NASCAR Cup playoffs

Martin Truex Jr. captures Cup championship with victory at Miami

5 Comments

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Martin Truex Jr. captured the first championship of his Cup career Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, winning the Ford EcoBoost 400.

Truex won for Denver, Colorado-based Furniture Row Racing, which also claimed its first title. He held off a furious charge by Kyle Busch in the closing laps for his eighth victory of the season and a record seventh on a 1.5-mile oval.

Busch, who was racing for a title at Miami for the third straight year, finished 0.681 seconds behind, ahead of Kyle Larson.

Championship-eligible Kevin Harvick was fourth, followed by Brad Keselowski in seventh.

It’s the fourth consecutive season that the series champion has won the season finale since NASCAR restructured its playoffs with a “Championship Four” round in which the highest finisher in a quartet of eligible drivers wins the title.

Ryan Blaney returns to Kansas where win slipped away in May

Leave a comment

Ryan Blaney got into the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs thanks to his first career win at Pocono Raceway in June.

But Blaney nearly got to victory lane three races earlier at Kansas Speedway in May.

The Wood Brothers Racing driver earned his first pole, won Stage 2 and led 83 laps in the Go Bowling! 400. But the No. 21 Ford was passed by Martin Truex Jr. with 19 laps to go and Blaney slipped back to fourth before the checkered flag.

Now the Wood Brothers crew returns to Kansas for this weekend’s Hollywood Casino 400, the elimination race for the Round of 12.

Blaney is currently inside the top eight that would advance to the next round, but he’s not safe. He is seventh in the standings, nine points above Kyle Busch in ninth place. Jimmie Johnson sits in the final transfer spot, seven points up from Busch.

Blaney comes into Sunday’s race after he earned 18 stage points at Talladega and one playoff point for winning Stage 2. But Blaney’s Sunday ended when he was involved in a five-car wreck with 10 laps to go.

“We saw how important stage points are last week at Talladega, and it’ll be the same this week at Kansas,” team co-owner Eddie Wood said in a press release. “The 18 points Ryan earned in the first two stages at Talladega allowed us to move up four spots in the standings even after wrecking out of the race.”

Blaney will be battling with the bubble drivers of Johnson, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth to advance at Kansas.

To advance, Blaney needs to either win the race or earn 54 points in the race according to Racing Insights. That competition for those points begins on Friday when teams qualify.

“The weekend starts for sure on Friday, of trying to qualify up front and staying up front for the first stage or second stage and trying to get those points,” Blaney said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint.” “They’re so valuable to your weekend and your playoff run. I don’t want to say it’s all about it. But they’re a really, really big part of the race on Sunday.”

Though Blaney trails the other four bubble drivers in regards to stage points earned through all five playoff races so far, he has the advantage when it comes to stage points earned in the Round of 12.

Blaney has earned 20 to Johnson’s 14, Kenseth’s 12 and Busch’s eight.

Blaney has an average of 7.1 stage points per race at 1.5-mile track this season. That trails Kenseth’s 7.3 and Busch’s 10.

A glaring disadvantage for Blaney is in playoff points. When he won Stage 2 at Talladega, Blaney garnered his ninth playoff point of the season.

That gives him the fourth fewest among the 12 remaining playoff drivers. The only drivers with fewer are Chase Elliott (six), Kenseth (five) and Jamie McMurray (three).

Blaney has made five starts at Kansas, including his first Cup start in 2014. With three top-10 finishes among them, his average finish is 11.4.

Blaney’s average finish on 1.5-mile tracks this season is 11.8. Of the four main bubble drivers, that is only bested by Kenseth’s average (10.1).

When it comes to points earned per race at 1.5-mile tracks, Blaney (32.4) is topped by Busch (33.4) and Kenseth (34.1).

Kyle Larson: ‘I feel like we’ve made it a round further already’ in playoffs this year

Leave a comment

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — This postseason sees Kyle Larson in his second NASCAR Cup Series playoff appearance.

Not that Larson himself sees it that way.

“I don’t really feel like I was in the playoffs last year,” Larson said Wednesday during the playoff media day.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver made a quick exit last year when he was eliminated after the first round.

After qualifying for the playoffs via his first Cup win at Michigan, Larson finished 18th in the opener at Chicagoland after cutting a tire in the final 10 laps. He then placed 10th at New Hampshire before a battery issue early at Dover ended with Larson getting “kicked out the first round.”

But that doesn’t mean the fourth-year driver didn’t learn something from the experience.

“Even if you’re not in it, you still get an idea of what you need to do,” Larson said. “I mean, really you’ve got to make no mistakes. If you do have a mistake, you know you have to win the next race.”

Larson and his No. 42 team have done their fair share of winning this season, capped off by Saturday’s overtime win at Richmond Raceway. Somewhat overshadowed by rogue ambulances and caution controversy, the win was Larson’s fourth of the year.

It was also his first on a track shorter than 2 miles.

“I didn’t really think of it at the time, but it’s cool to finally win somewhere that’s not two miles,” Larson said. “Obviously, I’ve been really fast at a lot of different styles of racetracks. I’ve ran second, I feel like, at every racetrack. I mean, I’ve been close to win. It’s not like I’m only good at two-mile tracks.”

Larson has finished second seven times this year, including at the playoff tracks of Texas Motor Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Phoenix Raceway and Dover International Speedway.

The Texas and New Hampshire results came after Larson had to start at or near the rear of the field. New Hampshire and Dover follow Chicagoland, a 1.5-mile oval, in the first round.

“Yeah, I could have a lot of mile-and-a-half wins,” Larson said. “I could have won the Daytona 500 this year. But it was nice to win at (Richmond), a track where I would put it down there with Martinsville as being my worst tracks. Richmond and Martinsville would be my worst tracks. For me to win at Richmond was a huge confidence booster.”

The confidence fueled by Larson’s four wins, his second seeding in the playoffs and his team’s generally faster cars than last year has Larson feeling “more relaxed” entering the postseason.

“This year I feel like we should hopefully make it through the first round,” Larson said. “I feel like we’ve made it a round further already this year. I don’t want to jinx myself, but I just feel more confident this year. I think I should be with four wins rather than one at this point last year.

“But anything can happen. I mean, we could win these next 10 or we could be off also. I could have one bad race, then not win the next two, be out in the first round.

“We’ve just got to do everything right.”

and on Facebook

NASCAR America: Dale Jarrett, Steve Letarte make their playoff ‘sleeper picks’ (video)

Leave a comment

Sure, lots of people are picking guys like Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch as favorites heading into the 10-race NASCAR Cup playoffs.

But on Tuesday’s NASCAR America, NASCAR On NBC analysts Dale Jarrett and Steve Letarte came up with a couple of surprises when it came to choosing “sleeper picks” that could go several rounds, if not all the way to the Championship 4 round.

First, here’s DJ on why he’s picking Kurt Busch: “He won the Daytona 500. He’s seeded 12th. He’s been running extremely well, much better over these last five or six races. I think he’s the driver you pay attention to because they’ve found something that’s going to put them there.”

And here’s Steve on why he’s picking Ryan Blaney as his sleeper: “Ryan Blaney is the driver I feel is going to continue much farther into the playoffs than people expect. I think he’ll easily get out of the Round of 16 and … get into the Round of 8.”