indianapolis Motor Speedway with higher banking. At a time when raw speed was the big attraction, higher banking would allow Talladega to wrest away the closed-track speed record from Indy.

In 1970, just six months after Talladega hosted its first race, Buddy Baker became the first driver to break the 200 mph mark on a closed course.

Baker’s breakthrough happened at a testing session. It wasn’t until 1982 that Benny Parsons became the first Cup Series driver to qualify over 200 mph. Just four years later, all but one of the 42 drivers starting the spring race qualified over 200 mph.

In May 1987, Bill Elliott set the all-time Cup Series qualifying record at 212.809 mph. That record will likely never be broken. During the race, Bobby Allison got airborne and crashed into the catchfence. NASCAR subsequently mandated restrictor plates (and now tapered spacers) to keep speeds down and cars on the ground.

Restricting airflow to the engine makes drafting even more important. That, in turn, leads to large packs of cars racing within inches of each other. That’s why four of the top-10 closest finishes in the Cup Series happened at Talladega.

In the spring 2011 race, Jimmie Johnson beat Clint Bowyer by just two-thousandths (0.002) of a second. That ties the famous 2003 Ricky Craven/Kurt Busch Darlington finish for the smallest margin of victory in Cup Series history.

Of all Talladega races run after NASCAR introduced electronic scoring in May 1993, 44 ended under a green flag. Of those races:

  • Seven (15.9%) were won by less than 25 thousandths of a second.
  • Fifteen (34.1%) were won by less than one-tenth of a second.
  • Thirty-nine (88.6%) were won by less than two-tenths of a second.
  • The largest margin of victory was 0.388 seconds.

The Fiercest

Pack racing leads to more contact. Out of 35 Talladega races run under the current green-white-checkered rule, 14 (40%) ended under caution. Rain caused one of those yellow/checkered finishes. The rest were due to accidents.

In 64 races since 1990, Talladega has seen 228 caution-causing spins or accidents, which involved 1,120 cars.

Almost half (49.2%) of these incidents involved only one or two cars. A one- or two-car accident is no less problematic for the drivers involved than a larger crash. But the more cars involved in accidents, the more likely a driver is to be knocked out of the race.

  • 3.5% of all accidents since 1990 involved 20 or more cars.
  • 5.7% of accidents collected 15 or more cars.
  • 16.7% were 10-car or larger crashes.
  • 38.2% involved five or more cars.

While probable, the Big One is by no means inevitable.

Neither are accidents in general. Three races since 1990 finished with no cautions, but all three of these races took place before 2003. The lowest number of cautions in a Talladega race since 2003 is three. That happened at the fall races in 2013 and 2015.

The average number of caution-causing accidents and spins in a Talladega race is 3.5.

  • Seven races (10.9%) had a single caution-causing accident or spin.
  • 14 out of 64 races (21.9%) had four caution-causing accidents or spins
  • 13 of 64 races (20.3%) had three caution-causing incidents.

Races with four or fewer accidents make up 71.9% of all Talladega races — which means that races with five or more accidents only account for 28.1%.

The numbers definitely uphold Talladega’s reputation. Although the track itself remains the same, the racing varies. Tune in to NBC (2 p.m. ET) to see whether this fall’s bout is accident-filled or accident-free.

Talladega Xfinity results: AJ Allmendinger edges Sam Mayer

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AJ Allmendinger, who had had several close calls in Xfinity Series superspeedway races, finally broke through to Victory Lane Saturday, edging Sam Mayer to win at Talladega Superspeedway.

Allmendinger’s margin of victory was .015 of a second. Mayer finished second by a few feet.

Following in the top five were Landon Cassill (Allmendinger’s Kaulig Racing teammate and his drafting partner at the end), Ryan Sieg and Josh Berry.

Noah Gragson, who had won four straight Xfinity races entering Saturday, was 10th. Austin Hill dominated the race but finished 14th.

MORE: Talladega Xfinity results

MORE: Talladega Xfinity driver points

AJ Allmendinger wins Xfinity race at Talladega Superspeedway

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Veteran driver AJ Allmendinger slipped past youngster Sam Mayer in the final seconds and won Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

As drivers in the lead pack scrambled for position approaching the finish line, Allmendinger moved to the outside and, getting a push from Kaulig Racing teammate Landon Cassill, edged Mayer by a few feet. The win ended frustration for Allmendinger on superspeedways.

Following Allmendinger, 40, at the finish were Mayer (who is 19 years old), Cassill, Ryan Sieg and Josh Berry.

Noah Gragson and Allmendinger have qualified for the next playoff round. The other six drivers above the cutline are Ty Gibbs, Austin Hill, Josh Berry, Justin Allgaier, Mayer and Sieg. Below the cutline are Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones, Riley Herbst and Jeremy Clements.

MORE: Talladega Xfinity results

MORE: Talladega Xfinity driver points

“This is Talladega,” a wildly happy Allmendinger told NBC Sports. “Yes, I hate superspeedway racing, but it’s awesome to win in front of the Talladega crowd.”

Austin Hill dominated the race but dropped out of the lead to 14th place  in the closing five laps as drivers moved up and down the track in search of the best drafting line.

The first half of the race featured two and sometimes three drafting lines with a lot of movement and blocking near the front. In the final stage, the leaders ran lap after lap in single file, with Hill, Allmendinger and Gragson in the top three.

MORE: Safety key topic as drivers meet at Talladega

Hill led 60 laps and won the first two stages but finished 14th.

Gragson was in pursuit of a fifth straight Xfinity Series win. He finished 10th.

Remarkably for a Talladega race, the entire 38-car field finished. The race was the 1,300th in Xfinity history, marking only the third time the entire field had been running at the finish. The other two races were at Michigan in 1998 and Langley Speedway in Virginia in 1988.

Stage 1 winner: Austin Hill

Stage 2 winner: Austin Hill

Who had a good race: AJ Allmendinger got the “can’t win on superspeedways” monkey off his back with a great final lap. … Sam Mayer made all the right moves but was passed in the madness of the final run down the trioval. … Landon Cassill finished a strong third and gave Allmendinger, his teammate, the winning push.

Who had a bad race: The race had to be disappointing for Austin Hill, who ran the show for most of the afternoon, winning two stages and leading 60 laps, more than twice as many as any other driver. While blocking to try to maintain the lead late in the race, he fell to 14th. … Playoff driver Jeremy Clements finished a sour 20th and is 47 points below the cutline.

Next: The Xfinity Series’ next playoff race is scheduled Oct. 8 at 3 p.m. (ET) on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. The race will be broadcast by NBC.