Photo courtesy Stewart-Haas Racing

Newcomer Clint Bowyer is at front of the pack at Stewart-Haas Racing

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Will success spoil Clint Bowyer?

By comparison to the struggles he went through during his forgettable 2016 campaign with HScott Motorsports. Bowyer is having a championship season of sorts in 2017.

In his first six races with Stewart-Haas Racing in 2017, Bowyer has one top-five and three top 10s (which equals the number of top 10s he had in all of 2016 with HScott Motorsports).

He also earned his first top-five finish (third at Fontana) in 53 starts, dating back to a fifth at Bristol Motor Speedway in August 2015.

Tony Stewart’s successor in the No. 14 Ford is the highest-ranked driver in the Stewart-Haas Racing stable at eighth heading into Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Yep, that’s right. The first-year SHR driver is ahead of teammates Kevin Harvick (10th place), Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch (19th) and Danica Patrick (29th).

The start is a far cry from the way 2016 ended in 27th place.

Bowyer also has been the highest-finishing SHR driver in three of the last four races, a stretch he hopes to extend this weekend with a decent overall record at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway and its totally repaved racing surface.

In 22 starts at the Fort Worth track, Bowyer has yet to win, but he has three top-fives and 10 top-10 finishes. His most recent top-10 was an eighth in spring 2014, and his last top-five was runner-up in spring 2011.

His average finish is 15.5 and average start is 17.4.

But with the TMS repave, all bets are off, Bowyer said.

“Whatever has been the key to success is Texas is probably the opposite of what you will want to do this weekend,” he said in a team media release. “It’s literally a whole new ballgame.”

That can mean just about anything.

Drivers won’t get their first chance to feel out the new surface – which includes a reconfigured Turns 1 and 2 (each cut from 24 to 20 degrees of banking and widened from 55 to 80 feet) – until Friday’s practice session.

While Bowyer is looking forward to return to TMS because it’s one of his favorite tracks on the Cup circuit, the repaving is a whole other matter.

“I’m not a fan of repaves,” he said. “It’s disappointing for everybody, including the tracks, but it was time.

“Tracks are like a bottle of wine in that they age really well. But, at some point, you pop the cork and drink the wine. After you drink it, the bottle is empty and it’s time for something new.”

Part of the impetus for the resurfacing, the second since the track first opened in 1997 (it also was repaved in 2001), were lengthy rain delays that impacted all three NASCAR and IndyCar race weekends last year.

Whatever the new surface throws at Bowyer and the rest of the NASCAR Cup brigade, he’ll be ready.

“In years past, it’s been tire management and finding a groove where you can work, but I really do think that will be all thrown out the window,” Bowyer said. “Now, you will probably need to find the shortest way around the track, which means riding around the bottom will be the fastest way around.”

TMS used to be one of the fastest tracks on the Cup circuit before yielding its unofficial king of speed reputation to other tracks.

“For Texas it’s all about having the sheer speed,” Bowyer said. “On those 1.5-mile tracks, you have to have a car that unloads fast. You can be a little bit tight or a little bit loose but, if that car isn’t making grip, making downforce and having the speed on the racetrack, then you are going to struggle.

“Unloading a fast hot rod right off the truck is going to be so important because you are going to have to qualify well and have that track position to be a contender.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

 

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