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Friday 5: Martinsville finish sets mark for most last-lap lead changes since 1981

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FORT WORTH, Texas — When Joey Logano bumped his way by Martin Truex Jr. on the final lap to win last weekend at Martinsville Speedway, it marked something that hadn’t been seen in Cup since 1981.

Logano’s move was the fifth time this season that the lead changed on the final lap of a Cup points race.

And that doesn’t include the duel between Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson at Chicagoland Speedway this summer since there was not an official lead change at the start/finish line (although Larson passed Busch down the backstretch before he was bumped out of the lead in Turn 3).

Bumps played a role in three of the five last-lap lead changes this season. Austin Dillon hit Aric Almirola and sent Almirola into the wall while Dillon passed to win the Daytona 500. Jimmie Johnson spun into Martin Truex Jr. at the Charlotte Roval, helping Ryan Blaney win. And there’s Logano’s bump.

The other two races this season where the lead changed on the last lap was Daytona in July when Erik Jones won and at Talladega last month when Aric Almirola passed Kurt Busch as Busch ran out of fuel.

Nine of the last 69 Cup races (13 percent), dating back to the start of last season, have ended with a lead change on the last lap. Six of those races came at Daytona and Talladega. The other three were the Charlotte Roval and the fall Martinsville playoff race each of the past two years.

Since 2009, Brad Keselowski has won five races on last-lap passes, most in that period. Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick and Logano have each won three races on last-lap passes in that span.

On the other side, Busch has lost five races in the last decade on last-lap passes. Truex and Kurt Busch are next with three such defeats.

2. Early prep work for Miami

Joey Logano’s Martinsville victory gives his team a couple of extra weeks to focus on the championship finale in Miami. Crew chief Todd Gordon said that could be helpful.

“It allows you to just not be so focused on Texas, what we’ve got to do at Texas to win,” Gordon said. “In our situation, you look at (Martinsville) and Texas both being great racetracks for us, Phoenix probably has been a struggle for us the last year or so.

“It allows us to kind of turn one eye towards Homestead, work on the preparation for what we have to have there, knowing we’re in a position that we can be at least broadly looking forward to that.”

Since 2014, the winner of Martinsville, the first race in the third round, has gone on to win the championship once. Jimmie Johnson won at Martinsville in 2016 to make it to Miami and captured his record-tying seventh championship that year.

3. Return to dominance?

It has been five races since either Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch or Martin Truex Jr. has won a race — the longest drought of the season for the Big 3.

If they fail to win this weekend at Texas, it could mean that one of the three won’t make it to the championship race in Miami. Joey Logano secured one of the four spots in the championship field with his Martinsville win. If another playoff driver wins Sunday, that would leave two spots left heading into next weekend’s race at Phoenix.

The odds are good, though, of a Harvick, Busch or Truex win at Texas.

Harvick has a series-high eight consecutive top-10 finishes at Texas. Busch has scored a top-10 finish in 10 consecutive races on 1.5-mile tracks, which includes Texas. Truex and Kyle Larson are next with six consecutive top 10s at 1.5-mile tracks.

4. A new sensation

Jimmie Johnson was at the Atlanta Goodyear tire test on Tuesday driving a Chevrolet wheel-force car. He was asked about what’s different from inside the car with the 2019 rules package

“This is unlike anything I’ve experienced over my years in Cup,” Johnson said. “I had only a couple of years in the Busch Series and even there we had more power. I had very, very few starts in a Late Model stock, and in some respects with the size of the track and throttle response, it reminds me of that. So it is a far different power curve and acceleration sensation inside the car.

“We’re used to having the horsepower underneath our foot to accelerate up off the turn and you can’t even feel the accel now. You’re at a high speed. You lift to half throttle and you put it back down, you don’t feel the car pick up.”

5. One last ride 

Trevor Bayne makes his final Cup start of the season for Roush Fenway Racing. Matt Kenseth will drive the No. 6 the final two races. Bayne’s last start for Roush comes at the site of his first career start. He made his first Cup start in Nov. 2010, placing 17th for the Wood Brothers. In his second career Cup start, Bayne won the 2011 Daytona 500.

Bayne continues to look for a ride for next season.

NASCAR America Presents MotorMouths at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN with Kyle Busch

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This week’s episode of NASCAR America’s MotorMouths airs today from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and features 2015 Cup champion Kyle Busch.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver joins Rutledge Wood and Kyle Petty to discuss this week’s news as well as take fan phone calls.

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

Chevrolet boss happy with three-race Cup winning streak but wants more

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Even with a three-race Cup winning streak, the head of Chevrolet’s NASCAR program wants more victories as the playoffs near.

Jim Campbell, vice president of performance and motorsports for Chevrolet, made the comments Wednesday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

In the last three races, Chevrolet has won with Alex Bowman (Chicagoland Speedway), Justin Haley (Daytona International Speedway) and Kurt Busch (Kentucky Speedway). Until that string, Chevrolet had won only once this year with Chase Elliott’s victory at Talladega Superspeedway.

Last year, Chevrolet had four Cup wins, its fewest victories in Cup since scoring three wins in 1982.

“We have really, really, I think, increased the collaboration (among Chevrolet teams) to another level, and I think we need to because we’ve got to put more wins on the board,” Campbell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “The Chevy camp is used to putting 10, 12, 15 wins on the board a year. Right now we’re at four. We expect more of ourselves. I know the teams are looking for more wins and I’ll call it top-five finishes. Talladega was kind of a turbocharger for us to get everyone really working at the next level.”

Chevrolet won at Talladega after an increased effort to have its teams work together throughout the weekend and during the race. Chevrolet made the effort after seeing how successful Toyota and Ford teams were at Daytona and Talladega by working together. Until then, Chevrolet had allowed its teams and drivers to go their own way at those tracks.

“Over the years, Chevy results were pretty doggone strong without a massive work-together effort,” Campbell said during the radio interview. “I think we go back to ’16 and Toyota put together an effort to get some of the (Joe) Gibbs (Racing) guys working together and I think in the fall, the Ford camp was doing that. So, it was time, it was time that we just pulled ourselves together and really worked across all of our teams.”

With seven races left until the Cup playoffs begin, Chevrolet has three drivers set for the playoffs via wins: Elliott, Bowman and Busch. Chevrolet also has three competitors who would qualify for the 16-driver playoffs as of today via points with William Byron 12th in the standings, Kyle Larson 13th and Jimmie Johnson 15th.

Johnson’s position is tenuous. He is 10 points ahead of Ford’s Ryan Newman, who holds the first spot outside a playoff position.

“I look at the trajectory,” Campbell said of Chevrolet’s progress. “Are we on the trajectory up or are we flat or are we down? I would say the momentum is going up, but it’s all performance based. We’ve got to put wins on the board, more top 10s.”

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AJ Allmendinger to drive in Watkins Glen Xfinity race for Kaulig Racing

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NASCAR On NBC analyst AJ Allmendinger will climb back behind the wheel for the August 3 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Watkins Glen International.

Allmendinger will pilot the No. 10 Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing for the second time this season.

Allmendinger is a past winner at Watkins Glen, having won the 2014 Cup race there. He has 10 prior Cup starts at the upstate New York road course, with the win, three top-five and six top-10 finishes, plus one pole.

He also has competed in one Xfinity race at Watkins Glen, starting fourth and finishing second for GMS Racing last year.

It’s an honor to be able to compete for Kaulig Racing at one of my favorite tracks, Watkins Glen International,” Allmendinger said in a team release. “I’ve been fortunate enough to win there in the Cup Series and had a strong run finishing second last season in my only Xfinity start there.

Matt Kaulig, Chris Rice and all of the guys made Daytona so enjoyable and fun, I can’t wait to get to The Glen.”

Allmendinger raced for Kaulig Racing two weeks ago in the Circle K Firecracker 250 at Daytona International Speedway on July 5, leading 33 laps and finishing third before the car was disqualified for failing post-race inspection, leaving Allmendinger with a last-place finish in the 38-car field.

Allmendinger has three additional Xfinity road course races scheduled with Kaulig Racing this season: Mid-Ohio (August 10), Road America (August 24) and Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval race (September 28).

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NBC Sports Power Rankings: Kyle Busch back to No. 1; Kurt Busch to No. 3

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When it comes to this week’s NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings, all we can say is, “Oh brother” … as in siblings Kyle and Kurt Busch.

Younger brother Kyle once again regained the top spot in this week’s rankings, knocking Joey Logano from the No. 1 perch after Logano held it the last two weeks.

And after not being ranked in the top 10 last week, older bro Kurt rockets up the rankings to No. 3 by virtue of his come-from-behind win last Saturday at Kentucky Speedway.

Also making a big move is Erik Jones, who goes from unranked last week to No. 4 this week. By contrast, six drivers from last week’s rankings dropped out of this week’s tabulations.

Here’s how this week’s rankings shape up:

1. Kyle Busch (39 points): Tenacious performance at Kentucky puts him back atop the rankings. Last week: 2nd.

2. Joey Logano (36 points): Car wasn’t wide enough to block all those behind him on the final restart. In his last three races on a 1.5-mile speedway, he’s finished seventh (Kentucky), third (Chicagoland) and second (Charlotte). Last week: 1st.

3. Kurt Busch (32 points): What a difference a win makes. But Busch’s ranking isn’t a total surprise. He’s been knocking at the door all season. Had he not pitted at Daytona two weeks ago, he may be riding a two-race win streak now. Last week: Unranked.

4. Erik Jones (23 points): Returns to playoff territory and seems to have momentum for a finishing kick. Third-place finish was his fourth top 10 in the last five races on a 1.5-mile speedway. That includes a third at Kansas and Kentucky and a fourth at Texas. Last week: Unranked.

5. Denny Hamlin (22 points): His pit crew has been called for an uncontrolled tire violation five times this year, tying the series high. That’s unacceptable. Despite the penalty at Kentucky, Hamlin finished fifth. Last week: 7th.

6. Kyle Larson (20 points): Top 10s in three of last four races – including a second (Chicagoland) and fourth (Kentucky) – have solidified his standing for the playoffs. Last week: Unranked.

7. Ryan Newman (16 points): Is in full grind-it-out mode for solid finishes exactly when he needs them. Finished ninth at Kentucky after starting at the rear because his car failed inspection. While he fell out of a playoff spot, he’s only two points away after scoring his fourth top-10 finish in the last five races. Last week: 8th.

8. Cole Custer (9 points): Kentucky victory in the Xfinity Series was his series-high fifth win of the year. Last week: Unranked.

9. Clint Bowyer (7 points): Ends four-race tailspin but still needs to work on amassing stage points. Last week: Unranked.

10. Chris Buescher (5 points): If all the tracks on the circuit were 1.5-milers, he’d likely be ranked higher. All four of his top 10s this year have come at 1.5-mile tracks. He’s been sixth at Charlotte, ninth  at Atlanta and 10th at Kansas and Kentucky. Last week: Unranked.

Others receiving votes: Christopher Bell (4 points), Martin Truex Jr. (4 points), Tyler Ankrum (3 points).