Stat breakdown: ‘The Big 3’ vs. field at 1.5-mile tracks

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Let us know if you’ve heard this one before: Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. are really good at 1.5-mile tracks.

It’s just part of the narrative that surrounds the Cup drivers who have been dubbed the “Big 3” through the first 18 races of the season.

In the six races held at 1.5-mile tracks so far, Harvick and Busch have split the wins evenly at three.

That’s the fewest different winners through six 1.5-mile races ever. The previous low was three in 1998 and 2013.

Truex, who won a series-record seven races on 1.5-mile tracks in 2017, has finished in the top five in all but one (Texas, DNF).

Despite a victory on a 1.5-miler not being among his three wins this season, Truex still has won five of the last 12, including his win in last year’s finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

With help from Racing Insights, here’s a deeper look at how the “Big 3” are performing at intermediate tracks this year compared to the rest of the competition.

1.5-mile track lap leaders 2018 (over 50 laps)
Kevin Harvick 600*
Kyle Busch 571*
Kurt Busch 112
Kyle Larson 108
Ryan Blaney 74
Aric Almirola 70
Erik Jones 64
Brad Keselowski 56

*Harvick and Kyle Busch have led 63 percent of the laps on 1.5-mile tracks in 2018. Truex has only led 20 laps. He had led 536 laps entering Kentucky last year.

Busch has won three of the last four races on 1.5-mile tracks and finished in the top 10 in the last seven races, matching his career longest streak.

Busch is the only driver this season to finish in the top 10 in all six 1.5-mile races.

Here’s how Busch and Harvick match up head-to-head at 1.5-mile tracks so far.

 

The series heads to Kentucky Speedway, a 1.5-mile track, this weekend.

Truex claimed the win there last year over Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott.

Busch’s lone win there came in 2015.

As for Harvick, Kentucky stands as one of the two active tracks he’s raced at in Cup without scoring a win. It’s the only active track he hasn’t even finished in the top five at. His best finish in seven starts there is seventh in 2014.

Now here’s a look at who could impede the “Big 3” from visiting Victory Lane Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Brad Keselowski

If anyone owns the track in Sparta, Kentucky, it’s Keselowski.

The Team Penske driver leads the series with three Kentucky wins.

In fact, since his first start there in 2011, Keselowski has never gone more than a year without winning at Kentucky. On the flip side, his three wins represent his only top fives there.

Through six 1.5-mile races this season, Keselowski has two top fives, a runner-up at Atlanta to Harvick and a fourth in the Coke 600.

Kyle Larson

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver doesn’t necessarily need to win Saturday, but he probably doesn’t want to finish second.

Larson has finished second four times this season without a win, leading all drivers. Only one of those, in the dramatic finish two weeks ago at Chicagoland, was at a 1.5-mile track. He’s placed in the top five in two other 1.5-mile races (Kansas, Las Vegas).

In 53 starts on 1.5-mile tracks, Larson has seven runner-up finishes without a win, an all-time high.

All seven of those second-place finishes have been at different tracks.

His runner-up finish at Kentucky last year is his only finish better than 19th there.

Larson is one of nine drivers who won in 2017 who have not this season.

Should Larson finally breakthrough Saturday, he would deliver Chevrolet its first Cup win at Kentucky. It’s the only active Cup track Chevy has not won at.

What’s working against anyone wanting to get their first win this season and chip away at the “Big 3”?

History.

In seven races held in Kentucky, no driver has ever earned their first win of the season there.

Five can’t-miss NASCAR Cup races in 2019 beyond Daytona 500

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We’re 32 days out from the biggest NASCAR event of the season in the Daytona 500, a race of such importance that needs no explanation.

But what else is there to look forward to?

There are 35 other Cup points races this season and they’re not all created equal.

Here are five races to pay closer attention to this season.

– Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET on Feb. 24 on Fox)

The second Cup race of the season will probably have its biggest spotlight in recent memory when the 1.5-mile track is the first to host the 2019 rules package.

Derived from the 2018 All-Star Race package, it includes a tapered spacer and is intended to provide closer racing. Cars will run 550 horsepower at all tracks 1.33 miles and larger, which includes Atlanta. At tracks less than 1.33 miles, cars will have 750 horsepower.

Combine the hopeful intent behind the package and a rough track surface that’s being kept in place by the “most powerful lobby this side of Washington, D.C.,” and you have no excuse to not tune in and see what happens.

Overton’s 400 at Chicagoland Speedway (3 p.m. ET on June 30 on NBCSN)

The race that marks the start of NBC’s portion of the NASCAR schedule set an incredible precedent in 2018. The 1.5-mile track debuted in its new spot on the schedule with Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch’s dramatic last-lap battle and Busch’s win.

Was it a result of the drivers involved? The hot Chicagoland surface? Lapped traffic?

Yes.

Can it be topped?

We can only hope.

Go Bowling at the Glen at Watkins Glen International (3 p.m. ET on Aug. 4 on NBCSN)

From the green flag last year, the Cup race on the New York road course was a barn burner, ending with a duel between Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. that resulted in Elliott’s first Cup win as Truex ran out of gas.

Races on the road course have had increasingly memorable finishes over the last seven years (beginning in 2012 with Brad Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose). WGI shows no sign of providing a snoozer in the near future, especially as long as pit strategy is involved.

Bank of America ROVAL 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on Sept. 29 on NBC)

The final lap of last season’s inaugural Cup race on the Charlotte Roval  had enough drama for three races on the new road course.

From Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson‘s contact in the final turn giving Ryan Blaney the win; Kyle Larson hitting the wall twice and passing a stalled car at the checkered flag to advance in the playoffs; and Aric Almirola passing enough cars to advance himself.

Do teams have the oval-road course hybrid figured out after one year? It’ll be fun to watch that question answered.

First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway (3 p.m. ET on Oct. 27 on NBCSN)

We’re starting to run out of fingers to use to list memorable events in Martinsville’s recent history of hosting a playoff race.

You could argue it started with Dale Earnhardt Jr. banging doors with Tony Stewart to win his only Martinsville clock in 2014.

Since then?

We’ve seen Matt Kenseth’s retaliation against Joey Logano in 2015, which resulted in Jeff Gordon’s final Cup win.

Two years later, Denny Hamlin wrecked Elliott from the lead near the end of regulation. Kyle Busch then won in overtime as Martinsville’s version of “The Big One” unfolded. Afterward, an angry Elliott confronted Hamlin on the track as fans filled the air with cheers and boos.

Last year Truex and Logano provided a thrilling battle over the last six laps. Logano performed the bump-and-run on Truex in the final turn to win the battle in the “damn war” (which Logano also won in Miami).

 

New NASCAR Cup team owners invest in minor league hockey team

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You might say that the newest NASCAR Cup team owner is now in a Rush.

Spire Sports + Entertainment, which recently purchased the Cup charter of former NASCAR championship team Furniture Row Racing, has branched out, taking a minority ownership share in the Rapid City (South Dakota) Rush of the 27-team East Coast Hockey League.

Spire co-founders Jeff Dickerson and T.J. Puchyr will become active minority partners in the Rush, hoping to bring the team back to past prominence.

“We aren’t going to be saviors here,” Spire co-founder Jeff Dickerson said in a press conference at the team’s Rushmore Plaza Civic Center home. “There’s no magic bullet. It’s going to take all of us to create the culture that builds excitement and value. The city loves the Rush and we hope to get it back to where it was.”

Rush majority owner, Rapid City businessman Scott Mueller, sees better days ahead for his club.

“The biggest thing is (Spire’s) sports industry knowledge,” Mueller said, according to the Rapid City Journal. “It’s about putting people in seats, selling advertising and they have a lot of knowledge on that. (Dickerson) sees so many venues, and I think he’s going to be involved in changes that are needed.

“We’ve taken some steps in the last few months. These are great days for us, and we’re really excited about our future.”

The Rush is mired in sixth place in the ECHL’s seven-team Mountain Division.

In addition to purchasing Furniture Row Racing’s charter, Spire represents several race car drivers including NASCAR’s Kyle Larson, Landon Cassill, Ross Chastain, Justin Haley, Todd Gilliland, Garrett Smithley and Vinnie Miller and IndyCar’s James Hinchcliffe.

Spire isn’t the only NASCAR Cup team owner involved in other sports. Roush Fenway Racing’s co-owner John Henry owns Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox and the Liverpool Football Club of soccer’s Premier League, while Chip Ganassi previously was a minority owner in MLB’s Pittsburgh Pirates. Felix Sabates, who also holds a minority ownership stake in Chip Ganassi Racing, is also a minority owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.

“We have been looking for several years to find something in minor league sports and see if what we do in motorsports translates to this space,” Puchyr said, according to The Journal. “Our due diligence indicates that it does.”

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Richard Petty Motorsports, Front Row Motorsports announce crew chief changes

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Bubba Wallace will have a new crew chief in 2019 with Drew Blickensderfer leaving to take the same position with Front Row Motorsports.

Richard Petty Motorsports said in a statement it will announce a new crew chief “at the appropriate time.” Meanwhile competition director Philippe Lopez will lead the No. 43 team’s efforts to prepare for the season.

Wallace finished the 2018 season 28th in points. He earned three top 10s, including second place in the Daytona 500.

Blickensderfer, who was with RPM since 2012, heads to Front Row Motorsports, which announced its crew chief lineup Wednesday.

Blickensderfer will be paired with Michael McDowell on the No. 34 Ford. Blickensderfer replaces Derrick Finley, who will serve as FRM’s technical director.

Mike Kelley joins FRM to crew chief rookie Matt Tifft and the No. 36 Ford. Kelley was previously with Roush Fenway Racing where he was crew chief on the No. 60 Xfinity car. Kelley is a two-time Xfinity champion, winning with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2011 and 2012.

Seth Barbour will return for his second full season as crew chief on David Ragan‘s No. 38 Ford. He joined the team in the middle of the 2017 season as a crew chief for Landon Cassill.

The crew chief moves come as the team recently announced it had moved shop locations.

 

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Kyle Larson wins preliminary event at Chili Bowl

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Kyle Larson won the A feature Tuesday night to advance to Saturday night’s A main at the Chili Bowl Nationals. It was his fifth preliminary event win at the Chili Bowl. Zach Daum finished second.

Larson took the lead on Lap 6 of the 25-lap feature and went on to the win.

MORE: Tuesday night race results from Chili Bowl

MORE: Monday night race results from Chili Bowl

“We’ll move on to Saturday and try to be better,” Larson said in the press conference afterward.

NBCSN broadcaster Dillon Welch finished seventh in the 24-car field. Alex Bowman placed ninth. Tanner Berryhill, who will be a Cup rookie this season, was 10th.

The Chili Bowl continues the rest of the week, culminating with Saturday night’s main event.

JJ Yeley, Landon Cassill and Rico Abreu are among the drivers scheduled to race Wednesday night at the Tulsa, Oklahoma, event.

Thursday’s racing will include two-time defending winner Christopher Bell, Justin Allgaier and Karsyn Elledge, daughter of Kelley Earnhardt Miller. Kasey Kahne and Tanner Thorson are among those scheduled to race Friday.

Thorson won Tuesday night’s Race of Champions. Larson was second, Bell placed third and Yeley was fifth in that event.