Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick come up short of second Cup titles

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Sunday evening saw three of the Cup Series’ four championship drivers with a chance to become just the second active Cup driver with multiple titles on their resume.

In the end, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick had to watch Kyle Busch join that club, which Jimmie Johnson had been the sole member of since 2016 until Busch won under the lights at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Truex finished runner-up in the season finale for the second year in row while Harvick brought his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford home in fourth.

Truex thought his No. 19 Toyota, which his team had been refining for three weeks after his Martinsville win, had the “complete package” for a championship night.

“We were really good on short runs, good on long runs,” Truex told NBC. “Just another one that got away. Felt like we had what it took to win tonight, even more so than last year.”

Truex’s title hopes began to fizzle due to human error on pit road. After he won Stage 1, Truex pitted from the lead in the middle of Stage 2 on Lap 120.

When new tires were placed on his car, the right- and left-front tires were placed on the wrong sides.

Truex felt a difference immediately and returned to the pits on Lap 122. The mistake corrected, Truex returned to track the first car a lap down in 13th.

Luckily for Truex, the only non-stage break caution of the race – for a John Hunter Nemechek spin – fell in his favor on Lap 137. Truex received the free pass and after pit stops restarted 13th.

“Just (lost) control of the race there with the issues we had,” Truex said. “Having to restart back where we did and eating up our tires.”

Though he used up his tires, Truex quickly returned to the top 10 in the process and by the end of Stage 2 he was in fourth. But track position and a tight car kept Truex from being able to make a real run at Busch over the final laps.

“We were faster the whole last run, it’s just that we were too far behind to make up with traffic, lapped traffic and all those things,” Truex said. “Just another one that got away. Felt like we had what it took to win tonight, even more so than last year.

Truex said missing out on a title by one spot, two years in a row “definitely stings a little, but the fact that we have one is still really a big deal. It’s hard to win these things.”

Harvick, who was trying to follow-up his title from the 2014 season, lamented a car that fell off on long runs compared to the Joe Gibbs Racing cars.

Harvick led the first 20 laps of the race before Truex passed him. Harvick led twice more for 21 laps.

“We just needed to do something different,” Harvick said. “Really our best chance was to have a caution there at the end and never got one.  We just did something different hoping for a caution, and that’s what you’re supposed to do in those late situations like that.  Just do the opposite of the cars you’re trying to race, and it just didn’t work out.”

Harvick said with this race’s recent history of having a late caution, “you kind of play towards that.”

Harvick was asked if being the lone Ford driver pitted against three Toyotas had any impact on how the night went for him.

“Not really … it really turns into individual battles,” Harvick said. “I’d even say those guys are all racing for each other and trying to win a championship.  Never really looked at it quite that way.”

Greg Zipadelli to serve as Clint Bowyer’s interim crew chief

Greg Zipadelli
Photo by Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images
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Greg Zipadelli, competition director for Stewart-Haas Racing, will serve as the crew chief for Clint Bowyer in Saturday’s Cup race at Michigan International Speedway, the team confirmed Monday.

Johnny Klausmeier will miss Saturday’s race, serving a one-race suspension because Bowyer’s car was found to have two lug nuts not safe and secure after last weekend’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Bowyer enters Saturday’s race at Michigan (4 p.m. ET on NBCSN) 14th on the playoff grid. The top 16 will advance to the playoffs. Six races remain in the regular season.

Klausmeier will be able to resume his role for Sunday’s Cup race (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) at Michigan.

Zipadelli, who won Cup titles in 2002 and 2005 with Tony Stewart, will reprise the interim role he played earlier in the season in the Xfinity Series.

Zipadelli served as Chase Briscoe‘s crew chief for four races after crew chief Richard Boswell, the team’s car chief and an engineer were each suspended four races because ballast fell out of his car. Briscoe won three of the four races with Zipadelli as his crew chief.

Team Penske extends contract with Brad Keselowski

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Team Penske announced Monday that New Hampshire winner Brad Keselowski has agreed to a contract extension. Keselowski’s contract was to expire after this season.

A media release from the team did not state the length of the extension for Keselowski, 36. The Associated Press reported that the deal was for one year through the 2021 season.

Keselowski, who won the 2012 Cup title, has been with Team Penske since 2010, winning 31 Cup and 33 Xfinity races during that time.

“We are pleased that Brad will continue to be a part of our organization,” said Roger Penske in a statement. “Brad not only demonstrates talent and skill on the track, but his leadership away from it and his dedication to our partners have had a huge impact in making our organization one of the best in NASCAR. I am proud that we will be able to able to keep the continuity we have with Brad, Ryan (Blaney) and Joey (Logano) and look forward to competing for more wins and championships together.”

MORE: Winners and losers from New Hampshire

Said Keselowski in a statement: I have been racing for Team Penske for the vast majority of my NASCAR career and to continue to represent Roger Penske, our partners and his organization is exactly where I want to be. We’ve accomplished a lot of things together over the years, including winning both the Cup and Xfinity Championships, the Brickyard 400, the Southern 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. Now, my goal is to win the Daytona 500, another championship and continue to build Team Penske into the best NASCAR team in the garage area.”

Logano is signed to at least 2022. In March, Blaney signed a multiyear extension with Team Penske.

Keselowski’s victory Sunday was his third of the season. He’s scored at least three wins in each of the past five seasons. Keselowski is second  in the points to Kevin Harvick.

GMS Racing, Brett Moffitt to honor Jimmie Johnson with special scheme

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GMS Racing and sponsor Plan B Sales have created a special paint scheme to honor seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson on championship weekend in November at Phoenix Raceway.

Brett Moffitt, the 2018 Truck Series champion, will pilot the the specially adorned truck at Phoenix.

“Brett has been a part of the Plan B family and a great ambassador for our company over the years,” said Brent Powell, owner of Plan B Sales in a statement. “Last year we partnered with Brett and GMS for the Phoenix race, but this year is different with it being the season finale and Jimmie’s final (full-time Cup) weekend. It truly is an honor for us to showcase this throwback for Jimmie and hopefully see Brett clinch his second championship in our truck.”

Said Moffitt of Johnson in a statement: “I have looked up to him, leaned on him and had the utmost respect for everything he has done for our sport. This is the coolest paint scheme I’ve had in my career because of how much respect and admiration I have for Jimmie. I’m rooting for him to go out on top, and maybe we’ll both get the chance to celebrate a championship in Phoenix later this year.”

Johnson has announced this will be his final full-time Cup season. He drove a Chip Ganassi Racing IndyCar in a July 28 test on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Johnson has expressed a desire to race different vehicles after this season.

 

Cup playoff grid after New Hampshire

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William Byron holds a 15-point lead on rookie Tyler Reddick for the final playoff spot in the Cup playoff grid after last weekend’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Six races remain in the regular season.

Byron finished 11th at New Hampshire, one spot behind Reddick, but Byron extended his advantage on Reddick by five points. Byron scored six stage points, while Reddick scored none.

MORE: Could New Hampshire be a sign of things to come in Cup?

MORE: Winners and losers from New Hampshire 

Jimmie Johnson fell to 25 points behind Byron for the final spot in the Cup playoff grid. Johnson overcame a spin after contact with Clint Bowyer to run in the top 10 but lost four spots in the final 20 laps to finish 12th.

“Good fight today guys,” Johnson told his team on the radio after the race. “Overcome a lot of (stuff) again.”

The series heads this weekend to Michigan International Speedway for two races. The Cup Series races there at 4 p.m. ET Saturday and at 4:30 p.m. ET on Sunday. Both races will be on NBCSN.

Ten of the 16 playoff spots have been secured by drivers who have won at least one race this year: Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon and rookie Cole Custer.

Here is a look at the Cup playoff grid. Drivers shaded in green are locked in the playoffs. Drivers shaded in yellow are in a playoff spot based on their point total. Drivers shaded in red are outside a spot in the Cup playoff grid.

 

Cup playoff grid New Hampshire