Denny Hamlin

Speed Tweets: What you may have missed on Twitter from Las Vegas

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With the start of the West Coast Swing, the NASCAR community and its social media got in the Las Vegas spirit during its trip to Sin City.

Denny Hamlin did his part by paying homage to the movie The Hangover with a shirt inspired by Zach Galifianakis’ character.

This is not the first time a Cup driver got their Hangover on. In 2013, Jimmie Johnson recreated multiple scenes from the film on his Instagram account.

The final laps of Saturday’s Xfinity Series race were marred by multiple wrecks in Turn 3 and 4.

But one fan standing on a RV in the vicinity completely missed Brandon Jones‘ demolished No. 19 car coming to a rest right next to him.

Maybe Menards should consider making its traditional yellow even brighter.

The split of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus has its bright spots.

One fan decided to take his loyalty to the No. 24 team with Knaus and showed up in the Las Vegas garage bearing a message. Johnson posted pictures of the fan and his makeshift signs over the weekend and may have won him back.

The hottest club in Las Vegas is called the OSS.

It has everything: a Cup car, psychedelic flashing lights and Pitbull music plays at obscene levels when you make it through in one try.

The pre-race ceremonies for Xfinity race had an “only in Vegas” moment when the National Anthem was sung by impersonators of Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings.

Erik Jones was inspired.

The West Coast Swing has its downsides when it comes to travel time, but Aric Almirola is getting through it thanks to power of caffeine and Dr. Seuss.

Bump & Run: Was Martin Truex Jr. right to be upset with lapped cars at Atlanta?

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Did Martin Truex Jr. have a point in complaining so much about lapped cars getting out of his way, or doth he complain too much, and that’s racin’?

Nate Ryan: In context, when considering that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had a straightaway on anyone he was racing for position and was the only roadblock between Truex and race winner Brad Keselowski, the 2017 series champion’s qualms are justified. As well documented in the most recent race at Martinsville Speedway, Truex races cleanly to deserve getting breaks from others – but the problem is the favors rarely are returned because there’s no obligation to reciprocate.

Stenhouse was the first driver a lap down, and in an era of unlimited overtime restarts, it’s hard to live with just yielding positions when circumstances can change so quickly. Look at Keselowski, who went from being a lap down to leading in less than 10 laps because of some quirky scoring twists from a yellow flag. Truex does have a point … but at the same time, that’s racin’.

Dustin Long: It’s a courtesy that drivers move over. There is nothing in the rule book that says a car a lap or more down must move over. That said, get in the way of the leaders enough times and it will come back to haunt you when you need the help. Was Ricky Stenhouse Jr. doing this as payback for something that happened earlier? Or was he just being bullheaded? Either way, Stenhouse’s actions will lead to a response on the track by Truex someday.

Daniel McFadin: I think it’s a fair complaint, especially when the checkered flag is within 20 laps. Truex said his spotter had communicated the urgency to Stenhouse’s repeatedly without success. It’s yet another chapter in the saga of Stenhouse making his competitors unhappy.

Jerry Bonkowski: Yes, I believe Truex had a very valid point and it’s something NASCAR will have to address if it continues. If things aren’t fixed by Fontana, and drivers can’t police themselves, I believe NASCAR will step in. I understand hard racing, but if a driver is not on the lead lap and is far from getting back on the lead lap, he should be penalized if he is intentionally blocking those on the lead lap and with a potential chance to win the race.

 

Were the rash of mistakes in the pits at Atlanta just drivers and teams shaking off rust, or a harbinger of what’s to come in 2019 with the new rules likely putting an emphasis on track position?

Nate Ryan: I think it’s mostly the former. If anything, I’d expect there will be fewer pit mistakes this season because the downsides outweigh the rewards too greatly. Kyle Larson’s slow rebound from a speeding penalty underscored how difficult it can be getting through traffic with a strong car. It might make sense for teams to build in an extra buffer on their speed monitoring systems to ensure they avoid penalties.

Dustin Long: It was sloppy work on pit road by many teams. Call it a bad day at the office. Just like one shouldn’t judge the new rules package based off the Atlanta race, one shouldn’t assume the rest of the season will be as error-filled on pit road based on what happened at Atlanta.

Daniel McFadin: It could well be a sign of things to come. Two of the pit road penalties for speeding were on front-row starters Aric Almirola and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., two drivers who have two Cup wins apiece but who don’t start up front often. Any time a driver unfamiliar with racing in the lead and pitting from the lead is put in that situation, I expect them to push the limit to stay there. 

Jerry Bonkowski: I think it’s more an example of drivers getting used to the new rules and how they impact track position. I give drivers 5-7 races tops – probably more like 3-4 races – and they’ll be up to speed on the nuances related to the new rules.

  

No top 10s for Hendrick Motorsports and a very mediocre race for Jimmie Johnson. Should the team be worried it might be even further out to lunch than it was for much of the 2018 season?

Nate Ryan: It’s too early to push the panic button, but someone’s thumb definitely is poised right above it in case the team fails to record a top 10 or run competitively at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Dustin Long: Crew chief Greg Ives expressed to me after the race that the Hendrick cars need to find more speed. It is a concern that Jimmie Johnson hasn’t had a top-10 finish at a 1.5-mile track since last year’s Coca-Cola 600. Certainly Hendrick Motorsports can’t be pleased with Sunday’s results, but let’s see what this organization does this week at Las Vegas.

Daniel McFadin: It was the first race with the new rules, but I’m sure the Hendrick shop is feeling a little bit hotter this week. Dominating Daytona 500 qualifying was impressive but everything after that is another animal and it’s a bit surprising Hendrick appeared to trip over themselves with all four cars. But you can’t really pass judgement on anybody until we’re through at least Martinsville.

Jerry Bonkowski: Between the new rules and the shuffling of crew chiefs within HMS, the first few races are going to be a learning experience, just as they were last year with the then-new Chevrolet Camaro. Jimmie has to build the same kind of communication with Kevin Meendering as he did with Chad Knaus. Remember, JJ did win the Clash race and he finished 9th at Daytona. Yes, he’s riding a 61-race winless streak and finished a career-worst 14th last season, but the seven-time champ has not forgotten how to win races. If he wins at, say, Las Vegas, Phoenix or Fontana, people are quickly going to start saying “Jimmie’s back.”

NBC Sports Power Rankings heading to Atlanta

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If you thought the second NBC Sports Power Rankings of the year would be a recounting of the top 10 drivers in the Daytona 500, you’d be wrong.

While 500 winner Denny Hamlin takes the top spot this week, followed by Joey Logano and Kyle Busch, there’s quite a bit of variety – and even a few surprises – in our top 10.

Our weekly NASCAR power rankings are an aggregate of the individual top 10s of NASCAR Talk writers Dustin Long, Nate Ryan, Jerry Bonkowski and Daniel McFadin.

Check it out:

1. Denny Hamlin: Yes, his Daytona 500 win was big – but how will he do in the other 35 races on the schedule? He’s coming off one of the worst seasons of his career. And don’t forget Sunday’s win broke a 47-race winless streak.

2. Joey Logano: In terms of pure driving, he was the best of Speedweeks – especially his last-lap pass from fourth to first in his qualifier win.

3. Kyle Busch: Still missing the Daytona 500 from his illustrious resume, but Sunday was the closest he’s come to getting it. He’ll be there soon.

4. Matt DiBenedetto: Could anyone have predicted Matt D. would have led a race-high 49 laps? And if he hadn’t been caught in the big wreck, a top-five finish was very much within reach. This kid is going places in 2019.

5. Ryan Preece: Made his first 500 start and turned heads with his incredible dodging of late-race wrecks. Finishing eighth should give him a boost going into the much more difficult schedule after Daytona.

6. Ross Chastain: Only driver to compete in all three Speedweeks points races, proved his worth by finishing in the top 13 in each of them, including a third-place finish in the Truck race and 10th in the 500.

7. Jimmie Johnson: Rallied back after penalty put him two laps down to finish ninth. He’s definitely a favorite at Atlanta (five wins, 14 top fives in 27 starts there).

8. Chase Elliott: Finishes weren’t stellar, but NASCAR’s most popular driver gets an A effort. No one tried harder to pass cars in Speedweeks.

9. Kevin Harvick: If his team is as strong with new package at Atlanta as before, look out.

10. William Byron: Another competitive driver taken out in a late wreck. After a rookie mistake by him caused a wreck at Daytona last year, Byron took his pole-winning car and led 44 laps in his first race with crew chief Chad Knaus.

Others receiving votes: Michael McDowell, Erik Jones, Kyle Larson, Ty Dillon, Johnny Sauter, Michael Annett, Austin Hill, Alex Bowman, Jeffrey Earnhardt.

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.

William Byron wins Daytona 500 pole; teammate Alex Bowman second

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It will be a Hendrick Motorsports front row for the Daytona 500. Again.

In his first on-track pairing with crew chief Chad Knaus, William Byron captured the pole (194.305 mph) and teammate Alex Bowman, who won last year’s 500 pole, will sit on the outside of the front row (194.154 mph).

It marked the fifth consecutive Daytona 500 pole for a Hendrick Chevrolet and the first of Byron’s Cup career.

“I thought the Chevy was real fast,” Byron told Fox Sports. “Credit to Chad and all the guys. It’s been a great offseason. We’re prepared. This is the first step of our process together.”

The last driver to win the Daytona 500 from the pole was NASCAR on NBC analyst Dale Jarrett in 2000.

Only the starting positions for Byron and Bowman are locked in, though Hendrick drivers swept the top four spots in Sunday’s qualifying. Two-time Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson, who will start his first Cup race with crew chief Kevin Meendering after 16 seasons with Knaus, was third (193.807 mph), followed by Chase Elliott (193.782 mph).

The remainder of the 40-car field for the 500 will be set during Thursday’s two qualifying races.

Tyler Reddick and Casey Mears locked themselves into two of the four non-charter spots for the 500 via qualifying speeds Sunday. The other two non-charter entries will be determined Thursday during the qualifiers.

A total of six Chevrolet Camaros (including all four Hendrick Motorsports entries), four Ford Mustangs and two Toyota Camrys made the second and final 12-car qualifying round.

The rest of the second-round qualifiers were Daniel Hemric (192.460 mph), defending Cup champion Joey Logano (192.448), Martin Truex Jr. (192.353), Clint Bowyer (192.291), Brad Keselowski (192.263), defending Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon (191.416), Paul Menard (191.107) and Denny Hamlin (190.492).

Click here for full qualifying results.

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