Who is hot and cold entering the First Data 500 at Martinsville

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The third round of the Cup playoffs begin this weekend on the oldest and shortest track on the circuit – Martinsville Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on Sunday on NBCSN).

The next three races will determine the four drivers who will compete for the championship at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Here is who is hot and cold entering the final short track race of the season.

Who is Hot

Chase Elliott

Round of 12 – Red Hot
• Won at Kansas (10th in Stage 1, 4th in Stage 2, 44 laps led)
• Finished 31st at Talladega; pit from 7th after Stage 1 ended but before pit road was open after running out of fuel; involved in multi-car accident on final lap
• Won at Dover
2018 Season – Red Hot
• Advanced to Round of 8 for 2nd straight season
• Won 2 of last 3 races and 3 of last 11 (98 starts before 1st career win)
• Finished top 10 in 4 of last 5 races and 9th or better in 10 of last 13
Martinsville – Good
• Finished top 10 in 2 of last 3 Martinsville races (9th in March)
• Six career Martinsville starts: 2 top 10s and 4 finishes of 12th or worse
• Started 3rd, 6th in Stage 1, 5th in Stage 2, 123 laps led, finished 27th in this race one year ago; spun by Denny Hamlin in Turn 3 on Lap 498 while leading

 

Aric Almirola

Round of 12 – Very Good
• Finished 10th at Kansas (6th in Stage 1, 16th in Stage 2); penalized for uncontrolled tire on Lap 120
• Won at Talladega (4th in Stage 1, 4th in Stage 2, 1 lap led); passed Kurt Busch in Turn 4 on final lap
• Finished 13th at Dover; contact with Brad Keselowski on Lap 397 while battling for 4th, collected Martin Truex Jr. and Alex Bowman
2018 Season – Good
• Advanced to Round of 8 for first time in career
• Finished in Top 10 in 4 of last 6 races
Martinsville – Bad
• Finished 12th or worse in 8 straight Martinsville races
• Three top 10s in 19 Martinsville starts
• Started 10th, 19th in Stage 1, 20th in Stage 2, finished 18th in this race one year ago

 

Joey Logano

Round of 12 – Very Good
• Finished 8th at Kansas (1st in Stage 1, 3rd in Stage 2, 100 laps)
• Finished 5th at Talladega
• Finished 3rd at Dover; hit axle from Ross Chastain on Lap 339 while running 8th
2018 Season – Very Good
• Advanced to Round of 8 for 4th time in career (1st since 2016)
• Finished in top 10 in 4 straight races and 8 of last 10
• Finished in top 5 in 5 of last 9 races
Martinsville – Very Good
• Finished top 10 in 3 of last 4 Martinsville races and 6 of last 9 (6th in March)
• Scored stage points in every stage in the last two Martinsville races
• Started 1st, 3rd in Stage 1, 3rd in Stage 2, 59 laps led, finished 24th in this race one year ago; contact with frontstretch wall on Lap 259 while running 3rd after contact with Austin Dillon; big tire rub on Lap 487 after contact
with Kyle Busch while battling for 3rd; spun from 6th on Lap 492 after tire went flat

 

Erik Jones

• Finished 4th at Kansas (8th in Stage 1, 7th in Stage 2)
2018 Season – Very Good
• Finished top 10 in 3 straight races and 6 of last 9
Martinsville – Not Good
• Never finished better than 12th in 3 career Martinsville starts (17th in March)
• Started 8th, 18th in Stage 1, 16th in Stage 2, finished 26th in this race one year ago; spun from 27th on Lap 316

 

Who is Cold

Martin Truex Jr.

Round of 12 – Not Good
• Finished 5th at Kansas (12th in Stage 1, 10th in Stage 2)
• Finished 23rd at Talladega; reported rear end issue on Lap 100 while running 23rd; involved in multi-car accident on last lap
• Finished 15th at Dover; collected in multi-car accident on Lap 397 after Aric Almirola and Brad Keselowski made contact battling for 4th
2018 Season – Slumping
• Advanced to Round of 8 for 2nd straight season (3rd time in career)
• Kansas ended a streak of 3 straight finishes of 14th or worse
• Finished outside the top 10 in 7 of last 10 races
Martinsville – Good
• Finished top 5 in the last two Martinsville races and top 10 in 5 of last 7 (4th in March)
• Started 2nd, 5th in Stage 1, 4th in Stage 2, finished 2nd in this race one year ago

 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

• Finished 20th at Kansas (21st in Stage 1, 22nd in Stage 2); penalized for speeding in pits on Lap 120
2018 Season – Bad
• Kansas ended a streak of back-to-back finishes of 9th or better
• Finished 14th or worse in 24 of 32 races in 2018
Martinsville – Streaking
• Finished 10th in 2 of last 3 Martinsville races (37th in March)
• Finished 15th or worse in 9 of 11 career Martinsville starts
• Started 22nd, 27th in Stage 1, 19th in Stage 2, finished 10th in this race one year ago; spun on Lap 36 while running 27th after being clipped by Michael McDowell.

 

Kyle Larson

Round of 12 – Ok
• Finished 3rd at Kansas (11th in Stage 1, 6th in Stage 2); started in rear after going to back-up car
• Finished 11th at Talladega; started in the rear due to unapproved adjustments; spun from 11th on backstretch on Lap 104 with flat tire
• Finished 12th at Dover; penalized for speeding in pits on Lap 244 while running 15th
2018 Season – Hot and Cold
• Eliminated in Round of 12 for 2nd straight season
• Kansas ended a streak of 3 straight finishes outside the top 10
• Last 10 races: 5 top 10s and 5 finishes of 11th or worse
Martinsville – Terrible
• Finished 14th or worse in 4 straight Martinsville races (16th in March)
• Finished 14th or worse in 8 of 9 career Martinsville starts
• Started 9th, 16th in Stage 1, 22nd in Stage 2, finished 37th in this race one year ago; DNF – spun from 23rd on Lap 303 and hit inside backstretch wall

 

Alex Bowman

Round of 12 – Too Little, Too Late
• Finished 9th at Kansas (14th in Stage 1, 9th in Stage 2); made contact with Daniel Suarez on Lap 3 after Suarez hit wall; scraped wall in Turn 1 on Lap 25
• Finished 33rd at Talladega; got loose on Lap 186 and hit wall while running 10th, then got hit by J.J. Yeley
• Finished 28th at Dover; DNF – collected in multi-car accident on Lap 397 after Aric Almirola and Brad Keselowski made contact battling for 4th
2018 Season – Bad
• Kansas ended a streak of 2 finishes of 28th or worse
• Finished 12th or worse in 6 of last 8 races
Martinsville – Bad
• One finish better than 22nd in 5 career Martinsville starts (7th in March)

Short race: Michigan Cup race lasts just over 2 hours

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Sunday’s Cup race at Michigan International Speedway lasted just over 2 hours, making it the shortest Cup points race to run a full distance since 2017.

Kevin Harvick won Sunday’s Cup race, which lasted 2 hours, 9 minutes, 35 seconds. The short race was reduced to 312 miles since Cup teams ran twice there this weekend. Michigan races are typically 400 miles.

Sunday’s race is the shortest Cup race since the rain-shortened June 2018 event at Michigan that went 2 hours, 15 seconds.

The last Cup race that ran a full distance that was shorter than Sunday’s event was the 2017 Watkins Glen race that lasted 2 hours, 7 minutes, 3 seconds.

MORE: What drivers said after Michigan race

MORE: What’s in the future for Kevin Harvick’s undefeated car?

Nine of the 22 Cup races this season have taken less than 3 hours to run, including six races that were shortened this season after the series resumed in May from the COVID-19 pause.

The issue of shorter races has been a topic in the sport for years. The doubleheader weekend in two weeks at Dover will see both those races shortened from 400 miles to 311 miles each.

“The shorter races, seems like it’s been a good thing,” crew chief Rodney Childers said after Harvick swept the weekend at Michigan International Speedway. “Keeps things exciting.  Everybody is racing harder the whole time, shorter stages. Not much for people riding around or waiting till the end, any of that kind of thing.

“I think the doubleheaders so far have been good. I think putting two of them in the same weekend has been something that probably saves a lot of money for the teams, you’re able to put on a good show two days in a row. We’ll just have to see how that plays outgoing forward.”

Here are the nine races that lasted less than 3 hours this season:

2:09:35 — Michigan II (312 miles)

2:25:01 — Pocono I (325 miles)

2:29:23 — Charlotte II (312 miles)

2:34:55 — Michigan I (322 miles)

2:37:07 — Auto Club (400 miles)

2:42:23 — Darlington II (284 miles)

2:50:54 — Pocono II (350 miles)

2:58:11 — Las Vegas (400 miles)

2:59:49 — Kentucky (400 miles)

What’s in the future for Kevin Harvick’s undefeated car?

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The car is referred to as 081 by Rodney Childers’ crew and in the three Cup Series races it has run this year, it’s unbeatable.

It’s the No. 4 Ford that Kevin Harvick is now 3-for-3 with after his win Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.

Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing team first brought the car to the track for the July 5 Brickyard 400.

In the three races the car has raced, including both parts of this weekend’s doubleheader, Harvick has led 250 of 478 laps and earned four stage wins.

On Sunday, Harvick officially started 20th after a field inversion of the top-20 finishers from Saturday. Harvick won the second stage and eventually led the final 41 laps, holding off Denny Hamlin by .093 seconds to keep 081’s winning streak alive.

Surely, they’ll bring it back at some point in the final 14 races of the season?

“I bet we don’t run it anymore, to be honest with you,” Harvick said after Sunday’s race. “I think there’s so many different styles of racetracks that we’re going to as we go forward here. Obviously, we’re going to a road course (Daytona) next week, then we go to a low downforce track two races in a row at Dover, then a superspeedway car (Daytona), then you go into short tracks, Darlington with high downforce cars. I know you won’t run it at Vegas or Charlotte.

“Honestly, I don’t think you’ll run this car anymore.”

When asked about the future of 081, Childers wouldn’t budge.

“That’s kind of up to me to decide. It’s top secret,” Childers said. “It’s going to be a surprise.”

Don’t expect the No. 4 team to christen 081 – a number assigned to it in production – with any affectionate nicknames, like the name Dale Earnhardt Jr. gave to a car a few years ago, “Amelia.”

“We don’t really talk about that kind of stuff,” Childers said. “We’ve had some good cars over the years with the 4 team and some of them have won a lot of races. We call it 081 and we keep it going through the system just like any other car. Just have to figure out our car schedule and figure out where we’re going to run it again and keep moving forward with it.”

What drivers said after Sunday Cup race at Michigan

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Here is what drivers had to say after the Sunday Cup race at Michigan:

Kevin Harvick — Winner: “I think when you look at my team we’ve been together for going on seven years now and you look at the confidence everybody has in each other. The details of the race cars and the thought of everything that goes into everything that we do is untouchable. That’s what it takes are details to make these race cars go fast. Our car wasn’t quite as good as it was yesterday. I think it was obviously still really good, but I had a little bit more trouble going through traffic today than I did yesterday just because of the tight into three that I had today. Like I said earlier, I could still get through one and two really good, but I couldn’t make those great low passes like I could yesterday and stay in the throttle. If I carried too much speed in there I would push up into the center of the corner and just have to pedal the thing on exit.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 2nd: “Just needed to maneuver a little bit better and I think that we could be a little better. Overall, our car handled well. Just needed a little more speed there and a little bit more handling to pass. Obviously, I thought we were definitely the fastest car by running him (Kevin Harvick) down there. Once we finally got to second, I knew we had something for him, I just got stalled there and he was tight, I was tight. We were better, that’s for sure. I thought if I could maybe get to his quarter panel, I could shove him higher and make him tighter, but just couldn’t quite do it.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 3rd: “We don’t do anything easy, that’s for sure. We were awful at the start of the race. I don’t know, we didn’t make a lot of changes from (Saturday). We tried to do different things to try to get better. We definitely were worse. Just have to grind them out, that’s what we do. It’s good to be grinding out top-three finishes, that’s what the Playoffs are all about. We need to get some more points before that starts. We battled back. The car was pretty far off to start the race. We’re all pretty disappointed in that obviously, but really proud of the effort to get the Auto Owners Camry back up front.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 4th: “The long runs went away later in the race and that’s just what we had. We got about all we could get out of the day. I felt like the 4 (Kevin Harvick) was the best car. The 2 (Brad Keselowski) was second-best. The 11 (Denny Hamlin), there at the end showed up and was pretty fast, but the 19 (Martin Truex Jr.) and myself were really even. That was about all we had. We come to Michigan not normally looking for top-five days, but this has been a good two days. Hopefully we can keep some momentum rolling here and get ready to go next week and turn right and turn left. Yesterday and today, the car drove great. The best driving car I’ve had here at Michigan.”

Joey Logano — Finished 5th: “Overall we learned some things this weekend. Both races we were just a little too far off to start. A top-five finish today was good. We’re starting to build some momentum and when you start clicking off top-five finishes you know wins are just around the corner. Obviously next week is a big unknown for everyone going down to Daytona to run the road course. A lot has gone into that so it should be an interesting race for the fans.”

Aric Almirola – Finished 6th: “Today is how we’re supposed to run. We drove from 32nd to the top 10 and had a great Smithfield Hometown Heroes Ford Mustang. We were able to rally there at the end from 22nd to sixth in 12 laps. It felt like we were going to get to third and just ran out of laps. Really proud of Mike Bugarewicz and everyone on our team. Yesterday was a tough day and a character building day. The team worked their guts out last night and we had a great day with the result of it. We’re back on track with our top five and top-10 capability. Congrats to Kevin Harvick on back-to-back wins here and keeping the heritage trophy in Ford’s backyard.”

Matt DiBenedetto — Finished 7th: “It was tough. The car had our tongue hanging out all day, so it’s good we made improvements from yesterday. We were really struggling yesterday and our team worked super-hard and made some good improvements so we could at least run further up there. We didn’t play a lot of defense all day and had to drive the thing for all it was worth, so just glad we were able to get a top 10 out of it finishing seventh. You can take a car that’s a struggle and something that we’re not satisfied with and struggled with all weekend and make some improvements with, but if we take a car like that and finish seventh with it and move on, that just shows the strength of our team and how we keep getting better. If you can make your bad days a top 10, sometimes that’s all you can hope for.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 8th: “It was a good day. We had to start last after going to a backup car and we were issued a pass-through penalty on lap one for making unapproved adjustments on pit road. Despite the challenges, we stayed on the lead lap in Stage 1, which just shows how fast our Chevy was today. The race played out pretty similar to yesterday with strategy and the call to take fuel-only on our last pit stop. We were digging at the end of the race, moving from outside the top 15 to eighth. I thought we had something for seventh but just ran out of laps. It feels good to work as a team to overcome what we had to, and to finish the race as the first Chevrolet in the field.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 9th: “We struggled to get the Mountain Dew Chevy dialed in today. It was pretty tight, and we just weren’t able to improve the handling. We squeaked by with a top-10 finish. All in all, it was a decent weekend, but we have some work to do.”

MATT McCALL (CREW CHIEF for Kurt Busch) — Finished 10th: “Another top-10 finish to roundout a doubleheader weekend. Our Monster Energy Chevy was a little bit better on the short-run speed today, which helped us on some of those restarts. We’ll continue to work hard still to be better to contend for wins. We need to stay focused in trying to turn these top-10 into top-five finishes.” 

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 11th: “We put up a good fight today. Track position was important, and we fought the balance most of the day. I’m looking forward to the road course and both Dover races.”

William Byron — Finished 12th: “Hard fought day for us at Michigan today and this weekend overall really. After this weekend we came out of Michigan with a bit larger of a points gap than we started which is good. Hopefully we can go on to the road course at Daytona and keep building that point buffer. I think we’re really good at road courses so hopefully we can run well there despite it being an unknown. I’m looking forward to it though and the challenge it will bring. I will definitely be doing a lot of iRacing this week to get ready for it.”  

Clint Bowyer – Finished 14th: “We had a pretty good DEKALB Ford today. Leading laps is a lot of fun. We could run wide open out front, but we had to lift behind other cars. We were OK until we got hit and that forced us to make an extra stop and that put us in the back. It was good to get some stage points today. We need to do that again next weekend in Daytona.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 18th: My GEICO-Germain Racing guys did a good job this weekend. We made adjustments from yesterday to today and it definitely improved the handling. At the end there, it took our Camaro ZL1 1LE about three laps to come in and then it started rolling. We ran our fastest lap of the race in the final 10 laps, so I think if we had a few more, we would have finished even better. I’m happy to leave with a top-20 finish though. I’m looking forward to the Daytona Road Course next week.”

Bubba Wallace — Finished 21st: “Well, today wasn’t as good as yesterday, obviously. Our Camaro just kind of lacked a little bit in overall speed and overall grip. I couldn’t really find it throughout the race, so the restarts didn’t go our way there, towards the end. I kept getting trapped and everything. I guess we used all of our eggs on the first day. All-in-all, it was a solid day coming out of Michigan. A good points day, a good points swing for us. We’ve still got a lot of work to do to climb up the ladder, but we’re heading in the right direction from the last couple of races. So, progress is showing. On to the Daytona road course.”

John Hunter Nemechek — Finished 23rd: “We struggled today. We were tight at the start and dragged a lot, particularly when I would get within a few car lengths of another car. We made adjustments throughout the day, and the last one definitely helped us get more speed at the end, but we came home P23. My crew did a great job of sticking with it to the end and never giving up.”

Tyler Reddick — Finished 24th: “We fought hard today at Michigan International Speedway, but our No. 8 Chevrolet Accessories Camaro ZL1 1LE was a challenge during the race. We fired off extremely tight, which made it hard to move around and run the bottom like I needed to be able to do. My crew chief, Randall Burnett, made some good adjustments during the race that helped loosen me up, but we just needed a little bit more today. We’ll definitely look back at this weekend as a team to see what we can learn from it and regroup for next weekend.”

Cole Custer – Finished 25th: “We got the car handling better throughout the race, but at the end all of the sudden it wouldn’t turn. That dropped us back quite a few spots, but I think we learned a lot today. We had to overcome some adversity with starting in the back and then getting the pit road penalty, but we’re growing as a team and we’ll move forward to the Daytona road course next week.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 26th: “It was a good job by Dave (Winston, crew chief) making changes, a good job by the pit crew, a good job by everyone. We got the most out of what we had. We thought our Toyota was going to be better at the start of the race – definitely didn’t expect it to be as loose as it was. But we were able to make it better. I just wish I could have some more straightline speed to race some of those guys ahead of us, but I know we’ll get there. We’ll just keep on digging.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 28th: “It was just an overall difficult weekend for our No. 34 team at Michigan. We didn’t unload how we had hoped in race one and then got collected in a late-race incident that forced us to a backup car for today. My guys fought hard on pit road all weekend to try and get our race cars better, and I felt like we were continuously making improvements, but we just ran out of time at the end of the race.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 36th: “That was not what we wanted or needed today. It was just unfortunate events. Greg (Ives) and the guys made great adjustments from yesterday and got the car pretty good. We battled some snug conditions, but the team made great adjustments on pit road. Obviously not the way we wanted to end the double header weekend. We will learn from this and move on to next week.”

Ryan Blaney —Finished 38th:  “It’s just unfortunate for the whole Penske organization. We had two fast cars battling for the lead and it just stinks that happened. He had a run, like he said, and he didn’t think he had as big of a run as he had and just got loose and, unfortunately, got us both. It’s a shame to end our day like that with the Knauf/Menards Ford Mustang. We were so fast.  We had to battle back from having to pit again and got to 10th for the second stage and then got the lead. I was like, ‘All right, we can finally go back at it,’ and just got together there. That’s unfortunate, but it’s not gonna carry over. Things happen. Mistakes happen. It’s just a shame both of us got taken out.”

BRAD KESELOWSKI — Finished 39th:  “I just lost it. It’s my fault. I feel really bad for my teammate, Ryan Blaney.  He didn’t deserve that. I just came off of turn four and the 4 car was behind me and he gave me a push and I swear I went into the corner like 20 miles an hour faster than I had been all day and got past the 11 and I went to get underneath the 12 and I just slipped. I lost the back a little bit and when I went to collect it he was there and I wiped him out and myself out, so I feel terrible for everyone at Team Penske and especially Ryan Blaney. Gosh, he didn’t deserve that. I should have whoa’d way up. I had been running wide-open on the bottom all day and thought I could do it again, but with that big push I overestimated the grip and ruined our day.”

Michigan Sunday Cup results, point standings

Sunday Cup results
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
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Kevin Harvick completed the weekend sweep with his victory Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, his sixth win of the season.

Denny Hamlin placed second in the Sunday Cup results. Martin Truex Jr. placed third and was followed by Kyle Busch and Joey Logano.

Click here for race results

Point Standings

With four races left in the regular season, the last three drivers currently inside the top 16 in points are William Byron (+26 points above cutline) and Erik Jones and Jimmie Johnson, who are tied with 511 points.

The first driver outside the top 16 who has not won a race is Tyler Reddick. He’s 10 points behind Johnson and Jones.

Click here for the points standings.