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NBC Sports Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick’s out, Martin Truex Jr. back on top

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Even though he came in second at Dover, it was enough of a performance for NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers to put Martin Truex Jr. back on top in this week’s Power Rankings.

With 37 of a maximum 40 points, Truex is once again No. 1, while last week’s top vote-getter, Kevin Harvick, falls to third place (32 points). Dover winner Kyle Larson jumps to the No. 2 spot, up from eighth last week.

Also of note, based on earning three straight top 10s for the first time since 2016, Jimmie Johnson appears in the rankings heading into Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

The biggest drop this week came from Roval winner Chase Elliott, who went from No. 3 last week to unranked after Sunday’s race at Dover.

Here are this week’s rankings:

1. Martin Truex Jr. (37 points): Consistency is his middle name. Just keeps on scoring top fives. Returns to top spot in rankings after Kevin Harvick was No. 1 in last week’s rankings. Last week: Second.

2. Kyle Larson (34 points): Gets to enjoy a stress-free Talladega after his Dover win. No other driver will feel as good this weekend. But even though he broke a 75-race winless streak and earned a berth in the Round of 8, the pressure shifts to see him win again and make it to Miami. Last week: Eighth.

3. Kevin Harvick (32 points): Fourth-place run marks his 10th top 10 in the last 11 races. That includes three wins and seven top fives. Last week: First.

4. Alex Bowman (29 points): Another strong run for the No. 88. Could he be the dark horse in the playoffs? Last week: Fifth.

5. Denny Hamlin (24 points): Dominated early at Dover before finishing fifth, primarily because he was frustrated with Joey Logano. One cause for concern, however, is that he hasn’t had consecutive top 10s since August. Last week: Tied for 10th.

6. Kyle Busch (15 points): Didn’t have a good car this weekend, got caught speeding and finished sixth. Sometimes one has to just plow through a tough weekend and he did. But there is cause for concern. He’s managed just two top 10s in the first four playoff races. Last week: Tied for 10th.

7. Brad Keselowski (13 points): Failed to finish in the top five for the first time in the playoffs, capping off an unremarkable weekend for this team. Last week: Fourth.

8. Clint Bowyer (12 points): Earned sixth top 10 in the last seven races. Still plugging away. These playoffs haven’t been easy for him but he’s still alive. Last week: Sixth.

9. Jimmie Johnson (8 points): Earned a third straight top 10 for the first time this year. Even though Johnson hasn’t won in his last 89 starts, it’s clear this team is getting better. Last week: Unranked.

10. Matt DiBenedetto (6 points): Earned his seventh top 10 of the season. Given the right circumstances, potentially could steal a playoff race win. Last week: Unranked.

Others receiving votes: Chase Elliott (4 points), William Byron (3 points), Cole Custer (3 points).

Dale Earnhardt Jr., family ‘safe’ after plane crashes, catches fire

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BRISTOL, Tenn. – A plane carrying NBC Sports analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr., wife Amy and daughter Isla, went off the runaway Thursday after landing at Elizabethton (Tennessee) Municipal Airport and caught fire, the Federal Aviation Administration reported in a statement.

Kelley Earnhardt tweeted that “everyone is safe” and that those on the plane had been taken to a local hospital for further evaluation.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his family were arriving for this weekend’s NASCAR races at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The FAA statement read: “A Cessna Citation rolled off the end of Runway 24 and caught fire after landing at Elizabethton Municipal Airport in Tennessee at 3:40 p.m. today. Preliminary indication is that two pilots and three passengers were aboard.  Local officials will release their names and conditions. The aircraft registration is N8JR, look up the owner at FAA.gov.  The FAA will investigate and the National Transportation Safety Board will determine probable cause of the accident.”

The charred remains of a plane lie along Highway 91 near Elizabethton Municipal Airport in Elizabethton, Tenn., after a crash landing Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019. Dale Earnhardt Jr., his wife and daughter were on board the plane. everyone on board survived. (Calvin Mattheis/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)

NBC Sports’ statement read: ““We’re incredibly grateful that Dale, his wife Amy, daughter Isla, and the two pilots are safe following today’s accident. After being discharged from the hospital, we communicated with Dale and his team, and we’re all in agreement that he should take this weekend off to be with his family. We look forward to having him back in the booth next month at Darlington.”

NASCAR issued a statement late Thursday night: “We’re extremely relieved to learn that Dale, Amy, Isla and the pilots of the aircraft are safe, and we commend the first responders and medical staff for their quick action. We look forward to seeing Dale back at the race track very soon.”

The National Transportation Safety Board will send two investigators to examine the crash scene.

The Federal Aviation Administration’s preliminary incident report Friday stated: “AIRCRAFT EXPERIENCED HARD LANDING, BOUNCED, DEPARTED RUNWAY AND CAUGHT FIRE”

The airport is located 14 miles southeast of Bristol Motor Speedway.

NBC Sports, NASCAR launch ‘Grassroots Racing Tour’

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NBC Sports and NASCAR launched a new campaign Monday called the “Grassroots Racing Tour.”

The Tour is a season-long campaign of messaging, stories, social videos, in-person appearances from NASCAR drivers & promotion between NASCAR, NBC Sports and over 500 local tracks.

Its primary goal is the growth and cross-promotion of NASCAR and grassroots racing in America.

As part of the campaign, the tracks involved have been sent a “Grassroots Racing Tour” sign to be included in victory lane celebrations.

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Stories collected from the tour will be included on NASCAR America and in remote pre-race and in-race elements, including:

  • Cup driver videos with #MyTrackMyRoots
  • “50 States in 50 Shows” feature

Jeff Burton, Steve Letarte and Kyle Petty discussed the campaign on NASCAR America.

“This is really simple,” Burton said. “A season-long campaign, you go to a short track … we all love short tracks. You see it, you like it, tweet about it. #MyTrackMyRoots, tell us the cool stories about the people you’re watching racing. The heroes of those race tracks.”

Watch the above video for more on the campaign, including stories from Oswego Speedway in New York and Gas City I-69 Speedway in Indiana. Watch all the videos by clicking here.

NBC Sports launches free NASCAR Pick ‘Em’ game

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NASCAR fans will have the chance to win at least $10,000 each week by playing “NASCAR Pick ‘Em,” NBC Sports’ newest free-to-play game available exclusively on the NBC Sports Predictor app and site.

Developed with Boom Fantasy, “NASCAR Pick ‘Em features a $10,000 progressive jackpot prizing format, providing added intrigue for NASCAR fans with the grand prize potentially growing each week.

Fans can now make their picks for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, July 6 on NBC.

Here’s how to play NASCAR Pick ‘Em:

  • For each race stage, pick the driver that will have the best finish from a group of four drivers.
  • Then, out of the entire field, pick which drivers will finish the race in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place – in exact order.

Fans who earn a perfect score will win (or split if multiple users) the jackpot. If there are no perfect scores one week, the $10,000 jackpot rolls over to the next race, making that jackpot $20,000, then $30,000, and so on. Once a jackpot is won, the jackpot will reset to $10,000 for the following contest. In addition, each week there will be $1,000 in guaranteed prizes split among users with the top scores.

“After the success we’ve seen with our Premier League and golf free-to-play games, we’re thrilled to bring the same type of added excitement to NASCAR fans every week,” said Dan Pozner, Director of Content at NBC Sports, in a press release. “These Predictor games are all about increasing engagement and enjoyment. We hope that with additional rooting interests throughout the race, fans will feel even more invested and involved, bringing their viewing experience to a whole new level.”

“We’re excited to debut this new format on NBC Sports Predictor. The progressive jackpot and dynamic live tracking on the Predictor app will offer NASCAR fans a thrilling way to enhance their viewing experience,” said Stephen A. Murphy, CEO of Boom Fantasy in a press release. “These games are easy to understand and simple to play, and were tailored to the on-air broadcasts. It will take fans less than a minute for a chance to win $10,000 each week.”

NBC Sports will provide custom content within the NBC Sports Predictor app and site (NBCSports.com/Predictor) evaluating the weekly contests and races.

NASCAR Pick ‘Em is the third game to be released on the NBC Sports Predictor app. In February, NBC Sports debuted “Golf Pick ‘Em,” after launching the app with “Premier League Pick ‘Em in December.

Each player must be at least 18 years or older. Other restrictions may apply.

CM Punk PUMPS…YOU…UP for NASCAR on NBC Sports (Video)

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“You want to be the best in the world? Well guess what…so does everybody else.”

That’s how CM Punk opens his NASCAR primer ahead of coverage returning to NBC Sports this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois and continuing throughout the rest of the regular season and entirety of the playoffs.

Coverage begins on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and streaming live via the NBC Sports app.

With only 10 races remaining in the regular season, the push for the playoffs is officially on. As CM Punk ends the video above, “what are [drivers] going to do to be the one standing at the top when it’s all said and done?”

The wait is over. We all get to find out starting this weekend.