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Bump and Run: A $100K bounty to beat Kyle Busch in the Truck Series?

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What do you think of the bounty Kevin Harvick and Marcus Lemonis said on Twitter that they would put up for any full-time Cup driver who can beat Kyle Busch in a truck race?

Nate Ryan: It’s another sign of Harvick’s underrated savvy for NASCAR exposure and promotion (he’s the same star who advocated rotating the championship race long before it was in vogue).

Dustin Long: I like it in the sense of creating some buzz around the series, but I think it should be open to anyone, not just a Cup interloper. And why not do the same thing when Kyle Busch runs in the Xfinity Series?

Daniel McFadin: My initial gut reaction is that it’s awesome. NASCAR needs more promotions like this, especially building off the Triple Truck Challenge that started last year. My secondary reaction: why just full-time Cup drivers? That $100,000 could do a lot for a mid-tier or lower-tier team in the Truck Series. I can’t imagine the investment is worth it for a major sponsor or a top-tier team to have to put together a quality one-off ride for a Cup driver in hopes of winning the bounty. But, I still think it’s cool and I’m crossing my fingers something comes of it.

Jerry Bonkowski: It’s a novel idea but isn’t it kind of going backwards in terms of putting more full-time Cup drivers into a Truck, when the general idea of the series was to be a developmental entity for other drivers, primarily younger ones, rather than a place where full-time Cup drivers can go to race a few times a year for extra cash? If anything, the “bounty” should also be available to regular full or part-time Truck drivers, as well, to beat Busch, drivers from Matt Crafton to Jennifer Jo Cobb to Norm Benning.

 

Chase Briscoe has said that he thinks he needs to win “eight to 10 races” this season as he looks to make the championship race in the Xfinity Series. He won his first race of the season Sunday at Las Vegas. What kind of possibility do you give any driver of winning at least eight Xfinity races this season?

Nate Ryan: In the absence of the Big Three and a less experienced field, Briscoe’s Las Vegas victory was a promising start, and it’s encouraging that he has set such a high bar. It’s a big jump to go from one victory in each of the past two seasons to eight, but it could happen.

Dustin Long: I think the chances are slim. Even with a limited number of drivers with wins in the series, I don’t foresee someone dominating as Christopher Bell did last year in winning a series-high eight races.

Daniel McFadin: Eight wins is a lot. We don’t yet know who will be Briscoe’s most stout competition this year and likely won’t have a real grasp of that until the end of March. At this point I don’t anticipate anyone reaching the eight-win mark.

Jerry Bonkowski: I feel the domination of the “Big 3” – Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer — was somewhat of an anomaly the last few years in the Xfinity Series. Now that they’re in Cup, that opens up the door for more parity in the series. And as a result, an opportunity for more wins across the board for many more drivers. I don’t think Briscoe, or any other driver for that matter, needs to have eight to 10 wins to make the championship race. I can see a few drivers maybe winning four or five races, but don’t feel anyone will dominate the way Bell, Reddick and Custer did the last couple of seasons.

 

What do you make of Jimmie Johnson’s fifth-place finish at Las Vegas?

Nate Ryan: It was impressive, particularly how he fought to pick up spots with the dive onto the apron during the final restart. There’s been no shortage of talk about the team’s determination to return as contenders, but Sunday backed it up for the first time in a long while.

Dustin Long: Good run and this team needs good performances early to not be buried by its winless streak. Let’s see if this team can keep it going.

Daniel McFadin: I wasn’t surprised by the result. Johnson and his three Hendrick Motorsports teammates ran in the top 10 consistently all day, with Johnson placing ninth in Stage 1 and seventh in Stage 2. He clearly had top-10 speed and the chaos around the final restart obviously helped him improve his position a few spots. It was a much needed result for a team that only had one top 10 in the final six races last year.

Jerry Bonkowski: I picked Johnson to win at Las Vegas, so a fifth-place finish isn’t all that bad. I think he has a great opportunity to finally break his 2 ½-year winless streak at his home track of Fontana on Sunday. Even if not there, I’m convinced JJ will definitely break the winless streak soon. I expect to see him at least make the playoffs. In his final Cup season, he has nothing to lose and everything to gain.

 

What will you be keeping a close eye on this weekend at Auto Club Speedway?

Nate Ryan: Whether the Toyotas can prove that Las Vegas was just a blip.

Dustin Long: I want to see if Team Penske, after its strong showing at Las Vegas, will continue to be as strong this weekend. Last year at Auto Club, Team Penske went second (Joey Logano), third (Brad Keselowski) and fifth (Ryan Blaney).

Daniel McFadin: I’ll be watching to see if the improvement of the Chevys and the downturn of the Toyotas shown in Las Vegas was a one-off or the start of an extended narrative for the opening portion of the season. Not seeing any Toyota driver finish better than 15th was kind of a shocker.

Jerry Bonkowski: Jimmie Johnson, obviously. But I’m also keeping my eyes on guys who usually aren’t in the conversation all that much, but are off to decent starts to the season points-wise, including Chris Buescher, Bubba Wallace, Corey LaJoie and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. It will be interesting to see how they fare over the next few races, to see if they can maintain their spots in the standings and keep their performance level up.

Friday 5: Time for NASCAR to schedule one-day shows

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LAS VEGAS — Indianapolis Motor Speedway showed NASCAR this week what the sport’s future could and should be.

Two series racing on one weekday. No practice. No qualifying. Just racing.

As NASCAR looks to make its schedule more dynamic, the idea of one-day shows for Cup has been discussed.

Those talks should go further.

Run the Xfinity Series on a weekday and the Cup Series that night in prime time.

Fans want racing. Give them back-to-back events. Don’t waste time with practice or qualifying. Set the lineup based on points and go.

“I think that’s the kind of open-mindedness that we need to see more of in NASCAR, honestly,” Denny Hamlin told NBC Sports on Thursday of the idea. “I know that I’ve been in some meetings with TV partners and NASCAR trying to work on weekday races, especially during the summer. Hopefully it’s on the horizon, sooner than later.”

Fans saw a doubleheader Monday at Indy after rain washed out both the Xfinity and Cup races that weekend.

Such a schedule could work for one race, maybe two a season. This isn’t about making the entire schedule one-day shows, but the approach would compress the schedule. That, along with limiting most tracks to one Cup event per season, could put the season finale in September instead of November.

Kevin Harvick, who has talked often about the need for bold ideas with scheduling, told NBC Sports that the key to such a one-day schedule is that “you have to protect the integrity of the racing.” 

But he says one-day shows could be possible.

The biggest challenge could come from track operators, who likely will raise concerns that a one-day event could reduce how many people camp and attend the event.

As NASCAR looks to race on a weeknight, limit how many days teams are at the track and alter the length of the schedule, the overriding question must be what’s best for the sport. In some cases, track operators might lose out to what’s best for the sport. In other cases, maybe it’s the drivers or teams.

To not do anything is the wrong approach. Frankly, that’s not a tactic NASCAR is taking, but words eventually need to be turned into actions.

Harvick suggests more dramatic measures.

He notes that the most talked about race this season is one that hasn’t taken place yet.

The debut of Cup playoff race at the Charlotte Roval later this month has had those in the industry and elsewhere talking. Chaos, conflict and crashes are common themes from drivers, leery of the race that ends the first round of the playoffs.

“That really is something that everybody sees as unique,” Harvick said. “We need more unique events. You need a story before the story happens.”

He says more can be done with the schedule to create similar stories.

“Why shouldn’t Darlington have a playoff race once in a while?” Harvick said. “Why shouldn’t Bristol have a playoff race once in a while? Why is the championship race in Homestead every year? That’s for us? I don’t think so.

“I think it would be better to rotate (the title race) around. I think coming to Vegas for the first race of the playoffs is great. Not that Chicago was a bad spot to start it (but) starting there every year gets stale. You’ve got to keep it fresh.”

That means new venues, date changes and other ideas. That also should include one-day shows in the summer that have the Xfinity and Cup Series race back-to-back.

“I think the way the world is today and … the ask of the fans, the expense of things, it’s a valid option,” seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said of the notion. “When you look back to the late ‘90s the way fans consumed television and their avid love of our sport and the love of the automobile, all of that, they’d want a seven-day festival for a race.

“It’s just times have changed. I don’t think it’s a bad idea at all. Times have changed.”

The 2019 schedule is set, but 2020 can be a time for the sport to move forward.

2. A tiresome trend

Many drivers talked Thursday at NASCAR Playoff Media Day about needing to avoid mistakes to advance in the Cup playoffs, which begin Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Whether NASCAR is calling tire violations more closely on pit road to set a tone or teams are trying to push things, such penalties are up dramatically the past two weeks.

NASCAR called a total of 11 penalties for tire violations the past two weeks at Indianapolis (seven such penalties) and Darlington (four).

The 11 penalties for tire violations are more than NASCAR called the previous seven races combined (10 such penalties called).

In the last nine races, Martin Truex Jr.’s pit crew has been penalized for three tire violations, more than any other team. Next is Austin Dillon’s pit crew, which has been called for two such violations in that time.

3. Playoff wedding

It’s one thing for drivers to be engaged during the season but married — and during the playoffs?

No.

At least until this season.

Kyle Larson and fiancee Katelyn Sweet are scheduled to marry Sept. 26 — four days before the inaugural Cup race at the Charlotte Roval, which will determine what four drivers will be eliminated from the playoffs.

Why that date?

“Katelyn wants a warm wedding, and I race during the offseason so I didn’t want to mess up my offseason plans,” Larson said Thursday. “It happened to work out that we can do it right before the Roval there. So, it’s coming fast, and I am ready to get it done.”

I have kind of let her handle most of (the planning) and I will be there for the rehearsal dinner, the wedding and hopefully we don’t practice on Thursday. Because that will be rough.”

Cup teams will not practice that Thursday, so Larson will be OK.

4. Fond memories

Rockingham Speedway, which hosted NASCAR races from 1965-2004, was recently sold and the investors want to bring racing back to the 1-mile track at some point.

Jamie McMurray, who has been mum about his future with Chip Ganassi Racing, won the final four Xfinity races there.

McMurray was recently asked about the track and recalled not those wins but a moment with his fellow drivers.

Rockingham used to be the host of the pit crew competition. Drivers left from the backstretch pits and come down the frontstretch pit road for their stop. While they waited for the event to begin, they hung out along the backstretch pits.

“My memory of Rockingham is sitting on the backstretch (pit wall),” McMurray said. “I was sitting back there and Mark Martin, who had won I don’t know how many races at Rockingham (two Cup and 11 Xfinity races in his career). Mark is notorious for never giving himself credit and telling you how great you are. I remember Mark going: “You’re the guy now; you’re the man. I wish I could have done that.’ Like yeah, right, this is Mark Martin.

“That’s one of my favorite memories, my rookie year (in Cup) sitting back there with Jeff Burton and Mark Martin. I think Sterling (Marlin) might have been in that, so there (were) good stories being told.’’

5. Looking to keep a streak alive 

Hendrick Motorsports has won at least one race on a 1.5-mile track 24 consecutive seasons. That streak is in jeopardy this year. Hendrick’s only win so far this season came on the road course at Watkins Glen with Chase Elliott.

Four races remain this year on 1.5-mile tracks: Las Vegas, Kansas, Texas and the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

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A level of domination not seen in NASCAR in years

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Yes, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have been the class of the Cup field this year, but their domination is even more impressive when looks to last year and beyond.

Consider:

Harvick, Busch and Truex have combined to win 19 of the last 24 races — dating back to the start of last year’s playoffs. That’s a 79.2 percent winning percentage.

Here is the breakdown of winners in the last 24 races:

7 — Kyle Busch

6 — Kevin Harvick

6 — Martin Truex Jr.

1 — Brad Keselowski

1 — Matt Kenseth

1 — Clint Bowyer

1 — Joey Logano

1 — Austin Dillon

But look deeper. remove the three restrictor-plate races run since last year’s playoffs and Harvick, Busch and Truex have combined to win 19 of the last 21 unrestricted races. That’s 90.5 percent.

The sport hasn’t seen this level of domination since 2008-09. Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Busch combined to win 17 of 24 races from Sonoma in June 2008 to Las Vegas in March 2009.

Edwards, Johnson and Busch combined to win 24 of 36 races (67 percent) in 2008.

In the last two Cup races, the domination by Harvick, Busch and Truex has been pronounced. They have combined to lead 510 of 560 laps (91.1 percent) run in the Coca-Cola 600 and Pocono race.

Here is a breakdown of laps led in the past two races:

390 — Kyle Busch

  89 — Kevin Harvick

  31 — Martin Truex Jr.

  12 —Brad Keselowski

  12 — Joey Logano

  11 — Ryan Blaney

    9 — Denny Hamlin

    4 — Bubba Wallace

    2 — Jimmie Johnson

Also consider this: In seven of the 14 Cup points race this season, Harvick, Busch or Truex took two of the top three spots at the finish.

— Here is how Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have fared this year:

Kevin Harvick

5 wins

1 runner-up

10 top 5s

Kyle Busch

4 wins

3 runner-ups

9 top 5s

Martin Truex Jr.

2 wins

2 runner-ups

9 top 5s

The 11 wins by Harvick, Busch and Truex ranks fourth in the modern era (since 1972) for victories by a trio of drivers in the first 14 races.

Cale Yarborough (six wins), Richard Petty (four) and David Pearson (three) won 13 of the first 14 races in 1974. Yarborough (six), Petty (four) and Darrell Waltrip (two) won 12 of the first 14 races in 1977. Pearson (six), Petty (four) and Yarborough (two) also combined to win 12 of the first 14 races in 1973.

The 11 wins by Harvick, Busch and Truex ties three other seasons.

Rusty Wallace (five wins), Ernie Irvan (three) and Dale Earnhardt (three) won 11 of the first 14 races in 1994. Earnhardt (seven), Tim Richmond (two) and Davey Allison (two) won 11 of the first 14 races in 1987. Bill Elliott (seven), Neil Bonnett (two) and Earnhardt (two) won 11 of the first 14 races in 1985.

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Mobil 1 will remain with Stewart-Haas Racing after Tony Stewart’s retirement

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ExxonMobil will stay with Tony Stewart‘s team after the three-time Sprint Cup champion’s career ends.

In a Friday announcement, the company extended its deal as a primary sponsor at Stewart-Haas Racing. Its Mobil 1 brand will appear as a primary sponsor at “various premier series races” on the cars of Kevin Harvick, Danica Patrick, Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch. It also will remain an associate sponsor at all races with SHR drivers.

Mobil 1 has been a partial-season sponsor on Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet since the 2011 season and also has sponsored a few races for Harvick and Patrick this year.

Here’s a news release on the announcement:

ExxonMobil today announced it will be extending the Mobil 1TM brand’s sponsorship of Stewart-Haas Racing in a multiyear deal.

Beginning next year, Mobil 1, the “Official Motor Oil of NASCAR®,” will provide full primary sponsorships across SHR’s four NASCAR premier series drivers. Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 car, Danica Patrick’s No. 10, Clint Bowyer’s No. 14 and Kurt Busch’s No. 41 will see Mobil 1 full primaries at various NASCAR premier series races throughout the year. At the same time, the Mobil 1 brand will remain an associate sponsor for all SHR drivers at all other races.

“ExxonMobil and Mobil 1 lubricant technology have been integral to my success with SHR and my 2014 Championship, so I’m excited they’re coming back,” said Harvick. “I’m also honored to step in as the lead representative for the Mobil 1 brand both on and off the track.”

Tony Stewart, who has represented Mobil 1 since the brand joined SHR in 2011, is retiring as a NASCAR driver at the end of the 2016 season. He will remain a brand ambassador for Mobil 1 in his role as a team owner, as he co-owns SHR with industrialist Gene Haas, founder of Haas Automation.

Additionally, the Mobil 1 brand will be an associate sponsor of SHR’s new NASCAR XFINITY Series™ for the 2017 season, where Cole Custer will run for rookie of the year.

The company has been providing lubricant technology support to the team since 2011, which helped Stewart and Harvick earn premier series championships for SHR in 2011 and 2014, respectively.

“With two championships already, our partnership with Stewart-Haas Racing has been pushing performance limits since day one. Finishing this year and going into 2017, we’re ready to add more wins and titles to the collection,” said Kai Decker, global motorsports manager at ExxonMobil. “Our engineers are continuously working to advance our lubricant technology and SHR plays a large role in how we test our engine lubricants – ensuring consumers and race fans are getting the best product available.”

After announcing the partnership in 2010, SHR and Mobil 1 engineers began working closely together to tackle racing challenges. The 2017 season continues a collaborative engineering relationship used to develop lubricant packages and push technology limits to new frontiers. This relationship helps the SHR team win races and ExxonMobil continue to improve the performance of Mobil 1 branded lubricants with improved power, fuel mileage, engine efficiency and reliability.

“We’re thrilled to continue our partnership with ExxonMobil for the 2017 race season and beyond,” Stewart said. “They’ve been an incredible partner. “The success we’ve achieved has been greatly helped by Mobil 1 lubricant technology and our engineers working hand in hand with their engineers.”

Including the 2016 season, the partnership with ExxonMobil has led to significant on-track success for SHR, compiling two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series titles, 34 race wins, 140 top-five finishes, 266 top-10 finishes and 28 poles.

Along with its association with SHR, Mobil 1 is entering its 15th year as the “Official Motor Oil of NASCAR.” Mobil 1 is used by more than 50 percent of the teams in NASCAR’s top-three series.

Social Roundup: Truck and Xfinity Series award ceremony

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The NASCAR offseason started Monday night with the Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity award ceremony in Hollywood, Fla.

The night was dedicated to celebrating seasons that saw Erik Jones and Chris Buescher win their first NASCAR titles and the first driver’s title for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Truck series. Other awards handed out included each series’ Rookie of the Year and Most Popular Driver.

The ceremony can be seen this Sunday on NBCSN at 7 p.m. ET.

Here’s a look at how the night unfolded on social media.