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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

Truck results, point standings after Miami

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Brett Moffitt beat Grant Enfinger to the checkers by two seconds to take his sixth race of the season.

Playoff contender Noah Gragson finished third.

Stewart Friesen was fourth with Sheldon Creed rounding out the top five.

Click here for complete results.

Moffitt’s victory earned him the championship. This is the first time since 1999 that the champion won the final race of the season.

With his third-place finish, Gragson finished second in the standings.

Justin Haley finished eighth in the race and third in the standings.

Johnny Sauter finished 12th in the race and fourth in the standings.

Grant Enfinger rounded out the top five.

Click here for the complete points report.

Brett Moffitt wins Truck race at Miami, takes championship

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Brett Moffitt beat Grant Enfinger by two seconds Friday night to win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race and the championship.

It was his sixth victory of the season.

Moffitt’s first win of the season came at Atlanta in the season’s second race but even then he was unsure if the team would have the financing to go to every race and be eligible for the playoffs.

“It’s unreal,” Moffitt said on FoxSports 1 from victory lane. “I didn’t know if I was going to get the opportunity to compete for a championship even after I got my first win.

“Everyone pulled together hard here. Back at Chicago (in June) we didn’t know if we were going to make it to the racetrack.”

Chicago was another race won by Moffitt.

Friday night, Enfinger finished second to Moffitt.

Fellow playoff contender Noah Gragson finished third. Stewart Friesen finished fourth with Sheldon Creed rounding out the top five.

MORE: Brett Moffitt seeks to join pantheon of NASCAR ‘stache champions

Moffitt achieved the title in just 36 starts – the fewest since Mike Skinner won the inaugural championship in 1995 in 20 races.

Moffitt’s championship comes with an uncertain future. He announced Thursday that he does not have a contract for next year.

Playoff contender Justin Haley finished eighth.

“We just struggled.” he said. “I don’t know why.”

Former champion Johnny Sauter battled handling problems for most of the race and was not a factor.

“It was awful,” he said. “Just no grip. We laid an egg tonight. I don’t know why.

“When you suck that bad, it’s whatever, you just go home and go what the hell happened? I’ll ask myself that for three months.”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Grant Enfinger

STAGE 2 WINNER: Brett Moffitt

MORE: Click here for complete results.
MORE: Click here for the complete points report.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Jesse Little tied his career best finish of sixth (which he first scored at Iowa this June). … Tyler Dippel finished 15th to score his fourth top 15 in five Truck starts.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Robby Lyons slapped the wall on Lap 78; he finished 29th. … Chris Windom started 10th but hit the wall with a handful of laps remaining to finish 24th. 

QUOTE OF THE RACE: “We were just too tight there (at the end). Needed to make better adjustments on pit road and that’s where it comes down to me,” Noah Gragson told FS1 after the race. “This one is going to hurt for a while.”

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Myatt Snider scored three top fives and eight top 10s on his way to rookie honors. Snider’s best finish this season was runner-up at Talladega. His best unrestricted finish was a third at Martinsville.

NOTABLE: This is the first time since 1999 that the champion won the season finale.

WHAT’S NEXT: Nextera Energy Resources 250 on Feb. 15, 2019 at Daytona International Speedway.

Should Denny Hamlin’s team take No. 1 pit stall or leave it for Kyle Busch?

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Denny Hamlin’s pole-winning effort Friday night made for an emotional moment in his final Cup race with close friend Mike Wheeler as his crew chief.

Hamlin’s pole also created a quandary.

With the pole, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing team has the first pick of pit stalls. Any other race, it’s an easy call: The team takes the No. 1 pit stall at the exit of pit road.

MORE: Denny Hamlin will have a new crew chief in 2019

But things are complicated because Hamlin is not in the title race and teammate Kyle Busch, who qualified second and whose team has second pick of pit stalls, is racing for a championship Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

If Hamlin’s team takes a different pit stall, it would allow Busch to have the No. 1 stall, which is viewed as the best on pit road. That could be the difference in having the lead off pit road and could impact who wins the championship.

So, what will Wheeler do when crew chiefs make their pit stall selection Saturday morning?

“We’re paid to win races for JGR and (sponsor) FedEx,” Wheeler told NBC Sports. “It’s definitely on my mind and my heart to be aware of that for Denny and our team. Obviously, we want to win a championship for JGR, too. That’s one of the biggest goals, a bigger goal this weekend. There’s some chatter going on about that.”

In one sense, it could be an easy call — let Busch have the No. 1 pit stall. The focus in any organization at this point is on the team racing for a championship. So why not give that team that advantage?

On the other hand, Hamlin is winless this year and could have one of his best chances to score a victory and extend his streak of consecutive seasons with a win to 13. He won this race in 2013 to keep that streak alive. 

“I think everything is earned,” Hamlin said. “Nothing is given. With us having the No. 1 pit stall, nobody else — none of the other competitors will have it. I don’t know. It’s a discussion. I mean, certainly I would think that (Wheeler), with the pressure always to win, you’ve got to do everything you can to win. We’ll have that discussion.”

The pit stalls at Homestead-Miami Speedway are 30-feet, 8-inches long. The camera at the end of pit road is about 40 feet from the No. 1 pit stall. That’s closer than some other tracks. That means a driver in that stall can fire out of the pit stall and surge ahead of those coming down pit road.

Last year, Hamlin’s team faced a similar issue but it was an easier call. Hamlin, who was not in the title race, won the pole. Martin Truex Jr., a title contender, qualified second last year. Truex’s team — which has a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing — asked if Hamlin’s team could take another pit stall so Truex could have the No. 1 stall. Hamlin’s team declined.

Cup starting lineup at Miami

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Denny Hamlin posted a lap of 173.863 mph to win his second consecutive pole at Miami and his third in the past four years.

He edged teammate Kyle Busch (173.622 mph) by .043 seconds.

Martin Truex Jr. (173.539), Brad Keselowski (173.433) and Joey Logano (173.366) rounded out the top five.

Kevin Harvick posted a lap of 171.942 mph to line up 12th on Sunday. This is the furthest back he has been at Miami since 2015 when he qualified 13th and finished second.

Click here for the complete starting lineup.