Friday 5: Daytona 500 crashes continue recent trend

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Nearly 75% of last week’s Daytona 500 field was collected in a crash, continuing an alarming trend for NASCAR’s showcase event.

In the last five Daytona 500s, 79.5% of the field has been involved in an accident. The five Daytona 500s before that saw 44.8% of the field collected in crashes.

While this year’s Daytona 500 had its fewest number of cars wrecked compared to the previous two years, there were still 29 of 40 cars damaged in accidents.

“I definitely tug on the belts a little harder at Daytona and Talladega, more so than Martinsville, I can promise you that,” Corey LaJoie said.

He finished ninth in the Daytona 500 — one spot worse than last year when his car slammed into Ryan Newman’s and catapulted Newman’s car across the finish line. Newman was hospitalized for two days with a bruised brain.

That Newman is the only driver to be severely injured in the last five Daytona 500s despite the high crash totals attests to the safety of the cars.

“I know John Patalak just from working with him through the development with some of (Randy LaJoie’s) seats over at the R&D Center,” Corey LaJoie said of NASCAR’s senior vice president of innovation and racing development, who oversees the sanctioning body’s safety efforts. “He is one of the sharpest guys that I know. And he’s trying to make these race cars as safe as possible.

“We’re looking forward to the Next Gen car (in 2022), which is considerably more safe than what we have now. So, when you get in, you know that NASCAR is doing everything they can to keep the cars as safe as possible.”

Still, the number of cars wrecked at Daytona raises questions about if the risk will become too great.

“At the end of the day, we’re in control of our race cars,” said Ryan Preece, who finished sixth in the Daytona 500 after he bounced off the wall on the last lap. “We’re paid to take these risks and to put ourselves in position to win these races. So, that’s the name of the game. It comes down to who is willing to risk it all, I guess.”

This year’s Daytona 500 marked the fifth consecutive year the event has had at least a 12-car crash. There were 21 cars collected in a crash in the 2019 Daytona 500, the highest total in the last five years. Sixteen cars wrecked shortly before lightning and rain delayed the race for more than five hours last weekend. 

“I was shocked that there was as much pushing and shoving going on as there was there at the beginning,” Chase Elliott said after his runner-up finish.

LaJoie said it’s part of the aggressiveness that has become standard in speedway racing.

“You see guys making runs or throwing blocks because they know to protect their track position they’ve got to be aggressive with those blocks,” he said. “I think where some of the speedway racing product has changed over the past couple of years is because the cars are tighter (and) the drivers are being a little more aggressive.”

Sixteen cars were involved in a crash early in last week’s Daytona 500. Photo: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Car owner Rick Hendrick saw Alex Bowman, who started on the pole, eliminated in the Lap 14 crash. William Byron, who was in a backup car after being in a wreck in his qualifying race, had his hopes of winning end with a damaged car in that melee.

Hendrick didn’t have it as bad as car owner Roger Penske. Ryan Blaney was eliminated in that early crash. Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Austin Cindric all wrecked on the last lap. Keselowski was in a backup car after he was involved in a wreck in his qualifying race.

“You put so much work into those cars to make them as aerodynamic as can be,” Hendrick said before the Daytona 500. “They are like a fine watch, and when the race is over, they look like they raced at Martinsville. It’s just something we live with and it’s the Super Bowl for us.”

This year’s race also featured the third last-lap crash in the last four years. Keselowski was going for the lead when contact with Logano triggered a fiery eight-car incident. No one was injured. The accident marked the fourth time in the last five years Keselowski has failed to finish the Daytona 500 because of a crash. Only Daniel Suarez has had as bad a fortune as Keselowski in that stretch.

It’s why before Daytona Keselowski said: “I’m just so hopeful I can make it through the whole race without getting destroyed.”

He fell about a mile short of reaching that goal — and winning his first Daytona 500.

The accident finished a week at Daytona International Speedway that saw 93 vehicles in wrecks among Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series events. The total is down 8.8% from last year but the decline is because the Busch Clash was held on the road course this year instead of the oval.

The Busch Clash had three cars involved in incidents this year, including Ryan Blaney and Elliott as they raced for the lead through the final chicane. Last year’s Busch Clash had all 18 cars involved in at least one incident. Erik Jones won the race despite being a part of three accidents.

2. A bonus of more than $1 million

Michael McDowell’s Daytona 500 victory provided a nice payday for him and the team last week but that win will continue to pay the team over the next few years.

A source with knowledge of the charter system estimates that Front Row Motorsports should collect an additional $1.6 million over the next three years because of the win — with more than $1 million being paid to the team next season.

Chartered teams are paid a set amount per race. They’re also paid based on where they finish and receive money based on the performance of the charter over the past three seasons.

NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500
Michael McDowell celebrates his Daytona 500 win. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

By winning a race and making the playoffs, the team will finish at least 16th in the car owner points this season. In the last three years, McDowell’s car finished 28th (2018), 28th (2019) and 25th (2020) in car owner points.

A source with knowledge of the charter system said that Front Row Motorsports could receive about $30,000 extra per race next year just by finishing last among the 16 playoff teams this year. The money could prove significant as teams transition to the Next Gen car next season. While car owners anticipate a cost savings with the car, that won’t come next year with the need to replace all the cars run this season with the Next Gen car. An extra million dollars won’t hurt any team.

Jerry Freeze, general manager of Front Row Motorsports, is hopeful that the win can help the team’s search for sponsorship.

“It all has to do with partnerships for us, and it’s always just trying to marry the driver with the partner and the program to make it all fit and make it all work,” he said after the victory. “Unfortunately, Front Row just hasn’t been in a position to do multi-year deals with sponsors, so we’ve been on single-year deals with them, just like we have been with the drivers.

“Maybe with (last week’s) success, hopefully that might change some things, but I think we have to prove that we’re a solid team week-in and week-out to be in that position.”

3. Building momentum?

Ryan Preece’s sixth-place finish doesn’t guarantee how things will go this season, but he’s already ahead of where he was fives races into last year.

Preece heads into Sunday’s race on the Daytona road course (3 p.m. ET on Fox) with 46 points. He didn’t reach that total until the fifth race last year after finishing 29th or worse in three of those events.

Preece said among the ways last year proved challenging was that there was very little practice once the season resumed in May. That limited on-track time with crew chief Trent Owens in their first season together.

NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500
Ryan Preece (37) finished sixth in the Daytona 500 for his third top 10 in the last eight races. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

“We didn’t have that opportunity every week when the practice dropped,” Preece said. “So I really felt we started to excel the final 10 races, and I think that’s carried over into Daytona. I’m looking forward to going to the road course and just keep executing and having solid days.”

Preece had eight top-20 finishes in the final 10 races of last season.

Car owner Tad Geschickter also is hopeful Preece’s momentum from the Daytona 500 continues. The No. 37 team, which does not have a charter, has sponsorship for the first two-thirds of the season only.

“Admittedly, his first two years in Cup has been a steep learning curve, but we believe he can do it,” Geschickter said of Preece. “He’s figuring it out week by week. It just takes time. Ultimately, the best way for us to give him the best equipment we could every week is run when we’re funded. He understands that. We could try to stretch 25 races worth of money into 36. I don’t believe we’ll have to do that.

“We’re not giving up on selling sponsorship for him. Finishing sixth and getting all the TV time he got last week created interest of the people we’ve been talking to.”

4. Back at the track

Chad Knaus was not at last week’s Daytona 500 in his new role as vice president of competition for Hendrick Motorsports. He’ll be at the track this weekend.

With his role, he will split time at the track with Jeff Andrews, general manager of Hendrick Motorsports.

“I’m just going to sit back and try to help the guys where I can,” Knaus said of going to the track this weekend. “Be a resource for them, observe. Obviously, we’ve got amazing crew chiefs, amazing teams. These guys don’t need a whole lot, so I’m just there in a support role.”

As for not being in Daytona for the season-opening weekend?

“For qualifying, it was really odd,” said Knaus, who won seven Cup titles as Jimmie Johnson‘s crew chief. “It was tough. … I was sad that I couldn’t participate, but I was really excited when we got the front row. It’s a different thing, for sure.”

5. Rumble strips added

Drivers said last week that NASCAR needed to do something to the backstretch chicane after dirt and mud got kicked up on the track and contributed to Martin Truex Jr.‘s wreck in the Busch Clash.

The track has added rumble strips and curbing to prevent drivers from getting off course and into the grass.

“It was strange because last year in the Xfinity race I didn’t feel like the chicane, at least dirt-wise, it wasn’t a big deal,” said AJ Allmendinger, who is entered in both the Xfinity and Cup races this weekend for Kaulig Racing. “I was actually quite surprised how much dirt was on the race track during the Clash because I didn’t remember that even in the Cup race last year being that big of an issue.

“I’m not sure if it was because it had rained so much at that point last summer that everybody was afraid to drop a wheel and do damage to the race car. It’s something that we’ll have to all figure out. … It will be the same for all of us. I don’t see it being that big of an issue.”

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

NASCAR viewer’s guide for Charlotte Roval

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Sunday provides a final chance for drivers to advance to the Round of 8 and keep their Cup championship hopes alive.

Talladega winner Chase Elliott is the only driver who has advanced to the next round. That leaves seven spots available going into Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe holds the final transfer spot by a tiebreaker over Austin Cindric. At least for now.

William Byron is 11 points behind both drivers, but Hendrick Motorsports will appeal Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas on Thursday. Should Hendrick win and Byron get those points back, he would move into a transfer spot.

There’s just part of what to watch for in Sunday’s race.

Favorites to be No. 20

This season remains tied for the most different winners in series history at 19, but there are a few candidates who could become the 20th different winner this year on Sunday.

Among the favorites to do so:

Ryan Blaney, who came close to winning last week at Talladega, won the inaugural Cup race at the Roval in 2018.

Martin Truex Jr., who has four career Cup wins on road courses, still seeks his first victory of the season.

Michael McDowell, who is coming off a third-place finish at Talladega, has had a career-high 12 top-10 finishes this season, including top 10s in each of the last four road course events this year.

Will history repeat?

Last year, the four drivers eliminated after the Roval were Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman, Christopher Bell and William Byron.

Harvick was eliminated in the first round this year, but Byron (-11 to the cutline) and Bell (-33) are in jeopardy of being eliminated in this round again. Bowman stated Tuesday that he will miss his second consecutive race because of continued concussion symptoms. He will be among the four eliminated from title contention.

Bowman missed last weekend’s race because of concussion-like symptoms suffered at Texas. A decision on if he’ll be able to race at the Roval will come later this week.

Will chaos continue?

Consider what some of the former Roval winners have endured on their way to the checkered flag:

In 2019, Chase Elliott drove into the Turn 1 wall on a restart while the leader. He recovered to win.

In 2020, Elliott overcame a loose wheel to win for the second year in a row.

In 2021, Kyle Larson won after his team changed batteries and put the alternator belt back on.

Could a similar fate be in store for this year’s winner? Or will they have a cleaner day?

Entry lists

Thirty-nine drivers are entered including IndyCar driver Conor Daly, former Formula 1 driver Daniil Kvyat, former 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller and former 24 Hours of Daytona winner Joey Hand. JJ Yeley will drive the No. 51 for Cody Ware, who stated that he would skip this event because of his ankle injury at Texas the footwork needed on a road course.

Charlotte Roval Cup entry list

The Xfinity entry list includes 41 drivers for 38 spots. Among those joining the series regulars are IndyCar driver Marco Andretti and former F1 driver Daniil Kvyat.

Charlotte Roval Xfinity entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Saturday, Oct. 8

Forecast: Partly cloudy with a high of 66 degrees. No chance of rain during the Xfinity race.

  • 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

Forecast: Sunny with a high of 64 degrees. No chance of rain during the race.

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