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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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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.

It’s not over for Bowyer until it’s over – with a runner-up finish at Sonoma

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It may have been inadvertent, but Clint Bowyer channeled the late Baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra after Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

Berra was known for many sayings, including “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

For Bowyer to get to the “over” point – a second-place finish – he went on a wild ride, tearing up his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford by making contact with a number of drivers, as well as spinning out at one point.

“You’re not down and out until you’re out,” Bowyer quipped with a Yogi-like explanation, tying his season-best finish (Bristol in April) and earned his third top-five of 2017.

Despite his Ford looking like it been through a demolition derby, it still held together to help deliver a 1-2 Stewart-Haas Racing finish with race winner Kevin Harvick.

“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,” Bowyer said of his car’s condition.

Among the incidents Bowyer was involved in was a tangle with pole sitter Kyle Larson and A.J. Allmendinger.

“I saw (Larson) check up and I get into him, and I was thinking, ‘Well, we’ll both survive this,’” Bowyer said. “And then all of a sudden (Allmendinger) was coming through him and I smoked him and hurt the left front.

“We were fast all weekend. With clean air and a long run, that’s always my strong suit.”

The key to Bowyer’s strong finish was a long run leading to the checkered flag.

“Thank God we got a long run there, I was out of tires,” Bowyer said. “By the time I got done tearing the hell out of my car, I was out of tires.

“Those stages, you know, I mean, obviously this is the first crack at it. That’s what lends to tore-up race cars. It’s such a short stage, there was some technical strategy that you’ve got to try to play and get track position, and then all of a sudden you’re on the bad side of tires trying to hold guys off and you’re blocking.”

In 12 starts on the 1.99-mile road course, he has one win, seven top-five and nine top-10 finishes.

“You know, it’s just patience and try to take care of my stuff,” Bowyer said when asked about the key to his success at Sonoma. “I just do all my normal stuff that’s always gotten me to be good out here.

“And thank God I got that long run and was able to lean on some of my expertise here, if there is any, just taking care of my stuff and babying it and not spinning the tires and being good on the end back of a run.”

Now that Harvick has broken through for his first win of the season, and teammate Kurt Busch won the season-opening Daytona 500, Bowyer said his time to win is at hand.

“Let’s face it, yeah, we’ve got to win,“ Bowyer said. “We need a win in a big way, and today would have been a great win.

“But after everything that happened, I mean, to get second place is, I guess, really good, as a matter of fact.”

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Rodney Childers not bothered by Martin Truex Jr.’s woes

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Winning crew chief Rodney Childers didn’t shed a tear when Martin Truex Jr., who led a race-high 25 laps, fell out late in Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma Raceway with engine issues.

Childers, who guided Kevin Harvick to the win, was asked in a press conference after the race that while he might not like to see competitors drop out of the race, how much did it benefit his team that Truex exited early.

“Well, you talking about before or after he said, ‘Tell Harvick to kiss my ass.’ ?” Childers said. “After he said that, I don’t think he was going to win anyway. We didn’t have a very good car that run before. We made some adjustments and the car was a lot better that last run. That’s all.”

A spokesperson for Furniture Row Racing told NBC Sports said that Childers’ comment about Truex was the first he heard of that remark.

Sherry Pollex, girlfriend of Martin Truex Jr., tweeted that Truex didn’t make the comment Childers said Truex did.

The win is the first of the season for Harvick and Childers and puts Harvick in the playoffs. Truex has a series-high 21 playoff points after scoring a stage win Sunday. Harvick has eight playoff points after scoring five for the race win.

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