What Drivers Said after Gander RV 400 at Dover

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Here’s what drivers said after Monday’s Gander RV 400 at Dover International Speedway:

Martin Truex Jr. – winner: “It feels incredible. So thankful for this team. What a race car we had today. This SiriusXM Camry was just incredible. Thank you to everyone back at the shop at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing), Bass Pro, Auto Owners, everybody who supports us and makes this happen. We have one hell of a team and we came here with a new setup this time. We had an older setup that won in 2016 and had been good but not good enough. Hats off to Cole (Pearn, crew chief), James (Small, engineer) and everyone with TRD (Toyota Racing Development, U.S.A.) back in California, Costa Mesa for awesome engines and horsepower. Thanks to all these fans that have come out today on Monday. I promise it wasn’t easy. It was a lot of work. It was tough. But this race car was just incredible. Just thanks to everyone who makes this possible. I can’t believe it. Without Talladega, we would have had two in a row. It is special. New guys this year. Coach (Joe Gibbs, team owner) has put together a good bunch and Cole (Pearn, crew chief) and everybody. I am really, really proud to drive these Toyotas. They are awesome and I am a lucky guy. (What has started to click for you guys?) I think just putting all the details together. We’ve had speed all year. Finished second at Atlanta. Felt like we had the best car. Had some issues on pit road. Phoenix we ran second again. Seems like we were having little hiccups here and there. Now we’re starting to not only make our cars a little bit faster, show up better on Fridays, we’re a step ahead on the weekend. The pit crew is really doing a great job. That’s been the difference. We had a lot of trouble in the pits earlier in the year, didn’t get to show our speed. The guys are coming together, gelling, doing a fine job. We were able to take advantage of fast race cars today.”

Alex Bowman – finished second: “I’m worn out. This is the physically hardest race of the year for me, for sure. We at least had a shot at it. That’s really all you can ask for. Congrats to Martin Truex, Jr. Our Nationwide Small Business Chevy was really good. Cool deal they’ve got going on. A small business owner can enter to win a $100,000, so that’s a pretty neat promotion for them. I’m still proud of (crew chief) Greg Ives and everybody on this No. 88 team. We had a miserable start to the season and we did a really good job of resetting over the off-weekend. We’ve come out strong since then. … It would be better if we had a trophy, right? But, we needed this, for sure. Talladega is a speedway and it’s a lot of luck involved. But to come here to, in my opinion the hardest race track we go do, and run like that from the back of all things, was pretty special. I’m just proud of everybody at Hendrick Motorsports for all the improvement we’ve made over the last year or so and we’re going to keep it going.”

Kyle Larson – finished third: “Oh, yeah, we ran inside the Top 5 all race long. We fought tight early-on, with our Credit One Bank Chevy, but we freed it up and got it to where I felt like I was pretty good. And in the last run there, after cycling through green-flag stops, I was really loose and got stuck in traffic and then was just looser in the dirty air. So, I had to just make sure I hit the bottom lap after lap to hold (Kevin) Harvick off. So, it was good to finally have a clean race. I don’t think we’ve had a clean weekend all year long. And we’re 11 weeks into the season. So, it’s good to finally get a clean day, like I said, and thanks to our race team. Our pit crew did a good job today as well. It was a nice day.”

Kevin Harvick — finished fourth: “As you look at the cars behind each other, especially there at the end, there was hardly anybody who could pass anybody. You lose so much downforce behind each other every week that, from a driver’s standpoint, it becomes frustration. It’s difficult to maneuver your car to make up positions, because they become so aero-bad behind each other. Our guys on our Jimmy John’s Ford did a good job today, we just got super tight the last run stuck behind the 42 (Kyle Larson). We just couldn’t go anywhere.”

Chase Elliott – finished fifth: We just fell off there at the end of that second Stage. That was the time of the race that we needed to be controlling it and not falling back. Just a bad time to have a bad half of a run and that is kind of what happened. So, we were fast, just not fast enough when it really mattered. … (Truex) was really good there at the end for sure. His car came on about the time I felt our car was starting to fall off. And hey, that is what pays. It was a tough race for sure. It was a very physical event, a lot of corner speed, which is hard on us for sure.”

Erik Jones – finished sixth: “We had really good speed in the Sport Clips Camry. We kind of rode around there all day in the top 10. We just couldn’t get the track position we needed to go and run up front. We felt like we were better than a couple in front of us. Just couldn’t quite get there. Just a long day. It was tough to pass and you really had to rely on track position and getting good restarts and getting good pit stops. A solid day for us. We have had some rough weeks, so to get back on track and run where we know we are fully capable of – good momentum and we are going to Kansas next week which has been a good place for us the past few times.” (Define ‘hard to pass’) It seemed like the bottom groove was preferred by a lot and it was tough to get up and make a move in the middle. It was hard to get some speed rolling there, especially if you had someone behind you. It felt like they would kind of snooker you and put you back another spot. It was just tough to make moves and it was tough to be aggressive and find a way to pass. Just tough all day.”

Joey Logano — finished seventh: “We made the most out of our day today for sure. We took a seventh-place car and won a stage, got a playoff point, and racked up some more stage points. We maximized what we could do. I’m happy with how the Shell-Pennzoil team performed. We were solid in the pits. It was a physical race out there for sure. This is one of the toughest places for a driver to race. I’m proud of my team.”

William Byron – finished eighth:Yeah, we had the strategy deal where we took two tires and got some Stage points. And then we had to start at the back, and ultimately we were clawing our way back the whole race. We finished behind the 22, and we both started in the back, which was unfortunate. The guys brought a really fast car that was a lot of fun. (Compare the race to last year) It was really hard to pass. Coming from the back the one time, it took me the whole race to get back there. The 22 and us worked our way back from wherever we were at the end of Stage 2, and then it took another 130 laps to kind of get any farther. That was unfortunate, but he could run the top which is nice. (Was that due to the package this year?) I don’t know. It might have just been me, but it was hard to pass anyone on the bottom and really defend significantly on the bottom. I don’t think I passed many guys on the bottom all day, if we were both running bottom/bottom. If they ran up a car length, I could get enough air that I could. But the only passes I made really all day were on top.”

Clint Bowyer — finished ninth: “It was kind of a frustrating day. We were OK. I think anyone who got in the top-five was going to stay there. We lost track position on the first pit stop and never really regained any of it. It was just really tough to pass today.”

Kyle Busch – finished 10th: “I kind of thought we were off as a program but obviously the 19 (Martin Truex Jr.) won the race. We were probably going to end up about eighth but then I got into the wall at the start of the last stage so after that I was just sort of hanging on with my Pedigree Camry. It would have been nice to run better. It would have been nice to lead laps. When you run better you have something to hang your hat on so we obviously have some work to do before we come back here in the fall.”

Daniel Suarez — finished 11th: “It was a tough day for us here at Dover. The cars were really fast at this track today. Last year they weren’t, but obviously it was a different rules package. I had very high expectations coming into this race because I’ve run so well here in the past, and Stewart-Haas Racing has, too. I just couldn’t get the Haas Automation Mustang to turn like I wanted it to. We probably had an eighth- to 12th-place car today and we finished 11th.”

Brad Keselowski — finished 12th: “Not the result we wanted today with our Miller Lite Ford. I was just super-tight on corner exit during that last long green flag run. We lost track position and couldn’t get it back.”

Ryan Blaney — finished 15th: “It was a long day for our Menards/Duracell team. We were struggling especially with our Mustang being too tight on corner exit and couldn’t seem to get it where we needed. I want to thank the pit crew. Those guys had a great day and it seemed like they picked up positions every time we pitted. We know we have some work to do when we come back to Dover in the fall.”

Aric Almirola — finished 16th: “We struggled today, to say the least. This is probably one of the most track position-dependent tracks we go to, and we started off the race running fifth and the next thing you know we’re running 13th. We just never could recover from that. It wasn’t easy to make passes even when we were in the postion to do so, and it turned into a long day for us. But our Smithfield team is strong, and we’ve got another chance next week at Kansas to show everyone what we’ve got.”

Austin Dillon — finished 19th: “Our 19th-place finish at Dover today wasn’t indicative of the fight this team showed all race long. The No. 3 AAA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 started off the day tight on exit and stayed that way until the end of the Stage 1. My pit crew did a great job when we pitted on Lap 105 during the caution and gained us several spots in the process to help us with track position. After that first stop, our No. 3 AAA Chevy really took off and felt it was in the best shape it had been all weekend. However, a few laps later, it became really free and I battled loose entry and exit throughout the rest of Stage 2. Unfortunately, this caused us to go a lap down and finish the stage in the 19th spot. The final stage began with several wedge and trackbar adjustments to try and dial in the No. 3 AAA Chevrolet. This helped out quite a bit until after the final green flag pit stop. Our Chevrolet tightened up right after that stop and was tough to handle for the rest of the race. Even though The Monster Mile was a beast today, I look forward to conquering it later in the year. For now, we’ll regroup as a team during this short week in order to get back on track for Kansas next weekend.”

Ty Dillon – finished 22nd:We didn’t really know what to expect coming into this weekend but speeds here were incredibly fast. It made the racing a lot more challenging in some ways, but we made it through with a good, clean race. My Twisted Tea team worked hard all weekend to get our Camaro ZL1 where we needed it to be. We went back and forth on the balance throughout the day, but I ended the race feeling pretty good about everything. I wish we could have cracked into the top 20, but I’m proud of the progress we’ve made as a team at this track. This was a solid race for us and a good day to keep 2019 going in a positive direction.”

Daniel Hemric — finished 23rd: “They call this place The Monster Mile for a reason, and it was a monster to us today. We fought the handling of the No. 8 Caterpillar Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 all weekend, but Luke Lambert and these guys didn’t give up on it and kept working from the time we unloaded and all throughout the race. We never did get it to where we needed it to be and then on top of that, we had to pit with less than 20 laps to go for a loose wheel. We will take what we learned today and make sure we are in a better spot coming back here in the fall. I have to say thanks to all of the fans that came back today after yesterday’s rain out. The crowd was impressive for a Monday race, and hopefully they enjoyed the show.”

We’ll have more driver quotes as they become available.

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Alex Bowman to miss Talladega due to concussion-like symptoms

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Alex Bowman will miss Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway after experiencing concussion-like symptoms following his accident last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, Hendrick Motorsports stated Thursday afternoon.

Bowman is the second Cup driver to miss a race because of concussion-like symptoms after a crash. Kurt Busch has not returned to racing since he crashed July 23 at Pocono. Busch said this week that he remains “hopeful” he can return this season. Six races remain in the season, including Sunday’s race at Talladega.

Noah Gragson will fill in for Bowman.

Hendrick Motorsports stated that Bowman, who is last in the playoff standings, was evaluated by physicians Thursday in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Provided Bowman returns, he likely will need to win the Oct. 9 race at the Charlotte Roval to avoid playoff elimination.

Bowman brought out the caution on Lap 98 of the 334-lap race at Texas when a tire blew and backed into the wall in Turn 4. The car then hit the SAFER barrier with the right side. Bowman continued, finishing the race 29th, five laps behind winner Tyler Reddick.

Drivers have stated that rear impacts have felt worse than they looked with the new car.

From the get-go, everybody could see that this car was way too stiff,” Kevin Harvick said earlier this summer. “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.”

Christopher Bell said in June that he had a headache after he backed into the wall in the All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway in May.

Denny Hamlin said earlier this month he feels better about what NASCAR is looking to do with the car after conversations with series officials.

“I certainly feel that they’re working to help us with the hits on the chassis,” Hamlin aid. “All that stuff does take time. They can’t just knee-jerk reaction and start cutting bars out of the chassis, that’s very irresponsible.

“I think they’re doing things methodically to make sure that the next revision of car that comes out is one that is improved in the areas that we need improving on, but that does take time through design and testing.”

Gragson was to have driven the No. 62 car for Beard Motorsports in Sunday’s Cup race. Justin Allgaier will drive the car with Gragson moving to the No. 48 car.

 

Dr. Diandra: How much does Talladega shake up the playoffs?

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Talladega Superspeedway is known for shaking up the playoffs. But how well deserved is that reputation?

Playoff drivers usually view the first race in the second round of the playoffs as the best chance to earn points, earn stage points and maybe even a win given that Talladega is the second race. Now that Texas is in the rear-view mirror, let’s turn our data analysis tools to Talladega.

The shake-up index

Determining how much one race shuffles the playoffs standings requires a simple metric that is applicable to all the years NASCAR has had stages and playoffs. In a rare point of consistency, Talladega has remained the 31st race of the season since 2017, when stage racing started.

After trying a couple different approaches, I finally settled on playoff rankings. These rankings are a zero-sum game. For each driver who moves up a position, another driver must move down.

The first graph is playoff ranking as a function of race for the second playoff segment of 2021. It’s a bit of a mess, but stay with me.

A scatter graph of rank changes to help determine how much shaking-up Talladega actually does

Playoff rank runs along the left side of the graph. The highest ranked driver is at the top and the 12th ranked at the bottom.

The leftmost set of dots shows the rankings coming out of Bristol, after eliminating the lowest four drivers and re-seeding the rest. The second column of dots show the rankings after Las Vegas, which was the first race in the second round in 2021.

Each driver is represented in a different color, with lines connecting his rankings. For example, the dark purple lines show Denny Hamlin rising from third to first over these three races. The light blue lines at the bottom show Alex Bowman plummeting from seventh to 12th.

The messier the lines between two races, the more the playoffs were shaken up. Because it’s hard to quantify “messiness,” I counted each time one driver’s line crossed another driver’s line.

Each crossing indicates two drivers changed places in the rankings. The number of intersections between Bristol and Las Vegas, for example, tells you how much Las Vegas shook up the standings.

Three intersecting lines count as three shake-ups because there are three pairs of drivers crossing.

In 2021, Las Vegas had nine intersections, Talladega 13 and the Roval only five. This seems consistent with our hypothesis that Talladega is the biggest shaker-upper in the second round.

Talladega Timeline

In addition to being only one point, the 2021 Talladega contest poses another problem. Bubba Wallace won the rain-shortened race, which went 311 miles instead of the scheduled 500 miles.

That raises the possibility that 2021 might not be the most representative year for Talladega races. I therefore repeated the analysis going back to 2017. Since we didn’t have stage racing — and thus stage points — before 2017, it doesn’t make sense to compare previous years.

The table below shows the shake-up index from 2017-2021. Note that the first and third races changed from year to year.

A table summarizing the shake-up index for Talladega and other races in the second playoff round from 2017-2021

This five years of data show that Talladega wasn’t always the race that most shook-up this round of playoffs. From 2017-19, Dover and Charlotte held that honor. That’s surprising, especially in 2017. That’s the year 26 of 40 cars failed to finish the Talladega race and NASCAR parked Jimmie Johnson and Matt DiBenedetto.

In 2020, the three races had just about equal shake-up indices.

The Roval has been the third playoff race for only two years. It was equally chaotic with Talladega in terms of affecting the standings in 2020, but less so in 2021. Kansas beat the Roval for switching up the playoff standings twice.

 A caveat for the first race

If you’re surprised to see a larger shake-up for the first race in the second round of the playoffs, you’re not alone.

The 2021 fall Las Vegas race was remarkably uneventful. There were only two DNFs, both non-playoff cars. And one single-car accident that, again, didn’t involve a playoff car. Yet it had a shake-up index of nine.

It turns out that this is a side-effect of the re-seeding protocol.

The graph below shows the same time period as the rankings graph, but reports total points for the top-12 drivers.

A scatter plot showing how points changed for the top-12 playoff drivers in 2021 in the second round of the playoffs

Immediately after re-seeding, the drivers are separated by 57 points from first to 12th. If you omit Kyle Larson’s 30-point lead, the bottom 11 drivers are separated by only 27 points.

Since a driver can earn a maximum of 60 points in a single race, the first race in a round has a lot more impact in changing the standings. In effect, the first race decompresses the re-seeding compression.

After Las Vegas, the 12 playoff drivers were separated by 78 points. After Talladega, the margin grew to 98 points.

The larger numbers for the first races in any round are more due to the re-seeding-induced points compression than to the nature of the track.

Applied to 2022

Drivers don’t have to win at Talladega. They just have to finish ahead of the other playoff drivers. In fact, if a given driver can’t win, the next best case for him is if none of the other playoff drivers win, either.

The largest drop in positions a driver has seen from Talladega is five — and that’s from the rain-shortened 2021 race. On the other hand, drivers have also seen as much as an eight-position gain in the standings following Talladega. That gain was after the 2017 race where more than half the field failed to finish, but at least one driver has come out of the fall Talladega race each of the last four years up at least three positions.

As far as the stats for this year’s second round playoffs so far: Last week’s Texas race had a shake-up index of 14. That’s higher than all but the first year of the stage-racing playoff era.

And the William Byron penalty (which Hendrick Motorsports is contesting) has a shake-up index of seven.

NASCAR weekend schedule for Talladega Superspeedway

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The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs roll into Talladega Superspeedway, a center of uncertainty, for the second race in the Round of 12 this weekend.

Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET, NBC) could place the first driver in the Round of 8. Any playoff driver who wins the race automatically advances to the next round.

Through the playoffs to date, playoff drivers are batting zero in the race-win category. Non-playoff drivers — Tyler Reddick, Chris Buescher, Bubba Wallace and Erik Jones — have scored wins in the first four playoff races.

Joey Logano leads the playoff points entering the race. Ross Chastain, who won at Talladega earlier this year, is second.

The four drivers below the cutline are Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman. Byron was above the line earlier this week but was penalized 25 points for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. That move lifted Chase Briscoe above the cutline.

Playoff races also are scheduled for the Xfinity Series (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, USA Network) and the Camping World Truck Series (Saturday, 12:30 p.m., FS1) at Talladega.

Here’s a look at the Talladega weekend schedule:

Talladega Superspeedway (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)

Weekend weather

Friday: Sunny. High of 78.

Saturday: Partly cloudy. High of 74.

Sunday: Intervals of clouds and sun. High of 75.

Friday, Sept. 30

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 10:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series
  • 2 – 7 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck Series qualifying
  • 5:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity Series qualifying (USA Network)

Saturday, Oct. 1

Garage open

  • 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 9:30 a.m. — Truck Series
  • 1 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 10:30 a.m. – Noon — Cup Series qualifying (NBC Sports app, Motor Racing Network, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio)
  • 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series race (94 laps, 250 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 4 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (113 laps, 300 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 2

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 2 p.m. — Cup Series race (188 laps, 500 miles; NBC, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Short-track ace Sam Ard shares Xfinity record with Noah Gragson

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Former two-time Xfinity Series champion Sam Ard’s name returned to the forefront in the past week as Noah Gragson tied Ard’s series record for consecutive victories at four.

Although Ard has been nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, his exploits generally aren’t well-known among many who follow the modern sport of stock car racing. He was on the Hall voting list for the 2023 class but was not elected.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Ard was a short-track master in the vein of stars like Jack Ingram, Harry Gant and Butch Lindley, drivers who could show up at virtually any half-mile track across the country and take home the trophy.

He won the NASCAR Late Model (now the Xfinity Series) championship in 1983 and 1984, scoring 18 wins across those two seasons. He put together four victories in a row late in the 1983 season, winning at South Boston, Virginia; Martinsville, Virginia; Rougemont, North Carolina and Charlotte.

Ard was so dominant in 1984 that he had wrapped up the seasonal championship with two races remaining. In 28 series starts that year, he had 24 top-five finishes and 26 top-10 runs. He won eight times.

In the next-to-last race of the 1984 season, at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, Ard suffered critical head injuries when his car slid in fluid from another vehicle and hit the track’s outside wall.

That crash effectively ended Ard’s career and impacted the rest of his life. Ard often talked of learning to walk again as part of his recovery. He said he would use a walker in a pile of sawdust in his backyard so that the landing would be softer when he fell.

Ard eventually was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. In 2006, responding to Ard’s financial problems, drivers Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr., among others, launched a drive to raise funds for his family.

Ard, a native of Scranton, S.C., died in April 2017. He was 78.