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 

Will driver clashes carry beyond Coliseum race?

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LOS ANGELES — Tempers started the day before the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum when AJ Allmendinger, upset at an aggressive move Chase Briscoe made in practice, “sent (Briscoe) into the fence.”

The action gained notice in the garage. It was quite a change in attitude from last year’s inaugural Clash when drivers were more cautious because teams didn’t have as many spare parts for the new car at the time.

But seeing the aggression in practice made one wonder what the races would be like. Such actions carried over to Sunday night’s exhibition race, which featured 16 cautions and many reasons for drivers to be upset. 

Kyle Busch made it clear where he stood with Joey Logano running into his car and spinning him as Busch ran sixth with 65 laps to go.

“It’s really unfortunate to be raced by guys that are so two-faced,” Busch said of Logano to SiriusXM NASCAR Radio after the race. “We were in the TV booth earlier tonight together and when we were all done with that, just like ‘Hey man, good luck tonight.’ ‘OK, great, thanks, yea, whatever.’

“Then, lo and behold, there you go, he wrecks me. Don’t even talk to me if you’re going to be that kind of an (expletive deleted) on the racetrack.”

Logano said of the contact with Busch: “I just overdrove it. I screwed up. It was my mistake. It’s still kind of a mystery to me because I re-fired and I came off of (Turn) 2 with no grip and I went down into (Turn 3) and I still had no grip and I slid down into (Busch’s car). Thankfully, he was fast enough to get all the back up there. I felt pretty bad. I was glad he was able to get up there (finishing third).”

Austin Dillon, who finished second, got by Bubba Wallace by hitting him and sending Wallace into the wall in the final laps. Wallace showed his displeasure by driving down into Dillon’s car when the field came by under caution.

“I hate it for Bubba,” Dillon said. “He had a good car and a good run, but you can’t tell who’s either pushing him or getting pushed. I just know he sent me through the corner and I saved it three times through there … and then when I got down, I was going to give the game. Probably a little too hard.”

Said Wallace of the incident with Dillon: “(He) just never tried to make a corner. He just always ran into my left rear. It is what it is. I got run into the fence by him down the straightaway on that restart, so I gave him a shot and then we get dumped.”

Among the reasons for the beating and banging, Briscoe said, was just the level of competition.

“Everyone was so close time-wise, nobody was going to make a mistake because their car was so stuck,” he said. “The only way you could even pass them is hitting them and moving them out of the way. … It was definitely wild in that front to mid-pack area.”

Denny Hamlin, who spun after contact by Ross Chastain, aptly summed up the night by saying: “I could be mad at Ross, I could be mad at five other guys and about seven other could be mad at me. It’s hard to really point fingers. Certainly I’m not happy but what can you do? We’re all just jammed up there.”

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After going winless last year for the first time in eight seasons, Martin Truex Jr. was different this offseason. Asked how, he simply said: “Mad.

“Just determined. Just have a lot of fire in my belly to go out and change what we did last year.”

Sunday was a start. After a season where Truex was in position to win multiple races but didn’t, he won the Clash at the Coliseum, giving him his first Cup victory since Sept. 2021 at Richmond. 

The 42-year-old driver pondered if he wanted to continue racing last season. He had never examined the question before.

“I’m not really good at big decisions,” Truex told NBC Sports in the offseason. “I didn’t really have to do that last year. This sport … to do this job, it takes a lot of commitment, takes a lot of drive, it takes everything that you have to be as good as I want to be and to be a champion.

“I guess it was time for me to just ask myself, ‘Do I want to keep doing this? Am I committed? Am I doing the right things? Can I get this done still? I guess I really didn’t have to do that. I just felt like it was kind of time and it was the way I wanted to do it.”

As he examined things, Truex found no reason to leave the sport.

“I came up with basically I’m too good, I’ve got to keep going,” he said. “That’s how I felt about it honestly. I feel like I can win every race and win a championship again.”

Things went his way Sunday. He took the lead from Ryan Preece with 25 laps to go. Truex led the rest of the way. 

“Hopefully we can do a lot more of that,” Truex said, the gold medal given to the event’s race winner draped around his neck Sunday night. 

“We’ve got a lot going on good in our camp, at Toyota. I’ve got a great team, and I knew they were great last year, and we’ll just see how far we can go, but I feel really good about things. Fired up and excited, and it’s just a good feeling to be able to win a race, and even though it’s not points or anything, it’s just good momentum.”

Asked if this was a statement victory, Truex demurred.

“I just think for us it reminds us that we’re doing the right stuff and we can still go out and win any given weekend,” he said. “We felt that way last year, but it never happened.

“You always get those questions, right, like are we fooling ourselves or whatever, but it’s just always nice when you finish the deal.

“And racing is funny. We didn’t really change anything, the way we do stuff. We just tried to focus and buckle down and say, okay, these are things we’ve got to look at and work on, and that’s what we did, and we had a little fortune tonight.”

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While the tire marks, dented fenders and bruised bumpers showed how much beating and banging took place in Sunday night’s Clash at the Coliseum, it wasn’t until after the race one could understand how much drivers were jostled.

Kyle Larson, who finished fifth, said the restarts were where he felt the impacts the most. 

I only had like one moment last year that I remember where it was like, ‘Wow, like that was a hard hit,’” Larson said. “I think we stacked up on a restart at like Sonoma or something, and (Sunday’s Clash) was like every restart you would check up with the guy in front of you and just get clobbered from behind and your head whipping around and slamming off the back of the seat.

“I don’t have a headache, but I could see how if others do. It’s no surprise because it was very violent for the majority of the race. We had so many restarts, and like I said, every restart you’re getting just clobbered and then you’re clobbering the guy in front of you. You feel it a lot.”

After the race, Bubba Wallace said: “Back still hurts. Head still hurts.”

Kyle Busch apologizes for violating Mexican firearm law

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Kyle Busch issued a statement Monday apologizing “for my mistake” of carrying a firearm without a license in Mexico.

The incident happened Jan. 27 at a terminal for private flights at Airport Cancun International as Busch returned with his wife from vacation to the U.S.

The Public Ministry of the Attorney General of the Republic in Quintana Roo obtained a conviction of three years and six months in prison and a fine of 20,748 pesos ($1,082 U.S. dollars) against Busch for the charge. Busch had a .380-caliber gun in his bag, along with six hollow point cartridges, according to Mexican authorities.

Busch’s case was presented in court Jan. 29.

Busch issued a statement Monday on social media. He stated he has “a valid concealed carry permit from my local authority and adhere to all handgun laws, but I made a mistake by forgetting it was in my bag.

“Discovery of the handgun led to my detainment while the situation was resolved. I was not aware of Mexican law and had no intention of bringing a handgun into Mexico.

“When it was discovered, I fully cooperated with the authorities, accepted the penalties, and returned to North Carolina.

“I apologize for my mistake and appreciate the respect shown by all parties as we resolved the matter. My family and I consider this issue closed.”

A NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports on Monday that Busch does not face any NASCAR penalty for last month’s incident.

 

 

Winners and losers from the Clash at the Coliseum

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A look at the winners and losers from Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the non-points race that opened the NASCAR season:

WINNERS

Martin Truex Jr. — Truex limped through a frustrating 2022 season, going winless and contemplating writing “finish” to his driving career. But he decided late in the year to make another run, and that choice paid big dividends Sunday as he put Joe Gibbs Racing in victory lane.

Richard Childress Racing — RCR opened the season with power, putting Austin Dillon in second and newcomer Kyle Busch in third. The new teammates even enjoyed some late-race collaboration, Busch backing off a second-place battle to give Dillon a chance to make a run at eventual winner Truex.

Ryan Preece — Preece, given a shot in the offseason at a full-time ride in Cup with Stewart-Haas Racing, showed strength in his first outing, leading 43 laps before electrical issues dropped him to seventh.

Bubba Wallace — Wallace held the lead at the halfway point and totaled 40 laps in first but was drop-kicked by Austin Dillon late in the race and finished 22nd.

LOSERS

Chase Elliott — It was a lost weekend for the former Cup champion. Elliott was lapped during the race, failed to lead a lap and finished 21st.

Ty Gibbs — Suspension problems parked Gibbs after 81 laps, and he finished next-to-last a day after his car caught fire in practice.

Michael McDowell — McDowell was involved in several on-track incidents during the evening and finished 24th after running out of fuel, along with teammate Todd Gilliland.

Long: Drivers make their point clear on Clash at the Coliseum

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LOS ANGELES — So what to do with the Clash at the Coliseum?

The second edition of this exhibition race at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum showcased beating, banging and 16 cautions in a 150-lap race won by Martin Truex Jr. on Sunday night.

A year remains on NASCAR’s three-year contract with the Coliseum — NASCAR holds the option for next year — and it seems all but certain Cup cars will be back next year.

With Auto Club Speedway President Dave Allen saying Saturday that his track will not host a NASCAR event in 2024 while being converted from a 2-mile speedway to a half-mile track, the Los Angeles area would be without a NASCAR race if the Clash did not return.

NASCAR is not likely to leave the nation’s No. 2 TV market without a race. 

A question this weekend was if the Clash would become a points race next year to replace the Auto Club Speedway date and allow NASCAR to have a new venue for the Clash.

“I think they should put (the Coliseum race) in the playoffs, personally. That would be perfect,” Denny Hamlin said straight faced after Sunday’s race before breaking into a smile to show he was speaking sarcastically.

Two-time Cup champion Joey Logano was emphatic in his response.

“No,” Logano said, shaking his head Sunday night. “We can’t do that.”

Why?

“You’re going to fit 40 cars out there? We can’t even make a caution lap without the pace car bumping the last-place car.”

Logano smiled as he spoke — then again he often smiles as he talks. He was not speaking sarcastically as Hamlin showed with his smile. Logano’s grin was part of a passionate defense.

“No. You can’t do that,” Logano continued of why a points race at the Coliseum is a bad idea. “That’d be dumb.”

Even in a celebratory mood after his first victory in NASCAR in more than a year, Truex was clear about his feelings of making the Clash a points race.

“Why would you screw it up,” he said, “and make it a points race?”

Just because drivers don’t like something doesn’t mean it won’t happen. 

But much would have to happen to make this event a points race.

Those familiar with the charter agreement between teams and NASCAR told NBC Sports that they weren’t sure that the language in the agreement would permit a points race at such a venue. With the charter system guaranteeing all 36 teams a spot in a race, it’s not feasible to run so many cars on this small track. Only 27 cars ran in Sunday’s Clash. That almost seemed too many.

Should there be a way to make this event a points race without all 36 running in the main event, there are other issues. 

The purse would have to significantly increase. NASCAR stated that the purse for Sunday’s Clash was $2.085 million. Last year’s championship race at Phoenix had a purse of $10.5 million. The purse for last year’s Cup race at Watkins Glen was $6.6 million. The purse for last year’s race at Nashville Superspeedway was $8.065 million.

If NASCAR made the Clash a points race, then the purse would be expected to fall in line with other points races. Of course, there still would be the logistics. 

But is it worth it to try to make an event something it doesn’t need to be?

While the attendance appeared to be a little less than the estimated 50,000 for last year’s race, it wasn’t enough of a drop to warrant abandoning this event. Is a points race at the Coliseum going to increase the attendance significantly? No.

Just bring this event back next year as is.

“I think it’s good for what it is,” Logano said. “It’s a non-points race. I think we need to go back to maybe only four cars (instead of five) transferring from the heat (races) … there’s just too many cars (on the track). I think that’s part of the issue as well.”

Then, to make sure he got his point across about if next year’s Coliseum race should be a points race, Logano said: “A points-paying race. No. I’ll be the first to raise my hand that’s a very bad idea.” 

But it’s possible 2024 could be the final year for this event at the Coliseum. 

If Auto Club Speedway’s conversion to a short track can be done in time to be on the 2025 schedule, then the Los Angeles region would have a short track and NASCAR could move the Clash to a new area to reach more fans.

That’s part of the goal this new dynamic NASCAR, which has moved Cup races to different venues in the last couple of years and will run its first street course race in July in Chicago. 

While NASCAR has made such changes, making the race at the Coliseum a points race serves no purpose. Just listen to the drivers.