Bump & Run: What should NASCAR do about qualifying?

4 Comments

How would you fix qualifying?

Nate Ryan: Single-car sessions for all tracks longer than 1.5 miles. If necessary, make qualifying the last thing on Saturday or Sunday morning prerace to allow for impounding and keeping teams in race setups. 

Dustin Long: What’s the purpose of qualifying? Is it about entertainment or competition? If it’s about entertainment, keep group qualifying everywhere and cut the time to maybe three minutes per round to limit how much the cars park on pit road. If it’s about competition, then eliminate group qualifying and go back to single-car runs.

Jerry Bonkowski: Simple: Depending upon whether a track is wide (i.e., Fontana) or narrow (Martinsville, Indianapolis), I think NASCAR should put only two cars (at narrow tracks) or three cars (at wider tracks) out on the track at the same time to make qualifying efforts of just one lap (after a warm-up lap). No more waiting around or playing games on pit road. Force the cars to go out and lay down their best speed/time when they’re scheduled to do so. Like I said, it’s simple.

Daniel McFadin: On tracks longer than 1.5-miles I would line cars up on pit road in single file and send them out in 15-second intervals to avoid creating a draft.

Prior to Denny Hamlin’s victory Sunday, has the Daytona 500 winner been unjustly overlooked for having the best start to a season during his 14-year Cup career?

Nate Ryan: Yes, there probably were few who realized he was second in points before Texas. Though teammate Kyle Busch has been faster, Hamlin’s consistency has been impressive, and he’s qualifying as well as at any point in his career. His best start to a Cup season deserved more recognition, but Hamlin unfairly has been overlooked often in his 14 years on the circuit.

Dustin Long: He was in the past few weeks with so much attention devoted to Team Penske and Kyle Busch. If Hamlin keeps winning, he’ll get plenty of attention.

Jerry Bonkowski: I’m not sure if I would say unjustly overlooked, but Hamlin hasn’t necessarily been in conversations about who’s the best driver in Cup thus far this season. So much focus has been on Kyle Busch and the Team Penske drivers that Hamlin kind of got lost in the shuffle. But it’s hard to ignore a guy who has two wins, six top 10s and has not finished lower than 11th in a race thus far in 2019.

Daniel McFadin: While his best start should be recognized, it hasn’t been that flashy. In the races between his wins at Daytona and Texas he never finished better than fifth and led only 15 laps.

How will Kevin Harvick’s terse comments about performance be received at Stewart-Haas Racing, where the other three drivers seemed happy with their cars Sunday?

Nate Ryan: They probably went over with a thud, but that’s also how Harvick intends them to be taken. As the team’s alpha dog, Harvick believes SHR is at peak optimization when his car is leading the way. Though his teammates were all pleased by their Texas results, it had to be jarring that the 2014 champion was bringing up the rear simply because he was the slowest. It’ll be intriguing to observe how SHR adapts if that becomes a trend as Harvick has been virtually the lead driver of every team he’s been on since his 2001 entry to Cup. 

Dustin Long: Crew chief Rodney Childers also expressed his disappointment after the race on social media. This just isn’t on Harvick. Stewart-Haas Racing had all four of its drivers win races last year. Now, nearly a fifth of the way through the season, the team is winless. I wouldn’t expect anyone to be happy about that at SHR.

Jerry Bonkowski: It was merely Kevin being Kevin. He’s kind of like Kyle Busch — anything less than a win means it’s been a bad race. It also could be an indicator of the increasing frustration Harvick has had in each race, still unable to get his first win of 2019.

Daniel McFadin: While I can understand Harvick’s frustration in SHR and specifically him not winning yet, his comments are hard to accept when two teammates had their best finish of the year at Texas and all four cars have finished in the top 10 two weeks in a row.

Hendrick Motorsports had three drivers lead and two finish in the top six at Texas. What do you make of the organization’s performance?

Nate Ryan: Aside from a victory, Texas was a mission accomplished morale booster for this proud organization, which showed it still can play catch-up. After the past two weeks, it seems as if momentum is building.

Dustin Long: Nice run for the organization but there’s still more work to do, as Jeff Andrews, the team’s GM, told me after the race.

Jerry Bonkowski: It’s only one race. While it certainly seems like HMS has potentially turned a corner, I won’t be fully convinced the organization is back on the right track until it has consistent multi-finishers in the top 10, not to mention race winners.

Daniel McFadin: It’s a feel good story after the previous six races, but I’m sure no one at Hendrick is completely satisfied and won’t be until this is a regular occurrence.

Should NASCAR be using more traction compound on every track after drivers hailed its efficacy at Texas?

Nate Ryan: No. Sunday’s race conditions were as much a result of the cooler weather and minimal tire wear. Turning traction compound into a weekly crutch has its pitfalls. 

Dustin Long: It hasn’t always worked as intended at some tracks, but that shouldn’t deter officials from examining where traction compound can enhance the racing.

Jerry Bonkowski: I’m torn on this one. While I understand the traction compound helps, I’m also a purist in the sense I don’t like to see artificial ways to create traction. It should come from the rubber on the tires only in my mind.

Daniel McFadin: I’m all for tracks attempting, at least once, to improve racing with traction compound. There’s no harm in that.

Talladega Xfinity results: AJ Allmendinger edges Sam Mayer

0 Comments

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

0 Comments

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.

Safety key topic in meeting for drivers at Talladega

0 Comments

TALLADEGA, Ala. — Cup drivers met Friday with Jeff Burton, director of the Drivers Advisory Council, and discussed safety issues ahead of this weekend’s playoff race, which will be without two drivers due to concussion-like symptoms from crashes.

Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch will not race Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. 

Busch suffered his head injury in a crash at Pocono in July. Bowman’s injury followed his crash last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Both were injured in accidents where the rear of the car hit the SAFER barrier first.

Two drivers injured in less than three months — and the series racing at a track where crashes are likely — raises tension in the Cup garage. 

Denny Hamlin blasted NASCAR on Saturday, saying it was “bad leadership” for not addressing safety concerns drivers had with the car. Hamlin also said that the Next Gen vehicle needs to be redesigned.

Burton, who also is an analyst for NBC Sports, said in an exclusive interview that Friday’s meeting was lengthy because there were several topics to discuss. Burton didn’t go into details on all the topics.

Safety was a key element of that meeting. Burton, whose role with the Drivers Advisory Council is to coordinate the group and communicate with NASCAR, discussed the cooperation level with NASCAR.

“We feel like we have cooperation with NASCAR,” he said. “We know the commitments from NASCAR. They’ve made real commitments to us. We want to see those commitments through. I believe that we will in regards to changes to the car. 

“We want to see that come to conclusion as soon as possible. They have made commitments to us and are showing us what is happening, communicating with us in regard to timing, and we want to see it come to conclusion, as they do. 

“Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get some changes done before last weekend. It just takes a long time to test stuff.”

NASCAR has a crash test scheduled next week on a new rear clip and rear bumper. Even if the test goes well, there’s not enough time for any such changes this season with five races left.

The frustration from drivers — and voiced by Hamlin and Kevin Harvick — has been that NASCAR was informed about issues with a stiffer car for more than a year. Some questions were raised after William Byron crashed in a test in March 2020 at Auto Club Speedway.

“William Byron busted his ass at (Auto Club) Speedway and that should have raised a red flag right off the bat,” Harvick said Saturday.

Hamlin said more drivers needed to speak up about concerns with the car.

“I know a lot of young guys are just happy to be here, but they ain’t going to be happy when their brains are scrambled for the rest of their lives,” Hamlin said.

Byron is looking for changes to be made.

“I want to have a long career, and I don’t want to have a series of concussions that make me either have to step way from the car or have to think about long-term things,” he said.

Chase Elliott also shared his frustrations Saturday.

“You come off a week like we had in Texas and somebody getting injured and then you come into here, where odds are we’re probably all going to hit something at some point (Sunday) and probably not lightly at that,” Elliot said.

So what do drivers do?

“Do you just not show up?” Elliott said. “Do you just not run? I don’t think that’s feasible to ask. There’s always an inherent risk in what we do and it’s always been that way. 

“My frustration is … I just hate that we put ourselves in the box that we’re in right now. It’s just disappointing that we’ve put ourselves here and we had a choice. We did this to ourselves as an industry. 

“That should have just never been the case. We should not have put ourselves in the box that we’re in right now. So my disappointment lies in that that we had years and time and opportunity to make this thing right before we put it on track and we didn’t, and now we’re having to fix it. 

“I just hate that we did that. I think we’re smarter than that. I think there’s just a lot of men and women that work in this garage that know better and we shouldn’t have been here.”

Burton told NBC Sports that drivers did not discuss in Friday’s meeting running single-file in Sunday’s race as a form of protest.

“It wouldn’t be surprising for me to see single-file (racing Sunday) because of what happened at Texas and what could happen next week (at the Charlotte Roval),” Burton said. “Drivers need a period of calmness. 

“There was not a discussion, a collaborated effort or any sort of thing of how you race (Sunday). That conversation did not come up in that meeting.”

Harvick said Saturday that he’ll continue to be vocal about safety issues.

“I’ll do whatever I have to do to make sure these guys are in a good spot,” Harvick said. “Whatever I have to do.”

Harvick later said: “I don’t think any of us want to be in this position. We have to have the safety we deserve to go out and put on a great show and be comfortable with that. 

“Obviously, we all have taken the risks of being race car drivers, but there’s no reason we should be in a worse position than we were last year.”

Harvick said it was a matter of trust.

“The reality of the situation is much different than what they’re looking at,” Harvick said of NASCAR officials. “I think that the trust level is obviously not where it needs to be from getting it fixed. I think they’re going to have to earn the trust level back of reacting quick enough to do the things that it takes. The drivers’ opinion, especially when it comes to safety side of things, has to be more important than the data or more important than the cost. Safety can’t be a budget item.”

Corey LaJoie, who is a member of the Drivers Advisory Council board, said that while challenges remain with the car, he sees the effort being made by NASCAR.

“Nothing happens quick in this deal when you have 38 teams and you have seven cars per team,” LaJoie told NBC Sports. “It has to be a well-thought-out process to implement the changes.

“It’s easy to get up in arms and prickly when we have guys like Alex and Kurt out. You don’t ever want that to happen. Every conversation I’m having is what we, as the Driver Council, is trying to communicate to NASCAR and NASCAR making proactive changes and moving timelines up aggressively to try to implement these changes.”

Matt DiBenedetto wins NASCAR Truck race at Talladega

1 Comment

Matt DiBenedetto won Saturday’s 250-mile NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Talladega Superspeedway on a day pockmarked by numerous accidents, including a major one at the finish.

As the field swept to the finish line in overtime, a multi-car crash developed as Corey Heim lost control of his truck in the trioval. Several trucks crashed approaching the finish as the caution flag flew.

NASCAR officials studied video of the final lap to determine that DiBenedetto was in front when the caution lights were turned on, although Bret Holmes appeared to beat him to the finish line by inches. When caution lights appear, the field is frozen at that point, so any position changes after the caution are irrelevant.

MORE: TalladeTalladega Truck results

MORE: Talladega Truck driver points

The last lap was the only one led by DiBenedetto, who has been racing in NASCAR national series since 2009 but scored his first win.

Following DiBenedetto, a non-playoff driver, at the finish were Ben Rhodes, Holmes, Ryan Preece and Christian Eckes.

With one race remaining in the Round of 8, Ty Majeski has locked in a spot in the final four at Phoenix. Chandler Smith, Zane Smith and Rhodes are above the cutline. Below the line are Stewart Friesen, Eckes, John Hunter Nemechek and Grant Enfinger.

MORE: Denny Hamlin says NASCAR needs leadership changes

A string of accidents left only two playoff drivers — Eckes and Rhodes — in the top 10 with 10 laps remaining.

Carson Hocevar dropped out of the lead group with five laps to go when he lost a tire, prompting a caution flag and pushing the race into overtime.

The race was marred by a fiery crash in the early going as Jordan Anderson‘s truck exploded in flames while running in the top five in a tight draft.

Anderson steered the truck to the inside as flames fired up on both sides of the vehicle. The truck crashed into the inside wall even as Anderson climbed from the driver-side window. He was transported to an area hospital.

On Lap 35, Lawless Alan hit the wall hard after his right front tire blew. He was evaluated and released from the infield medical center.

Another dangerous situation developed on Lap 63 as numerous trucks pitted at the same time under green. As Hailie Deegan attempted to stop in her pit, one of the crew members lost control of a tire, and it rolled into traffic and onto the grass area separating pit road from the track. A Deegan crew member chased down the tire in the grass and later was ejected from the track by NASCAR officials for a safety violation.

On Lap 79, Enfinger’s truck blew a tire and slammed the wall, starting a crash that collected Tanner Gray, Johnny Sauter and Austin Wayne Self.

Stage 1 winner: John Hunter Nemechek

Stage 2 winner: Chandler Smith

Who had a good race: Matt DiBenedetto had been waiting a very long time for this winning moment. … Alabama driver Bret Holmes almost won in front of the home crowd. He finished third.

Who had a bad race: Jordan Anderson had one of the most frightening crashes of the season, bailing out of his flaming truck after it caught fire in the middle of a pack of drafting trucks. … Playoff drivers John Hunter Nemechek (finished 24th) and Grant Enfinger (29th) had rough outings.

Next: The Truck Series is off for three weeks before racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway Oct. 22. The series’ final race is scheduled Nov. 4 at Phoenix Raceway.