What matters at Nashville: Tire wear, Joey Logano’s strength are focal points


What matters in today’s NASCAR Cup Series race and how might a dynamic with heavy tire wear but minimal lap-time degradation affect pit strategy? Let’s dive into the analytics and trends shaping the Ally 400 at Nashville Superspeedway (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

What we know and what we think we know about Nashville’s tire wear

NASCAR returns to Nashville Superspeedway after a 10-year hiatus, and for the Cup Series specifically, this is an inaugural event. In the preparation has come uncertainty over tire wear. From teams, there are mixed thoughts about how Goodyear’s hard tire combination — the left sides last used at Charlotte, the right sides last used at Dover — will handle loads heavier than in 2011, a chief reason why the compounds for today’s race err on the side of safety.

From NASCAR, there was reason to believe the track wouldn’t take rubber. Lap times from tire tests at Nashville saw little degradation over long runs. If tires physically wear without significant lap-time falloff, it’d make for a peculiar dynamic, though not one without precedence: Texas’ race last summer, won by Austin Dillon, saw heavy wear and practically no falloff, allowing for a two-tire stop under caution, leapfrogging him from seventh to second, and an overtake for the lead thanks to three restarts inside the final 25 laps.

Precautions and performance enhancers — resin and a tire dragon among other potential aids — have been applied to the concrete surface in hopes of creating a safer, more competitive environment, but even with Saturday’s practice session in the can, questions surround the building of pit strategy around Nashville’s tire wear.

If Chase Briscoe’s reaction following his participation in the tire test is any indication, track position will come at a premium.

“I was surprised, honestly, with how much brake we were using and just how much speed we carried,” Briscoe said this week. “That kind of caught me off guard. I think passing is gonna be a little challenging, but I think the good cars are definitely gonna rise to the front at a place like this just because handling is gonna be quite a bit of an issue.”

If Nashville’s tire wear is a factor physically but not mathematically, it opens the door for all strategies under caution-flag conditions and under green:

  • Under caution-flag conditions, calls for four tires will be common, especially if the “look” of the wear is bad, but two-tire stops could shift track position fortunes. Given the lack of degradation, defending an upgraded running spot in clean air is feasible.
  • Under green, short-pitting and long-pitting are both viable, made more advantageous with clean laps at speed before and after the stop. To wit, Kyle Larson’s unfettered laps at Las Vegas nullified the delta created by Brad Keselowski’s faster pit sequences, proving pit cycles are impacted by more than just the stop itself.
  • Long-pitting provides an additional bet on a caution flag with relatively minimal risk due to the lack of lap-time falloff.

While long-pitting doesn’t always lead to the intended outcome, it does provide large single-race positional gains if a timely caution is called, a high-risk, high-reward strategy, in theory. Had NASCAR deemed Tyler Reddick’s runaway tire an immediate caution at Kansas, a track where degradation was minimal, four teams were in position to land a combined 52 spots courtesy of their long-pitting efforts. Two of those teams — belonging to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Daniel Suárez — secured net gains anyway, a testament to their execution of the pit sequences.

Stars aligning for Logano?

On the surface, there aren’t many similarities between the Bristol dirt race, the Circuit of the Americas road course and Nashville. But all three are new to NASCAR for 2021 and contained practice sessions beforehand.

A driver who benefited from Bristol’s dirt race and the first Cup race at COTA was Joey Logano, who scored his only win to this point in the season on the dirt. He also led over a quarter of the rain-shortened road race. In addition to being an early adopter to new venues, his strength this season on 750-horsepower tracks bears few rivals.

His Team Penske No. 22 car ranks second in average median lap on 750-horsepower tracks this season and Logano specifically ranks first in Production in Equal Equipment Rating, a consideration of a driver’s race result that handicaps team and equipment strength in an attempt to isolate his contribution, across the nine races utilizing the rules package:

Additionally, no driver is performing better in crash-filled contests. His 6.687 PEER in events with higher-than-usual caution volumes, greater than two per 100 miles, ranks first. It’s certainly not a given that Nashville will see a large quantity of caution flags — there won’t be a competition caution during the first stage, as a sufficient amount of practice time occurred Saturday — but in the instance the race breaks chaotic, it’s another statistical advantage in his back pocket.

An integral part of one of the 10 best short-run teams this season, Logano’s restarts have been key in influencing outcomes in races filled with them. He ranks eighth in average positional net on preferred-groove attempts (+0.75 spots) and is tied for third on non-preferred groove attempts (-0.71 spots). He’s one of just five full-time drivers averaging a positive positional net on restarts from inside the first seven rows.

A final oval-track vestige for Joe Gibbs Racing?

The layout of races on the recent schedule — Dover, COTA, Charlotte, Sonoma and Texas (for the All-Star Race) — have catered to Hendrick Motorsports, which claimed victory in all five events. This has muddied the narrative a bit, deemphasizing Joe Gibbs Racing, the organization that’s widely dominated 750-horsepower tracks this season.

Denny Hamlin, whose No. 11 car ranks first in average median lap on 750-horsepower tracks, and Martin Truex Jr., whose three wins each came on tracks utilizing this rules package that are also present on the playoff schedule, appear poised to fare well at Nashville, one of the last two 750-horsepower oval races of the regular season.

But Hamlin is skeptical after a Saturday practice session which saw his Toyota Camry place eighth on the speed chart, the fastest non-Chevrolet vehicle.

“We are off a ways for sure,” Hamlin said. “My objective is to just get my car as good as I can get it. If I can’t run with (the Chevrolets), I can’t run with them. If there are four cars in particular that are faster than us, then it’s my job to finish fifth.”

For the season, Hamlin hasn’t ranked worse than fifth in average median lap time in a 750-horsepower oval race, which came earlier this month at Dover.

For Christopher Bell, whose speed (ranked ninth in average median lap) and production rating (ranked ninth) skews towards 750-horsepower tracks, this is, on paper, his best chance to secure a good day before the playoffs starts. Among all track types, 750s are the only one in which Bell has registered a positive surplus passing value this season and he was one of three drivers to take part in the Goodyear tire tests, along with Briscoe and Kurt Busch during the event’s buildup.

Bell had the 20th-fastest lap in practice and ranked 17th in average lap time.

Dr. Diandra: Data points to speed as key to breaking Blaney’s losing streak


Richmond Raceway presents a chance for Ryan Blaney to break a losing streak that started after his win at the regular-season-ending Daytona race in 2021. A fast scan of his stats suggests Blaney is off to a good start to do just that in 2023.

Despite a poor showing at COTA, where he failed to run any higher than 16th all race, Blaney has a season average finishing position of 12.8. He’s tied with Kevin Harvick for fourth-best average finishing position among full-time drivers.

Blaney finished second at Phoenix, where the new short track aeropackage debuted. But he has not won.

Things look good on the surface

Before getting too worried by Blaney’s drought, remember that the season is only six races old. Two of those six races were superspeedway events, and a third was a road course where running through other cars has become the norm.

With 30 more races in the season, it’s far from time to hit the panic button.

Basic statistics suggest that Blaney is matching (and sometimes beating) his teammate, defending champion Joey Logano. I’ve included the statistics for sophomore driver Austin Cindric in the table below, as well.

A table comparing wins, top-fives and top-tens for Penske drivers

Logano won Atlanta and has two top-five finishes. No driver has more than three top fives thus far. Despite Logano’s win, Blaney’s average finishing position beats Logano’s.

Cindric has two top-10 finishes and an average finish of 16.5. His best finishes are sixth-place finishes at Las Vegas and last week at COTA.

After the National Motorsports Appeals Panel rescinded the 100-point penalty assessed to each Hendrick Motorsports driver and team, Ryan Blaney occupies eighth place in the season points standings.

Things would appear to look good for breaking Blaney’s losing streak this year.

Digging Deeper

But a different pattern emerges upon diving into the loop data. The next table compares more detailed statistics for all three Penske drivers. I’ve highlighted the lowest-scoring driver’s numbers in red for each metric.

A table showing some of the metrics that must be improved for to break Blaney's losing streak

Cindric lags his more experienced teammates in number of laps led, number of fastest laps and number of laps run in the top 15. But in the other stats, Blaney is the third out of three at Penske.

Average running position measures driver performance across all laps of a race, instead of just the last one. Blaney’s best average running position of the season was at Phoenix, with a 7.47. His worst was last week at COTA, where his average running position was 29.28. Apart from Phoenix, Blaney didn’t break the top 10 in average running position at any race this year.

The average speed-on-restarts rank compares a driver’s average speed in the first two laps of each green-flag run to other drivers’ speeds. Blaney ranks 32nd out of 35 full-time drivers in average restart speed rank. That places him behind Logano and Cindric.

Speed early in a run and speed late in a run measure a driver’s speed compared to everyone else on track during the first and last 25% of each green-flag run. In both metrics, Blaney again ranks 32 out of 35.

The fact that top-ranking Penske driver Logano only ranks 12th and 16th in early and late speed respectively suggests that the problem is at least partly company wide.

In overall green-flag speed — the average speed over a full green-flag run — Blaney ranks 29th out of 35. Logano ranks 12th and Cindric 19th.

These numbers identify one challenge that must be overcome to break Blaney’s losing streak.

Year over year

I’ll set aside Cindric’s numbers in this section for the sake of clarity. Blaney’s first six races this year show a large drop-off in most metrics relative to the first six races of 2022. Logano, however, either improved or stayed relatively constant in the same metrics.

In the table below:

  • Green indicates a 10% or better improvement in 2023.
  • Red indicates the 2023 value is at least 10% worse.
  • Black indicates a change (either way) less than 10%.

A table comparing statistics for Blaney and Logano in 2022 and 2023

Blaney has led a little more than 10% of the laps he led in 2022 and has less than half the number of fastest laps. His drop-offs on the speed metrics (the last four rows) are much greater than Logano’s changes.

In 2022, Blaney was beating Logano in all four speed metrics. This year, Logano is ahead.

The Promise of Richmond

The encouraging news to pull from this analysis is that Blaney’s numbers for Phoenix are the best of the 2023 season so far. He ranked seventh in green-flag speed, second in restart rank, eight in early-run speed and fourth in late-run speed. All of that bodes well for a good finish at Richmond.

Blaney won the pole in last spring’s Richmond race and finished seventh. He finished 10th in the fall race after qualifying 10th.

And Blaney himself is optimistic.

“Richmond will be a good gauge of where you stack up – slow, a bunch of mechanical grip, tire conservation,” Blaney said. “So I’m optimistic for it, for sure. I thought we had good cars there last year in both races from the whole team, and I’m excited to get there.”

But breaking Blaney’s losing streak is only the start to a successful season. He must improve his speed metrics at other tracks if he is to contend for a championship.

NASCAR weekend schedules: Richmond/Texas


NASCAR’s three major national series will be in action this weekend at two locations.

The Cup and Xfinity Series will race at Richmond Raceway in Virginia, and the Craftsman Truck Series will share the weekend with the IndyCar Series at Texas Motor Speedway near Fort Worth.

MORE: Drivers to watch at Richmond

Tyler Reddick won last Sunday’s Cup race at Circuit of the Americas to put Toyota in the win column for the first time this season.

Here is a look at the weekend schedule for both tracks:

Richmond Raceway (Cup and Xfinity)

Weekend weather

Friday: Mostly cloudy. High of 72. Winds 10-20 mph. 13% chance of rain.

Saturday: Light rain early. Sunshine later. High of 75. Winds 20-30 mph. 24% chance of rain at start of Xfinity race.

Sunday: Sunny. High of 62. No chance of rain at start of Cup race.

Friday, March 31

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. — Xfinity Series
  • 4 – 9 p.m. — Cup Series

Saturday, April 1

Garage open

  • 6 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series
  • 7 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 8:05 – 8:35 a.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 8:35 – 9:30 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)
  • 10:05 – 10:50 a.m. — Cup practice (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 10:50 – noon — Cup qualifying (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 1 p.m. — Xfinity race (250 laps, 187 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, April 2

Garage open

  • 12:30 – 10 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup race (400 laps, 300 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Texas Motor Speedway (Truck)

Weekend weather

Friday: Scattered thunderstorms in morning. Sunny and windy later. High of 79. Winds 20-30 mph. 50% chance of rain.

Saturday: Intervals of clouds and sun. High of 74. Winds 10-15 mph. No chance of rain at start of Truck race.

Friday, March 31

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • Noon – 5 p.m. — Truck Series

Saturday, April 1

Garage open

  • 8 a.m. – 10 p.m. — Truck Series

Track activity

  • 10:35 – 11:05 a.m. — Truck practice
  • 11:05 a.m. – noon — Truck qualifying
  • 4:30 p.m. — Truck race (167 laps, 250 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)



NASCAR fines Daniel Suarez $50,000 for pit road incident


NASCAR fined Daniel Suarez $50,000 for running into the cars of Alex Bowman and teammate Ross Chastain on pit road after last weekend’s race at Circuit of the Americas.

Suarez was upset after a potential top-five finish was lost in an incident in overtime.

MORE: Appeals Panel rescinds 100-point penalty to Hendrick drivers 

Suarez restarted fifth in the second overtime restart but left the inside lane open. Alex Bowman, with Ross Chastain and Chase Briscoe aligned behind, charged and got beside Suarez as they approached Turn 1.

As Bowman slowed to make the tight turn, he was hit from behind and that sent him into Suarez, who clipped the left rear of Martin Truex Jr.’s car. Truex spun in front of Suarez and blocked his path, allowing the rest of the field to drive by and costing Suarez a top-five finish. Suarez finished 27th.

Suarez spoke briefly with Bowman before having a discussion with Chastain.

“It’s uncharacteristic of Daniel,” Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “There’s no excuse for what happened.”

Appeals panel rescinds 100-point penalty to Hendrick drivers

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Alex Bowman is back leading the points after the National Motorsports Appeals Panel rescinded the 100-point penalty to each Hendrick Motorsports driver and team Wednesday. The Appeals Panel also rescinded the 10-point playoff to each Hendrick driver and team.

The Appeals Panel found that Hendrick violated the rule by modifying the hood louvers on the cars of Bowman, William Byron, Kyle Larson and Josh Berry at Phoenix. The louvers were taken after practice that weekend.

The Appeals Panel kept the $100,000 fine and four-race suspension to each Hendrick crew chief: Cliff Daniels, Alan Gustafson, Blake Harris and Rudy Fugle. All four sat out the past two races, meaning they’ll miss this weekend’s race at Richmond and next weekend’s race on the dirt at Bristol before returning the following weekend at Martinsville.

The Appeals Panel did not give a reason for its decision.

Bowman had been 16th in the standings with the 100-point penalty. He now has a 15-point lead on Ross Chastain after getting all those points back.

Byron goes from 22nd to third after getting his points back. He’s 29 points behind Bowman, 14 points behind Chastain and five points ahead of Kyle Busch. Byron also gets his 10 playoff points back for his wins at Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Larson goes from 27th to ninth with getting his points back.

“We are grateful to the National Motorsports Appeals Panel for their time and attention,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “Today’s outcome reflects the facts, and we’re pleased the panel did the right thing by overturning the points penalty. It validated our concerns regarding unclear communication and other issues we raised. We look forward to focusing on the rest of our season, beginning with this weekend’s race at Richmond (Raceway).”

NASCAR stated its displeasure with part of the penalty being rescinded.

“We are pleased that the National Motorsports Appeals Panel agreed that Hendrick Motorsports violated the rule book. However, we are disappointed that the entirety of the penalty was not upheld. A points penalty is a strong deterrent that is necessary to govern the garage following rule book violations, and we believe that it was an important part of the penalty in this case and moving forward. We will continue to inspect and officiate the NASCAR garage at the highest level of scrutiny to ensure a fair and level playing field for our fans and the entire garage.”

The panelists on the appeal were former driver Bill Lester, Kelly Housby and Dixon Johnston.

Here is the updated points

1. Alex Bowman       226 points

2. Ross Chastain      211

3. William Byron       197

4. Kyle Busch           192

5. Joey Logano        186

6. Kevin Harvick       186

7. Christopher Bell   184

8. Ryan Blaney         177

9. Kyle Larson          170

10. Austin Cindric     166

11. Martin Truex Jr.   165

12. Brad Keselowski 162

13. Tyler Reddick       161

14. Denny Hamlin      161

15. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 159

16. Chris Buescher     157

17. Daniel Suárez        144

18. Corey LaJoie         139

19. Michael McDowell 125

20. Ty Gibbs                 118

21. Bubba Wallace      103

22. AJ Allmendinger    103

23. Erik Jones                99

24. Chase Briscoe         96

25. Todd Gilliland          95

26. Austin Dillon            93

27. Noah Gragson        86

28. Aric Almirola            70

29. Ryan Preece           69

30. Harrison Burton      66