Xfinity teams prepare for fourth and final road course race with Charlotte Roval

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The first three Xfinity Series races on road courses this year have been a case of the usual suspects when it comes to who finishes up front.

The races at Watkins Glen International, Mid-Ohio and Road America each saw 1-2 finishes by Austin Cindric and Christopher Bell, with Cindric winning at Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio while Bell claimed his first road course victory at Road America.

Even if Bell’s Watkins Glen finish is only a result of AJ Allmendinger‘s disqualification, he could still be bragging about top three finishes in all three races.

Bell and Cindric take their hot streaks to the final road course event of the year this weekend with the second annual race on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (3:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN).

Cindric and Bell are part of a trio of drivers – including Tyler Reddick – who have finished in the top five in all three road course races. Four other drivers – Justin Allgaier, Noah Gragson, Chase Briscoe and Cole Custer – have finished in the top 10 all three races.

Here’s a look at each driver as they enter the second race of the playoffs, with many of them making their second start on the Roval.

Christopher Bell – Seven wins in 2019, finished top two in eight of the last 11 races. Finished top five in the last four road course races including a fifth-place finish at the Roval last year. Has won five of the 22 total Xfinity playoff races that have been held since they began in 2016.

Austin Cindric – Top-five finishes in five of the last eight races, including his road course wins. Finished second at Richmond. Won the pole and finished third at the Roval last year after he spun while leading.

Tyler Reddick – Twenty top-five finishes in 2019 and five wins (regular season champion). Finished ninth at the Roval last year, starting a four-race streak of top-10 finishes on road courses. Struggled throughout the playoff opener at Richmond before finishing 10th.

Justin Allgaier – Top-10 finishes in the last 11 races (second longest streak of his career). Finished 15th on the Roval last year after getting caught up in a wreck. It was his only finish outside the top 10 in the last seven road course races.

“There were a lot of unknowns going into the Roval race last year,” Allgaier said in a press release. “Even though it wasn’t a great race for us because we were caught up in an incident, it was still a great race for the fans. The only question mark for anybody was the back straightaway chicane and the track has done a fantastic job of listening to the drivers and making adjustments to it and I’m excited to get back there and try it out.”

Noah Gragson – Top-10 finishes in 15 of the last 17 races. Finished top 10 in all three road course starts. Making first Roval start.

Cole Custer – Six wins in 2019 and top-10 finishes in the last five races. Finished top 10 in the last eight road course races, including finishing seventh on the Roval last year.

Chase Briscoe – The defending winner of the Roval race. The win was his first career Xfinity victory. Briscoe has top-10 finishes in 10 of the last 11 races of 2019.

While Briscoe won this race last year, the circumstances of Saturday’s race will be very different for the Stewart-Haas Racing driver.

“We weren’t running for points in 2018, so we were able to use a different strategy than everyone else by short-pitting,” Briscoe said in a media release. “That lined us up perfectly for the middle portion of the race and ultimately the end. (Crew Chief) Richard Boswell had a great strategy and we were able to stick to it.

“The new configuration of the backstretch is going to throw people off at the beginning of the weekend, because we are used to the fast portion where we would throw the car around but now you have to really slow the car down, which can cause wheel-hopping if you aren’t careful. I think if we can get through that and have a clean race, we will be contending for the win and a repeat performance from last year.”

These seven playoff drivers aren’t the only ones to watch out for.

Allmendinger, a NBC Sports analyst, will make his fifth and final start of the year for Kaulig Racing in the No. 10 Chevrolet.

He’ll have competed in all four road course races. He led 24 laps at WGI and finished second before his disqualification. He finished third at Mid-Ohio. He then started from the pole and led 10 laps at Road America before a late incident relegated him to a 24th-place finish.

He competed in the inaugural Cup race on the Roval, starting second before finishing seventh.

“Every race this year, Kaulig Racing and the No. 10 team have stepped up their game,” Allmendinger said in a press release. “We’ve taken every learning opportunity and capitalized on it. This weekend, we’ll have an even bigger challenge with Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval being a newer track for all of us.”

NASCAR fines Ty Gibbs $75,000 for pit road incident at Texas

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NASCAR fined Ty Gibbs $75,000 and docked him 25 points for door-slamming Ty Dillon on pit road during last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Crew members from other teams were nearby when Gibbs hit Dillon’s car, causing it to swerve. No crew members or officials were hit.

NASCAR has made it a priority that drivers are not to cause contact that could injured crew members or officials on pit road. NASCAR also penalized Gibbs 25 Cup driver points and docked 23XI Racing 25 car owner points for the No. 23 Cup car that Gibbs drives.

NASCAR penalizes William Byron for spinning Denny Hamlin

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NASCAR has docked William Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000 for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution in last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Byron drops from third in the playoff standings to below the cutline heading into Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe moves up to hold the final transfer spot with 3,041 points. Austin Cindric is the first driver outside a transfer spot with 3,034 points. Byron is next at 3,033 points.

Hendrick Motorsports was docked 25 owner points as well.

Hendrick Motorsports stated it would appeal the penalty.

The caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash. As Hamlin slowed, Byron closed and hit him in the rear. 

Byron admitted after the race the contact was intentional, although he didn’t mean to wreck Hamlin. Byron was upset with how Hamlin raced him on Lap 262. Byron felt Hamlin forced him into the wall as they exited Turn 2 side-by-side. Byron expressed his displeasure during the caution.

“I felt like he ran me out of race track off of (Turn) 2 and had really hard contact with the wall,” Byron said. “Felt like the toe link was definitely bent, luckily not fully broken. We were able to continue.

“A lot of times that kind of damage is going to ruin your race, especially that hard. I totally understand running somebody close and making a little bit of contact, but that was pretty massive.”

On the retaliatory hit, Byron said: “I didn’t mean to spin him out. That definitely wasn’t what I intended to do. I meant to bump him a little bit and show my displeasure and unfortunately, it happened the way it did. Obviously, when he was spinning out, I was like ‘I didn’t mean to do this,’ but I was definitely frustrated.”

Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart argued and questioned NASCAR for not putting Hamlin back in second place — where he was before Byron hit him — and also questioned Byron not being penalized.

“I guess we can just wreck each other under caution,” Hamlin said after the race.

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, told reporters after the race that series officials did not penalize Byron because they did not see the incident. 

“When we were in the tower, we were paying more attention to the actual cause of the caution up there and dispatching our equipment,” Miller said. “The William Byron-Denny Hamlin thing, we had no eyes on. We saw Denny go through the grass.

“By the time we got a replay that showed the incident well enough to do anything to it, we had gone back to green.”

Kurt Busch ‘hopeful’ he can return from concussion this year

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CONCORD, N.C. — Kurt Busch said Tuesday he remains “hopeful” he will recover from a concussion in time to race again before the end of the NASCAR Cup season.

The 2004 Cup champion has been sidelined since he crashed July 23 during qualifying at Pocono Raceway. He’s so far missed 10 races – both Ty Gibbs and Bubba Wallace have driven the No. 45 Toyota for 23XI Racing since Busch was injured – and withdrew his eligibility to participate in the playoffs.

“I’m doing good. Each week is better progress and I feel good and I don’t know when I will be back, but time has been the challenge. Father Time is the one in charge on this one,” Busch said.

There are six races remaining this season and 23XI co-owner Denny Hamlin said the team has contingency plans for Busch’s recovery and is not pressuring the 44-year-old to get back in the car. Busch is under contract at 23XI through next season with an option for 2024.

Hamlin said this past weekend at Texas that Busch has a doctor’s visit scheduled in early October that could reveal more about if Busch can return this season.

Busch has attended a variety of events to stimulate his recovery and enjoyed an evening at the rodeo over the weekend. But his visit to Charlotte Motor Speedway on Tuesday for its 10th annual honoring of Breast Cancer Awareness Month was Busch’s first official appearance as a NASCAR driver since his injury.

He attended for the second consecutive year as part of his “Window of Hope” program in which all the window nets on the Cup cars will be pink meshing in next week’s race on The Roval at Charlotte. Busch credited the Toyota Performance Center at TRD’s North Carolina headquarters for helping his recovery and getting him out to events again.

“I feel hopeful. I know I have more doctor visits and distance to go, and I keep pushing each week,” Busch said. “And TPC, Toyota Performance Center, has been a group of angels with the workouts and the vestibular workouts, different nutrition as well and different supplements and things to help everything rebalance with my vision, my hearing. Just my overall balance in general.”

He said his vision is nearly 20/20 in one eye, but his other eye has been lagging behind in recovery. Busch also said he wasn’t sure why he was injured in what appeared to be a routine backing of his car into the wall during a spin in qualifying.

NASCAR this year introduced its Next Gen car that was designed to cut costs and level the playing field, but the safety of the spec car has been under fire since Busch’s crash. Drivers have complained they feel the impact much more in crashes than they did in the old car, and a rash of blown tires and broken parts has plagued the first four races of the playoffs.

Busch said his concussion “is something I never knew would happen, as far as injury” and likened his health battle to that of the breast cancer survivors who aided him in painting the pit road walls at Charlotte pink for next week’s race.

“Each situation is different. It’s similar to a breast cancer survivor. Not every story is the same, not every injury is the same,” Busch said. “It’s not like a broken arm and then you get the cast taken off and can go bench press 300 pounds. It’s a process. I don’t know what journey I’m on, but I’m going to keep pushing.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: Denny Hamlin returns to first place

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Four races into the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs and drivers who are eligible to win the championship remain 0-for-4 in pursuit of race wins.

Tyler Reddick became winner No. 4 on that list Sunday night at Texas Motor Speedway.

And now we go to Talladega Superspeedway, where there is potential for drivers from the far back end of the field to emerge victorious, given the impact of drafting and, more significantly, wrecking.

Sunday’s tire-exploding, wall-banging, car-wrestling craziness at Texas Motor Speedway jumbled the playoff standings again, and the same is true for the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings, which see a new leader in Denny Hamlin.

MORE: Winners and losers at Texas

Hamlin could be a busy guy the rest of the season. His potential retaliation list grew Sunday with the addition of William Byron after they had a major disagreement.

Here’s how the rankings look in the middle of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Denny Hamlin (No. 3 last week) — Despite everything — the tires, the wrecks, the hassle, the weather and a brouhaha with William Byron, Hamlin finished 10th Sunday and is sixth in the playoff standings entering Talladega. He has the best average finish — 5.75 — in the playoff races. Unless his “list” gets in the way, Hamlin might be ready to seriously challenge for his first championship.

2. Kyle Larson (No. 4 last week) — Larson led 19 laps at Texas and probably should have led more with one of the race’s best cars. Now fourth in points, he figures to be a factor over the final two weeks of the round.

3. Chase Elliott (No. 2 last week) — Elliott was not a happy camper after smashing the wall because of a tire issue and riding a flaming car to a halt. He finished 32nd.

4. Joey Logano (No. 6 last week) — Logano was chasing down winner Tyler Reddick in the closing laps at Texas. He jumps to first in the playoff standings and gains two spots in NBC’s rankings.

5. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron might be No. 1 on Denny Hamlin’s list; here he slides in at No. 5.

6. Christopher Bell (No. 1 last week) — Bell had a rotten Sunday in Texas, crashing not once but twice with tire issues and finishing 34th, causing a precipitous drop on the rankings list.

7. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain’s team played the tires and the cautions right and probably deserved better than a 13th-place finish Sunday.

8. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Mr. Winless (except in All-Star dress) rolls on. A fourth-place run (and 29 laps led) Sunday keeps him relevant.

9. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe’s Texas run started poorly but ended nicely with a fifth-place run.

10. Tyler Reddick (unranked last week) — Reddick Sunday became the only driver not named Chase Elliott with more than two race wins this year. Now totaling three victories, he got his first oval win at Texas.

Dropped out: Alex Bowman (No. 10 last week).