Brian Vickers

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Here’s your primer heading into second half of NASCAR Cup playoffs

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If you thought the first five races of the NASCAR Cup playoffs were intense, you haven’t seen nothing yet.

As the 10-race playoffs move into their second half, the final five races will likely be more competitive than the first five.

That’s particularly true in Sunday’s cut-off race at Kansas, where the current field of 12 remaining playoff contenders will be cut to eight after the checkered flag falls.

And then there will be the Round of 8 cut-off race at Phoenix in four weeks that will set the four-driver field for the championship race in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Thanks to our friends at RacingInsights.com, here’s some of the top playoff insights that will help fans better understand where we are in the playoffs heading into Kansas:

  • Playoff drivers have won all five races in the 2017 playoffs.
  • The last time a driver who didn’t make it into the playoffs won a playoff race was Denny Hamlin at Homestead in 2013.
  • The last playoff race won by a playoff driver who was previously eliminated from the playoffs was Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Phoenix in 2015.
  • Tony Stewart in 2005 is the only driver to go on to win the championship without winning a race during the playoffs.
  • Four of five playoff races so far this season have been won from a qualifying position of sixth or better.
  • Brad Keselowski won at Talladega driving a Ford, ending a four-race playoff winning streak by Toyotas. Also, prior to Talladega, Toyota drivers had won all four poles and all four races in the 2017 playoffs. Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the pole at Talladega, but finished seventh.
  • Brad Keselowski won at Talladega with a last lap pass for the win, it was the eighth playoff race won with a last lap pass and the only one in the last 29 races.
  • There were 11 cautions at Talladega, the most cautions in the last 18 playoff races.
  • There were a combined 21 cautions in the last two playoff races, the same number as the previous four playoff races combined.
  • Talladega last week: 14 cars running at the finish, 26 total DNFs (including 24 DNFs due to wrecks), three red flags and only two playoff drivers finished in the top 10 – all records for a playoff race.
  • A Chevrolet driver has finished runner-up in each of this season’s first five playoff races.
  • Chase Elliott has finished runner-up three times so far in the playoffs. The record for most runner-up finishes in the playoffs in a season was four by Jeff Gordon in 2014 and Jimmie Johnson in 2006. Elliott has also finished runner-up at both 1.5-mile tracks so far, with three more 1.5-mile tracks still left in the final five races (Kansas, Texas and Homestead-Miami).
  • Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch are the only drivers still playoff-eligible that have scored stage points in every playoff race.
  • The best average finish by a driver in all 10 races of the playoffs is 4.9 by Carl Edwards in 2011. Edwards tied Tony Stewart for the championship, but Stewart won on the first tiebreaker – more wins (five to Edwards’ one).
  • Martin Truex Jr. has led the playoff standings through the first five races of the playoffs, tying Matt Kenseth in 2013 for the most races led by a driver to start the playoffs. Truex also won at Kansas in May.
  • Three drivers have won races during the playoffs in all three years of the elimination format entering 2017: Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson all three drivers have yet to win in 2017.
  • Only two of the 135 playoff races were won by drivers getting their first NASCAR Cup win: Clint Bowyer in 2007 at New Hampshire and Brian Vickers in 2006 at Talladega.
  • Jimmie Johnson is the only driver to win a race in every season of the playoffs entering 2017. Entering Kansas, Johnson remains winless in the 2017 playoffs.

NASCAR America: Does Dale Earnhardt Jr. have 1 more ‘Dega win in him? (video)

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Of all the racetracks he’s won at, none has been more special to Dale Earnhardt Jr. than Talladega Superspeedway.

Earnhardt has a career-best six wins at the 2.66-mile, high-banked oval.

Sunday’s Alabama 500 will be Earnhardt’s final race as a full-time competitor at ‘Dega. Will he be able to earn a seventh and final win there, beating  the 12 remaining playoff drivers?

We discussed that during Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America. Here’s what our experts had to say about Junior’s chances for one last run at glory at ‘Dega:

Nate Ryan: “I’m going to say better than 50-50. If you look at Dale Jr.’s career, he has a penchant for seizing the moment at these really opportune times, like the first race at Daytona after his father’s death, the first race after 9/11. He has a knack of coming out and winning when the stage is at its biggest. But I’ll add the caveat he only has one win at Talladega since 2004. I haven’t seen him race at this track with the same confidence and the same car he had during the 2001-2003 era at DEI. They were unbeatable. I don’t know if he has that type of car at Hendrick. If he has it and can regain some of that confidence, I think he could win.”

Kyle Petty: “I give him 50-50, I’m sorry. There’s that stupid saying that to run up front, you have to run up front. And he hasn’t run up front. … He’s not raced with these guys on a restrictor plate track up front enough for these guys to know what he does or for him to know what some of these knew guys do like Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson. It’s new to Junior when he gets up into that rare air.” … This year, I just don’t see it happening (winning at ‘Dega).”

Brian Vickers: “Junior and Hendrick Motorsports are not firing on all cylinders, they’re not performing at their best. But this track is different and I think you can make things happen. Like Nate pointed out, Junior has an ability to deliver when the pressure is on, and the pressure’s on. He really wants to win in his last season, and there’s no question that he and everyone else knows that this is his best chance at it. It doesn’t mean he can’t win any of the other races, but with his performance, no one is going to hang his hat on that. … Regardless of the way he’s performed the last few years, he’s still an excellent plate racer.”

NASCAR America, 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN: Talladega, Dale Jr., Truex

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Carolyn Manno and Brian Vickers host from our Stamford studios, while Kyle Petty and Nate Ryan join the show from Charlotte.

Among the topics on today’s show:

  • Last year, Talladega was an elimination race, but that has changed this year. Will this simple move lead to more desperation from the Playoff drivers? Brian, Kyle, and Nate will discuss.
  • Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has 6 wins at Talladega, which leads all active drivers. But does he have a chance to beat the Playoff leaders in his final ‘Dega start as a full-time competitor?
  • Going into Talladega, Martin Truex, Jr. is safely into the Round of 8. But there’s playoff points on the line – and an 0-for-50 record on restrictor plate tracks he’d really like to snap. Will Truex take the opportunity to be more aggressive this weekend? And if so, could he make enemies that can make his Race to Miami tougher?
  • Yesterday, Texas Motor Speedway hosted the Tony Stewart Smoke Show: an all-day fantasy driving camp, where fans got to drive Cup Series cars and ride laps with the 3-time champ himself. Find out the good cause behind the event, and why Stewart’s bullish about his driver Kevin Harvick’s chances to keep advancing in the playoffs.
  • And, we’ll reveal the three new nominees for the NBC Pit Crew All-Stars!

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.

NASCAR America 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN: Dover recap, Newman-Gordon tiff

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and recaps Sunday’s first playoff cutoff race at Dover.

Carolyn Manno hosts with Parker Kligerman and Brian Vickers from Stamford, Connecticut. Steve Letarte joins them from Burton’s Garage.

Here’s some of the topics on today’s show:

  • Kyle Busch made a “Monster” steal yesterday at Dover to claim his second win of the playoffs, passing Chase Elliott for the lead with 2 laps to go. We’ll recap Busch’s victory and another near-miss for Elliott, whose advancement into the Round of 12 didn’t change his disappointment.
  • In the closing laps, Elliott was unable to pass playoff driver Ryan Newman, who was trying to avoid elimination. After the race, Newman defended himself in an exchange with 4-time champion Jeff Gordon. Who was in the right? Gordon’s former crew chief, Steve Letarte, gives his insights.
  • Newman came up two points short of advancing to the second round, while it was Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who claimed the final spot. We’ll break down the strategy calls that helped Stenhouse keep his race for a championship going.

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.

NASCAR America: Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski Twitter spat proves NASCAR needs more rivalries, animosity

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Last week’s Twitter spat between Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch — with Denny Hamlin also chiming in — raised the excitement level for fans prior to the playoff opener at Chicagoland.

Not only did Busch and Keselowski provide great entertainment with their back-and-forth disses, fans not only welcomed what both drivers had to say, but many also took sides, as well.

It also started fans, drivers, media and others mulling about how the sport needs more rivalries — and race day animosity between drivers to further amp up the edge — which would likely further boost the attention and excitement of the sport.

On Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America, Steve Letarte and Brian Vickers — as well as Pete Pistone, co-host of SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” — gave their thoughts on how animosity and rivalries are good and provide an added storyline to the drama of each race, particularly during the 10-race NASCAR Cup playoffs.

“We need more (rivalries),” Pistone said. “There’s a reason every time the Yankees play the Red Sox, the Bears play the Packers, the Knicks play the Celtics or Notre Dame plays USC, that they’re nationally televised. Even if the teams aren’t any good, those rivalries are so good that everyone wants to tune in or listen.

“We got all excited at Chicagoland because Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch started to swipe at each other on Twitter. We need more of that kind of stuff, not less. Let’s have more rivalries in this sport.”

Added Letarte, “I think fans on either side of the rivalries, whether you’re booing or cheering, noise is what we’re looking for. … The fans will be divided and I think that’s spectacular.”

Check out the video above for what Letarte, Vickers and Pistone had to say.