Friday 5: Can anyone beat Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske?

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Maybe it will happen this weekend.

Or maybe the streak will keep going. If it does, the question becomes when will someone beat Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske to win a Cup race? It might not be until well into July. Or later.

NASCAR has seen its share of dominance through the years from Richard Petty winning 10 consecutive races in 1967 to Hendrick Motorsports winning nine of 10 races in 2007 with four different drivers.

That level of dominance has returned. Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske have combined to 15 of the first 16 races. JGR has 10 of those wins, including seven of the last 10.

As the series heads to Chicagoland Speedway for Sunday’s Cup race (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN), Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske will look to continue their reign on 1.5-mile tracks.

The two organizations have won all five races on 1.5-mile races this season. Brad Keselowski won at Atlanta and Kansas, Joey Logano won at Las Vegas, Denny Hamlin won at Texas and Martin Truex Jr. won the Coca-Cola 600, the most recent race at a 1.5-mile track.

JGR and Team Penske have combined to win nine of the last 11 races on 1.5-mile tracks, dating back to Kyle Busch’s last-lap win a year ago at Chicagoland Speedway.

OK, that’s what has happened but look at what could happen in the coming weeks.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s current drivers have won the past four races at Chicagoland Speedway. Add Team Penske and those two organizations have won six of the last seven Chicagoland races. That other race? Since retired Matt Kenseth won for JGR.

If not at Chicagoland, maybe some other team can win at Daytona on July 6. They’ll race the same package that was run at Talladega. Chase Elliott won there, giving Hendrick Motorsports its only victory of the season. While it was with a different package, the last time Cup raced at Daytona, Hamlin was celebrating his second Daytona 500 triumph.

If not at Daytona, what about Kentucky on July 13? Don’t count on it. Current JGR drivers and Team Penske drivers have won seven of the eight races there. The exception? Kenseth won in 2013 for Joe Gibbs Racing.

If not at Kentucky, what about New Hampshire on July 21? Kevin Harvick did the bump-and-run on Kyle Busch in the closing laps to win that race last year and end JGR’s run of five wins in six races there.

OK, if not New Hampshire, then it is back to Pocono on July 28. Busch won there in June for the fourth consecutive win by a current JGR driver.

So when?

Of course, some other team may win this weekend at Chicagoland or in the coming weeks, but even if they do, good chance it won’t turn into a streak.

2. What about Kevin Harvick?

If there is a favorite to topple the reign of Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske, it is Kevin Harvick, who continues to search for his first victory of the season.

Harvick is due. Only one other time since 2013 has he failed to win by the season’s 16th race (this weekend marks the 17th race of the year).

He has had his chances this season, particularly on 1.5-mile tracks. Harvick has scored the most points (214) on such tracks this season. Chase Elliott is next at (185). Denny Hamlin is third at 175.

Harvick has two top-five finishes and four top-10 results in the five races on 1.5-mile tracks. Maybe it’s his time?

3. Stranger than fiction

Ross Chastain was the guest on this week’s NASCAR on NBC podcast with Nate Ryan. Among the topics was how star-crossed Chastain’s career has been.

He’s fought to climb the ranks in NASCAR and got his best chance in a three-race Xfinity stint with Chip Ganassi Racing last year. Chastain was battling Kevin Harvick for the lead at Darlington when they had contact. Chastain came back to win the Xfinity race at Las Vegas. He signed a deal to drive for Ganassi’s Xfinity car this season but the ride went away after DC Solar declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy after a raid by the FBI.

That left Chastain scrambling for a ride this season. He started the year by running every race in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks until the June 9 Cup event at Michigan International Speedway.

During that time, Chastain changed his declaration for points from Xfinity to the Truck Series. His win at Iowa seemed to have set him for the playoffs until his truck failed inspection and was disqualified. No problem, Chastain went out and won last weekend at Gateway.

“It’s definitely not the way I would have written it,” Chastain set on the podcast about his up-and-down path. “ I don’t think they would ever make a movie about this or write a book, it would have to be a fictional book because no one would believe it.”

4. Manufacturer scorecard

Since the start of the 2018 season, Ford has 24 Cup wins, Toyota 23 and Chevrolet five.

Four of Chevrolet’s five wins are by Chase Elliott. The other victory was by Austin Dillon in the 2018 Daytona 500.

5. Another win but …

Ty Majeski scored his third ARCA victory of the season Thursday night at Chicagoland Speedway.

After a humbling Xfinity season last year at Roush Fenway Racing where Majeski was eliminated by a crash in four of his 12 starts, to rebound and win in ARCA has been meaningful to him.

“This is personally what I needed,” Majeski said of his success.

But his summer will be spent mainly racing Late Models. He said he “highly doubts” he’ll do any Xfinity races this season. The only ARCA race he’s scheduled to run is the season finale Oct. 18 at Kansas Speedway.

Multiple playoff drivers involved in late Stage 2 crash at Talladega

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A large wreck involving multiple playoff drivers occurred with four laps left in the Stage 2 of Monday’s rain-delayed Cup race at Talladega.

The wreck began in Turn 3 when Joey Logano, running in second and receiving a push from Clint Bowyer, made contact with the rear bumper of leader Alex Bowman and turned him around.

The resulting crash involved Bowman, Chase Elliott, Dover winner Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Preece and Jimmie Johnson.

Bowman and Larson were eliminated.

Check back for more.

 

Cup playoff race at Talladega to resume at 2 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN

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Let’s try this again.

Stage 1 was finished when rain came Sunday and prevented the Cup playoff race from continuing at Talladega Superspeedway. NBCSN’s coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET today. The engines will be fired at 2:02 p.m.

Fifty-seven of 188 laps have been completed. The race will resume with stage 2. That stage will end at Lap 110.

The wunderground.com forecast calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 72 degrees and 0% chance of rain when the race resumes. There is no chance of rain in the afternoon.

William Byron, who won stage 1, was the leader when the race was stopped Sunday. He is followed by Joey Logano, Alex Bowman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Brad Keselowski.

Matt Crafton has replaced Paul Menard in the No. 21 car and will take over driving duties when the race resumes.

After the race was stopped, Chevrolet summoned its drivers, crew chiefs and competition directors to a meeting that lasted about 25 minutes. Chevrolet has been adamant about its teams working together at Talladega and Daytona since the April race at Talladega. Chevrolet has won the past two races at those tracks with Elliott winning at Talladega in April and Justin Haley winning at Daytona in July.

Asked about Chevy’s tactics, Jimmie Johnson told NBC Sports: “Every year the sport changes. It doesn’t matter if it’s how we race each other on track or how strategies play out. The sport is ever-evolving and you’ve got to be on your toes and ready to adjust or the sport is going to pass you up.”

 

Rain postpones Cup race at Talladega until Monday at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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The Cup Series playoff race at Talladega has been postponed due to rain. The race will resume Monday at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

The race was put under a rain delay after the completion of Stage 1.

57 of 188 laps have been completed. The race is not official until the end of Stage 2 (Lap 110).

William Byron won the first stage.

The top 10 is Byron, Joey Logano, Alex Bowman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Daniel Suarez, Kurt Busch and Ryan Blaney.

Blocking a key issue at Talladega for drivers

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — The question isn’t who to race with at Talladega, manufacturers have dictated that, but it is where to race.

Run at the front and hope the wreck is behind? Run at the back and hope to avoid the carnage?

The package used at Talladega and Daytona this season punches such a big hole that drivers say the closing rate between cars is quicker than before. That gives cars trying to block less time to make their move. Be late and it can lead to a wreck.

As it has at Talladega and Daytona this year.

“There’s been many evolutions in racing and blocking is one for me that I’ve had to evolve with, but blocking is a part of our sport now on a weekly basis,” Kevin Harvick said. “It’s not just here. I mean, you see it at the mile-and-a-half race tracks. 

“You’re just going to have wrecks blocking. Sometimes you’re going to make a bad move. It’s just something that’s a little bit newer in the pace of the car that’s approaching you and the style of block and how you throw it, but we’re going to wreck from a block because it’s just become part of what we do.”

Three wrecks this year at Talladega and Daytona can be traced to blocking at the front of the field.

“When you have the smaller spoiler, you’re able to get in front of them, that lead car would get the push before that (trailing) car would actually get to the back bumper of the lead car,” Joey Logano said. “Now, it seems like the trailing car can get to the back bumper and then some (with the larger spoiler), so the blocks have to be quicker and have to be precise. Even once you block them it doesn’t mean it’s over because now they’re still on your bumper and they’re pushing you around. It’s more challenging from that standpoint.”

The late April race at Talladega debuted this package and saw a crash at the front of the field early in the event. Bubba Wallace was third when he and Ryan Blaney, running second, got out of shape and triggered a crash that damaged six cars. Wallace said the accident was a result of “the amount of runs and the force of it. All I was trying to do was just some wreck avoidance.”

The Daytona race in July saw two crashes that started at the front of the field because of blocking.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was leading when he was late on a block on Kurt Busch and they made contact, spinning Stenhouse.

Late in the race, Austin Dillon, in the lead, blocked as Clint Bowyer went low to try pass. They made contact, triggering an 18-car crash.

Dillon notes that blocking is a part of speedway racing.

“You’re going to do it,” he said. “Somebody has got a run at you at the end of the race. There’s not much else you can do. You can give up certain times of the race, but if it’s a last-lap situation you’re going to be held accountable for the actions you make and you’re going to feel bad if you go home not making the block that could win you the race … or you’re going to feel bad if you’re wrecked. I’ve been on both sides of it. It’s speedway racing. That’s all I have to say about it.”

Blocking, to Ryan Newman, is nothing new.

“What was it ’08 when (Tony) Stewart won blocking Regan Smith?” Newman said of the fall 2008 Talladega race where Smith crossed the finish line first but Stewart was given the win because Smith went below the yellow line. “Stewart got the win and blocked Regan and everything was fine. Here we are 11 years later still talking about the same thing. Does it do any good to talk about it?”

Harvick was encouraged how NASCAR reacted at the end of Saturday’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race. NASCAR penalized leader Johnny Sauter for forcing Riley Herbst below the yellow line on the final lap. Spencer Boyd was declared the winner.

“I can’t stand blocking,” Harvick said. “We didn’t use to penalize the blockers  very much. It was always the guy that was trying to make the move. So, you know, the guy had a lane … Johnny was trying to win the race. You can’t blame for him for trying to block. I like when the blockers get called. I don’t like it for Johnny Sauter. You’ve got to have a lane to race.”