Will drivers risk cutting the chicane with a Roval victory at stake?

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CONCORD, N.C. – Martin Truex Jr. watched every agonizing millisecond of the moments leading up to the crash that cost him a victory last year at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval .

Truex’s Toyota was leading entering the final chicane, but Jimmie Johnson was hanging out his No. 48 Chevrolet trying to find the speed to take the spot.

The seven-time series champion locked up his brakes entering turn 16 and spun sideways through the chicane … and directly into Truex, who dutifully had completed a right turn into Johnson’s path by keeping his car in between the curbs at NASCAR’s behest (watch the video recapping it above).

RYAN: Challenging NASCAR is the lesson from 2018 Roval race

“It was just crazy the way he spun and went across from behind me,” Truex recently told NBC Sports. “I was surprised he spun back across the track and hit me. And honestly in that moment, I seen it happening. I looked in my mirrors seeing him in the grass, coming toward the back of my car.”

A split-second decision had arrived. Truex could cut the chicane and likely avoid the crash.

But NASCAR’s rules are that straight-lining either of the layout’s chicanes require a stop and go penalty served on the frontstretch. If it happened on the final lap, a postrace penalty of 30 seconds would be applied – assuredly costing Truex the victory.

He elected to run the corners and still paid a price.

“If I go straight here, I think they’re going to take the win from me,” Truex said. “I just tried to turn and get some of that curb, and that’s when he clipped me. It was a crazy situation the way it happened, but I wasn’t surprised at the move or what he did.”

Sunday’s race almost certainly will present several Cup drivers with the dilemma of whether they should cut the chicane and risk the ire of NASCAR … which says in prerace meetings that “if a competitor is judged to miss a chicane to avoid an accident, NASCAR (in its discretion) may forego penalties.”

Putting the onus on NASCAR to make a judgment call is a risk-reward proposition that will is complicated by Sunday being a cut race that will determine which dozen cars advance to the second round of the playoffs. Every point will matter for at least 10 drivers, and it could be dicey putting their fate in the arbitrary hands of the scoring tower

In Saturday’s Xfinity Series, race Christopher Bell felt he was forced off the track by Chase Briscoe and thought NASCAR might allow dispensation. He instead was sent to the rear after skipping the stop and go.

“Briscoe didn’t leave me any option besides running off the racetrack,” Bell told NBCSN about cutting the chicane. “I knew it was a penalty to miss the chicane, but there was a clause in there in the driver’s meeting where if you missed the chicane due to an incident, NASCAR would review it. I figured that me getting run off the race track and having no other option was a justifiable reason, but I guess not.”

It also could be a tough decision for the second-place driver, as Johnson was last year. The Hendrick Motorsports driver was eliminated from the playoffs by a point because he served a stop and go penalty for missing the chicane in his last-lap spin.

A year later, Johnson now says he would have finished the race and lived with whatever decision NASCAR made on a penalty – and he agrees with Truex’s remorse.

“In that particular instance, it would have been smart for both of us just to stay in the gas, or he could have turned down and gone straight,” Johnson told NBC Sports. “But I don’t think he had a clue where I was. That’s the one thing is watching on video is way different than sitting in the car.

“I’m sure the spotter didn’t know what to tell him. I wasn’t inside of him or next to him, I just came around backwards and cleaned him out. So it was a hard one to get right. … I think NASCAR at least said they would have penalized me, but I would have loved to put that pressure on them and see.”

What will drivers do today if they find themselves in the same position as Truex?

If you are leading, is the smart play cutting the chicane to avoid a potential accident and forcing into NASCAR to make a call?

NBCSports.com put that question to several drivers over the past two days at Charlotte. Here are their responses:

Ryan Blaney: “Honestly, I don’t know.  It’s not really anything I’ve thought about.  That’s an in the moment decision and you have a split-second to kind of make that decision, so I don’t know.  I guess that would be a NASCAR judgment call if he would have just said, ‘I’m going to go straight,’ and gas up and not letting him hit me, I don’t know what NASCAR would do in that situation, so that’s up to them.  I think there is some things where you kind of can almost point to it as they say you can go down pit road to avoid a wreck and reclaim your position, so would that be avoiding a wreck?  I don’t know.  That’s tough to kind of speculate on because it just didn’t happen that way, but I’m not sure.  If we find ourselves in that spot, I don’t know which one I’d do.  You don’t really think about that beforehand you just kind of whatever you feel at the time and you’re kind of jerk reaction.  That’s really how it is, so I’m not sure.”

William Byron: Yeah, that’s a good question. I would run the corner because you can’t expect them to give you the benefit of the doubt. It’s the rule and they’ve been pretty strict on those things lately, whether it’s pit road or anything. I would be really hard pressed to just cut it short and hope that they would make the call that I would want them to make, I guess. There’s really nothing you can do if someone is spinning there and they collect you. I think it’s just bad lucky, really. I don’t know. I think we will be reaching that chicane a little bit slower this year, so it might not be quite as easy to spin out locking up the tires. But we saw in practice that it’s really easy to lock up the tires in general. I would try to run the chicane there, maybe just stop and let him spin. But I don’t really know.”

Clint Bowyer: “Jimmie actually hit him, too, even before, but then he came back and wiped him out anyway. I don’t know even if he would have went straight, Jimmie still would have wiped him out. I understand going back and looking at it, yes. I think that contact warranted enough of, ‘Hey, I was trying to stay on track, sir! He removed me from the racetrack!’ I think that warranted it enough, that if he would have went straight through there, and Jimmie wouldn’t have hit him a second time, I still think you have to give him the win. I feel like that’s the right thing to do. In the replays I watched, I felt like if that would have happened, the fair thing to do, even if I was Ryan Blaney, the fair thing was for him to still win the race, even if he didn’t make the chicane as far as the rulebook, because it wasn’t his fault that he didn’t. (Will more drivers cut the chicane this year in that instance?) “No, no, no. I think it was an extreme situation. Again, he had contact. If I’m rolling into the chicane on the back straightaway, and a guy hits me and knocks me on the entrance into that deal, and I miss, first of all it ain’t like you’re going to gain 10 mph anyway. Once you knock the cars out of the grip zone, you’re out of control until you figure out to get that thing back underneath you anyway. You’re going to have enough of a dock as far as time standpoint that I feel like it’s OK. I don’t know what the ruling is on that. That would be how I would interpret it and how I would handle it if I was the sanctioning body or track promoter or whatever. We’ve all done this a long time. I have dirt late model teams that race all over the country. Same sanctioning body but different tracks. We race under a lot of conditions, and I see a lot of situations play out. Nine times out of 10 just like anything in life, common sense usually prevails.”

Kyle Busch: “Ummmm. Hmm. I don’t know. You hate putting NASCAR in that position to make a call because more times than not, it’s probably not going to go your way – my way.” (Is NASCAR a stickler for ensuring the entire course is run?) “Yeah, they are. We are on the cool down lap and instead of getting yelled at and whatever, I went ahead and did the chicane on the backstretch and it’s pretty simple to just roll through there straight and not have to slow down for it because it’s pretty slow over there. Your motors are shut off and you don’t have power steering and all that stuff, but you’ve got to fire up and go through there normal.”

Chase Elliott: “It’s not going to benefit you. They’re going to make sure it’s not going to benefit you, so as long as that’s the case, I don’t think it’s very tempting.” (So NASCAR would take the win away?) “Yeah, probably so. I don’t see how they couldn’t from what I’ve heard and talking about it. The way it was explained to me, if you cut it and if you stop and you’re still ahead of the guy, they’re going to put you behind in the first place, I don’t see how make that loophole work. It’s the fair way. For fairness, running the course as they have it designed is probably the right thing.”

Denny Hamlin: “If you’re in the lead, there’s no way you should cut the chicane, because then you’re putting NASCAR in a judgment call. If you’re second, maybe you should cut the chicane. But when you’re in the lead, the second-place guy still has to get around you. Jimmie never did get around him as it turns out. I think you have to stay on track and do the right thing.”

Erik Jones: “That’s a quick decision. I don’t know if you can think that far ahead. I think they would just black flag you. I know they wouldn’t want to, but I think any way you cut it on that deal, you’ll be in a similar position. It would be a tough call for them for sure. You’re taking a win away, but I think they wouldn’t hesitate to black flag someone for it. It’s a stick and ball call. It’s a strike or a ball. It would be tough to put them in that position to see what they’d do. I think they’d stick to their guys and penalize you, maybe if you’re avoiding a wreck, you might get away with it. It’d be really tough to say.”

Brad Keselowski: “I can’t say I’ve thought of it.  Those are easy things to talk through and generally when you get in the moment it’s a lot different.  I think it’s easy for us to say that now because you could see the result, but when you’re in the car I’m sure Martin couldn’t see the 48 spinning beside of him, so I would imagine if I was in that spot I wouldn’t be able to see it either.”

Kyle Larson: “Yeah, I don’t know. I feel like the rules here for this road course race are unique. There’s a lot of stop and go. I feel like typically, like in any form of auto racing that races road courses, I think you just try and blend back in where you didn’t gain any advantage. To me, I feel like that’s how it should be. They made that call on Kyle last year when he cut the first corner on that restart to kind of avoid the contact that was happening in Turn 1. And because he blended back in line, they let it go. So, I don’t agree with the stop-and-goes because you get penalized pretty harshly by having to come to a stop. They’re not going to change it, but I would rather them just do it where you can blend back in line with no advantage and that would be okay. So in Martin’s case, if that was the rule, he probably would have gone straight through the chicane and he would have been okay. Last year, he knew he would have to come to a stop and would lose the win that way. So he tries to complete the corner, and he didn’t. Yeah, it’s just weird, weird stock-car rules.” (So would you cut the corner?) “I don’t know. It’s hard to say until you’re in that moment, really. That’s a split-second decision. Maybe now he’s got a plan, but I don’t know.”

Joey Logano: “Hmmm. At that point, he can’t see where the 48 is going to go in the mirror. You’re on the binders so hard, and you’re trying to make this turn and grab downshifts. At that point, your spotter just has to tell you what to do. And I’ve had this conversation already, but you just have to have someone tell you what to do. Because ahh, hell, I don’t know. If you blow the chicane, you have to stop. That’s the rule. So I would assume they’re going to keep on with that rule. And then the 12 is going to win. Maybe. Probably. Most likely. It probably would have been a quicker way to get back to the start-finish line. But I don’t know. I don’t know. I hope I’m just in contention coming to the last corner like that. That’s a good spot to be.” (When you said you’ve had this conversation, it was specifically about that instance?) “Yeah, of what happens. I just spun out in practice right through that section. I said ‘Hey, if someone does that to me, you really have to coach me on where to go because you can’t see. They’re in their blind spots back there, and you can’t see much.’”

NASCAR Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick back at No. 1

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Stop us if you’ve heard this before: Kevin Harvick is the No. 1 driver in this week’s NASCAR rankings.

Martin Truex Jr. held the top spot for just a week before Harvick reclaimed the crown with his series-leading ninth Cup win of the year Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

This week’s rankings includes three ties as 12 drivers received votes.

More: Playoff standings after Round of 16

Harvick takes his power rankings lead to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the start of the Round of 12.

Here is this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings:

1. Kevin Harvick (Last week No. 1): The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has three wins in the last five races: Dover, the Southern 500 and Bristol night race.

2. Chase Elliott (Last week No. 7): Finished seventh at Bristol for his third top 10 in five races. His 11 top fives so far matches his total from each of the last two seasons. He scored a career-high 12 top fives in 2017.

3. (tie) Kyle Busch (Last week No.  9): Finished second in Bristol after he started from the rear due to inspection failures. Has three consecutive top 10s for the first time this season.

3. (tie) Joey Logano (Last week No. 3): Followed consecutive third-place finishes with an 11th at Bristol.

5. (tie) Martin Truex Jr. (Last week No. 1): Finished 24th in Bristol following contact with Denny Hamlin after an unscheduled pit stop.

5. (tie) Brad Keselowski (Last week No. 5): After winning at Richmond, Keselowski had a rough night in Bristol. He finished 34th due to power steering problems.

7. (tie) Aric Almirola (Last week unranked): Finished fifth in Bristol for his third consecutive top 10 and his fourth in five races.

7. (tie) Clint Bowyer (Last week unranked): Placed sixth in Bristol for his third consecutive top-10 finish and to keep his playoff chances alive.

9. Austin Dillon (Last week No. 3): Placed a respectable 12th to finish the first round after consecutive top fives.

10. Erik Jones (Last week unranked): Placed third in Bristol for his seventh top-five finish of the season and his second in the last three races.

Also receiving votes: Alex Bowman and Denny Hamlin

NASCAR Silly season features Bubba Wallace, Michael Jordan

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NASCAR Silly Season took a twist Monday. A day that started with the announcement that Ross Chastain would drive for Chip Ganassi Racing next year ended with the news that Denny Hamlin would co-own a team with Michael Jordan and have Bubba Wallace as the driver in 2021.

As JTG Daugherty Racing co-owner Brad Daugherty said: “I think it’s a pretty dynamic trio with Michael, Denny and Bubba. They’re going to be like rock stars.”

The 26-year-old Wallace is in his third full Cup season. All 105 of his starts in NASCAR’s premier series have been with Richard Petty Motorsports.

“Bubba has shown tremendous improvement since joining the Cup Series and we believe he’s ready to take his career to a higher level,” Hamlin said in a statement. “He deserves the opportunity to compete for race wins and our team will make sure he has the resources to do just that. Off the track, Bubba has been a loud voice for change in our sport and our country. MJ and I support him fully in those efforts and stand beside him.”

A team name, car number, manufacturer and sponsors will be announced at a later time.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2021

No. 00: Quin Houff enters the second year of his two-year deal with StarCom Racing.

No. 1: Kurt Busch enters the second year of a multi-year contract that Chip Ganassi Racing announced last season.

No. 2: Brad Keselowski and Team Penske announced a contract extension Aug. 3.

No. 4: Kevin Harvick signed a contract extension in February that will keep him at Stewart-Haas Racing through the 2023 season.

No. 8: Tyler Reddick said Aug. 7 that he will be back with Richard Childress Racing next season.

No. 9: Chase Elliott is under contract with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2022 season.

No. 10: Aric Almirola extends deal with Stewart-Haas Racing for 2021 season.

No. 11: Denny Hamlin is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 12: Ryan Blaney and Team Penske announced a multi-year extension earlier this season.

No. 18: Kyle Busch is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 19: Martin Truex Jr. is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 20: Christopher Bell moves from Leavine Family Racing to take over this ride in 2021.

No. 22: Joey Logano is tied to Team Penske “through the 2022 season and beyond.”

No. 24: William Byron is under contact with Hendrick Motorsports through 2022.

No. 42: Ross Chastain takes over Chip Ganassi Racing’s ride for the 2021 season.

No. 47: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. enters the second year of a multi-year deal with JTG Daugherty Racing.

No. 88: Alex Bowman will race for Hendrick Motorsports under a one-year contract extension announced earlier this year.

No. TBA: Bubba Wallace joins the new team co-owned by Denny Hamlin and NBA great Michael Jordan. The team purchased Germain Racing’s charter. Germain Racing will not continue after this season.

 

Available/possibly available rides

No. 14: Clint Bowyer is in a contract year to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto said Sept. 17 that Wood Brothers Racing has an option to pick up his contract for next year and the deadline is the end of September.

No. 32: Ride is open with Corey LaJoie announcing he will not return to Go Fas Racing in 2021.

No. 43: Bubba Wallace will not return to Richard Petty Motorsports in 2021, the team confirmed on Sept. 10.

No. 48: With Jimmie Johnson retiring from full-time competition, Hendrick Motorsports has this seat to fill.

No. 95: Spire Motorsports purchased the charter and assets of Leavine Family Racing and will be a two-car operation in 2021.

No. 96: Daniel Suarez and Gaunt Brothers Racing announced Sept. 15 that they would part ways after this season.

 

Brad Daugherty: Michael Jordan to NASCAR is ‘huge moment’

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Brad Daugherty calls Michael Jordan’s ownership of a Cup team a “huge moment for NASCAR.”

Jordan and Denny Hamlin will co-own a Cup team next season. Bubba Wallace will be the driver. Jordan will become the first Black majority car owner of a full-time team since Wendell Scott owned and raced cars in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Daugherty, the only Black owner of a full-time Cup team currently, is excited about Jordan’s entrance into NASCAR.

“It’s a big momentum shift for this sport culturally, period,” said Daugherty, co-owner of JTG Daugherty Racing and an analyst for NBC Sports. “Three years ago, this would have never happened. A year ago, this wouldn’t have happened. It’s the timing. If the timing is right and you have someone like Michael Jordan put his brand and what he’s all about into whatever you are doing, it adds a lot of credibility. I look forward to whatever he can bring to the table to help continue to build NASCAR.”

Daugherty told NBC Sports that Jordan can help the sport reach more people.

“The eyeballs are going to be incredible,” Daugherty said of Jordan’s potential impact. “The opportunity for entrance into the sport will be made more available as far as people being aware of the availability to get involved in NASCAR as a fan or as a business. There’s just so many different areas that will light up just because of who he is and what he represents. His entire legacy creates opportunity for everyone.

“Now, we start talking diversity with what he’s able to do from a corporate standpoint and also just from a legacy standpoint with his brand. It’s going to be exciting. I’m excited because I think more people now, more than ever, will take a look at NASCAR with a keen eye and keen interest and be excited about maybe participating as a fan or as a business partner or as someone wanting to learn how to drive a race car or own a race team. The more notoriety the better.”

NASCAR stated Monday: “Michael is an iconic sports figure and celebrated champion whose fiercely competitive nature has placed him among the greatest athletes of all time. His presence at NASCAR’s top level will further strengthen the competition, excitement and momentum growing around our sport. We wish Michael and his team tremendous success.”

Jordan told The Charlotte Observer on Monday that the deal came together in about 10 days because of the chance to hire Wallace.

“When (Hamlin) told me there was a possibility of getting Bubba Wallace, I’m saying, ‘OK, this is perfect!’” Jordan told The Observer. “If I’m getting involved in NASCAR, then get a Black driver (with) a Black owner.”

For all that Jordan can bring to NASCAR, Daugherty knows that the competition can prove challenging.

“I’m sure he’s committed to next season and we’ll see how that goes and if it goes well, you go beyond that,” Daugherty said. “He had a (Superbike) team for a long time and loved that. He understands it’s a different business model. He’s at the point in his life, he’s like Roger Penske and Rick Hendrick and those guys to where it’s really not a detriment to him financially if he’s not making money. We’ll have to see how much he can stomach because it’s an interesting business model for sure.”

Jordan told The Observer he’s in it to win.

“If I’m investing, if I’m a participant, then I want to win! I don’t want to be out there to be just another car,” Jordan said.

Daugherty looks forward to seeing Jordan, Hamlin and Wallace at the track.

“I think it’s a pretty dynamic trio with Michael, Denny and Bubba,” Daugherty said. “They’re going to be like rock stars.”

Daugherty also looks forward to something else next year.

“Look forward to racing against those guys,” he said, “and trying to kick their butts.”

Germain Racing sells charter, will exit sport at end of season

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Germain Racing car owner Bob Germain announced Monday that he has sold the team’s charter and will end the team after this season.

The charter was purchased by a new team that will have Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan as owners and Bubba Wallace as the driver.

Germain said in a statement that the No. 13 team will continue the rest of the season with Ty Dillon as driver.

“Being an owner in NASCAR for the last 16 years has been a thrilling and rewarding adventure,” Germain said in a statement. “From winning two NASCAR Truck Series championships in 2006 and 2010 to competing at the highest level of motorsports in the Cup Series for the last 12 seasons, I have experienced the highs and lows of our sport. I’m extremely proud of what Germain Racing has accomplished at every level and I will be transitioning out of ownership with many memories and friendships. I appreciate the interest and offers made over the last couple of weeks and I am excited to see how the sport continues to grow in the future.

“Thank you to GEICO for their loyalty to Germain Racing for over a decade. It has been a great source of pride for our team to represent their brand on the track. Doug Barnette with Player Management International has facilitated our GEICO relationship since the beginning and I truly appreciate his efforts. Finally, to my employees: building a team camaraderie and creating a family atmosphere has been a highlight of this journey. I will miss each of you.”

Germain pondered a sale when GEICO decided not to renew its contract after this season with the team.  GEICO is one of NASCAR’s Premier Partners, joining Busch Beer, Coca-Cola and Xfinity.

Dillon spoke in late August about the challenges facing single-car teams in Cup.

“The model is very tough right now for single-car teams,” he said. “I’m hoping that NASCAR is going to change it and help on it. But it needs to change for one-car teams to be more successful that haven’t already been at the top level of the sport or have an incredible amount of money to leapfrog into the top spot. If you don’t have three or four teams to spread the wealth with big name sponsors and a lot of money behind the effort, it’s just not a model that’s going to survive long term.”

Hamlin acknowledged the challenge a one-car team can have.

“I do believe that the (ownership) model will hopefully get better,” Hamlin said before last weekend’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway. “Do I think it’s fixed? No, I think there is still some work to be done to make the model a viable business. You want a business that everyone wants to be a part of, not the ones that are fleeting. Certainly, I think NASCAR is trying it’s best to make the teams a little more healthy. I think that outlook toward the future is what’s interesting to me.”

Germain Racing is the second team to sell its charter since August. Leavine Family Racing announced it had sold its charter on Aug. 4. Spire Motorsports purchased it and will be a two-car team in 2021.