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 Power Rankings: Chase Elliott leaps to the front

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A slick late-race move by Chase Elliott carried him to Victory Lane Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway — and back to the top of the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Elliott is the only driver with five victories this season. No one else in the playoffs has more than two (Tyler Reddick, eliminated from the championship hunt, has won three times).

Elliott, already qualified for the Round of 8 with his Talladega win, will be among the favorites in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Here’s how the rankings look approaching the end of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Chase Elliott (No. 3 last week) — Elliott’s power move to win at Talladega was quite impressive and gave him four top-five finishes in the past 10 races. Clearly, he has re-established himself as the championship favorite.

2. Denny Hamlin (No. 1 last week) — Hamlin drops a spot despite a strong run (20 laps led and finishing fifth) at Talladega. Count him in the hunt for an elusive first championship.

3. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Blaney simply will not go away despite continuing as the playoffs’ only winless driver (not including the Texas All-Star Race). He was victimized by Chase Elliott on Sunday at Talladega, finishing .046 seconds short of victory and a push into the next round.

4. Kyle Larson (No. 2 last week) — Superspeedway racing generally is not Larson’s strong point. He finished 18th Sunday despite leading eight laps and being in the front group much of the day.

5. Joey Logano (No. 4 last week) — Logano had an unusually poor performance at Talladega. He was involved in an early-race accident and struggled much of the rest of the day, finishing 27th.

MORE: Elliott celebrates, Logano laments

6. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain tied Aric Almirola for most laps led (36) at Talladega and has been consistent as of late with three finishes of seventh or better in the past four races.

7. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron’s worst news last week came off the track as he was penalized by NASCAR for dumping Denny Hamlin under caution at Texas. He finished 12th at Talladega.

8. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe is quietly making the case that he could make the Round of 8 and challenge for the title.

MORE: Winners and losers at Talladega

9. Daniel Suarez (unranked last week) — Suarez maneuvered through the Talladega draft with style and came home eighth. He has three top 10s in the past seven races.

10. Christopher Bell (No. 6 last week) — Bell had a rough day at Talladega and will be looking to Sunday’s race at the Roval for redemption.

Dropped out: Tyler Reddick (No. 10 last week).

Talladega’s tale of two drivers: One celebrates, one laments

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — It’s dangerous to forecast what is going to happen next in these playoffs in a Cup season unlike any other. 

So keep that in mind, but Chase Elliott’s victory at Talladega moves him one step closer to returning to the championship race for a third consecutive season.

It’s easy to overlook that beyond earning a spot in the Round of 8 with his win Sunday, Elliott scored six playoff points. That gives him 46 playoff points. He has the opportunity to score seven more playoff points this weekend at the Charlotte Roval — an event he has won twice — before the next round begins.

Once the current round ends, the points will be reset to 4,000 for each of the remaining playoff drivers and they’ll have their playoff points added. 

At this point, Elliott would have a 21-point lead on his nearest competitor and a 31-point lead the first driver outside a transfer spot to the championship race.

The next round opens at Las Vegas, goes to Homestead and ends with Martinsville. 

A key for Elliott, though, is to avoid how he has started each of the first two rounds. A crash led to a 36th-place finish in the playoff opener at Darlington. He placed 32nd after a crash at Texas to begin this round.

The up-and-down nature of the playoffs, though, hasn’t taken a toll on the 2020 Cup champion.

“I feel like I’ve been doing this long enough now to understand the roller coaster that is racing,” said Elliott, who is advancing to the Round of 8 for the sixth consecutive season. “It’s going to roll on, right? You either learn to ride it during the good days, during the bad days, too, or you don’t. That’s just part of the deal.

“So, yeah, just try to ride the wave. Had a bad week last week, had a good week this week. Obviously great to move on into the next round, get six more bonus points. All those things are fantastic, we’re super proud of that.

“This deal can humble you. We can go to the Round of 8 and crash again like we did the first two rounds, or you can go in there and maybe have a really good first race. I don’t know. You show up prepared, do the best you can, figure it out from there.”

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Joey Logano has always been one who wants to race at the front in a superspeedway event instead of riding at the back.

When asked last month about the idea of Texas Motor Speedway being reconfigured to provide superspeedway-type racing — as Atlanta Motor Speedway was before this season — Logano questioned the value of that type of racing.

“Is that the type of racing fans want to see?” Logano said. “Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back. 

“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on. 

“They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”

Logano sought to race at the front as much as possible Sunday at Talladega, even after his car was damaged in an early incident, but he took a different tack on the final restart. He restarted 24th and dropped back, finishing 27th.

“We just wreck all the time, so we thought, ‘Boy, we’ve got a big points lead, let’s just be smart and don’t wreck and we’ll be able to get out of here with a top 10, assuming they would wreck because they always do,’” Logano said after the race. 

“That was the only time I’ve ever stayed in the back, ever, was today and they didn’t wreck. We gave up a bunch of our points lead. We’re still plus-18, which is a decent spot to be, but, the goal was to race for stage points and then drop to the back and wait for the crash. I hate racing that way. I’ve gotten beat many times from people that do that, then I tried it and it didn’t work.”

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Michael McDowell’s third-place finish continues his strong season. 

McDowell’s finish extended his career-high of top-10 finishes to 12. He has five finishes of 11th or better in the last seven races. 

“I’m proud of the season we’ve had and the run that we put together,” McDowell said. “Everyone did a great job on pit road executing and getting us track position when we needed it. It’s good to be there at the end and have a shot at it, just disappointed.”

Front Row Motorsports teammate Todd Gilliland finished seventh. 

“Race car drivers are greedy,” Gilliland said. “I wish I could have gotten a couple more there, but it was still a really good day. We ran up front most of the day and my car handled really well, so, overall, there are definitely a ton of positives to take out of this.”

Sunday marked the second time this season both Front Row Motorsports cars finished in the top 10. They also did it at the Indianapolis road course. 

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NASCAR confirms that the Hendrick Motorsports appeal of William Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas will take place Thursday.

Should Hendrick lose that appeal, the team could then have a hearing before the Final Appeals Officer. That session would need to take place before Sunday’s elimination race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

“Twenty-five points in the playoffs is a ton,” car owner Rick Hendrick said Sunday of Byron’s penalty. “I mean, in the regular season if you got a bunch of races, you can make it back up.

“I’ve seen other cars under caution hit each other. In that situation, (Byron) wasn’t trying to spin him, but they got a tower full of people, they could have put him in the back, could have done something right then rather than wait till Monday or Tuesday, then make a decision.”

Byron is 11 points below the cutline after Talladega.

Talladega jumbles Cup playoff grid heading to elimination race

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In an unpredictable season and topsy-turvy playoffs, it only made sense that Talladega would deliver a wildcard result.

A playoff driver won a playoff race for the first time this season. How about that?

Chase Elliott’s victory moves him to the next round, the only driver guaranteed to advance heading into Sunday’s elimination race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric are tied for the last transfer spot, but Briscoe owns the tiebreaker based on a better finish in this round. At least for now.

Hendrick Motorsports will have its appeal this week on the 25-point penalty to William Byron from the Texas race. Byron is 11 points below the cutline after Talladega, but if the team wins the appeal and he gets all 25 points back, Byron would be back in a transfer spot and drop Briscoe below the cutline.

 

XFINITY SERIES

AJ Allmendinger became the second driver to advance to the next round, winning at Talladega.

Ryan Sieg finished fourth and holds the final transfer spot heading into the elimination race at the Charlotte Roval (3 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock). Reigning series champion Daniel Hemric is six points behind Sieg. Riley Herbst and Brandon Jones are each 10 points behind Sieg. Jeremy Clements is 47 points behind.

 

CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

Matt DiBenedetto’s first career Camping World Truck Series victory didn’t impact the playoff standings after Talladega since DiBenedetto is not a playoff driver.

Reigning series champion Ben Rhodes holds the final transfer spot. He leads Christian Eckes and Stewart Friesen by three points each. John Hunter Nemechek is five points behind Rhodes, while Grant Enfinger is 29 points behind Rhodes. Ty Majeski is the only driver guaranteed a spot in next month’s championship race.

The Truck Series is off this weekend. The next Truck race is Oct. 22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

 

Winners and losers at Talladega Superspeedway

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A look at the winners and losers from Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway:

WINNERS

Chase Elliott — After a rough race at Texas, Elliott returned to the role of championship favorite Sunday with a victory. He takes the point lead to Charlotte and, with Sunday’s win, is locked into the Round of 8.

MORE: Talladega Cup results

MORE: Talladega Cup driver points

Ryan Blaney — Despite another tough race day and a second-place finish in a race he could have won, Blaney remains in good shape in the playoffs, even without a points win. He is second in points to Elliott, only two behind.

Denny Hamlin — Hamlin took some time off from leading the charge for changes in the Next Gen car to run an excellent race. He led 20 laps, finished fifth and is the only driver to finish in the top 10 in all five playoff races. He gained a spot in points to fourth.

LOSERS

Christopher Bell — Bell zipped onto pit road with too much speed during a round of pit stops and slid to a stop, earning a speeding penalty. He is 11th in points.

Kyle Larson — Larson led eight laps Sunday but was not a part of the drafting mix at the front at the finish. He was 18th and fell three spots in points to sixth.

Joey Logano — Logano held the point lead entering Sunday’s race. At day’s end, he had a 27th-place finish and had fallen four spots to fifth.