Bump & Run: Who is in trouble in Cup playoffs?

Leave a comment

After Las Vegas, which driver(s) do you consider in trouble of not making the cut to the second round?

Nate Ryan: Anyone outside the grid now, so Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones will have to fight their way through the next two races. 

Dustin Long: Austin Dillon is 10th in the standings but his lead over some of the drivers outside a cutoff spot is slim and he’s not finished better than 13th on a short track this season heading into Richmond. There’s some work to do.  

Daniel McFadin: Despite benefitting from the bad luck of many playoff drivers Sunday and finishing 11th, I still think Austin Dillon is the most in danger of missing out. He’s never finished better than 13th at Richmond and he’s never finished in the top 10 on a road course in Cup.

Dan Beaver: Denny Hamlin took the biggest hit last week, dropping 20 points behind the cutoff line. The inconsistent finishes with the No. 11 team throughout 2018 puts him in a precarious position.

Have you bought in on Brad Keselowski joining the Big 3?

Nate Ryan: No, because as he readily admits, the speed still isn’t there. The execution has been flawless for three weeks, but that is unsustainable over the next the nine races. His No. 2 Ford will need to be a weekly top-five car by the Round of 8 to have a title shot. 

Dustin Long: No. The Big 3 was not created over three races but a much longer stretch. Keselowski’s run the last three weeks has been monumental but until he finds the speed to match the Big 3, he’s not there yet.

Daniel McFadin: Absolutely. With his win he joins Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick as the first trio of drivers to win three consecutive races in a season in NASCAR’s modern history. When you do that, you’re definitely the latest member of the “Big 4.”

Dan Beaver: Almost. Another top-five finish this week will push me over the edge, but it’s still hard to say that this is not just an incredibly successful wave of momentum. He hasn’t been particularly strong on short tracks this year with no top fives in four starts, so Richmond will be a big test.

The average number of cautions in the last five Richmond Cup races is 9.2. Are you taking the over or under on the number of cautions in Saturday night’s Cup race?

Nate Ryan: Under. I think the night races tend to be tamer at Richmond because the track has more grip. 

Dustin Long: Under. After the chaos of Las Vegas, things will calm down even with the Roval on the horizon.

Daniel McFadin: I’ll take the over. Why? Because drivers will be desperate to be anywhere near the front with the Roval on the horizon next weekend. Desperation will lead to chaos.

Dan Beaver: Seven of the 16 playoff contenders finished outside the top 20 last week and they are going to have a little extra desperation at Richmond. On a short track, that is a recipe for disaster. I’m taking the over.

What chances do you give Ross Chastain of winning two Xfinity races in a row in the No. 42 car Friday night at Richmond?

Nate Ryan: The competition will be virtually the same as at Las Vegas, so 50-50 seems about right. 

Dustin Long: Kyle Larson won the latest Xfinity short-track race in the No. 42 car at Bristol but the Joe Gibbs Racing cars have often been the class of the field at such tracks this season. Would give the JGR cars a little better chance than the No. 42 car this weekend.

Daniel McFadin: After his eye-opening performance in his first two starts at two different tracks, I’d say there’s a 85 percent chance he schools everyone like the four-year veteran he is.

Dan Beaver: Back-to-back wins are always tricky, but Chastain showed enough strength at Darlington and Las Vegas to make me believe he can win again.

Long: Ross Chastain’s win ‘gives all the little guys hope’

Leave a comment

LAS VEGAS — Garrett Smithley walked out of Victory Lane with a smile on his face.

On a day when he wrecked in qualifying and finished 18th in a backup car, he couldn’t contain his excitement for Ross Chastain, typically his teammate at JD Motorsports but not on this day.

Saturday’s Xfinity race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was one of three races this season that Chastain will run in Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 Chevrolet — a car with more funding and resources than Chastain’s regular ride.

Chastain scored a dominating win.  

Garrett Smithley hugs Ross Chastain in Victory Lane after Chastain won the Xfinity race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Photo: Dustin Long

“It gives all the little guys hope,” Smithley said of Chastain’s victory.

As if it to make sure that Chastain’s win was real and the embrace they shared in Victory Lane was not imaginary, Smithley said it again.

“It gives all the little guys hope.”

Money is king in NASCAR and the owners with it are the kingmakers.

For those without money, everything is harder. There are fewer resources to develop new parts and make cars faster. Instead, such teams rely on less reliable parts, tape measures instead of laser measurements and hand-written notebooks instead of computer simulation programs. It’s a gap that rarely can be closed.

Facing such obstacles, teams are left only with hope. It’s why crew members get up at 5 a.m. to head to the shop and why they might not leave until midnight trying to repair a car from the last race and get it ready for the next one. Instead of flying to the upcoming race like many teams, it often means long drives through the night with little sleep before the garage opens the next morning and the race for speed resumes.

For such teams, the race for 25th can be as meaningful as the race for the lead to bigger teams.

Ryan Preece knows both worlds. He drove for JD Motorsports in 2016 and had one top-10 finish for the underfunded team.

Nobody noticed him.

So he took the sponsorship money he had and went to Joe Gibbs Racing to run two races (that later became four) instead of 33.

Ryan Preece celebrates his first career Xfinity race in 2017 at Iowa Speedway. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

Preece won in his second race with Gibbs. He’s won again with the team this year. Although he says he’s focused on the remaining races with Gibbs, his gamble will likely lead to a full-time ride next season in the sport. 

Preece isn’t alone in believing less is more. Alex Bowman lost his Cup ride before the 2016 season. With no rides left, he signed to run select races with JR Motorsports that year and also served as the test driver for Hendrick Motorsports’ simulator program. That put him in position to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. after Earnhardt had to sit out the second half of that season because of symptoms from a concussion. Bowman went on to take over the No. 88 when Earnhardt retired after last season and is in the Cup playoffs.

Those moves did not unnoticed.

Matt DiBenedetto, who also had to start and park early in his career and has run for a variety of small-budget teams, announced recently that he would leave his full-time Cup ride with Go Fas Racing after this season and bet on himself like Preece did.

“I paid a whole lot of attention to those guys and what they did,” DiBenedetto told NBC Sports of Preece and Bowman. “They were a big driving force in me making this decision.”

Matt DiBenedetto hopes to be the next to follow in the success of Ryan Preece and Ross Chastain to attain a more competitive ride. (Photo: Getty Images)

DiBenedetto said he decided to follow the model Preece tried after “seeing other guys get just barely bumped above me on those lists (for rides). That was the push I needed to make this bold and risky decision.”

For Chastain, the risk was low. Jeff Carpoff, president and CEO of DC Solar, which sponsors the No. 42 Xfinity car, approached Chastain earlier this year at Auto Club Speedway as Chastain walked with helmet in hand from his Xfinity car to the Cup garage. The brief conversation led to further talk by Carpoff of putting Chastain in the No. 42 Xfinity Ganassi car at some point this season.

Chastain revealed Saturday that he’s not getting paid for these three races — he also ran the car at Darlington and makes his last start in it next week at Richmond.

“I get laughed at from inside the garage,” Chastain said of his no-money deal for these three races. “We literally bet on ourselves that we wouldn’t make any money now, but it would pay off.”

Chastain had to hold off Justin Allgaier, the regular-season champion, in a spirited duel that included contact and had Allgaier ranting on the radio at the time. Allgaier later attributed his anger to being in the moment.

But when Chastain pulled away from the field on the final restart and it became clear he would score his first career Xfinity win — in his 132nd series start — he just wanted to enjoy the moment.

Ross Chastain in Victory Lane. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

He didn’t yell or scream on the radio. He put his head down, punched the steering wheel and stayed silent.

“They were all congratulating (me) on the radio,” Chastain said of the team. “I just wanted to listen and hear it.”

It was a sound he could not have imagined when he was starting and parking early in his career because there wasn’t the money to run a full race.

“That’s not the ideal way,” Chastain said. “I wouldn’t recommend that because it’s tough, and it’s very trying. A lot of phone calls (with family) late at night. We didn’t know it was going to get better, but they kept telling me that.”

Back then, he only had hope.

 and on Facebook

Martin Truex Jr. gives his side of Furniture Row Racing’s demise

11 Comments

LAS VEGAS – Put aside the rumblings about tension with Joe Gibbs Racing, Martin Truex Jr. believes the impending closure of Furniture Row Racing essentially was about time.

If the exit of 5-hour Energy had been known in mid-April instead of mid-July, the defending series champion says his No. 78 Toyota wouldn’t be entering the stretch run of its final season.

“We just basically got put in a really bad time crunch,” Truex said Thursday at the NASCAR Playoff Media Day. “I think had we had three months, we probably could have put it all together and made it happen. We just got put in a really bad spot on timing.

“We couldn’t get everything done in four weeks, find $10 million and put it all together.”

In his first expansive public comments about owner Barney Visser’s decision to shutter his NASCAR team after a 13-year run, Truex put a brave face on the No. 78’s 10 remaining races to defend its title (“I feel like we’re in a great place”) and explained the underlying reasons for its surprising demise.

In the release announcing Furniture Row Racing’s shutdown, the team cited “the rising costs of continuing a team alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing” as a factor that exacerbated the budget deficit for 2019 after losing a multimillion-dollar sponsorship.

In switching to Toyota Racing Development as its engine supplier and manufacturer in 2016, Furniture Row Racing also entered a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing, which has supplied Truex’s chassis. Truex consistently has outrun every Gibbs driver but Kyle Busch since then, scoring 16 victories.

That’s prompted questions about whether Gibbs jacked up the price as a countermeasure for being outperformed. Gibbs officials privately have denied that claim, suggesting it was difficult to determine the initial three-year cost of the alliance, and that an escalation in fees was natural.

Truex denied that his sterling results might have triggered the sort of gouging that occurs in other businesses in which a supplier indirectly forces a competitive client out of business with a financial squeeze.

“That has nothing to do with the situation we got in,” Truex said. “We were trying to put together, finish up a long-term deal to keep the same things going, and a sponsor pulled out. We didn’t have enough money suddenly, and we didn’t have enough time to find it to fill that void. Barney had no way to agree to do those things and keep them going without the money coming in, because there was no way he could make it work. So it’s really as simple as that. It was nothing to do with who was running this and who was running that and who was winning and who wasn’t.”

Truex said those who are whispering otherwise “just don’t know the story, and they are obviously just upset about things, and that’s understandable. But at the end of the day, it’s just not factual.”

He also rebuffed comparisons to the alliance between Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas Racing, which dissolved after an awkward final year in 2016 when SHR announced a move to Ford.

“I don’t think there was ever any hard feelings between either of the teams,” Truex said of Gibbs and Furniture Row Racing. “I thought everything, no matter how we did or how the other team did, I always felt like it was a great situation for us to be in, and obviously here we sit with the opportunity to win another championship, and I don’t feel like it’s any different than the first year we raced together, so I think it can work.”

What did change and have an impact on Furniture Row Racing was Visser’s outlook on life after surviving a heart attack and winning a championship.

Truex said the confluence of both events probably made it easier for the Denver-based owner to walk away from NASCAR.

“In talking to him, he mentioned that, so obviously it’s on his mind,” Truex said. “He’s thought about it. He’s got a huge family, lots of grandkids, loves spending time with them, and I think some of that or part of that made it easier. More time to spend with them, a lot less stress, a lot less to worry about making sure all the money’s coming in, and we’re getting what we need.

“It takes so much to keep these race teams going, especially a small team like ours with the way we were having to do things. It was a high stress level. But from what I gather working with him for this long and talking to him, he cares more about the people. I think it’s really what kept him going, it’s what kept him spending. Being able to see him bring in these guys and give them this huge opportunity and see them thrive in that situation and take advantage of those opportunities. To go through all that and win a championship, I felt like now his biggest thought is, ‘How do I make sure these guys can keep going? How do I help them land in a good spot?’ For him, he says, ‘For all you guys, this is a career. For me, it’s just a hobby.’ I think through all the stuff he’s been through, it probably helped him make the decision or be at peace with it a little bit.”

Truex said he has “no concern” about losing any key team members before the end of the season as Furniture Row Racing’s 61 employees continue to prepare cars while hunting for future work. He also believes the uncertainty will serve as a rallying cry instead of a distraction.

“I feel like we definitely want to repeat, no question about it,” he said. “I think you can take it one of two ways. You can hang your head down and say, ‘This sucks, why are we in this position’ and get mad at the world, or you can look at each other and say, ‘Let’s go do this.’

“I feel like that’s where we’re at. Barney gave us the opportunity to work there at a great place. Gave us all the tools we needed to go win a championship. So I think all of us, we look at that and say, ‘Hell yeah, let’s go do this. Let’s send Barney out on top. Let’s give him the best going away gift that we ever could.’ I honestly, truly feel that is our mindset and that’s our focus. And I have no questions about where our team is and how they’re going to approach the playoffs.”

Silly Season: More rides changing for 2019

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
5 Comments

Trevor Bayne is the latest to be looking for a ride for 2019 after car owner Jack Roush said Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that Bayne would not return to the team after this season.

Bayne, the 2011 Daytona 500 winner, had struggled this season before Roush Fenway Racing brought back Matt Kenseth to share the No. 6 ride with Bayne.

Since he began driving in Cup for Roush in 2015, Bayne has zero wins, four top fives and 11 top-10 finishes in 124 starts.

Here’s a look at where Silly Season stands at this point:

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2019

Bubba Wallace will remain with Richard Petty Motorsports through the 2020 season (announcement made July 28)

CUP RIDES NOT YET ANNOUNCED FOR 2019

No. 1: The Associated Press reported Sept. 10 that car owner Chip Ganassi had offered Jamie McMurray a contract to drive in the 2019 Daytona 500 only and then move into a management position. Ganassi was awaiting McMurray’s decision. The move means the No. 1 will be open for 2019.

No. 6: Car owner Jack Roush said Sept. 12 on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that Trevor Bayne would not be back with Roush Fenway Racing after this season. Bayne, who has shared the No. 6 ride this season with Matt Kenseth, has driven in Cup for Roush since 2015.

No. 23: Front Row Motorsports purchased the BK Racing team in bankruptcy court. Front Row needs the team to run the rest of the season to maintain the charter. After this season, Front Row could run a third car, lease this charter or sell this charter.

No. 31: Ryan Newman announced Sept. 15 that he would not return to the No. 31 after this season. Car owner Richard Childress told NBC Sports: “We’ll announce who our driver is in the near future.”

No. 32: Go Fas Racing is looking for a driver after Matt DiBenedetto’s announcement Sept. 7 that he won’t return to the team after this season.

No. 41: Kurt Busch signed a one-year deal last December to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing. He said Aug. 31 at Darlington that he has two contract offers for 2019 but did not reveal what teams they were from. Busch said Sept. 7 he had no updates on his status.

No. 95: Kasey Kahne announced Aug. 16 that he would not return for another full-time season. Also, this team has told Richard Childress Racing it won’t be a part of its technical alliance next year. Car owner Bob Leavine said Aug. 5 that “in our talking to the manufacturers this year, Toyota has been head-and-shoulders above the rest so far.”

DRIVERS WITHOUT ANNOUNCED PLANS FOR 2019

Trevor Bayne: 2011 Daytona 500 winner is looking for a ride after the Sept. 12 announcement he won’t return to Roush Fenway Racing in 2019. He told NBC Sports on Sept. 14 that he has been calling car owners looking for a ride and would look at any of NASCAR’s top three national series. 

Kurt Busch: 2004 champion’s contract expires after this season with Stewart-Haas Racing.

Matt DiBenedettoSaid he was betting on himself by leaving Go Fas Racing and looking to race elsewhere. While he would like a full-time ride, he would entertain a part-time ride in the Xfinity Series with a winning team, following what Ryan Preece has done.

Daniel Hemric: The Xfinity driver for Richard Childress Racing was asked Aug. 17 at Bristol about his future and he described it as: “Cloudy, very cloudy.” He said then he has not signed anything for the 2019 season, adding: “I’m trying to do everything I can on the race track to prove to somebody that would be willing to put me in a car and give me a shot.”

Jamie McMurray: Although he has not revealed his plans, car owner Chip Ganassi told the AP that he had offered McMurray a contract for only the 2019 Daytona 500 before McMurray would move into a management role.

Ryan Newman: He announced during the weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that he won’t be returning to Richard Childress Racing. He intends to remain in Cup for 2019 but has yet to reveal his destination.

Ryan Preece: Modified ace who has run a limited schedule in the Xfinity Series with Joe Gibbs Racing and had great success has not announced his 2019 plans.

Daniel SuarezWith reports stating that Martin Truex Jr. will go to Joe Gibbs Racing and drive the No. 19, Suarez would be looking for a ride. He said Sept. 9 at Indianapolis that “I’m not really allowed” to talk about his situation and then added: “Everything happens for a reason. I think we are going to be in good shape.”

Martin Truex Jr.Reigning series champion has not announced a ride for 2019 with the Sept. 4 news that Furniture Row Racing is shutting down after this season.

XFINITY SERIES

OPEN RIDES FOR 2019

1: Elliott Sadler announced Aug. 15 that he will not run full-time in NASCAR after this season, creating an opening at JR Motorsports for 2019.

Daniel Suarez loses 10 drivers points for Indianapolis inspection failure

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NASCAR has docked Daniel Suarez 10 driver and owner points for his inspection failure during the Brickyard 400 weekend.

Suarez’ team received the L1 penalty for his No. 19 Toyota failing inspection four times. His car chief, Todd Brewer, was ejected from the event and Suarez had to start the race from the rear.

Suarez, who did not make the playoffs, remains 20th in the point standings after the penalty.

Joe Gibbs Racing will not appeal the penalty.

NASCAR did not issue any other penalties.