Dustin Long

Bump and Run: Should Cup race on the Indy road course?

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Should the Cup Series remain on the oval at Indy or should it move to the road course like Xfinity did this weekend?

Dustin Long: I’d rather see what the Next Gen car could do on the oval before abandoning that for the the road course. Stay on the oval for now.

Daniel McFadin: I’m firmly in the #MoreRoadCourses camp and Cup should give Indy’s a shot. It doesn’t need to replace the oval race, but Saturday’s Xfinity race was more memorable than any Brickyard 400 in my memory.

Jerry Bonkowski: Both. I think NASCAR should hold a weekend doubleheader at Indy next season (and beyond), with a road course race on Saturday and oval race on Sunday. For even added measure, switch them around for every other subsequent year.

Chase Briscoe said before the season started he felt he needed at least 8 Xfinity wins to move up to Cup. He now has five victories through 13 races. How many wins will he get this year?

Dustin Long: Twelve.

Daniel McFadin: I had my doubts Briscoe could get to eight wins, mostly because he’d never had more than one win in his previous two Xfinity seasons. But he arguably should be at six wins. I think he’ll at least get to nine wins.

Jerry Bonkowski: I can see him winning nine races at least … and maybe as many as 12. He is definitely on a roll and no one else is even close to him, not just in wins but overall performance.

Kyle Busch has one win in the last 38 Cup races. Does he win in any of the next four points races (Kentucky, Texas, Kansas and New Hampshire)?

Dustin Long: No. Team hasn’t shown elite level speed to contend for wins. He’s led 130 laps this season and 100 of those laps came at Bristol. Can’t lead, can’t win.

Daniel McFadin: I think he wins one of them. If he doesn’t, then his team will be on red alert when teammate Denny Hamlin is on a roll right now.

Jerry Bonkowski: I think Texas offers him the best opportunity to win at in the next four tracks. He’s won there three times there in his Cup career (he’s also won three times at New Hampshire, which would be my secondary choice for Busch). There’s just something about Texas that seems to bring out the best in Busch and the No. 18.

Bump and Run: Should NASCAR’s future have more doubleheaders?

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What did you think of the Cup doubleheader weekend at Pocono and is that something that should be continued in 2021?

Dustin Long: It was a nice touch but let’s not go crazy with it. Remember how exciting it was when there was a rare night race? Then many more were added and the luster faded. Don’t go crazy with doubleheaders. And it’s not needed at a short track or superspeedway.

Daniel McFadin: Except for the weather delays, I thought it was great. It puts more pressure on teams and with the invert for the second race, creates the possibility for more chaos. Doubleheaders should definitely be a staple of the schedule next year.

Jerry Bonkowski: Can you just imagine a twinbill weekend at places like Bristol or Daytona? Plus, there’s one other benefit that many may not have considered: Given complaints over the years about the length of the NASCAR Cup schedule, this would be a great way to shorten the length of a season, or at the very least, allow for more off-weekends in the season than there are now. I’d love to see 3-4 doubleheader weekends in 2021

 

Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin each won a Pocono race this past weekend and finished second in the other race. Since Pocono has some similarities to Indianapolis, site of this weekend’s Cup race, will you take Harvick and Hamlin or the field at Indy?

Dustin Long: I’ll take the field.

Daniel McFadin: With Kevin Harvick being the defending winner, I think he’s the favorite. But Denny Hamlin has finished in the top six in five of the last six visits to Indy, so he’s a clear threat to get his first Brickyard win.

Jerry Bonkowski: Denny Hamlin is having a great year, perhaps headed to his best season. If he is to finally win that elusive first Cup championship, a strong run at Indy will help. It seems he and his team are hitting on all cylinders more than any other team right now, which makes him the favorite Sunday at the Brickyard.

 

 

The Xfinity Series races Saturday on the road course at Indy. Austin Cindric won two road course races last year, finished second in another and third in the other. Will you take Cindric or the field, which includes AJ Allmendinger, at Indy?

Dustin Long: You can have the field. I’m taking Austin Cindric. Team Penske driver will win the first Xfinity race on the road course at the track Roger Penske now owns.

Daniel McFadin: I’ll take the field, namely AJ Allmendinger, just because of his experience. While Xfinity teams will get practice, it’s still everyone’s first time on the road course. In this kind of scenario, I put more value on a veteran.

Jerry Bonkowski: There’s no denying Austin Cindric’s success and talent on road courses. But in a head-to-head battle with AJ Allmendinger – or the rest of the Xfinity field, for that matter – I’ve still got to go with the Dinger. But I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see an Allmendinger-Cindric 1-2 finish at Indy.

 

Chevrolet is winless in the last seven Cup races. How much of a concern should that be?

Dustin Long: Chevy’s lack of wins lately is unsettling. Also worrisome is that Chevy is not leading many laps. Since 2015, Chevy has one win each at Indy and Kentucky, the next two tracks on the circuit. This drought could last longer.

Daniel McFadin: Chevrolet should be concerned. A Chevy driver wasn’t part of the conversation at the end of either Pocono race, Atlanta, or Martinsville. Chevy takes its winless streak to Indy, where its only win in the last five races, in 2017, was the product of chaotic overtime restarts. Chevy needs a convincing win soon.

Jerry Bonkowski: It’s just in a little downturn currently. Chevy will be back soon enough. I’m not concerned at all.

Bump and Run: Impressive Cup drivers from season’s first half

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1) With the regular season at the halfway point, what Cup driver or team has impressed you the most?

Dustin Long: Ryan Blaney. First year with crew chief Todd Gordon and has been in position to win multiple races. Team has been fast from the start. 

Daniel McFadin: Brad Keselowski. He’s working with a new Cup crew chief for the first time in a decade and he hasn’t faltered much, winning twice, including the Coca-Cola 600 for the first time. 

Jerry Bonkowski: Chase Elliott has had an up-and-down season at times, but he has been solid since NASCAR returned from the pandemic. He very easily could have three wins and maybe even four if it hadn’t been for his crash at Darlington. If he can keep his momentum going, he’s definitely a championship contender.

 

2) What Cup driver or team has surprised you the most in the first half of the regular season?

Dustin Long: John Hunter Nemecheck and Front Row Motorsports. He was overshadowed by the others in the rookie class going into the season but has shown well and has seven top-20 finishes in the first 13 races. Not sure if a lot of people would have predicted that at the start of the year for Nemechek and his team.

Daniel McFadin: Cole Custer and not in a good way. He was my pre-season pick to be the best rookie out of the gate and he’s done nothing to back it up, earning just one top 10 and finishing in the top 15 just once in the last nine races.

Jerry Bonkowski: Team Penske in general and Ryan Blaney in particular. I’ve been very impressed with Blaney particularly of late. He’s earned a win at Talladega and six top-five finishes in the last seven races.

3) Who would be your pick for top Cup rookie at this point in the season?

Dustin Long: Tyler Reddick has been the standout this season and the rookie who has run more consistently at the front. 

Daniel McFadin: Tyler Reddick easily. He’s the only rookie with a stage win and he has three top 10s, including a top five, through the first 13 races.

Jerry Bonkowski: Tyler Reddick, who is the highest-ranked rookie in the Cup standings, with one top-five and three top-10 finishes. I really like what I’ve seen from Reddick. But I’ve also been pleasantly surprised at the performance of fellow rookie John Hunter Nemechek.

 

4) Which driver or team do you think can make the biggest improvement from the first half of the regular season to the second half?

Dustin Long: I’m waiting to see what Matt Kenseth and the No. 42 team will do. After finishing 10th at Darlington in his first race back, Kenseth has not finished better than 15th since. With the way the Chevys are strong this year, got to think his results will turn around soon.

Daniel McFadin: I think Alex Bowman is going to put together a solid back half after a rather disappointing output since NASCAR returned. He has two top 10s in the last three races, but that followed a stretch of only one top-15 finish over four races when he had a car capable of winning in both Charlotte races. He has lots of promise, he just needs to put together complete races.

Jerry Bonkowski: Jimmie Johnson has had some strong performances during the first half of the season. He already has two top-five finishes in the first 12 races, just one less than he had in all of last season. And he is already halfway [six] to the number of top-10 finishes he had all of last season. I firmly believe it’s just a matter of time before he breaks his three-plus year winless streak.

Bump and Run: Will Kyle Busch or Ryan Blaney win first in Cup this year?

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Who wins a Cup race first this season: Ryan Blaney or Kyle Busch?

Dustin Long: Ryan Blaney. He keeps running at the front like he has lately, he’ll win a race soon.

Daniel McFadin: Ryan Blaney. He’s clearly been faster over the last few races and more consistent, just as Team Penske as a whole has been compared to Joe Gibbs Racing. 

Jerry Bonkowski: Ryan Blaney has definitely been on a roll of late with five top-five finishes in his last six starts. Conversely, Busch has six top fives in his last 10 starts. But if a race came down to the last lap and the two drivers battling it out, I give the edge to the defending and two-time Cup champ.

 

The 2021 Class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame will be announced at 5 p.m. ET Tuesday on NBCSN. Who would you have on your NASCAR Hall of Fame ballot?

Dustin Long: Modern Era: Kirk Shelmerdine and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Pioneer Era: Ralph Moody.

Daniel McFadin: Modern Era: Kirk Shelmerdine and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Pioneer Era: Banjo Matthews

Jerry Bonkowski: Modern Era: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ricky Rudd. Pioneer Era: Red Farmer.

 

Did Joey Logano do anything wrong by racing leader Chase Elliott hard while already down a lap and as Denny Hamlin was chasing Elliott late in Sunday’s race?

Dustin Long: A saying many in the garage follow simply states: “What goes around comes around.” Bristol wasn’t that long ago.

Daniel McFadin: We haven’t heard from Logano on what his intentions were Sunday, but I’d be hard pressed to imagine he wasn’t trying to make Elliott’s night more difficult on some level. If it were me, I’d have waited until we were both competing for position or a win, as was the case between them at the end of the Bristol race. But Logano didn’t wreck him or even make contact. So I really don’t see the harm.

Jerry Bonkowski: Logano didn’t want to fall back even further. Pretty simple and standard stuff. As the old saying goes, “That’s racing.” Besides, given their past history, do you honestly think Logano would do anything to benefit Hamlin? No way. It was just a regular racing deal.

Bump and Run: NASCAR documentaries we’d like to see

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With sports documentaries the rage now thanks to film series on Michael Jordan and Lance Armstrong, what’s a NASCAR story you’d like to see a documentary on?

Dustin Long: The 2000 Winston 500 at Talladega. The sport was going through significant change. Adam Petty, Kenny Irwin and Tony Roper all were killed in crashes that season. Roper died the day before the Talladega race from injuries suffered in a Truck crash at Texas. Talladega saw new rules to enhance passing after that year’s Daytona 500 had nine lead changes, the fewest in that race since the rain-shortened 1965 event. When speeds neared 200 mph, NASCAR made a restrictor-plate change the day before the Talladega race, an unheard move at the time. With all of that happening, the sport also was looking ahead to a 2001 season that would put races on Fox and NBC. In the midst of all that came a magical run, as Dale Earnhardt went from 18th to first in five laps, scoring his final Cup win. Afterward he simply said: “I don’t know how I won it. Honestly.” So much was happening in and around this one race. 

Daniel McFadin: I’d like a documentary on an obscure driver who finished second in one of NASCAR’s biggest races: Johnny Beauchamp. A native of Iowa, Beauchamp only made 23 Cup Series starts and won twice. But his legacy is mostly tied to the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959. After a photo finish with Lee Petty, Beauchamp was declared the initial winner. But following days of reviewing film and photographs, NASCAR reversed course and made Petty the winner. Petty was already famous and would be for the rest of his life. How would the career of Beauchamp, who died in 1981, have been impacted had he won that race?

Jerry Bonkowski: I would love to see a documentary on Richard Petty and how much he has meant to the sport over the last 60-plus years. Unfortunately, many of today’s younger fans never saw Petty either race or race in his prime. He was the Michael Jordan of NASCAR, in my opinion, one of the most dominant drivers ever. Plus, he could spin hours of great stories that NASCAR fans would love to hear either again or for the first time. The King is a true NASCAR treasure and a documentary on him would only serve to further share his legend.

 

The first night Cup race at Martinsville Speedway is Wednesday but it won’t have any fans. What will it be like for you to see the historic race in such a setting?

Dustin Long: Sentimentality may tug at me a bit since I’ve covered nearly every Martinsville Cup race for more than 20 years. But my thoughts will be more with the fans who make the annual pilgrimage to the track and those who would have been making their first trip there and experiencing a Martinsville hot dog for the first time.

Daniel McFadin: The lack of fans definitely takes some of the luster off the race. This is an event that’s had multiple years of hype since the lights were installed. Outside the Bristol fall race, I can’t remember the last time I was excited about a night race like I am about Wednesday’s. It’s been very disappointing seeing historic races and controversial moments occur over the last three weeks without cheering fans as a soundtrack. 

Jerry Bonkowski: While it’s obviously not the situation the track or fans wanted, I’m convinced it will only serve to further whet fans’ appetite for when the next night race will be held at Martinsville – and with fans in attendance. This has been a milestone that fans and NASCAR have long waited for. In time, it has the prospect to become almost as popular as the annual night race at Bristol, in my opinion.

 

What driver or drivers have stood out to you since the series resumed last month?

Dustin Long: The talk is once a driver gets over 40 years old their skills diminish and their winning ways will dissipate, yet 44-year-old Kevin Harvick continues to win races and run in the top 10. That’s impressive. Chase Elliott also has impressed. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pull off a string of wins at some point.

Daniel McFadin: The Team Penske drivers. While Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have each won twice, Ryan Blaney has been a consistent frontrunner, finishing in the top four in three of the last four races while having a potentially winning car at Bristol before he was in a wreck. So far, the decision to swap all three crew chiefs in the offseason is proving to have been a good one.

Jerry Bonkowski: Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott and Kurt Busch. All but Busch have won a race since the sport’s return – and Busch has been knocking on the door with two top five and three other top-10 finishes. It’s just a matter of time before he takes the checkered flag. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him do so Wednesday at Martinsville.

 

How soon until Jimmie Johnson wins a race?

Dustin Long: If he doesn’t do it soon, it could be much more difficult. Hendrick Motorsports is viewed as having the top cars but how long will the organization hold that advantage?

Daniel McFadin: I give it at least five races if he doesn’t win Wednesday at Martinsville. That five-race stretch ends at Indianapolis, where he’s won four times.

Jerry Bonkowski: He’s come close several times already since NASCAR’s return to racing following the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only is Johnson due, at 105 races to date without a win, the seven-time champ is long overdue. I believe that when he finally breaks through, it will be at a place where he has excelled in the past. He’s won nine times at Martinsville, his second-most successful track. Can he make it 10 Wednesday night and finally get that winless streak off his back?