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Friday 5: Could further limit on Cup drivers in Xfinity take place?

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For the second week in a row, the NASCAR Xfinity Series will run a race without any drivers who score points in the Cup series.

Cup regulars are barred from competing in Dash 4 Cash races, which pay $100,000 to the top Xfinity drivers in each of four events.

The result last weekend at Bristol was a race where Xfinity drivers battled for the win and to be eligible for the Dash 4 Cash bonus tonight at Richmond Raceway. Ryan Preece won the race and the bonus at Bristol. He isn’t entered for tonight’s race. Competing for the Dash 4 Cash bonus will be Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler, Spencer Gallagher and Daniel Hemric.

Along with Dash 4 Cash races, any driver who scores Cup points is barred from competing in the final eight races of the Xfinity season (regular-season finale and seven playoff races). Cup drivers with more than five years of experience are limited to seven Xfinity races in a season.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, hinted earlier this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that more changes could be made to limit Cup driver participations in Xfinity races.

“We’ll continue to monitor what do our fans think, what do our partners think in terms of what they’re seeing on the race track and the storylines,’’ O’Donnell said.

“It’s one thing to say we like this, but fans need to turn out, ratings need to be there and those sorts of things. Only one race, but we saw some really good indictions in terms of the TV rating for that event. That’s something that we’ll continue to monitor, but our gut tells us that’s the direction we want to continue to go, even more so in 2019 and beyond.’’

2. Dominance

Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick have ruled the beginning of the season, combining to win five of the first eight races and finishing runner-up four times.

The two also have combined to lead 37.2 percent of the 2,645 laps run this season.

Busch heads into Saturday night’s race at Richmond having scored six consecutive top-three finishes, including back-to-back wins at Texas and Bristol.

The last time two drivers won three Cup races in a row in the same season was 2015 when Busch won Daytona, New Hampshire and Indianapolis, and Joey Logano won Charlotte, Kansas and Talladega in the playoffs.

3. The race within the race

While multi-car teams garner much attention, single-car teams shouldn’t be ignored.

Here’s a look at how single-car teams have performed relative to each other in the first eight races of the season.

Not surprisingly, Furniture Row Racing and Martin Truex Jr. have been the top-finishing single-car team in five of the first eight races. Darrell Wallace Jr.’s Richard Petty Motorsports team has been the top finishing single-car team twice, and the Wood Brothers and Paul Menard have been the top-finishing car in class once.

Menard has finished second among single-car teams five times. Wallace, Leavine Family Racing’s Kasey Kahne and Germain Racing’s Ty Dillon have each finished second in class once.

The last two races have been good to single-car teams. Nine single-car teams finished in the top 22 at Texas, led by Wallace’s eighth-place finish, Dillon’s 13th-place finish and Matt DiBenedetto placing 16th for Go Fas Racing.

Three single-car teams placed in the top 20 at Bristol — Menard was 13th, Wallace 16th and Landon Cassill gave StarCom Racing its best career finish at 20th.

4. No need for announcement

When teams announce long-term sponsor extensions, it can come with news of an extension to the driver’s contract to match that time.

The news this week that Roush Fenway Racing had extended sponsor deals through 2021 with Fastenal, Fifth Third Bank and Sunny D didn’t include any news about Stenhouse’s contract.

Didn’t need to.

“Ricky’s contract was already extended that far and we didn’t need to do anything else on that front,’’ Steve Newmark, president of Roush Fenway Racing, told NBC Sports.

5. HUGE news!

Matt Tifft wrote those words in a tweet this week followed not by a sponsor announcement or anything related to racing but that doctors say the area of his brain where a low-grade tumor was removed in July 2016 is stable. He now only needs to have an MRI checkup every six months instead of sooner.

Tifft enters tonight’s Xfinity race at Richmond 11th in the points.

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NASCAR America at 6 p.m. ET: Las Vegas recap

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN and will look back at the weekend’s racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Steve Letarte will be joined by Kyle Petty and Nate Ryan.

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 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

After Las Vegas incidents, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson look for Richmond rebound

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Sunday’s NASCAR Cup playoff opener at Las Vegas leaves Chip Ganassi Racing with a mixed bag of potential strategies to develop heading into the next race, this Saturday night at Richmond Raceway.

Kurt Busch, the first NASCAR playoff champion in 2004, was involved in a wreck at Vegas with eventual race winner Martin Truex Jr. on Lap 189 that knocked him out of the event, ending with a last-place finish of 39th.

We were trying to go for the same spot in the middle, it wound up four-wide, got a fender rub and our day’s done,” Busch told NBCSN after he left the medical center. “It just happened that fast. Everyone wants to try to get to the middle and that’s where you make up the most spots and Truex and I were going for the same piece of real estate.”

As a result of the poor finish, Busch finds himself in 14th place among the 16 playoff contenders, a distant 63 points behind points leader Truex Jr.

How Busch rebounds at Richmond will go a long way toward determining whether he will advance to the Round of 12 following the Roval elimination race at Charlotte in two weeks. Busch is currently 14 points behind 12th-ranked Aric Almirola, but he is also only 12 points ahead of 16th-ranked Erik Jones.

There’s no question Busch is in need of a big comeback at Richmond, a track that he has had decent success at, including two wins (last time was in spring 2015), seven top five and 15 top-10 finishes in 37 career Cup starts there.

A win would immediately wipe out the Las Vegas nightmare and push Busch into Round 2.

And then there’s teammate Kyle Larson, who had a car that looked like it could challenge for the win at Vegas. But a costly pit road penalty — a behind-the-wall crew member trying to grab tires back over the wall slipped, touching the ground on pit road — pushed Larson back and he wound up playing catch-up the rest of the race. He settled for an eighth-place finish that potentially could have been a top five showing had it not been for the penalty.

Our car was better than what I thought it was going to be,” Larson said. “We were able to battle up front there in the second stage. Then, we had the pit road penalty and had to come from the back.

The restarts were crazy and I was just being safe. It probably cost us a little bit, but we still got a top-10 out of the day and some decent stage points. So, all-in-all, it wasn’t a bad day.”

Busch has one win this season, while Larson is still looking for his first.

Our cars have definitely been good enough to win, we just have to put the whole races together at this point,” Larson said. “We want to win. We’ll keep working at it and hopefully we can knock one out before the season is over.”

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Best of the rest: How non-playoff drivers did in Las Vegas

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The Cup playoffs began Sunday night in Las Vegas, and the playoff drivers made their presence known by occupying every spot in the top 10.

But what about the rest?

The first 16 spots were not filled by the 16 playoff drivers. In fact, playoff drivers only made up 13 positions in the top 20.

Here’s a look at the top-finishing drivers who are not contending for the championship:

Jimmie Johnson – finished 11th

With him not participating in the playoffs for the first time in his career, the spotlight wasn’t focused on Johnson very often Sunday.

But the Hendrick Motorsports driver finally put together his first complete run six races into Cliff Daniels’ tenure as his crew chief.

It was their first race together to not be involved in some sort of incident and it saw Johnson earn his first top-15 finish with Daniels. It’s only his second top 15 in the last nine races.

Austin Dillon – Finished 12th

The Richard Childress Racing driver earned his second straight 12th-place finish and his third consecutive finish of 12th or better.

He’s earned a top-15 finish in four of the last five races. That’s after only having one in a 12-race stretch.

Dillon also finished sixth in Stage 1.

“When the caution came out on Lap 180, we pitted to take another swing at loosening up this Chevy,” Dillon said. “Unfortunately, we had an uncontrolled tire penalty but it did allow us to come back down pit road to top off with fuel and adjust on the car more. We got the car better and made a good strategy to stay out for track position during a late caution to pick up additional spots.”

Paul Menard – Finished 14th

Menard took part in his first race since announcing last week that he would retire from full-time competition after this season.

The Wood Brothers Racing driver kicked-off his final 10 races for the team with his sixth top-15 finish in the last nine races. He finished outside the top 15 just once in his last 11 starts at Las Vegas.

Ty Dillon – finished 16th

The Germain Racing driver earned his best finish at Las Vegas in five starts (previous was 24th).

Dillon has finished 20th or better in six of the last nine races.

Daniel Hemric – finished 17th

The rookie driver earned a top-20 finish after two straight DNFs for wrecks. He has only three top 20s in the last nine races.

“Our handling balance would swing a lot from being really tight and then halfway through the run it was like a light switch and I would get super, super loose,” Hemric said. “We got that better throughout the race and back to where I could run more throttle, which allowed us to move forward into the top 10 and be more aggressive on restarts and make some hay during those time. On that last green flag stop we just got a little too free to where I couldn’t make the most time coming off pit road and just struggled a bit on that last run.”

Chris Buescher – finished 18th

The JTG Daugherty Racing driver extended his streak of finishes inside the top 18 to 16 races. The streak began at Kansas Speedway on May 11.

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Brad Keselowski rebounds to ‘steal’ third-place finish in playoff opener

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Usually when you see a race car on pit road with its hood up in the middle of a race, it’s a sign that a team’s race is over or will be soon.

It’s not typically a prelude to a third-place finish.

But that’s what happened to Brad Keselowski in Sunday’s Cup playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The adjustments made to his No. 2 Ford on pit road during the Stage 2 break, including adjustments to the front suspension, helped cure what was a “miserable” first 160 laps for Keselowski.

“Nothing I was doing was working,” Keselowski told NBCSN after his top-five finish. “We were losing spots to everybody out there.”

Keselowski, the race’s defending winner, qualified 18th. But while his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano went from 22nd to first in 34 laps, Keselowski was “just kind of bleeding positions.”

“I am disappointed we didn’t start the race any better than we did but very proud that we didn’t freak out and everyone kept their head on their shoulders,” Keselowski said.

After Stage 2, Keselowski pitted from 13th. He would pit twice under the caution before the start of the final stage.

“The team worked on it really hard there and got us back to a spot to where we could kind of almost steal a win,” Keselowski said. “I thought for a minute we might be able to.”

Keselowski thought if he had gained one or two spots on the final restart with 71 laps to go, he might have been the winner instead of Martin Truex Jr.

Instead, “we kind of stole a third place today,” Keselowski told NBCSN. “I guess I can’t complain. … Decent recovery, great fight. That’s kind of what these playoffs are about. Minimizing your bad days. That’s what we were able to do.”

Keselowski’s finish is his ninth straight top 10 at Las Vegas. He hasn’t finished worse than seventh on the 1.5-mile track since 2012.