Kevin Harvick focused on a better performance at Las Vegas this time

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LAS VEGAS — Kevin Harvick stands alone in these Cup playoffs and, in a way, you almost wonder if he prefers it that way.

Twelve drivers remain. Eleven race for Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing or Team Penske. Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing team is the outlier.

A year after winning a series-high nine races, Harvick continues to look for his first Cup victory this season. Age has not chilled the 45-year-old’s intensity. He slammed his helmet against the roof of his car and confronted Chase Elliott after losing last weekend’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway. 

As the second round starts, Harvick ranks last among the 12 drivers, a sign of his struggles to score playoff points via stage and race wins this season. Harvick, who won the 2014 championship, has never failed to reach at least the third round in the playoffs. This round could challenge that streak.

Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) marks the return to the track where signs of Harvick’s season-long struggles began to show.

He started on the pole and fell to 11th by Lap 7. Harvick dropped from 13th to 25th on Lap 32 after contact with another car. That led to a left front flat. He finished 20th.

Harvick, who starts fifth Sunday, has yet to lead a lap on a 1.5-mile track this year.

NASCAR rule changes and a parts freeze have handicapped Ford teams this season, most notably Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske at the 550-horsepower tracks. 

A hard part is we don’t know what’s going wrong,” car owner Tony Stewart said before the playoffs. “That’s why we’re still in this predicament. We’ve got some of the best and smartest people in the sport, and we’re all scratching our heads trying to figure out what is actually going on, but it’s not for the lack of effort.”

Despite those issues, Harvick and his team have used guile and experience to score 19 top-10 finishes. Harvick’s total trails only Kyle Larson (21 top 10s) and Denny Hamlin (20).

Harvick was one of four drivers to finish in the top 10 in each of the three races in the opening round. The others were Martin Truex Jr., Hamlin and Larson.  All three won a race in the round.

“We’ve had a lot of weeks where we’ve had just terrible cars, and you walk out with sixth, seventh, eighth-place finish,” Harvick said before last weekend’s Bristol race. “Our team has done a great job. We just needed to do a better job of getting faster cars. And sometimes that’s just not in the cards.

“They still have the race and you still just have to plug away and take everything you can get out of it. Try to make the least amount of mistakes.”

That experience showed in the opening round of the playoffs at Darlington Raceway. Several playoff contenders had problems. Harvick overcame a green-flag pit stop with less than 100 laps to go to finish fifth. He escaped any more issues by making it to the finish with a flat right rear tire after hitting the wall.

Seeing so many playoff drivers have poor finishes that night wasn’t surprising to Harvick.

“Everybody always loses their mind in the first race of the playoffs,” he said after the Southern 500. “It happens every year. If it’s not the first race, it’ll be one of the first three, or four, five in six, or seven, eight and nine. At some point they all lose their mind.”

Darlington also proved to be a step in the right direction for Harvick and his team.

“The biggest thing is proof we can unload off the truck with the balance right,” crew chief Rodney Childers told NBC Sports after the race. “That’s one thing we struggled with the most this year. The first run of the race, we had the best car. The second run of the race, we had the best car.”

Some might think that with the recent progress and the fire Harvick showed at Bristol could lead to a stronger run in this round. Such thinking, though, would overlook the team’s approach, which doesn’t change from week to week.

“I guess it was halfway through 2014 (that) if we were going to race like (Jimmie Johnson), you had to playoff race every week with that intensity and that mindset,” Harvick told NBC Sports before the playoffs.

“That’s really the decision we made several years ago to go out and do that and put your best foot forward and every race matters and every moment matters. You either learn from it, win from it or lose from it. There are so many things to learn when you push what you have to the extent that you think you can push it. … The expectation is to perform at that level on a weekly basis.”

It’s just a matter of if the results can match the effort.

NBC will broadcast final six NASCAR Cup Series playoff races

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The final six races in the chase for the NASCAR Cup Series championship will be televised by NBC.

The races remaining on the schedule are at Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 2), the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Oct. 9), Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Oct. 16), Homestead-Miami Speedway (Oct. 23), Martinsville Speedway (Oct. 30) and Phoenix Raceway (Nov. 6).

NBC’s broadcasting team will be on hand Sunday for what is typically a seasonal highlight — a 500-mile race at Talladega Superspeedway. The next week the playoffs move on to Charlotte for a cutoff race. The lowest four drivers in the playoff point standings will be eliminated from championship competition.

The Round of 8 is scheduled at Las Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville, with the tiny Martinsville track serving as the final cutoff race. The four drivers who advance from Martinsville will race for the title at Phoenix Nov. 6.

The high drama of the Phoenix race, in which the championship will go to the highest finisher of the four competing drivers, will be carried by both NBC and Peacock.

Post-race commentary and analysis for all six remaining Cup races will be carried on Peacock.

Kyle Larson is the series defending champion. Joey Logano carries the point lead into Sunday’s race at Talladega.

NASCAR viewer’s guide for Talladega Superspeedway

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After a messy Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs move on this weekend to another potentially messy spot — Talladega Superspeedway.

Home to the Big One — an almost certain multi-car crash, Talladega also occasionally produces unexpected winners, including Richard Brickhouse, James Hylton, Lennie Pond, Ron Bouchard and Brad Keselowski.

The mix of tight drafting, the Next Gen car and general playoff tension should make Sunday’s 500-mile run quite the adventure.

On Sunday at Texas, Tyler Reddick became the second driver (after Chase Elliott) to score three wins this season.

Joey Logano enters Talladega with the playoff point lead.

Playoff rookies roll on

The four drivers participating in the Cup playoffs for the first time remain factors approaching the second race in the second round.

Ross Chastain is second in the standings, 18 points above the cutline entering Talladega.

MORE: NBC NASCAR rankings put Denny Hamlin first

Daniel Suarez, Chastain’s Trackhouse Racing teammate, is seventh. He’s four points above the cutline.

Two other playoff rookies — Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric — will start Talladega below the cutline. Briscoe is four points below the cutline. Cindric is 11 points below the cutline.

Looking for wins

Only six of the remaining 12 playoff drivers have won races at the two remaining tracks in the second round (Talladega and Charlotte Roval).

Among the six, Joey Logano has the best win record at Talladega, having finished first there in 2015, 2016 and 2018.

Other Talladega winners in the group: Ryan Blaney (two), Denny Hamlin (two), Chase Elliott (one), Ross Chastain (one).

The Charlotte Roval is relatively new, of course, but Chase Elliott already owns two wins there. Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson also have won at the Roval.

An opening for Brad?

Few people who watched it will forget the first Cup Series victory scored by Brad Keselowski.

It occurred at this week’s tour stop — Talladega Superspeedway — in April 2009. Keselowski and Carl Edwards made contact approaching the finish line and notched the win, even as Edwards’ car flew into the frontstretch fence, spraying car parts into the grandstands.

Thirteen years later, Keselowski returns to NASCAR’s biggest track having recorded six Talladega wins. No other active drive has more than three.

Keselowski’s refurbished team — Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing — has new fire with Chris Buescher winning at Bristol and Keselowski winning the pole and finishing eighth at Texas.

RFK Racing has led 309 laps in the past two races, more than the team had led in the prior 105 races combined.

Although he hasn’t won a Cup race since scoring a victory in a Team Penske Ford in April 2021 at Talladega, Keselowski must be considered a threat Sunday.

Entry lists

Thirty-seven drivers, including Xfinity Series star Noah Gragson and reigning Xfinity champion Daniel Hemric, are entered for Sunday’s Cup race.

Talladega Cup entry list

The Xfinity entry list includes 41 drivers for 38 spots. Among those joining the series regulars are Trevor Bayne, Parker Kligerman, Timmy Hill and Jeffrey Earnhardt.

Talladega Xfinity entry list

Forty-one drivers are entered for Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race. Included are Kaz Grala, Ryan Preece, Natalie Decker, Jennifer Jo Cobb and Parker Kligerman.

Talladega Truck entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Friday, Sept. 30

Forecast: Partly cloudy. High of 77. (Weather note: There is the possibility that Hurricane Ian could impact the race weekend, depending on its path).

  • 3:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck Series qualifying
  • 5:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity Series qualifying (USA Network)

Saturday, Oct. 1

Forecast: Overcast with showers at times. Potential for heavy rainfall. High of 73. 60% chance of rain.

  • 10:30 a.m. – Noon — Cup Series qualifying (NBC Sports app, Motor Racing Network, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio)
  • 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series race (94 laps, 250 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 4 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (113 laps, 300 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 2

Forecast: Sun in the morning, increasing clouds in the afternoon. Slight chance of a shower. High of 74.

  • 2 p.m. — Cup Series race (188 laps, 500 miles; NBC, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

 

 

 

 

NASCAR fines Ty Gibbs $75,000 for pit road incident at Texas

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NASCAR fined Ty Gibbs $75,000 and docked him 25 points for door-slamming Ty Dillon on pit road during last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Crew members from other teams were nearby when Gibbs hit Dillon’s car, causing it to swerve. No crew members or officials were hit.

NASCAR has made it a priority that drivers are not to cause contact that could injured crew members or officials on pit road. NASCAR also penalized Gibbs 25 Cup driver points and docked 23XI Racing 25 car owner points for the No. 23 Cup car that Gibbs drives.

NASCAR penalizes William Byron for spinning Denny Hamlin

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NASCAR has docked William Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000 for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution in last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Byron drops from third in the playoff standings to below the cutline heading into Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe moves up to hold the final transfer spot with 3,041 points. Austin Cindric is the first driver outside a transfer spot with 3,034 points. Byron is next at 3,033 points.

Hendrick Motorsports was docked 25 owner points as well.

Hendrick Motorsports stated it would appeal the penalty.

The caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash. As Hamlin slowed, Byron closed and hit him in the rear. 

Byron admitted after the race the contact was intentional, although he didn’t mean to wreck Hamlin. Byron was upset with how Hamlin raced him on Lap 262. Byron felt Hamlin forced him into the wall as they exited Turn 2 side-by-side. Byron expressed his displeasure during the caution.

“I felt like he ran me out of race track off of (Turn) 2 and had really hard contact with the wall,” Byron said. “Felt like the toe link was definitely bent, luckily not fully broken. We were able to continue.

“A lot of times that kind of damage is going to ruin your race, especially that hard. I totally understand running somebody close and making a little bit of contact, but that was pretty massive.”

On the retaliatory hit, Byron said: “I didn’t mean to spin him out. That definitely wasn’t what I intended to do. I meant to bump him a little bit and show my displeasure and unfortunately, it happened the way it did. Obviously, when he was spinning out, I was like ‘I didn’t mean to do this,’ but I was definitely frustrated.”

Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart argued and questioned NASCAR for not putting Hamlin back in second place — where he was before Byron hit him — and also questioned Byron not being penalized.

“I guess we can just wreck each other under caution,” Hamlin said after the race.

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, told reporters after the race that series officials did not penalize Byron because they did not see the incident. 

“When we were in the tower, we were paying more attention to the actual cause of the caution up there and dispatching our equipment,” Miller said. “The William Byron-Denny Hamlin thing, we had no eyes on. We saw Denny go through the grass.

“By the time we got a replay that showed the incident well enough to do anything to it, we had gone back to green.”