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Bump & Run: Does NASCAR need to change rule that eliminated Matt Kenseth?

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Does NASCAR need to change the policy on damaged vehicles next year so instead of a disqualification for too many crew members servicing the car it’s something else? If so, what is a better alternative?

Steve Letarte: I think this is a bigger global question. I don’t love the five-minute clock. I love the damaged vehicle policy. I love the fact that we don’t have wrecked cars riding around. I’m a big fan of not adding components to the race cars. I wish it wasn’t a clock. I wish it was a lap count. The clock is a little cumbersome and a little hard to explain and to understand when everything else on the race track is measured by laps.

I would just like to see a car after a certain amount of laps down, he’s done. I think that then you could make the extra crew member, perhaps, be a one-lap penalty. I would make speeding a one-lap penalty and anything else that is currently a timed or another penalty would all be an additional lap. Then it’s clear to people that you’re allowed x amount of laps, whether it’s five or 10 laps, it’s up to NASCAR to decide. I just think the damaged vehicle policy is a great addition to the sport, but much like a lot of policies, I think it would be tweaked over the offseason to be a little more straight forward.

Parker Kligerman: Well, this is a tricky one for me. As a driver it’s just not something I would pay attention to. That is the crew chief’s job. I don’t think there is a crew chief out there that would want their driver to even understand the intricacies of these types of rules. Their focus should be on driving the car and avoiding getting into these situations. With that said, as an analyst, I think it’s time to look at the litany of new rules that have been imposed on the sport in the last five years and ask what are we accomplishing? Is it safety? Is it fairer? Are the fans benefiting? 

So with those questions asked, in this instance, when you have an infraction that is so small and not much of a gain competitively, yet it precludes you from being able to race, the fans are not benefiting. 

I understand a rule is a rule and the 20 team broke the rule. But when we get into rules that stop a car from continuing in a race in front of fans who paid large sums to be at the track, and fans who have invested a lot of time in the year rooting that driver on from their homes. I think this rule needs a re-think.

Nate Ryan: Parking a car for having an extra man go over the wall to help repair a damaged car seems fairly draconian. It’s little confusing why the penalty has to have so much teeth with so many other conditions attached to the Damaged Vehicle Policy (the 5-minute clock, the necessity of making fixes in the pits). It’s been a fine addition that has met its primary objectives this season but just needs a few tweaks, which NASCAR assuredly will make.

Dustin Long: It makes sense that the policy be changed from a disqualification to a one-lap penalty. While the rule was applied correctly in the case of Matt Kenseth’s team, it does seem overly harsh and could be tweaked before next season.

NASCAR has announced rule changes or enforcement changes in driver meetings from time to time. Is that acceptable or should NASCAR do more to ensure all its competitors know about any changes or updates that are announced in the meeting?

Steve Letarte: I’m going to put my crew chief hat on and ask is it a rules change or an enforcement change? A rule change means there has to be language in the rule book that gets highlighted in red and gets sent out to all the competitors. This is where I struggle.

Cup drivers meeting at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo: Dustin Long)

The enforcement of the restarts at Kansas was without a doubt different than we had ever seen. There was no doubt in my mind that NASCAR discussed it in the drivers meeting. Do I think that’s enough? Personally I do. I think that’s what the drivers meeting is for. I’ll follow that up by saying that the drivers meetings could be a little smaller and more concise. Right now there is a bit of a production to it between sponsors and fans that make it difficult, I think, for drivers to consider it a real forum for new information. NASCAR has used that before.

So the argument is it a rule change or not? A rule change absolutely needs to be emailed and bulletined to the teams, but I’m not sure this was a rules change. It sounds like it was more of how they were going to enforce the current rules.

Parker Kligerman: Yes, that is what the drivers meeting is for. I know it seems more of a show, but as a sanctioning body, they have every right to enact a new rule race day morning. As long as it is announced in the drivers meeting. 

Nate Ryan: If a rule is changed during the course of a weekend such as the restart policy at Kansas, officials must be more diligent about making sure drivers fully understand it. It should be announced both before and after the ground rules video in the drivers meeting, and there should be some system of disseminating the information electronically as a backup (as NASCAR began doing with emailed bulletins and putting its rules online a few years ago).

Dustin Long: In this era of instant communications, I see no harm in sending out a note via email, text chain or some other form to teams, crew chiefs and/or drivers on rule changes or emphasis on particular rules that weekend. That being said, these competitors are adults, it’s their responsibility to pay attention in drivers meetings.

Which playoff contender will you watch closely in this round?

Steve Letarte: I really have Chase Elliott circled. He’s the one that I feel has gone outside of my expectations. I word it like that because there are some that I think have performed to the level we thought, whether that was over-performing like the 78 to a high level, or someone like the 17 who made a nice run but eliminated probably in the round that we all thought, maybe a round deeper than we all thought. But the 24 is one that for him moving forward, he just continues to show up at the front of these races. Can he continue his improved performance? Is that because Alan Gustafson has such a great plan, he has better equipment? Is it just Chase? Is it a combination? I can’t honestly tell you the why but he’s the driver I’m going to follow over these next three races.

Parker Kligerman: I will be watching the 24 of Chase Elliott. This team has been a major highlight to me in the playoffs. With four top fives in the playoffs, second only to Martin Truex Jr., they have shown incredible speed and excellent race craft at the 1.5-mile tracks. I think if this team can be even average at Martinsville and Phoenix, they have to be one of the favorites to win at Texas and be a major contender at Miami. 

Nate Ryan: Jimmie Johnson. Though he is the most recent winner at Texas Motor Speedway and the defending race winner at Martinsville Speedway, Chad Knaus’ postrace comments to Dustin Long conveyed the sense of urgency around the team’s quest for an eighth championship. Johnson’s best chance to advance likely will be Sunday at Martinsville, but Texas will prove whether the No. 48 Chevrolet is in the ballpark for repeating at Miami.

Dustin Long: Jimmie Johnson. The playoffs are about survive and advance and he’s done that, but he has not shown enough in the playoffs to suggest he’ll move on to the final round. His record at Martinsville is impressive and he won at Texas in the spring. Is Johnson about to put himself into the final four or will he fade away, not able to overcome his car’s lack of speed?

Who is Martinsville a must-win for among playoff contenders and why?

Steve Letarte: Brad Keselowski. I think he did a wonderful job winning Talladega. When I look at Texas and Phoenix, it concerns me. Not Phoenix, maybe he can run well there. When you look at the playoff drivers, they all seem to be running in the top 10 and here is Brad Keselowski running 10th to 12th most of the day. I don’t want to make it like 10th to 12th is a bad running position. It’s not, unfortunately, it’s just not good enough when you have other drivers inside the top 10. So I think Brad Keselowski needs to look at Martinsville as a must-win.

Parker Kligerman: This may be odd considering how good he has been at all three tracks coming up. But to me, Jimmie Johnson and the 48 team could really use a win at Martinsville. He has won there nine times and won this race last year. It just seems the 48 team has not been able to spark the magic that we are used to out of them. A win at Martinsville could allow them to focus squarely on Miami and see if they can’t once again do the unthinkable and win a record eighth championship. 

Nate Ryan: The case could be made that it’s a must-win for Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski – all former Martinsville winners who want to seize an opportunity to become the first in the championship round. Among the other half of the Round of 8, Phoenix remains Kevin Harvick’s firewall, Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney seem more suited for Texas, and Martin Truex Jr. seemingly doesn’t need a win anywhere until the finale.

Dustin Long: Denny Hamlin. He was not fast at Texas in the spring compared to how the remaining title contenders fared and was never a factor, finishing 25th. A finish like that would doom him in this round, forcing him to win to advance and his only win at Phoenix came in 2012. Martinsville is a big race for Hamlin.

NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET today on NBCSN with Steve Letarte, Parker Kligerman and Nate Ryan joining Carolyn Manno. 

Drivers give mixed responses to choose rule at Michigan

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Only a few days after it was announced, NASCAR implemented its new choose rule on restarts for the first time in a Cup Series points race.

The occasion came Saturday at the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway, a far cry from its original use in the July 15 All-Star race at the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway.

On the lap before a restart, drivers could drive to the left or right of an orange cone symbol on the track located a short distance beyond the start-finish line. A driver in fifth place could go to the left and restart second in the inside row, giving him better track position in the non-preferred lane, which Bubba Wallace did late in the race before he finished ninth.

Among the top-three finishers in the race – Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. – the race winner voiced the most excitement about the choose rule ahead of Sunday’s Michigan race (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

“The best thing about it is they had a race with it (Friday) with the Truck Series, made a lot of adjustments or a few adjustments this morning to the process, and I thought it went well today,” said Harvick, referring to NASCAR’s decision to move the symbol from 100 feet to 200 feet from the finish line. “I think it definitely gave some guys a chance that were kind of buried eighth or ninth, and I think (Chase Elliott) was one of those and wound up racing for the win.”

Elliott restarted second with 18 laps to go in the scheduled distance after he was fifth before the choose rule. He was able to lead nine laps before a caution.

“Definitely a lot to think about right there and definitely some processes that you have to go through, but you can take a chance and gain some track position,” Harvick said. “So I thought it went well and did exactly what everybody thought it would do.”

Keselowski said he was “agnostic” about the choose rule. He went from third to second for the final restart, bypassing Elliott, who finished seventh.

“There were parts I liked and there were parts I didn’t like,” Keselowski said. “I thought at the front, it seemed to be a little fun, something kind of different.  It’s one of those things where I think it’s just ‑‑ when you eat chocolate you want vanilla sometimes; it felt different and different was kind of fun. There was other parts where I was kind of a little questioning about it. Overall I’m kind of neutral on it.”

Keselowski called the rule a “different dynamic” that “opens up some different opportunities.”

“We’re all kind of learning together how that plays out,” Keselowski continued. “This was a first time on a bigger track or a 550 (horsepower) rules package track that we’ve seen this, and so it definitely changed a little bit of the race. I’m not confident to say whether it was better or worse, just felt a little bit different to me. Which it should feel different; that’s kind of the point. If it wasn’t a little different, then why would we do it?

“I thought there were times when it was interesting, there were times where I was kind of like, hmm, I don’t know.”

Truex simply called the result of the choose rule “ok.”

“I don’t know that it changed the race a whole lot, but it was interesting for sure,” Truex said. “We’ll see how it plays out ‑‑ we seen a lot of guys pick the outside, but a few guys were able to get the lead from the bottom, as well. Pretty interesting how it worked out, and definitely learned some stuff for tomorrow.”

Ryan Blaney, who finished fourth, wishes he could have kept third place before the final restart.

“Because I would have chose the bottom and had a little better shot,” Blaney said. “I am proud of the effort. (Harvick) was really fast. We need to work on our stuff a little and I think we can compete a little better tomorrow.”

Sunday Cup starting lineup at Michigan

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Chris Buescher will start on the pole for Sunday’s Cup race at Michigan International Speedway after finishing 20th in Saturday’s race.

The top-20 finishers Saturday have their position inverted for the Sunday Cup starting lineup. Clint Bowyer will start second.

Winner Kevin Harvick will start Sunday’s race 20th.

Click here for the Sunday Cup starting lineup.

NASCAR Cup Series at Michigan 

Race Time: 4:30 p.m. ET Sunday

Track: Michigan International Speedway; Brooklyn, Michigan (2-mile speedway)

Length: 156 laps (312 miles)

Stages: Stage 1 ends Lap 40. Stage 2 ends Lap 85

TV coverage: NBCSN

Radio: Motor Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: NBC Sports app (subscription required); mrn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Michigan Cup starting lineup: Click here for lineup

Next Xfinity race: Aug. 15 at Daytona road course (52 laps, 187.72 miles) 3 ET on NBCSN

Next Truck race: Aug. 16 at Daytona road course (44 laps, 158.85 miles) noon ET on FS1

What drivers said after Saturday’s Michigan Cup race

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Here is what drivers said after the race Saturday at Michigan:

Kevin Harvick — Winner:  “Anytime we come to Michigan since I’ve been at Stewart‑Haas Racing these cars have been just lightning fast. It’s definitely a place we feel like we should come up here and contend for the win, and today our Busch Light Apple Ford Mustang was just on rails, could go bottom, top, middle, was fast down the straightaway, would do everything that you wanted to do. Just got challenged by a whole bunch of restarts at the end that made it kind of crazy. But in the end it was a great day for us. Everybody did a great job, called a great race, and we capitalized on a fast car and put it in Victory Lane.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 2nd: “(Kevin Harvick) is just super fast in the corners and the straightaway. He was definitely the best car out here today. We put a good effort to kind of maximize our day and that is what we did, finished second. Proud of everyone on the Discount Tire Ford Mustang team. We will go back to work on it and hopefully find a little bit more for the race (Sunday).”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 3rd: “It was a good day. I just made a little mistake there and barely rubbed (Tyler Reddick’s) car off (Turn) 2 there and I guess cut both of our tires down. I really don’t know how it happened. My bad on that one. I hate it for Tyler, it messed up his day early as well. We just fought back. The Auto Owners Camry was really strong. If we could ever have gotten to the front, I think we would have had something for them. Lots of restarts and they’re crazy here. A couple of them didn’t work out. The last one did. Really good car and really good job by the guys coming back like that. Just need a little bit more.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 4th: “I thought our Mustang was pretty good all day. We made a good call there before the competition caution to come in and pit and that cycled us up to 12th or something and we were able to drive to third before that stage and then ran second in the second stage. We took four tires there when we got in our fuel window and it was hard to get through traffic. We didn’t handle good so we came in again with maybe 18 to go and changed it up a little bit and made sure we were good on gas and were able to drive through there. I wish we would have kept third before that last caution because I would have chose the bottom and had a little better shot. I am proud of the effort. (Kevin Harvick) was really fast. We need to work on our stuff a little and I think we can compete a little better tomorrow.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 5th: “The car was pretty good right off the bat. There’s still some things we can tweak on, hopefully. I’m scared to mess with it to try to make it better. It was just really, really hard to deal with in traffic. Anytime there was anybody in front of me, I had to be away from them, whether lower or higher, but not follow. It would not track at all with the car in front of me. That’s kind of been our ‘MO’ actually. Overall, just work on that.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 6th: “I thought we were kind of a second-place car. Once (Kevin Harvick) was leading there, we were able to stay pretty close to him. He was just so much faster down the straightaway than we were. I’m not sure that we would have been able to do much with him. We were certainly fast in the corners and we were just kind of a second-place car. My crew chief (Chris Gabehart) was concerned about loose lug nuts there around Lap 130 when the caution came out so he wanted to come and take tires and work on the car and make sure the lug nuts were tight. That set us back and put us probably 11th or 12th in line. We could only muster coming back to sixth.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 7th: “We had a strong restart there at the end of the race from the inside lane. When that next caution came out, I just didn’t see it playing out the same way twice, so I chose to go to outside lane. Our NAPA Chevrolet was just tight all day and the team worked hard to try and get it dialed in – they had a solid day on pit road. I think we learned a few things today that we can hopefully use (Sunday).”

Joey Logano — Finished 8th: “It was a good recovery. A little bit of practice this week would have been nice. That was one of the loosest and out of control race cars I have had. At the start of this race. The clean air made us look better than what we were. As soon as I lost clean air I was just trying to hang on. Unfortunately I collected a lot of damage along the way on the back bumper from everyone hitting me. I don’t blame them, I was in the way. Over time, by probably the beginning of the third stage we got close. Not quite to where we needed to. Then there at the end we pitted and may have gotten to the other side of it finally. At least we know where the edge is so we can work on it for (Sunday). We got a top 10 out of it. If you had told me we were going to finish eighth after the first 50 laps of this thing I would have taken it but greed always sets in and you want a little more there at the end. We got our Mustang for tomorrow and we got to the other side of it. We should be in the ballpark.”

Bubba Wallace — Finished 9th: “A solid day for us and our Victory Junction Chevrolet. I appreciate everybody back at the shop. I know this whole COVID-19 deal has been tough. I haven’t been able to go to the shop and show my appreciation and how much they really work and make our cars better week in, and week out. So, it’s been fun. We’re in the middle of ‘silly season’ right now, so my mind is there, it’s here. So, to come out with a solid top-10 finish is positive.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 10th: “With a shorter race we had a bunch of variables today, including a lot of restarts. When the spotter says, four and five-wide, and we didn’t get damage, I will take that any day. Our Monster Energy Camaro was really reliant on clean air, once we got back in traffic it was really a struggle for us, but we were able score points in the first two stages and battle back for another top-10 finish at the end. We know that we can do better, and we’ll get a chance to do that (Sunday).”

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 12th: “We had a fast Ally Chevy all day, but restarts hurt us. It was up and down all day fighting traffic and weird things happening on the restarts. We are going to talk tonight and get a better plan for (Sunday). It’s a long day for these team guys but we will be ready.”

William Byron — Finished 14th: “It was a tough day for our No. 24 Axalta team. We worked hard to improve the handling of our Axalta Chevy as the day went on. Luckily we’ll get another chance at it (Sunday) and we’ll hopefully get a better result and stay in the playoff hunt.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 16th: “That wasn’t the day we hoped for, but we learned a lot about the way we set up our cars as a team. Proud of Stewart-Haas Racing and congrats to Kevin (Harvick) for bringing home the win. We’re going to take a big swing at it tomorrow and hope to build on that.”

TYLER REDDICK — Finished 18th: “We had some good speed in our No. 8 Chevrolet Accessories Camaro today at Michigan International Speedway, but we just seemed to get caught up in other people’s messes today. I was able to move up into the top 10 early in the race, but (Martin Truex Jr.) made contact with us when he had a tire go down, which gave our Chevrolet some left rear damage. It felt like we had a tire going down shortly after that, so we were forced to pit under green for fresh left-side tires. We had to fight hard to get our lap back and did, but then our right-rear tire went down and we had to pit to repair that under green as well. Somewhat luckily for us, that tire issue happened close to the end of Stage 2, so we were able to get our lap back with the wave around, stay mostly on sequence with the leaders and really get back in the game. We were making some progress after that and were up inside the top 20 when we got some additional right front damage from another on-track incident, so we had to hit pit road one more time for slight repairs but didn’t lose a lap. We were able to avoid a couple late-race accidents to pick up a few more spots but didn’t quite get to where we wanted to be today. Good news is that we get another shot at it with our No. 8 Chevrolet Accessories Camaro (Sunday).”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 19th: “We got back in traffic in the final stage and were really loose. You don’t want to be in the back at this place, it was like gridlock. We ran well early, got some positions in overtime today and we start second (Sunday) so I’m optimistic.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 24th: “I was pretty happy with the way our Toyota was handling during the second half of the race, especially on the longer runs. Good job by Dave (Winson, crew chief) and all the guys. We’re still lacking the overall speed we need to be more competitive. That will come. We have work to do to make things better for (Sunday). One good thing is we will have a much better starting position (24th) than we usually have, so hopefully we can take advantage of that and have a really good finish.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 29th: “It was a difficult day for our No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops, Martin Transportation Systems (MTS) Ford Mustang. We didn’t fire off like we had hoped, but (crew chief Drew Blickensderfer) and the team did a nice job of working on the car all race long and I felt like we had a pretty decent run starting towards the end. Unfortunately we got collected in that last wreck and sustained heavy right front damage and we had to pit for repairs and ultimately brought the car home 29th. But tomorrow’s another day and that’s what we’re focused on. I’m ready to get back behind the wheel for race two of the Michigan doubleheader weekend and score Love’s Travel Stops and MTS a solid finish.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 31st: “Well, not the result we were hoping for today at Michigan International Speedway, but the good news is we have another shot at it (Sunday) afternoon. We started off too free but once (crew chief) Justin Alexander and the team were able to tighten up the No. 3 Dow MobilityScience Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 we were really good. At the end of the race, we were loose, sliding around four-wide when another car ran us over from behind. It ruined our top-10 finish. We’ll pull the backup out and go get them (Sunday).”

Cole Custer — Finished 34th: “It was a tough end to the day for us. We had a pretty good car and made good adjustments throughout the day. There at the end we just got in dirty air and it was hard to pass. Our HaasTooling.com/Jacob Construction Ford Mustang was good but track position and clean air were so important.”

John Hunter Nemechek — Finished 36th: “It was a long, tough day at Michigan International Speedway for our No. 38 Death Wish Coffee Ford Mustang. We actually weren’t too bad to start off, just needed to be a tick freer at the beginning. Unfortunately, we had some contact with (Chris Buescher), which sent us into the grass and then we had multiple tires go down, which ended our day prematurely. Appreciate all the hard work my crew has put into our cars this weekend and all the support from our partners. Thankfully, we’ll have another chance in tomorrow’s race.”

Bubba Wallace places 9th, notes deal that will put RPM ‘over the top’

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Bubba Wallace scored his first top-10 finish in a month Saturday and teased a potential deal that he said will send his Richard Petty Motorsports team “over the top if we can get it done.”

Wallace finished ninth after starting 24th Saturday at Michigan International Speedway. Kevin Harvick won the race.

“Everybody say a prayer for us,” Wallace told NBCSN’s Marty Snider after the race. “There’s a big deal on the line right now and this can only help so much. I’ve yet to check my phone to see the status of it. This will send us over the top if we can get it done. Been a lot of hard work off the racetrack from my team, everybody involved to make things better and that’s what we’re trying to do. So putting solid runs tighter and having awesome restart all night this is only going to help the effort.”

Wallace acknowledged that silly season also has weighed on him. His contract expires after this season. RPM owner Andrew Murstein has offered ownership in the team as part of a contract extension. There also is believed to be interest from other teams in Wallace.

“We’re in the middle of silly season right now,” he said. “My mind is there, it’s here.”

Wallace was pleased with the finish Saturday – his fourth top-10 of the year and the most he’s had in any Cup season – but seeks more performance Sunday.

“I know this whole COVID-19 deal has been tough,” he said. “I haven’t been able to go to the shop and show my appreciation (to the team) and how much they really work and make our cars better week in and week out. It’s been fun. …  To come out with a solid top-10 finish for us is positive. We’ve got a lot of work to do.

“I was not happy with the car, but I think that’s the racer mentality. I’m not sure if Harvick is happy about his car either. We always strive to be better. All in all a solid day.”