Who’s Hot, Who’s Not heading into NASCAR Cup championship race (video)

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This is it, the championship-deciding finale of the 2017 NASCAR Cup season: Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

After the third and final elimination race this past Sunday at Phoenix, four drivers remain to battle it out for the championship: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski.

Here’s how those four drivers shape up against other drivers and who’s hot or not heading into Sunday’s race:

WHO’S HOT:

 No. 78 Martin Truex Jr.

  • Second Championship 4 appearance
  • Finished second at Martinsville and Texas, third at Phoenix
  • Finished top five in eight of the nine playoff races this season
  • Seven wins in 2017, the most by a driver since Matt Kenseth had seven in 2013
  • Finished in the top five 18 times and the top 10 25 times this season, both are the series-best
  • Led a series high 2,175 laps in 2017, led the most laps in nine races
  • Best Miami finish is second in 2006
  • Best Miami finish in the last three races is 12th, worst in the prior eight races there was 11th
  • Won six of the 10 races on 1.5-mile tracks this season
  • Top-10 finishes in all 10 1.5-mile races this season
  • Finished top two in the last five 1.5-mile races

No. 4 Kevin Harvick

  • Third Championship 4 appearance
  • Fifth at Martinsville, won at Texas, fifth at Phoenix
  • Will compete for the Championship at Miami for the third time in the last four years
  • Six top-10 finishes in the playoffs and three finishes of 17th or worse
  • One Miami win, 2014 to win the championship
  • Finished top 10 in the last nine Miami races including top three in the last three
  • Top-10 finishes in the last eight 1.5-mile races including winning the last one at Texas
  • 11 career 1.5-mile wins

No. 18 Kyle Busch

  • Third Championship 4 appearance
  • Won at Martinsville on last-lap pass, his third win of the playoffs, 19th at Texas, seventh at Phoenix
  • Five wins this season, all in the last 15 races
  • Failed to lead at Phoenix, snapping a 17-race streak of leading at least one lap
  • One Miami win, 2015 to win the Championship
  • Finished top 10 in four of the last five races at Miami
  • Only one top-10 finish in the last four 1.5-mile races, 10th at Kansas

No. 2 Brad Keselowski

  • First Championship 4 appearance (won 2012 championship under old format)
  • Finished fourth at Martinsville, fifth at Texas and 16th at Phoenix
  • Got some help and luck at Phoenix to make the Championship 4 at Miami for the first time
  • Advanced to the Round of 8 with his win at Talladega
  • Winless at Miami in nine starts, best finish of third, twice
  • Only three top-10 finishes at Miami, all came in the last four races
  • Only two top-10 finishes in the last six 1.5-mile races

No. 11 Denny Hamlin

  • Finished seventh at Martinsville, third at Texas, 35th at Phoenix after an accident after finishing second and first in the first two stages
  • Finished top 10 in nine of the last 12 races
  • Finished Round of Eight fifth in points, -19 to the cutline
  • Two Miami wins, 2009 and 2013
  • Finished top 10 in the last four races at Miami
  • Finished top five in the last six 1.5-mile races

No. 21 Ryan Blaney

  • Finished eighth at Martinsville, sixth at Texas and 17th at Phoenix
  • Finished top 10 in three of the last four races
  • Finished sixth in points in the Round of 8, -23 to the cutline
  • Two series starts at Miami, finished 17th and 26th
  • Worst finish on a 1.5-mile track in the last five races is 11th at Chicago

No. 24 Chase Elliott

  • Finished 27th at Martinsville after late-race wreck with Denny Hamlin while leading. Finished eighth at Texas, second at Phoenix
  • Now has seven career runner-up finishes without a win, tied for the most all-time
  • Five top-five finishes in the playoffs is tied for second to Martin Truex Jr. (eight)
  • Finished seventh in points in the Round of 8, -25 to the cutline
  • One series start at Homestead, started fifth, finished 11th last year
  • Top-10 finishes in the last five 1.5-mile races; best finish of second, twice

No. 20 Matt Kenseth

  • Won at Phoenix, the 39th victory of his career
  • Won at least one race 14 different seasons
  • Left the Round of 12 10th, -30
  • One Miami win, 2007
  • Top-10 finishes in six of the last seven Miami races including the last four
  • 12 career 1.5-mile wins, second most among active drivers

No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr.

  • On best streak of season
  • Finished 10th at Phoenix, finished top 12 in six of the last seven races this season
  • Best Miami finish is third in 2013, his only top five at Miami and one of only two top-10 finishes
  • Miami will be the 631st and last start of his Cup career; he has won 26 times

 WHO’S NOT:

No. 42 Kyle Larson

  • Finished 39th at Kansas (engine), 37th at Martinsville and Texas (accidents), 40th at Phoenix (engine), his worst four consecutive races in his career
  • Left the Round of 12 ninth in the standings, -9
  • Eight runner-up finishes this season
  • Four wins in 2017, had one entering this season
  • To- five finishes in the last two races at Miami including runner up last year
  • Finished runner-up four times on 1.5-mile tracks this season

No. 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

  • Finished eighth at Phoenix, best finish since his Daytona win in July
  • Left the Round of 12 in 11th, -46
  • Best Miami finish is 22nd, three times
  • Only two career 1.5 mile top-10 finishes in 57 starts (three percent)

No. 3 Austin Dillon

  • Finished 14th at Phoenix, fourth straight top-15 finish
  • 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 Miami finish is 12th, last year
  • Only one top-10 finish in the last 12 1.5-mile races, his win at Charlotte in May

No. 1 Jamie McMurray

  • Finished sixth at Phoenix, ended four straight finishes of 18th or worse
  • Left the Round of 12 in 12th, -48
  • Seventeen top-10 finishes this season, six more than this point last year
  • Seventeen top-10 finishes is his second most in a single season (23 in 2004)
  • Five DNF for accidents in 2017
  • Best Miami finish is third in 2008
  • Finished top five in two of the last three races at Miami
  • Top-10 finishes in eight of the last 11 1.5 mile races

No. 48 Jimmie Johnson

  • Finished 12th at Martinsville after starting at the rear, 27th at Texas after a loose loose wheel, 39th at Phoenix for a wreck
  • Only one top-five finish in the last 22 races
  • Finished outside the top 10 in the last five races
  • Four top-five finishes this season, three were wins
  • Finished the Round of 8 eighth in points, -70 to the cutline
  • One Miami win, 2016 to win the Championship, led only three laps
  • Finished top 10 in the last four races at Miami
  • Twenty-eight career 1.5-mile wins, most all-time
  • Only three top-10 finishes in 10 starts on 1.5-mile tracks this season

No. 5 Kasey Kahne

  • Finished 19th at Phoenix, his worst finish in the last seven races
  • Only three top 10 finishes in the last 25 races
  • Finished 15th in the first round, -23 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.
  • Best Miami finish is 4th in 2006
  • Finished 12th or worse in the last five Miami races

No. 31 Ryan Newman

  • Finished 20th at Phoenix, only one top-10 finish during the playoffs
  • Finished Round of 16 13th in the standings, -2 to the cut line
  • Best Miami finish is second in 2014
  • Two top-three finishes in the last five Miami races but finished 16th or worse in the other three

No. 41 Kurt Busch

  • Finished 21st at Phoenix, six finishes of 20th or worse in the last eight races
  • Only two top-10 finishes in the playoffs
  • Finished 16th in the first round, 25 points below the cut line
  • One Miami win, 2002
  • Last top-five finish at Miami was 2009

No. 14 Clint Bowyer

  • Finished 13th at Phoenix, only three top-10 finishes in the last 13 races
  • Was 88 points out of a playoff spot
  • Finished runner-up three times in 2017
  • Thirteen top-10 finishes in 2017, had three in all of 2016
  • Best Miami finish is second in 2012
  • Finished top 12 in eight of his 12 Miami starts

No. 22 Joey Logano

  • Finished 12th at Phoenix
  • Thirteen finishes outside the top 20 in the last 26 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
  • Best Miami finish of fourth, twice
  • Finished top 10 in three of the last four Miami starts

 

 

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 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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