Questions remain for drivers heading into tonight’s qualifying races

1 Comment

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — A twist to tonight’s qualifying races is how much uncertainty surrounds the 150-mile events (7 p.m. ET).

Unlike years past at Daytona International Speedway, Cup teams have not been allowed to adjust their car or practice since making single-car qualifying runs Sunday. The choice was simple for teams: Make the car fast in a bid for the pole or make it stable — and slower — to be better prepared for the qualifying race.

Hendrick Motorsports scored the pr coup by winning the Daytona 500 pole for Alex Bowman. Now, the No. 88 driver likely will have a car that won’t feel as comfortable, particularly if he’s shuffled back into the pack. Then if he is involved in a crash and goes to a backup car, he loses that No. 1 starting spot.

MORE: Starting lineups for Can-Am Duel qualifying races

I think sitting on the pole we kind of showed our hand that we’re pretty trimmed out,’’ Bowman said of taking out downforce and stability for speed. “Now it’s my job to keep it out of trouble. It’s going to be a handful. Hopefully, on some of the pit stops we can work on it a little bit.

“I wouldn’t worry about how we’re going to run in the Duel. We’re going to try to keep the race car as safe as we can.’’

Of course, there are points at stake. Stage points will be given at the end of the 60-lap race. The winner receives 10 points. The point total decreases by one down to 10th place, which receives one point.

It’s good to start the year with 10 points before the 500 even starts,’’ said Denny Hamlin, who won one of the two qualifying races last year and qualified second for this year’s 500. “I think I have to try to win the race, but if I catch myself in a tough spot in the middle, three-wide with three to go, I’ve got to try to get out of it. It’s not worth five points and then getting a wreck and taking away our best car.”

An ill-handling car can be too much even for those considered among the most talented drivers. Kyle Larson fought his car in Sunday’s Clash.

“It felt like the car was just like out of the track, like not a lot of grip, the air was kind of moving me around wherever it wanted to,’’ Larson said. “There wasn’t much I felt I could do. I was happy we got in line single file so I could just relax, and I was still on it. I still felt like I was going to spin out every time I went into a corner. 

“So it’s just a sketchy, sketchy feeling when you’re going 200 miles an hour and you’ve got a line of cars behind you that are there ready for you to crash and run into you. Yeah, hopefully we can get our car driving better.”

Larson and others couldn’t take what they learned from the Clash to adjust the setup in the qualifying car because those cars were impounded before the Clash race began.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who won two restrictor-plate races last year, sees his qualifying race as an opportunity. If he’s collected in a wreck and has to go to another car? So be it.

“I’m going for points,’’ Stenhouse said. “(After) the race was over Sunday, I talked to my crew chief and I told him, ‘Hey, I want to get this Clash car turned around and ready to go in case we need to run it come Sunday.’ I didn’t want to run our backup car that I haven’t raced. 

“I really liked the way our car drove in the Clash, so I told him if something happens to our 500 car in the Duel that I want to bring our Clash car back down here, so we’re bringing it back down. They’ve already got it cleaned up and turned around and ready to go, so it will come back down here. But we want to go get points.  We want to win a Duel and collect another trophy and put ourselves in the best starting spot come Sunday, but if something happens in that, I feel really comfortable with our Clash car that we had.”

 and on Facebook

Las Vegas race results, driver points

Las Vegas race results
Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kurt Busch scored his first career Cup victory at his hometown track, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and is the first driver to advance to third round of the playoffs.

Busch led the final 26 laps, taking advantage when a caution came out in the middle of a green-flag pit cycle. Busch was the only playoff driver who had yet to pit before the caution.

Matt DiBenedetto finished second and was followed by Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Alex Bowman.

Click here for Cup race results

DRIVER POINTS

Alex Bowman holds the final transfer spot to the next round. Kyle Busch trails Bowman by nine points. Clint Bowyer trails Bowman by 20 points. Aric Almirola trails Bowman by 27 points. Austin Dillon trails Bowman by 32 points.

Kurt Busch wins Las Vegas Cup race in overtime

Kurt Busch
Getty Images
Leave a comment

After entering the Round of 12 last in the playoff standings, Kurt Busch won Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in an overtime finish, claiming his first win of the season and advancing him into the Round of 8.

Busch held off Matt DiBenedetto and Denny Hamlin to also claim his first Cup win at his home track.

The top five was completed by Martin Truex Jr. and Alex Bowman.

The two-lap dash was caused by a incident involving William Byron, Christopher Bell and Corey LaJoie with seven laps to go. Bell cut a tire from contact with the wall and as he slowed Byron ran into the back of his car before going into a spin.

LaJoie received damage as he tried to avoid the incident.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Denny Hamlin

STAGE 2 WINNER: Chase Elliott

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Joey Logano finished 14th after he had to pit on Lap 91 to fix a left rear tire rub, a result of contact with Kyle Busch following Denny Hamlin’s three-wide pass for the lead on Lap 88Tyler Reddick finished 38th after he tagged the wall late in Stage 2 and went to the garage ending his day … After finishing sixth in the first two stages, Austin Dillon finished 32nd after an overheating problem forced him to pit road for repairs with 50 laps to go.

WHAT’S NEXT: Race at Talladega Superspeedway, 2 p.m. ET Oct. 4 on NBC

Check back for more

Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas: Start time, TV channel

Leave a comment

The second round of the Cup playoffs begins with the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The 1.5-mile track kicks off the Round of 12. Winning the race and stage points are a premium for playoff drivers before the races at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval.

Kevin Harvick, who won at Bristol, starts from the pole.

Here is all the info for the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis at 7:07 p.m. The green flag waves at 7:17 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at Noon. Drivers report to their cars at 6:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7 p.m. by Motor Racing Outreach Chaplain, Billy Mauldin. The national anthem will be performed by Sierra Black at 7:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 267 laps (400.5 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 25

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 6 p.m with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 6:30 p.m. Race coverage begins at 7 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 6 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for sunny skies with a high of 96 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Kevin Harvick beat Kyle Busch to win at Bristol and claim his ninth win of the season.

LAST POINTS RACE AT LAS VEGAS: Joey Logano beat Matt DiBenedetto and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in February.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the lineup.

CATCH UP ON NBC SPORTS’ COVERAGE:

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win but without hometown fans

Michael Jordan excited for NASCAR future with Denny Hamlin

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

Germain Racing sells charter, will exit sport at end of season

Charlotte Roval to host limited number of fans

Friday 5: Team’s departure adds to ‘extremely stressful’ time

NASCAR fines Hendrick Motorsports $100,000

NTSB releases final report on Dale Jr. plane crash

Bubba Wallace to receive Stan Musial award for extraordinary character

Long: 100 days left in 2020, what else can happen?

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win, but without hometown fans

Kurt Busch
Getty Images
Leave a comment

A win by Kurt Busch in tonight’s Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) couldn’t come under more bittersweet circumstances for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver.

Should Busch claim the victory on the 1.5-mile track, he’d go from being the last driver on the playoff grid (3,001 points entering the race) to the first driver to advance to the Round of 8.

While it would be his first victory of the year, it would also be his first NASCAR win at his home track in 23 starts across the Cup and Xfinity Series.

More: Stage points critical at Vegas

“The Vegas track has definitely been one of the tough ones for me over the years with results and finishes not where I would have expected them to be,” Busch said this week. “And the teams that I’ve raced for just have never quite found that right magic set-up or combination. And then for me, it’s a track that I just have that trouble with.

“There are a few tracks like Indianapolis and Martinsville; those are a few places where I struggle. And so with Vegas, I always put that little extra hometown pressure on myself and I would love to win there.”

The 42-year-old Las Vegas-native rolls off ninth on the 1.5-mile track. It’s his fourth while driving for Ganassi.

In his 21 Cup starts in Las Vegas, Busch’s best result is third in 2005 when he competed for Roush Fenway Racing. He has just one other top five. That came in last year’s spring race when he drove a throwback paint scheme to his 1999 NASCAR Southwest Series championship.

That day he led 23 laps. It was only the seventh time he’d led laps there and just the third time he’d totaled more than six laps led.

In February, Busch finished 25th.

If Busch were to finally make it to Vegas’ Victory Lane, the celebration would be somewhat muted.

It was announced last weekend that fans would not be allowed to attend the races at Las Vegas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would love to win through the spirit of the camera and everything on NBC Sports; and I know the fans there, local, will be watching and cheering on the Busch brothers,” Busch said. “So, that’s where I would connect. And hopefully do it through the TV side of it. We’ll get fans back one day and we’ll come back and race.”

Busch enters the Round of 12 having earned just one top 10 in the first round, an eighth-place finish at Darlington. He finished 13th at Richmond and 15th at Bristol.

“What I like is we have had better lap times at all three races so far compared to maybe the five or six races leading into the playoffs,” Busch said. “We know that our cushion is gone. We ended Bristol with 33 points to the good. And now we start Vegas minus four (points behind Austin Dillon in the cutoff spot). So that’s just part of the system and now we have to be perfect. We have to get every point possible that we’re able to get on our own at Vegas, Talladega, and the Roval. And, that should help us advance.”