Tony Stewart ready to shed responsibility of being voice of Sprint Cup garage

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CHARLOTTE — Tony Stewart is done, through and had it. Eight weeks from the end of his acclaimed Sprint Cup driving career, Stewart says he’s looking forward to retiring from the series, ready to leave behind the battles off the track, in the garage and behind closed doors. Soon it will be someone else’s problem.

But who?

The man described by competitors as the sheriff of the garage is not sure.

“I can sit here,’’ Stewart says, grabbing his phone in a conference room with reporters on the eighth floor of the NASCAR Plaza, “and I can pull up stuff on this phone that would make you cringe about the sport that drivers talk about.

“There’s 39 of these guys that 99 out of 100 times won’t say a thing about it to you guys or to NASCAR or anybody else. I’m the one guy that most of the time will go, ‘Man this is a bad thing to talk about, I shouldn’t talk about it,’ but I’ll get pissed off enough about it to talk about it because I believe it’s worth talking about.

“When you’re not getting (NASCAR’s) attention … you’re like ‘OK, now I’ve got to go a different way to get their attention to do something about it and that’s when I normally get slapped on the hand with a fine or this or that.

“That’s part of the reason I’m retiring because I’m tired of being responsible for it. It’s somebody else’s responsibility now. I’ve had my fill of it. I’ve had my fill of fighting the fight. At some point, you say, ‘Why do I keep fighting this fight when I’m not getting anywhere?’ ’’

Stewart’s actions throughout his career have endeared the three-time series champion to fans and enraged others. Same with series officials.

His passion is unquestioned, his honesty unfiltered and his approach unrelenting.

That often gets him in trouble.

Stewart started his final Cup season questioning NASCAR Chairman Brian France’s approach, saying that France needed to be at more races and also attend a Sprint Cup Drivers Council meeting. Stewart also acknowledged that France reprimanded him in August 2015 for speaking his mind too often in public.

NASCAR fined Stewart $35,000 in April, a day after his rant about loose wheels and comments questioning NASCAR’s commitment to safety. NASCAR soon responded by checking the lug nuts on each car after each race and issuing penalties to teams that had any missing. Later that week, France attended his first Sprint Cup Drivers Council meeting.

Despite his complaints, Stewart has praised NASCAR for its work with the drivers in creating the Sprint Cup Drivers Council and the dialogue that occurs in those closed-door meetings.

Still, that doesn’t take away Stewart’s frustration on some matters.

“One thing that I’ve learned in this sport, and I learned it from Mike Helton a long time ago, there are times when I know beyond a shadow of a doubt what I’m complaining about or what I’m feeling is 100 percent right on the money,’’ Stewart said Wednesday. “But I’ve also learned with that, yeah, I’m right but in the big picture there’s still a reason it’s not getting changed or not going the direction it should go because it’s part of a bigger picture that has to be in sync with each other. That’s where you get frustrated and that’s where you get exhausted fighting the fight.

“The deal after Chicago is a perfect example of that,’’ Stewart continued, noting NASCAR’s decision not to penalize the teams of Martin Truex Jr., and Jimmie Johnson after their cars failed the Laser Inspection Station, and the decision to eliminate the P2 and P3 penalties associated with the post-race LIS inspection.

“We all know how screwed up that is. But there’s a reason that they’ve had to do the things that they do. After talking to them about it, it’s like yeah, what they came up with I agree is the best solution. Do I agree with the solution? Not necessarily. But I know that of the options they had that was the best solution at this point. It’s hard.’’

Harder than the challenge he faces at Dover International Speedway this weekend. Stewart is 11 points out of a transfer spot, heading into the race that will eliminate four of the 16 drivers in the Chase.

“We’re fighting a very steep uphill battle,’’ Stewart said. “We’ve just got to go do the best we can this weekend. Whatever happens happens. I can’t make something happen that may or may not happen. You don’t want to wish bad luck on anybody else to begin with because it’s not right. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. You hope when it’s over you did our job.’’

Stewart says he should know once practice begins what he’ll have with his car for Sunday. That’s another frustration for Stewart, who has been in Cup since 1999, and a sign of how things have changed in the sport.

“We’re in an era now in the sport where technology has taken over so much,’’ Stewart said. “I remember when we started in ’99 you could sit there and be terrible on Friday, terrible on Saturday and (Greg Zipadelli, then his crew chief) could sit there with his ouija board inside his wire pyramid overnight with candles burning and a seance going on and actually put something together and win races. You can’t do that nowadays.

“Yeah, you can make it better, but you’ve got what you’ve got. When we come off the truck, we fight the same thing for three days. There’s nothing I can do to fix it. That’s what is so frustrating for me as a driver. That’s part of why I’m ready to do something different because I can’t make a difference anymore.

“I can’t do different things with my feet, do different things with my hands, run a different line and fix the problem. I used to be able to do that. I can’t do that anymore. You get so frustrated that you can’t see straight.’’

Asked if anything from a rules perspective can lessen that, Stewart says: “I’ve been fighting that fight forever bud and it’s not something I’m willing to go into depth on but it’s another reason I’m ready to exit. You can only beat the drum for so long. It can only fall on deaf ears for so long before you finally say, ‘OK the people that need to make it better can’t make it better.’ ’’

Even with all the frustrations Stewart feels, he’s still looking forward to the final eight races of his Cup career.

“I’m not ready for it to be done. Am I excited about what I’m doing next year? Yes,’’ said Stewart, who plans to run at least 40-50 races next year, mainly on dirt tracks. “Am I still excited about the eight weeks that I have? Yeah. I’m still pretty excited about it. I still have got eight more weeks that I get to race with (crew chief Mike Bugarewicz) and I get to race with my guys. I still get to drive a pretty cool race car each week in a pretty cool series. I’m going to enjoy these last eight weeks.

“No matter what happens this weekend, am I going to be upset if I don’t make it to the next round? Yeah, absolutely. That’s natural. That’s what a competitor should be like. If we don’t, it’s not the end of my year. I’ve got seven more weekends after this weekend to do the best I can and try to get another win and finish on a high note.’’

RFK Racing drivers fail to qualify for Clash at the Coliseum

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After heat races and a pair of Last Chance Qualifiers, RFK Racing drivers Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher failed to qualify for the NASCAR Clash at the Coliseum for the second straight year.

Former champion Chase Elliott led wire-to-wire Sunday to win the second Last Chance Qualifier to move on to the feature. He was joined by second-place Ty Gibbs and third-place AJ Allmendinger.

Michael McDowell led all 50 laps in the first Last Chance Qualifier race to advance to the feature. Also moving on to the 150-lap main event were Christopher Bell and Todd Gilliland.

Among those failing to advance from the first last chance race were Harrison Burton, whose late-race slide cost him several spots, and Ty Dillon.

Austin Cindric got the provisional starting spot and will be 27th — and last — at the green flag. The race is scheduled for an 8:20 p.m. ET start.

William Byron led all 25 laps in winning the fourth heat race.

Also transferring to the feature from the fourth heat were Bubba Wallace, Ross Chastain, Ryan Preece and Erik Jones, who took the fifth and final spot with two laps to go.

Denny Hamlin dominated the third heat, leading 20 of the 25 laps to win. Chase Briscoe, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney and Daniel Suarez followed in the top five to transfer to the main event.

The biggest loser in the third heat was Bell, who spun out after late-race contact and finished sixth.

Martin Truex Jr. took the lead from Kyle Busch late in the second heat and won easily. Busch was second, Austin Dillon third and Kyle Larson fourth.

Kevin Harvick, starting his final season in Cup, made a strong last-lap move and edged Elliott for fifth and the final transfer spot to the feature.

Aric Almirola, who failed to make the Clash feature field last season, took the lead late in the first heat race and won the 25-lapper in front of Alex Bowman and Justin Haley.

“It was about being more prepared,” Almirola told Fox Sports. “There was no way to be prepared a year ago. I was really disappointed to watch this race from the grandstands last year.”

Rookie Noah Gragson and defending race and seasonal champion Joey Logano also finished in the top five to join the first three in the feature.

Burton spun out early in the first heat.

MORE: Heat race 1 results

MORE: Heat race 2 results

MORE: Heat race 3 results

MORE: Heat race 4 results

Last Chance Qualifier race 1 results

Last Chance Qualifier Race 2 results

 

 

Dr. Diandra: Strategies in making Clash picks

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Crew chiefs must develop their approach to today’s Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum using only last year’s data, plus this year’s practice and qualifying.

Fans wagering (for fun and/or profit) must contend with the same lack of data as they make their Clash picks.

The shortest regular-season track is a half mile. A quarter-mile track is a different beast, even with a year’s worth of Next Gen experience.

“Last year everything was brand-new – the track, the format and the car,” Alan Gustafson, crew chief for Chase Elliott, said in a team release. “We’ll have a little bit better of an idea of what we’re going for this time around, but the track is so unique that even with going there last year, we’re still learning.”

As are the fans.

There are a few changes to keep in mind as you make your Clash picks.

NASCAR increased the field from 23 cars to 27. With 36 drivers entered, only nine will miss the Clash. Even without points on the line, no one wants to head home before the main event’s green flag.

Last year, equipment failures caused four out of five DNFs in the main race. Expect fewer mechanical issues this year.

But perhaps more aggression.

Don’t pay too much attention to practice

Last year’s practice times showed no correlation with Clash performance. Eventual winner Joey Logano finished practice last year with the 26th fastest lap — also known as the 11th-slowest lap. But he qualified fourth.

This year, despite losing about 40 hp to mufflers, Martin Truex Jr. set a fastest lap of 13.361 seconds. Truex’s lap beats last year’s best practice lap time of 13.455 seconds, set by Chase Elliott.

Although only seven-tenths of a second separate the fastest practice lap and the slowest, the change is far from linear.

A graph showing practice times for the Busch Light Clash field

  • The top 11 drivers are separated by just 0.048 seconds out of a 13- to 14-second lap
  • Brad Keselowski, who didn’t make the race last year, had the third slowest practice time.
  • Tyler Reddick ran the most total practice laps with 117. He was followed by Kevin Harvick (116), and Noah Gragson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., both of whom made 115 laps.
  • Most drivers ran their best times in their first or second session. Austin Dillon, however, ran his best time on lap 109 of 112.
  • The top three in practice also had the three best 10-lap averages.

Qualifying is the key to good Clash picks

Last year, qualifying position correlated well with driver finish in the Clash. If your driver qualified on the front two rows for his heat race, last year’s results suggest that the only thing keeping him from making tonight’s Clash is an accident or mechanical failure.

That’s bad news for Ty Gibbs, who wasn’t allowed to qualify and will start in the back of the field. It’s also a negative for Ryan Blaney, who posted a 40-second lap, however, Blaney has a shot at the provisional and Gibbs doesn’t.

The heat races are only 25 laps, which doesn’t leave much time for passing. Heat race starting position is highly correlated to heat race finishing position.

  • Last year, the pole-sitter for each of the four heat races held the lead for the entire race.
  • Of the 12 drivers starting in the top three for each heat race, nine drivers — 75% — finished in the top three.
  • Only the top-four finishers of each heat race advanced last year. This year, the top five move on. Last year, 16 of the 25 drivers (64%) starting in positions one through five finished in the top five of their heat races.
  • No driver who started a heat race from ninth finished better than sixth. That’s not encouraging news for Blaney and Gibbs, among others.

That means Justin Haley, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell and William Byron are pretty much guaranteed locks for a good starting spot in the Clash.

The 20 drivers who qualified in the top five for their heat race have a very high probability of making it through to the main — and of finishing well there.

As was the case last year, practice showed little correlation with qualifying. Martin Truex Jr. qualified 22nd despite posting the best practice time.

The Last Chance Qualifiers

Three drivers from each of the two last chance qualifiers fill out the final rows of the Clash starting grid. Last year, drivers were more aggressive in these 50-lap races than the first four heats.

Again, the closer to the front a driver starts, the better his chance of making the race. Last year, both pole-sitters finished in the top three and advanced.

The last chance qualifiers are long enough for a driver starting in the rear to make it to the front. Last year, Ty Dillon came from 10th place to win the second race. He was subsequently disqualified for jumping the final restart and Harrison Burton, who had started seventh, advanced. If you’re looking for long-shot Clash picks, don’t count the back of the field entirely out.

The Big Show

Last year, the 150-lap main had five lead changes and five cautions.

  • Of last year’s four heat-race winners, two finished in positions one and two, while the other two didn’t finish the race.
  • Of the six drivers who advanced from the last chance qualifiers, none finished higher than A.J. Allmendinger in ninth.
  • Allmendinger tied with Erik Jones for most spots gained. Jones started 16th and finished fourth.
  • Excluding drivers who failed to finish the race, Danial Suárez had the biggest position loss, starting fifth and finishing 14th.

If you want to avoid the frontrunners, you might want to keep an eye on Aric Almirola, who qualified fifth, and had the seventh best 10-lap average run during practice. Austin Dillon didn’t put together a strong 10-lap run, but his team found something in the last minutes of practice that allowed him to go from finishing practice in 22nd to qualifying sixth.

And although Bubba Wallace qualified 16th, he ranked first in runs of 10, 15, 20, 25 and 30 laps. He was second in five-lap speed.

Good luck with your Clash picks!

NASCAR Sunday schedule at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

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It’s race day for the NASCAR Cup Series.

The Clash at the Coliseum will open the 2023 season for NASCAR on Sunday with the featured 150-lap race scheduled for 8 p.m. ET at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The field for the non-points race will be set by a series of heat and last chance races Sunday afternoon. The top five finishers in each of four 25-lap heat races will advance to the feature, and the top three finishers in two 50-lap last chance races will join the grid.

Joey Logano won last year’s Clash as it moved from its long-time home at Daytona International Speedway to the Coliseum.

The Cup Series regular season is scheduled to begin Feb. 19 with the Daytona 500.

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Weather

Sunday: Partly cloudy with a high of 64 degrees in the afternoon and no chance of rain. It is expected to be sunny with a high of 62 degrees and a 1% chance of rain at the start of the Clash.

Sunday, Feb. 5

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. Sunday – 12:30 a.m. Monday — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 5 – 5:45 p.m. — Four heat races (25 laps; Fox, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 6:10 – 6:35 p.m. — Two last chance qualifying races (50 laps; Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 8 p.m. — Feature race (150 laps; Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

NASCAR Clash heat race lineups

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LOS ANGELES — Justin Haley, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell and William Byron will start on the pole for their heat races Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. 

There will be nine cars in each of the four heat races. Here’s a look at each of the those heat races.

Clash heat race starting lineups

Heat 1

This heat has four drivers who did not make last year’s Clash: Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola, Chris Buescher and Ty Dillon. Almirola starts second, Bowman third, Buescher eighth and Dillon ninth. This heat also has defending Clash winner and reigning Cup champion Joey Logano, who starts fifth.

Heat 2

Richard Childress Racing teammates Busch and Austin Dillon start 1-2. This race has five former champions: Busch, Kyle Larson (starting third), Kevin Harvick (fourth), Martin Truex Jr. (fifth) and Chase Elliott (eighth).

Heat 3

Toyota drivers will start first (Bell), second (Denny Hamlin) and fifth (Tyler Reddick). Ryan Blaney starts last in this heat after his fastest qualifying lap was disallowed Saturday.

Heat 4 

Byron will be joined on the front row by AJ Allmendinger in this heat. The second row will have Ross Chastain and Bubba Wallace.

The top five in each heat advances to Sunday night’s Clash. Those not advancing go to one of two last chance qualifying races. The top three in each of those races advances to the Clash. The 27 and final spot in the Clash is reserved for the driver highest in points who has yet to make the field.