Who is hot and cold entering Cup elimination race at Kansas

Leave a comment

After a wild finish Sunday at Talladega, the Cup playoffs chug along this weekend with the second playoff elimination race.

The series heads to Kansas Speedway, where the playoff field will be cut from 12 to eight drivers.

Here’s a look at the drivers – playoff eligible and not – who are on hot and cold streaks entering the weekend via Racing Insights.

Who is Hot

Aric Almirola
• Won at Talladega (4th in Stage 1, 4th in Stage 2, 1 lap led); passed Kurt Busch in Turn 4 on final lap when Busch ran out of gas.
2018 Season-Good
• Advances to Round of 8 for first time in career
• Ended a 149-race winless streak
• Finished in top 10 in 3 of last 5 races
Kansas-Good
• Finished 9th in back-to-back Kansas races, including May
• Started 25th, 17th in Stage 1, 20th in Stage 2, finished 9th in this race one year ago; involved in multi-car accident on Lap 198

 

Joey Logano
• Finished 5th at Talladega (5th in Stage 1, 9th in Stage 2)
2018 Season-Very Good
• Finished in top 10 in 3 straight races and 7 of last 9
• Finished in top 5 in 2 straight races and 5 of last 8
Kansas – Hot and Cold
• Last 5 Kansas races: Finished 3rd twice and 3 finishes of 21st or worse
• Finished in top 5 in 7 of last 10 Kansas races (2 wins)
• Started 17th, 22nd in Stage 1, 21st in Stage 2, finished 21st in this race one year ago; involved in multi-car accident on Lap 198

 

Clint Bowyer
• Finished 2nd at Talladega (2nd in Stage 1, 2nd in Stage 2)
2018 Season – Good
• Finished in top 10 in 3 of last 4 races and 4 of last 6
• Last 8 races: 5 top 10s and 3 finishes of 23rd or worse (2 DNFs)
Kansas – Terrible
• One top 10 in the last 10 Kansas races (9th in May 2017)
• Started 9th, 14th in Stage 1, 11th in Stage 2, finished 19th in this race one year ago; involved in multi-car accident on Lap 198

 

Denny Hamlin
• Finished 4th at Talladega (8th in Stage 1, 5th in Stage 2)
2018 Season – Great in round 2
• Finished in top 5 in the last two races of 2018
• Finished in the top 5 in both races in the round of 12 after failing to finish in the top 10 in any of the three races in the round of 16
Kansas – Good
• Finished 5th in back-to-back Kansas races
• Last 8 Kansas races: 4 top 10s and 4 finishes of 15th or worse
• Started 4th, 3rd in Stage 1, 1st in Stage 2, 5 laps led, finished 5th in this race one year ago; penalized for speeding entering pits on Lap 163 while running 1st

 

Who is Cold

Brad Keselowski
• Finished 27th at Talladega (34th in Stage 1, 10th in Stage 2, 21 laps led); pit on Lap 41 from 6th due to a loose wheel; pit for fuel coming to green in overtime
2018 Season – Bad
• Finished 14th or worse in the last three races
Kansas – Bad
• Last 7 Kansas races: 4 top 10s and 3 finishes of 13th or worse (14th in May)
• Finished 13th or worse in 3 of last 4 Kansas races
• Started 10th, 11th in Stage 1, 3rd in Stage 2, 18 laps led, finished 13th in this race one year ago; penalized for speeding entering pit on Lap 163 while running 3rd; penalized for speeding in pits on Lap 239 while running 7th
1.5-mile tracks – Too early to tell
• Won last the 1.5-mile race at Las Vegas (opening race of playoffs)

 

Ryan Blaney
• Finished 29th at Talladega (6th in Stage 1, 6th in Stage 2, 6 laps led); pit for fuel coming to green in overtime
2018 Season – Bad
• Finished outside the top 10 in 2 straight races and 3 of last 4
• Last 13 races: 6 finishes of 7th or better and 7 finishes of 11th or worse
Kansas – Very Good
• Top 10 in four of the last six Kansas races, top 5 in three of the last five
• Started 40th, 4th in Stage 1, 8th in Stage 2, 3 laps led, finished 3rd in this race one year ago; qualified 3rd but had time disallowed

 

Kyle Larson
• Finished 11th at Talladega (22nd in Stage 1, 33rd in Stage 2); started in the rear due to unapproved adjustments; spun from 11th on backstretch on Lap 104 with flat tire
2018 Season – Bad
• Finished outside the top 10 in the last three races of 2018
• Last 9 races: 4 finishes of 7th or better and 5 finishes of 11th or worse
Kansas – OK recently
• Finished top 10 in two of the last three Kansas races
• 29th or worse in four of the last six Kansas races including two DNFs
• Started 13th, 38th in Stage 1, 39th in Stage 2, finished 39th in this race one year ago; DNF – pit from 3rd on Lap 65 with engine issue; lost engine on Lap 77 while running 37th

 

Ryan Newman
• Finished 25th at Talladega (12th in Stage 1, 34th in Stage 2); pit on Lap 75 from 22nd with loose wheel; involved in multi-car accident on last lap
2018 Season – Bad
• Finished outside the top 10 in 4 straight races and 8 of last 10
Kansas – Very Bad
• Finished 12th or worse in 4 straight Kansas races (30th in May)
• DNF in 3 straight Kansas races
• Started 18th, 13th in Stage 1, 19th in Stage 2, finished 33rd in this race one year ago; DNF – penalized for speeding entering pits on Lap 176; involved in multi-car accident on Lap 198

 

 and on Facebook

NASCAR America: Turning Point in Kyle Busch’s Auto Club win

Leave a comment

Twice this year Kyle Busch has been denied a chance at victory thanks to a pit road penalty (speeding in the Cup race at Las Vegas, tire violation in the Xfinity race at Auto Club Speedway)

But a speeding penalty in Sunday’s Cup race at Auto Club Speedway wasn’t enough to keep Busch from Victory Lane and 200 national NASCAR series wins.

The speeding penalty on Lap 123 and how Busch and his team responded to it is this week’s “Turning Point” on NASCAR America.

Steve Letarte, Jeff Burton and Dale Jarrett discussed how Busch navigated the rest of the race after restarting 18th.

Letarte said the tone for the final stretch of the race was set by crew chief Adam Stevens’ counseling of Busch before the green flag and throughout the rest of the race.

Stevens told Busch, “We’ll get back up here in the top 10 in a handful of laps, get a couple of cautions and get right back in it.”

Said Jarrett: “(Stevens) knew how much he beat himself up after Las Vegas for the mistake he made there. But look at the moves (Busch) made here (on the restart). This doesn’t look like to me a driver who listened to any of that.”

As the final stage played out, Busch went from 10th to fifth in 23 laps, while the gap between him and race leader Brad Keselowski grew.

“Now he has a choice,” Letarte said. “You can try to short pit Brad Keselowski, I feel that would be futile. Brad knows who he’s racing, he’d short pit on top of you. Instead he runs long and he lets Brad come to pit road first.”

But Stevens was right. A caution would wave on Lap 165 for debris during the green flag stops and while Busch was leading.

After he pit under caution, Busch restarted second with 30 laps to and took the lead five laps later.

Watch the above video for the full segment.

Ryan: Which teams have mountains to climb after West Coast Swing?

Leave a comment

Kyle, Kyle, Kyle.

Kyle. Kyle.

Kyle.

As NASCAR leaves the land of Hollywood, hopefully it also will be shaking its “Being John Malkovich”-esque meta feedback loop that has been on repeat for two race weekends with a dizzying relentlessness.

Let’s wrap this up quickly!

Yes, Kyle Busch’s 200 national series victories are a laudable achievement worthy of his already Hall of Fame career.

No, it isn’t comparable to Richard Petty’s 200 Cup wins, which happened in another century (mostly with completely different tracks and circumstances) and stand on their own merits.

Maybe there are other things happening in NASCAR that are worthy of further examination with the completion of the fourth annual Nevada-Arizona-California hopscotch?

Running through a few of them:

–This is the first time in 19 years that Hendrick Motorsports has yet to record a top five through the first five races (and that 2000 team had one fewer car).

After a mediocre start to 2018 in the Camaro’s debut, the team somehow seems in the same straits with the model this season while adapting to the 2019 configuration of lower horsepower and higher downforce.

Because of the hurdles in running three consecutive races more than 2,000 miles from the industry’s Charlotte hub, it was expected that course-correcting any car deficiencies would be more difficult than it already is.

Never mind the expense of changing on the fly, it’s logistically impossible to make significant updates to cars while trying to ship them to the other side of the country amid a carefully coordinated and highly regimented plan of hauler swaps and highway gymnastics.

The March 31 race at Texas Motor Speedway will be the first 1.5-mile race in which teams have been able to digest everything learned in real-world conditions and apply them to their cars.

Alex Bowman finished 21st at Fontana and still is seeking his first top 10 in 2019 for Hendrick Motorsports (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images).

If Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, William Byron and Jimmie Johnson leave Texas without a top five, it won’t be the end of the world for Rick Hendrick’s squad. Last year, it took until August for Elliott to earn the first of three victories for the team, and Hendrick has an Optical Scanning Station in house (it didn’t a year ago), along with a better grasp on its personnel restructuring that occurred before the 2018 season.

All four drivers have run well at times this season, too, and Phoenix was a major rebound in qualifying.

But a collective one top 10 across 12 starts at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Fontana is troubling and indicative that much work remains to be done for a storied organization that takes great pride in its 12 Cup championships.

–Stewart-Haas Racing didn’t miss the boat as much with its new Mustangs, but its lead driver also was chalking some of his recent success up to being a veteran.

After a fourth at Fontana, Kevin Harvick said his team made ‘a lot out of not very much.’ (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

“I don’t think as a group we feel like our cars are where they need to be but that experience has led to decent finishes so we can change the things we want to when we get home,” Kevin Harvick said two days before his third top five and fourth consecutive top 10 this year. “Experience is always going to matter.”

So is money and sponsorship, which is why Stewart-Haas, Hendrick and other high-budget teams will be well positioned to retrofit their cars (or perhaps rebuild them entirely). Harvick estimated there could as many as a half-dozen combination of car styles that will need to be developed and require “an extreme amount of work” for the armies of engineers employed by teams.

“I think we are seeing some of the unintended consequences of this package,” he said. “It isn’t what everybody expected from the testing with the drafting and low drag and things you are prepared for. I feel like we have had top five, top three cars (at Atlanta, Vegas and ISM Raceway). They are just not quite winning cars.

“It is really just a survival game at this point trying to keep up with the schedule. We are learning at such a rapid pace right now that the changes to the car will be extreme by the time you get to Texas. … One of the things that caught a lot of people off guard are the differences you will have to have from race track to race track with the things you do to the car and how they work. The workload is going to be absolutely extreme on the race teams this year.”

–According to one crew chief whose team has figured out the 2019 package as well as anyone, body construction and rear ride heights are the keys to hitting the right combination of downforce and balance.

Paul Wolfe, whose No. 2 Ford posted a first, second and third with driver Brad Keselowski on the big ovals since Daytona, said his team still is finding the handle on this season’s setup, but those areas have been the most impact.

“There is a window there where you can change your rear ride height to change your drag, but that also changes the overall balance of your car,” Wolfe said after Saturday practice at Auto Club Speedway. “So then, your mechanical balance to go with the aero balance could be different. Some guys may have gone down the path of really trimming their cars out with their body build and then when you get (to Fontana), you just can’t put downforce back in it enough to be good at the tracks where you need to start to lift (off the throttle) because of tire fall off.

“There are a lot of options and lots of different things to do. It is about trying to understand not only being fast by yourself but how these cars seem to get extremely tight or they could get loose in the dirty air.”


During the throes of crisis after Dale Earnhardt’s death in 2001, NASCAR executives angry about media coverage were counseled by a wise man (in a story recounted in this episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast) that “being pissed off is not a PR strategy” .

Hope isn’t a strategy, either, but that seems to be what NASCAR has clung to in hoping that group qualifying can remain viable in the era of drafting.

The most disconcerting part of last Friday’s self-proclaimed “mockery” at Auto Club Speedway is how eminently predictable the debacle was. If teams aren’t incentivized to be on the track first, then they justifiably will stay put until someone else does.

Of course, that was a terrible look at Fontana for NASCAR, and of course, the teams bear responsibility.

As do officials who blithely declared, “We’re in show business” when asked legitimate questions about why they were trying to implement procedures that have a dubious track record.

Group qualifying with a draft doesn’t work in the truck series, which reverts to a single-vehicle format. It also has failed in previous attempts at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway (and was overhauled after some controversial wrecks in 2015).

“It didn’t work in trucks, it didn’t work in Xfinity, and I don’t know why anybody thought it was going to work in the Cup Series,” analyst Jeff Burton said Monday on NASCAR America.

If the strategy for having it work this time was “let’s hope that drivers and teams will do the right thing and choose the path that will benefit the greater good of fan entertainment instead of stubbornly sticking to their selfish performance interests,” well … that’s hopeless.


OK, we give in: here’s ONE note on Kyle Busch (for Rowdy Nation and all its lovers/haters).

For the second consecutive week, Busch joked about the possibility of driving for a Formula One team as the last undiscovered country of his racing career (well, aside from if he ever gets around to the Indianapolis 500).

It seems an unlikely prospect because “nobody from F1 is calling.

“They’re going to have to spend a lot of money to buy me out of Joe Gibbs Racing, that’s for sure,” said Busch, who recently signed a multi-year extension that probably takes him through at least 2022 in the No. 18 Toyota. “I don’t know if it’s worth their investment. … I’d love to be able to give it a shot and kind of see. I don’t foresee the opportunity really blossoming.”

Ahh, but it once could have!

When the ill-fated USF1 team was planning a 2010 entry into Formula One (that unfortunately never happened), Busch was high on their radar screen – enough that USA TODAY reported that sporting director Peter Windsor had a cursory meeting with Busch’s business team.

“It’s definitely something I wouldn’t shoot down,” Busch said in 2009. “If I could win a championship (in NASCAR) in the next two or three years then I wouldn’t mind going doing (F1) for a few years and coming back. I think I’d still be young enough that if I could win a championship by 25, go run Formula 1 for a few years and be back (in NASCAR) by 28.”

That window has closed for Busch, who turns 34 in May.

But he doesn’t sound as if someone who has completely closed the door on considering the possibility again. So in the unlikely event an F1 team wanted to take a chance on a NASCAR champion in his late 30s …


Dustin Long’s report was intriguing on Cole Custer being the first choice as the replacement driver Sunday if an ailing Austin Dillon fell out of the No. 3 Chevrolet – and not just because Custer was consuming a “jumbo platter” when he got the call.

Typically, such arrangements don’t happen with drivers crossing manufacturer lines. But the time and travel constraints of the Fontana race made Custer (a native of nearby Orange County who had lingered after his Ford won Saturday’s Xfinity race) the easiest choice.

In the “corporate teammates” era in which automaker hardball on brand loyalty often is a barrier to drivers moonlighting as often as yesteryear, it was refreshing to confirm it doesn’t preclude a common-sense decision such as this.


Fontana again stirred some passionate debate about the efficacy of the 2019 rules package, which virtually has guaranteed wild restarts but also has produced a surprising amount of green-flag racing (there’s been one crash that could be considered “multicar” – and even that was a stretch – over 1,300 miles at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Fontana).

Two more points seem relevant:

–Kyle Busch’s 2.354-second margin of victory was a fraction of Martin Truex Jr.’s 11.685-second thumping at the same 2-mile oval last year.

–If you are advocating dumping the tapered spacers that limit horsepower to 550 at tracks such as Fontana, here’s your friendly reminder that restoring last year’s horsepower numbers would take a herculean effort by engine manufacturers who have already mapped out months of inventory at the current parameters. Reverting to 2018 probably would require months of hardware and logistical challenges.


NASCAR President Steve Phelps told the Arizona Republic that April 1 is the goal for releasing the 2020 schedule.

While next year’s slate likely won’t be unveiled this week, there is momentum within NASCAR for targeting the week between races at Martinsville Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway.

It still is expected to feature a fresh approach to the calendar, but any venue changes won’t happen until 2021, as Phelps said last month.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Auto Club recap, Turning Point

NBCSN
Leave a comment

Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and will recap all the action from the weekend’s racing at Auto Club Speedway.

Steve Letarte is joined by Jeff Burton and Dale Jarrett.

The trio will dissect the turning point of the race and discuss what happened Friday in qualifying.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it 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.

Penalty report from Auto Club Speedway

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NASCAR has issued one fine for an unsecured lug nut during the Auto Club Speedway race weekend.

Chris Gabehart, crew chief on Denny Hamlin‘s No. 11 Toyota, was fined $10,000 for the infraction.

No other penalties were announced.