Regan Smith

Blocking a key issue at Talladega for drivers

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — The question isn’t who to race with at Talladega, manufacturers have dictated that, but it is where to race.

Run at the front and hope the wreck is behind? Run at the back and hope to avoid the carnage?

The package used at Talladega and Daytona this season punches such a big hole that drivers say the closing rate between cars is quicker than before. That gives cars trying to block less time to make their move. Be late and it can lead to a wreck.

As it has at Talladega and Daytona this year.

“There’s been many evolutions in racing and blocking is one for me that I’ve had to evolve with, but blocking is a part of our sport now on a weekly basis,” Kevin Harvick said. “It’s not just here. I mean, you see it at the mile-and-a-half race tracks. 

“You’re just going to have wrecks blocking. Sometimes you’re going to make a bad move. It’s just something that’s a little bit newer in the pace of the car that’s approaching you and the style of block and how you throw it, but we’re going to wreck from a block because it’s just become part of what we do.”

Three wrecks this year at Talladega and Daytona can be traced to blocking at the front of the field.

“When you have the smaller spoiler, you’re able to get in front of them, that lead car would get the push before that (trailing) car would actually get to the back bumper of the lead car,” Joey Logano said. “Now, it seems like the trailing car can get to the back bumper and then some (with the larger spoiler), so the blocks have to be quicker and have to be precise. Even once you block them it doesn’t mean it’s over because now they’re still on your bumper and they’re pushing you around. It’s more challenging from that standpoint.”

The late April race at Talladega debuted this package and saw a crash at the front of the field early in the event. Bubba Wallace was third when he and Ryan Blaney, running second, got out of shape and triggered a crash that damaged six cars. Wallace said the accident was a result of “the amount of runs and the force of it. All I was trying to do was just some wreck avoidance.”

The Daytona race in July saw two crashes that started at the front of the field because of blocking.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was leading when he was late on a block on Kurt Busch and they made contact, spinning Stenhouse.

Late in the race, Austin Dillon, in the lead, blocked as Clint Bowyer went low to try pass. They made contact, triggering an 18-car crash.

Dillon notes that blocking is a part of speedway racing.

“You’re going to do it,” he said. “Somebody has got a run at you at the end of the race. There’s not much else you can do. You can give up certain times of the race, but if it’s a last-lap situation you’re going to be held accountable for the actions you make and you’re going to feel bad if you go home not making the block that could win you the race … or you’re going to feel bad if you’re wrecked. I’ve been on both sides of it. It’s speedway racing. That’s all I have to say about it.”

Blocking, to Ryan Newman, is nothing new.

“What was it ’08 when (Tony) Stewart won blocking Regan Smith?” Newman said of the fall 2008 Talladega race where Smith crossed the finish line first but Stewart was given the win because Smith went below the yellow line. “Stewart got the win and blocked Regan and everything was fine. Here we are 11 years later still talking about the same thing. Does it do any good to talk about it?”

Harvick was encouraged how NASCAR reacted at the end of Saturday’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race. NASCAR penalized leader Johnny Sauter for forcing Riley Herbst below the yellow line on the final lap. Spencer Boyd was declared the winner.

“I can’t stand blocking,” Harvick said. “We didn’t use to penalize the blockers  very much. It was always the guy that was trying to make the move. So, you know, the guy had a lane … Johnny was trying to win the race. You can’t blame for him for trying to block. I like when the blockers get called. I don’t like it for Johnny Sauter. You’ve got to have a lane to race.”

 

Matt DiBenedetto, Paul Menard news lights up social media

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Tuesday morning’s announcement that Paul Menard will retire after this season and Matt DiBenedetto will replace him next season in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford certainly lit up the twitterverse.

MORE: Paul Menard to retire from NASCAR; Matt DiBenedetto will drive No. 21 in 2020

Here’s some of the top posts we found:

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Xfinity Series practice report from Mid-Ohio

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Jack Hawksworth, who will make his NASCAR and Xfinity Series debut this weekend, was fastest in Friday’s eventful final practice session at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car course.

Driving Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota, Hawksworth posted a top speed of 95.204 mph around the round course.

He was followed by Austin Cindric (94.953 mph), Christopher Bell (94.948), Chase Briscoe (94.755) and Justin Allgaier (94.624).

Jeremy Clements was sixth fastest (94.600).

Hawksworth briefly went off course with 46 minutes left in the session. Shortly after that Regan Smith went off course and was briefly stuck in sand before he drove away. Smith told NBCSN there was a problem in his brake system.

Patrick Gallagher then went off track momentarily with 30 minutes left in the session. With 24 minutes left, Will Rodgers caused a lengthy red flag after he plowed into and got stuck in the sand, losing his splitter in the process.

Gray Gaulding ran out of fuel and stalled on the track with three minutes left, bringing out the red flag.

Click here for the speed chart.

First practice

Justin Haley was fastest with a top speed of 95.201 mph around the road course. He made 17 laps in the session and recorded his fast lap in the final minute.

The top five was completed by Christopher Bell (94.707 mph), Cole Custer (94.555), Austin Cindric (94.503) and Regan Smith (94.489). Smith is making his first start of the year in JR Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet.

Jack Hawksworth, who is making his first career NASCAR start in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota, was 13th on the speed chart.

The session was stopped three times. The first was very early after Michael Annett slid off track and got stuck in sand. The second stoppage was after Vinnie Miller dropped a hose on the track. The last red flag was at the end of the session for Will Rodgers’ car going off track and experiencing a electrical fire.

The final practice session is scheduled for 4:05 – 4:55 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the practice report.

Updated entry lists for Michigan, Mid-Ohio

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NASCAR has another split weekend on tap with the Cup and Gander Outdoors Truck Series racing this weekend at Michigan International Speedway, while 175 miles south the Xfinity Series visits Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the second road course race in a four-race stretch.

Here’s the entry lists for each series:

CUP – Consumers Energy 400 (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN) at Michigan

There are 38 cars entered for this race.

Gander Outdoors Truck Series regular Spencer Boyd will make his Cup debut Rick Ware Racing’s No. 53 Chevrolet.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity– B&L Transport 170 (Saturday, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN) at Mid-Ohio

There are 38 cars entered for the race.

Max Tullman is entered in the No. 53 Chevrolet owned by Means Motorsports. There is no driver attached to the No. 74 Chevrolet of Mike Harmon Racing.

NASCAR on NBC analyst and former Cup driver AJ Allmendinger will be behind the wheel of the No. 10 Chevrolet of Kaulig Racing.

Regan Smith makes his return to competition driving JR Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet.

IMSA driver Jack Hawksworth will make his Xfinity Series debut in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota after Jeffrey Earnhardt cancelled his contract with sponsor iK9 and announced he wouldn’t be racing this weekend.

Click here for the entry list.

TRUCKS – Corrigan Oil 200 (Saturday, 1 p.m. ET on FS1) at Michigan

There are 31 trucks entered for the race.

Spencer Boyd is back in Young’s Motorsports’ No. 20 truck after missing one race due to a non-racing injury.

This is the last race of the regular season for the Truck Series.

Click here for the entry list.

 

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Watkins Glen latest example of short track excitement, tempers on road courses

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The hurt feelings and damaged cars from revenge were so numerous this weekend, one could have mistaken the postrace atmosphere at Watkins Glen International for that of the Bristol night race during its peak in the late 90s and early 2000s.

All that was missing was a thrown helmet.

MORE: NASCAR won’t punish retaliatory actions from Watkins Glen

But Bristol is still two weeks away.

The Cup and Xfinity races on the New York track again provided further evidence that road courses are the new short tracks, and it wouldn’t hurt to see more added to the schedule.

Don’t believe us? Here’s proof from the last five years.

Jimmie Johnson vs. Ryan Blaney / William Byron vs. Kyle Busch / Bubba Wallace vs. Kyle Busch, Sunday

Ok, so a lot happened on Sunday. But even more happened after the race.

Bubba Wallace went on an expletive filled rant against Kyle Busch after their run-in.

William Byron provided a “no comment” on his retaliation against Busch.

But Jimmie Johnson?

After he was wrecked from contact with Ryan Blaney, a clearly angry Johnson confronted the Team Penske driver on pit road. Afterward, he shared his feelings with NBCSN. This isn’t the kind of Johnson we’re used to seeing. But we’re also not used to seeing Johnson desperate to make the payoffs.

“I couldn’t hear what he was saying, his lips were quivering so bad that he can’t even speak,” Johnson said. “I guess he was nervous or scared or both, I don’t know what the hell the problem is. He just drove through me and spun us out, and it clearly has big implications on what we’re trying to do for the playoffs right now. Clearly not happy with his actions there.”

Justin Allgaier vs. Ross Chastain, Saturday

A short book could be written about Chastain and his altercations with drivers over the last few years.

The latest chapter was Saturday between him and Allgaier in the first stage of the Xfinity race, when Chastain made contact with Allgaier in the inner loop and sent him into a tire barrier on Lap 14.

Six laps later, Allgaier used his front bumper to get his message across.

“We’ve had a rocky relationship over our racing career,” Allgaier said after he finished the race in third. “Unfortunately, I’ve been on the receiving end a number of times of him running into me. He flat wrecked me in the Bus Stop back there. At some point you just get to a point where you’re tired of getting run into. I ran back into him. I had no intention of putting him in the wall. I wanted to spin him out for sure. I wanted him to kind of have the same feeling that I had a few laps before whenever he spun me out.”

Said Chastain: “It’s better if I keep my opinion to myself.”

Jimmie Johnson vs. Martin Truex Jr., Charlotte Roval 2018

There’s one road course left on the Cup schedule: The Charlotte Roval (Sept. 29).

On any given day, Truex and Johnson are two of the more mild-mannered drivers in the garage.

That says a lot about the power of road courses.

On the final turn of the final lap of the inaugural Cup race on the Roval, Johnson locked his brakes while trying to pass Truex for the win. That sent Johnson’s car spinning and into Truex’s car, which also went around.

After Ryan Blaney slipped by for the win, Truex rammed into the back of Johnson’s car and turned him around.

“I was not mad at all about Jimmie trying to win,” Truex said the next weekend. “That’s his job. That’s what we all try to do every single weekend. He was trying to win the race. I get that.

“I was mad that he screwed up.”

While you have to wait two months for Cup to return to a road course, the Xfinity Series will satisfy your needs for two of the next three races. First up, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course this Saturday (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Ross Chastain vs. Joey Gase, Mid-Ohio 2018

A year ago, Chastain and his JD Motorsports crew members got into an expletive-laden scuffle with Joey Gase following the race at Mid-Ohio.

The ruckus was a result of Chastain pushing Gase deep into a corner on the last lap and spinning him.

“I don’t really appreciate that a whole lot,” Gase said afterward. “He’s (JD Motorsports team owner) Johnny Davis’ golden child. He can’t do anything wrong. It’s always the other guy’s fault. I passed him clean through the Keyhole, he left the door open. In the esses, he hit me six times and pushed me off the track. He races everyone hard, but if you race him that way, it’s a problem.”

John Hunter Nemechek vs. Cole Custer, Canadian Tire Motorsports Park 2016

Something dramatic happens on the last lap of this Truck Series race every year.

No, seriously. Every. Single. Year. (Except 2015).

But only once did it result in the driver who lost tackling the winner while he celebrated on the frontstretch.

The series returns north of the border on Aug. 25

Regan Smith vs. Alex Tagliani, Mid-Ohio 2015

There were no blows or expletives exchanged after Smith performed a bump-and-run on Tagliani in the final corner of this race to capture the win.

But Tagliani let it be known he wasn’t happy with the maneuver or Smith’s choice of a burnout celebration.

“He knows I’m not going to be there next weekend to retaliate and give him the payback,” Tagliani said. “It’s just really unfortunate to win like that, but also to see him celebrate after a win like that … but he knows he wasn’t going to win unless he pushed us off.”

Regan Smith vs. Ty Dillon, Watkins Glen 2015

Smith had an eventful year on road courses in 2015. Before Mid-Ohio he was on the opposite end of a bumper at Watkins Glen when Ty Dillon tagged his right rear in Turn 1 and spun him on a restart.

After the race, Smith grabbed Dillon by the collar. They began grappling and had to be separated by NASCAR officials.

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