Dr. Diandra: Auto Club Speedway first test of Busch-RCR partnership


Ever since Kyle Busch announced his move to Richard Childress Racing, pundits have questioned whether a Busch-RCR partnership is a step down for the two-time Cup Series champion. I’ve predicted that the move will benefit Busch and RCR.

But the truth is in the data.

The season’s first two events suggest promise. Busch rallied from a spin to place third in the Clash at the Coliseum. His new teammate Austin Dillon took second. But the Clash is an exhibition race on a track unlike any in the points-paying pantheon.

MORE: Fontana race raises questions about NASCAR’s future in Southern California

Busch’s 18th Daytona 500 run ended in disappointment when a last-lap crash dropped him to a 19th-place finish. Before the crash, Busch raced well — individually and teaming up with Dillon.

But the Daytona 500 rarely predicts a driver’s success over the rest of season.

  • The Daytona 500’s high accident rate prevents some of the best drivers from finishing well — or at all.
  • After winning the Daytona 500 in his rookie year, Austin Cindric held first place in the rankings for two weeks. Cindric fell to the mid-teens by the fifth race and stayed there throughout the regular season.
  • Ross Chastain started his breakout 2022 season by finishing 40th out of 40 cars in the Daytona 500. He ended the season in second place.

Large, non-superspeedway ovals have almost disappeared from the NASCAR calendar. Auto Club, Michigan and Pocono each dropped from two races to one race a season. Drivers and fans hope for a return to the Indianapolis oval, but it isn’t happening this year.

Sunday marks the 33rd — and last — race at the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway. After the checkered flag flies, the track may be nipped and tucked into a half-mile oval. Or not.

The loss of Auto Club Speedway is a negative for Busch because he does well at these types of tracks. But the one race left provides the perfect setting to evaluate the Busch-RCR partnership’s progression.

Busch at Auto Club Speedway

Take a look at Busch’s 23-race record.A table showing some of Kyle Busch's stats as part of the argument as to why Auto Club Speedway is a good test of the Busch-RCR partnership

Wins: Busch has the most wins at Auto Club Speedway among full-time active drivers with four. Jimmie Johnson holds the record with six wins, while Kyle Larson’s two wins rank him second among full-time active drivers.

Win Rate: Busch posts a 17.4%-win rate, the second highest of current full-time drivers. Larson ranks first with a win rate of 25.0% — but that’s based on only eight starts.

Average Finish: Busch’s 9.8 average finishing position tops any driver who will race this Sunday. Jimmie Johnson has a 7.6 average finishing position, but Johnson’s 2023 part-time schedule does not include the California track.

Busch also boasts the best top-10 finish rate (69.6%), and the second-best top-five finish rate of 47.8%. Larson and Johnson both have a 50.0% top-five rate, so Busch is not far behind.

And Busch isn’t only good at Auto Club Speedway: His 60 career wins include the four Fontana wins, two Indy oval wins and four Pocono trophies.

Evaluating the Busch-RCR partnership

Auto Club Speedway is an ideal place to evaluate the Busch-RCR partnership because Busch is historically very good there, while RCR has struggled. RCR has won only one race at Auto Club Speedway — in 2011 with Kevin Harvick behind the wheel. Dillon’s 13.5 average finish comes from last year’s second place and seven finishes of 10th or worse.

I’ll be listening for Busch’s comments during and after Saturday morning practice, especially if the car isn’t as fast as Busch expects it to be. I’m especially interested in the tenor of the exchanges between Busch and crew chief Randall Burnett.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: Joey Logano is No. 1

Where the No. 8 team qualifies is a good metric. Busch has a 10.2 average starting position with 60.9% of his qualifying runs placing him in the top 10. Placing outside the top 10 is a negative for the partnership and the race. Four of the last five winners qualified within the top four. Among those five races are two of the three races ever won from the pole at Auto Club Speedway: Larson in 2017 and Martin Truex Jr. in 2018.

A poor qualifying run doesn’t guarantee a bad race. Last year — the only race run at Auto Club Speedway in the Next Gen car — Larson qualified 13th, was sent to the back after making unapproved adjustments and won the race.

Finally, there’s the race finish itself. Barring accidents (the one race Busch didn’t finish at Auto Club Speedway was due to engine trouble), a finish out of the top 10 is a negative for the Busch-RCR partnership.

Auto Club won’t definitively answer the question of whether the Busch-RCR partnership was a good move for Busch. It’s one piece of data among the 36 this season.

NASCAR weekend schedule for Circuit of the Americas


NASCAR’s three major series return to the road this weekend with races scheduled Saturday and Sunday at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Xfinity and Craftsman Truck Series races are Saturday, and the Cup Series is scheduled to race Sunday afternoon.

MORE: Drivers expect North Wilkesboro surface to be challenging

Joey Logano, winner of last Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, has led laps in both COTA races and will be among the favorites Sunday.

As the first road course of the year, COTA will begin a new approach by NASCAR to stage racing on road circuits. There will no longer be a caution to end stages, but points will be awarded for the finish order. In another change, the “choose” rule will be in effect on road courses.

A look at the weekend schedule:

Circuit of the Americas (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)

Weekend weather

Friday: Thunderstorms in the morning, sun later in the day. High of 86. 80% chance of rain.

Saturday: Sunny. High of 83.

Sunday: Partly cloudy. Temperature of 81 degrees with a 15% chance of rain at the start of the race.

Friday, March 24

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 11:30 a.m. .- 6:30 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 1:30 – 8:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 2:05 – 2:55 p.m. — Cup practice (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 8 p.m. on FS1)
  • 4:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck practice (No live broadcast)
  • 5 – 6 p.m. — Truck qualifying (No live broadcast; tape-delayed version airing at 9 p.m. on FS1)
  • 6:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 7 – 8 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)

Saturday, March 25

Garage open

  • 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 10:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 2 – 10:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying (FS1)
  • 1:30 p.m. — Truck race (42 laps, 143 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 5 p.m. — Xfinity race (46 laps, 156 miles; FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, March 26

Garage open

  • 12:30 – 10 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup race (68 laps, 231.88 miles; Fox, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)




North Wilkesboro’s worn surface will prove challenging to drivers


NORTH WILKESBORO, N.C. — Three Cup drivers got their first chance to experience North Wilkesboro Speedway’s worn racing surface Tuesday and said tires will play a key role in the NASCAR All-Star Race there on May 21.

Chris Buescher, Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick took part in a Goodyear tire test Tuesday. That test was to continue Wednesday.

The verdict was unanimous about how important tire wear will be.

“This place has got a lot of character to it,” Reddick said. “Not a lot of grip and it’s pretty unforgiving. It’s a really fun place.”

Dillon said: “If you use up your tire too early, you’re going to really be in trouble. You really got to try to make those four tires live.”

Buescher said: “The surface here was so worn out already that we expect to be all over the place. The speeds are fairly slow just because of the amount of grip here. It’s hard to get wide open until you’re straight.”

Reddick noted the drop in speed over a short run during Tuesday’s test. That will mean a lot of off-throttle time.

“I think we were seeing a second-and-a-half falloff or so over even 50 laps and that was kind of surprising for me we didn’t have more falloff,” he said. “But, one little miscue, misstep into Turn 1 or Turn 3, you lose a second sliding up out of the groove and losing control of your car.”

“That’s with no traffic. Maybe with more traffic and everything, the falloff will be more, but certainly we’re out of control from I’d say Lap 10 on. You have to really take care of your car. … It’s really hard 30-40 laps into a run to even get wide open.”

Chris Buescher runs laps during a Goodyear tire test at North Wilkesboro Speedway, while Austin Dillon is on pit road. (Photo: Dustin Long)

One thing that stood out to Dillon was how the facility looks.

While the .625-mile racing surface remains the same since Cup last raced there in 1996, most everything else has changed.

In some cases, it is fresh red paint applied to structures but other work has been more extensive, including repaving the infield and pit road, adding lights for night racing, adding SAFER barriers, the construction of new suites in Turn 4 and new stands along the backstretch.

“It’s cool to see how much they’ve done to the track, the suites, the stands that they’re putting in,” Dillon said. “To me, the work that is going in here, we’re not just coming for one race. We’re coming here for a while. I’m excited about that.”

Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup race at COTA


Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, has attracted an entry list that includes talent beyond that of the tour regulars.

Jordan Taylor, who is substituting in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet for injured Chase Elliott, brings a resume that includes 31 IMSA class wins, two 24 Hours of Daytona overall wins and two IMSA wins at COTA.

MORE: NBC Driver Rankings: Christopher Bell is No. 1

Jenson Button won the Formula One championship in 2009 and has five F1 starts at COTA. He is scheduled to be a driver for the NASCAR entry in this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kimi Raikkonen, entered by Trackhouse Racing as part of its Project 91 program, won the 2007 F1 championship and has eight F1 starts at the Austin track.

They will draw attention at COTA this weekend, along with these other drivers to watch:


Brad Keselowski

  • Points position: 5th
  • Best seasonal finish: 2nd (Atlanta I)
  • Past at COTA: 19th and 14th in two career starts

Keselowski hasn’t been a star in road course racing, but his 2023 season has started well, and he figures to be in the mix at the front Sunday. He led the white-flag lap at Atlanta last Sunday before Joey Logano passed him for the win.

AJ Allmendinger

  • Points position: 17th
  • Best seasonal finish: 6th (Daytona 500)
  • Past at COTA: 5th and 33rd in two starts

The Dinger is a road course expert. Last year at COTA, he was involved in tight racing on the final lap with Ross Chastain and Alex Bowman before Chastain emerged with the victory.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Auto Club)
  • Past at COTA: Two straight top fours, including a win

Chastain lifted Trackhouse Racing’s profile by scoring his — and the team’s — first Cup victory at COTA last season. He’s not shy about participating in the last-lap bumping and thumping that often mark road course races.


Chris Buescher

  • Points position: 13th
  • Best seasonal finish: 4th (Daytona 500)
  • Past at COTA: 13th and 21st in two starts

Buescher has never led a lap at COTA and is coming off a 35th-place finish at Atlanta after being swept up in a Lap 190 crash. Although he has shown the power to run near the front this year, he has four consecutive finishes of 13th or worse.

Alex Bowman

  • Points position: 20th
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Las Vegas I)
  • Past at COTA: Two straight top 10s

Bowman’s four-race run of consistent excellence (finishes of fifth, eighth, third and ninth) ended at Atlanta as he came home 14th and failed to lead a lap. At COTA, he is one of only four drivers with top-10 finishes in both races.

William Byron

  • Points position: 28th
  • Best seasonal finish: 1st (Las Vegas I, Phoenix I)
  • Past at COTA: 11th and 12th in two starts

Involvement in an accident at Atlanta ended Byron’s two-race winning streak. He’ll be looking to lead a lap at COTA for the first time.



Three Reaume Brothers Racing team members suspended by NASCAR


Three members of the Reaume Brothers Racing No. 33 Craftsman Truck Series team have been suspended for three races by NASCAR after a piece of tungsten ballast came off their truck during last Saturday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The suspensions were announced Tuesday.

Crew chief Gregory Rayl and crew members Matthew Crossman and Travis Armstrong were suspended because of the safety violation. Mason Massey is the team’s driver.

MORE: Xfinity driver Josh Williams suspended for one race

In a tweet following the announcement of the penalty, the team said it will not file an appeal. “The ballast became dislodged only after the left side ballast container had significant contact with the racing surface,” according to the statement. “We would like to be clear that there was no negligence on the part of RBR personnel.”

NASCAR also announced Tuesday that Truck Series owner/driver Cory Roper, who had been suspended indefinitely for violating the substance abuse policy, has been reinstated.

The Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series are scheduled to race this weekend at Circuit of the Americas.