NASCAR viewer’s guide: Michigan International Speedway

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After a controversial race on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course, the NASCAR Cup Series moves on to the wide open spaces of Michigan International Speedway this weekend.

The 200-lap, 400-mile race is scheduled  for 3 p.m. (ET) Sunday (USA Network). Xfinity drivers are scheduled to race at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday, also on USA.

Only four races remain in the Cup regular season as drivers search for spots in the playoffs. Fourteen drivers have qualified by winning races; Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. continue to sit in the 15th and 16th playoff positions via points.

Tyler Reddick won at Indy Sunday and became the sixth driver with multiple victories this year. Others are Chase Elliott (four), Ross Chastain (two), William Byron (two), Joey Logano (two) and Denny Hamlin (two).

Fords have had a rough year with only four Cup wins, but Ford drivers have won the past seven Michigan races. Over the span of the past eight races at MIS, Fords have led 66 percent of the laps.

The Rise of Suarez

Although teammate Ross Chastain has gathered in much of the publicity surrounding Trackhouse Racing this year, Daniel Suarez is showing strength as the playoffs approach.

Over the past seven races, beginning with his victory at Sonoma, Suarez has an average finish of 9.5. With finishes of 32nd and 27th in the past two races, Chastain’s average over that seven-race run is 12.1.

Suarez, who sits ninth in playoff points entering Sunday’s race, doesn’t have an impressive worksheet at MIS. In nine career starts at the fast 2-mile track, he has seven finishes of 11th or worse and has not finished better than fourth.

Larson: Mystery Man

Kyle Larson, the Cup Series’ defending champion and a race winner 10 times last year, continues to have a confusing season.

Larson’s winless streak has reached 20 races, the longest of his career with Hendrick Motorsports. He has 11 finishes of 12th or worse this year and has only one win, that coming in the second race of the season at Fontana, California.

Larson had a calamitous day at Indianapolis Sunday. He sailed at high speed into Turn 1, losing control of his Chevrolet and sailing into Ty Dillon‘s car. The impact lifted Larson’s car off the ground. Both cars were heavily damaged, although neither driver was hurt.

Hendrick Motorsports told NBC Sports there was no evidence of brake failure on Larson’s car.

The good news for Larson is that Michigan is one of his best tracks. His three victories there are his most at any track. He scored wins at MIS in 2016 and 2017 (twice) and has six top-three runs in his past nine Michigan starts.

Four Races To Go

Although the Indianapolis finish order was a bit quirky, with some new faces in the top five, the playoff picture after the weekend visit to Indiana remains much the same.

With races at Michigan, Richmond, Watkins Glen and Daytona remaining on the regular-season schedule, 14 winning drivers have qualified for the playoffs. Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. sit in the 15th and 16th positions, based on points.

Blaney has lost 46 points to Truex over the past three races and leads Truex by only 25 points. Blaney has finished outside the top 10 in four of the past five races as he and Truex have floated around the bottom of the qualified list.

Kevin Harvick remains the first driver below the cutoff line. He lost 13 points to Truex Sunday and is 96 points behind Truex.

Following Harvick are Aric Almirola, Erik Jones, Bubba Wallace and Austin Dillon.

Harvick has struggled this season but could join the list of race winners at Michigan, where he has won three of the past four races.

Entry lists

Austin Hill is among the non-regulars entered in Sunday’s Cup race.

Hill will drive a No. 33 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing in his Cup debut. Among others on the 37-driver list are Noah Gragson and JJ Yeley.

Michigan Cup entry list

Forty-one drivers are entered for 38 starting spots in Saturday’s Xfinity race.

Among the non-regulars are Blaine Perkins, Akinori Ogata, Kaz Grala, Josh Williams and Joe Graf Jr.

Michigan Xfinity entry list

This weekend’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Saturday, Aug. 6

Forecast: Sunshine and clouds mixed. High of 88.

  • 9:05 – 9:35 a.m. — Xfinity Series practice (NBC Sports App)
  • 9:35 – 10:30 a.m. — Xfinity Series qualifying (NBC Sports App)
  • 12:35 – 1:20 p.m. — Cup practice (NBC Sports App)
  • 1:20 – 2:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying (NBC Sports App)
  • 3:30 p.m. — Xfinity race (125 laps, 250 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR radio)

Sunday, Aug. 7

Forecast: Mixed clouds and sun with scattered thunderstorms. High of 89. There is a 30 percent chance of rain.

  • 3 p.m. — Cup race (200 laps, 400 miles; USA, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR radio)

Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

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Hailie Deegan announced Tuesday that she will make her Xfinity Series debut Oct. 15 Las Vegas Motor Speedway on NBC and Peacock.

The 21-year-old Deegan is in her second full-time season in the Camping World Truck Series. She finished a career-high sixth in that series last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

She will drive the No. 07 car for SS Green Light Racing with Jeff Lefcourt.

 

 

Alex Bowman to miss Charlotte Roval race

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Alex Bowman announced Tuesday night on social media that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup playoff race at the Charlotte Roval.

Bowman said on social media: “I am continuing to make strides in my recovery to make sure I can return to competition at 100%.”

This will be the second consecutive race he will have missed because of concussion-like symptoms after his crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

Noah Gragson will drive the No. 48 car this weekend for Bowman.

“Alex’s health is our first priority,” said Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “We’re focused on supporting his recovery and seeing him back in his race car when the time is right. Alex has a long career ahead of him, so we will invest the necessary time and take our guidance from medical experts. We’re putting no pressure on him to return before he’s 100% ready.”

Bowman will be one of the four drivers eliminated from title contention Sunday.

Also Tuesday, Cody Ware announced that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup race at the Charlotte Roval, as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he suffered at Texas.

NASCAR Power Rankings: Chase Elliott leaps to the front

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A slick late-race move by Chase Elliott carried him to Victory Lane Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway — and back to the top of the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Elliott is the only driver with five victories this season. No one else in the playoffs has more than two (Tyler Reddick, eliminated from the championship hunt, has won three times).

Elliott, already qualified for the Round of 8 with his Talladega win, will be among the favorites in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Here’s how the rankings look approaching the end of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Chase Elliott (No. 3 last week) — Elliott’s power move to win at Talladega was quite impressive and gave him four top-five finishes in the past 10 races. Clearly, he has re-established himself as the championship favorite.

2. Denny Hamlin (No. 1 last week) — Hamlin drops a spot despite a strong run (20 laps led and finishing fifth) at Talladega. Count him in the hunt for an elusive first championship.

3. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Blaney simply will not go away despite continuing as the playoffs’ only winless driver (not including the Texas All-Star Race). He was victimized by Chase Elliott on Sunday at Talladega, finishing .046 seconds short of victory and a push into the next round.

4. Kyle Larson (No. 2 last week) — Superspeedway racing generally is not Larson’s strong point. He finished 18th Sunday despite leading eight laps and being in the front group much of the day.

5. Joey Logano (No. 4 last week) — Logano had an unusually poor performance at Talladega. He was involved in an early-race accident and struggled much of the rest of the day, finishing 27th.

MORE: Elliott celebrates, Logano laments

6. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain tied Aric Almirola for most laps led (36) at Talladega and has been consistent as of late with three finishes of seventh or better in the past four races.

7. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron’s worst news last week came off the track as he was penalized by NASCAR for dumping Denny Hamlin under caution at Texas. He finished 12th at Talladega.

8. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe is quietly making the case that he could make the Round of 8 and challenge for the title.

MORE: Winners and losers at Talladega

9. Daniel Suarez (unranked last week) — Suarez maneuvered through the Talladega draft with style and came home eighth. He has three top 10s in the past seven races.

10. Christopher Bell (No. 6 last week) — Bell had a rough day at Talladega and will be looking to Sunday’s race at the Roval for redemption.

Dropped out: Tyler Reddick (No. 10 last week).

Talladega’s tale of two drivers: One celebrates, one laments

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — It’s dangerous to forecast what is going to happen next in these playoffs in a Cup season unlike any other. 

So keep that in mind, but Chase Elliott’s victory at Talladega moves him one step closer to returning to the championship race for a third consecutive season.

It’s easy to overlook that beyond earning a spot in the Round of 8 with his win Sunday, Elliott scored six playoff points. That gives him 46 playoff points. He has the opportunity to score seven more playoff points this weekend at the Charlotte Roval — an event he has won twice — before the next round begins.

Once the current round ends, the points will be reset to 4,000 for each of the remaining playoff drivers and they’ll have their playoff points added. 

At this point, Elliott would have a 21-point lead on his nearest competitor and a 31-point lead the first driver outside a transfer spot to the championship race.

The next round opens at Las Vegas, goes to Homestead and ends with Martinsville. 

A key for Elliott, though, is to avoid how he has started each of the first two rounds. A crash led to a 36th-place finish in the playoff opener at Darlington. He placed 32nd after a crash at Texas to begin this round.

The up-and-down nature of the playoffs, though, hasn’t taken a toll on the 2020 Cup champion.

“I feel like I’ve been doing this long enough now to understand the roller coaster that is racing,” said Elliott, who is advancing to the Round of 8 for the sixth consecutive season. “It’s going to roll on, right? You either learn to ride it during the good days, during the bad days, too, or you don’t. That’s just part of the deal.

“So, yeah, just try to ride the wave. Had a bad week last week, had a good week this week. Obviously great to move on into the next round, get six more bonus points. All those things are fantastic, we’re super proud of that.

“This deal can humble you. We can go to the Round of 8 and crash again like we did the first two rounds, or you can go in there and maybe have a really good first race. I don’t know. You show up prepared, do the best you can, figure it out from there.”

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Joey Logano has always been one who wants to race at the front in a superspeedway event instead of riding at the back.

When asked last month about the idea of Texas Motor Speedway being reconfigured to provide superspeedway-type racing — as Atlanta Motor Speedway was before this season — Logano questioned the value of that type of racing.

“Is that the type of racing fans want to see?” Logano said. “Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back. 

“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on. 

“They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”

Logano sought to race at the front as much as possible Sunday at Talladega, even after his car was damaged in an early incident, but he took a different tack on the final restart. He restarted 24th and dropped back, finishing 27th.

“We just wreck all the time, so we thought, ‘Boy, we’ve got a big points lead, let’s just be smart and don’t wreck and we’ll be able to get out of here with a top 10, assuming they would wreck because they always do,’” Logano said after the race. 

“That was the only time I’ve ever stayed in the back, ever, was today and they didn’t wreck. We gave up a bunch of our points lead. We’re still plus-18, which is a decent spot to be, but, the goal was to race for stage points and then drop to the back and wait for the crash. I hate racing that way. I’ve gotten beat many times from people that do that, then I tried it and it didn’t work.”

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Michael McDowell’s third-place finish continues his strong season. 

McDowell’s finish extended his career-high of top-10 finishes to 12. He has five finishes of 11th or better in the last seven races. 

“I’m proud of the season we’ve had and the run that we put together,” McDowell said. “Everyone did a great job on pit road executing and getting us track position when we needed it. It’s good to be there at the end and have a shot at it, just disappointed.”

Front Row Motorsports teammate Todd Gilliland finished seventh. 

“Race car drivers are greedy,” Gilliland said. “I wish I could have gotten a couple more there, but it was still a really good day. We ran up front most of the day and my car handled really well, so, overall, there are definitely a ton of positives to take out of this.”

Sunday marked the second time this season both Front Row Motorsports cars finished in the top 10. They also did it at the Indianapolis road course. 

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NASCAR confirms that the Hendrick Motorsports appeal of William Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas will take place Thursday.

Should Hendrick lose that appeal, the team could then have a hearing before the Final Appeals Officer. That session would need to take place before Sunday’s elimination race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

“Twenty-five points in the playoffs is a ton,” car owner Rick Hendrick said Sunday of Byron’s penalty. “I mean, in the regular season if you got a bunch of races, you can make it back up.

“I’ve seen other cars under caution hit each other. In that situation, (Byron) wasn’t trying to spin him, but they got a tower full of people, they could have put him in the back, could have done something right then rather than wait till Monday or Tuesday, then make a decision.”

Byron is 11 points below the cutline after Talladega.