Friday 5: ‘Chaotic’ qualifying is entertaining and shouldn’t change

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Last week’s Cup qualifying at Las Vegas Motor Speedway raised the question of is qualifying more about entertainment or sport?

It was fascinating to watch cars parked on pit road and drivers waiting for someone to go because nobody wanted to be the lead car. They all wanted to be in the draft.

While that took place, spotters counted down the time remaining in the session.

It became a game of who would blink first and take off.

When it was time to go, there was chaos. Cars darted around each other. In the final round, Joey Logano went four-wide on pit road. Ricky Stenhouse passed Logano on the inside and left pit road ahead of him.

“Is chaos a bad thing?” Logano asked NBC Sports’ Jerry Bonkowski this week. “I think that’s the question we have to ask ourselves. Is it chaos? Yes. Is it entertaining? Oh yeah, it’s entertaining, there’s a lot going on. So I don’t know if it’s wrong and we should be changing much.

“I think there’s a couple safety aspects we can add to pit road while we’re jockeying around for position and stuff like that. But as far as the entertainment value, will you get the lap in before the clock runs out, will you get a big enough draft, will they all go out for a second time and you get a big pack again, are they going to knock somebody out of the round? That’s good.

“I don’t know why we would change much of that, I think it’s OK. Yeah, it’s a little chaotic, it’s crazy and none of us has it figured out or scienced out the way we want to have it yet, but that’s competition, that’s just what it is.”

Logano is right. While there was a randomness to who won the pole at Las Vegas, qualifying was as entertaining as any session in recent years.

What happened last week was reminiscent of qualifying at Talladega in October 2014. NASCAR divided teams into two groups for the opening round and each had five minutes. The top 24 overall times advanced.

Most cars stayed on pit road until they hit their cutoff mark to complete two laps. Not everyone made it. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Allgaier were among the cars that didn’t make it to the start/finish line before the session ended. Their fastest laps didn’t count. They both failed to qualify. It’s the only race Stenhouse has failed to make since his 2013 rookie Cup season.

These days, 36 chartered cars are guaranteed a starting spot. That prevents a situation Stenhouse experienced five years ago with a well-funded team.

But that doesn’t ease all the angst. Some competitors were frustrated at Las Vegas because the draft negates who has the fastest car. It’s all about being in the right place to draft and turn the quickest lap. Being in that position can be as much luck as skill.

What happens in qualifying can impact the race. Teams pick pit stalls based on their starting spot. A poor qualifying effort can lead to issues in the race.

Logano is aware of that. He qualified 27th at Atlanta and his team had limited options on where to pick their pit stall. Crew chief Todd Gordon chose a stall behind Alex Bowman’s pit and in front of Martin Truex Jr.’s pit.

Rarely do strong teams pit next to each other because they don’t want to have to go around a car to enter their stall or be blocked in by the car in front. Logano faced that situation at Atlanta. He lost more than 10 spots on each of his first two pit stops because he couldn’t get around Bowman’s car to exit his stall.

That leads back to the question of should qualifying be about entertainment or sport?

The decision today will be easy. The fastest car will be rewarded because teams are not expected to draft.

This issue that will come up again in the coming weeks, though, when the series heads to Auto Club Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway.

“Texas, I don’t know,” Logano said. “I think there’s going to be parts of the track that you want to draft and parts of the track when you’re going to want clean air. When you get to Turns 1 and 2, you’re going to want some air on the car to be able to get through the corner with as much wide open time as possible. That one’s a real question for me.

“I think Kansas is a no-brainer, you’re definitely going to be drafting. As for Fontana, it’ll be interesting. I think there’s going to be some drafting going on there, but I think it’ll be split up a little bit, kind of like the way Atlanta was, kinda 50-50.”

There’s no splitting this issue. It’s about entertainment. Let chaos reign in qualifying.

2. Second to Kyle Busch

For all the wins Kyle Busch has amassed in his NASCAR career, there is a recurring theme.

The runner-up to Busch in more than a third of the 197 races he’s won across Cup, Xfinity and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series has been one of five drivers.

Kyle Busch celebrating a NASCAR win has been a familiar sight through the years. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

The driver who has finished runner-up to Busch the most in those races is Kevin Harvick. He’s done so 18 times — five times in Cup, 10 times in Xfinity and three times in Trucks. The total equates to 9.1 percent of the time Busch has won a NASCAR race, Harvick has been second.

Carl Edwards is next on the list with 15 runner-up finishes to Busch. He’s followed by Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano with 13-runner-up finishes. Next is Kyle Larson, who has placed second to Busch eight times.

Combined, Harvick, Edwards, Keselowski, Logano and Larson have finished second to Busch in 67 of his 197 wins (34 percent).

They are among the 60 drivers who have placed second to Busch in a race he won. The list includes three NASCAR Hall of Fame members (Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Ron Hornaday Jr.), two Indianapolis 500 winners (Sam Hornish Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya) and drivers who have combined to win 48 NASCAR titles in either Cup, Xfinity or Trucks.

The list could grow this weekend. Busch is entered in both the Cup and Xfinity races at Phoenix.

Here is who has finished second to Busch in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks races and how often:

18 — Kevin Harvick

15 — Carl Edwards

13 — Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano

8 — Kyle Larson

7 — Todd Bodine, Matt Crafton

6 — Erik Jones, Johnny Sauter

5 — Greg Biffle, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Ron Hornaday Jr., Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart

4 — Jeff Burton, Austin Dillon

3 — Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Daniel Suarez, Martin Truex Jr.

2 — Mike Bliss, Terry Cook, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, John Hunter Nemechek, Timothy Peters, David Reutimann, Elliott Sadler

1 — Justin Allgaier, AJ Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, Trevor Bayne, James Buescher, Kurt Busch, Colin Braun, Jeb Burton, Brendan Gaughan, David Gilliland, Jeff Gordon, Daniel Hemric, Sam Hornish Jr., Parker Kligerman, Jason Leffler, Sterling Marlin, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears, Brett Moffitt, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Newman, Nelson Piquet Jr., Ryan Preece, Brian Scott, Reed Sorenson, Brian Vickers, Bubba Wallace, Cole Whitt

3. Multiple surgeries

Tanner Thorson, who competed in 11 Gander Outdoors Truck Series races last season, is recovering after he was involved in a highway crash early Monday morning in Modesto, California.

The 2016 U.S. Auto Club national champion had surgery Monday night for a broken left arm, according to the USAC Racing. Thorson had surgery Wednesday on his broken right foot. He also suffered a cracked sternum, broken ribs and a punctured lung, according to USAC Racing. The organization said that Thorson’s family hopes the 22-year-old can return home soon.

According to a preliminary investigation by the California Highway Patrol, Thorson was driving a 2019 Ford pickup that was towing his sprint car when he approached slower moving traffic shortly before 4 a.m. PT. Thorson’s truck struck the rear of a vehicle. KCRA, an NBC affiliate in Sacramento, reported that vehicle was a milk truck.

The impact sent the milk truck into the next lane where it was hit by another vehicle and then came back across the road and was struck another car. The driver was uninjured. A passenger in the truck was transported from the scene with minor injuries, according to the California Highway Patrol. Thorson’s vehicle came to rest on the shoulder and caught fire.

4. First time in new garages at Phoenix

ISM Raceway at Phoenix debuted its new garages and layout when NASCAR raced there in November.

One person missing that weekend was Rodney Childers, crew chief for Kevin Harvick. NASCAR suspended Childers the final two races of last year as part of penalties imposed to the No. 4 team for failing inspection after its win at Texas. So Childers missed the new look at Phoenix – until this weekend.

Childers shared his excitement of being in Phoenix on Thursday night.

5. Remarkable record

Kevin Harvick has finished in the top five in half of the 32 Cup races he’s run at Phoenix. He has nine wins there. Jimmie Johnson has 15 top-five finishes in 31 Cup races there. He has four wins there.

Despite the dominance of the two, they have combined for one win (by Harvick) in the last five races at Phoenix. The other winners in the last five races at Phoenix are Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano.

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Sunday’s schedule for Trucks, Xfinity Series at Iowa Speedway

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Today is Father’s Day and even though the Cup Series is off this weekend, there’ll still be NASCAR racing at Iowa Speedway.

Lots of racing, in fact.

Due to Saturday night’s rainout of the M&Ms 200 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race, today will feature a rare same-day, same-track doubleheader at the 7/8-mile paved oval in Newton, Iowa

The rescheduled Trucks race will take the green flag shortly after Noon ET, while the CircuitCity.com 250 Xfinity Series race will go off at 5:30 p.m. ET.

wunderground.com forecasts a temperature of 75 degrees and an 11 percent chance of rain at the start of the Trucks race. Later in the day, wunderground.com forecasts a temperature of 77 degrees and a 14 percent chance of rain at the start of the Xfinity Series race.

Here’s today’s schedule with TV and radio info:

(All times are Eastern)

9 a.m. – Xfinity garage opens

10 a.m. – Trucks garage opens

11:30 a.m. – Trucks driver introductions

12:10 p.m. — M&Ms 200 Truck Series race; 200 laps/175 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

2:35 p.m. – Xfinity qualifying; single car/two laps (FS2)

3:30 p.m. – Xfinity driver-crew chief meeting

5 p.m. – Driver introductions

5:38 p.m. – CircuitCity.com 250; 250 laps/218.75 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Rain washes out Xfinity practices, Truck race at Iowa

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UPDATE AS OF 9:30 p.m. ET:

NASCAR officials tried but Mother Nature refused to cooperate in stopping rain around Iowa Speedway Saturday evening.

As a result, the M&Ms 200 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race has been postponed until Sunday. The green flag will drop shortly after Noon ET (to be televised on FS1 and on radio on Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Qualifying for Sunday’s Xfinity Series race is slated for 2:35 p.m. ET (FS2, no radio), while the CircuitCity.com 250 Xfinity race will go off shortly after 5:30 p.m. ET (FS1, MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

UPDATE AS OF 9 p.m. ET:

The start of tonight’s M&Ms 200 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Iowa Speedway has been delayed due to weather.

However, the heavy rain has stopped and track drying efforts are underway.

We will continue to monitor the situation and give you updates as they become available.

UPDATE AS OF 7:15 p.m. ET: 

After bad weather prompted NASCAR officials to shorten the first of two Xfinity Series practices at Iowa Speedway, the second and final Xfinity practice has now been cancelled.

NASCAR is still hoping the weather relents to get the scheduled M&Ms 200 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series in tonight. The green flag is slated to fall at 8:30 p.m. ET (FS1 and MRN/SiriusXM).

Qualifying for Sunday’s CircuitCity.com 250 Xfinity race is still slated for tomorrow at 2 p.m. ET, with the green flag set for shortly after 5 p.m. ET. The weather forecast looks good, according to wunderground.com.

We’ll keep you updated with any changes as they become available.

ORIGINAL STORY:

For the second time today, weather has interrupted activities of both the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series and the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Iowa Speedway.

Earlier this afternoon, rain forced the cancellation of qualifying for tonight’s M&Ms 200 Truck Series race. The weather also pushed back the start of the first of two Xfinity practices.

In addition to lightning being seen near the racetrack, the area in and around Newton, Iowa is under a thunderstorm watch. That prompted NASCAR officials to stop the first Xfinity practice, which had been already rescheduled once to go from 5:30 p.m. to 6:25 p.m. ET, to be shortened with 25 minutes of time remaining.

Harrison Burton was the fastest driver (130.192 mph) in the Xfinity pack before the session was stopped due to the approaching bad weather.

Second through 10th-fastest were Christopher Bell (130.112 mph), Austin Cindric (130.063), Noah Gragson (129.977), Cole Custer (129.817), Chase Briscoe (128.935), Zane Smith (128.892), Tyler Reddick (128.834), John Hunter Nemechek (128.687) and Justin Allgaier (128.629).

Click here for the results from the abbreviated first Xfinity practice.

A second Xfinity practice is due to take place from 7 to 7:50 p.m., followed by tonight’s main event, the Truck Series race at 8:30 p.m. ET (FS1 and MRN/SiriusXM). However, weather radar to the north and west of the track is not looking promising at this point.

We’ll update as more information on the conditions becomes available.

Rain cancels Truck qualifying at Iowa, delays Xfinity first practice

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Rain has forced the cancellation of today’s NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series qualifying at Iowa Speedway.

In addition, the first of two Xfinity Series practice sessions, slated to be held from 3:05 to 3:55 p.m. ET has been postponed until 5:30 p.m. ET, and will run until 6:25 p.m. ET. The second Xfinity practice is still set to go at its original scheduled time of 7 to 7:50 p.m. ET.

The 7/8-mile oval in Newton, Iowa is currently being dried and NASCAR hopes to get the remainder of today’s activities in, including tonight’s M&Ms 200 Truck Series race, slated to take the green flag at 8:30 p.m. ET.

The starting lineup for the Trucks race has been set by the NASCAR rule book. That means Chandler Smith — making his first-ever career start in a Truck, and who was fastest in the first of two practice sessions earlier today before the rain came — will start on the pole for tonight’s race. Smith (photo) is driving the No. 51 Toyota Tundra for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Tonight’s race is also the second event in the three-race Triple Truck Challenge; the race winner will receive a $50,000 bonus.

Click here for the starting lineup for tonight’s Truck Series race (televised on FS1 and on radio on MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Kyle Larson dominates en route to Ohio Sprintweek feature win in Ohio

Photo courtesy All-Star Circuit of Champions
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It may be an off-weekend for the rest of the drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series, but not for Kyle Larson.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver won the feature event Friday night in the Ohio Sprintweek race at Ohio’s Attica Raceway Park. Larson won the All-Star Circuit of Champions Series race by more than seven seconds, having lapped half the 25-car field by the time he took the checkered flag.

Dale Blaney, uncle of NASCAR Cup driver Ryan Blaney, finished second, followed by Buddy Kofoid.

Larson has now won his last three sprint car race starts. He goes for four in a row tonight as Sprintweek continues.

 

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