12 questions to ponder for Round of 12

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1. Will the Big 3 dominate this round?

They will at Dover. Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex have combined to win four of the last six Dover races. Twice members of this group finished first and second at this track in that time. Truex has four consecutive top-five finishes there, including one win.

The question becomes Talladega, the middle race of the round. Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have combined to win five of the last seven races there.

The round ends at Kansas. The Big 3 have combined to win each of the last five races there.

So expect to see a lot of Harvick, Truex and Busch running toward the front, particularly at Dover and Kansas.

2. Are we seeing the emergence of Team Penske as a title threat?

Ryan Blaney’s surprise win at the Charlotte Roval gives Team Penske four victories in the last five races.

To put that into perspective: Team Penske had four wins in the 58 races before its recent streak.

That’s a nice run for Team Penske but let’s see what Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Blaney can do against the Big 3 this weekend at Dover and later in the round at Kansas Speedway. Those will be key tracks. If Team Penske can beat the Big 3 there, than it might be time to say this group could crash the Big 3’s get together in Miami.

3. What will happen next to Kyle Larson?

Larson looked to be one of the main title contenders last year until this round when a blown engine at Kansas prevented him from advancing. He wasn’t strong in this round last year, placing 10th on the Charlotte oval (he finished behind seven of the other 11 playoff drivers) and 13th at Talladega.

In a year where he’s winless but been the runner-up six times, he needed a wild set of circumstances — Jimmie Johnson spinning while battling for the lead on the last chicane and Jeffrey Earnhardt being spun and unable to continue less than 100 yards from the finish line — to advance to the second round.

Larson has lamented in the past how luck has not gone his way, particularly in the playoffs.

Will last week’s remarkable finish lead this team deeper into the playoffs, or will fate strike a cruel blow to the team’s playoff hopes in this round?

4. What type of warning sign would be apropos for this round?

Be careful in the final stage. In the opening round, six of the 13 cautions that took place in the final stage at Las Vegas, Richmond and the Charlotte Roval involved at least one playoff contender.

5. What’s something to keep an eye on for the rest of the playoffs?

Pit road. Penalties could play a key role in who advances.

Uncontrolled tire violations have been called seven times in the playoffs. Five of those infractions have been committed by playoff teams.

“I feel like if they stay in the box, what’s the big deal? I think our fans want to see hard racing,” said Martin Truex Jr., whose team was penalized for an uncontrolled tire at Richmond. “They want to see the guys that are up front battling, not going to the rear once every two or three weeks for a tire sitting there with a guy that’s a foot too far away from it. I don’t agree with it. I think we should look at it, but I don’t make the rules.”

6. Stewart-Haas Racing had all four of its drivers advance. How many can get to the next round?

Kevin Harvick is among the favorites to go all the way to Miami. Kurt Busch has been consistent. His 39 stage points in the playoffs rank second to Martin Truex Jr.’s 45 stage points.

Clint Bowyer was outside the cutline going into the race at the Charlotte Roval and advanced. Aric Almirola advanced via a tiebreaker. Almirola’s team has had speed at times but not been able to put together a whole race often. He enters this round seeded 11th of the 12 drivers.

Odds are against all four advancing. With the expectation that the Big 3 — Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. — advance, that leaves a small margin for error for SHR to have all four teams move into the third round.

7. What about Hendrick Motorsports?

Jimmie Johnson is gone, but Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman remain in the playoffs.

Both Elliott (ninth) and Bowman (12th) start the round outside the cutoff to advance to the next round.

Elliott has eight top-10 finishes in the last eight races and is a good candidate to advance. Bowman has three top-10 finishes in the last 10 races. That won’t be good enough to keep going.

8. Who could be an X factor?

It’s remarkable how Jeffrey Earnhardt has played a key role lately.

In the regular-season finale, he was involved in a late-race incident with Landon Cassill that caused the final caution and allowed Brad Keselowski to pass Denny Hamlin for the win.

At Richmond, a caution for Earnhardt was the only yellow other than the two stage breaks. He spun after he was hit by Matt Kenseth. The caution came after Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch and Ryan Blaney had pitted, putting them two laps down with less than 80 laps to go. None of those three drivers finished in the top 15.

At the Charlotte Roval, Earnhardt spun off the final turn of the final lap after contact from Daniel Hemric. Earnhardt was stalled less than 100 yards from the finish line but couldn’t get his car restarted. Kyle Larson, running well off the pace, blew a tire and hit the wall in Turn 4 of the oval and then hit the wall after exiting the final chicane before passing Earnhardt. That one position — and one point — was the difference in Larson advancing to this round.

9. An average of 15 cars was eliminated by accidents in the last three Talladega races. Do you take the over or under?

If it helps you decide, 24 cars were eliminated by accident in last year’s playoff race there. Take the over.

10. Will this round match the drama of the first round?

With Talladega coming up, it certainly could. No one expected Las Vegas to have such fireworks. Maybe that happens at Dover or Kansas in this round.

11. Who advances?

Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney.

12. Who is eliminated?

Alex Bowman, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano and Aric Almirola.

Former NASCAR Chairman Brian France defends leadership style in interview

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Former NASCAR Chairman Brian France defended his leadership style when running the stock-car series and said in an interview with Sports Business Journal that he was working on leaving the sport before he was ousted after his DWI arrest in August 2018.

The interview with Sports Business Journal marked France’s first public comments since his arrest.

France became NASCAR Chairman and Chief Executive Officer in September 2003, assuming the position from his father, Bill France Jr.

Brian France held that position until Aug. 6, 2018, when he took a leave of absence after his arrest for driving while intoxicated in Sag Harbor, New York. He was replaced by Jim France and did not return to NASCAR.

Brian France pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated in June 2019. As part of the agreement, he was required to complete 100 hours of community service and undergo alcohol counseling. If he completes those and does not run afoul of the law, his misdemeanor charge will be reduced to a non-criminal infraction in June 2020.

France told Sports Business Journal that he was actively talking to and identifying potential replacements before his arrest but did not go into detail.

France, who oversaw the TV deal with NBC and Fox that goes through 2024 and created what the Chase/playoff format, defended his absence from the track during his reign. France did not attend every race and that became an issue in the garage, raising questions about how involved he was with the sport.

“I understand that kind of criticism, but there is no other sports league that gets any criticism like that,” France told Sports Business Journal of the time he spent at the track. “I’ve always found that a bit interesting that no one else asks another commissioner how many football games or practices he made.”

Jim France is at the track nearly every weekend. Brian France told Sports Business Journal that while his uncle attends more races to match his objective, “(it) didn’t match up with mine, so I had to take the criticism on my way to managing the commercial side.”

France, who endorsed Donald Trump for president at a Feb. 29, 2016 rally at Valdosta State University in Georgia, accompanied President Trump on Air Force One to Daytona International Speedway on Sunday, according to the pool media report.

Monday’s Daytona 500: Restart time, weather and more

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Let’s try this again.

After rain postponed Sunday’s race, Cup drivers will get back on track Monday at Daytona International Speedway to complete the Daytona 500. And the forecast looks very good for Monday’s race.

The race was halted after 20 of 180 laps with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. leading.

Here are today’s details:

(All times are Eastern)

RESTART: Command to fire engines at 4:05 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 4:12 p.m. 

DISTANCE: 180 of the scheduled 200 laps remain to be run on the 2.5-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 65. Stage 2 ends on Lap 130.

TV/RADIO: Fox’s broadcast begins at 4 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s broadcast begins at 4 p.m. and also can be heard on mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 73 degrees and a 3% chance of rain when the race resumes.

RUNNING ORDER:

  1. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  2. Joey Logano
  3. Aric Almirola
  4. Ryan Newman
  5. Kevin Harvick
  6. Brad Keselowski
  7. William Byron
  8. Jimmie Johnson
  9. Ty Dillon
  10. Timmy Hill
  11. David Ragan
  12. Chris Buescher
  13. Matt DiBenedetto
  14. Chase Elliott
  15. Ross Chastain
  16. Alex Bowman
  17. Kyle Larson
  18. Kurt Busch
  19. Austin Dillon
  20. Cole Custer
  21. Michael McDowell
  22. Tyler Reddick
  23. Ryan Blaney
  24. Bubba Wallace
  25. Reed Sorenson
  26. BJ McLeod
  27. Corey LaJoie
  28. Brendan Gaughan
  29. Ryan Preece
  30. Justin Haley
  31. Martin Truex Jr.
  32. Kyle Busch
  33. Erik Jones
  34. Christopher Bell
  35. Denny Hamlin
  36. Clint Bowyer
  37. John Hunter Nemechek
  38. Quin Houff
  39. Joey Gase
  40. Brennan Poole

Daytona 500 postponed to Monday

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The Daytona 500 has been postponed until Monday, NASCAR announced Sunday evening.

The race is scheduled to take the green flag at 4:05 p.m. ET Monday. The garage will open at 1:30 p.m. The race will air on Fox.

The wunderground.com forecast calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 72 degrees and an 11% chance of rain when the race is scheduled to resume.

The race was scheduled to take the green flag Sunday at 3:18 p.m. ET but that was pushed back because of President Donald Trump’s participation in ceremonies before the race. He gave the command to start engines and his motorcade led the field on a pace lap. An extra pace lap was done to honor Jimmie Johnson, who is making his final Daytona 500 start.

As the field was set to take the green flag at 3:29 p.m. ET, rain in Turns 1 and 2 prevented the start. Rain fell throughout the track and led to a 51-minute delay.

When the race resumed, the field completed 20 laps before rain led to a caution at 4:36 p.m. ET. The field again was brought to pit road and the race was stopped. NASCAR told teams they could uncover cars on pit road at 6:18 p.m. ET but almost immediately there were reports of rain drops around the track. Drivers were called to their cars but never got in them. It began to pour around 6:44 p.m. ET. The race was called at 6:50 p.m. ET

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. led the opening 20 laps. He is followed by Joey Logano, Aric Almirola, Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick.

Sixth through 10th is Brad Keselowski, William Byron, Jimmie Johnson, Ty Dillon and Timmy Hill.

This is the second time the Daytona 500 has been postponed by rain. It happened in 2012.

Daytona 500 once again under rain delay

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Rain has once again put a damper on the 62nd Daytona 500.

The race got through the first 20 laps of the scheduled 200-lap event before the yellow flag came out, sending cars back to the pits.

Pole Sitter Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and his Chevrolet has led all laps since the green flag fell. Fords make up the next five spots (Joey Logano, Aric Almirola, Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski), while the highest Toyota’s driver — Martin Truex Jr. — is back in 31st place.

It was the second time rain has impacted the event. After seven pace laps, the start of the race was delayed for 51 minutes due to rain. Engines were re-fired at 4:14 p.m. ET

The race is airing on Fox.

We will keep you updated on the status of the race and when it resumes.