What drivers said after first drafting session at Las Vegas

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Cup drivers were on track Thursday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, running in a pack for the first time with the new rules package.

The rules package kept the cars closer together in a 25-lap run Thursday afternoon. Two more drafting sessions were scheduled for Thursday and two more for Friday.

Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch spoke to the media after the session. Here is some of what they had to say:

CLINT BOWYER

“The cars seemed like they handled well. Obviously a lot of wide-open throttle time, a lot of the things we knew going in. It’s going to be a work in progress how you balance that drag with downforce. Kind of business as usual for a test.”

“This is an important test. Everybody knows that. We need to learn as much as we can. The neat thing about what you just saw is a lot of different variations of what we can do with these race cars on the race track, whether it is pulling that drag out and making that thing go cat go and not handling the best or go for handling. That happy medium balance is going to be important when we come back and race.”

“Aric (Almirola) is already on my phone and Kevin (Harvick) is waiting on a phone call. They’re home watching. There are a lot of people watching what is going on because there’s opportunities within these changes and everybody is looking for those opportunities to beat the next guy to the punch.”

KURT BUSCH

“It’s been a good start for us on the (Chip) Ganassi team. For us, we’re just trying to do a lot of checklist items to make sure we were getting up to speed on all the communication items, all the little checkmark items as far as switching teams, as far as seat, mirror, a lot of little things that we were working on this morning. It seems like we’re off a little bit on speed. It’s because we really haven’t turned up the wick on how aggressive we were going to attack this package with. I’m expecting more out of the afternoon session. It will be fun to get out there with a different setup and see how it blends in with the traffic with all the cars mixed in.”

“This new package, the way that it drives, it is as radically different as when we switched to the Car of Tomorrow. That’s how much a dramatic difference it is. It’s a lot to adjust to, lot of differences. It’s wide open all the way around but when you do crack the throttle, you do lose a lot of speed and lose a lot of momentum and you’re trying to keep focused on the handling.”

“What we’re trying to do with this package is have a better on-track product and that is to get the cars side-by-side, have the draft down the straightaways, have the drivers have the option moreso than the engineers as far as where the speed comes from. It’s more a chess game, trying to balance out this setup and package right now. We just have to have better racing on track. That big draft that we saw earlier today, I was wide open and lost the draft in the back. That’s very similar to what you would see at Daytona and Talladega, so it’s just going to happen at a mile-and-a-half track instead of a big track.”

KYLE BUSCH

“I faded back to see how far back I could get, where I could find a relatively safe hole, I think it was sixth or seventh. I was able to pass a couple of guys and a couple of guys kind of quick and a couple of guys it kind of took a little bit to get by them. Then got back up to third or so and then the 3 (Austin Dillon) was fading, he was dropping back and then I was I behind the 14 (Clint Bowyer), trying to work over the 14 and the 14 pulled over and that’s how I got the lead back. There was no like once I got to second, it didn’t seem like you could anything with the guys in front of you.”

“It reminds me a lot of the trucks when we were with the truck race last spring with myself and Brett Moffitt. We ran 1-2 and kind of drove away. We could get in a draft and kind of drive away from the rest of the field. We were the ones that weren’t lifting as much as the rest of the competition was and I had a hard time passing Brett. I couldn’t get by him. I was behind him for 30 laps and couldn’t do anything to get by him. There’s just not enough off-throttle time for handling to come into play. You’re under the tire. You’re driving through the corners under the limits of the tire, so your speeds are just too slow. That doesn’t allow you, the runs on the straightway doesn’t allow you to get big enough runs to blitz guys on the inside or outside or whatever it might be. I did a couple of those today because guys were getting out of the gas. Once you get into race situations and guys figure out what they need to be a little bit better, those aren’t going to happen as easy they were today.”

“Guys are going to figure out how far they can trim their stuff out for how bad they can get the car to drive and then there’s going to kind of go back the other way a little bit, they’re going to put a little bit of drivability back into the cars. Right now, I feel like there were a couple of guys out there that looked a bit evil, their cars were ill-handling. Ours was driving pretty good, so we’re going to step their way and get my car to drive bad so we can figure out how bad is too bad in order to kind of play the fence a little bit and see what is going on.”

“Predictions (for what the March Cup race at Las Vegas will be like) are tough especially this early. But if I had to say, yeah, I think the competition is going to be closer together than what we’ve seen in years past. I don’t know that you’ll see a lead guy be able to stretch it out five, six, seven seconds or whatever. You might see the top three, four, maybe five guys that will kind of keep within two seconds of one another. As far as the racability and the maneuverability and the passing back and forth and runs and such, slingshot moves, I don’t foresee that coming. There’s not enough draft effect on the straightaways that give you enough speed to launch you into the next corner. When you get closer and closer and closer to the car in front of you, like you’re drafting off him because it’s helping you, then you get within a car length of him and it’s start to push him away. Like I tried to move out when I was behind Brad (Keselowski), I had a run on him and I tried to move out from behind him and I just hit the wind and my car was not as trimmed out as his so mine fell backwards. There’s not enough draft effect.”

“We’ve taken the driver’s skill away from the drivers in this package. Anybody can go out there and run around there and go wide open. It’s a lot more of a mental game. It’s going to be a lot more skill, it’s going to be a lot more chess match, thinking how you’re going to make moves and how daring you will be in making some of those moves and how hard of a time the guy that you’re trying to pass is going to give you back and suck you around or spin you or whatever it might be. We’ll see, we’ll see how that plays out. Overall, it’s going to be interesting.”

AUSTIN DILLON

“I thought it was pretty interesting. Really reminded me of the truck days, and I always feel like the Truck Series really races well and gets some exciting racing going. Restarts are going to be really aggressive. I thought we stayed together pretty good so there will be groups of guys racing really hard together at different points of the races. We have a lot to learn. We haven’t really quite hit the balance that we would like in our race car, but it shows some pretty good speed. I’m pleased with it and I’m having fun right now.”

“I thought that first drafting practice was solid. No one was kind of just out there riding around. I thought everybody was pretty aggressive and it’s a hard balance because you don’t want to tear anything up testing. I thought we got pretty aggressive. I got three-wide a couple of times off of Turn 2. That’s good. We can see what the package can do. I’m sure a lot of guys are like, whoa, we’ve got to change our direction because some guys were really good, some guys weren’t and some guys were OK.”

“I think my biggest thing was Clint and I hooked up a couple of times and I tried to push him by a car and it was kind of frustrating that I couldn’t push him past the side-by-side battle but … the side-by-side battle was pretty intense and it created three-wide. I think you’ll see a lot of three-wide this year to clear someone. If a guy is slower and guy goes under him and can’t pass him for a lap, then the next guy gets a huge run from that bubble and can create a three-wide pass down low. I think there’s draft studies that will continue to go on from each team to figure out where to place their car to make the best pass. It’s definitely going to be hard, but you’re going to see passing. It’s going to be more passing than we have in the last couple of years I feel like.”

JOHN PROBST, NASCAR VICE PRESIDENT OF DEVELOPMENT AND INNOVATION, to NASCAR.com:

“I’d say that kind of the takeaway that I took from that (first drafting session) was that if you watched the beginning of the run, there were some cars that were pretty good that stayed at the front there and if you watched the 1 (Kurt Busch) and the 21 (Paul Menard), they kind of hung out at the back there, the last five laps they were actually coming pretty quick through the field. I stopped by and talked to Travis Geisler of Penske before I came up here and they’re talking about having to make compromises. If you just want pure speed or do you want to be better later in the run, which should make for some pretty good strategy decisions that the teams are going to have to make kind of on how they feel yellows may fall during the race. If they want a fast car to check out and hopefully get a lot of yellows and keep doing that, or if you think there’s going to be a lot of green-flag runs and you got to set your car up, maybe you’re not so good at the beginning but by the end you’re coming to the front.”

“We’re encouraged by what we saw on the track. But by no means, we’ve all done this long enough, we’re not going to sit here and declare victory or anything. We know that teams are going to keep massaging on this package and we’ve just got to stay with them to make sure that we put on some really exciting races for our fans.”

“We’re trying to make it as competitive as we can from the top to the bottom. I think the one thing you know that is important out of this, we’re not trying to create some artificial level of competition. I think you’re still going to see the good guys are going to go out and win and compete for wins. That’s kind of the way we wanted it to be. That’s probably the way it should be. We want to have entertainment, but we want to keep the competition in it as well.”

NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023 season

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR announced a series of rule changes for the 2023 season that includes outlawing the move Ross Chastain made at Martinsville and eliminating stage breaks at all six Cup road course events.

NASCAR announced the changes in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

Among new things for this season:

  • Updated penalty for a wheel coming off a car.
  • Change to the amount of time teams have to repair cars on pit road via the Damaged Vehicle Policy.
  • Change to playoff eligibility for drivers.
  • Cars could run in wet weather conditions on short ovals.
  • Expansion of the restart zone on a trial basis.
  • Choose rule will be in place for more races.

MORE: Ranking top 10 moments at the Clash

NASCAR updated its policy on a loose wheel. Previously, if a wheel came off a car during an event, it would be a four-race suspension for the crew chief and two pit crew members. That has changed this year.

If a wheel comes off a car while the vehicle is still on pit road, the vehicle restarts at the tail end of the field. If a wheel comes off a vehicle while it is on pit road under green-flag conditions, it is a pass-thru penalty.

The rule changes once a vehicle has left pit road and loses a wheel.

Any vehicle that loses a wheel on the track will be penalized two laps and have two pit crew members suspended for two races. The suspensions will go to those most responsible for the wheel coming off. This change takes away a suspension to the crew chief. The policy is the same for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.

With some pit crew members working multiple series, the suspension is only for that series. So, if a pit crew member is suspended two races in the Xfinity Series for a wheel coming off, they can still work the Cup race the following day.

The Damaged Vehicle Policy clock will be 7 minutes this season. It had been six minutes last year and was increased to 10 minutes during the playoffs. After talking with teams, NASCAR has settled on seven minutes for teams to make repairs on pit road or be eliminated. Teams can replace toe links on pit road but not control arms. Teams also are not permitted to have specialized repair tools in the pits.

NASCAR will have a wet weather package for select oval tracks: the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Lucas Oil Raceway Park, Martinsville, Milwaukee, New Hampshire, North Wilkesboro, Phoenix and Richmond.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said that teams have been told to show up at these events prepared for wet weather conditions as they would at a road course. That includes having a windshield wiper. Wet weather tires will be available. 

“Our goal here is to get back to racing as soon as possible,” Swayer said. “… If there’s an opportunity for us to get some cars or trucks on the racetrack and speed up that (track-drying) process and we can get back to racing, that’s what our goal is. We don’t want to be racing in full-blown rain (at those tracks) and we’ve got spray like we would on a road course.”

NASCAR stated that it is removing the requirement that a winning driver be in the top 30 in points in Cup or top 20 in Xfinity or Trucks to become eligible for the playoffs. As long as a driver is competing full-time — or has a waiver for the races they missed, a win will make them playoff eligible.

With the consultation of drivers, NASCAR is expanding the restart zone to give the leader more room to take off. NASCAR said it will evaluate if to keep this in place after the Atlanta race in March.

NASCAR stated the choose rule will be in effect for superspeedways and dirt races.

NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR will do away with stage breaks in all six Cup road course races and select Xfinity and Truck races this season, but teams will continue to score stage points. 

NASCAR announced the change Tuesday in a session with reporters at the NASCAR R&D Center. 

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

NASCAR stated there will be no stage breaks in the Cup road course events at Circuit of the Americas (March 26), Sonoma (June 11), Chicago street course (July 2), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 13), Watkins Glen (Aug. 20) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8).

There will be no stage breaks for Xfinity races at Circuit of the Americas (March 25), Sonoma (June 10), Chicago street course (July 1), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 12), Watkins Glen (Aug. 19) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 7).

There will be no stage breaks for the Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas (March 25).

In those races, stage points will be awarded on a designated lap, but there will be no green-and-checkered flag and the racing will continue.

The only road course events that will have stage breaks will be Xfinity standalone races at Portland (June 3) and Road America (July 29) and the Truck standalone race at Mid-Ohio (July 8). Those events will keep stage breaks because they have non-live pit stops — where the field comes down pit road together and positions cannot be gained or lost provided the stop is completed in the prescribed time by NASCAR.

NASCAR has faced questions from fans and competitors about stage breaks during road course races because those breaks alter strategy in a more defined manner than on most ovals.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said the move away from stage breaks at road courses was made in collaboration with teams and response from fans.

“When we introduced stage racing … we took an element of strategy away from the event,” Sawyer. “Felt this (change) would bring some new storylines (in an event).”

NASCAR instituted stage breaks and stage points for the 2017 season and has kept the system in place since. NASCAR awards a playoff point to the stage winner along with 10 points. The top 10 at the end of a stage score points.

It wasn’t uncommon for many teams to elect to pit before the first stage in a road course race and eschew points to put themselves in better track position for the final two stages. By pitting early, they would be behind those who stayed out to collect the stage points. At the stage break, those who had yet to pit would do so, allowing those who stopped before the break to leapfrog back to the front.

NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

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CONCORD, N.C. —  NASCAR announced Tuesday that it will not permit drivers to run against the wall to gain speed as Ross Chastain did in last year’s Martinsville Cup playoff race.

NASCAR made the announcement in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

MORE: NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events 

MORE: NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023

Chastain drove into the Turn 3 wall and rode it around the track at higher speed than the rest of the field, passing five cars in the final two turns to gain enough spots to make the championship race. NASCAR allowed the move to stand even though some competitors had asked for a rule change leading into the season finale at Phoenix last year.

NASCAR is not adding a rule but stressed that Rule 10.5.2.6.A covers such situations.

That rule states: “Safety is a top priority for NASCAR and NEM. Therefore, any violations deemed to compromise the safety of an Event or otherwise pose a dangerous risk to the safety of Competitors, Officials, spectators, or others are treated with the highest degree of seriousness. Safety violations will be handled on a case-by-case basis.”

NASCAR stated that the penalty for such a maneuver would be a lap or time penalty.

Chastain said he’s fine with being known for that move, which will never be repeated in NASCAR history.

“I’m proud that I’ve been able to make a wave that will continue beyond just 2022 or just beyond me,” Chastain told NBC Sports earlier this month about the move’s legacy. “There will be probably a day that people will learn about me because of that, and I’m good with that. I’m proud of it.

“I don’t think it will ever happen again. I don’t think it will ever pay the reward that it paid off for us that it did that day. I hope I’m around in 35 years to answer someone’s question about it. And I probably still won’t have a good answer on why it worked.”

The video of Chastain’s wall-hugging maneuver had 12.5 million views on the NBC Sports TikTok account within a week of it happening. Excluding the Olympics, the only other video that had had more views on the NBC Sports TikTok account to that point in 2022 was Rich Strike’s historic Kentucky Derby win. 

Formula 1 drivers Fernando Alonso, Pierre Gasly and Daniel Ricciardo all praised Chastain’s move at the time, joining a chorus of competitors throughout social media. 

NASCAR Power Rankings: 10 historic moments in the Clash

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NASCAR’s preseason non-points race, now known as the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, was born in 1979 with the idea of testing the sport’s fastest drivers and cars on one of racing’s fastest tracks — Daytona International Speedway.

The concept was driver vs. driver and car vs. car. No pit stops. Twenty laps (50 miles) on the Daytona oval, with speed and drafting skills the only factors in victory.

Originally, the field was made up of pole winners from the previous Cup season. In theory, this put the “fastest” drivers in the Clash field, and it also served as incentive for teams to approach qualifying with a bit more intensity. A spot in the Clash the next season meant extra dollars in the bank.

The race has evolved in crazy directions over the years, and no more so than last year when it was moved from its forever headquarters, the Daytona track, to a purpose-built short track inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

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Over the decades, virtually everything about the race changed in one way or another, including the race length, eligibility requirements, format, calendar dates, sponsorship and title. From 1979-2020, the race was held on Daytona’s 2.5-mile oval and served as a sort of preview piece for the Daytona 500, scheduled a week later. In 2021, it moved to Daytona’s road course before departing for the West Coast last season.

Here’s a look at 10 historic moments in the history of the Clash:

NASCAR Power Rankings

1. 2022 — Few races have been as anticipated as last year’s Clash at the Coliseum. After decades in Daytona Beach, NASCAR flipped the script in a big way and with a big gamble, putting its top drivers and cars on a tiny temporary track inside a football stadium. Joey Logano won, but that was almost a secondary fact. The race was a roaring success, opening the door for NASCAR to ponder similar projects.

2. 2008 — How would Dale Earnhardt Jr. handle his move from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Hendrick Motorsports? The answer came quickly — in his first race. Junior led 46 of the 70 laps in winning what then was called the Budweiser Shootout, his debut for Hendrick. The biggest action occurred prior to the race in practice as Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch tangled on — and off — the track. Both were called to the NASCAR trailer, where the incident reportedly accelerated. Both received six-race probations.

3. 2012 — One of the closest finishes in the history of the Clash occurred in a race that produced a rarity — Jeff Gordon’s car on its roof. Kyle Busch and Gordon made contact in Turn 4 on lap 74, sending Gordon into the wall, into a long slide and onto his roof. A caution sent the 80-lap race into overtime. Tony Stewart had the lead on the final lap, but Kyle Busch passed him as they roared down the trioval, winning the race by .013 of a second.

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4. 1984 — A race that stands out in Ricky Rudd’s career, and not in a fun way. Neil Bonnett won the sixth Clash, but the video highlights from the day center on Rudd’s 15th-lap crash. He lost control of his car in Turn 4 and turned sideways. As Rudd’s car left the track, it lifted off the surface and began a series of flips before landing on its wheels, very badly damaged. Safety crews removed Rudd from the car. He suffered a concussion, and his eyes were swollen such that he had to have them taped open so he could race a few days later in a Daytona 500 qualifier.

5. 1980 — The second Clash was won by Dale Earnhardt, one of Daytona International Speedway’s masters. This time he won in unusual circumstances. An Automobile Racing Club of America race often shared the race day with the Clash, and that was the case in 1980. The ARCA race start was delayed by weather, however, putting NASCAR and track officials in a difficult spot with the featured Clash also on the schedule and daylight running out. Officials made the unusual decision of stopping the ARCA race to allow the Clash to run on national television. After Earnhardt collected the Clash trophy, the ARCA race concluded.

6. 1994 — Twenty-two-year-old Jeff Gordon gave a hint of what was to come in his career by winning the 1994 Clash. Gordon would score his first Cup point win later that year in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, but he also dazzled in the Clash, making a slick three-wide move off Turn 2 with two laps to go to get by Dale Earnhardt and Ernie Irvan. He held on to win the race.

7. 2006 — Upstart newcomer Denny Hamlin became the first rookie to win the Clash. Tony Stewart, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, had the lead with four laps to go, but a caution stacked the field and sent the race into overtime. Hamlin fired past Stewart, who had issues at Daytona throughout his career, on the restart and won the race.

8. 2004 — This one became the duel of the Dales. Dale Jarrett passed Dale Earnhardt on the final lap to win by .157 of a second. It was the only lap Jarrett led in the two-segment, 70-lap race.

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9. 1979 — The first Clash, designed by Anheuser-Busch to promote its Busch beer brand, drew a lot of attention because of its short length (20 laps) and its big payout ($50,000 to the winner). That paycheck looks small compared to the present, but it was a huge sum in 1979 and made the Clash one of the richest per-mile races in the world. Although the Clash field would be expanded in numerous ways over the years, the first race was limited to Cup pole winners from the previous season. Only nine drivers competed. Buddy Baker, almost always fast at Daytona, led 18 of the 20 laps and won by about a car length over Darrell Waltrip. The race took only 15 minutes.

10. 2020 — This seemed to be the Clash that nobody would win. Several huge accidents in the closing miles decimated the field. On the final restart, only six cars were in contention for the victory. Erik Jones, whose car had major front-end damage from his involvement in one of the accidents, won the race with help from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, who was one lap down in another damaged car but drafted behind Jones to push him to the win.