Friday 5: NASCAR fans on front lines of a pandemic

Photo: Michael Palmer

After his 12-hour overnight shift as an emergency room nurse ends, after witnessing the life-and-death struggles coronavirus patients face, after the anger, sorrow and joy he and his colleagues share, Michael Palmer goes home and tries to sleep.

When he awakes, he FaceTimes 9-year-old son Mikey “so I can have that motivation and realize that there’s still good in life.”

Soon after, Palmer returns to work at a suburban Detroit hospital for another 12 hours of highs and lows. But there is something that separates him from his co-workers. It’s the No. 48 Palmer writes on his mask and tapes to his face shield, showing that he’s a Jimmie Johnson fan.

Palmer is among many NASCAR fans who work in hospitals, medical facilities and ambulances across the country helping those afflicted by coronavirus. A Chase Elliott fan and his Kyle Busch-rooting wife are EMTs in South Carolina. Another Elliott fan is an ER nurse in Florida. A Matt DiBenedetto fan works in a California maternity ward that has treated infected mothers. A Clint Bowyer fan waits for her symptoms to cease so she can return to work at a New York hospital.

With most Americans under stay-at-home orders, medical professionals treat patients each day amidst the threat of catching the virus. Palmer, 37, turns to racers for inspiration.

Michael Palmer has been an emergency room nurse for 12 years. (Photo: Michael Palmer)

“You know the race car driver mentality?” he said. “They know that there is some sort of degree that they could be in a bad wreck and lose their life, but they don’t think about it. They just get in and they race. That’s kind of how I look at my job. Yes, there is a high risk of contracting corona being on the front lines, but it’s not something I think about.”

Instead, the former firefighter, who has been an ER nurse for 12 years, focuses elsewhere.

“The reason why we do what we do,” Palmer said, “is because we have a love for humans.”

Palmer’s job never has been more challenging. Michigan has emerged as one of the nation’s COVID-19 hotspots. Palmer’s hospital is located among the counties at the epicenter of the virus’ spread in that state.

“The first week was very rough,” Palmer said of the 60-hour work week. “Just from the get-go for the first seven days … trying to figure out what is the best way to protect yourself, what is the best way to protect others. You don’t really know what is going on. We were setting up tents. The hospital was in a complete lockdown. No visitors were allowed, and you’re seeing people that are coming in that are sick. We’ve lost people.”

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said this week that she expects the state’s coronavirus cases to peak by the end of April or early May. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services reported Thursday that the state had 21,504 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 1,076 deaths. Michigan ranks third among states in confirmed coronavirus cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Because Palmer is on the frontlines, he has kept away from his son to avoid infecting him and his son’s mother.

Palmer visited his son last Sunday for the first time in three weeks, delivering an Easter basket and gifts since he will work this weekend. Palmer got his son a Kevin Harvick diecast car and hauler. Harvick is among Mikey’s favorite drivers, along with Brad Keselowski, Johnson, Elliott and Busch.

Father and son stood outside several feet apart, abiding by social distancing practices. For an hour, they talked and watched some of the televised virtual Bristol race.

They plan to be in Bristol Motor Speedway in September. Palmer gave his son tickets to the track’s night race as a Christmas present. They first went to a race together on Father’s Day 2017 at Michigan International Speedway.

Mikey Palmer with Jimmie Johnson at Michigan International Speedway on Father’s Day in 2017. (Photo: Michael Palmer)

Naturally, father dressed his son in Johnson attire with a hat and shirt that day. Johnson signed Mikey’s hat before the driver’s meeting. After the meeting, Mikey hoped to get a picture with Johnson but a crowd encircled the seven-time Cup champion.

“Jimmie actually saw (Mikey),” Palmer said. “He stopped, turned around. He put his arm around (Mikey’s) shoulder and pulled him forward and said, ‘Everyone step back, I want to take a picture with my biggest fan here today.’

“I’m glad I had sunglasses on. I had tears in my eyes.”

For now, it is only Palmer’s eyes that patients and colleagues can see when he works. He is covered in gowns, masks, gloves and other gear in the emergency room. Palmer and others work to combat coronavirus and help return the world to a normal way of life as soon as possible.

Without racing, weekends aren’t the same for Palmer.

“Every Sunday or Saturday night, my home, you felt like it was an event,” he said. “It just feels like that is missing now and you don’t realize how much you miss it until it’s gone.”

Palmer can’t wait until the next NASCAR race.

“It doesn’t matter where it’s at,” he said, “whenever they get back, it’s going to be good to see them on track.”


In more than 20 years as a firefighter or EMT, Chad Pleasant has had his share of emergency runs that still impact him.

“There are days where if I’m at work or if I’m at home … and I happen to ride through an area where I know I ran into a specifically bad call that didn’t have a good outcome, no matter what I’m doing … when I hit a certain spot, it comes back,” Pleasant said. “It’s fresh.

“When it comes to day-to-day, you just rely on your partner to get you through the shift and you lift each other up and you just keep going and keep pushing because somebody else is going to need your help.”

One particular scene during this pandemic sticks with Pleasant.

Part of his role is to transfer patients between medical facilities primarily in and around Spartanburg, South Carolina. He recently transported an elderly woman to a rehabilitation center. The patient’s daughter met them at the rehab center but could not hold her mother’s hand or be near for fear of possibly infecting her.

Chad Pleasant served as a firefighter before becoming an EMT. (Photo: Chad Pleasant)

“It was a little sad for both of us, my partner and I,” Pleasant said of witnessing the moment.

The daughter stood about 10 feet away from her mother.

“She took a picture of her,” Pleasant said, “and said she didn’t know when she would get to see her. Things like that kind of bother you a little bit. These patients that are elderly, you never know if this is the last time they see their family or not.”

The 37-year-old Pleasant and his wife Heather both are EMTs. They have three children: Abigail (16 years old), Chase (13) and Greycie (seven). Protecting each other and their children from potential coronavirus exposure has led to some extreme measures.

Earlier this week, Pleasant’s final call of his shift involved transporting a coronavirus patient. After that was completed and the ambulance cleaned, Pleasant went home. Before he entered his house, he removed his shoes, leaving them outside, and stripped, putting his uniform in a garbage bag. Pleasant took the bag in the house, put his uniform in the washing machine and showered before seeing his family. It’s a routine many health care workers now do when they return home so they don’t infect family members.

While home, he looks ahead to the rest of the NASCAR season. Pleasant — who was a Dale Earnhardt fan, then Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan and now a Chase Elliott fan — has not been to a Cup race since 2012 but had tickets for his family for next month’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It was to be his youngest daughter’s first race. Now? Pleasant isn’t sure.

But what Pleasant hopes is to be able to attend next year’s Daytona 500.

“I’ve been there, and I’ve been on the track,” he said of a summer 1999 trip that included a speedway tour, “but I’ve never seen cars on track.”

It would be a scene he would not forget.


Brandon Nobles, an ER nurse for nearly two years, spends his shifts cross-training in the intensive care unit to prepare for an expected surge of coronavirus patients at his Tallahassee, Florida hospital.

“Right now it’s the calm before the storm,” the 30-year-old said.

One forecast, based on a University of Pennsylvania model and released Thursday, suggested that hospitals in and around Tallahassee could run out of intensive care unit beds by mid-May and total hospital beds a couple of weeks later.

But such forecasts can change based on social distancing, testing and other factors.

Brandon Nobles and wife Jamie at 2019 Daytona 500.( Photo: Brandon Nobles)

“The biggest thing with this is it is kind of an eerie unknown,” Nobles said.

Because of how contagious the virus is, hospital workers are covered in protective garb and one can only see their eyes. Not seeing a co-worker’s facial expressions is striking to Nobles.

“It’s hard to tell what type of day somebody is having just by looking at their eyes,” he said. “Not being able to see their reaction to things and their smile, their facial expressions. We’re all covered up from head to toe, so going 12 hours, which is our shifts, and just to be able to tell what type of day they’re having based on their eyes, it’s definitely different. You’re used to seeing people smile and see people laugh.”

That’s the new reality in hospitals and elsewhere with the CDC recommending people wear cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.

Nobles looks forward to when such measures aren’t needed and life can return to normal, which would include racing.

He became a Jeff Gordon fan during Gordon’s dominance in the late 90s but it wasn’t until July 2000 that he saw his first race in person when he went to Daytona International Speedway.’

“All it took was one race,” said Nobles, now a Chase Elliott fan, “and I’ve been hooked ever since.”


While many in hospitals treat patients during their most difficult times, Cindi Scott is with patients during some of their best times. She’s a maternity nurse at a Southern California hospital.

Yet, even there the pandemic’s effects are felt. Some hospitals limit maternity rooms to one guest. In some cases, the expectant mother is alone because her partner must watch other children at home. Family and friends who could have helped are kept away by the threat of COVID-19.

Cindi Scott with Wood Brothers Racing co-owner Leonard Wood at Auto Club Speedway. (Photo: Cindi Scott)

“They’re by themselves and this is supposed to be one of the best days of their lives,” Scott said of some expectant mothers. “We’re trying to be everything for them besides being their caregiver.”

That leaves Scott with expanded duties from holding the expectant mother’s hand to coaching and offering encouragement before the baby’s birth.

Once the baby arrives and is healthy, Scott’s role changes.

The 48-year-old, who has spent 22 years as a nurse, becomes a filmmaker. When there are no family members in the room, she’ll hold the phone so others on FaceTime can see the baby. Other times, Scott becomes an IT person, setting up a Zoom conference so friends and family members of the mother can see the child.

But Scott and her colleagues also tend to expectant mothers who have coronavirus or are presumed to have it pending test results. That creates challenges from limiting who has contact with that patient to performing necessary duties in a particular time frame to limit exposure. Before treating such patients, a nurse is observed putting on all their protective personal equipment to ensure no contamination.

All this makes early March seem more than five weeks ago. That’s when Scott and a few female friends camped in the infield at Auto Club Speedway and watched Alex Bowman win the Cup race. They’ve also attended races at Phoenix Raceway. Once racing returns, Scott would like to plan a girls trip to Bristol or Martinsville.

“It’s a girls trip and it’s fun,” said Scott, who was a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan before becoming a Matt DiBenedetto fan. “The feel of the race cars when you’re there at the track, it’s unlike anything else.”


Amanda Kidd can’t wait for the coming days. The interventional radiologic technologist continues to shows some symptoms of coronavirus even though she tested negative for it.

Until all symptoms are gone, she’s stuck at home instead of working at a hospital near Watkins Glen International.

“It sucks,” the 31-year-old said. “Especially when a lot of your colleagues are there and you are seeing what they’re going through and then you’re stuck at home and not able to help.”

There has been one way she has helped her colleagues. When they set up a drive-thru testing site, they called her to be the first one to see how it would work. She drove to the site, rolled down the window and had a swab in her nostril.

“It feels like they’re tickling your brain,” she said.

Kidd said she hopes to be symptom-free and back to work next week doing what she can to help others.

And she looks forward to being back at Watkins Glen to watch racing. She was a fan of Dale Earnhardt Sr. and then became a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan. Now, she likes Clint Bowyer. She includes Bubba Wallace and Kevin Harvick among her favorites but notes that “if I had to pick out one to hang out with, Clint Bowyer would be at the top of the list.”

While at home, she has had virtual watch parties with friends for the NASCAR iRacing events. They’ve communicated through FaceTime, but she longs to see the real action and camp at the Glen.

“I just can’t wait to get back to the track,” she said. “Be around the cars and the people. I think everybody is kind of on the edge of their seat just ready to get back because they miss the community and being there together.”

It can’t come soon enough. That’s also how Kidd feels about her recovery, so she can again help people in need.

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New NASCAR Cup season features several changes


While NASCAR looks back in celebrating its 75th season, there’s plenty new for the sport heading into the 2023 campaign.

Driver moves and schedule changes and are among some of the big changes this year. Here’s a look at some of the changes this season in Cup:


— Two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch has a different look, as he moves from Joe Gibbs Racing to Richard Childress Racing, taking the ride formerly occupied by Tyler Reddick. 

— Tyler Reddick goes from Richard Childress Racing to 23XI Racing, taking the ride formerly occupied by Kurt Busch, who was injured in a crash last summer and has not returned to competition.

Ryan Preece goes from being a test driver and backup at Stewart-Haas Racing to taking over the No. 41 car formerly run by Cole Custer, who moves to the Xfinity Series. 

— Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson returns to Cup after running the past two seasons in the IndyCar Series. He’s now a part owner of Legacy Motor Club and will run select races for the Cup team. Johnson will seek to make the Daytona 500, driving the No. 84 car.

Ty Gibbs goes from Xfinity Series champion to Cup rookie for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Noah Gragson goes from Xfinity Series title contender to Cup rookie for Legacy Motor Club (and teammate to Jimmie Johnson).

Crew chiefs

— Keith Rodden, who last was a full-time Cup crew chief in 2017 with Kasey Kahne, is back in that role for Austin Dillon at Richard Childress Racing, as Dillon seeks to make back-to-back playoff appearances. Rodden comes to RCR after working with the Motorsports Competition NASCAR strategy group at General Motors.

— Chad Johnston, who has been a crew chief for Tony Stewart, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson and Matt Kenseth, will serve as crew chief for Ryan Preece at Stewart-Haas Racing.

— Blake Harris goes from being Michael McDowell’s crew chief at Front Row Motorsports to joining Hendrick Motorsports to be Alex Bowman’s crew chief. 

— Mike Kelley, who served as Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s crew chief when Stenhouse won Xfinity titles in 2011 and ’12, returns to the crew chief role with Stenhouse this season at JTG Daugherty Racing. 


— What’s old is new. The All-Star Race moves to North Wilkesboro Speedway in May, marking the first Cup event at that historic track since 1996.

— July 2 marks debut of the street course race in Chicago, marking NASCAR’s first street race for its premier series.

— The spring Atlanta race and playoff Texas race have both been reduced from 500 miles to 400 miles.


Ross Chastain’s video-game move on the last lap at Martinsville will no longer be allowed, NASCAR announced this week. 

— Stage breaks are gone at the road course events for Cup races. Stage points will be awarded but there will be no caution for the end of the stage.  

— If a wheel comes off a car while on track, it is only a two-race suspension (last year it was four races) for two crew members. The crew chief is no longer suspended for the violation. 

— Cup cars have a new rear section that is intended to absorb more energy in a crash to prevent driver injuries after Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman each missed races last year because of concussion-related symptoms.

— Elton Sawyer is the new vice president of competition for NASCAR. Think of the former driver as the new sheriff in town for the sport.


— With a win this season, Kyle Busch will have at least one Cup victory in 19 consecutive seasons and become the all-time series leader in that category, breaking a tie with Richard Petty.

Denny Hamlin needs two wins to reach 50 career Cup victories. That would tie him with Hall of Famers Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson for 13th on the all-time list. 

Kevin Harvick, running his final Cup season, is 10 starts away from 800 career series starts. That would make him only the 10th driver in Cup history to reach that mark.

Friday 5: Clash at Coliseum provides a reset for RFK Racing


Mired in traffic was not where Chris Buescher expected to be. Sure, he knew that racing 22 cars on a quarter-mile track inside a stadium that has hosted the Super Bowl, Olympics and World Series would put him in tight confines, but when the green flag waved for last year’s Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Buescher was in traffic on the freeway.

He was headed to the airport — along with the rest of RFK Racing. 

Both Buescher and team owner Brad Keselowski failed to make last year’s feature, sending them home earlier than expected.

“A punch to the gut,” Buescher told NBC Sports.

NASCAR’s return to the Coliseum for Sunday’s Clash is not a redemption tour for RFK Racing, said Jeremy Thompson, the team’s vice president of race operations. He calls it a reset.

That’s what last year was thought to be with Keselowski leaving Team Penske to become an owner/driver of an organization that had gone more than four years without a points victory before 2022. The Clash was a chance for RFK Racing to show its new direction.

Instead, RFK Racing and Spire Motorsports were the only multi-car teams not to have a car in the feature.

“Yes, it was not a points race, but it just looked bad,” Buescher said. “And it was bad. It hurt our feelings more than anybody else’s, I promise.”

Through that disappointment, lessons were learned.

“We didn’t have a lack of hunger that was holding us back,” Keselowski said of last year’s Clash. “We had a lack of understanding our vehicle dynamics. Understanding was just not good enough on a lot of levels.

“We continue to invest in resources and people to continue to push that forward to where we can go to events like that and feel that we’re a threat to win and we’re not just trying to make the race.

“I don’t think I understood that when I came in, where we were at as a company on the vehicle dynamics side.”

It was clear immediately that Buescher and Keselowski were in trouble. Buescher was 21st on the speed chart in practice; Keselowski was 33rd of 36 cars. 

“The car bounced so bad that I thought we were going to rip the transmission right out,” Buescher said of last year’s Clash weekend. “We spent all of practice trying to make the car just drive in a circle vs. trying to make it faster. We missed … before we ever left (the shop).”

Said Thompson about last year’s Clash: “I felt like our effort going into that was exceptionally high. We left no stone unturned. We just turned over some of the wrong stones.”

Two weeks later, both Keselowski and Buescher won their qualifying races at Daytona, but there was much work to do to overcome flaws with other parts of their program.

“We’re pushing really hard on vision and values of what it takes to be a high performer at this level, whether that is getting all the details right in the shop or on the road,” Keselowski said.

RFK Racing learned from its struggles early in the season, particularly with its short track program. Buescher, who had never placed better than 16th at Phoenix at the time, finished 10th there last March, a little more than a month after the Clash. He called his top 10 that day “a small win.”

Progress continued but it was not quick. Buescher placed third at Richmond last August before winning the Bristol night race in the playoffs. Keselowski was seventh at New Hampshire last July and won the first stage at the Bristol night race in September before a flat tire ruined his chances.

Keselowski acknowledges that turning RFK Racing into a team that can contend weekly for wins will take some time, but he sees progress.

“We’re not everywhere we need to be, but we definitely have a plan to get there,” he said. “Navigating that plan is challenging, but we’re on a path.”

2. Why not more horsepower?

NASCAR will take what it learned in last week’s Phoenix test to the wind tunnel on Feb. 13. If the wind tunnel test of short track enhancements goes well, changes could be implemented before the April 2 race at Richmond.

The changes being tested in the wind tunnel are a smaller spoiler (2 inches) and some adjustments to the underbody of the car. 

Still, one suggestion drivers often make is to give them more horsepower.

“I think there’s a misconception that we could take the existing engines and just throw 200 horsepower in it,” said John Probst, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, in response to a question from NBC Sports. 

“We do have multiple-race engines today that we have to keep in mind. (More horsepower) is something that we are actively discussing, but, obviously, we don’t do that in a vacuum. We do that with the engine builders.

“But anybody that has been around, we’ve raced high horsepower and low downforce before and ended up at some point in time deciding to go away from that to get more entertaining racing. … I think we’re open to entertaining any horsepower gains that we can get with our current (engine) architecture, but anything beyond that is actually not something that can happen quickly.”

Probst later said that keeping the engines in the current horsepower range could prove helpful for any manufacturer looking to join the sport.

“One of the reasons we landed on the horsepower range we’re in now is to try to land in areas that have existing racing engines designed for them, similar to our current (manufacturers),” Probst said. “We’re not hiding from the fact that we would like to encourage some new (manufacturers) to come in. That is part of the equation for that whole thing. I’m not saying it’s the driving reason, but it is a consideration.”

3. Crossing the line

The quarter-mile oval in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum will provide plenty of chances to hit bumpers, doors and other parts of the car Sunday.

But there’s a line between short track racing and racing without respect. 

For Ryan Preece, who is running his first race in the No. 41 for Stewart-Haas Racing this weekend, there is a clear divide.

“There’s certainly a way to go about it in quarter-mile racing where you can pass somebody without hitting them,” said Preece, a veteran of racing modifieds in bullrings. 

So how does he tell what’s crossing the line on a short track?

“If somebody drives into me getting into the center of the corner, they’re in control of their race car at that point,” Preece said. “So that or door slamming somebody, not even trying to make the corner, are two good examples (of not racing with respect).”

Preece relies on a lesson he learned racing modifieds with how to race in close quarters.

“I’ll never forget this, I was at Thompson (Speedway) and I used (seven-time modified champion) Mike Stefanik up pretty well into Turn 2 with probably six or seven laps to go, trying to chase down the leader. It didn’t happen. 

“I said, ‘Oh, hey man, I’m sorry. I had to do what I had to do for my team.’ He looked at me and said ‘Well, what about my team? What about the guys I race with?’ 

“I think that day really helped me understand that side of things. You want to race with as much respect as you possibly can. There’s a way to do it, a way to race somebody hard but not overstep the line.”

4. On the same page

Ty Dillon moves to Spire Motorsports this season as a teammate to Corey LaJoie.

Dillon will drive the No. 77 car, which has never finished in the top 30 in car owner points since its debut in 2019. The best the car placed was 31st in owner points in 2021.

Dillon says he has confidence in building the program based on Spire Motorsports’ approach.

“We aren’t unrealistic about where we are,” Dillon told NBC Sports.

But he also said that management has workable goals.

“We said, ‘Hey, here’s where we stand in the spectrum of the race teams,’ ” Dillon said. “Here’s our goals. Here’s what we believe we can accomplish. The structure of what everybody knows and how we’re all pulling in the same direction is a real confidence (boost).

“We know we’re not going to be the team that competes every single weekend for wins, but we’re going to be the best at who we are. Over time, people are going to say, ‘Damn, Spire has taken a step.’ … We’re long-term focused and everybody’s on the same page as that.

“I’ve been a part of a team that said, ‘Hey, we’re wanting to build something.’ Well, you get 10 races in and they haven’t won a race and they’re throwing everybody out the door.”

Dillon said the “realistic, genuine expectation” at Spire Motorsports makes this situation feel different for him.

“The hope and optimism is knowing that we’re all on the same page,” he said.

5. Rule book changes 

NASCAR announced a series of rule changes this week and stated that it would outlaw the video game move Ross Chastain made on the final lap of last year’s Martinsville race. 

NASCAR also made a number of changes to the rule book this week.

Among those:

— Intentionally damaging another car on pit road could lead a Cup driver to be penalized 25-50 points and/or 25-50 owner points and/or $50,000 – $100,000 fine. Last year, intentionally damaging another car on pit road could lead only to a fine of $25,000 – $50,000.

— Member to member confrontations with physical violence and other violent manifestations could result in a fine and/or indefinite suspension or membership revocation. Last year, such an infraction was listed as incurring a penalty of 25-50 driver and/or team owner points and/or a fine of $50,000 – $100,000. Violations also could result in a race suspension(s), indefinite suspension or termination.

— In the past, if a car could not go when it was time to make a qualifying attempt, it was put on a five-minute clock to do so. That’s changed this year. Now, the clock will be no more than one minute unless it is a safety issue. 

Also, NASCAR listed the length of each Cup race. The inaugural Chicago Street Course Race is scheduled for 100 laps.

Harrison Burton looks for progress in second year in Cup


Harrison Burton made the first start of his NASCAR Cup Series partnership with the Wood Brothers in the bright lights of Los Angeles.

Burton and the Woods teamed last season as Burton jumped into full-time Cup racing after two full seasons (and four wins) in the Xfinity Series. Their first race was the Clash at the Coliseum, and it was a good start — Burton qualified for the feature and finished 12th on the lead lap.

Then things headed downhill. Crashes at Daytona and Auto Club Speedway left Burton with finishes of 39th and 33rd, respectively. After the first five races of the year, he had four finishes of 25th or worse.

Now, Season Two, and there are higher expectations. Much higher.

MORE: Drivers to watch in Clash at the Coliseum

“The start of last year was really, really rough,” Burton told NBC Sports. “It kind of put us in a hole. We got into the wreck in the 500 and crashed at Fontana. Things kind of stack up on you, and all of a sudden you’re buried in points and it’s hard to make it back up.

“But, at the end of the year, three of the last four weekends were big for us (three consecutive top-20 finishes). We need to build off that and try to get out of the West Coast swing and have a clean group of those races. That’s really important. We need to get our average finish up in the first four to five races and not put ourselves in a hole we can’t get out of, and then go from there.”

The Wood Brothers team typically brings strong cars to the Daytona 500, the season’s first point race. Trevor Bayne scored the team’s latest win in stock car racing’s biggest event in 2011.

“We ran well in the 500 last year until I was upside down,” Burton said. “We had a fast car and qualified well and finished third in our duel. Then in the second Daytona race we put ourselves in good position late, so we were in contention in both Daytona races. The speed was there, and the cars drove well.”

The team’s primary goal is to make the playoffs, Burton said. “And we want to be a contender,” he said. “Cup races are so hard. First, you have to contend. Having a good average finish is really important. If you average around 17th or 18th all year, you can kind of point your way into the playoffs, and doing that is on our minds for sure.”

MORE: Power Rankings: 10 historic moments in the Clash

Burton looks for a strong start in Sunday’s Clash, which will present teams with a mix of the old and the new. Drivers got the experience of racing inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum last year, and notes from that race will be useful, but the racing surface will be all new again.

“Every repave has a different tendency,” Burton said. “We’ll see how close it is to last time and how different. Obviously, there is experience on that track, but still it’s a completely new surface, so it’s going to be a mixture of old and new. There’s some knowledge we can build off of, but we kind of have to go into the weekend with that knowledge as tentative because we don’t know if the track is going to be different.”

Burton heads for Los Angeles with a win already under his belt this year. He and teammate Zane Smith, last year’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion, won last Friday’s International Motor Sports Association’s Michelin Pilot Challenge Series race on the Daytona International Speedway road course.

Burton drove the finishing laps in the four-hour race. He was third with about 50 minutes to go but moved in front with 22 minutes left when leader Elliott Skeer parked. Burton outran second-place Spencer Pumpelly by .688 of a second for the win.

“I thought we could run well,” Burton said. “After the test we did, we were really fast, so I was pretty excited. But apparently there is a lot of sandbagging that goes on there, so I wasn’t sure where we were. We had to have some things go right for us, and they did.”





Dr. Diandra: Muffling racecars won’t change fan experience


Last week, NASCAR tested the muffler that will be used for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum.

“Heresy,” some fans cried. They argued that it is against the laws of man and nature to muffle racecars. That noise is an integral part of the fan experience. That you’re not supposed to be able to have conversations during races.


The cars will be plenty loud.

Loud is fast

Engines produce power by combusting fuel and air in their cylinders. Each combustion produces high-pressure gases that push the piston up. The same gases make a loud popping sound when they escape the cylinder and finally the exhaust.

At 8,000 rpm, an eight-cylinder engine performs about 520 combustions every second. The faster an engine runs, the more combustions per second and the higher the frequency of the tailpipe noise.

That’s why NASCAR engines sound like grizzly bears and F1 engines, which run at higher speeds, sound more like angry mosquitoes.

Maximum horsepower requires getting the spent gases out of the cylinder as quickly as possible so the next combustion reaction can start. And that’s the problem with mufflers, from a racing perspective.

Mufflers on street cars bounce sound waves from the engine around a metal can. The waves interfere with each other, which decreases the overall volume coming from the exhaust.

Mufflers can also mitigate noise by directing the exhaust through a sound-absorbing material. Borla, the sole-source supplier for this weekend’s muffler, makes commercial racing mufflers that feature a robust sound-absorbing material superior to the commonly used fiberglass.

Both methods slow the exhaust gases — the first more than the second. The ideal racing muffler diminishes sound with minimal horsepower reduction.


Sound-level measurements come in decibels (dB), a unit named after Alexander Graham, not Christopher — and apparently by someone who wasn’t the best speller.

But decibels don’t tell the whole story. Sound intensity decreases with distance, so you need to specify how far away the sound source was.

The easiest way to explain the decibel scale is to relate it to real-world noises, as I’ve done below.

A bar chart showing representative sound levels expressed in decibels.

  • Zero dB is the threshold of human hearing.
  • A whisper you can just barely make out is about 20 dB.
  • Most everyday noises are in the 60 dB to 100 dB range but are sometimes louder.
  • Exposure to 130 dBs can be painful.
  • A 150-dB sound can cause permanent hearing damage in a very short time.

Ringing in your ears the day after a rock concert was a badge of honor in high school. Older me wishes I had been a little smarter.

Hair cells — not to be confused with ear hair — facilitate hearing. Sound bends these hair-shaped cells, and the cells convert sound into electrical signals that the brain interprets. Loud sounds can bend these cells so much that they break.

Unlike animals such as sharks, zebrafish — and even the lowly chicken — humans cannot grow new hair cells. Once your hearing is damaged, you can’t get it back.

How loud are racecars?

A noise mitigation study for the proposed Nashville Fairgrounds track measured a single Next Gen car at COTA generating 112 dB on a straightaway at 100 feet.

A 2008 study measured the sound level inside a Gen-6 car to be an average of 114 dB. The study also compared sound in the stands, the infield and the pits.

Let’s add those numbers to our graph.

A bar chart showing representative sound levels expressed in decibels, including sound measurements from the Gen-6 and Next Gen cars

  • The Next Gen car at 100 feet is about the same loudness as a person screaming at top volume 1 inch from your ear.
  • The Next Gen car at 100 feet is just a bit quieter than sitting inside the Gen-6 car.
  • Bristol reached peak sound levels loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage.

The graph data suggests that inside the Next Gen car should be around 10 times louder than inside the Gen-6. Some drivers made new earmolds to cope with the additional noise in the cockpit.

Because of the way sound works, the numbers don’t add like you’d expect them to. A Next Gen car might be 112 dB, but two Next Gen cars are more like 115 dB. A full field would be only 5-7 dB louder.

The mufflers won’t muffle much

NASCAR expects a six to 10-dB reduction in sound with mufflers. A 10-dB reduction would make the Next Gen car about as loud as the Gen-6 car was.

Another way of looking at it: Good earplugs reduce sound levels by 25 to 30 dB. Wearing earplugs just barely gets you into the range of being able to hold a conversation if you stand very close to each other and you both shout.

You won’t notice the change in sound inside the track.

You also won’t notice a change in speed this weekend, despite a drop of 30-40 horsepower. The Next Gen car takes around 14 seconds to traverse the L.A. Coliseum’s quarter-mile track. That means cars won’t be going much faster than typical expressway speeds.

If you’re headed out to the track this weekend — despite the mufflers — bring earplugs or over-the-ear headsets. This is especially important for children, as their hearing is more easily damaged.