NASCAR viewer’s guide for Texas Motor Speedway

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The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs roll on this weekend to Texas Motor Speedway, which will be hosting its first points race of the season.

Former champion Chase Elliott, a four-time race winner and the only driver with more than two victories this year, leads the standings, followed by Joey Logano and Ross Chastain.

The Texas race (3:30 p.m. ET Sunday, USA Network) is the first of three races in the Round of 12. Events at Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 2) and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Oct. 9) will follow.

Entering Texas, Chase Briscoe, Alex Bowman, Daniel Suarez and Austin Cindric are below the cutline.

Chris Buescher won Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway, becoming the third non-playoff driver to win during the playoffs.

Three tough teams

Three teams account for nine of the remaining 12 drivers in the hunt for the Cup championship.

Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske and Trackhouse Racing put all of their drivers in the second round.

Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, William Byron and Alex Bowman are in the final 12 for Hendrick. Bowman is below the cutline.

MORE: NASCAR official fires back at Kevin Harvick’s comment

Team Penske drivers Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney are in the top eight entering Texas. Teammate Austin Cindric is below the cutline.

Trackhouse Racing drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez remain in title contention. Suarez is below the cutline.

In a playoff season marked by troubles of various sorts, Byron is the only driver who has not had a significant issue through the first three races. He has finished eighth, sixth and third in the opening races.

A 20th winner?

In a very unusual season, one of the most unusual statistics is this: Nineteen different drivers have won a race this year, tying the modern-era record set in 2001.

Could there be 20 different winners? In a word, yes.

Six drivers who won races last year haven’t won a points race this year. They are Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski and Michael McDowell.

Truex, Keselowski and Blaney might be the best bets to be No. 20 this weekend at Texas.

Truex is a three-time runner-up at Texas and has led 674 laps there, the most by any driver without a win at the track.

Keselowski has finished second twice at Texas and led 654 laps there. He led 109 laps Saturday at Bristol as part of Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing’s best race of the season.

Blaney remains in the championship race despite continuing to haul a big zero with him. He won the All-Star Race at Texas this year and has finished in the top 10 in seven of the past eight Texas races.

Playoff standings tight

Twelve drivers will be hoping to advance to the Round of 8 as the NASCAR playoffs stop at Texas Motor Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval over the next three weeks.

The point totals in the top 12 entering Sunday’s race at Texas are tight.

MORE: NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

Only 34 points separate leader Chase Elliott and 12th-place Austin Cindric. The point gap from first to 12th in recent seasons has been higher — 57 in 2021, 66 in 2020, 46 in 2019, 55 in 2018 and 56 in 2017.

The battle around the cutline is tighter. Only seven points separate sixth-place Denny Hamlin and 12th-place Cindric.

Entry lists

Thirty-six drivers are entered in Sunday’s 334-lap Cup race. Included in addition to Cup  regulars are Garrett Smithley and Noah Gragson.

Texas Cup entry list

Thirty-nine drivers are entered for 38 spots in Saturday’s 200-lap Xfinity Series race. On the list are Tommy Joe Martins, Stefan Parsons, Matt Mills, Jeffrey Earnhardt and Garrett Smithley.

Texas Xfinity entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

 (All times Eastern)

Saturday, Sept. 24

Forecast: Sunny and hot. High of 98.

  • 10:35 – 11:05 a.m. — Xfinity Series practice (USA Network)
  • 11:05 – Noon — Xfinity Series qualifying (USA Network)
  • 12:35 – 1:20 p.m. — Cup Series practice (USA Network)
  • 1:20 – 2:30 p.m. — Cup Series qualifying (USA Network)
  • 3:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (200 laps, 300 miles; USA Network, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Sept. 25

Forecast: Mostly sunny. Stray shower or thunderstorm possible. High of 95. 15% chance of rain.

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup Series race (334 laps, 501 miles; USA Network, Performance 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.