Will Bristol shake up dominance of a few teams?

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Will NASCAR’s first race at a short track Sunday break up the domination of the top teams or just be more of the same?

Since the Cup season resumed May 17 at Darlington, the top organizations — Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing have dominated.

Each organization has won a race in the last four. Those four organizations have combined for 85% of the top-five finishes and 67.5% of the top 10s scored since the season restarted.

MORE: A viewer’s guide to Sunday’s Cup race at Bristol

Both totals are increases compared to the first four races of the season before COVID-19 halted the season. Before the break, the four organizations combined for 65% of the top-five finishes and 62.5% of the top-10 results.

“I feel like it’s been a continuation from the beginning of the season,” Chase Elliott said after his Thursday night Charlotte victory of the dominance of the same group. “I feel like all the same contenders are contending now as to who was contending before the break.

“I almost get the sense that we’re still working on some of the parts and pieces and cars that we had before we had two months off, so I’m really curious to see how these next two weeks progress because people are going to get better, and I think some of the things they’ve been trying and working on they’re actually going to have time to implement to their cars. We have to stay hungry and stay after it.”

Alan Gustafson, Elliott’s crew chief, told NBC Sports in March that because the rules are “much more stringent than they’ve been in the past” that “there’s not a whole lot of places to go and find performance.”

In anticipation of the sport going to the Next Gen car next season, NASCAR put a freeze on new parts for cars this season. NASCAR has since delayed the Next Gen car’s debut until the 2022 season.

With Sunday’s race at Bristol completing a stretch of five races in two weeks, teams have been challenged to improve performance as they prepare cars in such a short period. With four Cup races scheduled between June 1-21, teams should have more time to fine-tune performance.

“There’s certainly room for everyone to improve, and I have every expectation that our competitors will,” Gustafson said after Thursday night’s Charlotte race.

Denny Hamlin, who won the second Darlington race, said it could be some time before there’s a change in which teams are the strongest.

“You’re not able to make huge changes because the cars are essentially locked in with all the new kind of ordinances on new parts and whatnot,” Hamlin said. “So you’ve kind of got what you’ve got. You will make some developments and you will find some things in aerodynamics through the year, but I think that you’d better have your stuff together come early to mid‑August.”

If so, that comes only a couple of weeks before the playoffs are scheduled to begin Sept. 6 at Darlington with the Southern 500.

That could mean that many teams are chasing the Hendrick Motorsports cars this summer. While Joe Gibbs Racing has had the highest percentage of its cars in the top 10 since the season resumed (27.5%), the Hendrick cars have been viewed as the dominant ones.

Hendrick cars have won 44.4% of the stages since the season restarted and combined to lead more than a third of the laps run in the past four races.

“Honestly, I think the best group out there right now is Hendrick,” Ryan Blaney said after Thursday night’s race. “They have really great speed right now on the mile‑and‑a‑halfs or the bigger tracks. I’ve seen it. 

“They’ve kind of had some unfortunate circumstances. … The Penske group has capitalized on (those) at a couple of them tracks, but Hendrick is really strong. I feel like we’re close with our group. We’ve just got to find a little bit more.”

Xfinity playoff grid after Indianapolis

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Chase Briscoe‘s continued dominance of the Xfinity Series over the weekend on the Indianapolis road course ensured no additional drivers locked themselves into the 12-driver playoff field.

Through 13 races, Briscoe and four other drivers have qualified for the playoffs via race wins. Briscoe, who has five race wins, leads the field with 28 playoff points.

The last two drivers currently in the top 12 are Riley Herbst (+19 points above cutline) and Brandon Brown (+6 points).

The first four drivers outside the top 12 are Myatt Snider (-6), Alex Labbe (-32), Jeremy Clements (-49) and Josh Williams (-57).

Cup Series playoff grid after Brickyard 400

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With Kevin Harvick‘s victory Sunday in the Brickyard 400, no additional drivers locked themselves into the Cup Series playoff field.

But there was some movement at the bottom of the playoff grid as drivers jockey to make the 16-car field.

After he missed the race due to his COVID-19 diagnosis, Jimmie Johnson fell from 12th to 15th on the grid. He’s now 36 points above the cutline.

Matt DiBenedetto earned stage points in each stage before finishing 19th. He moved from 14th to 12th in the standings.

After earning stage points in both stages Sunday, Austin Dillon has cracked the top 16, moving up one spot. He has a six-point advantage over Erik Jones, who crashed out of Sunday’s race and had a 14-point advantage over Dillon entering the weekend.

With his ninth-place finish Sunday, Bubba Wallace is now within reach of the top 16. He sits at 19th, 42 points back from 16th.

Here’s the full playoff grid.

Oval or road course? Cup drivers address future of Brickyard 400

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For 27 years, the Cup Series has competed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with its annual Brickyard 400. All 27 of those races have been run exclusively on the track’s traditional 2.5-mile oval.

But following Saturday’s Xfinity Series race on the track’s 2.4-mile, 14-turn road course, an obvious question has been raised:

Should the Brickyard 400 remain on the oval, where passing is made difficult due to a combination of the rules package and the design of the track, or should moving it to the road course be considered?

“I would never vote for that,” Kevin Harvick declared last week before he won his third Brickyard 400 on Sunday. “I love everything about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For me it is all about the oval … racing on the traditional track because for me I am kind of old school and I think that the Cup cars belong and really started the Brickyard 400.

“That was kind of what it was always meant to be, that iconic one-off, just the Cup cars event. I think with the Xfinity cars and the trucks and (ARCA Menards) cars and all the things that used to race at IRP (Indianapolis Raceway Park), it was a great event. Hopefully the road course can kind of take that role that IRP used to have and be able to bring the Indy cars and NASCAR together to add to that event at the Speedway. For me personally, I would never vote for the Cup cars to not run on the oval.”

Harvick is joined in that camp by his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Aric Almirola, who finished third in Sunday’s race for his first top five and top-10 finish at Indy.

“I hope that we never stop running the oval,” Almirola said. “I just think it’s one of these places that regardless if it puts on the greatest race or not, it’s historic. It’s just a special place. It’s hard to explain when you don’t grow up a racer and you don’t aspire to come to race at Indy.

“But for me, I grew up watching stock car racing and dirt sprint car racing. I grew up watching Thursday Night Thunder, seeing so many guys go from USAC racing and sprint car racing to racing at Indy. It’s something I’ve always kept up with, always dreamed about getting the opportunity to race here. I get that opportunity now.”

Matt Kenseth, who finished second Sunday in his 20th Brickyard 400, said the Cup Series “should be” on the oval. But the Chip Ganassi Racing driver is open to the idea of Cup using the road course in some manner.

 “I think it’s one of those racetracks that we need to race at as long as we can,” Kenseth said of the oval. “It’s arguably the most famous speedway in the world, or one of them.

“To be able to race on the ovals with the Cup cars, which is the highest form of stock car racing here, we should be on the big track as well. I don’t think it would be bad to maybe test the road course and look into it, maybe do a second race on a road course, kind of like the IndyCars did this week.

“I really do think the Brickyard 400 has a lot of prestige. It’s not a southern race, but similar to the Southern 500, races like that. I think there’s a few of those races you sure would hate to see disappear.”

Crew chief describes ‘frightening’ scene on pit road at Indy

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Crew chief Todd Gordon said it was “frightening” to see rear tire changer Zach Price hit on pit road and then try to scoot away from cars during Sunday’s Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Price, who changes tires for Ryan Blaney’s team, was injured when he was struck by Brennan Poole’s car during a melee near the entrance of pit road early in the race.

Gordon, speaking Monday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, said indications are that Price’s injury was a “fracture someplace in the knee area.”

Price was treated and released from an Indianapolis hospital on Sunday night and traveled home with the team. Gordon said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that Price was scheduled to see a doctor Monday.

“Just hope to get him back and get him back going again and healthy,” Gordon said.

Gordon described what he saw as cars made contact.

“A really frightening moment for me,” he said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I was really terrorized when I saw (Price) drag himself back across the pit box arms only for a while there. As the situation kind of progressed and the medical staff was working with him, I could see in his face he was better off than I thought he was to start with.

“Fortunate that the guys got up and got at least in the air. The jackman (Graham Stoddard) got on top of the car. Just one of those terrible situations. I felt like those accidents happened mid-pit road. That’s why I picked way back there to be behind it.”

Said Justin Allgaier, who was involved in the accident on pit road that led to six cars eventually being eliminated:  “The No. 15 (Poole) actually got in the back of me. I didn’t know if I got the gentleman on (Blaney’s pit crew) or not. Once the wreck started happening in front of us and we all got bottled-up there, one car after another were getting run into.”

Indianapolis’ pit road is the most narrow of all the tracks the Cup Series races. The two travel lanes are 24 feet wide. The pit stall for each team is 15 feet wide.