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Cup Playoff Grid: Denny Hamlin becomes 11th driver to qualify for Cup postseason

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After repeat winners at Daytona and Kentucky, Denny Hamlin became the latest driver to win his way into the Cup Series playoffs Sunday at New Hampshire.

Hamlin, with his first victory of the season, is the 11th driver to clinch a spot in the 16-car field for the playoffs.

He would be the 12th if not for Joey Logano‘s Richmond win being encumbered due to an inspection failure.

If the postseason began this weekend, the drivers getting into the 16-car field on points would be Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray, Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth.

With his win, Hamlin has seven playoff points. That puts him eighth on the playoff grid among those who have clenched a playoff spot. He is ahead of Kurt Busch (five playoff points), Ryan Newman (five) and Austin Dillon (five).

In the graphic below, drivers in green are in the playoffs on wins. Drivers in yellow would be in on points and drivers in orange would not make the playoffs.

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Eleven Cup teams to lose practice time at New Hampshire

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Kyle Larson and Clint Bowyer each will sit out 30 minutes of Saturday’s final Cup practice for failing inspection before last weekend’s Monster Energy Cup race at Kentucky Speedway, NASCAR announced Friday.

They are among 11 Cup teams and seven Xfinity teams that will miss practice time this weekend because of inspection issues at previous events.

Four Cup drivers – Landon Cassill, Gray Gaulding, Cole Whitt and Michael McDowell – will each miss 15 minutes of practice in today’s practice session, which runs from 11:30 a.m. – 12:55 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App. Each is penalized for being late to inspection before last weekend’s event at Kentucky.

Five Cup drivers – Kevin Harvick, Erik Jones, Chase Elliott, Jeffrey Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. – each will miss 15 minutes of Saturday’s final practice session. Each is penalized for failing inspection before last weekend’s race at Kentucky.

In the Xfinity Series, the cars of Ben Kennedy, Michael Annett and Blake Koch will be held 15 minutes for failing inspection before the Kentucky race.

The cars of BJ McLeod, Carl Long, Brennan Poole and David Starr also will miss 15 minutes of practice. Each had penalties that were deferred from Kentucky.

The Xfinity teams will miss time during today’s first practice, which is scheduled to go from 1 – 1:55 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App.

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Michael McDowell offers rebuttal to Chase Elliott’s criticism

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Michael McDowell struck back on Twitter to comments Chase Elliott made about him after an incident in Saturday night’s Cup race at Daytona International Speedway.

Elliott spun into the backstretch grass to bring out the caution on Lap 99. On the radio, he told his team: “That damn 95 (McDowell) wrecks me one more time, man, damn it! What in the hell is (his) problem?”

McDowell went on to finish a career-high fourth Saturday.

After the race, McDowell was asked about the incident that sent Elliott spinning.

“Really hard to tell what happened with the 24 down the back straightaway,” McDowell said. “I was getting shoved, getting shoved down the racetrack, and he was coming up the racetrack, so I would hate to say anything because until I see a replay it’s hard to tell. I can tell you that everybody was pushing really hard. It definitely was one of those racing things that happened. Without seeing (a replay), I wouldn’t really want to comment too much on it.”

McDowell offered an additional comment Wednesday on Twitter:

Elliott wasn’t the only Hendrick driver who had an incident with McDowell during the race. Jimmie Johnson also mentioned McDowell after the race, saying: “I really thought we were in a great position and I got smashed into the wall by the No. 95  (McDowell) off of two.”

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NASCAR America: Scan All: Daytona

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This week’s edition of Scan All reveals the sights and sounds of the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

In a race that featured a race record 14 cautions, emotions were high.

When the competition caution was moved up, Kyle Busch wasn’t aware of the change.

“So that last yellow became the comp yellow?” Busch, racing without suspended crew chief Adam Stevens, radioed his team. “Nobody communicated that.”

Told it was, Busch responded: “I need my crew chief back.”

He wasn’t the only one frustrated during the race.

Chase Elliott was upset with Michael McDowell.

“That damn 95 wrecks me one more time,” Elliott said after sliding through the grass. “What in the hell is (his) problem?”

That’s just part of what drivers were saying. Watch the video above to hear it all.

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Daytona provided a chance for drivers often overlooked to shine

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — They walked away with smiles but couldn’t shake one thought.

If only.

If only they had made a different move, put the car elsewhere or just had everything come together, they could have been in victory lane instead of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway.

Still, a number of drivers who had not won this season posted their best finishes of the season.

  • Paul Menard, who has one career Cup win, placed a season-best third.
  • Michael McDowell, who has never won a Cup race, finished a career-best fourth.
  • David Ragan, who has two career wins, was a season-best sixth.
  • Brendan Gaughan, who races full-time in the Xfinity Series, was seventh for his best Cup finish since 2004.
  • Corey LaJoie recorded a career-best 11th-place result.

They were survivors in a race that had an event-record 14 cautions. Twenty-seven of the 40 drivers were involved in accidents, including Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Austin Dillon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

That’s what restrictor-plate racing can do — shake up the results and give teams and drivers a better chance of winning than they would have at many other tracks.

Ragan, who has two restrictor-plate wins, was in position for Front Row Motorsports to score his first victory since 2013 at Talladega.

He led on the final restart in overtime but Stenhouse charged by to lead the final two laps.

“I missed my mark a bit coming to the white,’’ Ragan said. “I zigged when I should have zagged. It’s tough to block two or three lanes coming to the white flag. I missed it on that run. I’m just disappointed that I couldn’t close the deal.

“I should have moved to get (Ty Dillon) a little bit of a block and get down in front of (Stenhouse). Over the years, if you’re in those situations more, you just make better decisions on the fly. That’s the first time I’ve been leading like that in a green-white-checkered at a plate race in several years. I was probably a little slow to be looking in my mirrors good enough. I just didn’t know that (Stenhouse) and (McDowell) had that good of a run.’’

With that charge, McDowell scored a top-five finish. That was big because the team needs sponsorship. The sponsor on the car, WRL General Contractors is a company owned by team owner Bob Leavine and his wife.

“It’s nice to do this week after week,’’ said McDowell, who has five top-20 finishes in the last seven races. “We’ve been putting together solid runs. At the same time, coming to the line second, I thought I had a shot at (Stenhouse) but just they had such a big run behind I couldn’t hold them off.”

For as fast as Menard was with Clint Bowyer pushing him on the final lap, it wasn’t enough.

“I really did think I was going to win for a little while,’’ Bowyer said.

“I knew you were going to win if I didn’t,’’ Menard said.

Dillon looked to be in the right position when he restarted second but fell back and finished 16th.

“I wanted to do it so bad for (team owner) Bob Germain who gave me this opportunity,” Dillon said. “That is two close ones, and if you keep getting these close ones, you will get one eventually. We work hard every week, but not every week are we contending for wins. When it’s our chance, we make the most of it. So I am proud of the way we are growing as a team and we are leading a lot of laps any way we can.

“I just feel disappointed. Nobody went with me (at the end) and so that is kind of the pains of being a rookie, but I would have been mad at myself if I didn’t make a move right there. The move cost me a good finish but didn’t really determine what our day was.”

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