NASCAR America teaming up with SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

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Wednesday will mark the beginning of a new relationship between NASCAR America and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Every Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. ET, a NASCAR on NBC personality will appear on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive,” which is hosted by Pete Pistone and Mike Bagley.

Analyst Steve Letarte will be the first guest.

Pistone will also make regular appearances on NASCAR America.

Pistone joined NASCAR America Tuesday night to preview the new relationship and the storylines heading into the second half of the NASCAR season.

The main theme of the discussion was the building frustration for Joe Gibbs Racing, which is winless through 16 races. Though the driver getting the most attention has been Kyle Busch, there’s three other drivers who are looking to win, including Denny Hamlin.

“We had his crew chief Mike Wheeler on the ‘Morning Drive’ last week and the frustration, you can feel it there,” Pistone said. “They also felt a bit optimistic, especially going to Sonoma because he runs so well there, he ran so well and almost won the race last year until Tony Stewart got him on the last lap. … I still think there’s optimism there in the 11 camp, they’re finding the speed they’ve been missing so far in the first half of the year. The next race at Daytona could be the place you see Denny Hamlin bust down the door to victory lane.”

Watch the above video for more from Pete Pistone.

Cup Series playoff grid following Sonoma

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With the Coke Zero 400 set for 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC, the race will mark the start of a 10-race sprint to the playoffs in September.

Only 16 Cup drivers can make the playoffs and following Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway, Kevin Harvick made it 10 drivers locked in based on wins. It could have been 11 if not for Joey Logano‘s encumbered finish for his win at Richmond in April.

Kyle Larson leads the way with his two wins – Auto Club, Michigan – and 13 payoff points. Martin Truex Jr. is second and leads all drivers with 11 stage wins and 21 playoff points.

With 10 races left until the playoffs begin at Richmond, all 10 qualified drivers are in the top 20 in points. But six of the top 12 on the playoff grid don’t have wins. That group is led by Kyle Busch, who is fourth in points but has not won since last July’s Brickyard 400.

Jamie McMurray is in eighth and is the highest driver on the grid who has not earned any playoff points through 16 races.

Below is the full playoff grid.

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Clint Bowyer moves into last playoff transfer spot in points standings

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A runner-up finish at Sonoma by Clint Bowyer moved the Stewart-Haas Racing driver into the critical transfer spot for the Cup with 10 races left in the regular season.

Bowyer moved up to 11th in the points standings as teammate Kevin Harvick became the 11th driver to qualify for the playoffs with a win in 2017.

Winless drivers who provisionally are qualified for 16-driver playoffs on points: Kyle Busch (fourth), Chase Elliott (sixth), Jamie McMurray (eighth), Denny Hamlin (ninth) and Bowyer (11th). Joey Logano (10th in points) also is qualified despite having a Richmond win that doesn’t count for playoff eligibility because of a penalty.

Bowyer moved four points ahead of Matt Kenseth for the final spot on points.

Kyle Larson remained the regular-season points leader with a 13-point lead on Martin Truex Jr., who missed an opportunity to regain first in the rankings because of an engine failure. Truex did win his series-leading 11th stage, extending his playoff points total to 21 points, tops in the series.

Click here for the points standings after Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway.

What drivers said after Sonoma race

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Drivers had plenty to say after Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway. Here’s what they said:

Kevin Harvick — Winner: “To finally check this one off the list. I feel like we have been close a couple times but never put it all together. Being so close to home and having raced here so much, this was one that was on the top of the list and today we were able to check that box.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 2nd: “You get there back in traffic and you’re so much faster than them, you have to check up to save a mistake. You run over them and you don’t mean to; you get frustrated and get a little bit farther behind and a little bit farther behind. I saw (Kyle Larson) check up and I get into him and I was thinking, ‘Well, we’ll both survive this’. And then all of a sudden (AJ Allmendinger) was coming through and I smoked him and hurt the left front. We were fast all weekend. With clean air and an long run, that’s always my strong suit. We got the long run, we just hard to start dead last to get it.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 3rd: “We didn’t have the qualifying fun we wanted. We had amazing race pace. That’s a credit to everyone at Team Penske. It felt really good. I just wish I could run this race again I think I might have had better car than driver today and I learned a lot. Just an amazing fun day.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 4th: “It was good, definitely had a great car. We didn’t have quite enough at the end. We did have real short run speed. We didn’t’ really have great long run speed. We had just had good middle speed and that worked out for us. We had good pit strategy and really passed a lot of cars today and that’s about what we had.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 7th: “I had a left-rear question, if it was going down or not. I went through four righthanders trying to make the call on if the left-rear was going to go down. I might have messed up a Stewart-Haas 1-2-3. I am happy for Kevin and Bowyer. We were about a third-place car. We were hanging with Denny (Hamlin) and Kyle (Busch) most of the day. I had to pit just to make sure with the tire. We went from 17th back up to seventh. It was a good charge at the end, just didn’t get that top five we wanted.’’

Chase Elliott – Finished 8th: “Just solid day. Good execution on pit road. Guys called great strategy and got us a decent finish.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 9th: “It was pretty physical out there. We had a long green-flag run there at the end. There were some different strategies and we kind of played to the side of if there was a caution at the end we would be in a good spot. That is why we had some of the oldest tires out there. We were still able to make moves and pass some cars. I think we ended up ninth, so that is a good day for us. It is good to end up about where we should have. Where we deserved. A big improvement from last year so that is nice.”

Jamie McMurray – Finished 10th: “I thought we were going to be fourth or fifth and some of those guys pitted and actually ran us back down with tires, which you normally don’t see. We normally don’t have that long of a green flag run, but overall really good day.”

Paul Menard – Finished 11th: “The guys on this Tarkett/Menards Chevrolet did a solid job working on our car all weekend. It handled well all day and we battled inside the top 10 for much of the race. We knew pit strategy would come into play today and Matt Borland called a great race from the drop of the green flag. We gambled by coming to pit road late and hoping on a caution, but never got one. If we had about three more laps with those fresh tires, we probably could have fought our way into the top 10.”

Joey Logano — Finished 12th: “We had a pretty good car and made adjustments to make it better, probably a top-five car once we had it going but I sped down pit road. We had the winning strategy and scored a lot of stage points. With a little more speed we maybe could have won the thing. I just sped down pit road and lost so much track position after that. That one stings a little bit.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 13th: “I had no earthly idea what was going on. I passed so many cars. I don’t even know what strategy won.  It was very difficult to know what was going on from inside the car. I would assume that caused a lot of great viewing and entertainment that was fun to watch, but I had no clue what was going on out there.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 15th: “It was good to see us run up in the top 10 and earn valuable stage points today in our Chevrolet Accessories car. We started off really loose in Turn 10 and lost some ground but once we had a chance to fine-tune it, we were pretty decent. We thought there might be a chance to gain spots at the end by just staying out because we were good on fuel, but it didn’t work out in our favor. With about 20 to go, our tires were pretty much cooked so we just stayed the course and hoped for the best. I had a lot of fun road course racing. I just wish we could have had a better finish. This 31 team did a good job for me and I appreciate Chevrolet coming along for the ride.”

Danica Patrick – Finished 17th: “It definitely wasn’t the day the Code 3 Associates team was expecting, but we were able to battle back to a decent finish. The car was just awful in the final laps of the last two runs, but we made the most of it at the end.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 18th: “The team gave me a great Dow Coatings Material Chevy all weekend and I feel bad for what happened there in the closing laps. We qualified 19th, which was my career-best start at Sonoma Raceway. We raced our way into the top 10 and collected stage points in the first two stages.  After the spin in Turn 11, I had no rear grip the rest of the way. I’m bummed that it happened but I can’t say enough about this entire No. 3 team. It was a lot of fun out there.”

Kasey Kahne — Finished 24th: “It was a hard hit. No. 15 (Kevin O’Connell), no clue who he is, I saw him a lot today lapping him, but he went low down the front stretch and then just, I was going to his outside and he just turned right and just hit me, put me straight in the wall getting the white flag there. No clue what he was thinking. You obviously don’t know what he’s doing either. But we had a better car the longer the day went. Just really tight early and the guys kept working on it and we got better and better. I have no clue where we were running, but we were definitely much better at the end than we were at the start and passed some cars later on.”

Erik Jones — Finished 25th: “It was a long day. You know, learning all day and come home with a top 25 is all we really wanted to do.’’

Trevor Bayne – Finished 27th: “We showed we had speed with our AdvoCare Ford today. Every time we could really get going the temps would unfortunately keep getting hotter and hotter which is why we had to come down pit road during that final stage. I hate that we didn’t get the result we deserved but we will rebound form this next week at Daytona where anything can happen and I hope to be out front when it’s all said and done.”

AJ ALLMENDINGER — Finished 35th: “I don’t know what happened there. I just noticed what was going to be our final pit stop I kind of looked down and just noticed the battery starting to die. From there that was it. Shutting all the switches off and everything wasn’t going to work. I’m mad at myself for not driving very well. The car was pretty good.  That first stint was good. The No. 78 (Martin Truex) was pretty good, but thought we were going to be okay. I just didn’t drive very well and just bad luck again.”

MARTIN TRUEX JR — Finished 37th: “After we made that last pit stop, when we lost the lead to (Kevin) Harvick, soon as I left pit road, I lost a cylinder. I was surprised we were able to keep up with them as well as we could on seven, but just shows how strong the car was. Just wasn’t meant to be today.”

RICKY STENHOUSE JR — Finished 38th: “They were three-wide in front of us trying to go through Turn 4 which never works. They were all dive-bombing each other and then (Danica Patrick) got spinning and I tried to go low and she just kept coming down the track. We just clipped it a little bit and tore the left front up too bad to continue. It is a bummer for our day. We felt like we had probably a decent Sonoma car for us. Really just wanted to get out there and make laps. I thought we were decent on the long run, just trying to get there.”

Cup drivers in uncharted territory – stage racing on a road course

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For the most part, stage racing has brought added excitement and different forms of strategy to NASCAR Cup competition in the first 15 races of the season.

But how stage racing will impact Sunday’s road course race at Sonoma Raceway remains a mystery that won’t be answered until the checkered flag falls in the Toyota/Save Mart 350.

First of all, the first stage ends on Lap 25 and the second stage ends on Lap 50 of the 110-lap race.

How those stages change the pit stop strategies devised by crew chiefs can range from little impact to radical changes.

While much of the strategy onus will fall upon crew chiefs, Cup drivers are also concerned how much stage racing will impact their race. Here’s what some of them are thinking about:

Sonoma polesitter, Cup points leader and Michigan winner Kyle Larson: “Yeah, I think stage racing or the stages will play into effect. I still haven’t talked to my engineers about it. We will have a pre-race meeting (Sunday) and kind of go over what their race plan is, as far as how many stops we are going to do and stuff like that. I don’t know yet, how it will affect it, but I’m sure it will be interesting.

“I don’t think it would turn into a four-stop race, but possibly a three-stop race rather than typically being a two-stop race, but I don’t know. I would have to talk to the engineers, they are smart. I just pit when they tell me to pit.”

Outside pole sitter Jamie McMurray: “The fact that we have a good starting spot at the beginning is going to be big. The stages are going to be interesting to see how that affects the race or if it does. But, yeah, got a good car and just ready for (Sunday).”

Denny Hamlin: “With the stages and everything that goes into play, the field’s going to be flip-flopped all day long and we just hope to be on the right end of it at the right time.”

Brad Keselowski: “The stages are going to throw these races … the road course and tracks like Pocono where you can pit and not lose a lap. … it throws these races a complete curve ball. I think you’ll see that here.”

Martin Truex Jr.: I feel like if you win the first stage, you’re probably not going to have a chance to win the race at the end. I think you’re going to see a lot of guys pit before the first stage is over. … I don’t play strategy, I don’t do strategy, I’ll leave that up to Cole (Pearn, crew chief), and hopefully he’ll figure it out. But it’s definitely going to be interesting. It’s going to be a lot more difficult, I think, to call this race than it has in years past. In the last few years we’ve seen tires play such a big role in winning this race that I think it’s been since about 2013 since this was won on two stops, or maybe actually 2012. So it’s been a long time since anyone done it on a one‑ or two‑stop strategy, and tires are going to be a big deal. So I think everybody stopped a least four times last year, and we’ll see what this year brings.”

Clint Bowyer: “It will certainly change a lot about this track. Who knows? That (stage racing) has been such a big thing and a good thing I guess for our sport. If there ever was an exception to that rule you hope it is not here. You make those rules to try to ramp up the competition everywhere across the board and sometimes there are race tracks that maybe didn’t need it. This is one of those places where you didn’t need anything but obviously you have to make rules to be good for everywhere. … I think the strategy side will kind of go by the wayside and you will have to push as hard as you can. We have been pretty easy on our equipment over the years by being able to pace ourselves, save fuel, not just dive-bomb every single corner of every lap. You might see some attrition show up because of it. And you will see desperation show up at the end.”

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