NASCAR America Championship Roundtable: Debating driver code, playoffs

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NASCAR America on NBCSN will host a special Championship Roundtable at 7 p.m. ET tonight, putting myriad issues before NBC Sports analysts Jeff Burton, Ray Evernham, Steve Letarte and Kyle Petty.

For more than three hours on a set in Charlotte, N.C., the quartet addressed the hot topics in the Sprint Cup Series entering Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway, where the field of four will be set for the championship finale Nov. 22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The panel will make its picks for the championship as well as sharing some personal memories (such as their first cars).

The discussion gets started at 7 p.m. on NBCSN and also is available via the NASCAR stream on NBC Sports. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you plug in that information, you’ll have access to the stream. Click here at 7 pm ET to watch live via the stream.

A sneak preview of how some of the conversation went:

  • Will we see another driver make a move as Ryan Newman did on the last lap last year and knock aside a car for a point or position?

Burton: “They praised it (at Kansas). They said Joey Logano did the right thing. It was quintessential NASCAR. He wrecked the leader, and the head of NASCAR says that’s OK.”

Evernham: “Well, he wrecked the leader, but also the leader was blocking. Both guys have to have some responsibility in that accident.”

Burton: “But still, the head of NASCAR said it was quintessential NASCAR. That’s what he said. If you need to spin the leader out to take that spot, it’s OK. I think there is no rule. If you intentionally wreck a guy and you’re 10 laps down, (there’s a penalty), but if you’re second and wreck him, there’s no penalty coming from that.”

Petty: “There appears to be one set of rules if you’re a Chase driver, and one set if you’re not. What’s on the line right now is there’s only one winner. Everyone else is racing for points. What if you see the same thing that happened last year for 10th or 12th? How will they react after everything leading up to this? Everything is on the line for those seven guys. There’s a lot on the line because there are seven guys on that line. Some guys have to win, others can point their way.”

Burton: “What happened if Kevin Harvick has a problem and is two laps down and there’s a car in front of him that needs to go away? Then what does NASCAR do? It’s not for the lead. It could be for 25th. Then where is the line? This thing about, ‘The drivers know where the line is,’ I don’t think they do. I think your morality will be tested in certain situations.”

  • Is “quintessential racing” only for the lead or can you do it to advance yourself?

Petty: “There’s not a rule. I look at what Matt and Joey did at Kansas, that could have happened in the second race of the year, the 10th race, the 15th race of the year, but I think Brian France would look at it and say ‘quintessential NASCAR racing.’ We’ve seen guys lean on each other for a win (and) move a guy for a win. When we go to Martinsville and talk about a line, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that. I’ve been around a long time and to see a car that was laps down eliminate the leader of a race. I’ve never seen anything that blatant in my life. Ever. Not that many laps down that took out a leader. I saw Richard Petty and Bobby Allison go at it like you wouldn’t believe. I saw Cale (Yarborough) and (David) Pearson, and we can talk the history of (Dale) Earnhardt and Rusty (Wallace).

“The thing with Carl (Edwards) (wrecking Brad Keselowski at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March 2010) was the most blatant that I’d ever seen. NASCAR sat on their hands and didn’t do anything. That was an opportunity to do something, and they didn’t do anything. So here we end up years later, and it just keeps escalating and escalating and escalating. Somebody doesn’t step in and rein it back in, and they let it go, let it go. I look at Matt two ways. It was wrong. At the same time, NASCAR should have at some point in time reined someone in, we watched something happen that should never have happened. In that way, Matt Kenseth is a martyr to a lot of fans because people are applauding what he did because they’ve been told it’s quintessential NASCAR racing. Competitors believe the same thing. This accident is far more reaching and broader than what happened on the racetrack. It’s what competitors and fans believe is right or wrong. Is there a rip in the NASCAR fabric? What old fans and new fans believe are two totally different things. I talk about The King and how those guys raced, the one thing they never lost for each other was respect. They respected the equipment and the other people. There seems to be a lack of respect for each other on the racetrack sometimes on whether you help or hurt a guy. We’ve gone to a different place.”

Burton: “That’s the difference is NASCAR has stepped away from it. In the interest of the ‘Boys, have at it’ mantra, we’ll step away and let you guys handle it. And letting those guys handle it is OK until the line gets crossed. It’s from years of NASCAR wanting the action and excitement on the track and willing to float in this area here where there is no rule. Matt Kenseth knows it was wrong. But in the environment that’s been created because NASCAR wasn’t willing to step in, Matt Kenseth had a reasonable expectation that he was going to be in trouble, but he never considered he would be penalized that way. His penalty should have been no more than Jeff Gordon’s penalty unless NASCAR stepped in and said, ‘Look, it’s different.’ And they had time to step in and say it’s different, and they didn’t do it. So Matt Kenseth messed up, no question about it, but NASCAR messed up, too. This is a chance for the whole NASCAR community learning how to operate with this points structure. It’s never happened before, and it’s so much pressure.”

Petty: “Let’s go back in time. Richard Petty has this reputation of never getting upset. I can point out 15 drivers who say he has the longest finger in the world when he talks to you. When he got to the garage area, I can’t tell you how many times I’d follow him to another driver’s truck to talk to another driver. That’s the way it used to be done. Tweeting, texting, phone calls. BS. If I’ve got a problem with you, we should man up, sit down and talk about it. Forget social media.”

Letarte: “This isn’t Matt Kenseth against Joey Logano, it’s Roger Penske against Joe Gibbs. Matt Kenseth didn’t go into Martinsville saying I’m going to wreck Joey Logano, because if he did, he would have wrecked him the first time. Instead, Penske messes with the restarts. I heard the radio, ‘I got dumped by (Keselowski).’ So my point is there’s this big pile of dry hay, and instead of the crew chief or the team or the spotter trying to put water on it, they’re over here striking matches instead of trying to put a little water on it. No one, top to bottom, in the organization tried to defuse it at all.”

Petty: “If you talk to NASCAR, they cited video of (Kenseth’s) team high-fiving each other, which meant it was the whole organization that felt like they had been wronged, not just the driver.”

Burton: “That culture has been created by the culture of ‘Boys, have at it.’ I agree 100 percent. Someone should have stepped in and said, ‘Look Matt, you have a long career. These things have a way of washing themselves out. Chill out, be cool.’ No question that should have happened. But if you lay the scenario out of here’s what is going to happen two months ago, what’s the penalty going to be? You think anyone would have said a two-race suspension? Nobody. That feeds the culture. If people knew – crew members, team owners, sponsors – that NASCAR isn’t going to tolerate this, it would have never happened.”

  • Can you explain what a driver code is?

Burton: “There is a driver code. If there are 43 drivers, there are 43 codes. I’ve been part of the group for years, and I have yet to find a book that says here’s the way you behave. Everybody drives the way they think is appropriate. Some drivers are more willing to push buttons than others. What one guy thinks is perfectly acceptable, the other guy thinks is way out of bounds. I’ve heard a lot the last several weeks about this driver code, but the fact of the matter is everyone looks at it differently. If you sat 30 drivers in here, you’d have 30 opinions. I don’t buy this driver code thing.”

Petty: “It’s so abstract. Everyone has their own way. Part of your code comes from your parents, your grandparents, how you were raised. It’s parallel to what your moral code is. What are you willing to do for something? But it’s a different time, too. … The (veterans) taught you how to race. The Allisons learned from Ned (Jarrett) and Lee Petty. It was passed on. You got to the sport later in life, in your mid- to late-20s. You’d spent time running with guys who taught you. Now we’ve got kids coming out of simulators straight into a Cup car. Where is that code? Where is that learning period? That time? If I don’t spend a lot of time understanding what real racing is, if I’m just iRacing, how do I learn to race? They learn a different route than the way I came. We’re at a place where we have two different roads that get us to the same place, so the code can’t be the same for everybody.”

Burton: “Multi-car teams have completely changed how young drivers came into the sport. I had to reach out to Mark Martin and Davey Allison. You don’t have to do that today. As long as you have teammates, you have someone to talk to, you have information coming, you have probably way more information than my generation ever had. So you don’t need other people in the garage. Part of what has changed from a philosophy standpoint is when a young guy used to come in, you couldn’t piss the older guys off. They had to respect you. Today, you just have to have your buddies. As long as your team says, ‘Hey, we’re going to help him,’ you don’t need the other guys. That really matters.”

Evernham: “In some ways, you want to see drivers stick up for themselves. But I’m from the old school. I want to see a driver stick up for himself by walking down there and punching that guy in the nose, don’t wreck my race car because guys work too hard on that and it’s too expensive. I think part of the problem is race cars have become so expendable. Cars used to mean something to people. We named our cars. There’s a lot of work and time; they weren’t built on an assembly line. I’m a fan of a driver sticking up for what he feels is right and needs to set that example to the group. I’m not a fan at all of using a race car to get it done. To tear up a car or use cars to settle the score, I’ve never been fan of it.”

Letarte: “I’m from the new school in that cars have no identity to me. None. If Jeff Burton was my driver and went out and tore the right side off the car proving a point to somebody, I would support him. It doesn’t make it right, but I’m from a different generation than Ray. The way these cars are built, templated and inspected. If we win a race and don’t hit anything, the first thing we do is come home and cut the car completely apart. If my driver tears up my car while trying to race or putting a bumper to somebody, I’m OK with that. … It really comes down to the car isn’t the point, it’s the racing code that does or doesn’t exist.”

Petty: “Talking to Donnie Allison, Richard Petty and those old guys, they condemn (Kenseth’s wreck of Logano at) Martinsville. They all thought (Kansas) was straight-up racing. That’s the old guys. You think Donnie Allison or Richard Petty knows what quintessential means? That is racing. They look at it as racing and the proverbial catch-all phrase: One of those racing deals.”

Letarte: “The issue I have with what Matt Kenseth did is after he was out of contention for the win, he then chose to change the outcome of the race. I have no problem that he wrecked Joey Logano. The problem is Joey Logano didn’t wreck Matt Kenseth saying, ‘I’m going to wreck Matt Kenseth.’ Joey Logano said, ‘I’m going to stand my ground. He’s going to come down, I’m going to give the bumper because I’m going to win the race.”

Burton: “And don’t forget for the entire Joey Logano career, there were people (telling him) ‘Go take care of yourself. You need to learn how to defend yourself.’ Part of the driver code book, somewhere in some chapter, it says if you have an altercation and you came out the winner, you might want to take a little bit of time, even to disagree, to look Matt Kenseth in the eye and say, ‘Look, dude, here’s the way I see it. You blocked me. I felt I had the position. You took it from me.’ Just have a conversation. You could leave there swinging at each other.”

  • Is this new format a good way to decide the champion and how has it changed NASCAR?

Letarte: “The biggest issue I have with the Chase is this: I’m fine with 10 weeks. I’m fine eliminating some of the field. I just don’t like that a sport that has such a huge variety of playing fields has the same 10 (tracks) in the playoffs. I think Jimmie Johnson hand-picked them. I’m not taking anything away from Jimmie. So then, this might still be called the Chase, but this is nothing like the 10-race Chase. This is truly a bracket playoff system.”

Burton: “This is what NASCAR wanted from Day 1. I believe the original Chase, they wanted it to look like this, but it was just too radical that they stepped into it. They made the radical change and then the next change. This is the format they wanted from Day 1. I love the NCAA and NFL playoffs because you win or go home. It creates a tremendous amount of pressure for the teams, but it makes it fun to watch. I like the intensity. I like that you have to perform every single week. I don’t think I’d have been successful with it. This didn’t suit who I was as a driver. I like it. It’s completely changed the sport.”

Petty: “It’s made the sport different. I’m not going to say better. The emphasis on winning in this format is there and greater. But I always kind of fluff that off because I think the emphasis was great on every race you went to; I thought that was the whole point you went to the racetrack was to win races. When they say we’re going to make winning important, where have I been all these years? I thought it was important. I agree with Jeff that this is where they wanted to be. This is a huge departure from the old way. Think about how fans would have reacted if he went from that to this.

“The one thing I don’t enjoy about this system — I enjoy the competition, and the intensity – to me, it’s a sports game of survival. Sometimes the strong teams get eliminated. I hate to see a full season, and right now, arguably with Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano and Brad K., you’ve got four or five of the strongest teams in the sport that might not have a shot at a championship. That’s the piece of it that I don’t like. It’s not unfair. I just don’t like the way it plays out sometimes.”

Burton: “All those teams are really good teams. Under the format 15 years ago, only two or three of them would still be eligible for the championship, at the most.”

Evernham: “It’s what sports have evolved to, and even though it’s not football, we compete against football, basketball and those other sports. This is compelling to our audience. Generations of fans have changed, too. This is exciting to them. The traditionalist in myself doesn’t really like it. I think, ‘Oh, I want to see the guys who have been strong all year, he deserves to be champion.’ But under this format, it doesn’t always happen. It’s interesting. I get more emotionally involved in the race watching it under this format than any other time. I’ve got that heart rate up again because of this format.”

Cup playoff clinching scenarios to make Round of 12

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The first elimination race of the Cup playoffs has arrived in the form of Bristol Motor Speedway.

Tonight’s 500-lap race on the short track will determine which drivers make up the Round of 12.

Three drivers have locked themselves into the second round. Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski earned their spots via race wins at Darlington and Richmond. Denny Hamlin clinched a spot via points.

More: Brad Keselowski on pole for Bristol

That leaves nine spots for 13 drivers to compete for.

If there is a new winner, the following drivers could clinch by being ahead of the 10th winless driver in the standings.

Joey Logano – would clinch with 7 points: 51 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Logano has finished third in the last two playoff races (at Darlington and Richmond). Has made 23 starts at Bristol posting one pole, two wins, six top fives and 10 top 10s. Logano’s average finish is 15.3.

Martin Truex Jr. – would clinch with 20 points: 38 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Earned 22nd-place finish at Darlington and second-place finish at Richmond. Has made 29 series starts at Bristol posting two top fives and three top 10s. His average finish is 20.6.

Austin Dillon – would clinch with 21 points: 36 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Dillion has a runner-up finish at Darlington and a fourth-place result last weekend at Richmond. Has 13 starts at Bristol posting one top five and three top 10s. His average finish is 17.3.

Chase Elliott – Would clinch with 30 points: 28 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Elliott finished 20th at Darlington and fifth at Richmond. Has made nine starts at Bristol and has one pole, three top fives and four top 10s. Average finish is 12.6.

Alex Bowman – would clinch with 31 points: 27 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Bowman placed sixth at Darlington and ninth at Richmond. Has made nine series starts at Bristol with one top five and two top 10s. His average finish is 22.6.

Kyle Busch – would clinch with 40 points: Just 18 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Has seventh-place finish at Darlington and a sixth-place finish at Richmond. Has made 30 Cup starts at Bristol posting two poles and a series-leading eight wins among active drivers.

Aric Almirola – would clinch with 51 points: Seven points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Finished ninth at Darlington and eighth at Richmond. Has made 22 starts at Bristol with one top five and two top 10s. His average finish is 25.0.

Kurt Busch – would clinch with 51 points: Seven points ahead of the cutoff sport. Almirola holds the tiebreaker of best finish in the current playoff round. Busch has finished eighth at Darlington and 13th at Richmond. Has 39 Cup starts at Bristol with one pole, six wins, 12 top fives and 21 top 10s. Average finish is 14th.

Clint Bowyer – would clinch with 55 points: Three points over cutoff. Finished 10th at Darlington and Richmond. Bowyer has made 29 Cup starts at Bristol with eight top fives and 16 top 10s. Average finish is 13.6.

William Byron (-3 points from cutoff; would need help to clinch): Finished fifth at Darlington and 21st at Richmond. Five Cup starts at Bristol with one top 10. Average finish of 17.2.

Cole Custer (-8 points; would need help to clinch): Finished 12th at Darlington and 14th at Richmond. Finished 25th in lone Bristol Cup start.

Matt DiBenedetto (-25 points; would need help to clinch): Finished 21st at Darlington and 17th at Richmond. Eleven Cup starts at Bristol with one top five and one top 10. Average finish of 19.1.

Ryan Blaney
Ryan Blaney is last on the 16 driver playoff grid heading into Bristol. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Ryan Blaney (-27 points; would need help to clinch): Finished 24th at Darlington and 19th at Richmond. Ten Cup starts at Bristol with one top five and three other top 10s. Average finish of 20.7.

More: Blaney and DiBenedetto seek history to advance to second round

Should there be a repeat winner Saturday – Harvick or Keselowski – the following drivers would advance to the next round by being ahead of the 11th winless driver in the standings.

Joey Logano: Would clinch with 4 points

Martin Truex Jr.: Would clinch with 17 points

Austin Dillon: Would clinch with 18 points

Chase Elliott: Would clinch with 27 points

Alex Bowman: Would clinch with 28 points

Kyle Busch: Would clinch with 37 points

Aric Almirola: Would clinch with 48 points

Kurt Busch: Would clinch with 48 points

Clint Bowyer: Would clinch with 52 points

William Byron: Would clinch with 55 points

Cole Custer, Matt DiBenedetto and Ryan Blaney: Could only clinch with help

Xfinity race results, point standings after Bristol

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Chase Briscoe led the final six laps and won Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol for his seventh win of the season.

Briscoe beat Ross Chastain for the win. The top five was completed by Austin Cindric, Harrison Burton and Justin Allgaier.

Click here for the race results.

Playoff standings

The 12-driver field for the playoffs has been set with Briscoe’s win in the regular-season finale.

Brandon Brown placed 12th and clinched the 12th and final spot.

Here are the re-seeded point standings entering the playoffs.

Chase Briscoe – 2,050 points

Austin Cindric – 2,050

Justin Allgaier – 2,033

Noah Gragson – 2,025

Brandon Jones – 2,020

Justin Haley – 2,018

Harrison Burton – 2,014

Ross Chastain – 2,010

Ryan Sieg – 2,002

Michael Annett – 2,002

Riley Herbst – 2,001

Brandon Brown – 2,000

Click here for the re-seeded standings.

Click here for the normal point standings.

Chase Briscoe wins Xfinity race at Bristol Motor Speedway

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Chase Briscoe took the lead with six laps to go and won Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway, which marked the end of the regular season.

Briscoe passed Austin Cindric to assume the lead and went unchallenged to the checkered flag. The victory is his series-leading seventh of the season.

“I was so mad after last week (at Richmond),” Briscoe told NBCSN. “I told all the guys there ain’t no way we’re getting beat today. I was so mad after how we ran last week and I get on the internet all the time and see guys count us out after one bad race and I know what this team is capable. … I finished second here the last two races and I wanted to win here so bad and it’s awesome that I can actually celebrate it with all these race fans.”

The top five was completed by Ross Chastain, Cindric, Harrison Burton and Justin Allgaier.

More: Race results, playoff standings

Allgaier dominated the early portion of the race, leading 126 laps and winning the first two stages. But he lost the lead for good in the pits during the Stage 2 break.

Brandon Brown finished 12th and clinched the 12th and final playoff spot.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

STAGE 2 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ross Chastain led three times for 117 laps, but had to settle for his fifth runner-up finish of the season without a win … Austin Cindric earned his 13th top-10 finish in the last 14 races … Harrison Burton earned his 13th top five of the season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Brett Moffitt finished 27th after he had to pit three times in the opening laps and was penalized for taking fuel before the competition caution … BJ McLeod finished 34th after he was eliminated in a multi-car wreck that began when he made contact with teammate Jeffrey EarnhardtMichael Annett finished 31st and Joe Graf Jr. placed 27th after they were involved in an incident on Lap 120.

QUOTE OF THE RACE: “I hit pit road and I wanted to cry.” – Ross Chastain after he finished second for the fifth time this year. He is winless entering the playoffs.

WHAT’S NEXT: The Xfinity playoffs open at Las Vegas Motor Speedway at 7:30 p.m. ET on Sept. 26 on NBCSN.

 

Fans not allowed at Las Vegas races

Fans not allowed
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Spectators will be not be allowed for any of the NASCAR playoff races next weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the track announced Friday night.

A press release said only essential personnel will be allowed to attend the Cup, Xfinity and Truck playoff races there.

“To say we’re disappointed that we will conduct the South Point 400 playoff weekend without fans would be a gross understatement,” said Las Vegas Motor Speedway President Chris Powell. “Our staff has been working – many of them remotely – since the February Pennzoil 400 to prepare the speedway for our playoff tripleheader.

“But we must adhere to Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak’s directive that limits gatherings due to COVID-19.  While we disagree with this policy, we have no choice but to oblige.  We certainly regret this situation for the thousands of race fans who won’t be able to attend our NASCAR-weekend events.”

Nevada’s re-opening plan does not permit fans at sporting events, concerts. Groups are limited to 50 or fewer people.

The Las Vegas Raiders announced last month that they would not have fans at any of the team’s home games in its inaugural season there.

The Truck playoff race will be at 9 p.m. ET Sept. 25 on FS1. The Xfinity playoff opener will be at  7:30 p.m. ET Sept. 26 on NBCSN. The Cup playoff race will be 7 p.m. ET Sept. 27 on NBCSN.

Fans holding tickets for those events will be contacted by the speedway ticket services department to discuss credits for future races or refunds.