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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.

Atlanta Motor Speedway to delay repave at least a year

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The cries of drivers have been heard. Atlanta Motor Speedway will not repave its track as previously scheduled. Instead, track officials will evaluate the surface following the 2018 race there.

Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns the track, had planned to have the track surface repaved beginning in late March. It would have been the first repave there since 1997.

Engineers examined the track after the March 5 race to determine if the track surface could last another year with modest repairs. Track officials also consulted with Goodyear and others.

“There’s no question that the surface is worn out, but probably the most powerful lobby this side of Washington, D.C., was the biggest influence,” Ed Clark, president of Atlanta Motor Speedway, told NBC Sports of the drivers. “They kind of put the pressure on. I understand.”

After winning there, Brad Keselowski made his pitch not to repave the track.

“Drivers hate repaves,” he said. “We want to see the surfaces last as long as they can.  But the reality is nothing lasts forever, and this surface has made it a really, really long time, 20 years, I think, this season, and they should be really proud of that.

“My hope is they can get another year or two out of it, and I understand if they can’t, and you have to kind of leave it to their expertise and so forth.”

Clark said that work will need to be done to the track before next year’s race.

“The worst part is down the frontstretch in front of the grandstands,” Clark told NBC Sports. “There’s a lot of issues there. We’re actually going to have to cut a few areas and patch … to make it last through 2018. We consulted with Goodyear on that. They don’t think, as long as it is on the straightaway, it is a big issue from a tire standpoint.”

Clark said that the track surface will be sealed in October and should have the patching done before then.

“Let them go ahead and slip and slide one more time in 2018,” Clark said.

Clark said that while anything can change, he doesn’t foresee being talked out of a repave job too many more times.

“You have to see how the weekend goes and what happens,” Clark told NBC Sports. “We had to patch some places after the Saturday events this year, small places. Hey, if we could go two more, great. All you’ve got to do is walk out there and look at it. It is absolutely worn out. But if the drivers say, hey our choice is to race on this surface as it is.

“There comes a point (when a repave is needed). We do have a few drainage issues we do need to correct, some other things when the time comes. Right now, we’re going to get through 2018 and evaluate and see if that is the time or when is it.”

Clark said that when the track is repaved, Goodyear has expressed interest in having two test sessions to determine the proper tire for that 1.5-mile track instead of the customary one because of the track’s challenging surface.

Clark warns that with the excitement of Tuesday’s news, the day is still coming when the track will have to be repaved.

“I can’t see this going two more seasons, maybe only one,” Clark said.

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NASCAR America — My Home Track: 50 States In 50 Shows — Arkansas

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On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, we continued our series of My Home Track: 50 States in 50 Shows as our trucks rolled into Arkansas!

We visited two short tracks in the state that produced President Bill Clinton and Basketball Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen.

Plus we talked to NASCAR Hall of Famer and Arkansas native Mark Martin about racing in his home state.

NASCAR America: Is there cause for concern with Jimmie Johnson’s performance thus far?

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It’s no secret that Jimmie Johnson is off to a slow start in 2017.

The defending and seven-time NASCAR Cup champion has a starting average of 21.8 and a finishing average of 18.8 in the first five races of this season.

He has just one top-10 finish (ninth at Phoenix), along with 34th at Daytona, 19th at Atlanta, 11th at Las Vegas and 21st Sunday at Fontana.

And let’s not forget he’s 17th in the NASCAR Cup standings heading to one of his strongest tracks, Martinsville Speedway, this Sunday.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, we discussed this: After such a slow start to the season, is there a cause for concern over Johnson’s performance?

NASCAR America: Mark Martin is definitely a Kyle Larson fan

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On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin shared his experience of racing in his home state of Arkansas, as well as the excitement he feels watching  Kyle Larson compete in the Cup series.