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NASCAR penalty report after Las Vegas

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NASCAR on Wednesday issued five penalties to crew chiefs in the Cup or Xfinity series following this past weekend’s racing action at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

In the Cup Series, crew chiefs Greg Ives (No. 88 driven by Alex Bowman), Adam Stevens (No. 18 driven by Kyle Busch) and John Klausmeier (No. 10 driven by Aric Almirola) were each fined $10,000 apiece for lug nut(s) not properly installed, found during post-race inspection.

In the Xfinity Series, crew chiefs David Elenz (No. 9 driven by Noah Gragson) and Jeff Meendering (No. 19 driven by Brandon Jones) were each fined $5,000 apiece for lug nut(s) not properly installed, found during post-race inspection.

There were no other penalties assessed.

In addition, driver Bayley Currey was reinstated after completing NASCAR’s Road To Recovery substance abuse program.

NASCAR Darlington penalty report

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NASCAR on Wednesday issued five penalties — four in Cup and one in the Xfinity Series — stemming from last weekend’s Cup and Xfinity races at Darlington Raceway.

In Cup, four crew chiefs were each fined $10,000 apiece for lug nut(s) not properly installed:

* Mike Wheeler, No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota (driver Matt DiBenedetto).

* Greg Ives, No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet (driver Alex Bowman).

* Chad Knaus, No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet (driver William Byron).

* Chad Johnston, No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet (driver Kyle Larson).

In the Xfinity Series, one crew chief was fined $5,000 for lug nut(s) not properly installed:

* Jeff Meendering, No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (driver Brandon Jones).

There were no other penalties issued.

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Alex Bowman celebrates first Cup win with friends and the rising sun

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The sun officially rose over the area surrounding Charlotte, North Carolina, at 5:41 a.m. ET Monday morning.

It was playing catchup to Alex Bowman.

Bowman and a large group of friends with adult beverages took the Garth Brook’s song “Ain’t Goin’ Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)” to heart as they celebrated his first career Cup win less than 12 hours earlier at Chicagoland Speedway.

MORE: Long: Cup victory marks giant step forward for Alex Bowman

Bowman announced on Twitter at 5:29 a.m. ET that he and his friends were getting ready to welcome the sun to the party.

After his win Sunday, Bowman said the weight of the victory would sink in once he returned home.

“I feel like once I’m able to kind of go home and be back with the people that were there for the years of running 35th and the same core group of people that I’ve been friends with my whole life, when I get to go home and share it with them, it’s going to be really special,” Bowman said. “Probably won’t be able to talk about it because I probably won’t remember it.  But no, we’re going to have a lot of fun.”

Bowman also joked he planned a special celebratory act for his crew chief Greg Ives.

“I’m going to throw him in the pool in about three hours,” Bowman declared.

At press time, it was unknown if Ives had met his watery fate. But he did spend the early morning hours tweeting about what the win meant to him.

Long: Cup victory marks giant step forward for Alex Bowman

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JOLIET, Ill. — Alex Bowman climbed from his car, which was stuck in the mud, and steadied himself on the door. The next step he took elevated him into a moment of a lifetime.

There on the car’s roof, Bowman stood, a Cup winner for the first time.

As he relished the feeling, the 26-year-old shed the doubt, disrespect and disappointment that has followed him in his career.

“I feel like I’m so used to being disappointed in a way after Cup races and stock car races in general,” Bowman said after winning Sunday’s race at Chicagoland Speedway. “My career hasn’t been what I would have hoped it would have been as a kid.”

If you get beat down enough, sometimes it’s hard to truly revel when things go so well. Runner-up Kyle Larson noted how Bowman’s celebration seemed muted.

“Looking at the big screen, he’s like the most unexcited person I’ve ever seen in my life to get his first Cup win,” Larson said.

Larson went to victory lane to congratulate Bowman and told his friend how calm he looked. Bowman said he didn’t know what to do.

“I’m so happy, and I feel like I’m not really showing it because I just don’t really know what to say,” Bowman later said.

Bowman’s voyage to this victory was an odyssey that no one will ever repeat. He was not ordained in the way others have been, their paths to Cup paved with the proper funding and elite rides.

“His story in climbing up through the ranks … is like the workingman’s story,” teammate Jimmie Johnson said.

Nine years ago, Bowman was in an intensive care unit, eyes swollen shut, ribs and collarbones broken after a vicious crash in a midget car. Told he’d be out eight weeks, he returned in half that time.

Bowman was the K&N Pro Series East rookie of the year in 2011, beating Chase Elliott for that honor, and won that same award the next year in the ARCA Series to earn a ride in the Xfinity Series in 2013.

The rise to Cup was quick but the rides were unremarkable. He drove for BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing, two teams that no longer exist, in 2014-15. He was prepared to run for Baldwin’s team in 2016 until he found out on Twitter less than a month before the Daytona 500 he was no longer with the team.

Bowman ran only nine Xfinity races in 2016 and returned to Cup only after Dale Earnhardt Jr. missed the second half of the season because of concussion symptoms. Bowman filled in for Earnhardt for 10 races. When Earnhardt returned in 2017, Bowman ran no Cup races, two Xfinity races (with one win) and one Gander Outdoors Truck Series race. Instead, his time was spent mostly in Chevrolet’s simulator working for Hendrick Motorsports.

When Bowman was selected to take over the No. 88 after Earnhardt’s retirement in 2018, some people thought Bowman was a Cup rookie unaware he had run two full seasons.

“I feel like people question me a lot, and if I deserve to be here or not,” Bowman said. “Just based on the fact that I don’t have a big resume to fall back on. I’ve had a lot of great opportunities throughout my career, but when we went stock car racing, those opportunities got pretty slim.

“Just getting a Cup win is something that kind of relaxes me in the sense that I feel like I can finally say I deserve to be here. But there were definitely some times I was very worried about it. It made going to the race track not a lot of fun. But glad we’re having a lot of fun now.”

Crew chief Greg Ives understands the questions. There were those who wondered about him being paired with Earnhardt in 2015 even though Ives didn’t have experience as a crew chief in Cup.

“Sometimes respect is what you’ve got to go and get, and I think (Bowman) has been capable of doing that,” said Ives, who won three Cup races with Earnhardt in 2015 but none since until Sunday. “I feel like I’ve underperformed a little bit with the cars and been able to over the course of the last month and a half, two months been able to give (Bowman) an opportunity to run up front and show what he’s made of.”

Bowman scored consecutive runner-up finishes at Talladega, Dover and Kansas.

Bowman said the Talladega finish was good since he hadn’t placed better than 11th to that point in the season. The Dover result also felt good after he started at the rear. The Kansas finish was the most disappointing, he admits.

“I’m super bummed on that one,” Bowman said. “My family is from there, and I really wanted to win that race. I was pretty upset with myself, and I got back to the lounge, and one of our engineers, Tim (O’Brien), he’s like, ‘Just wait until Chicago, we’re going to go haul ass there,’ and we were able to do that.”

All four Hendrick Motorsports cars were strong Sunday but Bowman had to take this win from Larson after Larson chased him down and took the lead with eight laps to go. Tired of those runner-up finishes this season, Bowman pursued, pressured and persevered, passing Larson with an aggressive side draft and slight contact with six laps to go.

“The contact was pretty unintentional,” Bowman said. “That was just hard racing, and I think it’s a lot of fun to race Kyle like that.”

And even more fun winning.

“It’s something that,” Bowman said, “that’s all I’ve wanted my whole life.”

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Bump & Run: Was Martin Truex Jr. right to be upset with lapped cars at Atlanta?

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Did Martin Truex Jr. have a point in complaining so much about lapped cars getting out of his way, or doth he complain too much, and that’s racin’?

Nate Ryan: In context, when considering that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had a straightaway on anyone he was racing for position and was the only roadblock between Truex and race winner Brad Keselowski, the 2017 series champion’s qualms are justified. As well documented in the most recent race at Martinsville Speedway, Truex races cleanly to deserve getting breaks from others – but the problem is the favors rarely are returned because there’s no obligation to reciprocate.

Stenhouse was the first driver a lap down, and in an era of unlimited overtime restarts, it’s hard to live with just yielding positions when circumstances can change so quickly. Look at Keselowski, who went from being a lap down to leading in less than 10 laps because of some quirky scoring twists from a yellow flag. Truex does have a point … but at the same time, that’s racin’.

Dustin Long: It’s a courtesy that drivers move over. There is nothing in the rule book that says a car a lap or more down must move over. That said, get in the way of the leaders enough times and it will come back to haunt you when you need the help. Was Ricky Stenhouse Jr. doing this as payback for something that happened earlier? Or was he just being bullheaded? Either way, Stenhouse’s actions will lead to a response on the track by Truex someday.

Daniel McFadin: I think it’s a fair complaint, especially when the checkered flag is within 20 laps. Truex said his spotter had communicated the urgency to Stenhouse’s repeatedly without success. It’s yet another chapter in the saga of Stenhouse making his competitors unhappy.

Jerry Bonkowski: Yes, I believe Truex had a very valid point and it’s something NASCAR will have to address if it continues. If things aren’t fixed by Fontana, and drivers can’t police themselves, I believe NASCAR will step in. I understand hard racing, but if a driver is not on the lead lap and is far from getting back on the lead lap, he should be penalized if he is intentionally blocking those on the lead lap and with a potential chance to win the race.

 

Were the rash of mistakes in the pits at Atlanta just drivers and teams shaking off rust, or a harbinger of what’s to come in 2019 with the new rules likely putting an emphasis on track position?

Nate Ryan: I think it’s mostly the former. If anything, I’d expect there will be fewer pit mistakes this season because the downsides outweigh the rewards too greatly. Kyle Larson’s slow rebound from a speeding penalty underscored how difficult it can be getting through traffic with a strong car. It might make sense for teams to build in an extra buffer on their speed monitoring systems to ensure they avoid penalties.

Dustin Long: It was sloppy work on pit road by many teams. Call it a bad day at the office. Just like one shouldn’t judge the new rules package based off the Atlanta race, one shouldn’t assume the rest of the season will be as error-filled on pit road based on what happened at Atlanta.

Daniel McFadin: It could well be a sign of things to come. Two of the pit road penalties for speeding were on front-row starters Aric Almirola and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., two drivers who have two Cup wins apiece but who don’t start up front often. Any time a driver unfamiliar with racing in the lead and pitting from the lead is put in that situation, I expect them to push the limit to stay there. 

Jerry Bonkowski: I think it’s more an example of drivers getting used to the new rules and how they impact track position. I give drivers 5-7 races tops – probably more like 3-4 races – and they’ll be up to speed on the nuances related to the new rules.

  

No top 10s for Hendrick Motorsports and a very mediocre race for Jimmie Johnson. Should the team be worried it might be even further out to lunch than it was for much of the 2018 season?

Nate Ryan: It’s too early to push the panic button, but someone’s thumb definitely is poised right above it in case the team fails to record a top 10 or run competitively at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Dustin Long: Crew chief Greg Ives expressed to me after the race that the Hendrick cars need to find more speed. It is a concern that Jimmie Johnson hasn’t had a top-10 finish at a 1.5-mile track since last year’s Coca-Cola 600. Certainly Hendrick Motorsports can’t be pleased with Sunday’s results, but let’s see what this organization does this week at Las Vegas.

Daniel McFadin: It was the first race with the new rules, but I’m sure the Hendrick shop is feeling a little bit hotter this week. Dominating Daytona 500 qualifying was impressive but everything after that is another animal and it’s a bit surprising Hendrick appeared to trip over themselves with all four cars. But you can’t really pass judgement on anybody until we’re through at least Martinsville.

Jerry Bonkowski: Between the new rules and the shuffling of crew chiefs within HMS, the first few races are going to be a learning experience, just as they were last year with the then-new Chevrolet Camaro. Jimmie has to build the same kind of communication with Kevin Meendering as he did with Chad Knaus. Remember, JJ did win the Clash race and he finished 9th at Daytona. Yes, he’s riding a 61-race winless streak and finished a career-worst 14th last season, but the seven-time champ has not forgotten how to win races. If he wins at, say, Las Vegas, Phoenix or Fontana, people are quickly going to start saying “Jimmie’s back.”