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NASCAR Cup Series

Keselowski Looking To Overcome Past Results

The playoff format has not been kind to Brad Keselowski in the past.

Whether it’s been engine failures or being in accidents, something has always got in the way of him make the championship round every year since its inception. It seemed as if once he and the No. 2 team ran into trouble during the playoffs, they’d have issues finding any solutions for their problems.

That has not been the case this year.

In fact, it’s fair to say that the team has finally found the answer to this obstacle, which isn’t good news for those still racing for a chance to run for the title next weekend at Homestead.

Just look at the last two weeks.

At Martinsville, after a dominant day, Keselowski looked to be in trouble following contact with Chase Elliott that sent him from the lead to an unfavorable position with just a handful of laps remaining. He still managed to come out of the race with a fourth-place finish and a big points day.

Last weekend, the 2012 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion worked his way back after a flat tire and nearly going two laps down early, to end the day with a fifth-place finish.

Two significant obstacles that may have defeated them in past have not stopped this team from finding success this year.

There has been a lot of talk about who will join Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex Jr after Phoenix and the favorite should be Keselowski, with the Round Of 8 serving as evidence to back up that claim.

Out of the remaining five drivers in the playoffs, there isn’t one competitor that has done more in their attempt to make the final four than the Michigan-native.

Jimmie Johnson has continued to struggle, failing to finish in the top-25 at Texas, a track he has dominated in the past. Chase Elliott finds himself in a hole after a late-race spin at Martinsville, with a ninth-place finish last weekend that didn’t do anything to help his cause. Despite being consistent, Ryan Blaney has been outperformed by his former boss and future teammate. Lastly, Denny Hamlin, like Elliott failed to capitalize in Martinsville and has since left him in a hole that he is still recovering from.

Simply put, Keselowski is the driver with the momentum.

Virtually all that needs to happen Sunday for him to secure a spot is two things:

His fellow four competitors cannot win Sunday, which is far from a guarantee as Elliott did lead laps at Phoenix in the spring; however, the last time one of the four won at Phoenix was Hamlin in 2012.

And, he needs to continue to run up front, which is realistic for him has only finished outside the top-10 three times at the track since 2012.

This weekend is a defining race for Keselowski. With momentum on his side can he overcame his struggles of the past, or will he fall victim yet again?

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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News

8 is Enough: Where the Top Drivers Stand After Texas

We’re down to final race of Round 3 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, following Kevin Harvick’s dramatic victory in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Harvick, the 2014 Cup champion, passed Martin Truex Jr. with 10 laps to go to win at Texas and punch his ticket to the Cup championship race Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.  It was just the second victory of the season for Harvick, but it came at exactly the right time for the driver and his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford team.

By virtue of his sec0nd-place finish at Texas, Truex is locked into Homestead, too, in his Furniture Row Racing Toyota. That leaves five drivers left to settle the final playoff spot next week at Phoenix Raceway.

Here’s where all eight drivers stand going into the penultimate race of the 2017 season:

  1. Kyle Busch, locked in

The 2015 Cup champion punched his ticket to Homestead last week with a win at Martinsville Speedway. Good thing, too, since on Lap 1, Busch went up the hill and into Brad Keselowski, tearing a big hole in the right-front fender of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Busch finished 19th at Texas. 

  1. Kevin Harvick, locked in

Talk about coming up big at the right time. Harvick methodically ran down Martin Truex Jr. in the closing laps, setting him up for the race-winning pass. Given Truex’s superiority on 1.5-mile tracks all year, Harvick’s performance was impressive and maybe even a bit surprising.

  1. Martin Truex Jr., locked in

So, even though he didn’t win at Texas, consider this stat: In eight playoff races, Truex has three victories in the Furniture Row Racing Toyotas, two runner-up finishes and seven top fives, which means he has enough point to make the final race. But will his first playoff loss on a 1.5-mile track be cause for concern?

  1. Brad Keselowski, +19

After getting tagged by Kyle Busch on Lap 1, the 2012 champ had to pit to repair a flat tire and went a lap down at Texas. The good news is the driver and his Team Penske squad stayed calm and rebounded to finish fifth. That puts Keselowski in great shape heading into Phoenix. 

  1. Denny Hamlin, – 19

Sure, finishing third at Texas was a solid effort for Hamlin, but to advance, he’s going to need to either win at Phoenix or post a top-five and hope Keselowski has serious issues and falls out. Not impossible, but unlikely.

  1. Ryan Blaney, -22

Everything noted above about Hamlin applies to Blaney, too. Still, the second-year driver has had an impressive playoff run, his first and the first for the Wood Brothers Racing team.

  1. Chase Elliott, – 49

Starting from the 34th position because his car was unable to make it through inspection in time to qualify on Friday, Elliott valiantly worked his way through the field to finish in the top 10. But it likely was too little, too late. Anything less than a win at Phoenix and Elliott’s title hopes are over.

  1. Jimmie Johnson, -51

The seven-time Cup champion had another sub-par playoff race. In fact, he had an awful weekend, finishing 27th at a track where he’s won seven races. You can stick a fork in his playoff hopes — he’s done unless he wins at Phoenix. His Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets just haven’t had enough speed all season long.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Martinsville Six-Pack: 6 Things We Learned on Sunday

Sunday’s First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway was a wild and crazy affair that saw Kyle Busch win his third Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff race, but only after his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin stuffed Chase Elliott into the Turn 3 wall with two laps to go.

Here’s a fresh six-pack for you – six things we learned on a day marked by cold temperatures and hot tempers.

  1. There will be at least two Toyotas in the final

Kyle Busch’s victory locks him into the Cup championship race Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he and three other drivers TBD will wage a title fight. Whichever one of the four has the best finish at Homestead will be the 2017 Cup champion.

At the moment, Busch is the only driver officially locked in, but Furniture Row Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. is virtually assured of making the final. Truex has a 67-point lead over fifth place right now and would be almost impossible to lose that many points in the final two races of this round.

Truex and Busch, both Toyota drivers, have had the best two cars all year and are 1-2 in points right now, so it’s only fitting that they be among the title combatants.

  1. Brad Keselowski is sitting pretty

The 2012 champion came into Martinsville thinking he had to repeat his spring victory to advance to the final. In reality, though, Keselowski is in a good spot — third in points, 29 in points ahead of fifth place.

That’s not a guarantee, mind you, as we saw when an engine failure wiped out a 32-point cushion for Kyle Larson and knocked him out of the playoffs at Kansas. Still, Keselowski is in a very favorable position to make it to the big race.

  1. Denny Hamlin manned up

On the one hand, Denny Hamlin deserves credit for manning up to his mistake and apologizing to Chase Elliott for costing him the victory by dumping him with two laps to go. On the other hand, it was a mistake that was both reckless and dumb. Hamlin, who has been running in Cup full time since 2006, knows better than to race like that.

  1. JJ still in the hunt

Martinsville was another spectacularly mediocre outing for seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who finished 12th at a track where he has won nine times. In seven playoff races so far, Johnson has only one top-five and three top-10 finishes. By Johnson’s own lofty standards, those are craptastic numbers.

And yet, with two races to go in this round, Johnson is only 3 points away from the final transfer spot for Homestead. If Johnson somehow pulls out an eighth title this year, it will be proof positive that he really does have a golden horseshoe wedged up there where the sun don’t shine.

  1. More short tracks

Dear NASCAR: We need more short tracks on the schedule. Period. Signed, Your Loyal Race Fans. OKTHXBAI.

  1. Four guys hunting for last spot

Here’s how I see the title fight shaping up: Kyle Busch is locked in, Martin Truex Jr. is all but locked in and a pair of top 10 or maybe even top 15s in the next two races ought to advance Brad Keselowski to Homestead. That fills three of the final four spots.

Chase Elliott is 26 points behind the cutline and probably will need to win at Texas or Phoenix to advance. Given that he’s never won a race in his career, that could be a tall order.

So that leaves four guys — Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin — battling for the remaining spot at Homestead. The gap from Harvick to Hamlin is just 8 points, so any one of these four could beat out the other three and make it to the title race. And it’s impossible to predict who will prevail.

This much is for certain: It’s going to be an interesting final three weeks of the season.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

New Plate Racing Masters Emerge at Talladega

Sunday’s Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway marked the end of one era and the birth of another.

Six-time Talladega winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. turned his final laps on a restrictor plate track, finishing seventh to close out an illustrious plate racing career.

After narrowly missing many accidents late in the event and receiving minor damage, the Hendrick Motorsports driver was down but not out in the final laps. However, this hurt his chances at victory and stiff competition from some of today’s best plate racers ultimately prevailed. 

Brad Keselowski captured his fifth Talladega win and his sixth restrictor plate victory which is second-most in the field behind Earnhardt Jr.

Once Earnhardt Jr. retires at season’s end, Keselowski will take over the honor and become a candidate to fill the role as plate racing master.

While Keselowski won on Sunday, his teammate Joey Logano may have been more impressive. Logano led a race-high 59 laps and overcame a spin with less than ten laps remaining to finish fourth.

Logano has paced the field for at least 20 circuits in each of his three combined victories at Daytona and Talladega. Meanwhile, Keselowski often finds himself up front at the finish but has only led more than 12 laps in two of his six victories.

Leading laps is vital to follow in the 14-time most popular driver’s footsteps as he has led at least 34 laps in each of his ten victories.

Another element to plate racing mastery is fanfare. No driver receives a similar roar of the crowd like Earnhardt Jr. does when he takes the lead, and it will be hard to replicate moving forward.

However, Chase Elliott has challenged his teammate in this category in recent years. Not only is he popular among the fans but he has become one of the most impressive plate racers.

While his results haven’t matched his performances, he has consistently competed up front for a majority of the events in his career and led laps in all but two plate races.

Elliott had one of the strongest plate performances in his career on Sunday before crashing late while battling for the top spot. 

Continuing to perform at the pace he’s set and using his popularity as an advantage will put him in contention to follow Earnhardt Jr.’s path.

With one of the best all-time at Daytona and Talladega calling it a career, it opens the door for the next wave of talent to attempt to match his success.

Sunday proved that there are many prominent candidates and the fight for supremacy among Keselowski, Logano, and Elliott could usher in one of the most competitive eras of plate racing. 

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Commentary

7 Takeaways From Talladega Smashup

So what did insights did we glean from Sunday’s Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway besides the fact that restrictor-plate racing results in a ton of wrecked race cars?

Actually, a whole lot.

Here are seven things we learned in a wreck-filled Alabama Sunday afternoon:

Playoffs

Obviously, Brad Keselowski’s victory at the ginormous 2.66-mile Talladega oval locks him into Round 3 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs along with Martin Truex Jr., the winner one week earlier at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

That means next week’s race at Kansas Speedway will determine which six drivers will join Truex and Keselowski in Round 3 and which four will be eliminated. 

Ford power

After winning eight of the first 17 races of the season, Ford looked like it was in good shape to win its first NASCAR Cup Manufacturers’ Championship since 2002. But after Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won at Daytona in July, the Blue Oval Boys went on an 0-for-13 streak.

Fortunately for its diehard fans, the Ford squad had a much better showing at Talladega Superspeedway, where most all of its cars were fast. Brad Keselowski won in his Team Penske Ford and four of the top five finishers were Ford drivers. Not coincidentally, Fords have now won seven straight restrictor-plate races.

Junior’s last stand

Dale Earnhardt Jr. came into his final Talladega race with huge expectations, especially after qualifying on the pole for the first time in his career here. And Sunday was the 17thanniversary of his father’s last win, which came right here in an epic late-race charge from 18th to the win in the final four laps.

Alas, there was no October miracle for Earnhardt, except maybe that he dodged the three big wrecks in the final 16 laps. Earnhardt finished a respectable seventh, happy to avoid the carnage.

“I would have loved to have won the race for all the fans that come out here,” said Earnhardt.  “I know a lot of folks came to see this race just for the fact that it was my last plate race and trust me, I wanted to win it for all those folks more than myself, but just couldn’t get it done.”

Champions in trouble

Chances are very, very good that at least one past Cup champion will be knocked out of the playoffs next weekend at Kansas. Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is currently eighth in points and in the final transfer spot. Johnson is 7 points ahead of 2015 champion Kyle Busch, who needs a big day in Kansas to advance. It is unlikely both drivers make Round 3.

New plate king?

With Dale Earnhardt Jr. retiring at the end of the season and Jeff Gordon already gone, Brad Keselowski might be about to take the title of best active restrictor-plate racer in the Cup series. Keselowski now has six victories at restrictor-plate tracks, including five at Talladega. Conspicuously absent from his resume is a Daytona 500 victory, but he’s got plenty of time to get one.

Survival of the fittest

Only 14 of 40 cars were still running at the end of the race, and just two playoff drivers finished in the top 10. They were race-winner Brad Keselowski and sixth-place Denny Hamlin.

Streaks broken

The Alabama 500 was the fifth of 10 playoff races and the first one not won by either Kyle Busch or Martin Truex Jr., both Toyota drivers. The last time a Chevrolet driver won was in the final race of the regular season, when Kyle Larson triumphed at Richmond Raceway.

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News

Talladega Wreckfest Claimed By Brad Keselowski

Brad Keselowski won Sunday’s Alabama 500, the fifth of 10 races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, but the big news was the unbridled on-track carnage that resulted in three red flags in the final 20 laps of the race.

Keselowski prevailed in a four-lap, end-of-race shootout to put his Team Penske Ford into Victory Lane over Ryan Newman, Trevor Bayne, Joey Logano and Aric Almirola, with Ford winning their seventh consecutive restrictor-plate race.

It was Keselowski’s third victory of the season and 24th of his career. And it was the first victory for Ford since Daytona in July.

“I survived,” said Keselowski, who won for the fifth time at Talladega. “It was a special day. … We needed to come to Talladega and get it done. This is a great track for us.

In his final Talladega race, Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished seventh.

But the real story was the late-race calamity: There was a huge 17-car crash with 16 laps to go that took out a number of championship contenders. Martin Truex Jr. tried to go four-wide on the backstretch and got hit by David Ragan. Chaos ensued, with Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kevin Harvick, Danica Patrick and Kurt Busch all among the drivers who got collected. Dale Earnhardt Jr. had minor contact and wound up in the infield.

Johnson got hit and spun in front of Kyle Busch, who said he never saw the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet until it was too late. “I didn’t know where the heck the 48 car (Johnson) came from,” said Busch. “… I never saw him coming. I wish I would have, obviously. I would have tried to dodge left and try to go to the apron.”

“I felt like we had a really fast Sunny D Ford to contend for a win and put on a show for all these fans that came out,” said Stenhouse Jr., the spring Talladega winner. “Bummer we don’t get to do it but we will go on to Kansas next week and have some fun, hopefully.”

The most insightful comment may have come from Kurt Busch, the 2004 Cup champion. “Everybody left the inside lane open and we were making hay and here we are coming out of the infield care center,” Busch said after his mandatory post-accident checkup. “That’s just Talladega. It’s just how it works out.”

Truex apologized for triggering the crash. “We had nothing to lose today but at the same time, you don’t want to be the person who causes others problems,” said Truex. “Even though I feel like I’ve never been that guy here before, it looks like today I was. I hate it for those guys and their teams.”

Little bit anyone know it would be the first of three red flags.

A second red flag came out with 10 laps to go after Joey Logano hit Trevor Bayne, triggering another crash that took out playoff contenders Ryan Blaney and Kevin Harvick.  “A really good day and now it’s down the drain,” said Blaney.

“The Busch Light Ford wasn’t as good as we needed,” said Harvick.  “We had to start in the back and went to the back a couple other times and just couldn’t make anything happen.  We were on defense the whole time and wound up wrecked twice, so not a good weekend.”

Then, with six laps to go, Chase Elliott tried to dive under Daniel Suarez, causing another wreck and a third red flag. Also taken out in this wreck was Kyle Larson, who was racing for the lead with Elliott and Suarez when the crash happened.

All in all, it was an ugly final stage to race that had been pretty clean up until those closing laps.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Six Biggest Surprises from Monster Energy NASCAR Playoffs

Two races are down, with eight left in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, as Martin Truex Jr. won the opening race at Chicagoland Speedway and Kyle Busch followed up by winning Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

That Truex and Busch have won already is the least shocking news of the playoffs; they’ve led the most laps this season and along with Kyle Larson have been the dominant drivers in the Cup Series. 

Still, there have been plenty of surprises in just two playoff races. Here are the six biggest surprises of the playoffs so far:

  1. Under the Radar

Brad Keselowski, the 2012 Cup champion, has complained long and hard that the Toyota teams have an advantage over everyone else. That said, Keselowski brought his Team Penske Ford home sixth at Chicagoland and fourth at New Hampshire. Consistent finishes near the front are what drivers need this time of year. 

  1. Second Helping

Kyle Larson’s second-place finish at New Hampshire on Sunday was the eighth time the Chip Ganassi Racing driver finished in the runner-up spot in 28 races this year. Larson remains the top threat to blunt a runaway Toyota championship. 

  1. Seven-time Slumping

Jimmie Johnson is having a very un-Jimmie Johnson-like playoff season so far, finishing a ho-hum eighth at Chicagoland and fading to 14th at New Hampshire. Johnson hasn’t led a single lap in any event since the July Daytona race. If he doesn’t win or at least get a top five next week at Dover International Speedway, where he has 11 career wins, he might not be a playoff factor at all. 

  1. Leading the Pack

In the first two playoff races, Toyota drivers have led 81.5 percent of the laps run, compared with 10.9 percent for Ford drivers and 7.6 percent for Chevrolet drivers. At the rate things are going, there could be three or even four Toyota drivers battling for the championship at Homestead. 

  1. Busch’s Blues

Kurt Busch came into the playoffs red hot, having posted an average finish of 4.o in the last three Cup regular season races. But the Stewart-Haas Racing driver and former series champion is in danger of elimination after finishing 19th at Chicagoland and 37th at New Hampshire. 

  1. Rule Breakers

The No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team got caught red-handed at Chicagoland applying tape to Chase Elliott’s rear spoiler and rear wheel well in an attempt to create downforce. This wasn’t being off .002 inches on the NASCAR Laser Inspection system, it was ham-handed cheating and NASCAR’s slapped the team with an encumbered finish, one-race suspensions for the crew chief and car chief, and a 15-point penalty as a result.

Just as embarrassing was Team Penske at New Hampshire, where Joey Logano’s Ford flunked pre-qualifying inspection four times and was not allowed to make a qualifying run or take part in the final Happy Hour practice. Recall that Logano is not in the playoffs because of an encumbered finish at Richmond in the spring, when his car flunked post-race tech.

NASCAR’s ongoing battle with the teams over rules violations continues to be one of the dominant stories of the season. 

All article photos courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography © 2017 

Categories
Commentary

WAID’S WORLD: Manufacturers, Teams Vs. NASCAR – The Nature Of The Sport

Brad Keselowski’s assertion that Toyotas are faster than all others is due to the present technical competitive status maintained by NASCAR is by no means a new accusation. And, to be honest, it may well have elements of truth.

That the Toyota teams view Keselowski’s remarks to be no more than a spoiled-sport tantrum is also not new.

This sort of feuding, shall we call it, has been going on for years and involves manufacturers, teams and NASCAR. It’s simply a case of those who want to win by any means available against an entity whose job is to keep competition as equal as possible.

There have been times in the past where the altercations have become less like feuds and more like bloodletting’s.

Basically there are three reasons why all of this has become ingrained in NASCAR:

— Manufacturers make their case before NASCAR to establish technological arrangements that are more favorable to their cause. In other words, they want the rules structured so that they can win more often.

— Teams work diligently behind the scenes to exploit the rules. Their skulduggery is done for one goal: To be the best while still within the framework of the current legislation. If it works – and it has from time to time – they thumb their noses at the competition.

— There’s cheating going on. And one or more teams are getting away with it.

There was a time when manufacturers were more dominant in NASCAR than today. That means they were more hands-on and much more open about their demands. They were not afraid to stand toe-to-toe with NASCAR.

In some cases manufacturers were so powerful they dictated policy to teams and even went so far as to hire the drivers they preferred.

This was the case in the 1960s through the ‘70s when the “factory backed” teams won nearly all the races and the phrase, “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday,” smacked of truth.

So if the manufacturers felt NASCAR unduly undermined their efforts, at times they reacted very harshly.

In 1965 NASCAR disallowed Chrysler’s Hemi engine, declaring it to have an uncompetitive edge. Chrysler staged a boycott and said it would take its stock car teams to USAC competition.

In 1966 Ford was severely limited in the use of its Overhead Cam engine – which it had created to battle the Chrysler Hemi.

Ford cried foul. It said it could not be competitive under the rule and announced a boycott.

Over two seasons you can just imagine how frustrated Bill France, president and founder of NASCAR, became. It was his job to keep the competition equal. And unless he could reach an accord, the sport would likely lose many of its top stars – a potentially messy situation, at least.

In time all issues were settled. And today’s manufacturers might not like all the rules, but the “boycott” is never mentioned.

There are so many examples of teams finding an edge within the framework of the rules that they cannot easily be counted.

My own belief is that is what is now occurring with Toyota.

It seemed that no matter what NASCAR enforced – from smaller wheelbases to altered rear spoiler height and everything in between – at least one team, or manufacturer, found the means to overcome.

Speaking of rear spoiler heights, during the early to mid 1980s, and a few years beyond, they were altered almost on a weekly basis.

They weren’t uniform, either. Ford got a certain height, General Motors another and Chrysler still another.

Some teams found it maddening. But others pressed on successfully, seeming unfazed by it or any other NASCAR legislation.

The Wood Brothers continued their dominance on the superspeedways. Junior Johnson’s cars ruled the short tracks, no matter who drove them.

Bill Elliott was so powerful on superspeedways in 1985 that it was thought he sold his soul to the devil. For several years Hendrick Motorsports was a juggernaut. And there have been others.

But in each case either NASCAR closed the rules’ loophole or other teams did their own alchemy and caught, or even surpassed, their once-dominant rival.

Sure, once there was plenty of cheating. It happened so often it became a part of NASCAR’s appeal.

And, admittedly, sometimes teams found it to be of great benefit – as long as they were not ratted out or caught by NASCAR.

But both happened even though NASCAR’s conviction rate was not nearly as high as it is now.

Oh, teams still cheat. You know that. But it is far more difficult to get away with it and the punishment is much harsher.

Some manufacturers and teams rise to the top and enjoy more success than others. But then there is a shift, sometimes quick and sometimes over the course of time, that shakes the status quo and sees others take their place.

It happens amid changing rules that are established by NASCAR with the intent of keeping competition equal.

It is the ebb and flow of the sport.

And it will continue.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Points Will Again Play a Critical Role in the Playoffs

There have been two eras of Playoff racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

From 2004 until 2013, whoever performed best and collected the most points over the course of ten weeks captured the championship.

The game changed in 2014 when NASCAR implemented the elimination-style format that favors winning and eliminates four drivers after every three races.

A third era will begin this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway in the Tales of the Turtles 400 as new elements bring the best of the two formats together.

Playoff points will dramatically change how the championship battle unfolds this fall as bonus points that competitors accumulated in the first 26 events and post-season will carry over to every round ahead of the championship race.

Now not only will victory be on a competitor’s mind, but points will again play a significant role. 

Much like the previous format, it’s creating a distinction between the front runners and potential surprise contenders. 

Regular season champion Martin Truex Jr.’s immense playoff point advantage has been well documented as he walks in with 53 bonus points, nearly a full-race lead. His closest challenger is Kyle Larson with 33, followed by Kyle Busch with 29.

These three drivers are establishing themselves as the favorites as overcoming the points deficit will prove challenging for the competition.

The Playoff Grid tightens from fourth-place Brad Keselowski on back as 16 points separate the remaining 13 drivers who will look to upset the top performers. These teams will need to focus on stage points to earn a leg-up on each other and avoid elimination. 

While Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, and Kevin Harvick are positioned best among those with 20 or fewer playoff points, they aren’t safe.

Upset elimination occurred regularly through the last three years and with more points on the line in 2017, they may come even earlier and more often.

The goal will be to collect the most points, and that doesn’t necessarily mean bettering someone in the results column. Whoever runs well throughout the race will ultimately have the upper hand, opening the door for any drivers in the lower half of the grid to take out a higher seed.

Through the first two eras of Playoff racing, the goal has remained the same – create intense competition. Each accomplished that objective in distinctive ways. However, bringing both together could be what ultimately produces thrilling championship battles for years to come.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Fighting Words: Keselowski, Busch Go Off Over Rules

Brad Keselowski, the 2012 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, on Friday repeated an alarm he’s sounded before: The Toyota teams have a huge performance advantage over Ford and Chevrolet.

Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford, tweeted, “We are in for a rude awakening. Haven’t seen NASCAR let a manufacturer get this far ahead since the 70s.”

That prompted Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota driver Kyle Busch, the 2015 champ, to Tweet back, “STFU.”

Asked after qualifying if something had set him off, Keselowski said,  “No, other than NASCAR’s complete ineptitude to level the playing field which is the precedent that has been set the last few years. Other than that, no.”

Keselowski went on to add, “At the start of the year we were at the top of the cycle. And at this moment we are not where we need to be. With respect to that, we were at the top and it seemed like there were a lot of rules changes us to slow us down and now you have cars that are so much faster than the field and the complete ineptitude by anybody. That is frustrating because parity is either good or it is bad. I don’t care either way. But when you are at the top you like being at the top. Everybody likes being at the top.”

After winning the pole for Sunday’s Tales of the Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, Busch fired back at Keselowski when asked if the Penske driver was trying to engage in head games.

“Probably, who cares, he’s (Keselowski) an idiot anyways, we all know that,” said Busch. “Overall, I would say the biggest thing is that you don’t hear anyone else complaining like he is – it’s just one guy. We work on what we work on and we weren’t complaining when they were fast and they won the championship knowing what they were doing we had to go to work and figure it out.”

On the one hand, Keselowski’s frustration is understandable: After winning just two of the first 17 races this year, Toyotas have won six of the last nine Cup races. On the other hand, Ford also has eight victories this year and Chevrolet has 10.

On the other hand, Keselowski clearly was engaging in historical hyperbole. As recently as 2007, Chevrolet won 26 of 36 Cup races and that was when there were four manufacturers in NASCAR, not three like today. Three years ago, Chevrolet won 20 races.

One thing is for sure, though: We haven’t heard the last of this.