Forward Bite: How aggressively should Kyle Busch race to be Chase eligible?

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NBC Sports’ Dustin Long and Nate Ryan 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 this week … what’s yours?

Now that Kyle Busch has his victory, how conservatively should he race in the next 10 races to make the top 30 in points to be Chase eligible?

Dustin: He should race as aggressively as he always has. Don’t give me any of this garbage about taking it easy and points racing these next 10 races. One never knows when they might need an extra point. He should be aggressive in making passes for position or taking the lead to gain a bonus point. Should he make the Chase, he’s not just looking to participate. More wins equals more bonus points. Kyle should not hold back. Thinking that he has to do so is just plain wrong.

Nate: This is nuts, Dustin. Banking the victory at Sonoma absolutely should shift the focus of Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens to points racing as much as possible. That isn’t to intimate that Busch should take it easy behind the wheel, but a prudent approach must be applied to decision-making behind the wheel and atop the pit box. For the next 10 races, there is no scenario in which the potential reward of a victory would outweigh the risk of squandering a top 15 finish. Though it hardly meshes with the reckless abandon upon which he has built his brand, Busch must use discretion with every pass, and Stevens can’t take any gamble that leaves him off sequence on strategy. If they play it safe, Busch’s talent still will keep him in the top 20 of every race, which should be enough. He achieved greatness at Sonoma; now it’s time for Busch to worry about just being good.
Dustin: Look, Nate, maybe in your scenario everything is nice and wonderful with puppy dogs and Popsicles, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll make the Chase at this point. Yes, three of the last four years he’s bettered the average he likely needs to make the top 30 in points to get into the Chase, but tiptoeing around the track won’t get it done. The simple thing is to keep doing what he’s been doing. He doesn’t need to change. For a guy like Busch, it’s not just about making the Chase but winning the championship and a few extra bonus points could help him toward the endeavor. Look, he’s playing with house money – how many really thought he would have a chance to make the Chase after missing so much of the season. I say he should go for broke.

 What’s more surprising – that all four cars at Joe Gibbs Racing have won this year and all four cars at Hendrick Motorsports have not or Tony Stewart’s struggles this season?

Dustin: Tony Stewart’s woes continue to amaze me, especially with how fast teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch have been this season. Stewart hasn’t been competitive in many races. Sunday’s race at Daytona might be one of the last races he truly has a chance to win this season. Just think about that. If his team doesn’t find speed on the bigger tracks, he might be left with trying to win at the short tracks and Watkins Glen and that could be it. Who would have thought that?

Nate: Though their magnitude raises an eyebrow, Stewart’s struggles were foretold given how he has performed the past two seasons. It’s more inexplicable how Joe Gibbs Racing has managed to put more drivers in victory lane this season than Hendrick despite being at a clear disadvantage on handling and horsepower. There are only a few tracks where such deficiencies have been overcome, and JGR has maximized its opportunities at virtually all of them – Bristol (Matt Kenseth), Martinsville (Denny Hamlin) and Sonoma (Kyle Busch). Edwards’ fuel-mileage victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway is indicative of how well the organization has done at maximizing its opportunities to win, and that’s a marked turnaround from recent seasons when the team was building better cars but getting burned by a lack of quality control. With this season’s pinpoint execution, JGR has bought itself a few months to focus on preparing for the 2015 Chase and match its savvy with greater speed.

NTSB releases final report on Dale Jr. plane crash

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Photo: Dustin Long
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Pilot error played a key role in the August 2019 crash of a plane carrying Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his family, a final report by the National Transportation Safety Board stated Wednesday.

Earnhardt, wife Amy and daughter Isla were on board the plane, which crashed after a hard landing at Elizabethton (Tennessee) Municipal Airport on Aug. 15, 2019. The report stated all three suffered minor injuries. 

The NTSB listed the probable causes of the accident as: “The pilot’s continuation of an unstabilized approach despite recognizing associated cues and the flight crew’s decision not to initiate a go-around before touchdown, which resulted in a bounced landing, a loss of airplane control, a landing gear collapse, and a runway excursion. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s failure to deploy the speedbrakes during the initial touchdown, which may have prevented the runway excursion, and the pilot’s attempt to go around after deployment of the thrust reversers.”

A “go-around” occurs when a pilot pulls out of a landing and gains altitude to make another landing attempt.

The report stated that “the flight crew made several comments about the airplane flying too fast and allowed the airspeed to increase well above the reference speed for the approach.”

The report stated that “the pilot did not extend the speedbrakes upon touchdown, which landing checklist required, but instead attempted to deploy the thrust reversers immediately after touchdown, which was a later item on the landing checklist.”

Earnhardt’s Cessna 680A Citation Latitude bounced twice upon landing as it traversed the 5,001-foot runaway.

After the fourth touchdown, the right main landing gear collapsed. The plane went off the road and through a 400-foot long area of grass. It went down an embankment, through a creek and a chain-link fence. It continued up an embankment. The plane came to rest about 600 feet beyond the runway at the edge of a four-lane highway.

The passengers and two pilots escaped as the plane burned.

The full report can be read here.

Champion or not, Chase Briscoe won’t let Xfinity title define season

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Like the 11 drivers he’ll compete against in the Xfinity Series playoffs, a championship is the endgame for Chase Briscoe.

However, with the Stewart-Haas Racing driver one win from matching his preseason goal of at least eight victories, Briscoe wouldn’t be too disappointed if he failed to claim the title at the end of the seven-race playoff.

“I feel like to this point if we don’t get to eight (wins) … I feel like I accomplished or proved what I was trying to say at the beginning of the year,” Briscoe told NBC Sports on Tuesday. “There’s still no reason why we can’t get to 10 wins. I feel 100% confident in my team that we’re going to have the cars capable of doing it, I just need to do my job. If we do that, hopefully we can get to Phoenix and then (whoever’s) the best team once we get there wins.”

As he prepares to open the playoffs Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN), Briscoe is wary of not letting “the championship define you and define your season. … Winning races is a big deal. That’s what you get paid to do is go win races and obviously win championships as well, but today’s format anything can happen in that final race.”

Briscoe can attest to importance of winning races. He enters the playoff with a series-leading seven wins, which has helped him start the postseason with 2,050 points and ties him with Austin Cindric.

Briscoe’s impressive numbers come a year after he had just one win in a season where Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer combined to win 21 of 33 races.

Briscoe believes the perception of his abilities as a driver are “way different” from last year as he struggled to chase those three drivers now competing in Cup.

“Personally, I felt like I could win races, and I think a lot of it was learning,” Briscoe said. “Last year, there were still a lot of tracks I had never been to before and didn’t even have 100 pavement starts in my entire career, and now I have that experience. I have the confidence to go with it and all of those things are totally different, and when I said what I said at the beginning of the year (about winning eight races) I felt like I was capable of doing that.

“If I could back it up, it would look even better. … I think I’ve proven my worth in this sport. I feel like if I do get the opportunity to move up, I feel like I’m ready, but I also feel like I could get a lot of benefit out of coming back to the Xfinity Series and running again.”

Briscoe, a Ford development driver, says he still doesn’t know what’s in store for him in 2021.

He said the uncertainty of his future is a “little bit easier” to handle compared to last year because of the wins he’s racked up.

Regardless of not knowing his NASCAR fate, if Briscoe can “somehow get to 10 wins this year and win the championship, then that would just make it, I feel like, a lot easier for the decision-makers.”

Mike Wallace’s appeal of indefinite suspension denied

NASCAR suspends Mike Wallace
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Mike Wallace‘s indefinite suspension by NASCAR was upheld by the National Motorsports Appeals Panel on Wednesday.

Wallace, who has made three Xfinity Series starts this season, was suspended Sept. 10 for violating Sections 12.1; 12.8; 12.8.1.e of the rule book.

According to the rulebook, a violation of section 12.8.1.e is any “Public statement and/or communication that criticizes, ridicules, or otherwise disparages another person based upon that person’s race, color, creed, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, religion, age, or handicapping condition.”

As part of the suspension, Wallace is required by NASCAR to attend sensitivity training.

The three-member appeals panel was made up of Dixon Johnston, Bill Lester and Kevin Whitaker.

Wallace has the right to appeal the decision to the National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer.

Wallace wrote the following on Facebook shortly after his suspension was originally announced:

“You know as I fly across the United States today I’m ready various people’s political views and I have to say a famous four star Military General that I spent time with in the MidEast told me Mike let me give you some advice don’t ever get in a conversation about politics or religion unless you are really smart. I said why do you say that comment His response it’s like being balanced on a single edge razor blade if you slip you will get cut!

Think about that before we all make foolish uneducated post! Moral of this story is most of use just repeat what we have heard we really don’t know.
Have a great positive day!”

Bubba Wallace to receive Stan Musial award for extraordinary character

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Following months of speaking out in support of racial justice and inclusion in NASCAR, Bubba Wallace‘s work has been recognized by The Musial Awards.

The Richard Petty Motorsports driver has been selected as the recipient of its Award for Extraordinary Character.

The award honors “an individual who demonstrates remarkable poise, perseverance and overall sportsmanship.”

The Musial Awards – presented by Maryville University in St. Louis – is named after Stan Musial, a former St. Louis Cardinal baseball player. St. Louis is also the home to one of Wallace’s sponsors, World Wide Technology.

More: Michael Jordan excited for NASCAR future with Denny Hamlin

In the wake of the death of George Floyd in May, the 26-year-old Wallace has been active in helping lead NASCAR through social changes, including the banning of the Confederate flag at series events and tracks.

He also drove a Black Lives Matter car at Martinsville Speedway in June.

“Bubba Wallace exemplifies what the Stan Musial Award for Extraordinary Character is all about,” Frank Viverito, president of the St. Louis Sports Commission, which produces the Musial Awards, said in a press release. “He has overcome much to be where he is, and he has courageously stepped forward to take an important stand for change. He is most deserving of an award that stands for sportsmanship and character, and is named for Stan Musial, whose own actions promoted racial acceptance and unity.”

Wallace joins baseball legend Hank Aaron as a 2020 Musial Awards honoree. Aaron is receiving the Stan Musial Lifetime Achievement Award for Sportsmanship.

The Musial Awards will air nationally on CBS on Saturday, Dec. 26.

After three full-time seasons in Cup racing for RPM, it was announced earlier this week that Wallace would compete in 2021 for a Cup team co-owned by Denny Hamlin and basketball legend Michael Jordan.