Who is Hot, Not going into final Cup elimination race at Phoenix

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Maybe it’s the track or maybe it’s the playoffs.

Either way, Phoenix Raceway is a place that’s kind to drivers no matter where they start.

The 1-mile track, which hosts the final elimination race of the Cup playoffs on Sunday (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC), has seen seven of its last 13 winners start outside the top 10.

The most recent and lowest starting winner was Ryan Newman, who won in March in an overtime finish thanks to pit strategy after starting 22nd.

Only two of the last six Phoenix winners have started outside the top 10. Kevin Harvick, who has eight Phoenix victories, started outside the top 10 times and 15th or lower in three of them.

From the spring 2010 to spring 2014 races, six of nine winners started from outside the top 10.

The lowest-starting winner in Phoenix history is Ricky Rudd in 1995, when he started 29th.

Here’s who is hot and not entering Sunday’s race, courtesy of Racing Insights.

Who is Hot

Brad Keselowski
• Finished fourth at Martinsville, fifth at Texas.
• Currently fourth in points, +19 to the cutline.
• Advanced to the Round of 8 with his win at Talladega.
• Winless at Phoenix in 16 starts, best finish of third in 2014.
• Finished top 10 in five of the last seven races at Phoenix including fifth in March

Kevin Harvick

• Won at Texas to advance to the Championship four at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the third time in the last four years.
• Five top-10 finishes in the playoffs and three finishes of 17th or worse.
• Won six of the last 10 races at Phoenix. Has eight total wins.
• Finished top six in the last eight Phoenix races.
• Failed to lead in the last two Phoenix races.

Martin Truex Jr.

• Finished second at Martinsville and Texas.
• Finished top five in seven of the eight playoff races.
• Has already advanced to championship race based on points.
• Seven wins in 2017, the most by a driver since Matt Kenseth had seven in 2013.
• Led a series-high 2,175 laps in 2017 and has led the most laps in nine races.
• Best Phoenix finish is fifth in 2009.
• Only one top-10 finish in the last seven Phoenix races.

Kyle Busch
• Won at Martinsville on last-lap pass for his third win of the playoffs
• Five wins this season have all come in the last 14 races.
• Led laps in the last 17 races this season, a personal best and the best streak ever among active
drivers.
• Finished 19th at Texas after Lap 1 contact with Keselowski.
• One Phoenix win in 2005.
• Finished top five in the last four Phoenix races including leading 114 laps before finishing third in March.

Who is Not

Jimmie Johnson
• Finished 12th at Martinsville and 27th at Texas.
• Only one top-five finish in the last 21 races.
• Finished outside the top 10 in the last four races.
• Four top-five finishes this season, three were wins.
• Four-time Phoenix winner but none since 2009.
• Only two top-10 finishes at Phoenix in the last six races there.
• Finished ninth at Phoenix in March.

Kyle Larson

• Finished 39th at Kansas, 37th at Martinsville and Texas, his worst three consecutive starts in his
career.
• Eight runner-up finishes this season.
• Four wins in 2017, had one before this season.
• Finished top three in last two Phoenix races including runner-up in March

Kurt Busch

• Finished ninth at Texas after winning the pole. Only his second top 10 of the playoffs.
• Finished 16th in the first round, 25 points below the cut line.
• One Phoenix win in 2005.
• Finished top 10 in five of the last six Phoenix races. Finished 25th in March.

Kasey Kahne

• Finished 11th at Texas. His worst finish in the last six races is 16th.
• Only three top-10 finishes in the last 24 races.
• Six DNFs for accidents this season.
• One Phoenix win in fall 2011.
• Only one top-10 finish in the last seven Phoenix races.

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Denny Hamlin offers advice on how to deal with critics on social media

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Denny Hamlin, who has been fined by NASCAR for comments on Twitter, and was vocal toward critics after this year’s Daytona 500, says he’s found peace on how to deal with those on social media who don’t agree with him.

“I’ve been very good this year about not replying to mean people, and you all should do the same,’’ Hamlin said Friday at Sonoma Raceway.

“I’m making a (request) right now to every driver, every team owner, every NASCAR executive and every media member, stop replying to people who make nonsense comments. They have 16 followers. Don’t give them your 100,000. Do not give them your 100,000 as their stage. No one will ever see their comment, just brush it by, talk about the positives and I’m not a positive person.”

Asked how does one ignore such divisive comments, Hamlin said: “You just scroll by it. Forget it. That person doesn’t exit. They’re an admirer that has lost their way.’’

Hamlin has been better at doing so since the Daytona 500. He faced negative reaction on social media to the contact he and Bubba Wallace had at the end of the Daytona 500.

They engaged in a brief shouting match in the garage area after Hamlin learned that Wallace had taken a dig at him on national TV about a recent comment about drivers using Adderall.

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Clint Bowyer leads opening Cup practice at Sonoma

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Clint Bowyer was the fastest in the first of two Cup practices Friday at Sonoma Raceway.

Bowyer, the winner of the most recent Cup race two weeks ago at Michigan, posted a lap of 93.590 mph. He was followed by Ryan Blaney (93.546 mph), Joey Logano (93.172), Jamie McMurray (93.049) and Daniel Suarez (92.746).

Sixth was Jimmie Johnson (92.661). He was followed by Michael McDowell (92.650), Martin Truex Jr. (92.614), AJ Allmendinger (92.596) and Ryan Newman (92.595).

Click here for full practice report

Final Cup practice will be from 5:40 – 6:55 p.m. ET. Qualifying will take place Saturday.

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Kyle Larson: ‘I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t love NASCAR racing’

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Kyle Larson‘s comment on Twitter earlier this week that he would like to run full-time in the World of Outlaws sprint car series “before I’m 40” might have riled some fans, but Larson says it was not meant as anything bad toward NASCAR.

“I don’t know, I think maybe some people aren’t quite as open-minded, maybe,” the 26-year-old Larson said Friday at Sonoma Raceway. “It’s like they read it as if I said in two years from now I wanted to do it. I mean 15 years from now that would put me 20 years in Cup. So, that is a long time. 

“I think Jeff Gordon spent about that much time in the sport (Gordon raced in Cup 23 full-time seasons), but I don’t know, maybe I don’t do the best job in the world of talking about how much I love NASCAR as much as I do sprint cars, but I do. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t love NASCAR racing.

“I enjoy sprint cars, and I feel like I talk about sprint cars a lot just to open people’s eyes to that style of racing because it’s a great form or racing and so is NASCAR. So, I don’t know, I just want fans to be fans of motorsports not just NASCAR and not just sprint cars. I would like to see everybody just enjoy all of racing and I think that is what I do. Maybe I don’t do a good job at it sometimes, but you know, I enjoy racing all types of vehicles. Most fans get it, but some fans aren’t quite open-minded enough.”

It was on the official World of Outlaws podcast in December where Larson expressed his desire to eventually transition to the World of Outlaws.

“NASCAR is where I wanted to make it, but I would have been perfectly fine if I didn’t make it either,” Larson said on that podcast in the offseason. “I’d probably be on the Outlaw (sprint car) tour probably right now, racing and loving life … I would say racing on the World of Outlaws tour full-time is my main goal.”

Larson just finished running five nights of Ohio Sprint Speedweek. He won two of those nights. Rain postponed a sixth event before the feature that Larson was to have run. Larson said he has the dirt track race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on his schedule. Indianapolis is building a quarter-mile dirt track inside Turn 3 to run during the NASCAR weekend there in September.

Larson is in his fifth full Cup season. He has five career series wins. Although winless this season, Larson has finished runner-up three times (Auto Club Speedway, Bristol and Pocono).

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Four Cup cars to be docked practice time at Sonoma

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Four cars will miss time in today’s opening practice at Sonoma Raceway for violations, NASCAR announced Friday.

David Ragan will miss 30 minutes for failing inspection before the race at Michigan three times.

Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson and Kasey Kahne each will be docked 15 minutes for failing inspection twice before the Michigan race.

Today’s opening Cup practice goes from 2:40 – 3:55 p.m. ET.

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