Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud at Bristol: ‘Crappy Parts’ Have Affected NASCAR’s Playoff Outcome

What happened?

Chris Buescher held onto the lead after winning the last race off pit road to score his second career NASCAR Cup Series win Saturday (Sept. 17) at Bristol Motor Speedway. Chase Elliott, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson rounded out the top five.

Tyler Reddick, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon and Kevin Harvick were all eliminated from the playoffs. It is the first time Busch has been cut from the postseason in the first round.

Buescher became the fourth consecutive new winner and continues the trend of non-playoff drivers winning in the postseason. He was also the 19th different winner this year, which ties 2001 for most in the modern NASCAR era.

How did it happen?

With a little help from a solid pit stop, good track position, and, as always, some luck.

Early on, it had already appeared as though RFK Racing was well on the way of breaking its five-year winless streak on Saturday night, albeit not by way of Buescher.

Team co-owner and driver Brad Keselowski won stage one, which was his first stage victory of 2022, and he led 109 laps throughout the night before his right-front tire went down on lap 413. He relinquished the lead to Bell, who was the only Toyota that had not suffered some kind of mechanical issue thus far.

Until he did too with 64 laps to go.

The tire failure of the No. 20 brought out the final caution of the night and had put Larson in command of the field. The No. 5 Chevrolet brought what was left of the lead lap onto pit road for the final time.

However, he did not lead them out. That honor instead went to Buescher, whose team had decided to change two tires rather than four for a shot at track position.

The call worked wonders, as with a solid restart, Buescher took the lead and led the final 61 laps to win his first race of 2022 and the first in five years for RFK Racing.

Who stood out?

With all of the talk about playoff drivers and silly seasons making a buzz in the media centers of NASCAR, it’s sometimes easy to forget there are so many other non-playoff teams that are still out fighting for wins every week.

RFK Racing demanded that everyone remember it on Saturday.

Buecher’s victory was not only his first Cup win since August 2016, but it was also the first for the once mighty powerhouse team of RFK in over five years.

For almost all season, fans have been questioning the 2012 Cup Series champion’s decision to leave his comfortable position at the competitive Team Penske in order to take on a challenging ownership role.

They had good reason too. Keselowski has still yet to earn any top fives in all 29 races of 2022 and has only finished in the top 10 four times. That’s a far cry from his performance last year with Penske, where he had earned seven top fives, 12 top 10s and a win by this point of the season.

But on Saturday, those critics fell silent among a roaring crowd in the Last Great Colosseum.

On top of Buescher earning Keselowski his first Cup win as a car owner, both drivers had practically dominated the 500-lap event by leading a combined 278 circuits. That’s more than half of the race. You would have to look all the way back to Phoenix Raceway in March 2013 to find the last time the team led over 50% of a Cup Series event.

Both Roush and Keselowski have a way to go before they return to their former glory, but Saturday was clearly a step in the right direction.

Who fell flat?

The right front tires of almost every Team Penske car.

It wasn’t a night that originally saw Ryan Blaney in any danger of being eliminated from the playoffs with a whopping 36-point lead over the cut line. In fact, at first, the No. 12 appeared to be one of the teams to beat.

His teammate Austin Cindric was still two points above the cut line as well. While a far less comfortable cushion, the No. 2 still had a slight advantage and was a decent race away from qualifying for the Round of 12.

However, after a tire failure from both cars mere laps away from one another, the duo was playing offense once again in the playoff elimination game.

The night dragged on for the Nos. 2 and 12. Both Blaney and Cindric stayed on track and limped their way around the half-mile circuit for the rest of the night, making cameos on the NBC broadcast every so often as cars whizzed by them in lapped traffic.

However, both drivers stayed in the race, and that’s what mattered. Blaney stayed comfortably above the cut line and Cindric barely squeezed his way into the Round of 12 by only two points despite their abhorrent fortune.

See also
Austin Cindric Advances Thanks to Toyota Blues

Likely because, while the Team Penske luck was bad, that of Joe Gibbs Racing was downright embarrassing.

At one point or another, every single Toyota in the field was off the pace for some reason. Whether it be for a flat tire, a power steering failure or a complete engine evaporation, none of the manufacturer’s cars were safe on Saturday night.

Both Bell and Denny Hamlin had flat right-front tires later in the event, but both were able to recover nicely and earned top-10 finishes.

The same cannot be said of their teammates.

Martin Truex Jr. felt the sting early as his power steering failed on his No. 19. He retired on lap 198. Soon after, Toyotas started dropping like flies.

Bubba Wallace and Ty Gibbs both had similar power steering failures and brought their cars behind the wall shortly after Truex.

Thankfully, however, none of the playoff Toyotas had been affected by mechanical failures at that point, and it seemed maybe the manufacturer would escape postseason disaster yet.

Until smoke began billowing out of the No. 18 of Kyle Busch.

Busch was having a substantial day at that point. Despite starting the race below the playoff cut line, he had scored 14 points through stage finishes and was running in the top 10. Rowdy fans were breathing collective sighs of relief before his engine expired.

While, at first, he was seemingly still on the path to qualify for the Round of 12, the stationary Busch could only helplessly watch as Cindric recovered from his early flat tire to overtake the Candyman in the standings during the waning moments of the 500-lap event, bumping him out of the top 12 and out of the playoffs.

The engine failure marked Busch’s second in the Round of 16 and coincidentally his second of the year.

How odd that it occurred only days after Rowdy announced his departure from Toyota and JGR.

What did this race prove?

There’s been a lot of praise for the Next Gen car on this year’s editions of Thinkin’ Out Loud. But after this week, there’s a line to be drawn.

Had it not been for the countless tire failures and power steering issues, the playoff brackets we see now would look very different. And who wants an outside, uncontrollable source to affect the outcome of a sport’s championship?

Especially when that uncontrollable source is, as how both Harvick and Truex put it, “crappy parts.”

Bristol is meant to be a wild night full of unexpected happenings in all of its short track racing goodness. However, the concrete half-mile is unexpected because of the x-factor sitting behind the wheel in every car, not because of what’s sitting under the hood.

Above anybody else, Busch knows it all too well. After all, he’s won at Bristol eight times in his career in Cup alone. Despite being two points below the cut line prior to Saturday, it seemed like a safe bet that Busch was going to make the Round of 12 before his engine blew on lap 271.

However, that’s an engine failure, right? That’s not the Next Gen car’s fault.

Maybe not, but while Busch may not have been a casualty of the Next Gen car’s performance, countless others were. Because of them, Rowdy will not advance into the Round of 12.

One such casualty was Cindric, who blew a right front tire early in stage one. It seemed all hope was lost for this year’s Daytona 500 champion. Busch, who despite blowing an engine later on, was still within the top 12 in the standings by only a few points with Cindric on the outside.

However, that high attrition rate kept climbing, and instead of watching Cindric race hard to fight for those extra points, fans watched as he simply limped around long enough to pass cars that were long extinguished and behind the wall. It left everyone watching the race in the garage rather than the one on the track as playoff drivers traveled in and out of the infield to pick up any scraps of points from retiring cars. Exciting stuff, right?

In all, Cindric’s teammate Joey Logano and Aric Almirola became the last Next Gen casualties for him to pass as they retired behind the wall after suspension and power steering failures plagued them in the closing laps of the race.

Nobody wants to see a car that doesn’t work properly, and to its credit, it’s done very well for a majority of the season. However, having a vehicle that breaks at one of the most beloved tracks on the calendar will leave a bad taste in many fans’ mouths, popular winner or not.

Especially when those failing parts end some drivers’ championship hopes.

Better than last time?

It’s no secret that the Next Gen car has been underperforming at short tracks. If you were able to look past all of the playoff craziness that we saw from failing parts on Saturday, you’d notice that trend continued.

That’s especially true in the case of the leader.

There were only two on-track green flag pass for the lead on Saturday night. It was when Blaney passed Almirola for the lead on lap 36 and when Keselowski passed Larson for the lead on lap 388. All of the rest were from pit stops and parts failures for leaders.

That doesn’t mean it was the worst race of the year, but it certainly was a downgrade from last year’s Bristol night race, which saw multiple passes for the top spot and a fun rivalry become born from it.

There were seven leaders last year that exchanged first-place 24 times in 2021. On Saturday, there were only 12 lead changes.

If it weren’t for the playoff implications and a fun new winner for 2022, Bristol’s night race would have been a bust for many. Heck, it probably still is. Bristol was the last dominion for short tracks for the Next Gen car to prove itself, and, unfortunately, it failed.

For NASCAR, the clock is ticking to improve the Next Gen for short tracks. Another one just got added to the schedule for next year’s All-Star Race, and with all of the hype surrounding it, letting it fail is not an option.

Paint scheme of the race

Amidst all of the Bristol night race excitement, the majority of fans watching probably didn’t know that Sunday, Sept. 17, marked the 75th birthday for the United States Air Force.

Well, nobody except Erik Jones.

It certainly wasn’t the busiest paint scheme, as it wrapped the No. 43 Chevrolet in a black primary livery inspired by the famous B-29 Super Fortress bomber, leaving it a little lacking in imagination or bright eye-catching colors.

That being said, any paint scheme that brings the Secretary of the Air Force out to sit on a pit box for a NASCAR race should have a little spotlight, right?

Frank Kendall could’ve been doing a number of things on his military branch’s 75th birthday, but instead, he went to a NASCAR race in Tennessee. That’s pretty cool.

What’s next?

The Round of 12 begins.

The Cup Series travels to Texas Motor Speedway for its only points race of the year. The venue will host the Cup Series’ first race in the second playoff round with the AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 500. Cup qualifying begins on Saturday, Sept. 24 at 1:20 p.m. ET with the race televised live on USA Network on Saturday, Sept. 25 at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Follow @PitLaneLT

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021 after a staff writing position with IMSA. A race fan since he was three years old, he began freelance writing in 2018 and graduated with a B.S. in Communications from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

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Sally Baker

This wasn’t a race, it was a joke. In fact, the entire ‘playoff’ so far has been pretty pathetic. It has become a matter of survival, rather than excellence.

Dale EarnHog

This is the problem with having Playoffs in motorsports. There are simply too many elements that majorly affect the outcome that aren’t in the drivers’ control. Engine failures, fires, blown tires, and wrecks happening right in front of you can ruin your Playoff chances despite running a solid 3 race mini season. King Richard I was right in saying that the reason the sport blew up was because it was different from anything else the sports market had.

Bill B

Congrats to Buescher, he finally got a legitimate win much like Bubba last week. No rain, no fuel mileage, no restrictor plates just finishing ahead of everyone else.

Every short track race this year has been sub-par. In fact, the majority of drama in any race this year has been shortcomings of the new car (part failures, tire failures, problems with tire changes on pit stops resulting in penalties or slow pit stops, etc.). This is also the number one reason for what most are calling parity and the reason we have 19 winners this year. When you have random parts failures it just adds to the already crapshoot nature of the current NASCAR rules package.

Am I the only one who thought it was fishy that lil’ Hey-Zeus Gibbs brought his car in right before he was going to surpass Kyle Busch in the running order to help Busch stay ahead of Cindric in the points? And then, a few minutes later Logano retires his car to help Cindric in the points. Both probably were legit given all the failures during the night, but the timing of the failures sure looked like they were both scratching their itches to help a teammate.

One other observation. It almost seemed like fate was sucking Kyle Busch down to the level of his future teammates. Sort of like welcome to RCR, get used to being on a second tier team. Of course with all the ridiculous issues in Saturday night’s race, it was just a crapshoot as to who made the next round and who didn’t.

Carl D.

All four of the drivers that were eliminated had ties to Childress… too bad I’m out of tin foil.

Frank

The problem with the tires is low profile tires are crap on heavy cars. The single locking nut is a lousy idea. Need to go back to the five lug nuts. If you look at the blown tires you can see they are ripped apart from not being able to roll over enough to take the stress. We are not supposed to be road racing, we are supposed to be stock car racing. Nascar needs to wake up and back up a couple steps.

gbvette

Maybe if NASCAR had run on Bristol’s concrete in the spring, instead of on that stupid dirt, the (supposedly track related) tire and power steering issues might have shown up then. Goodyear could have developed a compound compatible with Bristol’s surface, and NASCAR would have had time to figure out what was going on with the power steering, before either of the problems effected playoff drivers.

NASCAR has has eliminated most practice and testing, in the name of saving money, but I really wonder how much teams actually save? In past years, when you had a couple hours of testing on Fridays, issues often showed up, allowing them to be corrected by race day. I have to think that what they save in tires, meals, hotels etc on Friday, may be more than offset by what they lose in points, prize money, broken and/or damaged cars on a Sunday, when they miss the set up ahead of time, tire problems develop, or something else that could have been discovered in practice, happens during a race?

Last edited 15 days ago by gbvette
Charlie

Education time:
Despite what Steve Odonell, Steve Phelps, Ben Kennedy, Dave Moody, and I could go on, say, NASCAR is NOT an “Industry.” And that is not correct. NASCAR IS a Monopoly. There is no industry. Now, they single-source many of the parts, which is also a monopoly. Product doesn’t improve without competition. You get what you get.
Parts will not improve as long as this is an issue. Monopoly and the economic system (not government) communism are related. There is no incentive to improve the parts because there are two options: take it or leave it. But please, this is not related to HOW it is governed, it is why the parts issues happen

wildcats2016

It wasn’t a great race but personally I don’t have a problem with a car continuing to run to make up points if other competitors have had a problem. Hey if the stupid playoffs weren’t in play, this whole thing would be different.

DoninAjax

NA$CAR now reminds me of a song…

M-I-C…..K-E-Y….M-O-U-S-E!!!!!!

Echo

lol

DoninAjax

Very interesting article:

Newfound Next Gen parity exposes weakness in Playoff format
http://racinboysscoop.com/news/news.asp?NewsID=88594

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