Analyzing Sprint Cup’s 21st to 30th 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.

Saturday, we gave you drivers ranked from 11th through 20th.

Today, we wrap things up by featuring drivers ranked from 21st through 30th.

Here’s how those ranked 21st through 30th have fared thus far in 2016:


NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 - Practice

Trevor Bayne

Points position: 21st (-100 points)

Best finish: 17th (Las Vegas)

Worst finish: 28th (Daytona)

Laps led: 0 

Nate Ryan’s analysis: There have been glimpses of improvement in qualifying, but the Roush Fenway Racing driver is being outrun by teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on a weekly basis. Bayne needs to prove he can finish in the top 15 with regularity.

Dustin Long’s analysis: Still has plenty of work to do for this team to become more competitive. Best finish this season of 17th is best result he’s had in his last 13 races.


Las Vegas Motor Speedway -  Kobalt 400 Qualifying

Paul Menard

Points position: 22nd (-104 points)

Best finish: 15th (Las Vegas, Auto Club)

Worst finish: 38th (Phoenix)

Laps led: 0 

Nate Ryan’s analysis: Even though he made the Chase for the first time last year, Menard actually regressed in top fives, top 10s and laps led. The downward slide is continuing in 2016, and it’s brought into sharper contrast by Austin Dillon’s results.

Dustin Long’s analysis: Has shown little more than being slightly better than a mid-pack car at this point.


NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 - Qualifying

Regan Smith

Points position: 23rd (-107 points)

Best finish: 8th (Daytona)

Worst finish: 34th (Atlanta)

Laps led: 1 

Nate Ryan’s analysis: Since an eighth in the Daytona 500, the results have regressed to what would be expected from this caliber of team. But if Smith can maintain, it’ll be considered a decent building block for a driver hastily added in the preseason.

Dustin Long’s analysis: About what was expected from this team. Key for this group is finishes in superspeedway races.


Auto Club Speedway - Auto Club 400 practice

Kyle Larson

Points position: 24th (-108 points)

Best finish: 7th (Daytona)

Worst finish: 39th (Auto Club)

Laps led: 0 

Nate Ryan’s analysis: The sophomore slump has stretched into the third season, which is stunning given how close he was to winning so many times as a rookie. The turnaround might not be entirely within his power, though, with Chip Ganassi Racing lacking speed.

Dustin Long’s analysis: This break comes at the right time for Larson and his team. Gives them a chance to regroup after a disappointing start of the season.


Daytona 500 - Practice

Brian Scott

Points position: 25th (-110 points)

Best finish: 12th (Auto Club)

Worst finish: 31st (Atlanta)

Laps led: 1 

Nate Ryan’s analysis: The No. 44 Ford isn’t setting the world on fire, but it’s marginally better than its previous incarnation with Sam Hornish Jr. behind the wheel. Fontana proved that Scott can deliver a top-15 finish on a tough track.

Dustin Long’s analysis: The second car at Richard Petty Motorsports hasn’t had much success in recent years. Scott looks to turn that around, but it will take time.



Casey Mears

Points position: 26th (-111 points)

Best finish: 14th (Atlanta)

Worst finish: 35th (Phoenix)

Laps led: 0 

Nate Ryan’s analysis: In the first three races, Mears finished within one spot of where he started each time – indicating the team can maintain its spot. But having qualified in the top 20 only once, Mears will need to improve his starting positions.

Dustin Long’s analysis: Not been the best start for this team with two finishes of 30th or worse. Let’s see what this group can do in the upcoming short track events.


NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Good Sam 500 - Qualifying

Greg Biffle

Points position: 27th (-115 points)

Best finish: 13th (Atlanta)

Worst finish: 37th (Auto Club)

Laps led: 0 

Nate Ryan’s analysis: Biffle surprisingly has been the weakest performer in the tiny glimmers of Roush Fenway Racing’s reclamation project. Atlanta was a solid start, but it’s been trending in the wrong direction since then for the 46-year-old.

Dustin Long’s analysis: One of the more disappointing teams. Maybe it is just taking a bit more time with Biffle’s pairing with new crew chief Brian Pattie, but this team has struggled.


NASCAR XFINITY Series Virginia529 College Savings 250 - Qualifying

Landon Cassill

Points position: 28th (-118 points)

Best finish: 16th (Auto Club)

Worst finish: 36th (Atlanta)

Laps led: 0 

Nate Ryan’s analysis: Veterans have spoken glowingly of Cassill’s performance in second-tier cars the past three seasons. The 26-year-old has been steady in his first season with Front Row Motorsports, producing roughly the results expected.

Dustin Long’s analysis: Three top-25 finishes in the first five races isn’t something many teams would crow about, but it’s steps like these that may lead to better results later in the season.


Las Vegas Motor Speedway - Day 1

Danica Patrick

Points position: 29th (-123 points)

Best finish: 19th (Phoenix)

Worst finish: 38th (Auto Club)

Laps led: 0 

Nate Ryan’s analysis: Subtract the crashes at Daytona and Fontana (which wasn’t her fault), and Patrick probably would be averaging a 20th-place finish in 2016. Far from impressive but still a slight improvement from her first three seasons.

Dustin Long’s analysis: Has better finishes in two races compared to the first five last year and maybe could have made it three had it not been for the contact with Kasey Kahne at Auto Club Speedway. Still, she has not had a top-15 finish this season.


NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 - Practice

David Ragan

Points position: 30th (-128 points)

Best finish: 22nd (Auto Club)

Worst finish: 32nd (Atlanta, Las Vegas)

Laps led: 1 

Nate Ryan’s analysis: This is a career reboot for Ragan, whose objectives are measured and realistic. A 30th-place points ranking isn’t great for a 10-year veteran, but it hasn’t exactly been a disastrous start with BK Racing, either.

Dustin Long’s analysis: Two top-25 finishes in the past two weeks is along the lines for what this team is capable as it seeks to build.


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Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond Raceway


The NASCAR Cup Series’ first short track points race of the season is scheduled Sunday at Richmond Raceway, a presence on the NASCAR schedule since 1953.

Tyler Reddick is coming off his first win of the season last Sunday at Circuit of the Americas. He gave Toyota its first victory of the year.

MORE: William Byron is No. 1 in NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

The Richmond race is the first of three consecutive events on short tracks. The series will race on the dirt surface at Bristol Motor Speedway April 9 and the Martinsville Speedway half-mile April 16.

A look at drivers to watch Sunday at Richmond:


Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 10th
  • Best seasonal finish: 1st (COTA)
  • Past at Richmond: No finish better than 11th in five career starts

Reddick showed the promise of what could be a strong season by dominating Sunday’s race at COTA. His victory boosted him five spots in points to 10th. Richmond, a track where he has never led a lap, will be a test.

William Byron

  • Points position: 22nd
  • Best seasonal finish: 1st (Las Vegas 1, Phoenix 1)
  • Past at Richmond: Led 122 laps in April race last year

Byron had a top car in this race last season but was passed by Denny Hamlin for the win with five laps remaining. Byron finished third, his career-best run at Richmond.

Denny Hamlin

  • Points position: 11th
  • Best seasonal finish: 6th (Auto Club, Atlanta 1)
  • Past at Richmond: Four consecutive top-four runs, including a win

Hamlin can be counted on to challenge for the win every time the tour rolls into Richmond. He has won there in 2009, ’10, ’16 and ’22.


Daniel Suarez

  • Points position: 14th
  • Best seasonal finish: 4th (Auto Club)
  • Past at Richmond: Best career finish is 7th

After opening the season with top-10 runs at Daytona, Fontana and Las Vegas, Saurez has plummeted into the 20s in three consecutive races. Richmond will present another big challenge. Suarez has five consecutive finishes of 16th or worse there.

Ryan Preece

  • Points position: 29th
  • Best seasonal finish: 12th (Phoenix 1)
  • Past at Richmond: Top finish of 20th in five career starts

Preece’s first full-time season in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 has started poorly. He has been sidelined by accidents in three races and was more upset than most after being parked by a multi-car crash Sunday at COTA.

Alex Bowman

  • Points position: 16th
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Las Vegas 1, COTA)
  • Past at Richmond: Three top 10s, including a win, in past five races

Bowman seems poised to score his first victory of the season. He has been among the tour’s most consistent drivers to date, with five top-10 finishes in six races.




What takes place in a NASCAR appeal hearing? Here’s a look


Hendrick Motorsports is scheduled to have its appeal hearing at 10 a.m. ET Wednesday.

So what will happen in the appeal hearing? Here is a look at the process, based on the NASCAR Cup Rule Book.

NASCAR penalized Hendrick Motorsports for modifications to hood louvers. Those penalties were:

  • Docked Alex BowmanKyle Larson and William Byron 100 points and 10 playoff points each.
  • Suspended crew chiefs Cliff Daniels, Alan Gustafson, Rudy Fugle and Blake Harris four races each and fined each $100,000.
  • Penalized each of the four Hendrick teams 100 owner points and 10 playoff points.

Before the appeal hearing starts, both sides — in this case, Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR — must file a written summary presenting their case before the hearing.

The summary must not be longer than two single-spaced pages. Any attachments or appendices either side intends to present during the hearing must be included. Such attachments or appendices may include, but are not limited to, video, written statements, diagrams, photographs and charts.

The summary is to be filed by 5 p.m. ET two days before the beginning of the hearing. The summary shall be confidential and not released to the public. The Cup Rule Book says that releasing the summary to the public “may result in a penalty.”

The appeal will be heard by three members. They will come from a pool of panelists. The Cup Rule Book lists 19 panelists. That group includes former drivers Mike Skinner, Lake Speed, Bill Lester, Shawna Robinson and Lyn St. James, along with others in various roles in motorsports.

The Cup Rule Book states that “in seating an Appeals Panel, the Administrator shall take into consideration the panelists’ availability, background, professional experience and knowledge.”

The Cup Rule Book states “the burden rests on NASCAR to show that it is more likely than not that a violation … has occurred, and that the Penalty Notice issued is within the guidelines of the NASCAR Rules.”

Both parties are allowed in the hearing room while each side presents evidence. NASCAR goes first.

After both sides finish, there is a break before an optional rebuttal period. NASCAR has the chance to go first, followed by those appealing.

Once that is complete, NASCAR is permitted one last opportunity to “argue, explain, or present rebuttal on the facts and violation” to the appeal panel since NASCAR carries the burden of proof.

The appeal panelists may ask questions to either group or any witnesses at any time during the hearing.

Decisions by the three-member National Motorsports Appeals Panel do not need to be unanimous.

The National Motorsports Appeals Panel can affirm the penalty or adjust it. The panel can rescind some or all of the penalties or increase any or all penalties.

When NASCAR penalized William Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000 for spinning Hamlin during a caution in last year’s playoff race at Texas, Hendrick Motorsports appealed. The National Motorsports Appeals Panel rescinded the 25-point penalty but increased his fine to $100,000. NASCAR amended its rule book after the panel’s decision.

NASCAR does not have the option to appeal the panel’s decision. Those who filed the appeal can further appeal the panel’s decision to the Final Appeal Officer. That decision can’t be appealed.

Kaulig Racing and Denny Hamlin each will go through this process when their appeals are heard. Kaulig Racing’s appeal is April 5 for modifications to a hood louver. Hamlin’s appeal is April 6 for intentionally wrecking Ross Chastain on the last lap of the Phoenix race.

NASCAR Power Rankings: William Byron returns to No. 1


After last Sunday’s crashfest at Circuit of the Americas, the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings experienced another jumble, and William Byron returns to the top spot.

Byron took fifth place in the chaos of the triple-overtime finish. He and winner Tyler Reddick were the top dogs in the Cup Series’ first road race of the year, Byron leading 28 laps and Reddick 41. No one else led more than two laps.

MORE: COTA finish — Entertaining and messy

Christopher Bell, last week’s No. 1, fell to fifth place after a 31st-place finish at COTA.

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. William Byron (second last week) — Byron, the season’s only multiple winner with two, finished fifth Sunday, marking his career first top five on a road course. He won the pole and the first stage.

2. Kyle Busch (third last week) — Busch continues to make his new partnership at Richard Childress Racing look good. His second-place run Sunday is his fourth top-10 finish in the season’s first six races.

3. Ross Chastain (sixth last week) — Despite being pushed around in the late going Sunday, Chastain persisted, re-emerging at the front to challenge the leaders and finish fourth. He has finished in the top four in all three COTA races and leads the points standings.

4. Alex Bowman (fifth last week) — Bowman continued his seasonal consistency, finishing third at COTA. He has finished in the top 10 in five of six races.

5. Christopher Bell (first last week) — Bell falls from the top spot in the rankings after being booted from Sunday’s race in a late-race accident. He dropped three spots in the Cup points standings to fifth.

6. Joey Logano (fourth last week) — Logano was mostly absent from Sunday’s front-of-the-pack jousting. He limped home in 28th and drops two spots in the rankings.

7. Tyler Reddick (unranked last week) — Reddick bursts into the rankings in a big way, easily outclassing the rest of the field on the way to victory at COTA. Challenged repeatedly by cautions that extended the race into three overtimes, he refused to give up the shot at his first win of the year.

8. Denny Hamlin (seventh last week) — Winless this year, Hamlin nevertheless keeps popping up around the front. Sunday’s late-race mess dropped him to 16th at the checkered flag.

9. Kyle Larson (eighth last week) — Larson seemed to be the race’s pingpong ball Sunday as he was bounced around during some of the tightest racing. He rallied to reach 14th.

10. Kevin Harvick (ninth last week) — Harvick’s final season has been a mix of the good and the bad, with two top-five runs, challenges for wins and a 33rd-place finish at Atlanta. He was 13th Sunday.

Dropped out: Brad Keselowski (10th last week).


Ross Chastain after COTA race: ‘Are you not entertained?’


One driver evoked the movie “Gladiator” after Sunday’s Cup race at Circuit of the Americas. Another could be penalized for his actions after the checkered flag. Others expressed dismay at what the end of the event became.

A race that had been a thrilling duel devolved into a demolition derby over the final laps, leaving feelings as bruised as some of the cars.

While Tyler Reddick celebrated his first win of the season, other drivers stewed at what the racing became. Three overtimes were needed to finish the event due to incidents in the Turn 1 hairpin. Then again, it should not have been surprising, coming a week after Kyle Busch said: “We have completely lost any sense of respect in the garage between the drivers”.

“Are you not entertained?” Ross Chastain exclaimed, evoking Russell Crowe’s famous movie line. “This is what we love. I don’t love doing it, but … as a sport we’re not boring.”

Chastain is correct, the sport is not boring. But it’s fair to ask if the sport has crossed a line. Is it OK for races to end this way? If not, how to change it is a more difficult notion.

The action has been getting more aggressive this season. It was evident in the Clash at the Coliseum when drivers charged into the corners and slammed into the back of cars as a way to slow down to make the tight turns.

Sunday marked the third time in the last four road course races that the event went to overtime. In the previous 28 road course races — dating back to 2012 — only three went to overtime.

It makes one wonder what could happen this weekend when the Cup series races at Richmond Raceway, beginning a three-week stretch at short tracks that includes the Bristol dirt race and Martinsville.

“These cars are so tough,” Chastain said. “We can run into each other. There are just lines of cars all pushing each other (on the restarts) on the brakes. Nobody is going in there saying, ‘I’m going to hit somebody,’ but it’s just the leader has to check up and it just magnifies itself.”

Chastain’s teammate, Daniel Suarez, was not happy after the race. He ran into the back of Chastain’s car, knocking him out of the way as they entered pit road and then hit the back of Bowman’s car on pit road.

Section 4.4.B of the Cup Rule Book states that drivers can be penalized for “Intentionally damaging another vehicle on pit road.” Such a penalty could result in the loss of 25-50 driver and/or team owner points and/or $50,000-$100,000 fine. Violations may also result in a suspension.

Suarez restarted fifth in the second overtime restart but left the inside lane open. Alex Bowman, with Ross Chastain and Chase Briscoe aligned behind, charged and got beside Suarez as they approached Turn 1.

As Bowman slowed to make the tight turn, he was hit from behind and that sent him into Suarez, who clipped the left rear of Martin Truex Jr.’s car. Truex spun in front of Suarez and blocked his path, allowing the rest of the field to drive by and costing Suarez a top-five finish. Suarez finished 27th.

Suarez spoke briefly with Bowman before having a discussion with Chastain.

“The problem is if you don’t peek out and bomb the guy in front of you, the guy behind you does it to you,” Bowman said. “So what do you do there? It’s not right. The way we race is embarrassing, and if 12-year-olds were doing it, we’d be yelling at them, but here we are saying it’s the best thing in the world on TV.”

Chris Buescher simply called Sunday’s race “our first bumper car race of the year.”

Austin Dillon said: “The end of the race became a typical NASCAR road course race. It was just a mess. We drove up into the hill on a restart and everyone just pile drove into each other.”

Jordan Taylor, making his first Cup start as he filled in for an injured Chase Elliott, was struck by what the restarts were like.

“Every restart, you just get smashed in the front, rear, side,” he said. “So yeah, it was pretty much just survival.”


Sunday’s race was scheduled to go 68 laps but was extended to 75 laps by the late cautions.

Here is a look at the drivers who gained the most and lost the most positions from where they were running on Lap 68 to where they were running on Lap 75:

Most positions gained

18 – Kyle Larson (finished 14th)

17 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (finished 7th)

16 – Kevin Harvick (finished 13th)

12 – Todd Gilliland (finished 10th)

9 – Ryan Blaney (finished 21st)

8 – Noah Gragson (finished 20th)

7 – Austin Cindric (finished 6th)

6 – Corey LaJoie (finished 11th)

Most positions lost

23 – Daniel Suarez (finished 27th)

20 – Joey Logano (finished 28th)

15 – Kimi Raikkonen (finished 29th)

12 – Christopher Bell (finished 31st)

12 – Martin Truex Jr. (finished 17th)

10 – Aric Almirola (finished 30th)

9 – Jordan Taylor (finished 24th)

6 – Michael McDowell (finished 12th)


Tyler Reddick and Kyle Busch, who switched rides before this season, have both won in the first six races.

This marks the third year in a row that two drivers with new Cup rides have won so early in the year.

Last year, Austin Cindric and Ross Chastain each won in the first six races of the year. Cindric had driven a few Cup races previously for Team Penske but last year was his first year in the No. 2 car. Chastain did have the same crew chief and other crew members at Trackhouse Racing after it purchased Chip Ganassi Racing.

In 2021, Kyle Larson, in his first season at Hendrick Motorsports, and Christopher Bell, in his rookie Cup season with Joe Gibbs Racing, each won within the first four races of that year.