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Staying up front – not winning – is real ‘crapshoot’ of plate racing

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For Tony Stewart, nothing has changed at restrictor-plate tracks.

“You look at the guys that are really good at these places and it is guys that are good at both Daytona and Talladega and they know how to work the draft,” Stewart said Friday at Talladega Superspeedway.

Of the three drivers who have won seven of the last nine plate races – Dale Earnhardt Jr. (three), Joey Logano (two) and Denny Hamlin (two) – only Earnhardt’s name is consistent from at least 10 years ago. Not too long, Stewart was one of the top hands at the series’ two plate tracks, combining for five Sprint Cup wins and 18 top-five finishes during his prime.

“I think it’s kind of a second wave of drivers since Dale Earnhardt has been gone that have really figured it out,” Stewart said. “I think Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. and I had a pretty good run together when we were doing tandems together. It seemed like we always got hooked-up at the end of the races here. The unfortunate part is that I always got the lower end of the deal, finishing second, but he always won.”

It’s a widely held belief that anyone can win in any given plate race. But who wins isn’t the “crapshoot” as much as who survives to the end to be in contention.

“If you ever get shuffled out at the wrong time and the big wreck happens and you’re in it, there’s nothing you can really do about that,” said Martin Truex Jr., who finished second in this year’s Daytona 500. “We see guys ride around the back all day trying to miss it. We see guys that say, ‘Hey, I’m going to try to stay up front all day and hope that it’s behind me.’ That’s really the crapshoot part of it, but to win these races consistently, you have to have a fast car and you have to have really good skills at drafting.”

Truex and his cohorts at Joe Gibbs Racing, which has a technical alliance with Furniture Row Racing, were a rolling fort at the front of the field in February’s Daytona 500. All five cars combined to lead 156 of 200 laps, with Denny Hamlin winning. Keeping your friends close at the front increases your chances when the white flag drops.

“We’ve seen Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. over the years just really show everybody how it’s done and that’s because he has a really good understanding of the air,” Truex said. “The way it works and knowing how to use that to his advantage.”

If winning a plate race was truly a lottery and any of the 40 cars could win, Carl Edwards would have likely won at least once in his 46 starts at Talladega and Daytona.

“I don’t need to see my stats at these places because they’re not good,” he said. “I think it’s an average finish of about 20th.”

Talladega (20.8) and Daytona (19.6) represent the worst average finishes for Edwards on the Sprint Cup circuit. Edwards learned the importance of knowing how to survive after getting caught up in a wreck at Talladega that Stewart didn’t.

“I wrecked one time here and I got out, went down and sat in the garage talking to Jack (Roush) and I said something like, ‘Man, there’s just nothing I could do to miss the wreck,” Edwards recalled. “And he said, ‘You might want to go look at the tape because you drove right past Tony Stewart into the wreck and he somehow missed it.’

“I went back and watched and I learned from that. You really have to be watching ahead and you have to pay attention. I think that’s the thing that separates the guys that win from my perspective.”

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

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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

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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

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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

Cup playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Kurt Busch flipped the script on the Cup playoff standings with his win Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings, but is the first driver to clinch a spot in the Round of 8.

Replacing Busch in the bottom spot of the playoff standings is Austin Dillon. He is 32 points behind Alex Bowman, who holds the final cutoff spot.

Behind Bowman is Kyle Busch (-9 points), Clint Bowyer (-20), Aric Almirola (-27) and Dillon.

“Obviously, the 1 car (Kurt Busch) was not a car that we needed to win a race,” Clint Bowyer said after Sunday’s race. “It’s been a hell of a battle back there with cars that are kind of in the same wheelhouse as far as points-wise. (Kurt Busch) winning changes that landscape quite a bit, but we’re only 20 points out.”

Here is the full playoff standings entering Sunday’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance to the Round of 8. Drivers in yellow hold the remaining available playoff spots.

Cup playoff standings