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Friday 5: Will someone try Ross Chastain video game move at Phoenix?

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Driver code and integrity have been among the phrases drivers have spoken when they discussed Ross Chastain’s rim-riding charge on the final lap of last weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway.

While the move has created a buzz on social media for NASCAR and added energy to a season that has seen 19 different winners and two first-timers in Sunday’s Cup championship race (3 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock), questions still persist about what Chastain did.

MORE: Ross Chastain gains worldwide attention with Martinsville move

With NASCAR electing not to outlaw the move, some drivers worry it could be attempted this weekend at Phoenix Raceway when Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series titles are at stake. 

Chase Elliott acknowledges the attention that Chastain’s move bought the sport but has concerns about it.

“I think from a global perspective of our sport, it is kind of embarrassing in some ways just from an integrity standpoint of what we do week-to-week,” Elliott said Thursday at NASCAR’s championship media day at the Phoenix Convention Center.

“From a standpoint of a guy doing what he needed to do to get the job done, yeah, I think can have respect for that for sure. But you’re not allowed to cut courses, road courses and things like that. 

“I just think from a global perspective, for the integrity of what we do, it’s not a great look, in my opinion.”

Kyle Larson spoke up against the move after last weekend’s race, calling what Chastain did “embarrassing.”

Larson acknowledged he tried a similar move in last year’s Southern 500 but Denny Hamlin was high enough on the track to keep Larson behind to win that race. 

“I’m embarrassed that I did it at Darlington,” Larson said. “Maybe if I didn’t do it last year, people wouldn’t even think to do that, so I’m embarrassed myself and glad that I didn’t win that way (at Darlington). It’s not just a good look. Not a good look. … It’s embarrassing.”

Larson suggested that driver code should be enough to prevent it but when asked if there is driver code any more, he said: “There should be.”

Joey Logano said last week that NASCAR needed a rule in place before this weekend’s races. Series officials said the rules have been the same for 35 points races in the matter, so they saw no need to change the rules for the championship event.

“It’s not the X Games,” Logano said. “This is NASCAR. It’s a different thing than that.

I mean, there’s a place for it. Like I said, it was cool, it was a neat move. We all talked about doing it before he actually did it. He had a good reason for doing it. He’s rewarded for being in the championship. That’s fine, all well and good.

The next time it happens it’s not as cool. … All of a sudden now a leader has to put himself in the fence to finish first. At that point it doesn’t look really right.”

Noah Gragson, competing for the Xfinity title Saturday, questions how NASCAR could even officiate the maneuver had they made a rule preventing it.

“How are you going to write a rule?” Gragson said. “You can’t hit the wall on the last lap to advance your position. … It’s too much of a judgment call in my opinion. I don’t think you’re going to see a ton of guys doing it in the future. Maybe once or twice in the future, but it’s not going to be every car on the last lap. It would be stupid in my opinion.

“It really worked because of the situation and scenario he was in. Obviously, that was not an everyday situation or scenario. I don’t think you’re going to see it a ton. … There’s not enough scenarios where people are going to tear up their (cars).”

2. All in

Trackhouse Racing co-owner Justin Marks admitted he was nervous before last weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway.

He “so badly” wanted to be a part of the story this weekend at Phoenix. 

With Ross Chastain’s desperate charge, Marks and Trackhouse are in the title event. It marks the first time in the last three years that a team owned by someone other than Rick Hendrick, Joe Gibbs or Roger Penske is competing for the Cup crown. 

“I want this more than I’ve wanted anything professionally in my life ever, and I’ve taken massive personal risk to start this company,” Marks said of reaching the title race. “I believe in it more than I’ve believed in anything, more than I ever believed in my own ability behind the wheel. I believe in it more than any other business enterprise I’ve ever started.”

So how much of a risk did Marks take to start Trackhouse Racing two years ago?

“I have an opportunity, very successful family, and I have an opportunity to have a dream that I can chase,” he said.

“Just about everything that is available to me in my life because of those circumstances, I pushed into Trackhouse. This was it. This was all the chips in. If this didn’t work, to be honest with you, there wasn’t a ton to fall back on.

“So when I talk about risk, it’s the fact that when I look at my life and where I came from and how much I love this sport, how much I love racing and love these people that work here and love being at the racetrack, there’s just nothing else I wanted to do.”

Once he made the decision to start a Cup team, Marks admitted it was “scary … uncomfortable.

“Even last year when we were up at RCR, just not knowing if it was going to work. We didn’t own our charter. Camping World, Marcus Lemonis came on board two weeks into the season. We didn’t have much sponsorship. He provided us this opportunity. I didn’t know where I was going to get my charter from or how I was going to make this work.

Once we acquired Chip Ganassi Racing, I had no idea if General Motors was going to look at us and go those guys have earned an opportunity to be a key partner alongside Hendrick and alongside RCR, or if they were going to see it as an opportunity to save some money and just commit to those two teams.

“So going through that whole process was stress and fear. But I think it was all belief. I just believed that this was a moment for an enterprise like this to be successful. And then as things started happening, as we closed the Ganassi sale and then as we signed our agreement with Chevrolet and then Worldwide Express and Jockey came on and then we started winning, in that moment it was like, okay, I think it was the right decision.”

3. One final ride in the No. 18

Sunday marks the final Cup race for Kyle Busch at Joe Gibbs Racing, ending a 15-year tenure that saw Busch win two Cup titles with the organization. 

Busch joins Richard Childress Racing after this season to drive the No. 8 car.

Busch’s 56 Cup victories at JGR rank fifth all-time for most wins by a driver with a single team. Richard Petty holds the record, scoring 196 of his 200 wins at Petty Enterprises. He’s followed by Jeff Gordon (93 wins for Hendrick Motorsports), Jimmie Johnson (83 wins for Hendrick Motorsports) and Dale Earnhardt (67 wins for Richard Childress Racing).

Busch has expressed his disappointment with not continuing with JGR. The team was working on a contract extension this season when a potential sponsor pulled out, leaving JGR scrambling to secure a sponsor for the No. 18 car.

Without a sponsor in place, Busch and JGR could not come to an agreement.

“It’s going to be the end of something that was really special and great, really,” car owner Joe Gibbs said this week. “When you think about 15 years and everything that the race team and Kyle has been able to do, it’s just been — it’s been a fantastic time for us. … To end all that, obviously there’s a lot of emotion, and you wish that it could have kept going.

“We tried in every way for over a year to try and get things to work out. They just didn’t.”

Busch’s final season with JGR saw his title hopes end in the first round after two blown engines. David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, said: “We cost Kyle Busch a shot at his third championship.”

Joe Gibbs Racing is set to announce Ty Gibbs as the new driver of the No. 18 Cup car for next year. That announcement will come at the end of this season.

4. Fire from within 

Saturday marks the fifth time in seven seasons that Justin Allgaier has reached the Xfinity Series championship race. He seeks his first series title.

Last year, Allgaier failed to reach the the title race. That’s motivated him this year.

“I’ll never forget the feeling of rolling into here at Phoenix, just that empty feeling,” said Allgaier, who fell six points short of making last year’s championship event. “It was a feeling that I never wanted to have again.”

Allgaier would have missed the title race for a second year in a row had Ty Gibbs not wrecked teammate Brandon Jones out of the lead on the final lap last week at Martinsville Speedway. Jones needed to win to advance. With him in the wall and out of title contention, Allgaier took the final transfer spot, giving JR Motorsports three drivers in contention for a championship: Allgaier, Noah Gragson and Josh Berry. They’ll race Gibbs for the crown Saturday (6 p.m. ET on USA Network).

“When I left here (last year), it put something in me, a fire, that I didn’t want to come back and not be in (the title race),” Allgaier said. “I think that was a big deal for me.

“This year has more meaningful experience. I’m definitely more excited to be here this year. I think you are able to understand the gravity of what we’re up against. I’ve got three competitors, I know how much they want it, and I think equally they know how much I want it. It’s going to be a barnburner of a race.” 

5. One last chance 

Sunday’s Cup season finale provides one last chance for drivers to continue streaks, end droughts or just close the season with a good result.

Six drivers who won a Cup race last year have yet to win this season. They are: Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski and Michael McDowell.

Drivers with consecutive winning streaks in jeopardy of ending this weekend: Keselowski (11 seasons in a row with a win), Truex (seven) and Blaney (five).

Kevin Harvick has had 18 consecutive top-10 finishes at Phoenix. That’s tied for the most top 10s in a row at any track. Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty each had 18 consecutive top 10s at North Wilkesboro Speedway.

Long: Ross Chastain’s frenzied finish divides competitors

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Ross Chastain was trying to comprehend what he had done nearly an hour after his video game move upended the Cup playoffs and thrilled a sold-out Martinsville Speedway while also leaving some drivers uneasy about such a maneuver and NASCAR officials pondering a possible rule change to make sure it never happens again.

“It’s sinking in the we did something that no one else has ever done,” Chastain said of his last-lap, rim-riding run. 

But what to call the wall-hugging move was too difficult a question for him to answer.

“I’ll check the Internet,” he said.

It was easier, instead, for him to answer how he drove his car into the wall as fast as he could.

“It was fight or flight,” Chastain explained. 

Chastain was two points behind Denny Hamlin for the final transfer spot to next week’s championship race on the last lap. Chastain was too far behind to gain those two positions so he put his car into fifth gear on the backstretch, planted his Chevrolet against the wall, took his hands off the wheel and let the wall guide his vehicle around the final quarter mile while he floored the throttle.

“My brain could not comprehend, my bandwidth was shot when I entered (Turn) 3 and I grabbed fifth gear,” Chastain said. “Everything went blurry. I couldn’t comprehend it.”

It’s understandable why. Data from Chastain’s car reveals that its peak speed through Turns 3 and 4 on the last lap was 50 mph faster than a normal lap.

Cole Custer, who was trailing Chastain, told NBC Sports that he originally thought the No. 1 Chevrolet lost its brakes until he realized what Chastain was doing.

“That was crazy,” Custer said. “He’s got some balls. That was cool.”

Chastain’s car appeared to be going at a cartoonish rate of speed compared to the rest of the field.  

He passed five cars between Turn 3 and the finish line to gain enough points to beat Hamlin for a chance to race Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Martinsville winner Christopher Bell for the championship Nov. 6 at Phoenix Raceway.

“How did that work?” Chastain later said of his move.

However it did, it made for the fastest lap a stock car has ever run at Martinsville Speedway, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary. The track record was 18.954 seconds. Chastain’s final lap was 18.845 seconds.

Chastain said he had never tried anything like that in a car before. He said he first saw such a move more than 15 years ago in a video game. 

“My brother Chad beat me doing it,” Chastain said. 

“It flashed back in my head on the white flag (lap). … If it wrecks, OK, we don’t make it. It might not work, but I’ll try it.”

Not everyone was enamored by the move. 

Kyle Larson, who tried a similar wall-riding move at Darlington last year, frowned upon Chastain’s actions Sunday.

“It’s just a bad look,” Larson said. “I’m embarrassed that I did it at Darlington. Maybe if I didn’t do it last year, people wouldn’t even think to do that, so I’m embarrassed myself and glad that I didn’t win that way (at Darlington). It’s not just a good look. Not a good look. … It’s embarrassing.”

Larson went on to say: “If you think (Chastain’s move is fair), why would you think that’s fair?”

Logano enjoyed Chastain’s move but also suggested that the sport should not see such a daring ploy again, citing safety concerns.

“As spectacular as it was, as much as it worked, the problem is now the box is open, right?” Logano said. “Now every Xfinity race, every Truck race, every Cup race, no matter the track, this wall riding is going to be a play. That’s not good. That’s not good.

“I mean, it was awesome, it was cool. It happened for the first time. There’s no rule against it. There needs to be a rule against this one because I don’t know if you want the whole field riding the wall coming to the checkered flag.”

Logano suggested that a rule needed to be in place before this weekend’s championship races in Truck, Xfinity and Cup. 

A NASCAR spokesperson stated Sunday night that Chastain’s move “was within the bounds of the rule book and (officials) will discuss any driver concerns this week.”

Hamlin, eliminated by Chastain’s charge, admitted his team’s struggles in the pits played a factor in not making it to the title race. Still, to lose on such a move by a competitor. 

“It’s funny,” Hamlin said, “but not for me. … We lost on a move that’s fair game.”

Chase Briscoe admitted that “I think all of us have thought about” doing what Chastain did but don’t.

Briscoe was the first car Chastain passed. Then Bubba Wallace, Logano, William Byron and Hamlin just before the finish line. 

“I wish that I would have done it now,” Briscoe said of Chastain’s move. “It’s like a 50-50 deal. Any of us could’ve done it, but is it fair to the (five) guys he passed? Probably not. But all (five) of us could have done the same thing.”

Instead, it was Chastain who did it.

But after watching a video of his daring move?

“I can’t believe it’s me in there,” he said.

Friday 5: Future is now for next generation of Cup drivers

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It no longer is about future for NASCAR’s next generation. While the new car has helped shift the balance in the sport, the surge of young drivers entering Cup within the past six years has made a significant impact.

Even with 41-year-old Denny Hamlin and 32-year-old Joey Logano still in title contention, the Round of 8 field is the youngest in playoff history at 30.1 years old. Hamlin and Logano are the only remaining playoff drivers over the age of 30 heading into Sunday’s Round of 8 race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

Six of the eight remaining title contenders began running Cup full-time since 2016: Chase Elliott, Ross Chastain, Christopher Bell, Ryan Blaney, William Byron and Chase Briscoe.

Four will make their first appearance in the Round of 8: Chastain (29 years old), Bell (27), Byron (24) and Briscoe (27). 

The 26-year-old Elliott is going for his second Cup championship.

“I think it’s a healthy dynamic right now between drivers who have been a part of the sport and have done amazing things who are still there … and then to be able to race with a lot of guys around my age or a little bit younger,” said the 28-year-old Blaney.

“I think we are all very fortunate to be where we’re at and given some really cool opportunities.”

The young drivers in the playoffs represent the sport’s elite teams: Hendrick Motorsports (Elliott and Byron), Joe Gibbs Racing (Bell), Team Penske (Blaney), Trackhouse Racing (Chastain) and Stewart-Haas Racing (Briscoe).

The pipeline will continue with 24-year-old Noah Gragson moving to Cup next season and 20-year-old Ty Gibbs expected to join him, taking over the No. 18 car at JGR with Kyle Busch moving to Richard Childress Racing. They’ll join, among others, 23-year-old Justin Haley, 24-year-old Austin Cindric, 26-year-old Tyler Reddick, 26-year-old Erik Jones, 29-year-old Alex Bowman and 29-year-old Bubba Wallace.

Blaney admits that looking back five years ago he “never would have thought” that he’d be racing so many drivers in his age range for wins and a championship.

“It’s pretty cool to see,” he said. 

Look back to 2017, it shows how much the sport has changed. Back then:

Byron won the Xfinity Series championship.

Bell won the Camping World Truck Series championship with crew chief Rudy Fugle, who is Byron’s crew chief in Cup.

Briscoe was in his first season in the Truck Series and scored his first NASCAR national series win in the season finale at Homestead.

Chastain made his first two Cup starts that season and had yet to win any of NASCAR’s national series (he has eight now across Cup, Xfinity and Trucks).

Elliott already had a title in the Xfinity Series but had yet to win in Cup — he has 18 victories now.

Blaney won his first Cup race, scoring a victory at Pocono for the Wood Brothers.

“It’s hard to believe it has been five years,” Blaney said of his first Cup win. “I was talking to (car owner Roger) Penske this year when we signed my new deal and I was like, ‘Can you believe it’s been 10 years since I walked in the door in 2012.’”

Byron, Bell, Briscoe, Chastain, Elliott and Blaney all took different paths to reach Cup. Byron’s journey was unique. He started via iRacing before he began racing cars as a teenager, well after most drivers get started. 

He made his Truck debut at age 17 in 2015 and ran his first full season in 2016 before moving to the Xfinity Series the following year for his only full-time year there. He moved to Cup full-time in 2018 at age 20.

“I felt like my path was quickly accelerated in each series,” Byron said. “When I got the Cup Series, there was a ton of learning that I had to do that I hadn’t done throughout the other series. There was a lot of conversation whether I would have gotten that other learning done in the other series. I don’t really think I would have.”

Byron admits that there has been quite a bit of learning to do in Cup.

“Once you get to the Cup Series it’s a totally different deal than any other series,” he said. “It’s a huge jump between Xfinity. I think that’s why you see so much adaptation time. It takes time mesh with the right people. You have to learn all those things and kind of figure out what people work well with you in the Cup Series.”

Byron and the other young chargers are ready to show what they’ve learned while seeking a spot in next month’s championship race at Phoenix.

2. Hard Impact

In a visit on the Dale Jr. Download, NASCAR executive Ben Kennedy revealed that Cody Ware’s crash last month at Texas Motor Speedway saw the highest speed change — from the moment before impact to the moment after the car hit the SAFER barrier — since NASCAR has been using incident data recorders to record such information.

Ware suffered a fractured right ankle in the incident. He raced the following week at Talladega but skipped last weekend’s race at the Charlotte Roval because of the demands of a road course on his foot. Ware will be back in the car this weekend at Las Vegas.

“For him to be able to come out of that car relatively unscathed, I think, speaks a lot for the safety of the car from that perspective,” said Kennedy, senior vice president, racing development and strategy.

Kennedy also provided some details on the changes to the rear clip and rear bumper structure NASCAR will make to the cars for next season after a successful crash test last week.

Kennedy said on the Dale Jr. Download that the new rear bumper structure “is a little more flexible, a thinner material. If you look at it visually, … the impact looks much less severe, and you have much more crush zone. 

“So we did (a crash test) at (a change of speed of) 33 mph, which would be a pretty high rate of speed for a rear impact and we did it at 18 mph as well, and then we looked at the data. I think if you look at the data overall, really trying to help on any impact in particular is bringing down that max G-load or that peak. … What we saw in some of those tests is that peak G-load come down quite a bit. 

“Is it perfect? It’s not. Can it be improved? Absolutely. But I think it was a step in the right direction for us, as we think about those rear-end impacts.”

Corey LaJoie said this week on his podcast Stacking Pennies that the changes to the rear bumper and clip “takes about 50 of the G-load away on a rear impact.”

NASCAR will pay for the update of any center/rear clip that a team has in its inventory (up to seven center sections and 10 rear sections), a series spokesperson told NBC Sports. The spokesperson also said that NASCAR has covered at least part of the cost to update parts in the past.

3. Future Cup owner?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. said on this week’s Dale Jr. Download that JR Motorsports has talked to teams about the value of charters and who is willing to sell.

But Earnhardt said that after hearing what team executives told the media about the “broken” economic model for organizations, he decided that “I need to wait and pause. (The owners) are basically telling me this charter that I want to buy is a losing proposition or not money-making, it’s broken.”

“I thought as a potential buyer of a charter that what NASCAR would give them would be way more, so when I heard that NASCAR’s offer was very minimal, it made me go, ‘Oh wow, I didn’t expect that. I expected NASCAR to go, ‘OK guys, we feel it, we understand what you’re saying so here’s this new number to get you all in a little bit better position.’”

Curtis Polk, an investor in 23XI Racing and Michael Jordan’s longtime business manager, said that “the economic model is really broken for teams.”

Jeff Gordon, vice chairman at Hendrick Motorsports, said that the organization, which has won the past two Cup titles, will not make a profit this season. He also said it had been “awhile” since the organization had done so.

Team executives went public after their seven-point proposal to NASCAR to receive more revenue was rejected and that NASCAR’s counteroffer had “a minimal increase in revenue,” according to Polk.

Under the current model, sponsorship makes up about 60-80% of a team’s overall revenue, according to RFK Racing President Steve Newmark. He said how that is out of line with other sports.

Earnhardt noted how the value in charters have increased in recent years. 

“A charter … has went in less than a decade from $2 million to $28-$30 million in value,” he said, alluding to the BK Racing charter (and assets) that were sold for $2.08 million by a bankruptcy court in 2018.

“Everybody is wondering if that $28-$30 million valuation is real or it’s a bubble. For me, I went from being able to kind of somewhat justify that purchase to saying no way, not at that number. 

“Knowing what I know about what NASCAR came back with as an offer, knowing that these teams are operating at a loss, no way I’m going to go spend $30 million to get a charter that is going to operate at a loss and I’m going to get a minimal amount of money out of the TV deal.”

4. Xfinity playoffs 

The Xfinity Round of 8 begins Saturday (3 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock). 

Noah Gragson and AJ Allmendinger have combined to win the last six series races. No other driver has won in the series since August. Gragson won four races in a row. Allmendinger has won the past two races.

Gragson has an average finish of 3.5 in seven previous Xfinity starts at Las Vegas but has yet to win at his hometown track. Allmendinger has an average finish of 5.6 in three starts, including a win.

Gragson has won the past two races on 1.5-mile speedways: Texas and Kansas. After Saturday’s race at Las Vegas, a 1.5-mile track, the series goes to Homestead-Miami Speedway, another 1.5-mile track before ending the round at Martinsville.

“Just really good race tracks for us is the biggest thing,” Gragson said of this round. “Vegas, we’ve got a really good average finish … Homestead, obviously we’re very good. I really enjoy Martinsville, too, and we were able to win last year. 

“Super excited to get to those race tracks and kind of get a reset. I was joking with the guys (before the Charlotte Roval race), we had a really good September, we’ve had a terrible October. Hopefully, we can turn it around.”

Gragson will move to Cup next season, joining Petty GMS Motorsports. Allmendinger will run full-time in Cup next year for Kaulig Racing. Even though this could be his last chance to win a championship in the Xfinity Series, Allmendinger said there’s no added pressure.

“This is a bonus to me,” he said after last weekend’s win at the Charlotte Roval. 

5. Rockingham repave 

A repave of Rockingham Speedway, which hosted Cup races between 1965-2004, is scheduled to begin later this month, according to a report by Queen City News.

The project on the 1.017-mile track is expected to be completed Dec. 1.

The project is being paid from the $9 million the track received as part of the American Rescue Plan. 

Justin Jones, vice president of operations at Rockingham Speedway, told Queen City News that the goal is to bring in various racing series, including NASCAR.

“My goal, when I first took this position, was to rebuild the foundation of Rockingham in hopes of inserting Rockingham back in the foundation of NASCAR,” Jones told Queen City News.

Matt Kenseth won the track’s final Cup race in February 2004. The track’s last NASCAR race was a Camping World Truck Series event in April 2013 won by Kyle Larson. 

Other current drivers who won at Rockingham include Joey Logano (2008 ARCA race), Parker Kligerman (2009 ARCA race), Ty Dillon (2010 ARCA race), Tyler Reddick (2014 ARCA Series East) and Chase Elliott (2011 Pro Cup Series).

Playoff contender Daniel Suarez penalized for inspection failures

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DARLINGTON, S.C. — Playoff contender Daniel Suarez will start at the rear of the field in Sunday’s Southern 500 after his car failed inspection three times before Cup qualifying at Darlington Raceway.

He will not be allowed to qualify, had car chief Eddie D’Hondt Jr. ejected and lost pit stall selection for the race. Suarez also will have to serve a pass-through penalty at the start of the race.

“We’re in a little bit of a hole starting the race, but I’m not too worried about it,” Suarez said after Cup practice. “The car actually feels pretty good. I feel like we have a couple of adjustments to do. Hopefully, we can make it a little bit better. If we can do that, I think we can have a shot actually to win the race.”

MORE: Trackhouse duo completes long journey to playoffs 

Suarez enters the playoff opener 13th among the 16 playoff drivers in points. The Trackhouse Racing driver finished 10th at Darlington in May.

BJ McLeod‘s car failed inspection twice. The team loses its pit stall selection and engineer Christopher Stanley was ejected.

Sunday’s race airs on USA Network. Coverage begins with Countdown to Green at 5 p.m. Race coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET.

Should NASCAR call cautions before it rains to avoid potential incidents?

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — With some drivers suggesting so, is it time for NASCAR officials to call cautions before it rains at oval tracks?

Daniel Suarez said that NASCAR should have thrown a caution for rain before at least 15 cars crashed in Turn 1 because of a wet track at Daytona International Speedway. Denny Hamlin cited the need for “better officiating” after being involved in that accident.

Sunday’s race marked the third time since October 2020 that rain contributed to an incident on an oval while a Cup race was under green flag conditions. 

In October 2020, Kevin Harvick hit the wall while leading at Texas in the mist. Hamlin’s car lost traction and went up the track without hitting the wall the lap before Harvick’s incident. Cole Custer slid up the track and nearly hit the wall a few laps after Harvick’s accident. The race continued for a few more laps before rain stopped the event.

In July 2021, Kyle Busch, who was leading, and Martin Truex Jr., who was second, both slid in Turn 1 in the rain at New Hampshire on the sixth lap. Hamlin’s car also spun. Busch told NBC Sports after the incident that the race started in a mist and “never should have went green to begin with.” 

Sunday at Daytona, storm clouds could be seen near the track and radar showed rain nearby. 

“We knew the rain was coming,” Suarez said. “It was raining next door. It’s just a matter of time. Why wait for it? I don’t know.”

Hamlin said: “We’ll learn from this, I’m sure.”

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, told NBC Sports: “We were on top of the weather, monitoring with all of our turn spotters, in touch with the spotters up top, the pace car. We had all the information that we thought. We had been dodging a little bit of weather, obviously, for a little while. Nothing had hit. All of a sudden there was that shower.

“The pace car, sitting down there on the inside, it was still dry when they wrecked. If you watch the in-car (camera), you can see that some rain definitely started right before they wrecked. We really couldn’t do anything about that, and it was not something that you can predict when it is going to start raining.

“Just a super-bad situation for everybody.”

That three such incidents happened within two years raises questions about how lenient NASCAR should be to allow racing in any wet conditions, especially with how NASCAR has reacted to rain at road courses. 

Series officials were criticized by drivers last year at Circuit of the Americas when rain and the spray from the cars blinded drivers and created multiple accidents. Harvick called it “the most unsafe thing I’ve ever done in a race car by a lot.”

At Watkins Glen earlier this month, cars were on track preparing to start the race despite puddles. While some drivers said they were for starting the race, officials sent the cars back to pit road to allow for more work on the wet track. Engines were re-fired about 25 minutes after cars were brought to pit road.

“Had we gone green while it was raining, probably would have been difficult like it was at COTA,” said Watkins Glen winner Kyle Larson. “It was nice they brought us down pit road and kind of waited for the rain to stop and blew that layer of thick wetness off the track.”

Lesson learned from COTA. Is there a lesson to be learned after Texas, New Hampshire and Daytona? That rain impacted races on a 1.5-mile, 1-mile and a 2.5-mile speedway shows the need for vigilance at every style track. 

It would be no fun for fans to see a race under caution if there had yet to be any rain on the track or merely raindrops, but NASCAR’s No. 1 responsibility is to the safety of the drivers.

Every driver in the incident caused by the rain at Daytona was cleared from the infield care center, but that didn’t mean the impacts were light. 

Already this season, drivers have talked about how they are feeling the impacts more the new car even as data shows the hits aren’t any harder than with last year’s car. That suggests drivers are feeling more of the hits and that can cause injuries. Kurt Busch will miss his seventh consecutive Cup race this weekend at Darlington because of concussion-like symptoms suffered in a July 23 accident at Pocono Raceway.

Hamlin said his impact in Sunday’s crash hurt.

“My whole body, literally my jaw hurts,” Hamlin said. “I feel like my jaw was one of those boxers who gets his whole face demolished. That was certainly the first real big one I’ve had in this car. Everything they’ve been telling us (about the impacts), all the other drivers, it’s true.”

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Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks tweeted that Sunday’s race “cost teams collectively about $4 (million).”

It’s easy to see how a few seconds or decisions changed the financial status for some teams by potentially millions.

Had NASCAR called the caution for rain before the field entered Turn 1, then maybe the top 15 cars don’t crash. If so, Austin Dillon doesn’t go from 16th to the lead. 

Dillon went on to win and earn a spot in the playoffs, guaranteeing that he’ll finish no worse than 16th in the points. 

With the charter system, teams earn money based on multiple categories: Entering a race, historical performance over the past three seasons, the traditional points fund and race results.

Dillon’s win means he’ll make the playoffs for the second time in three years. His team will be entitled to more money in upcoming years the further he goes in this year’s playoffs. 

“It can be, for sure, a $1 million day,” car owner Richard Childress said after Dillon’s win.

Just as Richard Childress Racing celebrated a win and a financial boost, Martin Truex Jr.’s Joe Gibbs Racing team will feel the pain of missing the playoffs for the next three seasons.

Truex had finished second, seventh and second in points the past three years, making the historical payments to the No. 19 team among the best in the sport, raising the value of the team’s charter. 

With 14 cars eliminated by the accident caused by the rain, that allowed Ryan Blaney to move ahead of those cars despite being laps down after his car was damaged in an earlier incident. Truex also had damage from a separate incident. Truex started the final stage 10 points behind Blaney for what would be the final playoff spot. 

With so few cars on track, it made it harder for Truex to be 11 positions ahead of Blaney to earn the playoff spot. He fell three points short and now cannot finishes better than 17th in the points. That will impact the historical payment to the team starting next season. 

It comes in a season where Joe Gibbs Racing has yet to announce a sponsor for the No. 18 car for next year. Mars Inc., which reportedly pays $20 million or more to fund the car, is not returning after this season. That leaves Kyle Busch’s future with the team in doubt.

Had NASCAR decided to call the race after that accident, instead of waiting 3 hours, 19 minutes to resume the event, Truex would have been in the playoffs and Blaney out. Truex was fourth at the time, while Blaney was 18th. 

By running the final 21 laps, Blaney — despite being six laps down — passed those cars that could not continue and finished 15th, while Truex fell to eighth with his damaged car.