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Chaos or calm? What do drivers expect in playoff opener?

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LAS VEGAS — When the Cup drivers last raced at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, they were slowed only by two cautions for stage breaks in March. When they ran at this track in last year’s playoff race, there were 12 cautions, many for accidents.

So what do drivers expect for today’s playoff opener (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) at Las Vegas Motor Speedway? Chaos or calm?

“I think you’re going to have more cautions than you did in the spring, without a doubt, maybe not to the extent of last year,” said playoff contender Ryan Newman, who starts 17th.

He starts next to defending race winner and playoff contender Brad Keselowski, who also shares Newman’s belief.

“I’m a little bit thinking there will be more this time than in the spring,” Keselowski said. “It’s hotter this fall than what I remember last fall and we’re way faster through the center of the corners. So I expect it to be very difficult on the tires. Probably see some tire failures, accordingly, that will kind of add to the cautions.”

The wunderground.com forecast for today’s race calls for a high of 100 degrees at the start. The temperature will still be in the 90s when the race is scheduled to end. This will be the hottest race of the season, topping the 96 degrees that drivers battled at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July.

MORE: Today’s Cup race details, start time & lineup

Playoff contender Kurt Busch, who starts fifth, says the heat will impact the racing.

“Track is hotter, (there’s) less grip, it’s the playoffs, everybody is on edge,” Busch said for his belief there will be more cautions than the spring race.

Playoff contender Alex Bowman, who starts 19th, also sees an increase in cautions from the March race.

“I think we’re going to have cautions,” he said. “I think you’re going to have tire failures with it being so hot. I think you’re going to have guys crashing their stuff. I think it’s just going to be a really slick race track, tough to drive and nobody is going to give an inch. I think that is going to create some cautions. I don’t think it will create the 12 we had last year.”

Aric Almirola, who starts fourth, notes that “if I was a betting man, which I’m not … I’d say we will have more cautions than just the stage breaks.

“As teams have gotten smarter and tried to make their cars go faster, the cars are trimmed out more and because of that are less stable, they’re harder to drive. It makes really, really challenging on restarts and around guys. We’ve seen that the last couple of months. I don’t think it’s specific to Las Vegas, just the last few months in general we’ve seen wreck on restarts and things just because the cars are a lot more difficult to drive.”

Newman adds another key factor that could lead to more cautions today.

“I think give-and-take is kind of gone in our sport now,” he said of how drivers race each other. “It’s still there, don’t get me wrong, but it’s less than it has been by a long shot then the last few years, let’s say five years ago.

“I think that you see that with guys blocking. When you start doing the blocking deal, give-and-take is gone. I think it’s going to be pretty amped up. Sixteen guys, eight of them kind of on the bubble already in the first race, it’s going to be intense.”

Austin Theriault not medically cleared by NASCAR to race at Kansas

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Austin Theriault announced Thursday morning he has not been medically cleared by NASCAR to compete in this weekend’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway after his involvement in a wreck in Monday’s race at Talladega.

Theriault, 25, competes for Rick Ware Racing and was set to drive its No. 52 Chevrolet this weekend. Theriault said Garrett Smithley will take his place.

A NASCAR spokesperson said its policy is to not discuss a competitor’s medical information.

A spokesperson for Rick Ware Racing told NBC Sports all info on Theriault would be released by the driver on social media or by NASCAR. The team said “we expect to have Austin back in the car very soon.”

The native of Fort Kent, Maine, has missed races due to medical issues before.

In 2015, while racing part-time for Brad Keselowski Racing in the Truck Series, he suffered a 10% compression fracture in his back in a wreck at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after his HANS device broke.

Theriault missed several races before returning in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Since 2015 he has made five Cup starts, three Xfinity starts and four Truck Series starts.

Updated entry lists for Kansas Speedway’s playoff weekend

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The NASCAR playoffs continue this weekend with the second visit of the year to Kansas Speedway.

The Cup Series holds its second elimination race as the playoff field will be cut to eight drivers.

After a week off, the Xfinity Series will open its second playoff round.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for both races.

Cup – Hollywood Casino 400 (2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC)

There are 40 cars entered.

Parker Kligerman is entered in Gaunt Brothers Racing’s No. 96 Toyota.

Reed Sorenson is listed for Premium Motorsports’ No. 27 Chevrolet.

Austin Theriault  was originally entered in Rick Ware Racing’s No. 52 car. Theriault announced Thursday morning he had not been cleared by NASCAR to compete Saturday following his wreck in Monday’s Cup race at Talladega and that Garrett Smithley would take his place.

Chase Elliott won this race last year over Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson. Brad Keselowski won the May race over Alex Bowman and Erik Jones.

Click here for the updated entry list.

Xfinity – Kansas Lottery 300 (3 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC)

There are 39 entries.

Ryan Truex is entered in JR Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet.

Ross Chastain is entered in Kaulig Racing’s No. 10 Chevrolet. It’ll be his fifth start with the team this season.

Harrison Burton is entered in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota for the seventh time this season.

Bobby Earnhardt, the oldest son of Kerry Earnhardt, is entered in MBM Motorsports’ No. 66 Toyota. It will be his fifth career start and first since the Texas playoff race last year.

Joe Nemechek is now entered in Mike Harmon Racing’s No. 74 Chevrolet

Dillon Bassett is now entered in DGM Racing’s No. 92 Chevrolet

John Hunter Nemechek won this race last year over Daniel Hemric and Elliott Sadler.

Click here for the entry list.

 

Harrison Burton to drive Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Xfinity car full-time next year

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Harrison Burton will drive Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Xfinity car full-time in 2020, the team announced Thursday morning.

Burton, the son of NBC Sports analysts Jeff Burton, will succeed Christopher Bell in the No. 20.

Burton competes full-time in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports. He is set to make his seventh start in JGR’s No. 18 Xfinity car this Saturday at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

“Next year is going to be a really cool opportunity for me because I grew up watching my dad race in the Xfinity Series, Burton said in a press release. “Making my first start at Bristol this year was really surreal. I remember being a little kid and watching (Jeff Burton) race there and now, I will have the opportunity to compete for the Xfinity Series championship next year.

“On top of that I’ve got Dex Imaging continuing their support of me for a majority of races next season. That’s really cool because I’ve had them as a sponsor since I was 13 and to bring them from pro-late models all the way to the Xfinity Series is pretty wild. I want to finish this season strong, but I’m excited to get 2020 started. My time with JGR this season will really help me because I’ve already gotten to know so many people there and it’s such a great team and organization. They have a long history of helping to develop drivers and this is big for the next step in my career.”

In his six Xfinity starts, Burton has three top 10s and a best finish of fourth at Iowa Speedway.

In 35 Truck Series starts since 2016, Burton has 11 top fives and 17 top-10 finishes. This year he has seven top fives and 10 top 10s. He and teammate Todd Gilliland both failed to make the playoffs.

“As Harrison (Burton) moves up to the next level of his career, we’re happy to have him join JGR fulltime and go behind the wheel of the No. 20 Supra,” said Steve DeSouza, Executive Vice President of Xfinity Series and Development for Joe Gibbs Racing in a press release. “Harrison has continued to show progress this season in his limited starts and I know that will only continue to develop with more seat time while contending for the Xfinity Series championship.”

The crew chief for the No. 20 will be announced at a later time.

JTG Daugherty Racing’s No. 47 hauler experiences fire on way to Kansas

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JTG Daugherty Racing announced on social media Thursday morning that the hauler for Ryan Preece‘s No. 47 Chevrolet experienced a fire on its way to Kansas Speedway for this weekend’s Cup race.

In a statement, team owner Tad Geschickter said both its hauler drivers were “okay.”

He said the team is “assessing the damage to our trailer and race cars and will have more information as it becomes available.”

More: Kaulig Racing hauler involved in accident on way to Kansas