NASCAR America: Five laps that define 2018

Leave a comment

With 11 races remaining until the playoffs begin, there are still 10 spots open for a driver to race his way into championship contention.

Four drivers have multiple victories. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch have dominated the year. And while the last lap has not had a lot of drama every week, there have been defining moments in many of the races that deserve special attention.

Tuesday on NASCAR America, Kyle Petty, Jeff Burton, and Carolyn Manno took a look at five laps that have defined the season so far.

The list began with the final lap of the opening race of the season.

On lap 200 of the Daytona 500, Austin Dillon got into the back of Aric Almirola and spun him out of the lead. Dillon went on to win and virtually secure his spot in the playoffs.

“The way this race played out, that was the defining lap of this race for Austin Dillon,” Petty said. “It’s the defining lap of this race for Aric Almirola. … The thing for me is, that can be the defining lap of a career for Austin Dillon.”

Not all of the laps were as dramatic.

On lap 260 of the Ticket Guardian 500, with 52 laps remaining at ISM Raceway (Phoenix), Busch entered the pits with a margin of seven-tenths of a second over second. Problems with the jack on the left side of the car contributed to a slow pit stop and cost him the lead of the race. Harvick went on to score his third consecutive victory.

“The best teams use (mistakes) for motivation,” Burton said. “And they find a way to make themselves better from that bad situation.”

Busch and the team finished second in that race. They were third one week later at Auto Club Speedway and second again at Martinsville Speedway before putting together their own string of three consecutive wins.

Harvick and Busch’s rivalry would play a part in another defining lap. Harvick was forced to start at the back of the pack in the Coke 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway when his car failed inspection.

On lap 84 after marching his way through the field, Harvick cut a tire and pounded the wall. Busch dominated the remainder of the race and won – earning a record for winning on every racetrack on which he’s competed in the Cup series.

“You don’t know what would have happened, right?” Burton said. “Kyle Busch went on to dominate that race. He was in a class by himself. What would have happened if Kevin Harvick had been there?”

On lap 140 at Pocono Raceway, Martin Truex Jr. stayed out on the track while the race leader Busch and much of the remainder of the field pitted for four fresh tires. Truex won his second race of the season and locked his team into the playoffs.

“Things that went really, really right for (Truex) last year are not going right for them this year,” Petty said. “He caught breaks at the right time last year and put themselves into position. Cole Pearn is not afraid to make a call like this: Let’s just stay out; let’s just gamble.”

Pit strategy played a part in the fifth defining lap as well.

On lap 122, with rain in the area, Clint Bowyer‘s crew chief Mike Bugarewicz gambled on two tires to gain track position. The race went back to green for four laps and Bowyer had to hold off his teammate Harvick for the win.

“(Bowyer) did an unbelievable job of putting Kevin Harvick in positions he didn’t want to be in,” Burton said. “Yeah, it rained, but he won that race. He won that race plain and simple.”

For more, watch the videos above.

NASCAR America: The difficulties of gambling on pit strategy

Leave a comment

With rain bearing down on Michigan International Speedway on Sunday, Clint Bowyer‘s No. 14 team was the only team that gambled on pit strategy – just taking two tires – and it paid off with a win.

On NASCAR America, Steve Letarte and Dale Jarrett discussed why more teams didn’t take a risky chance for a shot at a win.

“You have to look at the points system, how you make the playoffs, a win gets you in the playoffs and I personally think some of the crew chiefs on pit road are a little slow to adapting to what the value of a win is,” Letarte said. “A win kind of trumps everything. I think some of what we saw out of (crew chief) Mike Bugarewicz was a crew chief who had won a race. He’s in the playoffs. So he gambled and the gamble paid off.”

Letarte said the only time in his decade as a crew chief that he “truly” gambled was in his last season, after he and Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Daytona 500.

Lerarte said he was surprised that the Team Penske teams of Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney didn’t gamble given their strategy earlier in the race.

Watch the above video and read Nate Ryan’s latest column for more on gambling on strategy.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Scan All: Michigan, art of making tough strategy calls

NBCSN
1 Comment

Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET and continues to examine last weekend’s races at Michigan.

Carolyn Manno hosts with Steve Letarte and Dale Jarrett from the Big Oak Table at NBC Charlotte.

On today’s show:

–  Clint Bowyer and crew chief Mike Bugarewicz took a gamble in order to be in position to win Sunday at Michigan. But what kept other teams from doing the same? Crew chief Steve Letarte will discuss the mentality it takes to make tough calls under pressure.

–  The debate continues over the aero package used in last month’s All-Star Race. While fans enjoyed the closer racing that it produced, Brad Keselowski made his case at Michigan that the package would take drivers out of the equation and ultimately hurt the sport. Were Keselowski’s comments right or wrong?

–   In Scan All Michigan, we’ll have the best sound bites from Sunday’s race, as drivers and teams not only raced each other but also Mother Nature.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Mother Nature fooled several crew chiefs late in race at Michigan

Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images
Leave a comment

BROOKLYN, Mich. — With victory and a playoff spot there for any team willing to gamble Sunday evening at Michigan International Speedway, only one did not pit at the end of the second stage under threatening skies.

But that gamble was short-lived after the team pitted before the ensuing restart and gave the lead to Clint Bowyer, who went on to win.

It was shocking that more teams outside the top 10 did not stay out and gamble with low-hanging clouds, rain on the way and the race past the point where it was an official event and could end at any time.

“Part of you wants to stay out, but part of you wants to play the safe bet and try to outsmart those guys another way,” said Erik Jones, who was ninth at the end of the second stage and went on to finish 15th.

Crew chiefs said they were tricked by a sneaky weather system that made it appear as if several more laps would be run. Instead, the race went only 13 more laps after the second stage before rain ended the event.

For a brief time, Kasey Kahne was in position to steal the victory. He was 24th when the second stage ended. Everybody in front of him pitted. Crew chief Travis Mack had Kahne stay out and assume the lead under the caution.

“The rain was right on top of us,’’ Mack told NBC Sports, noting he and his team monitored four different radar applications from the pit box. “We knew it was a couple of minutes. We banked on those couple of pace laps and we could ride around and hope for rain. We knew if it started sprinkling, they wouldn’t go back green. So we had a couple minute window. If it started raining, we could have won the race.

“Just trying to put ourself in an opportunity to take advantage of something like that. If (other teams are) going to try to hand it to us, we’ll take every advantage to take it.’’

Mack had gambled earlier in the race. He called for a two-tire change at the end of the first stage, putting Kahne in the lead after he had finished that stage 18th.

Kahne led nine laps until Lap 71. He steadily fell back and was 14th on Lap 80. He pitted with the field after Kyle Larson’s spin brought out the caution on Lap 87. Kahne was mired outside the top 20 after that.

When the second stage ended, Kahne’s chance arrived.

He led two laps after those in front pitted, but then he went to pit road on Lap 125 with one lap to go until the race restarted.

With the radar changing, making it seem rain would not come soon, and Kahne on older tires, Mack brought his driver in.

“We did everything we could,’’ Mack said. “We were trying to make something happen.’’

Matt Borland, crew chief for Ty Dillon, admits that staying out would have been the “right call” but said he didn’t take the gamble — even though Dillon was outside the top 20 at the end of the second stage — because “we weren’t fast enough today.

“To have 30 laps on tires and put yourself in a situation where you can’t even get to the next (fuel) window, so now you’re going to be slow, (have to) pit an extra time; you take yourself from 20th-place position to 30th, three laps down.”

Dillon finished 21st, tied for his best finish in the last five races.

The field ran three laps in the final stage before the caution came out when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. crashed after contact from Kahne. Rain fell. After four laps, NASCAR sent the cars to pit road and the race was over. Kahne finished 23rd.

Mack said he was “very surprised” nobody else tried his strategy.

Ryan Newman was 19th when the second stage ended and crew chief Luke Lambert is known for his gambling ways. Lambert’s decision not to pit late at Phoenix in March 2017 led to Newman’s most recent victory.

Lambert said Mother Nature fooled him Sunday.

We were running like two or three different weather applications and looking at everything,’’ Lambert told NBC Sports. “Honestly it was probably one of the most challenging calls to make as far as what the weather was going to do. It’s easy to make these decisions when you’ve got a clear storm front coming in and there’s a hard line on it’s going to rain and it’s this many miles out and it’s tracking at this speed and we can calculate pretty much on the point when it’s going to hit.

“This scenario was not one like that. What we had going on was there was a front to our west and it was breaking up. It looked like it was splitting to the north and the south (of the track). What we were concerned would happen ended up happening, but we couldn’t guarantee it .

“It just built right on top of us. It wasn’t something that was moving toward us at a trajectory we could anticipate. At the point in time, when we were making our decision for the last stage, it looked pretty clear like we were going to keep running.

“I did not expect … that we were going to have that short of a run and then get misted on and end the day.’’

Bubba Wallace was running outside the top 20 at the end of the second stage and crew chief Drew Blickensderfer said the radar kept him from pitting.

“The actual green stuff (signifying rain) was probably 30 miles away,’’ he told NBC Sports. “This mist wasn’t on the radar. It kind of caught us.’’

Because of that, Bowyer was able to emerge with the win due to a gamble by crew chief Mike Bugarewicz. Bowyer was second at the end of the second stage and Bugarewicz called for a two-tire change to get his driver back on track quickly.

“When we were coming on pit road, I was 100 percent sure two tires was the right call,’’ Bugarewicz said. “We got about three quarters of the way down pit road, I was about 70 percent sure. When he slid into the pit box, I was about 50 percent sure. By then, we were leaving. It was too late (to change).

“Clint asked, Are we the only one with two?

“Yeah, we’re the only one with two.’’

Bowyer held off teammate Kevin Harvick on the restart and used that pit strategy to win.

“It was a gamble on his part,’’ Bowyer said of Bugarwicz’s call. “Like I said, it was uncharacteristic for him. That’s part of growing, blossoming as a crew chief, being one of the elite. He did that today.’’

  and on Facebook

NASCAR docks Kyle Larson 20 points for rear window infraction

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NASCAR docked Kyle Larson’s team 20 driver and owner points for a rear-window violation from Saturday night’s race at Kansas Speedway.

Larson dropped from 10th to 11th in the standings behind Aric Almirola. Larson also lost one playoff point from his second stage victory at Kansas.

Car chief David Bryant was suspended for two points races for the L1 violation. Crew chief, Chad Johnston was fined $50,000

MORE: NASCAR official says teams will get maximum penalties for future rear-window violations

The NASCAR penalty report cited Larson’s team for violating “Section 20.4.h Body and 20.4.8.1.b&c Rear Window Support and Structure; rear window support braces must keep the rear window glass rigid in all directions at all times.”

In a statement, Chip Ganassi Racing announced it wouldn’t challenge the penalty: “Although all parties agree that the infraction was unintentional and the result of contact, we will not appeal the penalty so that we can focus our energy on the All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600.”

After he finished fourth at Kansas, Larson blamed his sagging rear window on damage from contact with Ryan Blaney with 20 laps to go.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio about Larson’s car: “We see claims of damage, but I think in talking to our folks, I’ve never seen damage cause that.”

It’s the fifth rear-window violation in the Cup Series this season and the third in two weeks.

After the May 6 race at Dover International Speedway, the teams of Clint Bowyer (second) and Daniel Suarez (third) received similar penalties to Larson’s.

Kevin Harvick also was penalized after his win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March, and Chase Elliott’s team was punished after the April 8 race at Texas Motor Speedway.

The only other penalty NASCAR announced Tuesday was a $10,000 fine to crew chief Todd Gordon for an unsecured lug nut on Joey Logano‘s car after the Kansas race.