Friday 5: Chase Elliott looks to put on a show for fans at Road America

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NASCAR is set to enjoy another large crowd this weekend, and reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott says it is important that the sport ensures that fans have a good experience.

Road America hosts the Xfinity Series on Saturday (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC) and the Cup Series on Sunday (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC). The track’s campsites sold out quickly for this weekend, and the track is encouraging fans to carpool and arrive early.

Nashville Superspeedway sold out its grandstands, hosting nearly 40,000 people for its inaugural Cup race two weeks ago, but the start of the race was delayed because of traffic issues for some fans.

Last weekend, Pocono Raceway announced a sellout of its infield camping for its doubleheader Cup weekend and had what some observers considered the track’s largest crowd in years.

Now comes the first Cup race at Road America since 1956 and the anticipation for that event.

“When you have a great crowd, I feel like you have a responsibility to treat the crowd properly,” Elliott said. “I know there were some problems at Nashville, traffic and things like that, and that’s not good.

“If I was a fan and I had to wait in a long line of traffic to come to a race for the first time, that would make me think twice about going again. … We need to make sure we are treating our fans (well), especially with the facilities and traffic in and out, just making sure we’re taking good care of them. If they are there to support us, we need to make sure their time is enjoyable and they had a good trip.”

The day after the Nashville race, track president Erik Moses sent a letter to fans thanking them for their attendance and stating that traffic issues would be addressed.

For the drivers, racing in front of large crowds, the goal, Elliott says, is to “just try to put on a good show.”

Few have been better than Elliott at road courses lately. He’s won five of the past seven Cup road course races. That includes his victory in the inaugural Cup race at Circuit of the Americas last month.

His six career road course victories tie him for third on the all-time list with Richard Petty, Bobby Allison, Rusty Wallace and Ricky Rudd.

Elliott’s success on the track and his lineage have made him the sport’s most popular driver, but he says that doesn’t mean he should be considered the face of the sport.

“Who is to say there needs to be one face?” Elliott said. “We’re a sport of a lot of drivers and a lot of personalities and a lot of teams. … There’s no one person that, I don’t think, can carry the load of attracting everyone to watch.

“Fans have certain people they like watching. My fans like watching me, and there’s a lot of people who probably don’t and that, to me, is what makes it special because it’s not about one person. My response is that I think it takes all shapes and sizes to make this deal work, and I feel I’m a piece of the puzzle.”

Hendrick Motorsports has figured out the puzzle on the track. The organization has won six of the last seven points races. Elliott won at COTA, Alex Bowman won at Pocono and Dover, and Kyle Larson won the Coca-Cola 600, Nashville and Sonoma.

Hendrick Motorsports has won 14 of the last 33 Cup race races. The success, though, has led to the question of if the organization is peaking too soon.

“I definitely think that can happen,” Elliott said. “I’ve watched it happen, so I know it’s real, but I do know continued hard work and continuing to push in the areas that we’re pushing in and continuing to work together as a team and push each other to be better, I think we continue to perform at a high level throughout the entire season. That’s ultimately what we need to do.”

2. Jeff Gordon looks ahead

While Jeff Gordon has played a leadership role at Hendrick Motorsports since exiting the car, the team recently announced he would become vice chairman, the No. 2 spot in the organization behind only team owner Rick Hendrick.

Gordon talked to the media last weekend at Pocono and discussed his role:

Q: Did you always feel that you were going to be on this ownership path?

Gordon: You have to understand that I’ve been a part of this since 1999. I’ve been behind the scenes, understanding and learning the business side of it. Gradually, over time, obviously my focus was on driving throughout all those years. But as I started getting closer to stepping away in 2015 from the driving role, my interest level in the business side, the culture that Rick has created and how he’s done that and how it impacts things far beyond just what I was doing as a driver, was interesting to me.

So, each year, that ramped up more and more as I had pretty much half the season to dedicate my time to it. And the more I did that, whether it was coming to the track or being back at the shop on race day or just talking to the marketing department about sponsorship or talking to NASCAR about Next Gen or any business decisions that were going on there with other owners, I realized that this is where my true passion lies.

I love the sport. I love racing. But the competition and being a partner with one of the best owners there will ever be in NASCAR, that’s really what I was getting excited about looking ahead.

NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway
Jeff Gordon chats with Kyle Larson earlier this season at Sonoma Raceway. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Q: What do you have to learn with the new job now?

Gordon: Well, luckily right now, we’re in a great position, and it’s about maintaining what we currently have. But that all got started so many years ago before I even got to Hendrick Motorsports with Rick, and the culture that he creates and how he treats people and how he finds talent and nurtures that.

Of course right now, we’ve learned a lot about how our teams are working together more than they ever have before. And we’re seeing the success because of that. Right now, it’s about maintaining it.

But as we move forward, it’s just continuing to look at the business model and try to understand how we take care of our current partners and nurture those relationships and make sure that they’re excited about NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports. They certainly are right now, and we want to continue to see that grow. But also, what new partners can we potentially look at and bring in.

Q: Did working in TV give you any perspective toward the business side you didn’t expect?

Gordon: Oh yeah. That’s one of my goals is to really connect with our TV partners and make sure that our drivers and crew chiefs recognize that their personality, their performance, the show on the race track, that it means way more than you think.

As a competitor, you get very narrowly focused on the competition. And this sport wouldn’t have the fans and wouldn’t be as big as it is if millions of people weren’t watching it on TV. And they want to see rivalries, right? They want to see personalities and frustrations and excitement.

I think that my perspective, coming from the last six years doing TV, it is definitely going to be present at Hendrick Motorsports and how we move forward. And I think our guys do a great job with that, but there’s no doubt we can do more.

3. Staying the course

One of the challenges for teams is when reports state that a driver will be headed to a different organization the following season or such announcements have been made. The key is not to let those situations impact the current season.

Reports state that Brad Keselowski will move to Roush Fenway Racing next season as a driver and part-owner in the team. No official announcement has been made. The Cup Series just entered the second half of the season last weekend, so plenty of racing remains, including the playoffs.

Keselowski is only the second driver crew chief Jeremy Bullins has worked with in Cup. Bullins previously worked with Ryan Blaney before Team Penske moved its crew chiefs within the organization before the 2020 season, so he hasn’t had to manage a team with a driver expected to leave it after the season until now.

“I think the biggest thing for me is honesty and transparency about the situation,” Bullins said. “Letting the guys know what I know. Having Brad let them know what he knows. Let everybody try to be kept on the same page and understand what the situation is.

“We are all professionals and our team is handling this very professionally. We know that no matter what happens beyond 2021 that we have a great opportunity with Brad to win races and put ourselves back in the (Championship) four at Phoenix.

“We will deal with 2022 then or in the off-season. For us, the main thing is that the timing was unfortunate because we had a few weeks with issues and things going wrong and penalties at a time when all these rumors were going around. … I hope last weekend proved a point that we are here to contend for wins and a championship. We had a great weekend at Pocono and feel like we got our legs back under us a little bit and are ready to go through the summer.”

Keselowski had six consecutive finishes outside the top 10 until last weekend at Pocono. He placed 10th in Saturday’s race and third in Sunday’s race. That finish was his best result since placing third at Kansas in early May.

4. The challenge of Road America

AJ Allmendinger will compete in both the Xfinity and Cup races this weekend at Road America for Kaulig Racing. He’s won there in both the former Champ Car World Series (2006) and Xfinity Series (2013).

Allmendinger said the road course has a uniqueness that many might not notice.

“It’s probably one of the harder road courses to learn,” Allmendinger said of the 4.048-mile, 14-turn course. “There are so many corners and they all kind of connect to each other.

“At some road courses, yeah, there is this corner and then the next corner. Sometimes they just don’t actually connect to each other. They’re just like separate corners. Road America, for the most part, every corner kind of connects to each other.

“So if you mess up that corner, it’s going to hurt you for the next corner, or it’s going to hurt you down the straightaways. It is a difficult racetrack to learn because some of the corners are either blind uphill or they’re flat, so trying to find your marks of getting into the corners (is not easy).”

5. Top performers in the last 10 Cup races

It’s no surprise that Kyle Larson has scored the most points in the last 10 races — he’s finished in the top two in seven of the last eight races — but once you get past the top five, the next driver might be a surprise.

Tyler Reddick has scored 314 points in the last 10 races to rank sixth. He has six top-10 finishes in that span. It’s helped Reddick climb from 22nd in the points entering the Talladega race in late April to 13th in the standings — and in a playoff spot — going into Sunday’s race at Road America.

David Smith examined Reddick’s season this week, showcasing what the driver has done well and where improvement is needed.

Here is a look at the drivers who have scored the most points in the last 10 Cup races:

460 — Kyle Larson

405 — Kyle Busch

380 — William Byron

348 — Chase Elliott

327 — Denny Hamlin

314 — Tyler Reddick

312 — Kevin Harvick

307 — Alex Bowman

300 — Brad Keselowski

299 — Joey Logano

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Long: NASCAR needs to quickly correct officiating issue from Texas

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NASCAR’s admission that it did not see William Byron spin Denny Hamlin under caution during Sunday’s Cup playoff race is troubling.

With video evidence of impropriety and Hamlin’s team vigorously arguing for relief, there were enough reasons for series officials to take a closer look at putting Hamlin back to second before the race returned to green-flag conditions. Or some other remedy even after the race resumed. 

Add the lack of access series officials had to Byron’s in-car camera— something fans could readily see at NASCAR.com and the NASCAR Mobile App — and changes need to be made before this weekend’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

While NASCAR should make every effort to judge matters between drivers regardless of their playoff status, that it was two playoff drivers involved in an incident demanded greater attention. With three races per round, one misstep can mean the difference between advancing or being eliminated. 

Just as more is expected from drivers and teams in the playoffs, the same should be expected of officials.

“If we had seen that (contact) good enough to react to it in real time, which we should have, like no excuse there, there would probably have been two courses of action,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition Sunday night. “One would have been to put Hamlin back where he was, or the other would be to have made William start in the back.”

Here is how the incident played out:

The caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash at 8:19 p.m. ET.

As Hamlin slowed, Byron closed and hit him in the rear. 

Byron admitted after the race 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.

About 90 seconds after the caution lights illuminated, the USA broadcast showed a replay from a low angle of Byron directly behind Hamlin’s car and apparent contact. 

Contact can happen in multiple ways. It can come from the lead car hitting the brakes and forcing the car behind to hit them, or it can come from the trailing car ramming into the car ahead. The first video replay did not make it clear what caused the contact, making it difficult for any official to rule one way or the other based solely on that.

This also is a time when NASCAR officials were monitoring safety vehicles on track, checking the lineup and making sure pit road was ready to be open. It’s something NASCAR does effortlessly much of the time. Just not this time. 

A different replay aired on USA 11 minutes, 16 seconds after the caution that showed Byron and Hamlin’s car together. That replay aired about a minute before the green flag waved at 8:31 p.m. ET. Throughout the caution, Hamlin’s crew chief, Chris Gabehart argued that Hamlin should have restarted second.

But once the race resumed, the matter was over for NASCAR. Or so it seemed.

Three minutes after the green flag waved, the NASCAR Twitter account posted in-car video that showed Byron running into the back of Hamlin’s car while the caution was out. Such action is typically a penalty — often parking a driver for the rest of the race. Instead, Byron was allowed to continue and nothing was done during the rest of the event. 

After the race, Miller told reporters that series officials didn’t see the contact from Byron. 

“The cameras and the monitors that we’ve got, we dedicate them mostly to officiating and seeing our safety vehicles and how to dispatch them,” Miller said. “By the time we put all those cameras up (on the monitor in the control tower), we don’t have room for all of the in-car cameras to be monitored.

“If we would have had immediate access to (Byron)’s in-car camera, that would have helped us a lot, being able to find that quickly. That’s definitely one of the things we’re looking at.”

But it didn’t happen that way.

”By the time we got a replay that showed the incident well enough to do anything to it, we had gone back to green,” Miller said.

NASCAR didn’t act. By that time maybe it was too late to do so. But that’s also an issue. Shouldn’t the infraction be addressed immediately if it is clear what happened instead of days later? Shouldn’t officials have been provided with access to the in-car cameras so they could have seen Byron’s actions earlier and meted the proper punishment? Instead, Miller hinted at a possible penalty to Byron this week.

Miller didn’t reveal details but it wouldn’t be surprising to drop Byron in the field, costing him points. He’s 24 points from the cutline, so a penalty that drops him from seventh to 30th (the position ahead of Truex) could be logical and that would cost Byron 23 points, putting him near the cutline. 

Texas winner Tyler Reddick said something should have been done. He knows. He was parked in a 2014 Truck race at Pocono for wrecking German Quiroga in retaliation for an earlier incident.

“In William’s situation, whether he ran him over on accident or on purpose, there should be some sort of penalty for him on that side because he’s completely screwed someone’s race up, whether it was on purpose or not,” Reddick said. “I feel like there should be something done there.

“I’m sure (NASCAR will) make some sort of a decision. I’m sure there will be something they’ll address this week, updates, on NASCAR’s side. I’ll be curious to see what that is. We can’t really have this where you dump someone under caution, they go to the back and you don’t. That could potentially be an interesting situation in the future.”

Texas shuffles NASCAR Cup playoff standings

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Texas marked the fourth consecutive playoff race that the winner didn’t advance to the next round.

All three races in the first round were won by drivers not in the playoffs. Tyler Reddick won Sunday at Texas, a week after he failed to advance from the Round of 16 and was eliminated from title contention.

Texas did shake up the playoff standings. Chase Elliott entered as the points leader but a blown tire while leading sent his car into the wall, ending his race. He falls to the No. 8 spot, the final transfer position with two races left in this round. He’s tied with Daniel Suarez, but Suarez has the tiebreaker with a better finish this round.

Chase Briscoe, who scored only his second top 10 in the last 22 races, is the first driver outside a transfer spot. He’s four points behind Elliott and Suarez. Austin Cindric is 11 points out of the transfer spot. Christopher Bell is 29 points out of a transfer position. Alex Bowman is 30 points from the transfer line.

The series races Sunday at Talladega (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

 

XFINITY SERIES

Noah Gragson’s win at Texas moved him on to the next round. The win was his fourth in a row.

Ryan Sieg and Sam Mayer are tied for the final two transfer spots to the next round. Riley Herbst is one point behind them. Daniel Hemric is eight points from the final transfer spot. Brandon Jones is 13 points from the last transfer spot. Jeremy Clements is 29 points shy of the final transfer position.

The series races Saturday at Talladega (4 p.m. ET on USA Network).

 

 

CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

The series was off this past weekend but returns to the track Saturday at Talladega. Ty Majeski has advanced to the championship race at Phoenix with his Bristol win.

 

Winners and losers at Texas Motor Speedway

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A look at the winners and losers from Sunday’s marathon race at Texas Motor Speedway:

WINNERS

Tyler Reddick – Reddick isn’t acting like a lame duck. Headed for 23XI Racing in 2024 (if not sooner), Reddick now owns three wins with Richard Childress Racing, the team he’ll be leaving.

Justin Haley – Haley, who has shown flashes of excellence this season for Kaulig Racing, matched his season-high with a third-place run.

Chase Briscoe — Briscoe wrestled with major problems in the early part of the race but rebounded to finish fifth. It’s his second top-10 finish in the last 22 races.

LOSERS

NASCAR Officials – Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, admitted that series officials missed William Byron spinning Denny Hamlin under caution after Martin Truex Jr.‘s crash. Such a situation could have major playoff implications, although Miller hinted that series officials may still act this week.

Christopher Bell – Bell met the wall twice after blown tires and finished a sour 34th, damaging his playoff run in a race that he said was critical in the playoffs.

Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. – Harvick (finished 19th) and Truex (31st) were late-race victims of the day’s tire dilemma. Both crashed while leading.

Track workers  Somebody had to clean up all that tire debris.

Chase Elliott – Elliott remains a power in the playoffs, but he left Sunday’s race in a fiery exit after a blown tire while leading and finished 32nd. He holds the final transfer spot to the next round heading into Talladega.

 

 

Blown tires end race early for several Texas contenders

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FORT WORTH, Texas — A Goodyear official said that air pressures that teams were using contributed to some drivers blowing tires in Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. all crashed while leading after blowing a tire. Among the others who had tire issues were Alex Bowman, Chris Buescher Cole Custer and Christopher Bell twice. 

“We’re gaining as much information as we can from the teams, trying to understand where they are with regard to their settings, air pressures, cambers, suspicions,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing Sunday. “For sure I can say without a doubt air pressure is playing into it. We know where a lot of the guys are. Some were more aggressive than others. We know that plays a part.

MORE: NASCAR says it missed William Byron spinning Denny Hamlin under caution 

“I’m not saying that’s the only thing, but it’s certainly a factor, so we’re just trying to understand everything else that is going on with regard to specific teams. We know a lot of guys have not had issues. We’ve had guys put full fuel runs on tires, but, obviously, other guys have had issues. We’ll be working with them to try to sort through that is.”

Eight of the 16 cautions were related to tire failures that caused drivers to spin or crash.

“It’s not a good look, that’s for sure,” Ryan Blaney said of the tire issues others had. “How many leaders blew tires tonight? Three or four?

“You just don’t understand what is making these things do that. From last week to this week, it’s really unfortunate. It’s just luck now.

“You never know if you’re going to blow one. You go into (Turn) 3 almost every lap with 40 laps on your stuff and I don’t know if one is going to blow out or not. That’s not safe. That’s for sure. Running (180) into (Turn) 3 and the thing blows out and you have no time to react to it. It’s unfortunate. I hope we can figure that out.”

Blaney said he was confused that the tires were blowing partly into a run instead of much earlier.

“It was weird because those tires didn’t blow right away,” he said. “Like the pressures were low. They blew like after a cycle or two on them, which is the weird thing.”

Asked how he handles that uncertainty, Blaney said: “Nothing I can do about it. Just hope and pray.”

After his crash, Elliott was diplomatic toward Goodyear’s situation:

“I’m not sure that Goodyear is at fault,” he said. “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.”

Tyler Reddick, who won Sunday’s race at Texas, said his team made adjustments to the air pressure settings after Saturday’s practice.

“We ran enough laps, were able to see that we had been too aggressive on our right front tire,” he said. “So we made some adjustments going into the race, thankfully.”

This same time was used at Kansas and will be used again at Las Vegas next month in the playoffs. 

Reddick is hopeful of a change but also knows it might take time.

“I just think to a degree, potentially, as these cars have gotten faster and we’re getting more speed out of them, maybe, hypothetically speaking, we’re putting the cars through more load and more stress on the tire than they ever really thought we would be,” he said. 

“I know Goodyear will fix it. That’s what they do. It’s going to be a process. I know they’re going to be on top of it. Hey, they don’t want to see those failures. We don’t want to see them either. They’re going to be working on looking through and trying to find out exactly what is going on. We’ll all learn from it.

“It’s a brand-new car. It’s the first time in the history of our sport we’ve gone to an 18-inch wheel and independent rear suspension. All these things are way different, diffuser. All these things, way different. We’re all learning together. Unfortunately, just the nature of it, we’re having tire failures.”