Martinsville takeaways: ‘Berry’ sweet win was a long time coming

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When JR Motorsports late model driver Josh Berry was signed to a part-time Xfinity program for the organization this season, he knew he was ready for the opportunity.

But even after coming off a 2020 NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series championship – the culmination of over a decade driving for JRM – Berry was worried.

During that decade, Berry had tried to establish himself in the Xfinity Series but only had a handful of starts from 2014-17 to show for it.

This new chance could end up being his last.

“To be honest, I was scared I wouldn’t win,” he said Sunday. “I was. We won almost 30 races (last season), winning anywhere and everywhere in a late model. And then you come into this.

“I’m 30 years old. I should be ready to win. The only chance I’ve got is if I win. I was worried about that and wanted to win bad and prove myself.”

On Sunday, that’s what he did. Berry led a race-high 95 laps, including the final 29, in claiming his first career Xfinity win in his 13th series start.

“This is a big day for a lot of people,” he said. “There’s been a lot of good people that have helped me along the way, too many to name, so I know that they’re all really excited about this.”

One of those people was JRM co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr., who watched the race from home. Unable to bear the tension in the closing laps, he walked outside with his wife, Amy.

“My heart was beating so fast,” Earnhardt recalled. “I’d never felt that way about a race, even when my dad raced and certainly when I raced. I’d never been so nervous about a finish.”

Earnhardt could only look at the TV again as Berry got the white flag. Once he got the checkered, tears were shed. Not just for the accomplishment, but what it took to get there.

“I think I’m not saying anything Josh doesn’t know – we just weren’t sure whether we’d ever get the chance to give Josh enough opportunities,” he said. “We gave him a few here and there, and getting a ‘shock the world’ kind of win and those one opportunities that come along every once in a while are tough to do.

“But we had a little string here of over a dozen races for him to run, and I thought ‘Well, maybe we can have something special happen during this span.’ I wasn’t sure exactly what special was gonna be, whether that’d be a win or not. But he just drove an amazing race. (Crew chief) Taylor (Moyer) and the guys did a great job giving him track position and a great car. It just happened.”

The respect for Berry was also evident in those he beat on Sunday.

JRM teammate Noah Gragson, who bonded with Berry following last month’s race at Las Vegas over games of blackjack, said that if he had to finish second to anyone, he’s glad it was him.

“I’m really thankful to get to know him,” Gragson said. “We’ve worked really hard together off the track, working out with (coaches) Josh Wise and Scott Speed, and preparing each and every weekend. I’m just very thankful, one for the opportunity to be on the same track as him, and for the way our friendship’s grown.”

Third-place finisher Daniel Hemric, who drove part-time in Berry’s No. 8 car last season, also recognized what Berry’s win means for the short-track community that they both call home.

“It lets you know that it can be done,” said Hemric, now with Joe Gibbs Racing. “If you put the effort in, put the work in, put the time in and continue to show up, hard work is rewarded. Him having that ride for these number of races this year, that opportunity he’s worked his tail off for his entire life. It was really cool to see.”

Martin Truex Jr., short track king

Read that headline again. Not long ago, such a headline would be preposterous.

Even after he overcame years of mid-pack mediocrity to become a NASCAR Cup Series champion and one of the sport’s elite drivers, Martin Truex Jr. could never solve the bullrings.

Then came the breakthrough: April 13, 2019 at Richmond Raceway. Truex led a race-high 186 laps and then held off a charging Joey Logano to finally claim his first short track win after going 0-for-80 to start his Cup career.

Since then, he’s gone five-for-11 on the short tracks. That run includes three wins in the last four races at Martinsville Speedway, where he out-dueled Denny Hamlin in the closing laps on Sunday.

MORE: Winners and losers from Sunday’s Martinsville races

MORE: Another top five for Hamlin, but will no wins hurt him later?

It’s not like Truex had never been great on short tracks before recently.

During his run to the 2004 Xfinity Series title, he claimed victories at the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway and the 3/4-mile Memphis International Raceway.

When he repeated as Xfinity champion in 2005, his sixth and final win that year came at the .686-mile Lucas Oil Raceway near Indianapolis.

During those years, he also won at several, “short track adjacent” miles: Concrete, high-banked Dover International Raceway, flat New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and the long gone Nazareth Speedway.

“There was a time in my career when I go back to the (Xfinity) Series days, all the races I won there were short tracks,” Truex recalled Sunday. “We never won any mile-and-a-halves – “Damn, I need to get better at mile-and-a-halves.’ You work on that. In the Cup Series, every track is tough. Everybody is working constantly at being better every type of track.

“For whatever reason for me, the short tracks never really panned out (in Cup). Even though we had a lot of great runs over the years, for instance, I think we led the most laps at Richmond three or four races in a row before we finally won there. Sometimes, you need things to go your way.”

Things went Truex’s way Sunday, a day where Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Hamlin (race-high 276 laps led) and Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney (157 laps led) were the strongest drivers.

Truex couldn’t match either of them for much of the race until his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota came alive as the afternoon progressed into the evening.

During the race’s final pit stops, the No. 19 crew got Truex out first while Blaney committed a costly mistake. Hamlin regained the lead off the restart with 42 laps to go, but as his No. 11 JGR Toyota tightened up on the long run, Truex caught and eventually dispatched him with 16 laps to go.

With his third grandfather clock now in possession, Truex has turned Martinsville from a symbol of his short track woes in Cup – prior to 2017, his best finish there were a pair of fifths – into a place where he’s the driver to beat.

And when it comes to short tracks in general, he’s turned the preposterous into reality.

“I’ve just been lucky to be with really good people, have really good cars, have that communication, that belief in one another that you can make the thing do the things you want it to do,” Truex said. “They know you’re driving it right, you know they know how to set it up. You work together.

“That’s where we’ve been the past, really, six, seven years (at Martinsville). It’s a place where it doesn’t change all that much other than depending on the tires that Goodyear brings. You can really just continue to work on similar things and refine those. That’s what we’ve been able to do here.

“It’s been awesome. Hopefully we can keep it going.”

Post-mortem

Martin Truex Jr. became the first repeat winner of 2021, but it could’ve been Ryan Blaney.

The Team Penske pilot swept both stages Sunday and was poised to duke it out for the win with Hamlin. But on his final stop under caution with 47 laps to go, he ran over his air hose and took the pit gun with him as he exited his pit stall.

The subsequent penalty sent him to the rear for the restart. Blaney finished 11th.

Martinsville takeaways
A late-race penalty for removing pit equipment outside his box ruined Ryan Blaney’s hopes for a win Sunday at Martinsville. (Photo: James Gilbert/Getty Images)

On Monday, Blaney’s crew chief, Todd Gordon, explained what went wrong during the stop on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”

“There’s about three or four different things that happened that kind of caused it,” Gordon said. “It’s not one piece. It’s not one person. It’s just an unfortunate situation.

“We slid long in the box, near the front of it. The hose got underneath the front of the nose by being long, and the hose puller behind the wall tried to loop it back out. When he did, it pulled the corner out by the changer under the splitter. When (the changer) got up from changing the right front (tire), the hose was hooked there on the right side of the splitter.”

The gaffe continued a string of recent setbacks for Blaney at Martinsville.

Last June, Blaney was leading when a caution came out on Lap 327. During subsequent pit stops, a member of the No. 12 crew went over the wall too soon and Blaney was sent to the rear. He climbed all the way back to second with less than 50 laps to go, but went no further.

Last November in the playoff race, Blaney recovered from a pit road speeding penalty in Stage 1 to contend. He was running second at the race’s final caution with 59 laps to go, but lost two spots in the pits and took the final restart in fifth (one car stayed out to inherit the lead). Again, Blaney worked back up to second, but came up short.

On Sunday, Blaney’s hopes were dashed again in the pits.

“I was just kind of trying to hold off the guys behind me until we got 20 or so laps in and then I could kind of start creeping forward,” Blaney said after the race. “But, we just got that pit road penalty at the end. It’s just a mistake and something that should be avoided.

“We’ve had an issue the last three times we’ve been here with a car to win, so that’s frustrating but I’m real proud of the effort. I just wish we could close one out.”

That clean feeling

Reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott is still missing his first win of the season. But after finishing second Sunday, he was just glad to have had a clean run.

Elliott’s first seven races included a win slipping away at the Daytona road course, sub-par runs at Miami and Las Vegas, and an engine failure at his home track of Atlanta.

Martinsville Cup race
Reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott’s second-place finish at Martinsville was just what he needed after a rocky start to the season. (Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

But Sunday saw him avoid trouble in route to a season-high 49 points. That includes 14 stage points (finished fourth in both stages), the most he’s had since the 15 he scored at the Daytona road course before finishing 21st.

“Every week, I feel like it’s been one thing or another, a bad run or just whatever,” Elliott said. “Just nice to have just a smooth day, no damage. We didn’t break anything. Everything was just smooth. It was uneventful. That’s the days you have to have to compete for wins ultimately. Some of that is in your hands, some of it’s not.

“Truly nice to have an uneventful day, so to speak, just get a solid finish. Got some solid stage points. It was definitely a step in the right direction for us.”

During the final run to the checkered flag, Elliott closed on Truex and Hamlin as they started to battle for the lead with around 25 laps to go.

Once Truex took the lead, he pulled enough of a gap to where the result wasn’t in doubt, even after Elliott worked past Hamlin for second with five laps to go.

“Rear grip for me was kind of the story of my day,” Elliott said. “That was also the problem there at the end. Just didn’t have the drive I needed to get up off the corner like I wanted and to be able to really get the power down early.”

Appeal panel gives William Byron his 25 points back

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William Byron is back in a transfer spot after the National Motorsports Appeals Panel rescinded his 25-point penalty Thursday for spinning Denny Hamlin at Texas.

By getting those 25 points back, Byron enters Sunday’s elimination playoff race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC) 14 points above the cutline.

Daniel Suarez is now in the final transfer spot to the Round of 8. He is 12 points ahead of Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric. Christopher Bell is 45 points behind Suarez. Alex Bowman will not race this week as he continues to recover from concussion symptoms and has been eliminated from Cup title contention.

NASCAR did not penalize Byron after his incident with Hamlin because series officials did not see the contact. Two days later, NASCAR penalized Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000 for intentionally wrecking Hamlin.

The National Motorsports Appeals Panel stated that Byron violated the rule but amended the penalty to no loss of driver and owner points while increasing the fine to $100,000.

The panel did not give a reason for its decision. NASCAR cannot appeal the panel’s decision.

The panel consisted of Hunter Nickell, a former TV executive, Dale Pinilis, track operator of Bowman Gray Stadium and Kevin Whitaker, owner of Greenville-Pickens Speedway.

Here is the updated standings heading into Sunday’s race at the Roval:

Byron’s actions took place after the caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash. As Hamlin slowed, Byron closed and hit him in the rear. 

Byron admitted after the race that the contact was intentional, although he didn’t mean to wreck Hamlin. Byron was upset with how Hamlin raced him on Lap 262. Byron felt Hamlin forced him into the wall as they exited Turn 2 side-by-side. Byron expressed his displeasure during the caution.

“I felt like he ran me out of race track off of (Turn) 2 and had really hard contact with the wall,” Byron said. “Felt like the toe link was definitely bent, luckily not fully broken. We were able to continue.

“A lot of times that kind of damage is going to ruin your race, especially that hard. I totally understand running somebody close and making a little bit of contact, but that was pretty massive.”

On the retaliatory hit, Byron said: “I didn’t mean to spin him out. That definitely wasn’t what I intended to do. I meant to bump him a little bit and show my displeasure and unfortunately, it happened the way it did. Obviously, when he was spinning out, I was like ‘I didn’t mean to do this,’ but I was definitely frustrated.”

Drivers for Drive for Diversity combine revealed

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The 13 drivers who will participate in the Advance Auto Part Drive for Diversity Combine were revealed Thursday and range in age from 13-19.

The NASCAR Drive for Diversity Development Program was created in 2004 to develop and train ethnically diverse and female drivers both on and off the track. Cup drivers Bubba Wallace, Daniel Suarez and Kyle Larson came through the program.

The 2020 and 2021 combines were canceled due to the impact of COVID-19.

“We are thrilled that we are in a position to return to an in-person evaluation for this year’s Advance Auto Parts Drive for Diversity Combine,” Rev Racing CEO Max Seigel said in a statement. “We are energized by the high-level of participating athletes and look forward to building the best driver class for 2023. As an organization, we have never been more positioned for success and future growth.”

The youngest drivers are Quinn Davis and Nathan Lyons, who are both 13 years old.

The group includes 17-year-old Andrés Pérez de Lara, who finished seventh in his ARCA Menards Series debut in the Sept. 15 race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Also among those invited to the combine is 15-year old Katie Hettinger, who will make her ARCA Menards Series West debut Oct.. 14 at the Las Vegas Bullring. She’s also scheduled to compete in the ARCA West season finale Nov. 4 at Phoenix Raceway.

 

 

Name

Age Hometown
Justin Campbell 17 Griffin, Georgia
Quinn Davis 13 Sparta, Tennessee
Eloy Sebastián

López Falcón

17 Mexico City, Mexico
Katie Hettinger 15 Dryden, MI
Caleb Johnson 15 Denver, CO
Nathan Lyons 13 Concord, NC
Andrés Pérez de Lara 17 Mexico City, Mexico
Jaiden Reyna 16 Cornelius, NC
Jordon Riddick 17 Sellersburg, IN
Paige Rogers 19 New Haven, IN
Lavar Scott 19 Carney’s Point, NJ
Regina Sirvent 19 Mexico City, Mexico
Lucas Vera 15 Charlotte, NC

 

Dr. Diandra: Crashes: Causes and complications

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Two drivers have missed races this year after hard rear-end crashes. Kurt Busch has been out since an incident in qualifying at Pocono in July. Alex Bowman backed hard into a wall at Texas and will miss Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Other drivers have noted that the hits they’ve taken in the Next Gen car are among the hardest they’ve felt in a Cup car.

“When I crashed it (at Auto Club Speedway in practice), I thought the car was destroyed, and it barely backed the bumper off. It just felt like somebody hit you with a hammer,” Kevin Harvick told NBC Sports.

The three most crucial parameters in determining the severity of a crash are:

  • How much kinetic energy the car carries
  • How long the collision takes
  • The angle at which the car hits

Angle

The last of these factors requires trigonometry to explain properly. You can probably intuit, however, that a shallower hit is preferable to a head-on — or rear-on — hit.

A graphic show shallower (low-angle) hits and deeper (high-angle) hits
Click for a larger view

When the angle between the car and the wall is small, most of the driver’s momentum starts and remains in the direction parallel to the wall. The car experiences a small change in velocity.

The larger the angle, the larger the change in perpendicular speed and the more force experienced. NASCAR has noted that more crashes this season have had greater angles than in the past.

Busch and Bowman both had pretty large-angle hits, so we’ll skip the trig.

Energy — in pounds of TNT

A car’s kinetic energy depends on how much it weighs and how fast it’s going. But the relationship between kinetic energy and speed is not linear: It’s quadratic. That means going twice as fast gives you four times more kinetic energy.

The graph shows the kinetic energies of different kinds of race cars at different speeds. To give you an idea of how much energy we’re talking about, I expressed the kinetic energy in terms of equivalent pounds of TNT.

A vertical bar graph showing kinetic energies for different types of racecars and their energies

  • A Next Gen car going 180 mph has the same kinetic energy as is stored in almost three pounds of TNT.
  • Because IndyCars are about half the weight of NASCAR’s Next Gen car, an IndyCar has about half the kinetic energy of a Next Gen car when both travel at the same speed.
  • At 330 mph, Top Fuel drag racers carry the equivalent of six pounds of TNT in kinetic energy.

All of a car’s kinetic energy must be transformed to other types of energy when the car slows or stops. NASCAR states that more crashes are occurring at higher closing speeds, which means more kinetic energy.

Longer collisions > shorter collisions

That seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Who wants to be in a crash any longer than necessary?

But the longer a collision takes, the more time there is to transform kinetic energy.

A pitting car starts slowing down well below it reaches its pit box. The car’s kinetic energy is transformed into heat energy (brakes and rotors warming), light energy (glowing rotors), and even sound energy (tires squealing).

The same amount of kinetic energy must be transformed in a collision — but much faster. In addition to heat, light and sound, energy is transformed via the car spinning and parts deforming or breaking. (This video about Michael McDowell’s 2008 Texas qualifying crash goes into more detail.)

The force a collision produces depends on how long the car takes to stop. Compare the force from your seat belt when you slow down at a stop sign to what you feel if you have to suddenly slam on the brakes.

To give you an idea of how fast collisions can be, the initial wall impact in the crash that killed Dale Earnhardt Sr. lasted only eight-hundredths (0.08) of a second.

SAFER barriers use a car’s kinetic energy to move a heavy steel wall and crush pieces of energy-absorbing foam. That extracts energy from the car, plus the barrier extends the collision time.

The disadvantage is that a car with lower kinetic energy won’t move the barrier. Then it’s just like running into a solid wall.

That’s the same problem the Next Gen car seems to have.

Chassis stiffness: A Goldilocks problem

The Next Gen chassis is a five-piece, bolt-together car skeleton, as shown below.

A graphic showing the five parts of the Next Gen chassis.
Graphic courtesy of NASCAR. Click to enlarge.
The foam surrounding the outside of the rear bumper
The purple is energy-absorbing foam. Graphic courtesy of NASCAR. Click for a larger view.

That graphic doesn’t show another important safety feature: the energy absorbing foam that covers the outside of the bumpers. It’s purple in the next diagram.

All cars are designed so that the strongest part of the car surrounds the occupants. Race cars are no different.

The center section of the Next Gen chassis is made from stout steel tubing and sheet metal. Components become progressively weaker as you move away from the cockpit. The bumper, for example, is made of aluminum alloy rather than steel. The goal is transforming all the kinetic energy before it reaches the driver.

Because the Next Gen car issues are with rear impacts, I’ve expanded and highlighted the last two pieces of the chassis.

The rear clip and bumper, with the fuel cell and struts shaded

The bumper and the rear clip don’t break easily enough. The rear ends of Gen-6 cars were much more damaged than the Next Gen car after similar impacts.

If your initial thought is “Just weaken the struts,” you’ve got good instincts. However, there are two challenges.

I highlighted the first one in red: the fuel cell. About the only thing worse than a hard collision is a hard collision and a fire.

The other challenge is that a chassis is a holistic structure: It’s not like each piece does one thing independent of all the other pieces. Changing one element to help soften rear collisions might make other types of collisions harder.

Chassis are so complex that engineers must use finite-element-analysis computer programs to predict their behavior. These programs are analogous to (and just as complicated as) the computational fluid dynamics programs aerodynamicists use.

Progress takes time

An under-discussed complication was noted by John Patalak, managing director of safety engineering for NASCAR. He told NBC Sports’ Dustin Long in July that he was surprised by the rear-end crash stiffness.

The Next Gen car’s crash data looked similar to that from the Gen-6 car, but the data didn’t match the drivers’ experiences. Before addressing the car, his team had to understand the disparity in the two sets of data.

They performed a real-world crash test on a new configuration Wednesday. These tests are complex and expensive: You don’t do them until you’re pretty confident what you’ve changed will make a significant difference.

But even if the test goes exactly as predicted, they aren’t done.

Safety is a moving target.

And always will be.

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)