Who will replace Tony Stewart? Here are some candidates

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As Sprint Cup cars roar to life next weekend at Daytona International Speedway, the most pressing question of Speedweeks suddenly is who will drive Tony Stewart’s car?

The three-time series champion will miss the Daytona 500 with a fractured back, leaving Stewart-Haas Racing scrambling Thursday for the third time in four seasons to find a substitute driver for No. 14 Chevrolet.

Stewart missed 18 races from 2013-14 with Mark Martin, Austin Dillon, Regan Smith and Jeff Burton taking turns as replacements.

Dillon now has a full-time ride at Richard Childress Racing, Martin and Burton are retired, and Smith recently signed a full-time contract with Tommy Baldwin Racing.

So it’s likely there will be a new face behind the wheel at SHR for an indefinite period as Stewart recovers from back surgery Wednesday. SHR said he will make a full recovery but hasn’t determined the timeframe.

Who will be in the car in the interim? Here’s a list of a candidates:

POSSIBLE

Clint Bowyer: This would seem the most logical choice with Bowyer already slated to drive the No. 14 in 2017 after Stewart retires from NASCAR. But it could require much contractual heavy lifting in working out how Bowyer’s No. 15 at HScott Motorsports would be handled.

Bowyer brought 5-hour Energy sponsorship to the car for 24 races, and it also picked up Visine for three races this week. Both sponsors might want to be keep Bowyer in the car or be given assurances that he would return to the car in 2016.

But if SHR is worried about whether Stewart would miss the bulk of the season, it might make sense to bring Bowyer over regardless of whether he could be returned for the balance of 2016 to HScott Motorsports, which always was a one-year stopgap solution to signing Bowyer a year ahead of time.

If Bowyer has to run only a partial season in Stewart’s car, it still might be preferable to a full season at HScott. His odds of performing well or winning would be much better in the SHR car, and it would give him a chance to adapt to crew chief Mike Bugarewicz, who is making his debut with Stewart this year and staying on to work with Bowyer.

A possible way that SHR could sell the concept to HScott: A win in the regular season ties a Chase for the Sprint Cup berth to that driver, regardless of the car. So if Bowyer won in an SHR car and then returned to HScott before the Chase, he conceivably could race in the playoffs under the HScott Motorsports banner – an appealing proposition for a smaller team that could use the exposure.

Another possible compromise: If 5-hour Energy, which has strong ties to Bowyer, wanted to keep its driver for its premier races (such as Daytona), Bowyer could shuttle between the rides at SHR and HScott with both teams using other fill-ins.

Ty Dillon: The full-time Xfinity driver has Sprint Cup aspirations and experience. He also has sponsorship ties at Richard Childress Racing to Bass Pro Shops, which will be on Stewart’s Chevy a few times this season.

When Stewart broke his right leg and missed the final 15 races of 2013, SHR used Dillon’s older brother, Austin, in races at Michigan at Talladega, so the organization already has a working relationship with RCR in such situations.

Justin Allgaier: New JR Motorsports driver is in the Chevy pipeline and has 75 starts in NASCAR’s premier series. Having run the past two full seasons with HScott, he is familiar with recent setups.

Elliott Sadler: Similar credentials to Allgaier but with much more experience in Cup (435 starts). But as full-time Xfinity since 2011, Sadler is five years removed from being a regular on the top circuit.

LESS LIKELY

David Gilliland: Currently has no ride in NASCAR’s premier series but is an accomplished restrictor-plate racer (three top fives, including a second at Talladega in 2013) who was among Stewart’s favorite drafting partners.

Brian Vickers: Hasn’t raced since recurring blood clots sidelined him a month into the 2015 season, but if cleared by NASCAR to return, he might be interested. Has other options, though, with other business interests and his work as an NBC Sports analyst.

Bobby Labonte: Might be a good play for Daytona. The 2000 series champion made four starts at Daytona and Talladega last year and was a solid plate racer in his day.

Sam Hornish Jr.: Without a ride after a disappointing return to Cup with Richard Petty Motorsports in 2015, the three-time Xfinity winner has experience as a fill-in driver for A.J. Allmendinger at Team Penske in 2012.

Alex Bowman: Unceremoniously and unexpectedly dumped by TBR last month, he started in 71 of 72 Sprint Cup races over the past two seasons. Also has Chevy ties through a part-time Xfinity ride at JRM.

WILD CARD

Erik Jones: The most highly rated prospect in NASCAR will race in Cup full time someday, perhaps as early as next season. But he is under a multiyear contract to Joe Gibbs Racing, and it’s unlikely Gibbs or Toyota would approve him driving a Chevy.

UNLIKELY

David Ragan: Another restrictor-plate ace (wins at Daytona and Talladega), and he did an admirable job filling in for Kyle Busch and Vickers and Michael Waltrip Racing last season. But Ragan has committed to a long-term project of helping build BK Racing into a contender.

Regan Smith: Would have to be extricated from a TBR contract that he signed only a few weeks ago. That was an unexpected rescue after an uncertain offseason in which the Xfinity driver seemed destined to be left out in the cold. It would be hard to break that deal.

NO

Martin: See tweet.

Burton: Ditto.

Cup playoff clinching scenarios to make Round of 12

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The first elimination race of the Cup playoffs has arrived in the form of Bristol Motor Speedway.

Tonight’s 500-lap race on the short track will determine which drivers make up the Round of 12.

Three drivers have locked themselves into the second round. Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski earned their spots via race wins at Darlington and Richmond. Denny Hamlin clinched a spot via points.

More: Brad Keselowski on pole for Bristol

That leaves nine spots for 13 drivers to compete for.

If there is a new winner, the following drivers could clinch by being ahead of the 10th winless driver in the standings.

Joey Logano – would clinch with 7 points: 51 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Logano has finished third in the last two playoff races (at Darlington and Richmond). Has made 23 starts at Bristol posting one pole, two wins, six top fives and 10 top 10s. Logano’s average finish is 15.3.

Martin Truex Jr. – would clinch with 20 points: 38 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Earned 22nd-place finish at Darlington and second-place finish at Richmond. Has made 29 series starts at Bristol posting two top fives and three top 10s. His average finish is 20.6.

Austin Dillon – would clinch with 21 points: 36 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Dillion has a runner-up finish at Darlington and a fourth-place result last weekend at Richmond. Has 13 starts at Bristol posting one top five and three top 10s. His average finish is 17.3.

Chase Elliott – Would clinch with 30 points: 28 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Elliott finished 20th at Darlington and fifth at Richmond. Has made nine starts at Bristol and has one pole, three top fives and four top 10s. Average finish is 12.6.

Alex Bowman – would clinch with 31 points: 27 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Bowman placed sixth at Darlington and ninth at Richmond. Has made nine series starts at Bristol with one top five and two top 10s. His average finish is 22.6.

Kyle Busch – would clinch with 40 points: Just 18 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Has seventh-place finish at Darlington and a sixth-place finish at Richmond. Has made 30 Cup starts at Bristol posting two poles and a series-leading eight wins among active drivers.

Aric Almirola – would clinch with 51 points: Seven points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Finished ninth at Darlington and eighth at Richmond. Has made 22 starts at Bristol with one top five and two top 10s. His average finish is 25.0.

Kurt Busch – would clinch with 51 points: Seven points ahead of the cutoff sport. Almirola holds the tiebreaker of best finish in the current playoff round. Busch has finished eighth at Darlington and 13th at Richmond. Has 39 Cup starts at Bristol with one pole, six wins, 12 top fives and 21 top 10s. Average finish is 14th.

Clint Bowyer – would clinch with 55 points: Three points over cutoff. Finished 10th at Darlington and Richmond. Bowyer has made 29 Cup starts at Bristol with eight top fives and 16 top 10s. Average finish is 13.6.

William Byron (-3 points from cutoff; would need help to clinch): Finished fifth at Darlington and 21st at Richmond. Five Cup starts at Bristol with one top 10. Average finish of 17.2.

Cole Custer (-8 points; would need help to clinch): Finished 12th at Darlington and 14th at Richmond. Finished 25th in lone Bristol Cup start.

Matt DiBenedetto (-25 points; would need help to clinch): Finished 21st at Darlington and 17th at Richmond. Eleven Cup starts at Bristol with one top five and one top 10. Average finish of 19.1.

Ryan Blaney
Ryan Blaney is last on the 16 driver playoff grid heading into Bristol. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Ryan Blaney (-27 points; would need help to clinch): Finished 24th at Darlington and 19th at Richmond. Ten Cup starts at Bristol with one top five and three other top 10s. Average finish of 20.7.

More: Blaney and DiBenedetto seek history to advance to second round

Should there be a repeat winner Saturday – Harvick or Keselowski – the following drivers would advance to the next round by being ahead of the 11th winless driver in the standings.

Joey Logano: Would clinch with 4 points

Martin Truex Jr.: Would clinch with 17 points

Austin Dillon: Would clinch with 18 points

Chase Elliott: Would clinch with 27 points

Alex Bowman: Would clinch with 28 points

Kyle Busch: Would clinch with 37 points

Aric Almirola: Would clinch with 48 points

Kurt Busch: Would clinch with 48 points

Clint Bowyer: Would clinch with 52 points

William Byron: Would clinch with 55 points

Cole Custer, Matt DiBenedetto and Ryan Blaney: Could only clinch with help

Xfinity race results, point standings after Bristol

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Chase Briscoe led the final six laps and won Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol for his seventh win of the season.

Briscoe beat Ross Chastain for the win. The top five was completed by Austin Cindric, Harrison Burton and Justin Allgaier.

Click here for the race results.

Playoff standings

The 12-driver field for the playoffs has been set with Briscoe’s win in the regular-season finale.

Brandon Brown placed 12th and clinched the 12th and final spot.

Here are the re-seeded point standings entering the playoffs.

Chase Briscoe – 2,050 points

Austin Cindric – 2,050

Justin Allgaier – 2,033

Noah Gragson – 2,025

Brandon Jones – 2,020

Justin Haley – 2,018

Harrison Burton – 2,014

Ross Chastain – 2,010

Ryan Sieg – 2,002

Michael Annett – 2,002

Riley Herbst – 2,001

Brandon Brown – 2,000

Click here for the re-seeded standings.

Click here for the normal point standings.

Chase Briscoe wins Xfinity race at Bristol Motor Speedway

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Chase Briscoe took the lead with six laps to go and won Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway, which marked the end of the regular season.

Briscoe passed Austin Cindric to assume the lead and went unchallenged to the checkered flag. The victory is his series-leading seventh of the season.

“I was so mad after last week (at Richmond),” Briscoe told NBCSN. “I told all the guys there ain’t no way we’re getting beat today. I was so mad after how we ran last week and I get on the internet all the time and see guys count us out after one bad race and I know what this team is capable. … I finished second here the last two races and I wanted to win here so bad and it’s awesome that I can actually celebrate it with all these race fans.”

The top five was completed by Ross Chastain, Cindric, Harrison Burton and Justin Allgaier.

More: Race results, playoff standings

Allgaier dominated the early portion of the race, leading 126 laps and winning the first two stages. But he lost the lead for good in the pits during the Stage 2 break.

Brandon Brown finished 12th and clinched the 12th and final playoff spot.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

STAGE 2 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ross Chastain led three times for 117 laps, but had to settle for his fifth runner-up finish of the season without a win … Austin Cindric earned his 13th top-10 finish in the last 14 races … Harrison Burton earned his 13th top five of the season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Brett Moffitt finished 27th after he had to pit three times in the opening laps and was penalized for taking fuel before the competition caution … BJ McLeod finished 34th after he was eliminated in a multi-car wreck that began when he made contact with teammate Jeffrey EarnhardtMichael Annett finished 31st and Joe Graf Jr. placed 27th after they were involved in an incident on Lap 120.

QUOTE OF THE RACE: “I hit pit road and I wanted to cry.” – Ross Chastain after he finished second for the fifth time this year. He is winless entering the playoffs.

WHAT’S NEXT: The Xfinity playoffs open at Las Vegas Motor Speedway at 7:30 p.m. ET on Sept. 26 on NBCSN.

 

Fans not allowed at Las Vegas races

Fans not allowed
Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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Spectators will be not be allowed for any of the NASCAR playoff races next weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the track announced Friday night.

A press release said only essential personnel will be allowed to attend the Cup, Xfinity and Truck playoff races there.

“To say we’re disappointed that we will conduct the South Point 400 playoff weekend without fans would be a gross understatement,” said Las Vegas Motor Speedway President Chris Powell. “Our staff has been working – many of them remotely – since the February Pennzoil 400 to prepare the speedway for our playoff tripleheader.

“But we must adhere to Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak’s directive that limits gatherings due to COVID-19.  While we disagree with this policy, we have no choice but to oblige.  We certainly regret this situation for the thousands of race fans who won’t be able to attend our NASCAR-weekend events.”

Nevada’s re-opening plan does not permit fans at sporting events, concerts. Groups are limited to 50 or fewer people.

The Las Vegas Raiders announced last month that they would not have fans at any of the team’s home games in its inaugural season there.

The Truck playoff race will be at 9 p.m. ET Sept. 25 on FS1. The Xfinity playoff opener will be at  7:30 p.m. ET Sept. 26 on NBCSN. The Cup playoff race will be 7 p.m. ET Sept. 27 on NBCSN.

Fans holding tickets for those events will be contacted by the speedway ticket services department to discuss credits for future races or refunds.