Track executive says drivers were consulted in Atlanta project


Marcus Smith, president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, said on NASCAR America MotorMouths that drivers were consulted ahead of the announced changes to Atlanta Motor Speedway for 2022.

Those changes  — increasing the banking from 24 to 28 degrees and narrowing the width of the track to 40 feet in the turns — generated feedback that included “positives and negatives,” Smith told NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan, Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett on Wednesday’s show on Peacock.

“It’s been nice to see all the discussion about it,” Smith said. “I think it just shows you how passionate our fans are about the sport, how passionate all the stakeholders in our sport, team owners, drivers, sponsors (are).

“NASCAR is a fantastic community, and we’re all in this together. I think more now than I’ve seen in my career, we’re really all working together to make NASCAR the best it can possibly be.”

Some competitors said they were not consulted and raised questions about the changes that will be made to the track.

“I wish they would have kind of talked to everybody about it,” Kyle Larson said this week. “I think a lot of us drivers were kind of caught off guard. I had heard about it earlier this year, about banking and stuff, but not the track width and stuff like that. We’re going to go and put on a good show no matter how the track is.

“… I’ve raced at hundreds of different racetracks, I feel like (drivers) would have a better understanding of what really makes good racing. But, fans like crashes and a 40-foot wide surface is going to keep us tight together, so maybe that will accomplish the good racing that we think it is.”

Denny Hamlin was vocal on social media. He noted Smith’s Speedway Motorsports had made changes to Texas Motor Speedway, Kentucky Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway “with 0 driver input. One of those lost a race, other one we don’t race anymore and last one we put dirt over. But hey, what do the drivers know?”

Smith said drivers were consulted.

“You think about what do we do when we design a track and think about how we improve a track,” he said. “All the time we are talking to drivers, we’re talking to Goodyear, NASCAR, partners at NBC and the fans to look at the kind of racing that we’re producing, the kind of competition, the entertainment factor. Everything about a race comes into play when we really analyze a race weekend.

“We definitely talked to drivers. We’re talking to engineers. The pavement technology, there’s so much that goes into it. It’s not just one conversation here and one conversation there. It’s really a months- and years-long process of deciding what the perfect geometry is and the pavement makeup to renovate a track like Atlanta Motor Speedway.”

Smith said iRacing was used to simulate track configurations to determine the best renovation plans for the Next Gen car, which debuts in 2022.

“Working with iRacing and NASCAR, we took all the metics from the existing Next Gen cars and plugged that into the iRacing computer engine and took all the data we had so far with Atlanta Motor Speedway current and the new planned Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“We actually tweaked it as we went along. … It’s been 10 months of development virtually, and it’s been a great process to come up with this new track profile during that process.

“To your question of how do you do that with a new car, it’s amazing what you can do with data today. With NASCAR’s help, all the data about the new car that is known to date is plugged into the iRacing computer to make these kind of decisions happen and come to life.”

Photo Credit: Atlanta Motor Speedway

Smith said that a repave could no longer be put off for Atlanta’s surface. The track has had the same racing surface since 1997, making it the second-oldest asphalt racing surface on the circuit. Auto Club Speedway has had the same asphalt racing surface since 1996.

“This is one of those things, it was time to repave Atlanta,” Smith said. “Since we’re going to repave Atlanta anyway, we wanted to to do it in the newest and best way possible.

“Anytime we come up with a repave, I think, yes, you’ll see whether it is us or NASCAR really work with iRacing to simulate the different changes … they can plug into our system and you see it in this virtual engine, how it all works on the screen and how it all performs with the all the physics of a modern day racecar.”

NASCAR announced June 29 that iRacing had signed to become the official simulation partner to the sport. NASCAR noted in a release that the partnership would include collaboration “around a number of innovation initiatives which have far-reaching implications on the future of NASCAR — including the design of new and proposed NASCAR race tracks (and) collaboration and technical support on the NASCAR NextGen race car project.”

Interstate Batteries extends sponsorship with Joe Gibbs Racing


Interstate Batteries, which has been a Joe Gibbs Racing sponsor since the team’s first race, has expanded its involvement with the team for 2023.

Interstate, based in Dallas, will be a primary JGR sponsor for 13 races, up from six races, the number it typically sponsored each year since 2008.

Christopher Bell and Ty Gibbs will run the majority of Interstate’s sponsorship races, but Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. also will carry the sponsor colors.

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

“We’re extremely proud of our partnership with our founding sponsor, Interstate Batteries,” said team owner Joe Gibbs in a statement released by the team. “They have been such an important part of our team for over three decades now, and it’s exciting to have them on board all four of our cars this season. The best part of our partnership is the relationships we’ve built with everyone there over the years.”

Bell will carry Interstate sponsorship in Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the All-Star Race May 21, the Coca-Cola 600 May 28, at Texas Motor Speedway Sept. 24 and at Martinsville Oct. 29.

Gibbs, in his first full season in Cup racing, will be sponsored by Interstate at Daytona Feb. 19, Bristol April 9, Nashville June 25, Chicago July 2, Texas Sept. 24 and Charlotte Oct. 8.

Hamlin will ride with Interstate sponsorship March 26 at Circuit of the Americas, and Truex will be sponsored by Interstate July 23 at Pocono.

Interstate was a key JGR sponsor in the team’s first season in 1992.

NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023 season


CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR announced a series of rule changes for the 2023 season that includes outlawing the move Ross Chastain made at Martinsville and eliminating stage breaks at all six Cup road course events.

NASCAR announced the changes in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

Among new things for this season:

  • Updated penalty for a wheel coming off a car.
  • Change to the amount of time teams have to repair cars on pit road via the Damaged Vehicle Policy.
  • Change to playoff eligibility for drivers.
  • Cars could run in wet weather conditions on short ovals.
  • Expansion of the restart zone on a trial basis.
  • Choose rule will be in place for more races.

MORE: Ranking top 10 moments at the Clash

NASCAR updated its policy on a loose wheel. Previously, if a wheel came off a car during an event, it would be a four-race suspension for the crew chief and two pit crew members. That has changed this year.

If a wheel comes off a car while the vehicle is still on pit road, the vehicle restarts at the tail end of the field. If a wheel comes off a vehicle while it is on pit road under green-flag conditions, it is a pass-thru penalty.

The rule changes once a vehicle has left pit road and loses a wheel.

Any vehicle that loses a wheel on the track will be penalized two laps and have two pit crew members suspended for two races. The suspensions will go to those most responsible for the wheel coming off. This change takes away a suspension to the crew chief. The policy is the same for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.

With some pit crew members working multiple series, the suspension is only for that series. So, if a pit crew member is suspended two races in the Xfinity Series for a wheel coming off, they can still work the Cup race the following day.

The Damaged Vehicle Policy clock will be 7 minutes this season. It had been six minutes last year and was increased to 10 minutes during the playoffs. After talking with teams, NASCAR has settled on seven minutes for teams to make repairs on pit road or be eliminated. Teams can replace toe links on pit road but not control arms. Teams also are not permitted to have specialized repair tools in the pits.

NASCAR will have a wet weather package for select oval tracks: the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Lucas Oil Raceway Park, Martinsville, Milwaukee, New Hampshire, North Wilkesboro, Phoenix and Richmond.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said that teams have been told to show up at these events prepared for wet weather conditions as they would at a road course. That includes having a windshield wiper. Wet weather tires will be available. 

“Our goal here is to get back to racing as soon as possible,” Swayer said. “… If there’s an opportunity for us to get some cars or trucks on the racetrack and speed up that (track-drying) process and we can get back to racing, that’s what our goal is. We don’t want to be racing in full-blown rain (at those tracks) and we’ve got spray like we would on a road course.”

NASCAR stated that it is removing the requirement that a winning driver be in the top 30 in points in Cup or top 20 in Xfinity or Trucks to become eligible for the playoffs. As long as a driver is competing full-time — or has a waiver for the races they missed, a win will make them playoff eligible.

With the consultation of drivers, NASCAR is expanding the restart zone to give the leader more room to take off. NASCAR said it will evaluate if to keep this in place after the Atlanta race in March.

NASCAR stated the choose rule will be in effect for superspeedways and dirt races.

NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR will do away with stage breaks in all six Cup road course races and select Xfinity and Truck races this season, but teams will continue to score stage points. 

NASCAR announced the change Tuesday in a session with reporters at the NASCAR R&D Center. 

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

NASCAR stated there will be no stage breaks in the Cup road course events at Circuit of the Americas (March 26), Sonoma (June 11), Chicago street course (July 2), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 13), Watkins Glen (Aug. 20) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8).

There will be no stage breaks for Xfinity races at Circuit of the Americas (March 25), Sonoma (June 10), Chicago street course (July 1), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 12), Watkins Glen (Aug. 19) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 7).

There will be no stage breaks for the Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas (March 25).

In those races, stage points will be awarded on a designated lap, but there will be no green-and-checkered flag and the racing will continue.

The only road course events that will have stage breaks will be Xfinity standalone races at Portland (June 3) and Road America (July 29) and the Truck standalone race at Mid-Ohio (July 8). Those events will keep stage breaks because they have non-live pit stops — where the field comes down pit road together and positions cannot be gained or lost provided the stop is completed in the prescribed time by NASCAR.

NASCAR has faced questions from fans and competitors about stage breaks during road course races because those breaks alter strategy in a more defined manner than on most ovals.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said the move away from stage breaks at road courses was made in collaboration with teams and response from fans.

“When we introduced stage racing … we took an element of strategy away from the event,” Sawyer. “Felt this (change) would bring some new storylines (in an event).”

NASCAR instituted stage breaks and stage points for the 2017 season and has kept the system in place since. NASCAR awards a playoff point to the stage winner along with 10 points. The top 10 at the end of a stage score points.

It wasn’t uncommon for many teams to elect to pit before the first stage in a road course race and eschew points to put themselves in better track position for the final two stages. By pitting early, they would be behind those who stayed out to collect the stage points. At the stage break, those who had yet to pit would do so, allowing those who stopped before the break to leapfrog back to the front.

NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

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CONCORD, N.C. —  NASCAR announced Tuesday that it will not permit drivers to run against the wall to gain speed as Ross Chastain did in last year’s Martinsville Cup playoff race.

NASCAR made the announcement in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

MORE: NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events 

MORE: NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023

Chastain drove into the Turn 3 wall and rode it around the track at higher speed than the rest of the field, passing five cars in the final two turns to gain enough spots to make the championship race. NASCAR allowed the move to stand even though some competitors had asked for a rule change leading into the season finale at Phoenix last year.

NASCAR is not adding a rule but stressed that Rule covers such situations.

That rule states: “Safety is a top priority for NASCAR and NEM. Therefore, any violations deemed to compromise the safety of an Event or otherwise pose a dangerous risk to the safety of Competitors, Officials, spectators, or others are treated with the highest degree of seriousness. Safety violations will be handled on a case-by-case basis.”

NASCAR stated that the penalty for such a maneuver would be a lap or time penalty.

Chastain said he’s fine with being known for that move, which will never be repeated in NASCAR history.

“I’m proud that I’ve been able to make a wave that will continue beyond just 2022 or just beyond me,” Chastain told NBC Sports earlier this month about the move’s legacy. “There will be probably a day that people will learn about me because of that, and I’m good with that. I’m proud of it.

“I don’t think it will ever happen again. I don’t think it will ever pay the reward that it paid off for us that it did that day. I hope I’m around in 35 years to answer someone’s question about it. And I probably still won’t have a good answer on why it worked.”

The video of Chastain’s wall-hugging maneuver had 12.5 million views on the NBC Sports TikTok account within a week of it happening. Excluding the Olympics, the only other video that had had more views on the NBC Sports TikTok account to that point in 2022 was Rich Strike’s historic Kentucky Derby win. 

Formula 1 drivers Fernando Alonso, Pierre Gasly and Daniel Ricciardo all praised Chastain’s move at the time, joining a chorus of competitors throughout social media.