Keep an eye on these five drivers this weekend as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to its roots at Daytona International Speedway for Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400.
Hamlin seeks to become only the sixth driver ever to win the Daytona 500 and Coke Zero 400 in the same season, and he stands a good shot. Since 2014, Hamlin has recorded 7 Top-10 finishes in the 10 Sprint Cup restrictor-plate races, and his Daytona 500 win in February was also his fifth consecutive Daytona finish of sixth or better.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Earnhardt has crashed out of this year’s 2 restrictor-plate races, with the latter wreck at Talladega putting an end to his hyper-successful superspeedway car, “Amelia.” But with 10 restrictor-plate wins to his credit, you can never count him out at Daytona. And with a chance lost last week at Sonoma to put ground between him and the other playoff bubble drivers, he’ll be especially motivated to win and end all questions about his post-season hopes.
It’s been a while since Harvick last won a plate race – six years to be exact (July 2010 at Daytona). But with 5 Top-10 finishes in his last 7 plate races, he’s been getting closer to ending that drought. As the Sprint Cup points leader, a good jump on the Chase Grid (currently 5th) will be his if he earns a second 2016 win this weekend.
Austin has only led 10 laps over his six Sprint Cup starts at Daytona, but he’s also come away with 4 Top-10 finishes. That includes finishing 7th in this race a year ago, even as he was sent into the catch fence in one of NASCAR’s ugliest crashes in recent memory. He finished ninth in February’s Daytona 500, and another Top-10 run is critical for him as he tries to move up and out of the bubble from 14th on the Chase Grid (+18 above the cutoff).
Four of McMurray’s 7 career Sprint Cup wins have come on plate tracks. But since his Oct. 2013 win at Talladega, he’s only had 1 Top-10 finish on a plate track – a 4th-place effort at Talladega this past May. Still, this “wild card” race is definitely an opportunity for McMurray to score a surprise win and enter the playoffs.
Kyle Busch moved closer to the top spot after his win Sunday at WWT Raceway, but William Byron keeps hold of No. 1 after another top-10 run.
The series heads to Sonoma Raceway this weekend, the second race of the season on a road course.
NBC SPORTS NASCAR POWER RANKINGS
(Previous ranking in parenthesis)
1. William Byron (1) — He goes into Sonoma with six consecutive top-10 finishes after his eighth-place result at WWT Raceway. Byron has led a series-high 717 laps this season.
2. Kyle Busch (4) — Recorded his third win of the season Sunday. He is tied with Byron for most wins this year. Busch scored 59 of a maximum 60 points and won his first stage of the year Sunday. He has 16 playoff points. Only Byron has more with 17 this season.
3. Kyle Larson (3) — His fourth-place finish continued his up-and-down season. In the last nine races, Larson has two wins, four top fives, a 20th-place result and four finishes of 30th or worse. He has led 588 laps this season, which ranks second this year to Byron.
4. Martin Truex Jr. (2) — His fifth-place finish is his sixth top 10 in the last eight races. He ranks third in laps led this year with 383.
5. Denny Hamlin (7) — Runner-up result at WWT Raceway is his fourth top 10 in the last seven races.
6. Ryan Blaney (10) — Followed Coca-Cola 600 win with a sixth-place run at WWT Raceway. He had an average running position of 2.6 on Sunday, second only to winner Kyle Busch’s average running position of 1.9.
7. Joey Logano (9) — Third-place finish is his second top 10 in the last four races.
8. Kevin Harvick (NR) — His 10th-place finish is his fourth consecutive finish of 11th or better.
9. Ross Chastain (6) — Lost the points lead after placing 22nd, his third consecutive finish outside the top 20.
10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (NR) — Headed for his eighth top 15 in a row until he was collected in a crash after the contact between Austin Cindric and Austin Dillon late in Sunday’s race.
Dropped out: Chase Elliott (5th), Tyler Reddick (8th)
Despite Richard Childress and Austin Dillon saying that Austin Cindric intentionally wrecked Dillon late in Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway, NASCAR will not penalize Cindric.
Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that there would be no penalty to Cindric after reviewing the contact.
Dillon and Childress were upset about the incident, which brought out the caution on Lap 220 of the 243-lap race. Dillon said NASCAR should suspend Cindric for the contact, just as NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for hooking Denny Hamlin in the Coca-Cola 600.
Contact between the left front of Cindric’s car and the right rear of Dillon’s car sent Dillon up the track into Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Dillon finished 31st. Cindric continued and placed 13th.
Dillon told Frontstretch.com: “I was wrecked intentionally by (Cindric), hooked right just like Chase and Denny and Bubba’s deal (in wrecking Kyle Larson at Las Vegas in 2022). He better be suspended next week.”
Childress said: “(Dillon) had drove up to about 10th until (Cindric) wrecked him in there on purpose, sort of a payback.”
Sawyer said a review of the incident included viewing video and data.
“We didn’t see anything — and haven’t seen anything — that really would rise to a level that would be a suspension or a penalty,” Sawyer said. “It looked like hard racing. One car coming up a little bit and another car going down.
“As we said last week, we take these incidents very serious when we see cars that are turned head-on into another car or head-on into the wall. I spent a lot of time (Monday) looking at that, looking at all the data, looking at TV footage and just deemed this one really hard racing.”
Sawyer said NASCAR plans to talk to both Cindric and Dillon “to make sure we’re all in a good place as we move forward to Sonoma.”
Kyle Larson is among seven Cup drivers entered in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Sonoma Raceway.
The race marks the first time the Xfinity Series has competed at the California road course. Teams will get 50 minutes of practice Friday because this is a new event on the schedule. That additional time will give those Cup drivers more laps on the 1.99-mile road course.
Here is a look at what Xfinity rides the Cup drivers will pilot this weekend:
The race is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. ET Saturday.
The ARCA Menards Series West also is competing this weekend at Sonoma Raceway. Cup driver Ryan Preece is entered in that event. Xfinity drivers Cole Custer, Riley Herbst, Sammy Smith and Parker Retzlaff also are entered in that race, which will be held at 6:30 p.m. ET Friday.
Winners and losers from Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway:
Kyle Busch — Wins the pole, leads the most laps and holds the field off over the last five restarts to win the race. He scored six playoff points, giving him 16 on the season, second only to William Byron’s 17. Busch left Joe Gibbs Racing after last season for Richard Childress Racing. Busch’s three wins this year equals what JGR has done so far.
Ryan Blaney — His sixth-place finish moved him into the points lead. He last led the points after the spring 2022 Richmond race. Blaney also won a stage Sunday to collect another playoff point. He has seven this season.
Kyle Larson — Fourth-place finish was a big turnaround after struggles earlier in the race. It has not been easy for this team the last few weeks. He has three top-five finishes and four finishes of 20th or worse in the last seven races.
Daniel Suarez — His seventh-place finish moved him up two spots to 16th in the standings, the final playoff transfer spot at this time.
Ross Chastain — He finished 22nd for his third consecutive result outside the top 20. He entered the weekend leading the points and fell to fifth afterward. He is 29 points behind new series leader Ryan Blaney with 11 races left in the regular season.
Tyler Reddick — Rebounded from an early spin to lead but had his race end after a brake rotor failed. He was one of four drivers eliminated by brake rotor failures. The others were Carson Hocevar, Bubba Wallace and Noah Gragson.