What matters at Talladega: Strategizing around big crashes


The threat of “The Big One” — a large, multi-car crash — looms large at Talladega Superspeedway. Such an accident, given the close-proximity racing typically seen on drafting tracks, is largely unavoidable; however, risk can be mitigated by avoiding the track’s hot spots.

Across the last 16 Talladega races (dating back to 2013), there were 35 crashes consisting of four or more cars. Based on inclusion rates for each position, there was a clear minefield in the middle of the running order:

With 17th place (an inclusion rate of 45.71%) acting as Talladega’s most collected spot, positions 12th-18th were the common nexus for the track’s large accidents. Containing varying degrees of difficulty, there are three viable paths to avoiding these mid-pack positions outright:

Running near the front

Contrary to recent Daytona races, the front of the field is respected at Talladega.

The car in the lead position was included in just 8.57% of crashes during the last eight years, with the three trailing positions seeing inclusion rates below 23%. It’s not pristine, but it’s offered amenability for forward-thinking strategy.

Stewart-Haas Racing pulled off a surprisingly disciplined Talladega race in the fall of 2018, with its four cars leading 155 of 193 laps and securing the win for Aric Almirola. This plan ran counter to the most obvious strategy — run in the back, safely distanced from the peloton — and was probably enacted given the procured starting positions of first, second, third and fourth via traditional qualifying.

Without that ideal initial track position and a four-car bulwark, holding off all comers, especially towards the end of stages or the race itself, is a difficult proposition. Driving from the middle or rear to those front running spots in particular invites risk, potentially jeopardizing the outcome of the race.

It is the perception of risk that will fuel or foil a team’s on-the-fly strategy. After 11 cars were eliminated within the first 15 laps of February’s Daytona 500, Denny Hamlin, who spent those initial laps running between 31st and 38th, inherited a lead after a bevy of pit stops following the rain delay and didn’t relent, leading 98 of the final 169 laps. This was a choice informed by a perceived reduction in risk, assisted by the elimination of having to pass his way through the most populated, crash-happy area.

At Talladega, the front of the field offers a safe haven from crashes, more so than Daytona, made safer with each subsequent accident.

Riding in the rear

Visible on the above chart are the single-digit crash inclusion rates of cars in the rear of Talladega’s field. Granted, those rates are inflated somewhat by cars that have already crashed, the slow burn towards the hot spots indicates it’s still a viable plan for lead-lap cars.

With other cars in on the plan — a single car would not only lose the draft, but also risk going a lap down — it’s the closest to a guarantee for avoiding crash inclusion.

What should be noted, though, is that when done successfully, riding in the rear offers a temporary relief. At some point, a driver will point towards the front in search of stage points or the race win; at best, this strategy is utilized to stay out of crashes in moments where riding in the pack is completely unnecessary.

The driver who arguably best epitomized this balance over the last four years isn’t entered into today’s race.

Ty Dillon, while not a race winner, was the only driver running at the finish in each of the last eight Talladega races. His 17.9-place average running position during that time suggests he was a fixture in the worst running whereabouts, but that’s wildly misleading. His lowest positions in all but one of those races were 29th or worse; his best positions in all but one were third or better. Despite just one top-five finish during this span, he collected the seventh-most stage points and the second most among non-winners, making effective use of the two most advantageous running tactics.

Using pit road to avoid the mid-pack morass

How might a team move from the rear to the front without mixing it up against dense traffic?

Pit road offers the path, especially in the first stage where a competition caution will fall. With minimal tire wear, Talladega is a fuel-dependent track and if a car has enough gas in the tank to last until a stage’s conclusion, there’s no point in pitting.

Teams will change tires, of course, but anticipate many choosing right sides only, then alternating on a later stop, because a two-tire stop lasts the length of a gas tank being properly topped off. The diminished need for tires gives crew chiefs flexibility in choosing track position above all. If timed properly, a team could avoid pit road under yellow and score pivotal risk-reducing positions.

Under green-flag conditions, this dance becomes more delicate but offers the same impact. As the above chart suggests, this year’s Daytona 500 was effectively flipped when the Fords, deeper in number and better in execution, leapfrogged Toyota’s most realistic potential winner on the final pit cycle of the race. Hamlin fell from first to 13th during this cycle, removed from observable contention. Eventual winner Michael McDowell moved from 15th to fifth, a position from which he capitalized on the last-lap accident between Penske teammates.

It’s ironic that both Daytona and Talladega, known for close racing and big crashes, are affected in this manner by pit-road maneuvering. But this is an essential part in reducing the heavy risk associated with competing for wins, machinations that put drivers and teams in rare control at NASCAR’s most calamitous, unpredictable racetracks.

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three


A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The team stated Thursday night on social media that Taylor Collier and Devin Fokin had been treated and released. The team stated that Taylor was treated for smoke inhalation and Fokin was treated “for serious burns.”

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”


Trackhouse, RFK Racing, Front Row Motorsports sign sponsorship deals


Trackhouse Racing, RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports announced sponsorship deals Thursday morning.

Trackhouse said WWEX, a Dallas-based global logistics group, will increase its sponsorship presence with the team this year, serving as the primary sponsor in 21 races for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez.

WWEX will appear on Chastain’s Chevrolets in 19 races and will sponsor Suarez twice. The organization was a Trackhouse sponsor in 11 events in 2022, which was a breakout season for both Chastain and Suarez.

RFK announced that Solomon Plumbing, which joined the team last season, will expand its presence this season and in future years. The Michigan-based company will serve as the primary sponsor for several races on driver Brad Keselowski‘s No. 6 Ford.

MORE: Chase Briscoe signs contract extension with Stewart-Haas

Solomon specializes in plumbing and fire services for new development and construction. It initially sponsored Keselowski last season in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Front Row Motorsports has signed Quincy Compressor, a Bay Minette, Ala.-based compressor manufacturer, as a sponsor for four races.

Quincy will sponsor Todd Gilliland‘s No. 38 team in three events and Michael McDowell‘s No. 34 team in one race.



Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to contract extension


Chase Briscoe has signed a multiyear contract extension to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing, the team announced Thursday.

The length of the deal was not announced.

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Briscoe is entering his third Cup season with the team. He won his first series race last year, taking the checkered flag at Phoenix last March. That victory put him in the playoffs. He finished the season ninth in the standings. 

“It’s huge to have stability, with my team and my partner,” Briscoe said in a statement from the team. “It just gives you more confidence. Stewart-Haas Racing is where I want to be for a long time. It’s the place I’ve known longer than anywhere else in my NASCAR career.

“I remember getting signed by Ford in 2017 and I told people, ‘You know, if I could pick one place to be, it would be Stewart- Haas Racing. And if I could drive one car, it would be the 14 car. That would be the ultimate dream.’ And now, here I am.

“SHR has such a great group of people, from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series, and they’ve all just guided me in the right direction. From drivers to crew chiefs to crew members, they’ve always had my back, and that’s been a huge help – just having people believe in you.”

The 28-year-old Briscoe has been with SHR since 2018. He split a limited Xfinity schedule that season between what is now RFK Racing and SHR. He ran full time with SHR in the Xfinity Series in 2019 and ’20 before moving to Cup in 2021.

“Chase has made the most of every opportunity and the proof is in the results. Keeping him at SHR was a priority and we’re proud to have him in our racecars for many more years to come,” said Tony Stewart, who co-owns SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, in a statement from the team. 

Briscoe’s signing comes two weeks after teammate Kevin Harvick announced that this will be his final season in Cup. 

The Cup season begins Feb. 5 with the Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before going to Daytona for the Feb. 19 Daytona 500.