Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Friday 5: Jimmie Johnson grows impatient as winless streak continues

Leave a comment

With a winless streak nearing two years and a contract expiring next year, Jimmie Johnson admits he’s getting impatient.

“We haven’t been in contention to win a race yet this year, and we’ve got to fix that,” Johnson said this week after unveiling the camouflage car he’ll drive in next weekend’s Coca-Cola 600. “If I’m not in contention to win a race, there’s no chance of winning a championship. This middle portion of the season is key for me to get things where they need to be so we can win races and ultimately win a championship.”

Asked if he’d rather win this weekend’s All-Star Race or the Coca-Cola 600, the seven-time champion quickly answered: “600. Lock me into that championship. I want eight, damn it.’’

He laughed, but it’s clear how serious he is.

Johnson enters the All-Star Race winless in his last 71 points races. His last Cup victory came June 4, 2017, at Dover.

Since stage racing and playoff points were implemented in 2017, 80% of the drivers who had two or more wins by the All-Star break went on to compete in the championship race in Miami. The only driver who had multiple wins before the All-Star Race and didn’t make it to the championship race was Johnson in 2017. He had two wins before the All-Star Race but was eliminated in the third round of the playoffs that year.

Four drivers this season have multiple Cup victories coming to Saturday’s All-Star Race: Kyle Busch (three wins), Brad Keselowski (three), Denny Hamlin (two) and Martin Truex Jr. (two). Based on the past two years, it would mean that at least three of those drivers should make it to Miami to race for a championship.

By dominating victory lane this season, Busch, Keselowski, Hamlin and Truex also are stockpiling playoff points that could help them advance and offset a bad race in a round. Johnson doesn’t have that luxury. He has no playoff points.

Johnson also is in a precarious spot. He’s 16th in the standings — which would be the final transfer spot to the playoffs provided a driver below him in points doesn’t win.

Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Kevin Meendering. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Johnson is the only driver who has competed in NASCAR’s postseason format every year since it debuted in 2004. To keep that streak going, he and his team have to be better.

Even though he finished sixth last weekend at Kansas Speedway, Johnson struggled with the car’s handling for more than half the race and said that the team needed to “make better decisions.”

“Certainly I was venting when I got out of the car Saturday night,” Johnson said. “We have been working hard on things, our processes and decision-making process looking at the All-Star Race. We’ve made some changes to be a little wiser going into the All-Star Race and hopefully have that play out and take it to the 600, but it’s tough.

“When we look at pre-Texas, we knew we had to make big changes. We kept changing and changing and changing. We go to Texas and (three of the four Hendrick) cars qualify one through (three).

“So after that, it’s like, ‘Let’s be aggressive, continue to be aggressive.’ Then you get burned a couple of weeks and you’re like ‘OK, where is that fine line really at?’ I don’t have a clear answer. Ultimately for us to win and compete for another championship that process has to clean up somehow.”

Johnson has ranked last among his Hendrick Motorsports teammates the past three races in green-flag speed, according to NASCAR’s statistics. Although teammate Alex Bowman finished second in each of the past three races and teammate Chase Elliott won at Talladega, putting their setups on Johnson’s car isn’t that simple. 

“We have flexibility in the group to change cars and build cars in different ways,” Johnson said. “At times, we’ve found ourselves very close together. I think there are some areas where the cars are closer together than they have ever been … but we have flexibility to run different versions of chassis, spindles, certain suspension components and shocks and springs.

“The journey the driver kind of leads the team or the engineers on that team lead the group on, we all end up in our own spaces with our own setups. Unfortunately, this weekend when we unloaded (at Kansas), we knew right off the truck that we were down on speed, our team was. We made some provisions to race better and try not to pay attention to single-car speed, a lot like you would see at a restrictor-plate track.

“So Friday we’re trying to react and hoping it would race better. When I got into the race, the first half of the race was so bad for us. We didn’t have the raw speed and we didn’t have a better car in traffic. I have to give Kevin (Meendering, crew chief) a ton of credit. … He made some killer decisions. Our pit stops were awesome. Those guys rallied around him, and we had a great second half of the race and finished sixth. We know what’s making speed with our own company. We just need to figure out how to put those pieces into our car with our philosophies.”

As for Johnson’s future, he’s unsure at this point.

“I don’t know what I’ll be doing in a couple of years,” he said. “My contract is up in 2020, and I’ll have to evaluate what I want to do after that.”

Until then, his focus is on finding enough speed to win again.

2. More close calls coming?

Erik Jones’ block of Clint Bowyer on the last lap of last Saturday’s race at Kansas upset Bowyer, but it might be just the beginning.

In a season where only six drivers have won, drivers will have to be more aggressive to get a victory. If they can’t, then they will need all the points possible. That can mean everything from pit calls by crew chiefs to drivers blocking.

“There’s a lot of blocking that goes on,” Austin Dillon said Thursday after unveiling his car for the Coca-Cola 600. “Somebody is going to get turned eventually. That’s just part of it.”

With the races dwindling before the playoff field is set — next weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 marks the halfway point of the regular season there could be more big moves on the track.

“The points are so close at the edge there at 16th,” said Dillon, who is 18th in the standings, 11 points behind Jimmie Johnson for the final transfer spot. “There’s going to be a lot of guys fighting for every point.”

3. An idea for next year

Car owner Richard Childress says he likes the rules package that NASCAR has gone to this year, but he’d make one change for next year.

“If I were them, I would have the 550 (horsepower) engine everywhere,” Childress said Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “We’ve got it at Daytona and Talladega. We got it everywhere except the half-mile tracks and the 1-mile tracks. Just go with one engine package. That way your development is around one engine package (instead of two).”

Cup cars run the 550 horsepower engine or 750 horsepower engine depending on the track’s size. Teams use the 750 horsepower engine for all races on ovals 1 mile or less and the road courses. That’s 14 of the 36 points races. The 550-horsepower engine is used at the other points races.

4. One last time (for this year)

Kyle Busch after his Texas win. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Friday’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway will mark Kyle Busch’s fifth and final start of the season in that series. He seeks to complete a sweep of his races.

Busch and all other drivers who have more than five full-time seasons in Cup and are scoring Cup points are limited to five Truck races a season (and seven in the Xfinity Series).

Busch has won Truck races at Atlanta, Las Vegas, Martinsville and Texas this season.

5. Slight change

Pocono Raceway announced a change to its race weekend in two weeks. Cup qualifying will be held before the Xfinity race on Saturday, June 1.

Last year, Cup teams had one practice on Friday and then qualified. Cup teams had one Saturday practice.

Now, Cup teams will have two practices Friday and then only be on the track Saturday for qualifying. The race is Sunday, June 2.

Las Vegas Xfinity results, driver points

Leave a comment

Chase Briscoe‘s victory Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway sends him into the next round of the Xfinity playoffs.

Noah Gragson led a 2-3-4 finish for JR Motorsports. Gragson was second and followed by Daniel Hemric and Justin Allgaier. Ryan Sieg finished fifth.

Briscoe dominated the race, leading 164 of the 200 laps.

Click here for Xfinity race results

POINTS

Ross Chastain finished 16th, last among the playoff drivers, and fell out of a transfer spot to the second round. He’s two points behind Harrison Burton for the final transfer spot. Michael Annett is 10 points behind Burton. Riley Herbst is 14 points behind Burton. Brandon Brown is 20 points behind Burton.

Click here for driver points report

Chase Briscoe scores 8th Xfinity win of year with Las Vegas triumph

Leave a comment

Chase Briscoe met a preseason goal of winning eight races with his victory in Saturday night’s Xfinity playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Briscoe, who also won at Las Vegas in February, advances to the second round.

Briscoe dominated, winning both stages on the way to his second consecutive victory and eighth of the year. He led 164 of 200 laps.

“Awesome car,” Briscoe said on the radio of the car that also won at this 1.5-mile speedway earlier this year. “Can’t say enough, awesome car.”

Gragson said of Briscoe’s car on NBCSN: “Lot of race cars out here and one space shuttle.”

Las Vegas native Noah Gragson finished second and was followed by JR Motorsports teammates Daniel Hemric and Justin Allgaier. Ryan Sieg placed fifth.

Austin Cindric placed sixth and was followed by Michael Annett, Anthony Alfredo, Harrison Burton and Justin Haley.

Briscoe’s eight wins through 27 races ties him with Jack Ingram and Sam Ard for the most wins by non-Cup drivers through 27 races in a season. Ard and Ingram both did it in 1984. Briscoe’s eight wins ties him with Carl Edwards for most wins by a Ford driver in a season in the Xfinity Series. Edwards accomplished the feat in 2011.

“I knew this team was fully capable of achieving that and even more,” Briscoe told NBCSN of winning eight races this year. “I just can’t say thank you enough to Gene Haas and Tony Stewart and everyone that lets me drive these race cars. It has been an unbelievable season and we still have a lot, six more wins that we can try to get and a championship. That is what we are going to try to do. I am so happy to start the playoffs like this. After the last couple weeks we had, to go to Bristol and win and now here is a pretty good way to start our playoffs.”

The 25-year-old Briscoe does not know where he’ll run next season. He has a year left on his contract with Ford.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Chase Briscoe

STAGE 2 WINNER: Chase Briscoe

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ryan Sieg’s fifth-place finish is his fifth top five of the season, the most he’s had in a season. … Runner-up Noah Gragson has finished in the top six in all four of his Xfinity Las Vegas starts. He did it by overcoming a bloody nose during the race. At one point, he put roll bar padding up his nose to clog it. … Daniel Hemric had finished 24th or worse in four of his last five starts before Saturday’s race. He finished third at Las Vegas.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Ross Chastain finished 16th, last among the playoff drivers. It’s his first finish outside the top 10 at a 1.5-mile speedway this season.

NEXT: The series races Oct. 3 at Talladega Superspeedway (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) in the middle race of the opening round of the playoffs.

Gracie Trotter becomes first female to win ARCA-sanctioned race

Gracie Trotter
Photo by Brian Cleary/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Gracie Trotter became the first female to win a race sanctioned by ARCA when she captured the ARCA Menards West race Saturday at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I’m at a loss for words right now. My first year in ARCA, out West, far from home – it just really means a lot to me,” Trotter said after her first series win.

The best finish by a female in ARCA Series history had been second. Shawna Robinson (1999 at Daytona), Erin Crocker (2005 and ’07 at Kentucky and 2006 at Kansas) and Hailie Deegan (2020 at Daytona) each finished runner-up in an ARCA race.

This is the first year that the West Series has been sanctioned by ARCA. It was previously known as K&N Pro Series West. Deegan was the most recent female winner in that series. She won three times. Deegan scored her first career West win in 2018 at Meridian (Idaho) Speedway. That victory made her the first female to win in that series. Deegan went on to win twice more in that series in 2019.

The 19-year-old Trotter is a third-generation racer. She drives for Bill McAnally Racing. Trotter began competing in go-karts at age 8. She was the first female to win the Young Lions Legends Cars division at Charlotte Motor Speedway, capturing the title in 2017. This is her first season in the ARCA Menards West Series.

Trotter pulled away from teammate Gio Scelzi to win by 0.821 seconds Saturday. Teammate Jesse Love, who is the series points leader, finished third.

She took the lead on Lap 54 with a three-wide pass.

“I kind of got a little lucky there,” Trotter said. “The two front cars were battling side by side. I took it three-wide, a little sketchy at first, but I made it stick.”

She went on to lead 95 of the 150 laps.

Trotter also competes for Rev Racing as part of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity program. She won her first Late Model race at Hickory (North Carolina) Motor Speedway on Sept. 13. The win made her the fourth female to win a Late Model Series race at the historic 0.363-mile track, which opened in 1951.

A replay of Saturday’s ARCA Menards West race will air at 6 p.m. ET Wednesday (Sept. 30) on NBCSN.

Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas: Start time, TV channel

Leave a comment

The second round of the Cup playoffs begins with the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The 1.5-mile track kicks off the Round of 12. Winning the race and stage points are a premium for playoff drivers before the races at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval.

Kevin Harvick, who won at Bristol, starts from the pole.

Here is all the info for the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis at 7:07 p.m. The green flag waves at 7:17 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at Noon. Drivers report to their cars at 6:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7 p.m. by Motor Racing Outreach Chaplain, Billy Mauldin. The national anthem will be performed by Sierra Black at 7:01 p.m.

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

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

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 6 p.m with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 6:30 p.m. Race coverage begins at 7 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 6 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for sunny skies with a high of 96 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Kevin Harvick beat Kyle Busch to win at Bristol and claim his ninth win of the season.

LAST POINTS RACE AT LAS VEGAS: Joey Logano beat Matt DiBenedetto and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in February.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the lineup.

CATCH UP ON NBC SPORTS’ COVERAGE:

Michael Jordan excited for NASCAR future with Denny Hamlin

Germain Racing sells charter, will exit sport at end of season

Charlotte Roval to host limited number of fans

Friday 5: Team’s departure adds to ‘extremely stressful’ time

NASCAR fines Hendrick Motorsports $100,000

NTSB releases final report on Dale Jr. plane crash

Bubba Wallace to receive Stan Musial award for extraordinary character

Long: 100 days left in 2020, what else can happen?