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.’”

Winners and losers from Las Vegas

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WINNERS

Paul Wolfe — Great call to have Joey Logano not pit before the final restart. Of course it helped that six other cars stayed out. Still, the top two cars came down pit road and Logano, running third, stayed out and won.

Matt DiBenedettoFinishes second in his second race with the Wood Brothers.

Jimmie JohnsonScored his first top-five finish since last summer’s Daytona race.

Bubba Wallace Decision not to pit allowed him to finish sixth, giving him his best Cup finish on a 1.5-mile track.

LOSERS

Todd Gordon and Greg Ives— For every high, there is a low. Gordon apologized on the radio to Ryan Blaney for calling him to pit road while leading before the final restart. Blaney finished 11th. Ives called Bowman to pit road while running second before the final restart. Bowman finished 13th. Ives tweeted that he was “VERY frustrated with my call at the end not to game on old tires, especially in Vegas.”

19 pit crew — Martin Truex Jr.’s pit crew got him into the lead under caution after Stage 2 but he had to return to pit under that caution to tighten loose lug nuts. Said Truex after the race: “We just need to quit having mistakes on pit road.”

William ByronLined up second on the final restart but contact with Matt DiBenedetto led to a tire rub and Byron falling back before he was involved in the crash that ended race. He finished 22nd.

Ross Chastain says his finish ‘unacceptable’ in place of Newman

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He scored a 10th-place finish in the first stage and ran as high as fifth Sunday in a car he never raced before.

Ross Chastain still had a harsh evaluation of his 27th-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the No. 6 Ford, which he drove in place of an injured Ryan Newman.

Chastain finished two laps down after causing the final caution on a Lap 262 spin, which he judged “unacceptable,” along with his restart performance (“guys kind of ate me alive”) as a substitute for Roush Fenway Racing.

“It’s hard to get out of the car after you have a top-10 car, and you go and run into people and pick the wrong lanes on restarts and then spin it out at the end,” Chastain said. “That’s pretty silly. Just a lot of mistakes on my end and then at the end just overdriving and for one position to be the first car a lap down. That’s unacceptable.”

Chastain had an average running position of 16.87 over the 400-mile race, which went south after he pitted under green from 15th on Lap 217 of 267. The yellow flag flew five laps later, and Chastain took a wavearound to restart 21st.

(Photo by Will Lester/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

On the restart, he made contact with Kurt Busch and pitted under green to fix a tire rub, which left him a lap down when he spun with five laps remaining.

“There were a lot of small mistakes on my end, but I learned a ton,” he said. “The car deserved a lot better finish.  Obviously, we showed that early and I just didn’t have great restarts. I just have to be better.

“RFR and everybody puts so much into these cars, and ultimately I’m the one holding the wheel.  We had such a good first stage and had so much confidence and from there I just started making mistakes.”

Chastain, who finished 10th in Sunday night’s rain-delayed Xfinity race, will be driving the No. 6 for Roush while Newman recovers from his Daytona 500 crash. In a statement from the team Sunday morning, Newman indicated he plans to drive again this season, but no timetable has been provided for his return.

Chase Briscoe wins rain-delayed Xfinity race in Las Vegas

Chase Briscoe
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Chase Briscoe won Sunday’s rain-delayed Xfinity Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, beating fellow Ford driver Austin Cindric by almost three seconds to claim his third career Xfinity win.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver led 89 laps in the race, which began late Saturday afternoon but was red flagged on Lap 51 due to rain.

Briscoe and Cindric were the only Ford drivers in the field.

Ryan Sieg placed third to earn his sixth career top-five finish and his first on a 1.5-mile track.

The top five was completed by Daytona winner Noah Gragson and Harrison Burton.

“That was really a team win,” Briscoe told Fox Sports. “We were really good, then as soon as the sun went down when we were in dirty air, we just weren’t really good. In clean air, obviously there at the end we were really good. … This is something I feel we can do all year long.”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Chase Briscoe

STAGE 2 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

More: Click here for race results.

More: Click here for the point standings.

WHAT’S NEXT: Production Alliance Group 300 at Auto Club Speedway at 4 p.m. ET Feb. 29 on FS1.

Chevy drivers positive about new Camaro body after Las Vegas

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Positive reviews are in from a few Chevrolet Cup drivers after their first race on an intermediate track with the updated Camaro ZL1 1LE body, which was introduced this year in an effort to improve the manufacturer’s performance after two lackluster seasons.

Those reviews are backed by the final results for Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

After the chaos created by a last-lap crash, six Chevrolets finished in the top 10. They were led by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon and Jimmie Johnson placing in the top five.

That followed Chase Elliott leading 70 laps and winning both stages before his one-car incident in the middle of the final stage.

In last year’s spring race on the 1.5-mile track, only two Chevys – Kurt Busch (fifth) and Elliott (ninth) – finished in the top 10. Three Chevy drivers combined to lead 23 of the race’s 267 laps.

“We’re trying to just understand this new Camaro body and the setup that needs to go with it,” said Johnson. “We’re close, but there’s still a little bit more work for us to do on our car to get the balance between the clean air and the traffic closer. But for the first try on a downforce track, the guys did a really nice job.”

Johnson earned his first top five since last July’s race at Daytona. He placed 19th in this race last year.

“It’s really rewarding to see,” Johnson said. “Last year when we left here, we had quite the opposite feeling and were pretty worried about what the year was going to hold for us. So, it’s really nice to have that change of perspective now. There’s a lot of Chevys up front, one of our Hendrick cars led for a while. So, we’re going the right way.”

Johnson’s teammate, Alex Bowman, was running in second when the final caution came out inside 10 laps to go. After his team chose to pit, Bowman placed 13th.

“This new Camaro, for its first time on a downforce track, I’m just really pleased with it so far,” Bowman said. “I think it’s going to be really good for us. Obviously, I’m bummed out to finish 13th after staring at a second place or a win. But it’s part of it; it’s how racing goes. We win as a team and lose as a team. It just didn’t go our way there at the end.”

Last year, Chevrolet only earned seven wins, with two coming on 1.5-mile tracks. Bowman claimed one of those at Chicagoland Speedway.

Added Bowman: “Compared to how we started the last two seasons, I think we’ve got something for them this year.”

One Chevrolet driver said it was “still early” for assessing the new bodies.

“I think the Hendrick cars were really good,” said Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson, who placed ninth. “I felt about the same as last year. So, we just have to continue to get better.”