NASCAR America: Breaking down championship chances for remaining Cup contenders

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With four races left, eight drivers remain with a shot at the Cup championship.

On Tuesday’s NASCAR America, analysts Parker Kligerman, Nate Ryan and Steve Letarte gave their take on the eight still in contention.

Each driver was given a tag line that best describes their championship bid.

Check out some of what our analysts had to say, the tag line for all eight drivers.

Martin Truex Jr. – “Domination on track … adversity off track”

Letarte: “They dominate every category, but I want to know with that huge lead and the Round of 8 almost secure, the question for me is will the pressure build, knowing that Miami is four weeks away. That can be great for preparation but can also just break your nerves down.”

Ryan: “It’s just been a very tumultuous year. But I think what gets forgotten sometimes is Martin Truex Jr. is no stranger to adversity. This is a guy who, in 2013 with Michael Waltrip Racing, had his ride taken away by one of the biggest scandals in NASCAR history. He weathered that with so much class, very admirably, that I think he emerged a changed man after that … and we’ve seen that this year.”

Kyle Busch – “If you ain’t first, you’re last”

Kligerman: “This driver cares only about one thing, and that is winning. He wants to win every time he steps in a race car, whether it’s a Super Late Model, an Xfinity car or a Cup car. If he wants to go on to win his second championship, it’s about winning. … He can most definitely win at Martinsville. He told Marty Snider after Kansas, ‘I want to win Martinsville, so I don’t have to worry’ (about earning berth into the Championship 4 at Miami).”

Letarte: “For the 18 to be good in the next round, it’s very important for them to look back. They should feel reborn coming out of the Round of 12 because it was a disaster and started with the driver making a mistake from Charlotte and it just tumbled from there.”

Brad Keselowski – “Legacy”

Ryan: “He feels as if he needs a second championship to validate the first one (2012). He’s heard whispers around the Cup garage that people think his 2012 title was a fluke. Until he wins another one, he feels like he’s not going to put his doubters to rest.”

Letarte: “That’s how Brad is. If you look at him, we’re going to know very quickly. His best shot to advance to Miami starts at Martinsville this weekend. He said Talladega was a must-win and he did it. I wouldn’t say Martinsville is a must-win … but he must run well. He has to be in the top two or three at Martinsville to feel good about Miami.”

Kevin Harvick – “Relentless”

Ryan: “I think (that tag line) is very fitting. His and crew chief Rodney Childers’ goal is to win everything, and not just races, but qualifying, practice sessions, it’s lead every lap. They want to be completely dominant. If that sounds like an unrealistic goal for a team that likes challenges, that IS Kevin Harvick and Rodney Childers.”

Letarte: “He has the nickname of ‘The Closer’ because he does a great job of fighting through the races and being there at the end. … I expect Kevin Harvick to be his normal self, to be relentless. He will be there inside the top two or top three. If he doesn’t have a good enough car to take the lead, he’s going to put the pressure on the leader to make sure they execute correctly.”

Jimmie Johnson – “#Chasing8”

Kligerman: “He’s chasing that record eighth championship. They need to find speed. He’s confident they can find that speed and go to Miami and compete. Remember, they went into last year’s Championship 4 and not a lot of people had them going on to win it, but they found a way to win it. They’re a clutch team and that’s what it’s going to take.”

Letarte: “Waiting for Miami or needing it to happen at Miami, the odds go against them, the probability goes down. Somehow, they have to find a moment in the next three races to give themselves a little momentum and put themselves on the radar to make other competitors concerned.”

Denny Hamlin – “Redemption”

Letarte: “He’s been waiting for that chance to kind of emerge and get back on that stage. All year long, we’ve been talking about the 78 and 18 … while Denny Hamlin has been very quietly putting together what I consider a very good season. When you look at the tracks coming up, there’s no reason why he can’t win and that’s what it will take. Denny’s my sleeper. You get him into Miami, he has a lot to prove. Thirty-one wins without a championship. This is a Hall of Fame career. The only way to silence the critics is to win the championship.”

Ryan: “A driver like him is like what it was like for NBA stars competing against Michael Jordan. Clyde Drexler, who never won an NBA championship because he faced off against Michael Jordan. Denny Hamlin doesn’t want to be that person in NASCAR. Having raced in the Jimmie Johnson era, he needs to seize the opportunity to get that first title.”

Ryan Blaney – “Win it for the Wood Brothers”

Letarte: “It’s all about the race team he drives for, win it for the Wood Brothers. They believed him, gave him the opportunity, he got them win No. 99. … He’d love to win a championship for the Wood Brothers.”

Ryan: “He has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. He’s listening to what people said about him advancing out of the Round of 12 … that he wasn’t going to make the Round of 8, which makes it all the more special (that Blaney did).”

Chase Elliott – “Youngest ever”

Kligerman: “He has been great through the playoffs here. If he were to win a championship at 21 years old, he’d be the youngest Cup series champion ever, which would be incredible. But there is an elephant in the room with the 24 team, and that is they’ve not won a race. … I look at Texas for the 24 team. This could be the best chance for them to get that elusive first victory and then propel themselves to fight for a championship.”

Letarte: “Could you think of a bigger win? What would be a bigger first career win then to do a walk-off at Miami for the first championship. … When the playoffs started, this team has risen up and have raised to the level of a championship-style race team.”

And don’t forget, on Wednesday’s NASCAR America on NBCSN, we’ll have special guest Joe Gibbs join us for a full hour from the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The show airs from 5-6 p.m. ET.

What drivers said after Coca-Cola 600

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Kyle Busch – Winner: “It’s awesome. I mean I’ve dreamt of that – not only winning here and winning the Coke 600 as a kid and being in victory lane here for this race, but to just be a force that people got to be reckoned with, you know. I go across the country and race Super Late Models because I want to win at every single race track. I just want to show that there is no weakness. My guys have given me that chance here tonight and being able to get to victory lane with this M&M’s Toyota – it sure looks pretty in victory lane here tonight. I definitely want to give a shoutout to all of our men and women, all the service men and women across the world past and present, fallen and of today’s heroes – we had (SGT) Eric Toth with us here and his family riding along with us this weekend, so that was a pleasure. Got to meet up with them earlier and spend some time, so that was really cool.”

Martin Truex Jr. – Finished 2nd: “I mean we definitely gained some ground that last run, but I think (Busch) might have just been taking care of it. Just definitely just a battle-back night for us. The speeding penalty and then the pit road penalty right after that in just two stops. It really hurt us and it’s hard to pass – hard to come from behind with these cars right now with the flat splitters and everything they’ve done to them the past month and a half or so. It was good to be able to get back up to second. I thought we had the second-best car all night. I don’t think anybody had anything for that 18. He was stout. We gained a little on him that last run under green, but like I said, I think he was just taking care of it a little bit.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished 3rd: “We’re third or fourth best every week.  That’s frustrating.  But it could be 35 spots worse.  We’ve just got to ‑‑ we just need two or three tenths a lap.  It seems like that’s kind of what I’m off, and I just can’t get the speed out of the car.  I was just handling a certain way, and it’s just a razor’s edge for us.  We’re either really good or we’re average at best.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 4th: “I thought the 78 (Truex) was really strong, him and the 18 (Busch) were probably pretty close. I don’t know, he had some kind of issues that kept holding him back, but they were just in another league. I ran as hard as I could tonight and the team did a great job the last few stops to put us in a position and that was just kind of what we had. We’ll go back to the drawing board and try to find some more speed. If we keep this execution that we had tonight, then we’ll get some wins, but we’ve got to have more speed.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 5th: “It feels good, but damn I want to win. I’m tired of running fifth, I’m tired of running whatever it is. We got off on some adjustments today and it was amazing how sensitive the car was with some minor adjustments the car just lost half a second. We had a hard time trying to grasp it and understand it and communicate about it. We put it back to the way it was and it took off and I drove right back up into the top three. Just a very small sweet spot with the car. Luckily, we finished in that sweet spot and got a good finish out of it, including a spin and we had a jack break on a stop. We had to overcome a lot tonight. Really proud of these guys. Wish that I could have got this special paint scheme into Victory Lane with the soldier we were carrying on the car today.”

Jamie McMurray – Finished 6th: “Yeah, I don’t know what was wrong with the tires we had two sets that they felt loose like it shook so bad that I pitted that one time under green and then we had a real short run and I had to pit again. I was just positive they were loose, but they said there was nothing wrong, but it was shaking so bad I mean I was scared so I went ahead and pitted. But, we had a really good car and we’ve come a long way, especially the Chevy’s from the beginning of the year 1.5-miles. I think in less than a month we will contend to win. That is a good feeling.”

Kyle Larson – Finished 7th: “I’m bummed I gave up some track position when I got into the wall, but I was glad to see our team stay with it and come back for a top-10 finish tonight. Our DC Solar Chevy was pretty good all night, but we had to adjust on it throughout the race to stay ahead of some vibrations in the rear of the car. We had a shake to start the race, and I think that’s what upset me when I got into the wall, but we were able to work around it. This hasn’t been a great race for me, so glad to see us come away with a good finish tonight.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 8th: “We just didn’t do anything spectacular tonight. We had one really good restart, but we were positioned for restarting fourth. We struggled on pit stops the first half of the race, but the second half they cleaned them up and we kept up with the track as best we could. We just didn’t have any short-run speed that was stellar. We didn’t have any long-run speed that was stellar. We kind of just did everything as a top 10 team would do and I’m glad we put the Haas Automation Ford in eighth. We’ll have to keep fighting.”

Alex Bowman – Finished 9th: “Yeah, for sure, to qualify 27th and finish ninth it was definitely a good night. I feel like it was way more pit crew than anything. My pit crew they killed it on pit road all night. They did a great job and got us a couple of spots on that last green flag stop. Extremely proud of those guys. Greg (Ives, crew chief) made good calls from on top of the box and our car was much better than it had been all week. Happy for that. I really like this place, so hopefully when… well I guess we are coming back to the ROVAL, so it doesn’t really matter, but hopefully next year we run a little better here.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished 10th: “I’m real happy. I think we were a little concerned, even though the package wasn’t the same as the All-Star Race, I feel like we made some gains for the 1.5-mile program this year. I felt like this is about where we were last year at this time, so for us to start the year off from where we did last year, I feel good that we’re headed in the right direction. It’s never as fast as you want. It was a tough battle for us out there. We were really good the first two stages and made an adjustment and was off for two runs – a full stage and had to fight back to get that track position. All in all, it was a good day to come back.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 11th: “Thought we were better than we have been lately, which is nice. I just hit the wall towards the end and it ended up costing us, I think, the finish we deserved.”

Clint Bowyer – Finished 12th: “It’s frustrating. You come here and it’s a long race, and what a weird race. It was like we had track position and cars were way back and laps down and then all the wrecks opened the door for them to get the laps back. Then we lost track position on tires there and kind of halfway got it back, but it was just a frustrating weekend altogether, really.”

Aric Almirola – Finished 13th: “We just missed it. The first half of the race was pretty good for us and then we missed an opportunity to pit there when we kind of stayed out on older tires and we were one of the last couple cars on old tires, and we went from running in the top five or six to finishing that third stage in 17th and then that’s kind of the end of the night. That last run went green, so I hate it. We had extra tires laying in the pits, but they didn’t do us any good.”

Daniel Suarez – Finished 15th: “It was a decent finish with our Interstate Batteries Camry. The guys did a good job working on the racecar, but the car didn’t have a lot of speed. We had a 14th- or 15th-place car at times. We had issues with a vibration and lost two laps, but we were able to overcome that, but it took us a long time because we didn’t have a lot of speed. We have to go back home, work hard and try to get better and see what happens at Pocono.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 21st: “I’ve been telling everyone all season that we’re constantly growing and improving as a race team, and we certainly showed everyone that this weekend. We had speed on Thursday and had our best qualifying effort of the year. We worked hard in practice on Saturday and felt really good about our chances in the race. There were definitely challenges throughout the night, but it was a good race for us in comparison to other mile and a half tracks we have run this year. I ran on the lead lap for most of the night, even battling back to get our lap back in Stage 3, and our GEICO Military Camaro ZL1 had a pretty good balance under the lights. There is obviously still more work to be done, but we’re going to keep digging and getting stronger every week.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 36th: “We had a cylinder let go maybe around lap 150 and we were just trying to limp it home. When they go that early you don’t expect it to last all race, but it lasted a lot longer than I thought and then it finally let go into one there. That stinks. I thought we had a really good car. I would have liked to see how the race would have progressed for us, but we won’t see that anymore. Hopefully, we can go out and have a good run at Pocono and then at Michigan.

William Byron – Finished 39th: “We just were really loose and just trying to make the top work. I just got loose, the car came around and hit the wall and then we had a bunch of damage. It started rubbing on the tire and then it wasn’t rubbing on the tire, it was cleared, but it just felt like something broke going into (Turn) 3 and we just hit the wall again and then we had an electrical issue. Unfortunate, but we will go to Pocono and figure it out there.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 40th: “We stood in the garage and looked at it and I can’t tell if we ran something over. There’s enough things that could have happened right there, but I’m just really proud of everybody on our Mobil 1/Busch Ford. The car was really, really fast. We came all the way through the pack and made it up into the top three there and sometimes those things happen. I can’t complain about anything that’s happened this year. We have to take the good with the bad. The guys did a great job in basically guessing at where the car needed to be today with all the penalties, no practice and starting in the back. To come out and have the fastest car again was quite an honor to drive and they’re doing a great job. It was just bad luck.”

Martin Truex Jr. charges to second place in Coke 600 despite pit issues

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CONCORD, N.C. — The only reason Martin Truex Jr. didn’t get a shot at celebrating his second Coca-Cola 600 win was because the guy who finished in front of him – Kyle Busch – was “flawless.”

That’s how Truex’s crew chief, Cole Pearn, described Busch’s night.

Truex’s 600 miles were anything but.

The No. 78 Toyota finished second in Sunday night’s race despite qualifying 15th and suffering consecutive pit road penalties, for speeding on Lap 203 and an uncontrolled tire on Lap 227.

The speeding penalty came after Truex entered and exited the pits in second.

Then there was the pit guns.

Pearn told NBC Sports the team went through three pit guns during the 400-lap race. One mishap resulted in the second penalty.

“The gun screwed up on the right rear and the front (tire) changer left and left the tire sitting there, cause usually the rear carrier comes to get it,” Pearn said. “But we went through three guns tonight … The whole reason we got the uncontrolled tire was cause the gun screwed up.”

Truex said the pit gun problem was “one of those freak things” where it reversed on the changer as he was hitting the fifth lug nut and he had to manually switch it back.

The No. 78 also had one unsecured lug nut following the race.

Even with the issues, Truex said it was a “solid day overall” for his team, which earned its third consecutive top five.

As for the speeding penalty?

“I can’t wait to see the time,” Truex said. “It couldn’t have been much. But I just hit some of those bumps a little bit wrong and got going a little too fast and tapped the brake just a split second too late. I typically don’t get a lot of speeding penalties, so Cole won’t ride my butt too hard this week about it.”

Truex said his team “cleaned it up well” after that.

The final restart came with 93 laps to go and Truex restarting eighth. With 55 to go he was in second, but lost multiple spots during green flag stops.

But he was back in second with 34 to go.

That’s when Pearn and his team started “praying” for a restart.

“I thought we were really equal to them the last few runs of the race,” Pearn said. “It was just a matter of track position and chasing from behind.”

Two years after Truex led 392 laps to capture his Coke 600 win, Busch led 377 while sweeping all four stages.

It was also the first time Truex hadn’t led a lap in the race since 2014.

“At the end of the day, we ran second,” Truex said. “He kicked everybody’s tail. That’s just the way it goes.”

Points after Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

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Kyle Busch padded his NASCAR Cup points lead by winning all three stages of the Coca-Cola 600 and the race.

Busch added eight playoff points to his total as a result of this performance and now has 25 playoff points to Kevin Harvick‘s 24.

Joey Logano is second in the standings – 67 points behind Busch.

The battle for the final transfer position into the playoffs got even tighter as Chase Elliott and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. have 296 points apiece. Elliott finished 11th in the Coke 600; Stenhouse finished 10th.

Click here for the full points report.

Results, stats for Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

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Kyle Busch dominated the Coca-Cola 600 and became the first driver in NASCAR history to win on every track where he has competed.

Busch won all three stages and paced the field for 377 of the 400 laps.

Martin Truex, Jr. finished second and was able to close the distance slightly during the final stage as Busch seemingly managed the gap between the two.

Denny Hamlin finished third to score his third consecutive top five at this track and his 14th top 10 in the last 16 Charlotte races.

Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top five.

This was the second top five earned by Johnson this season.

Click here for full results.