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

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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

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Atlanta Motor Speedway accepting lucky charms to help Chase Elliott earn first Cup win

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The president of Atlanta Motor Speedway is hoping history will repeat.

Ed Clark is doing whatever he can to get Georgia-native Chase Elliott to Victory Lane for the first time in the Cup Series.

To do that, he’s using the same marketing scheme he executed in 1983 in the weeks before Bill Elliott’s first Cup victory.

AMS is asking for fans to send lucky charms to the track, which will be presented to Chase Elliott during a special event there Feb. 13.

There’s no restrictions on what can be sent.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver is winless after 77 starts in NASCAR’s premier series.

Bill Elliott in 1983. (Atlanta Motor Speedway).

His father went winless in his first 155 starts from 1976-83.

Clark put together the original lucky charm drive ahead of the October race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he served as public relations director.

“The promotion we came up with for Bill in ’83 created an amazing amount of interest and support from fans all over the country,” said Clark in a press release. “We received package after package full of good-luck charms, and it seemed like everybody was pulling for him to get that first win.”

Three races later, in the season finale at Riverside International Raceway, the 28-year-old Bill Elliott claimed his first of 44 Cup victories.

Fans can send their lucky charms to Elliott by shipping them to AMS at 1500 Highway 19/41, Hampton, GA 30228, with attention to “Good Luck, Chase.” Fans can also participate by using the hashtag #GoodLuckChase across the various social media platforms with pictures and messages to Elliott.

The Cup season begins Feb. 18 with the 60th Daytona 500. The following weekend, the series visits Atlanta Motor Speedway.

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Go Fas Racing secures charter by partnering with Circle Sport Racing

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Go Fas Racing has secured a charter for Matt DiBenedetto’s No. 32 Ford by partnering with Circle Sport Racing.

The move comes after Go Fas Racing’s owner Archie St. Hilaire entered into a partnership with the Wood Brothers that allowed the Wood Brothers to retain the charter they leased last year from Go Fas Racing.

That move left Go Fas Racing without a charter. That matter was resolved with the partnership with Circle Sport Racing car owner Joe Falk, who recently split with TMG.

“This deal pretty much fills our plate for the 2018 season,” St. Hilaire said in a statement from the team. “We decided that the best long-term strategy for GFR’s original charter was to strike a deal with our good friends at Wood Brothers Racing, which left us seeking a charter for our own No. 32 car. I think this partnership with Joe Falk is mutually beneficial for both Joe and ourselves going into the future. Joe has been in the business for a long time and will add a wealth of knowledge to our programs in 2018 and beyond.”

Said Falk in a statement: “We have been talking about doing this for over a year and it was a big decision to switch to Ford, but we believe it will pay off. This is a performance business and we have not had the team to get good finishes. We are also working on running the No. 33 car in select events with young drivers such as Joey Gase to help get them prepared for a full Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season going forward.”

CHARTERS THAT HAVE CHANGED TEAMS FOR 2018

— Furniture Row Racing #77 charter sold to JTG Daugherty for No. 37 car

— Roush Fenway Racing #16 charter sold to Team Penske for No. 12 car

— Richard Petty Motorsports #43 charter leased to Rick Ware Racing for No. 51 car

— Wood Brothers Racing forms long-term partnership with Go Fas Racing owner Archie St. Hilaire that grants Wood Brothers full operating control of the No. 32 team’s charter it leased last year.

— Go Fas Racing forms partnership with Circle Sport Racing owner Joe Falk for his charter for the No. 32 team.

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Kasey Kahne looks to run 20-30 races outside NASCAR this year

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Kasey Kahne, who competed in last week’s Chili Bowl Nationals, says he plans to run two dozen or more races outside of NASCAR this season.

Kahne, who is in his first season with Leavine Family Racing, made the comments Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.’’

“I’ve always tried to stay close to the type of racing that I learned how to race in and the type of cars that I learned how to race in and those fans and race tracks that I’ve spent a ton of time at and have really enjoyed over the years,’’ Kahne said of racing sprint and midget cars on dirt. “I’m still a huge fan of that type of racing because that’s where I came from and want to be for a long, long time.

“We have two (World of) Outlaw teams again this year, Daryn Pittman and Brad Sweet, and I feel like I can run 20 to 30 races depending on the schedules and how everything works out. I’m really looking forward to that because that’s something that I wanted to do for a long time and I could do it and then I couldn’t do it.’’

Kahne, who was with Hendrick Motorsports the previous six seasons, was asked if he was prohibited from racing such cars.

“When I signed up, I wasn’t at all and they said I could do whatever I wanted and enjoy it,” Kahne said. “A year later, I was restricted from everything and wasn’t able to do that anymore and then the last year they were pretty cool about it, but it was always kind of feeling like you were making somebody mad. I won’t have that because Leavine … they know that that’s what I love to do and that’s what I want to do. I don’t want it to affect the No. 95 in anyway. That’s the first priority to me. When we’re not doing that, it’s OK, nobody is going to be mad if I go and try to do a little racing. It makes me feel pretty good to be in that situation again.’’

Kahne is just one of a few NASCAR drivers expected to run in other series this year. Kyle Larson, who raced a midget car in New Zealand before competing in Chili Bowl Nationals, has said he’s allowed to run 25 such events a year. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. says he plans to run some midget races this summer.

Kahne also has been busy getting prepared for his new ride. He has a one-year deal with Leavine Family Racing, which is aligned with Richard Childress Racing. Travis Mack, who had been at Hendrick Motorsports, will be Kahne’s crew chief.

Kahne cited performance — he had one win and nine top-five finishes in the past three seasons with Hendrick — and business as a reason for the change.

“I’m perfectly fine with it because I’m glad I’ve moved on and am doing something different at this point and really looking forward to Leavine and my future and the new things that I have going on,’’ said Kahne, who finished 15th in the points last year after making the playoffs with his Indianapolis victory. “I don’t look back on any of it as a bad thing.’’

Asked if he feels reinvigorated with the changes, Kahne told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio: “I feel just to kind of start over is never a bad thing, especially with our performance. I was never happy the last three years, I haven’t been that happy as far as racing went because we could never really figure it out. Just to have a new group, start over, try to do things together and see how good we can do. To me, that’s exciting and new and fresh and I look forward to that.’’

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Todd Gilliland to drive No. 4 for Kyle Busch Motorsports; father to fill-in at Daytona

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Todd Gilliland will get a helping hand driving Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 4 Toyota this season before he turns 18 on May 15.

The two-time K&N Pro Series West champion will miss four of the first six races to start the year because of NASCAR’s rule that drivers under 18 years old are restricted to tracks 1.25 miles or less in length or road courses.

Gilliland will miss the season-opener at Daytona (Feb. 16), Atlanta (Feb. 24), Las Vegas (March 2) and Kansas (May 11).

After starts at Martinsville (March 24) and Dover (May 4) to begin his Rookie of the Year campaign, his first race on a 1.5-mile track will be at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 18.

Team owner Kyle Busch will drive the No. 4 at Atlanta and Kansas.

In a video released by the team on Twitter, it announced that Gilliland’s dad, David Gilliland, will open the season at Daytona.

The former Cup driver will make his first NASCAR start since 2016 in the NextEra Energy Resources 250.

A veteran of 398 national NASCAR races, David Gilliland’s last Truck Series start was in 2015. He has 10 Truck starts. One of those was at a restrictor-plate track (Daytona, 2015).

That’s not the only race the elder Gilliland will try to be part of that weekend.

He will attempt to qualify for the Daytona 500 with Ricky Benton Racing, which has fielded the No. 92 in the Truck Series since 2010.

Gilliland will attempt to qualify the No. 92 Black’s Tire and Auto Service/Carquest Auto Parts Ford into the “Great American Race.” If he’s successful, it will mark the Cup debut for the team.

Gilliland made seven starts for the team in 2015.

“After talking with our partners, we felt the time was right to make a move into the Cup Series,” team owner Ricky Benton said in a press release. “Getting David back on board was also key. Having a veteran driver with his experience and success on restrictor-plate tracks – with whom (crew chief Mike) Hester has familiarity – gives us a leg up as we try to make the race.”
Gilliland has made 16 starts at Daytona in the Cup Series, including seven in the Daytona 500. His best finish was third in the 2011 Daytona 500.

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