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Trucks

THREE TAKEAWAYS: FORD ECOBOOST 200 at HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY

The Final Four squared off Friday night in the season finale Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. After 134 laps and a four-way duel for the title, Johnny Sauter and GMS Racing found themselves victorious over their fierce competitors. Like any championship-deciding event, there was triumph and heartbreak. Nevertheless, the 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season is in the record books – and preparation for 2017 begins.

Here are three takeaways from the Final Four spectacle.

 

Sauter Wins Championship

While the two-time Truck Series champion Matt Crafton became a favorite early in the race, his competitors caught up to him and weren’t going down without a fight. With less than 50 laps to go, Sauter and Christopher Bell trailed behind the No. 88 team. Sauter went on to overtake Crafton as the laps ticked down – and never looked back. The veteran rocketed forward and climbed to third before the green flag waved. Sauter drove his truck into Victory Lane, where he hoisted up his first Truck Series championship.

“I was pretty conservative at the beginning of the race. Just trying to take care of (my truck) – not make any stupid mistakes…” Sauter told FS1. “Then about 60 laps to go, I was like ‘Ok. We got something here’…I’m just so proud of these guys. I can’t thank everybody enough. I’m a small part of this deal, and we executed like we needed to tonight.”

 

What Could Have Been

Last week, William Byron lost his chance at the Truck Series title, after the engine to his No. 9 Toyota Tundra expired at Phoenix International Raceway. It was an upset moment in the series as the driver has won six events this year, the most among series regulars. However, Friday night he was back in action and competitive as ever.

Starting on the pole, he stayed within the top-five battling against the Final Four contenders. Near the end of the event, he took the lead once more, with Tyler Reddick lurking behind him. He looked to challenge him for the victory, but to no avail. Byron grabbed his seventh win of the season – a bittersweet ending to his rookie season.

While the driver will not be in the series next year, he has proven his abilities and will certainly bring his competitiveness to the XFINITY Series in 2017 under the JR Motorsports banner.

 

Close but Not Quite

Heading into the event, Bell looked to be a major competitor for the title. However, beginning eighth, the rookie struggled with handling issues early on but managed to remain around the top-10. Later on, a slow pit stop brought the No. 4 team back to 17th. Bell fought back and advanced closer to his title competitors. With less than 50 to go, the 21-year-old scraped the wall but continued without a problem. He resiliently marched to second, battling against Crafton – But then he suddenly began to fade back as the final laps progressed. In the end, the rookie finished eighth.

Bell didn’t have enough for the championship this year, but he and his No. 4 team have proven their strength. They will take this experience and continue on more skilled than before. 2017 will be a new year, and after his on-track performance this season, Bell might just be one of the favorites.

 

EMAIL STEPHANIE AT stephanie.adair@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Commentary

THREE TAKEAWAYS: GALAXY 200 at PHOENIX INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY

The Galaxy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway was a fitting precursor to next week’s season finale at Homestead Miami Speedway.

While Kyle Busch won the event, the final eight battled for their shot at the playoffs. From the beginning of the race, each proved to be competitive – many driving against each other in the top-10. However, a few were met with heartbreak, and their championship hopes faded away. Nevertheless, four drivers have advanced and will have the opportunity to race for the title next week at Homestead.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday night.

Allgaier Fights Back

Justin Allgaier came into Saturday night’s event one point outside of the Final Four cutoff. With many strong competitors in the running, it would be a formidable challenge to advance into Homestead. When the green flag waved, the driver proved his resilience and slowly climbed the leaderboard. At one point, he claimed second, behind Busch.

In the end, the driver was the highest placing Chase competitor – fourth. He joins Elliott Sadler, Daniel Suarez, and Erik Jones as the Final Four to fight for the title at Homestead.

Wallace Jr’s Emotional Night

Darrell Wallace Jr. already had a tough week losing his grandmother unexpectedly. Racing with a heavy heart, the driver battled for the fourth and final Chase seat. However, his night was cut short when Blake Koch unknowingly drove down in front of Wallace, causing him to hit the wall. The damage resulted in a DNF for the No. 6 team, and the end of their 2016 title hopes.

The Mobile, AL native was emotional after the race but kept the night in perspective.

“My grandmother was giving me the ride of my life,” he told NBCSN. “It was the most fun I’ve had all year. Just circumstances took us out… going to Homestead and let her ride again.”

Out But Not Down

The playoff journey of Blake Koch and Kaulig Racing has been a popular story in the series, but Saturday night it met its conclusion. Facing off against his Chase competitors, the driver began in the fourth position, but was shuffled back and finished eighth – tying his best career finish in the series.

“We did the best we could all night,” Koch told NBCSN. “It was probably our best night of the year.” While the driver’s title run has come to an end, he and his team still have plenty to smile about. The 2016 season has been their most competitive year to date, which leaves promise for the future.

EMAIL STEPHANIE AT stephanie.adair@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Commentary

RAPID REACTION: Logano Scores Victory as Two Contenders Go Up in Smoke

Talladega Superspeedway never disappoints – and the Hellmann’s 500 Sunday afternoon was no exception. As the Round of 12 concluded, unexpected problems struck several playoff contenders. Some were able to rebound from their adversity, while others suffered issues too big to overcome. Nevertheless, the Chase is unforgiving, and four drivers were cut from their championships hopes.

From the Bottom to the Top

From the drop of the green flag, it was apparent Penske Racing driver Joey Logano had a strong car. However, less than 50 laps into the race, the driver suffered a significant error during a green flag pit stop. The jack became jammed into the side of his No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford as he darted from his pit stall. The team was hit with a penalty for removing equipment outside of the stall and forced to come back and remove it. Fortunately, a caution came out a lap later for Martin Truex Jr. blowing a motor, allowing him to remain on the lead lap.

Heading into the event, Logano was already in jeopardy of being cut in the playoffs – tied with Austin Dillon for the final transfer spot in eighth. He and his team knew they not only needed to survive the treacherous track, but also score a solid finish. They excelled in both. Logano drafted through the pack and as the laps came to a close, he soon found himself in the lead. After a caution placed the event in overtime, the driver held on to the lead and grabbed his second victory at the 2.5-mile track.

 

Farewell to Four

As aforementioned, Talladega served as the final battleground of the Contender Round – and when the checkered flag flew, four were eliminated from the playoffs.

Brad Keselowski, like his teammate, knew he needed a stellar finish to advance to the next round. Luckily, Talladega is known to be one of his best tracks. While the driver led a race-high 90 laps, engine issues struck on Lap 146, abruptly ending the team’s impressive performance.

Martin Truex Jr. also suffered from similar problems. As mentioned previously, the engine in his No. 78 Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Boats Toyota blew up on Lap 42, ending his day prematurely.

Chase Elliott was cut from the playoffs after finishing 12th. The rookie started from the fourth position and led nine laps. However, his car faded during the second half and ended the team’s first championship run.

Finally, Austin Dillon’s championship hopes ended in the result of a tiebreaker with Denny Hamlin. As the two jockeyed for position on the track, they found themselves within a few points of each other. When the event concluded, they were tied. The rules set the playoff tiebreaker to be the best finish within the round. The event happened to be Hamlin’s best as he beat Kurt Busch by inches at the line and score a third-place finish – which was what he needed to advance. Notably, Dillon’s best finish of the Round of 12 was sixth last week at Kansas.

 

Tension but No Turmoil

As the laps ticked down, the well-known stress of the door-to-door pack racing returned. Talladega is known to be a time-bomb for carnage – culminating in the last laps, as driver patience thins. However, while there were two cautions within the final ten laps, the event Sunday did not feature an overwhelming multi-car accident.

However, the ending was still exhilarating – watching a pack of professionals battle for position in the closing moments. It was proof while wrecks are a staple to restrictor plate racing, they are not necessary for the end of a great race.

 

Toyota Prominent in Round of 8

As the Round of 8 begins, the playoff field is becoming more competitive – and the championship is just around the corner. However, one can’t help but notice Toyota comprises half of the eight contenders, which continues the trend of Toyota’s newfound dominance in the series this year. The team still owns the most manufacturer wins of the season, and now the entirety of Joe Gibbs Racing is still in championship contention.

As a result, this increases the odds one of their drivers will be a part of the championship-deciding round at Homestead-Miami Speedway, perhaps two of them. Regardless, one cannot deny the impressive performance from the foreign manufacturer in 2016.

 

EMAIL STEPHANIE AT stephanie.adair@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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XFINITY

THREE TAKEAWAYS: KANSAS LOTTERY 300 at KANSAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY

The NASCAR XFINITY Series Kansas Lottery 300 Saturday evening proved that the heartland can be heartless. With Cup drivers like Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, and Joey Logano joining the series regulars, the event turned rocky towards the final 50 laps. In the first battleground of Round Two, many Chase contenders stayed consistent, but some were not as fortunate. In the end, Busch took home the checkered flag, but that wasn’t the only story of the evening.

Here are three takeaways after the battle at Kansas Speedway.

Hangin’ with the Big Boys
A few XFINITY Series regulars held their own against the Cup veterans. Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez managed to lead eleven and six laps respectively, while Elliott Sadler stayed strong within the top-five. Later on in the event, Ty Dillon joined the front of the field after good pit strategy.

However, contact was made between Dillon, Larson, and Jones during the restart with 17 laps to go. The damage caused Dillon to lose a part of his tire, along with his track position, and he ultimately finished 17th. Jones also suffered from the contact, drifting back into the pack and finishing 15th. However, Sadler managed to take home second place, along with the top position in the point standings heading into the second event of the round.

Reed with Engine Troubles
Ryan Reed faced engine issues early on in the event. After fading to the back, the driver came onto pit road. The No. 16 team fixed the problems but were put two laps down. For the rest of the event, Reed fought back to salvage a better position. In the end, he placed 16th and settled into sixth in the point standings – 15 points above the cutline.

Wreck Shakes Up Standings
A big accident struck with 34 laps to go when the No. 33 of Brandon Jones made contact with Chase contender Justin Allgaier. Allgaier’s No. 7 car became loose and moved up toward the side of the No. 5 of Cole Custer. From there the accident unraveled collecting others, including playoff contender Darrell Wallace Jr. The No. 7 team was able to overcome the damage to their car and finished 14th. However, Wallace Jr. was faced with a DNF and joins Dillon in the bottom two of the standings.

EMAIL STEPHANIE AT stephanie.adair@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Trucks

THREE TAKEAWAYS: DC SOLAR 350 at LAS VEGAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY

The DC Solar 350 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway served as the battleground for the second race of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoffs. However, in the end, a Chase contender was not the one in Victory Lane. Tyler Reddick, who missed the playoffs this year, stayed up front all race long and clinched his first victory of 2016.

Outside of Brad Keselowski’s Racing first win of 2016, there were a few interesting notes coming out of the Nevada-based track. Here are three takeaways from race two of the Chase….

Victory Elusive to Hemric

After tire issues had plagued Daniel Hemric last week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the No. 19 team proved they are not going down without a fight. Starting sixth Saturday night, Hemric and his BKR teammate Reddick traded the lead through most of the event with the Kannapolis, NC native leading a total of 38 laps. However, his stellar performance began to fade as the laps ticked down. The 25-year-old slipped back in the top-five as Reddick grabbed the lead. Hemric managed to climb back to second, but couldn’t reach Reddick who led by several car lengths.

With a win, Hemric could have automatically advanced to the next round of the playoffs. Instead, he will enter Talladega seventh in the point standings, tied with John Hunter Nemechek, 15 points away from sixth.

Crafton Rebounds from Penalty

Matt Crafton’s night did not start out well as he struggled with the handling during the first run, falling outside of the top-10 after starting second. His night then went from bad to worse; under caution at Lap 38, his team suffered a pit stop mishap. As the team changed the tires, one of them fell outside their pit box, resulting in an uncontrolled tire penalty. The infraction pushed them back to 18th, forcing him to start at the tail-end of the longest line for the restart.

Nevertheless, the Tulare, CA native was able to get a good handle on his truck and steadily advanced back into the top-10. In the end, the No. 88 team finished eighth and currently sits third in the point standings, 25 points above sixth.

Custer on the Cusp of Victory

While the 18-year-old driver hasn’t won a race this season, he has certainly come close. Saturday night was no exception. Starting third, Cole Custer spent most of the race inside the top-5 and at one point battled for the lead. While BKR drivers took home the top two positions, the No. 00 grabbed third – their fifth top-five of the year.

Custer, along with Reddick, is further proof non-Chasers are still in the hunt for wins and won’t give in to their championship chasing competitors.

EMAIL STEPHANIE AT stephanie.adair@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Trucks

THREE TAKEAWAYS: UNOH 175 at NHMS

The UNOH 175 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway served as the first battleground for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase playoffs. Already some of the eight contending drivers were met with adversity and will need to make up for it in the upcoming two events of this round. In the end, William Byron grabbed the first victory of the playoffs and earned entry into round two.

Here are three takeaways from event one of the Chase:

KBM Puts Everyone on Notice

From the drop of the green flag, Kyle Busch Motorsports teammates and Chase contenders Byron and Christopher Bell dominated the 175 lap race.  Many drivers tried various pit strategy, but they were no match for the Toyota-powered organization. Byron and Bell executed a flawless race, led a total of 171 laps and finished first and second respectively.

The strong showing from the organization secured them as early favorites for the championship. If either of the two rookies were to grab the title this year, they would be among the youngest Truck Series champions – Byron (18) would be the youngest ever.

Problems Are Going to Come

Among the Chase contenders, Daniel Hemric did not have the happiest of days. Early on in the race, the 25-year-old driver suffered a flat left-rear tire and sustained minor damage. After repairs on pit road, the driver was several laps down, and couldn’t recover. He finished 28th.

The No. 19 team now stands eighth, 21 points from safety. Two drivers will be eliminated after the event at Talladega Superspeedway. To advance to the next round, Hemric might need a little luck to pull through. However, problems are bound to happen for other contenders as well – especially with a restrictor plate event looming in two weeks. Perhaps the team just needs to focus and stay consistent.

Won’t Back Down

Just because they’re not in the Chase, doesn’t mean they’re going to back down. It might serve as a surprise that several non-chase drivers earned strong top-10 finishes Saturday afternoon. Tyler Reddick secured his fifth top-5 of the season and rookie Cole Custer placed sixth. Furthermore, part-time Truck Series competitors Kaz Grala and Brett Moffitt finished seventh and eighth respectively.

Drivers like these might be a source of aggravation for the Chase contenders, but they prove how talented and competitive the Truck Series field is. While they might not be scraping for a title, their season isn’t over until the last lap at Homestead-Miami Speedway – and victory lane remains on their mind.

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Commentary

Rapid Reaction: Tempers Boil Over in Richmond

If Saturday night’s race at Richmond International Raceway was any indication of the action and thrill the Chase will hold, then fans are in for a wild playoff season. The Federated Auto Parts 400 served as the final battleground before the race for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship begins. There was triumph, heartbreak, and even a few riffs. In the end, as the checkered flag flew, Joe Gibbs Racing driver and pole-sitter Denny Hamlin marched to Victory Lane with his third win of the year.

Before we focus on the final ten-race stretch of 2016, here are some key headlines coming out of Richmond.

 

Triumphant Gains and Narrow Losses

Heading into the race Saturday night, four Chase spots were left undecided. One of those was tentatively held by Chris Buescher, who gained a win at Pocono Raceway, but was marginally inside the top-30 in point standings. After a long, eventful race, the Texas native stayed out of trouble and managed to stay within the parameters of playoff eligibility. A late-race wreck involving point standings competitor David Ragan gave the driver of the No. 34 Ford an opportunity to stay within the top-30. In the end, the rookie earned a spot in his first-ever Chase.

While the incident, reassured Buescher’s Chase chances it ended it for another competitor. Ryan Newman, who was battling for a playoff seat, and Tony Stewart, who had already clinched a spot, were dueling with 36 laps to go. Aggression was high in the race as the laps ticked down, and both had enough. The pair of drivers made contact, causing both to spin. Newman, along with several other drivers, were collected in the incident. As a result, Newman’s Chase hopes were dashed.

In the end, Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon, Jamie McMurray, and Buescher clinched the remaining Chase spots. Newman and company went home frustrated and empty-handed.

 

Larson Rebounds From Adversity

Starting second, Kyle Larson was piloting a stout No. 42 Chevy, but the team’s race proved to be a wild ride as the event unfolded. Early on in the event, the 24-year-old driver suffered a loose wheel and had to make an unscheduled pit stop. Larson went down a lap as a result, but the No. 42 team didn’t give up. After grabbing the free pass, the driver slowly climbed back into the top 10, and during a later caution and subsequent pit stop, Larson found himself exiting pit road first and assuming the lead.

After leading a handful of laps, Larson fell back to third and hung around the top-five for the remainder of the race. During overtime, Larson found a boost of speed and challenged Hamlin for the victory, but had to settle for second instead. While it is not a win, the event showed Team 42 is riding a wave of momentum from their win two weeks ago. Larson will certainly be one to watch as the Chase progresses.

 

Tempers and ‘Tudes

The race was rhythmic until the final 100 laps – then chaos happened. On a restart with 68 laps to go, Brad Keselowski missed a shift and lost speed quickly. As the driver of the No. 2 car struggled to regain his momentum, he overshot turn one and side swiped the No. 20 of Matt Kenseth. Kenseth’s Toyota suffered a tire rub which split with 63 to go and ended the team’s race.

Kenseth was not pleased, telling NBCSN, “It’s all on Brad and I’m sure he’ll send a tweet out or go on a show and explain how it wasn’t his fault., but he knows better than that. He knew his angle was bad, and he just drove way off into the corner because he made a mistake and he was trying to make up for it. He had no respect for anybody in the outside lane.”

Despite the driver’s heated statements, Keselowski took full responsibility for the incident post-race.

27 laps later, tensions grew worse after the incident involving Newman and Stewart. The incident red flagged the event and took out several cars from the race. Newman blamed Stewart for the accident and had some surprising words afterward.

“(Stewart) cut across my nose going into Turn One and I got into him after that,” the driver of the No. 31 Chevrolet said to NBCSN, “but he had already chopped into me and messed up my line. I clipped him a little bit coming off of (Turn) Two… (My team) will keep fighting like we always do. It’s just unfortunate, not the end that we wanted….It’s just disappointing that you have somebody old like that and should be retired with the way he drives. It’s ridiculous.”

Tempers have been known to boil over during the high-pressure Chase, but it seems hostility is already beginning to brew. Whether these drivers will resolve their conflicts or not is something only time, and good ol’ racing will tell.

 

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Commentary

RAPID REACTION: Kyle Larson Parks It in Michigan

As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series enters the final events before the Chase, teams are eager to finetune their product and gain more edge. This was apparent Sunday during the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway as drivers who have struggled this season shined up front. In contrast, some favorites faced adversity.

As the laps ticked down, Kyle Larson assumed the lead on a late-race restart and fought off Chase Elliott for his first series win.

Larson Parks It 

From the beginning of the weekend, Kyle Larson proved to be a threat for the win. He was fifth fastest in both first and second practice – eighth in final. The driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet qualified 12th on Friday, moving forward quickly during the event. Before the halfway mark, the 24-year-old driver broke into the top-five and led for a total of 41 laps. On the final restart with ten to go, Larson beat Elliott off the line and never looked back.

In his third full-time year in the Cup Series, the driver has placed in the top-three nine times – close, but unable to reach Victory Lane. Now the Elk Grove, CA is not only a winner in NASCAR’s premier series but a Chase contender for the first time in his career.

Johnson’s Crew Trips Up

Jimmie Johnson and company faced adversity during the summer months but have caught a recent wave of momentum in the past two events – scoring two top-10 finishes. The six-time series champion was fast during practice and qualified second.

He looked to be a threat for the win during the race, staying up front and leading a total of 37 laps. However, pit stop woes involving the fuel can forced them back to 15th. Johnson spent the last half of the race fighting to regain his position.

In the end, the driver of the No. 48 Lowes Chevrolet managed to come home with a solid sixth place finish – keeping the team’s top-10 streak alive, but missing another opportunity for a win.

Kyle Busch Spins into Trouble

The defending Series Champion has been one of the best this year, but Michigan has proven to be his Achilles heel. Busch has failed to place in the top-10 in the last seven events at the 1.5-mile track. Sunday, the track proved its difficulty once again.

Busch got loose while racing for position, 27 laps into the 200-lap event. He spun coming off of Turn 4, trying to keep his car away from traffic, and came to rest in the front-stretch grass. After repairing the damage, Team 18 went a lap down and ultimately brought the Interstate Batteries Toyota home 19th.

Rookies Rockin’ It

Elliott and Ryan Blaney continue to impress as the season progresses. The two battled in the top-10 for most of the race and found themselves within the top-five in the late stages, with a victory in reach. A few times during the race, Elliott gained the lead for a total of 31 laps.

On the final restart, Elliott and Blaney lined up second and fourth respectively. However, Elliott spun his tires as he came to the line, forcing Blaney to push him up to speed. The two maintained their positions until the checkered flag waved.

It marks Blaney’s second top-five of the year, while Elliott collected his seventh.  The driver of the No. 24 NAPA Chevrolet seems to be facing the same rookie frustrations Larson did in his young career. Elliott has been incredibly close to victory, yet small novice errors push the “W” out of his grasp. Larson defeated his long-time adversary today. Perhaps, Elliott will overcome his just a little sooner.

 

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Rapid Reaction: C’mon Martin, Get a Grip

The New Hampshire 301 proved to be eventful Sunday afternoon. After a hard-fought race with a total of six different leaders, Matt Kenseth grabbed the checkered flag, securing his second victory of the season. But the jubilation was short-lived, as NASCAR found Kenseth’s car in violation of post-race inspection measurements. Fines and penalties are typically issued on Tuesday or Wednesday.

However, amidst the ranks, many other headlines sprung up – from Hendrick Motorsports’ under-performance to broken car parts. Here are five major points from Sunday’s event.

Can JGR Be Stopped?
From early on in the race, the Joe Gibbs Racing organization was up front. Kyle Busch led 133 laps — nearly half the 301-lap event – making him appear the one to beat. However, in the end, Kenseth, who remained in the top 10 consistently, leaped into action at the right time. It resulted in the organization’s eighth trip to victory lane in 2016. Busch placed eighth.

Additionally, teammate Denny Hamlin stayed solidly within the top 10 for the majority of the race, but after a bad restart with less than 25 laps to go, the driver had to make up for lost ground. He salvaged a ninth-place finish. On the other hand, Carl Edwards’ strong performance found trouble after being involved in a wreck on Lap 286, and he placed 20th.

There is no denying the organization is on fire right now. And with the Chase coming in two months, the Toyota-based team could be the championship front-runners. Timing is everything.

It was a Major Blowout
During the second half of the race, tire issues began to plague drivers. Both Alex Bowman, subbing for Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Chase Elliott brought out the caution for blown tires. A few laps later, Kurt Busch suffered the same issue, resulting in an accident involving both Penske Racing drivers, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.

This was unfortunate for each driver involved, as all of them were within the top 10 when the accidents occurred. The tire failures eliminated major contenders and has begun to change the complexion of the Race to the Chase.

The HMS Blues
The organization has struggled recently – Sunday was no exception. In fact, this event marked the third week in a row that Hendrick Motorsports has failed to post a top 10. Jimmie Johnson and company seemed to be stout heading into the weekend, scoring the pole. However, as soon as the green flag waved, Team 48 started moving backward. By Lap 45 he was outside of the top 10 and struggled to advance past the competition. In the end, Johnson collected a 12th-place finish.

Each of his teammates had a tougher day. Elliott and Bowman suffered aforementioned tire issues, while Kasey Kahne was collected in an accident towards the end of the event. With the playoffs looming, HMS needs a little, well, a lot of luck to get them back on track.

Perturbed on Pit Road
Kevin Harvick continued to suffer from pit road mistakes Sunday, something that has plagued the team this season. The extra time on pit road cost them several spots and placed them as far back as 12th. While Harvick was upset with his crew, his No. 4 Haas Automation Chevy was fast. He steadily climbed his way back into the top 10, scoring a solid fourth-place finish. Still, he proclaimed his feeling as being “disgusted.” And many thought he was holding back in the adjective department.

While the No. 4 team is a strong entry every week, they will need to fix their pit road struggles before the Chase begins. The playoffs are unforgiving, and extra time on pit road could cost them a seat in the Final Four.

Hey Martin, Get a Grip!
Martin Truex Jr. was a strong contender Sunday, leading 123 laps and consistently competing in the top five until the final 50 laps. The No. 78 Toyota Camry suffered a broken shifter just before the team came in for a pit stop. He was given vice grips to counter the hindrance, but it proved to be futile. The clutch broke as well, and the driver was stuck in fourth gear. He would ultimately go home with a 16th-place finish — hence leaving the redemption card on the table as he continued to lick his wounds this weekend, following a pit road penalty not of his making.

“It’s not tough; you’re just a sitting duck,” Truex told NBCSN after the race. “There’s nothing you can do to get going. Unfortunately, we got passed by a lot of cars. We pitted for tires on the last stop so we could get some momentum going … I think we passed 10 cars in the last 10 laps. We had a good car, just nothing to show for it today.”

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Commentary

ADAIR: Should Chase Format Mirror Traditional Sports?

The debate continues…

Many have criticized the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase format for several reasons. Some feel it lacks legitimacy while others feel the system just needs tweaking. And with that, comes an array of possibilities.

POPULAR SPEED guest writer Andy Marquis tackled this subject last week and brought up an interesting idea. To award consistency among strong teams, should NASCAR implement a “bye-week” rule, similar to that seen in “stick-and-ball” sports?

I would like to elaborate on this.

In the wake of the new Chase format, consistency is in desperate need of consideration. Joey Logano scored six wins last year and earned the second best average finish of 9.2 – he finished sixth in the Chase. Drivers who perform well in the regular season should be given some kind of reward, and if not in the form of points, the possibility of a bye-week could be considered. After all, the new Chase format was an attempt to fall in line with other “traditional” sports.

But there’s one big problem with that: NASCAR isn’t a traditional sport. NASCAR, and the venues it visits, are sponsor-driven. The absence of major names could hurt the sport in several ways – let’s break it down.

It all starts with the fans. Families wanting to see Dale Earnhardt Jr, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, or Kevin Harvick race at their home track may be completely disappointed when they find they’re out on a bye-week – and that might have an economic impact.

Drivers with two wins, or more, at the top of the standings, can clinch a Chase berth about six races in advance. This would include tracks like Pocono Raceway, Watkins Glen International, Michigan International Speedway, Darlington Raceway, Bristol Motor Speedway, and of course Richmond International Raceway where the regular season finale takes place. Some of these venues only have one NASCAR Cup event and need to make it count – but instead, they could take a hit if the big names of the sport didn’t show up.

Not to mention the absence of “A-list” drivers at an event would further question the legitimacy of a subsequent win/Chase berth.

And then there are the sponsors, who set up events, displays, meet and greets, and more – typically involving their driver. A bye-week would throw a wrench into those plans and would need to be scheduled weeks in advance.

But there’s a bigger point I’m trying to make. Through the explanation above, one can see that the very fibers of NASCAR are woven in a different pattern than other sports – and it may reveal a problem.

Our sport’s 36-week schedule is a strenuous one, and the venues, teams and drivers are strongly tied to sponsors and multi-million-dollar TV deals. These strings make it difficult for the sport’s officials to make any changes – especially concerning driver availability and events. Perhaps that’s why there haven’t been any changes to the format yet.

No doubt, consistency needs to be rewarded. Many, including Marquis, have given interesting, clever theories on how that factor could be fulfilled. However, NASCAR has a lot to juggle. They need to figure out which ideas are plausible and which ones are unsustainable and come up with a solution.

Furthermore, they may just need to take a look at their latest Chase format and assess the same.

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