Friday 5: How soon before trading pit crew members occurs in NASCAR?


Trading pit crew members? A formalized free agency period for tire changers, tire carriers, jackmen and fuelers? Sponsor agreements for pit crew members similar to what college athletes receive with NIL deals?

They are ideas — some radical for NASCAR — that Brian Haaland, a pit crew coach for Joe Gibbs Racing, advocates.

“I think there are so many things we can do to change the game,” Haaland told NBC Sports. “Everybody’s got contracts, and you have option years on them. I think there should be a free agency. Really. How cool would that be?

“I think there should be trades. Why not? … Why not allow me to negotiate with whatever organization if they have somebody that I want, and I’m willing to give them one of our guys — or at least talk about a trade. How fun would that be? It would another fun game within the sport.”

While other professional team sports have trades, NASCAR does not. But what if it did? Haaland said he’s proposed a trade to another team but nothing happened.

“Absolutely, I’ve tried to do it, but that’s between pit coach to pit coach,” he said. “We could work it out. It just has to be, obviously, people that are above me and above other pit coaches to sign off on it, but it could absolutely happen.

“It could happen tomorrow. If we agreed to release somebody and (another team) agreed to release somebody, and we just took their guy. It could happen.”

Imagine a trade deadline during the Cup season similar to what happens in the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball and NHL.

Put NASCAR’s trade deadline in June, possibly around a weekend off. By that time, teams would have had more than half the regular season to assess their crew members. A trade at that point of the season also would give crew members who are moved a chance to acclimate to their new surroundings before the playoffs.

With track position critical, what happens on pit road can make the difference between a good or bad race for each team.

Lose positions on pit road and a driver will restart deeper in the field. That makes it more difficult to reach the front and increases the likelihood of being collected in an incident.

That’s why pit road has become so important. Yet, there are limited ways of gaining time. Pit guns are standardized. Joe Gibbs Racing abandoned its pit stop choreography, which was faster than the traditional way but slower when there were missteps. That leaves only pit crews as a way to have faster stops.

So teams seek college athletes to join their pit crews. They want people with athletic skills to service a car and the mindset to handle the pressure.

With the focus on pit crews, maybe a trade could prove beneficial to all involved. Haaland said he thinks trading pit crew members could be possible because “everybody kind of knows and understands each other’s needs.

“Especially in an injury case. We will reach out to (other pit crew coaches) and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got this guy that could help you … and we could loan them to you.’ (Or) it might be a guy that just isn’t working out for us, and we could release them, things like that have happened.

“There’s been other times where I’m like, ‘Really could use one of their top guys,’ and offer up three guys, half-joking, but just to kind of throw it out there to see if anybody will bite on it.”

They haven’t. Yet.

As for free agency, it does take place after the end of the season in November when contracts end and pit crew members are free to change teams. Should NASCAR’s season end earlier — perhaps October — that would mean more time without cars on track. A free agency period for pit crew members could provide something for fans.

Just as key could be any other financial benefits for pit crew members. The NIL deals some college athletes receive are changing how they view their athletic options.

Haaland saw it when he talked to members of the Ohio State hockey team about a career as a NASCAR pit crew member.

“I started talking about, ‘Hey, there could be an opportunity after you’re done playing here’ and … I threw out some numbers about what they could make and they all just kind of looked at me,” he said. “Then I realized that (with) the NIL (deals), they’re probably making more than that now.”

Deals with pit crews are likely a few years away. The focus for teams is a new economic model so teams are not as reliant on sponsorship to survive. Also key will be the new media rights deal, which will begin in 2025 and is expected to provide teams with more money.

As for the notion of trading pit crew members, it is an intriguing idea to some teams but many questions remain before it happens. Maybe one day Haaland will be able to make a trade or see the concept of a formalized free agency period take place in the sport.

2. Can Fords turn it around?

The Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway marks the third race on a 1.5-mile track this season without the speedway package used at Atlanta — site of Ford’s only win this year with Joey Logano.

In the previous two races on 1.5-mile tracks (Las Vegas and Kansas), no Ford finished no better than sixth. Austin Cindric was sixth at Las Vegas. Logano was sixth at Kansas.

Fords led 14 of 271 laps (5.1%) at Las Vegas and led nine of 267 laps (3.4%) at Kansas.

Add Fontana, California, (2-mile speedway) and Darlington Raceway (1.366-mile speedway) and Ford’s struggles remain evident.

Ford’s top car at Fontana was Kevin Harvick, who finished fifth. Fords lead 48 of 200 laps (24%) there.

Harvick led Ford with a runner-up finish at Darlington, but that came after incidents eliminated some of the leaders in the final laps. Ford placed three cars in the top six at Darlington: Harvick in second, Brad Keselowski in fourth and Harrison Burton in sixth. Fords, though, led nine of 295 laps (3.1%) in that race.

Harvick enters Sunday’s race at Charlotte third in the standings, 29 points behind series leader Ross Chastain. Harvick has four consecutive top 10s in the Coca-Cola 600, including a third-place finish in last year’s race.

Asked last weekend at North Wilkesboro about his chances of winning the regular season, Harvick said:

“I think for us our cars, I speak of the 4 team, our cars have run competitively and we’ve been in position and just haven’t knocked that door down yet,” he said. “But it’s like I keep telling them, ‘You keep knocking on that door and eventually somebody is gonna answer it.’

“We just have to keep dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s because that’s just where we are from an aerodynamic standpoint and everything that goes with our car currently.

“We just have to be able to do everything right. The cars have to be closer to perfect than the other two models currently, so we just have to keep doing the things that we’re doing.”

3. Goodyear makes changes to tires

Goodyear plans to use a new tire that is intended to wear more at New Hampshire in July. The tire was tested in late April with Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott and Christopher Bell.

Goodyear is moving in this direction after gaining experience with the Next Gen car, which runs its 50th Cup points race Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“Our goal has been to provide as much grip as we think possible for individual racetracks and then let the teams and let the drivers manage that,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing. “Sometimes we’re more conservative, sometimes we’re not.

“Now that we have a year and a half under our belt with this vehicle, with the Next Gen car, I think we have figured out that we can probably go further than maybe what we were able to do with the previous generation parts.”

That falls in line with what Denny Hamlin said after running the wet weather tires in a heat race last weekend at North Wilkesboro Speedway and noting how they wore.

“I’m just more encouraged that Goodyear can build a tire that is really fast to start and falls off,” he said. “We got the blueprint. We really should spend some time working on this for other short tracks.”

Said Stucker about Hamlin’s comments: “I think Denny is spot on.”

Stucker said the goal of the New Hampshire tire test was to get the tires to wear more.

“We’re going significantly softer on both sides,” Stucker said of the tires that will be used at New Hampshire. “All the drivers at the test felt like it was a big gain, felt like it was definitely in the right direction. So, that’s what we’re going to race. Is it enough? We’ll see. I think it’s a good step, and then we’ll continue to build on that.”

The New Hampshire tire also typically is run at Richmond and Phoenix, the site of the championship race, but Stucker said that might not be the case this year.

“We just felt like (New Hampshire) can require something softer,” he said.

4. Gaining ground

Chase Elliott ranks fourth in Cup in points earned in the last five races — since his return from a leg injury suffered snowboarding.

Here’s a look at the top point scorers in Cup in the last five points races:

William Byron — 194 points

Denny Hamlin — 190

Ryan Blaney — 170

Chase Elliott — 163

Ross Chastain — 161

Martin Truex Jr. — 153

When Elliott made his return, he was 33rd in the season standings, 134 points out of what would be the final transfer spot to the playoffs. He’s climbed to 28th in the standings and is 63 points behind the final transfer spot to the playoffs with 13 races left in the regular season.

5. One year away

Kyle Larson will be preparing to run the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 at this time next year.

“It’s still so far away that it truly doesn’t seem real, I think, until I get in the car, on the ground and fire an engine up and then I think I’ll be scared,” he said with a smile. “Right now it doesn’t seem super real, but I’ve been trying to pay attention as much as possible.”

Larson spent a day earlier this month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the Arrow McLaren team that he’ll drive for next year. He has yet to test an IndyCar but has been fitted for a seat this month.

Next year will mark 10 years since the last driver ran in both the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in the same day. Kurt Busch finished sixth at Indy to earn rookie of the year honors. A blown engine at Charlotte that night left him with a 40th-place result.

NASCAR All-Star results: Kyle Larson wins at North Wilkesboro


Kyle Larson ran away with the victory in Sunday’s NASCAR All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway, leading the final 96 laps and winning by 4.5 seconds.

Larson, who won the sport’s all-star event for the third time, led 145 of the 200 laps in pocketing the $1 million winner’s purse.

Larson became the first driver in all-star race history to win the event at three tracks — Charlotte Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and North Wilkesboro, which was hosting NASCAR for the first time since 1996.

Following Larson in the top five were Bubba Wallace, Tyler Reddick, Chase Briscoe and Chase Elliott.

North Wilkesboro All-Star results

Dr. Diandra: Let’s raise the bar on All-Stars


Every sport touts its All-Star event as a rare opportunity for fans to watch the best and brightest test their skills against each other.

But NASCAR fans pretty much enjoy that every week. With infrequent exceptions, the best drivers compete against each other every race. That makes staging a special event like this weekend’s All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway a bit more of a challenge.

For example: In Major League Baseball, 80 players out of the 780 on the league’s active rosters — about 10% — compete in the mid-season All-Star Game. The 2023 NASCAR All-Star Race grid includes 24 cars, which is 65.4% of the typical race grid this year.

The upcoming All-Star Race is the largest field in terms of raw numbers since 2008, which also had 24 cars. But the typical 2008 starting grid was 43 cars, so the 2008 All-Star Race included only 55.8% of a typical field. The most drivers to participate in an All-Star Race is 27, which happened in 2002. That works out to 62.8% of a typical field.

The graph below shows how a typical All-Star Race field compares to the average race field for that year.

This year’s field is the largest percentage of a typical race field since the All-Star Race started in 1985. That can be viewed as a testament to field-leveling abilities of the Next Gen car. Under the current rules, having 19 different winners in a year will necessarily create a large field.

The Next Gen car has changed driver attitudes toward the playoffs. Most don’t feel as comfortable with ‘win and you’re in.’ They want at least two wins before they feel they’ve secured their place in the playoffs.

Perhaps it’s time to raise the bar on all-stars.

The good: Format, stakes and setting

North Wilkesboro is the perfect site for the All-Star festivities. The track is close enough to Charlotte that the teams get an effective two-week travel break given the Coca-Cola 600 the following week. The track has history and a special place in NASCAR.

I’ll reserve judgement on a second visit until I see how the logistics work out and how the race goes.

This year’s All-Star Race has a blissfully simple format: 200 laps with a break in the middle. There are some tire restrictions, but otherwise, it’s pretty similar to a standard race.

Setting the starting grid is equally straightforward, with two heat races, the Open and the fan vote winner. Qualifying was the pit-crew competition.

This is all good. The All-Star race should be an event that fans can invite their non-racing-fan friends over to see without having to spend the entire time explaining the format.

And who doesn’t like $1 million for winning a single race?

Raise the bar for automatic All-Star Race qualification

Instead of one race win as the bar for getting into the All-Star Race, let’s make it two wins.

This year, that would shift Chris Buescher, Bubba Wallace, Erik Jones, Austin Cindric, Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez and Chase Briscoe into the All-Star Open.

The starting field for the All-Star race would drop and more drivers would race in the Open. That leaves room for two heat races, with only the winners transferring. Let’s keep the pit crew challenge model: winners take everything. Finishing second is no better than finishing last.

I have an ulterior motive in forcing winners to race for a transfer spot into the All-Star Race. Since 1986, 82 drivers have transferred from the Open. Only three (3.65%) won the All-Star Race: Kyle Larson in 2019, Ryan Newman in 2002 and Michael Waltrip in 1996.

Twelve transferees led laps in the All-Star Race, but no transfer driver has led laps since Kyle Larson in 2019. A more competitive Open means that the drivers who transfer into the All-Star Race have a real shot at winning.

Keep the fan vote

I don’t like popularity votes for any reason except electing the most popular person. But I’d keep fan voting in the All-Star Race. First, voting for All-Star participants helps fans feel included. Second, it doesn’t affect the season championship.

The ultimate reason, though, is that the All-Star fan vote, which started in 2004, rarely impacts the All-Star Race. Out of the 19 races that included drivers voted in:

  • One won the All-Star race (5.3%).
  • Two placed in the top five (10.5%).
  • Seven placed in the top 10 (36.8%).
  • The remaining 12 drivers finished 13th or worse.

Kasey Kahne is the only driver to have won the fan vote and the All-Star Race in the same year. He’s also the only voted-in driver to lead laps (17) in the All-Star Race. Five drivers have won the fan vote and the All-Star Race, but the other four won the race in different years than they won the fan vote.

Chase Elliott is the only other voted-in driver to make in the top five, finishing fifth in 2018.

So why not keep the fan vote? The fans have their say in who competes and one driver gets a (very slim) chance to win. If this year’s fan-vote driver wins, he knows he will be remembered at every All-Star Race in the future.

All-Stars usually win the All-Star Race

The All-Star Race winner finished the season outside the top 15 only three times.

Seven All-Star winners failed to finish the season in the top 10.

For three drivers, their All-Star win was the only win they had that year.

Of the winners…

  • Almost a third (31.6%) of All-Star Race winners went on to win the championship that year.
  • More than half of All-Star Race winners (55.3%) finished the season in the top three.
  • Almost three-quarters (71.1%) finished in the top five.
  • Only seven drivers failed to win more than one points race the season they won the All-Star Race.

The proposed format change has little potential to change the race’s outcome, but it would raise the bar on what we recognize as All-Stars.

Sunday All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro: Start time, TV info, weather


North Wilkesboro Speedway’s revival will be complete when Cup cars compete in Sunday night’s All-Star Race. This weekend marks the first time the NASCAR Cup Series has raced at this historic track since 1996.

The All-Star Open will precede the All-Star Race. The top two finishers and the fan vote winner will transfer to the All-Star Race, which will have a 24-car field. The winner of the All-Star Race collects $1 million.

Details for Sunday’s All-Star Open at North Wilkesboro Speedway

(All times Eastern)

START: The command will be given at 5:32 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 5:38 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 1:30 p.m. … Driver and team intros are at 5:10 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Nick Terry, Motor Racing Outreach chaplain, at 5:24 p.m. … Hannah Dasher will perform “God Bless America”a at 5:25 p.m.

FIELD: For all cars not yet qualified for the All-Star Race.

DISTANCE: The race is 100 laps (62.5 miles) on the 0.625-mile track.

COMPETITION BREAK: At or around Lap 40 (teams can use only one set of sticker tires after this break)

ADVANCING TO THE ALL-STAR RACE: Top two finishers and the fan vote winner

STARTING LINEUP: All Star Open Lineup

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 5:30 p.m. … Coverage begins at 5 p.m. … Motor Racing Network coverage begins at 5 p.m. and also will stream at SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

Details for Sunday’s All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway

(All times Eastern)

START: NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip, the two winningest drivers at North Wilkesboro Speedway, will give the command to start engines at 8:08 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 8:14 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 1:30 p.m. … Driver and team intros are at 7:30 p.m. … Will Graham, executive director of the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove, will give the invocation at 8 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by Kameron Marlow at 8:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 200 laps (125 miles) on the 0.625-mile track.

COMPETITION BREAK: At or around Lap 100 (teams can use only one set of sticker tires after this break)

STARTING LINEUP: All-Star Race starting lineup

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 8 p.m. … Coverage begins at 7 p.m. … Motor Racing Network coverage begins after the Open and also will stream at SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.


FORECAST: Weather Underground — Mostly sunny with a high of 72 degrees and a 1% chance of rain at the start of the All-Star Race.

LAST YEAR: Ryan Blaney led the final 84 laps to win the All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway. Denny Hamlin was second. Austin Cindric placed third.


Friday 5: Dale Jr. excited about Cup’s return to North Wilkesboro

Ross Chastain says “I just need to hit less things”

Dr. Diandra: Cup drivers with the most untapped potential this season

Memory Lane: Former competitors share stories of North Wilkesboro 

Drivers to watch at North Wilkesboro

NBC Power Rankings: William Byron remains No. 1

Trackhouse Racing adds Supercars champ to Project 91 ride at Chicago



William Byron wins NASCAR Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway


DARLINGTON, S.C. — William Byron emerged from the smoke and thunder of the final laps and overtime to win Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series  race at Darlington Raceway.

Ross Chastain and Kyle Larson crashed while racing for the lead on a restart with six laps to go, leaving the lead to Byron.

Byron started the overtime restart in front of Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Harrison Burton.

MORE: Rick Hendrick: “If you wreck us, you’re going to get it back”

MORE: Darlington Cup results, driver points

As the green flag flew for the final time, Byron surged ahead of Harvick, led the final two laps and won relatively easily.

Nothing was easy about the final segment of the race, however, as a series of front-pack accidents jumbled the running order and frustrated those who were crashed out of contention.

“Definitely didn’t expect this,” Byron told Fox Sports. “But just thankful for a great team, and yeah, just things have a way of working out, and come back here to Darlington and have it go exactly the other way.”

Joey Logano bumped Byron from the lead to win this race last year.

On a restart with 13 laps to go, third-place Logano and fourth-place Martin Truex Jr. crashed, starting a multi-car incident and causing another caution. Chastain and Larson were side-by-side for the lead, and Chastain hit the wall while racing Larson at almost the same time Truex lost control of his car.

Having watched the wild racing at the front over the final miles, Byron said he was prepared for the final restart alongside Harvick. “It does matter in the sport how you race others,” he said. “The 1 (Chastain) had done that move earlier in the race, and it had come back his way. Part of our decision-making before the final restart was that you put that in the memory bank and who are the people I’m up against in this situation and make decisions based on that.”

Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick and vice chairman Jeff Gordon both criticized Chastain’s driving after the race, in particular focusing on his crash with Larson.

Larson took the lead into the final 30 laps of the race after a long round of green-flag pit stops. Five laps later, he had a 1.7-second lead over Christopher Bell, with Chastain third and Kyle Busch fourth.

With 18 laps to go and Larson in front by about two seconds, Ryan Newman, making his return to Cup racing, hit the wall off Turn 4 and brought out a caution, bunching the field.

Following Byron and Harvick at the finish were Elliott, Keselowski and Bubba Wallace.

Byron, 25, became the first driver to win three times this season. He led only seven laps, including the final two. The win was the first Cup victory for Hendrick Motorsports at Darlington since 2012.

The final stage began with a nine-car crash on the backstretch on the first lap. The wreck was started by Erik Jones, who lost control after his right rear tire came loose. Among those swept into the accident were Austin Dillon, Austin Cindric, Michael McDowell and Daniel Suarez.

Chastain won the second stage in a tight battle with Truex. Chastain had the lead on the last lap, and Truex moved to the inside to challenge in Turn 3. Chastain popped the outside wall and hit Truex, sending Truex into a slide. Truex finished 10th in the stage.

Chastain recovered to finish first in the stage and was followed by Busch, Larson, Byron and Keselowski.

Truex led 89 of 90 laps in the first stage and led at the end of the stage. He was followed by Byron, Wallace, Chastain and Busch. There was only one caution during the stage.

Stage 1 winner: Martin Truex Jr.

Stage 2 winner: Ross Chastain

Who had a good race: William Byron scored his seventh career win after other contenders crashed over the closing laps. Martin Truex Jr. won the pole and led most of the opening portion of the race before being involved in a crash late in the race. He was the top lap-leader with 145. … Kyle Larson used a strong final stage to race in the front pack.

Who had a bad race: Daniel Suarez and Austin Dillon parked after being involved in a nine-car crash at the start of the final stage. … Josh Berry, replacing the injured Alex Bowman, had a sour day, running several laps behind and finishing 30th

Notable: William Byron’s victory was the 100th win for the No. 24 car.

Next: Cup drivers move on to North Wilkesboro Speedway May 21 for the All-Star Open (5:30 p.m. ET) and the All-Star Race (8 p.m. ET). The next point race is the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway May 28 at 6 p.m. ET.