Bump & Run: Judging the crop of young Cup drivers

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NASCAR’s youth movement continues to make an impact in the Cup series. As the sport’s younger drivers race toward a victory, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson has gotten off to a slow start. 

Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty, who both will be on NASCAR America from 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. ET today on NBCSN, join Nate Ryan and Dustin Long in discussing those subjects in this week’s Bump & Run.

Which young driver has been more impressive to you so far this season: Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott or Ryan Blaney?

Kyle Petty: That’s a tough question. I’m going to have to answer it’s a tie: Chase and Ryan. Here’s why: I think Chase gets better every week. Every week. I don’t think Chase is far away from not only his first win but his second or third win. I think Ryan has come out stronger and smarter than he was last year. There’s something different about him. The things he does on a racetrack. In these first three races, he’s not put himself in a bad position. Go back to last year. There were a few times he had fast cars but he would end up against the wall, something would happen. He put himself in a bad position. He’s seems to have outgrown that in the first part of this year.

Dale Jarrett: I’m going to say that Kyle Larson has been the most impressive to this point. I think I’ve had reservations, like other people. We know he is very talented, but could the team keep up with his progress? They’ve shown me that they’ve done that and that he’s figured out to run these 400- and 500-mile races. He’s been outstanding.

Nate Ryan: Tough question, so I’ll go solely off the results. With an average finish of 5.3 (including two runner-up finishes), Larson has been the best statistically, and though Atlanta highlighted the fact he still is learning how to close races, he is maximizing the potential of his Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. It took the team the first three months of the 2016 season to provide Larson with rides worthy of his ability. The No. 42 is well ahead of that pace this season, which should bode well for Larson. Chase Elliott barely trails Larson in performance and also has been in position to win every race. It’s only a matter of time until his breakthrough occurs.

Dustin Long: I like what I’m seeing from Kyle Larson and his team so far this season. He still needs to pull out the win at the end, but he’s showing the signs that he’s getting closer to doing that more often. No other driver in the series has run as much in the top 15 in races this year (95.3 percent of all laps). He’s putting together more complete races.

For the first time in his career, Jimmie Johnson has failed to score a top-10 finish in any of the first three races of the season. Should there be concern about this?

Kyle Petty: Yes. I think he needs to call Carl Edwards and retire. No, there’s no concern. No. No, no there is no concern. Jimmie has been so good for so long and so consistent. It just happens sometimes. I do believe that maybe as you look at this and the rise of the Toyotas and now throw (Martin) Truex and Erik (Jones) in, the way the Fords are running the first part of this year. Theoretically, now there’s another four of five cars Jimmie has to outrun on a regular basis, which is a little bit tougher. Until Jimmie absolutely falls off the face of the earth, that’s when you should be concerned. They’re not where they want to be, but they get that way sometimes and they find their way back.

Dale Jarrett: I think there should be some concern there. I think the Hendrick organization, in my mind, is still behind, except for Chase Elliott. They seem to have things figured out. I think Jimmie and Chad Knaus have some work to do. As we’ve seen, they’re pretty good at figuring things out.

Nate Ryan: Some, though slow cars aren’t what have prevented Johnson from recording a top 10. If his pit speeding lights were calibrated better at Atlanta (and if a scoring break had gone his way), he had the speed to contend. Las Vegas went awry when a late-race strategy failed to pan out perfectly, but if his pit crew correctly fastens lug nuts on the final stop, Johnson easily gets a top 10. It’s mostly just a case of improving on execution – which is an unusual weakness for the buttoned-up No. 48 Chevrolet team.

Dustin Long: Considering this team struggled during the middle of last season and still won the championship, I’m not overly concerned at this point. It just shows how one little thing that can make a big impact in a team’s finish (i.e. speeding at Atlanta and loose lug nuts at Las Vegas). Now, if this team continues to show similar flaws in a few months, then it will be more of a concern.

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

NASCAR suspends Camping World Truck crew chief one race

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NASCAR has suspended Camping World Truck Series crew chief Kevin Bellicourt one Truck event and fined him $5,000 because Justin Haley‘s truck failed minimum height requirements after last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The L1 penalty also docked Haley 10 points and the team 10 owner points. He finished 17th in an encumbered finish.

NASCAR also announced Thursday that Joseph P. Light has been reinstated after successfully completing NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program. He was indefinitely suspended March 16.

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Stewart-Haas Racing, Nature’s Bakery reach tentative settlement

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Counsel for Stewart-Haas Racing reported to North Carolina Superior Court on Wednesday that it has executed settlement documents with Nature’s Bakery.

A status report was pushed back 21 days to June 23 in the event the that the parties have not filed a stipulation of dismissal by that date.

No details of the settlement documents were detailed to the court.

Stewart-Haas Racing filed a $31 million breach of contract lawsuit against Nature’s Bakery on Feb. 3. Nature’s Bakery had two years remaining on a three-year contract to sponsor Danica Patrick’s team when the company sent the team a notice of termination on Jan. 19 . Nature’s Bakery was to have paid $15,212,000 each season to sponsor the team.

Nature’s Bakery filed a counterclaim Feb. 25 stating it did not see the return it was led to believe in sponsoring Patrick’s team.

Click here to read court document

Thursday’s schedule for NASCAR Cup, Xfinity at Charlotte

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Charlotte Motor Speedway kicks off its weekend leading up to Sunday’s main event, the Coca-Cola 600, with today’s action.

The Xfinity Series will hold two practices, while the NASCAR Cup Series has one practice and qualifies in the evening.

Here is today’s schedule:

(All Times Eastern)

11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. – Cup garage open

1:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

2 p.m. – 3:25 p.m. – First Cup practice (Fox Sports 1)

4 p.m. – 4:55 p.m. – First Xfinity practice (FS1)

6 p.m. – 6:55 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (FS1)

7:15 p.m. – Cup qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) (FS1, Performance Racing Network)

Long: Hall of Fame moment is special for father and son

Photo by Dustin Long
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CHARLOTTE — Sleep has not come easy for Doug Yates in some time.

It has only gotten worse lately.

He can’t stop thinking of his father, Robert, who battles liver cancer. Robert has undergone chemotherapy, but at one point doctors said they weren’t sure what how to treat the 74-year-old former NASCAR team owner and engine builder who was selected to the 2018 Hall of Fame Class on Wednesday.

That helpless feeling of not solving a problem counters what Robert and Doug have done all their lives. If there was an issue with an engine, they worked harder and longer until they fixed the matter.

This they can’t.

While Robert Yates undergoes experimental treatments, Doug is there to help take care of his father. There are bad days, Doug says, wincing.

“What I see is a man who is broken down and built back up because he is watching his father,’’ said Whitney Yates, Doug’s wife. “Sometimes (Robert) is so sick he can’t do anything and Doug is there.’’

They are more than father and son. They share a treasured relationship not every boy and his dad experiences, their bonds woven early and strengthened with each day together.

Doug fondly recalls sleeping on a cot in a race shop when he was about 5 years old while his father worked on an engine through the night. They traveled to races together. Doug reminisces of a trip to Richmond where his father, tired from work, told his son, then 12, to take the wheel while he slept. Yet, when a deer ran across their path, it was Robert who asked his son if he saw that.

They often went to the race shop together. Although family, Robert was still the boss. He would be hard on his son at times, but Doug cherishes even those memories.

Robert was only teaching his son what it took to succeed. Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett won two Daytona 500s and Davey Allison won another for Robert Yates Racing. Jarrett won the 1999 Cup championship with the team. As an owner, Robert Yates won 57 Cup races and 48 poles.

Now, Doug is the boss. He oversees the “vision” his father had of the Roush Yates Engines shop, which powered Kurt Busch to a Daytona 500 win and Ford teams to four other victories in the season’s first 11 races.

“He wants to make (his dad) proud,’’ Whitney said of Doug. “He’s always trying so hard.

“Doug is always moving the bar. I think Robert is so proud of that.’’

While Doug does what he can for his father and the family business, he couldn’t control what happened at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The past three years Robert, Doug and the rest of the family came to the Hall of Fame to see if Robert would be selected. Five are chosen each year. Robert ranked sixth in votes received twice, just missing enshrinement.

Robert Yates reacts after he is announced to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Each time, Robert said the voting panel got it right.

“Selfishly, I didn’t think so, but he did,’’ Doug said. “That was a lesson for me. Everything happens for a reason.’’

As Wednesday approached, Doug Yates’ anxiety grew. It was worse Wednesday morning and throughout the day.

As Doug walked into Hall of Fame, ahead of his father, he conceded he was “nervous.’’

He also was prepared.

Doug stocked multiple tissues in the pockets of his slacks.

“If he didn’t make it, I was going to break down,’’ Doug said of his father making the Hall of Fame. “If he did, I was going to break down.’’

Robert also felt nervous.

“If I don’t get in,’’ Robert told himself before the announcement, “that’s the reason to work real hard to be here next year to get in.’’

The family didn’t have to wait long to celebrate.

Robert Yates, who received 94 percent of the vote, was announced first.

“Wow,’’ Doug said. “I’m glad that’s over.’’

His father, sitting a row in front of Doug, reached back. Doug leaned forward. They held hands. 

After that it was a matter of relishing what had happened as four other men — Red Byron, Ray Evernham, Ken Squier and Ron Hornady Jr. — were selected to join Robert Yates in the next Hall of Fame Class.

Doug stay composed throughout. He wiped his eyes once.

When the ceremony ended, Robert Yates reached his arm around wife Carolyn and embraced her.

“My family means so much to me because they allowed me to work night and day,’’ Robert Yates said. “Do I love engines? Yes, whether one cylinder, two cylinders, six or 12 or 24. I love engines.’’

That passion led him to this moment.

“I feel like I could take a jack,’’ said the former jackman.

“I don’t know if I’ll sleep tonight.’’

Doug Yates will.

His father will be in the Hall of Fame.

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