Bump & Run: Did NASCAR handle Jimmie Johnson’s pit stop correctly?

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Should NASCAR have told all teams that it would allow lug nuts to be secured even if done outside a team’s pit stall without penalty, as happened with Jimmie Johnson at Charlotte, or is that a team’s responsibility to seek such information?

Steve Letarte: I spent a lot of time going through the rule book. According to 10.9.7 Vehicle Positioning Within the Pit Box, subsection D, I feel that the 48 didn’t deserve a penalty. I think they were well within their right. But the followup is that if Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson, two people that I hold in very high regard, didn’t understand that rule and there had to be conversations with NASCAR, then I do think it’s NASCAR’s responsibility in today’s world of communication and how easy it is … that perhaps a simple e-mail blast explaining the rule or letting them know that were questions of the rule and to come to the NASCAR tailer if you have questions would have been a good solution.

Nate Ryan: Normally, it would be a team’s responsibility to seek rulebook clarifications – in fact, it’s a regular occurrence for teams to get new parts approved by NASCAR before presenting them for racetrack inspection. But this isn’t about gaining a competitive advantage and wanting to protect proprietary information or trade secrets. This is ostensibly about safety, as NASCAR explicitly has stated numerous times since Sunday’s race.

Dustin Long: NASCAR has stated safety as a reason for not penalizing Jimmie Johnson’s team on that pit stop. If that’s the case, isn’t it the responsible thing for the sanctioning body to inform all teams they can tighten a lug nut outside their pit box? 

How far will Chase Elliott, who has three runner-up finishes in the first four playoff races, advance in the postseason?

Steve Letarte: I think Chase will make the Round of 8, but I don’t think he’ll get out of the Round of 8. I think making it that far is very impressive. He’s really stepped his game up.

Nate Ryan: Based off the past four races, at least the Round of 8, but the confidence seems to be there for a run to the championship. To get there, though, he probably will need to score his first victory.

Dustin Long: I’ve been impressed with the speed he’s shown in the playoffs after Hendrick Motorsports’ struggles earlier this year. I think he will make the Round of 8, but he and his team will have to show me more before I would pick them to make it to Miami for the finale.

What is one thing you will be watching closely in the final two races of the Round of 12?

Steve Letarte: I think it starts this Sunday. I want to see how aggressive the 12 playoff drivers decide to go for stage points at the end of Stage 1 at Talladega. I think that will be the defining moment of this entire playoff. I think it will be the defining moment of this new points system, and I expect to see chaos and chaos early at Talladega and that’s what I’m going to be watching.

Nate Ryan: How Kyle Busch’s team manages its approach and strategy. After his wipeout at Charlotte, Busch will be the first test case of whether a driver with a significant playoff points bulge still can overcome one bad race. In the past three seasons, the next two races would be virtual must-win situations. Now it’s worth asking if Busch essentially lays up and conservatively races for points (though Talladega makes that scenario very tricky).

Dustin Long: I want to see who starts to step up. Hendrick Motorsports has so far. Will that continue and can that team step up enough to challenge the Toyotas of Martin Truex Jr. and Joe Gibbs Racing and Kyle Larson?

New Hampshire to add traction compound to racing surface

Photo: Dustin Long
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New Hampshire Motor Speedway officials will add the PJ1 traction compound to the racing surface before this weekend’s racing, a track spokesperson confirmed to NBC Sports.

Track officials are scheduled to put the traction compound on the track today and are expected to do so again Saturday and Sunday, pending NASCAR approval. The track reapplied the traction compound the morning of last July’s race.

The traction compound is to be applied to the first groove (lowest groove) and third grove (just outside the main groove) in all four corners. A track spokesperson said the traction compound would be applied on the 12 feet at the bottom of the track from the yellow line on up. Then there will be a 12-foot section that will not be applied (the main groove) and the traction compound is to be applied on another 12 feet above the main grove

The track used the PJ1 compound for both Cup weekends last year to help enhance the passing.

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Weekend schedule for Cup, Xfinity at New Hampshire

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The NASCAR Cup and Xfinity teams will make their lone visit of the year to New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend. Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch combined to win 14 of the first 19 races. Will their dominance continue? In Xfinity, there have been six different winners in the last seven races. Will that streak continue.

Here’s a look at the track schedule for the weekend:

(ALL TIMES ARE EASTERN)

FRIDAY, JULY 20

8:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. — Cup garage open

10 a.m. – 6 p.m. — Xfinity garage open

Noon – 12:50 p.m. — Cup practice (NBCSN)

1:05 – 1:55 p.m. — Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

3:05 – 3:55 p.m. — Final Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

4:45 p.m. — Cup qualifying; multi-vehicle/three rounds (NBCSN, Performance Racing Network)

SATURDAY, JULY 21

7 a.m. — Xfinity garage opens

8:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. — Cup garage open

10:05 – 10:55 a.m. — Cup practice (CNBC)

11:05 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying; multi-vehicle/three rounds (CNBC)

12:35 – 1:25 p.m. — Final Cup practice (NBCSN)

1:30 p.m. — Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting

3:30 p.m. — Xfinity driver introductions

4 p.m. — Lakes Region 200 Xfinity race; 200 laps/211.6 miles (NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

SUNDAY, JULY 22

8:30 a.m. — Cup garage opens

Noon — Cup driver/crew chief meeting

1:20 p.m. — Cup driver introductions

2 p.m. — Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 Cup race; 301 laps/318.46 miles (NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

NASCAR America: Kyle Busch believes Martin Truex Jr. is his biggest competition

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Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. have been so strong in 2018 that many believe the championship will come down to them – and only them.

Busch has five wins, Harvick matches him with five and Truex earned his fourth win last week on the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway.

Who is Busch’s greatest competition? Busch does not think the other five-time winner will be the driver to beat. Instead, he picked Truex as the top contender at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Wednesday’s NASCAR America.

“If you had to choose just one, I’d have to say Martin,” Busch said. “Just with the successes that they’ve had on mile-and-a-halves. Even though Harvick’s been just as good at mile-and-halves.”

Last year, Truex dominated the 1.5-milers – including a win in the final race that crowned him champion.

“Overall, the 78’s just so strong and they certainly know how to turn up the wick when it matters most,“ Busch said.

Busch is not ready to concede the title to Truex, however.

“I think you’ve seen the 78’s dominance of last year toned back,” he said. “They’re third, they’re fourth, they’re fifth – they’re still competitive, They’re still right there, but they’re not nine seconds out front. So I think the field has been closed up. … But they still have that little bit of edge when they need it.”

For more, watch the video above.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter.

NASCAR America: Kyle Busch would have accepted Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s call on Friday

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If Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had called Kyle Busch as late as Friday morning before the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway, none of last week’s verbal conflict between the two would have happened.

At least that is Busch’s opinion of the situation.

“If he would have made the call: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday – even Friday morning still counts,” Busch said. “He could have talked about how I hurt his feeling for the things I said over the radio when I blasted him because I was mad over knocking a wall down.

“He could have said, ‘Hey man I’m sorry I got into you – you know I pushed up,’ or whatever happened … and ‘Hey, by the way, those things that you said after the crash were pretty rough.’ And I would have been, like ‘Ricky, you’re totally right. That was over the top.’

Then, when the question was posed about whether they the two had talked, the answer would have been “yeah, we’re all fine.”

And that would have been the end of the story.

“I learned, after making that mistake a few times that it’s just easier to make the call,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “Sometimes you don’t even think you’re in the wrong. … But it’s just easier to go ahead and make the call, because that guy’s annoyed. It goes into the next week – and then, like (happened with) you guys, y’all had it play out in front of everybody at Kentucky.”

For more, watch the video above.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter.