What drivers said after Daytona

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Erik Jones — Winner: “What a day. I didn’t think we were going to have a shot to win this one about halfway. Got ourselves back into contention and our guys did a great job getting this thing fixed up and getting the buyatoyota.com into Victory Lane. I’ve never been that good on superspeedways and never thought this was our shot to win. But to get here tonight, that’s pretty awesome. It’s our first win and not much that has felt better than this one.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 2nd: “Man, they destroyed some cars tonight. That was insane. Cool to get to the end. I wish I could have done a better job for my team. We had a fast car. I’ve got to get better at the blocking. It’s never been my strong suit, without a question. I struggle a little bit seeing the runs coming and me and my spotter are trying to figure it out together.”

AJ Allmendinger — Finished 3rd: “I think it was a destruction derby out there instead of a Cup race, but first of all congrats to Erik (Jones) and that whole team. I know what it’s like to get that first win, so he well deserves it, congrats to him. Yeah, see it from the left side of the car here it’s like sometimes you try to figure out what the plan is. We tried to run in the back and still got wrecked running in the back. So, you know it was just about survival and I thought the Kroger Clicklist Chevy was pretty good. Just had a lot of drag on it so I thought our chance to win was going to be tough, but I tried to make the right decision there. I missed about seven wrecks it felt like. Anytime you can walk out of here with a decent finish and to have a top five especially both cars in the top five, so great for our whole organization. It’s one of those things you would like to go get the win, it was close, but top three it was a good day.”

Kasey Kahne — Finished 4th: “Well, get back to the lead from the time I lost the lead I needed to get back to the lead and I never got there. I just about cleared Martin (Truex, Jr.) off of (Turn) 2. But he just barely hung on my left-rear and pulled me back a bunch. From that point I needed to block the No. 20. I tried to slow him up, but he was coming fast. The gap was pretty big and he was coming fast and I didn’t do a good enough job of stopping him.”

Chris Buescher — Finished 5th: “Yeah, it was a wild night overall. Just proud of everybody on our Kleenex Wet Wipes Camaro ZL1. We fought hard today and stayed out of trouble and were there at the end with our teammate AJ (Allmendinger). We got a good run on the outside, we were able to give (Erik) Jones a good shove down the back there and got him clear. We just couldn’t quite clear with him. So, congrats to him on his first win. Proud of our operation and what we were able to accomplish today. Wish we could have lined up and tried to get it, but that’s always easy to say after Daytona you go back and would love to replay it, but a good day for us.”

Matt DiBenedetto — Finished 7th: “I guess that was probably one of the craziest races I’ve ever taken part in. I’m glad we survived and we seem to always position ourselves in a spot to be up front and competing for the win at the end of these speedway races at Daytona quite often. We’ve got that down pat and I’m really, really glad we got a good run for Zynga Poker. They’re a huge part of our team. They’ve stepped up and helped us a ton this year, so I’m pretty proud of that.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 10th: “Yeah, that early damage definitely didn’t help things. It kind of made the car a parachute out front, but we tried all night. I made some bad calls and got put in the wrong spot a couple of times, but just kind of couldn’t put it together there at the end. Little bit of a bummer, wish we would have ended up a little better, but not a terrible day.”

Jeffrey Earnhardt — Finished 11th: “Just proud of all these guys. Nine Line Foundation, Black Rifle Coffee, Xtreme Concepts – they are the reason I am here with the cause that they are trying to push and its just an honor to get to be a part of it. It’s an incredible company and they support our country, our military and all of our veterans. I am so happy I got them a good run. Everyone kept asking me what it means to come here with the Earnhardt name at Daytona, and it does mean a lot, don’t get me wrong. But to show support to our veterans and be a part of what the foundation is doing…..that meant more to me than anything tonight. Proud of all the guys at Premium in giving me a good car tonight and keeping the car in one piece. Its my best career finish in the Cup series, so hopefully this will lead to some more sponsorship and get me back out here on the track more often.”

David Ragan — Finished 15th: “I felt like we were involved in about all the wrecks out there. It was a long night, but I can’t say enough about our pit crew. They just never gave up and kept fighting and to come out of here with a top 15 is really like a win. We very well could have been in the garage with a 35th-place finish, but they kept working on the car and patching it up. We dodged the other wrecks, so I’m grateful for them and the Shriners for coming out and having some fun.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 17th: “It was fun for a while. I was frustrated with myself causing crashes like that. You don’t ever really want to do that. For us, my car was a lot of fun to drive. Everybody else had a lot of handling issues and my car drove really good and had really good speed, so hat’s off to Jimmy Fennig and those guys and Doug Yates. We just didn’t finish it off.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 19th: “The night was crazy. The restart was really poorly executed and then teammates wound up side-by-side again trying to get everything situated and we crashed into each other. I just hate it for all my Jimmy John’s guys. I don’t really know what I could have done any different on the last restart.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 26th: “It’s just plate racing. We lost a little bit of track position and that just put us in the back there and everybody is fighting hard for the same real estate at the end. But I’m really proud of everyone at Front Row Motorsports because we had a really fast car. I was able to push Ricky to both the first stage and second stage wins and finished second in the second stage. We overcame a lot and got within a few laps of being in position and just didn’t execute.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 29th: “I think I cut a tire. It just spun out on me when I turned into (Turn) 3. A little bit unlucky there for Ricky (Stenhouse, Jr.) for me to be… he had just blended on the track and then I drive around him and just unlucky timing on both of our parts I guess there. I am not sure how much damage he has, but I hate that for him. Just kind of a frustrating race for us. I was just patient all race long and got caught up in that first wreck down the backstretch a little bit. Got some damage and was just kind of riding around again there are a ton of torn up cars, so I was going to be able to salvage a pretty decent day, I thought. Yeah, just had a random tire issue there. When we made our green flag stop I didn’t wave off to the guys behind me because I just assumed everybody was pitting and whoever was behind me got my rear bumper and I guess it sounded like we had a little bit of right-rear damage there, so it must have gotten to the tire when we came back out and ultimately cut our tire.”

William Byron — Finished 32nd: “The No. 17 car (Stenhouse) just kind of I guess hooked the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) into me. It seemed like he was being really aggressive and that is the second time we have kind of been on the wrong end of something with him. Unfortunate for us, but we had a good race going. We needed to really have a really good day because of the points position we are in, but that is just part of speedway racing I guess, but it stinks to be on that side of it. But at least we led some laps so that was good.”

KYLE BUSCH — Finished 33rd: “Disappointing to get crashed out by the same guy that caused the first crash. Our Interstate Batteries Camry showed some good speed and patience there in that first stage. We were able to come home second and grab some points there. You always come to Daytona waiting to crash and figure out when or where, and hope you can walk away from it. That’s really frustrating and disappointing to have to race these races like that on the fence or line of when are you going to wreck. But we’ll move on to next week.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 34th: “Yeah, I don’t know. I was watching the most recent wreck, we are not going to have anybody left before it’s over with. But, yeah, I don’t know, I think the best I can remember Brad (Keselowski) had a pretty big run on William (Byron) and I don’t think William was clear, but he didn’t know he wasn’t clear and then Brad tried to get on the brakes really hard to stop for him. We were getting really close to the corner so he couldn’t enter on the apron and whoever was behind him hit him and turned him up the track. Not really a whole lot you can do about that.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 35th: “I think that I didn’t get to race any. The first stage I had to start in the back to repair my car from qualifying and I was just riding in the back because we lost the draft and finally in the second stage we were able to get some track position back and I felt like we could pass enough race cars to drive to the front and that was exactly what I was doing. Just raced for two laps. Just a shame. Just not very smart for Lap 55 or so. Still a long ways to go. I don’t know. I mean half of the field is out so, it’s a real shame.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 36th: “Ricky was doing the best he could to give me a good push and had a great run to take the lead and the car in front of me just threw a late, bad block. I made the mistake of lifting instead of just driving through him and that’s my fault. I know better than that. I’ve got to wreck more people and then they’ll stop blocking me late and behind like that. That’s my fault. I’ll take the credit for my team and we’ll go to Talladega and we’ll wreck everybody that throws a bad block like that.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 37th: “I was running in the high lane and I just have to giggle, there’s no safe spot. I thought being in the top two or three is pretty safe, but we just got clipped from behind. Usually, there’s that danger zone that everybody knows about from third to 12th and we didn’t get strung out enough to get away from some of the action. It’s a bummer night for Monster Energy Ford. It was fast. We put her on the bottom at the end of stage one to gain some points, but now we’ve got nothing. We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I do have to giggle. There’s no safe spot out there.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 38th: “The 17 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) turned the 2 (Brad Keselowski) and then that was it. Once cars get sideways on the backstretch, everyone just battles to try to get through the wreck. You know most of the strong contenders in front, they got taken out in that one, so we’re going to have a crapshoot from here on out.”

Joey Logano — Finished 39th: “It looks like they crashed a lot of cars. I was in the middle of it and I got hit from every corner really quick and it just seemed like they kept coming. I was like, ‘Stop, everyone.’ It was just so hard to stop when you’re going so fast out there, but it’s part of the game here. Sometimes you’re in the half of the field that finishes and sometimes you’re in half of the field that doesn’t finish it and we were in the bad 50 percent this time. That’s part of the game and we’ll come back to Talladega at the next superspeedway and hopefully do what we did there in the spring and get our Shell/Pennzoil Ford in Victory Lane.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 40th: “I don’t know what happened. By the time I looked up and started checking up I was already in it. I haven’t seen the replay, so I can’t really talk about it. It’s just one of those deals. When you come here everyone is really close and racing hard and sometimes you’re the bug as opposed to the windshield.”

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. Justin Allgaier will drive the car 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.