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Bump & Run: Reviewing Daytona, looking ahead to Atlanta

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One down, 35 to go in the Cup Series.

As the series moves from Daytona and to Atlanta, here’s a chance to look back and look ahead.

Dale Jarrett, who will be on NASCAR America, which airs from 5:30 to 6: p.m. ET today on NBCSN, joins Nate Ryan, Jerry Bonkowski and Dustin Long in answering this week’s Bump & Run questions.

— What were your takeaways from Speedweeks at Daytona?

Dale Jarrett: Two things. The aggressive driving that we saw throughout the entire Speedweeks and a lot of that was from the younger drivers. I think it was one of the most aggressive Speedweeks on the race track that I’ve seen in quite a while, which made for very compelling races from the Clash to the Daytona 500.

Also, we talk about perseverance a lot, how you really have to have a thick skin to make it through this business, and I think Kurt Busch is a perfect example of that, how he’d come close so many times in those other 63 starts in restrictor-plate races and finally things went his way at the end of the race.

Nate Ryan: Manufacturer influence in NASCAR’s premier series is as strong as it’s seemed in decades.

Obviously, many took a cue from the way that Toyota controlled the tempo in winning last year’s Daytona 500, and Ford in particular tried to mimic that (and mostly was successful through the strange bedfellows of Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick and the Team Penske cars of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski).

But the automaker narrative transcends the Daytona draft. There were rumblings of another switch being in the offing, or perhaps the arrival of a new manufacturer that could build around an established team.

While teams are fighting tooth and nail to attract the corporate sponsorship that once seemed plentiful, it seems as if manufacturers have become among the most stable of revenue streams and engineering/technical support for teams. It isn’t the factory-driven competition and funding model of the 1960s, but the landscape slowly is creeping in that direction.

Jerry Bonkowski: Kurt Busch’s determination was one of the best stories of the day. After previously finishing runner-up three times in the Daytona 500, Busch overcame race damage and a dangerously low fuel level with a not-to-be-denied attitude that will go down as one of the most memorable and inspiring rallies in recent Great American Race history.

Dustin Long: With a first-time Daytona 500 winner and last-lap maneuvers throughout Speedweeks, I found it interesting that some among the fan base seemed to be hung up on the five-minute clock. Yes, there were numerous accidents, so this was an issue discussed, but to me this has the feel of talking about how pass interference was called in the Super Bowl instead of the game itself. The rule was put in to help cut costs for teams and for safety. Drivers don’t need to be racing in cars that have had significant damage and risk getting into another incident or causing an accident. End of story. Move on to something else.

— What will you be keeping a close eye on this weekend at Atlanta?

Dale Jarrett: I wasn’t sure how the stages were going to affect Daytona but it was very evident to how they did, as the Toyotas, Fords and Chevrolets took on their different strategies. I’m more interested with Atlanta being a race track that is hard on tires and very difficult to get a grip on, how that is going to play out and with not a lot of downforce in comparison to what they had a couple of years ago – just how hard these cars are going to be driven at this track and who is going to have the best answer for it.

Nate Ryan: Two things:

  1. How drivers will handle driving with a virtually nonexistent spoiler. It should make cars a handful on the weathered pavement that will be replaced after this race.
  2. Rebound stories from the Daytona 500. So many stars sputtered (some through no fault of their own) at Daytona, this could be a statement race for many. Last season, defending series champion Jimmie Johnson (who is coming off a forgettable Speedweeks similar to last year) used a strategy play to snooker Kevin Harvick and send a message that the No. 48 Chevy would have the resilience to win its seventh championship.

Jerry Bonkowski: Ford dominated much of the Daytona 500 but that was on a restrictor-plate track. How will the blue oval fare on one of the fastest mile-and-a-half tracks in the sport? And what will Stewart-Haas Racing do for an encore after its first race with the new manufacturer?

Dustin Long: I’m really intrigued with how inspection will go throughout the weekend. There was a good bit of talk in the garage about how tough NASCAR was in inspection at Daytona. A number of teams had to go through inspection more than once before the race. I want to see how this impacts qualifying. How many cars will be going through inspection when qualifying begins? How will that impact their qualifying if they don’t have as much time on-track? If they start at the rear, how challenging will it be for them to get toward the front by the first stage to score points? What happens in inspection could play a role in what happens to a team throughout the weekend.

Watch Dale Jarrett on NASCAR America today from 5:30 – 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

NASCAR America: Short tracks are Clint Bowyer’s favorites

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It was a question that needed to be asked, although the answer was not a surprise to anyone. What is Clint Bowyer’s favorite type of track?

“Short tracks are obviously my favorite,” Bowyer answered. “I think they’re probably everybody’s favorite. That’s what we grew up doing. That’s probably where we feel most comfortable.”

“I love back-to-back short track races because the drivers don’t have time to forget about who they’re mad at,” Steve Letarte interjected.

But Bowyer’s love of short tracks is not limited to Martinsville, where he snapped his long winless streak earlier this year. He is even more excited about coming to Richmond Raceway this week.

“I feel like Richmond is the perfect-sized race track.”

Bowyer went one step further, suggesting there is a way to add more tracks like Richmond to the schedule.

“I feel like, some of these mile-and-a-half tracks, we need to just use as parking lots and build Richmond in the infield,” Bowyer said.

For more of what Bowyer and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had to say about short track racing, watch the video above.

NASCAR America: Clint Bowyer’s parties are legendary

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Clint Bowyer parties are not only legendary, they have the same effect as a black hole on unsuspecting passersby, as Steve Letarte found out in Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America.

“The cab driver comes up, goes inside, decides he is going to clock out – stays at the party,” Bowyer explained. “(The fare) is in the car waiting on him. He’s still inside partying. So somebody (else) got in the cab and made several laps on the go-kart track that night.”

It was eventually returned – muddied and with ungrateful patrons.

The cab driver is not the only person to get sucked into the vortex of a Bowyer party. Pizza delivery men, famous singers, and countless others have made this mistake of wandering too close.

“I’ve known Clint a long time, so none of this is shocking to me,” Letarte said as he correctly answered every bizarre question aimed at him.

For more of what has happened at one of Bowyer’s parties, watch the video above.

NASCAR America at 5:30 p.m. ET: Clint Bowyer joins Dale Jr. at the Big Oak Table

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5:30-6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is joined at the Big Oak table by Clint Bowyer and Steve Letarte. Krista Voda hosts.

On today’s edition of Wednesdays with Dale Jr.

• Clint Bowyer, a few weeks removed from his victory at Martinsville, joins Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Letarte at the Big Oak Table to discuss the season, short track racing, the move to Stewart-Haas Racing last year and snapping his 190-race winless streak.
• Have a question for Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Clint Bowyer? Hit us up on Twitter using #WednesDale to get your question answered on air.
• Bowyer’s Martinsville victory celebration included some Moonshine & Fire. We’ll put his personal party knowledge to the test with this week’s game “Did This Really Happen at a Clint Bowyer Party?”

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5:30 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Bump & Run: Who will be next to challenge Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick?

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Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch have combined to win five of the first eight races of the season. Who is most likely to break up their dominance?

Nate Ryan: Any of the Penske drivers. That team seems to be next in class behind Stewart-Haas Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing.

Dustin Long: Ryan Blaney. Has shown a good bit of speed lately and seems to be close to scoring a win or two in the near future.

Daniel McFadin: Kyle Larson is poised to wreak havoc on the field if he can put together complete races without any miscues, like his spin in Bristol. He’s the defending Richmond winner, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can carry his momentum there.

Dan Beaver: If it’s possible to overlook the defending champion, that is what seems to be happening with Martin Truex Jr. With five wins and 14 top fives in his last 18 races, he needs to forget about his bad luck in the last two races and concentrate on all the things the team has been doing right.

Parker KligermanWhen I look at the current landscape, I feel the drivers that can break their stranglehold will either be driving a JGR Toyota or Team Penske Ford. 

Ryan Blaney (30-race winless drought), Jimmie Johnson (31), Joey Logano (35), Ryan Newman (40 races) and Kurt Busch (43) are in droughts. Who is the first among this group to return to Victory Lane?

Nate Ryan: Logano, possibly as early as Saturday. Blaney would be 1A as it’s only a matter of time for Team Penske.

Dustin Long: Ryan Blaney. He’s been strong lately, finishing eighth at Auto Club, third at Martinsville and fifth at Texas before crashing out of the Bristol race while in the lead. His time is coming. 

Daniel McFadin: I think it comes down to either Logano or Blaney with Logano likely to win at Richmond or Talladega. He’s finished in the top two in the last two Richmond races and he’s one of the best plate racers of this generation

Dan Beaver: As consistently strong as he has run, it is difficult to believe Logano has not already won. Along with Kyle Busch, he is the only driver with seven top-10s in the first eight races. Five of these were sixth-place finishes or better. Returning to the site of his last win, Logano could break through this week – and this time it will not be encumbered.

Parker Kligerman: I believe Ryan Blaney will win first. He is showing some serious speed and seems to be in great form. I feel that crew chief Jeremy Bullins and Ryan will want to start to assert themselves inside Team Penske as the title contender I feel they will be this year. 

After the perceived success of PJ1 before the resumption of Monday’s race, should NASCAR consider doing mid-race treatments with a traction compound to tracks?

Nate Ryan: Yes. While it’s worth pondering whether it might be unfairly tampering with the competition to reapply traction compound during a race, the circumstances of a postponement should allow it, and the ends certainly justified the means in Bristol’s case.

Dustin Long: NASCAR should do what is necessary to provide the best type of racing for the fans. 

Daniel McFadin: It’s a toss-up for me, but I think I’d rather they didn’t. It’s more interesting to have teams have to account for the loss of a racing element over time, just like they do with tires. That happened in Bristol and the race was great from beginning to end. Also, applying it mid-race just makes for longer races.

Dan Beaver: If NASCAR can find a way to substantially improve the action, they should do whatever is necessary. Many dirt tracks around the country take time to water the surface before the A-Mains to develop a second groove. NASCAR still has some lessons that can be learned from the grass roots.

Parker Kligerman: Why not? I feel until we find a way to stop hearing the words “loss of downforce” from following other cars, NASCAR should continue to look at all available tools to add in variables that can cause uncertainty for the teams and drivers and create changes in track state like we saw at Bristol to cause the most dynamic races possible.