NASCAR America: Will anyone below the bubble advance?

1 Comment

In Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America, Steve Letarte said: “When you get to the Round of 12, it’s not about the points; it’s who you’ve got to beat.”

Brad Keselowski trails Martin Truex Jr. by 18 points. Letarte recalled a conversation with Paul Wolfe in which he questioned if it was realistic to beat Truex by that margin at Kansas. The answer was “no”.

The other three drivers below the cutline to advance to the Round of 8 are in an even more serious predicament.

Ryan Blaney is 22 points below the cutoff line. With his Talladega penalty, Kyle Larson is 36 points in arrears and Alex Bowman is 68 points behind. The most points available in a race is 60.

Keselowski’s surge at the end of the regular season that carried over to a playoff win at Las Vegas serves as an example of how these drivers can find a path to advancement. So does the fact that since the elimination-style playoffs were implemented, several drivers have earned dramatic wins in the final races of a round.

“Look at the playoffs,” Letarte continued. “I’m pretty scared to … say anything because Vegas was crazy, the Roval was crazy. Talladega was actually supposed to be crazy and it was calm.”

For more on whether the driver below the bubble can advance, watch the video above.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter

NASCAR America: Dramatic elimination races

Leave a comment

Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman enter the Hollywood Casino 400 below the cutoff line by significant amounts.

Keselowski is in the best shape with an 18-point disadvantage to Martin Truex Jr. who sits on the bubble. Considering that Truex has finished first or second in the last three Kansas races, it still is not an enviable position.

Each team outside of the Top 8 feels that it is in a must-win situation unless something catastrophic happens to the competition.

As NASCAR America detailed in Wednesday’s edition, it is not the first time a driver has had to pull out a last-minute victory to advance to the next round of the playoffs.

Keselowski was in this situation in 2014 at Talladega.

“I don’t want to talk about this one,” Steve Letarte said. “Because it was a must-win for me and Dale Jr. as well and he was in victory lane, which meant we were on the hauler eliminated.”

In the next round, Kevin Harvick was in a similar situation after suffering a couple of bad races early in Round 3. He dominated the field and won at Phoenix – and then went on to win the championship the next week in Homestead.

Harvick’s record at Phoenix made that win unsurprising, but the next year he found himself in trouble again entering Dover. Once more, he won and advance.

For more dramatic clutch wins in elimination races, watch the video above.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter

NASCAR America: 2019 rules package is ‘huge for the sport’

Leave a comment

On Monday night, NASCAR announced the rules package for 2019: A combination of aerodynamic changes and engine configurations designed to put the racing back into the drivers’ hands.

Jeff Burton, Steve Letarte and Dale Jarrett weighed in on the effect of those changes in Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America.

“This is huge for the sport,” Burton said. “This is a major change from where we are today. After trying something from the All-Star package, trying something at the Xfinity level and using all of the technology that’s available to NASCAR today that never has been before because of the OEMs (manufacturers) making available the simulators – all of the data they use to help develop a package … that NASCAR believes is going to put on a better race on a racetrack.”

The goal of the rules package is to reduce the aerodynamic sensitivity of the cars.

The rules package is designed in a way to “not take (the race) out of the drivers’ hands,” Burton continued. “That is a major key. To do it this way … throughout the whole industry and the end result being closer racing, by reducing some power in places, by adding some drag – doing all those things together. This is a big change for the sport.”

For 2019, there will be a limited number of options with the rules package. Aerodynamic changes that include a taller spoiler, larger splitter and wider radiator pan to increase downforce, but there will be different engine rules for short tracks and road courses compared to ovals 1.3 miles or longer.

“One size rarely fits all,” Letarte said. “There was a conversation that we were going to have multiple different rules for multiple venues to try to provide the best racing. … When you really get down to the nuts and bolts of that, while it seems great, it’s not really reality.”

The cost of adhering to a different rules package every week is prohibitive and would keep teams from fielding the most competitive cars.

One of the biggest changes is a 200 horsepower reduction on tracks 1.3 miles or larger.

What does it mean for the drivers?

“Speed doesn’t always equate to better racing,” Jarrett said. “Sometimes you’re just so much on the edge that it can’t create the side-by-side racing, which is what this sport was built on. … We hear these drivers talking about so many times as they get closer to another car they can’t get any closer than that even though they may be faster, they can’t get to that rear bumper.”

The combination of reduced horsepower and bigger holes in the air is intended to create the type of racing that fans enjoyed in this year’s All-Star Race.

“(The drivers) want to be relevant, they want to be important,” Jarrett said.

NASCAR America analysts agreed that the difference in a few miles per hour will be imperceptible to the fans and whatever small discrepancy they see will be far outweighed by the closer, side-by-side action on the track.

“As long as the racing is more entertaining for me to watch and the best drivers still have the best advantage because they are the most talented, then I’m a fan of whatever the rules may be,” Letarte said.

For more, watch the videos above.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter

NASCAR America: Has Jimmie Johnson lost his Superman cape?

Leave a comment

When Jimmie Johnson won five consecutive championships from 2006 through 2010, he was dubbed Superman. He added a sixth title in 2013 and a seventh in 2016, tying Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Richard Petty for the most at seven. After that championship, it seemed inevitable that he would earn an eighth.

But, for all his success Johnson has mostly struggled since NASCAR employed the knockout style playoff in 2014. That year, he finished 11th in the standings and with the exception of his title in 2016, he has not finished better than 10th with the current format.

Now, it seems that Superman may have lost his cape.

Johnson enters the Round 1 elimination race 14th in the standings – six points below the cutoff line.

Will Johnson advance to the next round?

“Nope,” said NASCAR America analyst Steve Letarte. “I’d love to get the seven-time champ into the next round, but when I look at his road course numbers: he’s 0 for 6 for a top 10 in the last six road course races.”

In addition to being shut out of the top 10 in his last six road course tries, he has not scored a top five on this track type since 2012. That year, he finished fifth at Sonoma and was third at the Glen.

“I think experience may be the thing on his side,” Dale Jarrett said.

Even so, “I don’t think that he makes it in,” Jarrett continued. “And as crazy as this may sound though, I think that this Roval actually gives him a better chance than if they were racing the mile-and-half oval the way that they’ve performed this year.”

Letarte also believes that Johnson’s experience might possibly be his saving grace.

“The only window of hope is his experience will get him through if it is a chaotic race with a lot of accidents,” Letarte said. “But if everyone kind of minds their ‘p’s’ and ‘q’s’ and stays on track, I just don’t think they have the raw speed to drive up there and contend for the points he needs.”

Chaos has not been kind to Johnson in 2018, however. He retired on lap 59 of the Daytona 500 after being involved in an accident. He finished 35th at Texas in April when he was one of seven drivers who crashed on Lap 179, and he failed to finish the second Daytona race in July with a 23rd.

For more, watch the video above.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter

NASCAR America: Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones may struggle to advance in the playoffs

Leave a comment

With one race remaining in Round 1 of the 2018 NASCAR playoffs, the four drivers outside of 12th are in jeopardy of being eliminated from championship contention. Three of these drivers were originally picked by NASCAR America analyst Steve Letarte and Dale Jarrett to go further.

Denny Hamlin is 16th in the standings, 29 points behind the cutoff. Erik Jones is 21 points in arrears and Clint Bowyer is four points behind.

On Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America, Letarte and Jarrett weighed the odds that these drivers could overcome their deficit.

“I don’t think (Hamlin) can make up 29 points,” Letarte said. “I think his playoff is coming to an end. That’s probably my biggest shock.”

Jarrett was a little less surprised that Hamlin finds himself on the outside looking in.

“I didn’t have Denny going all that far unless they made a lot of changes and got their cars better during races,” Jarrett said. “They found speed, but that speed’s not translating to good finishes.”

Hamlin has a mathematical chance to get into Round 2. Coming to a race that many feel is going to be a wild card, that might be all it takes. If Hamlin can earn points in both stages and pull out a top-five finish, he will put pressure on the drivers on the positive side of the bubble.

Likewise, Jones has a big hole from which to climb. This is his first playoff appearance and his lack of experience could impede his progress.

“I’m one that had Erik Jones going a long way in my playoffs – to the Championship Four,” Jarrett said. “So that was a little bit of a surprise to me that his first two races – and obviously the one at Vegas, he got caught up in someone else’s problems, but seeing him sitting there with a pretty insurmountable points deficit. Sunday, I think is going to be pretty difficult.”

Letarte and Jarrett both believe that Bowyer can make up his four points.

Bowyer finds himself outside the top 12 because he has lost momentum in the past several races.

“Bowyer? You expect him to run well, but you just never know,” Letarte said. “Bowyer’s kind of a streaky driver … he kind of got on a cold streak.”

Even so, Letarte thinks Bowyer has the strength of will to advance.

Jarrett agrees. Bowyer’s 23rd-place finish at Vegas came because he was involved in an accident late in the race. He finished 10th at Richmond.

If Bowyer advances, Letarte thinks the battle for the last playoff spot will come down to Austin Dillon or Alex Bowman.

For more, watch the video above.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter