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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Zach’s Turn: Does NASCAR Need to Address Minimum-Speed Issues?

The discrepancy between NASCAR’s fastest and its slowest appeared to be on full display during Sunday’s (May 30) Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

As leaders like Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott stormed around the 1.5-mile racetrack, lapped cars like David Starr and Josh Bilicki seemed to be on screen getting passed — or used as picks — every 10 laps.

Before we get into the meat of this column, a disclaimer: In no way is this meant to take any shots at drivers at the rear of the field. Their equipment isn’t meant to compete with powerhouse organizations like Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing or Team Penske.

But therein lies the problem. The cars of Rick Ware Racing and MBM Motorsports aren’t in the same league as anyone else in the field. Everyone is running their own race, sure. This, though, is becoming a black eye on NASCAR’s premier division.

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How is it that Justin Haley in the No. 77 Chevrolet for Spire Motorsports finished 28th, five laps down, and his nearest competition was Cody Ware in 30th, who finished 11 laps down? (Martin Truex Jr. finished 29th following a late left-front tire failure that presented more issues than the crew bargained for.)

Why are we accepting a six-lap differential between the competition? Certainly, equipment varies from team to team. Most people expect leaders to put multiple cars multiple laps down. However, at this portion of the field, there is such a significant drop in speed from 32nd on back that the question begs asking: Is it time for NASCAR to enforce stricter minimum-speed rules?

The No. 66 Toyota, driven by Starr, finished 31 laps down and was penalized mid-race for failing to meet minimum speed. Remember what I mentioned at the top of the column? That feeling of seeing Starr on screen every 10 laps? Let me correct that: He was getting lapped, on average, every 13 laps.

The disparity was shocking, with front-runners Kyle Busch and William Byron regularly using cars like Bilicki’s as traps to complete important passes in the top five. Those traps about caused leaders to run right over the slower traffic.

Yet some of the sport’s stars are used to it, including Elliott, the defending Cup Series champion and defending Most Popular Driver.

“As bad as I hate to say this, [it was] pretty normal here in the last couple years, so I wasn’t super surprised by any of it, to be real honest,” Elliott said post-race.

Should NASCAR get involved? Elliott declined to opine, a stance he’s often taken — and perhaps rightfully so in order to avoid getting onto officials’ bad side.

“Man, I can’t answer that. I really try hard to stay out of the official calls,” he said. “That typically doesn’t get me anywhere good, so I’m not sure.”

Larson said he was able to navigate the slow cars with ease, but it was the quicker lapped traffic that complicated things.

“I got stuck behind the [No.] 10 [of Aric Almirola] a couple different times and maybe somebody else one other time,” Larson said. “That really allowed the guys in second to close on me, because I was just stalled out and making things worse by trying to get aggressive to pass.

“With this package and us running up in the PJ1, it was just kind of narrow up there, and you’re just a little bit stuck in their dirty air.”

Slow cars on track are nothing new in NASCAR. That has routinely been a product of the sport’s ease of entry: build a car per the rule book, enter it and compete with it. So much, though, has changed.

The cars that appeared dangerously off-pace were perhaps just two or three of the 43 entries. Now, in a 40-car field at max, the number of slower cars has upped to at least six.

It’s easy to point to the current charter system and question how appropriately some teams are using them in regards to competition, like RWR or StarCom Racing. The drivers — with or without experience — are dealt the machine they’re dealt and have to find a way to somehow stay out of the leaders’ path while knowing they’re a moving road block.

(As a quick aside, kudos to Bilicki for reminding us that perspective on all things matters.)

Additionally, the implementation of the Next Gen car in 2022 should erase much of the dramatic gap between a Spire Motorsports entry and a Rick Ware entry.

Neither that nor the charters, though, fix the issue in the now.

The closing rates at many of these ovals present situations that can easily lead to a race-deciding moment where the leader is held up by a car running 20 mph slower than his and losing the top spot.

Again, nothing insinuates this circumstance is brand new. It’s always existed in NASCAR. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s pass on Brad Keselowski at Pocono Raceway in 2014 comes to mind after Keselowski tried to use the lapped car of Danica Patrick to wipe debris off the grille of his car.

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But NASCAR has an opportunity to offer in-race solutions, like upping the minimum speed of its competitors.

And if the sanctioning body is serious about safety, this is a conversation worth having.

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DoninAjax

Some drivers are better in traffic than others. But check the qualifying speeds of the cars that are problems.

John

An interesting debate. Nascar requires 36 to start every race…and those teams pay for that
privilege. The back marker teams have met the requirements. My guess, they will still be
back marker teams next year with the new car. It takes resources to run up front, if you’re up front you gain resources from sponsor dollars. You can’t penalize back markers for being back markers. Take away their charters and you kill the charter system. It would be of more value for Nascar to dedicate their time and energy into assisting the back marker teams find sponsors to elevate their game and improve the show, rather than pocket the money cash is senseless promotions like “the official pencil sharpener of Nascar.”

Christopher

Now wait just a darn minute, I love my official NASCAR pencil sharpener. I keep it right next to my official NASCAR Post-It-Note holder.

Jo

So you want a “welfare system” for inferior teams?

JW Farmer

John, well said. NASCAR has always had slow cars in the field and personally, I believe we should still have double file restarts without Lucky Dogs and wave-arounds-make the driver work for the win. Penalizing slower teams would do nothing but harm the sport.

Jo

Realistically, there aren’t 36 cars capable of winning. There aren’t 36 cars capable of finishing on the lead lap. If NASCAR wants the money from 36 charters, fine. Let them start 36. But as soon as they go X number of laps down or fail to maintain a more realistic minimum speed, park them and let them collect their checks. The charters have nothing to do with getting moving chicanes off the track.

NASCAR keeps hyping itself as having the best drivers in the world. That is so obviously NOT TRUE. The best drivers are in F1, Indy car and IMSA. NASCAR should not be a charity for underfunded, undertalented teams.

JW Farmer

LOL F-1? Their cars are simply moving computers. NASCAR vehicles weigh twice the amount and are harder to steer.

Jo

LOL – stock cars? Family sedans?

Jo

It’s like comparing the skill of a butcher (NASCAR) to the skill of a brain surgeon (F1).

Dav_Daddy

No it’s more like comparing the skill of someone cuts down trees to the skill of someone who sits in a cab and presses a button to do the same.

F1 drivers have world class neck muscles, fast reflexes and that’s about it. I’d be willing to bet NHRA drivers have faster reflexes so now we’re left with just neck muscles.

As a side note WRC has the best drivers. To drive the way those people do on an unprepared surface is a feat without equal in motorsport. So the list for best drivers should go.

1. WRC
2. NASCAR/Aussie Super Trucks
3. Indy
4. F1

RCFx1

Start with qualifying speeds. If they aren’t up to speed right out of the gate, it’s not going to get better. Larson qualified at 180.282. Davison (171.467), Smithley (171.434), Bilicki (171.054), and Starr (163.285) weren’t even close. I don’t know if that falls within F1’s 107% rule but at the very least, Starr shouldn’t have been allowed to run.

JW Farmer

I want to see full fields, not MORE regulation. You guys are probably the same people that complain about everything that makes up NASCAR. THERE has always been a speed disparity, even in the early 50s. Don’t fix what isn’t broken. Lapped cars create a challenge for the leaders and fasters cars to circumvent. Penalizing them is like the stupid DVP rule-I remember the days when a driver would wreck, fall 40 laps down and then return to the race. The race isn’t supposed to be “easy” or have “wrestling like” controls.

TiminPayson

Get a charter. Sell the seat. This is today’s formula for 25% of the field.

Dave in Ohio

Lap cars are part of every form of motorsports, from the pure stocks at your local dirt track, to winged sprint cars, to Na$car. Dealing with lap traffic is part of the skill set required of a winning driver. All part of the game. If you haven’t figured out how to deal with lap cars by the time you are at the supposed pinnacle of the motorsports world, maybe you need to find a different job to do on Sunday.

Bill B

Agree but there has to be a limit to how much of an obstacle a car can be before they make it park. I think we would all agree that if there was a car out there running 10 mph that it should be parked because it’s a danger given the conditions (a bunch of other cars running as fast as they can). There are some that think if the car can’t be within 5 mph of the avg qualifying speed they should be parked.
Now we just have to agree on where that line is. But there has to be a line.

Dave in Ohio

Na$car has and enforces a minimum speed like every track.

DoninAjax

With the apparent difference in speed of some of the lapped cars NA$CAR needs to raise the minimum speed and ENFORCE it.

Bob

First requirement to drive in cup should be to have won a race in the lower series. Many of those back marker drivers have no wins in any other series.

Say Lavie

It’s partly the low HP package. The 1.5 milers become momentum tracks. A lapper is forever out of the gas, trying to get out of the way. So what might just be the normal group of lapped cars with an unrestricted package become rolling speed bumps with the low HP package.

Plus, as others have pointed out, you buy a charter and you sell a seat.

It’s a shame to see the lesser funded teams be vilified like this. It’s another example of the ‘common man’ being further removed from NASCAR. The move away from any stock components is part of that too. NASCAR is slowly poisoning itself. It is what it is.

Dav_Daddy

They absolutely do not need to fix something that ain’t broken. It’s called RACING. Dealing with lapped traffic is part of racing. Just like using slower cars as a pick is part of what is known as RACECRAFT.

If you don’t like lapped traffic go watch another motorsport. There’s always F1 where nobody really passes anyone else all that often? It should be right up your alley since you seem to dislike stockcar racing so much.

Lloyd

I like this article and it touches on some key points. I personally don’t mind that 36 or possibly a couple more start a race but after awhile it’s very obvious that a few cars are just out there getting lapped because they just compete. I don’t enjoy watching the same cars get lapped every race time after time. It’s just not interesting anymore at that point and as a fan I start to turn away. NASCAR needs to discuss this further in order to keep the fan base they have.

Stephen hite

The only way to get rid of the so called backmarkers is for nascar to give these teams help. You look at Hendrick and Childress and jgr and shr and rousch-fenway, these teams have 100’s of employees and can build cars for each type of track. The part time teams usually by the chasis from a bigger team and also buy the engine. A small team like mhm will mostly run the same chassis at Daytona and Talladega, then have car for tracks bristol.Richmond and Martinsville then a car for the road courses and 1 mile tracks. Some of these smaller teams fund there entire season on last place money from the daytona 500

Jo

Which begs the question, why have the backmarkers at all? You want NASCAR to be a welfare prohram?

Gene steinhilper

It seems to me that every week nascar comes out with new or revised rules. They have given too much power to themselves. Soon they will be deciding who wins the race and who looses.since when is a Chevy a ford or a toyota??? When all the design and parts are from nascar, who needs all this racing! Used to be us common folks could watch a race on TV without nascar running everything down to which channel broadcast race.they (nascar) is too big for their own britches. Why ?

John M

It seems to me the 66 and it’s driver are complained about a lot when you listen to the spotters. What’s worse, I was listenign to that team for a while after the penalty for minimum speed and that’s all they were shooting for. They weren’t even trying to improve on what they had they were trying for minimum speed. That needs to be fixed, 3.5 seconds off the pace and seemingly trying to not get any slower, as opposed to not trying to get any faster, is not good. I don’t know how to fix it but maybe after a certain point in the race, the minimum speed should be raised, possibly based off an average of the top 10 or something.

DoninAjax

Maybe it should be treated like an Australian Pursuit. Every so many laps, the last place car is eliminated. He was never going to be mentioned during the broadcast anyway.

Cecil Tipton

My father told me when I was young ……to remember that it takes money to buy whiskey and ride the train…. The difference between a front running team Is About 45 million dollars….. A team like fedex with Denny Hamlin has a budget of about 40 million dollars plus Toyota money …the teams in the back of the field are lucky to have 2 or 3 million dollars plus the purse money… Rumour has it Gibbs has an open pocket book from Toyota….

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