Kevin Harvick sounds off on NASCAR, safety issues

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KANSAS CITY, Kans. —  Kevin Harvick, frustrated with how he feels safety is “second fiddle” in NASCAR, spoke up Saturday about the need for action.

Harvick’s comments came a week after his car caught fire in the Southern 500. Rubber collected inside the vehicle and burned, sending flames through the dashboard. NASCAR reacted with a safety change to the cars this week.

Multiple cars have had fires this year. Also, drivers have talked throughout the season about how much harder the impacts feel, raising concerns. Kurt Busch is missing his eighth consecutive race this weekend as he continues to recover from a head injury after a crash at Pocono in July.

Harvick was frustrated with last week’s fire and carried his feelings into the media center Saturday at Kansas. 

“There needs to be some better leadership on just the whole safety situation, and my road is shorter than most everybody’s in here,” Harvick said of his reason for being more vocal. “After the whole fire thing at Darlington — the reaction on Tuesday was drastic — but way too late.

“So, we look at the fire problem and I start digging through how that whole thing had transpired and gone down, and you look at the car, and you start asking questions. Why did everything melt? Well, this is really not 100% fire resistant. Here’s the coating that we presented a couple months ago after Chase (Briscoe’s fire) and it’s been rejected. Now, this week, it’s all in there. 

“You’ve got a piece of stainless steel in there. I go back and talk to my guys, and we basically had a car catch on fire every test. So it’s not like it was a new problem. We had (Alex Bowman’s car) catch on fire it at Darlington, I think the first race, and so we’ve seen a lot of these instances, and it’s just a really, really slow reaction. 

“I think if the teams were in charge of stuff like that, and the proper input was was put in place, we would have never had more than two fires … for the whole field because they would have collaborated and not been so slow to react. 

“The whole safety thing is really kind of second fiddle right now. And I just don’t think that’s fair to the drivers. I do not think it’s fair to the drivers, and we can debate all day. But debating isn’t really fixing anything. 

“I think when I look at the car itself, it’s not rear impacts. It’s not front impacts, it’s not side impacts. It’s all impacts. No matter what their filtered data says it’s not what the drivers are feeling. 

“We need a louder voice. As I sat and thought about it this week, it really needs to have more of an independent group that makes the decisions on how to implement things and how to go through a process that’s outside of NASCAR and the teams because NASCAR is slow to react, and the teams are always worried about money. That doesn’t do anything for the drivers.”

NASCAR employs three people who work only on safety and relies on a panel of independent safety experts that includes Jeff Crandall, director of the Center for Applied Biomechanics at the University of Virginia;  Barry Myers, who is on the Duke University faculty in Biomedical Engineering & Orthopaedic Surgery; James Raddin, retired US Air Force, vice commander of USAF School of Aerospace Medicine; and Joel Stitzel, head of the Virginia Tech – Wake Forest University School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences.

Harvick is the most senior driver competing in Cup. His series debut came for Dale Earnhardt’s team at Richard Childress Racing a week after Earnhardt’s fatal crash on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Earnhardt’s death came after the deaths of Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin and Tony Roper in 2000. 

“I’ve lived this, man,” Harvick said. “I watched when we had all the trouble with with Adam and Kenny Irwin and then it resulted in Dale Earnhardt and then all of a sudden, it was mandatory to wear a HANS device, it was mandatory to wear the Hutchins device. We developed soft walls. 

“(Safety) can’t be slow. The safety cannot be slow and this car, it’s screwed up as far as the way that it crashes. Whether the data says that or not, every driver in this garage will tell you that it’s not right. And it hurts. Feet hurt. Hands hurt. Head hurt. 

Joey Logano said of his hit in the Coca-Cola 600: “I’ve never hit harder in my life. That was horrible, and it hurt really bad.” (Fox Sports)

“There has to be a better solution. When we want to solve problems, we can solve them quick, super quick. That plan didn’t come together in one day because there wasn’t stuff that was not already in the process, but it was just too slow to be implemented. And now, unfortunately, we’re in the spot that we’re in. The positive that came out of it was there was a lot of progress made on on a situation that shouldn’t have been there in September.”

Ryan Blaney said he appreciates Harvick speaking up.

“I definitely think someone has to do something about it,” Blaney said Saturday. “I think Kevin’s doing the right thing of speaking up about it. I’d be upset too. There’s multiple things that I think needs to be changed and improved on, from the fires to the hits the drivers are taking. Some of that stuff we’ve talked about in the offseason and it never got changed and now look where we are. 

“There’s always learning pains on you know, you have something new, and it takes time to kind of refine them. But some of these things we knew about in the offseason, there wasn’t a lot of kind of urgency to change some of the stuff. So I’m 100% with Kevin on trying to address some of these things, and sometimes it takes you being a jerk to do it.”

Asked where the dialogue with NASCAR, Harvick looked at a reporter and said “here it is. This is the dialogue.”

NASCAR stated Saturday that it met with the Drivers Advisory Council for two hours on Thursday. NASCAR met with Jeff Burton, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon and Corey LaJoie.

“I think that they’re being proactive right now,” Hamlin said of NASCAR. “Obviously, they made a bunch of changes this week. I think what the drivers and the teams are saying is that it shouldn’t take us yelling through the media to get it done. 

“That doesn’t help anybody and it certainly doesn’t help them, but the proof has been that yelling through the media typically gets results. That’s just kind of the way that it’s been. This is the most powerful tool (Hamlin gestured at his microphone) you can have and sometimes you have to use it to force change, and I think that’s what Harvick did this week. 

“He’s had enough of them saying they would get to it, they would get to it and we’re working on it. Instead, they made an immediate change. But we want to see it coming after the second fire, the first fire. There’s been many, many fires before that one.”

Hamlin said feels better about what NASCAR is doing after this week’s conversations.

“I certainly feel that they’re working to help us with the hits on the chassis,” Hamlin aid. “All that stuff does take time. They can’t just knee-jerk reaction and start cutting bars out of the chassis, that’s very irresponsible. 

“I think they’re doing things methodically to make sure that the next revision of car that comes out is one that is improved in the areas that we need improving on, but that does take time through design and testing.”

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.