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Kyle Busch not leaving anything to chance heading into Phoenix

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Kyle Busch is one race away from doing something he’s never done before in his career – heading into the final race at Miami with a chance to earn his first career Sprint Cup championship.

Busch is in good shape coming into Phoenix International Raceway. He’s second of the eight remaining Chase drivers, two points behind series leader Jeff Gordon, whose win at Martinsville gave him an automatic berth into the championship-deciding race in Miami.

But Busch also knows that position is far from secure. Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin was second in the points going into the final race of Round 2 at Talladega only to be eliminated from title contention.

That’s why Busch is taking a positive yet guarded approach to Sunday’s race at Phoenix. He’ll advance to the championship round by finishing third or better if he does not lead any laps. He’ll advance by finishing fourth or better if he leads one lap. He’ll advance by finishing fifth or better if he leads the most laps.

“Being in this position, it’s obviously good, but I’ve been in a really good position before and had stuff happen and been knocked out,” Busch said in a team release. “We don’t need to have any of that. We just need to go out in Phoenix and have a good, solid day.

“That place hasn’t been the best for our company over the last few years, but I’m looking forward to getting out there and hope we’ve got a really good piece in order to carry myself and everybody on this JGR team to Chase contention going to Homestead.”

While a win at Phoenix would automatically put him in the final round at Miami, Busch also is cognizant of what he needs to do Sunday.

“If we’re running fifth to 10th, that’s what we need to do,” Busch said. “If we’re running 15th, there’s a guy behind us who, if he passes us, he’s going to knock himself in and us out, so you’re going to have a heck of a lot harder race on your hands.

“We just don’t need to run like that. We need to go out there and perform, do what we’ve done this round, and that’s to finish top five. If we can top five it this week, that’s going to help our situation and roll us right on to Homestead.”

But that doesn’t mean Busch doesn’t think he’s capable of more at Phoenix. In 20 career starts at the 1-mile flat track, he has one win, three top-fives, 12 top-10s and two poles.

Joe Gibbs Racing began this year’s Chase with all four of its drivers in the field. Two remain: Busch and Carl Edwards. Hamlin and Matt Kenseth were eliminated after Talladega in Round 2.

That Busch has made it this far and has a bonafide chance of racing for the championship – despite missing the first 11 races after he was injured in a crash at Daytona in February – surprises him somewhat.

“It’s certainly a dream come true,” he said. “I never would have expected we’d be in this position, let alone when the accident first happened.

“I was thinking to myself, ‘Man, I’m done.’ Literally, the thing that flashed through my mind is, ‘Man, I’m going to have to go lay decals again.’ That’s what I did before I raced.

“I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – the script’s written. I think there are two scripts written, it’s just which one’s going to come true. Jeff Gordon certainly has one. I feel like we have one as well with this 18 car. Hopefully, it’s our Cinderella story that can end the season on this No. 18 team.”

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Results, point standings after Truck race at Las Vegas

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Austin Hill won Friday night’s Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for his second win of 2020.

He beat Sheldon Creed for the victory.

The top five was completed by Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith.

IndyCar driver Conor Daly finished 18th and Travis Pastrana was 21st.

Click here for the race results.

Check back for the point standings.

Austin Hill wins Las Vegas Truck race

Austin Hill
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Austin Hill won Friday night’s Truck Series playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, leading the final 39 laps to score the victory.

Hill took the lead on a restart and held off charges from Sheldon Creed over the final 20 laps.

Creed’s progress was slowed with 11 laps to go when he got loose and scraped the wall in Turn 1. He was never able to get close enough to Hill to make a challenge.

Creed dominated the early portion of the race, leading 89 laps before he struggled to get going on the final restart and briefly fell to seventh.

The win is the second of the year for Hill. He’s the first playoff driver to win in the postseason and it come after he finished 25th at Bristol.

“We didn’t have the best truck tonight by no means,” Hill told FS1. “Pit crew did a hell of job on that last pit stop getting me into the position I needed to. I just had to go out there and get it. … Sheldon was definitely way faster than me. … I was probably looking in my mirror more than I was our front. I knew he was better than we were.”

The top five was completed by Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith.

More: Race results and point standings

STAGE 1 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

STAGE 2 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith all matched their best results of the season … While he was the first driver to finish one lap down, IndyCar driver Conor Daly placed 18th in his first career Truck Series start … Travis Pastrana placed 21st in his second start of the season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Rachael Lessard finished 20th after he had to pit early in the race following contact with the wall … Ben Rhodes finished 23rd after he spun from contact with Stewart Friesen and hit the inside wall on Lap 84 … Jordan Anderson’s engine expired on the ensuing restart. He finished 32nd.

NOTABLE: Natalie Decker, who was not medically cleared to compete Friday night, was treated and released from the infield care center.

WHAT’S NEXT: Race at Talladega Superspeedway, 1 p.m. ET Oct. 3 on FS1

 

Natalie Decker not medically cleared for Las Vegas Truck race

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NASCAR announced right before Friday night’s Truck Series race that Natalie Decker hadn’t been medically cleared to compete.

No details were provided about the issue that prevented Decker from being cleared. During the final stage of the race, NASCAR announced she had been treated and released from the infield medical center.

The Niece Motorsports driver would have started 23rd. Due to her No. 44 truck having cleared inspection and having been placed on the starting grid she was credited with a last-place finish.

Decker has made 11 starts this year. She missed the June 28 race at Pocono after she was hospitalized due to bile duct complications related to her gallbladder removal in December.

Brandon Brown hopes to shed underdog role in Xfinity playoffs

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Brandon Brown knows the odds are against him advancing beyond the first round of the Xfinity playoffs.

“If I went out and we did a survey and we asked 1,000 NASCAR fans to create a playoff bracket, I guarantee that 90 to 99 percent of them have me getting eliminated in the first round,” he told NBC Sports.

But that’s not stopping him.

Brown is in the Xfinity playoffs for the first time, earning the final spot last weekend with his family-run team. He enters Saturday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) last in the 12-driver field. Brown has 2,000 points and is 10 points behind Ross Chastain, who holds the final transfer spot, entering the first round.

MORE: Saturday’s Xfinity race start time, lineup, forecast

Regardless where he is in the standings, Brown still met the team’s preseason goal of making the playoffs.

“It’s hard to put it into words,” the 27-year-old said of making the playoffs. “It’s so exciting and so thrilling. We’re just happy. Life is good. We’re seeing the fruits of our labor.”

Much of the Xfinity playoff focus will be on Chase Briscoe, who enters with a series-high seven wins. Or Austin Cindric, who won the regular-season title. Or Justin Allgaier, who has won three of the last seven races and could be the favorite if he makes it to the championship race at Phoenix Raceway.

Brown, who is in his second full season in the series, has four consecutive top-20 finishes going into this weekend. He knows the challenge he faces.

He said a key for this weekend is to have no mistakes, be running at the end and try to take advantage of any mistakes other playoff drivers have.

Then, he’ll look to Talladega. He’ll have an upgraded Earnhardt Childress Racing engine for that race, the team spending the extra money for the engine upgrade.

“I go into that track with confidence,” he said. “I need to go out there and make it happen, go win and make an name and go ahead and punch my ticket.”

While Brown knows most look at him as the underdog of these playoffs, he hopes to drop that title someday.

“The goal will be to get rid of that underdog title and to build that program that is going to be looked on as a powerhouse of the NASCAR Xfinity Series,” he said. “I enjoy the ride (as underdog), but now I’m ready to advance past it.”

Points entering Xfinity playoffs 

2,050 – Chase Briscoe

2,050 – Austin Cindric

2,033 – Justin Allgaier

2,025 – Noah Gragson

2,020 – Brandon Jones

2,018 – Justin Haley

2,014 – Harrison Burton

2,010 – Ross Chastain

2,002 – Ryan Sieg

2,002 – Michael Annett

2,001 – Riley Herbst

2,000 – Brandon Brown

First Round races

Sept. 26 – Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Oct. 3 – Talladega Superspeedway (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Oct. 10 – Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC)