Matt McCall

Kentucky winners and losers

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WINNERS

Matt McCall — Kurt Busch deserves much credit for winning at Kentucky Speedway but let’s not forget his crew chief, who was roasted on social media last week for having Busch pit before the field went back to green at Daytona only to see lightning cost them a chance at the win. At Kentucky, McCall went for fuel only on the team’s first stop, a key move in a race where track position was critical, and made the right calls throughout the night, including a four-tire change on the last stop, to give Busch a chance to win his first race of the season and earn a playoff spot.

Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch While many would have preferred a “Days of Thunder” last-lap crash that led to someone else winning, these two had a dramatic battle for the win that pushed both to the edge but not over it. 

NASCAR — Remember when series officials used to keep drivers from standing on the roof of their car or anything like that during victory celebrations? Alex Bowman did it after his Chicago win and Kurt Busch did it after his Kentucky victory. Then, some of Busch’s crew members climbed atop the car and rode it to Victory Lane. Nice to see spontaneous celebrations are allowed.

Tyler AnkrumTook the lead with two laps to go when Brett Moffitt ran out of fuel to score the victory in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Kentucky. It was the 18-year-old Ankrum’s first series win, putting him in a playoff spot.

 

LOSERS

Daniel SuarezWhile his eighth-place finish was his best result in the last four races, it was unfulfilling. If Suarez goes on to make the playoffs, this night will be forgotten. If he fails to make the playoffs, this race might be a key reason why. He started on the pole but failed to score any stage points after a pit call backfired in the first stage and a flat tire forced a green-flag stop in the second stage. He entered the race three points behind Ryan Newman for the final playoff spot. Newman started last because of an inspection failure and finished ninth, losing only one point Suarez. Erik Jones’ third-place finish moved him past Newman and Suarez into a playoff spot.

Denny Hamlin’s pit crew — For the fifth time this season, Hamlin’s team was called for an uncontrolled penalty. While Hamlin has been a critic of how NASCAR has called such penalties this season, he said that crew chief Chris Gabehart told him that the infraction was “pretty obvious.” Said Hamlin: “It’s on us to tighten it up, know the rules and try not to have these penalties, especially on a two-tire stop. We’ve got to be better.”

Jimmie Johnson Rough night ends in a 30th-place finish. He falls to 15th in the season standings. Ryan Newman, the first driver outside a playoff spot is only 10 points behind Johnson. Seven races remain until the playoff field is set but will this be the year Johnson misses the playoffs?

Brandon Jones Rough weekend at Kentucky. He was leading the Truck race when Grant Enfinger lost control as they raced for position and wrecked them both. Jones finished 23rd. The next night, Jones’ Xfinity car was fast before an engine failure ended his night in 30th.

Bristol winners and losers

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WINNERS

Busch family — Kyle wins for the third time this season and Kurt finishes a season-high second. Kyle Busch has won 10 of 16 Cup, Xfinity and Truck races he’s started this year. He has three Cup victories (in eight starts), three Xfinity wins (in four starts) and four Truck wins (in four starts).

Gambling crew chiefs — Adam Stevens’ call to stay out when the lead-lap cars pitted with 19 laps to go put Kyle Busch in the lead. Matt McCall made the same decision and Kurt Busch started second and finished second. Greg Erwin also made that call, putting Paul Menard fourth (he was 13th before the final caution). Menard finished sixth. Billy Scott also made that call for Daniel Suarez. He restarted third and finished eighth.

Ty DillonCrew chief Matt Borland’s decision to keep Dillon on track during a caution shortly before the end of stage 1 allowed Dillon to restart second. Dillon did the rest, nipping Clint Bowyer at the line to score his first career stage victory. It also marked the first stage points Dillon has scored this season. Dillon went on to finish 15th. It’s his fourth top-15 result in eight races. Last year, Dillon needed 31 races before recording his fourth top 15 of the season. 

Christopher BellHe won the Xfinity race and the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus on Saturday. Then on Sunday, car owner Joe Gibbs said “Christopher has a place with us long‑term.”

LOSERS

No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team: Kevin Harvick’s car failed inspection three times before the race, forcing him to start at the rear and serve a pass through penalty at the start of the race (along with having his engineer ejected and losing 30 minutes of practice this week at Richmond). A loose wheel forced a green-flag pit stop. It wasn’t until late in the race that he got back on the lead lap, finishing 13th with what some competitors said was one of the best cars on the track.

Denny Hamlin He had his third pit road speeding penalty of the season Sunday. Yes, he recovered to finish fifth and did win the previous week at Texas with that penalty (and one for an uncontrolled tire), but how much longer are things going to be sloppy on pit road for this team? 

No. 2 Team Penske team: Brad Keselowski lost a potential top-five finish when NASCAR penalized him for restarting in the wrong position with 14 laps to go. Keselowski finished 18th. Keselowski later said he originally lined up ahead of two cars that didn’t pit because they were hidden among the cars not on the lead lap. “As a team, we kind of miscommunicated,” Keselowski said. “There are four or five checks and balances to make sure that doesn’t happen and pretty much every one of them fell through, starting with me not seeing those cars mixed in with the lapped cars and kind of carrying all the way throughout the team.”

Friday 5: Key questions leading into 2019 Cup season

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Cup teams test in two weeks in Las Vegas. The Daytona 500 is a month away. The new rules package debuts in five weeks in Atlanta.

There are many questions to ponder with the Cup season nearing. Here are five key questions.

1. What will the racing be like?

NASCAR made the decision to go with a new rules package that should make the racing tighter.

Will it? Can this package lead to more side-by-side racing, more beating and banging and more drivers upset with one another?

If it does, this could be among the steps to attract more fans. If not, then what?

2. What’s next from NASCAR?

It could be argued that this year will be among the most pivotal for NASCAR.

Steve Phelps enters his first full season as President. Jim France remains interim Chairman, having taken over after Brian France went on an indefinite leave after his arrest Aug. 5 for aggravated driving while intoxicated and possession of a controlled substance in the 7th degree.

Phelps and Jim France will be among those who decide NASCAR’s direction. Phelps has twice said publicly since late September that “everything is in play” when looking at the Cup schedule for 2020 and beyond.

There has been talk of starting the season earlier and ending it sooner, midweek racing and doubleheaders.

How fans accept what NASCAR does — or doesn’t do — will be key.

3. Can Ford teams — particularly Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske — avoid the new-car blues that Toyota and Chevrolet teams experienced the past two years?

Both Toyota (2017) and Chevrolet (2018) struggled at times with their new cars in their debut seasons. If the same thing happens to Ford this year with the Mustang, it could allow Chevy and Toyota teams a chance to win races, qualify for the playoffs and build playoff points. That could be significant.

Toyota debuted the Camry in 2017 to mixed results. Although Martin Truex Jr. won three times in the first 18 races with the car at Furniture Row Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing could not get any of its Toyotas to Victory Lane until the 19th race of the season.

Things changed in the second half of the season. Toyota cars won 14 of the last 19 races and also the championship.

Chevrolet debuted the Camaro last year and also struggled in the first half of the season. Chevy teams won once — the Daytona 500 — in the first 21 races last year. Chevrolet won three times after that — all by Chase Elliott.

So can Ford teams be strong all season or will they need some time to become dominant or will they struggle much of the year?

4. Will new driver-crew chief pairings lead to wins?

The focus this season will be on Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus no longer working together on the No. 48 team — Johnson will be with rookie Cup crew chief Kevin Meendering and Knaus will be paired with sophomore Cup driver William Byron — but there are other pairings to watch.

After going winless last year, Denny Hamlin will be with crew chief Chris Gabehart, who has won in the Xfinity Series with Hamlin, Erik Jones and Ryan Preece.

Kurt Busch moves to Chip Ganassi Racing for what could be his final Cup season. He’ll look to crew chief Matt McCall to help make this year memorable.

Austin Dillon is reunited with crew chief Danny Stockman. They combined for championships in the Truck and Xfinity Series. While Dillon won last year’s Daytona 500, he wasn’t much of a threat at many other tracks. Can this pairing have success again?

Daniel Suarez lost his ride at Joe Gibbs Racing to make room for Martin Truex Jr. and Cole Pearn. Suarez moves to Stewart-Haas Racing and looks to crew chief Billy Scott to help him succeed.

Ryan Newman moves to Roush Fenway Racing and will have Scott Graves as his crew chief. Graves came from Joe Gibbs Racing. Can these two help raise Roush Fenway Racing’s profile?

5.  Who wins first?

It was shocking that Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson each went winless last year.

Don’t count on that happening this year. Don’t be surprised to see all three win this year. As for who will be the first to win? You don’t have much longer to find out. The season is approaching quickly.

Cup crew chief repeats as Thanksgiving Classic Late Model winner

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Matt McCall, who has served as Jamie McMurray‘s crew chief the past four seasons, won Sunday’s Thanksgiving Classic at Southern National Motorsports Park. It marked the second year in a row McCall has won this race.

McCall won Sunday despite spinning after a multi-car incident during the race that forced him to the back of the field. McCall came back through the field and made the winning pass with three laps to go.

“Win, win, win, win, that’s the mentality,” McCall told the track’s website after the race. “It doesn’t matter if I only race once a year, I’m still coming to win. That was the whole objective. It’s fun, especially when you don’t get to race much and I’m trying to keep a streak of winning a race a year for a long time so that’s really when I show back up one time, try to keep that streak going because it’s my only opportunity to do that.”

 

Charlotte Roval penalty report

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NASCAR announced just one penalty from last weekend’s races on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

Jamie McMurray‘s crew chief, Matt McCall, was fined $10,000 for one unsecured lug nut on the No. 1 Chevrolet.

McMurray finished second in the Bank of America Roval 400.