Denny Hamlin reacts to giving up the No. 1 pit stall to Kyle Busch

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. — In an unusual development, the pole-sitter for Sunday’s Ford 400 championship finale will start first in the race but won’t be stopping the last stall in the pits at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

How did Denny Hamlin feel about handing over the best spot for pit stops to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch, who will race for a title Sunday?

In an interview with the Associated Press and NBC Sports after the final practice Saturday, Hamlin (who is starting on the pole at the track for the second consecutive season) discussed his reaction to team owner Joe Gibbs’ decision to cede the No. 1 stall to Busch (who qualified second), the precedent it might set, how sponsor FedEx reacted and how racing is complicated Sunday for those outside the Championship 4.

Q: You said last night that you would prefer to keep the stall, can you explain how this decision was reached?

Hamlin: “Ultimately, it’s an upper management decision, and that’s part of it. I understand. Sat down with Joe quite a bit. He came over pretty fast to talk to me. I could see the other side of it. If the roles were reversed, I think we would hope for the same thing. I think that’s the thing that sucks about it. You can’t predict what will happen in the future, but we would expect the same thing back.

“The problem is from my standpoint is it probably will set a precedent going forward. It probably will be a manufacturer thing more so than a teammate. I hate it, too, because I denied Martin last year. Luckily he won the race anyway, but I just think it’s a tough deal, and you’ve got to listen to the boss. And I understand, too, that there’s 400 employees back at the shop saying you got to do it. We’re narrow-minded because we’ve got 20 guys here working on our car, but there’s also 400 or 500 at the shop who are like you’ve got to do what’s best for all of us. I get that part of it. Ultimately, I sat behind Kyle at Martinsville for just way too long at the end of the race thinking I shouldn’t pass him, and I lost the race by a 10th (of a second) and shouldn’t have done that. I look back, I gave away a Richmond race. A bunch of stuff I just gave away trying to help.

“Hopefully, it all just comes back full circle. Maybe I’ll even get a thank you text.”

Q: Joe Gibbs says you can win from your fourth stall; do you agree?

Hamlin: “Certainly. Sure you can. I think it just depends on the situation. If there’s a late-race caution, certainly it’ll hurt, but this race typically has gone green for a really long time. If that’s the case, it’s not as big of a factor, but if we have some cautions and things at the end, it definitely can play a role.”

Q: Have you heard from sponsor FedEx about the move?

Hamlin: “Yeah, I talked to them a little bit, and Joe talked to them. They actually said we would want the same in return if the roles were reversed. It’s good that they’re kind of understanding in that sense.”

Q: Can this be classified as manipulating the race?

Hamlin: “I don’t know. Tough to say. I was third last year on the last restart, I cleared Kyle, he was fourth, and I just let him go, so that’s manipulating, too. You could bring that up all the time. Everybody who’s not in it has manipulated for a teammate in some way, shape or form. Manipulating can go … I mean what do we do at Martinsville on restarts? That’s full manipulation. So that’s a big wide, broad term that this could definitely fall in, but definitely on the smaller side.”

Q: Is there any way to police it?

Hamlin: “There’s just no way. Short of just saying NASCAR says we agree No. 1 is the best pit stall and whoever gets the pole has to keep it. Short of that, the 4 car gave us the No. 1 stall at Richmond because it wasn’t the best stall. We qualified second, he chose not to take No. 1. The problem is if it moves away from this track, you could argue which stall is the best, but I think here everyone would agree No. 1 is the best.”

Q: How much of an indicator is this that the race is only important to the four championship contenders?

Hamlin: “Probably. In the grand scheme of things. Even if you come out here and win the race, and I’ve won the race here a few times, and it’s played no role in winning a championship, you’re celebrating in victory lane, and nobody really cares. It’s just about those guys, but they earned that right to be on the stage this weekend. We didn’t.”

Q: Has perspective evolved on how to race the contenders for the 35 guys who won’t race for the title, especially since Kyle Larson said he laid back last year in third instead of challenging the top two championship contenders?

Hamlin: “I think some people do things differently than others. I think Kyle Larson is the kind of guy who would pull the move he did last year to be like I could maybe go up, and I don’t think it was a foregone conclusion he was going to pass those guys. He kind of stalled out when he got there. He’s the guy that you’ve got to respect the people who are up there.

“I think that if it is not one of my teammates that are in that same position in the top two, and I’m third running them down, I’m going to try to pass them both. No matter if it’s a Toyota teammate, I have to think about it. Can I pass them in time? It’s the thing about this sport, you’re playing for the championship, but yet everyone is playing, too. It’s the same thing that sucks about it last week and the week before. We all have to play on the same field. And we’re all out there trying to achieve our own goals, and sometimes that crosses the path.”

Bump & Run: Which IndyCar, NASCAR drivers should try other series?

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Who is an IndyCar driver you’d like to see try NASCAR and a NASCAR driver you’d like to see try IndyCar?

Nate Ryan: Alexander Rossi in NASCAR (watch his restarts in the 2018 Indianapolis 500 and imagine what he could bring to NASCAR’s double-file lineups on a regular basis). Larson or Kyle Busch in IndyCar because of their raw talent and desire to race the event.

Dustin Long: Colton Herta in NASCAR. The 19-year-old was on the team that won the GT Le Mans class at the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January and set the race’s fastest lap in his class. He followed that by becoming the youngest driver to win an IndyCar race when he took the checkered flag first in March at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. As for a NASCAR driver in IndyCar. It would be fun to see what Kyle Busch could do in those cars.

Daniel McFadin: James Hinchcliffe is my easy pick to go from IndyCar to NASCAR. His personality in the NASCAR garage would be welcome and a ton of fun. On the flip side, throwing the often abrasive Kyle Busch into the IndyCar swimming pool would be a treat, both to see his driving ability showcased and to see his personality clash with others.

Jerry Bonkowski: I’d like to see either Josef Newgarden or Will Power try NASCAR. Newgarden because he’s from NASCAR country (Tennessee native) and Power because he said recently he’d be open for the challenge. I’d like to see Kevin Harvick or Kyle Busch try IndyCar.

 

Who needed the result more in the All-Star Race: Winner Kyle Larson or fifth-placer finisher Bubba Wallace?

Nate Ryan: Bubba Wallace. This was one of the best days of his NASCAR career, ranking just behind the first truck win at Martinsville and last year’s runner-up showing at the Daytona 500. It was a morale booster for Larson and the No. 42 team, but they still need a points win for full validation.

Dustin Long: Kyle Larson needed it more. No doubt the result was big for Bubba Wallace, who has had his struggles recently. For Larson and his team it shows they can win. It’s one thing to think you can and another to do it in a season that has been dominated by Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske. Could this help build momentum for Larson and his team to carry through the upcoming races?

Daniel McFadin: Bubba Wallace for sure. Kyle Larson’s racing future is secure. Wallace’s is much more uncertain and with Richard Petty Motorsports’ struggles to find sponsorship, that brief moment in the spotlight could prove to be valuable. But on a personal level, Wallace needed it more as a reminder he’s kind of good at this whole racing deal.

Jerry Bonkowski: While Larson certainly needed a win, it came in a non-points paying race, so it has no impact upon him going forward in the regular Cup standings and/or playoff contention. I believe the finish for Bubba was needed more because of the difficult season he’s had to date both performance-wise and personally. Both drivers have struggled, but Bubba needed this showing more.

 

NASCAR does not plan to penalize either Clint Bowyer or Ryan Newman for what happened during and after the All-Star Race between those two. Good call?

Nate Ryan: Yes. Legislating behavior must be avoided except for extreme circumstances because NASCAR needs more emotion like this, not less.

Dustin Long: Yes. NASCAR is being consistent. Kyle Busch and Joey Logano were not penalized for their fight on pit road after the Las Vegas race in March 2017. No need to penalize Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman after talking with both on Saturday night.

Daniel McFadin: I was in the grandstands on Saturday night and the crowd roared when the shot of Bowyer going after Newman was flashed on backstretch video board. No one was hurt and it added even more electricity to the race’s narrative. Why fine someone for something you’re going to use to promote the event for as long as you continue to hold it?

Jerry Bonkowski: Bad call. While I understand the heat of the moment and Bowyer’s anger at Newman, his post-race fists of fury actions warranted some kind of penalty. If this had been a points-paying race, something like that would have merited at least a one-race suspension.

 

The two non-points races this year were won by Jimmie Johnson (Clash at Daytona) and Kyle Larson (All-Star Race). Johnson is winless in 71 points races. Larson is winless in his 58 points races. Will either have a win before the playoffs start?

Nate Ryan: Yes, they both win in the regular season.

Dustin Long: Yes. Would put Kyle Larson down for the Bristol night race, if not sooner. I’ll put Jimmie Johnson down for Michigan in August.

Daniel McFadin: Kyle Larson is more than likely to have a win between now and September. While Johnson has shown flashes of improvement over the last four months, based on what we’ve seen lately, I don’t have a lot of confidence that the No. 48 team will find what they need to be in victory lane anytime soon outside stealing a win at Daytona

Jerry Bonkowski: Yes, both drivers will win before the playoffs start. If one or both fails to do so, the only way they would make the playoffs is on points. And that’s always an iffy proposition. To use a well-worn phrase, they have to win to get in. Both will do so.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: All-Star Race recap

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NASCAR America returns today and airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Steve Letarte, Jeff Burton and Dale Jarrett will discuss the wild action from the All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

NASCAR America will be followed by IndyCar Live from Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 6-6:30 pm ET with Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy.

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.

Long: All-Star Race shows value of shorter distances for Cup events

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The All-Star Race is billed as an event that also serves as a test session.

While cars had some new parts that may be used on the Gen 7 vehicle — expected to debut in 2021 — there’s something else that can be taken from Saturday night and applied to more races.

Shorter distances.

A night that saw two stages in the Monster Open end in spectacular finishes, the All-Star Race crown a new winner and punches thrown on pit road afterward, featured 150 laps compared to the 400 laps that will be run on the same track this weekend.

While there remains room on the Cup schedule for a Daytona 500, a Coca-Cola 600 and a Southern 500, the All-Star Race showed that sometimes shorter distances can be better.

There certainly didn’t seem to be any complaints from fans Saturday night about seeing fewer laps of racing than most weekends.

Instead, the talk was about Clint Bowyer running to Ryan Newman’s car and flailing at Newman in retaliation for being wrecked on the cool-down lap.

Or the talk was about Bubba Wallace’s dramatic win in the second stage of the Monster Energy Open that saw Daniel Suarez slide off track and then Wallace finishing fifth in the All-Star Race.

Or the talk was about Kyle Larson winning is first All-Star Race and collecting $1 million after holding off Kevin Harvick at the end.

All this over an exhibition race.

Imagine what might happen if this was a points race and the winner secured a spot in the playoffs — something Larson initially wondered if he had done before being told no.

Shortening some races shouldn’t be done as a way to find younger fans that some would suggest don’t have the attention span for longer races. The sport doesn’t need to go chasing fans that way. It did that years ago and alienated its older fans.

But if some shorter distances heighten tensions in races and lead to more water cooler moments, then it’s something the sport should consider.

The notion that most races need to be marathons is outdated and outrageous. Few cars suffer mechanical failures. The downforce is so great that few cars spin, let alone crash. Racing is no longer a test of a car’s survival over long distances.

While longer races allow drivers and teams to overcome handling issues or mistakes early and contend for wins, that shouldn’t be the main reason to keep some races 400 or 500 miles.

Turn some of these races into sprints, add points and watch the pressure build. There will be no time for pleasantries. It will be about charging to the front.

Saturday night’s race provided such action. Although not every short race will capture the essence of the All-Star Race, there’s a greater chance of it happening.

Just think about what often makes a longer race special. It’s a restart at the end that forces drivers to make bold moves. In essence a late restart turns a long race into quick sprint.

Why not add a few more of those in the future?

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The All-Star Race will be in Charlotte next year but what is the event’s future?

Provided the Gen 7 car debuts in 2021 as NASCAR states, there will be no need to use the All-Star Race that season as a test session — as has been done the past two times — because teams still will be trying to figure out the car.

That would make it a good time to consider moving the All-Star Race to a different location. Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway would be a logical choice but there are challenges.

Provided NASCAR releases the 2021 schedule next April — the 2020 Cup, Xfinity and Truck schedules were all released by April 3 this year — it gives the folks at Bristol Motor Speedway (and Speedway Motorsports Inc.) less than 11 months to complete a deal with the city and the fair board, which oversees the track, get funding approved and make the changes that are needed to update the track.

While all of that is happening, the city will have elections in August for mayor and other city positions. With multiple candidates running for mayor, a run-off might be needed and that would be held in September.

Those in the sport who have had to work with government entities know how deals can be all but done and then suddenly change at the last minute, throwing everything in doubt. The more layers of government, the longer something takes.

Anything can happen. A deal could be completed in time and could provide the opportunity to move the All-Star Race to Nashville in 2021. If not, maybe there is another place to hold it besides Charlotte, which already has two points races.

If not Nashville, maybe Iowa Speedway or some other track that would need a limited number of upgrades to host NASCAR’s top series. It could be time to think about moving the All-Star Race to places that don’t already have a Cup event.

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Synthetic turf at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Daniel Hemric, Daniel Suarez and Ryan Newman showed during Saturday night’s races at Charlotte Motor Speedway how valuable it is for a track to have a synthetic turf instead of grass.

The track installed 88,000 square feet of synthetic turf last summer, along with a new drainage system, to replace the grass along the frontstretch. It was in place for the inaugural race on the Roval.

Hemric slid through the turf during the second stage of the Monster Energy Open after contact with Ryan Preece. Suarez spun through the turf at the end of the second stage in the Open. His car was not damaged, allowing him to continue.

Newman slid through the turf during the second stage of the All-Star Race and also suffered no damage and was able to continue.

“That was big,” Newman said. “I was able to finish my race. If there was grass down there, I wouldn’t have. That was a big deal.”

As long as vehicles have splitters, NASCAR should look to require speedways to use synthetic turf instead of grass in areas near the track to limit the damage when cars and trucks go through those areas. If not turf, then pave those areas. 

While not every accident is the same, just look at what happened to Natalie Decker in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series race earlier this month when she slid into the frontstretch grass at Kansas Speedway. Decker was eliminated because of the damage and finished 25th.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said Monday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that series officials will “continue to look at” synthetic turf in place of grass at tracks.

“While it does present some challenges at some other tracks, I think that is a system we’ll continue to look at,” he said. “Certainly performed great. It looks good from a fan perspective and certainly helps the cars when they get in the turf during a race.”

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With Kevin Harvick chasing him in the final laps, Kyle Larson did not make a mistake and give away the All-Star Race.

It was much different from the 2016 All-Star Race when he hit the wall while leading with two laps to go as Joey Logano challenged him. Logano went on to win. Larson finished 16th in the 20-car field.

Saturday night, there were no mistakes.

“This year has been different for me,” Larson said. “I’ve never worked out before, and I’ve been in the gym a little bit more this year with (trainer and former driver) Josh Wise and just working out with him, and being around him puts a lot more confidence and ease into me. I feel like I’m just more calm.

“I wasn’t nervous at all that last restart, and I think part of that is just from feeling like I am prepared. And also losing close races.  I just — I feel like I’ve done a good job of not getting stressed out, even with me losing the Chili Bowl (on the last lap to Christopher Bell in January). I felt like I was really calm until the last two laps and I gave the race away. (Saturday) I wasn’t going to let that happen.

“With those losses that I’ve had, you grow from each and every one of them. Hopefully we can continue this, and I feel like  — everybody becomes a better driver the older they get, but I feel like I’ve put more work and effort into it this year.”

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eNASCAR Heat Pro League season begins Sunday in Charlotte

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While the Coca-Cola 600 is set to go green just after 6 p.m. ET on Sunday, the racing festivities will actually begin a few hours earlier at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Sunday also marks the start of the inaugural eNASCAR Heat Pro League season.

The season-opener comes two months after 14 NASCAR teams drafted 28 players to compete on two separate consoles.

MORE: Meet the No. 1 draft picks for NASCAR Heat Pro League

The races, which will be on the virtual Charlotte Motor Speedway, will be held at the NASCAR Trackside Live stage and will be streamed on NASCAR’s Facebook and 704Games’ Twitch channel.

Green flag for the Xbox One race will be at 3:30 p.m. ET. The PlayStation 4 race is set to start at 4 p.m. ET.

Each race will be approximately 30 minutes in length on each console. The number of laps will change from track to track as a result. There are no stages but there will be a mid-race caution. Points will not be awarded for finishing order at the time of the mid-race caution.

Fans can tune-in starting at 3 p.m. ET for pre-race coverage.

The second race of the season is scheduled for Wednesday, May 29. The full 16-race schedule will be announced at the end of the week.

Here are the full driver rosters for each console.

Xbox One Drivers/Teams:

Greg Matarazzo / Chip Ganassi Gaming

Nicholas Vroman / Leavine Family Gaming

Tyler Dohar / JR Motorsports

Brian Tedeschi / Team Penske Esports

Nick Walker / Roush Fenway Gaming

Diego Alvarado / Petty Esports

Josh Shoemaker / Stewart-Haas Gaming

Sam Morris / Hendrick Motorsports Gaming Club

Daniel Buttafuoco / Gibbs Gaming

Justin Brooks/ JTG Daugherty Throttlers

Matt Heale / GoFas Gaming (GoFas Racing)

Jordan McGraw / RCR Esports (Richard Childress Racing)

Jacob Kerr / Germain Gaming (Germain Racing)

Casey Gomme / Wood Brothers Gaming

 

PlayStation 4 Drivers/Teams:

Slade Gravitt / Wood Brothers Gaming

William Arnold / Germain Gaming

Joey Stone / RCR Esports (Richard Childress Racing)

Hunter Mullins / GoFas Gaming (GoFas Racing)

Zach Onson / JTG Daugherty Throttlers

TJ McGowan / Gibbs Gaming

Nick Jobes / Hendrick Motorsports Gaming Club

Brandyn Gritton / Stewart-Haas Gaming

Mike Braas / Petty Esports

Cody Giles / Roush Fenway Gaming

Corey Rothgeb / Team Penske Esports

Jason Keffer / JR Motorsports

Josh Harbin / Leavine Family Gaming

Josh Parker / Chip Ganassi Gaming

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