Friday 5: Daytona Speedweeks proves costly for Cup car owners

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Restrictor-plate racing and crashes have always been tied together, but last weekend’s Daytona 500 saw something that has rarely been seen.

The 36 cars listed in NASCAR’s race report as involved in an accident is believed to be among the most in the event’s 61-year history. Racing Insights, which provides statistics to NBC Sports, listed 37 of 40 cars in accidents — Racing Insights included Corey LaJoie’s car after a tire damaged the front of that car.

What happened in last weekend’s race matches what happened in just one incident in the 1960 Daytona 500. That race had a 37-car crash. 

The Daytona 500 has been tough on car owners the past three years. An average 32.7 cars (out of a starting field of 40) have been involved in accidents in the race. It is the largest three-year average going back to at least 1980.

Last weekend’s Daytona 500 concluded one of the costliest Daytona Speedweeks for Cup car owners. A total of 60 cars were listed as involved in accidents in practice, the Clash, the qualifying races and the Daytona 500. Since 2010, only one year has seen more Cup cars in crashes during Speedweeks — 2015 when 61 cars were involved. 

The 60 Cup cars in a crash in Speedweeks is an increase of 16.7 percent from last year and up 28.3 percent from 2016 and 2017.

Here’s a look at the number of Cup cars listed in a crash during Daytona Speedweeks in recent years:

Even with all the Cup cars in crashes — and 26 trucks in crashes in that race — this year’s Speedweeks saw a decline in the total number of vehicles in incidents. The total for Cup, Xfinity and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series for all of Speedweeks was 88 vehicles. That is down 9.3 percent from last year and 15.4 percent from 2017.

Here is how many vehicles in the Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series were listed in a crash throughout Daytona Speedweeks in recent years:

Kevin Harvick has suggested doing away with the Clash, the exhibition race held a week before the Daytona 500. Seventeen of the 20 cars in that race were involved in a late crash. That came a day after a four-car crash in practice. Eliminating that race could be one way to help teams save money.

2. What to expect at Atlanta?

A sampling of what some drivers anticipate this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which features the debut of NASCAR’s new aero package that includes limiting the engines to 550 horsepower at tracks that are 1.33 miles and larger:

Austin Dillon: “I think this year restarts are probably going to be more fire than usual. It’ll be more amped up. I feel like you’ll see guys spread from top to bottom trying to make time, and you’re hoping that your line moves forward. So, it’ll be impressive, I think. Once you get to Atlanta, it’ll be a good show and then Vegas will really be wild on these restarts.”

Chase Elliott: “I really don’t know what to expect.”

Jimmie Johnson: “I think when handling comes into play, you’re going to need clean air (at Atlanta). When you’re at Michigan and the tires don’t wear out, you can be in dirty air and it doesn’t affect the car. Same thing I think for Vegas. When you get to Fontana, Atlanta, you’ll have a short window of time to really dice it up, but you need clean air to plant your car on the ground.”

Kyle Larson: “I was excited talking with Erik Jones the other day. He said the top was really fast at Atlanta. I think that there will be a lot of places where now you’ll be able to run the top, but, then again, I think that hurts me because everybody will be able to run the top. I feel that as we’ve taken spoiler away from the cars it’s just made it harder for other people, so it kind of opens up a lane for me up there. So, I think the tracks where I’ve had my own line up around the wall, I think it will be easier for other people to run up there. But it could benefit me more than others. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Martin Truex Jr.: “When we go to Atlanta, it’s going to look a lot different than it did at Charlotte. When we go to California, it’s going to look a lot different. It’s going to be certain tracks it looks one way and certain tracks where it looks another way. There’s no way to make the same exact racing at all the different tracks because they’re just so different. We’ll have to wait and see I think and wait a little while to kind of make a judgment on this thing and what it looks like and whether we’re happy with it or not.”

3. Who to watch?

One of the beliefs from NASCAR has been that even with the new rules package, the best teams still will be expected to race at the front.

If that’s the case, there will be six drivers to watch Sunday at Atlanta — since they were the only drivers to win on a 1.5-mile track last season.

Kevin Harvick, the defending Atlanta victor, won four of the 11 races on 1.5-mile tracks last year. Kyle Busch won three times at such tracks. Winning once at these tracks were Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr.

Those six drivers have combined to win the last 17 races on 1.5-mile tracks, dating back to Austin Dillon’s 2017 Coca-Cola 600 win at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

4. Looking ahead

Toyota Racing Development driver Chandler Smith, who is 16 years old, will compete in four Truck races for Kyle Busch Motorsports this season.

Chandler Smith. (Photo: Kyle Busch Motorsports/Toyota)

As a 15-year-old, he won a record four consecutive ARCA poles and won his first race in his fourth series start last year. He will compete in Truck races at Iowa Speedway (June 15), Gateway (June 28), Bristol (Aug. 15) and Phoenix (Nov. 7).

KBM is a key step in the development of several Toyota Racing Development drivers.

Raphael Lessard, 17, will drive in three races for KBM: Martinsville (March 23), Dover (May 3) and Bristol (Aug. 15).

Christian Eckes, 18, started on the pole for the Daytona Truck race but was eliminated by a crash and finished 22nd. He’ll drive six more Truck races for KBM: Gateway (June 22), Pocono (July 27), Las Vegas (Sept. 13), Martinsville (Oct. 26) and two races to be announced.

Of course, Todd Gilliland, 18, is competing for the full season this year after running 19 of 23 races for the organization a year ago, and Harrison Burton, 18, also is running the full season for KBM. Burton ran in eight races for the team last year.

5. Can history repeat?

Kyle Busch will make his 500th career Cup start this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Only twice in the sport’s history has a driver won in their 500th start. Richard Petty did it in 1970 and Matt Kenseth accomplished the feat in 2013.

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Ryan Blaney thankful for support after Daytona 500 incident

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Ryan Blaney said he didn’t want to talk to many people the night of the Daytona 500 after contact with Ryan Newman triggered Newman’s horrific last-lap crash.

But when Blaney got home, his parents were there.

“That was nice of them to be there,” Blaney said Friday at Auto Club Speedway, the first time he’s talked to the media about the Daytona 500 since that night.  

Blaney was ashen when he spoke briefly to the media after the season-opening Daytona 500. As he spoke, an ambulance drove by on the frontstretch, taking Newman to the hospital.

Blaney was intent on pushing Newman, a fellow Ford driver, to the victory when it became clear to Blaney he could not win the race. But as he pushed Newman coming to the finish, the contact unsettled Newman’s car and it turned right into the outside wall. Newman’s car went airborne and was slammed in the driver side area while upside down by Corey LaJoie.

Newman walked out of a Daytona Beach hospital two days later. Newman said last weekend in a statement that he suffered a head injury but did not disclose any details. He has since been to Roush Fenway Racing to see team members and also did a video for one of the team’s sponsors that day. Newman will not race this weekend, missing his second consecutive race but said in his statement he looks forward to racing again.

MORE: Ryan Blaney talks to Ryan Newman, looks forward to seeing him at track

Blaney said several people helped him in the aftermath of Newman’s accident. All that was known the night of the race was that Newman was in serious condition with a non-life-threatening injury.

Blaney said close friend Bubba Wallace spent time with him the day after the Daytona 500.

“We talked about some stuff,” Blaney said Friday of what he and Wallace did. “I stayed off social media and all that stuff. You have people that aren’t even involved and have never even watched the sport that have their own opinion on bad things.

“The outreach I got from the calls from former drivers and current drivers that week was pretty remarkable. Their support was good. Even though it is unintentional and it is racing, it still takes a toll on you when it is off of your nose. You never want to see anyone get hurt in this sport. We are all competitors, but we are also a big family.

“Ryan and I have gotten along really well and that was just a bad circumstance and it is great that it worked out for the best. It was nice to have the friends and family and drivers and teams (offer their) support. That really helped me out.”

Blaney cited a couple of former drivers whose calls were impactful.

Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte called me, people that I looked up to a lot as a kid,” Blaney said. “It was neat that they called me and gave me their peace of mind. That was good.”

Friday also marked the first time for Blaney to speak publicly since last weekend’s race at Las Vegas. Blaney led but a late caution changed the race. He and Alex Bowman, running second, were among drivers who pitted. Joey Logano, running third, did not pit, inherited the lead and went on to win. Blaney finished 11th.

Blaney said Friday it took him 10 minutes to get over how that race ended.

“Yeah, it was over,” Blaney said. “Moving on. I went and stayed in a teepee and forgot about it.”

About his experience staying in a teepee, Blaney said:

“I already had that planned no matter what happened. I like camping. I was out on a ranch in the middle of the desert for a couple days and just hanging out and all that stuff. It was fun.”

As for what he did, Blaney said: “Go hiking a little bit. Cook by the fire. Clear your head. It is just relaxing. I have always kind of been that way. It was nice to get out there. I was out there. I had to be out there for Tuesday night anyway and figured I would stay somewhere other than the (Las Vegas) Strip. I can’t do the strip for very long. I wanted to stay somewhere opposite to the Strip.”

Alex Bowman fastest in final Cup practice at Auto Club Speedway

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Alex Bowman completed a sweep of Friday’s Cup Series practice sessions at Auto Club Speedway by posting the top speed in final practice. He was also fastest in first practice.

Bowman’s top speed was 176.626 mph. He recorded 32 laps in the session.

The top five was completed by Ryan Blaney (176.186 mph), Bubba Wallace (176.177), Kurt Busch (175.816) and Christopher Bell (175.695).

Bowman also had the best 10-lap average at 175.317 mph.

Kurt Busch recorded the most laps with 47.

The only incident in the session was defending race winner Kyle Busch brushing the wall in Turn 3 after his car got away from him on the bumps in the corner. Repairs were made to the car and Busch returned to the track with 17 minutes left in the session.

Click here for the speed chart.

 

Alex Bowman tops field in opening Cup practice at Auto Club

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Alex Bowman posted the fastest lap in opening Cup practice Friday at Auto Club Speedway. Bowman ran a top lap of 179.439 mph.

Bowman was followed by Kyle Larson (177.703 mph), Tyler Reddick (177.607), Kurt Busch (177.375) and Matt DiBenedetto (176.609).

Click here for full practice report

There were no incidents in the session.

Final Cup practice is scheduled from 5:35-6:25 p.m. ET today. Qualifying will be Saturday.

Xfinity practice report at Auto Club Speedway

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Harrison Burton was fastest in the final Xfinity Series practice session Friday at Auto Club Speedway.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver recorded 22 laps and posted a top speed of 174.474 mph in the 25-minute session.

The top five was completed by Noah Gragson (173.779 mph), Austin Cindric (173.775), Chase Briscoe (173.578) and Brandon Jones (173.578).

Burton also had the best 10-lap average at 170.422 mph.

Gragson recorded the most laps in the session with 25.

There were no incidents in the session.

Click here for the practice report.

First practice

Noah Gragson led the way for the Xfinity Series in the opening practice session that saw more than half the 50-minute period under caution at Auto Club Speedway

Gragson ran a top lap of 177.139 mph. He was followed by Austin Cindric (176.022), Daniel Hemric (175.400), Brandon Jones (175.366) and Harrison Burton (175.187).

Click here for full practice report

Alex Labbe brought out the caution when an oil line came loose and he put oil down on the track. The cleanup took about 20 minutes.

Tommy Joe Martins brought out the caution late in the session with smoke coming from the car and then a small fire in the right front of the car.