Sam Hornish 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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Today’s Xfinity race at Miami: Start time, lineup and more

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NASCAR’s Ford Championship Weekend continues with the Xfinity series hitting the track in Miami. Last year, Cole Custer won this race but was not in contention for the championship.

Custer is in contention today with Christopher Bell, Daniel Hemric and Tyler Reddick. The highest finishing driver of those four will be crowned champion at the end of the race.

Here is all the info for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Yoel Romero, the top-ranked Middleweight UFC Fighter, will give the command to start engines at 3:37 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:45 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 200 laps (300 miles) around the 1.5-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 45. Stage 2 ends on Lap 90.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 8:30 a.m. Qualifying is at 12:35 p.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 1:40 p.m. Driver introductions are at 3 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Yoli Mayor will perform the anthem at 3:31 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race beginning at 3:30 p.m. Coverage begins at 3 p.m. with Countdown to Green on NBCSN. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 3 p.m. and also can be heard at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for mostly cloudy skies with a high of 80 degrees and a four percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Cole Custer beat Sam Hornish Jr. by 15 seconds. William Byron finished third to win the Xfinity championship.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the lineup.

Today’s Xfinity race at Mid-Ohio: Start time, lineup and more

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The Xfinity Series has its second road course race in a row, competing today at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio.

Here is all the info for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Jeff Flasco, CEO of Amethyst Beverage, will give the command to start engines at 2:54 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:05 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 75 laps (169.35 miles) around the 2.258-mile road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 20. Stage 2 ends on Lap 40.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 8 a.m. Qualifying is at 11:30 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 2 p.m. Driver introductions are at 2:15 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Wendy Reiser will perform the anthem at 2:47 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race beginning at 3 p.m. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. with Countdown to Green on NBCSN. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 2:30 p.m. and also can be heard at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for mostly sunny conditions with a high of 80 degrees and a 15 percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Sam Hornish Jr. won this race a year ago, leading 61 of 75 laps for Team Penske. He finished ahead of Daniel Hemric and Matt Tifft.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying is at 11:30 a.m.

Riley Herbst set for Xfinity debut at Iowa with Joe Gibbs Racing

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Riley Herbst will join Justin Haley this weekend in making his Xfinity Series debut in Sunday’s race at Iowa Speedway.

Herbst, 19, will drive Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota in his only start for the team this season.

Advance Auto Parts will sponsor the car.

A second-year member of the NASCAR Next program, the Las Vegas native has driven for JGR in ARCA the last two seasons, earning one win, nine top fives and 15 top 10s in 27 starts. He was named Rookie of the Year last season.

Herbst’s win came in June 2017 at Pocono Raceway when he triumphed over Brandon Jones, who is now his teammate at JGR.

Sunday’s race marks Herbst’s first start in any of NASCAR’s three national series. He has made 20 combined starts in the K&N Pro Series East and West Series.

“I am super pumped to be making my first top-three NASCAR series start this weekend at Iowa Speedway,” Herbst said in a press release. “We are coming into the week with expectations of learning every single lap, in hopes of having our Toyota Camry up front by the end of the race. Iowa is a super cool track with a lot of racing lines so should be a great weekend for this No. 18 team.”

Herbst has one start at Iowa in a combined K&N West and East race. He started fifth and finished sixth in July 2016.

JGR has won three of the last four Xfinity races at Iowa with Sam Hornish Jr., Erik Jones and Ryan Preece.

Today’s Xfinity race at Charlotte: Start time, lineup and more

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Ten races into the Xfinity season there have been 10 different winners. Will the streak continue today at Charlotte Motor Speedway?

The record for the most different winners to start a season in the Xfinity Series is 13 in 1988.

Here are all the details for today’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Dhani Jones, retired NFL player, author and host of CNBC’s Adventure Capitalists, will give the command to start engines at 1:07 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 1:13 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 200 laps (300 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 45. Stage 2 ends on Lap 90.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 6:30 a.m. Qualifying is at 10:10 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 12:15 p.m. Driver introductions are at 12:30 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: The USO Show Troupe will perform the anthem at 1:01 p.m.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the race beginning at 1 p.m. Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 12:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for a high of 84 degrees and 75 percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Ryan Blaney won this race a year ago. Kevin Harvick was second. Austin Dillon was third. Alex Bowman won at Charlotte in October. Sam Hornish Jr. was second. Blaney was third.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.