Ryan: At best for Team Penske, there can be only one (and that stings)


FORT WORTH, Texas – The mood was grim in pit stall No. 30, where the runner-up was parked late Sunday afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway.

Glum looks and furrowed brows were plastered on the Team Penske crew members gathered around the No. 2 Ford, keeping a respectful distance as their driver spent several minutes apparently trying to diagnose what inexplicably went awry in the final 18 green-flag laps that kept his car from victory lane.

Brad Keselowski studied the curvature of the fenders. He eyeballed the quarter-panels for oddities. He debriefed with crew chief Paul Wolfe.

Finally, Keselowski knelt on the pavement and crawled underneath the car in a last attempt at unearthing any clues as to how the AAA Texas 500 slipped from his grasp after the most dominant performance in the 1.5-mile oval’s 18-year history, somehow snatched away by Jimmie Johnson for the final four laps.

“Yeah, I’m not sure exactly how to feel about it at the moment,” Keselowski said. “(Johnson) had so much speed them last 10 laps. As I sit right now, maybe I’ll change my mind. I don’t know what I would have done differently or could have done differently.”

It was hard to expect him to have many answers after a second consecutive Sprint Cup race left the Penske organization wrestling with questions that could linger well beyond a 2015 season currently hanging in the balance.

If not for unexpectedly unfortunate – and mildly unbelievable — circumstances turning on a dime at Martinsville Speedway and Texas, Keselowski and teammate Joey Logano easily could have been locked into racing for the championship in the Nov. 22 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Instead, there is a strong likelihood neither will advance, and it’s virtually implausible that both can.

Logano, who leads the circuit with six victories, can reach Miami as a championship contender only via a victory at Phoenix International Raceway. Keselowski could advance via the standings, but he still is 19 points behind the provisional cutoff line (occupied by Martin Truex Jr.).

If Logano were to win Phoenix and Keselowski finish second, it still would take major stumbles by some combination of Truex, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch or Carl Edwards to clear a path for a Penske car to join Jeff Gordon in the title round.

And given Harvick’s recent Phoenix track record – four straight wins and five in six races – and it’s likely everyone already is playing for second but the No. 4 Chevrolet anyway.

“Certainly we’d like to get both cars in at Phoenix,” Keselowski said. “I don’t think that’s impossible, but it doesn’t look favorable. We’ll go there and do our best to make it happen.”

But he already had done that to a dizzying degree at Texas.

For a record 312 of 334 laps, Keselowski paced the field after starting from the pole position. Considering it was his fifth second-place finish since his lone win at Auto Club Speedway in March, he showed remarkable composure in the aftermath. On the way to the media center for a lengthy postrace news conference, he signed an autograph for a fan and politely requested a ballcap from a PR handler.

It figures to get much tougher to withstand the pressure next week at Phoenix, particularly given that any success by Keselowski or Logano assuredly will come at a teammate’s expense.

Johnson is familiar with how it can wear on a team from his many championship battles with Hendrick Motorsports stablemate Jeff Gordon.

“Racing teammates is tough,” Johnson said. “There’s nothing easy about it. The way those two cars have become so successful and fast is the way they’ve worked together. I’m sure (team owner) Roger (Penske) is going to continue to preach that. The only way one of them will have a shot at Phoenix to advance is if they continue to work together.

“A good problem to have would be both cars running up front 1‑2. But it’s not easy. If you really are duking it out for the win, you’re supposed to leave your teammate an extra inch or two. Championship’s on the line, your career is on the line. It will be interesting to see how that goes, how everybody handles the pressure.”

Team Penske handled it well with a stiff upper lip Sunday, particularly Keselowski after what certainly ranked among the most demoralizing defeats of his career. The transcript to his postrace news conference read like the cross-examination of a hostile witness, but it belied a pleasant and unshakably constructive demeanor.

“We know we need to win the next two to win the championship,” Keselowski said. “The good news is we have that opportunity. That’s the way I look at it.”

Ditto for Logano, who was 45 laps from a win at Martinsville last week before being intentionally wrecked by Matt Kenseth. His No. 22 team gracefully put aside those distractions during the week (Logano, 25, eloquently answered a barrage of questions about driver code Friday) and seemed poised for a run at victory lane after qualifying fourth.

But a blown left-rear tire 10 laps into Sunday’s race ruined Logano’s day before it hardly began and left him having to find positives in pit stops that were swift despite finishing 66 laps down in 40th.

“Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches,” he said. “This team is strong. We didn’t take any wind out of our sails today, and we showed how fast this thing was even after we crashed. I am very proud of our team.”

“I feel great about our chances at Phoenix. We’re not out of this thing still.”

Next week, though, either he or his teammate – and quite likely both – will be out.

And for a third consecutive week, Team Penske will be mired in another agonizing hunt of trying to diagnose how it’s all gone wrong.

Rodney Childers fined $100,000, suspended for four races


NASCAR has suspended Rodney Childers, Kevin Harvick‘s crew chief, for four races and fined him $100,000 for what the sanctioning body called modification of a part supplied by a vendor.

Harvick, who is out of the Cup Series playoffs, and the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 team were docked 100 points.

Harvick’s car and that of Martin Truex Jr. were taken to NASCAR’s Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C. after last Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway. There were no penalties assessed to the Truex team.

Harvick has been particularly critical of the Next Gen car in recent months, once referring to the “crappy-ass parts” provided by suppliers.

Harvick’s car erupted in flames during the Southern 500 Sept. 4 at Darlington Raceway. After he climbed from the smoking car, Harvick blamed the fire on “just crappy parts on the race car like we’ve seen so many times. They haven’t fixed anything. It’s kind of like the safety stuff. We just let it keep going and keep going.

“The car started burning and as it burned the flames started coming through the dash. I ran a couple laps and then as the flame got bigger it started burning stuff up and I think right there you see all the brake fluid that was probably coming out the brakes and part of the brake line, but the fire was coming through the dash.

“What a disaster for no reason. We didn’t touch the wall. We didn’t touch a car, and here we are in the pits with a burned-up car, and we can’t finish the race during the playoffs because of crappy-ass parts.”

MORE: AJ Allmendinger to return to Cup Series in 2023

Unless the team appeals, Childers would miss races at Charlotte, Las Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville and would return for the season finale at Phoenix.

NASCAR president Steve Phelps told the Associated Press that officials have not targeted Harvick. “I would say that’s ridiculous,” he said. “No one has a vendetta against Kevin Harvick or Rodney or anyone at Stewart-Haas Racing.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Harvick tweeted, “Seems strange…” A Childers tweet called the penalty “Shocker…..”.

NASCAR also announced Wednesday it has suspended Young’s Motorsports crew chief Andrew Abbott indefinitely for a behavioral violation during pre-race inspection. He must undergo anger-management training to be reinstated. The team races in the Camping World Truck Series.

Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup Series race at Charlotte Roval


The lineup for the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs Round of 8 will be decided in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

Entering the race, the final event in the Round of 12, Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman are below the cutline. Bowman will miss the race — and thus the cutoff — as he continues to battle concussion-like symptoms. Noah Gragson is scheduled to drive the No. 48 Chevrolet Sunday.

Cindric is tied with Chase Briscoe for the eighth playoff spot, but Briscoe would claim it on the tiebreaker. Byron is 11 points back, and Bell is 33. Hendrick Motorsports has appealed the penalty to Byron that dropped him below the cutline. That appeal is scheduled to be heard Thursday.

MORE: Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

Any playoff driver who wins Sunday’s race and isn’t already qualified — Chase Elliott qualified for the Round of 8 by winning last week at Talladega Superspeedway — automatically advances to the Round of 8.

Drivers to watch Sunday at the Roval (2 p.m., ET, NBC), the final road-course race of the season:


Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 1st
  • Last three races: Won at Talladega, 32nd at Texas, 2nd at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Won in 2019 and 2020

Elliott is the clear favorite to win a second championship. He won Sunday at Talladega to advance to the Round of 8 and can relax Sunday at Charlotte having punched his ticket. Relaxing isn’t likely, however, as Elliott will be among the favorites to win.

Ryan Blaney

  • Points position: 2nd
  • Last three races: 2nd at Talladega, 4th at Texas, 30th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Won in 2018.

Blaney continues along a path that could result in him winning the Cup championship without winning a race. He came within an eyelash of winning Sunday at Talladega but fell victim to Chase Elliott’s last-lap charge. He should be a threat Sunday at the Roval, where he has four straight top 10s.

Kyle Larson

  • Points position: 6th
  • Last three races: 18th at Talladega, 9th at Texas, 5th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Won in 2021

Larson’s last win — and his last top-four finish — came at Watkins Glen seven races ago. He is 18 points over the cutline entering Sunday’s race.


Austin Cindric

  • Points position: 9th
  • Last three races: 9th at Talladega, 15th at Texas, 20th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Sunday will mark his first Cup race. Has three top threes in four Xfinity starts.

Cindric hasn’t won since the season-opening Daytona 500 and is one of five drivers still in the playoffs who own only one victory this year. His ninth-place run at Talladega ended a streak of four straight finishes of 12th or worse.

MORE: NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

Daniel Suarez

  • Points position: 7th
  • Last three races: 8th at Talladega, 12th at Texas, 19th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Best finish in four starts is 13th

Suarez is 12 points above the cutline entering Sunday’s race. He has never led a lap at the Roval and has never finished in the top 10.

Chase Briscoe

  • Points position: 8th
  • Last three races: 10th at Talladega, 5th at Texas, 14th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Finished 22nd last year in his only Cup start

Briscoe is teetering on top of the cutline in search of a spot in the Round of 8. He hasn’t won since the fourth race of the year at Phoenix and had a poor performance at the Roval last year.



AJ Allmendinger to return to NASCAR Cup Series in 2023


AJ Allmendinger is getting another shot at success in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Kaulig Racing announced Wednesday that Allmendinger, currently chasing the Xfinity Series championship, will drive full-time in Kaulig entries in the Cup Series next season.

Allmendinger raced in Cup from 2007 to 2018 but won only one time — at Watkins Glen International — across those years. He moved to the Xfinity Series part-time with Kaulig in 2019, winning on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. He won twice in 2020 and five times in 2021 and is a favorite to win the Xfinity championship this year. He has won four Xfinity races this season, including last Sunday at Talladega.

MORE: Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

Allmendinger, 40, will drive Kaulig’s No. 16 car in Cup next year. Justin Haley will drive the team’s No. 31.

Chandler Smith will replace Allmendinger in the Xfinity Series next year.

“It’s crazy how the last five years of my life have gone,” Allmendinger said. “More than anything, I love this organization. I know the fans get tired of me talking about all the men and women of Kaulig Racing. This is not a race team. This is a huge family.

“There will be tough times and growing pains, for sure. But I love what they’re about, and they believe in me. I’ll be OK whether it’s good or bad.”

MORE: Chase Elliott atop NASCAR Power Rankings

Team owner Matt Kaulig said Allmendinger is “one of the best in the world at every type of track. He’s done so much for Kaulig Racing and our program. He’s a gigantic part of what we’re building.”

Team officials said Allmendinger has a multi-year contract.






NASCAR viewer’s guide for Charlotte Roval


Sunday provides a final chance for drivers to advance to the Round of 8 and keep their Cup championship hopes alive.

Talladega winner Chase Elliott is the only driver who has advanced to the next round. That leaves seven spots available going into Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe holds the final transfer spot by a tiebreaker over Austin Cindric. At least for now.

William Byron is 11 points behind both drivers, but Hendrick Motorsports will appeal Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas on Thursday. Should Hendrick win and Byron get those points back, he would move into a transfer spot.

There’s just part of what to watch for in Sunday’s race.

Favorites to be No. 20

This season remains tied for the most different winners in series history at 19, but there are a few candidates who could become the 20th different winner this year on Sunday.

Among the favorites to do so:

Ryan Blaney, who came close to winning last week at Talladega, won the inaugural Cup race at the Roval in 2018.

Martin Truex Jr., who has four career Cup wins on road courses, still seeks his first victory of the season.

Michael McDowell, who is coming off a third-place finish at Talladega, has had a career-high 12 top-10 finishes this season, including top 10s in each of the last four road course events this year.

Will history repeat?

Last year, the four drivers eliminated after the Roval were Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman, Christopher Bell and William Byron.

Harvick was eliminated in the first round this year, but Byron (-11 to the cutline) and Bell (-33) are in jeopardy of being eliminated in this round again. Bowman stated Tuesday that he will miss his second consecutive race because of continued concussion symptoms. He will be among the four eliminated from title contention.

Bowman missed last weekend’s race because of concussion-like symptoms suffered at Texas. A decision on if he’ll be able to race at the Roval will come later this week.

Will chaos continue?

Consider what some of the former Roval winners have endured on their way to the checkered flag:

In 2019, Chase Elliott drove into the Turn 1 wall on a restart while the leader. He recovered to win.

In 2020, Elliott overcame a loose wheel to win for the second year in a row.

In 2021, Kyle Larson won after his team changed batteries and put the alternator belt back on.

Could a similar fate be in store for this year’s winner? Or will they have a cleaner day?

Entry lists

Thirty-nine drivers are entered including IndyCar driver Conor Daly, former Formula 1 driver Daniil Kvyat, former 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller and former 24 Hours of Daytona winner Joey Hand. JJ Yeley will drive the No. 51 for Cody Ware, who stated that he would skip this event because of his ankle injury at Texas the footwork needed on a road course.

Charlotte Roval Cup entry list

The Xfinity entry list includes 41 drivers for 38 spots. Among those joining the series regulars are IndyCar driver Marco Andretti and former F1 driver Daniil Kvyat.

Charlotte Roval Xfinity entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Saturday, Oct. 8

Forecast: Partly cloudy with a high of 66 degrees. No chance of rain during the Xfinity race.

  • 10 – 10:30 a.m. — Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)
  • 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying (NBC Sports App)
  • 12 – 1 p.m. — Cup practice (NBC Sports App, USA Network coverage begins at 12:30 p.m.)
  • 1 – 2 p.m. — Cup qualifying (USA Network, NBC Sports App)
  • 3 p.m. — Xfinity race (67 laps, 155.44 miles; NBC, Peacock, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 9

Forecast: Sunny with a high of 64 degrees. No chance of rain during the race.

  • 2 p.m. — Cup race (109 laps, 252.88 miles; NBC, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)