Friday 5: What is proper etiquette between NASCAR playoff, non-playoff drivers?


As Daniel Suarez discussed his first top-10 finish in nearly four months, Jeff Gordon walked by and said, “Nice job today.” Suarez thanked Gordon before the four-time Cup champion headed toward Victory Lane to celebrate Kyle Larson’s win last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

The topic then changed. Suarez was asked about his incident with playoff driver Martin Truex Jr. that sent Truex’s car into the wall.

Such is life for a non-playoff driver. A skirmish with a championship contender can overshadow everything.

While yellow spoilers and yellow windshield banners designate those eligible for the title, it’s as if non-playoff drivers carry a scarlet letter. There is an expectation that Cup playoff drivers be given more latitude by those not racing for a championship, but how far should that go?

Drivers who do not make the playoffs also have something at stake. It could be to keep their job, prove to sponsors they’re a good investment or earn contract bonuses, among other things.

When Suarez and Truex were racing together last weekend, it was for a spot inside the top 10. Suarez’s last top-10 finish came at Nashville in June.

“Let me tell you,” Suarez told NBC Sports, “I feel so bad for (Truex). I feel really, really sorry for him. He just can’t be doing that. I’m racing as well here.

“I have a lot of respect for the guys in the playoffs, but one thing is respect and (another) is taking advantage of the situation. He was not even close to be clear. I don’t know why he did that.

“We’re in the last (15 laps) of the race. I have (fresher) tires. He doesn’t have tires. I don’t know. I think he has to be a little more smart.”

Truex told NBC Sports after the incident: “I was definitely running tight trying to get all we could and maybe I squeezed (Suarez).”

Truex finished 25th. The former series champion enters Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) 22 points out of the final transfer spot to next month’s title race.

NBC Sports analyst Dale Jarrett said this week on NASCAR America Motormouths that situational awareness is key for playoff drivers throughout these events.

“I actually think the drivers that are in the playoffs still need to consider who they are racing at this point in time and what the consequences might be,” he said. “Do the guys they are racing need this spot a little bit more?

“I said this on a radio show the other day … Martin Truex Jr. and his race team shouldn’t have been back there battling for 10th anyway. They’re a better team than that, and he’s, obviously, a championship driver. He should have been further up. 

“I’m all for these guys racing hard. You try not to have that contact, but sometimes it’s going to happen because things happen on a racetrack.”

NBC Sports analyst Kyle Petty applauded Jarrett’s comments and said of playoff drivers: “You have to take some responsibility. You can’t complain about non-playoff cars all the time.”

Asked last weekend if there is a lack of respect between non-playoff drivers and playoff drivers, Kyle Busch expressed his frustration.

“There’s a complete lack of respect everywhere, all over the place, so it doesn’t matter if it’s a playoff driver or a non-playoff driver,” Busch said. “The way all this has gone on the last four or five years with the newer generation coming in has completely ruined it from what it used to be.

“It might be exciting for the fans, but all you get is more torn up stuff. Next year, these car owners are not going to enjoy paying the bills on that new car, I guarantee you.”

Chase Briscoe, who is not in the playoffs, bounced off the wall while racing title contender Denny Hamlin for seventh with 62 laps to go last weekend. The contact resulted in a tire rub for Briscoe. The tire didn’t last, leading to a yellow flag.

During that caution, Hamlin said on his team’s radio of Briscoe: “That’s what he gets for being a … idiot.”

A video clip of the incident and Hamlin’s radio comments were posted on the NASCAR on NBC Instagram account. Briscoe posted a comment that read: “If only I had 10,000 races worth of experience under my belt …”

Hamlin saw Briscoe’s comment and replied: “@chasebriscoe_14 not sure you’ll get there. There’s cars racing for a championship. In case you forgot about taking out the leader and costing him 1 championship already this season. Perhaps when you learn give and take you will start to finish better.”

Briscoe responded: “@dennyhamlin I get paid to race, just because you guys are racing in the playoffs doesn’t mean I’m just gonna wave you by. One of the best cars we’ve had all year and I was trying to take advantage of it. I understand you guys are racing for a championship which is awesome for you guys but I’m racing for a job and results let me keep that job.”

Hamlin countered: “@chasebriscoe_14 well if your car is better and you are better on that day, you will get the spot back eventually. Risk management is how you optimize your finish each week. Maybe putting yourself in others shoes for 1 min would help. You had 25 races to get a chance to race for the post season. Respect is a underrated trait in today’s world it appears.”

The interaction showed the viewpoint of a playoff driver and non-playoff driver. For as fascinating as that was, such a conversation could have taken place privately. So, why did Hamlin engage Briscoe on social media?

“A lot of it, to me, is the mentality that the younger guys have is they can’t pick up the phone and call you,” Hamlin said. “They just make immature statements on social media, so I thought I would just go down to that level for a minute.”

Last weekend marked William Byron’s first race out of title contention after he failed to advance to the Round of 8. While he said he wasn’t raced differently by any of the playoff drivers, he was aware of his new situation compared to them.

“I was thinking about that throughout the race and some of the cautions,” Byron said. “As a race car driver, you’ve got a certain mindset and a certain way that you think as you go throughout the race, and it’s very hard to just kind of change that on the fly. So, you don’t really alter your whole strategy.”

Byron said he doesn’t want to have an incident with a playoff driver.

“I think that’s kind of the biggest thing for me is kind of trying not to wreck one,” he said. “But I didn’t feel like anyone raced me different, or that I raced them differently. You see the yellow spoilers. You kind of know who you’re around and things like that. I think you’re just kind of aware of those guys and what they’re trying to do.”

2. Wild West of restarts

It’s not always what a driver does that determines how well they restart at Kansas Speedway, but what the driver behind them does.

“I think the biggest thing with the 550 (horsepower) races is getting linked up to your push if you’re the leader,” William Byron said. “So, you’ve got to do things, whether you drag the brake or you roll into the throttle slow.

“You’ve got to make sure that that guy is linked up to your bumper to push you because if not, there’s not enough horsepower for you to just drive away, unless you’re in first gear or you have different ratios or something. So, that’s watching the mirror. That’s listening to my spotter and him count down when that guy is getting to my bumper.”

The final two restarts in the May race at Kansas showed how much the driver in the second row of a restart can dictate matters.

On the next-to-last restart, Kyle Larson was the leader and was on the outside line. Brad Keselowski was behind him. Kyle Busch led the bottom lane and had Ryan Blaney behind.

When the green flag waved, Blaney ran to the back of Busch’s rear bumper and pushed him. Keselowski had a gap to Larson’s rear bumper, leaving Larson without a push.

Blaney pushed Busch into the lead and also got by Larson, who led 132 laps in that event. An accident happened on that lap, setting up the final restart.

Busch restarted on the bottom and had Blaney to his outside. Larson restarted behind Blaney.

After the race resumed, Larson’s car attached to the rear of Blaney’s rear bumper.

“I thought I got a pretty good restart and so did (Larson) behind me,” Blaney said.

But trouble arrived in Turn 1.

“The push at Kansas that Larson gave me, you gotta realize when to get off somebody and you’re to the left side,” Blaney said. “That shouldn’t have happened. …That’s just a product of somebody being a little too aggressive at that point and kind of being in the wrong position on the bumper.”

Larson’s shove turned Blaney sideways in Turn 1 and sent Larson into the wall. They both lost speed and instead of racing for the win, fell into the pack. Larson finished 19th after leading nearly half the race. Blaney placed 21st. Busch won the race.

“I learned from it,” Larson said. “So far, I haven’t made that mistake again.”

Byron understands such woes with Kansas restarts.

“A lot of times, you can’t always win the restart at Kansas,” he said. “You have to just minimize the loss. Especially if you’re on the front row.”

3. Points race

Denny Hamlin is third in the standings, one point above teammate Kyle Busch and nine points above the cutline, but that’s not how he sees it.

Hamlin views himself as being on the cutline.

“We have to assume, based on past results, that one of those guys at the bottom – whether it be Joey (Logano) or Martin (Truex Jr.) are going to go out and win these next two races,” Hamlin said this week. “If they do that, then that cutline moves right to me, and I’m actually plus one, not plus nine or eight or whatever it is. That’s the number that I’m racing to – is plus one to even right now.”

The first driver outside a transfer spot is reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott. He won the 2018 playoff race at Kansas, finished second in the 2019 playoff race and was sixth in last year’s playoff race.

Elliott’s focus, though, isn’t on points.

“I don’t think there’s ever really a safe place with points unless you have a win,” he said.

While Elliott has two victories this season, neither came on an oval. He won on the road courses at Circuit of the Americas and Road America.

Elliott doesn’t worry that his last oval win came in last year’s title race at Phoenix.

“The results are what they are,” he said. “Whatever the reason may be doesn’t matter. You either do or you don’t, and we haven’t checked that box yet this year. I don’t feel like it’s been a lack of performance. On certain ovals, I feel we like we’ve been really solid. I feel like we’re just as capable as a year ago or the year before that.”

Elliott has five consecutive top-10 finishes on 1.5-mile tracks heading into Sunday’s race at the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway. He finished second in the Coca-Cola 600 and in the Las Vegas playoff race.

4. Another memorable moment?

Although Joey Logano has won a championship, a Daytona 500 and two Bristol night races, Kansas Speedway has been the site of some significant moments in his career.

“Lot of good memories there,” Logano said.

He may need another such moment to advance to the championship race.

Logano enters Kansas 43 points out of the final transfer spot for the championship race. Realistically, he needs to win either at Kansas or next week at Martinsville to advance.

Three times he’s scored significant victories at Kansas.

The first came in 2009. His victory in the Kansas Xfinity race came a week after his tumbling crash in the Cup race at Dover.

In 2015, he won at Kansas when it was the middle race in the second round. Logano went on to sweep all three races in that playoff round, but his Kansas victory came at a price. He spun Kenseth as they raced for the lead. Kenseth paid Logano back at Martinsville, wrecking him as Logano led and hurting his title hopes.

Last year, Logano held off Harvick over the final 40 laps to win and advance to the title race.

“To me, it was like holding off the pack at a superspeedway,” Logano said of last year’s Kansas finish. “You’re up front. The guy behind you is building runs. He’s going to different lanes … and you’ve got to be able to move around. As your car changes, the preferred lane was moving. His car was a lot stronger than mine down the straightaways. We were just not as trimmed out a car.

“Just having all of that was mentally exhausting for 40 laps. You’re on it for a long time. Knowing that one mistake would cost you a win, and knowing what that win was going to mean on top of that, you’re willing to throw it all on the line for that. He (was) going to have to spin me out to get around me.

“That’s what playoff racing is. There’s so much on the line. It’s so important, especially in this round, to win. Drivers are willing to do about anything to win.”

5. Best on the 550 horsepower tracks in 2021

Kansas marks the final race with the 550-horsepower package this season. The final two races (Martinsville and Phoenix) feature the 750-horsepower package.

Here are the drivers who have won the races with the 550-horsepower package this season:

3 – Kyle Larson (Las Vegas I, Coke 600, Texas)

2 – Ryan Blaney (Atlanta I, Michigan)

2 – Kyle Busch (Kansas I, Pocono II)

1 – William Byron (Homestead)

1 – Alex Bowman (Pocono I)

1 – Kurt Busch (Atlanta II)

1 – Denny Hamlin (Las Vegas II)

What drivers said at WWT Raceway


Here is what drivers had to say after Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway:

Kyle Busch — Winner: “That was pretty awesome. Man, to sit on the pole, lead a lot of laps and have my guys do such a great job today was pretty phenomenal for us. Great for RCR. Just win, baby! … We’re going to have a great time with this one. This one is pretty cool.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 2nd: “Yeah, I thought we were super dialed if it was 95 degrees like it was supposed to be with those delays – it kind of took away from the advantage I thought that we had. I’m proud of this whole Sport Clips Toyota team – pit crew did a phenomenal job keeping us in it and doing really good on the money stop with about 60 to go. We are going to have to wait another to get that 50th (win).”

Joey Logano — Finished 3rd: “I’m proud of the fight. We were mediocre – just outside the top five all day long. There was a group of cars that were a tick better than us. Then we executed at the end and beat a few of them. We tried some new things from last year, and we learned some lessons. But overall: Good. We needed a solid run. We’ve been going through hell here lately. So, it’s nice to get a top five, third place, and some points there in each stage. Good day.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 4th: “Proud of the effort today. It’s been a couple tough races. We’ve been so good all year long and the last few have been pretty bad and we’ve had to work on it quite a bit. The team got us in a place where we could contend for the win, so you can’t ask for much more than that. …  I wish I would have done a better job. When I was the leader, I hadn’t been at the front all day, so I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know where people were running on restarts, and I didn’t know how hard they could go. I just got kind of caught off guard and lost the control.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 5th: “Started off the race near the front and stayed there through Stage 1 and thought we could get a little bit better and maybe have a shot at the couple, three in front of us. We had a pit road penalty and had to go to the back, and it was just an uphill climb from there. Just really tough to get through the field. We got some damage from when someone’s brake rotor exploded, that slowed us down even more. Really with all we went through today, a top-five is a really good day for us. I’m proud of the effort.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 6th: “We ran pretty good today. Won the second stage which was good, second in the first stage. Just kind of lost track position, lost the lead. Through a couple stops and restarts, we could just never really get it back. I thought that (Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin) and I were similar. It was just a matter of who was out front. I just got a bad restart at the end and fell to sixth. But overall, it wasn’t a bad day. It was a good points day too, and we’ll keep going.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 7th: “The entire weekend was very solid for us. We barely missed the second run in qualifying and really, we missed it because of me and not because of the car. The car was capable of advancing. In the race, the car was strong right away. It was fun today and we really needed this as a team. We needed a result that we deserved, and I felt like lately it’s been a little difficult on us when it comes to that. Today, I felt like we deserved a top-10 or top-five and we came home seventh, so we will take it.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 9th: “We kind of learned last year that track position is super important. Taking two tires was an option last year, so we knew it’d be one this year. We did it early on and got track position, but we got spun out. So, went all the way to the back and then we put four on, and then you’re just buried back there. So, we had to go for it again, put two on and just left two on. We never took four again. There were a lot of laps on the left-side tires, but track position was super important. We had a great FR8 Auctions Ford Mustang, so I knew we could kind of hold our ground. Those last few cautions kind of hurt us a bit, but still came away with a Top-10. So, it was a good day.”

Chris Buescher — Finished 12th: “That was a long day – long race. There were a lot of cautions and red flags. It really started yesterday. I was in a little bit of a hole after qualifying, and I just didn’t do a good job. I had to dig out of that today. We had pretty good speed in our Fastenal Ford Mustang. I was pretty happy with it, and at times, had to move around the track quite a bit. I figured out Gateway really quickly. Not being able to run here last year, I felt a little behind getting going. Definitely found something there at the end. Honestly wish it was a 600-mile race because I felt like we could have kept getting better.”

Austin Cindric — Finished 13th: “Definitely frustrating having a speeding penalty … I’m a little frustrated with myself with that. You think something at the end of Stage 1 isn’t going to affect your race, but it just put us behind. We tried a bunch of strategy calls to get our Freightliner Ford Mustang up there. Had some good restarts at the end and made the most of it, I feel like. Those restarts got really scrappy. Proud of the team effort, proud of the recovery. Definitely a lot to clean up on my end to maximize what I thought was a Top-10 race car.”

Ryan Preece — Finished 17th: “That was a really long day. I fought a tight race car all day long and every time we came down pit road, my guys made really strong adjustments. It just wasn’t enough to get us to the front and stay there. There were so many cautions there at the end, I was just trying to save the car. Overall, it wasn’t a terrible day for us after qualifying 29th. The fans were out in full force today, too, that was awesome to see. We’ve just got to keep grinding for better finishes.”

Erik Jones — Finished 18th: “Just an up-and-down day for the No. 43 Chevy team. Didn’t end up how we wanted it to go, but we’ll go to work and get the car a bit better. I thought we had good speed, just didn’t have things go our way. We’ll work on it and hopefully go to Sonoma (Raceway) and have a solid day.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 32nd: “We kept our track position just like we wanted to. We got stage points, and I felt like we had a top-eight or so car, which was a big difference from last year. Obviously we’re striving to be better everywhere. We had a really good streak going of really good runs. It looked like the No. 2 (Austin Cindric) just, for some reason, right-reared the No. 3 (Austin Dillon) and took both of us Chevy guys out, so that’s a bummer. We definitely had a top-10 car today.”

Tyler Reddick — Finished 34th: “Our day kind of went bad early on, but our McDonald’s Camry was able to get through traffic pretty well, but as the track stated to cool off, it just started going away from us. It was starting to get frustrating out there for sure, to have a car that good, and it felt like it was just going away. I had a bad feeling that was coming soon. I was just getting ready to have to back off with how soft the brakes got, but I obviously should have been thinking about that a lap or two sooner.”

Carson Hocevar — Finished 36th: “I thought it was great. I had a blast. Just so thankful for the opportunity. I don’t have a job for next year. I know Al Niece and Cody Efaw wants me to run for them and I will forever run a race or however many. But man, I’m just so thankful that they gave me the opportunity – the opportunity to drive a Xfinity car and now driving a Cup car. I was running 16th.. just so surreal for the first time ever. I thought we were going to have a good day and be in a good spot for Schluter Systems, Celsius, Spire Motorsports, Ryan Sparks and the No. 7 Chevy team. Hopefully that call for a Cup ride isn’t the only one I get in my life.”

Cup results at WWT Raceway


Kyle Busch scored his third Cup victory of the season, winning Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway in overtime.

Busch is tied with William Byron for most victories this season. Busch and Byron have combined to win three of the last six Cup points races (two by Busch and one by Byron).

MORE: WWT Raceway Cup results

Denny Hamlin finished second. Joey Logano placed third. Kyle Larson overcame struggles early in the race to finish fourth. Martin Truex Jr. completed the top five.

Corey LaJoie finished 21st, driving the No. 9 for the suspended Chase Elliott.

Ryan Blaney placed sixth and took the points lead from Ross Chastain, who placed 22nd.

Kyle Busch wins Cup race at WWT Raceway in overtime


Kyle Busch scored his third victory of the season Sunday, holding off the field on five restarts in the final 45 laps at World Wide Technology Raceway.

Busch’s previous two wins this season were at Fontana and Talladega. Sunday’s win is the 63rd of his Cup career. He started on the pole and led 121 of 243 laps — including the last 60 — in a race extended three laps by overtime.

MORE: Race results 

MORE: What drivers had to say

“That was pretty awesome,” Busch said to FS1. “Man, to sit on the pole, lead a lot of laps and have my guys do such a great job today was pretty phenomenal for us.”

Denny Hamlin finished second and was followed by Joey Logano, Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr.

Sunday’s race featured an event-record 11 cautions. Failures with brake rotors led to crashes by Carson Hocevar, Tyler Reddick, Noah Gragson and Bubba Wallace.

Corey LaJoie finished 21st, driving the No. 9 for the suspended Chase Elliott.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kyle Busch

STAGE 2 WINNER: Ryan Blaney

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Denny Hamlin’s runner-up finish is his fourth top-five result of the year. All have come in the last seven races. … Joey Logano’s third-place finish was his first top-five result since Martinsville in April. … Ryan Blaney finished sixth for his sixth top 10 in the last seven races and took the points lead from Ross Chastain. … Michael McDowell‘s ninth-place finish is his second top 10 of the year.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Brad Keselowski, making his 500th career Cup start, had mechanical issues early that left his car underpowered for most of the event. He finished 28th. … Carson Hocevar, making his Cup debut, was running 16th when a brake rotor failed and he crashed, finishing last. … Tyler Reddick spun early in race. After getting back toward the front, a brake rotor failed and he crashed, finishing 35th.

NOTABLE: This is the 11th time in Kyle Busch’s Cup career that he has had at least three wins in a season.

NEXT: The series races June 11 at Sonoma Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET on Fox)

Corey LaJoie learning in his week with Chase Elliott’s team


Spending this week with Hendrick Motorsports has proved eye-opening for Corey LaJoie.

He will pilot Chase Elliott’s No. 9 car today at World Wide Technology Raceway after NASCAR suspended Elliott one race for wrecking Denny Hamlin during last week’s Coca-Cola 600. This gives LaJoie the chance to drive in the best equipment of his career.

MORE: Corey LaJoie not giving up on his dream 

MORE: Details for Sunday’s Cup race

Working with Elliott’s team also has given LaJoie an inside look as to what makes Hendrick Motorsports so successful.

“I thought that I knew what we didn’t have at Spire Motorsports, but I had no idea,” said LaJoie, who starts 30th after tagging the wall during his qualifying lap. “There’s tools that those guys have, intellectual properties specific to Hendrick Motorsports, that even some of the other teams don’t have.

“But the biggest thing that I noticed was just the people and the attitude of the pursuit of perfection. All the key partner teams across all the (manufacturers) all have the same data, but (Hendrick Motorsports has) an unbelievable way of delegating, taking, compacting and making it just digestible – whether it’s for a driver, an engineer, a crew chief.

“I think the fact that they have four incredibly strong teams individually raises the tide for those guys because when you’re sitting in the simulator and William Byron ran a 33.20 (seconds for a lap) … if you’re running a 33.35 with the same setup, you know you have a tenth-and-a-half under your butt and you have to go find it. And then when I go run a 33.20, William next time is going to want to run a 33.19.

“There’s always a consistently raised watermark on the driver’s end. There’s always a consistently raised watermark on the crew chiefs in trying to build the best setups, and the engineers trying to find the best strategies.

“The inner-team competition is one of the biggest things, and I think there are several teams that have that … the healthy ones are certainly evident. But it’s just the overall structure. We have a Hawkeye (camera-based inspection stations used by NASCAR at the track) … all the things that do the same stuff that Hendrick Motorsports has, but the depth of people, collective focus of the goal and the mission is noticeable and evident. It’s a different world.”

It would be easy for LaJoie to be overwhelmed in this situation. His career has been marked with underfunded rides and trying to make the most of his equipment. He’s having his best season in Cup this year. LaJoie ranks 19th in points heading into today’s race.

LaJoie acknowledges the opportunity he has, but he also can’t let it alter his focus.

“It’s been a wild week,” he said. “I can get all sentimental … (about) my dad subbing in for Ricky Craven in 1998 (for Hendrick Motorsports) and all that sort of stuff. But at the end of the day, when I sit in that thing, I don’t know that NAPA is on it, or the No. 9 is on it.

“I’m going to drive it like I have been driving the No. 7 Chevy and putting that thing 19th in points. It’s been a super fun, successful year so far, and we have a lot of work left to do and things to accomplish over there.”

When he returns to his Spire Motorsports ride after today’s race, LaJoie admits this weekend’s experience with Elliott’s team will help him with his own team.

“How I prepare, how I’m going to engage with my team at Spire Motorsports going forward is going to change,” LaJoie said. “I think I’m going to be able to come in there and just apply and share some of the things I’ve learned over the course of the week with (crew chief Ryan) Sparks and the No. 77 team, as well, and I think we’re all going to be stronger for it.”