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Kevin Harvick wins Cup pole at Richmond

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Kevin Harvick won the pole for Saturday night’s Cup race at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) with a top qualifying speed of 121.880 mph.

Harvick led 10 of the 16 playoff drivers in qualifying in the top 12.

It is Harvick’s third pole of the year.

“We ended our last race run (in practice), I was really happy with the car,” Harvick told NBCSN. “Didn’t know what we had for qualifying there. But just a huge credit to the race team for putting a qualifying setup underneath it. Obviously, Aric (Almirola) came here and tested and kind of had a baseline for where we needed to shoot for for targets.”

The top five was filled out by Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney and Daniel Suarez, a non-playoff driver.

The top 12 was completed by Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski, Erik Jones, Kyle Larson, Cole Custer and Kyle Busch

Custer, driving Rick Ware Racing’s No. 51 Ford – in a car prepped by Stewart-Haas Racing, is making his third-career start. This is his last Cup race of the season.

Where the rest of the playoff field qualified:

Joey Logano (13th), Alex Bowman (14th), Chase Elliott (19th), Jimmie Johnson (22nd), Clint Bowyer (25th) and Austin Dillon (28th).

The starting lineup will be finalized tomorrow after inspection.

Click here for results.

Hooters extends sponsorship of Chase Elliott’s team

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Hendrick Motorsports announced Friday that Hooters has extended its primary sponsorship of Chase Elliott for three years.

Hooters will be the primary sponsor of Elliott’s No. 9 team for three Cup races each season from 2019-21. The company joined Hendrick Motorsports as a two-race primary sponsor of Elliott in January 2017.

“Hooters is doing a terrific job with its program,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “With Chase, they’re driving new traffic into their stores and earning the loyalty of those customers by providing a great experience. We’ve enjoyed their collaborative approach and look forward to more opportunities to move the needle for their business.”

Preliminary entry lists for NASCAR at Richmond

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After a trip out west, NASCAR returns to the south this weekend for its second visit of the year to Richmond Raceway.

Cup teams will hold their second playoff race Saturday night while the Xfinity Series kicks off its postseason Friday.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for each race.

Cup – Federated Auto Parts 400 (7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday on NBCSN)

There are 40 entries for the race.

Joey Gase is entered in StarCom Racing’s No. 00 Chevrolet.

Regan Smith is entered in his third race as a substitute driver for Kasey Kahne in the No. 95 Chevrolet.

Kyle Busch won the spring race at Richmond, beating Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin in overtime. Kyle Larson won this race last year, beating Joey Logano and Ryan Newman.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – GoBowling 250 (7:30 p.m. ET on Friday on NBCSN)

There are 41 entries for the race.

Full-time Cup drivers are not permitted to compete in the playoff races.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will make his first NASCAR start since retiring from full-time Cup competition. He will drive the No. 88 Chevrolet.

Ross Chastain, who earned his first-career win last weekend, will make his last scheduled start in Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 Chevrolet.

Katherine Legge will make her third start of the year for JD Motorsports in the No. 15 Chevrolet. It’ll be her first race on an oval.

Christopher Bell won the spring race, beating Noah Gragson and Elliott Sadler. Brad Keselowski is the defending race winner.

Click here for the entry list.

Who is hot and cold entering Richmond

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The Cup playoffs continue this weekend with the second race of the first round, Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

It’s the first of two short tracks the series will visit during the playoffs, the second being Martinsville Speedway.

After a crash fest in the opener at Las Vegas impacted more than half of the playoff field, here’s who is hot and cold entering Richmond.

Who is Hot

Brad Keselowski
• Won at Las Vegas (13th in Stage 1, 1st in Stage 2, 75 laps led)
• Won three straight races for 1st time in career
• Finished in top 2 in 4 of last 5 races
• Advanced to Round of 12 for 5th consecutive season
• Finished 8th or better in 6 of last 9 Richmond races, 8th in April
• Started 15th, 21st stage 1, 5th stage 2. Finished 11th in this race one year ago
• Three top 10s in the last five short track races

Kyle Busch
• Finished 7th at Las Vegas (6th in Stage 1, 15th in Stage 2, 1 lap led); pit for a 2nd time on Lap 113 due to missing lugs on right-front tire; spun off Turn 4 on Lap 233 while running 18th and went through the grass
• Finished 8th or better in 3 straight races and 8 of last 9 races
• Won 6 of last 21 races
• Finished in top 5 in 10 of last 15 races
• Finished in the top 10 in 14 of last 16 races
• Finished in the top 5 in 17 of 27 races this season
• Finished top 10 in 6 of last 8 Richmond races, including win in April
• Started 7th, 1st in Stage 1, 10th in Stage 2, 38 laps led, finished 9th in this race one year ago
• Won 4 of last 7 short track races
• Top 10 six of the last seven short track races

Paul Menard
• Finished 10th at Las Vegas (22nd in Stage 1, 27th in Stage 2)
• Finished in Top 10 in the last two races, his first back-to-back top 10s this season
• Finished 15th or worse in 9 straight Richmond races, including 24th in April
• Started 26th, 22nd in Stage 1, 19th in Stage 2, finished 28th in this race one year ago
• No top 10s in the last 15 short track races, his last top 10 was at Martinsville in April 2016

Ryan Newman
• Finished 9th at Las Vegas (10th in Stage 1, 11th in Stage 2)
• Finished in top 10 in the last two races
• Top 10 in two of the last three Richmond races but finished outside the top 10 in five of the last seven
• Finished 3rd in this race one year ago
• One top 10 in the last five short track races

Who is Cold

Austin Dillon
• Finished 11th at Las Vegas (18th in Stage 1, 13th in Stage 2); started in the rear due to illegal body modifications
• Finished outside the top 10 in 8 of last 9 races
• Finished 12th or worse in 19 of last 22 races
• Finished outside top 10 in 23 of 26 races since Daytona 500 win
• Never finished better than 13th in 9 career Richmond starts, including 15th in April
• Started 31st, 16th in Stage 1, 21st in Stage 2, finished 21st in this race one year ago
• No top 10s in the last nine short track races, his last top 10 on a short track was at Martinsville in April of 2017

Chase Elliott
• Finished 36th at Las Vegas (5th in Stage 1, 7th in Stage 2); DNF – collected in wreck with Jamie McMurray on Lap 212 while running 6th.
• Finished 15th or worse in the last two races
• Finished in top 10 in 6 of last 8 races
• Top 10s in last 2 Richmond races, including 2nd in April
• Started 9th, 9th in Stage 1, 12th in Stage 2, finished 10th in this race one year ago
• Finished top 10 in 3 of last 4 short track races

Jimmie Johnson
• Finished 22nd at Las Vegas (17th in Stage 1, 4th in Stage 2); hit the wall on Lap 256 while running 7th
• Finished 16th or worse in six of the last seven races
• Finished outside the top 10 in 11 of last 13 races
• Currently on a 50-race winless streak (longest of career)
• Top 10 in six of the last eight Richmond races
• Started 20th, 15th in Stage 1, 13th in Stage 2, finished 8th in this race one year ago
• Top 10 in the last three short track races

Alex Bowman
• Finished 19th at Las Vegas (3rd in Stage 1, 9th in Stage 2); penalized for uncontrolled tire on Lap 162 while running 9th; hit the wall on lap 256 while running 9th
• Finished 19th or worse in 3 straight races and 14th or worse in 5 of last 6
• Never finished better than 18th in 5 career Richmond starts (18th in April)
• Finished top 10 in 3 of last 4 short track races

Bump & Run: Who is in trouble in Cup playoffs?

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After Las Vegas, which driver(s) do you consider in trouble of not making the cut to the second round?

Nate Ryan: Anyone outside the grid now, so Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones will have to fight their way through the next two races. 

Dustin Long: Austin Dillon is 10th in the standings but his lead over some of the drivers outside a cutoff spot is slim and he’s not finished better than 13th on a short track this season heading into Richmond. There’s some work to do.  

Daniel McFadin: Despite benefitting from the bad luck of many playoff drivers Sunday and finishing 11th, I still think Austin Dillon is the most in danger of missing out. He’s never finished better than 13th at Richmond and he’s never finished in the top 10 on a road course in Cup.

Dan Beaver: Denny Hamlin took the biggest hit last week, dropping 20 points behind the cutoff line. The inconsistent finishes with the No. 11 team throughout 2018 puts him in a precarious position.

Have you bought in on Brad Keselowski joining the Big 3?

Nate Ryan: No, because as he readily admits, the speed still isn’t there. The execution has been flawless for three weeks, but that is unsustainable over the next the nine races. His No. 2 Ford will need to be a weekly top-five car by the Round of 8 to have a title shot. 

Dustin Long: No. The Big 3 was not created over three races but a much longer stretch. Keselowski’s run the last three weeks has been monumental but until he finds the speed to match the Big 3, he’s not there yet.

Daniel McFadin: Absolutely. With his win he joins Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick as the first trio of drivers to win three consecutive races in a season in NASCAR’s modern history. When you do that, you’re definitely the latest member of the “Big 4.”

Dan Beaver: Almost. Another top-five finish this week will push me over the edge, but it’s still hard to say that this is not just an incredibly successful wave of momentum. He hasn’t been particularly strong on short tracks this year with no top fives in four starts, so Richmond will be a big test.

The average number of cautions in the last five Richmond Cup races is 9.2. Are you taking the over or under on the number of cautions in Saturday night’s Cup race?

Nate Ryan: Under. I think the night races tend to be tamer at Richmond because the track has more grip. 

Dustin Long: Under. After the chaos of Las Vegas, things will calm down even with the Roval on the horizon.

Daniel McFadin: I’ll take the over. Why? Because drivers will be desperate to be anywhere near the front with the Roval on the horizon next weekend. Desperation will lead to chaos.

Dan Beaver: Seven of the 16 playoff contenders finished outside the top 20 last week and they are going to have a little extra desperation at Richmond. On a short track, that is a recipe for disaster. I’m taking the over.

What chances do you give Ross Chastain of winning two Xfinity races in a row in the No. 42 car Friday night at Richmond?

Nate Ryan: The competition will be virtually the same as at Las Vegas, so 50-50 seems about right. 

Dustin Long: Kyle Larson won the latest Xfinity short-track race in the No. 42 car at Bristol but the Joe Gibbs Racing cars have often been the class of the field at such tracks this season. Would give the JGR cars a little better chance than the No. 42 car this weekend.

Daniel McFadin: After his eye-opening performance in his first two starts at two different tracks, I’d say there’s a 85 percent chance he schools everyone like the four-year veteran he is.

Dan Beaver: Back-to-back wins are always tricky, but Chastain showed enough strength at Darlington and Las Vegas to make me believe he can win again.