Bubba Wallace

NBC Sports Power Rankings heading into Coca-Cola 600

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After finishing third in the All-Star Race, Kyle Busch is back atop this week’s NBC Sports Power Rankings – although it was not a unanimous decision.

The real story this week is Kyle Larson. Although it was a non-points event, Larson’s win in the All-Star Race propelled him from not even in last week’s rankings to No. 3 this week. Larson is one of three drivers who went from unranked last week to into this week’s top 10. Also making a big jump from last week was Kevin Harvick (from 7th to 2nd).

Several drivers took big drops from last week, including Chase Elliott (1st to 5th), Alex Bowman (2nd to 6th), Clint Bowyer (4th to tied for 10th) and Brad Keselowski (5th to out of the top 10).

Here’s how this week’s Power Rankings look heading into the Coca-Cola 600:

1. Kyle Busch (38 points): Finished third in All-Star Race but climbs the rankings for his rant on the radio late in the race. If you can’t win .… But he did win the Truck race and finished the year winning all five of his starts. Last week: 3rd.

2. Kevin Harvick (32 points): Once again, falls short of victory lane. Pit crew mistakes again. Will they finally get things fixed in time for the race that typically has the most pit stops of the season in it? Last week: 7th.

3. Kyle Larson (30 points): Will the $1 million man build upon his riches to earn some wins that will actually count towards the playoffs? Last week: unranked.

4. Joey Logano (24 points): Strong run at the end to secure top-five finish in All-Star Race. Could be a big factor in the 600. Last week: 8th.

5. Chase Elliott (22 points): Things didn’t go his way. Hey, he has 600 miles this weekend to make things happen. Last week: 1st.

6. Alex Bowman (17 points): With three straight runner-ups and eighth in the All-Star Race, a win could be right around the corner – perhaps as early as Sunday. Last week: 2nd.

7. Bubba Wallace (14 points): Storybook night – stage win in Open and fifth-place finish in All-Star Race – gave him an emotional boost that may lead to better things to come. Last week: unranked.

8. William Byron (10 points): Strong move to win the first stage in Monster Open and then finishes the night with a ninth-place finish in the All-Star Race. Last week: unranked.

9. Martin Truex Jr. (9 points): Fast car but then later had issues and finished 10th. Last week: 9th.

(tie) 10. Clint Bowyer (7 points): Punched his ticket to a 12th-place finish, then went out and punched Ryan Newman on pit road. Will their feud flare up again on Sunday? Last week: 4th.

(tie) 10. Kurt Busch (7 points): Late crash left him with a disappointing 17th-place finish (out of 19 drivers). Look for a big comeback in the 600. Given his consistency this season, he’s overdue for a win. Last week: 6th.

Others receiving votes: Brad Keselowski (4 points), Aric Almirola (3 points), Austin Dillon (2 points), Ross Chastain (1 point).

Bump and Run: Which IndyCar, NASCAR drivers should try other series?

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Who is an IndyCar driver you’d like to see try NASCAR and a NASCAR driver you’d like to see try IndyCar?

Nate Ryan: Alexander Rossi in NASCAR (watch his restarts in the 2018 Indianapolis 500 and imagine what he could bring to NASCAR’s double-file lineups on a regular basis). Larson or Kyle Busch in IndyCar because of their raw talent and desire to race the event.

Dustin Long: Colton Herta in NASCAR. The 19-year-old was on the team that won the GT Le Mans class at the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January and set the race’s fastest lap in his class. He followed that by becoming the youngest driver to win an IndyCar race when he took the checkered flag first in March at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. As for a NASCAR driver in IndyCar. It would be fun to see what Kyle Busch could do in those cars.

Daniel McFadin: James Hinchcliffe is my easy pick to go from IndyCar to NASCAR. His personality in the NASCAR garage would be welcome and a ton of fun. On the flip side, throwing the often abrasive Kyle Busch into the IndyCar swimming pool would be a treat, both to see his driving ability showcased and to see his personality clash with others.

Jerry Bonkowski: I’d like to see either Josef Newgarden or Will Power try NASCAR. Newgarden because he’s from NASCAR country (Tennessee native) and Power because he said recently he’d be open for the challenge. I’d like to see Kevin Harvick or Kyle Busch try IndyCar.

 

Who needed the result more in the All-Star Race: Winner Kyle Larson or fifth-placer finisher Bubba Wallace?

Nate Ryan: Bubba Wallace. This was one of the best days of his NASCAR career, ranking just behind the first truck win at Martinsville and last year’s runner-up showing at the Daytona 500. It was a morale booster for Larson and the No. 42 team, but they still need a points win for full validation.

Dustin Long: Kyle Larson needed it more. No doubt the result was big for Bubba Wallace, who has had his struggles recently. For Larson and his team it shows they can win. It’s one thing to think you can and another to do it in a season that has been dominated by Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske. Could this help build momentum for Larson and his team to carry through the upcoming races?

Daniel McFadin: Bubba Wallace for sure. Kyle Larson’s racing future is secure. Wallace’s is much more uncertain and with Richard Petty Motorsports’ struggles to find sponsorship, that brief moment in the spotlight could prove to be valuable. But on a personal level, Wallace needed it more as a reminder he’s kind of good at this whole racing deal.

Jerry Bonkowski: While Larson certainly needed a win, it came in a non-points paying race, so it has no impact upon him going forward in the regular Cup standings and/or playoff contention. I believe the finish for Bubba was needed more because of the difficult season he’s had to date both performance-wise and personally. Both drivers have struggled, but Bubba needed this showing more.

 

NASCAR does not plan to penalize either Clint Bowyer or Ryan Newman for what happened during and after the All-Star Race between those two. Good call?

Nate Ryan: Yes. Legislating behavior must be avoided except for extreme circumstances because NASCAR needs more emotion like this, not less.

Dustin Long: Yes. NASCAR is being consistent. Kyle Busch and Joey Logano were not penalized for their fight on pit road after the Las Vegas race in March 2017. No need to penalize Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman after talking with both on Saturday night.

Daniel McFadin: I was in the grandstands on Saturday night and the crowd roared when the shot of Bowyer going after Newman was flashed on backstretch video board. No one was hurt and it added even more electricity to the race’s narrative. Why fine someone for something you’re going to use to promote the event for as long as you continue to hold it?

Jerry Bonkowski: Bad call. While I understand the heat of the moment and Bowyer’s anger at Newman, his post-race fists of fury actions warranted some kind of penalty. If this had been a points-paying race, something like that would have merited at least a one-race suspension.

 

The two non-points races this year were won by Jimmie Johnson (Clash at Daytona) and Kyle Larson (All-Star Race). Johnson is winless in 71 points races. Larson is winless in his 58 points races. Will either have a win before the playoffs start?

Nate Ryan: Yes, they both win in the regular season.

Dustin Long: Yes. Would put Kyle Larson down for the Bristol night race, if not sooner. I’ll put Jimmie Johnson down for Michigan in August.

Daniel McFadin: Kyle Larson is more than likely to have a win between now and September. While Johnson has shown flashes of improvement over the last four months, based on what we’ve seen lately, I don’t have a lot of confidence that the No. 48 team will find what they need to be in victory lane anytime soon outside stealing a win at Daytona

Jerry Bonkowski: Yes, both drivers will win before the playoffs start. If one or both fails to do so, the only way they would make the playoffs is on points. And that’s always an iffy proposition. To use a well-worn phrase, they have to win to get in. Both will do so.

Long: All-Star Race shows value of shorter distances for Cup events

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The All-Star Race is billed as an event that also serves as a test session.

While cars had some new parts that may be used on the Gen 7 vehicle — expected to debut in 2021 — there’s something else that can be taken from Saturday night and applied to more races.

Shorter distances.

A night that saw two stages in the Monster Open end in spectacular finishes, the All-Star Race crown a new winner and punches thrown on pit road afterward, featured 150 laps compared to the 400 laps that will be run on the same track this weekend.

While there remains room on the Cup schedule for a Daytona 500, a Coca-Cola 600 and a Southern 500, the All-Star Race showed that sometimes shorter distances can be better.

There certainly didn’t seem to be any complaints from fans Saturday night about seeing fewer laps of racing than most weekends.

Instead, the talk was about Clint Bowyer running to Ryan Newman’s car and flailing at Newman in retaliation for being wrecked on the cool-down lap.

Or the talk was about Bubba Wallace’s dramatic win in the second stage of the Monster Energy Open that saw Daniel Suarez slide off track and then Wallace finishing fifth in the All-Star Race.

Or the talk was about Kyle Larson winning is first All-Star Race and collecting $1 million after holding off Kevin Harvick at the end.

All this over an exhibition race.

Imagine what might happen if this was a points race and the winner secured a spot in the playoffs — something Larson initially wondered if he had done before being told no.

Shortening some races shouldn’t be done as a way to find younger fans that some would suggest don’t have the attention span for longer races. The sport doesn’t need to go chasing fans that way. It did that years ago and alienated its older fans.

But if some shorter distances heighten tensions in races and lead to more water cooler moments, then it’s something the sport should consider.

The notion that most races need to be marathons is outdated and outrageous. Few cars suffer mechanical failures. The downforce is so great that few cars spin, let alone crash. Racing is no longer a test of a car’s survival over long distances.

While longer races allow drivers and teams to overcome handling issues or mistakes early and contend for wins, that shouldn’t be the main reason to keep some races 400 or 500 miles.

Turn some of these races into sprints, add points and watch the pressure build. There will be no time for pleasantries. It will be about charging to the front.

Saturday night’s race provided such action. Although not every short race will capture the essence of the All-Star Race, there’s a greater chance of it happening.

Just think about what often makes a longer race special. It’s a restart at the end that forces drivers to make bold moves. In essence a late restart turns a long race into quick sprint.

Why not add a few more of those in the future?

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The All-Star Race will be in Charlotte next year but what is the event’s future?

Provided the Gen 7 car debuts in 2021 as NASCAR states, there will be no need to use the All-Star Race that season as a test session — as has been done the past two times — because teams still will be trying to figure out the car.

That would make it a good time to consider moving the All-Star Race to a different location. Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway would be a logical choice but there are challenges.

Provided NASCAR releases the 2021 schedule next April — the 2020 Cup, Xfinity and Truck schedules were all released by April 3 this year — it gives the folks at Bristol Motor Speedway (and Speedway Motorsports Inc.) less than 11 months to complete a deal with the city and the fair board, which oversees the track, get funding approved and make the changes that are needed to update the track.

While all of that is happening, the city will have elections in August for mayor and other city positions. With multiple candidates running for mayor, a run-off might be needed and that would be held in September.

Those in the sport who have had to work with government entities know how deals can be all but done and then suddenly change at the last minute, throwing everything in doubt. The more layers of government, the longer something takes.

Anything can happen. A deal could be completed in time and could provide the opportunity to move the All-Star Race to Nashville in 2021. If not, maybe there is another place to hold it besides Charlotte, which already has two points races.

If not Nashville, maybe Iowa Speedway or some other track that would need a limited number of upgrades to host NASCAR’s top series. It could be time to think about moving the All-Star Race to places that don’t already have a Cup event.

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Synthetic turf at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Daniel Hemric, Daniel Suarez and Ryan Newman showed during Saturday night’s races at Charlotte Motor Speedway how valuable it is for a track to have a synthetic turf instead of grass.

The track installed 88,000 square feet of synthetic turf last summer, along with a new drainage system, to replace the grass along the frontstretch. It was in place for the inaugural race on the Roval.

Hemric slid through the turf during the second stage of the Monster Energy Open after contact with Ryan Preece. Suarez spun through the turf at the end of the second stage in the Open. His car was not damaged, allowing him to continue.

Newman slid through the turf during the second stage of the All-Star Race and also suffered no damage and was able to continue.

“That was big,” Newman said. “I was able to finish my race. If there was grass down there, I wouldn’t have. That was a big deal.”

As long as vehicles have splitters, NASCAR should look to require speedways to use synthetic turf instead of grass in areas near the track to limit the damage when cars and trucks go through those areas. If not turf, then pave those areas. 

While not every accident is the same, just look at what happened to Natalie Decker in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series race earlier this month when she slid into the frontstretch grass at Kansas Speedway. Decker was eliminated because of the damage and finished 25th.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said Monday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that series officials will “continue to look at” synthetic turf in place of grass at tracks.

“While it does present some challenges at some other tracks, I think that is a system we’ll continue to look at,” he said. “Certainly performed great. It looks good from a fan perspective and certainly helps the cars when they get in the turf during a race.”

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With Kevin Harvick chasing him in the final laps, Kyle Larson did not make a mistake and give away the All-Star Race.

It was much different from the 2016 All-Star Race when he hit the wall while leading with two laps to go as Joey Logano challenged him. Logano went on to win. Larson finished 16th in the 20-car field.

Saturday night, there were no mistakes.

“This year has been different for me,” Larson said. “I’ve never worked out before, and I’ve been in the gym a little bit more this year with (trainer and former driver) Josh Wise and just working out with him, and being around him puts a lot more confidence and ease into me. I feel like I’m just more calm.

“I wasn’t nervous at all that last restart, and I think part of that is just from feeling like I am prepared. And also losing close races.  I just — I feel like I’ve done a good job of not getting stressed out, even with me losing the Chili Bowl (on the last lap to Christopher Bell in January). I felt like I was really calm until the last two laps and I gave the race away. (Saturday) I wasn’t going to let that happen.

“With those losses that I’ve had, you grow from each and every one of them. Hopefully we can continue this, and I feel like  — everybody becomes a better driver the older they get, but I feel like I’ve put more work and effort into it this year.”

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All-Star winners and losers

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WINNERS

Kyle LarsonHe joked that by running in the Monster Open he was in the B Main, but he won the final stage to advance to the All-Star Race and then went on to win the main event. He became only the fourth driver in All-Star history to win the event after transferring in from the preliminary race.

Bubba Wallace It was the night he needed. He’s referenced recently how tough things have been on him in his life. After losing the opening stage of the Monster Open, a “pissed off” Wallace won the next stage in a tight finish to advance to the All-Star Race and get a big hug from Ryan Blaney. Wallace went on to finish fifth in the All-Star Race and beamed afterward. “I honestly haven’t had this much fun in a long time,” Wallace said.

Fans — They saw spectacular finishes in the first two stages of the Monster Open, saw three-wide racing at times during the night, saw a different winner this season in Kyle Larson, and saw Clint Bowyer run to Ryan Newman’s car and start swinging at Newman, who remained in the car, in retaliation for contact that sent Bowyer into the wall on the cool-down lap. What more do you want?

LOSERS

Erik JonesThe best thing that can be said about his rough night was that it was a non-points race so his last-place finish didn’t hurt him in his bid to make the playoffs.

Kevin Harvick’s pit crew — Harvick was not happy with how his pit crew performed after his second-place finish. After winning the second stage, Harvick lost six spots on pit road and then had a loose wheel a few laps into the run. Said Harvick of his crew: “They just need to be ready to race. They’ve done it all year. You can’t just show up and have it be a disaster. They’ve been great all year. Tonight wasn’t great.”

Fabricators — The All-Star Race promotes beating and banging and there was a good bit of it Saturday. There were five incidents in the 150 laps of racing on the night for incidents, involving nine different cars. Many others also were beat up. Of course, imagine if they held an All-Star Race on a short track.

Being in Open was key for four drivers who transferred into All-Star Race

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Saturday night showed the significance of how competing in the Monster Energy Open can pay big dividends in the NASCAR All-Star Race.

All four drivers who transferred from the Open – stage winners William Byron, Bubba Wallace and race winner Kyle Larson, along with fan vote winner Alex Bowman – showed their mettle by finishing in the top 10 of the All-Star Race, led by Larson, who took the checkered flag.

“I always think if there’s one positive to being in the B Main (the Open), it’s that you get that extra track time,” Larson said. “I feel like in the first few laps, those guys that are in the B main can be really aggressive because they know the limits of the race car and stuff.

“So you can see the four of us or whatever kind of be really aggressive and get to the mid-pack pretty quickly. And then everybody kind of figures it out after that. But there’s a slight advantage for the first 10, 15 laps, I think, of being in that race.”

It was the second time that Larson has won the Open – he also took the checkered flag in 2016 – and transferred into the All-Star Race.

Added Larson’s crew chief, Chad Johnston: I felt like when you run the Open, you kind of have an advantage — especially with the first 30-lap run of being on track, knowing what to expect, being able to adjust on your car. Where the guys that are in the All-Star Race don’t have that. So it’s a good time to take advantage of that information and being able to gain some of the track position back pretty quickly.”

Perhaps the most emotional moment of the Open came afterward when Stage 2 winner Wallace cried in joy of putting himself and the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet into the main event.

“It’s been hard, been really hard,” Wallace said of his season to date. “I was trying to hold them (tears) back and telling yourself you can’t do it anymore is tough. To give up and whatnot.

“I gave up the first Stage win and I didn’t say anything on the radio. But my parents and everyone that has always helped me always said, when I am pissed off I drive better. So, I did everything I could. I told myself to quit, and don’t even try again for the second Stage.

“My mental game is really shot right now, but damn it feels good to win something. I have failed at a lot of things in life recently, but I am working to make those things better.”

Wallace would go on to finish fifth in his first career appearance in the All-Star Race.

“I had tons of fun tonight,” Wallace said. “I honestly haven’t had this much fun in a long time. It’s been a struggle, but it was a big night for us. When you don’t have anything on the line, I guess it means something different.

“The first thing my mom said to me after the Open was ‘You know who that was? That was God. He’s not giving up on you yet’. I’ve realized that. As many dark moments that I’ve had and telling myself to give up, it’s been really tough. It’s been tough to keep coming in and keep going. Tonight just shows that I’ll be back next week.”

As for Hendrick Motorsports teammates Byron, who won the first stage of the Open, and fan vote winner Bowman, the preliminary race helped in finishing eighth and ninth, respectively, in the All-Star Race.

“It was just amazing, it feels awesome to be in the All-Star Race,” Byron said of his first appearance in the event. “I’ve been coming to this race since I was about five or six years old. It’s really exciting to be a part of it. It was huge, we needed this. We’ve had some really good qualifying efforts this year; we just needed to finish it off with something positive and this was definitely positive for us. I’m excited for it.”

Said Bowman: “You want to race your way in, and we did that last year and had a car very capable of doing that this year. Restarts didn’t go our way, and it is what it is.”

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