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News

Elliott rallies for Roval win as Bowman squeaks into Round of 12

CONCORD, N.C. – Moments after taking the checkered flag in Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course, race winner Chase Elliott revisited the site of his biggest mistake.

Elliott drove his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet up to the tire barrier in Turn 1 of the 2.28-mile, 17-turn course and began a burnout that bordered on the sarcastic.

Early in the final stage of the 109-lap event and after a restart on Lap 65, Elliott locked up his brakes and plowed straight into the tire barrier, taking out the “Tums” logo in the corner known as Heartburn Turn. After pitting to address the damage, Elliott fell to 37th in the running and spent the rest of the race working his way forward.

After a spate of opportune cautions, Elliott took the lead for good on Lap 104, passing Martin Truex Jr. for second and Kevin Harvick for the top spot after the final restart.

Five laps later, Elliott crossed the finish line 3.016 seconds ahead of teammate Alex Bowman, who made a heroic run from the rear of the field to finish second and wrestle the final berth in the Round of 12 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs from Aric Almirola and Ryan Newman.

“Oh, my gosh, what a mistake, holy moly,” said Elliott, who picked up his third victory of the season, his first at the Charlotte road course and the sixth of his career. “You talk about messing something up, right here — don’t do that.

“What a day. Such a fast NAPA Camaro ZL1, and honestly that was the only reason we were able to get back in it. I pretty well blew it and got the cautions at the right time and brought it home. … But I don’t think that I could have done anything more stupid, leading that race.”

Bowman and Newman were locked in a tight battle for the final spot in the Round of 12 before Newman blew the backstretch chicane with three laps left and dropped to 32nd at the finish. That left Newman 14th in the standings and 15 points behind Bowman.

Almirola raced to a 14th-place finish and left Charlotte five points behind Bowman, the first driver outside the top 12. Kurt Busch (20th) and Erik Jones (40th after a Lap 23 crash knocked a hole in the radiator of his No. 20 Toyota) also were eliminated from the playoffs, which resume next Sunday at Dover International Speedway.

Bowman overcame a litany of mistakes and ill fortune to grab the final slot in the Round of 12. With 25 seconds left in Saturday’s final Cup practice, he crashed in Turns 3 and 4 and was forced to go to a backup car. That meant starting from the rear Sunday, and halfway through the first lap, Bowman spun in the backstretch chicane.

He was turned sideways in the six-car Lap 23 wreck that started when Busch slammed into the rear of Chris Buescher’s Chevrolet as the cars slowed entering the corner. And on Lap 42, Bowman turned Bubba Wallace at the exit of the backstretch chicane after a heated exchange that featured uncomplimentary hand gestures from Wallace.

At the end of the race, Wallace still was seething. As Bowman sat exhausted with his back against the driver’s side of his No. 88 Chevrolet, Wallace threw a drink into Bowman’s face and walked away.

Bowman could take solace, however, in the knowledge his championship hopes are still alive. After the race, Bowman visited the infield care center suffering from dehydration, team owner Rick Hendrick confirmed.

Truex, Harvick and Kyle Busch already had clinched Round of 12 spots entering the Charlotte race. Elliott, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Clint Bowyer, pole winner William Byron, Ryan Blaney and Bowman clinched Sunday.

Harvick finished third in the Roval 400, followed by Bowyer, Keselowski, Truex and Blaney, who gritted out his eighth-place finish after damaging the rear suspension by hitting the wall.

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Commentary

Rocketman Ryan Newman on Path of Revival

Round one of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs comes to a close this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval road course. While we’ve seen drivers such as Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. soar to new heights over the last two races, the argument can be made that the most shocking performance as of late has come from Ryan Newman.

Newman, who many people doubted from the start of the 2019 Playoffs, has essentially been the poster-boy for consistency this season. In fact, the No. 6 team have finished 15th or better in 18 races, including 11 top-10 finishes and two top-fives through 28 events.

As Newman and Roush Fenway Racing begin their first championship campaign since the 2017 season, it’s difficult not to attribute a good portion of Newman’s success to new crew chief, Scott Graves. After sitting atop the pit box of Daniel Suarez for two years at Joe Gibbs Racing, Graves reunited with team owner Jack Roush this season.

Graves previously worked for Roush as both a crew chief and race engineer from 2012-15. In that time, Graves propelled Chris Buescher to a NASCAR Xfinity Series championship in 2015. Astonishingly, Graves then made the transition to Joe Gibbs Racing and won a second consecutive Xfinity title with Suarez.

While Graves has compiled quite the resume in NASCAR’s lower division, this on-track success hasn’t quite translated to the Cup Series  — until this year. In Graves’ stint with Joe Gibbs Racing, he was only able to guide the driver from Monterrery, Mexico to four top-fives and 21 top-10 finishes collectively. With the  41-year-old driver, Graves has recorded two top-fives and 11 top-10s.

What makes Newman different from drivers like Buescher and Suarez? Experience. This season marks Newman’s 20th go-around in NASCAR’s premier series and since his first race at Phoenix in 2000, the driver from Indiana has developed quite the reputation – tough as nails and unrelenting. If you ask anyone in the garage area who the toughest driver to pass on track is, it would most likely be a unanimous answer in Newman.

With a mix of veteran knowledge, grit and competitive edge, the pairing of Graves and Newman makes total sense and it’s no surprise the two are feeding off of each other’s successes. Newman matched his season-best finish this season last Saturday at Richmond International Raceway, taking home the fifth-spot.

While indeed trending in the right direction and sitting comfortably above the points cutoff by 26 points, Newman will have his work cut out for him moving forward.

In the inaugural race at the Roval last season, Newman drove himself to a respectable 11th place finish. This would be fine if the drivers currently sitting 13th through 15th in the standing did not have the results they had in the same race. Clint Bowyer, Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch all placed inside of the top-five. However, all three drivers have been wildly inconsistent recently.

This can seem like a daunting task for the Rocketman, but it’s also worth nothing that Aric Almirola and William Byron (who sit 11th and 12th in the standings) placed 19th and 34th at the North Carolina road course last year. Although, all of these finishes should be taken with a grain of salt. The Cup Series has only seen one race at the Roval and there really is no way of predicting who will excel and who will falter. In other words, expect the unexpected — but if anyone can capitalize, it’s Newman.

Assuming Newman can take this 26 point lead to the round of 12, this is where things can get really tricky. Looking ahead to Talladega Superspeedway, Dover International Speedway and Kansas Speedway, the driver of the No. 6 may need to replicate a top-five for the second week in a row to provide momentum.

Of the three upcoming tracks, Newman’s best finish this season came at Talladega with a seventh-place finish. He finished 18th at Dover and 23rd at Kansas – his worst statistical track on the circuit. While his career numbers aren’t terrible at the trio of tracks (a combined 10 wins from 2000-19), his stat line over the last five races at these tracks is not stellar.

At Talladega, Newman has one top-five and three top-10 finishes over the last five races, with an m average finish of 13.6 (ninth-best among active drivers). Dover has been a decent  track for the 41-year-old driver, who’s driven his way to one top-five and one top-10 in the same five race span. As mentioned, Kansas is Newman’s worst statistical track and with no top-fives and no top-10s to speak of in the last five races; it is worth nothing that in 27 races, he’s got one win, three top-fives and seven top-10s.

It very well could be an uphill battle from here for Newman. But one thing is certain – he will fight tooth and nail for every position and this team will not go down without a fight. The Roush Fenway Racing No. 6 team is certainly on a hot streak and they’ll have to continue this stretch if they want to keep their championship hopes alive through the round of 12.

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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

William Byron rates at the Roval, blasts to fifth Busch Pole of the season

CONCORD, N.C. – William Byron has the knack at his home track, even if the two configurations at Charlotte Motor Speedway are vastly different.

A Charlotte native, Byron won the pole for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte back in May on the traditional 1.5-mile oval. On Friday, Byron toured Charlotte’s Roval — a 2.32-mile, 17-turn road course — in 80.932 seconds (103.198 mph) to earn the top starting spot for Sunday’s Bank of America Roval 400 (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

In winning his fifth Busch Pole Award of the season and the fifth of his career, Byron edged Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman (103.078 mph) by .094 seconds. Byron and Bowman are 12th and 13th, respectively, in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings, with the playoff field to be cut to the top 12 drivers after the first-round elimination race.

Byron was quickest despite a brush with the wall in the final chicane.

“Yeah, we’re going to have to fix a quarter panel,” Byron said. “I kind of missed that one, but I was trying to get all I could. I knew I was a little bit weak under the brakes the first couple of runs in Q-trim today, so I tried to fix it and maybe fixed it a little bit too good. … I almost blew it in the last chicane, locking up the tires.

“But the guys did a great job with this car, and it really takes every corner around this race track to get a pole. I knew we could qualify top five, but I really wanted the pole and really kind of went out there and got it. So I’m really proud of this UniFirst team, it’s going to be great to start up front.”

Three of Byron’s poles this season have come at crown jewel races on the Cup circuit: the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 and Bojangles’ Southern 500.

Bowman acknowledged his teammate’s prowess in the No. 24 Chevrolet.

“That run wasn’t the best,” Bowman said of his own attempt in the final round. “I know it could have been better. William just did a great job there getting through the corners. It’s definitely a positive to be starting on the front row, and we just have to focus on getting stage points on Sunday.”

Joey Logano (103.037 mph) qualified third and will start next to fourth-place Jimmie Johnson, the third of three Hendrick drivers in the top four and the only driver in the top nine not currently in the playoffs. Clint Bowyer claimed the fifth spot on the grid, followed by Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick.

Kyle Larson was sixth in time trials, with Martin Truex Jr., the winner of the first two races in the opening round of the playoffs, grabbing the eighth position. Truex is the only Toyota driver to qualify in the top 14.

Ryan Blaney was ninth, followed by Paul Menard, playoff driver Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher, who’s 2020 move from JTG-Daugherty Racing to Roush Fenway Racing was announced this week.

Other playoff drivers qualified as follows: Erik Jones 15th, Kyle Busch 17th, Chase Elliott 19th after a spin in the first round of time trials, Kurt Busch 23rd, Ryan Newman 24th and Denny Hamlin 28th after wrecking in Turn 5 during practice and going to a backup car. Because of the car change, Hamlin will drop to the rear of the field for the start of the race.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Erik Jones Fails Federated Auto Parts 400 Post-Race Inspection

If Erik Jones wants to make the second round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, he will need to win at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL next weekend.

Following a fourth-place finish in the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway, Jones’ No. 20 Toyota Camry failed post-race inspection. It was determined that the rear wheel steer was not within the proper compliance.

To keep the playoffs fair, each driver who is qualified goes through the Optical Scanning Station post-race, with the top two finishers in the event being tore down for a full inspection.

As a result, Jones was moved to last in the finishing results from the event. 

“We’ve set the standard early in the year in what we expect, and teams have done a good job reacting to that,” Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series director Jay Fabian said. “I think obviously as the pressure mounts and the season goes on, it doesn’t surprise me to see them pushing a little further and trying to get a little more out of their stuff, and like I say, sometimes it just crosses that line a little bit, and that’s all you need to fail.”

If Jones would have been credited with a fourth-place finish, he could have entered the ROVAL just three points behind William Byron for the final position in the Round of 12. However, he instead will be 45 points behind, requiring a win to advance.

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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

Truex leads JGR 1-2-3 sweep with playoff win at Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. – On a night of “firsts” for Joe Gibbs Racing drivers, Martin Truex Jr. continued to assert his mastery over the first round of the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

Rallying from a spin off the bumper of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s Ford and passing teammate Kyle Busch for the lead with 25 laps left, Truex led an apparent 1-2-3-4 finish for JGR in Saturday night’s Federated Auto parts 400 at Richmond Raceway.

The victory was a milestone for Truex, too. The winner of last week’s playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Truex had never before won back-to-back races. Now, the driver of the No. 19 Toyota has six wins this season, a season sweep at Richmond and 25 victories in his Cup career.

Never before had the organization swept the top four spots in a race in NASCAR’s premier series — but that sentiment was short-lived.

Busch came home second, 2.630 seconds behind his teammate. Denny Hamlin ran third, followed by Erik Jones, who completed the Gibbs sweep with a pass of pole winner Brad Keselowski for fourth place on Lap 378 of 400. Jones’ No. 20 Toyota failed post-race inspection, however, and was ultimately disqualified and scored last.

Truex’s win was no cakewalk. On Lap 315, Stenhouse, who had just pitted for new tires, drove hard into Turn 3 beneath the No. 19 Camry. Stenhouse lost the nose of his No. 17 Ford, slid up into Truex’s car and sent him spinning, handing the lead to Busch.

Restarting third after the fifth and final caution, Truex chased his teammate for the next 50 laps, finally clearing him on Lap 375.

“Luckily I didn’t hit anything,” Truex said of his spin. “I just tried to keep it off the fence, tried to get spun around and get going, and we ended up—because we were pretty far up front, we got going in a pretty good spot and left pit road in a good position and then good adjustments at the end again by (crew chief) Cole (Pearn) and (engineer) James (Small) and the guys.

“This is just freaking unbelievable. So we came here to get bonus points and damn sure we did that. … Had a heck of a race with Kyle and Denny all night long, really, and we just kept plugging away at it, kept plugging away at it, as we always do. We just keep digging and we never quit.  Next thing you know, catching the 18 (Busch) for the lead, I’m like, ‘Cool, all right, here we go.’ Man, to sweep Richmond finally is pretty awesome, as much as we’ve led here coming into this year, and just thanks to everybody. It’s pretty amazing.”

Though Busch led a race-high 202 laps to Truex’s 109, the driver of the No. 18 Toyota conceded his car wasn’t quite up to the task of challenging his teammate.

“I don’t think we were as good as him all night long,” Busch said. “Martin, the car, the combination thereof, us, the combination of, just lacked a little bit. You know, like the 11 (Hamlin) lacked a little bit more than us. Just weird, I don’t know.

“We led a lot of laps. We were up front a lot. But when I was out front, he could keep the closest distance to me. That kind of worried me for a finish like that in the long run.”

Keselowski, the only other driver to lead laps, ended up finishing fourth after the Jones disqualification, followed by fellow playoff drivers Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer in order.

With what looked to be a fourth-place run, Jones made up 20 points of the 23 point deficit he brought to Richmond from Las Vegas, where a stuck throttle sent him hurtling into the outside wall and cost him a 36th-place finish. Jones was set to head to the Sept. 29 elimination race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval three points behind 12th-place William Byron (24th Saturday) for the final berth in the Round of 12 but instead will need to win the race in order to advance.

Alex Bowman (23rd), Jones, Bowyer and Kurt Busch (18th) enter the final race of the Round of 16 below the cutline. Jones faces the largest deficit—45 points.

 

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NASCAR Cup Series

Martin Truex Jr. wins Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs opener at Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS — It had been almost three months since Martin Truex Jr. last raised a trophy and while others may have wondered about his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team’s Playoff potential, this team never wavered in its confidence or pursuit.

And sure enough, they were the ones celebrating in Victory Lane at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after Sunday night’s South Point 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs opener.

“Welcome back,’’ an ecstatic Truex screamed to his team on the radio after taking the checkered flag an impressive 4.173-seconds ahead of fellow Playoff competitor, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick.

It was Truex’s fifth victory of the year – best in the field – and an automatic ticket to the next round of the Playoffs.

“We took a gamble, qualified 24th,’’ said Truex, who led 32 laps. “For a while, it wasn’t looking too smart with the 4 (Harvick) out front. Got the right adjustments in the end. Had a great car all day long.

“Hell of a way to make a championship run. Get some good bonus points, move on to the next round, see what we can do there.’’

As strong as Harvick’s Ford had been – leading 47 laps on the day – he said after the race he really didn’t have much for Truex in the end.

“I knew the Gibbs cars would be tough,’’ said the 2014 Cup champ. “Martin was just so much better on the second half of the run. He made up that ground there, was able to stay close enough to us. My car started to get loose and push the front. It was just in kind of a four-wheel drift.

“We did some things this weekend that we probably will have to un-do going forward. I think we can do a little bit better going forward.’’

The Top-10 drivers on Sunday were all Playoff competitors. Three-time Vegas winner Brad Keselowski was third in the No. 2 Team Penske Ford. Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott brought his No. 9 Chevrolet home fourth and Harvick’s Penske teammate Ryan Blaney was fifth.

Hendrick Motorsports teammates Alex Bowman and William Byron were sixth and seventh, followed by Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson, reigning series champion Joey Logano in ninth and Roush Fenway Racing’s Ryan Newman in 10th.

While the race’s final laps came down to a battle between Harvick and Busch, it was actually Logano who led the most laps on the day – 105 of the 267.

“We got shuffled out the back and then got to the outside of the 41 (Daniel Suarez) and didn’t know I was there and he crashed our car,’’ said Logano, whose No. 22 Ford suffered a lot of right-side damage after it was squeezed into the wall avoiding Suarez.

“We just didn’t have a chance to fix it as good as it needed to be and as good as it was before that,’’ said Logano, who won the first stage.

“They fixed it as good as they could to recover with a top 10. Our car was so fast and I feel like we had a chance of winning it, but we just kind of got shuffled into everything.’’

On the plus side, Logano said, “Our car was fast. We were definitely capable of winning this thing, no doubt. We showed that. That is a positive.’’

It was a frustrating evening for many of the other Playoff drivers as well, several who worked through various obstacles from a flat tire for polesitter Clint Bowyer (finished 25th) to a crash for Ganassi driver Kurt Busch (39th) to an early race mechanical issue for JGR’s Erik Jones (finished 36th).

First-time Playoff participant, 21-year-old Byron rallied to that seventh-place finish, but actually brought out one of the race’s four caution flags on lap 182 after spinning.

Regular-season champion and Las Vegas native Kyle Busch also had a busy day. He went two laps down early after brushing the wall. He made up enough positions on track and earned a spot back on the lead lap only to have problems with lapped cars as he raced forward.

The frustration was clear after he climbed out of his No. 18 JGR car on pit road, relegated with a 19th place finish even after he rallied back inside the top 10 at one point in the waning laps. The upside for him is the bonus points he received for winning the season title will carry over and balance some of the bad luck on Sunday.

“Should have run fourth probably, instead of 19th, ‘’ Busch said on pit road, his disappointment obvious as he called out the driving technique from slower cars.

When reminded he gets to carry those bonus points, he said, “It’s pathetic to have to lean on insurance. My premiums are going to go up.’’

The Cup Series moves to Richmond Raceway next week for the second race of the opening Playoff round. With the victory at Vegas, Truex has taken a three-point lead on Harvick in the championship standings. Logano is third, seven points behind Truex and Kyle Busch is fourth, 19 points off the lead.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Kyle Larson Recovers For Top-10 At Vegas

LAS VEGAS — Entering Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kyle Larson had only finished worse than eighth twice in the last ten races and had hoped to keep that rolling. He was able to do that, despite some adversity. 

He started the race gaining points with ninth-place finish in Stage 1 and showed improvement with a third in the second. Appearing as a possible as a contender for the win, Larson’s hopes would be quickly be diminished after a pit road penalty for a safety violation, and then getting damage during one of the late restarts.

However, the California-native would still manage a solid rebound, finishing the South Point 400 in the eighth position.

“Our car was better than what I had thought it was going to be and felt like we probably had a car that could potentially win,” Larson told POPULAR SPEED. “But we got a pit road penalty there and then the restarts were pretty wild and I was just trying to be safe and probably cost us a little bit, but still, to be able to avoid some trouble and get a top 10, not bad.”

For him, a driver that has not scored any points-paying wins, being able to be out front has been quite the confidence builder.

The driver is entering the playoffs in the right state of mind, believing he can go and win races during the season’s most critical point. A trip to victory lane is expected, not just hoped for in the coming weeks.

“Our cars are definitely been good enough to win,” Larson said. “We just got to put the whole races together at this point, on my end, on pit road, and practices, if we want to win. I will keep working at it and hopefully, we can knock one out before the season’s over.”

Following the 400-mile race, Larson sits eighth in the standings, with a 17-point cushion over the cutoff.

Next weekend, the No. 42 team, along with the rest of the series will tackle Richmond Raceway. Larson will hope for a better result than his visit their earlier in the season, where he crashed early and finished last.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@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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NASCAR Cup Series

Jones Looks To Capitalize In Playoffs

LAS VEGAS — There are not many drivers who can say they have as much momentum heading into the playoffs as Erik Jones does.

He and the No. 20 team have really come alive in the summer months, proving to be a constant threat inside the top-five, and showing that he can finish the job as he did at Darlington Raceway earlier this month, where he won the Southern 500.

While the big talk of the season has been his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates and their four wins, it may be a disservice to not include Jones in the conversation of their dominance.

“We don’t have as many wins as those guys, but we’ve been in contention to win a few more. We just haven’t capitalized on it,” Jones told POPULAR SPEED. “So, we definitely need to win some races here in the playoffs to really be a contender. For us, I mean, my goal at least, and I think Chris is on the same page, is just to get to that round of eight.

If we can make it through this round and the round of 12, you got an opportunity to go to Homestead. In that round, Texas and Phoenix are two great tracks for me. Martinsville’s a little bit of a struggle sometimes, but Texas and Phoenix are two places I feel like we can go and win a race at those places.”

Now, despite the solid runs, Jones knows he cannot think too far ahead, especially after last season.

In a similar position, the Michigan-native entered the final ten races on a sour note, wrecking and finishing last in the playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The end result essentially killed his championship hopes from the get-go, as he was forced into a must-win situation and quickly eliminated.

Heading to Sunday’s South Point 400, Jones now knows how important a solid day in the South Point 400 will be to keep himself alive.

“Yeah, I mean definitely there’s a big emphasis on just having a solid weekend, right? You want to qualify well and race well and if we can come out of here with, I mean obviously the wins the goal,” he said. “But if we can come out with the top five and a good deal of stage points and pick up a couple of spots in the standings and just close that gap to the lead, that’s a solid day.”

While it may be the first race of the playoffs, he also noted how he will be keeping a close eye on the 12th place cutoff.

“We’re fighting for 12th. That’s what we’re looking at here. You’re fighting for that 12th place in points and hopefully getting some playoff points moving forward and just closing that gap up,” Jones said. “You just want to tighten that gap up to lead. Right now we’ve got 40 points to the lead and we need to get that smaller. That’s too much to be in contention to get all the way to homesteads.”

The No. 20 team will enter Sunday as the tenth seed, with additional five playoff points as his disposal.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@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.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Blaney Looking To Maximize Potential

LAS VEGAS — Entering the playoffs, Ryan Blaney is hopeful that the last ten races go better than the first 26.

The regular season proved to be tough for the driver of the No. 12, who score zero wins and will only have four playoff points to start with.

“Yeah, I mean I obviously like to have had a better year,” Blaney told POPULAR SPEED. “So far, you can always ask for better and do better and there’s some races I wish we would’ve had back, but at the end of the day, you know, it’s nice to be a part of the playoffs. And I think our team is plenty capable. I think we got a shot at making a good run and just can’t have any mistakes, things like that. I think we got the team to do it. Just a matter of kind of maximizing your full potential and see what happens.”

It is not all negatives for the 12 team though.

As Blaney said, the team has shown to be capable, scoring seven top-five’s and 12 top-10’s. He has also led laps, 384 to be exact, which is actually more than championship favorite, Denny Hamlin, who has only been out front for 373.

The 25-year-old will also enter the final 10 races with experience, as he has made the playoffs two of his three years of competition in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

“Experience never hurt, that’s for sure,” Blaney said. “I look at kind of the end of our playoffs last year and God, we had a terrible second round, just from run out of gas, getting wrecks and just barely missed it. And then we had a really great final three races, I wish we could have back. But at the end of the day, you just take all the experience you have and things are always changing, scenarios change. You’re rarely ever going to find yourself in the same scenario as before. Just the product of what we do. But yeah, you try to take that experience and apply it, utilize it well.”

Blaney will look to start his playoff strong at Las Vegas Speedway, where he has four top-ten’s in six starts.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@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.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Hamlin Taking It One Week At A Time

LAS VEGAS — In many eyes, Denny Hamlin is the favorite heading into the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ playoffs.

This comes as a complete change from a year ago where he had zero wins and was quickly eliminated from contention after the Round Of 16. Now, with four wins to his name, it certainly changes the narrative around the No. 11 team.

“It certainly puts us in a better position,” Hamlin told POPULAR SPEED. “I mean, when you think about how our championship was won, it’s based off of going out there in the regular season, building yourself a buffer through performance, and just getting to Homestead. And it’s all about a one-race shootout after that.”

Hamlin started his season on a high, winning the Daytona 500 and seemingly has not slowed down, capturing 13 top-five’s and 17 top-10’s. All of this has given him 30 additional playoff points ahead of the playoff and gives him the advantage with the opportunity to gain more.

Having the excess playoff points is going to be beneficial for Hamlin and, with as many as he has, it may have people painting him as a lock for the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

However, Hamlin is staying away from the mindset of looking into the future, instead choosing to live in the present, and tackling each race one at a time.

“We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves,” Hamlin said. “We’re going to play this week by week. We’re not looking forward to Richmond next week or the Roval the week after. It’s all in on Vegas this week and trying to figure out what we can do to win this week. And we know we’ve got the performance to do it right now.”

After finishes of 32nd, 16th, and 12th last year in the Round Of 16 in 2018, it is understandable why as though the 38-year-old is taking this approach. However, there should be no reason to doubt Hamlin, especially with how he has run of late.

In the last eight races, he has only finished outside the top-10 once and finished inside the top-three five times. In addition to that, Hamlin also has the best average finish (seventh) in the last six races. Meaning, even with his disappointing the 29th finish at Darlington Raceway, he has still set the standard that all drivers are chasing.

The only question surrounding Hamlin is can he finish the job? He has been close before but, this may be his best opportunity to capture his first championship.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

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