Bump and Run: Was Chad Knaus wrong to goad William Byron to retaliate?

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Was Chad Knaus wrong to essentially tell William Byron to stand up for himself vs. Kyle Busch at Watkins Glen and hit Busch’s car?

Nate Ryan: Yes, as Jeff Burton and Kyle Petty said on NASCAR America, Knaus has a greater responsibility as not just a crew chief but mentor for the 21-year-old Byron. While encouraging his driver to be assertive was fine, demanding a specific course of action that put his car at risk was unwise with Byron, who will follow orders from a seven-time champion crew chief with an overachiever’s zeal.

Dustin Long: Yes. One of the things you often hear is that drivers shouldn’t let spotters drive the car. The same standard should be applied to crew chiefs. Emotion should not dictate decisions.  Chad Knaus’ comments over the radio — where every team member could hear the order — put Byron in a corner. If he didn’t follow through, would his team feel as though Byron wasn’t doing all he could to defend them? That doesn’t help team dynamics. Of course, going off to hit somebody and possibly damage one’s car doesn’t do anyone any good. Busch saw Byron coming from behind, slammed the brakes and that increased the damage to Byron’s car when he struck Busch. This all could have been avoided if people — starting with Knaus — had better control of their emotions.

Daniel McFadin: While it maybe didn’t work in execution, I think it had the desired impact Knaus was seeking: A teaching moment where a veteran crew chief told a young driver to stand up for himself. Byron proved under his nice guy demeanor is someone who isn’t a pushover.

Jerry Bonkowski: No. Knaus was merely getting Byron to stand up for himself. While the delivery of that message went awry and Byron wrecked his own car — and his chances of winning — it still is refreshing to see Byron send a message to both Kyle Busch and the rest of the Cup Series that he won’t be pushed around. Byron has been somewhat tentative at times since coming to the Cup Series. This could be a watershed moment for him. 

Biggest shock at Watkins Glen: Bubba Wallace’s actions and comments about his incident with Kyle Busch? Jimmie Johnson’s comments about Ryan Blaney? Something else?

Nate Ryan: Wallace’s comments were nearly as striking as his revenge on Busch, and the latest in a series of high-profile incidents that are ensuring the No. 43 driver’s relevance even without results.

Dustin Long: Bubba Wallace’s comments were attention grabbing, but what Jimmie Johnson had to say about Ryan Blaney was more personal than we’ve seen the seven-time champion often go with a competitor. That provided the greatest shock value. It just shows the pressure Johnson and the No. 48 team feel in their bid to make the playoffs.

Daniel McFadin: Johnson’s comments for sure. The only other time I can remember him having even a mild post-race interaction with another driver was with Kurt Busch at Pocono in 2011. “Just keep filing things away. I remember this stuff,” Johnson said then. “There’s a couple of guys out there that have been pushing their luck, too.”

Jerry Bonkowski: I lean toward Bubba. The irony is Kyle Busch gave Bubba his first big chance and first full-time NASCAR ride in the Truck Series in 2013 and 2014. Still, Wallace had the right to stand up for himself and wasn’t going to be pushed around or intimidated by his former boss. Something tells me, though, that this isn’t the end of the Busch-Bubba feud. Rather, it may just be getting started.

If one race is enjoyable, should NASCAR consider a doubleheader weekend at Watkins Glen in the future?

Nate Ryan: Love the idea, though it probably would require striking a race from another track. If NASCAR were open to the concept, there are some ISC tracks that should have only one race (namely, Michigan).

Dustin Long: Let’s calm down folks. Let’s wait to see how this plays out at Pocono next year. Let the bugs get worked out on the doubleheader weekend schedule and then take a hard look at it. An issue at Watkins Glen is the cars take such a beating on the curbs that teams might need another car to run the second race there. Is that feasible for all teams ˜to have a second car race ready? Let’s just see what needs to be done before running off and adding a race to that weekend at the Glen.

Daniel McFadin: Yes, please. Watkins Glen is a relatively short race. At 90 laps and with four cautions, Sunday’s race only took 2 hour and 14 minutes to complete. If the Pocono doubleheader is successful, the Glen should be the next candidate. 

Jerry Bonkowski: While I normally would say yes, this is a unique instance. Sure, Watkins Glen is a great track and great venue to watch a race. But at the same time, why give WGI (or Sonoma or the Roval) a second date on a doubleheader weekend when the Cup Series could expand its road course footprint to other tracks such as Road America, Road Atlanta, Barber Motorsports Park or the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course? I definitely like the doubleheader weekend concept and hope NASCAR adds more to the schedule, but the tracks chosen and the reasons to do so have to make the most sense.

Matt DiBenedetto wins NASCAR Truck race at Talladega

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chevy Silverado 250
Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images
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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: Talladega 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.

 

Denny Hamlin calls out NASCAR leadership for Next Gen concerns

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Denny Hamlin cites “bad leadership” from NASCAR for creating a car that he says needs to be redesigned after two drivers have suffered concussion-like symptoms in crashes this year.

Hamlin and Kevin Harvick have been most outspoken about the safety of the car this year. Chase Elliott spoke up Saturday about how “disappointed” he is “that we put ourselves in the box that we’re in.” 

Hamlin said other drivers must join them in being heard.

“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 Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway.

NASCAR had not offered a response to Hamlin’s comments as of Saturday afternoon.

Driver frustrations with the Next Gen car continue to grow, as Alex Bowman became the second driver to be forced to miss at least a race for concussion-like symptoms. 

Bowman crashed last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway and experienced headaches and other symptoms of a concussion earlier this week, according to Hendrick Motorsports President Jeff Andrews. 

Bowman went to a doctor on Thursday and the team announced that day Bowman would not race Sunday. No timetable for his return has been announced. Noah Gragson will drive Bowman’s car Sunday.

Kurt Busch, who drives for Hamlin’s 23XI Racing, continues to be out because of a head injury he suffered after he crashed July 23 at Pocono Raceway. Busch said this week that he is “hopeful” of racing this season.

Hamlin unleashed a torrent of criticisms Saturday about the car and series officials for an issue he said drivers brought up more than a year ago.

Asked how the sport got to this point with the car, Hamlin said: “Bad leadership.”

Asked how to avoid the same thing from happening, Hamlin said: “New leadership.”

As for the changes that need to be made in NASCAR leadership, Hamlin said: “I don’t know. You can start at the top and work your way down.”

NASCAR has a crash test scheduled next week on the rear clip and rear bumper of the car. That’s an improvement that could be made to the car for next season. A complaint about the car is how stiff the rear is and how rear-end impacts have felt more violent to drivers this season. The crash test is the first since a full car crash test last December. 

For Hamlin, the rear is only a start to what needs to be done to the car.

“The car needs to be redesigned,” Hamlin said. “It needs a full redesign. It can still be called Next Gen, but it needs to be redesigned.

“It needs to be redesigned everywhere. Front, middle, rear, competition, the whole thing needs to be redesigned. We’ve got a tough Martinsville race coming up. It’s going to be tough. This thing is just going to get exposed about how bad it races. That’s just a part of it. Competition and safety, we’d like to have it all better, but certainly we just took a step back in safety and competition this year.”

Hamlin also knows it’s too late for a redesign for next year.

“If I were to run this and say, ‘All right, we’re going to have a new car,’ we’d already be done with testing right now for next year’s car,” Hamlin said. “We haven’t even begun. We’re just way too behind. This whole sport is behind.”

But Hamlin said it was “feasible” for NASCAR to do a redesign of the car.

“It’s just (that) NASCAR has to concede that they’re not capable and let the teams do it,” he said.

That’s not likely. NASCAR has a contract with the suppliers of each part and those deals, while they can be broken under certain circumstances, are multi-year deals. 

Hamlin said drivers brought up concerns about the car last year. There had been concerns about the car and how hard the impact felt after William Byron’s crash in testing at Auto Club Speedway in March 2020.

“We actually, as the drivers, didn’t do that docu-series last year because we didn’t feel comfortable with this Next Gen car and the lack of the safety testing that had been done before they started announcing that they were going to run it,” Hamlin said. “We threw up red flags over a year ago and they just didn’t respond. They just kept pushing this car has got to be on the track at all cost. At all cost.”

In an interview last month, John Probst, NASCAR senior vice president of Racing Innovation, told NBC Sports that he feels one misunderstanding with the car is the collaboration between NASCAR, teams and manufacturers.

“I think that sometimes when you read the driver quotes and the team feedback, crew chiefs are posting things on Twitter, it creates the sense of NASCAR vs. them vs. the world,” Probst said. 

“Really, it isn’t like that. I wish people could see how well we actually do work with the engineers on these teams, sorting through the problems.

“I feel like we work hand-in-hand with them, but a lot of times when it gets to the public eye, for whatever reason, or if it’s in the heat of the moment, it comes across as though ‘NASCAR is making us do this,’ or ‘This is the dumbest thing ever,’ but I think, in reality, that is so far from the truth.”

Jordan Anderson in fiery crash in Talladega Truck race

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NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Jordan Anderson was airlifted to an area hospital after being involved in a fiery crash during Saturday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Anderson’s car caught fire in the middle of a pack of drafting trucks. Flames burst from three areas around the truck as Anderson tried to slow the vehicle and move onto the track apron. The truck hit the inside wall. Anderson climbed from the vehicle in a cloud of smoke as it came to a stop.

Anderson, 31 and a resident of Forest Acres, S.C., was transported to the infield medical center before being airlifted. NASCAR confirmed Anderson’s trip to the hospital.

Fox Sports reported that a team member said Anderson had burns.

Anderson is a part-time driver in the Truck Series. He has a top finish of 14th this season.

Starting lineup for Talladega Cup race: Christopher Bell wins pole

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Six playoff drivers will start in the top 10 for Sunday’s 500-mile NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Christopher Bell won the pole for the race Saturday with a speed of 180.591 miles per hour. He was followed by Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola and Chase Briscoe.

MORE: Talladega Cup starting lineup

MORE: Talladega Cup qualifying results

Playoff drivers starting in the top 10 are Bell, Larson, Hamlin, Briscoe, Ross Chastain (sixth) and William Byron (ninth).

Noah Gragson, who qualified seventh, is replacing Alex Bowman, who is sitting out the race with concussion-like symptoms.

Ryan Blaney, starting 19th, is the lowest playoff driver on the starting grid.