Five things to watch for in tonight’s race

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RICHMOND, Va. – This is a new experience for Paul Menard, and he admits he’s not sure how to prepare.

Menard then realizes he knows exactly how to handle tonight’s Federation Auto Parts 400 on NBCSN and the chance to make his first Chase for the Sprint Cup.

“It’s probably easier because I don’t really get all worked up about a whole lot of stuff,’’ Menard said, revealing a sly smile.

The stoic driver enters tonight’s race 15th on the Chase grid, 10 points ahead of Clint Bowyer, who holds the final Chase transfer spot. Menard clinches a Chase spot if he finishes ninth or better tonight.

MORE: Start time, weather info and more for tonight’s race

Menard, who never has made the Chase in eight previous seasons, has one top-10 finish in 17 career starts at Richmond. He’s among those vying for the final five Chase spots.

Jamie McMurray will make the Chase by taking the green flag. Ryan Newman, who finished runner-up for last year’s title, clinches a Chase spot by finishing 31st or better. Jeff Gordon earns a Chase bid placing 17th or better.

“Throughout my career, every time I went into a race and someone said that I have to finish 17th or better, we usually hovered around 18th all night,’’ Gordon said. “So we are trying to do everything we can to think of to be top five or top 10.’’

Who makes the Chase is among the key storylines for tonight’s race but not the only ones.

Rain could play a factor in who makes the Chase. A morning rain washed the rubber off the track from Friday, changing track conditions at least early in the race.

A bigger question is with scattered thunderstorms in the forecast throughout the evening, could rain shorten the race? If so, could a driver needing to win to make the Chase make the right gamble and earn the chance to compete for the title. Kyle Larson tried it at Michigan and fell six laps short. Could his timing be right tonight? Or could it be right for Kasey Kahne or Tony Stewart or Danica Patrick, among others? If so, it would knock a driver out of the Chase.

“You can’t worry about that kind of stuff,’’ Clint Bowyer said. “At the end of the day, we’ve got a good enough point pad that if we go out and do what we’re capable of doing, we’re plenty good. If somebody was to win and something happened, it just wasn’t meant to be.’’

Could a first-time winner emerge from the front of the starting lineup? The last time a driver won their first race of the season in the fall Richmond race was 2004 when Jeremy Mayfield won to earn a spot in the inaugural Chase.

David Ragan, who is winless this season, starts fifth. Tony Stewart is the only other driver without a win this season in the top 10. He starts 10th.

Before Ragan focuses on a victory and earning a spot in the Chase for Michael Waltrip Racing, he’s worried about other things.

“We’ll worry about winning the race when it’s 25, 30 laps to go, but we’ve got to race to that first pit stop, we’ve got to race to halfway, use good adjustments because the racetrack is going to cool off,’’ Ragan said. “It’s a lot of pressure to put on myself, these crew members, (crew chief) Brian Pattie and our engineers, this win, win, win. We’ve got to get there and then we can worry about winning that last restart.’’

A new tire also could impact things for drivers. Goodyear brought a new right-side tire. Previously, teams used a multi-zone tread on the right side but have a single-compound tire this weekend. The new tire should increase grip.

Another thing drivers have noticed is how much the tire wears. Some say tires could be key and that teams will change tires at every caution. The only thing is if there are many cautions, teams could have to conserve tires. They’ll be allowed 11 sets for the race.

So have you heard this one before? Much of the summer it has been Joe Gibbs Racing vs. Team Penske. They’ve combined to win the last eight races and own the front two rows for tonight’s race. Will their streak of dominance continue?

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)


Xfinity Series playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Chase Briscoe opened the Xfinity Series playoffs by earning his second consecutive win.

His victory Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway gives him 57 playoff points and an automatic spot in the Round of 8.

Harrison Burton holds the final transfer spot. He has a two-point advantage over Ross Chastain.

Behind Chastain below the cutline are Michael Annett (-10 points), Riley Herbst (-14) and Brandon Brown (-20).

Below is the full Xfinity Series playoff standings going into Saturday’s race at Talladega (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance. Drivers in yellow are in the remaining playoff spots.

Xfinity Series playoff standings