Friday 5: Aggressive driving making more of an impact in Cup

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While some might suggest Ross Chastain has hurt his chances of winning the Cup championship because of his aggressive driving this season, maybe the question should be is if that aggressive driving will help Chastain (or any other driver) win the title?

Signs point to a more volatile stretch of racing this season that could make the bumper-car action at Indianapolis seem tame. Consider:

  • Four races remain in the Cup regular season. The only way drivers outside a playoff spot can make it is to win. That can lead to aggression. 
  • The playoffs appear to be as wide open as ever. Making bold moves could be what helps competitors avoid elimination in the early rounds.
  • The durability of the Next Gen car and the challenge of passing make restarts more critical and drivers more open to aggressive behavior. 
  • NASCAR’s mixed message on retaliation leaves the door open for interpretation by each driver. 

Last weekend’s event on the Indianapolis road course proved chaotic because of the track’s setup with a long straightaway preceding a narrow, sharp right-hand turn. 

Ryan Blaney contended for second on the final restart when he was in the middle of a three-wide pack of cars entering Turn 1. Blaney was spun in the entry to Turn 2 on the road course and finished 26th.

“It’s a case of just getting wrecked,” he said after the event. “That’s all people do at the end of these things, just dive in there and wreck you. I don’t know who shoved who and I don’t care, but tires didn’t matter at the end. We restarted top three both times and tires don’t really matter.  

“It’s just a matter of getting through on the restart, but, apparently, that’s a hard thing to ask. People just run over each other … I didn’t have a shot to get to (Tyler Reddick) to try to put the bumper to him or anything like that, just get wiped out. I don’t know. I’m pissed off about it, and I have every damn right to be.”

Blaney’s frustration is understandable. He would have clinched a playoff spot with a victory. Instead, he could still miss the playoffs even though he is second in points going into Sunday’s race at Michigan International Speedway (3 p.m. ET on USA Network).

Drivers can be more aggressive because of the new car. With the previous version, it wasn’t uncommon for contact to lead to a cut tire. With the Next Gen car, the vehicle is more durable. Cut tires are not as common.

Blaney’s teammate, Austin Cindric, benefitted from that final restart to finish second and noted how the new car allows drivers to charge more. 

“All I can say is wow,” Cindric said after his best finish since winning this year’s Daytona 500. “There’s no other form of racing that you can do that and … get away with it (without significant damage).

“Pretty wild, pretty crazy. … These (cars) are tanks. Absolutely, they are tanks. Yeah, you’ll get the toe bent and it affects the bumps and makes it hard to drive, but as long as I don’t get a flat tire, I’m still digging.”

That’s the mindset throughout the field. 

“Right, wrong or indifferent, you either get or you get got right now in the NASCAR Cup Series,” Corey LaJoie said on Wednesday’s MotorMouths on Peacock. 

Joey Logano said this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that drivers essentially have no choice but to be aggressive. 

“These cars all run almost the same speed,” he said. “We all have the same parts and pieces now. There’s only limited things we’re changing to make them faster than the other car, so that just makes it harder to pass. 

“You send it down into the corner and you get out of control, you just go too fast. That’s what you saw in Turn 1 (at Indy) not just on restarts but other times, too. That was the big passing zone. If I don’t pass them here, then I’m stuck behind them for Lord knows how long, so I’ve got to go. That’s what those mistakes are. 

“Is it disrespect? I don’t know if it’s disrespect as much as it is just guys driving over their head to make a pass because that’s the only way to do it.”

Another factor is how NASCAR responds to such driving — and retaliation. 

After Noah Gragson tired of Sage Karam’s contact, he turned Karam on a straightaway during the Xfinity race at Road America. Eleven other cars were collected in the incident. It wasn’t until four days later that NASCAR penalized Gragson for the action. NASCAR fined Gragson $35,000 and docked him 30 points. 

Last Friday in the Camping World Truck Series race, Carson Hocevar retaliated against Colby Howard for contact. Hocevar turned Howard on the straightaway at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park, sending Howard into the wall. No other vehicles were collected. NASCAR did not penalize Hocevar.

While NASCAR has previously stated it judges each incident on its own, nothing happens in a vacuum in the sport. Drivers watch how NASCAR reacts. 

Unless something is done in the near future, aggressive driving may become worse.

“Somewhere there’s been that disconnect to young drivers, to really, really young drivers … I’m talking about 7-8-9-10-11-year olds,” Kyle Petty said on MotorMouths on Wednesday. “They think that’s how you race. They think you go and run over each other. 

“Then, it’s just magnified when you get to (the Cup) level because  they’ve already got that set in their head that that’s OK.”

2. Sign of the times?

Kyle Busch’s contract status isn’t the first time a former Cup champion has faced challenges recently with a contract extension.

Brad Keselowski signed a one-year contract extension with Team Penske in August 2020 that carried him through the 2021 season. Part of the challenge then was that it came during the pandemic, which impacted companies and marketing budgets. 

By the time the contract extension was announced, Keselowski had scored three or more Cup wins for a fifth consecutive season. With his contact up after last season, Keselowski agreed to a deal to become driver and be a part owner for what is now Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing.

Joe Gibbs Racing had a potential sponsor in place for Busch’s team this year before that deal went away. With about six months left until the 2023 season begins, JGR has not announced a new sponsor for the No. 18 car or a contract extension for Busch. 

Last month, David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, told NBC Sports that JGR and Toyota were working on contingency plans while still seeking to sign Busch. The two-time Cup champion said last weekend at Indianapolis that he was willing to make concessions “to race for under my market value” to remain at JGR.

On the other side, Hendrick Motorsports announced in February that it had signed Chase Elliott to a five-year contract extension that will take him through the 2027 season.

Still, Keselowski noted the challenges for drivers at this point.

“The sport is going through a dramatic reset,” he said. “The tides have changed pretty dramatically over the last decade, maybe even two decades. We went from a point in time where the drivers made an incredible amount of money. … and the team owners had no value at all.

“I look at Robert Yates, who had been a staple of the sport for 30-some years and had to sell his race team for effectively liquidated value when he was ready to retire. Think of what an absolute travesty that was, an investment he put in it. At the same time, there were drivers making as much and arguably more a year than what he was able to liquidate all his assets for, and that seems really wrong.

“We’re seeing a flip of that now, where now the team owner assets are worth considerably more money and the driver pay is declining very rapidly. It’s a flip for sure. You can argue which one is better for the sport, but definitely a dynamic shift for sure.”

Keselowski cites the charter system and media rights deal, which go through the 2024 season, as making teams more valuable.

“I feel like I got into the team ownership piece at exactly the right time and kind of saw this coming,” he said.

3. Ford and Kyle Busch?

When Kyle Busch made his NASCAR debut, it was in a Ford for Roush Fenway Racing in the Truck Series in 2001. 

One of the interesting elements about Busch’s future is what could happen to Kyle Busch Motorsports if Busch does not sign a contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing and moves to a manufacturer other than Toyota.

Mark Rushbrook, global director, Ford Performance Motorsports, was asked this week about how might KBM be incorporated if a Ford team was interested in signing Busch.

“Any time we have an opportunity to improve our program, whether it is with drivers at a certain level in NASCAR or teams at all the levels in NASCAR, then that’s certainly something that is our responsibility to consider and make decisions on how it makes our program better or doesn’t,” he said. “So, certainly we would consider all options.”

Asked if he would personally want Busch in a Ford, Rushbrook said: “That’s not for me to answer, not from a personal perspective.”

Stewart-Haas Racing has not announced who will drive the No. 10 Ford next season. Aric Almirola announced before the season that this would be his final full-time Cup effort. That might change. 

Almirola said last month that he had been asked by “decision makers” about next season, leading to the possibility of a part-time or full-time return with Smithfield back as sponsor. Co-owner Tony Stewart declined comment to NBC Sports last weekend at Indianapolis on what the team’s plans are for next year.

If Almirola returns in a full-time role and SHR keeps its lineup intact, that would leave Team Penske and RFK Racing as the main Ford teams for Busch to consider.

Asked about Busch last week, team owner Roger Penske said: “We’ve really got four cars that we’re involved in today. We support the Wood Brothers and obviously Harrison (Burton). We’re full of drivers, and we’re happy with the guys we have there. They’re young and ready to go, and I think our sponsors are fully aligned with us.

“It’s interesting that Kyle hasn’t gotten a spot yet. Look … he’s one of the best out there. I think his expectations, along with what the sponsors and the team want to step up with, sometimes that doesn’t align. So at the moment I think we’ll wait and see.”

As for RFK Racing, Keselowski said this week: “We’re in a really good spot with Chris Buescher. I think he’s an excellent driver. I see him being a long-term driver with us here at RFK. ”

Keselowski suggested that with only two charters, there’s no room for Busch at RFK.

4. 4 is not enough

As the Cup series prepares for its 23rd race of the season, Ford has four victories this year, last among the manufacturers. Chevrolet has 13 wins. Toyota has five.

“Four wins is not enough,” Mark Rushbrook, global director, Ford Performance Motorsports, said this week. “It’s not acceptable. We need to get more wins. We need to have drivers further up the standings and hopefully at least four, if not more drivers, into the playoffs.  

“It’s certainly going to be hard with where we are with only four regular season races left, so it’s been a struggle with the new car, the new package with getting our head around it and how to set it up properly going to the track and optimizing it.  

“We’ve seen a lot of success with speed at different tracks where we have understood it, but we still didn’t bring the win home. So, there’s a lot of work to do, but that’s racing. We always need to make all elements of the car better, the engine, the aerodynamics, the chassis, the setup, the tire model, our simulator model, and that’s what we’re working on. We have a lot of meetings and advancements with our teams to try and do better every week.”

As for what he feels has been the key area in Ford’s struggles this season, Rushbrook said: “We’ve had different strengths across different cars at the different tracks. I think that’s part of the struggle is this car is so sensitive that even when one team is taking four cars or two cars to the track with very small differences, you’ll see one near the top of the board and two or three or four down at the other end of the board.  

“So, that’s part of it and just understanding how sensitive it is and making sure we can really find the optimum spot for these cars to run.”

5. Building momentum

With Chase Elliott’s streak of five consecutive top-10 finishes ending last weekend at Indianapolis, Bubba Wallace holds the longest active streak of top 10s with three in a row.

Wallace has finished third at New Hampshire, eighth at Pocono and fifth at Indianapolis. It is his longest top-10 streak in his Cup career and the longest for 23XI Racing.

For a team that has been plagued by pit road mistakes, strategy miscalls and accidents to have even a small three-race top-10 streak is “massive,” Wallace said.

“We needed to all step up,” he said. “We all needed to look ourselves in the mirror and do better. We’ve been doing that, so I’m proud of everybody.”

Denny Hamlin, co-owner of 23XI Racing, said the team is working on a contract extension with Wallace.

“We’ve got something on the table and, obviously, want him longterm with us,” Hamlin said.

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.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: The name game

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.

MORE: Fighting knights and pie in the sky

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.