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Bump & Run: What to do about teams failing inspection?

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NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell said this week the sanctioning body has felt it has ramped up penalties for teams failing inspection multiple times but conceded “it hasn’t seemed to work.’’ What should NASCAR do next to further encourage teams to pass without making so many attempts?

Nate Ryan: Fix it. If NASCAR knew how to do that, it would have already. While a fair amount of culpability – perhaps the majority of the blame – lies with the teams, it doesn’t ultimately matter who is at fault. The situation just needs to be fixed. NASCAR and team executives need to hold a closed-door meeting and do as much screaming and deal-making as necessary to reach a suitable solution.

Dustin Long: Increase the penalties. There’s a line and if teams are going to cross it, then they suffer the consequences.

Daniel McFadin: First penalty that popped in my head regarding pre-race qualifying is the team is allowed to compete in the race, but they won’t earn any points, no matter where they finish.

Dan Beaver: Give up. It doesn’t matter how stiff NASCAR makes the penalties, so long as teams believe they can gain a competitive advantage, they are going to keep pressing the envelope. If NASCAR doesn’t want to concede the inevitable, perhaps they should limit the number of times repeat offenders can go through: If a team failed three times last week, only give them two attempts this week.

Is an All-Star Race needed in NASCAR?

Nate Ryan: It is if something inventive were to be done with it. The plates and aero changes this weekend are a step in the right direction, but even better would be a truly radical move such as moving the race to South Boston Speedway or Nashville (as Jeff Burton suggested in this column last year). The weekend also needs more of the “event” feel that Kevin Harvick has advocated; try some irreverent “driver skills” competitions to showcase their personalities.

Dustin Long: Yes and no. If NASCAR is going to do something different with the event — and making the event a glorified test session is not that — than keep it. If not, then dump it.

Daniel McFadin: Yes, if only as an exhibition for testing new features in a competitive environment, like we’re getting with the restrictor plates and aero package. But honestly, the event needs to be held at a new venue. It’s not 1986 anymore, or the year it was held at Atlanta Motor Speedway in front of a sparse crowd. It has years of history behind it and would likely thrive on a short track. Say, Martinsville under the lights?

Dan Beaver: The All-star race is always a lot of fun, but it doesn’t need its own weekend. Move it to Thursday night and test the viability of a mid-week show.

What will you be looking at in this week’s All-Star Race with the new rules package?

Nate Ryan: Speeds could be slower than the laps made by amateurs on the same track in the Richard Petty Driving Experience, but hopefully it will bring the “pack racing” that is found in the Indianapolis 500 (the plates won’t re-create the conditions seen at Daytona and Talladega). If holding the accelerator wide open for the duration of the lap brings more side-by-side racing, the 160-mph pace won’t be nearly as noticeable.

Dustin Long: How racy that drivers can get with this package.

Daniel McFadin: How competitive the top three cars are 10 laps into a run. If there’s not a healthy battle for the lead at that point, it’s time to be concerned. 

Dan Beaver: The fan reaction. Last year’s Xfinity race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was widely considered a success with similar rules, so it is going to be interesting to see if the fans support those changes in Cup. With most of the 1.5- and 2-mile races this year being marked by one driver dominating, something needs to be done to encourage passing.

Staff picks for tonight’s Cup race at Kansas

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win tonight’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Martin Truex Jr. It’s been nearly 18 months since he’s been beaten at this track.

Dustin Long

Can anyone stop Kevin Harvick? I don’t think so.

Daniel McFadin

Ryan Blaney gives the youth movement some much needed bragging rights.

Dan Beaver

Kevin Harvick is going to have the same type of day at Kansas as he did at Atlanta and Las Vegas.

Bump & Run: What are expectations for Matt Kenseth in the No. 6 car?

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Matt Kenseth makes his season debut in the No. 6 car this weekend at Kansas Speedway. He’ll run a partial schedule this year, sharing the ride with Trevor Bayne. What are your expectations for Kenseth in the No. 6 car?

Parker Kligerman: I expect him to be roughly in line with the performance of the 17 car. I believe Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has been driving at a very high level and extracting everything he can from those RFR cars. So Matt should be at that same level immediately.

Dustin Long: I expect better performances than the No. 6 team has had lately. I expect to see the car show the ability to finish in the top 15 and then top 10, but I believe Kenseth will need some time to help steer the team in the right direction.

Nate Ryan: He told us Tuesday that he could finish “fifth or 25th” at Kansas, and the smart money probably says somewhere in between, at least at the outset. As Parker notes, Kenseth should match Stenhouse’s results, and by the second half of the season, he could elevate the team’s performance to a new level.

Daniel McFadin: I expect Kenseth to have a noticeable impact, but it will take a few races. He’ll be consistently in the top 15 by season’s end. Bayne has an average finish of 24.7, so there’s not much Kenseth can do but improve.

Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch have combined to win seven of the first 11 races. At this rate, they’ll combine to win 23 Cup races this season. How many do you think they’ll actually win?

Parker Kligerman: Oh man, I’m terrible at these types of predictions lately, but I’m going to say that they will combine for 12 wins in the season. 

Dustin Long: I think they’ll combine to win six of the remaining 25 races (24 percent), giving them 13 wins for the season.

Nate Ryan: Let’s make it 18, an even half for the 2018 season.

Daniel McFadin: I think Harvick can get to 10 wins if some of the expected heavy hitters don’t catch up soon enough. Busch will likely peak with seven wins.

Who is a driver outside a playoff spot at this point that you’re keeping an eye on?

Parker Kligerman: Ricky Stenhouse, I believe, will be a thorn in the side of Hendrick Motorsports drivers through the summer months unless they win races because he will be constantly pushing them on that bubble spot of the playoffs. I feel Daniel Suarez will be in a similar situation but could win a race soon.

Dustin Long: I want to see what Paul Menard and the Wood Brothers do. Fords are fast. The Woods are aligned with Team Penske. That’s a combination that can get them to the playoffs. It’s just a matter of doing it.

Nate Ryan: If there are positions to be claimed on points — and it seems there will be — it’s hard to count out Ryan Newman.

Daniel McFadin: I want to say Ricky Stenhouse Jr., but unfortunately he can’t race at Bristol, Talladega and Dover every week. I’m going to go with Daniel Suarez. With two top 10s and a top five in the last three races he appears to be finally settling into a groove.

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Dover

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at Dover International Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Kyle Larson. Chevrolet’s top driver much of the season finally breaks through.

Dustin Long

Martin Truex Jr. earns his second win of the season today.

Daniel McFadin

Everything finally goes Chase Elliott‘s way as he wins his first Cup race.

Dan Beaver

As the racing adage goes, a driver has to lose in order to learn how to win. Chase Elliott will do a better job of race management this week than last fall.

Bump & Run: Is Dover Jimmie Johnson’s time?

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Next on the schedule is Dover, a place Jimmie Johnson has 11 wins and is the site of his last Cup victory (33 races ago). What does this weekend mean for Johnson?

Parker Kligerman: Personally, I feel he is as motivated as ever and that a win would be great for the entire HMS organization. But to be solid championship contenders, there will still be a lot of work to be done – no matter what happens at Dover.

Nate Ryan: It’s another opportunity for his team to find its footing. It represents a better than average chance than he’s had at winning in 2018, but it would be uncharacteristic for Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus to enter one of their best tracks with outsized confidence or expectations based on past results.

Dustin Long: This is a chance to take a step forward, to build on what they’ve been doing this season. This is merely part of the process. This won’t solve every issue but has the potential to provide some momentum.

Daniel McFadin: It’s obviously his best shot at a win. Since his win there last June, Johnson has two top fives, in the fall Dover race and earlier this month at Bristol, where he also won last year. Late cautions at Richmond helped him finish sixth and Talladega is its own thing. Even if he does perform well at Dover, there’s no way of knowing if it’ll be a sign of things to come.

Dan Beaver: The No. 48 team is still a long way from contending for a win, but if Johnson can get a top five – only his second of the season – this should be counted as a step in the right direction. That would be his seventh top-15 in the last eight races.

This weekend is the final Dash 4 Cash event in the Xfinity Series. Cup drivers have not been allowed to compete in those races. Cup drivers also can’t compete in the Xfinity regular-season finale and playoff races. Should there be further reductions on Cup drivers in Xfinity races?

Parker Kligerman: At this point, how much more can we limit them without entirely banning them? That’s the real question here. I will say it has been more of an incentive to watch, and I enjoy the races more knowing we may see a winner like Ryan Preece, but I don’t know if there is any more room to limit them without saying they simply can’t. 

Nate Ryan: It seems as if the reductions will happen naturally given the current trends, so it seems unnecessary to implement more restrictions.

Dustin Long: I’m leery of running Cup drivers out of all races because teams say it helps with acquiring sponsorship. I’m all for limiting the total number of Cup drivers in some Xfinity races as a further reduction down the road but not ready to ban them for every race.

Daniel McFadin: I’m for any restrictions that go toward an environment in which it’s not a big deal when a full-time Xfinity regular wins a race. Three through nine races is one better than this point last year, when the third full-timer didn’t win until the 14th race (William Byron at Iowa). I applaud NASCAR’s efforts, but there’s more that could be done.

Dan Beaver: It has been very refreshing to see the Xfinity only drivers compete. Giving them a chance to actually win races and stage bonus points makes their playoff more meaningful. Reducing the number of Cup drivers in a given race is not going to help with that, but it would be nice if NASCAR would make other “Free Zones” throughout the season – three or four races at a time, free from Cup drivers. That would also help with the developmental process for up-and-coming drivers.

Who wins first: Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson or Jimmie Johnson?

Parker Kligerman: Brad Keselowski. The Penske cars are looking great and I think Brad is operating at a high level with a lot of motivation right now. 

Nate Ryan: Denny Hamlin has yet to win at Dover or Charlotte, but he could break through at either this month — possibly even Sunday at the track he once dreaded. If not there, Kansas and Charlotte will present major opportunities.

Dustin Long: Kyle Larson is the one I’m keeping my eye on in the next few weeks.

Daniel McFadin: If Bristol was any indication, if Kyle Larson can finally put together a clean race, he’ll be the person to watch out for at Dover.

Dan Beaver: Team Penske has been on the cusp of winning all season and now that Joey Logano has shown the way, Brad Keselowski will soon follow. His second-place finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway made him best in class after Kevin Harvick’s dominance. The No. 2 team was only about one adjustment away from winning at Auto Club Speedway.