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Truck Series playoffs expands to 10 teams

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The playoffs for the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series will expand from eight to 10 drivers in 2020, NASCAR announced Tuesday.

Two teams will be eliminated after the first round and four eliminated after second round.

How each round of the playoffs will unfold:

Round of 10: World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Bristol Motor Speedway

Round of 8: Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, Martinsville Speedway

Championship 4: Phoenix Raceway

“Expanding the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series playoff field to 10 is a win-win for drivers, teams and, most importantly, the passionate fans who support our Gander Trucks,” Truck Series Managing Director Brad Moran said in a statement from NASCAR. “This will only increase the competitive intensity this series offers, as more drivers and teams vie for one of the most coveted championships in all of racing.”

Had there been 10 drivers allowed in last year’s playoffs, ThorSport Racing’s Ben Rhodes and Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Harrison Burton would have gotten those spots. KBM did not have any drivers in the playoffs.

The first two races of the playoffs, at Gateway and Canada, will feature the new pit road rules for standalone races in the Truck and Xfinity Series.

Xfinity Series playoff clinching scenarios for Indianapolis

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While the Cup Series’ regular season comes to a conclusion this weekend in Indianapolis, the Xfinity Series still has two races before its 12-driver playoff field is settled.

The first of those two races is Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Four spots remain to be finalized in the playoff field. The drivers who have already clinched via a win or points are: Tyler Reddick (four wins, standings leader), Christopher Bell (six wins), Cole Custer (six wins), Austin Cindric (two wins), Chase Briscoe (one win), Michael Annett (one win), Justin Allgaier (points) and Noah Gragson (points).

Reddick, the defending series champion, can lock up the regular-season title and 15 playoff points this weekend.

He’ll clinch the title if he leaves Indy with a 61-point lead above second place. He currently holds a 51-point lead on Bell.

Here are the three other drivers who can clinch a playoff spot this weekend and their clinching scenarios.

Justin Haley, Kaulig Racing No. 11 Chevrolet (+88 points above cutline) – The rookie driver would clinch with a win or would clinch on points with 45 points and a new winner. If there is a repeat winner (or a win by Allgaier, Gragson, John Hunter Nemechek or Brandon Jones), he would clinch on points with 23 points.

Haley will be making his first start at IMS.

John Hunter Nemechek, GMS Racing No. 23 Chevrolet (+35 points) – Would clinch with a win or could clinch on points with help.

Making his second start at IMS. Finished 25th last year after being involved in an incident.

Brandon Jones, Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 Toyota (+22 points) – Would clinch with a win or could clinch on points with a repeat winner (or a win by Allgaier, Gragson, Haley or Nemechek) and help.

Jones has made three series starts at Indianapolis, posting three top 10s and an average finish of 9.7.

Every other driver in the series can only clinch a spot this weekend via a win.

Ryan Sieg currently holds the 12th and final playoff spot with 647 points.

Behind him is Gray Gaulding, who trails Sieg by 119 points.

Denny Hamlin reacts to giving up the No. 1 pit stall to Kyle Busch


HOMESTEAD, Fla. — In an unusual development, the pole-sitter for Sunday’s Ford 400 championship finale will start first in the race but won’t be stopping the last stall in the pits at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

How did Denny Hamlin feel about handing over the best spot for pit stops to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch, who will race for a title Sunday?

In an interview with the Associated Press and NBC Sports after the final practice Saturday, Hamlin (who is starting on the pole at the track for the second consecutive season) discussed his reaction to team owner Joe Gibbs’ decision to cede the No. 1 stall to Busch (who qualified second), the precedent it might set, how sponsor FedEx reacted and how racing is complicated Sunday for those outside the Championship 4.

Q: You said last night that you would prefer to keep the stall, can you explain how this decision was reached?

Hamlin: “Ultimately, it’s an upper management decision, and that’s part of it. I understand. Sat down with Joe quite a bit. He came over pretty fast to talk to me. I could see the other side of it. If the roles were reversed, I think we would hope for the same thing. I think that’s the thing that sucks about it. You can’t predict what will happen in the future, but we would expect the same thing back.

“The problem is from my standpoint is it probably will set a precedent going forward. It probably will be a manufacturer thing more so than a teammate. I hate it, too, because I denied Martin last year. Luckily he won the race anyway, but I just think it’s a tough deal, and you’ve got to listen to the boss. And I understand, too, that there’s 400 employees back at the shop saying you got to do it. We’re narrow-minded because we’ve got 20 guys here working on our car, but there’s also 400 or 500 at the shop who are like you’ve got to do what’s best for all of us. I get that part of it. Ultimately, I sat behind Kyle at Martinsville for just way too long at the end of the race thinking I shouldn’t pass him, and I lost the race by a 10th (of a second) and shouldn’t have done that. I look back, I gave away a Richmond race. A bunch of stuff I just gave away trying to help.

“Hopefully, it all just comes back full circle. Maybe I’ll even get a thank you text.”

Q: Joe Gibbs says you can win from your fourth stall; do you agree?

Hamlin: “Certainly. Sure you can. I think it just depends on the situation. If there’s a late-race caution, certainly it’ll hurt, but this race typically has gone green for a really long time. If that’s the case, it’s not as big of a factor, but if we have some cautions and things at the end, it definitely can play a role.”

Q: Have you heard from sponsor FedEx about the move?

Hamlin: “Yeah, I talked to them a little bit, and Joe talked to them. They actually said we would want the same in return if the roles were reversed. It’s good that they’re kind of understanding in that sense.”

Q: Can this be classified as manipulating the race?

Hamlin: “I don’t know. Tough to say. I was third last year on the last restart, I cleared Kyle, he was fourth, and I just let him go, so that’s manipulating, too. You could bring that up all the time. Everybody who’s not in it has manipulated for a teammate in some way, shape or form. Manipulating can go … I mean what do we do at Martinsville on restarts? That’s full manipulation. So that’s a big wide, broad term that this could definitely fall in, but definitely on the smaller side.”

Q: Is there any way to police it?

Hamlin: “There’s just no way. Short of just saying NASCAR says we agree No. 1 is the best pit stall and whoever gets the pole has to keep it. Short of that, the 4 car gave us the No. 1 stall at Richmond because it wasn’t the best stall. We qualified second, he chose not to take No. 1. The problem is if it moves away from this track, you could argue which stall is the best, but I think here everyone would agree No. 1 is the best.”

Q: How much of an indicator is this that the race is only important to the four championship contenders?

Hamlin: “Probably. In the grand scheme of things. Even if you come out here and win the race, and I’ve won the race here a few times, and it’s played no role in winning a championship, you’re celebrating in victory lane, and nobody really cares. It’s just about those guys, but they earned that right to be on the stage this weekend. We didn’t.”

Q: Has perspective evolved on how to race the contenders for the 35 guys who won’t race for the title, especially since Kyle Larson said he laid back last year in third instead of challenging the top two championship contenders?

Hamlin: “I think some people do things differently than others. I think Kyle Larson is the kind of guy who would pull the move he did last year to be like I could maybe go up, and I don’t think it was a foregone conclusion he was going to pass those guys. He kind of stalled out when he got there. He’s the guy that you’ve got to respect the people who are up there.

“I think that if it is not one of my teammates that are in that same position in the top two, and I’m third running them down, I’m going to try to pass them both. No matter if it’s a Toyota teammate, I have to think about it. Can I pass them in time? It’s the thing about this sport, you’re playing for the championship, but yet everyone is playing, too. It’s the same thing that sucks about it last week and the week before. We all have to play on the same field. And we’re all out there trying to achieve our own goals, and sometimes that crosses the path.”

Round of 8 outlook for each Cup playoff driver

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The Cup Series begins its Round of 8 Sunday at Martinsville Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

The round consists of Martinsville, Texas Motor Speedway and ISM Raceway in Phoenix.

Here’s a breakdown of the eight drivers who will contend for slots in the championship round in Miami.


Kyle Busch

Points: 4,055

Wins: Seven (Texas I, Bristol I, Richmond I, Coke 600, Chicago, Pocono II, Richmond II)

Career Playoff wins: Six

Best Round of 8 track: Martinsville. He’s won two of the last six races there and not finished outside the top five in that stretch.

Worst Round of 8 track: Phoenix. He has one win there (in his second start) and a low of eight top fives. But he hasn’t finished worse than seventh in the last six races.

Playoff high: Only Big 3 member to win so far in the playoffs.

Playoff low: DNF in Charlotte Roval race for crash.


Kevin Harvick

Points: 4,054

Wins: Seven (Atlanta, Las Vegas I, Phoenix I, Dover I, Kansas I, New Hampshire, Michigan II)

Carer Playoff wins: 12

Best Round of 8 track: Phoenix. Harvick is the all-time leader in wins at the track with nine. Hasn’t finished lower than sixth in the last 10 starts.

Worst Round of 8 track: Martinsville. One win in 29 starts. Hasn’t finished higher than fifth since the fall 2011 race.

Playoff high: Finished second at Richmond. Only top three since Michigan win.

Playoff low: Leading 452 laps through six races (including 286 at Dover) without a win.


Martin Truex Jr.

Points: 4,038

Wins: Four (Auto Club Speedway, Pocono I, Sonoma, Kentucky)

Career Playoff wins: Six

Best Round of 8 track: Texas. No wins, but has just one finish outside top 10 in last seven starts (crash in April)

Worst Round of 8 track: Martinsville. Four top fives – including in the last two starts – but an average finish of 19th in 25 starts.

Playoff high: Led 259 laps in first two races and finished third.

Playoff low: Led going into final two turns at the Charlotte Roval before being turned by Jimmie Johnson. He finished 14th.


Chase Elliott

Points: 4,018

Wins: Three (Watkins Glen, Dover II and Kansas II)

Career Playoff wins: Two

Best Round of 8 track: Phoenix. One finish outside top 10 in five starts. Led 140 laps in the 2017 races.

Worst Round of 8 track: Chase Elliott and crew chief Alan Gustafson have noted Texas is one of their worst tracks since the repave before the 2017 season. In three starts since, Elliott has placed ninth, eighth and 11th.

Playoff high: Winning two of three races in Round of 12

Playoff low: DNF in playoff opener at Las Vegas (crash).


Clint Bowyer

Points: 4,015

Wins: Two (Martinsville I, Michigan I)

Career Playoff wins: Five

Best Round of 8 track: Martinsville. One win, six top five and a career-best 15 top 10s.

Worst Round of 8 track: Phoenix. Two top fives, seven top 10s in 26 starts.

Playoff high: Finishing second at Talladega

Playoff low: DNF for crash at Dover, where he led his only lap of the playoffs.


Joey Logano

Points: 4,015

Wins: One (Talladega)

Career Playoff wins: Seven

Best Round of 8 track: Texas. Six top 10s in last seven starts.

Worst Round of 8 track: Phoenix. Only one top 10 – a win – in last five starts.

Playoff high: Won pole, Stage 1 and led 100 laps at Kansas, finished eighth.

Playoff low: Finished 14th at Richmond, one lap down. Only finish off lead lap in playoffs.


Kurt Busch

Points: 4,015

Wins: One (Bristol II)

Career Playoff wins: Three

Best Round of 8 track: Phoenix. One win and an average finish of 13.6.

Worst Round of 8 track: Martinsville. His two wins are two of his three top fives in 36 starts.

Playoff high: Consecutive top fives on the Charlotte Roval and at Dover.

Playoff low: Led career-best 108 laps at Talladega before running out of gas on last lap. Finished 14th.


Aric Almirola

Points: 4,006

Wins: One (Talladega II)

Career Playoff wins: One

Best Round of 8 track: Phoenix. One win and an average finish of 13.6.

Worst Round of 8 track: Martinsville. His two wins are two of his three top fives in 36 starts.

Playoff high: Earned second career Cup win at Talladega.

Playoff low: Lost lead at Dover in pits with less than 10 laps to go and was involved in crash.

Round of 8 playoff drivers by the numbers at Martinsville and more

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Then there were eight.

That’s how many playoff drivers are left after Sunday’s Cup elimination race at Kansas Speedway.

Eights drivers – Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola and Martin Truex Jr. – will compete in the next three races for a spot among the championship four.

Here’s a look at some interesting numbers for the remaining playoff drivers ahead of this weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway.

0 – Career wins on short tracks by Martin Truex Jr.

1 – The number of wins in the first six playoffs races by the “Big 3” of Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick.

2 – Wins by Chase Elliott through the first six playoff races. He’s the only driver with multiple wins in the playoffs this season.

3 – Top fives Kurt Busch has in 36 Martinsville starts, two are wins.

4 – How many Stewart-Haas Racing drivers remain in the playoff field: Harvick, Almirola, Busch and Bowyer.

5 – Martinsville races since Matt Kenseth intentionally wrecked Joey Logano in 2015.

8 – Different winners in last nine Martinsville races.

20 – Times in the last 22 playoff races the driver who led the most laps failed to win. Kyle Busch was the most recent driver to lead the most laps and win, doing it last year at Martinsville.

22 – Aric Almirola’s average finish at Martinsville in 19 starts.

190 – The race winless streak Clint Bowyer snapped in the spring at Martinsville Speedway.