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News

‘This one’s for Rowdy Nation!’ Busch caps season with second title

The Candy Man can. And did.

Kyle Busch secured his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, besting perhaps the most impressive field of championship contenders in the six-year history of the elimination-style playoffs.

Busch outran fellow finalists Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr., winning the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 on the strength of a clever pit strategy and a car that came to life under the lights. Hamlin was making his first Championship 4 appearance since 2014, while Harvick and Truex were making return trips to the finale.

“We have a great race team and a great owner,” an emotional Busch said after climbing from his car. “Everybody always says you never give up and we’re no different,. Sometimes we may not be the best, sometimes we may not have the right track position. Today we had a really good car and I could race around and move around.

“There’s always your doubters, there’s always your haters,” Busch said smiling. “You know what? This one’s for the Rowdy Nation. You guys are the best. Thank you so much.”

Busch had claimed the series’ regular-season championship in September, building a stockpile of playoff points that guided him to his fifth straight appearance in the Championship 4 field. The 34-year-old driver also won the title in NASCAR’s premier series in 2015, the second year of the elimination format.

Sunday’s march to the title capped a brilliant — and sometimes, difficult — year for the driver of Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota. A four-win regular season marked his fifth straight year with multiple victories in NASCAR’s top series, but Busch entered the Miami race winless since early June. That skid, plus a dominant Round of 8 from all three of his title competitors, put “Rowdy” and the No. 18 team flying under the radar for championship weekend.

“We had a cold spell there,” crew chief Adam Stevens. “It’s been well-documented, believe it or not. Quite a few questions about it. Felt a little bit like 2015 to me. Take the broken legs out of the equation. We were hot early in 2015 when Kyle came back. We didn’t win since Indy that year, then came to Homestead and got the job done.”

Busch also scored four Xfinity Series wins and five victories in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, totals that helped him surpass 200 career wins in NASCAR national series competition in March.

The year was not without tragedy, though. Joe Gibbs’ son J.D., co-founder of Joe Gibbs Racing, died in January after complications after a long battle with a degenerative neurological disease.

“It’s been a difficult time,” Busch said. “To be able to reward them with a championship, I don’t know how much it means to them, but it’s the best I can do. I know JD was looking down on us all season long.”

Busch becomes the 16th driver with more than one premier series championship. Seven-time champ Jimmie Johnson is the only other active driver with multiple titles on his resume. Busch also is the first repeat champion in the elimination-style postseason.

Both championships came with Stevens calling the shots on the pit box. The 41-year-old crew chief raced dirt late models before starting his NASCAR career as a fabricator with Richard Petty Motorsports.

Busch’s first title was a story of resilience as he recovered from severe leg and foot injuries after a crash in the season-opening weekend at Daytona International Speedway. He missed 11 races but met the criteria for a playoff waiver in a big way, winning five races on his path to a title-clinching performance at Homestead.

Busch also is a former champion of what is now called the NASCAR Xfinity Series, riding a nine-win season to that tour’s title in 2009.

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News

Tyler Reddick gets back-to-back titles with scintillating victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – With his girlfriend expecting a baby, Tyler Reddick confessed on Thursday that he had practiced changing diapers on a pet cat.

Now, after winning Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 and his second straight NASCAR Xfinity Series championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Reddick gets to name the baby.

Finishing 1.038 seconds ahead of hard-charging Cole Custer, Reddick is the only driver to win consecutive titles in the series for two different car owners. The 23-year-old from Corning, Calif., won his first championship for JR Motorsports last year.

After switching rides to Richard Childress Racing, Reddick celebrated the organizations 50th anniversary by delivering his second straight title to team owner Richard Childress—the crowning achievement of a season in which Reddick collected a career-best six victories.

“It’s about this race team, man, and I was just honored to pilot this Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet,” Reddick said. “I’m losing my breath—I’m that excited. This one means so much more. It was just a lot better year, and it was really cool to go back-to-back.”

In winning for the second time at Homestead-Miami, Reddick was once again the quintessential rim rider, running within inches of the fence as he, Custer and fifth-place finisher Christopher Bell battled for the lead early in the final 79-lap green-flag run.

And now he can name his yet-to-be-born son “Beau,” under an agreement he made with girlfriend Alexa De Leon before the championship weekend. De Leon had another name in mind but agreed to let Reddick have his choice if he won the title.

Reddick had been so successful running the top lane in 2018 that Custer studied his in-car video before the race—but to no avail.

“Tyler—he can rip the top here,” Custer acknowledged after the race. “That’s about all you can say about it.”

After the top two drivers separated from Bell on Lap 167, Reddick closed on Custer until he reached his rear bumper. On Lap 182, Reddick dived to the inside into Turn 1 and slid up in front of Custer’s No. 00 Ford. Custer got the lead back briefly into Turn 3 on the same lap, but Reddick crossed over and cleared Custer for good off Turn 4.

In trying to catch the No. 2 Chevrolet, Custer scraped the wall in the closing laps.

“I could kind of match his lap time there and studied his in-car all the way coming here trying to figure out how to run the top better,” Custer said. “I got close. I tried to find a way to close the gap when I was behind and tried too hard and got into the fence.

“It sucks to come home second two years in a row. We’ll take it. We were a lot closer this year.”

Reddick, Custer and Bell all will graduate to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series next year—Reddick with RCR, Custer with Stewart-Haas Racing and Bell with Leavine Family Racing. But Reddick is the only one who will do so with an Xfinity title.

Chase Briscoe and Noah Gragson ran third and fourth, respectively, ahead of Bell, who claimed third place in the final standings behind the race winner and runner-up.

Despite missing pit road on his first attempt at a green-flag pit stop on Lap 159, Bell grabbed the lead on new tires by pitting three laps before Reddick and Custer. But the two chasers soon ran him down in a thrilling three-way battle for the top spot.

By the time Reddick took the checkered flag, Bell was 17 seconds in arrears.

“We just had great pit stops,” said Bell, who came to Homestead last year as the championship favorite and finished fourth. “Our pit stops would allow us to get up front, and then we would maintain until we started falling off, and then they would drive by me. For some reason, just can’t hit on what I need to, to be able to get around this place for a 30- or 40-lap run.”

A late brush with the wall and resulting flat tire relegated Championship 4 contender Justin Allgaier to a 14th-place finish.

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News

Matt Crafton wins Gander Outdoors Truck title, Austin Hill takes Homestead-Miami victory

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Austin Hill bookended his 2019 season with a victory in Friday night’s Ford EcoBoost 200 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway – finishing a comfortable 1.569-seconds ahead of veteran Matt Crafton, whose runner-up effort was enough to earn him his third NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship.

Hill won all three stages in the race and led a race best 56 laps to give the No. 16 Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota its second consecutive Homestead win. Last year Brett Moffitt drove the truck to a race and series championship trophy.

Christian Eckes finished third on Friday to earn Kyle Busch Motorsports its record seventh series owner championship – the organization’s sixth in the last seven years.

From the drop of the rain-delayed green flag, the four championship eligible drivers – Crafton, fourth place Ross Chastain, fifth place Moffitt and 11th place Stewart Friesen – had to deal with a highly motivated Hill for the race win. Officially eliminated from Playoff contention last week at Phoenix’s ISM Raceway, Hill came into the event highly-motivated nonetheless.

He drove around title contender Chastain to win the first stage and held off Crafton for wins in both the second stage and ultimately the race trophy.

The 25-year old Georgia native finished the season as he started – in Victory Lane – matching his work in the season-opening Daytona race – his first career win. He won again at Michigan in the summer and then again at Las Vegas and was truly a formidable contender through the Playoffs. Unable to overcome a points deficit after a crash at Martinsville, Va. in the final Playoff round, however, kept him from the Championship 4. However his work Friday sent a strong message that he’s ready to contend for the championship next year as well.

“I’m excited for the win, but at the same time it stings a little bit just because I know that if we would have been a little bit better in the round of six, we could be celebrating a win and a championship,” Hill said. “But like I say, I can’t thank everybody out there enough.

And Hill conceded with a smile, “It’s awesome to get my fourth win of the season and end on a high note.”

This year’s champion Crafton matches a three-title mark equaled only by Jack Sprague (2001, 1999 and 1997) and exceeded by only NASCAR Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday Jr. Crafton is the only driver to ever win back-to-back truck titles (2013-14).

“It feels amazing and we’re one step closer to what Hornaday’s done,” Crafton said after climbing out of his car, noting that many underestimated his No. 88 ThorSport Racing Ford team. “And they called us the underdog.”

Moffitt, who led the series with four wins, 13 top fives along with 17 top 10s and three pole positions, was clearly disappointed with his fifth-place finish.

“We were just pretty bad from the get-go this morning, just missing speed,” said Moffitt, who drives the No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet. “It is what it is, we had a good year and we’ll re-group and go after it again next year.”

“It’s a disappointment but we’ll move on and get better,” he added.

Chastain, who was a strong favorite to earn his first title, was equally as disappointed following the race. He led 36 laps on the night and for much of the early race looked ready to challenge Hill for the race win to land his first NASCAR title.

He won three races and earned a series best 19 top-10 finishes. A competitor in all three NASCAR national series, Chastain only declared himself championship eligible in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series in June.

“I want to throw up right now to be honest with you, but it has been an absolute dream,” said Chastain, who will drive for Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series next year.

“It’s pretty crazy that we did that [made the Playoffs], and made it to Homestead,” he added. “We did everything we could and that says a lot.”

Tyler Ankrum, the driver of the No. 17 DGR Crosley Toyota, finished 22nd on Friday, but officially earned the series’ Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors for his season’s work. He wasn’t allowed to compete on the big tracks until he turned 18 in March and he missed the opening three races of the season calendar.

“We had a really great season I thought,” said the 18-year old Ankrum, who won his career first series race at Kentucky this summer and qualified for the Playoffs as a rookie.

“When we had highs they were really, really high.”

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NASCAR Cup Series

Denny Hamlin seals title bid with clinching Phoenix victory

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Out, demon!

Denny Hamlin’s exorcism is complete. At ISM Raceway, the site of one of his biggest disappointments, Hamlin barged back into the Championship 4 with a dominating victory in Sunday’s Bluegreen Vacations 500.

Hamlin joins Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch, Sunday’s runner-up, in the Nov. 17 race for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The three JGR drivers will battle Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing for the trophy.

After losing control of his car and sliding off Turn 4 last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, Hamlin fell 20 points below the cut line for the Championship 4 entering the Phoenix race. But with his victory, Hamlin knocked defending champion Joey Logano out of title contention.

“I can’t believe it,” exulted Hamlin, who picked up his sixth victory of the season, his second at ISM Raceway and the 27th of his career. “This race team worked so hard this whole year. They deserve to be there.  I put them in a bad hole last week. 

“I told them today in the meeting, I said, ‘I’m going to give everything I’ve got to make up for the mistake I made last week.’ That’s all I got.’

Logano finished ninth on Sunday and ended the Round of 8 fifth in the standings and seven points behind Busch, who grabbed the last berth in the title race.

Hamlin led a race-high 143 laps, including 142 of the last 146, and built a lead of more than 12 seconds before surrendering the top spot for four laps during a cycle of green-flag pit stops. Hamlin’s advantage was more than nine seconds when John Hunter Nemechek’s Ford slapped the Turn 1 to cause the fifth and final caution.

“One of the best cars of my career, I can tell you that,” said Hamlin, who came to Phoenix as the championship favorite in 2010, only to lose 18 points of his 33-point lead on a misguided pit call. “Fast car. But, yeah, I pushed for all I had. 

“I mean, that’s all I got. Once we got the big lead there, a little over 10 seconds, I just kind of sat there. I got to thinking about if the caution does come out, I want to lap as many (cars) as I can.”

A week after his 2010 misfortune at Phoenix, a shell-shocked Hamlin spun early and lost the title to Jimmie Johnson. In contrast, it was a focused and determined Hamlin who showed up at Phoenix on Sunday.

Busch led the first 69 laps of the race but lost the first stage to Hamlin after Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s collision with the Turn 4 wall caused the first caution of the afternoon. When the race came down to a restart with three laps left, Busch couldn’t keep up with his teammate and finished .377 seconds behind the No. 11 Toyota Camry.

“Just didn’t quite have enough,” Busch said. “I knew the 11 was the best car in practice. I knew we were going to be about third to fifth. We were second. Guys did a great job, this M&M Toyota Camry was good.

“It’s cool to have a chance to go race for a championship. Just keep coming up short.”

Logano led 93 laps, won the second stage and was out front until Hamlin passed him for the lead on Lap 177. From that point, Logano dropped like a rock to 11th and fell a lap down to Hamlin before third-place finisher Ryan Blaney started a cycle of green-flag stops on Lap 243 of 312.

Kyle Larson ran fourth and failed to advance to the Championship 4, as did Blaney and Chase Elliott, who rocketed into the Turn 1 wall with a flat left rear tire on Lap 166 and finished 39th.

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XFINITY

Justin Allgaier clinches Championship 4 spot with convincing Phoenix win

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Justin Allgaier’s timing was impeccable.

After a pit road speeding penalty and a subsequent spin KO’d the winning chances of polesitter Christopher Bell, Allgaier took full advantage, leading the final 66 laps of Saturday’s Desert Diamond West Valley 200 to win for the first time this season and advance to next week’s NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship 4 event at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Allgaier joins the so-called Big Three of Bell, Saturday’s runner-up Cole Custer and third-place finisher Tyler Reddick in the title race. Custer clinched his spot after running third in the second 45-lap stage. Reddick, the defending series champion, earned his spot on points after saving fuel over the final 79-lap green-flag run.

Allgaier won the race wearing a helmet designed by his six-year-old daughter, Harper.

“This is the first time I’ve won with Harper’s helmet in the car, and it means a lot,” Allgaier said. “To have the speed that we’ve had (this year) and not be able to pull it off has been disappointing. These guys have rallied behind it. We said when we came here that we need to come here and get a win so we could go to Homestead, and we did that…

“We had a hotrod today. I don’t think we could have beaten the 20 (Bell), but when he made his mistake, we capitalized on it. That’s what it’s all about… No question (not winning) is a weight on your shoulders, man. You can’t even begin to describe it.”

Custer was closing fast at the finish and cut Allgaier’s lead of more than three seconds to .810 seconds at the checkered flag on Lap 200.

“I was giving it all I had,” Custer said. “I was really struggling with the brake pedal. I kind of lost it at the start of the run. I had to save the whole run until like 15 laps to go, and then I just let it happen. I just came up a little bit short, but I think that was the best run we’ve had at Phoenix in a long time.

“I’m looking forward to Homestead, and hopefully we can do one spot better.”

The top four drivers in the Playoff standings entering Saturday’s race were the four who will compete for the championship at Homestead. Missing out on points were sixth-place finisher Austin Cindric, eighth-place Chase Briscoe, ninth-place Michael Annett and 10th-place Noah Gragson.

John Hunter Nemechek ran fourth behind Reddick followed by an impressive Zane Smith, who tied his career-best result in his 10th Xfinity Series start.

Bell won the first two stages, bringing his total of stage victories for the season to 22, but was flagged for speeding .03 mph over tolerance under caution at the end of Stage 2. After restarting from the rear, Bell climbed to eighth before spinning out while trying to cut the apron off Turn 2.

“I feel like I gave up a winner,” said Bell, whose focus nevertheless has been on next weekend’s race at Homestead, where he turned in a disappointing performance in the title event last year.

“This is what it’s all about,” Bell said. “It all comes down to this one next week. I’m ready for it. I feel really good about where we’re at, and our car is going to be extremely strong next week.

“We’ve prepared a ton for this. Ever since we left Homestead last year, we knew that this race was where we needed to improve. Pretty much all year long, we’ve been focused on Homestead.”

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NASCAR Cup Series

Kyle Busch corrals first Busch Pole of the season at Phoenix

Kyle Busch sped to the Busch Pole Award in Saturday’s qualifying for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at ISM Raceway near Phoenix.

Busch tripped the clock with a best lap of 140.116 mph in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota on the 1-mile Arizona oval. His first pole of the season was his fourth at Phoenix and the 32nd of his Monster Energy Series career. He’ll be vying for his third straight Phoenix win in Sunday’s Bluegreen Vacations 500 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM).

Joey Logano is set to start second in the Team Penske No. 22 Ford after just missing the pole at 139.752 mph. Denny Hamlin qualified third in the JGR No. 11 Toyota with teammate Martin Truex Jr. winding up fourth. Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick completing a top-seven sweep by playoff-eligible drivers. Ryan Blaney, the final title hopeful in the field, was 10th-fastest.

Both Truex and Harvick have already clinched spots in the Championship 4 field for the title Nov. 17 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

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Trucks

Stewart Friesen wins at Phoenix as Gander Trucks Championship 4 set

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Stewart Friesen thought he had led the first lap of Friday night’s Lucas Oil 150 at ISM Raceway in Phoenix.

He was wrong.

After suffering a penalty for jumping the start of the race, however, Friesen rallied to lead the lap that counted most — the last one — and secured a spot in next weekend’s Championship 4 race with the second NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series victory of the season and his career.

“We’ve got a badass piece for next week, too,” promised Friesen, who will try for the title next Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Friesen will have to contend with defending series champion Brett Moffitt, who locked himself into the Championship 4 after finishing ninth in the second stage of Friday night’s race.

Ross Chastain also gained a berth in the title race with a 14-place finish, and two-time series champion Matt Crafton claimed the final spot after finishing sixth — and edging pole winner Austin Hill (13th) — by six points for the final spot.

After the fifth and final caution of the evening for a wreck in Turn 3 involving Sam Mayer and John Hunter Nemechek, Friesen charged into the lead before past Brandon Jones and Ben Rhodes and led the final 44 circuits.

It was no cakewalk, though. With five laps left, Jones made a last-ditch run to the inside of Friesen but couldn’t get past the No. 52 Chevrolet. Friesen pulled away on the last two laps to beat Jones to the finish line by .860 seconds.

“It was a great race car,” said Friesen, who was sent to the rear of the field after getting to the stripe ahead of Hill, who spun his tires on the initial start. “We were able to pass ‘em all, pass ‘em all clean,” said Friesen.

“Great race car, great race team. We’ll all celebrate tomorrow, and then it’s game on.”

Moffitt came to Phoenix with the series lead and was first to clinch a spot in the final race. But the driver of the No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet, who won last year’s championship driving for Hattori Racing Enterprises, had two objectives on Friday.

My main concern for the day was getting us locked into the owner points as well,” Moffitt said. “We got both jobs done today.”

Chastain finished with a 13-point margin over Hill, who lost ground to Crafton on the Lap 107 restart and never recovered. Chastain didn’t declare for the Truck Series championship until nine races into the season but qualified for the Championship 4 nevertheless.

“Man, this is crazy — a dream come true though,” Chastain said.

Crafton came to Phoenix nine points behind Hill but made up most of the deficit with 17 points combined in the first two stages.

“I didn’t have anything to lose and everything to gain,” Crafton said. “And that’s the way I drove it from the green flag to the checkered flag.”

Hill joined fellow Toyota driver Tyler Ankrum on the sidelines for the final race. Ankrum suffered early damage and finished 26th, six laps down. Hill simply didn’t have any juice on the restarts.

“We just didn’t have any short-run speed,” Hill said. “I hate it for my guys. I just couldn’t do anything on the restarts. The front end would slide, the rear would slide, and during that last long green-flag run, it was terrible.

“I hate that we finished where we did, especially after qualifying from the pole. I definitely had high hopes for the race after qualifying on the pole and showing speed in second practice. We’ll move on to Homestead and regroup for next year.”

Chandler Smith finished third, followed by Rhodes and Grant Enfinger. Crafton, Harrison Burton, Johnny Sauter, Chastain and Moffitt completed the top 10.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Kevin Harvick punches Championship 4 ticket with Texas-sized victory

FORT WORTH, Tex. – For Kevin Harvick, Texas is the new Phoenix.

Overcoming a pit road penalty for a tire placed in his pit box too early, Harvick took control of the AAA Texas 500 as the sun set on Texas Motor Speedway and won his third straight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race at the 1.5-mile track in Cowtown.

Locked into the Championship 4 race two weeks hence at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Harvick can now breathe easy heading into the final Round of 8 race at ISM Raceway in Phoenix, a track where Harvick has nine wins and a current streak of 12 top-10 finishes—but where Harvick struggled uncharacteristically in the spring while running ninth under the new 2019 rules package.

After leading a race-high 119 laps and finishing 1.594 seconds ahead of Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Aric Almirola, Harvick, the pole winner, won’t have to worry about the one-mile flat track in Arizona’s Sonoran desert.

“Texas has always been so great to us, and what a race track the last few years,” said Harvick, who won for the fourth time this season and the 49th time in his career, tying him with SHR co-owner Tony Stewart for 14th all-time. “It’s just been a lot of work put into this race. We knew this was a good race track for us. Felt like it fit the styles of our cars, and, man, did it.”

Harvick led an impressive contingent of SHR drivers, all of whom took turns at the front of the field before Harvick took control. Runner-up Almirola led 62 laps, Clint Bowyer led 36 and Daniel Suarez 25.

“That was a very solid night, and I’m very happy with the performance and speed that we brought from the shop,” said Suarez, who matched the third-place finish he posted at Texas in the spring. “Everyone back at the shop did a great job. We knew we would be fast here.

“We had a solid performance here last time. We did a good job. We had good execution and a good clean day. I’m very happy for Stewart-Haas Racing and the 41 Ford Mustang was pretty sporty. I am very happy for Kevin getting his ticket for Homestead.”

Harvick’s path wasn’t easy. On a Lap 186 pit stop under caution, a tire dropped from the top of the pit wall into Harvick’s stall before the No. 4 Ford arrived, forcing Harvick to restart from the rear. But Harvick charged forward and on Lap 255, he passed Almirola for the lead.

Suarez completed the 1-2-3 podium sweep for SHR, followed by Joey Logano, who held the fourth position in the standings and extended his margin above the current Championship cut line to 20 points. Alex Bowman ran fifth, and Martin Truex Jr., already locked into the season finale by virtue of last week’s Martinsville win, finished sixth.

Playoff drivers Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney were seventh and eighth, with Busch standing 22 points above the cut line and Blaney 23 points below, tied with 12th-place finisher Kyle Larson.

Chase Elliott’s dire Playoff situation crystallized on Lap 9 when he tried to run the high lane and slid into the outside wall in Turn 2. Elliott barely beat the repair clock on pit road and returned to the race, albeit it seven laps down.

The driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet leaves the Lone Star State with a 32nd-place finish and one path to the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway—he must win next Sunday’s race at Phoenix to advance.

Like Elliott, Denny Hamlin failed to score points in either of the first two stages. On Lap 80, five short of the completion of Stage 1, Hamlin got sideways in Turn 44 and spun through the infield grass. He lost two laps under repairs and two more on the track and came home 28th.

As a consequence, the five-time Cup winner this season fell 20 points below the cut line for the Championship 4.

Jimmie Johnson’s prospects of ending a 92-race drought looked promising early on but came to a disappointing finish early in the final stage. Johnson passed Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman for the lead on Lap 99 and held the top spot for 40 laps—the most laps the seven-time champion has led in a single race since his 60 at Texas in the spring.

But Johnson spun in Turns 1 and 2 while battling for third on Lap 185 and slapped the Turn 2 wall. Johnson couldn’t make minimum speed after repairs and retired to the garage after completing 199 laps.

Note: John Hunter Nemechek finished 21st, one lap down in his Cup debut—substituting for Front Row Motorsports driver Matt Tifft, who suffered a seizure last Saturday at Martinsville.

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News

Christopher Bell tames Texas, clinches Xfinity Series title shot

FORT WORTH, Texas – Christopher Bell shrugged off a short-lived brake problem in his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and cruised to a 5.635-second victory in Saturday night’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway.

With his eighth win of the year — a career-best for a single season — Bell locked himself into the Championship 4 Round of the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs, with the title to be decided two weeks hence at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Bell led 101 of 200 laps in winning for the first time at the 1.5-mile track and the 16th time in his career. Bell swept the first and second stages of the event, bringing his total of 2019 stage victories to 20.

“That’s pretty special to win here at Texas,” said Bell, a native of Norman, Oklahoma. “I have a lot of family here. This (checkered) flag right here is for my nephew (Trip). I promised him years ago that if I ever won, I’d give him the flag at Texas.

“I knew we were very competitive, and then I began having brake problems. And then whenever I got those brake problems, I just wasn’t as good. I couldn’t keep the car underneath me and I was really loose. So I had to work a little harder, and that red flag helped me and my brakes came back. We were able to drive away.”

Ross Chastain came home second after taking the lead by staying on the track under caution on Lap 142 while the other top contenders came to pit road for fuel. Chastain, driving the No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet he will race full-time next year, held the top spot through two subsequent cautions and led the field to the final restart on Lap 171.

But Bell surged past Chastain on the restart lap and widened his advantage over the final 29 laps.

One of the Xfinity Series’ Big Three took a big hit on Lap 161. Racing behind Chase Briscoe for the seventh position, Tyler Reddick lost control of his No. 2 Chevrolet when Briscoe ran too high in Turn 2 and hit the outside wall.

Reddick’s Chevy bounced off the outside wall, slid across the track and slammed nose-first into the inside SAFER barrier on the backstretch, destroying the radiator and knocking him out of the race. Reddick ended the night third in the Playoff standings, and despite the DNF, he holds a 36-point edge over fifth-place Briscoe heading to next Saturday’s elimination event at ISM Raceway in Phoenix.

“You’re never safe,” Reddick said after leaving the infield care center. “We had a lot better (points) cushion than that… I got us mired back in that mess there (after a restart on Lap 157) and that’s what I deserve, if I can’t be up front with a car like that, that fast.”

Briscoe stayed on the track after the contact with the wall and eventually paid the price. He lost three laps after his tire shredded and finished 22nd, falling 18 points behind sixth-place finisher Justin Allgaier for the final berth in the Championship 4.

“That was just unfortunate,” Briscoe said. “I don’t think we were the car to win by any means, but I think we would have run fifth to eighth area. We just had to stay in that same ballpark where the 7 (Allgaier) was. We were in really good contention to do that, and then I made a mistake running the top and tried to get too much.

“We thought all our tires looked good, but we had a rub and the tire went flat and put us three laps down. Obviously, we have our backs against the wall going into next week but we have really good fast race cars. We’ll go there and try to win the race.”

Playoff driver Austin Cindric finished third but goes to Phoenix seventh in the standings, 31 points behind Allgaier. Brandon Jones, John Hunter Nemechek, Allgaier, Harrison Burton and Cole Custer finished fourth through eighth, respectively.

Custer is second in the Playoff standings, 52 points ahead of Briscoe. Noah Gragson took the biggest hit in the Playoff race, crashing out of the race in 30th place after turning down across the nose of Burton’s Toyota on Lap 149 and oiling the track.

Gragson leaves Texas 57 points below the current cutline needing a victory at Phoenix to advance to the Championship 4.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Kevin Harvick speeds to pole for Texas Playoff race

FORT WORTH, Tex. – Kevin Harvick took the first step toward getting back on the right side of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff cut line, winning the pole for Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Harvick, who trails fourth-place Joey Logano by 14 points entering the second race of the Round of 8, toured the 1.5-mile track in 28.465 seconds (189.707 mph) to win his second Busch Pole Award at Texas, his series-best sixth of the season and the 31st of his career.

Erik Jones, already eliminated from the Playoffs, was second fastest at 188.890 mph, .123 seconds behind Harvick. Denny Hamlin, second in the Playoff standings, qualified third at 188.12 mph, followed by Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman and Aric Almirola.

“The best part is our car drove really well in race trim yesterday and still had a lot of speed when we put it in qualifying trim today,” said Harvick, winner of the last two Playoff races at Texas. “So, hopefully, we can keep our track position.

“As you saw the last race (at Texas), you want to be up front and you want to be on the right cycle of rotation of pit strategy. Having that first pit stall is definitely an advantage here. It will be a track position game, and hopefully we can play it right and keep ourselves up front.”

Logano will start 11th in his attempt to protect his position in the standings. Other Playoff drivers earned the following positions on the grid: Kyle Busch 12th, Kyle Larson 13th, Chase Elliott 14th, Ryan Blaney 15th and Martin Truex Jr. 17th.

Truex has already qualified for the Nov. 17 Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway by virtue of last Sunday’s victory at Martinsville.

After a broken axle and a 36th-place finish at Martinsville, Elliott trails Logano by 44 points and likely must win one of the next two races to advance to the Championship 4.

In a substitute role for Front Row Motorsports driver Matt Tifft, who suffered a seizure last Saturday at Martinsville,. John Hunter Nemechek qualified 29th.

“That was the first qualifying run I have ever done in a Cup car,” Nemechek said. “It was pretty interesting. We went faster today than we did yesterday. That is a positive. We’re getting faster every time on the race track. It’s a whole new deal for myself, being over here in the Cup garage. Different scenarios, a whole new team. Different communications. A lot of variables that play into this weekend.

“I’m really thankful for the opportunity from (owner) Bob (Jenkins) and everyone at Front Row Motorsports. I hate that the circumstances are like this. I really wish Matt Tifft a speedy recovery and hope he is back at the race track very soon.”