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Friday 5: Former Cup champ proposes rule change for road courses

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Are there too many stages in a road course race?

Former champion Kevin Harvick wonders that after racing at Sonoma and Watkins Glen this year — and a playoff race at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval to come for the Cup Series.

“I don’t like the two stages for the road races,” Harvick said on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show this week. “The reason that I don’t like the two stages is we waste about 8-10 laps of caution between the end of the two stages. It takes some of the strategy out of the race. This week we had three sets of tires. You had two stages, so most guys put two sets of tires on and you had to stop one time (in the final stage). Then you had another set of scuffs that you used in qualifying that were available as your emergency set of tires.

“One thing about road racing to me is strategy. You see so many strategies as you go through the years and you see guys doing different things and put themselves in position to win. To me, it might be worth looking at a single stage with double points for winning the stage.’’

He’s for putting that stage beyond a fuel window, meaning teams would have to pit before the stage ended. Harvick noted that the Watkins Glen race was 90 laps and suggested putting the single stage at Lap 40 since the fuel window was about 35 laps.

“To me it doesn’t flow well at the road courses,” Harvick said of two stage breaks at a road course race. “I would like everybody to think about and look at eliminating that second stage and going to maybe just one stage, double points.”

OK, let’s look at the issues.

At Sonoma, each stage break lasted three laps. So, six of the eight caution laps in that race were related to the stage breaks.

Still, that means that 92.7 percent of the race was run under green — the second highest percentage of laps run under green in a Cup race this year (the most was the spring Martinsville race, which had 93.4 percent of the laps run under green)

At Watkins Glen, each stage break lasted three laps. So, six of the 11 laps of caution were because of stage breaks.

That means 87.7 percent of the laps run were under green. That ranks 13th best among the first 22 races.

Strategy still was a factor in both road course races. At Sonoma, teams decided if they wanted to win the stage and get the playoff point or put themselves in position to win the race.

Sonoma winner Martin Truex Jr. pitted from the lead with two laps to go in the opening stage, sacrificing one playoff point to better position himself to win the race and score five playoff points. AJ Allmendinger won that stage.

Harvick pitted from the lead before the end of stage 2 to set himself up for the finish. Denny Hamlin won the stage. Harvick went on to finish second to Truex that day.

At Watkins Glen, Kyle Busch pitted from the lead before first stage. Truex stayed on course and won the stage. Truex went on to finish second in the race to Chase Elliott, who pitted before the stage ended.

Elliott stayed on track and won the second stage. Most of the field did not pit before that break.

Strategy seemed to matter in both races even with two stage breaks.

2. A rule change to consider

Denny Hamlin’s pole last weekend at Watkins Glen wasn’t official until about 13 hours after he completed his run.

NASCAR impounded the cars after qualifying on Saturday night and inspected them Sunday morning. Any car that failed inspection the first time through had their qualifying time disallowed and started at the rear of the field.

Had Hamlin’s car failed, he would not have been recognized as the pole winner. That would have gone to the next highest qualifier that passed tech.

If NASCAR continues to have inspection the day after qualifying and take the chance of the pole winner failing, maybe it’s time for the sport to do more for race winners who fail inspection.

An argument used to be that the sport didn’t want fans who watched the race to find out hours later that there was a different winner. Admittedly, any winner that fails tech after a race loses points, loses playoff points, can’t have that win count toward playoff eligibility and that result can’t count in any tiebreaker scenario. That’s pretty powerful.

But if NASCAR is willing to strip the pole from a driver because his car failed inspection the next day, then it would seem time to do the same for a win — either leave the position vacant or give it to the next highest finishing driver that passes inspection.

If the team still wants to claim the victory and put up a winner’s banner in the shop so be it, but let the record book show something else.

3. A memorable win

Without a full-time ride, Bubba Wallace was unsure of his future last August when he competed in a Camping World Truck Series race at Michigan.

Wallace went on to win that race. It’s his last victory in NASCAR’s national series.

So how does any driver deal with such a gap since their last win?

You go through these moments where you get signs of success and the other times when you’re fighting and crawling,” Wallace said. “And those moments make you stronger, I believe. So, those days when you do click and find something, you have extra fuel to add to the fire from those tough days to go out and really get the job done.

“So, it’s not a matter of us dwelling on not winning, it’s just a matter of us trying to find something that makes our cars much more competitive. That’s a win for us right now.”

Wallace enters this weekend 25th in the points. He scored a career-best second-place finish in the Daytona 500 for Richard Petty Motorsports. His only other top-10 finish this season was eighth at Texas in the spring.

4. Bidding for a playoff spot

JD Motorsports driver Ross Chastain holds the final transfer spot for the Xfinity playoffs with six races left in the regular season. Chastain is in that position while also running the No. 15 Cup car for Premium Motorsports.

With Cup and Xfinity in two different locations this weekend, Chastain will be with the Xfinity team at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and head to Michigan after Saturday’s Xfinity race (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN). He’ll have Reed Sorenson practice and qualify his Cup car (the Cup race is at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN).

Chastain told Jay Robinson, owner of Premium Motorsports, that he would never miss an Xfinity on-track session if he got the ride in the No. 15 car.

“There’s no fair way I can take away from the 4 car,” Chastain said of his Xfinity ride.

Chastain leads Michael Annett of JR Motorsports by 40 points for what would be the final playoff spot. Ryan Sieg of RSS Racing is next, 75 points behind Chastain.

5. Familiar phrase

Since Brian France’s arrest and leave of absence from his role of NASCAR Chairman and CEO, a phrase is starting to be uttered more often by competitors.

After each wishes France well with his health, drivers have a commonality in what they say next:

Kevin Harvick said on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show this week: “I think from the drivers’ perspective, it’s really important whoever is in that position to become more connected.”

Brad Keselowski, who has been outspoken about the need for this sport’s leader to be the track more often, said: “I would definitely be encouraged to have a relationship with (Jim France, interim NASCAR Chair) and see the garage have a relationship with him. That’s never a bad thing.”

Tony Stewart, who also has been outspoken about NASCAR’s leader needing to be at the track, said: “Jim is very grounded and I feel like Jim is a guy who is in touch with what is going on and that’s what you’ve got to have.”

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Kyle Busch takes the blame for wrecking Martin Truex Jr.

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BRISTOL, Tenn. – Kyle Busch left Bristol Motor Speedway with no regrets about his team’s comeback effort but one major regret about an attempted pass that he misjudged by about 6 inches.

“I crashed the 78,” Busch said plainly about his Lap 432 contact that sent Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 Toyota hard into the wall. “That was my bad. Totally misjudged that one coming off the corner. I clipped him there and sent him for a ride.

“He knows that wasn’t intentional at all. We’ve worked really, really, really, really good together these last two to three years, so that shouldn’t ruin anything between us.”

Truex was running second when the crash occurred. He angrily threw his HANS device and kicked the car after coming up short of winning his first short-track race in NASCAR’s premier series but had cooled down after a care center visit.

“(Busch) probably didn’t obviously do it on purpose, but it’s hard Bristol racing,” Truex said. “Probably could’ve shown a little bit more patience. He was a lot faster than me at that point in time. He just caught me and probably another lap or so he would’ve went right by. Half his fault, half my fault for following (leader Clint Bowyer) so long. I should’ve knocked his butt out of the way because he held me up for 15-20 laps and burnt my front tires off screwing with him. Played too nice and got the crappy end of the stick.”

Busch and Truex are de-facto teammates because they are closely aligned through their affiliations with Toyota Racing Development, and this was the second major tangle between the two teams over the past two seasons. Last July at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Busch and Truex wrecked while racing for the lead, and an altercation between their teams led to the suspensions of two Furniture Row Racing pit crew members.

Adam Stevens, crew chief for Busch, said he hadn’t talked with Cole Pearn, crew chief for Truex but said the Indianapolis incident “never crept into my mind all night.

“I would assume they’re upset,” Stevens said. “They got wrecked out of a race. I’d be upset. That’s all there is to it.”

Busch said no damage control would be necessary.

“Cole’s really cool, Martin’s really cool,” he said. “I think they’re fine. Maybe I’ll send them a ‘Sorry’ cake to the Denver shop for the guys having to work extra. They’ll probably throw that (car) away anyways, but it ruined their day of being able to get a win or even a second.”

It didn’t ruin the day for Busch despite having endured a wild chain of events in Saturday’s 500-lap race. His No. 18 Toyota slipped out of the traction compound and spun while running the inside lane on the third lap, causing a 15-car crash.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver fell two laps down, but his team managed a repair job that allowed him to climb back into the top five in the final 100 laps.

That was just me and this team and never giving up and being able to drive up through the field like that,” Busch said.

The damage, though, prevented his team from filling his fuel tank swiftly, which cost Busch several spots in the pits on every stop. That was costly on a restart with 23 laps remaining, and he spun after getting sandwiched between the cars of Jimmie Johnson and Chris Buescher.

“We had a shot to come back there and win the race realistically,” Busch said. “We certainly were going to way overachieve, but we just didn’t get to.”

“I’m proud of the effort,” Stevens said. “I’m proud of the car we put on the racetrack. Had we been able to put fuel in it, in a timely manner, it would have been a whole different race. … Hard to win a race when you’ve got to pass every car on the lead lap every run. Frustrating, but it shows what the team is capable of, I guess.”

Kyle Larson finishes second in ‘most frustrating Bristol race’

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — A night after earning his first NASCAR win at Bristol Motor Speedway, it was back to business as usual for Kyle Larson in the Cup Series.

Larson had to settle for another second-place finish to a guy named Busch.

Larson earned his fifth runner-up result of the season and his second at the half-mile track. But instead of placing behind Kyle Busch like he did in April, Larson was left looking at Kurt Busch‘s rear bumper.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver has placed second six times since his last win in the 2017 regular-season finale at Richmond. Three of those runner-up results have been to Kyle Busch.

“I mean, I’m happy to finish second,” Larson said. “That’s probably 12 to 15 spots I feel like better than where I deserved to finish. Our car was just really bad. I got lucky all night lining up in the right lanes.  I could gain three or four spots every restart. Just fight to hang on there. Then I’d be terrible at the end of the runs.

“Probably the most frustrating Bristol race I’ve had just ’cause I never really felt like I had a shot to win.”

After starting from the pole, Larson led three times in the first 63 laps but only led two laps the rest of the way.

He placed sixth in Stage 1 and fought to place fourth in Stage 2.

Larson found himself in 10th on the next to last restart with 22 laps to go. On the final restart, with 13 laps to go, he was in fourth.

Larson quickly moved into second after Clint Bowyer failed to get up to speed on the restart.

“Fourth is the second-best place to start besides the leader,” Larson said. “I knew I would get out to second. I hadn’t been around Kurt on the short runs there to see what he was doing.  Was hoping maybe he would run the bottom for a couple laps.

“He went straight away to the top.  I knew it was going to be tough to pass him.  I knew if I got close to him, I’d have to use the bumper a little bit.  I never even got close enough to get to him there.”

Larson, who clinched a spot in the playoffs on points, gave the traction compound applied to the bottom lane in each turn a positive review.

“It didn’t really matter where I ran,” Larson said. “Everybody that passed me either passed me on the top or the bottom, then drove away from me in each lane.

“I would say the lanes are pretty equal and consistent. Just hard to pass. When you get down there, you can have more lap time down there, but then your exit gets kind of tight because they hang on your outside.

“Yeah, Bristol is still a bad‑ass place.  I think they’ve done a good job with figuring out exactly where they need the (compound).”

What drivers said after Bristol

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Kurt Busch — Winner: “It’s awesome to do it at Bristol. I love this place. We now have won six times here and I have great teams that have always helped me win. This group of guys, Billy Scott, my crew chief, this is his first win and to be able to do it with Ford and Monster and Haas Automation is just what it’s all about is executing as a team and we had good restarts when we had to, and then you’ve got to get clever and start throwing everything at it.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 2nd: “I think if I had a better car, tires probably would have showed what they are really capable of. This was just a really frustrating day. Our DC Solar Chevy was not very good from Lap 1 to Lap 500 there, but we fought and got a second-place finish out of it. So, I was happy about running second, but just disappointed because I had a lot of confidence going into this race and thought our car was really good. But, we were probably a 12th to 15th-place car, I thought. Just lined up in the right re-starts just about every time and was able to gain some spots on every re-start and maintain. And then would be terrible there towards the end of the run. Frustrating, but we were able to fight; so that’s good for our team to be able to do that. Our pit stops, aside from the first one, were really good. So, I’m happy about that that. So, we’ll just continue to fight to get our cars a lot better.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 3rd: “Yeah, not quite enough of something. I don’t know, just got tight there after the run that we had the lead and once we got it freed back up, but we kept getting the bottom on all the restarts and it was just hard to go forward and what not. But, man, that thing was really fast there at the end. It felt like we were making up some ground on those guys.”

Joey Logano — Finished 4th: I wouldn’t say we’ve been in a little slump, but we kind of have been. We’ve been consistent and run in the top 10 and that’s just kind of where we’d run. We had a couple wrecks here recently with Pocono and Watkins Glen and a top 10 last week felt OK. I felt like we had a better car than a top 10 last week and then this week we had a car that could win if circumstances played out right, which it didn’t, but, overall, I’m proud of the speed we had on the short run.

Erik Jones — Finished 5th: “The run before last, we could’ve got up front when Kyle (Busch) and I were kind of running through the field. We were probably the best car, but you know there at the end, I didn’t have enough. I was too tight. I think our Sport Clips Camry was just lacking a little bit all night. We were close, but we could never find that last little bit to get up there and compete for the lead. I’m wore out. We worked hard all night trying to get ourselves a shot. It just wasn’t quite enough.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 6th: “I just clearly didn’t do a good job on the restarts. When I had the lead I thought I got a good jump and about the time I shifted Kurt (Busch) hit me in the door and it just lit the tires up. He didn’t do anything wrong, it’s just a product of it. I don’t know. Then when I was on the bottom I spun the tires real bad and they all got around me. It’s disappointing. You get a car that good and you get that close you hate to not come home with it, but, all in all, for as terrible as we started the weekend and as bad as our yesterday was, to lead laps or even be in the top 10, I was pretty surprised to be honest with you. In the grand scheme of things it was a pretty good run for us, but you hate to give them up like that.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 7th: “We just struggled as the track got colder and rubbered in. I was really happy with our car in the first stage, but we just kind of lost it from there. It was a decent comeback for us. We were gonna restart sixth and the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) pitted and that kind of hurt us, but it was a decent night.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 8th: “We had a really good race car, just had that loose wheel and lost those two laps. Almost got the lap back under green and that would have probably have gotten us a couple more spots there, but still got it back through wave arounds and lucky dog. Just proud of my guys, we had a good race car, but the car was good.”

JIMMIE JOHNSON — Finished 9th: “We had a decent night. I guess the No. 41 (Kurt Busch) won by staying out. We kind of lined up on the inside and felt like we had to come in for new tires with 20 to go or something. Just a solid night. We will take it. Of course, we want more, but it was nice to have a good consistent run all night long.”

Trevor Bayne — Finished 11th: “Jack asked me in the driver’s meeting how my car was and I told him it was a 10th to 15th-place car and if we could get it to turn we’d be better than that. Early in the race it turned and we drove up into the top 10 and were running about eighth. I had the speeding penalty and kind of overcame that and got back up to seventh or eighth and then that last restart it was all about what lane you were gonna be in. We were gonna be in the top 10, but Jimmie (Johnson) pitted and I was like, ‘Oh, man.’ So I started on the bottom and cost us a few spots and ended up 11th.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 12th: “Unfortunately, qualifying didn’t go as planned but I wasn’t too concerned about it because our practices went well. Once the race started we battled tight and loose conditions, but by halfway, we were balanced fairly well. The biggest issue we had was being able to maneuver through all the rubber on the track. Our Chevy either plowed or shook itself loose. I think we’re all looking forward to the off weekend so we can recharge and get ready for Darlington. It’s my favorite race on the Cup schedule and I want to win it for so many reasons. We’ve got to win to get into the Playoffs.”

David Ragan — Finished 17th: “I was disappointed when we got spun and went a couple laps down. Bristol is a tough race and you really have to have 500 really clean laps and we had one mistake early and lost a couple of laps, so we were fortunate to get back one lap down and our team did a nice job making adjustments and I feel like we had a top 12 to 15 car, but a top 20 finish. We learned a few things and it was a good night for us. It was a lot of fun representing the Shriners in the car.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 20th: That was just a misjudgment on my behalf, I crashed the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) so that was my bad totally. Totally misjudged that one just coming off the corner and knowing there was still plenty of laps left, I wasn’t even in a hurry and I just misjudged it by four or six inches, whatever it was and I clipped him there and sent him for a ride. He knows that wasn’t intentional at all and we’ve worked really, really, really, really well together these last two or three years and that shouldn’t ruin anything between us.

Ty Dillon — Finished 21st: “Bristol is called The Last Great Colosseum for a reason. It’s a battle every single time you race here. Tonight, wasn’t the night we had hoped for. My GEICO Camaro ZL1 struggled through the corners on both ends, and we just couldn’t find the balance that we needed. This team is working hard week in and week out to get better. We are going to keep making gains and building on the data we’re collecting.”

William Byron — Finished 23rd: “We had something go wrong early on and just were off the pace the whole time. It was disappointing. I thought we were going to have a good day, but something went wrong. We will figure it out.”

MARTIN TRUEX JR. — Finished 30th: “I’ve seen the replay real quick, but I didn’t really pay much attention to it. It’s hard racing at Bristol. The corner exit’s really slick where the VHT wore out. There’s some real slick patches. I’m sure he (Kyle Busch) hit one of them. Probably didn’t obviously do it on purpose, but it’s hard Bristol racing. Probably could’ve shown a little bit more patience. He was a lot faster than me at that point in time. He just caught me and probably another lap or so he would’ve went right by. Half his fault, half my fault for following the 14 (Clint Bowyer) so long. I should’ve knocked his butt out of the way because he held me up for 15-20 laps and burnt my front tires off screwing with him. Played too nice and got the crappy end of the stick.”

Paul Menard — Finished 36th: “The wheel is broke – broke the center section out of the wheel, which we’ve never seen before, so kind of just disappointed. We had a really fast Ford. We started fourth and felt like if that first caution hadn’t come out we could have been leading the race by Lap three, but on the restart I just had a really bad vibration, trying to stay out of everybody’s way up by the fence and finally the wheel broke. We’ve got to figure out why the wheel broke. What came first, the chicken or the egg, hitting the wall or the wheel breaking, but we’re scratching our head about that one.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 37th: “We started pretty far back with our Love’s Ford and really I was stopped and not in it at all, and then about five seconds later got blasted from behind. I’m not really sure. It seemed like a long time before the other cars got slowed down, but it’s so disappointing to be out so early, and not of your own doing. It’s just heartbreaking. Five hundred laps is a long race and I think I did a total of 10 laps between the two races this year in 2018, so I’m just really frustrated, but this is racing and that’s what happens sometimes. I’m not really sure what led to the 18 (Kyle Busch) being spun, but all I know is there is a lot of cars not paying attention and a lot of spotters not paying attention for that to happen like it happened.”

BUBBA WALLACE — Finished 38th: “I just got run over from behind after I got checked up. I was talked to AJ (Allmendinger) in there (the infield care center) and said ‘Sorry man, I run over you at the beginning.’ He was like ‘No, you are fine.’ He said he was sitting there for a solid second and a half and got run over again. Just poor spotting up top and some rookie drivers out back I guess.”

AJ Allmendinger — Finished 39th: “At this point, it is what it is. I’m just sorry for Kroger Clicklist and everybody that is partners with this race team. I appreciate the hard word out of everybody and all of our partners. We had a lot of Kroger Clicklist guest here. We had a lot of just partners in general, Bush’s Beans home race, so hopefully, Chris (Buescher) can get a strong run, but I’m ready for an off week.”

Results, stats for the Cup race at Bristol

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Kurt Busch held off Kyle Larson in a 13-lap shootout to the end of the Bristol Motor Speedway night on tires that were nearly 40 laps older. This was his sixth career win at Bristol. It came in a week with rumors swirling about his status with Stewart Haas Racing.

Larson held on to finish second. He also finished second in the spring Bristol race to Kyle Busch.

Chase Elliott finished third to earn his fifth consecutive top-10 finish.

Joey Logano and Erik Jones rounded out the top five.

All of the Big 3 drivers experienced trouble. Kyle Busch was involved in a Lap 2 incident, Kevin Harvick had a loose wheel on Lap 185 and lost two laps, while Martin Truex Jr. wrecked after contact by Kyle Busch on Lap 432. Kyle Busch finished 20th, Harvick got back on the lead lap and finished 10th with Truex in 30th.

Click here for complete results