Who… should you be talking about after the race?
There were crashes, fires and rain. 500 miles at sweltering Texas Motor Speedway seemed like a thousand and made it a race of perseverance. And persevered, Tyler Reddick did, taking the checkered flag in the AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 500 some five hours after the green, white-knuckling the closing laps just hoping his tires would hold out.
It’s a shame Reddick’s win will be overshadowed by the numerous tire failures that marred the race and contributed to most of the Texas record 16 caution flags because he ran a smart race and avoided trouble. That’s all you can ask from a race winner (and usually why they win in the first place). He led three times for a total of 70 laps, the most of any driver Sunday (Sept. 25).
Reddick wrested the lead on lap 218 from Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and had to battle Joey Logano for the top spot for a few laps, with Logano briefly leading one lap in the middle of it. But Reddick quickly took command back and from there it was more a race against his own equipment and the track from that point on. It’s Reddick’s third career win and third of 2022.
Following his elimination from the playoffs last week at Bristol, Reddick made it a fourth week in a row in which a title contender has not won a playoff race.
And don’t forget Justin Haley. He finished a solid third for Kaulig Racing on Sunday, earning his second top five of 2022. He hasn’t been a threat for wins, but has shown growth as the No. 31 team is quietly having a decent Cup debut season.
Now, Haley has a little momentum, coming off a 12th place at Bristol, and it’s coming at the perfect time. Up next, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Talladega Superspeedway, a track where Haley has two wins already in the Xfinity Series. If he can avoid trouble, he has as good a shot as anyone to reach victory lane there.
What… is the buzz about?
Texas has taken some flak from fans recently for providing racing that’s… not very good. This weekend, the drivers chimed in with their own opinions.
Turns out they don’t like it either.
Kyle Larson suggested tearing the track down and starting from scratch and, well, that should be a terrible idea. It’s expensive and that level of demolition and reconstruction within the year between race dates could be tight.
But it’s not a terrible idea. The track should not become another Atlanta Motor Speedway style pack race at a 1.5-mile intermediate that’s no longer working. If you like guaranteed crashes, that’s a great place to see them, but six attempts a year at big pack racing is plenty.
But a short track, or maybe a one-mile oval different from New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Dover International Speedway or World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway? Bring it on. Since NASCAR seems content not racing at Iowa Speedway, a similar track to that layout is also an option. Even if Texas wanted to keep some of the current infrastructure, perhaps a smaller track could be moved into the confines of what’s currently turns 1 and 2.
There are possibilities, and considering that the Next Gen didn’t bring nearly as much of an improvement as it has at some other 1.5-mile tracks, it’s time to think outside the box.
Where… did the other key players wind up?
Pole winner Brad Keselowski struggled with handling after the drop of the green flag, fighting a loose racecar. A slow loss of track position was accelerated by a speeding penalty on the first pit stop. Keselowski used strategy to claw back into it, and the changing track worked for him in stage two, climbing to fourth. By the end, Keselowski had one of the fastest cars on track and wound up a strong sixth.
All-Star Race winner Ryan Blaney won the first Next Gen event at Texas, but the All-Star format meant teams didn’t get to really try the car under the 500-mile, five-hour conditions they faced Sunday. For Blaney, the race started with an ill-handling Ford, but as the day wore on, he got better and better, running in the top three by the midpoint of stage two. The Team Penske outfit had a top-five car for the rest of the night and made the most of it, finishing fourth.
Defending race winner Larson had speed all day but wasn’t really able to capitalize on it. He led 19 laps and won stage one after a battle royale with Denny Hamlin, but wasn’t able to make it stick later on as the car wouldn’t quite handle to his liking. Larson had a big bobble late, but made an impressive save and recovered to finish a solid ninth.
When… was the moment of truth?
There are always questions surrounding a new racecar, but the Next Gen has produced more of them deeper into the season for teams than any chassis in recent memory. However, questions about the car and how it handles are one thing.
One thing that should not be a question is safety.
The Gen-6 car had its issues but was probably the safest racecar NASCAR has seen inside the top series. That’s something each successive generation of car should be looking to improve on. Instead, there are more questions with the Gen-7 raised every week.
The narrow sidewall in the tire used on this car is part of the issue; it doesn’t hold up to the torque the wider tire did, especially with lower air pressure. Yes, that’s partly on the teams to address, but other than aesthetics, is there a reason these special wheels and tires, which have had issues for much of the season, are necessary?
Cody Ware’s lap 168 hit was absolutely vicious. Ware climbed from his car but immediately sank to the ground before being put on a stretcher and taken to the infield care center by ambulance. Part of what made the crash as scary as it was was the exposed end of pit wall that Ware narrowly missed. Maybe that can be addressed going forward, though it would be difficult to change without handicapping the pit stalls in that position.
Cody Ware was treated and released after this hard crash at Texas.
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) September 26, 2022
But that part was a fluke. Whether it’s tire issues or something else, we may not be seeing significantly more crashes (though it seems they have increased overall this year); we’re seeing drivers more injured in them.
That has to stop. It’s a dark and dangerous road NASCAR is headed down.
Why… should you be paying attention this week?
If you think any driver is safe in the playoffs, think again. The Cup Series heads to big, bad Talladega next week, and well, while anything can happen at any track, it’s a given Talladega will claim a few cars (or half the field) over the course of an event.
The Round of 12 might just be the most grueling round of the playoffs. Texas is bumpy and difficult, Talladega is a game of chance, even for the best superspeedway drivers, and then it caps off with the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. It’s a track that’s added its share of mayhem to the playoffs in the past, entering just its fifth year on the circuit.
Teams had better be making nice with Lady Luck, or it could be a tough road to the next round. Currently below the cut line are Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman. None of them can have another bad race, but all of them also excel at either Talladega or the ROVAL, so it’s still wide open. Logano holds the lead, building a 30-point cushion after Texas, but Reddick’s win means nobody is locked in.
How… come NASCAR isn’t penalizing drivers for intentional moves under caution?
It was at this very track in 2011 where NASCAR took a hard line, and rightfully so, on intentionally wrecking another driver under caution. Kyle Busch turned Ron Hornaday into the wall under yellow during a Camping World Truck Series race and the sanctioning body came down hard on him, suspending Busch for the rest of the weekend for his actions and causing him to miss the Cup race on Sunday (Michael McDowell filled in).
But fast forward to 2022 and apparently, it’s OK to do that now. William Byron sent Hamlin sailing in the tri-oval under yellow after contact from Hamlin before the caution. Byron wasn’t so much as sent to the back of the field as a punishment.
Why no call from NASCAR? The move was both blatant and under caution; given the issues with drivers taking hits in this car, it’s a safety issue as well as a dirty move. Byron should have been parked immediately for his actions, and the playoffs should have no bearing on the (non)call.
No penalty for this?! Depends on who you are I see 🤷🏻♂️ https://t.co/dIrt6x4Lfk
— Kyle Busch (@KyleBusch) September 26, 2022
At this point, the only way to rectify their terrible decision would be to suspend Byron next weekend. Byron admitted that the move, if not the spin, was intentional. NASCAR would really be dropping the ball if they don’t come down hard.
And that wasn’t even the worst incident. When Ty Dillon unintentionally hit Ty Gibbs on pit road while exiting his pit, Gibbs then shoved Dillon hard to the left. Dillon nearly hit an official standing in a nearby pit stall as a result.
Ty Gibbs almost door-slammed Ty Dillon into a pit stall after Dillon got too close to him on pit road pic.twitter.com/vf3AMF9aYV
— Nick Bromberg (@NickBromberg) September 26, 2022
Gibbs absolutely should have been penalized for that action, in particular for the fact that officials and crew members were in Dillon’s path. Yet, nothing from the powers that be.
Letting the drivers police themselves is one thing. But there’s a line, and NASCAR needs to redefine it before someone gets seriously hurt.
About the author
Amy is an 18-year veteran NASCAR writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found filling in from time to time on The Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and her monthly commentary Holding A Pretty Wheel (Thursdays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.