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Friday 5: Kansas could be start of dominant run for Big 3

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas — The opening half of the playoffs, with its Roval and other schedule changes, saw five different winners but such parity may be replaced beginning this weekend at Kansas Speedway.

Three of the season’s final five races will be at 1.5-mile tracks — Kansas, Texas and Homestead. Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch have dominated this season on the 1.5-mile tracks.

Consider what they’ve done this year on such tracks:

Atlanta — Harvick won, leading 181 of 325 laps; Truex was fifth.

Las Vegas — Harvick won, leading 214 of 267 laps; Busch was second and Truex was fourth.

Texas — Busch won, leading 116 of 334 laps; Harvick was second.

Kansas — Harvick won, leading 79 of 267 laps; Truex was second 

Coca-Cola 600 — Busch won, leading 377 of 400 laps; Truex was second.

Chicago — Busch won, leading 59 of 267 laps; Harvick was third and Truex was fourth.

Kentucky — Truex won, leading 174 of 267 laps; Busch was fourth and Harvick was fifth.

Las Vegas — Brad Keselowski won; Truex was third, leading 96 of 272 laps.

Also consider that Harvick, Busch and Truex combined to win 12 of the 17 stages at those tracks and one can see how difficult it could be for other drivers if this trend continues.

Keselowski (-18 points), Ryan Blaney (-22), Kyle Larson (-36) and Alex Bowman (-68) enter this weekend’s race below the cutoff line. Bowman must win or he’ll be eliminated. Larson, Blaney and Keselowski will need to win or hope others have problems to advance. Scoring a victory won’t be easy against Harvick, Busch and Truex, who have combined to win the last five Kansas races.

Don’t be surprised if the Big 3 dominate the second half of the playoffs.

2. The value of playoff points

Martin Truex Jr. enters Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET on NBC) in the last transfer spot.

He holds that position because of the 38 playoff points he’s accumulated this season. His advantage would be much less without having scored so many playoff points.

Brad Keselowski trails Truex by 18 points for that transfer spot. Keselowski has scored 13 fewer playoff points than Truex.

Ryan Blaney trails Truex by 22 points. Blaney has scored 25 fewer playoff points than Truex.

All the points matter throughout the season.

3. Kind words about Kyle Busch from a competitor

At a media event Thursday to promote the upcoming Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway, Kevin Harvick was asked about competing against Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.

“I love racing against Kyle Busch,” Harvick said. “I think Kyle is one of the best drivers that is ever going to come through this sport. The things that he does in the car are great, but he knows a lot about the car, too.

“And Martin (Truex Jr.) and those guys have run well over the last few years, so racing with those two teams, we’ve been around each other in the garage a lot. There’s a lot of respect amongst the three teams, but we all want to beat each other.”

4. What’s at stake …

Jimmie Johnson has five races left to score a victory this season and continue his streak of seasons with at least one win.

He’s gone 16 seasons with at least one victory, tying him with Ricky Rudd and Rusty Wallace for third on the all-time list.

Richard Petty holds the record at 18 consecutive seasons with at least one victory. David Pearson had at least a victory in 17 consecutive seasons.

5. How much does testing matter?

Kansas was one of three tracks NASCAR held organizational tests this season, allowing one car per organization to test.

In the previous two organizational tests this season (Las Vegas and Richmond), the winner did not test.

Kyle Larson was the fastest both days of the Las Vegas test on Jan. 31-Feb. 1. He finished third, highest among those who tested.

Kevin Harvick took part in the organizational test at Richmond on Aug. 27-28. He went on to finish second, highest among those who tested.

The organizational test at Kansas Speedway was Sept. 24-25. Here’s who tested:

Playoff drivers: Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr.

Drivers eliminated or didn’t make playoffs: Austin Dillon, Chris Buescher, Cole Custer, Ty Dillon, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard.

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Today’s Cup race at Miami: Start time, lineup and more

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The NASCAR season comes to a close today with the Cup Series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and defending champion Martin Truex Jr. will decide the title.

Whoever has the best finish, wins the championship.

Here’s all the info you need for the season finale.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Actor Josh Dallas of NBC’s “Manifest” will give the command to start engines at 3:11 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:20 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 267 laps (400.5 miles) around the 1.5-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 9 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 12:30 p.m. Driver introductions are at 2:30 p.m. Moment of silence for David Pearson at 3:03 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Sr. Master Sergeant Ryan Carson will perform the anthem at 3:05 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBC will broadcast the race beginning at 3 p.m. Coverage begins at 1 p.m. with NASCAR America on NBCSN and switches to NBC at 1:30 p.m. Countdown to Green beings at 2 p.m. on NBC. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 1:30 p.m. and also can be heard at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 82 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Martin Truex Jr. led the final 51 laps to win the race and championship over Kyle Busch.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the complete starting grid.

Tony Stewart says JGR made ‘very smart decision’ on pit stall picks

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Tony Stewart, whose organization will compete against Joe Gibbs Racing for the Cup title Sunday, said he has no problems with JGR’s decision to have Denny Hamlin’s team not take the No. 1 pit stall so Kyle Busch, who is racing for the crown, can have it.

Hamlin’s team had the first pick of pit stalls after winning the pole but did not choose the No. 1 stall since that team is not running for a title. Busch, who starts second and whose team had the second pick, then took the No. 1 stall.

MORE: Denny Hamlin reacts to giving up the No. 1 pit stall to Kyle Busch

MORE: Cup pit stall assignments

“It’s a smart decision,” said Stewart, who will have Kevin Harvick racing for the Cup crown Sunday. “If we were in the same position, I would hope we would be smart enough to do the same thing. I’ve already seen all the drama and the people complaining either way.

“These four teams are here to win a championship and if your organization can help you do that and give you every tool available to get that done, you’re stupid to not do it.

“I’m behind what JGR did 100 percent. You have to do that. You have to put yourself in the best position to win the race and the championship. They made a very, very smart decision.”

Car owner Joe Gibbs defended his decision because Busch is running for a championship and Hamlin.

“We’re going to do everything we can to win the race there, but we also, for us, have a championship on the line and what we would love to do is win that championship,” Gibbs said. “That’s how the decision was made for us.

“I think if there is any criticism, it goes to me.”

Xfinity race results, final point standings after Miami

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Tyler Reddick claimed the Xfinity Series title with his win in Saturday’s season finale.

Reddick led 44 laps, including the final 37, on his way to his third career win.

Reddick beat Cole Custer, John Hunter Nemechek, Daniel Hemric and Austin Cindric.

Christopher Bell finished 11th, a lap down after he pit with 10 laps to go for a flat tire.

Click here for Xfinity race results

Elliott Sadler ended his final full-time season fifth in the standings.

Click here for Xfinity points report

Tyler Reddick wins Xfinity race in Miami, championship

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Tyler Reddick won Saturday’s Xfinity race at Homestead-Miami Speedway to claim the Xfinity Series championship.

The win is the first for the JR Motorsports rookie since he won the season opener at Daytona.

Reddick led 44 of 200 laps and defeated Cole Custer (second), Daniel Hemric (fourth) and Christopher Bell (11th) for the title.

Custer led a race-high 95 laps but lost the lead in the final stage during green-flag pit stops after he stayed out a few laps longer than Reddick and Bell.

Reddick took the lead when he passed Bell out of Turn 4 with 37 laps to go. He spent nearly the entire final run driving against the outside wall.

“The year wasn’t the smoothest for us, but I knew coming in here if we just made it to Homestead, this is a great track for me,” Reddick told NBCSN. “It rewards my aggression. Tonight we hit the wall a lot, but the car kept in one piece long enough to get to the end.”

The race was Reddick’s last for JRM before moving to Richard Childress Racing for 2019.

Bell, who won a rookie record seven races this season, had to pit for a flat tire with 10 laps to go.

“We just weren’t good enough,” Bell told NBCSN. “Bottom line, I wasn’t fast enough. Once the tires started wearing away, those guys just drove right back by me.”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Cole Custer

STAGE 2 WINNER: Cole Custer

MORE: Race results, points report

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: With his title, Tyler Reddick also claimed the Rookie of the Year award over Christopher Bell.

OWNERS TITLE: Cole Custer’s second place finish earned Stewart-Haas Racing the owners championship.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: John Hunter Nemechek led 52 laps and finished third … Ryan Preece placed sixth in his last start for Joe Gibbs Racing … Ross Chastain placed 16th in his last start for JD Motorsports before moving to Chip Ganassi Racing full-time in next season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Elliott Sadler finished 14th, a lap off the lead in his final full-time start after he pit with 20 laps to go for a vibration … Caesar Bacarella placed 34th after he spun on the final lap of Stage 1.

NOTABLE: Tyler Reddick is the first driver to win the first and last race of the season in the Xfinity Series … All three of JR Motorsports’ Xfinity titles have come with the No. 9 car … Reddick joins Chase Elliott (2014) and William Byron (2017) as the third rookie to win the title … Reddick gave crew chief David Elenz his second consecutive Xfinity title after he won with Byron last year.

QUOTE OF THE RACE No. 1: “We just stuck to our plan. I’m not honestly second-guessing it. Our lap times over the course of the race, we were as good as we were the whole race at the end of the race. (Tyler Reddick) found a lot of speed at the end.” – Crew chief Jeff Meendering to NBC Sports on the pit strategy to not stop immediately after Tyler Reddick made his final stop.

QUOTE OF THE RACE No. 2: “I couldn’t do it. I don’t know, I think that’s just something I need to practice I guess. I’m at a loss for words for that.” Cole Custer to NBCSN on not being able to catch Tyler Reddick in the closing laps while running against the wall.

WHAT’S NEXT: The 2019 season opener at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, Feb. 16.