Friday 5: Should NASCAR let drivers fight or break up confrontations quickly?


Tyler Reddick looks at last week’s altercation between Ross Chastain and Noah Gragson at Kansas Speedway and admits it “was kind of a bummer that it was broken up” after Chastain punched Gragson and Gragson didn’t have a chance to respond.

It’s not that Reddick has any ill will toward Chastain; it’s just the idea of a fight between drivers being broken up by NASCAR officials so early.

“If you’re going to break it up really early, break it up as soon as Noah puts his hand on Ross,” Reddick said. “Don’t wait for someone to throw the first punch. Then the guy that gets hit or missed by that first punch doesn’t have a chance to throw one back.

“I think from the driver’s point of view, why even go there and do anything? Looking at how that one went (between Chastain and Gragson), you’ve just got to go up and sucker punch somebody and that’s going to be the end of it. You’re not going to get hit back.”

Last weekend’s issues started on the track. Gragson was upset with how Chastain raced him, causing Gragson to hit the wall. Gragson responded by hitting Chastain’s car.

After the race, Gragson confronted Chastain on pit road, grabbed Chastain and shook him before Chastain punched Gragson. NASCAR security then separated the two before Gragson could throw a punch.

Reddick wasn’t the only driver to speak up about whether drivers should be left to fight or separated quickly.

Harrison Burton, who was involved in a fight with Gragson in July 2020 after the Xfinity race at Kentucky, noted there could be situations where it is best to stop a fight quickly. But Burton also raised questions about breaking up the altercation between Chastain and Gragson.

“You just don’t want to have a guy get punched in the face and not be able to do anything about it, either,” Burton said. “So, it’s kind of in between a rock and a hard place. I know the fans love it. I love watching hockey fights and hockey in general because you know they’re going to be hitting each other hard. So, it’s a catch-22 for sure.

“I could definitely see where Noah probably would have wanted to have at least a fair shot to act. But, I don’t know. It’s probably on the safer side of things to separate us. The young guy in me wants to say, ‘Yeah, just let them fight it out.’ I’m not sure.”

NASCAR officials and security typically allow drivers to express their dissatisfaction with each other after the race and step in only when it becomes a physical confrontation. One of the challenges for officials is that they don’t always reach the scene before a physical confrontation takes place because of how far the cars are spread out on pit road after a race.

Without security, situations can escalate and that can lead to drivers getting hurt or others stepping in to try to break up the melee.

When Burton fought Gragson at Kentucky, the cars were parked elsewhere and they were alone before anyone intervened.

“When Noah and I fought, we were kind of able to fight for a while before anyone broke us up,” Burton said. “Then we went to the ground and all that. I didn’t have a problem with what happened with us.”

Reddick said one way to stop such incidents would be simple.

“Don’t even let the drivers get face-to-face after the race,” he said. “I would rather see it to where drivers can kind of voice their frustrations for a minute between them. If they want to fight, fight, but there’s a lot of emotions and adrenaline running in those moments.”

2. Where should NASCAR race next?

Now that NASCAR has raced inside a football stadium, maybe the sport can find a way to race around one.

Formula One showed it’s possible, running on a circuit that went around Hard Rock Stadium, the home of the Miami Dolphins, last weekend for the second consecutive year.

With all the hospitality buildings, grandstands and fan amenities, including a champagne bar, faux marina and a chair lift over part of the course, it didn’t feel like the event was held in a stadium parking lot.

Such a concept could continue NASCAR’s quest to race in new places. The series has run inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum the past two years and will debut on the streets of Chicago in July.

Running in a football stadium parking lot could help the sport reach coveted markets that don’t have a track.

Of course, it doesn’t mean such an idea would be easy. The Miami Dolphins are better positioned to do so that many teams.

“We have the good fortune that we own the land and all the parking spots and the stadium,” said Tom Garfinkel, CEO of the Miami Dolphins and managing partner of the Miami Grand Prix, in response to a question from NBC Sports.

“Most stadiums around the country are owned by a municipality of some sort. That creates a lot of challenges to what we did here. We can just go and make the investment and do it. I talked to one person and he says, ‘Yeah, I believe in it. Let’s go do it.’

“Then I say, ‘We need to spend more money than we originally anticipated. We want to make this best in class.’ He said, ‘Just go do it.’

“If you have municipalities that own something like that, it’s a lot different process to get those decisions made and they’re made by committees and all kinds of things. I think it would be very difficult for other stadiums to do what we’ve done here from that standpoint.”

With NASCAR spending $50 million to put on the Chicago street course, could a similar commitment go into a stadium course in the right market? The sport is expected to get an increase in the next media rights deal, which begins in 2025. That would make now a good time to begin conversations with prospective stadiums to see what is possible.

Among the stadiums that could be suited for NASCAR would be the Meadowlands Complex, which includes MetLife Stadium, home to the New York Giants and Jets of the NFL, and Empower Field at Mile High, home to the NFL’s Denver Broncos.

MetLife Stadium is located about five miles west of New York City, putting NASCAR as close to the nation’s No. 1 TV market as possible. Among the challenges will be that racing once was held there and left. IndyCar raced in the stadium’s parking lot from 1984-91. Another challenge would be finding a date. Since last year, the stadium has hosted concerts for Paul McCartney, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Kenny Chesney, Beyonce and Taylor Swift. Such future events could create a limited window for a race.

Empower Field at Mile High is a couple miles from downtown Denver. The city ranks 16th in U.S. TV markets. A race in Denver would give NASCAR an event in a city that it has looked at for years. The nearest track that hosts a NASCAR race is Kansas Speedway, which is about 600 miles away.

Racing is not new to Denver. It hosted IndyCar races in 1990-91 and 2002-06. The races in the 2000s were run in the streets around the arena for Denver’s NBA and NHL teams. Again, having a motorsports event there fail previously could be a roadblock to future efforts, among other things.

Officials from both stadiums did not return messages from NBC Sports.

To host a race would be expensive for any stadium, and Garfinkel notes the financial challenges that could come with such a move.

“Formula One, because of the popularity of the sport, the international nature of the sport, makes it possible to make this kind of investment and be able to get a return,” he said. “We want to do everything at the quality that, hopefully, you see around the campus vs. trying to do things really inexpensively just to put a race on.

“I think you need to have the revenues to do things the way we’ve done them here. I’m not sure if it wasn’t Formula One, if we’d be able to do that.”

3. Pre-race festivities

It was interesting attending my first Formula One race last weekend in Miami. One of the biggest things to come from last weekend’s race won by series points leader Max Verstappen was the uproar around the pre-race festivities.

F1 does things differently. While NASCAR and IndyCar fans are accustomed to drivers being introduced before a race, often with some sort of flair, that isn’t always the case in F1.

So when the Miami Grand Prix determined how it would do driver introductions, it went big. After being introduced by LL Cool J, each of the 20 drivers came out from smoke, passed through cheerleaders and a 30-piece orchestra.

F1 Grand Prix of Miami
Sergio Perez walks out onto the grid prior to the F1 Grand Prix of Miami at Miami International Autodrome. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Lando Norris expressed his displeasure with the intros. George Russell, a director of the Grand Prix Drivers Association, also was not a fan of the pre-race festivities.

“It is distracting because we were on the grid for half an hour in all of our overalls in the sun, and I don’t think there’s any other sport in the world that 30 minutes before you go out to do your business that you’re out there in the sun, all the cameras are on you and make a bit of a show of it,” Russell said. “Can appreciate that in the entertainment world but, as I said, we only want what is best for the sport. We’re open to changes, but I guess we wouldn’t want to see it every other weekend.”

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, teammate to Russell, didn’t have a problem with what was done before the race.

“I think it’s cool that the sport is continuously growing and evolving and they’re not just doing the same stuff that they’ve done in the past,” Hamilton said. “They’re trying new things. They’re trying to improve the show, and I’m in full support of it. Jeez, I grew up listening to LL Cool J and LL Cool J was there. That was cool.”

To compare, driver introductions for Sunday’s Cup race at Darlington Raceway are scheduled to begin at 2:25 p.m. ET. The national anthem will end at 2:56 p.m. ET, meaning Cup drivers will be outside their vehicles for more than 30 minutes in temperatures around 85 degrees before competing.

“For us, it’s a routine,” Tyler Reddick said. “It’s all we’ve ever known, so it’s part of your preparation. You hydrate, get ready for the weekend. You know you’re going to be in the sun a little bit. It’s just part of it. I think probably more for (Formula One drivers) … I would have to imagine it’s not a part of their normal pre-race routine. If you’re not used to being in the heat or the sun for those extra 30 minutes … it’s going to feel different. You’re going to be out of your routine.”

4. Extra track time at North Wilkesboro

With North Wilkesboro hosting the All-Star Race next weekend — the first Cup race there since 1996 — several drivers will compete in events Tuesday and Wednesday to get additional track time.

The ASA Stars National Tour for pavement super late models, will race at North Wilkesboro on Tuesday. The 55-car entry list includes Cup drivers Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Noah Gragson and William Byron.

The Solid Rock Carriers Cars Tour features 39 late model entries for Wednesday’s race. Cup drivers entered are Chase Briscoe, Brad Keselowski, Harrison Burton, Ross Chastain, Kevin Harvick and Daniel Suarez. Also entered is NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr.

5. Most stage points this season

As the Cup Series reaches the halfway point of the 26-race regular season this weekend at Darlington, here’s a look at the drivers who have scored the most stage points this season.

111 — William Byron

99 — Ross Chastain

93 — Denny Hamlin

88 — Kyle Larson

76 — Christopher Bell

76 — Kevin Harvick

72 — Tyler Reddick

67 — Joey Logano

63 — Martin Truex Jr.

63 — Alex Bowman

Corey LaJoie learning in his week with Chase Elliott’s team


Spending this week with Hendrick Motorsports has proved eye-opening for Corey LaJoie.

He will pilot Chase Elliott’s No. 9 car today at World Wide Technology Raceway after NASCAR suspended Elliott one race for wrecking Denny Hamlin during last week’s Coca-Cola 600. This gives LaJoie the chance to drive in the best equipment of his career.

MORE: Corey LaJoie not giving up on his dream 

MORE: Details for Sunday’s Cup race

Working with Elliott’s team also has given LaJoie an inside look as to what makes Hendrick Motorsports so successful.

“I thought that I knew what we didn’t have at Spire Motorsports, but I had no idea,” said LaJoie, who starts 30th after tagging the wall during his qualifying lap. “There’s tools that those guys have, intellectual properties specific to Hendrick Motorsports, that even some of the other teams don’t have.

“But the biggest thing that I noticed was just the people and the attitude of the pursuit of perfection. All the key partner teams across all the (manufacturers) all have the same data, but (Hendrick Motorsports has) an unbelievable way of delegating, taking, compacting and making it just digestible – whether it’s for a driver, an engineer, a crew chief.

“I think the fact that they have four incredibly strong teams individually raises the tide for those guys because when you’re sitting in the simulator and William Byron ran a 33.20 (seconds for a lap) … if you’re running a 33.35 with the same setup, you know you have a tenth-and-a-half under your butt and you have to go find it. And then when I go run a 33.20, William next time is going to want to run a 33.19.

“There’s always a consistently raised watermark on the driver’s end. There’s always a consistently raised watermark on the crew chiefs in trying to build the best setups, and the engineers trying to find the best strategies.

“The inner-team competition is one of the biggest things, and I think there are several teams that have that … the healthy ones are certainly evident. But it’s just the overall structure. We have a Hawkeye (camera-based inspection stations used by NASCAR at the track) … all the things that do the same stuff that Hendrick Motorsports has, but the depth of people, collective focus of the goal and the mission is noticeable and evident. It’s a different world.”

It would be easy for LaJoie to be overwhelmed in this situation. His career has been marked with underfunded rides and trying to make the most of his equipment. He’s having his best season in Cup this year. LaJoie ranks 19th in points heading into today’s race.

LaJoie acknowledges the opportunity he has, but he also can’t let it alter his focus.

“It’s been a wild week,” he said. “I can get all sentimental … (about) my dad subbing in for Ricky Craven in 1998 (for Hendrick Motorsports) and all that sort of stuff. But at the end of the day, when I sit in that thing, I don’t know that NAPA is on it, or the No. 9 is on it.

“I’m going to drive it like I have been driving the No. 7 Chevy and putting that thing 19th in points. It’s been a super fun, successful year so far, and we have a lot of work left to do and things to accomplish over there.”

When he returns to his Spire Motorsports ride after today’s race, LaJoie admits this weekend’s experience with Elliott’s team will help him with his own team.

“How I prepare, how I’m going to engage with my team at Spire Motorsports going forward is going to change,” LaJoie said. “I think I’m going to be able to come in there and just apply and share some of the things I’ve learned over the course of the week with (crew chief Ryan) Sparks and the No. 77 team, as well, and I think we’re all going to be stronger for it.”

Dr. Diandra: Is 2023 the season for a Ricky Stenhouse Jr. redemption?


Coming into 2022, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had two career Cup Series wins in 364 starts. But both wins — and his career-high 13th-place season finish — happened back in 2017.

Stenhouse was unceremoniously dropped by Roush Fenway Racing in 2020 and landed with JTG Daugherty Racing. He made the news every now and then at a superspeedway but could be counted upon to head up season-ending lists of drivers involved in the most accidents. In the years Stenhouse hasn’t been at the top of the list, he’s been near the top.

DNFs and accidents have plagued Stenhouse throughout his NASCAR career. Jack Roush went so far as to park the Mississippi native in his early days in the Xfinity Series because he tore up so much equipment.

Stenhouse redeemed himself, going on to win two Xfinity championships.

From the way his 2023 season has started, it looks as though Stenhouse might be on a similar mission of redemption this year in the Cup Series.

Finishing races

Stenhouse started the 2023 season in the best possible way – winning the Daytona 500. But drivers from less-funded teams who win early superspeedway races usually settle to the bottom of the rankings by now.

Stenhouse hasn’t. He ranks 13th heading into Sunday’s race at World Wide Technology Raceway.

Standings aren’t as good a ruler this year as they usually are because of drivers missing races and teams incurring penalties. But Stenhouse’s statistics back up his ranking.

Stenhouse has finished every race this year on track, as opposed to in the garage or on the hook. Only Ryan Blaney and Corey LaJoie have achieved the same distinction.

In 11 of those 14 races, Stenhouse finished on the lead lap. That’s the same number of lead-lap finishes as William Byron. Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. are tied for most races finished on the lead lap with 13 each.

This time last year, Stenhouse had already racked up seven of the series-leading 18 caution-causing incidents he would be involved in for the season. Runner-up Chase Elliott had 15 incidents.

Going into Gateway this year, Stenhouse has been involved in only two accidents (Talladega and Charlotte) and had a tire go out at Darlington.

Approaching his career best

I compare three years in Stenhouse’s career in the table below: the 2017 season — his best to date — along with last year and the 14 races run so far this year.

A table comparing loop data stats for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. showing his path to redemption

Stenhouse’s current average finishing position of 13.5 ties with Christopher Bell for sixth best in the Cup Series. That’s 9.3 positions better than Stenhouse’s 2022 average. He’s even beating his 2017 average by 3.6 positions.

Qualifying results are down a bit from 2017 — but remember that those numbers are from the days when NASCAR allowed multiple practice sessions. Stenhouse is only two positions worse relative to 2017, but 7.6 positions better than last year when it comes to establishing his spot on the starting grid.

Stenhouse’s average running position is comparable to 2017 and 2.8 positions better than 2022. He ranks 20th among full-time Cup Series drivers in average running position. Although it’s an improvement, it’s still more than double William Byron’s series-leading 9.1 average running position this year.

More interesting is the difference between Stenhouse’s average running position his average finishing position. Some drivers run better than they finish. Stenhouse is doing the opposite.

In 2017, Stenhouse finished about 1.4 positions better than he ran. This year, he’s gaining an average of about five positions from where he runs.

One might argue this gain results from the plethora of late-race incidents this year that have removed drivers in the front of the field from contention. But Stenhouse deserves credit for putting himself in a position to benefit from those events.

Stenhouse’s green-flag speed rank is 11th among full-time Cup Series drivers. His 15.3 average, however, is 1.7 positions worse than 10th-place Kyle Busch. Still, it’s impressive that JTG Daugherty is right there in the mix with much better-funded teams. William Byron again has the best average green-flag speed rank at 7.9.

Consistently strong finishes

It’s not uncommon for a mid-pack driver to win a superspeedway race. But Stenhouse’s Daytona 500 win appears to be something more. The table below summarizes his wins and finishes for the same three years.

A table comparing finishes for 2017, 2022 and 2023 showing Ricky Stenhouse Jr's redemption attemptsThe difference between last year and this year is striking.

In 2022, Stenhouse finished in the top 20 in 12 of 36 races. He’s already matched that mark this year. He earns top-20 finishes 85.7% of the time in 2023 compared to 33.3% last year. Top-20 finishes aren’t the same as contending for a championship. But they’re a first step.

Stenhouse finished 2017 with nine top-10 races. With about 60% of the season remaining, he’s already earned five top-10 finishes this year.

What’s changed? The Next Gen car is one factor, but it didn’t make much difference for Stenhouse last year. I would point instead to Stenhouse’s reunion with Mike Kelley as his crew chief.

Kelley co-piloted both of Stenhouse’s Xfinity championships in 2011 and ’12. Although Kelley worked with Stenhouse and previous crew chief Brian Pattie since 2020, this is the first year Kelley is back up on the pit box.

Together, they’re basically halfway to matching Stenhouse’s best year.

And another step closer to redemption.

Portland Xfinity race results, driver points


Cole Custer went from fourth to first on the overtime restart when the top three cars made contact and went on to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Portland International Raceway. Custer is the 10th different winner in 13 races this season.

MORE: Portland Xfinity race results

MORE: Driver points after Portland Xfinity race

JR Motorsports took the next three spots: Justin Allgaier placed second, Sam Mayer was third and Josh Berry was fourth. Austin Hill completed the top five.

John Hunter Nemechek remains the points leader after 13 races. He has a 14-point lead on Hill. Nemechek leads Allgaier by 44 points.

Cole Custer wins Xfinity race at Portland in overtime


Cole Custer held off Justin Allgaier at the finish to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race in overtime at Portland International Raceway. It is Custer’s first victory of the season.

JR Motorsports placed second, third and fourth with Allgaier, Sam Mayer and Josh Berry. Austin Hill finished fifth.

MORE: Race results, driver points

Custer went from fourth to first on the overtime restart when Parker Kligerman, who restarted third, attempted to pass Allgaier, who was leading. Sheldon Creed was on the outside of Allgaier. All three cars made contact entering Turn 1, allowing Custer to slip by. Creed finished seventh. Kligerman placed 14th.

Custer won the second stage when John Hunter Nemechek made contact with Creed’s car while racing for the lead on the final lap of the stage. The contact spun Creed and Custer inched by Nemechek at the line.

Early in the final stage, Creed gained revenge with contact that spun Nemechek, who went on to finish 10th. A few laps later, Nemechek and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Sammy Smith had issues. Smith spun Nemechek. After getting back around, Nemechek quickly caught Smith and turned into Smith’s car, damaging it.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

STAGE 2 WINNER: Cole Custer

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Despite the contact on the overtime restart, runner-up Justin Allgaier managed to score his fourth consecutive top-three finish. … Sam Mayer’s third-place finish is his best on a road course. … Austin Hill’s fifth-place finish gives him four consecutive top-five results.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Daniel Hemric finished 33rd after a fire in his car. … Riley Herbst placed 32nd after an engine issue. After opening the season with six top 10s in a row, Herbst has gone seven races in a row without a top 10.

NEXT: The series competes June 10 at Sonoma Raceway (8 p.m. ET on FS1).