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Martin Truex Jr. still hottest in Who’s Hot, Who’s Not heading into Kansas

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With so many of the remaining 12 playoff drivers finding trouble at Talladega this past Sunday, several find themselves in further trouble heading into Sunday’s race at Kansas.

Once the checkered flag falls, four of the 12 remaining playoff drivers will be eliminated from advancing to the Round of 8 that begins next Sunday at Martinsville, followed by Texas and Phoenix.

Here are the drivers that are hot coming into Kansas, as well as those that are not:

Who’s Hot:

 No. 78 Martin Truex Jr. (Hot)

  • Won at Charlotte, sixth win this season (most of all drivers and personal best), finished 23rd at Talladega.
  • Finished in the top 10 21 times this season, a series-best.
  • Won 19 stages this season, series-best.
  • Sixty-four playoff points this season, series-best.
  • Led a series-high 1,977 laps in 2017, led the most laps in eight races.
  • Won at Kansas in May.
  • Average finish on 1.5-mile tracks this season is third.
  • Won five of the eight 1.5-mile races this season.

No. 4 Kevin Harvick (Hot, Good at Kansas lately)

  • Finished third at Charlotte after winning the first two stages and 20th at Talladega.
  • Five fewer top fives and top 10s this year compared to last year (three less wins).
  • Fourth in the standings, +22 to the cut line.
  • Two Kansas wins, both coming in the playoffs.
  • Finished top three at Kansas the last three years including a win in this race last year.

No. 11 Denny Hamlin (Hot)

  • Finished fourth at Charlotte, sixth at Talladega.
  • Finished top six in six of the last eighth races.
  • Fifth in the standings, +21 to cut line.
  • One Kansas win, Spring 2012.
  • Finished 15th or worse in four of the last five Kansas races including 23rd in May.

No. 18 Kyle Busch (Hot)

  • Finished 29th at Charlotte, hit the wall while running second. Finished 27th at Talladega after crash.
  • Ninth in the standings, -7 to the cut line.
  • Four wins this season, all in the last 11 races.
  • Led laps in the last 14 races this season, career-best
  • One Kansas win, Spring 2016.
  • Finished top five in his last five races at Kansas, tied for longest streak ever at Kansas.

No. 20 Matt Kenseth (sneaky good, pretty good at Kansas)

  • Finished 11th at Charlotte, 14th at Talladega.
  • Worst finish in the playoffs is 14th.
  • Tenth in the standings, -8 to the cut line.
  • Two Kansas wins, last coming in 2013.
  • Worst finish at Kansas in the last 14 races is 14th.
  • Won the pole, led over 100 laps in this race last year, finished ninth. Finished 12th in May.

No. 2 Brad Keselowski (Good)

  • Finished 15th at Charlotte, won at Talladega after having radio issues.
  • Advances to the Round of 8
  • One Kansas win, fuel mileage in 2011.
  • Top-10 finishes in four of the five races at Kansas including runner-up in May.

No. 24 Chase Elliott

  • Finished second at Charlotte, sixth career runner-up finish. Finished 16th at Talladega.
  • Finished second in three of the last five races this season.
  • Sixth in the standings, +20 to the cut line
  • Worst finish in the last seven races is 16th.
  • Best Kansas finish in three starts is ninth in Spring 2016.
  • Finished 29th at Kansas in the Spring.

No. 42 Kyle Larson (Hot in 2017, Not great at Kansas)

  • Finished 10th at Charlotte, 13th at Talladega after crash.
  • Third in the standings, +29 to the cut line.
  • Eight runner-up finishes this season.
  • Four wins in 2017, had one entering this season.
  • Best Kansas finish is second in 2014, only finish better than 15th since is sixth in May.

No. 48 Jimmie Johnson

  • Finished seventh at Charlotte, 24th at Talladega after accident
  • Top-10 finishes in four of the last six races.
  • Eighth in the standings, +7
  • Four top-five finishes this season, three were wins.
  • Three time Kansas winner (tied for the most), last was Spring 2015.
  • Only two finishes outside the top 10 in his first 16 starts at Kansas, three in the last six including 24th in May.
  • Only three top 10 finishes on 1.5-mile tracks this season

No. 77 Erik Jones

  • Top-10 finishes in seven of the last 11 races this season.
  • Two Kansas starts including the first of his career driving the No. 18.
  • Finished 22nd at Kansas in May, multiple spins

Who’s Not Hot:

No. 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Not)

  • Finished 13th at Charlotte, 26th at Talladega
  • 11th in the standings, -22 to the cut line
  • Best finish since his win at Daytona in July is 13th
  • Best Kansas finish is 11th, twice including in May

No. 1 Jamie McMurray (Decent)

  • Finished fifth at Charlotte and 37th at Talladega after crash.
  • Twelfth in standings, -29 to cut line.
  • Sixteen top-10 finishes this season, six more than this point last year.
  • Best Kansas finish is seventh, twice in 21 starts.
  • Finished eighth in May at Kansas.

No. 21 Ryan Blaney (Just OK)

  • Finished eighth at Charlotte, 18th at Talladega after accident after leading 27 laps.
  • Currently seventh in the standings, +9 to the cut line.
  • Last top-five finish was his win at Pocono in June.
  • Eleven top-10 finishes this season but none have come in back-to-back races.
  • Top-10 finishes in three of his last four starts at Kansas.
  • Won the pole, finished fourth in May, led 83 laps, won Stage 2.

No. 3 Austin Dillon (Not hot)

  • Finished 29th Talladega.
  • Only two top-15 finishes in the last 12 races.
  • Finished 14th in the first round
  • Only four top-10 finishes this season, had 12 at this point last year.
  • Finished top 10 in two of the last three races at Kansas.

No. 5 Kasey Kahne (Not hot)

  • Finished eighth at Talladega, first back-to-back top-10 finishes since the first two races of the season.
  • Only three top-10 finishes in the last 21 races.
  • Finished 15th in the first round
  • Six DNFs this season.
  • Won at Indianapolis ending a 102-race winless streak.
  • He has finished on the lead lap in 54 percent of the races this season.
  • Best Kansas finish is second, twice.
  • Worst finish in the last four races at Kansas is 16th.

No. 31 Ryan Newman

  • Finished second at Kansas, broke a four race streak of finishing outside the top 10.
  • Finished round one 13th in the standings
  • One Kansas win, 2003.
  • Only three Kansas top fives, all came in the first three races at Kansas.
  • Finished last at Kansas in May.

No. 41 Kurt Busch

  • Finished 25th at Talladega
  • Finished 19th or worse in the last five races.
  • Finished 16th in the first round, 25 points below the cut line.
  • Best Kansas finish is second in 2013.
  • Finished 19th in May at Kansas.

No. 14 Clint Bowyer

  • Finished 35th at Talladega.
  • Finished runner-up three times in 2017.
  • Twelve top 10s in 2017, had only three in all of 2016.
  • Best Kansas finish is second in 2007.

No. 22 Joey Logano

  • Finished fourth at Talladega, only his fourth top-five finish since his Richmond win.
  • Eleven finishes outside the top 20 in the last 22 races.
  • Won at Richmond but was encumbered.
  • First time he has missed the playoffs with Team Penske.
  • Two-time Kansas winner.
  • Finished top five in six of the last eight races at Kansas.

No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr.

  • Finished seventh at Talladega
  • Finished top 12 in the last three races, best streak this season.
  • Best Kansas finish is second in 2011
  • Finished 15th or worse in three of his last four Kansas starts.

Stage points crucial at Las Vegas in Round of 12

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Former champion Brad Keselowski views Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) as the “second most important” to win during the season after the championship race, “because these next two weeks are very difficult to prepare for.”

What’s so difficult about the two races after Las Vegas?

Two-thirds of the Round of 12 are made up of Talladega and the Charlotte Roval: a superspeedway known for its wild multi-car wrecks and a road course that can prove unpredictable.

“The biggest thing I’ve been thinking about is the playoff bonus points and winning in Vegas,” Keselowski said. “The best thing we can do to control our own destiny is to go win Vegas and then Talladega just becomes what it is. It’s the same thing with the Roval, so we’re hopeful to just kind of not have to worry about it that way by scoring a win. If we’re not able to do that, I’d like to get a few more playoff bonus points with stages for those races and that would help a bunch, but, certainly, this round presents a lot of challenges for us.”

If anyone knows the importance of winning early in a round, it’s Keselowski. His victory two weeks ago at Richmond benefitted him in the cutoff race a Bristol when power steering issues resulted in a 34th-place finish.

Chase Elliott, who has won at both Talladega and the Roval in previous seasons, has a similar view to Keselowski.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver said “we would be messing up to already be looking ahead to Talladega,” later adding, “the way I kind of look at it is I’m probably going to crash – I think that’s just the odds.”

Were everything to go right for a driver, they can earn up to 20 stage points in the first two stages of a race.

“So, I think everybody knows how important stages are and what they can mean, especially stage wins,” Elliott said. “Getting that extra bonus point is a huge thing, too. I think everybody knows that and that’s certainly a game that’s been played. I don’t know that it was as much played that very first year that we had (playoff and stage points), but really ever since that first year, I think it has been known and everybody really gets that. And it’s just gotten more and more aggressive.”

Focusing on Vegas is key for Elliott because it’s been a “super hit or miss” track for him. In seven career starts, he has two top fives and four finishes of 26th or worse.

“We’ve crashed a bunch out there (three DNFs) and had some really bad finishes,” Elliott said. “That would be a fantastic opportunity, I think, to have a solid day.”

Kurt Busch noted that you could arguably view Las Vegas as “standard” when it comes to pit strategy and racing. But Busch provided a reminder of what happened earlier this year at Texas Motor Speedway.

“A place like Vegas fits into a track like Texas, as well; where you can change just left side tires like we saw Austin Dillon do to win the Texas race earlier this year,” Busch said. “So, there are all the different strategies and different things playing out.”

The four drivers eliminated after the Round of 16 – William Byron, Cole Custer, Ryan Blaney and Matt DiBenedetto – scored a combined six stage points. All of them were earned by Byron.

Busch observed that just because four teams have been eliminated from the playoffs doesn’t mean there’s four less cars in the field vying for points.

“There are two Hendrick cars now not in the playoffs, but they’re fast,” Busch said of Byron and Jimmie Johnson. “Same thing with (Joe) Gibbs (Racing). You’ve got the No. 20 car, Erik Jones, not in the playoffs but he’s fast. Those are points that those guys could take away from the contenders that are still left in the situations they’re in. So, you’ve just got to race hard and race smart. There are three ways to get points each and every weekend: Stage 1, Stage 2, and the finish of the race. And, that happens at all the race tracks.”

Of the 12 remaining drivers left in the playoffs, here’s how many stage points they earned in the first round.

Most Stage Points Earned in 2020 Playoffs:

Chase Elliott  – 35
Kevin Harvick – 33
Martin Truex Jr.  – 32
Kyle Busch  – 31
Alex Bowman – 29
Joey Logano  – 28
Denny Hamlin  – 26
Kurt Busch – 22
Austin Dillon – 22
Brad Keselowski – 21
Aric Almirola – 7
Clint Bowyer – 4

NASCAR fines Hendrick Motorsports $100,000

NASCAR fines
Photo by David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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NASCAR has fined Hendrick Motorsports $100,000 for exceeding the amount of wind tunnel testing allowed this season.

NASCAR also announced that it had deducted 10 hours of wind tunnel testing from the organization for the 2020-21 amount allowed.

Hendrick Motorsports will not appeal the penalty. The team reported the violation to NASCAR.

The Cup Rule Book states in section 5.3.e that organizations are allocated 150 hours to be used on cars through Dec. 31, 2021 with a maximum usage of 70 hours in 2020 and a maximum usage of 90 hours in 2021. NASCAR states that testing hours are defined as billable hours reported by the wind tunnel to NASCAR. The minimum test period is four hours. Wind tunnel testing of Next Gen cars by individual organizations will not be permitted.

The L2 penalty comes with a fine of at least $100,000 and no more than $200,000.

NASCAR also announced two fines for lug nut violations last weekend at Bristol.

In the Xfinity Series, crew chief Bruce Schlicker was fined $5,000 for the No. 10 car of Ross Chastain having one lug nut not safe and secure after the race.

In the Truck Series, crew chief Kevin Bellicourt was fined $2,500 for the No. 19 truck of Derek Kraus having one lug nut not safe and secure after the race.

 

Carson Hocevar to run full Truck schedule in 2021

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Niece Motorsports has signed Carson Hocevar to run the full NASCAR Truck schedule in 2021, the team announced Thursday.

Hocevar, who turns 18 in January, has run five races for the team this season. His best finish this year is 12th at Dover. He’s scheduled to run at Martinsville on Oct. 30.

“I’m so excited to get the opportunity to race fulltime next year with the Niece Motorsports group,” said Hocevar in a statement. “We’ve had some really strong runs in the few starts that we’ve had this season and I am grateful for the chance to continue that next year. I’ve learned so much already this year and know that we will keep improving next year too.”

“Carson has really impressed us this season,” said team owner Al Niece in a statement. “He’s proven his talent – getting into the truck with no track time and really holding his own. We’re thrilled to have him with us fulltime next season and look forward to contending for wins together.”

TikTok to sponsor Ryan Vargas in six Xfinity races

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JD Motorsports
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TikTok is coming to NASCAR.

The popular video sharing app will break into the sport next month as a sponsor of Ryan Vargas in the Xfinity Series.

TikTok has partnered with JD Motorsports to sponsor the 20-year-old Vargas in the final six races of the season, beginning with the Oct. 3 race at Talladega Superspeedway.

“TikTok has provided me with an incredible outlet to reach new fans and demographics through fun and creative content, and I’ve seen the highest growth in followers on TikTok over my other social channels,” Vargas said in a press release. “The opportunity to run the No. 6 TikTok Chevrolet Camaro in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for the rest of the season is an absolute dream come true. Johnny Davis and the whole JD Motorsports with Gary Keller team took a chance on me last year and I’m excited to bring this amazing TikTok partnership their way. I wouldn’t want to make this partnership a reality anywhere else.”

Vargas has made three Xfinity Series starts this year. His best finish was 13th at Pocono.

The sponsor deal is part of TikTok’s Latinx Heritage Month programming.

A native of La Mirada, California, Vargas joined TikTok last year. He is a former member of NASCAR’s Drive 4 Diversity programming and a winner of the Wendell Scott Trailblazer award, which is given to a minority or female driver who displays exceptional on-track performance, sportsmanship, and community service.

The partnership and paint scheme were inspired by a concept scheme by graphic designer Ryan Pistana, a friend of Vargas’.

“Creators of all sizes and backgrounds show up to TikTok with their genuine, authentic selves,” Nick Tran, TikTok’s Head of Global Marketing, said in a press release. “Partnering with an iconic brand like NASCAR to sponsor Ryan Vargas on his racing journey is a way for us to continue to support, celebrate and elevate the diverse creators that make our TikTok community what it is today. Ryan is an incredible athlete, and we’re looking forward to cheering him on alongside the rest of the TikTok community!”

According to CNBC in August, TikTok has roughly 100 million monthly users, up nearly 800% from January 2018.

TikTok, a Chinese-owned company, has been in national headlines recently after President Donald Trump threatened to ban the app in the United States for national security reasons if it was not sold to an American company. On Sept. 19 he approved a deal for its U.S operations to be operated by Oracle and Walmart.