Getty Images

To bump-and-run or not to bump-and-run, that is the question

1 Comment

NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt was the master of it.

Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough did it to each other and they wound up wrecking and then fighting in the infield of the 1979 Daytona 500.

Carl Edwards did it last year to win at Richmond.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. did it to Kyle Busch a few weeks ago at Martinsville.

We’re talking, of course, about one of the most important tools in a driver’s toolbox: the bump-and-run.

Some drivers don’t mind doing it, while others do. Others are willing to use it, but it can be a slippery slope.

During media sessions Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway, several drivers addressed the bump-and-run and their approach to use – or not use – it.

First, let’s hear from Kurt Busch, who falls into the category of someone who will only resort to the bump-and-run as a last resort.

“As long as you don’t put him in the fence or he still continues on to finish second and doesn’t lose too many spots, so to speak,” Busch said. “It’s crazy. We can all go to road courses, which are almost the hottest ticket to get right now – Sonoma and Watkins Glen – because there’s so much beating, banging, thrashing and the way I grew up watching races is that road courses had a little bit more of a gentleman’s agreement, so they flip-flopped.

“And then to your point, a bump-and-run and then the chaos that ensued from everybody talking about was that proper or the etiquette and the way that all even turned out. Just a simple bump-and-run at a short track. I mean, we all grew up with that. It’s just kind of funny how certain things flip-flop and how certain things are digested now.”

Busch added that while the bump-and-run is more acceptable at Sonoma and Watkins Glen, it’s still 50-50 at other tracks.

“It’s been a fun journey on the road courses each year we go on how much is accepted and tolerated, and then as the short track racing has pretty much stayed the same,” Busch said. “As much as we’ve evolved, I like the short-track racing.

“I don’t know when it changed or when that perception swapped around, but everybody’s got stronger opinions nowadays with chat boards and social media, so when you have a motorsports writer talking about a certain event, that’s great. But when you have millions of people talking about it bantering back-and-forth, that’s great as well.”

* Seven-time and defending NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson is definitely not a fan of the bump-and-run.

“I’m so bad with the bump and run it’s a bump and crash,” Johnson said. “I found that for me personally it takes more time to set-up a soft nudge to move someone than it is just to pass them.

“That has just been my style over the years. I am terrible at it. I tried to move Rich Bickle out of the way in 1999 or something at Memphis. I picked his rear tires up and carried him down the straightaway and set him down in time (for him) to crash head-on into the wall in Turn 1.

“I never knew that I picked his tires up off the ground, felt terrible and then unfortunately, when I was shopping the next day for groceries, I saw him in the produce section. I thought that man was going to beat me to death with a head of lettuce and chase me around in the produce section. So, at that point, I figured I just better worry about passing people instead of trying to move them.”

Even with Edwards’ use of it at Richmond and Stenhouse doing so to Kyle Busch, Johnson believes the bump-and-run has become less effective and, in turn, used less by today’s Cup drivers.

“There is definitely less grudges kind of amongst drivers in today’s era,” he said. “Right or wrong, it is just how it is. I think the majority of the reaction was because it was amongst teammates.”

* While Johnson may be a bit more reticent about the bump-and-run, Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott isn’t afraid to put his youth and moxie to the test.

“I think at times, if the situation is right, I think you do have opportunity to move a guy out of the way or do what it takes to try to get by him,” Elliott said. “But in a lot of situations, it’s just easy to make a mistake and wreck people.

“And at the end of the day, I obviously don’t want to make that mistake. So, it’s a fine line. I think Carl did a great job with it at Richmond. He moved (Kyle Busch) out of the way and didn’t wreck him and the guy finished second and he won and went on down the road. So, I think in that situation, no harm no foul.”

So if the situation is right, don’t be surprised if Elliott puts his bumper into someone else’s in Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway if it means a possible win.

“I would, for sure, I mean, why not?” Elliott said. “Carl has won a lot of races. I’ve won zero. I’d love to get one, so absolutely. If the situation is right, I think that’s part of racing.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Ryan: Chip Ganassi perfectly suited for shepherding Kyle Larson’s career, and the Michigan win showed why

Leave a comment

Owning a NASCAR team is a stressful business, which was best exemplified by Chip Ganassi’s celebration of Kyle Larson’s victory Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.

As he pounded on the shoulders, faces and backs of crew chief, driver, engineer and anyone who happened to be clad in a red-and-white uniform within arm’s length of his hammering fists, Ganassi engaged in the most demonstrative paroxysm of nationally televised stress relief in NASCAR history.

The moment was pure Ganassi, whose gruff and hard-boiled exterior belies the fact that he delicately and deftly is juggling the oversight of enough racing teams to qualify for lifetime FIA membership.

So what might be on the mind lately of the owner of entries in Cup, Xfinity, IMSA, IndyCar and the World Endurance Championship?

Oh, not much.

–After already contractually guaranteeing Larson the right to run 25 races annually on dirt — but never the night before a Cup race — Ganassi lifted a restriction and allowed his franchise driver another shot to race a vehicle whose accepted occupational hazards include a propensity for violently flipping end over end.

–Ganassi acquiesced to that request (after constant fan goading on social media) while still hunting for a primary sponsor to replace the eight-figure void being left by Target next year on Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet.

–Meanwhile, Ganassi’s IndyCar team has managed to win only one of the first 13 races of the season, and reliable championship contender Scott Dixon just fell out of the points lead (for the first time in two months) with four races remaining.

That would seem a lot of stress, but it goes with the territory for Ganassi, whose public persona sometimes is a rough-around-the-edges and sometimes combative forcefulness that has carried his teams through sponsor departures and disappointing seasons.

On the morning of last month’s Brickyard 400, he berated a reporter who wrote Larson’s team had been “tainted” by multiple run-ins with NASCAR officials earlier this summer. It isn’t the first time Ganassi, who voraciously consumes the auto racing media’s coverage (which doesn’t go unappreciated by those of us who talk or write about the sport), has taken umbrage at how a reporter has characterized one of his teams.

This is another thing to know about Ganassi’s working relationships: As fiercely as he celebrates with them, he also stands up for his guys.

Most importantly, he stands up for Larson, who is a critical key to the future of American auto racing.

Other NASCAR team owners covet him, but there is no better caretaker than Ganassi – and not just because he dipped into his own cash reserves (which don’t run as deep as those belonging to Roger Penske or Rick Hendrick and their billion-dollar automotive empires) to get Larson’s signature on an iron-clad (but lucrative) contract for several years.

The bond between driver and owner started six years ago when Ganassi saw enough of the generational talent in Larson to invest in a path to Cup without the benefit of sponsor money when no one else would. It was a shrewd move (just as it was to accelerate Larson into Cup after a season in Xfinity) that might fall short of ever receiving proper credit because its ramifications could be so far-reaching.

Larson, 25, is a linchpin to the NASCAR youth movement, which will be punctuated when he wins his first championship (and he might be the 2017 title favorite if he reaches the final round given his sterling record and affinity for Homestead-Miami Speedway).

But he is nearly as important to the growth and progress of racing in this country. He currently is the most rock-solid bridge between big-league auto racing and grass-roots short tracks. When Larson runs the Indianapolis 500 (and Ganassi’s capitulation on the Knoxville Nationals last week shows it’s only a matter of time), he will cement his reputation as his generation’s answer to Foyt or Andretti, the legends who can win in any vehicle they choose to wheel.

The last two restarts at Michigan reaffirmed that Larson’s talent is undeniable, but it also has needed proper nurturing for an emerging star who didn’t come from a racing family steeped in the connections and knowledge to secure the necessary breaks to break through in modern-day NASCAR. Larson probably could have been successful with any team, but it’s hard to envision his development in stock cars going more seamlessly than with Ganassi.

It’s taken the unwavering belief and support of a team owner (with the mentality of a former driver) who must be mindful of balancing Larson’s personal happiness with his vested interests in the good of Chip Ganassi Racing, along with the greater good of spreading the racing gospel.

That’s a lot of pressure to shoulder for Ganassi, who spent the past couple seasons tailoring his Cup organization to maximize the prodigious ability of Larson.

Chip deserves a slap on the back.

XXX

While the primary motivation for permitting moonlighting in sprint cars is Larson’s contentment, there might be ancillary advantages for Ganassi’s Cup teams – namely, Larson’s performance on restarts.

When Tony Stewart won the 2011 championship, his memorable late-season surge of five victories in 10 races was made on the strength of some impressive restarts (notably his race-winning move on Jimmie Johnson at Martinsville Speedway). The three-time champion (and some of his crew chiefs) credited his side trips to dirt tracks (which are filled with shorter feature races and many opportunities for timing a flag) with helping sharpen his anticipation for pounding the accelerator. The opportunity to race on dirt at his leisure was a major reason he became a driver-owner at Stewart-Haas Racing (he was restricted at Joe Gibbs Racing).

It’s worth asking if the extracurricular dirt racing has made a similar impact on Larson, whose Michigan win excised the memory of some disappointing restarts that cost him wins in races bookending the 2016 and ’17 seasons. Though the start of Sunday’s race might have been among the most disappointing of his career, he was on his game when it mattered.

Beyond the track, Ganassi’s decision to allow Larson to run Knoxville was a social media hit, both in the unveiling via dual videos by Ganassi and Larson to the traction from the #LetKyleRace hashtag. That can’t hurt a team searching for a sponsor.

XXX

Seemingly all of the focus for how Larson won Michigan was on the final restart, but as Steve Letarte explained on NASCAR America this week, it was the previous restart and crew chief Chad Johnston’s strategy that positioned him for the win.

But while waiting to pit for four tires was critical, the team also caught a break with the final caution – after Larson went from eighth to fourth in five laps on four tires, culminating in the critical pass of Chase Elliott that put him in fourth and in the preferred outside lane for last green flag

As Motorsports Analytics’ David Smith noted (and Larson took some issue with), Sunday also was another example of the No. 42 having good fortune on restarts – though Larson certainly has seized the opportunities.

Michigan definitely was in the top five for greatest restarts in 2017 … but the final two restarts at Indianapolis (where Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski both made passes for the lead) also deserve consideration for the season’s best.

XXX

On the flip side, the most jaw-dropping turn of events at Michigan happened before the final restart. Brad Keselowski led a race-high 105 of 202 laps and seemed destined for the first victory at his home track until a cascading set of calls left his No. 2 Ford in 17th.

After Keselowski dominated the first half, crew chief Paul Wolfe devoted his strategy in the second half to chasing Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn. It started when Truex won the second stage by (unintentionally?) short-pitting and leap-frogging from fifth to first (ostensibly, the stop was for a tire problem but was just a few laps ahead of the rest of the contenders).

Keselowski never regained his mojo after that point despite a few gambits by Wolfe. The first was pitting under caution on Lap 140 and re-emerging in 10th as the first car on four tires – but it hardly worked in gaining the necessary ground. When Truex pitted from the lead on Lap 160, Keselowski hadn’t built enough of a cushion to put him a lap down.

So Keselowski pitted again on Lap 162 but for only two tires – and yet still lost the lead to Truex, who had taken four. That left Keselowski obligated to pit for two tires again when the yellow flew on Lap 188 — thus making three pit stops to Truex’s one in the final 60 laps despite having a faster car for most of the race.

At least it seemed much faster until Truex won the second stage and somehow managed to dictate the rhythm of the race despite taking his first lead on Lap 114. Keselowski explained “he didn’t really have enough” to run with Truex so, “we tried a little strategy to kind of get something out of it, but the way it all played out I ended up getting the bottom lane on the restarts and getting absolutely swallowed. We tried. We put in as much effort as we could.”

It was reminiscent of what has been Wolfe and Keselowski’s modus operandi whenever they’ve been at peak operating levels – get the competition off their games. Five years ago at Michigan, they outwitted Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus with pit strategy, a precursor to Keselowski’s maverick charge to the 2012 championship.

It was the first sign that the bewitching spell Johnson and Knaus held over NASCAR for several years seemed to be waning … just as it eventually did for their Hendrick Motorsports forebears Ray Evernham and Jeff Gordon after their “Refuse to Lose” heyday.

Truex and Pearn now seem to be the sublime combination of crew chief and driver whose strategy plays and flawless execution have rivals spun out. Though the speed of their No. 78 Toyota has been undisputed, it’s not the only reason the Furniture Row Racing duo has become the weekly focus of the Cup garage.

XXX

If Danica Patrick seems happier lately (despite an uncertain future in racing), it’s because she is.

In the latest episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver discussed how she transformed her outlook on life.

“I just don’t feel the weight of anything anymore,” Patrick said. “I don’t feel angry about anything. It’s just gone. There’s plenty of things I look back and I’m like, ‘That sucked, but whatever. I’m going to go on.’ And the things that make you happiest are free.”

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

The free subscriptions will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

Ryan Blaney paces final Cup practice at Bristol

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ryan Blaney posted the fastest lap in Friday’s final Cup practice at Bristol Motor Speedway with a lap of 128.554 mph.

He was followed by Kyle Larson (128.065 mph), Ryan Newman (127.784), Jamie McMurray (127.487) and Kyle Busch (127.258).

Chris Buescher, who will remain with JTG Daugherty after this season, was next on the speed chart with a lap of 127.098 mph.

Matt Kenseth had the best average over 10 consecutive laps at 125.930. Busch was next at 125.601 mph.

Click here for practice report

In the session’s only incident, Timmy Hill spun but did not hit the wall.

Qualifying is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Chris Buescher signs deal to remain at JTG Daugherty

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
1 Comment

Chris Buescher has signed a multi-year contact to remain at JTG Daugherty in the No. 37 Chevrolet, the team announced Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“Really excited to be able to get everything worked out,” Buescher said. “We’ve been able to make a lot of progress this season.”

The team also announced that crew chief Trent Owens has signed an extension to remain with the team.

Buescher was loaned to the team before this season by Roush Fenway Racing because that organization had no room for him. With this new deal, Buescher will no longer be aligned with Roush Fenway Racing.

Roush also leased a charter to JTG Daugherty for the No. 37 car this season. That charter must be returned after this year. Car owner Tad Geschickter said the team had an agreement to purchase a charter.

“That paperwork is going to be submitted to NASCAR this week,” Geschickter said.

He also said that the team has “several years” on its agreement to remain aligned with Richard Childress Racing.

Buescher won the 2015 Xfinity championship for Roush Fenway Racing and was loaned to Front Row Motorsports in 2016 to run in Cup. He won at Pocono as a rookie to earn a spot in last year’s playoffs. Buescher finished 16th in the points.

The 24-year-old Buescher is 25th in the points heading into Saturday’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET, NBC). Buescher finished a season-best sixth last week at Michigan International Speedway.

The signing is not unexpected. Buescher said last month at Indianapolis that he and the team were working on a new deal.

 and on Facebook

Tonight’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

Getty Images
Leave a comment

After two road courses, the Xfinity Series goes short track racing tonight with the Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

While Dale Earnhardt Jr. makes his first Xfinity start of the year, Kyle Busch attempts to get his second win of the week as he tries to complete a sweep of all three NASCAR races in “Thunder Valley.”

Below is all the info you need ahead of tonight’s race on NBCSN.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Kenny Hawkins, WJHL-TV News Channel 11 anchor and sports director, will give the command to start engines at 7:38 p.m. Green flag is set for 7:43 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 300 laps (159.9 miles) around the .533-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 85. Stage 2 ends on Lap 170.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Qualifying is scheduled for 3:40 p.m. The driver/crew chief meeting is at 5:15 p.m. Driver introductions are at 7:05 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Jason Lovins will perform the Anthem at 7:31 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race at 7:30 p.m. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Countdown to Green. The Performance Racing Network radio broadcast begins at 7 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts a temperature of 81 degrees and a 32 percent chance of rain at race time.

LAST TIME: In April, Erik Jones led the final 21 laps and won his second Bristol spring race. Last August, Austin Dillon won the Food City 300 in an overtime finish. The only laps he led were the final four.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying is set for 3:40 p.m.