Friday 5: Behind-the-scenes view shows more than expected

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Twitch video streams bring fans closer to drivers by showing them as they compete in iRacing events, but those streams have revealed more in the past two weeks, costing one driver a sponsor and another his job.

Twitch.tv is the popular site to watch people play video games and racers compete in iRacing events, such as Sunday’s eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series event from a virtual Richmond Raceway.

Twitch allows race fans to see facial reactions, comments drivers make to themselves and those they make to competitors during races. This unfiltered access is more than fans would experience with a real race. There they would only hear what a driver says when the driver pressed the radio button. With Twitch, the radio button, in essence, is on all the time.

It was on Twitch that fans saw Bubba Wallace quit the April 5 Pro Invitational Series race at a virtual Bristol after he was involved in multiple incidents. A sponsor responded that it would cut all ties with Wallace.

Last weekend, another competitor’s twitch stream caught Kyle Larson using a racial slur, costing Larson his job at Chip Ganassi Racing and leading to questions of if he’ll race in NASCAR again.

Without Twitch, those situations likely wouldn’t have been seen.

But they were and the fallout was real.

“People are going to say, ‘Oh, it’s getting too serious, it’s taking all the fun out of it,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said on this week’s Dale Jr. Download of the recent controversies. “I’m sorry. That’s the way you’ve got to approach it. You can still enjoy what you’re doing. You can still sit down there and have fun with it.”

Some drivers do, continuing to remain on Twitch. 

“Now, I’ve got to practice what I preach,” Earnhardt said on the Dale Jr. Download. “I’m going to be put in situations where you’re going to bite your tongue and not lash out at someone that might have done you wrong. Like Smithley. Garrett Smithley runs over me at Bristol, cleaned me out. We take care of each other, I always race hard, but I like to take care of the people around me. I don’t go into the corner and if I door this guy and he finishes 20th, I don’t care. That’s not my mentality. I race like I’d love this position but I’m not going to cost this guy 20 spots trying to get it, especially in a sim race.

“I think Garrett went in there and didn’t take care of me and it cost me a top 10 and in that moment I was as angry as I would have been in a real race car. I told him to eat (expletive). I did it over a private (channel to Smithley). I even went to his name and hit private message, but I knew as soon as I was sending that, while I was sending that I knew that that could be on Twitter in two minutes, less than that and it was, but you got to be aware (of) everything you say and do.

“It was tongue-in-cheek and we had a little fun with it. He’s a good guy and has done a good job of being a good ambassador of the sim racing life we’re all living now. You’ve just got to know that everything you type, say (and) do is going to be up for criticism or debate while you’re out there racing.”

2. A new following

After Kyle Larson uttered a racial slur last weekend, Sam Young had a talk with 11-year-old son James, who is a Larson fan.

“We always try to be open and try and make sure he knows if something is not right that he needs to know that, ‘Hey, this isn’t right and this is why it isn’t right,’ ” said Young, who lives in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. “He already knew what Kyle had said was wrong before we even talked about it.

“That afternoon, he was like I guess I need a new driver.”

MORE: Bubba Wallace addresses Kyle Larson’s racial slur 

MORE: Ryan: These might have been Kyle Larson’s last words in NASCAR

That night Young tweeted that her son was looking for a new driver and she wrote: “Any driver out there want to help a mom out?”

She received several replies from fans and some drivers. She showed James the responses and he made his decision.

He chose Spencer Boyd, who was among the drivers who responded to Young’s tweet, which James said swayed him. He also chose Ross Chastain, who was promoted by multiple people.

James later decided to continue to support Larson.

Young also discussed with James what he could learn from Larson’s situation.

“People make mistakes and it’s something that you need to learn from,” she said. “There will be consequences. You have to face the consequences of your action.”

3. Time to read a book

Call him a performance coach or human optimizer or some other title, Josh Wise doesn’t have a particular title. The former racer just works with drivers on how to be better.

Among the drivers he works with are Tyler Reddick, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Ross Chastain, Noah Gragson and those with GMS Racing’s Truck program.

With racing suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s still work for drivers to do. Wise makes sure of it. But it’s not all physical.

“You can be as physically fit as you want, but you get to a point where being more fit isn’t going to make you drive a race car better,” Wise said. “It becomes cognitive and psychological and how you react and respond.”

iRacing helps — and Wise has set up private sessions for his drivers to work on skills while racing on a virtual track with them.

But there is something else that Wise preaches to his students.

Read a book.

“My goal over the last few weeks has really shifted to focus in this area because I see the opportunity that comes through causal conversations and book assignments and other literature that I’ve gone through with guys,” Wise said. “I think it’s a great time for that mindset growth and development.”

Wise has used book assignments even before this break.

He said one driver was given “Mind to Matter” by Dawson Church. The book shows how intentions can create things. Gragson said in September that he was reading John Maxwell’s book “25 Ways to Win with People” to be a better team leader.

“That’s what I need to be for this race team,” Gragson said at the time. “It’s really easy to be happy and smiling when things are going good, but I feel like your character comes out when maybe things aren’t going as well as you would want. I’m trying to lean on people who I call my mentors … reading that book and just trying to be better and more positive.”

Wise said the book assignments are good for many reasons, especially the younger drivers.

“Most of them are kids and they’re just bombarded with this stream of information that isn’t always the best for developing the way you think,” Wise said. “Books became a big part of what I do with everyone because it gives them something positive and productive to talk about. I’ve obviously read most of the books, and if I haven’t read it, I read it with them, and we’re talking about something that is pushing us to grown and change the way we think.”

4. Advice for those at home

With so many in the country under stay-at-home orders, what advice can Josh Wise give to the public to optimize their time?

“I had this kind of thought … I’m really talking to myself, if you’re not coming out of this with a new skill or self-betterment in some way — whether that is I’ve always wanted to run or I wanted to be more flexible and I want to do yoga —  we still have access to the tools to better ourselves,” Wise said. “Just focusing on what you can control and that’s those things. That’s you. This is the time. This is an opportunity I feel like.”

5. Somber day

Thursday, Indianapolis Motor Speedway was the site of a funeral for Indianapolis Metropolitan Police officer Breann Leath, who died after being shot on duty while responding to a domestic disturbance call April 9. She was 24.

With social distancing, officers could not pay their respects in the customary ways following a line-of-duty death.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which had never before hosted a funeral, was utilized. Cars lined the inside lane and outside lane around the 2.5-mile track and the funeral procession drove a lap in the middle lane, allowing those to pay their respects while maintaining social distancing.

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NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023 season

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR announced a series of rule changes for the 2023 season that includes outlawing the move Ross Chastain made at Martinsville and eliminating stage breaks at all six Cup road course events.

NASCAR announced the changes in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

Among new things for this season:

  • Updated penalty for a wheel coming off a car.
  • Change to the amount of time teams have to repair cars on pit road via the Damaged Vehicle Policy.
  • Change to playoff eligibility for drivers.
  • Cars could run in wet weather conditions on short ovals.
  • Expansion of the restart zone on a trial basis.
  • Choose rule will be in place for more races.

MORE: Ranking top 10 moments at the Clash

NASCAR updated its policy on a loose wheel. Previously, if a wheel came off a car during an event, it would be a four-race suspension for the crew chief and two pit crew members. That has changed this year.

If a wheel comes off a car while the vehicle is still on pit road, the vehicle restarts at the tail end of the field. If a wheel comes off a vehicle while it is on pit road under green-flag conditions, it is a pass-thru penalty.

The rule changes once a vehicle has left pit road and loses a wheel.

Any vehicle that loses a wheel on the track will be penalized two laps and have two pit crew members suspended for two races. The suspensions will go to those most responsible for the wheel coming off. This change takes away a suspension to the crew chief. The policy is the same for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.

With some pit crew members working multiple series, the suspension is only for that series. So, if a pit crew member is suspended two races in the Xfinity Series for a wheel coming off, they can still work the Cup race the following day.

The Damaged Vehicle Policy clock will be 7 minutes this season. It had been six minutes last year and was increased to 10 minutes during the playoffs. After talking with teams, NASCAR has settled on seven minutes for teams to make repairs on pit road or be eliminated. Teams can replace toe links on pit road but not control arms. Teams also are not permitted to have specialized repair tools in the pits.

NASCAR will have a wet weather package for select oval tracks: the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Lucas Oil Raceway Park, Martinsville, Milwaukee, New Hampshire, North Wilkesboro, Phoenix and Richmond.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said that teams have been told to show up at these events prepared for wet weather conditions as they would at a road course. That includes having a windshield wiper. Wet weather tires will be available. 

“Our goal here is to get back to racing as soon as possible,” Swayer said. “… If there’s an opportunity for us to get some cars or trucks on the racetrack and speed up that (track-drying) process and we can get back to racing, that’s what our goal is. We don’t want to be racing in full-blown rain (at those tracks) and we’ve got spray like we would on a road course.”

NASCAR stated that it is removing the requirement that a winning driver be in the top 30 in points in Cup or top 20 in Xfinity or Trucks to become eligible for the playoffs. As long as a driver is competing full-time — or has a waiver for the races they missed, a win will make them playoff eligible.

With the consultation of drivers, NASCAR is expanding the restart zone to give the leader more room to take off. NASCAR said it will evaluate if to keep this in place after the Atlanta race in March.

NASCAR stated the choose rule will be in effect for superspeedways and dirt races.

NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR will do away with stage breaks in all six Cup road course races and select Xfinity and Truck races this season, but teams will continue to score stage points. 

NASCAR announced the change Tuesday in a session with reporters at the NASCAR R&D Center. 

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

NASCAR stated there will be no stage breaks in the Cup road course events at Circuit of the Americas (March 26), Sonoma (June 11), Chicago street course (July 2), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 13), Watkins Glen (Aug. 20) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8).

There will be no stage breaks for Xfinity races at Circuit of the Americas (March 25), Sonoma (June 10), Chicago street course (July 1), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 12), Watkins Glen (Aug. 19) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 7).

There will be no stage breaks for the Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas (March 25).

In those races, stage points will be awarded on a designated lap, but there will be no green-and-checkered flag and the racing will continue.

The only road course events that will have stage breaks will be Xfinity standalone races at Portland (June 3) and Road America (July 29) and the Truck standalone race at Mid-Ohio (July 8). Those events will keep stage breaks because they have non-live pit stops — where the field comes down pit road together and positions cannot be gained or lost provided the stop is completed in the prescribed time by NASCAR.

NASCAR has faced questions from fans and competitors about stage breaks during road course races because those breaks alter strategy in a more defined manner than on most ovals.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said the move away from stage breaks at road courses was made in collaboration with teams and response from fans.

“When we introduced stage racing … we took an element of strategy away from the event,” Sawyer. “Felt this (change) would bring some new storylines (in an event).”

NASCAR instituted stage breaks and stage points for the 2017 season and has kept the system in place since. NASCAR awards a playoff point to the stage winner along with 10 points. The top 10 at the end of a stage score points.

It wasn’t uncommon for many teams to elect to pit before the first stage in a road course race and eschew points to put themselves in better track position for the final two stages. By pitting early, they would be behind those who stayed out to collect the stage points. At the stage break, those who had yet to pit would do so, allowing those who stopped before the break to leapfrog back to the front.

NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

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CONCORD, N.C. —  NASCAR announced Tuesday that it will not permit drivers to run against the wall to gain speed as Ross Chastain did in last year’s Martinsville Cup playoff race.

NASCAR made the announcement in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

MORE: NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events 

MORE: NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023

Chastain drove into the Turn 3 wall and rode it around the track at higher speed than the rest of the field, passing five cars in the final two turns to gain enough spots to make the championship race. NASCAR allowed the move to stand even though some competitors had asked for a rule change leading into the season finale at Phoenix last year.

NASCAR is not adding a rule but stressed that Rule 10.5.2.6.A covers such situations.

That rule states: “Safety is a top priority for NASCAR and NEM. Therefore, any violations deemed to compromise the safety of an Event or otherwise pose a dangerous risk to the safety of Competitors, Officials, spectators, or others are treated with the highest degree of seriousness. Safety violations will be handled on a case-by-case basis.”

NASCAR stated that the penalty for such a maneuver would be a lap or time penalty.

Chastain said he’s fine with being known for that move, which will never be repeated in NASCAR history.

“I’m proud that I’ve been able to make a wave that will continue beyond just 2022 or just beyond me,” Chastain told NBC Sports earlier this month about the move’s legacy. “There will be probably a day that people will learn about me because of that, and I’m good with that. I’m proud of it.

“I don’t think it will ever happen again. I don’t think it will ever pay the reward that it paid off for us that it did that day. I hope I’m around in 35 years to answer someone’s question about it. And I probably still won’t have a good answer on why it worked.”

The video of Chastain’s wall-hugging maneuver had 12.5 million views on the NBC Sports TikTok account within a week of it happening. Excluding the Olympics, the only other video that had had more views on the NBC Sports TikTok account to that point in 2022 was Rich Strike’s historic Kentucky Derby win. 

Formula 1 drivers Fernando Alonso, Pierre Gasly and Daniel Ricciardo all praised Chastain’s move at the time, joining a chorus of competitors throughout social media. 

NASCAR Power Rankings: 10 historic moments in the Clash

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NASCAR’s preseason non-points race, now known as the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, was born in 1979 with the idea of testing the sport’s fastest drivers and cars on one of racing’s fastest tracks — Daytona International Speedway.

The concept was driver vs. driver and car vs. car. No pit stops. Twenty laps (50 miles) on the Daytona oval, with speed and drafting skills the only factors in victory.

Originally, the field was made up of pole winners from the previous Cup season. In theory, this put the “fastest” drivers in the Clash field, and it also served as incentive for teams to approach qualifying with a bit more intensity. A spot in the Clash the next season meant extra dollars in the bank.

The race has evolved in crazy directions over the years, and no more so than last year when it was moved from its forever headquarters, the Daytona track, to a purpose-built short track inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

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Over the decades, virtually everything about the race changed in one way or another, including the race length, eligibility requirements, format, calendar dates, sponsorship and title. From 1979-2020, the race was held on Daytona’s 2.5-mile oval and served as a sort of preview piece for the Daytona 500, scheduled a week later. In 2021, it moved to Daytona’s road course before departing for the West Coast last season.

Here’s a look at 10 historic moments in the history of the Clash:

NASCAR Power Rankings

1. 2022 — Few races have been as anticipated as last year’s Clash at the Coliseum. After decades in Daytona Beach, NASCAR flipped the script in a big way and with a big gamble, putting its top drivers and cars on a tiny temporary track inside a football stadium. Joey Logano won, but that was almost a secondary fact. The race was a roaring success, opening the door for NASCAR to ponder similar projects.

2. 2008 — How would Dale Earnhardt Jr. handle his move from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Hendrick Motorsports? The answer came quickly — in his first race. Junior led 46 of the 70 laps in winning what then was called the Budweiser Shootout, his debut for Hendrick. The biggest action occurred prior to the race in practice as Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch tangled on — and off — the track. Both were called to the NASCAR trailer, where the incident reportedly accelerated. Both received six-race probations.

3. 2012 — One of the closest finishes in the history of the Clash occurred in a race that produced a rarity — Jeff Gordon’s car on its roof. Kyle Busch and Gordon made contact in Turn 4 on lap 74, sending Gordon into the wall, into a long slide and onto his roof. A caution sent the 80-lap race into overtime. Tony Stewart had the lead on the final lap, but Kyle Busch passed him as they roared down the trioval, winning the race by .013 of a second.

MORE: Surveying key race dates for 2023

4. 1984 — A race that stands out in Ricky Rudd’s career, and not in a fun way. Neil Bonnett won the sixth Clash, but the video highlights from the day center on Rudd’s 15th-lap crash. He lost control of his car in Turn 4 and turned sideways. As Rudd’s car left the track, it lifted off the surface and began a series of flips before landing on its wheels, very badly damaged. Safety crews removed Rudd from the car. He suffered a concussion, and his eyes were swollen such that he had to have them taped open so he could race a few days later in a Daytona 500 qualifier.

5. 1980 — The second Clash was won by Dale Earnhardt, one of Daytona International Speedway’s masters. This time he won in unusual circumstances. An Automobile Racing Club of America race often shared the race day with the Clash, and that was the case in 1980. The ARCA race start was delayed by weather, however, putting NASCAR and track officials in a difficult spot with the featured Clash also on the schedule and daylight running out. Officials made the unusual decision of stopping the ARCA race to allow the Clash to run on national television. After Earnhardt collected the Clash trophy, the ARCA race concluded.

6. 1994 — Twenty-two-year-old Jeff Gordon gave a hint of what was to come in his career by winning the 1994 Clash. Gordon would score his first Cup point win later that year in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, but he also dazzled in the Clash, making a slick three-wide move off Turn 2 with two laps to go to get by Dale Earnhardt and Ernie Irvan. He held on to win the race.

7. 2006 — Upstart newcomer Denny Hamlin became the first rookie to win the Clash. Tony Stewart, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, had the lead with four laps to go, but a caution stacked the field and sent the race into overtime. Hamlin fired past Stewart, who had issues at Daytona throughout his career, on the restart and won the race.

8. 2004 — This one became the duel of the Dales. Dale Jarrett passed Dale Earnhardt on the final lap to win by .157 of a second. It was the only lap Jarrett led in the two-segment, 70-lap race.

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9. 1979 — The first Clash, designed by Anheuser-Busch to promote its Busch beer brand, drew a lot of attention because of its short length (20 laps) and its big payout ($50,000 to the winner). That paycheck looks small compared to the present, but it was a huge sum in 1979 and made the Clash one of the richest per-mile races in the world. Although the Clash field would be expanded in numerous ways over the years, the first race was limited to Cup pole winners from the previous season. Only nine drivers competed. Buddy Baker, almost always fast at Daytona, led 18 of the 20 laps and won by about a car length over Darrell Waltrip. The race took only 15 minutes.

10. 2020 — This seemed to be the Clash that nobody would win. Several huge accidents in the closing miles decimated the field. On the final restart, only six cars were in contention for the victory. Erik Jones, whose car had major front-end damage from his involvement in one of the accidents, won the race with help from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, who was one lap down in another damaged car but drafted behind Jones to push him to the win.