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NASCAR Cup Series

OBSERVATIONS: Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway

The legitimacy of the champion produced by the playoff system in NASCAR has been, and will be debated for years to come with fans are either side of the fence. However, the post-season is producing what the sanctioning body wanted – drama.

Eyes were focused in on the final laps of the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, with everyone wondering who the eight drivers transferring to the Round of 8 would be. Certainly the late race caution helped up the stakes, but there were plenty of things to watch at the end, from Chase Elliott‘s late-race charge to challenge for the victory, to Brad Keselowski trying to salvage a decent day and losing ground at the end.

Ultimately, Keselowski saw his championships hope end courtesy of a mere three points. Although you could blame the sub-par performance on Sunday, there was also a crash at Talladega Superspeedway and an 11th-place finish at Dover International Speedway. If only he would have finished three spots further up the board any of those times.

Though essentially, Keselowski struggled and handed Elliott a gift – in which he capitalized when necessary. 

Elliott gets another breath of life by transferring. After a stellar first round with the comeback win at the ROVAL, an engine failure at Dover to start this round certainly took some wind out of the sails. Though showing he could contend for the victory on Sunday, combined with statistically having done well at both Martinsville Speedway and ISM Raceway, he could be someone to watch moving forward.

Denny Hamlin will enter the Round of 8 with the most momentum, courtesy of his victory on Sunday after pacing the field much of the second half. Historically known as one of the best at Martinsville and solid statistics through the other two tracks, he could certainly mount a charge for the championship. After all, he has finished four of the six playoff events thus far in the top-five.

Putting aside the drama in the final laps involving the playoffs, the Hollywood Casino 400 was still a great race to watch from the fan’s perspective. Between the aged surface and a new tire compound, drivers were using multiple grooves across the surface to try and gain time on their competitors. This allowed for side-by-side racing throughout the entire duration of the event, including a couple battles for the lead.

If every race could be like what we saw on Sunday, then perhaps other gimmicks would not be necessary for fan excitement.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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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

Hamlin wins at Kansas as Elliott is last driver into Round of 8

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – As Denny Hamlin was finishing off a dominating day in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, Chase Elliott stole perhaps an even bigger prize — a spot in the Round of 8 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

Hamlin, who led 153 of 277 laps, crossed the finish line .128 seconds ahead of Elliott in a second overtime to secure his fifth victory of the season, his second at Kansas and the 36th of his career.

But the real suspense in the second overtime featured a three-way battle among Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano for the final two spots in the Round of 8. Logano restarted 20th in a damaged No. 22 Ford and finished 17th to secure one of the playoff positions.

Keselowski, who entered the race with a 20-point margin over Elliott, was bottled up on the final restart, fell from 13th to 19th in the running order and lost the final playoff berth to Elliott by three points.

Fittingly, there were two celebrations on pit road — one for the winner and one for the runner-up.

“This is a great feeling,” said Hamlin, who led Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch (third) and Martin Truex Jr. (sixth) into the penultimate round of the playoffs. “That car was awesome to dominate that whole second half.

“I have to thank everybody who pushed me on the restarts, Kyle (Busch), the 9 (Elliott) at the end. Good to see him make it by points anyway. But, hey, I’m just really happy for this whole FedEx team. It’s been great. Been running really good. Cannot wait to get to Martinsville Speedway (next Sunday’s Round of 8 opener).”

Elliott is the only Hendrick Motorsports driver to transfer into the Round of 8. Teammate William Byron was fifth Sunday but missed the next round by 16 points. Alex Bowman suffered early damage and rallied to run 11th, but he finished the race 20 points behind Elliott for the last spot.

Clint Bowyer came home eighth and was eliminated from the playoffs in 12th place, 21 points below the cutline.

“The good news was the bottom lane rolled good enough on the last restart to at least get back to second,” Elliott said. “So I appreciate the effort. We were really struggling there at one point in the race. You have to stay fighting in these things, especially with these late-race restarts.

“Just proud of the effort today. Just excited we get to fight another race. Back up against the wall, to come out here and battle for a win, that’s what you have to do when you’re in the position that we were in.

“If you ever get to (the Championship 4 race), you’re going to have to fight for a win down there. Proud of the effort. Learned a lot. To be able to come out here and, like I said, in our minds have to win, come and fight for one, to finish second, I think is a step in the right direction for us. So excited to move on.”

Logano won the first 80-lap stage and added four points with a seventh-place finish in the second stage to give himself the buffer he needed at the end, after spinning through the infield grass on the next-to-last lap in the first overtime, the result of a collision with the Chevrolet of Ty Dillon.

Logano, the defending series champion, finished the Round of 12 nine points ahead of Keselowski, his Team Penske teammate.

An effective charge toward the end of the race netted Kurt Busch a fourth-place finish. Truex, Erik Jones, Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson completed the top 10 in order.

Despite an off day, Harvick cruised into the next round of the playoffs. Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney already were locked into the Round of 8, thanks to their respective victories at Dover International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.

 
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NASCAR Cup Series

In-Depth Look: Can Kyle Larson Defy Odds and Win the Championship?

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs officially eclipsed the halfway point when Ryan Blaney captured his first win of the season at Talladega Superspeedway last weekend.

Astonishingly, Blaney was the only playoff driver to not get involved in any sort of incident at the famed superspeedway. Only three playoff drivers were able to walk away with a top-10 finish and being that Blaney was ranked 12th in the standings entering Talladega, this shook up the week six playoff rankings drastically.

The only driver able to take the green flag at the Alabama-based track without any pressure was Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson. Larson snapped at 75-race winless streak when he won two weeks prior at Dover International Speedway (and boy, did he need it after finishing 39th at Talladega).

After the Round of 16 delivered back-to-back victories from Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott‘s third win  of the season, the Round of 12 has proven to be the complete opposite. Both Blaney and Larson picked up their first wins of 2019, and made dramatic jumps in the playoff standings. Larson sat just one point above the cutoff line before winning at Dover, while Blaney entered Talladega last in the playoff standings.

While both drivers had been deemed underdogs and essentially non-factors when the playoffs began, the pair are now locked into the Round of 8 – and now seems like the time to start taking both drivers seriously. More specifically, Larson and his No. 42 crew.

When the driver from Elk Grove, California began his first full-time campaign in the Cup Series in 2014, he entered the sport hot and determined. It seemed as if every week the driver of the No. 42 was in contention for the win and rattling off multiple second-place finishes. Five year later and Larson’s career can be defined in one word: average.

Prior to his win at Dover two weeks ago, the 27-year old had only managed to drive his way to five wins. He did, however, race his way to 53 top-fives and 95 top-10 finishes. These are great accomplishments, but when a driver like Larson enters the sport the way he did, there must be an emphasis on winning and being in contention for championships.

Larson has only advanced to the Round of 8 once in his career (2017) and ended up finishing eighth. The semi-final round has not been kind to the driver of the No. 42 due to the trio to tracks it entails – Martinsville Speedway, Texas Motorspeedway and ISM Raceway (Phoenix).

It doesn’t help that heavy-hitters such as Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick excel at these tracks, but the 2019 playoffs have proven to be a challenge for some of the superstars at the halfway point. With a handful of the Cup Series veterans having massive difficulties thus far in the post-season, this could be Larson’s best shot at winning a championship.

This is the final year that the season finale will be held at Homestead-Miami Speedway – arguably Larson’s best track. For the No. 42 crew, they must push the boundaries like they never have before in order to advance to the final round of the playoffs, because should Larson make it to Miami, he could be the clear favorite to win the championship.

But just how difficult is Larson’s road ahead?

Photo Courtesy of Racing Virginia

Martinsville Speedway

Let’s begin with the half-mile oval of Martinsville, which is Larson’s worst statistical track on the circuit. The California-native posted a third-place finish at the Virginia-based track back in the Spring of 2016. Since then, his best finish has been 14th (Fall of 2016) with an overall average of 23.64. It should also be noted that he placed 37th in both of the last Fall races at Martinsville.

Larson’s lackluster performances at the half-mile track can be chalked up to two things – ow speeds and minimal banking. It’s almost impossible to watch a race and not see that No. 42 Camaro right up against the wall, using every inch of the the track and car. Martinsville’s banking varies from zero to 12 degrees and the top speed posted in the Spring was just shy of 98 mph; so it should come as no surprise that someone like Larson doesn’t typically perform well here.

On the contrary, these results are slightly skewed due to an engine failure and an accident which landed Larson those unfortunate 37th place finishes. It will be interesting to see if the No. 42 can stay out of trouble at this short track, because this is the one that’s proven to be most difficult for him coming up in the semi-final round.

He’ll also have compete with Brad Keselowski, Busch and Truex Jr., who have been the class of the field at Martinsville as of late. While Busch has been the more dominant of the trio, he’s been incredibly underwhelming in the playoffs.

Busch currently has the worst average finishing position out of all 12 playoff drivers with 16.6 and there could be some serious cause for concern. The driver of the M&Ms Camry has been overly agitated each week (even more so than normal) and things just don’t seem to be clicking for the No. 18 team. Simply, if Busch had not had the stellar regular season that he did, he could be in danger of missing the Round of 8. Busch is one of those heavy-hitters currently slumping and if Larson can capitalize on Busch’s struggles, it can really pay dividends in the end.

Keselowski has been fairly silent throughout the playoffs , but the 2012 Cup Series champion boasts an average finish of 9.6 through the five races. The one downside for the driver of the No. 2 is that he currently sits seventh in the standings and should another new winner be crowned at Kansas Speedway, he could get knocked out of the Round of 8. This would be another game-changer should the Michigan-native not advance.

Larson’s biggest feat at Martinsville should be the driver of the No. 19. Truex Jr. has an average finish of 6.6 over the last five races at Martinsville and he’s also won two out of the five short track events this season. He’s been scorching hot in the playoffs posting an average finish of 7.4 with two wins thus far.

Photo Courtesy of Fox News

Texas Motor Speedway

Texas Motor Speedway should be an intriguing one for Larson. He captured his best career finish  of second in the Spring of 2017. Since then, he’s been involved in an accident in every race at Texas aside from the 2018 Fall race in which he placed fifth. The Fort Worth-based track is indeed one of those high speed, high banked tracks where you can run the car against the wall – but the question is, can Larson stay out of trouble?

Harvick has owned Texas over the last five races, garnering two wins, four top-fives and five top-10s with an outstanding average finish of 3.2. He’s also been the hottest driver in the playoffs posting an average of 6.6. He may not have a win in the playoffs yet, but looking ahead to Texas and Phoenix, this should be Larson’s fiercest competitor in the Round of 8 along with Truex.

2018 Cup Series Champion Joey Logano has been great at Texas as of late. He has an average finish of 7.2 with two top-fives and four top-10’s. However, the Team Penske driver is another one of those superstars who has not been providing in the playoffs. The defending series champion has an average finish of 15th and is currently eighth in the standings, 18 points above the cutoff. Ryan Newman took an 18 point lead into Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval and ended up missing the round of 12, so Logano should feel anything but comfortable heading to Kansas.

Courtesy of ABC15

ISM Raceway

Finally, we have ISM Raceway in Avondale, Arizona. Larson has finished inside of the top-10 at Phoenix in the last two races, posting a sixth-place finish in the Spring. Phoenix is one of those tracks where the opportunities to run different lines and play strategy is seemingly endless.

While Phoenix is one of Larson’s better tracks, two of the sport’s active drivers are the greatest of all time on the one-mile tri-oval – Busch and Harvick. Both drivers have been deemed “King of the Desert” at some point in their respected careers.

Harvick is the winningest driver all time at ISM Raceway with nine wins and an average finish of 9.3. Over the last five races, Harvick has averaged a 5.2, which includes one win, three top-fives and five top-10s. Notably, he finished ninth in the Spring.

Busch has been the class of the field at Phoenix over the last few years. He is currently riding a two-race win streak at the diamond in the desert with an absurd average finish of 2.8 in the last five events with no results outside the top-seven in that span. However, it was announced a new tire compound will be applied to the semi-final race; this should be a great test to see if anyone can dethrone the driver of the No. 18.

It should also be noted that Truex is ranked third-best at the Arizona track and posted a track-best second in the Spring. The driver of the No. 19 has an average finish of seventh over the last five races there. He should currently be considered more of a threat to Larson’s bid for a win at Phoenix than Busch.

In reference to the Round of 8, it should also be taken into consideration that Elliott is currently ranked 10th, 22 points under the cutline and on pace to miss the semi-final round. This is important because Elliott runs incredibly well at all three of these tracks  and that would be one more driver in addition to possibly Busch, Logano or Keselowski that Larson would not have to worry about. The bottom line is at least one of the sport’s most dominant drivers throughout the 2019 season will miss out on the round of eight.

Overall, the road ahead for Larson will prove to be challenging, but not impossible. With Larson having shown no signs of strength at the Virginia short track, there should be an inherent emphasis on performing well at Martinsville.

Texas and Phoenix are both tracks where Larson has run well, but it’s just a matter of staying  out of trouble and being in contention with Harvick and Truex. The two drivers have clearly been the class of the field halfway through the playoffs and if the 27-year old wants to make a serious attempt at a championship campaign, he  will likely have to go through those former champions.

Should Larson make it to Homestead, the same sentiments can be said. The only driver better than Larson at the Miami-based track is Harvick. The driver of the No. 4 has one win (2014), 10 top-fives and 16 top-10s in 18 races with an average finish of 6.56. He has also not placed worse than fourth in the last five races there.

So why pick Larson at Homestead? In just six races, he has a led 325 laps. To put that in perspective, that ranks him third in most laps led all time at Homestead only behind Busch and Harvick who’ve both ran 12 races more than the 27-year old. In addition to laps led, Larson has an average finish of 8.5 along with three top-fives and three top-10s in the six races he’s run there.

While this is a small sample size from the California-native, he is always the first driver in the garage area that the field is looking to set pace with for the weekend. Larson is able to run right up against the wall with ease and always appears to be going two miles per hour faster than his competitors.

This is the final season that the championship race will be held at Homestead-Miami Speedway. With drivers such as Busch, Keselowski, Logano and Elliott in danger of missing the next round, this could be Larson’s best shot at becoming the 2019 Cup Series Champion. Only time will tell if this dirt-track racing prodigy has what it takes to propel himself to victory in the last five races.

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

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

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News

Rookie Daniel Hemric bags first Busch Pole Award in Kansas qualifying

Daniel Hemric may be out of the playoffs and out of his ride at Richard Childress Racing next year, but that didn’t stop the driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet from winning the pole position for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

In Saturday’s time trials for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Round of 12 elimination race, Hemric covered the 1.5-mile distance in 30.329 seconds (178.047 mph) to earn the top starting spot, not to mention his first career Busch Pole Award, by .035 seconds over second-place David Ragan (177.842 mph).

“Yeah, it’s pretty special,” acknowledged Hemric, who recently learned he would not be retained by RCR next year. “I kind of just feel crazy. I got out of the car, and I thought I’d be maybe fifth to eighth but, man, these guys on this Caterpillar Camaro ZL1 have done a great job all year of no matter what’s thrown at us, kind of just rising to the occasion and showing back up at the race track every week ready to work.

“And with all that going on, there’s so much going on around us, that you can get lost in the distraction of things. But to know these guys have continued to have my back through all that stuff has meant the world to me. So congratulations to ECR (Earnhardt-Childress Racing engines) and RCR. They’ve been doing a great job for us all year. It’s cool to be the guy to steer it around the line there and get the quick time.”

Ryan Blaney, who qualified third at 177.754 mph was the top playoff driver on the grid. Blaney is already locked into the Round of 8 by virtue of last Monday’s victory at Talladega. Brad Keselowski (177.667 mph) will start fourth beside his Team Penske teammate.

Dover winner Kyle Larson earned the fifth starting spot in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. Blaney, Keselowski and Larson are the only three playoff drivers to earn top-10 spots on the grid. Two-time Kansas winner and playoff contender Martin Truex Jr. will start 11th in the top-qualifying Toyota.

Other playoff contenders qualified as follows: Chase Elliott 14th, Alex Bowman 16th, Kyle Busch 18th, Clint Bowyer 21st, Denny Hamlin 23rd, William Byron 25th, Joey Logano 29th and Kevin Harvick 40th. After three inspection failures, Harvick was not allowed to make a qualifying run, and car chief Robert Smith was ejected from the track.

“I have to pass a lot of cars,” Harvick said. “It is what it is at this point. You just go out and try to strategize and plan what you can and try to pass as many cars when you can at the beginning and go from there.”

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News

Ryan Blaney advances in Playoffs with razor-thin win at Talladega Superspeedway

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Two factors threw the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs into chaos on Monday afternoon—Talladega and Ryan Blaney.

By .007 seconds—the sixth closest finish in series history—Blaney edged Ryan Newman to win Monday’s rain-delayed 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, which took a big bite out of most other Playoff contenders and set up a scramble for the six remaining spots in the Round of 8 next Sunday at Kansas Speedway.

With his first victory of the season, his first at Talladega and the third of his career, Blaney secured his berth in the next round, joining Dover winner Kyle Larson, who crashed out of Monday’s race in 39th place.

“Yeah, it was an amazing effort the last two days, to be honest with you,” said Blaney, who spun coming to pit road during Stage 1, which was completed on Sunday just before the rain arrived and forced the rest of the race to be run on Monday.

“We spun out early yesterday and missed some big ones today. We were able to weave our way through. I can’t thank Aric Almirola enough for helping me out there at the end.”

Blaney led the field to green with two laps left, after a caution for an 11-car pileup on the backstretch caused the eighth caution of the afternoon. On the final lap, Blaney surrendered the lead to Newman, who got a strong push to the front from eventual third-place finisher Denny Hamlin.

Coming to the checkered flag, Blaney side-drafted Hamlin and uncoupled the two cars, and with help from fellow Ford driver Aric Almirola, he beat Newman to the finish line by roughly one foot.

“That big push that Newman and the 11 (Denny Hamlin) got, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to block it. They were coming so fast and they wanted to split me. I wanted to stay to the bottom and kind of pulled the 11 off the 6 and then had a big enough run to get to the 6.

“We kind of hit above the line (at the apron) and that pushed me below the line. That is a big judgment call. You never know. I definitely wasn’t going to go below the line before we made contact (because of the possibility of a penalty). I can’t say enough about this Dent Wizard team. It has been super fun the last couple of days. We’re moving on! This is super cool.”

Getting separated from Hamlin in the last quarter-mile likely cost Newman a chance for his first victory with Roush Fenway Racing.

“We just came up that little bit short,” Newman said. “I don’t know what else to say. I could have pinched him some more. I probably could have taken the air. You can go back and bench-race that three weeks from now. It was good racing to the end.”

None of the 12 Playoff drivers escaped the race without incident. The massive wreck on the backstretch on Lap 182 of 188 destroyed the winning chances of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski.

Kurt Busch was pushing his brother Kyle in the middle of a three-wide pack when the Ford of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. moved up the track toward Kyle Busch’s Toyota. Almost simultaneously, Kyle’s No. 18 Camry turned sideways off the nose of Kurt’s Chevrolet and slammed into the No. 62 Chevrolet of Brendan Gaughan, who was leading the outside lane.

Playoff driver Alex Bowman was gone on Lap 107, when his attempted block of Joey Logano went awry and ignited a 10-car incident that crippled the No. 19 Toyota of Martin Truex Jr. and damaged the cars of Harvick, Hamlin, Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski.

Pole winner William Byron saw his Playoff hopes take a hit when he turned to the right off Kurt Busch’s front bumper and drove Logano’s No. 22 Ford into the wall on lap 162. That occurred after a blown tire, and a spin onto the apron waylaid Clint Bowyer on Lap 153.

Elliott recovered to finish eighth, and Logano secured an 11th-place result, but when the smoke cleared from the multicar accidents, Bowman, Elliott, Bowyer and Byron found themselves facing probable must-win scenarios at Kansas.

Almirola ran fourth, followed by Michael McDowell, Austin Dillon, Corey LaJoie, Elliott, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ty Dillon.

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Feature

Rain halts Talladega race after William Byron wins Stage 1

TALLADEGA, Ala – In a helter-skelter finish at the end of Lap 55, William Byron held the lead to win Stage 1 of Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway to advance his cause in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

The winner of Stage 2 and the race, however, won’t be decided until Monday. Rain arrived during the first stage break and sent fans in the frontstretch grandstands scurrying for cover. A subsequent break in the rain wasn’t long enough to dry the 2.66-mile track and get the race restarted.

With 57-of-188 laps complete, the race will resume at 2 p.m. ET Monday, broadcast on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

The stage win left Byron temporarily in eighth place in the Playoff standings, six points ahead of ninth-place Joey Logano, who was second in Stage 1. The Playoff field will be cut from 12 to eight drivers after next Sunday’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway.

Alex Bowman, Byron’s teammate finished third in the opening stage, followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Daniel Suarez, Kurt Busch and Ryan Blaney.

The Fords of Keselowski and Clint Bowyer hooked up in a tandem draft, with Bowyer pushing the No. 2 Mustang to the lead on Lap 44. The cars had such a strong run together that they separated from the rest of the pack and were soon swallowed by the pursuing draft.

At the end of the race, however, tandem runs may well be crucial in deciding the winner.

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News

Chase Elliott leads Hendrick Motorsports sweep of Talladega qualifying

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Led by pole winner Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports reasserted its domination of superspeedway qualifying on Saturday at Talladega.

The winner at Talladega in April, Elliott toured the 2.66-mile track in 46.692 seconds (192.707 mph) to win his second Busch Pole Award at Talladega, his fourth of the season and the eighth of his career. Hendrick Motorsports swept the top four starting spots for Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 (2 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Alex Bowman qualified second at 192.552 mph, .040 seconds behind his teammate. William Byron (192.258 mph) earned the third starting spot, followed by Jimmie Johnson (191.566 mph).

Saturday’s session was the second time this year Hendrick cars have swept the top four qualifying positions. Hendrick drivers were 1-2-3-4 in qualifying for the Daytona 500, though they didn’t start the race that way because of subsequent Duel qualifying races.

Once before, in the spring Talladega race in 2011, Hendrick put all four of its cars on the front two rows with Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning the pole, followed by Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Mark Martin.

“We had a really fast NAPA Night Vision Camaro there,” said Elliott, who got a boost from qualifying after an early engine failure at Dover dropped him seven points below the current cut line for Round of 8 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. “It was really faster than I was expecting it to be today, which is nice. And (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) and our team do such a good job at these places.

“Really, Hendrick, as a whole, and our body shop and our engine shop doing the job that they do coming to these places and have fast race cars and really, it’s kind of on them. So, I’m really proud of the effort. It was a tough week last week, obviously, so it’s just nice to come back and get a pole. Obviously, it’s a long race and anything can happen. So we’ve got to take advantage of a good pit pick and we’ll go to work from there and see what happens.”

Elliott, Bowman and Byron all are fighting for spots in the Round of 8, but the Hendrick contingent won’t have much help within the Chevrolet camp at the start of the race. The three rows behind the four Hendrick cars are occupied by Fords, with Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Clint Bowyer, Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano qualifying sixth through 10th, respectively.

Keselowski, Bowyer, Blaney and Logano all are still alive in the Playoffs.

“We’ve had some good runs here, for sure,” said Logano, a three-time winner at Talladega. “We’ve had some really good race cars, and things have gone our way a lot, but I’ve said this all week that superspeedway racing evolves all the time. It never really stays the same for more than two or three races before our competition figures out a new way to beat you, and then you’ve got to come up with something new again.

“We’ve got to stay open to doing what our competition is doing and trying to do what they do better than them. That’s what we’ve got to try to do, but it seems like now more than ever the teamwork aspect has really come into play more than it’s ever been. I say teamwork, not just Penske – we’re talking about all the Fords or all the Chevys or Toyotas. Everyone really seems to be committed to each other and it’s really changed the game a lot.”

Erik Jones qualified 11th in the fastest Toyota. The remaining five Playoff drivers qualified as follows: Kyle Larson 12th, Kevin Harvick 15th, Martin Truex Jr. 18th, Kyle Busch 26th and Denny Hamlin 40th. Hamlin didn’t complete his lap before his engine failed.

“I blew up down the back coming to the checkered flag,” Hamlin said. “I was super fortunate that it happened when it did. I told them that I’ve seen some amazing, crazy things happen in my Playoff career, but blowing up on Lap 1 would have set a new precedent for me.

“I’m just super fortunate that it happened when it did. We were 15 seconds away from shutting her down and not knowing until the race started. It was crazy it all ended up the way it did. This was definitely more fortunate than unfortunate.”

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News

Kyle Larson wins Sunday’s Monster Energy Cup Series race at Dover International Speedway

Kyle Larson celebrated his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory in two years Sunday at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, taking the checkered flag in the Drydene 400 by a convincing 1.578-seconds over Martin Truex Jr. and securing himself and his Chip Ganassi Racing team their first-ever berth in the upcoming Playoff Round of 8.

Larson’s friend and polesitter Denny Hamlin finished fifth after leading a race-best 218 laps. But perhaps the two golf buddies would agree, on this Sunday, Larson’s long game was just a bit better.

Larson, who started alongside Hamlin on the front row, took the race lead on a fast pit stop by his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet team during the Stage 2 break, and pulled out to a five, then six-second advantage on the field – first on Hamlin then on Truex, a contender all afternoon. Truex won Stage 2 and led 15 laps but a slight pit stop miscue put the 2017 Cup champion out of the pits sixth on that stage stop instead of with the lead.

“After the first stage I kind of changed my driving style up and I felt like I made the car better at the same time and it really benefitted our long runs,’’ said Larson, who led 154 laps en route to his sixth career – and first Playoff victory. “That’s as good as I’ve ever been around cutting the bottom here. Just a great combination here. Good to be fast in practice and then be good again in the race and get the win.

“This is unbelievable,’’ he continued, motioning toward the track’s front grandstands in gratitude.

“I’ve always wanted to win a Cup race here. I’ve been close a number of times, so to get a Golden Monster (trophy) is going to be pretty sweet.’’

Larson and Truex’s fellow playoff contenders Alex Bowman, Kevin Harvick and Hamlin rounded out the Top-5 on Sunday. Regular-season champion Kyle Busch, who started 18th – lowest on the grid of the 12 Playoff drivers rallied from an early-race pit road penalty to finish sixth.

Heading to the second race of the Playoffs’ three-race Round 2, Larson’s victory puts him atop the standings with a 500-mile race at the historic Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway next week. Truex’s runner-up finish puts him atop the points – 15 points ahead of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Hamlin. Busch’s rally puts the regular-season champ fourth in the points standings – tied with Hamlin.

“We were catching him at the end, got closed, just unfortunate there,’’ Truex said. “We win and lose as a team and the guys will clean it up for sure.”

He added, “Every week is about getting most points you can, so a positive day for us.’’

Positive would be an understatement for Larson, who celebrated in victory lane for the first time in 75 races hoisting Dover’s special Golden trophy – specially designed to commemorate the track’s 100th Cup Series race. Larson has been consistently good at Dover throughout his six-year Cup career, the 27-year old Californian earning a pair of runner-up finishes previously. He was third there in this Spring’s race – a race won by Truex.

Hamlin, who won the pole position by a mere .003-seconds over Larson, looked strong early but radioed to his team with 130 laps remaining that he was worried about his car’s engine. At the time, however, he was running fastest among the field and maintaining a nearly 2-second advantage over third place. With about 60 laps to go, Truex got around Hamlin.

Plenty of lapped traffic put Truex in position to perhaps make a move toward Larson. Twice the traffic cut Larson’s leads from more than 5-seconds to under 2-seconds.

Among the other Playoff-eligible drivers, Clint Bowyer rallied to a 10th place finish, one position ahead of 2012 Cup champion Brad Keselowski, who was the only driver to score Top-5 finishes in all three opening round races. William Byron was 13th.

It was a tough day for several other Playoff drivers. Ryan Blaney, who ran Top-10 much of the afternoon, pit on Lap 298 complaining of a brake issue. The Team Penske crew took his No. 12 Ford to the garage for repairs and he finished 35th.

It was nothing short of a monstrous beginning for two other Playoff competitors. Reigning Cup champion Joey Logano didn’t even take the green flag with the field. Instead his No. 22 Team Penske Ford was in the garage where the team was furiously working to repair an axle problem. He returned to the track 24 laps down and finished 34th.

Defending Dover race winner and last week’s Charlotte ROVAL winner Chase Elliott only lasted eight laps on Sunday – his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet suffering an early engine failure. He was officially scored last – 38th – and like Logano and Blaney, will need to have big points days at both Talladega and Kansas tracks. Elliott won at Talladega in May and is the defending Kansas Playoff winner.

Matt DiBenedetto finished seventh-best among the non-Playoff drivers. Jimmie Johnson, whose 11 Dover wins makes him the track’s winningest driver, scored points in both Stage 1 and Stage 2, took over the points lead among drivers who didn’t qualify for the Playoffs. He now leads Daniel Suarez by 10-points.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Legitimized and Ready, Reddick Moves to Cup

It was confirmed on Wednesday, Oct. 2 by Richard Childress Racing that Tyler Reddick will be moving to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series to drive the No.8 Chevrolet.

It was not an announcement that shocked anybody, or a move many argue will argue against.

After all, Reddick is the defending NASCAR Xfinity Series Champion and currently having an even better season where he has captured five wins and the regular-season championship.

It could even be argued that Reddick is the most Cup-ready of the current batch of Xfinity Series regulars. After all, he’s already impressed in NASCAR’s top-level with a ninth-place finish in only his second start earlier this season at Kansas Speedway.

There is no other arguing that Reddick is ready for the jump; however, if you rewind the tape to the beginning of October last year, a future in Cup would have looked like a stretch.

He was with JR Motorsports, driving a car that had seen so much success with William Byron and Chase Elliott, and it was a forgettable year.

Reddick only had one win that came at Daytona, and really did not scream weekly contender with 13 finishes outside the top-20. He was in the playoffs but was not a favorite to win the title, let alone make the Championship 4 in a season that was dominated by Christopher Bell and Justin Allgaier.

Later in the month, it would be announced that he was leaving the team to join RCR, which could have been seen as a step backward, and was a move that did not surprise anyone.

Reddick just seemed like someone could not be put in the same ballpark as Bell and Cole Custer as possible future Cup stars. All of this truly makes what he has accomplished in the year since that much more impressive.

He put together an impressive string through the 2018 Xfinity Series playoffs, en route to winning the title with a sensational performance in the season finale at Homestead-Maimi Speedway. He has also since proven that his championship performance was not a fluke, that he can contend for wins on a weekly basis, and that he is somebody that is going to need an eye kept on.

After all, it was not like RCR was just winning race left and right before 2019. They only had one in the two previous seasons which didn’t come from any of their full-time drivers in Xfinity.

With how much Reddick has turned around their program, it does raise the question – what can he do at the next level? Can he turn around an organization that has been on the decline?

With what he’s done in a year, it is certainly not out of the question.

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.

Categories
Nigel Kinrade Photography

PREVIEW: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Round of 12

Following the craziness at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, four drivers saw their hopes at winning a championship this year end as they were eliminated from the playoffs. Now 12 competitors remain entering the second round, with another four set to see their dreams extinguished in three races.

As we get set for this weekend’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event at Dover International Speedway, here is a preview ahead of the Round of 12.

Matthew T. Thacker | NKP

1. Kyle Busch +41

Virtue of four victories, 11 stage wins, and the regular season championship, Kyle Busch enters Dover with a healthy advantage. But he does not have any momentum on his side with just a single top-15 finish – second at Richmond Raceway – in the first round. That said, as long as he is solid through the next three weeks, he should easily move forward in the post-season.

Dover International Speedway – In 29 starts, he has won three races with 18 top-10 finishes. Most recently, he has a win and three top-10’s in his last three appearances.

Talladega Superspeedway – In 28 starts, he has just six top-five and eight top-10 finishes, including a single victory. Most recently, though, he has a best finish of 10th in his last four appearances.

Kansas Speedway – In 23 starts, he has 10 top-10 finishes, including a victory in 2016. He has posted eight top-10 finishes in his last nine appearances, including six top-five’s.

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

2. Martin Truex Jr. +36

Right now, Martin Truex Jr. enters the second round as the championship favorite after winning at both Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Richmond, before placing seventh at the ROVAL. Just like Busch, he only needs solid finishes to continue through the next round of the playoffs.

Dover International Speedway – In 27 races, he has scored three wins and 15 top-10 finishes, including a trip to victory lane in May.

Talladega Superspeedway – In 29 races, he has only two top-five’s and eight top-10 finishes. Most notably, he has not posted a top-10 in his last seven appearances.

Kansas Speedway – In 22 races, he has scored a pair of victories and eight top-five finishes. Most recently, he has two wins and four top-five’s in his last five appearances.

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

3. Denny Hamlin +25

Despite a rocky three races with two finishes outside of the top-14, Denny Hamlin made his way into the second round of the playoffs. You can thank four wins and three stage victories for the bonus points to help out, but he will need to be stronger this time around if he wants to move forward.

Dover International Speedway – In 27 starts, he has four top-five’s and 11 top-10 finishes. Most recently, he has five top-10 finishes in his last seven appearances.

Talladega Superspeedway – In 27 starts, he has 10 top-10 finishes, including a victory in 2014. Most recently, he has three top-10 finishes in his last six appearances.

Kansas Speedway – In 22 starts, he has seven top-10 finishes, including a victory in 2012. Most recently, he has a pair of fifths and a pair of finishes outside of the top-12 in his last four appearances. 

Krysten Harrelson | NKP

4. Joey Logano +24

Three solid top-11 finishes allowed Joey Logano to move onto the second round of the playoffs, and the same consistency will be needed once again if he has any plans on defending the championship this year.

Dover International Speedway – In 21 starts, he has scored 12 top-10 finishes, with just four top-five’s. Most recently, he has finished third and seventh in his latest appearances.

Talladega Superspeedway – In 23 starts, he has three wins and 10 top-10 finishes. Most recently, he has finished in the top-five in his last four appearances, including a victory last year.

Kansas Speedway – In 20 starts, he has two wins and eight top-10 finishes. Most recently, he has two top-10’s in his last three appearances.

Rusty Jarrett | NKP

5. Kevin Harvick +23

A pair of top-five’s with no finishes worse than seventh in the first three races of the playoffs give Kevin Harvick some momentum heading into the second round. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver just now needs to keep things rolling through the next three weeks.

Dover International Speedway – In 37 starts, he has two wins and 18 top-10 finishes. Most recently, he has finished in the top-six in his last three appearances, including a victory last season.

Talladega Superspeedway – In 37 starts, he has scored 15 top-10 finishes, including a victory in 2010. Most recently, he has posted just one top-five in his last five appearances.

Kansas Speedway – In 27 starts, he has scored three wins and 14 top-10 finishes. Most recently, he has two wins, and five top-eight finishes in his last seven appearances.

Matthew T. Thacker | NKP

6. Chase Elliott +19

It appears Chase Elliott has made a statement in the playoffs, after coming back from a late-race mistake on a restart to win at the ROVAL in a dominating performance. Combined with a fourth at Las Vegas and recent success at the next three tracks, a lot of people have their eyes on the No. 9 being the strongest this round. 

Dover International Speedway – In seven starts, he has six top-five finishes, including winning the playoff October event last year.

Talladega Superspeedway – In seven starts, he has scored three top-five finishes, including a victory in April.

Kansas Speedway – In seven starts, he has scored three top-five finishes, including a victory last fall. 

Matthew T. Thacker | NKP

7. Brad Keselowski +19

Brad Keselowski was one of the most impressive drivers in the first round, scoring three top-five finishes. Currently flying under the radar following the performances from others, he could easily continue sneaking his way forward through consistency.

Dover International Speedway – In 19 starts, he has scored eight top-10 finishes, including a victory in 2012. Most recently, he has just two top-10 finishes in his last five appearances.

Talladega Superspeedway – In 21 starts, he has scored five victories and 11 top-10 finishes. Since winning in 2017, though, he has failed to post a top-10 finish in his last three appearances.

Kansas Speedway – In 19 starts, he has scored a pair of victories and 10 top-10’s. By the way, the most recent of those wins was May of this very year.

Matthew T. Thacker | NKP

8. Kyle Larson +1

It did not take a heroic performance like last season at the ROVAL, but Kyle Larson has once again made it to second round of the playoffs. Now he needs to not repeat the misfortunes of last year, and put together a solid string of races if he wants to move forward in 2019.

Dover International Speedway – In 11 starts, he has scored five top-five’s and eight top-10 finishes. Most recently, he finished third in May.

Talladega Superspeedway – In 11 starts, he has posted just two top-10 finishes, with the most recent being sixth in 2016.

Kansas Speedway – In 11 starts, he has scored three top-five’s and five top-10 finishes. Notably, he has scored a top-eight finish in his last three appearances.

Rusty Jarrett | NKP

9. Alex Bowman -1

Alex Bowman may not have made any friends through the first round, but he can still say that his playoff hopes are alive unlike others. Now he needs to hope those foes do not succeed in taking revenge, while continuing the performances like his runner-up at the ROVAL if he wants to move forward.

Dover International Speedway – In seven starts, he has posted just one top-five at Dover – a runner-up in May.

Talladega Superspeedway – In eight starts, he has posted two top-10’s, including a runner-up in May.

Kansas Speedway – In eight starts, he has posted three top-10’s, including a runner-up in May.

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

10. Ryan Blaney -2

Although Ryan Blaney posted a pair of top-10’s in the first round, a repeat of his 17th-place finish at Richmond Raceway would certainly not be warranted at this time if he wants to move forward.

Dover International Speedway – In seven starts, he has posted just two top-10 finishes, with the latest coming in the form of an eighth last season.

Talladega Superspeedway – In 10 starts, he has posted just two top-10 finishes, with the latest being ninth in 2016.

Kansas Speedway – In nine starts, he has posted three top-five’s and five top-10 finishes. Most recently, he just one top-10 (seventh) in his last three appearances.

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

11. William Byron -5

William Byron showed potential in the first round virtue of finishing seventh at Las Vegas and sixth at the ROVAL. However, the inconsistency that has led to just 11 top-10’s in 29 races this season needs to leave if he wants to become part of the championship conversation.

Dover International Speedway – In three starts, he has posted just one top-10 finish – eighth in May.

Talladega Superspeedway – In three starts, he has posted a best finish of 20th last October.

Kansas Speedway – In three starts, he has posted a best finish of 20th in May.

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

12. Clint Bowyer -6

After starting the playoffs on a sour note, Clint Bowyer kept his championship hopes alive with back-to-back top-eight finishes in the two races that followed. Now he needs to continue the momentum into the second round if he wants to move forward.

Dover International Speedway – In 27 starts, he has posted three top-five’s and 15 top-10 finishes. Most recently, he has posted a top-10 in his three of his last four appearances, including a runner-up last year.

Talladega Superspeedway – In 27 starts, he has posted 13 top-10 finishes, including a pair of victories. Most recently, he just one top-10 in his last six appearances.

Kansas Speedway – In 22 starts, he has posted three top-five’s and seven top-10 finishes. Most recently, he just one top-10 – fifth in May – in his last four appearances. 

All Images Courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

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.