Bump & Run: Is Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s back against wall after slow start?

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Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte, who appear on NASCAR America from 5:30 – 6 p.m. ET today, join Nate Ryan and Dustin Long, to answer this week’s questions.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has finished 30th or worse in five on the season’s first nine races and is 24th in the points. How much is his back against the wall a third of the way through the regular season?

Steve Letarte: Going into Talladega, it’s really hard to answer this question because Dale has to be looking at this as a huge opportunity to get to Victory Lane, and I think a win cures everything in the current format.

I don’t think it’s time to panic yet, but when NBC comes on the air on the Fourth of July weekend, which will be the last restrictor-plate race before the playoffs, if they’re still on the outside looking in without a win, I think the pressure heading into that weekend will be huge. Not pressing the panic button yet, but I think there’s more importance on this Talladega race weekend for the 88 than maybe in years past.

Jeff Burton: I’d say it’s very much against the wall. It’s putting him in a position of having to win. They’re getting to that position where they have to find a way to win if they want to get themselves in the playoffs. Points are becoming more difficult to get. I think it puts a lot of pressure on Talladega. I think it puts a lot of pressure on Daytona. I think it puts a lot of pressure where he typically is really good.

Nate Ryan: It’s must-win, and Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway might loom as his best opportunity for making the playoffs in his final season. Daytona in July also will offer another strong shot, but it’s hard to point at another track beyond those two as a strong possibility for a breakthrough victory. He can win anytime he starts at Talladega and Daytona (and probably had a car to win the 2017 Daytona 500 before wrecking). 

Part of the problem here is the struggles of Hendrick Motorsports. All four of its cars were out to lunch (and mostly outside the top 10) at Richmond. That will preclude the hope of success at most unrestricted tracks and also virtually negates any hope of Earnhardt making the playoffs on points. However, if the team quickly can hit on something and get it implemented in its Chevrolets, Earnhardt historically has run well at Dover, Michigan and Pocono. But there are other tracks (Sonoma, Watkins Glen, Darlington, Charlotte) where an out-of-the-blue win seems much less likely.

Dustin Long: There’s still plenty of time to make the playoffs. Hey, Tony Stewart missed the first eight races last year and made the playoffs, and Kyle Busch missed the first 11 races in 2015 and won the title.

It’s not about making the playoffs at Hendrick, though, it’s about winning championships. With the new points structure, his back is against the wall because he’s falling further behind drivers who have scored playoff points via stage wins or race wins. Those playoff points likely will play a key role in who advances throughout the playoffs. Earnhardt has work to do, but there is some time.

Denny Hamlin, noting the struggles Joe Gibbs Racing has had this year, said that this weekend’s restrictor-plate race at Talladega is “honestly, probably the best chance I have at winning until a few months from now.’’ Do you agree with his assessment?

Steve Letarte: I think that’s a veteran driver deflecting some of the pressure off his team or trying to motivate his team, I’m not sure which. I think they’re closer to winning than Denny is letting on, but he’s also the only guy behind the wheel that knows how his car is driving. Perhaps he’s trying to just define how aggressive he’s going to be at Talladega pre-showing up for the event. I don’t think Joe Gibbs Racing is that far off, but he did say a couple of months and not a couple of years. A couple of months is only the middle of the summer. I would expect to see Joe Gibbs Racing winning races before the playoffs.

Jeff Burton: Things change. I think if you look at the year as a whole, I think you could say that. Watch the last year with Jimmie Johnson. Good race car drivers and good race teams find a way to make things happen. So, yes, I think that’s a fair statement. Three weeks from now, we could be talking about Denny Hamlin winning two in a row. I never trust the pessimism of a driver.

Nate Ryan: Well, this is the guy who picked North Carolina to beat Gonzaga in the NCAA championship before this year’s tournament began.  

Hamlin knows the cars well and also is known for speaking accurately and bluntly when asked to provide an assessment. He probably is right that it will be until late summer – Joe Gibbs Racing probably is aiming for the Brickyard – before Toyota Racing Development and the team roll out the next generation of good stuff that will lift the organization back into weekly contention.

This season feels very similar to 2014 when JGR muddled through and won only two races (including one for Hamlin at … Talladega). That remains fresh in the drivers’ minds, and it probably informs some of why Hamlin is gauging the improvement over months instead of weeks.

Dustin Long: Yes. I think the three races after Talladega — Kansas, the All-Star race and the Coca-Cola 600 will be critical for Hamlin and Joe Gibbs Racing since all those races are on 1.5-mile tracks. The key is to show improvement to build throughout the summer.

Since JGR placed all four drivers in the top 10 at Texas in November (Carl Edwards won), the organization has not had a top-five finish in the four races at 1.5-mile tracks since. Admittedly, Kyle Busch was in place to finish in the top five at Las Vegas before the last-lap incident with Joey Logano but it’s clear JGR has work to do on these tracks.

Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. hold the final two playoff spots after nine of 26 races in the regular season. Do you think either of them will make the playoffs?

Steve Letarte: I think one Roush Fenway car has odds to make the playoffs. I don’t think there’s room for two even though they hold those spots now. I think we haven’t seen everyone win who we will see win, and that is going to change the playoff picture. I’m not sure they have winning speed yet, but if they can continue to run like they are, show some consistency and really continue to move the ball forward is the key. Where they’re currently at is barely making the playoffs. If they continue to improve, maybe one of them can solidly make the playoffs.

Jeff Burton: I think the best chance for them to make the playoffs is to not have a lot of new winners. The more people that get in by points, the better chance they have of getting in by points. They have shown definitely an uptick in performance, but they haven’t shown winning speed. If you say they have to get in by winning, I think that starts to be problematic for them. I think one of them gets in by points. I think it will be difficult for both of them to get in by points.

Nate Ryan: One of them will: Stenhouse. His improvement is real, and he finally seems to have blended the raw talent with wise decision-making. His rally from an early spin to another top 10 at Richmond (fourth) shows the moxie in his game this season – just like his bump on Kyle Busch at the end of Stage 2 at Martinsville Speedway.

The key will be if Roush Fenway can keep building fast Fords to keep pace. Last year, the team fell off a cliff after May.

Dustin Long: Admittedly, it’s hard to see both making it at this point. That said, I like what I’ve seen from this organization. It is making steady progress.

Roush hasn’t shown the speed to contend for wins. Instead, they’ve taken advantage of some pit calls to score strong finishes. Key is to avoid trouble and bad days. If they can be consistent — and as Nate notes, they struggled after May last year — then Roush could have a car in the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

Watch Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte from 5:30 – 6 p.m. ET on NASCAR America on NBCSN.

Xfinity Series playoff standings entering first round

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The Xfinity Series playoffs begin this weekend with a 12-driver field set to compete for the championship.

The playoffs start Saturday night with a race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric start the postseason tied after they each earned 50 playoff points during the regular season.

More: Las Vegas entry lists

The last four drivers in the standings are Ryan Sieg (2,002 points), Michael Annett (2,002), Riley Herbst (2,001) and Brandon Brown (2,000).

Here are the full playoff standings entering the Round of 12.

 

Cup playoff standings entering Round of 12

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The Round of 12 in the Cup playoffs has arrived following Saturday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Eliminated from contention were Matt DiBenedetto, Ryan Blaney, Cole Custer and William Byron.

The second round begins Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

More: Entry lists for Las Vegas

Kurt Busch begins the round last in the standings with 3,0001 points.

Here is the full playoff standings entering the Round of 12.

Drivers in yellow are those who will compete in the Round of 12. Drivers in red were eliminated at the end of the first round.

Cup playoff standings

 

NASCAR entry lists for Las Vegas

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The Round of 12 begins this weekend for the Cup Series and NASCAR’s entry lists for Las Vegas Motor Speedway are out.

All three national series will compete at the 1.5-mile track as the Xfinity Series begins its playoffs and the Truck Series holds its second playoff race.

More: Bristol winners and losers

Here are the preliminary entry lists for Las Vegas:

Cup – South Point 400 (7 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN)

Thirty-nine cars are entered for the first race of the Round of 12.

Joey Logano won at Las Vegas in the spring over Matt DiBenedetto and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. This race was won last season by Martin Truex Jr. over Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski.

Click here for the Cup entry list.

 

Xfinity – Alsco 300 (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)

Thirty-four cars are entered in the Xfinity playoff opener.

Daniel Hemric is entered in JR Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet.

Austin Hill is entered in Hattori Racing Enterprises’ No. 61 Toyota.

Chase Briscoe won at Las Vegas in February over Austin Cindric and Ryan Sieg. This race was won last year by Tyler Reddick over Christopher Bell and Brandon Jones.

Click here for the Xfinity entry list.

 

Trucks – World of Westgate 200 (9 p.m. ET Friday on FS1)

Thirty-six trucks are entered.

Ryan Truex is entered in Niece Motorsports’ No. 40 Chevrolet.

IndyCar driver Conor Daly will make his Truck Series debut in Niece Motorsports’ No. 42 Chevrolet.

Travis Pastrana is entered in Niece Motorsports’ No. 45 Chevrolet for his second start of the season.

Kyle Busch won at Las Vegas in February over Johnny Sauter and Austin Hill. Austin Hill won this race last year over Ross Chastain and Christian Eckes.

Click here for the Truck entry list

NASCAR 2020 schedule: Times, TV channels, stream info and tracks for Cup series

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The second round of the NASCAR 2020 Cup series playoffs will begin on Sunday, September 27 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

William ByronCole CusterMatt DiBenedetto and Ryan Blaney saw their championship hopes end last Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway where Kevin Harvick stole the show with his ninth win of the season. Harvick’s victory at Bristol marked a career-best milestone as his previous best was eight wins back in 2018.

Click here to see the NASCAR entry lists for Las Vegas 

    RELATED: Bristol Cup results, driver points report

NASCAR 2020 Schedule Playoffs – Round of 12

Sept. 27 – South Point 400

Time: 7 p.m.
Track: Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Oct. 4 – YellaWood 500

Time: 2 p.m.
Track: Talladega Superspeedway

Oct. 11 – Bank of America Roval 400

Time: 2:30 p.m.
Track: Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL

Playoffs – Round of 8

Oct. 18 – Hollywood Casino 400

Time: 2:30 p.m.
Track: Kansas Speedway, 2:30 p.m.

Oct. 25 – Texas 500

Time: 3 p.m.
Track: Texas Motor Speedway

Nov. 1 – Xfinity 500

Time: 2 p.m.
Track: Martinsville Speedway

Championship – Round of 4

Nov. 8 – NASCAR Cup Series Championship

Time: 3 p.m.
Track: Phoenix Raceway


PAST RESULTS for NASCAR 2020 SCHEDULE

Daytona 500

Date: Feb. 17
Winner: Denny Hamlin

Pennzoil 500 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Date: Feb. 23
Winner: Joey Logano (video)

Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway

Date: March 1
Winner: Alex Bowman

FanShield 500 at Phoenix Raceway

Date: March 8
Winner: Joey Logano (video)

The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway

Date: May 17
Winner: Kevin Harvick

Toyota 500 at Darlington Raceway

Date: May 20
Winner: Denny Hamlin (video)

Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Date: May 24
Winner: Brad Keselowski

Alsco Uniforms 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Date: May 28
Winner: Chase Elliott  (video)

Supermarket Heroes 500 – at Bristol Motor Speedway

Date: May 31
Winner: Brad Keselowski

Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway

Date: June 7
Winner: Kevin Harvick

Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway

Date: June 10
Winner: Martin Truex Jr. (video)

Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway

Date: June 14
Winner: Denny Hamlin (video)

Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway

Date: June 22
Winner: Ryan Blaney

Pocono Organics 325 at Pocono Raceway

Date: June 27
Winner: Kevin Harvick

Pocono 350 at Pocono Raceway

Date: June 28
Winner: Denny Hamlin

Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 at The Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Date: July 5
Winner: Kevin Harvick

Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway

Date: July 12
Winner: Cole Custer

NASCAR All-Star Race

Date: July 15
Winner: Chase Elliott

O’Reilly Auto Parts 500

Date: July 19
Winner: Austin Dillon

Super Start Batteries 400

Date: July 23
Winner: Denny Hamlin

Foxwoods Resort Casino 301

Date: Aug. 2:
Winner: Brad Keselowski

FireKeepers Casino 400

Date: Aug. 8
Winner: 
Kevin Harvick

Consumers Energy 400

Date: Aug. 9
Winner:
Kevin Harvick

NASCAR Cup Series Race at Daytona Road Course

Date: Aug. 16
Winner:
Chase Elliott

NASCAR Cup Series Race at Dover

Race 1

Date: Aug 22
Winner:
Denny Hamlin

Race 2

Date: Aug. 23
Winner:
Kevin Harvick

Coke Zero Sugar 400

Date: Aug. 29
Winner:
William Byron

Playoffs – Round of 16

Date: Sept. 6 
Winner:
Kevin Harvick

Date: Sept. 12
Winner:
Brad Keselowski

Date: Sept. 19
Winner:
Kevin Harvick

For more on the NASCAR 2020 schedule, news and information, read NASCAR Talk