Extended cut: Memorable moments of 2021 NASCAR season

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A few days after Kyle Larson captured the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series championship, we listed five of the most memorable moments from the season.

But as we get ready to celebrate Christmas and the New Year, we can’t help but add a few more.

This “extended cut” of memorable moments adds – among other things – a major milestone for Hendrick Motorsports; the upset victory of the season; and road course chaos at the Racing Capitol of the World. Oh, and some dirt.

Let’s start, once again, from the beginning.

Perseverance (finally) pays off

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.

Back in the spotlight

Kyle Larson spent much of the 2020 season indefinitely suspended by NASCAR after his use of a racial slur during an e-sports event in April 2020.

While continuing his dirt-track career, Larson spent time working to make amends for his ignorance and to mature personally. He also received a second chance in NASCAR when Hendrick Motorsports made him driver of its revived No. 5 car.

It didn’t take long for Larson to reward Rick Hendrick’s faith in him. Just four races into his tenure at HMS, Larson claimed his first win for the team at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March.

It took a little bit longer for Larson to round into championship-caliber form. But the Vegas victory was a critical moment in his return to NASCAR.

Get dirty

March also saw the Cup Series race on dirt for the first time since 1970. Over 2,000 truckloads of dirt was used to transform Bristol Motor Speedway’s high-banked, concrete half-mile into a dirt track.

It was not an entirely smooth outing.

Various competition changes were made early in the weekend. Then torrential rains and flooding postponed the race one day to Monday. During the race, dust from the track forced NASCAR to drop double-file restarts in favor of single-file restarts.

But the spectacle of Cup cars on dirt still yielded some compelling racing – including an overtime finish that saw Joey Logano win out after Denny Hamlin‘s attempt to pass Logano high on the restart backfired.

Top of the mountain

In May, Kyle Larson’s run to the championship truly began. He opened the month with three consecutive runner-up finishes at Darlington, Dover, and Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Then on Memorial Day weekend, he finally returned to Victory Lane with a dominant win in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

That gave Hendrick Motorsports its 269th career Cup win, pushing them past Petty Enterprises to become the winningest team in series history.

Good to the last drop

The second race of Pocono’s June Cup doubleheader became a classic fuel mileage derby.

Brad Keselowski was forced to pit from the lead with nine laps to go for fuel. That gave the lead to William Byron, who tried but couldn’t stretch his fuel and pitted with two laps to go.

With Byron out of contention, Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch were now first and second. But then 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 getting out of pit road was tough, those issues also made Busch pit a lap later than others who ran out of fuel ahead of him. In the end, it all worked out.

Beers, brats, burnouts

Big crowds greeted the Cup Series on Fourth of July weekend at Road America, the first time that the series had raced on the Wisconsin road course in nearly 65 years.

They saw what’s been a familiar sight in recent years on the twisty tracks: Chase Elliott victorious.

An ill-fated qualifying session left the reigning Cup champion 34th on the grid for the race. But Elliott still managed to work his way to the front and claim his second win of 2021.

The rowdy fans left an impression on Elliott, who was goaded into a second victory burnout at Turn 5 following his post-race interview with NBC Sports. Elliott subsequently blew out his rear tires and needed a push back to the front stretch.

Bro-tastic battle

With the “help” of teammate Ross Chastain, Kurt Busch bested his brother, Kyle Busch, to win in July at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Leading the race with 25 laps to go, Kyle Busch closed on Chastain to put him one lap down. But Chastain slowed Kyle Busch down, enabling Kurt Busch to catch and pass him for the lead.

An attempt by Kyle Busch to take the lead back with seven laps to go was not successful, and Kurt Busch pulled away to a win that clinched him a playoff spot.

In their respective post-race comments, Kurt Busch praised Chastain, while Kyle Busch was less complimentary. As for Chastain himself?

“I’m racing to stay on the lead lap, and I’m very aware of what’s going on, on the track around me,” Chastain said. “Kurt asked for the bottom and I gave it to him.”

Loudon surprise

Entering the final race before the Olympic break at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Aric Almirola was winless and 27th in points. He left the “Magic Mile” with a seat at the playoff table.

Almirola held off Christopher Bell to win a race that ended eight laps short of scheduled distance due to oncoming darkness. The victory snapped a 98-race winless streak for the Stewart-Haas Racing driver.

Six laps into the race, rain hit the track and set off a multi-car crash. The extended stoppage brought darkness into play, and NASCAR announced after the end of Stage 2 that the race would continue “until conditions dictate otherwise.” If the race had to be shortened, officials would announce 10 laps to go to the checkered flag with no overtime period.

That announcement came at Lap 283 with Almirola leading Bell. Almirola then had to maneuver through lapped traffic in order to keep ahead in the final 10-lap run.

Wild times at the Brickyard

The inaugural race for the NASCAR Cup Series on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course looked poised for a straightforward finish.

But with nine laps to go in the 82-lap scheduled distance, a debris caution wiped out Kyle Larson‘s lead of over four seconds on Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott.

And with that, things got wild.

Two major crashes in the same spot on the 14-turn circuit pushed the race into double overtime. On the second OT attempt, Chase Briscoe went off course in Turn 1 while racing for the lead with Denny Hamlin, was given a stop-and-go penalty for said infraction, and then turned Hamlin around in Turn 10.

Taking advantage of the madness? A.J. Allmendinger, the full-time Xfinity Series regular for Kaulig Racing who took the lead coming to the white flag and went on to claim his second career Cup victory.

Say it with us – “It’s Bristol, baby”

NASCAR’s return to Bristol Motor Speedway 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 makes history

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.”

Temper, temper

Moments after taking the checkered flag in November at Martinsville Speedway, Alex Bowman had a visitor join him on the front stretch.

Denny Hamlin, whom Bowman bumped out of the lead with eight laps to go before winning in overtime, drove toward Bowman’s car. Bowman spun out of Hamlin’s way and his car briefly locked front bumpers with Hamlin’s before Hamlin backed up and drove off.

Hamlin was still able to clinch a spot in the Championship 4 (so did Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr., all of whom joined Kyle Larson). But that didn’t stop Hamlin from lighting into Bowman, calling him a “hack” that “gets his ass kicked by his teammates every week.”

Bowman said his contact with Hamlin wasn’t intentional, but also noted Hamlin’s own history at Martinsville: “He’s been on the other side of that. He’s crashed guys here for wins. I hate doing it. Obviously, I don’t want to crash somebody and I just got loose underneath and spun him out.”

The pit stop of a lifetime

Kyle Larson put it clearly after winning the 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 the race, 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.

Saturday Charlotte Roval Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather

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The final race of the opening round of the Xfinity playoffs takes drivers to the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval on Saturday (3 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock).

AJ Allmendinger and Noah Gragson have each secured spots in the next round, leaving six spots among 10 drivers.

Ryan Sieg holds the final transfer spot. Reigning series champion Daniel Hemric trails Sieg by six points. Riley Herbst and Brandon Jones are each 10 points behind Sieg. Jeremy Clements is 47 points behind Sieg.

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at the Charlotte Roval

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 3:26 p.m. … Green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:38 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 8:30 a.m. … Practice begins at 10 a.m. … Qualifying begins at 10:30 a.m. … Driver introductions are at 2:50 p.m. … The invocation will be given Richard Boswell, crew chief for Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 98 car, at 3:18 p.m. … Temecula Road will perform the anthem at 3:19 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 67 laps (155.44 miles) on the 2.32-mile course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 20. Stage 2 ends at Lap 40.

TV/RADIO: NBC and Peacock will broadcast the race at 3 p.m. . … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. and also will stream at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

STREAMING: NBCsports.com

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Sunny with a high of 67 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST YEAR: AJ Allmendinger led the final 21 laps to win last year’s race. Austin Cindric was second. Daniel Hemric placed third.

NASCAR teams say ‘broken’ economic model needs to be fixed

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Cup team executives say they need additional revenue streams to fix a “broken” business model and said NASCAR recently rejected their seven-point proposal that would have addressed those concerns.

“We’re very far apart,” Jeff Gordon, vice chairman of Hendrick Motorsports, said of the teams and NASCAR.

Gordon is one of four members of the negotiating committee for teams. They spoke with select media members for more than 90 minutes Friday to share their concerns. Gordon was joined by Curtis Polk, an investor in 23XI Racing and Michael Jordan’s longtime business manager, Joe Gibbs Racing President Dave Alpern and RFK Racing President Steve Newmark.

“The economic model is really broken for teams,” Polk said.

Polk declined to say what the proposal to NASCAR included, but he said that all Cup organizations need help.

“The sustainability of the teams in this sport is not very long-term unless we have a fundamental change in the (business) model,” he said. 

Gordon stated that Hendrick Motorsports, which has won the past two Cup championships, will not make a profit this season. He also said that it had been “awhile” since the organization had done so.  

“Where we’re currently at is not sustainable,” Gordon said. 

Newmark said the feedback from the majority of the 16 teams that own the 36 charters in Cup is that “they continue to lose money in this economic model.”

NASCAR issued a statement Friday afternoon in response to the concerns stated by the team executives: “NASCAR acknowledges the challenges currently facing race teams. A key focus moving forward is an extension to the Charter agreement, one that will further increase revenue and help lower team expenses. Collectively, the goal is a strong, healthy sport, and we will accomplish that together.”

Unlike other sports leagues, which receive numerous revenue streams from leagues, NASCAR is built differently.

The sport is owned by the family of founder Bill France Sr. The France family also owns a majority of the tracks. Speedway Motorsports also owns a collection of tracks, while a few are independent. 

Polk said that the group’s calculations showed that 93% of the sport’s value resides with NASCAR and the tracks. The remaining 7% is with teams.

“There’s not a sport that I know of where the inequity is so severe,” Polk said. 

He also said that the sport is a “money-printing machine, but the teams put on the show. The teams are the content. The drivers, the team owners and the cars are what fans turn on for every week and what the media companies pay the big money.”

NASCAR, tracks and teams share TV revenue — a 10-year deal estimated at $8.2 billion that will end after the 2024 season. 

For each race, 65% of the TV money goes to the tracks, 25% goes to teams and 10% goes to NASCAR.

After Dover Motorsports was sold to Speedway Motorsports in 2021, it provided financial projections for 2021-2024 for Dover Motor Speedway and Nashville Superspeedway.

The estimated revenue from broadcasting rights for one race at Dover and one at Nashville in 2021 was $37 million. That’s after NASCAR takes its 10%. With NASCAR’s cut included, that is $40.7 million total.

Dover Motorsports financial report filed in December 2021 showing estimated totals for 2021 and projected totals for 2022-24 for Dover Motor Speedway and Nashville Superspeedway.

The approximate breakdown of that $40.7 million would be $26.45 million to the tracks, $10.55 million to teams and $3.7 million to NASCAR based on the model of 65% to tracks, 25% to teams and 10% to NASCAR for those two events (one at Dover and one at Nashville). 

None of the negotiating committee members cited a specific percent of the TV money wanted but talked of a better revenue stream model.

With teams getting a smaller percentage of the TV money, they have to rely on sponsorship to cover costs.

Newmark said that sponsorship makes up about 60-80% of a team’s overall revenue. He noted how that is out of line with other sports. 

The Fenway Sports Group, which is a co-owner of RFK Racing, also owns the Boston Red Sox in Major League Baseball, the Pittsburgh Penguins in the National Hockey League and Liverpool Football Club in the English Premier League.

Newmark noted that in Major League Baseball, 8-12% of a team’s overall revenue comes from sponsorship. In the NHL, that figure is 17-18% and for the Premier League it is closer to 26-27%.

All those totals are significantly lower than the NASCAR model. The impact of sponsorship on teams was evident this year with Joe Gibbs Racing losing Kyle Busch after this season.

Kyle Busch
With Mars, Inc., which owns M&M’s leaving after this season, Joe Gibbs Racing was unable to find a sponsor to keep Kyle Busch after this season. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Long-time sponsor Mars, Inc. announced last December that it would not return to the team or sport after this season. That began a search by JGR for a company that could invest an estimated $20 million into the No. 18 team and Busch. 

After a deal with another company fell through earlier this year, Gibbs was left without a sponsor and unable to sign Busch — the only active multi-time champion in the sport — to a new contract.

The end result is that Busch and JGR will part ways after this season in one of the biggest driver moves in years.

“There is no other pro sport where the signing of your top athlete is completely dependent on the decision of someone at a brand,” Alpern said. “Imagine if Aaron Rodgers of the (Green Bay) Packers had a contract held up because the stadium sponsor hadn’t made their decision on what they’re doing.

“That’s what we’re faced with as race teams. And, if I’m honest, we’ve almost become full-time fundraisers. We spend the majority of our time raising money, not to make money (but) to survive.”

23XI Racing came into the sport after financial problems for another team. Germain Racing was going to lose sponsor GEICO after the 2020 season. Unable to find a sponsor to take over, the team shut down, selling its charter to 23XI Racing. That provided the charter for Bubba Wallace in the team’s first season. 

Germain Racing
GEICO’s decision to leave Germain Racing led to the team shutting down and selling its charter to 23XI Racing. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

23XI Racing purchased a second charter in December 2021, paying $13.5 million for StarCom Racing’s charter, making it the most expensive charter purchased. 

Charters were created before the 2016 season to give teams value after seeing so many teams close shop and sell parts and pieces for significantly reduced prices. While talk in the garage is that charter prices are nearing $25 million with so few looking to sell, it is still a small value when compared to other sports leagues. The current charter deal expires after the 2024 season. 

While not a direct comparison, the value of a NASCAR team is well below other sports teams. In 2021, Forbes ranked all 32 NHL franchises in value. Ranking last was the Arizona Coyotes, which had a value of $400 million.

Polk sees where NASCAR team valuation is at and where it can be. He said the maxim is “all well-managed teams should be able to compete for a Cup championship and make a reasonable profit.”

As for “reasonable profit,” Polk said: “We’re not looking to make two, three, four times our money in a given year but if we can squeak out a little bit of a profit after paying all of our overhead, I think everybody will be happy.

“When you have a model like that, it will attract investors, like myself and Michael Jordan.”

The teams say they keep hearing from NASCAR to cut costs but suggest that they have done so. Additional cuts could impact what fans see on the track.

Polk said that with the proposal from teams rejected, they received a proposal from NASCAR “with a minimal increase in revenue.

“The emphasis was on cutting costs dramatically. With the Next Gen car, the costs of the car are somewhat fixed. So what would that lead to? It would lead to massive layoffs at our teams.”

Alpern raised an issue with the notion of additional cuts.

“When it comes to cost-cutting, one of the things that’s kind of surprising in our sport is that when any of the other stakeholders spend money on something, an upgrade, signing someone from another league, it’s viewed as an investment within the sport. 

“But when teams spend money, it’s we’re reckless and you need to cut. We’re investing in our business as well, whether it’s people, our facilities, we’re all trying to grow the sport and the answer to everything is not cut costs. I don’t know of another sports league or business, for that matter, who came to prosperity through cutting.”

Friday 5: NASCAR President says ‘We care’ about driver safety

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NASCAR President Steve Phelps says that he will tell drivers this weekend that “we care” about them and safety.

Phelps and other series officials are scheduled to meet with drivers Saturday morning to discuss safety measures with the Next Gen car.

Three drivers will miss Sunday’s Cup playoff race at the Charlotte Roval because of crash-related injuries. 

It is believed to be the first time in more than 20 years that three full-time Cup drivers will sit out the same race because of injuries suffered in on-track accidents.

Kurt Busch will miss his 12th consecutive race Sunday. Concussion-like symptoms have sidelined him since a July 23 crash in qualifying at Pocono Raceway. He said recently that he is “hopeful” of returning but didn’t have a timeline. Five races remain in the season.

Alex Bowman will miss his second consecutive race because of continued concussion symptoms after his Sept. 25 crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

Cody Ware is sitting out Sunday’s race while he recovers from an impaction fracture to his right ankle suffered in a Sept. 25 crash at Texas. Ware stated this week on social media that given the “extensive footwork required for a road course event, I don’t feel I’m able to give 100% effort to my team, my sponsors or to Ford.” He plans to be back in the the car the following week at Las Vegas.

Drivers says that the impacts they are feeling this year are harder with the Next Gen car. Busch and Bowman were injured in rear-end impacts.

The car was strengthened to help protect drivers in severe crashes, such as Ryan Newman’s 2020 Daytona 500 crash and Joey Logano’s 2021 Talladega accident. In making the car safer for those types of crashes, it’s made the impacts feel harder in more common crashes. 

Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin have been the most outspoken among drivers about NASCAR’s safety efforts. 

Hamlin questioned NASCAR’s leadership and called for the car to be redesigned last weekend at Talladega. Phelps met with Hamlin a day later.

“Denny and I have a good relationship,” Phelps told NBC Sports and The Associated Press on Wednesday. “We do. He says things that sometimes I disagree with. I’m sure there’s things I say that he disagrees with. 

“I probably would have gone with a different approach, understanding kind of what he knows what’s going on in the process. I’m certainly glad we had a discussion. I gave him my opinion. He gave me his. I thought there was a healthy discussion.”

More drivers began raising concerns last week about safety concerns with the car, including Chase Elliott.

“We need to make sure that we are doing everything we can to make our drivers feel safe in the vehicles and have them understand that we certainly care about their safety because we do,” Phelps said. 

“We’re working on things with our own people internally, our race teams, (manufacturers) and drivers to make sure that we have a plan in place moving forward so that — I don’t know that it’s gaining the trust — but doing better. 

“Our goal is to be the safest motorsports on the planet … that’s what we’re aspiring to do.”

NASCAR conducted a crash test of a rear clip and rear bumper structure at an Ohio facility this week. Series officials are also examining elements with the headrest foam and working with Wake Forest University to test mouthpiece sensors that track a driver’s head movements in a crash. 

Jeff Burton, director of the Drivers Advisory Council and an analyst for NBC Sports, says he’s had regular communication with NASCAR on behalf of the drivers.

“We feel like we have cooperation with NASCAR,” Burton said last week at Talladega in regards to safety issues. “We know the commitments from NASCAR. They’ve made real commitments to us. We want to see those commitments through. I believe that we will in regards to changes to the car.”

As for his message to drivers in Saturday’s meeting, Phelps said he would tell them: “We’re going to do our best to make sure that when you strap in that car, you feel safe.”

2. “Ridiculous statement”

NASCAR suspended crew chief Rodney Childers four races and penalized Kevin Harvick 100 points for modifications to a deck lid this week.

The penalties were discovered at NASCAR’s R&D Center. Series officials typically take a couple of cars back from most events to the R&D Center. More complete inspections can be done there than at the track.

NASCAR took the cars of Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. after last weekend’s race at Talladega. Truex’s car had no issues.

There are some who would suggest that NASCAR was getting back at Harvick for recent critical comments of NASCAR’s safety efforts. 

NASCAR President Steve Phelps’ response to that notion?

“I would say it’s ridiculous,” he said. “No one has a vendetta against Kevin Harvick or Rodney Childers at all. Or Stewart-Haas Racing. That’s a ridiculous statement.”

As for the inspection process, Phelps said: “Our (officials) are going to look at it, look at it again, look at it a third time to make sure that if there is a penalty given, that penalty is right. If the No. 4 team thinks that is not right, they will file an appeal and we’ll go through the appeal process.”

Stewart-Haas Racing announced Friday morning that it is appealing the penalty to Harvick and his team. However, Childers will sit out this weekend’s race at the Charlotte Roval. That way, regardless of the outcome, he will be able to return for the season finale at Phoenix. 

3. Report card

During a panel discussion at the Women in Motorsports seminar this week at Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR President Steve Phelps said that The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport provided a racial and gender report card for NASCAR, its teams and the industry for the first time. 

The NBA, NFL, WNBA, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer also have had reports done on their leagues and had the results made public. 

The report looks at the race and gender of athletes and front office personnel in those sports. Some reports examine the race and gender of officials and even broadcasters.

Phelps said that he would not disclose the results for NASCAR.

“We are doing some terrific work,” Phelps said during the panel discussion.

Phelps noted that the grades “are not going to be what they should be, but you need to face it. … We’re going to do better. One thing I will say is that the programs that we have put in place over the last few years have gotten an A.”

Asked by NBC Sports about the report, Phelps said: “It validated where I thought we were, which is why I want to keep it quiet. We’re actually doing really good work. … Hiring people of color, hiring women, promoting people of color, promoting women.

“I don’t want to lose that momentum to where our Diversity Industry Council is like, ‘Wait, wait, you said you’re doing all these things but it’s not working.’ 

“It’s going to take time. It’s not a snap your fingers (and it’s all done). Proud of the programs we’re doing.”

Thursday, NASCAR announced that 13 drivers have been invited to the Drive for Diversity combine. The program was created in 2004 to develop and train ethnically diverse and female drivers both on and off the track.

4. Change of strategy  

An appeal panel rescinding the 25-point penalty to William Byron moves him back into a transfer spot heading into Sunday’s elimination race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe drops out of the final transfer spot and is tied with Austin Cindric, 12 points behind the cutline. Daniel Suarez holds the final transfer spot.

Cindric said Thursday — before Byron’s penalty was amended — that what happened to Byron would impact how he races.

“It completely changes how our race looks this weekend, how our race strategy looks, what our priorities are,” Cindric said on if Byron got his points back.

“Even if (the points) get returned, we’re still in a reasonably good spot to think we could still point our way in. It’s not a must-win for us either way, but I think it definitely changes the race strategy for us.”

Cindric explained how the strategy could change with Byron moving back into a transfer spot.

“You probably have to take higher risk to get points … or take a higher risk to just go after the race win,” he said. 

5. Appeal Panel’s changes 

William Byron’s penalty marked the fourth time this year the National Motorsports Appeals Panel or Final Appeals Officer has amended or rescinded a penalty by NASCAR.

In January, the Final Appeals Officer rescinded a $50,000 fine and six-week suspension to Ryan Bell, crew chief for Mike Harmon Racing. The team and Bell had been penalized when Harmon used one of his team’s Xfinity cars for a charity event at Rockingham Speedway. 

Roger Werner, the National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer, wrote in his decision that “the decision of the National Motorsports Appeals Panel, upholding the original penalty that was issued by NASCAR, was incorrect in light of the NASCAR rulebook modification made on January 24, 2022.”

In May, the National Motorsports Appeals Panel overturned a disqualification to Matt Crafton following his fifth-place finish in the Camping World Truck Series race at Darlington.

Crafton’s truck was disqualified after NASCAR deemed the vehicle was too low in the front. The panel determined “the Appellants did not violate the Rule(s) set forth in the Penalty Notice.”

Crafton’s fifth-place finish was reinstated. No other reason from the panel was given. The panel consisted of Dixon Johnston, Tom DeLoach and Hunter Nickell. 

In September, NASCAR penalized Jeremy Clements for an intake manifold violation after his win at Daytona. NASCAR’s penalty did not allow the win to count toward playoff eligibility. 

Clements and his team took the engine to the NASCAR R&D Center to be inspected but left the intake manifold on, which was not required to be a part of the inspection. 

Clements and his team noted to the panel that they shouldn’t have been penalized for a part that was not inspected on other engines. The panel agreed and rescinded the penalty, allowing the win to count toward playoff eligibility. The panel consisted of Richard Gore, DeLoach and Johnston. 

Then came Thursday’s decision by the National Motorsports Appeals Panel to rescind the 25-point penalty to Byron for spinning Denny Hamlin at Texas. 

The panel did not state why it eliminated the point penalty but increased Byron’s fine from $50,000 to $100,000. The panel consisted of Dale Pinilis, Kevin Whitaker and Nickell.

Appeal panel gives William Byron his 25 points back

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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.”