Five things to watch for in today’s Bank of America 500

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CONCORD, N.C. – The question posed to Dale Earnhardt Jr. this week was if the Chase for the Sprint Cup is fun or stressful.

“It is stressful, and it’s not enjoyable, but as a fan I would love the hell out of it,’’ he said. “I’d love to watch somebody else go through this (stuff) besides me. So I get it.

“I don’t think that they should get rid of the Chase or anything like that because I think as a fan, once I’m done driving, it’s going to be really fun to watch somebody else squirm through this process. But it’s pretty nail‑biting, man. It’s pretty tough.’’

Last year’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway featured a scrap between Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski. Kenseth put Keselowski in a headlock between haulers in the Sprint Cup garage after the race. Kenseth was upset with Keselowski for hitting his car on the cool-down lap.

“I think we just all got kind of carried away last year with the emotions,’’ said Earnhardt, who starts 12th today. “Not that it won’t get intense and emotional this year, but last year was just something else. You know, we’ll see how it goes. It might get pretty crazy. You just never know.’’

today’s race marks the first event in the second round. The 12-driver Chase field will be trimmed to eight drivers after the Talladega race in two weeks. Every Chase driver enters today’s race (on NBCSN) with the same amount of points.

Carl Edwards, who won the Coca-Cola 600 in May to earn a Chase spot, said he’s fine with this stressful format.

“For me, I guess throughout my career, I like it when you show up at the race track and you have to perform,’’ said Edwards, who starts eighth. “Sometimes before you get there thinking about it, that’s not very much fun, but once you actually get there, you strap in and it’s time to qualify or it’s time to race, that’s a really fun time.’’

The stress or fun that drivers and teams experience is just among the storylines for today’s race.

New role for “Six Time” – spoiler. Although Jimmie Johnson was eliminated from title contention last weekend at Dover, he could have a major impact on the Chase. He has seven wins at Charlotte Motor Speedway, including last year’s Coca-Cola 600. Any win by Johnson — or any other non-Chase driver — eliminates an opportunity for a Chase driver to automatically transfer to the third round. Also keep in mind that Johnson won at Kansas Speedway earlier this season and that’s next on the schedule.

Possible birthday present for Dale Earnhardt Jr.? He turns 41 today and this round looks to be his best. He finished third at Charlotte in May and at Kansas in May and won at Talladega in the spring. Those are the three tracks in this second round. Can he back up his Charlotte finish from earlier this year or score his first career Sprint Cup victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway?

Can Kevin Harvick do it again? He’s been dominant the past two weeks — leading more than 80 percent of the laps run at New Hampshire and Dover — but those weren’t 1.5-mile tracks. One of his three victories this season came on a 1.5-mile track this season (Las Vegas) and he finished runner-up at three such tracks (Atlanta, Texas, Kansas). Does his hot streak continue?

Line drawn. Charlotte Motor Speedway had lines painted on the track this week to note where the restart zone begins and ends. A number of drivers liked the idea. Some said it should be done for the remaining races this season. Today could show how helpful it is to NASCAR in determining if a driver jumps a restart.

 

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

Cup playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Kurt Busch flipped the script on the Cup playoff standings with his win Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings, but is the first driver to clinch a spot in the Round of 8.

Replacing Busch in the bottom spot of the playoff standings is Austin Dillon. He is 32 points behind Alex Bowman, who holds the final cutoff spot.

Behind Bowman is Kyle Busch (-9 points), Clint Bowyer (-20), Aric Almirola (-27) and Dillon.

“Obviously, the 1 car (Kurt Busch) was not a car that we needed to win a race,” Clint Bowyer said after Sunday’s race. “It’s been a hell of a battle back there with cars that are kind of in the same wheelhouse as far as points-wise. (Kurt Busch) winning changes that landscape quite a bit, but we’re only 20 points out.”

Here is the full playoff standings entering Sunday’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance to the Round of 8. Drivers in yellow hold the remaining available playoff spots.

Cup playoff standings