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Cup rookies in close points battle going into All-Star break

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The 2017 rookie class in the NASCAR Cup Series is noteworthy to say the least.

The drivers competing for Rookie of the Year honors are 2016 Xfinity champion Daniel Suarez, 2015 Camping World Truck Series champion and eight-time Xfinity winner Erik Jones, Germain Racing’s Ty Dillon (brother to Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon) an BK Racing’s Corey LaJoie and Gray Gaulding.

After 11 races in the season and the All-Star weekend looming, the competition between three of the five drivers is narrow.

Following Saturday’s race at Kansas Speedway, Suarez, Jones and Dillon are 19th, 20th and 21st in the point standings.

Suarez and Jones, former teammates in the Xfinity Series at Joe Gibbs Racing, are tied with 217 points. That is 258 points behind leader Kyle Larson.

Jones is coming off a brutal race where his No. 77 Toyota caused three separate cautions. After spinning on his own twice, the third accident occurred when Dillon tagged Jones’ left-rear quarter panel exiting Turn 4 and sent Jones sliding into the infield. He finished 22nd.

Suarez had a quietly impressive night. He finished seventh for the third time this year. He’s the only rookie with multiple top 10s.

Ty Dillon is 13 points behind the Toyota drivers.

After spinning himself early in the race, Dillon placed 14th at Kansas. Outside a DNF in the Daytona 500, Dillon has finished on the lead lap in all but one race (Martinsville).

Meanwhile, Corey LaJoie is the only other rookie to start all 11 races so far. The son of former Xfinity champion Randy LaJoie, he is 34th in the standings with 77 points. He placed 27th at Kansas and has yet to finish on the lead lap this season.

Gaulding has started in 10 of 11 races. He is 36th in points with 51 points after finishing 34th at Kansas.

All five rookies are outside the top 16 in the standings, meaning they would not be in the playoffs if the regular season ended today.

All five drivers will try to qualify for the All-Star Race via the Monster Energy Open or by the fan vote this weekend.

Here’s a breakdown of each rookie’s season so far.

(Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Daniel Suarez, No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Points Position: 19th

Top fives: None
Top 10s: Three
Laps Led: None
Avg. Finish: 17.4
Best finish: Seventh (Phoenix, Auto Club, Kansas)
DNFs: One

 

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Erik Jones, No. 77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota

Points Position: 20th

Top fives: None
Top 10s: One
Laps Led: Two
Avg. Finish: 21.1
Best finish: Eighth (Phoenix)
DNFs: Three

 

 

(Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Ty Dillon, No. 13 Germain Racing Chevrolet

Points Position: 21st

Top fives: None
Top 10s: None
Laps Led: Six
Avg. Finish: 18.8
Best finish: 13th (Talladega)
DNFs: One

 

(Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

Corey LaJoie, No. 83 BK Racing Toyota

Points Position: 34th

Top fives: None
Top 10s: None
Laps Led: None
Avg. Finish: 30.5
Best finish: 24th (Daytona 500, Bristol)
DNFs: Two

 

(Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Gray Gaulding, No. 23 BK Racing Toyota

Points Position: 36th

Top fives: None
Top 10s: None
Laps Led: None
Avg. Finish: 32.1
Best finish: 20th (Talladega)
DNFs: Three

 

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Matt Kenseth: Brickyard 400 restarts ‘kind of ridiculous’

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Matt Kenseth came close to winning Sunday’s Brickyard 400, but ultimately finished fifth.

Kenseth called the race “kind of ridiculous” down the stretch because of the several restarts that brought about further havoc and wrecks.

Kenseth competed in his final Brickyard 400 for Joe Gibbs Racing. With his future uncertain and whether he’ll be able to continue racing in 2018, could Sunday have been the final Brickyard 400 of his career, much like good friend Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is retiring after this season?

Check out the video above for Kenseth’s comments on the race.

Rick Hendrick on Kasey Kahne’s future: ‘Our plans are not set for the No. 5 car’

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INDIANAPOLIS – Brickyard 400 winner Kasey Kahne has a contract for 2018 at Hendrick Motorsports but possibly doesn’t have a job next season.

Team owner Rick Hendrick confirmed Sunday night that “our plans are not set for the No. 5 car” after Kahne ended a 102-race winless streak in the Cup Series.

“There’s nothing concrete or done, and that hasn’t changed,” Hendrick said. “We’ll see how things shake out the rest of the year.  There’s a lot of things involved, sponsors and a lot of things we look at.  We’re going to try hard.  But there’s no decisions made at this time.”

Kahne felt the 18th victory of his career helped him make a case for staying in the No. 5 Chevrolet.

“I think this shows I still want to win races,” he said. “It shows I gave it all that I can to get a win and shows that I’m passionate about driving stock cars, and that I can still win races, too.

“I have a deal through 2018 with Hendrick Motorsports. I hear a lot of things, but it’s tough to say exactly what’s going to happen. I don’t know at this point and time. I know me and Mr. H will figure it out. I think this shows that I want to be and still have the drive and passion to do it, so I’m going to keep trying hard I know that.”

During a Sunday morning pre-race news conference to formally introduce Alex Bowman as the replacement next season for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick said he planned to run four cars next season but deflected a question about Kahne’s status (“that’s for another day”).

Xfinity Series rookie William Byron, who is under contract to Hendrick, would be an option for the No. 5 Chevrolet, but Hendrick said “we’re not ready to cross that bridge yet” when asked about Byron’s Cup future.

Kahne is ranked 22nd in the points standings with only four top 10s in 20 races this season.

“When you’ve had a rough road, your confidence gets down,” Hendrick said. “He said, ‘I know I can do it. The harder I try, the more it seems like I have this rough bad luck.’

“Something like this (win) can be really good for any guy to have, the whole team, to have confidence.  … All I can say about Kasey is he shows up, he shows up on time, and he shows up on time with his game face on, and he puts in the effort. Sometimes it just takes a break.  But he’s done everything.  I know in his heart he wants to do it.  He’s trying, so … ”

Ryan Newman on Brickyard 400: ‘That’s not racing, just craziness’

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Ryan Newman was in the right place at the right time in Sunday’s Brickyard 400, finishing third.

It was Newman’s second-best finish of 2017 after his win earlier this year at Phoenix.

But Newman, who is never afraid to speak his mind, did just that after Sunday’s race. Even with his strong finish, he echoed the comments of several other drivers that the racing action — particularly restarts — by saying, “That’s not racing, just craziness.”

Check out what Newman had to say in the video above.

Joey Logano’s fourth-place finish is bittersweet as playoff chances dip

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Joey Logano had a bittersweet day in Sunday’s Brickyard 400.

He finished a strong fourth in the incident-filled 24th edition of the Brickyard 400. It was just Logano’s second top-five finish and third top-10 showing in the last 11 races.

But there was also bad news, too.

Kasey Kahne‘s win knocked Logano further back in his bid to rejoin the top-16 drivers eligible for the upcoming NASCAR playoffs. With Clint Bowyer dropping out of the top-16 and Kahne moving into playoff contention, Logano has slipped back to 18th place in the playoff-eligible standings.

As a result, Logano all but has to win one of the next six races to qualify for the playoffs — unless he can point his way in with continued strong top-five finishes.

Logano talked about the situation he faces with NBC Sports after Sunday’s race. Click on the above video to see what he had to say.