Brad Keselowski hopes Southern 500 win provides momentum for No. 2 team

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DARLINGTON, S.C. — The moment for Brad Keselowski was fantastic. Winning an event he considers among NASCAR’s crown jewels, snapping a 29-race winless streak, and doing it when he thought his team had a fifth- to 10th-place car entering the race made the night special.

But after winning Sunday’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, Keselowski was cautious about what the win signified for his team with one race left until the playoffs begin.

“There’s no tracks like this in the playoffs,” Keselowski said after his 25th career Cup victory. “And winning is great, but there’s not a lot of carryover here, and we still have a lot to work on and improve to be considered a favorite for the playoffs.

“I’m hopeful today is the catalyst to get that work done because it shows that when we do hit it, we’re capable of executing at the level needed to bring home trophies.”

Maybe Keselowski’s team will be the one break a trend among winners late in the regular season, but the odds are against them.

Since eliminations were added to the playoff format in 2014, no driver who won in either of the final two regular-season races went on to make it to the championship race in Miami.

Twice such winners finished as high as fifth in the points, including Keselowski in 2014 after his Richmond win in what was the regular-season finale that year. Twice such winners finished 15th in the standings.

This has not been an easy season for Keselowski and his Penske team. He is on pace for his fewest top-five finishes in the past three seasons. He would need to score a top-10 finish in more than 80 percent of the remaining races to match his total from last season. His victory Sunday was the third top-10 result in the last eight races.

“It’s been really frustrating because we haven’t had the speed we’ve had over the last few seasons, and then the races where I feel like we’ve had the speed, I feel like I completely screwed them up,” Keselowski said of how this season has challenged him.

“I felt like before today that we had the speed to win Daytona and Talladega, and that’s probably about it, and I messed both those races up. I made one bad move in the draft, got cycled back, and then the wreck happened. And then at both the Daytonas, I feel like I made the wrong move, one where I just was too nice to someone and another when I just didn’t anticipate somebody else’s bad move. I feel like those were failures on my part, and so that’s really frustrating. And you just never know when you’re going to get a winning race car again.

“And so you hope it’s every week. You enter every weekend thinking that. Then you get to the race and it’s not there, and you’re like, oh, what if I never get another car capable of winning again. Today we had a car capable of winning, we executed, we made the most of it, and I’m so thrilled for that because I know those moments are not a guarantee.”

Crew chief Paul Wolfe admitted the team felt the pressure of not having won a points race this season before Sunday.

“It’s been a tough year,” Wolfe said. “Usually we’ve won a race by now, and you start to feel that season coming to an end, and yeah, we were kind of locked into the playoffs on points, but you know, most of us that I’m aware of on this team are here to win races. That’s why we do this. That’s why we get up every day and go to work is to win races, whether we’re in the playoffs or not. It’s all about winning races and contending for a championship.”

Keselowski said he hopes this win can lift his team heading into the playoffs.

“Moments like today are just so refreshing,” he said. “They recharge your batteries so much because the season is such a death march, especially when things aren’t going well, and this is a complete battery recharge for myself and for our team. It makes going to the racetrack fun knowing that you’ve won and you can win.”

A LOOK AT HOW DRIVERS WHO WON IN THE FINAL TWO RACES OF THE REGULAR SEASON FARED (SINCE ELIMINATIONS WERE ADDED TO THE PLAYOFFS IN 2014)

2014

Race 25: Atlanta – Kasey Kahne (finished 15th in points)

Race 26: Richmond – Brad Keselowski (5th)

2015

Race 25: Darlington – Carl Edwards (5th)

Race 26: Richmond – Matt Kenseth (15th)#

2016

Race 25: Darlington – Martin Truex Jr. (11th)

Race 26: Richmond – Denny Hamlin (6th)

2017

Race 25: Darlington – Denny Hamlin (6th)

Race 26: Richmond – Kyle Larson (8th)

# Suspended two playoff races for intentionally wrecking Joey Logano at Martinsville

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Daytona road course entry lists

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NASCAR’s national series will make their debuts on the Daytona road course this weekend. The Cup, Xfinity and Truck events will be held without any practice or qualifying.

NASCAR is prohibiting drivers from competing in more than one series this weekend on the Daytona road course in an effort to get extra track time. NASCAR states that is to make the event fair for everyone.

Sunday’s Cup race will be broadcast on NBC.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for the races at the Daytona road course 

Cup – Go Bowling 235 (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC)

Thirty-nine drivers are entered for the race at the Daytona road course.

JJ Yeley is in the No. 27 for Rick Ware Racing.

Joey Gase is in the No. 51 for Petty Ware Racing.

Gray Gaulding is in the No. 53 for Rick Ware Racing.

Brendan Gaughan is in the No. 62 for Beard Motorsports.

Timmy Hill is in the No. 66 for Motorsports Business Management.

Reed Sorenson is in the No. 77 for Spire Motorsports.

Click here for Cup entry list

 

Xfinity – UNOH 188 (3 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)

Thirty-eight cars are entered.

Andy Lally is back in the No. 02 Our Motorsports car after finishing fifth last week at Road America.

AJ Allmendinger, who finished second last week at Road America, is in the No. 16 for Kaulig Racing.

IMSA driver Earl Bamber will make his Xfinity debut this weekend in the No. 21 for Richard Childress Racing.

Brandon Gdovic will make his second start of the season, driving the No. 26 for Sam Hunt Racing.

Click here for Xfinity entry list

 

Truck – Sunoco 159 (Noon ET Sunday on FS1)

Thirty-nine trucks are entered in the race that will be held before the Cup event on Sunday on the Daytona road course.

Alex Tagliani will drive the No. 51 for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Click here for Truck entry list

Silly Season Scorecard: Christopher Bell moves back to JGR

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No surprise that Christopher Bell moves over to the No. 20 at Joe Gibbs Racing next season with Leavine Family Racing being sold and Erik Jones not remaining with JGR beyond this season. Joe Gibbs Racing made the announcement Monday.

While JGR lets the 24-year-old Jones, who has 133 Cup starts go, it brings in the 25-year-old Bell who has made 22 career Cup starts. Jones said before Sunday’s race he was “blindsided a little bit” by JGR’s move.

It’s part of the building momentum of Silly Season. In the last week, Team Penske signed Brad Keselowski to a reported one-year extension and Bubba Wallace said he has an offer for next year not only from Richard Petty Motorsports but also Chip Ganassi Racing.

Here’s how the Cup Silly Season scorecard looks as of Aug. 10.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2021

No. 00: Quin Houff enters the second year of his two-year deal with StarCom Racing.

No. 1: Kurt Busch enters the second year of a multi-year contract that Chip Ganassi Racing announced last season.

No. 2: Brad Keselowski and Team Penske announced a contract extension Aug. 3.

No. 4: Kevin Harvick signed a contract extension in February that will keep him at Stewart-Haas Racing through the 2023 season.

No. 8: Tyler Reddick said in a press conference Aug. 7 that he will be back with Richard Childress Racing next season.

No. 9: Chase Elliott is under contract with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2022 season.

No. 11: Denny Hamlin is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 12: Ryan Blaney and Team Penske announced a multi-year extension earlier this season.

No. 18: Kyle Busch is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 19: Martin Truex Jr. is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 20: Christopher Bell moves from Leavine Family Racing to take over this ride in 2021.

No. 22: Joey Logano is tied to Team Penske “through the 2022 season and beyond.”

No. 24: William Byron is under contact with Hendrick Motorsports through at least 2021.

No. 47: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. enters the second year of a multi-year deal with JTG Daugherty Racing.

No. 88: Alex Bowman will race for Hendrick Motorsports under a one-year contract extension announced earlier this year.

 

Available/possibly available rides

No. 10: Aric Almirola is in a contract year at Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 13: Ty Dillon is in a contract year at Germain Racing.

No. 14: Clint Bowyer is in a contract year to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto is in a contract year at Wood Brothers Racing. He said after the Aug. 9 Michigan race: “I haven’t really talked about that stuff for next year yet, but we’ve just been so focused and head down on digging and trying to make the playoffs and run well. We haven’t even really talked about it, so, hopefully, I stay here for a very long time to come and that’s what they had expressed to me when I came over here.”

No. 32: Corey LaJoie is in a contract year at Go Fas Racing.

No. 42: Matt Kenseth told NBC Sports on Aug. 8 in regards to talks with Chip Ganassi Racing for next year: “We really haven’t had any very meaningful discussions really about any of that to be honest with you.

No. 43: Bubba Wallace said Aug. 9 he has an offer from Richard Petty Motorsports and an offer from Chip Ganassi Racing to drive the No. 42 car next season.

No. 48: With Jimmie Johnson retiring from full-time competition, Hendrick Motorsports has this seat to fill.

No. 95: Leavine Family Racing announced it was selling its assets earlier this week. The buyer has not been announced. Christopher Bell will move to the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team for 2021.

Christopher Bell to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2021

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Christopher Bell will drive for the No. 20 next season for Joe Gibbs Racing, the team announced Monday, a decision that was expected with Erik Jones’ contract expiring after this season and it not being renewed. 

“I’m so appreciative of the opportunity I have this year with LFR and I want to finish this season strong for Bob (Leavine) and everyone there,” Bell said in a statement from the team. “At the same time, I’m extremely excited to return to Joe Gibbs Racing starting in 2021. It’s an organization I’m very comfortable with and have had a lot of success with.”

Said car owner Joe Gibbs: “We are excited to bring Christopher into our Cup Series program starting in 2021. He obviously had tremendous success in the Xfinity Series with us and we look forward to his return to JGR.”

Bell drove for JGR in in the Xfinity Series in 2018 and 2019, winning 15 races, before moving to the Cup Series and Leavine Family Racing this season. Leavine Family Racing announced last week that it has been sold.

Entering Sunday’s race at the Daytona International Speedway road course (3 p.m. ET on NBC), Bell is 19th in points. His best finish this season is fourth at the first Pocono race in late June.

Xfinity playoff grid after Road America

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Brandon Brown extended his hold on the final spot in the Xfinity playoff grid last weekend at Road America after struggles early in the race.

Brown needed to be pushed back to pit road before the field took the green because of a mechanical issue. He fell a lap down as his crew diagnosed the issue, got his lap back, scored four stage points in the second stage and finished 12th, one spot off his best career finish on a road course.

MORE: Brandon Brown wants to reward father with a special celebration

MORE: Austin Cindric wins at Road America 

Brown’s effort and Jeremy Clements misfortune in being collected in a crash to finish 29th led to Brown extending his lead on Clements for the final spot in the Xfinity playoff grid to 53 points. Myatt Snider is 73 points behind Brown. Eight races remain until the Xfinity playoffs begin Sept. 26 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Here is a look at the playoff grid. Drivers shaded in green are locked in the playoffs. Those shaded in yellow are in a playoff spot based on their point total. Drivers shaded in red are outside a spot in the Xfinity playoff grid.