Forward Bite: Nate Ryan & Dustin Long debate All-Star race’s value, Kyle Busch’s waiver

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Welcome to the debut of Forward Bite where NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan and Dustin Long debate various NASCAR topics and share their unvarnished (and sometimes unpopular) opinions. Some days they might agree with each other. Other days? Not so much.

Just like how it often is in the media center at NASCAR races across the country.

Here’s their take on pressing topics this week … what’s your take?

Does the sport need the Sprint All-Star Race?

Dustin: No. Every weekend all of NASCAR’s top drivers race together. The All-Star race has outlived its purpose. If NASCAR is going to race, make it a points race. While there would be complications with taking a race from Speedway Motorsports, Inc., which owns Charlotte Motor Speedway, NASCAR should find a way to make such a move worthwhile and replace the event with a points race at Iowa Speedway or add a third road course to the schedule.

Nate: No, but there also is going to be intractable resistance to eradicating an event that has been a fixture for 31 years in NASCAR’s premier series. The All-Star Race’s primary flaw is redundancy, and it’s become more pronounced since last year when the Chase for the Sprint Cup was restructured with an emphasis on wins over points. The major selling point of the All-Star Race – go-for-broke with prestige and purse outweighing any concern for points – lacks more distinction than ever, and as you note, Dustin, every race already is an all-star event – a problem that NASCAR has wrestled with since its inception.

So how to fix it? Blow it up completely and start over. Don’t waste time tinkering with formats. Think big and start by stripping it from Charlotte Motor Speedway, whose smooth and supersonic surface is a fine layout for hosting a 600-mile marathon but couldn’t be less conducive for a sprint race. (This, of course, will prompt major hollering from track owner Speedway Motorsports Inc. about losing guaranteed millions. OK, then move the event to SMI’s dirt track and drag strip across the street, testing driver’s hand-eye coordination in other disciplines. Or let SMI promote an All-Star Race through the streets of Uptown Charlotte, keeping all of the race’s revenues in house and in market.)

Dustin: Wait a minute. I hear what you’re saying Nate but please no street courses. Yes, it’s time for NASCAR to act and be bold in altering this event but not that bold. Shoot, if NASCAR really wanted to do something big, take the event to a place like South Boston Speedway, use it to promote the sport’s ties to the local tracks, put drivers on a track they’re not as familiar with and test them that way.

Nate: This is a worthy idea, and a concept worth broaching at a short track such as South Boston, Bowman-Gray Stadium or Hickory Motor Speedway. But creativity also should be encouraged, so the bolder the ideas, the better for NASCAR. In that vein, a measure of irreverence would help. Unlike other professional athletes, NASCAR drivers know how to laugh at themselves and are accustomed to getting outside their comfort zones as savvy spokespeople sometimes asked to do wacky things in the name of promotions. Let’s try some goofy competitions – best Victory Lane speech (judged on weaving in a recitation of sponsor plugs with a glib and charming delivery), best helmet toss, best rivalry-stirring interview (rip a competitor to shreds after pretending you have been wronged on track) – that celebrate the unvarnished moments of unbridled emotions that hook fans.

Did NASCAR make the right call to grant Kyle Busch a waiver to the requirement that a driver must start every race to eligible for the Chase?

Nate: Yes, and the reason is because the ruling also kept the top 30 in points requirement. If Kyle Busch manages to win a race and make the top 30 in points after spotting the field an 11-race head start, he might be the most deserving qualifier in the 11-year history of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Will it be fair that he would be allowed to race for a title despite missing 42 percent of the regular season? Perhaps not, but the circumstances that left him sidelined weren’t fair, either. The Chase primarily was created to restore drama to the title race. Allowing Busch a shot should be celebrated for adding depth to the roster of potentially compelling storylines.

Dustin: I’m disappointed NASCAR didn’t waive the top 30 requirement and say if Kyle Busch wins a race before the Chase, he’s in. My reasoning is that the sport failed to do all it could to protect him. As Brian France said about Kyle’s injuries – “it’s on us.” Yes, it is. See how simple it was to put tire barriers up where Kyle hit the day after his accident? Why wasn’t that done before? Why not elsewhere? Kyle Busch should be in the Chase if he can win one of the next 15 points races regardless of where he is in the points when the Chase begins.

Nate: Can’t argue with any of those points, Dustin. If there was an instance in which the top 30 requirement were to be waived, this would be it. But leaving it in place strikes a good compromise – and it likely will be a moot point anyway. If Kyle Busch can win a race in his return, he likely will be running well enough to make the top 30 in the standings over a 15-race stretch. Granting that “superwaiver” mostly would be a symbolic gesture of admitting culpability in Busch’s wreck, and NASCAR already has stressed that point repeatedly. Keeping the top 30 stipulation allows for a modicum of sanctity around the existing rules for making the Chase (satisfying purists) and lessens the perception that Busch is being afforded an easier route to the title because NASCAR is overly sympathetic to his plight.

Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas: Start time, TV channel

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The second round of the Cup playoffs begins with the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The 1.5-mile track kicks off the Round of 12. Winning the race and stage points are a premium for playoff drivers before the races at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval.

Kevin Harvick, who won at Bristol, starts from the pole.

Here is all the info for the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis at 7:07 p.m. The green flag waves at 7:17 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at Noon. Drivers report to their cars at 6:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7 p.m. by Motor Racing Outreach Chaplain, Billy Mauldin. The national anthem will be performed by Sierra Black at 7:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 267 laps (400.5 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 6 p.m with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 6:30 p.m. Race coverage begins at 7 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 6 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for sunny skies with a high of 96 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Kevin Harvick beat Kyle Busch to win at Bristol and claim his ninth win of the season.

LAST POINTS RACE AT LAS VEGAS: Joey Logano beat Matt DiBenedetto and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in February.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the lineup.

CATCH UP ON NBC SPORTS’ COVERAGE:

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win but without hometown fans

Michael Jordan excited for NASCAR future with Denny Hamlin

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

Germain Racing sells charter, will exit sport at end of season

Charlotte Roval to host limited number of fans

Friday 5: Team’s departure adds to ‘extremely stressful’ time

NASCAR fines Hendrick Motorsports $100,000

NTSB releases final report on Dale Jr. plane crash

Bubba Wallace to receive Stan Musial award for extraordinary character

Long: 100 days left in 2020, what else can happen?

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win, but without hometown fans

Kurt Busch
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A win by Kurt Busch in tonight’s Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) couldn’t come under more bittersweet circumstances for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver.

Should Busch claim the victory on the 1.5-mile track, he’d go from being the last driver on the playoff grid (3,001 points entering the race) to the first driver to advance to the Round of 8.

While it would be his first victory of the year, it would also be his first NASCAR win at his home track in 23 starts across the Cup and Xfinity Series.

More: Stage points critical at Vegas

“The Vegas track has definitely been one of the tough ones for me over the years with results and finishes not where I would have expected them to be,” Busch said this week. “And the teams that I’ve raced for just have never quite found that right magic set-up or combination. And then for me, it’s a track that I just have that trouble with.

“There are a few tracks like Indianapolis and Martinsville; those are a few places where I struggle. And so with Vegas, I always put that little extra hometown pressure on myself and I would love to win there.”

The 42-year-old Las Vegas-native rolls off ninth on the 1.5-mile track. It’s his fourth while driving for Ganassi.

In his 21 Cup starts in Las Vegas, Busch’s best result is third in 2005 when he competed for Roush Fenway Racing. He has just one other top five. That came in last year’s spring race when he drove a throwback paint scheme to his 1999 NASCAR Southwest Series championship.

That day he led 23 laps. It was only the seventh time he’d led laps there and just the third time he’d totaled more than six laps led.

In February, Busch finished 25th.

If Busch were to finally make it to Vegas’ Victory Lane, the celebration would be somewhat muted.

It was announced last weekend that fans would not be allowed to attend the races at Las Vegas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would love to win through the spirit of the camera and everything on NBC Sports; and I know the fans there, local, will be watching and cheering on the Busch brothers,” Busch said. “So, that’s where I would connect. And hopefully do it through the TV side of it. We’ll get fans back one day and we’ll come back and race.”

Busch enters the Round of 12 having earned just one top 10 in the first round, an eighth-place finish at Darlington. He finished 13th at Richmond and 15th at Bristol.

“What I like is we have had better lap times at all three races so far compared to maybe the five or six races leading into the playoffs,” Busch said. “We know that our cushion is gone. We ended Bristol with 33 points to the good. And now we start Vegas minus four (points behind Austin Dillon in the cutoff spot). So that’s just part of the system and now we have to be perfect. We have to get every point possible that we’re able to get on our own at Vegas, Talladega, and the Roval. And, that should help us advance.”

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

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Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan were teammates from 1982-84 at the University of North Carolina and Eastern Conference rivals throughout the 1980s and ’90s in the NBA.

But their friendship was about more than just hoops. While growing up on opposite ends of the Tar Heel State, Daugherty and Jordan both developed a passion for following NASCAR.

Tobacco Road meant fast cars and hard-driving heroes for these two North Carolina natives.

LIFELONG FAN: Michael Jordan explains why he’s partnering with Denny Hamlin

In a NASCAR on NBC feature, Daugherty recalls how NASCAR impacted his life and Jordan’s and led both into team ownership. Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin announced they will form a team to field cars for Bubba Wallace next season.

Daughterty notes in the feature that Wallace “has led a dynamic transformation as NASCAR banned Confederate flags and recommitted to inclusion amidst times of great unrest. This is a huge moment for NASCAR, a cultural momentum shift. This is people of all colors coming together to create an all-American race team already with championship lineage.

“With proper funding, equipment and crewmembers, this will be the best chance ever for a Black driver to win – and while driving for a Black owner. An opportunity to shock the world like Muhammad Ali once did.”

Watch the feature above on Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan or by clicking this link.

Las Vegas Xfinity results, driver points

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Chase Briscoe‘s victory Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway sends him into the next round of the Xfinity playoffs.

Noah Gragson led a 2-3-4 finish for JR Motorsports. Gragson was second and followed by Daniel Hemric and Justin Allgaier. Ryan Sieg finished fifth.

Briscoe dominated the race, leading 164 of the 200 laps.

Click here for Xfinity race results

POINTS

Ross Chastain finished 16th, last among the playoff drivers, and fell out of a transfer spot to the second round. He’s two points behind Harrison Burton for the final transfer spot. Michael Annett is 10 points behind Burton. Riley Herbst is 14 points behind Burton. Brandon Brown is 20 points behind Burton.

Click here for driver points report