Upon Further Review: Indianapolis

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INDIANAPOLIS — Moments after watching Toyotas dominate Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Jimmie Johnson expressed hope that something can be done to compete with those cars.

“I think if you go back and look at the amount of revisions the Toyotas and Fords have had versus the Chevy, we’re still with the original car,’’ Johnson said after a late rally gave him a third-place finish. “I’m very hopeful and have heard some talk behind closed doors that maybe we’ll get a little love and finally get an update to the SS.

“We’ve been beating our heads against the wall and (are) highly frustrated because we can’t get within a certain amount of lap time from those guys. I really think that it’s more than what we’re doing as a team. There’s some free speed and overall body shape that hopefully we’ll get some love on.’’

Since NASCAR doesn’t like to make changes close to the Chase, any such help should not be expected this season.

Instead, the solution is simple for Chevrolet and Ford teams.

“It just means we’ve got to work,’’ Tony Stewart said after his 11th-place finish about catching the Toyotas. “They’ve done their homework, and they’re doing what they’re supposed to do, so it’s our job to go do our homework and get caught up. The one thing about all the Chevy teams and everybody at SHR, we don’t stop working. We’ll keep thrashing until the end.’’

With the playoffs less than two months away, Ford’s Joey Logano admits it’s “past crunch time’’ for teams in trying to contend with Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing.

“We need to pick it up a little bit,’’ he said. “We’re not far off; we’ve been close. We need to just find a little bit more to beat them.’’

Pit strategy helped put Logano and fellow Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski out front briefly Sunday but they couldn’t stay with the Toyota cars.

“Maybe they were a little stronger than what they’ve been,’’ Logano said. “I was looking in my mirror and I said I’m the Lone Ranger up here by myself … in front a bunch of Gibbs cars.’’

Sunday’s race was scary for Chevrolet and Ford teams. Kyle Busch won the pole and led 149 of 170 laps for Toyota. Teammate Matt Kenseth was second. Teammate Denny Hamlin finished fourth despite his seventh penalty for speeding on pit road this year. Martin Truex Jr. faltered late but finished eighth, and Carl Edwards was running at the front until he was collected in a late crash.

At times, Toyota had the top four cars on the track.

It wasn’t just Sunday that Toyotas were strong. It was all weekend. About 10 minutes after the opening practice session began, one team’s radio crackled with the comment: “Toyotas are in their own … league again.’’

It was easy to miss the foreshadowing. Stewart’s final Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis and Jeff Gordon’s return — filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. — obscured the strength of Toyotas to many outside the Cup garage.

After the race, Toyota’s dominance was clear to all. Hamlin’s comment afterward could prove unsettling to some teams.

“We’ll just keep digging and get ready for the Chase,’’ Hamlin said.

Indianapolis marked the second consecutive race Toyotas have dominated. Toyota drivers led 299 of 301 laps the previous week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with Kenseth winning.

Until New Hampshire, Toyotas had been strong but not as dominant. However, look back at the last four races at tracks that will host Chase events — New Hampshire, Charlotte, Dover and Kansas — and the numbers are troubling to Chevy and Ford teams.

Toyota drivers each won at those tracks with Kenseth (New Hampshire and Dover), Truex (Charlotte) and Busch (Kansas). Toyota drivers combined to lead 78.5 percent of the 1,368 laps run at those tracks.

That doesn’t mean they’re going to run away with the Chase because anything can happen. Remember, had Busch won three races in the regular season instead of four last year, he would not have had enough bonus points to advance to the second round.

Sunday’s showing, though, was hard for Chevy and Ford teams to not worry about.

“When you get your butt whupped, you don’t want to ignore the fact that they’re running well, no matter what race track that is,’’ Dale Earnhardt Jr. (and interim driver Jeff Gordon) crew chief Greg Ives said. “It’s one of those things that improvement is evident.

“But like I told my guys after the race, we’ve got to make improvements with our head up. You can’t get down on yourself, you can’t get down on the team.’’

It’s a message many teams are espousing as the season moves closer to the playoffs and Toyotas continue to show they’re the dominant manufacturer.

PIT STOPS

Austin Dillon’s ninth-place finish was his best finish in four starts at Indianapolis.

— Kyle Busch’s victory marked the sixth time he’s won at least four Sprint Cup races in a season. The only full-time active driver with more such seasons is Jimmie Johnson with 11 (Jeff Gordon, who is substituting for Dale Earnhardt Jr., had 10 such seasons).

— Kyle Busch’s weekend sweep of the Xfinity and Sprint Cup races at Indianapolis marked the 10th time in his career he’s scored a weekend sweep among NASCAR’s top three national series.

Chris Buescher finished a career-high 14th in what was his first career start at Indianapolis.

AJ Allmendinger finished 38th because of overheating issues, the third time in the last six races he’s failed to finish a race. That’s dropped him from 17th to 21st in the points.

— Kyle Busch’s totals from the weekend in both Xfinity and Sprint Cup: He led all 20 laps in his heat and 62 of the 63 laps in Saturday’s Xfinity race. He led 149 of 170 laps in Sunday’s Cup race. He led a total of 231 of 253 laps (91.3 percent) of laps in both races. That’s after winning the pole for both series.

Kurt Busch completed all 170 laps Sunday and continues to have run every lap (5,673) this season. Next is Brad Keselowski, who has completed all but eight laps this year.

Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

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Hailie Deegan announced Tuesday that she will make her Xfinity Series debut Oct. 15 Las Vegas Motor Speedway on NBC and Peacock.

The 21-year-old Deegan is in her second full-time season in the Camping World Truck Series. She finished a career-high sixth in that series last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

She will drive the No. 07 car for SS Green Light Racing with Jeff Lefcourt.

 

 

Alex Bowman to miss Charlotte Roval race

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Alex Bowman announced Tuesday night on social media that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup playoff race at the Charlotte Roval.

Bowman said on social media: “I am continuing to make strides in my recovery to make sure I can return to competition at 100%.”

This will be the second consecutive race he will have missed because of concussion-like symptoms after his crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

Noah Gragson will drive the No. 48 car this weekend for Bowman.

“Alex’s health is our first priority,” said Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “We’re focused on supporting his recovery and seeing him back in his race car when the time is right. Alex has a long career ahead of him, so we will invest the necessary time and take our guidance from medical experts. We’re putting no pressure on him to return before he’s 100% ready.”

Bowman will be one of the four drivers eliminated from title contention Sunday.

Also Tuesday, Cody Ware announced that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup race at the Charlotte Roval, as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he suffered at Texas.

NASCAR Power Rankings: Chase Elliott leaps to the front

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A slick late-race move by Chase Elliott carried him to Victory Lane Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway — and back to the top of the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Elliott is the only driver with five victories this season. No one else in the playoffs has more than two (Tyler Reddick, eliminated from the championship hunt, has won three times).

Elliott, already qualified for the Round of 8 with his Talladega win, will be among the favorites in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Here’s how the rankings look approaching the end of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Chase Elliott (No. 3 last week) — Elliott’s power move to win at Talladega was quite impressive and gave him four top-five finishes in the past 10 races. Clearly, he has re-established himself as the championship favorite.

2. Denny Hamlin (No. 1 last week) — Hamlin drops a spot despite a strong run (20 laps led and finishing fifth) at Talladega. Count him in the hunt for an elusive first championship.

3. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Blaney simply will not go away despite continuing as the playoffs’ only winless driver (not including the Texas All-Star Race). He was victimized by Chase Elliott on Sunday at Talladega, finishing .046 seconds short of victory and a push into the next round.

4. Kyle Larson (No. 2 last week) — Superspeedway racing generally is not Larson’s strong point. He finished 18th Sunday despite leading eight laps and being in the front group much of the day.

5. Joey Logano (No. 4 last week) — Logano had an unusually poor performance at Talladega. He was involved in an early-race accident and struggled much of the rest of the day, finishing 27th.

MORE: Elliott celebrates, Logano laments

6. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain tied Aric Almirola for most laps led (36) at Talladega and has been consistent as of late with three finishes of seventh or better in the past four races.

7. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron’s worst news last week came off the track as he was penalized by NASCAR for dumping Denny Hamlin under caution at Texas. He finished 12th at Talladega.

8. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe is quietly making the case that he could make the Round of 8 and challenge for the title.

MORE: Winners and losers at Talladega

9. Daniel Suarez (unranked last week) — Suarez maneuvered through the Talladega draft with style and came home eighth. He has three top 10s in the past seven races.

10. Christopher Bell (No. 6 last week) — Bell had a rough day at Talladega and will be looking to Sunday’s race at the Roval for redemption.

Dropped out: Tyler Reddick (No. 10 last week).

Talladega’s tale of two drivers: One celebrates, one laments

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — It’s dangerous to forecast what is going to happen next in these playoffs in a Cup season unlike any other. 

So keep that in mind, but Chase Elliott’s victory at Talladega moves him one step closer to returning to the championship race for a third consecutive season.

It’s easy to overlook that beyond earning a spot in the Round of 8 with his win Sunday, Elliott scored six playoff points. That gives him 46 playoff points. He has the opportunity to score seven more playoff points this weekend at the Charlotte Roval — an event he has won twice — before the next round begins.

Once the current round ends, the points will be reset to 4,000 for each of the remaining playoff drivers and they’ll have their playoff points added. 

At this point, Elliott would have a 21-point lead on his nearest competitor and a 31-point lead the first driver outside a transfer spot to the championship race.

The next round opens at Las Vegas, goes to Homestead and ends with Martinsville. 

A key for Elliott, though, is to avoid how he has started each of the first two rounds. A crash led to a 36th-place finish in the playoff opener at Darlington. He placed 32nd after a crash at Texas to begin this round.

The up-and-down nature of the playoffs, though, hasn’t taken a toll on the 2020 Cup champion.

“I feel like I’ve been doing this long enough now to understand the roller coaster that is racing,” said Elliott, who is advancing to the Round of 8 for the sixth consecutive season. “It’s going to roll on, right? You either learn to ride it during the good days, during the bad days, too, or you don’t. That’s just part of the deal.

“So, yeah, just try to ride the wave. Had a bad week last week, had a good week this week. Obviously great to move on into the next round, get six more bonus points. All those things are fantastic, we’re super proud of that.

“This deal can humble you. We can go to the Round of 8 and crash again like we did the first two rounds, or you can go in there and maybe have a really good first race. I don’t know. You show up prepared, do the best you can, figure it out from there.”

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Joey Logano has always been one who wants to race at the front in a superspeedway event instead of riding at the back.

When asked last month about the idea of Texas Motor Speedway being reconfigured to provide superspeedway-type racing — as Atlanta Motor Speedway was before this season — Logano questioned the value of that type of racing.

“Is that the type of racing fans want to see?” Logano said. “Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back. 

“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on. 

“They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”

Logano sought to race at the front as much as possible Sunday at Talladega, even after his car was damaged in an early incident, but he took a different tack on the final restart. He restarted 24th and dropped back, finishing 27th.

“We just wreck all the time, so we thought, ‘Boy, we’ve got a big points lead, let’s just be smart and don’t wreck and we’ll be able to get out of here with a top 10, assuming they would wreck because they always do,’” Logano said after the race. 

“That was the only time I’ve ever stayed in the back, ever, was today and they didn’t wreck. We gave up a bunch of our points lead. We’re still plus-18, which is a decent spot to be, but, the goal was to race for stage points and then drop to the back and wait for the crash. I hate racing that way. I’ve gotten beat many times from people that do that, then I tried it and it didn’t work.”

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Michael McDowell’s third-place finish continues his strong season. 

McDowell’s finish extended his career-high of top-10 finishes to 12. He has five finishes of 11th or better in the last seven races. 

“I’m proud of the season we’ve had and the run that we put together,” McDowell said. “Everyone did a great job on pit road executing and getting us track position when we needed it. It’s good to be there at the end and have a shot at it, just disappointed.”

Front Row Motorsports teammate Todd Gilliland finished seventh. 

“Race car drivers are greedy,” Gilliland said. “I wish I could have gotten a couple more there, but it was still a really good day. We ran up front most of the day and my car handled really well, so, overall, there are definitely a ton of positives to take out of this.”

Sunday marked the second time this season both Front Row Motorsports cars finished in the top 10. They also did it at the Indianapolis road course. 

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NASCAR confirms that the Hendrick Motorsports appeal of William Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas will take place Thursday.

Should Hendrick lose that appeal, the team could then have a hearing before the Final Appeals Officer. That session would need to take place before Sunday’s elimination race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

“Twenty-five points in the playoffs is a ton,” car owner Rick Hendrick said Sunday of Byron’s penalty. “I mean, in the regular season if you got a bunch of races, you can make it back up.

“I’ve seen other cars under caution hit each other. In that situation, (Byron) wasn’t trying to spin him, but they got a tower full of people, they could have put him in the back, could have done something right then rather than wait till Monday or Tuesday, then make a decision.”

Byron is 11 points below the cutline after Talladega.