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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Kyle Busch Motorsports on Tuesday unveiled its crew chief lineup for its three full-time NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series teams in 2019:
* Ryan “Rudy” Fugle will oversee the No. 51 Toyota Tundra. Team owner Kyle Busch will compete in five races, with other drivers yet to be announced for the other races on the schedule.
Fugle has led KBM teams to four owner’s championships in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017, as well as driver championships for Erik Jones in 2015 and Christopher Bell in 2017.
In 114 races with KBM, Fugle has called the signals for 22 wins, 20 poles, 57 top fives and 71 top-10 finishes among a variety of drivers. He’s coming off a 2018 season that saw driver Noah Gragson earn one win, a series-leading six poles, eight top fives and 17 top-10 finishes en route to a second-place finish in the series.
* Mike Hillman will serve as crew chief for the No. 18 Tundra and driver Harrison Burton. Hillman is a two-time Truck champion crew chief over 11 seasons. He has earned 22 wins and 19 poles.
Burton has one pole, four top fives and seven top-10 finishes – with an average finish of 6.3 in nine starts with Hillman as crew chief.
* Marcus Richmond will return as crew chief of the No. 4 Tundra and driver Todd Gilliland. Richmond has spent 13 seasons and 265 races as a Truck Series crew chief, collecting 10 wins, 17 poles, 61 top-five and 129 top-10 finishes with six different drivers (Ty Dillon, Noah Gragson, Kevin Harvick, Timothy Peters, Johnny Sauter and Dennis Setzer).
Last season, Richmond’s team — including Gilliland in 19 events and two other drivers — had three poles, 305 laps led, five top fives and nine top-10 finishes.
Burton, the son of former Cup driver Ward Burton, will make his first start of the season in On Point Motorsports’ No. 30 Toyota.
His last Truck start was in last October’s race at Martinsville.
The race will be the fourth for On Point Motorsports. It’s best result is eighth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with Austin Theriault.
“It is always exciting for me to race at my home track of Martinsville Speedway,” Burton said in a press release. “I have always run good there and have had good success in the Truck Series at the track. I like running with a smaller new team like On Point Motorsports and focus on going out there and showing everyone what we can do. On Point Motorsports has been impressive in their first couple races and we look forward to being even more impressive at Martinsville.
Benjamin will drive DGR-Crosley’s No. 17 Toyota in his second start of the year for the team. He competed in the spring race at Martinsville in his series debut and finished second after he led 74 laps.
“I’m really thankful for the opportunity to go back to Martinsville with DGR-Crosley,” Benjamin said in a press release. “We were so close to getting the win in the spring race and I definitely think we will be a contender again. I’m really happy to get another shot at it. I know the guys will bring me a fast Toyota Tundra this weekend. We just have to keep it clean throughout the race and be there at the end.”
Peters, who won the last Truck Series race at Talladega Superspeedway for GMS Racing, will return to the team this weekend.
Peters, who claimed his first career win at Martinsville in 2009, will drive the No. 23 Chevrolet. It will be his fifth start of the year.