Key Cup drivers still searching for playoff spots as summer arrives


Many NASCAR Cup drivers are wandering the globe this week, enjoying some vacation time in the only off week of the long and winding season.

When the schedule resumes June 26 at Nashville Superspeedway on NBC, the first race of a long, hot summer, some key drivers face a considerable workload. The Nashville race is the first of a 10-event run to the end of the regular season, and numerous top drivers, including Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski, remain in precarious situations relative to playoff qualifying.

The season to date has seen 12 different winners, and those drivers are virtually guaranteed to be in the playoffs. That list includes four first-time winners (Austin Cindric, Chase Briscoe, Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez), and the victory lane success of those drivers has made life more complicated for others generally considered playoff regulars.

If the regular-season victory list contains less than 16 drivers, points will be used to determine those who join seasonal winners in the search for the Cup championship, but winning a race remains the smoothest way to the playoffs.

The next 10 races include action on road courses, superspeedways and one short track. Here’s a look at 10 of the season’s winless drivers and what could be their best routes to joining the playoff group:

Kevin Harvick — Harvick has had a frustrating season with no wins and only 13 laps led, but his record at tracks hosting the final 10 races of the regular season is excellent. He has won at seven of the 10 speedways and has five victories at Michigan, four at New Hampshire and three each at Atlanta and Richmond. But Harvick needs better cars and more consistent pit road performance.

Martin Truex Jr. — The final race of the regular season is Aug. 27 at Daytona International Speedway. As the last chance to qualify for the playoffs, that race is likely to be even wilder than the typical zany affair at Daytona. Truex might be advised not to count on that last chance. He is 0-for-34 in his career at Daytona. The former champion’s best shots at winning are at Richmond (three wins) and Pocono (two).

Ryan Blaney — The Team Penske driver won three times last season but hasn’t been able to cash in this year despite scoring five top-five runs and leading more than 100 laps at Phoenix and Richmond. His career victory list includes wins at these upcoming tracks: Atlanta, Pocono, Michigan and Daytona. Blaney currently is the top non-winner on the playoff leaderboard, followed by Truex, Christopher Bell and Aric Almirola.

Brad Keselowski — Keselowski has found the first season of both owning race cars and driving them a challenge. He has only two top-10 finishes and has led laps in only three of the season’s 16 races. He’ll need better cars to return to the playoffs, but his career record includes wins at Atlanta, Daytona, New Hampshire, Pocono and Richmond, so he knows the right paths.

Christopher BellBell’s only career win came on the Daytona road course, but he has had good runs at several of the upcoming tracks. Richmond might be his best bet for a playoff-producing victory, as he has two top fives there. In his brief career, Bell also has top-five runs at Road America, New Hampshire and Pocono.

Bubba Wallace — Wallace’s season has been bumpier than most, with bad runs and bad luck clouding the schedule’s first half. His best shot at making the playoffs clearly will be the final regular-season race at Daytona, where he has four top fives and where he almost won the Daytona 500 in 2018. Wallace’s only career win came at Talladega, Daytona’s sister track.

Aric Almirola — Almirola has wins at Daytona and New Hampshire but also has run well at other remaining tracks. He has two top fives at Pocono and Richmond. In what Almirola says will be his final full-time season in Cup, he’ll be pushing to close out his career in playoff competition.

Austin DillonDaytona, where Dillon won the 500 in 2018, might be his best shot to roll into the playoffs. He has two other top fives there. Michigan and Richmond also have been good tracks for the Richard Childress Racing driver.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Stenhouse’s only two career victories came at Daytona and Talladega, so it’s easy to pick the regular-season finale at Daytona as Stenhouse’s best bet. He has a second top five there. Richmond could give him an earlier chance at victory.

Erik Jones — Jones’ career is sprinkled with top-five runs at remaining tracks, including a win at Daytona in the 2018 summer race. Pocono has been good to Jones, with five top-five runs. He also has top fives at New Hampshire, Michigan and Watkins Glen.

Remaining regular-season races:

June 26 — Nashville (5 p.m. ET, NBC)

July 3 — Road America (3 p.m. ET, USA)

July 10 — Atlanta (3 p.m. ET, USA)

July 17 — New Hampshire (3 p.m. ET, USA)

July 24 — Pocono (3 p.m. ET, USA)

July 31 — Indianapolis road course (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

Aug. 7 — Michigan (3 p.m. ET, USA)

Aug. 14 — Richmond (3 p.m. ET, USA)

Aug. 21 — Watkins Glen (3 p.m. ET, USA)

Aug. 27 — Daytona (7 p.m. ET, NBC)


Xfinity starting lineup at Portland: Sheldon Creed wins pole


Sheldon Creed scored his first career Xfinity Series pole by taking the top spot for Saturday’s race at Portland International Raceway.

Creed, making his 50th career series start, earned the pole with a lap of 95.694 mph on the 1.97-mile road course.

MORE: Portland Xfinity starting lineup

Cole Custer will start second with a lap of 95.398 mph. He is followed by Josh Berry (94.242 mph), John Hunter Nemechek (95.127) and Charlotte winner Justin Allgaier (94.897). Road racing specialist Jordan Taylor, driving for Kaulig Racing, qualified sixth at 94.772 mph.

The green flag is scheduled to wave 4:46 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1.

Sunday Cup race at WWT Raceway: Start time, TV info, weather


Twelve races remain until the playoffs begin in early September. Ten drivers have won races. The pressure to secure a playoff spot builds as the Cup Series heads into the summer months.

Details for Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway

(All times Eastern)

START: Six-time Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee will give the command to start engines at 3:32 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:42 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 12:30 p.m. … Drivers meeting is at 2:40 p.m. … Driver intros are at 2:55 p.m. … Tim Bounds, pastor at The Crossing Church St. Louis, will give the invocation at 3:24 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by Bebe Winans and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra at 3:25 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 240 laps (300 miles) on the 1.25-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 45. Stage 2 ends at Lap 140.

STARTING LINEUP: Cup starting lineup

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 3:30 p.m. … Coverage begins at 2 p.m. … Motor Racing Network coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. and also will stream at SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.


FORECAST: Weather Underground — Partly cloudy with a high of 90 degrees and a 15% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST YEAR: Joey Logano won the inaugural Cup race at this track. Kyle Busch was second. Kurt Busch placed third.


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Drivers to watch at World Wide Technology Raceway

Cup starting lineup at World Wide Technology Raceway


Kyle Busch will lead the Cup starting lineup to the green flag in Sunday’s Cup race at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois.

Busch will be joined on the front row by Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney.

MORE: Cup starting lineup

The second row will have Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick. The third row has Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano.

Corey LaJoie, driving the No. 9 car in place of the suspended Chase Elliott, qualified 30th after hitting the wall on his lap.

The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:42 p.m. ET Sunday on FS1.

Kyle Busch wins Cup pole at WWT Raceway


Kyle Busch collected his first Cup pole of the season and will lead the field to the green flag in Sunday’s race at World Wide Technology Raceway.

Busch last won a Cup pole at Phoenix in November 2019. He earned his 33rd career Cup pole Saturday with a lap of 137.187 mph on the 1.25-mile speedway.

MORE: Cup starting lineup

“Being able to get a pole here with Richard Childress Racing, Team Chevy and everybody on this No. 8 team is good for us and just try to get some momentum rolling,” Busch said. “Our short track stuff hasn’t been the greatest this year so far, but this isn’t the short track aero package here this weekend, so that might pay dividends hopefully for us to just have a better day than what we anticipated. Just excited to have the guys pumped up and raring to go, and knowing that their hard work is paying off.”

Busch will be joined on the front row by Coca-Cola 600 winner Ryan Blaney, who qualified at 137.153 mph. Blaney’s car failed inspection twice before qualifying. He will lose his pit selection for Sunday’s race. His car chief also was ejected. Brad Keselowski‘s car also failed inspection twice before qualifying. He loses pit selection and had the team’s car chief ejected. Keselowski qualified 19th with a lap of 135.743 mph.

Denny Hamlin (136.903 mph) starts third and is followed by Kevin Harvick (136.766) and Martin Truex Jr. (136.360). Harvick has two top-five starts this season and both have come in the last two events.

“I think we have a little bit of work to do on our car in race trim, but a lot of it is just getting into a rhythm I think – more than anything,” Harvick said. “Qualifying, we were just a little bit tight through Turns 1 and 2, and the car was good in 3 and 4. So, we have to have a better balance, and that’s what probably cost us a little bit of speed to get the pole. But, still a good day and a good starting spot.”

Corey LaJoie, subbing for the suspended Chase Elliott, will start 30th after hitting the wall on his qualifying lap. He qualified at 134.561 mph. Carson Hocevar, making in his Cup debut in LaJoie’s car, qualified 26th with a lap of 135.220 mph.

Green flag for Sunday’s race is scheduled to wave at 3:42 p.m. ET on FS1.