Kevin Harvick — He no longer has to answer the question of when is he going to win (same for Stewart-Haas Racing). Now the question is if this will lead to a string of wins for the No. 4 team, which has shown speed but not been able to capitalize on it.
Parity — Kevin Harvick marked the seventh different winner in the last seven Cup races, the longest streak of the season.
Ryan Newman — First, he was in a backup car and had to start at the rear on a track where passing is difficult. Then, he had a broken coil wire that sapped his engine’s power with about 100 laps to go. His team recovered and he finished seventh for his fifth top 10 in the last six races. Also, he climbed into a playoff spot.
Matt DiBenedetto — His fifth-place finish was his third top-10 result in the last five races. Good progress for Leavine Family Racing.
Jimmie Johnson — Back-to-back 30th-place finishes have dropped the seven-time champion out of a playoff spot. He’s never missed NASCAR’s postseason — and is the only driver who can say that he’s been in the Chase/playoffs every year since its inception in 2004. Will that streak continue? Or will it end this year?
Richard Childress Racing — RCR cars finished 37th (Daniel Hemric) and 32nd (Austin Dillon). Hemric’s day ended after contact from Daniel Suarez. Dillon blew a right front tire early and that damaged his car.
Hendrick Motorsports —Alex Bowman’s team went through two cars before Sunday’s race. William Byron had to go to a backup because of an incident in practice. Mechanical issues caused Jimmie Johnson to finish 30th and Chase Elliott to place 29th. Bowman placed 14th and Byron led the way with a 12th-place finish. The best thing about the weekend for Hendrick Motorsports is it is over.
Kyle Larson — Two crashes within the last 100 laps made for a bad day Sunday.
Practice mayhem at New Hampshire as Alex Bowman crashes backup
LOUDON, N.H. — Alex Bowman will be moving to his third Cup car of the weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and this Camaro isn’t even his.
After suffering a driveshaft failure in qualifying Friday that ruined his primary car, Bowman crashed his backup No. 88 Chevrolet in final practice Saturday on the 1.058-mile oval.
Hendrick team members immediately began scrambling to prepare the backup No. 48 Chevrolet of teammate Jimmie Johnson for Bowman (Hendrick’s fourth driver, William Byron, already was in a backup after crashing Saturday morning).
Hendrick Motorsports vice president of competition Jeff Andrews told NBCSN’s Dave Burns that the team elected to use Johnson’s car instead of Chase Elliott‘s No. 9 because Johnson’s car had a traditional paint scheme that made the switchover more favorable to wrapping the car in the No. 88’s sponsor colors and logos.
“To rewrap the 48 vs. the 9, that’s a better option for us in terms of body tolerances and things like that,” Andrews said. “There’ll be only decals to rip off (Johnson’s car) due to the fact that the base coat is a paint and then we’ll apply the 88 wrap to that 48 chassis and body.
“Obviously we’ve got a great group of guys. Unfortunately, we’ve been put through a lot the last couple of days, but we’ll get through it, and we’ll line up and go racing tomorrow. It’s been a tough day, but we’ll get through it.”
Crew chief Greg Ives gathered all of Bowman’s team in the No. 88 hauler after the wreck.
“I think for Alex and the team, you just have to keep track of the big picture here, and we have to stay focused and not panic and go out tomorrow and do the best we can in the race,” Andrews said. “Certainly yesterday was not Alex’s fault. We had a mechanical failure there, and today we’re not really sure what happened there, but obviously at this point in time, we just need to get the best car underneath Alex and the race team.”
Dustin Long: Every team running at that point had the same opportunity so congrats to Haley and his team for pulling it off. It’s understandable how some might feel a little empty because of how Haley rode at the back to protect his car. That also leads to the issue of how the team, Spire Motorsports, competes. It’s a small operation with limited resources. Not every team can start as a multi-car operation. Again, they played by the rules that were there for everyone and won. And I don’t want to hear anything about how NASCAR should have put Kurt Busch back in the lead because they gave the signal of one to go and then lightning struck within the 8-mile radius shortly after he gave up the lead to pit. Want to give Busch the lead back? Go invent a time machine and change history. Until you do so, Justin Haley won fair and square.
Daniel McFadin: It’s a nice, inexplicable oddity. It has no impact on the season-long narrative outside of taking away a chance for a Cup regular to win and get in the playoffs. It also makes sure everybody will remember the last July race at Daytona.
Jerry Bonkowski: Another feel-good story for the season. NASCAR can never have too many of those. While I’m happy for Justin, though, I’m worried that he may be labeled going forward as only winning because the race was rain-shortened, much like Aric Almirola‘s and Chris Buescher‘s first career Cup wins. Still, it was great to see how a small team beat the big boys.
Nate Ryan: It’s a feel-good story, but we probably won’t know how good we really will feel about it until a few years from now. Will it be remembered as the start of something big for Haley and Spire Motorsports, or just a miraculous confluence of circumstances that produced an unbelievable blip during a season with a roster of overly familiar winners that can best described as rote? In the short term, the win has no legs because neither Haley or the team is making the playoffs. What driver and team are able to accomplish over the long term — and in the team’s case, there are valid questions about viability — will factor into how Sunday’s win ultimately is viewed.
If a driver is ineligible for a playoff spot that would come with a victory — as happened with Justin Haley’s win at Daytona — should NASCAR award that playoff spot to the first eligible driver? Should that be considered for Cup only because of the rarity of the situation or all three national series, if at all?
Dustin Long: No. Doing so tarnishes the “win and you are in” mantra. Don’t make such silly changes.
Daniel McFadin: I don’t think so. The only time a second-place finisher should be given a playoff spot is if the winner is disqualified.
Jerry Bonkowski: No, a playoff spot should not be awarded to the first eligible driver. In the whole big scheme of things, those still vying for a playoff spot on points have really not lost (or gained) much with Haley’s win, given that he is ineligible for the Cup playoffs. Those drivers vying for the playoffs still have to be there at the end after Indianapolis. I can’t see how Haley’s win will cost anyone a playoff spot. And no, it should not be considered for all three national series. The rule is the rule; it’s not broken, so don’t try to “fix” it.
Nate Ryan: Only a win should guarantee a berth. But it’s deflating to have an ineligible winner in a race such as this that’s billed as one of the best hopes for an underdog to make the playoffs.
Does it matter to you that Daytona is moving from its traditional weekend on or near July 4 to August next year to be the regular-season finale?
Dustin Long: No. Next question.
Daniel McFadin: I’m all for the change. If a track has two races, both of them can’t be sacred just because of where they fall on the schedule. Making it the regular-season finale raises the intensity of the summer Daytona race and gives it more significance than it ever had, which is saying a lot given how frenetic the racing was Sunday. Also, hopefully, the move provides more consistent weather for racing.
Jerry Bonkowski: Yes it does bother me. There is so much history and tradition of the Independence Day weekend that has been built around Daytona. It’s not going to have the same feeling in late August next year. Plus, even though restrictor plates are gone, I question having a race that decides the final 16-driver playoff field using tapered spacers — which to me is like a plate by another name — be an event that weighs so heavy on who will or won’t make the playoffs.
Nate Ryan: It was a long overdue change (underscored again by the events of last weekend) to end the practice of racing Daytona on a Saturday night in early July. Making a wild-card race the regular-season cutoff is also an extremely smart play. It’s sad to sever the track’s holiday tradition, but it’s outweighed by the benefits, and the lack of community uproar (the Volusia County tourism industry is happy about having adding a busy weekend; people will still visit the beach July 4) confirms it’s a good call.
Two months remain until the playoffs begin. What will be you be watching in the coming weeks?
Dustin Long: I’m looking for the team to emerge that can challenge the Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske cars. I want to see if Kevin Harvick and his team can put away the issues that have hindered them and go on a run of winning races. I also want to see how Hendrick Motorsports progresses and if Jimmie Johnson in particular can become a contender.
Daniel McFadin: I’m interested to see how much Joey Logano can flex his muscles. He’s the point leader yet he only has two wins. He’s putting together an effective defense of his Cup title.
Jerry Bonkowski: How Stewart-Haas Racing evolves, whether Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske have noticeable fall-offs, if drivers who are getting close (like William Byron, Ryan Blaney, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Kyle Larson) will finally break through with wins that boost them into the playoffs, and whether there may be another Justin Haley- or Ross Chastain-like surprise winner in any more races in the three national event series.
Nate Ryan: How many positions will be determined by points and the margins around the bubble. This is shaping up as possibly the fiercest and tightest cutoff battle yet since the 16-driver championship field was introduced in 2014.
Friday 5: The impact Alex Bowman’s win had on a fellow competitor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Seven words transported Landon Cassill through time and space last weekend.
After Alex Bowman retreated from the roof of his car at Chicagoland Speedway, celebrating his first career Cup win, he said of the triumph: “It’s all I’ve wanted my whole life.”
Those words struck Cassill.
“I’ve said the same thing a lot,” Cassill said Thursday, walking from the Xfinity garage to the Cup garage as he competes in both events this weekend at Daytona International Speedway. “If I could win just one race. I’ve thought that to myself.
“I think that hit me because I saw myself as (Bowman) winning that race. Then it kind of made me think about everything it takes from the time you are a little kid and everything that somebody like Alex Bowman or myself has had to do in his career.”
Every driver’s journey is different. Cassill was hired as a development driver for Hendrick Motorsports before he graduated high school in Iowa. He served as a test driver, helping the team develop the Car of Tomorrow. Cassill drove for JR Motorsports in 19 of 35 Xfinity races in 2008 but then ran only one Xfinity race the following season.
He moved to Cup in 2010. His 16 races were spread among three low-budget teams. Much of his career has been with such operations. Cassill, who turns 30 Sunday, has driven for four Cup teams that since have folded.
Still, he’s made 305 Cup starts but has never won. His best finish was fourth at Talladega on Oct. 19, 2014. Combined with Xfinity and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, Cassill has made 440 starts in NASCAR national series. He continues to seek his first win in any of those series.
So when Bowman — whose first 71 Cup starts were with an organization that since has folded — won last weekend, the significance wasn’t lost on Cassill.
Bowman gives those racers hope, showing that one can climb from the depths of the sport to reach Victory Lane.
“It’s a tremendous amount of hope,” Cassill said of Bowman’s feat. “It’s a reminder to me, you still need massive support to get there, but it was hope that you still need to fight for the kind of support.”
Bowman saw Cassill’s tweet and appreciated the comments.
“Him and I raced each other a lot in the back half of the garage over the years,” Bowman said. “He’s obviously super good and does a lot with a little. You look at guys like Ross Chastain that have kind of had a similar career path. I feel like the back half of the garage doesn’t get the credit they deserve sometimes.”
It’s challenging to move up from the back half of the field. After losing his ride, Bowman was hired by Hendrick Motorsports to be its simulator driver. There were no races with that deal, but it led to nine starts for JR Motorsports, then to substitute for Dale Earnhardt Jr. after he missed the last half of the 2016 season because of a concussion. Bowman took over Earnhardt’s ride in 2018 after Earnhardt retired.
That Bowman’s victory happened just before Cassill’s 4-year-old son drove a go-kart for the first time also made Cassill pause.
“I was looking at a 4-year old,” he said, “and I’m like ‘Man, kid, there’s just no telling what it’s going to take to win just one race.’ ”
2. End of an era
This weekend marks the last time Daytona International Speedway is scheduled to host a Cup race on or near July 4. The track has held its race around that time every year but one since 1959. The exception was 1998 when wildfires forced the event to be rescheduled for October. Next year, Daytona will host the regular-season finale on Aug. 29.
In 1949, NASCAR’s inaugural season, the series raced on the beach at Daytona on July 10. When the track opened in 1959, the July 4 date became a staple.
While some view this as a significant weekend because of the date change next year, Clint Bowyer doesn’t see it that way.
“It’s a race, man,” Bowyer said. “I hate to say it. I hope this doesn’t rub someone the wrong way and me saying this, but it’s almost like don’t claim Fourth of July. That’s not the Fourth of July Daytona race. It’s the Fourth of Damn July. Make no mistake about it.
“I don’t like having to be there practicing Thursday at Daytona. I feel like we’re asking our fans to be there as well. If we’re on the racetrack, that means you’re asking fans to be there. I don’t want it to take away from their Fourth of July.
“I got a family, I got kids. Everybody likes to come over to my house. And unfortunately, that’s going to be a Wednesday night show instead of on the Fourth. Still you could go down then and still put on a show. In my opinion, Daytona stands on its own two feet and it always will. It doesn’t need Fourth of July to be a part of that. Daytona is a celebration all of its own.”
Ryan Blaney said: “I always liked having the Daytona race that weekend, but at the end of the day, it is just a weekend and just a race, and you can move it to whatever date you want. As long as you are going there, you know you are going to a very special racetrack. I always enjoy it being on the weekend of the Fourth.”
But Daytona isn’t the only track to host a Cup race on July 4. Oswego, New York (1952), Spartanburg, South Carolina (1953), Weaverville, North Carolina (1954) and Raleigh, North Carolina (1956-58) also have held races with NASCAR’s top series on July 4.
David Pearson has the most Cup wins on July 4 with five. Tony Stewart and Cale Yarborough scored four wins each on or around July 4.
“I just think the basis of that idea was to have live-streaming cameras in every single race car,” Dillon said. “We can afford that in this sport and whoever wants to do it can do it. That way, we can maybe live stream from each driver’s personal account, team’s account or it can vary week to week. This is to drive fan engagement to certain sponsors, teams and add value that way.”
Dillon wants to do more. He wants drivers to have the ability to respond to fans during a race. He’s willing to extend a stage break caution to do so.
“Drivers, owners, race teams, TV providers all have to understand the importance that we have to open our minds to the fact that between stages is just as important to the future of the sport to communicate to our fans as it is to get in the right call of information,” Dillon said. “Yes, you have to get the right information into our crew chief first, but we can maybe take an extra pace lap under caution for a social lap.”
It’s an interesting concept. Maybe there will come a day where competitors will take an extra lap of caution during stage breaks to answer questions from fans.
As he returns for tonight’s race (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN), he’s seeking to forget last year’s finish.
“I was more upset with myself and disappointed in myself,” Haley said of that finish. “I’ve never watched the race back. I’ve never seen the finish. I probably won’t watch the race still. It’s just a sore subject for myself. I’m upset that I let my team down and my family down more than anything.”
Even though he has not watched the end of that race, Haley showed Friday he had not forgotten what he calls his first Xfinity win, tweeting about the finish.
Only once since 1983 has a driver won both Daytona races in the same season. Jimmie Johnson performed the trick in 2013.
Why is it so much more difficult to sweep at Daytona and Talladega than other tracks?
Let Denny Hamlin, who is going for the sweep Saturday (7 p.m. ET Saturday) after winning the Daytona 500, explain.
“The reason it’s so hard is it’s not about a fast car,” Hamlin said. “It’s not like you can hit on a setup at a racetrack and sweep both races. You see that a lot in a season. Whoever wins the first race at say Pocono or Martinsville, or Richmond, they’ve won that race because they have hit on a setup and their car is fast. When they go back there, they use those notes and they are going to be fast again.
“At Daytona, it’s not setup driven. It is strategic that you really have to make yourself a great race-car driver here. It’s just putting yourself in the right position here at the right time and avoiding the wrecks. It’s hard enough to win one, let alone two, because of all of the variables. It’s so hard to do. The odds are stacked so far against you. That’s why you don’t see it happen very often.”
Slowly and surely Hendrick Motorsports is turning things around.
The evidence of that is not just in its two Cup wins this year with Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman, though those are significant.
In 2018, Hendrick won three times, all with Elliott. But the first victory – Elliott’s first Cup win – didn’t come until race No. 22 at Watkins Glen International Speedway.
But the improvements for Hendrick through 17 races this season are not just with the No. 9 and No. 88 teams.
All four of Hendrick’s cars have put together a better resume heading to Daytona than they did at this point last year.
Here are some numbers courtesy of Racing Insights.
Through 17 races, Elliott has six top fives, seven top 10s and two poles while leading 406 laps. Last year, Elliott had 11 top fives, 21 top 10s, one pole and led 325 laps all season.
William Byron has made significant improvement from his rookie year.
Byron has five top-10 finishes, 180 laps led and three poles this year. Byron’s entire rookie campaign saw four top 10s, 61 laps led and no poles. At Sonoma Raceway last month, Byron led every lap in the first stage to earn his first career stage win.
Byron heads to Daytona trying for some redemption. After he earned the pole for the Daytona 500, he crashed nine laps from the finish.
“The thing with Daytona though is you can’t really prepare for it; it’s about making sure you’re still there in the end,” Byron said in a media release. “The hope is to collect as many points as possible in the first two stages to help balance out what may happen in the end, but even then, it’s easy to lose a ton as well. Hopefully though we can get the result that I think our team deserves. I honestly feel like we should be contending for the win at the end.”
Jimmie Johnson, still mired in the longest winless streak of his career at 76 races, is marginally ahead of his 2018 pace.
The No. 48 team has a pole, two top fives and 78 laps led in 2019. Johnson had no poles, only two top fives and 40 laps led in all of 2018
Bowman’s four top fives in 2019, including his win, come after having he earned the first three top fives of his career last season.
Bowman’s top 10 total (six) is tied for his total at this point last year.
In the last eight races, Bowman has led the Cup Series in most points earned with 323. That’s 20 points more than Elliott in second. Byron has earned the eighth most points with 257.
From Racing Insights, here’s what’s contributed to Bowman’s large points gain, anchored by his streak of three consecutive runner-up finishes.
Can Bowman and the rest of Hendrick continue to build on their momentum this weekend in Daytona?
They have recent history on their side given Johnson’s win the Busch Clash in February and the team’s performance at Talladega in April. That’s where Elliott and Bowman finished 1-2 for Hendrick’s first win of the year and when Bowman began his surge. Meanwhile, Byron placed 21st as the last driver on the lead lap. Johnson finished 33rd after he hit the wall on Lap 25 upon cutting a tire.
“Going to Daytona this weekend, we have a little bit of a monkey off our back,” Bowman said in a media release. “I was one who definitely kept track of the point standings and now we can go out and focus on stage points and race wins. Being locked into the playoffs is an amazing feeling. Our goal is to get to Miami and be in the running for a championship.
“This team brought an amazing car to Talladega earlier this year and I know that these guys were back in the shop this weekend putting together a great car for this weekend. The superspeedway program at Hendrick Motorsports has always been good and the teams all work together pretty well on track. I think we have a shot at the win this weekend too, which is a great feeling.”
While Hendrick Motorsports had only one win in the last 10 Daytona points races with a restrictor plate (Dale Earnhardt Jr., July 2015), it has held the crown for more than two years when it came to pure qualifying speed.
In the first Daytona race with the tapered spacer packages, Hendrick will try to extend its record streak of five consecutive Daytona poles.