Cup crew chiefs puzzled about flat left rear tires at Kansas Speedway

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KANSAS CITY, Kans. — A spate of flat left rear tires this past weekend at Kansas Speedway had some crew chiefs unsure what caused them and concerned about what might happen this weekend in the All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway with the same tire combination.

Points leader Chase Elliott saw his streak of five consecutive top-10 finishes end when he he spun while running sixth after his left rear went down. He brought out the caution on Lap 197 of the 267-lap race.

It was the second race in a row that Elliott crashed after a left rear went down. He finished 29th at Kansas, three laps behind winner Kurt Busch.

MORE: Kurt Busch’s win helped turn darkness to light for Petty family 

“It’s something that has certainly been at the forefront of our mind,” crew chief Alan Gustafson told NBC Sports about the team’s left rear tire issues. 

“We had the issue at Darlington. We feel liked we did what we needed to do to make sure it didn’t happen again. Protected against it here. We had all of our tires that came off inspected and cut apart by Goodyear and they were all find up to that point. The randomness of it is certainly very concerning.”

Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron also had a left rear go down while leading after Lap 112.

“There were enough configuration differences between the two of us,” Gustafson said of Elliott’s team and Byron’s team, “that it’s just hard to draw one conclusion.”

Also questioning what happened was James Small, crew chief for Martin Truex Jr. 

The No. 19 team’s race changed when the left rear tire went down on Truex’s car just before the end of stage 2 on Lap 165.

“One lap to go in that stage and it went down,” Small lamented. “Everything else looked great. That was the most conservative we’ve been all race. It’s obviously a combination of everything. Where we stacked up with our teammates, I’d never think it would be an issue. It ruined our race.”

What to do?

“I’m no tire master, so I don’t know the ins and outs of what they’re thinking,” Small said. “I know that they’ll probably just come back and tell us that we’re too aggressive. We didn’t even think we were aggressive. We were fine all day, never had a problem, looked great and then all of a sudden you have one go. There’s no telltale signs. … It’s just hard to know. I don’t know if it’s a manufacturing batch issue. Obviously we’ll investigate that as well between the teams.”

Truex’s teammate, Christopher Bell, also had a left rear tire go down. It went flat as Bell led under caution at Lap 64. His issue apparently was different from the 10 other teams that had left rears go down either during practice of the race.

I honestly think we ran something over,” crew chief Adam Stevens told NBC Sports. “We have a pretty good understanding of the amount of load and stress we’re putting into it and we’re conservative and shouldn’t haven’t that issue. I honestly think we just cut something. We didn’t have any issues the rest of the day, the same settings.”

Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of race tire sales, said during Sunday’s race: “We think this is the right tire for the application. Given what we know about tire engineering and the materials we use … its ability to carry loads, its ability to perform, provide the grip it needs, we feel it is a match. We go back to what is the application to make sure it is used correctly.”

Not everyone had problems. Kyle Busch finished third and didn’t have any left rear issues. 

“We learned our lesson at Vegas in practice when we wrecked there,” said Busch, who crashed after a left rear went down. “We haven’t come that aggressive since.”

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While team owner Denny Hamlin celebrated Kurt Busch’s win, Hamlin also understood the frustration Bubba Wallace felt after finishing 10th at Kansas. 

Wallace was hurt by two pit road penalties. He was penalized on Lap 83 for a crew member over the pit wall too soon during the pit stop after the completion of stage 1. Wallace finished the stage seventh and restarted the next stage 26th.

Wallace was penalized for a tire violation during a stop at Lap 198. He was fourth before the pit stop and restarted 23rd.

Wallace, who had a race-high 123 green-flag passes, rallied to finish 10th. It is his first top 10 since placing second in the season-opening Daytona 500. 

Asked if he could feel good about his top-10 finish, Wallace told NBC Sports: “Nope. Pit crew sucks.”

Asked about Wallace being frustrated, Hamlin said: “He should be. He should be frustrated. Listen, I passed (Busch) pretty early easily in traffic. I could’t pass (Wallace). He was really, really fast. I mean extremely fast. The results just don’t show it. Like I said, as a team we’re letting him down right now.”

23XI Racing gets its pit crews from Joe Gibbs Racing.

“I think just internally at JGR we’ve got to work through some issues on pit road,” Hamlin said. “Certainly, I think we have to figure how to manage races, and you don’t always have to have Hail Mary stops in my opinion. Sometimes you’ve got to run the ball and have a solid stop with no mistakes to keep you in the game. That’s just fundamentally now really how we work.”

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Kurt Busch’s 34th career Cup victory Sunday marked the fifth different team the 23XI Racing driver has won with and the fourth different manufacturer he’s taken to the Victory Lane after piloting his Toyota there Sunday. He’s won with Roush Fenway Racing, Team Penske, Stewart-Haas Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing and 23XI Racing.

Busch’s victory also gave 23XI Racing two wins in the last 19 Cup points races. Only Hendrick Motorsports has won more races during that time with 10 victories. 23XI Racing’s two victories during that span is tied with Team Penske, Trackhouse Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing.

“I have said that I want to build a championship contending team in five years,” team co-owner Denny Hamlin said. “We’re at year 1.3. This is really, really early.

“I can’t emphasize enough, we had to build from the ground up and we are still continuing to build, so it’s a long process. It’s hard to come out here and compete and beat some of these organizations that have been around for 30 years. It’s just nearly impossible, obviously.”

Corey LaJoie calls fourth-place finish ‘huge’ for him, Spire Motorsports

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HAMPTON, Ga. — With about 30 laps left in Sunday’s Cup race, Joey Logano looked around and suddenly saw Corey LaJoie’s car near the front.

“Oh, there he is,” Logano, the eventual winner, said he thought to himself. “Where has he been all day?

“Corey just kind of popped up there.”

LaJoie took a methodical approach — he ran in the top 10 for only 13 of the first 167 laps — and found himself toward the front for the third consecutive race since Atlanta Motor Speedway was reconfigured. 

His career-best fourth-place finish Sunday continued his strong runs at Atlanta, but also showed the growth in his Spire Motorsports team. While it’s only five races into the season, LaJoie is 14th in the points. He’s never finished better than 29th in Cup.

LaJoie placed fifth at Atlanta in March 2022 and was passed by Chase Elliott for the lead two laps from the finish in the July 2022 race there. Sunday, his push launched Logano on the final lap to pass Brad Keselowski for the win. 

While LaJoie continues to seek his first career Cup win, he was excited about his result.

“Hell, yeah, there’s moral victories,” he said after Sunday’s finish. “If you get … smashed 35 weekends out of the year, here’s an opportunity where you can win. When you can run fourth, there are so many good things wrapped up in that. … For me, it’s huge. For our team, it’s huge.”

Also significant was that LaJoie was the top-finishing Chevrolet.

“That’s a really big deal for us,” crew chief Ryan Sparks told NBC Sports. “Just kind of prove ourself and hopefully continue to build a relationship with Chevrolet. It’s always great to be (Chevrolet’s) top finisher. Obviously, we want to win the race. We’re getting closer. I think we’ll get up there for the year is done.”

After failing to make the feature in the Clash at the Coliseum exhibition race, LaJoie finished 16th in this year’s Daytona 500. He followed that by placing 14th at Fontana, California and then was 20th at Las Vegas and 26th at Phoenix before Sunday.

He has an average finish of 16.0 in the first races of the season. He’s never had an average finish better than 24th in his previous full-time Cup seasons. 

His performance this year has him in a playoff spot and ahead of in the standings:

  • Three cars from Stewart-Haas Racing
  • Both cars from 23XI Racing
  • Both cars from Legacy Motor Club
  • Both cars from Front Row Motorsports
  • All the Hendrick cars (although their penalties will be appealed)
  • Both Kaulig Racing cars

“We’ve started the year off really, really solid,” LaJoie said. “I don’t think we could have started any better. We messed up at Phoenix, but we came back and rebounded and put a good payday in the bank and a couple of points around the guys we are racing as well.

“It’s inevitable that a lot of the guys we’re in front of are going to catch us, those guys are the ones that run top 10 and top 15 consistently, so we have to get to where we can, on any given intermediate or any given short track, run in the top 15 a little bit better. We’re getting there. Days like this give us more confidence.”

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Sunday’s race matched two drivers who are among the best in the sport at speedway style racing dueling for the win in former teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski.

It marked the first time they had finished 1-2 in a speedway style race, as Logano passed Keselowski on the last lap to win Sunday at Atlanta.

“I feel like Brad is one of the top five best speedway racers on the racetrack,” Logano said. “I feel like I’m in there. A few others that are in there that you just know are really, really good at it.

“We were kind of duking it out back and forth, side by side, side drafting each other. Okay, this is what you would expect. It’s fun going up against the best like that.

“He works really hard at it. He studies it. He’s really smart at speedway racing, for sure. When you think of driver and spotter combinations, you’re going against two of the best right there, right? Whether it’s T.J. (Majors) and Brad or myself and Coleman Pressley) , if I’m picking a couple pairings of people that understand the draft, those two groups are the best at it. So it was fun to kind of go back and forth there at the end.”

Said Keselowski of racing Logano: “We know each other’s moves pretty well, for sure, but it’s just a matter of how the cookie crumbles and it kind of came his way there at the end and he made a good move. Kudos to him.”

It was a much different ending from their duel on the final lap of the 2021 Daytona 500. Logano led Keselowski when they made contact, triggering a multi-car crash and allowing Michael McDowell to win the race.

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Brad Keselowski’s runner-up finish continued his improved start to the season compared to last year. 

“We’re right there, though, as our team just continues to improve and show what we’re made of,” Keselowski said, “so I’m proud of that.”

A look at how much better this season has started for Keselowski compared to last year:

His average finish in the first five races of this season is 13.2 compared to 19.2 at this time last year.

He’s run in the top 15 in 85% of the laps run this season compared to running in the top 15 in 37.4% of the laps in the first five races of last season.

His average running position in a race is 9.5 this year compared to 18.3 at this time last year.

 

 

 

Several Cup drivers running extra race at COTA

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Seven Cup drivers will do double-duty this weekend at Circuit of the Americas.

Four Cup drivers are entered for Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at the road course in Austin, Texas. They are:

Aric Almirola (No. 08 SS Green Light Racing)

AJ Allmendinger (No. 10 Kaulig Racing)

William Byron (No. 17 Hendrick Motorsports)

Ty Gibbs (No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing)

Three Cup drivers are entered for Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at COTA. They are:

Alex Bowman (No. 7 Spire Motorsports)

Ross Chastain (No. 41 Niece Motorsports)

Kyle Busch (No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports)

In the Cup Series, there are 39 entries that includes a few road racing specialists:

Jordan Taylor (No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports)

Jenson Button (No. 15 Rick Ware Racing)

Kimi Raikkonen (No. 91 Trackhouse Racing)

Also entered this weekend is Jimmie Johnson in the No. 84 for Legacy Motor Club and IndyCar driver Conor Daly in the No. 50 for TMT Racing.

COTA Cup Entry List

COTA Xfinity Entry List

COTA Truck entry list

 

 

 

 

Winners and losers at Atlanta Motor Speedway

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A look at winners and losers in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway:

WINNERS

Joey Logano — Logano had won 31 Cup Series races entering Sunday’s 400-miler, but none had come at Atlanta. He changed that statistical column in a big way, leading 140 laps and making a risky move around leader Brad Keselowski on the final lap to record win No. 32.

Brad Keselowski — Keselowski’s struggle to return RFK Racing to prominence has taken many months, but he has had impressive runs this year. He led 47 laps Sunday and was on the verge of victory.

Christopher Bell — With better organization from the Toyotas at the front, Bell would have had a shot at a win. He finished third and has been in the top six in four of the season’s five races.

Corey LaJoie — Sunday’s fourth-place run was LaJoie’s best in 205 Cup starts, and his smart start to the season is an indication that better things might be ahead.

LOSERS

William Byron — Byron’s two-race winning streak ended with a thud — literally — Sunday as he was involved in a multi-car crash and finished 32nd.

Kevin Harvick — From one instant to the next, Harvick fell from first place to out of the race. He lost control of his car in tight racing with Ross Chastain and hit the wall. He finished 33rd.

Kyle Larson — Larson fought the good fight with the more dominant Fords much of the day in the top 10, but his car was damaged in a crash with Aric Almirola. Larson parked and finished 31st.

Long: One lap, 30 seconds of action with so much at stake at Atlanta

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HAMPTON, Ga. — As they began the final lap of Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Brad Keselowski led Christopher Bell by a car length. Joey Logano ran third, with Corey LaJoie on his rear bumper in fourth, and Tyler Reddick beside LaJoie in fifth.

So much was at stake over the final 1.54 miles and would be determined in the next 30 seconds on a brisk day at a track that looks like an intermediate speedway but races like Daytona and Talladega. 

Here’s what mattered for each:

  • Keselowski sought to end a 66-race winless streak that stretches nearly two years.
  • Bell looked to score his third win in the last nine Cup races, which would have been more than any other driver in that span.
  • Logano sought a win in a season that Fords have had few chances to do so.
  • LaJoie was focused on winning his first Cup race.
  • Reddick looked to earn his first victory with his new team.

It started with Keselowski, who is in his second year as owner-driver at RFK Racing. The organization fought through struggles last year before teammate Chris Buescher won the Bristol night race. 

Keselowski was going for his first Cup victory for his team in what has been a markedly better start to this season compared to last year.

“You need days like this,” Keselowski said afterward. “You just wish they were wins. We were right there, just didn’t come together at the end.”

Bell is proving to be the under-appreciated ace in the Cup series. 

He twice needed to win to advance in the next round of the playoffs last year — and did so. Both victories were overshadowed. The focus at the Charlotte Roval was on Chase Briscoe eliminating Kyle Larson from the playoffs instead of Bell’s win. Ross Chastain’s video game move was the talk of Martinsville instead of Bell’s triumph that day.

Nobody had won this year in Cup except Chevrolet drivers. That made this a key race for Ford and Toyota drivers. 

“We haven’t had the start to the season we’d want or hope for,” said Paul Wolfe, crew chief for Logano. “The West Coast swing was pretty rough on us. We had speed at times, but not really where we need to be on any of those tracks. So we’ve got our work cut out for us.

“We know the speedways with all the aero changes to all the manufacturers, the speedways are probably the strengths for the Fords right now. I think we saw that in Daytona as well. If you look at qualifying (Saturday), that will probably point to that same sign.

“We have to take advantage of these races right now. If this is our strength, we got to make sure we execute. That’s probably what I’m most proud of, is we were able to come here and get the win. Now we’ve really have to squeeze hard to get more speed out of our cars on the downforce tracks.”

LaJoie finished fifth in this race a year ago and was passed for the lead with two laps to go. He entered Sunday’s race winless in 204 career Cup races. He had three top-20 finishes in the first four races of the year, solid performances for his Spire Motorsports team. He’s gained some attention for those efforts.

“If we have a good car like we saw at Fontana or Las Vegas,” LaJoie said earlier this week of his 14th at California and 20th at Las Vegas, “then I can go get the job done and be up front. So, certainly a crucial beginning part of the season for me with the future of my career. I want to make sure people know what I’m capable of, no matter whether it’s an intermediate or a short track or superspeedway.”

Reddick is in his first season with 23XI Racing and it has been a rough start to the season. He was eliminated by accidents in the first two races of the year. He scored his first top 10 of the year last week at Phoenix and looked for even more Sunday.

It is what all those situations hovering as the white flag waved to begin the final lap.

The key moment came with LaJoie planted on the back of Logano’s rear bumper on the inside lane.

“Joey got such a huge run down the frontstretch,” Keselowski said. “There was nothing I could do to stop it other than wreck all of us.”

Logano said that LaJoie “clobbered me at the start/finish line, gave me such a big run.”

That energy allowed Logano to go from the bottom lane to the top lane — while narrowly slipping between Keselowski and Bell.

“When you get a run like that on the last lap, you can’t lift, you just can’t,” Logano said. 

He knew he needed to move up the track to avoid having Keselowski block him on the bottom lane.

“I had to get up there and slip to his outside,” Logano said. “Ultimately, that’s the move that was going to win the race.

“If I got to his inside, you have a chance, maybe a 20% chance of winning the race depending on what kind of push you get down the backstretch. Most likely we were not going to win the race.”

He did and Keselowski finished second.

“We know each other’s moves pretty well, for sure, but it just matters how the cookie crumbles and it kind of came his way at he end and he made a good move,” Keselowski said. “Kudos to him. We’re right there, though, as our team just continues to improve and show what we’re made of, so I’m proud of that.

Bell finished third and was left to wonder what if.

“I had the position (Logano) had and I decided to bail on it and go to the top,” Bell said. “To come so close is disappointing.”

LaJoie finished a career-best fourth.

“Hell, yeah, there’s moral victories,” LaJoie said after Sunday’s finish. “If you get … smashed 35 weekends out of the year, here’s an opportunity where you can win. When you can run fourth, there are so many good things wrapped up in that. … For me, it’s huge. For our team, it’s huge.”

For Reddick, a day that started with John Hunter Nemechek on standby because Reddick wasn’t feeling well, ended with Reddick scoring his second consecutive top five.

“I was trying to create an opportunity to where myself Christopher Bell and Denny Hamlin could all break away and take advantage of momentum,” Reddick said. “It didn’t quite work out timing-wise where it needed for that. All in all, an OK day.”