After ‘embarrassing’ finish at COTA, NASCAR drivers weigh in on road course solutions

There was a consensus among NASCAR Cup Series drivers after last weekend’s crash-cluttered, triple-overtime finish at the Circuit of the Americas road course:

No one liked the way it ended.

That same consensus re-emerged this weekend before the Cup race at Richmond Raceway — this time with some drivers offering solutions to make sure that choppy, restart-after-restart-after-restart finish doesn’t happen again.

Kyle Busch offered some thoughts. The driver of the No. 8 car a few weeks ago made headlines after saying that a lack of driver-to-driver respect in the garage area nowadays is the biggest reason why overtime finishes and overtime wrecks are so frequent in today’s age.

He reiterated that sentiment Saturday.

“It’s crazy because a lot of them are friends off the track too, you know?” Busch told reporters in the Richmond Raceway media center. “And then they’re running each other over on the track. And even teammates are running over each other. So I guess there’s just not enough payback per se, even though you can kind of look at the Denny (Hamlin) and (Ross) Chastain thing, and they continue to go back and forth a few times.”

Busch added that a similar conversation unfolded after last year’s Indy road course, where cars piled up and hit each other seemingly without any repercussion. He then looked at how these trends might affect future road courses — including NASCAR’s first race through the streets of Chicago in July.

“The Chicago road course, who knows what the hell is gonna happen there,” Busch said. “If somebody gets turned sideways in one corner, it’s gonna be a track block. And so that’s gonna be interesting.

“So I mean single-file (overtime restarts), for Chicago, I think there’s no question that you can’t go without it.”

Mar 11, 2023; Avondale, Arizona, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Busch (8) during qualifying for the United Rentals Work United 500 at Phoenix Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 11, 2023; Avondale, Arizona, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Busch (8) during qualifying for the United Rentals Work United 500 at Phoenix Raceway. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Some drivers called on NASCAR to make a change.

William Byron said that single-file overtime restarts are possibilities. He added that there is precedent for them at road courses, including at Watkins Glen in the rain in 2022, in COTA in 2021.

But the driver of the 24 car also said that drivers are going to take as much as they can get — and that some of the cause rests with the durable Next Gen cars that NASCAR has provided.

“What people don’t understand watching the race is that, as race car drivers, we’re just gonna do whatever it takes to make up positions,” Byron said. “So if you give us a car that’s that durable, that we can just plow through people, we’re going to do it. Anybody, any series, would do that. The car is that durable.”

Kyle Larson wasn’t involved in the COTA mayhem last weekend. But he still has some ideas of how to fix the situation.

“Looking at moving where the restart zone is, whether that be at an alternate start-finish line at some of the tracks, not all of the road courses, but just moving it to where it funnels out a little bit and thins out a little bit by the time you get to Turn 1,” Larson said. “I don’t think that you’re going to be able to have guys able to go 6-wide and just crash through each other in front of them.”

Larson added: “I would love to see a single-file restart. I think we’re the only sport, only motorsport that continues to do double-file restarts like that, but we’re also kind of in an entertainment business, and I think fans a lot of times like to see the stupid crashes.”

Daniel Suárez was uniquely impacted by COTA’s late-race carnage. In one of the overtime restarts, the No. 99 Cup car was running fifth, but then a physical restart spun him out and led to him finishing at the back of the pack.

Suárez subsequently hit a few cars that he thought did him wrong — including teammate Ross Chastain on pit lane — and was fined $50,000 by NASCAR because of it.

The TrackHouse Racing driver said he is looking for NASCAR’s guidance to help rectify this ending issue.

“All I know is that NASCAR is working to try to make a better solution for some of these restarts — because it doesn’t look right,” Suárez said. “The sport looks embarrassing in my mind and in the minds of many people, you know? That’s not real. Just going into the corner and bumping three cars to push them out of the way, that’s not real. And we know that. But they do it because that’s how some people got Top 5s and Top 10s last week, and some of the guys who were fast like myself, we finished 27th.

“If NASCAR does something about it, that’s amazing. If they don’t, I just join the party and I drive dumb into those restarts as well. Because it just pays off better.”