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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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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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.”

Kyle Larson Express earns second straight pole, Danica Patrick to start sixth

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Kyle Larson continues to lead the way in NASCAR — both literally and figuratively.

The current NASCAR Cup points leader will also start Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 race at Sonoma Raceway from the pole for the second straight race, having done so in last week’s eventual win at Michigan International Speedway.

“This is cool to get a pole on a road course in my home state,” Larson told Fox Sports 1. “This is the closest track to Sacramento and Elk Grove, where I grew up, so lots of friends and family here.”

And to make things even sweeter, Larson (qualified with a field-best speed of 95.295 mph) will start Sunday’s race alongside Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray, who qualified on the outside of the front row with his own effort of 95.204 mph.

“I thought I did a really good job,” McMurray told FS1. “I don’t feel like I gave up, or that there was a corner that stuck out. Overall, it was a really good lap, but Kyle just got a little bit more.”

It was also Larson’s third pole of 2017; he also started from the front at Fontana (where he also won) in March.

Here’s the rest of the top 10 qualifiers:

Row 2: Martin Truex Jr. will start third, alongside Kyle Busch, still searching for his first Cup win since last year’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis.

Row 3: A.J. Allmendinger starts fifth alongside Danica Patrick, who had the best qualifying effort of all four Stewart-Haas Racing drivers.

It was Patrick’s best Cup qualifying effort since starting fourth at Charlotte in May 2014, and her third-best Cup qualifying effort ever. It also marked the sixth time since she joined SHR that she out-ran all of her teammates, per RacingInsights.com.

“I feel like I can drive this place in my sleep just because I’ve driven so many laps here over the years,”Patrick told FS1. “Man, I hope Sunday’s good and everything falls right. It’s great, it’s nice, it’s been a tough go of it this year. It feels good to have a good starting spot and let’s hope we start clean and have a smooth day.”

Row 4: Ryan Blaney will start seventh, next to Chase Elliott, who was forced to go to backup car after wrecking in practice Friday.

Row 5: Chris Buescher starts ninth, his best career qualifying effort, alongside Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Only 38 cars are qualified for Sunday’s race. Matt Kenseth didn’t get an attempt in Saturday, so he’ll start from the back of the pack.

Click here for the full qualifying field results.

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NASCAR America: Which NASCAR driver is ready for zombie apocalypse?

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Now there’s something you don’t hear NASCAR drivers talk about every day: how to prepare — and potentially survive — a zombie apocalypse.

Our intrepid reporter, Rutledge Wood, threw a number of NASCAR drivers for a loop when he asked them that very question.

The reactions range from incredulousness to seriousness.  Among those Rut talked with included Martin Truex Jr., Elliott Sadler, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Blaney, Clint Bowyer, Erik Jones and Kyle Larson.

And here’s a few surprises:

  • Brad Keselowski wants to buy a tank for the apocalypse, and supposedly Dale Earnhardt Jr. is waiting to take delivery on his own tank — both to kill zombies, of course!
  • Several drivers also talked about one of their former own who reportedly has already made big plans to take on any zombies that come across his path. As Wood said, that former driver’s name rhymes with Schmarl Schmedwards.

Check out the hysterical video — trust us, it WILL make you laugh — if for nothing else the outlandish responses from some of the drivers.

But it also makes one wonder: what if a zombie is among us and he’s disguised as a zombie? What then — and who might it be?