Michael McDowell wins Daytona 500 for first career NASCAR Cup victory in major upset

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Michael McDowell scored an upset Daytona 500 victory — his first in the NASCAR Cup Series — after the Team Penske cars of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano collided while racing for the lead on the final lap of the 63rd Great American Race.

McDowell led only the final lap for his first career victory, which came with the No. 34 Ford driver’s 358th start in NASCAR’s premier series.

It’s only the third victory for Front Row Motorsports and team owner Bob Jenkins, whose cars have 1,081 starts in Cup.

McDowell had two previous top fives at Daytona International Speedway (including a fifth in the 2019 Daytona 500), but the Glendale, Arizona, native’s car still went off as a major underdog in betting lines.

“To think that (I’d) get my first Cup win at the Daytona 500 is just unbelievable,” McDowell, 36, told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider (video below). “For so many years, just grinding it out to stay in this sport, and to finally get a great opportunity with Bob Jenkins and Front Row Motorsports. To do this where we keep putting ourselves in that position at the end of the Daytona 500.

“A lot of times I made the wrong move at the wrong time or went too soon or didn’t go with the right guy. Tonight it just went right. To be a Daytona 500 champion is just amazing.”

In becoming the 40th driver to win the Daytona 500, McDowell also became the eighth to earn his first career Cup victory in NASCAR’s biggest race and the first since Trevor Bayne in 2011.

“I had a plan coming to five to go I was just going to stick to Brad’s bumper,” McDowell told Snider. “I knew Brad was going to take a shot at it, and I just figured if I can stay right on his bumper coming off 4, then I’d make my move. Then he got together with Joey, the seas parted and I went right through the middle. It all went just now we needed it to go.”

Defending Cup Series champion Chase Elliott finished second, followed by Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin.

Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet was beside McDowell’s car entering the final corner when the final yellow flag flew, freezing the finishing order on the 200th and final lap.

NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500
Michael McDowell celebrates after winning the 63rd Daytona 500, his first victory in NASCAR’s premier series (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).

“I don’t think it was very close,” Elliott told Fox. “I kind of got next to him, and then I saw the lights come on, so I knew it was over right then. We had a fast car. We did a really good job of executing. Staying out of trouble, that’s not something I’ve done a good job of in this race, so I’m glad we could at least finish this one and have something to build on when we come back.

“The top was just so fast. It didn’t seem to matter who got down low. You couldn’t make anything go.”

Ryan Preece, Ross Chastain, Jamie McMurray, Corey LaJoie and Kyle Larson rounded out the top 10.

The checkered flag fell at 12:15 a.m. Monday in a race that started shortly after 3 p.m. Sunday, but was interrupted by a nearly six-hour delay for rain.

The final crash was a fiery wreck that collected several drivers after Keselowski made contact while trying to pass Logano for the lead. With drafting help from McDowell, Keselowski had swung into the low line and was moving alongside his teammate when Logano threw a late block, causing the contact.

“Had a big run down the backstretch, went to make the pass to win the Daytona 500, and it ended up really bad,” Keselowski, who remained winless in 13 attempts at trying to win The Great American Race, told Fox. “Don’t feel like I made a mistake, but I can’t drive everyone else’s car.

“Frustrating, the Discount Tire Ford was not the fastest, but (crew chief) Jeremy Bullins and the whole team did a great job of keeping us in position, and right then, we were in position. That’s exactly where I want to be running second on the last lap at Daytona with this package. Had the run, made the move. Then it didn’t work out.”

Said Logano: “Pandemonium, I guess. Chaos struck. (Keselowski) kept trying to back up, trying to get a run. I was trying to back up to him and try to keep the runs from being too big. I guess he got to the back of (McDowell), and it ended up being a really big run coming at me, and it seemed we all just collided in one spot.

“Real bummer that neither Penske car won, but at least a Ford won, and I’m really happy for McDowell.  … If we couldn’t win, I’m really happy to see McDowell win this thing. He’s a great guy, a great person. A good leader in life and has helped me a lot in my life. So very cool to see him win the Daytona 500.”

Their Fords both slammed the wall, as did the No. 18 Toyota of Kyle Busch at full speed. The wreck also collected Austin Cindric, Cole Custer, Bubba Wallace, Preece and Chastain. All drivers were evaluated and released from the infield care center.

“It’s to be expected,” Busch told Fox. “Just a matter of time before it all kind of breaks loose, and whatever happens, happens here. I saw a window to the outside, and all of a sudden, I had (Keselowski) on my hood, so I don’t know. I felt like those guys were going to get bogged down on the bottom, so I was trying to shoot for the top and get a run around the outside of them. That’s typically where everybody was going all night long.

NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500
Fire engulfs the cars of Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano during a last-lap wreck in the Daytona 500 (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images).

“Hopefully get a run off 4 and try to shoot for a top five. We were too far back to make anything happen for a win but got clobbered a few good times here obviously. Just fortunate that I’m all good.”

Hamlin led a race-high 98 of 200 laps and won both stages in his bid to become the first driver in NASCAR history to score three consecutive victories in the Daytona 500.

But the No. 11 Toyota driver was burned by green-flag pit strategy on his final stop, as the Fords and Chevys leap-frogged his car by pitting earlier. When Hamlin left the pits, he was well ahead of Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Busch and Wallace, and the trio of Toyotas couldn’t regroup to stave off the hard-charging pack of Fords and Chevys.

NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500
Denny Hamlin led a race-high 98 of 200 laps but finished fifth in the Daytona 500 (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).

“We were too far out front,” Hamlin told Fox. “We just got on and off pit road too good. I was just too far ahead of the pack. I figured the Chevys would make a move with two or three (laps) to go, because they’re not going to win on the last lap from fifth or sixth.

“I was able to gain some positions there. I was 12th, everybody was running single file, so it handcuffed me. I couldn’t really do anything.

“Once I got to eighth, I was like, ‘OK, as long as they make a move with two to go, I’m in the energy area where I can make something happen.’ All we could get to was a top five. Dominant car. Just a dominant car. It’s one of those things where you execute too good and just got freight-trained at the end.”

Wallace finished 17th after running well for most of 500 miles and becoming (on Lap 129) the first Black driver to lead the Daytona 500. He rebounded after starting from the rear in the debut of the No. 23 Toyota 23XI Racing team co-owned by Hamlin and Michael Jordan.

But the strong run was negated when a wheel vibration caused an unscheduled pit stop under green for Wallace, who had been running in the top five with 25 laps remaining.

The race was stopped for five hours and 40 minutes because of storms that produced lighting, hail and torrential amounts of rain on the 2.5-mile speedway, which initially fell under the fed flag at 3:28 p.m. ET.

The yellow flag was lifted at 9:07 p.m., but it still took another 25 minutes and 15 laps of caution to dry the surface.

Just before the red flag, several contenders were eliminated in a 16-car crash on Lap 14 that started at the front.

The pileup was triggered when Christopher Bell tried to bump-draft Aric Almirola, who was running in second behind Harvick entering Turn 3. The impact on the right rear of the No. 10 Ford sent Almirola careening right up the banking, collecting pole-sitter Alex Bowman’s No. 48 Chevrolet.

Both cars hit the wall and started a chain reaction that also collected Ryan Blaney, Ryan Newman, William Byron, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Tyler Reddick, Chris Buescher, Matt DiBenedetto, David Ragan, Anthony Alfredo, Erik Jones, Jamie McMurray and Daniel Suarez.

NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500
Aric Almirola finished 34th after his No. 10 Ford was crumpled in a crash while running second on Lap 14 (James Gilbert/Getty Images).

The accident immediately knocked out Almirola, who had won a qualifying race Thursday, Blaney, Bowman, Suarez, Ragan, Newman and Jones. DiBenedetto, Alfredo and Buescher also were eliminated nearly six hours later when their teams couldn’t fix their damaged cars in time to make minimum speed.

“We were just getting pushed too hard too early,” Almirola said. “It’s a long, long race. Man, we were in a fine position, just sitting there riding around in the top two, three and (Bell) just came with a big run and hit me really hard in a bad spot, and it turned me to the right and tore up our race car and ended our Daytona 500 way too early.”

Said Ragan: “It’s just unfortunate to have a bunch of tore-up race cars that early.  I’ve never met a driver that said, ‘Hey, I’m gonna start this 500-mile race and just be super-aggressive.’  We all talk about give and take and making it to the end, but it seems nobody does that once they get out there.  It’s frustrating that everybody is pushing and shoving and I just saw the 48 get turned and whenever someone wrecks in the top five or six it tears up a lot of cars.”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Denny Hamlin

STAGE 2 WINNER: Denny Hamlin

NOTABLE: Front Row Motorsports has three victories with three drivers: David Ragan at Talladega in 2013, Chris Buescher at Pocono in 2016 and McDowell in the 2021 Daytona 500. Buescher and McDowell both earned their first career victories with the team.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: With a career-best second in the Daytona 500, Chase Elliott has consecutive runner-up finishes at Daytona International Speedway. … Ross Chastain (seventh) posted his best career finish in Cup. … Denny Hamlin has four consecutive top fives in the Daytona 500.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola … take your pick of the 16 drivers involved in the Lap 14 wreck.

NEXT: The Cup Series will return Feb. 21 to the Daytona International Speedway road course (3 p.m. ET, FOX).

Appeal panel gives William Byron his 25 points back

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William Byron is back in a transfer spot after the National Motorsports Appeals Panel rescinded his 25-point penalty Thursday for spinning Denny Hamlin at Texas.

By getting those 25 points back, Byron enters Sunday’s elimination playoff race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC) 14 points above the cutline.

Daniel Suarez is now in the final transfer spot to the Round of 8. He is 12 points ahead of Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric. Christopher Bell is 45 points behind Suarez. Alex Bowman will not race this week as he continues to recover from concussion symptoms and has been eliminated from Cup title contention.

NASCAR did not penalize Byron after his incident with Hamlin because series officials did not see the contact. Two days later, NASCAR penalized Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000 for intentionally wrecking Hamlin.

The National Motorsports Appeals Panel stated that Byron violated the rule but amended the penalty to no loss of driver and owner points while increasing the fine to $100,000.

The panel did not give a reason for its decision. NASCAR cannot appeal the panel’s decision.

The panel consisted of Hunter Nickell, a former TV executive, Dale Pinilis, track operator of Bowman Gray Stadium and Kevin Whitaker, owner of Greenville-Pickens Speedway.

Here is the updated standings heading into Sunday’s race at the Roval:

Byron’s actions took place after the caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash. As Hamlin slowed, Byron closed and hit him in the rear. 

Byron admitted after the race that the contact was intentional, although he didn’t mean to wreck Hamlin. Byron was upset with how Hamlin raced him on Lap 262. Byron felt Hamlin forced him into the wall as they exited Turn 2 side-by-side. Byron expressed his displeasure during the caution.

“I felt like he ran me out of race track off of (Turn) 2 and had really hard contact with the wall,” Byron said. “Felt like the toe link was definitely bent, luckily not fully broken. We were able to continue.

“A lot of times that kind of damage is going to ruin your race, especially that hard. I totally understand running somebody close and making a little bit of contact, but that was pretty massive.”

On the retaliatory hit, Byron said: “I didn’t mean to spin him out. That definitely wasn’t what I intended to do. I meant to bump him a little bit and show my displeasure and unfortunately, it happened the way it did. Obviously, when he was spinning out, I was like ‘I didn’t mean to do this,’ but I was definitely frustrated.”

Drivers for Drive for Diversity combine revealed

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The 13 drivers who will participate in the Advance Auto Part Drive for Diversity Combine were revealed Thursday and range in age from 13-19.

The NASCAR Drive for Diversity Development Program was created in 2004 to develop and train ethnically diverse and female drivers both on and off the track. Cup drivers Bubba Wallace, Daniel Suarez and Kyle Larson came through the program.

The 2020 and 2021 combines were canceled due to the impact of COVID-19.

“We are thrilled that we are in a position to return to an in-person evaluation for this year’s Advance Auto Parts Drive for Diversity Combine,” Rev Racing CEO Max Seigel said in a statement. “We are energized by the high-level of participating athletes and look forward to building the best driver class for 2023. As an organization, we have never been more positioned for success and future growth.”

The youngest drivers are Quinn Davis and Nathan Lyons, who are both 13 years old.

The group includes 17-year-old Andrés Pérez de Lara, who finished seventh in his ARCA Menards Series debut in the Sept. 15 race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Also among those invited to the combine is 15-year old Katie Hettinger, who will make her ARCA Menards Series West debut Oct.. 14 at the Las Vegas Bullring. She’s also scheduled to compete in the ARCA West season finale Nov. 4 at Phoenix Raceway.

 

 

Name

Age Hometown
Justin Campbell 17 Griffin, Georgia
Quinn Davis 13 Sparta, Tennessee
Eloy Sebastián

López Falcón

17 Mexico City, Mexico
Katie Hettinger 15 Dryden, MI
Caleb Johnson 15 Denver, CO
Nathan Lyons 13 Concord, NC
Andrés Pérez de Lara 17 Mexico City, Mexico
Jaiden Reyna 16 Cornelius, NC
Jordon Riddick 17 Sellersburg, IN
Paige Rogers 19 New Haven, IN
Lavar Scott 19 Carney’s Point, NJ
Regina Sirvent 19 Mexico City, Mexico
Lucas Vera 15 Charlotte, NC

 

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)