Morgan Shepherd

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Late race contact prevents Kyle Busch from setting top-10 record

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In a season where so much has gone his way, Kyle Busch fell short of setting a significant record in Saturday night’s Digital Ally 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Busch came into the race having amassed 11 consecutive top 10 finishes to start a season – tying him with Morgan Shepherd, who originally set the record in 1990.

However Busch’s chances of setting the record ended after contact 20 laps from the scheduled finish with Erik Jones. Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate pinched Busch’s car into the right side of Clint Bowyer‘s car, cutting a tire on Busch’s Toyota. That forced Busch to come to pit road for new tires. He returned to pit road a few laps later for another stop for an undisclosed situation.

End result: Busch finished a season-low 30th.

Busch also lost the lead in the Cup standings, as 15th-place finisher Joey Logano takes the No. 1 spot by nine points over Busch.

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Friday 5: The tale of two comments and one fine

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What’s the difference between these comments?

Denny Hamlin after the March 3, 2013, Phoenix race: “I don’t want to be the pessimist, but it did not race as good as our generation five cars. This is more like what the generation five was at the beginning. The teams hadn’t figured out how to get the aero balance right. Right now, you just run single-file and you cannot get around the guy in front of you. You would have placed me in 20th-place with 30 (laps) to go, I would have stayed there — I wouldn’t have moved up. It’s just one of those things where track position is everything.”

Kyle Busch after Monday’s race at Dover on the package for the cars: “It’s terrible. All I can do is bitch about it and fall on deaf ears and we’ll come back with the same thing in the fall.”

NASCAR fined Hamlin $25,000 for his comments.

NASCAR explained the reason for the fine by stating: “Denny Hamlin made some disparaging remarks about the on-track racing that had taken place that afternoon. While NASCAR gives its competitors ample leeway in voicing their opinions when it comes to a wide range of aspects about the sport, the sanctioning body will not tolerate publicly made comments by its drivers that denigrate the racing product.”

Six years later, NASCAR said this week that it would not fine Busch for his comments after the Dover race. Busch said this week that he was not surprised NASCAR decided against fining him for his comments because “I’m not sure I said anything wrong.”

But don’t try to dissect the comments. That’s not the place to look in examining why one driver was fined and another was not.

NASCAR’s reaction to Busch’s comments shows a calmer approach. That’s a difference between Jim France, who is now the sport’s CEO, and Brian France, who was the CEO when Hamlin was fined.

Brian France often used a simple example to explain his reasoning for fining drivers for comments, saying in November 2011: “If I own a restaurant and I say you know what, the food in my restaurant is not very good, we’re not going to accept it. It’s as simple as that.”

With that as a key component, NASCAR issued secret fines to Hamlin, Ryan Newman and Brad Keselowski for comments and actions.

When public pressure grew for NASCAR to do away with secret fines, Brian France said in January 2012 that the sanctioning body would still react to driver comments.

“If you challenge the integrity of the sport, we’re going to deal with that,” Brian France said then. “You know, we have to deal with that. And I think what’s really interesting is I can’t tell you how many owners or drivers come up to me and say thanks for doing that because some of these comments were irresponsible and unhelpful to growing the sport.”

If drivers can’t pass, they’re going to be frustrated. Some drivers noted how winner Martin Truex Jr. had the best car at Dover but it took him 240 laps to get to the front.

Truex took the lead for good with 53 laps to go. The same car that struggled in traffic — “It was definitely really hard to pass,” he said — then drove away from the field, winning by 9.5 seconds.

While the package has improved the racing at some tracks, it’s not perfect every place. The key is making changes for tracks where the package isn’t as effective.

With car owners facing additional costs with the Gen 7 car’s projected debut in 2021, they likely will be hesitant to be in favor of any expensive midseason changes. It’s 21 months until February 2021. With many details to be worked out with the new car, the question is what can NASCAR do to allow drivers to show more of their skill? If NASCAR can’t find a solution, how much longer will they allow drivers to speak up about the package?

2. Is time running out for NASCAR to go to Nashville in 2021?

In December, Formosa Productions, which promotes races at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tennessee, and Bristol Motor Speedway reached an agreement to “explore bringing major NASCAR racing events” back to the .596-mile track.

Nearly six months later, work remains.

An issue is getting an agreement done with the city by next spring when NASCAR is expected to announce the 2021 schedules. NASCAR announced the 2020 Xfinity and Gander Truck Series schedules April 4, 2019. If NASCAR aims for a similar target date, that would leave 11 months to get a deal complete.

If more time was needed, NASCAR might be able to delay the 2021 Xfinity and Truck schedules. The 2019 schedules for both series were not released until June 13, 2018. Either way, time is ticking.

“Days, weeks and months go by quickly when you’re not really paying attention to it,” Marcus Smith, president and chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports, said. “However, it’s very possible things can get put on the right track and move along very swiftly and that’s certainly our interest.”

He says conversations are ongoing.

I think the most important part is we’ve got a strong interest and it seems like in general there is a big interest in the people we’re talking with,” Smith said.

A few issues facing an effort to get on the 2021 schedule:

Nashville elections, including for mayor, are Aug. 12. There are multiple candidates for mayor and should a runoff election be needed, it would be held Sept. 12.

Smith notes that Fairgrounds Speedway “needs some TLC.” So far a financing plan has not been finalized.

Also, the Metro Board of Fair Commissioners raised issues in its April meeting about SMI’s involvement.

While the Tennessean had reported that SMI/Bristol Motor Speedway officials have met with Mayor David Briley and his administration, the Fair Board — which oversees the track — has not had any contact.

“I think there has sort of been a transparency problem here,” said fair board member Jason Bergeron at the April meeting. “It’s been eight months and we haven’t heard any details. … It’s a little frustrating. We have no concrete proposal and there’s been no real engagement with the community.”

He later said: “I think SMI needs to bring a real proposal to the table.”

The agenda for the May 14 Fair Commission Board meeting includes a “presentation by Speedway Motorsports Inc.”

3. A new test

Cup teams return to a 1.5-mile speedway this weekend for the first time in more than a month.

Denny Hamlin won at Texas on March 31 in the most recent race at a 1.5-mile speedway. That race also saw Hendrick Motorsports lead 110 of 334 laps between Jimmie Johnson (60 laps led), Chase Elliott (35) and William Byron (15). Johnson finished fifth, Byron sixth and Elliott 13th.

Stewart-Haas Racing, which is winless this year after winning a series-high 12 races last year, placed all four of its cars in the top 10 at Texas: Clint Bowyer was second, Daniel Suarez placed third, Aric Almirola was seventh and Kevin Harvick finished eighth.

Almirola is excited to see where his team stands this weekend at Kansas Speedway.

“We’ve built new race cars going to Kansas,” Almirola said. “We built new race cars going to Texas, which I thought were in the game. We were competitive, we led some laps and challenged to lead the race at the end.

“We were in the right direction with our race cars and then we’ve taken another step in going to Kansas. Just continuing to evolve our mile-and-a-half program. Having a month off has really allowed us to kind of take as step back, go through lot of data, look at a lot of different things and build these race cars.”

4. Record streak

No, we’re not talking about Kyle Busch tying Morgan Shepherd for the most consecutive top-10 finishes in a row at 11, but what Ross Chastain has done this year.

Ross Chastain has competed in every Cup, Xfinity and Truck race this season. Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Chastain has started every Cup, Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series race. That’s 27 consecutive races and it will grow this weekend with Chastain entered in both the Truck and Cup races at Kansas Speedway.

Chastain is one of three drivers to have started more than 16 consecutive races in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks to start the season. Chastain ranks No. 1 on the list.

Kyle Busch is next. Busch started the first 22 races in the 2008 season and started the first 20 races in the 2009 season. Rick Mast started the first 16 races in the 1989 season.

5. Looks familiar

In 2017, Martin Truex Jr. had two wins, three top-five finishes, seven top-10 finishes, led 536 laps and had an average finish of 10.5 after 11 races.

This year, Truex has scored two wins, four top-five finishes, seven top-10 finishes, led 343 laps and has an average finish of 10.3 after 11 races.

Truex went on to win the title in 2017. While it’s too early to forecast anything like that this year, his start in his first season at Joe Gibbs Racing should not go unnoticed, especially heading to Kansas. He has four consecutive top-five finishes there. He won both races there in 2017, finished runner-up in the May 2018 race and placed fifth in last year’s playoff race.

Results, points after the Gander RV 400 at Dover

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Martin Truex Jr. came from the rear and dominated the field to win Monday’s postponed Cup race at Dover International Speedway.

Truex claimed his third career Dover win with a 9.5 second margin of victory over Alex Bowman.

It’s Bowman’s second consecutive runner-up finish following last weekend’s race at Talladega.

The top five was completed by Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick and Chase Elliott.

Kyle Busch finished 10th to tie the series record for top 10s to start a season with 11 (Morgan Shepherd, 1990).

Click here for the results.

Point Standings

Kyle Busch has a five-point lead over Joey Logano through 11 races.

Harvick trails Busch by 63 points.

The top five is completed by Denny Hamlin (-77) and Truex (-82).

Click here for the full standings.

It’s home sweet home for Martin Truex Jr. with third career Dover win

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For the second time in three races, Martin Truex Jr. reached victory lane, capturing the Gander RV 400 Monday at Dover International Speedway.

The race was postponed to Monday after Sunday’s attempt was rained out.

Truex, who won two races ago at Richmond, led 132 of the 400 laps at the 1-mile Monster Mile. It was his 21st career Cup win and third at Dover, which the native of nearby Mayetta, New Jersey considers his home track. Truex’s three wins there make Dover his most successful track on the Cup Series circuit.

“It feels incredible,” Truex told Fox Sports 1. “What a race car we had today. We’ve got one hell of a team. We came here with a new setup this time. We had been good, but not good enough.

“Thanks to all these fans for coming out here today. This is awesome. I promise, it wasn’t easy. It was a lot of work, it was tough, but this race car, man, was incredible. Without Talladega (finished 20th), we would have won two in a row.”

MORE: Results, standings after the Gander RV 400 at Dover

Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have now won seven of the first 11 races: Kyle Busch has 3 wins, while Denny Hamlin and Truex have 2 wins each. JGR is just the fourth team in Cup history to do that to a season, the most recent being Hendrick Motorsports, which won 8 of the first 11 races in 2007.

Alex Bowman finished runner-up for the second consecutive race – equaling his Cup career best showing from last Sunday at Talladega. Bowman finished 9.5 seconds behind Truex. According to Racing Insights, the margin of victory was more Monday than in the first 10 races combined this season.

“I’m worn out,” Bowman told FS1. “This is the physically hardest race of the year for me, for sure. Things went Martin’s way today. I wish I was in Martin’s way at the end of the race, but we had a shot at it and that’s all you can ask for. … It’d be better if we had a trophy, but we needed this one, for sure.”

After struggling for the first 10 races of the season, Kyle Larson finally broke through with a season-best third-place showing. Rounding out the top five were Kevin Harvick and Talladega winner Chase Elliott.

Sixth through 10th were Erik Jones, Joey Logano, William Byron, Clint Bowyer and Kyle Busch.

Even though he struggled throughout the race, including hitting the wall once, Busch’s 10th-place finish tied Morgan Shepherd’s record of 11 top-10 finishes to start a season. Shepherd did so in 1990. Busch can break that record Saturday night at Kansas Speedway.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Joey Logano

STAGE 2 WINNER: Martin Truex Jr.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Kevin Harvick remains winless, but he’s the king of fourth-place finishes, earning his fifth fourth-place finish in the first 11 races. … Chase Elliott followed up his Talladega win with a fifth-pace finish, his third top five of the season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. hit the wall early in the race and finished 33rd, 14 laps off the lead lap. … Bubba Wallace continues to struggle, finishing 27th. It’s Wallace’s seventh finish of 25th or worse. His season-best outing has been 17th (Martinsville).

NOTABLE: Denny Hamlin would likely agree with Bowman about how physical the race was. Hamlin was treated and released from the infield care center after the race. … Jimmie Johnson, who holds the Dover record with 11 wins, saw his winless streak extend to 70 straight races, finishing 14th. His last Cup win was at Dover in June 2017.

WHAT’S NEXT: Digital Ally 400, Saturday May 11, 7:30 p.m. ET, Kansas Speedway.

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NBC Sports Power Rankings heading to Dover

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There has not been a previous week this season that has seen so much upheaval in the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

While Kyle Busch unanimously remains No. 1 in the rankings, movement for the other nine positions – as well as others who received votes – was significant.

Chase Elliott made the biggest jump, going from outside the rankings last week to a tie for third place after claiming his Talladega win. The biggest drop was Clint Bowyer (fifth last week, out of this week’s rankings). One of the biggest surprises: after a career-best third-place finish at ‘Dega, Ryan Preece received five points, but it wasn’t enough to crack the top 10.

Here’s how this week’s Power Rankings look:

1. Kyle Busch (40 points): First driver to finish in the top 10 in each of the first 10 races of the season since Morgan Shepherd in 1990. That’s enough to stay No. 1. Last week: 1st.

2. Joey Logano (36 points): Surrounded by Chevrolets at the end of the Talladega race but still scored a top-five result. Got shuffled from lead in no-win situation; still was outstanding. Last week: 3rd.

(tie) 3. Kurt Busch (24 points): Continues to have arguably the most consistent season of any driver, with the exception of younger brother Kyle. His first season at Chip Ganassi Racing remains Grade A. Last week: 8th.

(tie) 3. Chase Elliott (24 points): Normally, a race winner doesn’t make this big of a jump. But to do so at ‘Dega is definitely a feat that warrants Elliott’s placement in this week’s rankings. Last week: not ranked.

5. Denny Hamlin (20 points): No pit road speeding penalty this past weekend but was in wrong place at wrong time early in the race and his car was damaged in an incident. Last week: 2nd.

6. Ryan Newman (19 points): Finished seventh for his third consecutive top 10, greatly increasing his playoff viability. First time he’s done that since late summer 2017 when he earned four straight top 10s. Last week: 9th.

7. Brad Keselowski (17 points): Kudos to his pit crew for servicing his car as quickly as it did after he spun into his pit stall and his car was pointed backward. Last week: 7th.

8. Martin Truex Jr. (9 points): Best thing about Talladega? It’s over. On to his home track of Dover, where he got his first career Cup win in 2007. Last week: 4th.

9. Kevin Harvick (8 points): Early wreck not of his doing took him out. He thought he’d be safe starting from the back of the pack. He was wrong. Never got the chance to see what he had in season-worst finish at Talladega. Last week: 6th.

10. Alex Bowman (6 points): Enjoyed best career finish, second behind race winner and teammate Chase Elliott. Was one three drivers to get career-best finishes at Talladega. Last week: not ranked.

Others Receiving Votes: Ryan Preece (5 points), Aric Almirola (5 points), Tyler Reddick (4 points), Daniel Hemric (1 point), Ryan Blaney (1 point).

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