Ryan: Low downforce should be high priority in Chase

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Here is the argument for running low downforce during the Chase for the Sprint Cup: The racing will be better.

Here is the argument against running low downforce during the Chase for the Sprint Cup: The racing will be better.

Makes sense? It shouldn’t, and that’s the problem.

The racing will be better … but the tires won’t be matched. And the teams won’t be as comfortable. And the Chase won’t track with rules used for the bulk of the regular season.

These are valid concerns, particularly if the primary objective is keeping drivers and teams happy.

But there is one indisputably niggling fact, and it’s hard to overlook if the primary objective is making fans happy.

The racing will be better if NASCAR bravely calls an audible for the Chase and institutes the low-downforce package that met with smashingly positive reviews at Kentucky Speedway and Darlington Raceway.

Curiously, this truism somehow has been perverted into a major reason for staying the course on a rules configuration that clearly has produced a less compelling brand of action this season.

The implication is that, while conceding the racing would be improved with a switch to less downforce, the rules won’t be as “fair” because teams won’t be as prepared after having spent so much money and time optimizing their cars for a Chase run under the 2015 rules.

This line of reasoning sets the regular season as a framework for the playoffs. Even if the rules had drivers on throttle for a much higher percentage of every lap, making passing much more difficult and increasing the aerodynamic advantage to the leader, they should remain static because they were used in the bulk of races in 2015.

This is wrong on its face.

Changing the rules for the playoffs follows the same guiding principle as chopping the cars’ spoilers to remove downforce. In both cases, it’s about degree of difficulty.

Just as it’s supposed to be harder to drive the cars, it also should be a stiffer test to win the title over the final 10 races of the Chase. The playoffs, which essentially are a second season designed to produce surprises, will be hailed as a success if they are disparate from a regular season that featured too many humdrum events.

Yes, teams have devoted much of their resources to developing their chassis and engines under the rules originally set for the ’15 season. But as Carl Edwards noted after his Southern 500 win Sunday, teams also have focused an inordinate amount of R&D time on low downforce, too.

The most legitimate case for keeping the ‘15 rules? It’s too late to construct specially made compounds matched to low downforce for the Chase. Goodyear typically needs at least two to three months of lead time.

But there also wasn’t enough time to build a tire to match the low-downforce package’s debut July 11 at Kentucky Speedway.

The “wrong” tire there resulted in the season’s best race (a 132 percent increase in green-flag passing over the previous year).

Admittedly, drivers won’t be as content with a tire that could be softer.

Again, it’s a question about what is “fair.”

As the late Charlotte Observer columnist David Poole once said, fair is a place you go for funnel cakes.

The mantra from NASCAR over the past six years has been that fan satisfaction should supersede everything in determining its direction. Whether installing double-file restarts or making three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish, there often has been little fair to competitors about the recent initiatives aimed at increasing the entertainment value.

The same concept holds true for low downforce.

The racing will be better.

Shouldn’t the debate over using it in the Chase end there?

Truck results, point standings after Miami

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Brett Moffitt beat Grant Enfinger to the checkers by two seconds to take his sixth race of the season.

Playoff contender Noah Gragson finished third.

Stewart Friesen was fourth with Sheldon Creed rounding out the top five.

Click here for complete results.

Moffitt’s victory earned him the championship. This is the first time since 1999 that the champion won the final race of the season.

With his third-place finish, Gragson finished second in the standings.

Justin Haley finished eighth in the race and third in the standings.

Johnny Sauter finished 12th in the race and fourth in the standings.

Grant Enfinger rounded out the top five.

Click here for the complete points report.

Brett Moffitt wins Truck race at Miami, takes championship

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Brett Moffitt beat Grant Enfinger by two seconds Friday night to win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race and the championship.

It was his sixth victory of the season.

Moffitt’s first win of the season came at Atlanta in the season’s second race but even then he was unsure if the team would have the financing to go to every race and be eligible for the playoffs.

“It’s unreal,” Moffitt said on FoxSports 1 from victory lane. “I didn’t know if I was going to get the opportunity to compete for a championship even after I got my first win.

“Everyone pulled together hard here. Back at Chicago (in June) we didn’t know if we were going to make it to the racetrack.”

Chicago was another race won by Moffitt.

Friday night, Enfinger finished second to Moffitt.

Fellow playoff contender Noah Gragson finished third. Stewart Friesen finished fourth with Sheldon Creed rounding out the top five.

MORE: Brett Moffitt seeks to join pantheon of NASCAR ‘stache champions

Moffitt achieved the title in just 36 starts – the fewest since Mike Skinner won the inaugural championship in 1995 in 20 races.

Moffitt’s championship comes with an uncertain future. He announced Thursday that he does not have a contract for next year.

Playoff contender Justin Haley finished eighth.

“We just struggled.” he said. “I don’t know why.”

Former champion Johnny Sauter battled handling problems for most of the race and was not a factor.

“It was awful,” he said. “Just no grip. We laid an egg tonight. I don’t know why.

“When you suck that bad, it’s whatever, you just go home and go what the hell happened? I’ll ask myself that for three months.”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Grant Enfinger

STAGE 2 WINNER: Brett Moffitt

MORE: Click here for complete results.
MORE: Click here for the complete points report.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Jesse Little tied his career best finish of sixth (which he first scored at Iowa this June). … Tyler Dippel finished 15th to score his fourth top 15 in five Truck starts.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Robby Lyons slapped the wall on Lap 78; he finished 29th. … Chris Windom started 10th but hit the wall with a handful of laps remaining to finish 24th. 

QUOTE OF THE RACE: “We were just too tight there (at the end). Needed to make better adjustments on pit road and that’s where it comes down to me,” Noah Gragson told FS1 after the race. “This one is going to hurt for a while.”

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Myatt Snider scored three top fives and eight top 10s on his way to rookie honors. Snider’s best finish this season was runner-up at Talladega. His best unrestricted finish was a third at Martinsville.

NOTABLE: This is the first time since 1999 that the champion won the season finale.

WHAT’S NEXT: Nextera Energy Resources 250 on Feb. 15, 2019 at Daytona International Speedway.

Should Denny Hamlin’s team take No. 1 pit stall or leave it for Kyle Busch?

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Denny Hamlin’s pole-winning effort Friday night made for an emotional moment in his final Cup race with close friend Mike Wheeler as his crew chief.

Hamlin’s pole also created a quandary.

With the pole, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing team has the first pick of pit stalls. Any other race, it’s an easy call: The team takes the No. 1 pit stall at the exit of pit road.

MORE: Denny Hamlin will have a new crew chief in 2019

But things are complicated because Hamlin is not in the title race and teammate Kyle Busch, who qualified second and whose team has second pick of pit stalls, is racing for a championship Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

If Hamlin’s team takes a different pit stall, it would allow Busch to have the No. 1 stall, which is viewed as the best on pit road. That could be the difference in having the lead off pit road and could impact who wins the championship.

So, what will Wheeler do when crew chiefs make their pit stall selection Saturday morning?

“We’re paid to win races for JGR and (sponsor) FedEx,” Wheeler told NBC Sports. “It’s definitely on my mind and my heart to be aware of that for Denny and our team. Obviously, we want to win a championship for JGR, too. That’s one of the biggest goals, a bigger goal this weekend. There’s some chatter going on about that.”

In one sense, it could be an easy call — let Busch have the No. 1 pit stall. The focus in any organization at this point is on the team racing for a championship. So why not give that team that advantage?

On the other hand, Hamlin is winless this year and could have one of his best chances to score a victory and extend his streak of consecutive seasons with a win to 13. He won this race in 2013 to keep that streak alive. 

“I think everything is earned,” Hamlin said. “Nothing is given. With us having the No. 1 pit stall, nobody else — none of the other competitors will have it. I don’t know. It’s a discussion. I mean, certainly I would think that (Wheeler), with the pressure always to win, you’ve got to do everything you can to win. We’ll have that discussion.”

The pit stalls at Homestead-Miami Speedway are 30-feet, 8-inches long. The camera at the end of pit road is about 40 feet from the No. 1 pit stall. That’s closer than some other tracks. That means a driver in that stall can fire out of the pit stall and surge ahead of those coming down pit road.

Last year, Hamlin’s team faced a similar issue but it was an easier call. Hamlin, who was not in the title race, won the pole. Martin Truex Jr., a title contender, qualified second last year. Truex’s team — which has a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing — asked if Hamlin’s team could take another pit stall so Truex could have the No. 1 stall. Hamlin’s team declined.

Cup starting lineup at Miami

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Denny Hamlin posted a lap of 173.863 mph to win his second consecutive pole at Miami and his third in the past four years.

He edged teammate Kyle Busch (173.622 mph) by .043 seconds.

Martin Truex Jr. (173.539), Brad Keselowski (173.433) and Joey Logano (173.366) rounded out the top five.

Kevin Harvick posted a lap of 171.942 mph to line up 12th on Sunday. This is the furthest back he has been at Miami since 2015 when he qualified 13th and finished second.

Click here for the complete starting lineup.