Bump & Run: Superlatives, surprises, bold prediction

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What is a performance that has stood out to you so far this season?

Nate Ryan: Joey Logano. He quietly is tied for the series lead in top 10s (12) with Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch but ranks only 10th in laps led, which indicates he is maximizing his finishes.

Dustin Long: Kevin Harivck’s dominance. This reminds me of how strong Harvick was in 2014. The only difference is that in 2014 he lost the chance at a number of wins because of various issues from mechanical to pit road and such. Harvick and his team aren’t having those issues this season. Their ability to run mistake-free races week after week has been as impressive as the speed the No. 4 car has.

Daniel McFadin: Joey Logano. He’s third in points coming off his horrid season in 2017. He’s tied with Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch with 12 top 10s and he has a better average finish (8.1) than Harvick (9.3). He only has one win, but he should be in the conversation for being part of the “Big 4” this season.

Dan Beaver: Clint Bowyer’s performance at Martinsville – especially as it came on the heels of Martin Truex Jr.’s win at Auto Club. For a moment, it appeared the competitive landscape was going to open up.

What is something that has surprised you about this season?

Nate Ryan: The number of winners. It seems improbable that with 11 races to go, there are still 10 provisional playoff spots based on points. Based on how Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. have run this season, and their performances at the upcoming tracks, there is a real possibility that half the playoff field will be determined by points – which could make for some nail-biting storylines down the stretch and at the Brickyard.

Dustin Long: The dominance of the veteran drivers this season.

Daniel McFadin: Kyle Larson‘s inability to have consecutive clean races. His spin at Michigan came after similar spins at Phoenix and Charlotte, wrecks at Texas, Talladega, Daytona and Kansas and his spin from contact with Ryan Newman at Bristol. He bounced back to nearly win at Bristol, a seventh-place finish at Charlotte and a fourth at Kansas. Imagine the season Larson could be boasting if some of these incidents hadn’t occurred. He’s been the strongest Chevy driver all year, but he’s also been arguably the sloppiest.

Dan Beaver: The sheer domination of Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. It is not only that they are winning so many races, but that no one else has been in the same league as them through 15 races.

Eleven more races remain until the playoffs begin. Give me one bold prediction about what might take place before then.

Nate Ryan: Despite going winless in the regular season, Hendrick Motorsports still qualifies three for the playoffs as Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman each earn berths via points.

Dustin Long: Two drivers currently outside the top 20 in points each win a race and make the playoffs.

Daniel McFadin: Alex Bowman and William Byron will win as Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott founder.

Dan Beaver: The inevitable leveling of the playing field. Chevrolet will catch up before the playoffs, but they are not going to have a dominant performer like Ford’s Harvick or Toyota’s Busch and that is going to spread the wealth around.

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Michigan

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

Nate Ryan

Martin Truex Jr. He becomes the latest to win consecutive races this season, erasing the memory of Last August’s near-miss here.

Dustin Long

Kevin Harvick. He hasn’t won in two races. He’s due.

Daniel McFadin

Joey Logano grabs his second win of the season.

Dan Beaver

Martin Truex Jr. is ready to join Harvick and Kyle Busch as the elite three.

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Pocono

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at Pocono Raceway.

Nate Ryan

Kyle Busch. The season of streaks continues as the No. 18 driver resumes his turn at the top.

Dustin Long

Kyle Busch. He leads. He wins. He sweeps the weekend. Enough said.

Daniel McFadin

Kevin Harvick gets his first Pocono win, leaving Kentucky as the only active Cup track he has yet to win on (not counting the Roval).

Dan Beaver

Pocono has been kind to first time winners in recent years, so this is the week Chase Elliott finally gets it done.

Bump & Run: Will Kurt Busch be last driver to do Indy-Charlotte Double?

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Kurt Busch was the last to do the Indy 500-Coke 600 Double in 2014. Will we see a driver run the Double again anytime soon? If so, who might that be?

Kyle Petty: For me, the bigger question is why? Why try it? It’s been done. By multiple drivers with various levels of success. John Andretti for me will always be “The Man” for being the first. Tony Stewart ranks because he truly had a shot at wins in both. Any driver now trying “The Double” could only hope to be a contender in one and a footnote in the other. Both series have upped their game, it would be tougher to win. I’m not saying someone won’t try, but once you’ve watched the same PR stunt three or four times … well, you know.

Nate Ryan: No.

Dustin Long: No. Cup car owners aren’t going to let one of their drivers run in the Indy 500 because so much is tied up in those drivers on the Cup side. Unless an IndyCar driver comes with money, they’re not going to get the chance to run the Coca-Cola 600 because of relative lack of performance from such drivers in NASCAR (Tony Stewart notwithstanding).

Daniel McFadin: Yes, and it will be Kyle Larson. Both he and owner Chip Ganassi have indicated they want it to happen. Someone just needs to cave and say “Let’s do it.”

Dan Beaver: Unless IndyCar moves the race into an earlier, less desirable slot no one is going to be able to do it. But if they do, Kyle Larson is the most obvious pick. His passion for racing in general will eventually get the best of him and get him to test those open wheelers.

Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Aric Almirola, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman are among the drivers who have yet to win this season. Who is the next driver to win for the first time this season?

Kyle Petty: Erik Jones … Pocono! That’s just one of those tracks. We’ve seen it with Blaney, Hamlin when he first came into Cup and a few others. It’s so different from everything else that they run that someone with a good team (JGR) and a young driver with talent (Erik) can sneak up on the usual suspects!

Nate Ryan: Denny Hamlin. Though he hasn’t been as good at Pocono since the 2012 repave, he could break through Sunday or next weekend at Michigan given that Joe Gibbs Racing has turned the corner.

Dustin Long: Brad Keselowski. Fords will continue to dominate and Keselowski will get a win soon enough.

Daniel McFadin: Denny Hamlin. He has three top fives and one top 10 in the last five races and aside from the threat of speeding penalties, he is the only driver among those listed who has really managed to put together complete races in the last five events. 

Dan Beaver: Denny Hamlin stayed out of trouble last week at Charlotte and earned his fifth top five in the last six races there. Perhaps that means he is returning to predictability on tracks that have been kind to him in the past, so he not only gets the next win, it could happen this weekend at Pocono.

Chevrolet teams did not lead a lap in the Coca-Cola 600 but had four cars finish between fifth and 10th. How do you evaluate where Chevy is at the halfway point of the regular season?

Kyle Petty: For me at this point in the season, the Chevys have made gains but not enough to run as a group and consistently with the Fords and Toyotas. It’s a long season, and I’m sure we’ll see wins this year from Chevy drivers, but as a group, they are third best in class. 

Nate Ryan: Making steady gains but still short of being on the verge of consistently winning. There’s enough promise there to indicate the Camaro could be a factor in the playoffs.

Dustin Long: A step forward but still many steps to take to for Chevy to show it can beat the top Fords and Toyotas straight up.

Daniel McFadin: Since the 2017 regular-season finale, Chevy’s most consistent hope of winning a race has been Kyle Larson. But despite being a front-runner this year, Larson can’t seem to go from green flag to checkered flag without something going wrong. As of now, Chevrolet needs to hope its fortunes take a turn for the best in the second half of the season, like Toyota’s did last year with a new car model.

Dan Beaver: They’re not out of the woods yet, but it finally appeared that the Chevrolet drivers not only finished strong, but ran well as a group throughout the race. They will start to ease their way up the grid and challenge for victories, but it is difficult to imagine they will capture very many wins because Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch will continue to dominate.

Bump & Run: Where to race next with All-Star rules package?

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When and where would you suggest running the All-Star package next?

Steve Letarte: I think there was definitely some entertainment. I enjoyed the package. I think the when is somewhere in the regular season. I don’t really think it belongs in the playoffs unless we run it a few more times in the regular season. It seems to me that Michigan, Indy and Pocono are the three tracks that I think easily the package could be adapted to.

Kyle Petty: Let me say first when they announced this package for the All-Star Race I was not impressed. I’ve always lived by “I hate Plates!” But … as everyone who knows or listens to me run my mouth knows, I can eat crow! I thought the race was entertaining and enjoyed it! I would like to see it at Michigan. I think the draft there and speeds would translate well to the package. And as we know from the Xfinity race last year at Indy, it made for some interesting moments there.

Nate Ryan: Pocono with an eye toward Indianapolis. Potentially Michigan (though a form of it is being used in the Xfinity race). Kentucky Speedway also seems a natural because the track and its owners already are on board and supportive of the concept.

Dustin Long: Run it at Michigan in June — when the Xfinity Series also is running it — then do it at Indianapolis in September. See how teams make their cars better and how that impacts the racing. That will give NASCAR ideas of changes it can make for 2019.

Dan Beaver: Michigan. The wide corners would allow drivers to get four-wide without the consequence seen near the end of the All-Star Race. Based on the success of the first race, they could choose to use it again when they return for race number two. Pocono is another track that needs a boost in terms of competition, but with the speed carried into turn one and the narrowness of the groove in two, that could be a recipe for disaster. By the time the playoffs roll around, shelf the science project until 2019 and Auto Club.

Daniel McFadin: It shouldn’t be tested in the playoffs, so if I had to pick a track before then I’d go with the August race at Michigan. That would mean both Cup and Xfinity teams tried out the package there this season.

What is a concern you have about the All-Star package?

Steve Letarte: The biggest concern, I think, is that one of the reasons it was successful was because teams didn’t have time to develop it. As teams develop it, it will change. I think the ratio of downforce to power is pretty successful. They need to try to keep that as teams make gains, whether horsepower with the plates or downforce with the car.

Kyle Petty: My main concerns are drivers/teams and fans. Drivers/teams went into Charlotte with some ideas of what this package would do and feel like but not 100% sure of everything. We saw a race where ALL drivers/teams were as close as they’ll EVER be with this package. The next time it’s run, someone will have figured out a way to be better than the rest and the never-ending cycle of rule changes vs. drivers/teams will continue. That’s what NASCAR has ALWAYS been and Thank God there’s still a little of that left! … The fans are a concern because they like it now but will they like it tomorrow? We’ve seen this same movie before. Everyone says they love tandem racing! Two or three races later they hate it! NASCAR listens to the fans and changes the rules as to not allow tandem racing. Once again fans Love the new racing … for two or three races and then some will want tandem racing again! NASCAR can’t chase the fan opinion, the fans matter, but the product on the track matters MORE. It’s why NASCAR is in business, the racing business, it’s why drivers/teams race and in the end it’s why fans come. We need long-term solutions not knee-jerk reactions.

Nate Ryan: It still seems to remain as difficult to pass the leader, if not more difficult.

Dustin Long: Just how much will some teams get better with this package and how will it impact the racing. Will there be more separation among cars? How will that impact passing at the front? That seems to be an issue already. Will it be worse?

Dan Beaver: From the outside, the cars appeared to be too stable because of the reduction of speed. Portions of the race were too similar to restrictor-plate superspeedway races where the mental aspect of passing was more important than the handling.

Daniel McFadin: The amount of difficulty for the car behind the leader to get close enough to challenge for the lead. It’s possible the straightaways just aren’t long enough at Charlotte build enough momentum.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame will select its next class Wednesday. Name one person — other than Jeff Gordon — who should be in the next class and why.

Steve Letarte: Roger Penske. I think because Roger Penske has had a Hall of Fame career as a car owner but his reach in NASCAR is much more than that. He was involved in Michigan International Speedway, he built Auto Club Speedway. Penske, that last name is just iconic in the U.S. when it comes to industry. I think his involvement in NASCAR matches that and he should go into the Hall of Fame.

Kyle Petty: ALL are deserving in so many different ways. I know or knew every one of the nominees. I’m sorry I can’t pick just one. So  I’ll just say … Congratulations Jeff Gordon! 

Nate Ryan: Alan Kulwicki because he accomplished so much with less than his rivals while also being ahead of the curve on the engineering trends.

Dustin Long: Kirk Shelmerdine. Won four championships as Dale Earnhardt’s crew chiefs in the 1980 and won 10 percent of all his starts while working with Earnhardt, Ricky Rudd, Richard Childress and James Hylton.

Dan Beaver: My vote goes to Red Farmer. He epitomizes NASCAR’s golden years with a path that weaves in and out of the top series while also running paved short tracks and on dirt. Still racing and winning well into his 80s, a driver like Farmer defines the sport for many grassroots fans. The Hall needs to remember its roots, just as NASCAR does.

Daniel McFadin: Kirk Shelmerdine. He won four Cup titles with Dale Earnhardt Sr. That’s one more than Ray Evernham won with Jeff Gordon. Shelmerdine partnered with Earnhardt for 44 of his 46 Cup wins.