Stewart Friesen

NBC Sports Power Rankings: Denny Hamlin leads the way to Miami

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With his win at Phoenix and advancing to the Championship 4 race in Miami, Denny Hamlin is once again back on top of this week’s NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Not surprisingly, all four drivers who will battle for the championship are in the top four in this week’s rankings. Kyle Busch is second, last week’s No. 1, Kevin Harvick, drops to third, and Martin Truex Jr. is fourth, as voted on by NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers.

Hamlin made the biggest jump in the standings, going from No. 7 last week to the top of the heap this week.

Conversely, Joey Logano, who was No. 3 last week, suffers the biggest drop, down to No. 8 – and also misses on his bid to defend last year’s championship this Sunday at Miami (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

Here is this week’s Power Rankings:

1. Denny Hamlin (39 points): Entered ISM Raceway outside a transfer spot to the title race and now he might be the favorite to win it all. Or at least be co-favorite with teammate Martin Truex Jr. Last week: Seventh.

2. Kyle Busch (34 points): Could be the underdog at Miami. With everything on the line, is one of the best performers in pressure-packed situations – especially with a championship and snapping a 21-race winless streak on the line. Last week: Fourth.

3. Kevin Harvick (29 points): Lone wolf in the Joe Gibbs Racing party for the championship. But he may actually have the edge, as he has three teammates who can help him, while it’s every man for himself for the three JGR drivers. Last week: First.

4. Martin Truex Jr. (28 points): Has not finished worse than sixth in the last four races. Also has the most wins (seven) of the four championship drivers. Last week: Second.

5. Ryan Blaney (26 points): Finished fifth, eighth and third in the Round of 8 but it still wasn’t good enough to advance to the title race. Last week: Fifth.

6. Kyle Larson (22 points): Fourth-place finish was good effort but missed out on last chance to run for a championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway, one of his best tracks. Was Chevrolet’s last hope; the bow tie has not reached the Championship 4 for the last three years. Last week: Sixth.

7. Erik Jones (14 points): Has three top 10s in last four races. While showed some signs of promise during the playoffs, the fact remains he’s likely going to finish 16th (last) among all playoff qualifiers when everything is said and done after Miami. Last week: Unranked.

8. Joey Logano (9 points): So close, yet so far away. Will we ever learn what happened to his car in the final stage that cost him a chance to defend last year’s title at Miami? Last week: Third.

9. Justin Allgaier (6 points): Xfinity win at ISM Raceway was his career-best 16th consecutive top-10 finish. Could he steal the championship from the “Big Three?” Last week: Unranked.

10. Christopher Bell (4 points): With Xfinity Series-leading eight wins, enters title race as favorite. This will be his Xfinity swan song before moving to Cup next season. What better way to leave than to go out on top. Last week: Unranked.

Others receiving votes: Clint Bowyer (3 points), Brad Keselowski (2 points), Cole Custer (2 points), Stewart Friesen (1 point).

Penalty report from ISM Raceway

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NASCAR has fined five crew chiefs for unsecured lug nuts on their cars after last weekend’s playoff races at ISM Raceway.

Each fine was for having a single unsecured lug nut.

In the Cup Series:

Paul Wolfe, crew chief on Brad Keselowski‘s No. 2 Ford, and Mike Hillman Sr., crew chief on J.J. Yeley‘s No. 53 Chevrolet, were each fined $10,000.

In the Xfinity Series:

Taylor Moyer, crew chief on Zane Smith‘s No. 8 Chevrolet, was fined $5,000.

In the Truck Series:

Joe Shear, Jr., crew chief on Johnny Suater’s No. 13 Chevrolet, and Trip Bruce lll, crew chief on race winner Stewart Friesen‘s No. 52 Chevrolet, were fined $2,500.

NASCAR executive explains Stewart Friesen penalty at ISM Raceway

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Stewart Friesen was the first to take the checkered flag in Friday night’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race, but it was only after he was penalized for being the first driver to take the green flag at the start of the event.

Friesen, who started second, beat pole-sitter Austin Hill to the start-finish line after it appeared Hill spun his tires.

As a result, Friesen was forced to the rear of the field during a caution that came out on Lap 3.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer, addressed why Friesen was penalized Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”

“At the beginning of the race the leader earns that right with the pole and has to be the car to cross the start-finish line first,” O’Donnell said. “In this case, we can’t make judgments on what may or may not happen to the pole-sitter. When Stewart’s truck beat the pole-sitter to the line, that’s an automatic penalty for us.”

This is the second week in a row O’Donnell has explained NASCAR’s decision-making on a judgment call. Last week, it concerned intentional spins by drivers in the wake of Bubba Wallace’s spin at Texas Motor Speedway, which he was penalized for Saturday morning.

O’Donnell also compared the rule for the initial race start to guidelines for restarts.

“When we have a restart the rule is the leader at that time earns the ability to restart the race and get on the gas so-to-speak first,” O’Donnell said. “But then once the leader does that anything goes and the race is basically started back up again and the line doesn’t come into play.”

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Stewart Friesen wins at Phoenix to advance to Truck championship race

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Stewart Friesen held off a late challenge by Brandon Jones to not only win Friday night’s NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series race at ISM Raceway, but also to lock himself into next week’s championship race at Miami.

Friesen will be joined in the championship race by defending Truck Series champion Brett Moffitt, Ross Chastain and Matt Crafton.

Austin Hill, who started tonight’s Lucas Oil 150 from the pole, and Tyler Ankrum both failed to advance to Miami.

For Friesen, the win was a vindication of sorts. He was penalized by NASCAR for jumping the start at the beginning of the race, being sent to the back of the field as a result.

But the Canadian driver was a man on a mission and was not to be denied, earning his second career Truck Series win (the other win was earlier this year at Eldora).

“What a race car,” Friesen told FS1. “We were able to pass them all clean. … It’s awesome (to be in the championship round). It’s what we’ve been geared up for all year long. We just didn’t get a lot of breaks. We lost races about every which way you could lose them and thought it was another one tonight.

“This one’s for everybody. We can all celebrate this one together tomorrow and then it’s game on (at Miami). We’ve got a bad-ass piece for next week, too.”

Chandler Smith finished third in Friday’s race, followed by Ben Rhodes, Grant Enfinger, Crafton, Harrison Burton, Johnny Sauter, Chastain and Moffitt.

“We had a bad day, we’ll move on, we’ll go to Homestead where I’ll feel a hell of a lot better,” Moffitt told FS1.

Click here for race results.

Click here for updated standings.

Stage 1 winner: Ben Rhodes (third stage win of season)

Stage 2 winner: Brandon Jones (fourth stage win of season)

Who else had a good race: Crafton began the race below the playoff cutline, but stuck to the gameplan and now he’s Miami-bound. “We did exactly what we had to do,” Crafton told FS1. “We had nothing to lose and a lot to gain. We fought really hard each and every stage. We didn’t want to stage race, but we had to and at the end of the day, that’s what got us in (to the championship race).”

Who had a bad race: After starting from the pole, Austin Hill finished an unlucky 13th, low enough to knock him below the playoff cutline and to see Crafton move past him for the final championship race spot. “We just didn’t perform tonight and didn’t execute like we were supposed to,” Hill told FS1. “We just weren’t good enough when it mattered.”

Notable: After mechanical issues forced him to miss qualifying and to start the race at the back of the field, Harrison Burton came back strongly to finish seventh. … Chastain is a Florida native and is looking forward to going to his home track to race for the championship, telling FS1: “I am excited. This is incredible. … We’re going to Homestead. It’s an absolute dream come true.

What’s next: The 2019 Truck Series season all comes down to one race next Friday: the season finale and the championship-deciding race at Miami.

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Austin Hill takes pole for tonight’s Truck race at ISM Raceway

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Austin Hill bumped Stewart Friesen late in qualifying to take the pole for tonight’s Lucas Oil 150 Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at ISM Raceway in suburban Phoenix.

Hill took the pole with a speed of 133.230 mph. Friesen will start alongside Hill on the front row with a qualifying run of 133.126 mph.

“I tried to hit my marks as best as I could,” Hill told FS1. “I didn’t think it was a great lap. … That’s the best it finished all day. Now we’re starting on the pole. Now we just have to go and finish this thing off.”

Hill and Friesen were the only drivers to exceed 133 mph in the session.

Qualifying third through 10th in the 34-truck field were Sheldon Creed (132.989 mph), Ben Rhodes (132.949), Ty Majeski (132.876), Chandler Smith (132.836), Brandon Jones (132.738), Grant Enfinger (132.704), Todd Gilliland (132.694) and Matt Crafton (132.528).

One incident of note occurred to the No 18 Toyota Tundra of Harrison Burton. He was unable to get his truck started to make a qualifying attempt and, as a result, will start tonight’s race from the back of the field.

Tonight’s race will take the green flag shortly after 8:30 p.m. ET and will be televised on FS1.

Click here for the full qualifying results.

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