NASCAR America: Why did Denny Hamlin battle Chase Elliott late in the race when he didn’t have to?

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Had he stayed on track and on focus, Denny Hamlin woulda, coulda, shoulda wound up with the final Championship 4 berth last weekend at Phoenix.

But he didn’t and it cost him possibly his first Cup championship.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, analysts Dale Jarrett, Jeff Burton and Nate Ryan broke down what happened in Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix Raceway.

They discussed why, when Hamlin was ahead of Brad Keselowski, who was the only driver he should have worried about when it came to Hamlin’s hopes to reach the title race via points, he chose instead to race Chase Elliott for third place with less than 50 laps left.

Elliott had to win to advance. As long as he didn’t and Hamlin remained ahead of Keselowski, Hamlin would take the final transfer spot.

Instead, Hamlin raced Elliott. The result was Elliott moved Hamlin up the track, forcing Hamlin into the wall in what many portrayed as payback for Hamlin wrecking Elliott out of the lead two weeks ago at Martinsville. The contact at Phoenix led to a cut tire and sent Hamlin into the wall, ending his race and title hopes.

Here is what our analysts had to say (watch the video above for all their comments on the incident).

Dale Jarrett:

“Why was (Hamlin) even putting up a battle with someone, who we knew there was potential because just a few short weeks ago that things escalated to a bad situation at Martinsville with him? So why would you race that person when it didn’t make any difference?

“(Hamlin) goes out in the first two stages and does everything he needs to do, he’s doing well in the third stage. By then, he had set himself up to where all he had to do was beat (Keselowski). So I don’t understand why he was letting the (Elliott) affect him. If (Elliott) was going to pass him and go on to win the race, he couldn’t do anything there, so just focus on (Keselowski).

“I don’t understand why they weren’t telling Denny more that this isn’t your battle, the battle is still behind you and that’s all you have to worry about.”

Nate Ryan:

“There wasn’t a lot of communication telling Denny that Brad Keselowski is behind you. At that point, Brad had just catapulted into the top 10 due to some shrewd strategy by his crew chief, Paul Wolfe. … He got from the mid-teens into the top 10 and he was in Denny Hamlin’s mirror for the first time all race.

“I think he also had on his mind probably that he’s battling Chase Elliott for third and Chase is fast. If Elliott gets past him and gets the win, then it’s game over either way and Denny has no shot at advancing by points.”

Jeff Burton:

“What really confuses me is that there were comments on social media that Denny was trying to let Chase go.  … I don’t possibly see how that’s accurate. When you come off a corner side-by-side with a guy at a tight racetrack, that’s not letting the guy go.

“There was a bigger picture. Chase and Denny had two completely different agendas at this point in the race. Chase really had nothing to lose. If Chase didn’t win this race, he was not going to move forward.

“Denny didn’t have to win the race because of the great job he did in the first two stages. I just don’t think Denny and the 11 team didn’t respond to the great work they did in the first two stages. They didn’t need to race Chase, they just needed to let him go. Once (Elliott) is underneath you, just get on the brakes and slow down and let him go. I’m sorry, it’s not that hard.

“If you think you’re better than (Keselowski)) and you’re still racing (Elliott), that was not a good decision.”

 

Driver-to-Driver with Jimmie Johnson: ‘I’ve got a lot to prove still’

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Jimmie Johnson is in his 17th year of full-time Cup racing and is in the midst the longest winless streak of his career at 42 races.

But the seven-time champion’s competitive drive is as strong as ever.

Johnson sat down with NBC Sports’ Dale Jarrett to discuss his career at this point in the latest edition of Driver-to-Driver.

“I can honestly say I spend more time now than I did my rookie year focusing on my job,” Johnson said. “I think that the support I have from my wife (Chandra), my kids are 7 and 4, to have them watch me be passionate about something has another meaning I didn’t anticipate coming. I’m lovin’ what I’m doing. I wish the results were a little better than what we have right now, but the process of what I’m going through is really fun.”

Hendrick Motorsports as a whole is in a slump. The team is in the middle of the second longest winless streak in its history at 35 races.

Johnson admits it’s hard to know when the right time will be for him to retire.

“The thing I can pull out of it is, don’t pick a number, make sure that fire’s gone out and that fire hasn’t gone out,” Johnson said. “The other thing that’s weighing on me, I don’t want to go out not at my fullest potential and not on my terms. The last thought that’s going to run through my mind is to walk away or, ‘Oh, it’s not going right, time to stop.’ Uh uh. I know I still got it. I’m going to go down swinging. I’ve got a lot to prove still.”

Watch the above video for more.

 

New Hampshire Cup race in rain delay

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The Foxwoods Resort & Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway is in a rain delay.

The race was scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. ET. The start time had been moved up from 2 p.m. ET due to the threat of weather.

Kurt Busch is on the pole and Martin Truex Jr. will start second.

Check back for more.

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at New Hampshire

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Denny Hamlin. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver rediscovers his magic here and locks into the playoffs.

Dustin Long

Martin Truex Jr. wins back-to-back races for the first time in his career.

Daniel McFadin

Kevin Harvick earns a career-best sixth win of the season.

Dan Beaver

Martin Truex Jr. is getting into the same groove he had last year. This week he catches Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. Next week, he starts to pull away,

Today’s Cup race at New Hampshire: Start time, lineup and more

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The Cup Series holds its only race of the year at New Hampshire Motor Speedway today with the Foxwoods Resort & Casino 301.

Kurt Busch starts on the pole and Martin Truex Jr. starts second.

Here’s all the info you need for today’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Jean Swift, treasurer of Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Counsel, at 12:51 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 1 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 301 laps (318.46 miles) around the 1.058-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 75. Stage 2 ends on Lap 150.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 35

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 7:30 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 11 a.m. Driver introductions are at 12:05 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Vanessa Salvucci will perform the anthem at 12:45 p.m. The Canadian National Anthem will be performed by Kirk Young at 12:42 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race beginning at 1 p.m. Coverage begins at noon with Countdown to Green on NBCSN. Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at noon p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for a high of 70 degrees and a 78 percent chance of rain and storms at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Denny Hamlin won this race last year over Kyle Larson. Kyle Busch won the playoff race over Larson.

TO THE REAR: Landon Cassill (backup) and Michael McDowell (backup).

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the complete starting lineup.