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Bump & Run: Spinning the wheels and calling your shot

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The opening weekend at Daytona International Speedway not only brought back the roar of Cup cars but provided a couple of topics to discuss.

Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman, who will be on NASCAR America from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, join Nate Ryan and Dustin Long in answering this week’s Bump & Run questions.

Should Hendrick Motorsports be worried after Jimmie Johnson spun on his own in the Clash, a year after the Hendrick cars of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Chase Elliott spun in the Daytona 500?

Kyle Petty: I’m not sure there’s much cause for concern. I’ve been going to Daytona a LONG time and have seen lots of spins off Turn 4. I don’t see this as a Hendrick Motorsports problem as much as it’s just a byproduct of the cars and the type of racing we see now at Daytona. It’s hard for teams to find that balance between speed alone and speed in a pack. It’s a razor’s edge they balance on. Sometimes you lose that balance if the car is put in certain situations — no matter who you drive for or who you are.

Parker Kligerman: There is no doubt, that the Hendrick cars are showing incredible single-car speed, which is obvious from their qualifying record here at Daytona and the superspeedway tracks last year. I think that is a testament to the fact that the superspeedway aerodynamic rules have been fairly consistent over the last few years. This has allowed the Hendrick team to continually find ways to take drag out of their cars. But over this same period of time, we have seen the Daytona track surface age, and begin to show small bits of character. 

Therefore, I do believe there is a need for worry, as many of the things that you do these days to garner single-car speed are not mechanical and are normally built into the design of the car (Underside chassis and body). Therefore it will be up to them to try to make mechanical grip in the coming practices in an effort to counter the lack of aerodynamic grip they have built into their cars. 

The fix to it all though? Be up front. As we heard Dale Earnhardt Jr. talk about during the Clash, if you are upfront in clean air where the car is actually making downforce and has all its sideforce, they drive fine. Hendrick may try to form similar strategies to that of the JGR armada, to keep themselves upfront all day. 

Nate Ryan: There certainly was an air of concern Sunday, outside of Chad Knaus’ sanguine assessment. The crew chief for Jimmie Johnson seemed the only member of Hendrick Motorsports who wasn’t worried about the spate of team cars spinning wildly in plate races, but that measured approach to problem-solving is Knaus’ style.

Among Hendrick team members who don’t have the confidence of seven championships, there probably will be some justified scrambling and urgency Monday and Tuesday to address the issues. Is it aerodynamics? Mechanical setup? Track conditions? Regardless, Hendrick should have a better idea Thursday if it’s been solved.

Dustin Long: Even though Chad Knaus expressed no worries when I talked to him Sunday, it was evident his teammates were uptight based on comments from Dale Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Alan Gustafson.

The key concern for the organization could be how do they maintain the speed in the car while keeping it stable. Based on what the Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing cars showed on Sunday, the Hendrick cars can’t afford to give up too much speed.

After his contact with Denny Hamlin on the last lap of the Clash, Brad Keselowski said: “I guarantee (Hamlin) knows and everyone else who was watching today that I’m going to make that move again and you better move out or you’ll end up wrecked.’’ Do you agree he has his competitors’ attention?

Kyle Petty: I think Brad has had his competitors’ attention on plate tracks since 2009 Talladega (see Carl Edwards). He’s arguably the best plate driver in racing right now. He understands every aspect of the draft-power-aero combination. He comes each week to the track for one reason, to win. That’s never changed. If his competitors don’t know it by now, they haven’t been paying attention! 

Parker Kligerman: To be honest, I don’t think many drivers would do what Denny did had this race been the Daytona 500 or a points race. I think in the mindset that the Clash is a fun race and the only thing that truly matters is winning, it was a last-ditch effort by Denny to block the No. 2 car. The move Brad made to me was just a normal move to the bottom with the momentum he was carrying from being pushed by the No. 22 car. 

What has people’s attention is the speed and momentum the 2 and the 22 were able to garner together. I believe in the current superspeedway rules that we have seen the last few years, we are entering an era where it no longer — for most cars — is good enough to have one “partner” drafting with you. In the current rules, it’s becoming apparent you may need three or more cars to gain enough momentum to pass the leader. 

Therefore, seeing what the 2 and 22 are able to do being only two cars is definitely being noted by their competitors. 

Nate Ryan: Yes, but I also am unsure whether he truly needed it. On the last lap of the Daytona 500 with a massive surge of momentum, wouldn’t any driver make whatever move is necessary to win?

If Keselowski was referring more specifically to using the bottom lane on such a maneuver, then drivers apparently were forewarned Sunday. But short of throwing a block much earlier, I still think any last-lap leader likely would react the same way that Hamlin did.

Dustin Long: He already had their attention based on what he’s done on restrictor-plate tracks with two such wins last year and Team Penske having won five of the last eight plate races.

The comment was more from the Adrenaline flowing after a race. The leader of the Daytona 500 should expect some sort of attack on the last lap. In this case, Denny Hamlin moved down too late.   

Watch Parker Kligerman and Kyle Petty on NASCAR America today from 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

First short track win slips away from Martin Truex Jr. on pit road

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Another short track race, another broken heart for Martin Truex Jr.

For the third time in four starts at Richmond Raceway, Truex led the most laps, and it didn’t result in victory.

The Furniture Row Racing driver, making his 450th Cup start and his 75th on a short track, saw his shot at winning the Toyota Owners 400 vanish on pit road.

After leading 121 laps from the pole, Truex lost the lead to Kyle Busch on a pit stop with 30 to go in the scheduled distance.

Truex was in second when the caution waved with nine to go in the scheduled distance. But when the dust settled, Truex found himself in 11th.

A problem with the jack as his team changed left-side tires was the culprit. After having to pit again under another caution, Truex ended the night in 14th.

“Pretty disappointed that we didn’t get at least a chance,” Truex told Fox. “It’s unfortunate, but I don’t know what we have to do to win one of these short-track (races) and get everything to go the way we need it to. Tonight, we beat ourselves, so that’s unfortunate. The guys did a really good job with the race car. We were awful at the start of the race, and I thought we were really in trouble. Just fought all night long and tried to stick with it and make good adjustments and put ourselves in position to try to win another one and just came up short.”

In Sept. 9 playoff race at the 0.75-mile track, Truex led 198 laps before crashing in overtime. In the September 2016 event, he led 193 laps before finishing third to Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson.

In his 75 short-track starts, Truex has earned eight top fives. The last two have come in his last two trips to Martinsville Speedway.

What drivers said after Richmond Cup race

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Kyle Busch — Winner: “I think the difference for us tonight was just the adjustments. Trying to stay with the racetrack all night long. Adam Stevens (crew chief) and my guys did a phenomenal job. I think one of the other keys to the night was just my guys – my pit crew – they got us out front when it mattered the most those last two pit stops. They were awesome tonight on pit road.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 2nd: “Just very fortunate circumstances there at the end for us with the way the restarts went. Having a short run there at the end was definitely in our favor. So it was nice to be on the good end of things for the first time in a while. Looking forward, we have to be realistic about how we ran tonight. I think the result shouldn’t weigh into how hard we worked this week because we have some work to do. I think that we have to keep that in mind.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 3rd: “We just got better as the race went on. We were 13th, 15th, something like that in the first half of the race. Just weren’t very strong. We just made some really good adjustments that got us rolling towards the front, especially on long runs. We got to the top five, then we had some pit stops there. We gained a few spots there. But, you know, restarting on that outside line, it was a huge deficit. I just couldn’t get the grip that I needed to try to run with (Kyle Busch) side‑by‑side into Turn 1. That’s all I wanted, to be within one car length getting into turn one, and I just couldn’t get it.’’

Joey Logano — Finished 4th: “We had a really good Shell Pennzoil Ford early in the race and got a couple stage wins early, which was great. We maxed out those points, which is awesome. We just lost the handle on the car and fell back to sixth or so. We had a bad pit stop and lost a bunch of spots and then had a really good pit stop and got them all right back and were able to come home with a top five. I wish I could rerun that. I feel like we can do better if we tried again. I am sure the whole field would say that. I am proud of the speed we showed at Richmond. Just want to be a little better.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 5th: “No more restarts. We were terrible on the restarts there compared to three or four of those guys. I was spinning the tires getting going there on the restarts. All of the night taken into consideration we were way better than we have been in the past and that is an important race for us to figure out where we need to be with all of the things that didn’t go right tonight and be ready for when we come back here for the playoff race.”  

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 6th: “We had to start the race on the tires we qualified with, and as soon as we got those tires off the car, we were a very competitive car and were able to stay on the lead lap. And with the long green-flag runs, we were able to still stay on the lead lap and work our way up through the field. I don’t know what we’re missing on scuff tires, but that’s something we’ve got to figure out.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 7th: “We weren’t very good all race long. And then I ended up getting the Lucky Dog there and then lost a lap … so that was kind of a hiccup on our part. I was able to get the Lucky Dog again and then charge from wherever we were to seventh the last laps. So, we salvaged a really good finish, which was good.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 9th: “We had a really good car. It’s just frustrating there at the end. All hell breaks loose. We lost a couple of spots on pit road, and that gets you back, and then you get on the outside and get stuck behind somebody that spun their tires, and you knock the front fender in on the 24 because he spun his tires. The next thing you know, you’re 10th thinking, ‘Boy, how did this night go to ruin so fast?’ Then it’s just beating and banging and everybody dive-bombing on the bottom. Those cars that are a lap down you’re lapping, and all of a sudden sticking it in three-wide with nothing to lose at the end. It’s a shame that a good, positive night ends up being like that, but that’s racing at this place.”

William Byron — Finished 12th: “I sped on pit road, and I guess I was just pushing the last segment there in the corner, and we were a little bit too fast coming onto the straightaway. Overall, a really good night. We got stage points, I think we finished fifth in both stages, and I think we finished 12th, but overall learned a lot and can just really build on this.  I love racing at short tracks. It’s a blast and definitely learned a lot from this.” 

Erik Jones — Finished 13th: “Just a really tough day. We really just didn’t have the right car from the start. I wasn’t too sure about it during practice, but once we fired off we realized it was going to be a pretty big struggle all day. We hung with it and fought hard and came home with an OK finish, but just need to get a lot better for the next one.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 14th: “Pretty disappointed that we didn’t get at least a chance. It’s unfortunate, but I don’t know what we have to do to win one of these short-tracks and get everything to go the way we need it to. Tonight we beat ourselves, so that’s unfortunate. The guys did a really good job with the race car. We were awful at the start of the race, and I thought we were really in trouble. Just fought all night long and tried to stick with it and make good adjustments, and put ourselves in position to try to win another one and just came up short. Frustrated, but proud of everyone for the effort and hopefully we get them next week.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 15th: “Richmond Raceway has always been what I consider the hardest track on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series circuit, so I was really proud of our efforts in Stage 1. Our AAA Camaro ZL1 was really good. We were the fastest car on the track for most of the run and were able to race our way from 23rd to eighth and earn a few stage points. Once the race transitioned to night, we lost some of the magic. We just weren’t as strong. I put us in a bit of a hole by earning a commitment line violation coming to pit road, but we worked hard and had a good shot at the end. It was just hard to find a line that made moves.” 

Matt DiBenedetto — Finished 16th: “A 16th for us at Go Fas Racing is a heck of a run. We outran some really, really good cars all day. Our car had crazy-good long run speed and of all days for us to have really good long-run speed, today was definitely the day. But even at the end when we had the green-white-checker, we were able to pass a couple of good cars and pick up a spot or two. The team did a really good job. You know how great of a run that is for us.”

Daniel Hemric – Finished 32nd: “Obviously the results and the finish isn’t at all what we came here to do, but we started the race too far off and we lost so many laps there the first run and that put us behind for the rest of the night. With it going green like it did, I didn’t get to show how much better we got our Camaro ZL1 there throughout the race. I thought we could take off in top-15 speed after we got to work on it for the first time. It just took us getting to pit road to give us that opportunity.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 37th: “Richmond Raceway is one of my favorite tracks and to run just outside the top five, get assessed a pit-road penalty and then battle back onto the lead lap says a lot about this No. 31 Childress Vineyards Camaro ZL1 team. It’s unfortunate on the restart with 30 to go that we got into the back of a car. Everyone started checking up, and I just hit him square in the back. I did all I could, but the damage cost us our race. I’m just so disappointed right now. We had a good car and a finish that doesn’t reflect it.” 

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Late cautions help Chase Elliott to yet another runner-up finish

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Chase Elliott‘s Cup career will always be measured against Bill Elliott’s, his Hall of Fame father.

Saturday night at Richmond Raceway, the third-year driver matched his father in a stat both impressive and underwhelming.

Elliott, who remains winless, finished second for the eighth time in 86 Cup starts.

Bill Elliott was a runner-up eight times before visiting Victory Lane.

But Chase Elliott, whose result was aided by a series of late-race cautions, was the first to admit it wasn’t a product of the team having turned the corner completely in a mostly disappointing season.

“A very fortunate (set of) circumstances there at the end for us with the way the restarts went and having a short run there at the end, definitely in our favor,” the Hendrick Motorsports driver said. “It’s nice to be on the good end of things for the first time in a while. We have to be realistic about how we ran tonight. The result shouldn’t weigh in to how hard we worked this week because we have some work to do.”

Though he started a season-best second in the Toyota Owners 400, Elliott wasn’t a factor in the race’s outcome until he restarted in the top five for two restarts during final 11 laps. He finished seventh in Stage 1.

The second place was his second top five of the season (third at Phoenix) and just the fourth for HMS overall.

The No. 9 Chevrolet pulled off the feat despite not having crew chief Alan Gustafson, who was completing a two-race suspension for an L1 penalty after the Texas race.

In the first race without him, Elliott was involved in a Lap 3 crash at Bristol and finished 29th, 27 laps off the lead.

“I think we’ve been getting better, for sure, over the course of the past handful of weeks,” Elliott said. “I thought last week was really probably our best effort as a company. Obviously we crashed at the beginning. I felt like our car was solid throughout the whole weekend. Obviously, our teammates ran well.”

But Elliott said the team needs to be “realistic” about how the first night race of the season went.

“I think anybody amongst our team would say the same thing,” he said.  “I’m not knocking anyone, anybody on my team or whoever, but we all know we need to do better.”

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Points after Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway

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With his third consecutive win this season, Kyle Busch padded his points lead over Joey Logano with a victory in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway. He now has a 56-point lead and 17 playoff points.

Logano won both stages of the 400-lap affair, his first stage wins of the season.

Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick finished third and fourth, respectively.

Brad Keselowski rounded out the top-five.

Earning 39 points for his second-place finish, Chase Elliott is 25 points behind 16th and a playoff berth in the standings.

Click here for full results.