NBC Sports Power Rankings heading into Coca-Cola 600

Leave a comment

After finishing third in the All-Star Race, Kyle Busch is back atop this week’s NBC Sports Power Rankings – although it was not a unanimous decision.

The real story this week is Kyle Larson. Although it was a non-points event, Larson’s win in the All-Star Race propelled him from not even in last week’s rankings to No. 3 this week. Larson is one of three drivers who went from unranked last week to into this week’s top 10. Also making a big jump from last week was Kevin Harvick (from 7th to 2nd).

Several drivers took big drops from last week, including Chase Elliott (1st to 5th), Alex Bowman (2nd to 6th), Clint Bowyer (4th to tied for 10th) and Brad Keselowski (5th to out of the top 10).

Here’s how this week’s Power Rankings look heading into the Coca-Cola 600:

1. Kyle Busch (38 points): Finished third in All-Star Race but climbs the rankings for his rant on the radio late in the race. If you can’t win .… But he did win the Truck race and finished the year winning all five of his starts. Last week: 3rd.

2. Kevin Harvick (32 points): Once again, falls short of victory lane. Pit crew mistakes again. Will they finally get things fixed in time for the race that typically has the most pit stops of the season in it? Last week: 7th.

3. Kyle Larson (30 points): Will the $1 million man build upon his riches to earn some wins that will actually count towards the playoffs? Last week: unranked.

4. Joey Logano (24 points): Strong run at the end to secure top-five finish in All-Star Race. Could be a big factor in the 600. Last week: 8th.

5. Chase Elliott (22 points): Things didn’t go his way. Hey, he has 600 miles this weekend to make things happen. Last week: 1st.

6. Alex Bowman (17 points): With three straight runner-ups and eighth in the All-Star Race, a win could be right around the corner – perhaps as early as Sunday. Last week: 2nd.

7. Bubba Wallace (14 points): Storybook night – stage win in Open and fifth-place finish in All-Star Race – gave him an emotional boost that may lead to better things to come. Last week: unranked.

8. William Byron (10 points): Strong move to win the first stage in Monster Open and then finishes the night with a ninth-place finish in the All-Star Race. Last week: unranked.

9. Martin Truex Jr. (9 points): Fast car but then later had issues and finished 10th. Last week: 9th.

(tie) 10. Clint Bowyer (7 points): Punched his ticket to a 12th-place finish, then went out and punched Ryan Newman on pit road. Will their feud flare up again on Sunday? Last week: 4th.

(tie) 10. Kurt Busch (7 points): Late crash left him with a disappointing 17th-place finish (out of 19 drivers). Look for a big comeback in the 600. Given his consistency this season, he’s overdue for a win. Last week: 6th.

Others receiving votes: Brad Keselowski (4 points), Aric Almirola (3 points), Austin Dillon (2 points), Ross Chastain (1 point).

What drivers said after All-Star Race

Leave a comment

Kyle Larson — winner: “This is unbelievable. This whole day was up and down, from the B Main (the Monster Energy Open) we were in to getting a little bit of damage and repaired on the car. … (Kevin) Harvick gave me a heck of a push to get to the lead from the third row, and then to get by the 18 (Kyle Busch) on the final restart,” Larson told FS1. “Man, this is amazing. I feel like every time I’ve been in the All-Star Race, I’ve been close to winning. It’s neat to close it out. … There’s a lot of people from the shop here today, so we get to do some celebrating and I’m excited about that. … This year has been different for me. I’ve never worked out before, and I’ve been in the gym a little bit more this year with Josh Wise and just working out with him, and being around him puts a lot more confidence and ease into me. I feel like I’m just more calm. I wasn’t nervous at all that last restart, and I think partly of that is just from feeling like I am prepared. And also losing close races.

“I just ‑‑ I feel like I’ve done a good job of not getting stressed out, even with me losing the Chili Bowl. I felt like I was really calm until the last two laps and I gave the race away. Tonight I wasn’t going to let that happen. With those losses that I’ve had, you grow from each and every one of them. Hopefully we can continue this, and I feel like ‑‑ everybody becomes a better driver the older they get, but I feel like I’ve put more work and effort into it this year. (How much is your cut of the $1 million dollars prize?) I don’t know. I was joking with (son) Owen today about what would you want me to buy you if you won a million dollars, and I don’t think he understands what a million dollars is. He didn’t really have an answer for me. So I don’t have any plans. I think, too, a million dollars is cool, but just winning is more cool than a million bucks to me. I think maybe we’re just ‑‑ us drivers, NASCAR drivers are in a good place in our life, it pays well. So whatever. But just winning a big race, a prestigious event means more to me than the money. I’m all about trophies and big wins. … You know, it’s been such a rocky start and we haven’t gotten any momentum at all up until the last couple weeks a little bit, and then today I hope kind of helps it.

“This is a great time of year for me to get a win. Winning not only is important for me in NASCAR because it’s what I make my living in, it’s what I race for points and for a championship in, but this is the time of year when I start getting to race a bunch. I’m going to be in a race car, I think, every day for the next probably almost seven or eight days, so this is a good time of year for me to get some momentum and get into my sprint car season, my midget season as well as the NASCAR stuff on the weekend. Hopefully this will turn it into where I can get some double digit wins this season. … (On a scale of 1 to 10, how was that push from Harvick?) Am I supposed to answer with emojis? It was fire.”

Kevin Harvick – finished 2nd: (How would you describe tonight?) Letdown. That’s how you take the fastest car and don’t win the race with it. You spot them the whole field and just an incredible Busch Beer Ford. Rodney and all these guys on the team just did a great job and it was unfortunate the way pit road went tonight because it wasn’t even close for anybody having a good car like we had tonight. It was a great night for performance, just a bad night on pit road. (Is second a good finish or does it suck?) It’s terrible. I mean, we shot both of our feet off with the absolute dominant car. The guys did a great job preparing the race car and we just weren’t ready to make a pit stop on pit road tonight. (Do changes need to be made?) No, they just need to be ready to race. They’ve done it all year. You can’t just show up and have it be a disaster. I mean, they’ve been great all year and tonight wasn’t great, that’s for sure. We spotted them the whole field. We started tail back with 15 laps to go. (Did you feel you had a chance to catch Larson?) Once they get single-file as soon as they drive in your lane they pushed up the groove, so you’ve got to go where they aren’t and he was fast enough to run the bottom and that’s where I needed to run to really make time. Everybody was wide-open, so once the restart thinned out everybody just kind of goes where they go.”

Kyle Busch – finished 3rd: “(Are the aero problems you referenced something you fought throughout the race?)All year long. This M&M’s Camry was fast, but just not fast enough by itself on restarts. Couldn’t hold off the guys behind us and fought aero problems after that. (How strong was your car in the race?) We had a really fast M&M’s Camry. Probably was the only guy to pass for the lead after a given set of laps. On restarts, we couldn’t go anywhere, we just weren’t fast enough, but we had long run speed. That’s all there is to it.”

Joey Logano – finished 4th: “All-Star racing, that’s what it’s all about. It was intense and the way these cautions fall and the strategy, we were there in the lead and then what do you do? You can stay out and that’s what I thought was our best shot to keep the clean air. If we got passed I knew we were gonna be in big trouble and we weren’t able to maintain the lead there. They did a better job up top pushing and pushed by me on the bottom and I lost the clean air and everyone with tires just drove by me. We had a caution there with 11 to go and pitted and went back to last, but got back to fourth. It’s frustrating. Everyone wants to win the All-Star Race. It’s fun. It’s for a million dollars. There’s a lot of prestige about it to say you’ve done it. We’ve done it before, but you always want to do it again. We’ve got the Coca-Cola 600 next week and I’d say that’s bigger than this one, so let’s make it happen there. (On the decision to pit out of fifth place?) That was the only play at that point. Our play to stay out was kind of the one that kind of got us in that position, but I feel like we had to. Our shot to win was from the front row and as the leader I was hoping I could clear those guys and be able to keep that clean air. If I kept the clean air, the tires weren’t gonna be that bad. I was gonna be all right, but as soon as I got passed on that restart when the 18 did a good job pushing the 9 I lost the clean air and I was in trouble. Once we lost that and the caution came out I was like. Well, we might as well put tires on it this time and give it a shot.’ We went back to 17th and got back to fourth in 10 laps or so. If we had one caution. A caution would have made a difference because we were in the best position tire-wise and we were in fourth-place, so if we get a caution we would have been in a really good spot to be able to try to take that million dollars from them, but it just wasn’t our night.”

Bubba Wallace – finished 5th: “I had it wide open on that last restart and when those guys pulled away, I knew we were done. It’s just a different class, a different animal when you get up there. I had tons of fun tonight. I honestly haven’t had this much fun in a long time. It’s been a struggle, but it was a big night for us. When you don’t have anything on the line, I guess it means something different. (What does the day you had tell you?) The first thing my mom said to me after the Open was ‘You know who that was? That was God. He’s not giving up on you yet’. I’ve realized that. As many dark moments that I’ve had and telling myself to give up, it’s been really tough. It’s been tough to keep coming in and keep going. Tonight just shows that I’ll be back next week.”

Aric Almirola – finished 6th: “You have to be super-aggressive. You can’t really pass after it gets strung out, so you’ve got two or three laps to be as aggressive you possibly can be and if you check out of the throttle for just the slightest little bit, they go by you three and four-wide. It’s crazy. It’s all about momentum. It’s all about the right lane on the restarts. Everything is very situational. If the guy in front of you wiggles and he checks up and you check up to keep from running over him, you lose four, five, six spots in one straightaway. It’s aggravating, but that’s kind of the way it is when you don’t have a lot of horsepower and the cars are so draggy. It’s all about momentum. (What do you make about this race?) It doesn’t matter. If you don’t win the million dollars, everybody else leaves mad.”

Austin Dillon – finished 7th: “Restarts were good and we could make a lot of ground up on the top if I got in the right line. I don’t know, I got turned by the 18, he said he was dragging, but I have to look at the replay. We had a pretty good run going there and when he turned us, it just killed our left front fender. Then I got in the (Denny) Hamlin wreck too and that further killed our left front. I thought I had a good restart there at the end but the left front just wouldn’t turn anymore from all the damage.”

Alex Bowman – finished 8th: “Our car was really obviously good in the Open. We just took off really, really tight. Obviously, we had that left side damage from the Open and that probably got us really tight. Something got us tight to start the All-Star and we got it better until I got driven into the fence and pretty much knocked all four corners off of it. So, we just tried to play catch up from there. Eighth could have been a whole lot worse and we will move on to the 600.”

William Byron – finished 9th“We had a good car. Starting in the back, we got up to 4th, then 3rd coming to the final stop. We took four tires and I think that was the right move, we just got in the wrong lane on the restart. We restarted on the bottom twice. It’s not fun to have the restarts that go that way, but overall there was a lot of progress and we had a good night. (Do you think NASCAR will use this package in the future?) Yeah, I honestly don’t feel like it was any different. I think it was just the circumstance of how many restarts there were and how intense this race is. I think the cars have been racy all year and I feel like a little racier before tonight, but it’s hard to tell, honestly. We were able to pass cars, which was good.”

Martin Truex Jr. – finished 10th: “It wasn’t good for us. We had a really strong Camry and got to the front early. We lost track position and then go it back, lost it, got it back, lost it and got wrecked. It’s the All-Star race. If you’re not the first couple of guys, you’re in a bad spot. No fun.”

Brad Keselowski — finished 11th: “I was crushing the splitter there towards the end of the race and couldn’t hit a lick on that restart when we fell back. We pitted and put those packers in the front shocks and the Discount Tire Ford really took off. It was a night and day difference. Unfortunately we didn’t the finish we wanted to tonight.”

Clint Bowyer — finished 12th: “I don’t know what the hell his (Ryan Newman‘s) beef was. I thought he was a lap down. Our day was over. We lost track position there, got sideways, crossed up and basically buying time there to see if something was gonna happen at the end. They got four-wide off of four. Hell, I thought he was a lap down. I checked up and he ran into my left-rear and that’s the last I saw of him. Then after the race he comes and runs into my back and turns me all around and I pull up next to him and he dumps me into four. Where I come from you get poked in the nose for that, and that’s what he got.”

Ryan Newman – finished 13th: “We struggled all night. I’m really embarrassed about our performance with the Acorns Ford. We missed it on the balance, missed it on the package. We had a good restart and got up to fifth, but didn’t have anything after that. Our car was just too tight there at the end and struggled in traffic.”

Ryan Blaney — finished 16th: “We had a pretty good BODYARMOR Ford tonight. Unfortunately issues on pit road and on-track on hurt our night. We will try to clean them up and get ready for the Coca-Cola 600 next week.”

Daniel Hemric — finished 18th: “When you come to Charlotte Motor Speedway for NASCAR All-Star weekend the only thing that matters is winning, and I am disappointed we didn’t get that done tonight. This No. 8 Bass Pro Shops/Caterpillar Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was fast as can be, and we showed that by winning the pole on Friday night. We led the majority of the opening segment during the All-Star Open and I thought we were in a good spot to transfer into the All-Star Race but the caution came out and the car was just too tight to hang onto the lead on the overtime restart. We came in during the stage break and Luke Lambert and the guys put four tires on our Bass Pro Shops/Caterpillar Chevrolet and made a chassis adjustment that really improved the handling. We were racing hard with the No. 47 when we got together and it ended our day.  We had one of the fastest cars in the field and it is really a shame we didn’t get the chance to race in the main event tonight.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Perfect night: Kyle Larson follows up Open win with NASCAR All-Star Race triumph

1 Comment

Kyle Larson’s Chevrolet seemingly morphed into an armored car by virtue of driving home with a cool $1 million Saturday night for winning the 35th NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Larson earned his spot in the All-Star Race after winning the Monster Energy Open preliminary event earlier in the evening.

Even though he’s finished third and eighth in his last two regular season races, it has not been an easy season for Larson, who has struggled in several races (including three DNFs in a four-race stretch due to wrecks), dropping as low as 21st in the standings after Talladega (he’s back up to 15th after last week’s race at Kansas).

But on Saturday night, Larson was the best driver and wound up taking the victory.

“This is unbelievable,” Larson told Fox Sports 1. “This whole day was up and down, from the B Main (the Monster Energy Open) we were in to getting a little bit of damage and repaired on the car.”

Early in the final stage, Kyle Larson got a great push from Kevin Harvick, who was running sixth at the time. Harvick pushed Larson right through the middle of the pack to grab the lead. That would prove to be the move of the race.

“Harvick gave me a heck of a push to get to the lead from the third row, and then to get by the 18 (Kyle Busch) on the final restart,” Larson told FS1. “Man, this is amazing. I feel like every time I’ve been in the All-Star Race, I’ve been close to winning. It’s neat to close it out. … There’s a lot of people from the shop here today, so we get to do some celebrating and I’m excited about that.”

Harvick finished second, followed by Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Bubba Wallace.

“Letdown” is the way Harvick described his night to FS1. “That’s how you take the fastest car and don’t win the race with it. You spot ’em the whole field.

“It was an incredible Busch Beer Ford. It was just unfortunate the way pit road went tonight because it wasn’t even close to anybody having a good car like we had tonight. It was just a great night from performance, just a bad night on pit road.”

Sixth through 10th were Aric Almirola, Austin Dillon, Alex Bowman, William Byron and Martin Truex Jr.

MORE: Results from NASCAR All-Star Race

Kyle Busch won Stage 1, Kevin Harvick won Stage 2 and Joey Logano won Stage 3.

Stage 1 notes: William Byron, Bubba Wallace and Kyle Larson transferred into the All-Star Race by winning the first three stages respectively in the preliminary Monster Energy Open race held earlier in the evening. Also transferring into the All-Star event was Alex Bowman, who won the fan vote. … The opening stanza went into overtime – with three extra laps for a total of 33 laps – after Erik Jones brought out the caution with four laps to go after hitting the wall, resulting in a blown right front tire.

Stage 2 notes: Ryan Newman went sailing through the front stretch grass just two laps into the 20 lap stage, bringing out a caution flag. The incident caused damage to the front end of Newman’s Ford, but he was able to bounce back.

Stage 3 notes: Erik Jones, Austin Dillon and Kyle Busch were all involved in a wreck three laps into the scheduled 20-lap stage. During the ensuing caution, Kevin Harvick was penalized for pitting too soon and his crew went over the wall too soon, leaving him to restart at the back of the pack. … But Harvick didn’t sit and sulk: he went from 18th to sixth in just 16 laps. … After his early-stage contact, Kyle Busch held back for the remainder of the stage, only to emerge fourth as Stage 4 began.

Stage 4 notes: After an apparent left rear tire failure, Denny Hamlin suddenly slowed and went spinning two laps into the scheduled 15 laps after being hit in the rear by Ryan Blaney, who had nowhere to go. The wreck collected Austin Dillon, as well. … With 12 laps left, Jones lost his right rear tire and hit the wall, bringing out yet another caution. … Clint Bowyer threw a volley of punches at Ryan Newman through his car window after the race.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Tonight’s All-Star Race at Charlotte: Start time, lineup and more

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

No points. Just a $1 million to the winner. As pole-sitter Clint Bowyer says: “I don’t care if you’re Warren Buffet or the guy that is going to pick up (trash in) the grandstands after tonight, a million dollars is a million dollars. If you think it doesn’t mean anything different to me than it does to you, then you’re crazy.”

Drivers will go for the $1 million in tonight’s Monster Energy All-Star Race. The evening will begin with the Monster Energy Open for those not yet qualified for the All-Star Race.

Here’s all the info for tonight’s events:

(All times are Eastern)

MONSTER OPEN

START: Eurest Foodservice Director Lisa Melzer will give the command for the Monster Open at 6:10 p.m. The green flag is scheduled for 6:18 p.m. 

PRERACE: Garage opens at 2 p.m. Drivers meeting is at 4 p.m. Driver introductions will begin at 5:56 p.m. The invocation will be given by Motor Racing Outreach Chaplain Donnie Floyd at 6:08 p.m. Julia Cole will perform the “God Bless America” at 6:09 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 50 laps (75 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 20. Stage 2 ends at Lap 40. 

SPECIAL RULES: Green and yellow laps count in the first two stages. Only green flag laps count in the final stage. Overtime will be applied to all stages if there is a caution just before the end of a stage.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the race at 6 p.m. Coverage begins at 5 p.m. with NASCAR RaceDay. Motor Racing Network will broadcast the race. MRN’s coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast, which is also available at mrn.com.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 87 degrees and a 3% chance of rain for the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Alex Bowman won stage 1. Daniel Suarez won stage 2. AJ Allmendinger won the final stage. Chase Elliott won the fan vote. All advanced to the All-Star Race last year

ADVANCING TO ALL-STAR RACE: The three stage winners advance along with the fan vote winner.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for Monster Energy Open starting lineup

 

ALL-STAR RACE

START: Axell “Slay” Hodges will give the command to start engines for the All-Star Race at 8:07 p.m. The green flag is scheduled for 8:16 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage opens at 2 p.m. Drivers meeting is at 4 p.m. Driver introductions will begin at 7:35 p.m. The invocation will be given by car owner Joe Gibbs at 8 p.m. Michael Tait will perform the National Anthem at 8:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 85 laps (127 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 30. Stage 2 ends on Lap 50. Stage 3 ends at Lap 70. 

SPECIAL RULES: Each stage must end under green. Overtime procedures will be in place for each stage. Green and yellow laps count in the first three stages. Only green flag laps count in the final stage.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the race at 8 p.m. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with NASCAR RaceDay. Motor Racing Network will broadcast the race. MRN’s coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast, which is also available at mrn.com.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 82 degrees and a 15% chance of rain for the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Kevin Harvick won last year’s race and was followed by Daniel Suarez, who came from the Open, and Joey Logano.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for All-Star Race starting lineup

Friday 5: Jimmie Johnson grows impatient as winless streak continues

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Leave a comment

With a winless streak nearing two years and a contract expiring next year, Jimmie Johnson admits he’s getting impatient.

“We haven’t been in contention to win a race yet this year, and we’ve got to fix that,” Johnson said this week after unveiling the camouflage car he’ll drive in next weekend’s Coca-Cola 600. “If I’m not in contention to win a race, there’s no chance of winning a championship. This middle portion of the season is key for me to get things where they need to be so we can win races and ultimately win a championship.”

Asked if he’d rather win this weekend’s All-Star Race or the Coca-Cola 600, the seven-time champion quickly answered: “600. Lock me into that championship. I want eight, damn it.’’

He laughed, but it’s clear how serious he is.

Johnson enters the All-Star Race winless in his last 71 points races. His last Cup victory came June 4, 2017, at Dover.

Since stage racing and playoff points were implemented in 2017, 80% of the drivers who had two or more wins by the All-Star break went on to compete in the championship race in Miami. The only driver who had multiple wins before the All-Star Race and didn’t make it to the championship race was Johnson in 2017. He had two wins before the All-Star Race but was eliminated in the third round of the playoffs that year.

Four drivers this season have multiple Cup victories coming to Saturday’s All-Star Race: Kyle Busch (three wins), Brad Keselowski (three), Denny Hamlin (two) and Martin Truex Jr. (two). Based on the past two years, it would mean that at least three of those drivers should make it to Miami to race for a championship.

By dominating victory lane this season, Busch, Keselowski, Hamlin and Truex also are stockpiling playoff points that could help them advance and offset a bad race in a round. Johnson doesn’t have that luxury. He has no playoff points.

Johnson also is in a precarious spot. He’s 16th in the standings — which would be the final transfer spot to the playoffs provided a driver below him in points doesn’t win.

Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Kevin Meendering. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Johnson is the only driver who has competed in NASCAR’s postseason format every year since it debuted in 2004. To keep that streak going, he and his team have to be better.

Even though he finished sixth last weekend at Kansas Speedway, Johnson struggled with the car’s handling for more than half the race and said that the team needed to “make better decisions.”

“Certainly I was venting when I got out of the car Saturday night,” Johnson said. “We have been working hard on things, our processes and decision-making process looking at the All-Star Race. We’ve made some changes to be a little wiser going into the All-Star Race and hopefully have that play out and take it to the 600, but it’s tough.

“When we look at pre-Texas, we knew we had to make big changes. We kept changing and changing and changing. We go to Texas and (three of the four Hendrick) cars qualify one through (three).

“So after that, it’s like, ‘Let’s be aggressive, continue to be aggressive.’ Then you get burned a couple of weeks and you’re like ‘OK, where is that fine line really at?’ I don’t have a clear answer. Ultimately for us to win and compete for another championship that process has to clean up somehow.”

Johnson has ranked last among his Hendrick Motorsports teammates the past three races in green-flag speed, according to NASCAR’s statistics. Although teammate Alex Bowman finished second in each of the past three races and teammate Chase Elliott won at Talladega, putting their setups on Johnson’s car isn’t that simple. 

“We have flexibility in the group to change cars and build cars in different ways,” Johnson said. “At times, we’ve found ourselves very close together. I think there are some areas where the cars are closer together than they have ever been … but we have flexibility to run different versions of chassis, spindles, certain suspension components and shocks and springs.

“The journey the driver kind of leads the team or the engineers on that team lead the group on, we all end up in our own spaces with our own setups. Unfortunately, this weekend when we unloaded (at Kansas), we knew right off the truck that we were down on speed, our team was. We made some provisions to race better and try not to pay attention to single-car speed, a lot like you would see at a restrictor-plate track.

“So Friday we’re trying to react and hoping it would race better. When I got into the race, the first half of the race was so bad for us. We didn’t have the raw speed and we didn’t have a better car in traffic. I have to give Kevin (Meendering, crew chief) a ton of credit. … He made some killer decisions. Our pit stops were awesome. Those guys rallied around him, and we had a great second half of the race and finished sixth. We know what’s making speed with our own company. We just need to figure out how to put those pieces into our car with our philosophies.”

As for Johnson’s future, he’s unsure at this point.

“I don’t know what I’ll be doing in a couple of years,” he said. “My contract is up in 2020, and I’ll have to evaluate what I want to do after that.”

Until then, his focus is on finding enough speed to win again.

2. More close calls coming?

Erik Jones’ block of Clint Bowyer on the last lap of last Saturday’s race at Kansas upset Bowyer, but it might be just the beginning.

In a season where only six drivers have won, drivers will have to be more aggressive to get a victory. If they can’t, then they will need all the points possible. That can mean everything from pit calls by crew chiefs to drivers blocking.

“There’s a lot of blocking that goes on,” Austin Dillon said Thursday after unveiling his car for the Coca-Cola 600. “Somebody is going to get turned eventually. That’s just part of it.”

With the races dwindling before the playoff field is set — next weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 marks the halfway point of the regular season there could be more big moves on the track.

“The points are so close at the edge there at 16th,” said Dillon, who is 18th in the standings, 11 points behind Jimmie Johnson for the final transfer spot. “There’s going to be a lot of guys fighting for every point.”

3. An idea for next year

Car owner Richard Childress says he likes the rules package that NASCAR has gone to this year, but he’d make one change for next year.

“If I were them, I would have the 550 (horsepower) engine everywhere,” Childress said Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “We’ve got it at Daytona and Talladega. We got it everywhere except the half-mile tracks and the 1-mile tracks. Just go with one engine package. That way your development is around one engine package (instead of two).”

Cup cars run the 550 horsepower engine or 750 horsepower engine depending on the track’s size. Teams use the 750 horsepower engine for all races on ovals 1 mile or less and the road courses. That’s 14 of the 36 points races. The 550-horsepower engine is used at the other points races.

4. One last time (for this year)

Kyle Busch after his Texas win. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Friday’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway will mark Kyle Busch’s fifth and final start of the season in that series. He seeks to complete a sweep of his races.

Busch and all other drivers who have more than five full-time seasons in Cup and are scoring Cup points are limited to five Truck races a season (and seven in the Xfinity Series).

Busch has won Truck races at Atlanta, Las Vegas, Martinsville and Texas this season.

5. Slight change

Pocono Raceway announced a change to its race weekend in two weeks. Cup qualifying will be held before the Xfinity race on Saturday, June 1.

Last year, Cup teams had one practice on Friday and then qualified. Cup teams had one Saturday practice.

Now, Cup teams will have two practices Friday and then only be on the track Saturday for qualifying. The race is Sunday, June 2.