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Friday 5: While not a perfect 100, Kyle Busch comes closest

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He amazes and angers, riles and riffs, and leaves no one on the fence. One is either a Kyle Busch fan or not. Just as Busch rarely takes the middle ground, it is the same for those watching.

In a career in its 14th full-time Cup season — and likely another decade for the 32-year-old — Busch is headed for the NASCAR Hall of Fame having already amassed 43 Cup victories, 91 Xfinity wins and 50 Truck triumphs (the latest coming Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway).

There’s another way to judge what Busch has done. Look at his body of work since he returned from injuries in the 2015 Xfinity season opener at Daytona.

Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway marks Busch’s 100th Cup points event since coming back from the crash that broke his right leg and fractured his left foot. Busch has 14 wins in the previous 99 starts.

  • No driver has won more Cup races than Busch in that time.
  • Only one driver has more top-five and top-10 finishes in that span.
  • Busch is the only driver to make it to the championship race in Miami each of the last three years, winning the 2015 title.

He missed the first 11 Cup races of the 2015 season after that Daytona crash, got a waiver from NASCAR to be eligible for the playoffs and won in his fifth race back.

Even in his remarkable championship season — he won four of his first nine races back from the injury — the haters said he shouldn’t have been competing for the title because he missed nearly a third of the season.

No matter what Busch does, there will be detractors. Just as there are his defenders. While not as loud, they enjoy his triumphs on the track and treats off it from him signing for unsuspecting fans at campsites or in traffic after a race and saying what he feels — even to a competitor (as he did on Twitter to Brad Keselowski last year after Keselowski’s comments about Toyotas).

For those who boo Busch, you will likely have plenty of more chances. Just as those who cheer him will have many chances to do so.

Here is who has won the most times in the last 99 Cup races (dating back to the 2015 Coca-Cola 600):

14 — Kyle Busch

13 — Martin Truex Jr.

10 — Jimmie Johnson

9 — Joey Logano

8 — Kevin Harvick

Those five drivers have combined to win 54 of the last 99 Cup races.

Among Busch’s 14 wins are back-to-back victories at Indianapolis (2015-16), the Sonoma shocker in 2015 for his first win since returning from his injuries, the 2015 Homestead finale to claim the title and two of the last four races at Martinsville.

Top 5s in last 99 Cup points races:

47 – Kevin Harvick

43 – Kyle Busch

43 – Joey Logano

40 – Denny Hamlin

38 – Brad Keselowski

Top 10s in last 99 Cup points races:

69 – Kevin Harvick

64 – Kyle Busch

64 – Joey Logano

62 – Denny Hamlin

62 – Brad Keselowski

2. IS A STORM COMING?

Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is in the worst drought of his career. Consider:

He is on a 25-race winless streak, longest of his career.

He has eight consecutive finishes outside the top 10, longest of his career.

He has five consecutive finishes outside the top 20, longest of his career.

He comes to Las Vegas with four top-10 finishes in his last six starts at the 1.5-mile track. Can it undo the struggles he’s faced since last fall?

The drought began last fall at Talladega when he was involved in a 16-car crash late in the event. His race ended when the spotter told team members during a red flag that NASCAR was rescinding it, and they could work on the car. That wasn’t the case, and NASCAR parked the team for the infraction.

From there, it was on to Kansas.

Johnson spun twice at Kansas in the final 80 laps before rallying to finish 11th. He spun in morning qualifying before the Martinsville race and started at the rear for unapproved adjustments. He fought an ill-handing car to place 12th at a track he once dominated.

He then was 27th at Texas, finishing three laps behind the winner in a race Johnson had won four of the previous five years. A right-front tire went down and sent Johnson into the wall at Phoenix the following weekend, ending his title hopes with a 39th-place finish. At Miami, Johnson closed the season with an invisible 27th-place finish on the day the championship was determined.

3. Pit crew pirouettes

Take the time to check out the analysis by NBC’s Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton on how Cup teams are using different methods on pit stops

Atlanta was a good testing ground for teams with so many four-tire stops required. Watch how teams do it this week at Las Vegas. In the race to shave time off stops, if a team sees someone else completing their stops significantly quicker, they’ll start doing the same thing.

Eventually, teams will settle on their best plan for the season, but there’s still experimenting and refinement taking place.

4. Kyle Larson one to watch

Kyle Larson finished no worse than second during the West Coast swing last year, winning at Auto Club Speedway. While it’s easy to discount the results of the test Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 at Las Vegas because not every team participated, Larson posted the fastest lap each day.

Could Larson be the one to give Chevrolet its first win on a non-restrictor-plate track with the new Camaro this weekend?

5. The Final Word: Kevin Harvick

From the Stewart-Haas Racing’s weekly release for the No. 4 team with Kevin Harvick talking about having all four SHR cars run well at Atlanta:

”The thing I took away from it was the No. 10 car and Aric Almirola were more competitive for us and that is important for us to have that extra set of notes that we really hadn’t used the last several years because that car hasn’t performed well enough. It hasn’t been competitive enough to really bring anything to the table. To see that No. 10 car running well is great for myself, Kurt (Busch) and Clint (Bowyer) and, really, everybody at SHR.”

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Cup playoff clinching scenarios to make Round of 12

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The first elimination race of the Cup playoffs has arrived in the form of Bristol Motor Speedway.

Tonight’s 500-lap race on the short track will determine which drivers make up the Round of 12.

Three drivers have locked themselves into the second round. Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski earned their spots via race wins at Darlington and Richmond. Denny Hamlin clinched a spot via points.

More: Brad Keselowski on pole for Bristol

That leaves nine spots for 13 drivers to compete for.

If there is a new winner, the following drivers could clinch by being ahead of the 10th winless driver in the standings.

Joey Logano – would clinch with 7 points: 51 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Logano has finished third in the last two playoff races (at Darlington and Richmond). Has made 23 starts at Bristol posting one pole, two wins, six top fives and 10 top 10s. Logano’s average finish is 15.3.

Martin Truex Jr. – would clinch with 20 points: 38 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Earned 22nd-place finish at Darlington and second-place finish at Richmond. Has made 29 series starts at Bristol posting two top fives and three top 10s. His average finish is 20.6.

Austin Dillon – would clinch with 21 points: 36 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Dillion has a runner-up finish at Darlington and a fourth-place result last weekend at Richmond. Has 13 starts at Bristol posting one top five and three top 10s. His average finish is 17.3.

Chase Elliott – Would clinch with 30 points: 28 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Elliott finished 20th at Darlington and fifth at Richmond. Has made nine starts at Bristol and has one pole, three top fives and four top 10s. Average finish is 12.6.

Alex Bowman – would clinch with 31 points: 27 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Bowman placed sixth at Darlington and ninth at Richmond. Has made nine series starts at Bristol with one top five and two top 10s. His average finish is 22.6.

Kyle Busch – would clinch with 40 points: Just 18 points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Has seventh-place finish at Darlington and a sixth-place finish at Richmond. Has made 30 Cup starts at Bristol posting two poles and a series-leading eight wins among active drivers.

Aric Almirola – would clinch with 51 points: Seven points ahead of the Round of 12 cutoff. Finished ninth at Darlington and eighth at Richmond. Has made 22 starts at Bristol with one top five and two top 10s. His average finish is 25.0.

Kurt Busch – would clinch with 51 points: Seven points ahead of the cutoff sport. Almirola holds the tiebreaker of best finish in the current playoff round. Busch has finished eighth at Darlington and 13th at Richmond. Has 39 Cup starts at Bristol with one pole, six wins, 12 top fives and 21 top 10s. Average finish is 14th.

Clint Bowyer – would clinch with 55 points: Three points over cutoff. Finished 10th at Darlington and Richmond. Bowyer has made 29 Cup starts at Bristol with eight top fives and 16 top 10s. Average finish is 13.6.

William Byron (-3 points from cutoff; would need help to clinch): Finished fifth at Darlington and 21st at Richmond. Five Cup starts at Bristol with one top 10. Average finish of 17.2.

Cole Custer (-8 points; would need help to clinch): Finished 12th at Darlington and 14th at Richmond. Finished 25th in lone Bristol Cup start.

Matt DiBenedetto (-25 points; would need help to clinch): Finished 21st at Darlington and 17th at Richmond. Eleven Cup starts at Bristol with one top five and one top 10. Average finish of 19.1.

Ryan Blaney
Ryan Blaney is last on the 16 driver playoff grid heading into Bristol. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Ryan Blaney (-27 points; would need help to clinch): Finished 24th at Darlington and 19th at Richmond. Ten Cup starts at Bristol with one top five and three other top 10s. Average finish of 20.7.

More: Blaney and DiBenedetto seek history to advance to second round

Should there be a repeat winner Saturday – Harvick or Keselowski – the following drivers would advance to the next round by being ahead of the 11th winless driver in the standings.

Joey Logano: Would clinch with 4 points

Martin Truex Jr.: Would clinch with 17 points

Austin Dillon: Would clinch with 18 points

Chase Elliott: Would clinch with 27 points

Alex Bowman: Would clinch with 28 points

Kyle Busch: Would clinch with 37 points

Aric Almirola: Would clinch with 48 points

Kurt Busch: Would clinch with 48 points

Clint Bowyer: Would clinch with 52 points

William Byron: Would clinch with 55 points

Cole Custer, Matt DiBenedetto and Ryan Blaney: Could only clinch with help

Xfinity race results, point standings after Bristol

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Chase Briscoe led the final six laps and won Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol for his seventh win of the season.

Briscoe beat Ross Chastain for the win. The top five was completed by Austin Cindric, Harrison Burton and Justin Allgaier.

Click here for the race results.

Playoff standings

The 12-driver field for the playoffs has been set with Briscoe’s win in the regular-season finale.

Brandon Brown placed 12th and clinched the 12th and final spot.

Here are the re-seeded point standings entering the playoffs.

Chase Briscoe – 2,050 points

Austin Cindric – 2,050

Justin Allgaier – 2,033

Noah Gragson – 2,025

Brandon Jones – 2,020

Justin Haley – 2,018

Harrison Burton – 2,014

Ross Chastain – 2,010

Ryan Sieg – 2,002

Michael Annett – 2,002

Riley Herbst – 2,001

Brandon Brown – 2,000

Click here for the re-seeded standings.

Click here for the normal point standings.

Chase Briscoe wins Xfinity race at Bristol Motor Speedway

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Chase Briscoe took the lead with six laps to go and won Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway, which marked the end of the regular season.

Briscoe passed Austin Cindric to assume the lead and went unchallenged to the checkered flag. The victory is his series-leading seventh of the season.

“I was so mad after last week (at Richmond),” Briscoe told NBCSN. “I told all the guys there ain’t no way we’re getting beat today. I was so mad after how we ran last week and I get on the internet all the time and see guys count us out after one bad race and I know what this team is capable. … I finished second here the last two races and I wanted to win here so bad and it’s awesome that I can actually celebrate it with all these race fans.”

The top five was completed by Ross Chastain, Cindric, Harrison Burton and Justin Allgaier.

More: Race results, playoff standings

Allgaier dominated the early portion of the race, leading 126 laps and winning the first two stages. But he lost the lead for good in the pits during the Stage 2 break.

Brandon Brown finished 12th and clinched the 12th and final playoff spot.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

STAGE 2 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ross Chastain led three times for 117 laps, but had to settle for his fifth runner-up finish of the season without a win … Austin Cindric earned his 13th top-10 finish in the last 14 races … Harrison Burton earned his 13th top five of the season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Brett Moffitt finished 27th after he had to pit three times in the opening laps and was penalized for taking fuel before the competition caution … BJ McLeod finished 34th after he was eliminated in a multi-car wreck that began when he made contact with teammate Jeffrey EarnhardtMichael Annett finished 31st and Joe Graf Jr. placed 27th after they were involved in an incident on Lap 120.

QUOTE OF THE RACE: “I hit pit road and I wanted to cry.” – Ross Chastain after he finished second for the fifth time this year. He is winless entering the playoffs.

WHAT’S NEXT: The Xfinity playoffs open at Las Vegas Motor Speedway at 7:30 p.m. ET on Sept. 26 on NBCSN.

 

Fans not allowed at Las Vegas races

Fans not allowed
Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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Spectators will be not be allowed for any of the NASCAR playoff races next weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the track announced Friday night.

A press release said only essential personnel will be allowed to attend the Cup, Xfinity and Truck playoff races there.

“To say we’re disappointed that we will conduct the South Point 400 playoff weekend without fans would be a gross understatement,” said Las Vegas Motor Speedway President Chris Powell. “Our staff has been working – many of them remotely – since the February Pennzoil 400 to prepare the speedway for our playoff tripleheader.

“But we must adhere to Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak’s directive that limits gatherings due to COVID-19.  While we disagree with this policy, we have no choice but to oblige.  We certainly regret this situation for the thousands of race fans who won’t be able to attend our NASCAR-weekend events.”

Nevada’s re-opening plan does not permit fans at sporting events, concerts. Groups are limited to 50 or fewer people.

The Las Vegas Raiders announced last month that they would not have fans at any of the team’s home games in its inaugural season there.

The Truck playoff race will be at 9 p.m. ET Sept. 25 on FS1. The Xfinity playoff opener will be at  7:30 p.m. ET Sept. 26 on NBCSN. The Cup playoff race will be 7 p.m. ET Sept. 27 on NBCSN.

Fans holding tickets for those events will be contacted by the speedway ticket services department to discuss credits for future races or refunds.