Kyle Busch

1 2 3 9

NASCAR: Who has the edge in playoff elimination race at Kansas?

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports)   —-   Sunday is cutdown day in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series as the 12-driver playoff field will be reduced to eight following the Hollywood Casino 400.

Only two drivers — Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski — can rest easy this weekend with their berths in the third round already secured after victories at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, respectively.

The weekend won’t be quite so chill for the other 10 drivers — even ones like third-ranked Kyle Larson, who have built up a plethora of points — because one crash or mechanical issue can see championship hopes go up in smoke.

Expect the the 267 scheduled laps around the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway to be a fierce contest of wills, handling and strategy calls, as drivers battle their competitors on track as well as their nerves.

How the playoff drivers have fared at Kansas, and what to watch for Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network):

1. Martin Truex Jr. (3,120 points)

Car: No. 78 Toyota

Team: Furniture Row Racing

Best Kansas finish: First (spring 2017)

Notable: The points leader has dominated on tracks like Kansas this season, with five of his six wins coming on 1.5-mile ovals. Expect him to be near the front of the pack all day, like he was in May when he led 104 laps.

2. Brad Keselowski (3,101)

Car: No. 2 Ford

Team: Team Penske

Best Kansas finish: First (spring 2011)

Notable: His brilliant race and last-lap pass for the win last weekend provided a shot in the arm to a driver that before Talladega hadn’t won since April. Now the 2012 champion and crew chief Paul Wolfe have the opportunity to take chances that other playoff drivers cannot in an effort to rack up playoff bonus points before the round of eight.

3. Kyle Larson (3,096)

Car: No. 42 Chevrolet

Team: Chip Ganassi Racing

Best Kansas finish: Second (fall 2014)

Notable: Larson is in the most enviable position among the rest of the playoff field, sitting 22 points above the cutline. And while none of four 2017 wins have come on 1.5-mile tracks, he’s finished second on intermediate ovals four times. A clean and consistent race is likely all he needs.

4. Kevin Harvick (3,089)

Car: No. 4 Ford

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

Best Kansas finish: First (fall 2013, 2016)

Notable: Harvick said this week that Kansas “fits his driving style,” and recent results bear him out. Since the track was repaved in the summer of 2012, the 2014 series champion has been a master at the Kansas City oval with six top-three finishes in 10 races, including the victory in last year’s playoff.

 

5. Denny Hamlin (3,088)

Car: No. 11 Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

Best Kansas finish: First (spring 2012)

Notable: His top-six finishes at Charlotte and Talladega could go a long way in providing insurance because Kansas has not been one of Hamlin’s stronger tracks, with an average finish of 17.0. But Hamlin finished second in this race two years ago, and the Toyota contingent has been especially strong on intermediate tracks, which could give him a boost.

6. Chase Elliott (3,087)

Car: No. 24 Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

Best Kansas finish: Ninth ( 2016)

Notable: He’s the least experienced driver at Kansas with only three races under his belt, but his runner-up finishes in the playoff races at Chicagoland Speedway and Charlotte prove that he can contend for the win on 1.5-mile ovals. He’ll have to run much better than his 29th-place finish in May, however.

7. Ryan Blaney (3,076)

Car: No. 21 Ford

Team: Wood Brothers Racing

Best Kansas finish: Fourth (spring 2017)

Notable: Blaney may have circled this race on his calendar because statistically Kansas stacks up as one of his best tracks. He has three top-seven finishes in five races and an average finish of 11.4, ranking as his third-best. He has no margin for error, though, so he’ll need to come through like he did in May to keep himself among the top eight.

8. Jimmie Johnson (3,074)

Car: No. 48 Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

Best Kansas finish: First (fall 2008, 2011; spring 2015)

Notable: The seven-time and reigning series champion is right on the brink and can’t afford the sub-par 24th-place finish he turned in this spring. Fans of the 48 team can take comfort in Johnson’s strong career results at Kansas, however. He’s finished in the top 10 in 17 of 22 races there and came home third and fourth, respectively, in the last two playoff races at the track.

-nascar-chase-101517

9. Kyle Busch (3,067)

Car: No. 18 Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

Best Kansas finish: First (spring 2016)

Notable: After a dominating first round in which he won two of three races, no one’s fortunes have turned more after Busch’s disastrous results at both Charlotte and Talladega. He may not technically be in must-win territory, but expect him to race like he is. The 2015 series champion has become quite proficient at Kansas lately with five straight top-five finishes, and he’ll need another sterling result to advance.

10. Matt Kenseth (3,066)

Car: No. 20 Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

Best Kansas finish: First (fall 2012, spring 2013)

Notable: No playoff driver has more experience or has led more laps at Kansas than Kenseth’s 774, and he’s going to need every bit of that quality experience Sunday if he hopes to advance in what could be his last season in the Cup Series. Like his teammate Busch, he may not necessarily have to win to advance, but he cannot rely on points either. He will need to be aggressive and hope Toyota’s advantage on intermediate tracks holds up.

11. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (3,052)

Car: No. 17 Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

Best Kansas finish: 11th (spring 2008, 2017)

Notable: Talladega, where he won earlier this season, likely was Stenhouse’s best opportunity for a playoff win, so Kansas appears to be the end of the road. His car has not been particularly fast or competitive on 1.5-mile tracks, and it’s hard to imagine that changes Sunday.

12. Jamie McMurray (3,045)

Car: No. 1 Chevrolet

Team: Chip Ganassi Racing

Best Kansas finish: Seventh (fall 2004, spring 2013)

Notable: Disaster struck McMurray early at Talladega and put him in a hole he probably cannot get out of. Like Stenhouse, he almost certainly needs to win — something he hasn’t done in four years.

Follow Horrow on Twitter @EllenJHorrow

4 NASCAR playoff drivers who could advance to the next round at Kansa

(PhatzRadio Sports / FTW)   —-   As the NASCAR Cup Series heads to Kansas Speedway for the final playoff race in the Round of 12 this weekend, history points to Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson and being likely drivers to win the Hollywood Casino 400.

Truex is coming off a win at Kansas in the spring and, let’s face it, his No. 78 Toyota’s speed makes him a reasonable contender every race. Seven-time Cup Series champ Johnson is the all-time winningest driver at Kansas with three trips to Victory Lane since taking the checkered flag at this race in 2008.

These two drivers are solid bets for not only winning the Hollywood Casino 500 but also for surviving the next elimination and advancing to the Round of 8 in the playoffs. Truex leads the playoff standings while Johnson is eighth.

But as the championship contenders shrink from 12 to eight after Sunday’s race, there are four drivers who could quietly advance to the next round, thanks to their consistently playoff performances.

1. Ryan Blaney

Through the first five playoff races, Blaney has two top-10 finishes, and his 18th-place spot would have been higher Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, had he not wrecked with just 11 laps to go. Despite crashing, he reminded everyone of his talent and how fast his No. 21 Ford is by winning his first playoff stage win.

Outside of Sunday, he hasn’t led any playoff races. But he’s still seventh in the standings and nine points ahead of the cutoff. Going into the Hollywood Casino 400, he averages the best starting position among playoff drivers, according to NASCAR, which includes winning the pole at the May race. So he’s got a great shot at starting up front this time and earning at least another stage win – if not his first playoff win, which would lock him into the next round.

2. Kyle Larson

The No. 42 Chevrolet driver enters the Kansas race third in the playoff standings with a 29-point cushion above the cutoff line. But he hasn’t done anything particularly spectacular in the playoffs, including win. Unlike his four regular season victories – plus a handful of others – that “Holy cow! Look at him go!” moment has been absent through five playoff races. Yet, his seventh-place average finish in five playoff races has propelled him toward the top.

However, Kansas is not his best track. Larson has never won a race there, and he’s had just two single-digit finishes in seven Cup Series starts, including placing sixth in the spring race. But he’s an excellent racer who has consistently been a car to beat this season, along with Truex. So he might not get his first playoff win Sunday, but even just a decent performance could help him quietly sneak into the Round of 8.

3. Matt Kenseth

If the Round of 12 elimination was today, the No. 20 Toyota driver wouldn’t advance. Through five playoff races, he finished ninth, third, 11th twice and 14th most recently. Winless in 2017, he’s currently eight points behind the cutoff mark, although a good race (or obviously a win) could change all that.

Kenseth is one of three drivers with two wins at Kansas – behind Johnson’s all-time best of three – winning back-to-back races across the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Experience is clearly on his side with 23 starts and three top-10 finishes in his last five races there. If the nine drivers ahead of him in the playoff standings race better than him Sunday, his championship run will be over. But points have gotten him this far, so maybe they’ll carry him a little farther.

4. Denny Hamlin

The No. 11 Toyota driver is still searching for a lot: his first playoff victory, his first playoff stage win and his first unencumbered win since July. But he must be doing something right because he’s currently fifth in the playoff standings and 21 points above the cutoff.

Without a playoff win to lock him in the next round, there’s always a chance he could be bounced. But three of his five playoff races have resulted in top-6 finishes, and he has experience to fall back on with one win and five career top-10s at Kansas. Hamlin doesn’t need his first playoff win to advance. He just needs a strong finish Sunday and maybe a stage win or two to give him an added boost.

Here’s a look at the complete playoff standings going into the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

-nascar-chase-101517

NASCAR: Keselowski races way into 3rd round of NASCAR’s playoffs

This gallery contains 2 photos.

TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — To win the championship this year, Team Penske told Brad Keselowski he had to win at Talladega Superspeedway.

So he did.

Again.

Keselowski earned an automatic berth into the third round of the playoffs with a victory Sunday at Talladega, where he considered himself lucky to finish after a sloppy day for NASCAR.

“I survived,” Keselowski said. “I feel like only eight cars finished the race. It was one of those crazy days … a lot of attrition.”

There were just 14 cars running at the conclusion, and only four were playoff drivers. The race was red-flagged three times for nearly 35 minutes.

By avoiding the carnage, Keselowski won for the fifth time at Talladega and gave Ford a season sweep of the four restrictor-plate races.

Most important, though, is that he knows he’s still in the hunt for his second Cup title. The victory vaulted him from 10th to second in the playoff standings.

“You’d love to be able to pat yourself on the back and say it’s all skill, but there is some luck that’s involved in this,” Keselowski said. “When you come here, probably three out of every four races you’re going to get caught up in a wreck. But the races where you have the good fortune, where you don’t get caught up in a wreck or you don’t have something break or any of those things, you have to take those races, run up front and win them.

“That’s what we’ve been able to do.”

Talladega was the perfect place for Keselowski to take the stress off before next week’s elimination race at Kansas. Crew chief Paul Wolfe told Keselowski he was going to need to win Sunday because the Fords haven’t run as well as the other playoff contenders on intermediate tracks, so this was his shot.

Wolfe didn’t doubt the driver could deliver. When the elimination format was rolled out in 2014, Keselowski had to win Talladega to advance. The race this year was moved to the middle event of the second round, so eliminations weren’t at stake, but Keselowski needed a big day.

“As we tried to understand what we need to do in each round and look at our strengths and weaknesses … I looked at Talladega and this round as an opportunity,” Wolfe said. “This was going to be our path to make it to Homestead, and that was going to be winning Talladega.

“When he gets in these situations, you’re going to get the most out of him. You’ve got to have a little bit of help, lucky breaks, whatever you want to call them, along the way, but I knew if we had that, our cars have been fast enough, and he’s talented enough at these tracks that I knew we could get it done.”

Keselowski was the leader when the race resumed with three laps remaining, but was passed by Ryan Newman, who stayed out front until the final lap. Then Keselowski made his move around Newman on the high side of the track to take the lead, and a crossover move held off both Newman and Penske teammate Joey Logano.

Keselowski then collected the American flag for the victory lap on his 24th career Cup win, which came in his 300th start. His first career Cup win was at Talladega in 2009.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished seventh in his final race at Talladega, where he and his late father combined to win 16 Cup races. Alabama declared Sunday “Dale Earnhardt Jr. Day.”

“This has been a hell of a weekend for me, and I’m glad to be able to finish and finish well. That means a lot to me,” Earnhardt said. “I know a lot of folks came and traveled here to see us run, so I know they’re disappointed we didn’t win, but I’m glad they got to see us run the whole event, and hopefully they enjoyed it.”

Newman finished second in a Chevrolet and was followed by Trevor Bayne, Logano and Aric Almirola — all non-playoff drivers.

“Brad and I work really well together on these speedways,” Logano said. “I was able to push him up to the lead and I thought, ‘Alright, now I got you to the lead. It’s my turn to get up there and try to win this thing.’ Our never-quit-attitude got us a top-five out of a day that looked like we may not even finish. I’m proud of that.”

Denny Hamlin finished sixth, the best of the Toyota drivers. But the manufacturer’s playoff streak came to an end after Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch gave Toyota wins in the first four playoff races.

Of the top 10 finishers, only Keselowski and Hamlin were playoff drivers.

The rest of the 12-driver playoff field had a rough afternoon.

McMURRAY’s BAD DAY: Jamie McMurray’s championship chances took a huge hit when he misfired on his attempt to pit early in the race. He was too high on the track when he tried to dart low to make the entrance to pit road, and forcing the issue in traffic caused him to wreck.

He entered the day in the transfer position for the playoffs, but he finished 37th on Sunday and is now last in the 12-driver field.

“There’s nothing you can do about it. It’s part of Talladega,” he said. “We know you can come out of here with a lot of points and be a winner or you can be in the position we are right now. We’ll go to Kansas and do our best. I’m sure I won’t be the only playoff driver disappointed today.”

HE WAS RIGHT: All the accidents Sunday gave the playoff standings a different look. Truex still leads, but the bottom four drivers are Kyle Busch — who has been in back-to-back wrecks — Matt Kenseth, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and McMurray. On the cut line? Defending series champion Jimmie Johnson.

UP NEXT: The final race in the second round of NASCAR’s playoffs is next Sunday at Kansas Speedway. Four drivers will be cut from the playoff field.

-nascar-chase-101517

___

ALABAMA 500 RESULTS

Sunday from the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway (starting position in parentheses):

1. (6) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 188 laps, 0 rating, 59 points.

2. (27) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 188, 0, 35.

3. (10) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 188, 0, 36.

4. (3) Joey Logano, Ford, 188, 0, 42.

5. (26) Aric Almirola, Ford, 188, 0, 32.

6. (15) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 188, 0, 32.

7. (1) Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chevrolet, 188, 0, 30.

8. (11) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 188, 0, 30.

9. (39) Gray Gaulding, Toyota, 188, 0, 28.

10. (33) David Ragan, Ford, 188, 0, 27.

11. (25) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 188, 0, 26.

12. (20) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 188, 0, 25.

13. (12) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 188, 0, 24.

14. (19) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 187, 0, 23.

15. (14) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, accident, 184, 0, 22.

16. (2) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, accident, 182, 0, 28.

17. (28) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, accident, 182, 0, 20.

18. (9) Ryan Blaney, Ford, accident, 177, 0, 37.

19. (35) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, accident, 177, 0, 0.

20. (22) Kevin Harvick, Ford, accident, 176, 0, 20.

21. (13) Danica Patrick, Ford, accident, 175, 0, 16.

22. (24) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, accident, 172, 0, 15.

23. (21) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, accident, 171, 0, 14.

24. (8) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, garage, 171, 0, 23.

25. (4) Kurt Busch, Ford, accident, 171, 0, 21.

26. (5) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, accident, 171, 0, 18.

27. (16) Kyle Busch, Toyota, accident, 171, 0, 12.

28. (30) Landon Cassill, Ford, accident, 171, 0, 9.

29. (18) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, accident, 171, 0, 13.

30. (29) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, accident, 171, 0, 11.

31. (32) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, garage, 171, 0, 6.

32. (37) Joey Gase, Toyota, accident, 164, 0, 0.

33. (40) D.J. Kennington, Chevrolet, accident, 164, 0, 4.

34. (38) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, accident, 155, 0, 3.

35. (7) Clint Bowyer, Ford, accident, 155, 0, 15.

36. (23) Erik Jones, Toyota, accident, 26, 0, 1.

37. (17) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, accident, 25, 0, 1.

38. (34) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, accident, 25, 0, 1.

39. (36) Mark Thompson, Chevrolet, accident, 25, 0, 0.

40. (31) Justin Marks, Chevrolet, accident, 16, 0, 0.

———

Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 131.661 mph.

Time of Race: 3 hours, 47 minutes, 52 seconds.

Margin of Victory: 0.210 seconds.

Caution Flags: 11 for 47 laps.

Lead Changes: 30 among 16 drivers.

Lap Leaders: D.Earnhardt 0; J.Logano 1-13; D.Earnhardt 14-20; C.Elliott 21-25; M.Kenseth 26-29; A.Allmendinger 30; J.Logano 31-54; B.Keselowski 55-57; K.Kahne 58-61; M.Kenseth 62-63; D.Hamlin 64-66; M.Kenseth 67; K.Kahne 68; B.Gaughan 69-70; M.DiBenedetto 71-82; R.Stenhouse 83-88; Ku.Busch 89-91; R.Blaney 92-111; R.Newman 112; B.Gaughan 113-116; D.Hamlin 117; R.Blaney 118-124; C.Elliott 125-144; Ky.Busch 145-148; J.Logano 149-170; D.Suarez 171-176; C.Elliott 177; D.Suarez 178-182; B.Keselowski 183-185; R.Newman 186-187; B.Keselowski 188

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): J.Logano, 3 times for 56 laps; R.Blaney, 2 times for 25 laps; C.Elliott, 3 times for 23 laps; M.DiBenedetto, 1 time for 11 laps; D.Suarez, 2 times for 9 laps; D.Earnhardt, 2 times for 6 laps; R.Stenhouse, 1 time for 5 laps; M.Kenseth, 3 times for 4 laps; B.Keselowski, 3 times for 4 laps; B.Gaughan, 2 times for 4 laps; K.Kahne, 2 times for 3 laps; Ky.Busch, 1 time for 3 laps; D.Hamlin, 2 times for 2 laps; Ku.Busch, 1 time for 2 laps; R.Newman, 2 times for 1 lap; A.Allmendinger, 1 time for 0 laps.

Wins: M.Truex, 6; Ky.Busch, 4; K.Larson, 4; J.Johnson, 3; B.Keselowski, 3; D.Hamlin, 2; R.Stenhouse, 2; R.Blaney, 1; Ku.Busch, 1; A.Dillon, 1; K.Harvick, 1; K.Kahne, 1; J.Logano, 1; R.Newman, 1.

Top 16 in Points: 1. M.Truex, 3120; 2. B.Keselowski, 3101; 3. K.Larson, 3096; 4. K.Harvick, 3089; 5. D.Hamlin, 3088; 6. C.Elliott, 3087; 7. R.Blaney, 3076; 8. J.Johnson, 3074; 9. Ky.Busch, 3067; 10. M.Kenseth, 3066; 11. R.Stenhouse, 3052; 12. J.McMurray, 3045; 13. K.Kahne, 2104; 14. R.Newman, 2103; 15. A.Dillon, 2099; 16. Ku.Busch, 2089.

NASCAR: Dale Earnhardt Jr. takes pole for final Talladega Cup race

TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won the pole for his final scheduled Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Earnhardt is retiring from full-time competition at the end of the season, and the Alabama crowd has always embraced NASCAR’s most popular driver. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey has declared race day “Dale Earnhardt Jr. Day” across the state.

The field will be led to green by Donnie Allison, a two-time Talladega winner and original member of the Alabama Gang, while driving the late Dale Earnhardt’s No. 2 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Talladega officials presented Earnhardt Jr. with the car , which his father raced during his 1979 rookie season, as well as some races during his 1980 championship season, as a retirement gift.

Now, with the pole — the first of his career at Talladega — it has turned into quite the special weekend for Earnhardt.

“This place has meant a lot to me,” he said. “It’s awesome to hear those fans happy for us and hopefully we’re going to give them a lot more to cheer about before this weekend is over.”

Could he add a seventh victory?

“Certainly,” he grinned. “You think about that every time you suit up and get in the car, you imagine if that’s going to be the day you get a win. But, this would be a real important one if we could win for all the fans, all year long, we certainly owe them a win.”

Earnhardt is winless this season and didn’t make the playoffs. He’s got just six races left before he turns over his No. 88 Chevrolet to Hendrick Motorsports and replacement driver Alex Bowman.

On Saturday, Earnhardt turned a lap at 190.544 mph to knock teammate Chase Elliott from the top starting spot. Elliott wound up second with a lap at 190.412 mph in a Hendrick Motorsports sweep of the front row.

“We’ve been fighting our teammate Chase and his group for poles at these tracks for a long time and it’s been a lot of fun to be honest with you, how these two teams have pushed and elevated each other,” Earnhardt said. “Really, all the credit for getting a pole at a place like this goes to the team. … I just hold the wheel straight and try not to bounce into the apron. There ain’t much to it as a driver.”

Joey Logano was third in a Team Penske Ford, followed by Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brad Keselowski and Clint Bowyer. Ford drivers took positions third through seventh.

Stenhouse knocked Earnhardt from the pole in May , and then went on to win his first career Cup race at Talladega. Stenhouse added a victory at Daytona in July, making him the winner of the last two restrictor-plate races. Busch’s victory in the Daytona 500 has made the Ford engines built by Doug Yates 3 for 3 so far this year in plate races.

So Stenhouse wasn’t thrilled to qualify fifth.

“That was a bummer,” he said. “I was hoping we’d get another pole and I think it would have been cool to knock (Earnhardt) off the pole again. But obviously this shows our Ford is still fast. We’ve got speed.”

It was a rough qualifying effort for Toyota, with none of its playoff contenders advancing to the final 12. That’s an odd development considering Toyota drivers have won the first four playoff races.

Eliminated in the first round were Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth, as well as points leader Martin Truex Jr. Starting position doesn’t mean much at Talladega, and Truex won at Charlotte last weekend so he’s already in the third round of the playoffs.

“You know it is superspeedway qualifying — just been a little bit off on superspeedway qualifying,” Hamlin said. “We obviously race pretty decent. It looks like the Fords are pretty strong, so we’ll have to race those guys tomorrow and we’ll just kind of see how we all stack up.”

___

It’s NASCAR race day at Talladega Superspeedway, and we’ve got some essential information you need to get ready for Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Alabama 500:

START TIME: Kay Ivery, the 54th Governor of Alabama, will instruct drivers to start their engines at 2:07 p.m. ET. (1:07 local), followed by the green flag at 2:19 p.m. (1:19 p.m. Central Daylight Time).

RACE DISTANCE: The Alabama 500 is 188 laps around the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway. That’s 500.08 miles.

SEGMENTS: Beginning this season, NASCAR is dividing every race into segments and awarding one bonus point to the winner of each stage. Segment lengths will be different for every race. Also, the top 10 finishers of segments 1 and 2 will be awarded regular-season points in descending order from 10 to 1. Here are the segments for the Apache Warrior 400: Stage 1: 55 laps; Stage 2: 55 laps; Stage 3: 78 laps.

NATIONAL ANTHEM/FLYOVER: The 313th United States Army Band out of Birmingham, Ala., will perform the national anthem at 2:01 p.m. ET, followed by a USAF Heritage Flyover, featuring an F-16 Fighting Falcon and a P-51 Mustang.

TV/RADIO SCHEDULE: NBC will broadcast the race on TV and has a pre-race show beginning at 1:30 p.m. ET. Motor Racing Network and Sirius/XM NASCAR Radio will call the race on the radio.

LIVE STREAMING: NBCSports.com will live-stream the race for those who sign in with their cable/satellite provider’s credentials.

WEATHER: The National Weather Service is calling for partly sunny skies and a high near 83 degrees. There is a chance of showers in the morning, then a slight chance of showers and thunderstorms after the green flag.

JUNIOR WATCH: Dale Earnhardt Jr. returns for his final race at his most successful track before retiring from Cup racing at the end of the season. Earnhardt has won six times (most recently in 2015) in 34 races at Talladega, with 12 top-five and 16-top 10 finishes. Talladega is clearly Earnhardt territory as it is also the track where Dale Earnhardt Sr. earned the most wins of his career (10).

LAST TIME: Rick Stenhouse Jr. started on the pole in the spring race then earned his first career Cup Series win after taking the lead on an overtime restart to book a spot in the playoffs. And one year ago, Joey Logano led the final 45 laps in last year’s second-round elimination race to advance in the playoffs.

STARTING LINEUP: Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his first career pole at Talladega, his second of the season and the 15th of his career. He will start alongside Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott, who qualified second.

-nascar-chase-100817

ALABAMA 500 LINEUP

Saturday’s qualifying results from the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway (car number in parentheses):

1. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 190.544 mph.

2. (24) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 190.412.

3. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 190.374.

4. (41) Kurt Busch, Ford, 190.268.

5. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 190.170.

6. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 190.151.

7. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 189.778.

8. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 189.774.

9. (21) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 189.669.

10. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 189.658.

11. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 189.620.

12. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 189.242.

13. (10) Danica Patrick, Ford, 189.100.

14. (19) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 188.958.

15. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 188.820.

16. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 188.783.

17. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 188.783.

18. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 188.705.

19. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 188.664.

20. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 188.626.

21. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 188.548.

22. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 188.400.

23. (77) Erik Jones, Toyota, 188.270.

24. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 188.226.

25. (13) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 188.219.

26. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 188.015.

27. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 187.923.

28. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 187.890.

29. (95) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 187.618.

30. (34) Landon Cassill, Ford, 187.405.

31. (7) Justin Marks, Chevrolet, 187.394.

32. (32) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 187.148.

33. (38) David Ragan, Ford, 186.590.

34. (33) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 186.180.

35. (75) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 185.395.

36. (15) Mark Thompson, Chevrolet, 184.911.

37. (23) Joey Gase, Toyota, 184.409.

38. (72) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 184.384.

39. (83) Gray Gaulding, Toyota, 182.821.

40. (55) DJ Kennington, Toyota, 182.456.

Possible 5 NASCAR drivers to win at Talladega

(PhatzRadio Sports / FTW)    —-   As the pool of NASCAR drivers in the Cup Series playoffs continues to shrink, betting fans and fantasy NASCAR players will need to look beyond the championship contenders for potential picks.

Even though the 12 drivers still in the playoffs are among the best, it’s realistic to imagine one of the other 28 cars on the track winning at some point. That’s especially true this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, where literally anything could happen – including, hypothetically, “the big one” knocking all 12 playoff drivers out of the race.

So who are the safe drivers to bet on or pick for fantasy NASCAR in the Alabama 500? According to VegasInsider.com, of the five drivers with the best odds of winning this weekend, three of them are in the playoffs, and none of them are named Martin Truex Jr.

Let’s break it down.

5. Denny Hamlin, 11-to-1 odds

As the No. 11 Toyota driver explained to FTW this week, the best way to succeed at this crazy race track is to stay near the front and hope for the best. He’s one of six drivers with one win at Talladega – which came back in 2014 – and he needs a third victory this season to lock himself into the Round of 8 in the playoffs.

Through 23 starts at the 2.66-mile track, he’s had plenty of ups and downs, but earlier this season, he qualified and finished 11th in the GEICO 500. If he can stay out of trouble, there’s a great chance he’ll be fighting for the stage wins as well as the checkered flag.

4. Joey Logano, 10-to-1 odds

If there is any driver out there who is long overdue for a win – a real win – it’s Logano. Disappointment is all over the No. 22 Ford driver’s face nowadays after missing the playoffs with his lone race win being encumbered.

But he’s ultra-competitive and enters the weekend with a Talladega streak he’d like to extend, winning this race in both 2015 and 2016. He also crashed and didn’t finish in the spring race, so he’ll likely be aggressive to make up for that.

3. Dale Earnhardt Jr., 10-to-1 odds

You can’t ever discount Dale Jr. at Talladega – a track nicknamed Earnhardt Country. He followed in his father’s footsteps winning at the track, and his six victories are the most among active drivers and second to his dad’s 10 on the all-time list. He knows how to win at this track – he once took four consecutive checkered flags – and, as NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip told FTW, Junior has “a real knack for figuring out what to do and when to do it.”

Unfortunately, the No. 88 Chevrolet driver’s most recent win at the track was in 2015, and he came in 22nd in the GEICO 500 earlier this year. He’s also not in the playoffs. But Earnhardt is hungry and doesn’t want to retire at the end of the year without one last trip to Victory Lane. Of the six race tracks left on the schedule, Junior will never have better odds to win than this weekend.

2. Kyle Busch, 9-to-1 odds

This guy is having a stellar second half to his season and an impressive yet not unexpected playoff run. He already won two playoff races in the Round of 16, and his No. 18 Toyota – along with Truex’s No. 78 Toyota – is always among the cars to beat.

Although Busch finished third in the GEICO 500 earlier this season, he only has one win at Talladega on his resume, and that was back in 2008. But his car this season is exceptionally fast, and if he can stay away from chaos and wrecks, he’ll easily be able to maintain his speed through the stages and as those 188 laps wind down.

1. Brad Keselowski, 7-to-1 odds

This makes perfect sense. Among active drivers, Keselowski has the second-most wins at the 2.66-mile track with four – most recently in 2016 – along with 10 career top-10 finishes.

Also, even though Keselowski’s two 2017 wins seem wildly overshadowed by Truex’s six or Busch’s four, his No. 2 Ford has been consistently fast this year. He’s earned 12 top-5 finishes this season, and nearly 60 percent of the time, he’s been in the top-10 – including this year’s spring race where he came in seventh. Get in a strong qualifying round, and there’s a great chance Keselowski is looking at his seventh Talladega win and a guaranteed spot in the playoffs’ Round of 8.

-nascar-chase-100817

Talladega: NASCAR playoff drivers prepare for white-knuckle ride

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports)    —    The return to a track drivers fear and fans love is here. That’s right, Talladega Superspeedway is the site of this Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff race.

In a twist this year, the sanctioning body moved the track’s date up a week, taking it out of the second-round elimination slot. While all 12 drivers will have a chance to advance to the third round at Kansas Speedway on Oct. 22, many of their hopes may get dashed this weekend.

NASCAR’s largest circuit, at 2.66 miles, offers high-speed, breathtaking racing that sees the cars draft in clumps thanks to restrictor plates. When physics comes into play, the result can be white-knuckle wrecks and airborne cars.

How the playoff drivers have fared at Talladega, and what to watch for Sunday (Alabama 500, 2 p.m. ET, NBC):

PHOTOS: 2017 NASCAR PLAYOFF DRIVERS

1. Martin Truex Jr. (3,106 points)

Car: No. 78 Toyota

Team: Furniture Row Racing

Best Talladega finish: Fifth (fall 2006, spring 2015)

Notable: The points leader and title favorite is a definitive 0-for-25 at Talladega and 0-for-50 at restrictor-plate tracks. Fortunately for him, that doesn’t matter, because Truex can enjoy a Sunday drive after his win last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway secured his spot in the next round.

2. Kyle Larson (3,072)

Car: No. 42 Chevrolet

Team: Chip Ganassi Racing

Best Talladega finish: Sixth (fall 2016)

Notable: Look for Larson to be in the lead pack in the closing laps and pushing for a win. He has a penchant for putting the squeeze on in plate racing, which can be good and bad.

3. Kevin Harvick (3,069)

Car: No. 4 Ford

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

Best Talladega finish: First (spring 2010)

Notable: Two years ago, Harvick was at the center of controversy after his wreck on a green-white-checkered finish with his motor expiring froze the field and preserved his spot in the next round. After finishes of of 36th and 17th to wrap the first round this season, he got back on track last week with a third-place result. Look for him to be in the mix Sunday.

4. Chase Elliott (3,059)

Car: No. 24 Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

Best Talladega finish: Fifth (spring 2015)

Notable: His Hall of Fame father Bill scored two wins and 22 top-10s here. Chase is just 21, but already has shown a penchant for plate racing. In just three Cup races at Talladega, he has started first, fourth and eighth. If he can avoid trouble, he’ll score a top-10 finish. He’s been on the brink of his first career Cup win several times this season, and if he scores it here, he’ll bring the house down.

5. Denny Hamlin (3,056)

Car: No. 11 Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

Best Talladega finish: First (spring 2014)

Notable: Look for Hamlin and teammates Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth to work some draft magic behind that Toyota power.

6. Kyle Busch (3,055)

Car: No. 18 Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

Best Talladega finish: First (spring 2008)

Notable: While Busch dropped in the standings after his disastrous day at Charlotte, which ended with him needing medical attention for heat exhaustion after the race, he remains a strong contender for the crown with two wins in the first four playoff races. But Talladega has doomed his playoff hopes more often then he’d care to talk about.

7. Jimmie Johnson (3,051)

Car: No. 48 Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

Best Talladega finish: First (spring 2009, 2011)

Notable: He and crew chief Chad Knaus have proven they can work through almost any situation and score a great finish. Johnson, the reigning champion who is seeking a record eighth title, will take care of his equipment and drive a smart race. But what about those around him?

8. Jamie McMurray (3,044)

Car: No. 1 Chevrolet

Team: Chip Ganassi Racing

Best Talladega finish: First (fall 2009, 2013)

Notable: McMurray has an average start of 9.5 and average finish of 13.0 this season. He’d probably be pretty happy with that Sunday.

9. Matt Kenseth (3,043)

Car: No. 20 Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

Best Talladega finish: First (fall 2012)

Notable: Kenseth hasn’t finished better than 23rd in his past five starts here. That’s no bueno. While the veteran watches his final season at JGR – and perhaps in the series – come to a close, it doesn’t seem as if he has the momentum to reach the next round.

10. Brad Keselowski (3,042)

Car: No. 2 Ford

Team: Team Penske

Best Talladega finish: First (spring 2009, 2012, 2016; fall 2014)

Notable: He has more wins than any other playoff driver here. So, his confidence is high and that should carry some weight Sunday. But his title hopes ended here last year when his engine expired, sending him to a 38th-place finish.

11. Ryan Blaney (3,039)

Car: No. 21 Ford

Team: Wood Brothers Racing

Best Talladega finish: Fourth (spring 2015)

Notable: He has two top-10s in six starts at Talladega and has shown acumen early in his career at restrictor-plate racing. While Fords haven’t shown they have the power to match the Toyotas of Truex and the Gibbs drivers, plate racing could change the game. If Blaney can work with fellow Ford drivers, look for him to get a strong finish.

12. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (3,034)

Car: No. 17 Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

Best Talladega finish: First (spring 2017)

Notable: With two wins in three restrictor-plate races this year, Stenhouse finally has broken through and become a contender in his fifth full-time year. Expect another stellar performance from him to help propel him into the third round.

***

Follow Tucker on Twitter @HeatherR_Tucker

Denny Hamlin tries to explain Martin Truex Jr.’s 2017 dominance: ‘They have no weaknesses’

(PhatzRadio Sports / FTW)    —-    Since the beginning of the NASCAR Cup Series season, everyone has been trying to figure out how to chase down Martin Truex Jr. – or at least keep him from winning all seven of the playoff points up for grabs each race.

The No. 78 Toyota driver has been dominant all season, winning four regular-season races and enough stages to give himself a 20-point lead going into the playoffs. To compare, the difference between second and third place was four points.

Four races into the playoffs, Truex claimed two checkered flags – most recently in Sunday’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway – while Kyle Busch earned the other two in his No. 18 Toyota. Through 30 of the 36 total races this season, teams still haven’t figured out how to catch the 78 team.

“They’ve just got things clicking on all types of race tracks,” Hamlin told For The Win while promoting the No. 11 FedEx at Walgreens Toyota he’ll drive at Martinsville Speedway later this month.

Hamlin literally chasing Truex during the ISM Connect 300 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. (Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)

“They’re running well, they have no weaknesses, so it’s tough for me to say what exactly it is. They’re winning on all kinds of tracks from superspeedways to road courses. So it’s not one thing in particular. It’s just they’ve got it all clicking, and everyone else is chasing them.”

But Truex and Busch – along with Joe Gibbs Racing’s other drivers drivers, Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Daniel Suárez – are almost teammates because JGR has a technical partnership with Truex’s Colorado-based Furniture Row Racing team. That means JGR supplies FRR with its cars.

So equipment wise, JGR and FRR teams – including rookie Erik Jones’ No. 77 Toyota – should theoretically be equally competitive. Yet Truex by himself has the same number of wins as all four JGR drivers combined. Even for Busch, who has four wins, and Hamlin, who has the other two, the No. 78 Toyota is the car to beat every single weekend.

The next Cup Series playoff race is Sunday’s Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. Truex’s win at Charlotte was in the first of three races in the Round of 12, and he’s now automatically qualified for the Round of 8.

Hamlin explained that while he’s not surprised Truex has racked up so many race wins, he was a little caught off guard by all of Truex’s stage wins throughout the season, which further demonstrate his consistency and dominance over the field. Truex has won 19 stages so far, while Busch is second with 13.

So what’s the difference between Truex’s Toyota and JGR’s Toyotas if they use the same equipment? Hamlin suggested it might be as simple as a fresh pair of eyes.

“They take the best of the best equipment we have, and they make it better, somehow, some way,” Hamlin said. “They do things out in Denver, and they are a very tight-knit group that works hard on their equipment and works hard on their cars.

“And sometimes when you take off the shelf the best of what Joe Gibbs Racing has, you can make it better if you just have a different set of eyes on it. So they perform extremely well, and we look at them every single week as the standard for performance, and we try to learn from them and make ourselves better.”

 -nascar-chase-100817

NASCAR: Truex appreciates every aspect of his time on top

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — As Martin Truex Jr. leads lap after lap, week after week, in this season of rare dominance, it is easy to forget that he was once a journeyman driver in fear of losing his job in NASCAR.

That was just four years ago.

Truex was an unwitting participant in one of the biggest cheating scandals in NASCAR history. His Michael Waltrip Racing team deliberately caused a caution that set in motion Truex winning a race that would have put him in the playoffs. As the deception unraveled, Truex was kicked out of the playoffs and MWR received crippling sanctions. Truex’s team was shut down by the end of the year, one-third of the MWR organization was laid off and the team was out of business two years later.

“When all that first happened, I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to race in the series again competitively,” Truex said. “I didn’t know if I’d ever have a chance at winning again.”

Look at him now, fresh off a series-best sixth win of the season and the unquestioned favorite to win the Cup title next month. His victory Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway was the second out of four playoff races, and it automatically earned him a slot in the next round.

Truex leads the series in victories, top-five finishes, top-10s, laps led, stages won and playoff points. Not a race goes by in which Truex can’t figure out a way to get his No. 78 Toyota to the front of the field.

By his estimation, had cautions not fallen the way they did or had luck been on his side, Truex believes he should have at least 10 victories this season.

That’s hardly what anyone envisioned for him as MWR fell apart and Truex, who had nothing to do with the scandal, found himself out of a job.

He was lucky that Furniture Row Racing had an opening. The one-car team based in Denver had made significant progress with driver Kurt Busch, and team owner Barney Visser wanted to continue that upward trajectory after Busch moved on.

Truex, a two-time Xfinity Series champion who had never found the same success at the Cup level, was the best of the available drivers. Furniture Row, what little anyone knew about the organization, was the best of the open seats.

“I felt like it was a good opportunity at the time,” Truex said. “It was not a consistent winner at the time, but it was a good opportunity and I didn’t feel like I was taking a step backwards, so that was good. That felt OK to me.”

It was not easy at first.

He led just one lap all of 2014, he had just one top-five finish and was 24th in the points. At the end of the year, crew chief Todd Berrier said he wanted to go back home to North Carolina, where nearly every other top NASCAR team is based.

Visser remained committed, though, backing the car out of his own pocket and rubber stamping anything that could help his team grow.

“It was a struggle for a while, for sure, but I think the commitment from Barney and the family feel and the drive to want to be better and be a player in this sport is really what caught my attention in 2014 when we were struggling,” Truex said. “It would have been easy for him to give up on me and give up on all the guys. Essentially, we changed a crew chief because Berrier wanted to move back to North Carolina, and that’s all we changed. We went from a team that could barely run 15th to 20th.”

Moving Cole Pearn to crew chief and switching to Toyota in an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing has made all the difference. Truex made the championship race the next year and was a favorite for the title last year but was eliminated from the playoffs in the second round. Now, it would be an upset if Truex isn’t in the final four drivers in the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

He choked back tears in victory lane at Charlotte. He knows how fleeting success can be, and how hard it is to get to the top. Truex understands exactly how fortunate he is right now.

“We’re in a really great position right now, and a lot of that’s because of Barney, his vision of the team and just his determination to want to be one of the top guys,” Truex said. “It’s amazing to be a part of it. I’m thankful for it every single day. But I damn sure didn’t see it coming the way it is right now.”

___

— Does experience or youth matter more in NASCAR’s current playoff format?

The age range of the drivers competing for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship is large.

Chase Elliott, the youngest, is 21. Matt Kenseth, the graybeard of the group, is 45.

Four of the 12 remaining playoff drivers are in their 40s; three are younger than 30.

It’s worth noting that experience often trumps youth in the race for NASCAR’s top prize. Since the championship format underwent drastic changes in 2004, only two drivers in their 20s (Kurt Busch, 26, in 2004 and Brad Keselowski, 28, in 2012) have won the crown.

Since the elimination piece was added to the playoffs in 2014, there have been two very experienced champions in Kevin Harvick (38) and Jimmie Johnson (41) and a 30-year-old in Kyle Busch with more laps on his resume than most drivers with more years in the sport.

With Race Two of the playoffs’ second round scheduled Sunday at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, the three drivers in their 20s are scattered across the standings – Kyle Larson second, Chase Elliott fourth and Ryan Blaney 11th.

“If you’re racing in the Cup Series, I think you’ve been racing long enough where you either know how to get things done, you know how to do things the right way or you don’t,” said Elliott, a second-generation driver in his second playoff.

“I’m a pretty big believer in that regardless of your age. I’m not saying that because I’m early on at it. I feel that way about other sports. College football, NFL. If a guy comes in, knows how to do his job, I think he can play for whoever and do a good job at it.”

-nascar-chase-100817

Blaney, who put the Wood Brothers team in the playoffs for the first time, said youth can be a positive despite the general consensus that older drivers have an advantage.

“I think having youth on your side, you’re always just kind of on ‘kill’ all the time, and I think that’s what these playoffs are about,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a bad thing to be. … They do have experience on their side, and that might benefit them, for sure, but I think expectation is just really not there for us.

“We just have curiosity and excitement to be here, and I think that’s a really big asset, too.”

Blaney also said the presence in the playoffs of drivers such as seven-time champion Johnson and other seasoned veterans who know the playoff ropes isn’t intimidating.

“These drivers are people just like us,” he said. “I’ve watched them when I was younger. I’ve been big fans of a lot of them when I was younger growing up in this sport, and I just think it’s really neat. I don’t really feel any pressure or (that) I’m intimidated by anybody.”

Playoff wins to date have been scored by veterans – Truex (37) and Kyle Busch (32) have two each.

Austin Dillon, 27, was eliminated in the playoffs’ first round. He said the age gap isn’t necessarily important because “there are young guys that drive like older guys. Then there are older guys that drive like younger guys.

“It’s hard for me to say if the experience of the older guys plays to their advantage. I think it’s who is the smartest, and then there are guys that drive a little more aggressively that put themselves in good position.”

***

Follow Hembree on Twitter @mikehembree

NASCAR: Martin Truex Jr. wins yet another playoff race for Toyota

This gallery contains 1 photo.

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Standing next to his car in victory lane, in this season he never thought possible, Martin Truex Jr. struggled with his emotions.

He raced to his career-best sixth victory Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and this win is worth an automatic slot in the next round of NASCAR’s playoffs. He’s clearly the driver to beat in this championship race, and the reality of how close it really is seemed somewhat surreal.

Then he thought about his partner, Sherry Pollex, who has ovarian cancer and chemotherapy scheduled for Monday. She couldn’t come to the race, partly because her weakened immune system makes crowds too risky for her.

He choked on his words, his voice heavy as he tried not to cry.

“I couldn’t hold it in anymore,” he said. “Sherry, I was thinking about her because she’s not here, and I know she really wanted to be. I thought about winning this first race of the round, the pressure coming off. Just a lot of things, I guess. I was wore out. I just lost it for a minute.

“There’s a lot going on. It just shows how much this stuff means to us. We put everything into this, everything we have.”

Truex gave Toyota yet another victory in NASCAR’s playoffs — the manufacturer is 4 for 4 so far — on a humid day at Charlotte. Truex has two wins in the playoffs and this one was the first time in this format that Toyota has won a race in this round of postseason.

“Just a total team effort,” Truex said. “Every single guy, every guy on this team just did a perfect job today and I can’t be more proud of them and at this time of the year is just when you want it to happen. You dream about days like today. I don’t know if we had the best car, but we damn sure got it in victory lane.”

Kyle Busch, winner of the last two playoff races, wrecked early in the race yet completed it in a damaged race car. Complaining most of the 500 miles of being overheated, he needed immediate medical attention when he climbed from his car.

Busch laid in the grass, packs of ice were placed on his chest, and a stretcher was brought to him. Once he felt strong enough, he stood and walked to an ambulance. He received oxygen to treat a high carbon monoxide level.

“I felt like I was having a heat stroke,” Busch said.

The humidity drained several drivers, including Truex, who had to catch his breath after taking the checkered flag.

“Seeing him after the race, how whipped he was, was kind of a shock,” crew chief Cole Pearn said.

Truex won in overtime after two late cautions created extra laps and forced Truex to hold off fellow Toyota driver Denny Hamlin on a pair of restarts.

Chase Elliott finished second for the second consecutive week and sixth time in his career. He nearly won for the first time in the Cup series a week ago, but Busch ran him down and passed him for the win with one lap to go.

Harvick was third and Hamlin finished fourth. Like his teammate Busch, Hamlin was drained after the race. His firesuit was soaked with sweat stains and he needed to eat a banana to recover.

“You usually can tell hydration level from my suit,” Hamlin said. “Any time it has white streaks all over it, I’m spent pretty good. I feel pretty bad, no doubt about it.”

Jamie McMurray was fifth, Jimmie Johnson seventh and Ryan Blaney eighth.

Kyle Larson was 10th, Matt Kenseth 11th, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 13th, Brad Keselowski 15th and Busch 29th.

PLAYOFF STANDINGS: The bottom four in the standings headed into Talladega are Kenseth, Keselowski, Blaney and Stenhouse. But, it could have been much worse for Stenhouse, who was all over the board Sunday until he solidly cracked the top-15 late in the race.

But, Stenhouse was busted for speeding on a late pit stop and had to restart 20th. He had to scramble in the closing laps to finish 13th.

“We thought if we could be 15th to 10th it would be a good day for us,” he said. “It would be nice to run top-10 all race here, but we struggled up and down.”

LUG NUT CONTROVERSY: Johnson was fourth when he headed to pit road under a Lap 280 caution. When crew chief Chad Knaus noticed a missing lug nut, Johnson slowed his exit from the pit box.

That technically counts as servicing the car outside the pit box, which warrants a one-lap penalty. But NASCAR did not punish the champion.

NASCAR spokesman Kurt Culbert said Johnson’s stop was completed, and teams could work outside the stall if an unsecure lug nut was discovered after the stop. By stopping and backing up, NASCAR felt Johnson’s team essentially had served its own penalty.

LARSON’S LONG DAY: His 10th-place finish gave no indication of how good Larson was at Charlotte. He seemed to be as good as Truex late in the race, but an awful pit stop — his tire carrier tripped and fell — dropped him to 12th. Larson still worked his way into the top-four, but he was hit by Kurt Busch late in the race and the damage took him out of contention for racing for the victory.

Earlier in the race, Larson missed his pit box and the gaffe knocked him to 31st in the field. But he clawed his way through traffic and had worked his way into the top five by the end of the first stage.

“I felt like we’ve been better than (Truex) the past two weeks,” Larson said. “Last week was probably the first time in a long time he hasn’t been the most dominant. And then, he definitely wasn’t dominant today. I felt like I had a car to win. I made a mistake on pit road early. We rebounded from that. And then we had a costly mistake late and somewhat rebounded, but then those last two restarts didn’t go my way.”

UP NEXT: Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway, where Stenhouse won in the spring. Stenhouse has won the last two restrictor-plate races this season.

___

SUNDAY’S RESULTS

Lap length: 1.50 miles

(Start position in parentheses)

1. (17) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 337 laps, 47 points.

2. (7) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 337, 53.

3. (3) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 337, 54.

4. (1) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 337, 43.

5. (18) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 337, 41.

6. (14) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 337, 33.

7. (25) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 337, 34.

8. (15) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 337, 31.

9. (9) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 337, 28.

10. (10) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 337, 38.

11. (2) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 337, 38.

12. (23) Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chevrolet, 337, 25.

13. (22) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 337, 24.

14. (26) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 337, 23.

15. (6) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 337, 22.

16. (13) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 337, 21.

17. (38) Erik Jones, Toyota, 337, 20.

18. (21) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 337, 19.

19. (20) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 337, 18.

20. (19) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 337, 17.

21. (27) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 337, 16.

22. (8) Kurt Busch, Ford, 337, 24.

23. (29) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 337, 14.

24. (24) Aric Almirola, Ford, 337, 13.

25. (30) Landon Cassill, Ford, 336, 12.

26. (28) Joey Logano, Ford, 335, 11.

27. (5) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 335, 10.

28. (39) Corey Lajoie, Toyota, 333, 9.

29. (4) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 331, 14.

30. (37) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 330, 7.

31. (34) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 330, 6.

32. (33) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, 326, 0.

33. (36) Timmy Hill, Chevrolet, 326, 0.

34. (32) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 295, 3.

35. (16) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 293, 2.

36. (35) Gray Gaulding, Chevrolet, 267, 1.

37. (31) David Ragan, Ford, accident, 263, 1.

38. (12) Danica Patrick, Ford, accident, 263, 1.

39. (40) Brett Moffitt, Toyota, accident, 89, 0.

40. (11) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, accident, 43, 1.

———

Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 139.119 mph.

Time of Race: 3 hours, 38 minutes, 0 seconds.

Margin of Victory: 0.911 seconds.

Caution Flags: 10 for 44 laps.

Lead Changes: 14 among 8 drivers.

Lap Leaders: D.Hamlin 1-40; C.Elliott 41-51; K.Harvick 52-93; J.McMurray 94-97; Ky.Busch 98-116; K.Harvick 117; Ky.Busch 118-120; K.Harvick 121-225; C.Elliott 226; D.Hamlin 227-231; K.Kahne 232-233; M.Truex 234-267; K.Larson 268-279; K.Harvick 280; M.Truex 281-337

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): K.Harvick, 4 times for 145 laps; M.Truex, 2 times for 89 laps; D.Hamlin, 2 times for 43 laps; Ky.Busch, 2 times for 20 laps; K.Larson, 1 time for 11 laps; C.Elliott, 2 times for 10 laps; J.McMurray, 1 time for 3 laps; K.Kahne, 1 time for 1 lap.

Wins: M.Truex, 6; Ky.Busch, 4; K.Larson, 4; J.Johnson, 3; D.Hamlin, 2; B.Keselowski, 2; R.Stenhouse, 2; R.Blaney, 1; Ku.Busch, 1; A.Dillon, 1; K.Harvick, 1; K.Kahne, 1; J.Logano, 1; R.Newman, 1.

Top 16 in Points: 1. M.Truex, 3106; 2. K.Larson, 3072; 3. K.Harvick, 3069; 4. C.Elliott, 3059; 5. D.Hamlin, 3056; 6. Ky.Busch, 3055; 7. J.Johnson, 3051; 8. J.McMurray, 3044; 9. M.Kenseth, 3043; 10. B.Keselowski, 3042; 11. R.Blaney, 3039; 12. R.Stenhouse, 3034; 13. A.Dillon, 2086; 14. K.Kahne, 2074; 15. Ku.Busch, 2068; 16. R.Newman, 2068.

Denny Hamlin takes pole for NASCAR Cup race at Charlotte

This gallery contains 1 photo.

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Denny Hamlin’s streak is alive.

Hamlin topped qualifying Friday night for the NASCAR Cup playoff race Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, marking the 13th straight year he has captured a pole on the top circuit.

“I knew the time was running out to get a pole because I hadn’t won one this year,” said Hamlin about his 25th career pole. “I wanted to keep the streak of winning one every year alive.”

Hamlin turned a lap at 191.598 mph in the No. 11 Toyota on the 1 1/2-mile oval for his first pole of the season. He’ll share the front row with Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth.

Hamlin has wins at New Hampshire and Darlington this year, but has never won at Charlotte. However, he has always run well here with 15 top 10s and seven top 5s at CMS. He attributes that success to things he’s learned from teammates Kenseth and Kyle Busch.

“I love coming to this track because we do run really, really well here, so I’m glad to see it’s in the sweet spot of the playoffs where we can really make some hay,” Hamlin said.

Kevin Harvick was third, followed by Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is racing for the final time at Charlotte, qualified 23rd in a backup car after he crashed just moments into practice .

Kurt Busch will start eighth.

Busch wore a “VegasStrong” t-shirt under his fire suit to honor the victims of the mass shooting earlier this week in the racing brothers’ hometown.

Jimmie Johnson, a seven-time NASCAR champion with eight victories at Charlotte, did not advance out of the first round and will start 25th. Johnson was considered a strong contender to win this race given his given his history, but the poor qualifying may have dealt him a tough blow.

Johnson said it will be difficult to fight his way up through the field.

“I am disappointed with tonight and I am disappointed with how we are qualifying right now,” Johnson said. “We just haven’t put our finger on it. But we are working hard at it.”

Earnhardt Jr.’s final weekend as a full-time driver at his home track got off to a bad start after crashing on a slick surface in practice.

Track officials added a substance — called PJ11 — to the high line of the track to improve grip. Earnhardt drove his car high early in the afternoon practice session, slipped and hit the wall, prompting his Hendrick Motorsports team to pull out his backup car.

Earnhardt thought the track was too slick.

“I’m avoiding it until somebody can go up there and shows me there is a lap up there,” said Earnhardt. “I ain’t going near it, on purpose. Might end up it accidentally a few times, but I don’t think anybody is willing to go up there without seeing somebody do it first. It’s obviously very slick. It’s like ice.”

None of the drivers crashed during qualifying.

Martin Truex Jr. said he thinks the track surface will get better and better as the weekend progresses.

“I think we just need some cars to run on that stuff and wear it in and get the track kind of prepped,” Truex said. “Certainly I don’t think anyone expected it to be as challenging as it was. Maybe for the future we definitely need to look at a different way to prep the track so when we go out there guys aren’t running into the wall.”

___

CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR is deep into its 2017 playoffs, but talk at Charlotte Motor Speedway this week has steered to 2018 and the dramatic changes on tap for next year’s championship run.

The schedule will be significantly different. Las Vegas Motor Speedway will open the 10-race run, taking the spot that has been held by Chicagoland Speedway, and Richmond Raceway, previously the last stop of the regular season, will become the second race in the playoffs.

The biggest change, however, will be at one of the sport’s oldest tracks – CMS. Next year’s Charlotte playoff race, scheduled Sept. 30, will be run on the track’s road course (or, more accurately, a modified version of the course) instead of the traditional 1.5-mile oval.

The change puts a new spin on competing at CMS and adds a road course event to the playoffs, a decision supported by many fans.

The details of the 2.42-mile “roval,” a term increasingly in use for road courses that include portions of oval tracks, were unveiled this week, with the most important aspects being the addition of chicanes on the frontstretch and backstretch of the oval course to slow the cars.

“I know NASCAR is always wanting to change things, and the track here at Charlotte was wanting to do something,” driver Ryan Blaney said. “My thoughts about it is that we’ll adapt to it, whatever it is. It being a playoff race, it’s a little bit wacky. … I think it will be pretty neat. The fans will hopefully like it. Something new, and that’s never a bad thing.”

Goodyear, which supplies all of NASCAR’s tires, has scheduled a tire test on the road course Oct. 17-18.

The speedway added artificial turf to the apron inside the oval course’s fourth turn in an attempt to prevent cars from receiving front-end damage when they go off course. The turf is adjacent to the fourth-turn chicane of the road course.

“I’m not sure what to expect,” Blaney said. “I don’t think anybody does, really. It will be different. I guess they put some turf down, and that’s a little bit different from what it’s been to separate it.”

The “different” seems to be the major part of the attraction.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be a good race, a bad race, an embarrassing race or what, but it’s going to be exciting nonetheless,” said Kyle Larson. “I think the fans will enjoy it. I don’t know how the drivers will feel about it until we actually get to make some laps and compete.”

FANTASY FOOTBALL: First-place Eagles, Rams, Bills? Who knew?

(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)    —-  Chew on this: First-place Eagles. First-place Rams. First-place Bills.

Throw in the Redskins and — sit down for this one — the Jets, and maybe these teams are a lot better than prognosticated when the season kicked off.

One month into the schedule, NFL teams usually have found their identity. Not so for most of the league in 2017, with the specific exceptions of the Chiefs at the top, the Browns, 49ers and Chargers at the bottom.

There are only eight clubs with losing records through one-quarter of the season, and a gaggle of 13 at 2-2 — including three in the AFC South. The break-even teams include the Patriots, Cowboys, Raiders and Seahawks.

All of them were considered, and probably still should be, as playoff favorites.

The fascinating stuff, though, focuses on those surprises, including that first-place trio not even their staunchest fans could have predicted would be up front at this point.

EAGLES (3-1)

Philadelphia bolted from the gate last season, winning three straight before stumbling to 7-9. This quick start has a different feel.

For one, Carson Wentz looks to have taken a major step in maturity as a quarterback. He doesn’t try to force things, in part because of his comfort level with coach Doug Pederson’s system. He also has more talent around him.

And more leadership with such veterans as Chris Long, LeGarrette Blount and Alshon Jeffery on board.

“Those are very helpful, beneficial, because they’re a big impact to what we’re doing and the success we’ve had this early part of the season,” Pederson says.

“And the other thing, too, is these are veteran players who have been on, in Chris’s case (and Blount’s), on championship teams. They know how to work. They know how to practice. They know how to prepare. And that’s what you want. You want those types of guys in and around your football team.”

Philly has some defensive issues to settle, with a series of injuries in the secondary and to star DT Fletcher Cox. The Eagles have allowed 52 points in the fourth quarter.

RAMS (3-1)

While most of Los Angeles concentrates on the Dodgers or USC or UCLA, the Rams quietly have put together an offense that is outperforming its purported strength, the defense. LA’s 142 points easily lead the NFL, and Jared Goff has been a revelation in his first full season as a starter. He leads the league in four key passing categories.

Yes, the revitalization of 2015 Offensive Rookie of the Year Todd Gurley has been huge — Gurley is second rushing with 362 yards and has scored seven touchdowns (four rushing, three receiving). There’s also been an influx of veteran talent here: T Andrew Whitworth, LB Connor Barwin and WR Sammy Watkins.

New coach Sean McVay, at 31 the youngest in NFL history, has energized the offense with his schemes and aggressiveness, while passing on the praise.

“I think what good coaches do is they put their players in situations to have success, but ultimately, those players are the ones that are making those plays,” McVay says.

“You feel fortunate to be a part of that and I think the players have done a good job, but I also can’t say enough about our coaching staff. Everybody talks about Jared and what he’s done, and he’s done an excellent job.

“But I also think it’s important to know how heavily involved (offensive coordinator) Matt LaFleur and (QBs coach) Greg Olson are in his development and those day-to-day things where he’s got an ownership on what we’re trying to get done.”

BILLS (3-1)

The previous time the Bills made the playoffs, America was worrying about the Y2K virus. It’s the NFL’s longest postseason drought.

To say right now that Buffalo is on the verge of ending that streak is foolish. It’s the third time since 2000 the team has been 3-1 or better. The Bills finished with losing records the previous two times.

Still, with a defense that has allowed the NFL’s fewest points (54), and consecutive defensive masterpieces against Denver and Atlanta, the Bills shouldn’t be dismissed.

If QB Tyrod Taylor remains efficient, outstanding running back LeSean McCoy stays healthy and productive, and the D continues to be dynamic, the Bills could have staying power.

REDSKINS (2-2)

Their performance in a loss at Kansas City was almost as impressive as their throttling of Oakland the previous week.

Undermanned and facing the league’s only undefeated team, the Redskins were the better squad for much of the night.

Kirk Cousins, franchise-tag-be-damned, has elevated his game; he’s been the NFC East’s best QB so far. He’s doing it with a so-so group of wideouts and a shuffling deck at running back.

Washington’s defense has been the real discovery, though. A sieve for portions of last season, it has found a pass rush and, while not dominant, has been effective overall. But it’s banged-up now, with top cornerback Josh Norman sidelined.

JETS (2-2)

The Jets made regular appearances in late-night monologues and prognostications of 0-16 seemed not that farfetched.

Well, they’ve won their past two games, both at home, and head to 0-4 Cleveland with a shot at a winning record.

Their offense has been much more capable than anyone imagined, and they appear to have two studs at safety in rookies Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye.

If they manage to win six times with this roster — other than a matchup with the Chargers, the schedule is rugged — Todd Bowles should be coach of the year.

Even if Andy Reid goes 16-0.

___

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

NASCAR drivers seek daylight in playoff’s second round at Charlotte

Fifteen years have passed since Charlotte Motor Speedway last scheduled an afternoon race at the 1.5-mile track.

That was in 2002, but the weather gods had other plans. The race was delayed because of rain and culminaed with a finish under the lights. The fall 2002 race also featured a surprise winner, when Jamie McMurray took the checkered flag in just his second career Cup start.

Sunday, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series once again will attempt to race in the daylight at Charlotte, and once again, McMurray will be part of the action. He is one of 12 playoff drivers seeking to jump-start the second round with a victory and automatic advancement into the elite eight.

Here is a look at how the 12 remaining playoffs drivers stand heading into the Bank of America 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBC):

1. Martin Truex Jr.

Car: No. 78 Toyota

Team: Furniture Row Racing

Best Charlotte finish: Won, spring 2016.

Notable: Bringing a surplus of playoff bonus points — 59 — into the second round, Truex sits in as comfortable a position as possible. But don’t expect the most successful driver this season to rest on his laurels. Truex has been dominant at Charlotte recently, leading a combined 756 of 1,868 laps in the last five races.

2. Kyle Busch

Car: No. 18 Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

Best Charlotte finish: Second, fall 2010 and 2011; spring, 2017.

Notable: The hottest driver in the first three playoff races with two consecutive wins, Busch takes momentum and motivation into Sunday’s race. Charlotte is the only current track where the 2015 series champion has yet to win.

3. Kyle Larson

Car: No. 42 Chevrolet

Team: Chip Ganassi Racing

Best Charlotte finish: Fifth, fall 2016.

Notable: Larson is on a run of four consecutive top-five finishes — beginning with the regular-season finale at Richmond Raceway — but Sunday could pose a test for a driver who has won four races this season. His average finish at Charlotte is a paltry 19.8 in eight starts.

4. Brad Keselowski

Car: No. 2 Ford

Team: Team Penske

Best Charlotte finish: Won, fall 2013.

Notable: The 2012 series champion did everything he needed to do in the first round to easily advance, but he’ll be looking for more in this pod of three races. He’ll especially want to avoid the calamity of this year’s Coca-Cola 600, where he crashed after 19 laps and finished second-to-last.

5. Jimmie Johnson

Car: No. 48 Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

Best Charlotte finish: Won, spring 2003; spring and fall, 2004 and 2005; fall 2009; spring 2014; fall 2016.

Notable: Another week, another dominant track for the seven-time series champion. Johnson showed his muscle last weekend with a third-place result at Dover International Speedway — a track where he has won a record 11 times. Now he slides into Charlotte — where he has won eight times — as the defending race winner.

6. Kevin Harvick

Car: No. 4 Ford

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

Best Charlotte finish: Won, spring 2011 and 2013; fall 2014.

Notable: The first round didn’t go quite the way the 2014 champion expected — with shaky races at both New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Dover — but Charlotte has been a strong track recently for Harvick. He has finished first or second in five of the last nine races there.

7. Denny Hamlin

Car: No. 11 Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

Best Charlotte finish: Second, spring and fall 2012.

Notable: It’s probably not his favorite track, but Hamlin has been a consistent performer at Charlotte throughout his career. He tends to qualify and finish in the top 10, and that may be all he needs Sunday.

8. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Car: No. 17 Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

Best Charlotte finish: 11th, spring 2011.

Notable: Stenhouse caught a lucky break at Dover with a caution failing at just the right time to turn his race around. He’s been fairly mediocre at Charlotte (20.3 average finish in 11 starts), but a decent finish allows him to take momentum into next weekend’s race at Talladega Superspeedway, where he won earlier this year.

-nascar-chase-100117

9. Ryan Blaney

Car: No. 21 Ford

Team: Wood Brothers

Best Charlotte finish: 14th, fall 2015.

Notable: With only five Cup starts at Charlotte, it may be too early in Blaney’s career to judge his prowess there, but none of those five races have been memorable, with four finishes of 20th or worse. He and his team will be looking to dial up more speed and better strategy Sunday.

10. Chase Elliott

Car: No. 24 Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

Best Charlotte finish: Eighth, spring 2016.

Notable: Sunday will provide a good mental test for the 21-year-old, who led 59 of the final 61 laps last weekend at Dover only to see Kyle Busch snatch what would have been Elliott’s first Cup victory in the final two laps. But his last two races at Charlotte have not been pretty — with two crashes and two finishes in the 30s.

11. Matt Kenseth

Car: No. 20 Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

Best Charlotte finish: Won, spring 2000; fall 2011.

Notable: The veteran free agent still is searching for his first victory in what may be his last Cup season (Erik Jones will take over the No. 20 next year), but Charlotte could provide a good opportunity. Kenseth finished second in this race last season and fourth this spring.

12. Jamie McMurray

Car: No. 1 Chevrolet

Team: Chip Ganassi Racing

Best Charlotte finish: Won, fall 2002 and 2010.

Notable: McMurray has not been spectacular this season, but he has been consistent — with 15 top-10s and only four finishes of 25th or worse. He now heads to arguably his two best opportunities to claim a win, as he’s won twice each at Charlotte and Talladega.

***

Follow Horrow on Twitter @EllenJHorrow

‘NASCAR drivers should be making NBA, NFL money’

This gallery contains 1 photo.

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports)     —-    As team sponsorship dollars continue to dwindle, NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin said he thinks racecar drivers who risk their lives should be paid on par with NBA and NFL athletes.

“We’re way underpaid as racecar drivers,” Hamlin said, via ESPN and NBC Sports, at a charity event Wednesday in Charlotte. “There’s no doubt, doing what we do, the schedule that we have and the danger that we incur every single week, NASCAR drivers should be making NBA, NFL money.

“I’m sure this will be in some headline somewhere where Denny says drivers aren’t paid enough, but I’m basing it off all other sports. I’m not including myself. I’m including the back half of the field — those drivers are risking the same amount I am and they should be paid a hell of a lot more.”

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who is one of 12 drivers who advanced to the second round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, feels a reliance on corporate sponsorship should be “bonus money” as opposed to a main source of income for drivers. There’s no mandatory pay scale for NASCAR drivers.

Currently, under a consolidated national network television deal, tracks receive 65% of revenue, teams receive 25% and NASCAR receives 10%. NASCAR is in the third year of a 10-year TV deal with NBC and Fox estimated to be worth around $8 billion.

“The pie has to be shifted for sure,” Hamlin said. “The TV dollars coming into NASCAR is higher than it’s ever been, but we’re seeing fewer and fewer (sponsored racing) teams, and it just can’t survive. So it economically doesn’t make sense. The pie, the amount of TV money that the race teams share, has to go up, in my opinion.

“There’s got to be a reset, and it doesn’t come from the drivers. It comes from NASCAR helping the teams survive on a better basis. …There just has to be different revenue-sharing.”

According to Forbes, Hamlin was the third-highest paid driver in 2016. Hamlin, who opened 2016 by winning the Daytona 500 and finished the season ranked sixth in the final standings, earned $15.2 million from salary, bonuses, prize money, endorsements and licensing.  Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson, who won his seventh championship last year, was the top earner with $21.8 million.

Forbes reported that the top 12 highest-paid NASCAR drivers earned $168 million in 2016 from salaries, endorsements and their share of purses and licensing, but that was significant decline from 2013 when the outlet estimated the top 12 at $192 million.

-nascar-chase-100117

Dover takeaways: Does NASCAR have new playoff favorite?

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports)    —-   DOVER, Del. — Four takeaways from Dover International Speedway as the NASCAR playoffs, now trimmed to a dirty dozen drivers, roll on to Charlotte Motor Speedway this week:

A NEW FAVORITE? Based on a sensational regular season and an obnoxious number of stage wins, Martin Truex Jr. entered the opening week of the playoffs as the championship favorite.

Three weeks in, Kyle Busch might be top dog.

Busch has won two straight races in the playoffs and, barring pit-road issues, could have won the opener at Chicagoland Speedway. He has led 302 of the 967 laps raced in the playoffs.

Truex sits atop the playoff standings with an 18-point edge over Busch, but Busch clearly has momentum.

He isn’t buying the idea that he’s the champion-in-waiting, however.

“You know, I don’t know that there’s necessarily a favorite,” said Busch, who won the title in 2015. “Maybe it closes our gap that the 78 (Truex) had on us a little bit to where I still think it’s 78, 18 (Busch), 42 (Kyle Larson), and there’s different distances between us each and every week.

“It’s all about getting the stars to align and doing your job and having everything go your way.”

-nascar-chase-100117

SECONDING THAT EMOTION: It only seems as if Chase Elliott has finished second in every Cup race he’s run.

The total actually is five. The misery index, when calculated by Elliott’s superhuman standards, is astronomical.

The hope is that he never got a B in school. If so, he probably ripped his photo from the pages of the yearbook.

Elliott takes failure to win very hard. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime. He has performed well in one of racing’s biggest seats – the No. 24 Chevrolet once driven by Jeff Gordon, and, despite his disappointment at finishing second to Busch on Sunday, he rides into the second round of the playoffs as one of only 12 drivers with a shot at winning the championship.

Want some real second-place pain? Imagine the case of Harry Gant, who started Cup racing in 1980 and finished second 10 times – yes, 10 – before finally winning in April 1982 at Martinsville Speedway.

Gant went on to win 18 Cup races and became one of the sport’s most popular drivers.

And then there’s Bill Elliott, Chase’s father and a Cup champion. He finished second eight times before winning.

JOHNSON REBOUNDS: The playoffs – and indeed the second half of the season – haven’t been robust for seven-time and defending champion Jimmie Johnson.

Dover is one of his best tracks, however, and he found speed Sunday, finishing third.

To Johnson’s credit, he was more concerned with consoling Hendrick Motorsports teammate Elliott, who was distraught after failing to win, than in celebrating a good finish for himself.

Johnson remains very much in the championship hunt, sitting in fifth place, 42 points behind Truex.

He owns eight wins at Charlotte, where Hendrick cars typically excel. If Johnson is to win a record eighth championship, CMS might be the launching point.

More: Dover deals disappointment to Chase Elliott, Ryan Newman in differing ways

More: Kyle Busch edges Chase Elliott at Dover; Kahne, Newman, Dillon and Kurt Busch eliminated

MANUFACTURER TANGLE: Although Toyota has won all three playoff races, the 12 playoff spots are evenly divided – four Toyotas, four Fords and four Chevrolets.

Richard Childress Racing was the team enduring the toughest day at Dover, as Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman dropped out of the championship hunt.

***

Follow Hembree on Twitter @mikehembree

NASCAR’s first-round playoff eliminations yield no surprises

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports)   —-   DOVER, Del. — NASCAR elimination playoff system, version 2.0, disgorged four race winners in the first round of the postseason Sunday at Dover International Speedway.

There was Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch.

There was Phoenix spring winner Ryan Newman, who fell two points short of running down Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for the 12th and final transfer spot.

There was Austin Dillon, winner of one of NASCAR’s other majors, the Coca-Cola 600.

And then there was Kasey Kahne, victor of another of the series’ albeit faded stalwarts in the Brickyard 400.

Four winners out, three from some of the most coveted races of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule.

Meanwhile three winless drivers advanced: Chase Elliott, who has no victories at NASCAR’s highest level; Jamie McMurray, who hasn’t won since 2013; and Matt Kenseth.

How’s that look?

About right, really.

It took a little bit of the tweaked version of the elimination-style playoffs that debuted in 2014, a little bit of the racing food chain figuring itself out, but the 12-driver field of Cup contenders seems as it should be heading into round two.

DOVER TAKEAWAYS: Does NASCAR have new playoff favorite?

JAMES: Hendrick Motorsports’ Elliott, Johnson hitting gas at right time

MORE: Dover deals disappointment to Elliott, Newman in differing ways

–Busch won the Daytona 500 as Elliott expended his fuel on the white-flag lap and brought only those five playoff points with him to the playoffs. The rest of the season, Busch failed to win a stage and was prone to periods of poor results. He produced three of his five top-5s of the season heading into the playoffs but then finished 19th, 37th and 20th.

–Newman claimed victory at Phoenix Raceway by making a daring late tire gamble work. Impressive, certainly, but he won no stages the entire season, either, and like Busch, brandished just five playoff points when each one was crucial Sunday. Finishes of fourth, sixth, seventh and third in the last four regular-season races gave him a chance, but he couldn’t maintain it in the playoffs and a dearth of insurance via playoff points finished him.

–Dillon won the 600 on a fuel gambit, and while the trophy still is plenty shiny, it provided him his only playoff points of the season. Three top-5s and four top-10s the entire season suggested the team would not sustain a deep run.

–Kahne claimed victory at Indianapolis when many quality cars wrecked and he executed a skillful overtime restart that ended in controversy of the now-defunct backstretch restart line. A big win, his first since 2014, but it didn’t save his job at Hendrick Motorsports. And it wasn’t augmented by any stage wins the rest of the season, so it couldn’t salvage his postseason.

-nascar-chase-100117

While the elimination of Newman, who advanced to the championship final winless in 2014 and finished second in the standings, and Dillon can be more directly traced to their failure to exploit NASCAR’s new rewards system for wins and stage victories as postseason insurance, it also had a lot to do with not being among the 12 best weekly competitors.

Beyond the numbers, the three winless drivers who advanced performed better when it mattered.

Kenseth’s performance has flourished in the last half of the season with the Toyota camp and he is a plausible contender most weeks. Elliott, as has been his maddening bent, led almost to the white flag Sunday – one of a race-high 138 – before being overtaken by Kyle Busch, who won for the second straight week. Jamie McMurray, the statistical oddity of the contenders with just two top-5s but a respectable 15 top-10s, always seems to be around.

The new NASCAR points system figured to eliminate some of the ruthlessness of random racing events from the postseason and reward season-long performances at a high level. It likely saved Stenhouse’s season Sunday when a timely caution allowed him to skip a pit stop and earn seven stage points that ultimately proved decisive. But for Newman and the other three drivers cast out, this wasn’t just about a new way of doing the math.

It was about being better when it mattered.

***

Follow James on Twitter @brantjames

NASCAR: Busch spoils Elliott’s run at Dover for 2nd straight win

This gallery contains 2 photos.

DOVER, Del. (AP) — Chase Elliott rubbed his head and leaned against his car, crestfallen as he replayed the final laps in his mind. Jimmie Johnson, his champion teammate, walked over to offer some encouragement and let Elliott vent.

“I anticipated them being cuss words,” Johnson said, “and they were.”

Elliott had it, the first win in 70 career Cup starts in his sight, the white flag about to drop.

But the son of a NASCAR Hall of Fame driver simply could not find his way out of a thicket of traffic and Kyle Busch was ready to pounce. Busch spoiled Elliott’s bid at his first career NASCAR Cup Series victory, taking the lead with two laps left to win Sunday at Dover International Speedway.

Elliott, largely expected to lead NASCAR’s next generation of stars, was in stunned disbelief that he let the lead slip away.

“I’m just so disappointed in myself,” Elliott said. “Golly. I couldn’t have had it any easier. I gave it away.”

Busch, the 2015 Cup champion, went high on the concrete track and zipped past Elliott to win for the second straight week. He won for the fourth time in the No. 18 Toyota and is streaking at the right time as NASCAR’s playoffs head into the second round.

While Elliott was consoled, Busch took his customary bow.

He injected a ho-hum race with a thrilling finish and perhaps the best two closing laps of the season. Busch is 24 points behind fellow Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr. for the points lead and was already safely in the field of 12.

“As far as Chase get out there, I wasn’t sure I’d run him back down,” Busch said. “The only thing Chase could have done differently was just move around and try and to get out of the wave of the cars that were in front of him. I was actually surprised he didn’t.”

Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon, Daytona 500 champion Kurt Busch and Brickyard 400 winner Kasey Kahne were eliminated as the playoff field was cut from 16 drivers.

Elliott was second, followed by Johnson, Truex and Kyle Larson.

Elliott followed in some superstar footsteps when he made his Cup debut in 2015. Bill Elliott was a two-time Daytona 500 champion and was named NASCAR’s most popular driver a record 16 times. Chase Elliott also took over the No. 24 Chevrolet when four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon retired.

Gordon attended the race and exchanged words with Newman on pit road. Newman, who finished a lap down in 13th, was one of the drivers that held up Elliott down the stretch and contributed to his collapse.

Newman was clearly frustrated after missing the playoff cutoff by just two points.

“You don’t think I was racing for my own position,” Newman asked Gordon.

“I didn’t say you weren’t,” Gordon said.

“Just watch what you say, man,” Newman said.

Elliott was crushed, Newman was irked, Gordon stirred the pot.

About the only one really happy — well, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who clinched the final transfer spot was thrilled — was Busch. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver followed last week’s win at New Hampshire with his 42nd career Cup victory.

Truex won the opener at Chicagoland and followed with a fifth and fourth. With a series-high five wins, he’s still the driver to beat for the championship.

“Maybe this closes the gap that the 78 had on us a little bit,” Busch said.

Elliott finished second at Chicagoland but NASCAR penalized the team for a modification to his Chevrolet and he was stripped of playoff point and his crew chief was suspended. The 24 will get another close look in a thorough inspection this week. But Elliott’s time as a perennial race contender has arrived, even if his checkered flag was denied at Dover.

“I thought if I had a clean track, I could have run as fast as he did, but I didn’t, and I should have done something different,” Elliott said. “So that’s just on me, and he did a better job than I did.”

Here are other items of note from Dover:

YOU’RE IN

Truex, Larson, Busch, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Johnson, Ryan Blaney, Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray and Stenhouse are all in the second round.

“The feeling is lucky really,” Stenhouse said.

HOT HENDRICK

Elliott was runner-up and Johnson was third, giving Hendrick Motorsports a sorely needed confidence boost in the second. Johnson had his first top-five finish since he won the first Dover race in June.

“I wished I would have qualified better. I really think we had a shot at winning the race today,” Johnson said.

RED FLAG

The race was stopped for 15 minutes, 9 seconds when Jeffrey Earnhardt spun at the pit road entrance and hit sand barrels.

QUIET TRACK

NASCAR again stood in unison for the national anthem, a week after a pair of team owners said they would fire anyone who took a knee.

UP NEXT

The first race of the second playoff round takes place at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Dillon won his first career Cup race there in May and Johnson won at the track in October 2016.

___

Wrap Up:

Four drivers were eliminated as the first round came to a close: Kurt Busch, who opened the season with a win at the Daytona 500; Kasey Kahne, who has seven races left before departing Hendrick Motorsports; and Richard Childress Racing drivers Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon.

Twelve drivers advanced to the second round that begins next weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Martin Truex Jr. will take an 18-point lead over Kyle Busch into the second round, followed Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson. Also advancing (in order): Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Blaney, Elliott, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray.

-nascar-chase-100117

APACHE WARRIOR 400

Sunday’s results from the 1-mile Dover International Speedway (starting position in parentheses):

1. (2) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 400 laps, 0 rating, 56 points.

2. (12) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 400, 0, 47.

3. (17) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 400, 0, 40.

4. (1) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 400, 0, 50.

5. (3) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 400, 0, 47.

6. (19) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 400, 0, 32.

7. (7) Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chevrolet, 400, 0, 34.

8. (5) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 400, 0, 29.

9. (26) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 400, 0, 30.

10. (16) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 400, 0, 40.

11. (4) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 400, 0, 26.

12. (10) Erik Jones, Toyota, 400, 0, 25.

13. (8) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 399, 0, 24.

14. (21) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 399, 0, 23.

15. (18) Joey Logano, Ford, 399, 0, 22.

16. (23) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 399, 0, 21.

17. (9) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 399, 0, 23.

18. (24) Danica Patrick, Ford, 399, 0, 25.

19. (15) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 399, 0, 25.

20. (13) Kurt Busch, Ford, 398, 0, 17.

21. (28) David Ragan, Ford, 397, 0, 18.

22. (29) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 397, 0, 15.

23. (11) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 397, 0, 14.

24. (20) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 396, 0, 13.

25. (14) Aric Almirola, Ford, 396, 0, 12.

26. (25) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 396, 0, 11.

27. (30) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 396, 0, 10.

28. (27) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 395, 0, 9.

29. (31) Landon Cassill, Ford, 394, 0, 8.

30. (22) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 394, 0, 7.

31. (40) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 393, 0, 6.

32. (33) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 392, 0, 5.

33. (34) Brett Moffitt, Toyota, 391, 0, 0.

34. (37) Corey Lajoie, Toyota, 389, 0, 3.

35. (6) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, axle, 374, 0, 8.

36. (36) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, 372, 0, 0.

37. (38) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 368, 0, 1.

38. (32) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 348, 0, 0.

39. (39) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, engine, 162, 0, 1.

40. (35) Timmy Hill, Chevrolet, electrical, 39, 0, 0.

———

Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 129.175 mph.

Time of Race: 3 hours, 5 minutes, 48 seconds.

Margin of Victory: 0.357 seconds.

Caution Flags: 4 for 24 laps.

Lead Changes: 15 among 6 drivers.

Lap Leaders: M.Truex 1-25; K.Larson 26-60; M.Truex 61-82; C.Elliott 83; Ky.Busch 84-89; B.Keselowski 90-122; Ky.Busch 123-140; K.Larson 141-169; M.Truex 170-173; K.Larson 174-246; C.Elliott 247-324; Ky.Busch 325-328; J.Johnson 329-333; B.Keselowski 334-339; C.Elliott 340-398; Ky.Busch 399-400

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): C.Elliott, 3 times for 135 laps; K.Larson, 3 times for 134 laps; M.Truex, 3 times for 48 laps; B.Keselowski, 2 times for 37 laps; Ky.Busch, 4 times for 26 laps; J.Johnson, 1 time for 4 laps.

Wins: M.Truex, 5; Ky.Busch, 4; K.Larson, 4; J.Johnson, 3; D.Hamlin, 2; B.Keselowski, 2; R.Stenhouse, 2; R.Blaney, 1; Ku.Busch, 1; A.Dillon, 1; K.Harvick, 1; K.Kahne, 1; J.Logano, 1; R.Newman, 1.

Top 16 in Points: 1. M.Truex, 3059; 2. Ky.Busch, 3041; 3. K.Larson, 3034; 4. B.Keselowski, 3020; 5. J.Johnson, 3017; 6. K.Harvick, 3015; 7. D.Hamlin, 3013; 8. R.Stenhouse, 3010; 9. R.Blaney, 3008; 10. C.Elliott, 3006; 11. M.Kenseth, 3005; 12. J.McMurray, 3003; 13. R.Newman, 2067; 14. A.Dillon, 2065; 15. K.Kahne, 2046; 16. Ku.Busch, 2044.

Ben Rhodes moves into 2nd round of NASCAR playoffs with win

This gallery contains 1 photo.

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The first career victory for Ben Rhodes kept his championship chances intact in NASCAR’s Truck Series.

Rhodes earned the first national series victory of his NASCAR career Saturday night by holding off Christopher Bell in the closing laps at Las Vegas. The win earned Rhodes an automatic berth into the second round of the playoffs.

The win came in Rhodes’ 45th series start and continued a run of consistency he’s shown of late in his Toyota. He’s finished in the top-10 a career-best five straight races and has finished an average of sixth in the last seven Truck Series races.

“This is the biggest high of my life,” he said. “I never thought it would come.”

Bell, who finished second, was the winner a week ago at New Hampshire and is already locked into the next round of the playoffs.

Rhodes was the winner of the second stage but didn’t get a chance to race for the win until John Hunter Nemechek ran out of fuel under caution with 14 laps remaining. He headed to pit road from the lead for a disastrous stop — Nemechek stalled leaving pit road, and his crew had to push his truck back to his pit stall before Nemechek could pull away.

Although Nemechek stayed on the lead lap, he was 10th on the restart with seven laps remaining. It set up a frantic dash to the finish, there were four trucks racing side-by-side for position, and Rhodes couldn’t shake Bell.

Rhodes had to use a late block on Bell to save the victory.

“I used every play in my playbook,” Rhodes said. “I knew if I could keep him close to me, he couldn’t break the bubble. Every time I tried to gap him, and use a trick to get him far away, he would suck right up to my bumper. I had to keep him in distance, and that was the most nervous thing I’ve ever done in my entire life.”

Chase Briscoe finished third and was followed by Austin Cindric and Kaz Grala — all championship contenders. There are four spots remaining in the next round of the playoffs, with one race to determine the field, at Talladega Superspeedway in two weeks.

Cindric and Grala are essentially tied for the sixth and final spot in the next round, while Nemechek is six points behind them.

___

DOVER, Del. (AP) — With a checkered flag missing and no highlight reel burnout to be found, Ryan Blaney may at least want to keep the race trophy as a keepsake to prove he won at Dover.

Blaney crashed the Xfinity Series playoffs and the Cup regular dominated Saturday at Dover International Speedway.

“It’s really hard to get a car like that,” he said.

NASCAR imposed limits this season on how many times the elite Cup drivers can race in NASCAR’s second-tier series. But no rule could stop Blaney from reaching victory lane. Blaney made the Cup playoffs with a win at Pocono and played spoiler at Dover in the second race of the Xfinity playoffs.

Blaney, a social media darling in NASCAR, took his checkered flag and slipped it through a fence to give to a young fan. Blaney recalled he was once that same excited kid when he tagged along at the track as the son of former NASCAR driver Dave Blaney and grandson of dirt track star Lou Blaney.

“He seemed really pumped up to be at the race,” Blaney said. “There was a lot of kids here today, which is really cool. I kind of saw a little bit of myself. I was a little kid coming here and watching races. Anything we can to do to try to keep them coming back and show them a pretty great experience at the track. He looked like he wanted it and he was pretty happy when he got it.”

Almost as happy as Blaney was to win it.

Blaney, who usually gives a checkered flag to a team member, also skipped the traditional winner’s burnout.

“It’s not really my thing,” he said.

Xfinity playoff drivers took the second through six spots and nine of the top 11. Justin Allgaier was second, followed by William Byron, Daniel Hemric and Brennan Poole.

The 23-year-old Blaney won for the second time in nine Xfinity races driving the No. 22 Ford for team owner Roger Penske. He led 136 of 200 laps and won his sixth career Xfinity race.

Allgaier leads the standings by three points over JR Motorsports teammate Byron. The series moves to Charlotte Motor Speedway where the field of 12 drivers will be cut to eight.

Blaney will drive a third entry for Team Penske in NASCAR’s top Cup series next year. Blaney will drive the No. 12 Ford and join Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski in team owner Roger Penske’s NASCAR lineup. Blaney was signed to Penske in 2012 and farmed out to race for Wood Brothers Racing. Blaney won his first career NASCAR Cup race this season for the Wood brothers at Pocono .

Blaney starts 11th in Sunday’s Cup race at Dover.

RESULTS

Lap length: 1 mile(Car number in parentheses)

1. (9) William Byron, Chevrolet, 156.209 mph.

2. (18) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 155.952.

3. (20) Erik Jones, Toyota, 155.434.

4. (7) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 155.373.

5. (42) Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 155.233.

6. (00) Cole Custer, Ford, 155.126.

7. (48) Brennan Poole, Chevrolet, 154.912.

8. (22) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 154.865.

9. (21) Daniel Hemric, Chevrolet, 154.440.

10. (1) Elliott Sadler, Chevrolet, 153.984.

11. (3) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 153.833.

12. (4) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 153.224.

13. (62) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 153.899.

14. (24) Corey LaJoie, Toyota, 153.472.

15. (33) Brandon Jones, Chevrolet, 153.309.

16. (5) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 152.977.

17. (16) Ryan Reed, Ford, 152.724.

18. (98) Casey Mears, Ford, 152.691.

19. (11) Blake Koch, Chevrolet, 152.433.

20. (23) Spencer Gallagher Jr., Chevrolet, 152.021.

21. (39) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 151.502.

22. (51) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 150.943.

23. (19) Matt Tifft, Toyota, 153.571.

24. (15) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 152.433.

25. (14) JJ Yeley, Toyota, 151.407.

26. (2) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 151.318.

27. (07) Ray Black II, Chevrolet, 150.659.

28. (8) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, 150.584.

29. (90) Brandon Brown, Chevrolet, 150.207.

30. (0) Garrett Smithley, Chevrolet, 149.800.

31. (01) Harrison Rhodes, Chevrolet, 149.334.

32. (99) David Starr, Chevrolet, 148.625.

33. (93) Jeff Green, Chevrolet, 148.356.

34. (40) Chad Finchum, Chevrolet, owner points

35. (52) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, owner points

36. (89) Morgan Shepherd, Chevrolet, owner points

37. (74) Mike Harmon, Dodge, owner points

38. (13) Timmy Hill, Chevrolet, owner points

39. (78) Josh Bilicki, Chevrolet, owner points

40. (38) Gray Gaulding, Chevrolet, 144.869.

NASCAR: Speedy Martin Truex Jr. wins pole for NASCAR playoff race at Dover

DOVER, Del. (AP) — Martin Truex Jr. has tried to enjoy his career year as much as he can. The veteran driver says he never knows when the run might end.

He kept on rolling at Dover.

Truex will try to win his sixth race of the season from the pole at Dover International Speedway in NASCAR’s third playoff race. Truex has been the driver to beat all season and he proved it again Friday, when he turned a lap of 160.664 mph to win his second pole of the season.

Truex had clinched a berth in the second round of the playoffs when he won at Chicagoland Speedway. He had the dominant car last week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway until he was caught up in a wreck and finished fifth.

Truex has nine wins in the No. 77 Toyota at Furniture Row Racing over the last two years after winning just three times in his first 10 years. Oh, and Truex won this race last year.

MCMURRAY: Hopes for better outcome at Dover elimination race

TEAMS: Employ pit crew musical chairs to gain playoff advantage

DANICA: Has had ‘some, but not a ton’ of talks with teams about 2018

DRIVERS: Seek to move on from national anthem debate at Dover

“It takes so many things to come together to be in a position that I’ve been the last few years, really,” he said. “I’m very thankful, I’m definitely enjoying it. At the same time, there’s that chance of a championship out there. You can’t lose focus and say, this is going great, we’re going to show up to the track and everything’s going to be fine. You still have to work hard.”

Truex ended Kyle Busch’s bid at three straight poles. Busch started first in the first two playoff races and will start second on Sunday for the all-Toyota front row. He advanced to the second round when he won at New Hampshire.

“I’m glad for once we’re first and he’s not,” Truex said. “I’ve been second to him a lot, so it’s cool for us to get a pole.”

Playoff drivers Kyle Larson and Matt Kenseth start third and fourth. Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson starts his run at his 12th Dover victory back in 17th.

“I know when it comes to race time, we will be fine here,” Johnson said.

-nascar-chase-092817

Dover marks the first cutoff race and the playoff field will be sliced from 16 drivers to 12. Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne are the bottom four drivers in the playoff standings. Dillon starts 23rd, Newman is eighth, Busch, the Daytona 500 champion, starts 13th and Kahne is 21st.

“It’s going to be a race within the race,” Dillon said. “You’ve got to be smart throughout and make sure you’re there at the end and put yourself in good positions. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

Other playoff drivers and starting spots are: Denny Hamlin starts sixth, Kevin Harvick ninth, Ryan Blaney 11th, Chase Elliott 12th, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 15th, Brad Keselowski 16th, and Jamie McMurray is 26th.

Larson and Keselowski also earned automatic spots in the second round on points.

Stenhouse holds the final transfer spot to the second round and McMurray is 11th.

“You are going to be dependent on the team to kind of fill you in like if you have to have another position or if someone is pressuring you that you can maybe give up that position and not get wrecked,” McMurray said.

___

XFINITY SERIES NEWS

DOVER, Del. (AP) — The driver who will replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. next season in the NASCAR Cup series will race in the Xfinity Series for the first time this year.

Alex Bowman will drive the No. 42 Chevrolet in two Xfinity Series races for Chip Ganassi Racing. Bowman will drive at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway.

Bowman is set to replace Earnhardt next season in the No. 88 Chevrolet at Hendrick Motorsports. Bowman subbed last season in the 88 when Earnhardt sat out with a concussion. Hendrick Automotive Group’s HendrickCars.com will sponsor Bowman at Charlotte. No sponsor was named for Phoenix.

Bowman has never won a race in 133 NASCAR starts over Cup, Xfinity and the Truck Series. He has one Truck start this season and raced in the non-points Clash to open the season at Daytona.

___

More AP Auto Racing: http://racing.ap.org/

NASCAR playoff field will try to close gap on Martin Truex Jr. at Dover

This gallery contains 1 photo.

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports)   —-    DOVER, Del. – Martin Truex Jr. quipped after winning in August at Watkins Glen International that he was especially gratified to visit victory lane at one of his multitude of home tracks.

A New Jersey native who set the foundation for his eventual foray into NASCAR in underseries around the Northeast, the 37-year-old is familiar with and fond of many of the venues he now plies in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

“It’s really only three or four: Watkins Glen, Pocono, New Hampshire and Dover,” Truex  said, sheepishly after finishing fifth at Loudon, N.H., last week.

Dover International Speedway just happens to be next, and there’s good memories and anticipation attached to that track, too.

MUSICAL CHAIRS: Pit crew swaps change dynamics in playoffs

Truex, then in his second full Cup season racing for now-defunct Dale Earnhardt Inc., won his first race at NASCAR’S highest level at the one-mile concrete oval in 2007. He won there again last fall to claim two of three races in the first round of the 2016 playoffs — he was eliminated after the second round and finished 11th in points — and returns this weekend as the points leader and dominant force of the season as the first three-race segment of the 2017 postseason concludes.

Though Truex already assured his entry into the next round by winning the opening race of the playoffs at Chicagoland Speedway, he welcomes Dover as a pushing off point into a round that devoured him last season.

And a note onTruex’s home tracks: whenever he retires, he very much covets the musket New Hampshire Motor Speedway officials presented his friend and hunting companion, Dale Earnhardt Jr., for his retirement last week.

“Definitely jealous of the musket,” Truex admitted. “Maybe someday I’ll get one too.”

And if so, perhaps a Red Coats vs. Colonials solo skirmish line?

“That would be awesome,” he grinned. “Maybe someday when we’re retired and really bored we’ll do that. Not until.”

Because he has work to do.

Four drivers — Truex, Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski — are safely locked in the second round, and four will be eliminated Sunday at Dover.

Here is a look at how the 16 playoffs drivers stand heading into the Apache Warrior 400 presented by Lucas Oil (2 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network):

1. Martin Truex Jr.

Car: No. 78 Toyota

Team: Furniture Row Racing

Best Dover finish: Won, summer 2007, fall 2016.

Notable: His playoff points cache would seemingly allow him to bide his time for the final at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but he and crew chief Cole Pearn appear to still be gaining momentum.

2. Kyle Larson

Car: No. 42 Chevrolet

Team: Chip Ganassi Racing

Best Dover finish: Second, summer 2016 and 2017.

Notable: Truex’s main competition for most of the regular season has an average finish of 8.3 at Dover and could provide a welcome boost to the Chevrolet camp by fending off the surging Toyotas as the first round ends.

3. Kyle Busch

Car: No. 18 Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

Best Dover finish: Won, summer 2008 and 2010.

Notable: A winner at New Hampshire last weekend and cresting at the right time, the 2015 series champion is still a tick behind Truex on most weekends in terms of speed.

4. Brad Keselowski

Car: No. 2 Ford

Team: Team Penske

Best Dover finish: Won, fall 2012.

Notable: Teammate Joey Logano missing the playoffs could benefit Keselowski, who won at Dover en route to the 2012 championship, if Logano can provide useful information to help give owner Roger Penske IndyCar and Cup titles in the same season.

5. Denny Hamlin

Car: No. 11 Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

Best Dover finish: Fourth, summer 2007 and 2010.

Notable: Still seeking speed and comfort, Hamlin said his team must improve in making his car better during race weekends to contend for a first championship.

6. Matt Kenseth

Car: No. 20 Toyota

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

Best Dover finish: Won, summer 2006, 2011 and 2016.

Notable: Racing out the string with JGR, the veteran with no announced job for 2018 is producing his best stretch of the season just in time to end with a flourish.

7. Jimmie Johnson

Car: No. 48 Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

Best Dover finish: Won, summer and fall 2002; fall 2005; summer and fall, 2009; fall 2010; summer 2012; fall 2013, summer 2014; summer 2015; summer 2017.

Notable: With a record 11 career wins at Dover, the seven-time and defending series champion heads to his best track. He and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates are still trying to match the pace of the speedier Toyotas, but the track’s most recent winner has seen improvement recently.

8. Ryan Blaney

Car: No. 21 Ford

Team: Wood Brothers

Best Dover finish: Eighth, summer 2016.

Notable: Needs to bank some playoff points for those more desperate times ahead in the second round, after which the field will be winnowed to eight drivers.

VIEWER GUIDE: 2017 playoffs schedule, tracks, time, TV

9. Chase Elliott

Car: No. 24 Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

Best Dover finish: Third, summer and fall 2016.

Notable: The encumbered runner-up finish from Chicagoland takes away a tie-breaker for the end of this round, which probably won’t matter. But that piece of tape on the spoiler might get a special display in the Research and Development Center wall of infamy if it proves costly.

10. Kevin Harvick

Car: No. 4 Ford

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

Best Dover finish: Won, fall 2015.

Notable: He doesn’t need the type of histrionics required to keep his season viable as he did in 2015, when he won at Dover to advance to the second round, but Harvick, like most non-Toyota drivers, needs to find improvement for the second round.

11. Jamie McMurray

Car: No. 1 Chevrolet

Team: Chip Ganassi Racing

Best Dover finish: Second, summer 2006.

Notable: Winless, and with just two top-5s this season, the 16-year veteran would figure to be in jeopardy at the end of the next round.

12. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Car: No. 17 Ford

Team: Roush Fenway Racing

Best Dover finish: Eighth, fall 2015.

Notable: His kingdom is restrictor-plate tracks, with two wins this season, though the Talladega Superspeedway doesn’t come until the next round. Stenhouse holds the tie-breaker for the final spot, but his first round has been marked by missteps and anxiety.

13. Austin Dillon

Car: No. 3 Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

Best Dover finish: Eighth, fall 2016.

Notable: Sixteenth at Chicagoland and 19th at New Hampshire are not the kind of numbers that suggest a push into the second round, but his points position is favorable, considering.

14. Ryan Newman

Car: No. 31 Chevrolet

Team: Richard Childress Racing

Best Dover finish: Won, summer and fall 2003; fall, 2004.

Notable: He’s won three times at Dover — but that was more than a decade ago with Team Penske — and had been middling there until a fourth-place finish this summer.

15. Kurt Busch

Car: No. 41 Ford

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

Best Dover finish: Won, fall 2011.

Notable: At 17 points off the advancement line, the former series champion is in need of a bold stroke.

16. Kasey Kahne

Car: No. 5 Chevrolet

Team: Hendrick Motorsports

Best Dover finish: Fourth, fall 2011; summer 2015 and 2016.

Notable: Running near the top 10 for most of the race, Kahne saw his prognosis dim when a track bar broke late in the race at New Hampshire, saddling him with a 35th-place finish.

-nascar-chase-092817

6 NASCAR drivers are in trouble going into first playoff elimination race

(PhatzRadio Sports / FTW)    —-    Through the first two of three NASCAR playoff races in the round of 16 drivers, it is already clear which 12 will likely advance and remain in contention for the Cup Series championship.

Considering the dominance of the No. 78 Toyota and the No. 18 Toyota teams during the regular season, it’s not surprising that Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch took the checkered flag for the first two races at Chicagoland Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway, respectively. Their victories guarantee them spots in the Round of 12, although they would have qualified anyway based on points with Truex in first and Busch in third.

The other two drivers rounding out the top four in the standings, Kyle Larson in second and Brad Keselowski in fourth, are mathematically locked into the next round because of their point totals. In Sunday’s ISM Connect 300, Larson finished second while Keselowski was fourth.

With four drivers guaranteed in the next round, eight spots are up for grabs. If drivers’ positions in the standings remain the same after Sunday’s Apache Warrior 400 at Dover International Speedway, the four drivers who will be eliminated are Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne. But as the last two in, Jamie McMurray and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. could also easily be bounced.

With the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs format, the easiest way for any of these drivers to advance to the Round of 12 is to win Sunday and automatically move on. If they don’t take the checkered flag, winning one or both of the first two stages could offer a needed boost as well.

With their championship hopes depending on their performances at Dover, here’s how these six drivers in trouble have handled the Monster Mile in the past.

Jamie McMurray, 11th in playoff standings

The No. 1 Chevrolet driver is just nine points ahead of the 12th-place cutoff, and a win in the Apache Warrior 400 would be his first of the season after qualifying for the playoffs on points.

In his 29 races at Dover dating back to 2003, McMurray has had eight top-10 finishes, most recently coming in at seventh in June’s AAA 400 Drive For Autism. His average finish at the track is 17.8, so he’ll need to channel his best races there to keep his spot in the Round of 12.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 12th

With 2044 playoff points, Stenhouse is actually tied with Austin Dillon, but he has the advantage because he has the highest finish of the pair in the first two playoff races – 15th at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday. But he could easily lose his spot as last man in with a bad race, particularly one that’s worse than Dillon’s or Ryan Newman’s.

Compared with some of the other drivers vying for a spot in the next round, Stenhouse’s disadvantage at the Monster Mile is experience. The No. 17 Ford driver only has one top-10 in his 10 starts, and that was back in 2015.

Austin Dillon, 13th

As previously mentioned, Dillon is tied with Stenhouse in the driver standings, but he’s currently on the outside looking in. His best finish through the first two playoff races was 16th in the Tales of the Turtles 400 – the first of 10 playoff races.

But he’s also in Stenhouse’s boat when it comes to experience at the Delaware track. His lone top-10 finish in eight races was in the fall race last year when he came in eighth. Aside from his 13th place earlier this year, the rest of Dillon’s races have landed him 20th place or higher.

Ryan Newman, 14th

The No. 31 Chevrolet driver is just one point behind Stenhouse and Dillon, so a good race Sunday – or just a better one than those two – could help him slide into the top 12. He finished 23rd and 13th in the first two playoff races, respectively.

In 31 starts over 16 seasons at Dover since 2002, Newman has taken three checkered flags, but they were all between the 2003 and 2004 seasons. However, his fourth-place finish earlier this year was his first top-10 finish since 2014, so he needs to drive like he did in June to lock himself into the next playoff round.

Kurt Busch, 15th

Things aren’t looking good for the Stewart-Haas Racing driver after he plowed into teammate Kevin Harvick on Sunday, effectively ending both of their races. He’s 17 points behind the Round of 12 cutoff and almost certainly needs a win to advance.

Although Busch has 34 races worth of experience at the Monster Mile, his only win was back in 2011. Since then, his lone top-10 finish was when he came in fifth in a 2016 race, and he crashed and did not finish the Dover race in June.

Kasey Kahne, 16th

The Hendrick Motorsports driver is in a similar situation to Busch. He’s at the bottom of the playoff standings and is 21 points behind the cutoff point.

Although he has never won a race at Dover, the No. 5 Chevrolet driver has finished in the top-10 in three of his last five races, including coming in fourth in 2015 and 2016. Earlier this year, he was 17th in the AAA 400 Drive For Autism.

The final NASCAR Cup Series playoff race of the Round of 16 is Sunday, October 1 at Dover International Speedway at 2 p.m. ET.

-nascar-chase-092417

NASCAR praises anthem tradition at races, affirms right of peaceful protests

This gallery contains 1 photo.

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports)    —-    As athlete protests during the national anthem continued to dominate the national conversation, NASCAR officials weighed in Monday.

Protests by NFL players were widespread Sunday after President Trump’s speech in Alabama on Friday that implored the league’s owners to fire players who refused to stand during the national anthem. But the president singled out praise for NASCAR on Monday morning, further entrenching the sport into the political divide after some NASCAR team owners said Sunday they would terminate employees who knelt during the anthem.

“So proud of NASCAR and its supporters and fans,” Trump tweeted. “They won’t put up with disrespecting our Country or our Flag – they said it loud and clear!”

In a statement released Monday, NASCAR praised its long-held tradition of the anthem’s place in its pre-race ceremonies but also affirmed the right of peaceful protest:

“Sports are a unifying influence in our society, bringing people of differing backgrounds and beliefs together. Our respect for the national anthem has always been a hallmark of our pre-race events. Thanks to the sacrifices of many, we live in a country of unparalleled freedoms and countless liberties, including the right to peacefully express one’s opinion.”

NASCAR’s most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. also weighed in Monday, coming out in support of the right to protest.

Earnhardt, who will retire from full-time racing at the end of the season, said on his Twitter account that Americans are “granted rights” to conduct “peaceful protests” and quoted President Kennedy’s speech from March 1962.

A day earlier, ahead of the Monster Energy Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway — the second race in the series’ 10-race playoff — high profile team owners Richard Petty and Richard Childress were unequivocal that if members of their organizations took a knee during the anthem, there would be consequences.

“Get you a ride on a Greyhound bus when the national anthem is over,” Childress responded when asked what he would do if one of his employees protested during the anthem. “I told them anyone who works for me should respect the country we live in. So many people have gave their lives for it. This is America.”

Petty, who won a record-tying seven championships as a driver, said he would fire any employee who didn’t stand for the anthem.

“Anybody that don’t stand up for that ought to be out of the country. Period,” Petty said. “If they don’t appreciate where they’re at … what got them where they’re at? The United States.”

NASCAR OWNERS: Take firm stance against anthem protests

DALE JR.: Quotes JFK, says Americans have right to ‘peaceful protests’

JAMES: Truex retains playoff momemtum with New Hampshire rally

MORE: Playoff drivers who are in trouble heading to elimination race

Those statements put an intense spotlight on NASCAR throughout the day, and the series continued to be a huge topic on social media on Monday.

NASCAR executive VP and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell was asked about the controversy surrounding anthem protests during a Monday morning appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

“I think it’s something that we’ve always talked about in the industry as a sport,” O’Donnell said. “If you look at our history, we’ve always as a sport demonstrated a respect for the American flag and the freedom it represents. We celebrate the servicemen and women who have sacrificed to be part of that. That’s part of the sport. From our standpoint, we view ourselves as a sport and want to continue to celebrate the flag but respect others’ opinions.

“But going forward, that’s where we stand, and we’ll leave it at that and hope people can contribute or look at NASCAR as something to tune into on a Sunday and enjoy a sporting event.”

USA TODAY Sports reached out to Monster Energy, the title sponsor of the NASCAR Cup Series, but the energy drink maker has yet to comment.

Trump issued a number of tweets Sunday and Monday blasting the NFL and its players who protested during Sunday’s slate of games. Some knelt during the anthem, others linked arms and some teams stayed in the tunnel entrance — rather than come out onto the field — until after the anthem ceremonies had concluded.

NASCAR: Kyle Busch gets NASCAR playoff win in New Hampshire

This gallery contains 2 photos.

LOUDON, N.H. (AP) — Kyle Busch saw little but billowing white smoke that engulfed the track and blinded enough drivers that it caused a tremendous wreck that sunk his toughest competition.

In his No. 18 Toyota, the driver nicknamed “Rowdy” knew there was only one way to handle the sudden pollution: Drive through it!

Busch slinked through the smoke clouds formed in the multi-car crash on the backstretch and dominated the rest of the way to win Sunday at New Hampshire Motorspeedway.

“That was pretty intense,” Busch said. “That was some ‘Days of Thunder’ stuff over there. You couldn’t see anything.”

He held on and saw a victory lane celebration for the third time this season. Busch earned a berth in the second round of NASCAR’s playoffs and took his customary bow on the track. He even stuck a bag of M&M’s on the claws of Loudon the Lobster , the 18-pound crustacean given to the race winner.

Busch, who won from the pole, put together a complete effort once the wreck derailed race leader and fellow Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr. Truex, who won the playoff opener at Chicagoland, and Busch both earned automatic spots in the second round. Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski advanced on points.

Truex led 112 laps until his run ended in the accident, though he rallied to finish fifth.

The playoff standings were shaken up in the wake of the massive multi-car wreck that sent playoff drivers Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick to the garage. Harvick’s car was hit by Austin Dillon on the last lap of the second stage. Harvick spun and smoke billowed over the track, leaving drivers almost blinded to the traffic ahead. Busch, Harvick’s teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing, slammed into Harvick. Truex backed up to straighten himself out and instead suffered left-rear damage when he smacked another car.

Kurt Busch, the Daytona 500 champion, will likely have to win next week at Dover to advance to the second round.

“It’s all-in. We’ll go there with everything we’ve got like we have been,” he said.

Harvick, the 2014 series champion, had accumulated enough playoff points that one DNF shouldn’t cost him a spot in the top 12.

“I couldn’t really tell where I was with all the smoke and everything that was happening, but just got hit from behind and spun out,” Harvick said.

Playoff drivers filled the top five spots: Larson was second, followed by Matt Kenseth, Keselowski and Truex.

“We had damage and had to fight from the back of the pack the rest of the day,” Truex said.

Kyle Busch, who had his shot at victory at Chicagoland end because of pit road miscues, survived the wreckage to lead 187 laps and showed that Joe Gibbs Racing will be a player in the postseason. He found the opening between the wall and Harvick and won his 41st Cup race.

Maybe next time, Busch will have a clear path to the checkered flag.

“That was a close call,” Busch said. “The cloud of smoke was so large that you literally couldn’t see anything.”

Other items of note at New Hampshire:

PLAYOFF RESULTS

Larson and Brad Keselowski also advanced on points to the second round. Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne are the bottom four drivers in the playoff standings.

Larson was second in both New Hampshire races this season.

NATIONAL ANTHEM

It appeared no drivers, crew or other team members participated in a protest during the national anthem. Several team owners and executives had said they wouldn’t want anyone in their organizations to protest.

Richard Childress, who was Dale Earnhardt’s longtime team owner, said of protesting, “It’ll get you a ride on a Greyhound bus.” Childress said he told his team that “anybody that works for me should respect the country we live in. So many people gave their lives for it. This is America.”

Hall of Fame driver Richard Petty’s sentiments took it a step further, saying: “Anybody that don’t stand up for the anthem oughta be out of the country. Period. What got ’em where they’re at? The United States.”

When asked if a protester at Richard Petty Motorsports would be fired, he said, “You’re right.”

Another team owner, Chip Ganassi, said he supports Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin’s comments. Tomlin said before the Steelers played on Sunday that players would remain in the locker room and that “we’re not going to let divisive times or divisive individuals affect our agenda.”

Gibbs, who won three Super Bowls as coach of the Washington Redskins, said of the anthem that “so much has been sacrificed for our country and our flag. It’s a big deal for us to honor America.”

NASCAR said 2016 champion Jimmie Johnson had not been invited to the White House for recognition as he had in the past, but that it necessarily wasn’t out of the ordinary because of the change in office.

MAGIC MILE

New Hampshire is called the Magic Mile and Speedway Motorsports, Inc. made its fall race disappear. This was the last time the track will hold two Cup races as the September date will move in 2018 to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, another SMI track.

UP NEXT

The first cutoff race is held at Dover. Truex won this race last season. Johnson’s win in the spring race this year was his 11th at the track.

-nascar-chase-092417

____

ISM CONNECT 300

Sunday’s results from the 1.058-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway (starting position in parentheses):

1. (1) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 300 laps, 58 points.

2. (2) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 300, 50.

3. (10) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 300, 48.

4. (13) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 300, 45.

5. (5) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 300, 47.

6. (8) Erik Jones, Toyota, 300, 45.

7. (16) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 300, 30.

8. (25) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 300, 29.

9. (4) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 300, 36.

10. (39) Joey Logano, Ford, 300, 27.

11. (14) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 300, 26.

12. (3) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 300, 30.

13. (18) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 300, 24.

14. (12) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 300, 30.

15. (24) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 300, 22.

16. (11) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 300, 22.

17. (20) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 300, 20.

18. (27) Danica Patrick, Ford, 300, 19.

19. (17) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 300, 18.

20. (19) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 300, 17.

21. (22) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 299, 16.

22. (30) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 298, 15.

23. (31) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 298, 14.

24. (23) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 298, 13.

25. (28) Landon Cassill, Ford, 298, 12.

26. (29) Aric Almirola, Ford, 297, 11.

27. (33) Corey Lajoie, Toyota, 297, 10.

28. (35) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 297, 9.

29. (21) David Ragan, Ford, 296, 8.

30. (32) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 296, 7.

31. (26) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 295, 6.

32. (36) Brett Moffitt, Toyota, 294, 0.

33. (34) Gray Gaulding, Chevrolet, 293, 4.

34. (15) Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chevrolet, 289, 3.

35. (9) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 289, 2.

36. (6) Kevin Harvick, Ford, accident, 148, 2.

37. (7) Kurt Busch, Ford, accident, 148, 1.

38. (37) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, accident, 143, 1.

39. (38) Cody Ware, Chevrolet, reargear, 74, 1.

———

Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 108.957 mph.

Time of Race: 2 hours, 54 minutes, 47 seconds.

Margin of Victory: 2.641 seconds.

Caution Flags: 6 for 32 laps.

Lead Changes: 6 among 3 drivers.

Lap Leaders: Ky.Busch 1-39; M.Truex 40-77; K.Larson 78; M.Truex 79-149; Ky.Busch 150-264; M.Truex 265-267; Ky.Busch 268-300

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): Ky.Busch, 3 times for 184 laps; M.Truex, 3 times for 109 laps; K.Larson, 1 time for 0 laps.

Wins: M.Truex, 5; K.Larson, 4; Ky.Busch, 3; J.Johnson, 3; D.Hamlin, 2; B.Keselowski, 2; R.Stenhouse, 2; R.Blaney, 1; Ku.Busch, 1; A.Dillon, 1; K.Harvick, 1; K.Kahne, 1; J.Logano, 1; R.Newman, 1.

Top 16 in Points: 1. M.Truex, 2149; 2. K.Larson, 2125; 3. Ky.Busch, 2119; 4. B.Keselowski, 2106; 5. D.Hamlin, 2088; 6. M.Kenseth, 2087; 7. J.Johnson, 2076; 8. R.Blaney, 2070; 9. C.Elliott, 2070; 10. K.Harvick, 2069; 11. J.McMurray, 2053; 12. A.Dillon, 2044; 13. R.Stenhouse, 2044; 14. R.Newman, 2043; 15. Ku.Busch, 2027; 16. K.Kahne, 2023.

NASCAR: Kyle Busch takes pole at New Hampshire in 2nd NASCAR playoff

This gallery contains 1 photo.

LOUDON, N.H. (AP) — Kyle Busch’s run in NASCAR’s playoff opener went from dominant to dud because of mistakes on pit road. Clean up those gaffes, and Busch again just may have the car to the beat.

Busch made it 2 for 2 in playoff poles, turning a lap of 135.049 mph to take the top spot Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He won his eighth pole of the season in the No. 18 Toyota.

“We just need to somehow figure out how to turn these things into good Sundays,” he said. “It would be nice to stay up front all day.”

Busch dominated early in the postseason opener at Chicagoland Speedway and had his 12th stage win of the season. He led 85 laps and was positioned as the driver to beat until his race unraveled in the pits. Busch was forced to pit because of a loose tire, then his Joe Gibbs Racing crew was penalized when his gas man hopped the wall on pit road too soon.

The back-to-back mistakes were too costly for Busch to recover. He faded to 15th — though he only fell from third to fifth in the standings and is in little danger of missing the cutoff for the second round.

Busch, the 2015 Cup champion, hoped it was just a matter of first-race jitters for his new crew. Joe Gibbs Racing swapped pit crews for Busch with teammate Daniel Saurez’s crew for the final 10 playoff races.

“I’m sure the consensus is that hopefully it’s out of the way and there’s no more jitters,” Busch said. “We can focus on looking forward and having the opportunity to race for the championship with this group of guys and have fast pit stops like they’ve been doing all year long.”

Kyle Larson, who won the pole in July at New Hampshire, joins Busch on the front row. Larson was second in the first Cup race at the track.

Playoff drivers took 13 of the top 14 spots. The 16-driver field is sliced to 12 after next weekend’s race at Dover.

Top 10 spots for other drivers racing for the championship over the final nine races include: Denny Hamlin starts third, Ryan Blaney fourth, Martin Truex Jr. fifth, Kevin Harvick sixth, Kurt Busch seventh, Kasey Kahne ninth and Matt Kenseth 10th.

Truex won his fifth race of the season in the NASCAR playoff opener at Chicagoland.

Erik Jones was the highest non-playoff qualifier in eighth.

Kahne posted a strong run in the No. 5 Chevrolet in his first race with new crew chief Darian Grubb. Grubb replaced Keith Rodden with nine races left before Kahne leaves Hendrick Motorsports for a ride next year with Leavine Family Racing.

Chase Elliott starts 14th in the No. 24 Chevrolet with a different crew chief for the weekend. Elliott suffered a setback to his championship hopes when NASCAR penalized the No. 24 team for a modification to his Chevrolet in the opening round of the playoffs. The finish is now considered “encumbered” by NASCAR and Elliott does not keep a playoff point he earned with a stage victory at Chicagoland.

Crew chief Alan Gustafson was fined $25,000 and suspended one race, and car chief Joshua Kirk also was suspended one race. The team was docked 15 driver points and 15 owner points. Veteran crew chief Kenny Francis replaced Gustafson at New Hampshire.

Elliott and teammate Jimmie Johnson both qualified in backup cars following wrecks earlier Friday in practice.

“I thought that really for everything that happened, it could have been a lot worse,” Elliott said. “We are out of race cars so you don’t want to do anything stupid and wreck another one. So, that was the big thing.”

___

XFINITY SERIES PLAYOFFS

The NASCAR XFINITY Series Playoffs begin Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway with the VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. on NBCSN.

Here are some storylines to follow as the action unfolds.

Everyone chasing Byron

JR Motorsports driver William Byron will start the playoffs atop the point standings. Last season, Byron was the top-ranked driver in the Camping World Truck Series but failed to win the title despite winning the season’s final race at Homestead.

Byron won the Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 in 2016 and will drive the No. 24 for Hendrick Motorsports next year in the Monster Energy Cup Series.

Can Sadler do it again?

Elliott Sadler won the inaugural XFINITY Series playoff race at Kentucky Speedway last season. His pass of Ryan Blaney on the final restart propelled the then-41-year-old to an emotional victory.

“It was huge for us last year,” Sadler said. “Once you get a win it really gives you momentum and it carried us all the way to Homestead.”

Sadler’s mother, Bell, had been in the hospital the week leading up to the 2016 race but made it out in time to watch the race from home.

After winning, Sadler said if his mom could fight that hard to get out of the hospital, he could fight a lot harder in his car to get a victory.

Good vibes for Poole

Three years ago, Brennan Poole wasn’t sure how much longer he’d be a professional race car driver. He entered the ARCA race at Kentucky Speedway near the end of the 2014 season and wasn’t sure how much longer he’d be in a ride.

The Woodlands, Texas, native piloted the No. 8 Toyota Camry to victory lane on Sept. 19, 2014, which set him on a path to the XFINITY Series playoffs, which start Saturday at Kentucky Speedway with the VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300.

Poole, driver of the No. 48 DC Solar Chevrolet Camaro for Chip Ganassi Racing now controls his own destiny as he looks to get his first XFINITY Series win and championship on NASCAR’s national level.

When he thinks back to that race three years ago, Poole remembers how close he was to being out of the sport.

“I was at a point where it was getting difficult to pay my bills,” Poole said.

The win opened up doors for Poole, which led to him signing with Ganassi racing later that year and, eventually, his seat in the XFINITY Series.

Ganassi Racing is the only team in NASCAR’s two top series to have all of its eligible drivers qualify for the playoffs.

Now, that’s teamwork

Most teams have dedicated cars for each driver, but not at Richard Childress Racing. The four-team XFINITY portion of RCR rotates cars between teams.

“We’re constantly cycling (cars),” said Daniel Hemric, driver of the No. 21 Chevrolet Camaro. “The car Brendan Gaughan ran at Darlington was the car I won the Dash for Cash race at Bristol.”

Hemric said the rotation of cars helps ensure all the teams have equal equipment and also increases the emphasis on getting cars ready for race week.

NASCAR should let teams play with rules – and tape – more

This gallery contains 1 photo.

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports)    —-    Among the more interesting moments of the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Chicagoland Speedway was a camera pan.

The view, beyond Chase Elliott’s left shoulder, showed an extremely guilty looking member of his crew stationed behind the spoiler of his No. 24 Chevrolet.

Except no one really noticed until the Reddit community elevated the clip into an industry discussion, which apparently became the basis for a substantial penalty announcement Tuesday.

Face vacant and gazing forward, the firesuited Hendrick Motorsports crewman resembled an assassin exchanging the king’s chalice for the one with poison in it.

What he appeared to be doing was removing something from the spoiler, which according to anecdotal reports and photo evidence, could have been a piece of tape that could have added downforce and extra handling through turns. Officially, the team was ruled to have had an illegal “modification of components to affect the aerodynamic properties of the vehicle” in a later inspection.

Elliott’s runner-up finish was encumbered, meaning it cannot be used as a tiebreaker for playoff advancement. The team was sanctioned 15 points, crew chief Alan Gustafson was suspended – as was car chief Joshua Kirk – and fined $15,000. Elliott fell from sixth to eighth in the standings. (Twelve of the 16 playoff drivers advance to the second round after the next two races.)

 

A group of NASCAR drivers reveal the tracks they believe provide themselves the biggest advantage during the playoffs. USA TODAY Sports

This chicanery and jurisprudence provided the memorable moment, albeit in postscript, of a race in which the most successful driver of the season – regular-season champion Martin Truex Jr. –  won for the series-best fifth time.

So if a little bit of tape is necessary to enliven things, here’s to more of it and a relaxation of the rules that have seemingly cornered NASCAR in a situation where a very limited number of teams are highly competitive at the same time.

Undoubtedly, NASCAR and racing in general has less disparity than in earlier decades when margins of victory were larger and the amount of lead-lap cars fewer. That simply wouldn’t be tolerated in a modern, television-driven racing product.

But in an era when a sliver of tape can have such an impact on such aero-dependent Cup cars, let them have tape.

More: Chase Elliott’s NASCAR title chances take hit with penalty

Teams spend halves of seasons retracing missteps. The Toyota camp – specifically Joe Gibbs Racing – required most of the regular season to regain footing after dominating the first 26 races last season. Team Penske has labored in finding speed since NASCAR negated an area it was plumbing in a successful spring. Hendrick and Stewart-Haas Racing have flickered.

There is credit due to Furniture Row Racing and crew chief Cole Pearn for expanding its footprint from 2016, when Truex won four races. But in FRR there also is an example of why it could be beneficial in loosening some of the aero rules NASCAR has spent years and iterations of car designs hardening.

In Denver, well beyond the edge of the NASCAR world, an affiliate of JGR that has grown into its superior performance-wise, FRR has shown how innovation and talent can create advantages that win races. There just needs to be more of this phenomenon.

Join Kyle Larson and his team in the garage and on pit road as race day begins at one of NASCAR’s most unique tracks, Pocono’s Tricky Triangle. USA TODAY NETWORK

Kyle Larson is one of the fastest cars on the track until he hears an explosion inside the car. For the first time in 360 degrees, follow the action from the race track to pit road to the garage as Kyle’s team works furiously on an emergency repair. USA TODAY NETWORK

This is no revival of the tired “if-you-ain’t-cheatin’-you-ain’t-tryin’ ” mantra. Gustafson’s team was beyond current parameters and was punished for it.

This is no advocacy for mayhem. The traditional off-limits areas of manipulation should remain: tires, engine, fuel.

And this is not suggesting that a team mount one of those dashboard Hawaiian dancers on the roof for sideforce – unless it worked. But let the guys with the laptops make racing better.

Teams with more of these guys figure to jump ahead, but they can no longer test these hypotheses for days on end, expending money other teams don’t have. But in allowing for greater innovation, there is a chance that someone out there somewhere, maybe at a JTG Daugherty Racing or Front Row Motorsports, can hit on something and create more Furniture Row’s in miniature. And then it’s on to the next idea and who hits it first.

But if the couple bucks in tape that appeared to be trailing off Elliott’s spoiler Sunday actually made that much of a difference, good job to whoever figured that out. Hopefully it didn’t cost a couple million dollars in wind tunnel time. And unless it creates an immediate and identifiable safety concern, NASCAR should let Gustafson have his roll back. Because there’s no doubt every one of his counterparts has a little gimmick in the tool box, too.

A series with its roots in clandestine enterprise has taken great pains institutionally to assure fans it runs a square deal. And that’s noble. But part of the charm fans derive from nascent NASCAR is the spirit of wrenching on something and making it better than what the other guy has. In modern NASCAR, that’s letting the smart guys be smart, and letting the racing have a chance to be more interesting.

***

-nascar-chase-092217

Follow James on Twitter @brantjames

NASCAR: Kasey Kahne to stay in NASCAR and drive for Leavine in 2018

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kasey Kahne will stay in NASCAR next season and drive for Leavine Family Racing in the No. 95 Chevrolet Camaro.

He will replace Michael McDowell, who has driven that car since 2014.

The announcement Tuesday was not unexpected, but Kahne last week revealed he’d given consideration to piecing together a dream schedule of big races in different series. Although he stressed his first goal was to remain in NASCAR, his idea led at least one IndyCar owner to inquire about Kahne’s availability for the Indianapolis 500.

Instead, he will move to a mid-level race team that is trying to move up the ladder.

“We look at this as an opportunity to go to the next level,” said team owner Bob Leavine. “This deals partially with performance, because obviously, Kasey is a playoff-caliber driver. He has a wealth of information being with a larger organization like Hendrick Motorsports, and we think that will help us. We also look at this as an opportunity for marketing to be able to sell sponsorship.”

Leavine will continue his alliance next year with Richard Childress Racing.

Kahne has been with Hendrick Motorsports since 2012, but the team bought him out of his contract for next season. He became a free agent shortly after his win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in July earned him a spot in the playoffs. Kahne had a rough opening round to the playoffs at Chicagoland, where he finished 21st and is 15th in the 16-driver field. Kahne’s crew chief was replaced on Monday.

1 2 3 9

"PhatzRadio - A New view from the News Room"

LISTEN TO PHATZRADIO



LiveScore.in

livescore

Weekly Music / Sports Talk Schedule
NBA Unplugged 1:00PM
Audibly Offensive 2:02PM
The War Room 3:01PM
Smooth Jazz 5:11PM
PopSports Sports Radio Tues.AM
The Broad Street Line Wed.AM
After Further Review Wed.AM
HoopGirlz Radio Thur.AM
Gaffer & Hooligan Soccer Fri.AM

Horse Racing