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Upon Further Review: Dover

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It’s easy to believe that Kyle Larson will have other chances to earn a playoff spot with a win this season.

But what if Sunday was it?

What if he fails to make the Chase because he didn’t put the bumper more aggressively to Matt Kenseth late in Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway? What if politeness and decency are trumped?

Larson showed restraint Sunday in his duel with Kenseth. Drivers say it doesn’t take talent to wreck somebody out of the lead, but it takes talent to pass them for it. While Sunday’s finish might not have pleased fans wanting to see drivers squabble, Larson showed that there can be civility in sports.

Now the question is if he’ll be penalized for it.

With 14 races left until the Chase field is set, Larson has time to put himself in a playoff position. Four of his six best tracks (based on average finish) remain with Indianapolis, Watkins Glen, Darlington and Pocono. He has an average finish between 8.0 and 9.0 at those tracks.

Yet, challenges remain.

Kenseth’s win was the seventh in the 12 races this season for Joe Gibbs Racing. Of the 14 races left before the Chase field is set, Gibbs cars won nine of those events a year ago. A question all of the garage is asking — not just Larson and his team — is how to beat the Gibbs cars? One of those Gibbs drivers, Carl Edwards, wrecked after contact with Larson with less than 50 laps left. Will that change how Edwards races Larson in the coming weeks? How could that impact things for Larson?

After Sunday’s runner-up finish at Dover, Larson is 43 points out of the final Chase spot — nearly a full race. A month ago, Larson was 24 points out of the final Chase spot. He’s fallen 19 points further behind in the last five races.

Take a closer look at his recent runs. It’s hard to imagine he’ll have any worse four-race stretch than what he did (28.5 average finish) before Dover.

Yet, that stretch was only slightly worse than his average finish (27.8) for races at Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Auto Club Speedway earlier this year.

Challenges remain for Larson and his Chip Ganassi Racing team.

So, should Larson look back upon Sunday with regret?

Time will tell, but had he knocked Kenseth out of the way, would Larson have looked back upon his first career Cup win with greater regret?

— Sunday marked the second consecutive Sprint Cup race at Dover won by a two-tire pit stop.

In the 2015 fall race during the Chase, Kevin Harvick pitted on Lap 359 for two tires and restarted second to Matt Kenseth, who did not pit. Harvick won and Kenseth finished seventh.

Sunday, Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson were the only leaders to change two tires during a pit stop on Lap 349. Johnson never made it to the finish but Kenseth won.

“I’m surprised more guys didn’t do two tires at the end,’’ said Jason Ratcliff, crew chief for Kenseth. “But it worked out for us. Earlier we had done four and lost our track position. It was a good opportunity for us to get that back.’’

— Is Martin Truex Jr. the unluckiest driver in the Sprint Cup garage?

A week after dominating at Kansas only to see his chances to win end because of an unusual part failure, Truex seemed to be in a good spot to challenge for the win Sunday. He restarted in the second row, behind leader Jimmie Johnson on the outside lane with less than 50 laps to go.

Johnson’s car locked in gear and he didn’t get up to speed, triggering a chain-reaction accident that ended any hopes of Truex winning.

Already this year, Truex lost the Daytona 500 by inches to Denny Hamlin and Truex had been strong at Auto Club Speedway before an incident with Joey Logano sent Truex’s car into the wall there.

Chase Elliott’s career-high third-place finish Sunday was his eighth top-10 finish of the season. He has more top-10 results this season than every Cup driver except Kurt Busch (10 top 10s), Kevin Harvick (nine) and Kyle Busch (nine).

— Joe Gibbs Racing has won 19 of the last 37 points races, dating back to last year’s Coca-Cola 600.

Ryan Blaney scored his fifth top-10 finish of the season. It’s the most for the Wood Brothers in a season since Ricky Rudd had nine top 10s in 2005. This is the first season the Wood Brothers have run the full schedule since 2008.

The last time the Wood Brothers had double digits in top 10s was 1996 when Michael Waltrip had 11 top 10s in 31 races.

Danica Patrick, who was two laps behind the leaders by Lap 90 on Sunday, escaped the multi-car crash late to finish a season-best 13th. Her previous best this season was 16th at Martinsville.

Cup playoff clinching scenarios to make Round of 12

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The first elimination race of the Cup playoffs has arrived in the form of Bristol Motor Speedway.

Tonight’s 500-lap race on the short track will determine which drivers make up the Round of 12.

Three drivers have locked themselves into the second round. Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski earned their spots via race wins at Darlington and Richmond. Denny Hamlin clinched a spot via points.

More: Brad Keselowski on pole for Bristol

That leaves nine spots for 13 drivers to compete for.

If there is a new winner, the following drivers could clinch by being ahead of the 10th winless driver in the standings.

Joey Logano – would clinch with 7 points: 51 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Logano has finished third in the last two playoff races (at Darlington and Richmond). Has made 23 starts at Bristol posting one pole, two wins, six top fives and 10 top 10s. Logano’s average finish is 15.3.

Martin Truex Jr. – would clinch with 20 points: 38 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Earned 22nd-place finish at Darlington and second-place finish at Richmond. Has made 29 series starts at Bristol posting two top fives and three top 10s. His average finish is 20.6.

Austin Dillon – would clinch with 21 points: 36 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Dillion has a runner-up finish at Darlington and a fourth-place result last weekend at Richmond. Has 13 starts at Bristol posting one top five and three top 10s. His average finish is 17.3.

Chase Elliott – Would clinch with 30 points: 28 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Elliott finished 20th at Darlington and fifth at Richmond. Has made nine starts at Bristol and has one pole, three top fives and four top 10s. Average finish is 12.6.

Alex Bowman – would clinch with 31 points: 27 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Bowman placed sixth at Darlington and ninth at Richmond. Has made nine series starts at Bristol with one top five and two top 10s. His average finish is 22.6.

Kyle Busch – would clinch with 40 points: Just 18 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Has seventh-place finish at Darlington and a sixth-place finish at Richmond. Has made 30 Cup starts at Bristol posting two poles and a series-leading eight wins among active drivers.

Aric Almirola – would clinch with 51 points: Seven points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Finished ninth at Darlington and eighth at Richmond. Has made 22 starts at Bristol with one top five and two top 10s. His average finish is 25.0.

Kurt Busch – would clinch with 51 points: Seven points ahead of the cutoff sport. Almirola holds the tiebreaker of best finish in the current playoff round. Busch has finished eighth at Darlington and 13th at Richmond. Has 39 Cup starts at Bristol with one pole, six wins, 12 top fives and 21 top 10s. Average finish is 14th.

Clint Bowyer – would clinch with 55 points: Three points over cutoff. Finished 10th at Darlington and Richmond. Bowyer has made 29 Cup starts at Bristol with eight top fives and 16 top 10s. Average finish is 13.6.

William Byron (-3 points from cutoff; would need help to clinch): Finished fifth at Darlington and 21st at Richmond. Five Cup starts at Bristol with one top 10. Average finish of 17.2.

Cole Custer (-8 points; would need help to clinch): Finished 12th at Darlington and 14th at Richmond. Finished 25th in lone Bristol Cup start.

Matt DiBenedetto (-25 points; would need help to clinch): Finished 21st at Darlington and 17th at Richmond. Eleven Cup starts at Bristol with one top five and one top 10. Average finish of 19.1.

Ryan Blaney
Ryan Blaney is last on the 16 driver playoff grid heading into Bristol. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Ryan Blaney (-27 points; would need help to clinch): Finished 24th at Darlington and 19th at Richmond. Ten Cup starts at Bristol with one top five and three other top 10s. Average finish of 20.7.

More: Blaney and DiBenedetto seek history to advance to second round

Should there be a repeat winner Saturday – Harvick or Keselowski – the following drivers would advance to the next round by being ahead of the 11th winless driver in the standings.

Joey Logano: Would clinch with 4 points

Martin Truex Jr.: Would clinch with 17 points

Austin Dillon: Would clinch with 18 points

Chase Elliott: Would clinch with 27 points

Alex Bowman: Would clinch with 28 points

Kyle Busch: Would clinch with 37 points

Aric Almirola: Would clinch with 48 points

Kurt Busch: Would clinch with 48 points

Clint Bowyer: Would clinch with 52 points

William Byron: Would clinch with 55 points

Cole Custer, Matt DiBenedetto and Ryan Blaney: Could only clinch with help

Xfinity race results, point standings after Bristol

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Chase Briscoe led the final six laps and won Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol for his seventh win of the season.

Briscoe beat Ross Chastain for the win. The top five was completed by Austin Cindric, Harrison Burton and Justin Allgaier.

Click here for the race results.

Playoff standings

The 12-driver field for the playoffs has been set with Briscoe’s win in the regular-season finale.

Brandon Brown placed 12th and clinched the 12th and final spot.

Here are the re-seeded point standings entering the playoffs.

Chase Briscoe – 2,050 points

Austin Cindric – 2,050

Justin Allgaier – 2,033

Noah Gragson – 2,025

Brandon Jones – 2,020

Justin Haley – 2,018

Harrison Burton – 2,014

Ross Chastain – 2,010

Ryan Sieg – 2,002

Michael Annett – 2,002

Riley Herbst – 2,001

Brandon Brown – 2,000

Click here for the re-seeded standings.

Click here for the normal point standings.

Chase Briscoe wins Xfinity race at Bristol Motor Speedway

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Chase Briscoe took the lead with six laps to go and won Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway, which marked the end of the regular season.

Briscoe passed Austin Cindric to assume the lead and went unchallenged to the checkered flag. The victory is his series-leading seventh of the season.

“I was so mad after last week (at Richmond),” Briscoe told NBCSN. “I told all the guys there ain’t no way we’re getting beat today. I was so mad after how we ran last week and I get on the internet all the time and see guys count us out after one bad race and I know what this team is capable. … I finished second here the last two races and I wanted to win here so bad and it’s awesome that I can actually celebrate it with all these race fans.”

The top five was completed by Ross Chastain, Cindric, Harrison Burton and Justin Allgaier.

More: Race results, playoff standings

Allgaier dominated the early portion of the race, leading 126 laps and winning the first two stages. But he lost the lead for good in the pits during the Stage 2 break.

Brandon Brown finished 12th and clinched the 12th and final playoff spot.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

STAGE 2 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ross Chastain led three times for 117 laps, but had to settle for his fifth runner-up finish of the season without a win … Austin Cindric earned his 13th top-10 finish in the last 14 races … Harrison Burton earned his 13th top five of the season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Brett Moffitt finished 27th after he had to pit three times in the opening laps and was penalized for taking fuel before the competition caution … BJ McLeod finished 34th after he was eliminated in a multi-car wreck that began when he made contact with teammate Jeffrey EarnhardtMichael Annett finished 31st and Joe Graf Jr. placed 27th after they were involved in an incident on Lap 120.

QUOTE OF THE RACE: “I hit pit road and I wanted to cry.” – Ross Chastain after he finished second for the fifth time this year. He is winless entering the playoffs.

WHAT’S NEXT: The Xfinity playoffs open at Las Vegas Motor Speedway at 7:30 p.m. ET on Sept. 26 on NBCSN.

 

Fans not allowed at Las Vegas races

Fans not allowed
Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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Spectators will be not be allowed for any of the NASCAR playoff races next weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the track announced Friday night.

A press release said only essential personnel will be allowed to attend the Cup, Xfinity and Truck playoff races there.

“To say we’re disappointed that we will conduct the South Point 400 playoff weekend without fans would be a gross understatement,” said Las Vegas Motor Speedway President Chris Powell. “Our staff has been working – many of them remotely – since the February Pennzoil 400 to prepare the speedway for our playoff tripleheader.

“But we must adhere to Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak’s directive that limits gatherings due to COVID-19.  While we disagree with this policy, we have no choice but to oblige.  We certainly regret this situation for the thousands of race fans who won’t be able to attend our NASCAR-weekend events.”

Nevada’s re-opening plan does not permit fans at sporting events, concerts. Groups are limited to 50 or fewer people.

The Las Vegas Raiders announced last month that they would not have fans at any of the team’s home games in its inaugural season there.

The Truck playoff race will be at 9 p.m. ET Sept. 25 on FS1. The Xfinity playoff opener will be at  7:30 p.m. ET Sept. 26 on NBCSN. The Cup playoff race will be 7 p.m. ET Sept. 27 on NBCSN.

Fans holding tickets for those events will be contacted by the speedway ticket services department to discuss credits for future races or refunds.