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Kyle Busch leads Coke 600 after first stage

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CONCORD, N.C. — Kyle Busch led the Coca-Cola 600 after the first 100-lap stage in the 400-lap race.

Busch passed Martin Truex Jr. with 10 laps remaining in the stage. The Monster Energy All-Star Race winner led 35 laps in the stage.

The top 10 after 100 laps: Kyle Busch, Truex, pole-sitter Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Larson (sixth after starting 39th), Ryan Blaney, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray.

Busch earned his third playoff point of the year with the stage win in the first race to feature four stages.

There was one caution in the first stage on Lap 20. Jeffrey Earnhardt‘s No. 33 Chevrolet began smoking on the frontstretch, and a piece of debris broke off of his car and struck Chase Elliott‘s No. 24 Chevrolet.

As Elliott slowed exiting the tri-oval, flames erupted underneath the front of his car. Oil on the track prevented Brad Keselowski from avoiding Elliott as he plowed into the back of his car.

Debris from the accident caused cosmetic damage to Danica Patrick‘s car and damage to Erik Jones‘ car. Jones was in 13th after the first stage. Patrick led seven laps following green flag stops.

The field went through a green-flag pit stop cycle from Laps 64 – 68. Denny Hamlin, Cole Whitt and Corey LaJoie were caught speeding. Hamlin fell to 21st, the last car on the lead lap.

Lap leaders in the first segment included Harvick (42), Kyle Busch (35), Truex (15), Patrick (seven) and Johnson (one).

 

Stewart-Haas Racing, Nature’s Bakery reach settlement that includes sponsorship

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Stewart-Haas Racing announced Friday that it has reached an agreement with Nature’s Bakery that will include the company serving as a sponsor for four Cup races split between Clint Bowyer and Danica Patrick.

Those four races will be announced at a later date.

As part of the agreement, all lawsuits between Stewart-Haas Racing and Nature’s Bakery have been dropped.

Stewart-Haas Racing filed a $31 million breach of contract lawsuit against Nature’s Bakery on Feb. 3. Nature’s Bakery had two years remaining on a three-year contract to sponsor Danica Patrick’s team when the company sent the team a notice of termination on Jan. 19 . Nature’s Bakery was to have paid $15,212,000 each season to sponsor the team.

Nature’s Bakery filed a counterclaim Feb. 25 stating it did not see the return it was led to believe in sponsoring Patrick’s team.

“It’s gratifying to see a difficult situation get resolved in a professional manner that suits all parties,” said Brett Frood, president, Stewart-Haas Racing. “Together, we worked diligently to find an equitable solution to our collective challenges.”

“I am a longtime motorsports fan and, particularly, a fan of NASCAR,” said Dave Marson, founder of Nature’s Bakery. “Our partnership with Stewart-Haas Racing began with direct, open conversations and that foundation allowed us to reach this agreement.”

Other parts of the agreement were not revealed.

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Bump & Run: Should some Cup races have more points than others?

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Parker Kligerman and Steve Letarte, who will be on today’s NASCAR America from 5:30 – 7 p.m ET, joins Nate Ryan and Dustin Long to answer this week’s questions.

With a maximum 70 points and eight playoff points available for this weekend’s Coca-Cola 600, should NASCAR look at some of its top-tier races having more points than most races next year? If so, what races should those be?

Parker Kligerman: I am torn here, as I understand the reasoning. I understand the intention. My problem is that the sport has already added numerous changes to the points structure this year with the addition of stages and playoff points. Now making a race worth more just because it is longer doesn’t work for me. In an era of NASCAR, in which I applaud them for being so open and progressive, I fear this is where I draw the line. This race should not have four stages and should not be worth more points. 

For example, in the IndyCar Series, they made the Indy 500 a double points event in addition to having almost a full race worth of points up for grabs in qualifying. Therefore, a bad two days in Indy could effectively end your championship hopes, which makes no sense to me. Why should one race be able to make or break an entire year-long championship? 

I know this is not the case in NASCAR, but it reinforces my point. No single race should have a larger impact on a championship than the other when it comes to a points value. 

Steve Letarte: I will go on record as saying that I was not a fan of an added stage for the 600 for the simple fact it wasn’t added in January. I think we need to stop changing. I think we have generated stage racing and it has been a great improvement. I do think the 600 needed another stage, just not this year. I really think we should have run an entire season and then evaluated it. The 600 perhaps could get an extra stage. The Daytona 500 could get an extra stage. The Brickyard, while it’s not a 500, another stage probably wouldn’t hurt that. I do think the night race at Bristol.

Nate Ryan: I think the Daytona 500 certainly will get consideration for extra stage points, and it should. The Southern 500 and the night race at Bristol also should be on this list. (This also would be a very good idea if it coincided with shortening other races on the schedule.)

Dustin Long: Yes. The Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600, Southern 500 and Martinsville spring race (since the other is in the playoffs) should have more points than other races. That is a restrictor-plate track, 1.5-mile track,. 1.366-mile track and a short track. Instead of adding extra stages for some of those races, NASCAR could make stage wins worth 15 points instead of 10 points.

Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer are in the top 10 in the season standings but have yet to score a points victory. Who will be the first among that group to win?

Parker Kligerman: It is easy to immediately gravitate toward the most recent winner in the series, being Kyle Busch at the All-Star Race. But I wouldn’t be so quick to count out Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 team. They seem to be good in the speed department and, therefore, just need to execute. Lastly, Chase Elliott has to be thinking that surely there is a victory lane reserved for him in the near future, as it just seems absurd he has not won a race yet. My pick is Kevin Harvick. 

Steve Letarte: I think it’s a tossup between Kyle Busch and Kevin Harivck. I think that they have moments of brilliance between the two of them. Kevin Harvick, in my mind, he won at Atlanta. He did everything he was supposed to do but win the race. Kyle Busch has had the same sort of thing with untimely cautions. I think it’s between Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch, but I will say that the entire list will win before the season is out.’’

Nate Ryan: Kyle Busch seems ready to score the breakthrough for Joe Gibbs Racing, and Kevin Harvick would be next on the list. I think there’s a good chance that any of those on the list could win Sunday. In the past three years, the Coca-Cola 600 has been the winner’s first victory of the season.

Dustin Long: Kevin Harvick has four top-five finishes in the last five points races, signs that his Stewart-Haas Racing has gotten past many of the issues with switching to Ford. It’s time for this team to win and it will soon.

The 2018 NASCAR Hall of Fame Class will be selected this week. Name two nominees you think deserve to be in this class and why. 

Parker Kligerman: On NASCAR America a couple weeks ago, Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett made a case for Robert Yates to be inducted into the Hall of Fame this year. And it made me realize he was right. When you break the sport down, the most important part of a motor vehicle is the engine, it is what makes it a motorized vehicle. So when you look at the importance of engines in this sport, you must look at the people who made those engines a reality. Therefore my first pick goes to a man who at times pushed the limits of what many people thought to be physically possible with a pushrod V8 – Robert Yates. 

My second pick goes to an absolute legend – Red Byron. Not only was he the NASCAR Cup Series’ first champion but a WWII veteran as well. His B-24 plane was shot at and he injured his left leg. But this wouldn’t be enough to hold him back from racing, where he pushed and pushed to find a way to be able to retrofit the car for his injury. He succeeded and became a champion. A veteran, a champion, a never give up attitude. What more could you want from a Hall of Famer? 

Steve Letarte: This is the easiest question every year until this year. Every year I see the class, there are two or three names that jump out to me as guarantees. When I look at this year, I see a class of Hall of Fame worthy nominees, all that I feel will end up in the Hall of Fame, but in what order should they go? I’m glad I’m not in that room. I could make a case for Davey Allison, but you have to argue what could have been. I can make the argument for Ray Evernham. I can make an argument for Red Farmer, Ray Fox, Ken Squier, Robert Yates. The list goes on and on.

Nate Ryan: The first two on my ballot will be Ray Evernham, whose influence and innovations as a crew chief are nonpareil, and Red Byron, who should be in by virtue of being the first premier series champion.

Dustin Long: Ray Evernham was a game changer. The garage often had to respond to what Evernham did, whether it was with the pit crew, strategy or what he did to the car. Robert Yates was one of the premier engine builders who also went on to have success as a car owner. His success in two disciplines and how the engine company that has his name on it remains powerful, shows his impact even today.

Long: Sentiment grows for more changes to All-Star Race, even new venue

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CONCORD, N.C. — Twenty-five years after the celebrated “One Hot Night,’’ NASCAR fans were treated to one lukewarm evening.

While Saturday night’s All-Star Race had its moments — there was some three-wide racing early and Kyle Busch’s winning pass on the final restart proved exciting — this event again didn’t measure up to its past.

Admittedly it’s difficult to match the 1992 All-Star Race — that “hot night” that marked the first night race at a 1.5-mile track and finished with winner Davey Allison crashing after a last-lap duel with Kyle Petty. But when a NASCAR fan asks another “Were you there the night that …” they’re often talking about an All-Star Race 15-20 years ago.

Saturday’s event soon will fade except to Busch fans who saw their driver win his first All-Star Race.

The problem is this event, as much as any Cup race, is meant to entertain and introduce the sport to potential fans with its club-like driver intros, on-track action and short timeframe (Saturday’s race ran 72 minutes).

Three lead changes in 70 laps is hardly considered entertaining even by the most generous fans.

So what’s next?

NASCAR has shown it is willing to make major changes to enhance the action from stage racing to a new playoff format. Stage racing has created excitement at points in races that normally might not have had as much action.

NASCAR hoped to follow that by introducing a second tire compound, a softer tire, for this event. The goal was for the tire to be quicker than the normal tire — but to also wear quicker. The hope was that it would create cars moving forward and backward, giving fans the action they want it see.

“I don’t think Goodyear hit the tire very well,’’ Brad Keselowski said after finishing ninth. “I think they missed pretty big. The tire was supposed to be much faster than it was.’’

Busch said Goodyear could have gone with a “little bit softer, utilize a little bit more grip in order to be faster, have more split between the two tires.’’

Maybe the next move is that NASCAR tries it again next year but Goodyear does more with the tire and creates the bigger difference in speed.

If not that, what else could NASCAR do to match its stance of bigger and bolder moves?

Maybe it’s time for a venue change.

“Bristol Motor Speedway,’’ Clint Bowyer said. “They (Speedway Motorsports Inc.) own them both. It’s only a three-hour drive for Charlotte. That’s where I’d have it.

“If you want to put on a show, you want to see emotion and beating and banging and being able to do something. I don’t know.

“We’ve tried and tried and tried to get ourselves in a situation here in Charlotte where we could do that, you can’t find it. It’s a great big-track program with the 600 and the long runs and that’s when the outside line widens out and you get a little better show. It’s just hard. Everybody is trying. We’re just missing it somehow.’’

Runner-up Kyle Larson, who won the opening two stages, also would like to see the event be held elsewhere.

“I think it’s really cool to change the venue,’’ he said. “I don’t know if racetracks could bid on the All‑Star Race or bid on the final race of the season.

“It would open up different fan bases to come see a big event.  You’re not going to get many people from the West Coast to fly out here for the All‑Star Race, I don’t think. It would be cool to have an All‑Star Race in Fontana or Vegas or Sonoma. Road courses, anywhere. It would be cool to switch it up every year.’’

Or maybe it’s time for a change to the rule book.

“The rule book is so thick, and the cars are so equal, we run the same speed,’’ Jimmie Johnson said after his third-place finish. “You can’t pass running the same speed. It’s just the bottom line.’’

But even a seven-time champion admits he doesn’t know how much to cut.

I’m like everybody else that is involved in this sport: I have an opinion, but I don’t have the answer,’’ he said.

“I just know when you look at qualifying and you look at the cars on the track, we want parity, we want the manufacturers to all have the same opportunity to go fast. These teams all build the same stuff. We all sit there and run the same speed. I mean, it makes sense. We all have access to the same stuff.

“I don’t have the answer. I guess I say that in trying to not say that it’s the track’s fault or something that’s going on here.  Mile‑and‑a‑half racing is mile‑and‑a‑half racing. It’s kind of that way. When all the cars are qualifying as tight as they do, we can’t pass as easily as anybody, we have to logically look at it and say, ‘Hey, we’re all going the same speed, no wonder we can’t pass.’’’

This track can still have its moments with this event but it’s time for NASCAR’s leadership to consider what’s best for the sport. It is still best for the sport to have this event on a 1.5-mile track? Or is it better to keep it here but make other changes?

More needs to be done to make this event something fans won’t soon forget.

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‘You never know’: Kyle Larson goes all out to finish second in All-Star Race

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CONCORD, N.C. – A loud roar went out over Charlotte Motor Speedway on the final lap of the Monster Energy All-Star Race.

It was the kind of roar one would expect when a driver makes a bold, edge-of-your-seat maneuver in hopes of winning $1 million.

Even though it wasn’t, Kyle Larson treated it like it was.

Larson was running right on Jimmie Johnson‘s bumper when he dove low on the No. 48 Chevrolet as they neared Turn 3. No part of Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet touched Johnson’s car as he cleared him … for second place.

Just over a second ahead of Larson, Kyle Busch was preparing to take the checkered flag to win the race and the money after his own bold move 10 laps earlier on a restart.

It was the fact that Busch hadn’t crossed the finish line yet that inspired Larson to give Johnson all he had.

“You never know,” Larson said afterward. “You never know what’s going to happen. I just want to be running second if something was to happen.”

Nothing happened. No miracle part failure, tire blow out or empty gas tank improved or worsened Larson’s position.

Which is a positive for Larson after last years’ All-Star Race, where a power move by Joey Logano with two laps to go put Logano in victory lane and Larson in the wall.

“Probably a little more heartbroken last year than this year,” Larson said. “But this year it was nice to be able to watch the (Monster Energy) Open … in my motorhome, then dominate the first two stages.  The third one, we were really good.  Then our issues kind of evolved right there.”

A year after getting into the All-Star Race by winning the Open in a dramatic drag race with Chase Elliott, Larson qualified on the pole for Saturday’s main event. From there, he led every lap in the first two stages for 40 laps total.

The actual unexpected occurrences that shaped Larson’s night happened on pit road.

After the second round, Larson put on his four option tires and would have been first off pit road had it not been for Ryan Blaney and Clint Bowyer taking two tires each. In the general chaos of the restart, Larson wasn’t able to get back to the point position and he finished the stage in third.

On the final visit to pit road, a slow pit stop resulted in Larson being the fifth car to exit.

“I thought initially our pit crew struggled that last stop,” Larson said. “Our jack post on the right side broke off at some point throughout the race.  So the jackman had to make a couple more pumps to get the car up.  It slowed the stop down enough that we got beat off pit road by three cars.”

Nine green flag laps later, the driver who believes he’s the “last true racer” found a way to be put the pressure on a seven-time champion.

Just in case.

“Ten laps is fun and exciting,” Larson said. “It’s just not enough time to make any ground. I was able to start making ground there the last couple laps. Yeah, I slid Jimmie into three there on the last lap. He was a little upset with me after the race.”

On the cool down lap, Johnson stuck a hand out his window, his way of asking Larson “what are you doing?”

It’s only second place.

“No big deal, really,” Larson said. “I always race hard with Jimmie and I expect the same from him. To me, Jimmie is the greatest driver of all time. So anytime I can race hard with him and pass him, even without getting into him, I’m proud of that.”

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