(All photos: Getty Images)

5 Sprint Cup drivers who need help heading to back-to-back short tracks

3 Comments

The 36-race NASCAR Sprint Cup season still is two races shy of the one-quarter mark.

However, the next two races could be among the most important of 2016 thus far for several drivers who have struggled and need major bounce backs if they hope to salvage their seasons.

This Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway and the April 24 Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway could go a long way toward making or breaking these five drivers’ overall 2016 campaigns:

511280726

1. Clint Bowyer

Clint Bowyer continues to go from bad to worse.

Although he’ll replace Tony Stewart in 2017 at Stewart-Haas Racing, for now Bowyer is a forgotten man in his single-season stint with HScott Motorsports.

Sitting 32nd in the standings, Bowyer is off to one of the worst starts of his Sprint Cup career. He’s finished 30th or lower in four of the first seven races of 2016, including a season-worst finish of 38th at Texas (also his first DNF of the year).

His best finish is 18th (Fontana), which is also his only top-20 showing thus far. His average start is 32.0 and average finish is 28.9.

He also hasn’t won a race since 2012.

Based on past history, Bowyer has a better chance of doing better at Richmond in two weeks at Bristol:

* Bowyer’s career record at Bristol: 20 starts, 0 wins, six top-fives, nine top 10s.

* His career record at Richmond: 20 starts, two wins, four top-fives and 12 top 10s.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 - Practice

2. Greg Biffle

The 2016 season was supposed to be a big comeback year for Roush Fenway Racing, especially for its most veteran driver, Greg Biffle.

Unfortunately, instead of things getting better, they’ve gotten worse – and we’re through only the first seven races.

Biffle currently sits 27th in the Sprint Cup standings. His best finish has been 12th (Martinsville), but he has finished 20th or worse five other times, including a season-worst 39th Saturday at Texas.

The Vancouver, Washington, native has had a decent average start (16.9), but his average finish of 25.1 – if it continues – is on track to be the worst of his 15-year Sprint Cup career.

Biffle has not won a Sprint Cup race since 2013. His season finishes have plummeted from fifth in 2012, to ninth in 2013, 14th in 2014 and tied his career-worst showing (20th) in 2015.

Biffle has a markedly better record at Bristol than he does at Richmond:

* Bristol: 26 starts, zero wins, six top-fives, 13 top-10s.

* Richmond: 27 starts, zero wins, two top-fives, six top-10s.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 - Practice

3. David Ragan

David Ragan was expected to lead BK Racing to new heights when he joined up for the 2016 season.

Unfortunately, the 30-year-old Georgia native seems as if he’s been stuck in first gear in the first seven races. His best finish has been 21st, while his worst showing was 33rd, incurred Saturday night at Texas.

He has an average start of 30.0 and an average finish of 27.6.

Unfortunately, if past experience is any indicator, Ragan’s struggles are likely to continue – at least at Bristol, where he has just one top-10 finish to show for in 18 career Cup starts there.

His chances may be a bit better at Richmond, where he has three top-fives in 18 starts – though the last in 2011.

Daytona 500 - Practice

4. Brian Scott

Though improvement was expected when he came on board, things haven’t gone much better for Brian Scott than with his predecessor at Richard Petty Motorsports, Sam Hornish Jr.

Scott is 25th in the standings. All but one of his finishes in the first seven races have been 24th or worse. He’s had just one top-20 finish, 12th at Fontana.

Scott’s average start in his first full Sprint Cup is 25.9, while his average finish is 24.9.

Even though he has 24 career Sprint Cup starts, Scott hasn’t raced in the series at Bristol and only once at Richmond (22nd, last summer).

Like fellow rookie Chris Buescher, Scott has made a number of starts in the Xfinity Series at Bristol (13 starts, five top-10 finishes) and Richmond (13 starts, four top-5s and five top-10s).

While the same kind of optimism about Scott coming into the season remains after seven races he definitely has his work cut out in the next two races – let alone the rest of the season.

519646990

5. Chris Buescher

While so much attention has been focused on two of the other three Sprint Cup rookies this season – Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney – Chris Buescher has been a forgotten man.

The defending Xfinity Series champion sits a lowly 36th in his first full season in the Sprint Cup Series. He’s finished 30th or worse in four of the first seven races.

His best finish to date has been 26th (Las Vegas), and he’s coming off a 28th in the most recent race at Texas this past Saturday.

Buescher has a 27.3 average start and a 31.0 average finish in 2016.

Some might question whether Buescher was ready for the jump to Sprint Cup. Maybe he would have been better off spending at least one more season in the Xfinity Series.

But when the opportunity arose to join Front Row Motorsports and make the jump to the big show, the Sprint Cup Series, Buescher really didn’t have much of a choice. If he passed on the shot and remained in the Xfinity Series, some other driver gladly would have taken the Cup ride. And Buescher remains under contract to Roush Fenway Racing, which might have a Cup opening for him in the future.

There is a sense of optimism for Buescher in the next two races:

* Bristol: In one prior Sprint Cup start, he finished 25th. But in the Xfinity Series, he has one top-five and three top-10 finishes at the half-mile bullring.

* Richmond: No prior Cup starts, but in five Xfinity races, he has three top-10 finishes.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Chad Knaus to move off pit box for executive role at Hendrick

Leave a comment

Chad Knaus, whose success as a crew chief is nearly unparalleled in NASCAR, will step down from that role after this season and move into a leadership position at Hendrick Motorsports, the team announced Tuesday.

Knaus will become vice president of competition. He will oversee technical development for Hendrick Motorsports, including implantation of the Next Gen car in 2022. He also will be responsible for personnel for each of the four teams, including crew chiefs, pit crews, engineering, fabrication, assembly and other team-related staff.

Knaus won seven championships as Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief. Only Hall of Fame crew chief Dale Inman won more titles. Inman won eight, scoring seven with Richard Petty and one with Terry Labonte. Knaus has 82 career Cup wins. All but one came with Johnson. William Byron scored his first career Cup win in August at Daytona with Knaus as his crew chief. Byron was eliminated from the playoffs last weekend. The 49-year-old Knaus is the only crew chief to have competed in NASCAR’s postseason all 17 years.

Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus before the 2005 Coca-Cola 600. They combined to win that event four times.  (Photo by Harold Hinson/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images)

“When I started at Hendrick Motorsports (in 1993) working for Ray Evernham, my goal was to be a crew chief,” Knaus said in a statement from the team. “Starting at a young age, I wanted to win every race we entered and battle for every championship.

“Mr. (Rick) Hendrick has given me the chance to do exactly that, and I could not be more thankful to him. After all these years, my competitive desire has not changed at all, but now I have a family that deserves my attention. This new executive role will allow me to compete in a different way with all four of our teams while spending more time with my wife and two young children.

“I appreciate the company supporting my decision, and I’m truly excited about the challenge ahead of me to help us grow and win. I’m also looking forward to working closely with Jeff (Andrews), who I admire and have great respect for. I owe so much to Mr. Hendrick and everyone at Hendrick Motorsports, and I’m ready for the next chapter.”

Knaus and his wife Brooke welcomed a baby girl July 30. Vivienne Mae Knaus is the couple’s second child. Son Kipling was born in 2018.

A new crew chief for Byron will be announced at a later date.

Chad Knaus, car owner Rick Hendrick and Jimmie Johnson displaying their rings after Johnson claimed the 2013 Daytona 500. (Photo by John Harrelson/NASCAR via Getty Images)

“In life, it’s rare to witness true excellence first-hand, but that’s precisely what we’ve been treated to with Chad,” Hendrick said in a statement. “Today’s announcement is bittersweet because, in my opinion, he is the finest crew chief our sport has ever seen.

“Although we’re going to miss him atop the pit box, I’m heartened that Chad has made this decision for himself and his growing family and that he is energized about the opportunity to move us forward in a new capacity. There is no one with higher standards or a stronger passion for winning. He will continue to elevate Hendrick Motorsports and instill his championship mentality throughout the company.”

Knaus served two races as crew chief for Casey Atwood in 2000 and then did one race for Stacy Compton that season. In 2001, Knaus was paired with Compton. Knaus rejoined Hendrick Motorsports to be Johnson’s crew chief in 2002. They remained together until 2019 when Knaus moved to Byron’s team.   

Knaus will report to Andrews, 55, who has been promoted to executive vice president and general manager, effective immediately.

Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus celebrate their seventh NASCAR Cup championship after winning the 2016 season finale in Miami. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Andrews joined Hendrick Motorsports in 1992 and most recently served as vice president of competition. He had held that role since 2017.

Previously, Andrews held a leadership position in the team’s engine department, including director of engine operations. In his expanded role, Andrews will oversee all competition-related departments, including powertrain, manufacturing and racing operations. He will continue to support the organization’s technical relationship with Chevrolet and remain its primary liaison with NASCAR’s competition group. Andrews reports to Hendrick Motorsports president Marshall Carlson.

“In my almost 29-year NASCAR career, I’ve been fortunate to work for just one organization,” Andrews said in a statement from the team. “Mr. Hendrick is a racer and a fierce competitor. His drive to win is contagious, and I’m grateful to have a team of like-minded people who share that passion. Racing is all I have ever done professionally. When I left my home and my family 33 years ago to pursue this dream, I never could have imagined the opportunities that have been provided by so many people, most importantly Mr. Hendrick.”

Said Hendrick in a statement: “As we look to the years ahead, Jeff and Chad are going to play significant roles in our success. They’re tremendous leaders who are respected within our organization and across the entire auto racing world. In addition, they each bring unique strengths and skillsets that will complement each other extremely well and benefit all of Hendrick Motorsports. We’re in the business of winning, and this combination is going to help us do just that.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick still No. 1 after quiet Vegas

Leave a comment

Kevin Harvick didn’t have a flashy night Sunday in Las Vegas, but it didn’t keep him from retaining the No. 1 spot in this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings.

After winning the Bristol night race, Harvick finished in the top 10 in the first two stages in Vegas before placing 10th at race’s end.

Kurt Busch’s win at his home track vaulted him into the top 10 as 12 drivers received votes.

More: Playoff standings after Las Vegas

Here is this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings:

1. Kevin Harvick (Last week No. 1): In the last eight races he’s won three times and finished outside the top 10 only twice.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (Last week No. 5): Placed fourth for his 11th top-five finish in the last 14 races.

3. Alex Bowman (Last week unranked): Finished fifth for his second top five and fifth top-10 finish in the last six races.

4. Denny Hamlin (Last week unranked): Left Vegas with a third-place finish to snap a three-race streak of finishing outside the top 10.

5. Kurt Busch (Last week unranked): Snapped a 46-race winless streak with his victory and advanced to the Round of 8.

6. Kyle Busch (Last week No. 3): Finished sixth after a “dismal” night. He has four consecutive top 10s.

7. Brad Keselowski (Last week No. 5): Finished 13th to give him two finishes outside the top 10 since he won at Richmond.

8. Chase Briscoe (Last week unranked): Opened the Xfinity playoffs with his second consecutive win.

8. Chase Elliott (Last week No. 2): Led 73 laps, but had to settle for a 22nd-place finish in Vegas.

8. Joey Logano (Last week No. 3): Finished 14th for his second straight finish outside the top 10.

Also receiving votes: Erik Jones and Chris Buescher.

NASCAR announces changes to Kansas playoff weekend

Leave a comment

Citing “programming changes,” NASCAR announced shifts in the race dates and start times for its visit next month to Kansas Speedway.

The Xfinity, ARCA and Truck Series races have been shifted, while the Cup race remains at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 18.

The biggest move is the Truck Series race shifting from Friday night to Saturday afternoon.

Here are the changes.

Friday, Oct. 16, 8:30 p.m. ETARCA Menards Series on FS1 or FS2; network TBD at a later date (previously at 10 p.m. ET)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 4 p.m. ETTruck Series on FOX (previously Friday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m. ET Xfinity on NBCSN (previously 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

 

Xfinity Series playoff standings after Las Vegas

Leave a comment

Chase Briscoe opened the Xfinity Series playoffs by earning his second consecutive win.

His victory Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway gives him 57 playoff points and an automatic spot in the Round of 8.

Harrison Burton holds the final transfer spot. He has a two-point advantage over Ross Chastain.

Behind Chastain below the cutline are Michael Annett (-10 points), Riley Herbst (-14) and Brandon Brown (-20).

Below is the full Xfinity Series playoff standings going into Saturday’s race at Talladega (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance. Drivers in yellow are in the remaining playoff spots.

Xfinity Series playoff standings