Matt DiBenedetto ‘anxious’ about Richmond playoff race

Leave a comment

After a disappointing 21st-place finish in the Southern 500 to open the playoffs, Matt DiBenedetto is “anxious” about what awaits the Cup Series this weekend.

The Wood Brothers Racing driver – who is 15th on the playoff grid and 17 points behind the cutoff –  heads to Richmond Raceway for the first of two short-track races – followed by Bristol – to close out the first round.

But this visit to the .750-mile track (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN) is different than every other fall trip to Richmond for the Cup Series.

Because of NASCAR’s 10-week shut down earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this will be the series’ first and only race on the short track this season.

The 400-lap race will be held on a different tire compound than last year and will see the series use its low-downforce package there for the first time.

“This is one that I am kind of anxious to get to and interested to see how it goes because we are in the playoffs and this is the first time that we are running at Richmond when otherwise we would normally have had a race under our belt and that would allow you to know without practice where we need to roughly be because we would have learned it at the first race,” DiBenedetto said Thursday. “We don’t have that. I think it is interesting. I actually talked with my crew chief (Greg Erwin) and engineer to kind of see what the strategy is and how they come up with their starting setup.

“Man, it makes my head hurt all the information that they look through to try to get a close or what they think will be a close starting setup for the race.”

DiBenedetto said his team uses “a whole bunch of different equations and aero stuff” in order for them to “take their best guess” at what his No. 21 Ford needs off the hauler.

“We have to kind of jumble it all up and put it in simulation and hope it spits out a close setup,” DiBenedetto said. “But man, there are a lot of variables and nobody is really going to hit it perfect right off the truck. We will have to see how it goes and we will have to be really good on pit stops, adjustments and communication with the team.”

While the tire being used this weekend is new to Richmond, the Cup Series has used it this year at Phoenix and New Hampshire.

DiBenedetto is a fan of it.

“This tire has been really good,” DiBenedetto said. “This has been my favorite tire we have ran on this year because it has a lot more wear and fall off. Goodyear did a good job with this one. Hopefully it makes for a good race.”

DiBenedetto finished 13th at Phoenix and sixth at New Hampshire. His best result at Richmond in 10 starts was 14th last fall while driving for Leavine Family Racing.

DiBenedetto said tire fall off at Richmond is “huge.”

“I think you are going to see a drastic amount of fall off,” DiBenedetto said. “I think the fans will enjoy watching that. The tire makes a big difference in how the race plays out, more than anything at Richmond. … I am predicting with this tire that it will be more drastic than ever, but if you have a guy that comes in and bolts on a set of tires and everyone else is on old tires, they will drive by everyone like they are in reverse. It is that drastic and that much fall off. I am really anxious to see how this tire races here.”

As a playoff driver, DiBenedetto has another reason to be anxious about the next two races.

Entering Richmond, DiBenedetto is tied with Ryan Blaney for the last spot on the playoff grid.

Despite that, DiBenedetto is still “pretty optimistic” he can move on in the postseason.

“I know these next two race tracks, while Darlington was a weak one for us, these next two I feel really good about,” DiBenedetto said. “I think if we can go out there and continue the momentum of races we had through the middle of the season when we were in the top five and top 10 on a weekly basis, if we can do that at a couple tracks that are great strengths for us, we need to rack up some points. I feel really optimistic that we can do it.

“This weekend will be a big teller. The next two races will have to be very strong for us. It can’t just be one good one and one mediocre or bad one. They will both have to be really good.”

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win, but without hometown fans

Kurt Busch
Getty Images
Leave a comment

A win by Kurt Busch in tonight’s Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) couldn’t come under more bittersweet circumstances for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver.

Should Busch claim the victory on the 1.5-mile track, he’d go from being the last driver on the playoff grid (3,001 points entering the race) to the first driver to advance to the Round of 8.

While it would be his first victory of the year, it would also be his first NASCAR win at his home track in 23 starts across the Cup and Xfinity Series.

More: Stage points critical at Vegas

“The Vegas track has definitely been one of the tough ones for me over the years with results and finishes not where I would have expected them to be,” Busch said this week. “And the teams that I’ve raced for just have never quite found that right magic set-up or combination. And then for me, it’s a track that I just have that trouble with.

“There are a few tracks like Indianapolis and Martinsville; those are a few places where I struggle. And so with Vegas, I always put that little extra hometown pressure on myself and I would love to win there.”

The 42-year-old Las Vegas-native rolls off ninth on the 1.5-mile track. It’s his fourth while driving for Ganassi.

In his 21 Cup starts in Las Vegas, Busch’s best result is third in 2005 when he competed for Roush Fenway Racing. He has just one other top five. That came in last year’s spring race when he drove a throwback paint scheme to his 1999 NASCAR Southwest Series championship.

That day he led 23 laps. It was only the seventh time he’d led laps there and just the third time he’d totaled more than six laps led.

In February, Busch finished 25th.

If Busch were to finally make it to Vegas’ Victory Lane, the celebration would be somewhat muted.

It was announced last weekend that fans would not be allowed to attend the races at Las Vegas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would love to win through the spirit of the camera and everything on NBC Sports; and I know the fans there, local, will be watching and cheering on the Busch brothers,” Busch said. “So, that’s where I would connect. And hopefully do it through the TV side of it. We’ll get fans back one day and we’ll come back and race.”

Busch enters the Round of 12 having earned just one top 10 in the first round, an eighth-place finish at Darlington. He finished 13th at Richmond and 15th at Bristol.

“What I like is we have had better lap times at all three races so far compared to maybe the five or six races leading into the playoffs,” Busch said. “We know that our cushion is gone. We ended Bristol with 33 points to the good. And now we start Vegas minus four (points behind Austin Dillon in the cutoff spot). So that’s just part of the system and now we have to be perfect. We have to get every point possible that we’re able to get on our own at Vegas, Talladega, and the Roval. And, that should help us advance.”

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

Leave a comment

Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan were teammates from 1982-84 at the University of North Carolina and Eastern Conference rivals throughout the 1980s and ’90s in the NBA.

But their friendship was about more than just hoops. While growing up on opposite ends of the Tar Heel State, Daugherty and Jordan both developed a passion for following NASCAR.

Tobacco Road meant fast cars and hard-driving heroes for these two North Carolina natives.

LIFELONG FAN: Michael Jordan explains why he’s partnering with Denny Hamlin

In a NASCAR on NBC feature, Daugherty recalls how NASCAR impacted his life and Jordan’s and led both into team ownership. Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin announced they will form a team to field cars for Bubba Wallace next season.

Daughterty notes in the feature that Wallace “has led a dynamic transformation as NASCAR banned Confederate flags and recommitted to inclusion amidst times of great unrest. This is a huge moment for NASCAR, a cultural momentum shift. This is people of all colors coming together to create an all-American race team already with championship lineage.

“With proper funding, equipment and crewmembers, this will be the best chance ever for a Black driver to win – and while driving for a Black owner. An opportunity to shock the world like Muhammad Ali once did.”

Watch the feature above on Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan or by clicking this link.

Las Vegas Xfinity results, driver points

Leave a comment

Chase Briscoe‘s victory Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway sends him into the next round of the Xfinity playoffs.

Noah Gragson led a 2-3-4 finish for JR Motorsports. Gragson was second and followed by Daniel Hemric and Justin Allgaier. Ryan Sieg finished fifth.

Briscoe dominated the race, leading 164 of the 200 laps.

Click here for Xfinity race results

POINTS

Ross Chastain finished 16th, last among the playoff drivers, and fell out of a transfer spot to the second round. He’s two points behind Harrison Burton for the final transfer spot. Michael Annett is 10 points behind Burton. Riley Herbst is 14 points behind Burton. Brandon Brown is 20 points behind Burton.

Click here for driver points report

Chase Briscoe scores 8th Xfinity win of year with Las Vegas triumph

Leave a comment

Chase Briscoe met a preseason goal of winning eight races with his victory in Saturday night’s Xfinity playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Briscoe, who also won at Las Vegas in February, advances to the second round.

Briscoe dominated, winning both stages on the way to his second consecutive victory and eighth of the year. He led 164 of 200 laps.

“Awesome car,” Briscoe said on the radio of the car that also won at this 1.5-mile speedway earlier this year. “Can’t say enough, awesome car.”

Gragson said of Briscoe’s car on NBCSN: “Lot of race cars out here and one space shuttle.”

Las Vegas native Noah Gragson finished second and was followed by JR Motorsports teammates Daniel Hemric and Justin Allgaier. Ryan Sieg placed fifth.

Austin Cindric placed sixth and was followed by Michael Annett, Anthony Alfredo, Harrison Burton and Justin Haley.

Briscoe’s eight wins through 27 races ties him with Jack Ingram and Sam Ard for the most wins by non-Cup drivers through 27 races in a season. Ard and Ingram both did it in 1984. Briscoe’s eight wins ties him with Carl Edwards for most wins by a Ford driver in a season in the Xfinity Series. Edwards accomplished the feat in 2011.

“I knew this team was fully capable of achieving that and even more,” Briscoe told NBCSN of winning eight races this year. “I just can’t say thank you enough to Gene Haas and Tony Stewart and everyone that lets me drive these race cars. It has been an unbelievable season and we still have a lot, six more wins that we can try to get and a championship. That is what we are going to try to do. I am so happy to start the playoffs like this. After the last couple weeks we had, to go to Bristol and win and now here is a pretty good way to start our playoffs.”

The 25-year-old Briscoe does not know where he’ll run next season. He has a year left on his contract with Ford.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Chase Briscoe

STAGE 2 WINNER: Chase Briscoe

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ryan Sieg’s fifth-place finish is his fifth top five of the season, the most he’s had in a season. … Runner-up Noah Gragson has finished in the top six in all four of his Xfinity Las Vegas starts. He did it by overcoming a bloody nose during the race. At one point, he put roll bar padding up his nose to clog it. … Daniel Hemric had finished 24th or worse in four of his last five starts before Saturday’s race. He finished third at Las Vegas.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Ross Chastain finished 16th, last among the playoff drivers. It’s his first finish outside the top 10 at a 1.5-mile speedway this season.

NEXT: The series races Oct. 3 at Talladega Superspeedway (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) in the middle race of the opening round of the playoffs.