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

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

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.’’


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.


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.’’


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.’’


— 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.

Dr. Diandra: How level is the playing field after 50 Next Gen races?


Last weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 marks 50 Next Gen races. The 2022 season produced 19 different winners, including a few first-career wins. Let’s see what the data say about how level the playing field is now.

I’m comparing the first 50 Next Gen races (the 2022 season plus the first 14 races of 2023) to the 2020 season and the first 14 races of 2021. I selected those two sets of races to produce roughly the same types of tracks. I focus on top-10 finishes as a metric for performance. Below, I show the top-10 finishes for the 13 drivers who ran for the same team over the periods in question.

A table comparing top-10 rates for drivers in the Gen-6 and Next Gen cars, limited to drivers who ran for the same team the entire time.

Because some drivers missed races, I compare top-10 rates: the number of top-10 finishes divided by the number of races run. The graph below shows changes in top-10 rates for the drivers who fared the worst with the Next Gen car.

A graph showing drivers who have done better in the next-gen car than the Gen-6 car.

Six drivers had double-digit losses in their top-10 rates. Kevin Harvick had the largest drop, with 74% top-10 finishes in the Gen-6 sample but only 46% top-10 finishes in the first 50 Next Gen races.

Kyle Larson didn’t qualify for the graph because he ran only four races in 2020. I thought it notable, however, that despite moving from the now-defunct Chip Ganassi NASCAR team to Hendrick Motorsports, Larson’s top-10 rate fell from 66.7% to 48.0%.

The next graph shows the corresponding data for drivers who improved their finishes in the Next Gen car. This graph again includes only drivers who stayed with the same team.

A graph showing the drivers who have fewer top-10 finishes in the Next Gen car than the Gen-6 car

Alex Bowman had a marginal gain, but he missed six races this year. Therefore, his percent change value is less robust than other drivers’ numbers.

Expanding the field

I added drivers who changed teams to the dataset and highlighted them in gray.

A table comparing top-10 rates for drivers in the Gen-6 and Next Gen cars

A couple notes on the new additions:

  • Brad Keselowski had the largest loss in top-10 rate of any driver, but that may be more attributable to his move from Team Penske to RFK Motorsports rather than to the Next Gen car.
  • Christopher Bell moved from Leavine Family Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2021. His improvement is likely overestimated due to equipment quality differences.
  • Erik Jones stayed even, but that’s after moving from JGR (13 top-10 finishes in 2020) to Richard Petty Motorsports (six top 10s in 2021.) I view that change as a net positive.

At the end of last season, I presented the tentative hypothesis that older drivers had a harder time adapting to the Next Gen car. Less practice time mitigated their experience dialing in a car so that it was to their liking given specific track conditions.

But something else leaps out from this analysis.

Is the playing field tilting again?

Michael McDowell is not Harvick-level old, but he will turn 39 this year. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is 35. Both have improved with the Next Gen Car. Chase Elliott (27 years old) and William Byron (25) aren’t old, either, but their top-10 rates have gone down.

Drivers running for the best-funded teams earned fewer top-10 finishes while drivers from less-funded teams (mostly) gained those finishes.

Trackhouse Racing and 23XI — two of the newest teams — account for much of the gains in top-10 finishes. Ross Chastain isn’t listed in the table because he didn’t have full-time Cup Series rides in 2020 or 2021. His 9.1% top-10 rate in that period is with lower-level equipment. He earned 27 top-10 finishes in the first 50 races (54%) with the Next Gen car.

This analysis suggests that age isn’t the only relevant variable. One interpretation of the data thus far is that the Next Gen (and its associated rules changes) eliminated the advantage well-funded teams built up over years of racing the Gen-5 and Gen-6 cars.

The question now is whether that leveling effect is wearing off. Even though parts are the same, more money means being able to hire the best people and buying more expensive computers for engineering simulations.

Compare the first 14 races of 2022 to the first 14 of 2023.

  • Last year at this time, 23XI and Trackhouse Racing had each won two races. This year, they combine for one win.
  • It took Byron eight races to win his second race of the year in 2022. This year, he won the third and fourth races of the year. Plus, he’s already won his third race this year.
  • Aside from Stenhouse’s Daytona 500 win, this year’s surprise winners — Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney — are both from major teams.

We’re only 14 races into the 2023 season. There’s not enough data to determine the relative importance of age versus building a notebook for predicting success in the Next Gen car.

But this is perhaps the most important question. The Next Gen car leveled the playing field last year.

Will it stay level?

NASCAR weekend schedule at World Wide Technology Raceway, Portland


NASCAR’s top three series are racing this weekend in two different locations. Cup and Craftsman Truck teams will compete at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, and the Xfinity Series will compete at Portland International Raceway.

World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway (Cup and Trucks)

Weekend weather

Friday: Partly cloudy with a high of 87 degrees during Truck qualifying.

Saturday: Sunny. Temperatures will be around 80 degrees for the start of Cup practice and climb to 88 degrees by the end of Cup qualifying. Forecast calls for sunny skies and a high of 93 degrees around the start of the Truck race.

Sunday: Mostly sunny with a high of 92 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the Cup race.

Friday, June 2

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 1 – 8 p.m. Craftsman Truck Series
  • 4 – 9 p.m. Cup Series

Track activity

  • 6 – 6:30 p.m. — Truck practice (FS1)
  • 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. — Truck qualifying (FS1)

Saturday, June 3

Garage open

  • 8 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.  — Cup Series
  • 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series

Track activity

  • 10 – 10:45 a.m. — Cup practice (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 10:45 a.m. – 12 p.m. — Cup qualifying  (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 1:30 p.m. — Truck race (160 laps, 200 miles; FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, June 4

Garage open

  • 12:30 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup race (240 laps, 300 miles; FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)


Portland International Raceway (Xfinity Series)

Weekend weather

Friday: Mostly sunny with a high of 77 degrees.

Saturday: Mostly sunny with a high of 73 degrees and no chance of rain around the start of the Xfinity race.

Friday, June 2

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 6-11 p.m. Xfinity Series

Saturday, June 3

Garage open

  • 10 a.m.  — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 11:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. — Xfinity practice (No TV)
  • 12 – 1 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)
  • 4:30 p.m. — Xfinity race (75 laps, 147.75 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

NASCAR Cup playoff standings after Coca-Cola 600


The severe penalty to Chase Briscoe and his Stewart-Haas Racing team Wednesday for a counterfeit part dropped Briscoe from 17th to 31st in the season standings. Briscoe now must win a race to have a chance at the playoffs.

The penalty came a day after NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for his retaliation in wrecking Denny Hamlin in Monday’s Coca-Cola 600. Elliott is 28th in the points. The 2020 Cup champion also needs to win to have a chance to make the playoffs.

Ten drivers have won races, including Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney. That leaves six playoff spots to be determined by points at this time. With 12 races left in the regular season, including unpredictable superspeedway races at Atlanta (July 9) and Daytona (Aug. 26), the playoff standings will change during the summer.

Among those without a win this season are points leader Ross Chastain and former champions Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Elliott.

Here’s a look at the Cup playoff standings heading into Sunday’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois. Drivers in yellow have won a race and are in a playoff position. Those below the red line after 16th place are outside a playoff spot in the graphic below.

NASCAR issues major penalties to Chase Briscoe team for Charlotte infraction


NASCAR fined crew chief John Klausmeier $250,000 and suspended him six races, along with penalizing Chase Briscoe and the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team 120 points and 25 playoff points each for a counterfeit part on the car.

The issue was a counterfeit engine NACA duct, said Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, on Wednesday. That is a single-source part.

MORE: Updated Cup playoff standings

The team stated that it accepts the L3 penalty.

“We had a quality control lapse and a part that never should’ve been on a car going to the racetrack ended up on the No. 14 car at Charlotte,” said Greg Zipadelli in a statement from the team. “We accept NASCAR’s decision and will not appeal.”

Asked how then piece could have aided performance, Sawyer said Wednesday: “Knowing the race team mentality, they don’t do things that would not be a benefit to them in some way, shape or form from a performance advantage.”

The penalty drops Briscoe from 17th in the season standings to 31st in the standings. Briscoe goes from having 292 points to having 172 points. He’ll have to win to make the playoffs. Briscoe has no playoff points at this time, so the penalty puts him at -25 playoff points should he make it.

Briscoe’s car was one of two taken to the R&D Center after Monday’s Coca-Cola 600 for additional tear down by series officials.

The penalty comes a day after NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for wrecking Denny Hamlin in last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.