Steve Letarte

NASCAR America live at 5:30 p.m. ET: Can Dale Jr. win at Sonoma, My Home Track finale

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs for 90 minutes beginning at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and continues to preview the weekend’s action at Sonoma Raceway.

Krista Voda hosts from our Stamford, Connecticut studio. Steve Letarte, NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett and Max Papis join us from NBC Charlotte.

On today’s show:

  • With only 11 regular-season races remaining, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to wine country in Northern California for some road-course action. Will we see the 11th race winner this season and will that driver be Dale Earnhardt Jr.?
  • Veteran racer and road-course specialist Max Papis joins the show to help us navigate the twists and turns of Sonoma Raceway. Our panel also will weigh in with their Sonoma experiences.
  • Plus, Parker Kligerman will hop into the simulator to take us on a lap of Sonoma.
  • The My Home Track: 50 States in 50 Shows comes to conclusion today with stops in Wisconsin and Wyoming. We also will have a recap of our journey across the short tracks of America.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you also can watch it via the online stream at http://nascarstream.nbcsports.com

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 5:30 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Bump & Run: Should Kyle Busch’s team be frustrated or encouraged?

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Parker Kligerman joins Dale Jarrett, Slugger Labbe, Nate Ryan, Ato Boldon and Carolyn Manno from 5:30 – 7 p.m. today on NASCAR America. Kligerman, Ryan, Steve Letarte and Dustin Long discuss this week’s hot topics.

If you were on Kyle Busch’s team, what would be your mindset? Frustrated the team is winless this season or encouraged by the fact the car has been fast and in position to win races?

Steve Letarte: If I was the crew chief, I’ve been in that position before and I think the important thing is you be honest with your guys. You let them know it’s OK to be frustrated. You should be frustrated. You want to win, you expect to win, you’ve had cars fast enough to win, but you need to temper that frustration by showing them how bad it could be. I’d give them some examples of teams that just don’t have the speed. I’d show them how many laps we’ve led and continue to give them reason to be excited to go back to the race track, but at the same time I’d encourage their frustration because it’s real. I think if you hide from it, it’s just going to get worse.

Parker Kligerman: Simply, keep doing what you’re doing. In my opinion, this is the sole in-house JGR car that has rid itself of the speed woes of earlier this season and has only been held back from victory lane by circumstance. I will go on a limb to say the No. 18 will win at least one race before the regular season is done. 

Nate Ryan: If you are employed by a master motivator such as Joe Gibbs, you will maintain a positive mindset despite all the adversity and agony this season. Busch feasibly could have as many as eight victories this season if execution and events had broken a different way. Gibbs will keep the focus on being in position to win so many races rather than having so many that were lost. The recent improvement of his teammates (Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth ran well at Michigan) lessens the pressure on Busch carrying the banner at Joe Gibbs Racing, and the team’s resurgence will be stamped by a Busch win within the next three weeks.

Dustin Long: To go this long without a win would be frustrating. This team is built to win and expected to do so. Adding to the frustration is how this stretch could hurt this team win a championship. Look at all the playoff points that have slipped away in this winless streak. For as good as this team has been — Busch has led at least double-digit laps in each of the last six races — the No. 18 crew needs to see a reward for all its work. And see it soon.

Name one driver you will be watching in the coming weeks and why.

Steve Letarte: Without a doubt the 88 of Dale Jr. has to be the biggest one. He had a good run at Michigan but didn’t really gain a lot of points and that’s my fear for the 88. I don’t see them pointing their way in. I just don’t see it. There are too many good cars that haven’t won a race. I think the 88 is going to have to look for victory lane. I’ll be keeping my eye on the 88 to see if they can turn that good run at Michigan somehow into a win.

Parker Kligerman: Dale Earnhardt Jr. And no it’s not because of him being so popular. I believe over the next 11 races we will either see a resurgence out of the 88, or we are saying thanks for participating. As the rest, the focus moves onto the playoffs and eventually who will be in the 2017 champion. But, for the 88 fans, there is hope. I can confidently say that at Michigan the 88 was a top-five car. If he was able to get track position in that race (not being the first car on two tires) he would have easily finished in the top-five speed wise. Add in the great recovery through the field in the final couple laps to get to ninth and this momentum is exactly what they need going into two unique races. Lastly, I believe he has actually had one of the best average finishes at Sonoma in the last three years – maybe we are talking about Dale Jr.’s first road course win come Monday? 

Nate Ryan: Matt Kenseth. Is this the last season of his career? His last season at Gibbs? The answers are scant about the veteran’s future, but the 45-year-old has indicated he wants to keep driving, and his results during this upcoming stretch might carry a long way in determining how he closes an impressive career on the premier circuit.

Dustin Long: Kyle Larson. Does he show he is a true championship contender? Can he and his team continue to hold an advantage on the field or will they be caught heading toward the playoffs? All signs point to Larson being a leading title contender at this point, but how often have you seen someone excel in the first half of the season only to fade at the end and not be in the championship hunt?

With 11 races left until the playoffs start, these drivers are outside a playoff spot: Clint Bowyer, Erik Jones, Trevor Bayne, Daniel Suarez, Kasey Kahne, Ty Dillon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Which of these is most likely to make the playoffs?

Steve Letarte: I think it’s Erik Jones. I think he’s driving the best equipment of that group, going off how fast (teammate) Martin Truex Jr. is. I like Daniel Suarez and the same argument could be made for him, but I think he is just a little down in the experience level of Erik Jones. I don’t know the reason why, whether it’s the fact that Erik Jones had more time to mentally prepare for the Cup Series where Daniel just found out in January. But in that list, I feel the best about Erik Jones finding a way to bounce his way in.

Parker Kligerman: Clint Bowyer, as he has been the fastest of this group consistently. I would say his main foil could come in the form of an Erik Jones win or stretch of solid races. But with Bowyer’s prowess at Sonoma, I think he will start to build solid momentum and propel himself into the playoffs. 

Nate Ryan: Bowyer should be able to scratch his way back into a playoff berth, and Jones has matured quickly enough that the speed might allow stealing a win in the next three months. Short of a Daytona swan song by Earnhardt, I can’t see postseason spots for any of the rest.

Dustin Long: Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins a race to make the playoffs. It most likely comes at Daytona, but if not there, it will happen before the playoffs begin.

NASCAR America: Kyle Larson ‘made a lot of his own luck’ with Michigan restarts

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A few weeks after Kyle Larson lost out on a win at Dover because of a poor late restart, Larson used restarts to his advantage to win Sunday at Michigan.

Larson restarted on the front row multiple times throughout the race, on the inside and outside, and each time was able to beat the other car to the lead.

NASCAR America’s analysts discussed what Larson did right in order to win at Michigan, as Larson mastered the art of the side-drafting to win the day.

“Even though the 42 of Kyle Larson says a lot of things went his way, he made a lot of his own luck on those final few restarts,” said Steve Letarte.

Letarte and Slugger Labbe went over factors outside of driver ability that impact restarts.

“What helps the restart is what happens when the yellow comes out,” Labbe said. “You see the drivers shutting the cars off. What that does is manage the water temps. These cars, as the temperature gets hotter, the engine goes into protection mode and there’s less horsepower because it takes timing away, it puts fuel in the engine and it takes horsepower away. So if you don’t manage your temperatures when the yellow comes out, you’re going to pay the price when they throw the green flag.”

Parker Kligerman also further dissected Larson’s restarts at Dover and Michigan.

NASCAR America: Steve Letarte says ‘Debris cautions need to be proven,’ namely in playoffs

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Following the controversy Sunday over a debris caution with 20 laps left in the Cup race at Michigan, NASCAR America analyst Steve Letarte said such cautions “need to be proven” to protect the integrity of the race, especially once the season reaches the playoffs.

“We’re talking about an untimely caution at Michigan in the summer,” Letarte said. “What happens when we get into the playoffs in the fall? I think NASCAR, the sanctioning body and the tracks have a responsibility to create a playing field and a set of rules they can enforce. The debris needs to be proven. …  There’s too many loopholes. ”

The caution with 20 to go resulted in the field being bunched up and two accidents occurring in the final 13 laps.

After the race, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart shared their disappointment in how the debris caution impacted the outcome of the race.

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, explained on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” Monday how the sanctioning body decides to call a debris caution.

“We use all the resources that we have to try to identity what it is that is out there – that being camera, turn spotters and the communication that we’ve got around the race track to different people who may be able to see it,’’ Miller said.

Letarte takes issue with the level of thoroughness in NASCAR’s system to determine when a debris caution is needed.

“If we take for face value what NASCAR says, which is they put safety first and they’re going to put the caution out when they don’t know what it is on the race track … then the issue I have is the resources we use to figure what that debris is,” Letarte said.

Letarte also criticized the fact that NASCAR’s race control both decides when the caution comes out for debris and also determines what the debris is.

“They provide their own information,” Letarte said. “It’s their responsibility to put spotters, cameras and whatever other technology is out there. … I don’t think that technology has changed enough in the last 15 years.”

Former crew chief Slugger Labbe said late debris cautions are “untimely,” but are an “essence of safety” for drivers.

“Just think if there was something was there and they (NASCAR) weren’t sure what it was, if it was rubber or it was metal,” Labbe said. “Someone runs over it, blows a tire at 218 mph at Michigan. We saw what Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray looked liked getting into Turn 1 at Pocono (after their brakes failed). I get it. I’ve benefited from debris cautions and I’ve paid the price on debris cautions. It goes both ways.”

Veteran driver and analyst Parker Kligerman called on NASCAR to be more transparent with its debris yellows, perhaps by presenting the evidence for them postrace — or admitting the error if there turned out to be no debris.

Watch the above video for the full discussion.

NASCAR America: Steve Letarte reflects on mentor Ray Evernham’s Hall of Fame selection

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Steve Letarte learned the sport of NASCAR from a number of different individuals.

But no one compares to Letarte’s greatest mentor, Ray Evernham, who was selected earlier this week as one of five individuals that will enter the NASCAR Hall of Fame in its 2018 class.

Evernham, who led Jeff Gordon to three of his four NASCAR Cup championships as Gordon’s crew chief, was not only an innovator in the sport, but also a leader, mentor and team owner.

On Friday’s NASCAR America, Letarte, an Evernham protege, discussed what made his former boss, teacher and close friend so special.  Check out the video above.