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NASCAR’s best cage rattling short track finishes

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The history of exciting short track finishes in NASCAR is long, colorful and angry.

The latest entry occurred Sunday night at Martinsville Speedway.

Here’s a look at iconic short track finishes that have sent fans into a frenzy and competitors a rage.

“WHERE’S KYLE PETTY?!” – Richmond (Fairgrounds) Raceway – Feb. 23, 1986

Before its multi-million dollar renovations, Richmond Raceway was basically a slab of concrete with a guard rail around it.

The old Richmond track was the site of Kyle Petty’s first Cup win. That wouldn’t have been possible if not for an intense battle between Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip that ended with three laps to go with contact in Turn 3 and a vicious multi-car wreck.

This is also the race where Earnhardt famously cleaned his own windshield while on the track.

GORDON vs WALLACE X 2 – Bristol Motor Speedway

Bristol Motor Speedway is synonymous with the names Earnhardt and Labonte.

But Jeff Gordon and Rusty Wallace have multiple Bristol entanglements in their history.

April 13, 1997

Their first run-in came on the final lap of the spring race, with Gordon giving Wallace the bump-and-run in Turn 3 and sneaking by for the win.

Aug. 24, 2002

This time it was under the lights.

With flames on his hood instead of a rainbow, Gordon gave Wallace the boot with three laps to go and went on to snap a 31-race winless streak.

THE INTIMIDATOR STRIKES BACK – Bristol Motor Speedway, Aug. 28, 1999

Earnhardt was up to it again.

Four years earlier, Bristol hosted the first round of The Intimidator vs the Ice Man, as Earnhardt wrecked Terry Labonte coming to the checkered flag. Labonte won and pulled an obliterated No. 5 Chevrolet into Victory Lane.

Earnhardt wasn’t having any of that this time.

The seven-time champion spun Labonte as they entered Turn 1 on final lap and slipped by to earn his 73rd Cup win.

If not for a mechanical problem, Labonte said recently he would have retaliated. 

 

MARTINSVILLE MARVEL – Martinsville Speedway, April 1, 2007

After Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip, the winningest drivers at Martinsville are Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, who are tied with nine.

In 2007, Johnson entered the April Martinsville race with just two wins on the short track. He got No. 3 after coming out on top of an 18-lap battle with Gordon.

The last lap looked almost like its 2018 counterpart, except Gordon never led.

TEAMMATE TAP Richmond Raceway, April 24, 2016

Richmond returns to the list courtesy of Carl Edwards’ bump-and-run of teammate Kyle Busch in the final turn two years ago.

PLAYOFF PUNT – Martinsville Speedway, Oct. 28, 2018

It’s still fresh on everyone’s mind.

Sunday’s move by Joey Logano that Martin Truex Jr. called a “cheap shot.”

An intense five-lap battle turned into an almost three-wide finish at the checkered flag, with Logano clinching a spot in the championship four at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

NASCAR America Scan All: ‘That’s right Rowdy Nation: all for you, baby’

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Mood shifts highlighted the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway

Kyle Busch was forced to start at the back of the pack after making an unapproved adjustment to the fenders of his Toyota that he flattened in qualifying.

Track position is critical to how the car behaves and the driver’s level of confidence.

“The separation of three and four is just absolutely horrendous. That’s where we’re going to get beat tonight,” Kyle Busch said during the opening segment.

“Haven’t even got a chance to adjust on it yet, buddy,” crew chief Adam Stevens replied. “Thought you’d be a little more positive than that.”

It took about three hours, but Busch finally found his positivity when he flashed under the checkers ahead of the field.

“Hell yeah, Richmond sweep boys. That’s the way you do it there,” Busch said.

He also had a few choice words for his fans: “Being able to start dead last. Come up through the field and win this thing. That’s right Rowdy Nation: all for you, baby.”

Here are some of this week’s highlights:

  • “We got a penalty. We got a stop-and-go here, gotta come to pit road.” – Erik Jones’s spotter
  • “For what?” – Jones asked
  • “I believe something was on the deck lid.” – Jones’ spotter replied
  • “Inexcusable; absolutely inexcusable.” – Jones
  • “It’s so loose. Literally plowing the center. The worst we’ve been since the beginning.” – Denny Hamlin
  • “Now boys, that’s what I’m talking about. Way to step up.” – Austin Dillon
  • “He did that [expletive] on purpose too. He did it on purpose. He had a black flag at the line, just so you know.” – Jeffrey Earnhardt’s spotter after the No. 96 was spun by Matt Kenseth
  • “The 6 just wrecked him so he didn’t have to pit under green.” – Ryan Blaney
  • “We didn’t need that.“ – Jeremy Bullins, Blaney’s crew chief
  • “My bad, drug up the splitter and hit him. I’m sorry about that.” – Matt Kenseth
  • “Good job guys; solid night.” – Kevin Harvick after finishing second
  • “I don’t know if we could’ve run with them if we had track position, but good adjustments.” Martin Truex Jr. after finishing third
  • “Hands down we could’ve. Clearly we had the best car.” Cole Pearn, Truex’s crew chief

For more, watch the video above.

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Long: The curious case of what’s taking place at Cup short tracks

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For years, the cry has been for NASCAR to add short tracks for all the action they provide. But a curious thing is happening in those races.

Cautions are declining.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you like green-flag racing, but it also takes away from the imagery of cars beating, banging and wrecking.

Through the first five races on short tracks this season, cautions are down 25.5 percent from the same time last year and down 37.5 percent from this time two years ago at those tracks.

Last weekend’s Richmond race had three cautions — the fewest cautions there since the September 2010 race there. Two of those three cautions last weekend were for stage breaks.

Richmond’s April race had six cautions. The March Martinsville race had four cautions, including two for stage breaks.

So, what’s going on?

Chase Elliott cites the cars.

“The big one for me is just how fragile these cars are now,” Elliott said this past weekend at Richmond Raceway. “And you can’t really even lean on anybody and continue forward.”

Kyle Busch, who started at the back and won last weekend at Richmond, says that there is still a lot of hard racing in the pack.

Kyle Busch leads the pack at Richmond. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“I ran with (Alex Bowman) and (Kyle Larson) and (Austin Dillon) and somebody else, and … you would you have thought we were all racing to save our lives,” Busch said. “It was nuts. It was pretty crazy how hard those guys were running.”

Joey Logano wasn’t shocked that there were few cautions at Richmond.

“There’s race tracks that are just like that,” he said after his 14th-place finish. “A lot of times if you go to high-wear race tracks, tire wear, it kind of lends itself that way.

“There was a lot room to race and move around. People were trying to save their tires, they’re racing the race track more than they’re racing the other cars. That kind of makes it to where there are just long green-flag runs.

“There (also) are not as many, for lack of better word, junker cars out there that used to blow up or blow right front tires from overheating beads. Those cars aren’t out there anymore and that’s where a lot of your cautions used to be generated from, and then we would race hard because there was a caution and we were all bunched up. Just the nature of the beast these days. That’s not a bad thing.”

This is not to say that accidents don’t happen at short tracks. The Bristol race in April had 13 cautions and the August race had nine cautions — the highest totals at short tracks this year.

Still, the trend is noteworthy. Here is a look at average number of cautions for short track Cup races in recent years and how it has declined in recent years 

2018 — 7.0 average cautions *

2017 — 9.6

2016 — 10.2

2015 — 11.2

2014 — 10.5

2013 — 11.0

2012 — 7.8

2011 — 11.3

2010 — 9.0

* Through five short track races (one remains this season). All other years are average over six short track races.


Change is coming. It just takes time.

That’s the message from Rob Kauffman, chairman of the Race Team Alliance.

Some change coming soon will be the 2019 rules package. Car owners are expected to vote on it this week.

Other changes will take longer. Among the key items for team owners are controlling costs and increasing revenue.

The decision by Furniture Row Racing, the reigning championship team, to cease operations after this season was a shock to the sport. While there were many contributing factors, having a major primary sponsor announce in July that it wouldn’t be around after this year showed how vulnerable teams can be to when a sponsor decides if to stay or go.

5-hour Energy’s decision left minimal time before the end of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, a calendar many companies go by. That made it more difficult to seek the million of dollars the team needed from companies to remain competitive next year.

With the gap more than car owner Barney Visser was willing to pay out of his pocket, he decided to close the team after this season.

“It shows that even billionaires can get tired of writing checks,” Kauffman told NBC Sports, although Visser is not a billionaire.

RTA Chairman Rob Kauffman. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

“The sport needs a sustainable model and a better balance of league revenue vs. third-party revenue to run a competitive car. In defense of NASCAR and some of the other teams, no one tells you to spend more than you get. It’s like any business, it’s up the owners of the business to match their revenues with their expenses. No one is forcing anybody to spend more than you get.”

While it’s easy to say give the owners more money, that won’t solve the issue if they increase spending based on the extra money they receive.

“To try to remedy the situation probably requires a combination of things,” Kauffman said. “It requires a better balance of contractual revenue with third-party sponsorship and then also some sort of cost management that is sort of like other sports that keeps you from spending an infinite amount of money to go faster because teams will do that.

“If the top guys are spending $35 million and the bottom are spending $5 (million), that’s not going to provide a good show.”

It’s just a matter of how to enact the changes.

“Everyone agrees that we need to address the issue,” Kauffman said. “It’s not a consensus of how to do it. There are certainly some advocates of a cost cap, then there’s equally people saying how do you enforce that, how do you monitor that, is that really the solution, we should be looking at revenue instead of expense. There’s different voices. That’s one reason why it hasn’t bubbled out yet. It’s still in the formation phase because it’s big.”


With the 2019 rules package expected to be approved by owners this week, it appears that teams will run a package that has some similarities to what was run in the All-Star Race.

One change is that the engines are expected to have a tapered spacer instead of a restrictor plate. The goal is to give drivers more throttle control than they had at the All-Star Race so drivers just don’t have the accelerator pressed to the floor throughout a whole lap. This package is expected to be used in several races next year.

Kyle Busch has been outspoken about taking horsepower away from drivers and nothing has changed his mind.

“I’m not a proponent for the change,” he said Monday during a break in testing at Kansas Speedway. “Just have to take what happens and what comes to us and deal with it.”


Stage points are already making a difference after the first two races of the first round.

Ryan Blaney holds the final transfer spot to the second round heading into Sunday’s playoff race on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC). Blaney has 2,060 points.

But Blaney has scored only three stage points in the playoffs. That’s left him in a precarious position.

Stage points have helped others against Blaney.

Alex Bowman has 2,061 points, giving him a one-point lead on Blaney. Bowman is ahead of Blaney because Bowman has 18 stage points to Blaney’s three.

Chase Elliott has 2,066 points, giving him a six-point cushion on Blaney. Elliott has 24 stage points to Blaney’s three, giving Elliot 21 extra points compared to Blaney.

Kurt Busch has 2,071 points, giving him an 11-point cushion on Blaney. Busch has scored 22 stage points, giving him 19 more stage points than Blaney.

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Silly Season: Daniel Suarez could hold key to what happens next

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Daniel Suarez could hold the next key in what happens in Silly Season as he considers his options for 2019.

Suarez is expected to lose his ride in the No. 19 at Joe Gibbs Racing to Martin Truex Jr., who is in need of a ride after Furniture Row Racing announced it would cease operations after this season.

Car owner Joe Gibbs is hopeful to formally announce his team’s plans soon.

“There’s a lot that goes into it,” Gibbs said after Kyle Busch won for JGR on Saturday night at Richmond Raceway. “There’s a lot of things in contracts and everything else about what you can and can’t do, and it’s just one of those things that is hard for us. I’m anxious, too. I would like to be able to announce it, but there’s still a lot up in the air with it.”

The three most likely destinations for Suarez would be the No. 41 at Stewart-Haas Racing, the No. 31 at Richard Childress Racing and the No. 95 at Leavine Family Racing, which is expected to partner with Toyota next season. The SHR ride, based on its performance, would seem to be the most attractive option.

“I’m sure good things will come our way,” Suarez said this weekend at Richmond.

Here’s a look at where things stand in Silly Season so far (based off what has been announced):

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2019

No. 6: Ryan Newman joins Roush Fenway Racing for next season (announcement made Sept. 22)

No. 43: Bubba Wallace will remain with Richard Petty Motorsports through the 2020 season (announcement made July 28)

CUP RIDES NOT YET ANNOUNCED FOR 2019

No. 1: The Associated Press reported Sept. 10 that car owner Chip Ganassi had offered Jamie McMurray a contract to drive in the 2019 Daytona 500 only and then move into a management position. Ganassi was awaiting McMurray’s decision. The move means the No. 1 will be open for 2019.

No. 23: Front Row Motorsports purchased the BK Racing team in bankruptcy court in August. Front Row needs the team to run the rest of the season to maintain the charter. After this season, Front Row could run a third car, lease this charter or sell this charter.

No. 31: Ryan Newman announced Sept. 15 that he would not return to the No. 31 after this season. Car owner Richard Childress told NBC Sports: “We’ll announce who our driver is in the near future.”

No. 32: Go Fas Racing is looking for a driver after Matt DiBenedetto’s announcement Sept. 7 that he won’t return to the team after this season.

No. 41: Kurt Busch signed a one-year deal in December to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing. He said Aug. 31 at Darlington that he has two contract offers for 2019 but did not reveal what teams they were from. Busch said Sept. 7 he had no updates on his status.

No. 95: Kasey Kahne announced Aug. 16 that he would not return for another full-time season. Also, this team has told Richard Childress Racing it won’t be a part of its technical alliance next year. Car owner Bob Leavine said Aug. 5 that “in our talking to the manufacturers this year, Toyota has been head-and-shoulders above the rest so far.”

DRIVERS WITHOUT ANNOUNCED PLANS FOR 2019

Trevor Bayne: 2011 Daytona 500 winner is looking for a ride after the Sept. 12 announcement he won’t return to Roush Fenway Racing in 2019. He told NBC Sports on Sept. 14 that he has been calling car owners looking for a ride and would look at any of NASCAR’s top three national series. 

Kurt Busch: 2004 champion’s contract expires after this season with Stewart-Haas Racing.

Matt DiBenedettoSaid he was betting on himself by leaving Go Fas Racing and looking to race elsewhere. While he would like a full-time ride, he would entertain a part-time ride in the Xfinity Series with a winning team, following what Ryan Preece has done.

Daniel Hemric: The Xfinity driver for Richard Childress Racing was asked Aug. 17 at Bristol about his future and he described it as: “Cloudy, very cloudy.” He said then he has not signed anything for the 2019 season, adding: “I’m trying to do everything I can on the race track to prove to somebody that would be willing to put me in a car and give me a shot.”

Jamie McMurray: Although he has not revealed his plans, car owner Chip Ganassi told the AP that he had offered McMurray a contract for only the 2019 Daytona 500 before McMurray would move into a management role.

Ryan Preece: Modified ace who has run a limited schedule in the Xfinity Series with Joe Gibbs Racing and had great success has not announced his 2019 plans.

Daniel Suarez: With reports stating that Martin Truex Jr. will go to Joe Gibbs Racing and drive the No. 19, Suarez would be looking for a ride. He said Sept. 21 that “we’re talking to a lot of people.”

Martin Truex Jr.: Reigning series champion has not announced a ride for 2019 with the Sept. 4 news that Furniture Row Racing is shutting down after this season. Truex, though, is expected to move to the No. 19 at Joe Gibbs Racing and replace Daniel Suarez.

XFINITY SERIES

OPEN RIDES FOR 2019

1: Elliott Sadler announced Aug. 15 that he will not run full-time in NASCAR after this season, creating an opening at JR Motorsports for 2019.

Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski duel adds spice to playoffs

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RICHMOND, Va. — Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski were together again, racing side-by-side, nose-to-tail, as they raced for the lead Saturday night at Richmond Raceway.

It was a juicy moment between the two combatants, known as much for their volatile relationship on and off the track as their racing acumen. Crew chief Adam Stevens said watching the two battle Saturday was “a little bit nerve-racking” as he sat atop Busch’s pit box.

“You know, they’re not going to give each other too much room,” Stevens said.

Keselowski led with 50 laps to go when Busch closed. Over the next 15 laps around Richmond Raceway, they dueled, diced and delivered tight racing before Busch got by and pulled away to win, while Keselowski fell back and finished ninth to see his three-race winning streak end.

That Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. finished 1-2-3 Saturday — marking the return of the Big 3 to dominance — will overshadow the racing between Busch and Keselowski on this night. But their battle could serve as a prelude for these playoffs, which is in search of an identity after two races.

Busch and Keselowski have spiced the playoffs before. During last year’s championship finale press conference, Busch said of Keselowski: “Sometimes you just don’t like a guy.” The comment was made with Keselowski sitting just a few feet away.

Busch’s frustrations come from the numerous incidents he’s had with Keselowski that date back nearly a decade. Saturday night, it appeared as if the two would add another chapter to their history.

“There were a couple of times where I was to his inside and whether I was being held a little tight or sliding up … we were getting kind of close,” Busch said after his 50th career Cup victory. “In those moments, you kind of tense up and the car slides and any time the car slides you know you’re putting heat in the tires and you’re putting heat into everything.

“You try to take a step back and kind of regroup, let everything cool down again and go re-attack. I was able to do that about twice. Second time it finally paid off when he was starting to drop.”

Keselowski said he had a better car on short runs. Having won last week at Las Vegas to advance to the next round, Keselowski could be aggressive as he tried to hold off Busch.

“We were so good on the short runs and nothing was working on the long runs,” Keselowski said. “I could try to save the tires and fall back to fourth or I could try to run up front and win the race, and I went real hard and did all I could to hold him off but didn’t have enough.’’

After Busch got by, he stuck his hand out the window. Keselowski was asked afterward what he thought Busch meant.

“I don’t try to read his mind,” Keselowski said. “That’s the last place I need to be.”

Busch explained his hand signal: “When you spend 15, 20 laps trying to pass the guy and you pass him and you get run into right as soon as you pass him, it’s kind of like, ‘Come on, man, really?’ But oh, well.”

Busch could brush it off since he won and won’t have to worry about what happens next weekend at the Charlotte Roval, which will cut the playoff field from 16 to 12. 

“If we would have had trouble again tonight and been kind of at the cutoff line, then obviously it would make for a very, very stressful week and a stressful Roval,” Busch said. “But right now it feels pretty good. So we can go in there with no worries and try to go and attack that place and see what we can get out of there.”

Same for Keselowski.