Previewing the Cup Series playoff field

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The 16-driver field for the 2018 Cup Series playoffs has been set following the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The field includes six former champions and two first-time drivers in the playoffs (Alex Bowman and Erik Jones).

The 10-race playoff begins at 3 p.m. ET Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on NBCSN.

Here’s a breakdown of the playoff field.

Kyle Busch

Points: 2,050 (1st)

Wins: 6 (Texas I, Bristol I, Richmond I, Coke 600, Chicago, Pocono II)

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Mild. Has two top threes and finishes of 20th, seventh and eighth since winning at Pocono.

Playoff wins: 5

Best playoff track: Richmond. Five wins, including in the spring this year. Avg finish of 7.2 in 26 starts.

Worst playoff track: Talladega. Just one win and six top fives in 26 starts. Avg finish of 20.5.

Why he’ll win the championship: Is a threat to win at every track.

Why he won’t win the championship: Anything could happen throughout the playoffs with races at Talladega, the Charlotte Roval and Martinsville.

 

Kevin Harvick

Points: 2,050 (2nd)

Wins: 7 (Atlanta, Las Vegas I, Phoenix I, Dover I, Kansas I, New Hampshire, Michigan II)

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Warm. Has alternated 10th and fourth-place finishes in the races around his Michigan win.

Playoff wins: 12

Best playoff track: Phoenix. Nine wins, including seven in the last 10 races.

Worst playoff track: Martinsville. One win and just five top fives in 34 starts. Two top fives since 2012.

Why he’ll win the championship: He’s in the middle of his best career season 18 years in.

Why he won’t win the championship: He hasn’t exhibited his front-runner speed as much since winning at Michigan.

 

Martin Truex Jr.

Points: 2,035 (3rd)

Wins: 4 (Auto Club Speedway, Kentucky, Pocono I, Sonoma)

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Cold. Second-place finish at Watkins Glen is his only finish better than 11th in last five races.

Playoff wins: 6

Best playoff track: Richmond. Three wins in last seven starts there, career average finish of 10.3.

Worst playoff track: Talladega. Four DNFs in last five races there, career average finish of 28.3.

Why he’ll win the championship: Truex has Cole Pearn as his crew chief.

Why he won’t win the championship: Distraction of Furniture Row Racing shutting down after the season.

 

Brad Keselowski

Points: 2,019 (4th)

Wins: 2 (Darlington, Indianapolis)

Hot or Cold entering playoffs Hot. Coming off two consecutive wins, both in crown jewel races.

Playoff wins: 6

Best playoff track: Talladega. Five wins is most among active drivers.

Worst playoff track: Kansas. Despite two wins, he has his worst avg. finish there (18.1).

Why he’ll win the championship: Has at least one win at six of the nine playoff tracks he’s competed on (not counting Roval).

Why he won’t win the championship: General inconsistency that has plagued his season could return.

 

Clint Bowyer

Points: 2,015 (5th)

Wins: 2 (Martinsville I, Michigan I)

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Mild. Indianapolis was just his second top 10 since Pocono II.

Playoff wins: 5

Best playoff track: Richmond. Two wins in 25 starts and an avg. finish of 13.2.

Worst playoff track: Las Vegas. Only one top five and four top 10s in 13 starts. Avg. finish of 17.8.

Why he’ll win the championship: Four of his best tracks – Richmond, Martinsville, Talladega and Dover – await him in the playoffs.

Why he won’t win the championship: Despite enjoying his most success in years, it’s been a season of feast or famine with his two wins punctuating long stretches of mediocrity.

 

Joey Logano

Points: 2,014 (6th)

Wins: 1 (Talladega)

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Heating up. Two top fives in last three races after just one in previous 13 races.

Playoff wins: 7

Best playoff track: Talladega. Three wins and four top fives in last six starts.

Worst playoff track: Kansas. Despite two wins, he has his worst avg. finish there (18.1).

Why he’ll win the championship: Team Penske has stepped up at crunch time this year and he may be one of the few drivers looking forward to Talladega.

Why he won’t win the championship: Has never finished better than fourth at Miami.

 

Kurt Busch

Points:  2,014 (7th)

Wins: 1 (Bristol II)

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Medium. Outside Bristol win, he has three sixths and one ninth-place finish

Playoff wins: 3

Best playoff track: Richmond. Two wins and seven top fives in 35 starts.

Worst playoff track: Las Vegas. Only one top five in 17 starts at his home track.

Why he’ll win the championship: He has something to prove to the teams he could potentially race for in 2019.

Why he won’t win the championship: Lack of consistent success at most of the playoff tracks. Homestead-Miami Speedway represents his fifth worst average finish (18.4).

 

Chase Elliott

Points: 2,008 (8th)

Wins: 1 (Watkins Glen)

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Hot. The Brickyard 400 was his first finish outside the top 10 since New Hampshire.

Playoff wins: None

Best playoff track: Dover. Has top fives in four of five career starts.

Worst playoff track: Las Vegas. Avg. finish of 25th in three starts.

Why he’ll win the championship: Enters playoffs as arguably the most consistent driver over the summer.

Why he won’t win the championship: Chevrolet has lagged behind Toyota and Ford for the last year.

 

Ryan Blaney

Points:  2,007 (9th)

Wins: None

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Cold. Only one top five since Pocono II.

Playoff wins: None

Best playoff track: Kansas. Three top fives in seven career starts.

Worst playoff track: Richmond. No top fives or top 10s and an avg.. finish of 28.6.

Why he’ll win the championship: Team Penske is experiencing a resurgance entering the playoffs.

Why he won’t win the championship: Were he to make it Miami, it’s one of his worst tracks. He’s never finished better than 17th in three starts.

 

 

Erik Jones

Points:  2,005 (10th)

Wins: 1 (Daytona II)

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Hot. Just one finish outside top 10 since Pocono II.

Playoff wins: None

Best playoff track: Phoenix. One top five and three top 10s in his three starts.

Worst playoff track: Talladega. Hasn’t finished in any of his three starts due to wrecks.

Why he’ll win the championship: With just two finishes outside the top 10 since Sonoma, his quiet consistency could lead to a deep playoff run.

Why he won’t win the championship: He has only one Miami start. He placed 21st, two laps down.

 

Austin Dillon

Points: 2,005 (11th)

Wins: 1 (Daytona 500)

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Cold. Only two top-10 finishes since the July race at Daytona

Playoff wins: None

Best playoff track: Martinsville. Only playoff track with multiple top fives.

Worst playoff track: Texas. Avg. finish of 23.3 in 11 starts.

Why he’ll win the championship: Anything is possible.

Why he won’t win the championship: He has one top five since winning the Daytona 500.

 

Kyle Larson

Points: 2,005 (12th)

Wins: None

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Pretty warm. Placed 14th at Indy after two consecutive top fives at Bristol and Darlington, his only consecutive top fives of the year.

Playoff wins: None

Best playoff track: Homestead – best avg finish among playoff tracks (7.6). Richmond – Only playoff track where he has won.

Worst playoff track: Martinsville. Has avg finish of 22.8 in nine starts.

Why he’ll win the championship: If he can make it to the final four, he’ll be the man to beat at Miami.

Why he won’t win the championship: Team is winless since last year’s regular-season finale. Has been unable to put together a full race.

 

Denny Hamlin

Points: 2,003 (13th)

Wins: None

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Thawing. Despite three poles since Watkins Glen, he has finished better than eighth just once in that stretch (Indianapolis).

Playoff wins: 7

Best playoff track: Martinsville. Five wins in 25 starts.

Worst playoff track: Dover. Just three top fives in 25 starts. An avg. finish of 18th.

Why he’ll win the championship: As the winningest active driver without a title, he has to win it sometime, right?

Why he won’t win the championship: Hamlin has been unable to compete upfront for most of the season. Indianapolis was his first top-five finish since the Coca-Cola 600 in May.

 

Aric Almirola

Points: 2,001 (14th)

Wins: None

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Cold. Only one finish better than 14th since Pocono II.

Playoff wins: None

Best playoff track: Talladega. Two top fives and five tops 10s in 17 starts.

Worst playoff track: Las Vegas. Just one top 10 and an avg. finish of 26.2 in 10 starts.

Why he’ll win the championship: Anything seems possible for Almirola in his career-best year.

Why he won’t win the championship: Despite strong cars, the teams is consistently felled by mistakes on the track and in the pits.

 

Jimmie Johnson

Points: 2,000 (15th)

Wins: None

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Freezing. Just two top 10s since the spring Pocono race.

Playoff wins: 29. Leads active drivers

Best playoff track: Dover. Career-best 11 wins.

Worst playoff track: Talladega. Only two top fives since his last win there in 2011.

Why he’ll win the championship: He’s won seven championships. You just can’t count him out.

Why he won’t win the championship: In the worst season of his career, he’s shown few signs of being able to contend.

 

Alex Bowman

Points:  2,000 (16th)

Wins: None

Hot or Cold entering playoffs: Cold following his wreck and 33rd-place finish at Indianapolis.

Playoff wins: None

Best playoff track: Phoenix. Led a career-best 194 laps and finished sixth in the fall 2016 race.

Worst playoff track: Texas. In his two starts there for Hendrick Motorsports, he has finishes of 13th and 28th.

Why he’ll win the championship: Bowman could surge at the short tracks in the playoffs and Talladega.

Why he won’t win the championship: Hasn’t been a contender at the front all season.

Long: NASCAR needs to quickly correct officiating issue from Texas

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NASCAR’s admission that it did not see William Byron spin Denny Hamlin under caution during Sunday’s Cup playoff race is troubling.

With video evidence of impropriety and Hamlin’s team vigorously arguing for relief, there were enough reasons for series officials to take a closer look at putting Hamlin back to second before the race returned to green-flag conditions. Or some other remedy even after the race resumed. 

Add the lack of access series officials had to Byron’s in-car camera— something fans could readily see at NASCAR.com and the NASCAR Mobile App — and changes need to be made before this weekend’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

While NASCAR should make every effort to judge matters between drivers regardless of their playoff status, that it was two playoff drivers involved in an incident demanded greater attention. With three races per round, one misstep can mean the difference between advancing or being eliminated. 

Just as more is expected from drivers and teams in the playoffs, the same should be expected of officials.

“If we had seen that (contact) good enough to react to it in real time, which we should have, like no excuse there, there would probably have been two courses of action,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition Sunday night. “One would have been to put Hamlin back where he was, or the other would be to have made William start in the back.”

Here is how the incident played out:

The caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash at 8:19 p.m. ET.

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.

About 90 seconds after the caution lights illuminated, the USA broadcast showed a replay from a low angle of Byron directly behind Hamlin’s car and apparent contact. 

Contact can happen in multiple ways. It can come from the lead car hitting the brakes and forcing the car behind to hit them, or it can come from the trailing car ramming into the car ahead. The first video replay did not make it clear what caused the contact, making it difficult for any official to rule one way or the other based solely on that.

This also is a time when NASCAR officials were monitoring safety vehicles on track, checking the lineup and making sure pit road was ready to be open. It’s something NASCAR does effortlessly much of the time. Just not this time. 

A different replay aired on USA 11 minutes, 16 seconds after the caution that showed Byron and Hamlin’s car together. That replay aired about a minute before the green flag waved at 8:31 p.m. ET. Throughout the caution, Hamlin’s crew chief, Chris Gabehart argued that Hamlin should have restarted second.

But once the race resumed, the matter was over for NASCAR. Or so it seemed.

Three minutes after the green flag waved, the NASCAR Twitter account posted in-car video that showed Byron running into the back of Hamlin’s car while the caution was out. Such action is typically a penalty — often parking a driver for the rest of the race. Instead, Byron was allowed to continue and nothing was done during the rest of the event. 

After the race, Miller told reporters that series officials didn’t see the contact from Byron. 

“The cameras and the monitors that we’ve got, we dedicate them mostly to officiating and seeing our safety vehicles and how to dispatch them,” Miller said. “By the time we put all those cameras up (on the monitor in the control tower), we don’t have room for all of the in-car cameras to be monitored.

“If we would have had immediate access to (Byron)’s in-car camera, that would have helped us a lot, being able to find that quickly. That’s definitely one of the things we’re looking at.”

But it didn’t happen that way.

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

NASCAR didn’t act. By that time maybe it was too late to do so. But that’s also an issue. Shouldn’t the infraction be addressed immediately if it is clear what happened instead of days later? Shouldn’t officials have been provided with access to the in-car cameras so they could have seen Byron’s actions earlier and meted the proper punishment? Instead, Miller hinted at a possible penalty to Byron this week.

Miller didn’t reveal details but it wouldn’t be surprising to drop Byron in the field, costing him points. He’s 24 points from the cutline, so a penalty that drops him from seventh to 30th (the position ahead of Truex) could be logical and that would cost Byron 23 points, putting him near the cutline. 

Texas winner Tyler Reddick said something should have been done. He knows. He was parked in a 2014 Truck race at Pocono for wrecking German Quiroga in retaliation for an earlier incident.

“In William’s situation, whether he ran him over on accident or on purpose, there should be some sort of penalty for him on that side because he’s completely screwed someone’s race up, whether it was on purpose or not,” Reddick said. “I feel like there should be something done there.

“I’m sure (NASCAR will) make some sort of a decision. I’m sure there will be something they’ll address this week, updates, on NASCAR’s side. I’ll be curious to see what that is. We can’t really have this where you dump someone under caution, they go to the back and you don’t. That could potentially be an interesting situation in the future.”

Texas shuffles NASCAR Cup playoff standings

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Texas marked the fourth consecutive playoff race that the winner didn’t advance to the next round.

All three races in the first round were won by drivers not in the playoffs. Tyler Reddick won Sunday at Texas, a week after he failed to advance from the Round of 16 and was eliminated from title contention.

Texas did shake up the playoff standings. Chase Elliott entered as the points leader but a blown tire while leading sent his car into the wall, ending his race. He falls to the No. 8 spot, the final transfer position with two races left in this round. He’s tied with Daniel Suarez, but Suarez has the tiebreaker with a better finish this round.

Chase Briscoe, who scored only his second top 10 in the last 22 races, is the first driver outside a transfer spot. He’s four points behind Elliott and Suarez. Austin Cindric is 11 points out of the transfer spot. Christopher Bell is 29 points out of a transfer position. Alex Bowman is 30 points from the transfer line.

The series races Sunday at Talladega (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

 

XFINITY SERIES

Noah Gragson’s win at Texas moved him on to the next round. The win was his fourth in a row.

Ryan Sieg and Sam Mayer are tied for the final two transfer spots to the next round. Riley Herbst is one point behind them. Daniel Hemric is eight points from the final transfer spot. Brandon Jones is 13 points from the last transfer spot. Jeremy Clements is 29 points shy of the final transfer position.

The series races Saturday at Talladega (4 p.m. ET on USA Network).

 

 

CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES

The series was off this past weekend but returns to the track Saturday at Talladega. Ty Majeski has advanced to the championship race at Phoenix with his Bristol win.

 

Winners and losers at Texas Motor Speedway

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A look at the winners and losers from Sunday’s marathon race at Texas Motor Speedway:

WINNERS

Tyler Reddick – Reddick isn’t acting like a lame duck. Headed for 23XI Racing in 2024 (if not sooner), Reddick now owns three wins with Richard Childress Racing, the team he’ll be leaving.

Justin Haley – Haley, who has shown flashes of excellence this season for Kaulig Racing, matched his season-high with a third-place run.

Chase Briscoe — Briscoe wrestled with major problems in the early part of the race but rebounded to finish fifth. It’s his second top-10 finish in the last 22 races.

LOSERS

NASCAR Officials – Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, admitted that series officials missed William Byron spinning Denny Hamlin under caution after Martin Truex Jr.‘s crash. Such a situation could have major playoff implications, although Miller hinted that series officials may still act this week.

Christopher Bell – Bell met the wall twice after blown tires and finished a sour 34th, damaging his playoff run in a race that he said was critical in the playoffs.

Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. – Harvick (finished 19th) and Truex (31st) were late-race victims of the day’s tire dilemma. Both crashed while leading.

Track workers  Somebody had to clean up all that tire debris.

Chase Elliott – Elliott remains a power in the playoffs, but he left Sunday’s race in a fiery exit after a blown tire while leading and finished 32nd. He holds the final transfer spot to the next round heading into Talladega.

 

 

Blown tires end race early for several Texas contenders

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FORT WORTH, Texas — A Goodyear official said that air pressures that teams were using contributed to some drivers blowing tires in Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. all crashed while leading after blowing a tire. Among the others who had tire issues were Alex Bowman, Chris Buescher Cole Custer and Christopher Bell twice. 

“We’re gaining as much information as we can from the teams, trying to understand where they are with regard to their settings, air pressures, cambers, suspicions,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing Sunday. “For sure I can say without a doubt air pressure is playing into it. We know where a lot of the guys are. Some were more aggressive than others. We know that plays a part.

MORE: NASCAR says it missed William Byron spinning Denny Hamlin under caution 

“I’m not saying that’s the only thing, but it’s certainly a factor, so we’re just trying to understand everything else that is going on with regard to specific teams. We know a lot of guys have not had issues. We’ve had guys put full fuel runs on tires, but, obviously, other guys have had issues. We’ll be working with them to try to sort through that is.”

Eight of the 16 cautions were related to tire failures that caused drivers to spin or crash.

“It’s not a good look, that’s for sure,” Ryan Blaney said of the tire issues others had. “How many leaders blew tires tonight? Three or four?

“You just don’t understand what is making these things do that. From last week to this week, it’s really unfortunate. It’s just luck now.

“You never know if you’re going to blow one. You go into (Turn) 3 almost every lap with 40 laps on your stuff and I don’t know if one is going to blow out or not. That’s not safe. That’s for sure. Running (180) into (Turn) 3 and the thing blows out and you have no time to react to it. It’s unfortunate. I hope we can figure that out.”

Blaney said he was confused that the tires were blowing partly into a run instead of much earlier.

“It was weird because those tires didn’t blow right away,” he said. “Like the pressures were low. They blew like after a cycle or two on them, which is the weird thing.”

Asked how he handles that uncertainty, Blaney said: “Nothing I can do about it. Just hope and pray.”

After his crash, Elliott was diplomatic toward Goodyear’s situation:

“I’m not sure that Goodyear is at fault,” he said. “Goodyear always takes the black eye, but they’re put in a really tough position by NASCAR to build a tire that can survive these types of racetracks with this car. I wouldn’t blame Goodyear.”

Tyler Reddick, who won Sunday’s race at Texas, said his team made adjustments to the air pressure settings after Saturday’s practice.

“We ran enough laps, were able to see that we had been too aggressive on our right front tire,” he said. “So we made some adjustments going into the race, thankfully.”

This same time was used at Kansas and will be used again at Las Vegas next month in the playoffs. 

Reddick is hopeful of a change but also knows it might take time.

“I just think to a degree, potentially, as these cars have gotten faster and we’re getting more speed out of them, maybe, hypothetically speaking, we’re putting the cars through more load and more stress on the tire than they ever really thought we would be,” he said. 

“I know Goodyear will fix it. That’s what they do. It’s going to be a process. I know they’re going to be on top of it. Hey, they don’t want to see those failures. We don’t want to see them either. They’re going to be working on looking through and trying to find out exactly what is going on. We’ll all learn from it.

“It’s a brand-new car. It’s the first time in the history of our sport we’ve gone to an 18-inch wheel and independent rear suspension. All these things are way different, diffuser. All these things, way different. We’re all learning together. Unfortunately, just the nature of it, we’re having tire failures.”