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.”

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)

New NASCAR Cup season features several changes

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While NASCAR looks back in celebrating its 75th season, there’s plenty new for the sport heading into the 2023 campaign.

Driver moves and schedule changes and are among some of the big changes this year. Here’s a look at some of the changes this season in Cup:

Drivers

— Two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch has a different look, as he moves from Joe Gibbs Racing to Richard Childress Racing, taking the ride formerly occupied by Tyler Reddick. 

— Tyler Reddick goes from Richard Childress Racing to 23XI Racing, taking the ride formerly occupied by Kurt Busch, who was injured in a crash last summer and has not returned to competition.

Ryan Preece goes from being a test driver and backup at Stewart-Haas Racing to taking over the No. 41 car formerly run by Cole Custer, who moves to the Xfinity Series. 

— Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson returns to Cup after running the past two seasons in the IndyCar Series. He’s now a part owner of Legacy Motor Club and will run select races for the Cup team. Johnson will seek to make the Daytona 500, driving the No. 84 car.

Ty Gibbs goes from Xfinity Series champion to Cup rookie for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Noah Gragson goes from Xfinity Series title contender to Cup rookie for Legacy Motor Club (and teammate to Jimmie Johnson).

Crew chiefs

— Keith Rodden, who last was a full-time Cup crew chief in 2017 with Kasey Kahne, is back in that role for Austin Dillon at Richard Childress Racing, as Dillon seeks to make back-to-back playoff appearances. Rodden comes to RCR after working with the Motorsports Competition NASCAR strategy group at General Motors.

— Chad Johnston, who has been a crew chief for Tony Stewart, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson and Matt Kenseth, will serve as crew chief for Ryan Preece at Stewart-Haas Racing.

— Blake Harris goes from being Michael McDowell’s crew chief at Front Row Motorsports to joining Hendrick Motorsports to be Alex Bowman’s crew chief. 

— Mike Kelley, who served as Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s crew chief when Stenhouse won Xfinity titles in 2011 and ’12, returns to the crew chief role with Stenhouse this season at JTG Daugherty Racing. 

Races

— What’s old is new. The All-Star Race moves to North Wilkesboro Speedway in May, marking the first Cup event at that historic track since 1996.

— July 2 marks debut of the street course race in Chicago, marking NASCAR’s first street race for its premier series.

— The spring Atlanta race and playoff Texas race have both been reduced from 500 miles to 400 miles.

Rules

Ross Chastain’s video-game move on the last lap at Martinsville will no longer be allowed, NASCAR announced this week. 

— Stage breaks are gone at the road course events for Cup races. Stage points will be awarded but there will be no caution for the end of the stage.  

— If a wheel comes off a car while on track, it is only a two-race suspension (last year it was four races) for two crew members. The crew chief is no longer suspended for the violation. 

— Cup cars have a new rear section that is intended to absorb more energy in a crash to prevent driver injuries after Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman each missed races last year because of concussion-related symptoms.

— Elton Sawyer is the new vice president of competition for NASCAR. Think of the former driver as the new sheriff in town for the sport.

Achievements 

— With a win this season, Kyle Busch will have at least one Cup victory in 19 consecutive seasons and become the all-time series leader in that category, breaking a tie with Richard Petty.

Denny Hamlin needs two wins to reach 50 career Cup victories. That would tie him with Hall of Famers Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson for 13th on the all-time list. 

Kevin Harvick, running his final Cup season, is 10 starts away from 800 career series starts. That would make him only the 10th driver in Cup history to reach that mark.