Who’s Hot and Who’s Not heading into playoff cutoff race at Dover


This weekend’s Apache Warrior 400 at Dover International Speedway marks the end of the first round of the Cup playoffs.

When the checkered flag falls, four of the 16 playoff drivers will be eliminated as things move on to the Round of 12.

Drivers in danger of being eliminated are: Richard Childress Racing teammates Austin Dillon (13th heading into Dover) and Ryan Newman (14th), Kurt Busch (15th) and Kasey Kahne (16th).

Points leader Martin Truex Jr. is the defending race winner, while Jimmie Johnson won this past spring’s race at Dover, his 11th victory at The Monster Mile.

Even though he’s struggled for many of the last 11 races, Johnson is still a threat to win at the 1-mile, concrete speedway.

But who can forget the 2015 race at Dover, when he suffered a mechanical failure, finished 41st and didn’t advance?

Johnson is in better shape this time, 32 points ahead of 13th in the points heading into Dover, but nothing’s guaranteed.

Courtesy of Racing Insights, here’s this week’s Who’s Hot and Who’s Not:

Cup – Who Is Hot

No. 78 Martin Truex Jr. (Hot)

  • Finished fifth at New Hampshire, was involved in the big one while leading
  • Won at Chicago after a speeding penalty and loose lugs
  • Finished in the top-10 19 times this season, the most of all drivers
  • Won 19 stages this season, the most of all drivers
  • 59 Playoff Points this season, includes 15 points for clinching the regular season
  • Five wins this season, most of all drivers and personal best
  • Led a series-high 1,835 laps in 2017, led the most laps in eight races
  • Two wins at Dover, the first of his career in 2007 and this race last year
  • Finished top 10 in six of the last seven Dover races, other finish was 11th
  • Led over 100 laps in three of the last five Dover races
  • Finished third at Dover in June, led 102 laps

No. 18 Kyle Busch (Hot)

  • Won at New Hampshire, third win in the last eight races
  • Won the pole for the last two races
  • Loose wheel and speeding penalty then lack of cautions caused his 15th-place finish at Chicago
  • Three wins this season (Pocono 2, Bristol, NH 2)
  • Two Dover wins, both in the Spring 2008 and 2010
  • Finished runner-up in the last two Fall Dover races,
  • Won the pole, finished 16th in June

No. 11 Denny Hamlin (Hot, Good at Dover)

  • Finished 12th at NH, worst finish in the last five races
  • Fifth in the standings, +44 to the cut line
  • Top-five finishes in 10 of the last 14 races including two wins
  • Best Dover finish is fourth, twice
  • Finished top 10 in the last three races at Dover including eighth in June

No. 44 Kevin Harvick (Hot, decent at Dover)

  • Finished 36th, DNF at NH, his worst finish since Las Vegas in March
  • Five fewer top fives and top 10s this year compared to last year
  • 10th in the standings, +25 of the cut line
  • One Dover win, this race in 2015 to advance
  • Finished 37th in this race last year but had won NH the week prior
  • Finished ninth at Dover in June

No. 48 Jimmie Johnson (All about the wins and he has lots at Dover)

  • 14th at NH, seven finishes outside the top 10 in the last nine races
  • Three top 5 finishes this season, all wins
  • Seventh in the standings, +32
  • 11 Dover wins in 31 starts (win percentage: 35%)
  • Won at Dover in June

No. 42 Kyle Larson (Hot in 2017, Good at Dover)

  • Finished second at NH, eighth runner-up finish this season
  • Four wins in 2017, had one entering this season
  • Best finish at Dover in seven races is runner-up twice, including June
  • Finished top 10 in five of the last six races

No. 20 Matt Kenseth (sneaky Hot)

  • Finished third at NH, eight top-10 finishes in the last 10 races, all but Michigan, flat tire in OT while 
running third and an ambulance problem at Richmond
  • Three-time Dover winner but all in the Spring
  • Top 10 finishes in six of the last eight races at Dover

No. 24 Chase Elliott (Starting to turn things back around, Great at Dover)

  • Finished 11th at NH, his worst finish in the last four races is 11th, twice
  • Ninth in the standings, +26 to the cut line (includes 15 point penalty after Chicago)
  • Finished top five in all three series starts at Dover

No. 2 Brad Keselowski (Warm, Good at Dover)

  • Finished fourth at NH, only two top-10 finishes in the last seven races but both came in the playoffs
  • Locked into round 2 on at least points
  • One Dover win, this race in 2012
  • Finished top 10 in six of the last 10 races at Dover, 38th DNF accident in June

Cup – Who Is Not Hot

No. 1 Jamie McMurray (Decent)

  • 16th at NH, first finish outside the top 15 in the last seven races
  • Eleventh in the standings, +9 to the cut line
  • 14 top 10 finishes this season, five more than this point last year
  • Best Dover finish is second in 2006
  • Finished top 10 in three of the last five races at Dover including seventh in June
  • Finished last in this race last year, engine failure

No. 21 Ryan Blaney (Not Lately)

  • Finished ninth at NH after 11th at Chicago, best two consecutive finishes this season
  • Last top-five finish was his win at Pocono in June
  • Ten top-10 finishes this season but none have come in back-to-back races
  • Three Dover starts, best finish of eighth in the Spring of 2016, finished 32nd in June

No. 41 Kurt Busch (Two bad races, Not at Dover)

  • Finished 37th DNF accident at NH, tied his worst finish this season
  • 17 points below the cut line
  • Trouble during playoffs: Speeding penalty at Chicago, accident at NH
  • One Dover win, this race in 2011 driving for Team Penske
  • Only one top 10 finish in the last 11 races at Dover
  • Finished 37th, DNF accident at Dover in June

No. 3 Austin Dillon (Has a win but is NOT HOT)

  • Finished 19th at NH, only two top-15 finishes in the last nine races
  • 13th in the standings, tied for the cut
  • Playoff problems: Speeding penalty at Chicago, caused the big one at NH
  • Won on fuel mileage at Charlotte
  • Only four top-10 finishes this season, had 10 at this point last year
  • Only top-10 finish in eight Dover races was eighth in this race last year
  • Finished 13th at Dover in June

No. 5 Kasey Kahne (Not)

  • Finished 35th, broken track bar at NH, only one top 10 finish in the last 18 races, win at Indy
  • 16th in the standings, -21 to the cut line
  • Six DNFs accident this season
  • Won at Indianapolis ending a 102-race winless streak, took a super lucky timed caution and turned it 
into a win
  • He has only finished on the lead lap in 54 percent of the races this season
  • Best Dover finish is fourth, three times
  • Finished 17th at Dover in June (accident)

No. 31 Ryan Newman (Pretty good lately, not so much at Dover lately)

  • 13th at NH, top 10 finishes in four of the last six races, all but the two playoff races
  • 14th in the standings, -1 to the cut line
  • Three Dover wins, last came in 2004
  • Finished fourth in June, only top-10 finish in the last five races at Dover

No. 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Has two wins this season)

  • 15th at NH, last top 10 was his win at Daytona in July
  • 12th in the standings, 0 points ahead of the cut line, wins the tie breaker with a 15th place finish
  • Zero wins in first 157 starts, two wins in last 19 starts
  • Best Dover finish is eighth in this race in 2015, only top 10 finish at Dover
  • Finished 39th at Dover in June, accident

Others to Watch:

No. 14 Clint Bowyer (Disappointing 2017)

  • Finished seventh at NH, first top 10 in the last six races
  • Was 88 points out of a Playoff spot
  • Finished runner up three times in 2017
  • 11 top-10s in 2017, had only three in all of 2016
  • Best Dover finish is fourth in 2014, finished 31st in June

No. 22 Joey Logano (Disappointing season)

  • 10th at NH, finished top 10 in the last three races best streak since April
  • 10 finishes outside the top 20 in the last 19 races
  • Won at Richmond but was encumbered after starting in the rear due to a transmission change
  • First time he missed the playoffs with Team Penske
  • Best Dover finish is third, twice
  • Finished top 10 in eight of the last 11 races at Dover, 25th in June

No. 77 Erik Jones (Hot, ?? at Dover)

  • Finished sixth at NH, top 10 finishes in seven of the last eight races this season
  • Finished 15th at Dover in June, involved in last lap accident

No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Not)

  • 34th at NH, involved in the big one, last top 10 was Sonoma in June (sixth)
  • Only two top 10s in the last 16 races
  • One Dover win, this race in 2001
  • Finished 11th at Dover in June

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Trackhouse Racing picks up additional sponsorship from Kubota


Trackhouse Racing announced Friday that it has picked up additional sponsorship for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez from Kubota Tractor Corp. for the 2023 season.

Kubota sponsored Chastain’s No. 1 Chevrolet last October at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It is expanding its sponsorship to six races for the new season.

Chastain will race with Kubota sponsorship at Auto Club Speedway, Phoenix Raceway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Homestead-Miami. Suarez’s Chevrolet will carry Kubota livery at Texas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Friday 5: Legacy seeks breakout year in 2023

The team also announced that a $10,000 donation will be made to Farmer Veteran Coalition for each Kubota-sponsored race in which Chastain finishes in the top 10. The FVC assists military veterans and current armed services members who have an interest in farming.

“The sponsorship from Kubota is especially meaningful to me because it allows me to use my platform to shine a bright light on agriculture and on the men and women who work so hard to feed all of us,” said Chastain, whose family owns a Florida watermelon farm.


Friday 5: Legacy MC seeks to stand out as Trackhouse did in ’22


While the celebration continued after Erik Jones’ Southern 500 victory last September, executives of what is now Legacy MC already were looking ahead.

“(September) and October, decisions we make on people are going to affect how we race next (February), March and April,” Mike Beam, team president, told NBC Sports that night.

Noah Gragson had been announced as the team’s second driver for 2023 less than a month before Jones’ win. 

But bigger news was to come. 

The team announced Nov. 4 that Jimmie Johnson would become a co-owner, lifting the profile of a team that carries Richard Petty’s No. 43 on Jones’ cars.

As February approaches and racing resumes, a question this season is how far can Legacy MC climb. Can this team mimic the breakout season Trackhouse Racing had last year?

“I think everybody looks for Trackhouse for … maybe the way of doing things a bit different,” Jones told NBC Sports. “Obviously, starting with the name. We’ve kind of gone that same direction with Legacy MC and then on down from there, kind of how a program can be built and run in a short amount of time.

“There’s some growth in the back end that we still have to do to probably be totally to that level, but our goal is definitely to be on that same trajectory that Trackhouse was over the last two seasons.”

Trackhouse Racing debuted in 2021 with Daniel Suarez. He finished 25th in the points. The organization added Ross Chastain and several team members from Chip Ganassi Racing to form a two-car team last year. Chastain won two races and finished second in the points, while Suarez won once and was 10th in the standings. 

Legacy MC co-owner Maury Gallagher purchased a majority interest in Richard Petty Motorsports in December 2021 and merged the two teams. Jones won one race and placed 18th in points last year. Ty Dillon was winless, finishing 29th in points and was replaced by Gragson after the season. 

“Legitimately, we were a pretty new team last year coming in,” Jones said. “There were a handful of Richard Petty Motorsports guys who came over, but, for the most part, it was a brand new team.

“I think what we built in one year and done is similar to Trackhouse in their first year. I think maybe even we were a step ahead of where they were in their first year.”

Legacy MC looks for more with Jones, Gragson and Johnson, who will run a limited schedule this year. Johnson will seek to make the Daytona 500 field.

Jones said Johnson has infused the team with energy. Gragson has been trying to soak up as much as he can from Johnson.

Gragson told NBC Sports that having Johnson as a teammate is “going to be an incredible opportunity for a young guy like myself, first year in the Cup series, a rookie, to be able to lean on a seven-time champion.

“Incredible person, friend, mentor that Jimmie has become for myself. He’s probably going to be pretty over me by the time we get to the Daytona 500 because I just keep wearing him out with questions and trying … pick his brain.”

2. Kyle Busch’s impact

Car owner Richard Childress says that Kyle Busch already is making an impact at RCR.

Busch joins the organization after having spent the past 15 seasons driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch will pilot the No. 8 Chevrolet for RCR this year.

He took part in a World Racing League endurance race at Circuit of the Americas in December with Austin Dillon and Sheldon Creed. The trio won one of those races.

“I was down there for that, just watching how (Busch) gets in there and works with everybody,” Childress said. “He’s a racer. He wants to win. That’s what I love about him.”

Childress sees the influence Busch can have on an organization that has won six Cup titles — but none since Dale Earnhardt’s last crown in 1994 — and 113 series races.

“He brings a lot of experience and knowledge,” Childress said of Busch. “I think he’ll help Austin a lot in his career. I think he can help our whole organization from a standpoint of what do we need … to go faster.

Dillon told NBC Sports that the team has changed some things it does in its meetings based on feedback from Busch. Dillon also said that he and Busch have similar driving styles — more similar than Dillon has had with past teammates. 

“I think as we go throughout the year and he gets to drive our race cars, he’ll have some new thoughts that he’ll bring,” Dillon said of Busch. “I think we’re already bringing some new thoughts to him, too.”

3. New role for Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick, entering his final Cup season, has joined the Drivers Advisory Council, a move Joey Logano said is important for the group.

“Kevin is necessary to the sport, even post-driving career,” Logano told NBC Sports. “He’s necessary for our sport’s success. Kevin sees it and does something about it. 

“He’s always been vocal, right? He’s always been very brash, and like, boom in your face. That’s what people love about Kevin Harvick. Something I like about him as well is that you know where you stand. You know where the weaknesses are. 

“He’s going to push until something happens. That’s great. There’s nothing wrong with that. Having him on the Advisory Council now for the drivers, his experience, but also his willingness to push, is important.”

Jeff Burton again will lead the group as Director of the Council. The Board of Directors is: Harvick, Logano, Kyle Petty, Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez, Corey LaJoie, Kurt Busch and Tom Buis.

Logano, Petty, Dillon, Suarez, LaJoie and Busch all return. Buis, a board member of Growth Energy after having previously been the company’s CEO, joins the drivers group and provides a business background. 

4. Finding one’s voice

Chase Briscoe’s contract extension with Stewart-Haas Racing means he could be the longest tenured driver there in the near future.

The 28-year Briscoe enters his third Cup season at SHR, but the landscape is changing. This will be Kevin Harvick’s final season in Cup. Ryan Preece is in his first season driving in Cup for the team. Aric Almirola was supposed to have retired last year but came back. How long he remains is to be determined.

Those changes could soon leave Briscoe as the team’s senior driver.

“It’s a role that is crazy, truthfully, to think about because that could be me in the next year or two, being I wouldn’t say that flagship guy, but being a leader as far as the drivers go in an organization,” Briscoe said.

“Truthfully, I feel like that’s something I want to be. I’ve always enjoyed that kind of leader, team building type of stuff. So, yeah, if that role is kind of placed on me naturally, then that’s one that I would love to have and try to do it to the best of my ability. I feel like that’s a role that you don’t choose, it kind of chooses you.”

Briscoe, who won the spring Phoenix race and made the playoffs last year, said that he’s becoming more comfortable speaking up in team meetings. 

“I look back, especially on my rookie year, we’d go into our competition meeting on Tuesday and, truthfully, I wouldn’t really talk much,” he said. “I would say kind of what we thought for the weekend, but outside of that I would just kind of sit there and listen.  

“This past year, I definitely talked a lot more, and I’d bring up ideas and kind of say things I wanted to get off my chest, where in the past I wouldn’t have done that. I feel like as I’ve gotten more confident in myself and my position, I’ve gotten to the point where I speak my mind a little bit more and, I guess, be a little bit more of a leader.”

5. Busch Clash field

NASCAR released the preliminary entry list for the Feb. 5 Busch Clash. No surprise, the entry list features only the 36 charter teams. Those teams are required to be entered.

With 27 cars in the feature — which is expanded by four cars from last year’s race — there’s no guarantee a non-charter car could make the field. That’s a lot of money to go across country and face the chance of missing the main event.

The Daytona 500 field has four spots for non-charter cars. With that race’s payoff significantly more, it will attract at least five cars for those spots: Jimmie Johnson (Legacy MC), Zane Smith (Front Row Motorsports), Chandler Smith (Kaulig Racing), Austin Hill (Beard Motorsports) and Travis Pastrana (23XI Racing). Helio Castroneves confirmed Thursday that he will not enter the 500. He had been in talks with the team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather.

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

DETAILS FOR THE 61ST ROLEX 24How to watch, entry lists, schedules for the IMSA season opener

HELIO’S ‘DAYS OF THUNDER’ MOMENT: Recalling a memorable 2022 victory drive through the smoke

“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three


A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The team stated Thursday night on social media that Taylor Collier and Devin Fokin had been treated and released. The team stated that Taylor was treated for smoke inhalation and Fokin was treated “for serious burns.”

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”