Kyle Larson: Why race on dirt if NASCAR will not remove the windshields?

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Defending Cup champion Kyle Larson believes the weekend of dirt racing ahead at Bristol Motor Speedway will be better than last year, but the dirt ace still isn’t sold on the idea of NASCAR on dirt.

Larson, who has won the biggest events in dirt sprint-car and midget racing, made an appearance on the SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show “Dialed In” on Wednesday night, noting he does not believe NASCAR should compete on a dirt surface unless the sanctioning body is willing to remove windshields from the car and use other protection to allow for more traditional dirt racing.

“I guess the way that I look at it (is) if we’re not going to take the windshields out, then why are we racing on dirt?” Larson said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We just shouldn’t race on dirt if we’re not going to take the windshields out and actually have a dirt race with moisture in the track and being able to produce a real dirt race. I feel like we’re just wasting everybody’s time a little bit and not giving the fans and competitors what we all deserve.

“So in my opinion, if we’re not going to take the windshields out, we might as well just never put dirt on Bristol again – which I’m all for not putting dirt on Bristol whether we have windshields or not. I think the racing at Bristol is amazing just as normal.”

Larson is a two-time Chili Bowl Nationals champion in addition to wins in the Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway and the Knoxville Nationals in Iowa. At Bristol last year, Larson was running fourth on Lap 53 when Christopher Bell, another notable dirt talent, spun from second directly in front of Larson’s nose.

Larson’s windshield critique stems from how the track’s surface must be prepared in coordination with whether the plexiglass sits in front of the drivers’ faces. 

“With us having windshields, they really can’t make the track as moist and as wet as it needs to be,” said Larson, who won 10 Cup races a season ago. “So they’re going to have to make it dry and have to make it get dusty and slick and all that. And it’s probably going to end up single-file around the bottom like last year and take rubber at some point just because we have to have the track dry so we don’t clog up the windshields or whatever.

“So I don’t know, we’ll see. Who knows? It’s going to be better than last year. I just don’t know if it’s going to look like a real dirt race yet.”

Friday afternoon, teammate Chase Elliott voiced the same concerns about the on-track product and the limiting factors windshields create on the channel’s “SiriusXM Speedway” show with host Dave Moody,

“As long as they have the windshields in them, I agree with a lot of guys that have been saying that: I just don’t think they can have a real dirt race,” said Elliott, the sport’s four-time reigning Most Popular Driver. “It’s going to be tough to do, right? Because No. 1, dirt races aren’t very long, and there’s a reason for that. There’s a reason dirt cars don’t have windshields in them. Go on down the line.

“So I was a little disappointed in some of that and some of the decisions that were made because I think having a dirt race is a great idea. I think it’s a great way for us to spice up our schedule and to do something different, make an exciting weekend for the fans. But if we’re going to do it, we need to do it right. And to do it right, we need to have moisture in the track and be able to have that track go through changes, the proper changes that a good dirt race, when they get it right on a Saturday night, goes (through).”

As a future replacement in front of the drivers, Larson suggested welding bars across the windshield similar to a dirt late model, which he raced at Bristol earlier this month. The Hendrick Motorsports driver noted the bars acted like a rock screen. 

“There is not a spindle or a heavy piece of car that’s going to come through that,” Larson said. “It is extremely heavy duty and I don’t see why we couldn’t weld in something like that or clamp in bars that are temporary, whatever it may be. I definitely think there is a way to run no windshields.”

Scott Miller, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition, noted Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” that drivers with dirt experience did urge officials to consider running the upcoming race at Bristol – just the second dirt contest of the sport’s modern era – without a windshield, but the negatives still outweighed the positives following a Next Gen test with Truck Series regular and dirt racer Stewart Friesen behind the wheel.

“There was potential benefits to that. At end of day, the windshield is a critical safety component of our cars,” Miller told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Highly developed laminate. Really resistant to intrusion of foreign objects. Until we can further vet the possibility of not using a windshield, (we’re going to) stick with the safety element of what we’ve been doing.”

Larson said he understands NASCAR’s position and that safety is critical.

“But like I said, you’re not going to have a true dirt race with windshields, so I just feel like it’s kind of lame,” Larson said.

The windshield replacement at Friesen’s dirt test was chicken wire, according to Larson, who said he was told mud hit and stung Friesen’s hands as he drove.

“How they had it at the test, yes, I would’ve felt unsafe because all they had was chicken wire, so that’s not going to stop anything coming through,” Larson said. “So yes, I would not have felt safe with what they had for testing. But I think, who knows how long they’ve been working on it? To me, with them putting chicken wire in it, it probably didn’t look like they worked on it very long, like maybe last-minute.

“I feel like if they would’ve worked on it months ago, then they probably would’ve come up with something safer to put in to keep big things from coming in the cockpit. … I think there’s a lot of other simpler things they can do to make them safe enough to where nothing’s going to come in the cockpit other than mud.”

Larson said he hasn’t spoken with anybody from NASCAR about dirt racing “at least since probably a day or two after we raced the dirt race last year there. So no.

“I’m sure I mentioned to them at some point last year – and I think they all know – that we don’t need windshields, so they don’t even really need to ask me my opinion on that.”

Elliott added Friday he didn’t seek those conversations with NASCAR officials and preferred to deal with circumstances behind the wheel.

“I don’t go there, man,” Elliott said. “Look, I’m good with whatever they decide and I’m going to do my very best behind the wheel, and I’m going to support it and I’m going to tell people to watch and try to put on the best race I can put on and do the best job that I can do. That’s my job, right? Those decisions are for the folks at NASCAR and the folks throughout the industry that decide those things.

“And as I’ve told you guys before, I’m not sure I even want a seat at that table. I’m not smart enough to deserve a spot at the table anyway. So I’m going to focus on the things I do and enjoy racing for a living and all the things that we have.”

The pessimism surrounding the windshield conversation is countered by Larson’s anticipation of a better overall product on Sunday. After communication with Steve Swift, who has handled Bristol’s track preparation, and competing in a Late Model on this year’s slightly different banking configuration, Larson is encouraged heading into the second iteration of the Bristol dirt race.

“I really think our racing at Bristol this year with the Cup car is going to be a lot better than what it was last year,” he said. “I think with us running at nighttime, it’s going to be great for the racing. Goodyear has brought a much better dirt tire it looks like, so I think it’s going to look more similar to a dirt race. And I think those dirt fans that are hopefully going to show up for the race this Sunday are going to be in for a treat. I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a fun weekend. A lot of unknowns still, but it should be a good time no matter what.”

Drivers for Drive for Diversity combine revealed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Name

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

López Falcón

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

 

Dr. Diandra: Crashes: Causes and complications

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

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

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

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

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

Angle

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

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

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

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

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

Energy — in pounds of TNT

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

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

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

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

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

Longer collisions > shorter collisions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chassis stiffness: A Goldilocks problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Progress takes time

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

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

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

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

Safety is a moving target.

And always will be.

NASCAR weekend schedule for Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval

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

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

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

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

Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Cup and Xfinity)

Weekend weather

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

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

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

Friday, Oct. 7

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 12 – 5 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Saturday, Oct. 8

Garage open

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

Track activity

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

Sunday, Oct. 9

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MORE: AJ Allmendinger to return to Cup Series in 2023

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

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

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

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