Bump & Run

Bump and Run: All-Star Race picks, surprising wins, and more

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Who will have a more wrecked winning car — Erik Jones, who was listed as being involved in three accidents on the way to winning the non-points Busch Clash in February, or the winner of Wednesday night’s All-Star Race at Bristol?

Dustin Long: Erik Jones’ car. Might not be by much.

Daniel McFadin: Erik Jones. It would take a lot for someone to make it to the end of the All-Star Race with more damage than that and win … unless that damage came on the last lap.

Jerry Bonkowski: The winner of the All-Star Race. With $1 million on the line, it’s unlikely any car will get through the race without some damage. The driver with the least damage wins, period.

 

Who is your pick to win the All-Star Race?

Dustin Long: Joey Logano. He isn’t afraid to beat and bang. This could be his race.

Daniel McFadin: Jimmie Johnson. He’s pissed off, has been fast and was a frontrunner at Bristol back in May.

Jerry Bonkowski: Kurt Busch. I’m going to go with a guy who knows his way around Bristol quite well and who has had a great deal of success there.

 

What do you put the chances that Jimmie Johnson makes the playoffs?

Dustin Long: 85%. He’s already been disqualified from one race, losing all but one point from that event, and missed Indy, and is still in a playoff spot. It might not be comfortable for his fans, but I don’t think they should sweat it too much.

Daniel McFadin: 90%. He’s been too fast to not make the playoffs in some form.

Jerry Bonkowski: I’m convinced Johnson will make the playoffs, but his success and consistency needs a big jump upward, lest JJ is eliminated at the end of the first round.

 

Cole Custer’s win was surprising. So what’s the most surprising NASCAR win since you’ve seen since following the sport?

Dustin Long: The one that comes to mind immediately is James Buescher’s 2012 Xfinity Series win at Daytona. He was 11th entering the final corner. He won when the top 10 cars wrecked. It was his first NASCAR win and only Xfinity Series victory.

Daniel McFadin: If not Trevor Bayne’s Daytona 500 win, it would be Chase Elliott‘s Roval win last year. He drove nose first into a tire barrier, came back and won. It was shocking to say the least.

Jerry Bonkowski: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s win in the summer race at Daytona in July 2001, less than five months after his father was killed in the Daytona 500. That was one of the most surprising and emotional wins in any sport I’ve covered in my career.

Bump and Run: Impressive Cup drivers from season’s first half

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1) With the regular season at the halfway point, what Cup driver or team has impressed you the most?

Dustin Long: Ryan Blaney. First year with crew chief Todd Gordon and has been in position to win multiple races. Team has been fast from the start. 

Daniel McFadin: Brad Keselowski. He’s working with a new Cup crew chief for the first time in a decade and he hasn’t faltered much, winning twice, including the Coca-Cola 600 for the first time. 

Jerry Bonkowski: Chase Elliott has had an up-and-down season at times, but he has been solid since NASCAR returned from the pandemic. He very easily could have three wins and maybe even four if it hadn’t been for his crash at Darlington. If he can keep his momentum going, he’s definitely a championship contender.

 

2) What Cup driver or team has surprised you the most in the first half of the regular season?

Dustin Long: John Hunter Nemecheck and Front Row Motorsports. He was overshadowed by the others in the rookie class going into the season but has shown well and has seven top-20 finishes in the first 13 races. Not sure if a lot of people would have predicted that at the start of the year for Nemechek and his team.

Daniel McFadin: Cole Custer and not in a good way. He was my pre-season pick to be the best rookie out of the gate and he’s done nothing to back it up, earning just one top 10 and finishing in the top 15 just once in the last nine races.

Jerry Bonkowski: Team Penske in general and Ryan Blaney in particular. I’ve been very impressed with Blaney particularly of late. He’s earned a win at Talladega and six top-five finishes in the last seven races.

3) Who would be your pick for top Cup rookie at this point in the season?

Dustin Long: Tyler Reddick has been the standout this season and the rookie who has run more consistently at the front. 

Daniel McFadin: Tyler Reddick easily. He’s the only rookie with a stage win and he has three top 10s, including a top five, through the first 13 races.

Jerry Bonkowski: Tyler Reddick, who is the highest-ranked rookie in the Cup standings, with one top-five and three top-10 finishes. I really like what I’ve seen from Reddick. But I’ve also been pleasantly surprised at the performance of fellow rookie John Hunter Nemechek.

 

4) Which driver or team do you think can make the biggest improvement from the first half of the regular season to the second half?

Dustin Long: I’m waiting to see what Matt Kenseth and the No. 42 team will do. After finishing 10th at Darlington in his first race back, Kenseth has not finished better than 15th since. With the way the Chevys are strong this year, got to think his results will turn around soon.

Daniel McFadin: I think Alex Bowman is going to put together a solid back half after a rather disappointing output since NASCAR returned. He has two top 10s in the last three races, but that followed a stretch of only one top-15 finish over four races when he had a car capable of winning in both Charlotte races. He has lots of promise, he just needs to put together complete races.

Jerry Bonkowski: Jimmie Johnson has had some strong performances during the first half of the season. He already has two top-five finishes in the first 12 races, just one less than he had in all of last season. And he is already halfway [six] to the number of top-10 finishes he had all of last season. I firmly believe it’s just a matter of time before he breaks his three-plus year winless streak.

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.