Who are the three best NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers? The experts answer

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.  – There are no wrong answers. Well, maybe if they’re not the same answers you would give, then they are wrong.

While many fans will debate who is the best driver in the sport, Brad Keselowski added a twist recently when he listed the top three drivers. He had Carl Edwards first, Kevin Harvick second and himself third.

“I have seen what Carl has done in cars that didn’t have the speed,’’ Keselowski said. “He has a very diverse skill set. He has been able to win at tracks like Sonoma and has won at every type of track, and I feel like he does the best job of any driver I have seen out there at taking a car that is not fast and finding speed out of it.

“I think when the times have come that he has had dominant cars, he has showed dominant performances, which is what you have to do. He has kind of shown to me, the skill set at every level to be a top driver.”

With that in mind, NASCAR Talk asked experts who they would list as the three best drivers. The answers might surprise you in who they listed – and who wasn’t listed.

Here’s what they said.

Carl Edwards 

“It’s very tough to pick the drivers that you say, ‘Hey these are the best guys,’ but I think If I were to look in the garage, the guys that really never make mistakes, the guys that are at the top of the sheet at every racetrack, they just don’t have a lot of excuses, they just go out and perform, guys like Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, (and) Brad. Greg Biffle has as much pure speed ability as anybody I’ve ever been around. Kevin (Harvck), he did a great job last year. I don’t think he made any mistakes that I can remember last year on the racetrack. There are a bunch of guys … I really think it’s hard to pick a guy.’’

NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton

“When you watch Kevin Harvick over the last three or four years, he has been consistently successful. He has separated himself from his teammates consistently. It’s really hard for me not to look at him and say he’s one of the best. I don’t know how you don’t put Jimmie Johnson in that conversation. You say those guys are in best equipment, yeah, but he consistently outperforms his teammates. They have access to the same equipment. I don’t dare know how you don’t put him in there. I think the most underrated driver in the sport is Matt Kenseth. He’s a phenomenal racecar driver.

“He is aggressive, but he’s able to be aggressive and he doesn’t look like he’s being very aggressive. He’s very, very smooth. If his car is an eighth-place car, he has this ability to find a way when the day is over to finish fifth with it. You look at his body of work, it’s really really impressive. He’s fast. He’s improved his qualifying. He is just consistently successful.’’

Fox analyst Darrell Waltrip

“Carl is obviously a great driver and how he handle sponsors. He’s one of the best in the garage. I love Carl. If I were starting a team tomorrow, he would probably be the first guy I’d call.

“I don’t put (Joey) Logano far behind any of these cats. He’s young. He’s got the experience of a 30-year old. He’s great driver. He’s matured. He used to run from fights. Now he runs to fights. There are things I see about him that I really like, and I think he’s going to be a big star in our sport for a long time. I love Brad’s passion, where he came from and what he does. He calls it like he sees it.’’

Fox analyst Larry McReynolds

I don’t disagree with Brad’s top three. Definitely 100 percent Kevin would be high on my list. Not just because he won the championship last year but just what we see in him year in an year out … and just how smart a racecar driver he is.

“How in the world do you not even mention the name Jimmie Johnson? The races he’s won and the championships he’s won with all the different Chase configurations and rules and cars. I don’t know how in the world you would not include Jeff Gordon in this conversation to be be as competitive as that man has been since 1993.’’

Fox broadcaster Mike Joy

“I think at this moment, Kevin Harvick is the best driver in the sport right now. Not just because of what he did last year … but I think if you have a 10-lap shootout at the end of any of race, we don’t call him ‘The Closer’ for no reason. That said, I would take Jeff Gordon’s savvy, his marketing experience, his skill and his desire last year over just about anybody in the garage area. Then you have to look at Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the season he had. Matt Kenseth didn’t win a race, but, boy, he’s become the David Pearson of our sport – the cagey, calculating, run-the-car-as-hard-as-it-needs-to-go when it needs to go.’’

 

NASCAR fines seven crew chiefs for lug nut violations at Las Vegas

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NASCAR announced Tuesday it has fined seven crew chiefs for lug nut violations from the Cup and Xfinity races this past weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway,

In the Cup Series, NASCAR issued fines to crew chiefs Matt McCall (Kurt Busch), Greg Erwin (Matt DiBenedetto) and Seth Barbour (John Hunter Nemechek) for having one lug nut not safe and secure on their cars. Each crew chief was fined $10,000.

In the Xfinity Series, NASCAR fined crew chiefs Bruce Schlicker (Ross Chastain), Dave Rogers (Riley Herbst), Ben Beshore (Harrison Burton) and Brian Wilson (Austin Cindric) for having one lug nut not safe and secure on their cars. Each crew chief was fined $5,000.

 

Chad Knaus to move off pit box for executive role at Hendrick

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Chad Knaus, whose success as a crew chief is nearly unparalleled in NASCAR, will step down from that role after this season and move into a leadership position at Hendrick Motorsports, the team announced Tuesday.

Knaus will become vice president of competition. He will oversee technical development for Hendrick Motorsports, including implantation of the Next Gen car in 2022. He also will be responsible for personnel for each of the four teams, including crew chiefs, pit crews, engineering, fabrication, assembly and other team-related staff.

Knaus won seven championships as Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief. Only Hall of Fame crew chief Dale Inman won more titles. Inman won eight, scoring seven with Richard Petty and one with Terry Labonte. Knaus has 82 career Cup wins. All but one came with Johnson. William Byron scored his first career Cup win in August at Daytona with Knaus as his crew chief. Byron was eliminated from the playoffs last weekend. The 49-year-old Knaus is the only crew chief to have competed in NASCAR’s postseason all 17 years.

Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus before the 2005 Coca-Cola 600. They combined to win that event four times.  (Photo by Harold Hinson/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images)

“When I started at Hendrick Motorsports (in 1993) working for Ray Evernham, my goal was to be a crew chief,” Knaus said in a statement from the team. “Starting at a young age, I wanted to win every race we entered and battle for every championship.

“Mr. (Rick) Hendrick has given me the chance to do exactly that, and I could not be more thankful to him. After all these years, my competitive desire has not changed at all, but now I have a family that deserves my attention. This new executive role will allow me to compete in a different way with all four of our teams while spending more time with my wife and two young children.

“I appreciate the company supporting my decision, and I’m truly excited about the challenge ahead of me to help us grow and win. I’m also looking forward to working closely with Jeff (Andrews), who I admire and have great respect for. I owe so much to Mr. Hendrick and everyone at Hendrick Motorsports, and I’m ready for the next chapter.”

Knaus and his wife Brooke welcomed a baby girl July 30. Vivienne Mae Knaus is the couple’s second child. Son Kipling was born in 2018.

A new crew chief for Byron will be announced at a later date.

Chad Knaus, car owner Rick Hendrick and Jimmie Johnson displaying their rings after Johnson claimed the 2013 Daytona 500. (Photo by John Harrelson/NASCAR via Getty Images)

“In life, it’s rare to witness true excellence first-hand, but that’s precisely what we’ve been treated to with Chad,” Hendrick said in a statement. “Today’s announcement is bittersweet because, in my opinion, he is the finest crew chief our sport has ever seen.

“Although we’re going to miss him atop the pit box, I’m heartened that Chad has made this decision for himself and his growing family and that he is energized about the opportunity to move us forward in a new capacity. There is no one with higher standards or a stronger passion for winning. He will continue to elevate Hendrick Motorsports and instill his championship mentality throughout the company.”

Knaus served two races as crew chief for Casey Atwood in 2000 and then did one race for Stacy Compton that season. In 2001, Knaus was paired with Compton. Knaus rejoined Hendrick Motorsports to be Johnson’s crew chief in 2002. They remained together until 2019 when Knaus moved to Byron’s team.   

Knaus will report to Andrews, 55, who has been promoted to executive vice president and general manager, effective immediately.

Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus celebrate their seventh NASCAR Cup championship after winning the 2016 season finale in Miami. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Andrews joined Hendrick Motorsports in 1992 and most recently served as vice president of competition. He had held that role since 2017.

Previously, Andrews held a leadership position in the team’s engine department, including director of engine operations. In his expanded role, Andrews will oversee all competition-related departments, including powertrain, manufacturing and racing operations. He will continue to support the organization’s technical relationship with Chevrolet and remain its primary liaison with NASCAR’s competition group. Andrews reports to Hendrick Motorsports president Marshall Carlson.

“In my almost 29-year NASCAR career, I’ve been fortunate to work for just one organization,” Andrews said in a statement from the team. “Mr. Hendrick is a racer and a fierce competitor. His drive to win is contagious, and I’m grateful to have a team of like-minded people who share that passion. Racing is all I have ever done professionally. When I left my home and my family 33 years ago to pursue this dream, I never could have imagined the opportunities that have been provided by so many people, most importantly Mr. Hendrick.”

Said Hendrick in a statement: “As we look to the years ahead, Jeff and Chad are going to play significant roles in our success. They’re tremendous leaders who are respected within our organization and across the entire auto racing world. In addition, they each bring unique strengths and skillsets that will complement each other extremely well and benefit all of Hendrick Motorsports. We’re in the business of winning, and this combination is going to help us do just that.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick still No. 1 after quiet Vegas

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Kevin Harvick didn’t have a flashy night Sunday in Las Vegas, but it didn’t keep him from retaining the No. 1 spot in this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings.

After winning the Bristol night race, Harvick finished in the top 10 in the first two stages in Vegas before placing 10th at race’s end.

Kurt Busch’s win at his home track vaulted him into the top 10 as 12 drivers received votes.

More: Playoff standings after Las Vegas

Here is this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings:

1. Kevin Harvick (Last week No. 1): In the last eight races he’s won three times and finished outside the top 10 only twice.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (Last week No. 5): Placed fourth for his 11th top-five finish in the last 14 races.

3. Alex Bowman (Last week unranked): Finished fifth for his second top five and fifth top-10 finish in the last six races.

4. Denny Hamlin (Last week unranked): Left Vegas with a third-place finish to snap a three-race streak of finishing outside the top 10.

5. Kurt Busch (Last week unranked): Snapped a 46-race winless streak with his victory and advanced to the Round of 8.

6. Kyle Busch (Last week No. 3): Finished sixth after a “dismal” night. He has four consecutive top 10s.

7. Brad Keselowski (Last week No. 5): Finished 13th to give him two finishes outside the top 10 since he won at Richmond.

8. Chase Briscoe (Last week unranked): Opened the Xfinity playoffs with his second consecutive win.

8. Chase Elliott (Last week No. 2): Led 73 laps, but had to settle for a 22nd-place finish in Vegas.

8. Joey Logano (Last week No. 3): Finished 14th for his second straight finish outside the top 10.

Also receiving votes: Erik Jones and Chris Buescher.

NASCAR announces changes to Kansas playoff weekend

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Citing “programming changes,” NASCAR announced shifts in the race dates and start times for its visit next month to Kansas Speedway.

The Xfinity, ARCA and Truck Series races have been shifted, while the Cup race remains at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 18.

The biggest move is the Truck Series race shifting from Friday night to Saturday afternoon.

Here are the changes.

Friday, Oct. 16, 8:30 p.m. ETARCA Menards Series on FS1 or FS2; network TBD at a later date (previously at 10 p.m. ET)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 4 p.m. ETTruck Series on FOX (previously Friday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m. ET Xfinity on NBCSN (previously 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)