5 newsworthy items to watch between Atlanta and COTA

Restart Zone

One thing I mentioned last week of what I was watching for the NASCAR Cup Series race in Atlanta was the restart zone. NASCAR mentioned that they were also paying close attention to this area of emphasis last Sunday and would make a final determination on if it would stay that length or not for the remainder of the 2023 season.

They announced the ruling on SiriusXM’s The Morning Drive on NASCAR Radio that beginning this weekend in COTA, that they’ll revert back to the dimensions of 2022.

VP of Competition, Elton Sawyer, said on the show that they didn’t get what they were looking for out of the zone and with the feedback they’ve received, it was best to go back to the way that it was.

To start the season, NASCAR expanded the zone 50% at each track. They were 25% longer on each end of it.

We saw in Fontana on how much this was a factor however.

Per the rulebook, the leader of the race must get on the throttle inside of the zone. No one else can do so until the leader first does. If however, the leader doesn’t push the gas before the end of the restart zone, then everyone can then go.

For Fontana, most blamed Joey Logano (the leader at the time) for playing games. Kyle Busch was the most vocal about it saying that all the restart zone did was crash a lot of cars in California. He notes that expanding the zone is only negative and outweighs any possible positive to it.

The common consensus is the fact that everyone agrees that games are being played on the restarts. Extending the zone only creates more room for more games.

I get the notion that the leader should have the advantage, but those behind try to time it for when the leader goes. They lag back and try to time it out by if they’re far enough behind the row in front, they can get in the gas earlier and have a better run on everyone in front of them. If the leader, as in Logano’s case in Fontana, waits to go until deeper in the zone, it can create bottlenecks behind of drivers trying to go then having to slam the brakes again if they mistime it. Those behind them may think the leader went and storms off too when in reality, the leader didn’t do anything differently.

So, if you shorten the zone back up, you have less time for those games. But, you’re also taking away an advantage of the leader too.

“Logano was just maintaining his speed and everyone was gaining, gaining, gaining, gaining and closing up their gaps because they were all trying to lay back and then time the run. So he just waited for everybody to run into everybody and then went at the end of the zone,” Busch said.

AVONDALE, ARIZONA – MARCH 12: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series United Rentals Work United 500 at Phoenix Raceway on March 12, 2023 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Appeals Process Of Penalties

Unfortunately, penalties and injuries were weekly headlines that stole the thunder during last year’s playoffs. Luckily this time around, injuries aren’t being discussed. However, penalties still are.

Last week was the massive penalty for which saw Hendrick Motorsports fined $400k, three teams taken 100 points and 10 playoff points from them and all four crew chiefs suspended four weeks. Kaulig got the same penalty for the 31 team ($100k fine since it’s 1 team and not 4) while Denny Hamlin was also fined $50,000 and lost 25 driver points for violating Sections 4.4 in the NASCAR Member Code of Conduct.

This was the biggest penalty day in NASCAR history.

However, all sides have now since appealed their hefty penalties and now the decision on the appeals panel and their process could shape this sport for the future.

Hendrick Motorsports maintains that they did nothing wrong. They say that the louvers made no performance gains for them and that they voluntarily let NASCAR look at them in Phoenix. Their stance is that if they went through a normal inspection process and that part was called into question, they’re allowed to work in that area to get the car back into tolerance and go through again.

They never got the opportunity here.

Plus, their side is that these louvers didn’t fit anyhow. It’s a problem with the supplier, not the team and they had to manipulate them not for any sort of advantage, but to just fit the car.

NASCAR’s side is that there’s a portal that you can enter these discrepancies in and that HMS didn’t do so. Some teams felt like the Garage 56 car helped HMS find this area to work in but Chad Knaus said the differences between the two cars are far to great for HMS to find an advantage there.

So, which side wins out?

Kaulig obviously agrees with HMS and is doing the same appeal.

Hamlin is appealing his case because he feels like it’s not fair to penalize him after the fact and that even NASCAR admitted that it looked like a racing deal on track in real time. Hamlin even says that he didn’t manipulate a finish and that the wording should get him off the hook in that area too.

Which is why all three appeals are so massive.

NASCAR lost three appeals cases just last year and if they lose any of these, then it opens Pandora’s box.

IF HMS/Kaulig win, then it opens the gray areas again. Teams could then start working in manipulating the stock parts to “make fit.” At the moment, you can’t touch the parts and that’s where NASCAR’s stance is.

For Hamlin, it would allow drivers to purposely wreck cars and even in admission of doing so, they can hide behind the fact that they didn’t “manipulate” a finish.

Which then would see NASCAR have to counter in new wording for the rule book.

Josh Williams

Josh Williams’ No. 92 Chevrolet sustained damage in a Lap 27 accident last Saturday afternoon at the Atlanta Motor Speedway with the No. 02 Chevy of Kyle Weatherman, and when Williams dropped debris on the frontstretch to cause the fourth caution moments after the subsequent Lap 32 restart, NASCAR parked him under the Damaged Vehicle Policy.

Instead of driving his car to the garage, however, a frustrated Williams parked it at the start/finish line. NASCAR ordered Williams to the hauler for a discussion of the incident, after he was released from the infield care center.

This action could get him fined and/or suspended from NASCAR activity. Williams was quoted saying they can fine him but it won’t gain NASCAR much because he doesn’t have the money to pay for it. Several current and past drivers, most notably Denny Hamlin and David Ragan each said that they’d help pay the fine if need me.

However, NASCAR doesn’t like drivers calling them out and this stunt put him in the penalty box (NASCAR’s Hauler) for the entire race until they had a chance to meet with him. I expect a penalty to get handed down sometime on Tuesday.

HAMPTON, GEORGIA – JULY 10: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on July 10, 2022 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)


We can speculate that Chase Elliott’s injury made a mark on the weekly NASCAR TV numbers so far. Each race has been down in the ratings department this season, however, the ones he’s been out, they’re down double digits.

The Daytona 500 was down almost 8% in viewership, a week later in Fontana, it was down 5.6%. However, he was listed as out for Las Vegas and Phoenix and the viewership tumbled to being down 12% in Vegas and 15% at Phoenix.

Atlanta followed suit. Viewership was down 14.5% from last Sunday’s Ambetter Health 400.

How much of this dip is a byproduct of Elliott being out? I think it’s massive enough to cause a stir. Elliott is the face of NASCAR and the five-time defending Most Popular Driver award recipient being out and not even at the track is a massive loss.

That plus FOX’ coverage being dreadful and then the booth calling out fans doesn’t help. It’s not been a great start to the TV season that’s for sure and that could have lasting implications down the road too.

NASCAR is in discussions for a new TV package deal. Prior to this season, one could say they were in for a hefty raise. Now, do these numbers bring the number that they were after down?

Truck Series Test at North Wilkesboro

A trio of NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series drivers, including defending series champion Zane Smith and rising stars Carson Hocevar and Corey Heim, participated in a Goodyear Tire test on Monday at historic North Wilkesboro Speedway in preparation for the upcoming Tyson 250 NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series race on NASCAR All-Star race weekend.

The Tyson 250 on Saturday afternoon, May 20 (1:30 p.m. (ET), FOX, MRN Radio), will get North Wilkesboro fans ready for Sunday night’s main feature, the 2023 NASCAR All-Star Race (8 p.m., FS1 and MRN Radio). For the first time since 1996, the NASCAR Cup Series will compete at NWS during a jam-packed May 16-21 NASCAR All-Star Race week of action that will also include two nights of late model racing and three concerts in addition to the Tyson 250.

In Monday’s Goodyear test, the trio of teams worked closely with Goodyear officials to help identify a tire for all Truck teams to use in the Tyson 250.

“It’s going to be a cool event, it’s so crazy to see this place come back to life,” said Smith, driver of the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford. “It’s the perfect place for a throwback race. The infield is beautiful and it’s surrounded by a track with so much history. We are trying to figure out our truck and trying to see where we can be better and what adjustments we can make to it.” 

Smith says the unique North Wilkesboro layout, with a downhill frontstretch and uphill backstretch presents a unique challenge.

“I hope we can move around some come race time,” Smith continued. “If you miss the bottom in one and two you are going to pay for it in a big way. We put a lot of focus on handling today. It will be fun trying something new for one weekend.”

He says the buildup for this race throughout the NASCAR industry and sports world has been epic.

“You hear about this track every day in the shop and all of the legends of our sport talk about it and this is a place you always hear about,” Smith said. “The last few years you kept hearing rumors about this place possibly coming back and I think every racer loves short tracks. It was great to see Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. and others help make this place a reality.”

Hocevar said when he walked into the property he was in awe the whole time he was here.

“Rarely do you have a test where you are smiling the whole time you are out there going around the track,” said Hocevar, driver of the No. 42 Niece Motorsports Chevy. “It was a lot of fun to be out there today slipping and sliding around on this historic track. It sounds silly, but this is our ‘Field of Dreams.’ I’m not a baseball fan, but it was super cool to see that. This is just like that, this is our deal. Everyone has high expectations and hopefully we meet it. It felt like I was walking into a track where we weren’t supposed to be. I’m just really glad that NASCAR, Dale Jr. and the CARS Tour kept picking at it.  I wanna be the one that goes up that ramp over there (iconic infield Victory Lane on rooftop of Media Center). That is the coolest Victory Lane ever. If I do, I’m not leaving, I will watch the Cup race from there.” 

Heim, who had raced Late Models here in the past, said he felt like his team learned quite a bit during the session.

“I feel like we learned a lot and went through a lot of progressions like we normally do for short tracks,” said Heim, driver of the No. 11 TRICON Garage Toyota. “I feel like this track has a lot more grip than what some people said it had. When we come back in the summer when it will be a lot warmer it should be interesting. It’s really cool and a historic moment for NASCAR and racing in general. To see what NASCAR brings this summer is going to be really exciting. This is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s