Upon Further Review Pocono: Familiar foe, wrecked car, restart prowess

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Eight years after leaving home and bunking with a North Carolina family to further his racing career, 23-year-old Chris Buescher chases that family’s son in his quest to make the Sprint Cup playoffs.

Buescher is not yet eligible for the Chase after his win Monday at Pocono Raceway because he’s not in the top 30 in points. He trails David Ragan by six points for 30th.

It was Ragan’s family who took Buescher in when the Prosper, Texas, native moved to North Carolina to race before turning 16.

“Pretty much took David’s spot when he was old enough to move out,’’ Buescher told NBC Sports after his win. “They got another one.’’

Another racer, another son.

“I worked on David’s race cars early on and did my school work online at the house and was told that as long as I kept up the yard and kept everything looking good, I would have a roof over my head,’’ Buescher said. “It was a huge relief in a situation where my family wasn’t able to up and relocate for me.’’

Buescher has two younger sisters and said “it wasn’t fair for me to ask all of them to uproot for what I was trying to do.’’

So he moved in with Ken and Beverly Ragan and their son Adam. Ken Ragan is a former NASCAR racer who also has been involved in youth racing.

Buescher first met Ken Ragan, then a series official, after a Legends race when Buescher was cited for rough driving. Ken Ragan later encouraged Buescher to move to the Charlotte, North Carolina, area if he was serious about racing. When Buescher said his family couldn’t go with him, Ken Ragan offered to house Buescher.

Monday, Ken Ragan’s son, David, was among the first to congratulate to Buescher after the race was stopped because of fog.

“He said, ‘Man I really hope this works out for you,’ ‘’ Buescher recalled David Ragan telling him. “ ‘If it does, don’t ever let anybody discredit how it was done or what was done that day. You’re a Sprint Cup winner and that’s a pretty huge thing, a pretty huge accomplishment.’’

THREE STRIKES AND YOU’RE OUT?

Monday was a rough day for Martin Truex Jr. Driving the same car he dominated the Coca-Cola 600 — he led 392 of 400 laps in that race — Truex hit the wall multiple times and damaged the special car.

His problems started during the competition caution when a lug nut from the right front tire bounced off the ground and flew through one of the wheel holes, lodging between the caliper and the wheel. The lug nut knocked off the new right front tire’s inner valve stem, causing the tire to go down and sending Truex into the wall soon after the stop.

The team made repairs, but another right-front tire problem sent him to the garage. He later returned only to cause a caution on Lap 100 when he hit the wall.

So why did crew chief Cole Pearn send out the car, one that had been so good earlier this year and a candidate to run in the playoffs, after going to the garage? Truex has a win and is set to make the Chase, so he’s not running for points. There was no chance to win, thus no need to worry about three bonus points. And, this was at a track unlike any in the Chase.

So why?

“The only problem the first time was the upper control arm was bent, which we replaced,’’ Pearn told NBC Sports after the last incident. “Not sure what happened here. We weren’t that far into that run. We figured with the threat of rain, get to halfway and pick up a few spots. It doesn’t matter.’’

Pearn said the last contact didn’t hurt the car much worse than it was.

“The body was pretty much killed already,’’ he said.

Still, wouldn’t it have been better to just park the car when they were in the garage instead of risk damaging it further?

“I don’t know how you turn it off, turn it on,’’ Pearn said of such a mentality.

STEPPING UP

The results don’t show how well Richard Childress Racing ran in Monday’s race.

Austin Dillon, who battled Kyle Larson for the lead at halfway, placed 13th, and Ryan Newman, who spent a good part of the race in the top 10, finished 12th. A mechanical issue caused Paul Menard, who had been fast all weekend with new crew chief Danny Stockman, to finish 35th.

RCR, which last won a Cup race in 2013 with Kevin Harvick, brought new cars the previous week to Indianapolis and saw Dillon finish ninth and Menard 10th.

“We kind of have a direction I think that is showing results on the race track,’’ said Dr. Eric Warren, vice president of competition at Richard Childress Racing. “It’s up to us to prove it and finish it. Being fast in practice is great from a morale point of view, but at the end of the day it’s not what this is about. It’s about Sunday. We have our work cut out for us, but everybody else does as well. We are certainly not going to give up on it.”

The mechanical issue notwithstanding, Menard said that Stockman’s move to the team had an impact in a few days.

“He’s rejuvenated our team a little bit,’’ said Menard, 23rd in points. “We’ve had a rough year. We haven’t run as well as we wanted or expected. Just had to do something.’’

VAST IMPROVEMENT

William Byron’s growth continues to stand out this season. Yes, the 18-year-old is driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports and Toyota, but he’s taking advantage of the situation. Saturday, he scored his fifth Camping World Truck Series win, breaking Kurt Busch’s record for wins by a rookie in a season.

What was impressive was in a race with a record nine cautions, Byron had to hold off the field three times on restarts in the final 20 laps at Pocono. It’s a marked difference from Kansas in May when he lost the lead on a late restart but won the race when the top two drivers wrecked.

“Look at where this kid was in Kansas on restarts and compared to now it’s unbelievable,’’ crew chief Rudy Fugle said.

It doesn’t hurt to have Kyle Busch as the team’s owner and someone Byron can talk to about restarts. Brad Keselowski said this past weekend that he thought Joey Logano and Busch were the two best in Cup on restarts.

“It’s important to learn some stuff off of (Busch),’’ Byron said. “It’s also just a confidence thing and also a timing thing. A lot of it is knowing that you can do it and not overthinking because I think a lot of people get to the restart line or box, and they’re having all these thoughts in their head. I’m not too worried about it anymore.’’

PIT STOPS

— Kurt Busch set a NASCAR record when he completed every lap of Monday’s race. He has completed every lap in each of the first 21 races this season, breaking a tie with Dale Earnhardt Jr., who set the mark in 2012.

— Chris Buescher was the first driver to score his first Sprint Cup victory since AJ Allmendinger at Watkins Glen in 2014.

— Buescher is the third driver to score his first series win at Pocono, joining Denny Hamlin (June 2006) and Jeremy Mayfield (June 1998).

Regan Smith‘s third place tied for the best finish for Tommy Baldwin Racing. Dave Blaney placed third at the fall Talladega race in 2011. It also was the organization’s fifth career top-10 finish. Smith has two of those finishes, placing eighth in the Daytona 500.

— Kevin Harvick placed fourth to score his eighth top-10 finish in the last nine races.

— Harvick raced without crew chief Rodney Childers, who was serving a one-race suspension for a lug nut violation. Childers is the fifth crew chief to miss a race because of the rule. Three times a driver without his crew chief because of a lug nut violation has finished in the top five. Kurt Busch won at Pocono in June without crew chief Tony Gibson. Kyle Larson finished third at Michigan without crew chief Chad Johnston, and Harvick’s run at Pocono on Monday.

Long: NASCAR needs to quickly correct officiating issue from Texas

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NASCAR’s admission that it did not see William Byron spin Denny Hamlin under caution during Sunday’s Cup playoff race is troubling.

With video evidence of impropriety and Hamlin’s team vigorously arguing for relief, there were enough reasons for series officials to take a closer look at putting Hamlin back to second before the race returned to green-flag conditions. Or some other remedy even after the race resumed. 

Add the lack of access series officials had to Byron’s in-car camera— something fans could readily see at NASCAR.com and the NASCAR Mobile App — and changes need to be made before this weekend’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

While NASCAR should make every effort to judge matters between drivers regardless of their playoff status, that it was two playoff drivers involved in an incident demanded greater attention. With three races per round, one misstep can mean the difference between advancing or being eliminated. 

Just as more is expected from drivers and teams in the playoffs, the same should be expected of officials.

“If we had seen that (contact) good enough to react to it in real time, which we should have, like no excuse there, there would probably have been two courses of action,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition Sunday night. “One would have been to put Hamlin back where he was, or the other would be to have made William start in the back.”

Here is how the incident played out:

The caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash at 8:19 p.m. ET.

As Hamlin slowed, Byron closed and hit him in the rear. 

Byron admitted after the race the contact was intentional, although he didn’t mean to wreck Hamlin. Byron was upset with how Hamlin raced him on Lap 262. Byron felt Hamlin forced him into the wall as they exited Turn 2 side-by-side. Byron expressed his displeasure during the caution.

About 90 seconds after the caution lights illuminated, the USA broadcast showed a replay from a low angle of Byron directly behind Hamlin’s car and apparent contact. 

Contact can happen in multiple ways. It can come from the lead car hitting the brakes and forcing the car behind to hit them, or it can come from the trailing car ramming into the car ahead. The first video replay did not make it clear what caused the contact, making it difficult for any official to rule one way or the other based solely on that.

This also is a time when NASCAR officials were monitoring safety vehicles on track, checking the lineup and making sure pit road was ready to be open. It’s something NASCAR does effortlessly much of the time. Just not this time. 

A different replay aired on USA 11 minutes, 16 seconds after the caution that showed Byron and Hamlin’s car together. That replay aired about a minute before the green flag waved at 8:31 p.m. ET. Throughout the caution, Hamlin’s crew chief, Chris Gabehart argued that Hamlin should have restarted second.

But once the race resumed, the matter was over for NASCAR. Or so it seemed.

Three minutes after the green flag waved, the NASCAR Twitter account posted in-car video that showed Byron running into the back of Hamlin’s car while the caution was out. Such action is typically a penalty — often parking a driver for the rest of the race. Instead, Byron was allowed to continue and nothing was done during the rest of the event. 

After the race, Miller told reporters that series officials didn’t see the contact from Byron. 

“The cameras and the monitors that we’ve got, we dedicate them mostly to officiating and seeing our safety vehicles and how to dispatch them,” Miller said. “By the time we put all those cameras up (on the monitor in the control tower), we don’t have room for all of the in-car cameras to be monitored.

“If we would have had immediate access to (Byron)’s in-car camera, that would have helped us a lot, being able to find that quickly. That’s definitely one of the things we’re looking at.”

But it didn’t happen that way.

”By the time we got a replay that showed the incident well enough to do anything to it, we had gone back to green,” Miller said.

NASCAR didn’t act. By that time maybe it was too late to do so. But that’s also an issue. Shouldn’t the infraction be addressed immediately if it is clear what happened instead of days later? Shouldn’t officials have been provided with access to the in-car cameras so they could have seen Byron’s actions earlier and meted the proper punishment? Instead, Miller hinted at a possible penalty to Byron this week.

Miller didn’t reveal details but it wouldn’t be surprising to drop Byron in the field, costing him points. He’s 24 points from the cutline, so a penalty that drops him from seventh to 30th (the position ahead of Truex) could be logical and that would cost Byron 23 points, putting him near the cutline. 

Texas winner Tyler Reddick said something should have been done. He knows. He was parked in a 2014 Truck race at Pocono for wrecking German Quiroga in retaliation for an earlier incident.

“In William’s situation, whether he ran him over on accident or on purpose, there should be some sort of penalty for him on that side because he’s completely screwed someone’s race up, whether it was on purpose or not,” Reddick said. “I feel like there should be something done there.

“I’m sure (NASCAR will) make some sort of a decision. I’m sure there will be something they’ll address this week, updates, on NASCAR’s side. I’ll be curious to see what that is. We can’t really have this where you dump someone under caution, they go to the back and you don’t. That could potentially be an interesting situation in the future.”

Texas shuffles NASCAR Cup playoff standings

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Texas marked the fourth consecutive playoff race that the winner didn’t advance to the next round.

All three races in the first round were won by drivers not in the playoffs. Tyler Reddick won Sunday at Texas, a week after he failed to advance from the Round of 16 and was eliminated from title contention.

Texas did shake up the playoff standings. Chase Elliott entered as the points leader but a blown tire while leading sent his car into the wall, ending his race. He falls to the No. 8 spot, the final transfer position with two races left in this round. He’s tied with Daniel Suarez, but Suarez has the tiebreaker with a better finish this round.

Chase Briscoe, who scored only his second top 10 in the last 22 races, is the first driver outside a transfer spot. He’s four points behind Elliott and Suarez. Austin Cindric is 11 points out of the transfer spot. Christopher Bell is 29 points out of a transfer position. Alex Bowman is 30 points from the transfer line.

The series races Sunday at Talladega (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

 

XFINITY SERIES

Noah Gragson’s win at Texas moved him on to the next round. The win was his fourth in a row.

Ryan Sieg and Sam Mayer are tied for the final two transfer spots to the next round. Riley Herbst is one point behind them. Daniel Hemric is eight points from the final transfer spot. Brandon Jones is 13 points from the last transfer spot. Jeremy Clements is 29 points shy of the final transfer position.

The series races Saturday at Talladega (4 p.m. ET on USA Network).

 

 

CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

The series was off this past weekend but returns to the track Saturday at Talladega. Ty Majeski has advanced to the championship race at Phoenix with his Bristol win.

 

Winners and losers at Texas Motor Speedway

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A look at the winners and losers from Sunday’s marathon race at Texas Motor Speedway:

WINNERS

Tyler Reddick – Reddick isn’t acting like a lame duck. Headed for 23XI Racing in 2024 (if not sooner), Reddick now owns three wins with Richard Childress Racing, the team he’ll be leaving.

Justin Haley – Haley, who has shown flashes of excellence this season for Kaulig Racing, matched his season-high with a third-place run.

Chase Briscoe — Briscoe wrestled with major problems in the early part of the race but rebounded to finish fifth. It’s his second top-10 finish in the last 22 races.

LOSERS

NASCAR Officials – Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, admitted that series officials missed William Byron spinning Denny Hamlin under caution after Martin Truex Jr.‘s crash. Such a situation could have major playoff implications, although Miller hinted that series officials may still act this week.

Christopher Bell – Bell met the wall twice after blown tires and finished a sour 34th, damaging his playoff run in a race that he said was critical in the playoffs.

Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. – Harvick (finished 19th) and Truex (31st) were late-race victims of the day’s tire dilemma. Both crashed while leading.

Track workers  Somebody had to clean up all that tire debris.

Chase Elliott – Elliott remains a power in the playoffs, but he left Sunday’s race in a fiery exit after a blown tire while leading and finished 32nd. He holds the final transfer spot to the next round heading into Talladega.

 

 

Blown tires end race early for several Texas contenders

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FORT WORTH, Texas — A Goodyear official said that air pressures that teams were using contributed to some drivers blowing tires in Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. all crashed while leading after blowing a tire. Among the others who had tire issues were Alex Bowman, Chris Buescher Cole Custer and Christopher Bell twice. 

“We’re gaining as much information as we can from the teams, trying to understand where they are with regard to their settings, air pressures, cambers, suspicions,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing Sunday. “For sure I can say without a doubt air pressure is playing into it. We know where a lot of the guys are. Some were more aggressive than others. We know that plays a part.

MORE: NASCAR says it missed William Byron spinning Denny Hamlin under caution 

“I’m not saying that’s the only thing, but it’s certainly a factor, so we’re just trying to understand everything else that is going on with regard to specific teams. We know a lot of guys have not had issues. We’ve had guys put full fuel runs on tires, but, obviously, other guys have had issues. We’ll be working with them to try to sort through that is.”

Eight of the 16 cautions were related to tire failures that caused drivers to spin or crash.

“It’s not a good look, that’s for sure,” Ryan Blaney said of the tire issues others had. “How many leaders blew tires tonight? Three or four?

“You just don’t understand what is making these things do that. From last week to this week, it’s really unfortunate. It’s just luck now.

“You never know if you’re going to blow one. You go into (Turn) 3 almost every lap with 40 laps on your stuff and I don’t know if one is going to blow out or not. That’s not safe. That’s for sure. Running (180) into (Turn) 3 and the thing blows out and you have no time to react to it. It’s unfortunate. I hope we can figure that out.”

Blaney said he was confused that the tires were blowing partly into a run instead of much earlier.

“It was weird because those tires didn’t blow right away,” he said. “Like the pressures were low. They blew like after a cycle or two on them, which is the weird thing.”

Asked how he handles that uncertainty, Blaney said: “Nothing I can do about it. Just hope and pray.”

After his crash, Elliott was diplomatic toward Goodyear’s situation:

“I’m not sure that Goodyear is at fault,” he said. “Goodyear always takes the black eye, but they’re put in a really tough position by NASCAR to build a tire that can survive these types of racetracks with this car. I wouldn’t blame Goodyear.”

Tyler Reddick, who won Sunday’s race at Texas, said his team made adjustments to the air pressure settings after Saturday’s practice.

“We ran enough laps, were able to see that we had been too aggressive on our right front tire,” he said. “So we made some adjustments going into the race, thankfully.”

This same time was used at Kansas and will be used again at Las Vegas next month in the playoffs. 

Reddick is hopeful of a change but also knows it might take time.

“I just think to a degree, potentially, as these cars have gotten faster and we’re getting more speed out of them, maybe, hypothetically speaking, we’re putting the cars through more load and more stress on the tire than they ever really thought we would be,” he said. 

“I know Goodyear will fix it. That’s what they do. It’s going to be a process. I know they’re going to be on top of it. Hey, they don’t want to see those failures. We don’t want to see them either. They’re going to be working on looking through and trying to find out exactly what is going on. We’ll all learn from it.

“It’s a brand-new car. It’s the first time in the history of our sport we’ve gone to an 18-inch wheel and independent rear suspension. All these things are way different, diffuser. All these things, way different. We’re all learning together. Unfortunately, just the nature of it, we’re having tire failures.”