Dustin Long

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Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Kevin Harvick. His first oval win since Kansas Speedway a year ago validates the team’s 1.5-mile speed in the playoffs.

Dustin Long

Kyle Busch. Mark it down, he wins and advances to the next round to continue his quest for a second title.

Daniel McFadin

Martin Truex Jr. keeps his foot on the throat of the competition and gets his sixth win of the year at a 1.5-mile track.

Jerry Bonkowski

Kyle Larson is starting 13th but expect him to get to the top five within the first 20-30 laps. He needs a strong run to give him momentum heading into the Round of 8 and he gets it Sunday.

Bump & Run: Who makes the cut at Kansas, who doesn’t?

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Which four drivers will fail to advance in the playoffs after Kansas?

Kyle Petty: Jamie McMurray, Ricky Stenhouse Jr (points deficit too great to make up in one race), Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson (for these two I think it comes down to stage points).

Dale Jarrett: Jamie McMurray, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson. Even though Kenseth has the capabilities of qualifying well and getting the stage points, they haven’t been able to finish off races. I think Ryan Blaney is fast enough to get stage points and can manage a top-10 finish and keep him ahead of Jimmie Johnson.

Nate Ryan: Ryan Blaney, Matt Kenseth, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Jamie McMurray. I think Blaney and Kenseth have shown the speed to be worthy of advancing, but the consistency has been absent.

Dustin Long: Ryan Blaney, Matt Kenseth, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Jamie McMurray. While Blaney has finished no worse than 11th in the last three 1.5-mile tracks, he’s scored two stage points in those races combined. Doesn’t give much confidence he’ll score enough to stay ahead of those behind him Sunday.

Why do you think or don’t think Kyle Busch will advance?

Kyle Petty: Kyle Busch makes it! Two reasons: 1. He has speed, others that are ahead of him have struggled on 1.5-mile tracks. 2. He can score stage points and ultimately win! He’s proved that all year.

Dale Jarrett: Kyle Busch runs up front all day and might even get somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 stage points and then is going to finish in the top three, if not win the race. I think that is enough to get him in there.

Nate Ryan: I think he could win Kansas, and at the very least, I think he will amass enough stage points to propel him back over the cutoff line.

Dustin Long: Wouldn’t surprise me if he won or scored another top five at Kansas to advance. I think the odds are much greater he advances even with his deficit.

What is the best place for Talladega in regards to the playoffs? Regular-season finale? Beginning of a round? Middle of a round? Last race in a round?

Kyle Petty: I like where it is in the middle of a round as a fan. It can help your driver or at least give you hope your driver can come back from a bad Talladega. As a driver I would want it as the first race in a round. So no matter what happened I had two races to recover. As a fan or driver, I hate it as a cut race because, as we saw Sunday, so much that happened is because of plain old luck, good or bad.

Dale Jarrett: I wish we would pose this to the drivers and see where they might want it. I honestly think it’s in the perfect spot right now. I don’t like the idea of it being the first race in a round. I think there is more attention to it and more pressure put on it by being right there in the middle. I think it gives a driver and a team opportunities to look at that first race, which this year was Charlotte, and try to see about getting something done as Martin Truex Jr. did and not have to worry about the consequences of Talladega. Then it also gives you an opportunity on the back end to see where you are and what you need to do. My crazy self as a fan and a media person would love to see it at some point in time be either one of two things — the final regular-season race or the final race of the season to determine the champion.

Nate Ryan: I think Denny Hamlin and the Drivers Council are correct in moving it to the regular-season finale. That seems the best of all worlds – offering protection for drivers already with victories while providing an opportunity for a long shot hoping to snatch a spot. And for winless drivers trying to earn a berth on points, no one likely would be safe – which also feels right.

Dustin Long: I like where it is, but if people want to move it, make it the opening race of the playoffs when then are 16 playoff contenders. That could enhance the next two races as those with bad finishes at Talladega scramble to make it to the next round.

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Talladega

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at Talladega SuperSpeedway.

Nate Ryan

Dale Earnhardt Jr. He goes out at Talladega the same way his father did, 17 years later to the day.

Dustin Long

Landon Cassill. Days after finding out he won’t be back with Front Row Motorsports, he wins as Ford continues to dominate restrictor-plate racing.

Daniel McFadin

Dale Earnhardt Jr. does what Jeff Gordon did in 2015 (Martinsville) and Tony Stewart in 2016 (Sonoma) and earns his potential last Cup win at the one track you would expect him to.

Jerry Bonkowski

Brad Keselowski. If not him, look for another Ford driver to take the checkered flag.

Bump & Run: Did NASCAR handle Jimmie Johnson’s pit stop correctly?

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Should NASCAR have told all teams that it would allow lug nuts to be secured even if done outside a team’s pit stall without penalty, as happened with Jimmie Johnson at Charlotte, or is that a team’s responsibility to seek such information?

Steve Letarte: I spent a lot of time going through the rule book. According to 10.9.7 Vehicle Positioning Within the Pit Box, subsection D, I feel that the 48 didn’t deserve a penalty. I think they were well within their right. But the followup is that if Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson, two people that I hold in very high regard, didn’t understand that rule and there had to be conversations with NASCAR, then I do think it’s NASCAR’s responsibility in today’s world of communication and how easy it is … that perhaps a simple e-mail blast explaining the rule or letting them know that were questions of the rule and to come to the NASCAR tailer if you have questions would have been a good solution.

Nate Ryan: Normally, it would be a team’s responsibility to seek rulebook clarifications – in fact, it’s a regular occurrence for teams to get new parts approved by NASCAR before presenting them for racetrack inspection. But this isn’t about gaining a competitive advantage and wanting to protect proprietary information or trade secrets. This is ostensibly about safety, as NASCAR explicitly has stated numerous times since Sunday’s race.

Dustin Long: NASCAR has stated safety as a reason for not penalizing Jimmie Johnson’s team on that pit stop. If that’s the case, isn’t it the responsible thing for the sanctioning body to inform all teams they can tighten a lug nut outside their pit box? 

How far will Chase Elliott, who has three runner-up finishes in the first four playoff races, advance in the postseason?

Steve Letarte: I think Chase will make the Round of 8, but I don’t think he’ll get out of the Round of 8. I think making it that far is very impressive. He’s really stepped his game up.

Nate Ryan: Based off the past four races, at least the Round of 8, but the confidence seems to be there for a run to the championship. To get there, though, he probably will need to score his first victory.

Dustin Long: I’ve been impressed with the speed he’s shown in the playoffs after Hendrick Motorsports’ struggles earlier this year. I think he will make the Round of 8, but he and his team will have to show me more before I would pick them to make it to Miami for the finale.

What is one thing you will be watching closely in the final two races of the Round of 12?

Steve Letarte: I think it starts this Sunday. I want to see how aggressive the 12 playoff drivers decide to go for stage points at the end of Stage 1 at Talladega. I think that will be the defining moment of this entire playoff. I think it will be the defining moment of this new points system, and I expect to see chaos and chaos early at Talladega and that’s what I’m going to be watching.

Nate Ryan: How Kyle Busch’s team manages its approach and strategy. After his wipeout at Charlotte, Busch will be the first test case of whether a driver with a significant playoff points bulge still can overcome one bad race. In the past three seasons, the next two races would be virtual must-win situations. Now it’s worth asking if Busch essentially lays up and conservatively races for points (though Talladega makes that scenario very tricky).

Dustin Long: I want to see who starts to step up. Hendrick Motorsports has so far. Will that continue and can that team step up enough to challenge the Toyotas of Martin Truex Jr. and Joe Gibbs Racing and Kyle Larson?

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Charlotte

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Martin Truex Jr. By opening the second round with his second victory of the playoffs, he puts everyone on notice for Talladega Superspeedway next week.

Dustin Long

Kyle Busch. He nearly won the Coca-Cola 600 in May but will win today to score his first Cup points victory at this track.

Daniel McFadin

Kevin Harvick gets just his second win of the year and his fourth in Charlotte since 2011.

Jerry Bonkowski

Brad Keselowski. While I still think Matt Kenseth is going to win a race during the playoffs, and Charlotte would be a good place to do it, my gut tells me to go with Keselowski Sunday.