Friday 5: Five laps that impacted NASCAR Cup season


In a season that ran 9,483 laps across 36 races in 20 states, some laps have more meaning than others. Here’s a look at five such laps in Cup this year.

1. Lap 250 at Bristol Dirt in April

Kyle Busch won after Chase Briscoe hit Tyler Reddick, spinning both Briscoe and Reddick on the last lap of the race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Busch, running a distant third, drove by. It was the only lap he led that race. 

The win would be Busch’s only victory in his final season with Joe Gibbs Racing. At the time, no one could have known what would happen to Busch.

Had Reddick won this race, those five playoff points would have been enough for him to move into the second round of the playoffs. Without the Bristol win, he fell two points shy of advancing. That’s significant because Reddick won at Texas, the opening race of the second round. That would have put him into third round.

Also, had Reddick won — or even if Briscoe pulled off the maneuver — then Busch would not have made the playoffs.

The season would get worse for Busch. A sponsor pulled out to take over the No. 18 car with Mars, Inc. leaving after the season. Joe Gibbs Racing and Busch were unable to come to an agreement to keep the two-time Cup champion with the team. Busch’s 15-year run with JGR would come to an end.

His playoff run didn’t last long after two blown engines in the first round made the two-time Cup champion one of the first four eliminated from title contention. 

When the 2023 season begins, Busch will be in the No. 8 car at Richard Childress Racing, taking over for Reddick, who moves on to 23XI Racing. 

2. Lap 124 at Dover in May

Denny Hamlin led 67 of the first 123 laps and felt that he had the best car that day and would have won the race.  

He didn’t because his race began to unravel after winning the first stage. 

Hamlin entered pit road in the lead and was the first off pit road, but his left front wheel came off — a four-week suspension for his crew chief and two pit crew members.

He had to return to the pits to get a new tire, putting him 29th. It took him about 100 laps to get back into the top five. 

Then trouble struck again. Running fourth on Lap 242, Hamlin couldn’t avoid Cody Ware’s spinning car. 

Hamlin was penalized for speeding on pit road on Lap 326. Instead of having a chance to win, he finished 21st.

While one can talk about the five playoff points Hamlin lost for his disqualification at Pocono, it is the five playoff points he could have scored at Dover that could have given him a seven-point cushion on Ross Chastain going into the final lap at Martinsville in the playoffs. Hamlin would have advanced to the championship race with those five playoff points from Dover.

3. Lap 293 at Nashville in June

Chase Elliott led when the caution came out eight laps from the end of the race for Josh Bilicki’s blown engine.

When pit road was opened, Elliott stayed out for track position. Kyle Busch, who was second, pitted. Denny Hamlin, who was third, pitted. Martin Truex Jr., who was fourth, pitted. 

Mistakes led to Hamlin and Truex pitting.

Hamlin’s crew chief, Chris Gabehart, was serving the last race in his four-race suspension for the wheel coming off the No. 11 car at Dover and wasn’t at Nashville. Engineer Sam McAuley was serving as crew chief. 

Gabehart and two pit crew members were originally suspended four races, which would have included the non-points All-Star Race. He would have returned at Nashville, but Joe Gibbs Racing appealed the penalty. The appeals panel amended the penalty, making the suspension four points races. That meant that Gabehart had to miss Nashville. 

The plan for Hamlin was to stay out if he could get a spot on the front row to restart. But before Hamlin approached pit road, McAuley mistakingly said to stay out only if he could get the lead. With Elliott staying out, that was not possible, so Hamlin pitted.

Crew chief James Small told Truex to stay out if he could get a spot on the front row to restart. With Busch and Hamlin pitting, that would have put Truex on the front row with Elliott. But Truex pitted.

All Truex could do was apologize. 

Busch was the first car off pit road, changing only two tires. He restarted 12th.

“It’s going to be bad,” Busch said on his radio.

Hamlin and Truex each took four tires and started further back. Hamlin finished sixth, while Busch was 21st and Truex was 22nd. 

Truex, who could have started on the front row for the final restart, never got the win he needed to make the playoffs. 

4. Lap 138 at Daytona in August 

Austin Dillon, needing to win to make the playoffs, was 16th when the field approached Turn 1 on Lap 138 at Daytona under threatening skies. 

Suddenly, cars started sliding and crashing, losing traction on the wet track. 

Dillon, running on the bottom lane, slowed and followed Bubba Wallace on to the apron. In front of Wallace, Harrison Burton and Ty Dillon were crashing. 

The cars of Ty Dillon and Burton moved up off the apron, while Wallace slid on to the grass. That provided a lane for Austin Dillon to slip through and take the lead (as seen in the video clip from his car). 

Martin Truex Jr., trying to make the playoffs, was collected and had damage to his car.

After a rain delay of 3 hours, 19 minutes and 57 seconds, the race resumed. The green waved with 16 laps left and Austin Cindric took the lead. He held it until three laps to go when Austin Dillon ran into the back of his car in Turn 1 and took the lead.

Dillon’s teammate, Tyler Reddick moved to second. Austin Dillon went unchallenged to win and put both Richard Childress Racing cars in the playoffs. His victory prevented Truex from making the playoffs.

One of the biggest impacts from this was that NASCAR officials were quicker to call a caution for even light rain. It happened the following week in the playoff opener at Darlington and in the second round race at Texas.

5. Lap 500 at Martinsville in October

What is there to say about the craziest lap run this season in NASCAR?

Needing to pass two cars on the final lap to advance to the championship race, Ross Chastain put his car into fifth gear on the backstretch, planted his Chevrolet against the wall, took his hands off the wheel and let the wall guide his vehicle around the final quarter mile while he floored the throttle.

And it worked.

He passed five cars to make the championship race.

But this lap’s biggest impact was on social media. The video of Chastain’s move had more than 11 million views on the NASCAR on NBC Twitter account. The video of it on the NASCAR on NBC TikTok account had more than 12 million views. Excluding the Olympics, the only other video that has had more views on the NBC Sports TikTok account this year was Rich Strike’s historic Kentucky Derby win. 

Even an hour after his remarkable move, Chastain was still trying to comprehend what he had done.

It’s sinking in the we did something that no one else has ever done,” Chastain said.

While NASCAR has not created a rule to prevent such a move, it is something that series officials are expected to examine before next season.

Texas Truck race results: Carson Hocevar scores first series win

Texas Truck race results
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Carson Hocevar was in front after the leaders crashed in overtime and scored his first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victory Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Texas Truck race results

Rookie Nick Sanchez, who led 168 of the 172-lap race, dueled reigning series champion Zane Smith on the last lap when Sanchez’s truck hit Smith’s. As Sanchez tried to regain control of his vehicle, he was hit from behind by Hocevar. That contact sent Sanchez into Smith. Christian Eckes also was collected.

Hocevar’s first win came in his 59th series start.

Chase Purdy placed second. Stewart Friesen finished third. Ty Majeski was fourth. Jake Garcia completed the top five.


Richmond Xfinity results, driver points


RICHMOND, Va. — Chandler Smith won a stage, led a race-high 83 laps and rallied late to score his first career Xfinity win Saturday at Richmond Raceway.

MORE: Richmond Xfinity results

MORE: Xfinity points after Richmond race

John Hunter Nemechek placed second. The rest of the top five featured Josh Berry, Kaz Grala and Cole Custer. Austin Hill, who had won three of the first six races of the season, placed ninth.

Hill continues to lead the points. He has a 12-point advantage on Riley Herbst and an 18-point lead on Nemechek heading into the next series race in two weeks at Martinsville.

Chandler Smith scores first career Xfinity win with Richmond victory


RICHMOND, Va. — Chandler Smith held off John Hunter Nemechek to win his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series race Saturday at Richmond Raceway.

The 20-year-old Smith took the lead with 12 laps to go and withstood a restart with six laps to go to earn the victory for Kaulig Racing.

MORE: Richmond race results, driver points

His victory came about a month after being passed for the lead with two laps to go at Las Vegas and finishing third day.

“It obviously wasn’t in God’s works for me that and I was fine with that, I was good with that,” said Smith, who will make his Cup debut Sunday. “I knew there was something bigger and better that He was playing it out for me and I just had to be faithful and keep on trucking. Here’s proof of it.”

Nemechek was second. Josh Berry placed third and was followed by Kaz Grala and Cole Custer.

Justin Allgaier finished 13th to win the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus.

“Today was weird because of how we finished,” Allgaier said. “Given the same circumstances a year ago, two years ago, three years ago, 13th wasn’t going to win the Dash 4 Cash but today it did.”

Stage 1 winner: Chandler Smith

Stage 2 winner: Josh Berry

Who had a good race: A caution caught Justin Allgaier a lap down, ending his chances for a top-five finish but he was able to bounce back and win the Dash 4 Cash for a fifth time. … Derek Kraus finished 10th in his Xfinity debut. … Chris Hacker placed 14th in his Xfinity debut.

Who had a bad race: Riley Herbst had his career-long streak of top-10 finishes snapped after nine races. He placed 23rd after he was hit and spun late in the race.

Notable: This is the second time in the last four races that there has been a first-time series winner. Sammy Smith scored his first series win last month at Phoenix.

Next: The series is off until April 15 at Martinsville Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on FS1).

Daniel Suarez, Ross Chastain move on from COTA incident


RICHMOND, Va. — Daniel Suarez says he’s been trying to “work on myself” after conflicts with teammate Ross Chastain and Alex Bowman last weekend at COTA but noted that if NASCAR doesn’t make adjustments with restarts on road courses, he’ll change his driving style.

NASCAR fined Suarez $50,000 on Wednesday for hitting another vehicle on pit road after the race. Suarez hit Chastain’s car at pit entrance and hit the back of Bowman’s car while they were both on pit road.

MORE: Cup starting lineup at Richmond 

“I’ve been trying to work on myself mostly during the week, trying to clear my mind and reset,” Suarez said Saturday at Richmond Raceway. “My team, we’re good. I think the issue wasn’t really with one driver. I feel like it’s more as an industry, how we are allowing to have those kind of bump-and-run restarts at the end of the races at road courses.

“I don’t think that’s right.”

Suarez restarted fifth in the second overtime restart. Alex Bowman, with Ross Chastain and Chase Briscoe aligned behind, charged and got beside Suarez as they approached Turn 1.

As Bowman slowed to make the tight turn, he was hit from behind and that sent him into Suarez, who clipped the left rear of Martin Truex Jr.’s car. Truex spun in front of Suarez and blocked his path, allowing the rest of the field to go by. Suarez finished 27th.

Chastain said he and Suarez have moved on from last week’s incident after talking this week.

“Every household on this earth has their moments of arguments and we had ours,” Chastain said Saturday.

“We’re family. We’re in the same house, right. It’s in our name. It’s Trackhouse. No matter what, we all think we have to put that behind and know that moving forward we’re brothers. … We’re brothers at Trackhouse and we’re going to be stronger together.”

Suarez is among the number of drivers who have raised concerns about the rough driving in the series. The Next Gen car is more durable and can take more hits — as evident in the Clash at the Coliseum to start the year when drivers barreled into the back of cars in the corners to slow down.

Add the emphasis of winning, less respect for one another and the result is the type of racing on display at the end of the race at Circuit of the Americas, as drivers charged down a long straightaway before braking hard for a tight turn and making contact with one another.

So, what can be done?

“I don’t have the answers to that,” Suarez said. “All I know is that NASCAR is working toward trying to make a better solution for some of these restarts. It doesn’t look right. This sport looks embarrassing.

“That’s not real. Just go into the corner and bump three cars to push people out of that way, that’s not real. We know that. That’s how some people got top fives and top 10s last week and some of the guys that were fast, like myself, finished 27th.

“If NASCAR does something about it, that’s amazing. If they don’t I’ll just join the party.”