Steve Letarte, who will be on NASCAR America from 5:30 – 7 p.m. ET today on NBCSN, joins Nate Ryan and Dustin Long in discussing key subjects in NASCAR in this week’s Bump & Run.
Jimmie Johnson bristled last weekend about people questioning his performance this season and said: “Sixteen years, 80 wins and seven championships and people want to question us? I mean come on.’’ What do you make of Jimmie’s reaction?
Steve Letarte: I think it’s frustrating to him, apparently, to continue to have to answer that question. I think he had to answer that question last year as well and last year turned out OK. It’s going to be interesting to see the lack of stage performance, if that haunts the 48 and Jimmie Johnson more than last year because there was really no negative to not performing in the first half of the year. I think his performance in Miami last year, I took it as he thought it should have bought him a little bit of leeway early in this season, but I think it’s a fair question. I also think it’s a fair response. I would have concern if none of the Hendrick cars were running well but I think Chase Elliott is and I think Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus showed more patience last year than any year that they won a championship. I expect to see to see the same sort of run at the end of this year with the wildcard being how far behind can they afford to be on playoff points come September.
Nate Ryan: There are two ways to look at it: 1) Johnson has gotten more comfortable in his own skin and being blunt and outspoken comes more natural to him now than even after his third championship. He never will carry the swagger of The Intimidator, but he also has reached a point in his life where he feels worthy of a certain respect and isn’t shy about demanding that deference when he tires of familiar questioning; 2) But there also is probably a sliver of concern being masked about the worst start to a season in Johnson’s career. As he has said, the No. 48 Chevrolet has run well at times (aside from Fontana), and it’s too early to panic, but this isn’t how he wanted to begin his seventh title defense.
Dustin Long: Jimmie isn’t thrilled with how he’s finished this year and he shouldn’t be. A wrong strategy in one race, some pit road issues that need to be cleaned up and cars that are not the fastest in the Hendrick camp (that would be Chase Elliott) are enough to bother any competitor. Johnson is right to be a bit testy because of that and also because of such a question coming so early in the season. There’s still more than five months until the playoffs begin. Let’s see where he and his team are in September.
What would have been the preseason odds that Richard Childress Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing each would have wins before Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing?
Steve Letarte: It would have to be a field bet because those odds would not have been created in Las Vegas, they’re so far-fetched. The simple fact is that question alone is why I love auto racing. That’s why I love sports. How many golfers are guaranteed to win that collapse on the back nine? How many times did Dale Earnhardt Sr. have to fail in the closing laps of the Daytona 500 from circumstances outside of his control? Sports in general, and especially racing, creates these stages that you can’t make up. That wouldn’t have been a field bet in Las Vegas.
Nate Ryan: Very high. I think Ganassi had a shot at a win ahead of Hendrick or JGR, but getting a victory ahead of both would have been a 20-1 proposition. RCR seemed miles behind both of those powerhouses entering 2017.
Dustin Long: Astronomical. Credit Richard Childress Racing for gambling at Phoenix, but that’s something that the organization was more willing to do to snap a winless streak that dated back to late in the 2013 season. The Chip Ganassi Racing cars have been fast all season so it is not as surprising that they have won. Still, I don’t think anybody would have said that RCR and Ganassi would have won before both Gibbs and Hendrick this year.
Who is in need of a good result soon?
Steve Letarte: I know this sounds silly but I think the 41 (Kurt Busch) needs a good result off a restrictor-plate track. When I listen to Kurt Busch on the scanner, he doesn’t seem like a calm, calculated driver who has a win this year. I’m OK with poor performance because it’s going to happen because it’s a long season. But his emotion and lack of constructive feedback concerns me. It sounds like a driver that is in a year-long slump and has been struggling and he isn’t. He’s the Daytona 500 champion. I feel that what I feel the Daytona 500 should do to a race team hasn’t done to this 41 team. I don’t feel there’s any sort of air of confidence. I think they’re still distressed, and I think it’s because they’re getting outrun by both Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer.
Nate Ryan: Matt Kenseth. Back-to-back heavy impacts (and crashes in three of the first five races this year) surely have left the driver and team a little shook. He has run well in all five races, however, and he’s been a factor at Martinsville since joining Joe Gibbs Racing.
Dustin Long: Matt Kenseth. He’s wrecked three times in the first five races and hard the past two weeks. He just needs to finish without hitting a wall or another car. It’s too early in the season to be damaging so many cars and getting beat up.
Watch Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton on NASCAR America today from 5:30 – 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.