Race Weekend Central

5 Points to Ponder: Power & Brakes Seem Like Things That Should Be Reliable

1. Things That Shouldn’t Happen During a Race, Part I: Failing Brakes

If you’ve watched NASCAR for any length of time, you know that parts failures are just part of the deal. When you have vehicles designed expressly to thumb their nose at physics by traveling as fast as possible for hundreds of miles, things are going to go wrong.

That was never more true than Sunday (June 4) at World Wide Technology Raceway (a.k.a. Gateway) near St. Louis. Carson Hocevar, making his first NASCAR Cup Series start and doing an excellent job in a cameo stint wheeling the No. 7 Chevrolet, had a brake rotor fail and end his day less than halfway through the Enjoy Illinois 300.

The official results show that Tyler Reddick, Noah Gragson and Bubba Wallace all earned DNFs due to accidents, which is technically true since they all crashed. Alas, they may not have wrecked if not for their brake rotor failures.

In the past, when NASCAR teams had more latitude to build cars the way they wanted, parts failures could often be chalked up to the organizations playing with fire and getting burned. Things like multiple engine failures in the same race by teams running motors from the same source come to mind.

That’s not the case with the Next Gen cars, which use single-source parts to standardize construction across the field. But that shifts the responsibility from the teams to NASCAR to make sure parts are reliable.

For whatever reason, brake rotors definitely weren’t on Sunday. Not only is that a danger to the drivers and unfair to the race teams, but the specific parts in question are also a bad look for the sport when they aren’t up to snuff. The last thing you want to do is tell a non-NASCAR fan that brakes were failing.

It’s year two for the Next Gen car, which means the bugs should be squashed by now for the most part. St. Louis made it clear they’re not, which is a depressing thought.

See also
The Big 6: Questions Answered After NASCAR Takes 5-Plus Hours to Run 300 Miles

2. Things That Shouldn’t Happen During a Race, Part II: Parts Flying Into the Crowd

When Gragson’s brake rotor gave out, it didn’t just mess up his car. Pieces of the rotor actually flew into the stands.

To his credit, Gragson responded to the original tweeter and said he hoped the fan was alright and that he would make it right for Mr. Glover if he wanted to DM the driver.

An even scarier incident took place at the Indianapolis 500 over Memorial Day weekend, where a wreck caused a tire from the car driven by Kyle Kirkwood to fly over the catch fence. Fortunately, it ended up missing all the fans and instead hit a Chevy Cruze in the IMS parking areas.

The Indy story has a happy ending, as Penske Entertainment is giving the Cruze owner a new car to replace her damaged vehicle. Similarly, none of the two NASCAR fans were injured, and they have fun stories to tell.

It’s also true that bad things can happen at any sporting event, and that fans assume some risk by being spectators. But any time debris enters the stands (or clears them, in the case of the tire), there needs to be a long, hard look at what can be done to prevent it from happening again.

3. Things That Shouldn’t Happen During a Race, Part III: Power Outages

In case brake parts giving out and flying into the stand wasn’t bad enough, the Enjoy Illinois 300 was also red flagged early on for lightning. And on top of that, the power went out at the track — relatively briefly, it must be said, and luckily during a caution instead of while cars were running full speed.

It’s not like this is the first time this occurred in the history of sport, and it could be chalked up to being a freak occurrence. Except that, as it happens, the track also lost power during the Truck Series race two years ago.

We get it. Fires and weather sometimes cause power outages, and people work to restore things as quickly as possible. It’s just a bit of a black eye for a venue whose future hosting NASCAR races seems to be continually up for debate.

Put another way, you don’t want to be known as “that track that keeps losing power during races.” Hopefully, the people in charge of the facilities at WWT Raceway figure out a way to get things buttoned up and avoid that becoming part of their legacy.

See also
Stock Car Scoop: Should Gateway Remain on Cup Schedule?

4. Being One-Upped By Your Fill-In Driver is Never a Good Thing

Before the aforementioned abrupt end to Hocevar’s day, he was doing an excellent job filling in for Corey LaJoie in the No. 7 car. It was the kind of performance that was an eye-opener, though to say that no one had considered the 20-year-old Hocevar an up-and-coming prospect prior to this weekend’s race would certainly not be true.

The only reason Hocevar got the opportunity in the first place is that LaJoie was doing relief work himself, driving the No. 9 Chevrolet while Chase Elliott served a one-race suspension. LaJoie was … fine, I guess? He finished 21st while Hocevar ended up dead last in 36th, so if you didn’t know the whole story of the race, you’d say Hendrick Motorsports made the right call and oh well, a rookie crashed out in last driving the No. 7.

The thing is, before his brake rotor gave up the ghost, Hocevar was running consistently better lap times than LaJoie in much lesser equipment. Small sample size aside, that makes it perfectly within reason to wonder whether Hocevar would turn in better performances if he was the driver of LaJoie’s car on a regular basis.

It’s not even a purely hypothetical question. LaJoie’s exact contract length with Spire Motorsports is unknown but is thought to run only through this year. LaJoie is a great story in his own right, and he apparently learned some things from his HMS experience he believes he can bring back to Spire.

But the fact is that he’s 11 years older, and now Spire has seen what Hocevar can do when given the opportunity. Someone in the Chevrolet camp seems likely to give Hocevar a Cup look soon, so why wouldn’t Spire act to make sure they can do it first?

This wasn’t necessarily a silly season story prior to this week, but it feels like one now.

5. Top Championship Contenders Aren’t the Usual Suspects

Long way to go and all that, but the Cup Series drivers who look most like title contenders right this second aren’t necessarily the ones you’d probably have picked prior to the Daytona 500.

William Byron has arguably the best results for the season to date. He’s tied for the lead in wins, first in top fives, tied for the lead in top 10s and has the most stage wins and laps led.

Ryan Blaney has put his winless streak behind him, has found the consistency that has previously eluded him (nine top 10s, tied with Byron, and zero DNFs) and looks like the class of the Ford camp.

If anyone doubted Kyle Busch, it was only because he was joining an RCR organization that hadn’t won much in recent years and might experience some growing pains. But he already has three wins and has shown up at the end of races several times.

Others are lurking. Kyle Larson probably just needs better luck. Denny Hamlin already has a ‘W.’ You can’t ever count out Joey Logano or Martin Truex Jr. Ross Chastain feels like he’s only a hair off his form from 2022, and Chase Elliott is the ultimate midseason wild card following a tumultuous first part of the campaign.

Still, the regular season is more than halfway done and the drivers who have shown out so far very well might be in it well into the playoffs. None of the three drivers who look the best to date were in last year’s Championship 4, so if you want a year-to-year shakeup, it’s certainly possible this fall.

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kb

Would have liked to have seen Corey’s replacement for the one race, finish it. Corey is one of those drivers that does not impress, his numbers speak to that. Not impressive. Because he comes from a NASCAR family, the familial ties have served him very well regarding his employment as a driver, imo. Nothing personal, just an observation.

dawg

Sunday proved beyond a doubt, that the current brake package will not work at WWTR.

The fact that the track was basically left for dead, & now has been given a second chance. Is not much short of a miracle. I’d really hate it drop off the schedule, especially in view of the fan support.

But for that not to happen, there will need to be extensive testing to find a brake package that will work.

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