What Drivers Said after the GEICO 500 at Talladega

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Here’s what drivers had to say after Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway:

Chase Elliott – winner: “What a day. … Just a huge thanks to all of our partners, my team, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet; there was obviously a lot of teamwork done today. We just had a plan and executed really well. Obviously it could have gone both ways but fortunately everybody stayed together and stayed the course and had some help on that last lap with the caution. I just appreciate all the support. This is unbelievable. This is special. This is close to home for me. It feels a little bit like a home race.”

Alex Bowman – finished second: “There was no plan coming off Turn 4, but unfortunately we didn’t get there before the caution came out. Big props to Chevrolet and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports. They brought great race cars here. We had a great Nationwide Chevy from the time we unloaded. We showed a lot of speed. We all stuck to our plans and executed really well. Props to everybody back at home at Hendrick Motorsports and the fab shop and the engine shop and everybody that makes this deal possible. (If the caution didn’t come out, would you have made a move on Elliott?) Well, I’m not just going to let him win, right? I’ve got to try. I knew I could get to his quarter panel. I was pretty confident I could get to his quarter panel in the tri-oval and who knows who’s going to get to the line first at that point. I thought I could do it, but it depends on the car behind you and where he goes. It would have been fun to try, but I’m happy for Chase. … I’m glad to kind of turn things around. It’s been a rough start to the year and these guys deserve way better than the finishes they’ve had. So, to come home second is not a win, but it’s headed in the right direction.”

Ryan Preece – finished third: “It was awesome. I was only here one other time and that was in Talladega in 2016 in an Xfinity car and I was running third with three to go, went for the sucker hole and got flushed. I wasn’t going to do that today. … Great day for Kroger and JTG (Daugherty Racing) and hopefully we can keep this momentum moving forward.”

Joey Logano – finished fourth: “At the end (Kurt Busch) had a big run and I felt like I had to block that. When I blocked that I can’t block both and (Chase Elliott) got underneath me. If I chose the bottom and block (Elliott) I had (Alex Bowman) there and they were going to go by me as soon as they formed a run. I was not in a very good spot. Once I got on the outside I thought that would be a better spot to be than the bottom but the teammates there didn’t race each other to the end, which is good on their part because it made sure one of their cars won. If they had gotten side by side I think I could have made something happen but they were selfless toward each other. I really think even if it was green all the way to the end it would have looked exactly the same. There were no runs built and no momentum going. It is a tough spot to be in. You think you are in a good spot and anytime you can take the front row on a final restart you will take it, especially here at Talladega but it is tough when the numbers are stacked against you a little bit. The team did a good job though and our Mustang was really fast and that is what we have to be proud of.”

Daniel Hemric — finished fifth: “Chevrolet and all the drivers and teams put in the effort to communicate here in the last few weeks to try and stay dedicated and committed to each other. We’ve talked about it in the past, but we’ve never had such unity on the racetrack like we had today. That’s what led to us ultimately having our best finish as a group. I’m proud of that and of all the Chevrolet drivers sticking together. The first objective was to make sure a Bowtie ended up in Victory Lane today, and that’s what happened today. I’m proud of all these guys. (On the number of meetings with Chevy) Oh yeah, (there were) many of them to make sure we were all on the same page. It was cool to see people put the effort in and then us do our jobs on the track and stay committed to each other. That’s special. It’s hard to take a lot of drivers’ egos and put them to the side and try to look for the bigger cause, which was to get Chevrolet to Victory Lane. That’s what happened and I’m happy for that.”

Kurt Busch – finished sixth:I feel like we had a great day with our Monster Energy Chevy. I just didn’t deliver the win. I felt like I had it in my hands and let it drop. I didn’t make the right moves at the end to bring our Monster Energy Chevy a victory. It’s tough. I just didn’t execute what I needed to do to win the race. But all in all, it was a great day for Chevrolet and the teamwork from everybody. … Chase Elliott deserves the win. He did everything you would need a teammate from a brand to do. He put himself in position at the end. I just didn’t know what lane I needed to pick going into Turn 3 and I got swallowed up in the draft. (Thoughts on the new aero package) I think it was pretty good all the way around with each of the manufacturers doing their thing. No lane seemed more effective than years past. I’d give the package a thumbs up. … I just feel like I gave this one away today. Our Monster Energy Chevy was fast, and now we’ll go to a fast, one-mile track with all the horsepower. To have all this downforce and all this horsepower, I’ve been looking forward to Dover all year.”

Ryan Newman – finished seventh: “That was crazy. I took the inside line and started there and stayed there. Never had many places to go but either way it was a good run and a good team effort. Proud of the entire team to be able to keep it together. I think we kept most of the race cars on the race track which was probably a lot of luck. We will go on to Dover. (Was he surprised at Chevrolet’s domination?) No, I think it was mostly luck, honestly. They did a good job of orchestrating the pit but I don’t think that won them the race. … We put two tires on it there at the end and went. We just ran out of time. I think we finished sixth, I feel like I was ahead of one of those guys. It was a good run for the Acorns Ford. We got some good stage points and race points. We need to get a win. We need to get a top five. We have top 10s rolling and that is good. We need to keep going in the right direction. (Was it a different Talladega, using tapered spacers rather than restrictor plates?) I don’t know that it was much different. You got bigger runs but the end result was basically the same. We are still at the mercy of other people’s mistakes which will always be a part of racing here. In the end I am glad all the race cars stayed on the race track.”

Brendan Gaughan – finished eighth: “I was telling the guys, ‘I don’t know what y’all think is so tough about this. I show up once every three months and drive into the top-10.’ I miss this sport. It is a lot of fun. I don’t miss it enough to want to be here every week. I know now I can hold my breath for a minute and 45 seconds! It was pretty impressive. Thank you to the Beard Family, Richard Childress and ECR. I’m here four times a year and we end up with a chance to win every time we show up. I love driving for this team. It was unbelievable out there at the end of that race. I tucked up and stayed up under Ryan Newman. I sat on the bottom and tried to go forward. I’ll take eighth today.”

Aric Almirola – finished ninth: “We had a really good Smithfield Ford Mustang. I thought we had a car capable of winning but just a few mistakes on my part and then a few thing didn’t go my way. I worked my way back up to the first two or three spots and got shuffled out, one time late in the race there and fell to the back. Had to fight really hard just to get back up into the top 10. I am really proud of all of our guys. I thought we had a car capable of winning and circumstances and some things didn’t go our way. The Fords were really fast. The only thing I am happy about is that we finally stopped the bleeding. We had a really crappy couple of weeks with Bristol and Richmond. We fell from fifth to 11th in points. We stopped the bleeding there, got another top 10 and are back on track going to a great race track for us in Dover.”

Kyle Busch – finished 10th: We restarted outside the front row and I thought the 1 (Kurt Busch) behind me would want to race for the win and not just fall in line behind Fords and in front of Chevrolets and he would go with us a little bit there. Team order prevailed I guess. That kind of sucked. We weren’t able to have the run. As soon as he bailed off from behind me and then two others behind me got double-wide and then it just sucked me six rows back. I had to try to recover after that and all I could get was whatever I got. When you got older on tires and cars started to ill-handle a little bit, it was interesting. We got more downforce and yet the cars are driving worse, I don’t know how that’s possible. It was just interesting how you could be all over the place and not just be stuck. Guys were moving a little bit, you could make some moves a little bit. There was a section of race where the bottom lane didn’t move anywhere and the top lane didn’t move anywhere – we were stuck where we were at for like eight laps. That was about all I really saw.”

Daniel Suarez — finished 12th: “We had a very fast Orange Vanilla Coca-Cola Mustang today, but at the end we just didn’t have enough time to get in the lane that was moving the best. I was trying the top groove with a few laps to go, but it wasn’t going anywhere. With the new package we’re still trying to figure out how the car reacts in different lanes and those types of things. Overall, we escaped all of the accidents and the guys on the No. 41 Mustang are doing a good job and we keep improving.”

Brad Keselowski — finished 13th:Erik Jones and I had an awesome run going on the top with three laps to go but it didn’t work out. Major props to the 2 crew for adapting and overcoming when I slid into our pit stall.”

Austin Dillon – finished 14th: “I thought Chevrolet did a really good job today. The racing was pretty good. We didn’t tear up too much stuff, and with all of the downforce this new package has, we could really move around. If you did get hit, you could try to save it, so I thought there was some really good racing going on out there today. I chose the outside lane on the last run. Kyle Larson and I were committed to each other, but I don’t think the outside works with the spoilers we have on our cars now. There’s just not enough grip until the end of a run. At the end of a run, it becomes stronger. I’m proud of everyone on this No. 3 Dow Chevrolet team for their efforts today. We’re headed to Dover to try and earn a win for RCR and ECR.”

Ryan Blaney — finished 15th: “It was a tough race today for the Menards / Knauf team. The new package allowed us to make moves, but unfortunately we got shuffled out late and didn’t have time to get back to the front.”

Ty Dillon – finished 17th: “I’m really proud of our effort today. We want to win the Geico 500 but we did win something today (Stage One) so that’s always good. (How was the racing today?) Crazy! It’s crazy. Hopefully the fans enjoyed it, and that’s all that matters. (What does a second stage win mean?) It’s massive. I don’t think anyone expected us to win two stages this year, so we’re proud of that. We’re going to keep clicking along. We were really happy with the way we did it at Bristol and we surprised ourselves to do it here at Talladega. Who knows how many more we can do it, but I’m just really proud.”

Jeffrey Earnhardt — finished 22nd: “Today was a tough day for the Xtreme Concepts team. I was tight all day, and we’d start to make progress on it with the adjustments, but by the end of the race it was worse than it had been all day. I really thought in the last laps we were going to come out of here with a top-10 finish. There was just nothing I could do to save it there. I took a hit from the side and then I saw the 42 barrel-rolling. I’m just glad it wasn’t worse. That’s Talladega, though, you never know what you’re going to get. We had two great cars this weekend and ran well in both. We’ll look back on what we learned today and be ready to give it another shot when we come back for the Cup race in the fall.”

David Ragan – finished 23rd: “I was in the middle there after we took the white flag and I just got loose and wrecked the 24 (William Byron). I spun him out across my nose and he collected a few other cars. That last wreck was my fault. I was pretty stupid to wreck like that when you are running 10th or 15th on the last lap. We didn’t have a shot to win. When you get three-wide there is just nowhere to go and everybody was pushing and shoving and my car just jumped sideways and when I corrected it I caught the 24’s left rear and spun him across my nose. That was unfortunate for our team. Our Mustang was fast all day and had a lot of fun out there but just made a stupid mistake there at the end. (What he thought about the new package) I thought it was pretty intense. I felt there were times guys raced really hard up front and sometimes when guys got single file and rode. You are gonna have that in a 500-mile race. You can’t race that hard for 500 miles without carnage. That first wreck set the tone and guys chilled out a little bit. The cars are going 200 mph and it is exciting and they are hard to race and ultimately you will make some mistakes out there.”

Kyle Larson – finished 24th: “Initially I thought I was going to hit the inside wall and right before I got there, it started to lift. That was probably the longest flip I’ve ever had. I just didn’t know if it would ever stop. I knew I was flipping and was just hoping I wouldn’t get any closer to the catchfence. It was a little bit scary, but I’m all right. Thanks to the fab shop at Chip Ganassi Racing for building safe race cars. Like I said, it was scary, but I’m just thankful I’m okay.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — finished 25th: “Our Fifth Third Ford was sporty all day,” Stenhouse said. “The No. 1 got me loose on the last restart which he was doing what he needed to do to get on the inside so that shuffled us back. It was just a bummer since we had such a great car to end up blowing a tire there at the end and not getting the finish we deserved.”

Daniel Hemric — finished 26th: “It was a successful day for us, that’s for sure. Thanks to everyone on this No. 8 Caterpillar Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 team for sticking with me all year; this was the run we needed. We earned some stage points, brought home a clean Camaro, and scored our first top-five finish as a group. We weren’t able to be too aggressive all day but a great job by Chevrolet and all of our guys to stay committed. We did everything we could through the restarts and green flag stops to stay together and fortunately we were able to keep our Chevrolet on the bottom and had a couple of us lined up there together in the closing laps. The racing was wild. I tried to stay dedicated and patient throughout the race, and that was the most difficult thing for us. I’m proud of all the effort put forth by all of the Chevrolet teams and drivers to get Chevy back in Victory lane, that helps us all on the manufacturer side of things. Hopefully these fans enjoyed the show; I know I did.”

Chris Buescher – finished 30th: “We just got turned (talking about his late-race crash). We had a good driving car and put ourselves in a good position there with a handful of laps to go. We just turned right, got hit and turned right into the fence, destroyed our race and and several race cars. It’s typical of these race tracks. It gets frustrating every time you come to these places and something like this throughout the race. It’s just not very much fun.”

Matt DiBenedetto – finished 31st: I’m about tired of superspeedway racing for the year. Daytona – good car, good run, crashed. Here – I was actually fighting really tight there at the end. Just was struggling to maintain, but once we got up to second (place) cars kept getting underneath me off the corner. But I don’t know what happened. I saw (Chris) Buescher got turned and we absolutely clobbered him. I had nowhere to go, nothing to do – just speedway racing. I’m sure I’d love it if it was going the opposite direction, but it seems like we crash in every one of these things.”

Denny Hamlin – finished 36th: We had to start in the back, got up to the top five there. Then Bubba (Wallace) and Ryan (Blaney) were kind of bouncing off of each other. Bubba got sideways in front of me and I ran into him. That caused a little damage then we blew a tire – Jimmie (Johnson) blew a tire, no caution. Clint (Bowyer) blew a caution, wrecked, no caution. Then we blew a tire and no caution. We didn’t really get an opportunity to fix it all the way we needed to and ended up ending our day. We’ve been pretty fortunate to miss a lot of wrecks on the superspeedway races for the last four or five years, but today was just the day that bad luck dropped on us.

“It’s just one of those things where I felt like I did everything I was supposed to do, but sometimes in NASCAR racing when somebody else makes a mistake you get caught up in it. That was the case today. I guess maybe I could have been a little more aware of the guys I was racing around. The runs are big. It’s very hard to defend the lead once you do get up there. You have to be on your toes more so than ever with this package simply because the runs are so big. We’ve got some information, we’ll move on and go to Daytona.”

Kevin Harvick – finished 38th: “I went to the back to start and thought that was going to happen several times throughout the day. I got myself back there and it looked pretty tame so I decided to go back to the front and drove back up there fairly easy. I don’t know what happened. They all wrecked and I slowed down and somebody hit me in the door and I hit the wall.”

Bubba Wallace – finished 39th: “All I was trying to do was just some wreck avoidance. I didn’t want to wad up the No. 12 (Ryan Blaney). That’s the last car I want to wad up out there. Had such a big run on him. And the No. 22 (Joey Logano) pulled up and he checked up a little bit. I went to go to the bottom, where I was safe. I don’t know if I crossed his bumper or whatever. But it got him wiggled down and shoved me even farther down than I wanted to go. So, I went back up just to stay off the apron and it just unloaded. It’s just unfortunate, but I tried not to wreck my buddy, Ryan, and it cost our day and some others. I apologize. But, we should have been wrecked a couple of laps before that. The No. 11 (Denny Hamlin) had a big run on us and let me in throughout the middle, so I appreciate that. We were fast. I was just trying to ride and not wreck somebody and I wrecked myself.”

Michael McDowell – finished 40th: “Looked like the 43 was being real aggressive and making stupid moves at the beginning of the race. … That is pretty early in the race to be making dumb moves like that … to be that aggressive. Unfortunately for the Love’s Travel Stops Ford we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I saw the 43 (Wallace) coming up the race track and that was about it. It is disappointing. We have had such good speed and such a great superspeedway program and we were really hopeful for today. To be out so early on is very disappointing. It is out of our control though. It is part of superspeedway racing.”

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RFK Racing reaps benefits of hard work with Bristol win, Texas pole

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When Brad Keselowski arrived at RFK Racing after last season, among the early changes he made included repainting the walls and restructuring the team’s shop.

They were meant to infuse an organization that hadn’t won a Cup points race since 2017 with a new look and feel. And help create a new mindset for the 165 employees.

“The first thing (Keselowski) started changing was colors,” Justin Edgell, tire carrier on Chris Buescher’s team, told NBC Sports. “Everything is satin black. My man is a satin black-type guy. I’m talking about trash cars. I’m talking about equipment. I like it. You know, look good, play good.”

RFK Racing has looked great the last week. Buescher gave the organization its first points win of the season, taking the checkered flag in the Bristol night race. Keselowski followed by winning the pole for today’s second-round playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network). Buescher starts today’s race 13th. 

MORE: Details for today’s Cup race at Texas 

It has taken much for the organization to experience a week like this. The season didn’t start well. Both Keselowski and Buescher failed to make the feature in the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in early February. 

Less than two weeks later, they each won their qualifying race at Daytona. 

RFK Racing wouldn’t be back to Victory Lane until Bristol. In between were disappointments, close calls and plenty of work.

“We’re in a spot where with our company, we’ve made a lot of changes over the last six to 12 months,” Keselowski told NBC Sports after the team’s celebration on Monday. “And there’s a maturation cycle to those. 

“Nobody likes that maturation cycle. There’s still things that we’ve invested that haven’t matured. So there’s a lot of reasons for optimism, but we have a long ways to go.”

Having patience in such a fast-moving sport isn’t easy but it is needed.

“I wish we would have matured earlier,” Keselowski said,” but I ain’t going to look at gift horse in the mouth and scream at him. I will take it and we’re going to build off it. Right now we have two teams that are like 10th-place teams. Our last few weeks have shown that’s where we’re at in speed, that’s where we’re at in finishes. If we ran a whole season like that … we’d be a playoff team.”

When Keselowski spoke to the employees at Monday’s celebration, he told them to enjoy the moment. He also had another message for them.

“Winning at this level is really hard and it’s supposed to be hard,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of fight to get there this year. Certainly some good moments and some really tough moments. I’m really proud of all of us and the work that went in.”

Another key to the organization’s success finding common ground between those who had been at Roush before Keselowski’s arrival and the new hires and their ideas.

After working through those issues, which included how the cars were prepared, Graves saw progress.

“You step back and embrace it and look at it and it’s like, ‘OK, this makes sense,’” Graves said. “You can start to develop and build on some ideas that make progress.”

The results started to show. Buescher finished second at Sonoma in June. He was sixth at Road America in July. He placed third at Richmond ninth at Watkins Glen in back-to-back weekends in August. 

“It’s been really nice to go to these race tracks and be in the hunt, be up there at the front,” Buescher told the employees at Monday’s celebration. “We’re learning every week. We’ve made huge progress really through the whole year.”

Buescher and Keselowski combined to lead 278 of the 500 laps at Bristol. Buescher found himself toward the front late in the race. Graves made a two-tire call on the last stop. Buescher went from entering the pits fourth to exiting first when no one else made such a move. Buescher led the final 61 laps to win. 

Then he got to do something he hadn’t in years. 

A burnout.

“I’ve only been able to do like three in my career,” he told NBC Sports, noting he didn’t do burnouts in ARCA because he often needed those tires for another event. “Xfinity wins, we were able do do some burnouts. 

“After the Pocono Cup win, it was rained out so we just had to push it to victory way, so it’s been a really long time since I’ve done any legal burnouts in a race car. So that part was nice. 

“It was nice to actually be able celebrate on the frontstretch with the team the real way, in the moment, not hanging around for that that rainout. That’s what made it that much better in my eyes.”

Keselowski looks to join Buescher in winning a points race this year. In a season with 19 different winners, Keselowski admits it’s challenging to be among those who have yet to win.

“Now we are in a spot where we are ready to play some offense,” he said. “It is a good feeling. It comes with a pragmatic view and a lot of humility of being able to walk away from some races where you were legitimately 20th or 25th and go to work the next morning and say, ‘Alright, we aren’t going to burn the house down. We are going to repaint the living room and then we are going to go to the next room and work on it piece by piece.’

“The easy thing to do is to lose control over yourself. That is the easy thing to do. The hard thing to do is to work through it and be methodical in that approach.”

It’s an approach that has led RFK Racing back to Victory Lane.

Dr. Diandra: Surprises in playoff performance

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The first round of playoff performances defied expectations in both good and bad ways.

That is my excuse for why my very first attempt at making predictions was an abject failure. I projected Alex Bowman, William Byron, Chase Briscoe and Austin Dillon would be the first four drivers out of the playoff. Only Dillon failed to move on to the round of 12.

Of course, my algorithm did not account for Kyle Busch having two engine failures in three races. Especially after his not having had a single engine failure in the previous 92 races.

Nor did the algorithm predict Kevin Harvick’s Darlington race being ended by fire.

Or that none of the 16 playoff drivers would win even one of the first three playoff races.

On the positive side, playoff drivers took 11 out of 15 possible top-fives (73%), and 21 of 30 top-10s (70%.) That’s consistent with a season boasting 19 different winners.

Chase Elliott is the only driver to win more than two races this season. Drivers made the playoffs by finishing well rather than winning of lot of races.

Playoff performance by the numbers

In the table at right, I list drivers in order of points after Bristol — but before re-seeding. Red numbers indicate DNFs.A table showing drivers' finishing positions for the first three playoff races

DNFs played a major role in the first round. Each of the four eliminated drivers had at least one DNF. Harvick and Busch had two each. Both of Busch’s DNFs and one of Harvick’s were due to equipment failure.

Only three drivers earned top-10 finishes in all three playoff races: Christopher Bell, Denny Hamlin and Byron. Two of my predicted eliminations over-performed. And the one driver I expected to dominate the playoffs didn’t.

Relative to the regular season

Excluding equipment failures and crashes, one expects most drivers to perform, on average, at about the same level they ran during the regular season. That mostly didn’t happen.

In the first two elimination rounds, top 10s are enough to stay in the game. So that’s the metric I’ll focus on here.

The graph below compares drivers’ top-10 finish percentage in the first three playoff races to the same metric from the regular season.

A graph comparing the regular season top-10 rate to the top-10 rate in the first three playoff races to

Each arrow starts at the driver’s regular-season average and travels to his playoff average. Blue indicates playoff performance better than the regular season and red indicates the opposite.

Six drivers performed better than their regular-season averages would suggest.

Byron entered the playoffs seeded 10th with only five top-10 finishes in the regular season. With three top-10s in the first round of the playoffs, he earned the second-most points of any driver in the round of 16.

Hamlin had the second-largest improvement with two second-place finishes and a ninth. That continues his season-long trend of trying to overcome a slow start.

Bell’s 53.8% top-10 rate for the regular season doesn’t give him much room to improve. But he did. He’s also the only driver with three top-five playoff finishes.

Bowman, whose crew chief, Greg Ives, will retire at the end of this season, increased from 38.5% to 66.6% top-10 finishes.

“I think we are super motivated,” Bowman said, “because its Greg’s last 10 races with me and we want to end on a high note. We know the summer doesn’t matter anymore, our troubles, and it’s a good reset for us going into the playoffs.”

The biggest surprise, perhaps, was Elliott. He has the most top-10 finishes of any driver with 18. But only one came from the first playoff round.

Momentum

Driver finishes rise and fall throughout a season. The ups and downs are even larger this year because of the new Next Gen car. For that reason, it’s worth comparing playoff performance not only to the entire regular-season average, but also to just the last five regular-season races.

The arrows on the next plot start at the top-10 rate for each driver’s last five regular-season races and travel to their playoff rate.

A graph comparing the regular season top-10 rate to the top-10 rate in the first three playoff races to the last five races of the regular season

Seven drivers improved relative to their last five regular-season races — the six from before, plus Daniel Suárez. Suárez rose from 20% to 33.3%. That’s typical of a season that has been fairly consistent, but not at a level that will take him to the final four.

Byron’s turnaround is even more impressive in view of his having zero top-10 finishes in the last five races of the regular season.

“I think we had a lot of really good tracks in the beginning of the year,” Byron said. “As we started to chase some speed and chase some things, we got off a little bit throughout the summer.”

He believes the team has returned to where it needs to be.

“We know what works; we know what doesn’t work,” Byron said. “We definitely know what doesn’t work after the last month or so, so that’s a good thing.”

Joey Logano has the largest downward trend relative to the last five races, going from a 80.0% top-10 rate to 33.3%.

This graph shows Elliott’s playoff decline to be a trend continuing from the end of the regular season. That might be good news for the other drivers struggling to catch up with him.

Scoring and re-seeding

The table below summarizes points and playoff points earned during the three playoff races and each drivers’ final score before re-seeding. The lineup looks quite different than it did going into this round of three races.

A table showing how many points each playoff driver earned in the first round But that’s before re-seeding.

I hadn’t appreciated playoff points until I did the math. Each driver moving on to the round of 12 gets 3000 points, plus their total playoff points.

Because none of these drivers won a race, only five of the 21 playoff points available in the last three races impact the new standings. Bell won two stages; Byron, Bowman and Busch one each.

So we’re mostly back to where we were leaving Daytona.

A table showing the re-seeded rankings entering the second round of playoff racesRyan Blaney fell a spot. Byron’s dramatic turnaround didn’t impact his playoff standing. Most of Bowman’s move up the charts is due to eliminating the drivers originally ranked seventh, ninth and 11th.

The current standings reflect NASCAR’s eternal struggle between winning and consistency. On the one hand, I understand the desire to mimic other sports’ playoffs and not let the results of the last round impact the next. But carrying over regular-season playoff points means that Elliott returns to P1 despite having earned fewer points in the three playoff races than seven of the 16 drivers.

That’s why Bell, who earned almost twice as many points as Elliott and won two stages, ties for sixth place with Hamlin and Blaney. Elliott goes from 40 points behind Bell to 27 points ahead of him.

If Bell or any of the other remaining drivers wants to challenge Elliott, even top-five finishes won’t be enough.

In these playoffs, performance isn’t enough. You have to win.

Texas Xfinity results: Noah Gragson wins playoff opener

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Noah Gragson is rolling through the NASCAR Xfinity Series like a bowling ball headed toward a strike.

Gragson won for the fourth consecutive race Saturday, taking the lead with 11 laps left and winning the 300-mile race at Texas Motor Speedway. The victory put Gragson in the second round of the playoffs.

Finishing behind him in the top five were Austin Hill, Ty Gibbs, AJ Allmendinger and Riley Herbst.

Texas Xfinity results

The race was pockmarked by wrecks, scrambling the 12-driver playoff field.

POINTS REPORT

Noah Gragson remains the points leader after his win. He has 2,107 points. AJ Allmendinger is next, 26 points behind.

Sam Mayer and Ryan Sieg hold the final two transfer spots. They are one point ahead of Riley Herbst, eight points ahead of Daniel Hemric, 13 points ahead of Brandon Jones and 29 points ahead of Jeremy Clements.

Texas Xfinity driver points

The Xfinity playoffs will continue Oct. 1 at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET, USA Network).

Noah Gragson wins Xfinity race at Texas Motor Speedway

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Noah Gragson opened the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs the same way he has run much of the season.

Gragson sidestepped a web of issues plaguing playoff drivers and won Saturday’s 300-mile race at Texas Motor Speedway, tying a decades-old Xfinity record by winning for the fourth consecutive race. Sam Ard, formerly a series mainstay, won four in a row in 1983.

Gragson, continuing to establish himself as the championship favorite, took the lead with 11 laps to go from Jeb Burton as most of the day’s leaders were running different tire and fuel strategies over the closing laps.

Gragson, 24 and set to jump to the Cup Series next season, led 85 laps. He won by 1.23 seconds.

“This number 9 team, man, they’re on fire,” Gragson told NBC Sports. “Luke Lambert (crew chief) and the boys executed a great race.”

MORE: Texas Xfinity results

The win was Gragson’s seventh of the year. Following in the top five were Austin Hill, Ty Gibbs, AJ Allmendinger and Riley Herbst.

The victory pushed Gragson into the second round of the playoffs.

A big crash at the front of the field on lap 117 changed the face of the race. John Hunter Nemechek lost control of his car on the outside and was clipped by Justin Allgaier, starting a wreck that scrambled most of the field. Damages forced playoff drivers Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones and Allgaier from the race.

“The 7 (Allgaier) chose the top behind me, and I haven’t seen the replay of it, but the 7 chose the top behind me and started pushing,” Nemechek said. “The 21 (Hill) made it three-wide on the 9 (Gragson), and I was three-wide at the top, and I think we ended up four-wide at one point, which doesn’t really work aero-wide in the pack.”

Pole winner Jones, a playoff driver taken out in the crash, said Nemechek “was pushing a little too hard. Nothing to fault him there for, but probably a little early to be going that far. It is what it is.”

Six laps earlier, another multi-car crash scattered the field and damaged the car of playoff contender and regular season champion Allmendinger.

The wreck started when Brandon Brown slipped in front of Allmendinger and went into a slide, forcing Allmendinger to the inside apron. Several cars scattered behind them trying to avoid the accident.

Allmendinger’s crew repaired his car and he later had the race lead.

Playoff driver Jeremy Clements had a tough day. He parked with what he called mysterious mechanical issues about halfway through the race.

Below the cutline after the first race are Herbst, Hemric, Jones and Clements.

Stage 1 winner: Daniel Hemric

Stage 2 winner: AJ Allmendinger

Who had a good race: Noah Gragson is threatening to turn the final weeks of the Xfinity season into a cakewalk. He clearly had the day’s dominant car Saturday in winning for the fourth race in a row. … AJ Allmendinger’s car was damaged in a wreck in heavy traffic, but his crew taped parts of the car and gave him an opening to finish fourth.

Who had a bad race: Jeremy Clements, in the playoff field, finished 36th after parking with mechanical trouble near the race’s halfway point. … Jeffrey Earnhardt crashed only 17 laps into the race and finished last.

Next: The second race in the first round of the Xfinity playoffs is scheduled Oct. 1 at 4 p.m. ET (USA Network) at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.