What drivers said after the Coca-Cola 600

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Brad Keselowski – Winner: “I’m tickled to death. One (major) left, the Daytona 500.  It’s been a great 10-year career I’ve had so far and I hate it took me 10 years to get this one.  I feel like I’ve had cars and a team good enough to do it many times over and it just slipped through our hands and today it didn’t.  I’m just really proud of everyone and persistence pays off.”

(Did you question decision not to pit?)  “No, we’ve lost too many races that way and I knew we had to take the chance.  If it didn’t work out, I knew it was the right call.”

(Why did you restart on the inside?) “I think first off I felt confident that if I took the bottom with (Ryan) Blaney up there that he would have an opportunity to take it three‑wide, slow that lane down.  If you take the outside, you risk that happening to you.  I didn’t want that to happen. It’s a little bit like a game of blackjack where you count cards there.  You’re thinking to yourself, when Chase (Elliott) pulled off, I think we made the right move.  How many cars stayed out behind us?  I think I heard it was like six or seven that stayed out behind us.  I knew it would be really hard for him to pass all those cars in two laps.”

Chase Elliott – finished second: “You just make the best decision you can based on the information you have.  When you are leading the race like that, people behind you are going to do the exact opposite of what you do. That was the situation we were put in.  (Crew chief) Al (Gustafson) made the decision, we stuck with it, and it didn’t work out.

(Would this be the toughest stretch you’ve had in your career, these couple races?) “Yeah, this week’s been pretty unfortunate.  We’ve had some tough losses in my career, for however many years I’ve been doing this, five, six years, unfortunately.  It is what it is.”

Ryan Blaney – finished third: “We started towards the back and gained a lot of spots in the beginning, but we got boxed in on the first stop and lost all those spots we gained. I had to pass a bunch of cars tonight.  I think we got that award.  I thought we were in a good spot on the restart with 45 or 48 (laps) to go and somebody got loose on the bottom into (Turn) 3 and we had to go all the way up to the wall to miss him in the middle of (Turns) 3 and 4  We lost a lot of spots right there and that really hurt us.  That lost us all the track position we gained towards the end.  I was feeling really good about it.  We restarted sixth or maybe even eighth on the top and I thought we were gonna roll, but that dropped us back to maybe 12th and we had to fight back from there.  I thought our car was pretty competitive, probably not the best car out there, but definitely a top-five car all night.  It was a good call to stay out there at the end, I thought.  We restarted fourth and gave us a chance.  We would have come home with a decent day, but we passed a lot of cars and definitely had a long night working on it.”

Kyle Busch – finished fourth: “During the middle stages of the race, I thought we were really fast. I feel like we had a great M&M’S Red, White, and Blue Camry and ran up front and got back up front from having to go to the back. But we put tires on it and it was never the same after that from about lap 280 or 290 when we put tires on it and it wasn’t the same as it was before that. We were lucky to steal a fifth-place finish out of it today and we’ll have to go back to work and figure out some things to make our stuff better for when we come back on Wednesday and get back after it.”

Martin Truex Jr. – finished sixth: “It was a long and typical 600. You battle the car all night long and you just keep making adjustments and trying to stay up with the race track. The Bass Pro Toyota was really strong when we started off and I was able to pick off a few spots and work our way towards the front. I really rode there behind the 88 (Alex Bowman) for the first two stages. I felt like at times we were stronger than he was and just couldn’t make the move. Track position was crazy important tonight with the cooler temperatures and everybody having a year under their belts now with this car.

“Everybody is getting so close and they changed the tire and it was way different. It just felt really hard and had really low grip and it was really bouncy. We tried to keep up with the track, and at times, I felt like we were the best car. When we could get the lead, we could pull away. We had the lead late there in the last stage – early in the last part of the last stage and just had some trouble in the pits. It seems like every week we’re having a little bit of hiccups here and there and it set us back. The guys are working hard trying to get better.”

Kurt Busch – finished seventh: “We got the pole with the GEARWRENCH Chevy and led some laps; it was great to be up front and had good pace early. After the rain delay we just got buried in some dirty-air back in traffic. We just got to get our car a little better to maneuver in traffic. We just need the front tires front aero to be a little better in dirty-air. I know (crew chief) Matt McCall my guys are going to work on it; I’m gonna work on it, but a top 10 after all that, I will take it.”

Tyler Reddick – finished eighth: 

Christopher Bell – finished ninth: “I think we are headed in the right direction. We have to obviously keep making gains – getting a little bit faster, me doing a better job. We’re gaining on it. We are creeping up on it. I think we snuck a little bit of a better finish out than what we probably deserved, but we will take it after the first couple weeks.”

Cole Custer – finished 12th: ”Man, definitely a persevering night for the HaasTooling.com Mustang. I could’ve done better at the start of the race. We definitely got the car better throughout the race. We fought hard all night. We fought hard to stay on the lead lap and got our lap back that one time. To finish 13th in my first 600 that I’ve run was definitely pretty cool. I got a good restart at the end. We have some things we know we can do better when we come Wednesday. I can do some things better. I’m looking forward to it. We’re moving in the right direction with this package. We just have to keep grinding through it.”

Joey Logano – finished 13th:

Austin Dillon – finished 14th: “I feel really good, overall, physically, so that’s a good thing. We ran in the top 10 all night. We had a really solid car. We showed sometimes when we were up front in the top five, we ran some of the fastest laps of the race at times. Bummed when you go all night long running like that and give it away at the end. Our call was if a couple pitted, we were going to stay out. I actually said if all of them stay out, I’m pitting. Not all of them stayed out; I thought more would stay out. Probably should have came and got two tires. The 18 (Kyle Busch) was running one position in front of us, came and got two, and ended up fifth. You never know – my teammate Reddick had the outside and ended up being able to maintain and run ninth. We were too tight at the end and I kind of drove the wheels off of it, and the caution came out. Just a little over-confident, I wanted to get another good finish.”

Aric Almirola – finished 15th: “From the start of the day to the end of the day it was just a tough day. I was loose on the qualifying lap and spun, but was able to keep car from having much damage. We started in the rear and, on the pace laps, debris came out of the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin) car and damaged some of the splitter, so we had to make some repairs there later on. We battled both ends of the balance with the car all four stages and started to ease our way to the top 10 at the end before that final caution came out – then the restart didn’t go my way. The Coke 600 is such a long race and so much can happen. I’m proud we battled back up there, but didn’t get the finish we wanted.”

John Hunter Nemechek – finished 16th: “It was kind of an up and down day, but overall, we had a good run in our No. 38 YANMAR Ford Mustang. We started off the night pretty free. Once we re-fired after the rain delay, we had a pretty tight race car for most of the night. (Crew chief) Seth (Barbour) and the crew kept trying different adjustments to get our handling better and we managed to run in the top 20 for most of the last stage. We never gave up and got some good notes to come back on Wednesday.”

Michael McDowell — finished 18th: “Our No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford Mustang had a tough time getting over the bumps in Turns 3 and 4 to start today’s Coca-Cola 600 … my guys on pit road did a good job of making adjustments all race long to get us more competitive. Thankfully, we caught a lucky caution with two laps to go and were able to get back on the lead lap.”

Alex Bowman – finished 19th: “That finish does not show how great of a Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE we had today in Charlotte. We won two stages, led over 160 laps and really had a solid car. We would get loose or tight in certain areas, but (crew chief) Greg (Ives) and the guys made some good adjustments on pit road. At the end there, it just went straight. Not much I could do with that and unfortunately don’t have a finish to show how strong we were today. We learned a lot and hopefully can come back strong on Wednesday.”

William Byron – finished 20th:

Ty Dillon – finished 25th: “First and foremost, the Coca-Cola 600 is about so much more than ourselves and it was an honor to have SPC Richard C. Emmons III on our car. While we missed having his family at the track with us, hopefully we were able to honor them the best we could. Tonight wasn’t what we were looking for. The balance of our GEICO Military Camaro ZL1 1LE was pretty good, but unfortunately, we had to make an unscheduled pit stop under green in Stage 1 and never were able to recover. We usually don’t see a lot of cautions at Charlotte and that trend proved to be the same again. Just couldn’t dig ourselves out of the hole. It’s a shame, because I thought we were going to have a good night after a solid qualifying effort. The positive is we do have a good baseline setup for Wednesday night and we will try to have a better result then.”

Daniel Suarez – finished 28th:

Bubba Wallace – finished 38th: “Well, what a bummer. Tonight wasn’t our night. We burned-up a hub, and it put us way behind. I don’t know if we had other issues going on with the car or what, but it wasn’t worth the risk. I thought we had a really good car, especially before all this stuff happened. We were running some really good lap times, so I was excited to try and get some track position and go race with our Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 U.S. Air Force Camaro ZL1 1LE. But sometimes you’re the bat and sometimes you’re the ball; tonight we were the ball.

Clint Bowyer – finished 39th: “It pretty well sucks.  It knocked the wind out of me there.  I mean, we’re 100 laps into a 400-lap race and to be out already, you talk about a helpless feeling.  The guys worked really hard on the Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1 Delvac Ford, but it just wasn’t meant to be.  We’ll get ready for next Wednesday and we’ll be back at it. I’m gonna go somewhere and take this (mask) off and find somewhere where I can find a cold beer.  I’m outta here.”

Jimmie Johnson – finished 40th (disqualified): “When that pit stop happened at the end, it’s so hard to know what the right thing to do is. We were talking about it too maybe for ourselves, but (crew chief) Cliff (Daniels) had a great sense of the right call to make. I feel for Chase (Elliott). He had such a great car on Wednesday, and to be leading here and have the caution come out with a couple to go, I feel bad for him. But I’m very proud of my team, very proud of everybody on this Ally Chevrolet. Second is OK – I’m very proud of the effort we’re putting in. But second, stinks. It’s tough being this close to victory lane, but we’re knocking on the door and we’ll get there.”

Dr. Diandra: Crashes: Causes and complications

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Two drivers have missed races this year after hard rear-end crashes. Kurt Busch has been out since an incident in qualifying at Pocono in July. Alex Bowman backed hard into a wall at Texas and will miss Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Other drivers have noted that the hits they’ve taken in the Next Gen car are among the hardest they’ve felt in a Cup car.

“When I crashed it (at Auto Club Speedway in practice), I thought the car was destroyed, and it barely backed the bumper off. It just felt like somebody hit you with a hammer,” Kevin Harvick told NBC Sports.

The three most crucial parameters in determining the severity of a crash are:

  • How much kinetic energy the car carries
  • How long the collision takes
  • The angle at which the car hits

Angle

The last of these factors requires trigonometry to explain properly. You can probably intuit, however, that a shallower hit is preferable to a head-on — or rear-on — hit.

A graphic show shallower (low-angle) hits and deeper (high-angle) hits
Click for a larger view

When the angle between the car and the wall is small, most of the driver’s momentum starts and remains in the direction parallel to the wall. The car experiences a small change in velocity.

The larger the angle, the larger the change in perpendicular speed and the more force experienced. NASCAR has noted that more crashes this season have had greater angles than in the past.

Busch and Bowman both had pretty large-angle hits, so we’ll skip the trig.

Energy — in pounds of TNT

A car’s kinetic energy depends on how much it weighs and how fast it’s going. But the relationship between kinetic energy and speed is not linear: It’s quadratic. That means going twice as fast gives you four times more kinetic energy.

The graph shows the kinetic energies of different kinds of race cars at different speeds. To give you an idea of how much energy we’re talking about, I expressed the kinetic energy in terms of equivalent pounds of TNT.

A vertical bar graph showing kinetic energies for different types of racecars and their energies

  • A Next Gen car going 180 mph has the same kinetic energy as is stored in almost three pounds of TNT.
  • Because IndyCars are about half the weight of NASCAR’s Next Gen car, an IndyCar has about half the kinetic energy of a Next Gen car when both travel at the same speed.
  • At 330 mph, Top Fuel drag racers carry the equivalent of six pounds of TNT in kinetic energy.

All of a car’s kinetic energy must be transformed to other types of energy when the car slows or stops. NASCAR states that more crashes are occurring at higher closing speeds, which means more kinetic energy.

Longer collisions > shorter collisions

That seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Who wants to be in a crash any longer than necessary?

But the longer a collision takes, the more time there is to transform kinetic energy.

A pitting car starts slowing down well below it reaches its pit box. The car’s kinetic energy is transformed into heat energy (brakes and rotors warming), light energy (glowing rotors), and even sound energy (tires squealing).

The same amount of kinetic energy must be transformed in a collision — but much faster. In addition to heat, light and sound, energy is transformed via the car spinning and parts deforming or breaking. (This video about Michael McDowell’s 2008 Texas qualifying crash goes into more detail.)

The force a collision produces depends on how long the car takes to stop. Compare the force from your seat belt when you slow down at a stop sign to what you feel if you have to suddenly slam on the brakes.

To give you an idea of how fast collisions can be, the initial wall impact in the crash that killed Dale Earnhardt Sr. lasted only eight-hundredths (0.08) of a second.

SAFER barriers use a car’s kinetic energy to move a heavy steel wall and crush pieces of energy-absorbing foam. That extracts energy from the car, plus the barrier extends the collision time.

The disadvantage is that a car with lower kinetic energy won’t move the barrier. Then it’s just like running into a solid wall.

That’s the same problem the Next Gen car seems to have.

Chassis stiffness: A Goldilocks problem

The Next Gen chassis is a five-piece, bolt-together car skeleton, as shown below.

A graphic showing the five parts of the Next Gen chassis.
Graphic courtesy of NASCAR. Click to enlarge.
The foam surrounding the outside of the rear bumper
The purple is energy-absorbing foam. Graphic courtesy of NASCAR. Click for a larger view.

That graphic doesn’t show another important safety feature: the energy absorbing foam that covers the outside of the bumpers. It’s purple in the next diagram.

All cars are designed so that the strongest part of the car surrounds the occupants. Race cars are no different.

The center section of the Next Gen chassis is made from stout steel tubing and sheet metal. Components become progressively weaker as you move away from the cockpit. The bumper, for example, is made of aluminum alloy rather than steel. The goal is transforming all the kinetic energy before it reaches the driver.

Because the Next Gen car issues are with rear impacts, I’ve expanded and highlighted the last two pieces of the chassis.

The rear clip and bumper, with the fuel cell and struts shaded

The bumper and the rear clip don’t break easily enough. The rear ends of Gen-6 cars were much more damaged than the Next Gen car after similar impacts.

If your initial thought is “Just weaken the struts,” you’ve got good instincts. However, there are two challenges.

I highlighted the first one in red: the fuel cell. About the only thing worse than a hard collision is a hard collision and a fire.

The other challenge is that a chassis is a holistic structure: It’s not like each piece does one thing independent of all the other pieces. Changing one element to help soften rear collisions might make other types of collisions harder.

Chassis are so complex that engineers must use finite-element-analysis computer programs to predict their behavior. These programs are analogous to (and just as complicated as) the computational fluid dynamics programs aerodynamicists use.

Progress takes time

An under-discussed complication was noted by John Patalak, managing director of safety engineering for NASCAR. He told NBC Sports’ Dustin Long in July that he was surprised by the rear-end crash stiffness.

The Next Gen car’s crash data looked similar to that from the Gen-6 car, but the data didn’t match the drivers’ experiences. Before addressing the car, his team had to understand the disparity in the two sets of data.

They performed a real-world crash test on a new configuration Wednesday. These tests are complex and expensive: You don’t do them until you’re pretty confident what you’ve changed will make a significant difference.

But even if the test goes exactly as predicted, they aren’t done.

Safety is a moving target.

And always will be.

NASCAR weekend schedule for Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval

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NASCAR Cup Series drivers race on the road for the final time this season Sunday, as the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval course ends the playoffs’ Round of 12.

The 17-turn, 2.28-mile course incorporating the CMS oval and infield will determine the eight drivers who will advance to the next round of the playoffs. Chase Elliott won last Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway and is the only driver who has qualified for a spot in the Round of 8.

Entering Sunday’s race, Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman are below the playoff cutline. Bowman will not qualify for the next round because he is sidelined by concussion-like symptoms.

The race (2 p.m ET) will be broadcast by NBC.

Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Cup and Xfinity)

Weekend weather

Friday: Sunny. High of 81 with a 6% chance of rain.

Saturday: Mixed clouds and sun. High of 67 with a 3% chance of rain.

Sunday: Sunny. High of 68 with a 3% chance of rain.

Friday, Oct. 7

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 12 – 5 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Saturday, Oct. 8

Garage open

  • 7 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 8:30 a.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 10 – 10:30 a.m. — Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)
  • 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying (NBC Sports App)
  • 12 – 1 p.m. — Cup practice (NBC Sports App, USA Network coverage begins at 12:30 p.m.)
  • 1 – 2 p.m. — Cup qualifying (USA Network, NBC Sports App)
  • 3 p.m. — Xfinity race (67 laps, 155.44 miles; NBC, Peacock, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 9

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 2 p.m. — Cup race (109 laps, 252.88 miles; NBC, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

 

Rodney Childers fined $100,000, suspended for four races

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NASCAR has suspended Rodney Childers, Kevin Harvick‘s crew chief, for four races and fined him $100,000 for what the sanctioning body called modification of a part supplied by a vendor.

Harvick, who is out of the Cup Series playoffs, and the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 team were docked 100 points.

Harvick’s car and that of Martin Truex Jr. were taken to NASCAR’s Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C. after last Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway. There were no penalties assessed to the Truex team.

Harvick has been particularly critical of the Next Gen car in recent months, once referring to the “crappy-ass parts” provided by suppliers.

Harvick’s car erupted in flames during the Southern 500 Sept. 4 at Darlington Raceway. After he climbed from the smoking car, Harvick blamed the fire on “just crappy parts on the race car like we’ve seen so many times. They haven’t fixed anything. It’s kind of like the safety stuff. We just let it keep going and keep going.

“The car started burning and as it burned the flames started coming through the dash. I ran a couple laps and then as the flame got bigger it started burning stuff up and I think right there you see all the brake fluid that was probably coming out the brakes and part of the brake line, but the fire was coming through the dash.

“What a disaster for no reason. We didn’t touch the wall. We didn’t touch a car, and here we are in the pits with a burned-up car, and we can’t finish the race during the playoffs because of crappy-ass parts.”

MORE: AJ Allmendinger to return to Cup Series in 2023

Unless the team appeals, Childers would miss races at Charlotte, Las Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville and would return for the season finale at Phoenix.

NASCAR president Steve Phelps told the Associated Press that officials have not targeted Harvick. “I would say that’s ridiculous,” he said. “No one has a vendetta against Kevin Harvick or Rodney or anyone at Stewart-Haas Racing.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Harvick tweeted, “Seems strange…” A Childers tweet called the penalty “Shocker…..”.

NASCAR also announced Wednesday it has suspended Young’s Motorsports crew chief Andrew Abbott indefinitely for a behavioral violation during pre-race inspection. He must undergo anger-management training to be reinstated. The team races in the Camping World Truck Series.

Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup Series race at Charlotte Roval

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The lineup for the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs Round of 8 will be decided in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

Entering the race, the final event in the Round of 12, Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman are below the cutline. Bowman will miss the race — and thus the cutoff — as he continues to battle concussion-like symptoms. Noah Gragson is scheduled to drive the No. 48 Chevrolet Sunday.

Cindric is tied with Chase Briscoe for the eighth playoff spot, but Briscoe would claim it on the tiebreaker. Byron is 11 points back, and Bell is 33. Hendrick Motorsports has appealed the penalty to Byron that dropped him below the cutline. That appeal is scheduled to be heard Thursday.

MORE: Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

Any playoff driver who wins Sunday’s race and isn’t already qualified — Chase Elliott qualified for the Round of 8 by winning last week at Talladega Superspeedway — automatically advances to the Round of 8.

Drivers to watch Sunday at the Roval (2 p.m., ET, NBC), the final road-course race of the season:

FRONTRUNNERS

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 1st
  • Last three races: Won at Talladega, 32nd at Texas, 2nd at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Won in 2019 and 2020

Elliott is the clear favorite to win a second championship. He won Sunday at Talladega to advance to the Round of 8 and can relax Sunday at Charlotte having punched his ticket. Relaxing isn’t likely, however, as Elliott will be among the favorites to win.

Ryan Blaney

  • Points position: 2nd
  • Last three races: 2nd at Talladega, 4th at Texas, 30th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Won in 2018.

Blaney continues along a path that could result in him winning the Cup championship without winning a race. He came within an eyelash of winning Sunday at Talladega but fell victim to Chase Elliott’s last-lap charge. He should be a threat Sunday at the Roval, where he has four straight top 10s.

Kyle Larson

  • Points position: 6th
  • Last three races: 18th at Talladega, 9th at Texas, 5th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Won in 2021

Larson’s last win — and his last top-four finish — came at Watkins Glen seven races ago. He is 18 points over the cutline entering Sunday’s race.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Austin Cindric

  • Points position: 9th
  • Last three races: 9th at Talladega, 15th at Texas, 20th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Sunday will mark his first Cup race. Has three top threes in four Xfinity starts.

Cindric hasn’t won since the season-opening Daytona 500 and is one of five drivers still in the playoffs who own only one victory this year. His ninth-place run at Talladega ended a streak of four straight finishes of 12th or worse.

MORE: NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

Daniel Suarez

  • Points position: 7th
  • Last three races: 8th at Talladega, 12th at Texas, 19th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Best finish in four starts is 13th

Suarez is 12 points above the cutline entering Sunday’s race. He has never led a lap at the Roval and has never finished in the top 10.

Chase Briscoe

  • Points position: 8th
  • Last three races: 10th at Talladega, 5th at Texas, 14th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Finished 22nd last year in his only Cup start

Briscoe is teetering on top of the cutline in search of a spot in the Round of 8. He hasn’t won since the fourth race of the year at Phoenix and had a poor performance at the Roval last year.