Bump & Run

Bump and Run: Does NASCAR need to make more judgment calls?

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Questions have been raised the past two Cup playoffs races about a driver spinning to create a caution. Does NASCAR need to do anything?

Nate Ryan: Establish some parameters and stick to them. Either everyone needs to know it’s OK to spin intentionally with a flat tire to cause a caution if it didn’t merit an initial yellow from the tower, or NASCAR needs to enforce its own rules on purposeful cautions with extreme prejudice. The best course of action is probably the former (for reasons that Tony Stewart and Kyle Petty have articulated well), but that message should be conveyed subtlely.

Dustin Long: The last thing NASCAR needs is an integrity issue in the playoffs, particularly with one race before the Cup, Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship fields are set. In that light, it makes sense to do what some might say would be an overreaction and state that any driver that causes a caution that seems suspicious on any level will be dealt a minimum two-lap penalty. The topic at ISM Raceway or in the championship races in Miami can’t be about cautions that alter those races but the racing on the track.

Daniel McFadin: Only if NASCAR can determine the spin wasn’t done in an effort to prevent further damage to the driver’s car and others. Logano and Wallace had tires going down. If they keep going and don’t (allegedly) spin on purpose, it’s possible the tires cause significant damage to their cars, resulting in debris being distributed on the track and possibly damaging other cars.

Jerry Bonkowski: NASCAR has to remain vigilant and penalize drivers if there is enough reasonable suspicion that the spin was intentional. For example, with Bubba Wallace at Texas, it appeared he indeed had a tire going down. I didn’t see that as an intentional action, but something he couldn’t control. NASCAR did not think it was intentional, too, and as a result did not penalize him. If a driver intentionally spins, or gives the appearance he did so, NASCAR should have a driver pit his car immediately and have its pit officials examine tires to see if indeed there was an issue with the tires that led to the spin.

 

Which driver among those outside a transfer spot — Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott — do you believe has the best chance at ISM Raceway to advance to the championship race?

Nate Ryan: Denny Hamlin. Still feels as if it’s his year.

Dustin Long: Denny Hamlin. Not going to bet against him and crew chief Chris Gabehart after all they’ve accomplished this season.

Daniel McFadin: Ryan Blaney. While Kyle Busch won the spring race, Blaney led 94 laps, including 44 in the final stage before he was overtaken by Busch and finished third. 

Jerry Bonkowski: Denny Hamlin.

 

What do you make of these playoffs? Joey Logano scored his first top five of the playoffs at Texas but is in position to make it to the championship race, while Denny Hamlin has one win and five top fives and could fail to advance to the title race.

Nate Ryan: They’ve reaffirmed the importance of playoff points in the first two rounds, but also that they still can’t save a driver from a poor finish n the third round.

Dustin Long: Unpredictable. The playoffs have provided a roller-coaster of emotions and storylines. Kyle Busch benefitted from a strong regular season and remains in contention despite an underwhelming playoffs. The Hamlin-Logano storyline has added to the playoffs in the last couple of weeks. Who would have thought that the title race could have the same four drivers as last year?

Daniel McFadin: Chaos! I love it. These playoffs have followed no script you could have predicted before they started. Two playoff drivers got their first wins of the season during the postseason and they’re among the final eight. It’s not like last year where it was assumed the “Big 3” of Busch, Harvick and Truex would make it and they did. While Harvick and Truex are in, there’s genuine tension over whether Busch can do the same. I can’t wait to see how it goes down.

Jerry Bonkowski: While I believe in the sport’s integrity, I admit some fans may be turned off if Logano reaches Miami and Hamlin doesn’t based solely on wins this season or overall performance during the playoffs. And if Logano wins another championship while guys with more wins – Martin Truex Jr. (7 wins), Kevin Harvick (4 wins), Hamlin (5 wins) and/or  Kyle Busch (4 wins) fall short again – the Cinderella storyline can only go so far before it turns off more fans, as well.

Bump and Run: Should NASCAR ditch the yellow line rule?

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Does NASCAR need to keep the yellow line rule at Daytona and Talladega? Or would a solution be to have the rule until the final lap of a race and just let anything be in play?

Nate Ryan: The only out of bounds lines at oval racetracks should be the walls. The point of the rule was to reduce the crashes that were resulting from cars that disjointedly shot from the apron back up the banking. As Sunday proved yet again, races at Daytona and Talladega always will feature large pileups. Trying to micromanage driving to reduce those risks is an exercise in futility.

Dustin Long: NASCAR needs to keep the rule for every lap but if the series officials want that line to be considered like a wall than change the rule: Any time anyone for whatever reason goes below the yellow line they will be penalized. And any time anyone forces someone below the yellow line they will be penalized. Put teeth into the rule.

Daniel McFadin: I think the rule needs to be kept in place. It’s there in an effort to keep the racing on superspeedways from getting out of hand. Making a rule apply to all but the final lap doesn’t make sense.

Jerry Bonkowski: The yellow line rule was implemented — at least in part — for safety reasons. So yes, the rule needs to be kept in place as it is. Taking it away for the final lap is a guarantee for chaos and greatly heightened unsafe conditions for drivers and fans.

 

The bottom four — Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer and William Byron — each likely need to win to advance in the playoffs. Which one of those four do you give the best chance of winning this weekend at Kansas?

Nate Ryan: Alex Bowman; he should have won there in May.

Dustin Long: Chase Elliott.

Daniel McFadin: I give the edge to Alex Bowman, he’s been the most consistent in the playoffs and was running well Monday before his wreck. 

Jerry Bonkowski: Any of the four can win at Kansas, but if I were a betting man, I’d put my money on Clint Bowyer. Kansas is his home track but he’s had a mediocre record there. It’s time for the odds to turn around in his favor.

 

What’s your take on the manufacturer involvement that has become even more prevalent in Cup at Talladega and Daytona?

Nate Ryan: It’s fine and perfectly understandable … provided it doesn’t reach the point of in-race meetings to chastise drivers about racing three wide for the lead. And it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing that it reached that point Sunday because it caused NASCAR and its fan base to air some righteous grievances about the diminishment of driver autonomy in Cup and why that’s bad.

Dustin Long: I understand why the manufacturers do it, but I don’t like it, particularly when it reaches the levels it did this past weekend at Talladega. Those in the garage noted to me that some drivers seemed to make curious moves at times if only to remain in good graces with their manufacturers. That’s not racing. That’s a puppet show.

Daniel McFadin: I get the that manufacturers want to work together to ensure their best chance at winning a race, especially Chevy since they haven’t had a car in the Championship 4 in the last two years. But dictating how drivers should race and possibly threatening consequences if they don’t fall in line feels wrong on multiple levels. The drivers are the ones in control of the car on the track, not manufacturer executives. Only the drivers know what’s best for them at any given moment.

Jerry Bonkowski: The manufacturers play such a key and pivotal part in the sport that if they want their respective teams and drivers to work together more at Talladega and Daytona, that should be their prerogative. It would be very difficult for NASCAR to try and rule against manufacturers in this instance, as it could severely damage relationships between the sanctioning body and manufacturers. Frankly, this appears to be a no-win situation where there is no answer or way to police against it.

Bump and Run: Playoff predictions

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Give us the driver who intrigues you the most heading into the Cup playoffs.

Nate Ryan: William Byron because he seems on the cusp of becoming the next inaugural winner in Cup.

Dustin Long: Denny Hamlin. With 35 career victories but no Cup titles, the question has been asked if Hamlin is one of the best drivers in NASCAR history without a championship. His four victories this season shows the speed he has. Crew chief Chris Gabehart has built this team for the playoffs. Now let’s see how Hamlin and his team fares.

Daniel McFadin: Kurt Busch. After a remarkably consistent season, he briefly slumped after his Kentucky win before surging at Bristol and Darlington. I think he’ll be extremely dangerous this postseason if he can avoid getting caught up in other people’s mistakes.

Jerry Bonkowski: Kurt Busch is the guy I have my eye on. The first playoff champion in 2004, Busch comes into this year’s playoffs with little to lose and everything to gain. He still doesn’t have a deal in place to return to Chip Ganassi Racing – or to race for another team, for that matter – for next season. Or, could he retire after this season, especially if he wins the championship? If Busch gets hot in the first two rounds, he could be unstoppable all the way through Miami.


Last year Stewart-Haas Racing put all four of its drivers in the final eight. What do you think are the chances Joe Gibbs Racing can put all four of its drivers in the final eight this year?

Nate Ryan: Very good. Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. are virtual locks through playoff points. If Erik Jones can continue his recent surge, JGR will have all its cars on the doorstep to the championship round.

Dustin Long: Odds are good for Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. to make it to the final eight with the number of playoff points they take into the postseason. Then it would be up to Erik Jones to work his way into the final eight.

Daniel McFadin: I’m not at all sure that JGR can pull that off. I think the field is too competitive and we’ll get at least one surprise who advances that far. Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch will get to the final eight, but I have reservations about Erik Jones and Martin Truex Jr.

Jerry Bonkowski: While I’d like to see it, I don’t think it’ll happen. I’ll be surprised the most if Erik Jones makes it through the second round, let alone the first. Sure, his Darlington win was big, but he needs a lot more of those in the first round or two to make it to the semifinal round. And given the scope of the competition, particularly among his own teammates, I just don’t see Jones going as far as Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin.


Which four drivers do you have racing for a Cup championship in Miami?

Nate Ryan: My Championship 4 picks on Feb. 12 were: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin. I’ll sub Truex for Elliott.

Dustin Long: Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski

Daniel McFadin: Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson

Jerry Bonkowski: Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick.


Who do you think will be the four drivers out after the first round of the Cup playoffs?

Nate Ryan: Aric Almirola, Alex Bowman, Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch.

Dustin Long: Ryan Newman, Aric Almirola, Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch

Daniel McFadin: Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola, William Byron and Clint Bowyer

Jerry Bonkowski: Erik Jones, Alex Bowman, William Byron and Ryan Newman.

Bump and Run: Going back in time on a throwback weekend

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With this throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway, give us a driver, race or era in NASCAR you would have liked to have seen in person and why?

Dustin Long: Always heard so much about Curtis Turner and his talent. Would have liked to have seen him behind the wheel once.

Daniel McFadin: I wish I could go back in time and attend the inaugural Brickyard 400. Seeing the packed grandstands in highlights is one thing. I can’t imagine what the atmosphere must have been like in person for the first NASCAR race at such a historic facility. 

Tim Richmond. (Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

Jerry Bonkowski: Actually, there are several drivers I’d love to have seen: Fireball Roberts, Tim Richmond, Lee Petty and Buck Baker.

As for races: I’d have loved to have been at the first Daytona 500 in 1959.

And as for era: While I’ve seen several black-and-white films over the years, I’d have loved to watch a race in person on the beach in Daytona long before they built Daytona International Speedway.

 

William Byron and Daniel Suarez are in position to each make the Cup playoffs for the first time. Byron is 75 points ahead of what would be the first driver out at this time. Suarez holds what would be the final playoff spot by two points. Do both make the playoffs?

Dustin Long: Not convinced Daniel Suarez remains in a playoff spot the next two races and makes it.

Daniel McFadin: I think William Byron makes it safely into the playoffs, while Daniel Suarez gets nicked thanks to a first-time winner.

Jerry Bonkowski: Daniel Suarez has to have two of the best races of his life at Darlington and Indianapolis to ensure he makes the playoffs. Anything less in either one and he could come up short, which would be a sad commentary on the strong season he’s had to date. As for William Byron, the main thing he has to do is play it safe at two of the most difficult tracks there are and not take any unnecessary chances that could lead to disaster. I think crew chief Chad Knaus will keep Byron in-check more than he ever has in the next two races.

 

Aric Almriola, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, William Byron, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Daniel Suarez are among the drivers who have not won a Cup race at Darlington. Who do you think will be the next from this group to win there?

Dustin Long: Joey Logano. Former champion’s day is coming at a track that often rewards champions.

Daniel McFadin: Kyle Larson had the car to win at Darlington the last two years, leading 408 laps combined but finishing 14th (2017) and third (2018). He ends a nearly two-year winless streak Sunday.

Jerry Bonkowski: This is a tough question. But I have to go with the veterans as having the best chance, in order: Logano, Busch, Newman, Bowyer and Larson. It just goes to show how difficult Darlington is when you have several of the most successful drivers in the sport – including two former series champions – that have yet to win at such a storied and legendary track.

Bump and Run: Time to be concerned about Kyle Busch’s winless drought?

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Kyle Busch is winless in his last 10 Cup races — his longest drought since 2017. He said after Saturday night’s race that “we’re flat out getting our ass kicked by our teammates so we’ve got to get better.” What kind of concern do you have with this team as the playoffs near?

Nate Ryan: Not too much concern. It was expected there would be a dropoff in results at some point for Busch. While it’s surprising he struggled at Bristol (though still scored a top five), and it comes on the heels of a disappointment at Michigan, he had blazing speed at Watkins Glen, Pocono and New Hampshire but without the results. Better to get the “slump” out of the way now before the playoffs begin for the No. 18.

Dustin Long: Minimal. His average finish is 8.3 during his “drought” and he averages 37.3 points per race, which is the equivalent of a fourth-place finish (with no stage points). Can understand if he’s frustrated but would not count this team out at all.

Daniel McFadin: None. Kyle Busch has finished in the top five or top 10 in five of the last six races. He’ll be fine. 

Jerry Bonkowski: I have mixed emotions. It’s hard to feel bad for Kyle Busch, given he’s leading the points. But at the same time, could he potentially have peaked too early in the season with his four wins? Or is he just in a slump and needs a big win at a place like Darlington or Indianapolis to get back on track? Sure, he’s struggled to reach victory lane of late, but it’s too early to start holding a tag day for the younger Busch brother.

Could Matt DiBenedetto become NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver this year, taking the title from Chase Elliott?

Nate Ryan: Highly unlikely he wins, but he could crack the top 10 or maybe even the top five.

Dustin Long: I don’t see it happening. Matt DiBenedetto’s popularity continues to grow but it still has a way to go to reach Chase Elliott’s level.

Daniel McFadin: As enticing as that story would be, I don’t see it. He didn’t even win the All-Star Race fan vote in May, losing to Alex Bowman. He’s got a lot momentum right now, but I think Chase Elliott would have to remove his name from contention for that to happen.

Jerry Bonkowski: While there’s no question Matt DiBenedetto has been one of the best feel-good stories of the season, he’d have to win Darlington or Indy (or both) and then a couple of playoff races and make it all the way to Miami in the final four before he’d have a shot at unseating Elliott. Still, I can easily see DiBenedetto finishing No. 2 to Elliott no matter how the rest of his season goes.

Who will score their initial Cup victory first: Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron, Daniel Suarez or someone else?

Nate Ryan: William Byron, sometime before the end of this season.

Dustin Long: William Byron. I like what Matt DiBenedetto has done lately but the equipment is behind what fellow Toyota team, Joe Gibbs Racing has, so it will be hard to beat that. Byron’s Hendrick team could be one to watch in the coming weeks. Remember how well Chevrolet teams worked together at Talladega in the spring? Byron’s teammate, Chase Elliott, won that race. Could things set up for Byron at Talladega in the playoffs?

Daniel McFadin: My gut is to say William Byron, but Matt DiBenedetto has outperformed both of them by a mile over the last two months. I’d watch out for him at Talladega, the Charlotte Roval, Richmond and maybe even Martinsville. I’d like to see him put together impressive runs in consecutive weekends rather than every other race.

Jerry Bonkowski: I’d love to see Matt DiBenedetto do it at either Darlington or Indianapolis to get himself into the playoffs. But honestly, given their success this season, my pick would be either Daniel Suarez or William Byron as the next first-time Cup winners.