Playoff baptism awaits for Bell, Reddick, McDowell


Christopher Bell says he hasn’t gone to his trio of veteran teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing for advice entering his first NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

Instead, he’s leaning on the man that helped one of those veterans become a two-time Cup champion.

Crew chief Adam Stevens guided Busch to the 2015 and 2019 titles before moving to the No. 20 team this off-season to join the incoming Bell. In their second race together, they won at the Daytona International Speedway road course.

Now, Bell is relying on Stevens’ knowledge of what it takes to advance through the playoffs as the No. 20 team undergoes a change in philosophy.

“Since we won our first race … We’ve definitely been focused on trying to win more races and not on the stage points, and I think that really impacted our regular season points position,” Bell said Tuesday during Cup playoff media day.

Bell finished 15th in the regular season standings, which cost him extra playoff points awarded to the top 10.

“Now, as we focus on the playoffs, those stage points are going to be crucial for me and my team,” he continued. “Going after more wins in the regular season now turns into points racing in the playoffs.”

Bell is one of three drivers beginning their first playoff runs Sunday night at Darlington Raceway (6 p.m. ET, NBCSN). The others are Tyler Reddick and Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell.

Bell, McDowell and Aric Almirola all start at 2,005 points after the reset (base of 2,000 points plus all playoff points earned in the regular season). Reddick starts at 2,003 points, 15th among the 16-driver field.

Sitting directly on the early cut line, Bell faces a different experience than the ones he had in the Xfinity and Truck Series playoffs.

In those divisions, Bell – the 2017 Truck Series champion – was usually a title favorite with playoff points to spare. His mentality going in was to simply avoid trouble.

Now, he has to be the aggressor while remembering the biggest lesson he’s carried over from his rookie Cup campaign in 2020.

“You have to fight for every point throughout, whether it’s a stage finish or a race finish,” he said. “Even if you don’t have a great car, taking that 15th- or 12th-place finish is a lot better than trying to get eighth or ninth with a 12th-place car and crashing.”

Maximizing points was how Reddick was able to beat Richard Childress Racing teammate Austin Dillon for the final playoff spot.

With that, Reddick can focus on proving his belief entering Michigan that his No. 8 team was capable of reaching the Round of 8.

While Reddick is the 15th seed, only 13 points separate sixth-seed Alex Bowman (2,015 points) from 16th-seed Kevin Harvick (2,002 points). With consistent results and a few breaks, things could shake in his favor.

What Reddick doesn’t need is an up-and-down three races like he had to close the regular season.

A crash led to a 21st-place finish on the Indianapolis road course. A cut tire late at Michigan put him 29th. And at Daytona, he had to overcome serious damage to his car to finish fifth and make the playoffs.

“You look at these three last races for myself – not exactly the most consistent, for sure,” he admitted. “It happens from time to time.

“It’s a nice little reality check, if you will, before the playoffs started of ‘OK, this is why we need to really stay on the plan that we have.'”

Then there’s McDowell, who says he didn’t feel “locked in” to the playoffs until it became clear there wouldn’t be 16 different winners in the regular season.

McDowell noted that he talked with former Cup driver and current Fox Sports analyst Clint Bowyer about handling the playoffs at a Ford event last week.

But the 36-year-old Arizonan is well aware of what it will take for him and his small Front Row Motorsports team to advance.

“I feel like we have the speed and the momentum to surprise some people in the playoffs, but we’re also realistic of where we’re at,” McDowell said. “I have to have three incredible races in order to advance in the next round and I know that, we know that, we’re not naive to it.

“We know where we’re at as a race team and what we need to do, so we’ve got to hit home runs here the next three races and if we don’t, we won’t advance. We all know that and we’re ready to see what happens.”

COTA Xfinity starting lineup: AJ Allmendinger takes pole


AJ Allmendinger, who won this race a year ago, will start on the pole for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas.

Allmendinger earned the pole with a lap of 92.173 mph Friday on the 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course.

MORE: COTA Xfinity starting lineup

He will be joined on the front row Sammy Smith (91.827 mph).
Ty Gibbs (91.665) will start third. Sheldon Creed (91.652) qualified fourth. Parker Kligerman (91.195) will start fifth.

Cup driver William Byron will start ninth. Byron’s time was disallowed for cutting the esses. Cole Custer, who will start 10th, didn’t make a lap in the final round of qualifying.

Cup driver Aric Almirola (91.269) qualified 13th. Truck Series racer Carson Hocevar (90.669) will start 17th. Alex Labbe (90.476) will start 23rd. He’s filling in for Josh Williams, who is serving a one-race suspension for parking his car at the start/finish line of last weekend’s race at Atlanta.

COTA Truck starting lineup: Ross Chastain wins pole


Ross Chastain will start on the pole for Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas.

Chastain earned the top starting spot in Friday’s qualifying with a lap of 91.877 mph. He’ll be joined on the front row by Kyle Busch (91.490 mph).

More: COTA Truck starting lineup

Ty Majeski qualified third with a lap of 91.225 mph. Rookie Nick Sanchez (90.993) will start fourth, and Christian Eckes (90.937) will complete the top five.

Alex Bowman failed to make the race. Bowman had a flat right front on his qualifying lap.

Tyler Reddick leads Cup practice at COTA


Tyler Reddick posted the fastest lap in Friday’s Cup practice at Circuit of the Americas.

Reddick, who won two road course races last season, topped the field in his 23XI Racing Toyota with a lap of 92.989 mph. Kyle Larson was next, posting a lap of 92.618 mph around the 3.41-mile road course.

MORE: COTA Cup practice results

Ross Chastain, who won this race a year ago, was third on the speed chart in practice with a lap of 92.520 mph. He was followed by Kyle Busch (92.498 mph) and Daniel Suarez (92.461 mph).

Jordan Taylor, subbing for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports, was 10th on the speed chart in practice after a lap of 92.404 mph.

Former world champion Jenson Button, driving for Rick Ware Racing, was 28th in practice with a lap of 91.759 mph. Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen, driving the Project 91 car for Trackhouse Racing, was 32nd in practice after a lap of 91.413 mph.

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, driving in his first race for Legacy Motor Club since the Daytona 500, was 36th in practice after a lap of 91.072 mph. IndyCar driver Conor Daly was last among the 39 cars in practice with a lap of 90.095 mph.

Cup qualifying is Saturday. The series races Sunday.


Saturday COTA Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather


Austin Hill, the dominant driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series through the early weeks of the season, will be looking for his first Xfinity road course win Saturday.

Hill has won three of the season’s first five races, scoring victories at Daytona, Las Vegas and Atlanta.

Hill has been close in previous road course runs. He has a second at COTA, a third at Portland, a fourth at Road America and a ninth at Indianapolis.

MORE: Dr. Diandra takes a look at top Cup road course drivers

Kyle Busch and AJ Allmendinger own wins in the previous Xfinity races at COTA.

Allmendinger and three other Cup Series regulars — Aric Almirola, William Byron and Ty Gibbs — are scheduled to race in the Xfinity event.

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 5:08 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled at 5:19 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 2 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Jordan Thiessen of Pit Boss Grills at 5 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by recording artist Payton Keller at 5:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 46 laps (156 miles) on the 3.41-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 14. Stage 2 ends at Lap 30.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 5 p.m. … NASCAR RaceDay airs at 4 p.m. on FS1. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. and can be heard at …SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Mainly sunny. Temperature of 82 at race time. No chance of rain.

LAST TIME: AJ Allmendinger won last March’s Xfinity race at COTA. Austin Hill was two seconds behind in second place. Cole Custer finished third.