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Producer teamwork at ‘Dega fraught with questions

Toyota devised the blueprint. Ford enhanced it. And Chevrolet took classes from each to win the previous two races at Talladega and Daytona by having its groups work collectively.

I really feel like Chevy has type of taken that to the subsequent stage not too long ago to the place all of us have to determine a technique to beat that,” Joey Logano mentioned.

For followers who lengthy for the nice ol’ days of producer battles, Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC) will present that sort of motion. However it does create some thorny points with this being a playoff race. Resembling:

  • How lengthy ought to drivers inside the identical producer work collectively?
  • What if a non-playoff driver is racing a playoff driver from the identical producer for the win?
  • How can Toyota, which has fewer automobiles than Chevrolet and Ford, compete?

There’s a lot at stake this weekend, significantly for Chevrolet, which has not had a driver race for the championship in Miami since Jimmie Johnson gained the 2016 title. Kyle Larson is ready for the subsequent spherical through final week’s win at Dover, however Chevy’s different three remaining playoff drivers will not be in a safe spot.

Alex Bowman is seventh within the standings 17 factors forward of Logano, who’s the primary driver outdoors a switch spot. William Byron holds that ultimate switch spot through a tiebreaker with Logano. Chase Elliott, who gained at Talladega in Could, is seven factors behind Byron.

Toyota began the pattern of groups inside a producer working collectively in 2016, resulting in Denny Hamlin’s Daytona 500 win and a 1-2-Three Toyota end. Ford used its strengths in numbers and gained seven consecutive races at Daytona and Talladega earlier than Austin Dillon’s Daytona 500 win in 2018. 

The extra automobiles working collectively, the extra that group can dictate the race.

It wasn’t till after Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota) and Hendrick Motorsports (Chevrolet) labored collectively on this yr’s Daytona 500 to counter the Fords that Chevrolet executives ordered their groups to work collectively beginning at Talladega in late April.

“The advantage of working collectively is simply too nice versus the penalty of not working collectively,” Jim Campbell, Chevrolet’s U.S. Vice President of Efficiency Automobiles and Motorsports, instructed NBC Sports activities in April.

Chevrolet drivers adopted orders, working nose-to-tail with near-military precision all through the Talladega race this season. It didn’t matter if it was the underside lane or prime lane, many Chevrolets ran collectively. When it got here time to pit, many stopped collectively.

The outcomes have been spectacular.

Chevrolet drivers gained each levels, the race and took 5 of the highest six spots at Talladega. Chevrolet drivers gained the second stage, the race and took the highest 4 spots at Daytona in July.

Elliott mentioned that Sunday’s race is “going to look actual much like what it did at Talladega within the spring and Daytona in the summertime. We made a fairly acutely aware effort with our producer of Chevrolet to attempt to do a greater job of working collectively. It labored at Talladega. Lots of us crashed, however at the least a Chevrolet nonetheless gained the summer time race at Daytona. Hopefully it really works out.

“That’s the factor, we are able to put as a lot effort as we would like or as little effort as we would like, but it surely’s by no means going to ensure that you just aren’t going to crash or have a nasty day there. I anticipate we’ll do our half on our finish to attempt to make nearly as good of a day as we are able to out of it, however no ensures.”

2. How lengthy ought to drivers work collectively?

That is the one of many greatest points. When can a driver make a transfer that’s finest for them even when it hurts a teammate in the identical producer camp?

Joey Logano was not happy that fellow Ford driver Michael McDowell selected to push Kyle Busch’s Toyota on the final lap of this yr’s Daytona 500 as an alternative of Logano’s Ford.

“Sometimes you type of anticipate producers to work collectively,” Logano mentioned after the race.

McDowell’s reply?

“Fords weren’t that pleasant to me this weekend.”

It’s a problem all drivers working on the end should ponder.

You’re type of virtually in a field as a result of typically what is nice for the group isn’t one of the best for your self and you are feeling like you’re compromising typically,” mentioned Ryan Blaney, who enters this weekend final among the many 12 remaining playoff drivers. “It may not provide help to out. That half makes it a bit bit robust. On the finish of the day, Chevy made it work on the first Talladega so hopefully we are able to make it work. It’s onerous to plan and orchestrate stuff like that when the whole lot within the race goes. It has changed into that although.

“You may’t blame the producer for wanting to try this. They put numerous help behind the groups they usually discover these spots to say that if we have now power in numbers that we must always be capable to win the race.”

Till methods change.

“I really feel like we see that lots on the plate tracks,” Brad Keselowski mentioned of fixing methods. “It goes by evolutions each three or 4 years, and that is the subsequent evolution.”

3. What if a non-playoff driver is racing for the win?

With all of the teamwork inside a producer, there might be a problem if non-playoff drivers are amongst these racing on the entrance late.

Six of the highest 10 finishers at Talladega in Could have been drivers who will not be within the playoffs coming into this weekend. Ryan Preece completed third in that race, inserting behind Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman.

So how does a non-playoff driver deal with racing playoff drivers?

“I feel early on within the race, it’s nonetheless the identical racing that we’ve executed all yr,” Ty Dillon mentioned. “I feel while you get to the tip of the race, you’ve  … to bear in mind that it’s onerous to assist somebody that’s preventing for a championship. Generally at locations like Talladega and Daytona, when you attempt to assist someone, you may find yourself inflicting the crash letting someone in or one thing like that. I feel that’s really recognized all through the sequence as drivers.

“In every single place else, I race with the mentality that throughout the first half of the race, we’re all racing collectively. Should you get right down to the tip of the race and a type of guys is in your tail and also you’re holding them up, I’d anticipate to present these guys a bit little bit of a leeway. They’re racing for one thing greater proper now and it’s with the hopes that the respect shall be returned at some point in your favor.

“I anticipate to be racing for championships in some unspecified time in the future in my profession. I would love that type of respect again. For me, I’m racing for 22nd or 23rd in factors. It doesn’t make a complete lot of distinction, however these guys have much more on the road for one place. … I feel you’ve bought to be good. You don’t wish to be the man that screws up the man going for the (championship) since you wish to be in that place the place someone offers you the advantage of a doubt while you want it.”

4. What about Toyota groups?

Toyotas are at an obstacle with having the fewest automobiles within the subject. It’s why Joe Gibbs Racing partnered with Hendrick Motorsports for the Daytona 500. Seven of the 40 automobiles entered this weekend are Toyotas. Ford has 15 entries and Chevrolet has 18.

“It’s going to be a problem,” Denny Hamlin mentioned. “We’re outnumbered, We all know that. Finally they will’t determine what line you select to run in. So, from my standpoint … if I’m round a bunch of Fords they usually’re staying in line, I’m staying in line. It doesn’t matter what producer I’m with, I’m simply going to do no matter is finest for me. I feel that has been the factor that has made us profitable over time is having that mentality.

“You have a look at the teamwork from the Fords and Chevys at the previous couple of years. Ultimately, you continue to have a bunch of fellows in there that haven’t gained a race. They nonetheless must be egocentric even with their very own teammates. That’s while you attempt to take benefit.”

One other key concern with the Toyotas having fewer entries is that if Martin Truex Jr., Hamlin, Kyle Busch – the highest three in factors – can be higher off working on the again for at the least a part of the race. Truex can’t fall out of the highest eight in factors no matter how poor he finishes Sunday. Hamlin and Busch are every 48 factors forward of Logano within the standings.

Requested on Wednesday’s version of NASCAR America MotorMouths if his technique can be to run up entrance, run on the again or simply go for the win. Busch mentioned: “Sure. All three.

“I’m positive in some unspecified time in the future we’re going to be working on the again at someplace or one other, we would even qualify there. Previous that … you wish to stand up inside the prime 10 to get these stage factors.”

Busch in the end mentioned: “I feel you simply must go on the market and race and race as onerous as you possibly can.”

5. Kevin Harvick pit crew member returns

Daniel Smith returns this weekend because the rear tire changer for Kevin Harvick’s workforce after lacking the previous eight races due to a surgical procedure wanted as a part of his therapy for testicular most cancers.

Smith missed the ultimate 13 races of final season after the most cancers was found. He returned at Daytona in February.

He had not missed a race this season till the surgical procedure, which was initially deliberate for within the spring however moved to August.

Smith joined Haas-CNC Racing in 2004 and labored his manner on to the pit crew. He remained with the workforce when it was renamed Stewart-Haas Racing and was a pit crew member on Tony Stewart’s 2011 championship workforce. Smith and his teammates have been moved to Kevin Harvick’s workforce shortly earlier than the 2014 postseason and helped Harvick win the title.

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