texas motor speedway

Ryan: How NASCAR needs to wave the yellow on intentional cautions

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There have been two cautions in two races that already have altered the course of the 2019 playoffs. There almost certainly will be another that will definitively determine the 2019 title.

There is every year at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where the yellow flag has fallen within the final run in all five editions of the championship round at the 1.5-mile track.

Sometimes, yellows have occurred much later and more frequently, and in every instance, their timing has played a critical role in crowning the champion.

That’s a portentous backdrop for the disconcerting trend of seemingly intentional spins that have caused game-changing caution flags the past two weeks.

The hope must be that there won’t be a black cloud hanging over Homestead after the season finale’s inevitably critical yellow arrives.

NASCAR has yet to address drivers about intentional spins (though officials have hinted they will in Sunday’s prerace meeting), but there is a much bigger discussion that needs to occur beyond just “stop looping your cars on purpose.”

Essentially, NASCAR needs to establish a better foundation of when cautions are being called and whether drivers will be allowed dispensation in legitimate cases (i.e., spinning with a flat tire) to help ensure that they are. The 2019 inconsistency in the tower on yellows that has been evident in races such as the Roval is factoring into this debate, too.

In the Oct. 27 race at Martinsville Speedway, there were three yellows for debris in the first 350 laps. But the trigger from the tower was much slower in the final 50 laps when the tires began coming apart on the Fords of Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano. In both instances, the yellow flew after each car spun.

“There were guys early in the race at Martinsville that scraped the wall, and ‘Boom!’ yellow’s out,” Kyle Petty said on this week’s NASCAR on NBC Podcast. “NASCAR was quick with the caution. Then Bowyer has trouble, and Joey has his issue. Where’s the caution? You threw one an hour ago for a lesser incident. If they’d thrown it, you wouldn’t have had a car spin. Joey and Clint felt like because NASCAR didn’t give them their caution whether it was deserved or perceived, they felt like, ‘We’ll get our own caution.’”

It was pivotal in the case of Logano, who stayed on the lead lap and finished eighth rather than make a green-flag stop that probably would have cost him at least 15 points (and barely above the cut line heading into Phoenix).

Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway was nearly as important. Bubba Wallace’s spin to cause a yellow fundamentally changed the complexion of Kyle Larson’s race (along with several others) and helped put the Chip Ganassi Racing playoff driver in a deeper points hole.

If the spins were purposeful, it’s hard to find serious fault with what any of the drivers did. In each case, the yellow was primarily for their own benefit. It fell well short of the sort of the race manipulation that has required NASCAR to issue draconian penalties.

Both Petty and Tony Stewart also were right this week to suggest that NASCAR doesn’t need to monitor every spin to judge whether it was potentially nefarious. With the number of impenetrable ground rules applied weekly, there needs to be as much deregulation in Cup as humanly possible.

But there also needs to be a more clear and general understanding of what constitutes a caution flag and what drivers might be permitted in causing one.

If an agreed-upon standard becomes, “we’ll let you spin your car after you’ve sustained a flat tire under normal circumstances,” that is better than the vague alternative of no standard at all.

Because if someone blatantly causes a yellow at Homestead, it’ll get a lot more complicated.

Through information supplied by NACSAR since last year via the electronic control unit in Cup cars’ fuel injection systems, teams have access to more data than ever – steering, brake, throttle traces and RPMs.

That is strong evidence to build a case if a team feels it was wronged on a late caution flag (if Chip Ganassi Racing had wanted to challenge the No. 43’s spin at Texas, the facts likely were there), and it severely undermines the NASCAR contention that it’s difficult to judge intent.

It’s a lot easier when you can determine precisely when someone hit the accelerator or brake and flicked the wheel.

When the grand prize is at stake, and that information is available, “we can’t determine intent” will become as suspicious an explanation as a spin in question.


With the dissolution of Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson, there is no greater successful crew chief-driver dichotomy than Rodney Childers and Kevin Harvick.

Though there is much less creative tension in their working relationship than the Hendrick Motorsports duo that won seven championships, Childers and Harvick have a yin and yang that blends perfectly with their intensity to be ranked first anytime that cars are on track (be it for practice, qualifying or the race).

That was evidenced by wildly different ways that they got ready for Texas. Childers maniacally reviewed tape of the March 31 race, watching it for strategy clues Monday morning … and then rewatching it Tuesday afternoon (after a viewing of the March 10 race at ISM Raceway left him unsettled) and then again Sunday morning before the Texas race as he crammed “just like having to take a big exam.

“Places like here and Indy, you have to go back and pay attention to that stuff and what people do with two tires and no tires and track position and all that,” Childers said. “Obviously, you’ve just kind of got to have that in your head of what could happen, what can happen, and I probably drove (Harvick) crazy sending crazy messages about what other people did in (March).”

“He watches it so many times that I don’t have to watch it,” Harvick said with a smile.

Contrast that with how the driver prepped the day before the race – taking his wife and two kids to the Fort Worth Zoo. Harvick is always on call even with his family (he was checking his watch Saturday for instantaneous processing of hourly email and text updates from Childers), but he also has the ability (and approval from the No. 4 team) to compartmentalize his personal life.

That balance is why it works for the Stewart-Haas Racing duo.

“They expect me to come to the racetrack and be prepared,” Harvick said of his team after his 49th career victory. “And the thing about being prepared for me is to be as mentally focused as you can.  And my age and experience kind of comes into that. You’ve been to some of these racetracks so many times, and I feel like I know the characteristics of the car.

“But there’s not a day that goes by that he doesn’t send me a text, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this’ or one of the engineers will send me a text and say, ‘What do you think about this gear ratio.’ One of them is texting me at least once a day, if not multiple times a day, as to what’s going on and what’s happening. Those are those relationships that are constant and steady, and everybody believes in each other because that’s just how it works.

“It’s never a bad time to text me or it’s never a bad time to call me.  It’s never a bad time to ask me to do something. When they need something, I put down what I’m doing, and I try to figure out how we’re going to do it.  The priority are (family) and that race team, and the things that they need.  But I am a thorough believer that that circle of life has to be balanced for you to show up to this racetrack every single week, to be as focused as you need to be to process all of that information.”

When Harvick and Childers won the 2014 Cup championship, “I Believe That We Will Win” was their rallying cry (borrowed from the U.S. Men’s National Team in soccer). Texas revealed why the underpinnings of that motto still are working five years later.

“There’s a deep belief in each other that we can go out and be better than anybody on any given day,” Harvick said. “Most of the time we can talk ourselves into it even when we probably don’t really have a chance, we can talk ourselves into it.”


Harvick’s victory at Texas marked a calendar year since the last time that a Cup race winner had been hit with a major postrace infraction.

The de-facto nullification of his Nov. 4, 2018 victory at Texas was a big part of the impetus behind NASCAR’s overhaul of postrace penalties this season that limited inspection to being conducted solely at the track.

Though there have been disqualifications of winners in the truck and Xfinity Series, all 34 race wins in Cup have been untainted (though a couple of other finishers have been dinged).

It’s hardly an outcome anyone would have predicted in February on the heels of a 2018 season in which Harvick’s team was nailed twice after wins and stood out among a processional of cars deemed illegal at NASCAR’s R&D Center in Concord.

Last year’s incessant midweek raft of negative headlines – culminating with Harvick losing his berth in the championship round (he regained it on points after Phoenix) – prompted the shift in policy this season, and it seemed destined to produce it least one earth-shattering disqualification.

As it turned out, Harvick was prescient in what he told NBCSports.com’s Dustin Long before the season about teams and NASCAR getting on the same page about how inspection would be handled under the new parameters.

Those discussions apparently have worked.


The finicky nature of the traction compound at Texas might make some playoff drivers gun-shy about hopping on the sticky stuff at ISM Raceway, which is applying the substance for the first time.

There is a scientific process used in its application that produces estimated grip levels, but Texas underscored how tricky that can be as several drivers struggled to find the adhesive and found the wall instead.

Phoenix will be using the traction compound for the first time, and perhaps more importantly, it’ll be the first time the PJ1 is applied at a NASCAR-owned track without much supervision from the staff of Speedway Motorsports tracks owned by Bruton Smith. Michigan was the first NASCAR track to use PJ1 a couple of months ago, but it came with guidance from Speedway Motorsports vice president of operations Steve Swift.

Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski all crashed after finding the limits of the traction compound’s grip at Texas, where the PJ1 didn’t seem to activate as well at other tracks. Though the intent is to provide another lane of racing at Phoenix, it’ll be unsurprising if drivers elect to tiptoe – at least in the first half of the race after Elliott, Keselowski and Hamlin were burned by testing it in the first 85 laps at Texas.

“Drivers will be asking, ‘Is it that big of a gain?’ and if not, you probably don’t need to go up there,” NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton said. “If not, you probably don’t need to need to go there. It’s there as an option, but you aren’t forced into it.”


John Hunter Nemechek will be making history together with his dad, Joe, in running all three series this weekend at ISM Raceway. That’s an impressive father-son accomplishment, but it’ll be hard to top what John Hunter did in first career Cup start.

The 22-year-old started 29th and finished 21st at Texas, outrunning Front Row Motorsports teammates Michael McDowell and David Ragan. He also finished ahead of many veterans such as Ryan Preece and Bubba Wallace (and just behind Paul Menard and Chris Buescher).

Though the prognosis of No. 36 Ford driver Matt Tifft remains uncertain after a seizure, Nemechek’s debut in NASCAR’s premier series should provide Front Row with a measure of comfort.

Despite spending the full season in Xfinity cars that don’t ride nearly as low to the pavement as Cup and drive much differently, Nemechek still finished eight spots ahead of his father, who probably deserves credit for not only raising but also motivating the second-generation racer. “We’re a competitive family, and we love to push each other to the next level,” John Hunter said.

If he can post solid finishes for Front Row in the final two races of 2019, Nemechek’s driver stock should rise. Though he was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs, he has posted five top 10s in the past six Xfinity races, and his seasonlong consistency deserves another look.

Denny Hamlin says NASCAR needs to be more active about policing drivers

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PLANO, Texas — Denny Hamlin says NASCAR needs to tell drivers that there will be a “huge penalty” for intentionally causing a caution after spins the past two weeks in Cup playoff races raised questions about such tactics.

Kyle Larson and his team were upset with Bubba Wallace on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway after Wallace had a flat tire and spun. Larson said “Helen Keller could have seen” that Wallace’s spin was intentional and that such actions will continue until NASCAR penalizes drivers. Richard Petty Motorsports tweeted a picture of the flat left rear tire.

Wallace’s spin came during the middle of a green-flag pit cycle. Larson’s team was among those that had pitted and caught a lap down. While Larson took the wave around, he could not make up the lost track position in the final 90 laps and finished 12th. He trails Joey Logano by 23 points for the final transfer spot to the championship race heading into the season’s penultimate race at ISM Raceway (2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC)

Hamlin has no doubt that Wallace’s act was intentional but doesn’t blame the driver for doing so.

“Bubba’s (spin) this weekend was pretty obvious and obviously it hurt some people and helped others,” Hamlin said Monday morning at Toyota Motor North America Headquarters. “He’s just following in everyone else’s footsteps. It’s been going on for a long time. Especially this time of the season, it can potentially change a lot of things in the playoffs that it shouldn’t.”

A NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports on Sunday that series officials reviewed Wallace’s spin and determined that it did not warrant a penalty.

Hamlin said officials should make it clear to competitors how significant the penalty for intentionally causing a caution could be.

“At least they need to set out if you do it, then there is going to be a huge penalty,” said Hamlin, who was penalized two laps for stopping on the track to cause a caution in the May 2008 Cup race at Richmond. “At least that will deter you. It won’t stop it, but it will deter you if you know you’re going to get a two-lap, three-lap penalty for intentionally causing a caution. It’s tough for them to police it, but they police a lot of things.”

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that officials may have to react.

“Well it’s going be a judgment call, for sure,” O’Donnell said. “I think that’s something, you know, as momentum builds or you see a trend and you’ve got to react, you do.

“We tend to trust the teams out there and the drivers maybe too much at times. But we’ll certainly take a look at that. Obviously, didn’t make a call during the race Sunday. If it’s something we’ve got to address, we’ll talk to the drivers and race teams over the week. If we need to address it, we will in the drivers meeting ahead of Sunday’s race (at ISM Raceway) and make sure we’re staying on top of that.”

In a rules card given to each crew chief, it states: “Any driver who, in the judgment of NASCAR Officials, intentionally causes or attempts to cause a caution period by stopping or spinning out or any other action will be penalized at NASCAR’s discretion.”

Hamlin also called out Logano’s spin last weekend at Martinsville. Hamlin and Logano had contact and it cut one of Logano’s tires. He spun, bringing out the caution.

“The 22 spun on purpose at Martinsville,” Hamlin said of Logano. “Everyone knows that.”

That spin was cited on Larson’s radio as he and his team vented after Wallace’s spin Sunday.

Logano defended his actions in the Martinsville race.

“I had a flat tire last week,” Logano said Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. “What do you want me to do? I’ll try not to spin out. I’m not that good. I wish I was that good. That would be really good. I was good enough to spin out and not hit anything so that was good.”

Kyle Busch noted that Logano’s spin at Martinsville impacted his race.

“There’s countless times that you could look at guys that cause cautions and brought out cautions purposely,” Busch said Monday at Toyota Motor North America Headquarters. “It’s frustrating for sure, especially for us at Martinsville, I think, actually the Logano one ruined our day.

“Either (NASCAR is) going to get involved and fix it or it is going to continue on. If guys get flats or whatever, they’re going to spin themselves out to try to draw a caution so they don’t go laps down. I’ve tried not to do that.

“I can look back at Kansas earlier this year, we got a bad tire rub and I knew I had to come to pit road otherwise it was going to go flat and cost ourselves two laps and finish 30th. Could have spun myself out and stayed on the lead lap and probably finished 10th or eighth or ninth or whatever. It’s NASCAR’s job to figure it out.”

NASCAR executive: ‘Judgment call’ on whether a driver spins intentionally

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Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said ruling whether a driver spins intentionally to bring out a caution during a race is a “judgment call.”

O’Donnell’s comments Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” came a day after Kyle Larson accused Bubba Wallace of an intentional spin during green flag pit stops in Sunday’s playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway.

“Well it’s going be a judgment call, for sure,” O’Donnell said. “I think that’s something you know as momentum builds or you see a trend and you’ve got to react, you do.

“We tend to trust the teams out there and the drivers maybe too much at times. But we’ll certainly take a look at that. Obviously, didn’t make a call during the race Sunday. If it’s something we’ve got to address, we’ll talk to the drivers and race teams over the week. If we need to address it, we will in the driver’s meeting ahead of Sunday’s race (at ISM Raceway) and make sure we’re staying on top of that.”

The spin by Wallace, which Richard Petty Motorsports said was a result of his left-rear tire going down, occurred in Turn 2 after Wallace appeared to save his No. 43 Chevy in an initial slide. The car then went into a half-spin on the apron, similar to Joey Logano’s spin last week at Martinsville Speedway, which was also questioned for potentially being intentional.

After Sunday’s race, a NASCAR spokesman told NBCSports.com that Wallace’s spin was reviewed, and officials determined it didn’t warrant a penalty.

Larson and other drivers had pitted just ahead of the yellow caused by Wallace’s spin and had to take a wavearound to get back on the lead lap.

Larson, who finished 12th, observed “Helen Keller could have seen” the spin was intentional.

“It’s B.S.,” Larson said. “I’ve done it. We’ve all done it in those positions, but until NASCAR steps in, and whether it’s a fine or a penalty with points or something, people are still going to do it.

Tony Stewart, co-owner of race winner Kevin Harvick‘s car, shared his thoughts on the situation on Sunday.

“I feel like NASCAR is backed in a corner on scenarios like this,” Stewart said. “There’s so many ball‑and‑strike calls that they’re put in the position of having to make, I think they’ve got to find a way to make it simpler to where it is what it is.

“Bubba wasn’t working for any team, any manufacturer.  He was trying to take care of himself in that scenario.  It could work for you one week. It could work against you the next week.  It’s just part of it.”

Stewart continued: “At what point do you sit there and say enough is enough?  At some point, we’ve got to somewhat adopt the old‑time tradition of ‘keep it simple, stupid.’ It’s just got to be simplified. They shouldn’t have to sit up there and babysit every single thing that everybody does all the time. There’s enough rules and regulations that they have to do to need to be in place, let alone the things that they shouldn’t have to be put in those positions.

“I mean, you can ask 10 different people, they’re going to give you 10 different answers on it.”

Clean race again eludes Kyle Busch, but No. 18 in solid shape with 7th

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FORT WORTH, Texas – Kyle Busch still is looking for one clean race in the 2019 playoffs, but the good news is he still has a chance to deliver it for a championship.

Despite battling some funky handling problems and briefly running out of gas heading to his final pit stop, Busch salvaged a seventh Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway that puts him in decent position to advance to his fifth consecutive championship round.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is ranked third in the standings, two points ahead of Joey Logano (who is in the final transfer spot, 20 points ahead of fifth-ranked Denny Hamlin). With Texas winner Kevin Harvick and Martinsville Speedway winner Martin Truex Jr. locked into the title round, at least one of the final two spots in the Nov. 17 final will be awarded on points.

“We have to do whatever we have to do in order to be that guy,” Busch said. “If we can obviously go to Phoenix and have a strong run and be able to go out there and win, that will put ourselves through as well, too.”

But Busch said it essentially will come to ensuring he stays ahead of Logano (with Hamlin, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson likely too far back to surpass either of them).

“(Logano) is the only guy we have to worry about,” Busch said. “We have to beat him on points. And no matter what anybody else does, we’ll be fine.

“He’s tough to beat. He’s really, really good. Him and I, we had a battle through the regular season as well for (the points championship).”

Busch, who remained winless since June, notched his fourth top 10 in eight playoff races after grinding out a 500-mile race in which the handling on his No. 18 Toyota was all over the place.

“Every time we put tires on it, it was doing something different, and then when we wouldn’t put tires on it, it was pretty good,” he said. “And at the end, we didn’t put tires on it, just put gas in it, and then it was sideways loose. Just fighting balance all the time.”

If not for stalling in the pits on his last green-flag stop with 31 laps remaining (“I cost us four spots there; it took them engaging the can and me cranking it over to try to get it to fill back up”), he still nearly managed his second top five in three races.

“We were going to run third today with a clean race,” he said. “The front two guys (Harvick and teammate Aric Almirola, who combined to led 181 of 334 laps), they were gone. They were checked out. We had no speed for them.

“We were wide open, and they were driving away, so we’ve got to rework whatever the hell we’re going to do to make our stuff faster for next year.”

Joey Logano moves one step closer to defending Cup title

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Even though he has scored only one top-five finish in the first eight playoff races, Joey Logano is on the cusp of returning to Miami to defend his Cup championship.

Logano’s fourth-place finish Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, along with woes to other playoff contenders, has him holding the final transfer spot by 20 points on Denny Hamlin and 23 points ahead of Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson.

Logano is two points behind Kyle Busch. So if either Hamlin, Blaney, Larson or Chase Elliott, who is last among the eight remaining playoff contenders, wins next weekend at ISM Raceway, Logano could be battling Busch for the final championship spot.

“It’s going to be fun,” Logano said. “I’m looking forward to the battle. The 18 team is good. Kyle is a good driver, but I think we’re a great team. They’re beatable just like everybody else.”

Logano has been beatable this year but with the playoffs broken into three-race rounds, he’s survived to be within one race of returning to the championship round for a second consecutive year.

“We’ve had more blue-collar days than you can imagine throughout these playoffs,” Logano said Sunday after his best finish since placing second in the regular-season finale at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “The stage points is what got us from round to round so far. Today we finally got the finish that we deserved. We’ve been working hard and getting all these points we can and that’s what is keeping us alive.”

Only Martin Truex Jr. has scored more stage points in the playoffs than Logano. Truex has 90 stage points. Logano has 77 stage points, including six Sunday.

Logano also was happy to get a top-five result.

“It feels good to finally get one,” he said. “It’s not a win. We’re not locked in (the title race) like (Kevin Harvick) and (Truex) but we’re not out either.

“We’ve just got to go to Phoenix and do the same things we’ve been doing. We’ve got to score stage points and get a great finish. Off we go.”