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Here’s your primer for this weekend’s opening of the NASCAR Cup playoffs

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As we prepare for this weekend’s start of the NASCAR Cup playoffs at Chicagoland Speedway, here’s a primer – courtesy of our friends at Racing Insights – on what to expect.

We’ll cover the playoff format and the number of playoff appearances to date for all 16 drivers and 16 crew chiefs:

2017 Playoff Format Explained

The format for the 2017 the playoffs will be divided into four rounds:

Round One – Round of 16 (Races 27-29 – Chicago, New Hampshire, Dover)

  • All drivers have their points adjusted to 2,000
  • Top-10 in regular season points are awarded regular season playoff points
  • Playoff points accumulated during the first 26 races are added
  • All playoff points earned will continue to transfer as long as a driver remains playoff eligible
  • A win by a playoff driver in round one automatically advances them to round two
  • Remaining positions are filled based on points earned in round one
  • All playoff points accumulated during round one will be applied in the second round as long as that 
driver has advanced

Round Two – Round of 12 (Race 30-32 – Charlotte, Talladega, Kansas)

  • All drivers that advance to round two have their points adjusted to 3,000
  • All playoff points accumulated are then applied, including any playoff points gained during round 1
  • A win by a Playoff driver in round two automatically advances them to round three
  • Remaining positions are filled based on points earned in round two
  • All playoff points accumulated during round two will be applied in the third round as long as that 
driver has advanced

Round Three – Round of 8 (Race 33-35 – Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix)

  • All drivers to advance to round three have their points adjusted to 4,000
  • All Playoff points accumulated are then applied, including any points gained during rounds 1 and 2
  • A win by a Playoff driver in round three automatically advances them to Homestead
  • Remaining positions are filled based on points earned in round three
  • Playoff points are not awarded in Round three

Round Four – Championship 4 (Race 36 -Homestead)

  • All four drivers have their points reset to 5,000, No Playoff Points
  • No Playoff points or stage points awarded to the Playoff eligible drivers during the race
  • The highest finisher at Homestead among the remaining four eligible drivers in the Playoff grid wins 
the Championship******************************************

Playoff Appearances and Best Year End Finish during the Post Season Era: 14th year of the post season:

  • Martin Truex Jr. – 5th Playoff Appearance, best finish 4th in 2015
  • Kyle Larson2nd Playoff Appearance, best finish 9th in 2016
  • Kyle Busch – 10th Playoff Appearance, won the Championship in 2015
  • Brad Keselowski – 6th Playoff Appearance, won the Championship in 2012
  • Jimmie Johnson14th Playoff Appearance (every year), seven-time champion
  • Kevin Harvick – 11th Playoff Appearance, won the Championship in 2014
  • Denny Hamlin – 11th Playoff Appearance, best finish of 2nd in 2010
  • Ricky Stenhouse Jr.1st Playoff Appearance
  • Ryan Blaney1st Playoff Appearance
  • Chase Elliott2nd Playoff Appearance, 10th in 2016
  • Ryan Newman – 8th Playoff Appearance, best finish of 2nd in 2014
  • Kurt Busch – 11th Playoff Appearance, won the Championship in 2004
  • Kasey Kahne – 6th Playoff Appearance, best finish of 4th in 2012
  • Austin Dillon2nd Playoff Appearance, best finish of 14th in 2016
  • Matt Kenseth – 13th Playoff Appearance, best finish of 2nd in 2006 & 2013 **
  • Jamie McMurray3rd Playoff Appearance, best finish of 13th in 2015 and 2016

**Matt Kenseth won the Championship in 2003, the last year of the pre-Post Season era

*******************************************

Crew Chiefs Making First Playoff appearance:

* No. 5 Keith Rodden – Fourth full-time season as Crew Chief, third with Kasey Kahne, Lead Engineer of #5 from 2012- 2013

* No. 21 Jeremy Bullins – Third season with #21 all with Ryan Blaney, won 2013 & 2014 NXS Owners title as Crew Chief of #22, Race engineer with multiple teams from 2000-2011

*******************************************

Playoff Appearances by Crew Chiefs:

* No. 1 Matt McCall – 3rd appearance, all with Jamie McMurray all in the last three years

* No. 2 Paul Wolfe – 6th appearance, all with Brad Keselowski, won 2012 Championship together

* No. 3 Justin Alexander – 2nd appearance, first with Austin Dillon, one with Paul Menard 2015

* No. 4 Rodney Childers – 4th appearance, won the 2014 Championship with Kevin Harvick

* No. 11 Mike Wheeler – 2nd appearance, both with Denny Hamlin (currently suspended)

* No. 17 Brian Pattie – 5th appearance, first with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., three with Clint Bowyer, one with Juan Pablo Montoya

* No. 18 Adam Stevens – 3rd appearance, all with Kyle Busch, won 2015 Championship together

* No. 20 Jason Ratcliff – 5th appearance, all with Matt Kenseth

* No. 24 Alan Gustafson – 10th appearance, second with Chase Elliott, five with Jeff Gordon, two with Kyle Busch, one with Mark Martin

* No. 31 Luke Lambert – 3rd appearance, all with Ryan Newman

* No. 41 Tony Gibson – 5th appearance, third with Kurt Busch, two with Ryan Newman

* No. 42 Chad Johnston – 3rd appearance, second with Kyle Larson, one with Martin Truex Jr. at Michael Waltrip Racing
* No. 48 Chad Knaus – 14th appearance, all with Jimmie Johnson

* No. 78 Cole Pearn – 3rd appearance, all with Martin Truex Jr.

*******************************************

2017 Playoff Manufacturer Break Down:

Chevrolet – 7 Ford – 5 Toyota – 4

2017 Playoff Organization Break Down:

Joe Gibbs Racing – 3

Hendrick Motorsports – 3

Chip Ganassi Racing – 2*

Richard Childress Racing – 2

Stewart-Haas Racing – 2

Furniture Row Racing – 1

Roush Fenway Racing – 1

Team Penske – 1

Wood Brothers Racing – 1*

*All Cars of Organization made the playoffs

Darlington celebrates NASCAR’s 70th birthday by revealing 4th throwback weekend details

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Darlington Raceway on Thursday celebrated the 70th birthday of NASCAR in a big way, announcing details for the fourth annual NASCAR throwback weekend.

The track revealed the 2018 edition of the throwback weekend will celebrate “Seven Decades of NASCAR,” to be held Aug. 31-Sept. 2 at the legendary 1.366-mile track.

The weekend will include the Cup Series’ Bojangles’ Southern 500 and the Xfinity Series’ Sports Clips Haircuts VFW 200.

NASCAR held its first of several organizational meetings on Dec. 14, 1947, at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Florida. That ultimately led to the official formation of NASCAR on Feb. 21, 1948.

The throwback weekend will honor and feature highlights of some of the biggest moments in the sport’s history over its first 70 years.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for Darlington Raceway and the NASCAR industry to celebrate the sport over a seven decade period during our 2018 throwback weekend,” Darlington Raceway President Kerry Tharp said in a media release.

“We have been era specific the past three years,” Tharp added, “so we felt it was important to recognize the 70th anniversary of NASCAR with our ‘Seven Decades of NASCAR’ celebration next season and give the teams, sanctioning body and others a wider brush to paint a picture capturing memorable moments we might not have celebrated in year’s past.”

Memorable moments to be celebrated include several that took place at Darlington itself, including Ned Jarrett’s record-setting 14-lap victory in the 1965 Southern 500, Ricky Craven’s record-setting photo finish win over Kurt Busch in 2003, and Jimmie Johnson’s 2012 Southern 500 win, which gave team owner Rick Hendrick his 200th career victory, among others.

Cup winners of the first three throwback weekends have been Carl Edwards (2015), Martin Truex Jr. (2016) and Denny Hamlin (2017).

As has been the case for the first three throwback weekends, the track will once again issue commemorative tickets for the Southern 500.

“We have produced commemorative tickets for our fans every year of the throwback program, which is an important part of our platform,” Tharp said. “We appreciate how much the fans have supported Darlington Raceway and want them to walk away from our weekend with a special keepsake that recognizes our rich history and honors the stars of our sport.”

Front Row Motorsports adds Michael McDowell, expands technical alliance with Roush Fenway

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Front Row Motorsports will field entries for David Ragan and Michael McDowell in 2018 while expanding its technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing, the team announced Thursday.

McDowell joins the Bob Jenkins-owned team after four years of driving the No. 95 Chevrolet for Leavine Family Racing before being replaced by Kasey Kahne.

The native of Phoenix, Arizona, McDowell replaces Landon Cassill as Ragan’s teammate.

McDowell, 32, has 249 Cup starts since 2008, but only two full-time seasons under his belt. He made one start for Front Row at Watkins Glen in 2013.

“Since I first drove for Bob at Watkins Glen, we’ve kept in touch and have felt like there might be an opportunity to work together again, and the timing worked out perfectly,” McDowell said in a press release. “It’s been a while since I’ve had a teammate, so I’m really looking forward to working with David, whom I’ve become pretty good friends with over the years. As a team now, we go into the season knowing we have five or six races that put us in position to get a win and earn a spot in the playoffs.”

Ragan returns to Front Row for his fifth season. Ragan earned the organization its first Cup victory in 2013 at Talladega. Ragan has two wins, 15 top fives and 39 top-10 finishes in his Cup career.

“Bob Jenkins and I have developed a good relationship over the years, both professionally and personally,” Ragan said in a press release. “I believe in this team and am proud to have been part of its growth and its successes. I’m excited that Bob and Ford have agreed to take the program to the next level, and I’m happy I’ll be here to help the team continue to grow.”

Crew chief assignments have not been finalized. FRM will announce sponsor partners and driver car numbers at a later date.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s ‘Last Ride’ diecast is Lionel Racing’s bestselling ever

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. has set a new benchmark for Lionel Racing’s most purchased diecast in its 25-year history.

Lionel Racing, NASCAR’s official diecast producer, has announced that the diecast of Earnhardt’s “Last Ride” No. 88 Chevrolet in the Cup season finale last month is now its bestselling diecast in company history.

The “Last Ride” car is based on the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet that Earnhardt drove in his rookie Cup season in 2000.

The previous bestseller was another Earnhardt diecast, for his 2014 Daytona 500 win.

Lionel Racing says that QVC’s “For Race Fans Only” show that featured Earnhardt and unveiled the car helped contribute to sales. But even without QVC, sales of the “Last Ride” diecast outpaced the 2014 Daytona 500 diecast by more than 10,000 units.

“The demand for this car has been simply astounding,” Lionel Racing President Howard Hitchcock said on the company’s website. “The fan response to this diecast is a true measure of how much Earnhardt has meant to both casual NASCAR fans and serious diecast collectors.”

Lionel Racing has also revealed the top-10 selling diecasts for the year, which you can find below. Earnhardt has six cars on the list. Chase Elliott has two and Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney each have one.

Casey Mears likely to split 2018 between NASCAR, Global Rallycross and Stadium Super Trucks

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Casey Mears still plans to compete part-time in NASCAR in 2018, but he’s also looking to expand his racing horizons.

The veteran NASCAR driver told The Checkered Flag recently that he also expects to race in the Red Bull Global Rallycross series, as well as Robby Gordon’s Stadium Super Trucks series.

“Right now I’m talking to a few NASCAR programs to do maybe limited stuff,” Mears told The Checkered Flag. “I don’t have anything that would be a full-time ride in a NASCAR series.

“I’ve been speaking with Robby Gordon in the Stadium Super Truck program. I think that’s a really cool up-and-coming-series and I’d definitely like to be involved with the GRC. It looks like a lot of fun.

“I think there’s enough difference between all those that it could leave room for doing a bit of both so we’ll see how it works out.”

Mears did not race in the Cup Series in 2017, having lost his ride at the end of 2016 to Ty Dillon in the No. 13 Geico Chevy. He has amassed 488 starts and one win (2007 Coca-Cola 600) in his Cup career, along with 13 top fives and 51 top 10s.

However, he did compete on a part-time basis in 2017 in the Xfinity Series, making 14 starts, with season-best finishes of ninth place at both Richmond and Road America. He also has 107 Xfinity starts with one win, 16 top fives and 34 top 10s.