Chase for playoff points looms larger with five races left in regular season

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As Kyle Busch and his team found so many ways to lose races, it wasn’t the lack of victories that proved worrisome but the loss of playoff points.

“It was a huge concern,’’ crew chief Adam Stevens said.

It’s not a stretch to believe Busch could have eight victories at this moment, giving him at least 40 playoff points and a path through part of the playoffs — if not all the way to the championship race in Miami.

Instead, he scored his first Cup win of the year Sunday at Pocono Raceway. He has 13 playoff points, trailing Martin Truex Jr. (29 playoff points) and Jimmie Johnson (16).

All those lost opportunities for Busch could impact the playoffs. Each stage victory is worth one playoff point. Each race win is worth five playoff points. Those points carry through the first three rounds as long as the driver remains in contention for the championship.

“I don’t think any of us truly understand how important (playoff points) are,’’ seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson said.

They’ll begin to find out when the playoffs open Sept. 17 at Chicagoland Speedway.

Stage racing and playoff points have created extra layers in the races this season. Those changes have forced crew chiefs to plot differing strategies and drivers to be more aggressive. It was evident at Pocono. 

Martin Truex Jr. pitted from the lead Sunday shortly before the end of the second stage. He and crew chief Cole Pearn were going for the race win instead of the stage victory. Many followed. Clint Bowyer stayed out to win the stage and collect the one playoff point and 10 bonus points. Bowyer, who is not in a playoff spot, needs all those bonus points.

While teams created models on what it might take to advance in the playoffs, no one knows for sure. It’s reminiscence of 2004 when NASCAR changed the way the championship was decided by implementing the 10-race Chase instead of having the title determined over the entire season. There were many theories of how to run the final 10 races but no one knew what strategy would work.

Drivers and teams that have lost races worry how their missed opportunities this season might impact their title hopes.

Brad Keselowski was the leader for the final restart at Indianapolis last month. He lost the race — and five playoff points — to Kasey Kahne. Could those points be the difference in Keselowski advancing another round in the playoffs?

He rues missed chances for more playoff points this season.

“I wouldn’t say that it was just Indy that I felt that way,’’ Keselowski said. “I felt that way at Richmond and Vegas where we finished second, had a shot of winning, were leading and it fell apart at the end.

“There’s other races where we won. Atlanta, Kevin (Harvick) was probably the best car there. Sometimes you win when you shouldn’t have and sometimes you don’t win where you probably should have. You hope to be on the better side of that. Steal more than you have stolen. Never feels like you are. That’s the bigger picture look that I have at.’’

Another key will be the bonus points the top 10 teams in points receive after the regular season ends next month. Barring a collapse or severe penalty, Truex is on pace to win the regular-season title and collect 15 playoff points. He has 29 playoff points and the regular-season title bonus would put him at 44 — and five races remain for him to score more playoff points.

To put those 44 points into context, when the playoffs start, every driver contending for the title will have their point total reset to 2,000 and have their playoff points added. It’s possible that Truex will lead some drivers by more than 40 points before the opening round begins.

That likely will help him advance to the second round (if he doesn’t win a race in the first round). He would then carry all those bonus points with him after the point totals are reset to 3,000 for the remaining title contenders. Truex still could have a big enough cushion over some title hopefuls that he could advance to the third round even if he struggles some in those three races.

While Truex appears to be in a good spot, these next five races could be critical to Kyle Larson.

He was leading the points after Daytona last month but a 35-point penalty and four finishes outside the top 25 in the last six races has dropped him to second in the season standings with Harvick and Busch closing. Should both pass Larson and he finishes the regular season fourth, he will have lost eight playoff points by fading from first (15 playoff points) to fourth (seven).

Those eight points could be significant in the playoffs.

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Woman arrested for stalking, intimidation, terroristic mischief vs. Tony Stewart, family

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A Florida woman who allegedly felt spurned when Tony Stewart did not give her an autograph is under arrest and facing several felony charges including intimidation, stalking and terroristic mischief.

Sixty-eight year old Kathi Kathleen Russell – who also goes by the name Mary Kathleen Russell – of Cape Coral, Florida, is being held in the Lee County, Fla. Jail, awaiting extradition to Marion County, Indiana to face those charges – as well as violating an order of protection.

Kathi Kathleen Russell (Photo courtesy Lee County, Florida Sheriffs Office)

Russell’s arrest and the charges against her was first reported by Indianapolis TV station WRTV.

According to the criminal complaint and probable cause affidavit cited by WRTV, Russell allegedly harassed Stewart, his family and employees from March 2016 through last month after he did not sign a piece of memorabilia at an unspecified race she attended. Among the things Russell is accused of:

* Made a total of 333 phone calls to Stewart, his mother, sister, sponsors and several of his businesses, according to WRTV. Those calls came at all hours of the day and night, according to the complaint.

* Many of those calls were also allegedly threatening in nature, according to the WRTV report. Russell is also accused of playing threatening audio clips and song clips during several of those calls, according to the complaint and WRTV’s on-air and online stories.

* On Sept. 27, according to the WRTV reports, Russell allegedly sent an envelope containing a white powder to the Indianapolis office of Stewart’s attorneys, Ice Miller LLP. The scare prompted the evacuation of the One America Building in downtown Indianapolis, which houses Ice Miller’s offices. The white powder was eventually determined to be baking soda, according to WRTV’s online report.

NBC Sports reached out to Stewart. In an email reply, a spokesman for the former NASCAR Cup driver and current co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing said: “We’re going to decline comment and let the legal process run its course.”

It’s unclear when Russell will be extradited to Indiana to face the charges against her. NBC Sports reached out to the Marion County (Indiana) Superior Court, Marion County Sheriff’s Office and Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, but has not received replies as yet.

Questions and answers about NASCAR’s pit crew cut, at-track roster limits

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NASCAR announced Wednesday a reduction in pit crew members and limits to the at-track rosters beginning in 2018. Here’s a look at what that means and other questions about the changes.

What is NASCAR doing?

NASCAR will cut pit crew members from six to five. NASCAR will set limits on how many team members can be at the track, starting next season.

Why the change?

It’s viewed as a cost-cutting method for most teams, although some small teams likely won’t save much money because they typically don’t reach the limits that will be set. NASCAR will make crew lists available to help promote these people. NASCAR also views reducing the number of pit crew members as a safety factor by having fewer crew members go over the wall.

What position will be eliminated on the pit crew?

Likely a tire carrier position. What you probably will see is a tire changer carry their own tire. So, a pit crew in 2018 likely will have two tire changers, a jackman, a tire carrier and a fueler.

Anything else different about the pit crew for 2018?

Yes, a fueler can only fuel the car. No longer can a fueler help remove a tire or make adjustments to the car.

How much will this slow pit stops?

We’ve yet to see, but it is likely to slow the stop. As the season progresses, teams will become more proficient in what they do but it seems those 10-second pit stops are gone.

Any other changes on pit road for 2018?

Yes. Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said Wednesday morning that series officials are looking at teams using a standardized pit gun to change tires with in 2018. Teams are responsible for their own pit guns and more effort has been put into that area in recent years. Teams have had engineers dedicated to making pit guns faster to provide an advantage. A standardized pit gun will take away that advantage some teams have.

What about these crew limits?

In Cup, teams will be limited to 20 or 21 people per car. For an organization that has one or two Cup cars, it will be allowed to have three people in the organizational category, 12 in the roster category and five pit crew members. For an organization with more than two cars, they can have four organization people. Cup teams will be able to have an additional road crew position for the three road courses and Indianapolis.

So what are the classifications: Organizational, road crew and pit crew?

Organizational category includes the competition director, team manager, technical director, IT specialists, etc.

Road crew category includes crew chief, car chief, engineers, mechanics, shock specialist, tire specialist and aero specialists.

Pit crew category includes the over-the-wall members.

What about the limits for Xfinity and Truck teams?

Xfinity and Trucks teams will be allowed one organizational member each and five pit crew members each. Xfinity teams will be allowed up to seven road crew members. Truck teams will be allowed up to six road crew members. Xfinity teams get an additional road crew member for up to 10 races. They can choose the 10 races. Truck teams are allowed an additional road crew member for up to five races. They can choose which races.

Who is exempt from these lists?

Team executives, public relations personnel, etc. The crew limits are for those who directly work on the vehicle.

At Homestead, a crew member from Kyle Busch’s team worked on Martin Truex Jr.’s car after he hit the wall in practice. Will that still be allowed?

For that to happen in 2018, the crew member would have to be listed on the roster for both teams. Otherwise, they would not be allowed to work on the car. If they did, it would be a penalty.

What is the penalty for a crew member working on a car they’re not assigned to?

That has yet to be determined, but O’Donnell said: “It will have some teeth to it. I think the teams and NASCAR are in agreement that this is something that we want to work for all the race teams and there needs to be a penalty behind this when it is violated. We’ll make that clear to the media and the fans as we head into (the 2018 season).

What happens when there is a crew chief suspension or car chief suspension or other team member suspension? Will the team be able to replace that position or will they lose a spot for each suspension on its at-track limit?

This also is to be determined, O’Donnell said. He added: “Still working through some of those details. We’ll have prior to the Daytona 500 … what the final aspects are.’’

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Oh, baby: Ty and Haley Dillon welcome first child, daughter Oakley Ray

Photo courtesy Ty and Haley Dillon
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Brothers Austin and Ty Dillon have long called Richard Childress “pop pop” as an affectionate alternative term for “grandfather.”

But as of Tuesday, Childress may soon come to be called “great pop pop,” as Ty and wife Haley announced the birth of their first child – and Childress’ first great grandchild.

Daughter Oakley Ray Dillon weighed in at nine pounds, eight ounces, and was 21.5 inches long, according to an Instagram post by Haley.

“Our baby girl waited just in time for her daddy to get home from Homestead to make her grand entrance,” Haley wrote in her post.

Ty Dillon recently agreed to a contract extension to continue driving the No. 13 Chevrolet for Germain Racing in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Four other NASCAR drivers and their wives or girlfriends will soon be part of the NASCAR baby boom.

Brittany and Joey Logano are expecting their first child in January, while DeLana and Kevin Harvick are expecting their second child the same month.

Due in May is the first child for Amy and Dale Earnhardt Jr., and the second child for Katelyn Sweet and Kyle Larson.

NASCAR reduces pit crew members, sets at-track roster limits for 2018

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NASCAR will enforce crew limits for its three national series next season and reduce how many will go over the wall, the sanctioning body announced Wednesday.

Pit crews will be reduced from six to five beginning next season as part of a cost-cutting measure for teams.

Rosters will be divided into three categories: Organizational, road crew and pit crew.

Organizational includes the competition director, team manager, technical director, IT specialists, etc. Cup organizations with no more than two cars will be limited to three people in this category. Cup organizations with more than two cars will be allowed four people in this category. In Xfinity and the Camping World Truck Series, each team will be limited to one person in this position.

Road crew includes the crew chief, car chief, engineers, mechanics, shock specialist, tire specialist and aero specialists. Cup teams will be limited to 12 people. Xfinity teams will be limited to seven people, and Camping World Truck Series teams will be limited to six. Cup teams will be allowed an additional road crew spot at road courses and at Indianapolis. Xfinity teams will be allowed an additional road crew spot at up to 10 races. Truck teams will be allowed an additional road crew spot at up to five races.

Pit crew represents over-the-wall crew members. Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck teams will be limited to five individuals. Also, NASCAR announced that the fueler can only perform the task of fueling the vehicle beginning next season. Previously, fuelers could help with removing the left rear tire, making adjustments or some other role if the team was not fueling the car on a stop.

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