Friday 5: Brad Keselowski building a ‘culture of high expectations’ at RFK Racing

0 Comments

Brad Keselowski doesn’t shy from using the world fail as he discusses the culture he seeks to create as owner/driver of the rebranded Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing team.

There’s a purpose in using the word fail. Just as there is purpose in all that Keselowski does, even if it doesn’t seem apparent at first.

Ultimately, Keselowski’s goal is to do something that hasn’t been achieved in NASCAR in more than a decade: Turn a struggling organization into a winner.

While RFK Racing’s history features tales of success, it is winless in its last 163 Cup races — dating to July 2017. The organization last had a team finish in the top 10 in points in 2014.

“I’m not coming into the building trying to fire everybody,” Keselowski said. “That said, we are going to demand a higher level of performance.”

And a culture that matches.

“A culture of high expectations,” Keselowski calls it. “A culture that is not afraid to fail forward. Those are things that are really important to me. We’ve had some big discussions on it. A culture of accountability is super critical to me.

“Fail forward means not being afraid to fail but learning from it and getting better. I told the team in one my speeches, ‘I’m not afraid of failing. I’m afraid of not trying.’

“That doesn’t mean you can be reckless and fail in everything you do. It does give you permission to try things and learn from it. I think that’s really important for us.”

NASCAR Cup Series Test
Brad Keselowski during this week’s Next Gen test at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Keselowski, who once owned a Truck Series team, says running his company, Keselowski Advanced Manufacturing, has helped shape his ideas of running an operation.

“It served as a petri dish for me to basically try new things,” he said. “I could learn from some tough mistakes … and become, overall, a more rounded person. With that came also some understanding of some other technologies that I really was not in a good place with before.”

Keselowski talks often about understanding new technologies and how the inability to do so could have a played a factor in the failure of others to excel in the sport.

It’s not just that area that Keselowski is examining. He talks about the process of turning RFK Racing into a consistent winner. Few things have been overlooked by Keselowski.

“We are investing pretty heavily in upfitting and upgrading our facilities within the current footprint,” said Steve Newmark, president of RFK Racing. “A lot of that may seem trite and cosmetic with paint and new floors and all that, and others more structured like where we’re going to put the human performance center.

“But these are things that Brad came in and said ‘I know you guys have been doing this for a while, but I don’t think this is the optimal way to do this.’ … He’s struck that right balance between coming in and trying to listen and understand how or why we do things, but, at the same time, saying ‘Hey I feel passionate that we can do better in this area if we change this.’ That’s the spark.”

Kevin Kidd, technical director at RFK Racing, said that “there are no sacred cows in the building as far as what our process is and what it should be.”

Ford 400
Tony Stewart is the last driver/owner to win a Cup title, claiming the 2011 crown. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

What Keselowski is trying to do was last done by Tony Stewart. He joined Haas-CNC Racing to form Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009.

Haas-CNC Racing was winless in 284 Cup starts before Stewart arrived. He won four times in 2009 and the championship in 2011.

So, there’s a possible roadmap, but that doesn’t mean the same path can be taken, or the same results can occur in the same manner.

Other organizations that once were pillars of the sport, including what was known as Roush Fenway Racing, have fallen from the top tier. Roush’s two wins since 2014 equals Front Row Motorsports’ victory total in the same span.

It’s quite a change for Roush, which was was among the dominant teams from 2002-08, winning two championships and an average of nine races a season.

The organization’s steady decline saw Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards leave for Joe Gibbs Racing. Roush could not continue their success after they left.

Rising to the sport’s elites will be challenging. Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports and Team Penske combined to take 80% of the top-10 positions in points the past three seasons.

Stewart-Haas Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing were the only other organizations to have drivers finish in the top 10 in points during those years.

So, how can a team that was among the sport’s pillars return after such a long time away from the top pedestal?

Steve Newmark, team president, says the Next Gen car will help balance the power in the sport since teams no longer build their own cars. All teams are learning the fundamentals — and nuances — of the car and what it will take to make it faster.

“Now, the best teams are going to be the best teams … but we think that Next Gen presents a fairly unique opportunity in the history of this sport to rise back on top,” he said.

Newmark also preaches patience in this journey.

“It’s not going to happen with a snap of a finger,” he said of becoming one the elite organizations again. “You have to have realistic expectations that it’s going to be gradual.”

NASCAR Cup Series Test
The team logos on the rear quarter panel and bumper of Brad Keselowski’s car. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Newmark also notes the organization expects to show improvement in 2022.

“If you talk to Brad, he’s going to tell you he’s going to win races next year and compete for the championship,” Newmark said.

“From my perspective, we just need to be climbing that ladder and becoming more competitive on a day-by-day basis.”

That also means playoffs.

“Our expectations are both teams in the playoffs next year,” Newmark said. “(Keselowski’s goals) will be higher than that, which I want. I want him to be pushing.”

Keselowski is.

“I challenged the team to expand into areas that are outside of their comfort zone,” he said. “I prefaced it by saying that I’m way outside my comfort zone. … I left a team that had won or been playoff eligible for the last 10 years for one that hasn’t won a race in three or four years.

“I’m outside my comfort zone. I left Roger Penske, whose got this golden legacy, to come here. I left that comfort zone because I believe what we can do here. I still believe it. I’m more confident than ever that we can do it.

“That said, I think I’m asking the entire company, every employee to push their limits as well and to get outside of their comfort zone. That’s what is going to be required to turn this thing around.”

2. Closer ties

The Next Gen era already is dramatically different for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and JTG Daugherty Racing.

While the organization downsized from two cars to one after this year, Stenhouse says the team’s relationship with Chevrolet has grown. That’s allowed Stenhouse to go to the simulator, something he hadn’t done since 2019 when he was with Roush Fenway Racing and Ford.

Stenhouse was in the Chevy simulator after the Next Gen test on the Charlotte Roval and before this week’s test on the Charlotte oval. He’s scheduled to be back in the simulator today to add changes that worked in the test to the simulation program.

NASCAR Cup Series Test
As JTG Daugherty Racing’s only driver for 2022, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has been busy doing all the team’s Next Gen tests. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

“We’ll make sure those things keep correlating, so that we continue to make better adjustments and more calculated adjustments, especially if our practices are short practices,” Stenhouse said.

NASCAR is expected to have practice sessions at most Cup events in 2022, but many of those sessions will be brief.

“You’re not going to have a lot of time to make adjustments,” Stenhouse said of those practices. “It’s going to be really important to use the simulator correctly and make sure we unload the way we need to be.”

That will be key for a driver who showed significant progress in restarts and passing ability throughout the playoffs. More sim time could help him improve upon his 22nd-place finish in the points this past season.

Stenhouse admits that he wasn’t always keen to go to the simulator in the past.

“Back when I would do the sim, I didn’t feel a huge correlation from what we were doing there to the racetrack,” he said. “I was anxious to kind of see (now). We did a post-Roval test, and I felt like some of the things we did at the Roval correlated on the simulator.”

Another key for him this offseason is that he’ll do all the testing for JTG Daugherty Racing as its only driver. He said that is key in learning the new car at different tracks.

“I think (at Charlotte), the brake packages are so big now that we have with our race cars that any little touch of the brake really kills your speed,” he said. “We don’t have enough horsepower right now with the drag package. It takes two or three laps to get that speed back. I feel like that’s one thing that is noticeable here at Charlotte.

“But at the road course, we can stop so much better than we ever have. Your braking points aren’t even close. I don’t know if when we go to Phoenix (in December to test), is carrying momentum into the corner, lifting early and not using brake going to be beneficial, or is it going to be beneficial driving really far into the corner, using the brake package to slow it down a lot quicker?

“Just trying to find where that speed is going to be. It’s one reason why I feel it’s a benefit that we’re a one-car team, and I get to do every single test we do. I’ll be able to hit all these racetracks and have a lot of laps, two days, on each track.”

3. Offseason weight program

The Next Gen car is impacting the sport in ways drivers could not have imagined.

Take Ross Chastain, for instance.

He works with Josh Wise, a former driver who focuses on performance training with 15 Chevy drivers throughout Cup, Xfinity and the Camping World Truck Series.

Chastain, who weighs 150 pounds, says that Wise has set a goal for Chastain to gain 15 pounds in the offseason … because of the Next Gen car.

“We know these cars are hotter,” Chastain said. “We’re doing things to cool them down, but their plan for me is to put weight on to be ready to probably have to sweat it out in these races.”

Chastain noted the program is already underway.

“I’ve never taken protein powder and all this stuff,” he said. “I’m a water and beet juice guy. Watermelon juice.”

Chastain noted Thursday that he felt fine after a 35-lap run at the Next Gen test at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He cited the changes made to the car to allow more air to circulate inside it and reduce the extreme heat drivers have felt.

Another change for Chastain, who joins Trackhouse Racing, is that his beard his gone.

“Fresh start,” he said of the change.

4. Priorities

While much has been made about Kurt Busch joining 23XI Racing to be a mentor to Bubba Wallace, that overlooks a key role Busch has.

“I was hired as a driver,” he said. “My duties are to drive the 45 car with the best knowledge and smarts and swagger that I can, and to be consistent and find things that a veteran is supposed to find within a new car.

NASCAR Cup Series Test
Kurt Busch is encouraged by the energy level of his 23XI Racing team. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

“At the same time there are young engineers, young crew members that are eager to learn. All the knowledge that I have in certain areas I would love to transfer (to them).

“Then with Bubba, we know we want him to jump into the program with a mindset to win and to be there at another level next year. It’s already started to begin on that side of it.”

Busch admits it’s easier to count the number of people that he’s worked with before who are at 23XI Racing than count the ones he must learn.

“This new group, I can just feel the enthusiasm and the energy level,” he said.

One person Busch knows well is crew chief Billy Scott. They worked together in 2018 at Stewart-Haas Racing and won a race.

“I feel like our time at SHR was cut short a few years back,” Busch said. “So he was in my top three right away, and everybody at 23XI filtered through all the different candidates and we felt like Billy Scott would be the guy.”

5. Quick work

Justin Alexander, crew chief for Austin Dillon, detailed what the team did after Dillon wrecked early in Wednesday’s test session and had the car back on track that evening after going to Richard Childress Racing for repairs.

“The way this car is designed, with removable front and rear clips and body panels that bolt on and off, we were able to take the front clip off, pull the motor out. The motor was damaged, the front clip, obviously.

“Everything else was really intact. The rear bumper had a little bit of damage and the rear tail, so we had to replace the rear tail, the rear bumper, the left rear quarter panel and everything on the front — the hood, the fenders, the nose and then the front clip and engine.

“We had all of our guys back at the shop work on it and thrash on it for a few hours. … We did what this car was designed to do and that was to replace parts of the car that are damaged.”

Alexander said if this had happened during practice on a race weekend, he believes the team would have been able to have done all that work in the garage and have the car ready for the race the next day.

“Going though it (Wednesday), it certainly allowed us to see exactly what we needed, what we didn’t have, tools we didn’t have, things we could do differently. That way, when it does come time to do it at the racetrack in the future, we’ll certainly be more prepared for it. We’ll go back and study those things.”

 and on Facebook

 

Appeal panel gives William Byron his 25 points back

0 Comments

William Byron is back in a transfer spot after the National Motorsports Appeals Panel rescinded his 25-point penalty Thursday for spinning Denny Hamlin at Texas.

By getting those 25 points back, Byron enters Sunday’s elimination playoff race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC) 14 points above the cutline.

Daniel Suarez is now in the final transfer spot to the Round of 8. He is 12 points ahead of Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric. Christopher Bell is 45 points behind Suarez. Alex Bowman will not race this week as he continues to recover from concussion symptoms and has been eliminated from Cup title contention.

NASCAR did not penalize Byron after his incident with Hamlin because series officials did not see the contact. Two days later, NASCAR penalized Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000 for intentionally wrecking Hamlin.

The National Motorsports Appeals Panel stated that Byron violated the rule but amended the penalty to no loss of driver and owner points while increasing the fine to $100,000.

The panel did not give a reason for its decision. NASCAR cannot appeal the panel’s decision.

The panel consisted of Hunter Nickell, a former TV executive, Dale Pinilis, track operator of Bowman Gray Stadium and Kevin Whitaker, owner of Greenville-Pickens Speedway.

Here is the updated standings heading into Sunday’s race at the Roval:

Byron’s actions took place after the caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash. As Hamlin slowed, Byron closed and hit him in the rear. 

Byron admitted after the race that 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.

“I felt like he ran me out of race track off of (Turn) 2 and had really hard contact with the wall,” Byron said. “Felt like the toe link was definitely bent, luckily not fully broken. We were able to continue.

“A lot of times that kind of damage is going to ruin your race, especially that hard. I totally understand running somebody close and making a little bit of contact, but that was pretty massive.”

On the retaliatory hit, Byron said: “I didn’t mean to spin him out. That definitely wasn’t what I intended to do. I meant to bump him a little bit and show my displeasure and unfortunately, it happened the way it did. Obviously, when he was spinning out, I was like ‘I didn’t mean to do this,’ but I was definitely frustrated.”

Drivers for Drive for Diversity combine revealed

0 Comments

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

0 Comments

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

0 Comments

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)