Friday 5: Five laps that impacted 2022 NASCAR Cup season

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In the 4,712 laps run in the first half of an unpredictable Cup season filled with 13 different visitors to Victory Lane, including five first-time winners, and numerous ups and downs, not all laps count the same. 

Some laps are significant because they come at the end, while others that seem insignificant prove to be anything but as a race progresses. 

Here’s a look at five laps this season that have made an impact on the season:

1. Lap 188 at Talladega 

Erik Jones led the field off the final corner of the final lap, but Talladega’s start/finish line is further down the frontstretch than most tracks.

By the time the field reached the finish line, Jones was sixth after an ill-fated block on the high side opened the bottom lane for Ross Chastain to score his second win of the season. 

This lap in April matters because if Jones had won, the series would have 14 different winners instead of 13. With 14 different winners, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. would be on the cutline going to Atlanta Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET Sunday on USA Network). Instead, Truex’s teammate, Christopher Bell, is on the cutline. 

After crossing the finish line, Jones radioed his team: “I just got too far out there. Sorry.”

By getting too far out off Turn 4, he allowed the field to draft and build momentum. 

As the field closed, Jones moved up the track to block Kyle Larson, who darted to the outside of Jones’ car. Jones had no help behind. Chastain and others cruised by on the inside since Jones was too far up the track to block them.

Just as important is that Chastain won. He is tied with Chase Elliott and William Byron for most playoff points this season with 13. Chastain sits third in the season standings, trailing Elliott by 35 points going into this weekend. Those playoff points could come in handy for Chastain later this season. 

2. Lap 354 at Richmond 

Few could have imagined how significant this lap would be except maybe those on Denny Hamlin’s team.

Passing was difficult in the 400-lap race at Richmond in April, but tire wear was significant. That provided an opportunity to move through the field.

A key question in the final stage of the race was if crew chiefs would split the final 90 laps and pit twice or just once. Pitting an extra time meant more time on pit road, but it would be worth it if the fresher tires overcame that deficit.

William Byron made his final pit stop at Lap 311 and ran the final 89 laps of the race on the same set of tires. He had run no more than 73 laps on a set of tires earlier in the event.

Hamlin pitted at Lap 310 after running 50 laps on a set of tires. He made his final pit stop at Lap 354. He was among the last cars to pit during that cycle.

Hamlin chased Byron and passed him with five laps left to win.

The finish made the Lap 354 pit call by crew chief Chris Gabehart significant because it was the first win of the season for Hamlin. 

Had he not gotten it, his Coca-Cola 600 win would be his only victory of the season. That’s key because Hamlin is assured a playoff spot with two wins. 

If he only had one win, he’d rank lowest among the one-race winners and would be in jeopardy of missing the playoffs if there were enough winners to bump their way into the playoff field. 

3. Lap 325 at Atlanta 

The March race on the reconfigured racetrack proved dramatic with 11 cautions, 31 cars involved in accidents and 46 lead changes.

The biggest moment came on the backstretch on the final lap. As William Byron led the field, Christopher Bell passed Ross Chastain and crossed the finish line second to Byron. 

But Bell went below the double white line to advance his position on the backstretch. 

That was a new rule for this race, which used the superspeedway race package and some of the rules seen at Daytona and Talladega — such as no passing below the double yellow lines at those tracks. 

NASCAR penalized Bell by making him the last car on the lead lap. That dropped him from second to 23rd. The penalty cost Bell 21 points.

He heads into Sunday’s return visit to Atlanta holding the final playoff spot by 20 points on Kevin Harvick. Had Bell gotten by Chastain without going below the double white line, Bell would be 41 points ahead of Harvick and only 20 points behind teammate Martin Truex Jr. in the playoff standings. 

4. Lap 293 at Nashville 

The field had a decision with the caution out eight laps from the finish of the June race at Nashville Superspeedway. 

Pit or stay out.

Leader Chase Elliott stayed out. Trailing him were Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. 

All had a chance to stay out and restart on the front row with Elliott.

None took it.

Two by mistake.

Busch was called to pit road for two tires. Hamlin was told to stay out if he could get the front row for the restart, which by Busch pitting, he would do so. 

But before Hamlin approached pit road, interim crew chief Sam McAulay told him to stay out only if he could get the lead when McAulay actually meant the front row. McAulay, the team’s engineer, served as interim crew chief with Chris Gabehart serving the last race in a four-race suspension for a wheel coming off the car at Dover. 

Following the directive to pit if he couldn’t get the lead, Hamlin did just that. 

That meant that Truex — seeking his first win of the season to claim a playoff spot — could restart on the front row by staying out. That was the order from crew chief James Small, but Truex mistakingly came down pit road, throwing away a chance to win and not be in jeopardy of falling out of a playoff spot. 

Elliott claimed his second victory of the season and five more playoff points. Truex, instead of possibly winning, finished 22nd. Not only did the mistake cost him a win, it also cost him about 20 points. 

This was the second time a pit call on a late caution cost JGR drivers a chance to win. Busch led and Truex was second when the caution came out at Las Vegas, sending the race to overtime. The field pitted. Busch and Truex each took four tires, but Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman and William Byron each took two tires and restarted ahead of Busch and Truex.

Bowman passed Larson on the restart to win. Busch finished fourth. Truex was eighth.

5. Lap 292 at Darlington 

Joey Logano bumped William Byron out of the lead with less than two laps to go and went on to win the May race at Darlington.

Logano took umbrage with Byron squeezing him against the wall in Turn 2 with 26 laps left as they dueled for the lead. After that, Logano was willing to be more aggressive with Byron. 

“He runs everybody over,” Byron said, walking through the garage after the race. “I don’t see what’s different. He does it to everybody. Didn’t even let us finish. He goes in (the corner) 10 mph faster. Stupid.”

The biggest impact wasn’t that this was Logano’s first of two points wins this season or that it prevented Byron from winning what would have been a series-high third race this year, it’s what could happen. 

How Will Byron race Logano the closer it gets to the playoffs or in the playoffs? Will that finish alter how they race with each other in other close situations?

NASCAR weekend schedule for Circuit of the Americas


NASCAR’s three major series return to the road this weekend with races scheduled Saturday and Sunday at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Xfinity and Craftsman Truck Series races are Saturday, and the Cup Series is scheduled to race Sunday afternoon.

MORE: Drivers expect North Wilkesboro surface to be challenging

Joey Logano, winner of last Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, has led laps in both COTA races and will be among the favorites Sunday.

As the first road course of the year, COTA will begin a new approach by NASCAR to stage racing on road circuits. There will no longer be a caution to end stages, but points will be awarded for the finish order. In another change, the “choose” rule will be in effect on road courses.

A look at the weekend schedule:

Circuit of the Americas (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)

Weekend weather

Friday: Thunderstorms in the morning, sun later in the day. High of 86. 80% chance of rain.

Saturday: Sunny. High of 83.

Sunday: Partly cloudy. Temperature of 81 degrees with a 15% chance of rain at the start of the race.

Friday, March 24

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 11:30 a.m. .- 6:30 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 1:30 – 8:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 2:05 – 2:55 p.m. — Cup practice (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 8 p.m. on FS1)
  • 4:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck practice (No live broadcast)
  • 5 – 6 p.m. — Truck qualifying (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 9 p.m. on FS1)
  • 6:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 7 – 8 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)

Saturday, March 25

Garage open

  • 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 10:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 2 – 10:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying (FS1)
  • 1:30 p.m. — Truck race (42 laps, 143 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 5 p.m. — Xfinity race (46 laps, 156 miles; FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, March 26

Garage open

  • 12:30 – 10 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup race (68 laps, 231.88 miles; Fox, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)




North Wilkesboro’s worn surface will prove challenging to drivers


NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — Three Cup drivers got their first chance to experience North Wilkesboro Speedway’s worn racing surface Tuesday and said tires will play a key role in the NASCAR All-Star Race there on May 21.

Chris Buescher, Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick took part in a Goodyear tire test Tuesday. That test was to continue Wednesday.

The verdict was unanimous about how important tire wear will be.

“This place has got a lot of character to it,” Reddick said. “Not a lot of grip and it’s pretty unforgiving. It’s a really fun place.”

Dillon said: “If you use up your tire too early, you’re going to really be in trouble. You really got to try to make those four tires live.”

Buescher said: “The surface here was so worn out already that we expect to be all over the place. The speeds are fairly slow just because of the amount of grip here. It’s hard to get wide open until you’re straight.”

Reddick noted the drop in speed over a short run during Tuesday’s test. That will mean a lot of off-throttle time.

“I think we were seeing a second-and-a-half falloff or so over even 50 laps and that was kind of surprising for me we didn’t have more falloff,” he said. “But, one little miscue, misstep into Turn 1 or Turn 3, you lose a second sliding up out of the groove and losing control of your car.”

“That’s with no traffic. Maybe with more traffic and everything, the falloff will be more, but certainly we’re out of control from I’d say Lap 10 on. You have to really take care of your car. … It’s really hard 30-40 laps into a run to even get wide open.”

Chris Buescher runs laps during a Goodyear tire test at North Wilkesboro Speedway, while Austin Dillon is on pit road. (Photo: Dustin Long)

One thing that stood out to Dillon was how the facility looks.

While the .625-mile racing surface remains the same since Cup last raced there in 1996, most everything else has changed.

In some cases, it is fresh red paint applied to structures but other work has been more extensive, including repaving the infield and pit road, adding lights for night racing, adding SAFER barriers, the construction of new suites in Turn 4 and new stands along the backstretch.

“It’s cool to see how much they’ve done to the track, the suites, the stands that they’re putting in,” Dillon said. “To me, the work that is going in here, we’re not just coming for one race. We’re coming here for a while. I’m excited about that.”

Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup race at COTA


Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, has attracted an entry list that includes talent beyond that of the tour regulars.

Jordan Taylor, who is substituting in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet for injured Chase Elliott, brings a resume that includes 31 IMSA class wins, two 24 Hours of Daytona overall wins and two IMSA wins at COTA.

MORE: NBC Driver Rankings: Christopher Bell is No. 1

Jenson Button won the Formula One championship in 2009 and has five F1 starts at COTA. He is scheduled to be a driver for the NASCAR entry in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kimi Raikkonen, entered by Trackhouse Racing as part of its Project 91 program, won the 2007 F1 championship and has eight F1 starts at the Austin track.

They will draw attention at COTA this weekend, along with these other drivers to watch:


Brad Keselowski

  • Points position: 5th
  • Best seasonal finish: 2nd (Atlanta I)
  • Past at COTA: 19th and 14th in two career starts

Keselowski hasn’t been a star in road course racing, but his 2023 season has started well, and he figures to be in the mix at the front Sunday. He led the white-flag lap at Atlanta last Sunday before Joey Logano passed him for the win.

AJ Allmendinger

  • Points position: 17th
  • Best seasonal finish: 6th (Daytona 500)
  • Past at COTA: 5th and 33rd in two starts

The Dinger is a road course expert. Last year at COTA, he was involved in tight racing on the final lap with Ross Chastain and Alex Bowman before Chastain emerged with the victory.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Auto Club)
  • Past at COTA: Two straight top fours, including a win

Chastain lifted Trackhouse Racing’s profile by scoring his — and the team’s — first Cup victory at COTA last season. He’s not shy about participating in the last-lap bumping and thumping that often mark road course races.


Chris Buescher

  • Points position: 13th
  • Best seasonal finish: 4th (Daytona 500)
  • Past at COTA: 13th and 21st in two starts

Buescher has never led a lap at COTA and is coming off a 35th-place finish at Atlanta after being swept up in a Lap 190 crash. Although he has shown the power to run near the front this year, he has four consecutive finishes of 13th or worse.

Alex Bowman

  • Points position: 20th
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Las Vegas I)
  • Past at COTA: Two straight top 10s

Bowman’s four-race run of consistent excellence (finishes of fifth, eighth, third and ninth) ended at Atlanta as he came home 14th and failed to lead a lap. At COTA, he is one of only four drivers with top-10 finishes in both races.

William Byron

  • Points position: 28th
  • Best seasonal finish: 1st (Las Vegas I, Phoenix I)
  • Past at COTA: 11th and 12th in two starts

Involvement in an accident at Atlanta ended Byron’s two-race winning streak. He’ll be looking to lead a lap at COTA for the first time.



Three Reaume Brothers Racing team members suspended by NASCAR


Three members of the Reaume Brothers Racing No. 33 Craftsman Truck Series team have been suspended for three races by NASCAR after a piece of tungsten ballast came off their truck during last Saturday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The suspensions were announced Tuesday.

Crew chief Gregory Rayl and crew members Matthew Crossman and Travis Armstrong were suspended because of the safety violation. Mason Massey is the team’s driver.

MORE: Xfinity driver Josh Williams suspended for one race

In a tweet following the announcement of the penalty, the team said it will not file an appeal. “The ballast became dislodged only after the left side ballast container had significant contact with the racing surface,” according to the statement. “We would like to be clear that there was no negligence on the part of RBR personnel.”

NASCAR also announced Tuesday that Truck Series owner/driver Cory Roper, who had been suspended indefinitely for violating the substance abuse policy, has been reinstated.

The Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series are scheduled to race this weekend at Circuit of the Americas.