The name of former two-time Xfinity Series champion Sam Ard returned to the fore last week. Noah Gragson set the Arda Series record for most consecutive wins with four.
Although Ard has been nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, his exploits are generally little known to many who follow modern stock car racing. He was on Hall’s voting list for the class of 2023 but was not elected.
In the 1970s and 80s, Ard was a short track master in the vein of stars like Jack Ingram, Harry Gant, and Butch Lindley, riders who could turn up at almost any half-mile track across the country and take home a trophy.
He won the NASCAR Late Model (now Xfinity Series) championship in 1983 and 1984 with 18 wins in those two seasons. At the end of the 1983 season, he had four wins in a row, winning in South Boston, Virginia; Martinsville, Virginia; Rougemont, North Carolina and Charlotte.
Ard was so dominant in 1984 that he completed the season championship with two races remaining. That year, in 28 series starts, he had 24 top-five finishes and 26 top-10 finishes. He has won eight times.
In the penultimate race of the 1984 season at the North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham, Ard suffered serious head injuries when his car slipped out of another car’s fluid and hit the outside wall of the track.
This accident effectively ended Ard’s career and influenced his entire later life. Ard often talked about learning to walk again as part of his recovery. He said he would use the walker in the sawdust pile in the backyard to make the landing softer when he falls.
Ard was eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. In 2006, in response to Arda’s financial problems, drivers Kyle Bush, Kevin Harvick as well as Dale Earnhardt Jr.among other things, started a fundraising campaign for his family.
Ard, a native of Scranton, South Carolina, died in April 2017. He was 78 years old.
Alex Bowman Hendrick Motorsports said Thursday afternoon it will miss Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway after experiencing concussion-like symptoms following last weekend’s crash at Texas Motor Speedway.
Bowman is the second Cup driver to miss a race due to concussion symptoms after the crash. Kurt Bush hasn’t returned to racing since crashing at Pocono on July 23. Bush said this week that he remains “hopeful” he can return this season. There are six races left in the season, including Sunday’s race at Talladega.
Noah Gragson replace Bowman.
Hendrick Motorsports said Bowman, who is bottom of the playoff standings, was seen by doctors on Thursday in Charlotte, North Carolina.
If Bowman returns, he will likely need to win the October 9 race at the Charlotte Roval to avoid playoff elimination.
Bowman issued a warning on lap 98 of the 334-lap race in Texas when a tire burst and hit the wall in turn 4. The car then crashed into the SAFER barrier on the right side. Bowman continued, finishing the race 29th, five laps behind the winner. Tyler Reddick.
Drivers stated that rear impacts felt worse than they looked with the new car.
“From the very beginning, it was clear to everyone that this car was too rigid. Kevin Harvick said earlier this summer. “When I crashed it (at Auto Club Speedway practice) I thought the car was wrecked and it barely took off the bumper. It felt like someone hit you with a hammer.”
Christopher Bell said in June that he had a headache after crashing into a wall in an all-star race at Texas Motor Speedway in May.
Denny Hamlin said earlier this month that after speaking with series officials, he feels better about what NASCAR is going to do with the car.
“I definitely feel they are working to help us with landing gear,” Hamlin said. “All these things take time. They can’t just reflexively cut the bars out of the chassis, that’s very irresponsible.
“I think they’re doing everything methodically to make sure the next version of the car gets better in the areas we need to improve, but that takes time to design and test.”
Gragson was scheduled to drive the No. 62 Beard Motorsports car in Sunday’s Cup race. Justin Algayer will drive, and Gragson will move to car number 48.
— Alex Bowman (@Alex_Bowman) September 29, 2022
Get well soon https://t.co/R2iIWEVWWo
— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) September 29, 2022
Hope to see you again on the track soon. I pray for you buddy. 🙏🏼 https://t.co/OnMx2kTEfG
— Justin Haley (@Justin_Haley_) September 29, 2022
Talladega Superspeedway is known for shaking up the playoffs. But how well deserved is this reputation?
Playoff drivers usually view the first race in the second round of the playoffs as their best chance to score points, earn stage points, and possibly even win, given that Talladega is the second race. Now that Texas is in the rearview, let’s point our data analysis tools at Talladega.
Determining how much a single race contributes to playoff standings requires a simple metric that applies to all the years NASCAR has hosted stages and playoffs. In a rare occasion, Talladega’s consistency remains the 31st race of the season since stage racing began in 2017.
After trying a couple of different approaches, I finally settled on playoff rankings. These ratings are a zero-sum game. For every driver that climbs a position, another driver must move down.
The first graph shows the playoff ranking by race for the second segment of the 2021 playoffs. It’s a bit of a mess, but stay with me.
The playoff ranking is located on the left side of the graph. The highest rated driver is at the top and 12th ranked at the bottom.
The far left set of points shows Bristol’s ranking after eliminating the four worst-performing riders and re-seeding the rest. The second column of points shows the ranking after Las Vegas, which was the first race in the second round in 2021.
Each rider is represented by a different color and lines connect their ratings. For example, dark purple lines show Denny Hamlin moving up from third to first in those three races. The light blue lines at the bottom show Alex Bowman fell from seventh place to twelfthth.
The more erratic the lines were between the two races, the more shocking the playoffs were. Because it’s hard to measure “clutter”, I counted each time one driver’s line crossed another driver’s line.
Each intersection indicates that the two riders have switched positions in the rankings. The number of crossovers between Bristol and Las Vegas, for example, tells you how much Las Vegas rocked the standings.
Three intersecting lines count as three shakes because three pairs of drivers intersect.
In 2021, there were nine intersections in Las Vegas, 13 in Talladega, and only five in Roval. This seems to be consistent with our hypothesis that Talladega is the biggest shaker in the second round.
Timeline of Talladega
In addition to being just one point, the 2021 Talladega contest poses another challenge. Bubba Wallace won a rain-shortened race that ran 311 miles instead of the planned 500 miles.
This raises the possibility that 2021 may not be the most representative year for Talladega racing. So I repeated the analysis starting from 2017. Since before 2017 we had no stage races and therefore no stage points, it makes no sense to compare previous years.
The table below shows the shakeout index for 2017-2021. Please note that the first and third races have changed from year to year.
Data from these five years shows that Talladega hasn’t always been the most…