Kurt Busch

Brad Keselowski will start from the Cup pole position at Bristol

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Team Penske drivers will control the front row of the starting lineup at Bristol Motor Speedway for Saturday night’s first-round finale in the NASCAR Cup playoffs.

Richmond Raceway winner Brad Keselowski will lead the field to the green flag, and teammate Joey Logano, who has notched back to back third-place finishes to open the playoffs, will start second. Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick will form the second row.

Here are the starting positions for the rest of the 16 playoff drivers (in order): Austin Dillon (fifth), Chase Elliott (sixth), Denny Hamlin (seventh), Alex Bowman (eighth), Kyle Busch (ninth), Aric Almirola (10th), Clint Bowyer (11th), Cole Custer (12th), Kurt Busch (13th), Ryan Blaney (14th), William Byron (15th) and Matt DiBenedetto (16th).

STARTING LINEUP: Where everyone will start in the Bass Pro Shops Night Race

BY ROWClick here BY CAR NUMBERClick here

Based on the points and first-round victories, the top 12 drivers will advance to the second round after Saturday. Clint Bowyer currently occupies 12th in the standings with William Byron (trailing Bowyer by three points), Custer (-8), DiBenedetto (-25) and Blaney (-27) in danger of being eliminated.

Keselowski won the May 31 race at Bristol Motor Speedway after starting first at the 0.533-mile oval where he has three career Cup victories.

The No. 2 Ford driver, who will be starting first in a Cup race for the third time this season, was awarded the Busch Pole Award using a formula based on four statistical categories: owner points position, the driver’s finish, team owner’s finish and fastest lap from the most recently completed race.

Since the end of the regular season, playoff cars now fill the top starting positions, according to how many remain eligible for the championship. In the Round of 16, the top 16 starting positions will be playoff cars; in the Round of 12, the top 12 starting positions will be playoff cars, etc..

NASCAR previously had used a random draw to set most of its lineups since returning in May during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which has eliminated practice and qualifying on nearly all race weekends.

Click here for the Bristol Cup starting lineup for Saturday.

NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol 

Race time: 7:30 p.m. ET, Saturday

Track: Bristol Motor Speedway; Bristol, Tennessee (0.533-mile speedway)

Length: 500 laps (266.5 miles)

Stages: Stage 1 ends Lap 125. Stage 2 ends Lap 250.

TV coverage: NBCSN

Radio: Performance Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: NBC Sports app (subscription required); goprn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Next Truck race: Thursday at Bristol (200 laps, 106.6 miles), 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1

Next Xfinity race: Friday at Bristol (300 laps, 159.9 miles), 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Austin Dillon charges to another top-five finish

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Austin Dillon left Richmond excited about scoring back-to-back top-five finishes for the first time in his career. But he also left wondering what could have been.

Dillon finished fourth in Saturday night’s Cup playoff race despite a pit road speeding penalty and missing pit road another time.

“I wish I wouldn’t have had that speeding penalty,” Dillon said of his sixth speeding penalty of the season. “But we overcame that. … What a night for our team. I’ve been pretty confident in this team all year and now it’s starting to show more and more.”

MORE: Brad Keselowski wins playoff race at Richmond

Dillon and Joey Logano are the only drivers to score top-five finishes in each of the first two playoff races.

Dillon was strong throughout the 400-lap race. He had never led a lap in 13 previous Cup races at the track. He led 55 Saturday. It is the most laps the No. 3 car has led in a Cup race since Dale Earnhardt led 58 laps at Charlotte in October 2000.

“Richmond used to be my least favorite track,” Dillon said. “I hated it. I couldn’t do good in it in Xfinity. … I literally hated this place. Now, it is my favorite.”

The Richard Childress Racing driver took the lead from Kevin Harvick on Lap 21 and was near the front until his pit road speeding penalty on Lap 84. Both he and Denny Hamlin, a three-time Richmond winner, were penalized for speeding during their pit stops at the end of stage 1.

While Hamlin struggled to move up through the field, Dillon marched from 29th on Lap 89 to 11th on Lap 125.

Dillon returned to the lead on Lap 182 and held it for 36 circuits until Brad Keselowski, who was on fresher tires, went by. Dillon finished second in Stage 2, matching his result in the first stage.

With those 18 stage points, Dillon scored 51 points for the race. Only Keselowski had more points, scoring 57 with his victory.

Dillon’s point total puts him sixth in the standings. He’s 36 points ahead of William Byron, the first driver outside a transfer spot heading into next weekend’s cutoff race at Bristol.

The only other hiccup for Dillon on Saturday was missing pit road on Lap 335, forcing him to make another trip about the three-quarter mile track before pitting.

“The biggest thing is when we came to pit road for our second green-flag stop in Stage 3, we were trying to bring everybody down,” Dillon said. “The No. 1 car (of Kurt Busch) was in my mirror on (fresher) tires. I overdrove that entry just a little bit thinking that I needed to avoid getting rear-ended, and then it was like ‘Oh no, I’m going to hit the red (commitment line) box’ so I had to make another lap around the track. That cost us three seconds.”

He had a good enough car to finish in the top five and put him a good position to transfer to the second round. He has failed to advance out of the first round the last two times he’s been in the playoffs.

But this year looks to be different.

“I felt our team has really turned the corner the last couple of weeks,” Dillon said. “I felt like Richard Childress Racing as a whole has had speed all year. … We’ve got a really good team.”

What drivers said after Richmond playoff race

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Brad Keselowski – winner: “It was a great race for us and the 2 team. This is, I think my car from Loudon, and I wanted to do a really cool burnout with it, but I want this car for Phoenix. It’s 2-for-2 and I’m real pumped. I don’t want to look too far ahead. We’ve got to get there. The next round is gonna be really difficult, but, still, I’m really pumped about this performance and the way we run at short tracks. I felt like coming in here with the Western Star/Alliance Ford Mustang that we would run well, but this thing was awesome.”

(WHAT KIND OF STATEMENT IS THIS FOR PHOENIX?)  “We’ve got to get there. The last two years I haven’t made it all the way, so we’ve got to get all the way there, but if we can get to Phoenix, we’re gonna be really good.”

Martin Truex Jr. – finished second: “Really was pretty surprised that we ran as good as we did with the way that the car felt. It really wasn’t doing anything that I wanted it to do or that we’ve done here in the past when we’ve been good. Just a battle all night, fought hard and the guys did a great job with adjustments, pit stops and all that to just execute and keep us up front. Good, solid night.”

Joey Logano – finished third: “It was a pretty calm race and we just kind of hung around in the top three the whole time. I felt like our car was pretty good in the beginning of the race. The track kind of tightened up a little bit and we lost a little bit of speed to (Martin Truex Jr.) and (Austin Dillon) a little bit and also, obviously, (Keselowski)  Congrats to those guys.  They were fast today. It just seemed like if we fixed the turn I got loose off, so it seemed like pick your poison a little bit.  It just seemed like we had third to fourth-place speed in our car and we finished third with the Shell/Pennzoil Mustang. We’re doing what we have to do.

We scored stage points and a top five and puts us in a pretty good spot for next weekend. I’m proud of the effort and proud of what we’ve picked up here lately since the playoffs started. We just have to keep it rolling. If we keep getting top fives we’ll get all the way to Phoenix. We just have to keep doing that.”

Austin Dillon – finished fourth: “I feel like I gave one away tonight. Our Dow NORKOOL Chevrolet was so fast. We had a massive day for stage points, which is going to help us out big picture-wise. We had a speeding penalty in Stage 1, and to come from the back to the front in that stage just shows how fast our Chevy was tonight. This No. 3 team is on fire right now and showing up when it matters. I have a line at Richmond, and it has been working for me. I run a little lower on the straightaway, and it gives me good forward drive. I saw some other drivers start picking it up and laying the rubber down on that line. It might have hurt us a little bit at the end of the race, but the biggest thing is when we came to pit road for our second green-flag stop in Stage 3, we were trying to bring everybody down.

“The No. 1 car was in my mirror on tires. I overdrove that entry just a little bit thinking that I needed to avoid getting rear-ended, and then it was like ‘Oh no, I’m going to hit the red box’ so I had to make another lap around the track. That cost us three seconds. It probably killed our deal, but it was still early, so who knows. It was a lot of fun out here tonight, and I think we had the best car tonight.”

Chase Elliott – finished fifth: “First off, we were way better than we’ve been here, probably ever, so I thought that was a big improvement for us. We really needed it here. This has been a really, really tough track for us. I thought we got our NAPA Auto Parts Camaro good, especially through the middle portion. Just got a little behind, I think, as the race went on to roll the center as good as we needed to late in a run. But, we were way, way better than we’ve ever been here I feel like before. And consistently all night, too. I thought that was a pretty big step for us at a track that we’ve really struggled at.”

Kyle Busch – finished sixth: “Kind of same as last night (in the Xfinity race). Just not quite enough turn in the middle of the corner to keep wrapping on the long runs. The short runs it seemed like I was actually a little bit loose and then it was starting to go a little bit tight and then it was tight loose. Just not enough overall grip I guess. Kind of been fighting that a little bit this year. The guys gave a great fight. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) not being here and I thought Jacob (Canter, fill-in crew chief) did a great job. We all know Adam was back at home. … Overall, that’s all we had. We fought hard with our M&M’s Camry and we came up short of a top-five.”

Aric Almirola – finished eighth: “The Smithfield Ford was a handful all night. Everyone kept in it and kept working on it. We got a top-10 finish and it was a good point day. That’s the big thing. Now we need to go to Bristol next weekend, run well and get ourselves into the next round.”

Alex Bowman – finished ninth: “How about that? We ended up top 10 at Richmond. That is like a miracle. We had a really good car and definitely better than a ninth-place car. I made my fair share of mistakes and we had some issues getting on and off pit road. We lost some time there. I am pumped for Truck Hero and CHEVYGOODS.com. It is really weird to be this pumped about running ninth, especially when we had a much better car than ninth. Last time we were here we ran, I think, 24th. This is good momentum for us going into the cutoff race next week in Bristol.”

Clint Bowyer – finished 10th: “We were just off a click. Honestly, I thought we’d come to Richmond and run better than that. We needed to run better than that. Tenth place isn’t gonna cut it when you get in the playoffs. We’re looking for more than that on these short tracks in particular. We’ve still got one more. It’s a lot of fun going to Bristol. Being nervous about something there’s a sense of fun in that. I’m looking forward to next weekend and seeing how it all shakes out. We were good last time there and there’s no reason why we can’t be it again.

Tyler Reddick – finished 11th: “I think Richmond Raceway is one the most challenging tracks on the circuit, but my No. 8 Cat Rental Store team did a great job tonight helping me find my rhythm and build a strong run out there with our Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE. Not having any practice here for my first Cup start, it took me a little bit of time in the first stage to figure out the best way to get around here with the balance I had in our car. My whole team did a good job of analyzing the SMT data available to us in real-time and relaying to my spotter, Derek Kneeland, on what I needed to be doing differently on track to gain spots out there. That data really did help and made a ton of difference in our night. Between that feedback and the changes we made during our pit stops tonight, I was able to become more confident in the car and run harder with each run of the night.”

Denny Hamlin  – finished 12th: “It just seemed like once the track rubbered up, we just weren’t any good. We couldn’t get off the corner good, couldn’t get in the corner. Just nothing was really very good with it. I want to thank everyone from FedEx Cares for putting this car on the race track. This definitely means a lot to people I spoke to last week with the National Urban League, so thank you everyone. We will move on to the next round and go have some fun next week and see how we do.”

Kurt Busch – finished 13th: “Our pit strategy just didn’t turn out the way that we had hoped. We really had to work hard early in the race to manage the tires and an ill-handling car. The guys did a nice job working on the balance, to make the Monster Energy Chevy better on the long runs. With no cautions to help us out we just weren’t able to catch a break that we needed. Who ever thought we would a short track with no unplanned cautions?”

Cole Custer – finished 14th: “It’s just classic Richmond, I guess. You just try and fight and fight all night for that perfect kind of balance and it’s just really hard to find. This track, it’s like you’re on ice out there pretty much, so putting a perfect car together is really hard. We had times where we were pretty good with our HaasTooling.com Mustang and there were times where we were a little off, and it just kind of led to an okay day. I think we’re still eight points out, so it’s not too bad and we can go to Bristol and if we have a good day, we can lock ourselves in, but it’s just gonna be a fight all the way to the end.”

Matt DiBenedetto – finished 17th: “If there is one track to be in a must-win situation that I would choose it would definitely be Bristol. I think we have a good shot at it. It is one that I am excited about and have circled off in this round. I think obviously tonight was a tough one on us. It is tough with no practice. We had to really make a lot of changes on the car on the pit stops. We got it where it needed to be but it took a little while because of no practice. We got it driving decent and then there were just no cautions to get us back on the lead lap and get us in contention to have a decent day which we would have if we got the car right. So, we will go to Bristol and do the best we can.”

Ryan Blaney – finished 19th: “We have to win next weekend. It is pretty plain and simple. With the bad couple of races we have had here to start the playoffs off, we probably need to go out there and win Bristol. That is our mindset. That is our goal. It is our goal every week to win the race but now it is our season on the line. We will see if we can get it done. We have been pretty close at Bristol before, it is just a matter of trying to put a whole race together there.”

William Byron – finished 21st: “It is what it is – we ran horrible tonight and no excuse for that. It was really kind of a slow death the entire race, so we’ll go to Bristol and regroup for that one.”

Michael McDowell – finished 25th: “Well that was a long night at Richmond. We fired off pretty good on the first run and I felt like we were going to have something, but I’m not exactly sure what happened on the second run; we just got really loose and lost a lot of track position for a while before finally getting it back. Without a lot of cautions, there weren’t many opportunities to get bunched back up. It wasn’t the run that we wanted for our No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops / Speedco Ford Mustang, but we stayed close to the guys that we’re racing with in the points and we’ll keep fighting; head to Bristol and try to get a better run in there. Everybody did a good job and worked really hard, we just didn’t quite have it tonight.”

Daniel Suarez – finished 29th: “We need to keep working hard to find speed. Our T-TEN Toyota was loose on entry and exit and tight in the center the first part of the race. We worked to make it better, where it was pretty good on new tires in the first part of the run and really good on old tires the last part of the run. We just struggled during the middle part of those long runs. Like I said, we just need to keep working hard to find more speed. Let’s go to Bristol, where we had one of our best finishes of the season, and try to do even better.”

John Hunter Nemechek – finished 30th: “It was a tough night for our No. 38 team. We had an issue with the steering wheel from the start, and just couldn’t really catch that much of a break throughout the race. We were free for the most part, and just struggled on power. But the great thing about this Front Row Motorsports team is that we never give up. My guys still do everything they can to set us up for a good finish. We have some notes to add to our short track notebook, so we’ll hit the reset button at the shop this week and move on to Bristol.”

Check back for more.

Silly Season Scorecard: New driver for Richard Petty Motorsports in 2021

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After three full-time seasons with the team, Bubba Wallace will not return to Richard Petty Motorsports in 2021, Wallace and the team confirmed Thursday.

Wallace will make nine more starts in the No. 43 Chevrolet this season before moving on to an undisclosed team.

All 103 of Wallace’s Cup starts have come with RPM.

More: Richmond weekend schedule

Here’s how the Cup Silly Season scorecard looks as of Sept. 10

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2021

No. 00: Quin Houff enters the second year of his two-year deal with StarCom Racing.

No. 1: Kurt Busch enters the second year of a multi-year contract that Chip Ganassi Racing announced last season.

No. 2: Brad Keselowski and Team Penske announced a contract extension Aug. 3.

No. 4: Kevin Harvick signed a contract extension in February that will keep him at Stewart-Haas Racing through the 2023 season.

No. 8: Tyler Reddick said Aug. 7 that he will be back with Richard Childress Racing next season.

No. 9: Chase Elliott is under contract with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2022 season.

No. 10: Aric Almirola extends deal with Stewart-Haas Racing for 2021 season.

No. 11: Denny Hamlin is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 12: Ryan Blaney and Team Penske announced a multi-year extension earlier this season.

No. 18: Kyle Busch is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 19: Martin Truex Jr. is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 20: Christopher Bell moves from Leavine Family Racing to take over this ride in 2021.

No. 22: Joey Logano is tied to Team Penske “through the 2022 season and beyond.”

No. 24: William Byron is under contact with Hendrick Motorsports through 2022.

No. 47: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. enters the second year of a multi-year deal with JTG Daugherty Racing.

No. 88: Alex Bowman will race for Hendrick Motorsports under a one-year contract extension announced earlier this year.

 

Available/possibly available rides

No. 13: Ty Dillon is in a contract year at Germain Racing. The team is considering putting itself up for sell.

No. 14: Clint Bowyer is in a contract year to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto is in a contract year at Wood Brothers Racing. He said Sept. 10: “When I came to the team, everyone expressed that they wanted this to be a long-term relationship that we build for a long time to come, that my contract was a long-time opportunity, obviously those options have to be picked up by the team side. We haven’t really talked about it much. I want to stick around here and call this home for a long time to come. Hopefully, find out here soon.”

No. 32: Ride is open with Corey LaJoie announcing he will not return to Go Fas Racing in 2021.

No. 42: Matt Kenseth told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Sept. 8 that it was “more than likely” he would not be racing again next year.

No. 43: Bubba Wallace will not return to Richard Petty Motorsports in 2021, the team confirmed on Sept. 10.

No. 48: With Jimmie Johnson retiring from full-time competition, Hendrick Motorsports has this seat to fill.

No. 95: Spire Motorsports purchased the charter and assets of Leavine Family Racing and will be a two-car operation in 2021. Christopher Bell will move to the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team for 2021. Spire has not named who will take over this ride for next season.

No. 96: Daniel Suarez and Gaunt Brothers Racing announced Sept. 15 that they would part ways after this season.

Richmond playoff race holds many questions for drivers

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Saturday’s Cup race at Richmond is a bit of a mystery for teams. That it comes at a pivotal time in the playoffs adds to the pressure for those that had poor results last weekend.

NASCAR has yet to race at Richmond Raceway this season because the COVID-19 pandemic moved the spring race to Darlington. This will be the first time teams will race at Richmond with the low-downforce package introduced this season for short tracks and road courses.

As the middle race in the opening playoff round, what happens Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) could have an impact on who advances after the Sept. 19 race at Bristol.

Here’s a look at how the title contenders enter the Richmond playoff race:

WORK TO DO

Matt DiBenedetto (-17 points to the cutline)

Ryan Blaney (-17)

Both need a good race at Richmond.

The problem for Blaney is that he hasn’t had one. He’s never finished in the top 15 there in eight career starts. His average finish at Richmond is 25.5.

Richmond is one where maybe we haven’t been so great, so we’ve our work cut out for us,” said Travis Geisler, competition director at Team Penske.

DiBenedetto finished a career-high 14th at Richmond last fall. He enters Saturday’s race with no finish better than 12th in the last five races.

TRANSFER SPOT BATTLE

Cole Custer (-3 points to the cutline)

Clint Bowyer (0 points)

Aric Almirola (holds last transfer spot)

Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer enter Richmond tied for the last playoff spot. The playoff tiebreaker is best result in the round. Almirola owns the tiebreaker based on his ninth-place finish last weekend at Darlington (Bowyer was 10th).

Bowyer goes to Richmond without crew chief Johnny Klausmeier. NASCAR suspended him for this race because Bowyer’s car had two lug nuts not safe and secure after the Southern 500. Former championship winning crew chief Greg Zipadelli, vice president of competition at Stewart-Haas Racing, will serve as Bowyer’s crew chief at Richmond.

Bowyer has four consecutive top 10s at Richmond. Almirola has one top 10 in his last five starts there.

“I love the challenge of (Richmond), but we’ve got to hit it,” Bowyer said. “We’ve been so-so on the short tracks. That’s certainly one of my best tracks, so we’ve got to nail the setup. If we can do that, we’ll get us a good run and go a long ways to getting into Bristol where we need to be.”

NOT SAFE

Austin Dillon (+10 above the cutline)

William Byron (+9)

Kyle Busch (+7)

Kurt Busch (+4)

Could Kyle Busch’s winless season end this weekend? He has six victories at Richmond, most among active drivers. Also, Joe Gibbs Racing’s 16 Richmond wins are its most at any track. JGR drivers have won the past four races at Richmond — Martin Truex Jr. swept last year’s races and Busch swept the 2019 races. If Busch wins, he’ll do so without crew chief Adam Stevens, who has been suspended one race because of a lug nut violation at Darlington. 

Byron is intriguing. He scored his first top-five finish of the season at Dover last month. He followed that with a win at Daytona and a fifth-place finish last weekend at Darlington. But Byron does not have a top 10 at Richmond in four starts. Hendrick Motorsports’ last win at Richmond was in September 2008.

Dillon carries momentum after his runner-up finish at Darlington. He’s placed in the top 10 in two of the last three Richmond races.

“Richmond is what I have circled as my best track in the playoffs I feel, and I wouldn’t have been able to say that a couple years back,” Dillon said.

Crew chief Matt McCall’s strategy helped Kurt Busch score six points in the first stage at Darlington by not pitting when the field did. He might need more help Saturday. Kurt Busch has not had a top 10 in his last four Richmond starts.

TOGETHER AGAIN

Martin Truex Jr. (+16)

Chase Elliott (+12)

The two antagonists in the late-race drama at Darlington aren’t safe should they have problems at Richmond.

Last year, Truex was the safe bet. He won both races, leading 295 of 800 laps in those races. He’s won four of the last six short track races, including a win at Martinsville this year.

Elliott did not finish better than 13th in the either Richmond race last year.

BREATHING ROOM

Joey Logano (+27)

Brad Keselowski (+22)

Alex Bowman (+19)

Logano’s third-place finish at Darlington put eight drivers between him and the final transfer spot. The same tire that is used this weekend at Richmond also is used at New Hampshire and Phoenix, site of the championship race. Logano won at Phoenix in the spring and finished fourth at New Hampshire.

Keselowski recovered from an early incident at Darlington to finish 11th. He has four consecutive top-10 finishes at Richmond. He’s finished no worse than 11th in his last nine Richmond starts.

Bowman placed sixth at Darlington. He scored 43 points, including 12 stage points. Only winner Kevin Harvick scored more points at Darlington. Bowman’s fortune at Richmond, though, hasn’t been good. He’s never finished better than 12th in eight starts there.

FOCUSED ON WINS

Denny Hamlin (+54)

Kevin Harvick  (advanced to second round)

These two have combined for 14 wins in 27 races this season and they are looking for more.

Harvick, who starts on the pole Saturday, already is in the second round with his Darlington win. Hamlin’s playoff points should put him into the round provided he doesn’t have any major problems.

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