Bump & Run: Who will follow Clint Bowyer in ending long drought? (video)

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Who is the next driver with a significant winless streak to snap it?

Nate Ryan: Aric Almirola (125-race winless streak) needs to follow through quickly on his early season speed to stamp this as a breakthrough season.

Dustin Long: Paul Menard (238-race winless streak). He will give the Wood Brothers’ their 100th Cup win.

Daniel McFadin: Among Cup drivers on the list who have wins, I’m going with Aric Almirola (125-race winless streak). He’s shown the most consistency and straight up speed, having not finished worse than 14th this year. If not for multiple speeding penalties at Martinsville, it’s possible he could have wound up in the top five for the first time. 

Jerry Bonkowski: This is a tough one. My inclination is to pick Chase Elliott (83-race winless streak), but instead I’m going with Jamie McMurray (154-race winless streak). He has at least one win in him this season, I believe, most likely at a place like Richmond or Charlotte or Sonoma. Jamie is l-o-n-g overdue for a win.

What has been the biggest surprise after the first six races of the season?

Nate Ryan: The strength of the Fords. It seemed as if Kevin Harvick was building something toward the end of 2017, but the across-the-board excellence of Team Penske and Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammates wasn’t foreseen.

Dustin Long: Performance of Ford this season, particularly the teams of Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske.

Daniel McFadin: Kyle Larson is the only Chevrolet driver with multiple top-five finishes (two). Four Chevy drivers have one top five, but three of those came in the Daytona 500.

Jerry Bonkowski: The slow start of Hendrick Motorsports. After six races, none of its four drivers are in the top 10. The closest is Alex Bowman (14th), but he’s been off to a slow start, as have been his three teammates: Jimmie Johnson (17th), Chase Elliott (18th) and William Byron (20th). It’s almost as if HMS has been a forgotten entity through the first one-sixth of the 36-race season.

Who is a driver you think that is under the radar but is worthy of more attention based on their performance this season?

Nate Ryan: No one jumps out. Everyone seems to be receiving the appropriate amount of exposure based on their rankings. It’s been well documented which drivers have been surprises.

Dustin Long: Ryan Blaney. Four top 10s in six starts and has only one finish outside the top 15 in his move from the Wood Brothers to Team Penske.

Daniel McFadin: Joey Logano. Only three drivers have finished in the top 10 in five of six races this year and he’s one of them. The others are Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. The No. 22 team seems to be on the right path after their disastrous 2017 season. He has two top fives this year, one less than he had at this point last season.

Jerry Bonkowski: Joey Logano has been flying under the radar, for sure. Ask most NASCAR fans, and I bet few would be able to correctly guess he’s in fourth place in the Cup standings after Martinsville, just 25 points out of first place. I did an unscientific poll with three of my friends, and two believed Logano to be between 11th and 15th, while the third picked him as eighth or ninth in the standings. Logano may be the Rodney Dangerfield of NASCAR right now, but I guarantee he’ll get a lot more respect going forward over the next 5-10 races.

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Martinsville Speedway

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images
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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at Martinsville Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Denny Hamlin. Driver and team eliminate the mistakes that have plagued them this season and maximize the speed of the No. 11 Toyota that has been present in every race.

Dustin Long

Kyle Busch scores his first win of the season and earns his second consecutive Martinsville victory.

Daniel McFadin

After three consecutive top-three finishes Kyle Busch gets win No. 1 in 2018.

Jerry Bonkowski

I may be playing a broken record by picking him again, but I’m going with the winningest active driver at Martinsville, Jimmie Johnson. Remember him?

Dan Beaver

Just because it has never happened before doesn’t mean it can’t happen: Martin Truex Jr. sweeps the weekend and gets his first short-track win.

Bump & Run: Biggest upsets in NASCAR

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In light of UMBC’s upset of Virginia in the NCAA basketball tournament, what’s an upset in NASCAR that stands out to you?

Nate Ryan: David Gilliland in the Xfinity race at Kentucky Speedway in 2006. That’s the closest approximation in modern-day NASCAR of what the Retrievers pulled off last Friday.

Dustin Long: David Gilliland’s Xfinity win at Kentucky in 2006 with a part-time and independent team. Remarkable upset that eventually led to a Cup ride.

Daniel McFadin: Front Row Motorsports’ two Cup wins, at Talladega in 2013 and Pocono in 2016. The first because David Ragan‘s surge to the lead on the final lap is the definition of “Where did he come from?” The second, because Chris Buescher earned his first Cup win via pit strategy and … fog.

Jerry Bonkowski: Actually, a two-part answer. First, when Trevor Bayne came out of nowhere and was pushed to the win in the 2011 Daytona 500 by Carl Edwards. And then there was the 1990 Daytona 500, when underdog Derrike Cope won.

What was something that stood out to you from the West Coast swing?

Nate Ryan: That the storylines from the end of last season (Toyotas, particularly Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch, are fast; Kevin Harvick is a championship contender; Hendrick Motorsports still is searching) generally have remained intact.

Dustin Long: Overlooked was that Erik Jones was one of only three drivers (Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. were the others) to score a top-10 finish in all three races.

Daniel McFadin: Joey Logano going from 16th to first in four laps in the Xfinity race on Saturday thanks to fresh tires. It’s the closest thing to a video game I’ve ever seen in real life.

Jerry Bonkowski: I thought for sure that we’d see more success from some of the young drivers. But when it came down to it, veterans won all three races. Sooner or later, the young drivers have to start making more of a name for themselves, guys like Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, William Byron and others. And by making a name for themselves, I mean winning.

What’s a special Martinsville memory you have?

Nate Ryan: John Andretti rallying from a lap down to win the first race I covered (and attended) there in April 1999. I was crossing the track in Turn 1 when Andretti drove the No. 43 right by into victory lane … with “The King” sitting on the driver’s window opening (to an enormous cheer from the crowd).

Dustin Long: John Andretti’s April 1999 win, which completed a weekend sweep for Petty Enterprises. Jimmy Hensley won the Truck race for the organization the day before Andretti’s victory. “It looked like the good old times,’’ Petty said in victory lane after riding in on the driver’s window opening of the No. 43 car.

Daniel McFadin: When I covered my first race there in the fall of 2014 as an intern for Sporting News. It turned out to be Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s first and only win at the track and the only time I attended a race he won. He’s retired now so I can say he’s my favorite driver. I still have confetti from the celebration in a plastic bag. 

Jerry Bonkowski: This is more of a sad rather than special memory. I was at the fall race in 2004 when the Hendrick Motorsports plane crashed into nearby Bull Mountain, killing all onboard. We got word about halfway through the race that there had been an incident, and as we got closer to the end of the race, things became confirmed. I recall it as if it was yesterday, and it’s a day I’ll never forget.

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Auto Club Speedway

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at Auto Club Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Kevin Harvick. Just like Atlanta, he proves no one is better at tire management in Cup.

Dustin Long

Martin Truex Jr. swoops in and ends Kevin Harvick’s streak.

Daniel McFadin

I’m going with the hot hand. No, not Kevin Harvick. Kyle Larson, the winner of four consecutive races at 2-mile tracks.

Jerry Bonkowski

While I wanted to stay with Jimmie Johnson until he finally won a race, I’m going in a different direction and picking Kyle Larson to win this one.

Bump & Run: Is it time to eliminate inspection at R&D Center after races?

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Should NASCAR inspect cars only at the track after a race and no longer do so at the R&D Center days later even though penalties can be found there?

Nate Ryan: Yes, NASCAR needs to find a way to make this happen. It’s worth the accompanying drawbacks and sacrifices.

Dustin Long: What’s the goal here? If NASCAR inspects only at the track and doesn’t do as comprehensive of an inspection as at the R&D Center, are officials all but encouraging teams to spend as much money as possible on certain things that don’t get inspected? Won’t that cause a greater difference between teams? Is that best for the sport? If that’s less a concern than announcing penalties three days later, go ahead and eliminate the R&D Center inspection.

Daniel McFadin: I’m split on this. The NASCAR community shouldn’t have to find out penalties three days after an event. But by doing the more in-depth inspections, teams learn just how far they can color outside NASCAR’s designated lines. It’s a necessary evil, but one that should be done much closer to the checkered flag.

Jerry Bonkowski: Yes. Inspections, and very thorough ones at that, should come immediately after the race. If there is an issue that needs further examination — and which could potentially lead to a penalty — only then should a vehicle be sent back to the R&D Center.

Do you believe social media influences NASCAR in terms of penalizing teams? Is that a concern?

Nate Ryan: The impact was mostly overstated after Harvick’s Las Vegas penalty; but you also can’t untether social media from the rise of technology that has changed the nature of policing races (i.e., rival teams would have ensured NASCAR sees potentially incriminating photos regardless of whether they were on Twitter). This is the 21st century world in which NASCAR finds itself. The ultimate answer is to find a way to do postrace inspection expeditiously and exclusively at track.

Dustin Long: Penalizing? No. Can social media flag potential infractions? Sure. Of course, teams are going to see what others are doing and someone is likely to make NASCAR aware of something that doesn’t seem right. In the end, NASCAR needs to penalize based on the rulebook, not on what is being said on social media. If it gets to that point, then just let the fans run the sport.

Daniel McFadin: I think it should be a concern, especially since most fans don’t know the extent to what is legal and illegal according to NASCAR’s rulebook. I honestly believe it’s possible Kevin Harvick‘s team would have been penalized following Las Vegas even if social media and Reddit hadn’t pulled out their Junior Detective kits. Harvick’s car was already going back to the R&D center. On the other hand, I don’t think Chase Elliott‘s team would have been penalized at Chicago last year if not for those same Internet sleuths.

Jerry Bonkowski: NASCAR shouldn’t and I believe doesn’t let outside influences like social media impact its decisions on whether or not to penalize teams for infractions. Let’s face it, if a team is wrong and if modifications to a car are outside of the rules, a penalty is a penalty, pure and simple. And that’s why teams are cited for infractions. It is interesting to see the reaction on social media both before and after penalties are meted out, but I believe NASCAR has enough integrity not to let fan comments, either pro or con, influence how it deals with infractions.

Other than Kevin Harvick’s dominance, what has stood out to you in the season’s first four races?

Nate Ryan: That Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing seem to have maintained last year’s pace (it’s just that Harvick has been slightly better).

Dustin Long: The relevance of the No. 10 car with Aric Almirola this season. Yes, Stewart-Haas Racing and Ford are strong, but Almirola has made an immediate impact with that team and organization. Remember, he nearly won the Daytona 500.

Daniel McFadin: Martin Truex Jr.‘s quiet consistency. He’s finished in the top five in the last three races and has placed in the top 10 in all but one stage through four races. Yet he’s only led 14 laps. Makes me wonder when the No. 78 team will start to show its muscle.

Jerry Bonkowski: Jimmie Johnson‘s struggles. While he’s managed to move up to 26th place, that’s nowhere near where the seven-time champion should be. I sense that he and crew chief Chad Knaus have had difficulty adapting to the new Chevrolet Camaro, but this isn’t the first time we’ve seen early-season struggles from the No. 48 team. All Johnson and Knaus need is one win, or maybe a top-five, and I believe they’ll be back on-track from that point on.