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Friday 5: One more change that should be made to All-Star Race

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The buzzword after the Monster Energy All-Star Race format was announced this week was that NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway wanted to make it a race again.

Do away with many of the gimmicks. Forego the math requirements to figure out average finishes. No more mandatory pit stops.

Just race.

“We wanted to make it as much like a race as possible,’’ said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer.

But if this event — 80 laps over four stages this year — is going to be viewed as a race, then something else needs to be added.

Playoff implications.

No doubt that $1 million winner’s check is meaningful to the team, which gets a large chunk of that, but it’s time to add another carrot. Playoff points and even a spot in the playoffs.

Offer five playoff points to the winner and one playoff point for each of the stages before the end of the race.

Also, if the winner does not record a victory in the regular season, then the All-Star Race victory puts them in the playoffs.

Had this been in place in 2014 when Jamie McMurray won the All-Star Race but went on to miss the playoffs, it would have given him a chance to run for the championship that season.

Some will argue that there should not be any playoff implications for this race because there’s not a full field competing.

Drivers had since last year’s event to win a race to be eligible if they weren’t already. That’s 36 chances. With five races left to qualify for the All-Star Race, the event is guaranteed to have at least 21 drivers — nearly 60 percent of the charter teams. There are already 17 drivers qualified, three who will earn a spot via the Open, and one who will be selected based on a fan vote.

Others might argue that because there aren’t any points given in the Clash in February at Daytona, why should this race award any points?

Simple. The All-Star Race is for race winners. The Clash is primarily for pole winners. Until NASCAR pays points for qualifying, I’m fine with that race not having any points.

But it’s time for the All-Star Race to matter more.

2. Moving the All-Star Race

Maybe the package with restrictor plates, aero ducts, a taller spoiler and different splitter will work. Maybe it can make the All-Star Race a memorable event again. Or maybe it will lead the sport in a direction to make racing at Charlotte Motor Speedway and other 1.5-mile tracks more exciting.

If it does, maybe the debate of where the All-Star Race should be held goes away. But until then, voices will be raised to move the event to places such as Bristol Motor Speedway or Martinsville Speedway or even some place like South Boston Speedway as a way to return to NASCAR’s roots and give fans something different — just as the Trucks do with their race at Eldora Speedway.

It’s a great idea in concept. There’s an issue.

Charlotte Motor Speedway is owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc., a publicly traded company that owns eight tracks that host Cup events.

Take away a race and there’s the potential Wall Street isn’t going to like that, and that could further impact SMI.

Admittedly, it shouldn’t matter what Wall Street thinks, it should be what’s best for the sport. And maybe there will be a day when NASCAR moves it. Maybe that day will come as soon as 2021 when the schedule could look vastly different with the five-year sanctioning agreements ending after the 2020 season.

But to say move the race elsewhere is not that simple.

“If it is good for our sport and would be good for our company, too, I’m always thinking what we can do individually and collectively to move our sport forward,’’ Marcus Smith, president of SMI, told NBC Sports about an address change for the All-Star Race. “That’s kind of the paradigm of how I operate. Of course more specifically everything is always more complicated than it seems.’’

3. Safety issue?

Kevin Harvick continued his frustration with pit guns this week, saying on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show “Happy Hours” that the matter was creating “a safety issue.’’

Harvick blamed a spate of loose wheels last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway on inconsistent air guns.

NASCAR’s O’Donnell doesn’t quite see it the same way.

“I think you’ve got to take a step back and look at safety as part of the narrative in NASCAR,’’ he told NBC Sports in response to Harvick’s comments. “I would say if you put us up against any motorsport, we feel pretty good there. When you start looking at pit stops in general, are pit guns part of that? Absolutely, but it’s the entire pit stop. To put something all on a gun, I think, is a bit premature without the facts.

“So our job is to look at each stop and look at each race, what happens with those races and put all those facts together and then make changes if necessary. I’m confident in the partner that we have and the work that we’re doing in the industry that directionally we’re in the right spot. Certainly some improvements we can make … but we feel like we’re in a good spot in continuing to work through this to get to the best place.’’

4. Changes in Race Control?

A week after NASCAR admitted it erred in not penalizing Kevin Harvick’s team for an uncontrolled tire at Texas Motor Speedway, no significant changes are coming in how NASCAR handles such issues.

O’Donnell said the main change will be with communication.

“I think ultimately it’s always going to be a judgment call,’’ O’Donnell said of the call on an uncontrolled tire. “I would say from our standpoint just some improved communication in terms of everything moves so fast in race control and we want to make a call quickly. Maybe taking a little bit more time to have some more folks review that who could do that.

“I think taking the time on each and every call to make sure we’ve got all the resources behind that.’’

5. Postrace inspection

Last week at Texas, NASCAR completed inspection after the Xfinity race at the track so no cars were sent to the R&D Center.

That was done with the four cars that qualified for this weekend’s Dash 4 Cash race at Bristol. By completing inspection at the track, it immediately ensured the eligibility of those four cars instead of the potential of having one replaced later in the week because of a rules infraction found at the R&D Center.

While there has been movement to complete inspection at track instead of waiting a couple of days for penalties — such as occurred Wednesday with the L1 penalty to Chase Elliott’s team — O’Donnell said series officials aren’t there yet to do that on a regular basis.

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Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski see title hopes end in Kansas

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas — They had won four of the last six races entering Sunday’s event at Kansas Speedway.

But Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney won’t be racing for a championship. That leaves only Joey Logano left at Team Penske to race for a championship. 

Keselowski and Blaney were eliminated from title contention (along with Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman). Blaney failed to advance by six points. He was the closest of those eliminated to the cutoff line.

Blaney’s title hopes faded after he hit the wall while running third with about 60 laps left in the race.

“Sorry, trying too hard,” Blaney radioed his team after the incident.

He soon fell back and finished seventh.

“Obviously it was a mistake I made trying to work hard to catch those guys and I pushed too hard and got in the fence,” Blaney said. “It is all my fault.

“Whether it would have worked out for us or not, I don’t know. I don’t think we had the speed (Chase Elliott) or (Kevin Harvick) had. (Elliott) was super fast. I don’t know. I messed up and cost us a shot. The whole 12 team deserves better than that. That was unfortunate on my part.”

Keselowski didn’t have one incident that held him back. He just wasn’t fast enough. Keselowski led two different times for 26 laps but that was because he stayed out longer while others pitted during a green-flag cycle and moved to the lead. He was never fast enough to race his way to the front.

“I would say about the end of that first stage it was pretty obvious that we needed something after I saw some things on the other cars,” Keselowski said. “We needed something to step up but it just wasn’t there. We just weren’t as good today as we were (Saturday) and I am not sure why.

“Everyone else seemed to find a little from practice and we were about the same, maybe a little worse than we were in practice. I am proud of what we did down the stretch of the year. We won three races and did all that. I feel like we can go win Martinsville next week, so I am excited about that but of course the ultimate goal is to win a championship and we won’t have an opportunity to do that this year.”

What drivers said after the Cup race at Kansas

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Chase Elliott — Winner: “Yeah it was awesome. I just enjoy racing with (Kyle Busch). I obviously got lucky with Kevin (Harvick) having his penalty, I thought we were really, really equally matched there. I wish we could have raced him straight up obviously, but had a great car today. … It’s been a great couple of months so we’ve got to keep it rolling. This is the time of year that counts.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 2nd: “We got too tight there on that long run. I knew it was going to get tight, it was just a matter of whether or not I could get there and get by him (Chase Elliott) first. Running the top like that, it just inherently creates tight in the race car. The sooner you get up there, the longer you’re up there and it just gets that much tighter. Chase did a good job of having that big of a gap that he didn’t have to go up there so early and he had a little bit better tire there when I got to him and he was able to move down a little bit and keep rolling with the speed. I just couldn’t do it that way. We come home second today. That’s just kind of all there is it to it. I didn’t think we were going to have to a second place car. When we here at the test, the 9 (Chase Elliott) was actually right on line with us – maybe even a tick better at times during the test when we were here, so they’ve had a fast car here for a while.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 3rd: “Fought the balance a little bit early in the race, but we made it better and better throughout the race. I felt like the last run especially was our best run handling wise. Just needed the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) to catch the No. 9 (Chase Elliott) to maybe battle him some, but as he got closer he kind of lost the air on his nose. Just wish I could have stayed in second there after the green flag cycles and not let Kyle (Busch) get by. I felt like maybe if I could have been behind Chase there at the end with the line he was running maybe I could have done something with him. But, all in all a good effort today. We did everything we could just came up a couple of spots short”

Erik Jones — Finished 4th: “It was good. We had a really fast car. Our Craftsman Camry was I think a car that could have contended for the win. We just struggled on pit road. We lost a lot of spots and it just took a long time to get them back. That long green run helped us at the win and we were able to pick them up and get back towards the front, but not enough time. Good car. Just got to keep working and keep getting closer.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 5th: “It was definitely a tough day – a blue collared day for sure. We worked hard. The guys never gave up on the car, they just kept working on it for me and I just kept trying to get all I could out of it. Pit crew really saved our butts today man, they were unbelievable. That’s definitely something you need going down the stretch here for a championship and we’ll regroup and go to Martinsville next week and try to go get a win.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 6th: “I would say about the end of that first stage it was pretty obvious that we needed something after I saw some things on the other cars. We needed something to step up but it just wasn’t there. We just weren’t as good today as we were yesterday and I am not sure why. Everyone else seemed to find a little from practice and we were about the same, maybe a little worse than we were in practice. I am proud of what we did down the stretch of the year. We won three races and did all that. I feel like we can go win Martinsville next week so I am excited about that but of course the ultimate goal is to win a championship and we won’t have an opportunity to do that this year.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 7th: “Obviously it was a mistake I made trying to work hard to catch those guys and I pushed too hard and got in the fence. It is all my fault. Whether it would have worked out for us or not, I don’t know. I don’t think we had the speed the 9 or 4 had. The 9 was super fast. I don’t know. I messed up and cost us a shot. I want to thank Wrangler and Menards and Ford for doing what they do. The whole 12 team deserves better than that. That was unfortunate on my part.”

Joey Logano — Finished 8th: “We did a great job this round with two top-fives and a top-10. A stage win here today and we finished third in the other stage. We were scoring points which is good enough to get you through these rounds but I feel like this next round we are going to have to get a win to get through. Maybe they will have enough issues that you can build up enough points but I think we need to win. It was a solid weekend with the pole and stage win, I am proud of that, we just have to focus hard on getting more.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 9th: “We had to fix damage throughout the day. I’m a little frustrated. We had a better car than that. I don’t know that we had a race-winning car. I thought the No. 9 (Chase Elliott) was super good on long runs. We were, I thought, much better than him on the short runs. But on the long runs he just ate us up. Congrats to him. We’ll move on to next week.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 10th: “I will take it, another top-10 finish today. Really proud of my team. We had another fast Ford and the guys did a good job too. Now we advance on to the next round and at this point I just feel like we have nothing to lose almost. I feel like we are playing with house money. We are relaxed and looking forward to these next three weeks, they should be fun for us.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 11th: “I’ll be honest. I didn’t feel like we had a very good Dow Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 all weekend, so I am proud of this team and our 11th-place finish at Kansas Speedway today. It was hard-fought. We weren’t very fast from the time we unloaded from the hauler on Friday, so we will have to work on that going forward. We started off Sunday’s race with a tight-handling condition, but the Dow Racing Team worked hard on adjustments all race long. By Stage 2, we had solid lap times, and by Stage 3, we were able to enter the top 10. I’m proud of this team’s hard work all weekend.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 12th: “Today wasn’t great from my standpoint. Our Busch Lite Ford was really fast and leading the race there and I got a speeding penalty. That was my fault. I tried to get a little too much and wound up going too fast. We will take it one week at a time. We have had fast cars and whether it is speeding on pit road or flat tires or valve stems or fuel, we haven’t put together a full day except for Richmond. Hopefully we have gotten all that out of our system and we can go to Martinsville and start off good.” 

Clint Bowyer — Finished 13th: “It was enough, barely. We were lucky really. It was ugly. I wanted to be better than that. I don’t know. I don’t know what I am missing here. It isn’t my guys. They are giving me good cars. They are fast. I just can’t figure out how to get around this damn place. I definitely have to be better than that. I knew this was going to be the one and we were lucky enough to get through Talladega and get some points going into this with a little bit of insurance and I am damn glad we did.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 15th: “All weekend long our Caterpillar Chevrolet favored long green-flag runs. Our balance was pretty good, but for whatever reason we just lacked take-off and overall speed. Our biggest issue was in traffic. Our car just plowed but we kept up with it as the track changed throughout the race. We ran as high as 10th and as low as 16th. crew chief Luke Lambert did a great job keeping up with the track. We just needed a little more speed to be a force to contend with the top-10 cars consistently. There’s four more to go so we’ll keep doing our best to close out the season.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 18th: “I am really happy. It is exciting for us. It is our goal to win the championship. We are an elite eight team when we started Daytona and here we are, we did it. It was a rough day in the pits and on the track but we had enough points from the Roval and our stage races. It was a rough day and we need to put it quickly behind us. We are back on even ground. We are in the top-8 and Martinsville is the path to the championship down in Homestead.”

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 22nd: “I just ran too close to the wall, I guess, in (Turns) 1 and 2 and it just brushed the wall and it sucked me in. That was it. I didn’t think I did anything different than other laps. I’d been running really close to it. I just did something wrong on that lap and hit on the right side and ended our good run.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 25th: “This was a benchmark race for our Geico Camaro ZL1 team. We didn’t have the performance that we wanted here at Kansas Speedway back in the spring. Our cars have evolved a lot since then, and we’ve been working hard on our intermediate program. We came back here this weekend wanting show improvements from where we were in May, and we did that. There’s still more work to be done, but little gains will become big gains as this team keeps grinding. We have four more races left this season, and we are working as hard as we can to get everything out of them.”

William Byron — Finished 38th: “That was the best car we’ve had. Usually, that seems like how it works. But we were making pretty good ground. We came out after our green flag stop, in a decent spot. We were kind of mired between the two guys we were before, so overall the car was good and the motor just blew-up. But, there’s nothing you can do but look forward to the next race.”

Clint Bowyer advances to Round of 8 after ‘ugly’ day at home track

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Clint Bowyer had “enough, barely” on Sunday to advance to the third round of the Cup playoffs after an “ugly” day at Kansas Speedway, his home track.

Bowyer, who finished 13th, said his team was “lucky” in the elimination race. He exits as the fifth seed in the Round of 8 with 4,015 points and joins his three Stewart-Haas Racing teammates in the round.

He advances after he had to race his way into the Round of 12 at the Charlotte Roval.

“I wanted to be better than that,” Bowyer said. “I don’t know what I am missing here. It isn’t my guys. They are giving me good cars. They are fast. I just can’t figure out how to get around this damn place. I definitely have to be better than that. I knew this was going to be the one and we were lucky enough to get through Talladega and get some points going into this with a little bit of insurance and I am damn glad we did.”

Bowyer started the race in 14th and managed a seventh-place finish in Stage 1. But he finished outside the top 10 in Stage 2.

On a Lap 168 restart, Bowyer suffered minor damage to his left-front fender after he made contact with Jimmie Johnson.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver could have had an uglier day.

On Lap 213, Bowyer pitted. During his stop, the tire taken off his right rear was rolled back to the pit wall near the front of his No. 14 Ford. It then rolled into the adjacent pit box.

It was not called as an uncontrolled tire penalty.

A NASCAR spokesperson said tires are allowed to cross into the adjacent pit boxes on the inside of the car as long as they do not impede another car or go passed the halfway point of the adjacent stall. 

Had a car been pitting in front of Bowyer or if it had rolled past the pit stall number painted on the pit wall, it would have been a penalty.

Had he been penalized, Bowyer likely would have lost a lap. Bowyer finished as the last car on the lead lap. Kurt Busch finished 18th as the last car one lap down. The penalty would not have been enough to keep Bowyer from advancing.

Bowyer leaves Kansas with just one top 10 in his last 11 starts at the track. Now the series returns to Martinsville Speedway, where Bowyer ended a 190-race winless streak in the spring.

“For whatever reason Kansas isn’t my best track,” Bowyer said. “I am way more comfortable on the short tracks. If I can put together Martinsville and Phoenix like I am capable of and run Texas like we are capable of, I think we can be in Homestead (for the championship). Now it is getting down to the nitty-gritty. Now it is eight good teams. There are 16 good teams but there are eight damn good teams. All eight of these teams have found victory lane and things like that. Now you are starting to pick up the pace or go home.”

Bowyer didn’t get to spend much time ruminating on his day. He quickly made the short trip to Arrowhead Stadium to watch the Kansas City Chiefs compete on NBC’s Sunday Night Football.

Points after the Cup race at Kansas

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Kyle Busch closed the gap on Chase Elliott in the closing laps, but lost ground when he had to fend off a charging Kyle Larson. Busch finished second.

Elliott scored his second win of Round 2 of the playoffs to increase his bonus points total to 18.

Kevin Harvick won Stage 2 and appeared to be on his way to victory lane until a speeding penalty brought him down pit road for a second time. He rebounded to finish 12th.

“At times it was bad and not much fun,” Martin Truex Jr. told NBC. He finished fifth in the race after ending Stage 1 outside the top 10 and 10th in Stage 2.

Clint Bowyer survived Kansas with a 13th-place finish on a track that has not been welcoming in recent years.

Joey Logano dominated early. He won Stage 1 and finished third in Stage 2. Logano faded at the end of the race after slow pit stop to finish eighth.

Kurt Busch had an uncontrolled tire on Lap 123. He lost a lap while serving his penalty and could not make it back up. He advanced to the Round of 8 by six points with an 18th-place finish.

Aric Almirola finished sixth in Stage 1. He ran well in Stage 2, but an uncontrolled tire penalty kept him from scoring points there. Almirola finished 10th.

Eliminated from playoff contention

Brad Keselowski failed to earn points in either of the first two stages. His sixth-place finish was not enough to advance.

Ryan Blaney challenged Logano fiercely in the first two stages, finishing third and second. He scraped the wall twice while battling Larson in the final stage and fell six points behind the cutoff with a seventh-place finish.

Kyle Larson surged late in the race and climbed to third. He was practically in an must-win situation and came up two spots short.

Alex Bowman was mathematically eliminated entering the Kansas race unless he won. He tagged the wall early in Stage 1 and never contended for victory – ultimately settling for ninth in the rundown.

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