Bump & Run: Who is having a better season? Martin Truex Jr. or Kyle Busch?

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With four wins apiece, which Joe Gibbs Racing driver is having the better season, Kyle Busch or Martin Truex Jr.?

Nate Ryan: The points, playoff points and top 10 tallies point to Busch, but Truex gets this nod because he is improving as the season unfolds while making a largely seamless transition to Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch’s No. 18 Toyota has been more consistently excellent, but Truex’s No. 19 team seems slightly more playoff ready.

Dustin Long: It’s easy to get the sense that Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn are figuring things out, but I’ll take Kyle Busch for having the better season at this point. Busch has led more laps, had more top-three finishes, more top-five finishes and more top-10 finishes than Truex.

Daniel McFadin: Truex has won four of the last eight races, but he struggles in the races following his wins. Meanwhile Kyle Busch has been incredibly consistent through 16 races, failing to finish outside the top 10 just once at Kansas. We’re still waiting to see Busch find his kryptonite.

Jerry Bonkowski: Busch is having a statistically better season than Truex and has been at or near the top of the points for much of the season, but they’re equal where it counts the most. What’s more, they play off each other so well, you’d never know they’re first-year teammates.

 

Do stages need to be re-evaluated for road-course races, particularly Sonoma?

Nate Ryan: Yes. There has been only one “natural” caution over the past 246 miles of Cup racing at Sonoma Raceway. It seems as if having two scheduled yellows in a race that emphasizes strategy might be adversely disrupting the driver behavior and rhythm of an event in which action can be dependent on the randomness of cautions (and this could apply to any race that features green-flag pit stops without losing a lap). While the Sophie’s Choice of going for the win vs. amassing points adds an interesting wrinkle, it also seems too preordained and rote, eliminating some of the tactical genius and unexpected twists that make road-course racing fun.

Dustin Long: I’m not convinced this needs to be done. I do like seeing which teams will toss aside potential stage points for the chance to go for the win and pit shortly before a stage break. If nothing else, stage breaks do provide two restarts and restarts are often some of the most exciting moments in a race. You really want to eliminate two restarts a race?

Daniel McFadin: I think so. With NASCAR keeping in place that caution laps during stage breaks count towards the lap count, Stage 2 at Sonoma had only 15 competitive laps under green compared to the first stage’s 20. I’d add five laps to the second stage there and have the final stage be 45 laps. It’s still significantly longer than the first two stages. 

Jerry Bonkowski: Yes. Personally, I feel stages don’t work well in road course races, especially at a place like Sonoma, which saw a half-mile larger track this year for the first time in more than 20 years (due to adding the Carousel). Road course races should be a constant, moving episode and not interrupted by stages. And if it proves fans like the racing more without stages, it may be something to look at when the major changes come around in 2021. 

 

With the first Cup race of the year on a road course behind us, what’s one road course you’d like added to the Cup schedule?

Nate Ryan: Road America already has proved worthy of the Xfinity Series and also provides a NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheader opportunity. If the category were expanded to street races, Toronto already hosts stock cars with NASCAR’s Canadian series.

Dustin Long: Road America. 

Daniel McFadin: Laguna Seca, baby! It was my favorite road course as a kid and I’d love to see a Cup car navigating its variety of turns, especially the Corkscrew. Would three California Cup races, with two on road courses be healthy for the sport? Probably not. But I still want to see it.

Jerry Bonkowski: Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, or Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. I’d be happy with either — actually I’d be the happiest if both were on the schedule.

 

What has been the best story in NASCAR this season?

Nate Ryan: Ross Chastain, and if there’s justice in the near future, his story should continue to unfold on a bigger stage than a third-tier series.

Dustin Long: The development and domination of the Big 3 in the Xfinity Series — Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer — and the questions of where they’ll race next season.

Daniel McFadin: Without a doubt Ross Chastain and Niece Motorsports. With its Gateway win, the small team will more than likely compete in the Truck Series playoffs. They could deliver a second consecutive Truck Series title from an underfunded team as the giants of the series – Kyle Busch Motorsports, GMS Racing and ThorSport Racing – struggle to find victory lane with their full-time drivers. If you’re a fan of old school motorsports stories, there’s one playing out with this team.

Jerry Bonkowski: It’s a close call, but I am going to go with Tyler Reddick having a slight edge over Kyle Busch in best overall story of 2019.

Sonoma Cup results, points report

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Martin Truex Jr. scored his fourth Cup victory in eight races, holding off Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch over the closing laps Sunday at Sonoma Raceway.

Truex became the second driver to win consecutive Cup races at Sonoma, joining Jeff Gordon (who won three straight from 1998-2000).

Ryan Blaney finished third, followed by a career-best fourth place for Matt DiBenedetto and a fifth for Denny Hamlin.

It was the 23rd career victory for Truex, who has three wins at Sonoma. The 2017 series champion led three times for 59 laps, including the final 24.

Click here for the full results from the Sonoma race.

Click here for the full race report from Sonoma.

In the season standings, Ryan Newman moved into the 16th spot in the standings with a seventh at Sonoma, clinging to the final provisional playoff spot with 10 races remaining in the regular season.

Newman has a one-point edge over Jimmie Johnson, who finished 12th at Sonoma and slid a spot to 17th in the standings. Erik Jones (eighth at Sonoma) is five points behind Newman in 18th.

At the top of the standings, Joey Logano (23rd at Sonoma) leads by one point over Kyle Busch.

Click here for the Sonoma points standings.

The Furniture Row Racing veteran who stayed in Denver … and in racing

Pete Craik
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INDIANAPOLIS – When Furniture Row Racing closed its doors after the 2018 season, engineer Pete Craik was facing the same dilemma as a few dozen of his co-workers.

How to remain a resident of Colorado but also continue a full-time career in a national racing series?

There were no shortage of offers to stay in the NASCAR Cup Series, including following crew chief Cole Pearn and Martin Truex Jr. to the No. 19 at Joe Gibbs Racing, but all would have required a relocation to North Carolina.

Having settled in Denver, Craik and his new wife, Abby (whom he met after moving to Colorado four years ago), decided they wanted to stay.

He found empathy in the decision from Pearn (who jrecently discussed his own reservations over leaving Colorado in an interview with The Athletic).

“Cole said, ‘That’s fair enough. We really want you (at Gibbs), but I get it,’” Craik said. “I just decided initially to say unless I can stay here, I’ll figure something else out.”

The Australian managed a good compromise.

Craik, who came to America in 2012 to work in the NTT IndyCar Series for three seasons before his NASCAR stint, joined Ed Carpenter Racing in January.

He still lives in Denver, staying in touch with ECR team members in Indianapolis daily through instant messaging programs. He travels the 18-race IndyCar circuit and visits the shop once a month.

Pete Craik was the race engineer on Ed Carpenter’s sixth-place Chevrolet in the Indianapolis 500.

There’s a parallel to the relationship that Furniture Row Racing had with top engineer Jeff Curtis, who worked remotely from the Charlotte area while the team’s headquarters were in Colorado.

“It’s not like you’re out of the loop at all,” Craik said while standing outside his team’s Gasoline Alley garage stall four days before the Indianapolis 500 last month. “It’s just you’re either in the office here or my office at home.”

Craik is the race engineer on the No. 20, which qualified second and finished sixth in the Indy 500 with Ed Carpenter (who will race the Dallara-Chevrolet this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway).

“I really like this series,” said Craik, who spent three seasons at Andretti Autosport before moving to NASCAR with Furniture Row in 2015. “The cars are good. It’s competitive. I’ve always said that it pains me that it’s not more popular, because I think it’s a great series. It was an easy decision once I spoke to (ECR). It’s a good team, and hopefully I can try to contribute something to that.”

Craik is one of a few Furniture Row Racing veterans who joined IndyCar teams since last year. A few others remained in Denver to work at team owner Barney Visser’s machine shop. But many naturally decamped for North Carolina.

“Honestly I don’t know that many people in Denver anymore because they all moved,” Craik said. “I didn’t have time to go and make friends because we all had each other.”

The camaraderie was a hallmark of the success for Truex’s No. 78, which won the 2017 championship and made the title round in three of four seasons. Craik said a key to the tight-knit group’s success was putting the finishing touches on chassis supplied by other teams (first Richard Childress Racing, then JGR).

“The cakes were baked, and we were putting icing on the cake,” Craik said. “We obviously were heavily sim based and relied on that a lot. We just had a good group. We just wanted to win. I think everybody does, but we were a bit of a ragtag group of guys.

“We had a lot of fun. We just got along well. Everybody was pushing in the same direction. There wasn’t a bad egg amongst them.”

He remains in touch with many of them. Team owner Barney Visser attended a Denver wedding reception in January for Craik (he was married in Australia last December to Abby, who is pictured above during a visit to IMS).

“Barney was putting in a lot of his own money, having health issues and wanted to spend more time with his family, so I get it,” Craik said about Visser’s decision to walk away from NASCAR. “Hey, I wouldn’t want to spend that money myself, so I totally get it.

“It was a good time, but the time’s over. You’re not going to get it back, so there’s no point in looking back on it and wishing it still was.”

The bonds from that team remain strong, though, particularly with Pearn and James Small, a fellow Australian who helped recruit Craik to Furniture Row but went to the No. 19 this season.

“We all still get along,” Craik said. “There’s no hard feelings about it at all. I think everybody’s ended up in good positions otherwise, whether it’s in Colorado not in racing, or in racing. Some people didn’t want to move, but it ended up that way. I feel really fortunate I didn’t have to move, and I get reminded of that by James and Cole every day.

“They text me and are like, ‘Man, you really got a good deal.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I did.’ ”

Martin Truex Jr. holds off Joey Logano in late shootout to win Coca-Cola 600

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It was NASCAR’s longest race of the year, but it wound up being a five-lap shootout won by Martin Truex Jr. that decided Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Truex beat Joey Logano to the finish line of the 600-mile race to earn his third win of the season and 22nd of his Cup career. Truex is tied with teammate Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski for most wins in the first 13 races of the season.

It also was Truex’s second Coca-Cola 600 win since 2016.

MORE: Results, standings after Coca-Cola 600

“What a race,” Truex said. “One hell of a team. We never gave up on it, even when I blew a tire and hit the wall (on Lap 74 of the 400-lap event). Just thanks to (crew chief Cole Pearn) and all the guys.

“When we hit the fence, I thought we were done. I didn’t know how we were going to fix it.”

The winning move came on pit road when Truex stopped for four tires with eight laps to go following Brad Keselowski’s spin near the entrance to pit road. Truex exited second but restarted behind David Ragan (who did not pit) and Ryan Newman (whose team changed only two tires). Truex then made short work of them after the restart to earn his third win in the last five points races.

Truex’s victory also is the eighth win for Joe Gibbs Racing in the 13 points races this season.

“The Coke 600’s a big one, man, you really hate to miss (the win),” Logano said.

Added Kyle Busch, who finished third: “(Truex) was the fastest car, so I’m not sure what they had over us.”

Chase Elliott finished fourth followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chris Buescher, Alex Bowman, Jimmie Johnson, William Byron and Kevin Harvick.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Brad Keselowski

STAGE 2 WINNER: Brad Keselowski

STAGE 3 WINNER: Martin Truex Jr.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Fifth-place finisher Ricky Stenhouse Jr. earned his first top five since last fall’s playoff race at Talladega. … Sixth-place finisher Chris Buescher earned his third top 10 of the season and his best finish since coming in fifth at last July’s race at Daytona. … All four Hendrick Motorsports drivers finished in the top 10 for the first time since Texas in April 2016.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Erik Jones’ day ended after just 22 laps when the right front tire on his Toyota Camry blew, sending him into the wall and out of the race. … All-Star winner Kyle Larson got loose early in Stage 4 and slammed into Clint Bowyer and Austin Dillon and then collected Dillon’s younger brother, Ty. “I just got in there, lost grip and slid into Clint and started spinning,” Larson said.

NOTABLE: It was a rough night for three of Joe Gibbs Racing’s four drivers – Erik Jones, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. – as well as JGR affiliated driver Matt DiBenedetto, who all suffered tire issues that put them into the wall. Jones and DiBenedetto were both knocked out of the race early, while Hamlin and Truex were able to be repaired and continued.  … The race lasted 4 hours, 52 minutes and 47 seconds. … Lug nut violations found in post-race inspection were assessed to the No. 4 of Kevin Harvick, No. 17 of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and No. 22 of Joey Logano. The No. 18 of Kyle Busch was taken back to the NASCAR R&D Center.

WHAT’S NEXT: Pocono 400, Sunday June 2, 2 p.m. ET, Pocono Raceway

Follow @JerryBonkowski

NBC Sports Power Rankings heading to Kansas

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Martin Truex Jr.’s win at Dover helped shake up this week’s NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Not only did Truex rocket to No. 2 – up six spots from last week – he also prevented Kyle Busch from scoring yet another unanimous No. 1 selection from the NBC Sports NASCAR writers.

Instead of a perfect 40 points, Busch earned 38 points this week; Truex had 37 points. For the first time this season, six of the top 10 spots in this week’s rankings resulted in ties.

Suffering the biggest drop in the rankings was Ryan Newman, who fell out of the rankings after being sixth last week.

Here’s how this week’s Power Rankings look:

1. Kyle Busch (38 points): Even though he had an off-week by his standards, he still tied Morgan Shepherd’s record of 11 straight top-10 finishes to start a season (a mark Busch can break Saturday at Kansas). Last week: 1st.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (37 points): He and Cole Pearn suddenly seem to have recaptured their magic. Last week: 8th.

3. Chase Elliott (28 points): Follows Talladega win by leading the most laps at Dover and finishing fifth. Momentum is building for this team. Last week: tied for 3rd.

(tie) 4. Joey Logano (25 points): The defending series champ has four straight top 10 finishes. He is keeping the momentum rolling. Last week: 2nd.

(tie) 4. Kevin Harvick (25 points): If there was a prize for finishing fourth, Harvick would run away with it: he has five fourth-place showings in the first 11 races. Unfortunately, that’s as high as he’s finished; he’s still looking for his first win of 2019. Last week: 9th.

6. Alex Bowman (14 points): Back-to-back career-best second-place finishes. While some may have considered his Talladega finish a fluke, he backed it up with a solid effort at Dover. Can a first Cup win be on tap soon? Last week: 10th.

(tie) 7. Kyle Larson (9 points): Put together a strong performance, his best of 2019. First top-five finish of season and best showing since last fall’s Phoenix playoff race (also finished third). Has he finally put the bad luck behind him? We’ll find out at Kansas. Last week: not ranked.

(tie) 7. Kurt Busch (9 points): Even though he finished 13th at Dover, his lowest outing since Daytona, he continues to have arguably the most consistent season of any driver, with the exception of younger brother Kyle. His first season at Chip Ganassi Racing remains Grade A. Last week: tied for 3rd.

(tie) 7. Denny Hamlin (9 points): Rough day at Dover. Was never a factor. Opened the season with Daytona 500 win and finished no worse than 11th in the first nine races. Now he hasn’t finished in the top 20 in the past two races. Does he right the ship at Kansas? Last week: 5th.

(tie) 7. Brad Keselowski (9 points): One top-10 finish in the last five races since his win at Martinsville has this driver trending downward. Is there cause for concern? Last week: 7th.

Others receiving votes: Clint Bowyer (8 points), Christopher Bell (6 points), William Byron (2 points), Erik Jones (1 point).