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Bump & Run: Is Kyle Busch right about Cup drivers in lower series?

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Should NASCAR implement Kyle Busch’s suggestion that any Cup driver can run as many races in a lower series until they miss one? So if they run the first 10 Xfinity races and miss one, they can’t compete in that series the rest of the year?

Nate Ryan: It’s an idea with merit. One of the main complaints about Cup drivers dropping down into lower series is cherry-picking events. This proposal eliminates that concept while also still allowing unrestricted participation — with one major catch.

Dustin Long: What’s the goal here? NASCAR needs to decide. Is it worth having the Cup regulars compete more often in lower series? Or is it better for the sport to limit those drivers and allow others to have a chance? Based on its actions, NASCAR seems to suggest that it is better to give other drivers the opportunity and not have Cup regulars compete. Until NASCAR makes a philosophical change, don’t expect Kyle’s plan to take hold.

Daniel McFadin: I don’t think Kyle Busch thought this through before saying it out loud in Martinsville. He’s already promised his wife not to compete in Truck and Xfinity races at Daytona and Talladega. That means he’d be eliminated from both series after Speedweeks in February.

Jerry Bonkowski: I like the way the system is now and don’t see any need to change it. While I understand Busch’s suggestion, what would preclude a driver – including Busch – from competing in ALL Xfinity or Truck races (or both)? Busch previously did that before NASCAR limits were put in place, and didn’t seem too worse for the wear. Of course, if NASCAR implemented Busch’s idea, he potentially could hit 300 or more wins in his career before he hangs up his firesuit for the final time.

Who will be the first driver from outside Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing to win a Cup race?

Nate Ryan: Kyle Larson.

Dustin Long: Kevin Harvick

Daniel McFadin: Kurt Busch and it will come at Bristol.

Jerry Bonkowski: I believe that driver will come from Stewart-Haas Racing. The question is who will it be first: Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola or Clint Bowyer? All three have been knocking on the door to victory lane. While I believe Harvick has the best shot, seeing Almirola or Bowyer beat Harvick to victory lane first would not be a surprise.

Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer had a spirited battle during the first stage at Martinsville, causing some choice words from Harvick about his teammate on the radio. Typical short-track racing, or are some of the 2019 frustrations boiling over for Stewart-Haas Racing?

Nate Ryan: Stewart-Haas Racing has been solid but still a notch below Gibbs and Penske on the big speedways early this season. Martinsville represented one of the team’s best chances yet to score a 2019 victory, and the sniping (as well as the urgency for Bowyer to get to the front in the first stage) was a byproduct of that.

Dustin Long: Typical short-track racing. Move on.

Daniel McFadin: It’s a combination of SHR not having won through six races and neither Harvick or Bowyer having defended wins from last year. Bowyer was a favorite at Martinsville, but that was futile. Harvick should be among the favorites at Texas.

Jerry Bonkowski: Combination of the two. It’s definitely partly due to short-track racing, particularly at Martinsville, which is the shortest and tightest track on the Cup circuit. But also, Harvick is likely frustrated that he hasn’t been able to reach victory lane yet. And even though they’re all teammates, Harvick may feel threatened by Bowyer and Aric Almirola and the success they’ve had of late. And let’s not forget Daniel Suarez. If he finds himself in the right place at the right time, he potentially could beat his other three teammates to victory lane first.

After tying a season-low finish (24th) as the worst Hendrick Motorsports driver at one of his best tracks, has Jimmie Johnson bottomed out, or are four finishes outside the top 15 in six races the new normal for the No. 48?

Nate Ryan: It’s possible this was the bottom, given how average he has been lately at Martinsville (where he now has five consecutive finishes of 12th or worse since his Oct. 30, 2016 win there). But when juxtaposed against his teammates — runner-up Chase Elliott nearly won, Alex Bowman hung around the top 10, and even William Byron finished ahead of Johnson after starting from the rear and enduring a tough weekend of contact — there should be significant concern that midpack is where Johnson’s team will reside at most tracks now.

Dustin Long: Jimmie said before this season this new package would be a challenge for him. Add to that he has a new crew chief and Hendrick Motorsports has carried over some of its struggles from last season, the tough times are not surprising. But his results at Atlanta and Martinsville in particular are troubling. I still think he’ll bounce back, it just might take longer than anticipated.

Daniel McFadin: Martinsville was a measuring stick for the No. 48 team. Now we know that nothing before 2019 matters. Johnson shouldn’t have any expectations going forward.

Jerry Bonkowski: This is Jimmie Johnson, seven-time champ and winner of 83 Cup races, we’re talking about. He hasn’t forgotten how to win. Hendrick Motorsports struggled much of 2018 and continues to do so in 2019. But I predict that if Johnson wins and finally breaks his 65-race winless streak – and he very likely could do so Sunday at Texas, where he’s won seven times – HMS as a whole will also start to rally back.

Ryan Blaney fastest in final Cup practice at New Hampshire

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Ryan Blaney was fastest in the Cup Series’ final practice session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Blaney posted a top speed of 133.572 mph.

He was followed by Denny Hamlin (133.226 mph), Kyle Busch (132.739), Kevin Harvick (132.688) and Martin Truex Jr. (132.646).

Brad Keselowski (sixth) and Kurt Busch (14th) each recorded the most laps in the session with 61.

Blaney also had the best 10-lap average.

Click here for the speed chart.

Alex Bowman wrecked in Turns 1 and 2 in the middle of the session.

Bowman, who was already in a backup car after he had a driveshaft failure in qualifying Friday, will now go to a second backup car. The No. 88 team will use Jimmie Johnson‘s backup car.

Matt DiBenedetto‘s left-rear tire shredded twice during the session.

“Not a lot of warning, I’ll tell you that,” DiBenedetto told NBCSN after the first tire problem. “I went down into (Turn) 1 and I was passing (Landon Cassill), as soon as we got down into the corner I don’t know if we ran over something or what but the left rear went down in a hurry.”

DiBenedetto, who qualified seventh for Sunday’s race, was able return to the track to make a lap right before the session ended.

 

Practice mayhem at New Hampshire as Alex Bowman crashes backup

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LOUDON, N.H. — Alex Bowman will be moving to his third Cup car of the weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and this Camaro isn’t even his.

After suffering a driveshaft failure in qualifying Friday that ruined his primary car, Bowman crashed his backup No. 88 Chevrolet in final practice Saturday on the 1.058-mile oval.

Hendrick team members immediately began scrambling to prepare the backup No. 48 Chevrolet of teammate Jimmie Johnson for Bowman (Hendrick’s fourth driver, William Byron, already was in a backup after crashing Saturday morning).

Hendrick Motorsports vice president of competition Jeff Andrews told NBCSN’s Dave Burns that the team elected to use Johnson’s car instead of Chase Elliott‘s No. 9 because Johnson’s car had a traditional paint scheme that made the switchover more favorable to wrapping the car in the No. 88’s sponsor colors and logos.

“To rewrap the 48 vs. the 9, that’s a better option for us in terms of body tolerances and things like that,” Andrews said. “There’ll be only decals to rip off (Johnson’s car) due to the fact that the base coat is a paint and then we’ll apply the 88 wrap to that 48 chassis and body.

“Obviously we’ve got a great group of guys. Unfortunately, we’ve been put through a lot the last couple of days, but we’ll get through it, and we’ll line up and go racing tomorrow. It’s been a tough day, but we’ll get through it.”

Crew chief Greg Ives gathered all of Bowman’s team in the No. 88 hauler after the wreck.

“I think for Alex and the team, you just have to keep track of the big picture here, and we have to stay focused and not panic and go out tomorrow and do the best we can in the race,” Andrews said. “Certainly yesterday was not Alex’s fault. We had a mechanical failure there, and today we’re not really sure what happened there, but obviously at this point in time, we just need to get the best car underneath Alex and the race team.”

There are five drivers who will start from the rear in backup cars for Sunday’s Cup race at New Hampshire: Bowman, Kyle Larson, Byron, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin.

Newman and Hamlin crashed in practice Friday, and Byron and Larson had trouble in the first session Saturday morning.

Matt DiBenedetto also suffered two tire problems on his No. 95 Toyota (without sustaining major damage) during the final practice, which was paced by Ryan Blaney.

Tyler Reddick, girlfriend Alexa De Leon expecting first child

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Defending Xfinity Series champion Tyler Reddick has a new title: Father-to-be.

Reddick, 23, announced on Instagram Saturday that he and girlfriend Alexa De Leon are expecting their first child.

The Richard Childress Racing driver made the announcement while the Xfinity Series is competing in New Hampshire.

The birth of the child will make Reddick one of only two drivers in the top 10 in Xfinity points who have children. Justin Allgaier, who is 33, is the other.

 

Today’s Xfinity race at New Hampshire: Start time, lineup and more

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Cole Custer, Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick have combined to win 10 of the last 11 Xfinity Series races heading into today’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Bell won this race a year ago. Will the dominance of the Xfinity Series’ Big 3 continue or will a new winner emerge?

Here is all the info you need for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START:  The command to start engines will be given at 4:07 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 4:16 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage opens at 7:30 a.m. Qualifying is at 11:05 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 1:30 p.m. Driver introductions are at 3:30 p.m. The invocation will be given at 4 p.m. by Pastor Mark Warren. Ellen Kane will perform the National Anthem at 4:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 200 laps (211.6 miles) around the 1.058-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 45. Stage 2 ends on Lap 90.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. with Countdown to Green on NBCSN. The Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 3:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for mostly sunny skies and a temperature of 94 degrees and a 2% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Christopher Bell beat Brad Keselowski and Ryan Preece to win his second of three consecutive Xfinity races. 

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.