Kyle Busch on contract status, 2019 rules, Gen 7 car, NASCAR leadership

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Kyle Busch has offered some of the most candid (and critical) comments on the 2019 rules package that will feature lower horsepower and likely tighter packs of cars.

His views from the recent test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway drew a slight rebuke from a NASCAR official. So naturally, there was an anticipation of what the 2015 Cup champion would have to say on Daytona 500 Media Day.

In a wide-ranging interview session Wednesday, Busch, who began the year ranked No. 1 in NASCAR on NBC’s new power rankings, addressed the rules, the Gen 7 car and the status of his contract (which expires after this season). Here are some of the highlights:

–On the status of his deal with Joe Gibbs Racing: “What year is this? How do you guys know this stuff? … We’re in discussions right now (with JGR). We’re talking. It’s all been agreed to; it’s just a matter of putting pen to paper. Yeah. We’re all good.”

–On the Gen 7 car proposed for 2021: “There’s a lot of unknowns. There’s a lot of ideas that everyone has thrown out there and what they want to see or like to see or what kind of things they’d like to have happen for Gen 7. I’ve even heard independent rear suspension being thrown around, that would be a complete overhaul of anything we’ve ever done in our sport. I’m not sure where all that lands or where they’re at the current moment. I think ’21 is a tight timeline to get all of it done by, and we’ll see how aggressive they get and what comes down the line.”

–On the necessity of the reduction to 550 horsepower, which NASCAR has said is aimed mostly at improving race quality at 1.5-mile tracks: “I certainly wish we didn’t have to deal with those things, but I do understand that back in the ‘70s or ‘80s, they were at 500 to 600 horsepower. Now we’re pushing 900, 950. I understand that we can go too fast. How fast is too fast, I don’t know. It’s all about throttle response and crispness of the engine.

“What we’ve already known and become accustomed to, now we’re taking a step back in time a little bit. I say all that because you have tapered spacers on trucks, and Xfinity and Cup cars. They’re all that way; we’re reducing horsepower across the board to slow these things down. The mechanical and aero grip of these things are so great, that at some tracks, you’re wide open. You’re able to cruise around by yourself and when you get in traffic, you’ve got the draft, which will play a role. There’s some interesting variables that are going to come out with this new package.”

–On whether restarts will be wilder this season: “Someone posted that video of that IROC race earlier this week on Twitter. I don’t think it’s going to be as great as that IROC race was, but you’ll see restarts like that for 5 laps and then separation. We’re all looking for just not the 6-second separation between first and second, which is too great of a distance to create any sort of excitement. If you can see someone in front of you within 3-4 lengths, then there might be an opportunity to get that guy eventually somehow, some way. We’ll have to see how all that transpires.”

–On whether Goodyear should make a softer tire: “Absolutely. I think so. They’re going to say we’re going through the corners just as fast if not faster than before so they can’t create a tire that’s softer because it’ll blister. The way I felt it in Vegas, we weren’t to the complete limit of the tire by ourselves. When we were running wide open, we’re under the tire. You’re not slipping the front or the rear. You’re just driving the car in a circle. So I think they can still make it softer to make it have falloff and have that driveable feel all of us would like to have for the race.”

–On how NASCAR drivers can deliver a message without a Drivers Council: “We’re just race car drivers. We don’t know anything. We just drive what we’re given to drive and what the rules and the rules are. Our team’s got to go to work and build around that and what they know how to make speed in our cars in order to go out there and beat the rest of the competition. That’s how I look at it. It’s not that it’s fallen on deaf ears. The problem is still creating something that’s viable for the fans to see excitement. When you have a guy that’s leading the race that’s out front by six seconds, it’s not exciting. I get and I understand where we’re going and what we’re doing. It’s just frustrating as a driver to know that’s what we’re doing and how we anticipate all the races kind of playing out at the 1.5-mile and above race tracks.”

–On new leadership in NASCAR: “I think with (NASCAR president Steve) Phelps and (CEO) Jim (France), I think Jim has done a tremendous job of at least being around. He’s always carrying a pen. He’s always carrying notebook. He’s always taking notes. He’s always listening to people, talking to people. He’s in the garage area. He’s down in the trenches. He’s figuring it all out and trying to make some moves for the betterment of the sport and that’s what we all want.

“We want somebody that’s involved, that’s into this as much as we’re all into this and care about all of this. I think that we’ve seen some positive out of all that. Now whether or not Jim is a proponent of this car or not, I don’t know. I think that it’s for all of us to take with an understanding that we’ve got to get better and we’ve got to put on a show and do a good job of creating excitement that’s on the race track as well as the race tracks being able to create excitement around the race tracks and have a good time for the people that come to the events – to not just sit out in 95-degree weather with the sun beating down on them and watch a race. There’s more to life than that these days.”

–On if 200 national series wins would compare to Richard Petty’s 200 wins: “No. Absolutely not because his number is obviously Cup wins and mine’s not. I feel as though I’m chasing Jeff Gordon or maybe even David Pearson. Maybe – I don’t know if I can get there. I like to think I can get there. I’m at – what is it 51 or something? I’m at 51 right now, so if I can get another 50 in the next 10 years, that would certainly be nice to go out with 100 Cup wins. … If I’m fortunate enough to be here 10 more years. I’m Tom Brady factoring right now. I’ve got to work on this fine frame to make sure it lasts that long.”

William Byron focused on Talladega, not upcoming appeal

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — William Byron enters today’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway not knowing if he truly is above the cutline or below it.

He’s listed as eight points outside the final transfer spot after NASCAR penalized him 25 points for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

Hendrick Motorsports’ appeal will be heard this week. Should the team win, Byron could get those 25 points back. 

But that doesn’t matter to Byron this weekend. He views himself outside a playoff spot.

“I race eight behind,” said Byron, who starts ninth in today’s race (2 p.m. ET on NBC).  “I don’t think about the hypotheticals.

“Obviously, I feel like we’ve got a good case and a good amount of evidence that we put together, but I race (as the points are). So just move forward with it. Go after the stage points and feel like we’re capable of running really well at superspeedways.”

If he wins today to advance to the next round, the points he was penalized won’t matter, but if he doesn’t win, those could prove valuable. 

The points deducted are an element of the Hendrick appeal. 

“The severity of the penalty, that’s what we were opposed to and that’s what the appeal is about,” Byron said.

His point is that being docked a similar amount of points in a three-race round as during a 26-race regular season is too severe. The suggestion being that point penalties should be modified for the playoffs because drivers have fewer races to make up those points before the playoff field is cut. 

That will be up to the appeal panel to determine. Should Hendrick lose, the team could further appeal that decision. 

Byron is in this situation after being upset with how Hamlin squeezed him into the wall last week at Texas. Martin Truex Jr. crashed to bring out the caution a few laps later. As Hamlin, running second, slowed, Byron ran up to Hamlin’s car and hit it in the back, sending Hamlin spinning through the infield grass. 

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said series officials in the control tower didn’t see the contact. Series officials did not penalize Byron during the event but announced a penalty two days later. 

Hamlin had wanted to be placed back in his original spot after the contact but series officials put him back in the field where he blended in. Asked if he was satisfied with the penalty to Bryon, Hamlin said: “It didn’t help my finish. … It didn’t change the fact that I could have won the race instead of finishing 10th.”

Byron said he and Hamlin spoke this week.

“It was a good conversation, learned a lot from him,” Byron said of Hamlin. “Got a better understanding of what he was thinking.”

Byron’s incident shares similarities to what happened to him at Darlington in May. Joey Logano was upset with Byron for crowding him into the wall with 26 laps left. Logano caught Byron and hit the back of Byron’s car, knocking it out of the way with two laps left. Logano won. Byron finished 13th. NASCAR did not penalize Logano.

That incident was under green and in the final laps — when NASCAR is more likely to allow drivers to settle the race between themselves within reason. Byron’s contact of Hamlin last week was under caution and NASCAR typically frowns upon such action.

Earlier this season in the Xfinity Series, NASCAR did not penalize Noah Gragson for wrecking Sage Karam and triggering a 13-car crash at Road America. Four days later, NASCAR penalized Gragson 30 points and $35,000.

Dr. Diandra: Is Talladega really the biggest, fastest, fiercest track?

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Talladega Superspeedway has a reputation as one of the wildest tracks on the NASCAR circuit.

Is it hype? Or do the numbers prove the point?

The biggest

Talladega is the longest oval track in the NASCAR circuit. At 2.66 miles (14,045 feet), one Talladega lap is the length of about 468 football fields. Talladega is longer than Mauna Kea is tall.

If we measure lengths in terms of Talladega:

  • The distance from Charlotte to Nashville (the location of the NASCAR awards ceremony) is 339 Talladegas.
  • If you flew direct from Los Angeles to New York City, you would cover 2500 Talladegas.
  • Martinsville is just 0.20 Talladegas.

Talladega also holds the record for banking in current Cup Series tracks with 33 degrees. Talladega’s banking is so high that the outside lane of the 48-foot wide racing surface is 26.1 feet higher than the inside lane. That difference is about the height of a two-story house.

Talladega is a tri-oval. Think of it as three straight lines connected by three curves.

A graphic showing the tri-oval shape and how it got its name

 

While tri-oval describes the track shape, it is also used to refer to the frontstretch — the most triangular part of the track.

And Talladega’s frontstretch is formidable. The 4,300-foot segment is banked at 16.5 degrees. Talladega’s frontstretch has more banking than all three of Pocono’s turns.

The backstretch, known as the Alabama Gang Superstretch, isn’t too shabby, either. It’s 1,000 feet longer than Daytona’s backstretch. If you were to unroll Richmond, its entire 0.75-mile length would just cover Talladega’s backstretch.

Talladega’s infield is so large that it could hold the L.A. Coliseum, Martinsville, Bristol, Dover, Richmond and the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

A graphic showing that it's possible to pack five smaller tracks, plus the NASCAR Hall of Fame into Talladega's infield

The Fastest

Bill France Sr. originally envisioned Talladega as Indianapolis Motor Speedway with higher banking. At a time when raw speed was the big attraction, higher banking would allow Talladega to wrest away the closed-track speed record from Indy.

In 1970, just six months after Talladega hosted its first race, Buddy Baker became the first driver to break the 200 mph mark on a closed course.

Baker’s breakthrough happened at a testing session. It wasn’t until 1982 that Benny Parsons became the first Cup Series driver to qualify over 200 mph. Just four years later, all but one of the 42 drivers starting the spring race qualified over 200 mph.

In May 1987, Bill Elliott set the all-time Cup Series qualifying record at 212.809 mph. That record will likely never be broken. During the race, Bobby Allison got airborne and crashed into the catchfence. NASCAR subsequently mandated restrictor plates (and now tapered spacers) to keep speeds down and cars on the ground.

Restricting airflow to the engine makes drafting even more important. That, in turn, leads to large packs of cars racing within inches of each other. That’s why four of the top-10 closest finishes in the Cup Series happened at Talladega.

In the spring 2011 race, Jimmie Johnson beat Clint Bowyer by just two-thousandths (0.002) of a second. That ties the famous 2003 Ricky Craven/Kurt Busch Darlington finish for the smallest margin of victory in Cup Series history.

Of all Talladega races run after NASCAR introduced electronic scoring in May 1993, 44 ended under a green flag. Of those races:

  • Seven (15.9%) were won by less than 25 thousandths of a second.
  • Fifteen (34.1%) were won by less than one-tenth of a second.
  • Thirty-nine (88.6%) were won by less than two-tenths of a second.
  • The largest margin of victory was 0.388 seconds.

The Fiercest

Pack racing leads to more contact. Out of 35 Talladega races run under the current green-white-checkered rule, 14 (40%) ended under caution. Rain caused one of those yellow/checkered finishes. The rest were due to accidents.

In 64 races since 1990, Talladega has seen 228 caution-causing spins or accidents, which involved 1,120 cars.

Almost half (49.2%) of these incidents involved only one or two cars. A one- or two-car accident is no less problematic for the drivers involved than a larger crash. But the more cars involved in accidents, the more likely a driver is to be knocked out of the race.

  • 3.5% of all accidents since 1990 involved 20 or more cars.
  • 5.7% of accidents collected 15 or more cars.
  • 16.7% were 10-car or larger crashes.
  • 38.2% involved five or more cars.

While probable, the Big One is by no means inevitable.

Neither are accidents in general. Three races since 1990 finished with no cautions, but all three of these races took place before 2003. The lowest number of cautions in a Talladega race since 2003 is three. That happened at the fall races in 2013 and 2015.

The average number of caution-causing accidents and spins in a Talladega race is 3.5.

  • Seven races (10.9%) had a single caution-causing accident or spin.
  • 14 out of 64 races (21.9%) had four caution-causing accidents or spins
  • 13 of 64 races (20.3%) had three caution-causing incidents.

Races with four or fewer accidents make up 71.9% of all Talladega races — which means that races with five or more accidents only account for 28.1%.

The numbers definitely uphold Talladega’s reputation. Although the track itself remains the same, the racing varies. Tune in to NBC (2 p.m. ET) to see whether this fall’s bout is accident-filled or accident-free.

Talladega Xfinity results: AJ Allmendinger edges Sam Mayer

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AJ Allmendinger, who had had several close calls in Xfinity Series superspeedway races, finally broke through to Victory Lane Saturday, edging Sam Mayer to win at Talladega Superspeedway.

Allmendinger’s margin of victory was .015 of a second. Mayer finished second by a few feet.

Following in the top five were Landon Cassill (Allmendinger’s Kaulig Racing teammate and his drafting partner at the end), Ryan Sieg and Josh Berry.

Noah Gragson, who had won four straight Xfinity races entering Saturday, was 10th. Austin Hill dominated the race but finished 14th.

MORE: Talladega Xfinity results

MORE: Talladega Xfinity driver points

AJ Allmendinger wins Xfinity race at Talladega Superspeedway

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Veteran driver AJ Allmendinger slipped past youngster Sam Mayer in the final seconds and won Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

As drivers in the lead pack scrambled for position approaching the finish line, Allmendinger moved to the outside and, getting a push from Kaulig Racing teammate Landon Cassill, edged Mayer by a few feet. The win ended frustration for Allmendinger on superspeedways.

Following Allmendinger, 40, at the finish were Mayer (who is 19 years old), Cassill, Ryan Sieg and Josh Berry.

Noah Gragson and Allmendinger have qualified for the next playoff round. The other six drivers above the cutline are Ty Gibbs, Austin Hill, Josh Berry, Justin Allgaier, Mayer and Sieg. Below the cutline are Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones, Riley Herbst and Jeremy Clements.

MORE: Talladega Xfinity results

MORE: Talladega Xfinity driver points

“This is Talladega,” a wildly happy Allmendinger told NBC Sports. “Yes, I hate superspeedway racing, but it’s awesome to win in front of the Talladega crowd.”

Austin Hill dominated the race but dropped out of the lead to 14th place  in the closing five laps as drivers moved up and down the track in search of the best drafting line.

The first half of the race featured two and sometimes three drafting lines with a lot of movement and blocking near the front. In the final stage, the leaders ran lap after lap in single file, with Hill, Allmendinger and Gragson in the top three.

MORE: Safety key topic as drivers meet at Talladega

Hill led 60 laps and won the first two stages but finished 14th.

Gragson was in pursuit of a fifth straight Xfinity Series win. He finished 10th.

Remarkably for a Talladega race, the entire 38-car field finished. The race was the 1,300th in Xfinity history, marking only the third time the entire field had been running at the finish. The other two races were at Michigan in 1998 and Langley Speedway in Virginia in 1988.

Stage 1 winner: Austin Hill

Stage 2 winner: Austin Hill

Who had a good race: AJ Allmendinger got the “can’t win on superspeedways” monkey off his back with a great final lap. … Sam Mayer made all the right moves but was passed in the madness of the final run down the trioval. … Landon Cassill finished a strong third and gave Allmendinger, his teammate, the winning push.

Who had a bad race: The race had to be disappointing for Austin Hill, who ran the show for most of the afternoon, winning two stages and leading 60 laps, more than twice as many as any other driver. While blocking to try to maintain the lead late in the race, he fell to 14th. … Playoff driver Jeremy Clements finished a sour 20th and is 47 points below the cutline.

Next: The Xfinity Series’ next playoff race is scheduled Oct. 8 at 3 p.m. (ET) on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. The race will be broadcast by NBC.