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Bump & Run: Is a changing of the guard taking place?

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Parker Kligerman, who will be on NASCAR America from 5:30-6 p.m. ET today on NBCSN, joins Nate Ryan and Dustin Long in discussing key topics in NASCAR in this week’s Bump & Run.

Six drivers in the top 16 in points are age 26 or younger — Erik Jones (20 years old), Chase Elliott (21), Ryan Blaney (23), points leader Kyle Larson (24), Trevor Bayne (26) and Joey Logano (26). After seven races in the season, is this an official changing of the guard in the Cup series? 

Parker Kligerman: Considering earlier this year when we did this feature, when asked to name a certain driver we had our eye on for 2017, I answered with a group. Specifically the 26-and-under group. Because, no doubt in my mind, this year is a turning point. There are enough uber-talented drivers in cars with astronomical funding levels. It was only logical we would see these young drivers become a conversation point. 

With that said, I do not think the guard has changed yet. Not until we get to the Championship Four, and we are not talking about an eighth championship for J.J., or a second for Brad K., Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, or Matt Kenseth, or a first for Denny Hamlin or Martin Truex Jr., but we are talking about how the average age of the Championship Four is far from midlife crisis age, and the 26-and-under drivers are the main contenders. Maybe even the winner. Only than can I say the guard officially has been changed. Right now, the guards are just swapping shifts. 

Nate Ryan: It definitely is evidence that a new era is dawning, but I’m not ready to say the group once known as the “Young Guns” is ready to ride off into the sunset. It’ll be at least a few more years — and several victories, plus maybe a championship — for that youthful crop to have displaced Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth et al. 

Dustin Long: No, it’s not a changing of the guard. Seven races is not enough. Just look at the number of wins those six drivers have combined to score this season: One. That’s not a changing of the guard. Yes, this group is gaining more attention with four of them in the top six in points heading to Bristol, but until they show this type of dominance — and win more often — for a full year will it be a changing of the guard.

The next two weeks feature Cup races at short tracks (Bristol and Richmond). Which driver or team will you be watching closely to see how they fare?

Parker Kligerman: Kyle Busch: I know … How boring! But bear with me: Kyle is EXCEPTIONAL at these two tracks, but his race cars have been nothing of the sort in 2017, aside from Martinsville (a short track). In my time at Kyle Busch Motorsports, it was these two tracks that I watched him very closely and realized I had some serious work to do to be able to consider myself win-worthy. His ability to deal with a very, very loose race car on the entry of the corners is what makes him so good at Richmond. But he can shoulder only so much. Will JGR bring cars worthy of his talent, similar to Martinsville?  

Nate Ryan: Joe Gibbs Racing and in particular Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin. Either could win at both races, and that would help quell the incessant questions about why JGR has struggled off the starting line in 2018. 

Dustin Long: Denny Hamlin. He has only one finish better than 10th so far this season. He won at Richmond last fall. I would expect him to run well at both tracks and climb higher in the points. This also could be a chance for him to score some stage points. He has only 14 this season — nine came at Martinsville in the first stage. If Hamlin doesn’t run well in these two races, then it would raise some red flags, especially with how the JGR cars have not been as strong on the bigger tracks. This is a two-race stretch for Hamlin to collect some much-needed points.

Which streak is likely to continue: Hendrick Motorsports is winless in the last three years at Bristol and Richmond; Joe Gibbs Racing has won five of the last eight races at Bristol and Richmond.

Parker Kligerman: I think HMS stays winless. Odd, I know, to bet against the team that just won the most recent race. But it’s hard for me to feel confident in any car out of that stable except the 48. And I know the 48 has momentum, but from what I saw at Martinsville, there is work to be done. Add in the 24 has not closed one out yet. The 88 seems to be looking for a bit of consistency, and the 5 is still lost. I don’t like the chances of HMS in the next two races.

Nate Ryan: Hendrick Motorsports, though I wouldn’t count out a breakthrough by Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose resurgence at Texas Motor Speedway seemed legitimate. 

Dustin Long: Hard not to go with Hendrick remaining winless at Bristol and Richmond in recent times. I’ll be interested to see how the Hendrick cars do the next couple of weeks since these tracks, particularly Richmond, have not been their best. After some sub-par performances, these tracks are an opportunity for the HMS teams to build some momentum. Question is if they will.

Watch Parker Kligerman on NASCAR America today from 5:30-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

NASCAR America’s Jarrett, Letarte, Petty recap 2017, make 2018 predictions

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The 2017 NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series seasons have only been over for a few days.

And while it’s understandable that on Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America, analysts Steve Letarte, NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty reflected back on the recently completed race seasons, they also took a very bold move:

The new season is still three months away, but our analyst team is ALREADY making predictions for 2018.

We don’t want to spoil the surprise or show their hands. If you want to hear how they’re already viewing 2018, click on the video above.

Justin Hartley from NBC’s ‘This Is Us’ on Dale Jr.’s special bond with fans

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Even though Dale Earnhardt Jr. is now officially retired as a NASCAR Cup driver, the special bond between the former driver of the 88 will likely never go away.

Sure, Alex Bowman is replacing Junior in the 88, which will likely pick up some of Junior Nation to cheer for him. Others will gravitate to cheer for other drivers, perhaps youngsters William Byron, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez and others.

But one thing is for certain: once a Dale Jr. fan and a member of Junior Nation, ALWAYS a Dale Jr. fan and a member of Junior Nation.

Justin Hartley, who plays Kevin on NBC’s top-rated “This Is Us,” is proud to call himself a card carrying member of Junior Nation. In the video above, Hartley shows what it’s like to be a Dale Jr. fan, what the third-generation driver meant to so many people for so many years, and how his legacy will continue on for decades to come.

Check out the video above to see what Junior Nation is all about, as well as thoughts from our NBC analysts, Kyle Petty, Steve Letarte and Dale Jarrett.

NASCAR America: Nate Ryan on how 78 rode roller coaster to Cup crown

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If the 2017 NASCAR Cup season was an amusement park ride, it definitely would be a roller coaster for Martin Truex Jr., crew chief Cole Pearn and the rest of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team.

Up and down the season went, from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.

There was adversity on the track and tragedy off the track, with Pearn losing his best friend to a freakish infection, and team member Jim Watson passing away in Kansas one day before the Cup race that Truex would go on to win and dedicate to his fallen teammate.

And through it all, Truex and longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex dealt with the recurrence of ovarian cancer with strength, inspiration and fortitude.

The 78 team’s dedication, sticking to the plan and rallying together as a family was the difference.

NBC Sports’ and NASCAR Talk’s Nate Ryan presented a touching pre-race tribute to Truex and his team before Sunday’s race. On Tuesday’s NASCAR America, Ryan gave an updated version of that tribute, capping it off with the best way possible: recalling how Truex and the 78 team won it all.

Check out the video above to see Nate’s touching piece.

 

Scan All: Miami — the best from the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400

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This week’s Scan All: Miami combined not only regular scanner traffic from team radios during Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400, but also studio cut-ins of Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn talking about their road to the Cup championship.

Here’s some of the best exchanges:

Martin Truex Jr. on coming into the race: “I felt good all weekend, I really did. I was relaxed and knew that no matter what happened, we had a great season and a lot to be proud of and a lot to build upon for the future.”

Truex on his team radio just before the green flag: “We’ve been working a long time to get here. I can’t say enough about how proud I am of you guys and what you’ve done. Thank you for an unbelieveable season. Let’s cap it off tonight.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. just before the green flag: “I just want to thank everybody that’s had an impact on my career. I’ve made friendships and relationships that’ll last a lifetime, and I’m just so thankful for that.”

Aric Almirola on his last start for Richard Petty Motorsports: “King, if you’re on the air, thanks for that phone call six years ago. It’s been a lot of fun driving this 43 car.”

Crew chief Darian Grubb to Kasey Kahne on his final start with Hendrick Motorsports: “I know it’s an emotional day for everybody. I’m proud to be able to call you teammate and even more proud to be able to continue to call you friend after this, bud.”

Kahne’s reply (while holding back tears): “Thank you guys for everything, man.”

Kahne’s spotter, Kevin Hamlin, to Grubb: “Man, you’ve got to make him cry before we go green?”

Cole Pearn on Kyle Larson getting a run: “The 42 is running the wall. He’s hauling ass.”

Clayton Hughes, spotter for Truex: “How about this, Martin Truex Jr., you are the champion, baby!”

Truex in studio cut-in on winning championship: “It was our time. There’s no doubt in my mind that it was our time. Sometimes, things are meant to be.”

Check out the whole Scan All segment in the video above.