NASCAR America: Playoff contenders are hard to predict

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Most experts agree that the Big 3 of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. will make their way to Homestead with a shot at winning the NASCAR Cup championship. NASCAR America analysts Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman are no exception.

The biggest unknown is who will advance to the Round of 12 and eventually the Round of 8. The difference between one round and the other is likely to come down small factors.

“(The Contenders) to me is the largest group in the playoffs,” Kligerman said on Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America. “We couldn’t really separate these from each other because they are all separated by about 12 points and they’re all right on top of each other.“

Advancing to the Round of 8 is going to come down to a little bit of luck and a lot of execution because Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer and Brad Keselowski have each shown flashes of speed at various times on various tracks.

Meanwhile, none have shown the same kind of consistency as the Big 3.

MORE: 16 drivers, 16 questions: Analyzing the Cup playoff competitors

“I look at that and I say, ok there is not really one team that I would take or draft or bet on or pull for in this group that really raises its head above the others,” Petty said.

“Whoever in there executes best; whoever gets the lucky break is going to be the teams that separate themselves into the Round of 12 and … into the Round of 8, but I don’t think when I look at that group that I can pick a solid contender out of them and say you’re the fourth best or you’re right there with our favorites,” Kligerman added.

One driver who has separated himself from the remainder of The Contenders is Erik Jones.

“Erik Jones, over the last five or six weeks, has really done himself proud,” Petty said. “They have run up front, finished second at Indy. They have made moves; they have run fast on the racetrack. They have adjusted that car. At Indy, he was out to lunch much of the day and comes back and finishes second.”

Kligerman agreed: “Erik Jones has kind of been a surprise to many people since his win at Daytona; they’ve really turned it on there. … I’d say the biggest issue or question mark with this race team is this is their first time in the playoffs.”

For more, watch the video above.

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International Speedway Corp. announces weather protection program

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International Speedway Corp., whose tracks host 19 of the 36 Cup points races, announced a weather guarantee ticket program for fans on Wednesday, joining a similar program announced last month by Speedway Motorsports Inc.

The ISC Weather Protection Program goes toward all paid grandstand tickets to NASCAR races at any ISC facility that are postponed and rescheduled to a different date due to inclement weather.

ISC operates Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, Michigan International Speedway, Richmond Raceway, Auto Club Speedway, Kansas Speedway, ISM Raceway, Chicagoland Speedway, Homestead-Miami Speedway, Martinsville Speedway, Darlington Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

Guests will be able to exchange paid grandstand tickets that were not used on a rescheduled race date for a future NASCAR event at an ISC facility. The unused grandstand tickets may be exchanged for a same-series ticket of equal or lesser value based on event and seating location availability.

Guests with an unused grandstand ticket have 60 days to contact the ticket office at the ISC facility where the event was postponed. Eligible grandstand tickets may be exchanged for any future NASCAR race at an ISC facility within one year of the original event date or for the same race the following year, except for the Daytona 500. Customers who have tickets to a postponed Daytona 500 event may exchange their tickets for a future Daytona 500.

“Race fans make significant investments to attend NASCAR races at our facilities,” said ISC CEO Lesa France Kennedy in a press release. “When inclement weather impacts the schedule, it can be frustrating. The ISC Weather Protection Program addresses that concern and provides an assurance to our guests that if they can’t attend the rescheduled event, they will have the opportunity to see another race at another ISC facility.”

TicketGuardian’s FanShield insurance technology gives fans security when buying tickets in advance. The low-cost coverage protects fans from reselling their ticket or losing their money altogether if they’re unable to attend the event. Customers instead can receive a refund.

Click here for more details.

Jimmie Johnson to drive rookie paint scheme in Cup season finale

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Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports will end their 17-year relationship with Lowe’s in style.

When Johnson and the No. 48 team show up for the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 18 on NBC), Johnson’s car will have his rookie year paint scheme from 2002.

Johnson follows Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth, who drove their rookie schemes in last year’s season finale.

The scheme will cap off a partnership that began with two Cup starts in 2001 before Johnson went full-time the next year.

In 2002, Johnson earned the first three wins of his career and sat on the pole for the Daytona 500. His first win came on April 28 at Auto Club Speedway.

With Lowe’s, Johnson has won seven championships and 83 races. Lowe’s announced in March it would not sponsor Johnson in 2019.

NASCAR America: Experience vs. Youth: Justin Allgaier battling Christopher Bell

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The Cup series has the Big 3. Xfinity has the Dynamic Duo.

As the Xfinity Series begins its playoffs Friday at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN), many experts believe two drivers have an easy path to Homestead. Justin Allgaier has scored five wins and 39 playoff points. Christopher Bell has 32 playoff points. The next closest driver is Elliott Sadler with 11.

Allgaier is mindful of the accomplishments that brought him to this position. He is having a career year and knows it.

“Up until last year I’d won maybe one race a year at the max,” Allgaier told NBCSN’s Marty Snider during Xfinity Media Day. “Last year we won two, which was spectacular, but to be able to win five races this year, to have the regular-season championship, to just be as successful as we’ve been this year is just amazing.”

But that does not make him a favorite in his mind. There are simply too many other drivers that can win. Too many variables.

“There’s so many competitors right now in this Xfinity Series that are just absolutely fantastic. I don’t know that we have a clear-cut favorite,” Allgaier said.

On Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America, Jeff Burton agreed.

“I think that (Allgaier’s) a favorite, but by a little bit, not a lot. … When I think about the Xfinity race from Richmond in the spring, Joe Gibbs Racing dominated it and it will be interesting to see, now as we go to more mile-and-halves … can Joe Gibbs Racing and Christopher Bell … get their rhythm back.”

Kyle Petty also puts Bell in the battle.

“This kid’s confident,” Petty said. “He shows confidence in every turn of the wheel. Everything he does. … and he shows great maturity.

“We’ve got youth and exuberance in Christopher Bell. We’ve got experience and maturity in Justin Allgaier and this is a battle. And it’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out.”

For more, watch the video above.

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NASCAR America: Elliott Sadler wants to shed the bridesmaid role

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Elliott Sadler is the Mark Martin of the Xfinity Series, according to NASCAR America’s Kyle Petty.

“He’s been so close … so often. He’s almost like the Mark Martin of this series. Mark finished second so many times in the (Cup) championship.”

Martin finished second in the Cup standings five times without winning a championship. Sadler has finished second four times in the Xfinity Series and has not been worse than sixth since rejoining it fulltime in 2011.

Sadler knows the burning question is how he can shed the bridesmaid role. He also has a firm grip on what that is going to take.

“Justin (Allgaier) and Christopher (Bell) have pretty much told us you’re gonna have to win to advance,” Sadler told Marty Snider at Tuesday’s Xfinity Media Day. “They have been extremely fast – especially here lately. They’ve got nine wins between them.”

And with those nine wins, the playoff bonus points that ease their way to the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

To join them in Miami, Sadler has to keep from getting swept into the temptation to make something happen that the handling of the car will not support.

“As a driver, you’ve got to understand not to get too high and not to get too low – to try and stay even tempered because the intensity is definitely ramped up and you can get yourself in trouble here real quick and the next thing you know you’re digging yourself out of a hole,” Sadler said.

Petty agrees. While Sadler’s lack of a championship does not detract from his career any more than it did Martin’s, earning that elusive honor is going to be tough for the very reasons Sadler identified.

“He’s probably mentally in a better place this year, but he’s going up against a couple of guys in Christopher Bell and Justin Allgaier … that he believes are already in Homestead,” Petty said. “He’s going up against guys that are having career years.”

For more, watch the video above.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter