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.

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.

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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.

Talladega win continues No. 8 team’s surge for Richard Childress Racing


TALLADEGA, Ala. — More than a quarter of a century after its last Cup championship, Richard Childress Racing looks to become one of the prominent Cup teams again.

For much of the 2000s, Richard Childress Racing has been a legacy team in the Cup Series, its glory days dating to the 1980s and ‘90s when Dale Earnhardt won six of his seven Cup championships. Earnhardt’s last title in 1994 also is RCR’s last Cup crown.

Not since Ryan Newman’s runner-up finish in 2014 — despite not winning a race that season — has a Richard Childress Racing driver finished in the top 10 in points in Cup.

Kyle Busch, who already has two wins for his new team, could change that this season.

“Racing is like life,” car owner Richard Childress said Busch’s win Sunday at Talladega. “There’s peaks and valleys. When you get in on a peak, it’s harder to stay there. You got to be prepared when you’re at the top. We’ve been there.

“We’ve also been in the valley, the very bottom. You got to work harder and have the right drive and emotion to put you up to the top. That’s what we’ve worked hard to get there.”

Last season saw RCR’s Cup operation win four races — its most series wins since Kevin Harvick won four races in 2013, his final season with the organization.

Busch’s Talladega win marked his second win of the season and the fifth victory for the No. 8 team in the last 29 races — which includes three wins by Tyler Reddick with that team last year. No other Cup team has won as many races in that span.

While both Reddick and Busch are lauded for their talent, it still takes a team to give those drivers a chance to win. Crew chief Randall Burnett has handled the transition from Reddick to Busch well.

“Everybody’s really dedicated,” Burnett said of the No. 8 team’s success. “Everybody wants to come out and win races. Everybody works hard. They pull their weight. They take their responsibility for their part in it. It just makes a great team.

“Obviously we’ve been fortunate enough to have two very talented drivers. Tyler is an incredible talent. Now we got Kyle. His résumé speaks for itself.

“Just very fortunate to have those kind of caliber of drivers drive the car, and for our team to stay close-knit and work as hard as they do. It’s been great.”

Most wins in the last 29 Cup races (since Road America 2022)

5 wins — No. 8 Richard Childress Racing (Tyler Reddick, Kyle Busch)

4 wins — No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing (Christopher Bell)

4 wins — No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports (Kyle Larson)

3 wins — No. 22 Team Penske (Joey Logano)

3 wins — No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports (Chase Elliott)

2 wins — No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing (Kevin Harvick)

2 wins — No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports (William Byron)

2 wins — No. 45 23XI Racing (Bubba Wallace, Tyler Reddick)


Chase Briscoe’s fourth-place finish proved painful Sunday.

Briscoe ran his first race since surgery last week to have pins placed in his broken left middle finger. He broke the finger in a dirt late model race earlier this month.

Asked how his finger was after Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway, Briscoe said “not good.

“It’s weird, the last two weeks I’ve had absolutely zero issues (with the finger). With the pins in there, it’s like any time anything touches one of those pins, it just is excruciating pain.

“I was literally screaming in the car at some points because it just hurts so bad.”

Briscoe said he might have to change the splint on his left middle finger.

“In the past, I’ve kind of had two splints, one on top (of the finger), one on the bottom, and I think I just need to go to one on the bottom now because that one on top, I hit that pin a lot,” he said.

Briscoe said he needs to be more careful with the finger leading into this weekend’s race at Dover “because it was definitely an issue (at Talladega).”


Jeb Burton’s Xfinity win Saturday marked his second career series win and gave car owner Jordan Anderson his first NASCAR victory.

That it came at Talladega made the moment even more special for Anderson.

Last October, Anderson left the track in a medical helicopter after suffering second- and third-degree burns in an incident in the Truck race.

Anderson was running fourth on Lap 19 of that race when smoke and flames started shooting through the truck after a cut in the oil line.

The heat was so intense that Anderson looked to bail out of the truck as it continued to move but stayed inside it before it hit the inside wall. Anderson then exited the vehicle.

He suffered third-degree burns on his right arm and neck. He had second-degree burns elsewhere.

This past weekend was Anderson’s first time back at the track since that incident.

He said memories flooded back after landing at the airport next to the track last weekend. After he was released from the hospital last year, he went to that airport to get on Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s plane to return to North Carolina.

“I kind of had a little moment, just taking it all in, it’s like, ‘Wow, all that we’ve been through with that,’” Anderson said. “I’m usually pretty tough. Growing up, I broke bones, knocked my teeth out in BMX, doing crazy stuff. That was a lot of pain (last year), emotional and physical, to go through all that stuff.”


Dr. Diandra: Kevin Harvick chooses the ‘just right’ time to leave


For athletes, retirement is a Goldilocks question: Too early? Too late? Or just right?

Personal and health crises aside, no competitor wants to leave a sport while he believes he can still win. But neither does he want to be the past-their-prime athlete who overstays his welcome.

Racecar drivers are athletes. But the calculus of when to hang up the firesuit is much different than, for example, a sprinter who must push their body to the highest level of human performance.

I think Kevin Harvick got it just right.

It’s not because of age

Harvick, who turned 47 at the end of last year, was the oldest regular-season driver in 2022. Jeff Burton retired at age 47. Jeff Gordon retired at 45. Ryan Newman ran his last race just short of 44.

It’s not that older drivers don’t win. They just don’t win as often.

Drivers age 47 and older have won 29 Cup Series races1. The last time it happened was in 2009, when Mark Martin did it.

Five times.

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Drivers 46 and older have won only 50 Cup Series races — but Harvick is responsible for two of those wins. If any driver is going to go against the trend, it’s Harvick.

There’s no reason to believe Harvick can’t win in 2023.

Quantifying ‘too early’ and ‘too late’

Retirement discussions focus on age because it’s a quick and simple statistic. But a better measure of “too early” and “too late” is how many races a driver runs between his last win and his last race.

Only drivers who have won races qualify for inclusion in the calculation. I restricted the dataset even further by requiring each driver have at least 10 career wins. Harvick is an elite driver and, as such, should be compared to other elite drivers.

I counted races between last win and retirement rather than years because some drivers ran three or four races a year for a couple of years after their last full seasons.

Elite drivers before 1976 ran fewer than 60 races after their last win.

Buck Baker was the first exception. He tallied 138 winless races before retiring in 1976.

Benny Parsons ran an even 100 races between his last win and his last race in 1988.

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Buddy Baker drove the same number of winless races as his father did before retiring: 138.

The numbers go up from there. Richard Petty didn’t win any of his last 246 races. Darrell Waltrip went 265 winless races before retiring.

Bobby Labonte ran the most winless races between his last win and his last race: 363. But Labonte is the outlier.

Since the mid-2000s, elite drivers have run mostly fewer than 200 winless races before retiring. The table below summarizes the numbers for elite drivers who retired in the last seven years.

A table showing the number of races drivers ran between their last win and their last race.

In the worst case — if Harvick doesn’t win a race in 2023 — he will have run 48 winless races before retiring. In my view, leaving fans wanting more is always preferable to a once-champion driver posting an average finishing position in the high teens.

The non-quantifiable reasons for ‘just right’

The current crop of drivers is open about the challenges of juggling responsibilities as husbands and fathers while racing full time. One need only see the gleam in Harvick’s eye when he talks about son Keelan and daughter Piper.

Making the choice to step away earlier rather than later is easier today because drivers have many more options post-driving career. Early drivers didn’t make the kind of money that would allow them to retire. They opened car dealerships or pursued other business opportunities.

Today’s drivers plan for a second act — and they start early. Harvick is a prime example.

He’s run (and closed) a racing business. He owns a personal management company that represents drivers, UFC fighters, country music stars and golfers, among others. He is part of a group that just acquired the CARS tour.

He’s demonstrated his ability to bring his racing knowledge to fans in a fun and accessible way. With more drivers interested in (and capable of) becoming broadcasters than there are openings, drivers have to take opportunities when they come available.

Harvick has reached his “just-right” moment.

1 From 1960 to 1971 (excluding 1968), NASCAR lumped in the Daytona Duels with the regular-season races. To more accurately compare earlier and later seasons, I exclude those races from the regular-season count.

Front Row Motorsports Cup teams to have new crew chiefs in 2023


Both Front Row Motorsports Cup teams will have new crew chiefs in 2023, the team announced Wednesay.

Travis Peterson will be the crew chief for the No. 34 car that has been driven by Michael McDowell. Peterson replaces Blake Harris, who will be the crew chief for Alex Bowman in 2023 at Hendrick Motorsports.

Peterson, 31, has been a race engineer. He spent the past five seasons at Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing. He worked with drivers Chris Buescher, Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth during that time. Peterson previously served as a race engineer at Hendrick Motorsports for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and also at JR Motorsports.

“I think there are a lot of people in the NASCAR garage who are noticing what Front Row Motorsports has accomplished with the new car and their truck program,” Peterson said in a statement from the team.

“This is an opportunity to come into a winning and championship organization and help take that next step of getting more wins in the Cup Series and be in the playoffs. I’m ready to get to work. I’ve always had the goal of becoming a crew chief, and now I’m ready to take advantage of the opportunity.”

Front Row Motorsports also announced Wednesday that Seth Barbour, who had been the crew chief for the No. 38 driven by Todd Gilliland, has been named as the organization’s technical director. Barbour will oversee all track engineering and car preparation processes for the Front Row Motorsports Cup cars.

A new crew chief for the No. 38 team will be announced later.

Also, Ryan Bergenty, car chief for the No. 34 team, has been promoted to performance director and will oversee all body and chassis assembly for all Front Row Motorsports entries.

“The past two seasons Front Row Motorsports has seen success and we’re taking the next steps forward,” said Jerry Freeze, general manager of Front Row Motorsports, in a statement.

“We know that Travis is a person that can immediately come in, take the baton, and continue to move the No. 34 team to the front. We also made several changes internally to help with car preparation and engineering for all our race cars and trucks. Our final piece is finding a new leader for the No. 38 team. We’re confident that with these changes that we’ll be even better next season.”

Front Row Motorsports has not announced its driver lineup for next season. Both McDowell and Gilliland have said they plan to be back with the organization.