Who’s Hot, Who’s Not heading into Martinsville?

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Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway marks the start of the Round of 8 semifinal playoff round.

Here’s this week’s edition of Who’s Hot and Who’s Not heading into Martinsville:


 No. 78 Martin Truex Jr. (Hot)

  • Won at Charlotte, 23rd at Talladega, Won at Kansas.
  • Seven wins in 2017, the most by a driver since Matt Kenseth had seven in 2013.
  • Finished in the top-five 15 times and the top-10 22 times this season, both are the most.
  • Won 19 stages this season, the most.
  • 69 Playoff Points this season, the most.
  • Has led a series-high 2,068 laps, led the most laps in eight races.
  • Three of his seven top-10 finishes at Martinsville came in the last five races.
  • Finished 16th at Martinsville in April, spun from seventh on lap 431.
  • Best short track finish of 2017 came at Bristol in April finished 8th.
  • Look ahead to Texas: Winless at Texas in 24 starts, runner-up in Spring 2013. … Finished top-10 in the last five races at Texas, led in the last four. … Six wins on 1.5-mile tracks in 2017, most ever in a season, won the last four.

No. 11 Denny Hamlin (Hot)

  • Finished 4th at Charlotte, 6th at Talladega, 5th at Kansas.
  • Finished top six in seven of the last nine races.
  • Five wins at Martinsville rank ninth all-time and second among active drivers (Jimmie Johnson has nine).
  • Five wins at Martinsville are his most among all tracks.
  • Finished 30th or worse in two of the last three races at Martinsville including 30th in April.
  • 30th-place finish at Martinsville in April is his only finish worst than 10th this season on a short track.
  • Look ahead to Texas: Won both races at Texas in 2010, his only wins there in 23 starts, but has only three top-10 finishes there in the 12 races since with no top-fives. … Finished 25th at Texas in April.

No. 18 Kyle Busch (Hot)

  • Finished 29th at Charlotte, hit the wall while running 2nd, 27th at Talladega (accident), 10th at Kansas.
  • Four wins this season, all in the last 12 races.
  • Led laps in the last 15 races this season, a personal best and the best streak ever among the active drivers.
  • Finished top five in the last four races at Martinsville (the longest active streak) including a win in April 2016 (his only at the track).
  • Led 42 percent of the laps raced at Martinsville in the last three races (629 of 1500).
  • 469 laps led on short tracks in 2017 lead all drivers.
  • Look ahead to Texas: Two-time Texas winner, both came in his last eight starts there. … Finished top-15 in his last 10 Texas starts (seven top-fives). … Finished 15th at Texas in April 2

 No. 2 Brad Keselowski (Good)

  • Finished 15th at Charlotte, won at Talladega after having radio issues, Finished 13th at Kansas after two speeding penalties.
  • Advanced to the round of 8 with his win at Talladega.
  • Won at Martinsville in April (led 116 laps), his only win there in 15 races.
  • Finished top five in the last three races at Martinsville, top 10 in eight of the last 11.
  • Only two top-10 finishes on short tracks in 2017.
  • Look ahead to Texas: Winless at Texas in 18 starts, best finish of second in this race in 2015 after leading 312 of 334 laps. … Finished top 10 in seven of the last 10 races at Texas (sixth there in April).

No. 4 Kevin Harvick (Decent)

  • Finished 3rd at Charlotte after winning the first two stages, 20th at Talladega and eighth at Kansas.
  • Only  two top-10 finishes in the last five races.
  • Only four top-10 finishes in the last 11 races at Martinsville, finished 20th in each of the last two.
  • Won at Martinsville in Spring 2011 but as only one top-five finish there since.
  • Finished top-10 in three of the five races on short tracks this season.
  • Look ahead to Texas: Winless at Texas in 29 starts, two time runner-up. … Finished in the top-10 in the last six races at Texas (fourth in April).

No. 21 Ryan Blaney (Putting it together)

  • Finished 8th at Charlotte, 18th at Talladega, accident after leading 27 laps, third at Kansas.
  • Finished top 10 in three of the last five races of 2017.
  • Best finish at Martinsville is 19th (two times)
  • Finished 25th at Martinsville in April.
  • Finished 10th at Bristol in August 2017, only top 10 ever on a short track.
  • Look ahead to Texas: Five Texas starts with a best finish of 12th in each of the last two races there. … Led 148 laps at Texas in April but finished 12th after sliding through his box from eighth on his last stop.

No. 24 Chase Elliott (His time is coming)

  • Finished 2nd at Charlotte, sixth career runner-up finish, 16th at Talladega, fourth at Kansas.
  • Four top-five finishes in the playoffs rank second to Martin Truex Jr. (five).
  • Worst finish in the last eight races is 16th at Talladega.
  • Finished third at Martinsville in April, only top-10 finish there in four starts.
  • Made his Cup debut at Martinsville in March 2015 (finished 38th).
  • Three of his four Cup top-10 finishes on short tracks came in 2017.
  • Look ahead to Texas: Finished top-10 in all three of his Texas starts with a best of fourth in October 2016. … Got his first Xfinity win at Texas in April 2014.

No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Warming up)

  • Finished seventh in each of the last two races.
  • Finished top 12 in the last four races, best streak this season, including three top 10s.
  • Won at Martinsville in Fall 2014.
  • Finished top 10 in four of his last seven Martinsville starts.

No. 42 Kyle Larson (Hot in 2017 but unlucky at Kansas)

  • Finished 10th at Charlotte, 13th at Talladega, involved in accident, 39th at Kansas, engine.
  • Eight runner-up finishes this season.
  • Four wins in 2017, had one entering this season.
  • Finished third at Martinsville in April 2016, only finish better than 14th in seven starts there.
  • Finished 17th at Martinsville in April, dropped from top-10 late due to power issues.
  • Finished top-10 in three of the five short-track races this season with a win at Richmond in September.


 No. 48 Jimmie Johnson (Just doesn’t seem to have it lately)

  • Finished 7th at Charlotte, 24th at Talladega, accident, 11th at Kansas after two accidents.
  • Top 10 finishes in four of the last seven races.
  • Four top five finishes this season, three were wins.
  • Nine-time winner at Martinsville including this race last year, nine wins are tied for third most all-time and the most by an active driver.
  • Finished 15th at Martinsville in April.
  • Only two top-10 finishes in his last six races at Martinsville.
  • Win at Bristol in April is his only top-five finish on a short track this season.
  • Look ahead to Texas: Seven time winner at Texas, most of all drivers. … Won six of the last 10 Texas races including the race there in April.

No. 1 Jamie McMurray (Not)

  • Finished 5th at Charlotte, 37th accident at Talladega, 34th accident at Kansas.
  • 16 top-10 finishes this season, six more than this point last year.
  • Five DNFs because of accidents in 2017.
  • Finished top 10 in three of the last five races at Martinsville.
  • Two-time runner-up at Martinsville.
  • Finished 38th at Martinsville in April, damage to the left rear fender while battling for 6th with Johnson on lap 100 led to an accident on lap 107.
  • Finished sixth at Richmond in April, only short track top-10 finish this season.

No. 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Not)

  • Finished 13th at Charlotte, 26th accident at Talladega, 29th accident at Kansas.
  • Best finish of 10th at Martinsville in April, his only top-10 finish there in nine starts.
  • Finished top 10 in three of the five races on short tracks this season.

No. 20 Matt Kenseth (Unlucky)

  • Finished 11th at Charlotte, 14th at Talladega, 37th at Kansas.
  • No top-10 finishes in the last four races, tied for his longest streak of the season.
  • Martinsville is one of only five active tracks he has not won on, best finish of second twice in 35 starts.
  • Finished ninth at Martinsville in April.
  • Six top-10 finishes in the last eight races at Martinsville.
  • Finished top 10 in three of the five races on short tracks this season with a best of fourth at both Bristol races.

No. 3 Austin Dillon (Not hot)

  • Finished 14th Kansas, best finish in the last seven races.
  • Only three top-15 finishes in the last 13 races.
  • Only four top-10 finishes this season, had 13 at this point last year.
  • Won on fuel mileage at Charlotte earlier this year.
  • Finished top-five in two of the last three races at Martinsville including a fifth in April 4.

No. 5 Kasey Kahne (Not hot)

  • Finished 15th at Kansas ending his streak of top-10 finishes at two.
  • Only three top 10 finishes in the last 22 races.
  • Six DNFs due to accidents this season.
  • Won at Indianapolis ending a 102-race winless streak, took a super lucky timed caution and turned it into a win.
  • Only one top-10 finish in the last eight races at Martinsville.

No. 31 Ryan Newman (Not good lately)

  • Finished second at Talladega, only top-10 finish in the last six races.
  • DNF because of accident in two of the last three races (40th at Charlotte, 33rd at Kansas).
  • Finished top-10 in four of the last six races at Martinsville including an eighth in April.

No. 41 Kurt Busch (Not Hot)

  • Finished second at Kansas but it is his only finish better than 19th in the last six races.
  • Two-time Martinsville winner but his win in Spring 2014 is his only top-10 finish in the last 23 races there.

No. 14 Clint Bowyer (Disappointing 2017) 

  • Finished 19th at Kansas, best finish in the last three races.
  • Finished runner-up three times in 2017.
  • Only two top-10 finishes in the last 10 races of 2017.
  • Finished seventh at Martinsville in April, only top-10 finish in the last five races.

No. 22 Joey Logano (Disappointing season)

  • Finished 4th at Talladega, only his fourth top-five finish since his Richmond win and his only top-10 finish in the last four races.
  • 12 finishes outside the top 20 in the last 23 races.
  • Won at Richmond after starting in the rear due to a transmission change, but win was ruled encumbered due to illegal suspension.
  • First time he missed the playoffs with Team Penske.
  • Finished top-10 in five of the last seven races at Martinsville, fourth there in April.

No. 77 Erik Jones (Lost his momentum)

  • DNF due accident in the last two races of 2017.
  • Top-10 finishes in seven of the last 12 races this season but only one in the last six.
  • Started 15th, finished 12th at Martinsville in April in his only Cup start there.
  • Finished top-10 in each of the last two short track races, including a career-best 2nd at Bristol.


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Harrison Burton looks for progress in second year in Cup


Harrison Burton made the first start of his NASCAR Cup Series partnership with the Wood Brothers in the bright lights of Los Angeles.

Burton and the Woods teamed last season as Burton jumped into full-time Cup racing after two full seasons (and four wins) in the Xfinity Series. Their first race was the Clash at the Coliseum, and it was a good start — Burton qualified for the feature and finished 12th on the lead lap.

Then things headed downhill. Crashes at Daytona and Auto Club Speedway left Burton with finishes of 39th and 33rd, respectively. After the first five races of the year, he had four finishes of 25th or worse.

Now, Season Two, and there are higher expectations. Much higher.

MORE: Drivers to watch in Clash at the Coliseum

“The start of last year was really, really rough,” Burton told NBC Sports. “It kind of put us in a hole. We got into the wreck in the 500 and crashed at Fontana. Things kind of stack up on you, and all of a sudden you’re buried in points and it’s hard to make it back up.

“But, at the end of the year, three of the last four weekends were big for us (three consecutive top-20 finishes). We need to build off that and try to get out of the West Coast swing and have a clean group of those races. That’s really important. We need to get our average finish up in the first four to five races and not put ourselves in a hole we can’t get out of, and then go from there.”

The Wood Brothers team typically brings strong cars to the Daytona 500, the season’s first point race. Trevor Bayne scored the team’s latest win in stock car racing’s biggest event in 2011.

“We ran well in the 500 last year until I was upside down,” Burton said. “We had a fast car and qualified well and finished third in our duel. Then in the second Daytona race we put ourselves in good position late, so we were in contention in both Daytona races. The speed was there, and the cars drove well.”

The team’s primary goal is to make the playoffs, Burton said. “And we want to be a contender,” he said. “Cup races are so hard. First, you have to contend. Having a good average finish is really important. If you average around 17th or 18th all year, you can kind of point your way into the playoffs, and doing that is on our minds for sure.”

MORE: Power Rankings: 10 historic moments in the Clash

Burton looks for a strong start in Sunday’s Clash, which will present teams with a mix of the old and the new. Drivers got the experience of racing inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum last year, and notes from that race will be useful, but the racing surface will be all new again.

“Every repave has a different tendency,” Burton said. “We’ll see how close it is to last time and how different. Obviously, there is experience on that track, but still it’s a completely new surface, so it’s going to be a mixture of old and new. There’s some knowledge we can build off of, but we kind of have to go into the weekend with that knowledge as tentative because we don’t know if the track is going to be different.”

Burton heads for Los Angeles with a win already under his belt this year. He and teammate Zane Smith, last year’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion, won last Friday’s International Motor Sports Association’s Michelin Pilot Challenge Series race on the Daytona International Speedway road course.

Burton drove the finishing laps in the four-hour race. He was third with about 50 minutes to go but moved in front with 22 minutes left when leader Elliott Skeer parked. Burton outran second-place Spencer Pumpelly by .688 of a second for the win.

“I thought we could run well,” Burton said. “After the test we did, we were really fast, so I was pretty excited. But apparently there is a lot of sandbagging that goes on there, so I wasn’t sure where we were. We had to have some things go right for us, and they did.”





Dr. Diandra: Muffling racecars won’t change fan experience


Last week, NASCAR tested the muffler that will be used for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum.

“Heresy,” some fans cried. They argued that it is against the laws of man and nature to muffle racecars. That noise is an integral part of the fan experience. That you’re not supposed to be able to have conversations during races.


The cars will be plenty loud.

Loud is fast

Engines produce power by combusting fuel and air in their cylinders. Each combustion produces high-pressure gases that push the piston up. The same gases make a loud popping sound when they escape the cylinder and finally the exhaust.

At 8,000 rpm, an eight-cylinder engine performs about 520 combustions every second. The faster an engine runs, the more combustions per second and the higher the frequency of the tailpipe noise.

That’s why NASCAR engines sound like grizzly bears and F1 engines, which run at higher speeds, sound more like angry mosquitoes.

Maximum horsepower requires getting the spent gases out of the cylinder as quickly as possible so the next combustion reaction can start. And that’s the problem with mufflers, from a racing perspective.

Mufflers on street cars bounce sound waves from the engine around a metal can. The waves interfere with each other, which decreases the overall volume coming from the exhaust.

Mufflers can also mitigate noise by directing the exhaust through a sound-absorbing material. Borla, the sole-source supplier for this weekend’s muffler, makes commercial racing mufflers that feature a robust sound-absorbing material superior to the commonly used fiberglass.

Both methods slow the exhaust gases — the first more than the second. The ideal racing muffler diminishes sound with minimal horsepower reduction.


Sound-level measurements come in decibels (dB), a unit named after Alexander Graham, not Christopher — and apparently by someone who wasn’t the best speller.

But decibels don’t tell the whole story. Sound intensity decreases with distance, so you need to specify how far away the sound source was.

The easiest way to explain the decibel scale is to relate it to real-world noises, as I’ve done below.

A bar chart showing representative sound levels expressed in decibels.

  • Zero dB is the threshold of human hearing.
  • A whisper you can just barely make out is about 20 dB.
  • Most everyday noises are in the 60 dB to 100 dB range but are sometimes louder.
  • Exposure to 130 dBs can be painful.
  • A 150-dB sound can cause permanent hearing damage in a very short time.

Ringing in your ears the day after a rock concert was a badge of honor in high school. Older me wishes I had been a little smarter.

Hair cells — not to be confused with ear hair — facilitate hearing. Sound bends these hair-shaped cells, and the cells convert sound into electrical signals that the brain interprets. Loud sounds can bend these cells so much that they break.

Unlike animals such as sharks, zebrafish — and even the lowly chicken — humans cannot grow new hair cells. Once your hearing is damaged, you can’t get it back.

How loud are racecars?

A noise mitigation study for the proposed Nashville Fairgrounds track measured a single Next Gen car at COTA generating 112 dB on a straightaway at 100 feet.

A 2008 study measured the sound level inside a Gen-6 car to be an average of 114 dB. The study also compared sound in the stands, the infield and the pits.

Let’s add those numbers to our graph.

A bar chart showing representative sound levels expressed in decibels, including sound measurements from the Gen-6 and Next Gen cars

  • The Next Gen car at 100 feet is about the same loudness as a person screaming at top volume 1 inch from your ear.
  • The Next Gen car at 100 feet is just a bit quieter than sitting inside the Gen-6 car.
  • Bristol reached peak sound levels loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage.

The graph data suggests that inside the Next Gen car should be around 10 times louder than inside the Gen-6. Some drivers made new earmolds to cope with the additional noise in the cockpit.

Because of the way sound works, the numbers don’t add like you’d expect them to. A Next Gen car might be 112 dB, but two Next Gen cars are more like 115 dB. A full field would be only 5-7 dB louder.

The mufflers won’t muffle much

NASCAR expects a six to 10-dB reduction in sound with mufflers. A 10-dB reduction would make the Next Gen car about as loud as the Gen-6 car was.

Another way of looking at it: Good earplugs reduce sound levels by 25 to 30 dB. Wearing earplugs just barely gets you into the range of being able to hold a conversation if you stand very close to each other and you both shout.

You won’t notice the change in sound inside the track.

You also won’t notice a change in speed this weekend, despite a drop of 30-40 horsepower. The Next Gen car takes around 14 seconds to traverse the L.A. Coliseum’s quarter-mile track. That means cars won’t be going much faster than typical expressway speeds.

If you’re headed out to the track this weekend — despite the mufflers — bring earplugs or over-the-ear headsets. This is especially important for children, as their hearing is more easily damaged.

Joe Gibbs Racing adds young racers to Xfinity program


Connor Mosack, 23, and Joe Graf Jr., 24, each will drive select races in the No. 19 Xfinity Series car for Joe Gibbs Racing this season.

Mosack, who has a 20-race Xfinity schedule with Sam Hunt Racing this year, will run three races for JGR: Chicago street course (July 1), Pocono (July 22) and Road America (July 29) while also competing in six ARCA Menards Series races for JGR, including Feb. 18 at Daytona.

Graf, who has a 28-race Xfinity schedule with RSS Racing this year, will run five races in the No. 19 Xfinity car for JGR: Auto Club Speedway (Feb. 25), Las Vegas (March 4), Richmond (April 1), New Hampshire (July 15) and Kansas (Sept. 9).

“I made my Xfinity Series debut with JGR last June at Portland and from the moment I made my first lap in their racecar, I realized why they’ve been so successful,” Mosack said in a statement. “Their equipment was second to none and the resources they had in terms of people and their knowledge was incredible.

“Jason Ratcliff was my crew chief at Portland and he’s got a ton of experience. I was able to learn from him before we even went to the track. Just in our time in the simulator, we made some great changes. So, to be back with him for three Xfinity races is going to be really valuable.

“And when it comes to JGR’s ARCA program, it’s the class of the field. After having to race against JGR cars, I’m really looking forward to racing with a JGR car. No matter what track they were on, they were always up front competing for wins. To have that chance in 2023 is pretty special, and I aim to make the most of it.”

Said Graf in a statement about his opportunity with JGR: “Running five races with JGR is a fantastic opportunity for myself and for my marketing partners. I think I can learn a lot from JGR and showcase my skills I’ve been growing in the series in the past three years. 2023 is shaping up to be a great year and I’m pumped to get started with the No. 19 group.”

Ryan Truex has previously been announced as the driver of the No. 19 Xfinity Series car in six races this season for JGR. The remaining drivers for the car will be announced at a later date.

Mosack didn’t start racing until he was 18 years old. He went on to win five Legends car championships before moving to Late Model stock cars in 2019. He graduated from High Point University in 2021 with a degree in business entrepreneurship. Mosack’s first Xfinity Series race with Sam Hunt Racing this season will be March 11 at Phoenix Raceway.


NASCAR weekend schedule for Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum


NASCAR’s winter break ends this weekend as Cup Series drivers return to the track for Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.

The second Clash at the LA Memorial Coliseum has been expanded to 27 (from 23) drivers for the 150-lap main event. Qualifying, heat races and two “last chance” races will set the field.

MORE: Drivers to watch in the Clash

Joey Logano won last year’s Clash, the perfect start to a season that ended with him holding the Cup championship trophy.

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (Cup)

Weekend weather

Saturday: Mostly sunny. High of 71.

Sunday: Partly cloudy. High of 66.

Saturday, Feb. 4

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 2 – 11:30 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 6 – 8 p.m. — Cup Series practice (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 8:35 – 9:30 p.m. — Cup Series qualifying (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Feb. 5

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. – 12:30 a.m. Monday — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 5 – 5:45 p.m. — Four Heat races (25 laps; Fox, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 6:10 – 6:35 p.m. — Two Last chance qualifying races (50 laps; Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 8 p.m. — Feature race (150 laps; Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)