Friday 5: Former Cup champ proposes rule change for road courses

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Are there too many stages in a road course race?

Former champion Kevin Harvick wonders that after racing at Sonoma and Watkins Glen this year — and a playoff race at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval to come for the Cup Series.

“I don’t like the two stages for the road races,” Harvick said on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show this week. “The reason that I don’t like the two stages is we waste about 8-10 laps of caution between the end of the two stages. It takes some of the strategy out of the race. This week we had three sets of tires. You had two stages, so most guys put two sets of tires on and you had to stop one time (in the final stage). Then you had another set of scuffs that you used in qualifying that were available as your emergency set of tires.

“One thing about road racing to me is strategy. You see so many strategies as you go through the years and you see guys doing different things and put themselves in position to win. To me, it might be worth looking at a single stage with double points for winning the stage.’’

He’s for putting that stage beyond a fuel window, meaning teams would have to pit before the stage ended. Harvick noted that the Watkins Glen race was 90 laps and suggested putting the single stage at Lap 40 since the fuel window was about 35 laps.

“To me it doesn’t flow well at the road courses,” Harvick said of two stage breaks at a road course race. “I would like everybody to think about and look at eliminating that second stage and going to maybe just one stage, double points.”

OK, let’s look at the issues.

At Sonoma, each stage break lasted three laps. So, six of the eight caution laps in that race were related to the stage breaks.

Still, that means that 92.7 percent of the race was run under green — the second highest percentage of laps run under green in a Cup race this year (the most was the spring Martinsville race, which had 93.4 percent of the laps run under green)

At Watkins Glen, each stage break lasted three laps. So, six of the 11 laps of caution were because of stage breaks.

That means 87.7 percent of the laps run were under green. That ranks 13th best among the first 22 races.

Strategy still was a factor in both road course races. At Sonoma, teams decided if they wanted to win the stage and get the playoff point or put themselves in position to win the race.

Sonoma winner Martin Truex Jr. pitted from the lead with two laps to go in the opening stage, sacrificing one playoff point to better position himself to win the race and score five playoff points. AJ Allmendinger won that stage.

Harvick pitted from the lead before the end of stage 2 to set himself up for the finish. Denny Hamlin won the stage. Harvick went on to finish second to Truex that day.

At Watkins Glen, Kyle Busch pitted from the lead before first stage. Truex stayed on course and won the stage. Truex went on to finish second in the race to Chase Elliott, who pitted before the stage ended.

Elliott stayed on track and won the second stage. Most of the field did not pit before that break.

Strategy seemed to matter in both races even with two stage breaks.

2. A rule change to consider

Denny Hamlin’s pole last weekend at Watkins Glen wasn’t official until about 13 hours after he completed his run.

NASCAR impounded the cars after qualifying on Saturday night and inspected them Sunday morning. Any car that failed inspection the first time through had their qualifying time disallowed and started at the rear of the field.

Had Hamlin’s car failed, he would not have been recognized as the pole winner. That would have gone to the next highest qualifier that passed tech.

If NASCAR continues to have inspection the day after qualifying and take the chance of the pole winner failing, maybe it’s time for the sport to do more for race winners who fail inspection.

An argument used to be that the sport didn’t want fans who watched the race to find out hours later that there was a different winner. Admittedly, any winner that fails tech after a race loses points, loses playoff points, can’t have that win count toward playoff eligibility and that result can’t count in any tiebreaker scenario. That’s pretty powerful.

But if NASCAR is willing to strip the pole from a driver because his car failed inspection the next day, then it would seem time to do the same for a win — either leave the position vacant or give it to the next highest finishing driver that passes inspection.

If the team still wants to claim the victory and put up a winner’s banner in the shop so be it, but let the record book show something else.

3. A memorable win

Without a full-time ride, Bubba Wallace was unsure of his future last August when he competed in a Camping World Truck Series race at Michigan.

Wallace went on to win that race. It’s his last victory in NASCAR’s national series.

So how does any driver deal with such a gap since their last win?

You go through these moments where you get signs of success and the other times when you’re fighting and crawling,” Wallace said. “And those moments make you stronger, I believe. So, those days when you do click and find something, you have extra fuel to add to the fire from those tough days to go out and really get the job done.

“So, it’s not a matter of us dwelling on not winning, it’s just a matter of us trying to find something that makes our cars much more competitive. That’s a win for us right now.”

Wallace enters this weekend 25th in the points. He scored a career-best second-place finish in the Daytona 500 for Richard Petty Motorsports. His only other top-10 finish this season was eighth at Texas in the spring.

4. Bidding for a playoff spot

JD Motorsports driver Ross Chastain holds the final transfer spot for the Xfinity playoffs with six races left in the regular season. Chastain is in that position while also running the No. 15 Cup car for Premium Motorsports.

With Cup and Xfinity in two different locations this weekend, Chastain will be with the Xfinity team at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and head to Michigan after Saturday’s Xfinity race (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN). He’ll have Reed Sorenson practice and qualify his Cup car (the Cup race is at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN).

Chastain told Jay Robinson, owner of Premium Motorsports, that he would never miss an Xfinity on-track session if he got the ride in the No. 15 car.

“There’s no fair way I can take away from the 4 car,” Chastain said of his Xfinity ride.

Chastain leads Michael Annett of JR Motorsports by 40 points for what would be the final playoff spot. Ryan Sieg of RSS Racing is next, 75 points behind Chastain.

5. Familiar phrase

Since Brian France’s arrest and leave of absence from his role of NASCAR Chairman and CEO, a phrase is starting to be uttered more often by competitors.

After each wishes France well with his health, drivers have a commonality in what they say next:

Kevin Harvick said on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show this week: “I think from the drivers’ perspective, it’s really important whoever is in that position to become more connected.”

Brad Keselowski, who has been outspoken about the need for this sport’s leader to be the track more often, said: “I would definitely be encouraged to have a relationship with (Jim France, interim NASCAR Chair) and see the garage have a relationship with him. That’s never a bad thing.”

Tony Stewart, who also has been outspoken about NASCAR’s leader needing to be at the track, said: “Jim is very grounded and I feel like Jim is a guy who is in touch with what is going on and that’s what you’ve got to have.”

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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)