Friday 5: Cup teams seek to keep crews fresh after ‘unprecedented’ offseason


One of the longest seasons in sports reaches its longest event this weekend with the Coca-Cola 600. As NASCAR heads into Sunday night’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, nearly 2/3 of the Cup season remains.

For fans, that’s great. The Cup Series will race 23 of the next 24 weekends through early November.

For team members, that can be daunting — even those accustomed to the grind of a 38-race season that includes two exhibition races.

This follows an offseason that Denny Hamlin’s crew chief, Chris Gabehart, describes as “unprecedented.” The switch to the Next Gen chassis forced teams to abandon the cars run last year and build a new fleet of vehicles. Teams did that work while also testing the new cars. NASCAR had four two-day organizational tests in the offseason.

“Most people don’t understand how much work was done over the winter … this is probably the most work in 15, 18 years,” Brian Pattie, crew chief for Ricky Stenhouse Jr., told NBC Sports earlier this month.

The work continued through the start of the season. With supply chain issues, some parts for the new car were harder to acquire. That forced teams to remove some parts from their cars after races and fly those pieces with the crew back to North Carolina to put on the car for the next race.

All that work took place with little relief for teams. They lost one of their traditional weekends off when Cup raced Easter night on the dirt at Bristol. With the return of practice and qualifying this season, Cup teams also are spending at least one more day a week at the track than last year.

“Now, the trucks are loading and leaving earlier,” said Adam Stevens, crew chief for Christopher Bell. “That means we as team guys are working longer hours. On top of that, we’re gone more with the track schedule and then we don’t have the off weekends.

“That’s a lot more stress on the guys and their home lives and their families, especially contrasted with how it was during the COVID schedule (no practice and qualifying for most events), maybe not so much compared to the three-day weekends with three practices and a full qualifying session that we had a few years ago.

“On top of that, there has been a bit of a workforce reduction leading into this new car and a lot of teams — not specifically Joe Gibbs Racing — probably cut that a little shorter, a littler shorter than what they needed to based on the amount of work that they thought was going to have to get done vs. what’s having to get done with the parts availability issues. That puts a whole another level of stress.”

Kevin Harvick‘s crew unloads his car earlier this season at Daytona. (Photo: Dustin Long)

That has crew chiefs seeking ways to give crew members some time off. Bigger teams can give road crew members a weekend off at times during the season since they have others who can fill in, but smaller teams don’t always have that luxury.

Crashes added to the workload. After crossing the line seventh in the Daytona 500, the car of Front Row Motorsports’ Michael McDowell was hit, turning it into the wall after the race ended.

“We were under the crunch with the parts and pieces and stuff that we didn’t have and we had tight turnarounds,” McDowell’s crew chief, Blake Harris, said of the beginning of the season. “The West Coast (swing after Daytona) is a challenge. You tear cars up at Daytona and (the Clash at the Coliseum). There was a lot that we were up against early in the season.

“I feel like over the last five to six weeks we’ve gotten a bit of a rhythm here. Our road crew gets a little bit of time off, Mondays. … We’ve had a few weeks here where … we fly out on Saturday mornings instead of Friday for tech, which just a couple of weeks like that really helps the guys that travel.

“From my end and the engineers’ side, we’re going to get an off weekend coming up, short of that, those guys, hopefully can help manage their own time.”

The lone off weekend for the Cup is June 18-19.

The key, Harris said, is for his team to be able to work ahead instead of repairing cars.

“If we can work a couple of weeks ahead of things, then you don’t end up burning all hours of the night every night, which was and has been a big issue at the beginning of this year,” he said. “Shop-wise we’re starting to get enough parts and pieces, chassis and components that we can get those things together.”

2. Dynamic duo

Denny Hamlin and Justin Marks are among two of NASCAR’s newest owners and seek to lead change in the sport.

Hamlin partnered with Michael Jordan to form 23XI Racing last year. Bubba Wallace scored the team’s first win last year at Talladega. Kurt Busch, who joined the team before this season, gave the organization its second win earlier this month at Kansas.

Marks is partnered with performer Pitbull in owning Trackhouse Racing. Daniel Suarez joined the team for its inaugural season last year. Ross Chastain was added to the team before this season and already has won twice.

AUTO: APR 24 NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500
Trackhouse Racing co-owner Justin Marks (right) celebrates with Ross Chastain after Chastain’s win in April at Talladega. (Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

What Hamlin and Marks are doing off the track could have as much impact as anything they do in the sport.

“I think that me and Justin are aligned most of the time,” Hamlin said Thursday at a FedEx/USO event to pack 2,500 care packages for service members overseas. “We meet often. We talk a lot, often about the business side of things and the challenges that we face in the future.

“To us, it’s blatantly obvious how we can improve this sport as a whole, which will then make our business better, and we just would love to see those changes implemented.”

Hamlin noted that he and Marks recently had lunch with Marcus Smith, president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, which owns nine tracks that host 13 of the 36 points races on the Cup schedule. Among the tracks Speedway Motorsports owns is Charlotte Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway.

Hamlin and Marks took different routes to ownership. Hamlin and Jordan started a team and partnered with Joe Gibbs Racing. Marks imbedded his group with Richard Childress Racing before purchasing Chip Ganassi Racing and absorbing most of the Ganassi employees.

NASCAR Cup Series AdventHealth 400
23XI Racing co-owner Denny Hamlin (left) with Kurt Busch after Busch’s win this month at Kansas. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Working together, Hamlin and Marks form the nucleus of new owners who are outspoken about the need to change the sport’s financial model and not rely as much on sponsorship dollars. They hope teams can get a bigger share of the TV money. Tracks get 65% of the TV money, teams gets 25% and NASCAR gets 10%.

“I think the teams have not been quiet about the fact that the more help that we can get from a revenue standpoint from the league, the more secure it’s going to make our businesses,” Marks told NBC Sports. “It’s going to give us the opportunity to grow and scale our businesses, instead of just being out there trying to get sponsorship to get to the racetrack and that’s it.

“I don’t know what that path looks like yet. I know there’s better communication and more mutual understanding than I think there probably has been in a long time, if ever, but, at the end of the day, NASCAR is going to have to be incentivized to help the teams financially. They’re going to have to feel like it’s in their best interest to grow the sport to do that.”

That’s the point Hamlin made Thursday.

“We want to make it better by collaborating with our TV partners, track partners and NASCAR,” he said. “If we start working together, we will grow this into a big, big business. Unfortunately, everyone is just kind of fighting for their own personal goals, and I think it just keeps our sport stagnated at times.”

Hamlin said he’s focused on helping lead teams to a brighter future.

“I’m working very, very hard to help promote change in the sport for the better, the greater good,” he said. “I’m doing my part. I want to leave this sport in a better place than it was when I got in here. I think I’ve invested enough and am informed enough to have an opinion on some of the topics that we talk about.”

3. Hard contact

While aspects of the new car are safer than last year’s version, Joey Logano notes that the impacts still can be hard.

Logano explained this week on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio what crashes are like in the new car.

“We’ve been going through the safety of this car since it started to get designed and when we started driving it,” he said. “Now that we’re driving it, experiencing crashes firsthand. I think there’s just no doubt in my mind the intrusion piece of the car is significantly better than the old car.

“There’s also no doubt in my mind that when you hit the wall in this car, it hurts way more than the old car. There is no doubt. These things are solid. They’re tanks. You can look at the chassis, and you can figure it out pretty easily.

“It’s going to take, I’m not saying it can’t happen, but it would take a pretty serious impact for any intrusion into the car, into the cockpit area, which is great because ultimately those are the things that should have almost killed Ryan Newman (at Daytona in 2020). I got too close to it at Talladega. Those issues are real.

“I believe they are very much improved with this car, but I think the everyday hit is definitely more solid, and you feel it a lot more with this thing. We’re all learning as we go along here in what we can do to improve those things.

“The little slaps against the fence that may not look that big, (but) you feel them way more than we used to for sure.”

4. Different role  

This weekend will mark the first of four races crew chief Chris Gabehart will miss because of a wheel coming off Denny Hamlin’s car at Dover. Gabehart and two pit crew members begin this suspension this week after Joe Gibbs Racing lost an appeal.

While Gabehart will remain in communication with the team away from the track, his absence illustrates how things can change for teams when they have their crew chief suspended.

Engineer Sam McAulay will serve as Gabehart’s crew chief while Gabehart is out. That means more than just moving over a spot on the pit box. But it’s not new. McAulay filled in for Gabehart when Gabehart was suspended four races in 2020 a wheel coming off Hamlin’s car. 

One key change will come during pit stops. In his role as engineer, McAulay comes down from the pit box and holds the air hose for the right front tire changer. It’s key for the person holding the hose to ensure it does not get tangled as the tire changer moves from the right side to the left side of the car.

McAulay won’t do that the next four weeks. Gabehart doesn’t leave the pit box during pit stops. Instead, Gabehart stays on the pit box to call Hamlin into the pit and clear Hamlin out of the pit stall. McAulay will do those duties. That means that the team will have another crew member handling the air hose.

Another thing that will be different is that McAulay often monitors radio channels of multiple teams during the race. He says he’ll likely monitor the NASCAR radio channel during the races as interim crew chief and possibly only one team.

There’s more that will change, leading engineer Ryan Bowers to take over additional duties on the pit box. McAulay said he’ll still look at the data but that Bowers will handle more of those duties while McAulay focuses more on the race. 

One thing that is not expected to change relates to fuel mileage. Bowers will remain the main person overseeing fuel mileage. McAulay will continue to check the fuel mileage numbers.

“We’re going to miss (Gabehart), for sure,” McAulay said. “The main thing is just thinking through all of the little things that people do during the race and making sure that we have those covered when we start moving positions around.”

5. Recommended is more than a recommendation 

So states a line in this week’s Goodyear press release. With the recent issues with tires, one cause hypothesized has been that teams have their tires below the recommended tire pressure from Goodyear.

In this week’s release, Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing, states: “What we’ve seen play out at recent Cup race weekends is exactly what we saw in testing in preparation for this season with the Next Gen car. The balance of the Next Gen car is definitely shifted towards the rear of the car.  

“We have been working with the teams, not only at the track over the course of race weekends, but also providing them data in advance that speaks to this, and what the tire needs to operate with regards to both camber and inflation, both of which are critical elements of the set-up.  

“Teams, as they always do, are constantly working on their cars to make them better as the season progresses. We have seen this, and worked with them as they try to maximize the use of all corners of the car. Teams will, naturally, strive to make their cars faster and many have found the edge over the past several points races. Our working in conjunction with them will help maintain guidelines on tire set-ups as the Next Gen car continues to evolve.”

Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond Raceway


The NASCAR Cup Series’ first short track points race of the season is scheduled Sunday at Richmond Raceway, a presence on the NASCAR schedule since 1953.

Tyler Reddick is coming off his first win of the season last Sunday at Circuit of the Americas. He gave Toyota its first victory of the year.

MORE: William Byron is No. 1 in NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

The Richmond race is the first of three consecutive events on short tracks. The series will race on the dirt surface at Bristol Motor Speedway April 9 and the Martinsville Speedway half-mile April 16.

A look at drivers to watch Sunday at Richmond:


Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 10th
  • Best seasonal finish: 1st (COTA)
  • Past at Richmond: No finish better than 11th in five career starts

Reddick showed the promise of what could be a strong season by dominating Sunday’s race at COTA. His victory boosted him five spots in points to 10th. Richmond, a track where he has never led a lap, will be a test.

William Byron

  • Points position: 22nd
  • Best seasonal finish: 1st (Las Vegas 1, Phoenix 1)
  • Past at Richmond: Led 122 laps in April race last year

Byron had a top car in this race last season but was passed by Denny Hamlin for the win with five laps remaining. Byron finished third, his career-best run at Richmond.

Denny Hamlin

  • Points position: 11th
  • Best seasonal finish: 6th (Auto Club, Atlanta 1)
  • Past at Richmond: Four consecutive top-four runs, including a win

Hamlin can be counted on to challenge for the win every time the tour rolls into Richmond. He has won there in 2009, ’10, ’16 and ’22.


Daniel Suarez

  • Points position: 14th
  • Best seasonal finish: 4th (Auto Club)
  • Past at Richmond: Best career finish is 7th

After opening the season with top-10 runs at Daytona, Fontana and Las Vegas, Saurez has plummeted into the 20s in three consecutive races. Richmond will present another big challenge. Suarez has five consecutive finishes of 16th or worse there.

Ryan Preece

  • Points position: 29th
  • Best seasonal finish: 12th (Phoenix 1)
  • Past at Richmond: Top finish of 20th in five career starts

Preece’s first full-time season in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 has started poorly. He has been sidelined by accidents in three races and was more upset than most after being parked by a multi-car crash Sunday at COTA.

Alex Bowman

  • Points position: 16th
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Las Vegas 1, COTA)
  • Past at Richmond: Three top 10s, including a win, in past five races

Bowman seems poised to score his first victory of the season. He has been among the tour’s most consistent drivers to date, with five top-10 finishes in six races.




What takes place in a NASCAR appeal hearing? Here’s a look


Hendrick Motorsports is scheduled to have its appeal hearing at 10 a.m. ET Wednesday.

So what will happen in the appeal hearing? Here is a look at the process, based on the NASCAR Cup Rule Book.

NASCAR penalized Hendrick Motorsports for modifications to hood louvers. Those penalties were:

  • Docked Alex BowmanKyle Larson and William Byron 100 points and 10 playoff points each.
  • Suspended crew chiefs Cliff Daniels, Alan Gustafson, Rudy Fugle and Blake Harris four races each and fined each $100,000.
  • Penalized each of the four Hendrick teams 100 owner points and 10 playoff points.

Before the appeal hearing starts, both sides — in this case, Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR — must file a written summary presenting their case before the hearing.

The summary must not be longer than two single-spaced pages. Any attachments or appendices either side intends to present during the hearing must be included. Such attachments or appendices may include, but are not limited to, video, written statements, diagrams, photographs and charts.

The summary is to be filed by 5 p.m. ET two days before the beginning of the hearing. The summary shall be confidential and not released to the public. The Cup Rule Book says that releasing the summary to the public “may result in a penalty.”

The appeal will be heard by three members. They will come from a pool of panelists. The Cup Rule Book lists 19 panelists. That group includes former drivers Mike Skinner, Lake Speed, Bill Lester, Shawna Robinson and Lyn St. James, along with others in various roles in motorsports.

The Cup Rule Book states that “in seating an Appeals Panel, the Administrator shall take into consideration the panelists’ availability, background, professional experience and knowledge.”

The Cup Rule Book states “the burden rests on NASCAR to show that it is more likely than not that a violation … has occurred, and that the Penalty Notice issued is within the guidelines of the NASCAR Rules.”

Both parties are allowed in the hearing room while each side presents evidence. NASCAR goes first.

After both sides finish, there is a break before an optional rebuttal period. NASCAR has the chance to go first, followed by those appealing.

Once that is complete, NASCAR is permitted one last opportunity to “argue, explain, or present rebuttal on the facts and violation” to the appeal panel since NASCAR carries the burden of proof.

The appeal panelists may ask questions to either group or any witnesses at any time during the hearing.

Decisions by the three-member National Motorsports Appeals Panel do not need to be unanimous.

The National Motorsports Appeals Panel can affirm the penalty or adjust it. The panel can rescind some or all of the penalties or increase any or all penalties.

When NASCAR penalized William Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000 for spinning Hamlin during a caution in last year’s playoff race at Texas, Hendrick Motorsports appealed. The National Motorsports Appeals Panel rescinded the 25-point penalty but increased his fine to $100,000. NASCAR amended its rule book after the panel’s decision.

NASCAR does not have the option to appeal the panel’s decision. Those who filed the appeal can further appeal the panel’s decision to the Final Appeal Officer. That decision can’t be appealed.

Kaulig Racing and Denny Hamlin each will go through this process when their appeals are heard. Kaulig Racing’s appeal is April 5 for modifications to a hood louver. Hamlin’s appeal is April 6 for intentionally wrecking Ross Chastain on the last lap of the Phoenix race.

NASCAR Power Rankings: William Byron returns to No. 1


After last Sunday’s crashfest at Circuit of the Americas, the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings experienced another jumble, and William Byron returns to the top spot.

Byron took fifth place in the chaos of the triple-overtime finish. He and winner Tyler Reddick were the top dogs in the Cup Series’ first road race of the year, Byron leading 28 laps and Reddick 41. No one else led more than two laps.

MORE: COTA finish — Entertaining and messy

Christopher Bell, last week’s No. 1, fell to fifth place after a 31st-place finish at COTA.

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. William Byron (second last week) — Byron, the season’s only multiple winner with two, finished fifth Sunday, marking his career first top five on a road course. He won the pole and the first stage.

2. Kyle Busch (third last week) — Busch continues to make his new partnership at Richard Childress Racing look good. His second-place run Sunday is his fourth top-10 finish in the season’s first six races.

3. Ross Chastain (sixth last week) — Despite being pushed around in the late going Sunday, Chastain persisted, re-emerging at the front to challenge the leaders and finish fourth. He has finished in the top four in all three COTA races and leads the points standings.

4. Alex Bowman (fifth last week) — Bowman continued his seasonal consistency, finishing third at COTA. He has finished in the top 10 in five of six races.

5. Christopher Bell (first last week) — Bell falls from the top spot in the rankings after being booted from Sunday’s race in a late-race accident. He dropped three spots in the Cup points standings to fifth.

6. Joey Logano (fourth last week) — Logano was mostly absent from Sunday’s front-of-the-pack jousting. He limped home in 28th and drops two spots in the rankings.

7. Tyler Reddick (unranked last week) — Reddick bursts into the rankings in a big way, easily outclassing the rest of the field on the way to victory at COTA. Challenged repeatedly by cautions that extended the race into three overtimes, he refused to give up the shot at his first win of the year.

8. Denny Hamlin (seventh last week) — Winless this year, Hamlin nevertheless keeps popping up around the front. Sunday’s late-race mess dropped him to 16th at the checkered flag.

9. Kyle Larson (eighth last week) — Larson seemed to be the race’s pingpong ball Sunday as he was bounced around during some of the tightest racing. He rallied to reach 14th.

10. Kevin Harvick (ninth last week) — Harvick’s final season has been a mix of the good and the bad, with two top-five runs, challenges for wins and a 33rd-place finish at Atlanta. He was 13th Sunday.

Dropped out: Brad Keselowski (10th last week).


Ross Chastain after COTA race: ‘Are you not entertained?’


One driver evoked the movie “Gladiator” after Sunday’s Cup race at Circuit of the Americas. Another could be penalized for his actions after the checkered flag. Others expressed dismay at what the end of the event became.

A race that had been a thrilling duel devolved into a demolition derby over the final laps, leaving feelings as bruised as some of the cars.

While Tyler Reddick celebrated his first win of the season, other drivers stewed at what the racing became. Three overtimes were needed to finish the event due to incidents in the Turn 1 hairpin. Then again, it should not have been surprising, coming a week after Kyle Busch said: “We have completely lost any sense of respect in the garage between the drivers”.

“Are you not entertained?” Ross Chastain exclaimed, evoking Russell Crowe’s famous movie line. “This is what we love. I don’t love doing it, but … as a sport we’re not boring.”

Chastain is correct, the sport is not boring. But it’s fair to ask if the sport has crossed a line. Is it OK for races to end this way? If not, how to change it is a more difficult notion.

The action has been getting more aggressive this season. It was evident in the Clash at the Coliseum when drivers charged into the corners and slammed into the back of cars as a way to slow down to make the tight turns.

Sunday marked the third time in the last four road course races that the event went to overtime. In the previous 28 road course races — dating back to 2012 — only three went to overtime.

It makes one wonder what could happen this weekend when the Cup series races at Richmond Raceway, beginning a three-week stretch at short tracks that includes the Bristol dirt race and Martinsville.

“These cars are so tough,” Chastain said. “We can run into each other. There are just lines of cars all pushing each other (on the restarts) on the brakes. Nobody is going in there saying, ‘I’m going to hit somebody,’ but it’s just the leader has to check up and it just magnifies itself.”

Chastain’s teammate, Daniel Suarez, was not happy after the race. He ran into the back of Chastain’s car, knocking him out of the way as they entered pit road and then hit the back of Bowman’s car on pit road.

Section 4.4.B of the Cup Rule Book states that drivers can be penalized for “Intentionally damaging another vehicle on pit road.” Such a penalty could result in the loss of 25-50 driver and/or team owner points and/or $50,000-$100,000 fine. Violations may also result in a suspension.

Suarez restarted fifth in the second overtime restart but left the inside lane open. Alex Bowman, with Ross Chastain and Chase Briscoe aligned behind, charged and got beside Suarez as they approached Turn 1.

As Bowman slowed to make the tight turn, he was hit from behind and that sent him into Suarez, who clipped the left rear of Martin Truex Jr.’s car. Truex spun in front of Suarez and blocked his path, allowing the rest of the field to drive by and costing Suarez a top-five finish. Suarez finished 27th.

Suarez spoke briefly with Bowman before having a discussion with Chastain.

“The problem is if you don’t peek out and bomb the guy in front of you, the guy behind you does it to you,” Bowman said. “So what do you do there? It’s not right. The way we race is embarrassing, and if 12-year-olds were doing it, we’d be yelling at them, but here we are saying it’s the best thing in the world on TV.”

Chris Buescher simply called Sunday’s race “our first bumper car race of the year.”

Austin Dillon said: “The end of the race became a typical NASCAR road course race. It was just a mess. We drove up into the hill on a restart and everyone just pile drove into each other.”

Jordan Taylor, making his first Cup start as he filled in for an injured Chase Elliott, was struck by what the restarts were like.

“Every restart, you just get smashed in the front, rear, side,” he said. “So yeah, it was pretty much just survival.”


Sunday’s race was scheduled to go 68 laps but was extended to 75 laps by the late cautions.

Here is a look at the drivers who gained the most and lost the most positions from where they were running on Lap 68 to where they were running on Lap 75:

Most positions gained

18 – Kyle Larson (finished 14th)

17 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (finished 7th)

16 – Kevin Harvick (finished 13th)

12 – Todd Gilliland (finished 10th)

9 – Ryan Blaney (finished 21st)

8 – Noah Gragson (finished 20th)

7 – Austin Cindric (finished 6th)

6 – Corey LaJoie (finished 11th)

Most positions lost

23 – Daniel Suarez (finished 27th)

20 – Joey Logano (finished 28th)

15 – Kimi Raikkonen (finished 29th)

12 – Christopher Bell (finished 31st)

12 – Martin Truex Jr. (finished 17th)

10 – Aric Almirola (finished 30th)

9 – Jordan Taylor (finished 24th)

6 – Michael McDowell (finished 12th)


Tyler Reddick and Kyle Busch, who switched rides before this season, have both won in the first six races.

This marks the third year in a row that two drivers with new Cup rides have won so early in the year.

Last year, Austin Cindric and Ross Chastain each won in the first six races of the year. Cindric had driven a few Cup races previously for Team Penske but last year was his first year in the No. 2 car. Chastain did have the same crew chief and other crew members at Trackhouse Racing after it purchased Chip Ganassi Racing.

In 2021, Kyle Larson, in his first season at Hendrick Motorsports, and Christopher Bell, in his rookie Cup season with Joe Gibbs Racing, each won within the first four races of that year.