Friday 5: Chaos likely theme for Daytona Cup race

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Chris Buescher knows what he needs to do Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway. It’s just a matter of how to do it.

“I don’t have all the right answers here,” said Buescher, who needs to win to make the Cup playoffs. “I don’t know if I have even the wrong answers.

“I’m just trying to figure out what it is that we need to do to be there and hopefully have a little bit of luck on our side at the same time.”

That’s a question many will try to solve after the green flag waves for the Cup regular season finale (7 p.m. ET on NBC).

Saturday’s race sets the playoff field. One playoff spot remains. With 15 of the 40 starters needing a win to make the playoffs, the level of desperation will be high. That likely will lead to crashes.

Half the crashes in the last three Cup races at Daytona and Talladega have come either at the end of a stage or the end of the race. 

Running at the front, though, doesn’t keep a driver out of trouble.

In the last four races at Daytona and Talladega, more than half of the multi-car crashes were triggered inside the top five.

Last year’s regular-season finale at Daytona had two crashes late in the race at the front.

The first came nine laps from the scheduled end. Tyler Reddick (No. 8) needed to win to make the playoffs. After diving below leader Kyle Busch, Reddick came up the track but forced Busch to brake to avoid hitting Reddick’s car. That caused chaos behind, leading to a 10-car incident.

“I played a big part in that excitement in the last Daytona cutoff race,” Reddick said. “I think you’ll expect to see drivers that were as desperate as I was in that race to try and get up front and get control of the race and win for their team and all their partners.”

Reddick enters Saturday’s race holding the final playoff spot. He leads Richard Childress Racing teammate by 25 points.

The second multi-car crash in last year’s regular season finale sent the race into overtime. This incident started at the front with contact between Denny Hamlin (No. 11) and Joey Logano (No. 22).

That led to Logano bouncing off of Bubba Wallace‘s car (No. 43). William Byron (No. 24) slipped between Logano and Wallace to take the lead. Logano, with a cut tire, spun, causing more chaos. Eleven cars were involved in that crash.

Byron would go on to win that race and secure a playoff spot.

“The move with the No. 22 and the No. 43 was really about the way that we were handling and the confidence I had to split the gap,” Byron said this week. “There was enough of a gap there to squeeze in and put it four-wide and that was definitely the race-winning move. I think a lot of it had to do with knowing our race car, being confident in the moves I could make, and then getting lucky that a tire didn’t go down when I kind of split the gap.”

The confidence to make such a move came over time for Byron. He admits he became more comfortable with speedway racing and worried less about wrecking.

I feel like with plate racing, in 2018 and ’19 especially, I led some laps on those tracks and that was kind of the first ‘OK, I can do it,'” Byron said. “Early on, I led laps early in a race and then I started to lead them later and later as the intensity kind of got higher and higher. I started to realize, ‘Man, I just continue to kind of bump that speed up to where it’s closer and closer to the end’ and then I would wreck or get wrecked. 

“I remember in the playoffs in October of ’19, we were actually in a good position to advance, leading the race and then got off center with a push and then got turned into (Logano). That was one of the hardest wrecks I’ve ever taken. I think I got hit driver’s side as I was going down the backstretch.

“That kind of was one of those moments of ‘OK, I’m close to winning these races. I just have to deal with the fact that I’m probably going to get hit pretty hard if I wreck.’ I just kind of got over that and started to be more and more aggressive and get that chance at the end to take chances and try to win.”

It worked for Byron last year. Will someone else win and earn their spot in the playoffs Saturday?

2. Entering the unknown

Saturday’s race marks the first with NASCAR’s new rules in response to keep cars on the ground after Joey Logano went airborne at Talladega earlier this season.

The cars are expected to go 7-10 mph slower than before.

NASCAR to slows cars
NASCAR changed the package for speedway racing to slow the cars after this crash by Joey Logano at Talladega in April. (Photo: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports)

The tapered spacer holes will be reduced from 57/64 of an inch to 53/64, cutting horsepower. NASCAR also removed the wicker from the spoiler to slow the cars.

The changes will make the cars drive differently. How much differently remains uncertain since there is no practice and qualifying this weekend.

“It’s entirely unknown,” Tyler Reddick said. “I can’t really say what it’s going to drive like. I think we’ve seen, in years past with previous generation cars, the draft being not as chaotic or unpredictable. But where we were, runs would kind of appear out of nowhere and once they would develop, they were very large runs and you could take them really far; farther than when I ran Xfinity or the Truck Series. The draft at times was not the same. There’s really nothing to go off of, I’d say.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who is among those who must win to earn a playoff spot, said the changes will create different challenges for drivers.

“The runs will probably be not as big, not as quick,” he said. “So, on one hand, that’s nice. It’s a little safer and a little easier for us to race hard and maybe not make as many mistakes trying to block runs at the last minute.

“With that being said, I think it kind of goes back to some of the races that we’ve had where I feel like you are able to, once you get out front, you can kind of control the race a little bit better and you don’t have those big runs coming.

“So, we’ll just have to see it play out and use the first two stages to figure it out.”

3. Also looking for a win

While 15 drivers seek a win to make the playoffs Saturday night, Kevin Harvick, already bound for the playoffs, simply seeks his first win of the season.

After scoring nine victories last year, the turnaround is dramatic.

“I would say what’s going wrong is a very legitimate question,” team owner Tony Stewart told NBC Sports. “A hard part is we don’t know what’s going wrong. That’s why we’re still in this predicament.

“We’ve got some the best and smartest people in the sport and we’re all scratching our heads trying to figure out what is actually going on, but it’s not for the lack of effort. It’s not for me not being around the shop. The smarter people are the ones at the shop. Trust me, I’m not the one making the calls.”

Stewart and others have noted rule changes that took away an aero advantage the SHR cars had last season. Stewart also notes the parts freeze for teams with the Next Gen car debuting next season. The parts freeze is intended to keep teams from spending money to develop new parts that will only be used in a few races. By saving such money, it helps teams prepare for the costs in switching to the Next Gen car.

“I think there were some organizations and teams that were able to come up with some big things right before that freeze happened last year and it showed up at the very end of the season and has carried over to this year,” Stewart said. “We’re making the best with what we have right now.”

Even with those challenges, Harvick is tied for third in top 10s this season with 16. Kyle Larson has a series-high 18. Denny Hamlin has 17. William Byron and Kyle Busch are tied with Harvick.

The biggest difference, though, is Harvick’s six top-five finishes rank 10th in the series.

Stewart notes Harvick has had a key impact on those top-10 finishes even with a car that has struggled to show speed.

“There’s nothing that beats experience,” Stewart said. “That shows up on race weekends when we don’t have a car that can win the race. Kevin can find a way.

“If it’s a fifth-place car, he can get it to third. If it’s a 10th-place car, he might (get) seventh or eighth with it. He can find those little things that are what you have and what you find with experience that carries you through that.

“I think that’s why Kevin is one of those guys – if Kevin wanted to race until he was 55, he’s going to still be that good. He is still at the top of his game right now. We’re just not able to showcase that for him.”

4. Ready to go

Justin Haley, who won the Daytona Cup race in July 2019, hasn’t had the chance to run toward the front throughout most of the speedway races. That’s because Spire Motorsports takes a methodical approach. It seeks to protect its cars before the final laps.

NASCAR Xfinity Series Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard Practice
Justin Haley will race in Friday night’s Xfinity race and Saturday’s Cup race at Daytona. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Haley, who is a teammate to Corey LaJoie, said things will be different Saturday night.

“For the Cup race this week, I’m really excited because Spire Motorsports has graciously allowed me to be able to race all night,” Haley said. “We have a really strong Hendrick engine that we lease. I’m looking forward to the Cup race because I’m going to be able to get up there in the draft and play around with the big guys and try to execute a Cup win.”

With one more speedway race left after this weekend for this car before the Next Gen car debuts next season, it’s easier for teams to be more aggressive.

“What we’re kind of seeing, we’re getting to the last road course race, the last speedway race of this generation car,” said Haley, who won one Daytona and two Talladega Xfinity Series races last year. “As we kind of get later in the season, I think the reins are going to be a little looser for me.

“We’re not going to use these cars again. If we completely destroy a car, it is what it is. I appreciate (team owners) Jeff Dickerson and T.J. Puchyr this weekend – they said, ‘Here is the best of the best and go do whatever you want.’ I’m really looking forward to that.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do. I think I’ve got to go up there and get in the draft and earn the respect and be able to race with the top Cup guys and also be safe and make it to the end of the race.”

5. Debut weekend

This weekend marks the debut of Frank Kelleher as president of Daytona International Speedway.

Kelleher, who previously was NASCAR Senior Vice President and Chief Sales Officer, says he’s been busy preparing for fans this weekend and looking ahead to upcoming events, including the next year’s Rolex 24 and Daytona 500.

His tenure begins in a time of COVID-19 protocols and challenges unlike those in any other sports.

“For the sport to allow us to have fans in the facility, there are a lot of smart people around me that are making that decision because they know that keeping the fans safe, the competitors safe, the employees safe is the No. 1 priority,” Kelleher told NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan.

As is the norm at sporting venues, fans in the stands and display area are not required to wear a mask at Daytona. Those in a suite or club level will be required to wear a mask at the track.

One of the challenges for Kelleher is promoting an event under these conditions. Previously, Daytona might have multiple drivers do in-person media events leading to the race promote it. Those ways have changed.

“We need to protect everyone’s health in the sport, particularly the drivers,” Kelleher said. “We just need to take a deep breath and take a step back and say ‘Let’s think long term. Let’s think Phoenix Championship Weekend. Let’s make sure we’re doing everything we can, that our athletes are healthy, our crew chiefs are healthy, everyone jumping over the wall is healthy.’

“So if we need to dial things back like that now, I know it’s not what I want or the fans want, but it’s the right thing to do at this moment. We all just need to continue to band together. It’s a moment in time.

“We have to believe there will come a day we can have drivers visiting suites, but that doesn’t worry me. What we’ve learned through the pandemic of Zoom, Teams virtual calls, I think we’re all able to pivot. I feel our fan base understand that and roll with the punches with us.”

One such way that teams and sponsors are reaching fans is through online promotions.

Mobil 1, a sponsor at Stewart-Haas Racing, has the Mobil 1 Thousand sweepstakes (fans can sign up at Mobil1Thousand.com). If a team using Mobil 1 wins a Cup race, a fan can win a weekly prize of $1,000 or more. Should a driver using Mobil 1 win the Cup title, a fan could win $15,000.

“To have a partner like Mobil 1 that’s willing to think outside of the box and have a promotion like this that gives back to the race fans is something that is really crucial for our sport right now,” car owner Tony Stewart said.

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2022 spotlights: The Clash, the King and Martinsville Mania

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The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season brought something new (a race inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum!) and something old (a win by the No. 43!) and a lot in-between.

In many ways, it was one of NASCAR’s best seasons. There were new winners, the Next Gen car kicked up competition a bit and there was a race finish (see the Ross Chastain file) like none other in the history of the sport.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: The name game

There were downsides, too: The safety of the new car came under fire (figuratively and literally, as wheel-well flames ended more than a few rides), drivers’ seasons were interrupted or ended because of hard wrecks and some races were less than stellar.

Looking back over the February-to-November marathon, some races stand out:

Rocking the City of Angels – Despite the naysayers, the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was a roaring success. A platter of questions, including whether the purpose-built track inside the stadium would hold up under heavy stock cars and generate good racing, awaited as teams rolled into LA. The racing wasn’t sensational, but it was good, and there were no problems with the track. A huge crowd showed up, and NASCAR left town with many ideas, having proven that it could run a race on a temporary track inside a large stadium. It has escaped no one’s notice that there are many other large stadiums in the country – and, by the way, outside it.

Wiggling at Watkins Glen – The venerable New York road course produced another hot finish as teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott battled for the win. Larson forced Elliott out of the main groove and took the lead for good with five laps remaining. “I’m not proud of it, but I knew it’s what I had to do to get the win,” Larson said. Elliott didn’t publicly criticize Larson, but it was clear he wasn’t pleased with Larson’s move.

MORE: Fighting knights and pie in the sky

Six hundred miles, and then some – The long history of Charlotte Motor Speedway’s 600-mile race has produced some great competition – and some races that prompted long naps. This year’s was one of the craziest and, by the way, the longest. The race went to two overtimes, finally ending after 413 laps and 619.5 miles, making it the longest race in NASCAR’s 75 years. The winner – perhaps most accurately described as the survivor – was Denny Hamlin, who outran teammate Kyle Busch over the final two laps.

The King is back…but where is he? – The Cup playoffs opened at Darlington Raceway with the storied Southern 500, but the playoffs took a back seat to other storylines. Erik Jones scored an upset win in Richard Petty’s No. 43, marking the iconic car’s first victory since 2014. Petty, however, missed the Victory Lane festivities. He and Dale Inman, the No. 43’s former crew chief, left the race early for the drive home to North Carolina. The long night held several incidents, including one involving Kevin Harvick, who criticized NASCAR after his car caught fire, uttering his now-infamous diatribe about what he called “crappy-ass parts.”

No watermelon, but a lotta juiceThe finish of the Oct. 29 playoff race at Martinsville Speedway generated international interest. Christopher Bell won in a must-win situation to advance in the playoffs, but the post-race spotlight was on Ross Chastain, who rode the outside wall through the final two turns at speeds rarely seen on the short track and finished fourth, good enough to stay in the championship hunt. Chastain’s remarkable move drew comment from observers outside NASCAR, including Formula 1 drivers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday 5: Memorable images from 2022 NASCAR season

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The end of the season provides a chance to look back and each year I go through the photos on my phone and find those that show the highs and lows of a sport that goes from February to November. 

Here are some of the photos that stood out for me:

1. Daytona 500 

Although the time spent in Daytona Beach, Florida, has shrunk in recent years with a more compact track schedule, the intensity remains. As do the emotions. 

Cup rookie Austin Cindric accomplished “a racer’s dream” in winning the Daytona 500, accomplishing something in his second attempt that took Darrell Waltrip 17 times and Dale Earnhardt 20 times to accomplish.

Cindric blocked teammate Ryan Blaney coming to the finish line and beat Bubba Wallace by half a car length. 

It was the second time Bubba Wallace had finished runner-up in this race. Unlike 2018, when Wallace was excited with finishing second, Wallace felt no such emotion this time. 

“2018 was awesome,” Wallace said of his runner-up result in the Daytona 500. “2022 was not awesome.

“I didn’t have a fighting chance the first time in 2018. This one being that close, it’s like a gut punch.”

The photos that stand out to me are of the picture of Cindric’s car covered in red, white and blue confetti before going through post-race inspection and the disappointment Wallace wore on pit road after the race.

Austin Cindric‘s car after winning the 2022 Daytona 500. (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

A dejected Bubba Wallace after finishing second in the 2022 Daytona 500. (Photo: Dustin Long)

2. Road America 

The Cup Series is not returning to the Wisconsin road course after two years there. Instead, this race will be replaced by the Chicago street course event in 2023.

This past season’s race was memorable. Tyler Reddick scored his first career Cup win on July 3. Nine days later came the announcement that he was leaving Richard Childress Racing for 23XI Racing in 2024 (That timetable moved up to 2023 after RCR signed Kyle Busch to replace Reddick in the No. 8.).

Among the special moments from the Road America race was Austin Cindric walking the length of pit road to victory lane to congratulate Reddick.

Austin Cindric hugs Tyler Reddick in victory lane at Road America on July 3, 2022. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Walking with Cindric, I asked him why he was making the trip to see Reddick.

“I think of anyone in the field, he probably deserves that win more than anybody else,” Cindric told me. “I think he’s put himself in position. He’s a really likable guy, and I feel like you can see how hard he works. 

“I’ve seen him mature as a driver and a person and as a friend and a father. It’s cool to see somebody you’re close to go through that.”

When Cindric arrived in victory lane, he walked up to Reddick and gave his friend a bearhug, lifting Reddick well off the ground.

In all the excitement, Reddick’s son, Beau, was not impressed. He was sound asleep in victory lane.

Tyler Reddick’s son Beau sleeps in victory lane after his father’s first Cup win in July 2022 at Road America. (Photo: Dustin Long)

3. Special moments

One never knows what you’ll come across in a season that stretches so long through the calendar. 

These are a few such moments that proved special for one reason or the other.

As storm clouds gathered over Daytona International Speedway in February, the sun was settling, creating a sky both ominous and spectacular. The photo captures that scene as Cole Custer walks through the garage. After this season, Stewart-Haas Racing announced it was replacing Custer with Ryan Preece in the No. 41 Cup car and that Custer would run in the Xfinity Series for the team.

Cole Custer walks under an ominous sky at Daytona in February 2022. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Another photo that stands out to me comes from the Clash at the Coliseum. There were so many questions about the exhibition race inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, such as if the specially built track would withstand the rigors of cars, what would the debut of the Next Gen car be like and would fans really be interested in such an event.

The track held up. So did most of the cars and the fans came. While not a sellout, more than 50,000 people attended the event and NASCAR noted that many had not purchased tickets to a NASCAR event before. The event was a success.

What stood out to me was the lines of people waiting to buy souvenirs the day of the race. In some places, lines stretched well away from the merchandise trailers. 

Fans stand in line for merchandise at the Clash at the Coliseum in Feb. 2022. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Sometimes you never know what you’ll see at at event. At an event at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Hall of Famers Richard Petty, Dale Inman and Ray Evernham all stood together. That is 18 Cup championships (eight by Inman, seven by Petty and three by Evernham).

NASCAR Hall of Famers Ray Evernham, Richard Petty and Dale Inman at the NASCAR Hall in April 2022. (Photo: Dustin Long)

4. New winners 

This season saw five first-time Cup winners: Austin Cindric (Daytona 500 in February), Chase Briscoe (Phoenix in March), Ross Chastain (Circuit of the Americas in April), Daniel Suarez (Sonoma in June) and Tyler Reddick (Road America in July).

I caught this scene of Suarez alone in his thoughts in the garage at Nashville Superspeedway in his first race since that Sonoma victory.

Daniel Suarez at Nashville Superspeedway in June 2022. (Photo: Dustin Long)

5. Martinsville

Ross Chastain’s video game move on the last lap of the playoff race was stunning. Needing two positions to advance to the championship race, Chastain put his car into fifth gear, planted his car against the wall in Turn 3, took his hands off the wheel and let the wall guide his Chevrolet around the final two turns while he floored the throttle.

Amazingly, it worked. He passed five cars and earned a spot in the championship. Although he didn’t win the Cup title, Chastain provided one of the most memorable moments of the 2022 season.

As I was leaving the infield late that Sunday night. I stopped to take a picture of the wall and the marks Chastain’s car had left on its remarkable charge.

Turn 4 wall after Ross Chastain’s video game move on the last lap of the October 2022 race. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Dr. Diandra: 2022 accidents steady, spins up 200%

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Cautions were up in 2022 despite fewer stage-end and competition cautions of any year since stage racing began. The third installment of 2022 by the numbers focuses on the causes (and causers) of cautions.

Cautions

I divide cautions into those that are planned — like competition and stage-end breaks — and so-called ‘natural’ cautions. Natural cautions include accidents, spins, stalled cars, debris or liquid on track and weather.

My first graph shows that this year’s 302 cautions are the most total cautions since 2014. That’s despite only 73 planned cautions, the fewest since stage racing started.

A stacked bar chart showing the planned and natural cautions from 2013 to 2022

The 2022 season had 43 more total cautions relative to 2021, and 57 more natural cautions than last year. That’s the most natural cautions since 2016.

Causes

Caution classification is subjective. Obviously, a car spinning is a spin and cars colliding is an accident. But if a car spins and then hits another car, is it a spin or an accident? If an accident happens at a stage break, do you record the caution as an accident or a stage break?

This year presented an even thornier problem.

The 2022 season had more blown tires and wheels coming off cars than any season I can remember. NASCAR classified some incidents arising from blown tires as debris cautions, others as accidents.

To me, a blown tire seems fundamentally different from a stray car part on the track.

The myriad tire and wheel problems prompted me to review all 302 cautions. I added three additional caution categories: wheel issues, fire and tire issues.

Tire issues were so labeled only if a blown tire preceded a crash or spin. Tires that blow because of contact with the wall or flat spotting aren’t included. If I couldn’t tell for sure that the blown tire came first, I left the caution in its original category.

My re-categorization complicates comparing cautions by category to previous years. That concern is offset by the need to set a benchmark against which to measure next year’s data.

The table below compares my breakdown of cautions with NASCAR’s for the 2022 season. I admit that I’m not totally objective, either. But I believe my categorization better reflects the overall nature of the 2022 season.

A table comparing breakdowns of cautions

The most surprising statistic is the extraordinarily large number of spins. Cup Series drivers spun between 20 and 27 times per season between 2016 and 2021. Drivers in 2022 spun 60 times.

There haven’t been that many spins since 2007, when the series recorded 66 spins. That was the first year of the Gen-5 car; however, the number of spins this year is similar to the numbers for the Gen-4 car. Fans wanted a car that was harder to drive. The spin statistics are a good argument that they’ve gotten their wish.

Drivers in accidents, spins and stalls

I treat accidents, spins, and stalls as a single category because of the questions about differentiating between them. ‘Incidents’ combines all the spins, all the accidents and all the stalls.

And remember: being involved in an incident doesn’t imply that driver caused the incident.

The graph below shows all drivers with 12 or more incidents during the 2022 season.

A stacked bar graph showing the drivers involved in the most accidents, spins and/or stalls

Remember also that this count doesn’t include wheel or tire issues. A driver crashing because a tire blew is fundamentally different from an accident or spin.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ross Chastain were involved in the most incidents in 2022. Both drivers had 15 accidents. Stenhouse also had two spins and a stall, while Chastain had three spins. Stenhouse led in caution-causing incidents in 2021 with 17 accidents.

Kyle Busch comes in third in total incidents, and first in spins with seven. For comparison, no other driver had more than four spins.

No full-time driver evaded incidents entirely. Justin Haley was involved in the fewest: four. William Byron tallied six while Aric Almirola and Michael McDowell came in at eight each.

Cautions by race

The Coca-Cola 600 was the longest Cup Series race in history in terms of mileage. Its 18 cautions helped make it long in terms of time, too.

But longer races offer more opportunities to crash. A better metric is the number of crashes per 100 miles of racing. I removed stage and competition cautions because planned cautions don’t depend on race length.

The Bristol dirt race’s 14 cautions were the third highest total after the Coca-Cola 600 and Texas’s 16 cautions. But the dirt race was the shortest race of the season at 133.25 miles.

A vertical bar graph showing the races with the most cautions per 100 miles of racing

That gives the Bristol dirt race a whopping 9.0 natural cautions per 100 miles of racing. Last year, the Bristol dirt race was also at the top of the list with 7.4 total cautions per 100 miles of racing.

Bristol’s asphalt race had the second-most cautions per 100 miles at 3.4  The two Bristol races are followed by COTA (3.0) and Texas (2.8).

What about superspeedways?

The only superspeedway race in the top-10 cautions-per-100-miles graph is the second Atlanta race. The fall Talladega race had the fewest cautions per 100 miles this year of any oval at 0.80.

But superspeedways claim more cars per accident. The summer Daytona race featured 46 cars involved in five accidents for an average of 9.2 cars per accident. Some cars were involved in multiple accidents, which is why the total number of cars in accidents is larger than the number of cars racing.

The fall Talladega race comes in second in terms of wreckage per accident with an average of 8.0 cars. The spring Talladega race ties with the Bristol asphalt race. Both had an average of 7.0 cars per accident.

Road America had the fewest cautions of any race in 2022. With only two stage-break cautions, Road America had 0.0 natural cautions per 100 miles. Sonoma had 0.72 natural cautions per 100 miles and the Charlotte Roval 0.78.

We normally use cautions as a proxy to count accidents and spins. The problem is that not every incident causes a caution — especially at road courses. There were seven cautions for wheels coming off cars, some wheels came off on pit road. Some drivers limped their cars back to the pits after losing wheels.

And there were a lot more spins that didn’t bring out cautions.

Next week, I’ll tell you all about those.

Front Row Motorsports Cup teams to have new crew chiefs in 2023

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Both Front Row Motorsports Cup teams will have new crew chiefs in 2023, the team announced Wednesay.

Travis Peterson will be the crew chief for the No. 34 car that has been driven by Michael McDowell. Peterson replaces Blake Harris, who will be the crew chief for Alex Bowman in 2023 at Hendrick Motorsports.

Peterson, 31, has been a race engineer. He spent the past five seasons at Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing. He worked with drivers Chris Buescher, Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth during that time. Peterson previously served as a race engineer at Hendrick Motorsports for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and also at JR Motorsports.

“I think there are a lot of people in the NASCAR garage who are noticing what Front Row Motorsports has accomplished with the new car and their truck program,” Peterson said in a statement from the team.

“This is an opportunity to come into a winning and championship organization and help take that next step of getting more wins in the Cup Series and be in the playoffs. I’m ready to get to work. I’ve always had the goal of becoming a crew chief, and now I’m ready to take advantage of the opportunity.”

Front Row Motorsports also announced Wednesday that Seth Barbour, who had been the crew chief for the No. 38 driven by Todd Gilliland, has been named as the organization’s technical director. Barbour will oversee all track engineering and car preparation processes for the Front Row Motorsports Cup cars.

A new crew chief for the No. 38 team will be announced later.

Also, Ryan Bergenty, car chief for the No. 34 team, has been promoted to performance director and will oversee all body and chassis assembly for all Front Row Motorsports entries.

“The past two seasons Front Row Motorsports has seen success and we’re taking the next steps forward,” said Jerry Freeze, general manager of Front Row Motorsports, in a statement.

“We know that Travis is a person that can immediately come in, take the baton, and continue to move the No. 34 team to the front. We also made several changes internally to help with car preparation and engineering for all our race cars and trucks. Our final piece is finding a new leader for the No. 38 team. We’re confident that with these changes that we’ll be even better next season.”

Front Row Motorsports has not announced its driver lineup for next season. Both McDowell and Gilliland have said they plan to be back with the organization.