MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Kyle Busch didn’t think too highly of Ricky Stenhosue Jr. giving him a tap just prior to the end of the second stage at Martinsville Speedway.
The tap allowed Stenhouse to get by Busch and remain on the lead lap — and allowed Chase Elliott to win the stage, earning what could be a valuable playoff point.
Fans can probably expect a time when Stenhouse won’t think of his move on Busch. And they’ll have the new NASCAR race format dividing the race into stages to thank, or to blame, for that.
Busch — and the rest of the drivers — should expect more not-so-nice moves at the end of stages as drivers begin to know their playoff potential, whether they need that one playoff point for the stage win or the regular-season points awarded to the top-10 in each stage on a 10-to-1 scale. At the end of the regular season, the top-10 drivers in regular-season points earn playoff points on a 15-10-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 scale.
While he had no points on the line for the stage, Stenhouse couldn’t afford to fall off the lead lap if he could avoid it.
“It is [fair game] if you expect it back,” Busch said about the move. “I actually was rolling into Turn 3 and was kind of going higher out of my way in order to let the 17 [of Stenhouse] back by and give him the lap.
“That was my intent, and then he just drove through me. It cost me my spot to the 24 [of Chase Elliott], so I was hoping that I could run off the corner side by side with the 17 and keep the 24 at bay and just keep my nose in front of his and be able to score the segment, and I was trying to be a nice guy, but nice guys don’t finish first.”
Stenhouse said all he tried to do was to keep Busch from lapping Austin Dillon and therefore Stenhouse could get the free pass at the end of the stage by being the first car one lap down.
“I was just going to give him a nudge and make sure that he didn’t get by the 3 [of Dillon],” Stenhouse said. “I didn’t mean to give up the win for him in that stage. But it was what we had to do.”
Not only will a driver’s actions impact results in the stage, a driver such as Busch will remember how he was raced. He also had to race differently at the end of the stage, trying to make sure he kept his position.
“They were doing everything they could in order to stay on the lead lap, but you know, when you’ve got the leader to your outside and you just keep banging him off the corner, that’s pretty disrespectful,” Busch said. “But do whatever you want. You know, it’s going to come back and bite you one of these days.
“You’ve just got to always remember racecar drivers are like elephants, they remember everything.”
That’s exactly what NASCAR hoped for when it rolled out the stage format in January. NASCAR knew some traditional fans would view it as another gimmick, another way to ruin what was a traditional race.
For NASCAR, it made the move to create moments to get fans wanting to watch earlier in the race, a move that could increase interest as well as television ratings.
“That’s what this format is supposed to be about, is having moments like that,” said race winner Brad Keselowski, who was running third at the end of the stage and was in the meetings in devising the new race format. “Whether you agree with specific moves is really neither here nor there, but when you put things on the line, when you put more on the line throughout the race, you get more moments like that.
“And I think in the end, the fans win and the sport wins.”
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Sadler, a veteran who has been in championship contention in recent years but seeks his first title, leads the Xfinity standings by 17 points over Byron.
“Elliott Sadler has been helping me so much,” Byron said. “We’re able to talk about restarts or what happened last weekend, little things that make a big difference, knowing what to do inside the car with switches, how to get the best restarts, how to communicate with your team.
“He’s been a great resource.”
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Bell, in his second full season of stock-car racing in a national NASCAR series, wondered if he did everything wrong. He certainly was frustrated with Cindric, saying, “I do expect him to continue to run the line that he’s been running and the chicane down the front straightaway was not the line he’d been running.”
But could Bell have done anything different?
“I would have drove around or tried to go around him if he hadn’t gone to the wall down the front straightaway,” Bell said. “But him going to the wall down the front straightaway was signaling to me he was going to run his regular line.
“I tried to go to the bottom and he decided to turn left at the flag stand. … Maybe I could have waited another corner, but I didn’t expect him to do it. Looking back at it, I should have gave myself another corner and maybe the results would have been different.”
Elliott said Bell did everything he could do.
“He pretty much beat the back bumper over whoever that was ahead of him,” Elliott said. “He was leading the race, had two, three truck lengths to me and Johnny [Sauter] was coming two or three behind me. If there was ever a time to go, it was time to go.
“He tried to be as nice as he could. I don’t think he did anything wrong.”