Tyler Ankrum

Bump and Run: Forecasting race for final playoff spots

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Erik Jones moved into the final playoff spot with his third-place finish at Kentucky. Seven races remain until the Cup playoffs begin. Will the 16 drivers in a playoff spot now be the same 16 when the regular season ends?

Nate Ryan: Unlikely, but there probably won’t be that much volatility. Jones probably will make it, but Ryan Newman seems a solid bet to bounce another driver.

Dustin Long: No. With drivers in positions 14th-18th separated by a total of 12 points, I expect some changes in the coming weeks.

Jerry Bonkowski: No. There is still way too much uncertainty remaining in the next seven races. We could still see a number of drivers earn their first wins of the season, which would greatly shake up the playoff standings. I’m convinced we won’t know the 16-driver field until after the final playoff-determining race at Indianapolis.

Daniel McFadin: No, I believe drivers like Ryan Newman and Daniel Suarez can get back into the top 16, especially Newman, who has settled into a very consistent groove over the last few races.

 

Which is more surprising: Jimmie Johnson is in danger of falling out of the playoffs or Stewart-Haas Racing has yet to win this year?

Nate Ryan: The latter, especially considering Stewart-Haas Racing enjoyed its greatest season in 2018 with four winners and probably the best across-the-board team in NASCAR. Some regression naturally was expected with a driver change, but to be winless past halfway is astounding. Despite his two-year winless streak, Johnson seems to be performing better than at this point last year, and missing the playoffs for the first time always seemed a possibility after the No. 48’s first crew chief change in 17 years.

Dustin Long: Didn’t see Stewart-Haas Racing’s inability to win a Cup race more than halfway through the year.

Jerry Bonkowski: I’d say Stewart-Haas Racing’s inability to reach victory lane is more surprising, particularly with Kevin Harvick not having won even one race after winning nearly one-quarter of last year’s races. He’s been close several times, but hasn’t been able to seal the deal, which is a mystery to many. As for Johnson, while he may be in danger of not making the playoffs, I still believe he makes it. Whether he advances past the first round, however, is a different story — unless he can win in each of the first three playoff rounds.

Daniel McFadin: Stewart-Haas Racing without a win. They won 12 times last year, so I would never have expected this kind of drought, which is now the latest in a season they’ve ever gone without a win. Johnson, on the other hand has been struggling for more than two years with his own winless streak. 

 

Tyler Ankrum won the Truck race at Kentucky and has received a waiver to be eligible for the playoffs. The waiver is for missing the season’s first three races because he was not 18 and could not race at Daytona, Atlanta and Las Vegas because of an age restriction. Are you OK with NASCAR granting him a waiver?

Nate Ryan: Absolutely. Both for the sake of Ankrum and NASCAR (which certainly needs a winning teenager in the playoffs of a developmental series), he should be eligible on the good faith of starting every race since turning 18. The rule requiring drivers to attempt every race is in place ostensibly to dissuade winners from taking races off; Ankrum’s situation certainly isn’t in violation of its spirit.

Dustin Long: I’m fine with it because he missed less than 20 percent of the regular season, but I don’t think a driver that misses more than a third of the regular season because of an age restriction should be granted a waiver. If so, where’s the limit? Will it be OK for a driver to miss half the regular season because they don’t turn 18 until then and still make the playoffs if they win?

Jerry Bonkowski: I have mixed feelings. While I’m glad to see Ankrum get a waiver to compete in the playoffs, I also think of how many other young drivers — regardless of the series — who have been prevented from getting waivers based upon their age over the years. I would hope that by giving Ankrum a waiver, NASCAR will make it a policy going forward to continue doing so for other young drivers faced with similar circumstances.

Daniel McFadin: It sure seems NASCAR loves giving out waivers. But if it didn’t give them out, especially in the Truck Series, the playoff field this year probably wouldn’t have very many race winners in it. Were Ankrum not given one and had NASCAR not approved Ross Chastain‘s mid-season points declaration for Trucks, there would be only three drivers – Johnny Sauter, Brett Moffitt and Austin Hill – in the playoffs off wins. We could also have a conversation about allowing Ankrum in the playoffs despite having multiple start and parks this year with NEMCO Motorsports. 

Long: Aretha sang about it, Kurt Busch says he has it with Chip Ganassi Racing

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SPARTA, Ky. — As Kurt Busch decided last year where he would drive this season, it didn’t take long.

A short meeting with car owner Chip Ganassi laid the foundation for a deal that was completed in about three hours, announced in December and bore fruit last weekend with Busch’s first victory of the season.

In the 30-minute conversation Busch had last year with Ganassi about driving for the car owner, Busch found what he sought.

“(Ganassi’s) level of commitment as a racer is something that I saw,” said Busch, who had run the previous five seasons with Stewart-Haas Racing. “Yes, Tony Stewart is a racer, but I was more on the Gene Haas side. When Chip said, ‘I want you to win for me, I want you to make these guys winners, and if you can bring that (Monster Energy) sponsorship with you, I’m going to pay you this,’ it was just like the most respect that I had felt in a long time when it came to a contract negotiation.”

Respect was a word the former Cup champion used in multiple interviews Saturday in discussing his move to Ganassi.

Busch said on NBCSN’s post-race show that when a contract extension with Stewart-Haas Racing didn’t work, he called Ganassi and quickly had a deal.

“That’s just the respect factor that I was looking for,” Busch told Krista Voda, Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett.

Busch went on to say in the media center after the race about how quickly a deal was agreed upon: “It meant that I was wanted. And when you have that, that’s that extra desire to push and to make this group a winner.”

When the deal was announced in December, Ganassi said: “It’s not oftentimes that a NASCAR champion, a Daytona 500 winner becomes available. When you’ve got a guy that is a racer like Kurt … you’ve got to take a serious look at it. It didn’t take me long when he became available.”

As Busch, who turns 41 on Aug. 4, looks ahead to the playoffs, he also has to focus on what he’ll do next season. The deal with Ganassi is only for this year. So what’s next for Busch?

“For me, it’s a matter of just having the dominos line up and everybody fall together and to make it happen,” he said. “I guess the easiest way to move things forward is request for proposals are going out Monday with sponsors, with manufacturers, with team owner. 

“Yes, a win, that might have happened last week at Daytona, is one of those moments. Tonight is one of those stamps on — this 1 team is a powerful team, and it would be stupid not to keep this group together, and that’s part of my leverage, but at the end of it, we just want to make it work for all parties.”

After a night like Saturday, Busch said: “It gives you that energy of, yeah, it’s fun, and let’s get our sponsors lined up and let’s do this (again).”

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Ryan Newman has a simple rule on blocking, a tactic that has become more prevalent with the race package this year.

“I don’t do that personally, that’s not the way I race, I race hard,” Newman said. “Because it’s not the way I want to be raced. It’s not right.

“You don’t change the way that you enter a corner to choke somebody off knowing that it’s going to slow you down. You as a racer are supposed to go out there and race as hard as you can to try to catch the guy in front of you, not let the guy behind you stay behind you.”

Newman also noted a conversation he had with Ryan Blaney earlier this season after he was blocked by Blaney multiple times.

“Ryan Blaney and I have had it out after the race, not in a mean way,” Newman said. “(I) just told him, I said, ‘Listen, the next time you do that, it’s not going to be good for you. That’s not the way I race. You want to block me, it’s not going to be good.’ I don’t mean it as a threat. I’m just telling him that’s the fact of it.

“I don’t race that way. If I block you, you’ve got the right to turn me around, but if you choke me down going into the corner just to try keep me behind you, expect to get loose.”

Blaney admitted he threw “a couple of big blocks” on Newman in the Charlotte races in May.

“You make those decisions in a split-second,” Blaney said. “You’re not trying to screw that guy over, you’re just like ‘I have to help myself.’ Between me and Ryan (Newman), I’ve always liked that you could talk to someone afterwards and have an understanding about it.

“Newman said that was a big block, that was a kind of a late one. I said, ‘Yeah, I knew it was close, sorry.’ You could tell how close it was by how hard he hit you on the bumper. It’s good to talk about it and not kind of let it brood over. Me and Ryan have always been good friends. He’s someone I’ve looked up to for a long time. He’s been a friend of my family’s for a long time. It was good to talk to him and understand it.”

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To NASCAR,  it was a simple call in penalizing William Byron for jumping the restart at Kentucky Speedway.

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, explained the penalty on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Monday.

“(Byron) fired first in the restart zone, and he wasn’t controlling the restart,” Miller said. “It’s kind of as simple as that.”

In the rules video that was played in the drivers meeting at Kentucky, it stated: “It will be the control vehicle’s discretion to restart in the zone between the double marks and the single mark on the outer wall and on the racing surface.”

Clint Bowyer was the leader at the time.

The penalty took place on Lap 184 of the 267-lap race. Byron went from second place to a lap down after serving the penalty and never recovered. He finished 18th.

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Paul Menard confirmed this past weekend his contract status for next season, saying:

“I have a good job, for sure. I love the Wood Brothers. I love my race team. They are good people. I have a contract for next year. I guess it is getting to be that time of year when people start talking about things. I have a contract and I love my team. We just have to perform better, that is all.”

Menard finished 11th Saturday. He is 20th in the season standings, 54 points out of the final playoff spot.

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Sponsorship issues nearly cost eventual Truck champion Brett Moffitt his playoff eligibility last year and threaten the playoff eligibility for Tyler Ankrum this season.

Ankrum won last weekend’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Kentucky but lack of sponsorship could be an issue for him.

Ankrum was set to run a full season for DGR-Crosley once he turned 18 in March. He announced in June that he would not be running a full season with the team because of lack of sponsorship.

He started races at Iowa and Gateway for NEMCO Motorsports and retired after less than 20 laps in both races, finishing 31st at Iowa and 30th at Gateway. By starting those races, he kept his playoff eligibility. Ankrum received a waiver from NASCAR for missing the season’s first three races because he was not 18 years old at the time and could not run at Daytona, Atlanta and Las Vegas. He’s run the remaining races.

DGR-Crosley is a Toyota team and it leads to the question of what responsibility Toyota has to ensure that one of its playoff teams remains eligible for a championship run.

David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, said the company will help in ways its best suited to do so.

“Our focus is on providing technical support to our team partners, and David Gilliland and his family, they’re not maybe at the (Kyle Busch Motorsports) level but make no mistake, we do have a strong technical partnership with them,” Wilson told NBC Sports after Ankrum’s win.

Wilson said that Toyota had been with the team when they took what was the winning truck to a wind tunnel earlier.

“We obviously are engaged and hopeful that they can put enough (sponsorship) together to keep Tyler moving forward, and we’d love to have him in the playoffs,” Wilson said.

Wilson admits a focus for Toyota is on Kyle Busch Motorsports. Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland are both outside a playoff spot with three races left in the regular season.

Toyota has two teams in the playoffs as of now with Ankrum and Austin Hill, who won at Daytona for the reigning Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship team, Hattori Racing Enterprises.

Whatever Toyota teams are in the playoffs will get Wilson’s attention.

“Obviously we’re going to focus our resources on whomever is fighting to win the championship,” Wilson said. “There’s not a question about it. If it happens to be non-KBM trucks, so be it.”

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Kentucky winners and losers

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WINNERS

Matt McCall — Kurt Busch deserves much credit for winning at Kentucky Speedway but let’s not forget his crew chief, who was roasted on social media last week for having Busch pit before the field went back to green at Daytona only to see lightning cost them a chance at the win. At Kentucky, McCall went for fuel only on the team’s first stop, a key move in a race where track position was critical, and made the right calls throughout the night, including a four-tire change on the last stop, to give Busch a chance to win his first race of the season and earn a playoff spot.

Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch While many would have preferred a “Days of Thunder” last-lap crash that led to someone else winning, these two had a dramatic battle for the win that pushed both to the edge but not over it. 

NASCAR — Remember when series officials used to keep drivers from standing on the roof of their car or anything like that during victory celebrations? Alex Bowman did it after his Chicago win and Kurt Busch did it after his Kentucky victory. Then, some of Busch’s crew members climbed atop the car and rode it to Victory Lane. Nice to see spontaneous celebrations are allowed.

Tyler AnkrumTook the lead with two laps to go when Brett Moffitt ran out of fuel to score the victory in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Kentucky. It was the 18-year-old Ankrum’s first series win, putting him in a playoff spot.

 

LOSERS

Daniel SuarezWhile his eighth-place finish was his best result in the last four races, it was unfulfilling. If Suarez goes on to make the playoffs, this night will be forgotten. If he fails to make the playoffs, this race might be a key reason why. He started on the pole but failed to score any stage points after a pit call backfired in the first stage and a flat tire forced a green-flag stop in the second stage. He entered the race three points behind Ryan Newman for the final playoff spot. Newman started last because of an inspection failure and finished ninth, losing only one point Suarez. Erik Jones’ third-place finish moved him past Newman and Suarez into a playoff spot.

Denny Hamlin’s pit crew — For the fifth time this season, Hamlin’s team was called for an uncontrolled penalty. While Hamlin has been a critic of how NASCAR has called such penalties this season, he said that crew chief Chris Gabehart told him that the infraction was “pretty obvious.” Said Hamlin: “It’s on us to tighten it up, know the rules and try not to have these penalties, especially on a two-tire stop. We’ve got to be better.”

Jimmie Johnson Rough night ends in a 30th-place finish. He falls to 15th in the season standings. Ryan Newman, the first driver outside a playoff spot is only 10 points behind Johnson. Seven races remain until the playoff field is set but will this be the year Johnson misses the playoffs?

Brandon Jones Rough weekend at Kentucky. He was leading the Truck race when Grant Enfinger lost control as they raced for position and wrecked them both. Jones finished 23rd. The next night, Jones’ Xfinity car was fast before an engine failure ended his night in 30th.

Tyler Ankrum scores first career Truck Series victory

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SPARTA, Ky. – Brett Moffitt ran out fuel while leading with less than two laps left, allowing Tyler Ankrum to score his first career Gander Outdoors Truck Series win Thursday at Kentucky Speedway.

The 18-year-old Ankrum won in his 12th career series start.

“I think this goes to show that the youngsters and underdogs can still win,” said Ankrum, who drives for DGR-Crosley, in Victory Lane. “I don’t think DGR has been viewed as a GMS (Racing) or a KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports) or a ThorSport (Racing) team, but I think they will be now. I’m honestly so proud of that. That’s really what I’ve been wanting to do. I’m just all about improvement. Improve every single week and try and get better and I think that’s what we did. We finished it.”

Ankrum was not eligible to compete in the first three races of the season because he did not turn 18 until March 6. Ankrum is eligible for the playoffs with the victory because NASCAR has granted a waiver since he missed races because of an age restriction.

MORE: Click here for race results 

MORE: Click here for driver points

Stewart Friesen finished second in a backup car. NASCAR confiscated his primary truck during inspection at the beginning of the day for an issue with the firewall. Harrison Burton placed third.

Ross Chastain finished fourth and climbed into the top 20 in points, making him playoff eligible with his recent victory at Gateway.

Ben Rhodes hit the wall late while running second with less than 20 laps left and had a tire go down.

Points leader Grant Enfinger and Brandon Jones crashed while racing for the lead on Lap 65. Both were eliminated. Enfinger told his team on the radio that he was sorry and that he lost control of the truck underneath Jones’ truck.

Stage 1 winner: Sheldon Creed

Stage 2 winner: Matt Crafton

Next: July 27 at Pocono Raceway.

Xfinity, Truck Series practice holds at Kentucky Speedway

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NASCAR announced eight practice holds for the Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series today at Kentucky Speedway.

All the holds will be served at the end of each series’ final practice session.

Xfinity Series

15 minute holds

Joey Gase and Mike Harmon – out of garage late

Noah Gragson, Jeremy Clements and Jeff Green – failed inspection twice at Daytona

30 minute hold

Chad Finchum – failed inspection three times at Daytona

Gander Outdoors Truck Series

15 minute holds

Tyler Ankrum and Jeb Burton – failed inspection twice at Chicago