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Who’s Hot and Who’s Not heading into Sunday’s race at Texas

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Three races remain in the Cup season: Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, Nov. 12 at Phoenix Raceway and Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Two of those races are on 1.5-mile tracks, which Martin Truex Jr. has dominated this season. Six of Truex’s seven races this year have been on 1.5-mile tracks.

Let’s check out Who’s Hot and Who’s Not heading to Texas:

WHO’S HOT:

No. 78 Martin Truex Jr. (Hot)

  • Finished second at Martinsville, spent all but six laps in the top 10
  • Finished top five in six of the seven playoff races
  • 2nd in the standings, +67 to the cutline and 38 ahead of 3rd place Brad Keselowski
  • Seven wins in 2017, the most by a driver since Matt Kenseth had seven in 2013
  • Finished in the top 5 16 times and the top 10 23 times this season, both are the most
  • Won 19 stages this season, the most
  • 69 Playoff Points this season, the most
  • Led a series-high 2,068 laps in 2017, led the most laps in eight races
  • Winless at Texas in 24 starts, runner up in Spring 2013
  • Finished top 10 in the last five races at Texas, led in the last four
  • Six wins on 1.5-mile tracks in 2017, most ever in a season, won the last four
  • Finished top five in all nine 1.5-mile races this season
  • Martin Truex Jr. Look ahead to Phoenix:
  • Best Phoenix finish is fifth in 2009
  • Only one top-10 finish in the last seven Phoenix races
  • Finished 11th at Phoenix in March

No. 18 Kyle Busch (HOT)

  • Won at Martinsville on last-lap pass, his third win of the playoffs
  • Advances to compete for the championship at Miami for the third time in the elimination format
  • Five wins this season, all in the last 13 races
  • Led laps in the last 16 races this season, a personal best and the best streak ever among the active 
drivers
  • Two-time Texas winner, both came in his last eight starts there
  • Finished top 15 in his last 10 Texas starts (seven top fives)
  • Finished 15th at Texas in April
  • Led laps in the last six 1.5-mile races
  • Finished top 10 in four of the last six 1.5-mile races
  • Kyle Busch Look ahead to Phoenix:
  • One Phoenix win, this race in 2005
  • Finished top five in the last four Phoenix races, including leading 114 laps finishing 3rd in March

No. 11 Denny Hamlin (Hot)

  • Finished fourth at Charlotte, sixth at Talladega, fifth at Kansas, seventh at Martinsville
  • Finished top 10 in eight of the last 10 races
  • Won both races at Texas in 2010, his only wins there in 23 starts, but has only three top-10 finishes 
there in the 12 races since with no top fives
  • Finished 25th at Texas in April
  • Top-five finishes in the last five 1.5-mile races, his longest streak ever
  • Denny Hamlin Look ahead to Phoenix:
  • Finished top 10 in each of the last four races at Phoenix including a 10th in March
  • Won at Phoenix in Spring 2012

No. 2 Brad Keselowski (Good)

  • Finished fourth at Martinsville, led 108 laps after winning both stages, lost the lead with five laps to go
  • Third in points, +29 to the cutline
  • Advanced to the Round of 8 with his win at Talladega
  • Winless at Texas in 18 starts, best finish of second in this race in 2015 after leading 312 of 334 laps
  • Finished top 10 in seven of the last 10 races at Texas (sixth there in April)
  • Only one top 10 in the last five 1.5-mile races (sixth at Chicagoland)
  • Brad Keselowski Look Ahead to Phoenix:
  • Winless at Phoenix in 16 starts, best finish of third in 2014
  • Finished top 10 in five of the last seven races at Phoenix, including 5th in March

No. 4 Kevin Harvick (Decent)

  • Finished fifth at Martinsville, fifth was the highest he ran all day
  • Four top-10 finishes in the playoffs and three finishes of 17th or worse
  • Currently fourth in points, +3 to the cutline
  • Winless at Texas in 29 starts, two-time runner up
  • Finished in the top 10 in the last six races at Texas (fourth in April)
  • Top 10 finishes in eight of the nine 1.5-mile races this season, second most of all drivers
  • Kevin Harvick Look ahead to Phoenix:
  • Won six of the last 10 races at Phoenix, eight total
  • Finished top six in the last eight Phoenix races
  • Failed to lead in the last two Phoenix races

No. 21 Ryan Blaney (Solid runs lately)

  • Finished eighth at Martinsville, scored points in both stages
  • Finished top 10 in four of the last six races
  • Sixth in points, -6 to the cutline
  • Five Texas starts with a best finish of 12th in each of the last two races there
  • Led 148 laps at Texas in April but finished 12th after sliding through his pit box from eighth on his last 
stop
  • Only two finishes outside the top 12 on 1.5-mile tracks this season
  • Ryan Blaney Look ahead to Phoenix:
  • Top 10 finishes in two of his three Phoenix starts, best of eighth in this race last year
  • Finished 23rd in March after starting second

No. 24 Chase Elliott (His time is coming)

  • Finished 27th at Martinsville after late-race wreck with Denny Hamlin while leading. He led 123 laps.
  • Four top-five finishes in the playoffs rank second to Martin Truex Jr. (six)
  • Eighth in points, -26 to the cutline
  • Finished top 10 in all three of his Cup Texas starts with a best of fourth in October 2016
  • Got his first Xfinity win at Texas in April 2014
  • Finished top four in the last four 1.5-mile races
  • Chase Elliott Look ahead to Phoenix:
  • Best Phoenix finish is eighth, worst is 12th in three races
  • Finished 12th in March at Phoenix, led 106 laps

No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Best streak of season and is good at Texas)

  • Finished 11th at Martinsville
  • Finished top 12 in the last five races, best streak this season, including three top 10s
  • One Texas win, his first career win in 2000
  • Finished top six in his last five races at Texas
  • Finished top 10 in 10 of his last 12 Texas starts

WHO’S NOT HOT:

No. 48 Jimmie Johnson (Just doesn’t seem to have it lately)

  • Finished 12th at Martinsville after starting at the rear, just didn’t have that normal Martinsville look
  • Only one top-five finish in the last 20 races
  • Top 10 finishes in four of the last eight races
  • Four top-five finishes this season, three were wins
  • Seven-time winner at Texas, most of all drivers
  • Won six of the last 10 Texas races including the race there in April
  • Only three top 10s in the nine races on 1.5-mile tracks this season, one top five (Texas win)
  • Jimmie Johnson Look ahead to Phoenix:
  • Four time Phoenix winner but none since 2009
  • Only two top-10 finishes at Phoenix in the last six races there
  • Finished ninth at Phoenix in March

No. 1 Jamie McMurray (Not – eliminated in Round of 12)

  • Finished 29th at Martinsville, third straight finish of 29th or worse
  • Left the round of 12 in 12th place -48
  • 16 top-10 finishes this season, five more than this point last year
  • Five DNF accidents in 2017
  • Best Texas finish is second in 2005
  • Finished top 10 in four of the last six Texas starts including seventh in April
  • Top-10 finishes in seven of the nine 1.5-mile races this season

No. 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Not)

  • Finished 10th at Martinsville, first top-10 finish since Daytona in July
  • Left the round of 12 in 11th place, -46
  • Best finish of 14th at Texas came in April in nine starts
  • Only two career top-10 finishes on 1.5-mile tracks in 56 starts, less than 4 percent

No. 20 Matt Kenseth (Unlucky)

  • Finished ninth at Martinsville, ran around 10th all day, was first top 10 in the last five races
  • Left the round of 12 in 10th place, -30
  • Two Texas wins, last was 2011
  • Only one top-10 finish in the last five races
  • Only four top-10s in nine 1.5-mile starts this season

No. 42 Kyle Larson (Hot in 2017, Bad last two races)

  • Finished 39th at Kansas and 37th at Martinsville, his worst two finishes in consecutive races since his first two Cup starts
  • Left the round of 12 in 9th place, -9
  • Eight runner-up finishes this season
  • Four wins in 2017, had one entering this season
  • Finished Texas-best second in April
  • Only three top-10 finishes at Texas in eight starts
  • Has yet to lead a lap at Texas
  • Finished runner-up in five of the last 10 1.5-mile races
  • Zero for 45 on 1.5-mile tracks

No. 3 Austin Dillon (Not hot – eliminated in Round of 16)

  • Finished 13th at Martinsville, best finish in the last eight races
  • Only four top-15 finishes in the last 14 races
  • Finished 14th in the first round, -4
  • Only four top-10 finishes this season, had 13 at this point last year
  • Won on fuel mileage at Charlotte earlier this year
  • Best Texas finish is 11th, Fall 2015
  • Finished 33rd at Texas in April

No. 5 Kasey Kahne (Not)

  • Finished 16th at Martinsville, his worst finish in the last five races
  • Only three top-10 finishes in the last 23 races
  • Finished 15th in the first round, -23 to the cut line
  • Six DNFs due to accidents this season
  • Won at Indianapolis ending a 102-race winless streak
  • One Texas win, 2006
  • Finished eighth in three of the last five Texas races, 38th in April (flat tire, contact with wall)

No. 31 Ryan Newman (Not good lately)

  • Finished 14th at Martinsville
  • DNF accident in two of the last four races (40th at Charlotte, 33rd at Kansas)
  • Finished round one 13th in the standings, -2 to the cut line
  • One Texas win, 2003, his second start at Texas
  • Only three top-10 finishes at Texas in the last 18 races there, 26th in April

No. 41 Kurt Busch (Not Hot)

  • Finished 22nd at Martinsville, finished 19th or worse in six of the seven playoff races
  • Finished 16th in the first round, 25 points below the cut line
  • One Texas win, this race in 2009 driving for Team Penske
  • Finished top 10 in four of the last six races at Texas including 10th in April

No. 14 Clint Bowyer (Disappointing 2017)

  • Finished third at Martinsville, first top five finish since Watkins Glen
  • Was 88 points out of a Playoff spot
  • Finished runner-up three times in 2017
  • 13 top-10 finishes in 2017, had three in all of 2016
  • Best Texas finish is second in 2011
  • Finished 11th at Texas in April, best finish in the last six races there

No. 22 Joey Logano (Disappointing season)

  • Finished 24th at Martinsville, flat tire after contact with Kyle Busch in final laps
  • Thirteen finishes outside the top 20 in the last 24 races
  • Won at Richmond after starting in the rear due to a transmission change, but win was ruled 
encumbered due to illegal suspension
  • First time he missed the playoffs with Team Penske
  • Finished top five in seven of the last nine Texas starts including a win in Spring 2014
  • Finished top three in the last three Texas races

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Update on Matt Kenseth report, Matt DiBenedetto visits

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and features Matt DiBenedetto, who is coming off a 16th-place finish at Richmond Raceway.

Marty Snider hosts and will be joined at the Big Oak Table by Kyle Petty, Nate Ryan and DiBenedetto.

On today’ show:
  • NBCSports.com’s Nate Ryan joins the show with the latest news following last night’s report from SB Nation that said Matt Kenseth is returning to the Monster Energy Series in a part-time role with Roush Fenway Racing.
  • Go Fas Racing driver Matt DiBenedetto will be our special guest! The leader of ‘DiBurrito Nation’ will discuss his solid run last weekend at Richmond and reveal his throwback scheme for this year’s Southern 500 at Darlington. But one question remains – will Matt bring fresh-baked treats from his Mom’s kitchen to the Big Oak Table?
  • We’ll have footage from the latest Dale Jr. Download, as Junior sits down with Kasey Kahne’s crew chief, Travis Mack – who tells the incredible story of how he unexpectedly delivered his own baby at home!
  • And our Tuesday tradition continues … We’ll listen in on all the action from drivers, crew chiefs and spotters on a Saturday night under the lights in Scan All Richmond!
If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Preliminary entry lists for Cup, Xfinity at Talladega

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Forty cars are entered for Sunday’s Geico 500 Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Joey Gase will be in the No. 00 car for StarCom Racing.

Brendan Gaughan is back in the No. 62 this weekend for Beard Motorsports.

Timothy Peters is set to make his Cup debut in the No. 92 for RBR Enterprises.

Cole Custer is listed in the No. 51 car for Rick Ware Racing but a team spokesperson told NBC Sports that Custer will not be driving the car.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won this race a year ago in overtime, beating Jamie McMurray and Kyle Busch.

Click here for Cup entry list

Xfinity Series

There are 41 cars entered for the Sparks Energy 300 Xfinity race.

The race is a Dash 4 Cash event, so no drivers who earn points in the Cup Series are permitted to race in this event.

Noah Gragson, who finished second in his series debut last weekend at Richmond, is back in the No. 18 for Joe Gibbs Racing this weekend.

Shane Lee, who finished 14th in his series debut two weeks ago at Bristol, is back in the No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing.

Aric Almirola won this race a year ago, finishing ahead of Elliott Sadler and Joey Logano.

Click here for Xfinity entry list

Bump & Run: Who are drivers seeking first win of the year to watch?

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Among non-winners this season, who is one driver who has your attention and why?

Steve Letarte: Recently it’s been Jimmie Johnson. At the beginning of the year it was obvious the equipment wasn’t up to par. I don’t think the equipment has got a whole lot better yet, but I think Jimmie and Chad (Knaus) are learning to race with not-winning cars. I think Bristol and Richmond were two races that they performed very, very well. My point being we have seen Jimmie make mistakes and crash and have accidents, but in the last two weeks they have found a way to take their car and get better finishes than they were running most of the day.

Kyle Petty: Besides Jimmie Johnson? Ryan Blaney. He has started off these first few races stronger than I anticipated. Leading laps, stage wins, just the total effort he and that team have shown so far this season. I believe the usual suspects will get their wins in time. Oh, did I mention Jimmie Johnson?

Parker Kligerman: Alex Bowman; I know he hasn’t been flashy or spectacular, but he’s currently 13th in points and still ahead of his seven-time champion teammate Jimmie Johnson. He is showing consistent pace each week, and I’m sure there will be weekends like this past one at Richmond. If he keeps up his average, he may be a lock to make the playoffs. 

Nate Ryan: Erik Jones. He’s been among the least discussed of the youth brigade, but aside from some short-track stumbles, he has exhibited the promise to indicate his breakthrough is near.

Dustin Long: Joey Logano. He has eight top-10 finishes in the first nine races of the year. The only other driver who has accomplished that is Kyle Busch. Logano may be returning to Victory Lane soon.

Daniel McFadin: Aric Almirola. His instant speed this season and ability to move up through the field – especially going from 25th to second in the Stage 1 at Richmond – has been more than surprising. I expected it to take longer for the No. 10 team to get most of its wrinkles smoothed out. Now they just need to be consistent in putting together full races.

Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski have combined to win six of the past 13 restrictor-plate races for Team Penske. Who do you view as their biggest threats this weekend at Talladega?

Steve Letarte: Each other. Let’s be clear, Talladega is still somewhat of a crapshoot, but good cars still tend to trend toward the front. The big thing that nobody is talking about in my mind is the new ride-height rule, I thought, changed Daytona dramatically and I think will change Talladega dramatically. This is only the second restrictor-plate race without ride heights. I think someone may have an advantage. We’re going to have to see who. You can’t throw out what Brad and Joey have done, but you’ve got to diminish it a little bit with the rule changes.

Kyle Petty: Anyone in a Ford. Honestly, if I go back to Daytona, Penske, SHR and Roush were all strong once the green flag fell, and I believe almost all the drivers have won on a plate track … almost.

Parker Kligerman: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Kyle Busch; fairly simple choices in my opinion. Since Kyle is a great superspeedway racer and is on fire. Ricky, obviously has the record and has so much confidence. He also is in a Ford and we know how the Fords are the cars to beat at superspeedway tracks.

Nate Ryan: Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kevin Harvick. Along with Logano and Keselowski, those are the five best plate drivers in Cup. Throw in Ryan Blaney and Kurt Busch as dark horses and Kyle Busch because he can do no wrong lately.

Dustin Long: Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick are the names that immediately come to mind.

Daniel McFadin: I expect Logano and Keselowski to be challenged by Aric Almirola and their own Penske teammate, Ryan Blaney, who was the class of the field at Daytona before the late caution. As far as non-Ford drivers, I expect Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman to again be fast. It has to pay off as some point, right?

When the season is over who will have won more races — the drivers who have won already this year (Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer and Austin Dillon) or the rest of the field (Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, etc)?

Steve Letarte: I think the rest of the field wins by a race or two. I don’t think Austin Dillon is a threat to win maybe more than one more race. I would say Clint Bowyer maybe one more race. I just think there are too many big names, Larson, Elliott, Johnson, Jones, too many guys that I think can go out and win multiple races.

Kyle Petty: Kevin and Kyle. Those two together could win more than everyone else combined. Their teams are that good and they are that good. 

Parker Kligerman: Barring some massive change in the rules, the drivers who have already won. I feel that for whatever reason, with the current packages and tire specs, it obviously is suiting those drivers’ styles and therefore they are producing at a high level. 

Nate Ryan: Between Busch, Harvick and Truex, that trio could account for half of this season’s wins.

Dustin Long: It’s hard to see Busch, Harvick and Truex not piling up more wins in the coming weeks.

Daniel McFadin: With the first group containing Truex, Harvick and Kyle Busch, I would not be surprised if they have more victories than the current non-winners. 

Are the youngsters set to celebrate at Talladega?

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After Kevin Harvick won at Atlanta in February, he was asked about how the top eight finishers that day each had at least eight full-time seasons experience and if that was coincidence.

Recall, this was after some veterans expressed discontent with how NASCAR promoted younger drivers and that youngsters finished first and second in the Daytona 500 with 27-year-old Austin Dillon winning and 24-year-old Darrell Wallace Jr. placing second.

Harvick’s response to the question about experience that day in Atlanta?

“Talladega is April,’’ he said. 

As NASCAR heads to Talladega SuperSpeedeway this weekend, Harvick’s forecast proved correct. No driver under the age of 30 has won since Dillon’s victory in the Daytona 500.

So, will the youngsters prevail? For that to happen, they’ll have to  outwit the veterans.

But one who has done so is 27-year-old Joey Logano, who has won two of the last five Talladega races and three restrictor-plate races since 2015, including that year’s Daytona 500.

If not Logano, who?

Talladega has been known as a place for drivers to score their first career — and sometimes only — victory. Defending event winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who turned 30 in October, became the 11th driver to record his first Cup win at Talladega last May.

Dillon’s best finish in nine starts at Talladega is third in May 2016. Chase Elliott’s best finish in four starts there is fifth in that same race. Elliott continues to look for his first series win after finishing second last weekend at Richmond — the eighth time in 86 career starts he’s been second.

Erik Jones failed to finish either Talladega race last year. His best result was 33rd in May 2017. Kyle Larson’s best finish in eight Talladega races is sixth in Oct. 2016. Ryan Blaney‘s best finish in seven Talladega races is fourth in May 2015.

This will be the first Cup start at Talladega for Wallace and William Byron.

Of course, any of them will have to beat Kyle Busch, who has won the past three Cup races, or Harvick, who had his own three-race winning streak earlier in the season.

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