Friday 5: Jordan Anderson recounts fiery Talladega crash

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Life can change in a second, but Jordan Anderson endured 20 terrifying seconds in a burning truck before he could bail out of it Oct. 1 at Talladega Superspeedway.

Count to 20. 

Getting to 10 seems to take forever. 

Yet that is only half the time in which Anderson felt flames that burned his eyelashes, cheeks, neck, right hand, right arm and both knees. The heat was so intense that the front windshield started to crack. Smoke enveloped the cockpit.

One thought rushed through Anderson’s mind.

“Whatever is on the other side of this window can’t be worse than what’s going to happen if I just sit here.” 

His truck was still moving and headed for a wall. 

Nearly a month after the accident, Anderson said he will be at the track for the first time this weekend to watch his Xfinity Series team compete with Myatt Snider at Martinsville Speedway.

Anderson is recovering from second- and third-degree burns. He is thankful for the medics who treated him, NASCAR’s safety officials, friends, family, team members and fans for all they’ve done for him since the accident.

The letters and notes have been overwhelming, he told NBC Sports in his first public comments about the incident. He was struck by a message from a 13-year-old who stated that he was praying for Anderson.

“I keep saying the word humbling,” Anderson said of the support he’s received.

While it would be easy to lament his painful injuries, Anderson reflects upon what father-in-law Larry McReynolds recently told him. 

“There was more right that happened than what could have potentially gone wrong,” Anderson said, recounting McReynolds’ words. “With 32 trucks behind me, it could have been really ugly if I’d gotten hit or pinned in the truck or something like that.”

The 31-year-old Anderson was making his 138th Camping World Truck Series start that day at Talladega. While he’s had limited success with his underfunded operation, he’s gained notoriety for his dedication. He ran one truck an entire season and often drove the dually that pulled his ride in a trailer. 

He sold some items after the 2019 season to have money to purchase an updated truck. He finished second in the 2020 season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway in that truck and said: “This finish tonight, hopefully, is for every underdog in America, every kid that stays up late and works on his dirt late model or his Legends car and dreams of coming here to Daytona. Hopefully, this finish tonight encourages them to never give up on their dreams.”

Anderson started racing at age 7 and gained notice of NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin at age 10 when Anderson competed against Martin’s son in the Bandolero division at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Anderson was dominant. 

Eventually sponsorship mattered and Anderson didn’t have as much as he worked his way to NASCAR. The lack of funding stunted his success, but it didn’t stop him from competing.

That runner-up finish at Daytona in 2020 was his career-best result in the Truck Series. He matched it in the 2021 season-opening race at Daytona in the same truck.

He was driving that vehicle at Talladega on Oct. 1. Anderson qualified ninth in the 36-truck field and was running fourth on Lap 19 when smoke suddenly shot from the truck and then flames engulfed it. 

“From what we could tell,” Anderson told NBC Sports, “something got into the oil line off the pump on the front of the motor and cut hole in it. It basically drained the entire contents of the oil tank to the headers. That’s why the fire was so big and so hot and lasted for so long. 

“The way the Trucks have the naca duct on the right front A post (between the windshield and right side window) that basically kind of acted like a vacuum as the fire came out from underneath the hood and went right inside the (truck).”

What happened next, Anderson said, felt like was in slow motion.

“I remember seeing the fire on the right side of the floor, shutting the motor off, slowing down,” he said. “I’ve had a couple of motors blow in the past and there’s some fire that comes in and then typically goes away. (This time) it’s like, ‘Alright, there’s fire. There’s a lot of fire. Now the fire is in my face. 

“It’s getting hot. It’s getting really hot.’”

Anderson tried to slow his truck so he could exit. 

He drove off the banking between Turns 1 and 2, started sliding and slammed the brakes, which turned him back up the track as flames shot through the front wheel wells and the back of the vehicle. The field passed as he fought to regain control of the burning truck.

Anderson removed his seat belts, lowered the window net and poked his head out the window.

“I was ready to get out of there, whether it was the roof or the deck lid,” he said. “I was going to try to climb out there just because I couldn’t stay in there any longer. 

“It got to the point where all the adrenaline in me was like anything is better than staying in this truck. (That’s) how hot it got. I could feel like my whole body was just so hot. I could feel everything start to burn.”

He poked his head out the left side window a second time but saw he was about to hit the wall. He ducked his head back into the vehicle.

“I got on the brakes as hard as I could,” Anderson said. “I’m kind of like watching the wall get closer, and I was like as soon as I hit the wall, I need to be on the way out the window. You watch the video (of the accident) and if (I exit) a second earlier, it would have been really bad because it would have been me between the truck and the wall.

“I tried to time it just perfectly. It’s crazy going back and watching it because it looks like I can’t see where I’m going, but, thankfully, I can see out the left side window. I could see the wall. I’m trying to time it. Just was very fortunate that when I hit the wall, it just kind of helped (me exit). 

“I laugh about it now, it wasn’t funny at the time, but it kind of helped to jack me out of the truck when I hit the wall. I can’t say that I planned it like that. It looked like something out of a James Bond movie the way it worked out.”

With smoke billowing from the vehicle, Anderson climbed atop the SAFER barrier along the inside wall. He jumped from the barrier, briefly buckled, rolled to the ground and laid flat on his back as a safety crew arrived.

“I remember leaning on the wall, standing up, looking at the truck and jumping off the wall, landing on my feet and it was just like the pain of the burns kicked in,” Anderson said. “That’s when I went to the ground. 

“I can’t remember the lady’s name that was the first one to me, but everybody on the NASCAR side, they were to me so quickly and helped get everything off me. When they got me in the ambulance, they cut my suit off. That gave me some relief. 

“When I got to the care center, I was in a lot of pain. So they gave me an IV and that’s when they got me to the helicopter. To be honest, once I got to the care center, I don’t remember much until waking up at the hospital (after a helicopter flight from the track). … It’s crazy what heat can do because it did just feel like my whole body was on fire when I was laying there on the ground (next to the truck) just because everything got so hot.”

Anderson suffered third-degree burns on his right arm and neck. He had second degree burns elsewhere. 

Jordan Anderson is loaded into a medical evacuation helicopter at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports)

It wasn’t until he was in the hospital for a few hours that he was offered a mirror by a nurse to look at his face.

“I looked over at my wife (Kendall) and asked the nurse, ‘Do you think all of this is going to be healed up by mid-December?”

“Why?”

“Well, that’s when we’re actually supposed to go on our honeymoon because we never got to take it during the season.”

“If you’re worried about that,” the nurse said, “you must already be feeling better.”

Jordan and Kendall were married April 16. She wasn’t supposed to be at Talladega when he raced because she was to have run in a marathon in North Carolina. The event was postponed by weather, so she went to Talladega for the race.

“I know it was hard for her to see it, but I can only imagine how hard it would have been if she hadn’t been there,” Anderson said of his wife. 

She was among several friends and family members who went to the hospital to be with Anderson after the accident.

“When they rolled me out of the hospital with a wheelchair, they were all in the waiting room,” Anderson said. “It was pretty humbling.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. dispatched his plane to take Anderson home to North Carolina. Earnhardt was among many in the sport who offered their support or well wishes.

“We all want to be competitive on the race track, but things like that off the race track, that means a lot,” Anderson said. 

Anderson can’t wait to get back on the track. This accident hasn’t diminished his desire to race.

“I’m not going to let this incident define me and who I am,” he said. “If anything, it’s just going to give me that much more motivation to get back out there.”

The 2023 season opener for the Truck Series at Daytona is less than four months away. Anderson eyes that event for his return. He may even drive the same truck that burned in Talladega since it has such a good track record at Daytona.

“We’ve already looked at the truck in the shop,” Anderson said. “The front clip is OK. We got to cut the A post forward and go send it to the blasters and replace the wiring because it’s all burnt up. The motor is not hurt too bad.

“I’m already figuring out what we’ve got to do to fix the truck and take it back to Daytona.”

2. Pivotal session 

Saturday’s qualifying session at Martinsville Speedway (12:30 p.m. ET on USA Network) could be the most important of the season.

Seven playoff drivers are vying for the final three spots in next week’s championship race at Phoenix and at least two drivers will advance via points. 

In the four previous short track races this season — both Richmond races, the spring Martinsville race and the Bristol night race — at least five of the top six finishers in the first stage of the race started in the top 10. 

Track position matters at short tracks since passing can be difficult. It was at Martinsville in the spring. The top six finishers in the first stage all started in the top seven. Stage points could determine who advances to the title race.

That’s why qualifying could be so important Saturday. 

“It’s tough,” Ross Chastain said of qualifying at Martinsville. “I haven’t figured it out. I just have struggled to maximize a single lap. It takes me, especially at Martinsville, a bit of time to get into a rhythm and start making lap time. … Definitely don’t want to start back wherever we started in the spring.”

Chastain started 27th in the spring at Martinsville. While he finished the race fifth, he scored no stage points. Six other drivers scored more points than he did at Martinsville that day. 

Chastain enters the weekend with the biggest advantage, sitting 19 points above the cutline, but that’s not a guarantee he’ll advance. Twice in the last three years a driver 20 points or more above the cutline going into the Round of 8 finale did not advance to the title race.

Chase Elliott enters the weekend 11 points above the cutline. William Byron is five points above the cutline going into Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET on NBC)

Those below the cutline are Denny Hamlin (-5 points), Ryan Blaney (-18), Christopher Bell (-33) and Chase Briscoe (-44).

Hamlin qualified 25th at Martinsville in the spring, scored no stage points and finished 28th in the race. Twenty-six drivers scored more points than Hamlin did in that race. 

In the spring race at Martinsville, Elliott won the pole, Byron qualified fifth and Bell started seventh. 

3. Looking for a turnaround

It has been a rotten Round of 8 for Ryan Blaney, leaving him outside a transfer spot to the championship race. 

“If I wouldn’t have made a mistake the last two weeks, we’d be sitting in a really good spot heading into this weekend, but that’s just not the case,” he said. 

Blaney lost control and hit the wall while running third at Las Vegas two weeks ago. He finished 28th. Last week, Blaney spun on the access road after exiting pit road during a green-flag stop. He finished 17th. 

That’s left him 18 points behind William Byron, who won the spring Martinsville race, for the final transfer spot. 

In Blaney’s favor is that his average finish of 10.2 at Martinsville is best among active drivers. He’s also led in four of the last five races at the historic half-mile track.

Blaney also gets crew chief Jonathan Hassler back this weekend. Hassler had missed the past four races as a penalty for a wheel coming off Blaney’s car in the Bristol playoff race. Zachary Price returns as the rear tire changer. Jourdan Osinskie, who took over jackman duties after the penalty, will remain in that position. Graham Stoddard, who had been Blaney’s jackman, moves over to Joey Logano’s team.

Blaney still seeks his first points win of the season. If he gets it Sunday, he’d be the record-setting 20th different winner this year.  The only driver to make it to the championship race without a points win in that particular season was Ryan Newman in 2014. 

4. More to watch

While the focus will be on playoff drivers this weekend at Martinsville, non-playoff drivers will have some things to focus on.

AJ Allmendinger has finished in the top 10 in each of his last six starts. 

Brad Keselowski seeks to extend his streak of consecutive seasons with a win to 12 either this weekend or next. Martin Truex Jr. also seeks to extend his streak of consecutive seasons with a win to eight either this weekend or next.

Michael McDowell has the best average finish in the playoffs among non-playoff drivers at 13.6.

Keselowski has scored the most points in the playoffs among non-playoff drivers at 213 (William Byron has scored the most points in the playoffs of any driver at 294).

5. What’s next for Texas?

Marcus Smith, chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports, which owns Texas Motor Speedway, joined Dale Earnhardt Jr. on this week’s Dale Jr. Download and discussed a variety of topics, including if any changes will be made to the Texas surface.

With the All-Star Race moving from Texas to North Wilkesboro next year, Texas Motor Speedway will host only one Cup weekend in 2023 and it comes in the playoffs. That gives Smith time to decide what to do with Texas.

“What we’re doing now is working with iRacing to research a couple of different profile changes that we might do at the track,” Smith said. 

“I want to kind of investigate what the options are. We learned a ton with iRacing around the Atlanta (reconfiguration). Atlanta is the first track that’s been (reconfigured) based on an iRacing simulation.  … We were able to not just build a track with a CAD drawing and all the engineering and math that goes into designing a track, we were able to put virtual cars and go race and tweak it and make little itty-bitty changes that made a big difference in Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“The way it raced was the way we saw it was going to race on iRacing. That was a huge lightbulb moment. So we’re trying to figure out what could happen differently at Texas Motor Speedway. We haven’t figured out exactly what it’s going to look like yet.”

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.