Podcast: Should NASCAR throw the yellow flag for rain on road courses or change rule?

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According to its rulebook, NASCAR correctly officiated Sunday’s Daytona International Speedway road course race, which went under yellow because of a rain shower despite access to wet-weather tires.

The question becomes whether that rulebook now should be tweaked before the next road course race on May 23 at Circuit of the Americas.

The latest episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast featured an in-depth analysis of the yellow flag that was the turning point of Sunday’s race at the Daytona International Speedway road course. Because the race had started under dry conditions, NASCAR threw the yellow on Lap 57 by rule to allow pit stops to switch to rain tires. But the shower was brief, and the track surface avoided collecting enough moisture for any team to switch off slick tires.

WINNERS AND LOSERS: Who was up and down at the Daytona road course

DAYTONA TAKEAWAYS: Chase Elliott still class of the field

It still had a major impact on the race. Chase Elliott, who led 44 laps, fell out of first for good, while Christopher Bell outdueled Joey Logano for his first victory in NASCAR’s premier series.

During the podcast, NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte said he thinks NASCAR will reconsider the rule requiring a yellow flag to allow for a rain tire switchover. Most series with road racing (such as IndyCar and Formula One) hold off on caution flags for light rain and put the onus on teams to make the call on whether to pit, heightening the drama and dynamics of a race affected by inclement weather

“NASCAR has to operate within the rulebook just as the teams do,” NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte said. “They can’t make it up as they go whether they like or don’t like the call they have to make. Do I think NASCAR can just remove that and say, ‘Listen guys, we’re never going to throw a caution for rain. Rain tires are available all the time. Knock yourself out if you want to do it.’ Maybe that’s something they could do.”

Chase Elliott, who led a race-high 44 laps Sunday, spins after late-race contact with Denny Hamlin on the Daytona International Speedway road course (Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports).

Daytona also prompted debate about whether NASCAR should lessen the disruption of road course races by opting for “local yellows” in minor incidents instead of full-course yellows that disrupt a race’s natural rhythm and strategies. There were two caution flags Sunday to clear debris that might have been local yellows in other racing series, opting to use the large runoff areas and open track that is less of a feature in oval racing.

NASCAR vice president of competition Scott Miller told SiriusXM in a Monday morning interview that it’s unlikely there would be situations employing local yellows.

“It’s hard to compare NASCAR to other road courses, because it’s not just the rain situation that’s different,” Letarte said on the podcast. “NASCAR operates road course races like they do every other race when it comes to flags. A local yellow in most road courses races, is a non-passing opportunity, and you must continue your line. In NASCAR, it seems more of a warning, you still can overtake, so there are all these downstream effects, that’s why I struggle to know what the right manner is.”

With seven road-course races on the schedule (more than twice as many as last year), it’s a debate that is likely to continue, and Letarte believes drivers should have the final say on any policy changes.

“When you talk about wet weather and local yellows, that is purely a safety-type situation,” Letarte said. “If the drivers say, ‘If it’s wet, it’s on me or my team to know’ or ‘Throw a local yellow,’ then I’m OK with it. But if the drivers say, ‘No, if it’s dry and suddenly gets wet, I want a yellow because I don’t want to barrel off in there,’ I struggle with it. Because I don’t think we have the right to tell Joey Logano, Christopher Bell, Denny Hamlin or Brad Keselowski what is safe or not.

“All the drivers aren’t going to agree, but the majority is going to have to get with NASCAR and alter it from there. With six more road courses are coming, we have to figure out what we’re going to do.”

Other topics discussed during thi episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast:

–The breakthrough victories of Christopher Bell and Ty Gibbs;

–Why are so many drivers getting their first victories on road courses despite their youth and inexperience?

–Whether crew chief Adam Stevens felt some redemption of winning before former driver Kyle Busch;

–The impact of two first-time winners on the playoff picture.

https://art19.com/shows/nascar-on-nbc-podcast/episodes/8a54a3c5-3a77-469f-825a-008fb9a2a248

To listen to the podcast, you can click on the link above, or via Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you download podcasts.

NASCAR Clash heat race lineups

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LOS ANGELES — Justin Haley, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell and William Byron will start on the pole for their heat races Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. 

There will be nine cars in each of the four heat races. Here’s a look at each of the those heat races.

Clash heat race starting lineups

Heat 1

This heat has four drivers who did not make last year’s Clash: Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola, Chris Buescher and Ty Dillon. Almirola starts second, Bowman third, Buescher eighth and Dillon ninth. This heat also has defending Clash winner and reigning Cup champion Joey Logano, who starts fifth.

Heat 2

Richard Childress Racing teammates Busch and Austin Dillon start 1-2. This race has five former champions: Busch, Kyle Larson (starting third), Kevin Harvick (fourth), Martin Truex Jr. (fifth) and Chase Elliott (eighth).

Heat 3

Toyota drivers will start first (Bell), second (Denny Hamlin) and fifth (Tyler Reddick). Ryan Blaney starts last in this heat after his fastest qualifying lap was disallowed Saturday.

Heat 4 

Byron will be joined on the front row by AJ Allmendinger in this heat. The second row will have Ross Chastain and Bubba Wallace.

The top five in each heat advances to Sunday night’s Clash. Those not advancing go to one of two last chance qualifying races. The top three in each of those races advances to the Clash. The 27 and final spot in the Clash is reserved for the driver highest in points who has yet to make the field.

Justin Haley tops field in Clash qualifying

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LOS ANGELES — Justin Haley posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s qualifying for the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Haley will start the first of four heats on the pole after a lap of 67.099 mph (13.413 seconds). The four heat races will be held Sunday afternoon, followed by two last chance qualifying races and then the Busch Clash on Sunday night.

Clash qualifying results

“I feel pretty confident about where we are,” Haley said. “I’m not sure why we’re so good here.”

The top four qualifiers will start on the pole for their heat race.

Kyle Busch, who was second on the speed chart with a lap of 66.406 mph, will start on the pole for the second heat. That comes in his first race with Richard Childress Racing after having spent the past 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Christopher Bell, third on the speed chart with a lap of 66.328 mph, will start on the pole for the third heat. William Byron, fourth in qualifying with a lap of 66.196 mph, will start on the pole in the fourth heat race.

The pole-sitters for each of the four heat races last year all won their heat. That included Haley, who was third fastest in qualifying last year and won the third heat from the pole.

Ty Gibbs was not allowed to qualify because of unapproved adjustments his team made while making repairs to his car after the door foam caught fire during practice. NASCAR deemed that the Joe Gibbs Racing team made adjustments to the car not directly related to the damage.

Ryan Blaney‘s fastest qualifying lap was disallowed after he stopped the car in Turn 4 and turned it around and to go back to the backstretch and build speed for his final lap. NASCAR disallowed the time from that final lap for the maneuver.

Section 7.8.F of the Cup Rule Book states: “Unless otherwise determined by the Series Managing Director, drivers who encounter a problem during Qualifying will not be permitted to travel counter Race direction.”

The top five finishers in each of the four 25-lap heat races advance to the Clash. The top three in the two 50-lap last chance races move on to the Clash. The final spot in the 27-car field is reserved for the driver highest in points not yet in the field.

Chase Briscoe, AJ Allmendinger in first on-track conflict of the season.

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LOS ANGELES — The first on-track conflict of the 2023 NASCAR Cup season?

Did you have Chase Briscoe and AJ Allmendinger?

They made contact during Saturday night’s practice session at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the Busch Light Clash.

Busch Clash practice results

Briscoe explained what happened from his point of view.

“(Allmendinger) was slowing down so much on the straightaway to get a gap (away from other cars),” Briscoe told Motor Racing Network. “I felt like I was beside him pretty far down the straightaway. I got in there a little hot for sure, but, honestly, I thought he was going to give it to me since we were in practice. Went into (Turn) 3 and he just drove me straight into the fence. Definitely frustrating. … Just unfortunate. We don’t have a single back-up car out there between the four of us at SHR. 

“Definitely will set us behind quite a bit. Just chalk it up in the memory blank.”

Asked what happened with Briscoe, Allmendinger told MRN: “He ran inside of me, so I made sure I paid him back and sent him into the fence.

“It’s practice. I get it, I’m struggling and in the way, but come barreling in there. I just showed my displeasure for it. That’s not the issue. We’re just not very good right now.”

Earlier in practice, Ty Gibbs had to climb out of his car after it caught on fire. Gibbs exiting the car safely. The Joe Gibbs Racing team worked on making repairs to his No. 54 car. NASCAR stated that the car would not be allowed to qualify because of unapproved adjustments, modifications not directly related to the damage.

NASCAR will not race at Auto Club Speedway in 2024

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LOS ANGELES — Auto Club Speedway will not host a NASCAR race next year because of plans to convert the 2-mile speedway into a short track.

It will mark only the second time the Cup Series has not raced at the Southern California track since first competing there in 1997. Cup did not race at the track in 2021 because of the pandemic.

Dave Allen, Auto Club Speedway president, also said Saturday that “it’s possible” that the track might not host a NASCAR race in 2025 because of how long it could take to make the conversion. 

MORE: Details for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum 

NASCAR came to the Fontana, California, track during the sport’s expansion in the late 1990s that also saw Cup debut at Texas (1997), Las Vegas (1998) and Homestead (1999).

Auto Club Speedway begins the West Coast swing this season, hosting the Cup Series on Feb. 26, a week after the Daytona 500. The series then goes to Las Vegas and Phoenix the following two weeks.

Auto Club Speedway has been among a favorite of drivers because of its aging pavement that put more of the car’s control in the hands of competitors. 

Allen said that officials continue to work on the track’s design. It is expected to be a half-mile track. With NASCAR already having a half-mile high-banked track (Bristol) and half-mile low-banked track (Martinsville), Allen said that a goal is to make Auto Club Speedway stand out.

“It has to make a statement, and making sure that we have a racetrack that is unique to itself here and different than any of the tracks they go to is very important,” Allen said. “Having said that, it’s equally important … to make sure that the fan experience part is unique.”

Kyle Larson, who won last year’s Cup race at Auto Club Speedway, said that he talked to Allen on Saturday was told the track project likely will take about 18 months. 

“I don’t know exactly the extent of what they’re doing with the track, how big it’s going to be, the shape or banking and all that, and I love the 2-mile track, but I think the more short tracks we can have, the better off our sport is going to be,” Larson said.

With Auto Club Speedway off the schedule in 2024, it would mean the only time Cup raced in the Los Angeles area would be at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. NASCAR has a three-year contract with the Coliseum to race there and holds the option to return.

Sunday’s Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum marks the second year of that agreement. Last year’s inaugural event at the Coliseum drew about 50,000 fans. NASCAR has not publicly stated if it will return to the Coliseum next year.