Analysis: Education, awareness hallmarks of elite NASCAR restarters


The first restart of NASCAR’s choose-rule era saw four of the first five cars in the running order select a launching point from Michigan International Speedway’s outside line, its statistically preferred groove. One of them — Kurt Busch — relinquished a fifth-place spot, traditionally the inside of the third row, for the eighth-place spot, the outside of the fourth row.

He promptly made his choice appear wise, gaining four spots — a positional net of +1 — while simultaneously justifying the existence of the choose rule, previously a feature of youth races on quarter-mile tracks, among others in short track racing. This invited others to attempt the same bid — Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Christopher Bell and Erik Jones would follow suit that day in dumping top-five spots for that magical eighth-place springboard.

Kurt Busch as the choose zone’s pied piper is fitting. Potentially the best restarter since the 2009 inception of the double-file format, he ranked first or second in position retention on non-preferred groove restarts in 2013-15, 2018 and 2020. His knack for scoring positions out of the non-preferred groove is a talent only he seems to carry from year to year, rules package to rules package. From 2013-16, he netted 27 positions from the lesser of the two grooves, while all other full-time drivers during that span registered net negatives. On a Lap 236 restart last season in Darlington’s Southern 500, he launched from the fifth row’s inside line — the non-preferred spot from which occupants saw a 12.5% success rate in defending position — and not only bucked the race’s pronounced statistical trend, but also gained one spot.

Busch is a mercurial soul, but thoughtful about his craft, studious of restarts. He watches videos of himself and his competitors so that he can plot his pounce on the fly.

“When you drive down into Turn 1, you have to have a plan already in place on those restarts and you have to anticipate what others are thinking and what they’re doing,” Busch told NBC Sports. “Sometimes you’re on four fresh tires and then sometimes there’s restarts where you just did fuel only or two tires. You have to absorb your car’s handling and be able to know what it’s going to give you when you land down in Turn 1.”

Watch Busch on successive restart attempts and you’ll notice he rarely does the same thing twice. His unpredictability is an asset, but it’s a spontaneity influenced by reflection. Depending on the drivers around him, their positioning and their habits — repetitious restarters tend to be poor restarters — he’ll flip the script. A defensive position might allow a chance at some offense, offensive spots might require defense and calm restarts may demand a touch of chaos.

“It’s like if you’re in football and you’re the quarterback,” Busch said. “Up at the line, changing the play call because he sees how the defense is lined up or he sees the cornerback not on top of his receiver as close as he had been.

“You find those small windows, those little openings, and that’s done off of tape review, it’s done off of experience. And it’s that feel of that next dimension that you have to apply to have a competitive edge over the next guy.”

Anyone who’s viewed Busch’s 2013 restart in Atlanta knows the depths of his capability. A clogged launch and some nifty maneuvering while working the gears created the setting for one of the most memorable restarts in NASCAR history:

He’s more than a GIF-maker, though. Each of his last two wins — Kentucky in 2019 and Las Vegas last year — required a late-race restart savvy, for which he was happy to oblige. He’s the current bar other non-preferred groove restarters are attempting to clear:

Defending a non-preferred groove position is a predominately fruitless endeavor. Occupants in that groove see an average disadvantage of 35 percentage points to their peers with preferred spots. Last year, Busch was one of two drivers to successfully defend position on more than 50% of his attempts from inside the top 14.

The other is Ryan Blaney, seemingly a natural. Since his Cup Series debut, he’s managed good restarting numbers, a rare attribute among drivers under 30 who score the bulk of their track position on long runs.

“If you can’t go forward on the restart, you better make sure that you’re at least staying where you’re at,” Blaney told NBC Sports. “You can’t just give up spots. That’s kind of the mentality I’ve always had. I’ve always tried to be good at timing restarts and runs.

“I think I’ve been doing it ever since late models, because those guys were so on it on restarts. If you weren’t paying attention, they took advantage of you. I was really young when I started in PASS (the Pro All-Stars Series, a late model series in the Southeast) and those guys had many years on them. I learned from an early age to be an aggressor on restarts, and I think it carried over to where I am now.”

Blaney’s elite restarting acumen is a foundational attribute made more valuable in the era of stage racing and competition cautions, guaranteeing at least three opportunities for a wholesale position shuffle. He views the vulnerable two-lap windows following each restart for what they are: Open invitations to seize track position.

“It’s one of the easiest places to pass people,” Blaney said. “One of the easiest is pit road, the other is restarts.”

Most drivers don’t experience the easy assimilation Blaney did. Matt DiBenedetto, for one, forced himself to study video over the last few years — his favorite subjects are Truex and Kevin Harvick — to make up for the lack of experience restarting next to stock car racing’s elites. For sure, it was a big chasm to close: He made just 15 restart attempts from inside the top 14 across 2017-18 while driving for GoFas Racing.

He’s now one of the best preferred groove restarters in the series, ranking third last year in position retention:

DiBenedetto credits knowledge accrued over time for his rapid improvement but cautions against sticking with the most pragmatic game plan.

“There’s a point where you can take in good information and use it to your advantage and be aware of certain things,” DiBenedetto told NBC Sports. “Like the basics of Michigan, you can try to drive down to the bottom but you better make sure you’re clear on exit, or if it’s Pocono, you know once you get off Turn 1, man, if you’re stuck on the bottom down the backstretch, the whole train on the outside is going to drive by you.

“That’s what’s helpful study material but you also don’t want to overanalyze certain things. You want to take those things into account but also be ready for different situations, like at the last second, there’s a hole up the middle. If I shoot there, I won’t have to let off the gas, you know, and I can keep my momentum and kind of hope that it works out.”

DiBenedetto’s education as a restarter was on display last year in Darlington, when he correctly assessed the low probability for positional gain and quickly retreated to safe mode. That his move mirrored that of Harvick, one of his admitted muses, was a fun coincidence:

His 43.21% retention rate from the non-preferred groove ranked eighth in the series last season, a sure sign of a well-rounded restarter.

“It’s a really, really tough balance,” he said. “You have to be so aggressive, but you also can’t be wadding your stuff up.”

The differences in retention rates from one driver to the next are slim, separated anecdotally by situational awareness. Drivers are consistently searching for better intel, leading to bigger gains. To wit, the best all-around restarter last year, Truex, made a spotter change specifically to improve his positional gain on 550-hp tracks. Seemingly, it’s a move akin to Stephen Curry changing shooting coaches, desiring to enhance an already accurate 3-point field goal percentage. But any improvement for Truex could assist in better finishes, if not more wins. His +0.64 positional net per preferred groove attempt was low given how other top position defenders performed last year. It’s an area for improvement that’s realistic and firmly within his control.

Control is the prevailing theme among the good restarters. Calculation amid perceived chaos is what’s winning them spots, the result of their experiences and individual efforts to improve.

There’s far more thought put to these hectic moments than meets the eye and it’s what is separating the great restarters from the rest of the herd.

Could Daytona International Speedway host NFL games?


The president of Daytona International Speedway says track officials plan to speak with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars about hosting the team’s games if Jacksonville’s stadium is renovated.

The Jaguars will need a temporary home site if plans go forward to renovate the team’s stadium. Daytona International Speedway has been mentioned as a possible candidate. The Jaguars released details Wednesday of what the stadium will look like after the renovation project.

Provided the project is approved by the city of Jacksonville, it is believed the Jaguars would need to find another home site for a couple of seasons while work is being done to its stadium. Daytona International Speedway is among possible sites for the Jaguars to play. More than 100,000 people saw Ricky Stenhouse Jr. win this year’s Daytona 500.

“Daytona International Speedway is a world-renowned sports and entertainment venue and hosts a full schedule of events each year,” said Frank Kelleher, president of Daytona International Speedway, in a statement. “As good neighbors in the Florida sports community, DIS will be speaking with the Jacksonville Jaguars to see if we can assist them with their potential upcoming facility needs around our scheduled events.”

Daytona International Speedway hosted Soccer Fest in July 2022. An announced crowd of 7,573 fans saw the Orlando Pride and Racing Louisville play in a National Women’s Soccer League game at Daytona.

NASCAR displays counterfeit part from Chase Briscoe car


SONOMA, Calif. — NASCAR displayed the counterfeit part from Chase Briscoe‘s car on Saturday at Sonoma Raceway, showing how the part did not correspond to what should have been in the car.

NASCAR found the issue at its R&D Center after last month’s Coca-Cola 600. The sanctioning body fined crew chief John Klausmeier $250,000 and suspended him for six races. NASCAR also docked Briscoe and the team 120 points and 25 playoff points for the L3 infraction.

“We want to be transparent on the penalties,” said Brad Moran, managing director of the Cup Series as he displayed the counterfeit part to media.

Moran displayed a a portion of the engine panel from Briscoe’s car. He noted the engine duct was counterfeit. He said the proper pieces are 3D printed at the R&D Center and Fiberworks Composites sells them and installs them for teams. Moran said the duct is “in the bottom of the car under the engine panel. It’s to help cool the driver. It was added prior to the first race. During testing … we realized we wanted to get heat out of the engine compartment, and that’s what this piece does.”

Moran noted that with the counterfeit part, “we can clearly see the textures are different (from the proper part).”

He displayed what officials call a gauge that determines if the duct fits the proper parameters. He showed it fitting a proper duct and not properly fitting in the counterfeit part.

“It was a part that was made, and it was made for whatever reason,” Moran said. “It was, I guess, put on by error, but it was on the vehicle. It is a piece that should not have been made in the first place, and it was spotted at our teardown at the R&D Center.”

Moran said the issue was found in a visual inspection of the part. NASCAR inspected it further and Moran said “there are certain little characteristics that are in (a proper piece)” that officials did not see in the one on Briscoe’s car. “The more we examined it, the more we realized that’s not a part they bought.”

Moran noted that while the penalties were severe, they could have been worse based on the rulebook.

“It was the low end of the L3,” Moran said. “It’s a real big hit for any team. If it continues, and we feel we are not where we need to be, unfortunately, it’s going to ramp up. We’re not going to stop.

“The deal with this car is it needs to be run without modifying. It costs teams a lot of money in development. All the owners agreed. We all agreed where we need to be to make this a successful program, and we’re not going to give up.”



Sunday Cup race at Sonoma Raceway: Start time, TV info, weather


The Cup Series heads to wine country to compete on the 1.99-mile road course at Sonoma Raceway. This race leads into the final off weekend of the season. After the break, the series races 20 consecutive weekends. NBC and USA will broadcast those races.

Details for Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma Raceway

(All times Eastern)

START: Adam Devine will give the command to start engines at 3:38 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:50 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 12:30 p.m. … Drivers meeting is at 2:45 p.m. … Driver intros are at 3 p.m. … Earl Smith, pastor for the Golden State Warriors and San Francisco 49ers, will give the invocation at 3:30 p.m. … Tiffany Woys will perform the national anthem at 3:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 110 laps (218.9 miles) on the 1.99-mile road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 25. Stage 2 ends at Lap 55.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying begins at 6 p.m. Saturday

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the race at 3:30 p.m. … Coverage begins at 2 p.m. on FS1 and switches to Fox at 3 p.m. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. and also will stream at SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.


FORECAST: Weather Underground — Partly cloudy with a high of 69 degrees and a 1% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST YEAR: Daniel Suarez won his first career Cup race last year at Sonoma. Chris Buescher finished second. Michael McDowell placed third.


Friday 5: Kyle Busch, Randall Burnett forming potent combination

Rick Hendrick hopes rough driving settles down after Chase Elliott suspension

Concussion-like symptoms sideline Noah Gragson

NASCAR implements safety changes after Talladega crash

Dr. Diandra: Brad Keselowski driving RFK Racing revival 

NASCAR penalizes Erik Jones, Legacy MC for L1 violation

Drivers to watch at Sonoma Raceway 

NASCAR Power Rankings: William Byron, Kyle Busch rank 1-2

NASCAR Saturday schedule at Sonoma Raceway


Cup and Xfinity teams will be on track Saturday at Sonoma Raceway.

Cup teams will practice and qualify for Sunday’s race. Xfinity teams will qualify and race Saturday on the 1.99-mile road course in Northern California.

Sonoma Raceway


Saturday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 75 degrees. Forecast is for mostly cloudy skies, a high of 71 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the Xfinity race.

Saturday, June 10

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 12 p.m. – 8 p.m.  — Cup Series
  • 1 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 3 – 4 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)
  • 5 – 6 p.m. — Cup practice  (FS2)
  • 6 – 7 p.m. — Cup qualifying  (FS2)
  • 8 p.m. — Xfinity race (79 laps, 156.95 miles; FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)