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Bump & Run: Does NASCAR need to change rule that eliminated Matt Kenseth?

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Does NASCAR need to change the policy on damaged vehicles next year so instead of a disqualification for too many crew members servicing the car it’s something else? If so, what is a better alternative?

Steve Letarte: I think this is a bigger global question. I don’t love the five-minute clock. I love the damaged vehicle policy. I love the fact that we don’t have wrecked cars riding around. I’m a big fan of not adding components to the race cars. I wish it wasn’t a clock. I wish it was a lap count. The clock is a little cumbersome and a little hard to explain and to understand when everything else on the race track is measured by laps.

I would just like to see a car after a certain amount of laps down, he’s done. I think that then you could make the extra crew member, perhaps, be a one-lap penalty. I would make speeding a one-lap penalty and anything else that is currently a timed or another penalty would all be an additional lap. Then it’s clear to people that you’re allowed x amount of laps, whether it’s five or 10 laps, it’s up to NASCAR to decide. I just think the damaged vehicle policy is a great addition to the sport, but much like a lot of policies, I think it would be tweaked over the offseason to be a little more straight forward.

Parker Kligerman: Well, this is a tricky one for me. As a driver it’s just not something I would pay attention to. That is the crew chief’s job. I don’t think there is a crew chief out there that would want their driver to even understand the intricacies of these types of rules. Their focus should be on driving the car and avoiding getting into these situations. With that said, as an analyst, I think it’s time to look at the litany of new rules that have been imposed on the sport in the last five years and ask what are we accomplishing? Is it safety? Is it fairer? Are the fans benefiting? 

So with those questions asked, in this instance, when you have an infraction that is so small and not much of a gain competitively, yet it precludes you from being able to race, the fans are not benefiting. 

I understand a rule is a rule and the 20 team broke the rule. But when we get into rules that stop a car from continuing in a race in front of fans who paid large sums to be at the track, and fans who have invested a lot of time in the year rooting that driver on from their homes. I think this rule needs a re-think.

Nate Ryan: Parking a car for having an extra man go over the wall to help repair a damaged car seems fairly draconian. It’s little confusing why the penalty has to have so much teeth with so many other conditions attached to the Damaged Vehicle Policy (the 5-minute clock, the necessity of making fixes in the pits). It’s been a fine addition that has met its primary objectives this season but just needs a few tweaks, which NASCAR assuredly will make.

Dustin Long: It makes sense that the policy be changed from a disqualification to a one-lap penalty. While the rule was applied correctly in the case of Matt Kenseth’s team, it does seem overly harsh and could be tweaked before next season.

NASCAR has announced rule changes or enforcement changes in driver meetings from time to time. Is that acceptable or should NASCAR do more to ensure all its competitors know about any changes or updates that are announced in the meeting?

Steve Letarte: I’m going to put my crew chief hat on and ask is it a rules change or an enforcement change? A rule change means there has to be language in the rule book that gets highlighted in red and gets sent out to all the competitors. This is where I struggle.

Cup drivers meeting at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo: Dustin Long)

The enforcement of the restarts at Kansas was without a doubt different than we had ever seen. There was no doubt in my mind that NASCAR discussed it in the drivers meeting. Do I think that’s enough? Personally I do. I think that’s what the drivers meeting is for. I’ll follow that up by saying that the drivers meetings could be a little smaller and more concise. Right now there is a bit of a production to it between sponsors and fans that make it difficult, I think, for drivers to consider it a real forum for new information. NASCAR has used that before.

So the argument is it a rule change or not? A rule change absolutely needs to be emailed and bulletined to the teams, but I’m not sure this was a rules change. It sounds like it was more of how they were going to enforce the current rules.

Parker Kligerman: Yes, that is what the drivers meeting is for. I know it seems more of a show, but as a sanctioning body, they have every right to enact a new rule race day morning. As long as it is announced in the drivers meeting. 

Nate Ryan: If a rule is changed during the course of a weekend such as the restart policy at Kansas, officials must be more diligent about making sure drivers fully understand it. It should be announced both before and after the ground rules video in the drivers meeting, and there should be some system of disseminating the information electronically as a backup (as NASCAR began doing with emailed bulletins and putting its rules online a few years ago).

Dustin Long: In this era of instant communications, I see no harm in sending out a note via email, text chain or some other form to teams, crew chiefs and/or drivers on rule changes or emphasis on particular rules that weekend. That being said, these competitors are adults, it’s their responsibility to pay attention in drivers meetings.

Which playoff contender will you watch closely in this round?

Steve Letarte: I really have Chase Elliott circled. He’s the one that I feel has gone outside of my expectations. I word it like that because there are some that I think have performed to the level we thought, whether that was over-performing like the 78 to a high level, or someone like the 17 who made a nice run but eliminated probably in the round that we all thought, maybe a round deeper than we all thought. But the 24 is one that for him moving forward, he just continues to show up at the front of these races. Can he continue his improved performance? Is that because Alan Gustafson has such a great plan, he has better equipment? Is it just Chase? Is it a combination? I can’t honestly tell you the why but he’s the driver I’m going to follow over these next three races.

Parker Kligerman: I will be watching the 24 of Chase Elliott. This team has been a major highlight to me in the playoffs. With four top fives in the playoffs, second only to Martin Truex Jr., they have shown incredible speed and excellent race craft at the 1.5-mile tracks. I think if this team can be even average at Martinsville and Phoenix, they have to be one of the favorites to win at Texas and be a major contender at Miami. 

Nate Ryan: Jimmie Johnson. Though he is the most recent winner at Texas Motor Speedway and the defending race winner at Martinsville Speedway, Chad Knaus’ postrace comments to Dustin Long conveyed the sense of urgency around the team’s quest for an eighth championship. Johnson’s best chance to advance likely will be Sunday at Martinsville, but Texas will prove whether the No. 48 Chevrolet is in the ballpark for repeating at Miami.

Dustin Long: Jimmie Johnson. The playoffs are about survive and advance and he’s done that, but he has not shown enough in the playoffs to suggest he’ll move on to the final round. His record at Martinsville is impressive and he won at Texas in the spring. Is Johnson about to put himself into the final four or will he fade away, not able to overcome his car’s lack of speed?

Who is Martinsville a must-win for among playoff contenders and why?

Steve Letarte: Brad Keselowski. I think he did a wonderful job winning Talladega. When I look at Texas and Phoenix, it concerns me. Not Phoenix, maybe he can run well there. When you look at the playoff drivers, they all seem to be running in the top 10 and here is Brad Keselowski running 10th to 12th most of the day. I don’t want to make it like 10th to 12th is a bad running position. It’s not, unfortunately, it’s just not good enough when you have other drivers inside the top 10. So I think Brad Keselowski needs to look at Martinsville as a must-win.

Parker Kligerman: This may be odd considering how good he has been at all three tracks coming up. But to me, Jimmie Johnson and the 48 team could really use a win at Martinsville. He has won there nine times and won this race last year. It just seems the 48 team has not been able to spark the magic that we are used to out of them. A win at Martinsville could allow them to focus squarely on Miami and see if they can’t once again do the unthinkable and win a record eighth championship. 

Nate Ryan: The case could be made that it’s a must-win for Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski – all former Martinsville winners who want to seize an opportunity to become the first in the championship round. Among the other half of the Round of 8, Phoenix remains Kevin Harvick’s firewall, Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney seem more suited for Texas, and Martin Truex Jr. seemingly doesn’t need a win anywhere until the finale.

Dustin Long: Denny Hamlin. He was not fast at Texas in the spring compared to how the remaining title contenders fared and was never a factor, finishing 25th. A finish like that would doom him in this round, forcing him to win to advance and his only win at Phoenix came in 2012. Martinsville is a big race for Hamlin.

NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET today on NBCSN with Steve Letarte, Parker Kligerman and Nate Ryan joining Carolyn Manno. 

First short track win slips away from Martin Truex Jr. on pit road

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Another short track race, another broken heart for Martin Truex Jr.

For the third time in four starts at Richmond Raceway, Truex led the most laps, and it didn’t result in victory.

The Furniture Row Racing driver, making his 450th Cup start and his 75th on a short track, saw his shot at winning the Toyota Owners 400 vanish on pit road.

After leading 121 laps from the pole, Truex lost the lead to Kyle Busch on a pit stop with 30 to go in the scheduled distance.

Truex was in second when the caution waved with nine to go in the scheduled distance. But when the dust settled, Truex found himself in 11th.

A problem with the jack as his team changed left-side tires was the culprit. After having to pit again under another caution, Truex ended the night in 14th.

“Pretty disappointed that we didn’t get at least a chance,” Truex told Fox. “It’s unfortunate, but I don’t know what we have to do to win one of these short-track (races) and get everything to go the way we need it to. Tonight, we beat ourselves, so that’s unfortunate. The guys did a really good job with the race car. We were awful at the start of the race, and I thought we were really in trouble. Just fought all night long and tried to stick with it and make good adjustments and put ourselves in position to try to win another one and just came up short.”

In Sept. 9 playoff race at the 0.75-mile track, Truex led 198 laps before crashing in overtime. In the September 2016 event, he led 193 laps before finishing third to Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson.

In his 75 short-track starts, Truex has earned eight top fives. The last two have come in his last two trips to Martinsville Speedway.

What drivers said after Richmond Cup race

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Kyle Busch — Winner: “I think the difference for us tonight was just the adjustments. Trying to stay with the racetrack all night long. Adam Stevens (crew chief) and my guys did a phenomenal job. I think one of the other keys to the night was just my guys – my pit crew – they got us out front when it mattered the most those last two pit stops. They were awesome tonight on pit road.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 2nd: “Just very fortunate circumstances there at the end for us with the way the restarts went. Having a short run there at the end was definitely in our favor. So it was nice to be on the good end of things for the first time in a while. Looking forward, we have to be realistic about how we ran tonight. I think the result shouldn’t weigh into how hard we worked this week because we have some work to do. I think that we have to keep that in mind.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 3rd: “We just got better as the race went on. We were 13th, 15th, something like that in the first half of the race. Just weren’t very strong. We just made some really good adjustments that got us rolling towards the front, especially on long runs. We got to the top five, then we had some pit stops there. We gained a few spots there. But, you know, restarting on that outside line, it was a huge deficit. I just couldn’t get the grip that I needed to try to run with (Kyle Busch) side‑by‑side into Turn 1. That’s all I wanted, to be within one car length getting into turn one, and I just couldn’t get it.’’

Joey Logano — Finished 4th: “We had a really good Shell Pennzoil Ford early in the race and got a couple stage wins early, which was great. We maxed out those points, which is awesome. We just lost the handle on the car and fell back to sixth or so. We had a bad pit stop and lost a bunch of spots and then had a really good pit stop and got them all right back and were able to come home with a top five. I wish I could rerun that. I feel like we can do better if we tried again. I am sure the whole field would say that. I am proud of the speed we showed at Richmond. Just want to be a little better.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 5th: “No more restarts. We were terrible on the restarts there compared to three or four of those guys. I was spinning the tires getting going there on the restarts. All of the night taken into consideration we were way better than we have been in the past and that is an important race for us to figure out where we need to be with all of the things that didn’t go right tonight and be ready for when we come back here for the playoff race.”  

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 6th: “We had to start the race on the tires we qualified with, and as soon as we got those tires off the car, we were a very competitive car and were able to stay on the lead lap. And with the long green-flag runs, we were able to still stay on the lead lap and work our way up through the field. I don’t know what we’re missing on scuff tires, but that’s something we’ve got to figure out.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 7th: “We weren’t very good all race long. And then I ended up getting the Lucky Dog there and then lost a lap … so that was kind of a hiccup on our part. I was able to get the Lucky Dog again and then charge from wherever we were to seventh the last laps. So, we salvaged a really good finish, which was good.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 9th: “We had a really good car. It’s just frustrating there at the end. All hell breaks loose. We lost a couple of spots on pit road, and that gets you back, and then you get on the outside and get stuck behind somebody that spun their tires, and you knock the front fender in on the 24 because he spun his tires. The next thing you know, you’re 10th thinking, ‘Boy, how did this night go to ruin so fast?’ Then it’s just beating and banging and everybody dive-bombing on the bottom. Those cars that are a lap down you’re lapping, and all of a sudden sticking it in three-wide with nothing to lose at the end. It’s a shame that a good, positive night ends up being like that, but that’s racing at this place.”

William Byron — Finished 12th: “I sped on pit road, and I guess I was just pushing the last segment there in the corner, and we were a little bit too fast coming onto the straightaway. Overall, a really good night. We got stage points, I think we finished fifth in both stages, and I think we finished 12th, but overall learned a lot and can just really build on this.  I love racing at short tracks. It’s a blast and definitely learned a lot from this.” 

Erik Jones — Finished 13th: “Just a really tough day. We really just didn’t have the right car from the start. I wasn’t too sure about it during practice, but once we fired off we realized it was going to be a pretty big struggle all day. We hung with it and fought hard and came home with an OK finish, but just need to get a lot better for the next one.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 14th: “Pretty disappointed that we didn’t get at least a chance. It’s unfortunate, but I don’t know what we have to do to win one of these short-tracks and get everything to go the way we need it to. Tonight we beat ourselves, so that’s unfortunate. The guys did a really good job with the race car. We were awful at the start of the race, and I thought we were really in trouble. Just fought all night long and tried to stick with it and make good adjustments, and put ourselves in position to try to win another one and just came up short. Frustrated, but proud of everyone for the effort and hopefully we get them next week.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 15th: “Richmond Raceway has always been what I consider the hardest track on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series circuit, so I was really proud of our efforts in Stage 1. Our AAA Camaro ZL1 was really good. We were the fastest car on the track for most of the run and were able to race our way from 23rd to eighth and earn a few stage points. Once the race transitioned to night, we lost some of the magic. We just weren’t as strong. I put us in a bit of a hole by earning a commitment line violation coming to pit road, but we worked hard and had a good shot at the end. It was just hard to find a line that made moves.” 

Matt DiBenedetto — Finished 16th: “A 16th for us at Go Fas Racing is a heck of a run. We outran some really, really good cars all day. Our car had crazy-good long run speed and of all days for us to have really good long-run speed, today was definitely the day. But even at the end when we had the green-white-checker, we were able to pass a couple of good cars and pick up a spot or two. The team did a really good job. You know how great of a run that is for us.”

Daniel Hemric – Finished 32nd: “Obviously the results and the finish isn’t at all what we came here to do, but we started the race too far off and we lost so many laps there the first run and that put us behind for the rest of the night. With it going green like it did, I didn’t get to show how much better we got our Camaro ZL1 there throughout the race. I thought we could take off in top-15 speed after we got to work on it for the first time. It just took us getting to pit road to give us that opportunity.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 37th: “Richmond Raceway is one of my favorite tracks and to run just outside the top five, get assessed a pit-road penalty and then battle back onto the lead lap says a lot about this No. 31 Childress Vineyards Camaro ZL1 team. It’s unfortunate on the restart with 30 to go that we got into the back of a car. Everyone started checking up, and I just hit him square in the back. I did all I could, but the damage cost us our race. I’m just so disappointed right now. We had a good car and a finish that doesn’t reflect it.” 

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Late cautions help Chase Elliott to yet another runner-up finish

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Chase Elliott‘s Cup career will always be measured against Bill Elliott’s, his Hall of Fame father.

Saturday night at Richmond Raceway, the third-year driver matched his father in a stat both impressive and underwhelming.

Elliott, who remains winless, finished second for the eighth time in 86 Cup starts.

Bill Elliott was a runner-up eight times before visiting Victory Lane.

But Chase Elliott, whose result was aided by a series of late-race cautions, was the first to admit it wasn’t a product of the team having turned the corner completely in a mostly disappointing season.

“A very fortunate (set of) circumstances there at the end for us with the way the restarts went and having a short run there at the end, definitely in our favor,” the Hendrick Motorsports driver said. “It’s nice to be on the good end of things for the first time in a while. We have to be realistic about how we ran tonight. The result shouldn’t weigh in to how hard we worked this week because we have some work to do.”

Though he started a season-best second in the Toyota Owners 400, Elliott wasn’t a factor in the race’s outcome until he restarted in the top five for two restarts during final 11 laps. He finished seventh in Stage 1.

The second place was his second top five of the season (third at Phoenix) and just the fourth for HMS overall.

The No. 9 Chevrolet pulled off the feat despite not having crew chief Alan Gustafson, who was completing a two-race suspension for an L1 penalty after the Texas race.

In the first race without him, Elliott was involved in a Lap 3 crash at Bristol and finished 29th, 27 laps off the lead.

“I think we’ve been getting better, for sure, over the course of the past handful of weeks,” Elliott said. “I thought last week was really probably our best effort as a company. Obviously we crashed at the beginning. I felt like our car was solid throughout the whole weekend. Obviously, our teammates ran well.”

But Elliott said the team needs to be “realistic” about how the first night race of the season went.

“I think anybody amongst our team would say the same thing,” he said.  “I’m not knocking anyone, anybody on my team or whoever, but we all know we need to do better.”

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Points after Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway

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With his third consecutive win this season, Kyle Busch padded his points lead over Joey Logano with a victory in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway. He now has a 56-point lead and 17 playoff points.

Logano won both stages of the 400-lap affair, his first stage wins of the season.

Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick finished third and fourth, respectively.

Brad Keselowski rounded out the top-five.

Earning 39 points for his second-place finish, Chase Elliott is 25 points behind 16th and a playoff berth in the standings.

Click here for full results.