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Friday 5: Cup champs among those keeping an eye on Ty Gibbs

During last weekend’s Cup race at Pocono Raceway, reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson took advantage of a caution period to ask crew chief Cliff Daniels how Ty Gibbs was doing in his Cup debut.

Chase Elliott — declared the winner after the top-two finishing cars of Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch were disqualified — asked his father after the race how Gibbs performed.

Many were interested in how the 19-year-old Gibbs, who has impressed with his success in the Xfinity Series, did in his first Cup race.

He drove for Kurt Busch, who was out because of what Busch said were “concussion-like symptoms” after a crash in qualifying the day before. Gibbs knew he would be driving for Busch less than 24 hours before the start of the race. Gibbs finished 16th.

Gibbs will be back in the No. 45 car for 23XI Racing at Indianapolis after the NASCAR medical team did not clear Busch to drive this week. The Cup race airs at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC.

“I think he’s deserving,” Elliott said of Gibbs getting this Cup opportunity. “I think he’s done a really good job on the Xfinity side.”

Gibbs has eight wins in 37 career Xfinity starts. He stunned the sport when he won last year on the Daytona road course in his Xfinity Series debut.
Gibbs is one of 12 drivers to make their Cup debut under the age of 20. That list includes Kyle Busch, who was 18 years, 10 months and 5 days when he made his first series start March 7, 2004, at Las Vegas. Joey Logano was 18 years, 3 months, 21 days when he made his first Cup start on Sept. 14, 2008, at New Hampshire.

The list also includes Chase Elliott, who made his Cup debut at age 19 years, 4 months, 1 day on March 29, 2015, at Martinsville.

Elliott got the chance to speak to Gibbs before the start of last weekend’s race.

“I just told him, ‘Man, there’s a lot going on for you in the last 24 hours.’ I had time to kind of think about my first one,” Elliott said. “Obviously that didn’t get me very far (Elliott finished 38th in his Cup debut).”

When Elliott talked to his father, Bill, after the race, the Hall of Famer gave Gibbs a positive review.

“He told me (Gibbs) ran a really good race, he was really smart about his opportunity and ran a really respectable event,” Chase Elliott said. “I’m not very surprised by that in watching him through his Xfinity racing. I think he’s done a great job for his team and put himself in position in a lot of events, been very fast.”

It was another sign of how good Gibbs is.

Gibbs’ future has been debated much of the season. While Joe Gibbs has said he prefers to keep his grandchild in the Xfinity Series another season before moving him to Cup. With Kyle Busch’s contract expiring after this season and remaining unsigned, there is speculation that Ty Gibbs could move up to Cup if Busch doesn’t return.

There’s little doubt Gibbs could move up to Cup if there was a place for him in the Toyota camp.

“We know Ty Gibbs is ready to race (in Cup),” David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development told NBC Sports.

2. Time for a change to post-race inspections?

After NASCAR’s historic decision last weekend to disqualify the winner of a Cup race — which had not happened in 62 years — series officials may need to look at a change in regards to its post-race inspection procedures.

NASCAR tears down the top-two finishing cars after a race. It was during that inspection at Pocono that an infraction was found with the cars of Denny Hamlin, who had won, and Kyle Busch, who had finished second.

Both cars were disqualified. That meant that Chase Elliott was the winner.

Elliott’s car crossed the finish line third. The third-place car is among cars that go through inspection after the race, but those cars typically are not torn down as much as the winning car or runner-up car.

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that he wasn’t sure if Elliott’s car was still at the track when both JGR cars were disqualified.

Miller also said this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that to have every car that NASCAR puts through some sort of post-race inspection go through the full process would take too long.

Thursday, a NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports that the sanctioning body had not made any changes to its post-race procedure.

NBC Sports analyst Dale Jarrett suggested on MotorMouths this week on Peacock that NASCAR should look into making a subtle change.

“I think the third-place car needs to be held there,” Jarrett said of keeping that car at the track until the winner passes inspection.

NBC Sports analyst Steve Letarte responded by saying, “So we can learn from this and say, ‘Hey, do your inspection, just don’t put it on the (team’s hauler) … don’t be in a hurry to leave. You finish third, just let it sit right there and let’s go on with inspection.’ I’d be OK with that. That’s a small change.”

3. Safety work

Before Kurt Busch was injured at Pocono, missing that race and this weekend’s race at Indianapolis, drivers told NBC Sports they had experienced some of the hardest hits in their career this season.

Joey Logano said that he had “never hit harder” than his crash in May’s Coca-Cola 600. Bubba Wallace called the contact he had at Atlanta in March among the hardest he’s felt. Christopher Bell said he had headaches after a couple of hits this season.

What some drivers have felt doesn’t match what data from crash recorders show, John Patalak, managing director of safety engineering for NASCAR, told NBC Sports this month.

“So that leads the drivers to ask, ‘Then why do I feel the way I feel?’” Patalak said. “‘Why does it feel so harsh? The data you’re showing me doesn’t match up with what my body is telling me.’

“We’ve had those discussions with drivers. I certainly will tell a driver, ‘I absolutely don’t doubt or dispute how you feel.’ At the moment, I don’t have a great engineering explanation as to why the perception is not matching with the data that we’re seeing.”

NBC Sports analyst Jeff Burton, speaking on the NASCAR on NBC podcast with Nate Ryan, addressed the questions about the impacts this season and how the sport is reacting.

“The great thing about where we are today is that the sports is committed to it,” Burton said of safety. “The sport and the industry is committed to providing (drivers) the best opportunity to be safe and recognizing when there’s a problem and addressing it.

“Those things never happen as quickly as we want them to happen. It’s almost impossible for them to happen as quickly as we want them to, but we have to push hard. We have to stay committed. Safety is never reached. It’s just are we as safe as we possibly know how to be right now?”

NASCAR is undertaking various measures to improve driver safety.

Patalak told NBC Sports that series officials working on mouthguard accelerometers to measure the impact of a crash on a driver.

While other racing series use accelerometers that are in a driver’s ear, Patalak said a mouthguard accelerometer would provide better information because the roof of a person’s mouth is “extremely well coupled to your skull. … If you put on a skin patch or an ear-plug accelerometer, your ears are loosely attached, I’ll say, to your skull.”

Patalak said when NASCAR examined using ear-plug accelerometers more than a decade ago, research stated that the “ear canal is not very well — in engineering, we say coupled, but what that means is that it’s not very well attached to your skull.

“So, those two accelerometers, they report very different things, the one attached to the skull and the one in your ear canal. So at that point in time, we didn’t pursue ear-plug accelerometers. The other main issue with that is in those tests, in order to get good attachment, you have to put the accelerometer so deeply into the ear canal that a live diver just really wouldn’t tolerate that from a comfort level.”

Patalak said that NASCAR is working on the mouthguard accelerometer for drivers with Dr. Joel Douglas Stitzel, Jr., a professor of biomedical engineering at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. His research interest includes concussion in sports.

Patalak said that NASCAR has been working with Stitzel for about four years to make the mouthguard accelerometer work well for drivers.

“We have obviously had challenges,” Patalak said. “Communication is super important, has to happen from the drivers. We’ve been looking at material changes and geometry changes. During COVID, we weren’t able to put mouthpiece sensors in drivers, obviously, and we essentially took that year and redid the boards, the firmware and software to make everything smaller and work better, function better.”

He said some tests show that the mouthpiece doesn’t impact a driver speaking on the radio to the team.

“We’re definitely moving in the right direction,” Patalak said.

4. Top Cup crew chiefs

Rodney Childers, crew chief for Kevin Harvick, remains the winningest active Cup crew chief but that could soon change if points leader Chase Elliott continues his hot streak.

Childers has 38 career Cup wins. Alan Gustafson, crew chief for Elliott, has 37 career Cup wins after last weekend’s victory at Pocono. Elliott has five consecutive top-two finishes, including three victories. He’ll be among the favorites this weekend on the road course at Indianapolis. Elliott has won seven of the last 17 road course events.

Here’s a look at the winningest active Cup crew chiefs:

38 - Rodney Childers (crew chief for Kevin Harvick)

37 - Alan Gustafson (crew chief for Chase Elliott)

35 - Paul Wolfe (crew chief for Joey Logano)

30 - Adam Stevens (crew chief for Christopher Bell)

16 - Chris Gabehart (crew chief for Denny Hamlin)

11 - Cliff Daniels (crew chief for Kyle Larson)

10 - Greg Ives (crew chief for Alex Bowman

9 - Jeremy Bullins (crew chief for Austin Cindric)

6 - Brian Pattie (crew chief for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.)

5 - James Small (crew chief for Martin Truex Jr.

5. Playoffs are here

While it’s not yet August, the playoffs begin tonight for the Camping World Truck Series.

The opening race of the first round takes place at 9 p.m. ET at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park. This marks the first time the series has raced at the .686-mile track since 2011.

The three-race opening round, though won’t end until Sept. 9 at Kansas.

After Friday night’s race, the series doesn’t compete again until Aug. 13 at Richmond and then Sept. 9 at Kansas.

Zane Smith won the regular-season championship, scoring three victories in 16 races.

This will be the final playoffs for Camping World as series sponsor. Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, announced Wednesday night on social media that the company would not return as series sponsor after this season.