Atlanta winners and losers

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A look at the winners and losers following Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway

WINNERS

William ByronByron became the third driver from Hendrick Motorsports’ four-car stable to win in the past four races courtesy of his win at Atlanta. In a race that was statistically unpredictable — there were a track-record 46 different lead changes among 20 drivers, another track record — Byron proved to be the one constant. The No. 24 Chevrolet paced the field for a race-high 111 of 325 laps, controlling the field from the front when despite multiple late restarts. Byron’s year began with DNFs at both Daytona and Auto Club, but his rebounds since have been decent, finishing fifth at Las Vegas and 18th at Phoenix. This victory gives Byron wins in each of the past three seasons, including triumphs at Daytona in August 2020 and Homestead-Miami in February 2021.

Ross ChastainHow impressive has Chastain been? His second-place finish Sunday is his second straight runner-up result and third consecutive top-three effort. Chastain scored three top fives during the entire 2021 season. He’s already tied that mark within five races in 2022, all while competing for Trackhouse Racing, which is in the midst of its first year as a two-car program. This hot streak might not soon be over. Chastain scored a fourth-place finish at Circuit of the Americas last year, and the series heads there next.

Kurt BuschSomehow, someway, Kurt Busch keeps clicking off solid runs. Even though he was involved in a Lap-145 crash that began when Tyler Reddick spun from the lead, Busch managed to finish third, collecting his second consecutive top-five finish for 23XI Racing. Busch has yet to finish outside the top 20 in five races, his worst finish coming in the season-opening Daytona 500 where he finished 19th. The 2004 Cup Series champion was expected to make 23XI Racing better in its second year. His consistency is already adding a significant boost to the second-year organization, which also expanded to two cars over the offseason.

Corey LaJoie: At different points Sunday, LaJoie’s day seemed to be over. The most significant moment, of course, came during the Big One at Lap 145 when his No. 7 Chevrolet slid backward through the frontstretch grass, the result of contact from a spinning Kyle Larson while LaJoie tried to escape the melee. Despite the slide, LaJoie rallied for a fifth-place finish, his best result in 193 combined national series starts. His third top-15 finish of 2022 is also a nice way to ease the pain of losing crew chief Ryan Sparks for four races following a penalty after Phoenix.

Chase ElliottFor the first time since winning the 2020 championship, Elliott is the Cup Series points leader. Elliott’s sixth-place finish Sunday is his best of the season as he remains the lone Hendrick driver without a victory through five races. How he’s done it is what’s most remarkable. His three top 10s have been valuable, but more critical are the 42 stage points Elliott has earned through the first five races, all without having actually won a stage. The only driver in the series with more stage points is Byron (55), who won Stage 1 Sunday. The series shifts to Circuit of the Americas next weekend, where Elliott won Cup’s inaugural event at the Texas road course in 2021.

LOSERS

Christopher Bell: Bell was the second driver across the finish line Sunday but was sent back to 23rd in the final rundown, the last car on the lead lap. That was the penalty for going beneath the double-lined boundary on the inside lane while passing Ross Chastain for second place on the final lap. The No. 20 team was in serious need of a good run and its driver seemingly delivered. But the move below the line, a rule implemented for the first time outside of Daytona and Talladega, eliminates what would have been Bell’s first top five of 2022. Instead, Bell leaves Atlanta with his fourth finish outside the top 20 in five races and sits 30th in points.

Bubba WallaceFor the third consecutive superspeedway-style race, Wallace found himself in contention to win on the final lap. Unfortunately, unlike his victory at Talladega in 2021 or runner-up effort in this year’s Daytona 500, Wallace wound up wrecking at the checkered flag and finished 13th. The No. 23 Toyota was second at the white flag, but Chastain charged to his inside and forced Wallace to stay high. A push from Chase Briscoe to Ryan Blaney sent Blaney into Wallace, ruining the momentum in their lane. Wallace was then a victim at the stripe when Chris Buescher and Justin Haley collected him in a vicious crash. The result is still Wallace’s best since Daytona, but there are lots of what-could-have-beens for him leaving Atlanta.

Aric AlmirolaAlmriola hadn’t finished worse than 12th all season and found himself inside the top five with less than 20 laps to go. But just as quickly as he’d gotten there, Almirola was sent spinning through the grass on the front straightaway after contact from behind courtesy of Ross Chastain. Almirola was able to keep rolling without significant damage, but the No. 10 Ford crossed the line 22nd, the team’s first finish outside the top 20 in Almirola’s farewell tour.

Denny HamlinWhen will Hamlin’s year start turning around? The answer needs to be found quickly. After three consecutive seasons in the Championship 4, the No. 11 team is desperate just to finish within the top 10. Hamlin has failed to finish three of the year’s first five events, including Sunday in Atlanta after being involved in two crashes. Hamlin admitted after the race that he’s “just making some bad decisions” behind the wheel that has put his entire team in a bind. The season is young and Hamlin will likely find his way. But sitting 26th in points can’t be comfortable for him, especially watching the two 23XI Racing cars he co-owns sit fifth (Kurt Busch) and 18th (Wallace).

Kyle BuschBusch had done a masterful job of maximizing his results through each of the season’s first four races. But contact with Austin Dillon at Lap 102 sent Busch into the wall and triggered a multi-car accident, breaking suspension pieces in the No. 18 Toyota that eventually made the car undriveable. Busch finished 33rd, his first DNF of the season. Busch was a detractor of the superspeedway-style ideas being brought to Atlanta from its launch and maintained that stance Sunday. Hard to blame him after freefalling nine spots in the points standings to 11th place this week.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

NASCAR viewer’s guide for Charlotte Roval

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Sunday provides a final chance for drivers to advance to the Round of 8 and keep their Cup championship hopes alive.

Talladega winner Chase Elliott is the only driver who has advanced to the next round. That leaves seven spots available going into Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe holds the final transfer spot by a tiebreaker over Austin Cindric. At least for now.

William Byron is 11 points behind both drivers, but Hendrick Motorsports will appeal Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas on Thursday. Should Hendrick win and Byron get those points back, he would move into a transfer spot.

There’s just part of what to watch for in Sunday’s race.

Favorites to be No. 20

This season remains tied for the most different winners in series history at 19, but there are a few candidates who could become the 20th different winner this year on Sunday.

Among the favorites to do so:

Ryan Blaney, who came close to winning last week at Talladega, won the inaugural Cup race at the Roval in 2018.

Martin Truex Jr., who has four career Cup wins on road courses, still seeks his first victory of the season.

Michael McDowell, who is coming off a third-place finish at Talladega, has had a career-high 12 top-10 finishes this season, including top 10s in each of the last four road course events this year.

Will history repeat?

Last year, the four drivers eliminated after the Roval were Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman, Christopher Bell and William Byron.

Harvick was eliminated in the first round this year, but Byron (-11 to the cutline) and Bell (-33) are in jeopardy of being eliminated in this round again. Bowman stated Tuesday that he will miss his second consecutive race because of continued concussion symptoms. He will be among the four eliminated from title contention.

Bowman missed last weekend’s race because of concussion-like symptoms suffered at Texas. A decision on if he’ll be able to race at the Roval will come later this week.

Will chaos continue?

Consider what some of the former Roval winners have endured on their way to the checkered flag:

In 2019, Chase Elliott drove into the Turn 1 wall on a restart while the leader. He recovered to win.

In 2020, Elliott overcame a loose wheel to win for the second year in a row.

In 2021, Kyle Larson won after his team changed batteries and put the alternator belt back on.

Could a similar fate be in store for this year’s winner? Or will they have a cleaner day?

Entry lists

Thirty-nine drivers are entered including IndyCar driver Conor Daly, former Formula 1 driver Daniil Kvyat, former 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller and former 24 Hours of Daytona winner Joey Hand. JJ Yeley will drive the No. 51 for Cody Ware, who stated that he would skip this event because of his ankle injury at Texas the footwork needed on a road course.

Charlotte Roval Cup entry list

The Xfinity entry list includes 41 drivers for 38 spots. Among those joining the series regulars are IndyCar driver Marco Andretti and former F1 driver Daniil Kvyat.

Charlotte Roval Xfinity entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Saturday, Oct. 8

Forecast: Partly cloudy with a high of 66 degrees. No chance of rain during the Xfinity race.

  • 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

Forecast: Sunny with a high of 64 degrees. No chance of rain during the race.

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