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: A championship five seasons in the making for Joey Logano’s pit crew

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. — When the champagne bottles were passed out to Joey Logano’s team after he won the Cup championship Sunday night, Ray Gallahan found a place to sit at the back of the stage to watch his teammates spray each other.

“I’m not a heavy drinker, and I don’t like being too sticky,” Gallahan told NBC Sports. “I usually bow out for the champagne part.’’

Ray Gallahan (seated) watches his teammates spray each other with champagne after Joey Logano won the Cup title. (Photo: Dustin Long)

The celebration was poignant for Gallahan, who served his final race as Logano’s fueler Sunday. The 35-year-old Gallahan will move into a role as an assistant pit coach for Team Penske.

But this victory had extra meaning for Gallahan. He was Logano’s jackman in 2014 when the car fell off the jack with less than 20 laps to go in that championship race, all but ending Logano’s title hopes.

“That crumbled me up pretty hard because I was supposed to be the guy that didn’t mess up,” Gallahan said.

The team returned to the championship race in 2016. Logano’s title hopes faded when he went to pass Carl Edwards on a late restart and Edwards blocked, leading to contact that eliminated Edwards and damaged Logano’s car.

Sunday, Logano’s pit crew gained him two spots on the final pit stop, allowing him to restart third and charge to the win. It was pretty much the same unit that had been there in 2014 and ’16.

Front tire changer Thomas Hatcher, rear tire changer Zachary Price and tire carrier Dylan Dowell had been on the team since 2014. The only new member was jackman Graham Stoddard, who had been teammate Ryan Blaney’s jackman but moved to Logano’s team after Blaney was eliminated in the playoffs at Kansas.

That four of the five pit crew members remained since 2014 is a remarkable achievement in an era where changes to pit crews can be common. This unit excelled late in the playoffs, playing a key role in helping Logano win at Martinsville, and having a strong performance in the championship race.

“I think the longer you are together, the more you learn what to expect from the other guy, so it actually makes you faster,” Dowell told NBC Sports.

Having experienced the lows of the title race — and missing the playoffs last year — it allowed the team to appreciate its accomplishment.

“It definitely made it sweeter,” Hatcher told NBC Sports. “It definitely made it sweeter.”


Morgan Shepherd had Landon Cassill drive his Xfinity car for him last weekend in Miami, but Shepherd says he plans to be back.

“This is 51 years for us,” the 77-year-old Shepherd told NBC Sports at Homestead-Miami Speedway, “and I’ve started on my next. If I can get it in, I’ll only be 127 (years old). We’ll see where we land.”

Morgan Shepherd (Photo Getty Images)

Isn’t it time for retirement?

“Nah,” Shepherd said as he sat on the pit wall. “I’m just a servant. I might not be able to help myself but I can help other people with what we’re doing. Our charity is 32 years old. … We’ll go as long as the Lord wants me to go.”

Shepherd understands that change will come at some point.

“We definitely would be better with a younger driver and build it around him,” Shepherd said. “We’ll see where it goes. We haven’t quit yet.”


Crew chief Luke Lambert told NBC Sports he’s signed a new deal with Richard Childress Racing and will serve as rookie Daniel Hemric’s crew chief on the No. 31 car next season.

It will make the first time Lambert has worked with a young driver. He’s previously worked with veteran drivers Jeff Burton and Ryan Newman. Lambert had been with Newman the past five seasons. Newman moves to Roush Fenway Racing for 2019.

“It will be different in ways,” Lambert said of working with a rookie. “I’ve been around situations with young drivers a lot so I’m very familiar with what sort of things need to be done differently. Ultimately, it’s going to be about learning each other and what he needs different to be successful and for me to help figure out ways to provide that for him.”

Miami win gives Team Penske victories on all active Cup tracks

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Even before Joey Logano won Sunday’s Cup season finale and his first Cup title, 2018 had been a big year for Team Penske.

The organization fielded three full-time cars in Cup for the first time since 2010.

Brad Keselowski gave the organization its second Southern 500 win and first overall win at Darlington Raceway since 1975. He followed that up a week later with Penske’s first Brickyard 400 victory.

Keselowski’s third consecutive victory, in the playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, not only marked Penske’s 500th overall win in motorsports, but the first time the team had three drivers finish in the top five of a Cup race.

Logano capped the season off with Penske’s second Cup title after Keselowski won it in 2012.

But Logano also delivered Penske its first victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 43 starts.

Combined with Keselowski’s Brickyard win and Ryan Blaney‘s triumph in the inaugural race on the Charlotte Roval, Team Penske is now the only organization with wins on every active track on the Cup schedule.

Team Penske finished the year with 111 wins in Cup points races since 1972. 103 of those have come on the 24 tracks that currently make up the schedule.

At defunct tracks, the organization has wins at Rockingham (three), Riverside (two), North Wilkesboro (two) and Ontario (one).

Here’s a look at the tracks the other major Cup organizations have yet to win at.

Kentucky Speedway is notable, as a Chevrolet team has yet to win in eight races on the 1.5-mile track.

Hendrick Motorsports (252 Cup wins) – Winless at Kentucky and Charlotte Roval

Joe Gibbs Racing (157 Cup wins) – Winless at Charlotte Roval

Roush Fenway Racing (137 Cup wins) – Winless at Indianapolis, Charlotte Roval, Chicagoland and Kentucky

Richard Childress Racing (108 Cup wins) – Winless at Charlotte Roval, Kentucky, Miami and Las Vegas

Wood Brothers Racing (99 Cup wins) – Winless at Phoenix, Sonoma, Kentucky, Charlotte Roval, Auto Club Speedway, Chicago, Texas, New Hampshire, Las Vegas, Kansas, Miami and Indianapolis.

Stewart-Haas Racing (51 Cup wins) – Winless at Charlotte Roval and Kentucky

Chip Ganassi Racing (16 Cup wins) – Winless at Pocono, Phoenix, Martinsville, Bristol, Charlotte Roval, Chicago, Dover, Texas, Miami, Kansas, Kentucky, New Hampshire and Atlanta

 

NASCAR America: An emotional end to 2018 for Martin Truex Jr.

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The 2018 season was an emotional one for Martin Truex Jr.

Last year’s championship was a fairy tale for a team located in Denver, Colorado – far from NASCAR’s epicenter in North Carolina.

This season was much different. Furniture Row Racing found out midseason that its primary sponsor would not return after this year, which caused car owner Barney Visser to decide to shut down the team after the final race.

With that looming closure came the inevitable questions of if the No. 78 team would lose focus.

MORE: What went wrong for Kyle Busch in Miami?
MORE: Kevin Harvick failed to keep up with Miami

Then came late-race incidents at the Charlotte Roval and Martinsville when Truex was knocked out of the lead on the final corner by Jimmie Johnson and Joey Logano respectively. 

“They just didn’t have that short run speed to beat the 22 (of Logano at Miami), but they put up a heck of a fight,” NASCAR America analyst Parker Kligerman said on Monday’s edition of the show. “They did all of this under the cloud of knowing that that organization was shutting down at the end of this last race.”

For more, watch the video above.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter

NASCAR America: Kevin Harvick’s team failed to keep up with Miami

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Under NASCAR’s current playoff format winning the most races means a lot. It doesn’t win the championship, however, unless one of those victories comes in the season finale.

After the race in Miami, Kevin Harvick was not ready to call his season a failure. He won eight times during the year, tying him for the lead with Kyle Busch. But he was noticeably disappointed by coming up two positions short of claiming his second Cup. Harvick finished behind the 2018 champion Joey Logano and last year’s champion Martin Truex Jr.

“When I look at the 4 team through the whole weekend, they just seemed a little bit off,” Parker Kligerman said on Monday’s edition of NASCAR America. “You look at qualifying, it didn’t go well. And then Saturday practice, they had a short run to start off the first practice because he wasn’t happy with the car. He wasn’t able to find the feel in the car. It just seemed like they were searching a little bit.”

MORE: What went wrong for Kyle Busch in Miami?

Harvick started the race strong, moving up to the lead on Lap 43 after starting 12th. He won the first stage. When the field pitted, the team did not make any significant changes to the car and Harvick was never quite the same.

Jeff Burton said that indicates the team failed to adjust to the changing characteristics of the track.

“In this kind of race when it all comes down to one race and you just get off that little bit at the wrong time, there’s no time to recover,” Burton said.

For more, watch the video above.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter