Who’s hot, who’s not heading to Kentucky?

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NASCAR heads back to a 1.5-mile track this week for the last time before the playoffs begin in September.

With five of the 10 playoff races on 1.5-mile tracks, including the championship race in Miami, these venues are critical.

Jimmie Johnson has 28 wins on 1.5-mile tracks, the most in series history. He won at Texas earlier this year. Winners at the other 1.5-mile tracks this season have been: Brad Keselowski (Atlanta), Martin Truex Jr. (Las Vegas, Kansas) and Austin Dillon (Charlotte).

Here is a look at some of the drivers who are hot and those who are not heading into Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway on NBCSN.

WHO IS HOT

Brad Keselowski

Finished 31st at Daytona (accident); led a race-high 35 laps and won stage one

Series-high nine top fives in 2017

Three Kentucky wins (2012, 2014 and 2016)

Started on the front row in the last three Kentucky races

Only one finish worse than sixth in the five 1.5 mile races this season

Kevin Harvick 

Finished 33rd at Daytona, accident

Won at Sonoma

Finished top 10 in eight of the last 11 races 

Finished top 10 in the last four races at Kentucky, best of 7th in 2014

Three poles on 1.5 mile tracks this season, four top-10 finishes

Jimmie Johnson

Finished 12th at Daytona

Top 10 finishes in all but one race at Kentucky, 32nd last year (accident from 10th on lap 32)

28 career 1.5 mile wins, most all-time

Kyle Larson

 Two wins this season, Auto Club Speedway and Michigan, leads the points

Finished top two in seven races this season

Finished top 10 in all but six of the 36 stages in 2017 (including Duel)

Best finish at Kentucky is 19th last year

Jamie McMurray

Finished 14th at Daytona

10 top 10 finishes of 2017, had only three at this point last year and 12 all of 2016

Finished runner-up at Kentucky in 2013, one of two top 10 finishes there, the other was seventh in 2016

WHO IS NOT

Ryan Blaney

Finished 26th at Daytona, scored points in both stages

Has not had back-to-back top 10 finishes this season

Scored his first career win at Pocono

Only one series start at Kentucky, finished 35th last year

Austin Dillon

Finished 36th at Daytona

Only two top 10 finishes this season, had eight at this point last year

Best Kentucky finish is 16th, twice

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Finished 32nd at Daytona after winning the pole, only led one lap

Nine finishes of 20th or worse in 2017

Two top 10 finishes at Kentucky in six starts, both top fives, best of fourth

Three 1.5 mile wins, last was Chicago in 2005

Joey Logano

Finished 35th at Daytona

Six top five finishes in the first nine races this season, only one in the last eight

Finished better than 12th only once in the last eight races of 2017

Won at Richmond but was encumbered

Top 10 finishes in three of the last four races at Kentucky, best of 2nd in 2015

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NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN: Daniel Hemric, Daniel Suarez’ racing roots

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America begins at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN and continues to preview the Round of 12 elimination race at Kansas Speedway.

Carolyn Manno hosts with Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman from Stamford, Connecticut.

On the show:

  • We’ll debate which past Cup Series champion will advance to the Round of 8. Defending champion Jimmie Johnson currently leads 2015 champ Kyle Busch by only seven points for the final transfer spot. Who has the edge going into Kansas this Sunday? This elimination race will be a heated competition just to finish above the cut line. Log on to NBCSports.com/NASCARVote and weigh in!
  • Xfinity Series playoff driver Daniel Hemric calls into the show to talk about his chances of advancing to the championship four in Miami. He’ll also describe his experience being one of the four drivers to participate in the recent tire test at the Charlotte Motor Speedway “Roval.”
  • We take a look at the Daniel Suarez’s Racing Roots and discuss his transition from Xfinity Series champion to Monster Energy Cup Series rookie.
  • Parker Kligerman hops into the iRacing simulator to preview Sunday’s elimination race at Kansas, as well as the Formula 1 race in Austin, Texas.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you can also watch it via the online stream at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Daniel Hemric gets unexpected introduction to Cup car at Charlotte road course test

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Being a native of Kannapolis, North Carolina, a lot of Daniel Hemric‘s racing firsts are connected to Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The 26-year-old Xfinity Series driver got another one this week when an unexpected call shortened a vacation to Mexico and put him in a Cup car for the first time.

Hemric, who drives Richard Childress Racing’s No. 21 Chevrolet in his rookie season, was visiting the country as part of a birthday vacation for his wife, Kenzie.

“As soon as the wheels touched down I got a call from some guys a RCR asking ‘Hey, would you mind driving a Cup car Tuesday at a test?'” Hemric said Wednesday.

“Do I need to fly home right now or what?” Hemric responded.

Come Tuesday morning, Hemric was sitting in the cockpit of Ryan Newman‘s No. 31 Chevrolet as one of four drivers taking part in the first Goodyear tire test on the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course, a 2.42-mile, 18-turn circuit made up of most of the original 1.5-mile track and the infield road course.

MORE: Cup drivers share thoughts on Charlotte road course

The two-day test could give Hemric a step up on his Xfinity competition as the series also will run on the road course next year.

“The first two or three runs was about getting me acclimated (to the car) but since then I think we’ve done a good job of communicating with Goodyear and trying to figure what we need to be able to make sure fans will be able to see racing and side-by-side racing and a lot of action, which I think you’re going to see.”

Added Hemric: “These Cup cars get up to speed so quick compared to the Xfinity car, with such low downforce and high horsepower. It’s been fun to figure out how to get that laid down here around the roval.”

Luckily, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Jamie McMurray were all experiencing the road course for the first time.

“Obviously, being my first time in (a Cup car), you’re trying to be aware of what you’re doing yourself,” Hemric said. “But to be able to lean on those guys, have the same thoughts as them, really collaborate with NASCAR and the race track to figure out where we should place those chicanes and all that stuff. I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress working as a group.”

MORE: Daniel Hemric returning to RCR in 2018

 

Spencer Boyd will compete in Xfinity full-time in 2018 for SS Green Light Racing

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SS Green Light Racing announced Thursday Spencer Boyd will compete full-time for it next season in the Xfinity Series.

Boyd will drive the No. 76 Chevrolet sponsored by Grunt Style, a veteran-owned lifestyle brand.

Boyd, 22, has made four starts for the team this year in the No. 07 Chevrolet, which has primarily been driven by Ray Black Jr.

“This is the day I’ve been waiting for my whole life,” Boyd said in a press release.  “I’ve been racing something since I was 5 years old with the dream of making racing my career. Grunt Style has made my dreams come true.”

A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Boyd has 12 starts between the Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series. In six Xfinity starts, including the four this year, his best result is 27th at New Hampshire.

Jason Miller will serve as the crew chief on the car that is owned by Bobby Dotter. Dotter has fielded cars in 116 races in the Xfinity Series since 1995 and 305 Truck Series entries since 2004.

“(Spencer) is one of the hardest working drivers I’ve seen,” Dotter said in the press release. “He is at the shop everyday helping with the cars and making the guys laugh.  Our organization is better because the team believes it when he says this is a team sport.  We are looking forward to a great 2018 season.”

Dave Pericak stepping down as director of Ford Performance on Dec. 1 after ‘heck of a ride’

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After a three-year stint as director of Ford Performance, Dave Pericak will leave the role Dec. 1.

Pericak will stay with Ford on its production side, serving as the engineering director for Unibody.

Motorsport.com first reported the news.

Pericak said Thursday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint” that his time at Ford Performance was a “heck of a ride.”

His time included Ford winning the 2016 24 Hours of Le Mans GTE Pro class and recruiting Stewart-Haas Racing to Ford from Chevrolet.

The first year of the relationship with SHR has seen Kurt Busch win the Daytona 500 and Busch and Kevin Harvick make the playoffs.

“We can’t underestimate what it’s like to switch to a new manufacturer and all the work that goes into that,” Pericak said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We weren’t able to start until the last race last year working together in earnest. There was a short amount of time to get ready and running. I think they’ve done an amazing job. I think they’re really gaining traction right now on understanding the Ford body and everything that goes with it. We’ve given them quote a few tools that were new to them as well. Next year, I have high expectations for Stewart-Haas and I know they do too.”

Harvick is one of four Ford drivers still alive in the playoffs, including Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

If any of those drivers win the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway, it would be Ford’s first since Kurt Busch won the title in 2004.

“I can tell you guys, rest assured, we are doing everything in our power to make sure that we end up at Ford Championship weekend with more than one driver there and for the ability to win that race,” Pericak said. “The championship means a lot to Ford. We haven’t had a championship in a while. I know the teams have recently said to me that they have even more of an incentive now that they know I’m leaving. They want to hand me the championship before I go.”

Pericak’s tenure also included the manufacture reeling off seven consecutive wins in Cup restrictor-plate races. That was capped off by Brad Keselowski’s win Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.

“I think what you’re seeing now is everything’s coming together and it’s really starting to click,” Pericak said “This team is ready to continue on. They don’t need me to do so. I’m actually going back into the mainstream now and take all the learnings and approaches that I’ve had here at Ford Performance and take it back into the bigger Ford (body) and affect a larger portion of the company.”

With his new role as engineering director for Unibody, Pericak will be responsible for the engineering on all Ford products that are not trucks.

“Anything that’s not on a frame, engineering globally I will be responsible for,” Pericak said. “It’s a really big job within the company. Several thousand people will report to me. It’s the next evolution for me and my career.”

Pericak’s last year with Ford Performance also saw its NASCAR competitors, Toyota and Chevrolet, make significant body changes and announcements. Toyota brought a new nose to the Cup Series and Chevrolet revealed it will bring the Camaro to Cup after years of use in the Xfinity Series.

Pericak was asked if Ford plans to promote the Mustang from Xfinity to Cup in the near future.

“Clearly for 2018 we’ll be running the cars that we’re running now,” Pericak said. “We’ll have to see what we do in 2019. It would be great to see the Mustang out on the track. I think it would lend itself quite well to this racing. All I’ll say guys is stay tuned.”