Analysis: Dirt racing pedigrees translate to road course success


There’s a through line from dirt open-wheel racing to success in NASCAR road course races, a connection that dates back four decades.

Five of Tim Richmond’s 13 career race wins took place on road courses, including four at the 2.62-mile Riverside Speedway in California. Jeff Gordon secured 10 road course victories, with six in a row emanating from 1997-2000. Tony Stewart earned a combined eight wins at Sonoma and Watkins Glen, including his final Cup Series triumph in 2016 at the former.

That apparent translation from dirt open-wheel racing to Cup Series road races persists with the recent successes of Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell, both road course race winners in 2021.

Larson sees the connection between dirt racing and road racing, pinpointing the “feel” of his vehicle as the denominator linking the two forms of driving.

“I’ve always felt like I can feel the car better — a lot better — on a road course because you get more movement of the car,” Larson said. “On an oval, we’re just kind of static the whole time. It’s hard for me to feel because there is no roll or anything like that. On a road course, you can feel the car flex up.”

Larson’s preference for feeling the weight transfer of his car while turning (the “roll”) stems from his formative years on dirt, a genre of auto racing he continues to frequent with success. It’s the feeling with which he’s most familiar, one that assists him in traversing through corners.

“It just kind of fits my brain a little bit better,” he said.

Through 20 career Cup Series starts on road courses, Larson holds a track type-specific Production in Equal Equipment Rating of 2.075, a formidable mark boosted by his two victories this season at Sonoma and Watkins Glen. Prior to this season, his first behind the wheel for road course stalwart Hendrick Motorsports, he displayed flashes of road course brilliance including three pole wins at Sonoma and a 2018 Roval showing in which he led a race-high 43% of the contest in what timing and scoring data measured as the fastest car of the event.

This season, piloting a Hendrick car that ranks second in average median lap time on road courses (trailing only teammate Chase Elliott), Larson has been diligent on offense and stingy on defense when it comes to procuring and protecting track position. He ranks third in position retention rate on restarts (88%) and secured surplus adjusted pass differentials 15 and 11 positions beyond his statistical expectation in his wins at Sonoma and Watkins Glen, respectively.

Road course races tend to focus exclusively on track position — the Roval included — and Larson is one of a few drivers who can be counted on to create more than his anticipated share of positions. As such, he’s among the early betting favorites for the win in Sunday’s playoff race.

Not quite a favorite but certainly capable of fetching a win this weekend is Bell, a fellow dirt track graduate and Larson’s arch rival every winter at the Chili Bowl Nationals. His win this past February on Daytona’s road course was a surprise in the moment but a more understood outcome with the benefit of hindsight. He, like Larson, sees the link from high-banked dirt bullrings to sprawling road courses with riddling corners.

“I would say the big thing is just being able to adapt,” Bell said. “Because the corners are all so different and it’s all really unique. (In) dirt track racing, you’re always having to adapt and improvise. And I think that really relates to road course racing.”

Bell is one of the best short-run road course racers currently in the Cup Series. His 94.12% position retention rate on restarts ranks second (trailing Martin Truex Jr.’s 94.74% rate) as does his 18 position-net gain within two laps of the restart (only Joey Logano, with +19, has a higher total).

Through his work with driving coach Michael Self, Bell has embraced the difficulty of a motorsport genre foreign to those with dirt-centric upbringings. Road racing is now more comfortable, reminding him of the “feel” to which he’s grown accustomed.

“I enjoy the challenge of it,” he said. “You’re slipping and sliding and you can really feel the car move around, which is something a little bit different than the short tracks or the mile-and-a-halves.”

The competitive link from dirt to right-hand corners extends to Tyler Reddick and Chase Briscoe. Both drivers have delivered memorable road course performances this season.

Reddick captured three stage victories on road courses this past summer and, after working to improve his road racing acumen with former Formula 1 and NASCAR driver Scott Speed, is enjoying a heightened passing acumen.

His -5.93% surplus passing value on road courses last year ranked as the second-worst mark of any Cup driver over the last two seasons. This year, his +1.03% SPV fares as the 10th best, good enough for a pass differential 28 positions better than his statistical expectation.

Briscoe, nurtured through Ford’s driver development efforts heavy on road racing, scored a win on the Roval in the 2018 Xfinity Series race. He was in position to contend for a victory this year in the waning laps of the Indianapolis road course race before contact with Denny Hamlin and a flubbed corner squashed his chance at a good finish. All three of his top-10 finishes this season came on road courses. Races at COTA and Indianapolis were the only contests in which Briscoe and his car ranked inside the top 10 for median lap time.

This current generation of former dirt racers are picking up where their predecessors left off, among NASCAR’s consummate favorites for wins and sterling performances on road courses.

Drivers to watch in Clash at the Coliseum


The 2023 NASCAR season will begin with Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the second race on a purpose-built track inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Although a non-points race, last year’s Clash generated intense interest as NASCAR moved the event from its long-time home at Daytona International Speedway to Los Angeles. The race was rated a success and opened doors for the possibility of future races in stadium environments.

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Year Two will find drivers competing on a familiar landscape but still with a track freshly paved. Last year’s racing surface was removed after the Clash.

Drivers to watch Sunday at Los Angeles:


Joey Logano

  • Points position: Finished 2022 as Cup champion
  • Last three races: Won at Phoenix, 6th at Martinsville, 18th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: Won in 2022

Logano put bookends on 2022 by winning the first Clash at the Coliseum and the season’s final race at Phoenix to win the Cup championship. He’ll be among the favorites Sunday.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 2nd in 2022
  • Last three races: 3rd at Phoenix, 4th at Martinsville, 2nd at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: Did not qualify last year

Chastain was the breakout star of 2022, winning a pair of races and generally putting himself front and center across much of the year. Can he start 2023 on a big note? If so, he will have to do so without replicating his Hail Melon move at Martinsville after NASCAR outlawed the move Tuesday.

Kevin Harvick

  • Points position: 15th in 2022
  • Last three races: 5th at Phoenix, 16th at Martinsville, 8th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 10th in 2022

Sunday will begin the final roundup for Harvick, who has said this season will be his last as a full-time Cup driver. He is likely to come out of the gate with fire in his eyes.


Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 13th in 2022
  • Last three races: 7th at Phoenix, 29th at Martinsville, 9th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 2nd in 2022

Welcome to Kyle Busch’s Brave New World. After 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing, he begins a new segment of his career with Richard Childress Racing. He led 64 laps at last year’s Clash but couldn’t catch Joey Logano at the end.

Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 14th in 2022
  • Last three races: 23rd at Phoenix, 35th at Martinsville, 35th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 21st in 2022

Reddick ran surprisingly strong in last year’s Clash, leading 51 laps before parking with drivetrain issues. He starts the new year with a new ride — at 23XI Racing.

Ty Gibbs

  • Points position: Won Xfinity Series championship in 2022
  • Last three (Cup) races: 19th at Martinsville, 22nd at Homestead, 22nd at Las Vegas
  • Past at Clash: Did not compete in 2022

After a successful — and controversial — Xfinity season, Gibbs moves up to Cup full-time with his grandfather’s team. Will he be the brash young kid of 2022 or a steadier driver in Season One in Cup?







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.