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:

WHO’S HOT

 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.

WHO’S NOT HOT

 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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Short-track ace Sam Ard shares Xfinity record with Noah Gragson

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Former two-time Xfinity Series champion Sam Ard’s name returned to the forefront in the past week as Noah Gragson tied Ard’s series record for consecutive victories at four.

Although Ard has been nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, his exploits generally aren’t well-known among many who follow the modern sport of stock car racing. He was on the Hall voting list for the 2023 class but was not elected.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Ard was a short-track master in the vein of stars like Jack Ingram, Harry Gant and Butch Lindley, drivers who could show up at virtually any half-mile track across the country and take home the trophy.

He won the NASCAR Late Model (now the Xfinity Series) championship in 1983 and 1984, scoring 18 wins across those two seasons. He put together four victories in a row late in the 1983 season, winning at South Boston, Virginia; Martinsville, Virginia; Rougemont, North Carolina and Charlotte.

Ard was so dominant in 1984 that he had wrapped up the seasonal championship with two races remaining. In 28 series starts that year, he had 24 top-five finishes and 26 top-10 runs. He won eight times.

In the next-to-last race of the 1984 season, at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, Ard suffered critical head injuries when his car slid in fluid from another vehicle and hit the track’s outside wall.

That crash effectively ended Ard’s career and impacted the rest of his life. Ard often talked of learning to walk again as part of his recovery. He said he would use a walker in a pile of sawdust in his backyard so that the landing would be softer when he fell.

Ard eventually was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. In 2006, responding to Ard’s financial problems, drivers Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr., among others, launched a drive to raise funds for his family.

Ard, a native of Scranton, S.C., died in April 2017. He was 78.

 

 

 

 

 

Drivers to watch in Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway

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The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs will reach a critical point Sunday in a 500-mile chase at treacherous Talladega Superspeedway.

The overriding factor in any race at Talladega, NASCAR’s biggest track, is the unknown. With cars running so fast and so close together, multi-car accidents are not only possible but expected, and it’s easy to become the innocent victim of someone else’s mistake.

MORE: NASCAR penalizes William Byron for spinning Denny Hamlin

The tension is doubled for the 12 playoff drivers. A bad finish at Talladega could open the door for a probable playoff exit at the end of the round Oct. 9 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

The playoffs to date have seen four wins by non-playoff drivers, an unprecedented result. Tyler Reddick was the most recent to join that list with a win last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

A look at drivers to watch at Talladega:

FRONTRUNNERS

Denny Hamlin

  • Points position: 6th
  • Last three races: 10th at Texas, 9th at Bristol, 2nd at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 2 career wins

Although he hasn’t won, Hamlin has finished in the top 10 in all four playoff races. In the past six races at Talladega, he has four finishes of seventh or better. Now if he can just keep people from running into him…

William Byron

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Last three races: 7th at Texas, 3rd at Bristol, 6th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: Best career finish is a second

Byron stands alone as the only playoff driver who has been able to avoid major crashes and trouble in the pits, and he has finished in the top 10 in all four playoff races. After Tuesday’s penalty for his incident with Denny Hamlin at Texas, he sits below the cutline entering Sunday’s race.

Brad Keselowski

  • Points position: 24th
  • Last three races: 8th at Texas, 13th at Bristol, 25th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 6 wins, the active leader

Even in trying times, Keselowski is a threat at Talladega, where he last won in April 2021 (his last Cup victory). He has led 268 laps there in the past 13 races.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 15th
  • Last three races: 36th at Texas, 34th at Bristol, 26th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 1 career win, in 2008

Is Busch going to steadily disappear into the mist as he rides out the final weeks of his final year with Joe Gibbs Racing? His best finish in the past four races is 26th. On the positive side this week, he’s the only driver to finish in the top 10 in this year’s three races at Daytona and Talladega.

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 8th
  • Last three races: 32nd at Texas, 2nd at Bristol, 11th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 1 career win, in 2019

Can Elliott rebound from a fiery finish and a 32nd-place run at Texas? Playoff points give him some comfort, but a second career win at Talladega would be greatly appreciated in the Hendrick camp.

Martin Truex Jr.

  • Points position: 17th
  • Last three races: 31st at Texas, 36th at Bristol, 5th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: Best career finish is 5th

Will one of the sport’s most enduring mysteries continue at Talladega? In 70 career starts at Daytona and Talladega, Truex, a former champion and a smooth driver, has zero wins. At Talladega, he has only three top-five finishes in 35 starts.

 

 

 

NBC will broadcast final six NASCAR Cup Series playoff races

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The final six races in the chase for the NASCAR Cup Series championship will be televised by NBC.

The races remaining on the schedule are at Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 2), the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Oct. 9), Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Oct. 16), Homestead-Miami Speedway (Oct. 23), Martinsville Speedway (Oct. 30) and Phoenix Raceway (Nov. 6).

NBC’s broadcasting team will be on hand Sunday for what is typically a seasonal highlight — a 500-mile race at Talladega Superspeedway. The next week the playoffs move on to Charlotte for a cutoff race. The lowest four drivers in the playoff point standings will be eliminated from championship competition.

The Round of 8 is scheduled at Las Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville, with the tiny Martinsville track serving as the final cutoff race. The four drivers who advance from Martinsville will race for the title at Phoenix Nov. 6.

The high drama of the Phoenix race, in which the championship will go to the highest finisher of the four competing drivers, will be carried by both NBC and Peacock.

Post-race commentary and analysis for all six remaining Cup races will be carried on Peacock.

Kyle Larson is the series defending champion. Joey Logano carries the point lead into Sunday’s race at Talladega.

NASCAR viewer’s guide for Talladega Superspeedway

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After a messy Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs move on this weekend to another potentially messy spot — Talladega Superspeedway.

Home to the Big One — an almost certain multi-car crash, Talladega also occasionally produces unexpected winners, including Richard Brickhouse, James Hylton, Lennie Pond, Ron Bouchard and Brad Keselowski.

The mix of tight drafting, the Next Gen car and general playoff tension should make Sunday’s 500-mile run quite the adventure.

On Sunday at Texas, Tyler Reddick became the second driver (after Chase Elliott) to score three wins this season.

Joey Logano enters Talladega with the playoff point lead.

Playoff rookies roll on

The four drivers participating in the Cup playoffs for the first time remain factors approaching the second race in the second round.

Ross Chastain is second in the standings, 18 points above the cutline entering Talladega.

MORE: NBC NASCAR rankings put Denny Hamlin first

Daniel Suarez, Chastain’s Trackhouse Racing teammate, is seventh. He’s four points above the cutline.

Two other playoff rookies — Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric — will start Talladega below the cutline. Briscoe is four points below the cutline. Cindric is 11 points below the cutline.

Looking for wins

Only six of the remaining 12 playoff drivers have won races at the two remaining tracks in the second round (Talladega and Charlotte Roval).

Among the six, Joey Logano has the best win record at Talladega, having finished first there in 2015, 2016 and 2018.

Other Talladega winners in the group: Ryan Blaney (two), Denny Hamlin (two), Chase Elliott (one), Ross Chastain (one).

The Charlotte Roval is relatively new, of course, but Chase Elliott already owns two wins there. Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson also have won at the Roval.

An opening for Brad?

Few people who watched it will forget the first Cup Series victory scored by Brad Keselowski.

It occurred at this week’s tour stop — Talladega Superspeedway — in April 2009. Keselowski and Carl Edwards made contact approaching the finish line and notched the win, even as Edwards’ car flew into the frontstretch fence, spraying car parts into the grandstands.

Thirteen years later, Keselowski returns to NASCAR’s biggest track having recorded six Talladega wins. No other active drive has more than three.

Keselowski’s refurbished team — Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing — has new fire with Chris Buescher winning at Bristol and Keselowski winning the pole and finishing eighth at Texas.

RFK Racing has led 309 laps in the past two races, more than the team had led in the prior 105 races combined.

Although he hasn’t won a Cup race since scoring a victory in a Team Penske Ford in April 2021 at Talladega, Keselowski must be considered a threat Sunday.

Entry lists

Thirty-seven drivers, including Xfinity Series star Noah Gragson and reigning Xfinity champion Daniel Hemric, are entered for Sunday’s Cup race.

Talladega Cup entry list

The Xfinity entry list includes 41 drivers for 38 spots. Among those joining the series regulars are Trevor Bayne, Parker Kligerman, Timmy Hill and Jeffrey Earnhardt.

Talladega Xfinity entry list

Forty-one drivers are entered for Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race. Included are Kaz Grala, Ryan Preece, Natalie Decker, Jennifer Jo Cobb and Parker Kligerman.

Talladega Truck entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Friday, Sept. 30

Forecast: Partly cloudy. High of 77. (Weather note: There is the possibility that Hurricane Ian could impact the race weekend, depending on its path).

  • 3:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck Series qualifying
  • 5:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity Series qualifying (USA Network)

Saturday, Oct. 1

Forecast: Overcast with showers at times. Potential for heavy rainfall. High of 73. 60% chance of rain.

  • 10:30 a.m. – Noon — Cup Series qualifying (NBC Sports app, Motor Racing Network, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio)
  • 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series race (94 laps, 250 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 4 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (113 laps, 300 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 2

Forecast: Sun in the morning, increasing clouds in the afternoon. Slight chance of a shower. High of 74.

  • 2 p.m. — Cup Series race (188 laps, 500 miles; NBC, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)