Kurt Busch — His contract expires after this season. Car owner Chip Ganassi has suggested in media reports that a deal will be done. Busch declined to discuss much about his contract status before the Sept. 29 race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, stating: “We haven’t really started talks. I felt like it was good to get the playoffs underway and go as far as we could comfortably. Man, there’s a lot going on and we’ll see how things play out. Again, it’s all about all the stars lining up with Chevrolet, Monster Energy, myself, Chip. For me, I feel like things haven’t progressed because of the focus on the playoffs.”
Daniel Suarez — He has said that both he and the team have an option on his contract for next year. He has remained confident that he will return to Stewart-Haas Racing to drive the No. 41 car and noted upcoming meeting should solidify his situation.
It’s the bedrock upon which superspeedway racing happily has rested for three decades in the interest of entertainment (and, ostensibly, safety in ensuring speeds are manageable enough to prevent cars from sailing over catchfences with disturbing regularity at Daytona and Talladega).
After an off-year in 2018, NASCAR found its sweet spot in Sweet Home Alabama this season.
The most arbitrary form of racing delivered by NASCAR’s premier series again felt as predictably unpredictable as it ever had since the restrictor-plate era began in 1988. There were colossal crashes, double-crossing duplicity and razor-tight finishes.
That was great for fans. It wasn’t necessarily good for Cup drivers.
Of course, it rarely is in the finicky and violent environs of Dega, which was unusually tame last year with only two wrecks of at least a half-dozen cars across 1,013 miles (this year, there were three times as many).
The knock on plate racing in 2018 was the lack of driveability. It’s hard to make passes when cars aren’t stable at 200 mph-plus in the draft.
NASCAR addressed this by raising spoilers to 9 inches with the advent of the spacers. That didn’t do much for handling, but it did punch a bigger hole in the air that caused massive acceleration in the draft and eradicated the “aero bubble” barrier that drivers said made it difficult for trailing cars to pass last year.
So the ability to catch the leader improved … even though handling didn’t nearly as much (look no further than Joey Logano’s in-car camera, which was a furious blur of hands manhandling the steering wheel on every shot).
That was a recipe for the return of the huge wrecks that felt like Dega of yesteryear. Holes in the draft vanished much more quickly, and blocking became futile as drivers scrambled (and often failed) to adapt to the higher closing rates.
As analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. noted in the NBC broadcast, though the bumpers don’t line up as well with the Gen 6 as in the previous iteration (which spawned the nefarious tandem drafting), the bump-drafting has become even more aggressive in the era of stage points and playoff berths tied to wins.
With bigger runs coming from every direction, an increased susceptibility to being passed and cars just as unstable when in a pack, the lead no longer was the place to be at Talladega.
There were more lead changes Sunday-Monday (46, up from 38 in the April 28 race) than the combined total (40) for both 2018 races. There were 22,214 green-flag passes (59 per lap) at Talladega in 2019, up from 13,294 last year (35 per lap).
A NASCAR without restrictor plates?
Talladega still served up the action for fans — on a silver platter strewn with twisted sheet metal, of course.
The situations weren’t entirely analogous, but NASCAR’s non-call on the final lap Monday was reminiscent of its controversial non-call on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s winning pass of Matt Kenseth in the April 6, 2003 race at Talladega. In both instances, officials claimed the spirit of the yellow-line rule wasn’t violated even though the letter clearly was.
Here’s how the rule was presented in the drivers meeting at Talladega: “Drivers, this is your warning. Race above the double-yellow line. If in NASCAR’s judgment, you go below the double-yellow line to improve your position, you will be black-flagged. If in NASCAR’s judgment, you force someone below the double-yellow line in an effort to stop someone from passing you, you may be black-flagged.”
It’s indisputable that, just like Earnhardt did in passing Kenseth 16 years ago, Ryan Blaney went below the yellow line before taking the lead for good Monday from Ryan Newman. It’s possible that contact with Newman caused Blaney to dip below the boundary, and that seems to be NASCAR’s explanation in why no call was made.
But it also seems like the rule demands that (as it did in 2003) a penalty should have been called on either Blaney or Newman. NASCAR can rule that “in its judgment,” Blaney didn’t intentionally go below the yellow-line to improve his position … but if that’s the case, it means he had to have been forced there, right?
As many have noted, manufacturer alliances at Daytona and Talladega were invented long before the 21st century. In the 1990s, Chevrolet and Ford drivers regularly worked together – when possible — to try to ensure their makes won the race.
Chevrolet’s decision to call an in-race meeting at Garage Suite 3 in full public view was ill-advised, at best. The references afterward to shilling Corvettes and watching PowerPoints were too clever by a factor of maybe 100, and they also were indicative of why the optics were problematic.
Chevy’s extremely disciplined approach felt too corporate, and it seemed micromanaged to the point of making Michael Scott blush. Chastising drivers for racing three wide instead of single file while still in Stage 1 is hardly palatable to anyone in NASCAR, which has an appealing undercurrent of cutthroat intensity (especially at Daytona and Talladega).
The focus on manufacturer alliances wasn’t all bad, though.
It forced some good discussions on awkward topics into the open, and it raised important issues about how much influence manufacturers and teams should have in effectively determining race winners. If younger drivers for midpack teams essentially are told to subjugate themselves for the greater good (or risk being stripped of perks), is that a just sacrifice at a track that might offer their best opportunity at winning all year?
That conversation got shoved to the forefront by the weekend’s manufacturer debate. And it was nice that none of it actually mattered at the conclusion of a race that featured a passel of unheralded underdogs vying for the checkered flag.
It also could be indirectly good for NASCAR while continuing to court new manufacturers to enter with its next generation engine (which probably won’t happen until 2023). With the overall decline in the corporate sponsorship spend over the past decade, there are few entities investing as much in stock-car racing as the automakers.
At least they got good bang for their bucks at Talladega, particularly if you ascribe to the idea that there is no such thing as bad publicity.
Ryan Blaney still isn’t a favorite to reach the Championship 4 this season, but Monday might be remembered as a turning point if the No. 12 driver eventually wins a Cup title.
There is enormous pressure on the 25-year-old to perform at Team Penske, which has been enjoying a worldwide results bonanza well beyond NASCAR that is impressive even for this storied organization. Never mind championship teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, Blaney also is competing against winners of the Indianapolis 500, Bathurst 1000 and Rolex 24. If he makes the playoffs but still goes winless this year, it gets noticed more than it would at a less successful team.
The confidence-booster of making every right move over the final two laps (including the bold decision to choose the outside for the lead on the final restart) should go a long way toward making Blaney feel his place is secure at one of racing’s greatest teams.
Hey Mom, Dad? Can I still drive in the Daytona 500?
TALLADEGA, Ala. — Brendan Gaughan plans to run next year’s Daytona 500 but the 44-year-old admits that after flipping in Monday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway, he might need to get the permission of his parents.
“You might have to call Michael Gaughan or Paula Gaughan right now to ask that question because I think right now neither of them are very happy at the moment,” Gaughan said after emerging from the infield care center unscathed after his crash.
“In 22 years of NASCAR racing — I’ve flipped a ton in the desert — I’ve never flipped a stock car until now. So my mother and father might be a little upset. I’m 44, but I still have a mommy and a daddy. I think they’re probably a little hot right now but I’ll cool them down.”
Gaughan was a victim in an 11-car crash that brought out the caution on Lap 183 of the 188-lap race when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kyle Busch got together at the front of the field. The contact sent Busch up the track into Gaughan’s car and Brad Keselowski’s car. Gaughan’s car turned left, got hit by Kurt Busch and Matt DiBenedetto and rolled over once before landing on its wheels. Gaughan finished 27th.
Asked what he saw of Gaughan’s aerobatics, DiBenedetto said: “I was like, ‘Oh crap! He’s going upside down.’ My nose got into him and then I just saw him flip over me.”
Told he had nailed the landing, Gaughan joked: “No, they said the Russian judge, politics, he docked me a couple of points. He said I didn’t put them all down at the same time. Politics are nasty right now, so screw them.”
But the incident didn’t take away Gaughan’s love for racing at these tracks. He was making his fourth Cup start of the season. He’s run both Daytona and Talladega races this season.
“I was having a great time,” Gaughan said of before the wreck. “We were up front. I show up, what, four times a year and people think I’m crazy for loving this racing, but I love racing at Daytona and Talladega. I enjoy the crap out of this.
“When I come with the Beard family and the Chevrolet that they give me with that ECR engine that Richard (Childress) gives me and a little bit of help, we come to be here for the win. We had a chance to win. That’s all I can ask for.”
While Gaughan could joke about it, Ryan Newman, wasn’t happy to see a car get airborne even if contact played a role.
“Just happy that he got out of his race car,” Newman said of Gaughan. “It’s still disappointing to me to see that after 50 years we’re still flying race cars.”
"Mother, it's OK. It's just a flip. It didn't hurt. I promise!" 😂
Even though he came in second at Dover, it was enough of a performance for NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers to put Martin Truex Jr. back on top in this week’s Power Rankings.
With 37 of a maximum 40 points, Truex is once again No. 1, while last week’s top vote-getter, Kevin Harvick, falls to third place (32 points). Dover winner Kyle Larson jumps to the No. 2 spot, up from eighth last week.
Also of note, based on earning three straight top 10s for the first time since 2016, Jimmie Johnson appears in the rankings heading into Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).
The biggest drop this week came from Roval winner Chase Elliott, who went from No. 3 last week to unranked after Sunday’s race at Dover.
Here are this week’s rankings:
1. Martin Truex Jr. (37 points): Consistency is his middle name. Just keeps on scoring top fives. Returns to top spot in rankings after Kevin Harvick was No. 1 in last week’s rankings. Last week: Second.
2. Kyle Larson (34 points): Gets to enjoy a stress-free Talladega after his Dover win. No other driver will feel as good this weekend. But even though he broke a 75-race winless streak and earned a berth in the Round of 8, the pressure shifts to see him win again and make it to Miami. Last week: Eighth.
3. Kevin Harvick (32 points): Fourth-place run marks his 10th top 10 in the last 11 races. That includes three wins and seven top fives. Last week: First.
4. Alex Bowman (29 points): Another strong run for the No. 88. Could he be the dark horse in the playoffs? Last week: Fifth.
5. Denny Hamlin (24 points): Dominated early at Dover before finishing fifth, primarily because he was frustrated with Joey Logano. One cause for concern, however, is that he hasn’t had consecutive top 10s since August. Last week: Tied for 10th.
6. Kyle Busch (15 points): Didn’t have a good car this weekend, got caught speeding and finished sixth. Sometimes one has to just plow through a tough weekend and he did. But there is cause for concern. He’s managed just two top 10s in the first four playoff races. Last week: Tied for 10th.
7. Brad Keselowski (13 points): Failed to finish in the top five for the first time in the playoffs, capping off an unremarkable weekend for this team. Last week: Fourth.
8. Clint Bowyer (12 points): Earned sixth top 10 in the last seven races. Still plugging away. These playoffs haven’t been easy for him but he’s still alive. Last week: Sixth.
9. Jimmie Johnson (8 points): Earned a third straight top 10 for the first time this year. Even though Johnson hasn’t won in his last 89 starts, it’s clear this team is getting better. Last week: Unranked.
10. Matt DiBenedetto (6 points): Earned his seventh top 10 of the season. Given the right circumstances, potentially could steal a playoff race win. Last week: Unranked.
Team Penske – Along with Joey Logano’s 34th-place finish, a suspension issue led to Ryan Blaney placing 35th and Brad Keselowski was 11th, never showing the type of speed to compete for a win. A forgettable weekend.