2018 Playoffs

NASCAR America: Kyle Busch could repeat Martinsville performance

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Martinsville is the first race of the Round of 8 and is the first opportunity drivers have to lock into the Championship 4 at Homestead.

Widely touted as the Big 3, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. dominated victory lane until the summer race at Daytona. Since then, 10 of the last 15 races have been won one of the other drivers in the field.

No one knows what will happen during the next three races. If playoff contenders other than the Big 3 win all three races – like they have done five times in six playoff races – points will determine the one dominator to make it to Homestead with a shot at the championship.

On Friday’s edition of NASCAR America, the analysts evaluated Busch’s changes to win this week.

Busch has two wins and no result worse than fifth in his last six Martinsville races.

“This race track doesn’t change like other race tracks do,” Jeff Burton said. “The aerodynamic advances that other teams have made, there not going to work for you here. … I would fully expect the people who ran well here in the spring to come here and run well – unless a particular team … Hendrick Motorsports could bring four really fast cars here because they hit something.”

For more, watch the video above.

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NASCAR America: Kurt Busch advances at Kansas, but ‘there’s something building up’

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Kurt Busch had a solid run going at Kansas last week until a mistake in the pits derailed his effort. He finished 18th, which is the fourth time in six playoff races this season that he was outside the top 10.

Busch advanced to Round of 8, but the NASCAR America analysts do not give him great odds to advance to the Championship 4.

“I think this is going to be tough for Kurt Busch, honestly,” Dale Jarrett said. “With the assumption that he is moving on from this (team). The way they’ve performed at Kansas the other day. I didn’t see what I wanted to see when they were put in that position.”

The position Busch was in was this: He lost a lap after incurring a Lap 121 penalty for an uncontrolled tire during a green flag stop in the middle of Stage 2. The race continued green until the end of the stage and Busch was not able to race into the free pass position. No other caution flags waved. Busch ended the day the last car one lap down to the leaders.

Kyle Petty believes pressure is growing between the driver and team.

“There’s something building up there,” Petty said. “Somebody’s going to pull the pin before too much longer and there’s going to be an explosion inside that helmet.”

For more, watch the video above.

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NASCAR America: Dramatic elimination races

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Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman enter the Hollywood Casino 400 below the cutoff line by significant amounts.

Keselowski is in the best shape with an 18-point disadvantage to Martin Truex Jr. who sits on the bubble. Considering that Truex has finished first or second in the last three Kansas races, it still is not an enviable position.

Each team outside of the Top 8 feels that it is in a must-win situation unless something catastrophic happens to the competition.

As NASCAR America detailed in Wednesday’s edition, it is not the first time a driver has had to pull out a last-minute victory to advance to the next round of the playoffs.

Keselowski was in this situation in 2014 at Talladega.

“I don’t want to talk about this one,” Steve Letarte said. “Because it was a must-win for me and Dale Jr. as well and he was in victory lane, which meant we were on the hauler eliminated.”

In the next round, Kevin Harvick was in a similar situation after suffering a couple of bad races early in Round 3. He dominated the field and won at Phoenix – and then went on to win the championship the next week in Homestead.

Harvick’s record at Phoenix made that win unsurprising, but the next year he found himself in trouble again entering Dover. Once more, he won and advance.

For more dramatic clutch wins in elimination races, watch the video above.

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NASCAR America: Team Penske dominates Talladega

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Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski have combined to win six of the last eight races at Talladega Superspeedway, which puts them in the minority of playoff contenders who might actually be looking forward to this week’s race there (2 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC).

Logano enters the weekend fourth in standings, 31 points above the cutoff line. Keselowski is 21 points above the bubble.

Team Penske’s streak kicked off in 2014 when Keselowski was in a must-win situation entering the fall Talladega race. Since then, he’s won twice more (spring 2016 and fall 2017).

Logano won in fall 2015 and 2016 as well as this spring.

What is the key to their success? According to Kyle Petty, it’s simple.

“They have Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, two of arguably the best restrictor-plate drivers that are out there,” Petty said. “They know how to control the race. … Once you get them to first or second position, they understand how to slow down that outside line, speed up that inside line – or speed up that outside line and slow down that inside line. And they just take control of the race.”

For their success, however, it is rare for them to both finish well in the same race.

In the last eight races, Logano and Keselowski have both scored top 10s only twice. On three occasions when one of them won, the other finished 25th or worse.

For more, watch the video above.

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NASCAR America: Pit road woes a familiar refrain for No. 4 team

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Kevin Harvick continues to be plagued by pit road problems. Last week on Lap 321 of the Gander Outdoors 400 at Dover International Speedway, a lug nut knocked a valve stem off his tire during a green-flag stop, forcing the No. 4 back into the pits on the following lap. He lost a lap to the leaders in the process.

It was an instance of bad luck, but it underscores a problem the driver and team have had before.

“All of these issues that we talk about and have for four years now is always things happening in the pits,” Dale Jarrett said on Tuesday’s NASCAR America. “The pit crew makes mistakes, they make a call, they have things like lug nuts flying off and hitting a valve stem. … With the level of competition and as these rounds move forward, you can’t have these types of mistakes and expect to win the championship.”

Stewart-Haas Racing has made substantial changes to the pit crew since Harvick won his first – and so far only – championship in 2014. Only two members (Mike Morneau and Justin White) who went over the wall that year remain with the team. Still, the problems persist.

“What they do … and what constantly amazes me … is they dominate a race, they let it slip away, but they come back and get something out of it,” Kyle Petty said.

On Sunday, Harvick got back on the lead lap when an axle came out of Ross Chastain’s car on Lap 339. The race restarted on Lap 349 and in the final 55 laps, Harvick was able to climb back to sixth as the checkers waved.

For more, watch the video above.

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