Nate Ryan

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.

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Auto Club Speedway

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images

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

Nate Ryan

Kevin Harvick. Just like Atlanta, he proves no one is better at tire management in Cup.

Dustin Long

Martin Truex Jr. swoops in and ends Kevin Harvick’s streak.

Daniel McFadin

I’m going with the hot hand. No, not Kevin Harvick. Kyle Larson, the winner of four consecutive races at 2-mile tracks.

Jerry Bonkowski

While I wanted to stay with Jimmie Johnson until he finally won a race, I’m going in a different direction and picking Kyle Larson to win this one.

NASCAR America: Joe Gibbs Racing finding more speed

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While much of the focus last weekend at Phoenix was on all four Stewart-Haas Racing cars finishing in the top 10 for the first time, Joe Gibbs Racing also accomplished the feat.

Kyle Busch finished second, Denny Hamlin placed fourth, Daniel Suarez was eighth and Erik Jones placed ninth.

As NBC’s Nate Ryan noted, it was the eighth time JGR placed all four of its cars in the top 10 since becoming a four-car operation in 2015 — a year after Stewart-Haas Racing expanded to four cars.

While Busch and Hamlin provide the leadership, the organization also has a pair of second-year drivers in Suarez and Jones.

“These are two guys that as the year goes on, they’re going to contend for wins,’’ NBC’s Kyle Petty said of Suarez and Jones.

NBC’s Marty Snider said Hamlin’s crew chief, Mike Wheeler, told him the organization is finding more speed after overcoming some challenges, including the new splitter.

“We had to rebalance our race cars, that was very different for us from 2017,’’ Snider said Wheeler told him.

Check the video above for what else Wheeler told Snider has helped JGR find more speed.

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NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Interviews with Kevin Harvick, Rodney Childers & Ryan Preece

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Today’s packed NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Leigh Diffey hosts and is joined by Parker Kligerman, Kyle Petty and Nate Ryan.

On today’s show:

  • More on the late-breaking news that Lowe’s will not sponsor Jimmie Johnson’s car at Hendrick Motorsports after this season.
  • Tony Stewart is coming off a milestone weekend as an owner, with four cars finishing in the top 10. In his second full season outside of the car, how has his transition been from driver to owner and what is his impact on the team?
  • The hottest driver & crew chief join the show. Kevin Harvick looks ahead to his participation in the K&N Pro Series opener on Thursday, and Rodney Childers discusses how the No. 4 team has found so much success this season.
  • Fontana marks the end of the West Coast trip for NASCAR. Will Kyle Larson continue his recent dominance at 2-mile tracks? What other drivers can make some noise at Auto Club Speedway?
  • Our SOCIAL PIT STOP takes a look at how drivers are spending their final weekend on the West Coast including one driver’s first Laker game.
  • Ryan Preece found plenty of success in the Xfinity Series last season with four top-five finishes in his 4 races including his first career win. We’ll hear from the 27-year-old prior to his first race of the season.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you also can watch it via the online stream at http:/ If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.