NBC Sports Staff

Bump and Run: Should NASCAR ditch the yellow line rule?

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Does NASCAR need to keep the yellow line rule at Daytona and Talladega? Or would a solution be to have the rule until the final lap of a race and just let anything be in play?

Nate Ryan: The only out of bounds lines at oval racetracks should be the walls. The point of the rule was to reduce the crashes that were resulting from cars that disjointedly shot from the apron back up the banking. As Sunday proved yet again, races at Daytona and Talladega always will feature large pileups. Trying to micromanage driving to reduce those risks is an exercise in futility.

Dustin Long: NASCAR needs to keep the rule for every lap but if the series officials want that line to be considered like a wall than change the rule: Any time anyone for whatever reason goes below the yellow line they will be penalized. And any time anyone forces someone below the yellow line they will be penalized. Put teeth into the rule.

Daniel McFadin: I think the rule needs to be kept in place. It’s there in an effort to keep the racing on superspeedways from getting out of hand. Making a rule apply to all but the final lap doesn’t make sense.

Jerry Bonkowski: The yellow line rule was implemented — at least in part — for safety reasons. So yes, the rule needs to be kept in place as it is. Taking it away for the final lap is a guarantee for chaos and greatly heightened unsafe conditions for drivers and fans.

 

The bottom four — Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer and William Byron — each likely need to win to advance in the playoffs. Which one of those four do you give the best chance of winning this weekend at Kansas?

Nate Ryan: Alex Bowman; he should have won there in May.

Dustin Long: Chase Elliott.

Daniel McFadin: I give the edge to Alex Bowman, he’s been the most consistent in the playoffs and was running well Monday before his wreck. 

Jerry Bonkowski: Any of the four can win at Kansas, but if I were a betting man, I’d put my money on Clint Bowyer. Kansas is his home track but he’s had a mediocre record there. It’s time for the odds to turn around in his favor.

 

What’s your take on the manufacturer involvement that has become even more prevalent in Cup at Talladega and Daytona?

Nate Ryan: It’s fine and perfectly understandable … provided it doesn’t reach the point of in-race meetings to chastise drivers about racing three wide for the lead. And it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing that it reached that point Sunday because it caused NASCAR and its fan base to air some righteous grievances about the diminishment of driver autonomy in Cup and why that’s bad.

Dustin Long: I understand why the manufacturers do it, but I don’t like it, particularly when it reaches the levels it did this past weekend at Talladega. Those in the garage noted to me that some drivers seemed to make curious moves at times if only to remain in good graces with their manufacturers. That’s not racing. That’s a puppet show.

Daniel McFadin: I get the that manufacturers want to work together to ensure their best chance at winning a race, especially Chevy since they haven’t had a car in the Championship 4 in the last two years. But dictating how drivers should race and possibly threatening consequences if they don’t fall in line feels wrong on multiple levels. The drivers are the ones in control of the car on the track, not manufacturer executives. Only the drivers know what’s best for them at any given moment.

Jerry Bonkowski: The manufacturers play such a key and pivotal part in the sport that if they want their respective teams and drivers to work together more at Talladega and Daytona, that should be their prerogative. It would be very difficult for NASCAR to try and rule against manufacturers in this instance, as it could severely damage relationships between the sanctioning body and manufacturers. Frankly, this appears to be a no-win situation where there is no answer or way to police against it.

NBC Sports Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick’s out, Martin Truex Jr. back on top

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Even though he came in second at Dover, it was enough of a performance for NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers to put Martin Truex Jr. back on top in this week’s Power Rankings.

With 37 of a maximum 40 points, Truex is once again No. 1, while last week’s top vote-getter, Kevin Harvick, falls to third place (32 points). Dover winner Kyle Larson jumps to the No. 2 spot, up from eighth last week.

Also of note, based on earning three straight top 10s for the first time since 2016, Jimmie Johnson appears in the rankings heading into Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

The biggest drop this week came from Roval winner Chase Elliott, who went from No. 3 last week to unranked after Sunday’s race at Dover.

Here are this week’s rankings:

1. Martin Truex Jr. (37 points): Consistency is his middle name. Just keeps on scoring top fives. Returns to top spot in rankings after Kevin Harvick was No. 1 in last week’s rankings. Last week: Second.

2. Kyle Larson (34 points): Gets to enjoy a stress-free Talladega after his Dover win. No other driver will feel as good this weekend. But even though he broke a 75-race winless streak and earned a berth in the Round of 8, the pressure shifts to see him win again and make it to Miami. Last week: Eighth.

3. Kevin Harvick (32 points): Fourth-place run marks his 10th top 10 in the last 11 races. That includes three wins and seven top fives. Last week: First.

4. Alex Bowman (29 points): Another strong run for the No. 88. Could he be the dark horse in the playoffs? Last week: Fifth.

5. Denny Hamlin (24 points): Dominated early at Dover before finishing fifth, primarily because he was frustrated with Joey Logano. One cause for concern, however, is that he hasn’t had consecutive top 10s since August. Last week: Tied for 10th.

6. Kyle Busch (15 points): Didn’t have a good car this weekend, got caught speeding and finished sixth. Sometimes one has to just plow through a tough weekend and he did. But there is cause for concern. He’s managed just two top 10s in the first four playoff races. Last week: Tied for 10th.

7. Brad Keselowski (13 points): Failed to finish in the top five for the first time in the playoffs, capping off an unremarkable weekend for this team. Last week: Fourth.

8. Clint Bowyer (12 points): Earned sixth top 10 in the last seven races. Still plugging away. These playoffs haven’t been easy for him but he’s still alive. Last week: Sixth.

9. Jimmie Johnson (8 points): Earned a third straight top 10 for the first time this year. Even though Johnson hasn’t won in his last 89 starts, it’s clear this team is getting better. Last week: Unranked.

10. Matt DiBenedetto (6 points): Earned his seventh top 10 of the season. Given the right circumstances, potentially could steal a playoff race win. Last week: Unranked.

Others receiving votes: Chase Elliott (4 points), William Byron (3 points), Cole Custer (3 points).

Bump and run: Should Joey Logano have allowed Denny Hamlin by at Dover?

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Was Joey Logano right to race the leaders hard at the end of stage 2 Sunday at Dover even though he was more than 20 laps down? Or do you agree with what Denny Hamlin said about what Logano did?

Nate Ryan: It’s hard to decide this on moral terms. As long as Logano is willing to live with the potential consequences (and he consistently has indicated he has), he has every right to race as hard as he wants, as any driver would.

Dustin Long: It is often understood that when multiple laps down to get out of the way. With passing as difficult as it was at Dover, that guideline was more important. Logano’s decision to be aggressive in defending his position could hurt him later in the playoffs when the stakes are even greater.

Daniel McFadin: I see both sides of it, but I lean toward Hamlin’s argument. Logano was on his own lap pretty much from the time he returned to the track to the end of the race. He’d have lost nothing by not putting up a challenge to the leaders at the end of Stage 2. Who knows if that could come back to haunt him in the next six races.

Jerry Bonkowski: Hamlin had a valid point, as Logano was impeding him from winning and earning a stage point while Logano was not a factor in the race. But at the same time, it’s no surprise Logano raced that hard because that’s his style, regardless of how many laps down he was. Logano was trying to make up even a few laps – despite the fact he was so far back.

 

Give us a prediction on something that will happen this weekend at Talladega (2 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC).

Nate Ryan: Cars will crash.

Dustin Long: Talladega Blvd. in the infield will be wild. Oh, you want something about what will happen on the track? I think I have a better chance of predicting the winning lottery numbers since anything can happen at Dega.

Daniel McFadin: Someone who didn’t make the playoffs at all will win and send the postseason into a frenzy heading to Kanas Speedway.

Jerry Bonkowski: In addition to likely having several “big ones,” I predict we’ll see Joey Logano and Chase Elliott roar back in a big way to make up for the damage they suffered at Dover.

 

Jimmie Johnson’s sponsor, Ally Financial, recently announced that it will sponsor the No. 48 car through the 2023 season. Johnson has a contract through 2020 and says he’s focused on his team instead deciding when to retire from Cup. How much longer do you think he will race?

Nate Ryan: It still depends on the next six races. If he wins or shows strong results with new crew chief Cliff Daniels, he probably will race beyond next year.

Dustin Long: I think he retires from Cup after 2020.

Daniel McFadin: Jimmie Johnson said on the Dale Jr. Download a few weeks ago that if pressed by owner Rick Hendrick for a decision, he’d take more years of racing. I think he’ll race through 2022 and his eventual successor will have Ally’s support in 2023.

Jerry Bonkowski: Johnson has the luxury of time to decide whether he will extend his current contract after 2020 or retire. The most important thing for him right now is to right the No. 48’s ship and get back to winning races consistently. That will go a long way toward helping him decide whether he wants to keep racing for another year or more after 2020.

NBC Sports Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick back to No. 1

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Martin Truex Jr.’s reign atop the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings lasted all of one week. Kevin Harvick returns to the No. 1 spot — where he had been the previous two weeks before Truex overtook him — in this week’s balloting.

But it’s close: While Truex was a unanimous choice among the NBC Sports NASCAR writers last week, Harvick was not an all-in pick this week. In fact, Harvick beat Truex by two points.

Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval race winner Chase Elliott made the biggest jump in the rankings, going from being unranked to No. 3 this week, just three points behind Harvick and only one point behind Truex.

The biggest drops were Denny Hamlin (tied for second last week to tied for 10th this week) and Kyle Busch (tied for fourth last week to tied for 10th this week).

Here are this week’s rankings:

1. Kevin Harvick (35 points): Third-place run at Roval marked his ninth top 10 in the last 10 races. Last week: Tied for fourth.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (33 points): So much for him winning three or even four in a row. Still, had a strong run on the Roval. A win at his home track of Dover would lock him into the Round of 8. Last week: First place.

3. Chase Elliott (32 points): Honestly, could anyone have predicted he’d bounce back from his wreck with 44 laps left – which dropped him from first to 37th place – and wind up winning? One of the best comebacks NASCAR has seen in years. Could be the key motivating factor that sends him all the way to Miami. Last week: Unranked.

4. Brad Keselowski (29 points): Fifth-place finish at the Roval was his fifth top-five result in the last six races. He’s under the radar but should not be overlooked. Last week: Tied for second.

5. Alex Bowman (19 points): Charged from the rear to a second-place finish in a backup car while feeling sick after being involved in two spins. That deserves recognition. Last week: Unranked.

6. Clint Bowyer (17 points): Had strong run when he needed it to advance to the next round. Now can he and his team repeat that effort in the second round? Top 10 finishes in five of his last six races. Has potential to be Cinderella story of playoffs. Last week: Ninth.

7. William Byron (13 points): Top 10s in three of last four races, but has to pick up performance even more if he hopes to advance to Round of 8. Last week: Unranked.

8. Kyle Larson (12 points): Penalty hurt him at Roval but he’s moving on to the second round, so there’s that. With teammate Kurt Busch now eliminated, Larson is carrying the championship torch for Chip Ganassi Racing. Can he deliver? Last week: Sixth.

9. Ryan Blaney (8 points): Even though he has top 10s in three of last four races, he’s in same boat as guys like Byron, Bowyer, Bowman and Larson: he has to significantly pick up his performance if he hopes to advance to the next round. Last week: Unranked.

(tie) 10. Denny Hamlin (7 points): Not a memorable run at the Roval but it’s all about surviving and advancing in the playoffs. Sitting fairly pretty heading into start of Round of 12 this weekend at Dover. Last week: Tied for second.

(tie) 10. Kyle Busch (7 points): Winless streak has now hit 15 races. Roval mechanical failure not his fault. Saving grace was all the playoff points he’s earned, allowing him to be No. 1 in the Cup standings heading to Dover. But he needs a win desperately. Can it come at Dover? Last week: Tied for fourth.

Others receiving votes: Jimmie Johnson (4 points), Michael McDowell (2 points), Joey Logano (1 point), AJ Allmendinger (1 point).

Bump and Run: Should NASCAR address Alex Bowman wrecking Bubba Wallace?

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If NASCAR officials are upset with Bubba Wallace for splashing liquid on Alex Bowman after the Roval race, should they be just as angry about Bowman hooking Wallace in the right rear in the chicane and wrecking him?

Nate Ryan: Absolutely. It was a low-speed corner, but hooking a car in the right rear to send it driver side into the wall is serious at any speed. Bowman should be sat down at Dover by NASCAR officials (who have suspended drivers fo similar moves) and receive the same stern warning as Wallace receives.

Dustin Long: No. If NASCAR is going to be upset about that, then it should have addressed Austin Dillon turning Alex Bowman at Richmond, the cars of Bubba Wallace and Kyle Busch beating on each other down the frontstretch at Watkins Glen or any of several other instances in the past. Those weren’t addressed. NASCAR only reacts to the extreme cases (i.e. Matt Kenseth wrecking Joey Logano at Martinsville in that playoff race).

Daniel McFadin: It’s understandable NASCAR is upset with what Wallace did. Bowman was somewhat incapacitated and unable to defend himself while being tended to by a medical worker. Their on-track incident is much more in line with “boys have at it.” But regardless of how mad NASCAR is about either issue, they’ll undoubtedly use both to promote the sport.

Jerry Bonkowski: Two different things.

Alex Bowman finished second earlier this season in all three races that are in the second round of the playoffs (Dover, Talladega and Kansas). What odds do you give him of advancing to the third round?

Nate Ryan: Ten percent. It’ll be virtually impossible for any of the drivers who barely made it out of the first round to advance because 1) they start at a massive points deficit; and 2) the next eight guys and their teams are so good. Likely will take a win by Bowman, Ryan Blaney, William Byron or Clint Bowyer for any of them to advance.

Dustin Long: 40% chance. He faces an uphill climb because of how few playoff points he has, meaning he likely needs to win in this round. Just because something happened earlier this year doesn’t mean it will repeat.

Daniel McFadin: I’d say there’s a 75% chance Bowman advances. If he can avoid the chaos that Talladega clearly will incite, I think he has a better chance of advancing over William Byron if neither of them wins a race. But it should be noted that at Dover Bowman qualified fifth but had to start from the rear due to an inspection infraction and then charged to his second-place finish. Sound familiar?

Jerry Bonkowski: The way I see it, and given the uncertainty of Talladega as a wildcard, Bowman has to have at least top-five finishes at both Dover and Kansas to advance to the third round. Anything less and it’s unlikely he makes it to the Round of 8.

After some questions about when officials called a caution and when they did not call a caution in Sunday’s Cup race at the Roval, do you know what a caution is?

Nate Ryan: It wasn’t abundantly obvious what constituted a yellow Sunday, and that’s something NASCAR will need to address before the 2020 return to the Roval.

Dustin Long: I do know what isn’t a caution — when there is an incident on the last lap or so and the car(s) can continue. In those cases, NASCAR’s preference to finish a race under green. It can be confounding when a caution is called and when it isn’t, particularly in a playoff race. The pressure isn’t just on the teams and drivers in the playoffs, it’s also on the officials to be right.

Daniel McFadin: To borrow a phrase from former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, I could never succeed in intelligibly saying what warrants a caution, but I know it when I see it. I saw a lot of it Sunday that wasn’t called (Daniel Suarez‘s last-lap crash) and some that I could debate over whether the caution was merited (Ryan Preece‘s chicane spin). But I’m glad I’m not actually in a position to have to make the call on a track like the Roval.

Jerry Bonkowski: A caution is a race stoppage when a car that has wrecked, spun or stopped on the race track potentially impedes or puts in jeopardy other cars and drivers around him. I think part of the reason why there were questions about cautions at the Roval is because NASCAR officials didn’t know if cars – particularly those that spun – could get going again fast enough without being an obstruction or hazard to the rest of the field. By throwing a caution in those instances when it did, NASCAR erred on the side of caution – no pun intended.