Should NASCAR call cautions before it rains to avoid potential incidents?

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — With some drivers suggesting so, is it time for NASCAR officials to call cautions before it rains at oval tracks?

Daniel Suarez said that NASCAR should have thrown a caution for rain before at least 15 cars crashed in Turn 1 because of a wet track at Daytona International Speedway. Denny Hamlin cited the need for “better officiating” after being involved in that accident.

Sunday’s race marked the third time since October 2020 that rain contributed to an incident on an oval while a Cup race was under green flag conditions. 

In October 2020, Kevin Harvick hit the wall while leading at Texas in the mist. Hamlin’s car lost traction and went up the track without hitting the wall the lap before Harvick’s incident. Cole Custer slid up the track and nearly hit the wall a few laps after Harvick’s accident. The race continued for a few more laps before rain stopped the event.

In July 2021, Kyle Busch, who was leading, and Martin Truex Jr., who was second, both slid in Turn 1 in the rain at New Hampshire on the sixth lap. Hamlin’s car also spun. Busch told NBC Sports after the incident that the race started in a mist and “never should have went green to begin with.” 

Sunday at Daytona, storm clouds could be seen near the track and radar showed rain nearby. 

“We knew the rain was coming,” Suarez said. “It was raining next door. It’s just a matter of time. Why wait for it? I don’t know.”

Hamlin said: “We’ll learn from this, I’m sure.”

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, told NBC Sports: “We were on top of the weather, monitoring with all of our turn spotters, in touch with the spotters up top, the pace car. We had all the information that we thought. We had been dodging a little bit of weather, obviously, for a little while. Nothing had hit. All of a sudden there was that shower.

“The pace car, sitting down there on the inside, it was still dry when they wrecked. If you watch the in-car (camera), you can see that some rain definitely started right before they wrecked. We really couldn’t do anything about that, and it was not something that you can predict when it is going to start raining.

“Just a super-bad situation for everybody.”

That three such incidents happened within two years raises questions about how lenient NASCAR should be to allow racing in any wet conditions, especially with how NASCAR has reacted to rain at road courses. 

Series officials were criticized by drivers last year at Circuit of the Americas when rain and the spray from the cars blinded drivers and created multiple accidents. Harvick called it “the most unsafe thing I’ve ever done in a race car by a lot.”

At Watkins Glen earlier this month, cars were on track preparing to start the race despite puddles. While some drivers said they were for starting the race, officials sent the cars back to pit road to allow for more work on the wet track. Engines were re-fired about 25 minutes after cars were brought to pit road.

“Had we gone green while it was raining, probably would have been difficult like it was at COTA,” said Watkins Glen winner Kyle Larson. “It was nice they brought us down pit road and kind of waited for the rain to stop and blew that layer of thick wetness off the track.”

Lesson learned from COTA. Is there a lesson to be learned after Texas, New Hampshire and Daytona? That rain impacted races on a 1.5-mile, 1-mile and a 2.5-mile speedway shows the need for vigilance at every style track. 

It would be no fun for fans to see a race under caution if there had yet to be any rain on the track or merely raindrops, but NASCAR’s No. 1 responsibility is to the safety of the drivers.

Every driver in the incident caused by the rain at Daytona was cleared from the infield care center, but that didn’t mean the impacts were light. 

Already this season, drivers have talked about how they are feeling the impacts more the new car even as data shows the hits aren’t any harder than with last year’s car. That suggests drivers are feeling more of the hits and that can cause injuries. Kurt Busch will miss his seventh consecutive Cup race this weekend at Darlington because of concussion-like symptoms suffered in a July 23 accident at Pocono Raceway.

Hamlin said his impact in Sunday’s crash hurt.

“My whole body, literally my jaw hurts,” Hamlin said. “I feel like my jaw was one of those boxers who gets his whole face demolished. That was certainly the first real big one I’ve had in this car. Everything they’ve been telling us (about the impacts), all the other drivers, it’s true.”

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Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks tweeted that Sunday’s race “cost teams collectively about $4 (million).”

It’s easy to see how a few seconds or decisions changed the financial status for some teams by potentially millions.

Had NASCAR called the caution for rain before the field entered Turn 1, then maybe the top 15 cars don’t crash. If so, Austin Dillon doesn’t go from 16th to the lead. 

Dillon went on to win and earn a spot in the playoffs, guaranteeing that he’ll finish no worse than 16th in the points. 

With the charter system, teams earn money based on multiple categories: Entering a race, historical performance over the past three seasons, the traditional points fund and race results.

Dillon’s win means he’ll make the playoffs for the second time in three years. His team will be entitled to more money in upcoming years the further he goes in this year’s playoffs. 

“It can be, for sure, a $1 million day,” car owner Richard Childress said after Dillon’s win.

Just as Richard Childress Racing celebrated a win and a financial boost, Martin Truex Jr.’s Joe Gibbs Racing team will feel the pain of missing the playoffs for the next three seasons.

Truex had finished second, seventh and second in points the past three years, making the historical payments to the No. 19 team among the best in the sport, raising the value of the team’s charter. 

With 14 cars eliminated by the accident caused by the rain, that allowed Ryan Blaney to move ahead of those cars despite being laps down after his car was damaged in an earlier incident. Truex also had damage from a separate incident. Truex started the final stage 10 points behind Blaney for what would be the final playoff spot. 

With so few cars on track, it made it harder for Truex to be 11 positions ahead of Blaney to earn the playoff spot. He fell three points short and now cannot finishes better than 17th in the points. That will impact the historical payment to the team starting next season. 

It comes in a season where Joe Gibbs Racing has yet to announce a sponsor for the No. 18 car for next year. Mars Inc., which reportedly pays $20 million or more to fund the car, is not returning after this season. That leaves Kyle Busch’s future with the team in doubt.

Had NASCAR decided to call the race after that accident, instead of waiting 3 hours, 19 minutes to resume the event, Truex would have been in the playoffs and Blaney out. Truex was fourth at the time, while Blaney was 18th. 

By running the final 21 laps, Blaney — despite being six laps down — passed those cars that could not continue and finished 15th, while Truex fell to eighth with his damaged car.

Chase Briscoe, AJ Allmendinger in first on-track conflict of the season.

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LOS ANGELES — The first on-track conflict of the 2023 NASCAR Cup season?

Did you have Chase Briscoe and AJ Allmendinger?

They made contact during Saturday night’s practice session at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the Busch Light Clash.

Busch Clash practice results

Briscoe explained what happened from his point of view.

“(Allmendinger) was slowing down so much on the straightaway to get a gap (away from other cars),” Briscoe told Motor Racing Network. “I felt like I was beside him pretty far down the straightaway. I got in there a little hot for sure, but, honestly, I thought he was going to give it to me since we were in practice. Went into (Turn) 3 and he just drove me straight into the fence. Definitely frustrating. … Just unfortunate. We don’t have a single back-up car out there between the four of us at SHR. 

“Definitely will set us behind quite a bit. Just chalk it up in the memory blank.”

Asked what happened with Briscoe, Allmendinger told MRN: “He ran inside of me, so I made sure I paid him back and sent him into the fence.

“It’s practice. I get it, I’m struggling and in the way, but come barreling in there. I just showed my displeasure for it. That’s not the issue. We’re just not very good right now.”

Earlier in practice, Ty Gibbs had to climb out of his car after it caught on fire. Gibbs exiting the car safely. The Joe Gibbs Racing team worked on making repairs to his No. 54 car. NASCAR stated that the car would not be allowed to qualify because of unapproved adjustments, modifications not directly related to the damage.

NASCAR will not race at Auto Club Speedway in 2024

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LOS ANGELES — Auto Club Speedway will not host a NASCAR race next year because of plans to convert the 2-mile speedway into a short track.

It will mark only the second time the Cup Series has not raced at the Southern California track since first competing there in 1997. Cup did not race at the track in 2021 because of the pandemic.

Dave Allen, Auto Club Speedway president, also said Saturday that “it’s possible” that the track might not host a NASCAR race in 2025 because of how long it could take to make the conversion. 

MORE: Details for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum 

NASCAR came to the Fontana, California, track during the sport’s expansion in the late 1990s that also saw Cup debut at Texas (1997), Las Vegas (1998) and Homestead (1999).

Auto Club Speedway begins the West Coast swing this season, hosting the Cup Series on Feb. 26, a week after the Daytona 500. The series then goes to Las Vegas and Phoenix the following two weeks.

Auto Club Speedway has been among a favorite of drivers because of its aging pavement that put more of the car’s control in the hands of competitors. 

Allen said that officials continue to work on the track’s design. It is expected to be a half-mile track. With NASCAR already having a half-mile high-banked track (Bristol) and half-mile low-banked track (Martinsville), Allen said that a goal is to make Auto Club Speedway stand out.

“It has to make a statement, and making sure that we have a racetrack that is unique to itself here and different than any of the tracks they go to is very important,” Allen said. “Having said that, it’s equally important … to make sure that the fan experience part is unique.”

Kyle Larson, who won last year’s Cup race at Auto Club Speedway, said that he talked to Allen on Saturday was told the track project likely will take about 18 months. 

“I don’t know exactly the extent of what they’re doing with the track, how big it’s going to be, the shape or banking and all that, and I love the 2-mile track, but I think the more short tracks we can have, the better off our sport is going to be,” Larson said.

With Auto Club Speedway off the schedule in 2024, it would mean the only time Cup raced in the Los Angeles area would be at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. NASCAR has a three-year contract with the Coliseum to race there and holds the option to return.

Sunday’s Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum marks the second year of that agreement. Last year’s inaugural event at the Coliseum drew about 50,000 fans. NASCAR has not publicly stated if it will return to the Coliseum next year.

Sunday Clash at the Coliseum: Start time, TV info, race format

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LOS ANGELES – NASCAR is back and back at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

Nearly three months after Joey Logano won the Cup title at Phoenix, Cup drivers return to action this weekend to run the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum exhibition race on Sunday night.

This marks the second consecutive year the series has raced inside the Coliseum, which has hosted the Super Bowl, World Series and Olympics.

Details for Sunday’s Busch Light Clash at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum 

(All times Eastern)

HEAT RACES: There will be four 25-lap heat races. Caution laps do not count. The top five from each race advance to the Busch Light Clash. The first heat race is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.

LAST CHANCE QUALIFIERS: There will be two 50-lap qualifiers for drivers who did not advance to the Clash through their heat races. Caution laps do not count. The top three finishers in each of the qualifiers advance to the Clash. The 27-car Clash lineup will be finalized by adding one provisional spot for the driver highest in points last season not yet in the Clash field. The first of these two last chance qualifying races is scheduled to begin at 6:10 p.m.

CLASH STARTING LINEUP: To be set by heat races and the Last Chance Qualifiers. Winner of heat 1 will start on the pole for the Clash. Winner of heat 2 will start second. Winner of heat 3 will start third. Winner of heat 4 will start 4th. Runner-up in heat 1 will start fifth and so on.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 11 a.m. … Driver intros are at 7:50 p.m. … Invocation by Judah Smith, lead pastor of Churchome, at 8:07 p.m. … The USC Trojan Marching Band will perform the national anthem at 8:08 p.m. … Actor Rob Lowe will give the command to fire engines at 8:15 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to be waved by USC quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams at 8:20 p.m.

DISTANCE: The Clash is 150 laps (37.5 miles) on the 1/4-mile short track.

STAGES: There will be a stage break at Lap 75 (halfway in the Clash). Wiz Khalifa will perform during the break.

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the event, beginning at 4 p.m. . … Motor Racing Network coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. and also will stream at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Partly cloudy with a high of 63 degrees and a 1% chance of rain for the start of the heat races. Partly cloudy with a high of 61 degrees and a 1% chance of rain for the Clash..

LAST TIME: Joey Logano held off Kyle Busch to win the inaugural Clash at the Coliseum. Austin Dillon placed third. .

Catch up on NBC Sports coverage

New NASCAR season features several changes

Clash at the Coliseum provides a reset for RFK Racing 

Harrison Burton looks for progress in second year in Cup

Dr. Diandra: Muffling racecars won’t change fan experience

Drivers to watch at Clash in Coliseum

NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023

NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events 

Looking back on 10 historic moments in the Clash

 

NASCAR Saturday schedule at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

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NASCAR drivers are scheduled to hit the track today in competitive mode for the first time in 2023.

Practice is scheduled from 6-8 p.m. on the oval inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Single-car qualifying for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum is scheduled to begin at 8:35 p.m. (ET). The 36 drivers will be divided into three 12-driver groups for practice.

Cup practice groups

Cup qualfying order

Saturday’s qualifying will set the starting lineups for Sunday’s four 25-lap heat races. The top five finishers in each heat race will advance to the main event. Two 50-lap “last chance” races will follow, and the top three finishers in each of those events will join the feature field.

The 150-lap main event is scheduled at 8 p.m. (ET) Sunday.

For the second consecutive year, the Clash is being held on a purpose-built track inside the LA Coliseum, one of sport’s iconic venues. Joey Logano won last year’s race and last year’s series championship and will be among the favorites Sunday.

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Weather

Saturday: Intervals of clouds and sun. High 71.

Saturday, Feb. 4

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 2 – 11:30 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 6 – 8 p.m. — Cup practice (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 8:35 – 9:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)