NBC Sports Power Rankings: Hamlin still No. 1, Kyle Busch plummets

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Even though Kyle Busch is back to No. 1 in the Cup point standings, that hasn’t stopped NBC’s writers from keeping Denny Hamlin No. 1 for a third consecutive week in the NASCAR Power Rankings.

There are three major moves in this week’s rankings: Watkins Glen winner Chase Elliott climbs to No. 4 after being unranked last week, Matt DiBenedetto jumps to No. 7 after being unranked and Kyle Busch drops four spots to ninth.

Here’s how this week’s Power Rankings shape up:

1. Denny Hamlin (40 points): Streaking with four consecutive top-five finishes. Building momentum for the playoffs. Off the speed of the top two finishers at The Glen but still noticeably strong. Last week: 1st.

2. Erik Jones (34 points): Has finished fourth or better in more than a third of the races this season, including the last four. just needs that win now. Last week: 2nd.

3. Martin Truex Jr. (32 points): Probably had the fastest car Sunday, maintaining road-course dominance. Overall, runner-up finish marked his sixth top 10 in the last eight races. Last week: 3rd.

4. Chase Elliott (28 points): Mistake-free command performance re-established him as title contender. Ends bad stretch with dominant win. Now let’s see him put together back-to-back strong weekends. Last week: Unranked.

5. Ryan Blaney (21 points): Said he didn’t mean to wreck Jimmie Johnson but that didn’t matter to Johnson. What matters to Blaney is his fifth-place finish was his sixth top 10 in the last eight races. Last week: 8th.

6. Kevin Harvick (18 points): “The Closer” hasn’t done much closing this year. He has all the tools and personnel to do better than he has. Has to pick up his game if he hopes to go far in the playoffs. Last week: 4th.

7. Matt DiBenedetto (15 points): Finished sixth at Watkins Glen, earning his fourth top 10 in the last seven races. Has shown enough to earn another season in the No. 95. Last week: Unranked.

8. Kyle Larson (10 points): Eighth-place finish is fifth top 10 in the last seven races. While that’s all well and good, if he doesn’t significantly pick up his game, he could be one of the four drivers to exit the playoffs after the first round. Maybe he should put sprint car racing on hold to focus on his regular job. Last week: 6th.

9. Kyle Busch (9 points): Got to learn who to pick fights with. You think he’s going to be racing around Bubba Wallace a lot this year? That wasn’t a smart move roughing up Wallace. Last week: 5th.

10. Austin Cindric (6 points): Earned his first career Xfinity win. Has been slowly and methodically improving and finally cashed in with the right opportunity at Watkins Glen. Last week: Unranked.

Others Receiving Votes: Stewart Friesen (4 points), Brad Keselowski (2 points), Christopher Bell (1 point).

Chase Elliott wins Cup Most Popular Driver award

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Chase Elliott was selected as the NMPA Most Popular Driver in a fan vote announced during Thursday’s NASCAR Awards show.

It is the second consecutive victory for Elliott in the category.

“Honored to have two,” Elliott said. “It’s really more than a trophy or award. It is about the people you see at the race track.”

It is the 29th consecutive year that either an Elliott or Earnhardt has won the award.

The last driver not named Elliott or Earnhardt to win this award was Darrell Waltrip in 1990.

Other award winners included:

The Bill France Award of Excellence, an award that is not given every year, was presented to car owner Joe Gibbs for his signifiant contribution to the sport.

The NMPA Myers Brothers Award for outstanding contribution to the sport was presented to Darrell Waltrip.

The Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award is Joe Vaughn, who has volunteered for nearly two decades, raising both awareness and funds on behalf of the Project HOPE Foundation, based in Greenville, South Carolina. The foundation’s mission is to provide a lifespan of services to the autism community to help families, open minds, promote inclusion and expand potential.

Watch NASCAR Cup Awards Show at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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Get settled into your favorite easy chair, make sure you have plenty of snacks and beverages on hand and get ready for the last big event of 2019 on the NASCAR schedule: tonight’s NASCAR Awards Show.

The show will be broadcast on NBCSN from 8-10:30 p.m. ET from Nashville, Tennessee, for the first time. And if you miss some of the show, don’t worry, there’ll be a replay immediately afterward, also on NBCSN.

Kyle Busch will be the main attraction for tonight’s show, being celebrated for winning his second NASCAR Cup championship this past season.

Also, the 2019 NASCAR Cup Most Popular Driver award winner will be revealed. Will it be defending winner Chase Elliott, reigning champion Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr., Matt DiBenedetto … or someone else? You definitely need to tune in to find out.

And to get you in the mood, we’ll replay Wednesday’s Burnouts on Broadway at 7 p.m. ET, also on NBCSN.

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Will Daniel Suarez race for Richard Childress Racing in 2020?

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The president of Richard Childress Racing said it is a “longshot” that Daniel Suarez will drive a third Cup entry for the organization in 2020 but said RCR would like to have Suarez drive its No. 2 Xfinity car next year.

Suarez has not decided where he’ll race in 2020 after losing his ride with Stewart-Haas Racing this year.

Suarez has been linked with RCR. A third Cup entry would require RCR to acquire another charter for that car. It also could mean that the organization would need to hire additional people if they expanded to three full-time cars.

“I think that would be a long shot in a Cup program,” Torrey Galida told NBC Sports about Suarez in a third RCR Cup entry. “We’ve talked to him about an Xfinity program. We’d love to have him in an Xfinity car, and we think we could win another championship next year with Daniel. He’s a very talented young man.”

Richard Childress Racing’s No. 21 Xfinity car will run the full season with multiple drivers in 2020. Myatt Snider and Anthony Alfredo have been announced to drive that car. Galida said the team is looking at Kaz Grala, Austin Dillon and possibly two-time series champ Tyler Reddick driving that car in select races.

RCR ran the No. 21 car in nine of 33 Xfinity races this past season. It ran the No. 2 car in every race.

If Suarez, the 2016 Xfinity champion, drove for RCR in the Xfinity Series next year, it would be with the organization’s No. 2 car.

“We could still do that and we would do that,” Galida said of a full-time Xfinity effort for Suarez. “That’s the kind of opportunity we would be interested in.”

Galida said it just is a matter of hearing what Suarez decides.

“I think he knows what we’ve got to offer, and I think he’s just weighing his alternatives and trying to determine what is best for him,” Galida told NBC Sports. “I’m sure that going back to the Xfinity Series is not his first choice. I think in the right equipment it could be a really good move for him.”

Galida said they could go into January before hearing from Suarez but noted that “the sooner the better. People are your biggest issue. You want to put the right people around him.”

Next April’s Xfinity race at Bristol to have new sponsor

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Bristol Motor Speedway announced Thursday that partner Alsco, along with Darden Restaurants and its Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen brand, will sponsor next April’s Xfinity Series race there.

The Cheddar’s 300 presented by Alsco will take place on Saturday, April 4, 2020.

Alsco is a global leader in uniform and linen rental services. In addition to its entitlement at Bristol Motor Speedway, Alsco will take part in Xfinity Series entitlements at three other Speedway Motorsports Inc. racetracks: Kentucky Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Alsco’s initial entitlement at BMS came this past April with the Alsco 300 Xfinity Series race, won by Christopher Bell, who earned a $100,000 bonus through Xfinity’s Dash 4 Cash program.

Alsco is also a sponsor for Richard Childress Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports and JR Motorsports.

“Bristol is the place for historic finishes and close, hard-knock racing action,” said Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager at Bristol Motor Speedway. “Alsco and our new friends at Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen understand the reputation of racing at The Last Great Colosseum and we’re ready to show them an incredible experience. The Cheddar’s 300 presented by Alsco is a must-see event on the NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule.”

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