Friday 5: Will Darlington finish change how drivers race on big tracks?

0 Comments

Three times in the last seven Cup races, contact among the leaders in the final laps changed who won.

Joey Logano’s shove, which knocked William Byron out of the lead and into the wall last weekend at Darlington Raceway, was different. Previous duels at the end of races were at short tracks or a road course, not an oval more than 1 mile in length. 

With 10 winners in the first 12 races and eight of the remaining 14 regular-season races at tracks more than 1 mile in length, is the game changing? Is contact becoming acceptable on tracks more than 1 mile in length?

Typically, contact is limited at bigger tracks because of the speeds and the potential for injury. As drivers continue to emerge from cars after big hits without serious injury, their aggression escalates. Add that a victory puts a driver in a playoff position and drivers become more daring.

Eight of this season’s 12 Cup races has had an incident either coming to the white flag, on the final lap or as the field crossed the finish line. The Daytona 500, Auto Club Speedway, Atlanta, Talladega and Darlington — all tracks more than 1 mile in length — had such late-race contact.

As the series hits the halfway mark of the regular season this weekend, eight of the 16 drivers who won a race last year have yet to win, which adds to the building pressure.

“If you get a run and you can get a guy up the track, you probably do it,” said Austin Dillon, who holds what would be the final playoff spot heading into Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway, a 1.5-mile track.

“It’s much tougher at a mile and a half not to take yourself out of the race as well. I feel like there’s usually plenty of room at a mile and a half. You’ve seen some slide jobs go wrong at mile and a halves. Those type of opportunities are kind of the only way to make something happen when it comes to going for it on the last lap.

“Moving a guy for the win, I think that’s what NASCAR has put together with this playoff system — that wins mean so much. You do what it takes when it comes down to it to go Victory Lane. I think everybody’s organization would be upset if they didn’t.”

That mindset has been a part of the reoccurring storyline this season. Consider:

Logano, upset with Byron for forcing him into the wall on a restart as they raced for the lead, drove “angry” and got to the back of Byron’s car with less than two laps to go at Darlington. Logano later said that “I’m not going to be bullied” and responded by ramming the back of Byron’s car. Logano got by for the win. Byron hit the wall and finished 13th.

Chase Briscoe, who had already won this year at Phoenix, was second to Tyler Reddick on the last lap in the dirt race at Bristol when Briscoe charged into Turn 3. He wasn’t close to passing Reddick and slid, making contact with Reddick and spinning both. Kyle Busch, who was third, passed both to win. Reddick was second. Briscoe placed 22nd. 

At Circuit of the Americas, AJ Allmendinger chased down leader Ross Chastain on the last lap and bumped him to take the lead. Chastain responded by making contact with Allmendinger. That moved Allmendinger’s car up the track and into Alex Bowman. Chastain passed both to win. Bowman finished second. Allmendinger placed 33rd after spinning on the final corner from the contact.

NASCAR did not penalize any driver in those incidents.

“Based on our past history, we haven’t gotten in the middle of that,” Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio this week about how the sanctioning body officiates last-lap contact among the leaders.

“That is a very, very difficult thing to get in the middle. What’s right? What’s wrong? Where’s the line? Do you give the win to another driver? There’s just so many moving parts to that unless it’s just a guy who comes from half a straightaway back and cleans three cars out and wins the race. It’s really difficult for us to get up in the middle and draw that line.

“Really, the alternative would be become a no-contact sport. I don’t think the fans would appreciate that. I don’t really think the drivers would appreciate that, either.”

Briscoe says what happened last weekend at Darlington might not happen at all bigger tracks.

“I think on the bigger tracks, it’s harder to get to people in general,” he said. “Darlington is a unique place where when you go into (Turn) 3, you’re out of the gas and on the brake, so it makes it a lot easier to get somebody if you’re trying to get to them. 

“A place like Kansas, there’s usually not a huge loss of speed on corner entry, so it’s going to be a lot harder, I feel like, to do things on a bigger thing. At a track like Homestead, where you do have to slow down a lot more on the corner entry, I think it would be possible.

“Obviously, wins are important. A lot of guys have won already this year. I think that opportunity to point your way in is not really going to be there like it has been in the past. … I think it definitely seems like the last couple of weeks there has been added aggression in how each driver races.”

Logano didn’t express remorse last weekend at Darlington because he said Byron’s actions on the earlier restart changed how aggressive Logano raced him. 

Will there be a point where a driver doesn’t feel bad for winning by contact that wasn’t in retaliation?

“When you’re within range and you’ve got an opportunity with the way it is to pass and what wins mean, you’ve got to do it,” Dillon said of contact at the end. 

“It just sucks when it doesn’t work out. It’s part of the game and how much has been put on winning races. Some might feel bad if it comes down to that. If you can take home a trophy to your organization, all the guys that put in hours on hours and hours of time in these race cars, they’ll probably have your back in the end.”

2. Better days

Austin Dillon was higher in points and had a better average finish after 12 races last year than this year, but he says he’s having a better year this season.

Dillon was 12th in the points at this time last year with 316 points and had an average finish of 13.6. He goes into Sunday’s Cup race at Kansas 14th in the points with 287 points and an average finish of 15.2.

What makes Dillon feel this year is better?  

“We were pretty strong last year, and we kind of got overlooked because we didn’t make the playoffs,” he said. “We were a consistent team all of last year.

“This year, I do feel like we’ve had way more opportunities to win races. I think the disappointing part is that we’ve had more bigger catastrophes at the race track, like getting wrecked at Phoenix and finishing 21st in that race; getting wrecked at Atlanta coming to a stage end for a possibility of top-three points there and blowing up at Daytona and Bristol.

We didn’t have those types of bad days at this point last year. We had a couple more average days, but we’ve also had some bigger days with two second-place finishes (Auto Club Speedway, Talladega) and a third (Martinsville). We’ve definitely had more opportunities to win than last year. 

“My teammate (Tyler Reddick) has two … second-place finishes, as well. If you look at the total of it, we’ve done a good job and should be in victory lane at this point. That’s the disappointing part – I feel like we’ve had some really close calls and not been able to capitalize. That’s why you see us where we’re at in points. I feel confident that we can go to victory lane this year and I think it will happen.”

Between Dillon and Reddick, Richard Childress Racing has more top-five finishes (six) this year than it did  last season. Also, RCR has led nearly three times as many laps this year than last year. 

Dillon and Reddick have combined to finish second in four races. Reddick’s runner-ups came at the dirt race at Bristol and last weekend at Darlington. 

3. Highs and lows 

Just how difficult has it been for teams to get a handle on the new car?

No driver has scored more than five consecutive top-10 finishes in the first 12 races of the season. Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch each have streaks of five top 10s in a row this season.

Compare that to previous years:

  • William Byron had 10 consecutive top 10s in the first 12 races of 2021. Denny Hamlin was next with six top 10s in a row.
  • Kevin Harvick had eight top 10s in a row through the first 12 races of 2020. Brad Keselowski had a streak of seven consecutive top 10s in that span.
  • Busch scored 11 top 10s in a row through the first 12 races of 2019. Hamlin was next with a stretch of seven top 10s in a row.
  • Busch had eight consecutive top 10s through the first 12 races of 2018. Harvick was next with seven top 10s in a row in that span. 

No team has shown how things can change from one week to the next this season than Joey Logano’s team. 

He finished 29th, four laps off the leaders, at Dover. The team responded at Darlington by winning the pole, leading a race-high 107 of 293 laps and winning the race.

“That opportunity was there to get a win, and you have to grab it any chance you can because you just don’t know with this new car,” Logano said at Darlington. 

4. Work to do

JR Motorsports has won the past three Xfinity races. Joe Gibbs Racing won the two before that JRM’s recent streak. The last time a team other than JR Motorsports or Joe Gibbs Racing won in the Xfinity Series was AJ Allmendinger’s win in late March at Circuit of the Americas for Kaulig Racing.

That’s the only win this year for Kaulig Racing. A year ago, the organization had seven wins, the same number of races JR Motorsports won. JRM has four wins this year.

What’s changed for Kaulig Racing this year?

“I think some of the rule changes that was implemented in the offseason … we just haven’t caught back up,” Chris Rice, president of Kaulig Racing, told NBC Sports. 

“We’re not laying down. … We’re going to work hard to get it fixed before we go to the playoffs. It’s just bad because we only go to Texas (on May 21) and then we hit a stretch of road courses and different style of racetracks. 

“Hopefully, by the time we get back to the mile and a halves after Texas that you’ll see a difference in our cars because we’re really going to put a big push on trying to get better on these style (of tracks).”

Even so, AJ Allmendinger leads the points. He has 464 points. JR Motorsports’ Noah Gragson is next at 439 points. But Allmendinger is the only Kaulig Racing driver in the top 10 in points. Landon Cassill is 11th with 299 points, and reigning series champion Daniel Hemric is 12th with 286 points. 

5. Late moves 

Nine of the first 12 Cup races have been won with a pass for the lead in the final 10 laps. That’s the most ever through 12 Cup races.

Races this season with the final lead change in the last 10 laps:

Daytona 500 — Austin Cindric led the final eight laps

Auto Club — Kyle Larson led the final seven laps

Las Vegas — Alex Bowman led the final three laps

Atlanta — William Byron led the final 10 laps

Circuit of the Americas — Ross Chastain led the final two laps

Richmond — Denny Hamlin led the final five laps

Bristol dirt — Kyle Busch led the final lap

Talladega — Ross Chastain led the final lap

Darlington — Joey Logano led the final two laps

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
0 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

HELIO’S ‘DAYS OF THUNDER’ MOMENT: Recalling a memorable 2022 victory drive through the smoke

“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three

0 Comments

A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The team stated Thursday night on social media that Taylor Collier and Devin Fokin had been treated and released. The team stated that Taylor was treated for smoke inhalation and Fokin was treated “for serious burns.”

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”

 

Trackhouse, RFK Racing, Front Row Motorsports sign sponsorship deals

0 Comments

Trackhouse Racing, RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports announced sponsorship deals Thursday morning.

Trackhouse said WWEX, a Dallas-based global logistics group, will increase its sponsorship presence with the team this year, serving as the primary sponsor in 21 races for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez.

WWEX will appear on Chastain’s Chevrolets in 19 races and will sponsor Suarez twice. The organization was a Trackhouse sponsor in 11 events in 2022, which was a breakout season for both Chastain and Suarez.

RFK announced that Solomon Plumbing, which joined the team last season, will expand its presence this season and in future years. The Michigan-based company will serve as the primary sponsor for several races on driver Brad Keselowski‘s No. 6 Ford.

MORE: Chase Briscoe signs contract extension with Stewart-Haas

Solomon specializes in plumbing and fire services for new development and construction. It initially sponsored Keselowski last season in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Front Row Motorsports has signed Quincy Compressor, a Bay Minette, Ala.-based compressor manufacturer, as a sponsor for four races.

Quincy will sponsor Todd Gilliland‘s No. 38 team in three events and Michael McDowell‘s No. 34 team in one race.

 

 

Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to contract extension

0 Comments

Chase Briscoe has signed a multiyear contract extension to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing, the team announced Thursday.

The length of the deal was not announced.

MORE: A better way to determine the Cup champion?

Briscoe is entering his third Cup season with the team. He won his first series race last year, taking the checkered flag at Phoenix last March. That victory put him in the playoffs. He finished the season ninth in the standings. 

“It’s huge to have stability, with my team and my partner,” Briscoe said in a statement from the team. “It just gives you more confidence. Stewart-Haas Racing is where I want to be for a long time. It’s the place I’ve known longer than anywhere else in my NASCAR career.

“I remember getting signed by Ford in 2017 and I told people, ‘You know, if I could pick one place to be, it would be Stewart- Haas Racing. And if I could drive one car, it would be the 14 car. That would be the ultimate dream.’ And now, here I am.

“SHR has such a great group of people, from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series, and they’ve all just guided me in the right direction. From drivers to crew chiefs to crew members, they’ve always had my back, and that’s been a huge help – just having people believe in you.”

The 28-year-old Briscoe has been with SHR since 2018. He split a limited Xfinity schedule that season between what is now RFK Racing and SHR. He ran full time with SHR in the Xfinity Series in 2019 and ’20 before moving to Cup in 2021.

“Chase has made the most of every opportunity and the proof is in the results. Keeping him at SHR was a priority and we’re proud to have him in our racecars for many more years to come,” said Tony Stewart, who co-owns SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, in a statement from the team. 

Briscoe’s signing comes two weeks after teammate Kevin Harvick announced that this will be his final season in Cup. 

The Cup season begins Feb. 5 with the Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before going to Daytona for the Feb. 19 Daytona 500.