NASCAR: Late-season stumbles put Bowyer, Larson on ropes heading to Richmond

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After the dust settled on last night’s Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, noted motorsport journalist Lewis Franck made the following observation:

Indeed, one year after helping to trigger Michael Waltrip Racing’s race manipulation scandal at Richmond International Raceway, Bowyer is set to return to “The Action Track” as a center of attention once again.

It’s attention that he could do without.

Bowyer finished 38th last night after having to go to the garage early with a broken shifter, which led to a transmission replacement and more than 20 laps lost.

Now down 23 points to Greg Biffle for the 16th and final Chase Grid position, Bowyer may need a “Hail Mary” of his own like that of Atlanta winner Kasey Kahne in order to make the post-season.

“It seems like if it weren’t for bad luck, we wouldn’t have any luck,” Bowyer said last night. “We’ve been good at Richmond but we are going to have to have a really good finish, if not a win, to make it into the Chase.”

He makes an important point there, as Bowyer’s won twice in his Cup career on the 3/4-mile RIR bullring.

But his Atlanta problems again emphasize how disastrous late-season mishaps can be for those like him that are on the Chase bubble.

Take Kyle Larson, for example. Going into Michigan three races ago, Larson was +9 points over the cutoff at 15th on the Chase Grid.

Then he crashed just before the midway point of that race and finished dead last, 43rd place. Larson promptly dropped out of the Grid to 19th, at -24 points behind the cutoff.

And with 16th place Greg Biffle on a perfectly-timed run of Top-10 finishes (his 10th-place result last night was his fifth Top-10 in a row), Larson’s solid results of 12th at Bristol and eighth in Atlanta have done nothing to close the deficit – which is again at 24 points with only Saturday’s regular season finale at RIR to go.

“[A] Top‑10 is not bad, but it doesn’t really matter anymore because Kasey won,” Larson said. “So happy for Kasey, but that pretty much ends our Chase hopes unless we win.”

And if neither Bowyer or Larson can get a win in the Commonwealth of Virginia, they’ll clearly know how, when, and where things went wrong for them.

Latest INDYCAR Aeroscreen test continues to provide feedback; data to series

Bruce Martin Photo
Bruce Martin Photo
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RICHMOND, Virginia – After completing its third Aeroscreen test since October 2, INDYCAR continues to collect valuable data and feedback from the drivers and engineers involved in testing.

The latest test of the Aeroscreen came Tuesday, October 15 at Richmond Raceway, a .750-mile short oval. Five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon has been involved in testing dating all the way back to 2017 at Phoenix with the original “Windscreen.” Tuesday’s test was the first-time two-time NTT IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden was able to test the device that partially encloses the cockpit proving greatly enhanced driver safety.

It was also the first time the current “Aeroscreen” designed and created by Red Bull Advanced Technologies, Pankl and Dallara has been tested at a short oval – a track that measures under 1.5-miles in length.

The previous tests were at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway on October 2 and the Barber Motorsports Park road course on October 7.

“It wasn’t a problem getting in the car today and relearning a new viewpoint,” Newgarden told NBC Sports.com at the conclusion of Tuesday’s test. “It felt like a new viewpoint. It’s still an Indy car. It still feels like an Indy car. The car does a lot of the things it did before. It required some slight tuning differences to accommodate a different center of gravity and different total weight.

“Overall, it still felt like the same Indy car I drove three weeks ago. You get used to that new viewpoint within 30 or 40 laps. It was alien at first but halfway through the day it feels like home again.”

Newgarden’s Team Penske test team along with INDYCAR officials worked on changes to getting air into the cockpit and directing the air to the right place where the driver can utilize it.

“We’ve come up with some solutions that we like,” Newgarden said. “INDYCAR and the teams will continue to fine-tune this. That is why we are doing these tests. The main goal was to figure this out and fine-tune this stuff. We have come up with a lot of good solutions to all of the little things we have talked about that we have needed so when Sebastien Bourdais goes to Sebring (on November 5), it will just be another version.

“We are already close. Because they are such small details, it feels like normal racing stuff and we will come up with solutions for that.”

Some drivers who have participated in the Aeroscreen test has said, they almost feel naked without having the halo-like structure with a clear windshield protecting them on the race car.

“Once we got through a whole IndyCar season, if you took it off, it would feel really strange,” Newgarden said. “People adapt so quickly to a change, what the car looks like. Once you give us a couple of races and a full year, it will feel like home and something we are very used to as drivers.

“It is already starting to get that way. People are feeling more comfortable with it. The field of view is almost identical to the way it was before. Your peripheral vision is identical, the way you look out the front of the cars is identical, the way you see the tires is identical.”

Individual driver preference will allow for shading of the sun and that can be accomplished with the visor strips on the helmet and the tear-offs on Aeroscreen.

Drivers will also have a bit of a quieter atmosphere inside the cockpit. The partial enclosure makes it easier to hear his radio communication and the sounds of the engine in the driver’s car. It partially blocks out the sounds of the engines in the other cars and the rush of wind traveling at high speeds that used to buffet in and around the helmet.

“It has changed the noise level slightly inside the cockpit,” Newgarden said. “For me, it wasn’t super dramatic. It’s a slight reduction in wind noise. You’re not getting the wind directly over your head as dramatically as you would before. All that external noise has just been dimmed.

“You can hear the radio a touch better, things like that. But the engine noise is still quite prominent. It’s bolted directly behind us, so you still hear quite a bit of what’s going on in the car and the engine.”

Dixon was in the car at Indianapolis on October 2 and returned on Tuesday. The Barber test on October 7 included this year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, Simon Pagenaud, in a Team Penske Chevrolet and Ryan Hunter-Reay in an Andretti Autosport Honda.

“The only differences are the openings on the front wing that creates some more airflow around the legs and body and a different inlet in the screen that was in place today,” Dixon told NBC Sports.com. “There were helmet cooling options since the Barber test because on the road course, some of the drivers were getting a little hotter.

“This project has been very in-depth. It hit the ground running very smoothly. There are some alternate options they are trying to create, especially on the street courses where we will experience hot condition. On street conditions, your depth perception changes because of how close you are to the walls, but we should get used to that.”

Two weeks ago, Team Penske driver Will Power said it takes a different style to get out of the race car because of the added height of the Aeroscreen.

That hasn’t been a problem for Dixon.

“That’s easy, man,” he said. “Just go through the hole in the top.”