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Bump & Run: What to be watching for in Cup title race

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What is one thing you be watching closely among the Cup championship contenders this weekend in Miami?

Nate Ryan: How much they are focused on their cars vs. how much they seemed focused on each other, whether it’s comparatively or for mind games.

Dustin Long: The crew chiefs. The decisions they make will play a significant role in putting their driver in position to win a championship or take them out of it. 

Daniel McFadin: Whether the four championship contenders can run up front all night. I feel like this year might be the first time in the elimination format that the championship winner won’t win the race.

Jerry Bonkowski: How much their teammates will help, especially when it comes to potentially impeding the other championship contenders, could be one of the biggest deciding factors of who is crowned champion. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch both have three teammates each to help them, while Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. have one teammate each. The championship could come down to – to borrow a line from The Beatles – which driver gets by the most with a little help from his friends.

If Martin Truex Jr. doesn’t win the Cup title, how would you view his season?

Nate Ryan: Even without a championship, Truex will be remembered as having one of the 10 best seasons in the Cup series during the 21st century. The guess here is that he wins the title, though.

Dustin Long: Incomplete. The dominant driver doesn’t always win the title, just look to last year for the most recent example, but winning the championship would make this a great season for Truex and company. Without a title, it’s a very good season but one that likely will be overlooked by many.

Daniel McFadin: It would be a huge disappointment, especially given how much of the season Truex has led the standings through his dominance in race and stage wins. But it would still be a career-best year as the team has battled multiple off-the-track issues, culminating with team owner Barney Visser missing the title race as he recovers from heart surgery.

Jerry Bonkowski: Even if he falls short of the championship, Truex will have nothing to be ashamed of. He’s had a career season, one that will go down in NASCAR annals as nothing short of excellent. He has established himself as one of the best and most successful drivers in the sport and has a future that looks brighter than ever. This was not a fluke year for MTJ; it’s a sign of potentially even greater things to come in 2018.

How do you explain the last four races for Kyle Larson?

Nate Ryan: The engine failures were just misfortune. Texas appeared to be the case of a driver going beyond the limits after getting frustrated with the handling of a potentially winning car going away, and Martinsville never has been his strong suit. It’s fair to presume if he isn’t eliminated at Kansas, his results probably would be better, but with less to play for, it can have an adverse impact.

Dustin Long: There’s a bumper sticker for this. Stuff happens, or something like that. Larson’s fall has been swift and complete. Some of the issues can be related to being eliminated from title contention.

Daniel McFadin: Extremely out of character, but not surprising for a team eliminated from playoff contention early. Larson’s mind is already on the offseason and the team is likely working on setups for next season. Larson not being in the title race is more disappointing than the likelihood of Truex not winning the title.

Jerry Bonkowski: Has any reporter asked Larson whether he broke any mirrors about a month ago? There’s no logical explanation for the bad luck and misfortune he and the No. 42 team have had. There’s one way to look at it — maybe all of this year’s bad luck will turn into nothing but good luck in 2018.

Watch: Championship 4 drivers share thoughts on Miami outcome

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After 200 laps Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, William Byron claimed the Xfinity Series championship in his rookie year by finishing third in the Ford EcoBoost 300.

He finished ahead of his JR Motorsports teammates, Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier, and Richard Childress Racing’s Daniel Hemric.

Watch the above video for Byron’s first interview as a NASCAR champion.

Below are interviews with the remaining Championship 4 drivers.

Elliott Sadler

Sadler placed eighth in the race after contact with Ryan Preece with less than 10 laps to go cut a tire on his No. 1 Chevrolet. It Sadler’s fourth runner-up result in the points in his Xfinity career.

Justin Allgaier

Allgaier finished 12th in the race after struggling for most 300-mile event. He was competing without his primary crew chief, who had been suspended for the race. Chad Knaus, the seven-time champion crew chief in the Cup Series with Jimmie Johnson, helped out on the pit box for the No. 7 Chevrolet.

Daniel Hemric

Hemric finished last among the Championship 4 drivers in 34th after his No. 21 Chevrolet experienced battery problems early in Stage 2. Hemric spent 12 laps on pit road before returning to the race.

JR Motorsports sweeps top three in final Xfinity Series standings

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William Byron finished third in Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 to give JR Motorsports its second Xfinity title.

The team, co-owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr., swept the top-three spots in the final standings with Elliott Sadler placing second and Justin Allgaier in third.

Daniel Hemric placed fourth after finishing last among the Championship 4 drivers in the race.

Race-winner Cole Custer ends the season in fifth.

Click here for the points results.

Results, stats for Xfinity season finale at Miami

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Cole Custer led 182 laps to win the Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It’s his first Xfinity win and the first series win for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Custer swept all three stages of the race and beat Sam Hornish Jr., William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Ryan Preece.

Byron clinched the Xfinity title with his third-place finish.

Click here for results.

Devastated Elliott Sadler watches another title chance go away

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HOMESTEAD, Florida — Elliott Sadler’s fourth runner-up finish for the Xfinity title in the last seven years was a pain he had not felt before.

“I’d say tonight is the most devastating and down and out I’ve ever felt in my career,’’ Sadler said after finishing second to JR Motorsports teammate William Byron for the championship.

Sadler’s anger was directed at Ryan Preece, who slowed Sadler by challenging him for position and stalling Sadler’s momentum as Sadler tried to hold off Byron for the championship in the final 10 laps.

“We were in position to win this championship,’’ Sadler said. “We were there. He raced me hard and held me down and (Byron) got a run on us and he let (Byron) go. Very frustrating.’’

Byron took advantage by diving under Sadler and passing him. Sadler tried to get by Preece but made contact that caused his right front tire to go down. Sadler finished eighth, losing the championship to Byron, who placed third.

“To be that close and not win a championship is frustrating,’’ said the 42-year-old Sadler, who has not won a title in any of NASCAR’s top three national series. “I don’t have many years left, and I wanted to try to fulfill a childhood dream. I didn’t know it was going to come down to a guy that’s not even racing for anything to hold us down like that. No respect at all.’’

Preece said he was racing for something. He was in the No. 18 for Joe Gibbs Racing to compete for the car owner’s title.

“I’m just doing what I’m doing for Joe ,’’ Preece said. “They told me to race for the owners championship.’’

Sadler didn’t buy it when told what Preece said..

“He wasn’t because (Sam Hornish Jr.) was half a lap ahead of him,’’ Sadler said, referring to the Team Penske car that won the car owners title. “He wasn’t racing anybody.’’

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