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Bump & Run: What should NASCAR do about inspection violations before race?

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Eight of 37 cars failed inspection before the Richmond Cup race and lost their starting spot. Is there a better way for NASCAR to handle such infractions to limit talk before a race being about penalties?

Nate Ryan: There has to be a solution, and whatever it is, NASCAR needs to implement it quickly. Switching from headlines about woes in postrace inspection to woes in prerace inspection is an improvement, but the preferred solution should be no headlines about inspection at all. 

Dustin Long: Until NASCAR figures out a way to do things differently, inspection failures will dominate talk before a race, especially if it involves more than 20% of the field as it did at Richmond.

Daniel McFadin: Unless you change the penalties for failing inspection (again), the cars will fail regardless of if you hold qualifying inspection right after qualifying or on race day. Only real solution I can think of is to have inspection before qualifying and for that to be the only inspection until after the race. That would just continue the endless cycle we seem to be in on the issue.

Jerry Bonkowski: It’s just the nature of the beast, particularly when you have such a large number of cars that failed pre-race inspection. The larger the number of cars penalized, the greater the attention that is placed upon the situation by the media. Perhaps more attention should be focused on what NASCAR could do to improve and streamline the overall inspection process. And if it has to swing the pendulum even further, increase penalties to keep crew chiefs from playing games with their cars. Kick out the crew chief from the race, or perhaps hold the car for the first five laps of the race. That will change things in a hurry.

NASCAR tried another format for Cup qualifying at Richmond, limiting each round to five minutes. Should this be the format at most tracks the rest of the season?

Nate Ryan: Makes no difference here as long as the focus is on qualifying results and whoever won the pole position, not on the process for getting there. 

Dustin Long: Whatever it does, NASCAR needs to get out of this rabbit hole soon.

Daniel McFadin: I’m 50/50 on this. I’d prefer the first round being 10 minutes at anything larger than 1 mile, which allows teams to make more than one run – but that’s based on the premise drivers won’t wait until the final minute to make their first.

Jerry Bonkowski: Five minutes works fine on short tracks. Not so much on longer tracks of 1.5 miles and greater. That’s why I believe open qualifying should be replaced by having two to four cars (depending on the size of the racetrack) go out at a time for two or three qualifying laps. This creates attention and a kind of race-within-qualifying excitement among fans to see which driver can “beat” the other drivers, so to speak.

There’s been a lot of talk about what Joe Gibbs Racing will do with its Cup lineup for next year with Christopher Bell’s continued success in Xfinity, but Cole Custer has won twice for Stewart-Haas Racing in Xfinity. What kind of dilemma could SHR face with its driver lineup for 2020?

Nate Ryan: With no disrespect to Cole Custer, he has yet to show he is in Christopher Bell’s league, nor is there the external pressure of a huge investment in his development to avoid letting a coveted prospect escape (as is the case with the millions Toyota Racing Development has spent on grooming Bell). Because Custer is related to the SHR executive Joe Custer and effectively sponsored by team owner Gene Haas, the dynamics are incomparable. If Custer shows enough promise for promotion, the team probably could make room in Cup next season, but there is no sense of urgency as exists with Bell.

Dustin Long: Gene Haas said last year that Cole Custer needed to win more often. If Custer continues to do so, it will make him a more inviting driver for a team, whether that is SHR or another Ford operation.

Daniel McFadin: Cole Custer is already in his third full-time Xfinity season, which makes him middle-aged in Xfinity driver years. While we’re not privy to driver contract lengths, Kevin Harvick is locked in to at least 2021, Daniel Suarez is in his first and Aric Almirola continues to be strong in his second year. Clint Bowyer probably has the biggest question mark being in his third year with the team. Gene Haas will have to decide who’s a better long-term investment: A 39-year-old Bowyer or a 21-year-old Custer. Bowyer grabbing some wins this year could complicate that.

Jerry Bonkowski: One potential option could be embedding Bell with another Toyota team such as Leavine Family Racing in 2020, like when Erik Jones was with Furniture Row Racing in 2017. I think you’ll see a similar embed of Custer with another Ford team, perhaps Front Row Motorsports. Or, because Custer’s father, Joe, is a top executive at SHR, it would not surprise me to see Daniel Suarez shifted to another Ford team to make way for the younger Custer at SHR.

The IndyCar race at Long Beach ended with series officials penalizing Graham Rahal one spot for blocking Scott Dixon on the last lap. Should blocking be a penalty in NASCAR?

Nate Ryan: No. Different series, different cars, different tracks.

Dustin Long: Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. Don’t need any more judgment calls for NASCAR to make.

Daniel McFadin: Heck no. As much as Tony Stewart may have despised it, blocking is a racing maneuver. If a driver doesn’t like it, just show your displeasure with a love tap to the rear bumper.

Jerry Bonkowski: Yes, particularly if it puts the driver being blocked and other trailing drivers at risk of crashing. I’ve long felt that egregious blocking should be penalized. But if that were to happen, it could open a Pandora’s Box of additional issues, such as bump-and-run moving an opponent out of the way. How would NASCAR draw the line between egregious blocking/bumping and legitimate blocking/bumping?

Jimmie Johnson ran in Monday’s Boston Marathon. What is another event you’d like to see a NASCAR driver attempt to take part in someday?

Nate Ryan: Denny Hamlin in a PGA Tour event and paired with Michael Jordan.

Dustin Long: Kyle Larson as a bobsled driver. Also, Denny Hamlin in a PGA Tour event.

Daniel McFadin: Since Ryan Newman is sponsored by Oscar Mayer, he should enter the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on July 4.

Jerry Bonkowski: The Baja 1000 is the first one that comes to mind. That, to me, is the most grueling combination of man and machine. I’d also like to see more NASCAR drivers try their luck in the Indianapolis 500 and, conversely, do “the double” by racing later that same day in the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte. Lastly, although it would be difficult due to the Cup schedule, I’d also like to see some of the best golfers among Cup drivers try their luck at The Masters.

March 30 in NASCAR History: Denny Hamlin earns first Martinsville win

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Back in the late 2000s, Martinsville Speedway might as well have been called Johnsonville Speedway.

Entering the March 30, 2008 race there, Jimmie Johnson had won the previous three races on NASCAR’s oldest track and he had four total since 2004.

By spring 2009 he’d bring that total to six, but not before a Virginia native provided a respite from Johnson’s domination.

Denny Hamlin, in his third full-time season Cup, started second on a dreary, misty day in Virginia that saw the race slowed by 18 cautions. Hamlin led 87 laps around the half-mile track, including the final 74.

Johnson wasn’t a factor in the finish, but Hamlin saw another driver with deep Martinsville history in his rear-view mirror. Hamlin had to hold off Jeff Gordon, then a seven-time Martinsville winner, over the final few laps.

“Finally, the curse is over I think, I hope,” Hamlin told Fox. “We had such bad luck over these last few weeks. It finally feels good to come here and get a win in front of the home town fans. Can’t wait. This is a sign of things to come I believe.”

It would turn out to be his only win of 2008, just like 2007. But within two years, Hamlin would have three more Martinsville grandfather clocks.

The race at Martinsville was also the first career Cup start for Michael McDowell, who drove the No. 00 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing.

Also on this date:

1952: Herb Thomas led all 200 laps from the pole to win a Cup race at North Wilkesboro.

1980: A year after winning his first career Cup Series race at Bristol, Dale Earnhardt went back to victory lane at the half-mile track, winning a second straight race following a victory at Atlanta. Richard Petty was scored as finishing eighth in the race, but he was relieved in the event by Richard Childress, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era.”

2014: Kurt Busch claims a victory at Martinsville Speedway for his first win with Stewart-Haas Racing and his first win since 2011.

Winners and losers from virtual Texas

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WINNERS

Timmy Hill — Underfunded rides have defined his NASCAR career, but he’s among the more successful Cup drivers in iRacing. He showed that Sunday, winning the Pro Invitational Series race at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway.

Garrett Smithley — He and Timmy Hill are the only drivers to score top-five finishes in each of the first two Pro Invitational races. Smithley was third Sunday.

Kurt Busch — His 10th-place finish Sunday was 25 spots better than his last-place finish the race before at a virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Kyle Larson — His ninth-place finish Sunday was 24 spots better than his finish the race before at a virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Jimmie Johnson — He finished 19th Sunday, placing 12 spots better than he did the week before. His performance came a day after he ran in the IndyCar Challenge iRacing race at a virtual Watkins Glen International and finished 16th.

LOSERS

William Byron — Led a race-high 80 of 130 laps before a bump-and-run by Timmy Hill moved Byron up the track and out of the lead in the final laps. Byron went on to finish seventh. Still, it was better than his 34th-place finish the previous race.

Ty Majeski — After placing ninth the race before, he finished 30th Sunday after a speeding pit penalty on pit road.

Xfinity, Truck and regional series drivers — With so many Cup drivers taking guaranteed spots in the main event, it leaves few drivers to transfer from the qualifying race. The first week, six Xfinity, Truck and regional series drivers advanced. Sunday, it was four.

Timmy Hill celebrates win but knows payback could be coming

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Timmy Hill said he had to make the move.

He also knows there could be consequences.

“But that’s in the future,” Hill said. “I’m kind of living in the present and happy to get the win.”

The 27-year-old driver, whose career has been defined by underfunded rides in NASCAR, used a bump-and-run to take the lead from William Byron with nine laps left and win Sunday’s eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series event at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Race results 

MORE: What drivers said after iRacing race at virtual Texas

After he crossed the finish line first, Hill said his wife came up the stairs in their home to hug him and give him a cup of milk.

“Downed it right away,” Hill said.

But he likely was going to hold off contacting Byron, who finished seventh after leading a race-high 80 laps in the 130-lap event, extended by overtime.

“This is a very unique situation because, trust me, it feels real,” Hill said after the victory. “I’m sure (Byron) is mad. That’s one of the situations where I think if I call him today, he probably really wouldn’t even want to talk about it. I’ve got to probably give him some time to cool down.

“I may try to reach out to him. He’ll probably still be mad probably for the next coming weeks. Even though this is iRacing, it is virtual, the feelings are real.”

On the etiquette of iRacing and if there might be a payback, Byron tweeted “if he’s in front of me you can be sure of it” followed by a winking emoji.

The situation came about after a caution led to a restart with five laps left to the scheduled distance of 125 laps.

With four laps to the scheduled distance, Byron led with Hill on his rear bumper entering Turn 1.

“I didn’t go into it thinking I had to move William,” Hill said. ”I’m sure as everybody watched the race, Texas, with the way this format is, wide open in (Turns) 3 and 4, barely lift in (Turns) 1 and 2, I think you see drivers get in massive runs.

“The car in front has a couple options. You can try to race the guy heads‑up, side‑by‑side, or block all you can. For me, in the time remaining, when William threw a big block to protect his line, I had the option of either get hit from behind, hope I don’t get hit from behind, or give him a little bump and run and keep going.

“My mindset, had to make a quick split‑second decision, was to go for the win. I didn’t want to put myself in a bad spot to get hit from behind or take myself out of it. When William blocked going into Turn 1, kept a low line, protected his position, it left very few options for me in Turn 1. That’s kind of my mindset through it.”

Hill, who has no top-10 finishes in 96 career Cup starts and five top-10 finishes, including a third at Daytona in February, in 188 Xfinity starts, said that he hoped Sunday’s win could help with his underfunded teams when racing returns.

“Some of the best drivers are underrecognized because of the opportunity they’re in,” Hill said. “I’ve made a career personally out of taking cars that were 35th- to 40th-place cars, qualifying 25th. The reason I’ve been able to stay in this sport is because I can take a car and elevate it to a level to make fields, ultimately make a paycheck for teams.

“I wish people would kind of focus back towards that side of the garage, understand the deficits that we’re facing going into a race, because I think a lot of guys are shortchanged, some of their talents. I feel like I’m one of them. I feel like a lot of the guys in the top five (in Sunday’s iRacing race) are in the same boat as I am.

“I’m glad this is kind of showing a little bit of that. I don’t know if it will transfer in real life. I’m glad at least for the last couple weeks and going forward that can kind of showcase that a little bit.”

What drivers said after iRacing race at virtual Texas

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Timmy Hill — Winner: I definitely rank (the win) up there (among career achievements). The reason being is just because the platform is being televised on FOX, having essentially the entire NASCAR audience tuning in. I’ve won a lot of iRacing races. It’s neat to win on there. It’s really neat to win against your competitors that you race each and every Sunday.  … For me personally, what I’ll gain from this is recognition. For us, it’s hard to get that recognition because of the level of competition that we are in real life.  We’re doing our best. Frankly, we just don’t have the money, the dollars, to compete at a high level.  Every once in a while we’ll get a big sponsor and you’ll see us exceed normal expectations for us, like at Daytona where we had a really good Daytona 500 car, really good Xfinity car.  We finished third in the Xfinity race, made the Daytona 500. Every once in a while we’ll get that big payday and we can really reinvest in our race team. But most weekends we got to kind of do the best we can with the dollars we have. This win will hopefully gain some recognition and attract more sponsors for us maybe in the real world when we get back racing because they know Timmy Hill from iRacing.”

Ryan Preece — Finished 2nd:

 

Garrett Smithley — Finished 3rd: 

 

Alex Bowman — Finished 5th:

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. — Finished 6th:

 

William Byron — Finished 7th:

 

John Hunter Nemechek — Finished 8th:

 

Kurt Busch — Finished 10th:

Clint Bowyer — Finished 11th: “Today was all about survival, guys. I needed a redo for my Rush Truck Centers Ford Mustang because I got together with (Greg) Biffle, ‘The Biff’, off of (Turn) two. I guess we were three-wide. I didn’t realize we were three-wide. My spotter Jeff Gordon, I had to fire him halfway through the race and moved to Larry McReynolds. Larry said nothing when we were three-wide and I wrecked and collected a bunch of them. But again, a great time was had by all. Timmy Hill, big win for him and his brand. It’s going to be a lot of fun to compete in this over the next few weeks. But, man we are all in this together! Looking forward to next week.”

Parker Kligerman — Finished 12th:

 

Bobby Labonte — Finished 13th:

 

Michael McDowell — Finished 14th:

 

Kyle Busch — Finished 17th:

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 19th:

Chase Elliott — Finished 20th:

 

Erik Jones — Finished 21st:

 

Bubba Wallace — Finished 25th:

Alex Labbe — Finished 26th:

 

Austin Dillon — Finished 29th:

 

Ty Majeski — Finished 30th:

 

Ruben Garcia Jr. — Finished 31st:

 

Greg Biffle — Finished 32nd:

 

Daniel Suarez — Finished 33rd:

 

Anthony Alfredo — Finished 35th: