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Cup drivers on the rise

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While much of the talk this week has been about how Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have dominated this season, winning 11 of the first 14 races, they aren’t the only drivers on the rise.

Here’s a look at some drivers who have made gains since earlier in the season:

Kyle Larson

He enters this weekend at Michigan having won the past three Cup races there. He’s been talked about as the driver who could have the best chance of breaking into the club of Harvick, Busch and Truex.

Larson comes into Sunday’s race with four consecutive top-10 finishes, including his runner-up result last weekend at Pocono.

Harvick was complimentary of Larson on Tuesday night on his “Happy Hours” show on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“The best young driver in Cup right now is Kyle Larson by a landslide,’’ Harvick said. “He’s carrying a slower car and getting great results with it and he does it by just sheer talent. … He’s the best raw talented driver, and I’ve said this on this show before, that I think has come along since Jeff Gordon.’’

Jimmie Johnson

After scoring one top-10 finish in the season’s first seven races, Johnson has five top-10 finishes in the last seven races. Johnson comes to Michigan after back-to-back top 10s at Charlotte and Pocono. He has not had a top 10 in three consecutive races since his 2016 championship season.

Chase Elliott

He had an average finish of 18.1 through the first eight races of the season. In the last six races, his average finish is 8.3. Elliott has finished no worse than 12th in the last six races.

Matt Kenseth

He’ll make his fifth consecutive start in the No. 6 car for Roush Fenway Racing (including his All-Star appearance). Trevor Bayne returns to the car at Sonoma. Bayne and Kenseth will continue to share the car the rest of the season.

Kenseth has made progress since finishing 36th at Kansas. He was 17th in the Coca-Cola 600 and placed 13th at Pocono.

Kenseth told Dale Earnhardt Jr. last month on the Dale Jr. Download that there’s a good bit of work ahead to help the organization be more competitive.

“Obviously, there’s a lot of room for improvement,” Kenseth said. “I think, the potential is there, but certainly it’s going to take some work and probably a little more patience and a little more time than maybe I originally thought.’’

Chris Buescher

It has been a difficult year for Buescher and JTG Daugherty Racing teammate AJ Allmendinger. They’ve combined for one top-10 finish since the Daytona 500 when both placed in the top 10.

But Buescher enters Michigan having scored three top-20 finishes in the last five races , including a 17th last week at Pocono, for his best stretch of the season.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

He had an average finish of 21.0 though the first nine races of the season.

He’s scored five consecutive top-15 finishes and has an average finish of 11.0 during that stretch.

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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
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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.

Pit crew change for Alex Bowman, Jimmie Johnson teams

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Hendrick Motorsports teammates Alex Bowman and Jimmie Johnson each will have a pit crew change for Saturday night’s playoff race at Bristol.

The change is the result of an injury to one pit crew member.

Dustin Lineback, jackman for Bowman’s team is out with an injury, the team stated. Kyle Tudor, who has been Johnson’s jackman, moves over to that role for Bowman’s team. Eric Ludwig, a backup for Hendrick Motorsports, moves up to be the jackman for Johnson.

MORE: Saturday Cup race at Bristol: Start time, forecast, lineup

Bowman enters the elimination race 27 points ahead of teammate William Byron, the first driver outside a transfer spot to the second round. Bowman opened the playoffs by finishing sixth in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. He followed that by placing ninth at Richmond. Bowman was collected in a crash and finished 37th in the May Bristol race.

Johnson, who is in his final full-time Cup season, seeks his first victory of the season. He finished third at Bristol in May.