NASCAR viewer’s guide for Texas Motor Speedway

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The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs roll on this weekend to Texas Motor Speedway, which will be hosting its first points race of the season.

Former champion Chase Elliott, a four-time race winner and the only driver with more than two victories this year, leads the standings, followed by Joey Logano and Ross Chastain.

The Texas race (3:30 p.m. ET Sunday, USA Network) is the first of three races in the Round of 12. Events at Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 2) and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Oct. 9) will follow.

Entering Texas, Chase Briscoe, Alex Bowman, Daniel Suarez and Austin Cindric are below the cutline.

Chris Buescher won Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway, becoming the third non-playoff driver to win during the playoffs.

Three tough teams

Three teams account for nine of the remaining 12 drivers in the hunt for the Cup championship.

Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske and Trackhouse Racing put all of their drivers in the second round.

Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, William Byron and Alex Bowman are in the final 12 for Hendrick. Bowman is below the cutline.

MORE: NASCAR official fires back at Kevin Harvick’s comment

Team Penske drivers Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney are in the top eight entering Texas. Teammate Austin Cindric is below the cutline.

Trackhouse Racing drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez remain in title contention. Suarez is below the cutline.

In a playoff season marked by troubles of various sorts, Byron is the only driver who has not had a significant issue through the first three races. He has finished eighth, sixth and third in the opening races.

A 20th winner?

In a very unusual season, one of the most unusual statistics is this: Nineteen different drivers have won a race this year, tying the modern-era record set in 2001.

Could there be 20 different winners? In a word, yes.

Six drivers who won races last year haven’t won a points race this year. They are Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski and Michael McDowell.

Truex, Keselowski and Blaney might be the best bets to be No. 20 this weekend at Texas.

Truex is a three-time runner-up at Texas and has led 674 laps there, the most by any driver without a win at the track.

Keselowski has finished second twice at Texas and led 654 laps there. He led 109 laps Saturday at Bristol as part of Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing’s best race of the season.

Blaney remains in the championship race despite continuing to haul a big zero with him. He won the All-Star Race at Texas this year and has finished in the top 10 in seven of the past eight Texas races.

Playoff standings tight

Twelve drivers will be hoping to advance to the Round of 8 as the NASCAR playoffs stop at Texas Motor Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval over the next three weeks.

The point totals in the top 12 entering Sunday’s race at Texas are tight.

MORE: NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

Only 34 points separate leader Chase Elliott and 12th-place Austin Cindric. The point gap from first to 12th in recent seasons has been higher — 57 in 2021, 66 in 2020, 46 in 2019, 55 in 2018 and 56 in 2017.

The battle around the cutline is tighter. Only seven points separate sixth-place Denny Hamlin and 12th-place Cindric.

Entry lists

Thirty-six drivers are entered in Sunday’s 334-lap Cup race. Included in addition to Cup  regulars are Garrett Smithley and Noah Gragson.

Texas Cup entry list

Thirty-nine drivers are entered for 38 spots in Saturday’s 200-lap Xfinity Series race. On the list are Tommy Joe Martins, Stefan Parsons, Matt Mills, Jeffrey Earnhardt and Garrett Smithley.

Texas Xfinity entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

 (All times Eastern)

Saturday, Sept. 24

Forecast: Sunny and hot. High of 98.

  • 10:35 – 11:05 a.m. — Xfinity Series practice (USA Network)
  • 11:05 – Noon — Xfinity Series qualifying (USA Network)
  • 12:35 – 1:20 p.m. — Cup Series practice (USA Network)
  • 1:20 – 2:30 p.m. — Cup Series qualifying (USA Network)
  • 3:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (200 laps, 300 miles; USA Network, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Sept. 25

Forecast: Mostly sunny. Stray shower or thunderstorm possible. High of 95. 15% chance of rain.

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup Series race (334 laps, 501 miles; USA Network, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

 

 

 

Bristol Cup cutoff race results, driver points

Bristol Cup results points
Logan Riely/Getty Images
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Bristol points, results: The first round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs ended with a third consecutive victory by a non-playoff driver as Chris Buescher ended a 222-race winless streak Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

It was the first points victory as a team owner for Brad Keselowski, who joined Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing this season. The victory by the No. 17 Ford was the first for the team since July 1, 2017 at Daytona International Speedway with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Buescher, who won for the first time since his Aug. 1, 2016 victory at Pocono Raceway, became the 19th winner in the Cup Series this year, tying a modern-era record set in 2001. The No. 17 Ford driver led a race-high 169 of 500 laps (including the final 61) and won by 0.458 seconds over Chase Elliott.

RESULTS: Click here for where everyone finished l Click here for the race report

William Byron finished third, followed by Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson.

It’s the first time in NASCAR’s playoff era (which began in 2004) that there have been three consecutive victories by non-playoff drivers.

POINTS

Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick were eliminated from the playoffs after the first round as the field was narrowed from 16 to 12 drivers.

It’s the first time that Busch and Harvick have been ousted in the first round of the elimination playoff format that started in 2014.

Regular season champion Chase Elliott will enter the second round opener at Texas Motor Speedway with the points lead in the reseeded standings, ahead of Joey Logano, Ross Chastain, Kyle Larson, William Byron, Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell, Ryan Blaney, Chase Briscoe, Alex Bowman, Daniel Suarez and Austin Cindric.

RESEEDED POINTS FOR ROUND 2: Click here for reseeded driver points l Click here for reseeded team owner points

ROUND 1 POINTS: Click here for driver points l Click here for team owner points

Cup driver intro songs at Bristol

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — One of the best parts of pre-race festivities at Bristol Motor Speedway is the drivers having their own song as they are introduced.

Here are the driver selections for Saturday night’s Cup playoff 

AJ Allmendinger — “Victory” by Fire From the Gods

Aric Almirola — “”Without Me” by Eminem

Christopher Bell — “Remember the Name” — by Fort Minor

Ryan Blaney — “Angel Band” by Tyler Childers

Alex Bowman — “Outlawz” by Terror Reid 

Chase Briscoe — “The Boss” by James Brown

Chris Buescher — “Go to War” by Nothing More 

Harrison Burton — “”Bad Boy for Life” by Diddy

Kyle Busch — “Rowdy Song” by Raytona 500

William Byron — “CHANT” by Macklemore

Landon Cassill — “High Hopes” by Panic at the Disco

Ross Chastain — “Watermelon Crawl”

Austin Cindric — “Run to the Hills” by Iron Maiden

Cole Custer — “Top Gun Anthem” by Harold Faltermeyer 

Austin Dillon — “Narcos” by Timmy Trumpet

Ty Dillon — “The Next Episode” by Dr. Dre and Eminem

Chase Elliott — “Ride the Lightning (717 Tapes) by Warren Zeiders

Ty Gibbs — “All In” by Lil Baby

Todd Gilliland — “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” by Ye

Justin Haley — “Summer Breeze” by Seals and Crofts

Denny Hamlin — “Hard Knock Life” by Andrea McArdle 

Kevin Harvick — “The Old Man Down the Road” by John Fogarty

Erik Jones — “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” by Toby Keith

Brad Keselowski — “Rooster” by Alice in Chains

Corey LaJoie — “Highway to the Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins

Kyle Larson — “Dirt Road Anthem” by Jason Aldean

Joey Logano — “Back to the Future Theme”

Michael McDowell — “Coming in Hot” by Lecrae and Andy Mineo

BJ McLeod — “Jiggle Jiggle” by Duke and Jones and Louis Theroux

Tyler Reddick — “Sabotage” by Beastie Boys

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — “Sold Out” by HARDY

Daniel Suarez — “I Feel Good” by PitBull

Martin Truex Jr. — “Need a Boat” by Morgan Wallen 

Bubba Wallace — “Long Violent History” by Tyler Childers 

Cody Ware — “25 Bands and A Geccco” by 100 Gecs

JJ Yeley — “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins

Dr. Diandra: The cars each playoff driver should avoid to survive Bristol

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With only Christopher Bell locked into the next round of the playoffs, the first item on every other drivers’ to-do list is to simply survive Bristol.

The worst thing that can happen to a playoff driver is him taking himself out of the race.

The second-worst thing is for another driver take him out.

During a discussion of accidents on SiriusXM Speedway, host Dave Moody asked if some drivers tend to run into each other more than they run into other drivers.

I suspected they did, but here are the numbers.

The method

Never trust statistics unless you know what data was used, where it came from, and how the claimant arrived at their results.

I started with NASCAR’s caution list, selecting all accidents and spins involving two or more cars. For 2022, that totaled 69 incidents involving 280 cars.

Incidents at road courses, however, often don’t cause cautions. Therefore, I added the list of incidents I compiled from analyzing video of the five road course races. That provided 20 more incidents involving 48 cars.

I then identified all the pairwise correlations. That’s a fancy way of saying I found all the pairs of drivers who were in the same accidents.

For Ross Chastain, for example, I counted how many times the No. 1 car was in an accident that also involved the No. 2 car, the No. 3 car, etc. I repeated this for each driver.

Each pair of drivers’ score is the number of accidents they had in common. These numbers ranged from zero to six.

No analysis is ever absolute. So here are the caveats:

  • Counting accidents is subjective. I may not have counted one or two incidents in the road course races that someone else might. NASCAR didn’t count accidents that didn’t cautions.
  • I haven’t discriminated between two-car incidents and multi-car crashes. They all potentially hamper the driver’s finish. But drivers take two-car altercations a little more personally. They thus get more attention and we remember them better.

Who contacts the most cars?

I start by examining how many pairwise collisions each driver tallied in the 28 races this year. Again, a pairwise collision is simply an accident or spin involving both drivers.

Two of this year’s rookie class rise to the top of the list. Harrison Burton was involved in 75 pairwise interactions and Todd Gilliland in 70.

Being a rookie doesn’t necessarily mean you get tangled up with more cars. Austin Cindric had only 45 pairwise interactions.

The third driver in the overall rankings is veteran Denny Hamlin, with a 66. Aside from Burton, Gilliland and Hamlin, no driver has more than 60 pairwise collisions this year.

Six drivers score between 50 and 59.

Justin Haley holds the lowest score of all full-time drivers at 19. Other low-scoring drivers are:

Specific pairs

If collisions were random, then every car would have about the same pairwise collision score with every other car. We already know not to expect that because where cars typically run influences who collides with whom.

Cars that tend to run at the front of the field are more likely to run into other cars that run at the front of the field. The same holds true for mid-pack and back-of-pack drivers. The only exception is at superspeedways because those crashes tend to collect a broader swathe of positions.

The two drivers involved in the largest number of common incidents this year are Cindric and Burton, with a total of six. One-ninth of Cindric’s incidents included Burton.

But running position can’t entirely explain this data.

Cindric’s average running position is 17.0, which is almost five positions away from Burton’s average running position of 22.9. But playoff driver Austin Dillon has an 18.2 average running position and has no shared incidents with Burton.

Cindric and Dillon have no shared incidents, either.

Running position can, however, explain the other two drivers that have a high score with Burton. Gilliland and Corey LaJoie each have five shared accidents with the No. 21. LaJoie’s average running position is 25.4 and Gilliland’s is 23.5.

But LaJoie has only one shared accident with Gilliland.

If this makes your head spin, the diagram below may help. I denote each driver by his car number. The numbers on the arrows tell you how many shared incidents each pair has.

A graphic showing the numbers of pairwise correlations (i.e. shared accidents) for Harrison Burton and select drivers.

Aside from the Burton/Gilliland and Burton/LaJoie pairings, only two other driver pairs had five mutual encounters. Denny Hamlin shares five accidents each with Elliott and Ryan Blaney.

How to survive Bristol

The table below shows driver pairs with scores of four or more for each of the playoff drivers. These are the cars each driver should avoid if they are to survive Bristol (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday, USA Network.) Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick, Tyler Reddick, Chase Briscoe, William Byron and Alex Bowman are not included because none had any scores of four or above.A table showing playoff drivers and which cars they most frequently find themselves in accidents with.

Starting lineup for Bristol Cup playoff race

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BRISTOL, Tennessee — Aric Almirola will take the green flag in front of eight playoff drivers in the Cup starting lineup Saturday night as the first round concludes at Bristol Motor Speedway (USA, coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET).

Almirola, who failed to make the playoff (after re-signing a contract extension for the No. 10 Ford), captured the fourth pole position of his Cup career. His most recent was 47 starts ago (last year at Nashville Superspeedway).

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver became the 14th pole-sitter in Cup this season by turning a lap of 14.946 seconds on the 0.533-mile oval in qualifying Friday.

MORE: Click here for Bristol Cup starting lineup by row l By car

It was the sixth top 10 starts in seven races at the short track for Almirola, whose previous best in qualifying at Bristol was second.

Here are the starting positions of the 16 playoff drivers:

Chase Briscoe (second), Alex Bowman (third), Denny Hamlin (fourth), Kyle Larson (fifth), Ryan Blaney (sixth), Kevin Harvick (seventh), Christopher Bell (eighth), Austin Cindric (ninth), Ross Chastain (12th), Joey Logano (15th), William Byron (16th), Tyler Reddick (17th), Kyle Busch (21st), Chase Elliott (23rd), Austin Dillon (28th) and Daniel Suarez (29th).

UNDER THE LIGHTS AT BRISTOL: Details for Saturday’s race

Four drivers will be eliminated after Saturday’s 500-lap race concludes the first round of the playoffs. Only Bell is locked into the second round.

Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric are below the cutline to start the first race on Bristol’s high-banked concrete with the Next Gen car. Busch and Harvick are trying to avoid first-round elimination for the first time in their careers.

Harvick finished second at Bristol last year after winning therein 2020.

Busch has a series-leading eight victories in NASCAR’s premier series at Bristol — most recently in a 2019 win that is among his six top-five finishes in the past eight races there.