Roush Fenway drivers finally able to raise expectations

(Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
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FORT WORTH – Qualifying was over for the Duck Commander 500. The scoring pylon at Texas Motor Speedway presented a site Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne probably aren’t used to, but will gladly take.

The No. 17 lit up the square five down from the top. It represented Stenhouse’s second top-five starting spot of the year and sixth in four years in the Sprint Cup Series.

“We’re close to second, not close to Carl (Edwards) there (on the pole), but I’m definitely happy,” Stenhouse said after posting a speed of 192.940 mph.

Bayne was farther down the column in 12th, but the second-year driver at Roush Fenway Racing was more than pleased with his speed of 190.570 mph.

“Last year, I would have been ecstatic to make it to the final round,” said Bayne.  “Even to make it to the second round half the time last year was a big deal for us, so we’ve made huge gains.  I’m just happy to be a part of it.”

Bayne will start Sunday’s race from the top 15 for the third time this season. He started third at Atlanta and seventh at Auto Club Speedway.

His only two top-15 starts last year came at restrictor plate races. Greg Biffle will start 14th for his fourth top-15 start. Prior to the Atlanta race, all three RFR cars hadn’t started in the top 15 since 2014.

Through six races Stenhouse is 18th in the points standings, two spots shy of the cutoff for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, which a Roush Fenway Racing team failed to qualify for for the first time last season. Now Roush must turn these starting spots into strong finishes.

Stenhouse put his best foot forward in Fontana, earning just his fourth top five in four seasons. But Stenhouse admitted he “snuck” into the top five after running in the top 10 most of the day. He now has an average finish of 19.7.

“Last year, I wasn’t really focused on the top 15,” Stenhouse said. “I was focused on top 25 at the beginning of the year and that was a tough feat. Luckily, we built on that and top 15s were something we were capable of the last 10 races last year.”

Stenhouse finished in the top 10 twice in that stretch, placing eighth at Dover and ninth at Talladega.

“So coming into this year I was hoping to at least be top 15, but on the mile-and-a-halves I think we’re a top 10 car most days,” Stenhouse said.

Texas has been kind to the current stable of Roush drivers in the past. Bayne won his first Xfinity Series race here in 2011. He made his Sprint Cup debut here in 2010 and finished 17th, a feat he matched in three straight starts but hasn’t bettered since.

“In the Cup car I’ve struggled a little bit more than the Xfinity car,” Bayne said. “But I’ve just always battled being tight in the center with the momentum you carry in the Cup car. It just won’t cut the center like I need it to, but our cars have a lot of speed here today and if we can just get them to drive right and last, I think we’ve got a really good shot at a top 10 run this weekend, if not a top 15.”

Biffle has won twice on the 1.5-mile track, in 2002 and 2012.

Stenhouse, who won at Texas in the Xfinity Series in 2012, continues to search for his first Sprint Cup win. The falloff of the tires on the aging track matched with the low-downforce package could play into the hands of the dirt track veteran.

“It’s funny, I used to like in the Xfinity/Nationwide Series I loved the old race tracks,”said Stenhouse. “I loved Texas, loved Atlanta, and then I came over to the Cup side and we just couldn’t get our cars to handle like we needed to to have fun at those place like I did before.

“But this year, so far, we’ve made huge improvements on our mile-and-a-half, especially the older race tracks, the ones where the tires wear out. Last year, the year before, we never thought about making it to the third round on a mile-and-a-half, especially one that wears the tires out, so this is big.

“This is good wind in our sails and hopefully we can keep going.”

NASCAR viewer’s guide for Charlotte Roval

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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)

 

Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

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Hailie Deegan announced Tuesday that she will make her Xfinity Series debut Oct. 15 Las Vegas Motor Speedway on NBC and Peacock.

The 21-year-old Deegan is in her second full-time season in the Camping World Truck Series. She finished a career-high sixth in that series last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

She will drive the No. 07 car for SS Green Light Racing with Jeff Lefcourt.

 

 

Alex Bowman to miss Charlotte Roval race

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Alex Bowman announced Tuesday night on social media that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup playoff race at the Charlotte Roval.

Bowman said on social media: “I am continuing to make strides in my recovery to make sure I can return to competition at 100%.”

This will be the second consecutive race he will have missed because of concussion-like symptoms after his crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

Noah Gragson will drive the No. 48 car this weekend for Bowman.

“Alex’s health is our first priority,” said Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “We’re focused on supporting his recovery and seeing him back in his race car when the time is right. Alex has a long career ahead of him, so we will invest the necessary time and take our guidance from medical experts. We’re putting no pressure on him to return before he’s 100% ready.”

Bowman will be one of the four drivers eliminated from title contention Sunday.

Also Tuesday, Cody Ware announced that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup race at the Charlotte Roval, as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he suffered at Texas.

NASCAR Power Rankings: Chase Elliott leaps to the front

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A slick late-race move by Chase Elliott carried him to Victory Lane Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway — and back to the top of the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Elliott is the only driver with five victories this season. No one else in the playoffs has more than two (Tyler Reddick, eliminated from the championship hunt, has won three times).

Elliott, already qualified for the Round of 8 with his Talladega win, will be among the favorites in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Here’s how the rankings look approaching the end of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Chase Elliott (No. 3 last week) — Elliott’s power move to win at Talladega was quite impressive and gave him four top-five finishes in the past 10 races. Clearly, he has re-established himself as the championship favorite.

2. Denny Hamlin (No. 1 last week) — Hamlin drops a spot despite a strong run (20 laps led and finishing fifth) at Talladega. Count him in the hunt for an elusive first championship.

3. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Blaney simply will not go away despite continuing as the playoffs’ only winless driver (not including the Texas All-Star Race). He was victimized by Chase Elliott on Sunday at Talladega, finishing .046 seconds short of victory and a push into the next round.

4. Kyle Larson (No. 2 last week) — Superspeedway racing generally is not Larson’s strong point. He finished 18th Sunday despite leading eight laps and being in the front group much of the day.

5. Joey Logano (No. 4 last week) — Logano had an unusually poor performance at Talladega. He was involved in an early-race accident and struggled much of the rest of the day, finishing 27th.

MORE: Elliott celebrates, Logano laments

6. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain tied Aric Almirola for most laps led (36) at Talladega and has been consistent as of late with three finishes of seventh or better in the past four races.

7. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron’s worst news last week came off the track as he was penalized by NASCAR for dumping Denny Hamlin under caution at Texas. He finished 12th at Talladega.

8. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe is quietly making the case that he could make the Round of 8 and challenge for the title.

MORE: Winners and losers at Talladega

9. Daniel Suarez (unranked last week) — Suarez maneuvered through the Talladega draft with style and came home eighth. He has three top 10s in the past seven races.

10. Christopher Bell (No. 6 last week) — Bell had a rough day at Talladega and will be looking to Sunday’s race at the Roval for redemption.

Dropped out: Tyler Reddick (No. 10 last week).