Chase Elliott’s winning woes continue with Martinsville crash

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Amid the cheers and boos at Martinsville Speedway Sunday night, Denny Hamlin offered a slight olive branch to Chase Elliott after his front bumper helped put an end to yet another race-winning bid by Elliott.

“I hate it for his team,” Hamlin said, sounding eerily similar to Elliott after previous failures to win his first Cup race. “I understand they had a win for a long time coming, but this is a ticket to Homestead.”

For the second time in these playoffs, Elliott was within two laps of claiming a win until a Joe Gibbs Racing driver snatched it. Elliott wound up 27th, one lap down after an overtime finish. It was his worst result since finishing 39th at Indianapolis due to a blown engine.

Before Hamlin took Elliott out in Turn 3 Sunday, it was Kyle Busch passing Elliott on the outside at Dover International Speedway coming to the white flag in the third race of the opening round.

Elliot had led the previous 59 laps until lapped traffic slowed him, allowing Busch to take advantage. Elliott has finished in the top five in all four of his Dover starts.

“I gave it away,” Elliott said afterward. “I appreciate my team and their efforts today. The pit stops were great and they kept us in the ballgame. I didn’t.”

Elliott led 138 laps at Dover and 123 at Martinsville, his top totals for the season.

Between those races, the 21-year-old driver finished second at Charlotte, giving him four runner-up finishes for the season. He was only able to lead 12 laps there, 11 of them coming in the first 51 laps.

Three of Elliott’s second-place finishes have occurred in the playoffs, beginning with his encumbered finish in the opener at Chicagoland Speedway. He led 42 laps and won Stage 2 before Martin Truex Jr. dominated the final stage and won.

The record for runner-up finishes in the playoffs is four by Jeff Gordon in 2014 and Jimmie Johnson in 2006.

Since he made his Cup debut in 2015 at Martinsville, Elliott has earned 20 top-five finishes. Six were in second place.

The first two were last season at Michigan International Speedway, when Elliott spun his tires on late restarts, allowing Joey Logano and Kyle Larson to earn wins. Larson’s was his first in Cup.

Elliott was also near his first trip to victory lane last year at Chicagoland. The No. 24 was out front with five laps to go when debris from Michael McDowell brought out the caution.

Truex wound up with the win as Elliott finished third.

Elliott’s third runner-up result came at … Michigan.

In this season’s June race, Elliott once again finished behind Larson after a late restart, but it wasn’t due to a bad restart on Elliott’s part.

Of the eight remaining playoff drivers, he is the only one who has not earned a Cup win. Of the original 16 playoff drivers, he was the only one without a win. Three of them – Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – earned their first Cup wins this season.

With his six career runner-up finishes, Elliott sits behind C.J. Spencer (seven) on the all-time list for most without a Cup win. The most runner-up finishes prior to a win in Cup is 12 by James Hylton.

MORE: Kyle Larson understands Chase Elliott’s struggles to win

Ryan Sieg, Shane Wilson ready for opportunity races in Xfinity playoffs

Ryan Sieg Racing
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When Shane Wilson answered his phone Tuesday he was in the process of leaving a UPS store, a weekly destination that’s part of his many crew chief duties at Ryan Sieg Racing.

This week the team had to: prepare three cars for Friday’s Xfinity Series race at Richmond – including a car for Hermie Sadler, who is making his first Xfinity start since 2016 and the first ever for RSR, as well as repair a wrecked No. 93 car from Las Vegas and get Ryan Sieg’s No. 39 Chevrolet ready for a playoff run.

“Shoooo, we’re busy,” Wilson tells NBC Sports. “But, you know, good busy.”

That’s all been done with seven crew members at the team’s shop located just outside of Atlanta.

“We can go with seven-and-a-half to make sure I don’t leave anybody out,” jokes Wilson.

At the UPS store he had mailed a shock destined for Vermont. Its recipient would be Steve Hibberd, the team’s shock guy.

Hibberd is a former employee of Orleans Racing, the Truck Series effort for Brendan Gaughan in the early 2000s that Wilson led. He’s one of Wilson’s two “secret weapons.”

The other is another Orleans team member and former Dodge employee, Ryan Isabel, who provides engineering support for the team in identifying trends via a database of car setups.

This small, spread out operation helped Sieg produce the best season in his six years of full-time Xfinity competition and his second playoff berth, following his 2016 campaign.

He enters Richmond with two top fives and nine top 10s (matching his top 10s from the rest of his Xfinity career). His previous best total for top 10s was three in 2016, the first time he went to the playoffs.

But Wilson, a former long-time employee at Richard Childress Racing who crew chiefed for Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer, doesn’t seem too stressed about the playoffs before him or his limited resources. In fact, he’s having his most fun in NASCAR in “a long time.”

For a former electrician apprentice from Vermont, he could be doing worse.

“Whenever I have a bad day in racing I think about running pipe in December in Vermont along the Connecticut River,” Wilson says with a chuckle.

Ryan Sieg has made the Xfinity playoffs for the second time in his career. (Photo by Adam Lacy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Sieg and Wilson don’t want to hype up a potential Cinderella story for the Xfinity Series playoffs, even if it does have a few ingredients for that.

Sieg and his small team will start their playoff run at the track he had his best non-superspeedway performance earlier this year.

The April 12th race at Richmond saw Sieg start 13th, finished Stage 2 in fifth and then finish the race in fifth for his second top five of the year.

That leads into the Sept. 28 race on the Charlotte Roval. The opening round then closes out at Dover International Speedway.

Wilson sees the first round as three “opportunity races.”

“They’re not cookie cutter mile-and-a-halves, like Vegas,” Wilson says. “I really feel like we can go there and do well.

“I like road racing, Ryan doesn’t necessarily like road racing. I’m trying to get him in the state of mind and that’s a good opportunity race.”

But….

There are a few of those.

They make Wilson a “realist” about their situation, especially when it comes to facing the juggernauts of Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske and the other Cup-affiliated teams.

First, there’s the cars.

Those Cup-affiliated teams will likely be bringing new or updated cars to the track as the playoffs open.

Meanwhile, Sieg’s team will be using the same three cars they’ve been rotating through all year. Luckily for Wilson, they’re relatively new chassis the team purchased from Richard Childress Racing before this season, so he’s familiar with them.

“Here we will be running the same cars as we have been because that’s what we have,” Wilson says. “But I don’t think I’d ever switch that anyway, you gotta kind of ride the horse that got you there and try not to out trick yourself or race something that’s a little bit better cause you really need to bring something you know and that you’ve raced all year then see where you land.”

Then there’s the playoff points.

Sieg enters Richmond 11th in the standings with 2,001 points after the standings were reset. That one playoff point is a result of Sieg winning Stage 2 at Texas Motor Speedway in March.

“Looking at it, those top three cars (Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick) have such a big advantage, you almost have to pencil them into Homestead,” Sieg says. “To make it through the first (round), that’s what we want to do and need to do. But if we don’t, be consistent over the seven races and get top 10 in points, I think we got eliminated in the first round in 2016, but we still finished ninth in the standings. So it’s always nice to be top 10 in points. … Anything can happen.”

However, with all that, there’s one additional tool in the No. 39 team’s utility belt they didn’t have in April.

They return to Richmond with a Cup pit crew, which they began using in May at Charlotte.

Why is that notable?

Shane Wilson, right, has been a NASCAR crew chief since the early 2000s in Truck Series. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

“We lost I think 30 spots on pit road that first race and still finished top five,” Sieg says.

Well, maybe it felt like 30.

“It wasn’t quite 30, but it was like 17 though,” Wilson says with a hearty laugh. “Which is still a lot.”

Even with a more experienced pit crew, Sieg’s philosophy on what happens on pit road has been drilled into him.

“We don’t want to gain spots on pit road, we don’t want to lose any either,” Sieg says. “We just want to maintain. I bet you in my career if you counted the number of times I’ve come off pit road I’ve probably lost more positions than I want to count. That’s part of being a small team. If we come in eighth and Brandon Jones is ninth, he’s got a Joe Gibbs pit crew. If they beat us by two seconds, you’re going to lose that spot. I’ve kind of dealt with that a lot in my career. I’m not complaining, cause it’s part of what it is. So I just want to come in 10th and go out 10th. Yeah, it would be great to come out fourth, but that’s less realistic.”

And what if that Cup pit crew had been in place at Richmond six months ago?

“We might of won,” Wilson says. “Or we would have finished second. Because we passed two guys who finished in front of us about three different times. The only one we never passed was (winner Cole Custer).”

While advancing to the next round would be huge for Sieg’s team, Wilson’s goal for the next three races is straightforward: “finish ahead of four of those guys every week” and “accumulate enough points to make them have to race us at Dover.”

Liberty University extends William Byron sponsorship through 2021

Hendrick Motorsports
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Hendrick Motorsports announced Thursday that Liberty University has reached a two-year agreement to extend its sponsorship of William Byron and his No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 team.

After sponsoring Byron for 12 Cup races in both 2018 and 2019, Liberty University will continue to support the 2018 Cup rookie of the year for an additional 12 Cup races in each of the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

In his second season of driving in the Cup series for HMS, Byron is currently taking part in his first NASCAR Cup playoffs. He’s ninth in the standings after this past Sunday’s playoff opening race at Las Vegas.

We have been by William Byron’s side as he’s risen through the ranks at a young age, and it is an honor to continue to support one of our very own in his career,” Liberty University president Jerry Falwell said in a statement. “William and Hendrick Motorsports have always been a perfect fit for Liberty University. We share the same values and are committed to the same mission that makes champions on the racetrack and champions in life.”

The 21-year-old Byron is a junior in Liberty University’s online program, working on an undergraduate business communications degree. The school has been a sponsor of Byron’s since he drove late model stock cars in 2014.

Liberty University has been a big part of my racing career and progression through NASCAR from basically the beginning,” Byron said. “Their support on and off the track, including with my studies, has been monumental.

They’ve been with me through numerous accomplishments, including race wins and championships, and I’m glad we were able to add to that list this season by making it into my first Cup Series playoffs. I’m excited about Liberty being back on board with the No. 24 team, and I look forward to what the future holds for us.”

Weekend schedule for Cup, Xfinity at Richmond

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Friday night marks the opening race of the Xfinity Series playoffs, while Saturday night will be the second race in the opening round of the Cup playoffs.

Wunderground.com predicts a temperature of 74 degrees Friday with 0% chance of precipitation when the green flag drops. Christopher Bell won last year’s Xfinity race. Cole Custer won at Richmond in April.

Wunderground.com predicts a temperature of 79 degrees Saturday with 0% chance of precipitation when the green flag drops for the Cup race. Kyle Busch won last year’s race. Martin Truex Jr. won this spring at Richmond.

Here is this weekend’s schedule:

(All times Eastern)

Friday, September 20

8 a.m. – Xfinity garage opens

8:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. – Cup garage open

9:35-10:55 a.m. – Xfinity final practice (NBCSN)

11:35 a.m. – 12:25 p.m. – Cup practice (NBCSN, Motor Racing Network)

1:35 – 2:25 p.m. – Cup final practice (NBCSN, MRN)

4:35 p.m. – Xfinity qualifying impound (single vehicle/two laps all positions) (NBCSN)

5:45 p.m. – Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting

6:05 p.m. – Cup qualifying impound (single vehicle/two laps all positions) (NBCSN, MRN)

7 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions

7:30 p.m. – Xfinity race (Stages 75/150/250 laps = 187.5 miles) (NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Saturday, September 21

1:30 p.m. – Cup garage open

5:30 p.m. – Cup driver/crew chief meeting

6:50 p.m. – Cup driver introductions

7:30 p.m. – Cup race (Stages 100/200/400 laps = 300 miles) (NBCSN/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

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Tune into NASCAR America presents MotorMouths at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN

NBC Sports
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Today’s episode of NASCAR America presents MotorMouths airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Rutledge Wood will be joined by Kyle Petty and AJ Allmendinger.

In addition to discussing this weekend’s second race of the playoffs at Richmond Raceway, the guys will be taking your calls at 844-NASCAR-NBC or reach out on Twitter via #LetMeSayThis.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.