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

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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

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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.

Bump & Run: Is Kyle Larson’s Southern 500 run a sign of progress?

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What do you make of Kyle Larson not winning the Southern 500 after dominating the race? A sign of progress based on the speed the car had or a sign that the team can’t find a way to win in a season where Larson no wins, five runner-up finishes and two third-place results?
Nate Ryan: It was more indicative of the importance of lane choice on restarts at Darlington Raceway than anything else. If the pit crew is able to dispatch the No. 42 Chevrolet about a tenth of a second earlier, Larson restarts on the inside and likely wins the Southern 500. It still was a highly encouraging week for Larson, whose team regained the speed that had been missing the past two months by installing some last-minute components on the car from a test at Richmond Raceway
Dustin Long: I look at how encouraged Kyle Larson was moments after climbing from his car after the race. Instead of being dejected with a win going away, he talked on pit road about how that car was the best he’s had in more than a year.
Daniel McFadin: It showed that no matter how good a car Larson has, if you take away the high lane from him at a track like Darlington he becomes mortal. That was a result of a marginally slower pit stop than Brad Keselowski‘s team. The No. 42 team has lacked the killer instinct it had in closing out races last year.
Dan Beaver: Finishing second or third has to be getting a little tiresome overall, but this week might be a different. Larson has finished in the top three seven times in 2018, but this is the first time he has backed up one top five with another so he should be encouraged.
What did Ross Chastain’s performance this past weekend driving for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Xfinity event at Darlington show you?
Nate Ryan: He is worthy of consideration for a top-tier Xfinity Series ride.
Dustin Long: It showed he belongs in the conversation for some open rides in the series this season.
Daniel McFadin: It solidified Chastain as a wheelman, something he’s shown in over-performing with JD Motorsports. But it also exemplified the stark difference in equipment between the frontrunners in Xfinity and the teams running just outside the top 12. It’s night and day.
Dan Beaver: The equation of car versus driver skews slightly toward car. Before Chastain, everyone who has driven the No. 42 this year has scored at least a top 10. All but Justin Marks has a top five.
The only way the 16-driver Cup playoff lineup changes this weekend at Indianapolis is if a driver outside that group wins. Of those needing to win to make the playoffs, who would you give the best chance of doing so?
Nate Ryan: Ryan Newman. The Indiana native is a past winner of the Brickyard, and Richard Childress Racing seems to have its Chevrolets trending in the right direction. How delightfully apropos would it be if Newman, who finished runner-up in the 2014 playoffs despite going winless, were to upset the most points-dependent playoff grid in history?
Dustin Long: Ryan Newman has had better performances lately and crew chief Luke Lambert is good at strategy. That’s the type of combination it will take for such a win this weekend.
Daniel McFadin: Daniel Suarez if he can use what he learned at Pocono in a near-winning performance. But the No. 19 team does not have momentum entering Indy. They’ve placed 11th or worse in the last three races.
Dan Beaver: Quite frankly, it’s impossible to predict. Anyone currently outside playoff contention who can win will do so with race strategy. If it comes down to a driver who suddenly finds a burst of speed, Daniel Suarez or William Byron are most likely because of the strength of their organizations at Indy.

Bump & Run: Favorite Bristol memories

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What is your favorite Bristol memory?

Kyle Petty: Watching Harry Gant show those high school boys in Grand National/Busch series how to get it done at Bristol. We would sit on the hill on the backstretch and cheer him on!

Parker Kligerman: My first race there was in 2010. We wrecked in qualifying at the spring race because of a mechanical issue and missed the race. I was doing a part-time schedule in NXS & had good runs but failed to get a top 10. So when we came back in August I really wanted/needed a good run and we had an awesome race and finished in the top 10 for my first time. This was the start of many good races for myself there including second place in trucks in 2012. … Some of my favorite memories growing up were the onboard cameras looking backward at the cars following where at Bristol you could see how much undulation the car was going through and how close they would get to each other’s bumpers. It was awesome and really made me want to race there one day. I miss the old track and think I would have been really good on it. 

Nate Ryan: The first night race I ever covered there, when Jimmie Johnson flipped off Robby Gordon, an angry Elliott Sadler punched the side of an ambulance, and Ward Burton threw his heel pads at Dale Earnhardt Jr. and then said he wished he would have had “something else to have shot” through his window. Oh, and Jeff Gordon bumped Rusty Wallace aside with two laps remaining to end a 31-race winless streak. All that happened on Aug. 24, 2002.

Dustin Long: The 1999 night race when Dale Earnhardt “rattled the cage” of Terry Labonte and spun him out of the lead. What was so memorable wasn’t the incident but the reaction. Several minutes after the race ended, they played the radio call of the final lap on the track’s pa system and the fans — it seemed more than half were still in the stands at the time — booed the moment Earnhardt’s hit wrecked Labonte. Incredible atmosphere.

Daniel McFadin: Covering my first race there last August. The track sneaks up on you, as there’s not much in the town to suggest one of NASCAR’s most famous tracks is located there. It suddenly appears around a bend as you approach it. Then walking up out of the tunnel in the infield was nothing short of awe-inspiring. Bristol is a wonder.

Dan Beaver: The 1996 Night Race. Until this year, that race always fell on or near my father’s birthday. That year the race landed on his birthday and I got a chance to take him for our first trip to a track that had always been one of our favorites. 

We know who the Big 3 are. Who would be your pick to make it the Big 4 right now?

Kyle Petty: There is no Big 4 … and it’s too late for someone to join the Party. Harvick, Busch and Truex are in a league of their own. Someone would have to win 40% of the remaining races (5) for me to consider them a part of this group.

Parker Kligerman: Brad Keselowski. I’ve been saying it for months, that the 2 car is the best at executing and using strategy to steal track position from faster cars. As of this time, barring disaster, they are the fourth best team. 

Nate Ryan: If forced to pick a fourth who will race for the championship, it would be Kurt Busch based on his recent results and veteran experience. But after Michigan, the separation between Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. and the rest of the field seems as wide as ever. There is little confidence in picking a fourth driver to join them.

Dustin Long: Although he hasn’t won this year, I’d make Kurt Busch as the fourth based on recent performance. His sixth-place finish at Michigan was his fifth consecutive top-10 result.

Daniel McFadin: I’m going to go with Chase Elliott. His win at Watkins Glen is one of four consecutive top 10s. My midseason pick, Kyle Larson, has basically disappeared since his runner-up finish at Chicagoland with just two top 10s in the last six races.

Dan Beaver: I don’t think anyone belongs in their league or is likely to get there. The way the playoffs work, someone will join them with a theoretical chance for the championship at Homestead, but no one is going to seriously challenge. 

What is a racing event that you’ve never attended but is on your bucket list and why?

Kyle Petty: Isle Of Man TT races! If you know what it is, you know why … nuff said.

Parker Kligerman: 24 Hours of Le Mans. Apparently it’s an incredible festival and there is just something sacred about that race. Though I don’t want to just attend but definitely race in it … one day … one day. 

Nate Ryan: The 24 Hours of Le Mans because of its history, tradition and fan appeal. Having written about the race so many times from afar (through advance stories about American teams preparing for the spectacle), I’d love to see it in person.

Dustin Long: Growing up in the Midwest and attending numerous sprint car races with my dad, I’ve always wanted to attend the Knoxville Nationals and experience what makes that event special.

Daniel McFadin: I could say the Daytona 500, but I’ll go all out and say Speedweeks. Give me a RV and a prime spot in the Daytona infield for two weeks. Seems like heaven.

Dan Beaver: The Hell Tour: DIRTcar’s Summer Nationals that feature almost 30 races in a span of 30 days during the summer. It may well be racing’s last true endurance event.

Bump & Run: Who had more impressive Watkins Glen performance?

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Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen was 2 hours and 13 minutes. Too short? Just right? Or did you even notice?

Nate Ryan: It seemed to go by quickly, but that also could have been because it was so highly entertaining. I didn’t know the actual duration until now, but that length seems perfect. If NASCAR can consistently package that amount of drama and storylines into that window of time, that’s the sweet spot for how a race unfolds.

Dustin Long: Didn’t notice. The racing was entertaining and the drama was taut. Shows that a race at just over two hours can be satisfying. Didn’t see anyone complaining the race wasn’t three hours or longer.

Daniel McFadin: It’s almost in that sweet spot. The race could stand to be padded by 10 laps, with five added to each of the first two stages. Other than that, I was a happy camper on Sunday.

Dan Beaver: Much too short. Road racing’s popularity is on the rise and with limited slots on the Cup schedule, one way to give the fans more would be to extend the races. And an excellent way of doing that at the Glen would be to add the extra half mile or so of the boot.

Who had the more impressive drive Sunday at Watkins Glen: Chase Elliott in battling Kyle Busch early and then Martin Truex Jr. late for the win or Kyle Busch for charging up to third without the aid of a caution after his issues on pit road?

Nate Ryan: A strong case can be made for Kyle Busch because there probably is no other Cup driver who could make a swift rally so efficiently. But Chase Elliott bookended his first career victory by winning two battles against probably the reigning two greatest drivers at Watkins Glen. Give a slight edge to the No. 9 for most impressive.

Dustin Long: While Chase Elliott’s drive was impressive, Kyle Busch’s drive was memorable. Busch was right after the race. He drove his “ass off” after falling to 31st after the pit road issue.

Daniel McFadin: Chase Elliott. Not just because he bested two members of the “Big 3,” but because he did it in such dominating fashion and with a tenacity Elliott hadn’t shown before Sunday.

Dan Beaver: The heart says Elliott because a first time winner is always a great story – but the head has to go with Kyle Busch’s drive from the back. It ranks as one of many great runs for him at the Glen.

Will there be any more new winners in the final four races before the playoffs? If so, who do you think it will be?

Nate Ryan: If there is one, it’ll be Daniel Suarez this Sunday at Michigan.

Dustin Long: Two more. Hard to think Kyle Larson won’t win before the playoffs. And I’ll throw out Ryan Blaney as joining the young drivers in Victory Lane.

Daniel McFadin: The possibility of Kyle Larson winning at Michigan is high, but I’m looking more to Bristol. Both Larson and Ryan Blaney had strong days there in April before Blaney was caught in a wreck while leading and Larson was passed by Kyle Busch with six laps to go. It’ll be interesting to see if Bubba Wallace’s team can improve on their brief time at the front in that race.

Dan Beaver: Now that the Big 3 have proven to be beatable, Kyle Larson will do just that at Michigan this Sunday.