Head of Toyota NASCAR program addresses challenging year with Next Gen, driver futures

Kyle Busch
Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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NASHVILLE, Tennessee – With an engineering background rooted in problem-solving, Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson enjoys tackling challenges – but few NASCAR seasons have been as tricky as 2022.

Joe Gibbs Racing, TRD’s flagship, has foundered at times, while 23XI Racing (co-owned by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan) is enduring the natural growing pains of a startup Cup team expanding to a second car in its second season.

The June 13 race at Sonoma Raceway was the nadir for TRD – not just this season, but in recent memory. Toyota’s best finish was an 18th by Kurt Busch, the first time the manufacturer failed to record a  top 15 during a Cup race since November 2007 (its first year in NASCAR’s premier series).

But Toyota also has notched four victories in the first 16 races (with wins by Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch and two by Denny Hamlin), which is indicative of the erraticism in adapting to the Next Gen car — the revolutionary new model that has introduced a spec platform to the Cup Series.

NASHVILLE VIEWING INFO: How to watch as NASCAR ON NBC starts its 2022 season

With testing returning for each race weekend but remaining extremely limited, Gibbs and TRD have been on the back foot at times. Meanwhile, Chevrolets have won seven times, including victories by all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers and first-time career wins for Trackhouse Racing drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez.

On top of all that, the status of TRD-affiliated champions Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. had been uncertain for 2023. Truex announced Friday that he will return with JGR next season after mulling a potential retirement from his full-time Cup ride.

Meanwhile, Busch and Gibbs still are working on a contract extension.

“That’s added certainly to the challenge,” Wilson told NBC Sports. “And don’t get me wrong, I’m as competitive as they come. I hated the fact that (the last off week of the 2022 season) fell after Sonoma, because we had to live with that embarrassment for two weeks vs. the normal one week. We have to hold ourselves accountable. This is the job we’ve been given, and we’ve not delivered.

“I’m not overly stressed about it because I have the confidence in our leadership and our partners that we’ll get better. I can, though, step outside my role as well and just be happy for the sport and be happy for our former (Xfinity) champion Daniel Suarez. And friends like (Trackhouse president) Ty Norris. This is a pretty cool sport where you develop relationships across the garage and across teams. That’s been cool.”

Over a Thursday, June 23 videoconference from his downtown Nashville hotel, Wilson sat down with NBC Sports for a wide-ranging interview Friday about the Next Gen’s first year, its impact on competition and the futures of Busch and Truex.

Here are some of Wilson’s views on the current state of NASCAR and TRD (the interview has been lightly edited for clarity):


Q: Even though, you love challenges, this season feels as if it’s been a character builder in particular with adapting to the Next Gen while weathering some uncertainty in your driver lineup. Has that added another dimension of difficulty in trying to figure everything out this year?

Wilson: “If you think from a driver perspective for both Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr., that it hasn’t been a distraction, you’d be kidding yourself. They’ve responded differently because they’re completely different personalities. Kyle wears his emotions on his sleeve. Martin is much more reserved and private, and he’s a better poker player, hands down, than Kyle Busch.

“We well and truly believe we’ll have some direction from Martin this weekend here in Nashville about his future. We hope, obviously, that he’s going to stay at least for one more year. We’d love to have him. The part that hasn’t helped is he hasn’t been having fun. His team hasn’t performed for him and has not executed. And across the board, other than the 18 team, our execution in pit lane has been all over the place. It’s been embarrassing at times, but I’m much happier that’s more of the problem then finding speed because we can fix the pit lane stuff.

“But for Martin, that just compounds his question as to what he wants to do (in the future). If he were to have won Sonoma, that couldn’t have hurt. But we’ll respect and celebrate whatever he decides to do. And in the background, we have been very busy contingency planning. And no, I can’t share what that specifically entails, but it does entail, ‘OK, if Martin’s not coming back, who are we going to put in the 19 car?’ ”

Q: When Truex has talked about the future, he seems to be wrestling with and questioning whether he still can make the full commitment to being a Cup driver. But you still believe he can be competitive, it’s just a matter of getting his team situated?

Wilson: “Absolutely. The level of effort that we’re putting into keeping him in the fold is truly remarkable. We want him to stay. We know he can get it done. I feel terrible because we haven’t given him the tools in many cases and haven’t let him exploit the handful of times he’s had a really good car. But like anything else, he also appreciates and respects the fact that if he gets to the point that he’s decided that he’s ready to do a little more fishing, then he needs to give us the courtesy of some time to regroup, because the dominoes that fall, the reality is that it’s not just the driver. It’s sponsors. It’s people on that team. That impact is far-reaching, and Martin is very respectful of that. And I trust that he’ll let us know. And we’ll respect and celebrate his decision, whatever that is.”

AUTO: FEB 17 NASCAR Cup Series - Bluegreen Vacations Duel at Daytona
Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch have yet to be confirmed as returning with the NASCAR Cup Series team next season (Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

Q: What’s your perspective on Kyle Busch?

Wilson: “With Kyle, it’s a completely different personality, but I think this has been more of a distraction for Kyle than it has been for Martin. The irony is, setting Sonoma aside, Kyle Busch has been, hands down, the hottest driver in the sport for the past six weeks. He’s been on fire. He dang near caught Chase Elliott for the regular-season (points lead) before Sonoma happened. So in spite of that distraction, it kind of looks like he’s driving for his job, which we’ve seen in the sport before. That’s not Kyle’s style. I think he’s one driver that doesn’t succumb to that. But certainly there is some pride in there he’s driving for, and we still think he can get it done. I’ve been very outspoken relative to Toyota’s view of Kyle Busch, and in spite of his polarizing personality and the heavy lifting he’s presented anybody that he’s been partnered with. We haven’t given up on him. We’re not going to give up on him. And as I said the last time I was asked this, it would really be a tragedy if he did not call his shot and decide when he wanted to retire from Joe Gibbs Racing and from Toyota. And I well and truly mean that. As a father, and as a grandfather, I can truly appreciate having his son drive a Toyota one day and drive for his father at his truck team in a Toyota. And that can only happen if Kyle keeps driving for us. I don’t see a Carl Edwards in him with the mic drop.

“So those situations obviously have been more unpleasant than the on-track stuff, because that’s engineering and mechanics. That stuff is fixable. It’s people that make this job hard.”

Q: Let’s talk about the mechanics and the first season with the Next Gen car. How would you evaluate its performance through 16 races?

Wilson: “In spite of some healthy skepticism on our part and where we were last November, the fact is the launch of this brand-new, revolutionary race car has, by and large, I think exceeded all of our realistic expectations. Yes, we hoped it would be as good as it is, and we hoped we’d see some of the things that we’re seeing, but top to bottom, it has delivered and exceeded most expectations. The parity is unlike what we’ve seen and unlike I can ever remember. We saw it right away, look at the top 10 of any given race and see six or seven or eight different organizations inside the top 10. The racing by and large has been good.

“I call it a little bit of bizarro NASCAR, like the bizarro Seinfeld episode, in that the better racing has been on the intermediates vs. the short tracks. The tracks that didn’t have the show we were used to were Martinsville and Richmond, and the road courses haven’t been as good as we’re used to, but I still think it passes the test of, by and large, the racing has been good. The eyeball test is most important, but it’s the number of passes, the number of leaders per race. NASCAR shared on a call today that the 12 winners this early in the season ties for the second most since 1972. Four first-time winners, it’s the first time it’s happened in the modern era of NASCAR.

“As an engineer, and our focus, the mechanics and durability of the car were our biggest concerns, and by and large, the car is holding up and doing the types of things it was meant to do. Yeah, there have been some wheel issues, but I think that’s more cultural than mechanical. And yes, the tolerances early on were too tight and getting wheels on and off required too much precision, but that’s not that big of a deal.

“Here’s a part that I’m really as happy about as anything else: The bets have paid off for a lot of these young organizations that were placed on the hope, on paper, that they’d be able to compete with a standardized product – provided NASCAR does their job in policing the product and the teams. And I’ve really been impressed with how NASCAR has gotten right after that. They wasted no time, and at least two or three times now, they’ve kidnapped cars and taken back to the tech center to strip them down — sometimes just to see what the teams were doing, how they were building the cars and if (NASCAR) had missed anything. They found a couple of things and reacted very quickly, very sternly, and if they continue that type of policing, I think it’s really going to be good for the sport and really change the culture of what’s acceptable and not. I give very high marks to our Next Gen cars.”

Q: Those ways that NASCAR has reacted, are those through penalties that have been widely known, or is it work that is happening behind the scenes and with rules bulletins?

Wilson: “Penalties that are broadly known for sure. Now they also are seeing things and sending out bulletins and updates. I saw one this weekend about lug nuts need to be painted. I’m not sure what that one was about, but I’m sure they saw something, and it was like ‘OK, we need to clean this up. So there have been a lot of bulletins, but really, I’m the first one to say that my statement (last fall about the Next Gen) that ‘Get ready, we’re going to be working on this airplane while we’re flying it,’ was rather dramatic. And the reality is we have an air-worthy vehicle and it’s fine tuning. My fear was with the limited reps we had on this car, we would learn things we would only learn with hundreds of thousands of laps and miles that we didn’t have the luxury of doing. I’m not suggesting we’re done. We still haven’t made it through the full season. We still haven’t made it to a number of tracks that the car has ever seen before. And it’s not unreasonable to think that we’ll still find some things through the course of the rest of the season that could be improved on the car.”

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series DAYTONA 500
David Wilson has been the president of Toyota Racing Development since 2013 (Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images).

Q: A couple of years ago, you described the Next Gen as a “moon shot” concept. As the car already seems on course to be a bigger game-changer than its predecessors, the Gen 6 and Car of Tomorrow, is the reason as self-evident as it’s truly been a “moon shot”?

Wilson: “For sure, this one was not an evolutionary change to the car. It was a revolutionary change to the car. Candidly, I think for some organizations that aren’t burdened with the legacy of the old car, arguably it may even be better for them. All you have to do is look at the results sheet to suggest that Hendrick Motorsports in particular is on top of their game. My supposition doesn’t hold true clearly with respect to Hendrick and hats off to them and (vice president of competition) Chad (Knaus) and what they’re doing there. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota, because I always say it’s not us and them. It’s all of us. We have struggled to find consistency.

“I don’t remember being more frustrated about how we can go from some of our best races – Kansas, Charlotte, Gateway – we led the most laps and clearly had cars that could win. And then we go to Sonoma and have our worst finish in our NASCAR history since 2007. You look at what we did in COTA (the Circuit of the Americas road course in Austin, Texas), and we didn’t learn a damn thing. That is beautifully frustrating to an engineer. And sometimes I just think that we’re outsmarting ourselves. I refuse to believe it can be this hard to sort out. But stepping away from it, this is healthy in a twisted way. It really is healthy. There’s never been more anticipation and anxiety going to the track next week because you haven’t been there before (with the Next Gen) and because you really don’t know what to expect.”

Q: Even as much as Toyotas struggled at Sonoma, is there some solace that this has happened to other powerhouse teams? Penske struggled mightily at Dover and won the pole and race the following week at Darlington.

Wilson: “Penske, Stewart-Haas, we’ve all struggled. And to be fair, there was a race or two where Hendrick was nowhere to be found. I was really happy to see that. And again, it’s because those setups are put underneath those cars before they leave the shop, and with basically the warmup (practice) session, it’s not enough time to gather enough data to make any material changes, so your fate is really decided before you leave the race shop most of the time, and what we’re kind of seeing is we either hit it or don’t hit it.

“I’ll say the dark side of allianced organizations is when you miss it, everyone misses it. Now most of the time, it’s the other way around that when you hit it, everyone hits it, but sometimes there’s an advantage to having a nonallianced partnership because you hedge yourself. It’s way too early and premature to suggest we’re going to change our mentality and direction. I do think the value of the alliances also will be marginalized over time in a very organic manner. What we’re talking about is fundamentally there are certain services and economies around the way these cars are built that can be commoditized, and that are areas you don’t compete in, and if done in a collaborative fashion, you can actually achieve some even greater economies. And we’re batting around this idea of that and helping teams organize in a manner to be more efficient. And at the same time, you decide which areas where we are competing here, and those are left to each party to do on their own. But there’s so much learning going on and so much of our data sets are growing from nothing to a massive level. And again, there’s a part of that that’s actually kind of fun.”

Q: Chevrolet has been ahead of the game this year, but is some of that due to the fact that Chevy was late to the game as far as collaboration between all its teams? Chevy has opened a centralized tech center this year in the Charlotte area, which Toyota Racing Development sort of pioneered in NASCAR, and then Ford followed. Did catching up put Chevy in a good spot with the timing of the new car?

Wilson: “There’s no question in my mind that is working well for them. Again, I respect the changes and the succession strategy that Mr. Hendrick has put in place. He’s done a really nice job. And that’s something that is so difficult for any organization, let alone a racing organization, to do and to do well, and I give them really high marks. I have a tremendous amount of respect for all the people that have elevated and earned their spots. So yes, the 130,000 square feet (of technical center space)was a significant investment, and I applaud (Chevy) for that, and it certainly is working well for them.

“And that’s not just a NASCAR-centric enterprise, just like our facilities aren’t NASCAR-centric. It’s everything we do under the Toyota-Lexus umbrella that are serviced out of those organizations. And Chevrolet have taken more of those services in house vs. farming them out. That’s been our model since the day we entered the garage. I always like to say we like to get our hands dirty and have that type of relationship. That’s how we learn and develop our own IP. We just have to get better and innovate and embrace one of our core values of kaizen. Continuous improvement. That’s why I love sports and motorsports because you’re never ahead for long. Look what’s happening in the world of Formula One. It’s truly fascinating.”

Q: You made a trip to Japan recently to visit Toyota headquarters. With some troubling indicators for the economy and automotive sales, do you feel secure about the company’s investment in TRD?

Wilson: “I had a really good trip. My normal cadence was to go over there three to four times a year. Part of it was a reporting mission and always wanting to make sure our parent company understands why we race and understands the return we get that on that racing. I like to be very intentional about that. Obviously we haven’t been able to do that (because of the pandemic). This particular instance was a pretty specific trip around the development of some stuff we’re doing on the sports car side. But broadly, the automotive industry on a global basis is in a place it’s never been before. For the last fiscal year that ended March 31, 2022, Toyota recorded its highest global profitability in its history. It was one of the most profitable years ever of the company, and a lot of it had to do with the change in the way we sold cars the past two years, and the fact that because the demand far outstrips the supply, we don’t have to spend as much on marketing and what they call incentivizing buyers to buy your cars and trucks. We’ve found tremendous economies, and COVID itself presented a tremendous amount of savings just in how we operate. And all of those things ultimately roll up to the bottom line, and we sold every single car we could build. So it was on paper a tremendous year.

“The outlook for the current fiscal year is definitely more challenging. And now the entire industry is being burdened by raw material costs that are shockingly high. The cost of steel, aluminum, plastics. It’s not just about microchips. There is a significant strain. And that is certainly going to impact our profitability, but to the root of your question, and one of the reasons I’m so proud to work for Toyota, it’s not just the commitment that we’re going to keep racing, but the absolute belief that this isn’t just about racing. This is part of the social and cultural responsibility that we have as a business being run by Americans in this country, and it’s participating in the culture of America. I don’t believe that will ever go away. That’s a pretty impressive and fortunate place to be in if you have my job.”

Q: That would seem to be a fortunate place for NASCAR executives, too?

Wilson: “They are appreciative. Toyota just announced a few weeks ago a major reorganization prompted by a couple of very key retirements. My ultimate boss and mentor Bob Carter (head of sales for Toyota North America) announced his retirement after 44 years at the end of June. That’s creating a set of dominoes to fall, and of course Jim France, Steve Phelps and Steve O’Donnell want to come out to Plano (Texas) and meet some of the new players. They know most of the folks that are still part of it, but to meet them and give them a state of the union and make sure they know the partnership remains strong.”

2023 NASCAR, ARCA schedules

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The start of the 2023 racing season moves closer with each passing day.

Here are the Cup, Xfinity and Truck schedules (playoff races in bold), along with the ARCA, ARCA East and ARCA West schedules for the upcoming season:

2023 NASCAR Cup Series Schedule

Date Race / Track Network Start Time (ET) Radio
Sunday, February 5 Clash (L.A. Memorial Coliseum) FOX 8:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Thursday, February 16 Duel at Daytona FS1 7:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, February 19 DAYTONA 500 FOX 2:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, February 26 Auto Club FOX 3:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, March 5 Las Vegas FOX 3:30 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, March 12 Phoenix FOX 3:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, March 19 Atlanta FOX 3:00 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, March 26 COTA FOX 3:30 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, April 2 Richmond FS1 3:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, April 9 Bristol Dirt FOX 7:00 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, April 16 Martinsville FS1 3:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, April 23 Talladega FOX 3:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, April 30 Dover FS1 2:00 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, May 7 Kansas FS1 3:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, May 14 Darlington FS1 3:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, May 21 NASCAR All-Star Race (North Wilkesboro) FS1 8:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, May 28 Charlotte FOX 6:00 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, June 4 World Wide Technology Raceway FS1 3:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, June 11 Sonoma FOX 3:30 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, June 25 Nashville Superspeedway NBC 7:00 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, July 2 Chicago Street Race NBC 5:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, July 9 Atlanta USA 7:00 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, July 16 New Hampshire USA 2:30 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, July 23 Pocono USA 2:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, July 30 Richmond USA 3:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, August 6 Michigan USA 2:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, August 13 Indianapolis Road Course NBC 2:30 p.m. IMS/SiriusXM
Sunday, August 20 Watkins Glen USA 3:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, August 26 Daytona NBC 7:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, September 3 Darlington USA 6:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, September 10 Kansas USA 3:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, September 16 Bristol USA 7:30 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, September 24 Texas USA 3:30 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, October 1 Talladega NBC 2:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, October 8 Charlotte Roval NBC 2:00 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, October 15 Las Vegas NBC 2:30 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, October 22 Homestead-Miami NBC 2:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, October 29 Martinsville NBC 2:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, November 5 Phoenix NBC 3:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM

2023 NASCAR Xfinity Series Schedule

Date Location Network Start Time Radio
Saturday, February 18 Daytona FS1 5:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, February 25 Auto Club FS1 5:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, March 4 Las Vegas FS1 4:30 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, March 11 Phoenix FS1 4:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, March 18 Atlanta FS1 5:00 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, March 25 COTA FS1 5:00 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, April 1 Richmond FS1 1:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, April 15 Martinsville FS1 7:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, April 22 Talladega FS1 4:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, April 29 Dover FS1 1:30 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, May 13 Darlington FOX 1:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, May 27 Charlotte FS1 1:00 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, June 3 Portland FS1 4:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, June 10 Sonoma FS1 8:00 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, June 24 Nashville Superspeedway USA 3:30 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, July 1 Chicago Street Race USA 5:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, July 8 Atlanta USA 8:00 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, July 15 New Hampshire USA 3:00 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, July 22 Pocono USA 5:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, July 29 Road America NBC 3:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, August 5 Michigan NBC 3:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, August 12 Indianapolis Road Course USA 5:30 p.m. IMS/SiriusXM
Saturday, August 19 Watkins Glen USA 3:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Friday, August 25 Daytona USA 7:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, September 2 Darlington USA 3:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, September 9 Kansas NBC 3:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Friday, September 15 Bristol USA 7:30 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, September 23 Texas USA 3:30 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, October 7 Charlotte Roval USA 3:30 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, October 14 Las Vegas USA 3:30 p.m. PRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, October 21 Homestead-Miami NBC 3:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, October 28 Martinsville USA 3:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, November 4 Phoenix USA 7:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM

 

2023 NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series Schedule

Date Location Network Start Time Radio
Friday, February 17 Daytona FS1 7:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Friday, March 3 Las Vegas FS1 9:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, March 18 Atlanta FS1 2:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, March 25 COTA FS1 1:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, April 1 Texas FS1 4:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, April 8 Bristol Dirt FS1 8:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Friday, April 14 Martinsville FS1 7:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, May 6 Kansas FS1 8:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Friday, May 12 Darlington FS1 7:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, May 20 North Wilkesboro FOX 1:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Friday, May 26 Charlotte FS1 8:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, June 3 World Wide Technology Raceway FS1 1:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Friday, June 23 Nashville Superspeedway FS1 8:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, July 8 Mid-Ohio FS1 1:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, July 22 Pocono FS1 12:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, July 29 Richmond FS1 7:30 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Friday, August 11 Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis FS1 9:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Sunday, August 27 Milwaukee FS1 4:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Friday, September 8 Kansas FS1 9:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Thursday, September 14 Bristol FS1 9:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, September 30 Talladega FS1 1:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Saturday, October 21 Homestead-Miami FS1 12:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM
Friday, November 3 Phoenix FS1 10:00 p.m. MRN/SiriusXM

2023 ARCA Menards Series Schedule

  • Broadcast schedule, including event start times, will be released at a later date.
Feb. 18 Daytona International Speedway Daytona Beach, FL
March 10 Phoenix Raceway Avondale, AZ
April 22 Talladega Superspeedway Talladega, AL
May 6 Kansas Speedway Kansas City, KS
May 26 Charlotte Motor Speedway Concord, NC
June 17 Berlin Raceway Marne, MI
June 24 Elko Speedway Elko, MN
July 7 Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course Lexington, OH
July 15 Iowa Speedway Newton, IA
July 21 Pocono Raceway Long Pond, PA
Aug. 4 Michigan International Speedway Brooklyn, MI
Aug. 11 Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park Brownsburg, IN
Aug. 18 Watkins Glen International Watkins Glen, NY
Aug. 20 Illinois State Fairgrounds Springfield, IL
Aug. 27 The Milwaukee Mile West Allis, WI
Sept. 3 DuQuoin State Fairgrounds DuQuoin, IL
Sept. 8 Kansas Speedway Kansas City, KS
Sept. 14 Bristol Motor Speedway Bristol, TN
Sept. 30 Salem Speedway Salem, IN
Oct. 7 Toledo Speedway Toledo, OH

 

2023 ARCA Menards Series East Schedule

March 25    Five Flags Speedway              Pensacola, Fla. 

April 28      Dover Motor Speedway           Dover, Del. 

May 13      Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway    Nashville, Tenn. 

May 20      Flat Rock Speedway              Flat Rock, Mich. 

July 15      Iowa Speedway                  Newton, Iowa 

Aug. 11     Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park  Brownsburg, Ind. 

Aug. 27     The Milwaukee Mile              West Allis, Wisc. 

Sept. 14    Bristol Motor Speedway           Bristol, Tenn. 

 

2023 ARCA Menards Series West Schedule

March 10    Phoenix Raceway                Avondale, Ariz. 

April 1     Irwindale Speedway               Irwindale, Calif. 

April 22    Kern County Raceway Park          Bakersfield, Calif. 

June 2      Portland International Raceway      Portland, Ore. 

June 9      Sonoma Raceway                Sonoma, Calif. 

July 1      Irwindale Speedway               Irwindale, Calif. 

July 29     Shasta Speedway                 Anderson, Calif. 

Aug. 19     Evergreen Speedway             Evergreen, Wash. 

Sept. 30    All-American Speedway            Roseville, Calif. 

Oct. 13     The Bullring at LVMS              Las Vegas, Nev. 

Oct. 21     Madera Speedway                Madera, Calif. 

Nov. 3      Phoenix Raceway                 Avondale, Ariz. 

Each ARCA Menards Series East and West stand-alone race will be streamed live on FloRacing and televised on a delayed basis on USA Network. Race start times, as well as broadcast details for combination races with the ARCA Menards Series will be announced at a later date. 

 

2022 spotlights: The Clash, the King and Martinsville Mania

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The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season brought something new (a race inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum!) and something old (a win by the No. 43!) and a lot in-between.

In many ways, it was one of NASCAR’s best seasons. There were new winners, the Next Gen car kicked up competition a bit and there was a race finish (see the Ross Chastain file) like none other in the history of the sport.

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There were downsides, too: The safety of the new car came under fire (figuratively and literally, as wheel-well flames ended more than a few rides), drivers’ seasons were interrupted or ended because of hard wrecks and some races were less than stellar.

Looking back over the February-to-November marathon, some races stand out:

Rocking the City of Angels – Despite the naysayers, the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was a roaring success. A platter of questions, including whether the purpose-built track inside the stadium would hold up under heavy stock cars and generate good racing, awaited as teams rolled into LA. The racing wasn’t sensational, but it was good, and there were no problems with the track. A huge crowd showed up, and NASCAR left town with many ideas, having proven that it could run a race on a temporary track inside a large stadium. It has escaped no one’s notice that there are many other large stadiums in the country – and, by the way, outside it.

Wiggling at Watkins Glen – The venerable New York road course produced another hot finish as teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott battled for the win. Larson forced Elliott out of the main groove and took the lead for good with five laps remaining. “I’m not proud of it, but I knew it’s what I had to do to get the win,” Larson said. Elliott didn’t publicly criticize Larson, but it was clear he wasn’t pleased with Larson’s move.

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Six hundred miles, and then some – The long history of Charlotte Motor Speedway’s 600-mile race has produced some great competition – and some races that prompted long naps. This year’s was one of the craziest and, by the way, the longest. The race went to two overtimes, finally ending after 413 laps and 619.5 miles, making it the longest race in NASCAR’s 75 years. The winner – perhaps most accurately described as the survivor – was Denny Hamlin, who outran teammate Kyle Busch over the final two laps.

The King is back…but where is he? – The Cup playoffs opened at Darlington Raceway with the storied Southern 500, but the playoffs took a back seat to other storylines. Erik Jones scored an upset win in Richard Petty’s No. 43, marking the iconic car’s first victory since 2014. Petty, however, missed the Victory Lane festivities. He and Dale Inman, the No. 43’s former crew chief, left the race early for the drive home to North Carolina. The long night held several incidents, including one involving Kevin Harvick, who criticized NASCAR after his car caught fire, uttering his now-infamous diatribe about what he called “crappy-ass parts.”

No watermelon, but a lotta juiceThe finish of the Oct. 29 playoff race at Martinsville Speedway generated international interest. Christopher Bell won in a must-win situation to advance in the playoffs, but the post-race spotlight was on Ross Chastain, who rode the outside wall through the final two turns at speeds rarely seen on the short track and finished fourth, good enough to stay in the championship hunt. Chastain’s remarkable move drew comment from observers outside NASCAR, including Formula 1 drivers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday 5: Memorable images from 2022 NASCAR season

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The end of the season provides a chance to look back and each year I go through the photos on my phone and find those that show the highs and lows of a sport that goes from February to November. 

Here are some of the photos that stood out for me:

1. Daytona 500 

Although the time spent in Daytona Beach, Florida, has shrunk in recent years with a more compact track schedule, the intensity remains. As do the emotions. 

Cup rookie Austin Cindric accomplished “a racer’s dream” in winning the Daytona 500, accomplishing something in his second attempt that took Darrell Waltrip 17 times and Dale Earnhardt 20 times to accomplish.

Cindric blocked teammate Ryan Blaney coming to the finish line and beat Bubba Wallace by half a car length. 

It was the second time Bubba Wallace had finished runner-up in this race. Unlike 2018, when Wallace was excited with finishing second, Wallace felt no such emotion this time. 

“2018 was awesome,” Wallace said of his runner-up result in the Daytona 500. “2022 was not awesome.

“I didn’t have a fighting chance the first time in 2018. This one being that close, it’s like a gut punch.”

The photos that stand out to me are of the picture of Cindric’s car covered in red, white and blue confetti before going through post-race inspection and the disappointment Wallace wore on pit road after the race.

Austin Cindric‘s car after winning the 2022 Daytona 500. (Photo: Dustin Long)

 

A dejected Bubba Wallace after finishing second in the 2022 Daytona 500. (Photo: Dustin Long)

2. Road America 

The Cup Series is not returning to the Wisconsin road course after two years there. Instead, this race will be replaced by the Chicago street course event in 2023.

This past season’s race was memorable. Tyler Reddick scored his first career Cup win on July 3. Nine days later came the announcement that he was leaving Richard Childress Racing for 23XI Racing in 2024 (That timetable moved up to 2023 after RCR signed Kyle Busch to replace Reddick in the No. 8.).

Among the special moments from the Road America race was Austin Cindric walking the length of pit road to victory lane to congratulate Reddick.

Austin Cindric hugs Tyler Reddick in victory lane at Road America on July 3, 2022. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Walking with Cindric, I asked him why he was making the trip to see Reddick.

“I think of anyone in the field, he probably deserves that win more than anybody else,” Cindric told me. “I think he’s put himself in position. He’s a really likable guy, and I feel like you can see how hard he works. 

“I’ve seen him mature as a driver and a person and as a friend and a father. It’s cool to see somebody you’re close to go through that.”

When Cindric arrived in victory lane, he walked up to Reddick and gave his friend a bearhug, lifting Reddick well off the ground.

In all the excitement, Reddick’s son, Beau, was not impressed. He was sound asleep in victory lane.

Tyler Reddick’s son Beau sleeps in victory lane after his father’s first Cup win in July 2022 at Road America. (Photo: Dustin Long)

3. Special moments

One never knows what you’ll come across in a season that stretches so long through the calendar. 

These are a few such moments that proved special for one reason or the other.

As storm clouds gathered over Daytona International Speedway in February, the sun was settling, creating a sky both ominous and spectacular. The photo captures that scene as Cole Custer walks through the garage. After this season, Stewart-Haas Racing announced it was replacing Custer with Ryan Preece in the No. 41 Cup car and that Custer would run in the Xfinity Series for the team.

Cole Custer walks under an ominous sky at Daytona in February 2022. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Another photo that stands out to me comes from the Clash at the Coliseum. There were so many questions about the exhibition race inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, such as if the specially built track would withstand the rigors of cars, what would the debut of the Next Gen car be like and would fans really be interested in such an event.

The track held up. So did most of the cars and the fans came. While not a sellout, more than 50,000 people attended the event and NASCAR noted that many had not purchased tickets to a NASCAR event before. The event was a success.

What stood out to me was the lines of people waiting to buy souvenirs the day of the race. In some places, lines stretched well away from the merchandise trailers. 

Fans stand in line for merchandise at the Clash at the Coliseum in Feb. 2022. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Sometimes you never know what you’ll see at at event. At an event at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Hall of Famers Richard Petty, Dale Inman and Ray Evernham all stood together. That is 18 Cup championships (eight by Inman, seven by Petty and three by Evernham).

NASCAR Hall of Famers Ray Evernham, Richard Petty and Dale Inman at the NASCAR Hall in April 2022. (Photo: Dustin Long)

4. New winners 

This season saw five first-time Cup winners: Austin Cindric (Daytona 500 in February), Chase Briscoe (Phoenix in March), Ross Chastain (Circuit of the Americas in April), Daniel Suarez (Sonoma in June) and Tyler Reddick (Road America in July).

I caught this scene of Suarez alone in his thoughts in the garage at Nashville Superspeedway in his first race since that Sonoma victory.

Daniel Suarez at Nashville Superspeedway in June 2022. (Photo: Dustin Long)

5. Martinsville

Ross Chastain’s video game move on the last lap of the playoff race was stunning. Needing two positions to advance to the championship race, Chastain put his car into fifth gear, planted his car against the wall in Turn 3, took his hands off the wheel and let the wall guide his Chevrolet around the final two turns while he floored the throttle.

Amazingly, it worked. He passed five cars and earned a spot in the championship. Although he didn’t win the Cup title, Chastain provided one of the most memorable moments of the 2022 season.

As I was leaving the infield late that Sunday night. I stopped to take a picture of the wall and the marks Chastain’s car had left on its remarkable charge.

Turn 4 wall after Ross Chastain’s video game move on the last lap of the October 2022 race. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Dr. Diandra: 2022 accidents steady, spins up 200%

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Cautions were up in 2022 despite fewer stage-end and competition cautions of any year since stage racing began. The third installment of 2022 by the numbers focuses on the causes (and causers) of cautions.

Cautions

I divide cautions into those that are planned — like competition and stage-end breaks — and so-called ‘natural’ cautions. Natural cautions include accidents, spins, stalled cars, debris or liquid on track and weather.

My first graph shows that this year’s 302 cautions are the most total cautions since 2014. That’s despite only 73 planned cautions, the fewest since stage racing started.

A stacked bar chart showing the planned and natural cautions from 2013 to 2022

The 2022 season had 43 more total cautions relative to 2021, and 57 more natural cautions than last year. That’s the most natural cautions since 2016.

Causes

Caution classification is subjective. Obviously, a car spinning is a spin and cars colliding is an accident. But if a car spins and then hits another car, is it a spin or an accident? If an accident happens at a stage break, do you record the caution as an accident or a stage break?

This year presented an even thornier problem.

The 2022 season had more blown tires and wheels coming off cars than any season I can remember. NASCAR classified some incidents arising from blown tires as debris cautions, others as accidents.

To me, a blown tire seems fundamentally different from a stray car part on the track.

The myriad tire and wheel problems prompted me to review all 302 cautions. I added three additional caution categories: wheel issues, fire and tire issues.

Tire issues were so labeled only if a blown tire preceded a crash or spin. Tires that blow because of contact with the wall or flat spotting aren’t included. If I couldn’t tell for sure that the blown tire came first, I left the caution in its original category.

My re-categorization complicates comparing cautions by category to previous years. That concern is offset by the need to set a benchmark against which to measure next year’s data.

The table below compares my breakdown of cautions with NASCAR’s for the 2022 season. I admit that I’m not totally objective, either. But I believe my categorization better reflects the overall nature of the 2022 season.

A table comparing breakdowns of cautions

The most surprising statistic is the extraordinarily large number of spins. Cup Series drivers spun between 20 and 27 times per season between 2016 and 2021. Drivers in 2022 spun 60 times.

There haven’t been that many spins since 2007, when the series recorded 66 spins. That was the first year of the Gen-5 car; however, the number of spins this year is similar to the numbers for the Gen-4 car. Fans wanted a car that was harder to drive. The spin statistics are a good argument that they’ve gotten their wish.

Drivers in accidents, spins and stalls

I treat accidents, spins, and stalls as a single category because of the questions about differentiating between them. ‘Incidents’ combines all the spins, all the accidents and all the stalls.

And remember: being involved in an incident doesn’t imply that driver caused the incident.

The graph below shows all drivers with 12 or more incidents during the 2022 season.

A stacked bar graph showing the drivers involved in the most accidents, spins and/or stalls

Remember also that this count doesn’t include wheel or tire issues. A driver crashing because a tire blew is fundamentally different from an accident or spin.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ross Chastain were involved in the most incidents in 2022. Both drivers had 15 accidents. Stenhouse also had two spins and a stall, while Chastain had three spins. Stenhouse led in caution-causing incidents in 2021 with 17 accidents.

Kyle Busch comes in third in total incidents, and first in spins with seven. For comparison, no other driver had more than four spins.

No full-time driver evaded incidents entirely. Justin Haley was involved in the fewest: four. William Byron tallied six while Aric Almirola and Michael McDowell came in at eight each.

Cautions by race

The Coca-Cola 600 was the longest Cup Series race in history in terms of mileage. Its 18 cautions helped make it long in terms of time, too.

But longer races offer more opportunities to crash. A better metric is the number of crashes per 100 miles of racing. I removed stage and competition cautions because planned cautions don’t depend on race length.

The Bristol dirt race’s 14 cautions were the third highest total after the Coca-Cola 600 and Texas’s 16 cautions. But the dirt race was the shortest race of the season at 133.25 miles.

A vertical bar graph showing the races with the most cautions per 100 miles of racing

That gives the Bristol dirt race a whopping 9.0 natural cautions per 100 miles of racing. Last year, the Bristol dirt race was also at the top of the list with 7.4 total cautions per 100 miles of racing.

Bristol’s asphalt race had the second-most cautions per 100 miles at 3.4  The two Bristol races are followed by COTA (3.0) and Texas (2.8).

What about superspeedways?

The only superspeedway race in the top-10 cautions-per-100-miles graph is the second Atlanta race. The fall Talladega race had the fewest cautions per 100 miles this year of any oval at 0.80.

But superspeedways claim more cars per accident. The summer Daytona race featured 46 cars involved in five accidents for an average of 9.2 cars per accident. Some cars were involved in multiple accidents, which is why the total number of cars in accidents is larger than the number of cars racing.

The fall Talladega race comes in second in terms of wreckage per accident with an average of 8.0 cars. The spring Talladega race ties with the Bristol asphalt race. Both had an average of 7.0 cars per accident.

Road America had the fewest cautions of any race in 2022. With only two stage-break cautions, Road America had 0.0 natural cautions per 100 miles. Sonoma had 0.72 natural cautions per 100 miles and the Charlotte Roval 0.78.

We normally use cautions as a proxy to count accidents and spins. The problem is that not every incident causes a caution — especially at road courses. There were seven cautions for wheels coming off cars, some wheels came off on pit road. Some drivers limped their cars back to the pits after losing wheels.

And there were a lot more spins that didn’t bring out cautions.

Next week, I’ll tell you all about those.