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Bump & Run: Who will be next to challenge Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick?

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Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch have combined to win five of the first eight races of the season. Who is most likely to break up their dominance?

Nate Ryan: Any of the Penske drivers. That team seems to be next in class behind Stewart-Haas Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing.

Dustin Long: Ryan Blaney. Has shown a good bit of speed lately and seems to be close to scoring a win or two in the near future.

Daniel McFadin: Kyle Larson is poised to wreak havoc on the field if he can put together complete races without any miscues, like his spin in Bristol. He’s the defending Richmond winner, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can carry his momentum there.

Dan Beaver: If it’s possible to overlook the defending champion, that is what seems to be happening with Martin Truex Jr. With five wins and 14 top fives in his last 18 races, he needs to forget about his bad luck in the last two races and concentrate on all the things the team has been doing right.

Parker KligermanWhen I look at the current landscape, I feel the drivers that can break their stranglehold will either be driving a JGR Toyota or Team Penske Ford. 

Ryan Blaney (30-race winless drought), Jimmie Johnson (31), Joey Logano (35), Ryan Newman (40 races) and Kurt Busch (43) are in droughts. Who is the first among this group to return to Victory Lane?

Nate Ryan: Logano, possibly as early as Saturday. Blaney would be 1A as it’s only a matter of time for Team Penske.

Dustin Long: Ryan Blaney. He’s been strong lately, finishing eighth at Auto Club, third at Martinsville and fifth at Texas before crashing out of the Bristol race while in the lead. His time is coming. 

Daniel McFadin: I think it comes down to either Logano or Blaney with Logano likely to win at Richmond or Talladega. He’s finished in the top two in the last two Richmond races and he’s one of the best plate racers of this generation

Dan Beaver: As consistently strong as he has run, it is difficult to believe Logano has not already won. Along with Kyle Busch, he is the only driver with seven top-10s in the first eight races. Five of these were sixth-place finishes or better. Returning to the site of his last win, Logano could break through this week – and this time it will not be encumbered.

Parker Kligerman: I believe Ryan Blaney will win first. He is showing some serious speed and seems to be in great form. I feel that crew chief Jeremy Bullins and Ryan will want to start to assert themselves inside Team Penske as the title contender I feel they will be this year. 

After the perceived success of PJ1 before the resumption of Monday’s race, should NASCAR consider doing mid-race treatments with a traction compound to tracks?

Nate Ryan: Yes. While it’s worth pondering whether it might be unfairly tampering with the competition to reapply traction compound during a race, the circumstances of a postponement should allow it, and the ends certainly justified the means in Bristol’s case.

Dustin Long: NASCAR should do what is necessary to provide the best type of racing for the fans. 

Daniel McFadin: It’s a toss-up for me, but I think I’d rather they didn’t. It’s more interesting to have teams have to account for the loss of a racing element over time, just like they do with tires. That happened in Bristol and the race was great from beginning to end. Also, applying it mid-race just makes for longer races.

Dan Beaver: If NASCAR can find a way to substantially improve the action, they should do whatever is necessary. Many dirt tracks around the country take time to water the surface before the A-Mains to develop a second groove. NASCAR still has some lessons that can be learned from the grass roots.

Parker Kligerman: Why not? I feel until we find a way to stop hearing the words “loss of downforce” from following other cars, NASCAR should continue to look at all available tools to add in variables that can cause uncertainty for the teams and drivers and create changes in track state like we saw at Bristol to cause the most dynamic races possible. 

Ryan: A tale of two short tracks (and maybe two driver temperaments)

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Two short tracks with highly anticipated stops on NASCAR circuit.

Two agonizingly frustrating battles of unseasonable inclement spring weather ranging from untimely snow to bone-chilling cold (if you polled the NASCAR garage, what would be this week’s opinion on climate change?).

Two races in the tightest quarters of the 2018 season.

Two wildly differing outcomes.

Bristol Motor Speedway’s two-day spectacular was much better than Martinsville Speedway’s extraordinarily tame outing on a snow-delayed Monday two weeks earlier.

Why?

You could start with the surface. During the recent era of track treatment, rarely has a traction compound’s application drawn such universally positive reviews as Bristol this past weekend. Track officials took advice from drivers to heart and laid down PJ1 in a way that ensured the bottom groove was the fastest – which, as Jeff Burton noted on Monday’s NASCAR America, is the best version of the 0.533-mile oval.

They also weren’t shy about reapplying the sticky stuff Monday after 204 laps were run Sunday before the washout (and it is fair to ask whether midrace treatment of a track unjustly shapes the competition).

But Bristol’s success seemed less about the surface as the men trying to navigate its treacherous environs. From the jump Sunday, there was an aggressive bent behind the wheel that was missing at Martinsville.

What other factors might have been involved?

Martinsville led into one of two off-weeks this season, and the postponement already might have been cutting into preparations for precious vacation time. It doesn’t necessarily mean conscious choices were made to avoid forcing the issue on every lap, but there might have been a general complacency fostered by the cabin fever-bred anxiety of an extra day at the track (or a night in a motorhome) with spring break looming.

Bristol, meanwhile, was a cauldron of pent-up ambition that often spilled over the edge during the course of 27 hours. It felt like the first real short-track race of the season with the constant battles that have been the hallmark of Martinsville the last few seasons. There were more leaders, more lead changes and more than twice as many caution flags (subtracting the three for rain).

There’s no way to definitively explain the disparity, but Bristol and Martinsville did reinforce a commonly held axiom.

In races threatened or postponed by weather, the action usually goes one of two ways: Drivers go hell-bent for leather, or they log laps with a de-emphasis on drama.

It seemed as if we saw both sides in the season’s first two short tracks.


In his weekly appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NASCAR senior vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell gave the most lucid and succinct explanation yet in what lies at the root of the pit gun debate.

Is it about the speed of the guns … or the swiftness of the pit crews?

As O’Donnell put it, the truth lies somewhere in between – and so does the pathway forward to getting everyone on the same page – which should be the primary goal instead of pointing fingers. As noted in last week’s column, there is more than enough culpability to go around.

The first step would be agreeing on what constitutes the better compromise: Paoli bringing its guns up to the level of the most elite pit crews, or teams retraining their athletes to slow down their lightning-quick hand speeds to adapt to the new guns.

Richard Childress Racing executive Andy Petree said in a revealing interview last week on FS1 that RCR had been counseling its crews to go slower and avoid “outrunning the equipment.” In postrace comments Monday to Dustin Long, it would seem Denny Hamlin would disagree with that approach.

This essentially is the crux of the issue to be discussed at the Team Owners Council meeting this week: Is it better to ask pit crews to change their ways, or manufacturer Paoli to change its guns?


Kyle Busch’s 49 points at Bristol were the third-lowest total for a race winner this season, and it essentially was because of an intriguing decision by Busch and several other teams near the end of Stage 1.

When the caution flew with five laps remaining in the stage, Busch was in second place behind Brad Keselowski, who elected to stay on track with five others: Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and AJ Allmendinger.

Busch lined up seventh for a one-lap restart to end the stage … and promptly dropped to 11th at the green and white flag – falling from a potential nine stage points to zero.

The decision worked out slightly better for Kyle Larson, but he still had a net loss of two points (taking fifth in the stage after falling third to eighth on the stop). It obviously went well for Keselowski, who earned 10 points and a playoff point with the stage win, and Bowyer (three), Almirola (eight) and Newman (two) all gained multiple points.

The scenario was an interesting window into how much teams value stage points. With a win and in the playoffs, Busch’s team traded points for potential track position with the threat of a shortened race (though the No. 18 Toyota still finished behind Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford at the end of the second stage that made it official).

Keselowski, who still needs a win to lock up a berth, stayed out for maximum stage points and seemed pleased by the decision. “I hate to lose the track position, but that’s too many points to just throw away,” he radioed his team.

Points that could be remembered as critical when the series reaches the Brickyard in September.


As Burton and Steve Letarte alluded to on NASCAR America, there won’t necessarily be a happy ending in Cup for Ryan Preece’s Cinderella story. There is hardly room at Joe Gibbs Racing with Busch, Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez all locked in for the foreseeable future, and it’s difficult to forecast which other premier series rides could open.

But there simply must be a full-time ride at the very least in the Xfinity Series for Preece, who has two wins (including last Saturday at Bristol) over the past two seasons for JGR.

Besides being talented, the 27-year-old is articulate and relatable, and as he eloquently explained last weekend, Preece has become a hero to short-track fans and racers around the country. As Parker Kligerman (whose struggle for a full-time ride is similar to Preece’s) wrote in a column for NBCSports.com earlier this year, NASCAR still remains a breed apart from much of the ride-buying morass found in Formula One and IndyCar.

But the necessity of “pay” drivers seemingly gets worse in stock cars with each passing year, and when even championship contenders are asked to bring sponsorship, it’s problematic.

The challenge clearly lies in finding sponsorship, but at what point do teams get held accountable for a lack of hustling to find money for an attractive candidate such as Preece, choosing instead just to take another driver’s check?

If Preece starts 2019 without a fully funded ride, that’s a debate worth having.


Speaking of the Xfinity circuit, kudos to series director Wayne Auton for owning a mistake after Saturday’s Dash 4 Cash mixup and reinstalling Daniel Hemric’s eligibility. Though such errors must be kept to an extreme minimum, it’s understandable how this one might have occurred.

The incident occurred during an expedited postrace inspection at track to ensure the four cars eligible for the Xfinity promotion were confirmed for the following race at Richmond. Normally, such inspections take place at the R&D Center, but the goal is getting more of the postrace inspection process done at the track and avoiding the midweek announcements that often derail more compelling storylines (in all series).

If a car being incorrectly deemed illegal is a byproduct of ultimately getting to a better place with inspections, it’s worth the long-term trade-off.


It might have been overlooked because the announcement came during Monday’s resumed race at Bristol, but Eldora Speedway is doing something that might be a worthy weather contingency concept for all tracks that don’t have domes.

Giving fans six days’ notice, the track’s 65th season opener Saturday has been “flex-scheduled” to 4 p.m. – roughly three and a half hours earlier than its scheduled start – because of an ominous forecast for the Ohio dirt track.

Flex-scheduling has been used with success in the NFL to provide better competitive matchups. Eldora is trying it to optimize its schedules for fans and teams with the threat of poor weather conditions. While it might be more difficult for a series with a national TV partner, it seems at least worthy of consideration.

Updated entry lists for NASCAR at Richmond Raceway

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Preliminary entry lists for this weekend’s NASCAR races at Richmond Raceway are out.

Cup and Xfinity Series teams will be in action under the lights at the .75-mile short track.

Here are the entry lists for both races.

Cup – Toyota Owners 400

There are 38 entries for Saturday’s race.

Daniel Hemric will make his Cup debut driving the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.

Landon Cassill is listed as making his fourth start for StarCom Racing in the No. 00 Chevrolet.

Harrison Rhodes is listed for the No. 51 Chevrolet owned by Rick Ware Racing.

Joey Logano won this race last year over Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin. Kyle Larson on the fall race over Logano and Ryan Newman.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – ToyotaCare 250

A maximum field of 40 cars are entered for the race.

As the second round in the Dash 4 Cash, there are no Cup drivers entered.

Noah Gragson will make his series debut in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota.

John Hunter Nemechek is listed in Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 Chevrolet.

Kyle Larson won this race last year over Justin Allgaier and Hemric. Brad Keselowski won the fall race over Kyle Busch and Ty Dillon.

Click here for the entry list.

Kyle Larson overcomes spin to finish second but seeks more at Bristol

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BRISTOL, Tenn. – Another opportunity to win, another chance lost.

While it’s hard to be negative after a runner-up finish — especially after rallying from a spin — Kyle Larson wasn’t overjoyed with his finish Monday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Kyle Busch passed Larson for the lead with six laps to go to deny Larson his first Bristol Cup win.

I knew it would be hard to get back to him,’’ Larson said. “I knew I would need a lapper to kind of hold him up on exit and kill his momentum to allow me to maybe get back to his bumper, but there just weren’t a whole lot of cars left out there.’’

That left Larson, who led a race-high 200 of 500 laps, without a trophy after leading 200 or more laps for the second time in the last three Bristol races.

“I was just checked out there that long run,’’ Larson said. “It was really, really good there, and was just hoping it would go green until the end, and then we pitted, and I was actually fine with that, too, because I knew we’d leave as the leader and restart on the outside. I just didn’t expect to get that loose that run there. (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) almost got by me, was able to hold him off. I thought the grip was getting better, which it did a little bit, but not nearly good enough.’’

It was quite a run for Larson, who brought out the caution on Lap 325 after contact with Ryan Newman’s car.

Even after the spin, Larson stayed in the top 10 and exited pit road second. He returned to the lead a little more than 100 laps later. He and Busch traded the lead three times in the last 28 laps.

The runner-up finish is Larson’s second of the year. He placed second to Martin Truex Jr. at Auto Club Speedway.

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What drivers said after the Food City 500

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Kyle Busch – Winner: “It was the best right at the end. I know (Kyle) Larson was a little bit loose right there. It seemed like he was overdriving and trying to hold the bottom, but he was slipping out of the bottom and I got a huge run on him and got to him and it was just on. I knew I might as well just take the opportunity that I got right now. I knew it was a little early ‘cause you tend to try to want to think about saving that bump-and-run deal for the last lap, but I just took my chance with it and if he got back to my rear bumper, then so be it. I think that’s fair game and being able to race that way. Fortunately, I was able to run away from him and he couldn’t get back to me.”

Kyle Larson – Finished 2nd: “I was really, really good on that long run. And yeah, as soon as we restarted there, I was extremely loose. The No. 17 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) got to my inside. I just really didn’t have any grip. I thought it would tighten up for me and I could get going, but it never really did and I was just really loose. I hate that I didn’t win. It’s another one at Bristol. I feel like every time I race here I almost get a win. It was a fun race. I’ve been beat by Kyle (Busch) about every time I race here, too; so that gets frustrating after a while.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 3rd: “Yeah, it really is a great boost. I’ve said for weeks now that we’re getting better and it’s great to finally have a result to back that up. We’ve had decent Fridays and really good Saturdays and then some bad luck in the races. Although we had plenty of bad luck over the course of the four or five days that we’ve been here, we were able to pull through and get a great third-place finish. So, I’m very proud of everybody at Hendrick Motorsports and thank everybody on this Lowe’s For Pros team and let’s get home and get out of here. It’s snowing again.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished 4th: “The call where (crew chief) Brian (Pattie) got us to come down pit road, that was the longest green flag run we had and we had a little bit better tires than some of the guys up front, so that was nice for us. All in all, I was bummed that caution came out. Being on better tires I thought we were gonna be able to run down the 42 (Larson). He was by far the class of the field I’d say throughout the whole run and the whole race. We were fighting track position, gaining it and losing it back-and-forth over the last two days, but, all in all, it was a really strong run for our Sunny D Ford. We had a good Friday, a good Saturday and a good race on Sunday and Monday. I’m glad we were able to get it all in and we appreciate the fans for sticking around. That was a fun race. I love the race track It’s nice being able to run the bottom, run the top on the long runs. It made for some good racing.”

Alex Bowman – Finished 5th: “I mean we got a good start there for once and had some good track position. Just thankful for driving for Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a lot of fun finally getting some good runs going our way. It’s been cool. To run fifth, it’s not a great day, but it’s better than what we started the year doing. We are making progress, making steps in the right direction and just got to keep doing that.”

Aric Almirola – Finished 6th: “We worked on it all day. We weren’t very good yesterday at all. Finally, when the track moved to the top our car got a lot better, so we kind of were prepared for that and our car was kind of set up to run the top and I was just miserable trying to run the bottom. My car was really, really bad on the bottom and we finally got it to where it was going pretty good up top and the caution would come out. I feel like if the race would have been a normal race and we would have run a lot of green flag (laps) up top, we would have been pretty good. It’s a good day. I’m a little disappointed with sixth, but, at the same time, I’m happy and pleased that we rebounded after a bad day in Texas. To come out of here with a sixth is a great day and I feel like we could have got more if it would have stayed green. I wish we would have run like 300 more laps (laughing).”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 7th: “We weren’t that good pretty much the whole time. Today we were worse, just really loose, especially taking off, but we stayed in there and fought all day. We had another bad pit stop there at the end and wound up seventh, but, all in all, considering all the circumstances I guess it was a pretty good weekend.”

Clint Bowyer – Finished 8th: “It was a long weekend. We weren’t very good all weekend long and just kept working on it. We were smart with the race. Early on there was a lot of trouble yesterday and even more today. It was just a weird weekend. I mean, the weather just capped off everything else that was going on. It seemed like the VHT, for whatever reason, a little bit different this time than it’s been in the past. Our tires seemed like they were a little bit different than what we’ve had, for whatever reason. It was a weird weekend, so I’m glad with a top 10.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 10th: “Well, we were a top-five car, just got the wrong spot on the restart there. Wish we would have been sixth instead of fifth, gladly would have been fourth. Good run for our Bass Pro/Cabela’s Chevrolet. The team did a good job this weekend. Starting clear back as far as we did and then being as high as second, good team effort. Something to build on going to one of my favorite race tracks next weekend.”

Daniel Suarez – Finished 11th: “I mean it was a difficult weekend overall. With the weather and my hand and everything, but actually it kind of helped me a little bit to rest more and kind of like breaks for myself. On that side, it was kind of nice, but right here over the 300 laps straight, I’m a little sore right now. I feel like we were actually better than 11th, but anyway. It’s been an okay weekend, but we have to keep working. I feel like overall, it was a positive weekend because we showed speed and we run in the front – up front. We have to build on that and go to next week to Richmond.”

David Ragan – Finished 12th: “I felt like it took us about 300 laps to get all the monkeys off of our back and get our car repaired and kind of get some track position. I felt like our car was really good on a long run and we were fortunate that we had a couple of long runs today. I’m proud of our guys for never giving up. We spent a lot of time on pit road, so it was a solid day and I’m happy to get out of here and look forward to Richmond.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 15th: “I know we were better than a 15th-place finish, but the scoreboard doesn’t show it today. We stayed out to try and save an extra set of tires and it ended up being a long run, so we corded our left front tire and went a lap down. You just can never predict when a long run will happen at Bristol Motor Speedway. There were not enough laps after that to earn our lap back. It’s a shame because the No. 3 Realtree Camaro ZL1 was fast today. We ran a lot of the race in the top-five and posted some of the fastest times during the race. We were fast on restarts, and I’m proud of that. I hope all fans enjoyed seeing the new Realtree fishing pattern on the track.”

Darrell Wallace Jr. – Finished 16th: “Yeah, hell of a day. Didn’t know what to expect firing off and we fired off like a freaking badass and got our way up to 10th in that second stage there. That was good, get some stage points and got up to the lead. I was as surprised as anybody. Going through the emotions we were really good and that last caution came out and we were struggling with left front problems there late in runs, locking up easily, but still was able to make decent ground. Then all of a sudden it went away there and man, just blindsided there by that. Great car all day, nothing to be pissed off about, that is racing. You could be good for a second and then the next second you are not, but awesome takeaways. The momentum is still here. I’m just dejected because I’m scratching my head on where in the hell we went wrong or what we wrong. I don’t think we did anything wrong, I guess that is big-time auto racing, but it was a good day.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 23rd: “The tire came apart on that restart and we were trying to bring it on home, but it just didn’t come together.”

Trevor Bayne – Finished 24th: “The results stink right now. We want to be clicking off top 15s and top 10s every week, but we haven’t had a clean weekend yet. Something has happened every weekend to hurt our result. We just have to keep working to clean up our weekends. You can’t have wrecks on the race track and you can’t have blown tires. You can’t have silly things happening and some of that is on us, so we just have to keep working to clean it up and get the most out of the weekends. We’ll go to Richmond here this next weekend, another short track where a lot of stuff is happening. I just hope for a clean weekend where we can go get the results we deserve.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 28th: “I always love coming to Bristol Motor Speedway. It’s unfortunate that it wasn’t very nice to our team this weekend, but we made the most out of what we could. We had to take a lot of time during the first stage to fix damage to our front end after I was checking up for a caution and was punted into the 47 car. It put us 17 laps down, but no one on this team gave up when it would have been easy to. We came back this morning to gain as many spots as we could. Every position is worth a valuable championship point. Our goal was to let the chaos breakout in front of us while we ran a clean race to make it to the end, and we did. It is certainly not the result we wanted, but those are the breaks in racing sometimes. We will keep digging and head to Richmond next weekend.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 35th: “By the time I could see anything they were already turned right and there was nowhere to go. Seeing the replay, I don’t know, people not cleared clearing themselves and then wrecking and take the leader out, so that’s unfortunate. Our car was pretty good today. We just kind of got held up there and we might not have been as strong at the end of that run, but I thought we could have at least held on for that stage and never got the chance. The positives you look at is that we had a good car and that’s something to hold your head high about.”

Chris Buescher – Finished 36th: “First off, our Bush’s Baked Beans Camaro was really good today. Unfortunately, we were in one of the accidents before that and got us back there where we really shouldn’t have been. We had three or four of us trying to stay on the lead lap and we were all being held up by the No. 6 (Trevor Bayne). I got a good run on the outside the slower cars and came off the corner and thought we were good, and it just swiped right up the front. By the time you lift, it’s a little too late. It’s really unfortunate. I love this place. It’s my favorite race track that we go to. We had good speed. We’ve just got to get back after it the next time we come here.”

Michael McDowell – Finished 38th: “It’s just unfortunate. There are no excuses. I was just racing the 19 (Daniel Suarez) and got loose underneath him. There’s not a lot of grip. It rained all day and that VHT just doesn’t do well without heat. I was stuck on the bottom and that was about it. I really hate it for my guys. We had a fast Love’s Travel Stops Ford and just to be out this early is really heartbreaking.”