NASCAR President Steve Phelps meets with Denny Hamlin

TALLADEGA, Ala. — Denny Hamlin confirmed that he met with NASCAR President Steve Phelps before Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

The meeting came a day after Hamlin’s explosive comments to the media, saying the Next Gen car needed to be redesigned and blaming “bad leadership” by NASCAR for the safety concerns with the car.

Asked by NBC Sports about the meeting with Phelps, Hamlin said: “I don’t have any details on it. I’m grateful for Steve Phelps. He is a leader that we need. He is not who I directed any of my comments toward because he’s a huge asset for our sport.

“Me and Steve talk about much bigger and broader things than the safety of the cars. He’s got a lot bigger tasks ahead of him. I don’t task him or bog him down with knick-knack things like car safety.”

Asked if Phelps discussed Hamlin’s comments to the media in their meeting, Hamlin said: “We talked about that because we have that kind of relationship. I trust Steve. Best relationship I’ve had with any president of NASCAR. He’s done a lot for our sport. I made it very clear that I wasn’t directing anything at him.”

While the car has been improved for those accidents, the more common crashes, particularly those where the car backs into the wall, have been felt more by drivers.

The injuries to Busch and Bowman and the hard hits have raised the tension in the Cup garage. 

Hamlin unleashed a torrent of criticism Saturday about the car and series officials.

Asked how the sport got to this point with the car, Hamlin said Saturday: “Bad leadership.”

Asked how to avoid the same thing from happening, Hamlin said: “New leadership.”

As for the changes that need to be made in NASCAR leadership, Hamlin said: “I don’t know. You can start at the top and work your way down.”

In regards to the car, Hamlin said Saturday: “The car needs to be redesigned. It needs a full redesign. It can still be called Next Gen, but it needs to be redesigned. It needs to be redesigned everywhere.”

Hamlin appeared on “Countdown to Green” before Sunday’s race on NBC and spoke with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton, who also leads the Drivers Advisory Council, about the car and his comments to the media.

“It’s not about what we can do right now, it’s what we can do about the future,” Hamlin said of the car. “In my mind, if we’re redesigning something for 2024, we need to be designing it now, testing it throughout the 2023 season and then implementing it for 2024. 

“There is no easy answer to this. This has been a buildup. We’ve been talking about this as drivers for over a year now. So that’s where the frustration has boiled from. 

“Certainly saying what can we do to fix it next week, it’s impossible. There’s a box that we’re in that we can’t get out of now. My thing is that while a (rear) clip is a really good thing —and I think it’s a start — we need to be in the redesign process of the entire car and that has to start now if we’re to implement that anytime in the next 12 to 14 months.”

Hamlin also said in that interview that he felt a responsibility to speak on behalf of drivers, particularly the younger drivers, on such issues. He noted that it was a mantle he and Kevin Harvick have taken.

“I do feel like at times that me and Kevin have the brunt of the responsibility to go out there and voice what we hear from our competitors and our peers. But as you are starting to see in the media, guys like Chase Elliott and others are starting to voice their displeasure and what they would like to see different as well.”

The start of the 2023 racing season moves closer with each passing day.

Here are the Cup, Xfinity and Truck schedules (playoff races in bold), along with the ARCA, ARCA East and ARCA West schedules for the upcoming season:

Each ARCA Menards Series East and West stand-alone race will be streamed live on FloRacing and televised on a delayed basis on USA Network. Race start times, as well as broadcast details for combination races with the ARCA Menards Series will be announced at a later date.

The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season brought something new (a race inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum!) and something old (a win by the No. 43!) and a lot in-between.

In many ways, it was one of NASCAR’s best seasons. There were new winners, the Next Gen car kicked up competition a bit and there was a race finish (see the Ross Chastain file) like none other in the history of the sport.

There were downsides, too: The safety of the new car came under fire (figuratively and literally, as wheel-well flames ended more than a few rides), drivers’ seasons were interrupted or ended because of hard wrecks and some races were less than stellar.

Looking back over the February-to-November marathon, some races stand out:

Rocking the City of Angels – Despite the naysayers, t. A platter of questions, including whether the purpose-built track inside the stadium would hold up under heavy stock cars and generate good racing, awaited as teams rolled into LA. The racing wasn’t sensational, but it was good, and there were no problems with the track. A huge crowd showed up, and NASCAR left town with many ideas, having proven that it could run a race on a temporary track inside a large stadium. It has escaped no one’s notice that there are many other large stadiums in the country – and, by the way, outside it.

The end of the season provides a chance to look back and each year I go through the photos on my phone and find those that show the highs and lows of a sport that goes from February to November. 

Although the time spent in Daytona Beach, Florida, has shrunk in recent years with a more compact track schedule, the intensity remains. As do the emotions. 

Cup rookie Austin Cindric accomplished “a racer’s dream” in winning the Daytona 500, accomplishing something in his second attempt that took Darrell Waltrip 17 times and Dale Earnhardt 20 times to accomplish.

“2018 was awesome,” Wallace said of his runner-up result in the Daytona 500

“I didn’t have a fighting chance the first time in 2018. This one being that close, it’s like a gut punch.”

The photos that stand out to me are of the picture of Cindric’s car covered in red, white and blue confetti before going through post-race inspection and the disappointment Wallace wore on pit road after the race.

The Cup Series is not returning to the Wisconsin road course after two years there. Instead, this race will be replaced by the Chicago street course event in 2023.

Among the special moments from the Road America race was Austin Cindric walking the length of pit road to victory lane to congratulate Reddick.

Walking with Cindric, I asked him why he was making the trip to see Reddick.

“I think of anyone in the field, he probably deserves that win more than anybody else,” Cindric told me. “I think he’s put himself in position. He’s a really likable guy, and I feel like you can see how hard he works. 

“I’ve seen him mature as a driver and a person and as a friend and a father. It’s cool to see somebody you’re close to go through that.”

When Cindric arrived in victory lane, he walked up to Reddick and gave his friend a bearhug, lifting Reddick well off the ground.

In all the excitement, Reddick’s son, Beau, was not impressed. He was sound asleep in victory lane.

One never knows what you’ll come across in a season that stretches so long through the calendar. 

These are a few such moments that proved special for one reason or the other.

As storm clouds gathered over Daytona International Speedway in February, the sun was settling, creating a sky both ominous and spectacular. The photo captures that scene as Cole Custer walks through the garage. After this season, Stewart-Haas Racing announced it was and that Custer would run in the Xfinity Series for the team.

Another photo that stands out to me comes from the Clash at the Coliseum. There were so many questions about the exhibition race inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, such as if the specially built track would withstand the rigors of cars, what would the debut of the Next Gen car be like and would fans really be interested in such an event.

What stood out to me was the lines of people waiting to buy souvenirs the day of the race. In some places, lines stretched well away from the merchandise trailers. 

Sometimes you never know what you’ll see at at event. At an event at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Hall of Famers Richard Petty, Dale Inman and Ray Evernham all stood together. That is 18 Cup championships (eight by Inman, seven by Petty and three by Evernham).

I caught this scene of Suarez alone in his thoughts in the garage at Nashville Superspeedway in his first race since that Sonoma victory.

Ross Chastain’s video game move on the last lap of the playoff race was stunning. Needing two positions to advance to the championship race, Chastain put his car into fifth gear, planted his car against the wall in Turn 3, took his hands off the wheel and let the wall guide his Chevrolet around the final two turns while he floored the throttle.

Amazingly, it worked. . Although he didn’t win the Cup title, Chastain provided one of the most memorable moments of the 2022 season.

As I was leaving the infield late that Sunday night. I stopped to take a picture of the wall and the marks Chastain’s car had left on its remarkable charge.

Cautions were up in 2022 despite fewer stage-end and competition cautions of any year since stage racing began. The third installment of 2022 by the numbers focuses on the causes (and causers) of cautions.

I divide cautions into those that are planned — like competition and stage-end breaks — and so-called ‘natural’ cautions. Natural cautions include accidents, spins, stalled cars, debris or liquid on track and weather.

My first graph shows that this year’s 302 cautions are the most total cautions since 2014. That’s despite only 73 planned cautions, the fewest since stage racing started.

The 2022 season had 43 more total cautions relative to 2021, and 57 more natural cautions than last year. That’s the most natural cautions since 2016.

Caution classification is subjective. Obviously, a car spinning is a spin and cars colliding is an accident. But if a car spins and then hits another car, is it a spin or an accident? If an accident happens at a stage break, do you record the caution as an accident or a stage break?

The 2022 season had more blown tires and wheels coming off cars than any season I can remember. NASCAR classified some incidents arising from blown tires as debris cautions, others as accidents.

To me, a blown tire seems fundamentally different from a stray car part on the track.

The myriad tire and wheel problems prompted me to review all 302 cautions. I added three additional caution categories: wheel issues, fire and tire issues.

Tire issues were so labeled only if a blown tire preceded a crash or spin. Tires that blow because of contact with the wall or flat spotting aren’t included. If I couldn’t tell for sure that the blown tire came first, I left the caution in its original category.

My re-categorization complicates comparing cautions by category to previous years. That concern is offset by the need to set a benchmark against which to measure next year’s data.

The table below compares my breakdown of cautions with NASCAR’s for the 2022 season. I admit that I’m not totally objective, either. But I believe my categorization better reflects the overall nature of the 2022 season.

The most surprising statistic is the extraordinarily large number of spins. Cup Series drivers spun between 20 and 27 times per season between 2016 and 2021. Drivers in 2022 spun 60 times.

There haven’t been that many spins since 2007, when the series recorded 66 spins. That was the first year of the Gen-5 car; however, the number of spins this year is similar to the numbers for the Gen-4 car. Fans wanted a car that was harder to drive. The spin statistics are a good argument that they’ve gotten their wish.

I treat accidents, spins, and stalls as a single category because of the questions about differentiating between them. ‘Incidents’ combines all the spins, all the accidents and all the stalls.

And remember: being involved in an incident doesn’t imply that driver caused the incident.

The graph below shows all drivers with 12 or more incidents during the 2022 season.

Remember also that this count doesn’t include wheel or tire issues. A driver crashing because a tire blew is fundamentally different from an accident or spin.

Kyle Busch comes in third in total incidents, and first in spins with seven. For comparison, no other driver had more than four spins.

The Coca-Cola 600 was the longest Cup Series race in history in terms of mileage. Its 18 cautions helped make it long in terms of time, too.

But longer races offer more opportunities to crash. A better metric is the number of crashes per 100 miles of racing. I removed stage and competition cautions because planned cautions don’t depend on race length.

The Bristol dirt race’s 14 cautions were the third highest total after the Coca-Cola 600 and Texas’s 16 cautions. But the dirt race was the shortest race of the season at 133.25 miles.

That gives the Bristol dirt race a whopping 9.0 natural cautions per 100 miles of racing. Last year, the Bristol dirt race was also at the top of the list with 7.4 total cautions per 100 miles of racing.

Bristol’s asphalt race had the second-most cautions per 100 miles at 3.4  The two Bristol races are followed by COTA (3.0) and Texas (2.8).

The only superspeedway race in the top-10 cautions-per-100-miles graph is the second Atlanta race. The fall Talladega race had the fewest cautions per 100 miles this year of any oval at 0.80.

But superspeedways claim more cars per accident. The summer Daytona race featured 46 cars involved in five accidents for an average of 9.2 cars per accident. Some cars were involved in multiple accidents, which is why the total number of cars in accidents is larger than the number of cars racing.

The fall Talladega race comes in second in terms of wreckage per accident with an average of 8.0 cars. The spring Talladega race ties with the Bristol asphalt race. Both had an average of 7.0 cars per accident.

Road America had the fewest cautions of any race in 2022. With only two stage-break cautions, Road America had 0.0 natural cautions per 100 miles. Sonoma had 0.72 natural cautions per 100 miles and the Charlotte Roval 0.78.

We normally use cautions as a proxy to count accidents and spins. The problem is that not every incident causes a caution — especially at road courses. There were seven cautions for wheels coming off cars, some wheels came off on pit road. Some drivers limped their cars back to the pits after losing wheels.