Who’s Hot, Who’s Cold entering this weekend’s Sprint Cup race at Michigan

Leave a comment

Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway represents the last curveball for Sprint Cup teams when it comes to aero packages.

Teams will run what is expected to be next season’s reduced downforce package for the last time this year before reverting to the 2016 package. After being raced at Michigan in June — Joey Logano won there — and portions of it used in the May All-Star Race — also won by Logano — this package was last seen at Kentucky in July. Logano’s Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski won there.

The last four trips to the 2-mile speedway have been won by a different team – Team Penske (June 2016), Joe Gibbs Racing (Aug. 2015), Stewart-Haas Racing (June 2015) and Hendrick Motorsports (Aug. 2014). Logano is the only repeat winner in the last six races. Greg Biffle won consecutive races in Aug. 2012 and June 2013.

Here’s who hot and cold going into this weekend.

Who’s Hot

Brad Keselowski – Finished 33rd at Bristol, worst finish this season. Finished in the top 10 in 10 of the last 14 races including three wins and top-three finishes in the two of the last three races. Finished in the top 10 in the last five races at Michigan but has never won at his home track, best of second in this race in 2012. Finished fourth in June.

Joey Logano – Finished in the top 10 in nine of the last 11 races of 2016 including a win at Michigan. Top 10 finishes in the last seven races at Michigan with two wins (both from pole) including June.

Tony Stewart – Six top 10s including a win at Sonoma in the last nine races. Five top-five finishes this season, only had three total in the previous two seasons combined. Finished seventh at Michigan in June, his first top 10 at the track since June 2013. One Michigan win, June 2000.

Kurt Busch – Finished 38th at Bristol after a DNF accident that broke a 25-race streak of finishing on the lead lap. Sixteen top-10 finishes in 2016, second most. Finished top 10 in 14 of the first 16 races this season, only two in the last seven races. Three Michigan wins, last was June of last year. Finished 10th earlier this year, only his third top 10 at Michigan in the last 12 races there.

Denny Hamlin – Five straight top-10 finishes including a win at Watkins Glen, his longest streak of 2016. Eight speeding penalties this season, most of all drivers. Two-time winner at Michigan but not since 2011. Finished 33rd after accident in June, his eighth finish outside the top 10 in the 10 races at Michigan since his last win.

Who’s Cold

Martin Truex Jr. – Only four top-10 finishes in the 10 races since his Charlotte win. Has not finished in the top 10 in back-to-back races since Dover and Charlotte. Has had an issue in 18 of the 23 races this season. Finished third in both races at Michigan last year and 12th in June, led 10 laps before a spin.

Greg Biffle – Finished 16th or worse in the last four races after finishing in the top 10 in three straight races prior. Four-time winner at Michigan, his most of all tracks. Only one top 10 finish in the last five races at Michigan, 19th in June.

Ryan Blaney – Does not have a top-10 finish in the last nine races after having four top 10s in the prior five races of 2016. Three Cup starts at Michigan, best finish of 17th in June.

Chase Elliott – Finished 13th or worse in the last eight races after finishing in the top 10 in each of the prior six. One Cup start at Michigan, finished career best second in June, after leading 35 laps.

Jimmie Johnson – Finished seventh at Bristol, only his ninth top-10 finish this season, tied for the fewest through 23 races in a season (2003). Only three top-10 finishes in the last 14 races of 2016. Finished 16th or worse in six of the last eight races at Michigan. One MIS win, June 2014. Finished 16th in June.

Here are interesting notes heading into this weekend’s race:

  • Sunday’s race will be the 95th race at MIS. Michigan’s 95 races are the most of tracks that have yet to
    host 100 races (seven tracks have hosted at least 100 races).
  • Joey Logano won from the pole at Michigan in June, it was the 19th MIS race won from the pole, at least one race a year at MIS was won from the pole in the last four seasons, including the last two straight.
  • There has never been three straight Michigan races won by the pole winner.
  • One driver has earned their first career Cup series win at Michigan: Dale Jarrett (Aug. 1991) won in his 29th start, he is one of six drivers to get their first career Cup win driving for Wood Brothers Racing.

Stage points crucial at Las Vegas in Round of 12

Leave a comment

Former champion Brad Keselowski views Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) as the “second most important” to win during the season after the championship race, “because these next two weeks are very difficult to prepare for.”

What’s so difficult about the two races after Las Vegas?

Two-thirds of the Round of 12 are made up of Talladega and the Charlotte Roval: a superspeedway known for its wild multi-car wrecks and a road course that can prove unpredictable.

“The biggest thing I’ve been thinking about is the playoff bonus points and winning in Vegas,” Keselowski said. “The best thing we can do to control our own destiny is to go win Vegas and then Talladega just becomes what it is. It’s the same thing with the Roval, so we’re hopeful to just kind of not have to worry about it that way by scoring a win. If we’re not able to do that, I’d like to get a few more playoff bonus points with stages for those races and that would help a bunch, but, certainly, this round presents a lot of challenges for us.”

If anyone knows the importance of winning early in a round, it’s Keselowski. His victory two weeks ago at Richmond benefitted him in the cutoff race a Bristol when power steering issues resulted in a 34th-place finish.

Chase Elliott, who has won at both Talladega and the Roval in previous seasons, has a similar view to Keselowski.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver said “we would be messing up to already be looking ahead to Talladega,” later adding, “the way I kind of look at it is I’m probably going to crash – I think that’s just the odds.”

Were everything to go right for a driver, they can earn up to 20 stage points in the first two stages of a race.

“So, I think everybody knows how important stages are and what they can mean, especially stage wins,” Elliott said. “Getting that extra bonus point is a huge thing, too. I think everybody knows that and that’s certainly a game that’s been played. I don’t know that it was as much played that very first year that we had (playoff and stage points), but really ever since that first year, I think it has been known and everybody really gets that. And it’s just gotten more and more aggressive.”

Focusing on Vegas is key for Elliott because it’s been a “super hit or miss” track for him. In seven career starts, he has two top fives and four finishes of 26th or worse.

“We’ve crashed a bunch out there (three DNFs) and had some really bad finishes,” Elliott said. “That would be a fantastic opportunity, I think, to have a solid day.”

Kurt Busch noted that you could arguably view Las Vegas as “standard” when it comes to pit strategy and racing. But Busch provided a reminder of what happened earlier this year at Texas Motor Speedway.

“A place like Vegas fits into a track like Texas, as well; where you can change just left side tires like we saw Austin Dillon do to win the Texas race earlier this year,” Busch said. “So, there are all the different strategies and different things playing out.”

The four drivers eliminated after the Round of 16 – William Byron, Cole Custer, Ryan Blaney and Matt DiBenedetto – scored a combined six stage points. All of them were earned by Byron.

Busch observed that just because four teams have been eliminated from the playoffs doesn’t mean there’s four less cars in the field vying for points.

“There are two Hendrick cars now not in the playoffs, but they’re fast,” Busch said of Byron and Jimmie Johnson. “Same thing with (Joe) Gibbs (Racing). You’ve got the No. 20 car, Erik Jones, not in the playoffs but he’s fast. Those are points that those guys could take away from the contenders that are still left in the situations they’re in. So, you’ve just got to race hard and race smart. There are three ways to get points each and every weekend: Stage 1, Stage 2, and the finish of the race. And, that happens at all the race tracks.”

Of the 12 remaining drivers left in the playoffs, here’s how many stage points they earned in the first round.

Most Stage Points Earned in 2020 Playoffs:

Chase Elliott  – 35
Kevin Harvick – 33
Martin Truex Jr.  – 32
Kyle Busch  – 31
Alex Bowman – 29
Joey Logano  – 28
Denny Hamlin  – 26
Kurt Busch – 22
Austin Dillon – 22
Brad Keselowski – 21
Aric Almirola – 7
Clint Bowyer – 4

NASCAR fines Hendrick Motorsports $100,000

NASCAR fines
Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Leave a comment

NASCAR has fined Hendrick Motorsports $100,000 for exceeding the amount of wind tunnel testing allowed this season.

NASCAR also announced that it had deducted 10 hours of wind tunnel testing from the organization for the 2020-21 amount allowed.

Hendrick Motorsports will not appeal the penalty. The team reported the violation to NASCAR.

The Cup Rule Book states in section 5.3.e that organizations are allocated 150 hours to be used on cars through Dec. 31, 2021 with a maximum usage of 70 hours in 2020 and a maximum usage of 90 hours in 2021. NASCAR states that testing hours are defined as billable hours reported by the wind tunnel to NASCAR. The minimum test period is four hours. Wind tunnel testing of Next Gen cars by individual organizations will not be permitted.

The L2 penalty comes with a fine of at least $100,000 and no more than $200,000.

NASCAR also announced two fines for lug nut violations last weekend at Bristol.

In the Xfinity Series, crew chief Bruce Schlicker was fined $5,000 for the No. 10 car of Ross Chastain having one lug nut not safe and secure after the race.

In the Truck Series, crew chief Kevin Bellicourt was fined $2,500 for the No. 19 truck of Derek Kraus having one lug nut not safe and secure after the race.


Carson Hocevar to run full Truck schedule in 2021

Leave a comment

Niece Motorsports has signed Carson Hocevar to run the full NASCAR Truck schedule in 2021, the team announced Thursday.

Hocevar, who turns 18 in January, has run five races for the team this season. His best finish this year is 12th at Dover. He’s scheduled to run at Martinsville on Oct. 30.

“I’m so excited to get the opportunity to race fulltime next year with the Niece Motorsports group,” said Hocevar in a statement. “We’ve had some really strong runs in the few starts that we’ve had this season and I am grateful for the chance to continue that next year. I’ve learned so much already this year and know that we will keep improving next year too.”

“Carson has really impressed us this season,” said team owner Al Niece in a statement. “He’s proven his talent – getting into the truck with no track time and really holding his own. We’re thrilled to have him with us fulltime next season and look forward to contending for wins together.”

TikTok to sponsor Ryan Vargas in six Xfinity races

JD Motorsports
Leave a comment

TikTok is coming to NASCAR.

The popular video sharing app will break into the sport next month as a sponsor of Ryan Vargas in the Xfinity Series.

TikTok has partnered with JD Motorsports to sponsor the 20-year-old Vargas in the final six races of the season, beginning with the Oct. 3 race at Talladega Superspeedway.

“TikTok has provided me with an incredible outlet to reach new fans and demographics through fun and creative content, and I’ve seen the highest growth in followers on TikTok over my other social channels,” Vargas said in a press release. “The opportunity to run the No. 6 TikTok Chevrolet Camaro in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for the rest of the season is an absolute dream come true. Johnny Davis and the whole JD Motorsports with Gary Keller team took a chance on me last year and I’m excited to bring this amazing TikTok partnership their way. I wouldn’t want to make this partnership a reality anywhere else.”

Vargas has made three Xfinity Series starts this year. His best finish was 13th at Pocono.

The sponsor deal is part of TikTok’s Latinx Heritage Month programming.

A native of La Mirada, California, Vargas joined TikTok last year. He is a former member of NASCAR’s Drive 4 Diversity programming and a winner of the Wendell Scott Trailblazer award, which is given to a minority or female driver who displays exceptional on-track performance, sportsmanship, and community service.

The partnership and paint scheme were inspired by a concept scheme by graphic designer Ryan Pistana, a friend of Vargas’.

“Creators of all sizes and backgrounds show up to TikTok with their genuine, authentic selves,” Nick Tran, TikTok’s Head of Global Marketing, said in a press release. “Partnering with an iconic brand like NASCAR to sponsor Ryan Vargas on his racing journey is a way for us to continue to support, celebrate and elevate the diverse creators that make our TikTok community what it is today. Ryan is an incredible athlete, and we’re looking forward to cheering him on alongside the rest of the TikTok community!”

According to CNBC in August, TikTok has roughly 100 million monthly users, up nearly 800% from January 2018.

TikTok, a Chinese-owned company, has been in national headlines recently after President Donald Trump threatened to ban the app in the United States for national security reasons if it was not sold to an American company. On Sept. 19 he approved a deal for its U.S operations to be operated by Oracle and Walmart.