Bump & Run panel selects superlatives of 2018 season

Leave a comment

Who is your driver of the year?

Nate Ryan: Kevin Harvick. It was his year in every way but the championship.

Dustin Long: Kyle Busch. While he won the same number of races (eight) as Kevin Harvick and had one less top five and top 10 than Harvick, the difference is that Busch won the Coca-Cola 600 of the sport’s four majors (Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600, Southern 500 and Brickyard 400) and Harvick won none this year.

Daniel McFadin: Brett Moffitt. It’s hard not to choose the driver who piloted an underfunded team – that had never won in the Truck Series before 2018 – through sponsor struggles and bested the elite teams in the series to claim the title. All 13 of his top-10 finishes were top fives. Also, he did it with a rad mustache.

Dan Beaver: Joey Logano was one of the few drivers able to stand up to the Big 3 on and off the track. Throughout the season, the other contenders seemed comfortable in their role as challengers to the dominators, but by declaring himself the favorite for the championship and backing it up, Logano set himself apart.

What is your race of the year?

Nate Ryan: Chicagoland. Probably the best finish of the season but also the most start-to-finish compelling action. (Honorable mentions: Daytona 500, Watkins Glen, Roval, Homestead-Miami Speedway.)

Dustin Long: The Roval. The final laps of that race were amazing and the last lap was mesmerizing with the contact between Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. allowing Ryan Blaney to win and then Kyle Larson’s dramatic effort by bouncing off the wall twice to beat Jeffrey Earnhardt’s stalled car to the finish line to gain the spot he needed to advance to the next round of the playoffs.

Daniel McFadin: The Cup race on the Charlotte Roval. It lived up to all the hype in a way a NASCAR race hasn’t (excluding the first Truck race at Eldora) since probably the 2011 finale with Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards. The last lap had everything — the contact and spins by Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney stealing the win, Aric Almirola passing enough cars to advance to the next round on a tiebreaker and finally Kyle Larson somehow willing his demolished No. 42 Chevrolet across the finish line and into the Round of 12 after hitting the wall twice coming to the checkered flag.

Dan Beaver: Chicagoland. The level of physical aggression in the closing laps on the 1.5-mile track may well signal a change in how races on intermediate speedways will be contested in 2019.

What is your moment of the year?

Nate Ryan: The last lap of the Roval and its aftermath, which took several minutes for a full processing of everything that had just occurred and why.

Dustin Long: A number of fans booed Kyle Busch during his winner’s interview after his dramatic last-lap duel with Kyle Larson at Chicagoland Speedway. As the booing persisted, Busch told fans: “I don’t know what you all are whining about, but if you don’t like that kind of racing, don’t even watch.” As fans want drivers to show more personality, they got it there with Busch telling off the haters.

Daniel McFadin: Ross Chastain earning his first career Xfinity win at Las Vegas. The series got a much-needed shot in the arm two weeks before when he led 90 laps at Darlington in his debut with Chip Ganassi Racing but came up short after his run-in with Kevin Harvick. Chastain sealing the deal in Vegas provided a win for a sport that’s seen it become harder and harder for drivers to advance through the ranks on pure talent without thorough sponsor backing.

Dan Beaver: The ringing of the siren in Dawsonville, Georgia on August 5 following Chase Elliott’s Watkins Glen win. While it’s been rung before for Chase Elliott, this was the first time of many that it rang for a Cup victory. It took quite a while in 2018 for the young guns to make some noise, but they closed the season strong.

Bump & Run: Should Kyle Busch have let Aric Almirola by at Phoenix?

2 Comments

Should Kyle Busch have allowed Aric Almriola to pass him for the lead late in Sunday’s race so that Almirola could have possibly won and bumped Kevin Harvick from the Championship 4 field?

Nate Ryan: This would be a much tougher question if there had been only a few laps remaining, but with 12 laps left, Almirola almost certainly wouldn’t have held on for the victory (as Adam Stevens, Busch’s crew chief, noted afterward). It still raises an intriguing ethical conundrum about the playoff structure, and it was telling that Busch said on the NBCSN postrace show that the thought had crossed his mind. That might have been surprisingly for a star who is as driven to win as anyone currently in NASCAR, but letting Almirola go might have been the smarter play with the restart had it occurred with two laps to go.

Dustin Long: I wouldn’t do it in any circumstance. Not because of ethics or anything like that, but who is to say you aren’t helping the driver that beats you the next week? Sure, Kyle Busch likely would be a favorite over Aric Almirola but Almirola would have the full backing of Stewart-Haas Racing for that race and that team has been strong. Trying to do something like that often backfires in ways one can’t see at the time. Just race.

Daniel McFadin: No. That’s not in Kyle Busch’s DNA and it would just lead to a week of people complaining about Busch not racing at 100 percent and who wants that?

Dan Beaver: Absolutely not. NASCAR has big enough issues with mid-week penalties and the perception outside the sport that cheating is endemic without adding manufactured finishes.

Which is more surprising: William Byron has led more laps this season than Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Larson is winless this season or Matt Kenseth scored his first top 10 of the season Sunday in his 14th start for Roush Fenway Racing.

Nate Ryan: Johnson’s disappointing season still surprises, and it’ll still seem just as unfathomable that the season finale will end Sunday with either Johnson or Denny Hamlin – and very likely both – winless during a full season for the first time in their Cup careers.

Dustin Long: All of them are shocking but will have to admit I didn’t see Kyle Larson going winless, especially with how close he came early in the year to winning. 

Daniel McFadin: Kyle Larson not having a win. It’s almost unfathomable that he’s finished in the top two six times this season and led 737 laps and not been to Victory Lane. 

Dan Beaver: Kyle Larson’s winless streak. He seemed so dominant on 2-mile tracks in 2017 and was improving across the board. He ran well in a number of races this year and should have been able to capitalize on a mistake by the Big 3 at some point during the year.

Toyota is the only manufacturer with drivers in each of the three championship races this week: Noah Gragson and Brett Moffitt in Trucks, Christopher Bell in Xfinity and Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. in Cup. What odds do you give Toyota of sweeping all three driver titles?

Nate Ryan: With 42 percent of the aggregate championship field, let’s call it slightly less than 50-50. Though TRD has the fewest number of entries in Xfinity, I think that might be the manufacturer’s best shot at the championship.

Dustin Long: I agree with Nate in that Christopher Bell is the favorite in the Xfinity Series. I think it could be tough for the Toyotas to beat the Fords in the Cup race. Still, I give Toyota about a 40 percent chance of winning all three driver titles this weekend.

Daniel McFadin: I’ll put it at 50 percent. If Brett Moffitt doesn’t win in Trucks, it’ll probably be Johnny Sauter. Even though there’s two Toyotas in that series, I think they’re at a bigger disadvantage there.

Dan Beaver: Fairly high: 80%. Gragson and Bell have been dominant at times in their respective series. Busch is going to have a spirited battle with Kevin Harvick that will ultimately come down to track position on the final stop.

Bump & Run: Is Truex too nice? Was Logano’s move a cheap shot?

2 Comments

Do you agree with Dale Earnhardt Jr. that Martin Truex Jr. is too nice on the track at times and that contributed to him not winning Sunday at Martinsville? Why or why not?

Nate Ryan: It’s easy to armchair quarterback that Truex should have made a preemptive strike by roughing up Joey Logano earlier. But as discussed Monday on NASCAR America and written about here, that’s just not his style. Yes, his nature probably has cost him some wins, but it’s hard to criticize him for being a good guy with a principled way of racing.

Dustin Long: Yes. He’s winless in 78 Cup races on short tracks and winless in 55 Cup races at restrictor-plate tracks — places where being nice isn’t always a good thing.

Daniel McFadin: I don’t think so. Truex’s proven his style of racing works by winning 17 races in the last four years. Aside from some harmless door banging in the final five laps, Truex got by Logano his way and put himself in the lead after he started the race from the rear. Unfortunately for Truex, he wasn’t ready for Logano to get by him in his way.

Dan Beaver: Yes: Given the current state of short track racing, his approach is not going to be very successful.

Martin Truex Jr. said Joey Logano’s move on the last lap was a cheap shot. What do you think?

Nate Ryan: It might not have been classified as dirty, but it also fell short of being elegant (which was to be expected given the last-chance circumstances).

Dustin Long: That’s racing, particularly on a short track. Truex may call it a cheap shot but NASCAR deemed it a legal move. Case closed.

Daniel McFadin: It was the last lap. Winner is part of the championship four. Truex wasn’t wrecked. Nothing cheap about it.

Dan Beaver: Logano’s move was right on the edge. His bump-and-run was not as severe as it appeared, but Truex got onto the throttle a little too aggressively in the dirty outside lane. Without his fishtail, the two drivers would likely have crossed under the checkers in a photo finish.

What was the best quote you heard after Sunday’s race?

Nate Ryan: Hard to argue with Dale Earnhardt Jr. that Martin Truex Jr.’s postrace interview was a top-five contender, but the answer is his crew chief’s lighthearted dig about baseball bats and jack hammers. If Cole Pearn is an option for “who had the best quote or tweet?”, the default  answer is always Cole Pearn.

Dustin Long: Kevin Harvick on trying to pass Ryan Newman late in the race: “His car gets as wide as his neck sometimes.”

Daniel McFadin: “He’s a racer and should know better than to say that. That was as clean a shot as you can have in a race like this.” – Roger Penske on Martin Truex Jr.’s “cheap shot” comment.

Dan Beaver: Martin Truex Jr.’s “They won the battle, but he didn’t win the damn war.”

Do you think the Big 3 all make it to Miami now?

Nate Ryan: Yes.

Dustin Long: Yes. It will be the Big 3 and Joey Logano racing for the championship in Miami.

Daniel McFadin: I don’t have enough conviction in me to say yes. I think Martin Truex Jr. is going to trip over himself at either Texas or Phoenix. 

Dan Beaver: I didn’t think they were all going to make it in week one of the playoffs and my opinion hasn’t changed. I think one of the others win the next two races and either Kyle Busch or Kevin Harvick stand alone among the Big 3.

Bump & Run: Who will win an 8th Cup title first? Jimmie or Chad?

Getty Images
3 Comments

With Hendrick Motorsports announcing Wednesday that seven-time champions Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus will not paired together next year for the first time since 2001, the NASCAR on NBC team debated some of the key topics moving forward.

Who wins an eighth title first? Jimmie or Chad?

Jeff Burton: Jimmie Johnson

Kyle Petty: There will be no 8th title. Remember I’ve seen this show with my Dad and Dale Inman. My Dad was never really a threat again. Dale won an 8th championship with Terry Labonte. I don’t believe William Byron to be the next Terry Labonte. Together they were once “The Team.” Time and the sport changes.

Dale Jarrett: I think if it’s done, it’s going to be Jimmie. I think he’s got a couple of more opportunities at this.

Parker KligermanJimmie. Nothing against Chad, as I think he is as much a part of their success as Jimmie, but the tool with which Chad will go to battle with is still being sharpened and shaped. Jimmie, on the other hand, has experience and cunning to make up for any pitfalls.

Nate Ryan: Just like Dale Inman, Knaus will win his eighth with another driver.

Dustin Long: Neither. They both remain with seven titles.

Daniel McFadin: Knaus. His expiration date as a crew chief is further out than Johnson’s as a driver but not by much. I don’t think Johnson will ever reach eight.

Dan Beaver: Perhaps Chad, but probably neither. All good things must come to an end and Jimmie Johnson will not earn another. He’ll come close a time or two just like Richard Petty after winning his seventh in 1979 but something will continue to keep him from advancing to the final round. Chad’s opportunity to win another championship will not come with William Byron, but it is hard to know with whom he’ll be paired in the future.

 

Which of the last six races is the best for Jimmie and Chad to win together this year?

Jeff Burton: Martinsville

Kyle Petty: My Magic 8-Ball says … ”None”

Dale Jarrett: I think they have two. I think this weekend at Talladega, obviously, is an opportunity for anybody, but I think Martinsville is probably still their best shot that they have. With Jimmie’s experience and the things they’ve been able to do short-track racing, I think that is their best shot. I think even that’s a long shot from what I’ve seen this year.

Parker Kligerman: Martinsville – Need I say more?

Nate Ryan: Texas Motor Speedway. The top-five speed at Las Vegas Motor Speedway bodes well for their final race together at the 1.5-mile oval they’ve conquered seven times.

Dustin Long: Martinsville but even that won’t be easy. While he won the playoff race there in 2016, Johnson has two top-10 finishes in his last eight starts. Still, this is a track with so much history for Hendrick Motorsports that it would be fitting if it happened there.

Daniel McFadin: Martinsville. Their nine grandfather clocks speak for themselves.

Dan Beaver: Jimmie Johnson has nine wins at Martinsville with the most recent coming in 2016. That is a track where they can pull a little strategy at the end to get track position and Johnson knows how to do the rest.

 

Who is the next driver at Hendrick Motorsports to win the title?

Jeff Burton: Chase Elliott

Kyle Petty: Chase Elliott… or ask me again when Jimmie retires and we see who takes his place!

Dale Jarrett: Chase Elliott. That’s the next at Hendrick Motorsports and could be this year.

Parker Kligerman: Jimmie Johnson. He will win one more before he hangs up the helmet. At least that is what the race fan in me wants to believe.

Nate Ryan: Chase Elliott. He’ll be among the championship four this season and could capture the 2019 title.

Dustin Long: Chase Elliott. It won’t be this year but his time is coming.

Daniel McFadin: Chase Elliott, just due to his current success and amount of experience in top equipment. Though I wouldn’t put it past Alex Bowman to sneak one in before William Byron starts heating up.

Dan Beaver: Chase Elliott in 2018.

Bump & Run: Debating best racing movies, memorable Talladega moments

Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Whenever NASCAR returns to Talladega, the movie “Talladega Nights” is often brought up. What is your favorite racing movie and why?

Nate Ryan: In the documentary category, it’s “Senna.” The chronicle of one of Formula One’s most extraordinary talents and personalities is so emotionally gripping, you can be captivated without knowing anything about racing. In feature films, it’s “Le Mans” (because Steve McQueen) and “Winning” (because Paul Newman).

Dustin Long: “Winning.” The 1969 movie, which starred Paul Newman,  Robert Wagner and Joanne Woodward, is a classic. A close second for me is “Senna,” the powerful 2010 documentary of Ayrton Senna.

Daniel McFadin: The cinematic masterpiece that is “Days of Thunder.” OK, “masterpiece” may be a strong word, but it’s the best depiction you could ask for of NASCAR in cinema, and I try to watch it every year before the Daytona 500. It’s not too far over the top and the on-screen racing is gripping and fun. Even though it wasn’t a breakout hit at the box office, “Days of Thunder” undoubtedly played a factor in the rise of NASCAR’s popularity heading into the 1990s. The sport could use another film like it right now and not a farce like “Talladega Nights.”

Dan Beaver: “Greased Lightning.” It was not only a good racing movie but an exceptional biopic of Wendell Scott and an inspirational underdog story.

What is your most memorable Talladega moment?

Nate Ryan: There are too many surreal episodes to choose just one … but five stand out from those covered in person:

The April 6, 2003 race in which Dale Earnhardt Jr. rebounded with a damaged car on a controversial pass for the lead below the yellow line.

Everyone thinks of multicar crashes at Talladega, but Elliott Sadler’s never-ending tumble down the backstretch in the Sept. 28, 2003 race still registers.

Jeff Gordon’s winning celebration on April 25, 2004, being met by a few thousand beer cans hurled by angry masses showing their displeasure with a yellow flag that ended Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s bid at a win (and virtually created the overtime rules).

The wicked airborne crash of Carl Edwards into the frontstretch catchfence during the final lap on April 26, 2009, injuring several fans as Brad Keselowski scored his first Cup victory with the underdog James Finch team.

—The massive cloud of dirt and dust that erupted in Turn 4 on Oct. 7, 2012 when a block by Tony Stewart in the last turn helped trigger a 25-car pileup and left Earnhardt with a concussion that sidelined him for two races.

Dustin Long: So many. Here are a few I’ve covered in person:

— Dale Earnhardt’s final Cup win in October 2000. He went from 18th to first in the final five laps to win in one of the most riveting charges to the checkered flag that I’ve witnessed.

— The April 2004 race when fans littered the track after Jeff Gordon won. Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were side by side when the final caution came out. Gordon was declared the leader and won when the race when it could not be resumed before the checkered.

— The October 2006 race. Dale Earnhardt Jr. led the last lap with Jimmie Johnson and Brian Vickers trailing. Johnson made a move to get under Earnhardt and Vickers followed. Vickers hooked Johnson, turning Johnson’s car into Earnhardt’s car, wrecking both. Vickers scored his first career Cup win.

— The October 2008 race where Regan Smith took the checkered flag first but Tony Stewart was given the win by NASCAR because it stated that Smith illegally passed Stewart by going below the yellow line coming to the finish.

— The April 2009 finish where Carl Edwards’ car flew into the fence in his last-lap duel with Brad Keselowski, who scored his first Cup win and did it for car owner James Finch.

Daniel McFadin: It may not be my most memorable moment, but it’s what popped in my head: A year before his dramatic final Cup win, Dale Earnhardt showed off his magic in the 1999 IROC race at Talladega. Coming to the checkered flag in second place, Earnhardt shot to the outside of Rusty Wallace in the tri-oval. He went as far wide as you possibly could and beat Wallace to the line without any help. Fun fact – all three of his 1999 IROC wins came on a last-lap pass.

Dan Beaver: Bobby Allison’s watershed 1987 accident that forever changed racing on the superspeedways.

Who wins a race first: Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin or Aric Almirola?

Nate Ryan: Even after his weak showing at Dover International Speedway, Kyle Larson remains too talented to stay winless, and his up-and-down season could foreshadow a surprise win at Talladega or a redemptive victory at Kansas Speedway.

Dustin Long: Denny Hamlin at Martinsville.

Daniel McFadin: Aric Almirola. He’s fed up with coming up short this year and barring being involved in a wreck I expect to see him flex his restrictor-plate muscles this weekend.

Dan Beaver: Kyle Larson wins at Kansas in two weeks. But if he can’t pull it off, then Denny Hamlin grabs the checkers at Martinsville.