NASCAR suspends crew chiefs for Bubba Wallace, Corey LaJoie

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NASCAR has suspended the crew chiefs for Bubba Wallace and Corey LaJoie, stripped both cars of its starting spot and penalized the drivers and car owners 10 points each after a pre-race inspection discovered improperly mounted ballast.

Wallace was to have started 15th in today’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN). LaJoie was to have started 33rd.

Wallace will be without crew chief Jerry Baxter. LaJoie will be without crew chief Ryan Sparks.

Wallace falls to 21st in the points entering Sunday’s race with the 10-point penalty. That drops him to 318 points and allowed Chris Buescher, who has 321 points, to move ahead of him. LaJoie remains 29th after the penalty.

Aric Almirola draws the pole for Sunday’s Cup race at New Hampshire

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Aric Almirola will start first for the third time this season in the NASCAR Cup Series after drawing the pole position in the starting lineup for Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Almirola, who finished third at New Hampshire two years ago, also started first June 27 at Pocono Raceway and July 19 at Texas Motor Speedway. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver’s No. 10 Ford has drawn a top-five starting spot in the last five Cup races set by random draws.

Denny Hamlin, who finished second at New Hampshire last year, will start second in his No. 11 Toyota.

STARTING LINEUP: Where everyone will start in the Cup race at New Hampshire

Here are the next five rows in order: Chase Elliott (the highest-starting Chevrolet in third), Brad Keselowski (fourth), Kyle Busch (fifth), Clint Bowyer (sixth after moving this week into the top 12 starting order draw), defending race winner Kevin Harvick (seventh), Alex Bowman (eighth), Joey Logano (ninth), Kurt Busch (10th), Martin Truex  Jr. (11th) and Ryan Blaney (12th)

Other notables in the New Hampshire starting lineup:

Tyler Reddick (13th); Cole Custer (14th) Bubba Wallace (15th); William Byron (16th); Erik Jones (17th); Matt DiBenedetto (19th); Jimmie Johnson (20th); Matt Kenseth (21st); Austin Dillon (23rd).

The New Hampshire Cup starting lineup was ordered Thursday afternoon through a random draw of the following groups:

  • Positions 1-12: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 13-24: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 25-36: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 37-40: Open teams in order of owners points

Click here for the New Hampshire Cup starting lineup for Sunday’s race.

NASCAR Cup Series at New Hampshire 

Race Time: 3 p.m. ET, Sunday

Track: New Hampshire Motor Speedway; Loudon, New Hampshire (1.058-mile speedway)

Length: 301 laps (318.46 miles)

Stages: Stage 1 ends Lap 75. Stage 2 ends Lap 185

TV coverage: NBCSN

Radio: Performance Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: NBC Sports app (subscription required); goprn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

New Hampshire Cup starting lineup: Click here for the starting order Sunday

Next Xfinity race: Aug. 8 at Road America (45 laps, 182.16 miles) noon ET on NBCSN

Next Truck race: Aug. 7 at Michigan (100 laps, 200 miles) 6 p.m. ET on FS1

18 questions entering final 18 Cup races of the season

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Tonight’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App) marks the beginning of the second half of the Cup season. So here are 18 questions for the final 18 Cup races of the season.

1. Will Jimmie Johnson win another race?

The Dover doubleheader is coming up on the schedule (Aug. 22 and 23) and that was the site of his last Cup win in 2017. Heading into tonight’s race at Kansas Speedway, Johnson’s winless streak is 112 races. His best finish this year is third at Bristol and the series will be back there in September in the playoffs.

2. Who will drive the No. 48 car in 2021?

There’s plenty of interest in this high-profile ride that has a full-season sponsor already in place. Will car owner Rick Hendrick go with an established star or pick a younger driver with plenty of potential? What Hendrick decides could greatly impact the upcoming Silly Season.

3. What will Silly Season be like?

Before the season, this was viewed as a year where Silly Season could overshadow most of what happens on the track. Ryan Blaney signed a contract extension with Team Penske in May. Alex Bowman signed a one-year extension with Hendrick Motorsports in May.

Among the drivers without announced rides for next season are Brad Keselowski, Erik Jones, Clint Bowyer, Matt DiBenedetto and Kyle Larson, who remains indefinitely suspended by NASCAR for uttering a racial slur during an online race in April.

Stewart-Haas is a wonderful organization,” Bowyer said this week. “I want to be there. I want to retire there, and I love the opportunity and the people behind it.”

Said Jones, who is battling for a playoff spott, this week: “I’ve had a really good relationship with (Joe Gibbs Racing) for quite a few years now. I put probably the most pressure on myself. I wouldn’t say JGR ever comes to me and asks questions or questions why you’re in this spot. They see the same things we do and the same things we struggle each weekend and why we’re in this spot. People aren’t blind to that.”

4. Will Ryan Blaney’s luck change?

He led 150 laps last weekend at Texas, won the first two stages but didn’t win the race when a caution came out at the wrong time. He finished seventh. He ranks third in laps led this season but has one Cup win. He could have a few more wins. Instead, those are playoff points lost. Will that hurt him later in the year?

5. Who is next to surprise?

Rookie Cole Custer scored a stunning win at Kentucky. Austin Dillon followed it up last weekend at Texas with the help of some decision-making at RCR’s command center. Both were outside a playoff spot before they won. Now they are in the playoffs. This marks the first time since 2017 that a driver outside a playoff spot won a race.

In 2014 and 2016, a record three drivers outside a playoff spot won a Cup race. Could there be a third such winner this year? Among those outside a playoff spot entering tonight’s race at Kansas Speedway are William Byron, Tyler Reddick, Erik Jones, Bubba Wallace and Chris Buescher.

6. Will Kyle Busch make it to the championship race a sixth year in a row?

One of the most intriguing elements this season has been Kyle Busch failing to win in the first half of the Cup season. He hasn’t even won a stage. He has no playoff points. He had the most playoffs points at the halfway mark of the season each of the past two years.

Busch has talked about the struggles at Joe Gibbs Racing this season and how the lack of practice has made it more difficult to fix the issues. With NASCAR announcing this week that it will go the rest of the season without practice and qualifying, Busch’s task has become more difficult.

7. What drivers in last year’s playoff could miss it this year?

Kyle Larson will since he’s not in the series. William Byron enters Kansas two points out of what would be the final playoff spot. Erik Jones enters Kansas outside a playoff spot. As does Ryan Newman, who missed three races because of his head injury suffered in a last-lap crash in the Daytona 500. He has a waiver and would make the playoffs should he win a race. Newman is too far back in points to make the playoffs that way.

8. Which will be more of a wildcard race: Daytona road course or Daytona oval?

Oh boy.

Drivers will have no practice before running the road course for the first time in Cup cars (same for Xfinity and Trucks). And the Daytona oval race is the final regular-season race, so desperation to make the playoffs will be high.

Both races in August could prove quite interesting.

9. Who will win rookie of the year?

Cole Custer has a win and is in the playoffs. Tyler Reddick has a rookie-high six top-10 finishes, including three in a row. Christopher Bell is showing signs of progress after a rotten start to the season. John Hunter Nemechek has had a few highlights this season.

This will be worth watching as the season progresses. Some are suggesting this could be among the best rookie crop in years.

10. How will NASCAR change the starting lineup draw?

With no qualifying, the random draw will remain. Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that series officials were looking at changes to the draw once the playoffs begin. NASCAR has yet to announce its plans in this matter.

11. Martinsville moves to the final race before the championship. What type of chaos could be seen there?

Well, let’s see. Last year’s playoff race saw Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano scuffle after the race. In 2018, Martin Truex Jr. was upset with Logano for his bump-and-run to win. In 2017, Hamlin and Chase Elliott had a heated exchange after Hamlin’s contract wrecked Elliott late. In 2015, Matt Kenseth wrecked Logano in retaliation for an incident earlier in the playoffs at Kansas.

Now, Martinsville is the last race before the championship field is set? Safe to say plenty of tempers will be on display that day.

12. How big will the crowds be at upcoming races?

There will be no fans allowed tonight at Kansas. Next week’s race at New Hampshire can have up to 19,000. The following weekend features the Cup doubleheader at Michigan before no fans. The races at Daytona — both on the road course and oval — will have fans but no total has been announced. Nothing has been announced for the playoffs. Among the playoffs tracks is Bristol Motor Speedway, which hosted an estimated 20-25,000 for the All-Star Race earlier this month.

13. What happens if a playoff driver tests positive for COVID-19 in the playoffs?

NASCAR gave Jimmie Johnson a waiver when he missed Indianapolis for testing positive for COVID-19, but what happens if a playoff driver has to miss one or two races in a round? Will that driver be allowed to advance to the next round and just make one more driver advancing than scheduled?

14. How high a stack of pennies will Corey LaJoie have at the end of the season?

Corey LaJoie’s mantra is stacking pennies, meaning a little progress can grow into greater success over time.

He had seven top-20 finishes last year for Go Fas Racing. LaJoie already has six top-20 finishes this season. He’s stacked plenty of pennies so far.

15. Will Matt Kenseth be back after this season?

Kenseth was coy about that when asked about his future recently, saying he was focused on improved finishes. He has had four top-20 finishes in the last five races heading into Kansas. With the number of drivers available for next season, Chip Ganassi Racing could have many options.

16. Is this Kevin Harvick’s year to win a second Cup title?

He has had a fantastic season with four wins, a series-high 11 top-five finishes, including five in a row, and a series-best 15 top 10s. He’s finished in the top 10 in 83.3% of the races. Remarkable. So far so good.

17. Or is this Denny Hamlin’s year?

The Daytona 500 winner is tied with Harvick for most wins this year with four. Hamlin had a four-race streak of top-five finishes, including two wins, before struggles the past three weeks. Heading into Kansas, Hamlin has not finished better than 12th the past three races. Still, he has nine top-five finishes and 10 top 10s this year.

18. What about 2021?

NASCAR is working on a 2021 schedule. No date has been set on an announcement.

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Kevin Harvick draws pole for Thursday Cup race at Kansas

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Kevin Harvick will start from the pole position Thursday night at Kansas Speedway (7:30 pm ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app), the first time he will lead the NASCAR Cup starting lineup to the green flag this season.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver’s previous best starting position in 2020 was second in qualifying for the March 8 race at Phoenix Raceway.

Since NASCAR’s return during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (with the majority of fields set by a random draw), the No. 4 Ford’s best starting spot had been a third at Kentucky Speedway. Harvick had started outside the top five in seven of the past 10 Cup races, but his luck changed when NASCAR randomly set the lineup Wednesday for Kansas.

STARTING LINEUP: Where everyone will start in the Cup race at Kansas

Harvick has three Cup victories at Kansas, most recently in the May 12, 2018 race at the 1.5-mile speedway.

Joey Logano‘s No. 22 will start second beside Harvick, making it an all-Ford front row for the second consecutive race. Fords also will comprise the second row with Aric Almirola starting third and Ryan Blaney fourth.

Martin Truex Jr.‘s No. 19 Toyota will start fifth beside the No. 88 Chevrolet of Alex Bowman in sixth.

Here are the next three rows in order:

Brad Keselowski (seventh), Kyle Busch (eighth), Kurt Busch (ninth), Denny Hamlin (10th), Chase Elliott (11th) and Matt DiBenedetto (12th).

Other notables:

Matt Kenseth (14th), William Byron (15th), Austin Dillon (16th), Bubba Wallace (17th), Clint Bowyer (19th), Jimmie Johnson (20th), Erik Jones (21st), Tyler Reddick (23rd).

The field was ordered Wednesday afternoon through a random draw of the following groups:

  • Positions 1-12: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 13-24: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 25-36: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 37-40: Open teams in order of owners points

Click here for the Kansas Cup starting lineup for Thursday’s race.

NASCAR Cup Series at Kansas 

Race Time: 7:30 p.m. ET Thursday

Track: Kansas Speedway; Kansas City, Kansas (1.5-mile speedway)

Length: 267 laps (400.5 miles)

Stages: Stage 1 ends Lap 80. Stage 2 ends Lap 160

TV coverage: NBCSN

Radio: Motor Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: NBC Sports app (subscription required); mrn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Next Xfinity race: Saturday at Kansas (167 laps, 250.5 miles) 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Next Truck race: Friday at Kansas (134 laps, 201 miles) 7 p.m. ET on FS1

What drivers said after Texas

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Austin Dillon – winner: “Not bad for a silver spoon kid, right? I’ll take that. (Teammate) Tyler Reddick, he raced me clean. 1-2 for RCR – this has been coming. We’ve had good cars all year. (Crew chief) Justin Alexander and my whole crew. I’m just so happy – thank God. … To tell you the truth, it means a whole lot. Just for the family, for everybody, all of our partners. That was fun. … I definitely had to earn it.

” I just had to have confidence that in the moment we had a car that had potential. It didn’t really run well in traffic. Justin and I both talked about what kind of happened in Kentucky with Cole, the way they ran. If you can get the track position at some point, you can be fast. You saw when we got out front, we had a hot rod.

“It came down to just some restarts, not screwing up, making it happen when it counted on those restarts, getting through the gears, timing them. I had some good pushing. My buddy Kurt Busch gave me a good push that first one. Joey Logano was also a lot of help down the stretch.”

Tyler Reddick — finished second: “What a great day for Richard Childress Racing. This organization is working so hard and to have a 1-2 finish like we did is incredible. It felt like we had everything happen to our No. 8 Cat Oil and Gas Chevrolet, but strategy was king today. We had good speed overall and earned some stage points at the end of the first stage, but we got shuffled back for the majority of the second stage when we took two right side tires. That really messed with the handling of our Chevrolet and trapped us a lap down for a while. There were a couple major wrecks later in Stage 3 that we were able to miss and that helped us get our lap back to be able to contend at the end. My crew chief, Randall Burnett, made a great call to take fuel only during the caution with about 30 laps to go and that put us up front for those final restarts with our teammate, Austin Dillon. We really couldn’t ask for much more than what we got today. One spot better would have been great, but the recovery this No. 8 Cat Oil and Gas team made today was huge. We’re racing for the big picture of making the playoffs, so we have to race smart. Days like this will help us get there.”

Joey Logano — finished third: “Air-pressure.  Air is what cost us there.  Air-pressure in the tires, just on the splitter too much firing off.  It took us 15 laps to get rolling.  Our long run speed was incredible, but it took too long and the guys up front were smart, they put fuel only and kept their car off the splitter in three and four over the bumps and maintained the clean air and just couldn’t do it.  I could make runs, but I’d get to three and four and start chattering up the racetrack and had these big moments.  Overall, I’m proud of what the Shell/Pennzoil Ford team did today, scoring a second-place in the second stage and a third in the finish.  It’s not a win, especially when you come to Texas and all the fans here.  Thank you guys for coming out, but it’s not the win we were hoping for as I look at the fire in Victory Lane is super-cool, but it’s progress.  We’ve had a little rough streak on these 550 races, so I’ll take it as a little bit of a momentum-builder.”

Kyle Busch — finished fourth: “It was a good finish and proud of the effort for everyone on this Interstate Batteries team. We came a long way today. We got a lot of damage on the frontend of the car that you can’t see with the eye. Going through the grass, it killed it. I thought early on in the first stage, second stage maybe that we had a second-place car and then as the day went, we just kept getting further and further behind. Still a lot of work to do. The car didn’t drive very good at all. Just was able to get something out of nothing there at the end. We’ll go to Kansas and see if we can get a win there.”

Kevin Harvick — finished fifth: “The cars were just so bad in traffic, ours was anyway — our Mobil 1 Ford Mustang. The guys did a good job of putting us in a position and doing all the things we needed to try because we got in a wreck there and had to fix the car and put tires on it and the tires just didn’t mean anything. There were a couple of slower cars out there and no one could pass them. Just really proud of our Mobil 1 Ford Mustang guys for the day and all the fight that had in them. We got a top-five out of it. You always want to win here, but it is what it is.”

Erik Jones — finished sixth: “It was kind of a weird day. I thought the Craftsman Camry was decent all day long and had good speed at times when we could get some clean air and make some passes here and there. It was kind of a struggle to make some of those passes. It was challenging there towards the end with the short runs and the restarts. Our car really took 15 laps or so to get rolling so that kind of hurt us at the end, but we’ll take it. Sixth place isn’t too bad. We needed a solid run and mistake free and that’s what we did. I thought coming into this race if we could just go in and have no mistakes and have decent speed we could run top-five and we came real close to that. We have to keep doing that. Obviously, we need to get some points, especially with two winners the last two weeks that have been from outside the Playoff picture. That kind of changes things for us. We’ll keep rolling, but a decent day for us.”

Ryan Blaney — finished seventh: “It was a strong start to the day.  We were able to start on the front row and get the lead there.  We pitted on the competition caution, which I thought was a good call, and that inherited us the lead later and was able to win us that stage with just being fast and being able to make up all the time.  Then we were able to do the same thing in the second stage, and I thought we had a good strategy for the last stage and the caution came out maybe eight to ten laps before all the other guys that were on the different strategy would have had to pit, so that just stunk.  We had to take the wave around and lined up 15th or something and could only get back to seventh in that short amount of time.  It’s a disappointing finish, for sure.  We had a dominant car all day, especially on long runs, but really proud of that and just unfortunate with the way it ended for us.”

Kurt Busch — finished eighth: “We had one of our best points days so far this season with the Monster Energy Camaro. We scored stage points in the first and second stages, followed by another top-10 result. I really battled a loose handling car all day, it was really difficult on the restarts and short-runs, so I really had to work my butt off there at the end with all the cautions”.

Brad Keselowski — finished ninth: “We started off really struggling and took us a little while to figure out what was wrong and about a little before halfway we made some adjustments and the car was just hitting the racetrack really bad and I couldn’t make any speed.  I had to slow down a bunch in the corners, so we worked on that under yellow and kind of gave up our track position working on it and was able to work the cycle to get back up towards the lead, but still didn’t quite have enough speed.  So we worked on it again some more and got up to right about fifth and sixth and that was about all we had.  We ended up the last restart and got the bottom lane and fell back a spot or two to I think ninth, but, all in all, a decent finish.  It’s not the day we were hoping for, but a decent finish and we keep piling in on the top 10s and top fives, which is a good feeling.  Our strategy has been really good.  Jeremy and I are really clicking on all of those things, just looking to be a little bit faster.  If we can combine our execution with a little more speed, we’re gonna be a serious threat to win week in and week out.  We’re just not quite there yet.”

Aric Almirola — finished 10th: “Man. One of these days we’ll get everything to go our way. That was my fault on the penalty, but we had such a fast car and got it back in position to compete for a win again before that caution came out. We’re still bringing fast Smithfield Ford Mustangs every weekend and we learned a lot for when we come back here and compete for a championship.”

Clint Bowyer — finished 11th: “That was a hot, tough day for sure. We worked hard all race trying to get our Rush Truck Centers Ford to turn better and the guys did a great job fixing our damage from the wreck. I didn’t know if we were going to finish because our engine temperature was so hot. They got it cooled down and we made it to the end with a good finish.”

Bubba Wallace — finished 14th: “A top-15 day for the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 Cash App Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE team at the Texas Motor Speedway – a long, hot day that’s for sure. Proud of the efforts from our team. Cash App was on the car for the first time, so that was cool. We got Cash App a really good first finish. I thought we had a chance there. If that last caution had not come out, we maybe could have held on for a top-10 finish. But all-in-all, a great effort. Good bounce back from our last two weeks and we’ll just keep pushing to get our cars better. Shoutout again to Cash App for jumping on-board. Being a part of the sport, how cool is that? Get them their first top-15 finish and go onto the Kansas Speedway. We’ll see what we got there.”

Michael McDowell — finished 15th: “That was a long and hot day at Texas Motor Speedway. I’m really proud of my team; they did a great job. We started off really rough and the car was bouncing really bad over the bumps through Turns 3 and 4, but luckily Drew and the guys were able to work on it and get some good adjustments in; move some packer around and finally get it to where the car stopped bouncing and we were okay. From there, we were able to get back on the lead lap and come out with a Top-15. We battled hard today for 500 miles and got a good finish.”

Matt Kenseth — finished 18th: “The results unfortunately don’t show it, but the No. 42 team worked really hard today to get the McDonald’s Chevy in a position to be competitive. We started the race way too loose and it was really hard to make any passes with the car handling that way. Chad (Johnston) and the guys kept working on it, and the handling got much better during the second stage, which allowed us to race up to just outside the top-10 at the end of the second stage. We were in a good spot to start the final stage, but got some damage that affected the handling when we were caught up in that big wreck on the frontstretch. We worked as hard as we could following the damage to make the most of our day, so, proud of the team for all the effort today.”

Daniel Suarez — finished 23rd: “I want to thank everyone for all the effort today. Our Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Camry was turning pretty good the last part of the race, but it was a struggle to find grip all day, especially in traffic. We got a respectable finish out of it, but obviously we know where we’re at and we know we need to just keep working. We have a lot of work to do.”

Alex Bowman — finished 30th: “That was not the way that we needed to finish Texas. We struggled some, but overall, our ChevyGoods.com/Adam’s Polishes team was good today. Our team worked really hard on the car today and the changes during our pit stops. We were in the wrong place at the wrong time, but we will move on to Kansas this week.”

Ty Dillon — finished 35th: “I’m bummed the way today ended for my Germain Racing team. Our GEICO Camaro ZL1 1LE was really good. We battled being loose at the start of a run, but it would get better and better as the laps clicked away. My guys worked extremely hard to turn this car around from Kentucky and we were putting ourselves in position to have another solid finish. My car jumped out on me under the No. 24 and I hate it for William and his guys too. I had a little damage on the left rear and just wasn’t expecting the car to jump out on me like that. We will rebound and get after it in Kansas on Thursday. On to the next one.”

William Byron – finished 37th: “(How hard will it be to make the playoffs?) Honestly, it’s going to be tough. We just have to find speed first. We’re not really running good at all and we’ve got to figure that out. Obviously, the 13 (Ty Dillon) got up into us there and took us out, but we were pretty far back anyway. Thanks to Axalta and everybody on the team. We’ve just got to figure it out and figure it out quick before the fall.”

Cole Custer – finished 39th: “(It looked like a chain-reaction incident, right?) Yeah, I mean it’s always one of the most humbling sports you can be a part of — winning last week and part of a wreck this week.  I was on the brakes as hard as I could and then the 19, I think, came down from hitting the wall.  It’s just one of those things where you couldn’t go anywhere.  It felt bad.  I thought we were getting our Haas Automation Mustang better as the day went and was trying to keep up with the racetrack, but didn’t really have much to show for it.  I thought we would have ended up pretty good right there.”

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