Marcos Ambrose

Friday 5: ‘Chaotic’ qualifying is entertaining and shouldn’t change

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Last week’s Cup qualifying at Las Vegas Motor Speedway raised the question of is qualifying more about entertainment or sport?

It was fascinating to watch cars parked on pit road and drivers waiting for someone to go because nobody wanted to be the lead car. They all wanted to be in the draft.

While that took place, spotters counted down the time remaining in the session.

It became a game of who would blink first and take off.

When it was time to go, there was chaos. Cars darted around each other. In the final round, Joey Logano went four-wide on pit road. Ricky Stenhouse passed Logano on the inside and left pit road ahead of him.

“Is chaos a bad thing?” Logano asked NBC Sports’ Jerry Bonkowski this week. “I think that’s the question we have to ask ourselves. Is it chaos? Yes. Is it entertaining? Oh yeah, it’s entertaining, there’s a lot going on. So I don’t know if it’s wrong and we should be changing much.

“I think there’s a couple safety aspects we can add to pit road while we’re jockeying around for position and stuff like that. But as far as the entertainment value, will you get the lap in before the clock runs out, will you get a big enough draft, will they all go out for a second time and you get a big pack again, are they going to knock somebody out of the round? That’s good.

“I don’t know why we would change much of that, I think it’s OK. Yeah, it’s a little chaotic, it’s crazy and none of us has it figured out or scienced out the way we want to have it yet, but that’s competition, that’s just what it is.”

Logano is right. While there was a randomness to who won the pole at Las Vegas, qualifying was as entertaining as any session in recent years.

What happened last week was reminiscent of qualifying at Talladega in October 2014. NASCAR divided teams into two groups for the opening round and each had five minutes. The top 24 overall times advanced.

Most cars stayed on pit road until they hit their cutoff mark to complete two laps. Not everyone made it. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Allgaier were among the cars that didn’t make it to the start/finish line before the session ended. Their fastest laps didn’t count. They both failed to qualify. It’s the only race Stenhouse has failed to make since his 2013 rookie Cup season.

These days, 36 chartered cars are guaranteed a starting spot. That prevents a situation Stenhouse experienced five years ago with a well-funded team.

But that doesn’t ease all the angst. Some competitors were frustrated at Las Vegas because the draft negates who has the fastest car. It’s all about being in the right place to draft and turn the quickest lap. Being in that position can be as much luck as skill.

What happens in qualifying can impact the race. Teams pick pit stalls based on their starting spot. A poor qualifying effort can lead to issues in the race.

Logano is aware of that. He qualified 27th at Atlanta and his team had limited options on where to pick their pit stall. Crew chief Todd Gordon chose a stall behind Alex Bowman’s pit and in front of Martin Truex Jr.’s pit.

Rarely do strong teams pit next to each other because they don’t want to have to go around a car to enter their stall or be blocked in by the car in front. Logano faced that situation at Atlanta. He lost more than 10 spots on each of his first two pit stops because he couldn’t get around Bowman’s car to exit his stall.

That leads back to the question of should qualifying be about entertainment or sport?

The decision today will be easy. The fastest car will be rewarded because teams are not expected to draft.

This issue that will come up again in the coming weeks, though, when the series heads to Auto Club Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway.

“Texas, I don’t know,” Logano said. “I think there’s going to be parts of the track that you want to draft and parts of the track when you’re going to want clean air. When you get to Turns 1 and 2, you’re going to want some air on the car to be able to get through the corner with as much wide open time as possible. That one’s a real question for me.

“I think Kansas is a no-brainer, you’re definitely going to be drafting. As for Fontana, it’ll be interesting. I think there’s going to be some drafting going on there, but I think it’ll be split up a little bit, kind of like the way Atlanta was, kinda 50-50.”

There’s no splitting this issue. It’s about entertainment. Let chaos reign in qualifying.

2. Second to Kyle Busch

For all the wins Kyle Busch has amassed in his NASCAR career, there is a recurring theme.

The runner-up to Busch in more than a third of the 197 races he’s won across Cup, Xfinity and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series has been one of five drivers.

Kyle Busch celebrating a NASCAR win has been a familiar sight through the years. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

The driver who has finished runner-up to Busch the most in those races is Kevin Harvick. He’s done so 18 times — five times in Cup, 10 times in Xfinity and three times in Trucks. The total equates to 9.1 percent of the time Busch has won a NASCAR race, Harvick has been second.

Carl Edwards is next on the list with 15 runner-up finishes to Busch. He’s followed by Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano with 13-runner-up finishes. Next is Kyle Larson, who has placed second to Busch eight times.

Combined, Harvick, Edwards, Keselowski, Logano and Larson have finished second to Busch in 67 of his 197 wins (34 percent).

They are among the 60 drivers who have placed second to Busch in a race he won. The list includes three NASCAR Hall of Fame members (Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Ron Hornaday Jr.), two Indianapolis 500 winners (Sam Hornish Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya) and drivers who have combined to win 48 NASCAR titles in either Cup, Xfinity or Trucks.

The list could grow this weekend. Busch is entered in both the Cup and Xfinity races at Phoenix.

Here is who has finished second to Busch in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks races and how often:

18 — Kevin Harvick

15 — Carl Edwards

13 — Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano

8 — Kyle Larson

7 — Todd Bodine, Matt Crafton

6 — Erik Jones, Johnny Sauter

5 — Greg Biffle, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Ron Hornaday Jr., Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart

4 — Jeff Burton, Austin Dillon

3 — Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Daniel Suarez, Martin Truex Jr.

2 — Mike Bliss, Terry Cook, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, John Hunter Nemechek, Timothy Peters, David Reutimann, Elliott Sadler

1 — Justin Allgaier, AJ Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, Trevor Bayne, James Buescher, Kurt Busch, Colin Braun, Jeb Burton, Brendan Gaughan, David Gilliland, Jeff Gordon, Daniel Hemric, Sam Hornish Jr., Parker Kligerman, Jason Leffler, Sterling Marlin, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears, Brett Moffitt, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Newman, Nelson Piquet Jr., Ryan Preece, Brian Scott, Reed Sorenson, Brian Vickers, Bubba Wallace, Cole Whitt

3. Multiple surgeries

Tanner Thorson, who competed in 11 Gander Outdoors Truck Series races last season, is recovering after he was involved in a highway crash early Monday morning in Modesto, California.

The 2016 U.S. Auto Club national champion had surgery Monday night for a broken left arm, according to the USAC Racing. Thorson had surgery Wednesday on his broken right foot. He also suffered a cracked sternum, broken ribs and a punctured lung, according to USAC Racing. The organization said that Thorson’s family hopes the 22-year-old can return home soon.

According to a preliminary investigation by the California Highway Patrol, Thorson was driving a 2019 Ford pickup that was towing his sprint car when he approached slower moving traffic shortly before 4 a.m. PT. Thorson’s truck struck the rear of a vehicle. KCRA, an NBC affiliate in Sacramento, reported that vehicle was a milk truck.

The impact sent the milk truck into the next lane where it was hit by another vehicle and then came back across the road and was struck another car. The driver was uninjured. A passenger in the truck was transported from the scene with minor injuries, according to the California Highway Patrol. Thorson’s vehicle came to rest on the shoulder and caught fire.

4. First time in new garages at Phoenix

ISM Raceway at Phoenix debuted its new garages and layout when NASCAR raced there in November.

One person missing that weekend was Rodney Childers, crew chief for Kevin Harvick. NASCAR suspended Childers the final two races of last year as part of penalties imposed to the No. 4 team for failing inspection after its win at Texas. So Childers missed the new look at Phoenix – until this weekend.

Childers shared his excitement of being in Phoenix on Thursday night.

5. Remarkable record

Kevin Harvick has finished in the top five in half of the 32 Cup races he’s run at Phoenix. He has nine wins there. Jimmie Johnson has 15 top-five finishes in 31 Cup races there. He has four wins there.

Despite the dominance of the two, they have combined for one win (by Harvick) in the last five races at Phoenix. The other winners in the last five races at Phoenix are Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano.

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Kyle Busch says respect is shared with Kyle Larson but not with every driver

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Kyle Busch says the reason he gets along with Kyle Larson even after their physical last-lap tussle at Chicagoland Speedway is because of the respect he has for Larson.

Busch says he can’t say the same thing about every driver.

“See, the reason why Larson and I get along, and the reason why Larson and I can have a relationship and have respect for one another is because at Bristol I bumped him with five to go, he had a chance to come back and get me back,” Busch said of the April Cup race he won. “(Larson) didn’t get there.

“At Chicago, he bumped me, gave me an opportunity to come back for him, right?

“Brad (Keselowski) and I can’t absolutely stand one another, hate each other, because every time he runs into me, he wrecks me and I’m out, right? Like Watkins Glen that time. There was not a chance for rebuttal.

“The reason why that was a great race to the end with him and (Marcos) Ambrose is because they battled it out. But every time he just runs over me and wrecks me so there’s never a chance for that rebuttal. There’s never that camaraderie with racing. It’s just wrecking.”

Watkins Glen has been particularly troublesome for Busch and Keselowski.

Last year, the two spun after colliding in the bus stop when Busch made a move to pass off a restart.

In 2012, the race Busch noted, Busch spun after contact with Keselowski in the esses on the last lap. Keselowski went on to finish second to Ambrose while Busch finished seventh.

In 2013, Keselowski wrecked after contact from Busch in an Xfinity race at Kansas.

In 2016, Busch hit the wall after contact from Keselowski at Bristol in the Xfinity race. Busch had just passed Keselowski with five laps to go.

Busch spun at the start of the Xfinity race at Michigan in June 2017 after contact from Keselowski. 

Busch and Keselowski have a long history. In 2010 at Bristol, Brad Keselowski said on the microphone during driver introductions: “Kyle Busch is an ass.”

Last November at the press conference for the four championship drivers before the Miami race, Busch said of Keselowski: “Sometimes you just don’t like a guy. I never ran into Matt Kenseth. I don’t think Matt Kenseth ever ran into me. There is a respect factor out there on the race track and you can certainly do a better job sometimes when you’re around some of those guys that you may or may not necessarily like.”

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NASCAR America: NASCAR’s best finishes

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Where does the Overton’s 400 at Chicagoland Speedway fit among NASCAR’s best finishes?

Somewhere close to the top of the list, according to NASCAR America’s analysts. But it is not the only exciting finish seen in the past couple of decades.

Richard Petty and David Pearson’s accident coming to the finish line in the 1976 Daytona 500 ranks at the top.

“They both blamed each other for this wreck. Imagine that, things never change,” Jeff Burton said of the incident.

Pearson won over Petty.

The 2001 Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500 featured a win by Kevin Harvick “in a photo finish over Jeff Gordon in a very emotional victory for everyone in NASCAR,” according to Parker Kligerman.

Burton described a race in which he watched the finish from the cockpit: the 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington Raceway in which Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch wrecked as they took the checkers.

“These guys, off turn 4 at Darlington. Just unbelievable contact, side-by-side,” Burton said. “And they kept wrecking. The race is over and they’re still wrecking. What I love about this race is the same thing we saw this past week. Both of these guys recognized they were part of an unbelievable experience.”

Kyle Busch factored into the last lap of the 2012 Finger Lakes 355 at the Glen, but he would not be part of the race to the checkers. With oil on the track from a blown engine by Bobby Labonte, Brad Keselowski ran into the back of Busch and sent him spinning. Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose battled to the checkers with Ambrose scoring his second Cup win.

For more, watch the video above.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter.

NASCAR America Fantasy League: 10 Best at Sonoma in last three years

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The last nine races at Sonoma have been won by a different driver each time. Only one driver enters the weekend with back-to-back top-fives on this track and three others have consecutive top 10s. Given the importance of strategy and track position, repeating at this track is incredibly difficult.

Those stats should predict a fresh face in Victory Lane, right?

Unfortunately a brief glance at the drivers with the best average finishes over the past three years reveals that the two dominators of 2018 – Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch – head up the list. If a fantasy player thought this was going to be a good week to vary their NASCAR America Fantasy Live roster, it’s time to rethink that position.

There are a couple of surprises among recent top performers, but the cream tends to rise to the top of NASCAR events. Anchor this week’s team with solid marquee drivers and use dark horses as a way to differentiate those selections from the competition.

1. Kevin Harvick (three-year average: 3.67)
Harvick won last year’s edition of this race, but it is not the first time he has run well at Sonoma. He finished fourth in 2015 and was sixth the following year. Making those runs even more impressive is the fact that he has started outside the top 10 in each event and had to drive his way through the field.

2. Kyle Busch (three-year average: 4.33)
Along with Harvick, Busch is the only other driver with a current three-race streak of top 10s at Sonoma. He won there in 2015, followed by a seventh and fifth in his last two outings. He may be a better value than Harvick this week, however, because he has an equally impressive record at Watkins Glen International with a second in 2015, a sixth in 2016 and a seventh last year.

3. Kurt Busch (three-year average: 6.33)
It has been three years since Busch scored a top five at Sonoma, but what he lacks in raw power is made up for in consistency. In his last seven attempts on this track, he has finished outside the top 10 only once and that was a 12th in 2014. He won on this track in 2011 and finished second in 2015.

4. Joey Logano (three-year average: 6.67)
It appeared Logano had found the handle on this track. He scored his first top five in 2015 when he crossed under the checkers fifth. That was followed by a third in 2016. Last year was difficult for the driver of the No. 22; he qualified poorly in 18th and managed to climb only to 12th at the checkers.

5. Denny Hamlin (three-year average: 8.00)
Sometimes a switch seems to flip for a driver on a given track. That is what happened to Hamlin in 2016 when he was on his way to Victory Lane before contact from Tony Stewart in the final corner. He hung on to finish second – snapping a six-race streak of results outside the top 15 – and backed that up with a fourth last year.

6. Ryan Newman (three-year average: 10.67)
Newman’s consistency has aided in his making the top 10 list a few times this year and the same is true at Sonoma. Without a top five to his credit in the past five years, he has swept the top 15. That makes him a good utilitarian pick. He will probably not score maximum points, but is also unlikely to lose a lot at Sonoma.

6. Jimmie Johnson (three-year average: 10.67)
There are so many different things that can go wrong on a road course and Johnson has had too many disappointments in 2018 to make him a fantasy favorite. Sonoma and Watkins Glen reward skill behind the wheel over raw horsepower and handling, however, so there is still a chance that he could earn a top five if the team is mistake-free.

8. Brad Keselowski (three-year average: 12.33)
Keselowski makes the top-10 list despite having a 19th-place finish in his three-year average. That indicates just how difficult it is to sustain momentum on road courses given the various strategies that play out in a given race. The good news for Keselowski fans is that he finally earned his first career top five in eight starts last year with a third.

9. Jamie McMurray (three-year average: 12.67)
McMurray has been consistent recently at Sonoma, but that is a fairly new trait. In his first 12 starts on this track, he had two top fives and no other top 10s. His average finish before 2015 was 16.7 despite finishing fourth in the 2014 race. He was 11th in 2015, 17th in 2016, and 10th last year – so he could be a good value if he practices and qualifies well this weekend.

10. Paul Menard (three-year average: 13.33)
Some of Menard’s earliest racing experience came in the Trans-Am series and that seems to have stuck with him. While he barely makes the top-10 list this week, he is perhaps the most consistent driver in recent years with four results of 11th through 16th in the last five races. Now that Team Penske is supporting his effort with the Wood Brothers, he should easily contend for a top 10.

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: This is a good week to go out on a limb where the pole sitter is concerned. McMurray has won two of the last five poles on this track, while his teammate Kyle Larson took the top spot last year. Two JTG-Daugherty Racing drivers also have recent poles with Marcos Ambrose securing one in 2012 and AJ Allmendinger leading the field to green in 2015.

Segment Winners: There is absolutely no way to determine who is going to take the segment wins this week because it will all come down to strategy at the close of each stage. Since Harvick and Kyle Busch have scored the most segment wins, however, you may as well keep riding that momentum.

For more Fantasy NASCAR coverage, check out Rotoworld.com and follow Dan Beaver (@FantasyRace) on Twitter.

Bump & Run: Should NASCAR look at future street race for Cup?

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Should NASCAR run a Cup race on a street course?

Nate Ryan: Absolutely. It’s the best avenue for getting into some major metropolitan areas where NASCAR belongs (Seattle, New York, perhaps Denver) but has little chance of gaining a foothold with a permanent facility. It would add a wrinkle to the right-turn racing that has delivered some great action for the past decade at the two road-course stops in Cup. And despite there being a lack of current momentum, there is past evidence it’s worked for lower stock-car series in cities as large as Los Angeles in the past.

Dustin Long: It would be a good move to get into markets the sport doesn’t race in now, but the key question is what will the racing be like? For those who imagine it would be beating and banging on a tight circuit, well, there’s less of that now on short tracks, in part, because of how little contact damages fenders and can create tire rubs. Open up the fenders then that could encourage the type of racing.

Daniel McFadin: Please? There’s precedent for it with the old NASCAR Southwest Tour holding three races in the streets of Los Angeles from 1998-2000. I sincerely believe a stock car race on a street course would be a better product than IndyCar could ever provide. With the close quarters, it would encourage more beating and banging and there’s no pesky penalties for “avoidable contact.” Like this year’s Roval race, let’s just try it once.

Dan Beaver: Absolutely. NASCAR’s schedule is already among the most diverse in all sports. To be crowned the champion, the driver should be able to show skill on every type of track. My vote is Central Park, which would give NASCAR their much-coveted venue in the Big Apple. For that matter, they should also run on a dirt track.

What is a memorable road course moment that stands out to you?

Nate Ryan: Because it’s Sonoma weekend, I’ll pick Marcos Ambrose stalling his car while leading and trying to save fuel under caution with seven laps remaining in the June 20, 2010 race. The massive blunder dropped Ambrose from first to seventh for the final restart, and it was historically significant for two major reasons: 1) It was the most agonizing of seven winless trips to Sonoma for Ambrose, a two-time Cup winner at Watkins Glen and one of the greatest road-course drivers in NASCAR history; 2) The gaffe handed the victory to Jimmie Johnson, who led the final seven laps for his only win on a road course in NASCAR.

Dustin Long: Tony Stewart‘s last Cup win in 2016 was a last-lap thrill ride at Sonoma. Stewart led starting the final lap, lost the lead to Denny Hamlin after contact in Turn 7 and got it back after making contact with Hamlin on the final corner. 

Daniel McFadin: Anytime I’ve encountered someone who decries NASCAR as just a bunch of guys going in circles, I make sure to show them video of the last lap of 2012 Cup race at Watkins Glen. It’s everything you’d want on the last lap of any race: the leader getting spun, NASCAR not throwing a caution, multiple lead changes, cars going off track and a drag race through the final turn. I think it was the watershed moment for road course racing in NASCAR.

Dan Beaver: The 1991 Sonoma race. Whether Ricky Rudd deserved to be black flagged for spinning Davey Allison on the next-to-last lap might be open to debate, but the timing of the penalty – more than a full lap later, with Rudd in sight of the checkered flag – was startling. Equally surprising was the fact that NASCAR decided to penalize Rudd just the one position he made up with that contact  – restoring the running position from before the contact.

Between these two groups, who would you take this weekend at Sonoma — The field or Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch?

Nate Ryan: Repeat season won’t be ending anytime soon in NASCAR: Take the Big Three.

Dustin Long: Considering that Harvick, Busch and Truex have won three of the last five Sonoma races and the other two winners (Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards) aren’t in the series, it’s hard not to take the Big Three.

Daniel McFadin: The field. There’s been nine different winners at Sonoma in the last nine races and only once in the last seven races has the winner started in the top five. I think we’re in store for the most unpredictable race of the year that hasn’t been on a restrictor-plate race.

Dan Beaver: The field: There are so many variables on a road course that this is one of the best opportunities for the field to beat Harvick, Busch, and Truex by employing an alternate strategy.