Steve Letarte

NASCAR stock market: Ups and downs heading to Kansas

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On a recent edition of the “Positive Regression” podcast, racing analytics expert David Smith and broadcaster Alan Cavanna asked what was the third-best team in Cup behind those of Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin.

It was an interesting discussion with no clear-cut answer as they examined the pros and cons of Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.

It showed how up-and-down this season has been with teams struggling to find consistency in a time where there is no practice. You might see one driver rival Hamlin and Harvick for a couple of weeks and then be replaced by someone else before they fade back to the field.

MORE: NASCAR to speak to driver for “very poor decision” at Texas

MORE: Cup Series playoff grid after Texas

Cup teams again will have no practice before they race Thursday night (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) at Kansas Speedway. NASCAR is not scheduled to have any practice for Cup teams for the next month.

Logano won two of the season’s first four races but then struggled after the series returned in May. His third-place finish Sunday at Texas was his best result since winning at Phoenix in March — the last Cup race before the season was suspended for 10 weeks by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s harder to recover,” Logano said about when teams fall behind the top teams. “When I said lost puppy, that’s what we are, that’s what we were. You don’t have a chance to fix anything, right? You get done with the race, this, this, and this we need to make better on the racecar at least. We’ll try this, this and this next week, but it’s a different track. We’ll go and race, have no practice. Who knows if we’re going to make it better or worse, right? How do you find direction out of that?

“That’s where practice was so important. You could go out there, make a run, make one change, go back out and say, ‘Was that better or worse? Now we’re done with the race, we have things we want to fix. Let’s go to a track that’s nowhere near the same as we just went to and make some changes to our car and tell me if it’s better or not.

“You can’t. You can’t. You only can tell just by overall finish compared to the field. That’s kind of what we worked on. Seems like there was some progress made.”

Lack of practice is something Kyle Busch has mentioned as to why he’s winless in 18 Cup races this year. He also has yet to win a stage this season and has no playoff points. Last year at this time, he had a series-high 25 playoff points. At this time in 2018, he had a series-high 30 playoff points.

Level of respect declining in Xfinity?

It has been a question asked throughout this season as more incidents take place on the track. The Xfinity Series is back on track at 5 p.m. ET Saturday at Kansas Speedway on NBCSN.

Last weekend at Texas saw Noah Gragson, who has already had issues with Myatt Snider, Harrison Burton and teammate Justin Allgaier this season, run up on the back of Riley Herbst, making contact and causing Herbst to crash before the race was six laps old. Herbst said afterward that he “got absolutely drove through” by Gragson.

“I don’t get it,” NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte said on the broadcast after the incident. “I just don’t get it. Five laps into the race why you have to be that aggressive on a slick race track with Riley in front of him. I know Noah didn’t drive in there with the intention of wrecking (Herbst) … but definitely pushing the issue early.”

Said NASCAR on NBC analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr., who also is Gragson’s car owner, on the broadcast: “To me, it looks like Noah got in the back of (Herbst) and didn’t give him a break. Just ran into the back of him. … I’ve got to put that on Noah. This early in the race Noah had a chance to cut that 18 a break.”

Kyle Busch says he’s seen a big change in the Xfinity Series in how drivers race each other.

“Nobody races with respect anymore,” Busch said after last weekend’s race at Texas. “They all just run as hard as you can every lap and when you’re running on ovals and stuff like that, you have to give room and you have to be courteous sometimes.

“Yeah, there’s going to be times you have to run hard, but other times where – like I was getting blocked down the back straightaway today by (Anthony Alfredo) on the second restart or something like that. What are we doing? It’s a long way from the end of the race and if you want a crashed car right now, I’ll give you one and you won’t even make it to the end of the race. I guess that’s what everybody else is kind of thinking too.”

Ross Chastain, who has built a reputation as someone who is hard to pass, says losing any positions can be too difficult to overcome in the shorter races.

“Track position is key in any series now,” Chastain said. “I definitely think there are some things that I’ve had some run-ins with and we agree to disagree on about everything. That’s just part of it.”

Busch said he understands that “you try to make it as hard on your competition as you can possibly can” but there are times to be smart about it.

“I learned from the likes of Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart and Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon and in that era,” Busch said. “Let’s call in the late 90s, early 2000s that it seemed like respect was a big deal on the racetrack and then you just started to get more and more call them kids that come on here and they beat and bang on short tracks in late models and K&N and ARCA and stuff like that and they just keep bringing it up into these levels.

“I don’t think they have a whole (lot of) respect for the equipment that they’re in sometimes because many of them have probably never worked on them before. They just pick up another ride and go on to the next year and run that stuff and then go on and move on.

“It’s just about trying to figure it out and pick and choose your battles. That’s typically what it boils down to. I certainly made poor decisions in the past and kind of still do sometimes today. You have to be smart as much as you can.”

Starting lineup draw Wednesday

NASCAR will set the starting lineup for the Cup race with a random draw on Wednesday.

Since replacing Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer in the top 12 in owner points — and eligible for starting positions 1-12 in the random draw — Almirola has started in the top five all four times the random draw was used. Almirola started on the pole last weekend at Texas.

Bowyer became eligible for starting positions 13-24 since he fell into that group in owner points. In the four races the random draw has been used, Bowyer has started 18th, 22nd, 15th and 17th.

The way that the draw is for the top 12 it basically just protects those guys and makes it virtually impossible for anybody outside of that to capitalize on that first stage, which puts them in a really good position points wise for the rest of the race,” Bowyer said. “Furthermore, it puts you in a situation to have to try to gamble either at the tail end of that first stage or throughout that second stage to try to capitalize off some points, whether it be that second stage or set yourself up for the end of the race.

“Anytime you go to gamble we all know that it can either win or lose big. Nine times out of 10 the house wins from what I can see. So, I am kind of frustrated in a sense that I feel like over the last month and a half we have had a lot better runs than our stats show.”

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Steve Letarte joins Mike Tirico on Lunch Talk Live on NBCSN

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NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte will be on today’s “Lunch Talk Live” with host Mike Tirico. The show airs at Noon ET on NBCSN.

“Lunch Talk Live” focuses on the current state of the sports world, providing guests with a platform to discuss the state of sports, voice their personal stories and detail how they are adapting their daily lives during this challenging time.

You can also watch the show online here.

Today’s scheduled guests are:

  • 12:00 p.m. – Robbie Earle, Premier League on NBC
  • 12:15 p.m. – Steve Letarte, NASCAR on NBC
  • 12:30 p.m. – Matt Dumba, Minnesota Wild defenseman
  • 12:40 p.m. – Kevin Na, PGA Tour & Charles Schwab defending champ
  • 12:50 p.m. – Brandel Chamblee, Golf Channel NBC

NASCAR America at Home: ‘What now?’ between Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch

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NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte has a simple question after Wednesday night’s explosive situation between Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott.

“What now?”

Busch said after Wednesday’s race that he made a mistake when he clipped Elliott’s car while Elliott ran second late in the event at Darlington Raceway. The contact sent Elliott’s car sliding down the frontstretch and into the SAFER barrier on the inside wall. After exiting his car, Elliott walked toward the track and gave Busch the middle finger.

After the race, Elliott’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson discussed the incident with Busch.

“Mistake or not,” Letarte said on NASCAR America at Home (video above), “if I’m Alan Gustafson, if I’m Chase Elliott, I’m still mad. I am irritated. I don’t think that Chase is one to go turn him on purpose, but I would take every inch of every move with every benefit of the doubt for the rest of the season.”

Letarte said the “big story” is what will Elliott do in response.

This isn’t Elliott’s first issue with a Joe Gibbs Racing driver. Denny Hamlin spun Elliott late in the 2017 Martinsville race. They had a discussion after the race.

Two weeks later at Phoenix, Elliott and Hamlin were running side-by-side when a nudge from Elliott sent Hamlin into he wall. Hamlin’s car developed a tire rub that eventually cut the tire and sent the car into the wall.

Letarte, Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton all said they thought the contact from Busch at Darlington was a mistake.

Kyle Busch is going to get a lot of the blame,” Jarrett said. “He’s already taken the blame. He made a mistake and race drivers make mistakes. Things happen.

“You don’t think that’s going to happen like that on a straightaway, but that shows just how important it was for him to get back in line. … Kyle Busch just misjudged it a little bit.”

Said Burton: “(Busch) didn’t intentionally wreck Chase Elliott, but what he does have to do, other than just on TV, he’s got to take responsibility to Chase Elliott. He can’t wait for Chase Elliott to get in touch with him. He’s got to go make this right because it was his mistake and it’s on him to make it right. If you do those things as a driver, then typically things go away quicker.”

Steve Letarte joins Mike Tirico on Lunch Talk Live on NBCSN

Lunch Talk Live
NBC Sports
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NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte will be on today’s Lunch Talk Live with Mike Tirico to discuss NASCAR’s season resuming Sunday at Darlington Raceway. The show airs at noon ET on NBCSN.

The Darlington race is to be one of seven races between May 17-27 among NASCAR’s three national series at two different tracks.

“Lunch Talk Live” focuses on the current state of the sports world and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, providing guests with a platform to discuss the state of sports, voice their personal stories and detail how they are adapting their daily lives during this challenging time.

You can also watch the show online here.

Monday’s scheduled guests are:

  • 12:00 p.m.- Peter King
  • 12:15p- Patrick Ewing
  • 12:30p- Steve Letarte
  • 12:40p- Keith Yandle
  • 12:50p- Rudy Tomjanovich

Let the debate begin: NBC Sports experts make NASCAR picks

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Go ahead. Scan the four-driver teams the NASCAR on NBC announcers, analysts and writers have put together in the NASCAR America Draft.

Think you could do better?

Then try! It’s easy.

Take a look at the list of drivers at the bottom of this file. Select four drivers. But you can spend no more than 10 tokens for your four-driver team.

Do you take a former champion among those costing five tokens, leaving you with only five tokens to make your final three picks. Do you play it safer and go for a driver who costs four tokens? Do you go with veterans? All rookies? Something in between?

See the teams the NBC Sports crew put together and then do your team. And share it with us on social media using #NASCARAmericaDraft.


Jeff Burton’s team

Kevin Harvick (5 tokens)

Christopher Bell (2 tokens)

Matt DiBenedetto (2 tokens)

Michael McDowell (1 token)

I want a superstar. I’m going to go ahead and bite the bullet and spend five tokens on a superstar driver. … The reason I’m going to pick Kevin Harvick is because I know what he can get it done on the racetrack. It doesn’t matter what racetrack it is, he can be competitive. …  I’ve been his teammate. If I’m a car owner, I want that guy in the meeting, pushing to make everybody better, doing everything that he can to make himself better and everybody else. I know the intangible value that Kevin Harvick brings to the table.


Steve Letarte’s team

Denny Hamlin (4 tokens)

William Byron (3 tokens)

Christopher Bell (2 tokens)

Corey LaJoie (1 token)

I’m going to take what I think is a cornerstone driver. When I look at the four token options, there are two great young talents in Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney, I think they have a lot of upside, Kurt Busch is a champion, but I’m taking Denny Hamlin. I’m taking, in my opinion, the best driver who has never won a championship. Denny Hamlin, I know he’s a little bit older at 39 years old, but I think he’s as mature as he’s ever been. I think he can lead our organization to building good cars and giving good feedback. Why? Because he wins everywhere. … I think he would excel in that leadership role.


Kelli Stavast’s team

Denny Hamlin (4 tokens)

Alex Bowman (3 tokens)

Matt DiBenedetto (2 tokens)

Ryan Preece (1 token)

I think Denny is a bargain at 4 tokens and Matty D is a steal for 2.


Rick Allen’s team

Kyle Busch (5 tokens)

Matt DiBenedetto (2 tokens)

Cole Custer (2 tokens)

Ryan Preece (1 token)


Kyle Petty’s team

Joey Logano (5 tokens)

Matt DiBenedetto (2 tokens)

Christopher Bell (2 tokens)

Bubba Wallace (1 token)


Dustin Long’s team

Chase Elliott (4 tokens)

Ryan Blaney (4 tokens)

Corey LaJoie (1 token)

Bubba Wallace (1 token)

Let me introduce you to the modern day “Rat Pack” that will continue to transform NASCAR, just as the original 1960s version altered popular culture and Las Vegas. No driver under 30 needs to apply for my team that will be strong for years to come.


Nate Ryan’s team

Denny Hamlin (4 tokens)

William Byron (3 tokens)

Tyler Reddick (2 tokens)

Bubba Wallace (1 token)

Denny Hamlin because he’s in his peak year at age 39 and is a steal for four tokens after a 2019 championship round appearance. Byron has the most potential of the three-token guys. Tyler Reddick might be a slight reach at two tokens, but he will win in Cup. Bubba has the transcendent appeal and charm to attract major sponsors if he can have some success in a good ride.


Daniel McFadin’s team

Denny Hamlin (4 tokens)

Tyler Reddick (2 tokens)

Matt DiBenedetto (2 tokens)

Ryan Preece (1 token)

No Cup champions on my team, but I went with the best current driver to not have a title (Hamlin) who still has at least five years left in the tank. He can mentor Reddick. I like Preece and DiBenedetto as a pair of drivers in their late 20s with untapped potential who can motivate each other with a friendly rivalry.


Jerry Bonkowski’s team

Denny Hamlin (4 tokens)

William Byron (3 tokens)

Matt DiBenedetto (2 tokens)

Bubba Wallace (1 token)

Taking a driver worth five coins would really skew things, so it’s better – at least mathematically – to take one pick apiece from the other four categories. I expect big things from all four of my picks, particularly Byron and DiBenedetto.