Who is hot, not heading into Watkins Glen

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It’s time to go road racing again this season as the Cup Series heads to the Empire State to compete at Watkins Glen International.

Sunday’s Go Bowling at the Glen (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC) is the second of three road course races this season.

The last six races at WGI have been won by six different drivers.

According to Racing Insights, here’s who is hot and not entering the 22nd race of the season.

Kevin Harvick
• Finished 4th at Pocono (2nd in Stage 1, 1st in Stage 2, led 30 laps); started 29th after pole-winning
qualifying lap was disallowed due to failed inspection)
• Won 6 of last 20 races
• Won 10 stages in 2018 (had 6 in all of 2017)
• 6 wins is most in a single season
• Led 1,000+ laps in single season for fourth time in career; all four times were in the last five years
• Finished in top 5 in 3 straight races and 7 of last 8
• In 21 races in 2018, has 17 finishes of 7th or better (including 6 wins)
• Finished in the Top 5 in 20 of last 25 races, dating back to last season
• Finished 13th or worse in 4 of last 6 Watkins Glen races
• Started 20th, 29th in Stage 1, 26th in Stage 2, finished 17th in this race one year ago
• Finished 7th or better in 6 of last 8 road course races, including win at Sonoma in 2017

Chase Elliott
• Finished 7th at Pocono (1st in Stage 1, 2nd in Stage 2, 14 laps led)
• Finished top 10 in the last two races
• Finished in Top 10 in 5 of last 8 races
• Two stage wins in 2018, both have come in the last two races (Had 3 in 2017)
• Finished 13th in both career starts at Watkins Glen (2016 & 2017)
• Started 4th, placed 3rd in Stage 1 and 18th in Stage 2, led 9 laps, finished 13th in this race one year ago
• Two Top 10s in 5 career road course starts (both at Sonoma)

Kyle Busch
• Won at Pocono (4th in Stage 1, 25th in Stage 1, 52 laps led); started 28th after 2nd-fastest qualifying lap was
disallowed due to failed inspection
• Won 6 of last 15 races
• Finished in Top 5 in 8 of last 9 races
• Finished in the Top 5 in 15 of 21 races this season
• Finished 7th or better in 3 straight Watkins Glen races
• Finished 9th or better in 11 of last 12 Watkins Glen races, including wins in 2008 and 2013
• Started 1st, 1st in Stage 1, 9th in Stage 2, 21 laps led, finished 7th in this race one year ago; pit for a 2nd time
on lap 23 due to a loose wheel
• Finished 7th or better in 7 straight road course races, including win at Sonoma in 2015

Ryan Newman
• Finished 8th at Pocono (13th in Stage 1, 13th in Stage 2)
• Top 10 in three of the last four races, had a total of three top-10s in the first 17 races of 2018
• Finished 11th or worse in 11 straight Watkins Glen races
• Last Top 10 at Watkins Glen was 2006 (finished 8th)
• Started 23rd, 15th in Stage 1, 32nd in Stage 2, finished 25th in this race one year ago
• Finished 15th or worse in last 4 road course races

Kurt Busch
• Finished 9th at Pocono (8th in Stage 1, 12th in Stage 2, 11 laps led); hit wall in Turn 1 after flat left-front tire on Lap 112 while running 15th
• Finished 9th or better in 3 straight races
• Top 10 in four of the last five Watkins Glen races, finished 11th in the other
• Started 18th, 28th in Stage 1, 8th in Stage 2, finished 6th in this race one year ago
• Finished 7th or better in 3 straight road course races and 11th or better in the last 8 road course races

Martin Truex Jr.
• Finished 15th at Pocono (23rd in Stage 1, 30th in Stage 2)
• Pocono ended a streak of 5 straight Top 5s
• Won 3 of last 8 races
• Finished in the Top 5 in 9 of last 11 races
• Finished 7th or better in 2 straight Watkins Glen races, including win in 2017
• Finished in Top 10 in 5 of last 7 Watkins Glen races
• Started 3rd, 2nd in Stage 1, 2nd in Stage 2, 24 laps led, won this race one year ago
• Won last two road course races
• Finished 7th or better in 4 of last 5 road course races

WHO IS NOT

Jamie McMurray
• Finished 20th at Pocono (17th in Stage 1, 8th in Stage 2, 1 lap led); penalized for speeding in pits on
lap 24
• Finished 12th or worse in 6 straight races
• Finished 15th or worse in 17 of 21 races this season
• Finished outside the top 10 in 6 of last 7 at Watkins Glen
• Three Top 10s in 15 career starts at Watkins Glen
• Started 9th, 6th in Stage 1, 34th in Stage 2, finished 14th in this race one year ago
• Two top 10s in the last eight road course races

Brad Keselowski
• Finished 38th at Pocono (7th in Stage 1, 7th in Stage 2, 1 lap led); DNF – lost a RR tire on lap 121 while
running 13th and hit the wall
• Finished 32nd or worse in last 2 races and 3 of last 4 (first time since 2013)
• Finished 7th or better in 5 of 8 career Watkins Glen starts
• Three time runner-up finisher at Watkins Glen, yet to win
• Started 8th, 5th in Stage 1, 7th in Stage 2, led 20 laps, finished 15th in this race one year ago; penalized
for driving through too many pit boxes on Lap 87
• Finished 7th or better in 3 of last 6 road course races

Austin Dillon
• Finished 13th at Pocono (21st in Stage 1, 16th in Stage 2)
• Finished 13th or worse in 3 straight races
• Finished 12th or worse in 15 of last 16 races
• Finished outside Top 10 in 18 of 20 races since Daytona 500 win
• Hasn’t finished better than 16th in 4 career starts at Watkins Glen (27.3 avg. finish)
• Started 27th, 13th in Stage 1, 30th in Stage 2, finished 26th in this race one year ago
• Hasn’t finished better than 16th in 9 career road course starts

Clint Bowyer
• Finished 11th at Pocono (6th in Stage 1, 3rd in Stage 2); started 31st after failing post-qualifying
inspection; penalized for speeding in pits on Lap 122
• Finished outside the top 10 in 4 straight races
• Led 331 laps in 2018, more than he had in the previous 4 seasons combined (145)
• Finished 6th or better in 4 of last 6 Watkins Glen races
• Started 12th, 35th in Stage 1, 29th in Stage 2, finished 5th in this race one year ago; started in the rear
due to unapproved adjustments in pre-race
• Finished in top 5 in 3 straight road course races and in Top 10 in 10 of last 13 road course races,
including win at Sonoma in 2012

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
• Finished 22nd at Pocono (20th in Stage 1, 20th in Stage 2); spun on Lap 158
• Finished outside the top 10 in 10 of last 11 races
• Finished 14th or worse in 17 of 21 races in 2018
• Has not finished better than 18th in 5 career starts at Watkins Glen
• Started 22nd, 10th in Stage 1, 33rd in Stage 2, finished 20th in this race one year ago
• Never finished better than 18th in 11 career road course starts

Kyle Larson
• Finished 23rd at Pocono (12th in Stage 1, 5th in Stage 2); started 32nd after failing post-qualifying
inspection
• Finished 12th or worse in last 2 races and 3 of the last 4
• Finished 12th or worse in 3 straight Watkins Glen races
• One top 10 in 4 career Watkins Glen starts
• Started 2nd, 4th in Stage 1, 21st in Stage 2, finished 23rd in this race one year ago
• Finished 12th or worse in 8 of 9 career road course start

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NASCAR fines Ty Gibbs $75,000 for pit road incident at Texas

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NASCAR fined Ty Gibbs $75,000 and docked him 25 points for door-slamming Ty Dillon on pit road during last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Crew members from other teams were nearby when Gibbs hit Dillon’s car, causing it to swerve. No crew members or officials were hit.

NASCAR has made it a priority that drivers are not to cause contact that could injured crew members or officials on pit road. NASCAR also penalized Gibbs 25 Cup driver points and docked 23XI Racing 25 car owner points for the No. 23 Cup car that Gibbs drives.

NASCAR penalizes William Byron for spinning Denny Hamlin

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NASCAR has docked William Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000 for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution in last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Byron drops from third in the playoff standings to below the cutline heading into Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe moves up to hold the final transfer spot with 3,041 points. Austin Cindric is the first driver outside a transfer spot with 3,034 points. Byron is next at 3,033 points.

Hendrick Motorsports was docked 25 owner points as well.

Hendrick Motorsports stated it would appeal the penalty.

The caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash. As Hamlin slowed, Byron closed and hit him in the rear. 

Byron admitted after the race the contact was intentional, although he didn’t mean to wreck Hamlin. Byron was upset with how Hamlin raced him on Lap 262. Byron felt Hamlin forced him into the wall as they exited Turn 2 side-by-side. Byron expressed his displeasure during the caution.

“I felt like he ran me out of race track off of (Turn) 2 and had really hard contact with the wall,” Byron said. “Felt like the toe link was definitely bent, luckily not fully broken. We were able to continue.

“A lot of times that kind of damage is going to ruin your race, especially that hard. I totally understand running somebody close and making a little bit of contact, but that was pretty massive.”

On the retaliatory hit, Byron said: “I didn’t mean to spin him out. That definitely wasn’t what I intended to do. I meant to bump him a little bit and show my displeasure and unfortunately, it happened the way it did. Obviously, when he was spinning out, I was like ‘I didn’t mean to do this,’ but I was definitely frustrated.”

Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart argued and questioned NASCAR for not putting Hamlin back in second place — where he was before Byron hit him — and also questioned Byron not being penalized.

“I guess we can just wreck each other under caution,” Hamlin said after the race.

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, told reporters after the race that series officials did not penalize Byron because they did not see the incident. 

“When we were in the tower, we were paying more attention to the actual cause of the caution up there and dispatching our equipment,” Miller said. “The William Byron-Denny Hamlin thing, we had no eyes on. We saw Denny go through the grass.

“By the time we got a replay that showed the incident well enough to do anything to it, we had gone back to green.”

Kurt Busch ‘hopeful’ he can return from concussion this year

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CONCORD, N.C. — Kurt Busch said Tuesday he remains “hopeful” he will recover from a concussion in time to race again before the end of the NASCAR Cup season.

The 2004 Cup champion has been sidelined since he crashed July 23 during qualifying at Pocono Raceway. He’s so far missed 10 races – both Ty Gibbs and Bubba Wallace have driven the No. 45 Toyota for 23XI Racing since Busch was injured – and withdrew his eligibility to participate in the playoffs.

“I’m doing good. Each week is better progress and I feel good and I don’t know when I will be back, but time has been the challenge. Father Time is the one in charge on this one,” Busch said.

There are six races remaining this season and 23XI co-owner Denny Hamlin said the team has contingency plans for Busch’s recovery and is not pressuring the 44-year-old to get back in the car. Busch is under contract at 23XI through next season with an option for 2024.

Hamlin said this past weekend at Texas that Busch has a doctor’s visit scheduled in early October that could reveal more about if Busch can return this season.

Busch has attended a variety of events to stimulate his recovery and enjoyed an evening at the rodeo over the weekend. But his visit to Charlotte Motor Speedway on Tuesday for its 10th annual honoring of Breast Cancer Awareness Month was Busch’s first official appearance as a NASCAR driver since his injury.

He attended for the second consecutive year as part of his “Window of Hope” program in which all the window nets on the Cup cars will be pink meshing in next week’s race on The Roval at Charlotte. Busch credited the Toyota Performance Center at TRD’s North Carolina headquarters for helping his recovery and getting him out to events again.

“I feel hopeful. I know I have more doctor visits and distance to go, and I keep pushing each week,” Busch said. “And TPC, Toyota Performance Center, has been a group of angels with the workouts and the vestibular workouts, different nutrition as well and different supplements and things to help everything rebalance with my vision, my hearing. Just my overall balance in general.”

He said his vision is nearly 20/20 in one eye, but his other eye has been lagging behind in recovery. Busch also said he wasn’t sure why he was injured in what appeared to be a routine backing of his car into the wall during a spin in qualifying.

NASCAR this year introduced its Next Gen car that was designed to cut costs and level the playing field, but the safety of the spec car has been under fire since Busch’s crash. Drivers have complained they feel the impact much more in crashes than they did in the old car, and a rash of blown tires and broken parts has plagued the first four races of the playoffs.

Busch said his concussion “is something I never knew would happen, as far as injury” and likened his health battle to that of the breast cancer survivors who aided him in painting the pit road walls at Charlotte pink for next week’s race.

“Each situation is different. It’s similar to a breast cancer survivor. Not every story is the same, not every injury is the same,” Busch said. “It’s not like a broken arm and then you get the cast taken off and can go bench press 300 pounds. It’s a process. I don’t know what journey I’m on, but I’m going to keep pushing.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: Denny Hamlin returns to first place

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Four races into the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs and drivers who are eligible to win the championship remain 0-for-4 in pursuit of race wins.

Tyler Reddick became winner No. 4 on that list Sunday night at Texas Motor Speedway.

And now we go to Talladega Superspeedway, where there is potential for drivers from the far back end of the field to emerge victorious, given the impact of drafting and, more significantly, wrecking.

Sunday’s tire-exploding, wall-banging, car-wrestling craziness at Texas Motor Speedway jumbled the playoff standings again, and the same is true for the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings, which see a new leader in Denny Hamlin.

MORE: Winners and losers at Texas

Hamlin could be a busy guy the rest of the season. His potential retaliation list grew Sunday with the addition of William Byron after they had a major disagreement.

Here’s how the rankings look in the middle of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Denny Hamlin (No. 3 last week) — Despite everything — the tires, the wrecks, the hassle, the weather and a brouhaha with William Byron, Hamlin finished 10th Sunday and is sixth in the playoff standings entering Talladega. He has the best average finish — 5.75 — in the playoff races. Unless his “list” gets in the way, Hamlin might be ready to seriously challenge for his first championship.

2. Kyle Larson (No. 4 last week) — Larson led 19 laps at Texas and probably should have led more with one of the race’s best cars. Now fourth in points, he figures to be a factor over the final two weeks of the round.

3. Chase Elliott (No. 2 last week) — Elliott was not a happy camper after smashing the wall because of a tire issue and riding a flaming car to a halt. He finished 32nd.

4. Joey Logano (No. 6 last week) — Logano was chasing down winner Tyler Reddick in the closing laps at Texas. He jumps to first in the playoff standings and gains two spots in NBC’s rankings.

5. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron might be No. 1 on Denny Hamlin’s list; here he slides in at No. 5.

6. Christopher Bell (No. 1 last week) — Bell had a rotten Sunday in Texas, crashing not once but twice with tire issues and finishing 34th, causing a precipitous drop on the rankings list.

7. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain’s team played the tires and the cautions right and probably deserved better than a 13th-place finish Sunday.

8. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Mr. Winless (except in All-Star dress) rolls on. A fourth-place run (and 29 laps led) Sunday keeps him relevant.

9. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe’s Texas run started poorly but ended nicely with a fifth-place run.

10. Tyler Reddick (unranked last week) — Reddick Sunday became the only driver not named Chase Elliott with more than two race wins this year. Now totaling three victories, he got his first oval win at Texas.

Dropped out: Alex Bowman (No. 10 last week).