Nelson Piquet Jr.

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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Weekend schedule: Xfinity Series at Road America

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While the NASCAR Cup Series is enjoying its last off-weekend of the season and the Camping World Truck Series is also off, there will still be racing this weekend.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series will visit Road America for Sunday’s Johnsonville 180.

This is the eighth Xfinity Series race to be held on Road America’s 4.048-mile road course.

The first six race winners there were Carl Edwards (2010), Reed Sorenson (2011), Nelson Piquet Jr. (2012), A.J. Allmendinger (2013), Brendan Gaughan (2014) and Paul Menard (2015).

Michael McDowell won last year’s race, leading half (24 laps) of the 48-lap event. Gaughan finished second, followed by Brennan Poole.

This will be the third road course race for Xfinity drivers in the last four events, and the final one of the season for the series.

Here’s this weekend’s schedule (all times Eastern):

Saturday, August 26

11:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

2 – 2:55 p.m. – Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

4 – 4:55 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

Sunday, August 27

8 a.m. – Xfinity garage open

11:45 a.m. – Xfinity qualifying (multi-vehicle, two rounds) (CNBC)

1 p.m. – Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting

2:30 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions

3 p.m. – Johnsonville 180 Xfinity race (45 laps, 182.16 miles) (NBC, Motor Racing Network/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

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Yes, there is NASCAR racing Sunday: Xfinity entry list for Road America

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Who says there’s no NASCAR racing this weekend?

Sure, the NASCAR Cup and Camping World Truck Series will enjoy the weekend off, but not the Xfinity Series.

Drivers in that series will be competing Sunday at what has become one of the most challenging and popular road courses on the Xfinity schedule: the twisting 4.048-mile road course at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

A total of 42 cars are listed on the preliminary entry list released Monday.

Only 40 cars will qualify to race in Sunday’s Johnsonville 180 (3 p.m. ET on NBC). This will be the third road course the series has raced on in the last four races.

Ryan Ellis announced Tuesday he will drive the No. 07 Chevrolet for SS Greenlight Racing, which is normally driven by Ray Black Jr. It will be Ellis’ first NASCAR start of the year.

In 2016, Ellis made four Cup starts, 16 Xfinity starts and four Truck Series starts.

One driver position and one crew chief position remain to be filled.

  • Team JD Motorsports has not named a driver for the No. 15 Chevrolet.
  • And the No. 72 Chevrolet, driven by John Jackson and owned by James Carter, has yet to name a crew chief for the race.

This will be the eighth Xfinity race at Road America since the series first visited there in 2010.

The winners since then have been Carl Edwards (2010), Reed Sorenson (2011), Nelson Piquet Jr. (2012), A.J. Allmendinger (2013), Brendan Gaughan (2014), Paul Menard (2015) and Michael McDowell last year.

Click here for the preliminary entry list for Sunday’s Xfinity race at Road America.

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Sam Hornish Jr. fastest in final Xfinity Series practice at Mid-Ohio

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Sam Hornish Jr. topped the leaderboard in final Xfinity Series practice at Mid-Ohio with a lap of 95.977 mph.

Rain shortened the session after it had already been halted when Ty Dillon made contact with the barriers in Turn 9. Dillon, who was fastest in the morning session, was sixth fastest with a lap of 94.845 mph at the time of the accident and suffered right side damage.

The top five were Hornish, Ryan Reed (95.596 mph), Nelson Piquet Jr. (95.255 mph), Ryan Blaney (95.225 mph), and Elliott Sadler (94.959 mph). Piquet is driving the No. 98 this weekend for Biagi-DenBeste Racing.

Piquet is making his first NASCAR start since 2014 this weekend driving the No. 98 for Biagi-DenBeste Racing.

Here are the speeds from final practice:

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Ryan Blaney looks to add another road course win to his resume

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Ryan Blaney has become quite the road racing fan – and he’s not too bad behind the wheel, either.

He won last year at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in a Camping World Truck Series race.

Today, Blaney is hoping to earn his first Xfinity Series road course win at Road America in central Wisconsin.

“I’m really excited for my first Xfinity start here at Road America,” Blaney said during media session Friday afternoon at the track. “It’s one of the really, really neat road courses they’ve gone to. I’ve watched it over the past handful of years and it really puts on a real good race.”

He looks to follow in the team’s success with the No. 22 car for Team Penske. AJ Allmendinger won this race for Penske in 2013, and Alex Tagliani finished second last year.

“I’m really excited to see what we can do, how it drives and how it feels,” Blaney said. “I love road racing, no matter where it is. If I wasn’t here, I’d go to Canada and drive Brad (Keselowski’s) truck again.”

The Truck Series is races Sunday at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

Road America is one of the premier road courses in North America. This will be the sixth straight year that the Xfinity Series has raced on the 4-mile track.

Previous winners have been Carl Edwards, Reed Sorenson, Nelson Piquet Jr., Allmendinger and Brendan Gaughan in last year’s race.

“Every win means a lot to you, but when you can come and do it on a road course, that’s something so unique that you can only do it once this year and some place you don’t go to very much,” Blaney said.

“It’s just a really cool thing to do and you see a lot of different drivers towards the front, which is cool, plus you see some ringers like Boris (Said), Justin Marks and Andy Lally. So, it’s pretty cool and running on a road course is a lot of fun, so it’s kind of a little bit of bragging rights if you can win on one.”

One other thing Blaney is looking forward to today is, surprisingly enough, rain. The forecast includes the chance for rain, something Blaney has never run in before.

If that happens, it would mark the second straight year that the race would have been run at least partly under wet conditions.

“I think it’s going to be fun,” Blaney said. “It always throws a neat element to it.”

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