What drivers said after New Hampshire race

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Denny Hamlin — Winner: “I put us behind on Friday with the backup car getting in a wreck, but this – I really wish we would race that car that was in the hauler, but this one they did a great job getting it as close as they could working on the balance, getting it good yesterday and team effort. This is a total team effort all around.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 2nd: “This is the third time we’ve had to start last and drove up to second.  I wish we could have been a spot better again, but really proud of my team and proud of the cars that they’re bringing for me to drive each and every week.  It’s been a tough couple weeks through the tech line, so if we make it through here and then have a good Tuesday at NASCAR, but we’ll see.’’

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 3rd: “We still had a shot, but on the last restart we got the inside lane there, restarted third.  It wasn’t the place to be, obviously.  I think (Denny Hamlin) started fourth and that was really the place I would have liked to have been.  And then we just didn’t get a good restart on the bottom and lost a couple spots and had to battle back and then just didn’t quite have the speed at the end of the race that we had the first 200 laps.’’

Kevin Harvick — Finished 5th: “The guys did a great job. They made it a little better than it was in practice. They executed on pit road all day and did all the little things right. We didn’t have the speed that the Toyota’s had through the center of the corner. As the long run would go that gap got wider as we got worse. We hung in there and fought all day and everyone did a good job to get us a good finish.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 8th: “Those long greens are reminiscent of the old days where you would have green flag pit stops mixed in. It is neat to change lanes and try to find different things with the (PJ1) and the grip that they put down. When you are out there running and you get in that rhythm, you think if you preserve your tires you can get two or three-tenths when we get to Lap 50, half a second when we get to Lap 70. It gave you the old school feel of taking care of the tires. Overall, you have to go fast for 50 laps, that is all you have to do anymore. We need to get better on the short run speed.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 9th: “Yeah, that was a reasonable finish for us for sure. We weren’t probably as fast as we wanted to be, but we stayed very persistent as a team and that is good. The pit stop was a bummer. I am not sure what happened there. Nobody wants to see that happen. I don’t know if the compound made things any racier. It was certainly different but I don’t know if it was — I have to think about that one.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 10th: I just got it wrong at the start. I went off the flag and forgot that the pole sitter has to be the first one to the stripe; so I’ll take the responsibility on that one.  And then, we had an okay finish. We had decent short-run speed. We would just fall off too hard. I really thought we were going to be in a position for a top five but we ended up 10th.”

Danica Patrick — Finished 13th: “I feel like we probably won somebody some points in fantasy with passing all the cars from starting 31st. The car was pretty good. Honestly, I have had very few races at Loudon where I don’t have a good race car. We just have to qualify better so that I can take advantage of that and have track position the whole time.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished 14th –  “We fought all day so I’m proud of our team. We got damage early on which cost us valuable track position. Overall it wasn’t the best day for us, but we learned some things that we can bring back for the fall race.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 15th: “We were able to run top-10 lap times all day. I still think there is some speed to be gained in the downforce of our cars, but I know that’s something we’re all actively working on improving. We pulled together as a team to recover from an early spin and got ourselves in a good position late in the race for a top-10 finish. We gambled on a strategy call for our last pit stop and it just didn’t work out. That happens sometimes in racing. Now it’s time to turn our focus towards Indianapolis Motor Speedway and work on our strategy for one of the toughest tracks on the circuit.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr.  – FINISHED 18th: “We were 13th and 18th in practice. Didn’t have good speed all weekend. The best we were going to run was 10th probably, ended up 18th. That is the kind of risk we’ve got to take. We were hoping that the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski) and a couple of other guys that were kind of on the same strategy would stay out behind us.  But, I knew when nobody stayed out that as fast as that front four or five were it was impossible to hold them off. We’ve got to take risks though, but hopefully we’ve got a faster car when we are doing it and that might give us a little better shot at it.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 19th: “I feel like we started out OK, and I thought we made decent gains. About halfway I thought the track changed and all that stuff got off of it. We kind of got a little worse. We tried the long run and I couldn’t really get it. It didn’t play out for us. That stinks. I didn’t get a great finish out of it. The first half of the day went pretty good. We just need to figure out how to finish out the second half.”

Trevor Bayne – Finished 20th: “Our Performance Plus Motor Oil Ford would start out really fast. But over the course of a run the handling would become more and more tight and we had a hard time getting through traffic. We were able to make gains throughout the course of the race and we were gaining on a few more cars when we just ran out of laps there at the end. We’ll take what we learned here shift our focus to Indy next week.”

Paul Menard — Finished 22nd: “The Sylvania / Menards Chevrolet came to life in the final stage of today’s race, but track position was so important. Matt Borland and all of the guys on this team kept adjusting on the car to help it turn through the center and get the drive off the corner right. We tried to stretch the fuel mileage and catch a caution late in the going, raced inside the top five, but the caution didn’t fall the way we hoped. Next week we head to my favorite track, so we’ll shift our focus and see what we can do at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 27th: “One of the positives from today is seeing the cars we raced around finish in the top 10. It reflects the speed we had. We struggled pretty much all weekend and the setup (crew chief) Luke (Lambert) and the engineering team came up with for today proved beneficial. At the end of the long runs, we were one of the fastest cars on the track. It was nice to earn stage points. It’s too bad our pit strategy didn’t pan out and contact with another car caused us to spin. Fortunately, we didn’t hit anything. We needed a caution at the end to get us back into contention but the race stayed green.”

Joey Logano — Finished 37th: “We just broke. Plain and simple. It is not good, at all. Right now we are in the position where we have to execute. We have to finish the best as possible and we didn’t do that today. We have to go back to work and make sure our cars stay together and we have to get faster. All three of our cars were a little off today. I guess Brad (Keselowski) is probably the best driver at this race track, and I try to learn from him and he was struggling out there with me. It was a humbling day. This race team knows how to do this. All of Team Penske knows how to win races and make cars fast. They do it in a bunch of different series and have been doing it over here for years. We have to stay together. Stay as a team. Keep pushing. If it happens, it happens. Hopefully we can get some speed enough to squeak a win out before the playoffs.”

Erik Jones — Finished 40th: “I think we were just kind of three wide just kind of sandwiched (on pit road) in there and I came out and the 11 (Denny Hamlin) was on my door and the 5 (Kasey Kahne) came out and was on my door too, so just got too tight and made some contact. I guess it was just enough to let it cut the tire or something. Just really unfortunate. We’ve had some really bad luck this year and this is another one of those days, so hopefully we can turn it around.”

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Alex Bowman to miss Talladega due to concussion-like symptoms

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Alex Bowman will miss Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway after experiencing concussion-like symptoms following his accident last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, Hendrick Motorsports stated Thursday afternoon.

Bowman is the second Cup driver to miss a race because of concussion-like symptoms after a crash. Kurt Busch has not returned to racing since he crashed July 23 at Pocono. Busch said this week that he remains “hopeful” he can return this season. Six races remain in the season, including Sunday’s race at Talladega.

Noah Gragson will fill in for Bowman.

Hendrick Motorsports stated that Bowman, who is last in the playoff standings, was evaluated by physicians Thursday in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Provided Bowman returns, he likely will need to win the Oct. 9 race at the Charlotte Roval to avoid playoff elimination.

Bowman brought out the caution on Lap 98 of the 334-lap race at Texas when a tire blew and backed into the wall in Turn 4. The car then hit the SAFER barrier with the right side. Bowman continued, finishing the race 29th, five laps behind winner Tyler Reddick.

Drivers have stated that rear impacts have felt worse than they looked with the new car.

From the get-go, everybody could see that this car was way too stiff,” Kevin Harvick said earlier this summer. “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.”

Christopher Bell said in June that he had a headache after he backed into the wall in the All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway in May.

Denny Hamlin said earlier this month he feels better about what NASCAR is looking to do with the car after conversations with series officials.

“I certainly feel that they’re working to help us with the hits on the chassis,” Hamlin aid. “All that stuff does take time. They can’t just knee-jerk reaction and start cutting bars out of the chassis, that’s very irresponsible.

“I think they’re doing things methodically to make sure that the next revision of car that comes out is one that is improved in the areas that we need improving on, but that does take time through design and testing.”

Gragson was to have driven the No. 62 car for Beard Motorsports in Sunday’s Cup race. The team has not announced its plans with Gragson moving to the No. 48 car.

 

Dr. Diandra: How much does Talladega shake up the playoffs?

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Talladega Superspeedway is known for shaking up the playoffs. But how well deserved is that reputation?

Playoff drivers usually view the first race in the second round of the playoffs as the best chance to earn points, earn stage points and maybe even a win given that Talladega is the second race. Now that Texas is in the rear-view mirror, let’s turn our data analysis tools to Talladega.

The shake-up index

Determining how much one race shuffles the playoffs standings requires a simple metric that is applicable to all the years NASCAR has had stages and playoffs. In a rare point of consistency, Talladega has remained the 31st race of the season since 2017, when stage racing started.

After trying a couple different approaches, I finally settled on playoff rankings. These rankings are a zero-sum game. For each driver who moves up a position, another driver must move down.

The first graph is playoff ranking as a function of race for the second playoff segment of 2021. It’s a bit of a mess, but stay with me.

A scatter graph of rank changes to help determine how much shaking-up Talladega actually does

Playoff rank runs along the left side of the graph. The highest ranked driver is at the top and the 12th ranked at the bottom.

The leftmost set of dots shows the rankings coming out of Bristol, after eliminating the lowest four drivers and re-seeding the rest. The second column of dots show the rankings after Las Vegas, which was the first race in the second round in 2021.

Each driver is represented in a different color, with lines connecting his rankings. For example, the dark purple lines show Denny Hamlin rising from third to first over these three races. The light blue lines at the bottom show Alex Bowman plummeting from seventh to 12th.

The messier the lines between two races, the more the playoffs were shaken up. Because it’s hard to quantify “messiness,” I counted each time one driver’s line crossed another driver’s line.

Each crossing indicates two drivers changed places in the rankings. The number of intersections between Bristol and Las Vegas, for example, tells you how much Las Vegas shook up the standings.

Three intersecting lines count as three shake-ups because there are three pairs of drivers crossing.

In 2021, Las Vegas had nine intersections, Talladega 13 and the Roval only five. This seems consistent with our hypothesis that Talladega is the biggest shaker-upper in the second round.

Talladega Timeline

In addition to being only one point, the 2021 Talladega contest poses another problem. Bubba Wallace won the rain-shortened race, which went 311 miles instead of the scheduled 500 miles.

That raises the possibility that 2021 might not be the most representative year for Talladega races. I therefore repeated the analysis going back to 2017. Since we didn’t have stage racing — and thus stage points — before 2017, it doesn’t make sense to compare previous years.

The table below shows the shake-up index from 2017-2021. Note that the first and third races changed from year to year.

A table summarizing the shake-up index for Talladega and other races in the second playoff round from 2017-2021

This five years of data show that Talladega wasn’t always the race that most shook-up this round of playoffs. From 2017-19, Dover and Charlotte held that honor. That’s surprising, especially in 2017. That’s the year 26 of 40 cars failed to finish the Talladega race and NASCAR parked Jimmie Johnson and Matt DiBenedetto.

In 2020, the three races had just about equal shake-up indices.

The Roval has been the third playoff race for only two years. It was equally chaotic with Talladega in terms of affecting the standings in 2020, but less so in 2021. Kansas beat the Roval for switching up the playoff standings twice.

 A caveat for the first race

If you’re surprised to see a larger shake-up for the first race in the second round of the playoffs, you’re not alone.

The 2021 fall Las Vegas race was remarkably uneventful. There were only two DNFs, both non-playoff cars. And one single-car accident that, again, didn’t involve a playoff car. Yet it had a shake-up index of nine.

It turns out that this is a side-effect of the re-seeding protocol.

The graph below shows the same time period as the rankings graph, but reports total points for the top-12 drivers.

A scatter plot showing how points changed for the top-12 playoff drivers in 2021 in the second round of the playoffs

Immediately after re-seeding, the drivers are separated by 57 points from first to 12th. If you omit Kyle Larson’s 30-point lead, the bottom 11 drivers are separated by only 27 points.

Since a driver can earn a maximum of 60 points in a single race, the first race in a round has a lot more impact in changing the standings. In effect, the first race decompresses the re-seeding compression.

After Las Vegas, the 12 playoff drivers were separated by 78 points. After Talladega, the margin grew to 98 points.

The larger numbers for the first races in any round are more due to the re-seeding-induced points compression than to the nature of the track.

Applied to 2022

Drivers don’t have to win at Talladega. They just have to finish ahead of the other playoff drivers. In fact, if a given driver can’t win, the next best case for him is if none of the other playoff drivers win, either.

The largest drop in positions a driver has seen from Talladega is five — and that’s from the rain-shortened 2021 race. On the other hand, drivers have also seen as much as an eight-position gain in the standings following Talladega. That gain was after the 2017 race where more than half the field failed to finish, but at least one driver has come out of the fall Talladega race each of the last four years up at least three positions.

As far as the stats for this year’s second round playoffs so far: Last week’s Texas race had a shake-up index of 14. That’s higher than all but the first year of the stage-racing playoff era.

And the William Byron penalty (which Hendrick Motorsports is contesting) has a shake-up index of seven.

NASCAR weekend schedule for Talladega Superspeedway

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The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs roll into Talladega Superspeedway, a center of uncertainty, for the second race in the Round of 12 this weekend.

Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET, NBC) could place the first driver in the Round of 8. Any playoff driver who wins the race automatically advances to the next round.

Through the playoffs to date, playoff drivers are batting zero in the race-win category. Non-playoff drivers — Tyler Reddick, Chris Buescher, Bubba Wallace and Erik Jones — have scored wins in the first four playoff races.

Joey Logano leads the playoff points entering the race. Ross Chastain, who won at Talladega earlier this year, is second.

The four drivers below the cutline are Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman. Byron was above the line earlier this week but was penalized 25 points for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. That move lifted Chase Briscoe above the cutline.

Playoff races also are scheduled for the Xfinity Series (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, USA Network) and the Camping World Truck Series (Saturday, 12:30 p.m., FS1) at Talladega.

Here’s a look at the Talladega weekend schedule:

Talladega Superspeedway (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)

Weekend weather

Friday: Sunny. High of 78.

Saturday: Partly cloudy. High of 74.

Sunday: Intervals of clouds and sun. High of 75.

Friday, Sept. 30

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 10:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series
  • 2 – 7 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck Series qualifying
  • 5:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity Series qualifying (USA Network)

Saturday, Oct. 1

Garage open

  • 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 9:30 a.m. — Truck Series
  • 1 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 10:30 a.m. – Noon — Cup Series qualifying (NBC Sports app, Motor Racing Network, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio)
  • 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series race (94 laps, 250 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 4 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (113 laps, 300 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 2

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 2 p.m. — Cup Series race (188 laps, 500 miles; NBC, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Short-track ace Sam Ard shares Xfinity record with Noah Gragson

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Former two-time Xfinity Series champion Sam Ard’s name returned to the forefront in the past week as Noah Gragson tied Ard’s series record for consecutive victories at four.

Although Ard has been nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, his exploits generally aren’t well-known among many who follow the modern sport of stock car racing. He was on the Hall voting list for the 2023 class but was not elected.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Ard was a short-track master in the vein of stars like Jack Ingram, Harry Gant and Butch Lindley, drivers who could show up at virtually any half-mile track across the country and take home the trophy.

He won the NASCAR Late Model (now the Xfinity Series) championship in 1983 and 1984, scoring 18 wins across those two seasons. He put together four victories in a row late in the 1983 season, winning at South Boston, Virginia; Martinsville, Virginia; Rougemont, North Carolina and Charlotte.

Ard was so dominant in 1984 that he had wrapped up the seasonal championship with two races remaining. In 28 series starts that year, he had 24 top-five finishes and 26 top-10 runs. He won eight times.

In the next-to-last race of the 1984 season, at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, Ard suffered critical head injuries when his car slid in fluid from another vehicle and hit the track’s outside wall.

That crash effectively ended Ard’s career and impacted the rest of his life. Ard often talked of learning to walk again as part of his recovery. He said he would use a walker in a pile of sawdust in his backyard so that the landing would be softer when he fell.

Ard eventually was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. In 2006, responding to Ard’s financial problems, drivers Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr., among others, launched a drive to raise funds for his family.

Ard, a native of Scranton, S.C., died in April 2017. He was 78.