RICHMOND – Kyle Busch was rebounding well from having hit the wall early on in the first round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
He was driving his way up into the top 10 in the closing laps when he got into the back of the slower car driven by Garrett Smithley, who was 12 laps down, and – after sustaining damage to his front end – faded to 19th.
“We’re at the top echelon of motorsports, and we’ve got guys who have never won Late Model races running on the racetrack,” Busch later told NBCSN. “It’s pathetic. They don’t know where to go. What else do you do?”
Replays showed William Byron, on the lead lap, passing Smithley down low while Smithley stayed in the middle-upper lane when Busch, on the lead lap, got into the back of him, and then Alex Bowman, also on the lead lap, made the pass on both drivers from the high side near the outside fence.
When asked if there’s an etiquette that drivers that many laps down should follow when in the closing laps of a race, Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Chesterfield native Denny Hamlin said Smithley was in a tight spot.
“I find it tough to really put any blame on the 52,” Hamlin said. “I think he held his line. He didn’t switch lanes – now I didn’t see the previous corners or anything like that. I don’t know if he ran a different lane than what he had run in the previous laps – but as cars are passing you, I can relate.
“Like at Darlington … I had a damaged car, so I was a second off the pace. It’s a tough job to stay out of the way. I literally had to run the apron, like in the dirt just to make sure, because everyone runs a different line and … there’s no way their spotter or the driver can keep up with where everyone is running that’s coming up behind you. You just try to stay in that one particular lane. … It’s the spotter’s responsibility of the fast car to tell you where he’s been running, and as long as you know where he’s been running, you can adapt and get around him usually without any problem.
“I didn’t see any lane change or anything in that particular corner, but I don’t know about the laps before, but … he had, I think, someone below him,” Hamlin said. “I really didn’t see any fault from anyone. I think Kyle just drove in there and guessed wrong on where he was going to be and ran into the back of him.”
Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 6 Ford Mustang for Roush Fenway Racing, said he didn’t see anything the slower cars did wrong.
“I didn’t see anything that lapped traffic did wrong, at least to me, if not to anybody else for that matter, but I don’t see everything,” Newman said. “It’s there – it’s been that way since they dropped the first green flag and had more than one car in a race. I think it’s just a factor of how you adapt to it.”
Depending on the track, Martin Truex Jr. – Hamlin and Busch’s teammate and the current season leader in wins with six – noted that drivers multiple laps down in the closing laps should probably not be in the lane that the leaders want to run, “but that gets tricky at a place like Vegas where you can basically run all over it. That’s where the tough part is, I think.”
“It’s a tough deal, it’s tough. Last week I’d seen what happened, the closing rate was insanely huge,” Truex said. “The guy that was out there was not only slow to begin with, but wrecked. … He had a tough night and his car was beat up and it was very slow.
“I don’t know if we need to look at minimum speed maybe a little closer or if just maybe not run right through the middle of the racetrack,” Truex said. “It depends. It’s different every week. It’s different every situation. It’s different for every car. There’s no really clear-cut answer on how to make this easier on everybody.”
Truex gives thumbs-up to changes to ROVAL chicane
RICHMOND – With current Cup Series leader Martin Truex Jr. locked into the Round of 12 following his playoff-opening win at Vegas, he’ll be going for bonus points in the Round of 16’s final stop at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s ROVAL configuration.
And he’s good with the changes they’ve made to the 2.28-mile combined oval and road course.
Charlotte Motor Speedway officials this past summer announced an expanded configuration of the backstretch chicane for the second running of the Bank of America ROVAL 400 on Sept. 27-29. Originally 32 feet wide at its widest point, the chicane in its new configuration will be 54 feet at its widest point and will feature additional runoff areas that were unavailable in its first iteration.
The goal behind the changes is to create additional passing opportunities and more side-by-side action according to the track release.
“I think it’ll be a really good change,” Truex said. “I thought last year the backstretch chicane … it was just there kind of just to slow us down a little bit; it wasn’t really a corner where you could make passes or make moves. It was kind of like: you just try to get through there without crashing every lap because it was so fast.
“I think with it being more like the bus stop at Watkins Glen, I think will be good – more braking, more [of a] braking zone at a place maybe where we can make some more passes,” Truex said. “I think it will be awesome – we’ll just have to wait and see, but looking forward to that.”
Hemric ‘blown away by support’ after release from RCR team
RICHMOND – In the short term, 2019 rookie of the year candidate Daniel Hemric and his No. 8 team at Richard Childress Racing will look to continue to build upon what they’ve done so far this year until the final season race at Homestead.
But in the long term, when it comes to any progress he’s made at the end of this year as a driver, he’ll have to build upon that with a different team, as RCR announced on Sept. 17 that he won’t be returning to their Cup stables in 2020.
Hemric said Friday that RCR was “professional as they could be about giving me enough time to understand the process of what was going on,” and he “wasn’t necessarily shocked.”
“But on the other side of it, I was hoping to …. continue to build on what we’ve done over the past six months and really with this package … as a whole we weren’t where we wanted to be, but we also know, as a whole at RCR, we’ve made huge strides, so that part of it was a little disappointing I guess is the word to use, that we’ll not be able to continue that build and I’d like to be part of that process, but things happen, life happens, the sun comes up the next day and you try again.”
As for the next step, Hemric has been “very blown away by the support” he’s received from the peers he’s raced against. Hemric said he’s heard from “some of the stars” of the sport who have reached out to him with their gratitude and “their praise for what they feel like you’re doing on and off the race track – those are guys who really see you in the heat of the moment.”
He believes that having people on that side support him like they have is what has led to “a lot of phone calls, a lot of conversations with a lot of race teams over the last week.”
No matter where he goes – Cup, Xfinity, truck Series – Hemric wants to make that next move a big one.
“I’ve won at every single level that I’ve ever ran full time in on my way up the ladder – and everybody knows I’m not cocky and I’m not going to sit here and brag about that,” he said, “but in the grand scheme of things, I know if I’m in winning stuff, I’ll win races and I don’t care what level it’s at, and that’s what gives me the desire to keep on.”
Nick Vandeloecht is sports editor of Powhatan Today and Goochland Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.