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Power Rankings: How drivers fared during the season

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While the 2019 NASCAR season is over, we at NASCAR Talk will continue our popular Power Rankings feature periodically through the offseason.

We’ll dive deep into the statistics and overall team performances over the next couple of months, starting with today’s evaluation of how Power Rankings evolved over the 2019 season, as voted upon by NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers.

While it’s not surprising that the Championship 4 drivers were all voted into the rankings the most number of weeks, there were definitely a few surprises:

1. Kyle Busch: Not only was the driver of the No. 18 Toyota the series champion and regular-season champion, he also was the king of NBC Sports’ Power Rankings. Busch was the only driver to be ranked in the top 10 for all 38 weeks. He either was ranked or tied for No. 1 in the rankings 17 times – including 10 weeks in a row at one point – more than any other driver.  He was in the top five for 32 weeks. But there were a few close calls: In three of the weeks, he was last in the rankings, almost falling out of the top 10.

2. Kevin Harvick: Appeared in the Power Rankings 34 times, second-most of all drivers. He led or was tied for the No. 1 spot four times. Next to Busch, Harvick was one of the most consistent selections by NBC Sports’ writers, making the top five in 23 weeks.

(tie) 3. Denny Hamlin: Even though he fell short in the championship race, Hamlin had nothing to be ashamed of, particularly in the Power Rankings. The Virginia native spent 33 weeks in the rankings. He was ranked or tied for No. 1 in nine of those weeks, including five weeks in a row. He was ranked in the top five for 22 weeks.

(tie) 3. Martin Truex Jr.: Like Hamlin, Truex was also ranked for 33 weeks. Started slow but really picked up the pace. He was either selected No. 1 or tied for the top spot five times. He was chosen for the top five a total of 20 times.

5. Joey Logano: The 2018 NASCAR Cup champ fell short of successfully defending his title this past season but still had a strong campaign. He was in the rankings for 32 weeks, including being No. 1 or tied for it three weeks. He was selected in the top five for 21 weeks.

6. Brad Keselowski: It was an up-and-down season for the 2012 Cup champion. He made it into the rankings 24 times but soared to the top spot just once and was in the top five for 12 weeks.

7. Kyle Larson: Much like Keselowski, Larson had an inconsistent season when it came to being recognized in the rankings. He was selected for 22 weeks but reached the top spot just once. He also was in the top five for eight weeks.

8. Ryan Blaney: He was voted into the rankings 19 weeks, coming on particularly strong in the second half of the season. His highest spot in any given week was second in the rankings, which he achieved just once. He was in the top five for eight weeks.

9. Chase Elliott: Inconsistency on the track translated to inconsistency in the Power Rankings. Even though he earned three wins during the season, Elliott made the rankings just 19 times – and was ranked No. 1 twice – as well as being ranked in the top five 13 times.

10. Kurt Busch: The older brother of the 2019 champ had a decent first season with Chip Ganassi Racing, including a win at Kentucky. Busch made the Power Rankings 17 times this season, including eight times being voted in the top five.

Others who received votes: Here’s the rest of those who were voted in and how many weeks they appeared in the rankings: Clint Bowyer (13), William Byron (11), Erik Jones (11), Jimmie Johnson (10), Ryan Newman (9), Alex Bowman (9), Matt DiBenedetto (7), Aric Almirola (7), Christopher Bell (5), Daniel Suarez (5), Chris Buescher (4), Ross Chastain (4), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (3), Tyler Reddick (3), Bubba Wallace (2), Austin Cindric (2), Paul Menard (1), Ryan Preece (1), Greg Biffle (1), Justin Haley (1), Cole Custer (1), Chase Briscoe (1), Justin Allgaier (1) and Matt Crafton (1).

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NASCAR announces changes to Kansas playoff weekend

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Citing “programming changes,” NASCAR announced shifts in the race dates and start times for its visit next month to Kansas Speedway.

The Xfinity, ARCA and Truck Series races have been shifted, while the Cup race remains at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 18.

The biggest move is the Truck Series race shifting from Friday night to Saturday afternoon.

Here are the changes.

Friday, Oct. 16, 8:30 p.m. ETARCA Menards Series on FS1 or FS2; network TBD at a later date (previously at 10 p.m. ET)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 4 p.m. ETTruck Series on FOX (previously Friday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m. ET Xfinity on NBCSN (previously 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

 

Xfinity Series playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Chase Briscoe opened the Xfinity Series playoffs by earning his second consecutive win.

His victory Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway gives him 57 playoff points and an automatic spot in the Round of 8.

Harrison Burton holds the final transfer spot. He has a two-point advantage over Ross Chastain.

Behind Chastain below the cutline are Michael Annett (-10 points), Riley Herbst (-14) and Brandon Brown (-20).

Below is the full Xfinity Series playoff standings going into Saturday’s race at Talladega (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance. Drivers in yellow are in the remaining playoff spots.

Xfinity Series playoff standings

Cup playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Kurt Busch flipped the script on the Cup playoff standings with his win Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings, but is the first driver to clinch a spot in the Round of 8.

Replacing Busch in the bottom spot of the playoff standings is Austin Dillon. He is 32 points behind Alex Bowman, who holds the final cutoff spot.

Behind Bowman is Kyle Busch (-9 points), Clint Bowyer (-20), Aric Almirola (-27) and Dillon.

“Obviously, the 1 car (Kurt Busch) was not a car that we needed to win a race,” Clint Bowyer said after Sunday’s race. “It’s been a hell of a battle back there with cars that are kind of in the same wheelhouse as far as points-wise. (Kurt Busch) winning changes that landscape quite a bit, but we’re only 20 points out.”

Here is the full playoff standings entering Sunday’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance to the Round of 8. Drivers in yellow hold the remaining available playoff spots.

Cup playoff standings

 

 

Kurt Busch win capped off big racing weekend for family

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After hopping from the door of his No. 1 Chevrolet Sunday night, Kurt Busch let out a primal scream.

The source of his emotion?

“20 years of agony and defeat” at the his home track, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, had been replaced by “triumph.”

After the fortunate timing of a caution and pit strategy Sunday night, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver led the final 26 laps and visited LVMS’ Victory Lane for the first time, a day after his brother Kyle Busch experienced a special win.

There was plenty more for the 42-year-old driver to celebrate. He’d entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings. But with his first win in 46 races, Busch became the first driver to plant in his flag in the Round of 8.

But the Las Vegas native’s focus was on the 1.5-mile track, which he’d seen evolve from a “desert gravel pit” into the site of two NASCAR race weekends each year.

“This feeling of growing up here and watching the track get built … when Speedway Motorsports came in and bought it, I’m like, ‘Man, there’s going to be a Cup race there, I hope I can make my way up through Legend cars (and race there). And just all the memories, all the memories of everybody, my mom and dad, every Saturday night, all the commitment they gave me and my little brother (Kyle Busch) to make it in racing.

“For me it was a hobby. I never knew I’d get this far. A guy named Craig Keough here locally in Las Vegas, the owner of the Star Nurseries here in Las Vegas, took a chance on me and let me run his late model a few times and we won a couple races and started working our way up.”

Busch made his first NASCAR start on the Las Vegas oval in 2001 driving for Roush Fenway Racing. Between then and Sunday, he won 31 Cup races, the 2004 championship and the 2017 Daytona 500.

But his home track eluded him until his 21st year competing on the sport’s top circuit.

Busch said Sunday’s win is “right there underneath” his Daytona win and the championship.

“Any time you win, it’s special,” Busch said. “But to do it in front of my hometown crowd and nobody was there (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) and all the people that I see every time I come to Vegas and I get to say thank you and I can’t right now, that’s the hardest part. So this one is easily ramping up to being my third most favorite win ever.

“Right now it’s my favorite because it’s here, it’s Vegas, and I have so many people to thank. They know they helped me, and they know who they are, and it just all started with mom and dad taking me to the racetrack right here at the Bullring in Las Vegas.”

The Busch family got to celebrate more than one win over the weekend.

The night before Kurt’s Vegas breakthrough, a third generation racer got his first taste of victory.

Kyle and Samantha Busch’s son, Brexton, won his first karting race and celebrated with his parents in Victory Lane.

“It’s so much fun to watch him and just to see his excitement and how much he enjoys going to the race track and being with is friends,” Kyle Busch said after his sixth-place finish Sunday. “It’s three generations worth, I guess. My dad (Tom) did it, myself and Kurt and now him. It’s pretty fun to just be out there. My dad is kind of the truck driver, the team manager, the crew chief, the lead mechanic and all that stuff on his kart.

“He’s got a big task at hand in order to get it all ready to go and get us to the race track every week. It’s been fun to see (Brexton) and to see how excited he was when he was able to win and beat the other competition that was out there and to see his joy. I told him, ‘Whatever that feeling is, whatever you’re feeling, however that sits in you, that’s feasible, that’s possible a lot more often than just one time. So don’t rest on just getting one, we gotta go out there and fight for more.'”

Kurt Busch wasn’t there for his nephew’s win, but he got all the details from his sister-in-law as they flew to Las Vegas.

“It definitely felt like a generational shift was happening,” he said. “But maybe not. Maybe not. This old guy has still got it going on.”