Nate Ryan

NASCAR America: Nate Ryan on how 78 rode roller coaster to Cup crown

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If the 2017 NASCAR Cup season was an amusement park ride, it definitely would be a roller coaster for Martin Truex Jr., crew chief Cole Pearn and the rest of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team.

Up and down the season went, from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.

There was adversity on the track and tragedy off the track, with Pearn losing his best friend to a freakish infection, and team member Jim Watson passing away in Kansas one day before the Cup race that Truex would go on to win and dedicate to his fallen teammate.

And through it all, Truex and longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex dealt with the recurrence of ovarian cancer with strength, inspiration and fortitude.

The 78 team’s dedication, sticking to the plan and rallying together as a family was the difference.

NBC Sports’ and NASCAR Talk’s Nate Ryan presented a touching pre-race tribute to Truex and his team before Sunday’s race. On Tuesday’s NASCAR America, Ryan gave an updated version of that tribute, capping it off with the best way possible: recalling how Truex and the 78 team won it all.

Check out the video above to see Nate’s touching piece.

 

Staff picks for today’s season finale in Miami

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

Nate Ryan

Martin Truex Jr. wins the championship. Denny Hamlin wins the race.

Dustin Long

Martin Truex Jr. wins the race and earns his first Cup title.

Daniel McFadin

Martin Truex Jr. wins his first Cup title as Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s Appreci88ion Tour ends in Victory Lane after the No. 88 starts from the rear of the field.

Jerry Bonkowski

Brad Keselowski holds off Martin Truex Jr. to win the championship, while Matt Kenseth wins what potentially may be the final race of his NASCAR Cup career.

Bump & Run: What to be watching for in Cup title race

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What is one thing you be watching closely among the Cup championship contenders this weekend in Miami?

Nate Ryan: How much they are focused on their cars vs. how much they seemed focused on each other, whether it’s comparatively or for mind games.

Dustin Long: The crew chiefs. The decisions they make will play a significant role in putting their driver in position to win a championship or take them out of it. 

Daniel McFadin: Whether the four championship contenders can run up front all night. I feel like this year might be the first time in the elimination format that the championship winner won’t win the race.

Jerry Bonkowski: How much their teammates will help, especially when it comes to potentially impeding the other championship contenders, could be one of the biggest deciding factors of who is crowned champion. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch both have three teammates each to help them, while Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. have one teammate each. The championship could come down to – to borrow a line from The Beatles – which driver gets by the most with a little help from his friends.

If Martin Truex Jr. doesn’t win the Cup title, how would you view his season?

Nate Ryan: Even without a championship, Truex will be remembered as having one of the 10 best seasons in the Cup series during the 21st century. The guess here is that he wins the title, though.

Dustin Long: Incomplete. The dominant driver doesn’t always win the title, just look to last year for the most recent example, but winning the championship would make this a great season for Truex and company. Without a title, it’s a very good season but one that likely will be overlooked by many.

Daniel McFadin: It would be a huge disappointment, especially given how much of the season Truex has led the standings through his dominance in race and stage wins. But it would still be a career-best year as the team has battled multiple off-the-track issues, culminating with team owner Barney Visser missing the title race as he recovers from heart surgery.

Jerry Bonkowski: Even if he falls short of the championship, Truex will have nothing to be ashamed of. He’s had a career season, one that will go down in NASCAR annals as nothing short of excellent. He has established himself as one of the best and most successful drivers in the sport and has a future that looks brighter than ever. This was not a fluke year for MTJ; it’s a sign of potentially even greater things to come in 2018.

How do you explain the last four races for Kyle Larson?

Nate Ryan: The engine failures were just misfortune. Texas appeared to be the case of a driver going beyond the limits after getting frustrated with the handling of a potentially winning car going away, and Martinsville never has been his strong suit. It’s fair to presume if he isn’t eliminated at Kansas, his results probably would be better, but with less to play for, it can have an adverse impact.

Dustin Long: There’s a bumper sticker for this. Stuff happens, or something like that. Larson’s fall has been swift and complete. Some of the issues can be related to being eliminated from title contention.

Daniel McFadin: Extremely out of character, but not surprising for a team eliminated from playoff contention early. Larson’s mind is already on the offseason and the team is likely working on setups for next season. Larson not being in the title race is more disappointing than the likelihood of Truex not winning the title.

Jerry Bonkowski: Has any reporter asked Larson whether he broke any mirrors about a month ago? There’s no logical explanation for the bad luck and misfortune he and the No. 42 team have had. There’s one way to look at it — maybe all of this year’s bad luck will turn into nothing but good luck in 2018.

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Phoenix Raceway

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

Nate Ryan

Denny Hamlin. Seemed to have the fastest car in practice and certainly has the will to erase the memory of the 2010 collapse that started in this race.

Dustin Long

Kyle Busch. Not going to see a driver win to earn a spot in the championship round today.

Daniel McFadin

Kevin Harvick keeps his momentum going and claims his ninth Phoenix win.

Jerry Bonkowski

Jimmie Johnson pulls the big upset and roars on to Miami.

NASCAR America: Where does Matt Kenseth go from here?

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When Matt Kenseth exclusively told our Nate Ryan at Texas that he was stepping away from NASCAR racing after this season, it was more of him taking a hiatus rather than outright retirement.

In Tuesday’s NASCAR America, Jeff Burton, Kyle Petty and Ryan discussed what they believe the future holds for Kenseth.

Here are some of their thoughts:

BURTON: “I think rightfully so, he’s got his feelings hurt a little bit. He’s done what Joe Gibbs Racing hired him to do. He’s done a nice job, is still contending for wins, but there’s not a place for him. That’s a hard place for a guy like Matt Kenseth to be. He’s very quiet but has a lot of pride. There’s no way not to take this personal. It’s impossible.”

PETTY: “He does take it personal. But in the end, it was a business decision that was out of his control, and that’s the problem. He said he’d like to go out on his own accord, the way he wants to go out, the way Dale Jr.’s gone out, the way Tony Stewart‘s gone out, the way Jeff Gordon‘s gone out. They made the decision and followed through with it. This was not Matt’s decision.”

RYAN: “He never used the word ‘retirement.’ But you know what it’s like for a race car driver, especially one like this, who still feels like he can win — and proved Sunday that he can still lead laps. … He’s stepping away in 2018 and it’s for an indefinite period of time and it’s as declarative or definitive statement as you’re going to get. This is tantamount to him saying retirement.”