Upon Further Review: What lies ahead for Kevin Harvick in Chase?

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Crew chief Rodney Childers stood beside Kevin Harvick’s car after Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway wondering what could have been done to make the car perform better.

Harvick finished sixth in the rain-shortened race, meaning that he all but likely needs to win this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway to make the championship round a third consecutive season.

What troubled Childers wasn’t the situation Harvick is in — Harvick has won in must-win scenarios to advance before — it’s what they face when they get to the title round.

The race at Homestead-Miami Speedway will feature the same tire as what Sprint Cup teams raced at Texas and at Chicagoland Speedway to begin the Chase.

While Childers looks forward to Phoenix, Homestead weighs on his mind.

“I definitely feel good about next week,’’ Childers told NBC Sports of Phoenix, a track Harvick has won at six of the last eight times. “I feel that we’re probably taking our best car and we’ve prepared well for the race. It will be about fine-tuning it and it looks like it’s going to be real warm out there. I think that will kind of help us out a little bit. (Harvick) does good when it comes to a slick racetrack out there and all that.

“I guess the disappointing thing is even if we win next week I’m not sure what we can do at Homestead. All we can do is our best, definitely missing something with these tires.’’

Despite showing speed in qualifying (Harvick started third) and in practice Friday, Harvick couldn’t challenge the leaders Sunday.

“It’s something with these tires we just can’t get a hold of,’’ Childers said. “We just haven’t been good on them, haven’t been able to get a handle on it. We’ve tried two different cars and two different setups and way different air pressures and all different stuff and it’s not really helping us. It’s probably the first time in 2 1/2 years that we’ve had stuff like that we’ve struggled with.’’ 

Said Harvick of his race: “We were tight, we were loose, and we were kind of all over the place. We could take off okay, but we would fall way off at the end of a run.’’

In the three races with these tires, Harvick has finished sixth (Texas fall race), 20th (Chicago) and 10th (Texas spring race).

Harvick ranks toward the bottom among the remaining Chase contenders in average finish in those races:

2.3 — Joey Logano

4.7 — Kyle Busch

7.7 — Carl Edwards

9.0 — Jimmie Johnson

9.0 — Denny Hamlin

9.3 — Matt Kenseth

12.0 — Kevin Harvick

14.0 — Kurt Busch

Of course, Harvick still has to advance to Miami this weekend at Phoenix. But should he, the question will be how strong a challenger will the 2014 champion be for the rest of the title field, which includes six-time champ Jimmie Johnson and 2011 runner-up Carl Edwards?

TIME TO REPAVE?

Eddie Gossage, president of Texas Motor Speedway, said this weekend that the track will need to be repaved at some point because the surface’s top layer has become porous after years of beating by cars and Air Titans. That’s exaggerated the time needed to dry the track.

Gossage is trying to hold off repaving as long as possible, but he knows it will have to be done someday. When it does, drivers will howl because repaved tracks lead to increased speeds, narrow grooves and less side-by-side racing.

After finishing second in Sunday’s rain-delayed and rain-shortened race, Joey Logano was asked about the prospect of repaving the track: “I’d rather it just not rain. Is that possible? Start saying prayers. I don’t know. Talk to the man upstairs about that one.

“I don’t want to say I get it, but I do. You can’t have a racetrack that takes that long to dry. You can’t have that. But, golly, I really like the way this track races right now. It’s a lot of fun. You can run the top, bottom. It’s bumpy. It’s just awesome right now.  All but that one thing.

“So depends what everyone wants to live with.  Pick your poison, right?’’

BATTLE AMONG FRIENDS

Justin Allgaier’s daughter says her favorite driver is Blake Koch. Koch’s son says his favorite driver is Allgaier.

Koch stands one point ahead of Allgaier for the final transfer spot to the championship round in the Xfinity Series. The four title contenders will be set this weekend at Phoenix and the close friends could be racing each other for a chance to win the title at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Koch calls Allgaier one of his best friends.

“Even if I wasn’t racing anymore, I’d probably talk to him everyday and hang out,’’ Koch said.

Koch noted that the bond with Allgaier includes Allgaier’s family. Koch said that there have been “dozens of times” that he stayed in the motorhome of Allgaier’s parents at the track because he couldn’t afford a hotel room.

“I can’t tell you how close of friends we are, but we both know when the race starts, that’s our job,’’ Koch told NBC Sports. “It’s business. No matter what happens, it’s not going to change our friendship.’’

Allgaier says it’s not hard racing against Koch even with their friendship.

“He’s somebody I look up to a lot as a race car driver,’’ Allgaier told NBC Sports. “He’s a talented race car driver.

“That’s probably what makes next week so much fun. I know he’ll race me hard and clean.’’

TWO WEEKS TO A DREAM

Johnny Sauter doesn’t hide from what could be ahead for him. After his second consecutive Camping World Truck Series victory last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, he remains the only driver qualified for that series’ championship race in Miami.

The other three title race competitors will be determined this weekend at Phoenix.

Sauter, who is in his eighth full-time season in the Truck series, has never won the championship. He finished second in 2011 by six points to Austin Dillon. Since, Sauter has finished no better than fourth in the standings.

“I’ve been racing a long time, I’ve had the thoughts of being a champion a long time,’’ he said..

“It would mean a lot to me … but I feel like the championship would mean a lot to my family. Everybody racing through the years and all the short tracks and all the stuff that we’ve done. It would be really, really cool to bring the championship home to family.’’

In two weeks, the son of a racer and brother of racers, could do just that.

PIT STOPS

— Carl Edwards became the seventh driver with three or more victories this season. It’s the first time in the sport’s modern era (since 1972) that there have been seven different drivers with three or more victories in a season. The last time it happened was 1964 when NASCAR had 62 races.

— Carl Edwards’ win ended a seven-race winless streak for Joe Gibbs Racing — the longest winless streak for the team this year.

— For the third time in the last five races, the Cup pole-sitter finished 35th or worse in the race. Austin Dillon crashed after contact with Kevin Harvick and finished 37th at Texas. Martin Truex Jr. was 40th at Talladega after a blown engine, and Harvick placed 38th at Charlotte because of an engine issue.

— Kurt Busch’s 20th-place finish Sunday, leaves him last among the eight title contenders and 34 points out of the final transfer spot. He essentially needs to win Phoenix to make the championship round. Said his crew chief Tony Gibson: “We’re not dead yet. We’ve got to swing for the fences. We’ve got to take some huge risks and put ourselves out there and see if we can win it.’’

Appeal panel gives William Byron his 25 points back

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William Byron is back in a transfer spot after the National Motorsports Appeals Panel rescinded his 25-point penalty Thursday for spinning Denny Hamlin at Texas.

By getting those 25 points back, Byron enters Sunday’s elimination playoff race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC) 14 points above the cutline.

Daniel Suarez is now in the final transfer spot to the Round of 8. He is 12 points ahead of Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric. Christopher Bell is 45 points behind Suarez. Alex Bowman will not race this week as he continues to recover from concussion symptoms and has been eliminated from Cup title contention.

NASCAR did not penalize Byron after his incident with Hamlin because series officials did not see the contact. Two days later, NASCAR penalized Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000 for intentionally wrecking Hamlin.

The National Motorsports Appeals Panel stated that Byron violated the rule but amended the penalty to no loss of driver and owner points while increasing the fine to $100,000.

The panel did not give a reason for its decision. NASCAR cannot appeal the panel’s decision.

The panel consisted of Hunter Nickell, a former TV executive, Dale Pinilis, track operator of Bowman Gray Stadium and Kevin Whitaker, owner of Greenville-Pickens Speedway.

Here is the updated standings heading into Sunday’s race at the Roval:

Byron’s actions took place after the caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash. As Hamlin slowed, Byron closed and hit him in the rear. 

Byron admitted after the race that 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.

“I felt like he ran me out of race track off of (Turn) 2 and had really hard contact with the wall,” Byron said. “Felt like the toe link was definitely bent, luckily not fully broken. We were able to continue.

“A lot of times that kind of damage is going to ruin your race, especially that hard. I totally understand running somebody close and making a little bit of contact, but that was pretty massive.”

On the retaliatory hit, Byron said: “I didn’t mean to spin him out. That definitely wasn’t what I intended to do. I meant to bump him a little bit and show my displeasure and unfortunately, it happened the way it did. Obviously, when he was spinning out, I was like ‘I didn’t mean to do this,’ but I was definitely frustrated.”

Drivers for Drive for Diversity combine revealed

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The 13 drivers who will participate in the Advance Auto Part Drive for Diversity Combine were revealed Thursday and range in age from 13-19.

The NASCAR Drive for Diversity Development Program was created in 2004 to develop and train ethnically diverse and female drivers both on and off the track. Cup drivers Bubba Wallace, Daniel Suarez and Kyle Larson came through the program.

The 2020 and 2021 combines were canceled due to the impact of COVID-19.

“We are thrilled that we are in a position to return to an in-person evaluation for this year’s Advance Auto Parts Drive for Diversity Combine,” Rev Racing CEO Max Seigel said in a statement. “We are energized by the high-level of participating athletes and look forward to building the best driver class for 2023. As an organization, we have never been more positioned for success and future growth.”

The youngest drivers are Quinn Davis and Nathan Lyons, who are both 13 years old.

The group includes 17-year-old Andrés Pérez de Lara, who finished seventh in his ARCA Menards Series debut in the Sept. 15 race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Also among those invited to the combine is 15-year old Katie Hettinger, who will make her ARCA Menards Series West debut Oct.. 14 at the Las Vegas Bullring. She’s also scheduled to compete in the ARCA West season finale Nov. 4 at Phoenix Raceway.

 

 

Name

Age Hometown
Justin Campbell 17 Griffin, Georgia
Quinn Davis 13 Sparta, Tennessee
Eloy Sebastián

López Falcón

17 Mexico City, Mexico
Katie Hettinger 15 Dryden, MI
Caleb Johnson 15 Denver, CO
Nathan Lyons 13 Concord, NC
Andrés Pérez de Lara 17 Mexico City, Mexico
Jaiden Reyna 16 Cornelius, NC
Jordon Riddick 17 Sellersburg, IN
Paige Rogers 19 New Haven, IN
Lavar Scott 19 Carney’s Point, NJ
Regina Sirvent 19 Mexico City, Mexico
Lucas Vera 15 Charlotte, NC

 

Dr. Diandra: Crashes: Causes and complications

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Two drivers have missed races this year after hard rear-end crashes. Kurt Busch has been out since an incident in qualifying at Pocono in July. Alex Bowman backed hard into a wall at Texas and will miss Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Other drivers have noted that the hits they’ve taken in the Next Gen car are among the hardest they’ve felt in a Cup car.

“When I crashed it (at Auto Club Speedway in practice), I thought the car was destroyed, and it barely backed the bumper off. It just felt like somebody hit you with a hammer,” Kevin Harvick told NBC Sports.

The three most crucial parameters in determining the severity of a crash are:

  • How much kinetic energy the car carries
  • How long the collision takes
  • The angle at which the car hits

Angle

The last of these factors requires trigonometry to explain properly. You can probably intuit, however, that a shallower hit is preferable to a head-on — or rear-on — hit.

A graphic show shallower (low-angle) hits and deeper (high-angle) hits
Click for a larger view

When the angle between the car and the wall is small, most of the driver’s momentum starts and remains in the direction parallel to the wall. The car experiences a small change in velocity.

The larger the angle, the larger the change in perpendicular speed and the more force experienced. NASCAR has noted that more crashes this season have had greater angles than in the past.

Busch and Bowman both had pretty large-angle hits, so we’ll skip the trig.

Energy — in pounds of TNT

A car’s kinetic energy depends on how much it weighs and how fast it’s going. But the relationship between kinetic energy and speed is not linear: It’s quadratic. That means going twice as fast gives you four times more kinetic energy.

The graph shows the kinetic energies of different kinds of race cars at different speeds. To give you an idea of how much energy we’re talking about, I expressed the kinetic energy in terms of equivalent pounds of TNT.

A vertical bar graph showing kinetic energies for different types of racecars and their energies

  • A Next Gen car going 180 mph has the same kinetic energy as is stored in almost three pounds of TNT.
  • Because IndyCars are about half the weight of NASCAR’s Next Gen car, an IndyCar has about half the kinetic energy of a Next Gen car when both travel at the same speed.
  • At 330 mph, Top Fuel drag racers carry the equivalent of six pounds of TNT in kinetic energy.

All of a car’s kinetic energy must be transformed to other types of energy when the car slows or stops. NASCAR states that more crashes are occurring at higher closing speeds, which means more kinetic energy.

Longer collisions > shorter collisions

That seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Who wants to be in a crash any longer than necessary?

But the longer a collision takes, the more time there is to transform kinetic energy.

A pitting car starts slowing down well below it reaches its pit box. The car’s kinetic energy is transformed into heat energy (brakes and rotors warming), light energy (glowing rotors), and even sound energy (tires squealing).

The same amount of kinetic energy must be transformed in a collision — but much faster. In addition to heat, light and sound, energy is transformed via the car spinning and parts deforming or breaking. (This video about Michael McDowell’s 2008 Texas qualifying crash goes into more detail.)

The force a collision produces depends on how long the car takes to stop. Compare the force from your seat belt when you slow down at a stop sign to what you feel if you have to suddenly slam on the brakes.

To give you an idea of how fast collisions can be, the initial wall impact in the crash that killed Dale Earnhardt Sr. lasted only eight-hundredths (0.08) of a second.

SAFER barriers use a car’s kinetic energy to move a heavy steel wall and crush pieces of energy-absorbing foam. That extracts energy from the car, plus the barrier extends the collision time.

The disadvantage is that a car with lower kinetic energy won’t move the barrier. Then it’s just like running into a solid wall.

That’s the same problem the Next Gen car seems to have.

Chassis stiffness: A Goldilocks problem

The Next Gen chassis is a five-piece, bolt-together car skeleton, as shown below.

A graphic showing the five parts of the Next Gen chassis.
Graphic courtesy of NASCAR. Click to enlarge.
The foam surrounding the outside of the rear bumper
The purple is energy-absorbing foam. Graphic courtesy of NASCAR. Click for a larger view.

That graphic doesn’t show another important safety feature: the energy absorbing foam that covers the outside of the bumpers. It’s purple in the next diagram.

All cars are designed so that the strongest part of the car surrounds the occupants. Race cars are no different.

The center section of the Next Gen chassis is made from stout steel tubing and sheet metal. Components become progressively weaker as you move away from the cockpit. The bumper, for example, is made of aluminum alloy rather than steel. The goal is transforming all the kinetic energy before it reaches the driver.

Because the Next Gen car issues are with rear impacts, I’ve expanded and highlighted the last two pieces of the chassis.

The rear clip and bumper, with the fuel cell and struts shaded

The bumper and the rear clip don’t break easily enough. The rear ends of Gen-6 cars were much more damaged than the Next Gen car after similar impacts.

If your initial thought is “Just weaken the struts,” you’ve got good instincts. However, there are two challenges.

I highlighted the first one in red: the fuel cell. About the only thing worse than a hard collision is a hard collision and a fire.

The other challenge is that a chassis is a holistic structure: It’s not like each piece does one thing independent of all the other pieces. Changing one element to help soften rear collisions might make other types of collisions harder.

Chassis are so complex that engineers must use finite-element-analysis computer programs to predict their behavior. These programs are analogous to (and just as complicated as) the computational fluid dynamics programs aerodynamicists use.

Progress takes time

An under-discussed complication was noted by John Patalak, managing director of safety engineering for NASCAR. He told NBC Sports’ Dustin Long in July that he was surprised by the rear-end crash stiffness.

The Next Gen car’s crash data looked similar to that from the Gen-6 car, but the data didn’t match the drivers’ experiences. Before addressing the car, his team had to understand the disparity in the two sets of data.

They performed a real-world crash test on a new configuration Wednesday. These tests are complex and expensive: You don’t do them until you’re pretty confident what you’ve changed will make a significant difference.

But even if the test goes exactly as predicted, they aren’t done.

Safety is a moving target.

And always will be.

NASCAR weekend schedule for Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval

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NASCAR Cup Series drivers race on the road for the final time this season Sunday, as the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval course ends the playoffs’ Round of 12.

The 17-turn, 2.28-mile course incorporating the CMS oval and infield will determine the eight drivers who will advance to the next round of the playoffs. Chase Elliott won last Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway and is the only driver who has qualified for a spot in the Round of 8.

Entering Sunday’s race, Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman are below the playoff cutline. Bowman will not qualify for the next round because he is sidelined by concussion-like symptoms.

The race (2 p.m ET) will be broadcast by NBC.

Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Cup and Xfinity)

Weekend weather

Friday: Sunny. High of 81 with a 6% chance of rain.

Saturday: Mixed clouds and sun. High of 67 with a 3% chance of rain.

Sunday: Sunny. High of 68 with a 3% chance of rain.

Friday, Oct. 7

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 12 – 5 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Saturday, Oct. 8

Garage open

  • 7 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 8:30 a.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 10 – 10:30 a.m. — Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)
  • 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying (NBC Sports App)
  • 12 – 1 p.m. — Cup practice (NBC Sports App, USA Network coverage begins at 12:30 p.m.)
  • 1 – 2 p.m. — Cup qualifying (USA Network, NBC Sports App)
  • 3 p.m. — Xfinity race (67 laps, 155.44 miles; NBC, Peacock, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 9

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 2 p.m. — Cup race (109 laps, 252.88 miles; NBC, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)