NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series

Where Cup playoff drivers stand heading to Kansas

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The tumult of Talladega is behind and that final lap changed things significantly.

Had Ryan Newman won the phone finish instead of Ryan Blaney, then Blaney would not have secured a spot in the next round and it would have changed the cutline, putting Alex Bowman in the final transfer spot.

Instead, Blaney won, secured a spot in the next round and moved the cutline up, creating a gap between Joey Logano, who holds the final spot, and those behind.

Now, the focus turns to Sunday’s elimination race at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

 

DRIVERS WHO CAN ENJOY THE WEEKEND

Ryan Blaney (Talladega) and Kyle Larson (Dover) don’t have to worry about anything this weekend because their wins in this round have put them into the Round of 8. Enjoy it now before the next round begins the following week and the pressure intensifies.

 

FEW WORRIES INDEED

Denny Hamlin is 56 points ahead of Alex Bowman, the first driver outside a transfer spot to the next round. It would take quite a series of circumstances for Hamlin not to advance to the next round.

 

SEE YOU DOWN THE ROAD

Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch, also are in a good spot to advance to the Round of 8. Truex is 48 points ahead of Bowman and Busch is 41 points ahead of Bowman.

 

DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME

While Kevin Harvick didn’t have a memorable Talladega — few playoff drivers did — his 17th-place finish left him 36 points ahead of Bowman. Harvick also should be in good shape to advance provided nothing catastrophic happens to his car at Kansas.

 

JUST AVOID TROUBLE

Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano hold the final two transfer spots entering this weekend. Keselowski is 20 points ahead of Bowman. Logano is 18 points ahead of Bowman. Keselowski won at Kansas in May.

“Brad and I are l looking OK,” Logano told NBC Sports after the race. “It’s better than being 18 behind. We’ve just got to be smart (at Kansas) … and no crashing.”

 

NO HOLDING BACK

Bowman, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer and William Byron are the four drivers outside a transfer spot heading to Kansas.

Bowman trails Logano, who holds the final transfer spot by 18 points. Elliott trails Logano by 22 points. Bowyer is 24 points behind Logano. Byron trails Logano by 27 points.

All can get in via points but realistically, it’s going to take a win.

“I think we need to go and try to win,” Elliott said after Monday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway.

POINTS STANDINGS

3114 — Denny Hamlin

3106 — Martin Truex Jr.

3099 — Kyle Busch

3094 — Kevin Harvick

3078 — Brad Keselowski

3076 — Joey Logano

3069 — Kyle Larson (Dover win moves him to next round)

*3058 — Alex Bowman

3056 — Ryan Blaney (Talladega win moves him to next round)

*3054 — Chase Elliott

*3052 — Clint Bowyer

*3049 — William Byron

* Outside a transfer spot to the Round of 8

Talladega winners and losers

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WINNERS

Ryan BlaneyHe entered the race outside a transfer spot and felt he needed to win either at Talladega or Kansas to advance. Mission accomplished at Talladega with the win.

Ryan NewmanOh so close to a win. Still, his runner-up result is his best finish of the year.

Michael McDowellFinished fifth, tying his season-best finish, which he achieved in the Daytona 500.

Corey LaJoieFinished seventh, one spot off his season-best finish, which came at Daytona in July.

Brendan Gaughan OK, so he was wrecked while at the front and rolled over once, but he was uninjured and joked about needing to get his parent’s permission to run in next year’s Daytona 500 as planned. And also he had a funny line about how his landing might have been judged.

LOSERS

Hendrick Motorsports — Its three playoff cars needed strong runs to help their playoff hopes. Instead, all three were in wrecks and Ryan Blaney’s win means that Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott and William Byron are all but in a must-win situation this weekend at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC). Hendrick Motorsports could see all three eliminated this coming weekend.

David RaganTough luck strikes again. He failed to finish all four races at Daytona and Talladega this year because of accidents. No other Cup driver this season failed to finish all four of those races because of an accident.

Car owners — Fourteen of the 40 cars were eliminated by crashes and several more were damaged. As Ryan Newman said: “Just a financial disaster, I guess you could call it, when you come here. We all expect that, but it just kind of gets old after a while.”

 

Hey Mom, Dad? Can I still drive in the Daytona 500?

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Brendan Gaughan plans to run next year’s Daytona 500 but the 44-year-old admits that after flipping in Monday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway, he might need to get the permission of his parents.

“You might have to call Michael Gaughan or Paula Gaughan right now to ask that question because I think right now neither of them are very happy at the moment,” Gaughan said after emerging from the infield care center unscathed after his crash.

“In 22 years of NASCAR racing — I’ve flipped a ton in the desert — I’ve never flipped a stock car until now. So my mother and father might be a little upset. I’m 44, but I still have a mommy and a daddy. I think they’re probably a little hot right now but I’ll cool them down.”

Gaughan was a victim in an 11-car crash that brought out the caution on Lap 183 of the 188-lap race when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kyle Busch got together at the front of the field. The contact sent Busch up the track into Gaughan’s car and Brad Keselowski’s car. Gaughan’s car turned left, got hit by Kurt Busch and Matt DiBenedetto and rolled over once before landing on its wheels. Gaughan finished 27th.

Asked what he saw of Gaughan’s aerobatics, DiBenedetto said: “I was like, ‘Oh crap! He’s going upside down.’ My nose got into him and then I just saw him flip over me.”

Told he had nailed the landing, Gaughan joked: “No, they said the Russian judge, politics, he docked me a couple of points. He said I didn’t put them all down at the same time. Politics are nasty right now, so screw them.”

But the incident didn’t take away Gaughan’s love for racing at these tracks. He was making his fourth Cup start of the season. He’s run both Daytona and Talladega races this season.

“I was having a great time,” Gaughan said of before the wreck. “We were up front. I show up, what, four times a year and people think I’m crazy for loving this racing, but I love racing at Daytona and Talladega. I enjoy the crap out of this.

“When I come with the Beard family and the Chevrolet that they give me with that ECR engine that Richard (Childress) gives me and a little bit of help, we come to be here for the win. We had a chance to win. That’s all I can ask for.”

While Gaughan could joke about it, Ryan Newman, wasn’t happy to see a car get airborne even if contact played a role.

“Just happy that he got out of his race car,” Newman said of Gaughan. “It’s still disappointing to me to see that after 50 years we’re still flying race cars.”

Playoff hopes for all three Hendrick Motorsports teams take big hit

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — A weekend that started with its cars starting at the front ended in disappointment for Hendrick Motorsports’ three playoff teams and left each essentially in a must-win situation next weekend at Kansas Speedway.

Ryan Blaney’s win at Talladega Superspeedway ended a miserable Monday for Chase Elliott, William Byron and Alex Bowman, who each face playoff elimination next weekend.

Blaney’s victory assures him a spot in the next round, joining Kyle Larson, who won last weekend at Dover.

Bowman, Elliott and Byron — along with Clint Bowyer — are all outside the cutoff spot. Bowman is 18 points behind Joey Logano, who holds the final transfer spot. Elliott trails Logano by 22 points and Byron is 27 points behind Logano.

While anything is possible, it will be difficult for any of the Hendrick cars to outpoint Logano for the final spot at Kansas.

“We’ve got three cars that really need to win to get in,” Jeff Andrews, director of competition at Hendrick Motorsports, told NBC Sports. “I think the points thing right now is kind of irrelevant. The focus is to win.”

Should all three Hendrick cars fail to advance after next weekend’s race, it would leave Chevrolet one driver left (Larson) in championship contention.

That’s why there was so much posturing by Chevrolet this weekend, including its meeting with drivers, crew chiefs and competition directors after the race had been stopped Sunday because of rain. While teams within each manufacturer know to work with each other whenever possible, Chevrolet’s focus was on trying to help its three playoff cars advance.

Instead, they all face long odds.

Alex Bowman’s race ended when he triggered an 11-car crash by blocking Logano two laps from the end of the second stage.

“I just misjudged how much of a run (Logano) had there,” Bowman said. “That’s on me. These cars are tough to see out of and I didn’t do a good job of it. Probably shouldn’t have attempted to block that.”

Bowman finished 37th.

As for his plan at Kansas?

“We’re just going to go lead the most laps, win both stages and win the race,” Bowman said.

Byron was next to exit Monday, eliminated when he was hit from behind by Kurt Busch. Byron finished 33rd.

“It was just cars everywhere, drafting at 200 mph,” Busch said.

Byron said the contact was an “accordion effect (after) I had kind of lost momentum for whatever reason.”

While Elliott finished eighth, his car was damaged in the crash triggered by Bowman’s block of Logano. Elliott also failed to score any stage points.

“Just a train wreck,” crew chief Alan Gustafson said of the team’s day. “I don’t know what else to say about it.”

There really wasn’t much to say for Hendrick’s drivers except they need to win now.

Blocking a key issue at Talladega for drivers

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — The question isn’t who to race with at Talladega, manufacturers have dictated that, but it is where to race.

Run at the front and hope the wreck is behind? Run at the back and hope to avoid the carnage?

The package used at Talladega and Daytona this season punches such a big hole that drivers say the closing rate between cars is quicker than before. That gives cars trying to block less time to make their move. Be late and it can lead to a wreck.

As it has at Talladega and Daytona this year.

“There’s been many evolutions in racing and blocking is one for me that I’ve had to evolve with, but blocking is a part of our sport now on a weekly basis,” Kevin Harvick said. “It’s not just here. I mean, you see it at the mile-and-a-half race tracks. 

“You’re just going to have wrecks blocking. Sometimes you’re going to make a bad move. It’s just something that’s a little bit newer in the pace of the car that’s approaching you and the style of block and how you throw it, but we’re going to wreck from a block because it’s just become part of what we do.”

Three wrecks this year at Talladega and Daytona can be traced to blocking at the front of the field.

“When you have the smaller spoiler, you’re able to get in front of them, that lead car would get the push before that (trailing) car would actually get to the back bumper of the lead car,” Joey Logano said. “Now, it seems like the trailing car can get to the back bumper and then some (with the larger spoiler), so the blocks have to be quicker and have to be precise. Even once you block them it doesn’t mean it’s over because now they’re still on your bumper and they’re pushing you around. It’s more challenging from that standpoint.”

The late April race at Talladega debuted this package and saw a crash at the front of the field early in the event. Bubba Wallace was third when he and Ryan Blaney, running second, got out of shape and triggered a crash that damaged six cars. Wallace said the accident was a result of “the amount of runs and the force of it. All I was trying to do was just some wreck avoidance.”

The Daytona race in July saw two crashes that started at the front of the field because of blocking.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was leading when he was late on a block on Kurt Busch and they made contact, spinning Stenhouse.

Late in the race, Austin Dillon, in the lead, blocked as Clint Bowyer went low to try pass. They made contact, triggering an 18-car crash.

Dillon notes that blocking is a part of speedway racing.

“You’re going to do it,” he said. “Somebody has got a run at you at the end of the race. There’s not much else you can do. You can give up certain times of the race, but if it’s a last-lap situation you’re going to be held accountable for the actions you make and you’re going to feel bad if you go home not making the block that could win you the race … or you’re going to feel bad if you’re wrecked. I’ve been on both sides of it. It’s speedway racing. That’s all I have to say about it.”

Blocking, to Ryan Newman, is nothing new.

“What was it ’08 when (Tony) Stewart won blocking Regan Smith?” Newman said of the fall 2008 Talladega race where Smith crossed the finish line first but Stewart was given the win because Smith went below the yellow line. “Stewart got the win and blocked Regan and everything was fine. Here we are 11 years later still talking about the same thing. Does it do any good to talk about it?”

Harvick was encouraged how NASCAR reacted at the end of Saturday’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race. NASCAR penalized leader Johnny Sauter for forcing Riley Herbst below the yellow line on the final lap. Spencer Boyd was declared the winner.

“I can’t stand blocking,” Harvick said. “We didn’t use to penalize the blockers  very much. It was always the guy that was trying to make the move. So, you know, the guy had a lane … Johnny was trying to win the race. You can’t blame for him for trying to block. I like when the blockers get called. I don’t like it for Johnny Sauter. You’ve got to have a lane to race.”