What matters at Charlotte: 600 miles with minimal tire wear

0 Comments

What matters in tonight’s NASCAR Cup Series race in Charlotte and how will teams reckon with minimal tire wear across 600 miles? Let’s dive into the analytics and trends shaping tonight’s Coca-Cola 600 (6 p.m. ET on FOX).

Is 600 miles too long for Kyle Larson?

Kyle Larson has never won a 500-mile race, a worthwhile topic when discussing him as the odds-on favorite for today’s 600-mile race. It’s a notion of which Larson is fully aware.

“My friends texted me,” Larson said. “We’re in a group chat, and they’re like, ‘Oh that’s cool, you’re the odds-on favorite to win!’ I was like, ‘Yeah, but it’s 600 miles. I’m more of a 380-mile guy.’”

His self-deprecation is a nice touch, but Larson realizes long races are a riddle he’s yet to solve. He’s led laps and finished well, but hasn’t closed the deal since entering the Cup Series in 2014.

“A lot of times it’s my fault,” Larson said. “But also a lot of times it’s circumstantial, where somebody else has a better pit stop, or I don’t get a good push on a restart as the leader or whatever. And then I run second or third, then I overdrive to try and get back to the lead and I crash or something like that. So, I don’t know.

“I think those wins will come, but they haven’t yet.”

The win could come as soon as tonight. Larson, who starts from the pole, tops the series in Production in Equal Equipment Rating at 550-horsepower tracks while also having the fastest car, based on average median lap rank. Given the difficulty in passing with this specific rules package and the kinds of dominant stretches Larson has demonstrated on 1.5-mile tracks like Atlanta and Kansas this season, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that, if he doesn’t stumble, he’ll finally break the long-race seal with a win in one of NASCAR’s crown-jewel events.

The mental durability of a 600-mile race, Larson insists, isn’t a factor. If anything, the changing track conditions in the shift from day to night, something with which he’s struggled, prompts a heightened focus.

“I feel like I focus even more during this race to try and figure out what I need when it does go from daytime to night,” Larson said. “I’ve always been really good here in the sun. Then it goes to nighttime. This place, for whatever reason, I don’t have a good feel for. So if anything, I feel like I focus and try harder here than I do in other places.”

Besides the race length, the track itself, namely the lack of tire wear it elicits, offers the field an opportunity to rein in a potentially dominant Larson.

All tire strategies are viable with minimal degradation

Cup Series teams are utilizing the same Goodyear tire combination that saw, at most, a 1-second lap-time degradation deep into runs last year. The minimal falloff assisted in Brad Keselowski’s Coca-Cola 600 win — thanks to a decision to eschew pitting in advance of the overtime restart — and formed Greg Ives’ call for just two tires following a rain delay, a choice that jumped Alex Bowman from 13th to first in the running order. From there, Bowman earned two stage wins and tallied the fourth-most points despite finishing 19th.

Under green-flag conditions, long-pitting — stopping beyond the most populated few laps of pit window — is a more sturdy strategy than usual, a bid by teams for a caution flag or stage points with less risk of the plan disassembling. There won’t be an insurmountable lap time difference between the teams that short-pit Charlotte’s green-flag windows and those that don’t.

Under yellow, two tires or no stop at all is possible, given the cadence of caution flags toward the ends of stages (the 600-mile contest contains three) or the race itself. Ives believes we’ll see teams attempt to emulate what he did in last year’s race but stresses it’s a design that requires clean air, leading to a quick getaway, to work as intended.

“I would say you may look at some calls that are similar to that,” Ives told NBC Sports. “Sometimes it’s all about positioning, right? I was fortunate enough to get the front row each time we did that and it made it work for us. But you saw a couple of guys also last year stay out and fall back to 17th, 18th with fast cars.

“So, it’s about playing the right strategy when we need to and not putting ourselves behind by being too cute.”

The choose rule’s impact on pit road “gambles”

The choose rule hadn’t been conceived when last year’s Coca-Cola 600 rewarded those who brushed aside conventional four-tire stops. Had teams been given the ability to pick their restarts, Ives reckons Bowman, third in the running order among drivers who didn’t pit prior to the final restart, would’ve been in much better contention for a finish commensurate with his race-long performance.

“At the end of the 600, we stayed out and — we had a fast car all night — we thought we had the ability to win that race,” Ives said. “We went down into Turn 1 and got super tight and it ended up pointing it (toward the outside of the turn). If we had the ability to potentially choose the outside there, maybe it would’ve worked out better for us.”

Instead of choosing, Bowman was slotted into the third-place spot on the inside of the second row, a location in which its occupants had a 56.67% chance of defending at Charlotte over the last two years, less favorable than the fourth-place spot to its outside. He was lined directly behind Keselowski instead of then-Hendrick stablemate Jimmie Johnson, Ives’ ideal scenario:

“We would’ve lined up right behind Jimmie, we would’ve pushed Jimmie potentially,” Ives said. “The 12 car (Ryan Blaney) would’ve chosen the bottom and pushed (Keselowski) and I don’t feel like we get tight. It helps when you have the ability to choose.”

Keselowski realizes the choose rule, and the likelihood of faster cars or cars with fresher tires being placed in more advantageous restart spots, could’ve thrown him a much different challenge than what he ultimately received.

“Being able to pick your lane with new tires give you options to be where you want to be,” Keselowski said. “I can’t say specifically how it would’ve played out because you don’t know what everybody would have done, but I suspect it would’ve been definitely harder to defend the lead or the position I was in.”

Given each team’s ability to select their own launching points on restarts, the decision between four tires, two tires or no stop becomes more pronounced — in both directions — giving them more control in how their “gambles” materialize.

What drivers said at Texas Motor Speedway

0 Comments

What drivers said during and after Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway, where Tyler Reddick scored his third win of the season, outrunning Joey Logano by 1.19 seconds:

Tyler Reddick — Finished first: “I was extremely worried, I’m not going to lie. Unfortunately, just about every time we’ve had fast cars, we’ve had some tire problems. Yeah, that last run the right sides were vibrating really, really hard there. I was just trying to maximize and use the gap that I built over Joey (Logano) just in case. I mean, every time we’ve had a strong car, we’ve been bit by something. This will make that, the pain of not making it through (the first round), a little bit easier. Even though, yes, it would have locked us into the Round of 8. We’re winning races. That’s what we’ll keep trying to do.”

Joey Logano — Finished second: “Yeah, the tires, if they aren’t blowing out then they are square. They were shaking like crazy. That is what happened there the last run. The last couple of runs really, just shaking the car. We got tight a couple runs and last time I got one that was off in the rear and we got loose. I think (Tyler) Reddick was fighting the same thing from what I heard there. You get that close to the win and you just know that if you just had that it might have been good enough to win the race. At the same time we should be happy that we scored a bunch of points today. It is bittersweet, I guess. It was a successful day for points scored. We got stage points in both stages and we were able to get a bunch by finishing second there. Yeah, it was a sloppy race for everyone on the track. We were just able to position ourselves really good at the end. Paul (Wolfe) did a good job calling the race and putting four tires on when we needed to and putting two tires on when we needed to cycle forward.”

Justin Haley — Finished third: “This was a long, challenging race. We finished third at Darlington earlier in the season and started pretty much last there, as well, so it’s pretty cool to have another really great run for this Kaulig Racing team. Our No. 31 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Camaro ZL1 definitely wasn’t what I liked, but we kept working on it and actually when it turned dark, we got some good track position and made a heck of a run out of it. I’m really proud of everyone at Kaulig Racing. At the end, I was just worried that the right rear is going to go down, so I was just trying to make it to the end. P3 is everything we could want right now.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished fourth: “It was a long night, for sure. It didn’t start out very good at all. We got better and better through the night and throughout the day we were able to win a stage and claw our way back from pretty far back in the pack there that last run to get to fourth. I thought our Mustang was probably the best car at the end. We just couldn’t pass anybody. Overall, not a bad night. A pretty wild night. Luckily, we were able to put together a solid race.”

Chase Briscoe — Finished fifth: “The first 90 percent of the race we were struggling. We couldn’t get the balance of the car right. We would be too loose or too tight and could never find where we needed to be. After that red flag, I think the nighttime coming in kind of helped us a bit. With 80 to go we were hoping to catch more cautions and make it on fuel, and we were able to get our track position that way and it ended up working out. We did what we needed to do for our Rush Truck Centers Ford. We were not a fifth-place car. We weren’t even a 15th-place car. To steal some points like that is huge. Going to Talladega, we are not in a massive hole, and that is the most important thing. We will go there and hopefully have a little luck go our way and see what happens.”

Erik Jones — Finished sixth: “It ended up being a solid day for our FOCUSfactor Chevy team. The day started out a little rough. We were just struggling with the balance and got it better late in the race. We ended up taking tires with about 30 laps to go and were able to come back through the field for a sixth-place finish. I’m proud of that. We struggled at Texas in the All-Star race, and we got a lot better from then to today. It’s good to have a good week. We needed one after the last few weeks. Hopefully, we can carry some  momentum to Talladega next weekend and try to close one out there.”

William Byron — Finished seventh: “Yeah, he (Denny Hamlin) ran me out of room. The toe link. We’re lucky we finished. It was really, really hard contact. It wasn’t like just a light contact or anything like that. Yeah, I didn’t mean to obviously spin him out over there. Obviously, I’m pissed off — just not going to get run like that. We’ve always raced so well together. I don’t know what it was all about. The 19 (Martin Truex Jr.) took his air away, he ran out of racetrack, so he chose to run me out of racetrack completely. Again, look, it’s not like it was just contact. I thought we were going to be done. I went to go show my displeasure. I didn’t mean to hit him and spin him out. There’s a ton of guys that do this and go do something like that. I see it all the time. I’m just not going to get run like that. Yeah, there’s really no reason. We’re running second and third I think. Had a shot to win. Killed our car, for sure. That was a bummer. We’ll probably talk. Look, we’ve never had issues, so I didn’t really get it. … Yeah, it was uncalled for. Feel like we handled it.”

MORE: Texas Cup results

MORE: Texas Cup driver points

Kyle Larson — Finished ninth: “You try to shake it off the best that you can and go out there and put together some good runs. We were able to overcome all the spots that we would lose on pit road. I felt like I drove from the back to the top five or six — almost every run. Really, really good car. Proud of the effort there at the shop, the piece that we brought here to Texas. It’s good we were above the cut, but yeah, we’re plus 16. I feel like we could have been plus 34 or something at least. Bummer there. Potentially could have won the race, I think. We had the best car. The weather delay really hurt, too. I think we were by far the best when the track was hot. When it got cooler out, I got loose, everybody seemed to get faster. It was just harder to pass. I mean, hopefully I would love to get some stage points (next week at Talladega), pat ourselves a little bit, cross our fingers and pray to God that we see a checkered flag.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 10th: “I guess we can just wreck each other under caution. I tried to wreck him (William Byron) back. I don’t think we touched. I got to look. I don’t think we touched. Obviously, he sent us into the infield under caution. I keep hearing these guys. I’ll just add it to the list of guys when I get a chance. They’re going to get it. It all just works itself out. We’ll be racing each other at some point. He’ll lose a lot of spots because he’s racing me. This is hard racing, obviously. I’m fine with hard racing. But wrecking me under caution is obviously not what we were bargaining for.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 12th: “It was a tough day. We got decent points, but the car wasn’t what we were hoping for. The entire weekend, we were kind of off. The car had good speed, but the balance of the car wasn’t good. We just have to continue to work. I think we had a decent points day. We just have to continue to work and get better.”

Ross Chastain — Finished 13th: “There were just a lot of ups and downs today. We cycled up to get stage points. The balance was neutral all day, but we got loose when we wanted it to be our last pit stop. We pitted and then we were back there in the very back for the second-to-last restart and got involved with the No. 10 (Aric Almirola) there. We just struggled with the balance the last 80 laps or so, but other than that, it was a good day for our No. 1 Renu Camaro ZL1 team.”

Austin Cindric — Finished 15th: “I felt like we had a really fast Discount Tire Ford Mustang. We made the right changes throughout the day. I would say we didn’t execute very well at the beginning of the race but passed a lot of cars throughout the day and then got caught up in somebody else’s mistake that took us out of a top five or top three or even a shot at the win. I am very upset about it. Getting stage points has been our weakness as a race team. We were able to get that in both stages today and really grind one out and show a lot of poise but have nothing to show for it so I am pretty upset about it. We are still on offense. We will put our heart and soul into it just like everyone else does. I have a great team behind me and I believe in myself and believe we can make the Round of 8, whether that is with a race win or on points. But it was a missed opportunity tonight, for sure.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 16th: “Today was a back-and-forth day with strategy. Our Black Rifle Camaro had good speed. We brought a good piece, and I thought it raced well, just the strategy was kind of back and forth. I think we made the perfect call there at the end of when to pit, and it was looking like we were going to get a top 10. I just caught a little bit of the slime in turn one and had a big moment and lost spots, unfortunately. I’m proud of our effort, proud of the speed in our Camaro. It’s been a lot of fun to drive these fast cars the last couple of weeks.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 17th: “We had a really fast True Velocity Chevrolet tonight at Texas Motor Speedway, so thanks to everyone at RCR and ECR for working hard to give us great equipment. We led the field in practice on Saturday, had a decent starting spot and were strong for a lot of the race. It was nice to lead some laps and earn some stage points. Strategy just didn’t play our way. We lost some track position at the end of the race, and it was really hard to make it up.”

Noah Gragson — Finished 21st: “Solid run by our No. 16 Freedom by Ed Morse team. We had a lot of fun out there and ran up in the top 10 for a lot of the race. I’m really thankful and grateful for the opportunity with Kaulig Racing, Freedom by Ed Morse, and the entire Morse family. I had a lot of fun out there. It was a long, long race. We had some strong runs there throughout the race and got sent by the 11 late in the race when we were running like 10th or 11th. That’s part of it. You’ll have that, but we’ll keep working hard and try and be better in the future.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 31st: “I blew a tire. Simple as that. I guess the same thing as everybody else has been having. Man, I’m ready for this year to be over. Strong Bass Pro Shops Camry. Really strong car. Went to the back and passed a lot of cars today. Spun out in the first stage and I was like, okay, what was that all about. Good car — couldn’t do too much with it. Just kept going to the back and as soon as we got track position the unthinkable happens. It’s a shame. It’s a crazy day for sure – a lot of blown tires.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 32nd: “I’m not sure that Goodyear is at fault. Goodyear always takes the black eye, but they’re put in a really tough position by NASCAR to build a tire that can survive these types of racetracks with this car. I wouldn’t blame Goodyear. Something came apart. I could hear it flapping in the right rear fenderwell. I don’t know, but if it wasn’t down, it was certainly coming apart. One of the two. It’s not a great position to be in for sure, but it is what it is now. … We were actually decent here for once, so that was nice while it lasted. We’ll go to Talladega and try to get a win and go on down the road.”

Cody Ware — Finished 33rd: Team manager Robby Benton said Ware had discomfort in his ankle and would be checked again by medical personnel in Charlotte. “He has been treated and released. We are thankful to the track crew here. We had a bit of a delay going through the normal protocol of x-rays and reviews and making sure there were no fractures. All of that came back clear. He will be on the team plane with us to return to Charlotte tonight and we are happy he is okay. No broken bones. I feel like we will probably follow up just as a precaution. He will see a specialist with Ortho Carolina once we get home. For as hard of a hit as that was, we are thankful it is as clean as it is and he will be okay to go home tonight.”

Christopher Bell — Finished 34th: “Just the second right rear blown of the day – that was disappointing. I’m in a pretty bad spot now. Talladega – I guess we are going to go roll the dice. Roval, I think we will be all right. Road courses haven’t been our strength, but we have been good at a couple of them. I don’t know if we are going to be able to get out of this points hole, but we will give it our best. To have two right rears go in the first half of the race is very strange. I don’t know. It’s a very disappointing day. We are probably going to be in a deep hole now.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 36th: “I was just getting closer to the 11 (Denny Hamlin), and I knew if I tracked him, followed him in the lower groove, I would lose ground, so I went to the high groove where I was making time in the spray and the sticky stuff, but it is not so sticky, apparently, I crashed. I’m trying to go, trying to race. Banana peels out there for me. Too many conditions that you’ve got to be around or go around or figure out or be smarter about. I guess I wasn’t very smart. I didn’t know as a race car driver you could push too hard, but certainly it was a resin issue. I guess you would think being a hundred-and-something degree track temp it would be activated and ready to go, but I tried to get in it earlier than everybody else. Once these cars snap, they are gone. They are not like the old one where you have a little bit of time to react and catch it, but yeah, just trying hard trying to go and conditions are not ready. Banana peels out there it seems. When that stuff is not activated, it is just ice.”

Texas Cup results: Tyler Reddick wins

0 Comments

Tyler Reddick won Sunday’s 500-mile NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Several playoff drivers, including point leader Chase Elliott, ran into trouble during the race as numerous teams experienced tire problems.

MORE: Texas Cup results

MORE: Texas Cup driver points

The race was pockmarked by cautions and extended by a red flag for rain.

Following Reddick, who won for the third time this season, were Joey Logano, Justin Haley, Ryan Blaney and Chase Briscoe.

Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. both led the race in the late going but were victims of blown tires.

Tyler Reddick wins Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway

0 Comments

There was fire. There was rain. There was pain. There was lightning. And heat. There were tires that didn’t want to stay together. And, by the way, there was a race.

A very long race.

At its end, more than five hours after it started, Tyler Reddick was the king of the road, winning Sunday’s 500-mile NASCAR Cup Series playoff chase around Texas Motor Speedway. Following in the top five were Joey Logano, Justin Haley, Ryan Blaney and Chase Briscoe.

The win was Reddick’s third of the year but his first on an oval track. He did not qualify for the second round of the playoffs.

The race, the first in the second round of the playoffs, could most easily be described in one word: chaos.

The tire issue was confusing. After it became evident that more than a few tires — particularly right rears — were collapsing before the end of a typical tire run, crew chiefs faced decisions about how long to keep their drivers on track in uncertain conditions.

Reddick said he was worried he might have a tire problem racing toward the checkered flag.

“I was extremely worried; I’m not going to lie,” he said. “Unfortunately, just about every time we’ve had fast cars, we’ve had some tire problems. That last run, the right sides were vibrating really, really hard there.”

MORE: Texas Cup results

MORE: Texas Cup driver points

Several of the playoff drivers who began the day with hopes of a smooth start to the Round of 12 watched the race finish from outside their cars. Christopher Bell, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman failed to finish, Bell having hit the wall twice on his way to a 34th-place finish.

Every few minutes, it seemed, cars were slamming into the wall and-or each other, causing a record wave of cautions and jumbling the playoff grid. Drivers were dancing along the ragged edge between stability and sliding, making passing difficult.

MORE: RFK Racing on the rise

The race length was extended by a rain shower and a 55-minute red flag in the final stage, although forecasters had predicted only a 15% chance of rain for the day.

Logano finished second and jumped to the playoff point lead. Ross Chastain is second. Below the cutline after one race in the round are Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman.

Chase Elliott, who held the point lead entering the race, hit the Turn 4 wall hard on lap 187, and the resulting damage caused a fire in the right front of the car. Elliott guided the car onto the apron grass and climbed out as the fire grew larger. Elliott said his right rear tire either blew apart or lost air, causing the crash.

Playoff drivers Denny Hamlin and William Byron were involved in some close encounters with each other in the second half of the race. They eventually bumped while running under caution.

One of the season’s hardest crashes occurred in the second half of the race when Cody Ware lost control of his car, slammed into the Turn 4 wall and then shot onto pit road, where crew members scattered as his car hit the pit wall. Ware was helped from the car and struggled as he crossed pit wall.

The front end of Ware’s car was demolished. He was checked and released from the infield medical center. A team official said Ware had some ankle discomfort and would be checked by medical personnel upon returning home.

MORE: What drivers said at TMS

Former champion Kevin Harvick, a frequent critic concerning safety issues this season, lost a tire while leading the race with 81 laps to go and slid into the wall.

A few laps later, Martin Truex Jr., who inherited the lead after Harvick’s tire issue, experienced the same problem, losing a right rear tire and hitting the wall. Harvick stayed in the race; Truex parked.

Harrison Burton, one of the race leaders, had a fire incident on pit road as his team changed tires. Burton moved out of his pit so safety workers could extinguish the fire, which started under the rear end of his Ford. Burton recovered to race in the top five.

Kyle Busch‘s troubles continued into another week as his car slipped in track resin and into the wall in Turn 4. He parked for the day.

Stage 1 winner: Kyle Larson

Stage 2 winner: Ryan Blaney

Who had a good race: Winner Tyler Reddick continues to shine despite racing under difficult circumstances. He led 70 laps in his third win of the season. … Justin Haley had one of his best runs of the year, finishing third. … Erik Jones was a strong sixth. … William Byron and Denny Hamlin finished in the top 10 despite tussling with each other on track.

Who had a bad race: Almost too many to name. Point leader Chase Elliott left the race in a blaze as his car erupted in flames after hitting the Turn 4 wall. … It was a dark day for playoff hopeful Christopher Bell. He hit the wall – twice – and eventually parked before the halfway point. … Kyle Busch slipped in resin that had been placed on the track and whacked the wall, ending his day. … A hard crash in the fourth turn took playoff driver Alex Bowman out of the race. … Rookie Harrison Burton led the race briefly but dropped back after a fire on pit road.

Next: The Round of 12 continues at Talladega Superspeedway Oct. 2 (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Tire issues end race for Chase Elliott, Christopher Bell

0 Comments

FORT WORTH, Texas — Chase Elliott, who entered Sunday’s second-round playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway leading the points, crashed and finished 32nd.

A right rear tire issue caused Elliott to lose control while leading on Lap 184 of the 334-lap race. 

He was the second playoff driver to be eliminated after tire issues. Christopher Bell finished 34th after having two right rear tires go down. After his second tire went down, Bell hit the wall. Cole Custer and Alex Bowman also had incidents after tire issues. 

“I’m not sure that Goodyear is at fault. Goodyear always takes the black eye, but they’re put in a really tough position by NASCAR to build a tire that can survive these types of racetracks with this car,” Elliott said. “I wouldn’t blame Goodyear.”

Elliott did not score stage points in the first stage and was eliminated before the end of the second stage, leaving him with no stage points.

“It’s not a great position to be in for sure, but it is what it is now,” Elliott said. “I hate it for our No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet team. We were actually decent here for once, so that was nice while it lasted. We’ll go to Talladega (Superspeedway) try to get a win and go on down the road.”

Bell also scored no stage points. Bell entered the race in a three-way tie for the final three transfer spots to the next round. 

“To have two right rears go in the first half of the race is very strange,” Bell said. “I don’t know. It’s a very disappointing day. We are probably going to be in a deep hole now.”

The second round continues next Sunday at Talladega and concludes Oct. 9 at the Charlotte Roval.