A streak worth celebrating, but just don’t talk about it

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To know the information is one thing. To share it is another. But to reveal the fact to the driver it pertains to is to invite the potential for scorn even though that fact is quite an achievement.

“Oh thanks, I appreciate that,” Kevin Harvick says in jest after being told he has gone more than one year since his last speeding penalty in a Cup race.

Mind you, he was told that two days before last weekend’s Texas race, which he won to clinch a spot in the Nov. 17 championship race in Miami.

So it was understandable with all that was at stake, being informed about his perfect streak on pit road — where drivers toe the line on being too fast — might make a driver uneasy.

But Harvick’s run of 38 consecutive races without a pit road speeding penalty isn’t the longest streak in the series. Fellow playoff driver Joey Logano has gone 69 races, dating to last year’s Daytona 500 without speeding on pit road in a Cup race.

Told of his achievement, he jokingly looks to knock on wood and laughs. Logano often laughs, sometimes at himself, sometimes as a reflex and sometimes because it is just good to be him, the reigning series champion. 

“Maybe it means I’m not pushing hard enough,” Logano says, laughing.

What Logano and Harvick have done is remarkable in a series where a hundredth of a second matters and going too fast on pit road can prove costly. The only other full-time Cup driver without a pit road speeding penalty this season is Chris Buescher. He has gone 65 races since being penalized for speeding at Auto Club Speedway in March 2018.

A pit road speeding penalty this weekend at ISM Raceway could impact who makes the championship race in Miami. Six drivers are contending for the final two spots. One mistake could end a driver’s title hopes.

Last year’s Cup playoff race at ISM Raceway had 10 pit road speeding penalties — including one by Chase Elliott, whose infraction came while leading with about a quarter of the 312-lap race left. The penalty played a role in his playoff elimination.

“You can’t come down pit road leading the race and speed and expect to race for a championship the next week,” Elliott said after that race.

Elliott has been better at watching his speed. He last had a pit road speeding penalty in the Coca-Cola 600 in May, a stretch of 21 races. Or think it about it this way — it’s one race longer than Kyle Busch’s winless streak.

Busch has the most pit road speeding penalties among the eight remaining playoff drivers. He’s been caught six times, including the Dover playoff race.

“I’ll bet you all the money in the world that I can go a whole year without speeding on pit road if you want to make that bet,” Busch says.

No bet is taken.

“It’s all about where your tolerances are set,” Busch says of the series of lights on the car’s dash that is tied to RPMs, which is how teams measure their speed because their cars don’t have a speedometer as passenger vehicles do. “You have that tachometer that we all work off of and our lights and everything else … that we set our pit road speeds to. Some guys’ tolerances are way tighter and closer to that limit than others. It’s just a matter of it.

“There’s a sheet that we get every week that gives us a rundown of pit road speeds and guys on pit road and how fast they are and all of that sort of stuff. The 18 car, we’ve been No. 1 on that sheet for the past four years. We will keep doing what we do and continue to be No. 1 on that sheet. Sometimes, we will have to pay that price with a speeding penalty, and you just have to know when you have to back it down a little.”

All teams get that weekly report card on their time driving on pit road, giving competitors a sense of how fast or slow they are compared to the field.

Michael McDowell, who has been penalized seven times for speeding on pit road this year, says that data is meaningful.

“All of us analyze this on Monday, and you get a ranking,” he says. “I don’t want to be 30th on pit road. I want to be top 10 on pit road every week. I don’t want to leave anything on the table, and neither does anyone else.”

Still, a speeding penalty can set a driver back and ruin their day, so why risk it?

“I think that it is a challenge on pit road to not leave anything on the table,” McDowell says. “That is what everybody is doing. You’re pushing as hard as you can to not lose half a second on pit road. The reason I’ve had more penalties than most is I push it really hard. I try to get as much as I can, and sometimes you overstep it.”

The reverberations of even one pit road speeding penalty can be felt months later. Kyle Larson knows.

He was leading at Atlanta in February when he was caught speeding two-thirds of the way through the race. He never recovered and finished 12th.

Say he hadn’t had that penalty and gone to win, he would have collected five playoff points. He enters Sunday’s race at ISM Raceway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC) 23 points out of the final transfer spot. As Logano noted earlier in the playoffs, every point matters.

And every moment on pit road matters.

“If you lose focus for a second trying to launch out of your stall or you don’t get slowed down enough coming in, it’s very easy to step over and be a thousandth of a mile an hour over the speed limit or a hundredth and get popped for speeding,” says Larson, who has had only one other speeding penalty this year. “I try not to push it. I’d say I’m on the slower end.”

That Harvick, Logano and Buescher have gone all season without a speeding penalty is remarkable considering all that takes place on pit road.

Drivers watch their dashes, making sure they don’t go over the speed limit as cars pull in or pull out of pit stalls around them. Add to it that the easiest place to pass cars often can be pit road, and the pressure to not lose any time increases.

“As you look at it, I feel like it is one of the reasons our team is still in it,” Harvick says of not having a pit road speeding penalty this year. “I don’t feel like we have had that knockout speed that the (Joe Gibbs Racing) cars have had on a week-to-week basis. We have had it a few times and been able to capitalize on that, but I feel like we have done a good job minimizing the mistakes.

“Hopefully, you don’t jinx us.”

Logano credits his team for keeping him from speeding on pit road.

“When you look at pit road and drivers that get penalties more often than others, it’s not just the driver in this case,” he says. “In some cases, it is. In other cases, if the team doesn’t calculate the lights the right way, you’re going to get a pit road speeding penalty.

“As long as you’re in tune with what your team is doing, and they’re in tune with how you’re going to run down pit road, you can maximize it and not go over. You got to be cautious, but you got to push it.”

Sunday night, after Harvick had crossed the finish line first, celebrated in victory lane and came to the media center, he found the person who had asked him earlier that weekend about not having a pit road speeding penalty.

“Yes … we made it through the whole night without having a speeding penalty, so I don’t have to find you this next week to … we didn’t have a speeding penalty,” Harvick said with a smile, “so you’re off the hook.”

Of course, two races remain. Two more chances to make a mistake, and if it happens in Miami, it could cost a driver the championship.

 

Here is a list of the playoff drivers and their last speeding penalty:
Driver Date Track
Joey Logano 2/18/18 Daytona
Kevin Harvick 10/21/18 Kansas
Chase Elliott 5/26/19 Charlotte
Kyle Larson 8/11/19 Michigan
Kyle Busch 10/6/19 Dover
Denny Hamlin 10/13/19 Talladega
Martin Truex Jr. 10/13/19 Talladega
Ryan Blaney 10/13/19 Talladega

Racing Insights 

 

Drivers with the most pit road speeding penalties this season:
7 – Ty Dillon
7 – Michael McDowell
6 – Kyle Busch
4 – Denny Hamlin
4 – Martin Truex Jr.
4 – JJ Yeley
3 – Ryan Blaney
Racing Insights 

Power rankings after Bristol: Brad Keselowski is new No. 1

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Kevin Harvick is out and Bristol winner Brad Keselowski is the new No. 1 in this week’s NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Keselowski was the unanimous pick of NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers. Harvick had been the unanimous No. 1 the last two weeks. He falls to second in this week’s rankings.

Kurt Busch made the biggest climb, going from 10th last week to No. 4 in this week’s rankings. Three drivers dropped out of the top 10 from last week: Alex Bowman, Martin Truex Jr. and Tyler Reddick.

Here’s how this week’s rankings look:

1. Brad Keselowski (30 points): Right place, right time at Bristol, taking advantage of contact between Chase Elliott and Joey Logano to sail on to victory lane for second time in last three races. Last week: second.

2. Kevin Harvick (26 points): Saw his streak of 13 consecutive top 10s end at Bristol with an 11th-place finish. Last week: first.

3. Chase Elliott (25 points): Won once in the past week and was in contention for a second win until he hit Joey Logano late at Bristol. Last week: tied for third.

4. Kurt Busch (20 points): The elder Busch brother has gone from third to 10th and back up to fourth in the last three power rankings. Last week: 10th.

5. Jimmie Johnson (14 points): The seven-time champ has been knocking on victory’s door for each of the last four weeks, including finishing a season-best third at Bristol. Is that 104-race winless streak ready to end? Last week: unranked.

(tie) 6. Kyle Busch (13 points): Rebounded from a cut tire and 29th-place finish at the second Charlotte race to take fourth at Bristol. Last week: tied for third.

(tie) 6. Austin Dillon (13 points): Eighth at second Charlotte race and followed up with a strong sixth at Bristol. Last week: unranked.

8. Denny Hamlin (11 points): Much like the rest of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, his streak of up-and-down results continues. Runner-up at second Charlotte race and 17th at Bristol after a late incident. Last week: seventh.

9. Ryan Blaney (4 points): Continues his search for consistency. Finished third at second Charlotte and was strong at Bristol until spinning while running second and then was hit, ending his race. Last week: unranked.

10. Christopher Bell (3 points): After rough first five races of rookie season, has bounced back with three finishes of 11th or better in his last four races. Last week: ninth.

Others receiving votes: Austin Cindric (2 points), William Byron (1 point).

Reports: Nashville Superspeedway to host Cup race in 2021

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NASCAR will race at Nashville Superspeedway in 2021, according to multiple reports Tuesday night.

The Tennessean reported that a “very tentative” date of June 20, 2021 has been set for the Cup Series race at Nashville Superspeedway in Lebanon, Tennessee.

The Nashville race will come from one of Dover International Speedway’s two race dates, according to The Associated Press.

Such a move likely means that Speedway Motorsports’ efforts to bring NASCAR back to Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville will not take place in 2021.

Nashville Superspeedway, a 1.333-mile oval, is owned by Dover Motorsports, which also owns Dover International Speedway. The track hosted Xfinity and Gander RV & Outdoors Series races from 2001-11.

The Associated Press stated that the idea of Nashville Superspeedway hosting NASCAR races again came after the city hosted the Cup Awards in December for the first time.

“Especially after the awards banquet, it was, how do we get to Nashville as soon as we possibly can?” Dover CEO Mike Tatoian told The Associated Press. “It made it a fairly easy discussion that it was through Dover Motorsports.”

Tatoian told the AP that updating the track would cost $8-10 million. He also stated that capacity would be between 25,000-50,000.

Dover has hosted two Cup races a year since 1971. It has had a race weekend postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Dover is expected to host a Cup doubleheader Aug. 22-23.

“It looks more and more like we’ll be hosting a doubleheader,” Tatoian told the AP. “That’s a strong scenario and that’s what we’re focused on.”

Penalty report from Bristol Motor Speedway

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NASCAR has issued its penalty report for the Bristol Motor Speedway race weekend.

The only penalty was a $10,000 fine for Chris Gayle, crew chief on Erik Jones‘ No. 20 Toyota, for having one unsecured lug nut after Sunday’s Cup Series race.

 

Stats, Quotes and Moments: The NASCAR Cup Season So Far

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The first nine races of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season have been a long, strange trip.

Beginning with the Daytona 500 on Sunday, Feb. 16 – a race that concluded the following Monday due to rain – and ending with Sunday’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway, it took 106 days to conduct nine races at seven race tracks. That was after NASCAR endured a 71-day COVID-19 imposed break from action.

Here’s a look back at the first quarter of the season and where the series stands ahead of race No. 10 Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on Fox).

Key stats

– Through nine races there have been six different winners and three repeat winners. Not among them are three of the last four Cup champions: Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr.  Since Truex’s rookie year in 2006, this is the first time all three have been winless through the ninth race of the year.

– Due to COVID-19, the Cup Series held a Wednesday race for the first time since 1984.

– The three races on 1.5-mile tracks have seen three different winners: Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott. They are part of a stretch of nine different winners in the last nine races on 1.5-mile tracks. The last time there was nine in a row was in 2008-09. The last time there was more than nine was 2001-02 when there was 10.

– Elliott, who has just one win, has the best average running position: 7.748.

– The driver with the best average average finish who hasn’t won yet is Kurt Busch: 11.6

– Only four out of 19 times has a stage winner finished in the top 10 (Hamlin won after winning Stage 2 at Daytona, Alex Bowman won after winning Stage 1 at Auto Club Speedway and Harvick finished second at Phoenix after winning Stage 1 and Logano finished sixth after winning Stage 1 at Charlotte 2).

Chase Elliott after winning Thursday’s Cup Series race at Charlotte. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

– The Stage 2 winner has finished 11th or worse in each of the last eight races.

– Hendrick Motorsports has led the most laps this year (780) and won the most stages (10), but has just two race wins.

– 21st: Matt Kenseth‘s average finish in his five races driving Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 car after replacing Kyle Larson. Larson was fired by CGR in the aftermath of his use of a racial slur in an iRacing event in April.

Key Moments

– Daytona 500: After a push from Ryan Blaney gave Ryan Newman the lead on the last lap, a violent wreck coming to the checkered flag resulted in Denny Hamlin earning his third Daytona 500 win and Newman being taken to the hospital with a bruised brain. He walked out of the hospital two days later with his daughters. Newman missed the next three races and returned at Darlington on May 17.

– Las Vegas: Ryan Blaney was leading late when a caution came out for a Ross Chastain spin. It set up a two-lap shootout for the win. When pit road opened, Blaney and Alex Bowman, who was running second, both went to pit road. Joey Logano, running third, stayed out. Logano went on to win and Blaney finished 11th.

– Darlington 1: Denny Hamlin stayed out under a late caution due to having run out of fresh tires. Hamlin held onto the lead for one lap until a caution came out for an incident between Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott. During the caution, it began raining and the race was made official, giving Hamlin the win.

– Coca-Cola 600: Chase Elliott was three laps away from winning when the caution came out for his teammate, William Byron, spinning after cutting a tire. Elliott’s team chose to pit for tires as a majority of the leaders stayed out. After restarting 11th, Elliott could only race back to third place (before Jimmie Johnson’s disqualification) in overtime as Brad Keselowski won.

Key quotes

“We were in a position to finish it off, and we got destroyed for no reason. You would think these guys would be smarter than that. We all cause wrecks. I get in wrecks all the time and I cause them. The same one over and over again. It’s the same thing. Somebody throws a stupid block that’s never going to work and wrecks half the field and then goes ‘eh’. Maybe we need to take the helmets out of these cars and take the seat belts out. Somebody will get hurt and then we’ll stop driving like assholes. I don’t know. We’ll figure it out I guess.” – Brad Keselowski after he was eliminated in a large wreck in the Busch Clash, which began when his teammate Joey Logano threw “a stupid block.”

“I thought it was warranted, and he was deserving.” – Chase Elliott on the middle finger he displayed at Kyle Busch following the contact between the two drivers that wrecked Elliott late in the May 20 race at Darlington.

“Imitation is the strongest form of flattery or something, I don’t know what it is. Huh, that’s cute.” – Kyle Busch upon being informed Chase Elliott performed his trademark bow after beating him in the May 26 Truck Series race at Charlotte, which earned Elliott (and a COVID-19 relief effort of his choice) a $100,000 bounty for beating Busch.

“He wrecked me. He got loose underneath me. The part that’s frustrating is that afterwards a simple apology, like be a man and come up to someone and say, ‘Hey, my bad.’  But I had to force an apology, which, to me, is childish. …  I passed him clean. It’s hard racing at the end, I get that. It’s hard racing, but, golly, man, be a man and take the hit when you’re done with it.” – Joey Logano after Sunday’s race at Bristol, when contact from Chase Elliott while racing for the lead took them out of contention