Alba Colon, Sprint Cup program manager for GM, has spoken at several schools this year, encouraging student interest in race car engineering.

NASCAR industry, teams wrestle with addressing dearth of engineering talent

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NASCAR teams will descend on Dover International Speedway this weekend with a small army of engineers seeking speed.

Meanwhile, a contingent of high-ranking racing representatives will descend on another NASCAR track seeking the next generation of bright young minds.

Alba Colon, the NASCAR Sprint Cup program manager at General Motors, will be at Michigan International Speedway for Formula SAE Michigan, a four-day event beginning today that will pit 120 universities in a competition to develop a prototype race car while being tested on the automotive industry principles of research, design, manufacturing, marketing and finances.

In recent years, Colon has attended the event along with reps from Hendrick Motorsports, Richard Childress Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota and other NASCAR entities.

She also has seen reps from companies outside of racing such as Space X and Tesla.

“Because they know there are 2,000 young engineers there that are specialists,” Colon said. “They have mechanical engineering degrees, most of them from working on the car. They have the passion. Those are the people you want.

“We all go there to have a competition, to get talent, every year. I love it. But I never thought it was going to get like that.”

Colon, a native of Puerto Rico who came to the United States (and employment at GM) through involvement in a similar student project, has witnessed engineering transform NASCAR over the past 15 years, placing a heavier emphasis on college educations and computer simulations.

But as the trend has resulted in all the powerhouse teams putting dozens of engineers on their payrolls, it has occurred at a time when the candidate pool for the positions has gotten scarce.

“We have all learned there are less and less engineers now in the United States, believe it or not,” Colon told NBC Sports in a recent interview. “There are more coming from outside the United States.”

Rodney Childers, crew chief for Kevin Harvick, said the shortage was evident during the offseason when championship-caliber teams were struggling to fill spots.

“There was a time where there were too many engineers to go around,” Childers told NBC Sports in January. “Now there’s not near enough to go around. All you do is try to find good engineers all the time.

“I think they all fell off the earth. There were a few years where there were so many, and they were all coming by the shops all the time. Now no one can find them. I’ll have the guys at Gibbs send me text messages, ‘You know any engineers at all?’ It’s just hard to find good ones anymore.”

It’s resulted in a push within NASCAR to raise awareness about the need for more engineers.

Next weekend, Homestead-Miami Speedway will play host to a Ten80 Education event for more than 400 middle school and high school students from 40 teams around the country. The event, which is held at the remote control circuit of the track, showcases the teams’ engineering, enterprise and robotics skills in the National STEM League Finals.

Colon is heavily involved with SAE International, an automotive-focused engineering organization that helps highlight STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) programs in schools.

Colon has talked to students in Daytona Beach, Chicago and Phoenix this year.

“I’ve been blessed to go to schools and promote education is important and don’t be afraid of math and science,” she said. “And through my position, because many Latin Americans, especially little girls, they had never thought, ‘Yeah, how can I go and get to NASCAR and do racing?’ So I have become, without wanting to be, an example as, ‘Hey if you’re starting in a technology career, that’s how I got here.’ That’s a passion of mine.”

Jamie McMurray’s No. 1 Chevrolet hosted Andrew Barberena, a Martinsville High School senior, as an honorary pit crew member for the April 1 race at Martinsville Speedway. Barberena, the captain of his school’s robotics team, aspires to study engineering and eventually work in racing.

McMurray, who once built a shock dyno at home years ago to keep up on his cars’ setups, said the increasing technological impact in Sprint Cup has made a college degree a virtual necessity.

“It has evolved so much and with the (computer) simulation now, like we changed four or five things on our car and it’s crazy they simulate the lap and it tells you that it should be tighter at this part in the corner, it should be freer in this part of the corner and it’s right,” he said. “It has changed so much. Not only since I came along, but really in the last five years probably.

“I think Andrew has a goal of being in racing. When you get into algebra and geometry and you are like ‘How am I ever going to use this later on?’ I hope that kids now can see if you want to be a part of NASCAR that is so critical to understand that, especially if you want to be in engineering. If you want to be a part of this and make a difference, you have got to really educate yourself now so you can understand what is going to happen in the future.”

Andrew Barberena, a high school senior with an interest in race car engineering, was an honorary pit crew member for Jamie McMurrays team at Martinsville Speedway.
Andrew Barberena, a high school senior with an interest in race car engineering, was an honorary pit crew member for Jamie McMurray’s team at Martinsville Speedway (Credit: Martinsville Speedway).

Being at the track made an impact on Barberena, who has been taking night classes in engineering at Patrick Henry Community College.

“It truly is amazing to see the professional level of how everything works,” he said. “You can see the true engineering. You see the cars going fast (on TV), but you don’t see the engineering that goes into everything for that to happen.

“The engineering that goes into the cars to make it possible to go around the track at 120 mph, that’s very fascinating.”

Colon also said it’s very necessary given how the reduction in testing has placed a premium on accurate and reliable simulations that are indispensable in setting up a car. Analyzing the data has become nearly as important as gathering it, making the positions more specialized and mathematically driven.

“You need people to write code so the engineer can explain it to the crew chief and use it,” Colon said. “I know we’re trying to get costs out, but we need more engineers to be successful, because now it’s the difference between the car that finishes first and second. You have to spend more money in the right places.”

From today through Sunday, Colon and other members of the NASCAR community will be hunting in Michigan for the right people on whom to spend it.

“There’s a lot of people craving (opportunities in NASCAR),” she said. “You just have to talk to them.”

Three Joe Gibbs Racing cars going to rear for inspection violations

inspection violations
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The cars of Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Erik Jones will start at the rear after each car failed inspection twice before Saturday’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Busch enters the race 18 points above the cutline to transfer to the second round of the Cup playoffs. Saturday’s race (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). Busch was to have started ninth.

This is the second playoff race in a row that Busch’s team has failed inspection twice before the race and had to start at the rear. Busch started at the rear last weekend at Richmond. He finished sixth.

Hamlin has already advanced to the second round via points. He was to have started seventh.

“We’ve got 500 laps,” he said. “If we’re good enough, we’ll get to the front. Not really too worried about it in that sense.”

Jones is not in the playoffs. He would have started 20th.

NASCAR also announced that the cars of Corey LaJoie and Bubba Wallace will start at the rear for unapproved adjustments. JJ Yeley will go to the rear for a driver change since he was not listed on the preliminary entry list for the No. 15 car.

Wallace was to have started 27th. LaJoie was to have started 30th. The No. 15 was to have started 32nd with Brennan Poole as the driver.

 

Saturday Cup race at Bristol: Start time, TV channel

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Four drivers will be eliminated from the Cup playoffs after Saturday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

This marks the first time the track has been in the playoffs. The Saturday Cup race at Bristol will end the first round. The 16-driver field will be cut to 12.

William Byron (3 points behind the cutline), Cole Custer (-8), Matt DiBenedetto (-25) and Ryan Blaney (-27) are the four drivers out of a playoff spot. Clint Bowyer holds the final transfer spot.

Here is all the info for the Saturday Cup race at Bristol:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines is at 7:38 p.m. The green flag waves at 7:45 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup haulers enter the garage (screening and equipment unload) at 10:30 a.m. Garage access health screening begins at 12:30 p.m. Garage opens at 12:30 p.m. Drivers report to their cars at 7:10 p.m. Driver introductions will be at 7:15 p.m. The invocation is at 7:30 p.m. The national anthem will be performed by Joe Nichols, three-time Grammy nominee, at 7:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 500 laps (266.5 miles) around the .533-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 125. Stage 2 ends on Lap 250

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 7 p.m. Race coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 6:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 62 degrees and a 3% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Brad Keselowski won at Richmond. Martin Truex Jr. finished second. Joey Logano placed third for the second race in a row.

LAST POINTS RACE AT BRISTOL: Brad Keselowski won in May after Denny Hamlin lost the lead when he hit the wall. Chase Elliott ran into Joey Logano as they battled for the lead late in the event.

TO THE REAR: Denny Hamlin (two inspection failures), Kyle Busch (two inspection failures), Erik Jones (two inspection failures), Corey LaJoie (unapproved adjustments), Bubba Wallace (unapproved adjustments), JJ Yeley (driver change).

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for Cup starting lineup

CATCH UP ON NBC SPORTS’ COVERAGE:

Three Joe Gibbs Racing cars going to the rear for inspection violations

Bubble drivers brace for Bristol battle

Pit crew change for teams of Alex Bowman and Jimmie Johnson

Friday 5: The thin line between aggressive and dirty driving

Matt DiBenedetto, Ryan Blaney seek NASCAR history to advance

What upcoming Cup playoff races NASCAR fans can attend

Trevor Bayne says the fire remains to run more races

Cup playoff clinching scenarios to make Round of 12

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The first elimination race of the Cup playoffs has arrived in the form of Bristol Motor Speedway.

Tonight’s 500-lap race on the short track will determine which drivers make up the Round of 12.

Three drivers have locked themselves into the second round. Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski earned their spots via race wins at Darlington and Richmond. Denny Hamlin clinched a spot via points.

More: Brad Keselowski on pole for Bristol

That leaves nine spots for 13 drivers to compete for.

If there is a new winner, the following drivers could clinch by being ahead of the 10th winless driver in the standings.

Joey Logano – would clinch with 7 points: 51 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Logano has finished third in the last two playoff races (at Darlington and Richmond). Has made 23 starts at Bristol posting one pole, two wins, six top fives and 10 top 10s. Logano’s average finish is 15.3.

Martin Truex Jr. – would clinch with 20 points: 38 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Earned 22nd-place finish at Darlington and second-place finish at Richmond. Has made 29 series starts at Bristol posting two top fives and three top 10s. His average finish is 20.6.

Austin Dillon – would clinch with 21 points: 36 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Dillion has a runner-up finish at Darlington and a fourth-place result last weekend at Richmond. Has 13 starts at Bristol posting one top five and three top 10s. His average finish is 17.3.

Chase Elliott – Would clinch with 30 points: 28 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Elliott finished 20th at Darlington and fifth at Richmond. Has made nine starts at Bristol and has one pole, three top fives and four top 10s. Average finish is 12.6.

Alex Bowman – would clinch with 31 points: 27 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Bowman placed sixth at Darlington and ninth at Richmond. Has made nine series starts at Bristol with one top five and two top 10s. His average finish is 22.6.

Kyle Busch – would clinch with 40 points: Just 18 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Has seventh-place finish at Darlington and a sixth-place finish at Richmond. Has made 30 Cup starts at Bristol posting two poles and a series-leading eight wins among active drivers.

Aric Almirola – would clinch with 51 points: Seven points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Finished ninth at Darlington and eighth at Richmond. Has made 22 starts at Bristol with one top five and two top 10s. His average finish is 25.0.

Kurt Busch – would clinch with 51 points: Seven points ahead of the cutoff sport. Almirola holds the tiebreaker of best finish in the current playoff round. Busch has finished eighth at Darlington and 13th at Richmond. Has 39 Cup starts at Bristol with one pole, six wins, 12 top fives and 21 top 10s. Average finish is 14th.

Clint Bowyer – would clinch with 55 points: Three points over cutoff. Finished 10th at Darlington and Richmond. Bowyer has made 29 Cup starts at Bristol with eight top fives and 16 top 10s. Average finish is 13.6.

William Byron (-3 points from cutoff; would need help to clinch): Finished fifth at Darlington and 21st at Richmond. Five Cup starts at Bristol with one top 10. Average finish of 17.2.

Cole Custer (-8 points; would need help to clinch): Finished 12th at Darlington and 14th at Richmond. Finished 25th in lone Bristol Cup start.

Matt DiBenedetto (-25 points; would need help to clinch): Finished 21st at Darlington and 17th at Richmond. Eleven Cup starts at Bristol with one top five and one top 10. Average finish of 19.1.

Ryan Blaney
Ryan Blaney is last on the 16 driver playoff grid heading into Bristol. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Ryan Blaney (-27 points; would need help to clinch): Finished 24th at Darlington and 19th at Richmond. Ten Cup starts at Bristol with one top five and three other top 10s. Average finish of 20.7.

More: Blaney and DiBenedetto seek history to advance to second round

Should there be a repeat winner Saturday – Harvick or Keselowski – the following drivers would advance to the next round by being ahead of the 11th winless driver in the standings.

Joey Logano: Would clinch with 4 points

Martin Truex Jr.: Would clinch with 17 points

Austin Dillon: Would clinch with 18 points

Chase Elliott: Would clinch with 27 points

Alex Bowman: Would clinch with 28 points

Kyle Busch: Would clinch with 37 points

Aric Almirola: Would clinch with 48 points

Kurt Busch: Would clinch with 48 points

Clint Bowyer: Would clinch with 52 points

William Byron: Would clinch with 55 points

Cole Custer, Matt DiBenedetto and Ryan Blaney: Could only clinch with help

Xfinity race results, point standings after Bristol

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Chase Briscoe led the final six laps and won Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol for his seventh win of the season.

Briscoe beat Ross Chastain for the win. The top five was completed by Austin Cindric, Harrison Burton and Justin Allgaier.

Click here for the race results.

Playoff standings

The 12-driver field for the playoffs has been set with Briscoe’s win in the regular-season finale.

Brandon Brown placed 12th and clinched the 12th and final spot.

Here are the re-seeded point standings entering the playoffs.

Chase Briscoe – 2,050 points

Austin Cindric – 2,050

Justin Allgaier – 2,033

Noah Gragson – 2,025

Brandon Jones – 2,020

Justin Haley – 2,018

Harrison Burton – 2,014

Ross Chastain – 2,010

Ryan Sieg – 2,002

Michael Annett – 2,002

Riley Herbst – 2,001

Brandon Brown – 2,000

Click here for the re-seeded standings.

Click here for the normal point standings.