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Dr. Diandra: Can Ryan Blaney close in on the playoffs?


Ryan Blaney will most likely make the playoffs on points, but with the regular season winding to close, a win would certainly make it easier for him to sleep at night. The chances of having 16 different regular-season winners are small, but they’re not zero.

It’s not unprecedented for the Penske driver to win his first race late in the year. Blaney made the playoffs on points in 2018 and 2019. His first wins came in races number 35 and 31, respectively.

Last year, Blaney earned his playoff spot early, at Atlanta. His other wins that year were the last two races of the regular season.

And don’t forget that he won this year’s All-Star Race.

Don’t write him off until the haulers leave Daytona.

Blaney in 2022

Blaney’s 2022 season has been up and down, as the graph below shows.

The week-by-week rank and finishing position for Ryan Blaney

He’s earned seven finishes between second and fifth places and 10 top-10 finishes. Those seven P2-P5 finishes are only one less than he had in all of 2021.

Aside from finishes, Blaney is having an outstanding season. Here are just a few of the highlights:

  • Blaney ties with Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell for most poles with three.
  • He’s in second place in average running position at 11.0. He trails only Chase Elliott, whose current average running position is 10.2.
  • Blaney ranks second in average starting position (8.95), behind only Kyle Larson (8.43).
  • He holds second place in quality passes with 1,298. Elliott leads with 1,403.

The third-place-in-points driver has a series of third places as well.

  • Blaney is third in season driver rating behind Elliott and Ross Chastain.
  • He’s third in overall green-flag speed, beaten again by Elliott and Chastain.
  • Blaney’s average finish position of 13.1 trails only Elliott and Chastain.
  • He has the third-highest percentage of laps run in the top 15 with 73.1 percent.

Blaney also has five stage wins, and he’s led laps at more tracks than anyone else in 2022. The only places he hasn’t led laps are the Bristol dirt race, Darlington, Sonoma, Loudon and Pocono. The second-ranking drivers in the list of laps led at different tracks are Larson, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch

But Blaney’s future — even if he does make the playoffs — is clouded by some significant negatives.

  • Blaney has yet to finish higher than third this season.
  • His last points win was 31 races ago, in the 2021 summer Daytona race.
  • The list of five tracks where he hasn’t led laps includes the two most recent tracks raced. He finished out of the top 15 at both races.
  • Although Blaney’s had three poles, he hasn’t earned a pole since Richmond.
  • His recent performance is on a down cycle. He has finished outside of the top 10 in three of the last four races.
  • Blaney is one of three drivers in the top 10 in points without a win.

Blaney was a contender for the regular-season points championship, but his recent slump overlapped Elliott’s string of five consecutive top-two finishes. Most concerning is that Blaney has lost 49 points to Martin Truex Jr. in the last two races. Truex is the last driver who will make the playoffs on points if there are no new playoff-eligible winners.

Blaney’s manufacturer, Ford, is struggling with the Next Gen car. The Blue Oval has just four wins in 21 races this year: two from Logano and one each from Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe.

Despite being winless, I still rank Blaney as Ford’s top driver. Logano’s season-at-a-glance graph is similar to the other Ford winners this year: More down than up, even though the ups are higher than Blaney’s. Logano’s average finishing average is 15.9 compared to Blaney’s 13.1.

The week-by-week rank and finishing position for Joey Logano

Blaney edges out Kevin Harvick as the stronger driver. While their finishing averages are comparable, Blaney has a far better starting average.

Why isn’t Blaney winning races?

Harvick’s challenge this year has been qualifying, but that’s not an issue for Blaney. In addition to everything mentioned above, Blaney is tied for fifth in lead-lap finishes, is fourth in top fives, seventh in top 10s and eighth in fastest laps.

It’s hard to find stats where Blaney is low on the list.

But there is one.

The “closers” stat measures a driver’s running position at the 90 percent mark of a race relative to the driver’s finishing position. In other words, it measures how many positions a driver gains — or loses — in the last 10 percent of a race.

The next graph shows the total number of positions gained or lost in the last 10 percent of all 21 races this season. I included only the eight drivers with an average finishing position less than 15, as these drivers are Blaney’s peer group.

A vertical bar graph showing the positions gained or lost during the last 10% of races in the 2022 season

Blaney has a net loss of 20 positions in the last 10 percent of races this season. That’s not the worst in that statistical column, but only eight full-time drivers rank below Blaney in closing. Relative to other Ford drivers, Blaney is ahead of Harvick (-21), Briscoe (-34) and Logano (-57).

Blaney lost 14 positions in the last 10 percent of the race at Atlanta, 11 positions at Fontana and 10 at Darlington. The most positions he gained in the closing laps of a single race was eight, at Nashville.

Contrast those numbers with current frontrunner Elliott, who’s gained 25 positions over the same laps.

The Future

Blaney is on a downswing, but his downswings haven’t lasted more than a few races this season. There is plenty of time for him to win before the playoffs, if not in the playoffs.

Sunday’s second race at the Indianapolis road course might be one of Blaney’s best chances to win. Toyota has struggled at road courses this year, giving Blaney a possible advantage versus Truex.

Blaney has also earned the most points on road courses this year — 115. He tops Chastain, second with 106 points, and Elliott, who is third with 104 points.

NASCAR designed the current playoff system to balance wins and consistency. It’s impossible to tell at this point whether the wider distribution of wins is inherent to the Next Gen car or is simply a consequence of introducing a new car.

Some fans want enough winners — at least 17 — so that simply winning isn’t enough to get into the playoffs. The 2022 playoffs will already exclude at least one likely top-10-in-points driver in favor of drivers with as few as four top-10 finishes in 21 races.

If this pattern continues, NASCAR may have to re-examine the format and decide whether the balance has shifted a little too far to wins.

Atlanta takeaways: Cup drivers deserved at least a heads up about ’22 reconfiguration


HAMPTON, Georgia – With “collaboration” being a NASCAR industry buzzword for years, how did the communications breakdown occur that left Cup stars befuddled, “blindsided” and enraged about the Atlanta Motor Speedway reconfiguration?

“Just a broken-down process,” Denny Hamlin, the de-facto leader of his peer group, said before Sunday’s race, the last before a makeover formulated with hardly any driver input (or awareness, for that matter). “That’s what is so frustrating is the process is just broken.

“The disconnect right now between all the parties, NASCAR, the tracks and the drivers. It’s tough right now. It’s not in a good place.”

Just more than two years removed from the collapse of the Drivers Council (a well-intentioned but ultimately ineffectual and maligned concept that never quite met the original vision of a union planned by Hamlin and Jeff Gordon), the demand never has been greater for constantly open channels of information — yet there seems a dearth of conversation as NASCAR enters one of the most transformative eras in its 73-year history.

There is a NextGen car that still is undergoing safety evaluations, schedules (both for race weekends and the full season) that seem forever in flux and a volatile market for charter franchises leaving drivers and team owners on edge.

It’s understandable how a major topic could slip through the cracks – but that doesn’t begin to explain why stars weren’t at least briefed about the transformation of Atlanta that will be “180 degrees different” (according to Ryan Blaney) from an abrasive surface that is beloved by drivers who gleefully slide through its corners while manhandling their cars for hundreds of miles at a time.

Speedway Motorsports kept its plans heavily under wraps throughout a process that took months because it wanted to make a splash with last Tuesday’s stunning announcement – but the sneak attack immediately backfired.

Within an hour, the plot already had been lost about emphasizing a new fan-friendly Atlanta (“the racing will be closer than ever!”), and the narrative only deteriorated from there – reaching an apex when Kyle Busch blasted the plan Saturday after winning the Xfinity race.

It was another reminder that while NASCAR and its track owners might hold the purse strings, the stars always hold the conch as the loudest and most influential voices in the room.

Whether they’re on board with a project or not, they are the primary ambassadors of the NASCAR brand. Just as they can choose how difficult they want to make each others’ lives on track by racing harder, they also can determine whether an idea succeeds or fails.

Atlanta Motor Speedway workers repair a pothole during Sunday’s race (Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY Sports).

If you want to bring Daytona- or Talladega-style racing — the most dangerous type of racing in NASCAR — to Atlanta, that absolutely has to be vetted with drivers. Even if they won’t endorse it after currying their favor, they might be less inclined to torpedo it – and they might offer a few helpful suggestions in the process.

“Tell us the agenda,” Hamlin said. “Do you want speedway racing here? OK. We don’t like it, but here’s what you need to do to get there. We’ll help you accomplish that. Just tell us the goal. Don’t mix the message by saying, “You’re going to see something you’ve never seen!” and show a clip of iRacing cars racing in a pack, but yet you want your surface to match the old. That’s counterintuitive. You can’t make (a track) narrower and have a superspeedway race. Those two things don’t match up.

“I think we could help. We’re the biggest asset that NASCAR, these tracks could have if they just tell us their goals. We may not agree with the goal, but we can help them get to where they want to go.”

There are too many examples to recount, and the Car of Tomorrow might be the most obvious.

Already doomed to be a public relations failure, its demise was hastened when the new model increasingly was ripped to shreds by drivers over two years of testing before its official debut. The inexplicable fining of Hamlin for innocuous criticism of the Gen 6 successor was another instance, and that at least began to spur more “collaboration” as drivers at least have been looped into the explosion of team owner, manufacturer and stakeholder meetings in recent years.

But there is some recurring friction in the relationship between Speedway Motorsports and NASCAR stars. It dates back to the 2017 race at Kentucky Speedway when drivers were displeased they weren’t consulted by vice president of operations Steve Swift about track preparation.

Swift also was in the middle of the Atlanta controversy last week after he implied driver opinions were the least important in the process because they often screw up the show for fans. That statement didn’t go over well with NASCAR officials – even though it contained a kernel of truth.

There is an inversely proportional driver-fan dynamic that was best illustrated by Speedway Motorsports’ 2007 overhaul of Bristol Motor Speedway. Drivers praised the multiple lanes of racing that virtually eliminated the demolition derby while fans decried the disappearance of Bristol’s hallmark bump and run that was a byproduct of a one-groove surface.

Even most drivers would admit they are less than ideal arbiters of toeing the line of competition and entertainment.

But to leave them twisting in the wind to learn the news of Atlanta’s iRacing-driven reconfiguration over social media — and then expect their tacit support with no blowback — is foolhardy.

“This isn’t the first time that we’ve had the repave talk and the uproar over the pavement,” Kevin Harvick said. “I think it’s the first time that everybody has had the plan pitched on them three days before the race and said, ‘Oh, iRacing designed this.’ .. It’s not anything personal against iRacing, but you wouldn’t design an airplane and go fly it with passengers in it before you tested it. The input that comes with the drivers and the way that the cars are and the things that happen are important. So you can’t have a bunch of suits designing a racetrack.

Said Blaney: “We don’t own the tracks, we just race on them. The people who own them will make the call on what’s best, but it would have been nice to have it brought up to us. It’s like finding out your wife’s pregnant when you start seeing a belly on her. It’s that kind of a bombshell.

“It’s just being in the know. You don’t want to be in the dark with anything.”

The good news is it isn’t too late for a slight course correction with a repave that has become mandatory (evidenced by Sunday’s pothole interruption). As Jeff Burton noted on this week’s NASCAR on NBC Podcast, Speedway Motorsports president and CEO Marcus Smith will adjust the blueprint if concerns are raised about the new layout.

Getting drivers on the phone and involved in the process would seem a wise move.

But perhaps Swift or Smith should make the first call.

Mind your P&Qs

On the flip side of the driver disconnect at Atlanta, Joey Logano was among those involved as NASCAR held meetings last week on the return of weekly practice and qualifying sessions in the Cup Series next season.

With the NextGen car making its 2022 debut, it seems certain that every race weekend will feature prerace time on track. The discussions are over how much time is needed, whether separate sessions are needed and what format would work best for determining the starting lineup.

Among the proposals being floated:

–A hybrid practice/qualifying session.

–Using an average of multiple laps for qualifying (even on ovals).

–Relying on a pool of several backup cars (possibly supplied by each manufacturer) to avoid teams reverting to building and transporting their own (which eats up tremendous costs and time for cars that rarely hit the track).

While he declined to reveal any specifics, Logano said he has lobbied for standalone qualifying with a knockout element (“Other forms of motorsports, maybe the most entertaining part of the whole weekend is sometimes qualifying”). The Team Penske driver also believes the current 50-minute practice sessions implemented for the handful of tracks with qualifying this year will be insufficient with the NextGen.

“It’s all not going to happen as quickly as with 50 minutes now, we can get through it pretty quick,” he said. “We start somewhat close because we have history. There’s no history with this car. We don’t know which direction to fix it or change it. I think it’s got to be almost more or less a test day. Maybe not a practice at every track. But a test day where you can really take time to learn stuff and not go through a panic mode of 15 minutes of trying to make as many laps as possible and learn 10 things that you really didn’t learn anything. It’s all about longer test days that teams can do and take the data off the car.”

Generational development

Now that Kyle Busch’s Xfinity Series career effectively has ended, what will the series’ winningest driver miss the most?

“The camaraderie with my teams,” he said. “All the people that I’ve worked with over the years. The list is countless. Just so many guys and girls we’ve worked with over the years at Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Braun Racing. Trying to develop talent, not only develop myself, but also the talent of crew chiefs, engineers and crew guys. Those guys all go through the feeder system and work their way up.”

Though the focus is often on the younger Xfinity drivers who benefit from racing against experienced champions, crew chief Adam Stevens (who won 19 Xfinity races with Busch before two Cup titles) is one of many team members who also have advanced after working Cup stars who dropped down a level.

Busch said with a hearty laugh that “I may or may not have gotten a few of them fired, sorry, but I also have gotten a hell of a lot more of them moved up and I work with them on Sundays. That’s been the cool part of the series and what it’s all about.”

Busch also revealed that he wanted to run the Superstar Racing Experience, “but I got shot out of that one” (Joe Gibbs Racing tends to frown on extracurricular racing by its drivers). Chase Elliott will make his debut with the short-track series started by Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart this Saturday at the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway, racing against his Hall of Fame father, Bill.

Special pavement

As if Kyle Busch needed more insult added to injury after how Sunday’s victory slipped from his grasp, his older brother, Kurt, was awarded with a chunk of asphalt for winning the last race on Atlanta’s 24-year-old surface. Kyle Busch had requested a block of asphalt after winning Saturday’s race but no such presentation occurred (and would have been quite awkward after he spent the better part of 15 minutes blasting track management in his winner’s news conference).

But don’t fret, “Rowdy.”

A Speedway Motorsports official said Kyle Busch also will receive his own weathered piece of AMS pavement as a keepsake.

Daytona 500 win puts Michael McDowell in his first national TV ad with


Whether winning the biggest race of the season with a last-lap pass or surviving a spectacular crash, the spotlight has found Michael McDowell in his lengthy NASCAR career.

But the Front Row Motorsports driver rarely has hunted for the spotlight and the accompanying opportunities to embrace fame.

“I’m not out hustling trying to get on TV shows and movies,” McDowell told NBC Sports in a recent interview. “But I also understand the business of it. And we have an incredible opportunity right now to gain traction and build momentum with our partners and add that value that will last a long time. I’m not trying to get too famous too quickly, but I’m also trying to do what I can to add that value for myself and our team.”

That soon will become evident in a fresh way for McDowell and one of his sponsors, The aftermarket auto parts retailer announced Monday that McDowell will be the centerpiece of a new advertising campaign, including its first national TV commercial with the No. 34 Ford driver who opened the season with the first Cup victory in his 358th start.

Though McDowell was in the national headlines as a 2008 rookie (because of a terrifying qualifying wreck at Texas Motor Speedway), this will be his first national TV commercial. Since his Daytona 500 victory two months ago, he has grown accustomed to the attention and being recognized “everywhere now” while traveling the circuit.

Michael McDowell Daytona commercial
Michael McDowell smiles during a commercial shoot for that was shot in Huntersville, North Carolina, last month.

“It’s so crazy,” McDowell, 36, said. “It’s not like I’m new to the sport. I’ve been around a long time. It’s almost like your rookie season again where of all these people are learning who you are for the first time.”

To launch the ad campaign (which will feature a humorous commercial for TV and the story of McDowell’s inspirational career arc for its digital and social platforms), has added the May 2 race at Kansas Speedway as a primary sponsor of McDowell’s Fusion.

After joining the team last year at Darlington Raceway in NASCAR’s first two races back during the pandemic, and Front Row had been negotiating on a sponsorship extension for a few months. The company finalized an expanded 2021 sponsorship with the team on the day after McDowell’s Feb. 14 victory in the season opener.

Michael McDowell Daytona commercial“When he won the Daytona 500, it was, ‘He’s in our next commercial,’ ” Houman Akhavan, the chief marketing officer of, told NBC Sports. “It was so evident and crystal clear to me to take it to the next level. He was already a brand ambassador for us in a lot of content we created.

“But what better way to cement the relationship and give a thank you back to the team. For him to win the most coveted trophy, I couldn’t have thought of a more deserving person.”

The sponsorship renewal also includes the Aug. 28 regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway and the Sept. 26 first-round playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – in which McDowell is all but guaranteed of being among the 16 drivers running for the championship.

Ranked 13th in points after a third-place finish Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, McDowell has two top fives and four top 10s through 10 races – both tying career bests for a full year.

The 2021 season already has been a “dream come true” for the Phoenix, Arizona, native, who is in his 14th season of racing in NACAR’s premier series but said “I’ve always felt this is year to year because you don’t have this big brand.

“You don’t have this national presence, and you’re not winning races or winning championships,” he said. “So you know that it’s very easy for you to be replaced. So I think now there’s just this sense of growing and getting these partnerships in place so we can continue this success, rather than the survival mode that I feel like I’ve been in for so many years.

“I feel a part of Front Row. I feel we’re building something we’re growing as a team. Not just because of the win but the top 10s and top 15s. We are running so much better now than we have over the last few years.”

It wasn’t results that initially attracted to McDowell. The Internet search-focused company has worked on building its brand awareness since going through “an aggressive consolidation” of several websites two years ago, Akhavan said.

It was attracted to NASCAR because the consecutive races at Darlington Raceway offered millions of viewers as the first large-scale sporting events on network TV since the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) put much of the world on pause a year ago.

“The NASCAR fan base loves cars, and our mission for is to get drivers back on the road,” Akhavan said. “There are great parallels between the fan base and what we offer. We wanted to get into NASCAR, and the excitement and allure of our branding on a car at 200 mph is what attracted us. That was a relationship built in the middle of a pandemic.”

Though it did four races as a primary sponsor last year, Akhavan and other executives still have yet to meet McDowell in person because COVID-19 protocols have limited garage access. Based in Southern California, Akhavan is hoping he and other company reps will be able to attend the Las Vegas race this fall.

But they already have a strong connection to McDowell, who joined a “town hall” with a few hundred employees on Zoom after the 2020 season to tell his story.

NASCAR Cup Series 63rd Annual Daytona 500
Michael McDowell celebrates after winning the 63rd annual Daytona 500 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

“We couldn’t think of anyone better than Michael McDowell in all of NASCAR,” Akhavan said. “The family values he represents. Very personable, approachable. Great sense of humor.

“It’s an inspirational story, Michael McDowell’s career, the crash at Texas. Most people would throw in the hat, but for him to come back and never give up. It parallels to our brand. We have this grit and never quit attitude. That’s driven us to build back the business and be part of this turnaround story. I see parallels in Michael’s story to not give up and improve consistently and always focus on dreams.” also managed to turn a negative into a positive when McDowell tangled with Bubba Wallace in last year’s All-Star Race warmup at Bristol Motor Speedway. After Wallace dropped his bumper at McDowell’s hauler, the team auctioned it off. submitted the winning bid of more than $20,000 and matched it with a donation the Victory Junction Gang Camp.

Akhavan said the company also was pleased by some socially conscious moves by NASCAR last year (such as banning the Confederate flag).

“We’re very supportive of the changes NASCAR has been taking,” he said. “We’re super excited to see the likes of Michael Jordan and Pit Bull (as part team owners). It just gives more validation to the sport. It also played a role to see Michael Jordan, one of the greatest athletes in all of history, really give his seal of approval for NASCAR. It’s incredible NASCAR was under a magnifying glass and had to step up, and they did a lot to make that happen. We believe in inclusion, and they’ve really driven that forward.”

McDowell’s Daytona 500 victory has been a driving force for Front Row Motorsports. During a recent episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast, general manager Jerry Freeze said the two-car team owned by Bob Jenkins is the most financially secure in its decade-plus history.

Its third victory (after David Ragan in 2013 at Talladega and Chris Buescher in 2016 at Pocono Raceway) is the most important and not just because of prestige. Freeze said Daytona will guarantee millions in charter payouts over the next three years.

The team also has begun ordering new cars for the second half of the season (despite the arrival of the NextGen in 2022), hoping to take advantage of McDowell’s playoff run.

Perhaps even more impressive than his Daytona 500 victory was McDowell’s sixth at Homestead-Miami Speedway – the first top 10 on a 1.5-mile speedway in Front Row’s history.

“Obviously, the result wasn’t as big, but the confidence was, absolutely,” McDowell said about Homestead. “That was what made me feel and our team feel our equipment and our program is here. We can do this. We know the ingredients are there, we just have to hit it everywhere. And that’s hard to do.

NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube
Michael McDowell has four top 10s and two top fives in 10 races this season, tying his career bests (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

“Our sport is so competitive. But it gave us the confidence we have what we need to be competitive. I don’t feel like we’re a fluke, but I also feel like we’re going to have to work really hard to keep this level of competitiveness and momentum up.”

Akhavan said the team’s improvement has been a pleasant surprise for, which “didn’t have a blank check” to enter NASCAR as a public company trying to maximize profits. “We couldn’t base it on number of wins,” he said of aligning with Front Row. “They’re a midlevel team and don’t have unlimited budgets, but we could see it was a passionate team that was reinvesting. One of our key value propositions is to do more with less. There’s no better example than Front Row.

“It was a little bit of a leap of faith that definitely worked out.”

McDowell is hoping the team will continue to attract sponsors willing to take the same chances and said the opportunities have multiplied since Daytona – both for him and Front Row.

“Those conversations definitely change when you’re talking about winning the Daytona 500 and the exposure that came with it and will continue to come with it throughout the year,” he said. “It definitely is a game-changer winning the Daytona 500 and the magnitude of what it does for our partners and team.

“It’s really blown my mind how big it really is.”

Michael McDowell Daytona commercial
Michael McDowell on set during a commercial shoot for

NASCAR on NBC podcast: Joey Logano’s Earnhardt-like mentality

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Off the track, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt could be your best friend. On the track, he could be your worst enemy.

Kyle Petty, one of Earnhardt’s contemporaries, sees only one driver in today’s Cup garage with the same dual mentality: Joey Logano, who won Monday’s dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“Beat you onto pit road, beat you off of pit road, beat you around to the start/finish line, beat you for 10th position, beat you for sixth position, beat you for the win – beat you, beat you, beat you,” Petty told Nate Ryan in the latest edition of the NASCAR on NBC podcast.

MORE: NASCAR on NBC podcast

“That’s what it’s all about for him. When he takes that helmet off, you want Joey to come to your house every day and hang out with you. He’s such a good guy. But he puts that helmet on, and he’s the caliber of race car driver, that of a Cale Yarborough, a Dale Earnhardt Sr., a Richard Petty and David Pearson, a Bobby Allison – that golden era where people weren’t friends.

“They were acquaintances, but they weren’t friends.”

Petty also noted that, like Earnhardt, Logano’s ruthlessness on the track appears to have given him a psychological edge over his rivals.

He brought up the instructions from Hamlin’s crew chief, Chris Gabehart, to his driver entering Monday’s overtime restart, in which Gabehart implored Hamlin to find a way around Logano.

“Joey already has them beat like Earnhardt used to, in a certain way,” Petty said. “You heard Gabehart say, ‘He’s the most aggressive guy in the sport.’

“When the crew chiefs and other teams are acknowledging that, I’ve gotta think those drivers, when they get in their helmets, they acknowledge it too.”

Instead of knocking Logano out of the way on the restart, Hamlin attempted to pass him on the outside and failed.

Logano went on to the victory, while Hamlin slipped to third at the finish.

For more reactions on the Bristol dirt weekend, check out the latest edition of the NASCAR on NBC podcast with Nate Ryan on all major podcast platforms.

Podcast: Should NASCAR throw the yellow flag for rain on road courses or change rule?


According to its rulebook, NASCAR correctly officiated Sunday’s Daytona International Speedway road course race, which went under yellow because of a rain shower despite access to wet-weather tires.

The question becomes whether that rulebook now should be tweaked before the next road course race on May 23 at Circuit of the Americas.

The latest episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast featured an in-depth analysis of the yellow flag that was the turning point of Sunday’s race at the Daytona International Speedway road course. Because the race had started under dry conditions, NASCAR threw the yellow on Lap 57 by rule to allow pit stops to switch to rain tires. But the shower was brief, and the track surface avoided collecting enough moisture for any team to switch off slick tires.

WINNERS AND LOSERS: Who was up and down at the Daytona road course

DAYTONA TAKEAWAYS: Chase Elliott still class of the field

It still had a major impact on the race. Chase Elliott, who led 44 laps, fell out of first for good, while Christopher Bell outdueled Joey Logano for his first victory in NASCAR’s premier series.

During the podcast, NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte said he thinks NASCAR will reconsider the rule requiring a yellow flag to allow for a rain tire switchover. Most series with road racing (such as IndyCar and Formula One) hold off on caution flags for light rain and put the onus on teams to make the call on whether to pit, heightening the drama and dynamics of a race affected by inclement weather

“NASCAR has to operate within the rulebook just as the teams do,” NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte said. “They can’t make it up as they go whether they like or don’t like the call they have to make. Do I think NASCAR can just remove that and say, ‘Listen guys, we’re never going to throw a caution for rain. Rain tires are available all the time. Knock yourself out if you want to do it.’ Maybe that’s something they could do.”

Chase Elliott, who led a race-high 44 laps Sunday, spins after late-race contact with Denny Hamlin on the Daytona International Speedway road course (Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports).

Daytona also prompted debate about whether NASCAR should lessen the disruption of road course races by opting for “local yellows” in minor incidents instead of full-course yellows that disrupt a race’s natural rhythm and strategies. There were two caution flags Sunday to clear debris that might have been local yellows in other racing series, opting to use the large runoff areas and open track that is less of a feature in oval racing.

NASCAR vice president of competition Scott Miller told SiriusXM in a Monday morning interview that it’s unlikely there would be situations employing local yellows.

“It’s hard to compare NASCAR to other road courses, because it’s not just the rain situation that’s different,” Letarte said on the podcast. “NASCAR operates road course races like they do every other race when it comes to flags. A local yellow in most road courses races, is a non-passing opportunity, and you must continue your line. In NASCAR, it seems more of a warning, you still can overtake, so there are all these downstream effects, that’s why I struggle to know what the right manner is.”

With seven road-course races on the schedule (more than twice as many as last year), it’s a debate that is likely to continue, and Letarte believes drivers should have the final say on any policy changes.

“When you talk about wet weather and local yellows, that is purely a safety-type situation,” Letarte said. “If the drivers say, ‘If it’s wet, it’s on me or my team to know’ or ‘Throw a local yellow,’ then I’m OK with it. But if the drivers say, ‘No, if it’s dry and suddenly gets wet, I want a yellow because I don’t want to barrel off in there,’ I struggle with it. Because I don’t think we have the right to tell Joey Logano, Christopher Bell, Denny Hamlin or Brad Keselowski what is safe or not.

“All the drivers aren’t going to agree, but the majority is going to have to get with NASCAR and alter it from there. With six more road courses are coming, we have to figure out what we’re going to do.”

Other topics discussed during thi episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast:

–The breakthrough victories of Christopher Bell and Ty Gibbs;

–Why are so many drivers getting their first victories on road courses despite their youth and inexperience?

–Whether crew chief Adam Stevens felt some redemption of winning before former driver Kyle Busch;

–The impact of two first-time winners on the playoff picture.

To listen to the podcast, you can click on the link above, or via Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you download podcasts.