Austin Hill

Bump and Run: Forecasting race for final playoff spots

Leave a comment

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. 

Friday 5: Recent winners share long journey to Victory Lane

Leave a comment

Recent races reaffirm Ross Chastain’s message to young drivers.

“I still tell people to chase it,” he said of going after their dreams of competing at racing’s highest levels.

Chastain is among three drivers who overcame long odds early in their careers to win NASCAR races within the last month. Coincidence? Sure, but it also shows how perseverance can be rewarded.

Chastain, who has driven for low-budget teams and saw a full-time Xfinity ride go away in the offseason because of a sponsor’s legal issues, won last weekend’s Xfinity race at Daytona International Speedway and won a Gander Outdoors Truck Series race last month at Gateway.

Brett Moffitt, the reigning Truck champion whose career early was plagued by lack of funds, won last month at Chicagoland Speedway.

Alex Bowman, who once found out he had lost a Cup ride on Twitter and spent time as a sim driver for Hendrick Motorsports, scored his first Cup victory at Chicagoland Speedway.

“All of us … have been in bad situations in their career,” Moffitt told NBC Sports. “Some people, they get that good opportunity, and when that falls through, they just don’t have the willpower to fight back and do what you have to do to survive. It sucks, I’ll admit it.

“I’ve been in really bad equipment at times and it’s really frustrating and you find yourself asking why you’re doing this, and you just keep working away and hoping the right opportunity comes back.

“I think that’s what you’ve seen between Alex, Ross and myself. We’ve all paid our dues and done the bad stuff. Fortunately, we all find ourselves in a good position now.”

Chastain admits there is no guarantee that someone can climb the ranks that he, Moffitt and Bowman have, but the odds are worse if one doesn’t try.

“It might be six months, it might be six years, it might never happen,” Chastain told NBC Sports. “That’s the biggest thing. It’s the same way if you graduate college today and you try to go get a job. You’re not guaranteed to go find a job, not the one you want. So you might have to take a start-and-park job.”

Chastain had to start and park in the Truck Series, but he doesn’t regret it.

“You run 10 laps all weekend, but … you have a whole year to think about the track,” he said. “I see so much value in track time and laps on track.”

Moffitt was without a ride in 2017 when Red Horse Racing shut down after the fifth race of the Truck season. He later ran seven races for BK Racing in Cup.

“You’re just doing it for money,” Moffitt said of taking a ride with the low-budget Cup team that went through Chapter 11 bankruptcy before being sold during the 2018 season. “I did it at the end of ’17 after Red Horse shut down and I went and raced for BK Racing simply to pay bills. You’ve got to do what you’ve go to do to pay rent and to keep yourself relevant in the sport. It kept me going through the offseason and fortunately I landed the job at Hattori (Racing) the following year.”

That led to the Truck Series title.

It’s a crown he looks to defend with GMS Racing. One of his main challengers will be Chastain, who is with Niece Motorsports.

Chastain admits Bowman provides a lesson even for him.

“Something like Alex, I’d always heard him for years say Mr. (Rick) Hendrick is not going to call me, but (Hendrick) did,” Chastain said. “I think the same thing. Chip Ganassi is not going to ask to be in his Cup car. The Xfinity car, yeah, but that was a whole different situation. He’s never going to ask me to be in his Cup car, but I’ve got to keep trying. I’ll be there if they ever need me.

“Running this truck race and the Cup race Saturday night and running in the 30s will help me if that day ever comes. If not, I got to run a freaking Cup race and I got to come here with the opportunity to win in the Trucks.”

Chastain also has a sense of perspective when he looks at where he’s come.

“Go back one year and look at all that has happened,” he said, standing on pit road at Kentucky Speedway. “One year ago … I was just racing and having fun.”

Now he’s having more fun winning. Just like Moffitt and Bowman.

2. Lightning strikes at Daytona

More than 40 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes were recorded within an 8-mile radius of Daytona International Speedway during a two-hour period Sunday, according to data from Earth Networks and the company’s Total Lightning Network.

The lightning strikes were recorded from just before NASCAR stopped last weekend’s Cup race to shortly before series officials declared the race finished.

NASCAR’s policy is to stop all activity at a track for any lightning within an 8-mile radius of the facility.

Randy Smith, Homeland Security Specialist for Earth Networks, told NBC Sports that the first lightning strike within an 8-mile radius of Daytona International Speedway was recorded at 3:12 p.m. ET. That strike was located about 6.3 miles east of the track in the Ormond Beach area.

Cars were called to pit road soon after and the race was stopped at 3:18 p.m. ET, according to NASCAR.

There were nearly 30 cloud-to-ground lightning strikes from 3:12 – 3:45 p.m. ET Smith said, according to data from Earth Networks’ Total Lightning Network.

The network recorded no cloud-to-ground lightning strikes from 3:46 – 4:23 p.m. Drivers were back in their cars and close to restarting their engines when another lightning strike hit within the 8-mile radius.

Smith said data showed there was a lightning strike 6.7 miles south of the track at 4:23 p.m. About 10 lightning strikes within the 8-mile radius soon followed. Rain later followed.

NASCAR receives direct notifications from The Weather Company in Atlanta throughout a race weekend. There is a dedicated senior meteorologist at The Weather Company who is on call throughout the weekend with NASCAR. NASCAR also is in contact with representatives from law enforcement, medical support and other local, state and federal agencies monitoring weather conditions.

3. New Daytona class

This season’s Daytona points races saw a unique winning class.

Three of the five points race winners at Daytona International Speedway this year scored their first series win: Austin Hill in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, Michael Annett in the February Xfinity race, and Justin Haley in the July Cup race.

Ross Chastain won the July Xfinity race, giving him his second career series victory. The outlier this year was Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin, who scored his 32nd career win with that victory.

Since 2017, five of the 15 points race winners at Daytona scored their first series win. Joining Hill, Annett and Haley on that list are Erik Jones (2018 July Cup race) and Kaz Grala (2017 Truck race).

Since 2017, 11 of the 15 points race winners at Daytona scored either their first or second series win with the victory. Those that scored their second career series win at Daytona were: Chastain, Tyler Reddick (2018 February Xfinity race), Austin Dillon (2018 Daytona 500), Ryan Reed (2017 February Xfinity race), William Byron (2017 July Xfinity race) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2017 July Cup race).

4. Deal or no deal?

Justin Haley said he’s received offers for additional Cup races since he won last weekend’s rain-shortened race at Daytona International Speedway.

But Haley has said no deal to all of them. He’s not scheduled to run another Cup race this year and that’s fine with him.

“I’m so focused on the Xfinity stuff, and I really don’t like jumping out and doing a lot of extra races,” he said. “I just like to focus where my job is at.”

But what about the extra track time he could get?

“In my deal, I think the only place I can be super competitive (with Spire Motorsports) are the super speedways because of the 10-inch spoiler,” he said. “I think we saw at Talladega I was very competitive and I wrecked the race car that was our backup car that we took to Daytona. It was just as fast. I could have went up there and raced. I could have competed in the top 10 all day, but they were three wide and I didn’t want to put myself in that position because I already wrecked one of their car cars.

“It was so hard to keep in the back because I definitely could have went up there and raced. Everyone was like a back marker won … it was a personal and team decision to run in the back because we knew there would be a big one. I think taking that car to a mile and a-half probably wouldn’t be helpful for me. And those cars are so much easier to drive than Xfinity cars with the downforce and everything, you’re pretty much wide open. The Xfinity cars are the hardest cars to drive right now.”

The deal Haley wants is on the winning car. He wants to buy it but the team has such few cars it’s not willing to part with the car at this time.

“I’m in talks to get it,” Haley said. “It’s my first win car. I don’t care what it takes. I’ll probably end up with it somehow, if I have to buy another car (for the team) or whatnot.

Once Haley gets the car, where will he put it?

“I’d probably knock a wall down,” he said, “and put it in my living room.”

5. How times change

This weekend marks the ninth year Cup has raced at Kentucky Speedway but only about a third of the drivers who competed in that inaugural Cup race in 2011 are still in the series.

Twenty-nine of the 43 starts are no longer competing in Cup. That includes drivers such as Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bobby Labonte, Jamie McMurray, Marcos Ambrose, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin and David Reutimann, who finished second in that race to Kyle Busch.

The 14 drivers who ran in that race and remain in the series are Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski, David Ragan, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Landon Cassill, Paul Menard, Clint Bowyer, Michael McDowell.

 and on Facebook

Tyler Reddick wins Xfinity pole at Daytona

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Tyler Reddick won the pole for tonight’s Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway.

The defending series champion, who also won the pole for the February race at Daytona, claimed the top spot with a speed of 187.743 mph.

It is his third pole of the season. Richard Childress Racing has won the pole for seven of the last 12 races at Daytona in which qualifying was held.

NBC Sports analyst AJ Allmendinger, who is making his first start of the year with Kaulig Racing, qualified second (187.266 mph).

Michael Annett, who won at Daytona in February, will start third.

The top five was completed by Ross Chastain and Gray Gaulding.

Stefan Parsons, the son of former Cup driver Phil Parsons, qualified 29th in his series debut.

Hattori Racing Enterprises’ Austin Hill, who was set to make his Xfinity Series debut, was unable to make a qualifying attempt because of a drive line issue on his warmup lap and will not race tonight.

Click here for the starting lineup.

 

Entry lists for Cup, Xfinity at Daytona

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Get ready for lots of fireworks this 4th of July weekend – both on and off the race track at Daytona International Speedway.

This race marks the first time the 2.5-mile track hosts a Cup race without restrictor plates since 1988, utilizing instead the tapered spacer – which we’ve already seen used once this year at Talladega Superspeedway.

Both the Cup and Xfinity Series will be in action at Daytona. The Truck Series is off until July 11 at Kentucky Speedway.

Here are the updated entry lists for this weekend’s races:

Cup – Coke Zero Sugar 400 (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC)

There is a full 40-car field of cars and drivers entered for this race.

For the second time this season, Garrett Smithley is entered in Premium Motorsports’ No. 15 Chevrolet.

Quin Houff will drive the No. 15 for Premium Motorsports.

Ross Chastain will be in the No. 27 for Premium Motorsports.

B.J. McLeod makes his ninth start of the season for Petty Ware Racing in the No. 51 Ford

J.J. Yeley makes his third start of the season for Rick Ware Racing in the No. 52 Ford.

Joey Gase makes his first start of the season for Rick Ware Racing in the No. 53 Chevrolet.

Brendan Gaughan makes his third start of the season for Beard Racing in the No. 62 Chevrolet.

Justin Haley is back in the No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet.

And Parker Kligerman makes his eighth start of the season in the No. 96 Toyota for Gaunt Brothers Racing.

Last year, Erik Jones earned his first career Cup win in this race. Martin Truex Jr. was second and A.J. Allmendinger finished third.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – Circle K Firecracker 250 (7:30 p.m. ET Friday on NBCSN)

There are 42 cars entered. Four cars will not make the race.

Sheldon Creed makes his third Xfinity start of the season and the first for JR Motorsports in the No. 8 Chevrolet.

A.J. Allmendinger makes his first Xfinity start of the season in the No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet.

Joe Nemecheck makes his second Xfinity start of the season in the No. 13 Motorsports Business Management Toyota.

Riley Herbst makes his fifth start of 2019 in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

Joe Graf Jr. makes his second start of 2019 in the No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.

Chris Cockrum makes his third start for ACG Motorsports in the No. 25 Chevrolet.

Shane Lee makes his third start for H2 Motorsports in the No. 28 Toyota.

Austin Hill makes his Xfinity Series debut in the No. 61 Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota.

Jeffrey Earnhardt is on the entry list with the No. 81 XCI Racing Toyota but stated on Twitter that the team would not be competing this weekend. 

A spokesperson for True Speed Communications, which had done PR for XCI Racing, said they had no additional info and that its agreement with the team was only through Chicagoland.

Caesar Bacarella makes his third start of 2019 in the No. 90 DGM Racing Chevrolet.

Cody Ware makes his second Xfinity start of the season in the No. 99 B.J. McLeod Motorsports Toyota.

Kyle Larson won this race last year, followed by Elliott Sadler and Christopher Bell.

Click here for the entry list.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Brett Moffitt earns second Truck Series win in last three races

Getty Images
1 Comment

Brett Moffitt won for the second time in three races, capturing Friday night’s Camping World 225 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Chicagoland Speedway.

Moffitt did it with domination, not drama, as was the case in his previous win two races ago at Iowa Speedway. In that race, Moffitt finished second to Ross Chastain. But about an hour after the checkered flag, Chastain’s truck was found to be too low in post-race inspection, prompting NASCAR to take the win away from him and give it to Moffitt instead.

But in Friday night’s race, Moffitt – last year’s Truck Series champion – led a race-high 72 laps, nearly half of the 150-lap event. In taking the checkered flag, he held off runner-up Brandon Jones, who won Stage 1 Friday night, followed by Stewart Friesen, Harrison Burton and Austin Hill.

“It’s been a rough start to the year, but we’re getting it rolling now,” Moffitt told FS1. “We didn’t have the results early, but it’s getting a lot better now.”

In earning his ninth career truck race — and eighth in the last two seasons (2018 and 2019) — Moffitt has now won more truck races during that time than any other driver. It was also the second straight win at Chicagoland Speedway for Moffitt, who won last year’s Truck race there.

Sixth through 10th were Todd Gilliland, Chastain, Matt Crafton, Anthony Alfredo and Dylan Lupton.

It was an especially frustrating night for ThorSport Racing.

First, Ben Rhodes barely got through one lap before his truck began smoking heavily. He made his way to pit road for service, but was pushed by his crew back to the garage just a few moments later.

Rhodes missed the first practice session on Thursday with an engine issue. It’s unclear if Friday’s problem was related to Thursday’s issue.

It’s just sickening,” Rhodes told FS1. “It’s awful and puts us in a bad spot for the playoff picture. What hurts the most is I thought we had a truck that could win tonight. Just weird stuff has been happening.

It was just oil dumping out of the main seal, didn’t show anything in qualifying and it just starts doing it as I go through the gears coming up to the green. I don’t know what to say, just a big letdown.”

In the second stage, Johnny Sauter had motor issues that saw him drop from qualifying second to 23rd after repairs on pit road. Sauter finished 18th, the fifth straight race that he has failed to finish in the top 10 following his win at Dover.

Then, early in the final stage, Spencer Davis got into Grant Enfinger’s truck and put him in the wall, causing extensive damage to Enfinger’s ride. Davis then bounced off and into the side of Austin Wayne Self’s truck, putting both trucks out of the race.

Enfinger had led the most laps up to that point (49) and won Stage 2 prior to the incident with Davis. Enfinger also had a slight confrontation with Austin Hill after the race (see tweets below).

On top of all that, Matt Crafton had the engine replaced in his truck after Thursday’s practices, forcing him to start Friday’s race from the back of the field. While he managed to work his way into the top 10, Crafton finished eighth.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Brandon Jones (passed Grant Enfinger on the last lap)

STAGE 2 WINNER: Grant Enfinger (held off Brandon Jones on last lap)

Race results: Click here

Point standings: Click here

WHAT’S NEXT: Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 at Kentucky Speedway at 7:30 p.m. ET on July 11 on FS1

Follow @JerryBonkowski