NASCAR America: Five laps that define 2018

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With 11 races remaining until the playoffs begin, there are still 10 spots open for a driver to race his way into championship contention.

Four drivers have multiple victories. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch have dominated the year. And while the last lap has not had a lot of drama every week, there have been defining moments in many of the races that deserve special attention.

Tuesday on NASCAR America, Kyle Petty, Jeff Burton, and Carolyn Manno took a look at five laps that have defined the season so far.

The list began with the final lap of the opening race of the season.

On lap 200 of the Daytona 500, Austin Dillon got into the back of Aric Almirola and spun him out of the lead. Dillon went on to win and virtually secure his spot in the playoffs.

“The way this race played out, that was the defining lap of this race for Austin Dillon,” Petty said. “It’s the defining lap of this race for Aric Almirola. … The thing for me is, that can be the defining lap of a career for Austin Dillon.”

Not all of the laps were as dramatic.

On lap 260 of the Ticket Guardian 500, with 52 laps remaining at ISM Raceway (Phoenix), Busch entered the pits with a margin of seven-tenths of a second over second. Problems with the jack on the left side of the car contributed to a slow pit stop and cost him the lead of the race. Harvick went on to score his third consecutive victory.

“The best teams use (mistakes) for motivation,” Burton said. “And they find a way to make themselves better from that bad situation.”

Busch and the team finished second in that race. They were third one week later at Auto Club Speedway and second again at Martinsville Speedway before putting together their own string of three consecutive wins.

Harvick and Busch’s rivalry would play a part in another defining lap. Harvick was forced to start at the back of the pack in the Coke 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway when his car failed inspection.

On lap 84 after marching his way through the field, Harvick cut a tire and pounded the wall. Busch dominated the remainder of the race and won – earning a record for winning on every racetrack on which he’s competed in the Cup series.

“You don’t know what would have happened, right?” Burton said. “Kyle Busch went on to dominate that race. He was in a class by himself. What would have happened if Kevin Harvick had been there?”

On lap 140 at Pocono Raceway, Martin Truex Jr. stayed out on the track while the race leader Busch and much of the remainder of the field pitted for four fresh tires. Truex won his second race of the season and locked his team into the playoffs.

“Things that went really, really right for (Truex) last year are not going right for them this year,” Petty said. “He caught breaks at the right time last year and put themselves into position. Cole Pearn is not afraid to make a call like this: Let’s just stay out; let’s just gamble.”

Pit strategy played a part in the fifth defining lap as well.

On lap 122, with rain in the area, Clint Bowyer‘s crew chief Mike Bugarewicz gambled on two tires to gain track position. The race went back to green for four laps and Bowyer had to hold off his teammate Harvick for the win.

“(Bowyer) did an unbelievable job of putting Kevin Harvick in positions he didn’t want to be in,” Burton said. “Yeah, it rained, but he won that race. He won that race plain and simple.”

For more, watch the videos above.

Texas shuffles NASCAR Cup playoff standings

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Texas marked the fourth consecutive playoff race that the winner didn’t advance to the next round.

All three races in the first round were won by drivers not in the playoffs. Tyler Reddick won Sunday at Texas, a week after he failed to advance from the Round of 16 and was eliminated from title contention.

Texas did shake up the playoff standings. Chase Elliott entered as the points leader but a blown tire while leading sent his car into the wall, ending his race. He falls to the No. 8 spot, the final transfer position with two races left in this round. He’s tied with Daniel Suarez, but Suarez has the tiebreaker with a better finish this round.

Chase Briscoe, who scored only his second top 10 in the last 22 races, is the first driver outside a transfer spot. He’s four points behind Elliott and Suarez. Austin Cindric is 11 points out of the transfer spot. Christopher Bell is 29 points out of a transfer position. Alex Bowman is 30 points from the transfer line.

The series races Sunday at Talladega (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

 

XFINITY SERIES

Noah Gragson’s win at Texas moved him on to the next round. The win was his fourth in a row.

Ryan Sieg and Sam Mayer are tied for the final two transfer spots to the next round. Riley Herbst is one point behind them. Daniel Hemric is eight points from the final transfer spot. Brandon Jones is 13 points from the last transfer spot. Jeremy Clements is 29 points shy of the final transfer position.

The series races Saturday at Talladega (4 p.m. ET on USA Network).

 

 

CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

The series was off this past weekend but returns to the track Saturday at Talladega. Ty Majeski has advanced to the championship race at Phoenix with his Bristol win.

 

Winners and losers at Texas Motor Speedway

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A look at the winners and losers from Sunday’s marathon race at Texas Motor Speedway:

WINNERS

Tyler Reddick – Reddick isn’t acting like a lame duck. Headed for 23XI Racing in 2024 (if not sooner), Reddick now owns three wins with Richard Childress Racing, the team he’ll be leaving.

Justin Haley – Haley, who has shown flashes of excellence this season for Kaulig Racing, matched his season-high with a third-place run.

Chase Briscoe — Briscoe wrestled with major problems in the early part of the race but rebounded to finish fifth. It’s his second top-10 finish in the last 22 races.

LOSERS

NASCAR Officials – Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, admitted that series officials missed William Byron spinning Denny Hamlin under caution after Martin Truex Jr.‘s crash. Such a situation could have major playoff implications, although Miller hinted that series officials may still act this week.

Christopher Bell – Bell met the wall twice after blown tires and finished a sour 34th, damaging his playoff run in a race that he said was critical in the playoffs.

Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. – Harvick (finished 19th) and Truex (31st) were late-race victims of the day’s tire dilemma. Both crashed while leading.

Track workers  Somebody had to clean up all that tire debris.

Chase Elliott – Elliott remains a power in the playoffs, but he left Sunday’s race in a fiery exit after a blown tire while leading and finished 32nd. He holds the final transfer spot to the next round heading into Talladega.

 

 

Blown tires end race early for several Texas contenders

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FORT WORTH, Texas — A Goodyear official said that air pressures that teams were using contributed to some drivers blowing tires in Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. all crashed while leading after blowing a tire. Among the others who had tire issues were Alex Bowman, Chris Buescher Cole Custer and Christopher Bell twice. 

“We’re gaining as much information as we can from the teams, trying to understand where they are with regard to their settings, air pressures, cambers, suspicions,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing Sunday. “For sure I can say without a doubt air pressure is playing into it. We know where a lot of the guys are. Some were more aggressive than others. We know that plays a part.

MORE: NASCAR says it missed William Byron spinning Denny Hamlin under caution 

“I’m not saying that’s the only thing, but it’s certainly a factor, so we’re just trying to understand everything else that is going on with regard to specific teams. We know a lot of guys have not had issues. We’ve had guys put full fuel runs on tires, but, obviously, other guys have had issues. We’ll be working with them to try to sort through that is.”

Eight of the 16 cautions were related to tire failures that caused drivers to spin or crash.

“It’s not a good look, that’s for sure,” Ryan Blaney said of the tire issues others had. “How many leaders blew tires tonight? Three or four?

“You just don’t understand what is making these things do that. From last week to this week, it’s really unfortunate. It’s just luck now.

“You never know if you’re going to blow one. You go into (Turn) 3 almost every lap with 40 laps on your stuff and I don’t know if one is going to blow out or not. That’s not safe. That’s for sure. Running (180) into (Turn) 3 and the thing blows out and you have no time to react to it. It’s unfortunate. I hope we can figure that out.”

Blaney said he was confused that the tires were blowing partly into a run instead of much earlier.

“It was weird because those tires didn’t blow right away,” he said. “Like the pressures were low. They blew like after a cycle or two on them, which is the weird thing.”

Asked how he handles that uncertainty, Blaney said: “Nothing I can do about it. Just hope and pray.”

After his crash, Elliott was diplomatic toward Goodyear’s situation:

“I’m not sure that Goodyear is at fault,” he said. “Goodyear always takes the black eye, but they’re put in a really tough position by NASCAR to build a tire that can survive these types of racetracks with this car. I wouldn’t blame Goodyear.”

Tyler Reddick, who won Sunday’s race at Texas, said his team made adjustments to the air pressure settings after Saturday’s practice.

“We ran enough laps, were able to see that we had been too aggressive on our right front tire,” he said. “So we made some adjustments going into the race, thankfully.”

This same time was used at Kansas and will be used again at Las Vegas next month in the playoffs. 

Reddick is hopeful of a change but also knows it might take time.

“I just think to a degree, potentially, as these cars have gotten faster and we’re getting more speed out of them, maybe, hypothetically speaking, we’re putting the cars through more load and more stress on the tire than they ever really thought we would be,” he said. 

“I know Goodyear will fix it. That’s what they do. It’s going to be a process. I know they’re going to be on top of it. Hey, they don’t want to see those failures. We don’t want to see them either. They’re going to be working on looking through and trying to find out exactly what is going on. We’ll all learn from it.

“It’s a brand-new car. It’s the first time in the history of our sport we’ve gone to an 18-inch wheel and independent rear suspension. All these things are way different, diffuser. All these things, way different. We’re all learning together. Unfortunately, just the nature of it, we’re having tire failures.”

NASCAR says it missed William Byron spin Denny Hamlin under caution

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FORT WORTH, Texas — A senior NASCAR executive admitted that series officials did not see William Byron spin Denny Hamlin under caution on the frontstretch of Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway. 

The missed call could have major implications in the playoffs — even if series officials decide to penalize Byron later this week, as was hinted Sunday night. 

The issue occurred after Martin Truex Jr. blew a tire while leading and crashed in Turn 3 on Lap 269 of the 334-lap race.  

With the caution lights illuminated, Hamlin slowed. Byron hit him in retaliation for forcing him into the wall earlier. Hamlin spun across the infield grass. NASCAR did not put Hamlin back in his original spot before the contact and did not penalize Byron.

“When we were in the tower, we were paying more attention to the actual cause of the caution up there and dispatching our equipment,” Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition said after the race. “The William Byron-Denny Hamlin thing, we had no eyes on. We saw Denny go through the grass.

“By the time we got a replay that showed the incident well enough to do anything to it, we had gone back to green. I’m not sure that that issue is completely resolved as of yet. We’ll be looking at that when we get back to work.”

Miller did not elaborate on what NASCAR could do this week.

Hamlin expressed his shock on social media at Miller’s comments:

Miller explained how officials missed the Byron-Hamlin incident: “The cameras and the monitors that we’ve got, we dedicate them mostly to officiating and seeing our safety vehicles and how to dispatch them. By the time we put all those cameras up (on the monitor in the control tower), we don’t have room for all of the in-car cameras to be monitored.

“If we would have had immediate access to (Byron)’s in-car camera, that would have helped us a lot, being able to find that quickly. That’s definitely one of the things we’re looking at.”

Race winner Tyler Reddick said NASCAR needs to address the situation to avoid other contact under caution in the future.

“In William’s situation, whether he ran him over on accident or on purpose, there should be some sort of penalty for him on that side because he’s completely screwed someone’s race up, whether it was on purpose or not,” Reddick said. “I feel like there should be something done there.

I’m sure (NASCAR will) make some sort of a decision. I’m sure there will be something they’ll address this week, updates, on NASCAR’s side. I’ll be curious to see what that is. We can’t really have this where you dump someone under caution, they go to the back and you don’t. That could potentially be an interesting situation in the future.”

Byron said he hit Hamlin to show his dissatisfaction for being forced into the wall. 

“I felt like he ran me out of race track off of (Turn) 2 and had really hard contact with the wall,” Byron said. “Felt like the toe link was definitely bent, luckily not fully broken. We were able to continue.

“A lot of times that kind of damage is going to ruin your race, especially that hard. I totally understand running somebody close and making a little bit of contact, but that was pretty massive.”

On the retaliatory hit, Byron said: “I didn’t mean to spin him out. That definitely wasn’t what I intended to do. I meant to bump him a little bit and show my displeasure and unfortunately, it happened the way it did. Obviously, when he was spinning out, I was like ‘I didn’t mean to do this,’ but I was definitely frustrated.”

Hamlin didn’t see it that way.

“I guess we can just wreck each other under caution,” Hamlin told NBC Sports’ Kim Coon. “I tried to wreck him back. I don’t think we touched. I’ve got to look. I don’t think we touched. Obviously he sent us through the infield under caution.”

Asked about having a conversation with Byron, Hamlin said: “I keep hearing these guys, but I’ll just add it to the list of guys when I get a chance they’re going to get it.”

Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart both were frustrated with NASCAR not putting Hamlin back to second after the contact. Instead, NASCAR put him outside the top 15. After pitting, Hamlin restarted 19th. Byron, after pitting, restarted 10th. 

“The man wrecks you under caution and he gets no penalty?” Gabehart said on the team’s radio. “What are they doing?”

Said Hamlin after the race: “I can’t argue the rules with them inside the car and the team did everything they could to try to make a case but ultimately we went spinning through the infield under caution.”

The result is that Byron finished seventh. That puts him third in the playoff standings. He’s 17 points above the cutline going into next weekend’s race at Talladega.

Hamlin finished 10th and is sixth in the playoff standings. He’s eight points above the cutline.