NASCAR Xfinity Series’ Chase Briscoe to pilot Stewart-Haas’ No. 14

Briscoe, the current NASCAR Xfinity Series points leader, will take over the No. 14 Ford that Clint Bowyer leaves behind.

Stewart-Haas Racing has confirmed Chase Briscoe’s promotion to the premier Cup Series. The current Xfinity Series championship point leader will pilot the No. 14 Ford next season, occupying the seat the retiring Clint Bowyer is set to leave behind at the end of the season.

Briscoe, 25, currently drives the No. 98 Ford for SHR at the lower-tier Xfinity Series level. His nine wins in 30 races are an Xfinity Series record amongst full-time drivers at that level. The most recent of those victories, a dominant effort in Saturday’s Kansas Lottery 300, allowed Briscoe to become the first driver to clinch one of the four spots for championship contention at the season final in Phoenix on November 7. Briscoe has 11 victories over three years of Xfinity racing overall and also has two wins at the Gander RV & Outdoor Truck Series level (his first coming with the now-defunct Brad Keselowski Racing) and also earned considerable success on the sprint car and dirt circuits.

The No. 14 Ford has been run by Stewart-Haas Racing since 2004, run mostly as a part-time under the supervision of then-full-time team owner Gene Haas. When Cup Series champion Tony Stewart entered into a partnership with Haas in 2009, at which point the car took on its current No. 14 branding. Stewart ran his final eight seasons in the car, occasionally giving way to drivers like Austin Dillon, Mark Martin, and Jeff Burton due to injury. It was in the No. 14 that Stewart earned his third and final Cup Series title, earning three wins over the final four races to hold off Carl Edwards through a wins tiebreaker in 2011.

Bowyer has driven the No. 14 car since 2017. He recently announced he would step away from racing to join Fox Sports’ NASCAR coverage.

Briscoe will compete for Rookie of the Year honors and is the first such candidate to be confirmed. His new SHR teammate Cole Custer clinched the most recent edition of the award by clinching a spot in the NASCAR playoffs with a win at Kentucky Speedway over the summer. Also racing alongside Briscoe in the SHR stables are 2014 Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick in the No. 4 and Aric Almirola in the No. 10. All four SHR Fords reached the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, though only Harvick reached the Round of 8. The status of SHR’s No. 98 Ford at the Xfinity level has yet to be announced.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action on Sunday afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR Cup Series Preview: Bank of America Roval 400 (Charlotte)

The twists and turns of the NASCAR Playoffs descend upon…the twists and turns of Charlotte Motor Speedways’ famous “roval”.

What: Bank of America Roval 400
Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course, Concord, NC
When: Sunday, 2 p.m. ET
Watch: NBC

Precipitation has left its mark on sports’ playoff proceedings. Snow has regularly blanketed Green Bay Packers playoff games at Lambeau Field. New York Jets fans are still haunted by their loss in the “Mud Bowl”, where South Floridian rains decimated the Orange Bowl field prior to their 14-0 defeat at the hands of the Miami Dolphins in the 1983 AFC title game.

Now, rain in North Carolina could have a significant role in how the NASCAR Cup Series playoff picture shakes out.

Storms often force NASCAR events to be put on hold, but special rain tires and setups will be on-hand as the premier Cup Series prepares to hold an elimination race at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s “Roval”…a half-oval, half-road course behemoth featuring 17 turns that have made and broken playoff fortunes. After Sunday’s race, four races will remain on the 2020 Cup Series schedule. Four drivers from the remaining field of a dozen drivers will be eliminated from championship contention, giving way to the Round of 8 that gets underway at Kansas next weekend. Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin have clinched their spots into the next round through prior Round of 12 wins at Las Vegas and Talladega respectively. But six other spots are up for grabs as the season hits its twilight stages.

The potential for rain in the forecast only raises the potential for postseason chaos. Saturday’s Xfinity Series event was run in a storm and featured numerous incidents that shaped their own cutdown from 12 to 8 playoff drivers. Former Cup regular AJ Allmendinger wound up taking the victory.

Aric Almirola is one of the drivers on the outside of the advancement picture. At 48 points out, Almirola more than likely needs to win to keep his championship hopes alive. But he welcomes any form of additional chaos to the Roval setting, feeling confident he can avoid the pandemonium to earn his first win of the season.

“I think for us at this point the more chaos the better. It creates more opportunities and more chances for other people to have bad races and for us to capitalize on that,” said the driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford in a conference call earlier this week. “Where we’re at in points, if we have a bad race, so what? We are currently not in a position to make it anyway so we have to win. If there is rain or something else that is going to create more chaos and potential for more wrecks and more attrition, then that could potentially work out in our favor.”

The Track

First Cup Series Race: 2018
Length: 2.28 miles (109 laps, 248 miles)
Most Wins: Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott (1)

The Roval is contained within the infield of the de facto hub of NASCAR at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which sits a 20-minute drive away from the Hall of Fame. It contains portions of the traditional oval with the interior turns, its most treacherous being its chicane (a serpentine curve) in the backstretch. It has created an optimum spot for passing, but has also increased the potential for big wrecks.

They Said It

“We all care and I wouldn’t be continuing to go to the race track each and every week and pouring my heart and soul into this and taking time away from my family if I didn’t care. Obviously, there’s M&M’s and Interstate Batteries and Toyota and everybody else on my race car and at Joe Gibbs Racing that supports us that works as hard as they do and my team and my crew chief and all my guys, they don’t spend the time and effort that they do each and every week and all year long for the years that we’ve been together for one of us not to care. That’s tongue in cheek talk and should be known as that coming from me obviously, I say a lot of dumb s***. It is what it is and we’re going to go on into this week and fight like hell and try to make it through.”-Kyle Busch, 21 points from the cutoff, on his previous claim that he “didn’t care” about making the next round. 

“We had a really good season so far. To me, my focus won’t shift to the Round of 8. I’m still going to put in the same amount of work this week getting ready for the Roval as I would if I wasn’t locked in. But certainly, the stress level will be less. Certainly, we can be a little bit more aggressive with our strategy calls starting at the beginning of the race.”-Denny Hamlin on how he’s approaching the Roval 

Three To Watch

Chase Elliott (Starting 2nd)

If anyone was pleased about the inclusion of a record six road courses on the 2021 Cup Series schedule, it was Elliott. His No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has been at the top of the leaderboard at the end of the last three road course events, including the most recent Roval event last fall. After a rollercoaster postrace session at Talladega last week…his fifth-place finish was rescinded then retained after possible rules violation…Elliott is relatively safe in the standings (44 points ahead of the cutoff), so he has some extra freedom in terms of strategies to protect his title. The No. 9 has had a strong season as is, but a strong display of power could well come at the Roval. 

Alex Bowman (Starting 5th)

Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate received some big news this week, as he’ll be the lucky driver taking over the iconic No. 48 Chevrolet upon Jimmie Johnson’s retirement at the end of the year. Bowman still has a chance to end his time in his current No. 88 incarnation on a most victorious note. He’s 22 points ahead of elimination and has finished in the top five in each of the first two Roval events (including a runner-up finish behind Elliott last season).

Clint Bowyer (Starting 11th)

Bowyer’s situation is almost a Bizzaro version of Bowman. Earlier this week, Bowyer announced that he be retiring from the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford at the end of the season to join Fox Sports’ NASCAR coverage. He’s 38 points from the next round after a tough prior two races, but he likewise is riding a streak of good luck at the Roval, having finished in the top five in each of the first two events (he and Bowman are the only two to do so). Bowyer’s also had considerable success on road courses, having finished no worse than 11th in all but one of the past nine events held on such tracks.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

NASCAR: Bowyer’s retirement creates speculation on who fills the No. 14

Thursday evening, NASCAR veteran Clint Bowyer announced that he will be retiring from full-time racing following the 2020 season. He will be shifting to the FOX studio to call Cup Series races alongside Mike Joy and Jeff Gordon.

Bowyer spent 15 years running full-time in the Cup Series and three years full-time in the Xfinity Series. He’s won 10 times in Cup while picking up eight Xfinity wins along with a championship. Known for his larger than life personality, Bowyer will go down as one of the all-time fan favorites in NASCAR.

He’ll leave Stewart-Haas Racing and the No. 14 team, a group he said he wished to retire for. Although Bowyer was aging, his retirement comes as a bit of a shock. Greg Zipadelli, SHR competition director, stated just a month ago that he anticipated the driver lineup to remain the same in 2021. His departure leaves a big ride open for the 2021 season with a lot of speculation on who will fill it.

The favorite to fill the spot is Chase Briscoe, SHR’s only Xfinity Series driver. Briscoe has dominated this season, picking up eight wins and currently sits first in the Xfinity standings.

However, Briscoe to the No. 14 is no sure thing. Other drivers such as Erik Jones, Ryan Preece, and Corey LaJoie are still looking for a 2021 ride, while Kyle Larson is looking to get back into NASCAR. Rumors indicate that Larson is favorited to fill the No. 88 for Hendrick Motorsports, but it’s unclear if he will have the support from Chevrolet and the sponsorship. Anything is on the table with Larson at this point.

Clint Bowyer retiring from full-time NASCAR shakes up “silly season” even more for the 2021 season. Fans will miss seeing Bowyer on the track, as he’s yet another fan-favorite to hang up the fire suit. However, his addition to the FOX booth will be great for TV and NASCAR as a whole. He’s called Xfinity Series races in the past, and called iRacing during the heat of the pandemic.

Congrats to Bowyer on a great career, and best of luck in the booth!

NASCAR: Clint Bowyer announces retirement and move to Fox Sports

Bowyer, 41, has been racing in the NASCAR Cup Series full-time since 2006. He will increase his duties with Fox Sports next season.

NASCAR Cup Series veteran Clint Bowyer announced his retirement on Thursday night through an open letter on Twitter.

Bowyer, the current driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, will finish out the 2020 season and move to the Fox Sports’ NASCAR coverage. His letter begins by recapping his early auto racing career while growing up in Emporia, Kansas before describing his NASCAR career in vivid terms, thanking every owner and sponsor he’s raced under during his tenure before making his announcement.

“I have a new opportunity (to) do what’s next in my life. In 2021, my suit will no longer be fireproof. I will be joining the FOX [sic] booth on Sundays,” Bowyer wrote. “Just like my driving career, I will be part of a great team and organization with great teammates. To say I’m excited would be an understatement.”

Bowyer joined NASCAR’s national proceedings under the watch of renowned team owner Richard Childress, running his first races in what is now the Xfinity Series level in 2004. He was promoted to full-time Cup racing in 2006, driving the No. 07 Chevrolet for Childress. The first of 10 Cup Series came in the 2007 Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motorspeedway en route to a third-place finish in the final standings. Bowyer raced in the No. 07, and later the No. 33, for six seasons before moving to Michael Waltrip Racing in 2012. While with Childress, Bowyer took home the 2008 Xfinity (then Nationwide) Series title.

Driving the No. 15 Toyota for MWR, Bowyer flourished in 2012, winning a career-best three races and finishing in the runner-up spot in the Cup Series standings. He briefly raced for low-budget HScott Motorsports after MWR shut down prior to the 2016 season, but took over SHR’s No. 14 after the retirement of former champion and team owner Tony Stewart. Bowyer has made the NASCAR playoffs in each of his last three seasons with SHR, winning two races in 2018.

During his career, Bowyer’s vibrant personality endeared him to fans and fellow drivers alike. That trait was fully on display during NASCAR’s coronavirus-induced pause in early spring, as Bowyer earned positive reviews while both analyzing and competing in virtual events hosted on the iRacing simulator alongside Fox regulars Mike Joy and Jeff Gordon. Bowyer also called events on the NASCAR Gander RV and Outdoor Truck Series level for FS1. His Fox debut came during an Xfinity Series race at Pocono a year prior.

With Bowyer vacating the No. 14 Ford, SHR did not announce an immediate heir, but it’s very possible that the wheel will be turned to the team’s Xfinity Series driver Chase Briscoe. His No. 98 Ford currently tops the Xfinity playoff standings and has won a circuit-best eight races this season.

Bowyer currently sits 11th in the Cup Series playoff ledger, 38 points away from the cutoff to the Round of 8. He’ll have one last opportunity to advance on Sunday afternoon in Charlotte’s Bank of America Roval 400 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC). The No. 14 Ford will start 11th.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR “Silly Season” Predictions

With what NASCAR refers to as its “silly season” rapidly approaching, it’s time to make predictions on where the top drivers in the sport will be running in 2021. These are just some of my initial big predictions/thoughts, but things will change rapidly once the 48 machine’s new driver is announced.

Bubba Wallace to Hendrick Motorsports (#88)

Let’s start this one out with a bang; everyone wants to know who will replace Jimmie Johnson? Erik Jones, Kyle Larson, Tyler Reddick, and Corey Lajoie were all viewed as contenders for this ride, but one guy stood out above the rest, Bubba Wallace. In no way is Bubba more talented than any of those four drivers. He is more marketable, though, and he is currently one of the biggest stars in the sport with his social justice stances. Bubba would bring an influx of sponsorship and notoriety with him to Hendrick, and it would make sense to add him. Though, I think Alex Bowman takes the prestigious 48 because of his success and fit within Hendrick Motorsports, and Bubba takes the ride known for one of the most marketable drivers in the history of the sport.

Erik Jones to Chip Ganassi Racing (#42)

Jones has a chance to lock this ride down rather quickly. Jones has been an inconsistent driver at the top level, but when he is on, he is very competitive. As a former winner and consistent playoff fixture, he fits the bill of what the team looks for in its drivers. Jones could easily be the guy to lock down the 48, but more than likely, he goes to a spot where he can stay competitive and partner up with a legend, Kurt Busch.

Chase Briscoe to Stewart Haas Racing (#14)

Briscoe’s scenario is a tough one. I could see him sticking in Xfinity for another year, but, let’s be honest, he is ready for the cup. Briscoe has been a force to be reckoned with all season and is ready for top-level competition. His racing style is eerily similar to that of Tony Stewart, and that would be poetic for him to pilot his old number. If Briscoe doesn’t land here, watch out for Kyle Larson.

Corey Lajoie to Richard Petty Motorsports (#43)

This ride is similar to the Hendrick scenario. Marketability wins, and that’s evident with Lajoie. Lajoie is a rising star who deserves a shot with better machinery. RPM isn’t a top tier team, but Lajoie could open some eyes and get to learn from the King, so it would be a no brainer for him. As for RPM, Daniel Suarez could be the guy here if Lajoie doesn’t get it.

Clint Bowyer to Fox Sports

This one is something I see truly brewing. Bowyer got to do some more commentary work progressively over the past few seasons. He has been phenomenal. The knowledge he has, combined with the comedic timing he holds, makes him a tour de force in the booth. He and Gordon have great chemistry, and he could slot in with Mike Joy and him to form an entertaining booth for the long term future.

Kyle Larson to Go Fas Racing (#32)

This one is a little strange. Larson seems like a way too talented driver for this ride on the surface, but if you dive into it, it makes sense. With Aric Almirola needing another big year next year to keep the ten car, and potentially openings emerging next year, Larson could take his shot to get back in the sport at a lower-tier team for a year. Go Fas Racing is a partner of Stewart Haas, and maybe this is how Larson can quietly reacclimatize to the sport without controversy and be groomed for a ride at SHR.

ESM’s Guide to the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs

As the NASCAR’s postseason gets underway in Darlington on Sunday night, ESM has you covered for the road ahead.

The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs get underway at Darlington Raceway tonight. 16 drivers enter the 10-race gauntlet, with four eliminated after every three races. The proceedings wrap up in Phoenix this November, and drivers can advance to the next leg of the tournament with a win in the preceding circuit.

ESM has you covered with lineup and the road (pun much intended) ahead…

The Drivers

1. Kevin Harvick

Team: No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Crew Chief: Rodney Childers
2020 Wins: 7 (Darlington 1, Atlanta, Pocono 1, Indianapolis, Michigan 1, Michigan 2, Dover 2)
Best Prior Finish: 2014 Champion

In this era of lost qualifying and practice, Harvick hasn’t been making a Hall-of-Fame case. As the 2014 Cup Series champion, the man who took over for the late Dale Earnhardt, and his impact on both the Cup and Xfinity levels, Harvick was probably going to Charlotte anyway. But his sheer dominance in going from motorhome to car has been nothing short of extraordinary. Only four races have ended with Harvick outside of the top ten and only a pair of visits to Daytona has stopped him from a streak of 13 consecutive top-five finishes. Through his seven wins (matching seven stages wins as well), Harvick has earned a Cup Series-record 57 playoff points, building himself a solid cushion that could sustain him all the way to Phoenix.

They Said It: “We’ve been fortunate to have great momentum throughout the year and have been able to capitalize on the weeks when we’ve had great race cars and the weeks that we haven’t we’ve made decent finishes out of what we’ve had…Our theory is not that you change gears and try to do something different, it’s you better be ready and already have been in that mode.”-Harvick on building momentum for the playoffs

2. Denny Hamlin (-10 points behind)

Team: No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Crew Chief: Chris Gabehart
2020 Wins: 6 (Daytona Winter, Darlington 2, Homestead, Pocono 2, Kansas, Dover 1)
Best Prior Finish: 2nd (2010)

At Harvick’s side every step of the way has been Hamlin. Since entering the Cup Series in 2006, his No. 11 Toyota has accomplished almost everything there is to earn on the premier levels. February saw him win his third Daytona 500 (and second in a row, the first to do that since Sterling Marlin in 1994-95) and he added five more victories, giving him 43 since starting his Cup career. His career began with a third-place standings finish in his rookie year (the first rookie to qualify for what was then the Chase for the Sprint Cup) and he reached the final four last season, nine years after a runner-up finish. All that’s missing is an elusive Cup championship. Like Harvick, Hamlin was able to build a sizable lead over the cutoffs, currently lead the first won by 47 points thanks to his six wins and tying the No. 4 for the most stage wins with seven. Since teaming with new crew chief Gabehart last season, Hamlin has visited victory lane 12 times.

They Said It: “A lot of stuff has changed on and off the race track. I think I’ve changed a little bit as a driver. I’ve just adapted quite a bit as well. It’s tough to say what has automatically just flipped the switch and made the results what they’ve been over the last two years or less than two years. Certainly, there’s a process we’ve put in to preparing for each week that is working for us, it’s working for me. Me and Chris have just kind of got a thing going that’s working for us. I don’t really know what it is, I just know that we’re performing at tracks that haven’t necessarily and statistically been strong suits for us. Each and every week we’re contending for the race win. I don’t know why that is, but it’s just happening.”-Hamlin on what’s been the difference for him over the last two seasons.

3. Brad Keselowski (-28)

Team: No. 2 Team Penske Ford
Crew Chief: Jeremy Bullins
2020 Wins: 3 (Charlotte 1, Bristol, New Hampshire)
Best Prior Finish: 2012 Champion

The epic battle between Harvick and Hamlin has somewhat covered up Keselowski’s strong season. A strong summer propelled him to the third seed on the initial playoff grid, boosted by a streak of eight consecutive finishes no worse than 11th. Keselowski has worked his magic during his first season under Bullins, who came over from teammate Ryan Blaney’s pit stall during a Penske shakeup. He got off to a strong start in last year’s playoff proceedings, with top fives in each of the three first-round races. But a wreck at Talladega (site of five prior wins) put him in a hole and ended his chances at another trophy hoist at Homestead.

They Said It: I think I’ve been in this position now seven of the last eight years, in the playoffs, really eight of the last nine years and I’ve brought it home once, which is great. I’m super-proud of that. It’s more than I thought I’d ever accomplish in my entire life. And so I’ll always be proud of that, but that doesn’t mean that I’m wanting to stop there. It doesn’t mean that I want to leave this sport with my one Cup and go home and tell my grandkids about it for the next hopefully 40-50 years, however long I’ve got to live. I’d rather tell them about two than one, but the reality is a championship is much bigger than a driver. They put the driver’s name on the trophy, but I’ve never seen a driver win a championship. I’ve seen a lot of damn good teams win championships.”-Keselowski on his No. 2 team

4. Joey Logano (-35)

Team: No. 22 Team Penske Ford
Crew Chief: Paul Wolfe
2020 Wins: 2 (Las Vegas, Phoenix)
Best Prior Finish: 2018 Champion

Logano was the driver to beat prior to the coronavirus-induced pause, winning two of the first four races of the season, including the winter visit to the championship site in Phoenix. He struggled to regain speed once things got rolling again, but heated up as summer rolled on. The No. 22 won each of the first two stages at the regular-season finale at Daytona before a late wreck ended his day. It broke a streak of six consecutive top-ten finishes for the Connecticut native, who is likewise working through a year with a new crew chief in Wolfe. The Cup veteran helped guide Keselowski to his championship in 2012.

They Said It: (The wins) feel like a long time ago…Way too long. We’re ready to win again, but I do feel like we’re getting close back to that same point as we were. To me, there’s no doubt when we went back racing we weren’t where we wanted to be. I even said it a few times, almost like a lost puppy not knowing what road to go down to get back to where we need to be, and it’s hard to find that direction without practice. Going to a different racetrack every week it’s hard to grow. It took longer than we wanted it to, longer than we expected it to, but I feel like we’re getting really close back to where we were at the beginning of the year. We can get ourselves in position to win again and I feel like we’re right at it, so I do feel pretty good about where we’re at again.”-Logano on his 2020 season

5. Chase Elliott (-37)

Team: No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Crew Chief: Alan Gustafson
2020 Wins: 2 (Charlotte 2, Daytona Road Course)
Best Prior Finish: 5th (2017)

The early stages of the return to action were defined by bad luck for Elliott, who was denied several further opportunities for bonus points throughout the year. For example, contact from behind from Kyle Busch denied him a win at an earlier Darlington event this season and an ill-advised move to pit prior to overtime cost him an illustrious Coca-Cola 600 trophy. Elliott was able to get back to victory lane at Daytona, winning the first Cup Series event on the track’s road course his third straight at such a track. It was part of a streak where Elliott finished no worse than ninth in six of the final seven regular-season races. Elliott will be starting on the pole for Sunday’s opener at Darlington

They Said It: “You can’t win the championship without making that final four; and that’s been that point of the Playoffs that we haven’t been able to bust through yet. So, I feel like we’ve been really close at times, to doing it. I think we’re very capable of making the final four. So, at the end of the day, if me being confident and knowing that we can do it, and my team knowing that (too), is the case and it is, then I think that’s really all that matters to me. But it’s certainly the goal. Certainly, if you want to win a championship, you don’t have an option. You’ve got to make it. We know that and look forward to the challenge.”-Elliott on the weight of missing the final four thus far.

6. Martin Truex Jr. (-43)

Team: No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Crew Chief: James Small
2020 Wins: 1 (Martinsville)
Best Prior Finish: 2017 Champion

Truex has been hotter than a summer down the Shore in his native Mayetta Township, NJ. Daytona’s regular season finale saw him end a streak of seven consecutive finishes in the top three…and that was only because he finished fourth. Wins have proved elusive, but Truex has proven time and time again to possess the championship pedigree. He has appeared in the final four in each of the past three seasons and four of the past five. That includes his 2017 title, won in the No. 78 Toyota with the now-defunct Furniture Row Racing.

They Said It: “You’ve got to be resilient. There’s going to be times in the Playoffs when your back is against the wall or you need to make something happen. That’s been the case for us throughout the years. Whether it’s been a season where a lot of things have gone right or a season where things have gone wrong. At the end the day, it’s 10 races to get in and you have to be resilient. You are going to face challenges along the way.”-Truex on the most necessary trait to possess to reach the final four

7. Alex Bowman (-48)

Team: No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Crew Chief: Greg Ives
2020 Wins: 1 (Fontana)
Best Prior Finish: 12th (2019)

Bowman seemed like the driver to beat in the early stages of 2020. He dominated the third race of the season at Fontana, leading 110 of 200 laps en route to victory. When the series returned to action after the pause, Bowman sat in second place in the standings after a runner-up finish at Darlington. But summer has been anything but hot for the No. 88 squad. Since that second-place posting in Myrtle Beach, Bowman has earned only six top-ten finishes. Contending for a championship would mean an extra something for Bowman, a Tuscon native who earned a surprising sixth-place finish at Phoenix when filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. during the 2016 season.

They Said It: “The summer was pretty rough on us. We started the season really strong. Coming back from the COVID-19 (break), we were still really strong and it fell off really hard for the summer. Trying to identify why that happened, what we did wrong and getting better over the last couple of weeks, especially. So, I think we’re in a good place going into the Playoffs.”
“Darlington, for us, we were really fast there the first two races this year. The first race we finished second. The second race we had a way better race car. I started racing my competitors instead of the race track and hit the fence, so that’s on me to not do this time. But I think we can be really strong and have a really good day. I think each and every week during the Playoffs we’re going to be really good, but Darlington is one that we had circled that we can be really strong at, for sure.”-Bowman on recovering from a tough summer

8. William Byron (-50)

Team: No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Crew Chief: Chad Knaus
2020 Wins: 1 (Daytona Summer)
Best Prior Finish: 11th (2019)

Byron’s first career win couldn’t have come at a better time. With a playoff farewell from teammate Jimmie Johnson breathing down his neck for a playoff spot, Byron took home a victory at Daytona’s finale, taking the iconic No. 24 Chevrolet to victory lane for the first time since Jeff Gordon punched his final four ticket at Martinsville during his farewell tour in 2015. Byron’s playoff tour will be overseen by crew chief Knaus, who partook in each of Johnson’s record-tying seven championships.

They Said It: “I think that now having that first win of the season and first win for me and this team, I feel like we’re more focused on just executing the details of each race. Obviously, our goal going into this year was to make it further than we did last year in the playoffs, which was the Round of 12 last year. So, if we can make it to the Round of 8 this year, it would be a success, for sure. We just have to take it one race at a time. A lot of these tracks are good for us. I think the first round is probably the weakest of the tracks for us, so we just have to try to focus on that.”-Byron on how the weight of his first win is removed

9. Austin Dillon (-52)

Team: No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
Crew Chief: Justin Alexander
2020 Wins: 1 (Texas)
Best Prior Finish: 12th (2017)

Dillon worked his way into the playoffs with a hard-fought win in Fort Worth. His timing, perhaps, couldn’t have been better. Dillon was forced to turn over the iconic No. 3 Chevrolet to Kaz Grala at the Dayton road course after a self-reported positive test for COVID-19. While Dillon has ways to go in living up to the reputation the No. 3 car carries with it, he has been relatively consistent in 2020. The win at Texas gives him a small cushion to at least make it to the round of 12.

They Said It: “I love being dismissed. I think it’s a great. It’s all I’ve just kind of always been that way. I feel like maybe not that way in the trucks are Xfinity at the end of those runs, but in the Cup series, it’s been a little bit of that. So and I feel like that’s what kind of propels us, and then we sneak up on people. I was very close to making it to the third round a couple years back in the playoffs and missed it by one point to Denny Hamlin not want to transfer this on and we missed at Talladega by one so I know from that experience at every Point matters, and we just need to go out there and do our job these first three races is good good races for us, but the stage is the way they play out. You got to get points. So we’re going to be very aggressive in getting those points and hopefully messed up a lot of brackets.”-Dillon on being an underdog headed into the playoffs

10. Cole Custer (-52)

Team: No. 41 Stewart-Hass Racing Ford
Crew Chief: Mike Shiplett
2020 Wins: 1 (Kentucky)
Best Prior Finish: N/A (rookie)

Custer is the first rookie to partake in the NASCAR Cup Series postseason since Chase Elliott and Chris Buescher fought their way in during the 2016 season. While the back-to-back runner-up in the Xfinity Series struggled in his first year at the wheel of the No. 41, Custer punched his ticket to the playoffs at Kentucky and kept the momentum going with three top-ten finishes over the past nine races. His opportunity to advance could come at Darlington, where he won last season’s Xfinity event (albeit via disqualification of race-winner Denny Hamlin). By qualifying for the playoffs, Custer has already earned the Cup Series’ Rookie of the Year title, topping a talented class that also featured Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell.

They Said It: “I think we can go in there and prove some people wrong is the biggest thing, but at the end of the day it’s about being consistent and it’s about being competitive. I think we’ve had a lot of peaks and valleys at times this year, but at the same time we just need to try and level it out more going into these playoffs. If we can be consistent and we can put it all together and put all the pieces together for these last 10 races, I think we’ve shown that we can compete with anybody it’s just trying to put those pieces together every single race.”-Custer on his playoff approach

11. Aric Almirola (-52)

Team: No. 10 Stewart-Hass Racing Ford
Crew Chief: Mike Bugarewicz
2020 Wins: 0
Best Prior Finish: 5th (2018)

Though wins have proved elusive (his last coming in Talladega’s event in the fall of 2018), Almirola was one of the most accomplished drivers of the summer. building a streak of nine consecutive top-ten finishes. He has reached the playoffs in each of his three seasons in Tony Stewart’s No. 10, though advancement through the playoff rounds have has proved difficult. He made it to the penultimate segment in 2018, but a string of finishes outside the top-ten eliminated him in the first round last year.

They Said It: “It makes no difference to me what anybody else thinks and that’s an attitude that I’ve had for a long time. I’m the type of guy that just really puts my head down and goes to work with my race team, and that’s all I really care about is working with Bugarewicz and the guys on my team. What anybody else thinks I really don’t care because only I and my race team really know what we’re capable of and areas where we need to improve and areas where we feel like we’re doing a good job. I am excited about the playoffs. I do feel like we have a lot of potential. We’ve run really well. We’ve made some mistakes along the way that we certainly have to clean up going into the playoffs to be a contender, but I do feel like our speed and the way that we’ve been running, the capability is certainly there.”-Almirola on being a playoff sleeper

12. Clint Bowyer (-53)

Team: No. 14 Stewart-Hass Racing Ford
Crew Chief: Mike Bugarewicz
2020 Wins: 0
Best Prior Finish: 2nd (2012)

The fan-favorite Bowyer has remained generally consistent in the No. 14 Ford that won the Cup Series title with Tony Stewart behind the wheel in 2011. Bowyer, who has doubled as a commentator for Fox Sports, will be seeking his first win since June 2018. His best finish came at the playoff track of Bristol, where he came home in the runner-up spot behind Keselowski.

They Said It: “Gas mask. Same precautions you have. I mean, it’s the same thing . It’s COVID. I mean, it (stinks). It’s pretty crazy to me that we’re this far along and we still really don’t know a whole lot more than where we’re at. I mean, it’s crazy times, but, nonetheless, you’ve got to take care of yourself. I’m probably not gonna go to college and hit up a keg stand. I’m probably not going to do that. I would say that would be a good opportunity to find yourself pointless.”-Bowyer on precautions he’ll be taking to avoid COVID-19 during the playoffs.

13. Ryan Blaney (-54)

Team: No. 12 Team Penske Ford
Crew Chief: Todd Gordon
2020 Wins: 1 (Talladega)
Best Prior Finish: 7th (2019)

Apologies for pointing out a theme, but it’s possible that the 2020 playoffs could well become “Penske material”. No one on the circuit perhaps knows more about bad luck than Blaney. Only four drivers on the circuit led more laps than Blaney (586), several accidents beyond his control denied him victories at several tracks this season. He has likewise been impacted by the Penske shuffle, with Todd Gordon taking over his pit stall. Gordon was on hand to guide fellow Penske Ford driver Logano to his title in 2018. Blaney heard some bad news prior to Sunday’s opener at Darlington, as Gordon was suspended and he was docked 10 points for an improperly mounted ballast.

They Said It: “It’s just been so limited with no practice. You can talk so much throughout the week on the phone and things like that, but it’s just different than being able to go through a couple practices and the whole weekend with them and talking to them. But I think we’ve gotten the best that we can. Todd and I get along really well. He’s an amazing crew chief and a championship crew chief and has won a ton of races, so I think it’s been going well. It’s a shame, but everyone is in the same boat.”-Blaney on working with new crew chief Gordon

14. Kyle Busch (-54)

Team: No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Crew Chief: Adam Stevens
2020 Wins: 0
Best Prior Finish: 2015, 2019 Champion

Perhaps no other driver on the circuit has better personified 2020 from the average race fan’s point of view. Everything that can go wrong for the two-time Cup Series champion has indeed come to pass, whether it’s been getting caught up in wrecks, having tire or car issues, or simply being on the wrong pit strategy. It has put the defending champion in an awkward spot as the postseason begins: winless, no playoff points to fall back on, and in danger of elimination in the first round. Admittedly, most drivers would LOVE to struggle the way Busch has. But it’s clearly below the expectations the No. 18 and its driver have set for themselves.

They Said It: “This year has definitely been one of the biggest tests I feel like I’ve been through. 2015, I was injured and I was on the sideline and I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to come back and I was able to come back and then struggled for five weeks just getting a footing and then finally being able to win again at Sonoma. Right there just lit a fire under us and that was all it took for the rest of the year to be a championship contender and a guy to go out there to compete with his team and be the best of all of them. This year, it’s been nothing but something else that’s in the back of your mind like, what’s going to happen next and what’s the next thing that’s going to test your patience. Just seems like we can’t shake this monkey off our back. Wherever he is, whatever he looks like, somebody tell me and we’re going to go for a few roll-arounds here and get him off my back in order go out here and have a solid, successful, productive final 10 weeks.”-Busch on how 2020 has tested him

15. Kurt Busch (-56)

Team: No. 1 Chip Gannasi Racing Chevrolet
Crew Chief: Matt McCall
2020 Wins: 0
Best Prior Finish: 2004 Champion

Kyle’s older brother and fellow champion (the first under a NASCAR playoff system) failed to get a win, and it’ll come back to haunt him in the playoff standings. But strong consistency led to another playoff berth and allowed him to hover in the top ten of the standings all season. He beat out Kyle for a win at Kentucky last season, but an opening crash in the playoff debut at his home track of Las Vegas ended his chances of moving on. Busch is one of two playoff drivers to have run without a playoff system, the other being Harvick.

They Said It: “What I think it’s done is it gave it a strong comparison to other sports. There’s that Playoff atmosphere. There’s that championship race, where four guys are eligible to win the championship and it’s an even playing ground. When it was a long marathon process of going through all 36 races, that was a different sequence. That was maybe not as intense when it got down to the final rounds. And so, with these 10 weeks, the Playoff atmosphere is there, and it relates well to other sports. And that’s where it draws in more fans that might not have been NASCAR fans before.”-Busch on how the playoffs have changed NASCAR

16. Matt DiBenedetto (-57)

Team: No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford
Crew Chief: Greg Erwin
2020 Wins: 0
Best Prior Finish: 22nd (2019)

DiBenedetto has built a strong following after earning his way to a decent ride in the long-running No. 21 car. He began his Cup career in low-budget vehicles and fought his way into the playoffs through general 2020 consistency (which includes a runner-up finish at Las Vegas). Some late struggles put him in a tough situation at Daytona, put he held off Johnson to clinch an elusive spot.

They Said It: “I would say that this week has been a release. It was so stressful and kept getting more stressful leading up to Daytona and the points closed in and we lost the gap that we had and all that. I would call this week exciting and we got to celebrate with some friends out on the lake Sunday and have a good time but come Monday it was time to shift focus and we still have a lot of racing left and a lot to accomplish. It was a relief and exciting moving forward now instead of stressful. Exciting knowing that we have an opportunity to really put a good end to our season and cap it off and have a lot more success. I am pretty pumped up about that and I am appreciative to be doing it for the Wood Brothers.”-DiBenedetto on making the playoffs for the first time as a veteran driver

The Races

(All times ET)

Cook Out Southern 500

Where: Darlington Raceway, Darlington, South Carolina
When: September 6
Watch: 6 p.m., NBCSN
Winner from 2019: Erik Jones

“The Track Too Tough to Tame” hosts its annual Labor Day Weekend event and its first playoff race since 2004. In recent time, the race has become well-known for featuring throwback paint schemes, a tradition that will continue this year.

Federated Auto Parts 400

Where: Richmond Raceway, Richmond, Virginia
When: September 12
Watch: 7:30 p.m., NBCSN
Winner from 2019: Martin Truex Jr.

Richmond’s short track hosted the final regular season race from 2004 through 2018. It is now the second race of the round of 16. Keep an eye on Joe Gibbs’ Toyotas, who have won four of the last five September races.

Bass Pro Shops Night Race

Where: Bristol Motor Speedway, Bristol, Tennessee
When: September 19
Watch: 7:30 p.m., NBCSN
Winner from 2019: Denny Hamlin

For the first time, the famous cramped short-track settings of BMS will host a playoff race. The night race has been particularly intriguing, known for its flaring of tempers and propensity for wrecks.

South Point 400

Where: Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas, Nevada
When: September 27
Watch: 7 p.m., NBCSN
Winner from 2019: Martin Truex Jr.

The Round of 12 gets underway in Sin City, where Logano punched his ticket to the playoffs in the second race of the season back in February.

YellaWood 500

Where: Talladega Superspeedway, Talladega, Alabama
When: October 4
Watch: 2 p.m., NBC
Winner from 2019: Ryan Blaney

If you thought the superspeedway proceedings that closed out the regular season at Daytona were exciting, just wait until you see what the playoffs themselves have in store at Talladega, home of multi-car pile-up commonly referred to as “The Big One”.

Bank of America ROVAL 400

Where: Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course, Concord, North Carolina
When: October 11
Watch: 2:30 p.m., NBC
Winner from 2019: Chase Elliott

Since being introduced to the playoff in 2018, the “roval”, a half-oval, half-road course at the hub of NASCAR, has created all kinds of postseason chaos. This will be the first time it ends the second round of the playoffs, previously seen at the end of the round of 16.

Hollywood Casino 400

Where: Kansas Speedway, Kansas City, Kansas
When: October 18
Watch: 2:30 p.m., NBC
Winner from 2019: Denny Hamlin

The Round of 8 gets underway in Kanas, where Denny Hamlin has won each of the last two visits, including a weeknight race earlier this summer.

AAA Texas 500

Where: Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth, Texas
When: October 25
Watch: 3:30 p.m., NBC
Winner from 2019: Kevin Harvick

Texas produced a surprise winner earlier this summer, with Dillon using strategy his favor to take hom a long-awaited victory. Harvick has won each of the last three visits in the fall.

Xfinity 500

Where: Martinsville Speedway, Martinsville, Virginia
When: November 1
Watch: 2 p.m., NBC
Winner from 2019: Martin Truex Jr.

A battle on a short track will determine the final spots for the season finale in Arizona. Thus, racing will be tight and tempers will more than likely flare.

NASCAR Cup Series Championship

Where: Phoenix Raceway, Avondale, Arizona
When: November 8
Watch: 3 p.m., NBC
Winner from 2019: Denny Hamlin

After nearly two decades in Miami, the NASCAR season finale proceedings will move to Phoenix. Hamlin, one of the favorites, is the defending victor, but fellow front-runner Kevin Harvick has won four times.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: Fords dominate the 2020 playoff grid

The 2020 NASCAR regular season concluded on Saturday night with the exciting Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona. Three spots were still up for grabs, with Clint Bowyer and Matt DiBenedetto taking two of the spots on points. The third was taken by William Byron, scoring his first career Cup Series victory.

With Bowyer and DiBenedetto now in the playoffs, it will mean that eight fords will have the chance to compete for a championship. All four Stewart-Haas drivers made it, as well as all three Penske teams and the lone Wood Brothers driver in DiBenedetto.

As for Stewart-Haas, Kevin Harvick has ran the show all year. He has seven wins, the most of all Cup Series drivers and has the number one seed in the playoffs. Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer have remained winless in 2020, but have ran up-front all year. Almirola has 14 top-10s, while Bowyer has seven. Although not nearly as many great finishes, Bowyer has collected a lot of stage points. For Cole Custer, he’s in because of his win at Kentucky Motor Speedway. He has six top-10s, but would likely not have made it to the playoffs if it wasn’t for the win.

On the Penske side of things, no one driver has really been more dominant than the other. Brad Keselowski has three wins, Joey Logano has two wins, and Ryan Blaney has one. All three drivers have ran up front all year and work together incredibly well together. Each of the three drivers has double-digit top-10s.

And finally, Matt DiBenedetto and the Wood Brothers. DiBenedetto has been great in the #21 car this year, and the alliance with Penske has paid off. He has seven top-10s and has scored a lot of stage points. The only concerning thing for him is that he has just two top-10s in the last nine points-paying races.

Ford has been the dominant manufacturer all year, and it shows as eight if its drivers will be competing for a championship. Will their dominance continue during the playoffs?

Wednesday’s All-Star Race at Bristol can serve as a perfect NASCAR victory lap

The course has been a bit bumpy, but NASCAR’s return to action can earn a proper salute during Wednesday’s All-Star exhibition.

Even when all is well, the art of the “All-Star Game” was becoming an endangered species.

The NFL’s Pro Bowl has been on life support for years, perhaps sustained by the concept of “hate-watching” normally reserved for reality shows. Winter showcases like the NBA and NHL have become increasingly gimmick-filled (via the “Elam Ending” and a divisional 3-on-3 tournament respectively) and are often remembered more for the weekend events that accompany them. MLB’s Midsummer Classic remains a tradition despite dilution via interleague play and free agency.

As for NASCAR, their upcoming exhibition showcase might be one of the brightest and most important nights in the circuit’s history.

Wednesday night will mark the 36th annual NASCAR All-Star event and the first at Bristol Motor Speedway(7 p.m. ET, FS1). It will be a celebration of racing and competition like no other, with a grand prize of $1 million due to the winning team. NASCAR is also set to welcome 30,000 of their closest friends to partake, as that limited number will be welcomed into the Tennessee-based stadium. Those who enter will witness just how far NASCAR has come in one of the most turbulent times in the country’s history.

The fact NASCAR is even able to stage such an event is a win on its own. Other leagues have not only scrapped their 2020 All-Star proceedings, but some are even willing to ditch the potential stagings in 2021 to complete modern seasons (the NHL, eager to not only finish this season but also play a full 82-game slate next year, seems most likely to do so). NASCAR is now holding an event that could be deemed “non-essential”, a race where only a large bag of cash is on the line.

Leading up to a fun event like the All-Star Race, NASCAR, its personnel, and its fans have had serious discussions that have perhaps avoided them for years. Current events seek racial justice and equality across the nation could’ve been swept under the rug, giving the drivers a chance to “shut up and drive”, if you will. NASCAR could’ve continued to simply frown upon continued usage of the Confederate flag, an emblem whose true, racist intentions and meanings have become more clear and well-known in recent years. It could’ve let Bubba Wallace, a rare African-American driver on the circuit, exist in an island setting, if only for keeping things “comfortable”.

But it simply refused to do so.

Not everything about NASCAR’s return and its desire for education and welcoming has been perfect. Their premature labeling of a hate crime against Wallace at the Talladega event was a (self-admitted) flaw in what was otherwise a right move to call in FBI investigators. When national protests against systemic racism began to rise across the nation, NASCAR addressed them and supported the endgame at a time when everyone would be watching: just prior to the green flag at Atlanta Motor Speedway’s 500-mile event in June.

Time will tell just how effective this new outlook will be. Inviting a select few thousand to Bristol could perhaps serve as a good barometer. But going into the All-Star proceedings, it certainly appears that NASCAR is in a far better place and holds a much better future than it did when COVID-19 forced a two-month pause back in March. The sense of unity and family was perhaps best displayed after the aforementioned Talladega incident. Even if the noose was determined to not be a hate crime against Wallace, the mere thought of a threat brought the community together. Prior to the 500-mile race’s invocation and national anthem, drivers pushed Wallace’s No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet to the front of the field and let the world know that such hatred would not be tolerated on their watch.

I want the weekend to be remembered by…I guess a good word would be ‘unity’, everyone coming together and showing support,” the Talladega winner Ryan Blaney remarked after the race. “I hate focusing on the bad things because that’s what gets a rise out of people  But I feel like what everyone has said the last day has really shown that it’s not going to be tolerated anymore. We’re all going to stand behind the people who are mistreated.  That just shows what a family we are. We’re competitors all on the racetrack, but at the end of the day, we’re one big traveling family. We’re going to support anybody who we compete with. If they get threatened in a way, we’re going to have their back.”

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

“I don’t want (Talladega) to be remembered as a terrible day or a bad day in NASCAR,” he continued. “I want it to be remembered as there was an incident and we all overcame it together, showed that we were not going to take it anymore, man. I’m getting sick of this (stuff). It’s not something that he should deal with.”

Speaking of operating during the ongoing health crisis, NASCAR’s ongoing efforts have allowed a grieving nation a rare semblance of normality. Along with golf, auto racing is perhaps the easiest sport adhere to social distancing mandates. It’s safe to say that NASCAR has taken advantage of the scenario

Even if they were only visiting while waiting for their usual favorites to return, a sports-starved nation has turned to NASCAR in this time of (admittedly small in the grand scheme of things) need. Things have, again, failed to be entirely clean. Several crew members of Stewart-Haas Racing were revealed to have tested positive, as did seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson (who missed one race before testing negative twice in a 24-hour span to earn clearance to return).

But drivers have repeatedly stated that they feel safe in this process and hope such procedures will continue as the season continues to run through November.

“If any organization or sanction was to be ready for a challenge like this, I knew it would be NASCAR,” veteran Clint Bowyer said of the current health protocols. “We are a group that travels together and takes care of each other and looks after one another. Everybody knows everybody and in a time like this when you really have to hunker down and watch each other’s backs we do a good job of that and I think it shows.”

“I feel safe at the racetrack and I know my peers do as well. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I feel like that is a good example of what we have going on. I think we are doing a good job with it.”

 (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

With so much change for the better, it’s almost forgivable to forget that there’s actual racing to discuss. The efforts to compact race weekends into single-day endeavors have eliminated concepts perhaps taken for granted, like practice and qualifying. But, in the eyes of some fans and observers, the quick transition from hauler to track has allowed teams and drivers to truly test their mettle and perhaps create a more equalized environment with everyone testing out the asphalt for the first time.

Wednesday could be a look into the future from both a social and racing standpoint. The All-Star has long been an experimental ground for NASCAR’s endeavors, and Wednesday will be no exception. Cosmetically, the competing machines will have their traditional “door” numbers aligned to the right and underglow light perhaps inspired by the early films of the Fast and the Furious franchise will paint Bristol all different colors. Speaking of the Bristol visit, a track that routinely sees post-race confrontations that violate every semblance of social distancing, this will be the first time that NASCAR holds the All-Star Race at a venue outside their Charlotte hub. Restarts will also enjoy a bit of a makeover, as the “choose cone” rule will see driver debate their position either on the leaderboard or on the asphalt.

“The choose cone kind of puts the fate in your own hands. If we can execute it well, that’s my main thing,” an excited Matt DiBenedetto said of the innovation. “I’m excited about the fact of being able to choose where you restart and maybe jump a couple of rows and if you want to go in the row that’s not preferred, but you can pick up a couple of lanes or whatever, that’s kind of cool and exciting. Hopefully, we execute it well and it goes smoothly because it would be really nice for a lot of other places.”

The Cup Series season will run through November, but with the return several other professional leagues on the horizon, the All-Star event will perhaps be the last time that NASCAR will be at the forefront of the American sports fan’s imagination. But the aura behind Wednesday is anything but that of a “last dance”. Instead, it’s a celebration, a celebration of what NASCAR was and continues to be…a circuit of close, no-holds-barred racing at one of its most volatile tracks. It can also provide a glimpse into the future and create a tremendous scale for just how far the organization has come in just a few weeks.

Such an outlook is apparent among the association’s most notable names.

“I enjoy this sport. I love this sport. I am proud of this sport and proud to be a part of this sport. It has always been fun for me over the years to sell this sport to the fans or whatever the case may be,” said Bowyer, driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford and a part-time commentator for Fox Sports. “A lot of things you are seeing right now, the All-Star race, things that we have wanted to do with our sport for a long time. (These are) opportunities that we wouldn’t have been able to take because of courage or business or a lot of reasons that we wouldn’t have been able to go to those measures that we were able to because of COVID.”

“There is no handbook that comes with (this situation). You have to create it and you have to learn from your mistakes quickly and put them to use. (We) certainly have done that with NASCAR.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

NASCAR: Chase Briscoe proving he deserves a 2021 Cup Series ride

One of the biggest stories of the 2020 NASCAR season has been the dominating performance of Chase Briscoe in the Xfinity Series. Through 13 races, Briscoe has won five of them and sits first in the standings, driving the #98 for Stewart-Haas. He’s won three of the past four races under interim crew chief Greg Zipadelli, the former crew chief of Tony Stewart.

Briscoe is proving that he deserves a Cup Series ride, and two spots may be opening up right in Stewart-Haas. Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola have contracts expiring after 2020. Although the two have performed pretty well, they haven’t won much. Because of the lack of wins, it’s possible that Stewart-Haas lets them walk after 2020.

Almirola is 9th in points, but has finished in the top five in each of the last five races. He won in 2018 at Talladega, that being his only win for Stewart-Haas. Bowyer has won twice for Stewart-Haas, but both were in 2018. He is 13th in standings now and has five top-10s this year.

With Almirola on the run that he’s on, it’s more likely that it will be Bowyer who walks after 2020. But, what if both come back to Stewart-Haas? There’s a ride potentially opening up at Penske this winter, with Brad Keselowski having a contract expiring. Lots of speculation may have Keselowski going to Hendrick to drive the 48, and if that happens, the 2 car could be free for Briscoe. Penske drives fords like Stewart-Haas, and Briscoe drove for Brad Keselowski in the 2017 truck series.

With his Xfinity Series success, a few different paths could take Chase Briscoe into the Cup Series in 2021. A ride could be opening in his current company, or it’s possible he could switch to Penske in the premier series.