Friday 5: Examining five key questions about 2021 Cup season


Less than a month from the start of the season at Daytona International Speedway and pondering a few things …

1. How many road course races will Chase Elliott win?

NASCAR’s emphasis on road courses this year puts Elliott — who has won the past four road course events — in a good position to score a number of victories.

This season will have seven road course events, beginning with the Daytona International Speedway road course on Feb. 21.

That’s one of six road course races in the regular season. The others are Circuit of the Americas (May 23), Sonoma (June 6), Road America (July 4), Watkins Glen (Aug. 8) and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course (Aug. 15). The playoffs again features the Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway (Oct. 10).

If Elliott continues to dominate the road courses, a question becomes who else can win those races?

Elliott has won five of the past eight races. The only other drivers to win a road course race during that time are Martin Truex Jr. (Sonoma in 2018 and ’19) and Ryan Blaney (Charlotte Roval in 2018).

In the last four road course races that Elliott won, Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones, Truex and Blaney were the only drivers to have at least two top-five finishes. Blaney has four top-five finishes in the last six road course races.

2. Which driver who didn’t make the 2020 playoffs could make it in 2021?

Christopher Bell’s move to Joe Gibbs Racing instantly makes him the favorite to go from a driver not in the playoffs last year to one who could do so this year.

He’ll be paired with Adam Stevens, who helped Kyle Busch win two titles before they struggled to win consistently. Another key issue will be JGR. After winning 19 of 36 races in 2019, the team won nine times — seven by Denny Hamlin.

Bell’s JGR teammates, Hamlin, Busch and Martin Truex Jr., each ran in the top 15 in more than 70% of the laps they ran last year. Bell, who was at Leavine Family Racing last season, ran in the top 15 only 33% of the laps. Equipment should put him closer to the front and allow him to score enough points to make the playoffs or win a race.

3. How soon before Kyle Larson wins for Hendrick Motorsports?

It’s early but the third race of the season is at Homestead-Miami Speedway and Larson always ran well at that track.

Could he win there? You bet. Will he? That will be worth watching.

A key question is, by not competing in the last 32 Cup races of the season, how much did Larson miss?

The tire Goodyear plans to bring to Miami is the same that was run there last year. Chase Elliott finished second at Miami last year and teammate William Byron was ninth, showing that Hendrick could be positioned to do well at that track and maybe help Larson return to his winning ways quickly.

If not Miami, Larson will be among the favorites for the Bristol dirt race in March. It seems likely he could score at least one victory early in the season.

4. Which Ford driver will be one to watch this season?

Kevin Harvick has led the Ford camp lately, winning 18 of the last 100 races — the most wins of any Cup driver in that span. Brad Keselowski has 10 wins during that period; Joey Logano has eight and a championship.

The one Ford driver that proves most intriguing, though, is Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney. The 27-year-old enters his second season with crew chief Todd Gordon. 

Blaney ran toward the front last year, scoring 346 stage points. Harvick, who won a series-high nine races, had 290 stage points.

Blaney finished first or second in the second stage 11 times. He went on to place in the top five in six of those races but scored only one win.

Harvick, on the other hand, won five of the seven races that he finished first or second in the second stage.

Carrying those strong runs through the final stage is the next step for Blaney to have a chance to win more races.

5. Odds Kyle Busch wins four or more races this season?

Good. Very good.

Busch won only once last year, but he rebounds well. The last three times he won only one Cup race in a season, he won at least four races the following season.

After a one-win campaign in 2007 in his final season at Hendrick Motorsports, Busch won eight times for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Busch won one race in 2012 and came back to win four times in 2013.

He won once in 2014 and followed it by winning five races and the championship in 2015.

If history is an indication, this could be a big season for Busch.

 and on Facebook

NASCAR weekend schedule at World Wide Technology Raceway, Portland


NASCAR’s top three series are racing this weekend in two different locations. Cup and Craftsman Truck teams will compete at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, and the Xfinity Series will compete at Portland International Raceway.

World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway (Cup and Trucks)

Weekend weather

Friday: Partly cloudy with a high of 87 degrees during Truck qualifying.

Saturday: Sunny. Temperatures will be around 80 degrees for the start of Cup practice and climb to 88 degrees by the end of Cup qualifying. Forecast calls for sunny skies and a high of 93 degrees around the start of the Truck race.

Sunday: Mostly sunny with a high of 92 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the Cup race.

Friday, June 2

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 1 – 8 p.m. Craftsman Truck Series
  • 4 – 9 p.m. Cup Series

Track activity

  • 6 – 6:30 p.m. — Truck practice (FS1)
  • 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. — Truck qualifying (FS1)

Saturday, June 3

Garage open

  • 8 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.  — Cup Series
  • 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series

Track activity

  • 10 – 10:45 a.m. — Cup practice (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 10:45 a.m. – 12 p.m. — Cup qualifying  (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 1:30 p.m. — Truck race (160 laps, 200 miles; FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, June 4

Garage open

  • 12:30 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup race (240 laps, 300 miles; FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)


Portland International Raceway (Xfinity Series)

Weekend weather

Friday: Mostly sunny with a high of 77 degrees.

Saturday: Mostly sunny with a high of 73 degrees and no chance of rain around the start of the Xfinity race.

Friday, June 2

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 6-11 p.m. Xfinity Series

Saturday, June 3

Garage open

  • 10 a.m.  — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 11:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. — Xfinity practice (No TV)
  • 12 – 1 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)
  • 4:30 p.m. — Xfinity race (75 laps, 147.75 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

NASCAR Cup playoff standings after Coca-Cola 600


The severe penalty to Chase Briscoe and his Stewart-Haas Racing team Wednesday for a counterfeit part dropped Briscoe from 17th to 31st in the season standings. Briscoe now must win a race to have a chance at the playoffs.

The penalty came a day after NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for his retaliation in wrecking Denny Hamlin in Monday’s Coca-Cola 600. Elliott is 28th in the points. The 2020 Cup champion also needs to win to have a chance to make the playoffs.

Ten drivers have won races, including Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney. That leaves six playoff spots to be determined by points at this time. With 12 races left in the regular season, including unpredictable superspeedway races at Atlanta (July 9) and Daytona (Aug. 26), the playoff standings will change during the summer.

Among those without a win this season are points leader Ross Chastain and former champions Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Elliott.

Here’s a look at the Cup playoff standings heading into Sunday’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois. Drivers in yellow have won a race and are in a playoff position. Those below the red line after 16th place are outside a playoff spot in the graphic below.

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.

MORE: Updated Cup playoff standings

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.