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Kevin Harvick wins Cup pole at Richmond

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Kevin Harvick won the pole for Saturday night’s Cup race at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) with a top qualifying speed of 121.880 mph.

Harvick led 10 of the 16 playoff drivers in qualifying in the top 12.

It is Harvick’s third pole of the year.

“We ended our last race run (in practice), I was really happy with the car,” Harvick told NBCSN. “Didn’t know what we had for qualifying there. But just a huge credit to the race team for putting a qualifying setup underneath it. Obviously, Aric (Almirola) came here and tested and kind of had a baseline for where we needed to shoot for for targets.”

The top five was filled out by Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney and Daniel Suarez, a non-playoff driver.

The top 12 was completed by Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski, Erik Jones, Kyle Larson, Cole Custer and Kyle Busch

Custer, driving Rick Ware Racing’s No. 51 Ford – in a car prepped by Stewart-Haas Racing, is making his third-career start. This is his last Cup race of the season.

Where the rest of the playoff field qualified:

Joey Logano (13th), Alex Bowman (14th), Chase Elliott (19th), Jimmie Johnson (22nd), Clint Bowyer (25th) and Austin Dillon (28th).

The starting lineup will be finalized tomorrow after inspection.

Click here for results.

Kyle Busch leads Cup practice at Richmond

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RICHMOND, Va. – Kyle Busch posted the fastest lap in Friday’s Cup practice at Richmond Raceway.

Busch ran a lap of 121.190 mph. He was followed by Aric Almirola (120.968 mph), Erik Jones (120.697), Ty Dillon (120.514) and AJ Allmendinger (120.273).

There were no incidents in the session.

Alex Bowman ran the most laps at 58. Denny Hamlin ran 57 laps. Ty Dillon ran 54 laps.

Busch had the best average over 10 consecutive laps at 120.141 mph. He was followed by Almirola (119.156) and Allmendinger (119.065).

Click here for practice report

NASCAR America: Breaking down the playoff’s bottom four

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Heading into Saturday’s playoff race at Richmond Raceway, the bottom four drivers aren’t your usual suspects.

The drivers currently outside the top 12 are seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin.

On NASCAR America, Parker Kligerman broke down each of the driver’s chances at the short track.

Hamlin, who is 20 points behind the cutoff spot, hasn’t finished worse than sixth in his last six starts there.

“This is not a driver I expected to be 20 points behind the cutline right now going into Richmond,” Kligerman said of Hamlin, who has three Richmond wins. “Short tracks are his thing, that’s what he’s known for. He’s led (1,659) laps here. … But the question of the 11 team comes down to, are we going to get the 11 team that was at Indianapolis, which was going to win that race and leading laps? Or are we going to get the 11 team we saw at Vegas, which looked a little lost, didn’t have the speed and wasn’t executing?”

Watch the above video for Kligerman’s analysis of the other three bubble drivers.

Bump & Run: Who is in trouble in Cup playoffs?

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After Las Vegas, which driver(s) do you consider in trouble of not making the cut to the second round?

Nate Ryan: Anyone outside the grid now, so Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones will have to fight their way through the next two races. 

Dustin Long: Austin Dillon is 10th in the standings but his lead over some of the drivers outside a cutoff spot is slim and he’s not finished better than 13th on a short track this season heading into Richmond. There’s some work to do.  

Daniel McFadin: Despite benefitting from the bad luck of many playoff drivers Sunday and finishing 11th, I still think Austin Dillon is the most in danger of missing out. He’s never finished better than 13th at Richmond and he’s never finished in the top 10 on a road course in Cup.

Dan Beaver: Denny Hamlin took the biggest hit last week, dropping 20 points behind the cutoff line. The inconsistent finishes with the No. 11 team throughout 2018 puts him in a precarious position.

Have you bought in on Brad Keselowski joining the Big 3?

Nate Ryan: No, because as he readily admits, the speed still isn’t there. The execution has been flawless for three weeks, but that is unsustainable over the next the nine races. His No. 2 Ford will need to be a weekly top-five car by the Round of 8 to have a title shot. 

Dustin Long: No. The Big 3 was not created over three races but a much longer stretch. Keselowski’s run the last three weeks has been monumental but until he finds the speed to match the Big 3, he’s not there yet.

Daniel McFadin: Absolutely. With his win he joins Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick as the first trio of drivers to win three consecutive races in a season in NASCAR’s modern history. When you do that, you’re definitely the latest member of the “Big 4.”

Dan Beaver: Almost. Another top-five finish this week will push me over the edge, but it’s still hard to say that this is not just an incredibly successful wave of momentum. He hasn’t been particularly strong on short tracks this year with no top fives in four starts, so Richmond will be a big test.

The average number of cautions in the last five Richmond Cup races is 9.2. Are you taking the over or under on the number of cautions in Saturday night’s Cup race?

Nate Ryan: Under. I think the night races tend to be tamer at Richmond because the track has more grip. 

Dustin Long: Under. After the chaos of Las Vegas, things will calm down even with the Roval on the horizon.

Daniel McFadin: I’ll take the over. Why? Because drivers will be desperate to be anywhere near the front with the Roval on the horizon next weekend. Desperation will lead to chaos.

Dan Beaver: Seven of the 16 playoff contenders finished outside the top 20 last week and they are going to have a little extra desperation at Richmond. On a short track, that is a recipe for disaster. I’m taking the over.

What chances do you give Ross Chastain of winning two Xfinity races in a row in the No. 42 car Friday night at Richmond?

Nate Ryan: The competition will be virtually the same as at Las Vegas, so 50-50 seems about right. 

Dustin Long: Kyle Larson won the latest Xfinity short-track race in the No. 42 car at Bristol but the Joe Gibbs Racing cars have often been the class of the field at such tracks this season. Would give the JGR cars a little better chance than the No. 42 car this weekend.

Daniel McFadin: After his eye-opening performance in his first two starts at two different tracks, I’d say there’s a 85 percent chance he schools everyone like the four-year veteran he is.

Dan Beaver: Back-to-back wins are always tricky, but Chastain showed enough strength at Darlington and Las Vegas to make me believe he can win again.

What drivers said after Las Vegas

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Brad Keselowski — Winner: “I didn’t think it was ever gonna end. I was worried about running out of gas there at the end. I know the fans can hear on this microphone and I want to say thank you to everyone who braved 100 degree heat all day. You guys are the real heroes. I get paid to do this. You guys pay to watch and thank you for doing that. Thank you for coming out today and tolerating the heat. We’re so glad to be able to win and get in Victory Lane again with the Autotrader Ford. What a special day for 500 wins for Penske, three in a row here, first win in the Playoffs. There are too many storylines for me to get it all right, but we’re very thankful and very proud for all of them.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 2nd: “Yeah, the restarts a couple of them worked out for me and a couple of them didn’t. But, was happy to end up second there. Didn’t really expect to get to second there on that final restart, but it was pretty hectic. Just glad we had a good day after the tire issue we had early in the race. So, yeah, good points day.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 3rd: “(The late restart) took the race from us, no question. With 15 laps or so we could take the lead and drive away. We were actually a little too good on the long run, I wish maybe we could have gone the other direction a little bit and still been able to get the lead. If we were the leader, we could do okay, I could maintain, but when I was second or third or fourth, it just made me tight enough that I had to wait for the thing to come to me or wait for other guys to start getting off the bottom in front of me. All in all it was a great day for everybody on the Bass Pro/5-hour ENERGY Camry and all the guys did a phenomenal job this weekend. Thanks to all the guys back in Denver at the shop, it’s pretty cool to see the effort going into these last 10 – we’re going to get after them. We had a winning car, just didn’t work out for us today. Really proud of the effort.”

Joey Logano — Finished 4th: “Once we lost our track position we went from first to third there and it was just hard to get it back. I thought I had a shot at it on the restart when I got to the outside of (Keselowski) but I just couldn’t clear him down into (Turn) 3. I don’t know. I wish I could re-run the race. Might be a little better. But everyone in the field is probably saying the same thing.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 5th: “We were all over the place. I was good on short runs and long runs I was really loose. We were trying to get it to where it would last. We got it a little better but definitely not where we need to be. It was a struggle. They worked really hard all day. I can’t thank them enough for that. I tried to stay out of trouble and just survive I guess. Congrats to Brad and the 2 team on their 500th win for Team Penske, that is pretty neat. We have to work on some stuff but salvaging a decent day is a good day.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 6th: “I felt like our Ford was pretty good today. We got behind on qualifying and that kind of set the tone. That was my fault. I was trying to get too much and got in the fence and made another mistake and we were able to come down on pit road and get all the damage fixed and the car was back to being good again. I am proud of that effort. That was a really hard fought sixth place. Man, one of these races we will have it go smooth and we will be a contender. I am really proud of that effort. That was a really hard fought sixth.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 7th: “There was a lot of racing going on there at the end and the restarts here were very, very hectic with three-wide and everything kind of happening off of (Turn) 2 and guys banging into one another. You get really tight off of (Turn) 2 if you’re not careful so that’s where you saw a lot of carnage happen. With 20 (laps) to go, you’re probably going to see a lot more top runners finish farther up front.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 8th: “It was tough. We didn’t have the speed today. We had a 15 to 20th place car. We have to keep working hard for the rest of the season and hopefully keep improving for our next half-mile track.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 11th: “I’m proud of our guys. They brought a really fast race car. We gave up a lot of track position throughout the day, not just from starting in the back, but on pit stops we really struggled. But, you know, proud of the effort. I felt like I got out all I could out of it. Bummer at the end. We needed a top 10. Eleventh is good, but racing my teammate to the line there I thought we would get him, but we didn’t.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 19th: “That is the most speed we have had on a 1.5-mile all year. I was running 50 percent probably maybe 60 percent that first run towards the end and just mowing guys down. Our long run speed was so good. We were too tight to restart, but our long run speed was really good. So, that is super encouraging, unfortunately we don’t have another 1.5-mile for a while, but we can turn it around at Richmond too.”

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 22nd: “It helps, but we could have closed with a top-five finish that would have really helped and given us a cushion. Today was really a good day for the Lowe’s team. We had good speed in the car, good pit stops, everything was going well and unfortunately, cut a right-front tire when we touched the No. 41 off of Turn 2. I don’t know how next week is going to go, I really don’t and I sure as hell don’t know how the Roval is going to go. So, sure, we finished higher than some guys, but any cushion we could have gotten today would have been nice.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 32nd: “Trying to get more than the car was capable of. We should have just finished 15th or 10th or wherever we were at the time, but trying to get more and the car won’t handle it. No grip and just a bad day overall.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 34th: “Today was one that just didn’t go our way. I fired off tight on each run, but my GEICO Camaro ZL1 would come to me the longer we would run. It’s unfortunate to have our day ruined by a blown tire because we had a lot more than what we got to show everyone. The right-side damage was pretty significant to the nose of our car, but we didn’t give up. It could have completely ended our day, but my team worked hard in the garage to get everything fixed and get me back out there. None of us wanted to quit. We still wanted to get all that we could out of this race and gain as many spots as possible. All we can do is hold our heads up and regroup to be ready for them next week in Richmond.”

Jamie McMurray — Finished 35th: “There was no smoke inside the car and the spotter said that he couldn’t see any smoke. So, typically it will run a while. But yeah, I’m assuming that the right rear tire must have rubbed a hole in it, and I don’t know why I chose to run the bottom on that lap. I wish I had stayed against the wall. But sometimes those look big but it actually didn’t hurt that bad.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 36th: “Yeah, I guess it just got caught in the wheel. But it popped really big and then I kind of got stopped and got to messing with it and it popped really big again. So, all good now and we’ll try to rebound next week. We had a really good car today and yeah, almost, just barely clipped him (Jamie McMurray). I just hate it. So many guys fell out today. I feel like half the top 16 has crashed. So, we’ve just got to finish, I guess.” – regarding a potential injury to his shoulder.

William Byron — Finished 37th: “I thought the beginning of our day went pretty good. Then in the wall the first time off (Turn) 2 and we were able to fix it after that and then pitted again, same spot, so just kind of ended our day after that.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 39th: It’s like Russian roulette every time you put these piece of crap tires on and try to drive around the race track. One time it’s tight, one time it’s loose, one time they’re blistered. We had a great car and then you put a set of tires on and you can’t even hardly make it through the field.”

ERICK JONES — Finished 40th: “It’s just unfortunate – we didn’t have the best-handling DeWalt Camry today and thought we were going to end up okay. We were going to finish top 10 no matter what. It’s unfortunate we had that happen, nothing Kevin (Harvick) could do and nothing I could do unfortunately. Not the situation we needed to be in, we didn’t have any bonus points and we’ve got some work to do now. I don’t think we have to win, but we definitely need to run really well here at Richmond and the Roval so we’ll keep at it, but it’s just unfortunate that had to happen.”