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What Sprint Cup drivers said after the Chase race at Talladega

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Joey Logano won the Hellmann’s 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, advancing to the Round of 8 in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Here’s what the field of drivers had to say about their results at Talladega:

JOEY LOGANO – Winner:  “It’s never a layup here at Talladega. It’s always close. You never get a big lead … (Crew chief) Todd (Gordon) made some good adjustments during the race and found some speed in the car, so that was pretty neat to see some of that. We got that track position and just hung onto it. I was able to stay on the bottom and try to run the bottom and keep everyone in line, and that worked out really well. Kevin (Harvick) did a good job with that, which ultimately got us all a great finish. It was fun racing there at the end. I was really confused. I didn’t know what lane to pick coming to the last restart, but I knew Kevin had a lot of experience in these situations and is great at speedway racing, so he did a good job of pushing me out. And then had to defend the top lane with Brian Scott. So a couple of Fords out front here at Talladega is pretty cool.”

BRIAN SCOTT – Finished 2nd: “A good finish always helps. It helps with the team. It helps with the guys at the shop, the morale. Just trying to get any bit of a bright spot in this year has been difficult. I think that this is by far the brightest spot that we’ve had in a really challenging 2016 for Richard Petty Motorsports. I don’t know. I guess the results and what this does for us going forward is yet to be determined. But just proud. I mean, the guys have worked hard all year. They’ve deserved a lot better finishes than we’ve given them. Just proud to deliver a good, solid top five, to do my job behind the wheel to give us a shot at the win. Just have a good day for Richard Petty Motorsports.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished 3rd: “We needed some things to fall our way if we didn’t win the race. Today things fell our way. The last lap, we went out and earned it. I think back all the years that I’ve been doing this, honestly, 11 years. Of course, you remember all the bad beats that you have … But for me I really truly believe this is the first really great fortune that we had in a Chase in my 11‑year career. Things just happened well for us. We went out there and we did our jobs. It was very tough to be able to run against guys that had a lot of teammates up front. I knew that was going to be a problem for us all day. But we were able to have just enough there at the end to get past the 41 and get in.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 4th: “We were battling hard and had a great run. Our car just wanted to go to the front today. There were a few times I made a mistake and got shuffled back about 15th or so. We just worked our way back up and had good pit stops. This effort today just felt like that total team effort. The pressure is here, but we are going to get stronger and better as this Chase goes on. I’m really excited about this restrictor-plate car heading to Daytona next spring.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished 5th: “Our Zest Ford was fast all weekend and qualified well. We lost some track position and it took us really all race to get it back, which was a struggle. We got in position there at the end. I really wanted to restart on the top. I thought if I could restart on the top we may have had a shot at winning the race, but being on the bottom our car wasn’t as good. I’m definitely thankful to get a top five out of it. It’s cool to see a Ford move on to the next round with Joey (Logano). It was a bummer for Brad (Keselowski), but, all in all, it was a really good weekend. We’ll try to keep gaining on it on these speedways.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 7th: “Yeah, the final laps everybody is just pushing and shoving and then (Kurt Busch) cleaned the side of our car out after the checkered flag. I don’t really understand that, but all in all the Jimmy John’s Chevrolet team did a great job and didn’t have a scratch on it until then. That is pretty good for Talladega.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 9th: “Yeah, it’s really close. I guess it wasn’t our day to (advance in the Chase). It wasn’t planned for us to do that. We tried. We didn’t really have enough speed all day to do much. I’m proud of my guys and all my teammates helped me as much as they could. We just couldn’t get another spot. We got a couple there at the end on the last little straight, but the No. 43 (Aric Almirola) was the car we needed and it didn’t work out.”

A.J. Allmendinger: Finished 10th: “The car is going to roll back onto the hauler so that is probably our best superspeedway effort so far this year. Just kind of sat in the back there and bided our time. When it was time to go, got a good line on the bottom there and it kind of got us back up to the lead pack there. From there it was just trying to hold the guys off. I thought we were going to be pretty good there coming to the checkered and I think the No. 4 (Kevin Harvick) got kind of left out and lost all of his momentum, so I had to check up just a little bit. It cost us a couple of spots, but it rolls and a top 10 that is what we can do here.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 11th: “We had a strong Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion all day. I could have made better decisions in lane selection there toward the end but you never know how that’s going to work out. It’s too bad Brad didn’t get to finish. We tried to give him as much help as we could there when he was leading.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 12th: “We were trying to be as aggressive we could and try to make stuff happen. It’s tough to do as you get back in the pack and try to make your way through the pack. It just takes time. There’s definitely a lot of power in numbers. We’re disappointed that we came up short. The NAPA team has been fighting hard the past few weeks. We’ve had some awesome racecars. It’s unfortunate to come up short.”

Trevor Bayne – Finished 17th: “We just couldn’t get any help when we needed it. I was doing all I can to move forward but we just needed some drafting help. Our AdvoCare Ford felt good today but we just didn’t get a chance to go race for the win there in the end.”

Chris Buescher – Finished 22nd: “It feels great to finish at one of these places. It’s what we wanted to do, just finish one of these things and come out with a decent finish. We were just jammed up there and the track wasn’t as racy as a lot of people were hoping, and we weren’t able to gain any speed. It was a good attempt and I’m proud of the effort that everybody put in. It felt good to be able to drive under the checkered flag at the end.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 23rd: “Yeah, excited about the three tracks that are coming up. They are great for us historically. I hope they continue to be great tracks for us as we look for our seventh championship. Not the day we wanted here, we were certainly trying to work with the No. 24 (Chase Elliott) and help them. Didn’t get the finish that we were really after, but big picture we are going to a great race track next weekend and just have some fun.”

Ryan Reed – Finished 26th in Sprint Cup debut: “Today meant so much to me. I truly hope I was able to earn some respect out there. We always want a better finish than 26th, but with no mistakes and not a scratch on the car, we’ll take that here at Talladega.”

Matt Kenseth – Finished 28th: “It goes against everything you ever want to do as a race car driver. You want to go try to win races, so I think it’s just kind of an unintended consequence of the way – being the cutoff race and the way the Chase works. You can’t afford to go up there and get wrecked and not have a chance to race for a championship, so it was just kind of the cards we were dealt and we had to play them. I don’t think any of us had any fun and none of us enjoyed, but it was just what we had to do to make sure we got to Martinsville and trying to race four more weeks and hopefully have a shot at the four of us trying to race for a championship.”

Carl Edwards – Finished 29th: “Stressful, stressful, stressful – that was the other word of the day. We don’t like to race like that, but it’s like Matt (Kenseth) said, it’s the hand you’re dealt. You don’t want to give it up and we played it right. I’m going to go get a rotisserie chicken sandwich and move on to Martinsville. I’m really excited to go there. Awesome that Denny (Hamlin) made it in too, he really raced his guts out too. I don’t know if he’ll give me as much advice as he did last time, but hopefully we can talk with him and I really want to get that win at Martinsville and advance.”

Kyle Busch – Finished 30th: “It’s frustrating, but to have a dull day today it’s certainly going to make for a heck of a lot more exciting days down the road. You have to look at it as you have to take the good with the bad sometimes, no different in that sort of scenario. Today was one of those having to ride around bad type days, but the reward is being able to race on and go into the next round and have a chance to race for another championship.”

Brad KeselowskiFinished 38th (DNF, engine):  “Something let go. I’m not sure exactly what, but it’s unfortunate. We had a really fast Miller Lite Ford and that kind of ended our day. It was a lot of fun to be leading at Talladega. I really like this track. It’s been good to us and there are a lot of great fans here today. We were doing the best we could to make a show of it and have some fun and lead some laps and just happy and proud to have a fast car.”

Casey Mears – Finished 39th (DNF, crash): “I think we were probably about five (laps) away from pitting I think it was. At that point we just kind of move down to the bottom and were waiting for the cycle of pit stops to come around and something happened with the No. 16 (Greg Biffle). I couldn’t tell out of the corner of my eye, I thought maybe he got clipped on the outside and then it swung him back into whoever was below him. We were just cruising along there and all of a sudden just got taken out; a pretty hard hit to the inside wall. I felt like I had a car that had pretty good speed. It was a matter of kind of being up there inside that top 10 or 15 when it really counted to make a move.”

Martin Truex Jr. – Finished 40th (DNF, engine): “It’s been a roller coaster (Chase) that’s for sure. I wish we could have done a better job at Kansas and Charlotte and maybe had a free pass coming here. That certainly would have been big knowing the circumstances, but we did the best we could. We have a great team and we’ve had a great season and we’re going to go out and try to win the rest of the races and see what we can do.”

Ryan Blaney returns to Kansas where win slipped away in May

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Ryan Blaney got into the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs thanks to his first career win at Pocono Raceway in June.

But Blaney nearly got to victory lane three races earlier at Kansas Speedway in May.

The Wood Brothers Racing driver earned his first pole, won Stage 2 and led 83 laps in the Go Bowling! 400. But the No. 21 Ford was passed by Martin Truex Jr. with 19 laps to go and Blaney slipped back to fourth before the checkered flag.

Now the Wood Brothers crew returns to Kansas for this weekend’s Hollywood Casino 400, the elimination race for the Round of 12.

Blaney is currently inside the top eight that would advance to the next round, but he’s not safe. He is seventh in the standings, nine points above Kyle Busch in ninth place. Jimmie Johnson sits in the final transfer spot, seven points up from Busch.

Blaney comes into Sunday’s race after he earned 18 stage points at Talladega and one playoff point for winning Stage 2. But Blaney’s Sunday ended when he was involved in a five-car wreck with 10 laps to go.

“We saw how important stage points are last week at Talladega, and it’ll be the same this week at Kansas,” team co-owner Eddie Wood said in a press release. “The 18 points Ryan earned in the first two stages at Talladega allowed us to move up four spots in the standings even after wrecking out of the race.”

Blaney will be battling with the bubble drivers of Johnson, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth to advance at Kansas.

To advance, Blaney needs to either win the race or earn 54 points in the race according to Racing Insights. That competition for those points begins on Friday when teams qualify.

“The weekend starts for sure on Friday, of trying to qualify up front and staying up front for the first stage or second stage and trying to get those points,” Blaney said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint.” “They’re so valuable to your weekend and your playoff run. I don’t want to say it’s all about it. But they’re a really, really big part of the race on Sunday.”

Though Blaney trails the other four bubble drivers in regards to stage points earned through all five playoff races so far, he has the advantage when it comes to stage points earned in the Round of 12.

Blaney has earned 20 to Johnson’s 14, Kenseth’s 12 and Busch’s eight.

Blaney has an average of 7.1 stage points per race at 1.5-mile track this season. That trails Kenseth’s 7.3 and Busch’s 10.

A glaring disadvantage for Blaney is in playoff points. When he won Stage 2 at Talladega, Blaney garnered his ninth playoff point of the season.

That gives him the fourth fewest among the 12 remaining playoff drivers. The only drivers with fewer are Chase Elliott (six), Kenseth (five) and Jamie McMurray (three).

Blaney has made five starts at Kansas, including his first Cup start in 2014. With three top-10 finishes among them, his average finish is 11.4.

Blaney’s average finish on 1.5-mile tracks this season is 11.8. Of the four main bubble drivers, that is only bested by Kenseth’s average (10.1).

When it comes to points earned per race at 1.5-mile tracks, Blaney (32.4) is topped by Busch (33.4) and Kenseth (34.1).

Here’s your primer heading into second half of NASCAR Cup playoffs

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If you thought the first five races of the NASCAR Cup playoffs were intense, you haven’t seen nothing yet.

As the 10-race playoffs move into their second half, the final five races will likely be more competitive than the first five.

That’s particularly true in Sunday’s cut-off race at Kansas, where the current field of 12 remaining playoff contenders will be cut to eight after the checkered flag falls.

And then there will be the Round of 8 cut-off race at Phoenix in four weeks that will set the four-driver field for the championship race in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Thanks to our friends at RacingInsights.com, here’s some of the top playoff insights that will help fans better understand where we are in the playoffs heading into Kansas:

  • Playoff drivers have won all five races in the 2017 playoffs.
  • The last time a driver who didn’t make it into the playoffs won a playoff race was Denny Hamlin at Homestead in 2013.
  • The last playoff race won by a playoff driver who was previously eliminated from the playoffs was Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Phoenix in 2015.
  • Tony Stewart in 2005 is the only driver to go on to win the championship without winning a race during the playoffs.
  • Four of five playoff races so far this season have been won from a qualifying position of sixth or better.
  • Brad Keselowski won at Talladega driving a Ford, ending a four-race playoff winning streak by Toyotas. Also, prior to Talladega, Toyota drivers had won all four poles and all four races in the 2017 playoffs. Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the pole at Talladega, but finished seventh.
  • Brad Keselowski won at Talladega with a last lap pass for the win, it was the eighth playoff race won with a last lap pass and the only one in the last 29 races.
  • There were 11 cautions at Talladega, the most cautions in the last 18 playoff races.
  • There were a combined 21 cautions in the last two playoff races, the same number as the previous four playoff races combined.
  • Talladega last week: 14 cars running at the finish, 26 total DNFs (including 24 DNFs due to wrecks), three red flags and only two playoff drivers finished in the top 10 – all records for a playoff race.
  • A Chevrolet driver has finished runner-up in each of this season’s first five playoff races.
  • Chase Elliott has finished runner-up three times so far in the playoffs. The record for most runner-up finishes in the playoffs in a season was four by Jeff Gordon in 2014 and Jimmie Johnson in 2006. Elliott has also finished runner-up at both 1.5-mile tracks so far, with three more 1.5-mile tracks still left in the final five races (Kansas, Texas and Homestead-Miami).
  • Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch are the only drivers still playoff-eligible that have scored stage points in every playoff race.
  • The best average finish by a driver in all 10 races of the playoffs is 4.9 by Carl Edwards in 2011. Edwards tied Tony Stewart for the championship, but Stewart won on the first tiebreaker – more wins (five to Edwards’ one).
  • Martin Truex Jr. has led the playoff standings through the first five races of the playoffs, tying Matt Kenseth in 2013 for the most races led by a driver to start the playoffs. Truex also won at Kansas in May.
  • Three drivers have won races during the playoffs in all three years of the elimination format entering 2017: Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson all three drivers have yet to win in 2017.
  • Only two of the 135 playoff races were won by drivers getting their first NASCAR Cup win: Clint Bowyer in 2007 at New Hampshire and Brian Vickers in 2006 at Talladega.
  • Jimmie Johnson is the only driver to win a race in every season of the playoffs entering 2017. Entering Kansas, Johnson remains winless in the 2017 playoffs.

Long: Lack of stage points could end Jimmie Johnson’s bid for 8th title

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Jimmie Johnson’s spotter says he’ll be “crossing my fingers” this weekend at Kansas that the mistake he made at Talladega doesn’t keep Johnson from advancing in the playoffs.

Should the seven-time series champion fail to move on to the Round of 8 — he holds the final transfer spot entering Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway — it won’t be because spotter Earl Barban told the team it could work on Johnson’s car before NASCAR had withdrawn the red flag at Talladega, incurring a penalty that ended the team’s race.

No, Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and the rest of the team can look at their failure to collect as many Stage 1 points as their competitors. Even if Johnson advances, his lack of stage points could keep him from racing for a championship if he doesn’t win a race in the Round of 8.

Johnson goes to Kansas with a seven-point lead on Kyle Busch for the final transfer spot. Matt Kenseth trails Johnson by eight points.

Before the playoffs began, Johnson was asked if there would be more of a penalty for his summer slump that cost him stage points.

“I really think so,’’ he said. “We know our qualifying average doesn’t lead to a Stage 1 opportunity.’’ 

Johnson’s struggles in qualifying have put him in a mid-pack spot and made it difficult to score many points in the opening stage. His average starting spot of 17.0 this season is worst among the remaining playoff contenders

The result is that Johnson has scored 59 Stage 1 points in 31 races this season — fewest among all but one of the remaining playoff contenders. Johnson has scored only 35.8 percent of his 165 total stage points in the opening stage. To compare, Kyle Busch, who has an average starting spot of 7.1, scored 58.7 percent of his 315 total stage points in the opening stage. 

Johnson’s difficulties in the playoffs have been as pronounced.

Johnson’s average starting spot of 15.2 in the postseason is only better than Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (16.2 average starting spot in playoffs) and Jamie McMurray (18.2).

Johnson’s 27 stage points are more than only Stenhouse (14) and McMurray (13) in the playoffs.

Johnson also has scored 37 percent of his total stage points in the opening stage — the lowest percentage among the remaining title contenders in the playoffs. 

To compare with Busch, he has an average starting spot of 4.8 in the playoffs. That’s allowed Busch to score 63.5 percent of his 52 total stage points in the opening stage.

Add it together and Johnson could face quite a challenge to stay in title contention.

Having to hold off Busch won’t be easy, provided Busch doesn’t run into problems.

In four of the first five playoff races, Busch has scored five or more stage points than Johnson in the opening stage. If Busch does that Sunday, he will be in position to pass Johnson for a spot in the next round over the final 187 laps of the 267-lap event.

That’s a likely scenario. Busch has outscored Johnson 80-41 in stage points in the season’s eight races on 1.5-mile tracks.

If Busch moves into a transfer spot, Johnson likely will have to beat Ryan Blaney to have a chance to break his tie with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt in championships. Blaney has a two-point lead on Johnson.

Blaney has scored 108 Stage 1 points compared to Johnson’s 59 for the entire season. Blaney has outscored Johnson 196-165 in total stage points this season. In the playoffs, Blaney has a 10.2 average starting spot (compared to Johnson’s 15.2). Blaney has outscored Johnson 28-27 in total stage points in the postseason.

The challenges could be difficult for Johnson this weekend.

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NASCAR video: A.J. Allmendinger could be spoiler at Kansas

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It’s admittedly been a rough season for A.J. Allmendinger.

In the first 31 races, Allmendinger has one top-five finish and five top 10s.

He’s 26th in the NASCAR Cup point standings, which is on pace to be the worst full-time season of Allmendinger’s Cup career.

But there’s a bright spot for Allmendinger in this weekend’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Allmendinger has recorded two top-10 finishes in the last three races at the 1.5-mile track.

And he’s ready to go for another top-10 Sunday.

“In the last few races, the track has widened out for three-wide racing,” Allmendinger said. “It’s a fun race track, run the bottom, middle or top. It’s a place we’ve had success at, we’re ready to go do it again.”