Kevin Harvick draws pole for Thursday Cup race at Kansas

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Kevin Harvick will start from the pole position Thursday night at Kansas Speedway (7:30 pm ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app), the first time he will lead the NASCAR Cup starting lineup to the green flag this season.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver’s previous best starting position in 2020 was second in qualifying for the March 8 race at Phoenix Raceway.

Since NASCAR’s return during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (with the majority of fields set by a random draw), the No. 4 Ford’s best starting spot had been a third at Kentucky Speedway. Harvick had started outside the top five in seven of the past 10 Cup races, but his luck changed when NASCAR randomly set the lineup Wednesday for Kansas.

STARTING LINEUP: Where everyone will start in the Cup race at Kansas

Harvick has three Cup victories at Kansas, most recently in the May 12, 2018 race at the 1.5-mile speedway.

Joey Logano‘s No. 22 will start second beside Harvick, making it an all-Ford front row for the second consecutive race. Fords also will comprise the second row with Aric Almirola starting third and Ryan Blaney fourth.

Martin Truex Jr.‘s No. 19 Toyota will start fifth beside the No. 88 Chevrolet of Alex Bowman in sixth.

Here are the next three rows in order:

Brad Keselowski (seventh), Kyle Busch (eighth), Kurt Busch (ninth), Denny Hamlin (10th), Chase Elliott (11th) and Matt DiBenedetto (12th).

Other notables:

Matt Kenseth (14th), William Byron (15th), Austin Dillon (16th), Bubba Wallace (17th), Clint Bowyer (19th), Jimmie Johnson (20th), Erik Jones (21st), Tyler Reddick (23rd).

The field was ordered Wednesday afternoon through a random draw of the following groups:

  • Positions 1-12: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 13-24: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 25-36: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 37-40: Open teams in order of owners points

Click here for the Kansas Cup starting lineup for Thursday’s race.

NASCAR Cup Series at Kansas 

Race Time: 7:30 p.m. ET Thursday

Track: Kansas Speedway; Kansas City, Kansas (1.5-mile speedway)

Length: 267 laps (400.5 miles)

Stages: Stage 1 ends Lap 80. Stage 2 ends Lap 160

TV coverage: NBCSN

Radio: Motor Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: NBC Sports app (subscription required); mrn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Next Xfinity race: Saturday at Kansas (167 laps, 250.5 miles) 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Next Truck race: Friday at Kansas (134 laps, 201 miles) 7 p.m. ET on FS1

Today’s Cup race at Martinsville: Start time, lineup and more

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — The last short track of the 2019 season will begin the final march to determining which four drivers will race for the championship.

Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway will begin the Round of 8 with Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson still vying for the title.

Last year, Logano earned a berth in the championship round by bumping Truex aside on the last corner of the last lap. Three weeks later, the Team Penske driver won his first Cup championship.

Here is the information for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 3:07 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:14 p.m.

PRERACE: The Cup garage will open at 9 a.m. The driver/crew chief meeting will be at 1 p.m. Driver introductions are at 2:20 p.m. The invocation will be given at 3 p.m. by track chaplain Mike Hatfield. The National Anthem will be performed at 3:01 p.m. by the 380th Army Band.

DISTANCE: The race is 500 laps (263 miles) around the 0.526-mile oval.

STAGES: Stage 1 will end on Lap 130. Stage 2 will end on Lap 260.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage will begin with NASCAR America at 1:30 p.m. on NBCSN. Countdown to Green follows at 2:30 p.m. on NBCSN, leading into race coverage. The postrace show will be on NBCSN, followed by Victory Lap at 7:30 p.m.

Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast will begin at 2 p.m. and also can be heard on mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

STREAMING ONLINE: Click here for NBC’s live stream of the race.

FORECAST: Wunderground.com forecasts sunny skies with a temperature of 78 degrees and a 0% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME(S): Logano scored his first victory at Martinsville in an Oct. 28, 2018 win over Hamlin and Truex. In the March 24 race at the track, Brad Keselowski led 446 of 500 laps in the win. 

TO THE REAR: Chase Elliott (engine), Ryan Newman (failed inspection), Corey LaJoie (failed inspection), Timmy Hill (failed inspection), BJ McLeod (failed inspection).

STARTING LINEUP: Click here 

Ryan: Celebrate the Roval’s sublime silliness but with a little less circus

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CONCORD, N.C. – Chase Elliott plowed into the Turn 1 barrier with enough force to set off the airbags in a road car … and then won the race 44 laps later.

The world’s best drivers skidded on nearly every lap through two tricky speed traps on a superspeedway originally designed to push mph limits to the max.

Crew chiefs deviously plotted to game the system by determining whether it’s smarter to skip required sections of the course and instead serve stop and go penalties.

The beguiling mix of madness and mayhem reaffirmed that Sunday brought another witnessing of Peak NASCAR at its most irresistibly entertaining and, yes, silly.

The Roval is 17 turns and 2.32 miles of big, dumb fun, but it also was a brilliant and bold masterstroke by Marcus Smith (with a playoff cutoff race scheduling assist by NASCAR) to make Charlotte Motor Speedway’s fall race relevant again.

The notion of, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea for saving the bland night racing on our historic 1.5-mile oval … let’s turn it into a quasi-street course that automatically becomes the toughest track in NASCAR’s premier series!” is an inspired stroke of counterintuitive genius.

It is innovative because it is so goofy in so many ways.

Train racing and Figure 8s never will make their way to Cup (we think), so the Roval will have to serve as the nearest cousin to the Saturday night short track creations that put stock car racing in its own league of necessary craziness.

NASCAR, a soap opera on wheels that has been renewed into its eighth decade, often is at its most appealing when it perilously straddles the line between circus and sport.

While other series such as IndyCar and Formula 1 toe a much harder line on competitive purity (and marshal its rules under the direction of strict stewards), NASCAR always has titled more toward seat-of-the-pants entertainment. That’s not just in its approach to determining championships but also in race management and the willingness to embrace virtually anything (Stages! Double-file restarts! All-you-can-eat Green-white-checkered finishes!) that can enhance “the show.”

They are different philosophies to approaching auto racing, and neither is wrong.

But one certainly is more haphazard.

And the Roval is the racing embodiment of NASCAR at its most gloriously shambolic.

“Hybrid” often is used to describe the abrupt connections of temporary chicanes, off-cambered corners and narrow transitions that don’t flow nearly as well as any natural terrain road course of sloped elevation changes and wide runoff areas.

This is the Dr. Frankenstein monster of a road course, but that doesn’t mean it’s a blight on racing. No less an authority than the legendary Mario Andretti proclaimed the road course as a gem with “phenomenal” sightlines as good as any in motorsports.

Another way to describe the Roval – and a term used quite often the past two years in the garages at Charlotte– is that it’s a delightful @#%!show that delivers the kind of nonstop unpredictability (the leader has wrecked on a restart two consecutive years!) and emotional bonanza that NASCAR was built upon.

Though both editions of this race have been mesmerizing, what happened afterward – whether it’s Bubba Wallace splashing an ailing Alex Bowman with Powerade while Chase Elliott channeled Russell Crowe in a victory celebration, or Jimmie Johnson and the series holding its collective breath while the 2018 playoff standings were tabulated – also measures up as just as compelling.

But there is a major caveat to all the goodness derived from chaos.

It’s possible to have too much awesome fun.

Todd Gordon, crew chief for Joey Logano, underscored this during a Monday interview on SiriusXM NASCAR’s The Morning Drive. Gordon said his team explored if it might be better to blow through the backstretch chicane (i.e. at the roughly 170 mph-plus speeds of the Coca-Cola 600) rather than properly driving through.

Consider how much wilder – and probably untenable – the action would have been if NASCAR hadn’t foiled this nefarious plan by clarifying that any advance of position by cutting a chicane would result in a pass-through penalty (and not just the usual stop and go for missing it).

That was good preemptive officiating by NASCAR, which also did a fine job of managing the chicanes during Sunday’s race and ensuring the many offenders were punished.

But the news wasn’t so good with caution flags. There were at least four spins (including Alex Bowman making contact with Bubba Wallace on the first lap) that somehow didn’t merit a yellow, meaning that roughly for every two cautions for spins, there was at least one spin that wasn’t a yellow.

Two of the cautions were for single-car spins in which neither car needed assistance or was damaged in a way that scattered debris – both usually the conditions for a road-course caution.

Because NASCAR doesn’t employ “local” yellows (in which conditions apply only to a section of the track), the importance of being consistent is paramount in being fair to teams. It’s akin to an umpire establishing a strike zone by the end of the first inning and sticking to it: If there’s a spin that’s a caution, all similar spins also must be yellows.

Things are way less fun amidst the confusion of guessing when the yellows will fly.

There also were multiple instances in which NASCAR struggled to get the order correct, namely a caution in which Elliott started three spots behind Kevin Harvick despite beating him out of the pits. There also were an agonizing four laps of yellow between Stages 1 and 2 because the field couldn’t be reordered for a one-lap restart (despite coming off a harmless single-car spin).

As righteously difficult as the Roval is to navigate and strategize for drivers and crew chiefs, it is proving just as hard for NASCAR to manage.

While 17 turns are a lot to monitor, the size and scope of the track aren’t a valid excuse for struggling to adjudicate the race (NASCAR does just fine with Road America’s 4.2-mile track). NASCAR is reviewing the possibility of adding spotters around the Roval to help make calls more efficiently and quickly. That’s good, because there’s much more at stake.

Complicating the balance of entertainment and integrity is that this is a playoff race. Everyone’s game – officials included – must be raised to withstand the greater scrutiny.

The circus is fun, but next year, please send in a few less clowns and a few more corner workers to help ensure consistency with calling the caution flags.

Because there assuredly will be many in this big, dumb and massively fun race that has become one of the most unlikely treats of the Cup season.


Forgotten after Sunday’s unforgettable race was that IndyCar and NASCAR seemed to take another major step toward each other with Josef Newgarden’s six hot laps around Charlotte’s road course generating lots of buzz and positive chatter.

IndyCar doesn’t resume until March 2020, but NASCAR already should be targeting a race where it can have a star (preferably a former champion) working the paddock … or maybe even turning laps the way Newgarden did at Charlotte.

That’ll help build the momentum for the doubleheader discussion that has a lot of big names talking (“Why wouldn’t we bring those guys to race with our sport and join ours? I think it’s a great idea,” Clint Bowyer said on NASCAR America last week) but still needs to convince some major domos on both sides.

IndyCar has indicated a willingness to race on Saturday nights and allow NASCAR to have the Sunday slot – a compromise that should help engender an American motorsports extravaganza on a single weekend.

What we would like to see: Two doubleheaders. One certainly should be in May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with NASCAR taking second billing on the layout for the Indy Grand Prix.

The second preferably would be at the Roval (with NASCAR in the prime slot), but that will require some schedule reworking. That might naturally happen for other reasons, though, by 2022 (or maybe even ’21)

Other tracks that have been bandied about as possibilities are Richmond Raceway and Texas Motor Speedway, both of which will play host to both series next year (Phoenix Raceway also would be an option if IndyCar worked out a return).

Another possibility? Daytona International Speedway, which once played host to IMSA and NASCAR on the same July race weekend. Using the track’s road course and oval on consecutive days could allow for both NASCAR and IndyCar to showcase themselves without worrying about the optics of speed disparities between the series on the same course.

Imagine a pair of doubleheaders at the country’s two most famous racetracks: Indianapolis and Daytona.


Another way to build IndyCar-NASCAR collaboration? Loosen the testing restrictions that both series have to make exceptions. Though Newgarden has talked openly about a ride swap (or just racing a Cup car in general), Team Penske president Tim Cindric explained that “it’s hard to get approval for these things.

“The testing schedule is so difficult, and the teams are so competitive,” Cindric said. “Everyone gets some advantage by (Newgarden) driving a Cup car or an Xfinity car or Joey (Logano) in an Indy car.

“You can maybe do one once in a while, but they’re all looking at what advantage are you gaining by doing that? There’s something to be said in all these series for drivers who aren’t in that series being able to run and try things. Maybe more openness to that would help some situations. It’s very difficult from where I sit aside from the financial perspective to do something productive and give them a chance where it’s not a boondoggle but a real chance to experience it.”

Beyond being a great experience, lest we forget the NASCAR-Formula 1 ride swaps of Jeff Gordon and Juan Pablo Montoya at Indy in 2003 and Tony Stewart and Lewis Hamilton at Watkins Glen International in 2011 were terrific exposure opportunities, too, and they helped attract nontraditional media.


NASCAR should sit down with Bubba Wallace for splashing Powerade in Alex Bowman’s face after Sunday’s race. It was a regrettable move (even if it instantly became stock footage for all future promotional feud reels), particularly with innocent bystanders also being sprayed (a sticky situation for Pepsi endorser Jeff Gordon to be unwillingly doused with a chief rival’s product).

But when executive vice president Steve O’Donnell announced he would be talking to Wallace … shouldn’t he have added that NASCAR officials also will be sitting down Bowman, who wrecked Wallace without compunction solely for having the temerity to wave his middle finger at him (because Wallace had crashed Bowman on the first lap)?

Yes, Bowman was sitting on the ground in a semi-prone position that left him mostly defenseless. But he wasn’t undergoing any medical treatment beyond having water poured on his head, and Wallace took no action that could have hurt Bowman.

The harm that Bowman potentially could have done to Wallace at speed during the race was far greater. Even in a low-speed corner, hooking a car in the right rear to send it driver’s side into a wall and then boasting about it with impunity afterward sends a message that’s about as positive as confronting a competitor in distress postrace.


Speaking of discussions involving Bowman and Wallace, we may never learn what was briefly said between the two after the Roval.

But upon a slo-mo, Zapruder-esque review (and help from some lip-readers) of multiple camera angles of the video above (watch at the 1:11 and 1:36 marks), it would seem to be a less than friendly greeting from Bowman punctuated by a vulgarity.

That’s not meant to excuse Wallace’s reaction, but the context probably should be considered in any full analysis (by NASCAR, media, fans, etc.) about what happened.


In the new Dale Jr. Download podcast, the eponymous host makes another plea to repave Bristol Motor Speedway with asphalt (as it was in its pre-concrete days).

Marcus Smith, chairman of the company that owns Bristol and the guest on the podcast, tries to placate Earnhardt by saying, “Maybe we’ll have a dirt race at Bristol one day.

“Wow!” Dale Jr. says. “Dirt race at Bristol!”

“I’m going to call it the Dale Jr. Invitational,” Smith replies.

That’s pretty funny stuff … though are we sure Smith is kidding about his plans for a track that once played host to a World of Outlaws race?

Ryan: Where could Matt DiBenedetto be heading next season in Cup?

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BRISTOL, Tenn. – The audition essentially is over for Matt DiBenedetto, who again proved Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway that he is worthy of keeping a ride in NASCAR’s premier series.

Do withering auditions now begin for scads of other drivers whom DiBenedetto has outperformed for two months (his runner-up finish after leading a race-high 93 laps is his third top five and fifth top 10 in nine races)?

As NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte said during the NBCSN broadcast (and has said before), “I can give you a list of drivers who should be scared to death of Matty D. because he deserves their seats.”

There could be team owners feeling some heat, too, by remaining complacent. Bristol winner Denny Hamlin said on the NBCSN postrace interview in victory lane, “all you car owners are idiots” if DiBenedetto didn’t land a Cup ride in 2020.

“There’s many car owners that finance cars that are on the racetrack, good teams,” Hamlin said later in his media center interview. “They got to step up and grow some balls and take a chance on somebody they really believe in. That or they can continue to run 15th.”

Hamiln said numerous times that there is “no doubt in my mind” that DiBenedetto will land “better even than he is right now.”

The question is where, and the chattering classes of NASCAR were in overdrive this past weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, trying to chart how the annual parade of driver movement will unfold (after it began in earnest last week later than normal).

A few important parameters:

–While contracts are important, they can vary as to how ironclad they are because of results clauses and options. DiBenedetto originally was announced as having a two-year deal last October with Leavine Family Racing, but the team actually had to approve his renewal. A driver can be “set” for next season and still be removed.

–The possibility always exists that a team with fewer than four drivers could add a car for DiBenedetto, but the reality is highly unlikely anyone would.

–Before being informed Aug 13 that he wouldn’t be returning to LFR, DiBenedetto said he hadn’t talked to any other teams about 2020.

Here’s everything we seem to know about the status of major rides next year, in a team-by-team analysis:

–Chip Ganassi Racing: Kyle Larson is under contract through next season. Kurt Busch, who has had Monster sponsorship the past five seasons, said Friday at Bristol that he still isn’t set for next year. That could open a slot in the No. 1, but Ross Chastain is believed to remain under contract with Ganassi and probably would be the first option if Busch were to leave.

Front Row Motorsports: The full-time retirement of David Ragan opens a ride here that Front Row intends to fill, but Ross Chastain would be high on this team’s list for the No. 38 Ford, and Corey LaJoie also has been mentioned as a possibility. Michael McDowell and Matt Tifft are believed to be returning to the team.

–GoFas Racing: LaJoie is putting up solid numbers while emerging as a breakout personality, and that could draw attention and opportunities from other teams. DiBenedetto remains friendly with many on this team from his 2017-18 stint.

–Hendrick Motorsports: Jimmie Johnson (contract through 2020), Chase Elliott, William Byron and Alex Bowman (pending sponsorship finalization) all are solid for next year

–Joe Gibbs Racing: Clearly no room here with all four drivers seemingly set for next season.

JTG Daugherty Racing: Ryan Preece said Friday his deal with the team is beyond 2019. Chris Buescher was announced in August 2017 as having signed a multiyear deal. The team has ended its deals before the end of a term before, though, with A.J. Allmendinger leaving after last season despite two years remaining on an extension he signed in 2015.

Leavine Family Racing: This isn’t an option for next year with the expected arrival of Christopher Bell.

But thanks to the trigger-happy Twitter thumbs of team owner Bob Leavine, it’s known that a scenario has been discussed in which DiBenedetto could spend a season in Xfinity before returning to Cup in 2021 (when the Gen 7 car is expected to make its debut). DiBenedetto has been careful to avoid burning any bridges (he immediately thanked LFR and its team members in postrace interviews).

-Richard Childress Racing: Daniel Hemric’s contract with the team is through 2020, but he has sent signals he isn’t certain of being kept (Xfinity champion Tyler Reddick will need a Cup ride to stay at RCR). Austin Dillon, grandson of team owner Richard Childress, is set.

Richard Petty Motorsports: Bubba Wallace was signed to a multiyear deal last year and has indicated he will return in 2020.

Roush Fenway Racing: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. recently reaffirmed that he has a contract through 2021, and the team would seem very happy with Ryan Newman taking the No. 6 to the playoffs in his first season.

Stewart-Haas Racing: Kevin Harvick is set beyond this season (and probably as long as he wants to drive the No. 4). Aric Almirola came with sponsor Smithfield to SHR last year and is good through 2020. Clint Bowyer is in a contract year and while indications have been positive about his return, sponsorship on his No. 14 has been difficult, and an extension likely would include a pay cut similar to many other veterans in his class. Daniel Suarez is in his first season at SHR and said last Friday that he and the team both have options for remaining together in 2020 “but everything is looking pretty good” for remaining in the No. 41.

Team Penske: Its trio of Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney is firm.

–Wood Brothers Racing: Paul Menard recently said he expects to be back in the No. 21 Ford next year.


In taking on Bell as its No. 95 driver next year, LFR will function much more like a de-facto fifth Joe Gibbs Racing car in a stronger alliance resembling what Furniture Row Racing had with JGR.

LFR switched to Toyota this season but was running a 2018 chassis Saturday, according to crew chief Mike Wheeler, who also said as “JGR learns stuff, we get upgrades.” Based on how well DiBenedetto ran at Bristol, where he led final Cup practice, qualified seventh and finished second, there was some speculation that the team might have received a full-fledged JGR-prepared Camry at Bristol.

“There’s a misconception out there about it being a JGR primary car,” Wheeler said. “It is a generation behind, but it’s good. If you put a good setup and good driver in it, it can go fast, and you saw that tonight.”


As difficult as Saturday night’s finish was for Denny Hamlin and Matt DiBenedetto, it was just as gutting for Mike Wheeler, who had to watch as his current driver got beat by the driver whom he guided as the No. 11 crew chief from 2016-18 before being transferred to LFR by JGR.

Though it isn’t expected that Wheeler will remain as the No. 95 crew chief next year (Bell has spoken highly of his Xfinity crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, who previously won with Matt Kenseth in Cup), Gibbs said Wheeler was under long-term contract to the team. “We all love Wheels,” Gibbs said. “He’s been a very key part to our organization. Then when he moved over to the 95, he’s just done an outstanding job over there.”

Wheeler told reporters he “definitely needed a moment to compose myself” after Saturday’s finish (as captured in this photo by Dustin Long).

“If you told us we’d ran second before we got here, but to lead the whole last stint and come up short, that was disappointing,” he said. “It’s like gosh. I don’t know why things happen to me like that. But it makes you a better person I guess in the future.”


In making the switch to 18-inch tires with the Gen 7 car, NASCAR also is considering the use of a single lug nut to secure wheels. That would be another step toward bringing NASCAR in line with IndyCar, whose common chassis by Dallara has been pushed by team owners Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi (whose teams compete in both series) as a model for the Gen 7 on cost-savings components.

The move to a single lugnut (from the current five-lugnut wheel) could be viewed as a safety enhancement by greatly reducing the possibility of loose wheels, but it also would overhaul the dynamics of pit stops and likely de-emphasize the importance of tire changers.


Brad Keselowski long has been sensitive to how private aviation in NASCAR is perceived by a fan base that formed its bonds with stars through workingman’s roots. The Team Penske driver once banned news media that traveled with him from taking photos or video aboard his plane.

In the wake of the crash involving Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s plane last week, Keselowski made another impassioned and well-reasoned defense of flying in NASCAR – particularly in the case of Bristol, which is about a three-hour drive from the Charlotte area homes of many drivers.

“It’s work-life balance,” said Keselowski, who flew into the same airport Friday morning where Earnhardt’s plane crashed the previous afternoon. “That’s the reality of it. We’re trying to be dads and be husbands. And try to leverage the privileges we have to do just that. That’s probably the easiest way I can answer it.

“My staying home (Thursday) night, I got to have dinner with my daughter. Her grandparents got to come over. That’s a big deal. I don’t get many nights like that. Michigan week, I wasn’t home at all and didn’t spend any time with my family. I look through the pictures of my daughter when she’s growing up, and it’s, ‘Oh my God, how did my daughter turn 4 years old?’ It happened like that, and it happened while I was at races in Michigan and gone all week And when I have a week like this where we can make the most of it, we’re going to try like hell to make the most of it. We were able to do that because of private aviation.

“I understand that most people might not get that concept, but most people aren’t in the situation we’re in as race car drivers that travel every week. We don’t get to skip a week. We’re not like LeBron James where we get to sit on the bench or stay home for a week or whatever it is from other sports. This is 38 weeks, and they will run the race without you. And your ass will get fired if you don’t show up. So that’s really hard to explain to people. And it’s very hard to explain to your wife and daughter when you miss something that’s really special to them. Private aviation is a great way to try to fill those gaps. And we might get a black eye because of that, but it’s something that I’m really passionate about and very thankful for.”


Facing the likelihood that he will miss the Cup playoffs for the first time in 16 years, Jimmie Johnson said Friday that failing to qualify for championship eligibility would change his goal from grinding out points to advance through rounds to focusing exclusively on getting a win with new crew chief Cliff Daniels.

The seven-time champion also would need to begin considering whether the 2020 season would be his last. In the instances of Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr., that decision was made months (or in Stewart’s case, more than a year) ahead of the final race. Despite his current slump, Johnson seems inclined to keep racing because “our team is getting so good, so strong” but also recognizes foresight on exit strategy is necessary.

“I know for the team, sponsor and for (team owner) Rick (Hendrick), following some sort of timeline would be best for them,” said Johnson, who turns 44 next month. “Like Jeff did and some just decide to walk away, some want a year, others want half a year. I fortunately have not put any thought into that. My commitment is still the team. I’m sure I’ll be pressed for a decision at some point, but I’m not really ready to make that decision. I love what I’m doing being on the track. If I had to pick right now, I’d sign on for more years.”

Johnson added that new primary sponsor Ally seems more focused on branding and name recognition than on-track results.


Besides some unfortunate mainstream publicity, the controversy over the removal of Slayer as the sponsor of a Rick Ware Racing car again underscored the mixed messages that the entangling alliances of sponsorship often tend to breed in NASCAR. RWR released a statement that the band’s “brand image and beliefs” did not align with the team and its longtime partners – though it probably would be more than welcome in many other corners of stock-car racing.

Slayer is one of the progenitors of death metal, a genre that is popular among the ranks of up and coming youth in NASCAR. Longtime Megadeth fan Tyler Reddick had the band on his Xfinity car at New Hampshire last month. Bubba Wallace and Ryan Blaney have noodled around as a death metal duo in social media clips and have posted videos from concerts.

The mainstream headlines last week, though (driven in part by the team’s 11th-hour cancellation), were “NASCAR says no to death metal band,” which doesn’t really help a series desperately trying to be as inclusive and universally appealing as possible in order to build audience. Sponsorship choices are made individually by teams, tracks and the sanctioning body, but their negative ramifications often can be felt across the board.


There’s another Cup alliance being considered in the Ford camp. Stewart-Haas Racing has discussed the possibility of offloading many of its cars to GoFas Racing in anticipation of its four-car fleet having a lot of extra inventory next season as it moves to the Gen 7car. It’s uncertain if the arrangement also might include technical support.

Racing chassis that are a few years old, Corey LaJoie is 29th in points with the No. 32, a spot higher than it was ranked with Matt DiBenedetto through 24 races last year.


Saturday night’s crowd at Bristol undoubtedly was better than April, but there’s been some debate over how much of the grandstands filled in after there were significant pockets at the green flag (which seemed to mostly disappear in photos of a gorgeous dusk at the track).

There is a simple way to resolve this, of course: If more auto racing tracks would release attendance, like virtually any other professional sport. The longtime excuse is that Cup tracks owned by publicly held companies don’t provide crowd numbers because they don’t want to provide “earnings guidance.”

With ISC and SMI on the cusp of being taken private and no longer required to report earnings, it would be a welcome end to the policy so that officially provided attendance figures could be used to comparatively demonstrate when a NASCAR crowd is truly a success story.

Dustin Long contributed to this report

Ryan: Importance of being Bubba takes on new meaning for NASCAR

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – By moving Kyle Busch, Bubba Wallace proved again he can move the needle for NASCAR unlike any driver other than the superstar he intentionally wrecked at Watkins Glen International.

The most-read NASCAR story on NBCSports.com this past weekend (and by a wide margin) was Wallace’s colorfully vulgar way of calling out the 2015 Cup champion. Though tossing in a few choice expletives attracts Internet traffic, the roar that erupted from the Glen crowd as Busch looped down the frontstretch already had affirmed that Wallace has a knack for striking a chord as the center of attention.

He spun Busch without compunction and then brazenly (and succinctly) explained why.

In a Monster Energy Cup Series too often bleached of controversy, moxie and verve, Wallace stood out Sunday – and for a different reason than what usually has put him in the spotlight for much of his career.

Being the most successful black driver since Hall of Famer Wendell Scott remains culturally and historically significant. It’s still a potentially vital step in the NASCAR blueprint for building a desperately needed diversity in its audience and a larger footprint in mainstream media.

But the uniqueness of his race is becoming nearly incidental to what makes Wallace’s story appealing and compelling (which is how he understandably would prefer it anyway).

Whether it’s openly admitting to flipping off his rivals, criticizing Pocono Raceway or candidly discussing his battle with depression (particularly in this interview with Marty Snider), anything Wallace does these days seems to be a headline-grabber. He owned NASCAR Twitter for 24 hours simply by mulling a tattoo of Richard Petty’s autograph.

This often has seemed the Summer of Bubba, who has remained relevant despite lacking the results (a season best of 15th at Daytona last month) just by being himself.

Each weekly trip through the media bullpen at qualifying brings another memorable quote or quip. “We’re stirring up some stuff, huh?” Wallace said with an impish smile at Pocono a few weeks ago as he detailed his dream NASCAR schedule “that would piss off everybody.”

It’s been a buzz reminiscent of the chatter that surrounds Busch, who consistently is the No. 1 newsmaker in the Cup Series.

Chase Elliott might be the Most Popular Driver by vox populi, but his win at Watkins Glen largely was overshadowed by various confrontations. That seemed fine with the naturally reserved Elliott, who is inclined to let his driving do the talking the same way his Hall of Fame father once quietly did.

It’s fine for NASCAR, too – to a point. As Dale Earnhardt famously said, a true measure of transcendence isn’t whether fans are booing or cheering. It’s whether they simultaneously are doing both at full volume.

There is an unremitting need for charismatic pit disturbers, and since the retirement of Tony Stewart, Busch often has seemed the only lightning rod left in NASCAR.

Wallace, 25, is poised to become another, provided he can overcome two major hurdles.

The first obstacle is (and always has been) sponsorship. As he said during a March appearance on NASCAR America, Wallace has made it this far in racing without having a consistently dedicated backer, which is somewhat inexplicable given his intriguing backstory and infectious youth should be an easy sell for any company. Funding would go a long way toward a solution to the second problem: Landing a first-class ride.

Though his No. 43 Chevrolet at Richard Petty Motorsports comes with boundless historical prestige, no one would attempt to argue that it could be competitive with even the world’s most talented driver. As a single-car team, there’s little hope of that changing.

Of course, Wallace also would need to perform in a high-caliber car. But he has excelled in limited instances with top-notch opportunities.

Driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2013-14, Wallace scored five victories and 26 top 10s in 44 starts. He was less impressive during a two-season Xfinity stint with Roush Fenway Racing from 2015-16, but in fairness, he wasn’t far off his teammates’ results, either. It’s been harder to judge his progress at RPM (which struggled for money this year before an injection of cash two months ago), but there have been flashes.

The world has yet to know how Wallace would fare with a Cup powerhouse. It might never know.

But if he could battle stars such as Busch for positions on a regular basis with the same brashness that Wallace flaunts so effortlessly?

That truly would move the needle.


An unusually stern postrace chastising of Ryan Blaney appropriately punctuated what was perhaps the most emotional week of Jimmie Johnson’s Cup career.

Though the seven-time series champion deflected and demurred on questions about whether he ultimately made the call to install Cliff Daniels as his new crew chief (“it’s a collective decision, though I certainly had to approve and had a big role in it”), Johnson left no doubt he was extremely uncomfortable about the removal of Kevin Meendering, who had no prior knowledge of his exit from the No. 48 after 21 races as a Cup crew chief.

“He was surprised and caught off guard and, who I am as an individual, I hate those moments,” said Johnson, who hadn’t switched crew chiefs during a season in his previous 17 years in Cup. “I honestly and truly do feel for him. I know Hendrick has big plans for him. I still don’t want him to rule out ever being a crew chief. I know we’re looking at opportunities of how we can use him internally in our company. He’s such a sharp dude. I hope he stays with us. And I know that Rick is going to do everything he can to make sure Kevin’s taking care of very well.

“Emotionally it’s tough, no doubt about it. If you look at my personal life and just everything, I’ve had long-term relationships, so this isn’t something I’m comfortable with. In my heart, I just felt like we will get back to our competitive ways faster and sooner with Cliff in that position.”

The next major decision could be even tougher for Johnson, who is tied with Ryan Newman in points on the playoff cutoff line with four races left.

Though his debut with Daniels went fairly well until the wreck, making the playoffs is still a serious question mark, as his future at Hendrick Motorsports beyond 2020.

“That’s when my contract will run out, and I’ve got to make a decision at that point if I want to continue on,” said Johnson, who turns 44 in September. “If my fire goes out or I feel like I’m not competitive, I think any driver would say that it’s time to walk away. I certainly have less years ahead of me than I ever had in my career. That will play a role if I feel like I’m doing my job right behind the wheel.”

A mediocre season, a guilt-ridden personnel change and the lingering uncertainty about how both could influence the conclusion of his Hall of Fame run … it’s no wonder we got a rare public glimpse of Johnson’s fiery side Sunday.


Tyler Reddick will race primarily on Sundays in NASCAR next season. Team owner Richard Childress made that abundantly clear last week, along with his desire to retain Reddick.

The question is how Richard Childress Racing would put Reddick in a Cup car for 2020. Childress said keeping Reddick “boils down to dollars,” indicating there are options in Cup outside RCR for the defending Xfinity Series champion (who has been politely vague when asked about next year).

The two scenarios for RCR retaining Reddick seemingly would be replacing a current driver or adding a third car.

There seems no doubt about the long-term job security of 2018 Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon, Childress’ grandson who is in his sixth season driving the No. 3 Chevrolet. Teammate Daniel Hemric has a Cup contract at RCR through 2020 but told NBCSports.com that “I’m not sure if you ever feel OK” when asked about his status for next season.

“I feel like our supporters and partners see the progress we’re making, and I think they’ve been fairly intrigued and happy with the results as of late,” said Hemric, who is ranked 25th in the standings with two top 10s (including a seventh last week at Pocono Raceway). “So I hopefully can answer that a little more surely here in the next month or so.”

Asked what he made of Childress’ comments on Reddick, Hemric cited his busy schedule and said, “I haven’t really had a lot of time to even let it cross my mind, which I think is a good thing.”

Dillon, who called Reddick “a heck of a wheelman,” said he’d support RCR adding a third car if sponsorship allowed it. “I think we’ve got the room to do it obviously in the shop,” Dillon said. “It would be good to have another teammate. The more cars the better to bounce ideas off others.”


Corey LaJoie appropriately made many headlines this past weekend for donating a month’s salary to put a charitable cause on his No. 32 Ford, but the Go Fas Racing driver already should have been getting notice as one of NASCAR’s most outspoken drivers. LaJoie’s underrated (and oft-jarring) candor has been getting a weekly workout on the “Sunday Money” podcast that he began co-hosting this year.

LaJoie revealed in last week’s episode that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. told him his split with Danica Patrick partly was because of charging crystals and a full moon. Other recent LaJoie opinions from “Sunday Money”:

–On why the victory at Texas by Greg Biffle after a three-year absence (“he has been doing nothing but buying everybody’s bar tab at Fox and Hound”) made some truck series regulars look bad.

–A dissection of Paul Menard (and the ribbing he got from other drivers for “wrecking little kids” after his dustup with Harrison Burton): “That guy is a billionaire with a ‘B.’ He doesn’t care. If you run into him, he will just straight up wreck your shit. He’s funny.”

–On the low-key nature of Chase Elliott: “That’s been a topic of conversation within the drivers lately. He is nowhere to be found. He doesn’t do any autograph sessions. He literally goes from his car to his hauler to his motorhome. I don’t know if he’s getting too big time or what’s he doing. … We need to get him out a little bit. Because I can promise you if he doesn’t, he’s not going to be the most popular driver for a long period of time.”

Though the absence of a high-profile sponsor helps allow him to be so unfiltered, LaJoie also has a plain-spoken personality well suited for the podcast format – and probably as a spokesman for some edgy brand. If he continues to show promise at Go Fas, his name should be in the mix for stronger rides.


A major reason there is a lack of momentum for a dirt race in the Cup series? A lack of veterans championing the idea. There’s been lukewarm support even from those whose careers largely have been defined by dirt racing.

So for those who believe a Cup race at Eldora Speedway or elsewhere would deliver some scheduling diversity, it’s been refreshing to hear up and comers such as Christopher Bell (who made a case last year) and Chase Briscoe stumping for more dirt races in NASCAR’s premier series.

“I think Cup needs to go there,” Briscoe said last Friday at Watkins Glen International, which he scrambled to reach after racing a truck Thursday at Eldora Speedway. “Cup drivers are considered the best in the world, and I want to see them challenged at every discipline. We run a road course, a short track, a mile and a half, a superspeedway. So why not run a dirt track? That’s how I feel about it.

“I hear a lot of fans or people say it might take away from the trucks’ luster, but at the same time, there’s over 90 races of national series, and if five of those are dirt, they’re still going to be important. It’s no different than going to the road courses. People get excited we go to three or four road courses a year. It’s no different going dirt racing three to four times a year.”


While expanding its horizons to other surfaces, NASCAR also should consider adding “The Boot” – the currently unused stretch of Watkins Glen between Turns 5 and 6.

The nearly 1-mile section, which would increase the track distance to 3.4 miles while adding a few turns, has been used in IMSA and IndyCar races, and it’s been discussed as an option for NASCAR. The Glen’s popular campgrounds already extend into the area ringed by The Boot, so why not add race cars for those campers?

Xfinity winner Austin Cindric said The Boot would offer some low-speed corners and passing opportunities, easing concerns that it might string out the field.

“I’d really love to see NASCAR run The Boot here in a couple of years,” Cindric said. “If there is any petition there, I’ll be happy to sign it. I feel like we’re kind of just short-cutting the course, short-cutting some good corners. It adds more challenge.

“There is some really good, fun racetrack sitting back there waiting to be played with. I think it would give the people that go and camp back there more excitement, so I think it would be a nice addition.”


The news that NASCAR will apply traction compound at Michigan International Speedway this weekend and possibly at ISM Raceway near Phoenix in November brings some decidedly mixed reactions.

There were indications a few weeks ago that PJ1 wouldn’t be used at Michigan, so the shift in direction again signifies that NASCAR is soliciting driver input and reacting accordingly after many expressed misgivings about how the June 17 race unfolded with little action.

And the usage of PJ1 at Michigan and Phoenix also would represent a significant policy change at tracks owned by ISC, which had yet to use the compound employed with some degrees of success at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kentucky Speedway, Pocono Raceway and Bristol Motor Speedway.

But even if it enhances the racing, the usage of traction compound always will be problematic because it inherently prompts the question of “Why is it necessary to ‘fix’ the racetrack?” Which leads down the rabbit hole to “If a track needs that type of Band-Aid, should it play host to a marquee NASCAR event?”

If the 2020 national series championships are contested at Phoenix with the help of PJ1, that’s bound to be a discussion topic — namely because traction compound never will be needed on Homestead-Miami Speedway’s natural multi-lane layout.