Casey Mears

Deep dish: Recalling 19 seasons of NASCAR at Chicagoland Speedway

1 Comment

Scuffles in the pits, furious last-lap battles, game-changing announcements and news conferences.

Chicagoland Speedway has delivered some memorable moments over the past two decades.

While it sometimes has been lumped in with the 1.5-mile sameness on the schedule, much has happened in the cornfields about an hour southwest of downtown Chicago.

Who knows what might have been in store for NASCAR’s premier series Sunday, which was the original date for the Cup Series’ annual visit to Joliet, Illinois, before the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic wiped it off the slate.

CUP AT TALLADEGA: All the details for Sunday’s race

CONSTANT OF CHANGE: Brad Keselowski on beating Talladega

It might be difficult to reflect with everything else happening in NASCAR and the world, though.

“I think everybody is just so head down just trying to get through everything that’s been thrown at us every day and every week,” Brad Keselowski, who won at Chicagoland in 2012 and ‘14, said this week. “It’s so hard to have any perspective right now. I think that whether it’s virus or protests and that’s happening globally, then we have our own little focus world of at the racetrack and trying to win and trying to overcome no practice.

Brad Keselowski celebrates after winning the Sept. 14 2014 race at Chicagoland Speedway.

“I’ve got to do a health screening every other day. I don’t know where I’m supposed to be, I don’t have any help at the racetrack. It’s a complete mess and we’re all just trying to kind of live through the days. I think somebody brought up on Twitter about not going to Sonoma. That hadn’t even crossed my mind, not even in the faintest. People ask me what day it is, and I have no idea what day it is.

“So it’s really hard to have any context to a lot of what’s going on. I’m trying, we’re all trying, but when it comes to things like trying to put missing Chicago in perspective it’s like, ‘I’m just trying to make it to Talladega.’ ”

Before turning attention to 500 miles Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, it seems worthy for a speedy loop through the highlights of Chicagoland Speedway, which opened in 2001 but faces a cloudier future.

While Keselowski and others are hoping the 2021 schedule will include a stop in The Windy City, NASCAR already has announced one new track (Nashville Superspeedway) and seems to be considering other fresh markets and venues, too, as it explores midweek races, streamlined schedules and other efficiencies discovered since the schedule was restarted May 17.

“Whether it’s different tracks, different venues, different schedules, setups, rosters, I’m all ears,” Keselowski said. “I just want what’s best for this sport and without being able to see all the data to speak to 100 percent knowledge base, I would say that the knowledge base that I do have there are a lot of things I like and one of them is Chicago.”

While we await the decision on a 20th season of NASCAR at Chicagoland Speedway, here are 19 of the more important, irreverent and intense moments in the track’s racing history from 2001-19 (which also includes IndyCar):

1. The “Slide Job”: The July 1, 2018 duel between Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson simply ranks as among the best full-contact fights for a victory in NASCAR history. That it was punctuated by the debut of a new NASCAR on NBC broadcaster’s exuberant call of the action only added to the lore. The race also was memorable with “The Big Three” of Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. all involved in the highlights and showcasing their championship mettle.

2. Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne square off: A mentor-pupil relationship was tested when Tony Stewart wrecked Cup rookie Kasey Kahne out of the lead. Tommy Baldwin, Kahne’s crew chief, led his team to Stewart’s pit and a scuffle briefly ensued after which Ray Evernham vowed to “have 10 minutes alone with Tony Stewart and I’ll handle this by myself.” Oh by the way, Stewart won the July 11, 2004 race, his first victory of the season.

Matt Kenseth shortly before being bumped from the lead by Jeff Gordon in the July 9, 2006 race at Chicagoland Speedway (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images).

3. Jeff Gordon vs. Matt Kenseth: In a feud that had started four months earlier with a bump and a shove at Bristol Motor Speedway, Jeff Gordon spun Matt Kenseth out of the lead and led the final seven laps of a July 9, 2006 victory. “He should have expected some action,” Gordon said. “Because of what happened in Bristol, you better believe I was going to make his life difficult.” Said Kenseth: “That wasn’t an accident,” said Kenseth, a Cambridge, Wis., native racing at the track closest to his hometown. “He just ran over me.”

4. Runaway orange on the frontstretch: Tropicana sponsored the first four Cup races at Chicagoland Speedway but was most well-known for an Xfinity qualifying highlight on July 9, 2004. As driver Todd Szegedy began his lap, he nearly ran into a 20-foot-high inflatable orange with a red and white straw that broke loose from its moorings and caught a breeze on the frontstretch. “I used to like orange juice, now it almost killed me,” Szegedy said. “It would have been neat if it would have hooked onto my car.”

5. IndyCar by a nose: In the closest finish in the history of the NTT IndyCar Series, Sam Hornish Jr. nipped Al Unser Jr. by 0.0024 seconds Sept. 8, 2002 at Chicagoland Speedway. Tight finishes in Joliet, Illinois, were a hallmark for IndyCar, which raced there from 2001-10 and also recorded its second-closest finish (Helio Castroneves by 0.0033 over Scott Dixon on Sept. 7, 2008) and fourth-closest finish (Ryan Briscoe by 0.0077 over Dixon on Aug. 29, 2009) at the 1.5-mile oval.

6. A historic baker’s dozen: Chicago is known for a checkered history of political controversies and scandals, so it was only fitting that one of NASCAR’s worst happened here. NASCAR chairman Brian France announced the Sept. 13, 2013 addition of Jeff Gordon as a 13th driver to the playoff field after a review of the race manipulation in the regular-season finale at Richmond Raceway. The following day, France gathered crew chiefs, drivers and car owners to read them the riot act about future race tampering.

Team owner Chip Ganassi (left) and NASCAR president Mike Helton helped welcome Juan Pablo Montoya to the Cup Series (Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR).

7. International appeal: The buzz began as soon as the Chicagoland garage opened Sunday morning, July 9, 2006. A Formula One winner was coming directly to NASCAR? And not the IndyCar Series where he’d made his fame? A few hours later, Juan Pablo Montoya officially was announced as Chip Ganassi Racing’s new driver for 2007. “It’s a historic announcement to have someone of his international success and caliber,” NASCAR president Mike Helton said. “It simply transcends every effort NASCAR has been involved in for 58 years to make it desirable, diverse and international. Anybody who follows motor sports naturally would know his name.” Montoya called it “my toughest challenge ever,” and he was right. Though the Colombian won twice, he never consistently contended over seven Cup seasons.

8. No puppet show allowed: In one of the more amusing chapters in Chicagoland history, several Cup teams were banned from having Muppets characters in their pits in a paint scheme sponsorship tied to the 25th anniversary of “The Muppet Show.” Track officials said it was because Chicagoland wasn’t part of the promotion. “Anybody want to let the Muppets out of jail?” Bill Elliott asked after qualifying third with a No. 9 Dodge that had the Swedish Chef on its hood.

9. Justin Labonte’s miracle Xfinity victory: In perhaps the biggest upset in track history, Justin Labonte started 34th, fell a lap down and won on a fuel mileage gambit when Mike Wallace ran out of gas on the last lap. Labonte, who hadn’t led a lap or finished in the top 10 of 30 previous Xfinity starts, celebrated in a low-key manner after the July 10, 2004 race. He held the checkered flag out his window on a victory lap saluting his part-time team, which had eight employees and was owned by his two-time Cup champion father. “This is bigger than any win I’ve ever had,” Terry Labonte said.

Kyle Busch passes Jimmie Johnson on the final restart July 12, 2008 at Chicagoland Speedway (Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR).

10. A memorable restart: The odds seemed stacked against Kyle Busch on a two-lap shootout that ended the first Cup night race at Chicagoland. Busch was running second to Jimmie Johnson, two championships into his run of five consecutive. But at the final green flag on July 12, 2008, Busch swung his No. 18 to the outside of Johnson’s No. 48 and made it stick for the seventh of a series-high eight victories in 2008. Busch who radioed his team in resignation while chasing Johnson earlier, told his crew, “I appreciate you guys sticking with me. I know I’m a pain in the ass sometimes, but you’ll have that in a punk.”

11. The pass of the season: With extraordinary finesse, Brad Keselowski split the middle between the top two cars of Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson and led the final 17 laps to win the Sept. 14, 2014 playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway. “I just saw a hole and I went for it,” the Team Penske driver said. “(Harvick) and (Larson) were racing really hard. It just opened a hole. I didn’t know if my car would stick, but I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t try it.”

Tony Stewart celebrates after winning Sept. 19, 2011 (Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR).

12. Smoke rises: Four days after proclaiming he wasn’t a contender for the championship, Tony Stewart won Sept. 19, 2011 (held on a Monday afternoon) as Chicagoland opened the Cup playoffs for the first time. It was the first victory of the year for Stewart, who won five of the final 10 races for his third championship.

13. First-time winner: For the second consecutive year, Larson came up on the short end of a memorable outcome as Alex Bowman finally fulfilled the promise of being hired by Hendrick Motorsports. After losing the lead to Larson for two laps, Bowman regained it with five laps remaining in the June 30, 2019 race.

14. A fiery wreck: In the track’s scariest crash, Ryan Briscoe briefly went airborne and landed on the backstretch SAFER barrier in a fireball that split his car in half. Briscoe thankfully survived but broke his shoulders in the Sept. 11, 2005 wreck and spent a week in the hospital recovering. He returned to win at the track four years later.

David Reutimann and Rodney Childers celebrate their victory (Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR).

15. Best in class: Though the rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600 in 2009 was his first victory, the July 10, 2010 triumph at Chicagoland Speedway will be remembered as David Reutimann’s greatest victory. The Michael Waltrip Racing driver and crew chief Rodney Childers had the best car start to finish, beating Jeff Gordon straight up. “I felt like there was a dark cloud hanging over our head with that win at the 600,” Reutimann said. “Everybody just says, ‘Yeah, you guys won, but .. ‘Now I’m just like, ‘OK, here you go, just leave me alone. We won the race.”

16. Junior’s achievement: After the first half of a season that wrecked his confidence, Dale Earnhardt Jr. scored an out-of-the-blue victory July 10, 2005 with Steve Hmiel, his third crew chief in six months. It would be Earnhardt’s lone Cup triumph that season. “It’s a long time coming,” he said. “It’s real emotional . . . more than I can handle right now. With all the darts thrown at these guys this year. It’s just awesome.”

Jimmie Johnson in 2001(ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images).

17. Quiet breakthrough: The first Xfinity race at Chicagoland Speedway was also the first NASCAR victory for a legend. Jimmie Johnson was an unheralded driver for Herzog Motorsports when he led the final 43 laps to win July 14, 2001. Within three months, he was hired to drive the No. 48 for Hendrick Motorsports, and the rest is history.

18. Another first-timer: Casey Mears already had been a Cup driver for four seasons when he scored his only career Xfinity victory in a fuel-mileage play to lead the final 47 laps July 8, 2006 at Chicagoland Speedway. It came a month after Mears had been hired by Hendrick for the 2007 season, in which he’d get his final victory (the Coca-Cola 600).

19. Lights, camera, action: Chicagoland’s proximity to the country’s third-largest media market often has meant drawing a larger share of Hollywood stars plugging their work. During the July 2006 weekend, it was Will Ferrell and the cast of “Talladega Nights” promoting the NASCAR-themed movie released that summer. Ferrell got a prerace ride in a stock car driven by Wally Dallenbach Jr. “I almost threw up doing the donuts,” Ferrell said. “A mixture of G forces and burning rubber after eating eggs is not the best.”

Actor Will Ferrell gives a  thumbs up before taking a lap with Wally Dallenbach Jr. in the pace car at Chicagoland Speedway (Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR),

Sunday’s Cup race at Bristol: Start time, forecast and more

Leave a comment

After four races on tracks more than 1 mile in length, NASCAR heads to Bristol Motor Speedway for Sunday afternoon’s race.

NASCAR’s first short track race of the season concludes a two-week period where the Cup Series will have run five times.

Kevin Harvick won the first race in this stretch May 17 at Darlington Raceway. Denny Hamlin won the May 20 Darlington race. Brad Keselowski won last weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. Chase Elliott won at Charlotte on Thursday night.

Here are the details for Sunday’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee will give the command to start engines at 3:43 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:53 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at 7:30 a.m. (teams are assigned specific times). Engine prime and final adjustments at 1:30 p.m. Drivers report to their cars at 3:20 p.m. The invocation will be given at 3:35 p.m. by Mike Rife, pastor of Vansant Church of Christ in Vansant, Virginia. The national anthem will be performed at 3:36 p.m. by Edwin McCain. There will be a flyover at 3:37 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 500 laps (266.5 miles) around the 0.533-mile oval.

PACE LAP: At the direction of race control, drivers will have the opportunity to run one pace lap down pit road before the green flag for a pit road speed check. If a driver stops in the pit box for any reason, pull over or slow down, they will start at the rear of the field.

COMPETITION CAUTIONS: Lap 20 and Lap 60.

SERVING PIT ROAD PENALTIES: If a driver is serving a penalty under caution, they must travel the length of the combined pit roads. If they are serving a penalty under green, they may only travel the length of your respective pit road. … If a driver is under the Damaged Vehicle Policy, under caution they must travel the length of the combined pit roads or a 15-second penalty will be assessed for improper entry or exit.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 125. Stage 2 ends on Lap 250.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will televise the race. Its coverage begins at 3 p.m. Performance Racing Network will broadcast the race. Its broadcast begins at 2:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for sunny conditions with a high of 70 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at the race’s start.

LAST RACE: Chase Elliott took the lead from Kevin Harvick with 28 laps to go and went on to win Thursday night’s Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Denny Hamlin finished second. Ryan Blaney placed third.

LAST RACE AT BRISTOL: Denny Hamlin passed Matt DiBenedetto with 12 laps to go to take the lead and went on to win last year’s night race. DiBenedetto finished second. Brad Keselowski placed third.

TO THE REAR: Gray Gaulding (failed pre-ace inspection twice) and Ryan Preece (failed pre-race inspection twice).

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

CATCHING UP TO SPEED WITH NBC SPORTS COVERAGE:

Will Bristol shake up dominance of a few teams?

Matt DiBenedetto: “No margin for error” at Bristol Motor Speedway

Can Adam Stevens, Kyle Busch “get mojo back” at Bristol?

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Forget practice, qualifying, “I just like to race”

Chase Elliott’s “Sent it, for Judd” in Charlotte Cup Series win

When fans can return, how many will be allowed at tracks?

Where are they now? Catching up with Casey Mears

 

Justin Haley wins rain-shortened Daytona for first Cup Series victory

11 Comments

After leading just one lap, Justin Haley was declared the winner of Sunday’s rain-shortened Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona, giving him a win in his third career Cup start and providing one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history.

The win is the first for Spire Motorsports and comes in its first year of existence. It did not have a top-20 finish in its first 17 races. It’s best finish was 22nd with Jamie McMurray in the Daytona 500.

Haley, 20, is a native of Winamac, Indiana, and drives full-time for Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series. He’s only the fourth driver in the modern-era to win within their first three career Cup starts. He’s the first part-time driver to win in Cup since Brian Vickers at New Hampshire in 2013.

Haley inherited the lead under caution when Kurt Busch pit after NASCAR initially declared they would go back to green a lap later. But the red flag was displayed for lightning in the area, stopping the race with 33 laps to go.

Haley was in position to inherit the lead after an 18-car crash with 43 laps to go.

“It’s absolutely a blessing,” Haley told NBC Sports. “It’s pretty incredible to have so many great people around me that have given me this opportunity to come to this level and the stage we’re performing on. … I never even saw myself running a Cup race until I got a call a few months ago to do Talladega. It’s just unreal. I don’t know how to feel.”

Following Alex Bowman‘s win last weekend at Chicagoland, this is the first time two drivers have earned their first Cup wins in consecutive races since Casey Mears and Martin Truex Jr. in 2007.

“The stars aligned,” Haley said. “I didn’t ever think I was going to get redemption back from last year at Daytona when I got the Xfinity win taken from me.”

Haley crossed the finish line first in last year’s July Xfinity race at Daytona, but was disqualified after it was ruled he went below the yellow lines on the bottom of the track to make a last-second pass.

Sunday’s top five was completed by William Byron, Jimmie Johnson, Ty Dillon and Ryan Newman.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Joey Logano

STAGE 2 WINNER: Austin Dillon

More: Click here for results and point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Ty Dillon earned his first career Cup top five in his 108th start … Corey LaJoie finished sixth with his first career top 10 in his 75th Cup start … Matt DiBenedetto placed eighth for his second top 10 of the season … Rookie Matt Tifft finished ninth for his first career top 10 in his 18th Cup start.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Brad Keselowski and Daniel Suarez were eliminated in a six-car incident with 18 laps to go in Stage 2. It began when Harvick got a run in the tri-oval and turned Keselowski into the outside wall … Notable drivers in the 18-car wreck included Clint Bowyer, Austin Dillon, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch, Ty Dillon, Chris Buescher, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr.

NOTABLE: The lap Justin Haley led in order to win is the only lap he’s led in Cup. The last driver to win a race with only one career lap led was Brad Keselowski at Talladega in 2009 … Haley is the 20th driver to earn his first Cup Series win at Daytona.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “They keep on asking you how you feel and I can’t do anything about it. If we go racing, we go racing. If it rains out, it rains out and we can’t do anything about it. At the end of the day, I was just waiting.” – Justin Haley

WHAT’S NEXT: Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway at 7:30 p.m. ET on July 13 on NBCSN

Check back for more

After being ‘beat down’ by superspeedways, Alan Gustafson gets first win

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Coming off the first off-week of the season, crew chief Alan Gustafson and his No. 9 team at Hendrick Motorsports had an interesting three-race stretch awaiting them.

The Cup Series would head to Talladega Superspeedway, Dover International Speedway and Kansas Speedway.

The last two tracks hold good memories for Gustafson and driver Chase Elliott. Two of their three wins last year came in the playoff races at Dover and Kansas. The 1-mile Dover is also the site of Elliott’s best average finish (4.3) through six starts.

“Probably of the three, I was most looking forward to Dover,” Gustafson said Sunday.  “I just love Dover, because when you win Dover, you’ve done something.  That’s a tough, fast track.  There’s no place to hide.  There’s no way you can get away with not being on the edge all day.”

But they had to go through Talladega to get there.

“I was looking forward to coming here,” Gustafson said. “I mean, you get a little beat down after doing it for so long, not getting the results, how fickle it can be.  Certainly don’t want to say I wasn’t looking forward to coming here.  You’re a bit cautious with your expectations because this place can bite you in a second.”

Elliott’s win Sunday at Talladega came in Gustafson’s 58th Cup points race on a superspeedway, with 29 each at Talladega and Daytona.

In those races, the first being the 2005 Daytona 500, Gustafson has worked with the likes of Kyle Busch, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Casey Mears and Elliott.

Outside a win in a Daytona 500 qualifying race in 2018, Gustafson had come up one spot short of victory lane three times at superspeedways.

The closest he came was in the July 2007 race at Daytona, when Jamie McMurray edged Busch by .005 of a second to steal the win.

Nearly 12 years later, a day that saw an increased amount of coordination among Chevy teams, ended with Elliott leading 45 laps (his most on a superspeedway), including the final four, to score the win.

In addition to Gustafson and Elliott’s first Cup superspeedway wins, the victory ended a seven-race stretch of Ford wins at Talladega. It also was Chevy’s first Cup win of the season.

“We needed to win this,” Gustafson said. “We needed to consolidate our efforts.  We needed to break the streak that one of our rivals has here. … (Crew members at Hendrick have) worked really, really hard.  Really haven’t had the results to pay off their efforts.”

Chase Elliott celebrates his first Cup win of 2019. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

The win was also Hendrick Motorsports’ first on a superspeedway since Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the July 2015 race at Daytona.

“Just thinking back a year or so, we’ve been so close to winning one of these (superspeedway) races for so long, haven’t been able to do it,” Gustafson said. “Happy for them we were able to get that done today.”

Elliott noted that it was “pretty cool” to get Gustafson’s first superspeedway win, but he observed that “a sticker is a sticker, the Playoff points are what they are.  I think it’s important to rack them up as early as you can, as long as you can keep stacking on top of it.”

While the No. 9 has been to victory lane four times in the last 25 races, Elliott doesn’t think they’re “winning often enough.”

“I feel like we need to be contending more,” Elliott said. “I see some of our competitors being in contention more than we have been throughout the season.  I think we can certainly do a better job.

“To have a win this early in the year I think is nice. And just because we won at Dover and Kansas last year doesn’t mean we’re going to go run good there, too. You know that.

“It’s going to be hit‑or‑miss.”

Friday 5: ‘Chaotic’ qualifying is entertaining and shouldn’t change

Leave a comment

Last week’s Cup qualifying at Las Vegas Motor Speedway raised the question of is qualifying more about entertainment or sport?

It was fascinating to watch cars parked on pit road and drivers waiting for someone to go because nobody wanted to be the lead car. They all wanted to be in the draft.

While that took place, spotters counted down the time remaining in the session.

It became a game of who would blink first and take off.

When it was time to go, there was chaos. Cars darted around each other. In the final round, Joey Logano went four-wide on pit road. Ricky Stenhouse passed Logano on the inside and left pit road ahead of him.

“Is chaos a bad thing?” Logano asked NBC Sports’ Jerry Bonkowski this week. “I think that’s the question we have to ask ourselves. Is it chaos? Yes. Is it entertaining? Oh yeah, it’s entertaining, there’s a lot going on. So I don’t know if it’s wrong and we should be changing much.

“I think there’s a couple safety aspects we can add to pit road while we’re jockeying around for position and stuff like that. But as far as the entertainment value, will you get the lap in before the clock runs out, will you get a big enough draft, will they all go out for a second time and you get a big pack again, are they going to knock somebody out of the round? That’s good.

“I don’t know why we would change much of that, I think it’s OK. Yeah, it’s a little chaotic, it’s crazy and none of us has it figured out or scienced out the way we want to have it yet, but that’s competition, that’s just what it is.”

Logano is right. While there was a randomness to who won the pole at Las Vegas, qualifying was as entertaining as any session in recent years.

What happened last week was reminiscent of qualifying at Talladega in October 2014. NASCAR divided teams into two groups for the opening round and each had five minutes. The top 24 overall times advanced.

Most cars stayed on pit road until they hit their cutoff mark to complete two laps. Not everyone made it. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Allgaier were among the cars that didn’t make it to the start/finish line before the session ended. Their fastest laps didn’t count. They both failed to qualify. It’s the only race Stenhouse has failed to make since his 2013 rookie Cup season.

These days, 36 chartered cars are guaranteed a starting spot. That prevents a situation Stenhouse experienced five years ago with a well-funded team.

But that doesn’t ease all the angst. Some competitors were frustrated at Las Vegas because the draft negates who has the fastest car. It’s all about being in the right place to draft and turn the quickest lap. Being in that position can be as much luck as skill.

What happens in qualifying can impact the race. Teams pick pit stalls based on their starting spot. A poor qualifying effort can lead to issues in the race.

Logano is aware of that. He qualified 27th at Atlanta and his team had limited options on where to pick their pit stall. Crew chief Todd Gordon chose a stall behind Alex Bowman’s pit and in front of Martin Truex Jr.’s pit.

Rarely do strong teams pit next to each other because they don’t want to have to go around a car to enter their stall or be blocked in by the car in front. Logano faced that situation at Atlanta. He lost more than 10 spots on each of his first two pit stops because he couldn’t get around Bowman’s car to exit his stall.

That leads back to the question of should qualifying be about entertainment or sport?

The decision today will be easy. The fastest car will be rewarded because teams are not expected to draft.

This issue that will come up again in the coming weeks, though, when the series heads to Auto Club Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway.

“Texas, I don’t know,” Logano said. “I think there’s going to be parts of the track that you want to draft and parts of the track when you’re going to want clean air. When you get to Turns 1 and 2, you’re going to want some air on the car to be able to get through the corner with as much wide open time as possible. That one’s a real question for me.

“I think Kansas is a no-brainer, you’re definitely going to be drafting. As for Fontana, it’ll be interesting. I think there’s going to be some drafting going on there, but I think it’ll be split up a little bit, kind of like the way Atlanta was, kinda 50-50.”

There’s no splitting this issue. It’s about entertainment. Let chaos reign in qualifying.

2. Second to Kyle Busch

For all the wins Kyle Busch has amassed in his NASCAR career, there is a recurring theme.

The runner-up to Busch in more than a third of the 197 races he’s won across Cup, Xfinity and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series has been one of five drivers.

Kyle Busch celebrating a NASCAR win has been a familiar sight through the years. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

The driver who has finished runner-up to Busch the most in those races is Kevin Harvick. He’s done so 18 times — five times in Cup, 10 times in Xfinity and three times in Trucks. The total equates to 9.1 percent of the time Busch has won a NASCAR race, Harvick has been second.

Carl Edwards is next on the list with 15 runner-up finishes to Busch. He’s followed by Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano with 13-runner-up finishes. Next is Kyle Larson, who has placed second to Busch eight times.

Combined, Harvick, Edwards, Keselowski, Logano and Larson have finished second to Busch in 67 of his 197 wins (34 percent).

They are among the 60 drivers who have placed second to Busch in a race he won. The list includes three NASCAR Hall of Fame members (Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Ron Hornaday Jr.), two Indianapolis 500 winners (Sam Hornish Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya) and drivers who have combined to win 48 NASCAR titles in either Cup, Xfinity or Trucks.

The list could grow this weekend. Busch is entered in both the Cup and Xfinity races at Phoenix.

Here is who has finished second to Busch in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks races and how often:

18 — Kevin Harvick

15 — Carl Edwards

13 — Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano

8 — Kyle Larson

7 — Todd Bodine, Matt Crafton

6 — Erik Jones, Johnny Sauter

5 — Greg Biffle, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Ron Hornaday Jr., Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart

4 — Jeff Burton, Austin Dillon

3 — Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Daniel Suarez, Martin Truex Jr.

2 — Mike Bliss, Terry Cook, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, John Hunter Nemechek, Timothy Peters, David Reutimann, Elliott Sadler

1 — Justin Allgaier, AJ Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, Trevor Bayne, James Buescher, Kurt Busch, Colin Braun, Jeb Burton, Brendan Gaughan, David Gilliland, Jeff Gordon, Daniel Hemric, Sam Hornish Jr., Parker Kligerman, Jason Leffler, Sterling Marlin, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears, Brett Moffitt, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Newman, Nelson Piquet Jr., Ryan Preece, Brian Scott, Reed Sorenson, Brian Vickers, Bubba Wallace, Cole Whitt

3. Multiple surgeries

Tanner Thorson, who competed in 11 Gander Outdoors Truck Series races last season, is recovering after he was involved in a highway crash early Monday morning in Modesto, California.

The 2016 U.S. Auto Club national champion had surgery Monday night for a broken left arm, according to the USAC Racing. Thorson had surgery Wednesday on his broken right foot. He also suffered a cracked sternum, broken ribs and a punctured lung, according to USAC Racing. The organization said that Thorson’s family hopes the 22-year-old can return home soon.

According to a preliminary investigation by the California Highway Patrol, Thorson was driving a 2019 Ford pickup that was towing his sprint car when he approached slower moving traffic shortly before 4 a.m. PT. Thorson’s truck struck the rear of a vehicle. KCRA, an NBC affiliate in Sacramento, reported that vehicle was a milk truck.

The impact sent the milk truck into the next lane where it was hit by another vehicle and then came back across the road and was struck another car. The driver was uninjured. A passenger in the truck was transported from the scene with minor injuries, according to the California Highway Patrol. Thorson’s vehicle came to rest on the shoulder and caught fire.

4. First time in new garages at Phoenix

ISM Raceway at Phoenix debuted its new garages and layout when NASCAR raced there in November.

One person missing that weekend was Rodney Childers, crew chief for Kevin Harvick. NASCAR suspended Childers the final two races of last year as part of penalties imposed to the No. 4 team for failing inspection after its win at Texas. So Childers missed the new look at Phoenix – until this weekend.

Childers shared his excitement of being in Phoenix on Thursday night.

5. Remarkable record

Kevin Harvick has finished in the top five in half of the 32 Cup races he’s run at Phoenix. He has nine wins there. Jimmie Johnson has 15 top-five finishes in 31 Cup races there. He has four wins there.

Despite the dominance of the two, they have combined for one win (by Harvick) in the last five races at Phoenix. The other winners in the last five races at Phoenix are Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano.

 and on Facebook