Denny Hamlin crew chief: after being ’embarrassed’ early, ‘can’t say I’m holding back’

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Mike Wheeler was a “little embarrassed.”

Denny Hamlin had won the Daytona 500, giving the No. 11 team the points lead and all but insured a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Ten races later, Hamlin was outside the top 10 in the standings.

Wheeler, a rookie Sprint Cup crew chief, had put the No. 11 team in “R&D mode for a bit.”

“Like (if) I got this crazy idea, let’s try it,” Wheeler said Saturday after Hamlin won the Sprint Cup race at Richmond. “A couple of them worked, three or four of them were failures.”

The hits and misses had Hamlin 13th in the standings by the May 7 race at Kansas. Leaving Kansas, Hamlin had six finishes of 15th or worst.

The No. 11 team would be outside the top 10 in points for eight of the next 11 races, not rising above 10th until after the Aug. 1 Pocono race.

“Honestly, once we got down in points, I was a little embarrassed,” Wheeler said. “Really made sure to get everybody together and run into the Chase strong.”

The righting of Hamlin’s season begun two weeks earlier at New Hampshire Motor Speedway when the No. 11 finished 10th. It was Hamlin’s second top 10-finish in six races (including a runner-up finish Sonoma).

His win Saturday in the Federated Auto Parts 400 gives Hamlin eight straight top 10s, the best stretch of Hamlin’s 12-year career. That includes his first road course win at Watkins Glen International.

“With that, our pit crew is knocking it out of the park right now,” Wheeler said. “We’re doing good on Fridays and Saturdays. I think our qualifying average is about as good as anybody. Finally got a pole.”

Entering the weekend, Hamlin was one of two Joe Gibbs Racing-related drivers to not have a pole. Carl Edwards has a series leading five, Kyle Busch has two and Martin Truex Jr. at Furniture Row Racing has three, which ties his career best.

Leaving Richmond and heading into his 10th Chase for the Sprint Cup, Hamlin has an average start of 5.9 and and average finish of 12.2.

After going into R&D mode early in the season, Wheeler “can’t say I’m holding back. I’m making sure that we get into the first round by running good, making sure we maximize what we can, and obviously try to perform at the highest level and win some races.”

And with Hamlin having earned three wins in 26 races, his most since winning five in 2012, Wheeler has nothing to be embarrassed about.

“We’ve been in the past in the Chase going, you know, we can win some races and we can be good, but you always had this feeling of you can get beat,” Wheeler said. “If you’re not at 100 percent, you can get beat. I feel good now that if we hit 100 percent, we will win. That’s something you strive for.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick still No. 1 after quiet Vegas

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Kevin Harvick didn’t have a flashy night Sunday in Las Vegas, but it didn’t keep him from retaining the No. 1 spot in this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings.

After winning the Bristol night race, Harvick finished in the top 10 in the first two stages in Vegas before placing 10th at race’s end.

Kurt Busch’s win at his home track vaulted him into the top 10 as 12 drivers received votes.

More: Playoff standings after Las Vegas

Here is this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings:

1. Kevin Harvick (Last week No. 1): In the last eight races he’s won three times and finished outside the top 10 only twice.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (Last week No. 5): Placed fourth for his 11th top-five finish in the last 14 races.

3. Alex Bowman (Last week unranked): Finished fifth for his second top five and fifth top-10 finish in the last six races.

4. Denny Hamlin (Last week unranked): Left Vegas with a third-place finish to snap a three-race streak of finishing outside the top 10.

5. Kurt Busch (Last week unranked): Snapped a 46-race winless streak with his victory and advanced to the Round of 8.

6. Kyle Busch (Last week No. 3): Finished sixth after a “dismal” night. He has four consecutive top 10s.

7. Brad Keselowski (Last week No. 5): Finished 13th to give him two finishes outside the top 10 since he won at Richmond.

8. Chase Briscoe (Last week unranked): Opened the Xfinity playoffs with his second consecutive win.

8. Chase Elliott (Last week No. 2): Led 73 laps, but had to settle for a 22nd-place finish in Vegas.

8. Joey Logano (Last week No. 3): Finished 14th for his second straight finish outside the top 10.

Also receiving votes: Erik Jones and Chris Buescher.

NASCAR announces changes to Kansas playoff weekend

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Citing “programming changes,” NASCAR announced shifts in the race dates and start times for its visit next month to Kansas Speedway.

The Xfinity, ARCA and Truck Series races have been shifted, while the Cup race remains at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 18.

The biggest move is the Truck Series race shifting from Friday night to Saturday afternoon.

Here are the changes.

Friday, Oct. 16, 8:30 p.m. ETARCA Menards Series on FS1 or FS2; network TBD at a later date (previously at 10 p.m. ET)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 4 p.m. ETTruck Series on FOX (previously Friday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m. ET Xfinity on NBCSN (previously 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

 

Xfinity Series playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Chase Briscoe opened the Xfinity Series playoffs by earning his second consecutive win.

His victory Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway gives him 57 playoff points and an automatic spot in the Round of 8.

Harrison Burton holds the final transfer spot. He has a two-point advantage over Ross Chastain.

Behind Chastain below the cutline are Michael Annett (-10 points), Riley Herbst (-14) and Brandon Brown (-20).

Below is the full Xfinity Series playoff standings going into Saturday’s race at Talladega (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance. Drivers in yellow are in the remaining playoff spots.

Xfinity Series playoff standings

Cup playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Kurt Busch flipped the script on the Cup playoff standings with his win Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings, but is the first driver to clinch a spot in the Round of 8.

Replacing Busch in the bottom spot of the playoff standings is Austin Dillon. He is 32 points behind Alex Bowman, who holds the final cutoff spot.

Behind Bowman is Kyle Busch (-9 points), Clint Bowyer (-20), Aric Almirola (-27) and Dillon.

“Obviously, the 1 car (Kurt Busch) was not a car that we needed to win a race,” Clint Bowyer said after Sunday’s race. “It’s been a hell of a battle back there with cars that are kind of in the same wheelhouse as far as points-wise. (Kurt Busch) winning changes that landscape quite a bit, but we’re only 20 points out.”

Here is the full playoff standings entering Sunday’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance to the Round of 8. Drivers in yellow hold the remaining available playoff spots.

Cup playoff standings