Jerry Bonkowski

Bump & Run: Should NASCAR further penalize Johnny Sauter?

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If you were NASCAR, would you give Johnny Sauter and Austin Hill any additional penalties for their incidents at Iowa Speedway? 

Nate Ryan: A points penalty for Sauter that would be on par with what Jeff Gordon received for wrecking Clint Bowyer at Phoenix in November 2012 (because that seems the most analogous situation to this, other than the crash happening under yellow rather than green).

Dustin Long: My initial reaction was to suspend Sauter, but then I went the opposite way and thought no further penalties should be issued because Sauter already had been penalized by being parked and finishing 27th in the 32-truck field. I finally decided upon points and a fine, which is outlined in the rulebook. While NASCAR lists intentionally wrecking someone as an infraction that could result in the loss of 25-50 points and a fine of $12,5000 to $25,000, I’d dock Sauter 40 points and fine him $20,000 because his retaliation happened under caution. Some might suggest NASCAR suspend Sauter but still allow him to compete in the playoffs (even though a prerequisite is attempting to start each regular-season event). That sounds like a waiver and that is not the intent of the waiver. While NASCAR can do whatever it wants, suspending a driver and then altering its rules so the suspension doesn’t prohibit a driver from competing in the playoffs would not be a good look. The requirement on playoff eligibility should be updated. 

Daniel McFadin: Sauter should be suspended for a race; he used his truck as a weapon on a defenseless truck under caution. But the suspension shouldn’t count against his playoff eligibility. He’s already made the playoffs. I support a provision that prevents taking that spot away. That should only be done if a winning vehicle fails inspection in the same race you clinched the playoff spot. If Hill receives any penalties it should just be a fine at the most. NASCAR will use their run-in for marketing for years to come, so no need to overdo it.

Jerry Bonkowski: There is precedent here: Sauter’s ramming Hill is a virtual carbon copy of Kyle Busch slamming into Ron Hornaday Jr. at Texas back in 2011. The penalty Busch received should be what Sauter receives: a $50,000 fine, probation until the end of the year, and if Sauter is involved in any other incidents this season, he should be suspended and become ineligible for the playoffs.

It’s Tuesday and there is still some question as to who won Sunday’s Truck race with Ross Chastain’s team appealing the NASCAR decision to take the win away after Chastain’s truck failed inspection. The issue is expected to be resolved by this week. Is this still the best way for NASCAR to address such issues with inspection after a race? 

Nate Ryan: Yes. There is no confusion: Brett Moffitt’s team was awarded the win, and Ross Chastain’s team has an opportunity to challenge it. Similar to the courts system, a ruling already has been made. Prior to NASCAR’s change in philosophy this year, the ruling on a win’s validity (even if it wasn’t stripped) was withheld for a few days. This is a better system.

Dustin Long: This is still way better than the old system where you might not know there was a different winner because of an infraction until Tuesday. At least this way everyone knew on Sunday. Got to let the appeal process take its course but at least everything will be resolved this week instead weeks later as could happen previously.

Daniel McFadin: Yes, it is the best way. No one wants a winner disqualification to first be announced mid-week. This accelerates the appeals process to where a final judgement can be settled upon before the race weekend begins. The fact that this is the first winner disqualification or disqualification in general through five months means the new system is having some sort of impact. This might not be something that happens often.

Jerry Bonkowski: NASCAR may have painted itself into a corner with taking the win away from Chastain. The reason is simple: how did his Truck pass pre-race inspection, yet failed post-race inspection? Did something break on his truck, which caused its ride height in the front end to fall below standards? Did it happen because of contact in the race? Is that Chastain’s fault? And what happens if Chastain wins his appeal? Then what? Unless NASCAR has iron-clad evidence that Chastain’s team cheated, if officials jumped the gun, Chastain’s win should be reinstated and policies and procedures should be reviewed and changed.

They ran both the Truck and Xfinity race on the same day at Iowa Speedway after the Truck race was postponed to Sunday because of rain Saturday night. Atlanta already hosts a Truck/Xfinity doubleheader. Should there be more of these doubleheaders with these two series or keep them limited so they remain unique?

Nate Ryan: It’s an idea worthy of merit; the quantity won’t affect their appeal. It mostly should depend on whether it makes sense for NASCAR, the tracks and the TV networks.

Dustin Long: Originally Iowa was to be a one-day show for the Trucks and they got held over because of rain and spent two days at Iowa. I think there are some cases for one-day shows for Trucks to save costs. Doubleheaders are fine but should be done when it makes sense not only for fans but for teams.

Daniel McFadin: Bring on more doubleheaders. It shortens the weekend and gives more bang for a fan’s buck with one full day of racing. Also, the Truck Series primarily competes on Friday nights, when most people are not staying in to watch TV. Putting them on a Saturday before or after an Xfinity race or on a Sunday before a Cup race (like at Martinsville in 2018 after a rain and snow delay) provides a better opportunity for fans at the track and at home to see the Truck Series. We’ll get to see a version of this next year with the Cup Series doubleheader weekend at Pocono. 

Jerry Bonkowski: Yes, yes, yes. This is the perfect example of why NASCAR should add more doubleheaders to its schedule. Not only do fans get more bang for their buck, the Truck and Xfinity Series will get more appreciation from race fans of one series who typically may not pay attention to the other series. The excitement we saw in both races is definitely a precursor of even more to come if NASCAR elects to add more twinbills.

Bump & Run: Who really needs this weekend off in Cup?

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Who needs this upcoming weekend off the most in Cup?

Nate Ryan: Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 team has the opportunity to regroup of 15 races of frustration.

Dustin Long: Austin Dillon. He’s made the playoffs each of the past three years but is 21st in the standings, 58 points out of the last playoff spot. His last three races have gone 34th, 37th and 26th.

Daniel McFadin: Kyle Larson. The three weeks that have followed the elation of winning the All-Star Race have been miserable for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver. He’s finished 33rd (Coke 600, crash), 26th at Pocono after winning both stages and 14th (Michigan). The No. 42 team is just not on the same page as Kurt Busch‘s crew through 15 races. Larson has one top five and four top 10s to Busch’s four top fives and nine top 10s.

Jerry Bonkowski: No doubt about it, Stewart-Haas Racing. How can the same organization that won 12 races last season still be winless through the first 15 races of 2019? SHR needs to rest and retool this weekend and prepare for the 11-race stretch leading up to the playoffs. In a perfect world, maybe Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola and Daniel Suarez can combine for several victories in the upcoming 11 races.

Who is the driver in any of NASCAR’s national series who has impressed you the most this season?

Nate Ryan: Tyler Reddick has proven the 2018 championship was no fluke. In six months, he has gone from Xfinity title underdog to destined for a full-time Cup ride.

Dustin Long: What Tyler Reddick and his Richard Childress Racing team have done has been impressive.

Daniel McFadin: Tyler Reddick. It’s kind of bizarre to call the defending Xfinity Series champion the most improved driver, but that’s what he is. A year after he won twice – in the first and last races of the season – and had seven top fives, the Richard Childress Racing driver has surpassed those totals through 13 races and has finished fourth or better in the last 10 races.

Jerry Bonkowski: While a lot can be said about Kyle Busch and his Cup Series-leading four wins, the driver who has impressed me the most in 2019 is Xfinity Series points leader Tyler Reddick. Not only has he dominated the points (he’s been ranked No. 1 for the last 10 races), Reddick has 11 top five finishes – including three wins – in the first 13 races (84.6%). And add to that he’s only finished outside the top-10 just once. Another stat of note: he’s completed all but five laps 2,332 of 2,337 for 99.8 % this season.

 

What team without a win is one that you think could be on the rise and challenge for multiple victories?

Nate Ryan: It’s an obvious choice, but Harvick’s No. 4 Ford will win again soon.

Dustin Long: Kevin Harvick’s team. Once they overcome their gremlins, they have the speed to go on a run. Just need to clean up their races.

Daniel McFadin: I’m going with Chip Ganassi Racing via Kurt Busch. While the teams at Stewart-Haas Racing start out strong or peak mid-race, they can’t seem to close the deal, while Busch tends to surge at the right times or consistently run near the front. 

Jerry Bonkowski: It would be easy to say Stewart-Haas Racing, particularly Kevin Harvick. But I’m going to go with Chip Ganassi Racing and Kurt Busch. With his runner-up finish at Michigan, the elder Busch brother now has four top-five finishes (vs. six for all of 2018). I’ve been saying he’s a win waiting to happen. And once he gets that first win – it’s a matter of when, not if – I would not be surprised to see Kurt take three or even four checkered flags the rest of the season, including potentially capturing the Cup championship.

Bump & Run: Will winning ways of JGR, Team Penske continue?

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Where you do see the best chance for a team other than Joe Gibbs Racing or Team Penske to win this month? Will it be this weekend at Michigan? Sonoma? Chicagoland Speedway? Or will JGR and Team Penske combine to win all those races?

Nate Ryan: This year’s two powerhouses won’t sweep the rest of June. It’s been three years since Gibbs or Penske won at Michigan, so Sunday’s race presents opportunity. Given the strength of the road course aces (Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski) across both teams, Sonoma seems unlikely. Hendrick Motorsports’ resurgence on 1.5-mile tracks makes Chicagoland Speedway a good bet for that team.

Dustin Long: Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske sweep June.

Daniel McFadin: I see Michigan as the best site for another team to win, likely a Chevrolet in Chase Elliott (who has never finished outside the top 10 there) or three-time winner Kyle Larson if he can have a clean race. Though, I think Alex Bowman could steal one.

Jerry Bonkowski: I would lean toward either Michigan or Sonoma. Chicago, being a 1.5-mile track, plays right into the wheelhouse for both JGR and Penske. Michigan is wide and should afford an opportunity to win for guys like Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. or any of the Hendrick drivers. Sonoma is pretty much a wide-open affair that might favor someone like Kevin Harvick or another Stewart-Haas driver.

Who is the next Cup driver to score their first win of the season?

Nate Ryan: Even despite the execution problems by team and driver, it’s still only a matter of time for Kevin Harvick, perhaps as soon as Michigan.

Dustin Long: Kevin Harvick but it may not come until next month at New Hampshire.

Daniel McFadin: Erik Jones has been quietly consistent lately. Except for falling victim to a cut tire in the Coke 600, he’s finished sixth or better in three of the last four races with two finishes of third. He has one top 10 at each at the tracks remaining in June, with a best finish of third at Michigan.

Jerry Bonkowski: He’s looooonnnngggg overdue: Kevin Harvick is the next in line to take the checkered flag and lock himself into the playoffs. Also keep an eye on Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Kyle Larson and Kurt Busch.

Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer have combined to win the past five Xfinity races. Will they make it six in a row at Michigan this weekend or will you take the field?

Nate Ryan: Take the Xfinity Series’ Big Three.

Dustin Long: The win streak continues for the Xfinity Series’ Big Three.

Daniel McFadin: I’m going to take the field. There’s too much talent in the front half of the Xfinity garage this year for their stranglehold to last every week. Also, with defending race winner Austin Dillon not entered in the race, only four drivers who finished in the top 10 last year will be back: Custer (finished third), Paul Menard (finished fifth), Reddick (finished seventh) and Justin Allgaier (finished ninth).

Jerry Bonkowski: The odds appear to be in favor of that trio of drivers. But if Bell, Reddick or Custer don’t win, keep an eye out for either Chase Briscoe or Justin Allgaier. They’re overdue.

Bump and Run: Biggest surprise, disappointment of 2019

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Biggest surprise and disappointment in the first half of the regular season?

Nate Ryan: Surprise — Alex Bowman. Disappointment — Erik Jones

Dustin Long: Surprise — The lack of cautions from accidents, particularly multiple cars, with the field closer and the blocking so prevalent. Disappointment — That Stewart-Haas Racing remains winless after winning 12 races last year. SHR has three stage wins this season compared to eight at this point last year.

Daniel McFadin: Surprise — That Circuit City still exists as a primarily online store and will return as a full-time sponsor for Shane Lee in the Xfinity Series. Disappointment — That Ross Chastain didn’t declare for points in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series. He’s the only Truck Series driver who has finished in the top 10 in all eight races so far and he’d be locked into the playoffs with his Kansas win.

Jerry Bonkowski: Biggest surprise — Kurt Busch has been outstanding since coming to Chip Ganassi Racing. It’s only just a matter of time before he reaches victory lane. Biggest disappointment — Bubba Wallace was primed for a strong season, but he’s done nothing but struggle for much of the first 13 races – his advancing to and finishing fifth in the All-Star Race notwithstanding.

Who will you be watching closely in the second half of the regular season?

Nate Ryan: Kyle Larson

Dustin Long: Kyle Larson. He’s on a 59-race winless streak and holds the final transfer spot for the playoffs. Can he and his team be stronger to ensure a playoff spot and be relevant in the race for a championship?

Daniel McFadin: Alex Bowman. After no tops 10s in the first nine races, he has four straight leaving the Coke 600. I think he could be very dangerous going forward.

Jerry Bonkowski: Jimmie Johnson. I feel confident that he’ll not only break his 72-race winless streak that dates back to Dover in spring 2017, but that he’ll be part of the final four heading into Miami for the season-ending championship race. The seven-time champ is a hot streak waiting to happen.

Will all 16 drivers in a playoff spot now make the playoffs? If not, who outside a playoff spot will make it?

Nate Ryan: At least one from the trio of Erik Jones, Ryan Newman and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will make it and possibly all three.

Dustin Long: No. Erik Jones will find his way into the playoffs.

Daniel McFadin: No, I think one or two drivers outside the top 16 will sneak in, and I guess Erik Jones and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. right now.

Jerry Bonkowski: No. I think Ryan Newman has a good chance if he develops better consistency in the second half of the regular season. Likewise for his Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Bump & Run: Was Clint Bowyer justified to be upset with Erik Jones at Kansas?

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Was Clint Bowyer justified to be angry with Erik Jones for blocking on the last lap at Kansas, or did Jones have a point that the current style of 1.5-mile racing demands such moves?

Nate Ryan: Both drivers could make legitimate cases for their actions. Bowyer absolutely cut Jones a break by backing off on the last lap and giving up a shot at finishing second, which had to be hard to swallow at the home-state track where the Stewart-Haas Racing driver is so desperate to win. But Jones’ point on the aggressive and risky moves required by the drafting package also is well taken. As Cup drivers adapt their racecraft to this style, and if there are more races similar to Kansas, it’s likely there will be more instances such as these. That could be good for rivalry-building in NASCAR but frustrating for those behind the wheel.

Dustin Long: Welcome to racing with this rules package. If there are more late-race cautions, expect more extreme maneuvers and blocking. Bowyer had every right to be upset, but Jones had every right to defend his position. Until NASCAR starts penalizing drivers for blocking, expect these types of moves to continue.

Daniel McFadin: It was the last lap of an overtime finish. I expect a driver to do whatever they can to advance their position or protect their position in that instance. Bowyer has every right to be annoyed, but that’s racing. 

Jerry Bonkowski: I understand both drivers’ arguments. Bowyer has never won at his home Cup track and was pressing for a top-three finish. Jones, who has struggled at times, was looking for his best finish of the season (and wound up tying it). This is yet another example why NASCAR should implement rules against blatant blocking.

 

There have been six different winners as the Cup Series nears the halfway point in the regular season. How many drivers will qualify for the playoffs via wins when the regular season ends?

Nate Ryan: There will be 10 and here are my four predictions of those winners: Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson and Erik Jones.

Dustin Long: Ten drivers will make the playoffs via wins.

Daniel McFadin: I’m going to go with 11 drivers qualifying via wins.

Jerry Bonkowski: Given that there are 14 more races left in the regular season, I believe we’ll see four or five more different winners. In addition, several of the frontrunners to date may go into slumps themselves, which could further shake things up (much like Kyle Busch finished 30th at Kansas after 11 consecutive top-10 finishes). 

 

Is Brad Keselowski right that many wins are coming soon for Alex Bowman, or did the way the No. 88 driver lost at Kansas underscore that Bowman still needs more improvement?

Nate Ryan: Three consecutive runner-up finishes show that Bowman and his team are consistently putting themselves in position to win, but the Hendrick Motorsports driver rightfully was beating himself up after Kansas. Beyond being able to register fast laps with a good car, managing restarts and traffic are essential to being a winner in NASCAR’s premier series. Bowman struggled with both Saturday: losing the lead to teammate Chase Elliott on a Lap 229 restart and then losing the race to Keselowski by misjudging a lapped car on Lap 261. That makes it harder to declare he’s on the verge of a breakthrough.

Dustin Long: Bowman’s recent run has been impressive but he needs improvement — as many drivers who have limited experience running at the front. 

Daniel McFadin: At this point it feels inevitable that Bowman will steal a win somewhere (possibly Pocono). But Bowman does need more experience when it comes to leading in Cup. His 63 laps led were his most in a race since he led 194 at Phoenix in 2016 when he was a substitute driver for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Jerry Bonkowski: I agree with Keselowski that Bowman will win — and soon. Some may say his Talladega runner-up was a fluke, but there’s no denying he drove his butt off for second-place showings at Dover and Kansas. But Bowman still needs improvement; he learned a valuable lesson in the way he was snookered by Keselowski at Kansas. It’s a lesson he likely won’t forget any time soon.