Michael Jordan

Getty Images

Bump & Run: What should NASCAR do about inspection violations before race?

2 Comments

Eight of 37 cars failed inspection before the Richmond Cup race and lost their starting spot. Is there a better way for NASCAR to handle such infractions to limit talk before a race being about penalties?

Nate Ryan: There has to be a solution, and whatever it is, NASCAR needs to implement it quickly. Switching from headlines about woes in postrace inspection to woes in prerace inspection is an improvement, but the preferred solution should be no headlines about inspection at all. 

Dustin Long: Until NASCAR figures out a way to do things differently, inspection failures will dominate talk before a race, especially if it involves more than 20% of the field as it did at Richmond.

Daniel McFadin: Unless you change the penalties for failing inspection (again), the cars will fail regardless of if you hold qualifying inspection right after qualifying or on race day. Only real solution I can think of is to have inspection before qualifying and for that to be the only inspection until after the race. That would just continue the endless cycle we seem to be in on the issue.

Jerry Bonkowski: It’s just the nature of the beast, particularly when you have such a large number of cars that failed pre-race inspection. The larger the number of cars penalized, the greater the attention that is placed upon the situation by the media. Perhaps more attention should be focused on what NASCAR could do to improve and streamline the overall inspection process. And if it has to swing the pendulum even further, increase penalties to keep crew chiefs from playing games with their cars. Kick out the crew chief from the race, or perhaps hold the car for the first five laps of the race. That will change things in a hurry.

NASCAR tried another format for Cup qualifying at Richmond, limiting each round to five minutes. Should this be the format at most tracks the rest of the season?

Nate Ryan: Makes no difference here as long as the focus is on qualifying results and whoever won the pole position, not on the process for getting there. 

Dustin Long: Whatever it does, NASCAR needs to get out of this rabbit hole soon.

Daniel McFadin: I’m 50/50 on this. I’d prefer the first round being 10 minutes at anything larger than 1 mile, which allows teams to make more than one run – but that’s based on the premise drivers won’t wait until the final minute to make their first.

Jerry Bonkowski: Five minutes works fine on short tracks. Not so much on longer tracks of 1.5 miles and greater. That’s why I believe open qualifying should be replaced by having two to four cars (depending on the size of the racetrack) go out at a time for two or three qualifying laps. This creates attention and a kind of race-within-qualifying excitement among fans to see which driver can “beat” the other drivers, so to speak.

There’s been a lot of talk about what Joe Gibbs Racing will do with its Cup lineup for next year with Christopher Bell’s continued success in Xfinity, but Cole Custer has won twice for Stewart-Haas Racing in Xfinity. What kind of dilemma could SHR face with its driver lineup for 2020?

Nate Ryan: With no disrespect to Cole Custer, he has yet to show he is in Christopher Bell’s league, nor is there the external pressure of a huge investment in his development to avoid letting a coveted prospect escape (as is the case with the millions Toyota Racing Development has spent on grooming Bell). Because Custer is related to the SHR executive Joe Custer and effectively sponsored by team owner Gene Haas, the dynamics are incomparable. If Custer shows enough promise for promotion, the team probably could make room in Cup next season, but there is no sense of urgency as exists with Bell.

Dustin Long: Gene Haas said last year that Cole Custer needed to win more often. If Custer continues to do so, it will make him a more inviting driver for a team, whether that is SHR or another Ford operation.

Daniel McFadin: Cole Custer is already in his third full-time Xfinity season, which makes him middle-aged in Xfinity driver years. While we’re not privy to driver contract lengths, Kevin Harvick is locked in to at least 2021, Daniel Suarez is in his first and Aric Almirola continues to be strong in his second year. Clint Bowyer probably has the biggest question mark being in his third year with the team. Gene Haas will have to decide who’s a better long-term investment: A 39-year-old Bowyer or a 21-year-old Custer. Bowyer grabbing some wins this year could complicate that.

Jerry Bonkowski: One potential option could be embedding Bell with another Toyota team such as Leavine Family Racing in 2020, like when Erik Jones was with Furniture Row Racing in 2017. I think you’ll see a similar embed of Custer with another Ford team, perhaps Front Row Motorsports. Or, because Custer’s father, Joe, is a top executive at SHR, it would not surprise me to see Daniel Suarez shifted to another Ford team to make way for the younger Custer at SHR.

The IndyCar race at Long Beach ended with series officials penalizing Graham Rahal one spot for blocking Scott Dixon on the last lap. Should blocking be a penalty in NASCAR?

Nate Ryan: No. Different series, different cars, different tracks.

Dustin Long: Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. Don’t need any more judgment calls for NASCAR to make.

Daniel McFadin: Heck no. As much as Tony Stewart may have despised it, blocking is a racing maneuver. If a driver doesn’t like it, just show your displeasure with a love tap to the rear bumper.

Jerry Bonkowski: Yes, particularly if it puts the driver being blocked and other trailing drivers at risk of crashing. I’ve long felt that egregious blocking should be penalized. But if that were to happen, it could open a Pandora’s Box of additional issues, such as bump-and-run moving an opponent out of the way. How would NASCAR draw the line between egregious blocking/bumping and legitimate blocking/bumping?

Jimmie Johnson ran in Monday’s Boston Marathon. What is another event you’d like to see a NASCAR driver attempt to take part in someday?

Nate Ryan: Denny Hamlin in a PGA Tour event and paired with Michael Jordan.

Dustin Long: Kyle Larson as a bobsled driver. Also, Denny Hamlin in a PGA Tour event.

Daniel McFadin: Since Ryan Newman is sponsored by Oscar Mayer, he should enter the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on July 4.

Jerry Bonkowski: The Baja 1000 is the first one that comes to mind. That, to me, is the most grueling combination of man and machine. I’d also like to see more NASCAR drivers try their luck in the Indianapolis 500 and, conversely, do “the double” by racing later that same day in the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte. Lastly, although it would be difficult due to the Cup schedule, I’d also like to see some of the best golfers among Cup drivers try their luck at The Masters.

Jimmie Johnson’s team defies era of parity in professional sports

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
1 Comment

In an era of parity in professional sports, Jimmie Johnson’s seven NASCAR championships in 11 years ranks as among the most dominant dynasties in decades.

In one sense, it does seem a bit unusual to consider Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team a dynasty when it has won only two of the last six Sprint Cup titles. Even that can nearly rank as a dynasty in this era among NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball teams.

The NFL has crowned eight consecutive different Super Bowl champions. The Chicago Cubs were the fourth consecutive different team to win the World Series. The NBA has had four consecutive different champions. The NHL has had three consecutive different champions.

Add Johnson’s five titles in a row from 2006-10 to the two he’s won since and his total of seven in just more than a decade makes a greater case for his team’s placement among sports dynasties.

The closest an NFL team has come to such dominance in the Super Bowl era was the Pittsburgh Steelers winning four Super Bowls from 1975-80.

11 Jun 1997: Michael Jordan #23 of the Chicago Bulls walks on the court during game five of the NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Bulls defeated the Jazz 90-88. Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr /Allsport
Michael Jordan before game five of the 1997 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz. Brian Bahr /Allsport

In the NBA, the Chicago Bulls won six of eight titles from 1991-98.  The only two years they didn’t win the championship was one season Michael Jordan missed playing baseball and another season where he didn’t return until late in the year. The Boston Celtics won a record eight in a row and 11 of 13 from 1957-69.

In Major League Baseball, one has to go back to the 1950s to find a team that won as many titles as Johnson in less time. The New York Yankees won seven championships from 1949-58. Two of the three years they didn’t win the title, the Yankees played in the World Series.

The NHL’s Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup five consecutive years from 1956-60 and four consecutive times from 1976-79. The New York Islanders followed by winning four consecutive years from 1980-83.

For a more recent comparison, the Connecticut women’s basketball team comes close to Johnson with six titles in the past eight years, including four in a row.

College football could see the continuation of a dynasty with Alabama having won four of the last seven championships and ranked No. 1 this season.

Other sports or other divisions have longer streaks, but as time passes, Johnson’s stretch grows more impressive.

NASCAR America: Denny Hamlin details his basketball obsession

1 Comment

Denny Hamlin shares details on his life outside of racing, which includes his basketball obsession and friendship with Michael Jordan.

“Growing up I was also a big Michael Jordan fan,” said Hamlin, who has previously torn the ACL in both his left and right knee while playing basketball himself. “Loved his intensity and what he did on the court in the most pressure situations. It’s cool that I’m able to be friends with him now, it’s awesome. My life has taken a huge turn in the last 15 years that it’s pretty surreal.”