Bump & Run: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s start; Repercussions of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s bump

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Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton, who will be on NASCAR America from 6 – 6:30 p.m. ET today on NBCSN, join Nate Ryan and Dustin Long in discussing key subjects in NASCAR in this week’s Bump & Run.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is 25th in the points and has not finished better than 14th in a race this season. While most figured it would take some time for him after missing half of last season, what kind of concern is there with how the No. 88 team has started the season?

Jeff Burton: My concern is that it seems to be a Hendrick problem as well. Chase Elliott, the way I see it, is by far the best-running Hendrick car. You have Chase and that team and the other three aren’t performing. That’s my larger concern. Where is the help coming from to get Junior and his team where they need to be? I think there’s real reason for concern. You look at where they are in points. You look at where they are running in the race. It hasn’t been good so far. Certainly got to find a way to be better. Everybody obviously wants to make the playoffs. Right now, their best shot is going to be pointing their way in or Daytona or Talladega. I haven’t seen anything that tells me they’re fast enough to win a race. Certainly time, but they’ve got to get going.

Steve Letarte: The goal, obviously, is to get off to a good start. The concern, more than about where they’re finishing, is how their speed stacks up. At Daytona, they had good speed. At Martinsville, they had good speed, but there have been some other tracks where they have been mired back there in maybe sixth to 15th. I don’t think there should be grave cause for concern at this point, but you never want to use your mulligans early. That’s what I look at. They’ve kind of used their mulligans early. Can he make the playoffs? It has yet to be seen over the course of the summer, but everyone with that type of resources are afforded a couple of hiccups, and I think this team has used most of those early in the season.

Nate Ryan: He ran well at the Daytona 500 before crashing, so he still could make the playoffs via Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona International Speedway. There naturally must be some concern, but the mitigating circumstances here (Dale Jr.’s return from a half-season layoff; Hendrick Motorsports still working to find its groove across the board) should quell some of the angst about an inauspicious beginning to 2017 for the No. 88 Chevrolet. Earnhardt qualified well at Phoenix Raceway and seemed to be improving at Martinsville Speedway before a wreck.

Dustin Long: Dale Earnhardt Jr. understands his predicament, saying in a video after the Martinsville race that he’s in “one hell of a hole” in points. Worse, he’s not shown the speed teammate Chase Elliott has or even Jimmie Johnson has on a consistent basis. The benefit is that there’s still many races left before the playoffs. He has some time, but this team needs to show more in the coming weeks, or the pressure will build.

Kyle Busch was not pleased about how Ricky Stenhouse Jr. moved him out of the way and cost him a stage victory — and a playoff point — at Martinsville. Busch said “Race car drivers are like elephants, they remember everything.’’ What should Stenhouse expect from Busch?

Jeff Burton: The same that he was willing to give Busch. There is no rule that says you can’t do what Stenhouse did, but there is a consequence. When you make that move, it can come with a price. It’s a huge difference being the free-pass car and being on the lead lap at Martinsville. It’s a big difference, huge difference from wherever he started to being the last car on the race track. Now you’re worried about getting lapped again. I understand why Stenhouse did what he did, and I also understand why Busch is upset about it. The thing that always interests me about things like that is that everybody is watching. It’s not just the driver that you moved out of the way, it’s all the other drivers watching, saying, ‘Stenhouse is willing to move him out of the way, so he would be willing to move me out of the way.’ There’s no rule. Drivers have to develop their own code of what they think what is acceptable, but then they have to be willing to live by that code when it happens to them.

Steve Letarte: I think if you are Stenhouse, as you race around him, you have to understand there’s going to be very little give and take. I think Ricky is one of the first drivers, and we’ll continue to see it, it’s going to redefine how you race the leader. That’s what happens when you have a guaranteed yellow. You know you’re coming to the yellow. That’s not a move Ricky Stenhouse makes in the middle of a green-flag run, but he knows he’s coming to the end of the stage, and he wants to save his lap. I think it’s healthy for NASCAR when Ricky Stenhouse puts himself and the effort of Roush Fenway ahead of racing with great etiquette. He even said that was a turning point in the race for him. I think he needs to understand that he now has set the bar of what is acceptable racing, so I wouldn’t expect a lot of room when racing Kyle.

Nate Ryan: He probably will expect a bump or worse the next time they are racing for position, and Stenhouse likely won’t be grousing about it. He understands that turnabout often is fair play in racing.

Dustin Long: He should expect what he gave Busch and likely more. The key is Busch won’t pay Stenhouse back until it hurts Stenhouse like Busch felt losing the stage and one playoff point could hurt him.

With six of 26 regular-season races complete (nearly a quarter of the regular season), what’s something that stands out to you that people might not be talking about as much?

Jeff Burton: I think that Daniel Suarez has been very quiet in being effective. I know coming off of Martinsville, where he had a terrible weekend, it’s easy to forget that. No one is really talking about Daniel Suarez and how he replaced Carl Edwards. He replaced one of the biggest names in the sport. Cup is way harder than Xfinity. In my world, those seventh-place finishes at Auto Club and Phoenix and even in the races prior to that, he sneakily was effective. I personally like rookies whom you kind of look up to at the end of the day and say, ‘Hey, he finished eighth. He finished 10th.’ I think he’s done a better job than the points say.

Steve Letarte: I think the major shift in young drivers. Kyle Larson is highlighting that class, but his unbelievable start has overshadowed some really good runs. Erik Jones has been very good. Ryan Blaney has been very good.

Nate Ryan: The performance of rookie Erik Jones. Some insiders probably would say he has been as impressive as Kyle Larson through the first six races of his first full season in Cup.

Dustin Long: Clint Bowyer has been Stewart-Haas Racing’s top finisher in three of the last four races. After his dreadful year last year with an underfunded team, Bowyer is being rewarded for his patience.

Watch Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton on NASCAR America today from 6 – 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Christopher Bell takes pole for tonight’s Xfinity race in Iowa

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Christopher Bell will start from the pole in tonight’s American Ethanol e15 250 at Iowa Speedway. It marks Bell’s first NASCAR Xfinity Series pole in only his second career start in the series.

Bell, who is currently ranked second in the Camping World Truck Series, covered the .875-mile oval with a best lap of 133.305 mph. Kyle Benjamin was a close second (133.294), followed by defending winner Sam Hornish Jr. (133.260), Elliott Sadler (132.990) and Justin Allgaier (132.89).

Sixth through 10th were William Byron (132.520), Dakoda Armstrong (132.286), Brennan Poole (132.186), Matt Tifft (132.059) and Ty Majewski (131.998).

A total of 40 cars made qualifying runs.

Click here for the full qualifying results.

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Carl Edwards surfaces, doesn’t miss racing: ‘I’m enjoying life and it’s good’

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Cancel the APB, take his face off the milk cartons.

Carl Edwards has been found. The former NASCAR Cup star surfaced Saturday at Sonoma Raceway – representing a former sponsor at an event that had been previously scheduled.

Edwards is happy, hale and hearty.

Yet if you think that returning to a racetrack means Edwards will be getting behind the wheel of a race car once again, forget about it.

But he hasn’t lost his wicked sense of humor, either.

“I’ve been talking to a bunch of people and weighing my options — no, just kidding,” he said with a laugh, according to JeffGluck.com.

Then Edwards got serious.

“I haven’t talked to anyone and I haven’t even considered coming back,” Edwards said. “Not right now.

“I think it’s pretty clear if I really want to do something, then I would do it. But like I said in January, I would talk to Coach (Joe Gibbs) first — and I haven’t had any conversations about that.”

Gluck noted that Edwards did write a thank-you note to Gibbs recently that reiterated the opportunity to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing and that the organization supported him when he decided to leave racing after last season.

Given that racing has been part of his life for more than half his life, it was interesting to hear Edwards, who turns 38 in August, say he hasn’t kept up much with NASCAR nor watched many races since he walked away from the sport.

But he is doing some good. He’s continuing to fly medical patients to treatment in his private plane.

Saturday was the first time Edwards has been at a racetrack since Atlanta Motor Speedway in early March.

He then added, per ESPN.com, “I’m probably happier and more content [than in March],” Edwards said. “You know how change is. You make a change, and there always is good and bad and there’s uneasiness. But, man, I’m enjoying life and it’s good.”

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Kyle Larson Express earns second straight pole, Danica Patrick to start sixth

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Kyle Larson continues to lead the way in NASCAR — both literally and figuratively.

The current NASCAR Cup points leader will also start Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 race at Sonoma Raceway from the pole for the second straight race, having done so in last week’s eventual win at Michigan International Speedway.

“This is cool to get a pole on a road course in my home state,” Larson told Fox Sports 1. “This is the closest track to Sacramento and Elk Grove, where I grew up, so lots of friends and family here.”

And to make things even sweeter, Larson (qualified with a field-best speed of 95.295 mph) will start Sunday’s race alongside Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray, who qualified on the outside of the front row with his own effort of 95.204 mph.

“I thought I did a really good job,” McMurray told FS1. “I don’t feel like I gave up, or that there was a corner that stuck out. Overall, it was a really good lap, but Kyle just got a little bit more.”

It was also Larson’s third pole of 2017; he also started from the front at Fontana (where he also won) in March.

Here’s the rest of the top 10 qualifiers:

Row 2: Martin Truex Jr. will start third, alongside Kyle Busch, still searching for his first Cup win since last year’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis.

Row 3: A.J. Allmendinger starts fifth alongside Danica Patrick, who had the best qualifying effort of all four Stewart-Haas Racing drivers.

It was Patrick’s best Cup qualifying effort since starting fourth at Charlotte in May 2014, and her third-best Cup qualifying effort ever. It also marked the sixth time since she joined SHR that she out-ran all of her teammates, per RacingInsights.com.

“I feel like I can drive this place in my sleep just because I’ve driven so many laps here over the years,”Patrick told FS1. “Man, I hope Sunday’s good and everything falls right. It’s great, it’s nice, it’s been a tough go of it this year. It feels good to have a good starting spot and let’s hope we start clean and have a smooth day.”

Row 4: Ryan Blaney will start seventh, next to Chase Elliott, who was forced to go to backup car after wrecking in practice Friday.

Row 5: Chris Buescher starts ninth, his best career qualifying effort, alongside Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Only 38 cars are qualified for Sunday’s race. Matt Kenseth didn’t get an attempt in Saturday, so he’ll start from the back of the pack.

Click here for the full qualifying field results.

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Trevor Bayne: ‘The hardest it’s ever been to leave home to come to the race track’

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Yes, Trevor Bayne wants to win, but he can’t wait to get back home after Sunday’s race and see his family and newborn son.

“This was probably the hardest it’s ever been to leave home to come to the race track,’’ Bayne told reporters Saturday before qualifying at Sonoma Raceway.

His son, Levi Jensen Bayne, was born June 20 after a challenging birth.

Bayne and wife Ashton went to the hospital at 6 a.m. on June 19 to induce so their son would be born before Bayne left for this weeknd’s Cup race in Northern California.

Hours later, the baby still hadn’t arrived.

“We induced Monday at 6 a.m. and at midnight still hadn’t had a baby,’’ Bayne said. “She labored all day, and he kind of stopped progressing. I guess … at about 8 o’clock that night, the nurse was checking to see how dilated she was and he grabbed her hand. His hand was above his head and grabbed the nurse and she freaked out. She moved his hand and thought that would helped him progress. At midnight that hadn’t happened. So they decided to do a C-section.

“It’s so hard when you love somebody and you want the best for them, but you’re not in control. Not being in control in the operating room was wearing me out. I just had to keep going back and praying and saying, ‘Lord, I trust you, you’ve brought us this far and whatever good you have for us, I’m going to leave him in your hands.’

“They got (Levi) out and gave him to me, and Ashton was like falling asleep in the middle of it. I couldn’t watch them do the incision, but I watched them sew her back up and that was probably a bad idea. She’s tough, I’ll tell you that much. They found (Levi’s) umbilical cord was around his neck and that’s why he didn’t progress, so it’s a really good thing they did the C-section.

“The next day .. we brought our little girl (18-month-old Elizabeth Kate Bayne) in and she was loving on him and smiling like crazy. Ashton obviously was recovering. This was probably the hardest it’s ever been to leave home to come to the race track. Thursday morning, we left the hospital at 7:30, got home and spent two hours getting them sorted, and I had to leave to fly here. I wanted to stay home. Offseason babies are awesome because you can stay home for a couple of months.

“Everybody is good. Can’t wait to get home to them.’’

Before he does, he has Sunday’s race. Bayne enters this weekend 18th in the points. His best finish is 23rd in two previous races at Sonoma.

Loaded em up and got them all home! Now it gets real! @ashtonbayne lookin good 2 days after birth!

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