Chris Buescher

NASCAR suspends crew chiefs for Bubba Wallace, Corey LaJoie

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NASCAR has suspended the crew chiefs for Bubba Wallace and Corey LaJoie, stripped both cars of its starting spot and penalized the drivers and car owners 10 points each after a pre-race inspection discovered improperly mounted ballast.

Wallace was to have started 15th in today’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN). LaJoie was to have started 33rd.

Wallace will be without crew chief Jerry Baxter. LaJoie will be without crew chief Ryan Sparks.

Wallace falls to 21st in the points entering Sunday’s race with the 10-point penalty. That drops him to 318 points and allowed Chris Buescher, who has 321 points, to move ahead of him. LaJoie remains 29th after the penalty.

18 questions entering final 18 Cup races of the season

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Tonight’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App) marks the beginning of the second half of the Cup season. So here are 18 questions for the final 18 Cup races of the season.

1. Will Jimmie Johnson win another race?

The Dover doubleheader is coming up on the schedule (Aug. 22 and 23) and that was the site of his last Cup win in 2017. Heading into tonight’s race at Kansas Speedway, Johnson’s winless streak is 112 races. His best finish this year is third at Bristol and the series will be back there in September in the playoffs.

2. Who will drive the No. 48 car in 2021?

There’s plenty of interest in this high-profile ride that has a full-season sponsor already in place. Will car owner Rick Hendrick go with an established star or pick a younger driver with plenty of potential? What Hendrick decides could greatly impact the upcoming Silly Season.

3. What will Silly Season be like?

Before the season, this was viewed as a year where Silly Season could overshadow most of what happens on the track. Ryan Blaney signed a contract extension with Team Penske in May. Alex Bowman signed a one-year extension with Hendrick Motorsports in May.

Among the drivers without announced rides for next season are Brad Keselowski, Erik Jones, Clint Bowyer, Matt DiBenedetto and Kyle Larson, who remains indefinitely suspended by NASCAR for uttering a racial slur during an online race in April.

Stewart-Haas is a wonderful organization,” Bowyer said this week. “I want to be there. I want to retire there, and I love the opportunity and the people behind it.”

Said Jones, who is battling for a playoff spott, this week: “I’ve had a really good relationship with (Joe Gibbs Racing) for quite a few years now. I put probably the most pressure on myself. I wouldn’t say JGR ever comes to me and asks questions or questions why you’re in this spot. They see the same things we do and the same things we struggle each weekend and why we’re in this spot. People aren’t blind to that.”

4. Will Ryan Blaney’s luck change?

He led 150 laps last weekend at Texas, won the first two stages but didn’t win the race when a caution came out at the wrong time. He finished seventh. He ranks third in laps led this season but has one Cup win. He could have a few more wins. Instead, those are playoff points lost. Will that hurt him later in the year?

5. Who is next to surprise?

Rookie Cole Custer scored a stunning win at Kentucky. Austin Dillon followed it up last weekend at Texas with the help of some decision-making at RCR’s command center. Both were outside a playoff spot before they won. Now they are in the playoffs. This marks the first time since 2017 that a driver outside a playoff spot won a race.

In 2014 and 2016, a record three drivers outside a playoff spot won a Cup race. Could there be a third such winner this year? Among those outside a playoff spot entering tonight’s race at Kansas Speedway are William Byron, Tyler Reddick, Erik Jones, Bubba Wallace and Chris Buescher.

6. Will Kyle Busch make it to the championship race a sixth year in a row?

One of the most intriguing elements this season has been Kyle Busch failing to win in the first half of the Cup season. He hasn’t even won a stage. He has no playoff points. He had the most playoffs points at the halfway mark of the season each of the past two years.

Busch has talked about the struggles at Joe Gibbs Racing this season and how the lack of practice has made it more difficult to fix the issues. With NASCAR announcing this week that it will go the rest of the season without practice and qualifying, Busch’s task has become more difficult.

7. What drivers in last year’s playoff could miss it this year?

Kyle Larson will since he’s not in the series. William Byron enters Kansas two points out of what would be the final playoff spot. Erik Jones enters Kansas outside a playoff spot. As does Ryan Newman, who missed three races because of his head injury suffered in a last-lap crash in the Daytona 500. He has a waiver and would make the playoffs should he win a race. Newman is too far back in points to make the playoffs that way.

8. Which will be more of a wildcard race: Daytona road course or Daytona oval?

Oh boy.

Drivers will have no practice before running the road course for the first time in Cup cars (same for Xfinity and Trucks). And the Daytona oval race is the final regular-season race, so desperation to make the playoffs will be high.

Both races in August could prove quite interesting.

9. Who will win rookie of the year?

Cole Custer has a win and is in the playoffs. Tyler Reddick has a rookie-high six top-10 finishes, including three in a row. Christopher Bell is showing signs of progress after a rotten start to the season. John Hunter Nemechek has had a few highlights this season.

This will be worth watching as the season progresses. Some are suggesting this could be among the best rookie crop in years.

10. How will NASCAR change the starting lineup draw?

With no qualifying, the random draw will remain. Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that series officials were looking at changes to the draw once the playoffs begin. NASCAR has yet to announce its plans in this matter.

11. Martinsville moves to the final race before the championship. What type of chaos could be seen there?

Well, let’s see. Last year’s playoff race saw Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano scuffle after the race. In 2018, Martin Truex Jr. was upset with Logano for his bump-and-run to win. In 2017, Hamlin and Chase Elliott had a heated exchange after Hamlin’s contract wrecked Elliott late. In 2015, Matt Kenseth wrecked Logano in retaliation for an incident earlier in the playoffs at Kansas.

Now, Martinsville is the last race before the championship field is set? Safe to say plenty of tempers will be on display that day.

12. How big will the crowds be at upcoming races?

There will be no fans allowed tonight at Kansas. Next week’s race at New Hampshire can have up to 19,000. The following weekend features the Cup doubleheader at Michigan before no fans. The races at Daytona — both on the road course and oval — will have fans but no total has been announced. Nothing has been announced for the playoffs. Among the playoffs tracks is Bristol Motor Speedway, which hosted an estimated 20-25,000 for the All-Star Race earlier this month.

13. What happens if a playoff driver tests positive for COVID-19 in the playoffs?

NASCAR gave Jimmie Johnson a waiver when he missed Indianapolis for testing positive for COVID-19, but what happens if a playoff driver has to miss one or two races in a round? Will that driver be allowed to advance to the next round and just make one more driver advancing than scheduled?

14. How high a stack of pennies will Corey LaJoie have at the end of the season?

Corey LaJoie’s mantra is stacking pennies, meaning a little progress can grow into greater success over time.

He had seven top-20 finishes last year for Go Fas Racing. LaJoie already has six top-20 finishes this season. He’s stacked plenty of pennies so far.

15. Will Matt Kenseth be back after this season?

Kenseth was coy about that when asked about his future recently, saying he was focused on improved finishes. He has had four top-20 finishes in the last five races heading into Kansas. With the number of drivers available for next season, Chip Ganassi Racing could have many options.

16. Is this Kevin Harvick’s year to win a second Cup title?

He has had a fantastic season with four wins, a series-high 11 top-five finishes, including five in a row, and a series-best 15 top 10s. He’s finished in the top 10 in 83.3% of the races. Remarkable. So far so good.

17. Or is this Denny Hamlin’s year?

The Daytona 500 winner is tied with Harvick for most wins this year with four. Hamlin had a four-race streak of top-five finishes, including two wins, before struggles the past three weeks. Heading into Kansas, Hamlin has not finished better than 12th the past three races. Still, he has nine top-five finishes and 10 top 10s this year.

18. What about 2021?

NASCAR is working on a 2021 schedule. No date has been set on an announcement.

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Austin Dillon wins Texas Cup race, earns playoff spot

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Austin Dillon used pit strategy and strong restarts late to win Sunday’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway, marking the second consecutive weekend a driver outside a playoff spot won and secured a spot in the postseason.

Dillon’s third career Cup victory snapped an 88-race winless streak. It was his first win since the 2018 Daytona 500.

Dillon’s Richard Childress Racing teammate Tyler Reddick finished second. He was followed by Joey Logano, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick.

MORE: Race results

MORE: What drivers said after the race 

MORE: Brad Keselowski raises point of if drivers should be demoted from Cup

Dillon gained track position with a two-tire pit stop on Lap 307 and restarted second to Reddick, who took no tires.

“I thought more guys would do two (tires),” said Dillon’s crew chief, Justin Alexander. “I honestly was not expecting to be starting on the front row for that first restart.”

Said Dillon of Alexander deciding to change only two left-side tires on that last pit stop: “The call was the win.”

Dillon took the lead from Reddick on Lap 312 of the 334-lap race. Dillon held off the field on the final two restarts, the final one with two laps to go.

Afterward, Dillon went to the infield care center for treatment. The race was held in 90-plus degree weather and NBCSN’s coverage showed the temperature inside cars above 135 degrees. Dillon said in his winner’s interview with NBCSN: “I’m out of breath right now. I’m about to go down. I need a drink.”

Dillon said he received IVs after the race.

The race was stopped after Lap 219 for a crash that included Martin Truex Jr., Chris Buescher, Cole Custer, Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Bubba Wallace, William Byron, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Matt Kenseth, Clint Bowyer and Ryan Preece. Cole, Truex and Buescher suffered the most damage. Kyle Busch went through the infield grass and had minor damage. Harvick and Kurt Busch each had minor fender damage. The crash started when Ryan Blaney got  loose in Turn 4 and bottled up the field as it came down the frontstretch.

“It’s always one of the most humbling sports you can be a part of,” Custer said on NBCSN about being eliminated in the crash a week after winning his first Cup race.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Ryan Blaney

STAGE 2 WINNER: Ryan Blaney

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Richard Childress Racing went 1-2 with Austin Dillon winning and Tyler Reddick finishing second. This was RCR’s first 1-2 finish in a Cup race since 2011 at Talladega Superspeedway when Clint Bowyer won and Jeff Burton was second) … Joey Logano’s third-place finish was his best result since he won at Phoenix in March, the last Cup race before the season was suspended by the COVID-19 pandemic. … Kyle Busch’s fourth-place finish was his best result since his runner-up finish at Atlanta in early June. … Aric Almirola overcame brake problems and a penalty for violating the blend line to finish 10th, marking his seventh consecutive top-10 result.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Cole Custer, who scored his first Cup win last weekend at Kentucky, was collected in the multi-car crash that brought out the red flag after Lap 219 and finished 39th in the 40-car field. … Jimmie Johnson hit the wall and then was penalized two laps for too many crew members servicing the car while it was under the Damaged Vehicle Policy.

NOTABLE: Ryan Blaney led 150 laps. He’s led at least 100 laps in a race seven times in his career but failed to win all seven of those races.

NEXT: The series races Thursday night at Kansas Speedway (coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Busch brothers, Truex, several others in big wreck at Texas

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They do things bigger in Texas and such was the case in a multi-car chain reaction wreck in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Shortly after a restart and Ryan Blaney getting loose, Kurt Busch hit Aric Almirola in the rear on Lap 219 of the scheduled 334-lap Cup race at Texas. Kyle Busch then appeared to be tapped from behind, spinning him into Martin Truex Jr.

Others involved included last week’s race winner at Kentucky Speedway, Cole Custer, as well as Matt Kenseth, William Byron, Bubba Wallace, Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Preece and Chris Buescher. Ty Dillon and Jimmie Johnson also made contact away from the incident after the caution flag fell.

“I mean it’s always one of the most humbling sports you can be a part of — winning last week and part of a wreck this week,” Custer told NBCSN. “I was on the brakes as hard as I could and then the 19, I think, came down from hitting the wall. It’s just one of those things where you couldn’t go anywhere. It felt bad. I thought we were getting our Haas Automation Mustang better as the day went and was trying to keep up with the racetrack, but didn’t really have much to show for it.  I thought we would have ended up pretty good right there.”

The mayhem prompted NASCAR to stop the race with a red flag to clean up the extensive debris. Brad Keselowski is scored as the leader.

The race has resumed.

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All-Star Open: DiBenedetto wins Stage 3, Clint Bowyer wins fan vote

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Matt DiBenedetto led all 15 laps to win the final stage of the All-Star Open and clinch a spot in the All-Star Race.

DiBenedetto beat Clint Bowyer, Austin Dillon, Chris Buescher and Ty Dillon.

DiBenedetto joined William Byron and Aric Almirola in advancing through stage wins. Bowyer was announced as being the winner of the fan vote, advancing him to the All-Star Race.

This is DiBenedetto’s first time to compete in the All-Star Race.

“I was hanging on for dear life,” DiBenedetto told FS1. “We were so loose on entry. I was right on (the) ragged edge. Just thankful to the team for battling back. My gosh, we had big damage there at the start. Had to fix it. … So proud to be driving this thing.”

Click here for the results

Stage 2

Byron led all 35 laps and won Stage 2 of the All-Star Open, locking him into the All-Star Race.

Byron beat DiBenedetto by just over two seconds. The top five was completed by Austin Dillon, Bowyer and Christopher Bell.

Byron was one of two drivers who did not pit in the first two stages, including Ty Dillon.

Byron’s stage win means all four of Hendrick Motorsports’ cars will be in the main event.

Ryan Preece and rookie John Hunter Nemechek made contact and spun in Turn 1 a few laps into the stage. They were able to continue

STAGE 1

Almirola won the first stage of Wednesday night’s All-Star Open, advancing him to the All-Star Race.

Almirola led 25 of the stage’s 35 laps around Bristol Motor Speedway and beat Byron and Ty Dillon.

Michael McDowell, who started first, and Bubba Wallace wrecked with 18 laps to go in the stage. Wallace was trying to pass McDowell going into Turn 3 when McDowell tagged Wallace’s right rear, turning him into the outside wall.

Wallace, who was a favorite to win the fan vote to get into the All-Star Race was eliminated and McDowell continued, though with significant damage.

“Just disrespect when you get hooked into the wall,” Wallace told FS1. “I don’t even need to see a replay. … People say (McDowell’s) one of the nicest guys in the garage. Can’t wait for the God-fearing text he that he’s going to send me about preaching and praising and respect. What a joke he is.”