Martin Truex Jr.– A series-high fifth win for the No. 19 Toyota, which was the best on long runs. Despite his slump late in the regular season, Truex said he had a good feeling about the playoffs. He was right Sunday.
Hendrick Motorsports – For the fourth consecutive season, its Chevrolets again seemed faster as the playoffs began – notably Chase Elliott’s No. 9 and Jimmie Johnson‘s No. 48 as the highest non-playoff car in 11th.
Brad Keselowski— Battles back to third after struggling to stay in top 20 for the first two stages.
The heat – Score one for Mother Nature again as moving the start time four hours later still resulted in temperatures over 100. Maybe starting a few weeks later next year will provide relief.
Clint Bowyer – The promise of the pole position faded in a familiar struggle to amass stage points, and the late green flag pit stop for a tire rub just made things worse.
Kurt Busch – Qualified and ran well, but Lady Luck never has been kind to the Las Vegas native at his hometown track.
Erik Jones – For the second consecutive season, he is in a massive hole after the opener; will be tough to escape first round without a win at Richmond or the Roval.
North Wilkesboro’s worn surface will prove challenging to drivers
NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — Three Cup drivers got their first chance to experience North Wilkesboro Speedway’s worn racing surface Tuesday and said tires will play a key role in the NASCAR All-Star Race there on May 21.
The verdict was unanimous about how important tire wear will be.
“This place has got a lot of character to it,” Reddick said. “Not a lot of grip and it’s pretty unforgiving. It’s a really fun place.”
Dillon said: “If you use up your tire too early, you’re going to really be in trouble. You really got to try to make those four tires live.”
Buescher said: “The surface here was so worn out already that we expect to be all over the place. The speeds are fairly slow just because of the amount of grip here. It’s hard to get wide open until you’re straight.”
Reddick noted the drop in speed over a short run during Tuesday’s test. That will mean a lot of off-throttle time.
“I think we were seeing a second-and-a-half falloff or so over even 50 laps and that was kind of surprising for me we didn’t have more falloff,” he said. “But, one little miscue, misstep into Turn 1 or Turn 3, you lose a second sliding up out of the groove and losing control of your car.”
“That’s with no traffic. Maybe with more traffic and everything, the falloff will be more, but certainly we’re out of control from I’d say Lap 10 on. You have to really take care of your car. … It’s really hard 30-40 laps into a run to even get wide open.”
One thing that stood out to Dillon was how the facility looks.
While the .625-mile racing surface remains the same since Cup last raced there in 1996, most everything else has changed.
In some cases, it is fresh red paint applied to structures but other work has been more extensive, including repaving the infield and pit road, adding lights for night racing, adding SAFER barriers, the construction of new suites in Turn 4 and new stands along the backstretch.
“It’s cool to see how much they’ve done to the track, the suites, the stands that they’re putting in,” Dillon said. “To me, the work that is going in here, we’re not just coming for one race. We’re coming here for a while. I’m excited about that.”
Jordan Taylor, who is substituting in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet for injured Chase Elliott, brings a resume that includes 31 IMSA class wins, two 24 Hours of Daytona overall wins and two IMSA wins at COTA.
Keselowski hasn’t been a star in road course racing, but his 2023 season has started well, and he figures to be in the mix at the front Sunday. He led the white-flag lap at Atlanta last Sunday before Joey Logano passed him for the win.
The Dinger is a road course expert. Last year at COTA, he was involved in tight racing on the final lap with Ross Chastain and Alex Bowman before Chastain emerged with the victory.
Points position: 3rd
Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Auto Club)
Past at COTA: Two straight top fours, including a win
Chastain lifted Trackhouse Racing’s profile by scoring his — and the team’s — first Cup victory at COTA last season. He’s not shy about participating in the last-lap bumping and thumping that often mark road course races.
Buescher has never led a lap at COTA and is coming off a 35th-place finish at Atlanta after being swept up in a Lap 190 crash. Although he has shown the power to run near the front this year, he has four consecutive finishes of 13th or worse.
Points position: 20th
Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Las Vegas I)
Past at COTA: Two straight top 10s
Bowman’s four-race run of consistent excellence (finishes of fifth, eighth, third and ninth) ended at Atlanta as he came home 14th and failed to lead a lap. At COTA, he is one of only four drivers with top-10 finishes in both races.
Three members of the Reaume Brothers Racing No. 33 Craftsman Truck Series team have been suspended for three races by NASCAR after a piece of tungsten ballast came off their truck during last Saturday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The suspensions were announced Tuesday.
Crew chief Gregory Rayl and crew members Matthew Crossman and Travis Armstrong were suspended because of the safety violation. Mason Massey is the team’s driver.
In a tweet following the announcement of the penalty, the team said it will not file an appeal. “The ballast became dislodged only after the left side ballast container had significant contact with the racing surface,” according to the statement. “We would like to be clear that there was no negligence on the part of RBR personnel.”
NASCAR also announced Tuesday that Truck Series owner/driver Cory Roper, who had been suspended indefinitely for violating the substance abuse policy, has been reinstated.
The Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series are scheduled to race this weekend at Circuit of the Americas.
NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Josh Williams has been suspended for one race because of his actions during last Saturday’s Xfinity race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Williams will be ineligible to participate in Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. He would be able to return for the April 1 race at Richmond, Virginia.
Williams was penalized for a “behavioral” infraction, specifically disobeying a NASCAR request.
In a tweet after the suspension was announced, Williams said: “I stand behind what I did and I don’t regret any decisions I made. I stand behind NASCAR for these decisions and will continue and always support them.” He said Alex Labbe will drive the team’s No. 92 car at Circuit of the Americas this weekend.
NASCAR officials ordered Williams off the track during Saturday’s race after his car was involved in an accident. Debris falling from his car prompted a caution flag, leading NASCAR to order him to park.
Section 8.8.9.I of the Xfinity Series Rule Book states that with the Damaged Vehicle Policy, NASCAR can order a car off the track: “At the discretion of the Series Managing Director, if a damaged vehicle elects not to enter pit road on the first opportunity or if a damaged vehicle exits pit road before sufficient repairs had been made and thereafter causes or extends a caution (e.g. leaking fluid, debris, etc.), then said vehicle may incur a lap(s) or time penalty or may not be permitted to return to the Race.”
Williams later admitted he had violated a rule but said he was frustrated by the NASCAR decision.
“We all work really hard and to only run ‘X’ amount of laps and then to have something like a piece of Bear Bond and put us out of the race, it’s really frustrating,” Williams said after his meeting with series officials. “Small team. We work really hard. We’ve got to make our sponsors happy, right? It doesn’t do any good sitting in the garage. It is what it is. We’ll learn from it and move on.
“I told them I was a little bit frustrated,” Williams said of NASCAR’s call, “but it was in the rule book.”