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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.

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.

NASCAR America at 6 p.m. ET: How Las Vegas impacts the championship

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Today’s NASCAR America airs from 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN, with a look back at the chaotic playoff opener at Las Vegas.

Carolyn Manno and Kyle Petty will be joined by Steve Letarte from Jeff Burton‘s garage.

  • The Monster Energy Series playoffs got underway Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and for the third consecutive week, Brad Keselowski drove his way to victory lane. The win not only secured a spot in the Round of 12 for Keselowski, it also gave team owner Roger Penske his 500th major motorsports victory.
  • Sunday’s race also had several playoff drivers – including championship favorite Kevin Harvick – involved in accidents. We’ll see how those affected the playoff leaderboard as the series heads to Richmond this weekend.
  • Plus, we’ll revisit Saturday’s Xfinity Series race where Ross Chastain gambled on himself and drove to victory lane for the very first time in his NASCAR career. What does this win mean for his future?
  • And, we’ll recap Sunday’s IndyCar Series finale at Sonoma Raceway, where Scott Dixon added to his legend by claiming his fifth championship.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Six drivers earn season-best finishes at Las Vegas

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Racing is a zero sum game. For one driver to succeed, another must fail.

The opposite is also true. When one driver fails, it creates an opportunity for another to succeed.

Heavy attrition in the South Point 400 at Las Vegas last week opened to door for six drivers to score season-best results.

12th – Regan Smith: In his second start in relief for Kasey Kahne, Smith earned his 30th career top 15 in his 215th Cup start. This was his best finish since finishing third at Pocono in 2016 (19 races for the part-time driver).

16th – Corey LaJoie: This was the second time this season LaJoie finished on the lead lap. He also went the full distance at Michigan in June’s rain-shortened race and finished 27th.

17th – JJ Yeley: He scored another top 20 (18th) earlier in the year at Daytona in the Coke Zero 400. This was Yeley’s best finish on a non-restrictor plate track since he finished third at New Hampshire in June 2008.

18th – Landon Cassill: In 20 starts in 2018, this is Cassill’s first time to finish on the lead lap. His previous best finish this year was a 20th at Bristol in April.

26th – Kyle Weatherman: In six Cup starts, this is Weatherman’s first top-30 finish. He came close to cracking the top 30 in his last two starts, however, with 31st-place results at Pocono and New Hampshire.

28th – BJ McLeod: This is McLeod’s best career finish in 20 Cup starts. It comes on the heels of another top-30 finish the previous week at Indy (30th).

Two other drivers earned their second-best finish of 2018.

Playoff contender Aric Almirola took full advantage of problems for his championship rivals and finished sixth – moving up to ninth in the standings from 14th. His best finish this year was third at New Hampshire in July.

Coming off his first career Xfinity win, Ross Chastain finished 20th at Las Vegas. His best Cup finish of 2018 was an 18th at Texas – another race with heavy attrition.

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Long: Ross Chastain’s win ‘gives all the little guys hope’

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LAS VEGAS — Garrett Smithley walked out of Victory Lane with a smile on his face.

On a day when he wrecked in qualifying and finished 18th in a backup car, he couldn’t contain his excitement for Ross Chastain, typically his teammate at JD Motorsports but not on this day.

Saturday’s Xfinity race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was one of three races this season that Chastain will run in Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 Chevrolet — a car with more funding and resources than Chastain’s regular ride.

Chastain scored a dominating win.  

Garrett Smithley hugs Ross Chastain in Victory Lane after Chastain won the Xfinity race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Photo: Dustin Long

“It gives all the little guys hope,” Smithley said of Chastain’s victory.

As if it to make sure that Chastain’s win was real and the embrace they shared in Victory Lane was not imaginary, Smithley said it again.

“It gives all the little guys hope.”

Money is king in NASCAR and the owners with it are the kingmakers.

For those without money, everything is harder. There are fewer resources to develop new parts and make cars faster. Instead, such teams rely on less reliable parts, tape measures instead of laser measurements and hand-written notebooks instead of computer simulation programs. It’s a gap that rarely can be closed.

Facing such obstacles, teams are left only with hope. It’s why crew members get up at 5 a.m. to head to the shop and why they might not leave until midnight trying to repair a car from the last race and get it ready for the next one. Instead of flying to the upcoming race like many teams, it often means long drives through the night with little sleep before the garage opens the next morning and the race for speed resumes.

For such teams, the race for 25th can be as meaningful as the race for the lead to bigger teams.

Ryan Preece knows both worlds. He drove for JD Motorsports in 2016 and had one top-10 finish for the underfunded team.

Nobody noticed him.

So he took the sponsorship money he had and went to Joe Gibbs Racing to run two races (that later became four) instead of 33.

Ryan Preece celebrates his first career Xfinity race in 2017 at Iowa Speedway. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

Preece won in his second race with Gibbs. He’s won again with the team this year. Although he says he’s focused on the remaining races with Gibbs, his gamble will likely lead to a full-time ride next season in the sport. 

Preece isn’t alone in believing less is more. Alex Bowman lost his Cup ride before the 2016 season. With no rides left, he signed to run select races with JR Motorsports that year and also served as the test driver for Hendrick Motorsports’ simulator program. That put him in position to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. after Earnhardt had to sit out the second half of that season because of symptoms from a concussion. Bowman went on to take over the No. 88 when Earnhardt retired after last season and is in the Cup playoffs.

Those moves did not unnoticed.

Matt DiBenedetto, who also had to start and park early in his career and has run for a variety of small-budget teams, announced recently that he would leave his full-time Cup ride with Go Fas Racing after this season and bet on himself like Preece did.

“I paid a whole lot of attention to those guys and what they did,” DiBenedetto told NBC Sports of Preece and Bowman. “They were a big driving force in me making this decision.”

Matt DiBenedetto hopes to be the next to follow in the success of Ryan Preece and Ross Chastain to attain a more competitive ride. (Photo: Getty Images)

DiBenedetto said he decided to follow the model Preece tried after “seeing other guys get just barely bumped above me on those lists (for rides). That was the push I needed to make this bold and risky decision.”

For Chastain, the risk was low. Jeff Carpoff, president and CEO of DC Solar, which sponsors the No. 42 Xfinity car, approached Chastain earlier this year at Auto Club Speedway as Chastain walked with helmet in hand from his Xfinity car to the Cup garage. The brief conversation led to further talk by Carpoff of putting Chastain in the No. 42 Xfinity Ganassi car at some point this season.

Chastain revealed Saturday that he’s not getting paid for these three races — he also ran the car at Darlington and makes his last start in it next week at Richmond.

“I get laughed at from inside the garage,” Chastain said of his no-money deal for these three races. “We literally bet on ourselves that we wouldn’t make any money now, but it would pay off.”

Chastain had to hold off Justin Allgaier, the regular-season champion, in a spirited duel that included contact and had Allgaier ranting on the radio at the time. Allgaier later attributed his anger to being in the moment.

But when Chastain pulled away from the field on the final restart and it became clear he would score his first career Xfinity win — in his 132nd series start — he just wanted to enjoy the moment.

Ross Chastain in Victory Lane. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

He didn’t yell or scream on the radio. He put his head down, punched the steering wheel and stayed silent.

“They were all congratulating (me) on the radio,” Chastain said of the team. “I just wanted to listen and hear it.”

It was a sound he could not have imagined when he was starting and parking early in his career because there wasn’t the money to run a full race.

“That’s not the ideal way,” Chastain said. “I wouldn’t recommend that because it’s tough, and it’s very trying. A lot of phone calls (with family) late at night. We didn’t know it was going to get better, but they kept telling me that.”

Back then, he only had hope.

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