Bristol takeaways: Time to consider holding NASCAR title races at this track

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BRISTOL, Tenn. – As NASCAR seeks inventive ways to push the sport forward, last weekend’s racing at Bristol Motor Speedway might give series officials something else to ponder.

What about Bristol hosting the championship weekend?

For a series that moved Daytona off July 4th weekend, races on the road course instead of the oval at Indianapolis, and will run the NASCAR Clash in a football stadium, the idea of Bristol hosting the championship doesn’t seem any more far-fetched. NBCSN’s Dale Jarrett suggested it last weekend.

“Bottom line, it’s the best racetrack we have,” Joey Logano said. “In my opinion, Bristol is the best racetrack out there, not only for the drivers and putting on a good race, but for the fans.

“There’s not a bad seat in this place. You can sit anywhere and you can see the whole racetrack. There’s always action around the whole thing.”

As if any more evidence was needed to consider ending the season at Bristol, the track provided three nights of memorable action.

Chandler Smith scored his first Camping World Truck Series win Thursday night after trading paint with reigning series champion Sheldon Creed in the final laps.

AJ Allmendinger and Austin Cindric slid across the finish line in the Xfinity Series race. Allmendinger won the race and regular-season title, and saw his car heavily damaged in the crash.

Kyle Larson passed Kevin Harvick with four laps left to win Saturday night’s Cup race. The main attraction, though, was the post-race confrontation between Chase Elliott and Harvick. Elliott was upset with Harvick about contact that cut Elliott’s tire and cost him a chance at the win. Harvick was upset with Elliott, believing that Elliott retaliated by running in Harvick’s line, which helped Larson to get by.

NASCAR has built the playoffs around drama and conflict. Phoenix, which hosts the championship weekend for a second consecutive year in November, doesn’t have the reputation for drama and conflict that Bristol has. Then again, few, if any, tracks do.

The idea of Bristol hosting the championship race in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks has the potential to create an energy and atmosphere unlike any NASCAR title event. That alone should make Bristol part of the conversation on where the sport should end its season.

With the incoming Next Gen car expected to be able to take more of a pounding that the current Cup car, ending the year at a short track becomes more feasible.

Making Bristol the title weekend site, though, would require other big moves by the sport.

The season would need to end in October to have better weather. The average high temperature in October for Bristol is 70 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. Also, October is the month with the least amount of rainfall in Bristol.

“Is it too cold to end here at the end of October?,” Kevin Harvick asked before last weekend’s race. “Probably not. Why not, right?”

NASCAR would need to move the end of the season up at least one week, and likely two or more weeks, to create a better fit for Bristol to host the season-ending event.

How to do that?

Maybe NASCAR could go back to starting the season in January as it did from 1970-81 when Riverside (California) hosted the first race of the year.

To end the NASCAR season earlier also might require a doubleheader weekend somewhere to shorten the schedule. The challenge is that NASCAR didn’t see enough from fans to put a doubleheader weekend into next year’s Cup schedule.

One thing to consider: Is it better to have a Saturday race earlier in the year or have another weekend going head-to-head against football in the fall?

If such a move allows Bristol to hold the championship weekend, then what is there to debate?



Is the sport’s most popular driver being picked on? Or is it a case of that’s how competitors race for the lead late in the race?

Elliott was frustrated with Kevin Harvick after contact while racing for the lead cut Elliott’s tire and cost him a chance to win last weekend at Bristol.

“It’s something (Harvick) does all the time,” Elliott told NBCSN’s Dave Burns after the race. “He runs into your left side constantly at other tracks. Sometimes it does cut your left side and other times it doesn’t. Did it to me at Darlington a few weeks ago because he was tired of racing with me. Whether he did it on purpose, it doesn’t matter.

“At some point you’ve got to draw the line. I don’t care who he is or how long he’s been doing it. I’m going to stand up for myself, my team and we’ll go on down the road.”

That was a sentiment last year at Darlington when Kyle Busch made contact with Elliott late in the track’s second May race and Elliott crashed. Elliott gave Busch a one-finger salute after exiting the car.

While Busch said he made a mistake, Elliott’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson, said after that incident: “I don’t think (Busch) intentionally wrecked us, but you just get tired of coming out on the wrong end of those deals too often.”

Elliott lost a chance to win the 2017 playoff race at Martinsville and advance to the title race when Denny Hamlin’s contact turned Elliott in the final laps. He repaid Hamlin at Phoenix. Elliott raced Hamlin tight and caused Hamlin to hit the wall, ending Hamlin’s title hopes.

Of course, Elliott has been on the other side. Racing underneath Joey Logano for the lead late at Bristol in May 2020, Elliott went up the track and they both crashed. Brad Keselowski won.

Logano was upset with Elliott for how Elliott reacted after the incident.

“The part that’s frustrating is that afterwards, a simple apology, like be a man and come up to someone and say, ‘Hey, my bad,’” Logano said that day. “But I had to force an apology, which, to me, is childish.”

Harvick’s frustration with Elliott last weekend was with Elliott running in his line. Harvick felt that helped Elliott’s teammate, Kyle Larson, ultimately win.

“Throw a temper tantrum like you’re 2 years old because you got passed for the lead and got a flat tire,” Harvick told NBCSN’s Dillon Welch.

“We barely even rubbed. It’s all Chase’s way or it’s no way, and if he doesn’t get his way, then he throws a fit.”

Both Elliott and Harvick are in the Round of 12, which begins Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN). How they race each other moving forward could be among the key storylines of these playoffs.


The storyline for the beginning of the Xfinity playoffs could easily viewed as a matter of old vs. new.

AJ Allmendinger and Austin Cindric are the favorites heading into Saturday’s playoff opener at Las Vegas (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). They finished first and second in the points and won nine of the first 26 races. They’ll also be watched closely after their door-banging finish at Bristol last weekend.

Allmendinger is the veteran. The 39-year-old driver has raced in Cup or Xfinity since 2007.

Cindric, 23, is the new kid, part of a talented generation of racers. Cindric moves to Cup next year in the No. 2 car for Team Penske, replacing Brad Keselowski.

But there’s another way Allmendinger vs. Cindric as old vs. new.

The championship battle is old to Cindric, the reigning series champion. He also won the regular-season title last year.

Allmendinger has never won a NASCAR championship. This is his first full-time season in the Xfinity Series. He made the inaugural Cup playoffs in 2014 and was eliminated in the first round.

Time is an element for Allmendinger, understanding where he is at his career.

“I’m almost 40 years old,” he told NBCSN’s Dave Burns. “ … Why not go for it, give everything you’ve got? You never know how long you’ve got left. So I’m going to run every lap like it’s my last one because it might be.”

Last weekend’s incident was the second time Allmendinger and Cindric have had contact coming to the finish line this season. 

The first time happened in the second race of the year, when they made contact racing to the end of the stage at the Daytona road course. Cindric won the stage. Allmendinger’s damaged car no longer was competitive.

“I think there’s a mutual respect between AJ and I,” Cindric said after the Bristol race. “I feel like I understand my limitations with him as far as what I expect and where that respect stops. It’s in those situations that it stops that makes it hard to race against him in those situations.

“I think (Friday) was a test for him because I don’t know if in his NASCAR career he’s been in a championship position. Definitely told me a lot (Friday), for better or for worse. I’ll be fine with it. I’ve been run over before. I’ve gotten into people before.”

Allmendinger said he looks forward to racing Cindric in the playoffs.

“If Team Penske wasn’t in the Xfinity Series with that 22 car, we wouldn’t be as good as we are,” Allmendinger said. “They make us step up every weekend to be better.

“It’s the same way I’m working my ass off to try to figure out how to step my game up to beat Austin every weekend and beat everybody else.

“He’s the champ. He’s the guy you’ve got to go for. I’ll compete 100% and do it out of respect because I don’t want any hard feelings going into the playoffs. But, if the are hard feelings, OK, whatever, I guess, fine.”

Charlotte Cup race postponed to Monday by weather


CONCORD, N.C. — All-day rain Sunday forced the postponement of the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Cup Series race to Monday.

The postponement means that Charlotte Motor Speedway is scheduled to host 900 miles of stock car racing Monday. A 300-mile Xfinity Series race, originally scheduled Saturday and first postponed to noon Monday, has been rescheduled for 11 a.m. ET Monday (FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The Cup race is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. (Fox, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Sunday’s Cup race was scheduled to start at 6:21 p.m. ET, but light rain was still falling at that time in the speedway area near Charlotte. Rain intensified a few minutes later and, despite an evening forecast that showed slight improvement, officials decided at 6:30 p.m. to postpone the race.

Monday’s forecast calls for a 34% chance of rain at the start of the Xfinity race and a 30% chance at the start of the Cup race.

William Byron will start the race from the pole after qualifying was washed out Saturday night.

RFK Racing gains sponsorship from submarine recruiting group


CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR racing and submarines? Yes.

RFK Racing announced Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that it has entered a partnership with BlueForge Alliance, which is involved in securing workers for the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Industrial Base (SIB) program. will be a primary sponsor for RFK drivers Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher in 10 Cup Series races this year and in 18 races per season beginning in 2024.

The sponsorship will showcase the careers related to the submarine-building program across the nation.

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“I’m proud to support a cause of such vital significance to our country with this new partnership,” Keselowski said. “The synergies between a NASCAR team and our military’s needs to stay on track fast are countless. We hope to inspire the workforce of the next generation across the country when they see RFK race and hear our message.”

The sponsorship will support the mission to recruit, hire, train, develop and retain the SIB workforce that will build the Navy’s next generation of submarines, the team said.

“We are excited and grateful to be teaming with RFK Racing to drive awareness of the thousands of steady, well-paying manufacturing jobs available across the nation. Innovation, working with purpose and service to others are hallmarks of both of our organizations,” said Kiley Wren, BlueForge chief executive. “Together, we aim to inspire NASCAR fans and all Americans to pursue career opportunities that will support our national defense.”

Kyle Larson visits Indianapolis Motor Speedway to survey the scene


Former NASCAR champion Kyle Larson, who is scheduled to run the Indianapolis 500 in 2024 as part of an Indy-Charlotte “double,” visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage area Sunday on Indianapolis 500 race day.

Larson said he wanted to familiarize himself with the Indy race-day landscape before he becomes immersed in the process next year.

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Larson later returned to Charlotte, where was scheduled to drive in the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday night. Next year, he’s scheduled to run both races.

“I love racing,” Larson told NBC Sports. “I love competing in the biggest races. In my opinion, this is the biggest race in the world. I wanted to be a part of it for a long time, and I finally feel like the timing is right. It’s pretty cool to have a dream come true.

“I wanted to come here and kind of experience it again and get to experience how crazy it is again before I’m in the middle of it next year. I kind of want as little surprise as possible next year.”

In the 2024 500, Larson will be one of four drivers with the Arrow McLaren team.

Earlier this month, Larson and Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman Jeff Gordon attended an Indy 500 practice day.

Larson said Sunday he hasn’t tested an Indy car.

“I don’t know exactly when I’ll get in the car,” he said. “I’ve had no sim (simulator) time yet. I’ve kind of stayed back. I didn’t want to ask too many questions and take any focus on what they have going on for these couple of weeks. I’m sure that will pick up after today.

“I look forward to the challenge. No matter how this experience goes, I’m going to come out of it a better race car driver.”




Jimmie Johnson: Building a team and pointing toward Le Mans


CONCORD, N.C. — These are busy days in the life of former NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson is a co-owner of Legacy Motor Club, the Cup Series team that has struggled through a difficult first half of the season while it also is preparing for a switch from Chevrolet to Toyota next year.

Johnson is driving a very limited schedule for Legacy as he seeks to not only satisfy his passion for racing but also to gain knowledge as he tries to lift Legacy to another level. As part of that endeavor, he’ll race in the Coca-Cola 600 in Legacy’s No. 84 car, making his third appearance of the season.

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And, perhaps the biggest immediate to-do item on Johnson’s list: He’ll race June 10-11 in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s biggest endurance race and another of the bucket list races the 47-year-old Johnson will check off his list.

“I’m excited, invigorated, exhausted — all of it,” Johnson said. “It has been a really exciting adventure that I’ve embarked on here — to learn from (Legacy co-owner) Maury Gallagher, to be a part of this great team and learn from everyone that I’m surrounded by. I’m in a whole new element here and it’s very exciting to be in a new element.

“At the same time, there are some foundational pieces coming together, decisions that we’re making, that will really help the team grow in the future. And then we have our job at hand – the situation and environment that we have at hand to deal with in the 2023 season. Depends on the hat that I’m wearing, in some respects. There’s been a lot of work, but a lot of excitement and a lot of fun. I truly feel like I’m a part of something that’s really going to be a force in the future of NASCAR.”

Johnson is scheduled to fly to Paris Monday or Tuesday to continue preparations for the Le Mans race. He, Jenson Button and Mike Rockenfeller will be driving a Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Chevrolet as part of Le Mans’ Garage 56 program, which is designed to offer a Le Mans starting spot for a team testing new technologies.

“For me, it’s really been about identifying marquee races around the world and trying to figure out how to run in them,” Johnson said. “Le Mans is a great example of that. Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 — these are the marquee events.”

He said his biggest concerns approaching the 24-hour race are being overtaken by faster prototypes in corners and racing at night  while dealing with the very bright lights of cars approaching in his rear view mirrors.

At Legacy, Johnson has work to do. Erik Jones has a top finish of sixth (and one other top 10) this season, and Noah Gragson is still looking for his first top-10 run. He has a best finish of 12th – at Atlanta.

“I think Erik (Jones) continues to show me just how good he is,” Johnson said. “He’s been in some challenging circumstances this year and keeps his head on — focuses, executes and gets the job done. I’ve really been impressed with his ability to stay calm and execute and just how good he is.

“With Noah, from watching him before, I wasn’t sure how serious he took his job in the sport. I knew that he was fast, and I knew that he liked to have fun. I can say in the short time that I’ve really worked with him closely, he still has those two elements, but his desire to be as good as he can in this sport has really impressed me. So I guess ultimately, his commitment to his craft is what’s impressed me the most.”