Bump & Run: Should Kyle Busch have let Aric Almirola by at Phoenix?

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Should Kyle Busch have allowed Aric Almriola to pass him for the lead late in Sunday’s race so that Almirola could have possibly won and bumped Kevin Harvick from the Championship 4 field?

Nate Ryan: This would be a much tougher question if there had been only a few laps remaining, but with 12 laps left, Almirola almost certainly wouldn’t have held on for the victory (as Adam Stevens, Busch’s crew chief, noted afterward). It still raises an intriguing ethical conundrum about the playoff structure, and it was telling that Busch said on the NBCSN postrace show that the thought had crossed his mind. That might have been surprisingly for a star who is as driven to win as anyone currently in NASCAR, but letting Almirola go might have been the smarter play with the restart had it occurred with two laps to go.

Dustin Long: I wouldn’t do it in any circumstance. Not because of ethics or anything like that, but who is to say you aren’t helping the driver that beats you the next week? Sure, Kyle Busch likely would be a favorite over Aric Almirola but Almirola would have the full backing of Stewart-Haas Racing for that race and that team has been strong. Trying to do something like that often backfires in ways one can’t see at the time. Just race.

Daniel McFadin: No. That’s not in Kyle Busch’s DNA and it would just lead to a week of people complaining about Busch not racing at 100 percent and who wants that?

Dan Beaver: Absolutely not. NASCAR has big enough issues with mid-week penalties and the perception outside the sport that cheating is endemic without adding manufactured finishes.

Which is more surprising: William Byron has led more laps this season than Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Larson is winless this season or Matt Kenseth scored his first top 10 of the season Sunday in his 14th start for Roush Fenway Racing.

Nate Ryan: Johnson’s disappointing season still surprises, and it’ll still seem just as unfathomable that the season finale will end Sunday with either Johnson or Denny Hamlin – and very likely both – winless during a full season for the first time in their Cup careers.

Dustin Long: All of them are shocking but will have to admit I didn’t see Kyle Larson going winless, especially with how close he came early in the year to winning. 

Daniel McFadin: Kyle Larson not having a win. It’s almost unfathomable that he’s finished in the top two six times this season and led 737 laps and not been to Victory Lane. 

Dan Beaver: Kyle Larson’s winless streak. He seemed so dominant on 2-mile tracks in 2017 and was improving across the board. He ran well in a number of races this year and should have been able to capitalize on a mistake by the Big 3 at some point during the year.

Toyota is the only manufacturer with drivers in each of the three championship races this week: Noah Gragson and Brett Moffitt in Trucks, Christopher Bell in Xfinity and Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. in Cup. What odds do you give Toyota of sweeping all three driver titles?

Nate Ryan: With 42 percent of the aggregate championship field, let’s call it slightly less than 50-50. Though TRD has the fewest number of entries in Xfinity, I think that might be the manufacturer’s best shot at the championship.

Dustin Long: I agree with Nate in that Christopher Bell is the favorite in the Xfinity Series. I think it could be tough for the Toyotas to beat the Fords in the Cup race. Still, I give Toyota about a 40 percent chance of winning all three driver titles this weekend.

Daniel McFadin: I’ll put it at 50 percent. If Brett Moffitt doesn’t win in Trucks, it’ll probably be Johnny Sauter. Even though there’s two Toyotas in that series, I think they’re at a bigger disadvantage there.

Dan Beaver: Fairly high: 80%. Gragson and Bell have been dominant at times in their respective series. Busch is going to have a spirited battle with Kevin Harvick that will ultimately come down to track position on the final stop.

Long: Why must-win situation was no pressure for Christopher Bell

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AVONDALE, Ariz. — In a season where Christopher Bell battled Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski to score Xfinity wins in back-to-back races in July and faced a must-win situation at Phoenix last weekend to advance to the Championship 4, such pressure situations don’t phase him.

“I feel like my mentors have just done such a good job of raising me throughout my young racing career and preparing me for moments like this,” Bell said after his victory last weekend at ISM Raceway. “I put so much pressure on myself for really any racing that we go do. Whenever I line up for the Chili Bowl heat race, I’m literally throwing up and that’s the most nervous, most pressure I feel of any race just because of what that race means to me. Today was nothing compared to that Chili Bowl heat race.”

Before people start bad-mouthing Bell for talking about dirt track racing over his main job in NASCAR, a couple of things.

One, there doesn’t need to be divide. This notion, which has been forced upon Kyle Larson after he’s talked about his fondness of racing in the World of Outlaws, is parochial.

NASCAR President Steve Phelps said in September that Larson should freely speak about his love of dirt track racing.

“We may be at the pinnacle of (short-track) racing from a popularity standpoint, but we can learn from them, they can learn from us, and we can promote each other in a far better way,” Phelps said. “So this notion of NASCAR trying to muzzle Kyle Larson and his love of racing couldn’t be further from the truth.

“We want Kyle Larson to talk about NASCAR racing and dirt racing and things that are his passion. We think he can bring his fan base from other forms of racing that he’s doing to us. And we can take our fans and bring them down to that racing as well, so we all get stronger by doing something.”

Second, so you understand. The way the Chili Bowl is set up, if one has a bad heat race, it can make a driver’s path to the A main on the final night infinitely harder. And the next chance to overcome something like that doesn’t happen for a year. So that’s why Bell, an Oklahoma native and two-time reigning champion of the event in his home state, feels such pressure for that event.

So he could be somewhat relaxed entering last weekend’s race at Phoenix. Bell said he had accepted the notion that he might not advance to the Xfinity championship race and that freed him from the shackles of pressure.

“For me, I have a problem of beating myself so if I sit here and say, ‘Hey, I have to win, my season’s on the line,’ then I’m more likely to beat myself,” he said. “We’ve won six races before today and it was a great year. Whenever I go into a season, my two goals are to win races and compete for the championship and we won races and we competed for the championship all the way up until things that were outside of our control happened. It was still a successful season in my standards. I’m happy that I’m still alive.”


There are many key decisions for NASCAR in the coming months from how long will Jim France serve as interim Chairman to finding ways to make teams more viable financially and ways to ensure close, competitive racing

Next season will be headlined by rule changes intended to improve the races, but NASCAR has signaled that there could be more dramatic moves in 2020, particularly to the schedule.

As NASCAR contemplates mid-week races, different venues, and ending the season sooner so there’s less conflict with football, here’s a little help to take one thing off the agenda.

There’s no need to change the final two races of the season.

Phoenix is the right track to be the last race before the season finale. It provides the short-track flair without having speeds so slow that it could create an endless amount of cautions late in the race as drivers bump their way to the front.

Even with the speeds, there have been memorable moments including Ryan Newman diving under Kyle Larson’s car, hitting it and using it to get through the final corner of the last lap to gain the position and advance to the title race in 2014. Last year, Matt Kenseth scored an emotional win, beating Chase Elliott, who exacted revenge against Denny Hamlin late in that race for Hamlin’s contact at Martinsville.

Phoenix allows the driver to be more of a factor than at many 1.5-mile tracks. Just look at Saturday’s Xfinity race where Austin Cindric, who had to win, was aggressive. At one point Cindric and Christopher Bell were dueling before Bell backed out and then worked his way back around Cindric. On a 1.5-mile track, where aerodynamics is so important, Bell might not have been able to have been as patient.

And there’s no need to change the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, which has provided among the best racing at a 1.5-mile track with its progressive banking on a consistent basis. The races have been dramatic and the track provides multiple lanes for drivers to work.

So NASCAR can play around with the schedule as much as it wants, but there’s no need to change the final two races of the schedule.


On the first day of trading since the news Friday that NASCAR had made a bid to purchase all outstanding shares of Class A and Class B common stock of International Speedway Corp., the stock price for ISC closed 8.78 percent higher than it opened. The closing price was $42.49. It is the highest the stock has closed since Oct. 1.


For the second weekend in a row, one organization swept the Xfinity and Cup races.

Stewart-Haas Racing did it at Texas with Cole Custer winning the Xfinity race and Kevin Harvick the Cup race.

Joe Gibbs Racing did it at Phoenix with Christopher Bell winning the Xfinity race and Kyle Busch the Cup race.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Phoenix recap, Rodney Childers interview

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and reviews all the action from over the weekend at ISM Raceway.

Carolyn Manno hosts with Dale Jarrett from Stamford, Connecticut. Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte join them from the Charlotte Studio.

On today’s show:

  • We’ll recap Sunday’s elimination race at Phoenix that set the Championship 4 in the Cup Series. We’ll hear from those drivers, including Phoenix winner Kyle Busch, who locked themselves into this weekend’s race for the title. We’ll also hear from those drivers who’ll have to wait until next year.
  • Kevin Harvick drove his way into the Championship 4 with a fifth-place finish at Phoenix. He did so without the services of crew chief Rodney Childers, who is serving a two-race suspension for last week’s violation at Texas. Marty Snider goes 1-on-1 with Childers to get his take on Harvick’s performance as well as the team’s preparations for Miami.
  • We’ll also recap Saturday’s Xfinity Series elimination race at Phoenix. Facing a must-win situation, Christopher Bell scored his seventh win of the year and, more importantly, advanced to the Championship.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Can someone keep the Big 3 from going to Miami to race for a title?

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AVONDALE, Ariz. — A day after Christopher Bell won to earn a spot in the Xfinity Championship 4, the question is can someone repeat that feat in today’s Cup race at ISM Raceway?

Only Joey Loganowho has proclaimed himself the favorite to win the title – has secured a place in next week’s Cup championship event. Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick – the Big 3 – begin the day each in a transfer spot.

Harvick’s spot in Miami seemed set after his win last week at Texas, but NASCAR stripped him of that berth after an infraction discovered at the R&D Center. NASCAR also docked Harvick 40 points and suspended crew chief Rodney Childers and car chief Robert Smith for the final two races of the season.

Harvick, who handles such pressure with aplomb, has shown he will have the car to beat. He won the pole Friday and posted the fastest lap and best average over 10 consecutive laps in Saturday’s final practice.

I think as you guys are quickly figuring out it’s more about people than it is about cars,” Harvick said Friday. “So we’ve got a lot of good people and obviously a lot of experience with Tony (Gibson as interim crew chief) and those guys did a great job filling the roles. You can’t drive a slow car fast and you can’t beat good people.”

But there’s no guarantee that will be enough in today’s race (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC). This has been a rough playoffs for Harvick and his team.

He was dominant at Dover and didn’t win when a lug nut hit a valve stem and forced him to pit a second time under green. He lost the lead when he was caught speeding on pit road at Kansas. He crashed while running second at Las Vegas after a tire issue shortly past halfway. He had to pit for fuel as the field came to take the green flag to being overtime at Talladega.

The penalty after Texas closed the gap for those behind him. Kurt Busch trails Harvick by three points for the final transfer spot.

“With the penalty, it’s like we won two stages without even firing up the engine on our car, and so now we’re equal, and the job now is to get stage one, stage two and to see how things pan out for the end of the race,” Kurt Busch said.

Chase Elliott, who starts on the front row, is 17 points behind Harvick. Elliott is not looking to earn a spot in Miami by points.

“We are in a position … where I feel like we have to win,” he said Friday. “That needs to be the mentality anyway because if you want to make it to Homestead next week, you are going to have to win down there, so you might as well embrace it and like it and move on.”

Aric Almirola enters today’s race 35 points behind Harvick. Clint Bowyer is 51 points behind Harvick. They both are in essentially must-win situations.

“Now that you’re in the final eight like this, you go for broke and put all the cards on the table,” Bowyer said.

Results, stats after Xfinity playoff race at Phoenix

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Christopher Bell won Saturday’s Xfinity race at ISM Raceway, leading 94 laps after he started 38th.

Bell clinched a spot in the Championship 4 at Miami next weekend.

The top five was completed by Daniel Hemric, Austin Cindric, Matt Tifft and Ryan Preece.

Click here for race results.

Points

With his win Bell joins Cole Custer, Hemric and Tyler Reddick in the Championship 4.

Custer got in through his win at Texas. Hemric and Reddick secured spot through points.

Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier, Matt Tifft and Austin Cindric were eliminated from title contention.

Click here for the point standings.