The world according to Juan Pablo Montoya, from IndyCar to NASCAR to Formula One

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CHARLOTTE – Few in the history of driving race cars have stood as successfully at the intersection of the world’s most famous circuits as Juan Pablo Montoya.

The Colombian won his second Indianapolis 500 a record 16 years after his first in his Indianapolis Motor Speedway debut. During the interim, Montoya was a seven-time winner in Formula One and a two-time winner in NASCAR who made the 2009 Chase for the Sprint Cup.

During an IndyCar-sponsored media luncheon last week at an upscale restaurant in Uptown Charlotte, Montoya took questions from several reporters about his experiences in all three series, as well as his career rebirth at Team Penske, what didn’t work at Chip Ganassi Racing and his prospects for Sunday’s 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.

PODCAST: A tripleheader to preview Memorial Day weekend’s raicng tripleheader with Montoya, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Ray Evernham

Here’s the transcript of his session:

Q: How did you feel after Monday’s practice session about your race chances?

A: “The problem is speeds in practice are very deceiving because it’s how big of a tow you’ve got. Instead of learning, I did a lot of running by myself because we needed to try some pieces, then we said  ‘OK, put it in the back.’ It’s not about, ‘Let’s drop 10 car lengths and time the draft all the way around to post that great lap time.’ Are you going to learn anything by doing that? No, at the end of the day, the race is how close can you run to somebody and how easy can you pass somebody. That’s what we worked on. Did we struggle? Yes. But the last run was really good. I did 15-18 laps in a row, and I didn’t say a word on the radio. For me to do that is pretty good.

“I felt it clicked. I was really happy with the car. The flow was good, and I could pass people. I could follow people. It’s tough because the difference between clean air and dirty air is huge this year. It’s bigger than normal. So when you’re by yourself, you better hang on.”

Q: What was it like hitting the trash bag during your qualifying attempt?

A: “Oooh, that was scary. I didn’t know what it was going to do. You think about it: A trash bag? Really? Is it going to do anything? Yes. It’s crazy because when I left the pits, it was in the grass. I thought, ‘Oh, there’s debris there. Surely they’ve seen it. Maybe a piece of foam laying there. Should be OK.’ Indy normally for anything they throw (a caution for) debris. If it’s that big and  they haven’t, they’re pretty comfortable with that there. That was in my mind. So coming to the green, I looked at it, and on the first lap, it was the same, so I just stopped paying attention to it.

“On Lap 3, I turned in, and the bag was in the middle of the groove. It was like, ‘Hit me!’ There’s really one line, especially in qualifying. I hit it flat, honestly thinking it wasn’t going to do anything. (chuckles) I was wrong. I hit it, and it was like somebody picked up the front tires. The steering got light, and it went straight to the wall. Full brakes.

Q: What is it like being the defending winner at Indy?

A: “It hasn’t changed anything. The cool thing is they have one of the coolest tickets in racing, and I’m on it. But apart from that, I don’t know. I don’t think about it. I’m worried more about what we need to do to be good in the race. I felt like at the end of practice, we had a good car. It’s going to be tough, but it’s going to be tough for everybody. Handling is going to be very important. The tires are going to go off, especially if it’s hot, and it’s going to make it hard on everybody. That last run, I was average, just keeping up. After eight laps, it just took off.”

Q: Knowing what you know now about Team Penske, how far off was Chip with NASCAR stuff?

A: “A fair bit. That polite enough?”

Q: Does Kyle Larson seem to have been held back by the Ganassi cars?

A: “Yes and no because Ganassi gave him the opportunity to be in Cup. So it’s all relative. He had a choice, didn’t he? He chose to be there. They have great sponsors. They work hard. My opinion is they keep changing people. Every time they have someone really smart, they get rid of them. You know?”

Q: What does Roger Penske bring that separates his team?

A: “Him. The way he handle business. It’s all about the people. It’s about figuring out what people need to perform at their best. Roger and his team knows how to get the most out of people. It’s outstanding. He gets the most out of us as drivers. He makes us feel comfortable and at home and gives us all the tools to win. Why would you do anything different?”

Q: Have you learned from him?

A: “I wish I could learn everything from him. You look at him at his age (79). He’s got more energy than all of us at this table. It’s unbelievable. He’s so switched on. He knows everybody’s names. He knows what they do, their family, everything. Their background. It’s amazing. It’s fun to be there. You have to perform and do your job, but I’m loving racing right now. Working for him makes it fun and interesting.”

Q: Have you met anyone else like him?

A: “No. I know a lot of people who want to be like him. Anybody close? No.”

Q: What is the different between him and Chip?

A: “Both are very successful. Their approach of how to get the most out of people are completely opposites.”

Q: Has all of the recent success in NASCAR and IndyCar reinvigorated Roger?

A: “His businesses are the same thing. It’s just the way he handles things. Roger is the kind of guy that wakes up Monday morning, gets on a plane and does breakfast in England, lunch in Germany, dinner in Italy and from there goes to the west coast of Australia for a meeting and dinner and then comes back straight to an IndyCar race. That’s him. It’s unbelievable, that guy.”

Q: Could you keep up with him?

A: No. (laughs) He knows what is needed and is really switched on, and it makes it fun. It also makes it really intense. It makes Indy really intense. I spend a lot of time in my bus at Indy because it’s way above me. It really is. I do what I need to do to spend time with engineers and look at the videos. That’s it. Or I spend a lot of time with my guys in the evenings after all is done. They were changing engines Sunday night. I was in the garage talking to them at 9:30 at night just sitting with them while they worked.

“They’re a great group of guys. They’ll go above and beyond for me, and I feel I need to do the same for them. It makes it fun. They know I’ll drive the hell out of the car, and they like that and appreciate that. I try to do the same for them. I see how hard they work on the car, how good they work to make sure we have great pit stops, great strategy, good calls on everything.”

Q: You didn’t feel that at Ganassi?

A: “It’s just different. The Ganassi organization is different. The way they do things is different. It’s just two ways of doing things. I felt when I started at Ganassi in the NASCAR program, I knew they were behind. Chip knew he was behind. We built on it, made the Chase and after we made the Chase, they fired (crew chief) Brian (Pattie). In my opinion, he was the key why we made the Chase. And then they keep firing people and changing people, and it just makes it hard. There’s no continuity.”

Q: Have you thought of running the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 the same day?

A: “Not really. No.”

Q: Would winning Indy this year mean more because of Roger?

A: “You always want to win. It’s not only the 100th, it’s Roger’s 50th. So it’s huge. But you can only do what you can do. I tell people if you’re going to try harder this week, it means you’re not doing your job. If every week, you don’t try this hard, then you shouldn’t be there. I feel I always put everything on the table and give it all. Sometimes I give it all and it’s not good enough, and that’s it.”

Q: Is there more pressure based on what teammate Simon Pagenaud has done this year?

A: “Not really. He’s done a good job, and it’s been great. All the things have gone his way, but it’s OK. It makes us better. It makes us try harder. You have to be happy for him. After last year, he needed something like this.”

Q: Is there a favorite?

A: “I don’t know. Is there?”

Q: Has Honda closed the gap?

A: “Yeah, Honda closed the gap. I’d say in race trim, they looked ahead initially, but we’re right there now. I feel pretty good.”

Q: Will you watch Monaco?

A: “I’ll probably watch a little of it, not all of it, but yeah.”

Q: Will you watch Charlotte?

A: “No. To be honest with you, people don’t realize, NASCAR is a great sport. But you are so many weeks on the road, you don’t realize there is actually a great life outside of racing. And with IndyCar, I have that balance.”

Q: Does the team put forth extra effort at Indy and how do you approach the race on strategy?

A: “If you go out Sunday to try harder, what have you been doing the rest of the year? With a 500-mile race, take your time with the start. Don’t worry about it. See what it brings. It’s a 500-mile race. It’s a long way to go.

“If the opportunity comes, you take it or you don’t. You make a decision in the instant, and sometimes you make the right one, sometimes the wrong one. I think Will waited to the last lap to get really close and didn’t. I felt if he had passed me before, I would have passed him back. This year the draft is bigger when you follow people. It’s going to make it even harder.

“They put the domed skids so the cars are a little higher and have more drag, so they punch a bigger hole. But when you’re leading, you’re not as efficient as last year. To lead is harder. It’s going to be interesting, and having the 100th is going to make it a great 500. Last year was really a Chevy fight. This year it’s whoever has a good car fight.”

Q: Are you impressed by Team Penske’s NASCAR success?

A: No, they like what they do. They love what they do. It’s fun when you have cars that you can go everywhere and win races. If I would have had cars to win every week, I probably would have never made the switch (to IndyCar from NASCAR). I wouldn’t have had a second Indy 500 (win). Everything happens for a reason. There’s always a reason for everything.

Q: Any chances you’ll do another NASCAR race for Penske?

A: “If we do anything with a roof, there’s more challenges going to Australia (with Penske’s V8 Supercars team) than here. Bathurst would be fun to do.

Q: The Sprint All-Star Race was rather confusing, was it for someone who once raced in NASCAR?

A: “NASCAR, they really focus on making sure it’s a good show. They don’t make as (much of) the purity of the racing. For them, it’s making sure it’s a good show that people like what they see. In IndyCar, they try to find that balance as well, but we don’t do it that way. They tried it before with the qualifying races at Iowa. I don’t think people liked it.”

Q: Is there a dichotomy between IndyCar, which seems so worried about the purity of racing, and NASCAR, which seems more inclined to find ways to bunch the field?

A: “Yeah, (IndyCar) feels they don’t want to ruin someone’s race because of a caution. NASCAR, it’s about ruin it to make it interesting. It is. For me it happened a lot of times. A caution for a bottle of water not even in the racetrack. I had that in Indy twice. A bottle of water that was there before the start of the race, they called it with five laps to go or 10 laps to go. It’s like, ‘Really?’ That’s what they look for. They look for excitement. They don’t want someone to dominate and be the guy. I think if you’ve done a good job, and you deserve to win, it should be yours. If you truly get a caution for something.

“I agree with you: IndyCar has gone a little too far this year. There’s been a couple of places they should have thrown cautions for debris, and they haven’t. I agree with you there. But I don’t agree when there’s a debris caution for a water bottle in a parking lot.”

Q: Is there a fine line between entertainment and purity of competition?

A: “Yes, and when you’re in NASCAR, and you’re blowing tires, it’s, ‘Oh, another blown tire,’ and it’s OK to have a blown tire. Where in IndyCar, we had a flat tire with Helio (Castroneves) and myself leading, and it was a big deal. Where (in NASCAR), it’s (in a TV announcer’s voice) ‘Tough luck today! He led 458 laps and only 20 to go, and now he’s three laps down because it’s a 20-second lap and an hour to go down pit road!’ It’s like that. You look at (Matt) Kenseth and how quick he was at Bristol, and ‘Oh, flat tire. It’s OK. All good!’ And the culture is being OK with that.

Q: Were you OK with that while racing NASCAR?

A: “No, but it’s not about whether you’re OK with it or not, it’s what it is.”

Q: How does this year’s Indy 500 compare with other races you’ve done?

A: “It’s probably the biggest event I’ve ever participated. I’ve been lucky enough to be in all the big ones, and Indy, nothing beats it for atmosphere. I’ve been to Monaco and the Daytona 500. Daytona is a great event, but it’s all about the ‘Big One,’ and who can get someone to push you. It’s not about who drives a better car. By yourself, you don’t win. You win with somebody. Here it’s all about you.

“Monaco, driving is cool, but there is nowhere to watch as a spectator unless you’re a sponsor and in a boat. What Monaco had when I was there was the only street course. It was cool because we did one street course a year, and it’s the race. Then they started bringing in more (with) Singapore. It kind of lost what it was.

Q: What’s your take on the shunt in Spain between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg?

A: Hamilton was really optimistic, to be honest. I mean, was he expecting he was going to get some room? After you pull a pass on a start like that, there is no way, even if he was in the wrong position, that Rosberg was going to give him an inch. You have to see it coming. Being a teammate should have been a little more fair, perhaps, but from a pure racing perspective and the way you can race there … really?”

Q: How much longer do you want to do this?

A: “As long as Roger wants me (laughs). I’m in good shape. I’ve been having to push the last couple of races, and I can push all day as hard as I need to; I don’t need to pace myself. I feel in good shape.

“It’s fun to go to the track. You’re not talking about how you’re going to find half a second. That was hard. It beats you down. I knew how well I could drive. I went a year and a half after making the Chase, going to races where you qualify 30th and run 25th all day. It’s not fun, and then they start looking at you like you’re doing something wrong. You’ve got to drive it different. I’m like, ‘Hold on. A year and a half ago, I made the Chase and was driving great and haven’t changed anything. Why now do I need to change?’ This is better.”

2023 NASCAR, ARCA schedules

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The start of the 2023 racing season moves closer with each passing day.

Here are the Cup, Xfinity and Truck schedules (playoff races in bold), along with the ARCA, ARCA East and ARCA West schedules for the upcoming season:

2023 NASCAR Cup Series Schedule

Date Race / Track Network Start Time (ET) Radio
Sunday, February 5 Clash (L.A. Memorial Coliseum) FOX 8:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Thursday, February 16 Duel at Daytona FS1 7:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, February 19 DAYTONA 500 FOX 2:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, February 26 Auto Club FOX 3:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, March 5 Las Vegas FOX 3:30 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, March 12 Phoenix FOX 3:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, March 19 Atlanta FOX 3:00 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, March 26 COTA FOX 3:30 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, April 2 Richmond FS1 3:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, April 9 Bristol Dirt FOX 7:00 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, April 16 Martinsville FS1 3:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, April 23 Talladega FOX 3:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, April 30 Dover FS1 2:00 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, May 7 Kansas FS1 3:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, May 14 Darlington FS1 3:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, May 21 NASCAR All-Star Race (North Wilkesboro) FS1 8:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, May 28 Charlotte FOX 6:00 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, June 4 World Wide Technology Raceway FS1 3:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, June 11 Sonoma FOX 3:30 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, June 25 Nashville Superspeedway NBC 7:00 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, July 2 Chicago Street Race NBC 5:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, July 9 Atlanta USA 7:00 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, July 16 New Hampshire USA 2:30 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, July 23 Pocono USA 2:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, July 30 Richmond USA 3:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, August 6 Michigan USA 2:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, August 13 Indianapolis Road Course NBC 2:30 p.m. IMS/SiriusXM
Sunday, August 20 Watkins Glen USA 3:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, August 26 Daytona NBC 7:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, September 3 Darlington USA 6:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, September 10 Kansas USA 3:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, September 16 Bristol USA 7:30 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, September 24 Texas USA 3:30 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, October 1 Talladega NBC 2:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, October 8 Charlotte Roval NBC 2:00 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, October 15 Las Vegas NBC 2:30 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, October 22 Homestead-Miami NBC 2:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, October 29 Martinsville NBC 2:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, November 5 Phoenix NBC 3:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM

2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series Schedule

Date Location Network Start Time Radio
Saturday, February 18 Daytona FS1 5:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, February 25 Auto Club FS1 5:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, March 4 Las Vegas FS1 4:30 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, March 11 Phoenix FS1 4:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, March 18 Atlanta FS1 5:00 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, March 25 COTA FS1 5:00 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, April 1 Richmond FS1 1:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, April 15 Martinsville FS1 7:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, April 22 Talladega FS1 4:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, April 29 Dover FS1 1:30 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, May 13 Darlington FOX 1:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, May 27 Charlotte FS1 1:00 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, June 3 Portland FS1 4:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, June 10 Sonoma FS1 8:00 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, June 24 Nashville Superspeedway USA 3:30 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, July 1 Chicago Street Race USA 5:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, July 8 Atlanta USA 8:00 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, July 15 New Hampshire USA 3:00 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, July 22 Pocono USA 5:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, July 29 Road America NBC 3:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, August 5 Michigan NBC 3:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, August 12 Indianapolis Road Course USA 5:30 p.m. IMS/SiriusXM
Saturday, August 19 Watkins Glen USA 3:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Friday, August 25 Daytona USA 7:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, September 2 Darlington USA 3:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, September 9 Kansas NBC 3:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Friday, September 15 Bristol USA 7:30 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, September 23 Texas USA 3:30 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, October 7 Charlotte Roval USA 3:30 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, October 14 Las Vegas USA 3:30 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, October 21 Homestead-Miami NBC 3:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, October 28 Martinsville USA 3:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, November 4 Phoenix USA 7:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM

 

2023 NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series Schedule

Date Location Network Start Time Radio
Friday, February 17 Daytona FS1 7:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Friday, March 3 Las Vegas FS1 9:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, March 18 Atlanta FS1 2:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, March 25 COTA FS1 1:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, April 1 Texas FS1 4:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, April 8 Bristol Dirt FS1 8:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Friday, April 14 Martinsville FS1 7:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, May 6 Kansas FS1 8:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Friday, May 12 Darlington FS1 7:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, May 20 North Wilkesboro FOX 1:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Friday, May 26 Charlotte FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, June 3 World Wide Technology Raceway FS1 1:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Friday, June 23 Nashville Superspeedway FS1 8:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, July 8 Mid-Ohio FS1 1:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, July 22 Pocono FS1 12:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, July 29 Richmond FS1 7:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Friday, August 11 Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis FS1 9:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, August 27 Milwaukee FS1 4:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Friday, September 8 Kansas FS1 9:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Thursday, September 14 Bristol FS1 9:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, September 30 Talladega FS1 1:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, October 21 Homestead-Miami FS1 12:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Friday, November 3 Phoenix FS1 10:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM

2023 ARCA Menards Series Schedule

  • Broadcast schedule, including event start times, will be released at a later date.
Feb. 18 Daytona International Speedway Daytona Beach, FL
March 10 Phoenix Raceway Avondale, AZ
April 22 Talladega Superspeedway Talladega, AL
May 6 Kansas Speedway Kansas City, KS
May 26 Charlotte Motor Speedway Concord, NC
June 17 Berlin Raceway Marne, MI
June 24 Elko Speedway Elko, MN
July 7 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course Lexington, OH
July 15 Iowa Speedway Newton, IA
July 21 Pocono Raceway Long Pond, PA
Aug. 4 Michigan International Speedway Brooklyn, MI
Aug. 11 Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park Brownsburg, IN
Aug. 18 Watkins Glen International Watkins Glen, NY
Aug. 20 Illinois State Fairgrounds Springfield, IL
Aug. 27 The Milwaukee Mile West Allis, WI
Sept. 3 DuQuoin State Fairgrounds DuQuoin, IL
Sept. 8 Kansas Speedway Kansas City, KS
Sept. 14 Bristol Motor Speedway Bristol, TN
Sept. 30 Salem Speedway Salem, IN
Oct. 7 Toledo Speedway Toledo, OH

 

2023 ARCA Menards Series East Schedule

March 25    Five Flags Speedway              Pensacola, Fla. 

April 28      Dover Motor Speedway           Dover, Del. 

May 13      Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway    Nashville, Tenn. 

May 20      Flat Rock Speedway              Flat Rock, Mich. 

July 15      Iowa Speedway                  Newton, Iowa 

Aug. 11     Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park  Brownsburg, Ind. 

Aug. 27     The Milwaukee Mile              West Allis, Wisc. 

Sept. 14    Bristol Motor Speedway           Bristol, Tenn. 

 

2023 ARCA Menards Series West Schedule

March 10    Phoenix Raceway                Avondale, Ariz. 

April 1     Irwindale Speedway               Irwindale, Calif. 

April 22    Kern County Raceway Park          Bakersfield, Calif. 

June 2      Portland International Raceway      Portland, Ore. 

June 9      Sonoma Raceway                Sonoma, Calif. 

July 1      Irwindale Speedway               Irwindale, Calif. 

July 29     Shasta Speedway                 Anderson, Calif. 

Aug. 19     Evergreen Speedway             Evergreen, Wash. 

Sept. 30    All-American Speedway            Roseville, Calif. 

Oct. 13     The Bullring at LVMS              Las Vegas, Nev. 

Oct. 21     Madera Speedway                Madera, Calif. 

Nov. 3      Phoenix Raceway                 Avondale, Ariz. 

Each ARCA Menards Series East and West stand-alone race will be streamed live on FloRacing and televised on a delayed basis on USA Network. Race start times, as well as broadcast details for combination races with the ARCA Menards Series will be announced at a later date. 

 

2022 spotlights: The Clash, the King and Martinsville Mania

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The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season brought something new (a race inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum!) and something old (a win by the No. 43!) and a lot in-between.

In many ways, it was one of NASCAR’s best seasons. There were new winners, the Next Gen car kicked up competition a bit and there was a race finish (see the Ross Chastain file) like none other in the history of the sport.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: The name game

There were downsides, too: The safety of the new car came under fire (figuratively and literally, as wheel-well flames ended more than a few rides), drivers’ seasons were interrupted or ended because of hard wrecks and some races were less than stellar.

Looking back over the February-to-November marathon, some races stand out:

Rocking the City of Angels – Despite the naysayers, the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was a roaring success. A platter of questions, including whether the purpose-built track inside the stadium would hold up under heavy stock cars and generate good racing, awaited as teams rolled into LA. The racing wasn’t sensational, but it was good, and there were no problems with the track. A huge crowd showed up, and NASCAR left town with many ideas, having proven that it could run a race on a temporary track inside a large stadium. It has escaped no one’s notice that there are many other large stadiums in the country – and, by the way, outside it.

Wiggling at Watkins Glen – The venerable New York road course produced another hot finish as teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott battled for the win. Larson forced Elliott out of the main groove and took the lead for good with five laps remaining. “I’m not proud of it, but I knew it’s what I had to do to get the win,” Larson said. Elliott didn’t publicly criticize Larson, but it was clear he wasn’t pleased with Larson’s move.

MORE: Fighting knights and pie in the sky

Six hundred miles, and then some – The long history of Charlotte Motor Speedway’s 600-mile race has produced some great competition – and some races that prompted long naps. This year’s was one of the craziest and, by the way, the longest. The race went to two overtimes, finally ending after 413 laps and 619.5 miles, making it the longest race in NASCAR’s 75 years. The winner – perhaps most accurately described as the survivor – was Denny Hamlin, who outran teammate Kyle Busch over the final two laps.

The King is back…but where is he? – The Cup playoffs opened at Darlington Raceway with the storied Southern 500, but the playoffs took a back seat to other storylines. Erik Jones scored an upset win in Richard Petty’s No. 43, marking the iconic car’s first victory since 2014. Petty, however, missed the Victory Lane festivities. He and Dale Inman, the No. 43’s former crew chief, left the race early for the drive home to North Carolina. The long night held several incidents, including one involving Kevin Harvick, who criticized NASCAR after his car caught fire, uttering his now-infamous diatribe about what he called “crappy-ass parts.”

No watermelon, but a lotta juiceThe finish of the Oct. 29 playoff race at Martinsville Speedway generated international interest. Christopher Bell won in a must-win situation to advance in the playoffs, but the post-race spotlight was on Ross Chastain, who rode the outside wall through the final two turns at speeds rarely seen on the short track and finished fourth, good enough to stay in the championship hunt. Chastain’s remarkable move drew comment from observers outside NASCAR, including Formula 1 drivers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday 5: Memorable images from 2022 NASCAR season

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The end of the season provides a chance to look back and each year I go through the photos on my phone and find those that show the highs and lows of a sport that goes from February to November. 

Here are some of the photos that stood out for me:

1. Daytona 500 

Although the time spent in Daytona Beach, Florida, has shrunk in recent years with a more compact track schedule, the intensity remains. As do the emotions. 

Cup rookie Austin Cindric accomplished “a racer’s dream” in winning the Daytona 500, accomplishing something in his second attempt that took Darrell Waltrip 17 times and Dale Earnhardt 20 times to accomplish.

Cindric blocked teammate Ryan Blaney coming to the finish line and beat Bubba Wallace by half a car length. 

It was the second time Bubba Wallace had finished runner-up in this race. Unlike 2018, when Wallace was excited with finishing second, Wallace felt no such emotion this time. 

“2018 was awesome,” Wallace said of his runner-up result in the Daytona 500. “2022 was not awesome.

“I didn’t have a fighting chance the first time in 2018. This one being that close, it’s like a gut punch.”

The photos that stand out to me are of the picture of Cindric’s car covered in red, white and blue confetti before going through post-race inspection and the disappointment Wallace wore on pit road after the race.

Austin Cindric‘s car after winning the 2022 Daytona 500. (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

A dejected Bubba Wallace after finishing second in the 2022 Daytona 500. (Photo: Dustin Long)

2. Road America 

The Cup Series is not returning to the Wisconsin road course after two years there. Instead, this race will be replaced by the Chicago street course event in 2023.

This past season’s race was memorable. Tyler Reddick scored his first career Cup win on July 3. Nine days later came the announcement that he was leaving Richard Childress Racing for 23XI Racing in 2024 (That timetable moved up to 2023 after RCR signed Kyle Busch to replace Reddick in the No. 8.).

Among the special moments from the Road America race was Austin Cindric walking the length of pit road to victory lane to congratulate Reddick.

Austin Cindric hugs Tyler Reddick in victory lane at Road America on July 3, 2022. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Walking with Cindric, I asked him why he was making the trip to see Reddick.

“I think of anyone in the field, he probably deserves that win more than anybody else,” Cindric told me. “I think he’s put himself in position. He’s a really likable guy, and I feel like you can see how hard he works. 

“I’ve seen him mature as a driver and a person and as a friend and a father. It’s cool to see somebody you’re close to go through that.”

When Cindric arrived in victory lane, he walked up to Reddick and gave his friend a bearhug, lifting Reddick well off the ground.

In all the excitement, Reddick’s son, Beau, was not impressed. He was sound asleep in victory lane.

Tyler Reddick’s son Beau sleeps in victory lane after his father’s first Cup win in July 2022 at Road America. (Photo: Dustin Long)

3. Special moments

One never knows what you’ll come across in a season that stretches so long through the calendar. 

These are a few such moments that proved special for one reason or the other.

As storm clouds gathered over Daytona International Speedway in February, the sun was settling, creating a sky both ominous and spectacular. The photo captures that scene as Cole Custer walks through the garage. After this season, Stewart-Haas Racing announced it was replacing Custer with Ryan Preece in the No. 41 Cup car and that Custer would run in the Xfinity Series for the team.

Cole Custer walks under an ominous sky at Daytona in February 2022. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Another photo that stands out to me comes from the Clash at the Coliseum. There were so many questions about the exhibition race inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, such as if the specially built track would withstand the rigors of cars, what would the debut of the Next Gen car be like and would fans really be interested in such an event.

The track held up. So did most of the cars and the fans came. While not a sellout, more than 50,000 people attended the event and NASCAR noted that many had not purchased tickets to a NASCAR event before. The event was a success.

What stood out to me was the lines of people waiting to buy souvenirs the day of the race. In some places, lines stretched well away from the merchandise trailers. 

Fans stand in line for merchandise at the Clash at the Coliseum in Feb. 2022. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Sometimes you never know what you’ll see at at event. At an event at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Hall of Famers Richard Petty, Dale Inman and Ray Evernham all stood together. That is 18 Cup championships (eight by Inman, seven by Petty and three by Evernham).

NASCAR Hall of Famers Ray Evernham, Richard Petty and Dale Inman at the NASCAR Hall in April 2022. (Photo: Dustin Long)

4. New winners 

This season saw five first-time Cup winners: Austin Cindric (Daytona 500 in February), Chase Briscoe (Phoenix in March), Ross Chastain (Circuit of the Americas in April), Daniel Suarez (Sonoma in June) and Tyler Reddick (Road America in July).

I caught this scene of Suarez alone in his thoughts in the garage at Nashville Superspeedway in his first race since that Sonoma victory.

Daniel Suarez at Nashville Superspeedway in June 2022. (Photo: Dustin Long)

5. Martinsville

Ross Chastain’s video game move on the last lap of the playoff race was stunning. Needing two positions to advance to the championship race, Chastain put his car into fifth gear, planted his car against the wall in Turn 3, took his hands off the wheel and let the wall guide his Chevrolet around the final two turns while he floored the throttle.

Amazingly, it worked. He passed five cars and earned a spot in the championship. Although he didn’t win the Cup title, Chastain provided one of the most memorable moments of the 2022 season.

As I was leaving the infield late that Sunday night. I stopped to take a picture of the wall and the marks Chastain’s car had left on its remarkable charge.

Turn 4 wall after Ross Chastain’s video game move on the last lap of the October 2022 race. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Dr. Diandra: 2022 accidents steady, spins up 200%

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Cautions were up in 2022 despite fewer stage-end and competition cautions of any year since stage racing began. The third installment of 2022 by the numbers focuses on the causes (and causers) of cautions.

Cautions

I divide cautions into those that are planned — like competition and stage-end breaks — and so-called ‘natural’ cautions. Natural cautions include accidents, spins, stalled cars, debris or liquid on track and weather.

My first graph shows that this year’s 302 cautions are the most total cautions since 2014. That’s despite only 73 planned cautions, the fewest since stage racing started.

A stacked bar chart showing the planned and natural cautions from 2013 to 2022

The 2022 season had 43 more total cautions relative to 2021, and 57 more natural cautions than last year. That’s the most natural cautions since 2016.

Causes

Caution classification is subjective. Obviously, a car spinning is a spin and cars colliding is an accident. But if a car spins and then hits another car, is it a spin or an accident? If an accident happens at a stage break, do you record the caution as an accident or a stage break?

This year presented an even thornier problem.

The 2022 season had more blown tires and wheels coming off cars than any season I can remember. NASCAR classified some incidents arising from blown tires as debris cautions, others as accidents.

To me, a blown tire seems fundamentally different from a stray car part on the track.

The myriad tire and wheel problems prompted me to review all 302 cautions. I added three additional caution categories: wheel issues, fire and tire issues.

Tire issues were so labeled only if a blown tire preceded a crash or spin. Tires that blow because of contact with the wall or flat spotting aren’t included. If I couldn’t tell for sure that the blown tire came first, I left the caution in its original category.

My re-categorization complicates comparing cautions by category to previous years. That concern is offset by the need to set a benchmark against which to measure next year’s data.

The table below compares my breakdown of cautions with NASCAR’s for the 2022 season. I admit that I’m not totally objective, either. But I believe my categorization better reflects the overall nature of the 2022 season.

A table comparing breakdowns of cautions

The most surprising statistic is the extraordinarily large number of spins. Cup Series drivers spun between 20 and 27 times per season between 2016 and 2021. Drivers in 2022 spun 60 times.

There haven’t been that many spins since 2007, when the series recorded 66 spins. That was the first year of the Gen-5 car; however, the number of spins this year is similar to the numbers for the Gen-4 car. Fans wanted a car that was harder to drive. The spin statistics are a good argument that they’ve gotten their wish.

Drivers in accidents, spins and stalls

I treat accidents, spins, and stalls as a single category because of the questions about differentiating between them. ‘Incidents’ combines all the spins, all the accidents and all the stalls.

And remember: being involved in an incident doesn’t imply that driver caused the incident.

The graph below shows all drivers with 12 or more incidents during the 2022 season.

A stacked bar graph showing the drivers involved in the most accidents, spins and/or stalls

Remember also that this count doesn’t include wheel or tire issues. A driver crashing because a tire blew is fundamentally different from an accident or spin.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ross Chastain were involved in the most incidents in 2022. Both drivers had 15 accidents. Stenhouse also had two spins and a stall, while Chastain had three spins. Stenhouse led in caution-causing incidents in 2021 with 17 accidents.

Kyle Busch comes in third in total incidents, and first in spins with seven. For comparison, no other driver had more than four spins.

No full-time driver evaded incidents entirely. Justin Haley was involved in the fewest: four. William Byron tallied six while Aric Almirola and Michael McDowell came in at eight each.

Cautions by race

The Coca-Cola 600 was the longest Cup Series race in history in terms of mileage. Its 18 cautions helped make it long in terms of time, too.

But longer races offer more opportunities to crash. A better metric is the number of crashes per 100 miles of racing. I removed stage and competition cautions because planned cautions don’t depend on race length.

The Bristol dirt race’s 14 cautions were the third highest total after the Coca-Cola 600 and Texas’s 16 cautions. But the dirt race was the shortest race of the season at 133.25 miles.

A vertical bar graph showing the races with the most cautions per 100 miles of racing

That gives the Bristol dirt race a whopping 9.0 natural cautions per 100 miles of racing. Last year, the Bristol dirt race was also at the top of the list with 7.4 total cautions per 100 miles of racing.

Bristol’s asphalt race had the second-most cautions per 100 miles at 3.4  The two Bristol races are followed by COTA (3.0) and Texas (2.8).

What about superspeedways?

The only superspeedway race in the top-10 cautions-per-100-miles graph is the second Atlanta race. The fall Talladega race had the fewest cautions per 100 miles this year of any oval at 0.80.

But superspeedways claim more cars per accident. The summer Daytona race featured 46 cars involved in five accidents for an average of 9.2 cars per accident. Some cars were involved in multiple accidents, which is why the total number of cars in accidents is larger than the number of cars racing.

The fall Talladega race comes in second in terms of wreckage per accident with an average of 8.0 cars. The spring Talladega race ties with the Bristol asphalt race. Both had an average of 7.0 cars per accident.

Road America had the fewest cautions of any race in 2022. With only two stage-break cautions, Road America had 0.0 natural cautions per 100 miles. Sonoma had 0.72 natural cautions per 100 miles and the Charlotte Roval 0.78.

We normally use cautions as a proxy to count accidents and spins. The problem is that not every incident causes a caution — especially at road courses. There were seven cautions for wheels coming off cars, some wheels came off on pit road. Some drivers limped their cars back to the pits after losing wheels.

And there were a lot more spins that didn’t bring out cautions.

Next week, I’ll tell you all about those.