Memorable moments from the 2021 NASCAR season

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Wednesday on Peacock, the NASCAR America Motormouths crew shared their favorite moments from the 2021 NASCAR season. You can check out what they had to say, plus interviews with Cup Series champion Kyle Larson and Xfinity Series champion Daniel Hemric, in the video above.

As we enter the offseason, we want to join in with our own list of moments – including breakthrough victories, short track tempers, and a 11.8-second pit stop that will go down in history.

Perseverance pays off for Michael McDowell

A nearly six-hour rain delay pushed the finish of the Daytona 500 past midnight the following morning. But those that stayed up saw a wild ending.

Michael McDowell was running third behind Team Penske’s Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski down the backstretch on the final lap. As McDowell drafted behind them, Keselowski moved inside on Logano entering Turn 3.

Contact was made between the teammates, setting off a fiery, multi-car wreck that McDowell narrowly escaped. Moments later, the caution came out to freeze the field, with McDowell leading ahead of Chase Elliott.

With that, McDowell had finally earned his first career win in his 358th Cup Series start.

Good to the last drop

Fuel mileage finishes are always intense. As the final laps tick away, contenders fall by the wayside, one by one, until the driver and team that’s hit the strategy correctly emerges.

Such was the case in the second race of a June Cup weekend doubleheader at Pocono Raceway.

With nine laps to go, Brad Keselowski had to pit for a splash of fuel. The lead now belonged to William Byron, but with two laps to go, he had to pit as well for fuel. That left Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch in first and second – until Hamlin blinked and pitted while Busch began the white-flag lap.

Busch made it around one more time to win the race – a result that seemed improbable earlier, when his No. 18 car suffered from transmission issues. At one point, Busch’s car chief entered the Toyota to try and pry loose a stuck shifter.

But while those issues made getting out of pit road tough, they also made Busch pit a lap later than others who ran out of fuel ahead of him. In the end, it all worked out.

Say it with us – “It’s Bristol, baby”

In March, Bristol Motor Speedway hosted the first Cup race on dirt since 1970. But NASCAR’s return to “The Last Great Colosseum” in September – minus the dirt – produced some true highlight-reel moments.

The Xfinity Series’ regular season finale ended with AJ Allmendinger, Austin Cindric and Justin Allgaier in contention for the win on the final lap. Coming out of the last turn, Cindric got into Allmendinger and they both slid across the finish line, with Allmendinger winning the race and the regular season title.

One night later in the Cup race, Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick were racing for the lead late when contact between them cut down Elliott’s left front tire. After returning to the track several laps down, Elliott ran Harvick hard and then stayed in front of Harvick, which enabled Kyle Larson to catch Harvick and pass him for the win with four laps to go.

After the race, Larson celebrated while Elliott and Harvick confronted each other on pit road. Their feud was revived later in the playoffs at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval with two more incidents – and Elliott moving on in the post-season.

Bubba Wallace scores historic win at Talladega

With rain threatening at Talladega Superspeedway in October, Bubba Wallace surged into the lead. But the most important move he made was the one he didn’t.

Three laps later, he stayed low down the backstretch to keep Brad Keselowski behind him instead of attempting to block Joey Logano. Ryan Preece was spun out of the pack and a wreck ensued to bring out a caution with Wallace still in front.

Then came the rain. And the waiting. And ultimately, the joy, as Wallace was declared race winner after 117 laps of a scheduled 188.

For the first time in 58 years, a Black driver had won in NASCAR’s premier division.

“This is for all those kids out there who want to have an opportunity, in whatever they want to achieve, to be the best in what they want to do,” Wallace told NBC Sports afterwards.

“You’re gonna go through a lot of bullshit. But you’ve always got to stay true to your path and not let the nonsense get to you and stay strong. Stay humble. Stay hungry.

“There have been plenty of times where I’ve wanted to give up, but you surround yourself with the right people and it’s moments like this that you appreciate.”

The pit stop of a lifetime

Kyle Larson put it clearly after winning last Sunday’s Cup season finale at Phoenix Raceway to claim his first series title: Without his final pit stop, he and the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team would not be champions.

For much of Sunday, Larson’s car was down on performance and needed continuous adjustments. But he had two elements in his favor: A strong pit crew and the No. 1 stall on pit road, earned by winning pole position.

It all came together after a caution for debris with 30 laps to go. Larson entered pit road fourth, worst among the Championship 4 drivers. He came out first after his pit crew changed four tires in 11.8 seconds, their second-fastest stop of the year.

That was all Larson needed. He led the final, 24-lap sprint to the finish to cap off his historic season.

NASCAR Power Rankings: Denny Hamlin returns to first place

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Four races into the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs and drivers who are eligible to win the championship remain 0-for-4 in pursuit of race wins.

Tyler Reddick became winner No. 4 on that list Sunday night at Texas Motor Speedway.

And now we go to Talladega Superspeedway, where there is potential for drivers from the far back end of the field to emerge victorious, given the impact of drafting and, more significantly, wrecking.

Sunday’s tire-exploding, wall-banging, car-wrestling craziness at Texas Motor Speedway jumbled the playoff standings again, and the same is true for the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings, which see a new leader in Denny Hamlin.

MORE: Winners and losers at Texas

Hamlin could be a busy guy the rest of the season. His potential retaliation list grew Sunday with the addition of William Byron after they had a major disagreement.

Here’s how the rankings look in the middle of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Denny Hamlin (No. 3 last week) — Despite everything — the tires, the wrecks, the hassle, the weather and a brouhaha with William Byron, Hamlin finished 10th Sunday and is sixth in the playoff standings entering Talladega. He has the best average finish — 5.75 — in the playoff races. Unless his “list” gets in the way, Hamlin might be ready to seriously challenge for his first championship.

2. Kyle Larson (No. 4 last week) — Larson led 19 laps at Texas and probably should have led more with one of the race’s best cars. Now fourth in points, he figures to be a factor over the final two weeks of the round.

3. Chase Elliott (No. 2 last week) — Elliott was not a happy camper after smashing the wall because of a tire issue and riding a flaming car to a halt. He finished 32nd.

4. Joey Logano (No. 6 last week) — Logano was chasing down winner Tyler Reddick in the closing laps at Texas. He jumps to first in the playoff standings and gains two spots in NBC’s rankings.

5. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron might be No. 1 on Denny Hamlin’s list; here he slides in at No. 5.

6. Christopher Bell (No. 1 last week) — Bell had a rotten Sunday in Texas, crashing not once but twice with tire issues and finishing 34th, causing a precipitous drop on the rankings list.

7. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain’s team played the tires and the cautions right and probably deserved better than a 13th-place finish Sunday.

8. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Mr. Winless (except in All-Star dress) rolls on. A fourth-place run (and 29 laps led) Sunday keeps him relevant.

9. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe’s Texas run started poorly but ended nicely with a fifth-place run.

10. Tyler Reddick (unranked last week) — Reddick Sunday became the only driver not named Chase Elliott with more than two race wins this year. Now totaling three victories, he got his first oval win at Texas.

Dropped out: Alex Bowman (No. 10 last week).

Long: NASCAR needs to quickly correct officiating issue from Texas

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NASCAR’s admission that it did not see William Byron spin Denny Hamlin under caution during Sunday’s Cup playoff race is troubling.

With video evidence of impropriety and Hamlin’s team vigorously arguing for relief, there were enough reasons for series officials to take a closer look at putting Hamlin back to second before the race returned to green-flag conditions. Or some other remedy even after the race resumed. 

Add the lack of access series officials had to Byron’s in-car camera— something fans could readily see at NASCAR.com and the NASCAR Mobile App — and changes need to be made before this weekend’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

While NASCAR should make every effort to judge matters between drivers regardless of their playoff status, that it was two playoff drivers involved in an incident demanded greater attention. With three races per round, one misstep can mean the difference between advancing or being eliminated. 

Just as more is expected from drivers and teams in the playoffs, the same should be expected of officials.

“If we had seen that (contact) good enough to react to it in real time, which we should have, like no excuse there, there would probably have been two courses of action,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition Sunday night. “One would have been to put Hamlin back where he was, or the other would be to have made William start in the back.”

Here is how the incident played out:

The caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash at 8:19 p.m. ET.

As Hamlin slowed, Byron closed and hit him in the rear. 

Byron admitted after the race the contact was intentional, although he didn’t mean to wreck Hamlin. Byron was upset with how Hamlin raced him on Lap 262. Byron felt Hamlin forced him into the wall as they exited Turn 2 side-by-side. Byron expressed his displeasure during the caution.

About 90 seconds after the caution lights illuminated, the USA broadcast showed a replay from a low angle of Byron directly behind Hamlin’s car and apparent contact. 

Contact can happen in multiple ways. It can come from the lead car hitting the brakes and forcing the car behind to hit them, or it can come from the trailing car ramming into the car ahead. The first video replay did not make it clear what caused the contact, making it difficult for any official to rule one way or the other based solely on that.

This also is a time when NASCAR officials were monitoring safety vehicles on track, checking the lineup and making sure pit road was ready to be open. It’s something NASCAR does effortlessly much of the time. Just not this time. 

A different replay aired on USA 11 minutes, 16 seconds after the caution that showed Byron and Hamlin’s car together. That replay aired about a minute before the green flag waved at 8:31 p.m. ET. Throughout the caution, Hamlin’s crew chief, Chris Gabehart argued that Hamlin should have restarted second.

But once the race resumed, the matter was over for NASCAR. Or so it seemed.

Three minutes after the green flag waved, the NASCAR Twitter account posted in-car video that showed Byron running into the back of Hamlin’s car while the caution was out. Such action is typically a penalty — often parking a driver for the rest of the race. Instead, Byron was allowed to continue and nothing was done during the rest of the event. 

After the race, Miller told reporters that series officials didn’t see the contact from Byron. 

“The cameras and the monitors that we’ve got, we dedicate them mostly to officiating and seeing our safety vehicles and how to dispatch them,” Miller said. “By the time we put all those cameras up (on the monitor in the control tower), we don’t have room for all of the in-car cameras to be monitored.

“If we would have had immediate access to (Byron)’s in-car camera, that would have helped us a lot, being able to find that quickly. That’s definitely one of the things we’re looking at.”

But it didn’t happen that way.

”By the time we got a replay that showed the incident well enough to do anything to it, we had gone back to green,” Miller said.

NASCAR didn’t act. By that time maybe it was too late to do so. But that’s also an issue. Shouldn’t the infraction be addressed immediately if it is clear what happened instead of days later? Shouldn’t officials have been provided with access to the in-car cameras so they could have seen Byron’s actions earlier and meted the proper punishment? Instead, Miller hinted at a possible penalty to Byron this week.

Miller didn’t reveal details but it wouldn’t be surprising to drop Byron in the field, costing him points. He’s 24 points from the cutline, so a penalty that drops him from seventh to 30th (the position ahead of Truex) could be logical and that would cost Byron 23 points, putting him near the cutline. 

Texas winner Tyler Reddick said something should have been done. He knows. He was parked in a 2014 Truck race at Pocono for wrecking German Quiroga in retaliation for an earlier incident.

“In William’s situation, whether he ran him over on accident or on purpose, there should be some sort of penalty for him on that side because he’s completely screwed someone’s race up, whether it was on purpose or not,” Reddick said. “I feel like there should be something done there.

“I’m sure (NASCAR will) make some sort of a decision. I’m sure there will be something they’ll address this week, updates, on NASCAR’s side. I’ll be curious to see what that is. We can’t really have this where you dump someone under caution, they go to the back and you don’t. That could potentially be an interesting situation in the future.”

Texas shuffles NASCAR Cup playoff standings

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Texas marked the fourth consecutive playoff race that the winner didn’t advance to the next round.

All three races in the first round were won by drivers not in the playoffs. Tyler Reddick won Sunday at Texas, a week after he failed to advance from the Round of 16 and was eliminated from title contention.

Texas did shake up the playoff standings. Chase Elliott entered as the points leader but a blown tire while leading sent his car into the wall, ending his race. He falls to the No. 8 spot, the final transfer position with two races left in this round. He’s tied with Daniel Suarez, but Suarez has the tiebreaker with a better finish this round.

Chase Briscoe, who scored only his second top 10 in the last 22 races, is the first driver outside a transfer spot. He’s four points behind Elliott and Suarez. Austin Cindric is 11 points out of the transfer spot. Christopher Bell is 29 points out of a transfer position. Alex Bowman is 30 points from the transfer line.

The series races Sunday at Talladega (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

 

XFINITY SERIES

Noah Gragson’s win at Texas moved him on to the next round. The win was his fourth in a row.

Ryan Sieg and Sam Mayer are tied for the final two transfer spots to the next round. Riley Herbst is one point behind them. Daniel Hemric is eight points from the final transfer spot. Brandon Jones is 13 points from the last transfer spot. Jeremy Clements is 29 points shy of the final transfer position.

The series races Saturday at Talladega (4 p.m. ET on USA Network).

 

 

CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

The series was off this past weekend but returns to the track Saturday at Talladega. Ty Majeski has advanced to the championship race at Phoenix with his Bristol win.

 

Winners and losers at Texas Motor Speedway

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A look at the winners and losers from Sunday’s marathon race at Texas Motor Speedway:

WINNERS

Tyler Reddick – Reddick isn’t acting like a lame duck. Headed for 23XI Racing in 2024 (if not sooner), Reddick now owns three wins with Richard Childress Racing, the team he’ll be leaving.

Justin Haley – Haley, who has shown flashes of excellence this season for Kaulig Racing, matched his season-high with a third-place run.

Chase Briscoe — Briscoe wrestled with major problems in the early part of the race but rebounded to finish fifth. It’s his second top-10 finish in the last 22 races.

LOSERS

NASCAR Officials – Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, admitted that series officials missed William Byron spinning Denny Hamlin under caution after Martin Truex Jr.‘s crash. Such a situation could have major playoff implications, although Miller hinted that series officials may still act this week.

Christopher Bell – Bell met the wall twice after blown tires and finished a sour 34th, damaging his playoff run in a race that he said was critical in the playoffs.

Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. – Harvick (finished 19th) and Truex (31st) were late-race victims of the day’s tire dilemma. Both crashed while leading.

Track workers  Somebody had to clean up all that tire debris.

Chase Elliott – Elliott remains a power in the playoffs, but he left Sunday’s race in a fiery exit after a blown tire while leading and finished 32nd. He holds the final transfer spot to the next round heading into Talladega.