These will be the drivers worth watching in Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Chicagoland Speedway:
Martin Truex Jr.
With Chicagoland as the first of five 1.5-mile tracks in the Chase, Truex appears poised to be a major factor in the playoffs. During the regular season, Truex posted an 8.2 average finish across the six races held on 1.5-milers and led the most laps in three of them (including his Charlotte win). Chicagoland hasn’t been great for him (16.3 average finish in 10 starts), but he was up for a top 10 in last year’s Chase opener before a bad final restart relegated him to 13th.
After opening the year with 14 top 10s in the first 16 races, Busch has tailed off with just three top 10s in the last 10 races entering this weekend. That said, he and Stewart-Haas teammate Kevin Harvick are the only drivers to notch top-10 finishes in each of the aforementioned six races on 1.5-milers so far. Busch has also gotten a handle on Chicagoland with three straight top-10 runs there, including a third-place showing last year.
Hamlin has now become a trendy pick to make it all the way to Miami, and it’s easy to see why. He enters the Chase with eight consecutive top-10 finishes, including wins at Watkins Glen and last week on home turf at Richmond. An interesting note: In those last eight races, Hamlin’s finish has been better than his average running position in six of them.
A run-in with Jimmie Johnson cost Harvick a chance to open last year’s Chase with a win at Chicagoland, but the 2014 champ figures to be in the mix again Sunday. He enters the Chase with four consecutive top-five finishes (including a win at Bristol) and has had metronomic consistency all year (21 top-10 finishes, most in Cup). The only question: His reconstituted pit crew, which was solid last week at Richmond but now face the pressure of the playoffs.
In 2014, it was Ryan Newman. In 2015, it was Martin Truex Jr. So, who will be the surprise to make it to Miami this year? Larson may well be it. He’s posted three straight top-three finishes, and top-six finishes in five of the last seven races. He’s also been good at Chicagoland in his first two Cup starts there with finishes of third and seventh.
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.
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.
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. ET – ARCA Menards Series on FS1 or FS2; network TBD at a later date (previously at 10 p.m. ET)
Saturday, Oct. 17, 4 p.m. ET – Truck 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)
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.
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.