Who’s hot, who’s not heading into New Hampshire

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NASCAR begins the second half of the 36-race 2017 season with Sunday’s Overton’s 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

But while 18 more races seem like a lot of time for teams that have struggled this season, that’s not truly accurate. Rather, we’re at a point in the season where teams have reached a sense of urgency: There are only eight races left to qualify for this year’s playoffs.

New Hampshire is also the last playoff track that teams will be able to gather data for the upcoming 10-race playoffs. Nine weeks later, New Hampshire will host the second race of the playoffs on Sept. 24.

Sunday’s race will be the 45th time the Cup series has raced at the one-mile short track. NHMS hosted one race per year from 1993 to 1996 and two races from 1997 through this season.

It will revert back to hosting just one race per season in 2018, as its annual second race date will move to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Here is a look at some of the drivers who are hot and those who are not heading into Sunday’s Overton’s 301, to be televised on NBCSN.

WHO IS HOT:

Martin Truex Jr.

Won at Kentucky, sweeping both stages

Finished in the top-10 12 times this season, most of all drivers

Won 13 stages this season

Wins at Las Vegas, Kansas, and Kentucky

Has led a series high 1,115 laps in 2017, including over 100 in four of the last eight

Best New Hampshire finish is third in 2007

Only one finish outside the top 12 at New Hampshire since joining Furniture Row Racing (six races)

Led 264 of the 601 laps raced at New Hampshire in 2016 (44 percent) finished 16th and 7th

Kyle Larson

Finished 2nd at Kentucky, sixth runner up finish this season

Two wins this season, ACS and Michigan, leads the points by one

Finished top 2 eight times this season

Finished top 3 in his first two starts at New Hampshire in 2014, best finish since is 10th last September

Brad Keselowski

Finished 39th at Kentucky, accident; has had DNFs in four of last seven races this season due to accidents (five total in 2017)

Has not had back-to-back top 10 finishes since Talladega and Kansas

Nine top-fives in 2017, the most of all drivers

Won this race in 2014

Worst finish in the last 11 races at NH is 15th with eight top 10 finishes

Led at least one lap in the last 11 NH races

Kyle Busch

Finished 5th at Kentucky; top 10 finishes in seven of the last nine races this season

Been passed for the win five times this season

Led the most laps four times this season but is still winless

858 laps led in 2017, second most

Had three wins at this point in 2016

Two time winner at New Hampshire, this race in 2006 and 2015

Finished top 3 five of the last eight races at New Hampshire including a win

Kevin Harvick

Finished 9th at Kentucky, top 10 finishes in six of the last eight races

Won at Sonoma

Two New Hampshire wins, Fall race in 2006 and Fall race in 2016

Led only eight laps in NH win last year

Finished top five in both NH races last year

WHO IS NOT:

Joey Logano

Finished 8th at Kentucky, only his second finish better than 12th in the last nine races

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

Finished better than 12th only twice in the last nine races of 2017

Won at Richmond but was encumbered

Two time winner at New Hampshire including his first career win in 2009

Finished top five in four of the last five New Hampshire races

Kurt Busch

Finished 28th at Daytona, accident and 30th at Kentucky (engine), the last time he had back-to-back DNFs was April 2014

Just eight top 10 finishes this season, had 15 after 18 races in 2016

Has not had back-to-back top 10 finishes since Richmond and Talladega

Three New Hampshire wins but last was in 2008

Finished fifth at New Hampshire last Fall, only his second top 10 in the last 11 races

Austin Dillon

Finished 19th at Kentucky, best finish since his Charlotte win (six races) is 13th

Won on fuel mileage at Charlotte

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

One top 10 finish in six starts at New Hampshire, eighth in 2015

Won truck race at New Hampshire in 2015

Kasey Kahne

Finished 38th at Kentucky, accident

DNF accident in five of the last seven races this season

Only one top 10 finish in the last 16 races

Won this race in 2012 at New Hampshire, it was his second of five wins while driving for HMS

Two top 10 finishes in the last eight NH races

AJ Allmendinger

Finished 20th at Kentucky; only one finish better than 18th in the last 12 races

Only one top 10 finish at New Hampshire, 10th in 2010 driving the #43

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Silly Season scorecard features many drivers still looking for rides

Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Image
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Kasey Kahne is off the job market after signing to drive next season with Leavine Family Racing. His arrival means that Michael McDowell, the current driver of the No. 95 car, will be gone after the season.

Leavine Family Racing, which has never won a Cup race, gets an 18-time Cup winner in Kahne, who won the Brickyard 400 in July.

Here’s a look at where Silly Season stands as Cup teams head to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for Sunday’s playoff race.

ANNOUNCED RIDES FOR 2018

— Kasey Kahne to join Leavine Family Racing and drive the No. 95 car. (announcement made Sept. 19)

Ty Dillon signs a multi-year contract to remain at Germain Racing and drive the No. 13 car. Sponsor Geico also extends its deal with the team (announcement made Sept. 5)

Chris Buescher signs a multi-year contract to remain at JTG Daugherty and drive the No. 37 car. (announcement made Aug. 18)

Matt DiBenedetto will remain with Go Fas Racing in the team’s No. 32 car (announcement made Aug. 12)

William Byron will drive the No. 24 at Hendrick Motorsports, replacing Kasey Kahne (announcement made Aug. 9)

Paul Menard moves to Wood Brothers Racing to drive the No. 21 car (announcement made July 26)

Ryan Blaney moves to Team Penske to drive the No. 12 car and signs a multi-year contract extension (announcement made July 26)

Brad Keselowski agrees to contract extension to drive the No. 2 car for Team Penske (announcement made July 25

Alex Bowman will drive the No. 88 at Hendrick Motorsports, replacing Dale Earnhardt Jr. (announcement made July 20)

Erik Jones will drive the No. 20 at Joe Gibbs Racing, replacing Matt Kenseth (announcement made July 11)

OPEN/POSSIBLY OPEN RIDES

— No. 10: Danica Patrick is out after this season at Stewart-Haas Racing. No replacement has been announced. 

— No. 27: Richard Childress Racing states it will announce plans for a third Cup team at a later date with Paul Menard joining the Wood Brothers for next season.

— No. 41: Stewart-Haas Racing declined to pick up the option on Kurt Busch’s contract for next year on Aug. 1. Even so, the team tweeted that it expected Busch back with sponsor Monster Energy for next year. Busch told reporters Aug. 5 at Watkins Glen that “there are a couple of offers already, so we’ll see how things work out.’’  

— No. 43: Richard Petty Motorsports announced Sept. 12 that Aric Almirola will not return to the team. Smithfield also is not returning. Smithfield and Richard Petty Motorsports exchanged terse statements about their parting. RPM is selling Darrell Wallace Jr. to prospective sponsors.  

— No. 77: Furniture Row Racing has sold the charter to this team. Although the team is still looking for sponsorship for the team, Joe Garone, team president, said the chances of the organization running only one car next year is “high.’’

AVAILABLE DRIVERS

Matt Kenseth: Out of the No. 20 after this season. Doesn’t have anything announced for next year. At Bristol, Kenseth was asked about his plans for 2018. He said: “I’m not worried about (2018) even really one percent anymore to be honest with you. I’m just not concerned about it.’’  

Kurt Busch: With Stewart-Haas Racing declining to pick up his option for next year, Busch is a free agent. Even with Stewart-Haas Racing’s action, there’s still a good chance Busch signs a deal to remain with the organization.

Danica Patrick: She will not return to Stewart-Haas Racing after this season. Patrick has not announced any plans for next season. She’s not looking for a ride in the Xfinity Series. “Cup only,’’ she said.  

Aric Almirola: Won’t return to Richard Petty Motorsports, team announced Sept. 12.

Michael McDowell: Will not return to Leavine Family Racing with Kasey Kahne joining the team next season.

Darrell Wallace Jr.: Richard Petty Motorsports is selling Wallace to prospective sponsors for the No. 43 car for next season. He gained interest from RPM after driving in four races for the team while Aric Almirola was injured.

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NASCAR America: Top Xfinity contenders break down playoffs

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Forget being called NASCAR’s junior league, it’s time for Xfinity Series drivers to shine as their own playoffs, a seven-race series, begin Saturday at Kentucky Speedway.

During Tuesday’s Xfinity Series media day at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, several of the top contenders for the Xfinity championship — No. 1 seed William Byron, regular-season champion Elliott Sadler, Brendan Gaughan and series rookie Cole Custer — talked about their hopes and how they feel they stack up against the competition in the playoffs.

Let’s hear what some of those drivers said — and check out the full video of interviews above:

Sadler: “We’re as prepared as any race team as I’ve ever been on to make a run in the playoffs, and I can’t wait to get started. … I want to be that champion.”

Byron: “You have to make sure you don’t make any mistakes and really put yourself in a good position. … I feel it’s a big goal for me. And knowing how it felt to lose (a championship) last year (in the Truck Series), I definitely want to win one.”

Gaughan: “Right now, we’re back to racing hard. Round 1, race hard. We have a brand new Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, so we want to see how fast it can be, that’s the goal this week, and then we’ll see what Round 2 and Round 3 will be.”

Custer: “It would be awesome, especially for a first-year team, it would be unreal to get a championship. I think we have the speed to do it, I think we can definitely accomplish that and that’s our goal. So, I think we’ll definitely have a shot at it.”

NASCAR America: Tony Stewart on Stewart-Haas Racing, Danica Patrick’s future, Cole Custer (video)

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Tony Stewart was our special in-studio guest during Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America.

The former three-time NASCAR Cup champ spent the entire hour with Carolyn Manno, Kyle Petty and Jeff Burton, giving his unique take on all things NASCAR.

Among the things Stewart talked about were:

The future of Stewart-Haas Racing: “We don’t know exactly who’s going to be in the 10 car, but we’re working on it. We’re excited about the partnership with Smithfield. The 41 car is still up in the air. We fully intend on having (Kurt Busch) there next year, but it’s dictated on sponsorship. We need to make sponsorship for that car before we commit to him next year.”

What will Danica Patrick do after she leaves SHR: “I see a lot of options, really. Danica is one of the few people that has the ability to stay in NASCAR if she wants, go back to IndyCar, or go road racing. There’s not a lot of drivers that have been released this year that have the option to go do so many things. It shows how versatile and talented she is, to have that many options. It’s a matter of  what does she want to do, where her heart and mind is and what does she want to do for the next five, 10, 15 years.”

The potential of SHR Xfinity Series driver Cole Custer: “I’m really proud of Cole. For the first two years I knew Cole, he never spoke to me. For about 75 percent of the time he was in front of me, he couldn’t look me in the eyes, that’s how shy of a kid he is. When he puts that helmet on, it’s amazing the transformation. This kid is a talented race car driver.”

Check out the full video above to get more of Stewart’s observations.

 

 

 

NASCAR America: Josef Newgarden celebrates IndyCar championship (video)

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On Tuesday’s NASCAR America, we checked in with the new king of IndyCar racing, 2017 season Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden.

Among the things the Knoxville, Tennessee native spoke about was the help he got in his amazing first season with Team Penske from all his teammates.

“My teammates were great, letting me just being part of that group right from the beginning and trying to contribute and help me learn so I could contribute and help us be stronger overall,” Newgarden said.

He also talked about the surge in U.S. drivers in the series, much like NASCAR is enjoying with several young drivers including another teammate, Ryan Blaney, who texted Newgarden at length to offer him congratulations and compared the youth movement in both racing series.

“We’ve got a lot of young talent that’s trying to show the way and prove themselves against the already proven people in the sport,” Newgarden said. “It’s a fascinating thing to watch.”