Bump and Run

Bump and Run: How many Cup championships will Kyle Busch win?

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How many Cup championships will Kyle Busch win in his career?

Nate Ryan: He says he wants five, and I think he’s young enough to get there and has the chops to make Championship 4 consistently. It’s impossible to predict how many, though, because of the one-race showdown — as his 2019 title (which he won despite not having the best car) underscores. As long as he keeps putting the No. 18 in position, he should win at least one and probably two more before he turns 40.

Dustin Long: Three. This winner-take-all format just makes it so difficult for anyone to collect several series titles in a row. In the future, the gold standard for drivers will be three titles and Busch will get there.

Daniel McFadin: I think Busch can at least get to four titles before it’s all said and done. Repeating in this format is hard, he’s the first to do it in six years. But given that Busch has been in the Championship 4 in all but one year under the elimination format is evidence enough for me that if anyone can get more than two it’s him.

Jerry Bonkowski: At 34 years old and having won two titles in the last five years, I think it’s very possible Busch can win another two, maybe even three more championships in his career. Even though he’s now raced full-time in Cup for 15 years, he is so competitive that I don’t see him retiring for at least another 10 years. There’s lots of championship opportunities to be had in that period of time.

What will you most remember about the Cup championship race years from now?

Nate Ryan: The fastest car didn’t win because its pit crew put the tires on the wrong side. And the next strongest contender to the champion took itself out of the running because it asked a team member to do something extraordinarily difficult during the 12-second frenzy of the season’s most critical pit stop.

Dustin Long: The mistake by Martin Truex’s team with the tires and how sedate Kyle Busch’s demeanor seemed to be after he won his second series title. After being declared an underdog by many and ending a 21-race winless streak, one expected Rowdy to celebrate in a manner that would have included a bit more directed to those doubters.

Daniel McFadin: Martin Truex Jr.‘s tire mishap. In almost 25 years of watching and six years of covering NASCAR I can’t remember that happening in a race. For something so fluky to hamper Truex’s championship chances is remarkable. It proves anything can happen in a winner-take-all race.

Jerry Bonkowski: It was one of the calmest, most relaxed times I’ve ever seen Kyle Busch. He knew what was on the line and went out and simply did it. He didn’t get overly aggressive or tried to overdrive his car. He merely was patient, waited for the right opportunity, grabbed it for the taking at the right time and sailed on into the history books. One other thing: while the other three Championship 4 drivers and crew chiefs constantly talked about why they deserved to be the champs in interviews during the week leading up to the race, Busch and Adam Stevens were fairly quiet, didn’t fret about the 21-race winless streak and let their actions ultimately do the talking for them that needed to be done. That’s the way to do it.

Who wins a championship first: Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Alex Bowman or William Byron?

Nate Ryan: Chase Elliott, maybe as soon as next year.

Dustin Long: Denny Hamlin. Think Toyota’s advantage carries over to next year with many other teams more focused on preparing for the NextGen car in 2021. Hamlin will finally get his moment as a champion.

Daniel McFadin: It’s a tossup between Hamlin and Elliott. Aside from Hamlin’s winless season in 2018, he and Elliott at this point feel like the only drivers who can put together consistent seasons worthy of a championship. Elliott’s steadily improved over the last three years, winning six times, while Hamlin just produced his best year in a decade. My gut says Hamlin.

Jerry Bonkowski: This could be the hardest question we’ve had all year because it could just as easily be phrased “who among these drivers will never win a championship?” You may be surprised at my answer, but I’m going with William Byron. I think another year or two with Chad Knaus and he’ll be ready to be considered a true championship contender. I’m less optimistic that any of the others will win a title any time soon.

Bump and Run: Who will win the Cup championship trophy?

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Who do you think will win the Cup championship Sunday in Miami and why?

Nate Ryan: It just feels like Denny Hamlin‘s year.

Dustin Long: I’m sticking with the pick I made before the playoffs of Denny Hamlin winning the title. Two wins and six top-five finishes in the playoffs shows this team is strong enough to win the title and Hamlin has erased any doubts of him handling the pressure on such a big stage. Come Sunday, NASCAR will celebrate another first-time Cup champion.

Daniel McFadin: Denny Hamlin. His hiccup at Texas aside, it’s felt like momentum’s been on his side this year starting with his Daytona 500 win, propelling him to his best season in nearly a decade. Hamlin just feels at ease this year, no matter what’s thrown at him. His performance on Sunday exemplified that.

Jerry Bonkowski: Denny Hamlin. If there’s been one hallmark this season, it’s that he’s risen to the occasion when he needed to the most. I just get the feeling that after so many shortcomings in his career, this will finally be the year Hamlin comes through. All three of his challengers are former past champions. Now it’s the Virginia kid’s turn to shine in the Florida sun and earn his long overdue first championship.

Who do you think will win the Xfinity championship Saturday in Miami and why?

Nate Ryan: Christopher Bell. His team has had the most time to prepare and took advantage by leaving its car chief in North Carolina to work on its Toyota for the title.

Dustin Long: A year after finishing second to Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer returns to Miami to capture his first series tittle.

Daniel McFadin: Tyler Reddick. He’s won in every way imaginable this year and usually done it when he didn’t have the best car. The only difference between a potential title this year and last season is that it won’t be a surprise.

Jerry Bonkowski: Sentimentally, I’d like to see Justin Allgaier win. He’s kind of been the Denny Hamlin of the Xfinity Series, having come so close so many times, but never cashing in. But it’ll take a near-miracle for Allgaier to beat Christopher Bell in his Xfinity swan song. So, I’m picking Bell.

What is the more remarkable achievement: Joe Gibbs Racing tying Hendrick Motorsports’ record in the modern era of 18 wins in a season or JGR putting three drivers in the Championship 4 race?

Nate Ryan: Having three-quarters of the championship field in such a treacherous playoff structure might not happen again.

Dustin Long: Winning 18 of 35 races (and five of the nine playoff races) in what is supposed to be the most competitive era of the sport is the more remarkable achievement. JGR doesn’t place three of its drivers in the championship race without that season-long dominance that helped its drivers build playoff points and continue that success in the playoffs.

Daniel McFadin: The 18 wins. Putting three drivers in the final is impressive, but it’s not completely a surprise because Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch have been three of the best drivers this year and make up 17 of JGR’s 18 wins. That they were able to reach 18 wins with Erik Jones only winning once is astounding.

Jerry Bonkowski: There wouldn’t be three JGR drivers in the Championship 4 if it wasn’t for their combined 18 wins (includes one win by non-finalist Erik Jones). The latter is obviously the most remarkable achievement.

Bump and Run: Will Kyle Busch make it to the championship race?

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Has your mind changed on if Kyle Busch will make it to the championship race after another subpar playoff performance?

Nate Ryan: It has in that — for the first time in the playoffs — he doesn’t seem a lead-pipe cinch to reach the title race. Being regular-season champion could afford Busch stumbles in the first two rounds with nary a concern, but the mediocre effort at Martinsville was stunning and leaves him vulnerable. He probably still gets through, but there surely is major focus within the No. 18 camp about buckling down at Texas and Phoenix.

Dustin Long: Not yet but there is some doubt creeping in. This has been a disappointing playoffs for the No. 18 team. Busch ranks last among the eight remaining playoff drivers in stage points scored in the postseason. He ranks last among the eight remaining playoff drivers in total points scored in the postseason. He ranks sixth among the eight remaining playoff drivers in average finish in the postseason. His best finish in the playoffs was second at Richmond, a race Joe Gibbs Racing dominated. Other than that, he’s had only one top-five finish in the playoffs. He’s simply not running better than his competition. Of course, if he can get to Miami, what he’s done in the playoffs doesn’t matters and it’s all about that one race.

Daniel McFadin: He’s on less sturdier ground than he was at the start of the playoffs, but Busch still has Phoenix ahead of him. Having won the last two visits there, he’s still a major threat.

Jerry Bonkowski: I still think Busch will point his way into the championship race, but if he has a bad outing Sunday at Texas, all bets are off that he’s a potential lock to make it to Miami.

Did NASCAR get it right in its punishment of one crew member in the Denny Hamlin-Joey Logano altercation

Nate Ryan: Yes. Crew members never should be allowed to put their hands on opposing teams’ drivers unless in self-defense or to keep their own drivers out of imminent and serious danger. Sunday didn’t meet either threshold.

Dustin Long: Yes. NASCAR needed to penalize the Team Penske crew member for tossing Denny Hamlin to the ground or it would have been a signal to all crew members that it’s OK to do such things to drivers. For all the talk about this being a team sport, the drivers are the show and they should be protected from being assaulted by opposing team members.

Daniel McFadin: I think it’s an adequate punishment that should get the message across to team members not to take it too far when wading into a pit road scuffle like in Martinsville.

Jerry Bonkowski: While Logano’s tire specialist, Dave Nichols Jr., was wrong in taking Denny Hamlin down to the ground, this was a much larger situation of unnecessary chaos between numerous members of both teams. It involved more than just Nichols. I think NASCAR should have penalized even more members from both teams, or at the very least, issued a very heavy financial penalty to both teams – maybe $100,000 each – for being involved in the skirmish and to prevent further similar situations.

 

Who would you take to win the title right now? Martin Truex Jr. or the field?

Nate Ryan:  The head says Truex. The heart says it’s still Denny Hamlin’s year.

Dustin Long: I picked Denny Hamlin at the beginning of the playoffs and will stick with that but Truex is making it harder to do so.

Daniel McFadin: I’m taking the field. My gut still tells me Denny Hamlin is the man to beat right now.

Jerry Bonkowski: While it’s hard to pick against Truex with a series-high seven wins, I’m going with the field – and specifically Denny Hamlin. I still think this is Hamlin’s year (and best chance) to win the championship. And if he falls short, he may ultimately go on to join several other NASCAR greats to never have won even one Cup championship. 

Bump and Run: Is inverting the starting lineup a good idea?

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The starting lineup for the second Pocono Cup race on the doubleheader weekend there next year will be set by inverting the lead-lap finishers from the first race. What do you think of that decision?

Dustin Long: I’m fine with it. The distance for the second race will be long enough (350 miles) that those in the back will have a chance to work up to the front. Hey, it’s not like this is has never been done in racing. Short tracks around the country invert their starting fields in features. I’m all for new ideas in NASCAR and seeing if they work.

Daniel McFadin: I’m completely fine with it. Since teams will be using the same cars in both races, it helps ensure we don’t see similar versions of the same race play out over the course of the two days. Also, it may give teams that don’t see the front of the pack hardly ever at least some time in the spotlight. Had this been done this year, Michael McDowell and Daniel Suarez would have started on the front row in a hypothetical second race.

Jerry Bonkowski: While I like the idea in theory, in practice it could be suspect. What happens if a driver in the first race has no chance of winning and decides late in the race to slow down and falls in terms of positions – yet stays on the lead lap – to give himself a better start in the Sunday race? Fans, media and other teams could have a problem with that. It will be interesting to see how this experiment works, especially if we see more doubleheader weekends at other tracks in the future.

Nate Ryan: It’s a good twist, though it might need some tweaking (as Jerry notes above).

 

Hendrick Motorsports’ announcement Monday that it was changing crew chiefs on Jimmie Johnson’s team marks only the second time since 2010 that the organization has made an in-season crew chief change. What do you think of the move?

Dustin Long: Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team are not just about making the playoffs. They are about winning championships. Who would consider this group a championship contender at this moment? There’s your answer on the need to make the change at this point of the season.

Daniel McFadin: My first reaction upon reading Cliff Daniels’ bio and his history with the No. 48 team was why wasn’t he the first choice to replace Chad Knaus? It seems to me it would have allowed for a much smoother transition into the post-Knaus era for Johnson. It’s fascinating that a seven-time Cup champion is now paired with the youngest crew chief in the series, the opposite of the pairing between Knaus and William Byron, who is the youngest full-time Cup driver.

Jerry Bonkowski: Something had to be done, otherwise Johnson will not make the playoffs. And there’s no guarantee that a new crew chief will accomplish just that. When I first heard of the crew chief change, my first thought was Chad Knaus was coming back with Jimmie. If anyone could get Johnson into the playoffs, it’s Knaus. But I’ll be optimistic that Cliff Daniels will be up to the task and hope for the best.

Nate Ryan: The timing is curious — a road course race in the midst of a playoff points battle hardly seems the optimum place for a crew chief’s Cup debut — but the reasoning is simple. As he strongly hinted after New Hampshire, Johnson had reached the performance ceiling with the leadership of his current team after 21 races.

 

The Cup series is up to eight different winners in the last eight races. Will the streak continue this weekend at Watkins Glen (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)?

Dustin Long: Streak continues. Even though the top four in points have won during this stretch, there are enough drivers who can win at the Glen. Throw in some clever strategy and that could open the opportunities to a few others.

Daniel McFadin: My gut feeling is we’ll see the streak end, but Erik Jones is on a hot streak now and he finished fifth at the Glen last year. If it does continue, it’ll be through him.

Jerry Bonkowski: I thought for sure the streak would end at Pocono, but it didn’t. Because Watkins Glen is more of an equalizing race than most races on conventional ovals, I think it’s likely we could see a ninth consecutive different winner. But that will likely be the final race for this streak before it’s broken the following week at Michigan.

Nate Ryan: Between Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano, there will be too many strong contenders to keep the string alive. Brad Keselowski will have a fighting chance, though.

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.