Drivers who are still in the Chase for the Sprint Cup discuss the how they approach an elimination race at Talladega Superspeedway. Talladega is the last race of the second round. A track where anything can happen, some drivers say to just go for it, while others close their eyes and pray.
NASCAR Power Rankings: William Byron returns to No. 1
After last Sunday’s crashfest at Circuit of the Americas, the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings experienced another jumble, and William Byron returns to the top spot.
Byron took fifth place in the chaos of the triple-overtime finish. He and winner Tyler Reddick were the top dogs in the Cup Series’ first road race of the year, Byron leading 28 laps and Reddick 41. No one else led more than two laps.
MORE: COTA finish — Entertaining and messy
Christopher Bell, last week’s No. 1, fell to fifth place after a 31st-place finish at COTA.
NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings
1. William Byron (second last week) — Byron, the season’s only multiple winner with two, finished fifth Sunday, marking his career first top five on a road course. He won the pole and the first stage.
2. Kyle Busch (third last week) — Busch continues to make his new partnership at Richard Childress Racing look good. His second-place run Sunday is his fourth top-10 finish in the season’s first six races.
3. Ross Chastain (sixth last week) — Despite being pushed around in the late going Sunday, Chastain persisted, re-emerging at the front to challenge the leaders and finish fourth. He has finished in the top four in all three COTA races and leads the points standings.
4. Alex Bowman (fifth last week) — Bowman continued his seasonal consistency, finishing third at COTA. He has finished in the top 10 in five of six races.
5. Christopher Bell (first last week) — Bell falls from the top spot in the rankings after being booted from Sunday’s race in a late-race accident. He dropped three spots in the Cup points standings to fifth.
6. Joey Logano (fourth last week) — Logano was mostly absent from Sunday’s front-of-the-pack jousting. He limped home in 28th and drops two spots in the rankings.
7. Tyler Reddick (unranked last week) — Reddick bursts into the rankings in a big way, easily outclassing the rest of the field on the way to victory at COTA. Challenged repeatedly by cautions that extended the race into three overtimes, he refused to give up the shot at his first win of the year.
8. Denny Hamlin (seventh last week) — Winless this year, Hamlin nevertheless keeps popping up around the front. Sunday’s late-race mess dropped him to 16th at the checkered flag.
9. Kyle Larson (eighth last week) — Larson seemed to be the race’s pingpong ball Sunday as he was bounced around during some of the tightest racing. He rallied to reach 14th.
10. Kevin Harvick (ninth last week) — Harvick’s final season has been a mix of the good and the bad, with two top-five runs, challenges for wins and a 33rd-place finish at Atlanta. He was 13th Sunday.
Dropped out: Brad Keselowski (10th last week).
Ross Chastain after COTA race: ‘Are you not entertained?’
One driver evoked the movie “Gladiator” after Sunday’s Cup race at Circuit of the Americas. Another could be penalized for his actions after the checkered flag. Others expressed dismay at what the end of the event became.
A race that had been a thrilling duel devolved into a demolition derby over the final laps, leaving feelings as bruised as some of the cars.
While Tyler Reddick celebrated his first win of the season, other drivers stewed at what the racing became. Three overtimes were needed to finish the event due to incidents in the Turn 1 hairpin. Then again, it should not have been surprising, coming a week after Kyle Busch said: “We have completely lost any sense of respect in the garage between the drivers”.
“Are you not entertained?” Ross Chastain exclaimed, evoking Russell Crowe’s famous movie line. “This is what we love. I don’t love doing it, but … as a sport we’re not boring.”
Chastain is correct, the sport is not boring. But it’s fair to ask if the sport has crossed a line. Is it OK for races to end this way? If not, how to change it is a more difficult notion.
The action has been getting more aggressive this season. It was evident in the Clash at the Coliseum when drivers charged into the corners and slammed into the back of cars as a way to slow down to make the tight turns.
Sunday marked the third time in the last four road course races that the event went to overtime. In the previous 28 road course races — dating back to 2012 — only three went to overtime.
It makes one wonder what could happen this weekend when the Cup series races at Richmond Raceway, beginning a three-week stretch at short tracks that includes the Bristol dirt race and Martinsville.
“These cars are so tough,” Chastain said. “We can run into each other. There are just lines of cars all pushing each other (on the restarts) on the brakes. Nobody is going in there saying, ‘I’m going to hit somebody,’ but it’s just the leader has to check up and it just magnifies itself.”
Chastain’s teammate, Daniel Suarez, was not happy after the race. He ran into the back of Chastain’s car, knocking him out of the way as they entered pit road and then hit the back of Bowman’s car on pit road.
Section 4.4.B of the Cup Rule Book states that drivers can be penalized for “Intentionally damaging another vehicle on pit road.” Such a penalty could result in the loss of 25-50 driver and/or team owner points and/or $50,000-$100,000 fine. Violations may also result in a suspension.
Suarez restarted fifth in the second overtime restart but left the inside lane open. Alex Bowman, with Ross Chastain and Chase Briscoe aligned behind, charged and got beside Suarez as they approached Turn 1.
As Bowman slowed to make the tight turn, he was hit from behind and that sent him into Suarez, who clipped the left rear of Martin Truex Jr.’s car. Truex spun in front of Suarez and blocked his path, allowing the rest of the field to drive by and costing Suarez a top-five finish. Suarez finished 27th.
Suarez spoke briefly with Bowman before having a discussion with Chastain.
“The problem is if you don’t peek out and bomb the guy in front of you, the guy behind you does it to you,” Bowman said. “So what do you do there? It’s not right. The way we race is embarrassing, and if 12-year-olds were doing it, we’d be yelling at them, but here we are saying it’s the best thing in the world on TV.”
Chris Buescher simply called Sunday’s race “our first bumper car race of the year.”
Austin Dillon said: “The end of the race became a typical NASCAR road course race. It was just a mess. We drove up into the hill on a restart and everyone just pile drove into each other.”
Jordan Taylor, making his first Cup start as he filled in for an injured Chase Elliott, was struck by what the restarts were like.
“Every restart, you just get smashed in the front, rear, side,” he said. “So yeah, it was pretty much just survival.”
Sunday’s race was scheduled to go 68 laps but was extended to 75 laps by the late cautions.
Here is a look at the drivers who gained the most and lost the most positions from where they were running on Lap 68 to where they were running on Lap 75:
Most positions gained
18 – Kyle Larson (finished 14th)
17 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (finished 7th)
16 – Kevin Harvick (finished 13th)
12 – Todd Gilliland (finished 10th)
9 – Ryan Blaney (finished 21st)
8 – Noah Gragson (finished 20th)
7 – Austin Cindric (finished 6th)
6 – Corey LaJoie (finished 11th)
Most positions lost
23 – Daniel Suarez (finished 27th)
20 – Joey Logano (finished 28th)
15 – Kimi Raikkonen (finished 29th)
12 – Christopher Bell (finished 31st)
12 – Martin Truex Jr. (finished 17th)
10 – Aric Almirola (finished 30th)
9 – Jordan Taylor (finished 24th)
6 – Michael McDowell (finished 12th)
Tyler Reddick and Kyle Busch, who switched rides before this season, have both won in the first six races.
This marks the third year in a row that two drivers with new Cup rides have won so early in the year.
Last year, Austin Cindric and Ross Chastain each won in the first six races of the year. Cindric had driven a few Cup races previously for Team Penske but last year was his first year in the No. 2 car. Chastain did have the same crew chief and other crew members at Trackhouse Racing after it purchased Chip Ganassi Racing.
In 2021, Kyle Larson, in his first season at Hendrick Motorsports, and Christopher Bell, in his rookie Cup season with Joe Gibbs Racing, each won within the first four races of that year.
Winners and losers at Circuit of the Americas
A look at winners and losers from Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas:
Tyler Reddick — Reddick needed patience and perseverance to stay in front through three overtimes to win Sunday’s race. Considering the supreme strength of his Toyota and his nearly flawless performance, losing first place in that calamity near the end would have been heartbreaking. Instead, he gives Toyota its first win of the year.
Kyle Busch — Busch never led, but he pushed through the field in the final stage, worked his way through the restarts and finished second.
William Byron — Byron appeared to have the only answer to Reddick’s power. He led 28 laps but was shuffled to fifth at the finish.
Todd Gilliland — Gilliland was in the top-15 mix through the three overtimes and worked his way to a 10th-place finish, the third of his Cup career.
Jenson Button — Former F1 champion finished 18th in his Cup debut, highest among the road course ringers. He told his team after the race on the radio that Cup drivers “are on it every second of the race” and also said that the race was a “roller coaster … a whole F1 season in one race.”
AJ Allmendinger — Always expected to be a threat at road courses, Allmendinger left the race after 60 laps with damage from an accident, finishing 34th.
Brad Keselowski — Spins limited Keselowski’s effectiveness Sunday, and he parked after 56 laps with a driveshaft issue, finishing 35th and dropping four spots in the points standings.
Bubba Wallace — The year has not started well for Wallace, who finished 37th Sunday and now has four finishes of 20th or worse in six races. He fell three spots in points.
What drivers said at Circuit of the Americas
What drivers had to say during and after Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Circuit of the Americas:
Tyler Reddick — Winner: “It means the world. This whole 23XI team has been working so hard all winter long to make the road course program better. Was extremely motivated to come in here and prove that performance, too. Just so proud of this Monster Energy Toyota Camry TRD. Toyota, everybody, all the resources they’ve been putting into this to help turn around the road course program means a lot. I’m out of gas. But I feel a little bit better with Monster Energy. I really had to dial it up there at the end to get an advantage. I was making mistakes on every single restart. I was able to make it a little better there in the end. … Obviously, there was a lot of cautions at the end. I mean, the way that things kind of have progressed, the front and rear bumpers of this car are really resilient. You can really hit someone pretty hard without knocking the nose of your car out. The rear bumpers are really tough, too. We saw that at the Clash, people being able to lean on each other front to rear. It kind of brings that to light at the end of these races. But seriously, though, you look at Turn 1 here, Turn 1 at Indy road course, they’re very inviting corners with a lot of room. It’s just a product of restarts and the nature of NASCAR racing and how aggressive all the drivers are. Someone’s going to be on the short end.”
MORE: COTA Cup results, driver points
Kyle Busch — Finished 2nd: “I don’t know if we could have (beaten Tyler Reddick). Even if we were on equal tires, when we tested here, they were lights out. Had us beat on the frontside of the runs. We needed longer runs. Even today we didn’t have great long-run speed. We had great middle-run speed. Overall, for as much effort and everything that we’ve put into coming here and focusing on this place, all the testing and everything we’ve been able to do during the off-season, come out here with a really good finish. Tyler obviously is a really good road racer. He proved it driving this car here last year. I was able to get in it and run right back to him. I’ve been trying to emulate the things he did in order to make this car fast last year, but not quite all the way there. They had a whale of a car.”
Alex Bowman — Finished 3rd: “It probably wouldn’t have been that bad if my interior stuff worked. When this Coolshirt doesn’t work, it just heat soaks, kind of cooks you. I’m hot. It stopped working pretty early. I don’t have issues with stuff from Hendrick Motorsports very often. Shout-out to all the guys back at the shop. This road crew, I’m not the greatest road course racer, so to come here and run top five again means a lot. It was a hot day. Proud of the 45 (Tyler Reddick). A heck of a road course racer. Fastest car definitely won today. Wish our Ally Camaro was a couple spots better. All in all, a good day for us. (On post-race talk with Daniel Suarez): He just thought I drove in and tried to drive through him. I had the corner made. Only reason I was inside of the 99 was to protect from the 1. Then the 1 just hammered me in the corner, dumped me, then I ran into the 99, kind of cleaned him out. Daniel and I, we’ve been teammates in the past, raced together a long time. I respect the hell out of him. I’m sure he’s still not super happy. Just tried to explain that I wouldn’t race him like that, that I was shoved in there. You see that a lot at these road courses. Indy last year, Harvick was super mad at me and crashed me. Then he watched the video, and he was like, ‘Man, I crashed the wrong guy.’ Sometimes just it’s a chain reaction. Fortunately, it worked out for us, ended up with a top five.”
Ross Chastain — Finished 4th: “When we got spun, I think we restarted down at Niece Equipment south of town. To come back to a top five was a top effort for our Worldwide Express team. I thought we were a top-five car all day. Thought the 45 (Tyler Reddick) had us covered. There was a line of Chevys second through sixth. It was about positioning each other while we were saving fuel, then racing each other, whoever was in front was going to be pretty good. Another top five here. I love this place. I love road course racing. But the fight to get better never stops. I know there’s things I can be doing better.”
William Byron — Finished 5th: “It was all right. I probably could have done better on those restarts. I gotta look. I just kept getting pushed wide, and it seemed like the last one didn’t happen for some reason. I just gave up too much track position. It was really my only option. Good to get a top five. We had a good racecar; I think a top-two racecar really, with the 45. He was a lot better than everybody, but I thought we were a close second. It was really fun. Tyler is great, and they were great all weekend. Tyler’s been great on the road courses. We made it a battle for sure every time with crossovers, out-braking each other — that was a lot of fun. I hate that it kind of got down to restarts there at the end. I got shoved off one time in second. We needed a top five and probably could have done some things different.”
Austin Cindric — Finished 6th: “Great to lay some laps. Good to be able to show some speed in our Discount Tire Ford Mustang. It’s one of those days where you win or lose as a team. There were quite a few miscues on pit road that probably kept us from having the track position. Then, it’s a fight. Fair recovery to finish sixth. A lot of things had to go our way for those restarts. But for a long, hot day, we never gave up.”
Chris Buescher — Finisned 8th: “It was our first bumper car race of the year. Our Fifth Third Ford Mustang ended up pretty solid there toward the end. We got a solid top 10 out of it. That’s a big testament to this team and its ‘never give up’ attitude. I started into the 30s for the day, 32nd. I had to really power through, and we had some issues there that probably came from getting run into… backward a couple times. But I’m proud of everybody. That was a good finish for a really hard-fought day.”
Ty Gibbs — Finished 9th: “I’m sure it was entertaining. We had a really great first half of the race and then we had an issue with our lugnut – lost a lot of time and I got two penalties. I just have to minimize mistakes. We will take it.”
Todd Gilliland — Finished 10th: “The restarts were really good for us, even in the very beginning of the race. We were able to fire off and gain a lot of spots right off the bat. So, after that, we had fallen off a little worse than everyone else, but our fire-off speed was probably top-five to 10 every time. It was really nice to have some speed there, and to be really aggressive on the restarts. Most of them worked out really well. I got spun once, but we were able to rebound up to 10th or so. That’s good — 15th and 10th the last two races. That’s something to build on.”
Jenson Button — Finished 18th: “It was an emotional rollercoaster. First, it was terrible. I mean, I must’ve been last by the end of it. And I was just like, ‘Everyone: Go. I just need to drive and find a rhythm.’ I’ve never gone through a corner too wide so often. And trying to place my car in the right place — I just got it wrong every time. Normally, if you’re a little bit slow through a corner, nobody tries to overtake you from the outside. Because they’re not going to make it all the way on the next one. But here they do, because they get a wheel inside for the next one, and if you turn in, you turn around. The first stint was really bad — it was embarrassing for me. I was like, ‘All right guys, we need to pit, freshen the tires and I need some air – I need some fresh air.’ I got that. The pace was good, consistency was good. I was really happy — and passed a few cars, which was nice. We got a little bit unlucky with the safety car because it was just two laps before our window. Pitted, then the next stint was mayhem. We also made a couple of changes that just didn’t work. Big oversteer — went from the car feeling great to really difficult to drive. I also had a massive whack from Kimi (Räikkönen), and it fell off after that. The car wasn’t quite right. Every time I turned in, the rear tires would chatter, then immediately to oversteer. It was really difficult, but toward the end, we made some good calls stopping and putting on fresh tires. I enjoyed the last three restarts — got good placement and good overtaking moves from the outside. Finished 18th after almost stopping because I had heat exhaustion. It was so hot, I don’t have a fan in my seat which really didn’t help me too much. It was so hot, I thought I was going to faint in the car. So, I stopped twice for a minute. They put ice on me, gave me loads of water, and I went back out. I was so close to getting out of the car because I thought I was going to faint. I must’ve drunk eight or nine bottles of water during the race. The team kept me calm, and it’s the reason why we got a good result in the end. So, I was happy.”
Noah Gragson — Finished 20th: “Had a solid day in our Black Rifle Coffee Camaro. We ran inside the top 10 and top 15 for a large part of the day with good speed. We kept working on the car. Luke Lambert and the rest of the guys called a great strategy. The pit crew did an awesome job. We put ourselves in position during the green-white-checkers to be in the top 10. I ended up getting spun and rallied back. We never quit.”
Ryan Blaney — Finished 21st: “Certainly, wasn’t the day we were looking for. Starting in the back we managed to gain quite a few spots early but got hit really hard in the left rear and had to make repairs. Glad we had a shot late for a decent finish, but those overtime restarts are crazy and sometimes it works out and other times it doesn’t.”
Erik Jones — Finished 23rd: “Frustrating day here in at COTA. I felt like we had a pretty fast Allegiant Chevy, but it seemed like we kept getting hit. There were a couple times there on restarts that we just flat got ran over. Wrong place wrong time for sure, and it stinks that we weren’t really able to have anything to show for the speed we had. I’m thankful that we were able to show as much promise as we did early on with a good run in qualifying, and I can tell we are moving in the right direction at Legacy Motor Club. On to Richmond.”
Jordan Taylor — Finished 24th: “Yeah, it was definitely wild. I wouldn’t say I survived; I feel like I’m beat up pretty much. Every restart, you just get smashed in the front, rear, side. So, yeah, it was pretty much just survival. The guys knew I’d be a little bit more hesitant, so they would take advantage of it. At the end, I got more aggressive and made our way almost back to the top 10. On the last restart, I don’t know who went down on the inside, but they were never going to make the corner and used us to stop themselves. I’d say it was a disappointing day. I made a couple big mistakes early on that probably put us back there, but the No. 9 UniFirst Chevy was fast. I need to thank UniFirst and Hendrick Motorsports for giving me the opportunity. We had good pace, but we just got shuffled back every restart. Tough day.”
Joey Logano — Finished 28th: “We had a decent day going with the Shell-Pennzoil Mustang. Paul (Wolfe) made some good strategy calls to gain track position. Felt like we had a top-10 car, but depending on how the end played out maybe a top-five. The restarts at the end normally play out that way and we ended up spun out. We’ll move on to Richmond.”
Kimi Raikkonen — Finished 29th: “I think it wasn’t too bad. We got unlucky with the incidents that happened. It was one of those things, unfortunately. Then there were no tires left. They kept coming, getting more restarts and more restarts, so I think after the spin I had, the tires were just done. It’s a shame because when we were there, but then we restart, and just wrong place, wrong time. It was a case of trying to stay out of the issues in the first corner and every time. It looked like you’d be very good, then three corners later, somebody’s going the wrong direction. There’s a bit of mess and luck involved.”
Austin Dillon — Finished 33rd: “We had a really solid run going in our Get Bioethanol Chevrolet today, so it’s disappointing that we ended up in the garage early. We didn’t qualify where we needed to, but we worked our way into the top 15 by the end of Stage 1 and earned stage points at the end of Stage 2. The end of the race became a typical NASCAR road course race. It was just a mess. We drove up into the hill on a restart, and everyone just pile-drove into each other. I had nowhere to go. I don’t know if it would have worked out better for us if we chose the bottom or not. I hate it for all of the guys on this RCR team. We had a lot of good things going today, but nothing to show for it. There’s still a lot of racing to go. We’ll regroup and head to Richmond Raceway.”
Jimmie Johnson — Finished 38th: “What a disappointing finish. Unfortunately, we got off to a slow start yesterday and qualified poorly. We all know what happens when you start in the back and, unfortunately, we were caught up in that. Just a wild and crazy first lap that was taking place. I thought I had the wreck missed, but I just saw a flash of red out of nowhere. I guess there was more going on the outside of the No. 6 car (Brad Keselowski) as it was spinning, and I saw him and just got collected.”