Long: Heated radio chatter raises questions about who is driving

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RICHMOND, Va. — For at least the second time this season, a crew chief told his driver to retaliate after contact from another car, raising questions about such emotional outbursts and the actions that follow.

Car owner Richard Childress and crew chief Danny Stockman each told Austin Dillon on the team’s radio to pay Alex Bowman back for an incident on the Lap 109 restart Saturday at Richmond. Bowman’s contact sent Dillon’s car into William Byron’s, causing more damage to Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet.

Childress told his grandson to “get (Bowman’s) ass back if you get to him.”

Stockman told Dillon:

“Get him back.

“Get him back.

“Get him back.

Get … him … back … now.”

Dillon did as told and spun Bowman but the contact also damaged Dillon’s car.

Later, as Dillon tried to dissect his car’s handling at the end of stage 2 on Lap 200, he mentioned the incident earlier in the race: “I don’t have a good idea for you. We ruined our car in a wreck for no reason. I didn’t think we needed to do that.”

Ultimately, the driver is responsible for what they do with the car. But when a driver is agitated after being hit by a competitor and told to “get him back” as Dillon was, it puts the driver in a difficult situation. Ignore the crew chief — and the car owner in this case — and it can lead to questions about team leadership among crew members and who can hear the conversations on their headsets. Do as told and it can make a bad situation worse.

It did for William Byron at Watkins Glen.

Kyle Busch spun while underneath Byron’s car in Turn 1. Busch caught Byron and hit the back of Byron’s car, forcing it through the grass in the inner loop.

Crew chief Chad Knaus told Byron on the radio: “If I see that 18 (Busch) come back around without you knocking the (expletive) out of him, we’re going to have a problem.”

Byron, following the orders of a seven-time champion crew chief, did as he was told and had a bigger problem.

Seeing Byron behind him under caution, Busch hit his brakes and Byron slammed into the back of Busch’s car. The contact smashed the nose of Byron’s car. Byron, who started second, finished 21st and was never a factor after the incident.

Byron called the Watkins Glen episode a “turning point. I realized I’m the guy driving the car and ultimately the decisions that I make … trickles down to my team and all the work they’re putting in.”

Another key is what is said on the radio and how it is said between Knaus and Byron.

“I think the only thing is just staying positive and staying motivated in the race,” Byron said. “I don’t seem to do well with like negative energy.”

How did he get his point across?

“I think situations have played out on the track to where it’s kind of been understood that we’ve got to do things a different way,” Byron said. “We both have our way of doing things. I’ve really accepted the way he does things, and he’s accepted the way I do things. Any good working relationship is kind of that compromise.”

It’s understandable that crew chiefs and teams will be upset when somebody damages their car. To have all the work that goes into each race impacted by some driver’s mistake or recklessness is frustrating and infuriating.

But for those who talk to a driver on the radio during a race comes great responsibility. One can calm a driver and focus on the task at hand or inflame the situation.

When a situation escalates, the results are never good.

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Although he tied his best finish of the season Saturday night at Richmond, placing fifth wasn’t the biggest achievement to Ryan Newman.

“What meant to me the most was just being better than we were the first race,” said Newman, who finished ninth at Richmond in the April. “We came back and showed that we were learning and we’ll keep learning.”

Such improvement has put the Roush Fenway Racing driver — who didn’t secure a playoff spot until the regular-season finale — in position to advance to the second round after Sunday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC). Newman enters the weekend ninth in the standings, 14 points ahead of Alex Bowman, the first driver outside a playoff spot.

Ryan Newman’s finishing position has improved 3.8 positions in the six races Cup teams have visited a track for a second time this year. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Newman is one of four playoff drivers — Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson are the others — who have finished better in their second appearance at a playoff track than the first time this year. Newman’s 10th-place finish in the Las Vegas playoff opener was 14 places better than he finished there in March. His Richmond race was four spots better than his spring result.

“We hoped every time we got back (to a track a second time) we would be better,” Scott Graves, Newman’s crew chief, told NBC Sports after the Richmond race. “This was a good race for us in the spring. We took all our notes there and we knew what we needed to do differently. When you get here and you unload and the car is good right from the bat and you can just make fine adjustments, it just makes the weekend go easier. We were able to do that this time.”

Richmond marked the sixth time that Cup has raced at a track for a second time this season. The others are Daytona, Las Vegas, Bristol, Pocono and Michigan.

Newman has improved 3.8 positions the second time at those tracks, ranking fourth among playoff drivers. Newman trails Larson (gain of 11.2 positions), Martin Truex Jr. (9.2) and William Byron (4.5).

“I feel like we really struggled to figure out where the balance of the car needed to be the first time around,” Graves said. “How much drag did we need? How much downforce did we need? Then mechanically, what did we need in the car. It’s kind of like those learn-by-trial kind of things. We went, ‘OK that didn’t work but we think we know what we need now.’ ”

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The six lead changes Saturday at Richmond were the fewest there since the 2014 fall race, which had four lead changes among two drivers.

Both Richmond races this season combined for 10 cautions (five in each race). Last year’s two Richmond races combined for nine cautions.

Clint Bowyer, who finished eighth, expressed his frustration with this past weekend’s race.

We have to figure something out with this track and our package,” Bowyer said. “I’m not sold that this is the best product we can do here. I love this place. I love the race track. I love this fan base, this area and everything. Ever since I started in this sport, this has always been an action track and it’s lacking a little bit of that. 

“I think we could do some things with maybe some PJ1 or sealer or tires – something. We need to try to make an adjustment, I really believe that.”

Kevin Harvick was asked the day before last weekend’s race if traction compound should be used at Richmond to help drivers with passing.

“I honestly thought we would have traction compound down for this particular race,” he said. “Using the tire dragon here does zero.”

So where would it be best to apply traction compound at Richmond?

“Chase Elliott had the best idea, just like we used to do with the sealer, just coat the whole corner,” Harvick said. “Let it ride for the weekend. Let the race track evolve. It’s become one of the most difficult places to pass. It’s become more difficult this year. I think the traction compound would definitely be a good option.”

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Clint Bowyer is a free agent after this season but signs point to him returning to Stewart-Haas Racing next year.

Bowyer noted that he did a Mobil 1 shoot last week with Kevin Harvick for next year.

Bowyer said a new contract is “not done” but “I’m comfortable where it’s at. We’re working on partnerships for next year and having success there.”

Bowyer is in his third season at Stewart-Haas Racing, taking over the No. 14 ride after Tony Stewart retired. Bower has won twice with the team, scoring victories at Martinsville and Michigan in 2018.

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There was a buzz in the garage over the weekend about possible changes for pit stops next year in the Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series.

That buzz intensified after Michael Waltrip tweeted that stage breaks without live pit stops for the Xfinity and Truck Series would be “absolutely the right thing to do” to help teams save money while also providing more racing action.

NASCAR had no comment about the issue and Waltrip’s tweets.

It’s clear based on the chatter in the garage that NASCAR is taking a look at potential changes to pit stops. In making the switch to 18-inch wheels with the Gen 7 car, which is scheduled to debut in 2021, NASCAR also is considering the use of a single lug nut to secure wheels. Such a move would overhaul pit stops and likely de-emphasize the importance of tire changers. 

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Dr. Diandra: Determining the 10 all-time best Cup drivers at Daytona

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Fourteen of the drivers competing for the 2023 championship have 17 Cup wins at Daytona between them. That total includes multiple winners Denny Hamlin (3), Kevin Harvick (2) and Austin Dillon (2).

How do these drivers stack up against the all-time best Daytona drivers?

The Data

I only include drivers with at least 10 races on the Daytona oval. If you’re going to be called an ‘all-time great’, you need enough races to prove it.

Between 1959-71, NASCAR counted some Daytona qualifiers as regular-season races. For example, while most record books assign David Pearson eight Daytona victories, two of those wins were qualifying races. But qualifier races, which are fewer laps and a smaller field, aren’t the same as 400- or 500-mile races.

I therefore don’t include any qualifying races in this analysis. Doing so creates a serious bias against recent drivers. So I credit Pearson with six win in this analysis.

Winning

It’s tempting to simply list the drivers with the most Daytona wins.

  • Richard Petty (10)
  • Cale Yarborough (eight)
  • Pearson, Bobby Allison and Jeff Gordon (six each)
  • Fireball Roberts, Bill Elliott, Tony Stewart, Dale Jarrett and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (four each)

But Petty needed 64 races to get those 10 wins. Yarborough won eight times in 48 races, so Yarborough’s 16.7%-win rate just edges out Petty’s 15.6%. Using numbers of wins disadvantages drivers with shorter careers, which is why I prefer win rate.

A table showing the 10 all-time best Daytona drivers in terms of winning percentageThe table shows that neither Petty nor Yarborough come close to Roberts’ 36.4% win rate. That’s four wins in just 11 attempts.

As far a current drivers go, Dillon takes 11th place with a win rate of 10.5%. The next active driver on the list is William Byron at 13th. Byron is also the last driver with a win rate at or above 10%.

But I want the best driver, not simply the winningest driver. Plenty of great NASCAR drivers never won at Daytona.

Average Finish Position

Luck plays more of a role at Daytona than at most other tracks. A driver can run a brilliant race but finish in the 30s after being taken out by a late crash. Average finishing position measures driving ability and ability to finish races.

Here’s a list of the best all-time drivers in terms of average finishes.

A table showing the 10 all-time best Daytona drivers in terms of average finish

Darel Dieringer raced in the Cup Series from 1957-69. He returned to run Daytona, Talladega and two Charlotte races in 1975.

Although Dieringer won 6 races, his only trip to Daytona’s Victory Lane was the first 1965 qualifier race. Nonetheless, he’s the only driver with an average finishing position below 10 at Daytona.

Fred Lorenzen, Ned Jarrett and Dale Earnhardt finished between 10th and 11th position on average.

Bubba Wallace ranks fifth in average finish at Daytona. He also ranks first among all drivers in percentage of second-place finishes with 27.3%, or a little more than one in four.

Only one driver — Pearson — appears on the top-10 lists for winning rate and average finishing position.

Top fives

Again, I’m using rates to account for different drivers having run different numbers of races. Here’s a list of the top-10 all-time best drivers for finishing in the top five.

A table showing the 10 all-time best Daytona drivers in terms of top-five finishes

Lorenzen comes in first with a 62.5%. No one else gets close. Second on the list is Jack Smith with a 50% top-five rate.

Hamlin comes in 15th on this list with a 32.4% top-five rate. Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch are right behind him with 31.6% and 31.0% rates respectively.

The all-time best Daytona drivers

My algorithm gives half of the emphasis to average finishing position, 35% to win rate and the remaining 15% to top fives. In all cases, I’m using their rank compares to other drivers. Thus, the driver with the smallest total is the best Daytona driver. A perfect score would be 1.

But no one’s perfect.

A table showing the final list of the top-10 all-time best Daytona driversOnly Pearson ranked in the top 10 in all three of my metrics. That lands him the title of all-time best Daytona driver. He didn’t win any of the categories, but posted strong numbers across the board.

Pearson and Smith are the only drivers with a final ranking below 10. Smith was hurt by his low win rate, as was Earnhardt. It’ll be interesting to see how Earnhardt fares when we do the same ranking for Talladega.

Dillon is the only current driver to make the final list. Here’s how some other recent drivers rank compared to the all-time greats:

  • Gordon (11th)
  • Hamlin (13th)
  • Wallace (18th)

Who do you rank best? Tell me in the comments.

Even more importantly, tell me what metrics you think are most important in determining the all-time best Daytona drivers.

Kyle Busch to run five Truck races for KBM in 2023

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Kyle Busch Motorsports announced Wednesday the five Craftsman Truck Series team owner Kyle Busch will race this season.

Busch’s Truck races will be:

March 3 at Las Vegas

March 25 at Circuit of the Americas

April 14 at Martinsville

May 6 at Kansas

July 22 at Pocono

Busch is the winningest Truck Series driver with 62 career victories. He has won at least one series race in each of the last 10 seasons. He has won 37.6% of the Truck races he’s entered and placed either first or second in 56.7% of his 165 career series starts.

Zariz Transport, which specializes in transporting containers from ports, signed a multi-year deal to be the primary sponsor on Busch’s No. 51 truck for all of his series races, starting this season. The company will be an associate sponsor on the truck in the remaining 18 series races.

Myatt Snider to run six Xfinity races with Joe Gibbs Racing

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Myatt Snider is the latest driver to be announced as running a select number of Xfinity races in the No. 19 car for Joe Gibbs Racing this season.

Snider will run six races with the team. Ryan Truex (six races), Joe Graf Jr. (five) and Connor Mosack (three) also will be in JGR’s No. 19 Xfinity car this year.

Snider’s first race with the team will be the Feb. 18 season opener at Daytona. He also will race at Portland (June 3), Charlotte Roval (Oct. 7), Las Vegas (Oct. 14), Martinsville (Oct. 28) and the season finale at Phoenix (Nov. 4).

The deal returns Snider to JGR. He worked in various departments there from 2011-15.

“We’re looking forward to have Myatt on our No. 19 team for six races,” said Steve DeSouza, executive vice president of Xfinity and development. “Building out the driver lineup for this car is an opportunity for JGR to help drivers continue to develop in their racing career, and we’re looking forward to seeing how Myatt continues to grow.”

Said Snider in a statement from the team: “With six races on our 2023 schedule, I’m looking forward to climbing into the No. 19 TreeTop Toyota GR Supra with Joe Gibbs Racing this year. Having worked with JGR as a high schooler and a young racer, it’s an awesome full circle moment to return as a driver to the team that taught me so much about racing itself.

“It’s good to be reunited with (crew chief) Jason Ratcliff as we have an awesome history working together. With many memories and wins from 2013 and 2014 when I worked on the No. 20 Toyota Camry under Jason’s leadership, the team has always been more of a family relationship to me. I’m glad to be returning to the JGR family and looking forward to continuing to learn and grow as a driver.”

Daytona will be Snider’s 100th career Xfinity start. He has one series win and 21 top 10s. He was the rookie of the year in the Craftsman Truck Series in 2018.

Tree Top will be Snider’s sponsor for his six races with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Also in the Xfinity Series, Gray Gaulding, who will run full season with SS Green Light Racing, announced that he’ll have sponsor Panini America for multiple races, including the Daytona opener. Emerling-Gase Motorsports announced that Natalie Decker will run a part-time schedule in both the ARCA Menards Series and Xfinity Series for the team.

 

Travis Pastrana ‘taking a chance’ at Daytona

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In so-called “action” sports, Travis Pastrana is a king. He is well-known across the spectrum of motorsports that are a bit on the edge — the X Games, Gymkhana, motorcross and rally racing.

Now he’s jumping in the deep end, attempting to qualify for the Daytona 500 and what would be his first NASCAR Cup Series start.

Pastrana, who is entered in the 500 in a third Toyota fielded by 23XI Racing, will be one of at least six drivers vying for the four non-charter starting spots in the race. Also on that list: Jimmie Johnson, Conor Daly, Chandler Smith, Zane Smith and Austin Hill.

MORE: IndyCar driver Conor Daly entered in Daytona 500

Clearly, just getting a spot on the 500 starting grid won’t be easy.

“I love a challenge,” Pastrana told NBC Sports. “I’ve wanted to be a part of the Great American Race since I started watching it on TV as a kid. Most drivers and athletes, when they get to the top of a sport, don’t take a chance to try something else. I like to push myself. If I feel I’m the favorite in something, I lose a little interest and focus. Yes, I’m in way over my head, but I believe I can do it safely. At the end of the day, my most fun time is when I’m battling and battling with the best.”

Although Pastrana, 39, hasn’t raced in the Cup Series, he’s not a stranger to NASCAR. He has run 42 Xfinity races, driving the full series for Roush Fenway Racing in 2013 (winning a pole and scoring four top-10 finishes), and five Craftsman Truck races.

“All those are awesome memories,” Pastrana said. “In my first race at Richmond (in 2012), Denny Hamlin really helped me out. I pulled on the track in practice, and he waited for me to get up to speed. He basically ruined his practice helping me get up to speed. Joey Logano jumped in my car at New Hampshire and did a couple of laps and changed the car, and I went from 28th to 13th the next lap. I had so many people who really reached out and helped me get the experience I needed.”

Pastrana was fast, but he had issues adapting to the NASCAR experience and the rhythm of races.

“It was extremely difficult for me not growing up in NASCAR,” he said. “I come from motocross, where there’s a shorter duration. It’s everything or nothing. You make time by taking chances. In pavement racing, it’s about rear-wheel drive. You can’t carry your car. In NASCAR it’s not about taking chances. It’s about homework. It’s about team. It’s about understanding where you can go fast and be spot on your mark for three hours straight.”

MORE: Will Clash issues carry over into rest of season?

Pastrana said he didn’t venture into NASCAR with the idea of transferring his skills to stock car racing full time.

“It was all about me trying to get to the Daytona 500,” he said. “Then I looked around, when I was in the K&N Series, and saw kids like Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson. They were teenagers, and they already were as good or better than me.”

Now he hopes to be in the mix with Elliott, Larson and the rest of the field when the green flag falls on the 500.

He will get in some bonus laps driving for Niece Motorsports in the Craftsman Truck Series race at Daytona.

“For the first time, my main goal, other than qualifying for the 500, isn’t about winning,” Pastrana said. “We’ll take a win, of course, but my main goal is to finish on the lead lap and not cause any issues. I know we’ll have a strong car from 23XI, so the only way I can mess this up is to be the cause of a crash.

“I’d just love to go out and be a part of the Great American Race.”