NASCAR issued four fines and one suspension for lug nut violations during its championship weekend in Miami.
Mike Wheeler, crew crew chief on Matt DiBenedetto‘s No. 95 Toyota, was fined $10,000 for one unsecured lug nut.
Mike Shiplett, crew chief on Cole Custer‘s No. 00 Ford, was fined $5,000 for an unsecured lug nut.
Steve Lane, the owner of On Point Motorsports and crew chief on Danny Bohn‘s No. 30 Toyota, was fined $5,000 and suspended one points race for two unsecured lug nuts. The No. 30 truck competed part-time this season and made 16 starts. The team told NBC Sports it will not appeal the penalty.
Trip Bruce III, crew chief on Stewart Friesen‘s No. 52 Chevrolet, was fined $2,500 for one unsecured lug nut.
NASCAR issued an indefinite suspension to Jeffrey Schmidt for violating its substance abuse policy.
For Truex, Busch and Harvick, they have a chance to join Jimmie Johnson as the only active drivers with multiple titles. One of them would become the 16th Cup driver to win multiple championships.
For Hamlin, he could finally lose his title of the winningest active driver without a championship on his record.
This will be the last scheduled championship weekend in Miami after it has hosted the event since 2002. Next year it will move to ISM Raceway near Phoenix.
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Here’s a guide to the final weekend of the NASCAR season:
FUN WITH NUMBERS
The Championship 4 is three against one on multiple levels.
As mentioned, it will feature three past champions going against Hamlin, who will try to win his first title in his 14th year of full-time Cup competition. In his only other Championship 4 appearance in 2014, Hamlin finished third.
Three Toyotas from Joe Gibbs Racing will be pitted against one Ford, Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 4 driven by Harvick.
“(We need to) beat three Gibbs cars. Go faster than them,” Harvick said. “We’re going to do everything just like we’ve done all year.”
Three drivers in their 30s – Busch (34 years old), Truex (39) and Hamlin (38) – are going against Harvick, whose 43.
Speaking of ages….
Like everyone else, Hamlin’s birthday falls on the same date every year – Nov. 18.
This year it falls on the day after Hamlin could claim his first title.
“Homestead is always my birthday weekend,” Hamlin said. “I want to have two reasons to celebrate, not just one.”
Hamlin recalled the last time he came this close to a title.
“In 2010 I shut everyone out,” Hamlin said. “Like I didn’t do any of the birthday stuff. I didn’t hang out with anyone. I really didn’t respond to calls or texts or anything like that. But I’m not going to be that way I don’t think this time around because I just am not going to change who I am.”
Should he win the championship by winning Sunday’s race, he’d earn his 38th Cup Series victory on his last day of being 38 years old.
Also, a win Sunday would be Hamlin’s seventh of the season. That would make him the winningest Daytona 500 winner in a season since Jeff Gordon had seven victories in 1999.
RACE WINNER = CHAMPION
This weekend marks the sixth edition of the Cup championship race under the elimination playoff format.
While the championship is simply awarded to the highest-finishing driver out of the Championship 4, each year the champion has won the race.
2014 – Kevin Harvick (led final eight laps)
2015 – Kyle Busch (led eight of final 10 laps)
2016 – Jimmie Johnson (only led final three laps as part of an overtime finish)
2017 – Martin Truex Jr. (led final 51 laps)
2018 – Joey Logano (led final 12 laps after passing Truex)
Should Busch win on Sunday, he would end a 21-race winless streak.
“It’s obviously a great opportunity to be able to go race for a championship, and that’s what this format is,” Busch said. “It doesn’t mean a whole lot to make it to the Championship 4 if you don’t win it. You know, it’s all reset to zero. There are four of us who go for winner-take-all at Homestead. … It’s what your whole season comes down to.”
ONE LAST MONSTER MASH
Sunday’s race will be the last that Monster Energy serves as the title sponsor for the Cup Series.
Starting in 2020, the Cup Series will movie to a tiered sponsor system with no title sponsor.
The Cup Series has had a title sponsor since 1971 when Winston entered the role it held until 2003.
Nextel owned the naming rights from 2004-07. Sprint then held the rights through 2016 with Monster taking over in 2017.
RUNNING OUT OF TIME
Three drivers who won races in 2018 have a last shot to earn their first victory of this season.
Both have said they plan to continue racing but suggest it could be in other forms beyond Cup.
Menard, the 2011 Brickyard 400 winner, will make his 471st Cup start Sunday. While he did not have as much success as others, he’ll be remembered for his quiet demeanor, abstinence from social media and devoted fan base.
Ragan, who won at Daytona in 2011 and Talladega in 2013, will make his 470th Cup start Sunday.
Both began running full-time in 2007 in a rookie class that included Juan Pablo Montoya and AJ Allmendinger. Montoya won rookie of the year honors.
Ragan said he’s looked at schedules for ARCA and some Late Model races across the country. He also said there are plans for him to drive the Next Gen car next year in some testing.
“Ford Motor Company has been a really good partner of mine and a supporter of my career since day one, and so I’m working with those guys on how I can help the big picture from Ford Performance and how we can work on next year and the Next Generation car as it rolls out,” Ragan said.
Ragan will be driving a throwback paint scheme on his No. 38 Ford. It will look like the car Ragan won with at Talladega with Front Row Motorsports.
This weekend will be the last for a handful of drivers in their current rides before they transition to a new team, while others are still without announced plans for beyond Sunday.
Leavine Family Racing’s Matt DiBenedetto will replace Menard in the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 Ford.
Xfinity Series driver Christopher Bell will succeed DiBenedetto in LFR’s No. 95 Toyota.
Stewart-Haas Racing’s Daniel Suarez has not announced his plans for next season. The 2016 Xfinity champion will end his third Cup season on Sunday.
JTG Daugherty Racing and Roush Fenway Racing will be swapping drivers after the Miami race. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. go from driving Roush’s No. 17 Ford to JTG Daugherty to replace Chris Buescher. Meanwhile, Buescher will return to Roush after five years away to drive the No. 17.
All three national series will compete on a new tire set-up compared to what was used at this track last year.
This is the same combination of left and right-side tires each series ran at Chicagoland and those in the Cup and Xfinity Series ran at Darlington this season.
This left and right-side tire features construction updates to align with what is run at other speedways, while this right-side tire takes teams from a multi-zone tread tire to a single zone tire and will increase grip.
“The compounds we will be running provide plenty of grip, but also offer the endurance needed on Homestead’s track surface,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing, in a press release. “These high wear tracks put on some of our best races, and the past several years at Homestead have proven that. Tire fall-off creates more ‘comers’ and ‘goers’ over the course of a long run, which means more passing and tire management being an important element of the race.”
TWO OTHER CHAMPIONSHIPS AT STAKE
The Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series also will crown their champions this weekend.
Gander Outdoors Truck Series driver Tyler Dippelsaid in a statement on Facebook that the charge against him of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree was dropped in a court appearance Wednesday morning in Middletown, New York.
Christopher Borek, the chief assistant district attorney of Orange County, confirmed to NBC Sports on Wednesday that the charge had been dropped.
Dippel, who was suspended indefinitely by NASCAR last week, was arrested and charged with the Class A misdemeanor Aug. 18 after being pulled over by New York State Police in his hometown of Wallkill. He was charged after a New York State Police officer found a bottle of prescription medication in a backpack that wasn’t prescribed to Dippel or his passenger.
Dippel, 19, said in his statement that at his court appearance, he “presented proof that the prescription was not mine and the person that the prescription belonged to accepted responsibility for leaving them in my vehicle.”
Borek confirmed his office received a sworn affidavit from the person the medications were prescribed claiming that the backpack had accidentally been left in the back of Dippel’s truck and Dippel had no knowledge it was there. Borek also confirmed that Dippel’s defense attorney provided a certified blood test showing Dippel had not taken the medication.
A NASCAR spokesperson confirmed to NBC Sports that Dippel has been reinstated.
On Tuesday, a New York State Police spokesperson confirmed a report by Fox Sports that Dippel had been pulled over for exceeding 80 mph in a 65 mph area. Dippel said in his statement he had been driving home from the Orange County Fair Speedway when “I was pulled-over for changing lanes without proper signal.”
Borek confirmed Dippel pled guilty to the charge of failure to stay in his lane and that covered the speeding charge. Dippel will have to pay a fine and points will be applied to his drivers license. Dippel’s attorney, James Monroe, told NBC Sports Dippel paid a fine of $150 plus a $93 surcharge.
The New York State Police spokesperson confirmed that when questioned by Troopers, Dippel and his passenger had conflicting stories about where they were traveling to and from after being stopped. Dippel consented to a vehicle search.
According to the New York State Police spokesperson, Troopers found a pill bottle of Amphetamine and Dextroamphetamine in the backpack and that the bottle was prescribed to someone else.
“Because it was in my vehicle, I was charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance,” Dippel said in his statement. “I contacted NASCAR within hours to inform them of the situation. Due to the NASCAR rule book and code of conduct, they ruled to suspend me indefinitely. I respect their decision.”
Continued Dippel: “I along with my team will work closely with NASCAR to hopefully be reinstated so I can be back in the Young’s Motorsports No. 02 Chevrolet. I take full responsibility for my actions.”
Due to his suspension, Dippel missed Sunday’s race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Young’s Motorsports replaced him with DJ Kennington, who finished 15th. The next Truck race is scheduled for Sept. 13 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.