Matt DiBenedetto ‘anxious’ about Richmond playoff race


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.”

NASCAR issues major penalties to Chase Briscoe team for Charlotte infraction


NASCAR fined crew chief John Klausmeier $250,000 and suspended him six races, along with penalizing Chase Briscoe and the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team 120 points and 25 playoff points each for a counterfeit part on the car.

The issue was a counterfeit engine NACA duct, said Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, on Wednesday. That is a single-source part.

The team stated that it accepts the L3 penalty.

“We had a quality control lapse and a part that never should’ve been on a car going to the racetrack ended up on the No. 14 car at Charlotte,” said Greg Zipadelli in a statement from the team. “We accept NASCAR’s decision and will not appeal.”

Asked how then piece could have aided performance, Sawyer said Wednesday: “Knowing the race team mentality, they don’t do things that would not be a benefit to them in some way, shape or form from a performance advantage.”

The penalty drops Briscoe from 17th in the season standings to 31st in the standings. Briscoe goes from having 292 points to having 172 points. He’ll have to win to make the playoffs. Briscoe has no playoff points at this time, so the penalty puts him at -25 playoff points should he make it.

Briscoe’s car was one of two taken to the R&D Center after Monday’s Coca-Cola 600 for additional tear down by series officials.

The penalty comes a day after NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for wrecking Denny Hamlin in last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

NASCAR Championship Weekend returns to Phoenix in 2024


Phoenix Raceway will host the championship races for the Cup, Xfinity, Craftsman Truck and ARCA Menards Series in 2024, NASCAR announced Wednesday.

The races will be held Nov. 1-3, 2024. The Cup season finale will be Nov. 3, 2024. The only other Cup race for 2024 that has been announced is the Daytona 500. It will be held Feb. 18, 2024.

Phoenix Raceway has hosted the championship finale for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks since 2020. Chase Elliott won the Cup title there in 2020. Kyle Larson followed in 2021. Joey Logano won the crown there in 2022.

This year’s Cup finale at Phoenix will be Nov. 5 and air on NBC.



Drivers to watch at World Wide Technology Raceway


After the fireworks from the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR heads to World Wide Technology Raceway, a 1.25-mile speedway just outside of St. Louis. Sunday’s race (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1) marks the second time the Cup Series has raced at this track.

Much is at stake. The race to win the regular season championship has intensified. Tempers are high. The pressure to make the playoffs builds. Ten drivers have wins this season. Twelve races remain in the regular season.


Kyle Larson

  • Points position: 11th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Richmond, Martinsville)
  • Past at WWTR: 12th last year

While a driver coming off back-to-back finishes of 20th or worse might not seem like a frontrunner, it actually does make Larson one. His topsy-turvy season has seen him place outside the top 10 in back-to-back races four times. In the three previous times he had consecutive finishes outside the top 10, he came back to finish second, first and second. Can he keep that streak going this weekend?

Bubba Wallace

  • Points position: 15th
  • Best finish this season: 4th (Las Vegas I, Kansas I, Coca-Cola 600)
  • Past at WWTR: 26th last year

Wallace has scored three consecutive top-five finishes, his best streak in his Cup career. He has climbed from 21st to 15th in the standings during this run.

William Byron

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Las Vegas I, Phoenix I, Darlington I)
  • Past at WWTR: 19th last year

Byron has finished no worse than seventh in the last five races. He’s led nearly 20% of the laps run during that time. Byron has averaged nearly 47 points a race during that streak.


Corey LaJoie

  • Points position: 20th
  • Best finish this season: 4th (Atlanta I)
  • Past at WWTR: 36th last season

NASCAR’s one-race suspension to Chase Elliott gives LaJoie the chance to drive a Hendrick Motorsports car for the first time. This will be the best car LaJoie has driven in his career. Many eyes will be on him to see how he does.

Ross Chastain

Chastain has finished 29th and 22nd in the last two points races. He’s not gone more than three races without a top-10 finish this season. After his struggles last weekend at Charlotte, Chastain saw his lead cut to one point over Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney in the standings. Five drivers are within 17 points of Chastain in the season standings.

Aric Almirola

  • Points position: 26th
  • Best finish this season: 6th (Martinsville I)
  • Past at WWTR: 5th last year

Almirola has finished 13th or worse in all but one race this season for Stewart-Haas Racing. In the five races since placing sixth at Martinsville, Almirola has finished an average of 21.0.

NASCAR suspends Chase Elliott one race for incident with Denny Hamlin


NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one Cup race for wrecking Denny Hamlin in Monday’s Coca-Cola 600, the sanctioning body announced Tuesday.

“We take this very seriously,” Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition, said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “The incident that happened off Turn 4, again after looking at all the available resources — in-car camera, data, SMT, which basically gives us (a car’s) steering, throttle, gives us braking — it was an intentional act by Chase in our opinion.”

Hendrick Motorsports stated that it would not appeal the penalty. Corey LaJoie will drive the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports this weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway. Carson Hocevar will drive LaJoie’s car this weekend.

Hendrick Motorsports also stated that it would submit a waiver request for Elliott to remain eligible for the playoffs. Sawyer said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that “I don’t see any reason at this point in time why wouldn’t (grant the waiver) when that request comes across our desk.”

This weekend will mark the seventh race in the first 15 that Elliott will have missed. He missed six races after breaking his leg in a snowboarding accident in early March. Elliott, who is winless this season, is 29th in points.

Elliott and Hamlin got together shortly before the halfway mark in Monday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

As they ran together, Hamlin forced Elliott toward the wall. Elliott’s car slapped the wall. Elliott then made contact with the right rear of Hamlin’s car, sending Hamlin into the wall.

“I got right-rear hooked in the middle of the straightway,” Hamlin said after the incident. “Yes, it was a tantrum. He shouldn’t be racing next week. Right-rear hooks are absolutely unacceptable. He shouldn’t be racing.”

Said Sawyer on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio: “In the heat of the battle, things happen, but they have to learn to react in a different way. … Our drivers need to understand that you have to handle that in a completely different way than hooking someone in the right rear and putting them in harm’s way, not only with just a major head-on collision like Denny had, but also other competitors.”

Sawyer also said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that “nothing gave us the indication that on that particular contact with the fourth-turn wall … that anything was broke” on Elliott’s car and could have caused him to come down and hit Hamlin’s car in the right rear.

NASCAR also announced that Scott Brzozowski and Adam Lewis, crew members on Michael McDowell‘s team, had each been suspended two races after McDowell’s car lost a tire in Monday’s race.