Running in the Pack

NASCAR America: Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray could upset the Big 3 at Darlington

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When Kurt Busch won last week’s race at Bristol, he became the fourth different driver in the past 10 races to beat the Big 3 of Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr. The Southern 500 could provide another new winner this season, according to Kyle Petty.

On Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America, Petty went deep in the points standings to highlight two drivers who are capable of winning based on their experience at Darlington.

“The first guy that pops into my mind is Ryan Newman,” Petty said. “I think Ryan’s had some success there, has had good top fives, good top 10s … (in) 19 starts. I think that’s the key.”

Newman has seven top fives and 13 top 10s in his 19 races on this track. Four of his top 10s came in the last five years.

“I look to Newman, and I look to Jamie McMurray – the more experience you have at this track, the better you are.”

McMurray finished 10th in last year’s Southern 500, but he was in contention for more top 10 finishes with results of 14th through 16th in the four preceding races.

“These are guys outside, behind that cutline that can come to Darlington,” Petty said. “And Darlington is that great equalizer. These are drivers who know how to drive racecars – that know how to adjust to a track. It’s not just brute horsepower. It’s finesse, it’s drivability.”

If Newman or McMurray wins this week, Jimmie Johnson could be in jeopardy of falling out of playoff contention, but Petty views him as another driver to watch.

“I think Jimmie gets more out of a car effortlessly, it looks like … Jimmie just seems to get it done.” Petty said.

For more, watch the video above.

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Dale Jr. Download: Competition deep in the field is as intense as the front

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In today’s NASCAR, the level of competition is just as tight deep in the pack as it is at the front, according to Kasey Kahne. He should know, because his move from Hendrick Motorsports to Leavine Family Racing has forced him to race with a different group of drivers.

“There are so many cars that are competitive and fast,” Kahne said on this week’s edition of the Dale Jr. Download.

“I race the same group pretty much every weekend and it’s basically 18 to 26, but it’s always those same cars. And it’s just as tough there with what we have going on (there) … as it is from 10th to 17th and then from first to 10th.”

The closeness of competition is most noticeable in qualification. Previously, a slight bobble on the short track could mean the difference of several positions, but that is now noticeable on every track.

“Today, you’re seeing it non-stop and it’s been that way for the last couple of years … last three years, for sure,” Kahne said. “It just always gets tougher, and tougher, and tougher.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has noticed an increase in the competition level since moving into the broadcast booth. At Watkins Glen, he covered the race from the bus stop chicane on the backstretch.

“I could not believe how hard y’all are driving,” Earnhardt said. “I’ve been doing this all my life. … Watching it over and over and over, race after race after race it is so damn impressive to see how hard everybody is going.”

For more, watch the video above.

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NASCAR America: Chris Buescher, Trevor Bayne run well in the pack

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Chris Buescher was battling for third with less than 25 laps remaining at Bristol. It seemed like he was be on his way to earning his third career top five on an unrestricted track. He had reason to be hopeful, as one of his other top fives came in the 2016 edition of Bristol’s August race under the lights.

Buescher was caught in the middle of a three-wide battle with Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch when the trio ran out of room. All three sustained damage in that incident. Buescher finished one lap off the pace in 19th, which was a far cry from the result he should have earned.

“When I was watching him race the other night, he did everything right,” Dale Jarrett said on Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America. “It reminds me of how he gets good finishes at the plate races because he does such a good job of staying out of trouble and not putting himself in bad positions. But he got put in the wrong spot a couple of times late in this race and didn’t get … the finish that he deserved.”

Kasey Kahne announced his retirement from full-time Cup racing last week and then hit the track to score his second-best finish of the season. Finishing as the last driver on the lead lap, he secured a 15th-place finish.

“(Bristol) is a hard enough place when you have 100 percent focus, but when it starts getting away a little bit … Kasey Kahne, being the professional he is, went and did his job and they had a very solid night,” Jarrett said.

Trevor Bayne was the third driver showcased in this week’s Running in the Pack.

“His average running position this season in the 15 races he’s done prior to Bristol was 22.7,” Parker Kligerman said. “His average running position at Bristol? 12.5 and he finished 11th – 10 spots better. This was an incredible run for Trevor Bayne.”

For more, watch the video above.

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NASCAR America: Parker Kligerman runs well in the pack

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In this week’s Running with the Pack segment on NASCAR America, Landon Cassill had a special pick: the driver sitting to his right, Parker Kligerman.

Kligerman gave the Gaunt Brothers No. 96 a 24th-place finish and completed all 90 laps at Watkins Glen International.

“We go into these races thinking top 25 is basically a win for a small team like ours with only a handful of starts for this race team in the Cup series,” Kligerman said after his selection. “We actually went out there and did it. Had top 20 speed at times.”

The Running in the Pack segment showcases cars and drivers who are able to beat competitors with greater resources. Kligerman finished in front of RCR’s Austin Dillon and the Wood Brothers’ Paul Menard – as well as Jimmie Johnson and Joey Logano, who had problems during the race.

There were a few drivers who had races get away from them, however. AJ Allmendinger (15th) and Michael McDowell (18th) finished among the top 20, but their skill on road courses suggested they could have challenged for a top 10.

“When you think about Michael McDowell – Allmendinger – when they go to a road course, you’ve got to know the pressure is immense on those two because that’s what they circle at the beginning of the year,” Kligerman said.

Kasey Kahne faded from his 10th-place position on the grid to 21st at the checkers, and that left Kligerman as the best example of a driver who was able to overachieve.

“It’s tough to survive an entire road course race smooth, with no mistakes,” Cassill said.

For more, watch the video above.

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NASCAR America: Chris Buescher, Matt DiBenedetto run well in the pack

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While most eyes are focused at the front of the pack, some incredible performances often go unnoticed outside of the top 10. On Tuesday, NASCAR America showcased three drivers who had outstanding runs in the Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.

“I’m going to go with Chris Buescher and his 12th-place finish,” Landon Cassill said. “I thought he had a solid day. You know, his teammate is AJ Allmendinger … is an animal at these road courses, but Chris just put together a solid day and he’s a good driver at Sonoma. I worked with Chris when we both drove for Front Row Motorsports and I can tell you that I’m pretty sure he still holds the record in the Ford simulator for the fastest lap at Sonoma. … I used to use his car as a Chase car in the sim to help my laps at Sonoma.”

That was Buescher’s third consecutive top 20 on a road course and it comes on the heels of an 11th last August at Watkins Glen International.

Matt DiBenedetto has never been known as a road racer. In six previous starts on this type of track, he had never cracked the top 20 – until Sunday’s race at Sonoma when he scored a career-best 17th.

“My ‘Running with the Pack’ guy’s also not a road course guy: Matt DiBenedetto finished 17th at Sonoma after starting 30th and that is the ninth time in 16 races that he’s outperformed where he qualified,” Nate Ryan said. “I think that’s significant, I think that tells you how good GoFas Racing is, making the most of what they have.”

Dale Jarrett went a little deeper in the field.

“I’m going with somebody, who his team has only ran their seventh race at Sonoma and that’s our colleague Parker Kligerman. … He’s an outstanding road racer. He has that background, but he’s a good racer everywhere he goes. He ran inside the top 20 most of the day.”

For more, watch the video above.