NBC Sports

Getty Images

NBC Sports Power Rankings heading to Texas

Leave a comment

Kyle Busch keeps rolling – and also keeps his spot atop this week’s NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

For the fourth time in the last five weeks, Busch is the unanimous No. 1 pick in the rankings heading into this weekend’s racing action at Texas Motor Speedway.

Making the biggest jump in this week’s rankings is Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin (eighth last week; fourth this week). The biggest drop is Kurt Busch (fifth to 10th). Climbing into the rankings this week is Chase Elliott, while dropping out is Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

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

1. Kyle Busch (40 points): Has two wins and not finished worse than sixth in Cup this season. While the candy man wasn’t singing at the end of Martinsville, he can sing here all he wants as No. 1. Last week: 1st.

2. Brad Keselowski (36 points): Give the 2 car the No. 2 spot after his 2nd win of the year (and 2nd career Martinsville victory). Best of the Team Penske cars and maybe the best he’s been in five years. Last week: 4th.

3. Kevin Harvick (28 points): Has five consecutive top 10s. Now just needs to get a victory. Last week: 3rd.

4. Denny Hamlin (27 points): Like a well-oiled machine, just keeps humming along. Still has not finished worse than 11th this year. Last week: 8th.

5. Ryan Blaney (23 points): With three straight top-five finishes, a win could definitely be in the cards, perhaps as soon as Texas or Bristol. Last week: 6th.

6. Joey Logano (20 points): Rough day at Martinsville. Some times you’re the windshield and some times you’re the bug. Still has one win and four top 10s this year. Last week: 2nd.

(tie) 7. Martin Truex Jr. (13 points): Has come up with a full house poker hand in the last five races: Three eighth-place finishes and two second-place finishes. Isn’t leading laps but isn’t lagging much behind, either. Last week: 7th.

(tie) 7. Aric Almirola (13 points): Five top-10 finishes in a row. He’s close on Harvick’s heels as Stewart Haas Racing’s No. 1 driver right now. Last week: 9th.

9. Chase Elliott (10 points): Earned Hendrick Motorsports’ first top five of the season. Has become its No. 1 driver. Where is Jimmie Johnson at? Last week: was not in the top-10.

10. Kurt Busch (6 points): Chip Ganassi Racing seems to have lost a step the past two races. Last week: 5th.

Others receiving votes: Clint Bowyer (4 points).

Bump & Run: Is Kyle Busch right about Cup drivers in lower series?

Getty Images
5 Comments

Should NASCAR implement Kyle Busch’s suggestion that any Cup driver can run as many races in a lower series until they miss one? So if they run the first 10 Xfinity races and miss one, they can’t compete in that series the rest of the year?

Nate Ryan: It’s an idea with merit. One of the main complaints about Cup drivers dropping down into lower series is cherry-picking events. This proposal eliminates that concept while also still allowing unrestricted participation — with one major catch.

Dustin Long: What’s the goal here? NASCAR needs to decide. Is it worth having the Cup regulars compete more often in lower series? Or is it better for the sport to limit those drivers and allow others to have a chance? Based on its actions, NASCAR seems to suggest that it is better to give other drivers the opportunity and not have Cup regulars compete. Until NASCAR makes a philosophical change, don’t expect Kyle’s plan to take hold.

Daniel McFadin: I don’t think Kyle Busch thought this through before saying it out loud in Martinsville. He’s already promised his wife not to compete in Truck and Xfinity races at Daytona and Talladega. That means he’d be eliminated from both series after Speedweeks in February.

Jerry Bonkowski: I like the way the system is now and don’t see any need to change it. While I understand Busch’s suggestion, what would preclude a driver – including Busch – from competing in ALL Xfinity or Truck races (or both)? Busch previously did that before NASCAR limits were put in place, and didn’t seem too worse for the wear. Of course, if NASCAR implemented Busch’s idea, he potentially could hit 300 or more wins in his career before he hangs up his firesuit for the final time.

Who will be the first driver from outside Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing to win a Cup race?

Nate Ryan: Kyle Larson.

Dustin Long: Kevin Harvick

Daniel McFadin: Kurt Busch and it will come at Bristol.

Jerry Bonkowski: I believe that driver will come from Stewart-Haas Racing. The question is who will it be first: Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola or Clint Bowyer? All three have been knocking on the door to victory lane. While I believe Harvick has the best shot, seeing Almirola or Bowyer beat Harvick to victory lane first would not be a surprise.

Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer had a spirited battle during the first stage at Martinsville, causing some choice words from Harvick about his teammate on the radio. Typical short-track racing, or are some of the 2019 frustrations boiling over for Stewart-Haas Racing?

Nate Ryan: Stewart-Haas Racing has been solid but still a notch below Gibbs and Penske on the big speedways early this season. Martinsville represented one of the team’s best chances yet to score a 2019 victory, and the sniping (as well as the urgency for Bowyer to get to the front in the first stage) was a byproduct of that.

Dustin Long: Typical short-track racing. Move on.

Daniel McFadin: It’s a combination of SHR not having won through six races and neither Harvick or Bowyer having defended wins from last year. Bowyer was a favorite at Martinsville, but that was futile. Harvick should be among the favorites at Texas.

Jerry Bonkowski: Combination of the two. It’s definitely partly due to short-track racing, particularly at Martinsville, which is the shortest and tightest track on the Cup circuit. But also, Harvick is likely frustrated that he hasn’t been able to reach victory lane yet. And even though they’re all teammates, Harvick may feel threatened by Bowyer and Aric Almirola and the success they’ve had of late. And let’s not forget Daniel Suarez. If he finds himself in the right place at the right time, he potentially could beat his other three teammates to victory lane first.

After tying a season-low finish (24th) as the worst Hendrick Motorsports driver at one of his best tracks, has Jimmie Johnson bottomed out, or are four finishes outside the top 15 in six races the new normal for the No. 48?

Nate Ryan: It’s possible this was the bottom, given how average he has been lately at Martinsville (where he now has five consecutive finishes of 12th or worse since his Oct. 30, 2016 win there). But when juxtaposed against his teammates — runner-up Chase Elliott nearly won, Alex Bowman hung around the top 10, and even William Byron finished ahead of Johnson after starting from the rear and enduring a tough weekend of contact — there should be significant concern that midpack is where Johnson’s team will reside at most tracks now.

Dustin Long: Jimmie said before this season this new package would be a challenge for him. Add to that he has a new crew chief and Hendrick Motorsports has carried over some of its struggles from last season, the tough times are not surprising. But his results at Atlanta and Martinsville in particular are troubling. I still think he’ll bounce back, it just might take longer than anticipated.

Daniel McFadin: Martinsville was a measuring stick for the No. 48 team. Now we know that nothing before 2019 matters. Johnson shouldn’t have any expectations going forward.

Jerry Bonkowski: This is Jimmie Johnson, seven-time champ and winner of 83 Cup races, we’re talking about. He hasn’t forgotten how to win. Hendrick Motorsports struggled much of 2018 and continues to do so in 2019. But I predict that if Johnson wins and finally breaks his 65-race winless streak – and he very likely could do so Sunday at Texas, where he’s won seven times – HMS as a whole will also start to rally back.

NBC Power Rankings heading to Martinsville

Leave a comment

For the third time in the last four weeks Kyle Busch is the unanimous No. 1 pick in the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Busch made history last weekend at Auto Club Speedway, earning the 200th win of his NASCAR career across all three major series. With the three-race West Coast swing now in its rearview mirror, NASCAR heads to the series’ shortest track, the .526-mile Martinsville Speedway.

Making the biggest jump in this week’s rankings were Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski (seventh to fourth) and Ryan Blaney (ninth to sixth). The biggest drop was Martin Truex Jr., who fell to seventh from second.

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

1. Kyle Busch (40 points): The King of the sport at this point. In 10 national series starts this year, he has six wins and two runner-up finishes and has not finished lower than sixth in any race. Last week: 1st.

2. Joey Logano (35 points): Two top-two finishes during West Coast swing plus a 10th at Phoenix. Only Kyle Busch scored more points than Logano during the three-race swing. Last week: 3rd.

3. Kevin Harvick (30 points): Hasn’t led any laps since Las Vegas, but has finished fourth three times since Daytona. Last week: 5th.

4. Brad Keselowski (29 points): Rebounded from a dismal Phoenix race to lead 42 laps and place third at Fontana. His four races since Daytona have included three finishes in top three. Last week: 7th.

5. Kurt Busch (22 points): Four consecutive top 10s but has failed to make the final round of qualifying in the last three races. That’s contributed to him having only four stage points in that time. Last week: 4th.

6. Ryan Blaney (17 points): He is nipping at the heels of his powerhouse Penske teammates. Could he join Logano and Keselowski with a playoff berth with a win at Martinsville? Last week: 9th.

7. Martin Truex Jr. (16 points): Talk about consistency: Truex has finished second, eighth, second and eighth in his last four starts. Last week: 2nd.

8. Denny Hamlin (12 points): Still has not finished worse than 11th this season. Last week: 6th.

9. Aric Almirola (10 points): Just keeps clicking off top 10s. That’s four in a row for him. Now has nine top 10s (including a win last fall at Talladega) in his last 11 starts. Last week: 8th.

10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (5 points): Even though he finished 14th at Fontana, his second-worst showing of the season, again receives major points for displaying grit and sheer will. Climbs back into the top 10 after dropping out last week.

Others receiving votes: Austin Dillon (2 points), Kyle Larson (1 point), Chase Elliott (1 point).

Danica Patrick to join NBC Sports for Indianapolis 500 broadcast

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
4 Comments

Danica Patrick, one of motorsports’ most popular figures, will join NBC Sports’ inaugural coverage of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge when drivers start their engines for the 103rd iteration of the race on Sunday, May 26. This year marks the first time that the Greatest Spectacle in Racing has been broadcast on NBC.

The former IndyCar and NASCAR driver will serve as a studio analyst on race day, contributing to NBC Sports’ pre-race, in-race, and post-race coverage alongside host Mike Tirico. Patrick will also participate in NBC Sports’ coverage of Indy 500 Pole Day on Sunday, May 19.

A seven-year IndyCar veteran, Patrick immediately broke barriers and set numerous records when she joined the circuit in 2005. In just her first season, she became the first woman ever to lead a lap in the Indy 500 on her way to winning Rookie of the Year honors. In 2008, she became the first woman ever to win an open-wheel race in a major series when she finished first at the Indy Japan 300.

In 2013, Patrick pivoted to NASCAR and became the first woman ever to win the pole for the Daytona 500. Before retiring from driving at the end of last year’s season, she completed the “Danica Double,” racing in both the Daytona 500 and Indy 500 in the same season.

“Danica has a perspective unlike any other driver in the history of motorsports and will be a great addition to our first-ever coverage of the Indy 500,” said Sam Flood, Executive Producer and President, Production, NBC Sports & NBCSN. “She has proven to be as fearless with her opinions and analysis as she was in breaking barriers while racing in the most competitive motorsports circuits in the world.”

“The Indianapolis 500 holds a very special place in my heart,” said Patrick. “The moment I drive into the facility, I’m flooded with positive emotions. I have no doubt it’ll be the same this year when I come back as an analyst. To be on the NBC Sports team with Mike Tirico will be an honor and I look forward to adding my unique perspective. I’ve been in the race eight times, including last year, so I’m familiar with the dynamics within IndyCar after being away for seven years. To me, Indy feels like home!”

In addition to her analyst responsibilities, Patrick will help promote the Indy 500 by appearing across numerous NBCUniversal programs and platforms in the days and weeks leading up to the race.

This won’t be Patrick’s first time as a race analyst. While still an active driver in NASCAR, Patrick gained broadcasting experience by serving as a guest analyst for Fox Sports’ coverage of NASCAR Xfinity races in Michigan, Pocono and Talladega.

The 2019 IndyCar season is the first under a new media rights agreement that was announced in March 2018 in which NBC Sports Group acquired the exclusive rights to all NTT IndyCar Series races – including the Indianapolis 500 for the first time – qualifying and practice sessions, and Indy Lights races across its numerous platforms.

NBC Sports’ coverage of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series continues March 24 with the INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, at 1 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com, and the NBC Sports app.

Bump & Run: Who had best, worst West Coast Swing?

Leave a comment

Who had the best West Coast Swing?

Nate Ryan: Team Penske. Kyle Busch turned in the best individual performance, but the trio of Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney posted the best across-the-board effort by any team.

Dustin Long: Kyle Busch. Five wins in seven national series races (should have gone seven for seven).

Daniel McFadin: Kyle Busch easily. Of the seven races he entered, he won five and placed in the top three in the other two.

Jerry Bonkowski: With two wins and a third-place finish in the West Coast swing, there’s no other choice but Kyle Busch. Other drivers that had a good run include Kurt Busch (fifth-seventh-sixth), Joey Logano (one win, one runner-up and one 10th-place finish) and Kevin Harvick (two fourth-place finishes and a ninth-place).

 

Who had the worst West Coast Swing?

Nate Ryan: Ryan Preece. After three consecutive finishes outside the top 20 (while his teammate notched three straight top 20s), the outstanding showing at the Daytona 500 must seem much further away than a month ago.

Dustin Long: Those hoping the rule changes would dramatically alter the racing and alter who the best teams would be.

Daniel McFadin: Has anyone seen Ryan Newman? While his teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has shown glimpses of improvement, including at Las Vegas, the No. 6 Ford has been missing in action. Newman’s West Coast Swing was made up of finishes of 24th (Vegas), 12th (Phoenix) and 22nd (Auto Club). He has no top 10s through five races.

Jerry Bonkowski: With finishes of 22nd (Las Vegas), 26th (Phoenix) and 30th (Fontana), Bubba Wallace ranks 30th after the West Coast swing. He’s way behind the eight ball after just five races. About the only chance Wallace has to make the playoffs is to get a win in the next 21 races.

 

If you were seeding the Cup field like the NCAA tournament, who would be your four No. 1 seeds after five races?

Nate Ryan: Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick.

Dustin Long: Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick.

Daniel McFadin: Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch

Jerry Bonkowski: Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin.

 

Bigger Chevrolet surprise: That Kurt Busch has four consecutive top 10s or Hendrick Motorsports has no top fives this season?

Nate Ryan: Busch seemed reinvigorated toward the end of last season, and Chip Ganassi Racing made the necessary moves to shore up its performance this season, so while the No. 1’s consistency has been unexpectedly stellar, it’s less of a stunner than Hendrick. It’s been 19 years since the team went five races into a season without a top five. Yes, there’ve been flashes of speed by each driver, but the statistics don’t get any plainer than that. Hendrick will need to show it has made progress by Texas Motor Speedway next week.

Dustin Long: Kurt Busch. I like how this team has performed at the beginning of the season but Busch told me after Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway that for all that has gone well for them with finishes, they need to qualify better to gain more stage points. He scored only four stage points during the West Coast races.

Daniel McFadin: Kurt Busch’s remarkable consistency. He entered a car that had just two top fives last year and matched it in the first four races. Last year, Busch didn’t earn his fourth top 10 until he placed second at Talladega in race No. 10. Hendrick is still working itself out of a rut that started two years ago.

Jerry Bonkowski: Tough question. Busch is the most pleasant surprise for Chevy, for sure. But Hendrick Motorsports is the biggest surprise overall – and that’s not a good thing – in the bowtie camp, as all four of its drivers are already more than 100 points behind points leader Kyle Busch after five races and Chase Elliott is the highest-ranked HMS pilot in 12th place.