Bubba Wallace

Cup Series Championship 4 outlook

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This is it.

One race remains in the 2019 Cup season.

The Championship 4 has been set for Sunday’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. each will go for their second title, while Denny Hamlin goes for his first.

The title race is a matchup of three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers taking on Stewart-Haas Racing’s Harvick.

Here’s a breakdown of each driver’s season and their record at the 1.5-mile track, which will host its final championship race for the foreseeable future.

Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing)

Wins: Four (New Hampshire, Michigan II, Indianapolis and Texas II)

Career Playoff wins: 14 (one this year)

Miami record: Ten top fives in 18 starts. Finished in the top five in last five starts, which includes winning the race and title in 2014.

Championship-caliber moment(s): Capitalized on Bubba Wallace’s spin during green-flag pit stops at Texas to return to the front of the field, where he led 119 laps and won the playoff race for the third year in a row.

Outlook: Aside from Martin Truex Jr., last year’s Championship 4 drivers were quiet in the playoffs until Harvick’s win at Texas. The SHR driver is validating his nickname “The Closer” when he needs to. Can he do it again Sunday?

(We need to) beat three Gibbs cars.  Go faster than them,” Harvick said. “We’re going to do everything just like we’ve done all year.”

 

Martin Truex Jr. (No. 19 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing)

 Wins: Seven (Richmond I, Dover I, Coke 600, Sonoma, Las Vegas II, Richmond II and Martinsville II)

Career Playoff wins: Nine (three this year)

Miami record: Five top fives in 14 starts, including his race win to claim the title in 2017 and his second-place finish last year.

Championship-caliber moment(s): After his disappointing loss at Martinsville in 2018, Truex took care of business in dominating fashion last month, leading 464 laps in a statement win.

Outlook: A win Sunday would give Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn a championship in their first season at Joe Gibbs Racing. But they don’t need a second championship to prove their place with the team.

“It’s going to be interesting for sure,” Truex said  “I feel like we’re here for a reason, and that’s because (the JGR teams) all work together so well, and hopefully we’ll do that the same this week and throughout the weekend … and then Sunday let the best team win.”

 

Kyle Busch (No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing)

Wins: Four (Phoenix I, Auto Club Speedway, Bristol I and Pocono II).

Career Playoff wins: Seven (none this year)

Miami record: Finished sixth or better in last four starts there, including his 2015 win to claim to the title.

Championship-caliber moment(s): Essentially needed to finish ahead of Joey Logano Sunday at ISM Raceway. After Logano’s problems, Busch stayed in the top five raced his way into the Championship 4.

Outlook: It’s been about five months since Busch, winless in his last 21 races, won a Cup event, but thanks to his solid regular season and his second-place finish at ISM Raceway, he has a chance to get a second title.

“(We’ll) fight as hard as we can, do the best job we can, exactly what we did today,” Busch said.  “Today we just weren’t good enough. Next week we’ll just have to make sure that we are.

“Somehow, some way, if it works out, it was meant to be. If it doesn’t, then it’s not. Hopefully the sun will come up for another day.”

 

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing)

Wins: Six (his most since winning eight in 2010)

Career Playoff wins: Nine (two this year)

Miami record: Two wins and four top fives in 14 starts. Last win was in 2013, the last season before the introduction of the elimination playoff format. Only Championship 4 driver with multiple wins in Miami.

Championship-caliber moment(s): His win Sunday after he entered the race 20 points behind the cutoff to advance. Had he finished second, he’d have missed out on the chance at his first Cup title.

Outlook: In the midst of his best season in almost a decade, Hamlin rides a wave of momentum to Miami. However, every Cup title in the elimination era has been decided by the race winner in Miami. Hamlin hasn’t finished better than seventh in his last five starts there.

“I’m just more content with what I’ve accomplished in the series,” Hamlin said. “I don’t need validation of a championship. I think that the outside world feels like I need that to validate my status, whatever it is. But doesn’t change who I am.  Doesn’t change how I treat people. If I don’t win this year, I’m going to work just as hard for 2020.

“There are many, many more opportunities ahead of me. This is not my last opportunity to win a championship.”

NASCAR executive explains Stewart Friesen penalty at ISM Raceway

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Stewart Friesen was the first to take the checkered flag in Friday night’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race, but it was only after he was penalized for being the first driver to take the green flag at the start of the event.

Friesen, who started second, beat pole-sitter Austin Hill to the start-finish line after it appeared Hill spun his tires.

As a result, Friesen was forced to the rear of the field during a caution that came out on Lap 3.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer, addressed why Friesen was penalized Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”

“At the beginning of the race the leader earns that right with the pole and has to be the car to cross the start-finish line first,” O’Donnell said. “In this case, we can’t make judgments on what may or may not happen to the pole-sitter. When Stewart’s truck beat the pole-sitter to the line, that’s an automatic penalty for us.”

This is the second week in a row O’Donnell has explained NASCAR’s decision-making on a judgment call. Last week, it concerned intentional spins by drivers in the wake of Bubba Wallace’s spin at Texas Motor Speedway, which he was penalized for Saturday morning.

O’Donnell also compared the rule for the initial race start to guidelines for restarts.

“When we have a restart the rule is the leader at that time earns the ability to restart the race and get on the gas so-to-speak first,” O’Donnell said. “But then once the leader does that anything goes and the race is basically started back up again and the line doesn’t come into play.”

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Kyle Larson ‘not mad at Bubba’ but surprised at severity of penalty

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The man who complained the most about Bubba Wallace’s intentional spin last week at Texas Motor Speedway also wound up being one of the most surprised at NASCAR’s decision Saturday to fine Wallace $50,000 and 50 driver points.

“Yeah, that was really strong, probably stronger than I thought it might be,” Kyle Larson said Saturday on NASCAR America. “You hate to see NASCAR be put into a spot to make a call like that. But we’re told to give 100 percent and I don’t know if intentionally bringing out a caution is 100 percent.

“I say that, I’ve done it, we’ve all done it. Like Bubba mentioned, he’s racing for himself out there. I understand. It’s not like I’m mad at Bubba Wallace, I’m just mad that an intentional spin caused a caution which affected my race and others. There was other guys that had a good shot at a win or good finish that were affected by it.”

Larson said NASCAR’s decision to penalize Wallace will give other drivers pause if they find themselves in similar positions and contemplate intentional spins during the course of a race to bring out a caution.

“It definitely sends a message to us drivers that if you do it, this is what could happen,” Larson said. “I think we all noticed that and probably with my luck, I’ll get a flat and have to make that decision. NASCAR is always in a tough spot on things like that.”

Larson vigorously complained after the race at Texas that Wallace had spun intentionally to bring out the caution. In so doing, it impacted Larson’s track position, putting him a lap down and leaving him with a 12th-place finish rather than possibly ending up with a top-five finish.

Larson backed up his statements Friday at Phoenix when he said that data taken from Wallace’s car backed up his contention that Wallace’s pin was indeed intentional.

“If the race plays out the way it should have, I would have had obviously a better chance to win,” Larson said. “At the time, I knew I didn’t need Harvick to have a good day or win.

”So when the caution came out and I did the wave around and looked up, Harvick is lined up third, I’m like ‘this is not good.’ It just went as badly as it probably could have for us.

“So that’s why I was so frustrated. It’s just everything that I didn’t need happen, happened. If Harvick doesn’t win and I end up in the top five, I’m within two points, probably, or less from making it into the final round. Now I’m 23 (points back). We need a great day or win, so we’ll see what we can do.”

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Dale Jarrett’s advice to Bubba Wallace on spin: ‘Keep your mouth shut’

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NASCAR Hall of Famer and NASCAR on NBC Sports analyst Dale Jarrett didn’t mince words when asked his thoughts on Bubba Wallace being fined $50,000 and docked 50 driver points after admitting he spun to bring out a caution during last Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Texas:

“So what is my advice, what do I take away from that? Keep your mouth shut,” Jarrett said.

Jarrett gave his opinion during NASCAR Xfinity Series qualifying broadcast on NBCSN.

Wallace admitted Friday during an interview with NBC Sports at ISM Raceway that he intentionally spun to bring out the caution.

“I learned from Brad (Keselowski) and Joey (Logano),” Wallace told NBC Sports. Wallace’s spin was criticized by Kyle Larson, whose track position was impacted by the caution.

When asked if he was worried about repercussions from NASCAR, Wallace added, “Until they do anything, no. I’m not the only one to do it. I’m racing for myself. Not for (Kyle) Larson. Not for Chevrolet at that moment. For myself and going multiple laps down.”

To that, Jarrett gave Wallace some advice.

“Don’t tell everybody what’s in your mind,” Jarrett said. “There’s only one person that knows that. So I’m not telling anybody to go lie, I’m just saying to keep your mouth shut. You’re the only person that knows exactly what happened and this was the case last week at Texas.

“I will say this much, even when he spun out to bring out the caution, as he said he did, he didn’t keep it off the wall. He actually hit the wall. It was detrimental in many ways. I don’t think NASCAR could have and would have done anything – we went all week and they didn’t do anything. So, just don’t admit what you did, just go on with it and have everybody wonder about that.

So, just don’t admit what you did, just go on with it and have everybody wonder about that.

“I know there’s been a lot of talk about drivers doing this and that. It’s something that’s gone on since the beginning of this sport and will continue to go on. You can take situations and put NASCAR in that position if you want to. Sometimes you might like their decision and what they come up with and other times you might not.

“But if you feel it’s worth the risk and gamble to put them in that position, to me, what they told everybody is whatever you do, whether it was intentional or not, keep your mouth shut about it.”

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NASCAR penalized Bubba Wallace for admission of spin

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AVONDALE, Ariz. — NASCAR penalized Bubba Wallace for intentionally spinning six days after he did so because of an admission to NBC Sports rather than data that Kyle Larson said clearly showed that Wallace spun on purpose after having a flat tire.

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president for competition, said Saturday that Wallace was fined $50,000 and docked 50 points after he admitted in an interview with NBC Sports that he intentionally spun last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

“There can be a lot of accusations, but to be completely positive that’s what happened only happened when he raised his hand and said ‘I did it,’ “ Miller said. “That was full admission of something that has been abuzz in the garage and in the media.”

Miller questioned those who say that data, including throttle and steering traces that are available to all teams, clearly showed Wallace spun intentionally after he had a flat tire.

“I would dispute that the data clearly shows it,” Miller said. “We don’t have a lot of data comparison of a guy trying to drive a car with a flat tire. So we’ve looked at all that. We don’t really feel like it’s as straightforward as some of the others do as far as the data showing definitively that he did it on purpose.

“We’ve all watched the cars drive down the straightaway with a flat tire weaving all over the place. So for us, to make a definitive call that a guy spun out on purpose when he can barely keep his car going straight is a big call. And it’s a judgment call. And it’s a call that we would like to not have to be able to make. So hopefully they can know the possibility of this happening is out there if it’s very blatant and that they don’t do it.”

Asked about his spin, Wallace told NBC Sports on Friday night: “I learned from Brad (Keselowski) and Joey (Logano).”

Asked if he was worried about any repercussions, Wallace told NBC Sports: “Until they do anything, no. I’m not the only one to do it. I’m racing for myself. Not for Larson. Not for Chevrolet at that moment. For myself and going multiple laps down.”