Ryan: Does NASCAR really want Martin Truex Jr. to be the bad guy?

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Martin Truex Jr. is a good guy.

He does good things for other people. He finds the good in some very bad situations. He is good in the way he carries himself in the face of great adversity, whether a potentially career-ending sponsor loss or a life-and-death matter.

And yet none of that good seems to benefit him on the racetrack.

Ever.

“I’ve told Martin forever he’s too nice,” NASCAR on NBC analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. said on Sunday’s postrace show, essentially noting the former teammate and longtime confidante he loves as a buddy also is the same guy behind the wheel.

Martin Truex Jr. is a good guy … and that probably cost him another victory Sunday.

Here is the quandary for Truex – and really for the collective NASCAR universe:

In order to win more frequently, and possibly in order to defend his 2017 championship, Truex knows that, on the track, he has to stop being a nice guy.

But what if — because of his God-given skillset, his easygoing demeanor and his code of ethics — he can’t stop being a nice guy?

And even if he could, do we really want him to stop being a nice guy – even if it means he finally breaks through for victories at short tracks and restrictor-plate tracks?

It is no coincidence that Truex, one of the Cup circuit’s most selfless drivers who rarely gets caught gouging anyone, remains winless at the two types of tracks that offer the greatest reward for selfishness and dirty pool.

The No. 78 Toyota driver said it himself last year: In order to win at Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona International Speedway, he knows he “has to be more of a jerk” at the tracks dependent on pack drafting (and all of its hostile blocking and broken promises) because he “gives too much room.”

Truex is never a jerk, though. Just witness his 2018 season – four victories but who knows how many more if he would have laid the bumper more aggressively and forcefully the way others often have done to him?

At Bristol Motor Speedway, Truex was charging to the front with 70 laps remaining when he was wrecked by Kyle Busch during a pass for second.

At the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, he was cruising toward a victory when he was clipped by Jimmie Johnson and knocked out of first entering the final turn.

At Martinsville Speedway, Truex seemed headed to the first checkered flag on a Cup short track when Joey Logano booted him from the lead off the final corner.

The simplest way to win on a short track is to drive through the guy in front of you. It’s a move that Truex rarely makes, and Sunday was no exception.

For several laps around the 0.526-mile oval, he stalked Logano and waited to make a clean pass for the lead until Lap 499 of 500 despite several opportunities to drill the No. 22 Ford earlier.

You can argue the moral relativism all day about whether Logano (who also is a good guy, by the way) was justified in reacting to losing the lead by making that move (and with a championship berth at stake, the Team Penske star has a virtually airtight case), but what’s indisputable is that Truex didn’t play nearly as rough as Logano did on the last lap.

Detractors probably will say that maybe it’s not so much that Truex doesn’t want to race that way as much as that he can’t necessarily race that way.

He is among the steadiest, smoothest and tidiest drivers in NASCAR. His career renaissance of 17 wins in the past four seasons has been marked by his mastery of 1.5-mile tracks (where it’s about setup and pure speed) and road courses (where strategy and perfect laps often determine winners). You won’t find any wins by Truex in which he led only the final lap.

He drives to the limits of his car and rarely beyond them – and almost never at other’s expense. He has much more in common with Mark Martin or even Rusty Wallace, who always seemed in a similar way to be on the short end of the stick with Dale Earnhardt Sr. in their many famous tussles.

Being a good guy can be a tough business. There still might be some good that comes from Sunday’s third-place finish for Truex and Furniture Row Racing.

Based on the bellicose stances in the seething postrace interviews of Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn, it seemed as if the team with a natural rebellious streak had its recalcitrant swagger back for the first time since the announcement of its impending shutdown.

Furniture Row Racing, once described as “a band of misfits” by Truex, has predicated most of its championship-caliber success by embracing the “Us Against the World!” mentality. The Unconventional Team That Could still will be closing its doors in Denver after three more weeks, but it now has a defiant rallying cry to spur its finishing kick at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead-Miami Speedway.

And if any more motivation were needed, Sunday spawned reams of bulletin-board material on social media and some corners of establishment media.

Truex’s angry reaction was shamed on Twitter for being “too whiny” and his moves were dissected to the nth degree. “Why did you race so fairly and cleanly,” the angry mob seemed to be demanding, “when you could have punted the other guy and scooted to a win?”

Why?

Because Martin Truex Jr. is a good guy. A nice guy.

Should he really have to change that?

The answer says a lot more about us than him.

Today’s Las Vegas Cup race: Start time, lineup and more

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One down and only 35 to go.

With the Daytona 500 now in the record books, the NASCAR Cup Series moves on to its second race of the season – and the start of the three-race western swing.

Can Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin make it back-to-back wins to start the 2020 season?

How about defending Cup Series champ Kyle Busch, looking for his second career Cup win in his hometown? What about older brother Kurt Busch, still searching for his first career hometown Cup triumph?

Here is all the info for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The 1980 U.S. Men’s Olympic “Miracle” hockey team will give the command to start engines at 3:37 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:46 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage opens at 11:30 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 1:30 p.m. Driver introductions are at 3 p.m. The invocation will be given by Motor Racing Outreach chaplain Billy Mauldin at 3:30 p.m. The National Anthem will be performed by Carnell Johnson at 3:31 p.m., followed by a flyover by four F-16 “Vipers” from the 57th Wing Adversary Tactics Group from Nellis Air Force Base at 3:32 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 267 laps (400.5 miles) around the 1.5-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160.

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the race with coverage beginning at 3:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s broadcast begins at 2:30 p.m. and can also be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: The Wunderground.com forecast calls for sunny skies with a high of 68 degrees and a 0% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Joey Logano won this race last year, followed by teammate Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch. Martin Truex Jr. won last September’s playoff race, followed by Kevin Harvick and Keselowski.

TO THE REAR: Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell will start from the rear after L1 level infractions in qualifying inspection. Garrett Smithley will also start from the rear due to three inspections failures.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Rain postpones Las Vegas Xfinity race to 7:30 p.m. ET Sunday

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Rain has forced the conclusion of today’s Xfinity Series race in Las Vegas to be postponed until Sunday after the Cup Series race at approximately 7:30 p.m. ET. The race will resume on FS2.

The race had been red flagged since late Saturday afternoon, with the race paused on Lap 51 of 200, only six laps after Chase Briscoe won Stage 1.

The top 10 is currently scored as:

  1. Joe Graf Jr. (stayed out of pits)
  2. Chase Briscoe
  3. Austin Cindric
  4. Ross Chastain
  5. Brandon Jones
  6. Justin Allgaier
  7. Michael Annett
  8. Justin Haley
  9. Harrison Burton
  10. Brett Moffitt

Kevin Harvick, Gander RV CEO put up $100K bounty to beat Kyle Busch in trucks

Kyle Busch
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Kevin Harvick and Gander RV & Outdoors CEO Marcus Lemonis issued a bounty poster in tweet form Saturday.

WANTED: A full-time Cup Series driver to beat Kyle Busch in any of his remaining four Truck Series starts this year (without wrecking him).

REWARD: $50,000 each from Harvick and Lemonis.

The bounty comes the night after Busch won his seventh consecutive Truck Series race, which includes all five starts he made in 2019.

Saturday’s race was his first of five in the trucks this season. He’ll be back in the series March 14 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, March 20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, March 27 at Texas Motor Speedway and May 30 at Kansas Speedway.

Busch won at Atlanta and Texas last year.

Busch himself didn’t seem too impressed with the bounty when told about it in the media center.

So what is in it for Busch?

If no full-time Cup driver is able to beat Busch in those four races, the bounty will be given to the Bundle of Joy Fund, the organization founded by Kyle and Samantha Busch that helps couples who require fertility treatments to conceive.

Lemonis wasn’t done there. Later Saturday night, he put another proposition out into the Twitterverse. If Fox Sports moved any of the races to prime time, he’d increase the purse among the top-five finishers to $250,000.

Needless to say, the original bounty got the attention of a few drivers, including Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Denny Hamlin.

Disclaimer on the following tweet by Hamlin: As noted above, none of Busch’s remaining four truck races are at Richmond Raceway. But…..Richmond is the site of the first Triple Truck Challenge race on April 18.

Richmond’s track president, Dennis Bickmeier chimed in with his thoughts.

Las Vegas Xfinity race under red flag for rain on Lap 51

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Today’s Xfinity Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is under its second rain delay and its first since the start of race.

The race was paused by a red flag on Lap 51, shortly after the end of Stage 1.

The race is official after the end of Stage 2 on Lap 90.

Joe Graf Jr is listed as the leader after he stayed out during pit stops.

The top five is completed by Stage 1 winner Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric, Ross Chastain and Brandon Jones.

The green flag for the race was originally scheduled for 4:16 p.m. ET. The finally waved at 5:48 p.m. ET.

The rain forced the cancellation of qualifying for Cup and Xfinity. The field was set by last year’s owner’s points.

If the race resumes tonight, coverage will be on FS2.

Check back for more.