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Who is hot, who is not in Cup heading to Michigan

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The Cup Series heads to Michigan International Speedway for Sunday’s race (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). Here is a look at the drivers who are hot and who are not (courtesy of Racing Insights) heading into the 23rd race of the season.

WHO IS HOT

Kevin Harvick

  • Finished 10th at Watkins Glen (25th in Stage 1, 7th in Stage 2)
  • Won 6 of last 21 races
  • Won 10 stages in 2018 (had 6 in all of 2017)
  • Finished in Top 5 in 7 of last 9 races 
  • In 22 races in 2018, 18 finishes of 10th or better (including 6 wins) & 4 finishes of 19th or worse
  • Finished in Top 5 in 8 of last 11 Michigan races (2nd in June)

Chase Elliott

  • Won at Watkins Glen (18th in Stage 1, 1st in Stage 2, 52 laps led)
  • Finished 7th or better in 3 straight races
  • Finished in Top 10 in 6 of last 9 races
  • Won a stage in 3 straight races
  • 3 stage wins in 2018 tied his season total for 2017
  • Top 10 in all five Michigan races, including three runner-up finishes
  • Michigan is 1 of 2 tracks where he’s never finished outside Top 10 (Atlanta)

Kyle Busch

  • Finished 3rd at Watkins Glen (14th in Stage 1, 2nd in Stage 2, 31 laps led); team did not get car full of fuel on lap 55 (came out first and had to pit for a second time), drove from 31st to third in the final stage
  • Won 6 of last 16 races
  • Finished in Top 5 in 9 of last 10 races
  • Won at Watkins Glen (18th in Stage 1, 1st in Stage 2, 52 laps led)
  • Finished in the Top 10 in 10 of last 11 races
  • Finished in the Top 5 in 16 of 22 races this season

Daniel Suarez

  • Finished 4th at Watkins Glen (28th in Stage 1, 10th in Stage 2)
  • Finished top 5 in the last two races of 2018
  • Has not finished better than 24th in three career starts at Michigan

Erik Jones

  • Finished 5th at Watkins Glen (22nd in Stage 1, 4th in Stage 2); ran out of fuel on last lap while 3rd
  • Finished 5th in 2 straight races and top 10 in six of the last seven in 2018
  • Finished 13th or worse in 2 of 3 career starts at Michigan (15th in June)

William Byron

  • Finished 8th at Watkins Glen (3rd in Stage 1, 12th in Stage 2)
  • Three top 10s in 2018, two have come in the last two races
  • Back-to-back top 10s for first time in career

Kurt Busch

  • Finished 9th at Watkins Glen (30th in Stage 1, 32nd in Stage 2); started 36th after failing post-qualifying inspection; had flat RR tire under caution on lap 54
  • Finished top 10 in the last four races of 2018

Martin Truex Jr.

  • Finished 2nd at Watkins Glen (1st in Stage 1, 5th in Stage 2, 4 laps led); ran out of fuel on last lap
  • Finished top 5 in 6 of last 7 races
  • Won 3 of last 9 races
  • Finished in the top 5 in 10 of last 12 races
  • Finished 6th or better in 4 of last 7 Michigan races (18th in June)

WHO IS NOT HOT

  • Finished 17th at Watkins Glen (5th in Stage 1, 15th in Stage 2)
  • Finished 17th or worse in 3 straight races and 4 of last 5
  • Finished 16th or worse in 2 of last 3 Michigan races, but top 10 in 7 of last 9 (6th in June)
  • Started 1st, 1st in Stage 1, 2nd in Stage 2, 105 laps led, finished 17th in this race one year ago
  • Finished 9th or better in 11 of last 13 races on 2.0-mile tracks

Austin Dillon

  • Finished 27th at Watkins Glen (11th in Stage 1, 23rd in Stage 2); ran off track in turn 6 on lap 84 while running 25th
  • Finished 13th or worse in 4 straight races
  • Finished 12th or worse in 16 of last 17 races
  • Finished outside Top 10 in 19 of 21 races since Daytona 500 win
  • Finished 14th or worse in 3 of last 4 Michigan races (14th in June)

Aric Almirola

  • Finished 22nd at Watkins Glen (32nd in Stage 1, 24th in Stage 2); spun in turn 7 and made contact with wall on lap 3 while running 7th after contact with #12
  • Finished 22nd or worse in last 2 races and 4 of last 6 (1 finish outside Top 20 in first 16 races of 2018)
  • Has dropped from 11th in Playoff standings in Chicagoland to now 14th in Playoff Standings following Watkins Glen
  • Has never finished in the top 10 in 12 Michigan races

Denny Hamlin

  • Finished 13th at Watkins Glen (17th in Stage 1, 3rd in Stage 2, 2 laps led); penalized for removing equipment from pit box on lap 55 (air gun got wrapped around LR tire and pulled out of box)
  • Finished 13th or worse in 4 of last 5 races
  • Finished 12th or worse in 6 of last 9 races
  • Finished 12th or worse in the last two Michigan races, but top-1o in 4 of last 8 (12th in June)
  • Finished 12th at Watkins Glen (26th in Stage 1, 9th in Stage 2)
  • Finished 12th in last 2 races
  • Top-10 in two of the last four races of 2018
  • Finished top-10 in 2 of last 4 Michigan races, but 15th or worse in 5 of 7 career starts at Michigan (8th in June)

Entry lists for Talladega playoff weekend

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NASCAR’s playoffs continue this weekend on its largest oval track, Talladega Superspeedway.

All three national series will be competing on the 2.66-mile track.

More: Las Vegas winners and losers

Here are the preliminary entry lists for Talladega:

Cup – YellaWood 500 (2 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC)

Thirty-nine cars are entered.

Brendan Gaughan is entered in Beard Motorsports’ No. 62 Chevrolet for his final start of the year and his NASCAR career.

Ryan Blaney has won the last two Cup races at Talladega.

Click here for the entry list.

 

Xfinity – Ag-Pro 300 (4:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)

Thirty-five cars are entered.

AJ Allmendinger is entered in Kaulig Racing’s No. 16 Chevrolet.

No driver is listed on SS Green Light Racing’s No. 07 Chevrolet.

Justin Haley won at Talladega in June over Ross Chastain and Jeb Burton.

Tyler Reddick won this race last year over Gray Gaulding and Christopher Bell.

Click here for the entry list.

 

Trucks – Chevrolet Silverado 250 (1 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1)

Thirty-nine trucks are entered.

Natalie Decker is on the entry list after she missed Friday’s Las Vegas race due to not being medically cleared.

Trevor Bayne is entered in Niece Motorsports’ No. 45 truck for the fourth time this season.

Spencer Boyd won this race last year over Todd Gilliland and Riley Herbst.

Click here for the entry list.

Las Vegas Winners and losers

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WINNERS

Kurt Busch Winless in 21 previous attempts at Las Vegas, Busch scored an emotional win at his hometown track. Busch took advantage of a strategy call by crew chief Matt McCall and a timely debris caution to take the point and led the final 26 laps. He earned his first win of the season. “This is 20 years of agony and defeat and now today with triumph,” Busch said after the race.

Matt DiBenedettoStill seeks his first career Cup win and the 100th series victory for Wood Brothers Racing, but DiBenedetto finished second in both Las Vegas races this season.

Alex BowmanHe finished fifth but scored more points (43) than any driver except Denny Hamlin, who had 53 points. Bowman holds the final transfer spot to the next round.

Chris Buescher — His ninth-place finish is his second consecutive top 10 and third top 10 in the last five races.

Chase Briscoe Had a dominant car and scored the win in the playoff opener for the Xfinity Series at Las Vegas.

LOSERS

Austin DillonHis race was going well — he scored 10 stage points — until overheating problems sent him to pit road. He lost nine laps as his crew made repairs and went on to finish 32nd. That drops him to last among the playoff drivers with two races left in this round.

Chase ElliottWas 10th on the overtime restart but got shuffled back and finished 22nd.

Caution comes at wrong time for Denny Hamlin at Las Vegas

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Denny Hamlin said he knew it would happen. He just didn’t know when.

A debris caution during a green-flag cycle proved key to Kurt Busch winning Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Las Vegas and Hamlin finishing third despite leading a race-high 121 laps.

The caution on Lap 237 caught most of the playoff drivers a lap down, forcing them to wave around. Busch was the only playoff driver who had not made a pit stop.

Hamlin, who was leading, pitted on Lap 233. He came in a lap after Alex Bowman stopped. Bowman was running second to Hamlin before the stop.

“Our hand got forced by (Bowman) by him coming in early there,” Hamlin said of his team not wanting to have Bowman gain time with fresher tires. “We both had a lead over the field. I thought we could have run a little bit longer, but we had to answer their strategy because they were within one second of us. We didn’t want to just to kind of give them the lead and count on running them down at the end of the race. You have to keep yourself in front of them.”

Instead of possibly celebrating a win and advancing to the next round, Hamlin left Vegas frustrated with his third-place showing.

“I just hate getting burned by the same thing, that’s it, that’s all I’m saying,” Hamlin said on the radio to crew chief Chris Gabehart after the race. “It’s the same thing I get burned on. I know we had no choice because (where) we were at.”

Gabehart responded to Hamlin on the radio: “The choice is I stay out another five or six laps and if the caution doesn’t come, we have no shot to win. I don’t know what I’d do different. The problem is there is no reason for the leaders to come early because you leave yourself vulnerable to that, but you can’t get all these goofballs to understand that. It’s what happens.”

Even after such a finish, Hamlin is 58 points ahead of Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch, the first driver outside a transfer spot to the next round.

But that wasn’t enough to console Hamlin.

“I just hate missing out on victories,” he said of his playoff spot. “We’re so much better than the six victories that we’ve got. It’s just disturbing. I’ve never been so fast in so many races and not finish it like we feel like we should, but we’re up front. That’s what counts. That’s what’s going to get you to Phoenix, keep getting those wins and keep battling for race wins. You’ll get yourself to Phoenix (for the title race) and hopefully you’’ll get a championship out of  it. That’s what we’re all here for. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Hamlin’s finish was his best in the playoffs and came after a first round that saw him score a stage win but not place higher than 12th.

Hamlin discounted the notion that putting together a new Cup team with Michael Jordan for next year and signing Bubba Wallace to drive for it had been a distraction earlier in the playoffs.

“I’ve been working for like 10 weeks on stuff, not just racing stuff, but stuff in general,” Hamlin said. “We’ve had bad breaks. Tonight was just another bad break like Darlington was, to be honest with you. Or Bristol. We led laps. We were, I thought, the best car.”

At Darlington, Hamlin missed pit road and had to go back around. Then a debris caution about 10 laps buried him outside the top 10 with less than 50 laps left. He finished 13th.

At Bristol, Hamlin started at the rear because his car failed inspection twice before the race. He ran fifth when he had contact with teammate Martin Truex Jr. as Truex returned to the track after pitting. Hamlin finished 21st.

Kyle Busch still below playoff cutline after ‘pretty dismal’ Las Vegas race

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Though he finished sixth Sunday night in the Cup playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kyle Busch described his experience in the Round of 12 opener as “pretty dismal.”

The defending Cup champion now goes into the second race of the round, at Talladega Superspeedway, outside the transfer position to the next round. He trails Alex Bowman, who holds the final transfer spot, by nine points.

“Started a little up, went a little down and finished just kind of mediocre there,” Busch said. “We brought an okay M&M’s Camry. Just didn’t seem to have the overall speed that it needed, especially on the long runs early in the race. Then there late, just no overall speed. Nothing to go blitz anybody and try to make moves and get to the front. We just salvaged along and got what we got. We got lucky to get what we got for sure. It was looking like it was going to be a 12th- or 14th-place day, but came home sixth.”

Busch’s issues began at the start of Stage 2 after he earned the lead by getting off pit road first. As he raced Joey Logano for the lead on the Lap 87 restart, he was on the inside of Logano as they drove toward Turn 3.

That’s when Busch’s teammate, Denny Hamlin, dove to Busch’s inside to make it three wide and then take the lead.

But as Hamlin pulled even with Busch, Busch lurched to the right and made contact with Logano. The Team Penske driver would pit to repair a tire rub while Busch continued.

“I don’t know if (Logano) knew that was coming and didn’t adjust for it and didn’t plan for it,” Busch said. “It kind of seemed like he expected me to go to the bottom and run the bottom and he was gonna run my door.”

Logano said on the radio to his spotter he didn’t realize he was three-wide until it was too late.

Later, Busch pit from fourth on Lap 118 and fell to 28th when his front tire changer’s pit gun broke, resulting in a 22.5-second stop.

“We worked on it and I thought we were making some gains on it and then we got that damage and got way back in traffic,” Busch said. “Then there towards the end, was just able to get lucky on a couple of the last restarts in order to pick off a few spots with the M&M’s Camry and get ourselves in a better position for the finish. It was a pretty dismal day I guess.”

Busch heads to Talladega. He has one win in 30 Cup starts there. He has just one top 10 there in the last six races.

How does Busch plan to navigate the race as he faces his nine-point deficit to the playoff cutoff?

“I’ll just do what I’m told,” Busch said.