Will Bristol shake up dominance of a few teams?


Will NASCAR’s first race at a short track Sunday break up the domination of the top teams or just be more of the same?

Since the Cup season resumed May 17 at Darlington, the top organizations — Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing have dominated.

Each organization has won a race in the last four. Those four organizations have combined for 85% of the top-five finishes and 67.5% of the top 10s scored since the season restarted.

MORE: A viewer’s guide to Sunday’s Cup race at Bristol

Both totals are increases compared to the first four races of the season before COVID-19 halted the season. Before the break, the four organizations combined for 65% of the top-five finishes and 62.5% of the top-10 results.

“I feel like it’s been a continuation from the beginning of the season,” Chase Elliott said after his Thursday night Charlotte victory of the dominance of the same group. “I feel like all the same contenders are contending now as to who was contending before the break.

“I almost get the sense that we’re still working on some of the parts and pieces and cars that we had before we had two months off, so I’m really curious to see how these next two weeks progress because people are going to get better, and I think some of the things they’ve been trying and working on they’re actually going to have time to implement to their cars. We have to stay hungry and stay after it.”

Alan Gustafson, Elliott’s crew chief, told NBC Sports in March that because the rules are “much more stringent than they’ve been in the past” that “there’s not a whole lot of places to go and find performance.”

In anticipation of the sport going to the Next Gen car next season, NASCAR put a freeze on new parts for cars this season. NASCAR has since delayed the Next Gen car’s debut until the 2022 season.

With Sunday’s race at Bristol completing a stretch of five races in two weeks, teams have been challenged to improve performance as they prepare cars in such a short period. With four Cup races scheduled between June 1-21, teams should have more time to fine-tune performance.

“There’s certainly room for everyone to improve, and I have every expectation that our competitors will,” Gustafson said after Thursday night’s Charlotte race.

Denny Hamlin, who won the second Darlington race, said it could be some time before there’s a change in which teams are the strongest.

“You’re not able to make huge changes because the cars are essentially locked in with all the new kind of ordinances on new parts and whatnot,” Hamlin said. “So you’ve kind of got what you’ve got. You will make some developments and you will find some things in aerodynamics through the year, but I think that you’d better have your stuff together come early to mid‑August.”

If so, that comes only a couple of weeks before the playoffs are scheduled to begin Sept. 6 at Darlington with the Southern 500.

That could mean that many teams are chasing the Hendrick Motorsports cars this summer. While Joe Gibbs Racing has had the highest percentage of its cars in the top 10 since the season resumed (27.5%), the Hendrick cars have been viewed as the dominant ones.

Hendrick cars have won 44.4% of the stages since the season restarted and combined to lead more than a third of the laps run in the past four races.

“Honestly, I think the best group out there right now is Hendrick,” Ryan Blaney said after Thursday night’s race. “They have really great speed right now on the mile‑and‑a‑halfs or the bigger tracks. I’ve seen it. 

“They’ve kind of had some unfortunate circumstances. … The Penske group has capitalized on (those) at a couple of them tracks, but Hendrick is really strong. I feel like we’re close with our group. We’ve just got to find a little bit more.”

Alex Bowman confident as he returns to racing from back injury


CONCORD, N.C. — Alex Bowman watched the rain-filled skies over Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday with more than a touch of disappointment.

As weather threatened to cancel Saturday night’s scheduled NASCAR Cup Series practice at the speedway, Bowman saw his chances to testing his car — and his body — dissolving in the raindrops. NASCAR ultimately cancelled practice and qualifying because of rain.

MORE: Wet weather cancels Charlotte Cup practice, qualifying

Bowman suffered a fractured vertebra in a sprint car accident last month and has missed three Cup races while he recovers. Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, the season’s longest race, is scheduled to mark his return to the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet.

“It would have been really nice to kickstart that with practice today,” Bowman said. “I haven’t raced or competitively driven a race car in a month. I’m trying to understand where my rusty areas are going to be and where I’m still good.”

Bowman ran 200 laps in a test season at North Wilkesboro Speedway this week, but, of course, that doesn’t compare with the faster speeds and tougher G-forces he’ll experience over 400 laps Sunday at CMS.

Bowman admitted that he is still experiencing pain from the back injury — his car flipped several times — and that he expects some pain during the race. But he said he is confident he’ll be OK and that the longer race distance won’t be an issue.

“I broke my back a month ago, and there’s definitely things that come along with that for a long time,” he said. “I have some discomfort here and there and there are things I do that don’t feel good. That’s just part of it. It’s stuff I’ll have to deal with. But, for the most part, I’m back to normal.

“I’m easing back into being in the gym. I’m trying to be smart with things. If I twist the wrong way, sometimes it hurts. In the race car at the end of a six-hour race, I’m probably not going to be the best.”

The sprint car crash interrupted what had been a fine seasonal start for Bowman. Although winless, he had three top fives and six top 10s in the first 10 races.

“I’m excited to be back,” Bowman said. “Hopefully, we can pick up where we left off and be strong right out of the gate.”

He said he hopes to return to short-track racing but not in the near future.

“Someday I want to get back in a sprint car or midget,” he said. “I felt like we were just getting rolling in a sprint car. That night we were pretty fast. Definitely a bummer there. That’s something I really want to conquer and be competitive at in the World of Outlaws or High Limits races. Somebody I’ll get back to that. It’s probably smart if I give my day job a little alone time for a bit.”




Charlotte NASCAR Cup Series starting lineup: Rain cancels qualifying


CONCORD, N.C. — William Byron and Kevin Harvick will start Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series 600-mile race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the front row after wet weather cancelled Saturday night qualifying.

Rain pelted the CMS area much of the day Saturday, and NASCAR announced at 3:45 p.m. that Cup practice and qualifying, scheduled for Saturday night, had been cancelled.

MORE: Alex Bowman confident as he returns to cockpit

The starting field was set by the NASCAR rulebook.

Following Byron and Harvick in the starting top 10 will be Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Bubba Wallace, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The elimination of the practice session was particularly problematic for Alex Bowman, scheduled to return to racing Sunday after missing three weeks with a back injury, and Jimmie Johnson, who will be starting only his third race this year. Johnson will start 37th — last in the field.

Charlotte Cup starting lineup

Wet weather cancels Charlotte Cup Series practice, qualifying


CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR Cup Series drivers will start the longest race of the season with no practice or qualifying.

Wet weather and predictions of more to come led NASCAR to cancel Saturday night’s Cup Series practice and qualifying in mid-afternoon. The field for Sunday’s 600-mile race was set by the NASCAR rulebook, placing William Byron and Kevin Harvick on the front row for the  scheduled 6 p.m. start.

MORE: Charlotte Cup starting lineup

MORE: Alex Bowman confident as he returns to cockpit

Weather also could be an issue Sunday as more rain is predicted for the speedway area.

Drivers were scheduled to practice at 7 p.m. Saturday. That session was to be followed by qualifying at 7:45 p.m. The cancellations were announced at 3:45 p.m.

The time-trial cancellation marked the first time in 64 years that qualifying has been canceled for the 600.

Charlotte Xfinity race postponed to Monday by weather


CONCORD, N.C. — Persistent rain forced the postponement of Saturday’s scheduled 300-mile NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway to Monday.

The race is scheduled to start at noon ET. It will be televised by FS1 and broadcast by the Performance Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Driver introductions and other pre-race activities were held at the track Saturday, but rain that had dampened the track in the morning hours returned. After several attempts at drying the track, the race was postponed after heavier rain returned in mid-afternoon.

Justin Allgaier will start the race from the pole position.