Keeping score: Competitors learning the value of playoff points grows with each race

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With each race Kyle Busch fails to win, his chances of capturing a second Cup championship becomes more challenging.

Busch has led more laps than every driver this season except Martin Truex Jr., but is winless, costing him valuable playoff points and possibly a title.

When NASCAR introduced its new playoff format in January, Denny Hamlin noted that “every single race matters.’’

The new format rewards those who excel throughout a race and punishes those who don’t or encounter trouble at key times.

That’s a painful reality for Busch, who has lost the lead four times in the final 15 laps this season.

But that’s just some of Busch’s heartbreaks.

He lost a top-five finish at Las Vegas after contact with Joey Logano on the last lap, finished 22nd and suffered a cut forehead in a scuffle on pit road afterward. A commitment line violation with less than 25 laps left cost Busch a chance to win at Richmond, relegating him to 16th. Austin Dillon beat Busch on a fuel-mileage gamble to win the Coca-Coal 600.

It’s easy to see that Busch could have at least three to five wins this season, likely giving him more playoff points than any other driver.

Instead he has scored four playoff points — one point each for his four stage wins.

Truex has two race wins and 11 stage victories for 21 playoff points.

If the regular season ended today, Truex would be second in the season standings and gain 10 bonus playoff points, giving him 31 playoff points.

If the season ended today, Busch would have 11 total playoff points, including seven bonus points for finishing fourth in the standings. Under this scenario, Busch would start the playoffs 20 points behind Truex.

That difference could be critical with playoff points staying with the driver until they are eliminated or reach the season finale in Miami. Playoff points don’t carry over for the final four teams vying for the title there in November.

Busch might need to win in the playoffs, automatically advancing to the next round, to keep his title hopes alive if he continues to lose bonus points to his competitors

While Busch seeks his first victory this weekend at Daytona International Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC), there’s a furious battle for the points lead.

In previous years that wouldn’t matter, but those bonus points change things.

The top 10 in the standings after the regular season ends — the September Richmond race — will receive bonus playoff points. The regular-season champion receives 15 playoff points, the runner-up gets 10 playoff points. Third place earns eight playoff points and the points drop by one to 10th, which earns one bonus playoff point.

Kyle Larson has a 13-point lead on Truex in the season standings going to Daytona and admits he’s keeping a close eye on Truex.

BKyle Larson celebrates after winning at Michigan International Speedway last month (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

The regular season points have been a big priority of mine because it pays 15 points to be the leader at the end of Richmond,’’ said Larson, who has victories at Auto Club Speedway and Michigan International Speedway and five runner-up finishes this season. “(That) is a big deal, it’s like winning three races. (I’m) trying to stay as consistent as I can and race hard every race.

“I think in the previous points format if you get a win early on you can kind of cruise a little bit and lose your drive on wanting to win as much. Now, with the bonus points on the line every week, it is a big deal to run up front all throughout the races.”

There is just as intense a battle for the final playoff spots.

Ten drivers — Larson, Truex, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Austin Dillon have secured playoff spots via a win. Joey Logano also has a win but it doesn’t count toward playoff eligibility because his car failed inspection after his Richmond victory in April.

With 10 spots filled, six spots are left for the playoffs. If the playoffs started today, those six spots would be filled (based on points) by Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Hamlin, Jamie McMurray, Logano and Clint Bowyer.

That means missing the playoffs would be former champion Matt Kenseth, who is four points behind Bowyer for the final spot. Also missing the playoffs would be Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is in his final season driving full-time in Cup. Others who would miss out would include Kasey Kahne, rookies Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez and 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne.

When the playoff format and stage points were announced before the season, Bayne knew his Roush Fenway Racing team would face quite a challenge.

“When they laid out the stage points, I said, ‘Man, this is really going to hurt us particularly when we run 15th because we’re not accumulating points,’” said Bayne, whose team has improved its average finish 2.6 spots to 17.3 this season. “We don’t have the ability right now to run top five.’’

Unable to finish stages in the top 10 has impacted his team. Bayne has 15 stage points. Kenseth, the first driver outside the playoffs, has 82 stage points. That difference has helped Kenseth build an 86-point lead on Bayne in the season standings. 

“We know we have to win to get into the (playoffs) at this point,’’ Bayne said. “I can go out there and lay it on the line like I could do in the 21 car when we ran a part-time schedule. I maybe got a reputation for being a little erratic and wild but that’s because I had no points on the line. You go out there to win. If you wreck, you wreck. If you win, you win. That’s the situation we’re in now.’’

Logano also feels the pressure. He leads Kenseth by 11 points.

“It is on my mind,” Logano said of having a encumbered win that doesn’t qualify him for the playoffs. “I would be lying if I said it wasn’t, but it isn’t something I am very concerned about. I feel like this team is strong enough to get through it. We just need to get through it, build momentum.

“The way these stages are, you can gain points pretty quick. We have proven we can lose them pretty quick. A couple good races of scoring stage points and a great finish will put you right back to close to where we were. We have to be able to string three or four solid races together like we know how to.’’

Season by the Numbers

1 – Laps led by Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch (he has led six laps all season)

2 – Wins by Richard Childress Racing, the most since 2013

5 – Runner-up finishes for Kyle Larson

9 – Top-five finishes, a series high, by Brad Keselowski

10 – Races left until the playoff field is set

11 – Stage wins by Martin Truex Jr.

18 – Race winless drought for Joe Gibbs Racing

32 – Race winless drought for Kyle Busch

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Erik Jones gets belated Truck Series championship gift

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When Erik Jones won his 2015 Camping World Truck Series championship, he was still two years shy of the legal drinking age.

As a result, there was one piece missing from his championship celebration – the champagne.

Jones turned 21 last May and he can now enjoy all the benefits that go with it.

On Tuesday, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver tweeted that he’d finally received a commemorative bottle of champagne for his title run win Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Good things do come to those who wait.

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NBC Sports to be exclusive home to IndyCar, Indy 500 in 2019

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NBC Sports Group and IndyCar announced a multi-year agreement Wednesday for NBC Sports to be the exclusive home for IndyCar and the Indianapolis 500 beginning in 2019.

The Indianapolis 500 and seven additional Verizon IndyCar Series races will be broadcast annually on NBC. The remaining races will be televised on NBCSN. All races will be live streamed to authenticated subscribers on and the NBC Sports app. With the agreement, NBC Sports also will present all IndyCar qualifying, practices and Indy Lights races across its platforms beginning in 2019. Details of NBC Sports’ 2019 IndyCar schedule will be announced at a later date.

“We’re excited to have NBC Sports serve as the exclusive home of IndyCar, which represents the most competitive open-wheel racing in the world,” said Jon Miller, President, Programming, NBC Sports and NBCSN. “We’re honored to bring the Indianapolis 500, one of the most prestigious events in all of sports, to NBC, further enhancing NBC Sports’ Championship Season. We’ve seen consistent growth for IndyCar on NBCSN in the past decade, and we hope to continue that growth throughout the series by leveraging the television, digital, production and marketing assets that make NBC Sports a powerful media partner.”

(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

“This arrangement brings all of IndyCar to one home, increases our exposure and includes our first direct-to-consumer offer for our fans,” said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Company, which owns IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “We couldn’t be happier to have start-to-finish coverage of IndyCar season with the NBC Sports Group.”

The 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500, set for Sunday, May 26, 2019, will be the first ever on NBC. The Indy 500 will also be included every year in NBC Sports’ Championship Season marketing campaign, which touts numerous high-profile championship events that are presented across NBC Sports platforms from May to July, including the Triple Crown, The PLAYERS, Premier League Championship Sunday, French Open, Stanley Cup Final, Tour de France, and The Open Championship.

The entire Verizon IndyCar Series will receive unprecedented marketing and promotional support from NBC Sports, which will utilize not only its own assets, but many NBCUniversal assets as well. With the Indy 500 and seven additional races on NBC, IndyCar will have the second-most races on broadcast television in all of motorsports.

NBC Sports Gold – NBC Sports Group’s direct-to-consumer product – will offer a package to IndyCar fans that features all qualifying and practices not televised live, all Indy Lights races, and full-event replays. Additional details, including the cost of the Gold offering, will be announced at a later date.


NASCAR America: Comparing today’s drivers to drivers of yesteryear

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With Kevin Harvick‘s recent run of three consecutive wins, NASCAR America analysts Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte used the opportunity debate which NASCAR legends they compare Harvick and other current drivers to.

Burton compared Harvick to three-time Cup champion Cale Yarborough.

“I think they remind me a lot of each other because they’re both very aggressive, they both got after it, good at every kind of race track,” Burton said.

Earnhardt sees some of 1983 Cup champion Bobby Allison in Harvick.

“Won a championship, won a lot of races, but wasn’t afraid to put his finger in another driver’s chest,” Earnhardt said.

When it comes to Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon, Earnhardt compared him and Denny Hamlin to the late Tim Richmond.

“Mainly in style,” Earnhardt said. “They’re the kind of guys that are a little flashy, a lot of flair outside the car. … Tim was that way. He wasn’t scared to flaunt it a little bit and he enjoyed life outside the race car as much as he did inside the race car.”

Watch the above video for more old school driver comparisons.


NASCAR America: Importance of keeping NASCAR connected to grassroots racing

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The importance of grassroots racing to the future of NASCAR is a constant subject these days thanks to the likes of Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson.

Now NASCAR America’s Dale Earnhardt Jr., Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton get their chance to sound off on the subject.

On Tuesday’s episode, the panel of analysts discussed why keeping NASCAR connected to the short tracks and lower series across the country is vital to the sport’s future.

“We don’t have that national series running old short tracks that draws people to the race track but also draws them to the TV on Saturday and Sunday,” Burton said.

Earnhardt brought up an attempt by Bristol Motor Speedway to purchase the Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tennessee, last year.  The attempted failed.

“My heart was broken because I thought we had a real opportunity to bring one of the touring series, either the Truck or Xfinity, back to Fairgrounds,” Earnhardt said. “That’s where I think we’re broken or disconnected. The late model guys and the guys that are running on these local tracks don’t have the connection to the Truck Series or Xfinity Series. They need to take those series, Truck or Xfinity, back to the short tracks and bridge that link.”

The three analysts went on to discuss the short tracks and races that were part of their formative racing years.

Watch the above video for more.