Toyota devised the blueprint. Ford enhanced it. And Chevrolet took lessons from both to win the past two races at Talladega and Daytona by having its teams work together.
“I feel like Chevy has kind of taken that to the next level recently to where we all have to figure out a way to beat that,” Joey Logano said.
For fans who long for the good ol’ days of manufacturer battles, Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC) will provide that type of action. But it does create some thorny issues with this being a playoff race. Such as:
How long should drivers within the same manufacturer work together?
What if a non-playoff driver is racing a playoff driver from the same manufacturer for the win?
How can Toyota, which has fewer cars than Chevrolet and Ford, compete?
Alex Bowman is seventh in the standings 17 points ahead of Logano, who is the first driver outside a transfer spot. William Byron holds that final transfer spot via a tiebreaker with Logano. Chase Elliott, who won at Talladega in May, is seven points behind Byron.
Toyota started the trend of teams within a manufacturer working together in 2016, leading to Denny Hamlin’s Daytona 500 win and a 1-2-3 Toyota finish. Ford used its strengths in numbers and won seven consecutive races at Daytona and Talladega before Austin Dillon’s Daytona 500 win in 2018.
The more cars working together, the more that group can dictate the race.
“The benefit of working together is too great versus the penalty of not working together,” Jim Campbell, Chevrolet’s U.S. Vice President of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, told NBC Sports in April.
Chevrolet drivers followed orders, running nose-to-tail with near-military precision throughout the Talladega race this season. It didn’t matter if it was the bottom lane or top lane, many Chevrolets ran together. When it came time to pit, many stopped together.
The results were impressive.
Chevrolet drivers won both stages, the race and took five of the top six spots at Talladega. Chevrolet drivers won the second stage, the race and took the top four spots at Daytona in July.
Elliott said that Sunday’s race is “going to look real similar to what it did at Talladega in the spring and Daytona in the summer. We made a pretty conscious effort with our manufacturer of Chevrolet to try and do a better job of working together. It worked at Talladega. A lot of us crashed, but at least a Chevrolet still won the summer race at Daytona. Hopefully it works out.
“That’s the thing, we can put as much effort as we want or as little effort as we want, but it’s never going to guarantee that you aren’t going to crash or have a bad day there. I expect we’ll do our part on our end to try and make as good of a day as we can out of it, but no guarantees.”
2. How long should drivers work together?
This is the one of the biggest issues. When can a driver make a move that is best for them even if it hurts a teammate in the same manufacturer camp?
Joey Logano was not pleased that fellow Ford driver Michael McDowell chose to push Kyle Busch’s Toyota on the last lap of this year’s Daytona 500 instead of Logano’s Ford.
It’s an issue all drivers running at the finish will have to ponder.
“You are kind of almost in a box because sometimes what is good for the group is not the best for yourself and you feel like you are compromising sometimes,” said Ryan Blaney, who enters this weekend last among the 12 remaining playoff drivers. “It might not help you out. That part makes it a little bit tough. At the end of the day, Chevy made it work at the first Talladega so hopefully we can make it work. It is hard to plan and orchestrate stuff like that when everything in the race is going. It has turned into that though.
“You can’t blame the manufacturer for wanting to do that. They put a lot of support behind the teams and they find those spots to say that if we have strength in numbers that we should be able to win the race.”
Until strategies change.
“I feel like we see that a lot at the plate tracks,” Brad Keselowski said of changing strategies. “It goes through evolutions every three or four years, and this is the next evolution.”
3. What if a non-playoff driver is racing for the win?
With all the teamwork within a manufacturer, there could be an issue if non-playoff drivers are among those racing at the front late.
Six of the top 10 finishers at Talladega in May were drivers who are not in the playoffs entering this weekend. Ryan Preece finished third in that race, placing behind Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman.
So how does a non-playoff driver handle racing playoff drivers?
“I think early on in the race, it’s still the same racing that we’ve done all year,” Ty Dillon said. “I think when you get to the end of the race, you have … to be aware that it’s hard to help someone that’s fighting for a championship. Sometimes at places like Talladega and Daytona, if you try to help somebody, you might end up causing the crash letting somebody in or something like that. I think that’s truly known throughout the series as drivers.
“Everywhere else, I race with the mentality that during the first half of the race, we’re all racing together. If you get down to the end of the race and one of those guys is on your tail and you’re holding them up, I would expect to give those guys a little bit of a leeway. They are racing for something bigger right now and it’s with the hopes that the respect will be returned one day in your favor.
“I expect to be racing for championships at some point in my career. I would like that kind of respect back. For me, I’m racing for 22nd or 23rd in points. It doesn’t make a whole lot of difference, but those guys have a lot more on the line for one position. … I think you’ve got to be smart. You don’t want to be the guy that screws up the guy going for the (championship) because you want to be in that position where somebody gives you the benefit of a doubt when you need it.”
4. What about Toyota teams?
Toyotas are at a disadvantage with having the fewest cars in the field. It’s why Joe Gibbs Racing partnered with Hendrick Motorsports for the Daytona 500. Seven of the 40 cars entered this weekend are Toyotas. Ford has 15 entries and Chevrolet has 18.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Denny Hamlin said. “We are outnumbered, We know that. Ultimately they can’t decide what line you choose to run in. So, from my standpoint … if I’m around a bunch of Fords and they’re staying in line, I’m staying in line. It doesn’t matter what manufacturer I’m with, I’m just going to do whatever is best for me. I think that has been the thing that has made us successful over the years is having that mentality.
“You look at the teamwork from the Fords and Chevys at the last few years. In the end, you still have a bunch of guys in there that haven’t won a race. They still have to be selfish even with their own teammates. That’s when you try to take advantage.”
Another key issue with the Toyotas having fewer entries is if Martin Truex Jr., Hamlin, Kyle Busch – the top three in points – would be better off running at the back for at least part of the race. Truex can’t fall out of the top eight in points regardless of how poor he finishes Sunday. Hamlin and Busch are each 48 points ahead of Logano in the standings.
Asked on Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America MotorMouths if his strategy would be to run up front, run at the back or just go for the win. Busch said: “Yes. All three.
“I’m sure at some point we’re going to be running at the back at somewhere or another, we might even qualify there. Past that … you want to get up within the top 10 to get those stage points.”
Busch ultimately said: “I think you just have to go out there and race and race as hard as you can.”
He had not missed a race this season until the surgery, which was originally planned for in the spring but moved to August.
Smith joined Haas-CNC Racing in 2004 and worked his way on to the pit crew. He remained with the team when it was renamed Stewart-Haas Racing and was a pit crew member on Tony Stewart’s 2011 championship team. Smith and his teammates were moved to Kevin Harvick’s team shortly before the 2014 postseason and helped Harvick win the title.
Kyle Larson – winner:“Everybody in this playoff field is going to be stressed next week at Talladega except for me. So, that’s good. The last time I was at Talladega, I was on my lid and I could still end up on my lid next week, but it doesn’t matter after this win. What a day! This Clover Chevy was really good. After the first stage, I kind of changed my driving style up and I felt like we made the car better at the same time. And, they really benefitted our long runs. That’s as good as I’ve ever been around, cutting the bottom, here. So, it was just a great combination here. To be fast in practice and then be good in the race and you get the win.
“I can’t thank all you fans enough for coming out. This cool weather was nice for a change. This is unbelievable. I’ve always wanted to win a Cup race here. I’ve been close a number of times, so to get a ‘Golden Monster’ (trophy) is pretty sweet. … A million dollars earlier this year (at the All-Star) was pretty nice but no, to win a playoff race, my first playoff victory, is special. I hope there’s another one in our future, especially in the next round. So, we’ll see what we can do. I kept saying that I felt really close to winning here, or anywhere, right now. Our pit crew has been doing a better job and the team is doing a better job and I’ve been doing a better job. We’s just got to keep it going now.”
Martin Truex Jr. – finished second: “(How big of a factor was traffic today?) It was about everything to be honest with you. We got the lead there at the end of Stage 2. Got that stage win. On the pit stop, we had the issue and lost track position and then the whole third stage we were behind. We were catching (Larson) at the end – we got close – but just unfortunate. We win and lose as a team. The guys will clean it up; I’m sure. It’s cool to come home second after that with how hard it was to pass. … (You earned 54 points today. How does that ease your mind heading to Talladega?) Yeah, it’s good. Every week is just about doing the best you can and getting all the points that you can. Positive day for us today. Had a shot at the win today and came up short. Been nice to have that win and the free pass, but second is the next best. Good job to all of the guys. Just a good solid day here at Dover. Wish we could have won again, but that’s how it goes.”
Alex Bowman – finished third:“(It seemed like you got better as the race went on) Yeah, I mean I think we had a good car there to start. It’s just really hard to pass and it took a while for the track to widen out. I made up some track position and then I had an issue on a pit stop that kind of put us back behind some of the guys we just passed. We just have to keep working at it. Obviously, (Larson) and (Truex) were way out there, but we had a really good race car and I’m proud of my guys. I’m really proud of my race team and everyone for keeping their heads on straight. I’ll take it after last week. We got together with (Ryan Blaney) there off of Turn 2 really early and I was like ‘No, not again’. I’m glad he saved it. Just two cars going for one spot on the race track, nothing happened from there. We had a clean day. The only real issue we had was that one pit stop. But, aside from that pit stop, my guys were probably the fastest on pit road. I’ll take it for how good they are.”
Kevin Harvick – finished fourth:“For us, we had a tight condition and just right off the bat we struggled with getting the front of our car to turn and we really just lacked overall grip for us. It was much different in the race today than it was in practice. … I would say that luckily this is a good race track for us and we were able to grind out a good solid finish and get some stage points on a day when a lot of people had trouble.”
Denny Hamlin – finished fifth: “(Talk about losing the lead late in Stage 2) I thought the 22 (Joey Logano) was trying to stay on the lead lap, but they said he was 24 laps down and so he was kind of air blocking us and we lost the lead, and we lost that stage. Then after that we lost control of the race and the track got tighter. There were no cautions to pick up the rubber. We just got tight. Once we lost control – lost the clean air – it was so difficult to pass. I needed to be up front with as tight as my car was, so I just lost the lead and backpedaled from there. Top five, this track, I’ll take it every week. … (You radioed in that you may be having engine issues, but you were able to finish the race. What happened?) I missed a shift on the last restart. The car changed tones and lost a little power, but it’s next year’s motor which is not concerning any more this year. Certainly, I was concerned that we weren’t going to make it.”
Kyle Busch – finished sixth:“(How was your race?) I don’t know, speeding on pit road never helps. We probably finished about where we should’ve I guess, maybe one spot better, but that’s it. … (Where do you go from here heading to Talladega?) It’s a completely different thing. You try to go to Talladega and race and survive. I don’t even know, we haven’t talked about that. That’s Tuesday. We’ll figure it out.”
Matt DiBenedetto – finished seventh:“(How did you grind it out?) All day, inching forward. Very little by little. That was the team, just so you know. Wheels (Mike Wheeler, crew chief) and my whole group, pit crew, everybody, making really good adjustments. This was the first time we’ve had Dumont Jets on the car in quite a while and I was like ‘this Dumont Jets car is flying’. But no, it took a lot of discipline today. The car was really fast. Even faster than seventh-place, but you get in situations with the dirty air and with the high downforce it was a lot harder to pass. The fastest drivers had to be a lot more disciplined. You had to stay behind them and not abuse your stuff and wait for traffic or situations to pounce.
“(You’re not in the playoffs but there’s still a lot to race for. What do days like this mean?) It’s been big. It’s really neat. I love working with this team. They are such good people. I’m so appreciative to work with them. I’m so glad this whole second half of the season has really turned around where we have been knocking off a bunch of top 10’s, so it’s really important to us. We’re trying to get in the top 20 in points. We’ve been climbing up big time the second half of the year running where we probably deserved to run. I hate that we aren’t in the playoffs, because we have been contending like a Playoff car. But it is what it is. I’m just thankful we’ve had some good solid runs. This Toyota has been running fast.”
Jimmie Johnson – finished eighth: “I felt like we had a shot. When we were in clean air, our lap times were great. Just as everyone experienced, it was really tough to pass. We had a few things that set us back and lost track position throughout the day. But we had a really fast race car. We were able to pass some, which I don’t think many could pass at all. All in all, it was a good day. We ran better than eighth for most of it, but we just couldn’t finish higher. … (What are your thoughts about Talladega and Kansas?) Talladega is kind of its own animal. I think Kansas we’re really excited for and feel like we can control our own destiny. The high downforce tracks, the Hendrick cars have been more competitive. I know we are all excited to get back to Kansas and build off of what we’ve had the last month or two.
“(Were you satisfied with the run today?) No, I mean we’re here to win the race and that’s where my heart and mind is. Throughout the day, I felt like we did have pace at times to run for the lead if we could just cycle through all the pit stops to get there. Unfortunately, we had some things happen on pit road. I had to avoid cars coming out of stalls and it just set me back. Coming in fourth and coming out ninth, I think the way it all worked out with the pit box location, I lost positions during each pit stop. So, just really tough to recover from that. I’m disappointed there, but in my heart, I know we’re going the right way.”
Kurt Busch – finished ninth:“Today, we started ninth, ran ninth, and finished ninth. It was about all we had. I was on the tight side and Kyle (Larson) was a little bit on the loose side, but we made it work. I’m happy for my teammate to win and advance. It was a good step for us to just have a nice, smooth day. We just never really found anything to help the car steer.”
Clint Bowyer – finished 10th:“We started 17th and finished 10th, I don’t know. It was hard to pass. Extremely hard to pass. Almost impossible. You had to have a really, really good car. It was just kind of a struggle out there all day long for us. Our ITsavvy Ford was about where we came out about where we ran. I am looking forward to Talladega though because you can certainly pass there.”
Brad Keselowski – finished 11th:“We had an okay day. We held serve. We came into the weekend 19 points up and we leave 20 points up with two big races in front of us. If we can have a great day at Talladega it would be huge. We are due for another great run there. … (Two of your teammates had issues. Were you nervous?) Oh yeah. There was something going on. I don’t know what it was, that is for the smart guys that build and engineer the cars but it is certainly not good when you see your teammates breaking down.”
William Byron – finished 13th: “(Talk about the costly pit road penalty) Yeah, we couldn’t recover from that after. We just had a miscalculation of when we could accelerate out of our pit box. I thought we were fine on pit road speed to leave the box hard. That was a bummer for sure. We had a pretty good car. We couldn’t really make many passes, but we were able to get from the back after having to start pretty close to the tail end. It just really hurt our day. But overall, the guys did a good job and got out of here with a decent points day, I guess. We’ll just have to go on strong next week. The team and I all were convinced that I could go straight out and have not issues. I got a really good launch off the pit box, probably a little too good. I was kind of worried about it because I beat (Johnson) pretty good off pit road and it nipped us for sure. It was just a miscalculation. We probably won’t pick that pit box again for that reason. It really kind of ruined our day, but at least we got some decent stuff out of it.
“(What’s your mindset heading to Talladega?) Our cars are always fast at Talladega, so we’ll just have to go there, lay it out there and see what happens.”
Daniel Suarez — finished 14th: “It was very hard to pass today at Dover. We obviously didn’t get the result we were looking for in the ARRIS Mustang, but we’ll move on to next week at Talladega. My guys are working really hard, and we still have races left to go and win.”
Austin Dillon — finished 18th: “Our team showed a lot of improvement during the race today even though an 18th-place finish isn’t what we wanted. The No. 3 AAA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 started off super tight in the first stage. I had a difficult time passing cars, especially in traffic. During the first pit stop, our team made some chassis adjustments to free up my Chevy for the rest of the stage. This proved to be successful because I ran top-five lap times at the conclusion of Stage 1. The beginning of Stage 2 was excellent. My car felt great and we were fast out there. We made a trackbar adjustment during green-flag pit stops thinking it might help, but it didn’t seem to affect the car much at all. For the final stage, I started near the rear because of a speeding penalty on pit road. Fortunately, the team made solid adjustments to the AAA Chevy between stages and I quickly made my way up through the field. I had one of the fastest cars on the racetrack and made big gains in track position, but even with that speed, I couldn’t manage to get back on the lead lap. Our final position wasn’t representative of how hard our team fought all day. We’ll learn from this weekend and be ready for a wild race at Talladega.”
Daniel Hemric — finished 21st: “Nobody on this No. 8 team gave up throughout the weekend and we were able to make gains from where we started with this Lucas Oil Chevrolet. The car bobbled on my first qualifying lap Saturday, so we had to start deep in the field today. We kept moving forward and fighting all race long. The shifter lever broke during the second stage but luckily it didn’t hurt us too bad on the final few stops of the day. With so few cautions, we were stuck multiple laps down but kept fighting for every position we could and focusing on racing whoever was on our lap. Hopefully we can go to Talladega next week, stay out of trouble and have a shot at contending for the win.”
Joey Logano – finished 34th:“(What was wrong with the car?) Something back there wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do, so we had to fix that and we were 20-something laps down from there. You can’t make up 20 laps, that is for sure. Maybe you can get one or two back if things go right. It was a bummer. Things happen. … We definitely used our mulligan. We used the playoff points we accumulated, we just have to be perfect now. We have two really good race tracks coming up though. Talladega is arguably one of our best race tracks and I would say Kansas is as well. We just have to be perfect from here. … (It sounds like Denny Hamlin is upset with the way you were racing him near the end of the second stage) Well, the situation was that I had about four or five cars that it was possible for me to catch, which is five points. You tell me if it is worth it. I would say it is worth it and I have to go. I have to try to get those spots if I can get them. If some of those cars that were that slow out there and were going to be 20-something laps down, the pace we were running we were going to be within a lap or two of them. I had to race hard. I had to keep going.”
Chase Elliott – finished 38th:“I just had an engine failure of some sort. Unfortunately, we don’t really know what it was just yet. It just quit running. It didn’t really seem like anything was off. We were just kind of making laps and then obviously had a failure. It’s an unfortunate way to start this round for sure. … I don’t know where we’ll stack up (after today’s race). I assume we’ll have to win one of these next few weeks. If you ever make it to Homestead, you’re going to have to win down there. I guess it’s a good opportunity to practice here these next few weeks.”
NBC Sports Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick back to No. 1
But it’s close: While Truex was a unanimous choice among the NBC Sports NASCAR writers last week, Harvick was not an all-in pick this week. In fact, Harvick beat Truex by two points.
Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval race winner Chase Elliott made the biggest jump in the rankings, going from being unranked to No. 3 this week, just three points behind Harvick and only one point behind Truex.
The biggest drops were Denny Hamlin (tied for second last week to tied for 10th this week) and Kyle Busch (tied for fourth last week to tied for 10th this week).
Here are this week’s rankings:
1. Kevin Harvick (35 points): Third-place run at Roval marked his ninth top 10 in the last 10 races. Last week: Tied for fourth.
2. Martin Truex Jr. (33 points): So much for him winning three or even four in a row. Still, had a strong run on the Roval. A win at his home track of Dover would lock him into the Round of 8. Last week: First place.
3. Chase Elliott (32 points): Honestly, could anyone have predicted he’d bounce back from his wreck with 44 laps left – which dropped him from first to 37th place – and wind up winning? One of the best comebacks NASCAR has seen in years. Could be the key motivating factor that sends him all the way to Miami. Last week: Unranked.
4. Brad Keselowski (29 points): Fifth-place finish at the Roval was his fifth top-five result in the last six races. He’s under the radar but should not be overlooked.Last week: Tied for second.
5. Alex Bowman (19 points): Charged from the rear to a second-place finish in a backup car while feeling sick after being involved in two spins. That deserves recognition. Last week: Unranked.
6. Clint Bowyer (17 points): Had strong run when he needed it to advance to the next round. Now can he and his team repeat that effort in the second round? Top 10 finishes in five of his last six races. Has potential to be Cinderella story of playoffs. Last week: Ninth.
7. William Byron (13 points): Top 10s in three of last four races, but has to pick up performance even more if he hopes to advance to Round of 8. Last week: Unranked.
8. Kyle Larson (12 points): Penalty hurt him at Roval but he’s moving on to the second round, so there’s that. With teammate Kurt Busch now eliminated, Larson is carrying the championship torch for Chip Ganassi Racing. Can he deliver? Last week: Sixth.
9. Ryan Blaney (8 points): Even though he has top 10s in three of last four races, he’s in same boat as guys like Byron, Bowyer, Bowman and Larson: he has to significantly pick up his performance if he hopes to advance to the next round. Last week: Unranked.
(tie) 10. Denny Hamlin (7 points): Not a memorable run at the Roval but it’s all about surviving and advancing in the playoffs. Sitting fairly pretty heading into start of Round of 12 this weekend at Dover. Last week: Tied for second.
(tie) 10. Kyle Busch (7 points): Winless streak has now hit 15 races. Roval mechanical failure not his fault. Saving grace was all the playoff points he’s earned, allowing him to be No. 1 in the Cup standings heading to Dover. But he needs a win desperately. Can it come at Dover? Last week: Tied for fourth.
Clint Bowyer— Raced into a playoff spot with a fourth-place finish that included a pair of third-place results in the first two stages worth an additional 16 points. Entered the race 14th, two spots out of a cutoff spot and safely made it to the second round.
Johnny Klausmeier —Crew chief for Aric Almirola had his pit strategy backfire and it played a role in the team failing to advance in the playoffs. Klausmeier didn’t pit Almirola under caution on Lap 90 while many others did. Almirola struggled on the restart and lost the advantage he had. He pitted for tires on a caution at Lap 94 but was far back in the field and couldn’t gain enough ground, placing 14th and finishing five points out of the final playoff spot.