Analysis: Appreciating the road course virtuosity of Martin Truex Jr.

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The supposed beauty of road course racing is that driver input fuels performance, potentially more so than on ovals. But if it’s indeed true, it’s difficult to explain how the Toyota Camry of Martin Truex Jr. looked following last Tuesday’s Busch Clash in Daytona.

A wall-walloped left quarter panel, a nose caked in mud and a punched-in hood were sights unbecoming of the skill Truex showcased in a sprint race. He amassed the night’s best pass differential (+28) while driving from the back to the front twice before crashing out of the lead and registering a last-place finish.

Truex is a four-time Cup Series road race winner, a peculiar notion given his racing roots in the Modified-crazed Northeast. He’s often coy about his ability, attributing it to repetitions over time. But Chase Elliott’s recent string of success overshadows the idea that the 40-year-old driver is something of a road course virtuoso. It’s an attribute that should play well in a NASCAR season with seven point-paying road races on the schedule, the first of which comes this weekend on the same Daytona road course that hosted the Clash.

Just one road course win over the last two years (Sonoma 2019) belies his all-around excellence. During that span, no full-time driver secured a better surplus passing value — the difference in a driver’s adjusted pass efficiency and the expected adjusted pass efficiency of a driver with the same average running position, based on a field-wide slope. His +13.35% SPV netted a pass differential 96 positions better than the statistical expectation, fashioning him into a valuable weapon wielded by Joe Gibbs Racing that finished no worse than seventh across his last five starts.

Last season, his 88.89% position retention rate on restarts tied as the best in the Cup Series (with William Byron), proving he’s a steady hand inside the two-lap windows during which drivers find their track position most vulnerable.

A peek at his telemetry insists he’s an efficient user of the brakes, which in turn, affects tire wear and allows for a nimbleness in corners, setting up passes. It’s believed the natural road courses with dramatic elevation change like Sonoma and Watkins Glen better suit his ability — he’s yet to win on a relatively flat stadium road course like Daytona or the Charlotte Roval — but he’s of the mind that his strengths are universal.

“I feel like I’m just as good at Watkins Glen as I am at Sonoma, and they are completely different,” Truex said. “I think a general road course set of skills will translate to other road courses. They all have a little bit of unique tendencies when it comes to grip and asphalt, elevation changes, the way the curbs are, things like that, that can play into your strengths or weaknesses.”

“For me, it’s understanding what it takes to make speed on a road course. It’s understanding what it takes to make a heavy stock car, without a lot of grip and a lot of horsepower, make the most time on those road courses.”

Making speed on road courses hasn’t been a problem for Truex and likely won’t provide him one Sunday. With no prior practice, his car ranked as the second fastest in Central Speed — a compilation of speed-per-quarter averages while omitting crash damage and other aberrations — in last year’s Daytona road course race. He had the fastest car in Sonoma in 2019 and the second fastest in Watkins Glen.

Martin Truex Jr.’s most recent Cup win on a road course came in 2019 at Sonoma Raceway. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

“It’s really about being able to hold the car on the limit and not make mistakes because you talk about road courses having 10, 12, 14 corners, one little mistake — overdrive one corner — you screw up your whole lap.

“A lot of it is really about discipline and understanding where the limit is and not making mistakes.”

Truex’s most obvious flaw in last Tuesday night’s Clash was driving past the chicane while under caution, a clear misunderstanding of the caution-lap protocol set by NASCAR, explained during the pre-race driver’s meeting. He was penalized, sent to the rear of the field on the ensuing restart, and while his journey back through the field ultimately voided the mistake, it’s a maneuver that’d be costly in a regular-season race awarding stage points.

Being the sideshow, for reasons good and bad, is ultimately not what he’d prefer in a year where the schedule appears tailor-made for the best parts of his driving acumen. There’s better work to do, and despite his spreadsheet stardom on road courses, he enters this weekend’s race as the second-best driver based on reputation.

Elliott, whose run of four consecutive road course wins is two shy of the banner mark set by Hendrick Motorsports predecessor Jeff Gordon, sparked attempts at improvement from others. Truex, for one, has taken to scouting the reigning champion’s road course habits through available data and analytics.

“These days with SMT (a data visualization software) and all of the data we get, you can see exactly what (Elliott’s team is) doing on the track,” Truex said. “You can’t really see how they make it happen, but you can definitely learn from watching it. Any time you are getting beat, you are looking to see what someone is doing. It doesn’t matter if they’ve won 100 races or one race. If you are getting beat these days, you are looking how they did it and how they beat you.

“If you look at what (Elliott) was able to do — having pressure on the last 10 or 15 laps of the race and not making that mistake — that’s what it takes, lap after lap. They’ve really got a hold on the Roval track, where it seems like they are a lot faster than everybody else. They’ve got it going on with their setups. They’ve got their cars figured out to drive the way he likes them, and he does an incredible job of driving them.”

Elliott indeed represents a daunting challenge for others on the road courses, but Truex appears best suited to take down NASCAR’s current king of the road. After all, even in a Clash race in which he finished last, Truex arguably provided the most entertainment from flag to flag — a tell good as any regarding his talent, but an end result he’d soon prefer to change.

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.

 

 

AJ Allmendinger to return to NASCAR Cup Series in 2023

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AJ Allmendinger is getting another shot at success in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Kaulig Racing announced Wednesday that Allmendinger, currently chasing the Xfinity Series championship, will drive full-time in Kaulig entries in the Cup Series next season.

Allmendinger raced in Cup from 2007 to 2018 but won only one time — at Watkins Glen International — across those years. He moved to the Xfinity Series part-time with Kaulig in 2019, winning on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. He won twice in 2020 and five times in 2021 and is a favorite to win the Xfinity championship this year. He has won four Xfinity races this season, including last Sunday at Talladega.

MORE: Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

Allmendinger, 40, will drive Kaulig’s No. 16 car in Cup next year. Justin Haley will drive the team’s No. 31.

Chandler Smith will replace Allmendinger in the Xfinity Series next year.

“It’s crazy how the last five years of my life have gone,” Allmendinger said. “More than anything, I love this organization. I know the fans get tired of me talking about all the men and women of Kaulig Racing. This is not a race team. This is a huge family.

“There will be tough times and growing pains, for sure. But I love what they’re about, and they believe in me. I’ll be OK whether it’s good or bad.”

MORE: Chase Elliott atop NASCAR Power Rankings

Team owner Matt Kaulig said Allmendinger is “one of the best in the world at every type of track. He’s done so much for Kaulig Racing and our program. He’s a gigantic part of what we’re building.”

Team officials said Allmendinger has a multi-year contract.