Busch to backup and fleet Front Row

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Kurt Busch will join Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick at the rear of the field Sunday when the Food City 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race is scheduled to begin.

Busch, a five-time winner at Bristol Motor Speedway and second-fastest during Friday’s qualifying, spun and damaged his No. 14 Ford with less than five minutes remaining in Saturday’s final practice.

The damage was severe enough to warrant bringing out the team’s backup entry, thus forcing Busch to give up his front-row starting spot and move to the rear of the 39-car field.

“I had 45 laps on the tires and was trying to get to 50,” Busch said. “The setup changes dramatically with air-pressure builds and the VHT changing, so I was just trying to do as much research as I could.

“The lap times were really good in the car and then, boom, there’s just no forgiveness right now with how many variables there are.”

Busch had posted the fourth-best time in the session and had completed 69 laps.

Harvick hit the wall Friday during practice and the team chose to roll out the backup No. 4 Ford and prep it for Saturday practice instead of attempting to rush it into action for qualifying. He was 16th and 24th, respectively, in Saturday’s two practices at the 0.533-mile track.

Front Row Motorsports drivers Michael McDowell and David Ragan continued to log impressive laps Saturday at BMS. Ragan led the final practice while McDowell was fifth.

McDowell qualified ninth Friday, Ragan 23rd.

“Everybody knew coming in here that Bristol has been a really good track in the past for (Front Row),” McDowell said. “… They’ve had good speed in race trim and qualifying trim, so it’s been a really solid weekend.”

McDowell is the newcomer at FRR, joining the organization after being released by Leavine Family Racing at the end of 2017.

“He works really hard off the race track studying and really understanding what the cars and the track are going to do so he can make better educated decisions,” Ragan said of his teammate. “That only pushes me to be better and I think on the race track he’s real aggressive.

“We have a little different driving style, so it is unique to look at his information and look at ours, and then along with the Roush Fenway team, we can critique ourselves.”

Front Row has a technical alliance with the two-team Roush Fenway Racing organization.

NASCAR officials announced the start of Sunday’s race would begin at approximately 1 p.m. due to the likelihood of rain in the region (NOAA.org lists chance of precip at 100 percent for race day).

The race was originally scheduled to begin shortly after 2 p.m.

Ryan Preece won Saturday’s Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 at BMS and the $100,000 bonus as the opening race of the four-race Dash 4 Cash program.

Preece, driving the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota is chasing points in the XFINITY Series but isn’t running the entire schedule. His next start is scheduled for Daytona in July.

Bristol qualifying notebook

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Kyle and Kurt Busch sped to the top two starting spots in Friday’s qualifying for Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

It’s the third time the brothers have started a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race side-by-side.

While they’ve enjoyed their share of success on the high-banked .533-mile track (Kyle Busch six BMS wins; Kurt Busch five BMS wins), they haven’t dominated qualifying here. It was Kyle’s second career MENCS pole; Kurt has one Bristol pole.

The No 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota posted a final-round lap of 128.822 mph; Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Ford) checked in at 128.804 mph.

The track qualifying record, for the record, is 131.668 mph set by Denny Hamlin (Aug. 19, 2016).

Brad Keselowski (Team Penske Ford), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Roush Fenway Racing) and Ryan Blaney (Team Penske Ford) rounded out the top five.

Waiting game: Drivers waited as late as possible before hitting the track in all three rounds of qualifying, most sitting on pit road until barely enough time remained to get in a single two-lap run.

Frustrating? Not at all, said Kurt Busch, who called it “a game that everybody plays.

But why the wait?

“You want the other cars to go to heat up that VHT just a little bit for you,” he said.

Spraying the lower groove in the turns at BMS with the tacky adhesive compound has become the default move at Bristol. It’s done to enhance grip. Seems the hotter it gets, the tackier it gets and the more grip it provides and waiting for others to race across it and generate heat can be … well, perhaps worth a thousandth of a second or so.

Some drivers like it, some don’t care for it but most just deal with it.

Mighty Michael McDowell? Before Friday, the best starting spot for Michael McDowell at Bristol had been 19th in 2015. Sunday, he’ll line up ninth in his No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford.

It’s only his second career top-10 qualifying result (he started sixth at Talladega in 2014).

McDowell said he looked at data from teammate David Ragan “and tried to figure out what he does that makes him go fast here.”

Maybe Ragan should be the one eavesdropping. The No. 38 driver will start 23rd.

Kevin Harvick, winner of three consecutive races earlier this season, did not make a qualifying attempt in his Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Ford. A crash during opening practice (the result of a part breaking according to the team) did enough damage to force the group to unload the backup car.

Rather than rush to get the backup ready, and risk another incident, crew chief Rodney Childers and his crew decided to prep the car for Saturday’s two practice sessions instead.

Officially, Harvick is listed as 39th in the 39-car lineup for Sunday.

Seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson could muster only the 17th fastest time in qualifying but folks have won from further back at Bristol so it could have been worse.

And then it was.

Johnson tweeted that the team discovered a cut in the left-front tire of his No. 48 Chevrolet. Because of the tire change, Johnson will forfeit his starting spot and drop to the rear for the start of Sunday’s race.

Monster musings and more on a Tuesday

Monster Energy will return as NASCAR Cup series entitlement sponsor for the 2019 season but it appears next year will be the final one that sees the sanctioning body’s premier program branded as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

NASCAR made the announcement of the contract extension via press release Tuesday. It is a one-year agreement (the current arrangement was set to end this year) and according to reports, officials don’t anticipate an extension of the extension.

The pullout after ’19 doesn’t bode well for activation next year – companies typically tend to pull back rather than increase participation when heading for the exit.

NASCAR’s top series has carried sponsorship since 1971 when RJ Reynolds first came on board.

Both Monster and NASCAR have indicated at one time or another that the sponsorship arrangement has been a plus – NASCAR covets the younger audience Monster Energy currently enjoys while the energy drink company seeks the constant national exposure provided by the sanctioning body.

From the beginning of the relationship, Monster’s pitch has been that it is more than a sponsor, it’s a lifestyle (a variation of its earlier ‘lifestyle in a can’ pitch.). Perhaps that lifestyle no longer aligns with NASCAR. Or not to the extent some had hoped.

If NASCAR chooses to go a different route, which appears to be the case, then there could be no series entitlement sponsor after ’19. Much like other professional sports leagues such as the NFL and Major League Baseball.

In addition to series sponsorship, Monster also sponsors the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing team with driver Kurt Busch.

The issue of those problematic pit guns resurfaced last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway and we have reached the point where the only way to correct the problem is to issue lug wrenches before every race.

Hey, if it was good enough for Red and Buck and Lee and the rest of the boys …

NASCAR erred when officials failed to penalize the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team for an errant tire at TMS and while it is extremely difficult to officiate a race, admitting the miscue afterward won’t do a lot to make some folks feel better.

Everyone realizes that the occasional mistake will occur. But it isn’t supposed to – that’s why there are officials in the tower and in the PRO trailer and on pit road.

The perception, right or wrong, is that officials cut the team a break. And that’s a hard thing to overcome.

Ford and Chevrolet teams have each had 10 drivers lead at least one lap through the first seven Cup races. The difference? Ford drivers have combined to lead 1,236 laps to just 137 for Chevrolet.

Meanwhile four Toyota drivers have spent time out front – leading 772 laps.

Tuesday musings, on a Monday

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Clint Bowyer ended a 190-race winless streak and Stewart-Haas Racing has now won four of this season’s first six races.

Most guesses would have the four coming courtesy of Kevin Harvick but the 2014 champ is still a three-race winner in ’18.

Instead, it was Bowyer that ran away and led 215 of the final 216 laps of Monday’s snow-delayed STP 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.

It was a very atypical event for a short track, not necessarily lacking in action but lacking in … something. Maybe it was the weekend snowstorm that pushed the race from Sunday to Monday.

I saw more contact on the drive up to Martinsville Speedway Monday morning than I witnessed in the STP 500 and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just an observation. Morning traffic can be a bit dicey around Winston-Salem, it seems. Dunkin wasn’t the only place to view donuts.

Martinsville is a tight half-mile track; most folks say “paperclip” when describing its’ shape, and there’s a minimum of banking in the turns. It doesn’t look like a particularly fast track and maybe it isn’t but rocket down the straightaway at more than 100 mph and then come to a near standstill as you tip-toe through the corners and do it again and again and again and it’ll get your attention.

The track was on the original schedule way back in 1949 when NASCAR was still an unknown and eight races made up that first season’s schedule. It was dirt until the summer of ’55.

Contact takes place almost as soon as you drive onto the grounds of the legendary facility. Cars that aren’t dented and dinged and smashed and crashed aren’t often found at Martinsville. Some you might run across in the parking lots. Others are found on the track.

Drivers push and shove to gain track position and if it takes you more than two laps to set up and complete a pass you’re wasting time and the leader is probably long gone.

Drivers lean on fellow competitors. Not gingerly, either. It’s how it’s always been done.

That’s not to say that there wasn’t contact Monday – Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick pushed one another around briefly and there were a few other instances here and there.

But it’s worth noting that the 500-lap race was nearly into its final 100 circuits before a caution flag appeared for an actual “incident.”

That particular slowdown was the result of contact between Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray and some said it was contact with the inside curbing that shot Dillon into the path of McMurray, who then spun and backed briefly into the outside wall and that was about as wild and crazy as it got right there.

It was still an entertaining race, in my opinion. Just an unexpectedly tame one for a change.

I admit I failed to give A.J. Allmendinger his due heading into Monday’s race when asked on a radio show about the JTG-Daugherty Racing driver.

It completely escaped me that Allmendinger had two career runner-up finishes at Martinsville, and that before Monday’s race, four of his last five finishes were 11th or better.

Toss in another top 10 after Monday – AJ finished eighth and ran top-five for a generous portion of the race.

Lesson learned.

It was an impressive showing for Ryan Blaney as well with the Team Penske driver leading 145 laps and “winning” the second stage of the race. He finished third in the opening stage and third overall and that’s four top-10 runs in six races.

No, I didn’t expect a third Penske team to be quite as competitive right out of the box but they keep reminding us that the No. 12 group is basically the No. 21 Wood Brothers bunch of a year ago just clad in different colors.

Blaney’s worst finish this year has been 16th and that’s the exception.

Alex Bowman earned his first top-10 of the season, scoring a seventh-place finish in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports entry. His was the high Chevrolet for the race, but Allmendinger and teammate Chase Elliott (ninth) weren’t far behind.

Kyle Busch (Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota) is still winless but has three runner-up finishes now after Monday’s second-place result. That’s five endings of seventh or better in six starts.

It’s also why he’s now leading the point standings.

Auto Club postscript: A California beatdown

Before Sunday, the last time Martin Truex Jr. was in victory lane … he was celebrating his first Cup championship.

That sounds like a long time but it’s only been, what, five races? Truex and his Furniture Row Racing team captured the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title last November with a win at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The victory capped an eight-win, can’t-touch-this season for the team from Denver, Colo.

Sunday Truex looked every bit the defending series champion, winning the first two stages in the Auto Club 400 before waltzing his way to an impressive victory. Second place was nearly 12 seconds behind.

It was a sound thrashing. A sign of things to come perhaps?

• It was the first Cup win of the season for the Toyota folks, and No. 112 since they came aboard the series in ’07. A year ago, their teams won 16 times, most of anyone. Same thing the year before that one, too.

All three automakers now have at least one win in the series this season – but Ford’s been the frontrunner so far, thanks to Kevin Harvick and his three victories.

• Speaking of Harvick, an early-race crash ended the Stewart-Haas Racing driver’s bid for a fourth consecutive victory. A rare misstep by the 2014 champ.

The incident, which occurred when Harvick and Kyle Larson made contact on the backstretch, took place only 38 laps into the 200-lap race. Why race as if it’s the last lap? There were no stage points to be had at that point.

The damage to Larson’s Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet wasn’t significant enough to keep him from racing his way to a runner-up finish. Harvick wasn’t as fortunate; while his team was able to make repairs to the No. 4 entry, Harvick finished 35th, nine laps down.

• Seven-time series champ Jimmie Johnson finished ninth, his first top-10 of the year. It was his first top-10 since the fall race at Charlotte Motor Speedway last October, actually.

He’s No. 2 in points among Hendrick Motorsports drivers – but only 18th overall. Alex Bowman is 16th, tops for the four-team organization that includes William Byron and Chase Elliott.

Bowman, Byron and Elliott have led laps this year (granted not a great deal of them). Johnson has not. The last time he was out front? Martinsville last fall. It’s a long season though …

• With NASCAR being on the west coast for the past three weeks, I’m surprised there’s been no talk (announcement) concerning the Monster Energy premier series entitlement agreement.

The current sponsorship agreement, which took effect last year, is scheduled to run through the 2019 season. Monster officials have twice asked for, and been granted, extensions pertaining to the company’s renewal decision.

Wondering what a champion is worth today

There likely wasn’t much time for celebration on Wednesday, NASCAR feeling good after bringing Anheuser-Busch back into the fold as an official partner and the Busch brand as sponsor of the top series’ pole award.

Afternoon news that Lowe’s was leaving seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson at season’s end hit like a ton of bricks.

Since its debut in 2001, no team has been as successful as that of Johnson and the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports outfit. Through it all, the seven titles and the 83 victories, the championship celebrations in New York City and Las Vegas, Lowe’s has been along for the ride.

The departure means the end of Lowe’s in NASCAR, but not the end of Johnson in NASCAR.

To hear Johnson talk, the 42-year-old isn’t ready to step down just yet. A three-year contract extension signed last year will keep him in the fold through 2020.

At the same time that deal was announced, HMS said Lowe’s had signed on through ’18. Now, an 18-year sponsorship run will come to an end.

There was a Lowe’s in the series before Johnson but who remembers when the big box brand was on the cars of Brett Bodine and Mike Skinner?

Lowe’s and Jimmie Johnson and crew Chad Knaus and the No. 48 … few can recall anything different because for that team, there has been nothing different.

Any way you slice it, it’s not good news. A major sponsor, one that has been fully invested in NASCAR for more than two decades, is leaving. Hard to put a positive spin on that.

Maybe that says something about NASCAR or maybe it just says something about the current economic climate for the Fortune 500 company.

It isn’t the first big name to pull out of the sport. Sponsors have come and gone from the very beginning. From small mom and pop operations (and yes, there really was a sponsor called Mom ‘n’ Pops) to billion-dollar corporations. Different names, different reasons, different times.

There are sponsors with similar longevity in the series – Mars Inc. has been around since 1997, Axalta (formerly DuPont) debuted in ’92 and FedEx has been a sponsorship staple since ’05. Such companies once were the norm. No longer, though.

Hendrick officials have the opportunity to shop around one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers and teams of all time. How much does a multi-time champion go for these days?

Johnson is the only active multi-time champ by the way – no other champion competing today has won more than one title.

Another victory and he will be tied with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip, two NASCAR legends and Hall of Fame members.

Another championship and he stands alone.

It’s an opportunity, but not one the Hendrick organization necessarily desires.

The selling of a champion will provide a good look at the health of the sport. Are there companies willing to provide funding and if so how much?

Is any single organization willing to step up and replace Lowe’s? Or will officials sell inventory (races) to a variety of clients? That’s been the case in recent seasons and for some of the sport’s biggest names.

No matter how it turns out, it will help shape the face of HMS for the next couple of years.

It could help shape the face of NASCAR, too. For much, much longer.

Tuesday musings as the streak continues

NASCAR’s 2018 Monster Energy Cup Series season is four races old and no one except Kevin Harvick has won a race in the series since Feb. 19.

Austin Dillon’s Daytona 500 victory hasn’t faded from memory but three consecutive victories by Harvick have kept the Stewart-Haas Racing driver’s name in the headlines.

Well, that and a bit of an issue in Las Vegas that cost Harvick and his team a few points and a few bucks.

Back-to-back wins in the series aren’t common and to win three in a row is an impressive feat. Harvick will go for a fourth when the series heads to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., this weekend.

Eleven drivers have won four straight – several of them are in the NASCAR Hall of Fame and a few others will be soon enough.

Bobby Allison once won five in a row, it happened in 1971, and so did Richard Petty. Of course, Petty didn’t stop at five. The “Randleman Rocket” won 10 straight in 1967 and like most things that Petty accomplished during his racing career, that streak remains a series record.

Trot out your usual complaints – the fields were smaller back then, the competition not as fierce – but the fact remains Petty won 10 in a row. Against fields large and small. And during a season that consisted of 49 races.

Buddy Baker ended Petty’s streak that fall with a win at Charlotte. It was Baker’s first victory in the series.

• Putting all four of its cars in the top 10 at Phoenix (ISM Raceway) was a first for SHR. The organization has fielded four full-time teams since 2014. This year’s lineup consists of Harvick, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola.

It now boasts 42 wins in NASCAR’s top series, putting it between DiGard Racing/Nord Krauskopf and NASCAR Hall of Fame owner Cotton Owens on the overall list. Among active organizations, SHR is presently eighth in victories.

What was previously a winless Haas CNC Racing outfit has certainly come a long way in a relatively short period of time – SHR is celebrating its 10th year this season.

• Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing are surprisingly winless (of course so are a lot of other folks at this point) but the Toyota bunch have been in contention. All four JGR drivers – Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones – also finished in the top 10 this past weekend. Martin Truex Jr., the defending series champ, logged a fifth-place result with FRR. If they aren’t standing on the doorstep to victory lane, they’re at least pulling in the driveway.

• Over in the Chevrolet camp, the work around the new Camaro ZL1 continues. In this year’s three non-restricted races, Chevy teams have combined to claim just four out of a possible 30 finishing positions inside the top 10.

• Four-time NASCAR Cup champion Jeff Gordon will be inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America tonight (March 13) in Daytona Beach, Fla. Gordon is third on NASCAR’s all-time win list with 93 victories. He retired from full-time competition after the 2015 season and currently works as an analyst for FOX during its NASCAR broadcasts. Earlier this month, Gordon was announced as one of 20 nominees to be considered for the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s 2019 class.

Blaney, Swindell tout All-Star race

CONCORD, N.C. – Ryan Blaney says he’s never had a close call while giving rides at race tracks and Wednesday was no different although the Team Penske driver did admit he had to “bail” on a lap when his car “got pretty tight” at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I got tight in (Turns) 1 and 2,” Blaney said of the afternoon ride-along with country music artist Cole Swindell.

“I got tight, too,” Swindell admitted but he wasn’t talking about the car’s handling as he climbed from the passenger-side window.

Swindell, 34, is a Georgia native with seven No. 1 hits and he’s written a few others for folks such as Luke Bryan.

He’ll be performing a pre-race concert prior to the May 19 Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race at CMS. He may or may not add “Hello Walls” to his pre-race set list.

The concert is free with the purchase of any All-Star Race ticket.

As for Wednesday’s track “tour” …

“I was at 90 percent right there,” Blaney said of the run. “You want to give them a good ride, make it real. … I ran the bottom for a couple of laps and then I went to the wall. … The second lap I went pretty hard at the wall and I got pretty tight. I was like ‘bail.’

“You want to show them a good time but at the same time you don’t want to do anything stupid. it was fun.

“I’ve given rides before but no one I knew personally; I think that’s why I pushed it a little bit more when it’s someone I know.”

Swindell said he’s been a fan for several years – he recalled watching Blaney’s father, Dave, compete in NASCAR.

It was the singer/songwriter’s first time in a Cup car, however.

“I thought we were doing four or five (laps) but I felt like we ran 12,” Swindell said. “It just all went by so fast. You see it on TV but you can feel it in the car, those tires gripping. Going into those turns the force just pulling your head down. … It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever gotten to do.

“I’m just glad … I was a little nervous before because I’d never done it but now I’d do it again with Blaney, he’s a good dude.”

Gordon headlines 2019 Hall nominees

Jeff Gordon, Harry Gant, John Holman, Ralph Moody and Kirk Shelmerdine are the five new nominees that round out the list of nominees for the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2019.

The list of 20 – it includes 15 names that were on last year’s ballot – was announced Tuesday on NBCSN’s NASCAR America program.

Gordon and Gant are well-known – Gordon has been retired from driving for only a couple of years and he’s in the booth these days during the FOX portion of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.

A four-time series champ, Gordon won 93 races – third overall. He’ll be one of the five selected for induction early next year when the voting panel meets in May of this year. I don’t think he will be a unanimous choice however. Not because he isn’t deserving but having been in the room as a voting member from the beginning, I know how the process works.

There has not been a unanimous selection since the process began – Richard Petty was not a unanimous choice, nor were Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson or William H.G. France, the founder of NASCAR.

Gant became known as Mr. September when he won four consecutive premier series races in the fall of 1991. He finished his career with 18 victories in Cup, and from 1981-85 he finished in the top five in points four times. He was fourth in points in ’91-92 as well.

He was of the best Sportsman racers in the Carolinas during his prime and won 21 times in the XFINITY Series.

If you’ve ever heard folks mention Holman-Moody, that’s John Holman and Ralph Moody. The premier Ford factory organization during the late 1950s and ’60s, the team was still winning races in the early ’70s.

They are credited with two championships, both with driver David Pearson (1968-69) and more than 90 wins.

Shelmerdine scored 46 wins as a crew chief, 44 with Earnhardt and two with Ricky Rudd. Four of Earnhardt’s titles with team owner Richard Childress (1986-87 & ’90-91) came with Shelmerdine atop the pit box.

Those five join returning nominees Buddy Baker, Davey Allison, Ray Fox, Red Farmer, Joe Gibbs, Harry Hyde, Alan Kulwicki, Bobby Labonte, Herschel McGriff, Roger Penske, Larry Phillips, Jack Roush, Ricky Rudd, Mike Stefanik and Waddell Wilson.

Returning nominees for the Landmark award are Janet Guthrie, Alvin Hawkins and Ralph Seagraves. Joining that group are Barney Hall and Jim Hunter.

The inductees for the 2019 class will be announced, Wed., May 23.

Las Vegas postscript: No cruise for Harvick

Kevin Harvick and his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team can put it on cruise control from here on out and we’re only three races into the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season but that’s not the last we will hear from that particular group.

The advent of playoff points for stage and race wins last year has forced teams to take a harder look at how they approach the remainder of the regular season after a win. There is no cruise, only crews.

It will be business as usual, in all likelihood, for the No. 4 going forward. Crew chief Rodney Childers wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Pennzoil 400 victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was nice, but now it’s on to Phoenix and Auto Club and Martinsville and Texas …

Playoff points aren’t the only incentive. Few things help a team continue to improve as much as winning and the momentum from that can’t be underestimated.

You learn a lot from losing, too – mainly that someone else is doing a better job than you. Or outworking you.

For the record, Harvick has now led 66 percent, or a similarly ridiculous number, of the laps run in his two wins at Atlanta and Las Vegas.

He now has 39 career wins, one shy of Mark Martin on the all-time win list. Kyle Busch, with 43 career victories, is next up the ladder.

o I’m not one to put too much into total wins “across all NASCAR national series.” Richard Petty has 200 premier series wins and when someone else reaches that mark …

It’s not that what guys such as Busch (184 total wins) and Harvick (100 wins) have done isn’t impressive. It is. I just don’t put it in the same category as what Petty accomplished in a single series.

o Two things I don’t believe we’ve heard the last of: problems with the NASCAR-issued pit guns and Jimmie Johnson’s struggles.

There were more instances Sunday of teams having problems with the pit guns provided by Paoli. I know the team owners are the ones who pushed for the change as a cost-saving measure but when air guns fail it is not the teams who look bad – or take the heat. It’s NASCAR.

This is one area that needs to be fixed. Not talked about, not investigated. It needs to be fixed.

As for Johnson, when the highlight of your day is finishing 12th, one lap down …

The No. 48 team used to be the one group that could turn things around almost at will. I’m not so sure that’s the case today. They’ll tell you otherwise and maybe they’re right, but …

The benefit of the Playoff format is that a single win by a team cures a regular season’s worth of ills. But as we saw last year, it doesn’t always guarantee success in the chase for the championship.