Analyzing Sprint Cup’s 11th to 20th ranked drivers after first 5 races of 2016 season

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While NASCAR enjoys its first off-weekend of the season, we here at NASCAR Talk thought it would be a good time to analyze how the top 30 drivers have fared in the first five races.

Friday, we gave you the top 10 drivers.

Today, we’ll feature drivers ranked from 11th through 20th: Martin Truex Jr., Jamie McMurray, Aric Almirola, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Matt Kenseth, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Kasey Kahne, A.J. Allmendinger and Ryan Newman

We’ll wrap things up with drivers ranked 21st through 30th on Sunday.

Here’s how those ranked 11th through 20th have fared thus far in 2016:

 

Auto Club Speedway - Auto Club 400 practice

Martin Truex Jr.

Points position: 11th (-68 points behind series leader Kevin Harvick)

Best finish: 2nd (Daytona)

Worst finish: 32nd (Auto Club)

Laps led: 57 

Nate Ryan’s analysis: The transition to Toyota has been bumpy but not in ways that would have been expected. Roof flap violations at Atlanta and Daytona were distractions, as was crew chief Cole Pearn’s Twitter. Time to settle it down, kids.

Dustin Long’s analysis: Has four finishes in the top 15 and was running in the top five before incident with Joey Logano at Fontana is an impressive start considering the work in the offseason to switch from Chevrolet to Toyota. Also has done it without his crew chief for one race. Expect even better results as the season progresses.

 

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 - Practice

Jamie McMurray

Points position: 12th (-70 points)

Best finish: 10th (Auto Club)

Worst finish: 21st (Atlanta)

Laps led: 0 

Nate Ryan’s analysis: Candid to a fault, McMurray plaintively has noted the team’s lack of speed this season. Fontana (starting and finishing 10th) might be a step in the right direction toward regaining the Chase for the Sprint Cup form of 2015.

Dustin Long’s analysis: Chip Ganassi Racing has been among the most disappointing teams so far this season. Lack of speed on the big tracks is evident but there’s time turn it around.

 

Daytona 500 - Practice

Aric Almirola

Points position: 13th (-75 points)

Best finish: 12th (Daytona)

Worst finish: 24th (Las Vegas)

Laps led: 0 

Nate Ryan’s analysis: Seems to be maximizing what he has with no finish worse than 24th or better than 12th so far in five starts. That’s good enough for now, but Richard Petty Motorsports needs to give Almirola better cars for a realistic shot at winning.

Dustin Long’s analysis: Key for this team is to maximize its performance. Pit road penalties have not helped. Fix those issues and this team can get back into the Chase.

 

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Points position: 14th (-76 points)

Best finish: 5th (Auto Club)

Worst finish: 37th (Phoenix)

Laps led: 0 

Nate Ryan’s analysis: That he has nearly as many top 10s (two) in five races as in all of 2015 (three) reveals how much better the No. 17 Ford is and how far Roush Fenway Racing has to go. At least the two-time Xfinity champion still has his edge.

Dustin Long’s analysis: Fontana was a step in the right direction and this team has shown progress this season.

 

Matt Kenseth

Matt Kenseth

Points position: 15th (-82 points)

Best finish: 7th (Phoenix)

Worst finish: 37th (Las Vegas)

Laps led: 99

Nate Ryan’s analysis: The most underperforming car in Sprint Cup, a confluence of mistakes by driver and team have negated several strong showings by Kenseth, who has only one top 10. A win would help, but the team just needs consistency first.

Dustin Long’s analysis: Should have at least one, if not two win  but results have not matched performance because of various miscues. Entire team needs to just have solid races and results will come.

 

Auto Club Speedway - Auto Club 400 practice

Chase Elliott

Points position: 16th (-85 points)

Best finish: 6th (Auto Club)

Worst finish: 38th (Las Vegas)

Laps led: 4

Nate Ryan’s analysis: If not for mistakes at Daytona and Las Vegas, this would be one of the most impressive rookie debuts in recent memory. Replacing a four-time champion is a virtually untenable situation, but Elliott has shown no signs of strain.

Dustin Long’s analysis: For all that he’s accomplished along the way, he continues to impress. Yes, there will be peaks and valleys but who would have predicted three top-10 finishes in the first five races this season?

 

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Good Sam 500 - Practice

Ryan Blaney

Points position: 17th (-85 points)

Best finish: 6th (Las Vegas)

Worst finish: 35th (Auto Club)

Laps led: 0

Nate Ryan’s analysis: He is justifying Wood Brother Racing’s return to full-time competition. A late tire problem at Fontana prevented Blaney from notching three consecutive top 10s. the playoffs are a realistic possibility for the 22-year-old.

Dustin Long’s analysis: Been fun to watch on the track this season but even more so on social media. He’s helping take the Wood Brothers back to a level of prominence they haven’t been at in years.

 

Auto Club Speedway - Auto Club 400 practice

Kasey Kahne

Points position: 18th (-86 points)

Best finish: 10th (Las Vegas

Worst finish: 28th (Auto Club)

Laps led: 0 

Nate Ryan’s analysis: This is a make-or-break year for Kahne at Hendrick Motorsports, and there already has been too much of the latter. The Fontana error that enraged Danica Patrick was inexplicably amateurish for a driver as accomplished as Kahne.

Dustin Long’s analysis: Pressure mounting on this team and driver to perform when his teammates are doing so at Hendrick Motorsports. If things don’t improve, how soon before changes take place?

 

Daytona 500 - Practice

A.J. Allmendinger

Points position: 19th (-108 points)

Best finish: 8th (Auto Club)

Worst finish: 27th (Atlanta)

Laps led: 0 

Nate Ryan’s analysis: As he can with a good car, Allmendinger has punched above his weight so far. It’s all about holding serve for this team until Sonoma and Watkins Glen, but pace of current results could earn a playoff berth by points.

Dustin Long’s analysis: He was the top car in the Richard Childress Racing alliance at Fontana and second best among the group at Phoenix. Still has work to do, though.

 

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 - Qualifying

Ryan Newman

Points position: 20th (-100 points)

Best finish: 11th (Daytona)

Worst finish: 39th (Phoenix)

Laps led: 1

Nate Ryan’s analysis: There’ll be no points pathway into the playoffs for the third consecutive season if Newman continues to perform at this rate. He might need a win to contend for a championship – and to keep a firm hold on his ride at RCR.

Dustin Long’s analysis: Has one top-10 finish in his last 13 starts, dating back to last fall at Dover. No longer the fastest car at RCR.

 

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NASCAR weekend schedule for Talladega Superspeedway

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The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs roll into Talladega Superspeedway, a center of uncertainty, for the second race in the Round of 12 this weekend.

Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET, NBC) could place the first driver in the Round of 8. Any playoff driver who wins the race automatically advances to the next round.

Through the playoffs to date, playoff drivers are batting zero in the race-win category. Non-playoff drivers — Tyler Reddick, Chris Buescher, Bubba Wallace and Erik Jones — have scored wins in the first four playoff races.

Joey Logano leads the playoff points entering the race. Ross Chastain, who won at Talladega earlier this year, is second.

The four drivers below the cutline are Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman. Byron was above the line earlier this week but was penalized 25 points for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. That move lifted Chase Briscoe above the cutline.

Playoff races also are scheduled for the Xfinity Series (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, USA Network) and the Camping World Truck Series (Saturday, 12:30 p.m., FS1) at Talladega.

Here’s a look at the Talladega weekend schedule:

Talladega Superspeedway (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)

Weekend weather

Friday: Sunny. High of 78.

Saturday: Partly cloudy. High of 74.

Sunday: Intervals of clouds and sun. High of 75.

Friday, Sept. 30

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 10:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series
  • 2 – 7 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck Series qualifying
  • 5:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity Series qualifying (USA Network)

Saturday, Oct. 1

Garage open

  • 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 9:30 a.m. — Truck Series
  • 1 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 10:30 a.m. – Noon — Cup Series qualifying (NBC Sports app, Motor Racing Network, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio)
  • 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series race (94 laps, 250 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 4 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (113 laps, 300 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 2

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 2 p.m. — Cup Series race (188 laps, 500 miles; NBC, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Short-track ace Sam Ard shares Xfinity record with Noah Gragson

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Former two-time Xfinity Series champion Sam Ard’s name returned to the forefront in the past week as Noah Gragson tied Ard’s series record for consecutive victories at four.

Although Ard has been nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, his exploits generally aren’t well-known among many who follow the modern sport of stock car racing. He was on the Hall voting list for the 2023 class but was not elected.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Ard was a short-track master in the vein of stars like Jack Ingram, Harry Gant and Butch Lindley, drivers who could show up at virtually any half-mile track across the country and take home the trophy.

He won the NASCAR Late Model (now the Xfinity Series) championship in 1983 and 1984, scoring 18 wins across those two seasons. He put together four victories in a row late in the 1983 season, winning at South Boston, Virginia; Martinsville, Virginia; Rougemont, North Carolina and Charlotte.

Ard was so dominant in 1984 that he had wrapped up the seasonal championship with two races remaining. In 28 series starts that year, he had 24 top-five finishes and 26 top-10 runs. He won eight times.

In the next-to-last race of the 1984 season, at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, Ard suffered critical head injuries when his car slid in fluid from another vehicle and hit the track’s outside wall.

That crash effectively ended Ard’s career and impacted the rest of his life. Ard often talked of learning to walk again as part of his recovery. He said he would use a walker in a pile of sawdust in his backyard so that the landing would be softer when he fell.

Ard eventually was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. In 2006, responding to Ard’s financial problems, drivers Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr., among others, launched a drive to raise funds for his family.

Ard, a native of Scranton, S.C., died in April 2017. He was 78.

 

 

 

 

 

Drivers to watch in Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway

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The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs will reach a critical point Sunday in a 500-mile chase at treacherous Talladega Superspeedway.

The overriding factor in any race at Talladega, NASCAR’s biggest track, is the unknown. With cars running so fast and so close together, multi-car accidents are not only possible but expected, and it’s easy to become the innocent victim of someone else’s mistake.

MORE: NASCAR penalizes William Byron for spinning Denny Hamlin

The tension is doubled for the 12 playoff drivers. A bad finish at Talladega could open the door for a probable playoff exit at the end of the round Oct. 9 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

The playoffs to date have seen four wins by non-playoff drivers, an unprecedented result. Tyler Reddick was the most recent to join that list with a win last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

A look at drivers to watch at Talladega:

FRONTRUNNERS

Denny Hamlin

  • Points position: 6th
  • Last three races: 10th at Texas, 9th at Bristol, 2nd at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 2 career wins

Although he hasn’t won, Hamlin has finished in the top 10 in all four playoff races. In the past six races at Talladega, he has four finishes of seventh or better. Now if he can just keep people from running into him…

William Byron

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Last three races: 7th at Texas, 3rd at Bristol, 6th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: Best career finish is a second

Byron stands alone as the only playoff driver who has been able to avoid major crashes and trouble in the pits, and he has finished in the top 10 in all four playoff races. After Tuesday’s penalty for his incident with Denny Hamlin at Texas, he sits below the cutline entering Sunday’s race.

Brad Keselowski

  • Points position: 24th
  • Last three races: 8th at Texas, 13th at Bristol, 25th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 6 wins, the active leader

Even in trying times, Keselowski is a threat at Talladega, where he last won in April 2021 (his last Cup victory). He has led 268 laps there in the past 13 races.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 15th
  • Last three races: 36th at Texas, 34th at Bristol, 26th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 1 career win, in 2008

Is Busch going to steadily disappear into the mist as he rides out the final weeks of his final year with Joe Gibbs Racing? His best finish in the past four races is 26th. On the positive side this week, he’s the only driver to finish in the top 10 in this year’s three races at Daytona and Talladega.

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 8th
  • Last three races: 32nd at Texas, 2nd at Bristol, 11th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 1 career win, in 2019

Can Elliott rebound from a fiery finish and a 32nd-place run at Texas? Playoff points give him some comfort, but a second career win at Talladega would be greatly appreciated in the Hendrick camp.

Martin Truex Jr.

  • Points position: 17th
  • Last three races: 31st at Texas, 36th at Bristol, 5th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: Best career finish is 5th

Will one of the sport’s most enduring mysteries continue at Talladega? In 70 career starts at Daytona and Talladega, Truex, a former champion and a smooth driver, has zero wins. At Talladega, he has only three top-five finishes in 35 starts.

 

 

 

NBC will broadcast final six NASCAR Cup Series playoff races

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The final six races in the chase for the NASCAR Cup Series championship will be televised by NBC.

The races remaining on the schedule are at Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 2), the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Oct. 9), Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Oct. 16), Homestead-Miami Speedway (Oct. 23), Martinsville Speedway (Oct. 30) and Phoenix Raceway (Nov. 6).

NBC’s broadcasting team will be on hand Sunday for what is typically a seasonal highlight — a 500-mile race at Talladega Superspeedway. The next week the playoffs move on to Charlotte for a cutoff race. The lowest four drivers in the playoff point standings will be eliminated from championship competition.

The Round of 8 is scheduled at Las Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville, with the tiny Martinsville track serving as the final cutoff race. The four drivers who advance from Martinsville will race for the title at Phoenix Nov. 6.

The high drama of the Phoenix race, in which the championship will go to the highest finisher of the four competing drivers, will be carried by both NBC and Peacock.

Post-race commentary and analysis for all six remaining Cup races will be carried on Peacock.

Kyle Larson is the series defending champion. Joey Logano carries the point lead into Sunday’s race at Talladega.