Jerry Bonkowski

Bump and Run: Should NASCAR ditch the yellow line rule?

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Does NASCAR need to keep the yellow line rule at Daytona and Talladega? Or would a solution be to have the rule until the final lap of a race and just let anything be in play?

Nate Ryan: The only out of bounds lines at oval racetracks should be the walls. The point of the rule was to reduce the crashes that were resulting from cars that disjointedly shot from the apron back up the banking. As Sunday proved yet again, races at Daytona and Talladega always will feature large pileups. Trying to micromanage driving to reduce those risks is an exercise in futility.

Dustin Long: NASCAR needs to keep the rule for every lap but if the series officials want that line to be considered like a wall than change the rule: Any time anyone for whatever reason goes below the yellow line they will be penalized. And any time anyone forces someone below the yellow line they will be penalized. Put teeth into the rule.

Daniel McFadin: I think the rule needs to be kept in place. It’s there in an effort to keep the racing on superspeedways from getting out of hand. Making a rule apply to all but the final lap doesn’t make sense.

Jerry Bonkowski: The yellow line rule was implemented — at least in part — for safety reasons. So yes, the rule needs to be kept in place as it is. Taking it away for the final lap is a guarantee for chaos and greatly heightened unsafe conditions for drivers and fans.

 

The bottom four — Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer and William Byron — each likely need to win to advance in the playoffs. Which one of those four do you give the best chance of winning this weekend at Kansas?

Nate Ryan: Alex Bowman; he should have won there in May.

Dustin Long: Chase Elliott.

Daniel McFadin: I give the edge to Alex Bowman, he’s been the most consistent in the playoffs and was running well Monday before his wreck. 

Jerry Bonkowski: Any of the four can win at Kansas, but if I were a betting man, I’d put my money on Clint Bowyer. Kansas is his home track but he’s had a mediocre record there. It’s time for the odds to turn around in his favor.

 

What’s your take on the manufacturer involvement that has become even more prevalent in Cup at Talladega and Daytona?

Nate Ryan: It’s fine and perfectly understandable … provided it doesn’t reach the point of in-race meetings to chastise drivers about racing three wide for the lead. And it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing that it reached that point Sunday because it caused NASCAR and its fan base to air some righteous grievances about the diminishment of driver autonomy in Cup and why that’s bad.

Dustin Long: I understand why the manufacturers do it, but I don’t like it, particularly when it reaches the levels it did this past weekend at Talladega. Those in the garage noted to me that some drivers seemed to make curious moves at times if only to remain in good graces with their manufacturers. That’s not racing. That’s a puppet show.

Daniel McFadin: I get the that manufacturers want to work together to ensure their best chance at winning a race, especially Chevy since they haven’t had a car in the Championship 4 in the last two years. But dictating how drivers should race and possibly threatening consequences if they don’t fall in line feels wrong on multiple levels. The drivers are the ones in control of the car on the track, not manufacturer executives. Only the drivers know what’s best for them at any given moment.

Jerry Bonkowski: The manufacturers play such a key and pivotal part in the sport that if they want their respective teams and drivers to work together more at Talladega and Daytona, that should be their prerogative. It would be very difficult for NASCAR to try and rule against manufacturers in this instance, as it could severely damage relationships between the sanctioning body and manufacturers. Frankly, this appears to be a no-win situation where there is no answer or way to police against it.

Bump and Run: Should NASCAR address Alex Bowman wrecking Bubba Wallace?

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If NASCAR officials are upset with Bubba Wallace for splashing liquid on Alex Bowman after the Roval race, should they be just as angry about Bowman hooking Wallace in the right rear in the chicane and wrecking him?

Nate Ryan: Absolutely. It was a low-speed corner, but hooking a car in the right rear to send it driver side into the wall is serious at any speed. Bowman should be sat down at Dover by NASCAR officials (who have suspended drivers fo similar moves) and receive the same stern warning as Wallace receives.

Dustin Long: No. If NASCAR is going to be upset about that, then it should have addressed Austin Dillon turning Alex Bowman at Richmond, the cars of Bubba Wallace and Kyle Busch beating on each other down the frontstretch at Watkins Glen or any of several other instances in the past. Those weren’t addressed. NASCAR only reacts to the extreme cases (i.e. Matt Kenseth wrecking Joey Logano at Martinsville in that playoff race).

Daniel McFadin: It’s understandable NASCAR is upset with what Wallace did. Bowman was somewhat incapacitated and unable to defend himself while being tended to by a medical worker. Their on-track incident is much more in line with “boys have at it.” But regardless of how mad NASCAR is about either issue, they’ll undoubtedly use both to promote the sport.

Jerry Bonkowski: Two different things.

Alex Bowman finished second earlier this season in all three races that are in the second round of the playoffs (Dover, Talladega and Kansas). What odds do you give him of advancing to the third round?

Nate Ryan: Ten percent. It’ll be virtually impossible for any of the drivers who barely made it out of the first round to advance because 1) they start at a massive points deficit; and 2) the next eight guys and their teams are so good. Likely will take a win by Bowman, Ryan Blaney, William Byron or Clint Bowyer for any of them to advance.

Dustin Long: 40% chance. He faces an uphill climb because of how few playoff points he has, meaning he likely needs to win in this round. Just because something happened earlier this year doesn’t mean it will repeat.

Daniel McFadin: I’d say there’s a 75% chance Bowman advances. If he can avoid the chaos that Talladega clearly will incite, I think he has a better chance of advancing over William Byron if neither of them wins a race. But it should be noted that at Dover Bowman qualified fifth but had to start from the rear due to an inspection infraction and then charged to his second-place finish. Sound familiar?

Jerry Bonkowski: The way I see it, and given the uncertainty of Talladega as a wildcard, Bowman has to have at least top-five finishes at both Dover and Kansas to advance to the third round. Anything less and it’s unlikely he makes it to the Round of 8.

After some questions about when officials called a caution and when they did not call a caution in Sunday’s Cup race at the Roval, do you know what a caution is?

Nate Ryan: It wasn’t abundantly obvious what constituted a yellow Sunday, and that’s something NASCAR will need to address before the 2020 return to the Roval.

Dustin Long: I do know what isn’t a caution — when there is an incident on the last lap or so and the car(s) can continue. In those cases, NASCAR’s preference to finish a race under green. It can be confounding when a caution is called and when it isn’t, particularly in a playoff race. The pressure isn’t just on the teams and drivers in the playoffs, it’s also on the officials to be right.

Daniel McFadin: To borrow a phrase from former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, I could never succeed in intelligibly saying what warrants a caution, but I know it when I see it. I saw a lot of it Sunday that wasn’t called (Daniel Suarez‘s last-lap crash) and some that I could debate over whether the caution was merited (Ryan Preece‘s chicane spin). But I’m glad I’m not actually in a position to have to make the call on a track like the Roval.

Jerry Bonkowski: A caution is a race stoppage when a car that has wrecked, spun or stopped on the race track potentially impedes or puts in jeopardy other cars and drivers around him. I think part of the reason why there were questions about cautions at the Roval is because NASCAR officials didn’t know if cars – particularly those that spun – could get going again fast enough without being an obstruction or hazard to the rest of the field. By throwing a caution in those instances when it did, NASCAR erred on the side of caution – no pun intended.

Bump and Run: Playoff predictions

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Give us the driver who intrigues you the most heading into the Cup playoffs.

Nate Ryan: William Byron because he seems on the cusp of becoming the next inaugural winner in Cup.

Dustin Long: Denny Hamlin. With 35 career victories but no Cup titles, the question has been asked if Hamlin is one of the best drivers in NASCAR history without a championship. His four victories this season shows the speed he has. Crew chief Chris Gabehart has built this team for the playoffs. Now let’s see how Hamlin and his team fares.

Daniel McFadin: Kurt Busch. After a remarkably consistent season, he briefly slumped after his Kentucky win before surging at Bristol and Darlington. I think he’ll be extremely dangerous this postseason if he can avoid getting caught up in other people’s mistakes.

Jerry Bonkowski: Kurt Busch is the guy I have my eye on. The first playoff champion in 2004, Busch comes into this year’s playoffs with little to lose and everything to gain. He still doesn’t have a deal in place to return to Chip Ganassi Racing – or to race for another team, for that matter – for next season. Or, could he retire after this season, especially if he wins the championship? If Busch gets hot in the first two rounds, he could be unstoppable all the way through Miami.


Last year Stewart-Haas Racing put all four of its drivers in the final eight. What do you think are the chances Joe Gibbs Racing can put all four of its drivers in the final eight this year?

Nate Ryan: Very good. Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. are virtual locks through playoff points. If Erik Jones can continue his recent surge, JGR will have all its cars on the doorstep to the championship round.

Dustin Long: Odds are good for Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. to make it to the final eight with the number of playoff points they take into the postseason. Then it would be up to Erik Jones to work his way into the final eight.

Daniel McFadin: I’m not at all sure that JGR can pull that off. I think the field is too competitive and we’ll get at least one surprise who advances that far. Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch will get to the final eight, but I have reservations about Erik Jones and Martin Truex Jr.

Jerry Bonkowski: While I’d like to see it, I don’t think it’ll happen. I’ll be surprised the most if Erik Jones makes it through the second round, let alone the first. Sure, his Darlington win was big, but he needs a lot more of those in the first round or two to make it to the semifinal round. And given the scope of the competition, particularly among his own teammates, I just don’t see Jones going as far as Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin.


Which four drivers do you have racing for a Cup championship in Miami?

Nate Ryan: My Championship 4 picks on Feb. 12 were: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin. I’ll sub Truex for Elliott.

Dustin Long: Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski

Daniel McFadin: Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson

Jerry Bonkowski: Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick.


Who do you think will be the four drivers out after the first round of the Cup playoffs?

Nate Ryan: Aric Almirola, Alex Bowman, Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch.

Dustin Long: Ryan Newman, Aric Almirola, Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch

Daniel McFadin: Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola, William Byron and Clint Bowyer

Jerry Bonkowski: Erik Jones, Alex Bowman, William Byron and Ryan Newman.

Bump and Run: Should NASCAR’s throwback weekend move to another track?

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Would NASCAR’s throwback weekend be better suited for another track with Darlington Raceway hosting the opening race of the Cup playoffs next year?

Nate Ryan — Darlington Raceway should keep the weekend because of the equity it’s built and the track’s historic legacy, but it will pose some interesting situations in 2020.

There will be a Playoff Media Day ahead of the race weekend, and that naturally will drive some of the storylines justifiably away from the dominant throwback themes of the past five years. While celebrating the past will remain important, it’s natural to have more focus on the now because the Southern 500 will shape the championship field more than ever.

It’s also worth pondering if playoff teams will be as heavily invested in the throwback schemes; it’s understandable if they’d want to temper their approach to avoid distractions. Conversely, this could be the best opportunity at relevance that would have been unavailable in the previous 16 openers to teams outside the title hunt. It’ll be intriguing to monitor how NASCAR and the track handle the weekend.

Dustin Long — No. Next question.

Daniel McFadin — NASCAR and Darlington have the throwback weekend down to a science, and it resulted in a sellout on Sunday. There’s no reason to fix what isn’t broke. Though if I had any real sway, I’d probably make Darlington and the throwback weekend NASCAR’s season finale.

Jerry Bonkowski — No, no, an absolute emphatic no. There is no reason to mess with this. Darlington is the perfect venue for the throwback weekend. If the other tracks are jealous because of the success Darlington has received, oh well, them’s the breaks. Kudos to Darlington for having the initiative and foresight to come up with the idea and making it the success it has become – and will continue to become even more in the future.

 

Which drivers take the final two Cup playoff spots this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway?

Nate Ryan — Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman.

Dustin Long — Clint Bowyer and Daniel Suarez.

Daniel McFadin — I’m going with Daniel Suarez and Jimmie Johnson.

Jerry Bonkowski — Clint Bowyer and Daniel Suarez. As much as I would love to see him make the playoffs, I think Jimmie Johnson will ultimately come up short – unless he can win at Indianapolis. But given how his season has gone, it would take a near miracle for Johnson to do so. And as for Ryan Newman, I predict he ends up maybe a couple of points shy of qualifying for the playoffs.

Matt DiBenedetto scored his fifth top-10 finish in the last eight races. With Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer candidates to move up to Cup next year, and Ross Chastain also a candidate for a stronger Cup ride with DiBenedetto, are there enough seats to accommodate all five of these drivers in Cup next year?

Nate Ryan — There are enough seats for all five to be in Cup, and I think it’s better than 50-50 that all five will be racing in NASCAR’s premier series. Bell, Custer and Reddick seem like locks. I think DiBenedetto and Chastain will have offers, it’ll just depend on the strength of the teams if they take them.

Dustin Long — There are seats but the question is how competitive they might be.

Daniel McFadin — Are there enough rides? Sure. Are there enough competitive rides? Given the current landscape of the Cup Series, I’m not sure. Bell, Reddick and Custer would make for an entertaining rookie class with a natural rivalry — if they’re in good equipment. Should Chastain claim the Truck championship, he’d vault himself up into the top two among these group of drivers in my eyes. DiBenedetto has done a lot over the last few weeks. But he lacks what the other four drivers have — multiple NASCAR wins.

Jerry Bonkowski — That’s the big question. However, let’s look at things from the opposite perspective. If DiBenedetto can’t get a Cup ride for 2020 because Bell, Reddick and Custer will be going up to NASCAR’s big leagues, in turn there should be several very good Xfinity rides available for next season. And also given that there will likely be several Cup drivers retiring in the next two to three years, not to mention others potentially switching teams during that same time period, the 28-year-old DiBenedetto may have to take one step back to eventually go two steps forward.

Bump and Run: Going back in time on a throwback weekend

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With this throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway, give us a driver, race or era in NASCAR you would have liked to have seen in person and why?

Dustin Long: Always heard so much about Curtis Turner and his talent. Would have liked to have seen him behind the wheel once.

Daniel McFadin: I wish I could go back in time and attend the inaugural Brickyard 400. Seeing the packed grandstands in highlights is one thing. I can’t imagine what the atmosphere must have been like in person for the first NASCAR race at such a historic facility. 

Tim Richmond. (Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

Jerry Bonkowski: Actually, there are several drivers I’d love to have seen: Fireball Roberts, Tim Richmond, Lee Petty and Buck Baker.

As for races: I’d have loved to have been at the first Daytona 500 in 1959.

And as for era: While I’ve seen several black-and-white films over the years, I’d have loved to watch a race in person on the beach in Daytona long before they built Daytona International Speedway.

 

William Byron and Daniel Suarez are in position to each make the Cup playoffs for the first time. Byron is 75 points ahead of what would be the first driver out at this time. Suarez holds what would be the final playoff spot by two points. Do both make the playoffs?

Dustin Long: Not convinced Daniel Suarez remains in a playoff spot the next two races and makes it.

Daniel McFadin: I think William Byron makes it safely into the playoffs, while Daniel Suarez gets nicked thanks to a first-time winner.

Jerry Bonkowski: Daniel Suarez has to have two of the best races of his life at Darlington and Indianapolis to ensure he makes the playoffs. Anything less in either one and he could come up short, which would be a sad commentary on the strong season he’s had to date. As for William Byron, the main thing he has to do is play it safe at two of the most difficult tracks there are and not take any unnecessary chances that could lead to disaster. I think crew chief Chad Knaus will keep Byron in-check more than he ever has in the next two races.

 

Aric Almriola, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, William Byron, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Daniel Suarez are among the drivers who have not won a Cup race at Darlington. Who do you think will be the next from this group to win there?

Dustin Long: Joey Logano. Former champion’s day is coming at a track that often rewards champions.

Daniel McFadin: Kyle Larson had the car to win at Darlington the last two years, leading 408 laps combined but finishing 14th (2017) and third (2018). He ends a nearly two-year winless streak Sunday.

Jerry Bonkowski: This is a tough question. But I have to go with the veterans as having the best chance, in order: Logano, Busch, Newman, Bowyer and Larson. It just goes to show how difficult Darlington is when you have several of the most successful drivers in the sport – including two former series champions – that have yet to win at such a storied and legendary track.