What drivers said at Michigan International Speedway

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Here is what drivers had to say during and after Sunday’s Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn:

Kevin Harvick — Winner: “Just good timing for sure. You know, we’ve had several good runs the last few weeks, Loudon and Pocono where the car ran good and just didn’t have everything work out. … They’ve been digging along all year long, trying to make these Mustangs run faster. They haven’t been great this year, but our guys have done a good job in trying to take what we have, maximize it and do the things that we need to do. Everybody who doubted us doesn’t know us. They obviously know we thrive in these types of situations. And a lot of things went our way today, which we haven’t had all year long, have things go our way and have things fall our way. And then there at the end we pitted, didn’t go a lap down, and the caution came out, got control of the race.

Michigan Cup results

Michigan Cup points

Bubba Wallace — Finished 2nd: “Replaying everything I could have done – should have taken the top on the restart. Thought I could hang with the 4 (Kevin Harvick) and just got to racing the 5 (Kyle Larson) and the 22 (Joey Logano). 22 did a great job of getting another Ford contract by helping another Ford win. All in all, an incredible weekend. Appreciate my team. Wish we could have gotten Toyota in victory lane. Wish we could have got McDonalds in victory lane again. She was fast all weekend. I will wear this one on my heart for a while. I failed everybody. [I should have] Got clear of the 5 (Kyle Larson) sooner. He was doing his part staying on my quarter there and keeping me tight and allowed the 4 (Kevin Harvick) to get away. Could have taken the top and pushed the 4 and then I could have been the 5 in that center area. Hate it. Hate it for our team. Sucks.” 

Denny Hamlin — Finished 3rd: “It’s just frustrating. We’ve had really fast cars throughout the year, and Dover comes to mind and Pocono comes to mind and this race comes to mind and a bunch of others. Just cant get a W in the column. Hats off to Joe Gibbs Racing for giving me a car that fast and my team for setting it up really good. This is a piece of the puzzle you have to have to win races. Everyone has to do their job to the best of their ability, and we just are lacking in one little section of our team that we just can’t hem up. I’m not really sure how you fix it. I’m not smart enough to run the department to fix it. I just hope that we make strides and keep getting better. It’s just frustrating when you have fast cars like our Toyotas did this weekend. There’s just absolutely no excuse for not winning. We’re the ones that have to look each other in the face on Monday and figure out how we just keep doing this. Hopefully, we can make it constructive and continue to get better, but obviously it’s disappointing.” 

Joey Logano — Finished 4th: “That was a hard-fought one, that’s for sure. The boys did a good job executing today, keeping us towards the front. Paul had some good strategy. I had a car that was about where it finished. If you put us further back, that’s probably where we would finish, but we had some good track position and good restarts – some good choosing – so Coleman (Pressley) did a good job upstairs helping me out with the right lanes. It was an execution day, which is playoff type racing. I feel good about what we did today as the playoffs come around the corner. Yeah, I was just holding on. It was an execution day, so I’m proud of the team. That’s playoff type racing, where we were able to make some out of maybe an eighth-place car and finished fourth with it by execution. We had decent pit stops and good strategy, good restarts and good choosing. Those type of things is what put us in position to run in the top five and get to second, which is further than I thought I would get. I couldn’t hold off the Toyotas. They were fast there at the end. I’m glad a Ford won at Michigan again. That’s pretty cool, but, overall, just didn’t have enough for them today.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 5th: “I just passed him (Martin Truex Jr.) back. I don’t know. I was just racing another guy. That’s all I care about. It was nice to get him back, so that was good to get it back and get a top five. We were terrible all day. We ran 20th all day long and just struggled a lot and worked on it a ton and got a little bit better and better there and ended up with a decent finish out of it. It was big gains from where we started. It’s a shame that another car won. I’m happy for Ford for winning, but we didn’t need the 4 car to win. We’ll just try to win the next few weeks and battle the 19 in points. It’ll be exciting, that’s for sure, so hopefully we can do it.”

Erik Jones — Finished 8th: “It was an up-and-down day for the FOCUSfactor Chevy. We had track position early and got up there towards the top five and just kind of got farther and farther back through the day a little bit. Lost the handle a bit toward the back half of the top 10 and thankfully we got that late yellow and were able to make some changes and get a good restart with about 37 laps to go and drive back up to a top-10 finish. So, solid day, had a decent car and just needed to do things a little bit cleaner, little bit smoother and I think we could have had a better finish.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 9th: “We just started super deep and played some strategy to get some track position back. We were too tight on the short run. Really too tight on the long run, too, but the short runs hurt us a little bit more. I’m happy to get the No. 48 Ally Chevy back in the top 10. Can’t say enough about Greg (Ives) and the guys. We’ll keep digging as we close out the season.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 13th: “I had fun today. Our Dow MobilityScience Chevrolet was fast all day. A caution just burned us. We had to take a wave-around, and there weren’t enough laps left in the race to get back up there. We drove from 15th to seventh in Stage 2. We were just too tight at that point of the race. I was completely sideways off of Turn 2 on the last lap battling to get 13th. It was fun, and I have to thank Dow and everyone who is a part of their group for everything they contribute to make our Chevys fast. On to Richmond.”

Austin Hill — Finished 18th: “We finished all 200 laps today at Michigan International Speedway. That was the goal, and I’m happy about that. To come home 18th in my NASCAR Cup Series debut, I’ll take it. There’s room for improvement, and I learned a lot in 400 miles. I tested the limits of my Bennett Transportation & Logistics Chevrolet. The Cup cars are fun to drive. … I’ve been dreaming of this day since I was a kid and at 28-years-old, I made my NASCAR Cup Series debut. Overall, it was a fun day.”

Chase Briscoe — Finished 20th: “We were able to make some good gains, but we were so tight. The guys did a great job working on it, but I got in the wall toward the end and didn’t help. We’re still in a good place, just got to get through the next few races and make sure we get to move on to the playoffs.”

Tyler Reddick — Finished 29th: “We had a really good Guaranteed Rate Chevrolet today at Michigan. We were a little too tight at the beginning of the race, but my crew chief, Randall Burnett, and the guys were making solid adjustments to the car and making it better. It stinks that we had a mechanical problem that ruined our day. That one really stings. I really appreciate all the people at RCR and ECR that worked so hard get us back in the race, but it just wasn’t meant to be. We’ll bounce back strong next week at Richmond.”

Cole Custer — Finished 31st: “We don’t really know what started all of that. I mean, we blew three left-front tires in probably a matter of 20 laps, so I don’t know what happened and why they kept blowing. It just seems like that’s the way our year has gone. We can’t seem to catch a break in most of these races. I don’t know. It just sucks to have another day end short, but we’ll move on to the next one.”

Harrison Burton — Finished 32nd: “I couldn’t really see much of what happened, honestly. I really didn’t hit anything hard. I guess we just broke a part in the steering rack or something, but I couldn’t steer the car. That’s obviously not going to be able to make minimum speed and felt it was probably too dangerous to try, so just a bummer. I felt like we weren’t really that good to start, but I knew we had some good changes coming I was excited for. We fired up on that last restart and through one and two I thought I was gonna gain a lot of spots and then, all of a sudden, the world came crashing in. It’s just a bummer, but we’ll keep pushing on.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 34th: “I have no idea. I didn’t see the replay. I got hit in the left-rear and spun out and then we all crashed. We just can’t seem to catch a break. I think some of the guys that were slower cars stayed out and that kind of jumbled up the field and then everybody swarms them and they can’t get out of the way.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 36th:Just chaos ensued on the restart there, and I don’t know what started it, but the 10 (Aric Almirola) got spun in front of me and then I got wedged between him and the wall. When you get back there, things happen on restarts, especially when you have guys that stayed out and don’t have tires versus those that have four tires. Was not really in a hurry and knew we were coming to stage points in another 40 laps or so and it was going to be a long run to get there and then we all just crashed. Just was trying to bide my time and knew we weren’t necessarily going to need to be in a hurry there to get points at the end of that stage. It was going to be a 40-lap run and it was going to be plenty of time to get back up there because we had a really fast car. … Just don’t get it man, just can’t buy a break right now.”

Austin Cindric — Finished 37th: “I don’t know what started all of it. I saw the 15 car sideways and everything stacked up. I got tagged in the left-rear and shoved me up the racetrack and then got turned head-on into the fence. It looked like the 15 just got loose and backed everybody up and then got ran into the back. It’s not Ty’s fault, just everybody stacking up. Obviously, it was a complete mess. I hit the outside wall head-on. I’m glad to be OK. It’s such a waste to do all of this and finish last. It’s pretty unfortunate. I hate it for the guys on the team and for Discount Tire. That was not fun at all and inside the driver’s head is certainly a lot less fun, too.  It feels like an absolute waste to come out here and just get completely wrecked.  Just irresponsible, I guess, running in the middle of the pack and just really frustrating to be out of this race this early. Finish dead last and get no points.”

Dr. Diandra: How much does Talladega shake up the playoffs?

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Talladega Superspeedway is known for shaking up the playoffs. But how well deserved is that reputation?

Playoff drivers usually view the first race in the second round of the playoffs as the best chance to earn points, earn stage points and maybe even a win given that Talladega is the second race. Now that Texas is in the rear-view mirror, let’s turn our data analysis tools to Talladega.

The shake-up index

Determining how much one race shuffles the playoffs standings requires a simple metric that is applicable to all the years NASCAR has had stages and playoffs. In a rare point of consistency, Talladega has remained the 31st race of the season since 2017, when stage racing started.

After trying a couple different approaches, I finally settled on playoff rankings. These rankings are a zero-sum game. For each driver who moves up a position, another driver must move down.

The first graph is playoff ranking as a function of race for the second playoff segment of 2021. It’s a bit of a mess, but stay with me.

A scatter graph of rank changes to help determine how much shaking-up Talladega actually does

Playoff rank runs along the left side of the graph. The highest ranked driver is at the top and the 12th ranked at the bottom.

The leftmost set of dots shows the rankings coming out of Bristol, after eliminating the lowest four drivers and re-seeding the rest. The second column of dots show the rankings after Las Vegas, which was the first race in the second round in 2021.

Each driver is represented in a different color, with lines connecting his rankings. For example, the dark purple lines show Denny Hamlin rising from third to first over these three races. The light blue lines at the bottom show Alex Bowman plummeting from seventh to 12th.

The messier the lines between two races, the more the playoffs were shaken up. Because it’s hard to quantify “messiness,” I counted each time one driver’s line crossed another driver’s line.

Each crossing indicates two drivers changed places in the rankings. The number of intersections between Bristol and Las Vegas, for example, tells you how much Las Vegas shook up the standings.

Three intersecting lines count as three shake-ups because there are three pairs of drivers crossing.

In 2021, Las Vegas had nine intersections, Talladega 13 and the Roval only five. This seems consistent with our hypothesis that Talladega is the biggest shaker-upper in the second round.

Talladega Timeline

In addition to being only one point, the 2021 Talladega contest poses another problem. Bubba Wallace won the rain-shortened race, which went 311 miles instead of the scheduled 500 miles.

That raises the possibility that 2021 might not be the most representative year for Talladega races. I therefore repeated the analysis going back to 2017. Since we didn’t have stage racing — and thus stage points — before 2017, it doesn’t make sense to compare previous years.

The table below shows the shake-up index from 2017-2021. Note that the first and third races changed from year to year.

A table summarizing the shake-up index for Talladega and other races in the second playoff round from 2017-2021

This five years of data show that Talladega wasn’t always the race that most shook-up this round of playoffs. From 2017-19, Dover and Charlotte held that honor. That’s surprising, especially in 2017. That’s the year 26 of 40 cars failed to finish the Talladega race and NASCAR parked Jimmie Johnson and Matt DiBenedetto.

In 2020, the three races had just about equal shake-up indices.

The Roval has been the third playoff race for only two years. It was equally chaotic with Talladega in terms of affecting the standings in 2020, but less so in 2021. Kansas beat the Roval for switching up the playoff standings twice.

 A caveat for the first race

If you’re surprised to see a larger shake-up for the first race in the second round of the playoffs, you’re not alone.

The 2021 fall Las Vegas race was remarkably uneventful. There were only two DNFs, both non-playoff cars. And one single-car accident that, again, didn’t involve a playoff car. Yet it had a shake-up index of nine.

It turns out that this is a side-effect of the re-seeding protocol.

The graph below shows the same time period as the rankings graph, but reports total points for the top-12 drivers.

A scatter plot showing how points changed for the top-12 playoff drivers in 2021 in the second round of the playoffs

Immediately after re-seeding, the drivers are separated by 57 points from first to 12th. If you omit Kyle Larson’s 30-point lead, the bottom 11 drivers are separated by only 27 points.

Since a driver can earn a maximum of 60 points in a single race, the first race in a round has a lot more impact in changing the standings. In effect, the first race decompresses the re-seeding compression.

After Las Vegas, the 12 playoff drivers were separated by 78 points. After Talladega, the margin grew to 98 points.

The larger numbers for the first races in any round are more due to the re-seeding-induced points compression than to the nature of the track.

Applied to 2022

Drivers don’t have to win at Talladega. They just have to finish ahead of the other playoff drivers. In fact, if a given driver can’t win, the next best case for him is if none of the other playoff drivers win, either.

The largest drop in positions a driver has seen from Talladega is five — and that’s from the rain-shortened 2021 race. On the other hand, drivers have also seen as much as an eight-position gain in the standings following Talladega. That gain was after the 2017 race where more than half the field failed to finish, but at least one driver has come out of the fall Talladega race each of the last four years up at least three positions.

As far as the stats for this year’s second round playoffs so far: Last week’s Texas race had a shake-up index of 14. That’s higher than all but the first year of the stage-racing playoff era.

And the William Byron penalty (which Hendrick Motorsports is contesting) has a shake-up index of seven.

NASCAR weekend schedule for Talladega Superspeedway

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The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs roll into Talladega Superspeedway, a center of uncertainty, for the second race in the Round of 12 this weekend.

Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET, NBC) could place the first driver in the Round of 8. Any playoff driver who wins the race automatically advances to the next round.

Through the playoffs to date, playoff drivers are batting zero in the race-win category. Non-playoff drivers — Tyler Reddick, Chris Buescher, Bubba Wallace and Erik Jones — have scored wins in the first four playoff races.

Joey Logano leads the playoff points entering the race. Ross Chastain, who won at Talladega earlier this year, is second.

The four drivers below the cutline are Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman. Byron was above the line earlier this week but was penalized 25 points for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. That move lifted Chase Briscoe above the cutline.

Playoff races also are scheduled for the Xfinity Series (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, USA Network) and the Camping World Truck Series (Saturday, 12:30 p.m., FS1) at Talladega.

Here’s a look at the Talladega weekend schedule:

Talladega Superspeedway (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)

Weekend weather

Friday: Sunny. High of 78.

Saturday: Partly cloudy. High of 74.

Sunday: Intervals of clouds and sun. High of 75.

Friday, Sept. 30

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 10:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series
  • 2 – 7 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck Series qualifying
  • 5:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity Series qualifying (USA Network)

Saturday, Oct. 1

Garage open

  • 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 9:30 a.m. — Truck Series
  • 1 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 10:30 a.m. – Noon — Cup Series qualifying (NBC Sports app, Motor Racing Network, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio)
  • 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series race (94 laps, 250 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 4 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (113 laps, 300 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 2

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 2 p.m. — Cup Series race (188 laps, 500 miles; NBC, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Short-track ace Sam Ard shares Xfinity record with Noah Gragson

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Former two-time Xfinity Series champion Sam Ard’s name returned to the forefront in the past week as Noah Gragson tied Ard’s series record for consecutive victories at four.

Although Ard has been nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, his exploits generally aren’t well-known among many who follow the modern sport of stock car racing. He was on the Hall voting list for the 2023 class but was not elected.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Ard was a short-track master in the vein of stars like Jack Ingram, Harry Gant and Butch Lindley, drivers who could show up at virtually any half-mile track across the country and take home the trophy.

He won the NASCAR Late Model (now the Xfinity Series) championship in 1983 and 1984, scoring 18 wins across those two seasons. He put together four victories in a row late in the 1983 season, winning at South Boston, Virginia; Martinsville, Virginia; Rougemont, North Carolina and Charlotte.

Ard was so dominant in 1984 that he had wrapped up the seasonal championship with two races remaining. In 28 series starts that year, he had 24 top-five finishes and 26 top-10 runs. He won eight times.

In the next-to-last race of the 1984 season, at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, Ard suffered critical head injuries when his car slid in fluid from another vehicle and hit the track’s outside wall.

That crash effectively ended Ard’s career and impacted the rest of his life. Ard often talked of learning to walk again as part of his recovery. He said he would use a walker in a pile of sawdust in his backyard so that the landing would be softer when he fell.

Ard eventually was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. In 2006, responding to Ard’s financial problems, drivers Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr., among others, launched a drive to raise funds for his family.

Ard, a native of Scranton, S.C., died in April 2017. He was 78.

 

 

 

 

 

Drivers to watch in Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway

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The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs will reach a critical point Sunday in a 500-mile chase at treacherous Talladega Superspeedway.

The overriding factor in any race at Talladega, NASCAR’s biggest track, is the unknown. With cars running so fast and so close together, multi-car accidents are not only possible but expected, and it’s easy to become the innocent victim of someone else’s mistake.

MORE: NASCAR penalizes William Byron for spinning Denny Hamlin

The tension is doubled for the 12 playoff drivers. A bad finish at Talladega could open the door for a probable playoff exit at the end of the round Oct. 9 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

The playoffs to date have seen four wins by non-playoff drivers, an unprecedented result. Tyler Reddick was the most recent to join that list with a win last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

A look at drivers to watch at Talladega:

FRONTRUNNERS

Denny Hamlin

  • Points position: 6th
  • Last three races: 10th at Texas, 9th at Bristol, 2nd at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 2 career wins

Although he hasn’t won, Hamlin has finished in the top 10 in all four playoff races. In the past six races at Talladega, he has four finishes of seventh or better. Now if he can just keep people from running into him…

William Byron

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Last three races: 7th at Texas, 3rd at Bristol, 6th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: Best career finish is a second

Byron stands alone as the only playoff driver who has been able to avoid major crashes and trouble in the pits, and he has finished in the top 10 in all four playoff races. After Tuesday’s penalty for his incident with Denny Hamlin at Texas, he sits below the cutline entering Sunday’s race.

Brad Keselowski

  • Points position: 24th
  • Last three races: 8th at Texas, 13th at Bristol, 25th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 6 wins, the active leader

Even in trying times, Keselowski is a threat at Talladega, where he last won in April 2021 (his last Cup victory). He has led 268 laps there in the past 13 races.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 15th
  • Last three races: 36th at Texas, 34th at Bristol, 26th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 1 career win, in 2008

Is Busch going to steadily disappear into the mist as he rides out the final weeks of his final year with Joe Gibbs Racing? His best finish in the past four races is 26th. On the positive side this week, he’s the only driver to finish in the top 10 in this year’s three races at Daytona and Talladega.

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 8th
  • Last three races: 32nd at Texas, 2nd at Bristol, 11th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 1 career win, in 2019

Can Elliott rebound from a fiery finish and a 32nd-place run at Texas? Playoff points give him some comfort, but a second career win at Talladega would be greatly appreciated in the Hendrick camp.

Martin Truex Jr.

  • Points position: 17th
  • Last three races: 31st at Texas, 36th at Bristol, 5th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: Best career finish is 5th

Will one of the sport’s most enduring mysteries continue at Talladega? In 70 career starts at Daytona and Talladega, Truex, a former champion and a smooth driver, has zero wins. At Talladega, he has only three top-five finishes in 35 starts.