Bump & Run: Who had best, worst West Coast Swing?

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Who had the best West Coast Swing?

Nate Ryan: Team Penske. Kyle Busch turned in the best individual performance, but the trio of Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney posted the best across-the-board effort by any team.

Dustin Long: Kyle Busch. Five wins in seven national series races (should have gone seven for seven).

Daniel McFadin: Kyle Busch easily. Of the seven races he entered, he won five and placed in the top three in the other two.

Jerry Bonkowski: With two wins and a third-place finish in the West Coast swing, there’s no other choice but Kyle Busch. Other drivers that had a good run include Kurt Busch (fifth-seventh-sixth), Joey Logano (one win, one runner-up and one 10th-place finish) and Kevin Harvick (two fourth-place finishes and a ninth-place).

 

Who had the worst West Coast Swing?

Nate Ryan: Ryan Preece. After three consecutive finishes outside the top 20 (while his teammate notched three straight top 20s), the outstanding showing at the Daytona 500 must seem much further away than a month ago.

Dustin Long: Those hoping the rule changes would dramatically alter the racing and alter who the best teams would be.

Daniel McFadin: Has anyone seen Ryan Newman? While his teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has shown glimpses of improvement, including at Las Vegas, the No. 6 Ford has been missing in action. Newman’s West Coast Swing was made up of finishes of 24th (Vegas), 12th (Phoenix) and 22nd (Auto Club). He has no top 10s through five races.

Jerry Bonkowski: With finishes of 22nd (Las Vegas), 26th (Phoenix) and 30th (Fontana), Bubba Wallace ranks 30th after the West Coast swing. He’s way behind the eight ball after just five races. About the only chance Wallace has to make the playoffs is to get a win in the next 21 races.

 

If you were seeding the Cup field like the NCAA tournament, who would be your four No. 1 seeds after five races?

Nate Ryan: Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick.

Dustin Long: Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick.

Daniel McFadin: Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch

Jerry Bonkowski: Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin.

 

Bigger Chevrolet surprise: That Kurt Busch has four consecutive top 10s or Hendrick Motorsports has no top fives this season?

Nate Ryan: Busch seemed reinvigorated toward the end of last season, and Chip Ganassi Racing made the necessary moves to shore up its performance this season, so while the No. 1’s consistency has been unexpectedly stellar, it’s less of a stunner than Hendrick. It’s been 19 years since the team went five races into a season without a top five. Yes, there’ve been flashes of speed by each driver, but the statistics don’t get any plainer than that. Hendrick will need to show it has made progress by Texas Motor Speedway next week.

Dustin Long: Kurt Busch. I like how this team has performed at the beginning of the season but Busch told me after Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway that for all that has gone well for them with finishes, they need to qualify better to gain more stage points. He scored only four stage points during the West Coast races.

Daniel McFadin: Kurt Busch’s remarkable consistency. He entered a car that had just two top fives last year and matched it in the first four races. Last year, Busch didn’t earn his fourth top 10 until he placed second at Talladega in race No. 10. Hendrick is still working itself out of a rut that started two years ago.

Jerry Bonkowski: Tough question. Busch is the most pleasant surprise for Chevy, for sure. But Hendrick Motorsports is the biggest surprise overall – and that’s not a good thing – in the bowtie camp, as all four of its drivers are already more than 100 points behind points leader Kyle Busch after five races and Chase Elliott is the highest-ranked HMS pilot in 12th place.

Long: What NASCAR does with qualifying isn’t the biggest question

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FONTANA, Calif. — So what next?

What is NASCAR to do to fix a “mockery” of qualifying – a series executive’s comment — after all 12 Cup drivers in the final round waited too long to get on track Friday and failed to complete a lap before time expired?

The suggestions flow. Go back to single-car qualifying. Heat races. Make cars that don’t complete a lap in the final round start at the rear. Have group qualifying for two rounds but make the final round single-car qualifying. Send cars out at timed intervals.

Before NASCAR can set a course, other questions must be asked.

The first question is what’s more important for NASCAR? Is this about entertainment or competition?

Entertainment is critical to a sport that seeks to rebuild its fan base. Close racing, drama and excitement can energize a fans attract new ones.

The past three weeks of Cup qualifying has been appointment viewing. There was the unknown of what would happen at Las Vegas with the rules package, the fight between Daniel Suarez and Michael McDowell at ISM Raceway and then what would happen Friday at Auto Club Speedway. When is the last time there has been so much interest in qualifying for three consecutive races?

But is that interest based on too many gimmicks?

When NASCAR announced its rule changes in early February, Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer told the media: “Our core goal in everything we do is to deliver the best possible racing for our fans.”

O’Donnell also said that day that “the stars of NASCAR have always been the drivers and the cars. We want to make sure that is the emphasis in any rules package we put forth.”

But there appears to be a limit. In discussing the group qualifying model in that same meeting, Scott Miller, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition, said: “One thing that we realize and everybody in this room realizes is that we’re in show business.”

After Friday’s episode in the last round of qualifying, Miller said that while changes will be made to the format, “we really don’t want to go back to single-car qualifying. There may not be another way. We want to exhaust every possibility before we do that because that’s not as fun, not as intriguing of a show as the group situation.”

Drivers and teams are frustrated. They feel they have less control in the group qualifying format. Some would suggest that there’s too much randomness to how the starting lineup is set. It’s more about getting the right draft at tracks 1.5 miles and larger than having a car with the most speed on its own.

“I told you all back in Vegas that I am still a big fan of single-car qualifying,” Ryan Newman, told NBC Sports after being among those who failed to complete a lap in the final round Friday. “That is all I need to say, really. That is the way qualifying should be.”

Said Adam Stevens, crew chief for Kyle Busch: “The last car has the biggest advantage and you’re a buffoon to go out and be the first car.”

Beyond the entertainment/competition question, other questions must be asked: What is the role of the sanctioning body? Should it be about penalizing infractions or creating opportunities for competitors to excel?

At Las Vegas, David Ragan started sixth for Front Row Motorsports. The organization had two top-10 starts last year (Bristol and Daytona) but none at a 1.5-mile track. The group qualifying format helped created an opportunity for that organization to attain a strong starting spot.

Without such chances might that team have qualified as high? Is it fair to do away with such opportunities for that and other teams?

“It’s hard to control every single thing in our sport,” Ragan told NBC Sports. “There needs to be a little bit of randomness. That makes things creative.”

But Ragan also noted that “we need to keep the integrity of the sport.”

So should NASCAR create a rule — another rule to anger those who say the rule book has too many entries — that penalizes teams for not completing a lap in the final round and make them start at the back? Or is there another way to deal with this situation before teams arrive in Texas in two weeks?

Those are among the questions NASCAR must answer before deciding what changes to make to qualifying.

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What drivers said after Auto Club qualifying

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Austin Dillon — qualified 1st: “Well, a lot of the cars wanted to follow us, they knew we had the car to beat. So trying to get us to go was probably a part of that. And then, when the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) made a little bit of a move there, I was going to follow him to have one car to beat. I didn’t have to make it back around. Then the No. 12 (Ryan Blaney) came through the grass, I thought he demolished his car. It looked like he left the ground over there, I don’t know what he hit, but it was pretty wild. At that point, my spotter said you can bring it around here, I knew we had gotten the pole. God never ceases to amaze me, Man. It is awesome to see the blessings that have been bestowed on me. It is special.”

Kevin Harvick — qualified 2nd: (On what happened in the final round): “I think the crowd booing tells the story.”

Aric Almirola — qualified 3rd: “That is the product of the environment we are in. We are all very dependent on posting a good lap based on the draft that you get. You are in that box and it is really stressful trying to figure out when to leave pit road and what position to put yourself in and you can’t be the lead car. The lead car is at such a disadvantage. You just play all the games and if you are going to be the lead car you try to drag it out until you are the only car that makes the line. If you misjudge a little bit you get what we just saw.”

Kyle Busch — qualified 4th: (Any solutions?) “They fixed it in trucks, right? Made single-car qualifying. … You can’t be the leader. If you’re the leader, you don’t qualify up front. … In a perfect world, you try to leave pit road with the exact amount of time that it takes to come back around for you to be able to take the green flag and everybody else’s time to be disallowed, but we all missed that.”

Joey Logano — qualified 5th: “We blew it, but at least we all did. The answer is to go sooner but nobody wants to be the first one out there. I don’t know really what to say. We have something to talk about now I guess. I don’t know what to tell you. That is the game. It is just part of it.”

Denny Hamlin — qualified 6th: “No, it’s not a mind game but you don’t want to be first. When you don’t want to be first, you wait until someone goes in front of you. … I knew I had a drop-down time on my dash (on when to leave pit road). But I was boxed in where I couldn’t go. Once everyone left pit road, they then checked up and slowed down. I knew we weren’t going to make it.”

Ryan Newman — qualified 7th: “I don’t think that was a very successful use of TV time for our sponsors. I told you all back in Vegas that I am still a big fan of single-car qualifying. That is all I need to say, really. That is the way qualifying should be. The gamesmanship that goes on, the lack of 100 percent, it is not what qualifying is all about. That is the program that NASCAR set forth and the rules they laid down and the box they put us in. Shame on us for not getting a lap in.”

Chase Elliott — qualified 8th: “Well, I don’t know. Obviously nobody wants to be the first guy so it’s unfortunate. I don’t know what the fix is. I feel like it’s entertaining with us going out there and drafting and trying to set-up that gap to do it right. It’s just tough because nobody wants to be the first one. And obviously you’re not going to go if you’re going to be first.”

Clint Bowyer — qualified 9th: “You know, I have seen it in other sports but never seen it in ours. We just got booed and it is disappointing. It is disappointing for everybody involved. I don’t know. I saw this coming three weeks ago. I think we all did. Unfortunately we are going to have to be reactive to it instead of proactive. It is just a learning process. The whole package is. Everybody knows that going in and everybody has been patience but I am a little out of patience with Friday’s. There is so much hard work and dedication on so many teams behalves to go out there and have the fastest car known to mankind that you are literally capable of building in the walls of your organization and it just doesn’t matter. That is not racing. I feel like we are capable as an industry of putting on a better show than that. I know they will make the right provisions to make that correction but unfortunately it is going to take something like that to make that adjustment.”

Ryan Blaney — qualified 10th: “It is just the way it is. It is such a big place and you don’t want to be the first person to go because you are going to qualify last in the round. We got close to the time we needed to go and we just didn’t make it. We had the truck deal three or four years ago and they went away from it and now we are back to doing it and running into the same problems. That is just how it is.”

Jimmie Johnson — qualified 11th: “I understand why we’re in this box. Single car qualifying isn’t all that entertaining. So, I guess we’ll just have to see what the opinion is from this and go with the lesser of the two evils in the end.”

Brad Keselowski — qualified 13th: “I don’t’ know. The race is going to be so much different than qualifying, so I don’t think there is a whole lot you can really take away from today. This was pretty much the same at Vegas. Kind of in between Vegas and Atlanta.”

Chris Buescher — qualified 14th: “We should have been a little bit better based on practice, but I love this race track. And, it’s a fun race. It’s just been a lot of fun to race everywhere this year. I’m glad the qualifying portion is over and we can get into the race and have some fun.”

Kyle Larson — qualified 15th: “I was the lead car for that big draft there. We ended up 15th. After last week you don’t want to mess up and not get a lap again. So, just trying to be as patient as you can be but still not be the lead car. But we wanted to leave ourselves some time. So we were just the lead car and were hoping that other people wouldn’t make it to the line in time.”

Ty Dillon — qualified 16th — “That’s a massive improvement over last year’s results. And we’ve been really succeeding in this style of qualifying. It’s different, for sure, but we also we’re all out there trying to do the same thing and be the fastest car. So, I’m proud of our effort and proud of what we’re doing as a team and we’re definitely embracing this style of qualifying.”

Daniel Hemric — qualified 17th: “We just kind of found ourselves on the back end of a draft that put us side-by-side racing cars and that’s not ideal when you’re trying to run a fast lap. We’ll roll off in 17th and it’s good to see a Bowtie on the front row there with (teammate) Austin Dillon getting the pole and it’s really cool for RCR. Those guys are putting in a lot of effort and Chevrolet and ECR and all our partners are doing a lot of good things to give us speed and it’s good to pay off. We thought we should have had two or three poles by now so it’s good for one of us at RCR to finally get one.”

Daniel Suarez — qualified 20th: “If you qualify well, it is fun. If you don’t qualify well, it is a little frustrating at times. It was a little frustrating for me because things didn’t work out the way that we were planning.”

Matt DiBenedetto — qualified 24th: “Just frustration, not at our guys. Our guys do nothing but work their tails off and give me a good Toyota Camry. That’s fun, but I have to say thanks to everybody here at Procore and all the folks that give me this opportunity, but the situation – I don’t love losing my mind every week in qualifying.”

Martin Truex Jr. — qualified 27th: “It was just that he (Cody Ware) ran the bottom in three and four, which is where I wanted to be. Since he was just leaving the pits, he ran high to get his momentum up like normal and just missed the bottom there and that obviously hurt our speed there off three and four. It’s unfortunate, we missed it today off the hauler. We were pretty tight in practice and then we were way too loose there. We were just on both sides of it. We’ve been struggling a little bit on Fridays, but I know we’ll be right tomorrow and we’ll have some cars to pass Sunday, but I know we can do it.”

Bubba Wallace — qualified 28th: “Been disappointed for a while. (What are you lacking?) Money. It’s where we’re lacking. We need money to make more speed.”

Cody Ware – qualified 34th: “Apologies on my part (for getting in Martin Truex Jr.’s way in qualifying). I’m just, obviously, not normally looking behind … in qualifying. I’m listening to what my spotter has to say. Apologies to Truex if I may have impeded his lap in any way.”

Wacky final Cup qualifying round at Fontana: No driver makes the time

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In one of the most unusual NASCAR Cup qualifying sessions ever seen, the 12 drivers in the final round of Friday’s qualifying at Auto Club Speedway waited and hesitated in an attempt to try and beat the clock – and all lost as a result.

Not one of the dozen drivers that advanced to the third and final qualifying round managed to cross the finish line at the 2-mile high speed oval in time to make a successful run before time expired. 

As a result, the fastest driver in the second qualifying round, Austin Dillon, earned the pole for Sunday’s Auto Club 400 with his effort of 180.081 mph, his fourth career pole in 198 Cup races — and his second pole in six starts at the Fontana, California, track. Kevin Harvick (179.386 mph) will start alongside Dillon on the front row.

“It was wild,” Dillon told Fox Sports 1. “That was fun. …  It feels good to get that pole because that’s wild there. We just waited and no one wanted to make it, I knew it reverted back to us. That’s a good way to win it (the pole).”

The rest of the top 12 qualifiers were Aric Almirola (179.082 mph) and Kyle Busch (178.895) on Row 2, Joey Logano  (178.891) and Denny Hamlin (178.607) in Row 3, Ryan Newman (178.509) and Chase Elliott (178.412) in Row 4, Clint Bowyer (178.359) and Ryan Blaney (178.315) in Row 5 and Jimmie Johnson (178.306) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (178.196) in Row 6.

Here is the full qualifying speed chart.

NOTES:

* Chase Elliott spun in the first round of qualifying but was able to regroup and finished that round third-fastest.

* Ryan Newman’s car chief, Todd Brewer, was ejected for the remainder of the weekend and the No. 6 team was docked 15 minutes in Saturday’s final practice after the car failed pre-qualifying inspection twice.

* There will be two final Cup practices Saturday from 12:05 – 12:55 p.m. ET, and from 3:30 – 4:20 p.m. ET.

* Sunday’s Auto Club 400 (200 laps/400 miles) will take the green flag at 3:30 p.m. ET (Fox, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

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Friday 5: What Cup teams with new drivers are better off?

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Some moves were made by teams. Others were made by drivers looking for better opportunities. Whatever the reason, there were a number of driver changes after last year.

Four races into this season, one can get a glimpse of how those changes are working out. In some cases, the comparisons may look unkindly on who was in the car last year — think about Chevrolet teams and the struggles many had early with the Camaro last year or how a team has switched manufacturers since last year — but here is a look at how some of the moves have gone.

Five of the eight full-time teams that had driver changes for this season are showing an uptick in performance in the first four races of this season compared to the same time last year.

No surprise that former champion Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn have raised the level of the No. 19 team at Joe Gibbs Racing. Truex has two runner-up finishes this season and has scored 140 points — 73 points more than Daniel Suarez had with that ride in the first four races last year.

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

The No. 1 team at Chip Ganassi Racing also has seen a 73-point gain in the first four races this season with Kurt Busch compared to the same time with Jamie McMurray last year. Busch has three finishes of seventh or better in his Chevrolet Camaro to score 126 points.

Also making gains this year are the No. 6 team at Roush Fenway Racing with Ryan Newman. He has three finishes of 14th or better this season and has scored 25 more points than Trevor Bayne had in that car at this time last year.

Corey LaJoie and Matt DiBenedetto also have helped their teams to more points than last year at this time. DiBenedetto took over Leavine Family Racing’s No. 95 — which also changed to Toyota and aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing after last year — and has scored five more points than Kasey Kahne had in the first four races last year when that team was with Chevrolet.

LaJoie replaced DiBenedetto in the No. 32 at Go Fas Racing and has a top finish of 18th. LaJoie has scored five more points than DiBenedetto had in the first four races last year with that team.

The teams that have not seen an increase of points so far compared to last year include two teams with rookies. Rookie Daniel Hemric replaced Newman at Richard Childress Racing and has scored 48 fewer points in the first four races than Newman did for that group last year. Rookie Ryan Preece has scored 12 fewer points in the No. 47 car for JTG Daugherty Racing than AJ Allmendinger had at this time last year.

The other driver move was Suarez taking over the No. 41 car for Stewart-Haas Racing and replacing Busch. Suarez has one top 10 so far but Busch had two top 10s at this time last year. Suarez has scored 40 fewer points than Busch did at this time last year.

2. Kyle Busch’s race to 200

A few numbers to digest in Kyle Busch’s quest for 200 NASCAR wins and more. He comes into this weekend with 199 and is entered in both the Xfinity and Cup races.

— Busch has 199 NASCAR wins in 996 starts (a 20 percent winning percentage)

— Busch has 494 top-five finishes in those 996 starts, scoring a top five in 49.6 percent of his starts.

— Busch’s 199 career NASCAR wins have come on 28 different tracks. Among the tracks he’s won at that are no longer on the NASCAR circuit are Lucas Oil Raceway (three wins), Nashville Superspeedway (three) and Mexico City (one).

— The most victories Busch has had in one season in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks was 24 in 2010.

— Busch has won a NASCAR race in 21 different states and Mexico. The most victories Busch has had in any one state is Tennessee. He’s won 24 races there.

3. So far so good on inspection

This year marks the first time in the past three seasons that a Cup car was not penalized for an inspection violation after the race.

NASCAR announced before the season that any car that failed inspection would be dropped to last in the order. Any winning car that fails inspection will have that victory taken away.

So far, no team has been given such a penalty in Cup, Xfinity or the Truck series.

That’s quite an accomplishment in Cup. Each of the past two years saw at least one team penalized for a violation discovered after the race in the first four events of the season.

In March 2018, NASCAR fined crew chief Rodney Childers $50,000, suspended car chief Robert Smith two Cup races, docked Kevin Harvick 20 points and the team 20 owner points for a violation with the rear window brace that was discovered after Harvick’s win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Harvick also lost all seven playoff points he earned — five for winning the race and two for each stage victory.

In March 2017, NASCAR suspended crew chief Paul Wolfe three races and fined him $65,000 when Brad Keselowski’s car failed inspection after the race at ISM Raceway. NASCAR also docked Keselowski 35 points and the team 35 owner points. NASCAR penalized the team for failing the rear wheel steer on the Laser Inspection Station.

NASCAR also penalized Harvick’s team after that same race for an unapproved track bar slider assembly. NASCAR suspended Childers one race and fined him $25,000. Harvick was docked 10 points and the team lost 10 owner points.

4. One or the other

Since NASCAR created the West Coast swing in 2016, Kevin Harvick or Martin Truex Jr. have managed to win at least once in those three races.

They’ll need to win this weekend at Auto Club Speedway to keep that streak going. Joey Logano won at Las Vegas to begin this year’s swing. Kyle Busch won last weekend at ISM Raceway near Phoenix.

5. Extra work

ThorSport Racing drivers Matt Crafton, Grant Enfinger, Ben Rhodes and Myatt Snider will be racing this weekend even though the Gander Outdoors Truck Series is off.

They’ll compete for Ford Performance and Multimatic Motorsports in Friday’s IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge at Sebring International Raceway. Crafton and Enfinger will be paired on the No. 22 team, while Snider and Rhodes will drive the No. 15 entry. Their race lasts two hours.

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