Texas storylines: The candy man can?

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Kyle Busch is still standing.

The two-time Cup Series champion has made the Round of 8 despite facing various dramas.

In the Round of 16, he wrecked at Darlington and was fined $50,000 for his actions after the incident. Two weeks later at Bristol, a late-race flat tire nearly ended his postseason early before he recovered to finish 21st and advance.

In the Round of 12 at Talladega, he was one of nine drivers involved in the day’s biggest wreck and finished 27th. That put him on the cutline for last week’s elimination race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, but a fourth-place finish saw him advance.

These ups and downs have been typical for Busch since July. Over the past 11 races, he’s posted five top-10 finishes and six finishes of 20th or worse, including three DNFs.

But he’s now just one win away from making the championship race. At the Round of 8 tracks – Texas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Martinsville Speedway – he has eight career Cup wins.

Four of them have come at Texas, which hosts the round’s opening race Sunday (2 p.m. ET, NBC). The most recent of those Texas triumphs came last fall.

With that win, he extended his streak of consecutive seasons with at least one victory to 16. He’s since extended that streak to 17 seasons with wins this year at Kansas and Pocono.

But last fall at Texas, keeping that streak alive was all Busch could race for. He had been eliminated from the playoffs in the Round of 12.

Sunday in Fort Worth and over the next three weeks, he’ll be racing for bigger stakes.

Right from the start

Denny Hamlin has advanced to the Round of 8 by winning the opening races in the first two rounds.

Hamlin claimed his first win of the season in the Round of 16 opener at Darlington Raceway. That moved him to the Round of 12, which he began by taking another win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He’s the third driver to earn two consecutive wins in playoff round opening races.

In 2016, Jimmie Johnson won the Round of 12 opener on the Charlotte Motor Speedway oval and the Round of 8 opener at Martinsville Speedway. In 2017, Martin Truex Jr. won the Round of 16 opener at Chicagoland Speedway, then won the Round of 12 opener at the Charlotte oval.

Both Johnson and Truex went on to win the championship in those years.

Will Hamlin be the third? So far, he’s been the most consistent in the playoffs. He’s the only playoff driver to earn top-10 finishes in all six races.

The only driver with a longer top-10 streak to open the playoffs? Johnson rattled off seven straight top-10s to start the 2008 and 2009 playoffs. He won the title in both years.

But Hamlin is not entirely in an ideal situation to start the Round of 8. He only has an initial seven-point cushion above the cutline.

While Hamlin is a three-time winner at Texas, he hasn’t been solid there in recent years. In his last nine Texas races, Hamlin has earned four top-10 finishes (including a win in March 2019) but also five finishes of 20th or worse. He’s also only scored points in two of the last 10 stages at Texas.

Perhaps most important to keep in mind? Per Racing Insights, he’s suffered penalties in five of his last six Texas races.

Down to two

There will be no Hendrick Motorsports lockout of the Championship 4 in Phoenix. The eliminations of William Byron and Alex Bowman saw to that.

But if you’re Rick Hendrick, you’re still feeling good about the two drivers you have left in contention.

In his impressive first season with HMS, Larson has been dominant on 1.5-mile tracks like Texas. On that track type, he’s won twice, posted an average finish of 7.9, and led a series-best 931 laps. And he won this year’s All-Star Race at – you guessed it – Texas.

With a 42-point cushion above the cutline, Larson is in the catbird’s seat to reach his first Championship 4.

As for Chase Elliott, things seem more iffy on the surface. Elliott starts the Round of 8 at a two-point deficit below the cutline. Only eight points separate him from second-place Hamlin.

Like Larson, Texas hasn’t been a solid track for Elliott. He hasn’t had a top-five finish there since 2016 and has averaged a 19th-place finish in his last four races there.

But the reigning Cup champion should still enter with confidence after coming out on top of a revived feud with Kevin Harvick, who was also eliminated from the playoffs last week.

It’s the second time that’s happened for Elliott in the playoffs.

During the 2017 playoffs, Elliott was spun out of a potential victory and a spot in the title race by Denny Hamlin at Martinsville. Two weeks later at Phoenix, Elliott made contact with Hamlin that ultimately led to Hamlin losing a tire and hitting the wall, ruining his own shot at making the title race.

Elliott may not strike you as having a particularly intimidating presence. But the events of last week and four years ago should all add up to a warning for everyone left in the playoffs: Cross him at your own risk.

YRB FTW?

After closing the regular season with back-to-back wins at Michigan and Daytona, Ryan Blaney was one of many playoff contenders waylaid by misfortune in the opener at Darlington. A pit road penalty and a spin later in the race relegated him to a 22nd-place finish.

Since then, Blaney has reclaimed consistency with four top-10 finishes in the last five races.

He could be on for another good showing this week. While Blaney is winless at Texas, he’s recorded six finishes of eighth or better in his last seven starts there. Also, his 403 laps led there are second-most for him only to the 484 laps he’s led at Bristol.

It’s also important to remember that two of his three wins this year (Atlanta, Michigan) have come with the 550-horsepower package, which at times has been an area of weakness for Team Penske and Ford this season.

This week’s race at Texas and next week’s race at Kansas Speedway are both 550 horsepower races.

Cindric’s time?

As the Round of 8 begins Saturday in the Xfinity Series playoffs (3 p.m. ET, NBC), one wonders if it’s time for Austin Cindric to make a statement.

The opening round of the playoffs was solid for Cindric, the reigning series champion. He finished fourth at Las Vegas, eighth at Talladega, and second at the Charlotte Roval to advance easily.

But Cindric has not won since mid-August. In the ensuing span, Kaulig Racing and JR Motorsports have combined to win seven of eight races. Kaulig’s AJ Allmendinger – Cindric’s biggest title rival – has won three of those eight, including last week at the Roval.

Texas seems as good a place as any for Cindric to return to Victory Lane.

Of the eight remaining playoff drivers, he’s the only one with an average finish inside the top five at Texas (4.9 through seven starts). He’s also one of two playoff drivers with previous wins there (Harrison Burton is the other). And as noted in Tuesday’s Round of 8 outlook, Cindric also has the best average finish among full-time drivers on 1.5-mile tracks this season.

He finished third in June at Texas behind winner Kyle Busch and Justin Allgaier.

Drivers for Drive for Diversity combine revealed

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The 13 drivers who will participate in the Advance Auto Part Drive for Diversity Combine were revealed Thursday and range in age from 13-19.

The NASCAR Drive for Diversity Development Program was created in 2004 to develop and train ethnically diverse and female drivers both on and off the track. Cup drivers Bubba Wallace, Daniel Suarez and Kyle Larson came through the program.

The 2020 and 2021 combines were canceled due to the impact of COVID-19.

“We are thrilled that we are in a position to return to an in-person evaluation for this year’s Advance Auto Parts Drive for Diversity Combine,” Rev Racing CEO Max Seigel said in a statement. “We are energized by the high-level of participating athletes and look forward to building the best driver class for 2023. As an organization, we have never been more positioned for success and future growth.”

The youngest drivers are Quinn Davis and Nathan Lyons, who are both 13 years old.

The group includes 17-year-old Andrés Pérez de Lara, who finished seventh in his ARCA Menards Series debut in the Sept. 15 race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Also among those invited to the combine is 15-year old Katie Hettinger, who will make her ARCA Menards Series West debut Oct.. 14 at the Las Vegas Bullring. She’s also scheduled to compete in the ARCA West season finale Nov. 4 at Phoenix Raceway.

 

 

Name

Age Hometown
Justin Campbell 17 Griffin, Georgia
Quinn Davis 13 Sparta, Tennessee
Eloy Sebastián

López Falcón

17 Mexico City, Mexico
Katie Hettinger 15 Dryden, MI
Caleb Johnson 15 Denver, CO
Nathan Lyons 13 Concord, NC
Andrés Pérez de Lara 17 Mexico City, Mexico
Jaiden Reyna 16 Cornelius, NC
Jordon Riddick 17 Sellersburg, IN
Paige Rogers 19 New Haven, IN
Lavar Scott 19 Carney’s Point, NJ
Regina Sirvent 19 Mexico City, Mexico
Lucas Vera 15 Charlotte, NC

 

Dr. Diandra: Crashes: Causes and complications

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Two drivers have missed races this year after hard rear-end crashes. Kurt Busch has been out since an incident in qualifying at Pocono in July. Alex Bowman backed hard into a wall at Texas and will miss Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Other drivers have noted that the hits they’ve taken in the Next Gen car are among the hardest they’ve felt in a Cup car.

“When I crashed it (at Auto Club Speedway in practice), I thought the car was destroyed, and it barely backed the bumper off. It just felt like somebody hit you with a hammer,” Kevin Harvick told NBC Sports.

The three most crucial parameters in determining the severity of a crash are:

  • How much kinetic energy the car carries
  • How long the collision takes
  • The angle at which the car hits

Angle

The last of these factors requires trigonometry to explain properly. You can probably intuit, however, that a shallower hit is preferable to a head-on — or rear-on — hit.

A graphic show shallower (low-angle) hits and deeper (high-angle) hits
Click for a larger view

When the angle between the car and the wall is small, most of the driver’s momentum starts and remains in the direction parallel to the wall. The car experiences a small change in velocity.

The larger the angle, the larger the change in perpendicular speed and the more force experienced. NASCAR has noted that more crashes this season have had greater angles than in the past.

Busch and Bowman both had pretty large-angle hits, so we’ll skip the trig.

Energy — in pounds of TNT

A car’s kinetic energy depends on how much it weighs and how fast it’s going. But the relationship between kinetic energy and speed is not linear: It’s quadratic. That means going twice as fast gives you four times more kinetic energy.

The graph shows the kinetic energies of different kinds of race cars at different speeds. To give you an idea of how much energy we’re talking about, I expressed the kinetic energy in terms of equivalent pounds of TNT.

A vertical bar graph showing kinetic energies for different types of racecars and their energies

  • A Next Gen car going 180 mph has the same kinetic energy as is stored in almost three pounds of TNT.
  • Because IndyCars are about half the weight of NASCAR’s Next Gen car, an IndyCar has about half the kinetic energy of a Next Gen car when both travel at the same speed.
  • At 330 mph, Top Fuel drag racers carry the equivalent of six pounds of TNT in kinetic energy.

All of a car’s kinetic energy must be transformed to other types of energy when the car slows or stops. NASCAR states that more crashes are occurring at higher closing speeds, which means more kinetic energy.

Longer collisions > shorter collisions

That seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Who wants to be in a crash any longer than necessary?

But the longer a collision takes, the more time there is to transform kinetic energy.

A pitting car starts slowing down well below it reaches its pit box. The car’s kinetic energy is transformed into heat energy (brakes and rotors warming), light energy (glowing rotors), and even sound energy (tires squealing).

The same amount of kinetic energy must be transformed in a collision — but much faster. In addition to heat, light and sound, energy is transformed via the car spinning and parts deforming or breaking. (This video about Michael McDowell’s 2008 Texas qualifying crash goes into more detail.)

The force a collision produces depends on how long the car takes to stop. Compare the force from your seat belt when you slow down at a stop sign to what you feel if you have to suddenly slam on the brakes.

To give you an idea of how fast collisions can be, the initial wall impact in the crash that killed Dale Earnhardt Sr. lasted only eight-hundredths (0.08) of a second.

SAFER barriers use a car’s kinetic energy to move a heavy steel wall and crush pieces of energy-absorbing foam. That extracts energy from the car, plus the barrier extends the collision time.

The disadvantage is that a car with lower kinetic energy won’t move the barrier. Then it’s just like running into a solid wall.

That’s the same problem the Next Gen car seems to have.

Chassis stiffness: A Goldilocks problem

The Next Gen chassis is a five-piece, bolt-together car skeleton, as shown below.

A graphic showing the five parts of the Next Gen chassis.
Graphic courtesy of NASCAR. Click to enlarge.
The foam surrounding the outside of the rear bumper
The purple is energy-absorbing foam. Graphic courtesy of NASCAR. Click for a larger view.

That graphic doesn’t show another important safety feature: the energy absorbing foam that covers the outside of the bumpers. It’s purple in the next diagram.

All cars are designed so that the strongest part of the car surrounds the occupants. Race cars are no different.

The center section of the Next Gen chassis is made from stout steel tubing and sheet metal. Components become progressively weaker as you move away from the cockpit. The bumper, for example, is made of aluminum alloy rather than steel. The goal is transforming all the kinetic energy before it reaches the driver.

Because the Next Gen car issues are with rear impacts, I’ve expanded and highlighted the last two pieces of the chassis.

The rear clip and bumper, with the fuel cell and struts shaded

The bumper and the rear clip don’t break easily enough. The rear ends of Gen-6 cars were much more damaged than the Next Gen car after similar impacts.

If your initial thought is “Just weaken the struts,” you’ve got good instincts. However, there are two challenges.

I highlighted the first one in red: the fuel cell. About the only thing worse than a hard collision is a hard collision and a fire.

The other challenge is that a chassis is a holistic structure: It’s not like each piece does one thing independent of all the other pieces. Changing one element to help soften rear collisions might make other types of collisions harder.

Chassis are so complex that engineers must use finite-element-analysis computer programs to predict their behavior. These programs are analogous to (and just as complicated as) the computational fluid dynamics programs aerodynamicists use.

Progress takes time

An under-discussed complication was noted by John Patalak, managing director of safety engineering for NASCAR. He told NBC Sports’ Dustin Long in July that he was surprised by the rear-end crash stiffness.

The Next Gen car’s crash data looked similar to that from the Gen-6 car, but the data didn’t match the drivers’ experiences. Before addressing the car, his team had to understand the disparity in the two sets of data.

They performed a real-world crash test on a new configuration Wednesday. These tests are complex and expensive: You don’t do them until you’re pretty confident what you’ve changed will make a significant difference.

But even if the test goes exactly as predicted, they aren’t done.

Safety is a moving target.

And always will be.

NASCAR weekend schedule for Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval

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NASCAR Cup Series drivers race on the road for the final time this season Sunday, as the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval course ends the playoffs’ Round of 12.

The 17-turn, 2.28-mile course incorporating the CMS oval and infield will determine the eight drivers who will advance to the next round of the playoffs. Chase Elliott won last Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway and is the only driver who has qualified for a spot in the Round of 8.

Entering Sunday’s race, Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman are below the playoff cutline. Bowman will not qualify for the next round because he is sidelined by concussion-like symptoms.

The race (2 p.m ET) will be broadcast by NBC.

Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Cup and Xfinity)

Weekend weather

Friday: Sunny. High of 81 with a 6% chance of rain.

Saturday: Mixed clouds and sun. High of 67 with a 3% chance of rain.

Sunday: Sunny. High of 68 with a 3% chance of rain.

Friday, Oct. 7

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 12 – 5 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Saturday, Oct. 8

Garage open

  • 7 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 8:30 a.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 10 – 10:30 a.m. — Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)
  • 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying (NBC Sports App)
  • 12 – 1 p.m. — Cup practice (NBC Sports App, USA Network coverage begins at 12:30 p.m.)
  • 1 – 2 p.m. — Cup qualifying (USA Network, NBC Sports App)
  • 3 p.m. — Xfinity race (67 laps, 155.44 miles; NBC, Peacock, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 9

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 2 p.m. — Cup race (109 laps, 252.88 miles; NBC, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

 

Rodney Childers fined $100,000, suspended for four races

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NASCAR has suspended Rodney Childers, Kevin Harvick‘s crew chief, for four races and fined him $100,000 for what the sanctioning body called modification of a part supplied by a vendor.

The team was penalized for a modification to the deck lid.

Harvick, who is out of the Cup Series playoffs, and the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 team were docked 100 points.

Harvick’s car and that of Martin Truex Jr. were taken to NASCAR’s Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C. after last Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway. There were no penalties assessed to the Truex team.

Harvick has been particularly critical of the Next Gen car in recent months, once referring to the “crappy-ass parts” provided by suppliers.

Harvick’s car erupted in flames during the Southern 500 Sept. 4 at Darlington Raceway. After he climbed from the smoking car, Harvick blamed the fire on “just crappy parts on the race car like we’ve seen so many times. They haven’t fixed anything. It’s kind of like the safety stuff. We just let it keep going and keep going.

“The car started burning and as it burned the flames started coming through the dash. I ran a couple laps and then as the flame got bigger it started burning stuff up and I think right there you see all the brake fluid that was probably coming out the brakes and part of the brake line, but the fire was coming through the dash.

“What a disaster for no reason. We didn’t touch the wall. We didn’t touch a car, and here we are in the pits with a burned-up car, and we can’t finish the race during the playoffs because of crappy-ass parts.”

MORE: AJ Allmendinger to return to Cup Series in 2023

Unless the team appeals, Childers would miss races at Charlotte, Las Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville and would return for the season finale at Phoenix.

NASCAR president Steve Phelps told the Associated Press that officials have not targeted Harvick. “I would say that’s ridiculous,” he said. “No one has a vendetta against Kevin Harvick or Rodney or anyone at Stewart-Haas Racing.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Harvick tweeted, “Seems strange…” A Childers tweet called the penalty “Shocker…..”.

NASCAR also announced Wednesday it has suspended Young’s Motorsports crew chief Andrew Abbott indefinitely for a behavioral violation during pre-race inspection. He must undergo anger-management training to be reinstated. The team races in the Camping World Truck Series.