Upon Further Review: Playoff mettle

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LOUDON, N.H. — In a race dominated by others, it wasn’t surprising that Kevin Harvick won Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

“It’s not like he came out of nowhere,’’ said Martin Truex Jr., who led a race-high 141 laps but finished seventh.

Although Harvick led only eight laps, he worked his way from his 19th starting spot and put himself in a position to win, which he has excelled at since the Chase went to the elimination format in 2014.

Sunday marked Harvick’s fifth win the Chase since the 2014 playoffs (Joey Logano also has as many wins in the Chase during that time). Nobody has as many top-two finishes in that stretch as Harvick with nine. That means he’s finishing first or second 40.9 percent of the time in the playoffs.

Just look at how many top-two finishes current Chase drivers have had in the 22 playoff races since 2014:

9 – Kevin Harvick (5 wins, 4 runner-ups)

6 – Joey Logano (5 wins, 1 runner-up)

4 – Brad Keselowski (2 wins, 2 runner-ups)

3 – Denny Hamlin (1 win, 2 runner-ups)

3 – Matt Kenseth (1 win, 2 runner-ups)

Harvick is most dangerous in the final three races — Texas, Phoenix and Homestead. In the previous two years in the Chase, Harvick has two wins, three runner-up finishes and a third-place finish in those six races.

“I think the whole team elevates itself and Kevin does a great job in the Chase races, he flips a switch and knows it’s time to rock and roll and the team is the same way,’’ crew chief Rodney Childers told NBC Sports about the team’s playoff success.

It’s also helps to score wins early in the year to all but assure a Chase spot. That helps the team prepare for the playoffs.

“We tried to do a lot of R&D work over the summer to try to get better,’’ Childers said. “We learned a little bit here and there and we also did some things that weren’t so good. We’ve had I guess a good string of being able to step up to the plate when we need to.’’

Said Harvick of his playoff success, which includes the 2014 series title: “It’s about people, preparation and organization. We’ve had fast cars, and we’ve had all the things that it takes to perform and really those are the three things it takes to get the most out of the Chase, and I think they’ve done that for three years.’’

HEAD OF THE CLASS

Two days after he won the Chase opener for the Camping World Truck Series, Liberty University freshman William Byron is taking a pair of tests today.

He was to have taken them Thursday but he was on his way to New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The business communications major has tests in his U.S. history class that, according to the school “examines the political, social and economic developments of America,’’ and his biblical worldview class, a freshman class that the school states provides an “introduction to critical thinking, an evaluation of contemporary moral philosophies, and an affirmation of absolute truth.”

Byron has been on the Lynchburg, Virginia, campus about a month. He lives in a dorm and has classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. That gives him time to return to Mooresville, North Carolina, to the Kyle Busch Motorsports shop on other days and to travel to the races.

“I think the funnest thing is having new friends and having people that you get to know,’’ Byron told NBC Sports of the college life. “The hardest thing is finding the time to get away from what everyone else is doing and study for the race. There’s a lot of preparation that goes into getting ready for a race weekend and getting your mindset right.’’

With the Chase beginning, he admits it has become more hectic with classes and the demands of racing for a championship. He normally doesn’t bring his books to the track but did this past weekend because of his tests today.

Which test is he most concerned about?

“Probably the history test because there’s so much information and material,’’ he said.

DEEP THOUGHTS

After his win in Saturday night’s Xfinity race at Kentucky Speedway, 41-year-old Elliott Sadler was asked what it would mean to win a series championship.

“I would be lying to you if I said I haven’t thought about it,’’ Sadler said. “I would love to win a championship. I felt like it was taken from me in 2012. I’ve had a big chip on my shoulder ever since. I felt like since that time I’ve worked really hard at being a race car driver, being a complete race car driver, what I mean by that, good by communication, a good teammate, a good leader, a good quarterback because I haven’t always been the best of one of those, but I don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves. We’ve got six more races to go to make that happen.

“If I can actually look my mom and my dad in the face after what they sacrificed for me as a kid, what they put on hold to give me good equipment as a kid to follow my dream and chase my dream will be the best feeling in the world.’’

Sadler’s angst with 2012 goes back to the race at Indianapolis when NASCAR ruled he jumped a late restart, costing him a chance at the win. He finished 15th and left that race one point ahead of Austin Dillon in the title race. He went on to lose the title by 23 points to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. It was the second of three consecutive years Sadler finished runner-up for the Xfinity title.

PIT STOPS

— Denny Hamlin’s 15th-place finish ended his career-high streak of nine consecutive top-10 finishes.

Kasey Kahne’s ninth-place finish was his fourth top 10 in a row.  The last time Kahne had four top 10s in a row was spring 2013.

— Austin Dillon finished 16th, the highest a Richard Childress Racing car — or car affiliated with RCR — finished Sunday. In the first two Chase races, no RCR car or car affiliated with RCR has finished better than 14th (Dillon at Chicagoland Speedway).

Tony Stewart’s 23rd-place finish Sunday marked his sixth consecutive finish of 16th or worse.

— Toyotas have led 56.1 percent of the 7,945 laps run this year in Cup. That’s 4,461 laps led for the manufacturer.

— Toyotas combined to lead 579 of the 601 laps run in the two New Hampshire Cup races this year. That’s 96.3 percent.

Rodney Childers fined $100,000, suspended for four races

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NASCAR has suspended Rodney Childers, Kevin Harvick‘s crew chief, for four races and fined him $100,000 for what the sanctioning body called modification of a part supplied by a vendor.

Harvick, who is out of the Cup Series playoffs, and the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 team were docked 100 points.

Harvick’s car and that of Martin Truex Jr. were taken to NASCAR’s Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C. after last Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway. There were no penalties assessed to the Truex team.

Harvick has been particularly critical of the Next Gen car in recent months, once referring to the “crappy-ass parts” provided by suppliers.

Harvick’s car erupted in flames during the Southern 500 Sept. 4 at Darlington Raceway. After he climbed from the smoking car, Harvick blamed the fire on “just crappy parts on the race car like we’ve seen so many times. They haven’t fixed anything. It’s kind of like the safety stuff. We just let it keep going and keep going.

“The car started burning and as it burned the flames started coming through the dash. I ran a couple laps and then as the flame got bigger it started burning stuff up and I think right there you see all the brake fluid that was probably coming out the brakes and part of the brake line, but the fire was coming through the dash.

“What a disaster for no reason. We didn’t touch the wall. We didn’t touch a car, and here we are in the pits with a burned-up car, and we can’t finish the race during the playoffs because of crappy-ass parts.”

MORE: AJ Allmendinger to return to Cup Series in 2023

Unless the team appeals, Childers would miss races at Charlotte, Las Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville and would return for the season finale at Phoenix.

NASCAR president Steve Phelps told the Associated Press that officials have not targeted Harvick. “I would say that’s ridiculous,” he said. “No one has a vendetta against Kevin Harvick or Rodney or anyone at Stewart-Haas Racing.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Harvick tweeted, “Seems strange…” A Childers tweet called the penalty “Shocker…..”.

NASCAR also announced Wednesday it has suspended Young’s Motorsports crew chief Andrew Abbott indefinitely for a behavioral violation during pre-race inspection. He must undergo anger-management training to be reinstated. The team races in the Camping World Truck Series.

Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup Series race at Charlotte Roval

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The lineup for the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs Round of 8 will be decided in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

Entering the race, the final event in the Round of 12, Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman are below the cutline. Bowman will miss the race — and thus the cutoff — as he continues to battle concussion-like symptoms. Noah Gragson is scheduled to drive the No. 48 Chevrolet Sunday.

Cindric is tied with Chase Briscoe for the eighth playoff spot, but Briscoe would claim it on the tiebreaker. Byron is 11 points back, and Bell is 33. Hendrick Motorsports has appealed the penalty to Byron that dropped him below the cutline. That appeal is scheduled to be heard Thursday.

MORE: Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

Any playoff driver who wins Sunday’s race and isn’t already qualified — Chase Elliott qualified for the Round of 8 by winning last week at Talladega Superspeedway — automatically advances to the Round of 8.

Drivers to watch Sunday at the Roval (2 p.m., ET, NBC), the final road-course race of the season:

FRONTRUNNERS

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 1st
  • Last three races: Won at Talladega, 32nd at Texas, 2nd at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Won in 2019 and 2020

Elliott is the clear favorite to win a second championship. He won Sunday at Talladega to advance to the Round of 8 and can relax Sunday at Charlotte having punched his ticket. Relaxing isn’t likely, however, as Elliott will be among the favorites to win.

Ryan Blaney

  • Points position: 2nd
  • Last three races: 2nd at Talladega, 4th at Texas, 30th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Won in 2018.

Blaney continues along a path that could result in him winning the Cup championship without winning a race. He came within an eyelash of winning Sunday at Talladega but fell victim to Chase Elliott’s last-lap charge. He should be a threat Sunday at the Roval, where he has four straight top 10s.

Kyle Larson

  • Points position: 6th
  • Last three races: 18th at Talladega, 9th at Texas, 5th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Won in 2021

Larson’s last win — and his last top-four finish — came at Watkins Glen seven races ago. He is 18 points over the cutline entering Sunday’s race.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Austin Cindric

  • Points position: 9th
  • Last three races: 9th at Talladega, 15th at Texas, 20th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Sunday will mark his first Cup race. Has three top threes in four Xfinity starts.

Cindric hasn’t won since the season-opening Daytona 500 and is one of five drivers still in the playoffs who own only one victory this year. His ninth-place run at Talladega ended a streak of four straight finishes of 12th or worse.

MORE: NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

Daniel Suarez

  • Points position: 7th
  • Last three races: 8th at Talladega, 12th at Texas, 19th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Best finish in four starts is 13th

Suarez is 12 points above the cutline entering Sunday’s race. He has never led a lap at the Roval and has never finished in the top 10.

Chase Briscoe

  • Points position: 8th
  • Last three races: 10th at Talladega, 5th at Texas, 14th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Finished 22nd last year in his only Cup start

Briscoe is teetering on top of the cutline in search of a spot in the Round of 8. He hasn’t won since the fourth race of the year at Phoenix and had a poor performance at the Roval last year.

 

 

AJ Allmendinger to return to NASCAR Cup Series in 2023

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AJ Allmendinger is getting another shot at success in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Kaulig Racing announced Wednesday that Allmendinger, currently chasing the Xfinity Series championship, will drive full-time in Kaulig entries in the Cup Series next season.

Allmendinger raced in Cup from 2007 to 2018 but won only one time — at Watkins Glen International — across those years. He moved to the Xfinity Series part-time with Kaulig in 2019, winning on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. He won twice in 2020 and five times in 2021 and is a favorite to win the Xfinity championship this year. He has won four Xfinity races this season, including last Sunday at Talladega.

MORE: Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

Allmendinger, 40, will drive Kaulig’s No. 16 car in Cup next year. Justin Haley will drive the team’s No. 31.

Chandler Smith will replace Allmendinger in the Xfinity Series next year.

“It’s crazy how the last five years of my life have gone,” Allmendinger said. “More than anything, I love this organization. I know the fans get tired of me talking about all the men and women of Kaulig Racing. This is not a race team. This is a huge family.

“There will be tough times and growing pains, for sure. But I love what they’re about, and they believe in me. I’ll be OK whether it’s good or bad.”

MORE: Chase Elliott atop NASCAR Power Rankings

Team owner Matt Kaulig said Allmendinger is “one of the best in the world at every type of track. He’s done so much for Kaulig Racing and our program. He’s a gigantic part of what we’re building.”

Team officials said Allmendinger has a multi-year contract.

 

 

 

 

 

NASCAR viewer’s guide for Charlotte Roval

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Sunday provides a final chance for drivers to advance to the Round of 8 and keep their Cup championship hopes alive.

Talladega winner Chase Elliott is the only driver who has advanced to the next round. That leaves seven spots available going into Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe holds the final transfer spot by a tiebreaker over Austin Cindric. At least for now.

William Byron is 11 points behind both drivers, but Hendrick Motorsports will appeal Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas on Thursday. Should Hendrick win and Byron get those points back, he would move into a transfer spot.

There’s just part of what to watch for in Sunday’s race.

Favorites to be No. 20

This season remains tied for the most different winners in series history at 19, but there are a few candidates who could become the 20th different winner this year on Sunday.

Among the favorites to do so:

Ryan Blaney, who came close to winning last week at Talladega, won the inaugural Cup race at the Roval in 2018.

Martin Truex Jr., who has four career Cup wins on road courses, still seeks his first victory of the season.

Michael McDowell, who is coming off a third-place finish at Talladega, has had a career-high 12 top-10 finishes this season, including top 10s in each of the last four road course events this year.

Will history repeat?

Last year, the four drivers eliminated after the Roval were Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman, Christopher Bell and William Byron.

Harvick was eliminated in the first round this year, but Byron (-11 to the cutline) and Bell (-33) are in jeopardy of being eliminated in this round again. Bowman stated Tuesday that he will miss his second consecutive race because of continued concussion symptoms. He will be among the four eliminated from title contention.

Bowman missed last weekend’s race because of concussion-like symptoms suffered at Texas. A decision on if he’ll be able to race at the Roval will come later this week.

Will chaos continue?

Consider what some of the former Roval winners have endured on their way to the checkered flag:

In 2019, Chase Elliott drove into the Turn 1 wall on a restart while the leader. He recovered to win.

In 2020, Elliott overcame a loose wheel to win for the second year in a row.

In 2021, Kyle Larson won after his team changed batteries and put the alternator belt back on.

Could a similar fate be in store for this year’s winner? Or will they have a cleaner day?

Entry lists

Thirty-nine drivers are entered including IndyCar driver Conor Daly, former Formula 1 driver Daniil Kvyat, former 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller and former 24 Hours of Daytona winner Joey Hand. JJ Yeley will drive the No. 51 for Cody Ware, who stated that he would skip this event because of his ankle injury at Texas the footwork needed on a road course.

Charlotte Roval Cup entry list

The Xfinity entry list includes 41 drivers for 38 spots. Among those joining the series regulars are IndyCar driver Marco Andretti and former F1 driver Daniil Kvyat.

Charlotte Roval Xfinity entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Saturday, Oct. 8

Forecast: Partly cloudy with a high of 66 degrees. No chance of rain during the Xfinity race.

  • 10 – 10:30 a.m. — Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)
  • 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying (NBC Sports App)
  • 12 – 1 p.m. — Cup practice (NBC Sports App, USA Network coverage begins at 12:30 p.m.)
  • 1 – 2 p.m. — Cup qualifying (USA Network, NBC Sports App)
  • 3 p.m. — Xfinity race (67 laps, 155.44 miles; NBC, Peacock, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 9

Forecast: Sunny with a high of 64 degrees. No chance of rain during the race.

  • 2 p.m. — Cup race (109 laps, 252.88 miles; NBC, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)