Bobby Labonte

Stage is set for Cup teams in race for points

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With 10 races left in the Cup regular season, the push for stage points is starting to play a key role in strategy and the results are showing in the standings.

Austin Dillon holds what would be the 16th and final playoff heading into Sunday’s race at Kentucky Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on FS1). But as Matt Kenseth nearly showed last weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a victory by a driver outside the top 16 will take a playoff spot away from one hoping to make it by points.

Teams also are mindful that the regular season finale will be at Daytona International Speedway, which could lead to a surprise winner. Three of the last five Cup points races at Daytona saw a driver score either their first or second career Cup win: Dillon, Erik Jones and Justin Haley.

Teams already are trying different strategies to get away from 16th in the standings or climb into a potential playoff spot.

Matt DiBenedetto entered the Pocono doubleheader weekend 15th in the standings. Focusing on stage results, he scored 17 stage points in the two races that weekend and added 11 stage points last weekend at Indy.

Stage points can just make such a huge difference, especially this point in the year when the point stuff is really starting to settle out a little bit,” DiBenedetto said after the Pocono weekend. “People are settling in place, so you’ve got to take everything you can get because that makes a big difference as far as securing a solid spot in the playoffs.”

Those 28 stage points he’s earned the past three races helped DiBenedetto climb to 12th in the standings heading to Kentucky. He’s scored 26 more stage points than Clint Bowyer the past three races. That 26-point advantage helped put DiBenedetto three points ahead of Bowyer in standings.

William Byron‘s stage win at Indy proved key in helping him climb the points standings. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

William Byron won the first stage last weekend at Indy and collected 10 stage points (and one playoff point) after crew chief Chad Knaus had Byron stay on track under caution when most of the leaders did pit with eight laps left in the stage. Byron restarted in the lead and held that position for the final four laps of the stage under green.

Those 10 points helped Byron pass Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson for 14th in the standings. Byron leads Johnson, who sat out Indy because he had tested positive for COVID-19, by two points. Johnson has since had two negative tests for the coronavirus and been reinstated for this weekend.

Another driver who has benefitted from a strategy focused on stage points is Dillon. He’s scored 18 stage points the past three races to nine stage points by Jones. Dillon holds what would be the final playoff spot by six points on Jones.

2. Will this be Kyle Busch’s weekend?

The reigning series champion has one win in the last 38 races but heads to a Kentucky Speedway that has been good to him, even though Kurt Busch nipped his younger brother for the win in last year’s race.

Kyle Busch has two wins in nine starts at Kentucky and leads all drivers in top-five finishes (seven), top-10 finishes (eight) and laps led (621) at the track.

Busch’s lone victory in the last 38 races came in last year’s championship race in Miami. In that same span, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates have combined to win 14 races.

Also during that 38-race stretch, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick have combined to win 16 races (42.1%). Each has eight wins in that time.

3. Speeding on pit road

Here’s a look at the number of pit road speeding penalties drivers have had in the first 16 races of the Cup season:

6 – Quin Houff

5 – Ryan Newman, Bubba Wallace

4 – Corey LaJoie, Garrett Smithley, Daniel Suarez

3 – Ty Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., JJ Yeley,

2 – Christopher Bell, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Matt DiBenedetto, Austin Dillon, Denny Hamlin, Timmy Hill, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Michael McDowell, Brennan Poole, Ryan Preece.

1 – Chris Buescher, William Byron, Chase Elliott, Joey Gase, Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth, John Hunter Nemechek, Tyler Reddick,

0 – Aric Almirola, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Cole Custer, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr.

4. Streakin’

With Jimmie Johnson missing last weekend’s race at Indianapolis after testing positive for COVID-19, his consecutive starts streak ended at 663, ranking fifth on the all-time list. Johnson has since been cleared to race this weekend at Kentucky Speedway.

Kevin Harvick ranks sixth on the list of longest consecutive starts streak with 656 consecutive starts heading into Sunday’s race at Kentucky Speedway.

Here is the top 6 in longest consecutive streaks:

797 — Jeff Gordon

788 — Ricky Rudd

704 — Bobby Labonte

697 — Rusty Wallace

663 — Jimmie Johnson

656 — Kevin Harvick

5. More of the same for Chevy teams?

Chevrolet teams are winless in their last eight Cup races and the manufacturer has one win in nine races at Kentucky. That victory came last year with Kurt Busch beating Kyle Busch at the finish.

Since Chase Elliott won the second Charlotte race in late May, Chevy drivers have not won. Elliott finished second in Miami, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was second at Talladega and Matt Kenseth was second at Indianapolis.

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Kurt Busch to make 700th career Cup start

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Former champion Kurt Busch will make his 700th career Cup start today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (4 p.m. ET on NBC and the NBC Sports App).

Busch becomes only the 16th driver to amass at least 700 career Cup starts. Richard Petty owns the series record with 1,185 starts.

Busch, who starts second today at Indy, has the most career starts among active drivers. He has two more starts than Kevin Harvick, who is scheduled to make his 700th career Cup start July 19 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Busch made his first career Cup start Sept. 24, 2000 at Dover, finishing 18th.

He has 31 career victories, including the 2017 Daytona 500. Busch won the 2004 Cup title. He has 307 career top-10 finishes.

The 41-year-old marvels at making his 700th career Cup start today.

“It’s amazing,” Busch said. “To have this opportunity and to have been blessed to have raced with so many great race teams over the years, just making it past the local track was something that I thought was an achievement because my dad was a local racer. He won a lot. But it was like money, sponsors, and the whole challenge of even getting to like the Southwest Tour and Late Model division, that was even tough for us way back in the past.

“So, it’s amazing. Twenty years of racing at the top series level and now having 700 starts, I never would have guessed.”

Busch is 10th in points entering today’s race. He has yet to win his year but has three top-five finishes and nine top-10 results in 15 starts for Chip Ganassi Racing.

MOST CAREER CUP STARTS

1,185 – Richard Petty

906 – Ricky Rudd

890 – Terry Labonte

883 – Dave Marcis

882 – Mark Martin

829 – Kyle Petty

828 – Bill Elliott

809 – Darrell Waltrip

805 – Jeff Gordon

784 – Michael Waltrip

763 – Ken Schrader

748 – Sterling Marlin

729 – Bobby Labonte

706 – Rusty Wallace

700 – Kurt Busch

May 8 in NASCAR: Matt Kenseth gets Darlington Xfinity win after Kyle Busch cuts tire

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It was Kyle Busch‘s race to lose and he lost it under caution.

On May 8, 2009, Busch dominated the Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway, starting from the pole and leading 143 laps.

But Busch’s chances at a victory ended in a whimper.

Busch led when the caution came out on Lap 147 of 153 for a wreck between Joe Nemechek and Scott Lagasse, Jr.

As the field slowly made its way around the 1.366-mile track, Busch’s No. 18 car drove through debris from the wreck on the backstretch.

The team soon realized Busch’s right-rear tire was going down.

After a few more circuits of the track, Busch was forced to bring his car to pit road. That gave Matt Kenseth the lead as Busch returned to the track in 18th.

Kenseth wouldn’t have to worry about keeping the lead very long. Moments after the field took the green flag as part of a green-white-checkered finish, Morgan Shepherd crashed into the inside wall on the frontstretch, bringing out the caution and effectively ending the race.

It gave Kenseth the win, his only Xfinity victory in 15 starts in 2009.

Also on this date:

1955: Tim Flock completed a marathon of running in two races in two states on back-to-back days. After finishing second in a 100-mile race at Hickory (N.C.) Speedway, Flock took the private plane of team owner Carl Kiekhaefer and flew to Arizona. At Fairgrounds Raceway in Phoenix, Flock started second and led all 100 laps on the 1-mile dirt track to claim the win over Marvin Panch. According to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Beginning,” Panch was able to compete in the race due to receiving a weekend pass from the U.S. Army. After competing in the following weekend’s race in Tucson, he wouldn’t race again until July.

1976: Cale Yarborough led all but 22 laps to win the Music City 420 at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville. An 18-year-old Sterling Marlin made his first of 748 Cup Series starts. He started last and fell out after 55 laps due to an oil pump failure.

1982: Darrell Waltrip led all but one of 420 laps to win at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville. It was his fifth win in the first 10 races.

1993: Ward Burton led 227 of 300 laps to beat Bobby Labonte in a Xfinity Series race at Martinsville. It was his only national NASCAR victory in his home state of Virginia.

2004: Martin Truex Jr. led 123 laps and won the Xfinity Series race at Gateway International Raceway. He was joined by two other “Juniors” in the top five. Ron Hornaday Jr. placed second and Bobby Hamilton Jr. finished fourth.

 

Entry lists for NASCAR iRacing events at North Wilkesboro, Martinsville

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With NASCAR scheduled to return on May 17 at Darlington Raceway, the planned conclusion of NASCAR’s iRacing season will take place this week, with events held on a virtual North Wilkesboro Speedway and Martinsville Speedway.

The planned finale of the eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series will occur at 3 p.m. ET Saturday at North Wilkesboro on Fox and FS1.

Among the initial 28 entries is Jeff Gordon, who won the final Cup Series race there in 1996. Not among the entered drivers is William Byron, who has won three of the six Invitational races so far. Also, Matt DiBenedetto has been replaced in the No. 21 car by Jon Wood, the member of the Wood family who once competed in the Xfinity and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series.

Gordon will be joined in the race by fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Labonte. They are the only two entries in the race who competed in Cup races on the real North Wilkesboro.

Martin Truex Jr. is also entered in his first Invitational race.

According to NASCAR.com, the race will be 160 laps. Drivers will get one reset. There will be manual cautions and a maximum of three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish. Christopher Bell and Timmy Hill, who finished second and third at Dover, will start from the rear. The top 10 qualifiers will be inverted to start the event.

Invited Race Entries (Subject to change)
#3 Austin Dillon
#4 Kevin Harvick
#6 Ross Chastain
#8 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
#10 Aric Almirola
#11 Denny Hamlin
#13 Ty Dillon
#14 Clint Bowyer
#17 Chris Buescher
#18 Kyle Busch
#19 Martin Truex Jr.
#20 Erik Jones
#21 Jon Wood
#24 Jeff Gordon
#31 Tyler Reddick
#34 Michael McDowell
#37 Ryan Preece
#38 John Hunter Nemechek
#41 Cole Custer
#49 Chad Finchum
#51 Garrett Smithley
#52 JJ Yeley
#53 Joey Gase
#66 Timmy Hill
#77 Parker Kligerman
#89 Landon Cassill
#95 Christopher Bell
#TBD Bobby Labonte

Friday Night Thunder

Like the Pro Invitational Series, this weekend sees the scheduled conclusion of the iRacing series dedicated to non-Cup drivers with a race at a virtual Martinsville Speedway at 8 p.m. ET Friday on eNASCAR.com/live.

The series is open to drivers from the Xfinity, Gander RV & Outdoors Truck, NASCAR Peak Mexico, Pinty’s, Whelen Euro and ARCA series.

The virtual race will be conducted under the lights and will be 125 laps.

The format: Single-car qualifying will set the grid for four, 10-lap heat races to determine 24 spots in the feature. A 15-lap last-chance qualifier race will determine six spots in the feature for a total of 30 cars.

The order of the first 10 cars in the feature will be inverted before the green flag. There will be one reset, manual cautions and three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish.

Entry list is subject to change

Alex Labbe

90

Angela Ruch

OO

Anthony Alfredo

33

Austin Cindric

22

Bayley Currey

74

Brandon Brown

68

Brett Moffitt

23

Chase Briscoe

98

Chase Cabre

4

Christian Eckes

81

CJ McLaughlin

39

Derek Kraus

19

Donny Lia

O7

Drew Dollar

O15

Drew Herring

3

Grant Enfinger

O98

Harrison Burton

20

Jeb Burton

8

Jeffrey Earnhardt

50

Jesse Iwuji

36

Joe Graf Jr.

80

Josh Berry

88

Josh Bilicki

99

Justin Allgaier

7

Kaz Grala

29

Kyle Weatherman

54

Landon Huffman

75

Logan Seavey

67

Matt Mills

5

Myatt Snider

93

Noah Gragson

9

Ruben Garcia

27

Ryan Ellis

78

Ryan Truex

40

Ryan Vargas

51

Scott Stenzel

63

Spencer Boyd

0 2

Stephen Leicht

25

Stewart Friesen

52

Thad Moffitt

46

Todd Gilliland

38

Ty Majeski

45

Ty Gibbs

18

Will Rodgers

55

Stefan Parsons

83

April 28 in NASCAR: Jimmie Johnson earns first Cup win

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It did not take long for Jimmie Johnson to leave his mark on the NASCAR Cup Series.

Only 13 starts into his career, Johnson and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team were winners.

The victory occurred on April 28, 2002 at Johnson’s home track of Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

Johnson started fourth and would lead 62 of the race’s 250 laps. He took the lead for the final time on a restart with 14 laps to go when he passed Bill Elliott. That was after a pit stop where crew chief Chad Knaus elected to take fuel only as other teams changed two tires.

Johnson would hold off Kurt Busch over the final three laps to take the checkered flag.

“This is unbelievable,” Johnson told Fox in Victory Lane. “This is awesome to do in California in front of my hometown. … It’s going to sink in as the days come, right now it’s just cool.”

Johnson was quickly joined in the celebration by teammate and co-owner of the No. 48 team, Jeff Gordon.

“Guess we hired the right guy!” Gordon declared.

Johnson’s victory was the fifth by a rookie driver since 1999, following Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick. Ryan Newman would join that list later that year.

Johnson went on to win two more times in 2002. He has accumulated 83 wins and seven championships during his career. In late 2019, he announced 2020 would be his final full-time Cup season.

Also on this date:

1957: Art Watts started from the pole and led all 100 laps on his way to winning a Grand National race at Portland (Oregon) Speedway. The win was his only victory in 19 career starts. Watts made five starts in 1957 and started from the pole in each race.

1974: Cale Yarborough led 421 of 450 laps to win at Martinsville (the race was shortened by 50 laps due to an energy crisis). Richard Petty finished second despite having to pit 13 times during the race, including once under green for a flat tire, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Modern Era.” Bobby Allison finished third four laps behind Yarborough and Petty.

1990: Chuck Bown led all 200 laps from the pole to win a Xfinity Series race at Lanier Speedway in Gainesville, Georgia.

1996: Sterling Marlin won at Talladega in a Cup race that saw Bill Elliott break a leg in a wreck where his No. 94 Ford went airborne on the backstretch. Later, Ricky Craven’s No. 41 Chevrolet tumbled into the Turn 1 catchfence in a large multi-car wreck. Elliott would sit out until July Daytona race. Craven qualified third the following week at Sonoma, but was relieved by Ron Hornaday Jr.

2007: With a last-lap pass of former teammate Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte won the Xfinity Series race at Talladega to score his final NASCAR national series win.