Ryan: The choices that defined Denny Hamlin’s Daytona 500 win

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Team owner Joe Gibbs had an intimate view of the agony and the ecstasy in Sunday’s Daytona 500.

There was the joy of celebrating with winner Denny Hamlin, who won the race he’d been dreaming of winning since the second grade (“My wish is to win the Daytona 500,” he wrote nearly 30 years ago in a hand-written essay his mother shared Sunday night on Twitter). There was the dismay of consoling Matt Kenseth, who had a hammerlock grip on NASCAR’s crown jewel until the race’s final corner.

Having gauged everyone’s reactions, Gibbs had the fullest assessment of anyone at Daytona International Speedway.

Everything, he assured a roomful of inquisitive reporters, was fine at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Hamlin still had to know.

“Did (Kenseth) say anything bad about me?” he partly winced.

Gibbs paused for a telltale moment.

“Oh, God,” Hamlin said, his face turning pale. “Shoot!”

“Don’t stay in your motorhome tonight,” Gibbs cracked, striking a measured tone to add. “We joke about it, but for him, it wasn’t a joke. I mean, it was serious stuff.”

As serious as a heart attack – or whatever life-changing event of anxiety, pain and stress can convey the consequences of a split-second decision at 200 mph that can haunt a driver for years.

The 58th running of the Great American Race boiled down to two simple twists of fate, each of them excruciatingly distressing for a pair of teammates.

On Lap 156, Denny Hamlin gave the race away.

On the final lap, roughly 500 yards from the checkered flag, Matt Kenseth gave it back.

During a 500-mile race in which the bottom lane was overwhelmingly the preferred route around the 2.5-mile track, Kenseth swung to the high side to throw a block on Hamlin in the outside lane off the last turn.

Hamlin deftly dipped his No. 11 Toyota below Kenseth’s No. 20 and surged to the finish, nipping Martin Truex Jr. by 0.010 seconds in the closest Daytona 500 victory in history.

Kenseth finished 14th – the only consolation being he managed to avoided triggering a huge pileup while plummeting backward.

“They don’t get much more crushing than that,” he said, forcing a wry smile.

Ever the consummate professional, the 2003 series champion handled every question with aplomb and outwardly didn’t appear to be beating himself up about the move that cost him his third career win in the season opener.

Though he gamely tried to insist a few times Hamlin still would have won even if he’d stayed on the inside, Kenseth conceded there could be some “Monday morning quarterbacking.” And as his interviews wore on, he vacillated on whether he’d made the right call.

“Hindsight, I probably should have stayed in front of Martin (Truex Jr.) and tried to race him back to the line,” Kenseth said. “But it looked like (Hamlin) was going so fast I could get in front of him and get a little boost, and I just couldn’t.”

Though it seems a simple concept to hold the bottom line and hope for the best, it’s a big ask to make – even for a veteran as cunning and calculating as Kenseth, who drove a flawless race until the last lap brought an intractable decision.

Imagine exiting Turn 4 knowing that you might blunt the momentum of your biggest threat to win merely by moving in front of them.

Which is a better move to win the race?

Take action?

Or stand pat?

Even if the latter was the smartest play, the temptation to avoid the former would be too great for many to avoid.

“There’s a million things you could do differently, but I did what I thought I should do at the time to try to win,” Kenseth said. “We finished terrible, but that was the move I thought I had to make to try to preserve the win. He had such a big run, he was going to go right around me, in my opinion, anyway. I didn’t think we were in a good spot to try to win it with his run, so I was trying to get in front of him.”

Yet the question remained.

Would Kenseth have won if he’d hugged the yellow line and waited for Hamlin eventually to stall out — as dozens of other charges on the lead from the outside line had over the previous three hours?

If Kenseth stays low, does he win?

“Yeah, probably,” Hamlin said.


But the truth hurts, and the replays seem fairly definitive.

Though Hamlin had a full head of steam heading into the fourth turn thanks to a strong bump draft from Kevin Harvick, he still had barely enough momentum to nip Truex by inches at the finish.

If Kenseth just remained low, he probably stays ahead of Truex – and in first until the finish line.

“I was coming with this huge run,” Hamlin said. “I think when he pulled up the racetrack, he ran a longer distance around the racetrack.”

Of course, it’s easy to reflect upon the mathematics in the aftermath.

“Listen, I don’t want to second‑guess what (Kenseth) did because I don’t want to make him feel any worse than he probably already does,” Hamlin said.

The Chesterfield, Va., native would know, having watched the biggest victory of his career nearly slip from his fingers with a mistake during his final stop under green on Lap 156.

Entering the pits in first, Hamlin slid his tires entering the stall, necessitating a four-tire change instead of two and dropping him from first to seventh.

Kenseth emerged in first and led the next 40 laps with the security of a Toyota squadron (Truex and JGR teammates Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards) as wingmen.

“I blew it,” Hamlin said. “Got cocky. Every time we’ve ever had a green-flag pit stop or caution, I beat everyone off pit road. I’m sitting here like, ‘I’m the pit road master.’  Then I come in there and blow it and screw my tires up on the last stop that actually counts.”

It was a sickening feeling that he already knew from losing a qualifying race Thursday night on a dazzling move by Dale Earnhardt Jr. that caught Hamlin massively off guard – so much so that he reviewed the replay to confirm he simply had missed a spotter’s warning.

“I gave up the Duel win just being a complete bonehead and losing concentration for five seconds, and (Earnhardt) got around us,” Hamlin said. “Today, I was making sure I didn’t blink at all to not lose concentration.  It all worked out perfectly.”

Well, not quite perfectly for Joe Gibbs Racing. The party in victory lane – where Toyota executives snapped selfies after their first Daytona 500 win and JGR team members whooped it up after ending a 23-year drought in the prestigious event – wasn’t any less muted.

But it still was delicate.

“This is a great moment for me, but I feel awful for Matt because he’s such a great friend, such a great teammate,” said Hamlin, who called the victory “the pinnacle of my career.”

“You’re defined by the big moments,” he said.

And often the choices and circumstances that accompany them.

Drivers for Drive for Diversity combine revealed


The 13 drivers who will participate in the Advance Auto Part Drive for Diversity Combine were revealed Thursday and range in age from 13-19.

The NASCAR Drive for Diversity Development Program was created in 2004 to develop and train ethnically diverse and female drivers both on and off the track. Cup drivers Bubba Wallace, Daniel Suarez and Kyle Larson came through the program.

The 2020 and 2021 combines were canceled due to the impact of COVID-19.

“We are thrilled that we are in a position to return to an in-person evaluation for this year’s Advance Auto Parts Drive for Diversity Combine,” Rev Racing CEO Max Seigel said in a statement. “We are energized by the high-level of participating athletes and look forward to building the best driver class for 2023. As an organization, we have never been more positioned for success and future growth.”

The youngest drivers are Quinn Davis and Nathan Lyons, who are both 13 years old.

The group includes 17-year-old Andrés Pérez de Lara, who finished seventh in his ARCA Menards Series debut in the Sept. 15 race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Also among those invited to the combine is 15-year old Katie Hettinger, who will make her ARCA Menards Series West debut Oct.. 14 at the Las Vegas Bullring. She’s also scheduled to compete in the ARCA West season finale Nov. 4 at Phoenix Raceway.




Age Hometown
Justin Campbell 17 Griffin, Georgia
Quinn Davis 13 Sparta, Tennessee
Eloy Sebastián

López Falcón

17 Mexico City, Mexico
Katie Hettinger 15 Dryden, MI
Caleb Johnson 15 Denver, CO
Nathan Lyons 13 Concord, NC
Andrés Pérez de Lara 17 Mexico City, Mexico
Jaiden Reyna 16 Cornelius, NC
Jordon Riddick 17 Sellersburg, IN
Paige Rogers 19 New Haven, IN
Lavar Scott 19 Carney’s Point, NJ
Regina Sirvent 19 Mexico City, Mexico
Lucas Vera 15 Charlotte, NC


Dr. Diandra: Crashes: Causes and complications


Two drivers have missed races this year after hard rear-end crashes. Kurt Busch has been out since an incident in qualifying at Pocono in July. Alex Bowman backed hard into a wall at Texas and will miss Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Other drivers have noted that the hits they’ve taken in the Next Gen car are among the hardest they’ve felt in a Cup car.

“When I crashed it (at Auto Club Speedway in practice), I thought the car was destroyed, and it barely backed the bumper off. It just felt like somebody hit you with a hammer,” Kevin Harvick told NBC Sports.

The three most crucial parameters in determining the severity of a crash are:

  • How much kinetic energy the car carries
  • How long the collision takes
  • The angle at which the car hits


The last of these factors requires trigonometry to explain properly. You can probably intuit, however, that a shallower hit is preferable to a head-on — or rear-on — hit.

A graphic show shallower (low-angle) hits and deeper (high-angle) hits
Click for a larger view

When the angle between the car and the wall is small, most of the driver’s momentum starts and remains in the direction parallel to the wall. The car experiences a small change in velocity.

The larger the angle, the larger the change in perpendicular speed and the more force experienced. NASCAR has noted that more crashes this season have had greater angles than in the past.

Busch and Bowman both had pretty large-angle hits, so we’ll skip the trig.

Energy — in pounds of TNT

A car’s kinetic energy depends on how much it weighs and how fast it’s going. But the relationship between kinetic energy and speed is not linear: It’s quadratic. That means going twice as fast gives you four times more kinetic energy.

The graph shows the kinetic energies of different kinds of race cars at different speeds. To give you an idea of how much energy we’re talking about, I expressed the kinetic energy in terms of equivalent pounds of TNT.

A vertical bar graph showing kinetic energies for different types of racecars and their energies

  • A Next Gen car going 180 mph has the same kinetic energy as is stored in almost three pounds of TNT.
  • Because IndyCars are about half the weight of NASCAR’s Next Gen car, an IndyCar has about half the kinetic energy of a Next Gen car when both travel at the same speed.
  • At 330 mph, Top Fuel drag racers carry the equivalent of six pounds of TNT in kinetic energy.

All of a car’s kinetic energy must be transformed to other types of energy when the car slows or stops. NASCAR states that more crashes are occurring at higher closing speeds, which means more kinetic energy.

Longer collisions > shorter collisions

That seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Who wants to be in a crash any longer than necessary?

But the longer a collision takes, the more time there is to transform kinetic energy.

A pitting car starts slowing down well below it reaches its pit box. The car’s kinetic energy is transformed into heat energy (brakes and rotors warming), light energy (glowing rotors), and even sound energy (tires squealing).

The same amount of kinetic energy must be transformed in a collision — but much faster. In addition to heat, light and sound, energy is transformed via the car spinning and parts deforming or breaking. (This video about Michael McDowell’s 2008 Texas qualifying crash goes into more detail.)

The force a collision produces depends on how long the car takes to stop. Compare the force from your seat belt when you slow down at a stop sign to what you feel if you have to suddenly slam on the brakes.

To give you an idea of how fast collisions can be, the initial wall impact in the crash that killed Dale Earnhardt Sr. lasted only eight-hundredths (0.08) of a second.

SAFER barriers use a car’s kinetic energy to move a heavy steel wall and crush pieces of energy-absorbing foam. That extracts energy from the car, plus the barrier extends the collision time.

The disadvantage is that a car with lower kinetic energy won’t move the barrier. Then it’s just like running into a solid wall.

That’s the same problem the Next Gen car seems to have.

Chassis stiffness: A Goldilocks problem

The Next Gen chassis is a five-piece, bolt-together car skeleton, as shown below.

A graphic showing the five parts of the Next Gen chassis.
Graphic courtesy of NASCAR. Click to enlarge.
The foam surrounding the outside of the rear bumper
The purple is energy-absorbing foam. Graphic courtesy of NASCAR. Click for a larger view.

That graphic doesn’t show another important safety feature: the energy absorbing foam that covers the outside of the bumpers. It’s purple in the next diagram.

All cars are designed so that the strongest part of the car surrounds the occupants. Race cars are no different.

The center section of the Next Gen chassis is made from stout steel tubing and sheet metal. Components become progressively weaker as you move away from the cockpit. The bumper, for example, is made of aluminum alloy rather than steel. The goal is transforming all the kinetic energy before it reaches the driver.

Because the Next Gen car issues are with rear impacts, I’ve expanded and highlighted the last two pieces of the chassis.

The rear clip and bumper, with the fuel cell and struts shaded

The bumper and the rear clip don’t break easily enough. The rear ends of Gen-6 cars were much more damaged than the Next Gen car after similar impacts.

If your initial thought is “Just weaken the struts,” you’ve got good instincts. However, there are two challenges.

I highlighted the first one in red: the fuel cell. About the only thing worse than a hard collision is a hard collision and a fire.

The other challenge is that a chassis is a holistic structure: It’s not like each piece does one thing independent of all the other pieces. Changing one element to help soften rear collisions might make other types of collisions harder.

Chassis are so complex that engineers must use finite-element-analysis computer programs to predict their behavior. These programs are analogous to (and just as complicated as) the computational fluid dynamics programs aerodynamicists use.

Progress takes time

An under-discussed complication was noted by John Patalak, managing director of safety engineering for NASCAR. He told NBC Sports’ Dustin Long in July that he was surprised by the rear-end crash stiffness.

The Next Gen car’s crash data looked similar to that from the Gen-6 car, but the data didn’t match the drivers’ experiences. Before addressing the car, his team had to understand the disparity in the two sets of data.

They performed a real-world crash test on a new configuration Wednesday. These tests are complex and expensive: You don’t do them until you’re pretty confident what you’ve changed will make a significant difference.

But even if the test goes exactly as predicted, they aren’t done.

Safety is a moving target.

And always will be.

NASCAR weekend schedule for Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval


NASCAR Cup Series drivers race on the road for the final time this season Sunday, as the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval course ends the playoffs’ Round of 12.

The 17-turn, 2.28-mile course incorporating the CMS oval and infield will determine the eight drivers who will advance to the next round of the playoffs. Chase Elliott won last Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway and is the only driver who has qualified for a spot in the Round of 8.

Entering Sunday’s race, Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman are below the playoff cutline. Bowman will not qualify for the next round because he is sidelined by concussion-like symptoms.

The race (2 p.m ET) will be broadcast by NBC.

Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Cup and Xfinity)

Weekend weather

Friday: Sunny. High of 81 with a 6% chance of rain.

Saturday: Mixed clouds and sun. High of 67 with a 3% chance of rain.

Sunday: Sunny. High of 68 with a 3% chance of rain.

Friday, Oct. 7

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 12 – 5 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Saturday, Oct. 8

Garage open

  • 7 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 8:30 a.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 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

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

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


Rodney Childers fined $100,000, suspended for four races

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NASCAR has suspended Rodney Childers, Kevin Harvick‘s crew chief, for four races and fined him $100,000 for what the sanctioning body called modification of a part supplied by a vendor.

Harvick, who is out of the Cup Series playoffs, and the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 team were docked 100 points.

Harvick’s car and that of Martin Truex Jr. were taken to NASCAR’s Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C. after last Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway. There were no penalties assessed to the Truex team.

Harvick has been particularly critical of the Next Gen car in recent months, once referring to the “crappy-ass parts” provided by suppliers.

Harvick’s car erupted in flames during the Southern 500 Sept. 4 at Darlington Raceway. After he climbed from the smoking car, Harvick blamed the fire on “just crappy parts on the race car like we’ve seen so many times. They haven’t fixed anything. It’s kind of like the safety stuff. We just let it keep going and keep going.

“The car started burning and as it burned the flames started coming through the dash. I ran a couple laps and then as the flame got bigger it started burning stuff up and I think right there you see all the brake fluid that was probably coming out the brakes and part of the brake line, but the fire was coming through the dash.

“What a disaster for no reason. We didn’t touch the wall. We didn’t touch a car, and here we are in the pits with a burned-up car, and we can’t finish the race during the playoffs because of crappy-ass parts.”

MORE: AJ Allmendinger to return to Cup Series in 2023

Unless the team appeals, Childers would miss races at Charlotte, Las Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville and would return for the season finale at Phoenix.

NASCAR president Steve Phelps told the Associated Press that officials have not targeted Harvick. “I would say that’s ridiculous,” he said. “No one has a vendetta against Kevin Harvick or Rodney or anyone at Stewart-Haas Racing.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Harvick tweeted, “Seems strange…” A Childers tweet called the penalty “Shocker…..”.

NASCAR also announced Wednesday it has suspended Young’s Motorsports crew chief Andrew Abbott indefinitely for a behavioral violation during pre-race inspection. He must undergo anger-management training to be reinstated. The team races in the Camping World Truck Series.