Helping Harvick: In need of speed, onus falls on Childers to secure track position


Through the initial stretch of races in 2021, Kevin Harvick is noticeably slower than he’s been in years past.

The struggle bus comes for everyone at some point, but the difference is jarring for Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers because of the impossibly high standard the two have set. From 2014-19, they produced the fastest car in five out of six seasons. They ranked second in the outlier year, 2017, a season of transition from Chevrolet to Ford in which they also produced the fastest car in the playoffs.

In 2020, Stewart-Haas Racing’s bellwether program ranked fourth in speed for the entire season and fourth in the playoffs specifically. Through five races this year, they rank 12th in average median lap time. While Harvick managed to secure finishes beyond his speed’s expectation, carrying an 8.2-place average result into this weekend’s race in Atlanta, the dip in his speed ranking, the metric with a near-perfect correlation with finishing position, is a problem with which Childers is reckoning.

“We had some rules changes and some new templates and stuff like that that really changed the shape of the rear wheel openings,” Childers explained this week on SiriusXM Radio’s NASCAR channel. “Just to be frank, it knocked 70 counts of downforce off the cars, and when you knock that amount of downforce off, especially when it mainly comes off the rear, it just completely messes up your aero balance.

“And when it messes up your aero balance and you have limited wind-tunnel time, it’s hard to get that figured out before the season starts.”

Some of NASCAR’s recent changes, such as the 2019 parts freeze, reduced research and development efforts, including limiting aerodynamic study from wind-tunnel tests and computational fluid dynamic simulations, coupled with the new wheel-opening templates are believed to have bolstered the early-season parity. They also incrementally knocked a juggernaut program off of its perch, a demise by a thousand cuts.

After Harvick’s car had the 13th-fastest median lap time in Homestead, Childers immediately attempted to diagnose the problem, an exercise that proved counterintuitive.

“We took a 550 (horsepower) intermediate car the week before Vegas to the wind tunnel, which was our Homestead car,” Childers said. “We got some numbers and some of those numbers didn’t seem right and our aero balance didn’t seem right. And you compare that to the aero balance that you had at the beginning of last year when you were at those places.

“I feel that’s really how we got messed up. We unloaded at Homestead way too loose and then you start questioning all those numbers and then you go to the extreme the next week. We unloaded at Vegas and we were way too tight.”

Harvick’s car ranked an uncharacteristic 18th in median lap time in Las Vegas; he ranked fourth and ninth in speed in the two Las Vegas races in 2020. Their race was an abject mess; Harvick, as the pole-sitter, lost four positions within two laps of the initial start. He was 11th by Lap 7.

Deeper into the race, Childers broke from his usual reliable strategy offerings. He long-pitted Harvick during the second green-flag pit cycle, a call against the grain of a 1.3-second lap time degradation on old tires in hopes a caution flag would lock him into better track position. The bid failed, moving Harvick from 19th to 22nd. Harvick would only get two of those spots back, resulting in his worst finish on a non-drafting oval since last June.

This issue isn’t isolated to Harvick and Childers. SHR’s other cars, for Cole Custer, Aric Almirola and rookie Chase Briscoe, rank 18th, 25th and 27th in median lap time.

Childers remains optimistic — as he should, given his team’s proficiency in coaxing speed out of cars — that he’ll eventually hit on a solution to his program’s biggest problem.

“Our thing over the years has to be fine-tune and use our simulation and unload (well),” Childers said. “It (takes) but one little number to get you off when you’re talking about a million numbers going through that simulation.”

Course corrections of this nature take time and the immediacy of the Atlanta race, on a track where Harvick scored wins in two of the last three Cup Series events held there, might not tell us much. The driver’s reputation at the 1.54-mile facility exceeds that of SHR; if he’s slow, it’s most likely the team’s doing.

Still, there’s a lot Childers can do for his driver outside of supplying a fast car.

Harvick’s efforts to sift through traffic on his own were neutralized in spots last season by Childers, who capitalized on an early-season win (and playoff guarantee) to eschew stage points, regularly pitting in advance of competition breaks. Such maneuvering inherited track position on ensuing restarts, avoiding the scenarios in which the driver’s been vulnerable since the switch to the current horsepower packages.

Harvick thrived with clean air and a balanced car against little traffic; to wit, he won races in Indianapolis and Darlington last year, races dictated heavily by pit strategy, without actually passing for the go-ahead leads on the track.

Whether it be the change to a rules package that stymied his preferred method for teeing up pass opportunities or his decline from a statistical peak, Harvick isn’t the surplus passer he was in his first five years paired with Childers:

With Harvick no longer scoring significantly higher than his expected adjusted efficiency — the percentage of probable pass encounters resulting in a driver’s favor, heavily influenced by speed — a mechanical struggle like the one he’s experiencing further puts the onus on Childers to supplement track position.

Under green-flag conditions last year, Childers retained Harvick’s spot on 64% of pit cycles, on par with the series average, and on 50% of cycles in which they relinquished top-five spots, 10 percentage points higher than the series average:

In terms of how the No. 4 car acquired track position in 2020, Childers’ influence on green-flag pit cycles and Harvick’s ability to defend his position at the beginning of runs were the most valuable traits (outside of their initial track position, decided largely by random draw or formula).

Even with the desperation heave in Las Vegas considered, Childers fared well on his green-flag pit strategy output through the first five races. He retained Harvick’s position on 89% of pit cycles — and 100% of the time when pitting from the top five — for a 14-position net gain. This included a +4 net in the Homestead race, in which Harvick finished fifth despite the car’s relative weakness.

Similar production will come in handy this weekend, the first 500-mile contest this season on a non-drafting track. Harvick is slated to start seventh.

For the majority of his eight years partnered with Harvick, Childers benefited from a ruthless, precision passer with a fast car, able to bend the competition to his will. Now, Childers’ strategic designs must do the heavy lifting, picking off track position without the benefit of his signature brand of speed.

BJ McLeod, Live Fast team move to Chevrolet


Driver/owner BJ McLeod and Live Fast Motorsports will race in Chevrolets beginning with the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Based in Mooresville, North Carolina, Live Fast has been a Ford team.

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Live Fast is owned by McLeod, Matt Tifft and Joe Falk. Jessica McLeod, BJ’s wife, is the team’s chief operating officer.

“Our team is excited to make this transition to Chevrolet,” BJ McLeod said in a statement released by the team. “Chevrolet Camaros have proven great success on the track, and Live Fast Motorsports is looking forward to becoming a part of this advance.”

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The team will use ECR engines.

McLeod had one top-10 finish in 29 starts in the Cup Series last season.

Dr Diandra: Delving deeper into 2022 NASCAR season statistics


As I discovered earlier this year, cautions don’t capture everything. Sometimes drivers spin, crash, lose wheels or blow tires, but racing continues. Cautions are inaccurate proxies for counting these incidents.

Improving accuracy requires re-visiting each race in detail to find those incidents that didn’t produce cautions.

So that’s what I did.

Non-caution incidents

I use the same categories for non-caution incidents as for cautions. Only incidents significant enough to cost drivers spots count, regardless of where in the field they happen. I don’t claim to have found every incident, but I think I caught most of them.

The table below summarizes my counts for caution and non-caution incidents in the 2022 Cup Series.

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Non-caution incidents comprise 30.1% of total incidents. The percentages, however, vary widely within categories.

For example: While non-caution accidents are just 14% of all accidents, non-caution spins are almost 40% of the total spin count.

Non-caution incidents by race

The graph below shows total incidents — caution and non-caution. I show the races in chronological order from left to right. The totals do not include planned cautions.

The largest number of non-caution incidents happen at road courses. These tracks’ length and sprawling nature allow drivers to recover from a spin or accident without drawing a caution.

  • The Indy road course had the highest overall number of non-caution incidents — nine spins, six accidents and one car on fire. That comes to a total of 16 non-caution incidents and three natural cautions.
  • COTA had the second-highest total of non-caution incidents with 13 — two accidents, nine spins, one tire issue and one wheel issue. Seven natural cautions bring COTA’s incident total to 20.
  • Bristol’s asphalt race came in third in total incidents. Although all of the accidents, spins and stalls recorded there caused cautions, six tire issues and five wheel issues did not. Bristol wins the award for most non-caution incidents at an oval.

Road courses accounted for one-third of all spins in 2022. Capturing total spins is important because spins indicate how easy it is to lose control of the car.

The first third of the season tallied 34 spins. The number rose to 40 in the second third, but fell to 25 in the last 12 races of the year. The numbers from the first two-thirds of the season included 10 spins each at COTA and the Indy Road Course.

The strong dependence of spins on track type makes it hard to draw a conclusion about whether drivers improved their ability to manage the car during the year.

Tires blown

The Next Gen’s symmetry makes the car harder to turn, which demands more from the tires. Crew chiefs also gained the ability to adjust rear camber. Goodyear reported force spikes of 200 to 300 pounds in the tires. Force spikes load a tire quickly, which can lead to blowouts.

I only counted situations in which it was clear that the tire went flat before any other incident, like a spin or accident. If it was possible that another incident caused the tire to blow, I didn’t include it as a tire issue.

I counted a total of 59 blown tires in the 2022 season, which includes those that caused cautions and those that didn’t.

Teams used around 26,600 tires this season. The 59 tire failures represent about 0.2% of all tires run.

Christopher Bell and Austin Cindric had the most blown tires with five each. Bell’s teammate Martin Truex Jr. had four. Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, Chase Briscoe and Daniel Suarez each had three.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s four cars totaled 13 blown tires or 22% of the total number. Hendrick Motorsports, with the same number of cars, had eight blown tires, while Stewart Haas Racing had only six.

The Bristol asphalt race had the most tire issues, with 13. Texas came in second with eight and Kansas third with five. Atlanta, which was repaved and reconfigured, had six tire issues across its two races.

The number of tire issues at Kansas decreased from five in the first race to two in the second. I expect the overall numbers to go down next year as crew chiefs use what they’ve learned this year to refine their setups.

Wheels lost

The Next Gen’s single-lug wheel challenged pit crews, despite built-in indicators that confirm when a wheel is properly tightened. I counted 13 times cars had to back up on pit road to deal with a loose wheel and 19 times cars pitted right after a tire change to re-tighten wheels.

The four-race suspension for crew chief and pit crew members makes teams extra cautious.

I counted 14 wheels coming off cars during the 2022 season. Seven merited cautions. The remaining seven either happened on pit road, or a car that lost a wheel on track was able to make it back to pit road.

Fourteen wheels is 0.05% of all tires used. Again, this number reflects human error more than any design flaw in the wheels. More concerning to me are the handful of stops where teams couldn’t get wheels off cars. For example, debris between the wheel and hub at Darlington ended up costing Ross Chastain four laps.

The good news is that fewer wheels left cars as the season went on.

  • Eight wheels came off cars in the first third of the season.
  • Four wheels were lost in the second third of the season.
  • Only two wheels failed to stay on in the final third of the season.

As is the case for most statistics in the first year of a new car, these numbers will become more meaningful next year, when they’ll serve as benchmarks.

Goodyear renews agreement to remain NASCAR tire supplier


NASCAR and Goodyear have entered into a new multi-year agreement maintaining Goodyear’s role as the exclusive tire for NASCAR’s top three national series. 

Goodyear also will be the title sponsor for the Cup race at Darlington Raceway in May 2023. Goodyear and NASCAR’s relationship dates back nearly 70 years and is one of the longest-running affiliations in any sport.

“From our manufacturing plants to offices around the world, racing is ingrained in our culture, and the importance of our relationship with NASCAR is reflected in the quality, performance and engineering we put into every Goodyear Eagle race tire,” said Richard J. Kramer, chairman, chief executive officer and president at Goodyear, in a statement. “Our performance on the racetrack plays an active role in the success of the sport and inspires the development of our consumer tires, fueling our commitment to take performance and innovation to the next level.”

Goodyear produces more than 100,000 tires for NASCAR’s top three series each year at Goodyear’s global headquarters in Akron, Ohio.

“Goodyear has been a trusted partner to the NASCAR industry since 1954, playing a critical role in our shared pursuit to deliver the best racing in the world,” said Steve Phelps, president of NASCAR, in a statement. “For more than 25 years, Goodyear Eagle tires have been the only component that connects the stock car to the racetrack. Our continued partnership will allow us to push boundaries and innovate our racing product for generations to come.”  

Jes Ferreira selected as Comcast Community Champion of the Year


Comcast announced Jes Ferreira as the 2022 Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award, the eighth to receive the annual award. Among all the turmoil of the pandemic, Ferreira looked for an opportunity to give back. Despite her heavy workload, she decided to take on an even heavier challenge, becoming a foster parent to two young girls. 

“I am overwhelmed, humbled, and blown away to be recognized as the Comcast Community Champion of the Year,” said Jes Ferreira, 2022 Comcast Community Champion, “the amount of support this will provide for the Charlotte foster families ensures the best services for these children. I hope this sheds light on the foster community and encourages everyone to support in many different ways.” 

Ferreira, originally earned a foster license to become a foster parent for one child, but a few months later, the child’s younger sibling needed a new foster home. Although Ferreira, Senior Director of Live Shows for CSM Production, already had a crazy work schedule which included traveling to the race track most weekends on top of fostering one child as a single parent, she knew without a doubt these two siblings deserved to be together while in foster care. Now two young siblings who are going through the most trying time in their lives have been reunited thanks to Ferreira. 

On any given day, there are nearly 424,000 children in foster care in the United States. In 2019, over 672,000 children spent time in U.S. foster care. On average, children remain in state care for over a year and a half, and five percent of children in foster care have languished there for five or more years.  

Ferreira’s affiliated charity is Foster Village Charlotte (FVC), an organization that allows foster parents to connect with and support each other. FVC collaborates with 16 private foster parent licensing agencies, local government, child welfare organizations and the community to serve families holistically and represent the foster family voice to Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services (DSS). 

To further honor Jes’ incredible dedication, Comcast will donate $60,000 to Foster Village Charlotte (FVC).

“Jes encompasses everything the Comcast Community Champion of the Year stands for. Anyone that is at the track knows how dedicated Jes is to the sport of NASCAR and, we are so glad we expanded the eligibility for this award so we can uncover and honor the compassion, selflessness and generosity Jes provides off the track, and that is what makes this honor so special, ” said Matt Lederer, Comcast’s Vice President, Brand Partnerships and Amplification.  

 Ferreira, was chosen by a panel comprised of Comcast and NASCAR executives, as well as Curtis Francois, the 2021 Comcast Community Champion, who received the award for his work with the Raceway Gives Foundation 

For the first time, Comcast opened the eligibility for anyone in the NASCAR community with a 2022 annual credential or NASCAR full season license, and with this expansion, Comcast is now able to share these exceptional stories.   

Josh Williams, driver of the #92 DGM Racing car for the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Sherry Pollex, founder of Sherry Strong, were selected as finalists and will be awarded $30,000 each towards their respective selected charities – the Ryan Seacrest Foundation and Sherry Strong. 

Comcast has a long track record of community service, aiding in the advancement of local organizations, developing programs and partnerships, mobilizing resources to connect people and inspiring positive and substantive change. To learn more about these efforts, visit the Comcast Community Impact site. 

About Comcast Corporation’s Partnership with NASCAR 

Comcast’s Xfinity brand entered NASCAR as entitlement partner of the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2015 and is now Premier Partner of the NASCAR Cup Series. Since then, the company has donated $840,000 to more than 20 different NASCAR-affiliated organizations to honor their efforts and to help further the impact of their worthy causes. Fans can visit to learn more about past and present finalists and their acts of selflessness.