Cup Series Championship 4 clinching scenarios

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It will be warm in the Phoenix area this weekend, but it will be even hotter for the six remaining Cup Series playoff drivers.

Those six drivers will compete Sunday at ISM Raceway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC) to be the two drivers who advance to the Championship 4 in Miami with Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr.

Each driver could advance by simply winning Sunday’s race on the 1-mile track, but that can only be said for one driver.

At least one driver will have to advance on points.

Here are the clinching scenarios for each of the six remaining playoff drivers.

Kyle Busch (4,113 points) – Would clinch by earning 53 points and there being a new winner. If there is a repeat winner (or a win by Joey Logano), he would clinch a position having earned 34 points.

Busch enters the race as the winner of the last two Cup races at ISM Raceway, but he is winless in his last 20 starts.

“We all know (at least) one guy is going to move through on points and we have to do whatever we have to do in order to be that guy,” Busch said in a media release. “If we can obviously go to Phoenix and have a strong run and be able to go out there and win, that will put us through, as well. We’re two (points) up on (Joey Logano), so it’s going to be a race between the 18 and the 22. Imagine that. We’ll look forward to the challenge and hope we have a strong run in order to make it through to Homestead.”

Joey Logano (4,111 points) – Would clinch by earning 55 points and there being a new winner. If there is a repeat winner or a Kyle Busch victory, he would need to earn only 36 points.

Logano didn’t earn his first top-five finish of the playoffs until last weekend at Texas and yet he’s still in position to claim back-to-back championships. 

He has only one top five in his last seven starts at ISM Raceway, his win in the 2016 playoff race.

“We’ve had more blue-collar days than you can imagine throughout these playoffs,” Logano said after Sunday’s race. “We’re not locked in like (Harvick) and (Truex) but we’re not out either.

“We’ve just got to go to Phoenix and do the same things we’ve been doing. We’ve got to score stage points and get a great finish. Off we go.”

Denny Hamlin (4,091 points) – Could clinch on points, with help.

A wreck in the first stage Sunday at Texas resulted in Hamlin being 20 points behind the cutoff going into this weekend’s race.

Hamlin has only one Phoenix win, in the 2012 spring race. In the 14 races since, he has six top fives.

“I’m optimistic we can win,” Hamlin said Sunday. “We’ve been really good there for many, many years and knowing that we have to go win, it puts a very easy strategy in our hands. If anything you have an advantage with cautions coming out and some people battling for stage points, we’re going to get good track position as long as we’re competitive at the end of that race because we’re going just for that race win.”

Ryan Blaney (4,088 points) – Could clinch on points, with help.

The Team Penske driver had a win at ISM Raceway in his sights in the spring before he was overtaken by Busch and Truex in the closing laps. His third-place finish was his first result better than eighth in seven Phoenix starts.

He enters the weekend tied with Kyle Larson in points.

“In the spring race you saw a lot of cars immediately drive to the apron as soon as you crossed the start-finish line and I think that is going to be the same,” Blaney said in a media release. “You saw us four wide into (Turn) 1 on a handful of occasions. You just hope you are in a spot going forward and not getting stuck three wide. With the added downforce we’re faster there through the corners and the qualifying speeds were way up. The cars go faster and you can drive them harder.”

Kyle Larson (4,088 points) – Could clinch on points, with help.

“Our team has never made it this close to a shot at the final four, and even though we’re not in great place in the points, we’re excited about our chances this weekend,” Larson said in a media release. “I think our strategy has been good the last two races, we just didn’t have things work out on track in our favor last weekend.

“It sounds like the traction compound will be applied this weekend similar to last weekend, and I think that plays into my ability to move around during the race to find speed. So, we’ll head to the track this weekend ready to do what we can to have a good race and hopefully advance.”

Chase Elliott (4,033 points) – Must win to earn a Championship 4 position.

Elliott is the only driver who has to win Sunday to advance to Miami.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver is 78 points back from the cutoff after finishes of 36th and 32nd in the first two races of the Round of 8. Elliott has managed incredible comebacks twice in the playoffs, winning at Roval in the first round and skating by with a runner-up finish at Kansas in the second round.

Elliott has two top-three finishes in seven starts at ISM Raceway.

“We’ve seen guys make up a lot of ground on restarts and the closing restarts in the past couple of (Phoenix) races,” Elliott said in a media release. “There’s a time and there are different opportunities that I think it can work better than others and it just depends on the situation and who’s in front of you and what kind of gap there is to the people around you and all kinds of situational things that you just have to make split second decisions as to what feels right and what’s not.”

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Results, point standings after Truck race at Las Vegas

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Austin Hill won Friday night’s Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for his second win of 2020.

He beat Sheldon Creed for the victory.

The top five was completed by Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith.

IndyCar driver Conor Daly finished 18th and Travis Pastrana was 21st.

Click here for the race results.

Point Standings

With his win, Austin Hill is the first driver to advance to the second round of the playoffs.

Todd Gilliland is last in the playoff standings with 2,050 points. He is 13 points behind Ben Rhodes.

Click here for the standings.

Austin Hill wins Las Vegas Truck race

Austin Hill
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Austin Hill won Friday night’s Truck Series playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, leading the final 39 laps to score the victory.

Hill took the lead on a restart and held off charges from Sheldon Creed over the final 20 laps.

Creed’s progress was slowed with 11 laps to go when he got loose and scraped the wall in Turn 1. He was never able to get close enough to Hill to make a challenge.

Creed dominated the early portion of the race, leading 89 laps before he struggled to get going on the final restart and briefly fell to seventh.

The win is the second of the year for Hill. He’s the first playoff driver to win in the postseason and it come after he finished 25th at Bristol.

“We didn’t have the best truck tonight by no means,” Hill told FS1. “Pit crew did a hell of job on that last pit stop getting me into the position I needed to. I just had to go out there and get it. … Sheldon was definitely way faster than me. … I was probably looking in my mirror more than I was our front. I knew he was better than we were.”

The top five was completed by Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith.

More: Race results and point standings

STAGE 1 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

STAGE 2 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith all matched their best results of the season … While he was the first driver to finish one lap down, IndyCar driver Conor Daly placed 18th in his first career Truck Series start … Travis Pastrana placed 21st in his second start of the season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Rachael Lessard finished 20th after he had to pit early in the race following contact with the wall … Ben Rhodes finished 23rd after he spun from contact with Stewart Friesen and hit the inside wall on Lap 84 … Jordan Anderson’s engine expired on the ensuing restart. He finished 32nd.

NOTABLE: Natalie Decker, who was not medically cleared to compete Friday night, was treated and released from the infield care center.

WHAT’S NEXT: Race at Talladega Superspeedway, 1 p.m. ET Oct. 3 on FS1

 

Natalie Decker not medically cleared for Las Vegas Truck race

Natalie Decker
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NASCAR announced right before Friday night’s Truck Series race that Natalie Decker hadn’t been medically cleared to compete.

No details were provided about the issue that prevented Decker from being cleared. During the final stage of the race, NASCAR announced she had been treated and released from the infield medical center.

The Niece Motorsports driver would have started 23rd. Due to her No. 44 truck having cleared inspection and having been placed on the starting grid she was credited with a last-place finish.

Decker has made 11 starts this year. She missed the June 28 race at Pocono after she was hospitalized due to bile duct complications related to her gallbladder removal in December.

Brandon Brown hopes to shed underdog role in Xfinity playoffs

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Brandon Brown knows the odds are against him advancing beyond the first round of the Xfinity playoffs.

“If I went out and we did a survey and we asked 1,000 NASCAR fans to create a playoff bracket, I guarantee that 90 to 99 percent of them have me getting eliminated in the first round,” he told NBC Sports.

But that’s not stopping him.

Brown is in the Xfinity playoffs for the first time, earning the final spot last weekend with his family-run team. He enters Saturday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) last in the 12-driver field. Brown has 2,000 points and is 10 points behind Ross Chastain, who holds the final transfer spot, entering the first round.

MORE: Saturday’s Xfinity race start time, lineup, forecast

Regardless where he is in the standings, Brown still met the team’s preseason goal of making the playoffs.

“It’s hard to put it into words,” the 27-year-old said of making the playoffs. “It’s so exciting and so thrilling. We’re just happy. Life is good. We’re seeing the fruits of our labor.”

Much of the Xfinity playoff focus will be on Chase Briscoe, who enters with a series-high seven wins. Or Austin Cindric, who won the regular-season title. Or Justin Allgaier, who has won three of the last seven races and could be the favorite if he makes it to the championship race at Phoenix Raceway.

Brown, who is in his second full season in the series, has four consecutive top-20 finishes going into this weekend. He knows the challenge he faces.

He said a key for this weekend is to have no mistakes, be running at the end and try to take advantage of any mistakes other playoff drivers have.

Then, he’ll look to Talladega. He’ll have an upgraded Earnhardt Childress Racing engine for that race, the team spending the extra money for the engine upgrade.

“I go into that track with confidence,” he said. “I need to go out there and make it happen, go win and make an name and go ahead and punch my ticket.”

While Brown knows most look at him as the underdog of these playoffs, he hopes to drop that title someday.

“The goal will be to get rid of that underdog title and to build that program that is going to be looked on as a powerhouse of the NASCAR Xfinity Series,” he said. “I enjoy the ride (as underdog), but now I’m ready to advance past it.”

Points entering Xfinity playoffs 

2,050 – Chase Briscoe

2,050 – Austin Cindric

2,033 – Justin Allgaier

2,025 – Noah Gragson

2,020 – Brandon Jones

2,018 – Justin Haley

2,014 – Harrison Burton

2,010 – Ross Chastain

2,002 – Ryan Sieg

2,002 – Michael Annett

2,001 – Riley Herbst

2,000 – Brandon Brown

First Round races

Sept. 26 – Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Oct. 3 – Talladega Superspeedway (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Oct. 10 – Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC)