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Bump & Run: Are Chevrolet teams in trouble with playoffs looming?

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Is Chevy in trouble after hardly contending at Pocono and scoring the fewest top-10 finishes in the last four races among the manufacturers?

Jeff Burton: Chevy lost a major asset when Stewart-Haas Racing left. I think it would be unrealistic and look at their numbers and expect their numbers to be as good as last year. The other problem I have is if you look at the number of wins that have come from Hendrick Motorsports, by far the majority of those wins have come from one team. That’s no disrespect to any other team, but the facts don’t lie. The facts are that the 48 team has carried Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas last year helped carry Chevrolet. They don’t have the number of teams and the teams they have, they don’t have as many good teams as they had last year.

Steve Letarte: My concern is, not to get too technical, but with the shifting at Pocono and the RPM range that used to be a Chevrolet track. For some reason it is going away. When I look at the teams they support, it looks really fragmented. They have Hendrick Motorsports, they have Chip Ganassi Racing, they have Richard Childress Racing. RCR, while they’ve won two races, we don’t see them leading many laps and competing for wins week in and week out. Hendrick and Ganassi’s production has just been average. I do think that Chevrolet has to go to the drawing board with their approach and decide whether it’s time to condense some of their efforts and by efforts I purely mean financial dollars. Would they be better to support less cars and put more money behind them?

Nate Ryan: It isn’t too late, but there definitely are some portentous signs that a tough playoffs could loom. Richard Childress Racing has been erratic (and mostly down) since the wins by Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon. Hendrick Motorsports has victories and consistent top-10 speed, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. detailed its recent deficiencies after Pocono. Chip Ganassi Racing seemed on the upswing until the past two races, which again have been critical barometers. There still is time to get things righted, but it’s been a tougher summer than anticipated.

Dustin Long: Not liking how Chevrolet teams have run lately, but they still have time to get things turned around and have multiple teams challenge for a championship.

Has Kyle Busch replaced Kyle Larson as being the co-championship favorite with Martin Truex Jr.?

Jeff Burton: Temporarily. These are moving targets. If I had to put my money today on somebody, yes, it would be Kyle Busch. As good as Kyle Larson and his team were when they were their best, he still won only two races. To win this championship, you’re going to have to beat people that have won a lot of races. I still wonder when you get into that pressure-filled, playoff-winning championship time, it’s different. I wonder where they are  compared to those other teams that have been there and done that.

Steve Letarte: Here’s the truth. What I’ve learned after breaking down the last two or three seasons is I’m not going to tell you the championship favorite until about race four of the playoffs because it doesn’t matter who is good now. It truly matters who finds the right package in the last four or five races. Right now, Martin Truex Jr. has to be the favorite. Kyle Busch has got to be on the list. My four are very simple: Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson.

Nate Ryan: Definitely. He has one fewer win, but Busch is matching Larson in most major Loop Data categories, and his No. 18 team has been top notch the past three races at a critical juncture of the season when many teams begin rolling out their best cars.

Dustin Long: Yes, but it doesn’t matter at this point. The championship four won’t be set for three months. Kyle Larson’s team has dipped a bit lately and it is concerning, but they still have time to recover. Also, at this point a year ago, many viewed Martin Truex Jr. as the title favorite and he didn’t even make it to the championship race.

Will Joey Logano make the playoffs?

Jeff Burton: It’s hard for me to say that Joey Logano is not going to make the playoffs. The evidence says he won’t, but my racing intellect tells me that they’ll find a way. If I look at the numbers and I look at how they’re running and the things they’re going to have to do, I would say no but I don’t believe that they’re out of it. I don’t think they have to win a race. I still think there’s enough turmoil in the tracks coming up that it only takes one of those teams ahead of them to have a couple of bad races and if they can run well, I still think they can get themselves in. You think about the races coming up, Watkins Glen, Bristol, Darlington, there’s some very difficult races coming up.

Steve Letarte: No. Because they’re not fast enough. They’re not executing enough. They’re not scoring enough points. The only way the 22 makes the playoffs is to win Richmond. That was way easier in years past when 15 drivers didn’t care where they ran at Richmond. When you go to Richmond right now, those 15 other drivers care where they won. So winning the last race at Richmond is nowhere as near as easy as it used to be.

Nate Ryan: He has been so good on road courses the last few years, it’s feasible Logano could carry his No. 22 Ford to a win at Watkins Glen (where he won in 2015). He might be able to wrestle the car to wins at Bristol and Richmond the same way. But a victory seemingly would require a swing for the fences by Logano’s lagging team, which seems better suited to improving by getting the basics right.

Dustin Long: Don’t see it happening. Not enough speed. With the new format giving drivers incentive to race harder with so many playoff points available, his path won’t be easy.

Denny Hamlin grabs Homestead pole, Martin Truex Jr. also on front row

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Denny Hamlin was last to make a final qualifying run but took the pole for Sunday’s and championship-deciding Ford EcoBoost 400.

Hamlin (173.980 mph) knocked Martin Truex Jr. (173.952) off the pole with a bonsai run around the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“Love this racetrack, wish we would have a chance, but it’ll be another day and another year for us,” Hamlin told NBCSN. “I want to win, that’s all I care about.”

This is Hamlin’s second pole of his career (and second in the last three races) at Homestead, where he’s also a two-time Cup winner.

Truex is the highest qualifying driver of the four Championship 4 contestants.

“It was a good day overall,” Truex told NBCSN. “Hopefully, we’ll just make some minor adjustments (in Saturday’s two practice sessions) and get comfortable and get ready to race on Sunday.”

The other drivers are: Kyle Busch (qualified third, 173.930), Brad Keselowski (fifth, 172.452) and Kevin Harvick was the slowest of the four (ninth, 171.876).

“Not a bad lap, definitely was pole-worthy, so I hate that we weren’t able to get the No. 1 pit stall,” Busch told NBCSN. “I think we’re further ahead than we were 2015 when we won the whole thing.”

Keselowski told NBCSN: “It sure doesn’t feel bad, but there’s a long way to go. It’s just one day of a three-day weekend. … This is like a poker game. This is the deal, it’s qualifying. Tomorrow you start to see the turn of the cards with race trim. We’re not in a bad spot, not where we want to be, we still need a little speed obviously to run with the Toyotas, but we’re kind of first in class (among Ford teams) today.”

Harvick said to NBCSN: “Not exactly how I wanted it to go, but all-in-all I think we’re going to be fine. It’s not like we’re starting 39th or something.”

In addition to Hamlin, non-championship drivers that qualified in the top 12 include Matt Kenseth (fourth, 172.678), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (sixth, 172.359), Kyle Larson (seventh, 172.205), Kurt Busch (eighth, 172.106), Daniel Suarez (10th, 171.789), Ryan Blaney (11th, 171.255) and Trevor Bayne (12th, 171.124).

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start last because of an engine change in practice Friday. … Danica Patrick, who announced she will race next year in the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 before retiring, qualified 25th. … Sunday’s race will have 39 cars in the field.

Click here for qualifying results.

William Byron fastest in final Xfinity practice at Homestead-Miami

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William Byron was fastest in Friday’s final Xfinity Series practice at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Byron, who is one of four drivers in contention for the Xfinity Series Championship in Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300, was the only driver to top 166 mph (166.087 mph).

Byron will jump to the NASCAR Cup Series next season, replacing Kasey Kahne.

The other three Championship 4 drivers in Saturday’s race were ninth-fastest Elliott Sadler (164.144 mph), 13th-fastest Justin Allgaier (163.503) and 15th-fastest Daniel Hemric (163.438).

Second through eighth were Ben Kennedy (165.685), Cole Custer (165.487), Christopher Bell (165.158), Sam Hornish Jr. (165.138), Casey Mears (165.057), Brennan Poole (164.880) and Tyler Reddick (164.179). Tenth-fastest was Ty Majeski (163.939).

Saturday’s championship race will be televised on NBCSN at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Click here for the full practice speed chart.

Chase Briscoe earns Miami Truck pole; Austin Cindric highest of Championship 4 drivers

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Chase Briscoe took the pole for tonight’s Camping World Truck Series season-ending and championship-deciding Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Briscoe was fastest with a speed of 167.499 mph, followed by Ben Rhodes (167.348 mph), who will also sit on the front row when the green flag drops tonight.

Three of the four Championship 4 drivers didn’t qualify as well as they might have liked.

One did, however, as 19-year-old Austin Cindric qualified third (166.831). Cindric and Briscoe are both competing in the final race for Brad Keselowski Racing, which is folding after this season.

As for the other three Championship 4 drivers, two-time Truck champ Matt Crafton qualified eighth (165.614), defending series champ Johnny Sauter (165.092) qualified 11th, and Christopher Bell (165.309) failed to advance past the first round of qualifying. He’ll start tonight’s championship race 13th.

As for the rest of the top 12 qualifiers who are not running for the championship, Grant Enfinger was fourth (166.590) followed by Noah Gragson (165.909), Ryan Truex (165.848) and Justin Haley in seventh (165.705). Also, Stewart Friesen qualified ninth (165.431), Kaz Grala was 10th (165.203) and Myatt Snider was 12th (161.575).

The Ford EcoBoost 200 will take the green flag shortly after 8 p.m. ET. The race will be televised on Fox Sports 1.

Click here for the full qualifying grid.

Kaz Grala joining JGL Racing full-time in Xfinity next season

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Kaz Grala will make the move to the Xfinity Series in 2018 when he competes full-time in the No. 24 Ford for JGL Racing, the team announced Friday.

Grala, 18, makes the move after one season in the Camping World Truck Series with GMS Racing. Grala earned one win, in the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. He is the youngest driver to win a national NASCAR race at Daytona.

Multiple drivers piloted the No. 24 this season, including Dylan Lupton, Corey LaJoie, Jeb Burton and Drew Herring. JGL Racing also fielded the No. 28 for Dakoda Armstrong, but the car hasn’t run since Kentucky due to a lack of sponsorship.

“I am beyond excited about the opportunity to drive for JGL Racing next year full-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series,” Grala said in a press release. “I’ve been watching Xfinity races since I was a little kid, so to be able to compete at that high of a level is nothing short of a dream come true. I can’t thank James Whitener (owner of JGL Racing) and everyone at JGL enough for this opportunity.”

Grala has five top fives and an average finish of 14.1 in the No. 33 truck ahead of tonight’s season finale in the Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

JGL Racing’s move from Toyota to Ford coincides with the team entering a technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing.

“These are exciting times for the JGL Racing organization,” Whitener said in a press release.  “We appreciate the support we have received from Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing over the last few years. We felt that in order for our team to make the next step in our growth process that we needed a more robust technical alliance behind us – and this opportunity with Ford Performance and Roush Fenway Racing provided us that and made the most sense. We look forward to finishing out the season in our No. 24 car and then we will turn our attention to 2018 and getting all of the proper pieces into place.”