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NASCAR Silly season features Bubba Wallace, Michael Jordan

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NASCAR Silly Season took a twist Monday. A day that started with the announcement that Ross Chastain would drive for Chip Ganassi Racing next year ended with the news that Denny Hamlin would co-own a team with Michael Jordan and have Bubba Wallace as the driver in 2021.

As JTG Daugherty Racing co-owner Brad Daugherty said: “I think it’s a pretty dynamic trio with Michael, Denny and Bubba. They’re going to be like rock stars.”

The 26-year-old Wallace is in his third full Cup season. All 105 of his starts in NASCAR’s premier series have been with Richard Petty Motorsports.

“Bubba has shown tremendous improvement since joining the Cup Series and we believe he’s ready to take his career to a higher level,” Hamlin said in a statement. “He deserves the opportunity to compete for race wins and our team will make sure he has the resources to do just that. Off the track, Bubba has been a loud voice for change in our sport and our country. MJ and I support him fully in those efforts and stand beside him.”

A team name, car number, manufacturer and sponsors will be announced at a later time.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2021

No. 00: Quin Houff enters the second year of his two-year deal with StarCom Racing.

No. 1: Kurt Busch enters the second year of a multi-year contract that Chip Ganassi Racing announced last season.

No. 2: Brad Keselowski and Team Penske announced a contract extension Aug. 3.

No. 4: Kevin Harvick signed a contract extension in February that will keep him at Stewart-Haas Racing through the 2023 season.

No. 8: Tyler Reddick said Aug. 7 that he will be back with Richard Childress Racing next season.

No. 9: Chase Elliott is under contract with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2022 season.

No. 10: Aric Almirola extends deal with Stewart-Haas Racing for 2021 season.

No. 11: Denny Hamlin is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 12: Ryan Blaney and Team Penske announced a multi-year extension earlier this season.

No. 18: Kyle Busch is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 19: Martin Truex Jr. is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 20: Christopher Bell moves from Leavine Family Racing to take over this ride in 2021.

No. 22: Joey Logano is tied to Team Penske “through the 2022 season and beyond.”

No. 24: William Byron is under contact with Hendrick Motorsports through 2022.

No. 42: Ross Chastain takes over Chip Ganassi Racing’s ride for the 2021 season.

No. 47: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. enters the second year of a multi-year deal with JTG Daugherty Racing.

No. 88: Alex Bowman will race for Hendrick Motorsports under a one-year contract extension announced earlier this year.

No. TBA: Bubba Wallace joins the new team co-owned by Denny Hamlin and NBA great Michael Jordan. The team purchased Germain Racing’s charter. Germain Racing will not continue after this season.

 

Available/possibly available rides

No. 14: Clint Bowyer is in a contract year to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto said Sept. 17 that Wood Brothers Racing has an option to pick up his contract for next year and the deadline is the end of September.

No. 32: Ride is open with Corey LaJoie announcing he will not return to Go Fas Racing in 2021.

No. 43: Bubba Wallace will not return to Richard Petty Motorsports in 2021, the team confirmed on Sept. 10.

No. 48: With Jimmie Johnson retiring from full-time competition, Hendrick Motorsports has this seat to fill.

No. 95: Spire Motorsports purchased the charter and assets of Leavine Family Racing and will be a two-car operation in 2021.

No. 96: Daniel Suarez and Gaunt Brothers Racing announced Sept. 15 that they would part ways after this season.

 

Silly Season: Ross Chastain to drive No. 42 Ganassi Cup car in 2021

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Another puzzle of Silly Season has been set with Ross Chastain headed to Chip Ganassi Racing to drive the No. 42 Cup car for next season.

Chastain has been a development driver for the team since 2018. He drove three Xfinity races for Ganassi in 2018, winning once. Chastain was to drive a full Xfinity season in 2019 for the team until D.C. Solar’s sponsorship ended after its offices were raided by the FBI. The company later declared bankruptcy.

Chastain is competing for the Xfinity championship this season for Kaulig Racing. He is winless this season but has five runner-up finishes, including this past weekend at Bristol.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2021

No. 00: Quin Houff enters the second year of his two-year deal with StarCom Racing.

No. 1: Kurt Busch enters the second year of a multi-year contract that Chip Ganassi Racing announced last season.

No. 2: Brad Keselowski and Team Penske announced a contract extension Aug. 3.

No. 4: Kevin Harvick signed a contract extension in February that will keep him at Stewart-Haas Racing through the 2023 season.

No. 8: Tyler Reddick said Aug. 7 that he will be back with Richard Childress Racing next season.

No. 9: Chase Elliott is under contract with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2022 season.

No. 10: Aric Almirola extends deal with Stewart-Haas Racing for 2021 season.

No. 11: Denny Hamlin is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 12: Ryan Blaney and Team Penske announced a multi-year extension earlier this season.

No. 18: Kyle Busch is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 19: Martin Truex Jr. is signed with Joe Gibbs Racing through at least next year.

No. 20: Christopher Bell moves from Leavine Family Racing to take over this ride in 2021.

No. 22: Joey Logano is tied to Team Penske “through the 2022 season and beyond.”

No. 24: William Byron is under contact with Hendrick Motorsports through 2022.

No. 42: Ross Chastain takes over Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 ride for the 2021 season.

No. 47: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. enters the second year of a multi-year deal with JTG Daugherty Racing.

No. 88: Alex Bowman will race for Hendrick Motorsports under a one-year contract extension announced earlier this year.

 

Available/possibly available rides

No. 13: Ty Dillon is in a contract year at Germain Racing. The team is considering putting itself up for sell.

No. 14: Clint Bowyer is in a contract year to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto said Sept. 17 that the team has an option to pick up his contract for next year and the deadline is the end of September.

No. 32: Ride is open with Corey LaJoie announcing he will not return to Go Fas Racing in 2021.

No. 43: Bubba Wallace will not return to Richard Petty Motorsports in 2021, the team confirmed on Sept. 10.

No. 48: With Jimmie Johnson retiring from full-time competition, Hendrick Motorsports has this seat to fill.

No. 95: Spire Motorsports purchased the charter and assets of Leavine Family Racing and will be a two-car operation in 2021.

No. 96: Daniel Suarez and Gaunt Brothers Racing announced Sept. 15 that they would part ways after this season.

 

Brad Keselowski wins Cup playoff race at Richmond

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Brad Keselowski said this week that his team’s “expectations going into Richmond are really high.” He showed what he meant Saturday night, winning the Cup playoff race at Richmond Raceway to move into the second round.

Keselowski had reason to look forward to this race. He was in the same car that he won with at New Hampshire in August, a race he dominated.

“Man, this thing was awesome,” Keselowski told NBCSN after his fourth win of the season.

Keselowski said he wants this car for the championship finale in Phoenix.

Keselowski’s Ford was too strong for others to overcome with various pit strategies in the middle race of the opening round of the playoffs. He led 192 of the 400 laps, including the final 48.

“We knew this was gonna be a really big pit strategy race, but we had the speed, we had the strategy,” Keselowski said. “This team today did it all.”

MORE: Race results, driver points report 

Keselowski joins Kevin Harvick in the second round of the playoffs. Harvick advanced with last week’s Southern 500 win.

Keselowski’s win came a few hours after Team Penske teammate Will Power won the NTT IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio.

Martin Truex Jr. finished second despite missing pit road during a green-flag stop in the first half of the race. Joey Logano placed third. Austin Dillon was fourth despite a pit road speeding penalty and missing pit road with less than 70 laps to go. Chase Elliott completed the top five.

Kyle Busch, who had to start at the rear because his car failed inspection twice before the race, finished sixth.

Clint Bowyer holds the final transfer spot to the second round going into next weekend’s cutoff race at Bristol. He is three points ahead of William Byron and eight points ahead of Cole Custer. Matt DiBenedetto trails Bowyer by 25 points. Ryan Blaney trails Bowyer by 27 points.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Denny Hamlin

STAGE 2 WINNER: Brad Keselowski

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Austin Dillon followed his runner-up finish at Darlington with a fourth-place finish at Richmond. This is the first time in his career he’s scored back-to-back top-five finishes. … Runner-up Martin Truex Jr. has finished in the top four in nine of the last 10 races. … Alex Bowman placed ninth, marking his fourth consecutive race he’s finished in the top 10, a career high. … Denny Hamlin secured a spot in the second round on points with his 12th-place finish.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Ryan Blaney finished 19th. He’s never finished better than 17th in nine Richmond starts. … Matt DiBenedetto struggled all race and finished 17th.

NOTABLE: The only cautions were for the competition caution and the two stage breaks.

NEXT RACE: The series races Sept. 19 at Bristol Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) in the final race of the first round. This race will cut the playoff field from 16 to 12 drivers.

Richmond playoff race holds many questions for drivers

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Saturday’s Cup race at Richmond is a bit of a mystery for teams. That it comes at a pivotal time in the playoffs adds to the pressure for those that had poor results last weekend.

NASCAR has yet to race at Richmond Raceway this season because the COVID-19 pandemic moved the spring race to Darlington. This will be the first time teams will race at Richmond with the low-downforce package introduced this season for short tracks and road courses.

As the middle race in the opening playoff round, what happens Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) could have an impact on who advances after the Sept. 19 race at Bristol.

Here’s a look at how the title contenders enter the Richmond playoff race:

WORK TO DO

Matt DiBenedetto (-17 points to the cutline)

Ryan Blaney (-17)

Both need a good race at Richmond.

The problem for Blaney is that he hasn’t had one. He’s never finished in the top 15 there in eight career starts. His average finish at Richmond is 25.5.

Richmond is one where maybe we haven’t been so great, so we’ve our work cut out for us,” said Travis Geisler, competition director at Team Penske.

DiBenedetto finished a career-high 14th at Richmond last fall. He enters Saturday’s race with no finish better than 12th in the last five races.

TRANSFER SPOT BATTLE

Cole Custer (-3 points to the cutline)

Clint Bowyer (0 points)

Aric Almirola (holds last transfer spot)

Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer enter Richmond tied for the last playoff spot. The playoff tiebreaker is best result in the round. Almirola owns the tiebreaker based on his ninth-place finish last weekend at Darlington (Bowyer was 10th).

Bowyer goes to Richmond without crew chief Johnny Klausmeier. NASCAR suspended him for this race because Bowyer’s car had two lug nuts not safe and secure after the Southern 500. Former championship winning crew chief Greg Zipadelli, vice president of competition at Stewart-Haas Racing, will serve as Bowyer’s crew chief at Richmond.

Bowyer has four consecutive top 10s at Richmond. Almirola has one top 10 in his last five starts there.

“I love the challenge of (Richmond), but we’ve got to hit it,” Bowyer said. “We’ve been so-so on the short tracks. That’s certainly one of my best tracks, so we’ve got to nail the setup. If we can do that, we’ll get us a good run and go a long ways to getting into Bristol where we need to be.”

NOT SAFE

Austin Dillon (+10 above the cutline)

William Byron (+9)

Kyle Busch (+7)

Kurt Busch (+4)

Could Kyle Busch’s winless season end this weekend? He has six victories at Richmond, most among active drivers. Also, Joe Gibbs Racing’s 16 Richmond wins are its most at any track. JGR drivers have won the past four races at Richmond — Martin Truex Jr. swept last year’s races and Busch swept the 2019 races. If Busch wins, he’ll do so without crew chief Adam Stevens, who has been suspended one race because of a lug nut violation at Darlington. 

Byron is intriguing. He scored his first top-five finish of the season at Dover last month. He followed that with a win at Daytona and a fifth-place finish last weekend at Darlington. But Byron does not have a top 10 at Richmond in four starts. Hendrick Motorsports’ last win at Richmond was in September 2008.

Dillon carries momentum after his runner-up finish at Darlington. He’s placed in the top 10 in two of the last three Richmond races.

“Richmond is what I have circled as my best track in the playoffs I feel, and I wouldn’t have been able to say that a couple years back,” Dillon said.

Crew chief Matt McCall’s strategy helped Kurt Busch score six points in the first stage at Darlington by not pitting when the field did. He might need more help Saturday. Kurt Busch has not had a top 10 in his last four Richmond starts.

TOGETHER AGAIN

Martin Truex Jr. (+16)

Chase Elliott (+12)

The two antagonists in the late-race drama at Darlington aren’t safe should they have problems at Richmond.

Last year, Truex was the safe bet. He won both races, leading 295 of 800 laps in those races. He’s won four of the last six short track races, including a win at Martinsville this year.

Elliott did not finish better than 13th in the either Richmond race last year.

BREATHING ROOM

Joey Logano (+27)

Brad Keselowski (+22)

Alex Bowman (+19)

Logano’s third-place finish at Darlington put eight drivers between him and the final transfer spot. The same tire that is used this weekend at Richmond also is used at New Hampshire and Phoenix, site of the championship race. Logano won at Phoenix in the spring and finished fourth at New Hampshire.

Keselowski recovered from an early incident at Darlington to finish 11th. He has four consecutive top-10 finishes at Richmond. He’s finished no worse than 11th in his last nine Richmond starts.

Bowman placed sixth at Darlington. He scored 43 points, including 12 stage points. Only winner Kevin Harvick scored more points at Darlington. Bowman’s fortune at Richmond, though, hasn’t been good. He’s never finished better than 12th in eight starts there.

FOCUSED ON WINS

Denny Hamlin (+54)

Kevin Harvick  (advanced to second round)

These two have combined for 14 wins in 27 races this season and they are looking for more.

Harvick, who starts on the pole Saturday, already is in the second round with his Darlington win. Hamlin’s playoff points should put him into the round provided he doesn’t have any major problems.

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NASCAR suspends Ryan Blaney’s crew chief, penalizes team

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NASCAR suspended Ryan Blaney‘s crew chief, Todd Gordon, for Sunday’s playoff opener at Darlington Raceway. NASCAR also docked Blaney and his team 10 points and will have him start at the rear of the field.

Blaney’s team was penalized for improperly mounted ballast. The violation was discovered in inspection before the Southern 500 (6  p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN).

MORE: Southern 500 at Darlington: Start time, TV channel, forecast 

The 10-point penalty drops Blaney to 2003 points and puts him 13th on the playoff grid entering the Southern 500. He was to have started seventh.

Team Penske issued a statement: “Team Penske’s No. 12 Ford Mustang was penalized for Improperly mounted ballast during inspection this afternoon prior to the NASCAR Cup Series race at Darlington. A 5 pound bag of lead that is typically used during setup at the shop to simulate fluid weights prior to the race engine being installed was accidentally left in the car. The team accepts the penalty and Travis Geisler will serve as the crew chief for the No. 12 team this evening.”

Geisler is the organization’s competition director. He was a Cup crew chief from 2008-10 with Sam Hornish Jr.

This penalty could complicate the first round for Blaney. He’s struggled and Darlington and Richmond, the first two races in the opening round. He’s never finished better than 13th in seven Darlington Cup starts.