Who’s Hot and Who’s Not heading into playoff cutoff race at Dover

Leave a comment

This weekend’s Apache Warrior 400 at Dover International Speedway marks the end of the first round of the Cup playoffs.

When the checkered flag falls, four of the 16 playoff drivers will be eliminated as things move on to the Round of 12.

Drivers in danger of being eliminated are: Richard Childress Racing teammates Austin Dillon (13th heading into Dover) and Ryan Newman (14th), Kurt Busch (15th) and Kasey Kahne (16th).

Points leader Martin Truex Jr. is the defending race winner, while Jimmie Johnson won this past spring’s race at Dover, his 11th victory at The Monster Mile.

Even though he’s struggled for many of the last 11 races, Johnson is still a threat to win at the 1-mile, concrete speedway.

But who can forget the 2015 race at Dover, when he suffered a mechanical failure, finished 41st and didn’t advance?

Johnson is in better shape this time, 32 points ahead of 13th in the points heading into Dover, but nothing’s guaranteed.

Courtesy of Racing Insights, here’s this week’s Who’s Hot and Who’s Not:

Cup – Who Is Hot

No. 78 Martin Truex Jr. (Hot)

  • Finished fifth at New Hampshire, was involved in the big one while leading
  • Won at Chicago after a speeding penalty and loose lugs
  • Finished in the top-10 19 times this season, the most of all drivers
  • Won 19 stages this season, the most of all drivers
  • 59 Playoff Points this season, includes 15 points for clinching the regular season
  • Five wins this season, most of all drivers and personal best
  • Led a series-high 1,835 laps in 2017, led the most laps in eight races
  • Two wins at Dover, the first of his career in 2007 and this race last year
  • Finished top 10 in six of the last seven Dover races, other finish was 11th
  • Led over 100 laps in three of the last five Dover races
  • Finished third at Dover in June, led 102 laps

No. 18 Kyle Busch (Hot)

  • Won at New Hampshire, third win in the last eight races
  • Won the pole for the last two races
  • Loose wheel and speeding penalty then lack of cautions caused his 15th-place finish at Chicago
  • Three wins this season (Pocono 2, Bristol, NH 2)
  • Two Dover wins, both in the Spring 2008 and 2010
  • Finished runner-up in the last two Fall Dover races,
  • Won the pole, finished 16th in June

No. 11 Denny Hamlin (Hot, Good at Dover)

  • Finished 12th at NH, worst finish in the last five races
  • Fifth in the standings, +44 to the cut line
  • Top-five finishes in 10 of the last 14 races including two wins
  • Best Dover finish is fourth, twice
  • Finished top 10 in the last three races at Dover including eighth in June

No. 44 Kevin Harvick (Hot, decent at Dover)

  • Finished 36th, DNF at NH, his worst finish since Las Vegas in March
  • Five fewer top fives and top 10s this year compared to last year
  • 10th in the standings, +25 of the cut line
  • One Dover win, this race in 2015 to advance
  • Finished 37th in this race last year but had won NH the week prior
  • Finished ninth at Dover in June

No. 48 Jimmie Johnson (All about the wins and he has lots at Dover)

  • 14th at NH, seven finishes outside the top 10 in the last nine races
  • Three top 5 finishes this season, all wins
  • Seventh in the standings, +32
  • 11 Dover wins in 31 starts (win percentage: 35%)
  • Won at Dover in June

No. 42 Kyle Larson (Hot in 2017, Good at Dover)

  • Finished second at NH, eighth runner-up finish this season
  • Four wins in 2017, had one entering this season
  • Best finish at Dover in seven races is runner-up twice, including June
  • Finished top 10 in five of the last six races

No. 20 Matt Kenseth (sneaky Hot)

  • Finished third at NH, eight top-10 finishes in the last 10 races, all but Michigan, flat tire in OT while 
running third and an ambulance problem at Richmond
  • Three-time Dover winner but all in the Spring
  • Top 10 finishes in six of the last eight races at Dover

No. 24 Chase Elliott (Starting to turn things back around, Great at Dover)

  • Finished 11th at NH, his worst finish in the last four races is 11th, twice
  • Ninth in the standings, +26 to the cut line (includes 15 point penalty after Chicago)
  • Finished top five in all three series starts at Dover

No. 2 Brad Keselowski (Warm, Good at Dover)

  • Finished fourth at NH, only two top-10 finishes in the last seven races but both came in the playoffs
  • Locked into round 2 on at least points
  • One Dover win, this race in 2012
  • Finished top 10 in six of the last 10 races at Dover, 38th DNF accident in June

Cup – Who Is Not Hot

No. 1 Jamie McMurray (Decent)

  • 16th at NH, first finish outside the top 15 in the last seven races
  • Eleventh in the standings, +9 to the cut line
  • 14 top 10 finishes this season, five more than this point last year
  • Best Dover finish is second in 2006
  • Finished top 10 in three of the last five races at Dover including seventh in June
  • Finished last in this race last year, engine failure

No. 21 Ryan Blaney (Not Lately)

  • Finished ninth at NH after 11th at Chicago, best two consecutive finishes this season
  • Last top-five finish was his win at Pocono in June
  • Ten top-10 finishes this season but none have come in back-to-back races
  • Three Dover starts, best finish of eighth in the Spring of 2016, finished 32nd in June

No. 41 Kurt Busch (Two bad races, Not at Dover)

  • Finished 37th DNF accident at NH, tied his worst finish this season
  • 17 points below the cut line
  • Trouble during playoffs: Speeding penalty at Chicago, accident at NH
  • One Dover win, this race in 2011 driving for Team Penske
  • Only one top 10 finish in the last 11 races at Dover
  • Finished 37th, DNF accident at Dover in June

No. 3 Austin Dillon (Has a win but is NOT HOT)

  • Finished 19th at NH, only two top-15 finishes in the last nine races
  • 13th in the standings, tied for the cut
  • Playoff problems: Speeding penalty at Chicago, caused the big one at NH
  • Won on fuel mileage at Charlotte
  • Only four top-10 finishes this season, had 10 at this point last year
  • Only top-10 finish in eight Dover races was eighth in this race last year
  • Finished 13th at Dover in June

No. 5 Kasey Kahne (Not)

  • Finished 35th, broken track bar at NH, only one top 10 finish in the last 18 races, win at Indy
  • 16th in the standings, -21 to the cut line
  • Six DNFs accident this season
  • Won at Indianapolis ending a 102-race winless streak, took a super lucky timed caution and turned it 
into a win
  • He has only finished on the lead lap in 54 percent of the races this season
  • Best Dover finish is fourth, three times
  • Finished 17th at Dover in June (accident)

No. 31 Ryan Newman (Pretty good lately, not so much at Dover lately)

  • 13th at NH, top 10 finishes in four of the last six races, all but the two playoff races
  • 14th in the standings, -1 to the cut line
  • Three Dover wins, last came in 2004
  • Finished fourth in June, only top-10 finish in the last five races at Dover

No. 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Has two wins this season)

  • 15th at NH, last top 10 was his win at Daytona in July
  • 12th in the standings, 0 points ahead of the cut line, wins the tie breaker with a 15th place finish
  • Zero wins in first 157 starts, two wins in last 19 starts
  • Best Dover finish is eighth in this race in 2015, only top 10 finish at Dover
  • Finished 39th at Dover in June, accident

Others to Watch:

No. 14 Clint Bowyer (Disappointing 2017)

  • Finished seventh at NH, first top 10 in the last six races
  • Was 88 points out of a Playoff spot
  • Finished runner up three times in 2017
  • 11 top-10s in 2017, had only three in all of 2016
  • Best Dover finish is fourth in 2014, finished 31st in June

No. 22 Joey Logano (Disappointing season)

  • 10th at NH, finished top 10 in the last three races best streak since April
  • 10 finishes outside the top 20 in the last 19 races
  • Won at Richmond but was encumbered after starting in the rear due to a transmission change
  • First time he missed the playoffs with Team Penske
  • Best Dover finish is third, twice
  • Finished top 10 in eight of the last 11 races at Dover, 25th in June

No. 77 Erik Jones (Hot, ?? at Dover)

  • Finished sixth at NH, top 10 finishes in seven of the last eight races this season
  • Finished 15th at Dover in June, involved in last lap accident

No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Not)

  • 34th at NH, involved in the big one, last top 10 was Sonoma in June (sixth)
  • Only two top 10s in the last 16 races
  • One Dover win, this race in 2001
  • Finished 11th at Dover in June

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Camping World Truck Series practice report from Martinsville

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Justin Haley was fastest in the first of three Camping World Truck Series practice sessions Friday at Martinsville Speedway.

The GMS Racing driver topped Noah Gragson in the final moments of the session with a speed of 94.125 mph.

Gragson, the defending winner at Martinsville, posted a speed of 93.891 mph.

The top five was completed by Matt Crafton (93.738), John Hunter Nemechek (93.724) and Johnny Sauter (93.622).

Justin Fontaine recorded the most laps in the session with 70.

Check back for more.

NASCAR America: Aric Almirola confident after fast start

Leave a comment

Aric Almirola heads into Sunday’s Cup race at Martinsville Speedway 10th in the points and full of confidence with an opening five-race stretch that has seen him finish no worse than 13th in a Cup race for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Almirola told NASCAR America’s Marty Snider on Thursday that the start of the season has him “loose and I’m excited and I’ve got this spark and this energy that is so good right now.’’

Almirola said he and crew chief John Klausmeier are working well together. That and SHR’s fast cars have provided a strong combination.

“I think it just starts with Johnny and I having a relationship prior to this year,’’ Almirola said of working with Klausmeier. “I knew Johnny Klausmeier from when I was at DEI back in 2007, 2008 and we’ve been friends ever since. Now when you put us in this environment where we have to work together and we have to perform together … it helps us communicate. So far it’s working well. We still have a long ways to go. We want to win races, we want to contend for a championship.’’

For more on what Almirola said, watch the video above.

 and on Facebook

PNC Bank becomes official bank of NASCAR

Leave a comment

NASCAR announced Friday it has agreed to a five-year deal with PNC Bank to become the official bank and official wealth management partner of the sport.

PNC Bank will have exclusive status and promotional rights around retail, corporate and private banking across the country and U.S. military bases abroad. The bank will be at key NASCAR races throughout each season to provide financial insights to drivers, teams, tracks and sponsors.

The agreement is PNC Bank’s first with a sports league.

PNC is the latest Fortune 500 company to invest in the sport.

According to NASCAR, more than 1 in 4 Fortune 500 companies invested in NASCAR in 2017 – a seven percent increase year-over-year.

Friday 5: Passion on and off the track

Leave a comment

There’s been much to talk about this season but some of the conversation has centered more on what has happened off the track.

Maybe Kyle Busch can help return the talk to the track this weekend at Martinsville Speedway.

Admittedly, three of the first five races having a margin of victory of 2.6 seconds or more (last week Martin Truex Jr. won by 11.6 seconds) takes away some of the excitement for some even as Kevin Harvick won three races in a row.

Other than Harvick’s dominance, some of the buzzy topics this season has been Harvick talking about the need to build up grassroots racing, why Busch wasn’t interviewed on TV after last weekend’s race at Auto Club (and then his responses to Twitter trolls) and how Austin Dillon and members of his team got tattoos on their rear end after winning the Daytona 500.

All worthy topics to generate conversation, but the discussion on the racing hasn’t been as paramount to this point.

Martinsville comes just in time to change that. The series is back at the track for the first time since Denny Hamlin’s contact knocked Chase Elliott out of the lead late in the fall race and fans saw a level of emotion they hadn’t seen from Elliott. If you don’t recall, Busch went on to win that race.

Last spring had its excitement with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. bumping Busch out of the way to stay on the lead lap, opening the door for Elliott to win a stage. Later in that race, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch engaged in a spellbinding duel before Keselowski pulled away and went on to win. Busch finished second.

Right now, Busch is one of the main drivers who stirs the drink in a sport that has seen fan favorites Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, among others, retire.

Even Earnhardt said as much on his podcast this week.

“The one thing that I’ve learned over the last several years … was the sport needs people like Kyle,’’ Earnhardt said on the Dale Jr. Download. “Even if you don’t like the guy, the sport needs all kinds of personalities, and we can’t have 40 heroes out there racing.

“We can’t have 40 Captain Americas out there competing against each other. You gotta have a Batman, you gotta have a Robin, you gotta have a Superman, you gotta have a Joker. You gotta have all of that to create storylines and create rivalries.”

The sport’s best rivalry is Keselowski and Busch. It’s one that simmers and then explodes, whether it is in their duel at Martinsville last year, their contact at Watkins Glen, Busch’s Twitter response to Keselowski after Keselowski’s comments about Toyota’s dominance entering the playoffs or Busch simply saying at the news conference before last year’s Miami championship race of Busch: “Sometimes you just don’t like a guy.’’

This weekend could be a chance for such feelings to bubble or maybe from somebody else. With an off weekend afterward, it would give fans something to talk about.

2. An impassioned defense

BK Racing car owner Ron Devine was combative at times, calling the procedure “nonsense” while on the stand for about 2 1/2 hours Thursday in federal bankruptcy court.

Devine, who turned to address the judge at times when answering questions from attorneys, was on the stand defending his right to run BK Racing despite millions of dollars in losses in recent years and unpaid bills.

Union Bank & Trust, which claims it is owed more than $8 million in loans from Devine, seeks to have a trustee put in charge of the team. Union Bank & Trust stated in documents filed in U.S. Bankruptcy court that BK Racing had lost about $30 million from 2014-16.

MORE: Court filing lists expenses, revenue for each race 

MORE: Rare peek into race purses, payouts

Devine said on the stand that the team had signed a sponsor agreement Wednesday with EarthWater for $3.6 million for the rest of the season. The amount is to be paid in cash, shares of stock and product. Devine said that if the judge ruled to have a bank-appointed trustee run the team, the sponsor would not remain, noting a line that in the agreement that the deal was null and void if Devine was not running the team.

Devine, who said his organization had “low teens” in terms of full-time employees, stated that those employees would quit if a trustee took over. Devine said the only reason the bank wanted a trustee was to sell the team’s charter. He accused the bank of soliciting bids for the charter.

Turning to the judge, Devine said of having a trustee run the team instead of him: “There’s no way he can operate the team. He has no knowledge and ability to operate my team.’’

Devine estimated he had spent half a million dollars of his own money since December to offset deficits at BK Racing. During the testimony, Devine confirmed that he sold one of the team’s charters before the 2017 season to Front Row Motorsports for $2 million.

“I can run this race team,’’ Devine said in court.

The matter has been continued until Wednesday.

3. West Coast review

While Kevin Harvick dominated the West Coast swing, winning two of the three races, Kyle Busch had the best average finish for the events at Las Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana.

Of course, Harvick’s 35th-place finish Sunday after contact with Kyle Larson ruined his average finish.

Here’s who had the best average finish for the three races:

2.3 — Kyle Busch

3.3 — Martin Truex Jr.

7.7 — Kyle Larson

8.0 — Erik Jones

8.3 — Brad Keselowski

Here’s who scored the most points in the three races:

147 — Martin Truex Jr.

146 — Kyle Busch

125 — Brad Keselowski

120 — Kyle Larson

115 — Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. combined to lead 75.2 percent of the laps run on the West Coast swing. Harvick led 252 laps, Busch led 200 laps and Truex led 134 laps.

4. In case you missed it …

Only three drivers scored a top-10 finish in each of the three West Coast swing races: Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Erik Jones.

5. Back in time

Jimmie Johnson has nine career Martinsville victories (in 32 starts for a winning percentage of 28.1 percent) but has two top-10 finishes — including a win in October 2016 — in the last seven starts there. He’s led only in two of those seven races. He once had a streak of 17 consecutive top-10 finishes there, including six wins.

 and on Facebook