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.

Regan Smith to return to JR Motorsports for two Xfinity races

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JR Motorsports announced Wednesday that Regan Smith will drive the team’s No. 8 car in two Xfinity Series races this season.

Smith, who also serves as a Fox Sports analyst, will pilot the car Aug. 10 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Aug. 24 at Road America. Long-time sponsor Fire Alarm Services will join Smith.

This will mark the 35-year-old Smith’s first Xfinity start in two years and his first for JR Motorsports since 2016. Smith won in his JR Motorsports debut in 2012 in Miami and drove full-time for the team from 2013-15. He won five times during that stint, including at Mid-Ohio.

“Regan is a great friend, and he means so much to our company,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a statement from the team. “He won a lot of races here, but for me his significance was no more evident than in his very first race for JRM at the end of 2012. That win at Homestead was enormous. It ended a winless streak for JR Motorsports that had dragged us down for more than two years. It was a tone-setter. It gave us momentum that, to be honest, I’m not sure we’ve ever lost. That’s what Regan means to this company, and that’s why I’m thrilled to have him back for these two races at Mid-Ohio and Road America.”

Said Smith: “I can’t tell you how pumped I am for this. Dale, Kelley (Earnhardt Miller) and everyone at JRM have been like family to me, so in a way, it feels like I’m coming home. I have great memories of the years I spent there and the success we had during that time. And to have Fire Alarm on board for these races makes it all the more meaningful. They’ve been both friends and supporters of mine for a long time.”

Comcast NBCUniversal to salute military at next two Xfinity races

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Comcast NBCUniversal will use the next two Xfinity Series races – June 29 at Chicagoland and July 5 at Daytona – to honor the military during the NASCAR Salutes Refreshed by Coca-Cola campaign.

It will sponsor Jeffrey Earnhardt in Xtreme Concepts Racing’s No. 81 “Salute to Service” Toyota for the race at Chicagoland Speedway, which is the first NASCAR race broadcast by NBCSN this year.

“I’m really excited to be partnering with Comcast and the military on the Comcast Salute to Service Toyota for Chicagoland Speedway,” Earnhardt said in a press release. “Our race team at Xtreme Concepts Racing feels as though we can’t ever do enough for the men and women that protect us and it’s awesome to be partnered with a company like Comcast that feels the same. We will give the fans at Chicagoland Speedway and watching on NBCSN something awesome to cheer for. Hopefully, they watch us park it in victory lane.”

Also, for the fourth consecutive season, all Xfinity Series drivers will bear the names of active military units and installations on their race car windshields in place of the traditional Xfinity branding during the NASCAR Xfinity Series event at Daytona International Speedway. NASCAR and teams collaborated with Comcast to select these military units and installations to showcase the industry’s strong ties back to the military community.

Comcast NBCUniversal has a long-standing reputation as a military-friendly and military-ready company. That includes its commitment to hiring military community members – veterans, National Guard and Reserve members and military spouses. Comcast hired more than 10,000 military community members from 2015 to 2017 and are committed to hire 11,000 more by the end of 2021. Also, as a “thank you” for their service, veterans and actively-serving military customers can get a $100 prepaid card and $25 Xfinity coupon by visiting https://www.xfinity.com/military.

“At Comcast NBCUniversal, our sustained commitment to our nation’s military community has never been stronger,” said Brigadier General (Ret.) Carol Eggert, senior vice president of military and veteran affairs at Comcast NBCUniversal in a press release. “We truly value the tremendous contributions of those who serve our country and wanted to recognize them and their families in a special way as we celebrate our country’s independence.”

NASCAR America presents MotorMouths at 5 p.m. ET

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This week’s episode of NASCAR America presents MotorMouths airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Rutledge Wood is joined by Kyle Petty and Nate Ryan.

They’ll take fan phone calls and discuss the big storylines of the week.

If you can’t catch either of today’s shows on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

After ARCA win and strong Truck debut, Chandler Smith ready for more at Gateway

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Chandler Smith can drive well over 100 mph on a race track. But after an ARCA or NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race, he can’t drive out of the race track and proceed on a city street or rural road or freeway.

That kind of thing happens when you’re 16 years old – he turns 17 on June 26 – and have yet to get your driver’s license from your home state (in Smith’s case, Georgia).

But even without a license, the soon-to-be high school junior from tiny Talking Rock, Georgia, – population 69 – is proving he sure knows how to wheel a race car or race truck.

Last weekend is more than enough proof to any driver’s examiner of Smith’s ability behind the wheel. On Saturday night, he earned his fourth career ARCA win – in just 14 total starts in the series – in Madison, Wisconsin, for Venturini Motorsports.

Just over 12 hours later, Smith made his Gander Outdoors Truck Series debut by starting on the pole (due to being fastest in first practice when second practice and qualifying were both rained out) in the M&Ms 200 race for Kyle Busch Motorsports, led 55 laps and ultimately finished eighth (he may have finished higher if not for a pit road penalty that sent him to the tail end of the field).

So what does Smith do for an encore? Double duty again in both ARCA and Trucks events this weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway (formerly Gateway Motorsports Park), that’s what.

Smith is looking forward to both races, particularly the next step in his evolution with KBM, for whom he’s driving a limited schedule in both Trucks and super late models.

It’s very humbling to have all of these opportunities on the table and I can pick and choose what pathway I am going to take,” Smith said in a media release. “I am grateful for all of the people around me.

I have finally gotten to the age and the maturity when I realize this is a big deal. There is no one I know that is my age that has the opportunities I have. I have some bigger opportunities than some Cup drivers right now. I am really trying to stay humble about it.”

Busch has high expectations for the young drivers that pilot his trucks, and Smith is not excluded from that category even with just one start to date.

I don’t think it adds pressure at all,” Smith said. “When you have drivers that aren’t winning in the very best stuff, he has a valid point. If I don’t do good, I would go up and ask him what I did wrong. I will deserve it. I want to make sure I am aware of what I am doing wrong so I can fix it.”

Saturday will be one of the longest race days – an estimated 14 hours, all told (barring any weather issues) the teenager has experienced to date. He has two ARCA practices, qualifying and the 120 laps/150 miles Day to Day Coffee 150 race at 7:30 p.m. ET. He also has two Truck practices, qualifying and a 160 laps/200 miles CarShield 200 race at 10 p.m. ET.

I think it’s going to be all mental,” said Smith, who has never been in the St. Louis area and may not know about it’s notorious heat and humidity at times. “You are going to have to want to have the drive to do it. If you are like ‘oh my gosh, I have to do that?’ because if you have that attitude you are going to suck at it.

I’ve never been to the track before. I know you need to be patient and hit your marks there. There is definitely going to be a big learning curve. I have never raced on a track like that before. I have practiced there a little on the simulator. I have a good bit of laps under me and I have a general idea so when we get there so I will know what to do.”

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