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Ryan: William Byron’s knockout underscores a flaw of Chase


AVONDALE, Ariz. – When William Bryon’s engine exploded with 12 laps remaining in Friday’s Camping World Truck Series race, it exposed the greatest of fault lines in NASCAR’s playoff structure.

And it could rupture in a full-blown implosion of intractably poor optics in the Nov. 18 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Since switching the Chase for the Sprint Cup (which was christened in the truck and Xfinity circuits this year) to a system of eliminations and points resets, the danger always loomed of a driver consistently beating the competition before falling prey to a fluky finish that short-circuits a title bid.

There have been other examples – Jimmie Johnson’s axle seal failure at Dover leaps to mind – over the past three seasons, but none resonated as much as Byron’s plight.

It’s not just that the Bryon has as many victories (six) this season as the remaining four title contenders combined.

It’s how he consistently has outraced Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton, Christopher Bell and Timothy Peters during the Chase.

In the previous five races of the playoff, Byron finished higher than at least one of those four contenders every time. Twice, the Kyle Busch Motorsports driver’s No. 9 Toyota was the group’s highest finisher.

So now what happens if the 18-year-old rising star, who is headed to Hendrick Motorsports and surely would be a highly desirable asset as champion in NASCAR’s desperate marketing push for Millennials, manages to win the Nov. 18 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway?

Bryon will have won twice in the Chase and finished in the top 10 of every other event except Phoenix – where a faulty part late in the race kept him out of victory lane after leading 112 of 150 laps.

The championship never will have seemed more arbitrary and less valid.

The most tired trope trotted out to defend the current Chase is that a favorite eliminated in such a manner as Byron was would be the equivalent of the New England Patriots’ undefeated season ending in a Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants.

This is nonsense.

Byron’s situation is much more analogous to the Cleveland Indians winning the first six games of the World Series but losing the championship to the Chicago Cubs because they were forced to play a seventh game and lost.

It is possible (though certainly not plausible) that a driver could win the first nine races of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, lead the first 266 laps of the finale and lose the championship because of an engine failure at the white flag.

That is why NASCAR’s playoffs are fundamentally different. Some of these factors might be more applicable to the truck Chase, which has the smallest sample sizes of drivers (eight to start) and races (seven) — but the underpinnings of this playoff structure always make these scenarios possible.

There are no “real” eliminations, there is only ineligibility. Everybody keeps playing (as they should; racing doesn’t lend itself to heightened drama by reducing the field), increasing the possibility that a supremely worthy candidate’s chances can be doomed by suspect circumstances.

That’s why Friday night’s stunning twist felt unlike any other.

And that’s why next week’s coronation in South Florida will ring especially hollow if Byron wins – and surpasses the 2016 victory total for the championship four – while another driver is crowned champion.


Erik Jones gets belated Truck Series championship gift

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When Erik Jones won his 2015 Camping World Truck Series championship, he was still two years shy of the legal drinking age.

As a result, there was one piece missing from his championship celebration – the champagne.

Jones turned 21 last May and he can now enjoy all the benefits that go with it.

On Tuesday, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver tweeted that he’d finally received a commemorative bottle of champagne for his title run win Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Good things do come to those who wait.

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NBC Sports to be exclusive home to IndyCar, Indy 500 in 2019

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NBC Sports Group and IndyCar announced a multi-year agreement Wednesday for NBC Sports to be the exclusive home for IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 beginning in 2019.

The Indianapolis 500 and seven additional Verizon IndyCar Series races will be broadcast annually on NBC. The remaining races will be televised on NBCSN. All races will be live streamed to authenticated subscribers on and the NBC Sports app. With the agreement, NBC Sports also will present all IndyCar qualifying, practices and Indy Lights races across its platforms beginning in 2019. Details of NBC Sports’ 2019 IndyCar schedule will be announced at a later date.

“We’re excited to have NBC Sports serve as the exclusive home of IndyCar, which represents the most competitive open-wheel racing in the world,” said Jon Miller, President, Programming, NBC Sports and NBCSN. “We’re honored to bring the Indianapolis 500, one of the most prestigious events in all of sports, to NBC, further enhancing NBC Sports’ Championship Season. We’ve seen consistent growth for IndyCar on NBCSN in the past decade, and we hope to continue that growth throughout the series by leveraging the television, digital, production and marketing assets that make NBC Sports a powerful media partner.”

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

“This arrangement brings all of IndyCar to one home, increases our exposure and includes our first direct-to-consumer offer for our fans,” said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Company, which owns IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “We couldn’t be happier to have start-to-finish coverage of IndyCar season with the NBC Sports Group.”

The 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500, set for Sunday, May 26, 2019, will be the first ever on NBC. The Indy 500 will also be included every year in NBC Sports’ Championship Season marketing campaign, which touts numerous high-profile championship events that are presented across NBC Sports platforms from May to July, including the Triple Crown, The PLAYERS, Premier League Championship Sunday, French Open, Stanley Cup Final, Tour de France, and The Open Championship.

The entire Verizon IndyCar Series will receive unprecedented marketing and promotional support from NBC Sports, which will utilize not only its own assets, but many NBCUniversal assets as well. With the Indy 500 and seven additional races on NBC, IndyCar will have the second-most races on broadcast television in all of motorsports.

NBC Sports Gold – NBC Sports Group’s direct-to-consumer product – will offer a package to IndyCar fans that features all qualifying and practices not televised live, all Indy Lights races, and full-event replays. Additional details, including the cost of the Gold offering, will be announced at a later date.


NASCAR America: Comparing today’s drivers to drivers of yesteryear

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With Kevin Harvick‘s recent run of three consecutive wins, NASCAR America analysts Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte used the opportunity debate which NASCAR legends they compare Harvick and other current drivers to.

Burton compared Harvick to three-time Cup champion Cale Yarborough.

“I think they remind me a lot of each other because they’re both very aggressive, they both got after it, good at every kind of race track,” Burton said.

Earnhardt sees some of 1983 Cup champion Bobby Allison in Harvick.

“Won a championship, won a lot of races, but wasn’t afraid to put his finger in another driver’s chest,” Earnhardt said.

When it comes to Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon, Earnhardt compared him and Denny Hamlin to the late Tim Richmond.

“Mainly in style,” Earnhardt said. “They’re the kind of guys that are a little flashy, a lot of flair outside the car. … Tim was that way. He wasn’t scared to flaunt it a little bit and he enjoyed life outside the race car as much as he did inside the race car.”

Watch the above video for more old school driver comparisons.


NASCAR America: Importance of keeping NASCAR connected to grassroots racing

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The importance of grassroots racing to the future of NASCAR is a constant subject these days thanks to the likes of Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson.

Now NASCAR America’s Dale Earnhardt Jr., Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton get their chance to sound off on the subject.

On Tuesday’s episode, the panel of analysts discussed why keeping NASCAR connected to the short tracks and lower series across the country is vital to the sport’s future.

“We don’t have that national series running old short tracks that draws people to the race track but also draws them to the TV on Saturday and Sunday,” Burton said.

Earnhardt brought up an attempt by Bristol Motor Speedway to purchase the Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tennessee, last year.  The attempted failed.

“My heart was broken because I thought we had a real opportunity to bring one of the touring series, either the Truck or Xfinity, back to Fairgrounds,” Earnhardt said. “That’s where I think we’re broken or disconnected. The late model guys and the guys that are running on these local tracks don’t have the connection to the Truck Series or Xfinity Series. They need to take those series, Truck or Xfinity, back to the short tracks and bridge that link.”

The three analysts went on to discuss the short tracks and races that were part of their formative racing years.

Watch the above video for more.