Toyota’s recent domination no guarantee of Cup playoff success


In this short-attention span world, it’s easy to see Toyota’s dominance the last few weeks and all but concede the Cup championship to Kyle Busch or Watkins Glen winner Martin Truex Jr.

Funny thing, it was only a few months ago when a Toyota car couldn’t win a Cup race.

It’s easy to forget but Chevrolet and Ford combined to win nine of the first 10 races this season. Admittedly, there were a few races Busch lost (Phoenix, Martinsville and Talladega) during that early stretch, but it hasn’t been until lately that Toyotas dominated.

Toyota, led by Truex and Busch, have led 88.2 percent of the 992 laps run in the last five Cup races. Toyota has placed at least three drivers in the top five in four of the last five races. A Toyota driver has won nine of the last 10 stages.

Brad Keselowski, who won two of the first six races this season, lamented Toyota’s rise after last weekend’s Xfinity Series race at Watkins Glen won by Busch.

“The Toyotas in all three series just have so much (more) power and aero than everybody else that it’s like two different races,’’ Keselowski said.

So what does it mean for the playoffs?

Expect to see Toyotas advance but that doesn’t mean one will win the championship. Anything can happen in a single race for the title.

Truex, who has collected playoff points like a child hoarding candy, has put himself in good position to advance deep in the postseason. He has 34 playoff points after his victory Sunday. Truex is so far ahead in the points that he likely will finish as the regular season champion and collect the 15 playoff points that go with the honor. That would give him 49 playoff points that will carry through the first three rounds, provided he remains in contention for the title. 

“I feel like with the way we run, coupled with the bonus points, we should essentially be a lock for Homestead,’’ said Truex, who has led three times as many laps as all Chevrolet and Ford drivers have combined in the last five races. “I really feel that way. But at the same time, this is racing, and anything can happen.’’

Or change.

While there weren’t playoff points last year, one can look at the 2016 season and see that even a poor summer stretch doesn’t preclude a driver from winning the crown.

Jimmie Johnson had four finishes of 30th or worse in a nine-race stretch from Daytona to Darlington last year. Yet, he won a race in the second round and another in the third round to advance to the season finale in Miami. He won that race to score his seventh series title.

Could Johnson repeat his run and claim an eighth series title? His finishes have faded in the last six races — he’s placed 25th or worse four times — as they did about this time a year ago. 

Johnson was collected in a crash last month at Kentucky while running eighth. He crashed while racing three-wide for the lead late in the race at Indianapolis.

As he’s always said, the final 10 tracks align well for him.

As for a Ford driver to watch, Kevin Harvick has shown more speed, while Keselowski and Joey Logano have struggled to find it for Team Penske. Logano, who has made it to the championship race twice in the last three years, is in danger of missing the 16-team playoffs after a penalty prevented his Richmond victory from counting toward playoff eligibility.

For as good as the Toyotas have been, Michigan International Speedway, site of this weekend’s Cup race, has not been a good track for the manufacturer lately. In the last three races there, Toyota has had only one car finish in the top five. Denny Hamlin placed fourth in the June race won by Kyle Larson.

With the playoffs still a month away, there’s time for the other teams to catch up to Toyota … or fall further behind.

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Justin Haley replaces Kyle Busch in Kaulig car for Xfinity race


Justin Haley will drive Kaulig Racing’s No. 10 car in Monday morning’s scheduled NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Haley replaces Cup Series regular Kyle Busch, who was scheduled to drive for Kaulig in the 300-miler. The race was postponed from Saturday to Monday because of weather, giving NASCAR a 900-mile doubleheader at the track.

Busch decided to concentrate on the Coca-Cola 600 Cup race, scheduled for a  3 p.m. start.

Haley also will race in the 600.

Ty Gibbs is scheduled to run in both races.

Charlotte Cup race postponed to Monday by weather


CONCORD, N.C. — All-day rain Sunday forced the postponement of the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Cup Series race to Monday.

The postponement means that Charlotte Motor Speedway is scheduled to host 900 miles of stock car racing Monday. A 300-mile Xfinity Series race, originally scheduled Saturday and first postponed to noon Monday, has been rescheduled for 11 a.m. ET Monday (FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The Cup race is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. (Fox, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Sunday’s Cup race was scheduled to start at 6:21 p.m. ET, but light rain was still falling at that time in the speedway area near Charlotte. Rain intensified a few minutes later and, despite an evening forecast that showed slight improvement, officials decided at 6:30 p.m. to postpone the race.

Monday’s forecast calls for a 34% chance of rain at the start of the Xfinity race and a 30% chance at the start of the Cup race.

William Byron will start the race from the pole after qualifying was washed out Saturday night.

RFK Racing gains sponsorship from submarine recruiting group


CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR racing and submarines? Yes.

RFK Racing announced Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that it has entered a partnership with BlueForge Alliance, which is involved in securing workers for the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Industrial Base (SIB) program. will be a primary sponsor for RFK drivers Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher in 10 Cup Series races this year and in 18 races per season beginning in 2024.

The sponsorship will showcase the careers related to the submarine-building program across the nation.

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“I’m proud to support a cause of such vital significance to our country with this new partnership,” Keselowski said. “The synergies between a NASCAR team and our military’s needs to stay on track fast are countless. We hope to inspire the workforce of the next generation across the country when they see RFK race and hear our message.”

The sponsorship will support the mission to recruit, hire, train, develop and retain the SIB workforce that will build the Navy’s next generation of submarines, the team said.

“We are excited and grateful to be teaming with RFK Racing to drive awareness of the thousands of steady, well-paying manufacturing jobs available across the nation. Innovation, working with purpose and service to others are hallmarks of both of our organizations,” said Kiley Wren, BlueForge chief executive. “Together, we aim to inspire NASCAR fans and all Americans to pursue career opportunities that will support our national defense.”

Kyle Larson visits Indianapolis Motor Speedway to survey the scene


Former NASCAR champion Kyle Larson, who is scheduled to run the Indianapolis 500 in 2024 as part of an Indy-Charlotte “double,” visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage area Sunday on Indianapolis 500 race day.

Larson said he wanted to familiarize himself with the Indy race-day landscape before he becomes immersed in the process next year.

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Larson later returned to Charlotte, where was scheduled to drive in the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday night. Next year, he’s scheduled to run both races.

“I love racing,” Larson told NBC Sports. “I love competing in the biggest races. In my opinion, this is the biggest race in the world. I wanted to be a part of it for a long time, and I finally feel like the timing is right. It’s pretty cool to have a dream come true.

“I wanted to come here and kind of experience it again and get to experience how crazy it is again before I’m in the middle of it next year. I kind of want as little surprise as possible next year.”

In the 2024 500, Larson will be one of four drivers with the Arrow McLaren team.

Earlier this month, Larson and Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman Jeff Gordon attended an Indy 500 practice day.

Larson said Sunday he hasn’t tested an Indy car.

“I don’t know exactly when I’ll get in the car,” he said. “I’ve had no sim (simulator) time yet. I’ve kind of stayed back. I didn’t want to ask too many questions and take any focus on what they have going on for these couple of weeks. I’m sure that will pick up after today.

“I look forward to the challenge. No matter how this experience goes, I’m going to come out of it a better race car driver.”