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Upon Further Review: Daytona

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — If it isn’t one thing, it seems to be another for Kurt Busch at restrictor-plate tracks.

Saturday night he was racing for second when he spun on the last lap after contact from Joey Logano. Busch finished 23rd.

“One day the chips are going to fall in my direction, there’s no way it can’t,’’ Busch said afterward. “It’s almost two rotations around a roulette wheel on how many times we’ve been here and haven’t won. We’ll keep trying.’’

It’s not like he hasn’t been close. He has 10 top-three finishes in 62 career Sprint Cup restrictor-plate starts (16.1 percent).

Saturday night’s race at Daytona only added to the litany of close calls that have kept the former series champion winless in his career in Cup points races at Daytona and Talladega.

Among those races:

— He briefly led with less than two laps left at Talladega in May but watched the outside line motor by. Busch finished eighth.

— He led a race-high 95 laps in the 2007 Daytona 500 before a wreck with Tony Stewart. Busch finished 41st.

— Three times he’s finished second in the Daytona 500, including 2008 when he pushed then-teammate Ryan Newman to the win.

Only Ken Schrader has led more laps (298) than Busch (290) in Sprint Cup races at Daytona without winning a points race there.

The most notable winless driver in a restrictor-plate points race is Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace. He was winless in 72 career starts at Daytona and Talladega after restrictor plates debuted in 1988 (Wallace was 0-for-90 in his career in all starts at those tracks).

That wasn’t the only streak that continued Saturday night for Busch. He did complete the last lap and remains the only driver this season to run all 4,935 laps run this year.

His car’s consistency and speed this season put him in position to be the points leader Saturday after teammate Kevin Harvick finished 39th because of a crash. Busch lost that opportunity with the last-lap incident.

“It’s just a feather in the cap,’’ Busch said of what it would have meant to have taken the points lead. “There are more important things to do. Winning a plate race is one them.’’

FEELING GOOD

Although two of Brad Keselowski’s three wins this season have come at restrictor-plate tracks, he says he feels good about where his team is heading toward the playoffs.

The question is why should he with only one restrictor-plate track in the Chase?

“We’ve had a lot of consistency the last few weeks,’’ said Keselowski, who has seven top-10 finishes in the last eight races. “There’s been some races that haven’t quite been as strong, as well, in fairness, but even the races where we’re not quite as strong, we seem to be right there in that fifth‑ to 10th‑place range, which is a lot of what the Chase is.

“A lot of what the Chase is go run fifth to 10th every week and you’ll find yourself at Homestead, and then you’ve got to go win Homestead. Good consistency is a great trademark of a championship‑winning team, and I feel that out of my team right now.’’

PIT STOPS

Roush Fenway Racing placed all three of its drivers in the top 10 with Trevor Bayne third, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. fifth and Greg Biffle eighth. It marked the first time Roush Fenway Racing has had three cars finish in the top 10 since Bristol in August 2014.

Kyle Busch finished second on Saturday night. He’s placed in the top three in each of the restrictor-plate races this season. He was third in the Daytona 500 and second at Talladega in May.

Austin Dillon finished seventh Saturday night. He’s placed in the top 10 in each of the first three restrictor-plate races. He was ninth in the Daytona 500 and third at Talladega in May.

— Trevor Bayne’s third-place finish was his best result since he won the 2011 Daytona 500.

Michael McDowell finished 10th Saturday. It marked his third career top-10 finish. All three have been at Daytona. He finished a career-high seventh in the 2014 Daytona 500 and placed ninth in the 2013 Daytona 500.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is 13th in the points standings. It is the lowest in the points he’s been at this time of the season since 2010 when he was 13th.

— Restrictor-plate races have not been kind to Chris Buescher this season. He has failed to finish all three this year because of an accident, including his tumble down the backstretch at Talladega in May. His finishes are 39th in the Daytona 500, 37th at Talladega in May and 40th on Saturday at Daytona.

Ross Chastain to drive for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2021

Ross Chastain
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Ross Chastain will return to Chip Ganassi Racing next season and drive the No. 42 Cup car, multiple reports stated Monday morning.

The news was first reported by motorsport.com.

Chastain replaces Matt Kenseth, who was hired in April to take over the car after Kyle Larson was fired.

“I can’t thank Chip enough for this opportunity,” Chastain told The Associated Press. “The faith he and the organization showed me back in 2018 was a real turning point in my career and I am extremely happy for the chance to join the team again. Racing in the Cup Series with a serious contender has always been my goal, and I’m looking forward to joining what is a very strong team.

“I know I have my work cut out for me, but I’m ready to get to work and help bring more success to the organization.”

Chastain drove three Xfinity races for Chip Ganassi Racing’s Xfinity team in 2018, winning at Las Vegas. He was to drive a full Xfinity season for the team in 2019 before sponsorship went away after DC Solar’s offices were raided by the FBI and the company later declared bankruptcy.

The 27-year-old Chastain has been among the sport’s busiest drivers the past three years in NASCAR.

He drove in 77 of 92 Cup, Xfinity and Truck races last year. He’s competed in 194 of 256 Cup, Xfinity and Truck races (75.8%) run since 2018.

Chastain’s Cup rides primarily have been with underfunded teams. He drove three races this season for Roush Fenway Racing. Chastain filled in for Ryan Newman as Newman recovered from the head injury he suffered in the Daytona 500.

Chastain is competing for the Xfinity championship this season for Kaulig Racing. He is winless this season but has five runner-up finishes, including this past weekend at Bristol.

Clint Bowyer: ‘Getting back to our consistency’ ahead of next round

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After entering Saturday’s Cup race at Bristol in the final transfer spot to the Round of 12, Clint Bowyer can rest easy for now.

Bowyer is one of the 12 drivers left to fight for the Cup title after his sixth-place finish Saturday. He goes into next weekend’s race at Las Vegas 11th in the standings.

Now, Bowyer says it’s time for his No. 14 team to “live up to our capabilities.”

“I just feel comfortable, we’re getting back to our consistency,” Bowyer said Saturday night. “I guess for a long time in my career I was kind of Steady Eddie, and that’s what it takes in these playoffs, to go the rounds, you can’t make mistakes. I said that going into these playoffs. For our team, we’ve got to live up to our capabilities, and if we can do that and race to our capabilities and not make the mistakes we were making through the summer months, we can contend and move forward rounds in this playoff system, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Bowyer, who was the last driver to finish on the lead lap at Bristol, goes to Las Vegas with three consecutive top 10s to start the playoffs.

Before the playoffs opened, he had gone 11 races with just two top 10s.

“Looking forward to getting out to Sin City and having some fun out there,” Bowyer said. “Hopefully we can double down, get some stage points and continue to march forward up through this playoff system and the points. We’re definitely starting behind again, there’s no question about that.”

Bowyer will start the second round with 3,004 points, tied with Kyle Busch. Kurt Busch is 12th with 3,001 points.

MORE: Points entering second round

“We’ve got to get out there and swing for the fence,” Bowyer said. “These are the playoffs; you don’t base hit it. Steady Eddie got us through this round, but from here on you’ve got to get up to the plate and swing for the fence every time, and every decision, and that’s in the car and out of the car, we’ve got to lay it on the line and go for it, and that’s why these playoffs are fun.

Bowyer has just one top-five finish in 17 Las Vegas starts (2009) and the most recent of his four top 10s there came in 2017.

Then comes the “crapshoot” know as Talladega and the “fun” Charlotte Roval.

“I like it. I’m ready,” Bowyer said. “Things can happen. At the end of the day I’ve had a different approach to the whole thing this year. This whole damned year has been chaotic and everything else, and you’ve just got to go out there and do the best you can do and not worry about or panic about anything else. That’s all you can do anyway.”

Bristol winners and losers

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WINNERS

Kevin Harvick Only two drivers in the last quarter century have won 10 Cup races in a season (Jimmie Johnson in 2007 and Jeff Gordon in 1996-98). Harvick’s win at Bristol marked his career-high ninth of the season. He appears headed to join that elite class.

Austin Dillon His 12th-place finish wasn’t memorable but it was good enough to advance to the second round of the playoffs. He had failed to transfer from the first round the last two times he was in the playoffs.

Kyle BuschFinished second, scoring top-10 finishes in all three first-round playoff races. It’s the first time this season he has had three consecutive top 10s. Still, a frustrated Busch was critical of competitors and his playoff hopes.

Erik Jones His third-place finish matches his best of the season. Result came after he had to start at the rear for inspection issues (just as Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin also had to do so).

Michael McDowell His 10th-place finish is his fourth top 10 of the season. That equals how many top 10s he scored from 2017-19.

Chase Briscoe He won the Xfinity race Saturday at Bristol for his seventh victory of the season.

Sam MayerThe 17-year-old won his first career Truck race and followed it a few hours later by winning the ARCA race at Bristol.

LOSERS

Ryan Blaney Failed to advance to the second round, a round where he could be among the favorites to win a race. He was in position to win at Las Vegas in the spring before being called to pit before the overtime restart and losing the lead. He’s won the past two Talladega races, including last year’s playoff race there. He won the inaugural Charlotte Roval in 2018. What might have been. But a 10-point penalty for an inspection issue at Darlington and struggles there and at Richmond doomed him.

William Byron His playoffs ended with contact before the halfway mark. 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Contact with Jimmie Johnson sent him into the wall. Stenhouse finished last. It is the third time he’s finished 40th this season.

Kevin Harvick wins Bristol night race

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Kevin Harvick held off Kyle Busch to win Saturday’s Cup night race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Harvick came out on top after a spirited battle with Busch over the last 40 laps of the race. Harvick claimed his ninth win of the season, a career-best mark. He previous high was eight wins in 2018.

“To beat Kyle Busch at Bristol, I kind of got myself in a little bit of a ringer there,” Harvick told NBCSN. “I hit a lapped car and got a hole in the right-front nose, but just kept fighting. We don’t have anything else to lose. We were here to try to win a race.”

The top five was completed by Erik Jones, Tyler Reddick and Aric Almirola. Clint Bowyer finished sixth and was the last car on the lead lap.

MORE: Race results, points standings

MORE: What drivers said after the race

Busch, who is now winless through the first 29 races of the season, finished second after he started from the rear due to two pre-race inspection failures. He took the lead for the first time when he left pit road first during the Stage 1 break. He wound up leading 159 laps to Harvick’s 226.

Harvick’s nine victories has him on pace to become the first driver to win at least 10 Cup races in a season in more than a decade and only the third driver to reach that mark in the past quarter century. Harvick has won three of the last five races.

“It’s just been a weird year, but it’s been an unbelievable year on the racetrack,” Harvick said. “I can’t thank everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing enough.”

Jimmie Johnson is the last driver to accomplish the feat. He won 10 races in 2007. The only other driver to reach that mark in the last 25 years is Jeff Gordon. He won 13 races in 1998 and 10 races each in 1996 and ’97.

The last driver not from Hendrick Motorsports to reach at least 10 wins in a season was Rusty Wallace. He won 10 times in 1993 for car owner Roger Penske.

Ryan Blaney, Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron and Cole Custer entered the race below the cutline to advance to the Round of 12 and were all eliminated from contention.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Chase Elliott

STAGE 2 WINNER: Kyle Busch

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Erik Jones earned his second top five in the last three races … Tyler Reddick earned his third top five of the season and his first since the July 19 race at Texas … Ryan Preece placed ninth for his first top 10 of the year … Michael McDowell finished 10th for his fourth top 10 this season, a career-best

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished last after he was eliminated in a crash on Lap 29 after he made contact with Jimmie Johnson … Matt DiBenedetto’s chances of advancing in the playoffs were dashed when he had to pit for loose right rear tire on Lap 187 and then was caught speeding on pit road after returning to the lead lap. He finished 19th …. Martin Truex Jr. finished 24th after he had to pit for a tire issue on Lap 214 … Denny Hamlin finished 21st after he rammed into the back of Truex moments after he exited pit road following his stop … William Byron was eliminated from the race and playoff contention late in Stage 2 after he ran into the back of Christopher Bell … Pole-sitter Brad Keselowski placed 34th after he lost power steering early in the final stage and was black flagged for not meeting minimum speeding. After a lengthy stay in the garage, Keselowski returned to the race with about 105 laps left in the race.

WHAT’S NEXT: Round of 12 opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway at 7 p.m. ET Sept. 27 on NBCSN.