Dr. Diandra: The concrete facts about Nashville Superspeedway

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Twenty-seven tracks host points-paying NASCAR Cup Series races in 2022. Only Nashville Superspeedway was designed with a concrete racing surface. Martinsville installed concrete in the turns in 1976, while Bristol and Dover transitioned from asphalt to concrete in 1992 and 1995, respectively.

The 1.33-mile Nashville track is a D-shaped oval and the longest of the four concrete-containing tracks. At 14 degrees of banking, it’s slightly more banked than Martinsville (12 degrees), but much less banked than Dover (24 degrees) or Bristol (24-28 degrees.) If we count half of Martinsville, concrete accounts for 13% of NASCAR Cup Series surfaces. Dirt makes up 3.7%, leaving asphalt to account for the other 83.3%.

Concrete vs. asphalt

Concrete and asphalt are both composites: aggregate (also known as “small rocks”) bonded together by a glue-like material called a binder. Concrete dates to the Roman Empire, while the first asphalt roads weren’t constructed until 1848. The nature of the binders explains the difference in timelines.

Pictures of asphalt and concrete to show how they differ

Concrete usually uses a portland cement binder, a mix of limestone and clay. Asphalt uses bitumen, a tarry black substance derived from the heaviest components of crude oil, as a binder. The binders determine the application method. While concrete is poured and cured, asphalt must be heated to a high temperature before extruding and being allowed to cool.

Because asphalt is more flexible than concrete, asphalt can be laid in long, continuous swaths. Concrete must be poured in sections to prevent damage from weather-induced expansion and contraction. The lines between concrete sections also assist with water drainage. That’s needed because concrete is less porous than asphalt.

Asphalt’s flexibility means it doesn’t spread out loads. Asphalt experiences larger, more concentrated stresses than concrete. The figure below shows typical stress distributions (in red) for asphalt and concrete.

A graphic showing how concrete and asphalt deal differently with stress. Concrete spreads stress out whereas asphalt doesn't

As you might guess — from this graphic or your own personal experience with potholes, asphalt is more easily damaged than concrete. Asphalt simply can’t stand up to the high forces of race cars taking tight curves at high speed.

Concrete costs

Transportation engineer Van Walling compiled the fascinating (as-of-yet-unpublished) compendium Oval Track Almanac. The three volumes document 45 years of extensive research of more than 1,000 tracks in the United States and abroad.

Martinsville, Walling explained, turned to concrete because race cars damaged the asphalt in the turns. Trucks can damage asphalt in expressway off-ramp loops the same way.

“Between high temperature and the force of the vehicles,” Walling said, “asphalt can be moved, creating a texture like a washboard.”

While “shoving“, as the phenomenon is called, is annoying for an off-ramp, those bumps create real trouble for race cars. Track operators have no option beyond frequent resurfacing or reconstruction — or switching to concrete.

That’s not to say that concrete tracks are impervious. In 2004, Jeff Gordon lost a Martinsville race due to concrete coming off the track. In 2018, a chunk of Dover’s concrete surface loosened and damaged Jaime McMurray’s car. Debris from the impact broke windows in a pedestrian crossover above the racing surface. That episode prompted Dale Earnhardt Jr. to tweet that “Asphalt is for racing. Concrete is for sidewalks.”

Walling, who has studied the original blueprints for Daytona International Speedway, said NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. wouldn’t necessarily agree.

“He intended the corners at Daytona to be concrete,” Walling said. “The problem was cost.”

Concrete requires a much greater up-front investment, and France was already struggling for funding.

“He initially planned a 60-foot racing surface,” Walling said, “but ended up settling for 40 feet.”

If France hadn’t found the money, Walling says, Daytona might have ended up as a much flatter track. Upfront cost is why almost all new tracks are built with asphalt, even though the upkeep is more expensive in the long run.

How concrete changes racing

The primary grip mechanism on any racetrack is the tire deforming around the aggregate. Concrete, by its nature, is smoother than asphalt. When NASCAR measured track surface roughness in 2019, Martinsville, Dover and Bristol were the three smoothest tracks.

The second grip mechanism is the adhesive interaction between rubber molecules on the track and on the tire. Although Goodyear designs their tires to lay down rubber on concrete tracks, the rubber doesn’t stay put.

“At speed,” Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing, said, “the track will progressively turn black as the cars lay rubber on the concrete surface and then turn back white under the caution flag as the tires pick back much of that rubber. Keeping pace with that transition is an important element of the race strategy.”

A driver loses traction on a concrete track much faster than on asphalt. Drivers have already spun more in 2022 with the Next Gen car than in all of 2021. The accident rate is also up.

Nashville’s concrete surface may pose a real challenge. Dover, the only 2022 race on a full concrete track so far, had 13 cautions. That’s almost double the number of cautions in each of the two races before, and triple each of the two before that.

One positive, through is that concrete doesn’t wear as fast as asphalt. Even though the car is new, the surface won’t have changed much since last year. The tires are also familiar. Teams ran the Nashville left-side tire three times (including at Dover) and the right side six times this year. They’ve even run the same left-right configuration twice: at Charlotte and the Texas All-Star Race.

Black and white

Track color matters.

The sun emits a spectrum of electromagnetic waves. The tiny band we can see is what we call light.  But the sun also provides infrared waves, like the heat lamps restaurants use to keep food hot. Its ultraviolet waves are why you should wear lots of sunblock at the track.

Different colored surfaces interact differently with the sun’s waves.

We see objects because they reflect, emit and/or transmit light. A red car absorbs all wavelengths of light except those corresponding to red. Only red wavelengths reach our eyes.

A graphic showing how white light (light of all colors) hits a red surface. The surface absorbs all the light except the red. That light is reflected to our eyes.

White surfaces reflect most wavelengths of light. That’s why you see concrete as white — white light is the sum of all colors of light. Black surfaces, on the other hand, absorb a lot of light. Because no light is reflected, you see black. The same thing happens with infrared waves, which cause black surfaces to heat faster than white surfaces.

A graphic comparing light hitting black and white surfaces

White tracks also reflect more light into the drivers’ eyes. Drivers will need tinted visor peel-offs for the 4 p.m. local (5 p.m. Eastern) start, which will be broadcast on NBC.

Heat causes the bitumen in asphalt to release oils that make the track more slippery. That doesn’t happen with concrete.

The end result is that a concrete track doesn’t change over the course of a race as much as an asphalt track. Nashville Superspeedway should be easier for crew chiefs to keep up with because temperature changes won’t change the racing surface as much.

On the negative side, if a team misses the setup, there’s much less likelihood that the track will come to them during the race.

Sponsor adds more races in 2023 with Josh Berry

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Jarrett Companies will increase the number of races it will sponsor Josh Berry‘s No. 8 JR Motorsports ride in 2023, the Xfinity Series team announced Monday.

Jarrett Companies will sponsor Berry in six races after serving as the primary sponsor in three races in 2022. Those six races will be Phoenix (March 11), Richmond (April 1), Dover (April 29), Atlanta (July 8), Indianapolis (Aug. 12) and Texas (Sept. 23).

The deal gives Berry at least 26 races with sponsorship for next season. Bass Pro Shops will serve as the primary sponsor of Berry’s car in 11 races in 2023. Tire Pros is back with JRM and will sponsor Berry in nine races in the upcoming season.

Berry, who reached the Xfinity title race and finished fourth in the points, will have a new crew chief in 2023. Taylor Moyer will take over that role with Mike Bumgarner serving as JRM’s director of competition.

The 2023 Xfinity season begins Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway.

 

Where are they now? Buddy Parrott enjoying down time

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Buddy Parrott played outsized roles in two of the most dramatic races in NASCAR history.

Now 83 years old and retired from the sport since 2001, Parrott looks back on those two days as highlights of a career that began in the early 1970s.

In the 1990 Daytona 500, champion driver Dale Earnhardt seemed on course to end his frustration in NASCAR’s biggest event. He held the lead roaring down the backstretch on the last lap. Suddenly, Earnhardt slowed with a blown tire.

The lead was inherited by Derrike Cope, who charged to the checkered flag to score one of racing’s biggest upsets.

Parrott was Cope’s crew chief.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: Memorable quotes through the years

In 1984, Richard Petty edged Cale Yarborough to win the summer race at Daytona International Speedway. It was Petty’s 200th – and final – win.

Parrott was Petty’s crew chief.

Those victories were high marks in a long pit-road career that saw Parrott’s drivers win dozens of races. He worked with, among others, Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace, Jeff Burton and Petty and for team owners Jack Roush and Roger Penske.

Parrott remains active at 83, although he admits to having moved to a slower gear.

“I haven’t been living on the edge,” Parrott told NBC Sports. “I’ve been taking it really easy. I told my sons when you get to be 80 you can do anything you want because basically you’ve already done it.”

MORE: NASCAR, ARCA 2023 schedules

His strongest current connection to NASCAR is as a voter in the annual Hall of Fame balloting.

After more than 20 years roaming pit roads as a crew chief, Parrott moved into a general manager role at Roush Racing in 1997. He retired four years later and didn’t look back.

“I finally told Jack one day, ‘I don’t have time to ride my motorcycle,’ ” Parrott said. “He looked at me and said, ‘What do you want to do about it?’ I said, ‘I’m ready to retire.’ He told me I could work whatever schedule I wanted, but I decided that was it. I didn’t have a going-away thing or whatever.”

Parrott spent much of the next 15 years traveling with his wife, Judy, who died in 2016, and playing with his grandchildren.

“I had a great time in retirement because Judy was ready and I was ready,” he said. “We had a lot of fun. We’d go to Florida for two and three months at a time. I’m so happy that I didn’t hang on and go to the shop every day and try to find something to do. I spent that time with Judy, and we had 16 years of good retirement.”

Parrott, a native of Gastonia, N.C., lives in Statesville, N.C. His sons, Todd and Brad, also were NASCAR crew chiefs.

MORE: Jody Ridley’s Dover win an upset for the ages

Parrott is perhaps best remembered as crew chief for Rusty Wallace, Team Penske and the No. 2 black cars sponsored by Miller Lite. From 1992-94, they won 19 races and were consistently competitive at the front.

“I still get a lot of cards sent to me to sign from those years,” Parrott said. “I can say that was some of the happiest times I had. Those years with Rusty – and then with Jack Roush – really stand out. And who in the hell could not have fun having a beer sponsor?”

 

 

NASCAR Awards to air at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Joey Logano didn’t need much time to answer the question.

Who would the two-time Cup champion want to introduce him at the NASCAR Awards?

Racing icon Mario Andretti, Logano immediately said. 

And there was Andretti on the stage at the Music City Center introducing Logano, the 2022 Cup champion. Watch that and the rest of the night’s festivities at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock. You can order Peacock here.

MORE: See the red carpet scene

MORE: Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

NBC Sports’ Marty Snider and Kim Coon co-hosted the show along with Fox Sports’ Kaitlyn Vincie. The Cup, Xfinity and Truck champions were honored. Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, whose father died hours after Gibbs won the Xfinity title last month, received a standing ovation and thanked the industry for its support.

The highlight of the night for Logano was having Andretti on stage to introduce him.

“He’s just been a great role model for me, not only as a racer, but as a person for so long,” Logano said afterward. “I had his picture on my wall. I looked at Mario Andretti before I went to sleep every night as a kid. I thought it was the coolest thing that he signed it to me.”

NASCAR Awards and Champion Celebration
Cup champion Joey Logano on stage with racing icon Mario Andretti during the NASCAR Awards in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Logano and Andretti have gotten to know each other through the years. Logano ran a throwback car that honored Andretti at Darlington Raceway in 2015 and 2021.

But none of that compared to being on stage with Andretti.

“That’s still like a pinch-me moment,” Logano said. “It’s Mario Andretti. He’s the man. The fact that he knows my name I think is really, really cool.”

Catch the NASCAR Awards at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock

Sport shows support for Gibbs family at NASCAR Awards

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The NASCAR community showed its support Thursday at the NASCAR Awards for the Gibbs family, grieving the death of Coy Gibbs on Nov. 6. 

During his interview on stage, car owner Joe Gibbs thanked the NASCAR industry for its support. (The NASCAR Awards show airs at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on Peacock).

Coy Gibbs, son of Joe Gibbs and father of Xfinity champion Ty Gibbs, died hours after seeing Ty Gibbs win the series title last month at Phoenix Raceway. Coy Gibbs, 49, was the vice chairman and chief operating officer at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief operating officer, introduced Ty Gibbs at the NASCAR Awards and noted that “everyone gathered tonight is all a part of the NASCAR family, and I know I speak for everyone that the entire NASCAR family is 100% percent behind this young man.”

Ty Gibbs received a standing ovation.

“Thank you,” he told the crowd, “that means a lot.”

Ty Gibbs spoke for less than a minute, thanking his team, sponsors, fans and the NASCAR community.

He closed his speech by saying “And thanks to my family. I love you. I hope everybody has a great offseason. Enjoy it. Thank you for all the support. Thank you for all the claps. I really appreciate it.”

Ty Gibbs spoke to the media earlier Thursday. Asked how he was doing, he said: “I’ve been doing good. Thank you for asking and definitely appreciate you guys. We’ve been doing good, doing a lot of stuff this week. … It’s been fun to experience this stuff.”

Asked about Joe Gibbs addressing the organization after Coy’s death, Ty Gibbs politely said: “For right now, I’m not going to touch on any of that subject at all. I’m just going to stick with all the racing questions and go from there.”

Cup champion Joey Logano said he spent time with 20-year-old Ty Gibbs on Wednesday at the champion’s dinner.

Logano said he told Ty Gibbs that “we’re here for you. You need something reach out.”