Joey Gase

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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Monday’s Cup race at Talladega: Start time, forecast and more

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images
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Let’s try this again. After rain and lightning on Sunday, the Cup Series will be back at Talladega Superspeedway for Monday’s race, NASCAR’s first superspeedway race since the Daytona 500 in February.

Teams will get their first experience with a different superspeedway rules package from what they had at Daytona.

Martin Truex Jr. starts first and and Denny Hamlin starts second.

Here are the details for Monday’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Astronaut Doug Hurley, on board the International Space Station, will give the command to start engines at 3:10 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to be waved at 3:22 p.m.

PRERACE: Drivers report to their cars at 2:48 p.m. The invocation will be given at 3:02 p.m. by sports broadcaster Niki Noto Palmer. The national anthem will be performed by the 313th United States Army Band at 3:04 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 188 laps (500 miles) around the 2.66-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 60. Stage 2 ends on Lap 120.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 25

TV/RADIO: Fox will televise the race. Its coverage begins at 3 p.m. Motor Racing Network will broadcast the race. Its broadcast begins at 3 p.m. and also can be heard at mrn.com and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for scattered thunderstorms with a high of 85 degrees and a 18% chance of rain at the race’s start.

LAST RACE: Denny Hamlin won in Miami, beating Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney.

LAST RACE AT TALLADEGA: Ryan Blaney beat Ryan Newman in a photo finish to win last fall’s playoff race.

TO THE REAR: William Byron (two inspection failures), Garrett Smithley (two inspection failures), Joey Gase (three inspection failures), Brendan Gaughan, Daniel Suarez and BJ McLeod (unapproved adjustment).

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for Cup starting lineup

CATCHING UP TO SPEED WITH NBC SPORTS COVERAGE:

Brendan Gaughan ready to mix it up with big teams at Talladega

Friday 5: Despite 2 wins in a row, Toyota boss has sharp words for teams

Stewart-Haas, Penske employees tested positive for COVID-19

Aric Almirola could tie Dale Jr.’s top-10 record at Talladega

Brad Keselowski: ‘You have to keep evolving at Talladega’

Can Kurt Busch finally run for daylight at Talladega?

One Month Back: Key moments from NASCAR’s return

NASCAR penalizes three Cup teams for inspection failures

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NASCAR announced that the cars of William Byron, Garrett Smithley and Joey Gase will start at the rear for Monday’s Cup race (3 p.m. ET on Fox) after failing pre-race inspection multiple times.

Byron’s car failed inspection twice. He will relinquish his 19th starting spot. Smithley’s car failed inspection twice. He was to have started 40th in the 40-car field.

Gase’s car failed inspection three times. Gase will start at the rear of the field (he was to have started 36th) and also must pass through pit road after the field takes the green flag.

 

Martin Truex Jr. to start on pole Sunday at Talladega

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Martin Truex Jr., who is seeking his first Cup points win on a superspeedway, will start on the pole for Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway after a random draw.

Truex will be joined on the front row by Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin. Truex (Martinsville) and Hamlin (Miami) have combined to win the past two Cup races.

Kyle Busch starts third and is followed by Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick.

Click here for Cup starting lineup

The field was determined through a random draw of the following groups:

  • Positions 1-12: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 13-24: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 25-36: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 37-40: Open teams in order of owners points

NASCAR Cup Series at Talladega

Race Time: 3 p.m. ET Sunday

Track: Talladega Superspeedway; Talladega, Alabama (2.66-mile speedway)

Length: 188 laps, 500 miles

Stages: Stage 1 ends on Lap 60. Stage 2 ends on Lap 120.

TV coverage: Fox

Radio: Motor Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: Fox Sports app (subscription required); mrn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Next Xfinity race: Saturday at Talladega (113 laps, 300.5 miles), 5:30 p.m. ET on FS1

Next Truck Series race: June 27 at Pocono (60 laps, 150 miles), 12:30 p.m. ET on FS1

 

NASCAR to move location of car numbers for All-Star Race

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NASCAR will use the July 15 All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway to experiment with the location of numbers on race cars.

Instead of the traditional location of numbers on car doors, those numbers will be pushed back toward the rear wheel. All teams competing in the All-Star Race and All-Star Open are required to have the car number in this location. The move allocates more space on car sides for sponsors, something teams have requested.

On Wednesday’s Motor Racing Network’s Crew Call, NASCAR president Steve Phelps explained the reason for the change to show host Mike Bagley:

“I think the All-Star (Race) historically has been an opportunity for us to test things, and I think that’s exactly what we’re doing with this,” Phelps said. “Teams have asked us to take a look at this, provide some additional visibility for sponsors, so that’s what we’ll test.”

The change will be for the All-Star Race and All-Star Open only.

“We’ll evaluate it,” Phelps said. “Is it the right thing to do? Is it not the right thing to do? I  know some folks that came out and said ‘this is not for me, I don’t like it,’ so we’ll take that all under consideration and as we move past the All-Star (Race) we’ll see what it looks like moving forward.”

In addition to having another option to increase sponsor visibility on cars, the move of the car number is also seen as a combination of catering to tradition and existing fans along with attracting new fans.

“I think not in every instance, but there are instances where you actually can do both,” Phelps told Bagley. “I don’t think you have to have the two at odds with each other. Sometimes that’s going to happen, but for us, we’ve talked about hearing from the core fans and we do.

“We want to hear from the core fans and what they think, traditional fans. There are certain things we want to try out or we believe is in the best interest in the sport after collaborating with the industry and saying this is something we should test. This is one of those opportunities.

“I don’t know if it appeals to a newer fan vs. a fan for 40 years, the changes in the paint schemes. But again, it’s one race, the All-Star Race, what better time to test it?”

This would not be the first time where car numbers have been placed on areas other than the door. It was a practice for some teams in the early 1950s, according to NASCAR historian Ken Martin, per a story on NASCAR.com.

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Fifteen drivers are locked into the All-Star Race by virtue of wins in 2019 and 2020 (to date): Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Erik Jones, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Alex Bowman, Justin Haley and Matt Kenseth.

There are five opportunities remaining for other drivers to get automatic berths in the All-Star Race field by virtue of winning at any of the five races still to be held prior to the All-Star Race: Talladega, the Pocono doubleheader, Indianapolis and Kentucky.

Several other drivers are eligible to be voted in as part of the NASCAR Fan Vote, currently under way through noon ET July 14. Click here to vote. Drivers are eligible for the Fan Vote by having attempted to qualify for the 2020 Daytona 500.

Those drivers are: Quin Houff, Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick, Aric Almirola, Ty Dillon, Clint Bowyer, Brennan Poole, Chris Buescher, Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron, Reed Sorenson, Corey LaJoie, Michael McDowell, David Ragan, Ryan Preece, John Hunter Nemechek, Cole Custer, Bubba Wallace, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chad Finchum, Joey Gase, B.J. McLeod, JJ Yeley, Brendan Gaughan, Timmy Hill, Ross Chastain, Christopher Bell and Daniel Suarez.

If any of those drivers win a stage in the NASCAR Open qualifying race prior to the All-Star Race, that driver will be locked into the field and not eligible to be the Fan Vote winner.

One Fan Vote winner has gone on to win the All-Star Race in the event’s history: Kasey Kahne in 2008.

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