What if Kenseth retaliates? Should Talladega be an elimination race? Answers here

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NASCAR Talk’s Dustin Long and Nate Ryan discuss some of the key issues heading into Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway and the beginning of the third round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Kyle Busch says he doesn’t see Jeff Gordon beating Joey Logano or Kevin Harvick for the title at Homestead-Miami Speedway if all three are in it. What’s your take on what Busch said?

DUSTIN – Busch is saying what he believes and what has been evident throughout the season. Gordon has not finished ahead of both Logano and Harvick in any of the nine races on 1.5-mile tracks this season. Homestead is a 1.5-mile track. Logano’s average finish on such tracks this season is 5.1, Harvick’s average finish s 9.3, and Gordon’s average finish is 13.8. While anything can happen in one race for the title, the odds wouldn’t be in Gordon’s favor. Simple as that.

NATE – Busch’s take makes sense in context. He’s questioning whether Gordon has shown the speed associated with a title, and the Hendrick Motorsports driver hasn’t — his third at Talladega was his first top five of the Chase. Gordon readily admits to advancing through the Chase with stealthy consistency and maximizing his results without having race-winning cars. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t a threat for the championship. As Busch himself noted, if Homestead turns into a “circus” — i.e. the unexpected adversely affects the favorites — any of the four eligible drivers could win the title, regardless of their speed.

Would Martinsville be a better elimination race and then have Talladega as the opening race of the third round?

DUSTIN – Let’s be honest, NASCAR likes Talladega in this spot because it builds drama in the middle of the Chase. With Talladega’s unpredictability, no one is seemingly safe to advance to the next round other than a race winner from the same round. While there could be some such drama having the elimination at a short track, I’m not sure it would be as great. Keep it as it is.

NATE – I think any track would be an improvement as an elimination race over Talladega. Beyond just its results being arbitrary, the track’s tendency for producing bizarre outcomes such as Sunday’s make it an imperfect showcase for NASCAR’s most pivotal races. There’s been a groundswell of support for swapping Talladega’s position with Richmond and making it the regular-season finale, and that might make as much sense as any move. With the Chase field largely set after 25 races, allowing Talladega to finalize the playoff contenders probably would be the most sensible way of minimizing its impact on the playoffs while also keeping it on the schedule twice without creating logistical problems for the track.

Who are your four drivers to reach Homestead?

DUSTIN – Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Jeff Gordon and Kyle Busch (my pick before the Chase started to win the title).

NATE – Considering only one of my original four (Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth) reached the third round (and barely), it feels illegitimate to whittle down the remaining eight. But my four would be: Busch, Gordon, Harvick, Logano.

Would you have a problem if Matt Kenseth paid back Joey Logano at Martinsville for their Kansas incident?

DUSTIN – I guess you could call it “quintessential” NASCAR. If I’m Logano and that happens to me and costs me a chance at the title, then I make sure Kenseth never wins a title in his remaining years in the sport. Kenseth blocked, Logano held his ground and Kenseth spun at Kansas. Wrecking purely in retribution at Martinsville would, in my mind, give Logano the right to return the favor to Kenseth some day.

NATE – Yes, if it were a blatant takeout maneuver during an inconsequential battle for position. But if it happens in a manner similar to Kansas — jockeying for a win or a strong finish in the latter stages of the race — Kenseth absolutely is on solid ground to play rough with Logano without losing any sleep.

 

Coca-Cola 600 resumes after rain delay

Coca-Cola 600
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The Coca-Cola 600 is back under way following a rain delay.

The caution was issued on Lap 49 for rain and the field was brought to pit road. The red flag was issued at 7:07 p.m. ET and lifted at 8:16 p.m. ET.

The top five at the time of the stoppage was Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott, Tyler Reddick and Joey Logano.

Check back for updates.

 

Denny Hamlin team faces potential penalty after ballast falls off car

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Denny Hamlin was involved in an incident even before Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 got underway that could result in a hefty penalty.

A chunk of tungsten ballast — which teams use to bring Cup cars up to minimum weight standards — fell off Hamlin’s car on a parade lap.

The incident puts Hamlin’s crew chief Chris Gabehart and several others on the team in violation of the NASCAR rule book, which means a hefty penalty could be in the offing.

According to the NASCAR rule book, the penalty is 12.5.2.7.4.d: Minimum safety penalty options — “Loss or separation of added ballast from the vehicle will result in a four Race suspension of the crew chief, car chief, and head engineer. If NASCAR cannot identify which series or vehicle the lost ballast originated from, all vehicles entered for that Event from and associated with the team organization identified on the lost ballast may receive the suspensions.”

If NASCAR implements the potential penalty, Gabehart and others could miss the following four races: May 27 at Charlotte, May 31 at Bristol, June 7 at Atlanta and June 10 at Martinsville.

Several of those tracks are good for Hamlin, including winning the Bristol summer night race last year, as well as was fourth at the Martinsville playoff race last fall and 11th at Atlanta.

NASCAR ordered Hamlin back to pit road where the No. 11 crew added a new chunk of ballast to Hamlin’s car. He returned to the race eight laps down.

Here’s what a fabricator from rival team Stewart-Haas Racing tweeted about the incident:

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Coca-Cola 600 starting lineup

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Chevrolet drivers swept the top three rows for tonight’s Coca-Cola 600, led by Kurt Busch‘s pole-winning lap of 181.269 mph.

Jimmie Johnson was next with a lap of 181.214 mph. He was followed by Chase Elliott (181.002 mph), Matt Kenseth (180.923), rookie Tyler Reddick (180.905) and Austin Dillon (180.741).

Ford driver Joey Logano, who starts seventh after a lap of 180.451 mph, was the top qualifier not driving a Chevrolet.

TO THE REAR: Matt DiBenedetto (backup car), Brad Keselowski (unapproved adjustment), Aric Almirola (unapproved adjustment), JJ Yeley (unapproved adjustment) and Timmy Hill (unapproved adjustment)

Click here for Coca-Cola 600 starting lineup

Kurt Busch on pole for Coca-Cola 600

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Kurt Busch will lead the field to the green flag for tonight’s Coca-Cola 600 after claiming the pole Sunday afternoon at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

It is Busch’s 28th career pole and first at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Busch is joined on the front row by Jimmie Johnson. Chase Elliott qualified third and is followed by Matt Kenseth and rookie Tyler Reddick. Austin Dillon was sixth, as Chevrolet drivers took the top six spots.

Click here for qualifying results

Aric Almirola spun coming to take the green flag to begin his qualifying lap. He grazed the wall with his rear bumper.

Matt DiBenedetto slapped the wall off Turn 4 during his qualifying lap and will go to a backup car and start at the rear of the field.