Ryan: The All-Star Race was good but hold your horsepower on using those restrictor plates again

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CONCORD, N.C. – It took 2 minutes for Kyle Busch to climb from his battered No. 18 Toyota and walk roughly a hundred feet to the side door of his team hauler.

The entirety of the trip (with some prompting) was spent pondering what he just witnessed in Saturday night’s All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I’ll have to see it, I guess, to look at it to see if it’s a good show, but (I’m) not a fan,” Busch told NBCSports.com.

Why not?

“When the fastest guy gets out front, he’s supposed to be able to have an opportunity to be fast,” Busch said. “Now when you get the fastest guy out front, he backs up to the rest of the field. So everybody’s always on top of one another, and when you get back in the pack, you can’t pass anybody.

“It’s a restrictor-plate race.”

But with one important caveat: Unlike a plate race, passing the leader (aside from on restarts) seemed extremely difficult Saturday night.

“I was out front, and yeah, those guys couldn’t get by me,” said Busch, who was one of three drivers to lead at least 15 consecutive laps during the 93-lap event. “And I couldn’t pass whoever was in front of me when I finished third in the first stage. So I don’t know that it’s greater.”

Was it greater?

That has been the crux of the fever-pitched debates occurring within the NASCAR industry since the checkered flag fell on one of the more memorable All-Star Races in recent history and (not coincidentally) the Charlotte debut of restrictor plates and aero ducts.

At a 1.5-mile superspeedway whose ultra grippy pavement (despite 12 years of age) produces high speeds without much tire wear, the brand of racing was eye-popping and distinctive. Breakaways by the leader were nonexistent. Dicing for positions within the pack was incessant.

But were things much different at the front?

Harvick took the lead from Kyle Larson on the second-to-last restart and led the final 11 laps. Aside from the last restart, Harvick’s No. 4 Ford hardly was challenged despite virtually the entire top 10 running within just over a second of first.

It was the 10th time in the past 15 All-Star Races that there hasn’t been a lead change in the final 10 laps.

And this was applicable beyond Harvick’s untouchable car, which has been in victory lane for three consecutive race weekends and is the odds-on favorite again Sunday night in the Coca-Cola 600. Busch led for 19 consecutive laps (nearly the entire second stage), and Martin Truex Jr. paced 15 straight circuits in the middle of the third stage.

Virtually all of the passing occurred within a few laps of a restart. When the leader got out front, he wasn’t going to be caught unless there was a mistake – which doesn’t happen often with drivers the caliber of Harvick, Larson and Truex.

That’s why the 0.7-second lead Harvick built toward the end of the first 30-lap segment felt as if it were 7 seconds. The artifice of this rules package is that it can keep the cars more clumped together, but passing the leader remains as challenging as before (perhaps even more so).

Though Larson admitted (reluctantly) to liking the rules package, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver also tempered his praise.

“I don’t love it,” Kyle Larson told NBCSports.com. “I don’t love it. I thought the racing was definitely more exciting than it typically is here at Charlotte. I’d hate for them to get carried away with it and make us run it at every intermediate (track). I still don’t think the runs were quite as big as what we were all hoping for, the pocket of air or the slingshot or whatever you want to call it. We all could stay fairly close together and run off the back bumpers a little bit easier. I feel that made the racing a little bit better.

“Still, once a fast car gets out to the lead, it’s pretty hard to pass if they do a good job maintaining lanes. So, yeah, I don’t know if we can take this package and give it more horsepower, but I think they could tweak on it and make it even better for (Charlotte).”

There were some track executives who were ready to sign up for running the aero package everywhere starting this weekend. That’s understandable given that there’s been a decade-long push within NASCAR to enhance side-by-side action, which definitely was delivered by this combination in its first race.

But some perspective would be wise.

When a low-downforce rules package made its July 11, 2015 debut at Kentucky Speedway, it was a smashing success – and in conditions similar to Saturday night. In both cases, teams had no real-world testing and little chance to prepare beyond simulations and wind tunnels. The efficacy of the lower downforce package in producing nonstop lead changes and passes faded as teams grew acclimated.

Was Saturday something to build on? Of course.

Something to implement immediately at every 1.5-mile oval? Of course not.

The All-Star Race provided the kernel of a concept that could work at other superspeedways in the future, provided there is some tweaking (specifically, at the front of the pack) and probably some major buy-in from teams.

But it isn’t some magic elixir that can be applied like a fresh coat of traction compound to any track seeking a jolt.


There is danger in listening too much to what drivers want, but this package has an element of socialized racing that could have stars rethinking their careers if it becomes widespread.

Though there is some skill in plate racing, and Saturday night didn’t remove all ability from the equation, mastering the modulation of 800 horsepower with limited downforce is what separates the wheat from the chaff in NASCAR’s premier series.

As Kyle Busch said in April and reiterated this past weekend at Charlotte, racing with underpowered cars in deliberately orchestrated clusters isn’t what attracted him to the Cup Series.

“It’s not necessarily what I signed up for to be a race car driver to bring the whole field closer together and have it dictated by some type of a plate race,” Busch said Friday a day before the All-Star Race. “But if that’s what we’re going to have going forward, then I guess I either need to think about how to get really good at it or getting out of it so we’ll see what happens.”

That isn’t some idle threat. Busch’s lack of affection for plate racing is widely known (and also doesn’t make him unique among his peers). NASCAR offers him the best way to make a living racing on a national stage, but “passion” is a primary motivator for being willing to make a daring pass in a corner at 200-plus mph.

If that passion is diminished by what he perceives as a de-emphasis on his all-world skillset, it would be natural for him to look elsewhere.


Now that teams’ armies of engineers have on-track data to crunch, how would the new package look the next time on track?

Maybe a lot like seven years ago at Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona International Speedway if Team Penske’s hunch is correct. Before realizing it wouldn’t be possible because of handling and speed, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano planned to tandem-draft Saturday night. Keselowski hinted it still could be possible in the future.

If it were to happen, that would present another dilemma for NASCAR, which legislated tandem drafting out of existence because fans were so vehemently opposed to the strategy.


What tracks should be considered next for the package?

The July 14 race at Kentucky Speedway seems the most obvious choice. It’s owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc., whose president and CEO, Marcus Smith, spearheaded the All-Star Race package. Smith told NBCSports.com’s Dustin Long that Kentucky has worked as an R&D-style race weekend in the past (e.g., the low-downforce package in ’15, the Tire Dragon machine in ’16, various traction compound usages).

Other tracks that might be good candidates: Kansas Speedway, Pocono Raceway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Texas Motor Speedway might be trickier since its reconfiguration and repave last year. Kyle Larson said Saturday that the package should be avoided at Chicagoland Speedway. The best way to judge probably would be a detailed debrief between NASCAR, drivers and teams about what was learned Saturday night.

But one absolute non-starter?

Homestead-Miami Speedway. Based on the past four championship finales, there hopefully is a consensus there is nothing “wrong” with that 1.5-mile track.


As of late Monday morning, there apparently weren’t any major overtures by NASCAR or Smith to key members of the Team Owners Council or Race Team Alliance about using the package again.

The charter agreement stipulates that team owners have some say in competition overhauls during the season because they bear the costs that can stretch well into the seven-figure range for the development and retrofitting of their race cars.

The wave of fan enthusiasm from Saturday night likely will make it extremely difficult for owners to parry the momentum of using the rules package again this season, even if it’s a budget-buster for some.

If there is room for compromising, here’s one potential bargain to strike: Tracks that want the rules package this season should agree to direct some of their event revenue to the teams to help defray the costs of the package.


Who is on Alex Bowman’s bad side? Apparently, those who haven’t shown him much respect in his first season with Hendrick Motorsports.

The No. 88 Chevrolet driver made that clear after crashing Saturday night because he refused to lift off the accelerator when challenged by another driver (whom he didn’t name).

“I probably should have lifted because it hurt me more than the guy that ran us like that,” he said. “I’m just frustrated. I feel like these guys have taken advantage of me quite a bit this year, and I’m over lifting for guys. I’m not going to go out of my way to slow myself down to help somebody else out. They would race me the same way I’m just kind of over it.”

Striking the balance between showing deference and being assertive always is difficult for a young driver in a top-tier ride. It might be harder for Bowman because he also is trying to shed the impressions (many likely unfair) that might have been formed by veterans when the 24-year-old drove for a backmarker team in Cup from 2014-15.


Though his pole position was the weekend’s feel-good story, Matt Kenseth didn’t lead a lap Saturday and was a nonfactor after his No. 6 Ford dropped from the top 10 on the eighth lap.

Roush Fenway Racing teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (11th) didn’t fare much better after starting second. “The car drove about the same with this package as it did with the other package and everybody else was just a lot faster,” Stenhouse said. “It was a bummer we couldn’t take that front row start and do something with it. We were kind of a moving roadblock out there.”

While Roush likely didn’t spend as much money and time developing its cars for Saturday’s package as Joe Gibbs Racing or Stewart-Haas Racing probably did, the results are indicative of how much work the team still has to become competitive.

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.

Click here for complete points