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Bump & Run: Is Kyle Larson’s Southern 500 run a sign of progress?

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What do you make of Kyle Larson not winning the Southern 500 after dominating the race? A sign of progress based on the speed the car had or a sign that the team can’t find a way to win in a season where Larson no wins, five runner-up finishes and two third-place results?
Nate Ryan: It was more indicative of the importance of lane choice on restarts at Darlington Raceway than anything else. If the pit crew is able to dispatch the No. 42 Chevrolet about a tenth of a second earlier, Larson restarts on the inside and likely wins the Southern 500. It still was a highly encouraging week for Larson, whose team regained the speed that had been missing the past two months by installing some last-minute components on the car from a test at Richmond Raceway
Dustin Long: I look at how encouraged Kyle Larson was moments after climbing from his car after the race. Instead of being dejected with a win going away, he talked on pit road about how that car was the best he’s had in more than a year.
Daniel McFadin: It showed that no matter how good a car Larson has, if you take away the high lane from him at a track like Darlington he becomes mortal. That was a result of a marginally slower pit stop than Brad Keselowski‘s team. The No. 42 team has lacked the killer instinct it had in closing out races last year.
Dan Beaver: Finishing second or third has to be getting a little tiresome overall, but this week might be a different. Larson has finished in the top three seven times in 2018, but this is the first time he has backed up one top five with another so he should be encouraged.
What did Ross Chastain’s performance this past weekend driving for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Xfinity event at Darlington show you?
Nate Ryan: He is worthy of consideration for a top-tier Xfinity Series ride.
Dustin Long: It showed he belongs in the conversation for some open rides in the series this season.
Daniel McFadin: It solidified Chastain as a wheelman, something he’s shown in over-performing with JD Motorsports. But it also exemplified the stark difference in equipment between the frontrunners in Xfinity and the teams running just outside the top 12. It’s night and day.
Dan Beaver: The equation of car versus driver skews slightly toward car. Before Chastain, everyone who has driven the No. 42 this year has scored at least a top 10. All but Justin Marks has a top five.
The only way the 16-driver Cup playoff lineup changes this weekend at Indianapolis is if a driver outside that group wins. Of those needing to win to make the playoffs, who would you give the best chance of doing so?
Nate Ryan: Ryan Newman. The Indiana native is a past winner of the Brickyard, and Richard Childress Racing seems to have its Chevrolets trending in the right direction. How delightfully apropos would it be if Newman, who finished runner-up in the 2014 playoffs despite going winless, were to upset the most points-dependent playoff grid in history?
Dustin Long: Ryan Newman has had better performances lately and crew chief Luke Lambert is good at strategy. That’s the type of combination it will take for such a win this weekend.
Daniel McFadin: Daniel Suarez if he can use what he learned at Pocono in a near-winning performance. But the No. 19 team does not have momentum entering Indy. They’ve placed 11th or worse in the last three races.
Dan Beaver: Quite frankly, it’s impossible to predict. Anyone currently outside playoff contention who can win will do so with race strategy. If it comes down to a driver who suddenly finds a burst of speed, Daniel Suarez or William Byron are most likely because of the strength of their organizations at Indy.

NASCAR America: Kevin Harvick’s team failed to keep up with Miami

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Under NASCAR’s current playoff format winning the most races means a lot. It doesn’t win the championship, however, unless one of those victories comes in the season finale.

After the race in Miami, Kevin Harvick was not ready to call his season a failure. He won eight times during the year, tying him for the lead with Kyle Busch. But he was noticeably disappointed by coming up two positions short of claiming his second Cup. Harvick finished behind the 2018 champion Joey Logano and last year’s champion Martin Truex Jr.

“When I look at the 4 team through the whole weekend, they just seemed a little bit off,” Parker Kligerman said on Monday’s edition of NASCAR America. “You look at qualifying, it didn’t go well. And then Saturday practice, they had a short run to start off the first practice because he wasn’t happy with the car. He wasn’t able to find the feel in the car. It just seemed like they were searching a little bit.”

MORE: What went wrong for Kyle Busch in Miami?

Harvick started the race strong, moving up to the lead on Lap 43 after starting 12th. He won the first stage. When the field pitted, the team did not make any significant changes to the car and Harvick was never quite the same.

Jeff Burton said that indicates the team failed to adjust to the changing characteristics of the track.

“In this kind of race when it all comes down to one race and you just get off that little bit at the wrong time, there’s no time to recover,” Burton said.

For more, watch the video above.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter

NASCAR America: What went wrong for Kyle Busch in Miami?

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Kyle Busch was one of the dominant drivers of the season with eight wins during the season to his credit and an incredible number of bonus points as the playoffs began. Two of his wins came during the playoffs, which led many to consider him one of the co-favorites to win the championship along with Kevin Harvick.

Instead, Busch finished a distant fourth in the race and the championship.

“There was nothing in the 18 car that was magical,” Steve Letarte said on Monday’s edition of NASCAR America. “The 4 (of Harvick) when they dropped the green drove right to the front. … The 22 (of Joey Logano) at times, you said ‘he’s got great short run speed; if it comes down to a short run, he should be good.’ The 78 (of Martin Truex Jr.) had great long run speed. The 18 had none of the above.”

Busch was forced to gamble in the championship race to simply have a shot at winning. Staying out longer than most of the competition, he entered the pits on Lap 248 as the leader and rolled off pit road as the leader. When the green flag waved on Lap 253, he fell back quickly.

“(Busch) wasn’t better in any category,” Letarte added. “And that’s what really surprised me: A team that didn’t have a lot of weaknesses coming into the race really raced with nothing but weaknesses. Average pit crew, average speed, I think decent pit calls by Adam Stevens was the only thing that kept them in the picture for that last restart.”

Letarte went on to describe what he was watching in the final laps. While Logano drove to the front, Busch fell four seconds off the pace.

For more, watch the video above.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Breaking down Joey Logano’s championship

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Today’s NASCAR America breaks down Joey Logano and Tyler Reddick‘s championships plus the best moments from the 2018 season.

Carolyn Manno hosts with Parker Kligerman from Stamford, Connecticut. They are joined by Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte in the Charlotte studio.

On today’s show:

  • Coming off the heels of a memorable Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, we’ll recap Sunday’s thrilling season finale that saw Joey Logano become the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion. We’ll break down the key points of the race and get reaction from Logano and team owner Roger Penske.
  • We’ll hear from Championship runner-up Martin Truex Jr., who finished second at Miami in his final start with Furniture Row Racing.
  • Take a look at Tyler Reddick’s championship performance in Saturday’s Xfinity Series finale and what it means for his career going forward.
  • And we’ll look back at some of the best moments from the 2018 NASCAR season.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Penalty report from Miami

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NASCAR issued a $10,000 fine against Aric Almirola‘s crew chief, John Klausmeier, for an unsecured lug nut after Sunday’s Cup season finale.

Almirola finished ninth in the race.

No other penalties were announced.