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Bump & Run: Are Chevrolet teams in trouble with playoffs looming?

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Is Chevy in trouble after hardly contending at Pocono and scoring the fewest top-10 finishes in the last four races among the manufacturers?

Jeff Burton: Chevy lost a major asset when Stewart-Haas Racing left. I think it would be unrealistic and look at their numbers and expect their numbers to be as good as last year. The other problem I have is if you look at the number of wins that have come from Hendrick Motorsports, by far the majority of those wins have come from one team. That’s no disrespect to any other team, but the facts don’t lie. The facts are that the 48 team has carried Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas last year helped carry Chevrolet. They don’t have the number of teams and the teams they have, they don’t have as many good teams as they had last year.

Steve Letarte: My concern is, not to get too technical, but with the shifting at Pocono and the RPM range that used to be a Chevrolet track. For some reason it is going away. When I look at the teams they support, it looks really fragmented. They have Hendrick Motorsports, they have Chip Ganassi Racing, they have Richard Childress Racing. RCR, while they’ve won two races, we don’t see them leading many laps and competing for wins week in and week out. Hendrick and Ganassi’s production has just been average. I do think that Chevrolet has to go to the drawing board with their approach and decide whether it’s time to condense some of their efforts and by efforts I purely mean financial dollars. Would they be better to support less cars and put more money behind them?

Nate Ryan: It isn’t too late, but there definitely are some portentous signs that a tough playoffs could loom. Richard Childress Racing has been erratic (and mostly down) since the wins by Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon. Hendrick Motorsports has victories and consistent top-10 speed, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. detailed its recent deficiencies after Pocono. Chip Ganassi Racing seemed on the upswing until the past two races, which again have been critical barometers. There still is time to get things righted, but it’s been a tougher summer than anticipated.

Dustin Long: Not liking how Chevrolet teams have run lately, but they still have time to get things turned around and have multiple teams challenge for a championship.

Has Kyle Busch replaced Kyle Larson as being the co-championship favorite with Martin Truex Jr.?

Jeff Burton: Temporarily. These are moving targets. If I had to put my money today on somebody, yes, it would be Kyle Busch. As good as Kyle Larson and his team were when they were their best, he still won only two races. To win this championship, you’re going to have to beat people that have won a lot of races. I still wonder when you get into that pressure-filled, playoff-winning championship time, it’s different. I wonder where they are  compared to those other teams that have been there and done that.

Steve Letarte: Here’s the truth. What I’ve learned after breaking down the last two or three seasons is I’m not going to tell you the championship favorite until about race four of the playoffs because it doesn’t matter who is good now. It truly matters who finds the right package in the last four or five races. Right now, Martin Truex Jr. has to be the favorite. Kyle Busch has got to be on the list. My four are very simple: Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson.

Nate Ryan: Definitely. He has one fewer win, but Busch is matching Larson in most major Loop Data categories, and his No. 18 team has been top notch the past three races at a critical juncture of the season when many teams begin rolling out their best cars.

Dustin Long: Yes, but it doesn’t matter at this point. The championship four won’t be set for three months. Kyle Larson’s team has dipped a bit lately and it is concerning, but they still have time to recover. Also, at this point a year ago, many viewed Martin Truex Jr. as the title favorite and he didn’t even make it to the championship race.

Will Joey Logano make the playoffs?

Jeff Burton: It’s hard for me to say that Joey Logano is not going to make the playoffs. The evidence says he won’t, but my racing intellect tells me that they’ll find a way. If I look at the numbers and I look at how they’re running and the things they’re going to have to do, I would say no but I don’t believe that they’re out of it. I don’t think they have to win a race. I still think there’s enough turmoil in the tracks coming up that it only takes one of those teams ahead of them to have a couple of bad races and if they can run well, I still think they can get themselves in. You think about the races coming up, Watkins Glen, Bristol, Darlington, there’s some very difficult races coming up.

Steve Letarte: No. Because they’re not fast enough. They’re not executing enough. They’re not scoring enough points. The only way the 22 makes the playoffs is to win Richmond. That was way easier in years past when 15 drivers didn’t care where they ran at Richmond. When you go to Richmond right now, those 15 other drivers care where they won. So winning the last race at Richmond is nowhere as near as easy as it used to be.

Nate Ryan: He has been so good on road courses the last few years, it’s feasible Logano could carry his No. 22 Ford to a win at Watkins Glen (where he won in 2015). He might be able to wrestle the car to wins at Bristol and Richmond the same way. But a victory seemingly would require a swing for the fences by Logano’s lagging team, which seems better suited to improving by getting the basics right.

Dustin Long: Don’t see it happening. Not enough speed. With the new format giving drivers incentive to race harder with so many playoff points available, his path won’t be easy.

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

 

 

Kurt Busch win capped off big racing weekend for family

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After hopping from the door of his No. 1 Chevrolet Sunday night, Kurt Busch let out a primal scream.

The source of his emotion?

“20 years of agony and defeat” at the his home track, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, had been replaced by “triumph.”

After the fortunate timing of a caution and pit strategy Sunday night, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver led the final 26 laps and visited LVMS’ Victory Lane for the first time, a day after his brother Kyle Busch experienced a special win.

There was plenty more for the 42-year-old driver to celebrate. He’d entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings. But with his first win in 46 races, Busch became the first driver to plant in his flag in the Round of 8.

But the Las Vegas native’s focus was on the 1.5-mile track, which he’d seen evolve from a “desert gravel pit” into the site of two NASCAR race weekends each year.

“This feeling of growing up here and watching the track get built … when Speedway Motorsports came in and bought it, I’m like, ‘Man, there’s going to be a Cup race there, I hope I can make my way up through Legend cars (and race there). And just all the memories, all the memories of everybody, my mom and dad, every Saturday night, all the commitment they gave me and my little brother (Kyle Busch) to make it in racing.

“For me it was a hobby. I never knew I’d get this far. A guy named Craig Keough here locally in Las Vegas, the owner of the Star Nurseries here in Las Vegas, took a chance on me and let me run his late model a few times and we won a couple races and started working our way up.”

Busch made his first NASCAR start on the Las Vegas oval in 2001 driving for Roush Fenway Racing. Between then and Sunday, he won 31 Cup races, the 2004 championship and the 2017 Daytona 500.

But his home track eluded him until his 21st year competing on the sport’s top circuit.

Busch said Sunday’s win is “right there underneath” his Daytona win and the championship.

“Any time you win, it’s special,” Busch said. “But to do it in front of my hometown crowd and nobody was there (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and all the people that I see every time I come to Vegas and I get to say thank you and I can’t right now, that’s the hardest part. So this one is easily ramping up to being my third most favorite win ever.

“Right now it’s my favorite because it’s here, it’s Vegas, and I have so many people to thank. They know they helped me, and they know who they are, and it just all started with mom and dad taking me to the racetrack right here at the Bullring in Las Vegas.”

The Busch family got to celebrate more than one win over the weekend.

The night before Kurt’s Vegas breakthrough, a third generation racer got his first taste of victory.

Kyle and Samantha Busch’s son, Brexton, won his first karting race and celebrated with his parents in Victory Lane.

“It’s so much fun to watch him and just to see his excitement and how much he enjoys going to the race track and being with is friends,” Kyle Busch said after his sixth-place finish Sunday. “It’s three generations worth, I guess. My dad (Tom) did it, myself and Kurt and now him. It’s pretty fun to just be out there. My dad is kind of the truck driver, the team manager, the crew chief, the lead mechanic and all that stuff on his kart.

“He’s got a big task at hand in order to get it all ready to go and get us to the race track every week. It’s been fun to see (Brexton) and to see how excited he was when he was able to win and beat the other competition that was out there and to see his joy. I told him, ‘Whatever that feeling is, whatever you’re feeling, however that sits in you, that’s feasible, that’s possible a lot more often than just one time. So don’t rest on just getting one, we gotta go out there and fight for more.'”

Kurt Busch wasn’t there for his nephew’s win, but he got all the details from his sister-in-law as they flew to Las Vegas.

“It definitely felt like a generational shift was happening,” he said. “But maybe not. Maybe not. This old guy has still got it going on.”