12 Questions with Chase Briscoe (2019)

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Chase Briscoe, who races in the Xfinity Series for Stewart-Haas Racing. These interviews are recorded as a podcast but also transcribed for those who prefer to read.

1. Are you an iPhone person or an Android person, and why?

iPhone, 100 percent. So I was in like 10th grade and my parents were like, “Alright, we’ll get you a smartphone.” So we go, and I was committed to getting an iPhone, right? And we go and the (sales) lady was like, “You can’t get weather on an iPhone. The radar won’t work.” I was like, “OK…”

So I got an Android, and I hated it. It was awful. So now I’ve been an iPhone guy ever since. They’re just so much more simple. Like an Android, I feel like, never worked. I don’t know, I just like the simplicity of an iPhone.

And you can get the weather now.

Well, come to find out, you could have gotten the radar back then on the iPhone.

It was probably a sales thing.

They were probably getting a cut back of Android sales, so they were like, “We’re gonna sell this guy an Android instead of an iPhone.”

2. If a fan meets you in the garage, they might only have a brief moment with you. So between an autograph, a selfie or quick comment, what is your advice on the best way to maximize that interaction?

All three. There might be a rare instance where I’m in a hurry, but I always will stop. I think it’s so cool when somebody wants my autograph or selfie or anything. So going out to driver intros for example, (I’ll leave) 15 minutes early. Every single time. Like I’ll go and sign every single autograph.

I was in their situation at one point where I thought it was super cool to get an autograph or just get to see (drivers), so it drives me nuts when guys just walk by. Like I get that you have (somewhere) to be at some point, but don’t blow by everybody, and don’t even say, “Hey,” or wave or high-five or anything like that. It drive me nuts.

My biggest pet peeve is when guys act like they’re so cool and blow everybody off. Like I don’t get it, because without them, you don’t have a job. They’re the whole reason we get to go do this. So yeah, I’m pretty big on that. Anything you want me to do, I’ll do it.

What are some memorable autographs that you got when you were younger?

I didn’t personally get them, my dad brought them home. I got a Jeff Gordon one one time in his rookie year. It was personalized to me and everything, because he and my dad used to race together, so that one was cool. I had a Tony Stewart one. I remember when my dad brought home this sidewall with a Hoosier sprint car tire and it had Kasey Kahne’s autograph on it. So those were probably my favorite three growing up, was Tony, Jeff and Kasey.

3. When someone pulls a jerk move on the road when you’re driving down the highway, does that feeling compare at all to when someone pulls a jerk move on the track?

It’s worse. Way worse! Like to me, when we’re racing, it’s your job to make it hard to get passed. Where on the road, you’re just cruising down the road. Like if I’m coming up 15 miles per hour quicker, just let me go. The biggest thing that drives me crazy is guys are just riding in the left lane, and you get over in the right lane, and then I make it a point to almost cut them off back in the left lane just to prove, “Hey, get out of the left lane.” And then they just keep cruising down it, like less than the speed limit! So to me, it’s worse if somebody chops me on the road than it is on the racetrack. Like it literally makes me mad.

4. Has there ever been a time where you’ve had a sketchy situation with your safety equipment?

I personally haven’t. I know there was a time in a sprint car, I forgot to strap my HANS, but it was under caution before hot laps, so I clicked it and was good to go.

But I have a good story about safety equipment. So Jack Hewitt, legendary guy in sprint cars, drove for my grandpa. He ran at Eldora, I think it was the last half of the race, without seatbelts. They broke off at Eldora. Ran a whole half of the race without seatbelts.

He didn’t pull in?

He won the race.

What?

Yeah.

Oh my gosh, that is crazy.

Just running Eldora by yourself is sketchy. Now imagine in a race without seatbelts. And he was running like an inch off the wall.

Wow. One slip and it would have been it for him.

That’s brave.

5. If your crew chief put a super secret illegal part on your car that made it way faster, would you want to know about it?

That’s tough. So a little backstory on me, I know absolutely nothing about cars. Like I can’t work on them. I can do very basic things. Like I know what springs do, but I don’t. Like I know the basics of them.

So you could tell me that you had something super illegal on it, but I probably wouldn’t even know what it is in the first place. But I would like to know about it, because I feel like any time somebody gets caught cheating, the driver gets ridiculed for it online. Like just gets blasted. When at the end of the day, I had nothing to do with it. So I would probably like to know, just so I had a heads up.

But nobody cheats in NASCAR. (Grins)

I understand where you’re coming from, though, because you don’t want to have all these people tweeting at you and being like, “Chase Briscoe the cheater,” and you’re like, “I didn’t do anything!”

Yeah, I didn’t do it. Like, I drove it. I feel like that happens a lot, guys get in and they win — well, come to find out they’re cheating. But they didn’t know they had something illegal on the car. Like that’s the team’s job to push it each and every week, where I’m not the guy bolting the thing on there.

So I feel like I would like to know. But at the same time there’s a part of me that I would just rather not know, just get in and drive. Because if I win the race, I would like to know it wasn’t because of an illegal part. Like I would rather think, “Hey, our team did a really good job, they had the car set up right, I did my job behind the wheel” — not because I cheated. I would like to think we did our job right, not that a part did its job right.

6. What is a food you would not recommend eating right before a race and are you speaking with personal experience with this recommendation?

So I think I told you on our last 12 Questions that I’m super picky. Like never had a hot dog, never had peanut butter and jelly — I’m super picky. So what I eat is very limited and very fried food.

So before the Roval (where he ended up winning), I go to Ford’s little RV bus thing, and they have chicken tenders and nacho cheese. So I down these things, right? Well, last 10 laps of the Roval, I was starting to get a little sick. So as good as it was, and it obviously worked out for me, I feel like it probably wasn’t the best thing to eat before the race — chicken tenders and nacho cheese.

So when you win a race, does that stomach pain go away? Is that like the version of Tums or Pepto for a driver? Or were you still getting out of the car being like, “Ugh.”

No, I for sure forget about it as soon as we won. But 10 to go, I was like, “Man, my stomach is like…” I felt like I was gonna throw up. But then five to go, I was good after that.

The Ford people still give me a hard time, like, “We’re not having chicken tenders and nacho cheese again.”

7. Is there life in outer space, and if so, do they race?

I have no idea. I don’t get into that stuff honestly. I don’t care about aliens, if there even are any. I don’t think there are, but that’s like the least of things I think about.

Are you not like a Star Wars guy or anything like that?

Never watched a movie.

Never watched any of the Star Wars movies?

Never. Never saw Star Trek, never seen any of that stuff.

8. What do drivers talk about when they’re standing around at driver intros before a race?

So I always try to talk to guys about dirt racing and try to get them to come race dirt.

You try to convert them.

Yeah, I try to convert them. And then other than that, we always talk about how hot it is normally. Like “Man, it’s gonna be brutal today. It’s too hot to race.”

And then — I’m giving away my secrets here — but I always try to find out how their car is (by saying), “Man, I’m struggling over here.” And I may not be struggling there, but I want them to be like, “Yeah, I’m struggling there, too.” That way I know during the race that’s a spot they struggle with. So I try to make a little notebook.

Hopefully none of them will read this.

So you just kind of float it out there that you’re bad in a certain spot and hope to get information from it.

I’m like, “Man, I am terrible going into (Turn) 3.” And they’ll be like, “Yeah, me too. In practice, I was so loose.” And then in the race, I’m thinking, “If I just drive up on their back bumper (in Turn 3), they’re really gonna be loose.”

Now next time I’m going to ask somebody this, and they’re going to be like, “I ain’t telling you.”

Right, I know. Well, not enough people read this, so…

Well, I don’t know. I read it every week.

9. What makes you happy right now?

A lot of things. So I got a dog, so that’s one thing I never thought I would be into. Like I had a dog growing up, but I’ve never really took care of it or anything. But now that I have my own dog, I’m a helicopter parent. Like I’m always making sure he doesn’t get into anything or get hurt.

I’m recently engaged, so that’s fun. Me and Marissa do a lot of things together. Life’s good right now. Got a full-time ride for the guy I’ve always dreamed of racing for (Tony Stewart), so it’s good. Hopefully, we start running good now that the season’s started. And then it’ll be really, really good.

Well you’ve got to leave some room to be at max happiness. You don’t want to peak too early.

Yeah, you can’t.

10. Let’s say a sponsor comes to you and says, “We are going to fully fund the entire rest of your racing career on the condition that you wear a clown nose and an 80’s rocker wig in every interview you do forever.” Would you accept that offer?

Oh, I’d do it. Absolutely. I would do it probably just for the fun of it. Not the clown nose, but I would wear like a wig, especially a mullet wig. I don’t want to give away a secret, but I’m probably gonna wear one of those Rico (Abreu) mullet hats at Darlington. That thing is pretty sweet. So I would do something like that.

Did you purchase one at the Chili Bowl?

I didn’t, but I’m gonna get one.

I don’t know, I heard they sold out.

I feel like I could probably get one. But in high school, I was that guy who always used to go to the basketball game and just dress like an idiot. So that kind of stuff’s not out of the question for me. Those days have kind of passed, but I feel like down deep they’re somewhere in there or I could do stuff like that.

You don’t mind putting yourself out there that way?

I feel like I’m less likely to now, but before I didn’t care. Like anything that I thought would get people to laugh, I would do it. Where now I’m not as much like that, but I would still probably do it. Like I’ll probably definitely wear the mullet hat if I can get one.

11. This is the 10th year of the 12 Questions. There has never been a repeat question until now. Pick a number between 1 and 100, and I’m going to pull up a random question from a past year’s series.

55.

This is from the 2013 12 Questions. And the question is, “What is your song of the moment right now?” Something you’re listening to a lot or you think fans should download, or I guess stream?

That’s a good question. I’ve got a funny little story for you. So this song I heard coming back from Homestead, we were riding back with one of the crew guys. And I heard this song on the radio, I’d heard it a couple times, and I was like, “Man, that’s a really good song.” So I could not remember it. Like, looked everywhere for it. Me and Marissa both were like, “Man, what’s the song called?” She didn’t really pay attention to it, and I was typing in lyrics I thought I heard on Google and I couldn’t find it.

So I come down to Daytona, get in my rental car, and it’s on — after three months of trying to figure out what this song was. So I instantly called her and put her on speakerphone and played it all the way up, I’m like, “Listen to what’s on!” She’s like, “What the heck is this? I don’t even know.”

So the song is called “Burn the House Down” and it’s like got this really good little trumpet beat to it. I don’t know, I thought it was really good. So I’ve been playing it a lot lately.

Who is it by?

Some three letters, AJ something, I don’t know. AGR or something. It’s on a pop station all the time.

(Editor’s note: The band, actually named AJR, was announced as the concert act for the NASCAR All-Star race after this interview was conducted.)

 

12. The last interview was with William Byron. I think he was gearing it towards the Cup schedule, but he wants to know as far as a weekend schedule goes, what would be the ideal weekend schedule in your mind? How many days, how many practices, things like that?

I feel like the least amount of practice, the better. It’s tough because if I’m in the car that weekend and we’re way off, I want as much practice as I can get. But at the same time, like if you go dirt racing, you literally get two or three laps, and then you go racing. So like a lot of times you go to places you’ve never even been before and it’s, “Alright, here’s your two laps and you’re gonna go qualify.” And it’s hard to figure a place out. I don’t think we need to go that extreme, but I do feel like we can cut back on a little more practice.

I wouldn’t mind seeing almost a random draw race. Like go for a random draw, and then we line them up Friday night and the winner gets a (playoff) point. You don’t have to race if you don’t want to; say some guys are like, “Man, we know we’re not gonna win, so we’re not gonna race,” so you might only get 20 cars out there. But then we go race for an extra (playoff) point and it’s random draw. So one week you might start on the pole, the next week you might start 20th.

So this is like a short heat race or something?

Kind of. It’s like 30 laps — that way you got enough time to get up there. But you have to run on your tires that you practiced on.

And this would set qualifying? Or set the starting lineup?

No, we would still qualify for the race on Sunday.

This is just a total bonus race?

Yeah, it’s a bonus race. And it’s free admission. Free admission, Friday night, 30 laps.

Racing for a playoff point, optional.

Yup. You don’t have to race if you don’t want to if you don’t want to tear your car up. And you have to run on the first set of tires you run on practice. So you might have 20 laps on them, you might have five laps on them.

Where did you get this idea from?

I don’t know, it just came to my head, but I feel like it would work. Free admission would be a hit.

Everybody’s already here anyway.

Exactly. So let’s race Friday night. Get Steve O’Donnell on the phone.

I don’t know who the next interview is going to be with. Do you have a question I can ask another driver?

I feel like the Cup Series is the best race car drivers in the world, right? So we go to short tracks, we go to intermediates, we go to road courses, superspeedways. Why don’t we run a dirt track? So would they be against running on dirt in the Cup Series or not? Because I feel like we should be challenged in every single discipline and that’s the best race car drivers in the world. So why not?

So would they be for or against a Cup Series race on dirt?

Yeah. Two of them.

Two?

Everything else gets two, so why not? And what two tracks?

OK. So if you are for the race, what two tracks would you want to see?

And if you don’t want to go dirt, what two tracks should we run in Cup that we don’t go to right now? It could be anywhere.


Previous 12 Questions interviews with Chase Briscoe:

Oct. 4, 2017

 

12 Questions with Aric Almirola (2019)

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Aric Almirola of Stewart-Haas Racing. These interviews are recorded as a podcast but also transcribed for those who prefer to read.

1. Are you an iPhone person or an Android person, and why?

iPhone. Simply because from the very beginning, I had an iPod and I liked it, so then I got the iPhone because I already had an iTunes account so I could have the music on my iPhone. And then once you have an iPhone, you’re kind of stuck.

Like once you go down that path, I’ve switched everything. I’ve got Apple iPad for the plane, I’ve got a Mac at home. It just makes everything a lot easier.

2. If a fan meets you in the garage, they might only have a brief moment with you. So between an autograph, a selfie or quick comment, what is your advice on the best way to maximize that interaction?

It’s tricky because there are different times throughout the year and different days of the weekend that the drivers are a little bit less stressed and a little bit less in a hurry to get to wherever they’re going. If you find them in that moment, the driver will most likely chat you up, will sign an autograph for you, will take the time to take a picture for you.

But then if you catch a driver walking out to his car for qualifying or you catch him walking out to the car for pre-race or anything like that, that guy is intensely focused in that moment. Like you’d never ever get access to Tom Brady walking out the tunnel to go onto the field to warm up, or walking out on the field to get ready to play a game. You would never get access to a basketball player walking out. And that’s the access that we get here in NASCAR.

And I love it. I do. I love our fans and I love interacting with them, and you catch us at the right time and the right place, we’ll spend a lot of time with you. But if you catch us in that moment to where we’re ultra-focused and ready to go 200 miles an hour inches apart from other drivers, we’re going be a little more zoned out. And when we’re zoned out, we obviously don’t pay a lot of attention to our surroundings.

That’s not just (toward) the fans, it’s that way with everybody. You kind of just get this tunnel vision of thinking about what you are getting ready to do and being prepared for qualifying or the race or whatever it is. So that’s a tough question to just answer directly.

Obviously if we’re sitting at an autograph appearance for an hour or two, come on (over). You can get an autograph, you can get a picture, we’ll chat with you, we’re there for whatever time we’re slotted to be there. And usually I stick around even longer to make sure we take care of everybody. So it depends on the timing.

3. When someone pulls a jerk move on the road when you’re driving down the highway, does that feeling compare at all to when someone pulls a jerk move on the track?

Yes. Absolutely. The only difference is on the racetrack, you can actually run up there and run into the back of them — and on the road, that’s frowned upon.

4. Has there ever been a time where you’ve had a sketchy situation with your safety equipment?

One time a couple years ago, my steering wheel rubbed my seatbelts and turned the camlock on my seatbelts and it actually made my seatbelts come undone. I know a few other drivers who that has happened to as well. So yeah, that is pretty scary when that happens.

Was that during a race?

Yes. So you kind of check up and slow down and wait for the caution to come, or on the straightaways you’re trying to drive with your legs and people probably think you’re drunk out there on the racetrack — but you’re trying to focus on what you have going on to get your seatbelts in.

It hasn’t happened in a long time. The seatbelts and the locking mechanisms and all that have gotten a lot better. But years ago, and when the camlock system first came out, that was certainly more of an issue.

5. If your crew chief put a super secret illegal part on your car that made it way faster, would you want to know about it?

I would not. No. I would not want to know. I want to describe what the race car is doing and tell the crew chief and the engineers what is happening from my vantage point as a driver, and then I want them to go to work and fix that. I’ve never really been in the details of what springs are on the car, what shocks are on the car, how much wedge do we have in the car, all of those things.

I know what all those things do, and I can voice my opinion, but the sport has evolved so much. The setups are so much different than anything that I’ve learned and knew growing up. So much more goes into it from the engineering and the computer side of it that the old school mentality is not really relevant.

So I’ve always been that way to where I show up, drive, tell them what’s going on with the car, and they handle the car and it’s their job to figure out how to make the car go as fast as it can. That’s not my role.

6. What is a food you would not recommend eating right before a race and are you speaking with personal experience with this recommendation?

So I think it’d probably be a bad idea to consume a lot of dairy right before a race. I think that’s a really bad idea just because dairy sits so heavy and then you get hot in the car — like really hot — and I just think that’s a terrible combination.

7. Is there life in outer space, and if so, do they race?

You said these questions were out there. You were not kidding.

I don’t know. I don’t believe there is life in outer space. Maybe there is, but I would have to be proven wrong on that one. So the answer to the other part of the question is…

They can’t race if there’s no life.

That’s right.

8. What do drivers talk about when they’re standing around at driver intros before a race?

It depends on what two drivers are talking or what group of drivers is talking. Usually for myself, I go up there and I’m kind of zoned in and ready to go race and everybody up there is a frenemy. I’m really just kind of focused on getting ready to race.

If you see somebody or whatever, you’re like, “Hey man, how’s it going? How’s your car?” And I think that’s most of the conversation, at least what I see and I think.

Most of the people exchange pleasantries. You’re getting ready to go race against this guy for the next four hours and you want to crush them. So you’re not a jerk, but you’re not overly friendly, either. You’re just ready to go racing, ready to go compete.

And then there’s the guys like (Clint) Bowyer, some of the other guys, they’re up there just having a jolly good ol’ time, laughing it up, just really laid back and relaxed, and they’re just getting ready to get the party started.

9. What makes you happy right now?

There’s a lot, actually. I find a lot of happiness right now with my family. I’m really fortunate I’ve got a great family — my wife (Janice), 6-year-old son (Alex), 5-year-old daughter (Abby), they’re so much fun to be around right now and watch them grow and get bigger and watching them start to branch out into doing their own things.

For the first several years of their life, everything kind of revolved around me still. The things that revolved around them were making sure they were fed and their diapers were changed. But as they grow up and get older, my son’s now playing basketball and playing baseball and riding BMX bikes and my daughter’s doing gymnastics and she’s doing theater and things like that. So that kind of stuff, it’s just fun as a dad to see that stuff, so that’s been making me happy.

And then just being around my team and being at the racetrack and racing and competing. I’ve been finding a lot of happiness in this past year and going into the new season just because of how competitive we are, and showing up to the racetrack is fun. Every weekend that we show up at the track is like, “Hey this is a new weekend, new opportunity, we can go win.” And that makes it fun. This last year just really rejuvenated me as a race car driver and it made going to work fun again, and I’ve found a lot of happiness in it.

10. Let’s say a sponsor comes to you and says, “We are going to fully fund the entire rest of your racing career on the condition that you wear a clown nose and an 80’s rocker wig in every interview you do forever.” Would you accept that offer?

Yeah, sold.

Wow, that was easy.

At the end of the day, that’s a small price to pay to get to do what you love to do and have somebody else pay for it, right? When you think about that, I have one of the coolest jobs in the world. I get to do what I’ve dreamed about doing since I was 8 years old, and I get paid really well to do it, and I do it at the very highest level. So yeah, if the sponsor wants me to wear a clown nose and an 80’s wig in an interview, then yeah, whatever. Let’s do it.

11. This is the 10th year of the 12 Questions. There has never been a repeat question until now. Pick a number between 1 and 100, and I’m going to pull up a random question from a past year’s series.

Can we just go with like 10 since that’s my car number?

I anticipated that. Joey Logano tipped me off that people would be using their car number, so I pulled that up had you asked that.

What if I said like 76?

I wouldn’t have that ready, but I could pull it up.

But 10 you have ready.

So this is the 10th question from the first 12 questions in 2010. If a rookie asks you one driver they should learn from and one driver they should avoid learning from, who would those two people be?

I think if you have the opportunity to learn from Kevin Harvick, I’ve had my eyes opened up this past year to be in meetings with him and be around him and see his dedication and see the work ethic he puts in. And it’s kind of quiet. He doesn’t blast it out to everyone on social and all that stuff, but he puts a lot of work it, and he’s really detail-oriented.

So I think him or Jimmie Johnson. Jimmie Johnson, from the aspect of not only has he been so successful, but he’s so gracious about it at the same time. He’s a seven-time champion and yet he’s one of the most humble people you’ll meet, and so I would tell any rookie driver to look at that. Just because you’ve had success and just because you win races, you might climb the ladder of our sport, it doesn’t mean that you should have an ego, and it doesn’t mean that you should treat people like crap. (Johnson is) a guy, out of all people, who could have an ego — won tons of races, won seven championships. And he’s confident in himself, but he’s very humble and a gracious guy, so that’s pretty cool.

And then one who you would not learn from. I’m not going to single any one guy out, but the list is pretty long of guys that have come into our sport, don’t do the right things with the sponsors and their partners, don’t do the right things on the racetrack, they tear up a lot of equipment, and they put a lot of pressure on themselves and they end up driving over their head — and then what happens is they come and go out of the sport.

And so for a rookie driver, I think it’s really important to look at that and see, “Hey, there are the mistakes this guy made and you don’t want to do that.” If you want to be here for a length of time, you want to make sure you take care of your partners and your sponsors and are a good representation for them, and you don’t show up thinking that you’re going to win every race and try way too hard and end up putting yourself in bad positions and tearing up a bunch of equipment.

12. The last interview was with Kyle Larson. He said he ran into you at Volusia and you introduced him to your grandfather (Sam Rodriguez) who raced sprint cars and of course that caught Kyle’s attention. So he wants to ask you, do you have any memories of watching your grandfather race at all, and if so, what sticks out?

So I have a lot of memories of watching my grandfather race. I watched my grandfather race all the way until I was 8 years old when he retired and then bought me a go-kart and then I started racing.

The memories that stick out the most to me was, I would say 50% of the time we went to the racetrack, he won. So my favorite part about going to the racetrack was when the race was over, he would stop on the front straightaway and take a picture with the crowd. They would actually let the crowd come onto the racetrack, so I would stand with him for a picture of just us and the crew, and then they would let fans come out and take a picture with the feature winner.

Then the fans would go back in the stands and he would put me in the seat of his sprint car and he would ride on the left side nerf bar and he would let me drive the sprint car — with the engine not running; we were getting pushed on a four-wheeler. But he would let me drive the sprint car, standing up in the seat, back to the tech barn after the race was over for tech. So those were really cool days and that’s what made me so passionate about racing.

Do you have the question I can ask the next driver? It’s William Byron.

Yes, so his bus is actually parked right next to me, and so the few times that they have pumped him out this week, it stinks really bad. So I guess my question would be, has anybody told him that his poop stinks?

That’s something only you would know living here in this motorhome lot.

No, you want a real question? And I think a great question for William would be, coming into this sport at such a young age and with such high expectations and stuff, what does he enjoy doing to sort of get away from all of the hysteria of NASCAR and the pressure of being counted on at Hendrick Motorsports?


Previous 12 Questions interviews with Aric Almirola:

— Oct. 3, 2012

— Aug. 20, 2013

— July 21, 2015

— Aug. 16, 2016

— Sept. 6, 2017

July 3, 2018

 

News Analysis: Daniel Suarez moves to Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 41 car

What happened: The Daniel Suarez and Stewart-Haas Racing marriage was finally made official Monday after a lengthy period of negotiation and speculation. Suarez lost his ride at Joe Gibbs Racing when Martin Truex Jr. moved to the 19 car following Furniture Row Racing’s shutdown. Meanwhile, SHR had an open seat in its No. 41 car after Kurt Busch and sponsor Monster left for Chip Ganassi Racing. It apparently took months to finalize the sponsorship details with Arris, but Suarez and SHR are now moving forward. Haas Automation — the machine tools company of SHR co-owner Gene Haas — was listed as the sponsor ahead of Arris, and the photo distributed in the team’s news release has Suarez in a black Haas firesuit.

Photo: HHP/Harold Hinson

What it means: A lot went on behind the scenes on the business side, from Arris leaving JGR to Suarez bringing enough sponsorship with him to get the ride. Gene Haas, who has most of the input on the No. 41 car, told NBC Sports in September about the possibility of signing Suarez: “We’ve talked to him. He brings a different group of sponsors. Like anything else, it comes down to the bottom line. How much sponsorship are we talking? How much money does SHR get? How much money does the driver get? Those are the kind of typical things that can take awhile to iron out because everybody wants everything.” Clearly, he wasn’t kidding about the “awhile” part, as it’s now less than six weeks until the Daytona 500. But that’s how business is done in NASCAR these days, as sponsorship is much more complex than companies just slapping their names on the hood.

News value (scale of 1-10): Four. Being a ride with one of the top teams in NASCAR saves it from being lower. But everyone figured this was coming for soooo long that it’s not surprising — therefore the actual “news” part is lower than average.

Three questions: Can Suarez really pull a Joey Logano and break through for wins after leaving JGR? Will Suarez finish higher or lower than Busch’s No. 1 car at Ganassi this season? Haas has said it takes $20 million to run a good Cup team without the driver salary included — so how much money were Suarez’s backers ultimately able to bring in order to secure the ride over other potential candidates?

The Top Five: Breaking down the Phoenix playoff race

Five thoughts after Sunday’s NASCAR playoff race at ISM Raceway…

1.  Big stage is set

After all the crazy twists of these playoffs, NASCAR ended up with the best four drivers of the season going for the championship.

There are no flukes here. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. have the best average finishes of anyone in the Cup Series this season (in that order). In the traditional/non-playoff point standings, which are still kept by racing-reference.info, those four drivers are also tops in season-long points.

It’s a stout group, and you could make a case for any of them winning the title.

“This is the closest four that have been in our sport in a long time,” Busch said.

There are no newcomers among them, either.  Each contender has been in the final four at least twice — even though this is only the fifth year of its existence. Logano is the least experienced of the contenders — and yet this is his 10th season.

“Three of us have won in the format and all four of us have lost in the format,” Busch said. “Overall, it just comes back to a lot of things having to go your way.”

So what’s going to happen at Homestead? Well, it would be a surprise if the drivers didn’t run 1-2-3-4 for much of the race, and maybe even finish that way.

Harvick though, remains the favorite. It’s a 1.5-mile track and he’s consistently been the fastest off the truck all year. Strange things can happen, as we saw at Phoenix, but the Fords are still better than the Toyotas on intermediate tracks.

So that said, my prediction for the finishing order of this year’s final four is: Harvick-Logano-Busch-Truex.

2. Playoff races raise the game

It’s OK to have a love/hate relationship with this playoff format. There are days when it seems far from the best way to decide an auto racing champion.

But Sunday was not one of those days. The playoff pressure absolutely elevated the Phoenix race and made it far more compelling than it may have been otherwise.

Look at how desperately Aric Almirola was driving at the end. Look at the decisions made by Kurt Busch and his team to try to preserve their points position over Harvick. The whole atmosphere and vibe of the race was dramatically enhanced by the playoffs, and it made for a highly entertaining day.

Yeah, it’s still weird to have one race at a given track decide the season-long winner. On the other hand, it gains credibility when the best drivers all advance — and the addition of playoff points have certainly helped.

“I think the format we have now is the absolutely best scenario we could have when you look at it for the entirety of the year,” Busch said.

3. Smoke’s thoughts

Tony Stewart had his hands full on Sunday. He knew it would be challenging for a team owner — that’s what happens when you have four teammates going for one spot. But he had to step into an extra role as well: Counselor.

As Kurt Busch was having a meltdown on the radio after a tough penalty took  the race lead away and cost him a lap, Stewart intervened and told Busch to take a deep breath. After the race, Stewart consoled Busch with an embrace and words of encouragement — something Busch expressed gratitude for later.

It was if the current Stewart was talking to the racer Stewart from 10 years ago as the voice of reason.

Scary, isn’t it?” Stewart told me after the race. “Got some experience in those situations. I think that helps, at least being in that position. (Kurt is) a good guy. He’s come a long way, but he still gets in those positions where the heat of battle takes over. It’s understandable. That’s why we do what we do.

“Can’t blame him for it. You just know everybody is going to hang on every word he says, so you just try to help him out more than anything. After his penalty, he did an awesome job of locking back in. He was running the leaders down from the back. Pretty proud of him.”

Overall, Stewart was unhappy about the race unfolded. He called it “chaotic” and indicated there were too many factors affecting such a big race.

What specifically stuck out?

The scenarios and everything around it, drivers that shouldn’t even be in the Cup Series causing cautions, stupid stuff happening,” he said.

4. Harvick’s comeback

This will probably be lost to history, but let’s take a moment to appreciate Harvick’s remarkable feat at Phoenix.

After dominating the first stage, he had a tire go flat with two laps left in the stage and limped to pit road — which was actually fortunate timing, because the stage break saved him from going more laps down.

Then he fought his way to the free pass position —  and got it — despite a damaged car. Later, his team used strategy to put him in a favorable spot to be in front of the late wreck that would have ended his playoff hopes — but instead helped him sail through on points as his competitors crashed.

Harvick downplayed it all afterward, saying it was “just another day.” He said his only thoughts were trying to get back to the pits instead of worrying about the championship.

But the survival and focus of his team to persevere through a day that could have been a heartbreaker is one to remember — especially if he ends up winning his second title next week.

5. What if?

An intriguing scenario popped up late in the race with Kyle Busch and Almirola restarting side-by-side. If Busch allowed Almirola to beat him on the restart — and potentially for the win — then it would have eliminated Harvick, who is clearly Busch’s biggest competitor for the title.

Busch said it crossed his mind, but never seriously. He wasn’t going to give up a win, even if it means Harvick would beat him next week.

You always want to go up against the best of the best, and the strength of the season has been us three and the 22,” Busch said.

In addition, Busch said it wouldn’t have worked anyway. Had Almirola gotten by on the restart and Busch fallen in line, he predicted Brad Keselowski would have won instead.

“I don’t think the 10 was capable enough of being able to lead the race and not have somebody else pass him, know what I mean?” Busch said. “That would have been dumb.”

Crew chief Adam Stevens,  though, seemed like he wouldn’t have been disappointed had it happened.

“It wouldn’t have upset me if it did happen, but we weren’t going to do anything to make it happen,” Stevens said.

I’m not at all saying Busch should have done it — no real racer would give up a win, and it also would have been a huge scandal for not letting the race play out — but it’s an interesting scenario that only pops up in NASCAR’s unique playoff format.

The Top Five: Breaking down the Kansas playoff race

Five thoughts following Sunday’s Round 2 elimination race at Kansas Speedway…

1. Contenders narrow

It’s been 14 races since Martin Truex Jr. won. It’s been 10 since Kevin Harvick won. Kyle Busch has one win in the last 11 races.

And yet, regardless of how each team is running, the Big Three have to be thrilled with how the playoffs are shaping up at this point.

That’s because the drivers who would seem to be the biggest threats to beat them at Homestead keep getting eliminated. Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin were out after Round 1, and now Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski are gone after Round 2.

Chase Elliott is perhaps the favorite to get the last Homestead spot right now, but can you really picture someone other than a Big Three driver winning the title? With apologies to the remaining five challengers, none of those remaining have the experience and history at Homestead that the Big Three brings.

Anything can happen, of course, and none of the remaining drivers are pushovers. It’s just that Homestead seems to require an extra level of speed and execution. Given the increased pressure and performance demanded by a championship situation, having been in that spot before — and achieving the ultimate goal — really does count for a lot.

2. What to make of Round 2?

Brad Keselowski won three straight races bridging the start of the playoffs, giving a false impression of how good his team really was. Keselowski himself was frank about the streak all along, saying he didn’t have the fastest car in any of the three races he won. But when a team goes on a roll like that, the momentum feels impossible to ignore. Suddenly, everyone had Keselowski penciled in to Homestead.

Then came a ninth-place finish at Richmond, a crash while leading the Roval and finishes of 14th, 27th and sixth in Round 2. Just like that, Keselowski was out.

Now Elliott has won two races in three weeks, and has seemed to be running better in general as the fall approached. That said, is Elliott’s recent run that different than Keselowski’s? Wins shouldn’t be ignored, but in terms of making a statement, it’s Harvick who was going to win both the races Elliott won — including on Sunday — without self-inflicted mistakes on pit road (one by the team, one by the driver).

So it’s tough to figure how seriously to take Elliott’s playoff hopes. He’s racing with confidence and his team is putting him in situations to capitalize on potential wins. Is that enough to put him in the Homestead conversation, though? I’m going to take raw speed over anything at this point in the season, and that still seems like Harvick every week.

3. SHR channeling JGR

All four Stewart-Haas Racing drivers advanced to Round 3, making up half of the playoff field heading into the last four races.

When is the last time such a feat occurred? Actually it was only two years ago, when all four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers — Busch, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth — made it to the Round of Eight.

Kenseth and Hamlin were eliminated after Phoenix that year, with Busch and Edwards advancing to Homestead. Edwards then was infamously in position to win the championship until a late caution,  which reset the field, ended in a wreck with Joey Logano and ultimately turned out to be his final career race.

So how will this year unfold for SHR? Will more than one of its drivers get to the final four?

I’m going to say no. Harvick is a lock, but Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer probably need to win a race during this round if they’re going to make it. That’s because there’s such a large playoff points deficit to the Big Three, and you would think at least one of that trio will need to advance on points.

Bowyer could win Martinsville, but so could a number of drivers. The best bet for other SHR contenders might be if a non-playoff team wins one of the races and opens up an extra spot to reach Homestead on points.

Otherwise, Harvick might be riding solo into the championship round despite having three teammates in the semifinals.

4. Stale schedule hurts Round 2

Kansas was an OK race. It got exciting at the end, when there was a late battle for the lead. But had the playoff elimination scenario not been present all day, it would have been your standard, ho-hum 1.5-mile track race.

Logano dominated the early part of the race in clean air, until Harvick took over and did the same. Aside from the stage breaks, there was only one caution — for oil on the track when William Byron blew up.

It was just another reminder that NASCAR’s No. 1 issue isn’t personalities or tires or rules packages, but the tracks themselves — and where those tracks fall on the schedule.

The excitement and freshness of Round 1 seems like a distant memory after a relatively uneventful Dover race, a disappointing Talladega and then Sunday’s event at Kansas. This round’s watchability was masked by the good fortune of two popular Elliott wins, which pump up many in NASCAR. Overall, though, Round 2 promised more thrills than were actually delivered.

But remember the chaotic playoffs opener at Las Vegas? The first-time playoff event at Richmond? The hype and craziness of the Roval? The playoffs had gotten off to such a good start and were part of a string of great races that spanned a couple months.

Thankfully, Martinsville lies ahead next week and Round 3 also contains Phoenix’s new layout with the start/finish line in a turn (which might not change much with the racing, but at least it’s something new to talk about).

Maybe this is a wacky theory, but is it possible a stale schedule can leak into the on-track product at times? When a race gets hyped so much that even the drivers buy into it, is it possible they race differently? Perhaps it’s just coincidence, but Round 1 was a hell of a lot more compelling than Round 2 — and that seems backward for a playoff format that usually picks up steam as it goes.

5. Frustration continues for racing in U.S.

One of the year’s most-attended races in the United States happened on Sunday, and it wasn’t the NASCAR race.

Formula One and NASCAR went head-to-head once again this season — same day, same time —  and it only figures to get worse next year when they run in the same state as well.

I understand the reasoning for both series — F1 goes all over the world and doesn’t really care what NASCAR does, and NASCAR doesn’t have much of a window to avoid F1 — but that still doesn’t make it productive for either.

Think about this: What if NASCAR held the Kansas race on a Saturday afternoon? Then it could have sent its drivers to flood the F1 paddock, where they would have been portrayed as celebrities to the worldwide TV feed, increasing the international profile of the stock car series. Conversely, F1 is trying to gain a foothold in the U.S. but can’t really do that without dipping into the NASCAR fan base, which is the largest and most receptive audience in this country.

It all seems so self-defeating when you think about the challenges all forms of racing face today. With so many smart people working in both series and the obvious crossover opportunities, a greater effort should be made to lift up both NASCAR and F1 — even if one has to give a little more than the other to make it work.

12 Questions with Clint Bowyer (2018)

Clint Bowyer puts his winner sticker on the car after winning at Michigan this year. (Getty Images)

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues this week with Clint Bowyer of Stewart-Haas Racing. This interview is recommended as a podcast, but is also transcribed for those who would rather read.

1. How often do you have dreams about racing?

I don’t really dream, Jeff. Helluva question.

Really? You just sail right through the night?

I can’t even remember my dreams. Don’t you ever wake up, and you’re like, “What the hell happened?”

Yeah, but sometimes I’m interviewing you in my dream. It freaks me out.

I don’t have that, Jeff. I don’t ever dream I’m interviewing with you.

2. If you get into someone during a race — intentional or not — does it matter if you apologize?

Yes, but it means zero. You’re still going to get retaliated, and sometimes, with peers and things like that, it just depends who it is. If it’s somebody you’ve kind of had a run-in with before or you don’t get along or you don’t speak off the racetrack or something else, they don’t really know you, they don’t know that that was (unintentional).

I mean, a guy like Jamie McMurray. He’s gotten into me before and it was a situation, like that wasn’t on purpose. Pissed you off, it was a bad deal, but it didn’t mean anything to me and I knew he’d be calling and as soon as he did, I was like, “I get it. It’s all good. Shit happens.” Same goes on the flip side of that.

It just depends. If it’s a kid that’s been racing you hard and doing something stupid for four or five weeks and making it hard and over-pushing the envelope and it finally catches up to you, that’s the one that gets to you and makes you mad.

3. What is the biggest compliment someone could give you?

I think the biggest compliment now in life is, “Your kid’s a good kid” and “he was polite.” (Bowyer’s son Cash) went over to somebody’s house the other day and they’re like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe how polite he was.” You’re like, “Yes!” He didn’t get that from me, by the way.

But nonetheless, your pride comes from different things now. Once you have a family and kids and everything else, you know, yes — when somebody says you did a good job in the race car or something else, that’s meaningful. But when they say that about something that is your pride and joy gives you a compliment, it’s a good feeling.

4. NASCAR comes to you and says they’re bringing a celebrity to the track and they want you to host them. Who is a celebrity you’d be excited to host?

I think all of them. It doesn’t matter. If it’s a celebrity, it’s meaningful that they’re there, that they want to be there, that they’re choosing to be at our sport. So it’s always fun for me that we get to meet celebrities because I don’t view myself as worthy of being able to hang out with celebrities. I’ve always been starstruck and big-eyed. When you see somebody that you see on TV or grew up seeing on TV, I’m no different from anybody else. Like, “Holy shit, that’s whoever!” It still rocks you back on your heels and it’s a big deal.

If I had to pick somebody who the next celebrity would be or would blow me away, I don’t know. It would have to be somebody funny, because I like having fun in our sport, I like having fun in general. But when you are around people like that, you can kind of embrace the relationship a little bit more and show them the funny side of our sport. Get them in a car and put them in a situation and they’ll freak out or something like that. I like that aspect of celebrities and things like that.

That’s kind of a shitty answer to your question, but I’m serious, it doesn’t really matter who it is. If it’s a celebrity and they’re interested in our sport, they’re there, I want to be involved and I want to show them our sport.

5. In an effort to show this is a health-conscious sport, NASCAR decides to offer the pole for an upcoming race to the first driver willing to go vegan for one month. Would you do it?

For a pit stall? Hell no! For a win or something? I don’t even pick stalls anyway — we just complain about them.

6. It’s time for the Random Race Challenge. I’ve picked a random race from your career and you have to tell me where you finished.

I’ll tell you right now: Fail.

This is the 2014 July New Hampshire Cup race.

No clue, buddy. Not one clue.

You finished sixth. You started eighth. You led 36 laps this race. Brad Keselowski won. So you don’t remember this race?

No. I don’t even know what car I was driving.

7. Who is the best rapper alive?

(Laughs) What? There’s no such thing. There’s literally no such thing.

I will say this, I was at the beach with my spotter Brett Griffin and his two daughters and they sang this Cardi B song in the back of the van and I had to stop the van, I was crying laughing so hard. And I don’t know if I was crying laughing so hard because of the fact it was awesome they were doing it or the fact that I knew that Brett was going to be in trouble with his wife because they are definitely getting thrown out of school because of the words in that song that they knew already at such a young age. He is definitely going to get an ass-chewing. And that’s really why I was laughing, because I knew at some point it was going to come full circle to him getting in trouble, because I know damn well they knew that song because of him, not because of his wife.

8. Who has the most punchable face in NASCAR?

God, that’s easy. Everybody knows that’s Kyle (Busch). (Laughs)

That’s terrible though. You set me up for failure there! That’s bullshit.

You acted like you knew the answer right away! 

I’m going to give you 12 questions one of these days.

He’s not even the most common answer this year.

Really…?

Yeah. Brad is.

It’s kind of the same face.

9. NASCAR enlists three famous Americans to be involved with your team for one race as part of a publicity push: Taylor Swift, LeBron James and Tom Hanks.

How did you pick those three?

I’m running out of questions, here…

Your dreaming is real. This is your dream? Holy shit. Your dreams are out of control. You pick Taylor Swift, Tom Hanks, and who?

LeBron. Choose one to be your spotter, one to be your motorhome driver, and one to be —

The jack man.

No, your crew chief. You could do jack man if you want, mix it up.

I think LeBron would be big enough. You wouldn’t want Tom Hanks to be the jack guy, you know what I’m saying. Taylor Swift wouldn’t be a very good jack guy.

No.

Well, we clearly couldn’t have Taylor Swift being the motorhome driver as a married man, because that wouldn’t last very long. One or the other wouldn’t last: You’d break down or your wife would break up.

That’s a good point.

(Laughs) So I appreciate you setting me up for failure once again on that.

But what are we gonna do with LeBron? Well Tom Hanks will be the spotter, you can understand him and he will be good. And then the crew chief, I guess LeBron’s in.

Well, you’re going to have to put Taylor there since you can’t have her as your motorhome driver. She’s going to be calling the shots.

Yeah. I don’t think LeBron could fit in the motorhome seat though, his head would be rubbing.

He might know how to grill or something cool.

Yeah, he makes enough money. All three of them make enough money that they aren’t going to drive your bus. That’s just the facts. But your dreams, I’m following along in your dreams here. They’re really screwed up, by the way.

10. What is the key to finding the best pre-race bathroom?

Ho ho! This is the key to success in motorsports. Everybody always asks, “What do you do pregame? What do you do before the race?” If you don’t do one thing before the race, you’re gonna wish you did that one thing the entire race. It’s three and a half hours out there, Jack. If you’ve got a Number Two issue on your hands for three and a half hours, you’ve got a hell of an issue on your hands. It’s a shitty situation. (Pretends to be upset with the question.) One more opportunity to set me up for failure!

11. NASCAR decides they would like the highlight reel value brought by the former Carl Edwards backflips and want their own version. How much money would they have to offer for you to backflip off your car following your next win?

I win the championship, I will do whatever you want. If you want me to do a backflip, get the pads out because I’m gonna need them. No way in hell am I gonna land on my feet.

This year?

Homestead. Done. You just bring it up and I will attempt a backflip. I probably need the roof to get the full rotation around and make sure I don’t land on my head because the door stop’s probably not enough, but I’ll go for it.

12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. Last week was Rico Abreu. He wants to know: Why don’t more Cup drivers pull like a Larson or a Kahne or a Stewart and dive back into some of these lower series, whether it’s sprint car racing or Late Models or things like that?

Rico, if he can’t be a big enough star on his own and he needs Larson to come back and bring the crowd for him, there’s enough being said. (Grins)

Here’s the thing: I do contribute to that level. I don’t race in it anymore, but I own two Dirt Late Model teams. I feel like through that connection, I am connected and I enjoy that. I enjoy short track racing and I think that’s very, very important, it’s always been a good platform for me. Partners, we’ve always built good partners at that level and even brought them to the Cup Series.

I love short track racing. I mean, if I never made it to Cup and I always raced at Lakeside Speedway in the Midwest and raced at Iowa in the (IMCA) Super Nationals that just happened, I was plenty content. Had a good time, was successful, had a lot of fun and made a lot of memories with a lot of good people. That’s plenty good enough for me.

Do you have a question I can ask the next interview?

Can you tell me who it is?

The schedule’s up in the air right now, so it’s either going to be Justin Haley from the Truck Series or Ryan Blaney.

Which I literally have nothing in common with. Like I don’t even think we speak the same language. I don’t know Fortnite like these kids do.

I don’t know. My question for the next driver is: Are they OK with me beating them? How bad does it bother them when somebody as crazy as I am is able to beat them on any given Sunday? Does it make them feel like a lesser person? Does it embarrass them? Does it keep them up at night dreaming like Jeff Gluck?


Previous 12 Questions interviews with Clint Bowyer:

Nov. 3, 2010

Nov. 16, 2011

June 27, 2012

Aug. 28, 2013

Aug. 27, 2014

June 22, 2016

April 5, 2017

 

The Top Five: Breaking down the New Hampshire race

Five thoughts after Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway…

1. Beauty in bumping

A well-executed bump-and-run is NASCAR’s most magnificent work of art, full of intricacies and accepted by nearly everyone as a fair way to settle a race.

In one move, it sums up everything people love about stock car racing: Contact, close racing and aggression — but without any wrecked vehicles as a result.

Kevin Harvick’s bump-and-run to win Sunday night at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was absolute perfection, providing a textbook example that can be used for years to come.

Even the driver on the receiving end — Kyle Busch — calmly said the move was just fine with him.

“It was just a bump,” Busch said. “It wasn’t a big deal. He didn’t wreck me or anything like that. He did it early enough, but he did it way harder to push me out of the groove three lanes. It just takes you so long to recover here, there was just no possible way I could get back to him. I was in the way, so no harm, no foul.”

Busch’s only quibble? He wished Harvick would have raced him cleaner first before making contact. Busch said if the roles were reversed, he would have tried using lapped cars for a few more laps before deciding to play bumper cars.

“When you’re slower, you kind of expect it,” Busch said. “But you also think a guy is going to race you fair and pass you clean first. I don’t think he ever tried to pass me clean once he got there.”

But that’s exactly what Harvick anticipated Busch would be thinking, which is why the Stewart-Haas Racing driver decided to make the move at the first available opportunity.

“I needed to do it when he wasn’t expecting it,” Harvick said. “The more opportunities to get in his wheelhouse, his thought process, the less chance you have. He’s that good.

“If you wait until two or three to go, the entries are going to get shallower, he’s going to start grinding on the brakes a little bit harder. He’s going to put himself in a position not to get hit. He’s going to go on defense, start to really get aggressive, too.

“I wanted to do it earlier just to try to catch him off guard.”

There’s a fine line to executing the move — it means moving the other driver up the track enough to make a pass while escaping into the lead — “get away from him far enough because you know they’re going to be mad,” Harvick said — and all without causing a wreck.

Harvick did exactly that. And though it opens the door for Busch to do the same thing in the same situation, Harvick had no regrets about the decision.

“He still finished second, right?” Harvick said.

2. The Huge Three

NASCAR fans hate storylines that are overhyped, so there are likely some out there who can’t stand to hear one more word about the “Big Three.”

But as much as Harvick, Busch and Martin Truex Jr.’s dominance has been discussed, this is the rarely hyped NASCAR story that might actually be underplayed.

Seriously, this is almost surreal at this point in the season. There have been 20 races this season, and three drivers have combined to win 15 of them. Fifteen! WHAT!? There are only 16 races left in the whole year! How many more are they going to get? That’s amazing.

Another crazy stat: The Big Three have 88 playoff points — not counting the points Harvick had taken away with a penalty — while the entire rest of the field only has 45 combined.

How is this even possible? Two of these drivers have teammates (and the Joe Gibbs Racing drivers are basically Truex’s teammates), and yet it’s still only three cars winning all the races. And they just keep doing it, even in races that seemed headed for a different outcome like Sunday.

Wild!

3. Almost Almirola

Aric Almirola appeared more bummed and upset about failing to win at New Hampshire than he did after being wrecked out of the lead at the Daytona 500 in February.

How’s that possible? Well, Daytona was just the start of Almirola’s rebirth as a driver, the first race with a team that could finally make him a regular winner. There seemed to be much more to come.

But now — in late July, the 20th race of the season — coming close and failing to win stings worse.

“Everybody keeps talking about the Big Three, but I feel like we were stomping them pretty good today,” he said. “That’s why they are so good — they execute all race long. Unfortunately, we didn’t today.”

Almirola had the fastest car in New Hampshire — even Harvick said so — but “lost control of the race” on the final pit stop. His pit crew had a slower stop than Kyle Busch’s team, which put Almirola at Busch’s mercy for the restart. Then Busch went at the soonest possible moment, which caught Almirola off guard and left him spinning the tires as a result.

He ended up finishing third and initially seemed devastated. But Almirola said there’s more to come from his team.

“We’re peaking,” he said. “As the 10 team, we’re peaking at the right time. You’ve seen the speed we had at Chicago (when he almost won) and we’re putting things together. … We’re starting to get what we need out of the race cars.”

4. Teammate blues

Speaking of Almirola, Clint Bowyer was gutted after hesitation to get off the track with a broken car potentially cost his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate a victory.

“It just sucks,” Bowyer said. “I hate that for my teammate (Almirola). He was dominating the race.”

With Almirola leading the race and Harvick running second, Bowyer was called into the pits to serve a one-lap penalty for pitting outside the box. Upon returning to the track, Bowyer radioed to the team and said something broke on his car.

At that point in the race, there was going to be no salvaging the day — Bowyer was already two laps down due to the penalty and broken part. As such, the No. 14 team should have brought Bowyer into the pits immediately.

What was the purpose in staying out? Bowyer is already secured in the playoffs this season with two wins and points mean little for him.

But for whatever reason, Bowyer was kept on the track. By the time the team finally decided to make the call, it was too late.

“I was trying to nurse it around,” Bowyer said. “Something in the left rear was broke and…Brett (Griffin, his spotter) told me, ‘We’re having trouble, let’s just get off the track,’ and I was kind of thinking the same thing. Literally, as he was saying that and I’m thinking it, something broke on the right side and away it went. That sucks. I hate it for him.”

Bowyer has been involved on the wrong end of a team orders situation before, but surely this wouldn’t have been viewed in the same category. Calling a car in for repairs — or to the garage — while a teammate is leading under green would be a perfectly acceptable move in future situations.

5. Points picture

The battle for the non-win playoff spots grew less dramatic this week after the three Hendrick bubble drivers all had top-11 days while Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished five laps down in 30th place.

Jimmie Johnson (14th in the playoff standings) and Chase Elliott (15th) now have whopping 97- and 95-point leads over Stenhouse for the final playoff spot.

Alex Bowman, who finished 11th, is up by 28 points over Stenhouse.

The next-closest drivers to pointing their way into the playoffs? After Stenhouse, Paul Menard is 29 points behind Bowman and Ryan Newman is way back (-74 points). Everyone else behind Newman (like Daniel Suarez, William Byron and Jamie McMurray) pretty much have to win at this point with only six races until the playoffs.

The most likely wild card possibility could be if AJ Allmendinger (25th in points) wins in two weeks at Watkins Glen and moves the cutoff line up to Elliott’s position.

But that could generate even less drama heading into the final regular season races, because Bowman is 67 points behind Elliott.