Friday 5: Drivers call for schedule changes? Then try this …

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Is it time for NASCAR to start over in regards to the Cup schedule?

Ryan Newman says so.

“I think our sport, in a lot of ways, has become stale because it’s been so consistent, going to the same race tracks schedule-wise year after year after year,’’ he told NBC Sports this week.

Former champion Kevin Harvick shares Newman’s sentiment.

“Do you really want to get me started on schedules?,’’ Harvick said this week and did, suggesting a rotation of tracks to host the championship race and altering what tracks host playoff races.

“People don’t like the same thing,’’ Harvick said. “You have to keep their attention.’’

Harvick applauded the changes NASCAR has made to the schedule this season — Las Vegas and Richmond host playoff races for the first time, Charlotte’s roval will host a playoff race and Indianapolis is the final regular-season race.

But Harvick suggests more can be done. 

“I think Harvick has got a really good point about changing it up, keeping it new, keeping it interesting,’’ reigning champion Martin Truex Jr. said.

Brad Keselowski and AJ Allmendinger also spoke out about the schedule and need for change.

Understand that NASCAR, its TV partners and track operators work together on the schedule and it isn’t as easy as just putting races on a calendar because of weather issues, other major events in that area, travel matters, etc. 

Yes, there will be challenges. Some tracks may not want to change dates for various reasons. Some fans won’t be able to go to a track if it changed dates. Because a schedule change impacts so many people, any change likely would be met with as much groaning as cheering. Still, that shouldn’t keep all involved from looking at ways to create a different look with the schedule. If a change can help make the sport better, it should be done. If not, move on to something else. 

NASCAR figured out stage racing and gave fans plenty of action throughout last season. NASCAR and its partners can handle this task.

So what to do?

Here’s one person’s view.

Mix it up even more!

Have a summer series

Remember when TNT did the summer races between Fox and NBC? With that in mind, create a summer series of midweek races. Run five Wednesday night races in a row in June and July.

Make Martinsville the first midweek race. Move its spring date to June. Middle of the week, under the lights for the first time for a full race. What a sight.

One note, for any midweek race, the goal should be for it to go no more than three hours. That would require cutting Martinsville from 500 laps and maybe some of the other races run in this time period.

A week later, go to Bristol, followed by Richmond and Daytona. That would put Daytona on July 3 next year. Want something really different? Light Watkins Glen and run that on a Wednesday night. Imagine the action on the track and the party in the infield for that event?

So the summer series would have three short tracks, a restrictor-plate race and a road course. That’s quite a combination. 

Rotate the championship race

No doubt Homestead has provided its share of drama in recent years. Admittedly, this is one I had to hear more to even consider such a notion.

Look at a rotation of Homestead, ISM Raceway (Phoenix) and Auto Club Speedway for the finale. All three tracks provide good racing. Drivers rave about all the lanes and how little grip there is at Auto Club. ISM Raceway will move the start/finish line beyond what is now Turn 2, meaning cars will restart in the corners, which should be dramatic. Homestead has shown what it can do.

The example often cited is that the Super Bowl moves each year and people still go and watch. Same with how NCAA football rotates its playoff games among bowls. The notion is that a big-time event in sports is viewed as one that moves around.

Want to mix it up, throw Las Vegas in the mix every so often as the finale. Or want to do something really different? Make Martinsville the finale. Just think about a short track hosting the championship race. Wow.

Of course for Martinsville to happen, NASCAR would likely need to …

Start the season earlier so it ends earlier

Want to avoid more of the NFL? Why can’t the Daytona 500 be held the week after the Super Bowl instead of two weeks? Even if one kept the schedule the same from that point on, it would end the season earlier in November. 

Want to tighten the schedule more, move the All-Star Race to the Thursday of the Coca-Cola 600 and put another race in its spot the weekend before. That’s if the All-Star Race remains at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Maybe it would be better at a place like Iowa Speedway or at South Boston Speedway or some other short track in the country that could accommodate the series.

2. One more change …

Ryan Newman has another suggestion for the schedule.

“I think there’s great opportunities for us to have a dirt track in our future,’’ he told NBC Sports. “We talk about doing things like in the past. Dirt racing was where it all started. Before there was Daytona, there was dirt.

“Do an exhibition race on a weeknight with 10 or 12 cars at Eldora. Think there would be a lot of people that would interested? I think a few guys might come out of retirement for that. I think that would be special. I think it would be crazy.’’

Or just make it the All-Star Race?

Hmmm.

3. Who is that guy?

Drivers were asked by NBC Sports to describe themselves in one word.

“Mysterious’’ was the word one driver used.

“The reason why is because I feel like I come across and I get labeled a lot as kind of a quiet guy, that kind of keeps my mouth shut and just kind of listens. I think once people get the opportunity to learn me, they start realizing that I’m a little more complex, a little bit different and a little more unique than what people think.

“I’ve kind of carried this mysterious tag a little bit more than what I probably would like to. That’s something I’m trying to develop in myself and growing in social media, let people get the opportunity to know who I am and to follow me and give them more opportunity to see what I’m passionate about.’’

The driver?

Ty Dillon.

4. What was he thinking?

We’ve all had times when a song gets stuck in our head. For Chris Buescher, it’s happened in a race.

“I got Chris Stapleton stuck in my head at Bristol and it was our best run in 2016,’’ Buescher told NBC Sports. “So ever since then, I try to get Chris Stapleton stuck in my head when we go back there.’’

5. The last word goes to Clint Bowyer

Asked what is one thing he would change about his car from last year, Bowyer, whose last Cup victory came in Oct. 2012, didn’t hesitate.

“Confetti,’’ he said. “More confetti.’’

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Alex Bowman to miss Charlotte Roval race

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Alex Bowman announced Tuesday night on social media that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup playoff race at the Charlotte Roval.

Bowman said on social media: “I am continuing to make strides in my recovery to make sure I can return to competition at 100%.”

This will be the second consecutive race he will have missed because of concussion-like symptoms after his crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

Noah Gragson will drive the No. 48 car this weekend for Bowman.

“Alex’s health is our first priority,” said Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “We’re focused on supporting his recovery and seeing him back in his race car when the time is right. Alex has a long career ahead of him, so we will invest the necessary time and take our guidance from medical experts. We’re putting no pressure on him to return before he’s 100% ready.”

Bowman will be one of the four drivers eliminated from title contention Sunday.

Also Tuesday, Cody Ware announced that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup race at the Charlotte Roval, as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he suffered at Texas.

NASCAR Power Rankings: Chase Elliott leaps to the front

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A slick late-race move by Chase Elliott carried him to Victory Lane Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway — and back to the top of the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Elliott is the only driver with five victories this season. No one else in the playoffs has more than two (Tyler Reddick, eliminated from the championship hunt, has won three times).

Elliott, already qualified for the Round of 8 with his Talladega win, will be among the favorites in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Here’s how the rankings look approaching the end of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Chase Elliott (No. 3 last week) — Elliott’s power move to win at Talladega was quite impressive and gave him four top-five finishes in the past 10 races. Clearly, he has re-established himself as the championship favorite.

2. Denny Hamlin (No. 1 last week) — Hamlin drops a spot despite a strong run (20 laps led and finishing fifth) at Talladega. Count him in the hunt for an elusive first championship.

3. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Blaney simply will not go away despite continuing as the playoffs’ only winless driver (not including the Texas All-Star Race). He was victimized by Chase Elliott on Sunday at Talladega, finishing .046 seconds short of victory and a push into the next round.

4. Kyle Larson (No. 2 last week) — Superspeedway racing generally is not Larson’s strong point. He finished 18th Sunday despite leading eight laps and being in the front group much of the day.

5. Joey Logano (No. 4 last week) — Logano had an unusually poor performance at Talladega. He was involved in an early-race accident and struggled much of the rest of the day, finishing 27th.

MORE: Elliott celebrates, Logano laments

6. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain tied Aric Almirola for most laps led (36) at Talladega and has been consistent as of late with three finishes of seventh or better in the past four races.

7. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron’s worst news last week came off the track as he was penalized by NASCAR for dumping Denny Hamlin under caution at Texas. He finished 12th at Talladega.

8. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe is quietly making the case that he could make the Round of 8 and challenge for the title.

MORE: Winners and losers at Talladega

9. Daniel Suarez (unranked last week) — Suarez maneuvered through the Talladega draft with style and came home eighth. He has three top 10s in the past seven races.

10. Christopher Bell (No. 6 last week) — Bell had a rough day at Talladega and will be looking to Sunday’s race at the Roval for redemption.

Dropped out: Tyler Reddick (No. 10 last week).

Talladega’s tale of two drivers: One celebrates, one laments

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — It’s dangerous to forecast what is going to happen next in these playoffs in a Cup season unlike any other. 

So keep that in mind, but Chase Elliott’s victory at Talladega moves him one step closer to returning to the championship race for a third consecutive season.

It’s easy to overlook that beyond earning a spot in the Round of 8 with his win Sunday, Elliott scored six playoff points. That gives him 46 playoff points. He has the opportunity to score seven more playoff points this weekend at the Charlotte Roval — an event he has won twice — before the next round begins.

Once the current round ends, the points will be reset to 4,000 for each of the remaining playoff drivers and they’ll have their playoff points added. 

At this point, Elliott would have a 21-point lead on his nearest competitor and a 31-point lead the first driver outside a transfer spot to the championship race.

The next round opens at Las Vegas, goes to Homestead and ends with Martinsville. 

A key for Elliott, though, is to avoid how he has started each of the first two rounds. A crash led to a 36th-place finish in the playoff opener at Darlington. He placed 32nd after a crash at Texas to begin this round.

The up-and-down nature of the playoffs, though, hasn’t taken a toll on the 2020 Cup champion.

“I feel like I’ve been doing this long enough now to understand the roller coaster that is racing,” said Elliott, who is advancing to the Round of 8 for the sixth consecutive season. “It’s going to roll on, right? You either learn to ride it during the good days, during the bad days, too, or you don’t. That’s just part of the deal.

“So, yeah, just try to ride the wave. Had a bad week last week, had a good week this week. Obviously great to move on into the next round, get six more bonus points. All those things are fantastic, we’re super proud of that.

“This deal can humble you. We can go to the Round of 8 and crash again like we did the first two rounds, or you can go in there and maybe have a really good first race. I don’t know. You show up prepared, do the best you can, figure it out from there.”

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Joey Logano has always been one who wants to race at the front in a superspeedway event instead of riding at the back.

When asked last month about the idea of Texas Motor Speedway being reconfigured to provide superspeedway-type racing — as Atlanta Motor Speedway was before this season — Logano questioned the value of that type of racing.

“Is that the type of racing fans want to see?” Logano said. “Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back. 

“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on. 

“They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”

Logano sought to race at the front as much as possible Sunday at Talladega, even after his car was damaged in an early incident, but he took a different tack on the final restart. He restarted 24th and dropped back, finishing 27th.

“We just wreck all the time, so we thought, ‘Boy, we’ve got a big points lead, let’s just be smart and don’t wreck and we’ll be able to get out of here with a top 10, assuming they would wreck because they always do,’” Logano said after the race. 

“That was the only time I’ve ever stayed in the back, ever, was today and they didn’t wreck. We gave up a bunch of our points lead. We’re still plus-18, which is a decent spot to be, but, the goal was to race for stage points and then drop to the back and wait for the crash. I hate racing that way. I’ve gotten beat many times from people that do that, then I tried it and it didn’t work.”

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Michael McDowell’s third-place finish continues his strong season. 

McDowell’s finish extended his career-high of top-10 finishes to 12. He has five finishes of 11th or better in the last seven races. 

“I’m proud of the season we’ve had and the run that we put together,” McDowell said. “Everyone did a great job on pit road executing and getting us track position when we needed it. It’s good to be there at the end and have a shot at it, just disappointed.”

Front Row Motorsports teammate Todd Gilliland finished seventh. 

“Race car drivers are greedy,” Gilliland said. “I wish I could have gotten a couple more there, but it was still a really good day. We ran up front most of the day and my car handled really well, so, overall, there are definitely a ton of positives to take out of this.”

Sunday marked the second time this season both Front Row Motorsports cars finished in the top 10. They also did it at the Indianapolis road course. 

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NASCAR confirms that the Hendrick Motorsports appeal of William Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas will take place Thursday.

Should Hendrick lose that appeal, the team could then have a hearing before the Final Appeals Officer. That session would need to take place before Sunday’s elimination race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

“Twenty-five points in the playoffs is a ton,” car owner Rick Hendrick said Sunday of Byron’s penalty. “I mean, in the regular season if you got a bunch of races, you can make it back up.

“I’ve seen other cars under caution hit each other. In that situation, (Byron) wasn’t trying to spin him, but they got a tower full of people, they could have put him in the back, could have done something right then rather than wait till Monday or Tuesday, then make a decision.”

Byron is 11 points below the cutline after Talladega.

Talladega jumbles Cup playoff grid heading to elimination race

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In an unpredictable season and topsy-turvy playoffs, it only made sense that Talladega would deliver a wildcard result.

A playoff driver won a playoff race for the first time this season. How about that?

Chase Elliott’s victory moves him to the next round, the only driver guaranteed to advance heading into Sunday’s elimination race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric are tied for the last transfer spot, but Briscoe owns the tiebreaker based on a better finish in this round. At least for now.

Hendrick Motorsports will have its appeal this week on the 25-point penalty to William Byron from the Texas race. Byron is 11 points below the cutline after Talladega, but if the team wins the appeal and he gets all 25 points back, Byron would be back in a transfer spot and drop Briscoe below the cutline.

 

XFINITY SERIES

AJ Allmendinger became the second driver to advance to the next round, winning at Talladega.

Ryan Sieg finished fourth and holds the final transfer spot heading into the elimination race at the Charlotte Roval (3 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock). Reigning series champion Daniel Hemric is six points behind Sieg. Riley Herbst and Brandon Jones are each 10 points behind Sieg. Jeremy Clements is 47 points behind.

 

CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

Matt DiBenedetto’s first career Camping World Truck Series victory didn’t impact the playoff standings after Talladega since DiBenedetto is not a playoff driver.

Reigning series champion Ben Rhodes holds the final transfer spot. He leads Christian Eckes and Stewart Friesen by three points each. John Hunter Nemechek is five points behind Rhodes, while Grant Enfinger is 29 points behind Rhodes. Ty Majeski is the only driver guaranteed a spot in next month’s championship race.

The Truck Series is off this weekend. The next Truck race is Oct. 22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.