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Who is hot and cold entering Cup playoff opener at Las Vegas

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The Cup Series playoffs have arrived and will get underway Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Here’s a look at five drivers who are hot and five drivers who are cold entering the South Point 400.

Who is Hot

Brad Keselowski
• Won at Indianapolis (6th in Stage 1, 7th in Stage 2, 9 laps led); contact with Ryan Blaney on pit road on Lap 32 damaged right rear of car.
• First back-to-back wins since 2016 (Daytona/Kentucky)
• Finished in Top 2 in 3 of last 4 races
• Seventh playoff appearance
• Finished 7th or better in 6 straight Las Vegas races, including 2 wins
• Started 8th, 6th in Stage 1, 6th in Stage 2, finished 6th at Las Vegas in March
• Finished Top 10 in 3 straight 1.5-mile races and 7 of last 9

Kevin Harvick
• Finished 4th at Indianapolis (12th in Stage 1, 21st in Stage 2, 22 laps led); penalized for uncontrolled tire on lap 10 pit stop; pit for a 2nd time on lap 32 after gun failed on lap 30 pit stop
• Won 7 of last 25 races
• Finished in Top 5 in 10 of last 13 races
• Finished in Top 10 in 8 straight races and 12 of last 13
• Twelfth playoff appearance
• Finished Top 10 in 4 of last 6 Las Vegas races, including 2 wins
• Started 2nd, swept every stage, 214 laps led, won at Las Vegas in March
• Won four of last nine 1.5-mile races
• Finished Top 10 in 19 of last 21 1.5-mile races

Denny Hamlin
• Finished 3rd at Indianapolis (3rd in Stage 1, 20th in Stage 2, 37 laps led)
• Finished in Top 10 in 2 straight races and 3 of last 4
• Twelfth playoff appearance
• Last 4 Las Vegas races: 2 finishes of 6th or better & 2 finishes of 17th or worse
• Finished 12th or worse in 5 of last 7 Las Vegas races
• Started 19th, 11th in Stage 1, 15th in Stage 2, finished 17th at Las Vegas in March; penalized for speeding entering pits on lap 122
• Finished 7th or better in 3 of last 4 races on 1.5-mile tracks

Kyle Busch
• Finished 8th at Indianapolis (5th in Stage 1, 24th in Stage 2, 27 laps led); penalized for pitting when pit road was closed on Lap 98; pit on Lap 119 with flat right rear tire while running 16th
• Won regular season championship
• Won 6 of last 20 races
• Finished in Top 5 in 10 of last 14 races
• Finished in Top 10 in 13 of last 15 races
• Finished in Top 5 in 17 of 26 races this season
• Eleventh playoff appearance
• Finished Top 5 in 3 of last 5 Las Vegas races
• Started 13th, 9th in Stage 1, 5th in Stage 2, 10 laps led, finished 2nd at Las Vegas in March
• Won 3 of last 5 races on 1.5-mile tracks
• Finished in Top 10 in 8 straight 1.5-mile races

Erik Jones
• Finished 2nd at Indianapolis (10th in Stage 1, 3rd in Stage 2)
• Finished Top 10 in 9 of last 11 races
• First playoff appearance
• 2 career Las Vegas starts: 15th in 2017, 8th in 2018
• Started 9th, 12th in Stage 1, 11th in Stage 2, finished 8th at Las Vegas in March
• Top 10 in five of seven races on 1.5 mile tracks in 2018

Who is Cold

Austin Dillon
• Finished 22nd at Indianapolis (17th in Stage 1, 12th in Stage 2)
• Finished 13th or worse in 7 of last 8 races
• Finished 12th or worse in 19 of last 21 races
• Finished outside Top 10 in 22 of 25 races since Daytona 500 win
• Third playoff appearance
• Finished 13th or worse in 5 of 6 career starts at Las Vegas
• Started 16th, 16th in Stage 1, 14th in Stage 2, finished 13th at Las Vegas in March
• Finished outside Top 10 in 13 straight 1.5-mile races

Aric Almirola
• Finished 23rd at Indianapolis (7th in Stage 1, 31st in Stage 2); penalized for speeding on pit road on Lap 95
• Finished 14th or worse in 3 straight races and and 7 of last 10
• Second playoff appearance
• Finished 14th or worse in 9 of 10 career Las Vegas starts
• Started 29th, 15th in Stage 1, 13th in Stage 2, finished 10 at Las Vegas in March
• Finished in Top 10 in 3 of last 6 races on 1.5-mile tracks

Jimmie Johnson
• Finished 16th at Indianapolis (19th in Stage 1, 10th in Stage 2)
• Finished 16th or worse in 2 straight races and 5 of last 6
• Only two top 10s in the last 12 races
• Currently on a 49 race winless streak (longest of career)
• Fifteenth playoff appearance, won 7 championships – only driver to make every playoff
• Finished outside the Top 10 in 3 of last 4 Las Vegas races
• Started 14th, 27th in Stage 1, 19th in Stage 2, finished 12th at Las Vegas in March; started in the rear after multiple failures in pre-race inspection
• Finished outside the Top 10 in 9 of last 10 1.5-mile races

Martin Truex Jr.
• Finished 40th at Indianapolis (40th in Stage 1, 40th in Stage 2); DNF – started in rear after failing inspection multiple times; broke left front brake rotor on lap 41
• Finished outside Top 10 in 4 straight races and 5 of the last 6
• Won 3 of last 13 races
• Finished in the Top 5 in 10 of last 16 races
• Sixth Playoff appearance
• Finished 4th or better in 3 of last 4 Las Vegas races, including win in 2017
• Started 4th, 2nd in Stage 1, 7th in Stage 2, 6 laps led, finished 4th at Las Vegas in March
• Won 8 of last 17 races on 1.5-mile tracks
• Finished 4th or better in 4 straight 1.5-mile races
• Finished 8th or better in 17 of last 18 races on 1.5-mile tracks.

Alex Bowman
• Finished 33rd at Indianapolis (15th in Stage 1, 36th in Stage 2); wrecked with AJ Allmendinger on Lap 67 while battling for 16th
• Finished 23rd or worse in 2 straight races and 14th or worse in 4 of last 5
• First Playoff appearance
• Never finished better than 16th in 3 career Las Vegas starts
• Started 20th, 19th in Stage 1, 18th in Stage 2, finished 16th at Las Vegas in March
• Finished in Top 10 in 2 of last 3 races on 1.5-mile tracks
• Finished 13th or worse in 7 of last 9 races on 1.5-mile tracks

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.

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter

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

NASCAR America Scan All: ‘Three in a row at Vegas. Cha-ching, baby’

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In NASCAR, drivers have to be both lucky and good – something that Kyle Busch and Adam Stevens learned at Las Vegas.

After spinning on Lap 233 while running 18th, Kyle Busch was lucky that his splitter did not get torn off the car. Unfortunately, the right front tire went down in that incident.

“It’s not going to stay together,” Busch said as he limped around the track back to the pits. “We’re gonna [expletive] go a lap down.”

“There’s nobody one lap down here, so we can afford to go one down,” Stevens replied.

Their luck held. On Lap 247, teammate Denny Hamlin spun into the grass at almost the exact spot, but his splitter dug into the grass and was ripped from the car.

“We’ll be the Lucky Dog here,” Stevens told Busch over the radio. “We have a set of stickers left. I don’t think hardly anybody on the lead lap has a set of stickers.”

With fresh tires, Busch charged up to seventh.

Here are some of this week’s highlights from Scan All:

  • “Championship run starts now. We’ve got a good car; something we can win with today. Give ourselves a good shot in Miami.” – Joey Logano
  • “I am a [expletive] 10 tight. I don’t know what we’re doing to this thing, but we might as well [expletive] start over.” – Kyle Busch
  • “Listen to me. I know it’s frustrating, but we are right in the middle of this thing.” – Jeremy Bullins, Ryan Blaney’s crew chief said after Blaney and Aric Almirola made contact on the track
  • “I know. I’ll calm down.” – Blaney
  • “No you won’t, but it’s ok. I still love you.” – Bullins
  • “It don’t matter if I speed, slide into the box. It don’t [expletive] matter. We’re going to get our [expletive] kicked when we get to the pit box.” – Austin Dillon
  • “Hey. Listen here. These guys know they were slow, ok? They know. We’re talking about it.” – Danny Stockman, Dillon’s crew chief
  • “I love everybody on this team, but we’re not going to have a shot doing this.” – Dillon
  • “Guess we know what’s wrong. Piece of [expletive] tires.” – Kevin Harvick
  • “If we could have had the lead, we’d of been fine. I just got to wait for it to come to me.” – Martin Truex Jr.
  • “Three in a row at Vegas. Cha-ching, baby.” – Brad Keselowski’s spotter

For more, watch the video above.

(Editor’s Note: Danny Stockman was the crew chief for Austin Dillon this week instead of Justin Alexander. We regret the error.)

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter