Who is Hot/Not ahead of Coke Zero 400? In restrictor-plate races, Ford is very hot (VIDEO)

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In the last two seasons, restrictor-plate races have become playgrounds for teams powered by Ford.

Playgrounds full of chance, chaos and luck if the first two don’t end your day.

A combination of all three have resulted in Ford teams winning four of the last six Daytona races and the last five plate races overall dating back to the May 2016 event at Talladega. That race was the first of three straight won by Team Penske, as Brad Keselowksi won it and the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona. Joey Logano followed suit in October, winning his second fall Talladega race in a row.

The Ford parade continued in February. After Kevin Harvick led a race-high 50 laps, it was his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch who won, leading only the final lap after a string of leaders ran out of gas in the closing laps.

It was only the second time in a non-qualifying race and the first time since July 1994 that a Daytona winner led only the final lap.

The last-lap heroics were again on display at Talladega, when pole-sitter Ricky Stenhouse Jr. took the lead from Kyle Busch heading into Turn 1. He held the field off for his first career Cup win.

Here is who is Hot and who is Not heading into the Coke Zero 400.

Who is Hot

Kyle Busch
• Busch is winless in the last 32 race, but after finishing fifth at Sonoma has top-10 finishes in six of the last seven races.
• Passed for the win on the final lead change five times this season.
• Led the most laps four times in first 16 races with total 746 laps led.
• One Daytona win in 2008 Coke Zero 400.
• Finished top three in two of the last three races at Daytona, crashed out of Daytona 500.

Kevin Harvick

• Coming off first win of season at Sonoma Raceway
• Finished top 10 in eight of the last 10 races (23rd at Talladega after being in wreck, 14th at
Michigan).
• Two-time Daytona winner but has three top-four finishes and three finishes of 22nd or worse in last six races.

Brad Keselowski

• Finished third at Sonoma. Has not had back-to-back top 10s since Talladega and Kansas.
• Nine top fives this season leads all drivers.
• Won this race last year at Daytona, only Daytona win and only finish better than 18th in the last six
races at Daytona.
• Five restrictor-plate wins, tied with Johnson for second most among active drivers

Kyle Larson
• Finished 26th, a lap down at Sonoma for worst finish of season outside of DNF in Coke 600.
• Two wins this season, at Auto Club and Michigan; leads the points after 16 races.
• Finished in the top two seven times this season.
• Best Daytona finish is sixth in 2016 Coke Zero 400.
• Finished top 12 in the five of last six plate races.
• Finished 12th in 2017 Daytona 500 after running out of fuel from the lead on the last lap.

Who is Not

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

• Finished 38th at Sonoma Raceway.
• Won at Talladega, but only one top-10 finish (Michigan) in the six races since.
• Finished fifth in this race last year for best finish at Daytona in 10 starts.

Kasey Kahne

• Finished 24th at Sonoma after wrecking on the last lap.
• Only one top-10 finish (Talladega) in the last 14 races.
• Best Daytona finish is second in 2010 Coke Zero 400.
• Only two top 10-finishes in the last nine races at Daytona, including seventh in February.

Austin Dillon

• Finished 18th at Sonoma.
• Despite Coke 600 win, has only two top-10 finishes this season after having seven at this point last year.
• Best Daytona finish is fifth in the 2014 July race.
• Finished top 10 in five of his eight Daytona starts, his most top 10s at a track in the Cup Series.
• Finished 19th in the 2017 Daytona 500.

Ryan Blaney

• Finished ninth at Sonoma Raceway and scored points in both stages.
• Scored his first career win at Pocono Raceway.
• Only three finishes better than 24th in the last nine races.
• Finished second in the 2017 Daytona 500, only finish better than 14th at Daytona in four starts.

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NASCAR to review Kasey Kahne crash into concrete barrier

Photo by Samuel Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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Kasey Kahne’s last-lap crash into a concrete barrier at Sonoma Raceway raised questions about why there wasn’t an energy-absorbing SAFER barrier in that location.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, discussed the matter Monday on “The Morning Drive.’’

“In terms of NASCAR racing, I think a lot of times fans think that NASCAR is the only racing that occurs on a specific track,’’ O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “When you look at a track like when we’re at Sonoma, every day there is something different going on at that facility. What we’ve got to do is think about all those factors, and then when we race how does it impact, obviously, our product and the track be as safe as possible.

“We have what we believe to be the safest conditions going into that facility. Any time you see a hit like that, obviously, you’re going to learn and react and see what we can do. In this case, that’s something we’ll take a quick look at for sure, looking at the angle. One of the things on road courses you’ve got to keep in mind is the trajectory of the hit, when a car bounces off the wall does it come right back into the racing surface and that’s a tight area potentially at Sonoma.

“I think you’ll see us react quickly  with the safety and make sure that if a SAFER barrier needs to be in there, we’ll make that happens for sure.’’

Kahne crashed at the end of the frontstretch after an incident with Kevin O’Connell.

Kahne was uninjured in the accident but the car suffered significant damage.

After the race, Kahne described what happened.

“It was a hard hit. No. 15 (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.”

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Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr. praise NASCAR for restraint on debris cautions

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A week after Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were critical of NASCAR for debris cautions late in races, both applauded the sanctioning body for allowing the final half of Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma to run caution-free until an accident on the final lap.

“There was a lot of opportunity that you could have got that debris caution or whatever during the race, but it was nice to see that the race actually got to play out,’’ Stewart said after Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick won at Sonoma.

A week ago, Stewart tweeted his frustration with a debris caution on Lap 181 of the 200-lap race at Michigan International Speedway. Two cautions for accidents followed, including one for Stewart’s driver, Clint Bowyer. Stewart later tweeted how “so many drivers and teams day was ruined by the result of another “debris” caution towards the end of the race.’’

Earnhardt joined in his displeasure, saying on Periscope after the Michigan race that “with the stages, I don’t know why they’ve got to throw so many damn debris caution yellows.’’

Monday morning on Periscope, Earnhardt was appreciative of NASCAR allowing the Sonoma race to run without a caution for so long.

“We talked about NASCAR throwing a lot of debris yellows at Michigan and in the weeks prior to that, there were a lot of questionable cautions in the Cup races,’’ Earnhardt said. “This particular weekend, I think they were trying to make a statement to not throw any unnecessary yellows. Guys were spinning off the race track and crashing. A lot of things going on late in that race in Sonoma and they let it play out.

“I saw some of Tony Stewart’s comments postrace about how he was proud of NASCAR for letting the race play out naturally. I thought that was a great way to put it.’’

The next-to-last caution period was from Lap 52-54. There wasn’t another caution until Lap 110, the final lap, when Kasey Kahne crashed.

Of the six caution flags in Sunday’s race, one was for debris.

Since 2010, the Cup race at Sonoma has averaged 0.75 debris cautions per race. There were no debris cautions at Sonoma in 2010, ’12 and ’13. Last year’s race had two debris cautions, the most since 2010.

A study by NBC Sports revealed that debris cautions this season have been among their lowest total in years. Entering the Sonoma race, the 12 debris yellows this season were the fewest in 14 years at that point.

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Kevin Harvick wins Cup race at Sonoma, ends 20-race winless streak

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Kevin Harvick led the final 22 laps and managed to save enough fuel to win Sunday’s Toyota / Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

The top five were Harvick, Clint Bower, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch.

It was Harvick’s first win of the season and ends a 20-race winless streak dating back to last October at Kansas Speedway. It is also Harvick’s first win since Stewart-Haas Racing switched from Chevrolet to Ford.

“It’s been a lot of work, a lot of the guys have put in a lot of hours” Harvick told Fox Sports 1. “It’s paying off. I feel like we’ve got a lot of room to grow.

“For us, it’s been okay. We’ve been competitive, we just haven’t gotten to victory lane. I felt like we’ve had a couple of opportunities to get there but just came up a little bit short. This is worth the wait, to come to Sonoma so many years.”

The 1.99-mile road course was one of four tracks on the Cup circuit Harvick had not won at. The win comes in his 17th start at the track. It came after Harvick placed 25th in Stage 1 and 20th in Stage 2

Harvick, who grew up about 300 miles south of Sonoma in Bakersfield, California, completed a weekend sweep after winning Saturday’s K&N Pro Series race the track.

“I guess we’ll have to do that again because it worked out pretty good,” Harvick said.

Stage 1 winner: Martin Truex Jr.

Stage 2 winner: Jimmie Johnson

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Brad Keselowski successfully used pit strategy to earn his first top five at Sonoma. Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the only other track he does not have a top five … Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished sixth in his final Sonoma start after being involved in two accidents early in the race. It’s his fourth top 10 of the year … Paul Menard finished 11th, his best result since placing ninth at Talladega.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: After winning Stage 1 and leading 25 laps, Martin Truex Jr. left the race with 24 laps to go with an engine problem. He finished 37th in his second DNF of the year. …. Kasey Kahne crashed on the frontstretch on the last lap of the race. He finished 24th. … Danica Patrick salvaged her day by finishing 17th after being in two accidents early in the race, the second a wreck in Turn 4 early in Stage 2 that took out Ricky Stenhouse Jr.AJ Allmendinger finished 35th, six laps down after suffering battery problems mid-race. … Pole-sitter Kyle Larson finished 26th, one lap down. It’s his worst finish of the year outside his DNF in the Coke 600.

NOTABLE: Harvick is now four wins away from having 100 total among all three of NASCAR’s national series … Harvick’s win over Bowyer was the third time Stewart-Haas Racing has finished 1-2 in a Cup race … Alon Day, the first Israeli-born driver to compete in the Cup series, finished 32nd in his series debut.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “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.” – Jimmie Johnson after finishing 13th.

WHAT’S NEXT: Coke Zero 400 at Dayton International Speedway at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, July 1 on NBC.

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.”