The final 10-race stretch of the regular season begins for the Cup Series Sunday at Kentucky Speedway.
After years of mostly only racing under the lights there, the series will race in the daytime.
Can Kyle Busch, who starts from the pole, earn his first Cup win of 2020?
Here’s all the info you need for Sunday’s race:
(All times are Eastern)
START: The command to start engines is at 2:43 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 2:54 p.m.
PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at 7:30 a.m. (teams are assigned specific times). Engine prime and final adjustments at 12:30 p.m. Drivers report to their cars at 2:20 p.m. The invocation will be given at 2:35 p.m by Darrell and Stevie Waltrip. The national anthem will be performed at 2:36 p.m. by Robert Randolph.
DISTANCE: The race is 267 laps (400.5 miles) around the 1.5-mile speedway.
COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 25
STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160.
TV/RADIO: FS1 will televise the race. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 1:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.
FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for scattered thunderstorms with a high of 79 degrees and a 58% chance of rain at the start of the race.
Teams also are mindful that the regular season finale will be at Daytona International Speedway, which could lead to a surprise winner. Three of the last five Cup points races at Daytona saw a driver score either their first or second career Cup win: Dillon, Erik Jones and Justin Haley.
Teams already are trying different strategies to get away from 16th in the standings or climb into a potential playoff spot.
Matt DiBenedetto entered the Pocono doubleheader weekend 15th in the standings. Focusing on stage results, he scored 17 stage points in the two races that weekend and added 11 stage points last weekend at Indy.
“Stage points can just make such a huge difference, especially this point in the year when the point stuff is really starting to settle out a little bit,” DiBenedetto said after the Pocono weekend. “People are settling in place, so you’ve got to take everything you can get because that makes a big difference as far as securing a solid spot in the playoffs.”
Those 28 stage points he’s earned the past three races helped DiBenedetto climb to 12th in the standings heading to Kentucky. He’s scored 26 more stage points than Clint Bowyer the past three races. That 26-point advantage helped put DiBenedetto three points ahead of Bowyer in standings.
William Byron won the first stage last weekend at Indy and collected 10 stage points (and one playoff point) after crew chief Chad Knaus had Byron stay on track under caution when most of the leaders did pit with eight laps left in the stage. Byron restarted in the lead and held that position for the final four laps of the stage under green.
Another driver who has benefitted from a strategy focused on stage points is Dillon. He’s scored 18 stage points the past three races to nine stage points by Jones. Dillon holds what would be the final playoff spot by six points on Jones.
The reigning series champion has one win in the last 38 races but heads to a Kentucky Speedway that has been good to him, even though Kurt Busch nipped his younger brother for the win in last year’s race.
Kyle Busch has two wins in nine starts at Kentucky and leads all drivers in top-five finishes (seven), top-10 finishes (eight) and laps led (621) at the track.
Busch’s lone victory in the last 38 races came in last year’s championship race in Miami. In that same span, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates have combined to win 14 races.
Also during that 38-race stretch, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick have combined to win 16 races (42.1%). Each has eight wins in that time.
3. Speeding on pit road
Here’s a look at the number of pit road speeding penalties drivers have had in the first 16 races of the Cup season:
With Jimmie Johnson missing last weekend’s race at Indianapolis after testing positive for COVID-19, his consecutive starts streak ended at 663, ranking fifth on the all-time list. Johnson has since been cleared to race this weekend at Kentucky Speedway.
Kevin Harvick ranks sixth on the list of longest consecutive starts streak with 656 consecutive starts heading into Sunday’s race at Kentucky Speedway.
Chevrolet teams are winless in their last eight Cup races and the manufacturer has one win in nine races at Kentucky. That victory came last year with Kurt Busch beating Kyle Busch at the finish.
Since Chase Elliott won the second Charlotte race in late May, Chevy drivers have not won. Elliott finished second in Miami, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was second at Talladega and Matt Kenseth was second at Indianapolis.
Helped greatly by his win in the Brickyard 400, Kevin Harvick returns to the top spot in this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings.
Harvick was a unanimous pick of NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers, knocking Denny Hamlin off last week’s No. 1 perch.
Making the biggest gain this week is Matt Kenseth, who is ranked fifth after being unranked last week. Chase Elliott suffered the biggest drop, from fourth last week to 10th this week.
Here’s how this week’s rankings look:
1. Kevin Harvick (30 points): Among his 53 career wins, he has three Brickyard 400s, two Coke 600s, one Southern 500 and one Daytona 500. Last week: second.
2. Aric Almirola (26 points): Keeps churning out top five finishes; goes for a half dozen in a row this weekend at Kentucky. Last week: third.
3. Brad Keselowski (18 points): Placed fourth at Indy, earning his ninth top 10 finish in the last 11 races this season. Last week: fifth.
4. Denny Hamlin (17 points): If it hadn’t of been for his late tire issue and crash, we likely would be talking about the great run and win Hamlin had at Indy. Last week: first.
5. Matt Kenseth (14 points): He may be the oldest active driver on the NASCAR Cup circuit, but Kenseth showed Sunday he still knows how to wheel a race car. Nearly secured a playoff spot at Indy with a win but had to settle for his fourth career runner-up finish there. Last week: unranked.
6. Kyle Busch (13 points): Climbs back into the rankings but remains one of the biggest mysteries of the season, namely, how can the defending Cup champion still be winless? Can he finally break through this Sunday at Kentucky? Last week: unranked.
7. Chase Briscoe (12 points): Heck of a finish in the Xfinity race on the Indy road course. All he does is win, win, win. Is now only three wins away from reaching his preseason prediction of eight wins in 2020. Last week: eighth.
8. Michael McDowell (10 points): Two top 10 finishes in the last three races for the Front Row Motorsports driver. Last week: unranked.
9. Cole Custer (8 points): Finished fifth and gave teammate Kevin Harvick the key push on the final restart at Indy. Last week: unranked.
10. Chase Elliott (5 points): Four top 10s in the last seven races. Last week: fourth.
With Kevin Harvick‘s victory Sunday in the Brickyard 400, no additional drivers locked themselves into the Cup Series playoff field.
But there was some movement at the bottom of the playoff grid as drivers jockey to make the 16-car field.
After he missed the race due to his COVID-19 diagnosis, Jimmie Johnson fell from 12th to 15th on the grid. He’s now 36 points above the cutline.
Matt DiBenedetto earned stage points in each stage before finishing 19th. He moved from 14th to 12th in the standings.
After earning stage points in both stages Sunday, Austin Dillon has cracked the top 16, moving up one spot. He has a six-point advantage over Erik Jones, who crashed out of Sunday’s race and had a 14-point advantage over Dillon entering the weekend.
With his ninth-place finish Sunday, Bubba Wallace is now within reach of the top 16. He sits at 19th, 42 points back from 16th.