Chicanes and rain: Xfinity drivers brace for Daytona road course

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Polesitter Austin Cindric has at least one concern about today’s Xfinity Series race on the Daytona International Speedway road course (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

“I hope I don’t just drive straight through NASCAR (Turn) 4 onto the front straightaway,” Cindric said this week.  “Hopefully I remember there’s a chicane there.”

There’s only a handful of NASCAR drivers who enter this weekend’s races on the Daytona road course with any past experience on the track that hosts sports car races, including the Rolex 24. None of them, including Xfinity Series drivers Cindric, AJ Allmendinger and Chase Briscoe, have competed on the layout that will debut today.

The track will have a second chicane, located between oval Turn 4 and the entrance to pit road. The turn will see drivers go onto the traditional apron before returning to the oval track.

The chicane was put in place to slow cars as they navigate Turn 1 into the infield portion of the course.

“Overall, I do think it eliminates a better passing zone in (Turn) 1,” Cindric said. “Obviously, we did it for speed purposes and whatever purpose NASCAR needed to feel comfortable with going to this track without practice, but I really do feel like it adds the front straightaway more as an acceleration zone, instead of a straightaway. You usually get a lot of drafting opportunities down through NASCAR (Turns) 3 and 4 onto the front straightaway, high-speed braking zone into Turn 1, you have more options to pass there and that’s probably the most legitimate passing zone.

“I don’t see the bus stop (on the backstretch) or the new chicane being much of a passing zone, so I think that makes the infield important as far as racing. At the same point, I feel like that’s an easy place to get into the back of somebody and not even try to, especially in our cars, so it’s gonna be dicey.”

Allmendinger, who won the 2012 Rolex 24 and has competed in that event 14 times, said from his experience in a simulator, the chicane is “a little bit more narrow” then the one found on the fronstretch of the Charlotte Roval.

“Trying to make an outbraking move, if you’re behind the car, looks like at least preliminary it might be a little bit more difficult,” Allmendinger said. “But it also seems like it’s really easy to lock up and get in too deep. … I think it’s gonna allow a lot of opportunities for small mistakes. It’s just like everybody else, go out there and learn it as we drop the green.”

Well, what if it’s raining?

On Saturday, wunderground.com forecasts that the chance of rain is between 44-54% from 3 – 5 p.m. ET.

That means the 14-turn, 3.61-mile track could be covered in rain most of the day.

That’s fine with Briscoe, who posted on Reddit last weekend that he wanted to race in a “monsoon” during the race at Road America.

“I thought the rain was super fun at Road America,” Briscoe said this week. “That was the first time I’d ever done it and it reminded me, truthfully, of a lot of the Eldora truck race just how you had to kind of drive it. So I thought it was really fun, first off, and I feel like Daytona would probably be the hardest place to run in the rain just because I don’t really know what the banking would do. A lot of the transitions are from the bank down to the flat, so there will be a ton of puddles there and what-not, so I don’t really know what to expect, but I would love to run the whole race in the rain.”

Briscoe’s main concern with a rain-filled race today is visibility.

“I was blown away at how little visibility there was (at Road America),” Briscoe said. “Down the back straightaway there was a car probably three or four car lengths in front of me and I couldn’t even see his brake lights. Visibility is really hard.”

At Daytona, Briscoe said the “rooster,” or the spray of water a car creates, “is only going to be worse because we’re going so much faster and that just typically makes it worse, so we’ll see but it was definitely hard to see at Road America for sure.”

But Briscoe isn’t scared of racing in the rain.

‘We’re going slower in the rain than we are anywhere else, so I don’t think danger is really an issue,” Briscoe said. “It makes you (stay) on your toes, but it’s no different to me if we’re in the pack at Daytona or Talladega. To me, that’s way scarier than running in the rain with limited visibility.”

One person thinks it would be a “shame” if today’s race were run in the rain.

That’s Earl Bamber, the IMSA driver and three-time podium finisher in the Rolex 24, who will make his Xfinity Series debut  with Richard Childress Racing.

“I’ve got a lot of experience in the rain, even recently we drove in the wet in a couple of practice sessions at Daytona,” Bamber said Thursday. “I know where the puddles are. I know where the line is and stuff like that. I think from that point of view it’ll be a good advantage if it rains. Hopefully, we don’t need to get them out to be honest with you. It would be a shame if it was a wet race.

“It would be really cool to go be able to do a dry one in one of these cars, that would be awesome.”

Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

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Hailie Deegan announced Tuesday that she will make her Xfinity Series debut Oct. 15 Las Vegas Motor Speedway on NBC and Peacock.

The 21-year-old Deegan is in her second full-time season in the Camping World Truck Series. She finished a career-high sixth in that series last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

She will drive the No. 07 car for SS Green Light Racing with Jeff Lefcourt.

 

 

Alex Bowman to miss Charlotte Roval race

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Alex Bowman announced Tuesday night on social media that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup playoff race at the Charlotte Roval.

Bowman said on social media: “I am continuing to make strides in my recovery to make sure I can return to competition at 100%.”

This will be the second consecutive race he will have missed because of concussion-like symptoms after his crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

Noah Gragson will drive the No. 48 car this weekend for Bowman.

“Alex’s health is our first priority,” said Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “We’re focused on supporting his recovery and seeing him back in his race car when the time is right. Alex has a long career ahead of him, so we will invest the necessary time and take our guidance from medical experts. We’re putting no pressure on him to return before he’s 100% ready.”

Bowman will be one of the four drivers eliminated from title contention Sunday.

Also Tuesday, Cody Ware announced that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup race at the Charlotte Roval, as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he suffered at Texas.

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.