Bubba Wallace

Martin Truex Jr. completes Richmond sweep with playoff win

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Martin Truex Jr. rebounded from a spin with 85 laps to go to win Saturday’s Cup Series playoff race at Richmond Raceway, completing a sweep of the season’s two races on the short track and giving him wins in the first two playoff races.

Truex, who spun from contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. while leading and restarted third, passed teammate Kyle Busch with 26 laps to go and went unchallenged to the checkered flag.

Truex now has six wins this year and 22 in the last four seasons.

“I feel like Danny Sullivan or something right now,” Truex told NBCSN, referencing to the driver who spun and then won the 1985 Indianapolis 500. “I’m speechless. Unbelievable job, all my guys. … Had a heck of a race with Kyle and Denny (Hamlin) all night long, really. We just kept plugging away at it, plugging away at it. That’s what we always do, just keep digging and we never quit.

“Next thing you know I’m catching (Busch) for the lead. I’m like, ‘Cool, here we go.'”

Truex led a Joe Gibbs Racing sweep of the top three spots, with Truex leading Busch and Denny Hamlin. Erik Jones originally finished fourth, but his No. 20 Toyota failed post-race inspection and his finish was disqualified, giving him a last-place finish. Jones’ car failed in the rear toe section in the optical scanning station.

Earlier in the day, Gibbs’ grandson Ty, won his first career NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Pole-sitter Brad Keselowski is now credited with fourth place and Ryan Newman completed the top five.

The top 10 was rounded out by Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Daniel Suarez and Jimmie Johnson.

Busch and Harvick both clinched spots in the second round on points. Busch’s winless streak is now at 14 races.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Martin Truex Jr.

STAGE 2 WINNER: Kyle Busch

More: Race results and points

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ryan Newman earned his second top five of the year, his third straight top 10 … Denny Hamlin has finished in the top three in six of the last nine races … Bubba Wallace finished 12th for his third top-15 finish in the last five races … Jimmie Johnson earned his first top 10 with crew chief Cliff Daniels.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Reed Sorenson finished 37th after he got in the wall on Lap 243 and brought out the caution … Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola each received speeding penalties during the race and finished 18th and 16th … Chris Buescher‘s streak of top-18 finishes ended at 16 races after he placed 31st, seven laps down … Alex Bowman and William Byron placed four laps down in 23rd and 24th.

NOTABLE: This was the eighth time in their careers that Truex and Kyle Busch have finished 1-2 (or Busch was 1-2 with Truex) and the third time this year. … Truex is the fourth driver to win the first two playoff races, following Matt Kenseth (2013), Tony Stewart (2011) and Greg Biffle (2008).

WHAT’S NEXT: Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway at 2:30 p.m. ET Sept. 29 on NBC

Tonight’s Cup race at Richmond: Start time, lineup and more

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The Cup playoffs continue tonight with a race under the lights at Richmond Raceway.

Can Martin Truex Jr., who has advanced to the second round of the playoffs with his Las Vegas win, complete a sweep of this year’s races at the short track?

Here’s all the info you need for tonight’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Federated Auto Parts CEO Rusty Bishop will give the command to start engines at 7:37 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 7:44 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage opens at 1:30 pm.  Driver/crew chief meeting is at 5:30 p.m. Driver introductions are at 6:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7:30 p.m. The National Anthem will be performed at 7:31 p.m. by Lieutenant Colonel D.C. Washington.

DISTANCE: The race is 400 laps (300 miles) around the 0.75-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 100. Stage 2 ends on Lap 200.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with NASCAR America. Countdown to Green begins at 7 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s broadcast begins at 7 p.m. and also can be heard on mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

WATCH ONLINE: Click here for NBCSN’s broadcast 

FORECAST: Wunderground.com forecasts sunny skies with a high of 81 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Martin Truex Jr. won in the spring over Joey Logano. Kyle Busch won this race last year over Kevin Harvick and Truex.

TO THE REAR: Bubba Wallace (failed inspection), JJ Yeley (failed inspection)

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for Cup starting lineup

Starting lineup for Richmond Cup race

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Playoff drivers Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick are on the provisional front row for Saturday’s Cup Series playoff race at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

The top five is completed by playoff drivers Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer.

The highest qualifying non-playoff driver is Jimmie Johnson (10th).

The lowest qualifying playoff driver was Joey Logano (28th).

The starting lineup will be made official after pre-race inspection Saturday. One failure will result in a qualifying time being disallowed.

UPDATE: All 16 playoff cars have passed inspection. Only the cars of Bubba Wallace and JJ Yeley failed inspection and will start at the rear for tonight’s race.

Click here for Cup starting lineup

Long: Let drivers be who they are, especially Bubba

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LAS VEGAS — Please don’t change Bubba.

And please nobody change him.

Bubba Wallace was a whirling dervish of personality, opinion and openness Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway — as he has been throughout his career. And as the sport needs.

Drivers fuel NASCAR. It’s a point NASCAR President Steve Phelps stressed last year before the season finale in Miami, saying that “every driver is really important for us to help drive star power in our sport.”

Drivers are akin to the quarterback in the NFL and the superstar in the NBA. But unlike athletes in those sports, NASCAR drivers can struggle in how much personality they reveal.

That’s not a problem for Wallace. Although his team has funding, it doesn’t have a major corporate presence choking his personality.

For that, he was Friday’s headliner at the track even if his car was not in the top 25 in either practices in single-lap speed.

Bubba Wallace in the media center Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Among his pearls in a 20-minute session with reporters:

# He warned veteran drivers upset about being raced hard that “shit changes every day. Get accustomed to it.”

# He was realistic about his chances this weekend, noting that his team finished third at Indy with a new car. The car he’ll race this weekend was last run in March at Las Vegas. “Hopefully we can show up and run top 15.”

# He called the search for funding for his Richard Petty Motorsports team an “uphill climb. … It’s still been a gruesome battle on that side of things.”

While there are many personalities in NASCAR — recall Clint Bowyer going into the stands at Darlington to interview a fan sitting in the rain — some are reluctant to express themselves as freely because of past experiences, social media or sponsor considerations.

Wallace isn’t deterred by such things, discussing the depression he’s battled this year and blasting Kyle Busch with an expletive-filled tirade at Watkins Glen.

Look, this is someone who plays video games on Twitch for others to watch, is constructing a drum room and flew Fit for a King’s drummer in to help set the room up, and is active on social media.

Wallace’s comments Friday came a day after former champion Brad Keselowski acknowledged that expressing one’s opinion can be detrimental in auto racing.

That it is Keselowski, who offered outspoken opinions earlier in his career on everything from how the sport could be better to raising questions about concussion diagnosis, talking about the limits to a driver’s personality is disheartening.

“The penalties for having a big personality are real, and I want to win,” Keselowski said. “Winning comes before anything else. You can’t win when you don’t have sponsors.

“The last thing sponsors want is big personalities. That’s just a reality of it. Sponsors want safe personalities, they want personalities that sell a lot of whatever and that’s not necessarily a big personality. It’s the reality, whether you like it or not. It’s part of the business model.”

Kurt Busch, whose public flare-ups have cost him rides, said that “I know what Brad is talking about. I agree with Brad on his main point, winning is everything.”

The question is if Wallace can thrive with more sponsorship. Sponsor World Wide Technology, through a leadership donation in May from founder and chairman David Steward, provided additional funding and led to Victory Junction being on Wallace’s car for a select number of races, including this weekend at Las Vegas.

With the extra money, the team had a new car built for Indianapolis. Wallace took advantage of problems by others and moved into the top 10 and continued to climb. Once he was third, he held others off in the final laps to finish there.

After scoring his best finish of the season, Wallace yelled on his radio: “Yeah! That ain’t supposed to happen! That is not supposed to happen! We did it! Nice job!”

He called out haters on Twitter during his NBC Sports interview after the race.

“I’m just here taking it all in and enjoying it and making the most of it,” Wallace said in his interview after the Brickyard 400. “But again, that’s not supposed to happen. We’re not supposed to run with these big teams. What the hell? Somebody can drive.”

And will drive hard. He says he’s not afraid to race hard when needed.

Every generation changes the racing. Veteran drivers were upset with Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson, with how hard they raced when they came in as rookies in 2002. Now, the same refrain is heard as a new generation makes its impact.

Asked if the etiquette on the track is changing, Kyle Busch noted how “those rules are changing.

“I think it’s just the nature of Mark Martin not being around and (Tony) Stewart and (Jeff) Gordon and Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. and some of those guys that knew how to race, but also the aero-package and what these cars drive like nowadays.

“A lot of these  younger kids now come up running Late Models and K&N cars and beating the doors off of one another throughout their careers and here they are doing it at the Cup level. It’s just a different form of where these guys are being taught to race.”

Bubba Wallace’s car at Las Vegas. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

The challenge is to be aggressive and successful. Wallace seeks success. It has only been fleeting in NASCAR’s premier series, although his two best finishes there — second in last year’s Daytona 500 and third at Indy last week — are at two of racing’s iconic tracks.

“I love how aggressive we race,” Wallace said. “That’s just what I was taught growing up; be as aggressive and clean as you can. There is a fine line, but if the opportunity presents itself for me to force the issue onto you, absolutely it’s going to happen.

“I fell victim to it at this race earlier this year. Ryan Preece and I were racing for I think the lucky dog or something. We came out on a little different pit strategy about two laps or so and we were racing hard against each other. In my Monday morning debrief, I texted him and said I was sorry and it was just hard racing. He was like, ‘Why are you apologizing for racing hard?’ I was like, ‘you are absolutely right.’”

Just as there was no need to apologize how he raced, there is no need for Bubba Wallace to apologize for who he is.

Let’s keep it that way.

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NBC Sports Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick soars to No. 1 entering playoffs

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Kevin Harvick’s win in the Brickyard 400 didn’t just give him momentum going into the Cup playoffs, it also rocketed him to the top of this week’s Power Rankings with his unanimous selection by the NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers.

Harvick, who was tied for fourth last week, vaults over Kyle Busch (drops to third this week) and Kyle Larson (plummets to seventh), who were tied for No. 1 last week.

Also of note, Joey Logano finds himself back in the top 10 after falling out last week. Also a surprise entry in this week’s top 10 is Bubba Wallace (ninth). But of course, finishing third at Indianapolis will do that for a guy like Bubba.

Here is how this week’s rankings look:

1. Kevin Harvick (40 points): Starts the year winless in 19 races and now has won three of the last seven races. Nice way to head into the playoffs. He is now a threat to win at every speedway in playoffs. Last week: tied for fourth.

2. Denny Hamlin (34 points): Finished sixth in a backup car at Indy; has just one finish worse than sixth in the last eight races (29th at Darlington), plus two wins in that stretch. He’s still red-hot. Last week: tied for fourth.

3. Kyle Busch (26 points): Don’t be bothered that he is on a 12-race winless streak. He has five top-five finishes and eight top-10 results during his drought. Last week: tied for first.

4. Clint Bowyer (20 points): Starting to put together more solid races. His fifth-place finish at Indy gave him three consecutive top 10s entering the playoffs. If he can get past the first round, could become a real dark horse. Last week: tied for eighth.

5. Joey Logano (19 points): Runner-up finish broke a string of five finishes outside the top 10 for the reigning series champion. Was Indy a sign of things to come? Last week: Unranked.

6. Ryan Blaney (17 points): Five top-10 finishes in the last seven races . Needs to fix execution problems but still strong. Last week: Unranked.

7. Kyle Larson (14 points): Yes, he finished 33rd at Indy but again showed speed and was on pace to score his sixth consecutive top-10 finish. This could be a team to watch in the playoffs. Last week: tied for first.

8. Chase Elliott (13 points): With Jimmie Johnson not in the playoffs, Elliott becomes the torch bearer for Hendrick Motorsports. Is he up to the task? Also, ninth-place finish at Indy gives him four top fives in the last five races. Last week: Unranked.

9. Bubba Wallace (9 points): Earned second career top five and delivered Richard Petty his first Brickyard 400 top five as an owner. Last week: Unranked.

10. Ryan Newman (8 points): He has had to grind things out all season so it only made sense he would have to do the same thing Sunday at Indy to secure the final playoff spot. If he keeps that kind of thing up, has a good chance to reach second round. Last week: Unranked.

Others receiving votes: William Byron (7 points), Brad Keselowski (6 points), Chris Buescher (4 points), Martin Truex Jr. (2 points), Paul Menard (1 point).