Brad Keselowski

Who’s Hot and Who’s Not heading to New Hampshire

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One race down, nine to go to crown a champion. That’s where the NASCAR Cup playoffs stand heading into this weekend’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Following the playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway, four drivers below the cutoff line – Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman – have races at New Hampshire and Dover to bounce back.

Kevin Harvick is the defending race winner. Matt Kenseth has won three of the last eight races at the 1.058-mile flat track. Denny Hamlin is a two-time winner there, including this past July.

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)

  • Won at Chicago after a speeding penalty and loose lugs
  • Finished in the top 10 a series-high 18 times
  • Won a series-high 18 stages
  • 58 Playoff Points includes 15 points for clinching the regular season
  • Five wins this season, most of all drivers and personal best
  • Led a series-high 1,723 laps in 2017, led the most laps in eight races
  • Started top three and led over 100 laps in the last three New Hampshire races
  • Won the pole finished third at New Hampshire in July

No. 18 Kyle Busch (Hot)

  • Finished 15th at Chicago, broke a streak of six straight top 10 finishes
  • Sat on the pole at Chicago by nearly three tenths of a second
  • Loose wheel and speeding penalty then lack of cautions caused his 15th-place finish at Chicago
  • Two wins this season (Pocono and Bristol)
  • Two NH wins, last was summer of 2015
  • Finished 12th at NH in July after leading 95 laps, speeding penalty
  • Finished top 10 in seven of the last nine NH races

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

  • Finished fourth at Chicago, fourth straight top-five finish
  • Top-five finishes in 10 of the last 13 races including two wins
  • Won at NH in July, third NH win (won in a backup car due to a practice crash)
  • Finished top two in nearly a third of his NH starts (7 of 23 or 30 percent)

No. 4 Kevin Harvick (Hot, good at NH)

  • Finished third at Chicago, first top-five finish in the last six races, led 59 laps, his most since Texas in April
  • Four fewer top fives and top 10s this year compared to last year
  • Two NH wins, including this race last year, led only eight laps
  • Top five finishes in five of the last six NH races including fifth in July

No. 48 Jimmie Johnson (All about the wins)

  • 8th at Richmond and Chicago, only the second time this season he has scored back-to-back top 10 finishes
  • Three top-five finishes this season, all wins
  • Three time NH winner but last was 2010
  • Has only led seven laps in the last 12 NH races
  • Finished 10th at NH in July after starting second

No. 20 Matt Kenseth (sneaky Hot)

  • Finished 9th at Chicago, seven top-10 finishes in the last nine races, all but Michigan, flat tire in OT while running third and an ambulance problem at Richmond
  • Three NH wins, all in the last eight races
  • Finished top six with two wins in the last five races including fourth in July

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

  • Finished sixth at Chicago, first top 10 in the last six races
  • One NH win, summer 2014
  • Finished top 15 in the last 12 races at NH including ninth in July

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

  • Finished fifth at Chicago, never really a factor for the win
  • Four wins in 2017, had one entering this season
  • Finished second in seven races this year
  • Best finish at NH in seven races is runner-up twice, including July

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

  • 23rd at Chicago, just did not run well, broke a four race top-10 streak
  • Three NH wins, last coming in 2011
  • Has led 722 laps at NH, but only two in the last 11 races
  • Finished 27th at NH in July
  • Seven top-five finishes at NH but only one in the last 12 races

No. 1 Jamie McMurray (Decent)

  • 10th at Chicago, sixth straight top-15 finish
  • 14 top-10 finishes this season, five more than this point last year
  • Best NH finish is third in 2010
  • Finished 17th at NH in July, only three top-10 finishes in the last 13 races at NH

Cup – Who is Not:

No. 21 Ryan Blaney (Not Lately)

  • Finished 11th at Chicago, third straight finish outside the top 10
  • Last top-five finish was his win at Pocono in June
  • Nine top-10 finishes this season but none have come in back-to-back races
  • Four NH starts, best finish of 11th in the summer of 2016, finished 19th in July

No. 41 Kurt Busch (Not, Mixed at NH)

  • Finished 19th at Chicago, broke a streak of three straight top five finishes
  • Speeding penalty at Chicago
  • Three-time NH winner, last time was 2008
  • Finished eighth at NH in July, only his third top-10 finish there in the last 12 races

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

  • Finished 16th at Chicago, speeding penalty
  • 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 seven NH races was eighth in summer of 2015
  • Finished 15th at NH in July

No. 24 Chase Elliott (Starting to turn things back around)

No. 5 Kasey Kahne (Not, Not, Not)

  • Finished 21st at Chicago, only one top-10 finish in the last 17 races, win at Indy
  • 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
  • One NH win, summer 2012 (last win by HMS there)
  • Finished 28th at NH in July, it was his seventh finish outside the top 10 in the last nine NH races

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

  • 25th at Chicago , last top 10 was his win at Daytona in July
  • Zero wins in first 157 starts, two wins in last 18 starts
  • Two top-10 finishes in nine NH starts, best of ninth in 2014
  • Finished 14th at NH in July

Others:

No. 14 Clint Bowyer (Disappointing 2017)

  • Finished 13th at Chicago
  • Was 88 points out of a Playoff spot
  • Finished runner up three times in 2017
  • 10 top 10s in 2017, had only three in all of 2016
  • Two-time winner at NH, finished seventh in July

No. 22 Joey Logano (Disappointing season)

  • Seventh at Chicago, finished top 10 in back-to-back races for the first time since April
  • 10 finishes outside the top 20 in the last 18 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
  • Two-time NH winner
  • Finished 37th in July after a flat tire and suspension issues

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

  • Finished 33rd at Chicago, multiple issues, broke a streak of six straight top 10 finishes
  • Finished 39th at NH in July, accident after 40 laps, it was his first Cup start there

No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr (Not)

  • 17th at Chicago, last top 10 was Sonoma in June (sixth)
  • Only two top-10s in the last 15 races
  • Best NH finish is third in 2004
  • Finished 18th at NH in July, it was his first start there since 2015

NASCAR penalizes Chase Elliott’s team for Chicago infraction

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NASCAR docked Chase Elliott and his team 15 points, dropping the Hendrick Motorsports driver in the playoff standings with two races left in the opening round.

NASCAR also suspended Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson one race and fined him $25,000 for the L1 infraction. NASCAR also suspended car chief Joshua Kirk one race. The team was penalized for violating section 20.20 in the Cup rulebook for modifying components to affect aerodynamic properties of the car.

Elliott finished second in last weekend’s race at Chicagoland Speedway. Elliott’s race is encumbered, meaning he does not collect the one playoff point he earned for winning the second stage.

Hendrick Motorsports will not appeal the penalties.

Kenny Francis, who serves as Hendrick Motorsports’ vehicle technical director, has been named interim crew chief for Elliott for this weekend at New Hampshire. Kevin Hulstein will serve as the team’s car chief.

Elliott drops to 2,044 points, dropping him from sixth to eighth in the standings. The top 12 will advance to the second round. Elliott is 18 points ahead of the cutoff.

Here is what the standings look like now:

2,102 — Martin Truex Jr.

2,075 — Kyle Larson

2,067 — Kevin Harvick

2,061 — Brad Keselowski

2,061 — Kyle Busch

2,058 — Denny Hamlin

2,046 — Jimmie Johnson

2,044 — Chase Elliott

2,039 — Matt Kenseth

2,034 — Ryan Blaney

2,031 — Jamie McMurray

2,026 — Austin Dillon

Cutoff for Round 2

2,026 — Kurt Busch

2,022 — Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

2,021 — Kasey Kahne

2,019 — Ryan Newman

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Cole Pearn on questions about team’s success: ‘Sad sign of the times’

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
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Amid talk last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway that Toyotas had an advantage entering the Cup playoffs, Martin Truex Jr. won Sunday’s race to give the manufacturer its fifth victory in the last seven events.

Truex, who advances to the second round with the Chicagoland victory, has scored two wins and four top-five finishes during that stretch. Kyle Busch has two wins for Toyota during that stretch and Denny Hamlin has one win.

Tuesday, Truex’s crew chief, Cole Pearn, was asked on “The Morning Drive’’ about his reaction to those who suggest his team’s success is due to some sort of impropriety instead of hard work.

“I think that maybe just comes with the territory,’’ Pearn said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “It’s a little bit sad sign of the times. You do a lot of hard work and a ton of people put a lot of effort into it and then people try to take the wind out of your sails a little bit. That’s just the world we live in, unfortunately.

“I don’t know I remember racing being that way when I was growing up, but that is the way it is now, and unfortunately that just comes with the territory and you just deal with it.’’

Ford driver Brad Keselowski has been vocal in recent weeks — and was so again last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway — about Toyota’s advantage and NASCAR needing to even the competition. In his comments, though, Keselowski has not accused Toyota teams of achieving their success due to improper methods.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, was asked Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio about NASCAR’s reaction to Keselowski’s comments.

“I think we look at it as just a competitor,’’ O’Donnell said. “Certainly our job is to put a level playing field out there. We’ve got a submission process that each of the (manufacturers) goes through and kind of witnesses, so we believe they are on a level playing field. For us, I look at it as a little bit of posturing. Brad certainly ran well this weekend (finishing sixth).

“At the end of the day, you’ve had that car all year long, you’ve got to go out there, it’s playoffs and you’ve got to deliver. You’re seeing drivers who are going to be on the top of their game. We’ll get to the end of the year and see where we’re at and evaluate things for ’18, but when we look across the board for the entirety of the year … multiple teams have been able to win, so we’ll see how that plays out here.’’

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NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Chicago recap, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski rivalry

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and goes over the major storylines from the playoff-opening race at Chicagoland Speedway.

Carolyn Manno hosts with Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman from Stamford, Connecticut.

On today’s show:

· The top seed in the Monster Energy Series Playoffs, Martin Truex Jr., secured a spot in the Round of 12 with a win at Chicagoland Speedway. We’ll examine his performance on Sunday as he overcame a pit road speeding penalty to earn his fifth series win of the year. We’ll also discuss Truex’s relationship with long-time girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, and the positive impact they’ve had on those in need.

· We’ll take a look at the current playoff leaderboard and get post-race reaction from many of the playoff drivers, including seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson.

· We’ll also discuss the latest chapter of the rivalry between Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, which made storylines in Chicago this past weekend.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you can also watch it via the online stream 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.

What drivers said after Chicagoland Cup playoff opener

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Martin Truex Jr. said Sunday’s Tales of the Turtles 400 win to open the NASCAR Cup playoffs was not a statement.

Oh, but it was: By taking the checkered flag, Truex has an automatic berth in the Round of 12 that starts on Oct. 1 in the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Here’s what Truex and other drivers had to say:

Martin Truex Jr. – Winner: “I don’t care much about statements, I’m just having fun. I’m proud of our pit crew for doing what they did and everyone on this team. It’s important to come here and not let the pressure get to you and I think we did a good job of that. Every time you go to victory lane, it’s special. There’s just so many people to thank. I’m kind of speechless. … It’s a dream come true and we’re having the time of our lives.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 2nd: “Just a huge step in the right direction. Days like this are the days we are going to have to have. There is no way around that. I thought we had a solid day overall.  Our car drove good, it had pace, our pit stops were good. I didn’t have anything for Martin (Truex, Jr.). I thought we made the most of our day without some luck I wasn’t going to get around him unless we had a late-race restart or something. I had a solid day and frankly, it is a lot better than we have been doing and we’ve got to have days like this to keep moving forward.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 3rd: “Our focus was to make sure that we didn’t make any mistakes today and everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing worked hard to work on that gap between those cars, but we’ve known about that gap and feel like we’ve closed that up and we knew that not making mistakes was gonna go a long way. We saw the 78 made mistakes today, but they had a fast enough car to recover from that. The 18 didn’t recover from his mistakes. We just had to execute and take what they’ll give you and not finish any worse than that.  I think we did that today. I felt like the 24 and the 78 were a little better than us and we finished right where we should have.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 4th: “It was about a fourth-place car – the 18 (Kyle Busch) was very strong at the beginning. We just hung around the top five or sixth at worst and third at best. Finished about right where we should have.”

Kyle Larson – Finished 5th: “I thought we were about a fifth or sixth-place car all day. I didn’t start the race off very good. We were really tight, but worked on it and got it better at times. It was just really hard to pass for us. I know the No. 78 (Martin Truex, Jr.) was really good and he was able to cruise to the front no problem, but we seemed to and it looked like everybody really struggled in traffic except for a couple of guys. But, a solid day, got stage points and then a top five finish. That will be good going into Loudon.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 6th: “Yeah, we can be happy with sixth. We scored a bunch of stage points and had a solid day up front. One more of these races either Loudon or Dover and we should be good to advance to the next round. I think we can pull that off. We are still looking for a little speed but execution today was really, really strong. Great day on pit road, great restarts. All that stuff was what you look for, we just need to marry that up with some speed and we can win any of these races.”

Joey Logano – Finished 7th: “We executed well. We ran in the top 10 the whole race and had no issues, nothing crazy, just not fast enough to compete for the win. We made gains the last few weeks to get closer but we have just caught up to our teammates. That is where we are at now, the same as our teammates but not good enough to go up there and win. I thought I would run seventh today and I ran seventh. We just have to go faster, that is all.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 8th: “The cars are all so equal at least the guys from third or fourth on back we are all so equal.  If you could get by somebody on a restart that was really about it, but for me, my car just really wanted to run the bottom of the race track. The higher I would go the looser it would get.  I knew there was a lot of real estate up there to try to take advantage of I just couldn’t make it work and had to chase the bottom all day long.”

Matt Kenseth (comment from crew chief Jason Ratcliff) — Finished 9th: “Honestly, I’m really disappointed. I thought that we would be way more competitive. At the start of the race, you know having our qualifiers (tires) on, I thought we were making ground. We kind of settled in and I thought OK, we’ll just keep working on it and making progress. It just didn’t seem like we could make any gains for some reason. We could change the car, but we kept getting stuck somewhere between seventh and ninth. It was good to get out of here with a top 10 and we’ll go to Loudon.”

Jamie McMurray – Finished 10th: “There were a lot of issues for people in the playoffs it looked like. So, 10th place isn’t bad. I think we finished 10th in one of the stages as well. I don’t know what happened on the backstretch. I think I just didn’t give the No. 31 (Ryan Newman) enough room and it got me turned around. We were lucky the caution kind of fell right and then we had a pretty fast car as well. We were faster probably at the beginning than we were at the end, but overall it was a good way to start the first race.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 11th: “We started off not great, got into it with a lapped car. That put us behind and got us a lap down. We spent a long time trying to get a lap back and finally did and were able to go racing. We went the wrong way on our last adjustment and that hurt us unfortunately. We can’t hang our heads about that. A lot of other cars had problems today. It stinks we didn’t get any stage points, but maybe next week.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 13th: “We kind of went back and forth all day between loose and tight. I think we were on the splitter there for a while as well. We kept working on it but never really got it to where we needed it to be to race with the leaders.”

Paul Menard — Finished 14th: “This team never gave up all day, and we have a solid result to show for it. The Moen/Menards Chevrolet had speed all day, we just fell a lap down early because of our track position. We took the wave around and got on a different pit sequence than most of the field, and it worked out in our favor. We got the free pass a couple of times and were able to end the day 14th. It was a great strategy and a solid effort all around for this No. 27 team.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 15th: “We had such a fast Skittles Sweet Heat Camry. It’s just disappointing that we had trouble on pit road like that. We just never had the opportunity with how the cautions fell to get back on the lead lap. We’ll get back to the shop and talk about it, and really all we can do is move on and put it behind us.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 16th: “It’s just frustrating. I put ourselves in a hole speeding on pit road and just trying to get too much. You talk about not making mistakes, and we made one. We had a really good race car truthfully. It was a top 10 car for sure, maybe top five. We got behind. We were two laps down. We got one back. Racing the No. 18 (Kyle Busch), he’s a hard one to beat for the Lucky Dog. I had him for a long time. But, there were just no cautions today. We needed more cautions. It went green a lot.”

Danica Patrick — Finished 18th: “It was a little tight in the middle and off (in the final stage).”

Trevor Bayne — Finished 22nd: “We just couldn’t get the speed we were looking for on the short run. Our Performance Plus Ford was really fast on the long run and (crew chief) Matt (Puccia) made some really good adjustments. I hate that we made some contact with the wall but my guys kept fighting all afternoon and never gave up. We’ll move on from today and get after it in Loudon.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 23rd: “This Caterpillar Chevy was pretty solid Friday and Saturday, but when the race started today, we were facing an uphill battle and could never really recover.  I’m not sure what happened between our practices and the race. We were extremely loose and in desperate need of grip. We tried just about everything to race back onto the lead lap, but it just didn’t work out for us. This isn’t the way we wanted to kickoff the playoffs. We’re fighters so we are certainly still in this thing.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 24th: “I felt like we had a really good car to start off with. We were good on the long run. The first few adjustments we made were good, but then, the car just got really loose. We battled the loose condition the rest of the day. We got it better at the end but were stuck laps down at that point. The timing worked for us on the last caution, and (crew chief) Drew (Blickensderfer) made a good call to run to the end.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 25th: “I got into the fence early on and then had a commitment line violation which put us two laps down. With so few cautions, we weren’t able to get back on the lead lap. It’s definitely not the race we wanted to kick off the playoffs. We head to Loudon which is usually a decent track for us.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 28th: “This wasn’t the day that we were looking to have in Chicago. We were too far off to start the first stage. I was way too loose and didn’t have any grip on entry and exit. My team made changes to get us handling better, but we had lost too much ground to the leaders by then. We’ve grown a lot as a team this year and the next step is to start these races stronger. We always get to where we need to be later in the race, but we need to be there from the time that we unload on Friday morning. This team grinds like no other, though, and we will take what we can from this weekend and use it to be better at this track next year.”