Ryan: Even without plates, Talladega still served up a spectacular show

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Better plate than never?

That was a major question entering this year’s Daytona 500 — and particularly after a pair of lackluster races at Talladega Superspeedway last season.

The 2019 season opener marked the last superspeedway race before horsepower-sapping restrictor plates permanently were removed and replaced by the (similarly shaped) tapered spacers used to choke down engines at the rest of the tracks on the circuit.

The plates defined some of the most indelible moments, both tragic and triumphant, in NASCAR over the past three decades

So what would the post-plate era look like in NASCAR?

The 26 Hours of Talladega provided a definitive answer: A lot like most of everything that transpired on the biggest, fastest tracks in NASCAR for the previous 31 years.

Incessant chaos, crushed sheet metal and costly errors.

In other words, insanity on four wheels (as Marcos Ambrose infamously dubbed it) for 500 miles at a time.

It’s the bedrock upon which superspeedway racing happily has rested for three decades in the interest of entertainment (and, ostensibly, safety in ensuring speeds are manageable enough to prevent cars from sailing over catchfences with disturbing regularity at Daytona and Talladega).

After an off-year in 2018, NASCAR found its sweet spot in Sweet Home Alabama this season.

The most arbitrary form of racing delivered by NASCAR’s premier series again felt as predictably unpredictable as it ever had since the restrictor-plate era began in 1988. There were colossal crashes, double-crossing duplicity and razor-tight finishes.

That was great for fans. It wasn’t necessarily good for Cup drivers.

Of course, it rarely is in the finicky and violent environs of Dega, which was unusually tame last year with only two wrecks of at least a half-dozen cars across 1,013 miles (this year, there were three times as many).

The knock on plate racing in 2018 was the lack of driveability. It’s hard to make passes when cars aren’t stable at 200 mph-plus in the draft.

That put the leader at a huge advantage of being able to tow lines at will and control the front of the pack in a decidedly un-Talladega-esque manner. It was most evident last October when Stewart-Haas Racing led 155 of 188 laps with cars that (stunningly) were built for handling instead of speed.

NASCAR addressed this by raising spoilers to 9 inches with the advent of the spacers. That didn’t do much for handling, but it did punch a bigger hole in the air that caused massive acceleration in the draft and eradicated the “aero bubble” barrier that drivers said made it difficult for trailing cars to pass last year.

So the ability to catch the leader improved … even though handling didn’t nearly as much (look no further than Joey Logano’s in-car camera, which was a furious blur of hands manhandling the steering wheel on every shot).

That was a recipe for the return of the huge wrecks that felt like Dega of yesteryear. Holes in the draft vanished much more quickly, and blocking became futile as drivers scrambled (and often failed) to adapt to the higher closing rates.

If there was a theme, it was that misjudgment on blocking and bumping made the racing much more treacherous – particularly in the rain-shortened July 7 wreckfest at Daytona and the extravaganza Sunday-Monday.

As analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. noted in the NBC broadcast, though the bumpers don’t line up as well with the Gen 6 as in the previous iteration (which spawned the nefarious tandem drafting), the bump-drafting has become even more aggressive in the era of stage points and playoff berths tied to wins.

With bigger runs coming from every direction, an increased susceptibility to being passed and cars just as unstable when in a pack, the lead no longer was the place to be at Talladega.

There were more lead changes Sunday-Monday (46, up from 38 in the April 28 race) than the combined total (40) for both 2018 races. There were 22,214 green-flag passes (59 per lap) at Talladega in 2019, up from 13,294 last year (35 per lap).

A NASCAR without restrictor plates?

Talladega still served up the action for fans — on a silver platter strewn with twisted sheet metal, of course.


The situations weren’t entirely analogous, but NASCAR’s non-call on the final lap Monday was reminiscent of its controversial non-call on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s winning pass of Matt Kenseth in the April 6, 2003 race at Talladega. In both instances, officials claimed the spirit of the yellow-line rule wasn’t violated even though the letter clearly was.

Here’s how the rule was presented in the drivers meeting at Talladega: “Drivers, this is your warning. Race above the double-yellow line. If in NASCAR’s judgment, you go below the double-yellow line to improve your position, you will be black-flagged. If in NASCAR’s judgment, you force someone below the double-yellow line in an effort to stop someone from passing you, you may be black-flagged.”

It’s indisputable that, just like Earnhardt did in passing Kenseth 16 years ago, Ryan Blaney went below the yellow line before taking the lead for good Monday from Ryan Newman. It’s possible that contact with Newman caused Blaney to dip below the boundary, and that seems to be NASCAR’s explanation in why no call was made.

But it also seems like the rule demands that (as it did in 2003) a penalty should have been called on either Blaney or Newman. NASCAR can rule that “in its judgment,” Blaney didn’t intentionally go below the yellow-line to improve his position … but if that’s the case, it means he had to have been forced there, right?

Regardless, NASCAR officials say they are happy with the language of the rule.

Given that it affords them tremendous leeway to turn every yellow-line pass into a ball and strike call, it’s easy to see why.


As many have noted, manufacturer alliances at Daytona and Talladega were invented long before the 21st century. In the 1990s, Chevrolet and Ford drivers regularly worked together – when possible — to try to ensure their makes won the race.

But there were some glaring differences about the tempest that sprung forth last weekend and sparked major disgruntlement among fans and media.

Chevrolet’s decision to call an in-race meeting at Garage Suite 3 in full public view was ill-advised, at best. The references afterward to shilling Corvettes and watching PowerPoints were too clever by a factor of maybe 100, and they also were indicative of why the optics were problematic.

Chevy’s extremely disciplined approach felt too corporate, and it seemed micromanaged to the point of making Michael Scott blush. Chastising drivers for racing three wide instead of single file while still in Stage 1 is hardly palatable to anyone in NASCAR, which has an appealing undercurrent of cutthroat intensity (especially at Daytona and Talladega).

It’s understandable why Jim Campbell demanded his Chevy drivers stay on script. The heat from GM headquarters in Detroit surely was unbearable after Hendrick Motorsports essentially helped Toyota win the Daytona 500. And Ford and Toyota drivers surely were given virtually the same marching orders at Talladega – just much more discreetly.

That might be the right line to choose next time.


The focus on manufacturer alliances wasn’t all bad, though.

It forced some good discussions on awkward topics into the open, and it raised important issues about how much influence manufacturers and teams should have in effectively determining race winners. If younger drivers for midpack teams essentially are told to subjugate themselves for the greater good (or risk being stripped of perks), is that a just sacrifice at a track that might offer their best opportunity at winning all year?

That conversation got shoved to the forefront by the weekend’s manufacturer debate. And it was nice that none of it actually mattered at the conclusion of a race that featured a passel of unheralded underdogs vying for the checkered flag.

It also could be indirectly good for NASCAR while continuing to court new manufacturers to enter with its next generation engine (which probably won’t happen until 2023). With the overall decline in the corporate sponsorship spend over the past decade, there are few entities investing as much in stock-car racing as the automakers.

At least they got good bang for their bucks at Talladega, particularly if you ascribe to the idea that there is no such thing as bad publicity.


Ryan Blaney still isn’t a favorite to reach the Championship 4 this season, but Monday might be remembered as a turning point if the No. 12 driver eventually wins a Cup title.

Ryan Blaney receives congratulations from teammate Joey Logano (Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

There is enormous pressure on the 25-year-old to perform at Team Penske, which has been enjoying a worldwide results bonanza well beyond NASCAR that is impressive even for this storied organization. Never mind championship teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, Blaney also is competing against winners of the Indianapolis 500, Bathurst 1000 and Rolex 24. If he makes the playoffs but still goes winless this year, it gets noticed more than it would at a less successful team.

It was important that his 2019 breakthrough happened at Talladega after a string of plate failures the past few years. Blaney’s Fords led four of the past six races at Talladega but didn’t finish higher than 11th in any of them. He finished seventh in the 2018 Daytona 500 despite having the best car and leading a race-high 118 laps.

The confidence-booster of making every right move over the final two laps (including the bold decision to choose the outside for the lead on the final restart) should go a long way toward making Blaney feel his place is secure at one of racing’s greatest teams.

 

Ryan: Can Kyle Busch find his happy place with less horsepower?

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Kyle Busch clearly has a problem with slower cars.

We don’t mean those that got in his way Sunday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where the Joe Gibbs Racing driver angrily challenged and questioned the racing acumen and credentials of Garrett Smithley and Joey Gase.

No, it’s the speed in his own No. 18 Toyota that seems to have left Busch miffed many times during a season of too much discontent for the mercurial superstar.

It’s been almost a year since the die was cast on perhaps the most controversial competition decision during Busch’s 15 seasons of racing on NASCAR’s premier circuit.

The move in 2019 to a lower horsepower, higher downforce package (i.e., slower and more stable cars with 550 hp on big speedways and 750 on shorter tracks) – a sudden reversal after years of heading mostly in the opposite direction – initially wasn’t met well within the ranks, and Busch was among many big-name drivers who voiced staunch opposition.

A case can be made that a reason behind the dissolution of the Drivers Council was its inefficacy in blunting the momentum for adopting a rules configuration that inherently affects harnessing a 3,400-pound stock through first-class hand-eye coordination and throttle control.

But the public grumbling gradually has subsided this season. Many stopped swimming against the strong tide, choosing to focus on their teams’ results or simply swallow their pride and accept the new rules.

The most notable resistance remained from Busch, the driver who arguably has had the most success with the 2019 rules package as anyone.

It’s somewhat remarkable that Busch, the regular-season champion who entered the playoffs with four wins and a 45-point cushion that likely will carry him to the title round at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the fifth consecutive year, would be the most high-profile remaining holdout on the package, which mostly was aimed at producing closer racing at 1.5-mile tracks such as Vegas (and at least seems to achieve that on restarts, more on that below).

But his pushback also is perfectly understandable in the context of Busch wanting to maximize a skillset tailored to outdrive anyone when the challenge is taming stock cars that aren’t glued to the pavement as much as they are in 2019.

When Busch pouts (as he did after Vegas) that it’s impossible to pass at any track anymore (mostly because of aerodynamic turbulence for a trailing car), he is both wrong (in that winning teammate Martin Truex Jr. proved Sunday that you still can gain positions) and right (in that Busch can’t advance through the field using the same manhandling style he once did).

That makes it doubly frustrating for an already emotionally charged personality who can fly off the handle even faster than he drives.

“Kyle is just plain and simple unhappy,” analyst Jeff Burton said in the NASCAR on NBC Splash & Go weekly feature Tuesday (video above). “He wants to race a certain way, and that’s not the way we’re racing. He’s going to have to find a way to get above it. He’s going to have to find a way to focus on performance and championships and do the things that he is so good at.

“I think Kyle has convinced himself that the things he’s so good at he can no longer do, but I’ve watched from the best seat in the house every week, and people do pass and people do find a way to make things happen, but they do it differently than two years ago. I feel bad for him because he is a hell of a race car driver. He wants to drive the thing a certain way, but that’s just not how it’s going to be. He’s going to have to find a way to embrace it, but it’s obviously hard for him to do.”

This is immaterial, by the way, to how Busch carried himself with his infamous truculence as he faced a barrage of questions (mostly fair and well-stated, by the way) after Sunday’s race.

Like Tony Stewart and A.J. Foyt before him (and Smoke’s unhappiness in 2004, when he clashed often with officials and peers, is reminiscent of the current situation for Rowdy), churlishness is a byproduct of Busch’s greatness.

For some fans, it’s also part of his appeal.

Even if he were completely happy with the racing, there always will be regrettable moments in the media bullpen after a race that breaks badly for Busch.

It’s his essence, and it’s unfair to ask him to be someone else, especially when the biggest casualties of his combativeness are reporters’ feelings.

On the scale of bad behavior across professional sports, Busch has been a relative choirboy.

Should he be more cognizant that postrace interviews are as much about serving fans as the media (which often is the conduit to Rowdy Nation)?

Perhaps, but if he wants to be that way and can live with potential consequences (whether the ire of series officials or sponsors), he shouldn’t be asked to change by NASCAR and a fan base that wants its drivers candid and colorful.

Busch meets those standards better than any current star. In the right mood, his interviews are articulate, insightful and steeped in history. His issues with the package aren’t about his personality or how it’s been impacted.

The much bigger concern is how the dissatisfaction with 550 horsepower affects his performance behind the wheel. From when he hit the wall in the opening laps while apparently pushing the envelope after starting 20th, Busch was the weak link in the No. 18 team at Las Vegas (as Steve Letarte said on the latest NASCAR on NBC Podcast).

That rarely happens with Busch, an elite talent who probably could have become a champion in any series he chose to race anywhere in the world.

But it has been true too many times this season as the 2015 series champion has seemed a victim of distracted driving on a semi-regular basis.

He hit the wall with the fastest car at New Hampshire Motor Speedway two months ago and also seemed way off his game at Watkins Glen International with errors in the Xfinity and Cup races. On Monday’s NASCAR America, analysts Kyle Petty and Letarte said Busch’s problems with the lapped cars at Vegas were self-induced.

Drivers make mistakes, but these have been uncharacteristic for Busch, who is 13 races and more than three months removed from his most recent win.

There’s a NASCAR saying that drivers sometimes need to slow down in order to go faster.

But asking Kyle Busch to celebrate driving at medium instead of maximum power seems sacrilege.

It’s no wonder he’s struggling with it.


Chase Elliott’s move to slow down and help Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron under caution on Lap 181 was legal, but it came some risk and raises some interesting questions, as NASCAR on NBC analysts Letarte and Jeff Burton (above) explained.

After spinning in Turn 4, Byron was able to enter the pits immediately to change his flat left-side tires. But he stayed on the lead lap only because Elliott eased off the accelerator while leading and allowed the No. 24 Chevrolet to exit the pits ahead of the No. 9.

Though slowing to at least 200 feet behind the pace car, Elliott hadn’t been picked up yet as the leader under the yellow flag. Joey Logano, running second, actually accelerated past Elliot just past the finish line.

Though Burton advocated Logano speeding up even earlier to put greater pressure on NASCAR to make a call on whether Elliott was maintaining reasonable speed as the leader, NASCAR officials later relayed to Burton that Elliott would have remained in first even if Logano had made a more demonstrable challenge (because Elliott would have been ruled to be using a “cautious pace” to catch up to the pace car).

Still, NASCAR has penalized leaders for failure to maintain reasonable speed under yellow (notably Marcos Ambrose stalling on a hill at Sonoma Raceway in June 2010). And if Byron hadn’t been a teammate, or if it had been later in the playoffs, Elliott might have been on the pace car’s rear bumper to ensure trapping him a lap down.

“Chase Elliott has the ability to set that cautious pace,” Letarte said on the new playoff edition of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast. “Did he set it to save William Byron a lap? Absolutely.

“I see a teammate playing nicer earlier in the playoff than perhaps we would have seen. If Hendrick Motorsports was dominant with 15 or 18 wins, I think Chase doesn’t care about (Byron) and tries to pin him because he sees him as (a threat). It shows perhaps Hendrick in their struggles, their relationship has been galvanized where they’re looking out for one another.”


Daniel, we hardly knew yet, but it’s fairly obvious what was coming next.

Ever since team owner Richard Childress essentially volunteered that Tyler Reddick was destined for a Cup ride during a July 30 interview, it was clear that Daniel Hemric was in trouble during a disappointing rookie season at Richard Childress Racing. Asked a few days later about Childress’ comments, Hemric seemed less than certain about his future at the team.

It also isn’t clear if the Kannapolis, North Carolina, native will remain in Cup, though there are a few lesser rides that could come open.

Hemric is unlikely to be considered for a potential top-flight opening next season, and the only vacancy likely would be at Stewart-Haas Racing, which has yet to confirm Clint Bowyer or Daniel Suarez as returning and probably would move in Cole Custer if either leaves. Things seem to be trending well for Bowyer, who won his first pole position in 12 years after making the playoffs and was ebullient in Vegas until his 25th place finish.

Suarez also ran well before finishing 20th after contact with Joey Logano, qualifying second and leading 29 laps. But he said he had no timeframe for learning if he would return to SHR for a second year. The past two seasons, the team has waited until the offseason to hire its No. 41 Ford driver.

“We’ll still working on a couple of things,” Suarez said of 2020. “We have some good opportunities sponsorship-wise. There are some good things coming, but you never know. This sport is extremely unpredictable. We’ll just have to take one day at a time.”

Though making the playoffs would have helped, Suarez believes he can make up for it with a  victory: “The past is the past. We can’t change that. What we can change is we have 10 more weeks to keep improving. We have nothing in our heads but to get wins. If we are able to make it to victory lane this year, I won’t even think about the playoffs. Who cares about the playoffs if we can make it to victory lane? If we win one of the next 10, believe me, nobody will remember that we didn’t make the playoffs.”


Also unsure of his status for next year is Ross Chastain, who is focused on trying to win a truck championship with team owner Al Niece.

“I got nothing” for next year, Chastain said last week. “No one is calling now to put me in a fast Cup car. I doubt that’s going to happen anytime soon. I’m racing my butt off trying to be the best I can be. I’ve got so much opportunity now.  I’ve got more races on the Xfinity side to compete and run up front. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning. I’m making my living, paying my bills by driving race cars as fast as I can. And I’m driving for multiple people, and they all want me to drive.”

Chastain has maintained a working relationship at Chip Ganassi Racing despite losing an Xfinity ride with the team because of an offseason sponsor pullout. He said his job for now in Cup when he races for underfunded Premium Motorsports is “to not make the news or crash the car. Even if I don’t crash, getting in someone’s way or being in the leader’s way coming down to the end or hitting someone on pit road. All that stuff you think it’s easy, but it’s so hard to be a slow car. It’s hard. I learned a lot in doing it, and it helps when I get in something that’s fast.”


When the first NASCAR Playoff Media Day without Jimmie Johnson happened, the seven-time series champion took steps to ensure he avoided it.

Johnson shifted the days of a mountain bike trip to Bentonville, Arkansas, to try to forget being sidelined from championship contention with 10 races remaining for the first time in his 18 Cup seasons. Though hitting the trails helped, he couldn’t avoid seeing glimpses of the 16 playoff drivers making the rounds in Las Vegas when he opened social media last Thursday.

“Not being there, it stung,” Johnson said. “It’s probably good that it stung. It’s been a nice gut check for me. I should be part of that. I want to be part of that. All those things are there. In a weird way, I was glad to see the 16 drivers and all that went along with that.”

The goal the rest of the season for Johnson, who turned 44 Tuesday two days after an 11th at Vegas, is to end a two-year winless drought.

“We just have to put a stake in the ground that we’ve got to win,” he said. “We just need to see progress at a rapid pace in the right direction. We were making progress, but the sport evolves, the team evolves, and we need to take big chunks out of that gap. That’s ultimately what we need to do. If we continue to take chunks out of the gap as we have, we’ll ultimately be back in victory lane.

“It hurts not being in the playoffs. It really bothers me, but at the end of the day, it’s good to have that effect on me. I didn’t enjoy it. I’m mad I’m not in the playoffs. I’m going to use that as fuel to push us through and get us back to where we need to be.”


For this observer, Las Vegas offered the chance to watch the 550 horsepower package from a fresh vantage point. Here were a few modest observations from the 1.5-mile speedway’s frontstretch press box near the start-finish line:

–The term “Insane Restarts” (or crazy, or even psychotic, if you prefer) gets tossed around so much it probably should be trademarked, but the first few laps after every green flag are breathtaking – better than a classic restrictor-plate race at Daytona or Talladega, really.

–Five laps or so after the restart, though, the racing looked like it has for the bulk of 1.5-mile tracks for the last 25 years.

–If you’re looking, you can find passing throughout the field … just not necessarily at the point.

When Las Vegas Motor Speedway made its Cup debut on March 1, 1998 (a race also covered by this writer), it was met with mixed reviews before a sellout crowd of more than 120,000 that had been promised “insane” five-wide racing for three hours. Instead, the fans saw largely a snoozefest won by Mark Martin in which Fords took 13 of the top 15 spots and the yellow flew only twice (both for single-car spins).

Sunday’s race was much better and memorable than the debut 21 years ago, but when viewed through the prism of NASCAR’s incessant tinkering to enhance 1.5-mile racing, it loses luster. Witness the recent ranking in journalist Jeff Gluck’s poll.

Las Vegas was a crucial marker in the development of the 550 hp package because of a January test that produced spectacularly tight racing and raised hopes that this season’s races might replicate it for two to three hours at a time.

It hasn’t and probably for myriad reasons. Tests rarely simulate real-world conditions with the necessary accuracy, and teams have spent so much time developing car builds since then (and through the different routes of gaining downforce or lessening drag), that there’s likely much more disparity between drivers.

As discussed on the new NASCAR on NBC Podcast, though, the conclusion here is that three straight hours of “Insane Restarts” probably would be too much of a good thing anyway.

Short of adding more mandatory cautions to guarantee re-racking the field (that’s not a suggestion, by the way), there probably is little more that can be done to enhance racing at the ubiquitous multipurpose speedways that began littering the Cup schedule in the mid to late 1990s.

If NASCAR wants more slam-bang tight racing that is true to its roots, the solution is much simpler: Run more short tracks instead of trying to retrofit 1.5-mile ovals that always will produce a brand of racing regardless of what is done to the cars.


After qualifying Morgan Shepherd’s car in ninth with a lap for the “Qualifying Hall of Fame” (according to NASCAR on NBC broadcaster Dale Earnhardt Jr.), will Landon Cassill start more Xfinity races for Shepherd, who seems to be winding down his driving career?

“I’ll let him dictate that,” Cassill said of Shepherd, who turns 78 next month. “I talk to him a lot, and he’s very mindful of his future and what he wants to build. I think me driving and having some speed in his car has been a part of it. He could see himself as a car owner someday probably.”

Cassill, who made 20 laps at Vegas and finished 36th for Shepherd, also posted top-20 qualifying efforts in the No. 89 Chevrolet at Charlotte (13th) and Michigan (16th). The relationship with Shepherd began when Cassill qualified the car 24th in the 2018 season finale after it lacked speed to make the race in practice.

“He called me the hour before qualifying and asked me to hop in,” said Cassill, who was introduced to Shepherd by Xfinity team owner Johnny Davis. “Ever since then, built a relationship and a lot of trust in each other, and he’s asked me to drive it whenever I’m available.

“It definitely makes me feel good to run that well. The experience really helps me a lot and running both (Cup and Xfinity) helps a lot. The speed in his car for Morgan is encouraging. He’s trying to envision what he’s doing for the future. I think having that speed in his car can draw attention to sponsors and putting forth a full-time effort.”


Next season, Las Vegas Motor Speedway will move from opening the playoffs the past two years to opening the second round.

Though the Sept. 27 race will be nearly two weeks later and likely in cooler weather, it’s expected the track will keep the 7 p.m. ET starting time. Out of the oppressive early afternoon heat, the grandstands seemed less empty than then 2018 race, which started shortly at 3 p.m. ET.

Preliminary entry lists for Las Vegas Motor Speedway

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The NASCAR family is all in one location this weekend as all three national series trek back out west to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The Cup Series begins its 10-race playoff as the Xfinity Series finally ends its regular season. The Gander Outdoors Truck Series concludes its first playoff round after two weeks off.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for the race weekend.

Cup – South Point 400 (7 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN)

There are 39 entries for the race.

The three cars owned by Rick Ware Racing don’t have drivers attached to them.

Joe Nemechek is entered in Premium Motorsports’ No. 27 car.

Last time, Joey Logano won the spring race over Brad Keselowski. Keselowski won this race last year over Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity Series – Rhino Pro Truck Outfitters 300 (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)

There are 38 entries for the race, which is a full field.

No driver is attached to Rick Ware Racing’s No. 17 car.

Riley Herbst is entered in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota.

Elliott Sadler is entered in his second race of the year in Kaulig Racing’s No. 10 Chevrolet.

Landon Cassill is entered in Morgan Shepherd‘s No. 89 Chevrolet.

Kyle Busch won the spring race at Las Vegas while Ross Chastain claimed the win in this race last year.

NASCAR rules mandate that drivers who have declared for Cup Series points cannot participate in the final races of the Xfinity season, which begins at Las Vegas.

Click here for the entry list.

Truck Series – World of Westgate 200 (9 p.m. ET Friday on FS1)

There are 36 trucks entered into the race. A full race field is 32 trucks.

Niece Motorsports will have three entries, with Ross Chastain in the No. 45, Angela Ruch in the No. 44 and Colin Garrett in the No. 38.

Tyler Dippel is back in Young’s Motorsports’ No. 02 Chevrolet after being suspended one race for a criminal charge in New York that was dropped two weeks ago.

Derek Kraus is entered in the No. 19 Toyota owned by Bill McAnally Racing. Kraus is the current points leader in the K&N Pro Series West.

Kyle Busch won the spring race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Grant Enfinger won this race last year.

Click here for the entry lists.

 

 

Erik Jones clinches spot in playoffs with win at Darlington

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NOTE: There will be an encore presentation of Sunday’s race on Monday afternoon from 3-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Even though he and the other 38 competitors endured a nearly four-hour rain delay that postponed the start, Erik Jones went on to clinch a spot in the upcoming NASCAR Cup playoffs, winning the Bojangles’ Southern 500, which ended early Monday morning.

The victory also came in a milestone fashion as Jones took the win in his 100th career Cup start.

Jones held off Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch in a classic battle in the final 10 laps of the 367-lap event around the 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval to earn his first win of 2019 and the second triumph of his NASCAR Cup career.

“I’m wore out mentally and physically, more mentally than anything,” Jones told NBCSN. “Kyle was really running hard and is one of the best guys out there.

“I was pedaling as hard as I could and I’m just glad I could hold him off and finally get to victory lane. I feel like this has been coming to us for a long time, so it feels real good. There’s been a lot of doubt and speculation (about his future after this season) and I put my heart and soul into this and my race team, This is my living and how I want to make a career and what I want to do.

“It don’t get any better. I rate this race real high and it’ll look damn good to see my face on that trophy.”

Jones then turned to the sell-out crowd that endured the rain delay and a race that didn’t finish until 1:53 a.m. and said, “Thank you guys for coming. You’re welcome to stay up all night with me because I guarantee I ain’t going to bed.”

Jones led 79 laps, while the younger Busch brother finished third, even though he led a race-high 118 laps. Jones’ other win was in July 2018 in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Busch likely would have finished second but he hit the wall hard with two laps to go and that pretty much sealed his fate and assured Jones the checkered flag. Kyle Larson wound up finishing second.

“I felt like both (Busch) and I were a little bit better than (Jones) at the end, but couldn’t do nothing with him, that was frustrating,” Larson told NBCSN. “I led some laps and was able to challenge at the end. I wish we could have got it done, but to come away with another top-3 at the Southern 500 is not too bad.”

Added Busch to NBCSN, “Overall, good day, and it was the best we’ve run here in a long, long time, so that was fun. It was nice to lead some laps and be up front, but I hate that we got behind on pit road and couldn’t make it up on the track. That kind of sucks.”

Kevin Harvick was fourth, while last year’s Darlington winner, Brad Keselowski, finished fifth.

Sixth through 10th were Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Matt DiBenedetto, Paul Menard and Austin Dillon.

Even though he was disappointed in his third-place finish, Busch still received some good news. He clinched the regular season championship. Others that have already clinched their spots in the playoffs are Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman and Jones. Also clinching playoff spots on points at Darlington were Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, William Byron and Aric Almirola.

One race remains in the regular season for drivers to lock themselves into the 16-driver playoff field (see more in playoff update below).

There was a major wreck in Lap 274 that impacted several drivers, including Jimmie Johnson, Daniel Hemric (who started things when he lost control after having a tire go down), Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Ty Dillon, William Byron, Michael McDowell, whose car suffered the most damage in the incident.

 

The crash had significant impact on the playoff hopes for seven-time Cup champion Johnson, who is now in virtually a must-win situation next Sunday in the regular season finale, the Brickyard 400, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, if he hopes to make the playoffs.

If Johnson fails to make the playoffs, it would mark the first time in his Cup career that he did not qualify for the postseason.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kurt Busch

STAGE 2 WINNER: Kyle Busch (under caution)

Playoff update: There is now just one race remaining for drivers to qualify for the 16-car NASCAR Cup playoffs, next Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Here’s how the playoff picture looks after Darlington: Clint Bowyer moved back above the cutline, eight points ahead of Daniel Suarez and Ryan Newman, who are currently tied for 16th. Newman and Suarez were involved in an incident in the race that impacted Newman’s place in the standings. And as for Jimmie Johnson, he’s 18 points behind the cutoff line. Paul Menard is 69 points back and Chris Buescher is 86 points back.

Here’s what some of those drivers on either side of the playoff cutoff line had to say to NBCSN after the race:

Clint Bowyer: “We definitely took care of business and did what we needed to do. We lost some ground on my part last week at Bristol. … It was fun.”

Ryan Newman: “(Contact with Suarez) He had me jacked up going into the corner. That pretty much was uncalled for. He was struggling to catch me and finally got to me and turned me around. I guess what comes around goes around.”

Daniel Suarez: “We all were racing very hard. I know Newman is very well known for racing extremely hard and is hard to pass and I have a lot of respect for him. He was just blocking me. I got him loose but I didn’t touch him. My car is 100 percent clean. He raced me hard, I raced him hard back. … (On being tied with Newman for final playoff spot) It should be good, I love Indianapolis, it’s one of my favorite race tracks. We’re going to go there, have some fun and hopefully be all-in (the playoffs) after Indianapolis. I can’t wait to finish Indianapolis hopefully on the good side of things and go fight hard.”

Jimmie Johnson: “I’ve had at least 15 years of a lot of luck on my side and seven great years of championships. To have two or three bad ones is just part of it. … (Must-win scenario at Indy) We’re running out of days and if we miss it, it’ll be just by a few (points), I believe. I can look back over the first half of the season and see a lot of races where we gave away a few points. It isn’t fair to put all the pressure on one race at Indy, but it is what it is and we’re going there to win the race.”

Who else had a good day: Larson came close and challenged Jones with about 25 laps to go, and then fell back to third before regaining second following Kyle Busch’s contact with the wall with two laps to go. … Matt DiBenedetto continues to show why he deserves a ride for 2020 with his eighth-place finish. … Paul Menard tried his best to give the Wood Brothers their 100th career Cup win as an organization. Even though he fell short and finished ninth, it was one of Menard’s strongest efforts this season.

Who had a bad day: Denny Hamlin had a good shot at winning before being involved in the big wreck on Lap 274. His team tried to fix his car on pit road, but there was too much damage, leaving Hamlin to finish a disappointing 29th … Ricky Stenhouse Jr. struggled all day and finished 33rd, 16 laps off the lead lap.

Notable: Sunday marked the 70th year of racing at Darlington. Only 51 drivers have won at the Track Too Tough To Tame, and Jones adds his name to that list. … Due to the nearly 4-hour rain delay, there was a competition caution on Lap 35.

What’s next: Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard (aka Brickyard 400), Sunday, Sept. 8, 2 p.m. ET on NBC. Everything is on the line for the six drivers still battling for the two remaining playoff spots.

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Retro Rundown 2019: Southern 500 paint schemes

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It’s here!

After all the waiting it’s almost time for the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway (6 p.m. Sunday on NBCSN).

The fifth year of NASCAR’s official Throwback Weekend celebrates the 1990-94 era of the sport but there are paint schemes from various eras that we’ll be seen competing on the track “Too Tough to Tame.”

Here’s your guide to the retro paint schemes that have been announced so far for this weekend, including schemes for Saturday’s Xfinity Series race.

Landon Cassill, No. 00 Chevrolet – The StarCom Racing car will honor Sterling Marlin with his early 2000s “Silver Bullet” scheme.

Kurt Busch, No. 1 Chevrolet – The Chip Ganassi Racing driver’s car will be made to look like his personal 1969 Chevy Camaro.

Chip Ganassi Racing

Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Ford – The Team Penske driver will race Rusty Wallace’s 1996 Cup Series scheme.

Austin Dillon, No. 3 Chevrolet – Dillon will boast a paint scheme that was driven by his grandfather and team owner Richard Childress in the late 1970s.

Ryan Newman, No. 6 Ford – With Oscar Mayer taking the place of Valvoline, Newman’s car will take its cue from the scheme Mark Martin raced in 1993, when he earned Roush Fenway Racing’s first Southern 500 victory.

Via Roush Fenway Racing

Daniel Hemric, No. 8 Chevrolet – Hemric will drive a car inspired by the design of CAT equipment and the logo used on them from its launch in 1925 until 1931.

Chase Elliott, No. 9 Chevrolet – Elliott will boast the scheme his father, Bill Elliott, claimed his first Cup pole with in 1981 at Darlington.

Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota – Hamlin’s car will evoke Darrell Waltrip’s Western Auto paint scheme from the 1990s.

Joe Gibbs Racing

Ryan Blaney, No. 12 Ford – The Team Penske driver will have a scheme inspired by Michael Waltrip’s Pennzoil car from 1991-95.

Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota – Busch will pilot a Snickers-sponsored car based on Bobby Hillin Jr.s 1990 No. 8 Snickers scheme.

Martin Truex Jr., No. 19 Toyota – The Joe Gibbs Racing driver will throwback to himself with the Bass Pro Shops paint scheme he drove during his 2004 Xfinity Series championship campaign. That year he drove for Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s Chance 2 Motorsports.

Erik Jones, No. 20 Toyota – To mark his 100th Cup Series start, Jones will boast a scheme based on his rookie late model car.

Paul Menard, No. 21 Ford – Wood Brothers Racing will pay tribute to late team founder Glen Wood with the paint scheme Wood drove himself in 1957, including in his only appearance as a driver at Darlington.

Joey Logano, No. 22 Ford – The Team Penske driver will have the Pennzoil paint scheme Kevin Harvick used to win the 2007 Daytona 500.

William Byron, No. 24 Chevrolet – Byron will drive one of Cole Trickle’s paint schemes from the 1990 Tom Cruise movie “Days of Thunder.”

Corey LaJoie, No. 32 Ford – GoFas Racing’s car will be based on Dale Jarrett’s 1990-91 Nestle Crunch sponsored Xfinity car.

Michael McDowell, No. 34 Ford – The Front Row Motorsports driver will have a paint scheme that pays homage to the career of long-time owner and driver Jimmy Means, who was once partnered with FRM owner Bob Jenkins.

Front Row Motorsports

Matt Tifft, No. 36 Ford – The rookie driver will pay tribute to his father. The car is based on a Dirt Late Model car his father owned, which was driven by David Hilliker.

David Ragan, No. 38 Ford – The Front Row Motorsports driver will drive a scheme inspired by David Pearson’s 1969 championship car.

Kyle Larson, No. 42 Chevrolet – Larson’s car will resemble Ricky Craven’s Kodiak scheme from his Cup Series Rookie of the Year season in 1995.

Bubba Wallace, No. 43 Chevrolet – Wallace’s car will be a tribute to the late Adam Petty and his 1998 ARCA win at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Richard Petty Motorsports

Ryan Preece, No. 47 Chevrolet – Preece will have a tribute to modified racing legend Ron Bouchard. The scheme is based on the No. 47 Majik Market/Hawaiian Punch car Bouchard drove at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway in 1984.

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet – Johnson will throwback to his off-road racing days with a scheme from 1995.

Ally Racing Twitter

BJ McLeod, No. 51 Chevrolet – The car is inspired by one that Burt Reynolds’ character raced in the movie “Stroker Ace.”

JJ Yeley, No. 52 Chevrolet

Garrett Smithley, No. 54 Chevrolet – The Rick Ware Racing car will pay tribute to Lennie Pond’s 1976 ride.

Reed Sorenson, No. 77 Chevrolet – The Spire Motorsports car will pay tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Motor Racing Network and the 11 radio affiliates that have broadcast NASCAR races since its inception in 1970.

Motor Racing Network

Alex Bowman, No. 88 Chevrolet – Bowman’s Axalta-sponsored car is inspired by Tim Richmond‘s Folger’s Coffee scheme from 1986-87.

Matt DiBenedetto, No. 95 Toyota – The Leavine Family Racing car will be a tribute to the GTO Celicas that won the IMSA GTU title in 1987.

Stewart-Haas Racing – In celebration of co-owner Tony Stewart’s election to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, three SHR drivers will have paint schemes based on the cars Stewart raced to his three Cup Series titles. Aric Almirola‘s No. 10 Ford will be based on Stewart’s 2002 car, Daniel Suarez‘s No. 41 Ford will be based on the 2005 season and Clint Bowyer‘s No. 14 Ford will look like the car Stewart drove to his 2011 title.

Xfinity Series

Cole Custer, No. 00 Ford – The Stewart-Haas Racing driver will have a throwback to Buckshot Jones’ 1997 Xfinity Series car.

Gray Gaulding, No. 08 Chevrolet

Garrett Smithley, No. 0 Chevrolet

Michael Annett, No. 1 Chevrolet – The JR Motorsports driver has Jeff Gordon’s Baby Ruth paint scheme from the 1992 Xfinity season when he drove for Bill Davis Racing.

Via JR Motorsports

Tyler Reddick, No. 2 Chevrolet – Reddick’s scheme is inspired by Kyle Petty’s 7-Eleven paint scheme from the late 1980s.

Richard Childress Racing

BJ McLeod, No. 4 Chevrolet – McLeod’s car is designed after the No. 44 Slim Jim car Bobby Labonte drove in the Xfinity Series in 1992.

Justin Allgaier, No. 7 Chevrolet – Allgaier’s scheme will be based on the No. 90 Truxmore Chevrolet Ricky Rudd drove in the 1979 season.

JR Motorsports

Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 8 Chevrolet – Earnhardt will pilot the scheme his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., drove in his first Cup start in the 1975 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Justin Haley, No. 11 Chevrolet – Kaulig Racing will boast Jeff Burton’s 1994 rookie Cup paint scheme with matching sponsorship from brake parts company Raybestos. It also serves as a tribute to team owner Matt Kaulig’s father and team chief financial officer, Bob Kaulig, who served as a vice president of Raybestos from 1985-2008.

Via Kaulig Racing

Ryan Blaney, No. 12 Ford

Stephen Leicht, No. 15 Chevrolet – The JD Motorsports driver’s scheme is based on Ken Scrader’s mid-1990s Budweiser car.

Denny Hamlin, No. 18 Toyota – Hamlin will have a scheme based on Bill Elliott’s No. 11 Budweiser car.

Brandon Jones, No. 19 Toyota – The Joe Gibbs Racing driver will have Bubby Baker’s “Gray Ghost” paint scheme.

Joe Gibbs Racing

Austin Cindric, No. 22 Ford – The Team Penske driver will race the paint scheme Roger Penske had for his one and only NASCAR win as a driver.

Joey Gase, No. 35 Toyota – Gase’s throwback is based on the 1997 Tabasco paint scheme raced by Todd Bodine.

Jeremy Clements, No. 51 Chevrolet – Like William Byron, Clements will pilot a “Days of Thunder” paint scheme. He’ll be using Rowdy Burns’ No. 51 Exxon scheme.

Brandon Brown, No. 86 Chevrolet – Brown’s scheme is inspired by Terry Labonte’s 1993 Kellogg’s Cornflakes scheme.

Chase Briscoe, No. 98 Ford – Briscoe will pilot a scheme based on the No. 98 Ford Parnelli Jones won the 1963 Indianapolis 500 with.

Stewart-Haas Racing

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