Billy Scott

Missed opportunities: Pit call, flat tire leave Daniel Suarez short on points

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SPARTA, Ky. — After winning the pole Friday, Daniel Suarez, who has yet to score a Cup victory, noted that the past two races had first-time winners.

“Why not have a third one?” Suarez asked, clearly meaning him.

But missed opportunities and misfortune Saturday night kept his winless streak alive and also left him still outside a playoff spot on a night when he could have scored more points. He wasn’t the only one who lost a chance at a better result. A restart cost William Byron. A pit road penalty stymied Denny Hamlin.

It was Suarez, though, who was hurt the most Saturday night.

He entered the race three points out of a playoff spot. As the pole-sitter, he was in position to score stage points, while Ryan Newman, who held the final playoff spot entering the night, started at the rear because his car failed inspection.

Everything was there for Suarez to take advantage of Newman’s situation.

Suarez didn’t.

A pit call backfired and Suarez finished the first stage 14th, failing to score any stage points, after leading the first 49 laps. It marked the first time since Auto Club Speedway in March that the pole-sitter did not score points in the opening stage.

“I feel like the first stage, I feel like the call that we made on four tires instead of two tires, that kind of messed us up a little bit,” Suarez told NBC Sports.

Crew chief Billy Scott had Suarez stop for four tires under caution at Lap 49. Problem was that two cars, including winner Kurt Busch, took no tires and 10 cars took two tires. Suarez was the first car with four tires, but he restarted 13th.

“Really thought that we had run far enough at that point … that it would be the first of our two opportunities to put lefts on (for a four-tire change),” Scott told NBC Sports. “From those lefts there, you only needed them one more time.

“That was kind of the root of it. In hindsight, there were a lot of cars that took two tires and that kind of hurt. Restarting 13th and on the bottom (lane), and that was a big difference, too. Probably the only thing that is regretful with that is that we ended up not getting any stage points. Where we’re at in points, that’s important. Not getting stage points out of that deal definitely hurt and something we question for sure. After that, what really got us was our flat tire.”

That happened in the second stage. Suarez pitted on Lap 107 and was penalized for speeding. He fell two laps down and went three laps down on Lap 143.

With the pit call in the first stage and the flat tire in the second stage, Suarez scored no stage points.

That he got back on the lead lap and finished eighth consoled Suarez only so much.

“Bad decisions, little bad luck but were able to recover for a decent finish,” Suarez said of his night.

“We showed that we had the speed, so we just have to keep that one up.”

Problem was that Newman finished ninth. Suarez scored 29 points Saturday. Newman had 28.

Newman fell out of the final playoff spot. Erik Jones moved into that spot with his third-place finish, scoring 43 points. Suarez trails Jones by four points for that spot.

Byron is in a more comfortable position than Suarez in the season standings. Byron is 12th in the standings and is 46 points ahead of Newman, who is in the first spot outside a playoff position.

Byron appeared headed for a strong run before he was penalized on Lap 184 for jumping the restart. He restarted second to Clint Bowyer, who brought the cars through the restart zone slowly.

“(Bowyer) dragged it way down in the restart zone,” Byron told NBC Sports, “and I still, obviously kind of peddled it a little bit and got in front of him and gave it back and went with him after that and still got called for it. I don’t know. I felt like I gave enough back.”

Asked if he would talk to NASCAR about it, Byron said: “I understand the rule. I don’t think it was necessary to call it. It wasn’t like I killed him into Turn 1. I don’t know.”

Byron fell a lap down and finished 18th.

Hamlin also was frustrated despite finishing fifth. A penalty for an uncontrolled tire on Lap 147 derailed Hamlin’s hopes of winning and scoring more playoff points.

Unlike Suarez and Byron, who are winless this year, Hamlin has two victories and is bound for the playoffs.

Still, the penalty stung.

“That kind of sealed our fate to try to win,” Hamlin said. “Certainly we rallied. The reason we had a top-five finish was because we had a fast car and had some good restarts at the end and was able to get back up there.

“I’m ecstatic that we have race-winning speed every single week, but certainly we’ve got to tighten up the execution a little bit. Once we do that, we’ll be pretty good.”

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Penalty report from Michigan International Speedway

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Three crew chiefs have been fined for unsecured lug nuts during the NASCAR race weekend in Michigan.

Trent Owens, crew chief on Chris Buescher‘s No. 37 Chevrolet, and Billy Scott, crew chief on Daniel Suarez‘s No. 41 Ford, were fined $10,000 apiece for having one unsecured lug nut after the Cup race.

In the Xfinity Series, Randall Burnett, crew chief for race winner Tyler Reddick was fined $5,000 for one unsecured lug nut.

NASCAR also announced the indefinite suspension of Taylor J. Morse for behavioral level penalties, including violating its substance abuse policy.

Penalty report from Pocono

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NASCAR issued its weekly penalty report on Tuesday, with two individuals incurring violations. Here are the penalties issued:

  • Billy Scott, crew chief for the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang driven by Daniel Suarez, was fined $10,000 for loose or missing lug nuts discovered after Sunday’s Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway. It was the second time Scott has been penalized this season for a lug nut violation (also penalized after Dover).
  • The only other penalty was an indefinite suspension from NASCAR competition of Cup crew member John J. Graybeal for several violations, most notably the sport’s substance abuse policy, as listed in the NASCAR Rule Book. Graybeal also was penalized for violating behavioral general procedure and member conduct policies, but was not penalized for any confrontation with a NASCAR official, a NASCAR spokesman told NBC Sports.

No other penalties were assessed.

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Penalty report from Dover

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NASCAR has penalized the crew chiefs of two Cup teams for unsecured lug nut violations incurred in Monday’s Gander RV 400 at Dover International Speedway.

Billy Scott, crew chief for the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford driven by Daniel Suarez, and Chad Johnston, crew chief for the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet driven by Kyle Larson, were fined $10,000 apiece for unsecured lug nuts on their respective cars.

Larson finished third, his best showing of the season, while Suarez finished 11th.

There were no other violations in the Cup, Xfinity or Truck Series.

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Bristol winners and losers

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WINNERS

Busch family — Kyle wins for the third time this season and Kurt finishes a season-high second. Kyle Busch has won 10 of 16 Cup, Xfinity and Truck races he’s started this year. He has three Cup victories (in eight starts), three Xfinity wins (in four starts) and four Truck wins (in four starts).

Gambling crew chiefs — Adam Stevens’ call to stay out when the lead-lap cars pitted with 19 laps to go put Kyle Busch in the lead. Matt McCall made the same decision and Kurt Busch started second and finished second. Greg Erwin also made that call, putting Paul Menard fourth (he was 13th before the final caution). Menard finished sixth. Billy Scott also made that call for Daniel Suarez. He restarted third and finished eighth.

Ty DillonCrew chief Matt Borland’s decision to keep Dillon on track during a caution shortly before the end of stage 1 allowed Dillon to restart second. Dillon did the rest, nipping Clint Bowyer at the line to score his first career stage victory. It also marked the first stage points Dillon has scored this season. Dillon went on to finish 15th. It’s his fourth top-15 result in eight races. Last year, Dillon needed 31 races before recording his fourth top 15 of the season. 

Christopher BellHe won the Xfinity race and the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus on Saturday. Then on Sunday, car owner Joe Gibbs said “Christopher has a place with us long‑term.”

LOSERS

No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team: Kevin Harvick’s car failed inspection three times before the race, forcing him to start at the rear and serve a pass through penalty at the start of the race (along with having his engineer ejected and losing 30 minutes of practice this week at Richmond). A loose wheel forced a green-flag pit stop. It wasn’t until late in the race that he got back on the lead lap, finishing 13th with what some competitors said was one of the best cars on the track.

Denny Hamlin He had his third pit road speeding penalty of the season Sunday. Yes, he recovered to finish fifth and did win the previous week at Texas with that penalty (and one for an uncontrolled tire), but how much longer are things going to be sloppy on pit road for this team? 

No. 2 Team Penske team: Brad Keselowski lost a potential top-five finish when NASCAR penalized him for restarting in the wrong position with 14 laps to go. Keselowski finished 18th. Keselowski later said he originally lined up ahead of two cars that didn’t pit because they were hidden among the cars not on the lead lap. “As a team, we kind of miscommunicated,” Keselowski said. “There are four or five checks and balances to make sure that doesn’t happen and pretty much every one of them fell through, starting with me not seeing those cars mixed in with the lapped cars and kind of carrying all the way throughout the team.”