Chicagoland Speedway

Bent fenders, first-time winners define start of NBC’s NASCAR schedule

Leave a comment

We’re four races into NBC Sports’ portion of the NASCAR schedule and actor Michael Rooker was right about one thing: things have gotten real.

There have been four Cup races shown on NBC networks and each has delivered a finish – or lightning strike – worth talking about.

Each race has been won by a different driver who also was making their first trip to victory lane this year. Two earned their first career Cup wins.

Here’s a look at the how the second half of the season has unfolded.

June 30, 2019 – Chicagoland Speedway

Alex Bowman finally punched his ticket to victory lane in the Cup Series.

It took 134 series starts, three consecutive runner-up finishes earlier in the year and a lengthy rain delay to begin the race day.

Racing under the lights, Bowman dueled with Kyle Larson over the last eight laps, with the two drivers making contact with six laps to go as Bowman drafted off the left side of Larson’s car.

After he took the checkered flag, Bowman’s victory lane visit was delayed even further when his No. 88 Chevrolet got stuck in the rain-soaked infield.

“I’m the dumb guy that won the race and then got stuck in the mud,” Bowman told NBCSN.

July 7 – Daytona International Speedway

Though there wasn’t a dramatic on-track finish to the final scheduled July Cup race at Daytona, there was a surprise winner.

Justin Haley had to wait a significantly shorter amount of time than Bowman to get his first Cup win, celebrating his in 131 fewer races.

Following a massive crash with 43 laps to go, leader Kurt Busch and a group of other teams elected to pit when NASCAR said they would go back to green in one lap.

Then lightning struck within eight miles of the track.

The field was brought to pit road with 33 laps to go and Haley scored as the leader in Spire Motorsports’ No. 77 Chevrolet, a team and car in their first year of existence.

The race never resumed as NASCAR eventually called the race official.

“I never even saw myself running a Cup race until I got a call a few months ago to do Talladega,” Haley told NBCSN. “It’s just unreal. I don’t know how to feel.”

While Busch had been on the “wrong side of a lightning bolt” he wouldn’t have to wait long for his own celebration.

July 13 – Kentucky Speedway

“Hell yeah! Hell yeah!” bellowed Kurt Busch on the start-finish line after the Quaker State 400.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver had plenty of reasons to be excited.

He’d just triumphed in an overtime finish over his little brother Kyle Busch.

It was the first time Kurt Busch had won in a 1-2 Cup finish against Kyle.

The elder Busch survived making contact with his brother twice on the final lap, including as they exited Turn 4 in the race to the checkered flag.

The victory was Kurt Busch’s first since joining CGR in December and also was the first career win for crew chief Matt McCall in 164 starts. The victory snapped a 64-race winless streak for Ganassi stretching back to the 2017 regular-season finale at Richmond.

July 21 – New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Kevin Harvick is the latest driver to end a lengthy winless streak with dramatic flair.

Sunday saw the Stewart-Haas Racing driver end a 21-race drought after he held off Denny Hamlin over the final 35 laps while racing on older tires.

After Hamlin and other drivers pitted under the final caution, Harvick and two other cars stayed out.

Hamlin wasn’t able to get within striking distance until the last lap. The two veterans slammed sheet metal twice, with Hamlin’s failed bump-and-run in Turn 1 and then Harvick cutting off Hamlin’s path as they exited Turn 4.

“I knew that (Hamlin) was gonna take a shot,” Harvick said. “I would have taken a shot. I stood on the brakes and just tried to keep it straight. I just didn’t want to get him back from the inside and let him have another shot. I wanted to at least be in control of who was gonna have contact in Turn 3 and 4. It was a heck of a finish, closer than what we wanted, but it was our only chance.”

Hamlin was left to re-think the final lap as Harvick celebrated in the background.

Second sucks,” Hamlin told NBCSN.

Up Next: Pocono

Six races remain in the regular season and the next chance for Cup drama will come at Pocono Raceway (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN), the 2.5-mile triangle that the series visited in June.

But the circumstances will be a little bit different. After complaints about the competition in June, the track will apply the PJ1 traction compound to areas in all three turns.

It’s the first time the track has applied the traction agent to its surface.

It will also be the third consecutive race the Cup Series has held on a track treated with it, following Kentucky and New Hampshire.

And we all know how those races ended.

and on Facebook

Chevrolet boss happy with three-race Cup winning streak but wants more

1 Comment

Even with a three-race Cup winning streak, the head of Chevrolet’s NASCAR program wants more victories as the playoffs near.

Jim Campbell, vice president of performance and motorsports for Chevrolet, made the comments Wednesday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

In the last three races, Chevrolet has won with Alex Bowman (Chicagoland Speedway), Justin Haley (Daytona International Speedway) and Kurt Busch (Kentucky Speedway). Until that string, Chevrolet had won only once this year with Chase Elliott’s victory at Talladega Superspeedway.

Last year, Chevrolet had four Cup wins, its fewest victories in Cup since scoring three wins in 1982.

“We have really, really, I think, increased the collaboration (among Chevrolet teams) to another level, and I think we need to because we’ve got to put more wins on the board,” Campbell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “The Chevy camp is used to putting 10, 12, 15 wins on the board a year. Right now we’re at four. We expect more of ourselves. I know the teams are looking for more wins and I’ll call it top-five finishes. Talladega was kind of a turbocharger for us to get everyone really working at the next level.”

Chevrolet won at Talladega after an increased effort to have its teams work together throughout the weekend and during the race. Chevrolet made the effort after seeing how successful Toyota and Ford teams were at Daytona and Talladega by working together. Until then, Chevrolet had allowed its teams and drivers to go their own way at those tracks.

“Over the years, Chevy results were pretty doggone strong without a massive work-together effort,” Campbell said during the radio interview. “I think we go back to ’16 and Toyota put together an effort to get some of the (Joe) Gibbs (Racing) guys working together and I think in the fall, the Ford camp was doing that. So, it was time, it was time that we just pulled ourselves together and really worked across all of our teams.”

With seven races left until the Cup playoffs begin, Chevrolet has three drivers set for the playoffs via wins: Elliott, Bowman and Busch. Chevrolet also has three competitors who would qualify for the 16-driver playoffs as of today via points with William Byron 12th in the standings, Kyle Larson 13th and Jimmie Johnson 15th.

Johnson’s position is tenuous. He is 10 points ahead of Ford’s Ryan Newman, who holds the first spot outside a playoff position.

“I look at the trajectory,” Campbell said of Chevrolet’s progress. “Are we on the trajectory up or are we flat or are we down? I would say the momentum is going up, but it’s all performance based. We’ve got to put wins on the board, more top 10s.”

 and on Facebook

Penalty report from Chicagoland Speedway

1 Comment

NASCAR on Tuesday fined Chris Gabehart, crew chief for Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, $10,000 for an unsecured lug nut at the end of Sunday’s Camping World 400 NASCAR Cup race at Chicagoland Speedway.

Also, Mike Shiplett, crew chief for Cole Custer‘s No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, was fined $5,000 for an unsecured lug nut at the end of Saturday’s Camping World 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Chicagoland Speedway.

There were no other penalties issued.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Alex Bowman’s victory takes Arizona off list of states without Cup winner

Leave a comment

When Alex Bowman is introduced before November’s Cup race at ISM Raceway outside Phoenix, it should be reinforced with some bragging rights.

“Now introducing, the first Arizona native to win a NASCAR Cup Series race: Alex Bowman!”

Yes, Bowman, a native of Tucson, Arizona, won Sunday’s race at Chicagoland Speedway and became the first native driver of the “Grand Canyon State” to win a Cup Series race.

The 26-year-old did what Phoenix natives Michael McDowell and J.J. Yeley weren’t able to before him.

It comes three years after Bowman nearly did so on his own turf. As a substitute driver for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bowman claimed the pole for the 2016 playoff race at ISM Raceway. He then led 194 laps before an incident on a late restart relegated him to a sixth-place finish.

Bowman’s achievement on Sunday makes Arizona the 34th state to produce a Cup Series winner since its inaugural race in 1949.

Which states have produced the most winners in the last 70 years?

Here are the top five according to Racing Insights:

State                    Number of Winning Drivers
North Carolina     28
California             25
Georgia                11
New York             11
Virginia                11

Now with 34 states having produced winners at NASCAR’s premier level, that leaves 16 that haven’t been that fortunate.

Here are those states:

Alaska
Delaware
Hawaii
Idaho
Louisiana (the only state in the Southeast to not produce a winner)
Minnesota
North Dakota
New Hampshire
New Mexico
Oklahoma
Rhode Island
South Dakota
Utah
Vermont
West Virginia
Wyoming

NASCAR executive: ‘Can’t judge intent’ on uncontrolled tire penalties

Getty Images
4 Comments

An uncontrolled tire penalty has raised the issue of intent regarding pit road penalties between Denny Hamlin and a senior NASCAR executive.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said uncontrolled tire penalties can’t be judged on intent and are present for safety reasons. Hamlin fired back on social media, criticizing NASCAR for a rule introduced last year that reduced the number of pit crew members on teams and resulted in “40 guys” teams “laid off.”

The issue began Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway when Hamlin was called for an uncontrolled tire penalty early in Stage 2 on Lap 105. The penalty resulted in Hamlin having to restart at the rear of the field.

On Twitter, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver called the penalty a “nickel and dime judgement call” and that “this intent is not why the rules was put in place.” Hamlin added that he wanted to see the sport “go back to using common sense.”

O’Donnell responded to Hamlin’s comments Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”

“Well, you can’t judge intent,” O’Donnell said. “If a part breaks or anything in the car, if we had to judge intent really on almost any penalty, we’d be in trouble. That’s why we have a rule book and it’s black and white and we’ve been through those things. It’s in place for safety reasons. We’ve been consistent on those calls all year. I think we’re looking at some things around the new car that we can do down the road. We certainly don’t want to be in the rules business or too many rules. But on that case it’s one where we’ve got to make that call.”

Hamlin responded on Twitter, referencing the 2018 reduction of over-the-wall pit crew members from six to five.

While Hamlin said the uncontrolled tire penalty “ruined” his day, it was the first of two penalties the No. 11 team received Sunday. It was followed on Lap 163 with a penalty for too many crew members over the wall.

After winning Stage 1 of the race, Hamlin went on to end the night in 15th.