Bump & Run: Should NASCAR be doctoring tracks to add grip?

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NASCAR is expected to use traction compound or drag tires at a number of tracks there the rest of the season. Are you OK with this action or should NASCAR not do such things to tracks?

Nate Ryan: As long as the drivers are on board, let’s start ordering the sticky stuff by the truckload. 

Dustin Long: Why shouldn’t NASCAR try to find ways to create the best possible racing for fans?

Daniel McFadin: The spring Bristol race was the most enticing Bristol race in my adult memory, so I’m going to say try it wherever you think you need it. Because if you’re a track that’s even considering using it, you probably need to try.

Jerry Bonkowski: I understand why NASCAR is using the PJ1 compound or dragging tires to improve the racing. And while both are used to enhance grip and widen or bring in additional grooves on certain tracks, the purist or traditionalist in me does not like artificial means to be used. I feel that perhaps the use of softer tires may bring better grip, but at the same time, softer tires typically wear out quicker. It’s kind of a Catch-22 situation for NASCAR and its drivers. They want better grip for better racing, but having to resort to an artificial method to do so just kind of rubs me the wrong way. 

Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez and Trevor Bayne are the first five drivers outside a playoff spot with three races left before the playoffs are set. Will any of these drivers make the playoffs?

Nate Ryan: It seems as if the rookies Suarez and Jones have the most momentum lately. Bowyer still seems most likely to get a win and also could claw his way into a points spot. But a realist wouldn’t bet that any of these drivers qualifies. The playoff window virtually has closed already.

Dustin Long: No. Have to wait until next year.

Daniel McFadin: Erik Jones. He’s the only one of the group consistently running up front, at least in the last three races, and getting to the front of the pack without pit strategy.

Jerry Bonkowski: Even with the problems he’s had over the last several races, I think Logano will still make the playoffs. Bowyer will need at least top-10 finishes in the three remaining races to make a serious run at Matt Kenneth — and may still come up short. While Jones and Suarez are having a strong battle for Rookie of the Year, I don’t think either will make the playoffs, unless they win one of the next three races.

Did Kyle Larson’s win at Michigan show you that the team is back in form after recent struggles?

Nate Ryan: It’s back in form on strategy and execution, which were flawless in positioning Larson to win at Michigan. But the No. 42 Chevrolet still lacked the blinding speed from earlier in the season. 

Dustin Long: I need to see more. It’s a good start and changes the momentum for the team, which is important. Still, I want to see this team lead more laps and be higher on the speed chart. One race doesn’t turn a team’s season around but one race can be the start of something big. Let’s see what this team does next.

Daniel McFadin: As dramatic and fun as the final restart was Sunday, Larson’s win wasn’t a result of a superb performance. After the “worst start of my career” (starting ninth and falling to 15th) Larson spent all of Stage 1 outside the top 10 and then had an average running spot of 8.8 in the race. He was in a position to win solely because of two late cautions and a willingness to use his bumper.

Jerry Bonkowski: I’d like to think so, but Larson has been very cyclical this season. He won at Michigan in June and had finishes of 26th and 29th in the next two races at Sonoma and Daytona. He had back-to-back runner-up finishes at Kentucky and New Hampshire, only to have three straight finishes of 23rd or worse in the next three races (which occurred before Sunday’s race at Michigan). If anything, he can somewhat be less aggressive in the next three races, knowing he’s locked into the playoffs — and he can ratchet up the aggressiveness when the playoffs begin.

Matt Tifft fastest in first of 2 Xfinity practices at Kentucky Speedway

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Matt Tifft ran 25 laps during Friday afternoon’s first of two NASCAR Xfinity Series practice sessions at Kentucky Speedway.

But it was just one lap that mattered the most, as Tifft (180.427 mph) emerged from the 55-minute practice as the fastest in the 36 cars that took to the track.

Brian Scott was second (179.253 mph), followed by Ryan Preece (178.465), Brandon Jones (178.288), Justin Allgaier (178.271), Ben Kennedy (178.136), Elliott Sadler (177.573), Tyler Reddick (177.544), Spencer Gallagher Jr. (177.503) and Brennan Poole (177.381).

Interestingly enough, only four of the top-10 were playoff contenders. The seven-race Xfinity playoffs begin with Saturday night’s VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300.

There will be one more practice session today from 6:30-7:25 p.m. ET.

Qualifying and the race are Saturday.

Click here for the full practice speed grid.

Christopher Bell fastest in final Truck practice at New Hampshire

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Christopher Bell was fastest in the second and final NASCAR Camping World Truck Series practice session Friday afternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Bell covered the 1.058-mile flat track with a top speed of 132.877 mph.

Ben Rhodes was second (132.301 mph), followed by Todd Gilliland (132.213), Matt Crafton (132.122) and Noah Gragson (132.071).

Sixth through 10th were Johnny Sauter (132.016), Austin Cindric (131.865), Grant Enfinger (131.683), Ryan Truex (131.656) and Kaz Grala ((131.533).

Qualifying for the UNOH 175 takes place Saturday at 10 a.m. ET, while the green flag for the race drops three hours later at 1 p.m. ET. Both qualifying and the race will be televised on FoxSports1.

Click here for the full speed grid from the final Truck practice.

New Hampshire to host September spectacular next year

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LOUDON, New Hampshire – Although the Cup series will not race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway next September, the track still will have racing.

Officials from New Hampshire Motor Speedway and NASCAR announced Friday that the track will host multiple series Sept. 21-22. The track will host:

  • A 250-lap NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race, the longest race in series history.
  • A 125-lap NASCAR K&N Pro Series race that will include series champions from the Mexico and Europe series.
  • A 100-lap NASCAR Pinty’s Series race in the first race for the Canadian series in the United States.

Practice and qualifying will take place on Sept. 21. Racing will be Sept. 22.

“We are creating a short-track weekend that I think fans from across the Northeast are going to be so excited about,” said David McGrath, executive vice president and general manager of the speedway.

McGrath estimates the track will attract 15,000 – 20,000 fans for the inaugural event.

“We will start there and certainly hope to grow there,” McGrath said. “We certainly have the space to do it.”

Jim Cassidy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations, has high hopes for this event.

“Anytime we enter into a conversation about a special event like this, it’s done thinking about the long term and building,” Cassidy said. “I would like to look at this as certainly a building block on a big-time weekend for racing.”

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ready to move past Chicagoland woes

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LOUDON, New Hampshire — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was blunt as he looked back at last weekend’s 25th-place finish in the opening playoff race.

“It’s the worst playoff race I’ve ever had,’’ he said before quickly adding, “actually, it was the only playoff race I ever had.’’

A week after he hit the wall, had a commitment line violation and sped on pit road to finish last among the 16 playoff drivers, Stenhouse heads to a New Hampshire Motor Speedway that has been unkind to him. His average finish of 20.44 at this track is the worst among the playoff contenders.

It’s easy to peg Stenhouse, whose best finish at New Hampshire is ninth, as one of the four drivers who won’t advance to the second round after next weekend’s race at Dover International Speedway.

Stenhouse says don’t end his title hopes just yet.

“I think there are tracks you look at where you feel like, ‘Hey, we don’t run well there,’ ‘’ Stenhouse said Friday. “There are tracks you look at and average finishes aren’t as good as what you really ran, and I think New Hampshire is one of those race tracks for us.

“I can count two or three times where we’ve been in the top 10 and we come down on our last pit stop and we’ve had freak accidents on pit road that we end up restarting tail end. I think that skews a little bit on the finishes, so I think we’ve got confidence that we can run with those cars that we’re chasing.’’

He better or his playoff experience will be brief. He enters Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN) four points out of the cutoff spot.

“We keep our head up because we’re only four points out, so I think that’s the key message around the shop this week,’’ Stenhouse said. “We had, by far, the worst race we could have ever thought of having and we’re still close. I think that’s the key.”

For him to turn in a good run — and a good finish Sunday — Stenhouse said the key will be where he starts and how strong he is on restarts.

“We’ve always been really good on the long runs and you get quite a few long runs here,’’ said Stenhouse, who was 24th on the speed chart after Friday’s practice. “That seems to be our strong suit. Restarts seem to be some of the areas that we need to get better at. I was on the plane ride up today just looking at our notes from this last race and that was it. 

“We were strong on the long runs, needed to get our restarts better, and need to qualify better. These first two stages you can really run without pitting, so that first stage it’s going to be important to qualify well and make sure we put ourselves in a position to maybe get some stage points if it does go green, and our car is good on the long runs.’’

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