Upon Further Review: Another late restart alters Chase

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While accidents and mechanical issues have impacted title contenders, nothing has had as great an impact on this Chase as late-race restarts.

Kevin Harvick’s pass of Carl Edwards on the final restart Sunday at Kansas Speedway marked the fourth time in five Chase races that the winner took the lead on the last restart.

For perspective, in the 12 races before the Chase started, only once did the winner take the lead for good on the final restart.

Harvick’s move Sunday means that he won’t have to worry about what happens this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. He’ll be in the Round of 8 with Jimmie Johnson, who also took the lead on the final restart at Charlotte. 

Although each circumstance can be different — how much of an advantage one lane has over the other, who is behind to push, if anyone spins their tires, etc. — success on restarts is not all about luck.

For Harvick and his team it was about working to be better.

“It was really about timing and going back and watching footage and trying to figure out what I needed to do as far as ratios,’’ Harvick told NBC Sports after Sunday’s victory. “What I had done in the past wasn’t really working for us. We had to change. We had to change how we approach restarts and it’s been a lot better for us over the past three months. The first part of the year wasn’t very good, so we worked hard at getting that stuff right.’’

At Atlanta in late February, Harvick was second beside Johnson on an overtime restart. Johnson had the preferred lane on the inside. Harvick didn’t get a good restart and finished sixth after leading 131 of 330 laps.

Three weeks later, Harvick lost at Auto Club Speedway when Johnson passed him for the lead. Harvick started second and Johnson was third behind Harvick. Denny Hamlin led and had Joey Logano behind him. Logano didn’t get a good start and couldn’t push Hamlin. Johnson pushed Harvick into the lead and then got by him in Turn 3. Harvick finished second after leading 142 of 205 laps.

Things improved for Harvick at New Hampshire, the second race in the opening round of the Chase. He restarted second to Matt Kenseth and passed Kenseth down the backstretch. Harvick led the final six laps to win that race.

Johnson victimized Kenseth at Charlotte. Johnson beat Kenseth in a drag race toward Turn 3 on the final restart. Johnson led the final 18 laps to score his first win since that Auto Club Speedway triumph.

This trend with restarts could continue.

Twice in the last five races at Talladega, there has been a lead change on the final restart.

PIT STOPS

Austin Dillon and Kurt Busch became the last two Chase drivers to lead at least a lap in a Chase race. Busch led one lap at Kansas; Dillon led two.

— Matt Kenseth has led 269 laps in the last two fall Kansas races. That’s 50.1 percent of the laps run in those events. Despite leading all those laps, Kenseth finished 14th last fall and ninth Sunday.

AJ Allmendinger’s eighth-place finish was his sixth top-10 finish of the season. He finished eighth in both Kansas races this season.

Kasey Kahne’s 10th-place finish was his sixth top 10 in the last seven races. His 12 top 10s this season are his most in a year since 2013.

— Ford’s last win was 10 races ago when Chris Buescher won at Pocono. It’s Ford’s longest winless streak of the season.

Social Roundup: JR Nation reacts to Alex Bowman taking over the No. 88

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It’s official. Alex Bowman will replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Chevrolet in 2018.

Now that the news is out, it’s time for the Internet to react.

This is one of the few times where we’ll encourage you to read the comments.

Below, after Hendrick’s tweet announcing Bowman’s appointment to the No. 88 and Bowman’s reaction, are reactions from social media.

Brace yourself.

 

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Nationwide returning to No. 88 car, Axalta adding more races with hiring of Alex Bowman

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Nationwide will return as a sponsor of the No. 88 car next year with Alex Bowman taking over the ride for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports announced Thursday.

The team also announced that Axalta will sponsor the car in 15 races, an increase of two from this season. Axalta’s contract goes through the 2018 season. Axalta has been with Hendrick Motorsports since 1992 and a sponsor of the No. 88 car since 2016.

“Our relationship with Nationwide is unbelievable,’’ car owner Rick Hendrick said in a statement. “They have a true passion for NASCAR and our fans, and to have them extend with us is gratifying for our whole team. It’s also a credit to the way Alex carried himself last season and built lasting relationships. We’re fortunate to work with partners like Nationwide and Axalta that have built impactful, enduring programs around the countless opportunities our sport provides.”

Nationwide’s contract was to have expired after this season. The company is serving as the primary sponsor for Earnhardt in 21 races this season.

Nationwide joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2014 as a corporate partner and became a majority sponsor of the No. 88 Chevrolet and Earnhardt in 2015.

“We are thrilled to continue our relationship with Hendrick Motorsports and welcome Alex to the No. 88 Nationwide team,” said Terrance Williams, chief marketing officer at Nationwide, in a release from Hendrick Motorsports. “Rick Hendrick and the No. 88 team have been exceptional partners for the last three years, and we look forward to our joint commitment and engagement with the NASCAR community, both on and off the track.”

Hendrick Motorsports announced in January 2016 that Mountain Dew would serve as a primary sponsor of Earnhardt’s car for three races through 2018 while also serving as a primary sponsor for Chase Elliott’s car in two races annually and Kasey Kahne’s car for one race per year.

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Alex Bowman to take over Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 car in 2018

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Alex Bowman, once told by a doctor that he couldn’t race for eight weeks after a severe crash but returned in half that time, saw his patience for sitting out this NASCAR season rewarded Thursday when Hendrick Motorsports announced that the 24-year-old will take over Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Cup ride next season.

“Ever since I was a kid, racing is all I’ve wanted to do,” Bowman said in a release from Hendrick Motorsports. “I’ve had so many people believe in me along the way. My family has sacrificed a lot and always been behind me. I would never have this chance without the support of Dale and everyone involved with the No. 88 team. To be part of Hendrick Motorsports and for Mr. (Rick) Hendrick to have this confidence in me, it’s just amazing.’’

Hendrick Motorsports also announced Thursday that Nationwide signed a one-year extension and will sponsor the car for 19 races. Axalta returns and will be the primary sponsor for 15 races, an increase of two from this season.

Bowman was among the favorites for Earnhardt’s ride because he drove 10 races in the No. 88 car last year while Earnhardt recovered from concussion symptoms. Bowman won a pole at Phoenix Raceway and had three top-10 finishes.

His performance last year earned praise from within Hendrick Motorsports.

“Alex impressed the heck out of us last year with his talent, poise and professionalism,” said car owner Rick Hendrick, in a statement from the team. “He stepped up in a very demanding situation and showed that he can run with the best and compete for wins. His ability to stay focused through it all, and the way he’s handled himself since then, has shown a lot of character. (Crew chief Greg Ives) and the team loved working with Alex, and that dynamic will get even better with more time together.

Earnhardt, who is in his final full-time season racing Cup, endorsed Bowman as the next driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet on Periscope in May.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Alex Bowman at Texas last year when Bowman drove 10 races while Earnhardt recovered from concussion symptoms. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

“Alex Bowman in the 88 car next year, is that what you want?’’ Earnhardt said on Periscope a day after the All-Star Race. “That would be pretty awesome. Alex in the 88. That sounds good to me. He earned it last year. He ran real good.”

Bowman’s hire adds another young driver to the Cup series — which already features nearly one-fifth of the starting lineup age 25 or younger.

His path to this ride comes in an unusual way. Rarely do drivers sitting out for an extended period of time get quality rides, let alone join one of the sport’s top organizations.

Bowman, who signed with Hendrick Motorsports in Oct. 2016, has only raced in the Clash in February — earning that spot for his pole at Phoenix last year — and a Camping World Truck race in March at Atlanta Motor Speedway. His primary duty has been as driver in the Chevrolet simulator and driving Chevrolet’s car at NASCAR-allowed tests.

His work in the Chevy simulator has been praised by his future teammates.

“We put a lot on him now,” Jimmie Johnson said last weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “I think he’d be a great fit to come in that car from a wide variety of angles.”

Bowman made his debut in the No. 88 car last July at New Hampshire after having run 71 Cup races for BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing from 2014-15.

“When I look at how he stepped in seamlessly, it was really impressive for me,” Johnson said of Bowman’s performance in the No. 88 last year. “He handled the pressure, won a pole, was up there duking it out for race wins, had a heated moment or two with some of the veterans and wasn’t rattled.

“We all watched him evolve. You drive for a lower level team and unfortunately, people’s opinion about you can change. That cloud or stigma was there for a while, and he had a chance to reset the deck when he drove the 88. I think he’s plenty capable. He’s been a great teammate. He knows our system.”

While Bowman is most noted for running 10 races last year for Earnhardt, he has been tied to Earnhardt since 2014.

Bowman ran two Xfinity races for JR Motorsports in 2014 and returned to run nine races for the organization in 2016.

Bowman’s path to this point has been one full of gambles in a sport where few succeed. His father put a second mortgage on the home to fund Bowman’s racing and saw his used car dealership close during the economic downturn.

Bowoman’s racing started when his father got him a quarter midget at age 7. Bowman went on to collect nine quarter-midget national championships before he moved to race midgets.

He was the USAC National Midget Rookie of the Year in 2009 but a crash the next year at the dirt track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway put his season in jeopardy. His midget tumbled several times. He cracked ribs, broke his collarbones and damaged blood vessels in his eyes. He was unable to see for three days because his eyes were swollen shut. When his vision returned, it was blurry. Eventually his vision returned.

Even with both arms in a sling, he wanted to race as soon as possible. Told it would be eight weeks at the earliest, Bowman said he had a race in three weeks. Bowman returned in four weeks.

He’s been focused on racing since — even with the decision to turn down rides this year to be aligned with Hendrick Motorsports even though there wasn’t a ride for him.

Beginning next year, he’ll be out of the simulator and back on the track.

“The No. 88 team is such a great group of people,’’ Bowman said in a release from the team. “I know we can pick up where we left off last year, and I truly believe we can win races and contend for a championship. I’m excited to build on the relationship with Nationwide and all of our partners. It means the world that they have faith in me, and I’m thankful to have them on my side. Now I just want to go win.”

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Brett Moffitt joins GMS Racing for Xfinity Series race at Iowa

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Brett Moffitt, the 2015 Cup Series Rookie of the Year, will join GMS Racing for the July 29 Xfinity Series race at Iowa Speedway.

A native of Grimes, Iowa, Moffitt will drive the team’s No. 96 Chevrolet, which has been driven by Ben Kennedy in four starts this year.

It will be Moffitt’s first Xfinity start of the year and just the second of his career.

His first came in 2012 at Iowa for Robby Benton.

The race will be Moffitt’s first NASCAR action since making five starts for Red Horse Racing in the Truck Series to start the year before the team shut down.

“I am really excited to be racing in my home state again,” Moffitt said in a press release. “I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity with GMS Racing and I’m very grateful of the support that the Iowa community has shown and put in to support this race. It would be really awesome to bring home a solid finish in front of my hometown fans.”

Moffitt earned his first NASCAR win last year with Red Horse Racing at Michigan International Speedway.