Bump & Run: Is it time for Jimmie Johnson to be worried?

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How alarmed should Jimmie Johnson be after finishing outside the top 15 at Atlanta and Las Vegas for the first time in five seasons?

Nate Ryan: It has to be somewhat unsettling, even though so much was unknown for the seven-time champion entering this season. Getting acclimated to the new rules, crew chief and sponsor simultaneously is a new experience for the 17-year veteran. It could be simply a matter of getting settled. But at 43 and coming off the first winless season of his career, Johnson surely is feeling some urgency. He wants to prove last year was an anomaly, but so far 2019 has been a regression.

Dustin Long: There should be some concern but it should be tempered. There’s little time during the West Coast swing to update cars based on what is learned at the previous race. This just shows the team it has some work to do. If this team is still running like this by Kansas in May, then the level of concern will increase significantly.

Daniel McFadin: I’d be worried. He has an average running position of 17.4 through three races and the only reason he has a top 10 is because most of the field wrecked at Daytona. He finished two laps down in Atlanta and he wasn’t part of any incidents. If we get through Martinsville and Johnson hasn’t earned another top 10, then it’s time to full on panic.

Jerry Bonkowski: Even though his winless streak now stands at 62 races (dating back to spring 2017 at Dover), it’s not time for Johnson to push the panic button just yet. If he gets to say, Bristol, and he’s still struggling, then there may be pause for concern. But remember, just one win puts him in the playoffs and he can build from there. He’s likely still learning communication and unique nuances with new crew chief Kevin Meendering, so I’m not overly worried just yet.

With consecutive victories and a strong showing by Joey Logano in the Daytona 500, how seriously should Team Penske be taken as the team to beat?

Nate Ryan: It’s only two races, but the organization’s flair for adaptability is undeniable, and Penske seems to have as strong a handle on the new rules as any team in Cup. If Ryan Blaney’s team can shake off its error-prone ways, Penske could have all of its drivers eligible for the playoffs before many teams have a guaranteed berth.

Dustin Long: Team Penske is until someone beats them, but let’s not get too carried away with what they’ve done at Atlanta and Las Vegas. While Brad Keselowski has scored top 10s in both events, he’s done that in each of the past two years at those races. Joey Logano would have the same streak had he not placed 23rd at Atlanta this year. The point is they’ve been strong early in the season before and they’ve shown the ability to excel with this new package.

Daniel McFadin: Penske is the top team right now. Dating back to last season’s Southern 500 they have won eight of the last 15 races and the championship. The fact the new Mustang model hasn’t impeded them is even more impressive. If they’re not up front in Phoenix, I expect them to be the team to beat at Auto Club Speedway where Penske hasn’t placed a driver outside the top 10 in the last four races.

Jerry Bonkowski: Right now, they ARE the team to beat. Yes, teammates Ryan Blaney (15th place in the standings) and Paul Menard (20th place) are struggling, but I expect both to get back on track in the next few races, particularly by Martinsville. And don’t forget, with Logano and Keselowski are now both locked into the playoffs, Team Penske can potentially allocate more resources to Blaney and Menard to get their cars working better and stronger.

Despite flashes of promise, Richard Childress Racing and JTG Daugherty Racing have one driver between them ranked in the top 20  in points. Is this an indication that the new rules package is less of an “equalizer” than some had predicted?

Nate Ryan: It seems more a reflection on the teams and their relatively inexperienced drivers than on the rules. Mistakes (several in the pits) by RCR and JTG Daugherty have undermined the strength they’ve shown at times.

Dustin Long: NASCAR stated that it was their intent with this rules package that the best teams still would be the ones to beat. Richard Childress Racing and JTG Daugherty Racing are not the best teams. RCR has shown speed in practice and qualifying but still has to figure out things for the race. The penalty to Austin Dillon’s pit crew didn’t help at Las Vegas. JTG Daugherty is building their own chassis and refining that takes time.

Daniel McFadin: I don’t think so, Las Vegas was the first race with the full package. RCR showed plenty of speed all weekend, but Austin Dillon’s effort was hurt by a pit penalty. We won’t know what the full potential of this package and its benefits to teams until Auto Club or at least Texas.

Jerry Bonkowski: Let’s not forget that RCR is down to only two teams this season and JTG Daugherty really hasn’t improved much. If anything, it’s in another growth mode. So, lack of success for both teams this early in the season is not entirely a surprise. And unfortunately, it’s not likely to get much better any time soon. Sure, Austin Dillon has looked strong at times this season, but he can’t carry RCR or partners JTG and Richard Petty Motorsports on his shoulders. And while the teams may be struggling with the new rules package, it’s simply going to be a matter of time, patience and trial and error before they start to make any significant progress.

There were more accidents on pit road than on the track at Atlanta and Las Vegas. What’s your take on the lack of cautions for accidents in the last two races?

Nate Ryan: It’s surprising and also a little unsettling. With the new rules delivering additional downforce and lower horsepower, there were concerns that the degree of difficulty might be lessened. Hopefully the lack of crashes isn’t indicative of that emerging trend because the cars need to be hard to drive.

Dustin Long: It’s simple. Sometimes they wreck (Daytona) and sometimes they don’t (past two weeks). Let’s see what happens in the coming weeks.

Daniel McFadin: We are fully entrenched in an era of a lack of attrition and the vanishing act of debris cautions. I expect cautions to roar back in Phoenix with its short-track characteristics. 

Jerry Bonkowski: NASCAR is giving fans what they want in terms of closer racing. That’s a good thing. Teams are still getting used to the new rules package. It’s an evolutionary process, with drivers still feeling their way out on track. Once they get a bit more confident or more familiar with the new package, it’s likely you’ll see more aggressive driving – which likely means we’ll start seeing more cautions for accidents, as a result.

Raphael Lessard to drive full-time for Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2020

Kyle Busch Motorsports
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Canadian driver Raphael Lessard will compete full-time in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the 2020 season, the team announced Thursday.

The 18-year-old native of St. Joseph de Beauce, Quebec, will drive the No. 4 Toyota Tundra for KBM and will also compete for Truck Series Rookie of the Year honors.

Lessard has competed in five Truck races this season, three for KBM and two for DGR-Crosley Racing, with two top-10 finishes including a best showing of ninth at Iowa. He has an average starting position of 10.4 and an average finish of 11.1.

Also this year, Lessard posted two top-five and three top-10 finishes in three ARCA Menards Series starts and one win, one top-five and two top-10 finish in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series in Canada. His win came at his home track, Autodrome Chaudiere in Vallee-Jonction, Quebec, on June 29 when he led a race-high 153 laps.

“I’ve been working really hard the last few years to put myself in position to drive full-time for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series — so this opportunity is a dream come true,” Lessard said in a media release. “Being able to drive for such a great organization in one of NASCAR’s top three series is going to be awesome and I’m going to work hard on and off the race track to learn as much as I can to get better every race.”

Added team owner and NASCAR Cup driver Kyle Busch, who will be bidding for his second career Cup championship this Sunday in Miami, “We’ve watched Raphael grow as both a driver and a person since joining our Super Late Model program in 2018 and we’re looking forward to being a part of his continued progression as he graduates to a full-time role in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series next year.”

Lessard won two events in KBM’s No. 51 Super Late Model in 2018; the Short Track U.S. Nationals at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and the Red Bud 400 ARCA/CRA Super Series race at Anderson (Ind.) Speedway.

In 16 starts for KBM across the CARS Super Late Model Tour, the Southern Super Series and the ARCA/CRA Super Series, Lessard posted two wins, three poles, seven top-five and 10 top-10 finishes last season.

“Similar to Erik Jones and Christopher Bell before him, Raphael joined our Super Late Model program and immediately won some big races,” Busch added. “Then, when given a part-time Truck Series schedule, they all proved capable of running up front and earned the right to compete full time. Erik and Christopher went on to win races and a championship in trucks, now Raphael has the opportunity to continue to follow their blueprint.”

Sponsor and crew chief announcements for Lessard as well as announcements on the rest of the KBM driver lineup for 2020 will be made at a later date.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN: Previewing championship races

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and will preview the championship races this weekend from Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Krista Voda will be joined by Marty Snider, Parker Kligerman and Nate Ryan. Snider and Ryan will be reporting from  NASCAR’s Championship 4 Media Day.

We’ll also have interviews with all four NASCAR Cup Championship 4 drivers: Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch 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.

NBC Sports, NASCAR to launch ‘TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold’

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Press release

STAMFORD, Conn. and DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Nov. 14, 2019) – NASCAR® and NBC Sports have teamed up to launch TrackPassTM on NBC Sports Gold, a new streaming product representing NASCAR’s most significant undertaking in the direct-to-consumer space.

Set to launch in early December, TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold builds off the foundation set by FansChoice.tv and immediately becomes the most robust live and on-demand motorsports content offering in the domestic digital marketplace.

TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold will bring fans more exclusive live motorsports events and an extensive library of archived documentaries and films. The platform will offer exclusive live viewing of a multitude of motorsports, including American Flat Track, select ARCA Menards Series™ events (including ARCA Menards Series East and ARCA Menards Series West), NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour™, and tentpole grassroots racing events, as well as NASCAR Cup Series™ and NASCAR Xfinity Series™ practice and qualifying sessions (NBC Sports’ half of the schedule only).

International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) enthusiasts are also covered, as TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold will feature live and archived content from the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship™, IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge and IMSA Prototype Challenge. Live NASCAR national series races (NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series, NASCAR Gander Outdoors Trucks Series™) will not be offered on the platform.

“The launch of TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold is a significant step forward in both our commitment to grassroots racing and the evolution of our direct-to-consumer strategy,” said Steve Phelps, NASCAR president. “By partnering with NBC Sports, we can deliver more high-quality content to fans who have passionately followed their favorite racing series via FansChoice.tv, while increasing product availability and reliability.”

“Our partnership with NASCAR on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold is a win for racing fans across the U.S., from four-wide action at superspeedways to two wheels sliding across dirt tracks,” said Sam Flood, Executive Producer and President, Production, NBC and NBCSN. “TrackPass will deliver unprecedented, exclusive live coverage of a wide variety of diehard racing fans’ favorite series – from IMSA, ARCA and American Flat Track, to grassroots racing at iconic local tracks like Bowman-Gray Stadium and Myrtle Beach Speedway. TrackPass is a must-have for passionate race fans.”

Fans can access all the content on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold for $4.99/month or $44.99/year. Lowerpriced, series-specific subpackages for IMSA, AFT and NASCAR Roots content will also be available. Both the IMSA and NASCAR Roots (which includes ARCA, Whelen Modified Tour, tentpole grassroots events and select NASCAR practice and qualifying sessions) packages are $2.99/month or $19.99/year. The American Flat Track package will have a $1.99/month or $10.99/year introductory rate for 2020. Existing FansChoice.tv registered users will receive an introductory free trial to TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold.

While FansChoice.tv was a web-based platform, TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold allows users to cast streamed content on a connected device via NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app, letting fans to experience racing action on their preferred hardware, including big-screen environments. Upon launch, TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold will be available on desktop web browsers via the NBC Sports app on iOS and Android phones and tablets, Apple TV (Gen 4), Roku, Amazon Fire TV, AndroidTV, Xfinity X1, Xfinity Flex and Chromecast devices connected via HDMI.

Click here for additional information on TrackPass on NBC Sports Gold.

In the meantime, catch the crowning of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion from Homestead-Miami Speedway this Sunday, November 17, at 3 p.m. ET on NBC or click here to stream the race live.

JJ Yeley to drive full-time in Cup in 2020 for Rick Ware Racing

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Rick Ware Racing announced Thursday that it will field three full-time cars in the 2020 NASCAR Cup season.

The team revealed that veteran driver J.J. Yeley will be one of its three full-time drivers. The other two drivers will be announced at a later date, the team said.

“I can’t thank Rick and Lisa Ware enough for the opportunity to be back behind the wheel of a NASCAR Cup Series car full-time next year,” Yeley said in a media release. “They are a family owned team, who continues to grow and build new relationships with sponsors, and expand their efforts in NASCAR. Over the past couple weeks, we’ve accumulated some pretty solid finishes and can’t wait to see what we can accomplish in 2020.”

Yeley has made 14 starts for RWR this season with an average start of 35.9 and an average finish of 29.2. His best finish was 12th in the summer race at Daytona.

Yeley has made 290 career Cup starts, with a best finish of second at Charlotte in May 2007 for Joe Gibbs Racing. He also has made 328 Xfinity Series starts (0 wins, 15 top five finishes) and 35 Truck Series starts (0 wins, 2 top 10 finishes).

“I am excited to have JJ Yeley on board with the Rick Ware Racing organization for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season,” team owner Rick Ware said in a media release. “JJ is a great asset to any team, and has a proven track record for bringing home solid finishes for RWR. I look forward to having him on board, as we continue to grow this team.”

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