What can be done to fix overtime?
Last Sunday (Feb. 19) treated viewers to a story that they have become all too familiar with at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, as an intense battle for the lead in the closing laps was ruined by a spin and a late caution.
Twelve extra laps and two subsequent overtime restarts junked half the field, only for the race to end under caution anyway. By the end of the race, the finishing order had no resemblance to the running order after lap 200.
Kyle Busch, who was the leader when overtime began, was not a happy camper as another chance at Daytona 500 glory slipped out of his fingertips.
The same story is told almost every year. It’s the biggest race of the season, and the ‘give’ in give and take goes out the window in the closing laps. The drivers go out guns blazing with nothing to lose on overtime restarts, and the viewers are usually left with a glorified demolition derby that decides the winner.
It’s outright embarrassing. The NASCAR Cup Series is the pinnacle of stock car racing, yet time and time again, the drivers cannot make it two laps without wrecking at the end. Even worse that it comes in the Daytona 500, the one day of the year where NASCAR has a reach beyond its diehard fanbase. What message does it send to casual viewers when NASCAR’s Super Bowl ends with a great display of ineptitude?
Overtime – the rule that has led to many of these finishes – was first implemented in 2004. But overtime itself isn’t the culprit, as these types of finishes have only become the norm in the last few seasons. So what went wrong, and what can be done to fix it?
Ending races at the scheduled distance, while a solution, would not be a popular one; there’s a reason why this was done away with in the first place. What should be experimented with, however, is bringing back single-file restarts in the final 10 laps.
Overtime finishes in the 2000s decade rarely devolved into chaos because the drivers restarted single file and they only had one attempt at finishing the race under green. Double-file restarts have absolutely contributed to the mania at Daytona and Talladega, because these endings are all a matter of which line gets the best push. And if one line of cars is moving in the wrong direction, the drivers get impulsive and impatient.
With single file restarts, the drivers wouldn’t have to worry about pushing the car in front with all their might. Instead, the game turns to sizing up runs while running in line in order to make passes on the outside.
Sure, it’s not a 100% foolproof system, but it would significantly diminish the number of races that end like this, which is something that the owners and drivers alike would appreciate. It’s worth a try.
What is Austin Hill’s future at Richard Childress Racing?
If there is one word to describe Austin Hill at superspeedways in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, it would be sensational. In seven races at Daytona, Talladega and Atlanta Motor Speedway since debuting in Richard Childress Racing’s No. 21 car, Hill has put up the following results:
- Won (Daytona)
- Runner-up (Atlanta)
- Crash, led the most laps (Talladega)
- Won, led the most laps (Atlanta)
- Led but ran out of fuel with two laps to go (Daytona)
- Led the most laps (Talladega)
- Won, led the most laps (Daytona)
He’s been a factor to win in all seven superspeedway races at RCR, a feat that is even more impressive when considering the lottery that superspeedway races can turn into.
Hill has not scored a Xfinity Series win at a track that doesn’t rely on drafting help, but he came close a few times last season with runner-up finishes at Circuit of the Americas and Texas Motor Speedway. He’s fresh off of taking home rookie of the year honors in 2022, and he absolutely has the room to improve for 2023.
RCR also has decisions to make down the road, as its current Cup Series lineup of Austin Dillon and Busch won’t be going anywhere. The team could expand to three cars in the future, but RCR has been a two-car team since the start of 2018.
If Hill makes a great leap in performance this season, RCR should considering expanding the Cup program for Hill in either 2024 or 2025 (otherwise, someone else will). And given his prowess at superspeedways, Hill, at the very minimum, should be driving for RCR at Daytona, Talladega and Atlanta for years to come in the Cup Series.
Cole Custer won the Xfinity race a year ago. Is he the favorite once again?
Cole Custer is back in the Xfinity Series for 2023, and he started off the year by scoring his first ever top-10 finish at Daytona in a NASCAR national touring series. Xfinity now heads to Auto Club Speedway this weekend, a race that Custer won a year ago while running a part-time schedule for SS-Green Light Racing.
With two Xfinity wins at Auto Club and a dominating performance fresh on everyone’s mind, he’ll be the driver to beat once again.
What gives Custer a leg up over the rest of the competition this year is that he won’t be racing against Noah Gragson and Trevor Bayne, the two drivers that gave him a run for his money in this race a year ago.
But given these circumstances, the pressure on the No. 00 team this Saturday (Feb. 25) will be enormous. Custer was demoted from the Cup Series, and with Gragson, AJ Allmendinger and Ty Gibbs – drivers that won 20 of the 33 races last season – all moving up to Cup, it is Custer’s perfect opportunity to shine. If he dominates and comes away with a trophy, he’ll have established himself as an early title contender. But if he is an absolute no-show on Saturday, everyone’s hands will collectively draw closer to the panic button.
Which drivers have the best chance of dethroning Chevrolet in the Cup race?
Chevrolet is the one word that can describe Auto Club in the last decade-plus. Nine of the last 14 races at the track were won by the manufacturer, and Busch, who was responsible for three of the five wins by Toyota and Ford, is back in a bowtie this season.
The debut of the Next Gen car did not hinder Chevy’s dominance either, as Kyle Larson won the 2022 race while the bowties collectively led 164 of the 200 laps.
Any spoilers in the race will likely come from the Toyota camp. Martin Truex Jr. won in dominating fashion in 2018, while Denny Hamlin has the most laps led (147) of active drivers at Auto Club without a win. 23XI Racing also acquired Tyler Reddick in the offseason, who dominated last year’s race with RCR before losing a tire.
In contrast, Ford’s lone win at Auto Club since 2009 came in 2015. Team Penske has been stout at the track despite the drought, however, as Joey Logano finished runner-up in 2019 and was one of the best cars in last year’s race. Furthermore, Ryan Blaney was the second-best car behind Alex Bowman in 2020.
All signs point to Chevy dominance once again this weekend, but these five drivers have the best chance of pulling off an upset.
About the author
Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.
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