Jerry Bonkowski

Bump and Run: All-Star Race picks, surprising wins, and more

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Who will have a more wrecked winning car — Erik Jones, who was listed as being involved in three accidents on the way to winning the non-points Busch Clash in February, or the winner of Wednesday night’s All-Star Race at Bristol?

Dustin Long: Erik Jones’ car. Might not be by much.

Daniel McFadin: Erik Jones. It would take a lot for someone to make it to the end of the All-Star Race with more damage than that and win … unless that damage came on the last lap.

Jerry Bonkowski: The winner of the All-Star Race. With $1 million on the line, it’s unlikely any car will get through the race without some damage. The driver with the least damage wins, period.

 

Who is your pick to win the All-Star Race?

Dustin Long: Joey Logano. He isn’t afraid to beat and bang. This could be his race.

Daniel McFadin: Jimmie Johnson. He’s pissed off, has been fast and was a frontrunner at Bristol back in May.

Jerry Bonkowski: Kurt Busch. I’m going to go with a guy who knows his way around Bristol quite well and who has had a great deal of success there.

 

What do you put the chances that Jimmie Johnson makes the playoffs?

Dustin Long: 85%. He’s already been disqualified from one race, losing all but one point from that event, and missed Indy, and is still in a playoff spot. It might not be comfortable for his fans, but I don’t think they should sweat it too much.

Daniel McFadin: 90%. He’s been too fast to not make the playoffs in some form.

Jerry Bonkowski: I’m convinced Johnson will make the playoffs, but his success and consistency needs a big jump upward, lest JJ is eliminated at the end of the first round.

 

Cole Custer’s win was surprising. So what’s the most surprising NASCAR win since you’ve seen since following the sport?

Dustin Long: The one that comes to mind immediately is James Buescher’s 2012 Xfinity Series win at Daytona. He was 11th entering the final corner. He won when the top 10 cars wrecked. It was his first NASCAR win and only Xfinity Series victory.

Daniel McFadin: If not Trevor Bayne’s Daytona 500 win, it would be Chase Elliott‘s Roval win last year. He drove nose first into a tire barrier, came back and won. It was shocking to say the least.

Jerry Bonkowski: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s win in the summer race at Daytona in July 2001, less than five months after his father was killed in the Daytona 500. That was one of the most surprising and emotional wins in any sport I’ve covered in my career.

Bump and Run: Should Cup race on the Indy road course?

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Should the Cup Series remain on the oval at Indy or should it move to the road course like Xfinity did this weekend?

Dustin Long: I’d rather see what the Next Gen car could do on the oval before abandoning that for the the road course. Stay on the oval for now.

Daniel McFadin: I’m firmly in the #MoreRoadCourses camp and Cup should give Indy’s a shot. It doesn’t need to replace the oval race, but Saturday’s Xfinity race was more memorable than any Brickyard 400 in my memory.

Jerry Bonkowski: Both. I think NASCAR should hold a weekend doubleheader at Indy next season (and beyond), with a road course race on Saturday and oval race on Sunday. For even added measure, switch them around for every other subsequent year.

Chase Briscoe said before the season started he felt he needed at least 8 Xfinity wins to move up to Cup. He now has five victories through 13 races. How many wins will he get this year?

Dustin Long: Twelve.

Daniel McFadin: I had my doubts Briscoe could get to eight wins, mostly because he’d never had more than one win in his previous two Xfinity seasons. But he arguably should be at six wins. I think he’ll at least get to nine wins.

Jerry Bonkowski: I can see him winning nine races at least … and maybe as many as 12. He is definitely on a roll and no one else is even close to him, not just in wins but overall performance.

Kyle Busch has one win in the last 38 Cup races. Does he win in any of the next four points races (Kentucky, Texas, Kansas and New Hampshire)?

Dustin Long: No. Team hasn’t shown elite level speed to contend for wins. He’s led 130 laps this season and 100 of those laps came at Bristol. Can’t lead, can’t win.

Daniel McFadin: I think he wins one of them. If he doesn’t, then his team will be on red alert when teammate Denny Hamlin is on a roll right now.

Jerry Bonkowski: I think Texas offers him the best opportunity to win at in the next four tracks. He’s won there three times there in his Cup career (he’s also won three times at New Hampshire, which would be my secondary choice for Busch). There’s just something about Texas that seems to bring out the best in Busch and the No. 18.

Bump and Run: Should NASCAR’s future have more doubleheaders?

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What did you think of the Cup doubleheader weekend at Pocono and is that something that should be continued in 2021?

Dustin Long: It was a nice touch but let’s not go crazy with it. Remember how exciting it was when there was a rare night race? Then many more were added and the luster faded. Don’t go crazy with doubleheaders. And it’s not needed at a short track or superspeedway.

Daniel McFadin: Except for the weather delays, I thought it was great. It puts more pressure on teams and with the invert for the second race, creates the possibility for more chaos. Doubleheaders should definitely be a staple of the schedule next year.

Jerry Bonkowski: Can you just imagine a twinbill weekend at places like Bristol or Daytona? Plus, there’s one other benefit that many may not have considered: Given complaints over the years about the length of the NASCAR Cup schedule, this would be a great way to shorten the length of a season, or at the very least, allow for more off-weekends in the season than there are now. I’d love to see 3-4 doubleheader weekends in 2021

 

Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin each won a Pocono race this past weekend and finished second in the other race. Since Pocono has some similarities to Indianapolis, site of this weekend’s Cup race, will you take Harvick and Hamlin or the field at Indy?

Dustin Long: I’ll take the field.

Daniel McFadin: With Kevin Harvick being the defending winner, I think he’s the favorite. But Denny Hamlin has finished in the top six in five of the last six visits to Indy, so he’s a clear threat to get his first Brickyard win.

Jerry Bonkowski: Denny Hamlin is having a great year, perhaps headed to his best season. If he is to finally win that elusive first Cup championship, a strong run at Indy will help. It seems he and his team are hitting on all cylinders more than any other team right now, which makes him the favorite Sunday at the Brickyard.

 

 

The Xfinity Series races Saturday on the road course at Indy. Austin Cindric won two road course races last year, finished second in another and third in the other. Will you take Cindric or the field, which includes AJ Allmendinger, at Indy?

Dustin Long: You can have the field. I’m taking Austin Cindric. Team Penske driver will win the first Xfinity race on the road course at the track Roger Penske now owns.

Daniel McFadin: I’ll take the field, namely AJ Allmendinger, just because of his experience. While Xfinity teams will get practice, it’s still everyone’s first time on the road course. In this kind of scenario, I put more value on a veteran.

Jerry Bonkowski: There’s no denying Austin Cindric’s success and talent on road courses. But in a head-to-head battle with AJ Allmendinger – or the rest of the Xfinity field, for that matter – I’ve still got to go with the Dinger. But I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see an Allmendinger-Cindric 1-2 finish at Indy.

 

Chevrolet is winless in the last seven Cup races. How much of a concern should that be?

Dustin Long: Chevy’s lack of wins lately is unsettling. Also worrisome is that Chevy is not leading many laps. Since 2015, Chevy has one win each at Indy and Kentucky, the next two tracks on the circuit. This drought could last longer.

Daniel McFadin: Chevrolet should be concerned. A Chevy driver wasn’t part of the conversation at the end of either Pocono race, Atlanta, or Martinsville. Chevy takes its winless streak to Indy, where its only win in the last five races, in 2017, was the product of chaotic overtime restarts. Chevy needs a convincing win soon.

Jerry Bonkowski: It’s just in a little downturn currently. Chevy will be back soon enough. I’m not concerned at all.

Bump and Run: Impressive Cup drivers from season’s first half

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1) With the regular season at the halfway point, what Cup driver or team has impressed you the most?

Dustin Long: Ryan Blaney. First year with crew chief Todd Gordon and has been in position to win multiple races. Team has been fast from the start. 

Daniel McFadin: Brad Keselowski. He’s working with a new Cup crew chief for the first time in a decade and he hasn’t faltered much, winning twice, including the Coca-Cola 600 for the first time. 

Jerry Bonkowski: Chase Elliott has had an up-and-down season at times, but he has been solid since NASCAR returned from the pandemic. He very easily could have three wins and maybe even four if it hadn’t been for his crash at Darlington. If he can keep his momentum going, he’s definitely a championship contender.

 

2) What Cup driver or team has surprised you the most in the first half of the regular season?

Dustin Long: John Hunter Nemecheck and Front Row Motorsports. He was overshadowed by the others in the rookie class going into the season but has shown well and has seven top-20 finishes in the first 13 races. Not sure if a lot of people would have predicted that at the start of the year for Nemechek and his team.

Daniel McFadin: Cole Custer and not in a good way. He was my pre-season pick to be the best rookie out of the gate and he’s done nothing to back it up, earning just one top 10 and finishing in the top 15 just once in the last nine races.

Jerry Bonkowski: Team Penske in general and Ryan Blaney in particular. I’ve been very impressed with Blaney particularly of late. He’s earned a win at Talladega and six top-five finishes in the last seven races.

3) Who would be your pick for top Cup rookie at this point in the season?

Dustin Long: Tyler Reddick has been the standout this season and the rookie who has run more consistently at the front. 

Daniel McFadin: Tyler Reddick easily. He’s the only rookie with a stage win and he has three top 10s, including a top five, through the first 13 races.

Jerry Bonkowski: Tyler Reddick, who is the highest-ranked rookie in the Cup standings, with one top-five and three top-10 finishes. I really like what I’ve seen from Reddick. But I’ve also been pleasantly surprised at the performance of fellow rookie John Hunter Nemechek.

 

4) Which driver or team do you think can make the biggest improvement from the first half of the regular season to the second half?

Dustin Long: I’m waiting to see what Matt Kenseth and the No. 42 team will do. After finishing 10th at Darlington in his first race back, Kenseth has not finished better than 15th since. With the way the Chevys are strong this year, got to think his results will turn around soon.

Daniel McFadin: I think Alex Bowman is going to put together a solid back half after a rather disappointing output since NASCAR returned. He has two top 10s in the last three races, but that followed a stretch of only one top-15 finish over four races when he had a car capable of winning in both Charlotte races. He has lots of promise, he just needs to put together complete races.

Jerry Bonkowski: Jimmie Johnson has had some strong performances during the first half of the season. He already has two top-five finishes in the first 12 races, just one less than he had in all of last season. And he is already halfway [six] to the number of top-10 finishes he had all of last season. I firmly believe it’s just a matter of time before he breaks his three-plus year winless streak.

Bump and Run: Will Kyle Busch or Ryan Blaney win first in Cup this year?

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Who wins a Cup race first this season: Ryan Blaney or Kyle Busch?

Dustin Long: Ryan Blaney. He keeps running at the front like he has lately, he’ll win a race soon.

Daniel McFadin: Ryan Blaney. He’s clearly been faster over the last few races and more consistent, just as Team Penske as a whole has been compared to Joe Gibbs Racing. 

Jerry Bonkowski: Ryan Blaney has definitely been on a roll of late with five top-five finishes in his last six starts. Conversely, Busch has six top fives in his last 10 starts. But if a race came down to the last lap and the two drivers battling it out, I give the edge to the defending and two-time Cup champ.

 

The 2021 Class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame will be announced at 5 p.m. ET Tuesday on NBCSN. Who would you have on your NASCAR Hall of Fame ballot?

Dustin Long: Modern Era: Kirk Shelmerdine and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Pioneer Era: Ralph Moody.

Daniel McFadin: Modern Era: Kirk Shelmerdine and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Pioneer Era: Banjo Matthews

Jerry Bonkowski: Modern Era: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ricky Rudd. Pioneer Era: Red Farmer.

 

Did Joey Logano do anything wrong by racing leader Chase Elliott hard while already down a lap and as Denny Hamlin was chasing Elliott late in Sunday’s race?

Dustin Long: A saying many in the garage follow simply states: “What goes around comes around.” Bristol wasn’t that long ago.

Daniel McFadin: We haven’t heard from Logano on what his intentions were Sunday, but I’d be hard pressed to imagine he wasn’t trying to make Elliott’s night more difficult on some level. If it were me, I’d have waited until we were both competing for position or a win, as was the case between them at the end of the Bristol race. But Logano didn’t wreck him or even make contact. So I really don’t see the harm.

Jerry Bonkowski: Logano didn’t want to fall back even further. Pretty simple and standard stuff. As the old saying goes, “That’s racing.” Besides, given their past history, do you honestly think Logano would do anything to benefit Hamlin? No way. It was just a regular racing deal.