Examining the elite eight in Cup playoffs


It’s on to Kansas for teams and the beginning of the Round of 8 in the Cup playoffs.

Title favorites Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin remain in good position to advance to the championship race Nov. 8 at Phoenix Raceway. Harvick, the regular-season champion, leads the points heading into Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC). Hamlin, second in points, has won the past two Kansas races, including the July event. Harvick and Hamlin have combined to win 16 of the 32 races run this season.

MORE: Cup starting lineup at Kansas 

Chase Elliott, who won last weekend’s race at the Charlotte Roval, enters this round holding the final transfer spot. He leads Joey Logano by five points, Martin Truex Jr. by 10 points, Alex Bowman by 18 points and Kurt Busch by 21 points.

The eight remaining playoff drivers have combined to win 28 of 32 races this season.

The Round of 8 in the Cup playoffs features races at Kansas, Texas and Martinsville. NASCAR has raced at all three tracks this season.

Here is a look at each of the eight playoff drivers 


Points: 4067 (1st)

Wins: 9

Wins in playoffs: 2 (Darlington and Bristol)

Points scored in playoffs: 223 (2nd)

Laps run in the top five in playoffs: 935 (3rd)

July Kansas finish: 4th (42 points)

July Texas finish: 5th (46 points)

June Martinsville finish: 15th (31 points)

Notable: Seeks to make championship race for fourth consecutive year and sixth time in seven years.

Quote: “There’s really no change for us. We’ve been here, done this. We know what’s in front of us. You go and prepare and that’s why we’ve stuck with the attitude of trying to playoff race every week and the expectation is to go out and be competitive and if you’re not, come home and figure out why and try to address it and move on to the next one.  It’s survive and advance at this particular point.”


Points: 4054 (2nd)

Wins: 7

Wins in playoffs: 1 (Talladega)

Points scored in playoffs: 206 (5th)

Laps run in the top five in playoffs: 664 (6th)

July Kansas finish: 1st (56 points)

July Texas finish: 20th (25 points)

June Martinsville finish: 24th (13 points)

Notable: Has won the past two Kansas races. Also is only driver to win more than once on a 1.5-mile track this season.

Quote: “In years past, Kansas has not always been a strong suit. Mile-and-a-halves in general haven’t been a super strong suit for most of career. You could argue the statistics and wins would say otherwise, but it seems like on the mile-and-a-halves we’ve got a really good package or setup going that seems to be working. We nearly won Vegas, and that was the track that – if we could finish in the top 15, I was going to be happy. I adjust my expectations based on how I feel after the first 10 laps of the race. I’m confident. I feel like we’ve got a good grasp on Kansas. Nothing really much has changed other than the tire, which that tire was run at Vegas, so it looks like we’ve accounted for it pretty good in our setup. I’m as optimistic as anyone going into that race track.” 

Brad Keselowski

Points: 4035 (3rd)

Wins: 4

Wins in playoffs: 1 (Richmond)

Points scored in playoffs: 169 (11th)

Laps run in the top five in playoffs: 618 (7th)

July Kansas finish: 2nd (51 points)

July Texas finish: 9th (28 points)

June Martinsville finish: 3rd (34 points)

Notable: Tied with Kevin Harvick for most top 10s on 1.5-mile tracks this season. Has eight such finishes in nine races.

Quote: “I put no expectations on the year coming into it other than to run our best and to push myself to be the best driver I can be and be the best leader of the team I can be. So I can’t tell you I had a win quota put up. It is nice to have another four‑win season, but I hope we don’t stop there. The most I’ve ever had in a year is six, and I hope I can get seven.”


Points: 4027 (4th)

Wins: 3

Wins in playoffs: 1 (Charlotte Roval)

Points scored in playoffs: 239 (1st)

Laps run in the top five in playoffs: 1,176 (1st)

July Kansas finish: 12th (26 points)

July Texas finish: 12th (29 points)

June Martinsville finish: 5th (40 points)

Notable: Has finished in the top two in the last two Kansas playoff races.

Quote: Crew chief Alan Gustafson: “I think we were slightly better than that at Texas, if you look at kind of average run, speed, whatever. We didn’t get great finishes either place (Texas and Kansas). We just weren’t very good at Kansas which was extremely disappointing because that’s historically a pretty good track for us, a track that we enjoy going to race at, have had success in the past. I think we have to be top five every stage and every finish. That’s the only way you’re going to get through that, or win.”


Points: 4022 (5th)

Wins: 2

Wins in playoffs: 0

Points scored in playoffs: 218 (3rd)

Laps run in the top five in playoffs: 1,044 (2nd)

July Kansas finish: 35th (2 points)

July Texas finish: 3rd (43 points)

June Martinsville finish: 4th (51 points)

Notable: Has won at all three tracks in this round of the playoffs. Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin are the only other remaining playoff drivers to do so.

Quote: “I look at Martinsville as one of our best races. Texas wasn’t bad for us either. I feel great about where we’re at. … I feel like we got a good shot at getting to the Championship 4.”


Points: 4017 (6th)

Wins: 1

Wins in playoffs: 0

Points scored in playoffs: 201 (6th)

Laps run in the top five in playoffs: 816 (4th)

July Kansas finish: 3rd (45 points)

July Texas finish: 29th (14 points)

June Martinsville finish: 1st (47 points)

Notable: Ranks second in stage points earned during playoffs with 61. Chase Elliott has scored the most stage points in the playoffs at 73.

Quote: “The strategy is every weekend you show up to the track to go out and win, and if you can’t win, you get the best finish that you can get. I don’t think strategy ever really changes in racing. Certainly, there are times that you may have to pull some strategy during a race to try to do something, but looking to the next few races, I’m looking forward to trying to win a couple of them.”


Points: 4009 (7th)

Wins: 1

Wins in playoffs: 0

Points scored in playoffs: 209 (4th)

Laps run in the top five in playoffs: 394 (9th)

July Kansas finish: 8th (31 points)

July Texas finish: 30th (10 points)

June Martinsville finish: 6th (38 points)

Notable: Has six top-10 finishes in the past eight races, the most top 10s of any driver in the series during that span.

Quote: “Kansas in particular, we’ve almost won there before. I feel like we can go be phenomenal there. Kansas and Texas are two opportunities for us to win. Every week going to the racetrack with Hendrick Motorsports is an opportunity to win. Kansas and Texas are going to be our best shots at it for sure. It’s probably going to take a win to make the Round of 4. Just going to go all in and do everything we can to make that happen.”


Points: 4006 (8th)

Wins: 1

Wins in playoffs: 1 (Las Vegas)

Points scored in playoffs: 177 (10th)

Laps run in the top five in playoffs: 427 (8th)

July Kansas finish: 9th (28 points)

July Texas finish: 8th (41 points)

June Martinsville finish: 9th (34 points)

Notable: Tied with Kevin Harvick for longest active streak of top 10s at 1.5-mile tracks with four.

Quote: “I feel like you’re going to have to win out in this Round of 8 and the championship race in Phoenix. This group, the elite eight … are the best of the best and can win each and every week. And so, with Kansas not being one of my best tracks, but it is a 1.5-mile, where we have won twice at Chip Ganassi Racing. Texas is a 1.5-mile that we’ve been very good at. And Martinsville has been a nice surprise since I switched to Ganassi. I’ve been running much better with the balance of the car that they have there. And then with Phoenix, if we can get there, that would be huge.”

NASCAR penalizes Erik Jones, Legacy MC for L1 violation


NASCAR has docked Erik Jones and Legacy Motor Club 60 points and five playoff points each, suspended crew chief Dave Elenz two races and fined him $75,000 for the L1 violation discovered this week at the R&D Center. The team was found to have modified the greenhouse.

The penalty drops Jones from 26th to 30th in the standings heading into Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway.

MORE: NASCAR’s $1 million question is can the culture change?

“We have been diligently working with NASCAR regarding the penalty and are working internally to determine the course of action in response,” said Joey Cohen, vice president, race operations for Legacy MC, in a statement. “We will announce that decision within the timeframe determined by the NASCAR Rule Book.”

Cohen will serve as interim crew chief during Elenz’s suspension.

Jones’ car was among those brought to NASCAR’s R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina, after last weekend’s race at WWT Raceway.

NASCAR cited the team for violating:

Section 14.1.C: Vehicles must comply with Section 14 Vehicle and Driver Safety Specifications of the NASCAR Rule Book at all times during an Event. Failure to comply will be subject to Penalty pursuant to Section 10 Violations and Disciplinary Action.

Section 14.1.D: Except in cases explicitly permitted in the NASCAR Rules, installation of additional components, repairs, deletions, and/or modifications to Next Gen Single Source Vendor-supplied parts and/or assemblies will not be permitted.

Section 14.1.2.B: All parts and assemblies must comply with the NASCAR Engineering Change Log.

NASCAR also announced penalties Wednesday in the Craftsman Truck Series.

Crew chief Andrew Abbott has been fined $5,000, Young’s Motorsports has been penalized 25 points and Chris Hacker has been docked 25 points for a violation with the team’s window net.

Crew chief Charles Denike has been fined $2,500 for a lug nut not properly installed on Christian Eckes‘ truck for TRICON Garage.

Kamui Kobayashi to make NASCAR debut with 23XI Racing at Indy

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LE MANS, France (AP) — Left out of the NASCAR celebration at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Toyota used Wednesday at the track to showcase its own stock car program and the upcoming Cup Series debut for one of the top racers in the world.

Kamui Kobayashi will make his NASCAR debut on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course with Toyota in August driving for 23XI Racing, the team owned by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan.

The announcement made Wednesday had several top NASCAR executives in attendance – including chairman Jim France – as Toyota found Le Mans to be the perfect backdrop to spotlight the one-race deal.

Toyota Gazoo, after all, has won Le Mans the last five consecutive years and Kobayashi, part of the 2021 winning effort, is team principal of the two-car organization that will try to make it six straight wins in the most prestigious endurance event in the world.

Toyota had initially felt jilted when NASCAR blindsided the industry last year by announcing it would bring its new Next Gen car to centenary Le Mans in a specialized category that showcases innovation, but the project was with Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports. Toyota was the first rival NASCAR manufacturer to complain, and NASCAR has since tried to include all its partners in this weekend’s celebration and France signed off on holding the Kobayashi announcement at Le Mans.

It allowed Toyota to display the Camry it races in NASCAR; Kobayashi will drive the No. 67 in the Aug. 13 race. This will be the second race for the No. 67 car for 23XI Racing. Travis Pastrana finished 11th in the car at this year’s Daytona 500.

“We’ve been working on this assignment actually for a couple of years and Kamui has become a friend and we understood it was his dream one day to race in NASCAR,” said David Wilson, president of TRD, U.S.A. “With this great new Next Gen Toyota Camry TRD, the stars and planets started to align themselves and the next question became: Where should we announce this?

“It dawned on me with Kamui’s record of success, and being the team principal, to do it on this global stage at the biggest sports car race in the world.”

Kobayashi will be only the second Japanese driver to race in NASCAR’s top Cup Series and only the fifth to race in one of NASCAR’s top three national series. Kobayashi will be the first driver from Japan to race in the Cup Series in a Toyota, which entered NASCAR’s top series in 2007.

“It’s my dream, actually,” Kobayashi told The Associated Press. “It’s such a big sport in the United States and racing in Europe, I never had the chance or opportunity to race NASCAR. I think the opportunity will be challenging for myself because it is such a different category.

“But if I have success, I think it will make more opportunities for Japanese drivers. Toyota has been in NASCAR a long time, but there has never been any Japanese drivers for Toyota. That’s also why I say I appreciate this opportunity for myself.”

Kobayashi won the 24 Hours of Le Mans for Toyota in 2021 and hasn’t finished lower than third since 2018. He has six podium finishes in eight appearances in the iconic endurance race.

Toyota trails only Bentley, Jaguar, Ferrari, Audi and Porsche for most wins at Le Mans. Porsche holds the record with 19 victories.

Kobayashi in 2021, after winning Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship title driving for Toyota Gazoo, was named team principal.

Kobayashi started his racing career karting in Japan but was discovered by Toyota while racing in Europe. He was named one of Toyota’s reserve Formula One drivers and made his debut during the 2009 season at the Brazilian Grand Prix. He raced in F1 through 2014 with one podium finish in 75 career starts.

Following his F1 career, Kobayashi returned to Japan and switched to the Super Formula Series, a class he still actively competes in. He’s since won the Rolex 24 at Daytona twice and was the anchor on an IMSA endurance sports car team in the United States for two seasons that was formed by seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Kobayashi loves racing in the United States, but IMSA’s adoption of new regulations to make its top class eligible to compete at Le Mans created a conflict of interest between Kobayashi’s Toyota responsibilities and continuing to race in IMSA, where Toyota is not represented in the top class. Toyota does field a Lexus in a lower IMSA division and Kobayashi raced for Vasser Sullivan Racing last June in Canada to get a feel for the GT car.

Many consider NASCAR’s Next Gen car to be very similar to the GT Lexus sports car that Kobayashi drove in IMSA last year, and that’s his closest experience to driving a stock car. He’ll be permitted to test with 23XI at a small track in Virginia ahead of the race at Indianapolis, and expects some time on the simulator.

Either way, he isn’t worried about seat time.

“I think I’m a guy who doesn’t need much practice, to be honest,” the 36-year-old Kobayashi told the AP. “I think once we jump in the car, we will be OK in a couple of laps. So I’m not really concerned about form.”

Drivers to watch at Sonoma Raceway


This weekend begins a key period for Cup drivers. Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway begins a stretch of four road course events in the next 10 races. The race to make the playoffs and to score playoff points is intensifying.


Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 10th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Circuit of the Americas)
  • Past at Sonoma: Does not have a top 15 in two previous starts

Reddick has won three of the last five Cup races on road courses, but Sonoma has been his kryptonite. He has yet to lead a lap there. Reddick’s three road course wins have been at Road America, Indianapolis and COTA.

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 28th
  • Best finish this season: 2nd (Fontana)
  • Past at Sonoma: Four top 10s, including a runner-up, in six starts

Elliott returns to the series after sitting out last weekend’s race at WWT Raceway due to suspension. He’s in a must-win situation to make the playoffs. Known for his prowess on road courses, Elliott’s last win at such a track came in 2021 at Road America. In the nine races at road courses since that win, Elliott has two runner-up finishes and six top 10s.

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 7th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Fontana, Talladega I, WWT Raceway)
  • Past at Sonoma: Had six straight finishes of seventh or better before placing 30th last year

Busch is tied with William Byron for the most wins this season with three. Busch has placed in the top three in the last two road course races. He has led in five of the last seven Sonoma Cup races. He is a two-time Sonoma winner, taking the checkered flag in 2008 and ’15.


Denny Hamlin 

  • Points position: 8th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Kansas I)
  • Past at Sonoma: Five consecutive top 10s until finishing 31st last year

Hamlin has not had a top-10 finish at a road course in the Next Gen car. He has an 18.4 average finish at road courses since last season. His best finish at a road course in that time is 13th at the Charlotte Roval.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 5th
  • Best finish this season: 2nd (Dover)
  • Past at Sonoma: Two straight top-10 finishes

Chastain lost the points lead last weekend after his third consecutive finish outside the top 20. His fourth-place finish at Circuit of the Americas this season broke a streak of three consecutive finishes outside the top 20 at road courses.

Chris Buescher

  • Points position: 13th
  • Best finish this season: 3rd (Talladega I)
  • Past at Sonoma: His runner-up finish last year was his first top 10 there in six starts

Until last year, Sonoma had not been kind to Buescher. He enters this weekend have scored six consecutive top 10s at road courses.

NASCAR Power Rankings: William Byron, Kyle Busch rank 1-2


Kyle Busch moved closer to the top spot after his win Sunday at WWT Raceway, but William Byron keeps hold of No. 1 after another top-10 run.

The series heads to Sonoma Raceway this weekend, the second race of the season on a road course.


(Previous ranking in parenthesis)

1. William Byron (1) — He goes into Sonoma with six consecutive top-10 finishes after his eighth-place result at WWT Raceway. Byron has led a series-high 717 laps this season.

2. Kyle Busch (4) — Recorded his third win of the season Sunday. He is tied with Byron for most wins this year. Busch scored 59 of a maximum 60 points and won his first stage of the year Sunday. He has 16 playoff points. Only Byron has more with 17 this season.

3. Kyle Larson (3) — His fourth-place finish continued his up-and-down season. In the last nine races, Larson has two wins, four top fives, a 20th-place result and four finishes of 30th or worse. He has led 588 laps this season, which ranks second this year to Byron.

4. Martin Truex Jr. (2) — His fifth-place finish is his sixth top 10 in the last eight races. He ranks third in laps led this year with 383.

5. Denny Hamlin (7) — Runner-up result at WWT Raceway is his fourth top 10 in the last seven races.

6. Ryan Blaney (10) — Followed Coca-Cola 600 win with a sixth-place run at WWT Raceway. He had an average running position of 2.6 on Sunday, second only to winner Kyle Busch’s average running position of 1.9.

7. Joey Logano (9) — Third-place finish is his second top 10 in the last four races.

8. Kevin Harvick (NR) — His 10th-place finish is his fourth consecutive finish of 11th or better.

9. Ross Chastain (6) — Lost the points lead after placing 22nd, his third consecutive finish outside the top 20.

10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (NR) — Headed for his eighth top 15 in a row until he was collected in a crash after the contact between Austin Cindric and Austin Dillon late in Sunday’s race.

Dropped out: Chase Elliott (5th), Tyler Reddick (8th)