Nashville win by Chase Elliott could make impact in playoffs


LEBANON, Tenn. — With no clear front runners nine races before the Cup playoffs begin, every point, every decision and every move can make an impact on the race for the championship. 

A day before last weekend’s Cup race at Nashville Superspeedway, Denny Hamlin noted how close the competition will be in the playoffs. What Chase Elliott did in Sunday’s race could have reverberations in the fall.

Elliott’s win gives him 13 playoff points, tied with Ross Chastain and William Byron for most this season. Joey Logano and Hamlin both have 12 playoff points. Seven more drivers are within at least seven playoff points of Elliott, Chastain and Byron. 

“I think that this will be without a doubt the most unpredictable playoffs simply because one bad race by a good team, they will not have the playoff points to give them a buffer to get to the next round,” Hamlin said. “There’s liable to be very big teams or even favorites in this championship that will be taken out in the first and second round because they don’t have the big playoff points that our favorites had in the past.

“I’m one one stage win away from being P1 in the playoffs which is crazy considering our season, but it shows when we’re upfront, we get it done, and when we are bad, we’re fully bad. So I think that I’m excited to see where it goes, but I’m also nervous that we better get our (stuff) together at every every racetrack here in the next 10 weeks.”

There were a couple of key moments in Sunday’s race that helped Elliott score his second win of the season.

When the race resumed near halfway, Elliott restarted 15th. He quickly moved to ninth after the restart and finished fourth in the stage.

“I felt like that was kind of the moment in the race I was like, ‘All right, we should win this race,’” crew chief Alan Gustafson said. “Ultimately I didn’t feel like we were going to pass (Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.) at the time on equal ground, so I wanted to get off sequence with them there, and when I did, not as many people pitted as I had hoped so we were a little bit further back, and he got back to what you’re referencing, fourth or fifth, in no time. I was like, this gives us a huge advantage.”

On the restart to begin the final stage, Elliott was second and started on the front row with Busch, who was on the outside. Elliott quickly got the lead and control of the race.

“I felt like the opportunity was there to do it, if the circumstances go your way, and fortunately they did,” Elliott said. “Once we got the lead there, it was just trying to control my gap to him, run my race, manage my tires the best I could and not lose the lead. Then hope that a caution didn’t come out. I hate that it did, but it did, and fortunately it worked out for us.”

Elliott held the lead and when the caution waved, he stayed out, while the Gibbs cars of Busch, Truex and Hamlin all pitted. With 10 cars staying out, they were trapped behind those cars and saw their chances of winning end.

And it was Elliott scoring the five playoff points that could matter later in the season.

“Look, you just have to keep bringing strong race cars to the racetrack,” he said. “You have to keep putting yourself in position to win. 

“When you’re battling up front and you have shots to win, the points thing is going to take care of itself. You might be faced if you can achieve the first part of that, you might be faced with a situation here or there where you have to decide whether or not you want to get stage points or whether or not you want to try to go for the race win, and those things are — that’s just part of the world we live in now with stages.”


Sunday was a step in right direction for Kevin Harvick and his team — even if crew chief Rodney Childers walked out of the garage frustrated.

Childers wasn’t happy with his decision to pit Harvick before the final restart. Harvick was seventh when the caution waved. Had he stayed out, he would have been third before the restart. Instead, he restarted 15th after pitting because 10 cars stayed out. Harvick finished 10th.

Probably should have finished third, but the 4 car’s M.O. has always been being on the aggressive side; on the going-forward side, not the trying-to-hold-people-off side,” Childers told NBC Sports.

“With this car, that’s really difficult, to be honest with you. I think I’ve got to do a better job of adapting to the new car and realizing that we’re not going to pass 10 cars in five laps like we used to be able to.”

Still, Harvick has scored back-to-back top 10s. His longest streak this season is three top 10s in a row. 

“Just to have speed and be able to run with the Gibbs cars all night, that was a big deal,” Childers said.

Kevin Harvick Rodney Childers
Crew chief Rodney Childers.(Photo by Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

He told NBC Sports before the weekend that a key goal would be to qualify better and gain points in the opening stage. Harvick qualified 10th, the first time in the last nine races he had started in the top 10. 

Harvick scored points in the opening stage for the first time in nine races. He also scored points in the second stage. The result was that he climbed back into the final playoff spot, bumping teammate Aric Almirola.

Another key was pit road. The team changed its front tire changer and jackman last week after Harvick had made critical comments about his pit crew’s performance after two of the last three races. 

Childers said all went well on pit road.

“We had the fastest pit crew on pit road,” he said. 

Harvick’s crew had six of its seven pits stops in the 10-second range, according to Racing Insights. The team’s fastest stop for a four-tire change was 10.24 seconds on its first stop. It’s slowest stop was 11.98 seconds. Harvick gained three spots on pit road during a stop under caution after the end of the second stage, moving him to fifth.

“It was a really good weekend and something we can build on,” Childers said.


Ross Chastain overcame pitting an extra time early in the race to tighten the rear right wheel and rally back to a fifth-place finish. 

It was a matter of being cautious and avoiding a four-week suspension for Chastain’s crew chief and two pit crew members should the wheel come off.

Before Chastain came back to pit on Lap 46 of the 300-lap race, there was some debate if to do so.

“The nut wasn’t quite tight and it looked fine,” Chastain said after the race. “Half of our group said to leave me out there, and half of our group said, ‘No, let’s take it back off and put it back on.’

“I couldn’t see anything. Part of our coaching staff was looking at the video and said we would have left the car out on the track. 

“It was better safe than sorry. It was one of those 50-50 (calls). We don’t want (crew chief) Phil Surgen and our crew gone (as part of a four-week suspension for a wheel coming off on track). It’s just such a penalty to lose them if the tire comes off.”

Later in the race, Chris Buescher’s wheel came off on track and his team faces that penalty. That is the 11th time this season a wheel has come off during the race. 

Here are the previous 10 times a wheel came off, leading to a penalty to a four-race suspension for the crew chief and two pit crew members:

  1. Justin Haley (Daytona 500)
  2. Kaz Grala (Daytona 500)
  3. Todd Gilliland (Auto Club)
  4. Corey LaJoie (Phoenix)
  5. Bubba Wallace (COTA)
  6. BJ McLeod (Talladega)
  7. Denny Hamlin (Dover)
  8. AJ Allmendinger (Dover)
  9. Justin Haley (Kansas)
  10. Kyle Larson (Sonoma)


Justin Allgaier’s win Saturday was his second Xfinity victory of the season. It marks the fifth time in the last six years he has won multiple Xfinity races in a season. 

It’s a big turnaround from when he was in Cup with a smaller team and struggled in 2014-15. He returned to Xfinity in 2016 and has been with JR Motorsports since. Fifteen of his 18 career series wins have come after he returned from Cup.

“Do I feel like I could still go to (Cup) and get in a good car and be competitive? Absolutely,” Allgaier said. “But the opportunities aren’t necessarily always the right opportunities. I love this series. I love this race team that I’m a part of.”

Allgaier appreciates the situation he is in and sees how not being with the right team can impact a driver’s career.

“There are some overly talented race car drivers on the Cup side that just don’t have the right situation,” Allgaier said. “I’m not saying that it’s even a good car. Especially with the (Next Gen) car and the parity there is with the car, it takes every detail. You’ve got crew chief, the engineers and you’ve got the pit crew and all these things that just gel together and work. That’s where we’re at with this race team.”

The victory also is the sixth in 15 races this year for JR Motorsports. The organization has won five of the last seven races. 

Noah Gragson started the run with a victory at Talladega. Josh Berry followed by winning at Dover. Allgaier made it three in a row for the organization with his Darlington triumph. Berry later went on to win at Charlotte. Then came Allgaier’s win at Nashville. 

NASCAR fines Daniel Suarez $50,000 for pit road incident


NASCAR fined Daniel Suarez $50,000 for running into the cars of Alex Bowman and teammate Ross Chastain on pit road after last weekend’s race at Circuit of the Americas.

Suarez was upset after a potential top-five finish was lost in an incident in overtime.

MORE: Appeals Panel rescinds 100-point penalty to Hendrick drivers 

Suarez restarted fifth in the second overtime restart but left the inside lane open. Alex Bowman, with Ross Chastain and Chase Briscoe aligned behind, charged and got beside Suarez as they approached Turn 1.

As Bowman slowed to make the tight turn, he was hit from behind and that sent him into Suarez, who clipped the left rear of Martin Truex Jr.’s car. Truex spun in front of Suarez and blocked his path, allowing the rest of the field to drive by and costing Suarez a top-five finish. Suarez finished 27th.

Suarez spoke briefly with Bowman before having a discussion with Chastain.

“It’s uncharacteristic of Daniel,” Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “There’s no excuse for what happened.”

Appeals panel rescinds 100-point penalty to Hendrick drivers


Alex Bowman is back leading the points after the National Motorsports Appeals Panel rescinded the 100-point penalty to each Hendrick Motorsports driver and team Wednesday. The Appeals Panel also rescinded the 10-point playoff to each Hendrick driver and team.

The Appeals Panel found that Hendrick violated the rule by modifying the hood louvers on the cars of Bowman, William Byron, Kyle Larson and Josh Berry at Phoenix. The louvers were taken after practice that weekend.

The Appeals Panel kept the $100,000 fine and four-race suspension to each Hendrick crew chief: Cliff Daniels, Alan Gustafson, Blake Harris and Rudy Fugle. All four sat out the past two races, meaning they’ll miss this weekend’s race at Richmond and next weekend’s race on the dirt at Bristol before returning the following weekend at Martinsville.

The Appeals Panel did not give a reason for its decision.

Bowman had been 16th in the standings with the 100-point penalty. He now has a 15-point lead on Ross Chastain after getting all those points back.

Byron goes from 22nd to third after getting his points back. He’s 29 points behind Bowman, 14 points behind Chastain and five points ahead of Kyle Busch. Byron also gets his 10 playoff points back for his wins at Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Larson goes from 27th to ninth with getting his points back.

“We are grateful to the National Motorsports Appeals Panel for their time and attention,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “Today’s outcome reflects the facts, and we’re pleased the panel did the right thing by overturning the points penalty. It validated our concerns regarding unclear communication and other issues we raised. We look forward to focusing on the rest of our season, beginning with this weekend’s race at Richmond (Raceway).”

NASCAR stated its displeasure with part of the penalty being rescinded.

“We are pleased that the National Motorsports Appeals Panel agreed that Hendrick Motorsports violated the rule book. However, we are disappointed that the entirety of the penalty was not upheld. A points penalty is a strong deterrent that is necessary to govern the garage following rule book violations, and we believe that it was an important part of the penalty in this case and moving forward. We will continue to inspect and officiate the NASCAR garage at the highest level of scrutiny to ensure a fair and level playing field for our fans and the entire garage.”

The panelists on the appeal were former driver Bill Lester, Kelly Housby and Dixon Johnston.

Here is the updated points

1. Alex Bowman       226 points

2. Ross Chastain      211

3. William Byron       197

4. Kyle Busch           192

5. Joey Logano        186

6. Kevin Harvick       186

7. Christopher Bell   184

8. Ryan Blaney         177

9. Kyle Larson          170

10. Austin Cindric     166

11. Martin Truex Jr.   165

12. Brad Keselowski 162

13. Tyler Reddick       161

14. Denny Hamlin      161

15. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 159

16. Chris Buescher     157

17. Daniel Suárez        144

18. Corey LaJoie         139

19. Michael McDowell 125

20. Ty Gibbs                 118

21. Bubba Wallace      103

22. AJ Allmendinger    103

23. Erik Jones                99

24. Chase Briscoe         96

25. Todd Gilliland          95

26. Austin Dillon            93

27. Noah Gragson        86

28. Aric Almirola            70

29. Ryan Preece           69

30. Harrison Burton      66

Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond Raceway


The NASCAR Cup Series’ first short track points race of the season is scheduled Sunday at Richmond Raceway, a presence on the NASCAR schedule since 1953.

Tyler Reddick is coming off his first win of the season last Sunday at Circuit of the Americas. He gave Toyota its first victory of the year.

MORE: William Byron is No. 1 in NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

The Richmond race is the first of three consecutive events on short tracks. The series will race on the dirt surface at Bristol Motor Speedway April 9 and the Martinsville Speedway half-mile April 16.

A look at drivers to watch Sunday at Richmond:


Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 13th
  • Best seasonal finish: 1st (COTA)
  • Past at Richmond: No finish better than 11th in five career starts

Reddick showed the promise of what could be a strong season by dominating Sunday’s race at COTA. His victory boosted him five spots in points to 10th. Richmond, a track where he has never led a lap, will be a test.

William Byron

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Best seasonal finish: 1st (Las Vegas 1, Phoenix 1)
  • Past at Richmond: Led 122 laps in April race last year

Byron had a top car in this race last season but was passed by Denny Hamlin for the win with five laps remaining. Byron finished third, his career-best run at Richmond.

Denny Hamlin

  • Points position: 14th
  • Best seasonal finish: 6th (Auto Club, Atlanta 1)
  • Past at Richmond: Four consecutive top-four runs, including a win

Hamlin can be counted on to challenge for the win every time the tour rolls into Richmond. He has won there in 2009, ’10, ’16 and ’22.


Daniel Suarez

  • Points position: 17th
  • Best seasonal finish: 4th (Auto Club)
  • Past at Richmond: Best career finish is 7th

After opening the season with top-10 runs at Daytona, Fontana and Las Vegas, Saurez has plummeted into the 20s in three consecutive races. Richmond will present another big challenge. Suarez has five consecutive finishes of 16th or worse there.

Ryan Preece

  • Points position: 29th
  • Best seasonal finish: 12th (Phoenix 1)
  • Past at Richmond: Top finish of 20th in five career starts

Preece’s first full-time season in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 has started poorly. He has been sidelined by accidents in three races and was more upset than most after being parked by a multi-car crash Sunday at COTA.

Alex Bowman

  • Points position: 1st
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Las Vegas 1, COTA)
  • Past at Richmond: Three top 10s, including a win, in past five races

Bowman seems poised to score his first victory of the season. He has been among the tour’s most consistent drivers to date, with five top-10 finishes in six races.




What takes place in a NASCAR appeal hearing? Here’s a look


Hendrick Motorsports is scheduled to have its appeal hearing at 10 a.m. ET Wednesday.

So what will happen in the appeal hearing? Here is a look at the process, based on the NASCAR Cup Rule Book.

NASCAR penalized Hendrick Motorsports for modifications to hood louvers. Those penalties were:

  • Docked Alex BowmanKyle Larson and William Byron 100 points and 10 playoff points each.
  • Suspended crew chiefs Cliff Daniels, Alan Gustafson, Rudy Fugle and Blake Harris four races each and fined each $100,000.
  • Penalized each of the four Hendrick teams 100 owner points and 10 playoff points.

Before the appeal hearing starts, both sides — in this case, Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR — must file a written summary presenting their case before the hearing.

The summary must not be longer than two single-spaced pages. Any attachments or appendices either side intends to present during the hearing must be included. Such attachments or appendices may include, but are not limited to, video, written statements, diagrams, photographs and charts.

The summary is to be filed by 5 p.m. ET two days before the beginning of the hearing. The summary shall be confidential and not released to the public. The Cup Rule Book says that releasing the summary to the public “may result in a penalty.”

The appeal will be heard by three members. They will come from a pool of panelists. The Cup Rule Book lists 19 panelists. That group includes former drivers Mike Skinner, Lake Speed, Bill Lester, Shawna Robinson and Lyn St. James, along with others in various roles in motorsports.

The Cup Rule Book states that “in seating an Appeals Panel, the Administrator shall take into consideration the panelists’ availability, background, professional experience and knowledge.”

The Cup Rule Book states “the burden rests on NASCAR to show that it is more likely than not that a violation … has occurred, and that the Penalty Notice issued is within the guidelines of the NASCAR Rules.”

Both parties are allowed in the hearing room while each side presents evidence. NASCAR goes first.

After both sides finish, there is a break before an optional rebuttal period. NASCAR has the chance to go first, followed by those appealing.

Once that is complete, NASCAR is permitted one last opportunity to “argue, explain, or present rebuttal on the facts and violation” to the appeal panel since NASCAR carries the burden of proof.

The appeal panelists may ask questions to either group or any witnesses at any time during the hearing.

Decisions by the three-member National Motorsports Appeals Panel do not need to be unanimous.

The National Motorsports Appeals Panel can affirm the penalty or adjust it. The panel can rescind some or all of the penalties or increase any or all penalties.

When NASCAR penalized William Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000 for spinning Hamlin during a caution in last year’s playoff race at Texas, Hendrick Motorsports appealed. The National Motorsports Appeals Panel rescinded the 25-point penalty but increased his fine to $100,000. NASCAR amended its rule book after the panel’s decision.

NASCAR does not have the option to appeal the panel’s decision. Those who filed the appeal can further appeal the panel’s decision to the Final Appeal Officer. That decision can’t be appealed.

Kaulig Racing and Denny Hamlin each will go through this process when their appeals are heard. Kaulig Racing’s appeal is April 5 for modifications to a hood louver. Hamlin’s appeal is April 6 for intentionally wrecking Ross Chastain on the last lap of the Phoenix race.