Chicago: Making NASCAR work in the big city

In a season that clocked 9,483 laps over 36 races in 20 states, some laps make more sense than others. Here’s a look at five such rounds in the Cup this year.

1. Round 250 at Bristol Dirt in April

Kyle Busch won after Chasing Briscoe hit Tyler Red Dick, spin Briscoe and Reddick on the last lap racing at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Busch, running a distant third, passed. It was the only lap he was leading this race.

The win would be Busch’s only victory in his final season with Joe Gibbs Racing. At the time, no one could know what would happen to Busch.

If Reddick had won that race, those five playoff points would have been enough for him to advance to the second round of the playoffs. Without Bristol’s win, they lost two points before advancing. It matters because Reddick won in Texas, the opening race of the second lap. That would have placed him in the third round.

Besides, if Reddick had won — or even if Briscoe had pulled off the maneuver — then Busch wouldn’t have made the playoffs.

The season would get worse for Busch. A sponsor withdrew to take over the car n°18 with Mars, Inc. leaving after the season. Joe Gibbs Racing and Busch failed to agree to keep the two-time Cup champion with the team. Busch’s 15-year run with JGR would come to an end.

His playoff run didn’t last long after two blown engines in the first lap made the two-time Cup champion one of the top four eliminated from title contention.

When the 2023 season begins, Busch will be in the #8 car at Richard Childress Racingsucceeding Reddick, who moves to 23XI Racing.

2. Tower 124 in Dover in May

Denny Hamlin led 67 of the first 123 laps and felt he had the better car that day and would have won the race.

He didn’t as his race started to fall apart after winning the first stage.

Hamlin entered pit road in the lead and was the first off pit road, but his left front wheel came off – a four-week suspension for his crew chief and two team members stalls.

He had to return to the pits to change tires, placing him 29th. It took him about 100 laps to get back into the top five.

Then trouble struck again. Running fourth on lap 242, Hamlin could not avoid Cody Warethe car turns.

Hamlin was penalized for speeding on pit road on lap 326. Instead of having a chance to win, he finished 21st.

While we can talk about the five points of the playoffs Hamlin lost for his disqualification at Poconoit was the five playoff points he could have scored at Dover that could have given him a seven-point cushion on Ross Chestnut enter the final round at Martinsville in the playoffs. Hamlin would have qualified for the Championship race with those five playoff points from Dover.

3. Tower 293 in Nashville in June

Chase Elliot was leading when the warning came out eight laps from the end of the race for Josh Bilickiis blown engine.

When pit road opened, Elliott remained on track. Kyle Busch, who was second, stung. Denny Hamlin, who was third, swooped. Martin Truex Jr.who was fourth, stung.

Mistakes led to Hamlin and Truex pitting.

Hamlin crew chief Chris Gabehart was serving the last run of his four-stroke suspension for the wheel coming out of the No. 11 car at Dover and was not at Nashville. Engineer Sam McAuley was team leader.

Gabehart and two pit crew members were initially suspended for four races, which would have included the All-Star race without points. He would have returned to Nashville, but Joe Gibbs Racing appealed the penalty. The appeal committee changed the penalty, making the suspension a four-point run. That meant Gabehart had to miss Nashville.

The plan for Hamlin was to stay out if he could secure a front row seat to restart. But before Hamlin approached pit road, McAuley was erroneously told to only stay out if he could take the lead. With Elliott staying on the outside, that was not possible, so Hamlin objected.

Leader James Small told Truex to stay away if he could get a front row seat to restart. With Busch and Hamlin in the pits, that would have put Truex in first place with Elliott. But Truex pitted.

All Truex could do was apologize.

Busch was the first car to leave pit road, changing only two tyres. He leaves 12th.

“It’s going to be bad,” Busch said on his radio.

Hamlin and Truex each took four tires and started further. Hamlin was sixth, while Busch was 21st and Truex was 22nd.

Truex, who could have started on the front row for the final restart, never got the win he needed to qualify for the playoffs.

4. Tower 138 at Daytona in August

Austin Dillonwho needed to win to qualify for the playoffs, was 16th as the field approached Turn 1 on Lap 138 at Daytona under threatening skies.

Suddenly the cars started to slide and crash, losing traction on the wet track.

Dillon, running in bot lane, slowed down and followed Bubba Wallace on the apron. In front of Wallace, Harrison Burton and Ty Dillon were collapsing.

Ty Dillon and Burton’s cars left the apron, while Wallace slid on the grass. This provided a lane for Austin Dillon to slip through and take the lead (as seen in his car music video).

Martin Truex Jr., who was trying to qualify for the playoffs, was picked up and suffered damage to his car.

After a rain delay of 3 hours, 19 minutes and 57 seconds, the race resumed. The green stirred with 16 laps to go and Austin Cindric took the lead. He held out with three laps to go when Austin Dillon slammed into the back of his car at Turn 1 and took the lead.

Dillon’s teammate Tyler Reddick moved up to second. Austin Dillon went no contest to win and put both Richard Childress Racing cars in the playoffs. His victory prevented Truex from qualifying for the playoffs.

One of the biggest impacts of this was that NASCAR officials were quicker to call a warning even in light rain. This happened the following week in the playoff opener at Darlington and in the second-round run at Texas.

5. Tour 500 in Martinsville in October

What about the craziest lap of the season in NASCAR?

Needing to pass two cars on the final lap to qualify for the championship race, Ross Chastain put his car into fifth gear on the backstretch, crashed his Chevrolet against the wall, took his hands off the steering wheel and let the wall guide his vehicle around the last quarter mile as he floored the throttle.

And it worked.

He passed five cars to make the championship run.

But the biggest impact of this round was on social media. Video of Chastain’s move has been viewed more than 11 million times on NASCAR’s NBC Twitter account. The video of it on the NASCAR account on NBC TikTok has been viewed more than 12 million times. Excluding the Olympics, the only other video that got more views on the NBC Sports TikTok account this year was Rich Strike’s historic Kentucky Derby victory.

Even an hour after his remarkable gesture, Chastain was still trying to figure out what he had done.

It sinks in the we’ve done something no one else has ever done“, Chatain said.

While NASCAR hasn’t created a rule to prevent such a move, it’s something series officials should review ahead of next season.

Comments are closed.