Daniel McFadin

Bump & Run: Who really needs this weekend off in Cup?

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Who needs this upcoming weekend off the most in Cup?

Nate Ryan: Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 team has the opportunity to regroup of 15 races of frustration.

Dustin Long: Austin Dillon. He’s made the playoffs each of the past three years but is 21st in the standings, 58 points out of the last playoff spot. His last three races have gone 34th, 37th and 26th.

Daniel McFadin: Kyle Larson. The three weeks that have followed the elation of winning the All-Star Race have been miserable for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver. He’s finished 33rd (Coke 600, crash), 26th at Pocono after winning both stages and 14th (Michigan). The No. 42 team is just not on the same page as Kurt Busch‘s crew through 15 races. Larson has one top five and four top 10s to Busch’s four top fives and nine top 10s.

Jerry Bonkowski: No doubt about it, Stewart-Haas Racing. How can the same organization that won 12 races last season still be winless through the first 15 races of 2019? SHR needs to rest and retool this weekend and prepare for the 11-race stretch leading up to the playoffs. In a perfect world, maybe Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola and Daniel Suarez can combine for several victories in the upcoming 11 races.

Who is the driver in any of NASCAR’s national series who has impressed you the most this season?

Nate Ryan: Tyler Reddick has proven the 2018 championship was no fluke. In six months, he has gone from Xfinity title underdog to destined for a full-time Cup ride.

Dustin Long: What Tyler Reddick and his Richard Childress Racing team have done has been impressive.

Daniel McFadin: Tyler Reddick. It’s kind of bizarre to call the defending Xfinity Series champion the most improved driver, but that’s what he is. A year after he won twice – in the first and last races of the season – and had seven top fives, the Richard Childress Racing driver has surpassed those totals through 13 races and has finished fourth or better in the last 10 races.

Jerry Bonkowski: While a lot can be said about Kyle Busch and his Cup Series-leading four wins, the driver who has impressed me the most in 2019 is Xfinity Series points leader Tyler Reddick. Not only has he dominated the points (he’s been ranked No. 1 for the last 10 races), Reddick has 11 top five finishes – including three wins – in the first 13 races (84.6%). And add to that he’s only finished outside the top-10 just once. Another stat of note: he’s completed all but five laps 2,332 of 2,337 for 99.8 % this season.

 

What team without a win is one that you think could be on the rise and challenge for multiple victories?

Nate Ryan: It’s an obvious choice, but Harvick’s No. 4 Ford will win again soon.

Dustin Long: Kevin Harvick’s team. Once they overcome their gremlins, they have the speed to go on a run. Just need to clean up their races.

Daniel McFadin: I’m going with Chip Ganassi Racing via Kurt Busch. While the teams at Stewart-Haas Racing start out strong or peak mid-race, they can’t seem to close the deal, while Busch tends to surge at the right times or consistently run near the front. 

Jerry Bonkowski: It would be easy to say Stewart-Haas Racing, particularly Kevin Harvick. But I’m going to go with Chip Ganassi Racing and Kurt Busch. With his runner-up finish at Michigan, the elder Busch brother now has four top-five finishes (vs. six for all of 2018). I’ve been saying he’s a win waiting to happen. And once he gets that first win – it’s a matter of when, not if – I would not be surprised to see Kurt take three or even four checkered flags the rest of the season, including potentially capturing the Cup championship.

Bump & Run: Will winning ways of JGR, Team Penske continue?

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Where you do see the best chance for a team other than Joe Gibbs Racing or Team Penske to win this month? Will it be this weekend at Michigan? Sonoma? Chicagoland Speedway? Or will JGR and Team Penske combine to win all those races?

Nate Ryan: This year’s two powerhouses won’t sweep the rest of June. It’s been three years since Gibbs or Penske won at Michigan, so Sunday’s race presents opportunity. Given the strength of the road course aces (Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski) across both teams, Sonoma seems unlikely. Hendrick Motorsports’ resurgence on 1.5-mile tracks makes Chicagoland Speedway a good bet for that team.

Dustin Long: Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske sweep June.

Daniel McFadin: I see Michigan as the best site for another team to win, likely a Chevrolet in Chase Elliott (who has never finished outside the top 10 there) or three-time winner Kyle Larson if he can have a clean race. Though, I think Alex Bowman could steal one.

Jerry Bonkowski: I would lean toward either Michigan or Sonoma. Chicago, being a 1.5-mile track, plays right into the wheelhouse for both JGR and Penske. Michigan is wide and should afford an opportunity to win for guys like Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. or any of the Hendrick drivers. Sonoma is pretty much a wide-open affair that might favor someone like Kevin Harvick or another Stewart-Haas driver.

Who is the next Cup driver to score their first win of the season?

Nate Ryan: Even despite the execution problems by team and driver, it’s still only a matter of time for Kevin Harvick, perhaps as soon as Michigan.

Dustin Long: Kevin Harvick but it may not come until next month at New Hampshire.

Daniel McFadin: Erik Jones has been quietly consistent lately. Except for falling victim to a cut tire in the Coke 600, he’s finished sixth or better in three of the last four races with two finishes of third. He has one top 10 at each at the tracks remaining in June, with a best finish of third at Michigan.

Jerry Bonkowski: He’s looooonnnngggg overdue: Kevin Harvick is the next in line to take the checkered flag and lock himself into the playoffs. Also keep an eye on Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Kyle Larson and Kurt Busch.

Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer have combined to win the past five Xfinity races. Will they make it six in a row at Michigan this weekend or will you take the field?

Nate Ryan: Take the Xfinity Series’ Big Three.

Dustin Long: The win streak continues for the Xfinity Series’ Big Three.

Daniel McFadin: I’m going to take the field. There’s too much talent in the front half of the Xfinity garage this year for their stranglehold to last every week. Also, with defending race winner Austin Dillon not entered in the race, only four drivers who finished in the top 10 last year will be back: Custer (finished third), Paul Menard (finished fifth), Reddick (finished seventh) and Justin Allgaier (finished ninth).

Jerry Bonkowski: The odds appear to be in favor of that trio of drivers. But if Bell, Reddick or Custer don’t win, keep an eye out for either Chase Briscoe or Justin Allgaier. They’re overdue.

Bump and Run: Biggest surprise, disappointment of 2019

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Biggest surprise and disappointment in the first half of the regular season?

Nate Ryan: Surprise — Alex Bowman. Disappointment — Erik Jones

Dustin Long: Surprise — The lack of cautions from accidents, particularly multiple cars, with the field closer and the blocking so prevalent. Disappointment — That Stewart-Haas Racing remains winless after winning 12 races last year. SHR has three stage wins this season compared to eight at this point last year.

Daniel McFadin: Surprise — That Circuit City still exists as a primarily online store and will return as a full-time sponsor for Shane Lee in the Xfinity Series. Disappointment — That Ross Chastain didn’t declare for points in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series. He’s the only Truck Series driver who has finished in the top 10 in all eight races so far and he’d be locked into the playoffs with his Kansas win.

Jerry Bonkowski: Biggest surprise — Kurt Busch has been outstanding since coming to Chip Ganassi Racing. It’s only just a matter of time before he reaches victory lane. Biggest disappointment — Bubba Wallace was primed for a strong season, but he’s done nothing but struggle for much of the first 13 races – his advancing to and finishing fifth in the All-Star Race notwithstanding.

Who will you be watching closely in the second half of the regular season?

Nate Ryan: Kyle Larson

Dustin Long: Kyle Larson. He’s on a 59-race winless streak and holds the final transfer spot for the playoffs. Can he and his team be stronger to ensure a playoff spot and be relevant in the race for a championship?

Daniel McFadin: Alex Bowman. After no tops 10s in the first nine races, he has four straight leaving the Coke 600. I think he could be very dangerous going forward.

Jerry Bonkowski: Jimmie Johnson. I feel confident that he’ll not only break his 72-race winless streak that dates back to Dover in spring 2017, but that he’ll be part of the final four heading into Miami for the season-ending championship race. The seven-time champ is a hot streak waiting to happen.

Will all 16 drivers in a playoff spot now make the playoffs? If not, who outside a playoff spot will make it?

Nate Ryan: At least one from the trio of Erik Jones, Ryan Newman and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will make it and possibly all three.

Dustin Long: No. Erik Jones will find his way into the playoffs.

Daniel McFadin: No, I think one or two drivers outside the top 16 will sneak in, and I guess Erik Jones and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. right now.

Jerry Bonkowski: No. I think Ryan Newman has a good chance if he develops better consistency in the second half of the regular season. Likewise for his Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Bump & Run: Was Clint Bowyer justified to be upset with Erik Jones at Kansas?

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Was Clint Bowyer justified to be angry with Erik Jones for blocking on the last lap at Kansas, or did Jones have a point that the current style of 1.5-mile racing demands such moves?

Nate Ryan: Both drivers could make legitimate cases for their actions. Bowyer absolutely cut Jones a break by backing off on the last lap and giving up a shot at finishing second, which had to be hard to swallow at the home-state track where the Stewart-Haas Racing driver is so desperate to win. But Jones’ point on the aggressive and risky moves required by the drafting package also is well taken. As Cup drivers adapt their racecraft to this style, and if there are more races similar to Kansas, it’s likely there will be more instances such as these. That could be good for rivalry-building in NASCAR but frustrating for those behind the wheel.

Dustin Long: Welcome to racing with this rules package. If there are more late-race cautions, expect more extreme maneuvers and blocking. Bowyer had every right to be upset, but Jones had every right to defend his position. Until NASCAR starts penalizing drivers for blocking, expect these types of moves to continue.

Daniel McFadin: It was the last lap of an overtime finish. I expect a driver to do whatever they can to advance their position or protect their position in that instance. Bowyer has every right to be annoyed, but that’s racing. 

Jerry Bonkowski: I understand both drivers’ arguments. Bowyer has never won at his home Cup track and was pressing for a top-three finish. Jones, who has struggled at times, was looking for his best finish of the season (and wound up tying it). This is yet another example why NASCAR should implement rules against blatant blocking.

 

There have been six different winners as the Cup Series nears the halfway point in the regular season. How many drivers will qualify for the playoffs via wins when the regular season ends?

Nate Ryan: There will be 10 and here are my four predictions of those winners: Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson and Erik Jones.

Dustin Long: Ten drivers will make the playoffs via wins.

Daniel McFadin: I’m going to go with 11 drivers qualifying via wins.

Jerry Bonkowski: Given that there are 14 more races left in the regular season, I believe we’ll see four or five more different winners. In addition, several of the frontrunners to date may go into slumps themselves, which could further shake things up (much like Kyle Busch finished 30th at Kansas after 11 consecutive top-10 finishes). 

 

Is Brad Keselowski right that many wins are coming soon for Alex Bowman, or did the way the No. 88 driver lost at Kansas underscore that Bowman still needs more improvement?

Nate Ryan: Three consecutive runner-up finishes show that Bowman and his team are consistently putting themselves in position to win, but the Hendrick Motorsports driver rightfully was beating himself up after Kansas. Beyond being able to register fast laps with a good car, managing restarts and traffic are essential to being a winner in NASCAR’s premier series. Bowman struggled with both Saturday: losing the lead to teammate Chase Elliott on a Lap 229 restart and then losing the race to Keselowski by misjudging a lapped car on Lap 261. That makes it harder to declare he’s on the verge of a breakthrough.

Dustin Long: Bowman’s recent run has been impressive but he needs improvement — as many drivers who have limited experience running at the front. 

Daniel McFadin: At this point it feels inevitable that Bowman will steal a win somewhere (possibly Pocono). But Bowman does need more experience when it comes to leading in Cup. His 63 laps led were his most in a race since he led 194 at Phoenix in 2016 when he was a substitute driver for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Jerry Bonkowski: I agree with Keselowski that Bowman will win — and soon. Some may say his Talladega runner-up was a fluke, but there’s no denying he drove his butt off for second-place showings at Dover and Kansas. But Bowman still needs improvement; he learned a valuable lesson in the way he was snookered by Keselowski at Kansas. It’s a lesson he likely won’t forget any time soon.

Bump & Run: How much merit do Kyle Busch’s Dover comments have?

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Kyle Busch spoke up about the speeds at Dover on Friday and called the package raced there “terrible” on Monday. Do the former champion’s comments have merit or are they sour grapes?

Nate Ryan: There is merit here. Drivers warned all weekend that they were on throttle too much, and even winner Martin Truex Jr. admitted it was hard to pass with a dominant car after starting at the rear. In changing its rules for 2019, NASCAR officials said an objective was to ensure cars didn’t “check out” on the field, and that’s what happened Monday. Busch is known for being churlish after a mediocre finish, but the 2015 series champion also doesn’t whine this way unless it’s justified.

Dustin Long: They have merit. Busch has been clear about how he didn’t want this high downforce package previously. So you know where he’s coming from, but he wasn’t the only driver to raise issues about the package after the race. While those comments weren’t as sharp as what he said, they further lend validity to his words. Busch’s comments about the higher speeds also should not be ignored.

Daniel McFadin: Sour grapes. Martin Truex Jr. and Alex Bowman came from the rear of the field and placed 1-2. Busch was stuck in 10th-15th for most of the race. He didn’t have a better car than that. 

Jerry Bonkowski: Kind of in-between. I think there should have been more testing at Dover, given how much greater the speeds were compared to years past. Might smaller engines have been a better option? How will the fall playoff race be? Right now, there’s a lot of questions that need answering – and Busch certainly has quite a few – before the fall race.

 

Who was Dover a bigger race for — runner-up Alex Bowman, third-place finisher Kyle Larson or fifth-place finisher Chase Elliott?

Nate Ryan: While I agree with Jeff Gordon’s assessment of Dover being a “career race” for Bowman, Larson’s jump back into a provisional playoff spot was the bigger moral victory.

Dustin Long: Chase Elliott. While the race was a nice pick-me-up for Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman, Elliott scored back-to-back top 10s for the first time this season. That they were top fives meant even more. This is a team that could be a force in the playoffs (Chase won twice in last year’s playoffs) but needs to build momentum and consistency. Maybe these are the first steps toward a title run.

Daniel McFadin: I’m going with Bowman because he had to come from the rear. He also never had consecutive top fives before Monday, while Elliott and Larson have plenty of their own top fives. Larson definitely needed Monday’s race, but what Bowman did was more impressive.

Jerry Bonkowski: No doubt about it, Kyle Larson, with his season-best finish. He finally had a decent race with no incidents for the first time this season. Given how cyclical this sport is, for as bad as Larson may have been in the first 10 races, he now could potentially go on a big run over the next 10 races. The motivation and momentum from Dover could take him and his team a long way, potentially even to victory lane.

 

Are you surprised there hasn’t been a winning vehicle disqualified so far this season?

Nate Ryan: Very surprised. It’s only a matter of time, and the ticking clock will get much louder if it doesn’t happen before the end of the regular season (because teams are bound to push the limits in the playoffs).

Dustin Long: Mildly but it’s still early. I’ll be surprised if it goes a whole season without a winner from either Cup, Xfinity or Trucks disqualified.

Daniel McFadin: Absolutely. That it hasn’t happened at least once in all three of the national series is astounding. It’s possible the threat of losing wins actually did the trick. But I don’t see us making it back to Daytona without it happening for the first time.

Jerry Bonkowski: To an extent, yes. NASCAR is very adamant that it will no longer tolerate overt cheating, and potentially teams even working in the proverbial “gray area.” While disqualifying a winning vehicle would be embarrassing to the sport and especially the team involved, it’s good to know NASCAR has put some teeth in its bite if it needs to. And in a way, if/when (you know it’s going to happen sooner or later) a winning vehicle is DQ’d, it has the potential of bringing more fans back or into the sport, seeing that NASCAR means business about cheating.