Top storylines heading into the ROVAL

Crash Test

On a week that 2 drivers announced that they’d skip Sundays race due to injury, NASCAR conducted a crash test in Ohio to further figure out on how to help less the stiffness of these new Next Gen race cars. 2 drivers have missed time due to concussion like symptoms that developed after rear end impacts and the other with a leg injury after hard contact in Texas.

The safety aspect has been questioned by the drivers and teams and NASCAR isn’t taking it lightly.

“I don’t know. You tell me,” Elliott said on how we got here. “I don’t have a good answer for you on that. I really don’t. That is what baffles me. I have no idea how we got here. I don’t know.”

It almost feels like the 2000, 2001 and 2002 era all over again that lost drivers frequently. For a sport that has come a long way since that dark period and prides itself in not losing a driver in a race since Dale Earnhardt’s tragic crash in the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, you get the sense that the sport is tempting fate, again.

“No one’s immune to it; it could be me next week,” Elliott said from the Talladega Superspeedway media center last Saturday morning. “It could be any of my peers or fellow competitors. I just hate to see us go backwards and I’m afraid that we have.”

After a very routine hit with the Turn 4 SAFER barrier at the Texas Motor Speedway, there’s no way that Bowman should have been facing symptoms like he’s having. It looked like nothing. However, here we are as he’s the second driver of the year to miss time for a head injury following rear end impact with this new car and now like Busch, it will last multiple weeks.

“We just want to feel less inside the car,” Christopher Bell said on Saturday. “You look from the outside and you watch crashes and it doesn’t look like anything is happening. But our body seems to be absorbing the majority of the impacts instead of the car absorbing the impacts. We just want the car to help us out where we’re not absorbing as much.”

Kyle Larson said he feels safer in a sprint car than he does in his Cup car. Ryan Blaney agreed with both of his peers.

“The unfortunate side is we knew about this stuff before coming into this year and we thought it would be OK and it wasn’t,” Blaney said. “It is harder. Heck, you had guys saying right away in preseason testing like, ‘These hits feel a lot harder than what it was last year,’ and to us it’s frustrating that no one listened or believed because we’re the only ones who feel these hits.

“No one from NASCAR is strapping in and going and feeling these hits. I’ve always said, ‘All right, go strap in this thing and go wreck it at 160 (mph) with the old car and then go wreck this new one at 160 and you tell me how you feel after the hit.’ You’re gonna know it’s harder. That’s what it’s designed for, but some of the medium impacts feel way harder than the last car, for sure.”

This isn’t the first time the drivers have warned that this car hits harder than its predecessor.

“My whole body, literally my jaw hurts,” Hamlin said after his Daytona crash at the end of August. “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.”

Kevin Harvick also previously had some choice words about safety himself.

“The safety cannot be slow,” Harvick stated. “This car is screwed up as far as the way that it crashes. And whether the data says it or not, every driver in this garage will tell you that’s not right, and it hurts — feet hurt, hands hurt, head hurt.”

Instead of this new car going forward with safety, it’s gone backwards.

“You come off a week like we had at Texas and somebody getting injured and you’re coming into here, where odds are we’re probably all going to hit something at some point tomorrow and probably not lightly,” said Elliott. “Do you just not show up? Do you just not run? I don’t think that’s feasible to ask.

“I don’t feel like we should have ever been in this position to need to go forward. We should have gone forward with a new opportunity at a new car, in my opinion. You have all these years of experience and knowledge and time of racing and crashing these cars and teams working on them and building them, and it just blows me away that we can have something new in 2022 that offers all this technology and all this time and experience of so many just super talented people in this sport and we allow to go backward, especially with safety.

“I think it’s just super surprising to me that we allowed that to happen, but we did, and now it’s just about how do we go forward from here making sure we make the right choices to improve what we have and keep things like what happened to Alex this week from happening, and what happened to Kurt.

“We had time to test this car and crash it and do all the things we need to do to make sure some of these things aren’t happening that are happening now. We had a ton of time to do that, and this car was delayed an entire calendar year on top of that. You have to think, we had an extra year of time to work on it, and we’re still in this position. There’s no excuse for going backward. We have too many smart people, too much technology, too many years of crashing and racing at all these same racetracks to have some of these things that are going on that are. Test next week or no test next week, we should not be in the position that we are in. When you come out with a new product, you should take steps forward, not stay the same or go backward.

“There’s always an inherent risk in what we do and it’s always been that way. My frustration, as I’ve referenced here in the past few minutes, is I just hate that we put ourselves in the box that we’re in right now. It’s just disappointing that we’ve put ourselves here and we had the choice. We did this to ourselves as an industry and that just should have never been the case. We should not have put ourselves in the box that we’re in right now. So my disappointment lies in that, that we had years in time and opportunity to make this thing right before we put it on track and we didn’t. And now, we’re having to fix it and I just hate that we did that. Like I said, I think we’re smarter than that and I think there’s just a lot of men and women that work in this garage that know better and we shouldn’t have been here.”

Denny Hamlin said they got pointed in this backwards direction from “bad leadership.” How do they get out of it?

“New leadership,” he says.

As for the changes that need to be made in NASCAR leadership, Hamlin said: “I don’t know. You can start at the top and work your way down.”

“I know a lot of young guys are just happy to be here, but they ain’t going to be happy when their brains are scrambled for the rest of their lives,” Hamlin said Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway.”

There’s trust issues developing, but Elliott is confident that they’ll make the right changes to make this right.

“I’m confident that we will, but it’s crucial that we do, in my opinion, because having guys out in the playoffs or any time for that matter, shouldn’t be happening,” Elliott continued. “I think it’s taking away from our product on Sunday, which that should be the focus. Who wins? Who loses? How the race was and how a guy did driving his car, and how a team did executing a good or a bad race.”

That’s why NASCAR went to Ohio to figure this out this past week and by all accounts, that test went really well. NASCAR had a 20 slide presentation ready for the drivers on Saturday morning but due to such an open dialogue, they only got through a handful of them.

There was mixed messages on how well the meeting truly went but by all accounts, it was a good start. NASCAR has said that they’d be open to continuing Saturday meeting on race morning when there’s more time to go over what they found.

Time was limited on Saturday due to practice and qualifying coming up. However, more time could be had on Sunday as NASCAR is taking the right steps and wants more dialogue with the drivers and willing to give all the time that they want.

“It was definitely tense from the driver side,” said Christopher Bell. “NASCAR did a good job of trying to answer the questions asked, but you can tell that there’s frustration. We got through two slides. I believe that they had a much larger presentation available to us, but we got stuck in open conversation that took up the majority of the time.”

The result found was beneficial too because changes are coming for 2023 to help the safety aspect.

Joey Logano said that while he’s happy to finally be having these conversations with NASCAR, it’s way too late. He feels like they should have occurred the Monday after Busch’s Pocono crash. He knows that they have to race the rest of the year status quo and have that big risk that someone else could still get injured because it’s clearly too late to be making changes now.

“We need to hold them honest now,” Logano said after earning his 25th career pole on Saturday afternoon. “We got a meeting out of it, and I hope it’s not because a couple of guys got fired up in the media. I hope that’s not how we make change in the sport.

“It will be calm when the car is fixed.”

Cody Ware escaped the burning car at Texas last month

Ware/Bowman To Skip ROVAL

On Tuesday, a pair of drivers announced that due to injuries suffered from Texas crashes, that they’d both miss Sunday’s race on the ROVAL.

Cody Ware was the first announcement as he’ll be the third driver to miss time due to an injury suffered in a NASCAR Cup Series race this season. Ware suffered an ankle injury during his crash two weeks ago at the Texas Motor Speedway and was fit for a walking boot on his right foot at Talladega. He would race last Sunday on the high-speed Alabama oval, but on Tuesday, announced that he’ll sit out this weekend’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 (2 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN) at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL.

Racing on an oval is one thing, on a road course is entirely different. Ware, 26, announced on social media his intentions to sit out of his No. 51 Ford and allow JJ Yeley to replace him instead. He’ll return to the car a week later in Las Vegas.

Yeley has made 15 Cup starts this season — 14 of which have been for RWR.

On Twitter, Ware clarified he suffered an impact fracture and torn ligaments in the Texas incident.

Ware scored a career-best sixth-place finish at Daytona International Speedway in the regular-season finale and was on pace to complete his first full-time season in the NASCAR Cup Series. Ware has 86 career starts at the sport’s top level in addition to 28 Xfinity Series starts and seven starts in the Camping World Truck Series.

Also on Tuesday, Hendrick Motorsports announced that Alex Bowman will not compete in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL due to continued concussion symptoms. He’s the 2nd driver today alone to announce he’s missing Sundays race and 3rd full-time driver overall out.

Bowman, driver of the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for Hendrick Motorsports, was evaluated by physicians this afternoon in Charlotte. The ROVAL will mark the second consecutive event he will miss due to the injury, which was suffered in a Sept. 25 accident at Texas Motor Speedway.

“Alex’s health is our first priority,” said Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports. “We’re focused on supporting his recovery and seeing him back in his race car when the time is right. Alex has a long career ahead of him, so we will invest the necessary time and take our guidance from medical experts. We’re putting no pressure on him to return before he’s 100% ready.”

Noah Gragson, 24, will again be the substitute driver for Bowman. The Las Vegas native qualified seventh and finished 19th in the No. 48 Chevrolet on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.

Charlotte will be Gragson’s first career road course start at the Cup level. He has finished in the top 10 in 17 of his 20 NASCAR Xfinity Series road races, including all three ROVAL appearances.

By missing Sundays race, Bowman is now eliminated from the playoffs as a result. Now the focus can fully turn to his health which is why I don’t necessarily see this as a couple weeks nuisance anymore. With 4 races remaining in the season after, it may be best he sits the rest of 2022 out.

KANSAS CITY, KANSAS – SEPTEMBER 11: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Rheem Ford, pits after an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on September 11, 2022 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)


This week was also a big week in terms of penalties. William Byron’s appeal from his Texas penalty was heard on Thursday and he got his points back but the fined upped.

NASCAR met with William Byron and Hendrick Motorsports on Thursday to hear their side of the case. The outcome greatly benefitted Byron as the points penalty was rescinded. He gets his 25 points back which moves him back to the good side of the cutline to +14 ahead of the bubble.

Where this is major is, he would have had to make up 11 points during Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 (2 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN), now he just has to maintain. This has massive championship implications because Byron is the last winner at 2 of the 3 tracks in the Round of 8.

On Wednesday, it was revealed that NASCAR laid down the gauntlet for Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Ford team. The team was docked 100 points in both the drivers and owners standings, fined $100k and suspended Rodney Childers 4 weeks for manipulating a single source part.

The infraction, which falls under the heading of Sections 14.1 (vehicle assembly) and 14.5 (body).

That takes Childers out from this weekend’s race on the Charlotte ROVAL through the Round of 8 finale at Martinsville making him only eligible to come back for the season finale at Phoenix.

This comes in wake of last Sunday’s YellaWood 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway to where Childers was making his 600th career race as a crew chief. The No. 4 Ford — driven to a 29th-place finish in last Sunday’s YellaWood 500 — was one of two cars taken back to the NASCAR Research & Development Center after last weekend’s race at Talladega Superspeedway. The No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota for Martin Truex Jr. was also taken to the R&D Center for further post-race inspection.

The penalty is in line to what Brad Keselowski’s No. 6 Ford team suffered from the spring race at Atlanta earlier this season as well as Michael McDowell’s from Pocono.

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – JULY 30: AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #16 Nutrien Ag Solutions Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series Pennzoil 150 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 30, 2022 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Silly Season

On Tuesday evening it was announced that Hailie Deegan will make her NASCAR Xfinity Series debut next week at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. She didn’t announce however her 2023 plans as there’s rumors she could move up full-time in that series next season. Partially too is because there’s a strong sense that David Gilliland Racing would shift from Ford to Toyota power in taking the place of Kyle Busch Motorsports as Toyota’s flagship team in the Truck Series.

That’s not the only silly season news to occur this week either. Kaulig Racing announced their 2023 plans with AJ Allmendinger keep his No. 16 Chevrolet but doing so on a full-time basis in the Cup Series. That ride was split between he, Noah Gragson and Daniel Hemric this past season but Allmendinger will be the sole pilot of this ride in 2023. In the process, they announced that Chandler Smith will replace Allmendinger in the No. 16 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Xfinity Series too.

As far as why make the move back to the Cup Series after having that door slammed shut for the last 3 years?

It’s all about Kaulig and them feeling like family to Allmendinger. He’s enjoying racing again and loves the aspect of racing every weekend. He’s found joy in life that was sucked out of him as the years went on the first time around. Kaulig has given him competitive race cars and Allmendinger has found that fountain of youth as a result.

He went from no Cup racing, to not superspeedway racing to a winner in Cup at Indianapolis and a winner in Xfinity on superspeedways. This is everything Allmendinger has been searching for.

For his replacement, Toyota loses another talented driver in Chandler Smith as a fallout of Toyota losing Kyle Busch. With KBM no longer being Toyota power as a result of Busch moving to RCR and Chevrolet, it allowed Smith to look elsewhere. Where would he go with Toyota and Kaulig came knocking.

As a result of these moves, most of the Silly Season chatter is coming to a close soon.

Despite being a free agent at the end of the 2023 season, Kyle Larson elected to sign a new deal early. That announcement took place a couple of weeks ago. Larson is locked into a new contract with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2026 season.

Kyle Busch we also know is going to the No. 8 Chevrolet at Richard Childress Racing in 2023 and will be replacing Tyler Reddick in that seat. RCR maintains that they will keep Reddick for next season but acquire a 3rd charter and put him in a 3rd car while doing so. 23XI Racing is firm that they don’t want to expand to a three-car team next season because it’s too late to get a charter and do so. The 45 seat is Kurt Busch’s so long as he wants it and the 23 ride is Bubba Wallace’s. Reddick will come over in 2024 into the 45 seat or at that point they’d get a 3rd car. Right now, they don’t need it.

As far as what else is to announce? It’s down to the 18 seat and more than likely…2024.

Hendrick Motorsports has all 4 drivers signed with 3 of the 4 already reaching long-term deals this season. Chase Elliott signed a new contract on the eve of the 2022 season while William Byron inked a new deal not too long ago too.

Team Penske has also signed 2 of their 3 drivers to long terms deals within the last month and are going to obviously bring back rookie Austin Cindric for 2023 as well. I also don’t see Harrison Burton being one-year experiment so expect Penske and the Wood Brothers to remain the same next year as this.

Stewart-Haas Racing lured Aric Almirola to skip retirement and to sign a multi-year deal to remain in the seat of the No. 10 Ford. Smithfield also will stay. The other 3 drivers are back for 2023 too.

Joe Gibbs Racing has Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell already under contract, they signed Martin Truex Jr. to a one-year deal back at the end of June and now with Busch leaving, have 1 seat left. All indications are that Ty Gibbs will land there.

23XI Racing has Bubba Wallace signed long term as they just signed a deal a month ago and a seat for Kurt Busch so long as he wants it.

Petty GMS Racing signed Erik Jones to an extension and Noah Gragson to a multi-year deal recently too.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and JTG Daugherty Racing signed a deal back in June.

Trackhouse has both drivers locked in for 2023. RFK Racing does as well.

Front Row Motorsports has both cars open but I don’t see why either drivers isn’t retained. Kaulig Racing has Justin Haley back and the other seat open. Then it’s down to Rick Ware Racing and Live Fast Motorsports.

That’s it.

However, where this gets interesting is how everything is going to play out for 2024.

We know Reddick is going to 23XI Racing. Does Kurt Busch return?

Busch leads a large group of a talented free agent pool. He, Harvick, Truex Jr., Alex Bowman and Daniel Suarez are on it. How does this all play out?

Does Busch retire or does 23XI have to find a 3rd charter? Does Truex Jr. come back or does JGR need to find a 4th driver? Does Harvick comeback or is SHR eyeing a new driver? Ryan Preece would make the most sense there.

Can Suarez back up 2022 with a better 2023? He can’t regress. Does HMS think Bowman has shown enough for another contract or do they make a run at a 4th driver?

That’s where this all gets interesting. One could make a case that Busch, Harvick and Truex Jr. all retire together.

While 2023 has a few pieces to shore up, 2024 is already starting…

CONCORD, NORTH CAROLINA – OCTOBER 10: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 10, 2021 in Concord, North Carolina. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)


History shows that we can expect some sort of chaos during Sunday’s race. We’ve seen it happen in all 4 years so far. On the final lap of the inaugural race, Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. made contact with one another on the final lap, in the final corner, while running 1-2. It allowed 3rd place Ryan Blaney to sneak by and pull the upset victory.

A year later, it was Bubba Wallace and Alex Bowman having a confrontation on track and after the race as well. Last year it was the Kevin Harvick vs. Chase Elliott feud here.

What happens this time around in the 5th edition?

I don’t necessarily think chaos has to occur for playoff driver on playoff driver crime either. I mean there’s a very real chance that the final spot into the next round could come down to a position or 2 on track. If you’re that driver needing to gain a few spots and there’s a couple of cars within striking distance in front, don’t you get the sense that you move them out of your way now and apologize later?

That’s why I feel like we can see some drivers ruffling feathers on Sunday.

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