Ryan: Who’s right and who’s wrong in the Kyle Busch pit commitment conundrum? Everybody

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RICHMOND, Va. – Kyle Busch was absolutely correct.

The Joe Gibbs Racing justifiably was upset after a shot at victory was ripped away by a few guys staring at a high-definition monitor a few hundred feet above.

NASCAR was absolutely correct.

Busch broke the law by putting the right tires of his No. 18 Toyota on the pit lane commitment box.

Is it possible both NASCAR and Busch can be right despite seeming on opposite sides of a controversy Sunday?

Yes. Let’s explain by starting with this fact:

A cheap foul greatly affected the outcome Sunday at Richmond International Raceway.

Busch violated a rule that also caught five more drivers in the Toyota Owners 400, but none was more damaging.

In a twisted way, this is the rigid consistency and officiating sought by Busch, who complained last year about the capriciousness of NASCAR debris cautions. It’s a penalty in the same way as a pit crew member spotted going over the wall a millisecond too early. There is definitive video evidence.

But refereeing a sporting event isn’t quite the same as presiding over a court of law.

Officiating is an art of resisting the temptation to meddle in the natural course and rhythm. There are calls that basketball referees abstain from making as a game gets tougher while the clock grows shorter

Busch’s infraction wasn’t the equivalent of a touch foul – as NBCSN analyst Steve Letarte points out, putting a tire even an inch over the commitment box is akin to a player stepping on a boundary line. It can’t be overlooked in the way that officials can swallow their whistles in the closing minutes of a game when there is incidental contact.

That truly is a judgment call, or “Balls and strikes,” as Busch curtly referred to them Monday on national TV in a dismissively short interview that was quintessentially him.

However, by reducing the size of its voluminous rulebook, NASCAR could provide more dispensation and acknowledge it isn’t wise to disrupt the outcome with a game-changing call for something so ticky-tack as this.

The spirit of the commitment rule, spawned more than a decade ago in fuzzy origins traceable only to the rise of insanely competitive pit stops, is to dissuade drivers from aggressively diving into the pits. Such moves have put pit crews at risk and increased the likelihood of trailing cars in fender-benders.

Not the case with Busch, who fully was committed to making a pit stop when he barely grazed the orange box. Even race winner Joey Logano conceded the second-place car is in a difficult position when the leader cuts hard left.

“I was able to get down” under the box, Logano said. “But when you’re the trailing car, you’re looking at a rear spoiler, so you’re not 100 percent sure where that box is. It’s a tough situation.”

NASCAR’s enforcement of the rule is strictly by the letter with a passive-aggressive vengeance that would have made Bill Lumbergh proud.

“Hey, Kyle. What’s happening? Did you get the preseason memo on pit road entry? Yeah, we’re going to need you to enter with all FOUR tires below the box, umm kay? Thanks. And if you could avoid throwing a punch at Joey in victory lane, that would be great.”

Busch broke the rule.

Whether there should be such a rule is another discussion.

There has been leniency in this application before – drivers have been allowed to put their tires on the box, and a cone also had been used at some tracks prior to this season.

After some grumbling from several drivers (though this wasn’t a lobbying effort by the Cup Drivers Council), NASCAR made a well-intentioned attempt to streamline pit commitment and implemented uniform rules to avoid confusion from track to track.

It was a nice thought … but did the result – four tires below the orange box, ALWAYS — really need to be so rigid?

The overarching problem – from cars specs to pit procedures — is there are too many rules. More importantly, too many need as much simplifying and updating as the U.S. tax code.

NASCAR should continue taking a cue from golf, which is overhauling its Byzantine rules of play for 2019 into something that any duffer can comprehend. This was in the wake of some questionable applications of the law.

Sports isn’t always served so well by strict constructionism. Better to play the role of an Oliver Wendell Holmes than William Rehnquist.

There are repercussions for layering a rulebook with too many confounding codicils.

But regardless of that, there also are consequences for breaking the rules, too, as they currently are written.

Maybe that’s why Busch said only three words while marching past the scene of the crime Sunday on his way to the garage.

A few other observations the past weekend at Richmond International Raceway:

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NASCAR chairman Brian France’s impromptu appearance in the Richmond media center Sunday was notable if only because he didn’t address the retirements of Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart in the same manner as with Dale Earnhardt Jr.

NASCAR Chairman Brian France with his son Luke.(Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

There are many reasons for that – Earnhardt was the last of the lot to announce, and it comes amidst a timely youth movement in Cup – but this also was another side of France, who brought 6-year-old son Luke to the dais.

The stock-car czar was more disarming and graciously thanked the news media for its coverage (in a stark departure from his state of the sport address last November when he was combative and fiery).

Outwardly, this means little for France, who is at 54 and in his 14th year of running the show. The third-generation leader won’t be changing his approach or style, but it might be indicative of a positive shift in how NASCAR tells its story in the future.

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When asked by NBCSports.com Sunday about the team sponsorship environment, France was sanguine about the prospects.

“It’s only April,” he said. “Those kind of decisions from Corporate America are typically made in August or September.

“Pick a year, we always see somebody — Richard Petty at one point — we always see at one point, why are they not doing well in that area for one reason or another. We’ve always had that. That’s not anything abnormal. It always gets worked out over time because the property works in a way for many companies that they can’t do in any other sport. They can’t own a team in any other sport as they can here.’”

Those are encouraging words, but they might bear weeks of repeating while awaiting significant movement on the outlook for the 2018 finances of many teams.

Stewart-Haas Racing still needs a long-term major backer for the No. 10 Ford of Danica Patrick, and the team has struggled to bring Clint Bowyer’s No. 14 to the level of sponsorship enjoyed by predecessor Tony Stewart.

At Hendrick Motorsports, Lowe’s is in a contract year with seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson (who has hinted he would like to drive a few more seasons), and Kasey Kahne’s No. 5 will need to replace Farmers Insurance and fill out some other holes for 2018.

Meanwhile, Chip Ganassi Racing is trying to keep Target with points leader Kyle Larson.

The calendar has flipped to May since France’s news conference – hopefully the Fortune 500 cash spigot soon flips on again, too.

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Denny Hamlin recently put the odds at 50-50 that Carl Edwards would return next season, but the odds seem less likely that his Cup comeback occurs at Joe Gibbs Racing in 2018.

Though his contract status remains uncertain, there have been some concrete signs that Matt Kenseth, 45, wants to drive beyond this season. It still might be dependent on sewing up sponsorship (the recent signing of Circle K is encouraging), but Kenseth and Joe Gibbs Racing seem committed to working things out.

That still wouldn’t leave Edwards, 37, lacking for Cup opportunities if he tires of the farming life in Columbia, Missouri. If Hendrick decides on a big name and big salary (perhaps in hopes of snagging a big sponsor) to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr., the affable and corporate friendly Edwards would make the most sense.

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A high-quality race for the second consecutive year in daytime at Richmond still drew a disappointing crowd. The Richmond Times-Dispatch quoted track president Dennis Bickmeier declaring a move back to a Saturday night slot is “on the table.”

It would be better if it weren’t.

Just for sheer diversity, it’s good to have annual day and night options at the 0.75-mile oval (a la Bristol Motor Speedway). But beyond that, how do RIR and parent company International Speedway Corp. walk away from the Sunday sunshine that produced four-wide racing on a short track?

From 1992-2008, Richmond sold every one of its seats for 33 consecutive races. The racing in the past two late April races has been as strong or stronger than it was then – and there are far fewer seats to sell now.

In a mother lode of race fans such as the Old Dominion, there’s a path forward to attracting the crowds that once flocked to Richmond in the spring. But it isn’t by reverting to Saturday night.

Top 10 in Charlotte Xfinity race ‘dream come true’ for Kaz Grala

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CONCORD, N.C. — Darius Grala did what any proud father would do after seeing his son do something “amazing” and “absolutely ridiculous.”

With a large grin plastered across his face, he stood on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s pit road and captured the image of Kaz Grala helping push his No. 61 Ford toward the garage.

In his first Xfinity race for Fury Race Cars, the race car building company his father formed in 2016 and that was making its first NASCAR start, Kaz Grala placed 10th.

“That 10th feels like a win to us. No joke,” Darius Grala told NBC Sports. “It’s not like we didn’t dream of having a top 10 when we loaded up to head to the race track. But I got to tell you, that was a tall order and to deliver on it is nothing short of a dream.”

The dream started with a text message from Darius Grala to crew chief Shane Wilson on May 9, formally beginning the process of putting the No. 61 team together after Kaz Grala learned he would be without his ride at JGL Racing after 10 starts.

MORE: JGL Racing owner diagnosed with liver failure.

Seventeen days later, the 19-year-old rookie earned his best result since placing fourth in the season opener at Daytona. It’s his second top 10 through 11 races.

The team, which includes most of the crew who worked on Kaz Grala’s No. 24 car at JGL Racing through the first 10 races, showed up at Charlotte on Thursday without a backup car.

Without any owner points to guarantee a starting spot, Kaz Grala was cautious in practice and Saturday’s qualifying session, which was threatened by rain. But the track was dry when the time came to qualify and the the No. 61 wound up 16th on the board.

Caution was forgotten with the green flag.

“I was aggressive as much as I could be,” Kaz Grala told media at his car afterward. “Really going for it cause I knew these guys deserved a good run. I didn’t want to be the reason they didn’t get it. I was driving my guts out out there. I think I asked for six different water bottles during that race. I was literally leaving nothing on the table. That’s the way you gotta race in the Xfinity Series. Everybody’s too freaking good to not go all out every single lap. I’m really proud of everybody. I can’t thank everyone enough. This is a dream come true.”

He was 11th when a one hour rain delay occurred with 28 laps to go.

On the restart, he lost a few spots before positioning himself for a top 10 in overtime.

“Each additional lap was an additional opportunity to pick up another position,” Darius Grala said. “On that last (run) though, we gained a couple and lost a couple and pretty much ended up where we were. But that’s OK. Top 10 is literally the best we could have possibly hoped for.”

Now the Xfinity team that didn’t exist nearly three weeks ago gets another chance to overachieve. The series heads to Pocono Raceway for a race that will see the restrictor plate package that was used last year at Indianapolis.

“I don’t know how to feel,” Kaz Grala told NBC Sports. “Pocono was one of my favorite race tracks last year. I love it. But we’ve got this weird aero package next week, which I’ve never driven with. My crew chief and most of my crew only has experience with it once, Indy last year. I don’t think they know much of what to expect and I know I definitely don’t. No expectations for us, we’re going to be learning every lap in practice. Hopefully we can have a run to follow this one up. This one’s going to be tough to follow. That’s a good problem to have.”

 

Results, points after Xfinity race at Charlotte

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Brad Keselowski won the Alsco 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, becoming the first repeat Xfinity winner of the season.

Keselowski won from the pole, beating Cole Custer, Christopher Bell, Ty Dillon and Elliott Sadler.

Click here for results.

Points

Elliott Sadler leaves Charlotte with a 38-point lead over Christopher Bell.

Sadler is the only driver to finish in the top 10 all 11 races this season.

The top five is completed by Tyler Reddick (-55), Daniel Hemric (-57) and Cole Custer (-62).

Click here for the standings.

Brad Keselowski wins Xfinity race at Charlotte in overtime finish

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CONCORD, N.C. — Brad Keselowski won the Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in an overtime finish, claiming his second win in as many starts this season.

Keselowski, who started on the pole, led 77 laps and won over Cole Custer, Christopher Bell, Ty Dillon and Elliott Sadler.

Keselowski also won at Phoenix. He is the first repeat Xfinity winner this season.

He rebounded from pit penalty on Lap 128 for crew going over the wall too soon.

The overtime finish was setup by a debris caution with two laps left in the original 200-lap distance.

The final 28 laps were ran following a one hour rain delay.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kyle Busch

STAGE 2 WINNER: Kyle Busch

MORE: Race results and point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Cole Custer started and finished second after also leading 29 laps. It’s his second top five of the season … Ty Dillon placed fourth for his first top five in nine Charlotte starts. It’s also his first top five and top 10 of the season .. Elliott Sadler is the only driver with top 10s in all 11 races this season. Heplaced fifth after battling mechanical issues – including a faulty cooling unit – and a speeding penalty.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: After winning the first two stages, Kyle Busch finished eighth after he spun on a restart with 39 laps to go. He had restarted 10th after pitting and got loose trying to pass Dylan Lupton into Turn 1 … Lupton was then eliminated in a wreck with Ty Majeski on the following restart … Chase Elliott placed 37th after experiencing transmission issues on the Stage 3 restart … Tyler Reddck finished 23rd after begin involved in two wrecks, including one during the overtime restart … Justin Allgaier and Jamie McMurray were eliminated in a wreck with 20 to go.

NOTABLE: Alex Labbe had to be replaced in his No. 36 Chevrolet midway through the race by Josh Williams. He was then taken to a local hospital for an undisclosed reason and was later released and cleared to race. … Kaz Grala placed 10th in his first start for Fury Race Cars, a team co-owned by his father. It’s his best result since placing fourth at Daytona for JGL Racing … Kyle Busch is winless in his last four Xfinity starts, his longest stretch since 2014 (eight races).

POST-RACE INSPECTION: Christopher Bell’s No. 20 Toyota failed post-race height inspection. Tommy Joe Martins had one loose lug nut. Any penalties will be announced next week.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I was just heartbroken whenever I saw that piece of debris fly off those lapped cars.”- Christopher Bell on the debris caution which kept Bell from making a run at Brad Keselowski.

WHAT’S NEXT: Pocono Green 250 at Pocono Raceway at 1 p.m. ET on June 2 on Fox Sports 1.

What’s next for Danica Patrick after the Indy 500? Dreams, downtime and waffles

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INDIANAPOLIS – When Danica Patrick was a 14-year-old growing up in Roscoe, Illinois, she had a firm idea of what she’d be doing 20 years later.

A reporter from her hometown newspaper recently reminded her of that in a recent interview when he brought a prescient artifact from those teenage years – an essay that she crafted as an up and coming go-kart driver about her racing accomplishments.

“I’m breezing through it, and then at the end, it said, ‘I wanted to race Indy cars,” Patrick, 36, said Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I was 14. I told him, ‘See? If this isn’t an example of “Write that shit down,” nothing is.’

“This is manifesting. You have write it down and you have to imagine what you want. So I do that as much as I can.”

Heading into the final start of her career in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, Patrick already seems to have a solid idea of the next 20 years — in part, because of having some glimpses into her post-racing life.

There has been plenty of downtime since her final NASCAR start in the Daytona 500 three months ago. She has taken vacations (including an India trip to meet the Dalai Lama with boyfriend Aaron Rodgers) and created several new routines on her suddenly free from racing weekends.

“I make waffles on Sundays now,” she said. “That’s pretty fun.  In the summer, there’s like farmers market.  I can’t wait for that.  I mean, there’s going to be probably some new stuff that I don’t know yet.

“The one thing that I am definitely looking forward to less of is less stress.  Last weekend was awesome at the end of it all because it went well with qualifying, but I was nervous for 95% of that weekend. That’s uncomfortable.”

But testing her comfort zone is appealing to Patrick, who has spent most of her adult life testing the boundaries of gender norms in her profession. Though the pressure of race weekends might disappear, her incessant quest for challenges probably will remain.

Now that racing is over, Patrick still has a winery, a clothing line, a cookbook and a fitness manual to promote – and more is on the way.

“I just have a habit for pushing myself to uncomfortable spaces, making them comfortable for me,” she said. “At least just making them comfortable enough to be able to manage.

“As an example, I went bungee jumping a long while back, like 10 years.  I’m super scared of heights.  I’m still scared of heights.  But I just like to know that if I want to do something, I am brave enough and confident enough to do it.  That doesn’t mean I’m not still scared.  That doesn’t mean it’s not still something that’s easy to me afterward. I just like to know I can get past the fear if I have to.

“I’m OK with transitioning into other things, finding a little bit of happiness and joy each day, less colorization of emotions. I’m ready for that.”

So what specifically is on tap? Talk shows? Another book?

Patrick demurs when pressed.

“I think I have definitely big dreams and aspirations for myself, for all my companies, for the kind of emotion I want to have on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “I’m looking forward to a good, easy, happy, calm, joyful, exciting, adventurous life.  If I say I want it, there’s a very good chance that’s what I’ll get.”

In the short-term, there’s hosting an ESPN awards show that will keep her busy through July.

And after that, her schedule will free up just as Green Bay Packers training camp begins for Rodgers, the two-time MVP quarterback.

“I’m thinking I’m going to have plenty of time to write a cookbook in Green Bay,” she said.