New Hampshire key storylines: JGR success, Hendrick rebound, Tyler Reddick’s surge

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Before NASCAR goes on a two-week break for the Tokyo Olympics, there’s one more race to run at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

It’s also a historic race for the “Magic Mile” – the 50th race featuring NASCAR’s premier division there. Rusty Wallace beat fellow Hall of Famer Mark Martin to win the inaugural event July 11, 1993.

New Hampshire’s flat, 1.058-mile circuit is a cornerstone of the Northeast’s racing culture, especially for the Modified crowd. For those drivers, it’s effectively their Daytona.

However, it’s much different for the Cup contingent. Passing is a challenge, so maintaining track position – whether on performance or on strategy – is a top priority.

One team in particular has mastered the art of staying up front there …

Front runners

For a while now, it’s been established that to win at New Hampshire, you have to beat Joe Gibbs Racing.

In all but one of the last 15 Cup races at New Hampshire, a JGR driver has finished first or second. That stretch includes seven victories.

Additionally, JGR drivers have led in all 15 of those races for a combined 1,981 laps – 44% of the total laps during that stretch.

If there’s a place for JGR’s Denny Hamlin finally to get his first win of the season, New Hampshire is it. Hamlin has recorded three wins and six runner-ups (including the past two races there).

A victory could go a long way toward holding off Kyle Larson for the regular-season championship and claiming 15 valuable playoff points.

Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. also look poised to do well Sunday. Busch has four consecutive top-three finishes, including a runner-up last week at Atlanta.

Truex still seeks his first Cup win at New Hampshire but has finished no worse than seventh in his last six appearances. A third place last year matched his career-best finish at the track.

Christopher Bell also is picking up the pace recently with a second at Road America and an eighth at Atlanta.

Last year at New Hampshire, Bell was enjoying a top-10 run for Leavine Family Racing before suffering a flat tire in Stage 2. A second flat tire relegated him to 28th.

Harvick, Keselowski need a “hit”

JGR’s body of work at New Hampshire is impressive, but the team hasn’t won there since September 2017 with Kyle Busch.

Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick was victorious at New Hampshire in 2018 and 2019. Last year, Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski took home the lobster.

Both Harvick and Keselowski have been on extended heaters at New Hampshire.

Harvick has three victories and six top fives in his last seven races at New Hampshire. As for Keselowski, he’s earned five top-10 finishes in his last six starts at New Hampshire.

But Harvick is still winless in 2021. And Keselowski, like the rest of the Penske stable, is seeking to recapture the early season form that enabled him to win the April 25 race at Talladega.

Down on performance, can Harvick and Keselowski take advantage of New Hampshire’s emphasis on track position and handling to contend Sunday?

It’s been a while

Hendrick Motorsports drivers have been the standard-bearers this summer in the Cup Series. But the four-car stable hasn’t solved New Hampshire in a long time.

The team’s last win at New Hampshire was all the way back on July 15, 2012 with Kasey Kahne. None of the team’s active drivers – reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, William Byron and Alex Bowman – had made their Cup debuts yet.

But while on a 14-race winless streak at New Hampshire, Hendrick already has halted extended skids at several tracks this season.

Racing Insights conveniently shows us where:

Last year at New Hampshire, Elliott led the team with a ninth-place finish. Byron finished 11th. Jimmie Johnson finished 12th in the No. 48 car now occupied by Bowman. Bowman finished 15th in the former No. 88 car.

Teammates battle to get off playoff bubble

Thanks to Kurt Busch’s win last week at Atlanta, Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick now holds the 16th and final playoff position.

A win from someone behind the cut line in the final five regular-season races – a stretch that includes road course races at Watkins Glen and Indianapolis, plus a total crapshoot at Daytona as the finale – would knock Reddick out of the top 16.

Option One for Reddick, of course, is to win. Option Two? Put his teammate on the bubble.

Austin Dillon (15th) is only eight points ahead of Reddick in the playoff standings. Exiting the June 20 race at Nashville, Dillon had a 59-point gap over Reddick.

But Reddick has beaten Dillon on results and on points in each of the four races since. Over the past two races, Reddick has peeled 35 points away from Dillon.

At Road America, Reddick earned 46 points (including 17 stage points) on his way to eighth. Dillon finished three spots back in 11th place but scored only the minimum 26 points after failing to score in either stage. The 20-point gain pulled Reddick within 23 markers of Dillon in the standings.

Then last week at Atlanta, Reddick scored 42 points (including 11 stage points) in finishing sixth. Again, Dillon wasn’t far behind in finishing 12th but scored only 27 points (with just two from the stages) as Reddick closed the standings gap by 15 points.

As the series heads to New Hampshire, Reddick has the momentum in this head-to-head battle.

Reddick finished 10th at New Hampshire last year in his Cup debut there. Dillon has only one top 10 (eighth, July 2015) in 11 Cup starts at New Hampshire.

NASCAR weekend schedule for Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval

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NASCAR Cup Series drivers race on the road for the final time this season Sunday, as the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval course ends the playoffs’ Round of 12.

The 17-turn, 2.28-mile course incorporating the CMS oval and infield will determine the eight drivers who will advance to the next round of the playoffs. Chase Elliott won last Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway and is the only driver who has qualified for a spot in the Round of 8.

Entering Sunday’s race, Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman are below the playoff cutline. Bowman will not qualify for the next round because he is sidelined by concussion-like symptoms.

The race (2 p.m ET) will be broadcast by NBC.

Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Cup and Xfinity)

Weekend weather

Friday: Sunny. High of 81 with a 6% chance of rain.

Saturday: Mixed clouds and sun. High of 67 with a 3% chance of rain.

Sunday: Sunny. High of 68 with a 3% chance of rain.

Friday, Oct. 7

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 12 – 5 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Saturday, Oct. 8

Garage open

  • 7 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 8:30 a.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 10 – 10:30 a.m. — Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)
  • 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying (NBC Sports App)
  • 12 – 1 p.m. — Cup practice (NBC Sports App, USA Network coverage begins at 12:30 p.m.)
  • 1 – 2 p.m. — Cup qualifying (USA Network, NBC Sports App)
  • 3 p.m. — Xfinity race (67 laps, 155.44 miles; NBC, Peacock, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 9

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 2 p.m. — Cup race (109 laps, 252.88 miles; NBC, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

 

Rodney Childers fined $100,000, suspended for four races

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NASCAR has suspended Rodney Childers, Kevin Harvick‘s crew chief, for four races and fined him $100,000 for what the sanctioning body called modification of a part supplied by a vendor.

Harvick, who is out of the Cup Series playoffs, and the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 team were docked 100 points.

Harvick’s car and that of Martin Truex Jr. were taken to NASCAR’s Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C. after last Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway. There were no penalties assessed to the Truex team.

Harvick has been particularly critical of the Next Gen car in recent months, once referring to the “crappy-ass parts” provided by suppliers.

Harvick’s car erupted in flames during the Southern 500 Sept. 4 at Darlington Raceway. After he climbed from the smoking car, Harvick blamed the fire on “just crappy parts on the race car like we’ve seen so many times. They haven’t fixed anything. It’s kind of like the safety stuff. We just let it keep going and keep going.

“The car started burning and as it burned the flames started coming through the dash. I ran a couple laps and then as the flame got bigger it started burning stuff up and I think right there you see all the brake fluid that was probably coming out the brakes and part of the brake line, but the fire was coming through the dash.

“What a disaster for no reason. We didn’t touch the wall. We didn’t touch a car, and here we are in the pits with a burned-up car, and we can’t finish the race during the playoffs because of crappy-ass parts.”

MORE: AJ Allmendinger to return to Cup Series in 2023

Unless the team appeals, Childers would miss races at Charlotte, Las Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville and would return for the season finale at Phoenix.

NASCAR president Steve Phelps told the Associated Press that officials have not targeted Harvick. “I would say that’s ridiculous,” he said. “No one has a vendetta against Kevin Harvick or Rodney or anyone at Stewart-Haas Racing.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Harvick tweeted, “Seems strange…” A Childers tweet called the penalty “Shocker…..”.

NASCAR also announced Wednesday it has suspended Young’s Motorsports crew chief Andrew Abbott indefinitely for a behavioral violation during pre-race inspection. He must undergo anger-management training to be reinstated. The team races in the Camping World Truck Series.

Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup Series race at Charlotte Roval

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The lineup for the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs Round of 8 will be decided in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

Entering the race, the final event in the Round of 12, Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman are below the cutline. Bowman will miss the race — and thus the cutoff — as he continues to battle concussion-like symptoms. Noah Gragson is scheduled to drive the No. 48 Chevrolet Sunday.

Cindric is tied with Chase Briscoe for the eighth playoff spot, but Briscoe would claim it on the tiebreaker. Byron is 11 points back, and Bell is 33. Hendrick Motorsports has appealed the penalty to Byron that dropped him below the cutline. That appeal is scheduled to be heard Thursday.

MORE: Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

Any playoff driver who wins Sunday’s race and isn’t already qualified — Chase Elliott qualified for the Round of 8 by winning last week at Talladega Superspeedway — automatically advances to the Round of 8.

Drivers to watch Sunday at the Roval (2 p.m., ET, NBC), the final road-course race of the season:

FRONTRUNNERS

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 1st
  • Last three races: Won at Talladega, 32nd at Texas, 2nd at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Won in 2019 and 2020

Elliott is the clear favorite to win a second championship. He won Sunday at Talladega to advance to the Round of 8 and can relax Sunday at Charlotte having punched his ticket. Relaxing isn’t likely, however, as Elliott will be among the favorites to win.

Ryan Blaney

  • Points position: 2nd
  • Last three races: 2nd at Talladega, 4th at Texas, 30th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Won in 2018.

Blaney continues along a path that could result in him winning the Cup championship without winning a race. He came within an eyelash of winning Sunday at Talladega but fell victim to Chase Elliott’s last-lap charge. He should be a threat Sunday at the Roval, where he has four straight top 10s.

Kyle Larson

  • Points position: 6th
  • Last three races: 18th at Talladega, 9th at Texas, 5th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Won in 2021

Larson’s last win — and his last top-four finish — came at Watkins Glen seven races ago. He is 18 points over the cutline entering Sunday’s race.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Austin Cindric

  • Points position: 9th
  • Last three races: 9th at Talladega, 15th at Texas, 20th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Sunday will mark his first Cup race. Has three top threes in four Xfinity starts.

Cindric hasn’t won since the season-opening Daytona 500 and is one of five drivers still in the playoffs who own only one victory this year. His ninth-place run at Talladega ended a streak of four straight finishes of 12th or worse.

MORE: NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

Daniel Suarez

  • Points position: 7th
  • Last three races: 8th at Talladega, 12th at Texas, 19th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Best finish in four starts is 13th

Suarez is 12 points above the cutline entering Sunday’s race. He has never led a lap at the Roval and has never finished in the top 10.

Chase Briscoe

  • Points position: 8th
  • Last three races: 10th at Talladega, 5th at Texas, 14th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Finished 22nd last year in his only Cup start

Briscoe is teetering on top of the cutline in search of a spot in the Round of 8. He hasn’t won since the fourth race of the year at Phoenix and had a poor performance at the Roval last year.

 

 

AJ Allmendinger to return to NASCAR Cup Series in 2023

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AJ Allmendinger is getting another shot at success in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Kaulig Racing announced Wednesday that Allmendinger, currently chasing the Xfinity Series championship, will drive full-time in Kaulig entries in the Cup Series next season.

Allmendinger raced in Cup from 2007 to 2018 but won only one time — at Watkins Glen International — across those years. He moved to the Xfinity Series part-time with Kaulig in 2019, winning on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. He won twice in 2020 and five times in 2021 and is a favorite to win the Xfinity championship this year. He has won four Xfinity races this season, including last Sunday at Talladega.

MORE: Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

Allmendinger, 40, will drive Kaulig’s No. 16 car in Cup next year. Justin Haley will drive the team’s No. 31.

Chandler Smith will replace Allmendinger in the Xfinity Series next year.

“It’s crazy how the last five years of my life have gone,” Allmendinger said. “More than anything, I love this organization. I know the fans get tired of me talking about all the men and women of Kaulig Racing. This is not a race team. This is a huge family.

“There will be tough times and growing pains, for sure. But I love what they’re about, and they believe in me. I’ll be OK whether it’s good or bad.”

MORE: Chase Elliott atop NASCAR Power Rankings

Team owner Matt Kaulig said Allmendinger is “one of the best in the world at every type of track. He’s done so much for Kaulig Racing and our program. He’s a gigantic part of what we’re building.”

Team officials said Allmendinger has a multi-year contract.