Forward Bite: Who is the greatest driver of this era? How many winners before Chase?

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NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan and Dustin Long are back for another edition of Forward Bite where they debate various NASCAR topics and share their unvarnished (and sometimes unpopular) opinions.

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

A USA TODAY story posited after the Indianapolis 500 states that two-time winner Juan Pablo Montoya could stake a claim as the greatest driver of his generation. True?

Nate: With varying vehicles, tracks and rules across its myriad series, auto racing’s infrastructure makes it inherently impossible to definitively determine how a driver rates on a macro level – particularly given the demise of bygone eras in which hopping between circuits was common. But having raced in Sprint Cup, IndyCar and Formula One, Montoya can stake a serious claim to being a transcendent talent. Though he didn’t win on an oval in a stock car, he made the Chase for the Sprint Cup and showed speed that others lacked in trying to make the transition from open wheel. The impediment to his NASCAR success mostly was attributable to his cars, and the same narrative was true in F1 (check out his 2002 season when Williams’ mechanical failures). Indy proved again that when he has the right car, Montoya can deliver world-class results that evokes the crossover success of Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt.

Dustin: I don’t see that claim for Montoya. He can be applauded for his diversified portfolio, but let’s be honest about something. The only reason Montoya even had the chance to win a second Indianapolis 500 is because he didn’t have the results to remain in NASCAR. If the performance had been better, Montoya would have never left for IndyCar. That said, when I look at the best driver of this era – at least in American racing – it’s hard not to go against Jimmie Johnson because of his six championships in NASCAR’s top series, winning titles under varying forms of the Chase and often dominating in a system that was intended to keep the points battle close to the final race. Johnson, in part, forced NASCAR to change how it determines its champion with the winner-take-all format at Homestead now.

Nate: But there always will be the lingering question about how Johnson would have fared in open-wheel cars, Dustin. Unfortunately, it will go unanswered. As far as the best American driver of this era, it’d be hard to disagree with Tony Stewart. He has contended for Indianapolis 500 wins, won an IndyCar title (albeit against diluted competition) and captured the near-impossible USAC Triple Crown title. While Johnson has twice as many Sprint Cup championships, Stewart’s resume is more complete. It’s possible to say Johnson is the greatest NASCAR driver of all time … but that Stewart is the best of this generation. And let’s not forget that Montoya had the opportunity to stay in NASCAR – Furniture Row Racing was very interested – but he seemed to have grown disinterested in latter seasons. That the winningest Indy 500 owner in history still was interested in his services speaks volumes about Montoya’s worth.

Dustin: I’d put Tony in that class as well, Nate, but if I’m being asked best in an era, I’m looking at who did the most against the top competition. Johnson’s six titles trumps Stewart’s three in Cup.

 

There have been nine different winners in the first 12 races of the season, yet drivers without a win at this point include Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, Tony Stewart and others. How many more drivers will win before the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins and who do you think they will be?

Dustin: I don’t foresee 16 different winners entering the Chase. Last year’s total was 13 and that could be about right if no one can catch Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, who have shown to have among the fastest cars. It’s hard to imagine Martin Truex Jr. not winning a race before the Chase. Same with Jeff Gordon. I think what will be interesting to see is who wins the wildcard races – Daytona in July (Aric Almirola last year), Sonoma (Carl Edwards) and Watkins Glen (AJ Allmendinger). Will those tracks again provide a first-time winner this season? If so, the number of drivers who make the Chase via a win could expand.

Nate: Three: Kasey Kahne, Truex and Gordon. I’m not feeling the wild-card magic this season for the underdogs, Dustin, and I think Gordon, who is nine years removed from a road-course victory and way overdue, will prioritize Sonoma and Watkins Glen as must-win races. Barring a rain-shortened ending akin to last year, the first two restrictor-plate races didn’t offer much hope of a surprise. The Stewart-Haas Racing dominance of Busch and Harvick will continue, the similarly built Hendrick cars will continue to improve, and Team Penske and JGR will round into title-contending form entering the Chase – locking out Richard Childress Racing from victory lane in the regular season for the second straight year.

Dustin: As for Kyle Busch, I think he has a chance to win, but he will be limited where. I see his best chance coming at Kentucky, Bristol, Richmond and Watkins Glen. Will he win one? I’ll lean his way that he does.

 

What stood out more to you at during the Coca-Cola 600 weekend — Joe Gibbs Racing winning and having all four of its cars finish better than 12th or Hendrick Motorsports not having a car start in the top 10 and having only one car finish in the top 10.

Dustin: I thought it was a good sign for Joe Gibbs Racing to sweep Charlotte with Denny Hamlin winning the All-Star race and the success the organization had in the Coca-Cola 600. JGR had two of its cars finish in the top 10 at a 1.5-mile speedway once this season before last weekend. Folks from Gibbs had said they were pointing toward Charlotte with upgrades and it worked. The question, though, is if this team can transfer what worked at Charlotte to other tracks because, even with the success, JGR is still behind the top teams at the speedways.

Nate: JGR deserves a lot of credit for its execution– both through driver racecraft and team strategy – that allowed it to sweep Charlotte without having the fastest cars. But what stood out most significantly for me from the weekend is that for the first time in 31 years, a Rick Hendrick-owned car didn’t lead a lap during the Coca-Cola 600. The qualifying struggles were indicative of Hendrick Motorsports’ Chevrolets again lacking speed when compared to the Stewart-Haas Racing Chevys of Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick – despite having the same engines and chassis. While it isn’t time to hit the panic button at Hendrick, it must be maddening to be getting beat by your own cars every week.

Xfinity Series playoff standings entering first round

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The Xfinity Series playoffs begin this weekend with a 12-driver field set to compete for the championship.

The playoffs start Saturday night with a race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric start the postseason tied after they each earned 50 playoff points during the regular season.

More: Las Vegas entry lists

The last four drivers in the standings are Ryan Sieg (2,002 points), Michael Annett (2,002), Riley Herbst (2,001) and Brandon Brown (2,000).

Here are the full playoff standings entering the Round of 12.

 

Cup playoff standings entering Round of 12

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The Round of 12 in the Cup playoffs has arrived following Saturday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Eliminated from contention were Matt DiBenedetto, Ryan Blaney, Cole Custer and William Byron.

The second round begins Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

More: Entry lists for Las Vegas

Kurt Busch begins the round last in the standings with 3,0001 points.

Here is the full playoff standings entering the Round of 12.

Drivers in yellow are those who will compete in the Round of 12. Drivers in red were eliminated at the end of the first round.

Cup playoff standings

 

NASCAR entry lists for Las Vegas

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The Round of 12 begins this weekend for the Cup Series and NASCAR’s entry lists for Las Vegas Motor Speedway are out.

All three national series will compete at the 1.5-mile track as the Xfinity Series begins its playoffs and the Truck Series holds its second playoff race.

More: Bristol winners and losers

Here are the preliminary entry lists for Las Vegas:

Cup – South Point 400 (7 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN)

Thirty-nine cars are entered for the first race of the Round of 12.

Joey Logano won at Las Vegas in the spring over Matt DiBenedetto and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. This race was won last season by Martin Truex Jr. over Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski.

Click here for the Cup entry list.

 

Xfinity – Alsco 300 (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)

Thirty-four cars are entered in the Xfinity playoff opener.

Daniel Hemric is entered in JR Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet.

Austin Hill is entered in Hattori Racing Enterprises’ No. 61 Toyota.

Chase Briscoe won at Las Vegas in February over Austin Cindric and Ryan Sieg. This race was won last year by Tyler Reddick over Christopher Bell and Brandon Jones.

Click here for the Xfinity entry list.

 

Trucks – World of Westgate 200 (9 p.m. ET Friday on FS1)

Thirty-six trucks are entered.

Ryan Truex is entered in Niece Motorsports’ No. 40 Chevrolet.

IndyCar driver Conor Daly will make his Truck Series debut in Niece Motorsports’ No. 42 Chevrolet.

Travis Pastrana is entered in Niece Motorsports’ No. 45 Chevrolet for his second start of the season.

Kyle Busch won at Las Vegas in February over Johnny Sauter and Austin Hill. Austin Hill won this race last year over Ross Chastain and Christian Eckes.

Click here for the Truck entry list

NASCAR 2020 schedule: Times, TV channels, stream info and tracks for Cup series

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The second round of the NASCAR 2020 Cup series playoffs will begin on Sunday, September 27 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

William ByronCole CusterMatt DiBenedetto and Ryan Blaney saw their championship hopes end last Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway where Kevin Harvick stole the show with his ninth win of the season. Harvick’s victory at Bristol marked a career-best milestone as his previous best was eight wins back in 2018.

Click here to see the NASCAR entry lists for Las Vegas 

    RELATED: Bristol Cup results, driver points report

NASCAR 2020 Schedule Playoffs – Round of 12

Sept. 27 – South Point 400

Time: 7 p.m.
Track: Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Oct. 4 – YellaWood 500

Time: 2 p.m.
Track: Talladega Superspeedway

Oct. 11 – Bank of America Roval 400

Time: 2:30 p.m.
Track: Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL

Playoffs – Round of 8

Oct. 18 – Hollywood Casino 400

Time: 2:30 p.m.
Track: Kansas Speedway, 2:30 p.m.

Oct. 25 – Texas 500

Time: 3 p.m.
Track: Texas Motor Speedway

Nov. 1 – Xfinity 500

Time: 2 p.m.
Track: Martinsville Speedway

Championship – Round of 4

Nov. 8 – NASCAR Cup Series Championship

Time: 3 p.m.
Track: Phoenix Raceway


PAST RESULTS for NASCAR 2020 SCHEDULE

Daytona 500

Date: Feb. 17
Winner: Denny Hamlin

Pennzoil 500 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Date: Feb. 23
Winner: Joey Logano (video)

Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway

Date: March 1
Winner: Alex Bowman

FanShield 500 at Phoenix Raceway

Date: March 8
Winner: Joey Logano (video)

The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway

Date: May 17
Winner: Kevin Harvick

Toyota 500 at Darlington Raceway

Date: May 20
Winner: Denny Hamlin (video)

Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Date: May 24
Winner: Brad Keselowski

Alsco Uniforms 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Date: May 28
Winner: Chase Elliott  (video)

Supermarket Heroes 500 – at Bristol Motor Speedway

Date: May 31
Winner: Brad Keselowski

Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway

Date: June 7
Winner: Kevin Harvick

Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway

Date: June 10
Winner: Martin Truex Jr. (video)

Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway

Date: June 14
Winner: Denny Hamlin (video)

Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway

Date: June 22
Winner: Ryan Blaney

Pocono Organics 325 at Pocono Raceway

Date: June 27
Winner: Kevin Harvick

Pocono 350 at Pocono Raceway

Date: June 28
Winner: Denny Hamlin

Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 at The Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Date: July 5
Winner: Kevin Harvick

Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway

Date: July 12
Winner: Cole Custer

NASCAR All-Star Race

Date: July 15
Winner: Chase Elliott

O’Reilly Auto Parts 500

Date: July 19
Winner: Austin Dillon

Super Start Batteries 400

Date: July 23
Winner: Denny Hamlin

Foxwoods Resort Casino 301

Date: Aug. 2:
Winner: Brad Keselowski

FireKeepers Casino 400

Date: Aug. 8
Winner: 
Kevin Harvick

Consumers Energy 400

Date: Aug. 9
Winner:
Kevin Harvick

NASCAR Cup Series Race at Daytona Road Course

Date: Aug. 16
Winner:
Chase Elliott

NASCAR Cup Series Race at Dover

Race 1

Date: Aug 22
Winner:
Denny Hamlin

Race 2

Date: Aug. 23
Winner:
Kevin Harvick

Coke Zero Sugar 400

Date: Aug. 29
Winner:
William Byron

Playoffs – Round of 16

Date: Sept. 6 
Winner:
Kevin Harvick

Date: Sept. 12
Winner:
Brad Keselowski

Date: Sept. 19
Winner:
Kevin Harvick

For more on the NASCAR 2020 schedule, news and information, read NASCAR Talk