Joey Logano

Ryan: Hey, if Kyle Busch wants to stick around, how about everybody?

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Kyle Busch is right: The top three finishers after every Cup race should make mandatory visits to the media center.

But don’t stop there. Bring every finisher to an Olympics-style “mixed zone” accessible to media after the race, and let’s curtail the pointless exercise of madly scrambling out of the track and to the airport to beget the social media transmissions that often serve as a crude deconstruction of what exactly happened over the past three hours.

It would be much more productive for everyone (and enlightening for fans starved to gobble up every salient morsel of analysis and explanation) if the checkered flag finally fell on the “race after the race,” which essentially precludes much of the news gathering opportunities inherent to other pro sports.

The media corps has been culpable in glorifying this dash, which is exclusive to NASCAR in a way that seems odd when framed in context.

In the NFL, Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL, locker rooms for both teams open after a cooling-off period that ranges anywhere from a few to 15 minutes. The key is that when the games end, the coaches talk, and then every player ostensibly is fair game for interviews (though it can take patience to wait out the superstars).

That’s difficult in the chaos after a Cup race, where there is less of a guarantee of information being disseminated efficiently. There is no cooling-off period — a selling point because interviews often are emotional with drivers exiting cockpits after three hours of intense pressure and sometimes insane temperatures.

But it’s tricky to pin down interviews with three dozen cars parked in close proximity and a few hundred people zipping between them packing up tools or making beelines for the infield tunnel.

Everyone is in a hurry to go somewhere because … why?

There is the pride of winning the “race” out of the track that hardly anyone cares about beyond the participants (depending on traffic flow at nearby airports, the reward can be sitting on a tarmac and idling away jet fuel worth thousands while awaiting departure).

And yes, there is the joy of getting home in time to catch loved ones before bed.

But neither scenario necessarily is threatened by waiting an extra 20 to 30 minutes. And the work at the shop still starts at the same time Monday.

This trend began in the early 1990s when many drivers began buying or leasing their own planes (and some had pilot’s licenses). But it really took flight in the mid-‘90s when teams assembled private air forces to ferry hundreds of crew members around the country in what has become a well-oiled marvel of travel logistics.

In the span of a few years, road trips went from four wheels to two wings, and it radically changed postrace dynamics that weren’t all that dissimilar from a locker room in some instances. A few decades ago after the Southern 500, the Darlington Raceway showers were where many reporters found drivers. Richard Petty would be accessible for hours while signing autographs.

What if drivers now were asked to hang around a little while for interviews? And in some designated media bullpen (once upon time, it was known as the Unocal gas pumps)?

There is a successful setup employed in Formula 1, whose drivers must traverse a mandatory TV media area with affiliates from around the world (the top three also attend a news conference, and some hold open availability at team hospitality).

There is sure to be pushback in NASCAR against this idea, likely from those who will trot out the tired argument that it’s another example of news media “laziness.”

This is in the same vein of those who decry lobbying for shortening races and blame-shift it to “a NASCAR industry that wants to work less.”  (Psst, the length of a race, whether it’s two hours or three and a half hours, has little impact on the hours worked afterward … feasibly, reporters will be working much longer after a short race that’s eventful than a three hour-plus snoozer).

At least with longer races, a case is made for incremental value by those who demand more laps.

What is gained by getting to the airport 20 minutes earlier? A head start on angry tweeting on the ride home?

Take a cue from Kyle, fellas, and stay a while. Your stories need to be told!

After relatively smooth inspections at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway, what changed to prevent 13 cars from making a qualifying lap at Auto Club Speedway?

It doesn’t seem to have been track-specific because if teams were trying to navigate the backstretch bumps on the 2-mile oval, there likely would have been work done around the fenders. But the offending areas seemed mainly concentrated in area around the rear window and deck lids.

Perhaps teams (particularly those whose advantages with customized splitters were eradicated by rules changes this season) were conservative with the new Optical Scanning Station through the first few races? Once comfort was achieved, the teams tried to take more, and many found the limit at Fontana.

It also might have been illuminating for teams without OSS machines in their shops. Though NASCAR offers the option of using the scanner at its R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina, ensuring a car meets the rigors of the new inspection apparently is a process requiring multiple scans during the course of car-building – putting a premium on having an OSS handy.

NASCAR’s move to conduct inspections only after qualifying at Martinsville Speedway (essentially treating it as an impound-style race) has prompted an interesting question within the industry: Will the teams be held to looser or tighter tolerances?

Generally, it makes sense to allow more leeway in inspection post-qualifying than prerace, but in this case, those inspections are one in the same.

NASCAR will be using post-qualifying tolerances at Martinsville — which presumably would mean less potential for inspection problems.

After weathering last Wednesday’s impending departure of primary sponsor Lowe’s, Jimmie Johnson’s week has gotten off to a much better start with a season-best ninth Sunday and a ranking among the top five dominant athletes of the past 20 years.

There are still some major questions to answer about the future of the No. 48 Chevrolet and crew chief Chad Knaus (whose contract runs through this season), and a long way to secure the competitiveness and consistency to win an eighth championship. But Johnson has made a career of proving anything is possible, and it would be foolish to bet against him.

On the flip side at Hendrick Motorsports: It might be just a blip, but Chase Elliott’s 16th at Fontana in the wake of a penalty last week will bear watching.

After committing the same infraction in a victory at Richmond, Joey Logano’s 2017 season came off the rails. The Team Penske driver had eight top 10s in the first nine races. After the Richmond penalty (which disqualified his win for playoff eligibility), Logano had nine top 10s in 27 races and missed the playoffs.

Elliott could pick up where he nearly left off last October at Martinsville Speedway and win Sunday, but if the No. 9 Chevrolet driver continues to struggle, it’s sure to raise the specter of Logano’s results last year.

There were wildly varying assessments of the crowd at Fontana, ranging from near capacity to perhaps far less. Depending on the camera angles of the grandstands (overhead shots vs. from the pits), it’s easy to understand the confusion.

NASCAR discontinued releasing attendance estimates more than five years ago. Being fans of transparency in this corner, it would be encouraging if tracks could eliminate arguments such as the above by releasing official figures (the party line has been that it’s against the policies of the publicly traded companies that own nearly all the tracks that host Cup races).

There also were social media discussions Sunday night about whether there was an unfair media-driven focus on NASCAR crowds vs. the NCAA tournament and other pro sports, which unquestionably have suffered attendance declines, too.

But this isn’t about being relative to other sports leagues, it’s about teams’ revenue streams. By NASCAR’s admission, race attendance is among the most critical factors used by sponsors to evaluate the return on their investment in stock-car racing.

With teams dependent on corporate sponsorship to make their budgets, there always will be greater scrutiny on audience metrics in auto racing – regardless of the media coverage.

Bump & Run: Biggest upsets in NASCAR

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In light of UMBC’s upset of Virginia in the NCAA basketball tournament, what’s an upset in NASCAR that stands out to you?

Nate Ryan: David Gilliland in the Xfinity race at Kentucky Speedway in 2006. That’s the closest approximation in modern-day NASCAR of what the Retrievers pulled off last Friday.

Dustin Long: David Gilliland’s Xfinity win at Kentucky in 2006 with a part-time and independent team. Remarkable upset that eventually led to a Cup ride.

Daniel McFadin: Front Row Motorsports’ two Cup wins, at Talladega in 2013 and Pocono in 2016. The first because David Ragan‘s surge to the lead on the final lap is the definition of “Where did he come from?” The second, because Chris Buescher earned his first Cup win via pit strategy and … fog.

Jerry Bonkowski: Actually, a two-part answer. First, when Trevor Bayne came out of nowhere and was pushed to the win in the 2011 Daytona 500 by Carl Edwards. And then there was the 1990 Daytona 500, when underdog Derrike Cope won.

What was something that stood out to you from the West Coast swing?

Nate Ryan: That the storylines from the end of last season (Toyotas, particularly Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch, are fast; Kevin Harvick is a championship contender; Hendrick Motorsports still is searching) generally have remained intact.

Dustin Long: Overlooked was that Erik Jones was one of only three drivers (Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. were the others) to score a top-10 finish in all three races.

Daniel McFadin: Joey Logano going from 16th to first in four laps in the Xfinity race on Saturday thanks to fresh tires. It’s the closest thing to a video game I’ve ever seen in real life.

Jerry Bonkowski: I thought for sure that we’d see more success from some of the young drivers. But when it came down to it, veterans won all three races. Sooner or later, the young drivers have to start making more of a name for themselves, guys like Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, William Byron and others. And by making a name for themselves, I mean winning.

What’s a special Martinsville memory you have?

Nate Ryan: John Andretti rallying from a lap down to win the first race I covered (and attended) there in April 1999. I was crossing the track in Turn 1 when Andretti drove the No. 43 right by into victory lane … with “The King” sitting on the driver’s window opening (to an enormous cheer from the crowd).

Dustin Long: John Andretti’s April 1999 win, which completed a weekend sweep for Petty Enterprises. Jimmy Hensley won the Truck race for the organization the day before Andretti’s victory. “It looked like the good old times,’’ Petty said in victory lane after riding in on the driver’s window opening of the No. 43 car.

Daniel McFadin: When I covered my first race there in the fall of 2014 as an intern for Sporting News. It turned out to be Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s first and only win at the track and the only time I attended a race he won. He’s retired now so I can say he’s my favorite driver. I still have confetti from the celebration in a plastic bag. 

Jerry Bonkowski: This is more of a sad rather than special memory. I was at the fall race in 2004 when the Hendrick Motorsports plane crashed into nearby Bull Mountain, killing all onboard. We got word about halfway through the race that there had been an incident, and as we got closer to the end of the race, things became confirmed. I recall it as if it was yesterday, and it’s a day I’ll never forget.

What drivers said after Auto Club 400

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Martin Truex Jr. — WINNER:Honestly, it just feels good to win. I don’t really care. I don’t really worry about who’s winning, who else is fast. Obviously (Kevin Harvick) has been quick. They’v got a great team. Kevin is an awesome driver. They had it going on the last couple weeks. As we seen today, we can put together a run like that as well. I think most of all it feels good we’re able to find that speed we’ve been looking for the last couple weeks. Like I said, we’ve been close, but not quite close enough.  We knew we were off a bit, so it wasn’t a surprise that we weren’t winning. Today I felt really good about what we had. It was really fast. It’s just kind of reassurance that what we’re doing is working. We have a lot of things we have to look forward to this year. That’s because of the hard work of the guys, just everybody in our program, Toyota, TRD, all the guys in Denver, JGR chassis, all we do together with them. It’s been an unbelievable couple of seasons. Hopefully, we can keep it rolling.

Kyle Larson — Finished 2nd: “We were racing really hard, and I was better than (Kevin Harvick) in three and four, and he was better than me in one and two. I would side draft him down the frontstretch, and he would side draft me down the backstretch, and I don’t know if he was just coming down to side draft me or what, but we made contact, and it spun his car to the right. So, you never want to make contact with anybody, but all in all, it was a good day for our DC Solar Chevrolet team. We had a lot of weird issues like vibrations and stuff that made us have to restart in the back, and we would have to go back forward. It always seemed like we would get to third or fourth and kind of stall out there. But it was still a very good day. (Martin Truex Jr.) was really good, and I think (Kevin Harvick) was probably the best car again although he didn’t get to race a whole lot.  We are right there, and we just have to continue to work hard.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 3rd: “Just thought we were closer than that but obviously not. We were right on top of the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) yesterday. The first run I thought we were really good and showed some strength, but from there on out showed no strength.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 4th: “We had exceptional speed today with the Wurth Ford Fusion on the short runs, but not very much for them there on the long runs, that’s for sure. I was hoping to get a late-race caution, and I could make it exciting for the fans that are here, but it didn’t pan out that way. I still think the 4 car (Kevin Harvick) is probably the best car in the field right now. Things didn’t come together for him today. There will probably be a race in the future where he’s not the fastest, and it does come together. That’s how things work.

Joey Logano — Finished 5th: “The 78 had a great car.  I was in front of him for about five laps and I was like, ‘Hey,’ but it was short-lived. Overall, it was a good weekend. We got a top-five here, and a win yesterday is great. I would have liked to sweep the races here at Auto Club, and we’re just trying to get this Auto Club Fusion to Victory Lane at Auto Club Speedway. I’ve been so close for quite some time now, and it’s been a great race track for us and a lot of fun to race here, I just need more speed to be able to keep up there. We made one change that the car didn’t like right before the last stage, and we lost some track position there, and by the time we were able to start catching back up it was too late. We probably could have finished fourth, maybe third at the end if we didn’t have that bad run, but overall that’s where we’re at.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 6th: “We just had a mistake on our pit stop. I flew through my box again. Once I got that remedied, it looked like were somewhere around a fourth or fifth-place car. Even a third place at times. In the long-run we were exceptional but we were just too slow on the short run to keep up. Those guys would pull 7 seconds on us, and we’d maintain after that and gain a little.”

Erik Jones — Finished 7th: “It was a really consistent day. We fought the handling here on the SiriusXM Camry. We couldn’t quite get it to turn the center and stay with the drive-off all day. Struggled a little bit with that in practice. A good day overall. We had about a seventh-place car, and we finished there. So we did a good job of running where we supposed to and not making any mistakes all day. We have to keep doing that. We need to be a little bit faster, and I think we’ll get there. It’s going to take a little bit of time. We’re working hard but a good finish.”

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 9th: “Each week, we have been getting a little bit better. We are definitely not happy with where we are right now, but we are seeing the improvements. We have been seeing it internally. We are making the cars drive better and better, and we are getting more competitive.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 10th: “It was a pretty solid day. We struggled, truthfully. I thought we were way closer in practice, and it just didn’t work out. We took off. We were plowing. We freed up way too much. Our balance was decent at the end, we just weren’t far enough up front to really do anything. I think we were a top-five car at the end. We just waited too late to get there.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 11th: “We got really lucky to finish this race today. That tire was coming apart, and I didn’t think we had any chance of making it to the checkered flag, but it did. We wanted more than 11th, and at times today we were really good. We got some stage points, but we have some work to do. We’ll be ready for Martinsville.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 21st: “We made a major overhaul to our Chevrolet Accessories Camaro ZL1 last night. Our car fired off fast but wasn’t as fast as we needed it to be on the long run like our teammate’s car. Unfortunately, from the beginning, our handling was way off. Our car was so tight in the corners and loose off. We’re scratching our heads right now figuring out what went wrong. It wasn’t for a lack of trying on our part. We threw everything at it, had one run in the top 10 but could never get the handling in our favor to stay up with the lead pack.”  

Ty Dillon — Finished 27th: This was a real test of our team and how much fight we have in us because Auto Club Speedway was not kind to our Twisted Tea Camaro ZL1 today. It’s such a rough and old surface that it wears out your tires and can make car control incredibly difficult. Like a lot of other cars this weekend, I tagged the wall early in Stage 1 and got some pretty heavy right-side damage. We adjusted around that as best we could, but then we had to deal with a broken track bar at the end of Stage 2. It was certainly not the day we wanted to have, but I’m proud of my guys for battling back and not giving up. It’s easy to get down, but our team kept going. Even though it’s disappointing, we will not let this get to us. We will turn our focus to preparing for Martinsville and be ready for them next weekend.”

KEVIN HARVICK — Finished 35th: “I went down to side draft, and he was coming up, and we touched, and it just knocked the thing to the right and spun out. I don’t know that it’s his fault. I think that’s my fault for coming down the race track right there and trying to side draft and then as we touch it just came back up the race track. I was just trying to get a little too much right there. I knew the stage was coming in. I’ve just got to thank all of my guys. They did a great job on our Busch Beer Ford, and it was just my fault back there.”

Trevor Bayne – Finished 37th: “It’s not something where you would normally keep it on the outside of him (Ryan Newman). He was a little faster than us, but (the leader Martin Truex Jr.) was coming. I saw (Paul Menard) was having issues, so you have to stay in that lucky dog spot or the free pass, so I stayed on the outside of (Newman), and he just kept coming up and squeezed us into the fence. I think he thought he would clear us, and I was still just there. It’s unfortunate. It wasn’t really that much contact and I didn’t smell that bad of smoke through turn one and two, but then coming down the back I thought we better just hit pit road because we had a lot more to lose than to gain by staying on the race track. I turned to come down pit road and as soon as I turned off the wall the right-front blew at 200-whatever we’re doing here and the problem with here is you see the wall coming forever, so that’s not a fun ride when you’re on the brakes, and it isn’t slowing down, and it’s not turning. You know you’re going to hit hard, and I feel like I should be hurting right now as hard as that was, so that’s a testament to what NASCAR has done with safety because I feel like I should be looking at you funny right now, and I feel great. That was a hard hit.”

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Results, stats for Auto Club 400

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Martin Truex Jr. took the competition to school Sunday, winning the Auto Club 400 after leading 125 of 200 laps from the pole.

His win over Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch is his 16th Cup victory and his first at Auto Club Speedway.

The top five was completed by Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.

Kevin Harvick, who was trying to win his fourth consecutive race, was involved in an accident on Lap 39. He finished 35th, nine laps down.

Click here for results.

Martin Truex Jr. takes Cup points lead after Auto Club 400 win

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With his race win and two stage victories in Sunday’s Auto Club 400, Martin Truex Jr. assumed the Cup points lead for the first time in 2018.

The defending series champion took the lead from Kevin Harvick, who finished nine laps down after a Stage 1 accident.

Truex has a nine-point lead over Kyle Busch.

Completing the top five is Joey Logano (-19), Brad Keselowski (-33) and Ryan Blaney (-35).

Harvick fell to eighth in the standings.

Click here for the point standings.