Dover

NBC Sports Power Rankings heading to Dover

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There has not been a previous week this season that has seen so much upheaval in the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

While Kyle Busch unanimously remains No. 1 in the rankings, movement for the other nine positions – as well as others who received votes – was significant.

Chase Elliott made the biggest jump, going from outside the rankings last week to a tie for third place after claiming his Talladega win. The biggest drop was Clint Bowyer (fifth last week, out of this week’s rankings). One of the biggest surprises: after a career-best third-place finish at ‘Dega, Ryan Preece received five points, but it wasn’t enough to crack the top 10.

Here’s how this week’s Power Rankings look:

1. Kyle Busch (40 points): First driver to finish in the top 10 in each of the first 10 races of the season since Morgan Shepherd in 1990. That’s enough to stay No. 1. Last week: 1st.

2. Joey Logano (36 points): Surrounded by Chevrolets at the end of the Talladega race but still scored a top-five result. Got shuffled from lead in no-win situation; still was outstanding. Last week: 3rd.

(tie) 3. Kurt Busch (24 points): Continues to have arguably the most consistent season of any driver, with the exception of younger brother Kyle. His first season at Chip Ganassi Racing remains Grade A. Last week: 8th.

(tie) 3. Chase Elliott (24 points): Normally, a race winner doesn’t make this big of a jump. But to do so at ‘Dega is definitely a feat that warrants Elliott’s placement in this week’s rankings. Last week: not ranked.

5. Denny Hamlin (20 points): No pit road speeding penalty this past weekend but was in wrong place at wrong time early in the race and his car was damaged in an incident. Last week: 2nd.

6. Ryan Newman (19 points): Finished seventh for his third consecutive top 10, greatly increasing his playoff viability. First time he’s done that since late summer 2017 when he earned four straight top 10s. Last week: 9th.

7. Brad Keselowski (17 points): Kudos to his pit crew for servicing his car as quickly as it did after he spun into his pit stall and his car was pointed backward. Last week: 7th.

8. Martin Truex Jr. (9 points): Best thing about Talladega? It’s over. On to his home track of Dover, where he got his first career Cup win in 2007. Last week: 4th.

9. Kevin Harvick (8 points): Early wreck not of his doing took him out. He thought he’d be safe starting from the back of the pack. He was wrong. Never got the chance to see what he had in season-worst finish at Talladega. Last week: 6th.

10. Alex Bowman (6 points): Enjoyed best career finish, second behind race winner and teammate Chase Elliott. Was one three drivers to get career-best finishes at Talladega. Last week: not ranked.

Others Receiving Votes: Ryan Preece (5 points), Aric Almirola (5 points), Tyler Reddick (4 points), Daniel Hemric (1 point), Ryan Blaney (1 point).

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Ryan: Putting the ‘fun’ back in the rulebook? Spoiler alert: Here’s how

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Remember when talking about NASCAR rules was fun?

No, really fun. Hours of endless debates and discussions about driver rivalries, team animosity and manufacturer intrigue.

Fun. You can’t beat that.

In the 1990s, Camp NASCAR might not have been a fun place to live (or officiate), but it was a beguiling place to observe.

Much of that was the megawatt personalities of the drivers, but some of it was attributable to the constant wars over how many inches of spoiler help Ford or Chevrolet was lobbying for and often getting.

This was an era in which the bodies were more distinct, and the rulebook was much smaller. It was undoubtedly a weekly headache to administer with the long line of agitated drivers and owners raising holy hell at the NASCAR hauler after every race.

Two decades later, that delightful complaining has been replaced by impenetrable complication.

Talking about rules isn’t fun in today’s heavily legislated and officiated world of big-league stock-car racing.

It’s no longer a debate about the famous and iconic brands (Chevy, Ford, Toyota) that pour a few hundred million dollars annually into NASCAR.

It’s become the domain of pinion shims and window support braces. The in-the-weeds stuff. There is room for that in NASCAR to showcase its technical appeal and technological ingenuity.

There’s no room for that in SiriusXM NASCAR Radio banter, though. Or in the other national media platforms that primarily drive the narratives that make NASCAR a mainstream sporting entity. Those should revolve around the stars and cars of the Cup Series and their most relatable backstories – not the intricate parts and pieces that propel them to victory lane.

For example, a 46-year-old former champion returns after an unwanted 11-race layoff to start the 2018 season. And he re-enters NASCAR’s premier series precisely as his longtime contemporaries are crowing about regularly drubbing the band of ballyhooed Millennials that threaten to oust them from their rides in the same way.

That sounds like a good story, no?

Unfortunately, Matt Kenseth’s intriguing comeback at Kansas Speedway this weekend has been muted because of Wednesday’s latest avalanche of midweek postrace penalties from Dover that sucked all the oxygen from competing topics with the subtlety and pleasure of a 2X4 to the forehead.

Eradicating midweek penalties has been suggested ad nauseam the past few years, and it’s well documented why they still are happening (the level of necessary inspection scrutiny is available only at the NASCAR R&D Center in Concord).

Kevin Harvick made an impassioned case for why this wasn’t such a hot idea (among many issues he raised about the penalty after his Las Vegas victory). Even NASCAR officials have shown a desire to get out of the business of issuing points deductions and crewmember suspensions three days after a race.

It doesn’t matter how this gets addressed. It’s a situation that needs to be fixed, stat.

So how about going back to the future: Find a way to shrink the rulebook and open up the manufacturer competition again.

Refocus any competition discussions on spoiler heights and driver styles (“who is best suited for this type of handling package?”) instead of obtuse conversation stoppers like planar mating surfaces and flat splitters.

Like everything in racing, this is easier said than done. It certainly will be harder for NASCAR, whose officials would return to the ear-splitting days of listening to nonstop lobbying (i.e., whining) for more parity among makes.

But it might be worth the effort, money and time spent if it results in keeping the attention most prominently on the stars and the cars they drive.

That sounds fun.


NASCAR found itself in an unwinnable situation at Dover International Speedway near the end of the first stage Sunday.

With a dozen cars close to running out of fuel and only about four wreckers to help push them back to the pits (how would you like to make that decision on which drivers benefit from NASCAR’s largesse?), vice president of competition Scott Miller explained Monday why the pits were opened almost immediately after the stage instead of waiting for a commercial break per normal.

It was the right call given the alternative – if several cars had run out of gas, the furor would have been much greater and the implications are more unfair. But this is something that must be done extremely sparingly.

It burned Denny Hamlin’s team, which pitted the No. 11 Toyota instead of limping to the pits (as it could have) because it rightfully expected the pits would open much later.

“I didn’t know they were going to open the pits early,” Hamlin said on an episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast that will be released next week. “I would have ran another lap. That’s a little frustrating. The crew chief was telling me I could make it to the checkered but not the pit open.”

But it turned out if Hamlin had waited a lap, he would have had enough fuel (and an extra five stage points from keeping his spot).

“I had some talks with Miller and (Steve) O’Donnell about it,” Hamlin said. “If I would have known you’d open the pits, I wouldn’t have pitted early, and I think a lot of people based their strategy off that.

“But I also see their point of what happens if there are six cars out of fuel on the apron? Who gets the tow truck and push first while you have someone sitting on the apron for three laps, and then they’re pissed off? I kind of see where (NASCAR) is going there. But at some point, teams will make decisions on where to pit, and it’s kind of on them.”

There always are circumstances similar to these during a race – for example, NASCAR often must choose between a red flag or running out many laps under yellow in the event of a wreck that requires a long cleanup – so it’s unavoidable. The key is managing it in a way that doesn’t disrupt the natural flow of a race.


As Dustin Long detailed exhaustively in last week’s Friday 5 feature, the time to question the lagging results of the new Camaro has arrived. Chevrolet’s new model hasn’t shown much potential for pure speed, aside from the performance of Kyle Larson.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver is sort of this year’s version of 2017 series champion Martin Truex Jr., who was far ahead of Joe Gibbs Racing’s Toyotas last year in the rollout of the 2018 Camry. But that’s where the apples to apples comparison ends.

Nearly a third of the way into last season, it was obvious the new Camry had speed. Though Toyota won only twice in the first 11 races, its drivers led the most laps six times. The lack of victories was because of JGR’s circumstances instead of a lack of performance.

This is less true with the Camaro, which has a last-lap win in the Daytona 500 and has led the most laps only once (Larson at Bristol Motor Speedway). At Dover, the highest finisher was Jimmie Johnson in ninth, and Alex Bowman drove the only Camaro to lead laps (26 of 400).

It might be a case where the struggles are less about the new model and more about the teams running it. Aside from Chase Elliott, lead Chevy team Hendrick Motorsports struggled in 2017, and the four-car team still seems to be finding its footing this year with a less experienced lineup.

The departure of Stewart-Haas Racing, which is side by side with Team Penske for top Ford team, also might be hurting Chevrolet more than a year later.


A sidelight to the Chevrolet struggles is that it also has hampered the development of the 2018 youth brigade with Elliott, Larson, William Byron, Alex Bowman, Bubba Wallace and Austin Dillon (who made his feelings known Sunday night) trying to excel in the Camaro.

On Wednesday’s NASCAR America, analyst Dale Jarrett made that point (along with evaluating whether Ryan Blaney has reached “success” yet) and also noted that the hype around the marketing of the young drivers (editor’s note: plead guilty) would have been better balanced with a focus on the older set.

That’s good advice for the future and also good context for Kevin Harvick’s incessantly delightful jabs at the next generation.


One positive of this week’s midweek penalties?

Well, it did steer the discussion away from a topic that no one in Charlotte or Daytona Beach wanted to highlight.

That said, Harvick’s comments Tuesday night about a potential NASCAR sale were notable, and it will be interesting to see what else is said this weekend at Kansas Speedway.

Martin Truex Jr. maintains lead in regular-season, playoff points

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Martin Truex Jr. remained atop the points standings in NASCAR’s premier series with two stage wins and a third-place finish at Dover International Speedway.

The Furniture Row Racing driver is nine points ahead of Kyle Larson, who finished second Sunday, through 13 of 26 races in the regular season.

Raising his stage win total to eight, Truex leads the series with 18 playoff points, three ahead of Jimmie Johnson, who picked up five points with his victory Sunday.

Click here for the points standings after Dover.

Results, stats for Sunday’s AAA 400 Cup race at Dover International Speedway

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Jimmie Johnson won the AAA 400 in a wild finish Sunday at Dover International Speedway, the 11th victory at the 1-mile oval for the Hendrick Motorsports driver.

The seven-time series champion passed Kyle Larson on a restart in overtime and held on for his 83rd career victory, tying Cale Yarborough on the all-time winner’s list in NASCAR’s premier series.

Larson, who led a race-high 241 laps, was second, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman and Chase Elliott.

Click here for full results from Sunday at Dover.

 

NASCAR says using VHT at Dover is a possibility after Charlotte success

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After a positive reception at the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR could apply VHT this weekend at Dover International Speedway.

Chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell said the 1-mile oval’s concrete surface – similar to Bristol Motor Speedway, where VHT was used in the past – makes it an obvious candidate.

VHT, which is intended to promote multiple grooves to enhance passing, made its asphalt debut with NASCAR at Charlotte Motor Speedway this past weekend. O’Donnell said its success led to NASCAR being contacted by “a lot of interested parties” about its usage at more tracks in the future.

“It’s something for sure you could see” in the future, O’Donnell said Tuesday morning during his weekly “The Morning Drive” appearance on SiriusXM’s NASCAR channel. “We have to break down what did we see from the asphalt application, what’s it doing to the track vs. the tire vs. the racing. There are a lot of things to digest.

“Going into Dover, you’ve got that one-off where you ran it at Bristol on a similar surface. It is something we could look at and then beyond that have, we have to analyze what happens in terms of the asphalt surface.”

Dover spokesman Gary Camp said Tuesday that VHT usage has been discussed, but no decision had been made. Camp said if NASCAR believes the compound would enhance Dover’s racing, the track “would certainly be supportive.”

O’Donnell said NASCAR also would be consulting with Goodyear, but that such a decision wouldn’t necessarily require much lead time.

“The good news is it’s just enhancing what they have,” he said. “It’s not something that if we apply this next week, we need a different tire. So far it’s helped whatever tire they’ve brought to the track.”

O’Donnell praised Charlotte Motor Speedway owner Marcus Smith for lobbying to use the VHT, which had been used successfully at its adjacent NHRA-affiliated drag racing track.

NASCAR applied the traction compound twice on Charlotte’s 1.5-mile oval, before practice and qualifying Thursday and again on Saturday night.  Drivers who competed in the Cup and Xfinity races asked NASCAR to reapply the VHT for the Coca-Cola 600.

“I think it had an impact,” O’Donnell said. “We’ll continue to learn and work with tracks. This was the first time on asphalt and the second time we used it. As we see multiple grooves open up earlier, I think it’s something you could see us apply in the future at other tracks.”