Who is hot and not entering Cup finale at Miami

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Here’s a look from Racing Insights on who is hot and who is not heading into Sunday’s Cup race at Miami (3 p.m. ET on NBC):

Kevin Harvick

Round of 8 – Hot, But Penalized at Texas

• Finished fifth at ISM Raceway (20th in Stage 1, 4th in Stage 2, 73 laps led); pitted from the lead on Lap 73 due to flat right front tire (2 laps left in Stage 1); not eligible for wave around after Stage 1 caution for pitting while pit road was closed; caught one lap down on Lap 228 after caution came out during green flag pit stops; spun David Ragan on Lap 239 while battling for eighth
• Won at Texas (1st in Stage 1, 1st in Stage 2, 177 laps led); team assessed L1 penalty after spoiler was found at R&D Center to not be proper; docked 40 driver and owner points; Harvick lost ability to lock into Championship 4 with win; crew chief Rodney Childers and car chief Robert Smith suspended for final 2 races of season; Childers fined $75,000
• Finished 10th at Martinsville (9th in Stage 1, 15th in Stage 2)

Championship 4 – Great

• Advances to Championship 4 for fourth time in career (missed 2016)
• Won championship in 2014
• 2014: won race and championship
• 2015: finished second in race and second in championship standings
• 2017: finished fourth in race and third in championship standings

2018 Season – Great

• Won eight of last 34 races
• Eight wins in a season is a career best
• Finished in Top 10 in 14 of last 17 races
• Finished in Top 5 in 13 of last 22 races

Miami – Red Hot

• Finished fourth or better in four straight races at Miami (including win in 2014)
• Finished in Top 10 in 10 straight races at Miami
• Finished in Top 5 in nine of 17 career starts at Miami
• Finished in Top 10 in 15 of 17 career starts at Miami
• Since joining SHR in 2014, avg. running position at Miami has been fourth or better in all four races
• Started 9th, fourth in Stage 1, third in Stage 2, finished fourth in this race one year ago; had a hole in the fender from debris while running fourth on Lap 189; pitted from fourth to patch hole on Lap 199

1.5-Mile Tracks – Red Hot

• Won five of last 12 races on 1.5-mile tracks
• Finished top 10 in 16 of last 19 races on 1.5-mile tracks
• Harvick, Kyle Busch and Truex Jr. combined to win 16 of last 20 races on 1.5-mile tracks

 

KYLE BUSCH

Round of 8 – Hit or Miss, With A Win

• Won at ISM Raceway (seventh in Stage 1, first in Stage 2, 117 laps led)
• Finished 17th at Texas (seventh in Stage 1, 25th in Stage 2); penalized for speeding in pits on Lap 32 while running fifth; pitted for a second time under green on Lap 140 due to vibration and was trapped two laps down
• Finished fourth at Martinsville (third in Stage 1, third in Stage 2, 100 laps led)

Championship 4 – Great

• Advances to Championship 4 for fourth straight season and fourth time in career
• Won championship in 2015
• 2015: won race and championship
• 2016: finished sixth in race and third in championship standings
• 2017: finished second in race and second in championship standings

2018 Season – Great

• Won eight of last 29 races
• Last seven races: four top 10s and three finishes of 17th or worse
• Finished in Top 5 in 14 of last 23 races
• Finished in the Top 10 in 27 of 35 races in 2018
• Finished in the Top 5 in 21 of 35 races this season

Miami – Very Good

• Finished sixth or better in three straight Miami races (including win in 2015)
• Finished top 10 in five of last six races at Miami (39th in in 2014)
• Started third, (third in Stage 1, fourth in Stage 2, 43 laps led), finished second in this race one year ago; missed pit road during green flag pit stops on Lap 123 while running second

1.5-Mile Tracks – Red Hot
• Won three of last eight races on 1.5-mile tracks
• Finished in Top 10 in nine of 10 1.5-mile races in 2018
• Busch, Harvick and Truex Jr. combined to win 16 of last 20 races on 1.5-mile tracks

Wild Cards Entering Miami

 

Joey Logano

Round of 8 – Great Until Phoenix

• Finished 37th at ISM Raceway (21st in Stage 1, 37th in Stage 2); DNF – spun on Lap 96 and backed into wall after losing left-rear tire while running 16th
• Finished third at Texas (sixth in Stage 1, fifth in Stage 2, 54 laps led)
• Won at Martinsville (second in Stage 1, first in Stage 2, 309 laps led); knocked Truex out of the way exiting Turn 4 on last lap to win

Championship 4 – Not Great

• Advances to Championship 4 for third time in career (2014, 2016, 2018)
• Looking for first career championship
• 2014: finished 16th in race and fourth in championship standings
• 2016: finished fourth in race and second in championship standings

2018 Season – Great Until Phoenix

• ISM Raceway ended a streak of six straight Top 10s
• ISM Raceway was tied with his worst finish in the last 17 races of 2018
• Finished in Top 10 in 10 of last 13 races
• Finished in Top 5 in seven of last 12 races

Miami – Very Good

• Finished sixth or better in the last three races at Miami
• Finished top-10 in four of last five races at Miami (16th in 2014)
• Started 19th, ninth in Stage 1, eighth in Stage 2, finished sixth in this race one year ago

1.5-Mile Tracks – Very Good

• Finished in Top 10 in five straight 1.5-mile races
• Finished in Top 10 in 11 of last 12 1.5-mile races

 

Martin Truex Jr.

Round of 8 – Going In The Wrong Direction

• Finished 14th at ISM Raceway (12th in Stage 1, third in Stage 2, 8 laps led)
• Finished ninth at Texas (fifth in Stage 1, third in Stage 2); started in rear due to engine change; pitted to address vibration on Lap 247 while running seventh
• Finished third at Martinsville (seventh in Stage 1, fourth in Stage 2, 18 laps led); qualifying time disallowed after failing post-qualifying inspection; Logano knocked Truex out of lead exiting Turn 4 on last lap

Championship 4 – Good

• Advances to Championship 4 for third time in career and second straight season
• Won championship in 2017
• 2015: finished 12th in race and fourth in championship standings
• 2017: won race and championship

2018 Season – Hit or Miss Recently

• Finished top 10 in three of the last four races
• Last nine races: 5 top 10s and four finishes of 14th or worse
• Finished in Top 5 in 14 of last 25 races

Miami – Mixed Results Recently

• Won in 2017, but finished 12th or worse in three of last four races at Miami
• Finished in Top 10 in eight of 13 career starts at Miami
• Three of five career finishes outside Top 10 have come in last four races
• Started second, fifth in Stage 1, second in Stage 2, 78 laps led, won in this race one year ago

1.5-Mile Tracks – Red Hot

• Won eight of last 20 races on 1.5-mile tracks
• Finished top 10 in 20 of last 21 1.5-mile races
• Truex Jr., Harvick and Kyle Busch combined to win 16 of last 20 races on 1.5-mile tracks

 

Non-Playoff Drivers

Who is Hot Entering Miami:

Brad Keselowski

• Finished second at ISM Raceway (5th in Stage 1, 2nd in Stage 2, 32 laps led)

2018 Season – Warming Up

• Finished sixth or better in three of last four races
• Last 11 races: seven top 10s and four finishes of 12th or worse

Miami – Good

• Finished seventh or better in four of last five races at Miami (35th in 2016)
• Started 5th, second in Stage 1, fifth in Stage 2, 1 lap led, finished seventh in this race one year ago

 

Austin Dillon

• Finished eighth at ISM Raceway (10th in Stage 1, sixth in Stage 2)

2018 Season – Warming Up

• Top 10 in back to back races for the first time in 2018
• Last eight races: four Top 10s and four finishes of 11th or worse
• Finished outside Top 10 in 28 of 35 races since Daytona 500 win

Miami – Not Good

• Never finished in the top 10 in four career starts at Miami
• Started 17th, 13th in Stage 1, 13th in Stage 2, finished 11th in this race one year ago

 

Aric Almirola

Round of 8 – Good

• Finished fourth at ISM Raceway (11th in Stage 1, 10th in Stage 2)
• Finished eighth at Texas (10th in Stage 1, 6th in Stage 2); started in the rear due to unapproved body modification
• Finished 11th at Martinsville (10th in Stage 1, 12th in Stage 2)

2018 Season – Very Good

• Reached the Round of 8 for first time in career
• Finished in top 10 in two straight races and four of last five races

Miami – Very Bad

• Finished 16th or worse in five straight races at Miami
• Finished 40th or worse in two of last three races at Miami
• Started 20th, 19th in Stage 1, 18th in Stage 2, finished 18th in this race one year ago

 

Kyle Larson

• Finished third at ISM Raceway (6th in Stage 1, 5th in Stage 2); pit from second on Lap 289 with a possible loose wheel

2018 Season – Hot

• Finished in Top 5 the last two races and three of last four
• Last seven races: three Top 5s and four finishes of 11th or worse

Miami – Red Hot

• Finished top 5 in three straight races at Miami
• Miami is his self proclaimed “best track”
• Started seventh, first in Stage 1, first in Stage 2, 145 laps led, finished third in this race one year ago

 

Wild Cards Entering Miami:

Jamie McMurray

• Finished sixth at ISM Raceway (24th in Stage 1, 20th in Stage 2)

2018 Season – Pretty Bad, But Bright Spot in Phoenix

• ISM Raceway ended a streak of five straight finishes of 16th or worse
• Last 14 races: five top 10s and nine finishes of 16th or worse
• Finished 15th or worse in 26 of 35 races this season

Miami – Hit or Miss

• Last four races at Miami: two 5th-place finishes and two 13th-place finishes
• Started 13th, 11th in Stage 1, 12th in Stage 2, finished 13th in this race one year ago

 

Chase Elliott

Round of 8 – Good Until Phoenix

• Finished 23rd at ISM Raceway (first in Stage 1, seventh in Stage 2, 16 laps led); penalized for speeding entering pits on Lap 231 while leading; collected in multi-car accident on Lap 269 when Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin wreck on backstretch while battling for lead
• Finished sixth at Texas (ninth in Stage 1, 10th in Stage 2)
• Finished seventh at Martinsville (11th in Stage 1, seventh in Stage 2)

2018 Season – Good

• Eliminated in Round of 8 for second straight season
• ISM Raceway ended a streak of three finishes of seventh or better
• Finished top-10 in 12 of last 16 races in 2018

Miami – Hit or Miss

• Two career starts at Miami: fifth in 2017 and 11th in 2016
• Started 18th, sixth in Stage 1, ninth in Stage 2, finished fifth in this race one year ago

 

Ryan Blaney

• Finished 34th at ISM Raceway (second in Stage 1, eighth in Stage 2, 3 laps led); DNF – had an issue with radiator on Lap 237 while running second

2018 Season – Hit or Miss

• Last five races: two top 10s and three finishes of 20th or worse
• Last 17 races: eight top 10s and nine finishes of 11th or worse

Miami – Very Bad

• Finished 17th or worse in three career starts at Miami
• Started 11th, 29th in Stage 1, 28th in Stage 2, finished 29th in this race one year ago

 

Erik Jones

• Finished 17th at ISM Raceway (eighth in Stage 1, 14th in Stage 2, 11 laps led); penalized for speeding on Lap 136

2018 Season – Hit or Miss

• Finished 17th or worse in two of last three races
• Finished top-10 in four of last six races

Miami – Not A Good Start

• Started 14th, 17th in Stage 1, 21st in Stage 2, finished 21st in this race one year ago, his only career start at the track

 

William Byron

• Finished ninth at ISM Raceway (17th in Stage 1, ninth in Stage 2)

2018 Season – Awful Until Phoenix

• ISM was his first top 10 since Watkins Glen (12 races between)
• Finished 12th or worse in 31 of 35 races this season

Miami – No Cup Experience, Very Good in Lower Series

• Finished third in only career Xfinity Series start at Miami (2017)
• Won only career Camping World Truck Series start at Miami (2016)

 

KURT BUSCH

Round of 8 – Good Until Phoenix

• Finished 32nd at ISM Raceway (fourth in Stage 1, 23rd in Stage 2, 52 laps led); DNF – involved in multi-car accident on Lap 269 after contact with Denny Hamlin on backstretch while battling for lead
• Finished 7th at Texas (second in Stage 1, eighth in Stage 2)
• Finished 6th at Martinsville (fifth in Stage 1, fifth in Stage 2)

2018 Season – Hit or Miss

• Eliminated in Round of 8 for third time in career
• Last nine races: four top 10s and five finishes of 14th or worse
• Finished top-10 in 12 of last 17 races

Miami – Not Good

• Finished outside the top 10 in four of last five races at Miami
• Only six Top 10s in 17 career starts at Miami
• Started eighth, seventh in Stage 1, 6th in Stage 2, finished 22nd in this race one year ago; spun while running 10th on Lap 228

 

BUBBA WALLACE

• Finished 10th at ISM Raceway (25th in Stage 1, 16th in Stage 2)

2018 Season – Terrible Until Phoenix

• ISM Raceway was first Top 10 since Texas in April (27 races between)
• Finished 14th or worse in 27 of last 28 races and 23rd or worse in 15 of last 17 races
• Finished 20th or worse in 26 of 35 races in 2018

Miami – No Cup Experience, Mixed Results in Lower Series

• Two career Xfinity Series starts: 10th in 2015 and 11th in 2016
• Two career Camping World Truck Series starts: Won in 2014 and 15th in 2013

 

Who is Not Hot entering Miami:

DENNY HAMLIN

• Finished 13th at ISM Raceway (third in Stage 1, 12th in Stage 2); involved in multi-car accident on Lap 269 after making contact with Kurt Busch on backstretch while battling for lead

2018 Season – Bad

• Finished 13th or worse in three of last four races
• Last 14 races: six top 10s and eight finishes of 12th or worse

Miami – Very Good

• Finished in top 10 in five straight races at Miami (including win in 2013)
• Finished in top 10 in nine of 13 career starts at Miami
• Started first, eighth in Stage 1, 10th in Stage 2, finished ninth in this race one year ago

 

Clint Bowyer

Round of 8 – Ice Cold

• Finished 35th at ISM Raceway (13th in Stage 1, 35th in Stage 2); DNF – scraped the wall on lap 45 while running 16th; lost left-rear tire entering Turn 3 on lap 133 and hit wall hard while running seventh
• Finished 26th at Texas (30th in Stage 1, 28th in Stage 2); contact with Hamlin on Lap 1; pitted on Lap 10 with flat right-rear tire after contact with Hamlin; penalized for crew over the wall too soon on Lap 164
• Finished 21st at Martinsville (fourth in Stage 1, 8th in Stage 2, 1 lap led); damaged right-front fender after contact with William Byron on pit road on Lap 133; spun after contact with Jimmie Johnson on Lap 457 while running 10th

2018 Season – Ice Cold

• Eliminated in Round of 8 for first time in career
• Finished outside Top 20 in four of last six races
• Last 12 races: five top 10s and seven finishes of 13th or worse (3 DNFs)

Miami – Slumping

• Finished 12th or worse in three straight races at Miami
• Started 16th, 10th in Stage 1, 15th in Stage 2, finished 12th in this race one year ago

 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

• Finished 33rd at ISM Raceway (15th in Stage 1, 19th in Stage 2); DNF – crashed hard in middle of turn 1 and 2 on lap 263 while running 14th

2018 Season – Bad

• Finished outside the top 10 in four straight races
• Finished 14th or worse in 26 of 35 races in 2018

Miami – Very Bad

• Finished 15th or worse in six career starts at Miami
• Finished 22nd or worse in five of six career starts at Miami (two DNFs)
• Started 6th, 15th in Stage 1, 11th in Stage 2, finished 15th in this race one year ago

 

Daniel Suarez

• Finished 36th at ISM Raceway (19th in Stage 1, 36th in Stage 2); DNF – ran into back of Matt Kenseth after Joey Logano spun on Lap 96 and the damaged vehicle clock ran out on Lap 102

2018 season – Very Bad

• Finished 28th or worse in last two races and 24th or worse in three of last four
• Finished 16th or worse in six of last eight races
• Finished outside the top-10 in 10 of last 13 races

Miami – Awful Start

• Started 10th, 14th in Stage 1, 14th in Stage 2, finished 34th in this race one year ago, his only career start at the track; DNF – hit debris on Lap 225 while running 14th and lost brakes

 

Paul Menard

• Finished 29th at ISM Raceway (32nd in Stage 1, 34th in Stage 2); started in the rear after going to backup car (crashed in final practice)

2018 Season – Very Bad

• Finished 22nd or worse in three of last four races
• Finished 13th or worse in seven of last eight races

Miami – Very Bad

• Finished 14th or worse in three straight races at Miami
• Only one top 10 finish in 12 Miami starts (fourth 2014)
• Started 15th, 26th in Stage 1, 25th in Stage 2, finished 16th in this race one year ago

 

Ryan Newman

• Finished 11th at ISM Raceway (14th in Stage 1, 11th in Stage 2)

2018 Season – Bad

• Finished outside the top 10 in seven of last eight races

Miami – Hit or Miss

• Last eight races at Miami: four Top 10s and four finishes of 12th or worse
• Finished 16th or worse in two of last three races at Miami
• Started 21st, 18th in Stage 1, 16th in Stage 2, finished 10th in this race one year ago

 

JIMMIE JOHNSON

• Finished 15th at ISM Raceway (16th in Stage 1, 13th in Stage 2); damaged in multi-car accident lap 269

2018 Season – Cold

• Finished outside the top 10 in four straight races and five of last six
• Last 12 races: 4 top-10s and eight finishes of 12th or worse
• Currently on a 58-race winless streak (longest of career)

Miami – Good

• Finished top-10 in four of last five Miami races (27th in 2017)
• Finished in Top 10 in 11 of 17 career starts at Miami
• Started 22nd, 32nd in Stage 1, 31st in Stage 2, finished 27th in this race one year ago

 

Alex Bowman

• Finished 30th at ISM Raceway (ninth in Stage 1, 15th in Stage 2); DNF – penalized for uncontrolled tire on Lap 136; collected in multi-car accident lap 269; spun in Turn 2 from 15th and hit wall with engine failure

2018 Season – Bad

• Finished 14th or worse in three straight races and five of last six

Miami – Very Bad

• Never finished better than 16th in three career starts at Miami

Bent fenders, first-time winners define start of NBC’s NASCAR schedule

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We’re four races into NBC Sports’ portion of the NASCAR schedule and actor Michael Rooker was right about one thing: things have gotten real.

There have been four Cup races shown on NBC networks and each has delivered a finish – or lightning strike – worth talking about.

Each race has been won by a different driver who also was making their first trip to victory lane this year. Two earned their first career Cup wins.

Here’s a look at the how the second half of the season has unfolded.

June 30, 2019 – Chicagoland Speedway

Alex Bowman finally punched his ticket to victory lane in the Cup Series.

It took 134 series starts, three consecutive runner-up finishes earlier in the year and a lengthy rain delay to begin the race day.

Racing under the lights, Bowman dueled with Kyle Larson over the last eight laps, with the two drivers making contact with six laps to go as Bowman drafted off the left side of Larson’s car.

After he took the checkered flag, Bowman’s victory lane visit was delayed even further when his No. 88 Chevrolet got stuck in the rain-soaked infield.

“I’m the dumb guy that won the race and then got stuck in the mud,” Bowman told NBCSN.

July 7 – Daytona International Speedway

Though there wasn’t a dramatic on-track finish to the final scheduled July Cup race at Daytona, there was a surprise winner.

Justin Haley had to wait a significantly shorter amount of time than Bowman to get his first Cup win, celebrating his in 131 fewer races.

Following a massive crash with 43 laps to go, leader Kurt Busch and a group of other teams elected to pit when NASCAR said they would go back to green in one lap.

Then lightning struck within eight miles of the track.

The field was brought to pit road with 33 laps to go and Haley scored as the leader in Spire Motorsports’ No. 77 Chevrolet, a team and car in their first year of existence.

The race never resumed as NASCAR eventually called the race official.

“I never even saw myself running a Cup race until I got a call a few months ago to do Talladega,” Haley told NBCSN. “It’s just unreal. I don’t know how to feel.”

While Busch had been on the “wrong side of a lightning bolt” he wouldn’t have to wait long for his own celebration.

July 13 – Kentucky Speedway

“Hell yeah! Hell yeah!” bellowed Kurt Busch on the start-finish line after the Quaker State 400.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver had plenty of reasons to be excited.

He’d just triumphed in an overtime finish over his little brother Kyle Busch.

It was the first time Kurt Busch had won in a 1-2 Cup finish against Kyle.

The elder Busch survived making contact with his brother twice on the final lap, including as they exited Turn 4 in the race to the checkered flag.

The victory was Kurt Busch’s first since joining CGR in December and also was the first career win for crew chief Matt McCall in 164 starts. The victory snapped a 64-race winless streak for Ganassi stretching back to the 2017 regular-season finale at Richmond.

July 21 – New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Kevin Harvick is the latest driver to end a lengthy winless streak with dramatic flair.

Sunday saw the Stewart-Haas Racing driver end a 21-race drought after he held off Denny Hamlin over the final 35 laps while racing on older tires.

After Hamlin and other drivers pitted under the final caution, Harvick and two other cars stayed out.

Hamlin wasn’t able to get within striking distance until the last lap. The two veterans slammed sheet metal twice, with Hamlin’s failed bump-and-run in Turn 1 and then Harvick cutting off Hamlin’s path as they exited Turn 4.

“I knew that (Hamlin) was gonna take a shot,” Harvick said. “I would have taken a shot. I stood on the brakes and just tried to keep it straight. I just didn’t want to get him back from the inside and let him have another shot. I wanted to at least be in control of who was gonna have contact in Turn 3 and 4. It was a heck of a finish, closer than what we wanted, but it was our only chance.”

Hamlin was left to re-think the final lap as Harvick celebrated in the background.

Second sucks,” Hamlin told NBCSN.

Up Next: Pocono

Six races remain in the regular season and the next chance for Cup drama will come at Pocono Raceway (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN), the 2.5-mile triangle that the series visited in June.

But the circumstances will be a little bit different. After complaints about the competition in June, the track will apply the PJ1 traction compound to areas in all three turns.

It’s the first time the track has applied the traction agent to its surface.

It will also be the third consecutive race the Cup Series has held on a track treated with it, following Kentucky and New Hampshire.

And we all know how those races ended.

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New Hampshire winners and losers

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WINNERS

Kevin HarvickHe no longer has to answer the question of when is he going to win (same for Stewart-Haas Racing). Now the question is if this will lead to a string of wins for the No. 4 team, which has shown speed but not been able to capitalize on it.

Parity — Kevin Harvick marked the seventh different winner in the last seven Cup races, the longest streak of the season.

Ryan Newman First, he was in a backup car and had to start at the rear on a track where passing is difficult. Then, he had a broken coil wire that sapped his engine’s power with about 100 laps to go. His team recovered and he finished seventh for his fifth top 10 in the last six races. Also, he climbed into a playoff spot.

Matt DiBenedetto His fifth-place finish was his third top-10 result in the last five races. Good progress for Leavine Family Racing.

LOSERS

Jimmie JohnsonBack-to-back 30th-place finishes have dropped the seven-time champion out of a playoff spot. He’s never missed NASCAR’s postseason — and is the only driver who can say that he’s been in the Chase/playoffs every year since its inception in 2004. Will that streak continue? Or will it end this year?

Richard Childress Racing — RCR cars finished 37th (Daniel Hemric) and 32nd (Austin Dillon). Hemric’s day ended after contact from Daniel Suarez. Dillon blew a right front tire early and that damaged his car.

Hendrick Motorsports — Alex Bowman’s team went through two cars before Sunday’s race. William Byron had to go to a backup because of an incident in practice. Mechanical issues caused Jimmie Johnson to finish 30th and Chase Elliott to place 29th. Bowman placed 14th and Byron led the way with a 12th-place finish. The best thing about the weekend for Hendrick Motorsports is it is over.

Kyle Larson — Two crashes within the last 100 laps made for a bad day Sunday.

With an inadvertent but legal deke, Erik Jones rallies for third

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LOUDON, N.H. – With critical points hanging in the balance for a playoff bid, Erik Jones thought he screwed up Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Instead, he inadvertently might have stumbled across a new strategy for keeping opponents guessing on pit stops.

During the final caution with 35 laps remaining, Jones swerved to the right back on the racing surface at the last minute, driving over the pit lane commitment box.

Jones began fuming over the team radio, but he eventually was informed there would be no penalty from NASCAR, which changed its rule governing pit entry over the past two seasons. Drivers with four tires below the boundary must enter the pits; Jones had only his left-sides below.

Two tires below once would have committed a car to the pits at tracks such as New Hampshire and shorter, and that caused some confusion on Twitter (NASCAR senior vice president Steve O’Donnell clarified the call).

But it raises an interesting point: Should every driver who is committed to staying on track fake a move to the pits by rolling over the commitment box as Jones did?

“I don’t think NASCAR would appreciate that very much, and I’m glad we didn’t get a penalty,” Jones said with a smile. “But it’s definitely an interesting situation. I forgot (what) the rules actually said, and I think many people probably were surprised by that.

“So I think you might see some more faking out. I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Crew chief Chris Gayle was sure Jones would escape punishment after he watched the replay and saw the No. 20 Toyota had at least two wheels above the inside boundary.

“I was like, ‘Oh, we’re good,’ because you’ve got to have all four below the box, and he kind of split it,” Gayle said. “I think he didn’t think about it. They say it in the driver’s meeting all the time now, and you’ve got to pay attention, but most everywhere it’s all four below the orange box.”

After restarting in second behind race winner Kevin Harvick, Jones hung on for third behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin and punctuated a race in which he overcame contact with two drivers and a speeding penalty.

He started fourth and catapulted into the lead with a two-tire call by Gayle on Lap 48. Jones finished second in the first stage and then made contact with Alex Bowman’s No. 88 Chevrolet while exiting his pit stall on Lap 111. That necessitated another stop dropping him to 28th as the last car on the lead lap.

“We had contact here on pit road (in the 2017 race), and it ended our day, blew a tire on the restart, so we couldn’t risk that,” Jones said. “We couldn’t have a DNF, so coming down to fix it was the right thing to do. We had to make that right and put ourselves back out there, but it was up and down.”

While battling through the field 20 laps later, Jones made contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who brought out a Lap 138 yellow by hitting the wall with a flat tire from the damage. Jones incurred a speeding penalty entering the pits during the caution.

But he restarted in 11th and steadily marched forward during the second half. He was in fifth when the yellow flew the last time, allowing Gayle to keep his car on track and restart beside Harvick.

“That was the good thing,” Jones said. “The (car) had enough speed to get back up there and get in contention. I think at the end with some clean air, we could be in (Harvick’s) spot, I think we were just as fast as him there the run before, so we have to keep putting ourselves up there, and eventually it’s going to work out, but a good testament to our team, just the way we came back today.”

With six races remaining in the regular season, he is ranked 14th and is 28 points above the cutoff line after entering New Hampshire in 16th with only a two-point cushion. But when other bubble drivers had trouble Sunday, it made Gayle’s strategy decisions simpler.

“It wasn’t as bad today because you start seeing other guys having problems that we were racing in the points,” Gayle said. “So when they all started having trouble, and we’re at the back, I’m like OK, this makes it a little bit easier. We can just do something and go for the win here at the end.”

Jones seems on the verge of a win after finishing third in four of the past nine starts.

With contract talks at JGR progressing well, the only cloud on the horizon might be Stenhouse, who vowed payback against Jones between and the playoffs.

“I guess go ahead,” Jones said when told of Stenhouse’s threat. “He was racing me really hard and for nothing. We were 200 laps to go in the race, and he had the choice of lifting and letting me go, and he didn’t do it for five laps, and that’s just how it is.

“If you’re going to race hard, you’re going to get raced hard. I didn’t want to have to do it, but sometimes it comes down to it. I like Ricky, but he races really hard. I expect it. If I’m going to race Kevin Harvick at the front of the field like that 10 laps in a row, I’m going to get wrecked. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to keep moving forward and keep giving yourself a good day.”

Denny Hamlin laments ‘stupid decision’ on final lap against Kevin Harvick

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In the aftermath of his runner-up finish to Kevin Harvick on Sunday in New Hampshire, Denny Hamlin was left regretting and praying.

He regretted his “stupid decision” on how to race Harvick on the last lap, which resulted in fenders banging and Harvick’s first win of the year.

That had Hamlin hoping a higher power might give him the win another way.

The tech gods could not be persuaded to intervene.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver wishes he had dealt with Harvick’s No. 4 Ford differently once they took the white flag.

He now knows he’d have been better off doing exactly what Harvick did in this race last year when he performed a bump-and-run on Kyle Busch in Turns 1 and 2 in the closing laps and went on to win.

“My decision was after Turn 1 and I got him out of the groove, ‘I don’t want to be the leader here, I’d rather be the guy behind’ and that was a stupid decision because I should have just went in there and carried him up the race track,” Hamlin said. “That’s just not the way I want to do it. We’re two veteran guys, we know how to race these things clean and let’s just figure it out in the end and he got the best of us.”

Hamlin said he has “lot of respect” for Harvick and “I did the best I could to be as clean as I could.”

Hamlin led 113 laps in a backup car after he crashed in practice on Friday.

“I knew we made it really good yesterday in practice, but once it got out front it was phenomenal and better than expected,” Hamlin said, but he lamented the difficulties of racing in dirty air with not getting to Harvick’s bumper sooner. “He never slipped a tire and I couldn’t quite get to him until he made that one little lane choice mistake coming to the white (flag) passing a lapped car and taking the bottom, I knew that was our opportunity to get a huge run and we did.”