New Hampshire takeaways: The end of PJ1? Race showed why the situation isn’t so sticky

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LOUDON, New Hampshire – It’s been called PJ1, VHT and the sticky stuff, but it’s been most commonly known as traction compound.

A suggestion for streamlining future references: NASCAR should call it gone – and heed the advice of a rising chorus in its Cup garage.

After finishing third Sunday on New Hampshire Motor Speedway asphalt unsullied by the spray of traction compound (or “the glue” as it’s pejoratively known in some circles), Brad Keselowski responded “Absolutely,” when asked if NASCAR should stop applying PJ1 the rest of the season.

“I just wanted to put on a good show to make sure the racetrack and NASCAR knew that we don’t need that PJ1 stuff to put on a good race,” he said. “We don’t need that crap. I thought it was one of the best races of the year. I’m curious what the Jeff Gluck poll says. If it doesn’t win, then I don’t know. But maybe this will get them to stop putting that stuff down.”

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Aric Almirola and Kyle Larson lead the field Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).

The decision to skip the application of PJ1 at New Hampshire was made late last week. After initially deciding to wait on putting it down until after the Xfinity race because of how it would affect the Modified Series (on another tire), NASCAR decided to forego PJ1 altogether.

The result was one of the best races of the 2021 season with plenty of action despite passing remaining at a premium.

“It was racy; the grip really went away,” race winner Aric Almirola said. “It really caused you to have to drive the race car (with) more car control. You didn’t feel stuck. When you caught somebody, you could move around and pass them. When we had the PJ1, you had to work twice if not three times as hard to get by somebody because the PJ1, even if their car was not handling, it was the preferred groove. You could not get by them.”

Sunday’s race featured a memorable midrace battle for the lead between the Team Penske Fords of Keselowski and Ryan Blaney, who were able to race hard despite a slightly narrower groove and less adhesion for their 3,400-pound cars.

I thought it put on a great show with no PJ1, just less grip,” Blaney said. “It felt like there was a little bit of a grip change, like the track was darker in the first and third lane. I just thought the track was pretty wide, so I think the place doesn’t need PJ1 at all.”

New Hampshire raises the question of whether any tracks still need traction compound, which has been in use at various tracks since 2016. Initially a hit at tracks such as New Hampshire and Bristol Motor Speedway, its efficacy has come into question as its use became more widespread (particularly at critical playoff tracks such as Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway). As Kyle Busch recently noted in a delightfully blunt diatribe, the proposed 2022 reconfiguration of Atlanta actually is a move in the other direction

When Nashville Superspeedway made its Cup debut last month, NASCAR treated the surface with a resin that drew rave reviews (William Byron suggested using it in place of traction compound everywhere) in producing a wider racetrack. Eventually, the substance faded in the Cup and Xfinity races but was less intrusive than PJ1, which seems to have the potential for long-term repercussions.

Last weekend, NASCAR drivers said residue remained at New Hampshire that showed “maybe we’ve been putting it on way too much,” Kevin Harvick said. “Seems there’s a lot we don’t know about that particular substance.”

Texas is the biggest case against PJ1, which was last applied on the 1.5-mile oval two years ago (for a NASCAR race weekend).

In three races there over the past season, IndyCar drivers vociferously have complained that the areas formerly treated with traction compound (which still retain dark stains) are “no-go zones” with little grip – turning Texas (once known as IndyCar’s answer to Daytona or Talladega) into a one-lane nightmare. (The track never was treated with traction compound for IndyCar races.)

NASCAR fortunately has avoided any cases of PJ1 backfiring so badly, but its tracks also have arrived at a point of diminishing returns with the traction compound’s impact on racing.

Yet the tired and banal narrative remains (“You think that glue they spray will work this week?” isn’t exactly as alluring “Who will Dale wreck next?”), forcing Cup stars constantly to answer insipid questions about an arcane science project instead of cool stuff like why they’re afraid of lobsters (this week we learned Denny Hamlin is on the Wikipedia page for ostraconophobia).

No matter what it was called, traction compound had a well-intentioned run as a means for improving the racing, but it’s time to say goodbye to the glue.

This isn’t such a sticky situation after all. Just stop using it.


Nashville hopes and dreams

As a reserved champion mindful of the power of his words, Chase Elliott rarely speaks on big-picture issues. That’s why it was so notable the three-time most popular drive was so outspoken in lobbying Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway for a Cup Series race.

Though his sway is significant and his case was persuasive (as a short track in an urban location, Nashville’s addition could deliver many benefits of the much-hyped street race concept but on an oval), Elliott probably can’t make it happen alone – but the momentum is growing for fostering Cup’s grassroots connections.

Hamlin and Kyle Busch also were interested in racing SRX at Nashville, which reportedly drew its largest crowd in decades.

Chase Elliott won the SRX season finale at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, where his Hall of Fame father, Bill, finished third (Dylan Buell/SRX via Getty Images).

“That’s something you probably could have at most short tracks around the country,” Hamlin said. “When you go to a facility like that where they haven’t had anything big production of a race with some stars, you’re going to get big turnouts. Our Short Track Showdown would sell out every short track we went to, so people want to see the stars.”

After the SRX event at Slinger Speedway, Trackhouse Racing co-owner Justin Marks speculated on whether the path forward for NASCAR might be nationally televised events at throwback speedways without the traditional market draw once touted as essential for sponsors.

It’s raised the possibility that NASCAR’s premier series could work at tracks such as Bowman-Gray Stadium or South Boston Speedway (where NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton has advocated taking the All-Star Race).

Hamlin believes that “absolutely” could work a few times annually.

“We went away from those places for a reason,” he said. “The reasons might be different now than then, but the infrastructure is one thing. We have corporate sponsors and where are they going to go? Are they going to sit in the infield on the back of a tailgate? No, they want to sit in a nice suite. So you have to have a balance there. I think there’s a balance to put on a big event but helps grass roots with what they’re doing.

“There are plenty of tracks that really don’t have suites. We just want people excited to go to the racetrack.”

It also might help if there was some thawing in the working relationship between NASCAR and SRX, whose co-founder Tony Stewart recently alluded to friction between the series.

Though Elliott said his participation was encouraged by Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR executives, Kyle Busch told NBC Sports that “the message I got delivered was no” when he requested to race Nashville. Asked to clarify whether NASCAR or Joe Gibbs Racing turned him down, Busch said, “Yes” without further elaboration.

Hamlin said he missed Nashville because of conflicts and thinks NASCAR would be supportive of its drivers racing SRX (which just wrapped its inaugural season) because “we want to make everyone collectively more excited about motorsports in general. If you can open that audience up, broaden it, everyone’s going to be better.”


Crew chief ‘destroying’ Xfinity Series competition

Overlooked in the world-beating performance of the No. 54 Toyota in the Xfinity is crew chief Chris Gayle, who was demoted from the Cup Series after winning twice with Erik Jones from 2017-20. With Kyle Busch, Ty Gibbs and now Christopher Bell at New Hampshire, Gayle has guided the car to seven victories in 19 starts

As noted by NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton in Saturday’s Xfinity broadcast, being moved down a rung on the NASCAR ladder was a blow to Gayle’s pride that left him motivated to “destroy” the Xfinity Series field to prove he still deserves to be a crew chief in Cup.

Gayle didn’t learn he would lose his Cup position until the last week of the 2020 season after meeting with Bell about becoming his crew chief (Adam Stevens moved over to the No. 20 after six seasons and two championships as Busch’s No. 18 crew chief in Cup). Without any practice or qualifying at New Hampshire, Bell won in his debut with Gayle as crew chief.

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Crew chief Chris Gayle on the pit box at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where he guided Kyle Busch to his fifth Xfinity Series victory this season (David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

“It’s ironic; I thought the opportunity might present itself to drive for Gayle on the Cup side when he was with the 20 group last year,” Bell said. “I went to lunch with him, had a conversation with him, and it didn’t work out, so it didn’t prcoeed any further.

“I had all that faith that Gayle was going to give me the fastest race car, and he delivered today. I defintely was not aware of that motivation, but he’s proven himself time and time again. He’s a great crew chief and has done a really good job of bringing really great race cars to the track.”

Laughing about how he (wrongly) tried to get Gayle fired from his position as an engineer on the No. 18 during his first two seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing, Busch also believes Gayle is worhty of Cup. “Chris is a smart guy,” he said. “We’ve come to respect one another a lot.”


Silly season update

Brad Keselowski will be announced officially Tuesday in his new driver-owner role at Roush Fenway Racing, and there could be more happening behind the scenes the next two weeks during NASCAR’s break for the Olympics. An update on the 2022 free agent market:

Kurt Busch said his deal isn’t finalized because “things changed with the announcement of Ganassi selling the team,” but “we’re getting close” and isn’t worried about having a full-time ride. He intends to bring sponsor Monster with him whether he takes Trackhouse Racing’s second ride (as a teammate to Daniel Suarez) or joins 23XI Racing in a second car. “My relationship with Monster is important,” he said Sunday. “I’m trying to balance all that out to figure out what their needs are.”

After his victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the hundreds of congratulatory messages Busch received included “crew members wanting to learn information on where I’m going. I feel like I’m now part of a recruiting process. So there’s quite a bit to balance out now. A good problem to have.”

–Suarez has talked to Trackhouse owner Justin Marks about his prospective teammate, “but nothing that really tells me who it’s going to be. We know there are some options. (Marks is) not in a position yet to make the call. I think the final call is going to be his. And it has to be obviously somebody that brings good experience and wants to push this team in the right direction. Competition is great. I’d love to have somebody who is very, very strong to push together and get better together. I have been fortunate to learn a lot from experienced teammates.”

Matt DiBenedetto said “nothing yet” when asked about his prospects at New Hampshire. “Our team being at the best spot ever, the feel is there,” he said. “You’ve seen it the last few weeks. We’ll run up front, go try and win, and I’ve got to trust the rest will work out.”


Man of the people

A few dozen fans were waiting outside the infield tunnel after Saturday night’s Xfinity race at New Hampshire. In the days of two- and three-day weekends, it would have been a prime spot to catch Cup stars leaving their motorhomes for dinners in nearby locales the night before the race. But the eradication of most practice and qualifying sessions the past two seasons means much later arrivals (such as Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson, both of whom flew Sunday morning to New Hampshire after racing in other states Saturday night).

These fans weren’t disappointed, though. New England native Joey Logano stopped by in a golf kart to sign autographs after walking the 1.058-mile oval.

“I was checking out the racetrack, and there were some fans yelling, so I went and said hello,” he said. “A friend of ours was parked out there, so I went and said hello, too. The nice part of being at your home track, you see everyone you know that you haven’t seen for a while.

“I did the same thing (walking the track and signing autographs) at Road America. It’s been my thing lately. I’ve been walking the tracks and saying hello to fans. I think I’ve missed them a lot. I like doing appearances again and seeing people in person. You won’t see me in my bus much. I hate being in there. I just sleep in there.”

Logano, 31, spent most of last week around his Middletown, Connecticut, hometown, celebrating the repaving and grand reopening of Silver City, the quarter-midget track where he started his career. He also brought his first race car out of storage after 25 years so that his 3-year-old son, Hudson, could go for a spin.

“We put a motor in it, bled the brakes and moved the steering wheel down and the pedals up for him,” said Logano, who posted photos of Logano quarter-midget racers across the generations in the same car. “Put some foam behind him, some new belts in and said, ‘There you go, bud!’ He drives some stuff around home, so he kind of had an idea what to do, but he was timid. He didn’t want to do it at first. He watched the other kids go. He was waving the flags for them during practice. He goes, ‘Oh, Dad, I want to try.’ I said, ‘I thought you would.’

“It’s really scary when your kid is racing by the way! It was cool. And then he was doing it, and I was l like, ‘Uh-oh. Did we make this thing go too fast?’ Dad was adjusting the throttle stop.”

Talladega Xfinity results: AJ Allmendinger edges Sam Mayer

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AJ Allmendinger, who had had several close calls in Xfinity Series superspeedway races, finally broke through to Victory Lane Saturday, edging Sam Mayer to win at Talladega Superspeedway.

Allmendinger’s margin of victory was .015 of a second. Mayer finished second by a few feet.

Following in the top five were Landon Cassill (Allmendinger’s Kaulig Racing teammate and his drafting partner at the end), Ryan Sieg and Josh Berry.

Noah Gragson, who had won four straight Xfinity races entering Saturday, was 10th. Austin Hill dominated the race but finished 14th.

MORE: Talladega Xfinity results

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AJ Allmendinger wins Xfinity race at Talladega Superspeedway

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Veteran driver AJ Allmendinger slipped past youngster Sam Mayer in the final seconds and won Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

As drivers in the lead pack scrambled for position approaching the finish line, Allmendinger moved to the outside and, getting a push from Kaulig Racing teammate Landon Cassill, edged Mayer by a few feet. The win ended frustration for Allmendinger on superspeedways.

Following Allmendinger, 40, at the finish were Mayer (who is 19 years old), Cassill, Ryan Sieg and Josh Berry.

Noah Gragson and Allmendinger have qualified for the next playoff round. The other six drivers above the cutline are Ty Gibbs, Austin Hill, Josh Berry, Justin Allgaier, Mayer and Sieg. Below the cutline are Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones, Riley Herbst and Jeremy Clements.

MORE: Talladega Xfinity results

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“This is Talladega,” a wildly happy Allmendinger told NBC Sports. “Yes, I hate superspeedway racing, but it’s awesome to win in front of the Talladega crowd.”

Austin Hill dominated the race but dropped out of the lead to 14th place  in the closing five laps as drivers moved up and down the track in search of the best drafting line.

The first half of the race featured two and sometimes three drafting lines with a lot of movement and blocking near the front. In the final stage, the leaders ran lap after lap in single file, with Hill, Allmendinger and Gragson in the top three.

MORE: Safety key topic as drivers meet at Talladega

Hill led 60 laps and won the first two stages but finished 14th.

Gragson was in pursuit of a fifth straight Xfinity Series win. He finished 10th.

Remarkably for a Talladega race, the entire 38-car field finished. The race was the 1,300th in Xfinity history, marking only the third time the entire field had been running at the finish. The other two races were at Michigan in 1998 and Langley Speedway in Virginia in 1988.

Stage 1 winner: Austin Hill

Stage 2 winner: Austin Hill

Who had a good race: AJ Allmendinger got the “can’t win on superspeedways” monkey off his back with a great final lap. … Sam Mayer made all the right moves but was passed in the madness of the final run down the trioval. … Landon Cassill finished a strong third and gave Allmendinger, his teammate, the winning push.

Who had a bad race: The race had to be disappointing for Austin Hill, who ran the show for most of the afternoon, winning two stages and leading 60 laps, more than twice as many as any other driver. While blocking to try to maintain the lead late in the race, he fell to 14th. … Playoff driver Jeremy Clements finished a sour 20th and is 47 points below the cutline.

Next: The Xfinity Series’ next playoff race is scheduled Oct. 8 at 3 p.m. (ET) on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. The race will be broadcast by NBC.

Safety key topic in meeting for drivers at Talladega

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Cup drivers met Friday with Jeff Burton, director of the Drivers Advisory Council, and discussed safety issues ahead of this weekend’s playoff race, which will be without two drivers due to concussion-like symptoms from crashes.

Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch will not race Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. 

Busch suffered his head injury in a crash at Pocono in July. Bowman’s injury followed his crash last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Both were injured in accidents where the rear of the car hit the SAFER barrier first.

Two drivers injured in less than three months — and the series racing at a track where crashes are likely — raises tension in the Cup garage. 

Denny Hamlin blasted NASCAR on Saturday, saying it was “bad leadership” for not addressing safety concerns drivers had with the car. Hamlin also said that the Next Gen vehicle needs to be redesigned.

Burton, who also is an analyst for NBC Sports, said in an exclusive interview that Friday’s meeting was lengthy because there were several topics to discuss. Burton didn’t go into details on all the topics.

Safety was a key element of that meeting. Burton, whose role with the Drivers Advisory Council is to coordinate the group and communicate with NASCAR, discussed the cooperation level with NASCAR.

“We feel like we have cooperation with NASCAR,” he said. “We know the commitments from NASCAR. They’ve made real commitments to us. We want to see those commitments through. I believe that we will in regards to changes to the car. 

“We want to see that come to conclusion as soon as possible. They have made commitments to us and are showing us what is happening, communicating with us in regard to timing, and we want to see it come to conclusion, as they do. 

“Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get some changes done before last weekend. It just takes a long time to test stuff.”

NASCAR has a crash test scheduled next week on a new rear clip and rear bumper. Even if the test goes well, there’s not enough time for any such changes this season with five races left.

The frustration from drivers — and voiced by Hamlin and Kevin Harvick — has been that NASCAR was informed about issues with a stiffer car for more than a year. Some questions were raised after William Byron crashed in a test in March 2020 at Auto Club Speedway.

“William Byron busted his ass at (Auto Club) Speedway and that should have raised a red flag right off the bat,” Harvick said Saturday.

Hamlin said more drivers needed to speak up about concerns with the car.

“I know a lot of young guys are just happy to be here, but they ain’t going to be happy when their brains are scrambled for the rest of their lives,” Hamlin said.

Byron is looking for changes to be made.

“I want to have a long career, and I don’t want to have a series of concussions that make me either have to step way from the car or have to think about long-term things,” he said.

Chase Elliott also shared his frustrations Saturday.

“You come off a week like we had in Texas and somebody getting injured and then you come into here, where odds are we’re probably all going to hit something at some point (Sunday) and probably not lightly at that,” Elliot said.

So what do drivers do?

“Do you just not show up?” Elliott said. “Do you just not run? I don’t think that’s feasible to ask. There’s always an inherent risk in what we do and it’s always been that way. 

“My frustration is … I just hate that we put ourselves in the box that we’re in right now. It’s just disappointing that we’ve put ourselves here and we had a choice. We did this to ourselves as an industry. 

“That should have just never been the case. We should not have put ourselves in the box that we’re in right now. So my disappointment lies in that that we had years and time and opportunity to make this thing right before we put it on track and we didn’t, and now we’re having to fix it. 

“I just hate that we did that. I think we’re smarter than that. I think there’s just a lot of men and women that work in this garage that know better and we shouldn’t have been here.”

Burton told NBC Sports that drivers did not discuss in Friday’s meeting running single-file in Sunday’s race as a form of protest.

“It wouldn’t be surprising for me to see single-file (racing Sunday) because of what happened at Texas and what could happen next week (at the Charlotte Roval),” Burton said. “Drivers need a period of calmness. 

“There was not a discussion, a collaborated effort or any sort of thing of how you race (Sunday). That conversation did not come up in that meeting.”

Harvick said Saturday that he’ll continue to be vocal about safety issues.

“I’ll do whatever I have to do to make sure these guys are in a good spot,” Harvick said. “Whatever I have to do.”

Harvick later said: “I don’t think any of us want to be in this position. We have to have the safety we deserve to go out and put on a great show and be comfortable with that. 

“Obviously, we all have taken the risks of being race car drivers, but there’s no reason we should be in a worse position than we were last year.”

Harvick said it was a matter of trust.

“The reality of the situation is much different than what they’re looking at,” Harvick said of NASCAR officials. “I think that the trust level is obviously not where it needs to be from getting it fixed. I think they’re going to have to earn the trust level back of reacting quick enough to do the things that it takes. The drivers’ opinion, especially when it comes to safety side of things, has to be more important than the data or more important than the cost. Safety can’t be a budget item.”

Corey LaJoie, who is a member of the Drivers Advisory Council board, said that while challenges remain with the car, he sees the effort being made by NASCAR.

“Nothing happens quick in this deal when you have 38 teams and you have seven cars per team,” LaJoie told NBC Sports. “It has to be a well-thought-out process to implement the changes.

“It’s easy to get up in arms and prickly when we have guys like Alex and Kurt out. You don’t ever want that to happen. Every conversation I’m having is what we, as the Driver Council, is trying to communicate to NASCAR and NASCAR making proactive changes and moving timelines up aggressively to try to implement these changes.”

Matt DiBenedetto wins NASCAR Truck race at Talladega

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Matt DiBenedetto won Saturday’s 250-mile NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Talladega Superspeedway on a day pockmarked by numerous accidents, including a major one at the finish.

As the field swept to the finish line in overtime, a multi-car crash developed as Corey Heim lost control of his truck in the trioval. Several trucks crashed approaching the finish as the caution flag flew.

NASCAR officials studied video of the final lap to determine that DiBenedetto was in front when the caution lights were turned on, although Bret Holmes appeared to beat him to the finish line by inches. When caution lights appear, the field is frozen at that point, so any position changes after the caution are irrelevant.

MORE: TalladeTalladega Truck results

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The last lap was the only one led by DiBenedetto, who has been racing in NASCAR national series since 2009 but scored his first win.

Following DiBenedetto, a non-playoff driver, at the finish were Ben Rhodes, Holmes, Ryan Preece and Christian Eckes.

With one race remaining in the Round of 8, Ty Majeski has locked in a spot in the final four at Phoenix. Chandler Smith, Zane Smith and Rhodes are above the cutline. Below the line are Stewart Friesen, Eckes, John Hunter Nemechek and Grant Enfinger.

MORE: Denny Hamlin says NASCAR needs leadership changes

A string of accidents left only two playoff drivers — Eckes and Rhodes — in the top 10 with 10 laps remaining.

Carson Hocevar dropped out of the lead group with five laps to go when he lost a tire, prompting a caution flag and pushing the race into overtime.

The race was marred by a fiery crash in the early going as Jordan Anderson‘s truck exploded in flames while running in the top five in a tight draft.

Anderson steered the truck to the inside as flames fired up on both sides of the vehicle. The truck crashed into the inside wall even as Anderson climbed from the driver-side window. He was transported to an area hospital.

On Lap 35, Lawless Alan hit the wall hard after his right front tire blew. He was evaluated and released from the infield medical center.

Another dangerous situation developed on Lap 63 as numerous trucks pitted at the same time under green. As Hailie Deegan attempted to stop in her pit, one of the crew members lost control of a tire, and it rolled into traffic and onto the grass area separating pit road from the track. A Deegan crew member chased down the tire in the grass and later was ejected from the track by NASCAR officials for a safety violation.

On Lap 79, Enfinger’s truck blew a tire and slammed the wall, starting a crash that collected Tanner Gray, Johnny Sauter and Austin Wayne Self.

Stage 1 winner: John Hunter Nemechek

Stage 2 winner: Chandler Smith

Who had a good race: Matt DiBenedetto had been waiting a very long time for this winning moment. … Alabama driver Bret Holmes almost won in front of the home crowd. He finished third.

Who had a bad race: Jordan Anderson had one of the most frightening crashes of the season, bailing out of his flaming truck after it caught fire in the middle of a pack of drafting trucks. … Playoff drivers John Hunter Nemechek (finished 24th) and Grant Enfinger (29th) had rough outings.

Next: The Truck Series is off for three weeks before racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway Oct. 22. The series’ final race is scheduled Nov. 4 at Phoenix Raceway.