Bump & Run: Does Paul Menard owe Jimmie Johnson a payback?

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How much of a hall pass does Paul Menard have to pay back Jimmie Johnson for the Clash wreck? Can he knock him aside on the next short track without compunction, or does it only extend to cutting Johnson no breaks in the near future?

Nate Ryan: It would seem heavy-handed if Menard retaliated by intentionally wrecking Johnson, but he has earned the right to rough up the seven-time champion if the roles are reversed in the future. They probably wouldn’t be working together anyway during a restrictor-plate race but don’t expect Menard to lay over for Johnson anytime soon, particularly with the Wood Brothers Racing driver alluding to a history between them at Daytona.

Dustin Long: As Menard said after the incident, contact from Johnson wrecked him at Daytona last year. So, yes, he’s keeping score. And yes he has a hall pass to use. 

Daniel McFadin: I don’t expect any form of retribution from Menard (it’s not really in his personality), outside possibly not cutting Johnson some slack at some point. It was a non-points race and Johnson didn’t wreck him on purpose. It was a side draft gone wrong.

Jerry Bonkowski: Given how NASCAR has cracked down on things this year, including taking wins away from drivers whose cars don’t pass post-race inspection, my guess is the sanctioning body will be equally diligent when it comes to payback between drivers. I highly doubt we’ll see a Joey LoganoMatt Kenseth tit-for-tat situation between Menard and Johnson, lest Menard gets nailed and suffers another fallback. The best situation is for Menard to move on and just beat Johnson with his car and talent.

Paul Menard said of Johnson’s ill-timed bump, “Jimmie does that a lot at these tracks.” Is that a fair criticism of how the seven-time champion has raced at plate tracks?

Nate Ryan: Johnson is a two-time Daytona 500 winner, but even he probably would admit that plate races aren’t his specialty. He has crashed out of more than a quarter of his Cup races at Daytona (nine in 34 starts), and he has been accused multiple times of instigating massive wrecks since near the beginning of his career (the 2005 season was particularly uncomfortable with Johnson in the middle of multicar pileups in both May and October at Talladega Superspeedway). Claiming Johnson starts wrecks in every plate race is hyperbole, but he has been in the middle of his share of crashes (and admirably took the blame for some of them).

Dustin Long: Yes, look it up, but also understand there are others that have been in the center of incidents on plate tracks. Over time it cycles to where those that are involved in incidents are victims of others. It’s not like Johnson has gone rogue or anything like that.

Daniel McFadin: Menard is right, just based on this short tweet thread of incidents involving Johnson and Menard. His involvement in Sunday’s wreck was his eighth straight Clash marked by involvement in an incident. Johnson may have eight points and non-points Daytona wins, but he’s no master of pack racing like Earnhardt.

Jerry Bonkowski: I think Menard spoke in the heat of the moment. Yes, Johnson has been involved in some incidents at plate tracks where the finger of blame has been pointed at him, but at the same time, how many times has he also been victimized by other drivers’ errors? Also, Menard cut down on Johnson in Sunday’s wreck and Johnson was trying to hold his position. So I do not give him full blame on the wreck; Menard is also culpable.

After the Clash, Kurt Busch said: “You want the cars more stable. You want us to run side-by-side. You want us to change lanes and not have side effects, and it just shows you how trimmed out everybody has got these cars to find that speed, and when you’re looking for speed, it usually brings instability in the cars.” Should NASCAR try to make changes to put in more comfort and handling for the Daytona 500?

Nate Ryan: Yes, if it were at all possible (and it might not be) to improve the stability in the draft and aid passing, NASCAR should look at it. The 2018 Daytona 500 was terrific, but plate racing has been mostly lackluster since then (notably the past two Talladega races). While this technically will be the last “plate” race (with tapered spacers essentially serving the same purpose in the future), and perhaps the new package will fix itself, it’s still important to ensure Sunday is as high quality as possible.

Dustin Long: No. No. No. No. No. If they’re going to make changes, then just give everyone participation ribbons while you’re at it. At some point, skill has to play a role.

Daniel McFadin: If NASCAR can introduce an element between now and Sunday that allows for easier creation of a second lane, go for it. But as a non-engineer I have no idea what that would entail.

Jerry Bonkowski: I’m not convinced that NASCAR has to do anything more. Rather, I think the onus is on the drivers to learn and adapt to the new rules. Just because drivers complain doesn’t necessarily mean the sanctioning body has to immediately change the rules to appease them. Drivers and teams are given rules and it’s up to them to abide by those rules.

Who are you picks to make it to the Championship 4 in Miami?

Nate Ryan: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin.

Dustin Long: Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Erik Jones and Joey Logano.

Daniel McFadin: Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick

Jerry Bonkowski: Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch.

Who is one driver you are most intrigued about this season and why?

Nate Ryan: Jimmie Johnson, because he still feels he has much to prove despite a Hall of Fame career, and the start to 2019 underscores he might have a newfound swagger to go along with it.

Dustin Long: Christopher Bell. He said at one point last year he was ready for Cup but remains in Xfinity this season. How does he improve in a series a year after he won seven races as a rookie?

Daniel McFadin: Kyle Larson. After a disappointing winless season, how does he bounce back with a new teammate in champion Kurt Busch and how will the new rules package impact the driver with one of the most distinct driving styles?

Jerry Bonkowski: Jimmie Johnson. Will he be able to win an eighth NASCAR Cup championship with new crew chief Kevin Meendering? Will Chad Knaus have some behind-the-scenes input, even though he’s now crew chief for William Byron? There’s also some intrigue there, as well, wondering how Byron will do in his sophomore season in Cup and with one of the greatest crew chiefs in history calling the signals for him from the pit box.

Bump & Run: Favorite 2018 paint scheme, historic races and more

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The NASCAR on NBC best paint scheme tournament ends this week. What was your favorite non-throwback scheme of the year?

Daniel McFadin: I don’t know why, but the McDonald’s scheme Kyle Larson‘s No. 42 had at Bristol in April really stuck with me. For some reason it looked a lot meaner and cleaner than when the exact same scheme was regularly on Jamie McMurray‘s No. 1 car.

Dan Beaver: As a dog lover, Matt DiBenedetto’s Spooky Snoopy paint scheme was hard to beat, not just because of the cartoon beagle but also because the scrappy underdog almost beat the Dale Earnhardt Sr. throwback.

 

If you had a DeLorean that could travel in time, which historic NASCAR race would you want to attend?

Daniel McFadin: The 1992 Winston, AKA “One Hot Night.” Very few races have lived up to the hype, let alone a race that was given a nickname before hand. It would be a short and sweet experience where I could enjoy the entire event, atmosphere and all, instead of waiting around for solely for what happens on the last lap.

Dan Beaver:  I’d have to go back to June 9, 1949 to Charlotte for the first NASCAR race.

 

If you could make one change to any aspect of NASCAR in 2019 what would it be?

Daniel McFadin: I’d make it to where the lap count during stage breaks is frozen. So when the field takes the green to for the first time in Stage 2, they haven’t already used five laps of the scheduled stage distance under caution. More racing for the fans!

Dan Beaver: I would go ahead and give the fans those extra short track races for which they have been clamoring. For decades I’ve been a proponent of a week of short track racing with one race run on Saturday, the next on Wednesday and a third the following Sunday. I’d do that once in the spring and again in the fall.

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Bump & Run panel selects superlatives of 2018 season

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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?

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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?

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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.