NASCAR: Joey Logano wins historic dirt race at Bristol

Joey Logano held off off a final push from Denny Hamlin to win the NASCAR Cup Series first race on dirt in over five decades.

Joey Logano came out clean at the end of the first NASCAR Cup Series run on dirt in 51 years.

The No. 22 Team Penske Ford led the final 61 laps en route to victory at the Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Monday. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished second, while Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez, and Ryan Newman rounded out the top five.

Bristol’s dirt endeavor, the first NASCAR Cup Series event held on dirt since 1970, was pushed back from Sunday to Monday after inclement weather flooded the parking lot and rendered the track inoperable. Thanks to a strong effort from the BMS crew, both the Cup and Camping World Truck Series were able to run their full events without issues.

Unlike several of his Cup peers, Logano did not run the Trucks race, instead calling the race for Fox Sports 1. Despite limited dirt experience, he was able to stay toward the front for a good portion of the day after starting 10th. He took care of business after the first 100-lap stage through a sixth-place finish while the Truck race winner Martin Truex Jr. dominated.

Logano first took the lead at lap 170 of 250, passing the upstart Suarez in the No. 99 Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet. He would go on to beat out Suarez for the stage two win before a ten-minute break commenced. By then, the middle stage of the race had thrown a new obstacle for the drivers: the return of single-file restarts, which hadn’t been seen on the Cup circuit since 2009. Early runs in the second stage were quickly stopped by multi-car get-togethers that damaged the cars of several contenders, including Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Chase Briscoe, Alex Bowman, and Ryan Blaney.

With the track moistened for the final 50-lap stage, Logano held the lead despite a strong push from Hamlin in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Mike Marlar’s spin just five laps from the checkered flag set up a two-lap overtime finish, but Logano was able to keep Hamlin and a charging Stenhouse behind him. Stenhouse had worked his No. 47 JTG Daugherty Chevrolet up from eighth over the final 30 laps to secure his fifth career runner-up finish at Bristol.

Logano is the seventh different winner in seven different events to open the 2021 season, the first time the Cup Series has had seven unique winners to start since 2014. The series will go on hiatus during Easter weekend before returning for the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on April 10 (7:30 p.m. ET, FS1).

Race Notes

  • Dirt track veterans and Cup regulars Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell saw their days end on a wreck at lap 53, an incident that also took out Ross Chastain.

 

  • Truex dominated the Truck event earlier in the day, leading 105 of 150 laps and sweeping each stage in a Toyota Tundra owned by Kyle Busch. His No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was running in the top five at the end of the race, but lost a tire late and was relegated to 19th.

 

  • Another early incident involved Aric Almirola’s No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. Almirola failed to finish for the third time this season, matching his DNF total from all of last year. That wreck also ended the days of Anthony Alfredo, Corey LaJoie, and Shane Golobic (a dirt veteran driving B.J. McLeod’s No. 78).

 

  • Bubba Wallace’s top ten run was ended after contact with Stenhouse created a tire rub that sent him spinning with 34 laps to go. Forced to pit road and unaided by a caution and finished 27th.

 

  • Suarez set a new career-high with 58 laps and earned his first top-five finish since November 2019 (Texas). Monday marked the seventh race for Trackhouse, which is led by owner, recording artist, and philanthropist Pitbull.

 

  • Newman survived an early spin (one that forced Kevin Harvick into rookie teammate Briscoe) to earn his first top five since October 2019 (Talladega).

For full results, click here

For full standings, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

NASCAR: Ryan Blaney steals win from Kyle Larson at Atlanta

Kyle Larson’s dominance was of no concern to Ryan Blaney, who became the sixth different NASCAR Cup Series winner this season.

Kyle Larson led 269 of 325 laps on Sunday afternoon at Atlanta Motor Speedway’s NASCAR Cup Series event. Alas for Larson and his No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, the final circuit was not one of them.

Ryan Blaney passed Larson with nine to go, earning a victory in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. Blaney, driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford, becomes the sixth different winner in six events this season. Larson finished second ahead of Alex Bowman, Denny Hamlin, and Kyle Busch.

“I’m glad I’m one of them!” a smiling Blaney said about joining the other five winners in relative playoff safety. As for the parity, Blaney added “It just goes in the off-season of prep work, how you’re going to unload, show up to race We’ve probably never seen this. I don’t know when there were six different winners in the first six races. It just shows that a lot of great teams are out there and you have to be on top of your game. It just shows how many people can win.”

Blaney and the rest of the field found themselves staring at Larson’s back bumper for a good portion of the day. Larson first took the lead after a competition caution at lap 25 from the pole sitter Hamlin and expanded his to as high as ten-plus seconds as the afternoon played out. Save for brief reprieves during green flag pit stops, Larson led for the next 189 laps, allowing him to earn victories in the first stages, consisting of 105 circuits apiece.

The No. 12 team first flexed their muscles on lap 220, when Larson teammate Chase Elliott’s car began smoking. On the ensuing pit stops, Blaney emerged first after a strong stop. He was forced to relinquish the lead to remove some debris from his grill by using the draft behind Larson. The No. 5 kept the lead after the pit cycle but Blaney was able to chase him down through a strong stop and taking care of his tires on Atlanta’s seasoned surface. Blaney made the pass with nine laps to go and stretched it out to a second to earn a victory.

“He had a huge lead there in that second stage, then he didn’t really get that far out in front of me in the start of the third stage,” Blaney recalled. “Then we were running him down pretty good until we pitted there. He got a little bit ways away from me on pit road after we came out. He stretched his lead out a tiny bit. I was like, All right, it’s going to be a 50-plus-lap run, I’m going to try to save my stuff a little bit.”

“The guys did a great job getting me out there ahead of him. They were holding off for a little bit, but he was just so good on the short run there.”

Blaney’s besting of Larson continued some unusual trends on the NASCAR spectrum. Each of Blaney’s five Cup Series victories has come through a victorious pass of the leader with less than ten laps to go while Larson has never won a race in which he has won each of the first two stages.

The win also held personal significance to Blaney, whose father Dave ran at the Cup level for parts of 17 seasons. While the elder Blaney never had the best equipment to work with, he came close to a victory two decades prior at AMS while driving the No. 93 Dodge for Bill Davis Racing. Dave led 70 laps but lost a tire and was relegated to 34th.

With fans welcomed into Atlanta at the highest rate allowed by the state of Georgia, Dave was in attendance to see his son earn the victory.

“I don’t know how solar cycles line up, every 20 years, I don’t know. (But I’m) happy we were able to avenge that loss on him,” Ryan Blaney said. “Whether it’s a stern talking to or it’s careful advice, I’ve always enjoyed talking to him, hearing what he’s got to say. Just him being around means a lot. I grew up watching dad race. Now I’m racing full-time in NASCAR. He’s watching me. That’s pretty cool.”

The NASCAR Cup Series will return to Atlanta for the Quaker State 400 presented by Wal-Mart on July 11.

As a former sprint car racer and World of Outlaws champion, Dave will likely have some helpful advice for his son with next weekend’s event looming. For the first time in over five decades, the Cup Series will race on dirt, heading to a modified version of Bristol Motor Speedway next Sunday afternoon (3:30 p.m. ET, Fox). Qualifying races will be held the Saturday beforehand (6 p.m. ET, FS1).

Race Notes

  • Kurt Busch was relegated to a last-place finish in 39th after Denny Hamlin got into the back of him on the restart after the second stage.

 

  • Elliott’s DNF was his first since the latter half of the Dover doubleheader last August.

 

  • Daniel Suarez helped Trackhouse Racing earn its first stage point with a 10th-place finish in the second segment, but a late speeding penalty on pit road pushed him back to 17th.

 

  • Defending Xfinity Series champion and current points leader Austin Cindric finished 22nd in his second career Cup Series event and his first since the season-opening Daytona 500. Cindric, who drives Team Penske’s No. 22 in the lower level, will take over the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford next season.

For full results, click here

For full standings, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: Kyle Larson wins at Las Vegas in fourth race back

It took only four Cup Series races for Kyle Larson to pilot Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 5 Chevrolet back into victory lane.

Hendrick Motorsports ruled the NASCAR Cup Series for the second consecutive weekend, as Kyle Larson put an exclamation point on his return to the circuit with a win in the Pennzoil 400 presented by JiffyLube at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Larson, driver of HMS’ No. 5 Chevrolet, earned his seventh career Cup victory and his first since he missed a majority of the 2020 campaign due to a suspension and firing from the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. Larson led all but 12 of the final 61 laps en route to victory, besting the No. 2 Team Penske Ford of Brad Keselowski by over three seconds. Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas of Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin came home behind them, while Keselowski’s teammate Ryan Blaney rounded out the top five.

Larson has gotten off to a strong start with HMS since he was chosen to represent the resurrection of the No. 5 branding. Through four races, Larson is one of four drivers to earn top ten finishes in three of the first four races. The hot start has been earned alongside crew chief Cliff Daniels, who celebrated his first win as a NASCAR pit boss. Daniels previously served as the crew chief for seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson’s bittersweet final season in the No. 48 (now driven by Alex Bowman) last year.

HMS as a whole has been clicking on all cylinders in recent NASCAR history. Chase Elliott took home last season’s Cup Series title by winning the final two races in November, while William Byron dominated the final stanzas of last weekend’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Larson’s win marked the 265th trophy the team ledgers, putting them two behind Petty Enterprises for the most in Cup Series history. Elliott’s triumph last fall was the 13th championship in team history, one of which was earned through Terry Labonte’s 1996 endeavors in the No. 5 Larson pilots today.

Hendrick’s Chevrolets dominated the early portions of Sunday’s race in Sin City. Byron, Elliott, and Larson united to lead the first 30 laps, their transitions among the first of 27 lead changes (second-most in Las Vegas history). Keselowski and his Penske group threatened to spoil the celebration, passing Larson on the penultimate lap of the first 80-lap stage to capture the early victory. Larson and Keselowski would mostly battle for the lead from there one out, with the former capturing the other 80-lap stage. During the last 107-circuit segment, Keselowski shaved seconds off his deficit when Larson lost speed through a botched pit road entry.

But a strong stop from Daniels’ No. 5 crew allowed Larson to leave in front of Keselowski’s No. 2. He would re-establish his lead from there on out, capturing the win by over three seconds. Larson is the fourth different winner over the first four races this season, joining Byron, Michael McDowell, and Christopher Bell. HMS earned consecutive wins through different drivers for the first time since 2015, when Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Adding to the sense of HMS lore on Sunday was the fact that Larson won in a car emulating the NASCAR Busch Series paint scheme of Hendrick’s late son Ricky, who held a variety of roles with the team. Ricky tragically perished, along with nine others, in 2004 in a plane crash en route to Martinsville Speedway.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action next Sunday to the site of November’s season finale, Phoenix Raceway, for the Instacart 500 (3:30 p.m. ET, Fox).

Race Notes

  • Larson is the quickest driver to earn a win in a Hendrick Motorsports car, doing so in his fourth start. The record was previously held by Labonte, who won in his seventh start in the No. 5 (North Wilkesboro, 1994).

 

  • McDowell (17th) and Kevin Harvick (20th) each saw their personal streak of top-ten finishes end.

 

  • In other HMS endeavors, Elliott overcame damage in the jack area and a spin to finish 13th. Byron earned a top-ten finish (8th), but late issues for Bowman relegated him to 27th.

 

  • Corey LaJoie (rear end) and Aric Almirola (accident) each failed to finish

 

  • Erik Jones (10th) earned his first top ten of the season, as well as his first with Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43 Chevrolet

 

  • Larson’s win was the first for Hendrick Motorsports at Las Vegas since the last Jimmie Johnson’s four victories at the track in 2010. Four-time champion Jeff Gordon also won the 2001 event.

 

  • Joey Logano, winner of the last two early Vegas events in Team Penske’s No. 22 Ford, finished 9th.

For full results, click here

For full standings, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: William Byron dominates final stage at Homestead-Miami

William Byron led the final 58 laps of the Dixie Vodka 400 to earn his second career NASCAR Cup Series victory.

Hendrick Motorsports ruled the day at Homestead-Miami Speedway, as William Byron brought the team’s iconic No. 24 Chevrolet to victory lane at the Dixie Vodka 400. Byron earned his second career NASCAR Cup Series victory, the 264th in HMS history. Hendrick is now four wins away from tying Richard Petty for the most wins as a Cup Series team owner.

Byron took his first extended lead of the race at lap 160 of 267, when stole the second stage victory from Martin Truex Jr. The win in the second 80-lap stage was settled in a single session shootout after Corey LaJoie’s down vehicle brought out a caution. Byron dominated the final 107 laps, leading all but the final eight circuits to secure his first victory since last summer’s regular-season finale at Daytona. His victory in just his third Cup race with crew chief Rudy Fugle, with whom he previously collaborated on seven wins in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

The win was earned shortly after the last caution flag of the day flew at lap 200 for a get-together between Aric Almirola and Ryan Blaney. Byron lost a few positions after the stops, but a strong restart allowed him to swipe the lead from Truex once again by lap 210, a lead earned through a push from his teammate Kyle Larson. He eventually built a five-second lead over the final laps to earn the victory, the first for HMS since Chase Elliott won the 2020 season finale at Phoenix last November.

Byron’s victory is also the first for Chevrolet after Ford and Toyota respectively took the first two events of 2021. Those races, each coming at Daytona International Speedway, put Byron in an early points hole. Wrecks marred the season-opening Daytona 500, as he lost separate cars in his Bluegreen Vacations Duel qualifying race and in a multi-vehicle pile-up in the main event. After finishing a lap down in 33rd last weekend on Daytona’s road course, Byron sat in 29th place in the Cup Series standings. He came into Homestead simply hoping for a strong run but departed with his first career victory on a 1.5-mile track. His best prior finish at such a venue was a fifth-place posting at Kansas last October.

“It was a tough start to the season, but we didn’t really think about that going into this week,” Byron said. “We just thought about executing a good race. It’s always nice when the speed is there, but I feel like we put in the effort to make sure it was, and it was kind of a flawless weekend really.”

With the win, Byron is now more or less guaranteed a spot in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. He has reached the playoffs in each of his last seasons, each of those clinches came down to the last event of the 26-race regular season. He is the third different winner in three different 2021 events, joining Michael McDowell and Christopher Bell, who each won in the Cup Series for the first time.

“It’s going to be fun this year,” Byron declared. “I think I’ve spent kind of a lot of my Cup Series career kind of on the bubble of the playoffs and now I don’t have to worry about that. It’s crazy; I’m going to take all that stuff in, and just got a great team, got an awesome crew chief. It’s going to be a fun year.”

Tyler Reddick earned his second top five in as many Cup starts at Homestead, putting on a late charge to finish second ahead of Truex and Larson. Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action next Sunday afternoon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube (3:30 p.m. ET, Fox).

Race Notes

  • Daytona 500 champion Michael McDowell continued his surprisingly strong opening run with a sixth-place finish. This marks the first time both McDowell and his team, Front Row Motorsports, have earned three consecutive top ten finishes at any point in their tenures. McDowell and Harvick are the only drives to earn top ten finishes in each of the first three races this season.

 

  • Chris Buescher won the first stage and led 57 laps, the most a Roush Fenway Racing Ford has led since Greg Biffle led 58 at Talladega in October 2014. However, Buescher faded later in the race and wound up in 19th. The day was not a total loss for RFR, as Ryan Newman finished seventh in the No. 6 Ford.

 

  • Points leader Denny Hamlin sat on the pole, but was forced to start at the rear after making unapproved adjustments to his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Hamlin made it to the front by the midway point of the race and even battled Truex aggressively for the second stage win (drawing Truex’s ire over the radio) but a pit road speeding penalty forced him to start from scratch. Hamlin finished 11th and continues to hold a 20-point advantage over Harvick for the points lead.

 

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: Christopher Bell steals first career win at Daytona Road Course

Bell’s late pass of Joey Logano allowed him to capture his first NASCAR Cup Series victory, a week after Michael McDowell earned his.

Joe Gibbs hasn’t coached in the NFL since 2007. Yet, his teams are still finding ways to win on Sunday.

Less than 24 hours after his grandson Ty earned a win in his first NASCAR Xfinity Series start, Gibbs’ unit at the premier Cup level also featured a first-time victor. Christopher Bell earned his first Cup Series victory at Daytona International Speedway’s road course in just his second career start in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Bell would pass Joey Logano with less than two laps remaining to secure the win.

“This is the happiest moment I’ve had in a very long time. 2020 was one of the hardest seasons I’ve ever had in my racing career,” Bell said. “To be able to come back in 21 and win in the Cup Series this early on a road course is something that I’m going to cherish for the rest of my life.”

Bell has been part of Gibbs’ developmental endeavors for several seasons, previously winning 16 races over three years in his Xfinity program. The 26-year-old also won the 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title in a Toyota Tundra owned by his current teammate Kyle Busch. His rookie season at the Cup level was a struggle, driving the No. 95 Toyota for the Gibbs-affiliated Leavine Family Racing. Bell struggled in lesser equipment but showed some speed in last season’s maiden voyage on Daytona’s road course.

Early in the race, Bell took an early risk, staying on the track during a caution for debris on the track toward the end of the first 16-lap stage while a majority of the rest of the field pitted. The No. 20 failed to earn stage points with a 12th-place finish, but there was no denying its speed. Defending Cup Series champion Chase Elliott, also the winner of the past four road course events, dominated the early portions of the race, but Bell’s Toyota was matching his times. Elliott and Bell were running in the top two spots after each pitted at lap 57 of 70 when a caution came out for rain.

Both Bell and Elliott visited pit road, but Elliott fell out of contention after two separate incidents with Corey LaJoie and later Bell’s teammate Denny Hamlin, relegating him to a 21st-place finish. Bell won the race off pit road and restarted 12th, quickly making his way through the field on fresher tires. He made it up to sixth after the Elliott-LaJoie get-together and another incident involving Tyler Reddick brought out cautions.

Going back green, Bell worked his way through on-track chaos and some of the sport’s most renowned names to earn his way to the front. His pass of Logano left behind Hamlin, as well as prior champions Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, and Kevin Harvick.

“The last lap was pretty surreal,” Bell recalled. “All race long I kind of felt like I was trying to do my best job and not screwing up, hit my marks, not overdriving the corners. Whenever I got by the 22 coming to the white flag, I knew I was faster than him. I ran him down from a while back. All I had to do was get a couple of good corners and get away.”

With his win, each of the first two events of the Cup Series season has featured a first-time winner, following Michael McDowell’s win at the Daytona 500 (run on the traditional oval) last weekend. This is the third time a season has opened with consecutive first-time winners, with such a feat also occurring in 1949 and 1950.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action next Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the Dixie Vodka 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, Fox).

Race Notes

  • McDowell got into trouble on the first lap of the race, missing the first turn and losing his steering. However, the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford recovered to finish 8th, earning consecutive top-ten finishes for the first time in his 14-year career.

 

  • AJ Allmendinger ran his first Cup Series race in November 2018, finishing 7th in Kaulig Racing’s No. 16 Chevrolet. Allmendinger earned his lone career Cup victory at another road course, Watkins Glen, in 2014 and has won four more on the Xfinity circuit. He is currently racing full-time for Kaulig in the Xfinity Series.

 

  • Reddick was one of four cars not to finish, a list that also included Josh Bilicki (brakes), Ross Chastain (crash), and Quin Houff (engine).

 

  • Hamlin takes over the Cup Series points lead, pacing Logano by 12 points.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Chase Elliott comes from behind to win 2020 NASCAR Cup Series title

Forced to start from the rear after pre-race inspection issues, Chase Elliott came front behind to earn his first Cup Series title at 24.

As one NASCAR legend ended on Sunday afternoon, another one may have started to write its first chapters.

Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, took home his first NASCAR Cup Series title at Phoenix Raceway through his victory in the Season Finale 500. Elliott, 24, is the third-youngest driver in NASCAR history to win a Cup title, behind only Bill Rexford (1950) and Jeff Gordon (1995). He also joins his father Bill (1988) as the third father-son duo to earn a series title joining the Pettys (Lee and Richard) and the Jarretts (Ned and Dale)

His victory also comes in the final race of Jimmie Johnson’s full-time NASCAR career. Elliott’s teammate and the winner of a record-tying seven Cup Series championships has driven the No. 48 Chevrolet since 2002, missing only one race since the start of that season.

“This is a moment that, heck, I’ve only dreamt about, and something that, heck, I’m still not sure I completely realize what has exactly happened,” Elliott said of his historic victory. “I don’t feel like I’m a crier in these situations, but dang, I feel like there’s going to come a time where I’m probably going to break down and really lose it.  I feel like I kind of did there after the race, and then you get caught up in everything else that’s going on. I’m really looking forward to just kind of sitting back and looking at everything from a different perspective and just enjoying it.  But I’m also going to enjoy it as I’m living it because this is something that may not ever happen ever again, and I recognize that.”  

“It’s a moment and a time and an accomplishment that I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever take for granted. It’s a really big deal to me.

The two-time defending champion of the Cup Series’ Most Popular Driver Award, Elliott was able to reach the finale’s contending quartet through a dominant win last weekend at Martinsville Speedway. He was set to compete against previous Cup winners and Team Penske comrades Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, as well as perennial Joe Gibbs Racing contender Denny Hamlin.

But a major knock came before the tires ever hit the track when the No. 9 failed pre-race inspection twice in the lead-up to the event. The penalty sent Elliott to the rear of the field to start the race, forcing him to literally go from first to last. 

Elliott was able to work his way through the field, reaching the top-ten by the time a competition caution came out at lap 31 of 312. Ten laps later, he passed one of his fellow championship competitors for the first time when drove past Keselowski for fourth. He then bided his time while Logano dominated the early portions of the race, leading all but two of the first 117 laps.

I look at the guys who have achieved this honor as guys who perform in the toughest of situations. I felt like that’s been an area that we haven’t done a great job of over my first five years, really up until last week,” Elliott explained. “We had a tough situation, a perform-or-go-home type night there at Martinsville, and was able to step up and really get the job done. I thought that was the piece of the puzzle that we haven’t had. I really felt like we had everything else that we needed, and I really believed that.”

Lap 151 saw Elliott take the lead for the first time, but the party was briefly put on hold when the final incident-caution came out 13 laps later when James Davison got into the wall. Kurt Busch won the ensuing race off pit road when drivers came for service due to a far quicker two-tire pit stop, but Elliott immediately took advantage of a fresh four and engaged in a tight battle for the lead against Keselowski for the rest of the second stage. The battle ended with the conclusion with Keselowski on top of the 115-lap segment. But Elliott and company once against proved their mettle in a team sport.

The No. 9 team’s strong pit stop gave them the lead back to open the third and final stage, and only surrendered it when he had to make his final pit stop of the day under green flag conditions. Logano briefly got his lead back after stops cycled through, but Elliott made the final pass for the lead at lap 270, leading the final 43 laps to roll to victory. Keselowski beat out Logano for 2nd, while Hamlin came home fourth. Johnson rounded out the top five to conclude his NASCAR slate on a strong note.

“It was nice to be competitive out there and run the top five, finish in the top five, but my bucket is full. NASCAR has been so wonderful for me.  This journey has been more than I could have ever dreamed of or expected or hoped for.”

The last couple of years on track weren’t as I dreamed up, but I’ve experienced the highest of highs and worked with the greatest people, been with one team through this entire journey, and just very thankful for all the people that have helped me get here. All those emotions and all that pride rolled up into just a huge smile today walking out on the grid.”

After the race, several of Elliott’s competitors drove alongside him to send their congratulations. Johnson’s was extra special, leaving a “donut” on the side of Elliott’s No. 9. Neither driver remembered what they said to one another, recalling only Elliott’s joyous screams and a high-five they shared, one inspired by a similar situation in 2003. When Bill Elliott won the penultimate race of the season at Rockingham, he and crowned champion Matt Kenseth likewise shared a high-five while celebrating their respective victories, as Kenseth had clinched his Cup Series title that afternoon.

Once a celebratory Elliott returned to pit road, he shared a group hug with Johnson and team owner Rick Hendrick before the celebration commenced. Many found the day as a symbolic passing of the torch from the point of view of HMS and the face of NASCAR. Each Hendrick Motorsports car saw their numbers revamped into the style of the neon yellow No. 48 that has been etched onto Johnson’s car since his Cup Series entry in 2002.

Elliott’s championship moment did appear to somewhat overshadow Johnson’s departure, but “Seven-Time” was perfectly fine with such proceedings.

Chase Elliott won his first championship.  I’m so happy for that guy.  Great friend, great family.  I’ve been friends with his mom and dad for a lot of years.  I can recall going snowboarding with Bill out in Colorado and Chase was maybe eight years old, something like that, on skis, super quiet, wouldn’t say much.”

“To watch him grow up and to be around him and to give him some advice from time to time has really been meaningful for me. Today I think more about him winning a championship more than anything is pretty awesome.”

Race Notes

  • Not only was this the final race for Johnson, but also for Kenseth and Clint Bowyer as well. Bowyer finished 14th in his final tour in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, while Kenseth finished 25th in his last race in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. Rookie Chase Briscoe will take over Bowyer’s ride in 2021, while Ross Chastain will succeed Kenseth.

 

  • Sunday marked the first season finale race for Phoenix, which will likewise host the championship event in 2021. The finale was previously held at Homestead (2002-19).

 

  • Elliott’s title is the first one for a Chevrolet since Johnson won his seventh and final trophy in 2016. Ironically, Johnson had likewise come from the rear of the field to pull off the feat.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Pit road victory allows Joey Logano to advance to NASCAR’s final four

Joey Logano’s well-timed pit stop allowed him to beat out Kevin Harvick at Kansas, making him eligible for the NASCAR Cup Series title.

Joey Logano and his No. 22 Team Penske Ford team showed exactly why NASCAR is a team sport at Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

A caution session with 45 circuits left in the 267-lap event saw Logano’s crew provide the fastest service. He beat out incoming leader Kevin Harvick off pit lane, as well as the final 41 green flag circuits to earn a victory that clinched his spot among the four championship contenders at Phoenix Raceway on November 8.

Logano’s win at Kansas is his third of the season and his first since taking two of the first four races held prior to a COVID-19-induced pause in March…his last win ironically coming at Phoenix. With the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs entering its three-race Round of 8, Logano earned automatic entry to the finale as the Connecticut native seeks his second title over the last three seasons.

If I’m being honest, I don’t have fun driving a race car, I have fun winning,” Logano said after the race. “That’s what I enjoy doing. That’s what that is at this point. If I want to go fun, I’ll go to a go-kart track and have fun. That’s not what this is about. This is about winning, this is a job, putting food on the table for not only my family but countless others that helped this race team.”

En route to his first Cup Series title in 2018, Logano also won the first race of the Round of 8, then held at Martinsville Speedway (which will host the final contest of the round this time). The importance of such a victory was not lost on the 30-year-old.

The weight lifted off your shoulders is only part of it. The ability to start working on your Phoenix car, not worry about your Texas and Martinsville car,” he said. “I don’t want to say that, but you’re 100% focused on one more race.  We know we can’t finish worse than fourth in points, you know what I mean? We know we’re in it.”

Logano mostly lingered in the middle portions of the field in the early going, watching Chase Elliott and Denny Hamling win the first two 80-lap stages. After the second stage, Logano and Aric Almirola gambled by taking two tires on the ensuing pit stops. While Almirola (a former playoff driver eliminated after the Round of 12) faded, Logano was set up to run with the leaders. By the time Tyler Reddick brought out the caution by scraping the wall at lap 221, it was clear that Logano and Harvick had the vehicles to beat.

The No. 22 team helped Logano win the fateful race off of pit road before he held off a furious challenge from Harvick over the final segments for the win. Some fans took issue with the current rules package, claiming that it allowed Harvick to catch up to Logano but not take the lead. Logano instead credited his choice of lanes in the final turns around the 1.5-mile tri-oval, as well as the assistance of spotter TJ Majors.

“When you have clean air in front of you, like Kevin did as well, being so close to the lead, the advantage probably goes to the trimmed car, which is what the 4 has.  At that point you just kind of hope for dirty air and tires to wear out a little bit.  That’s where our car should start to excel,” Logano explained. “So, knowing that in your mind, you try to hold him off for as long as you can. If you can hold off 15 laps or so, maybe it would get a little easier. It didn’t. He hung on there for a long time, was catching me so fast on the straightaways. It was a matter of picking the right lanes when you get there.”

Harvick was denied his 10th win of the season, a mark unattained since Jimmie Johnson pulled off the feat in 2007, but praised Logano for his work over the final laps. He’s currently up 41 points on the championship cutoff.

“Joey did just a good job of putting his car right in front of ours,” Harvick said. With this package, every time you put your car in front of the car behind you, it takes the nose away.  We just had a little bit of trouble trying to get the nose to turn when he would take our lane.”

Alex Bowman joined the main duo late to finish third, while Logano’s Penske teammate Brad Keselowski came home fourth. Non-playoff driver Kyle Busch rounded out the top five. Keselowski is currently the last driver in when looking at the final four picture, up on Elliott (6th), Sunday’s polesitter by eight points. Elliott would be on via points, but was shifted to the outside looking in by Logano’s victory.

The Round of 8 reaches its middle stage next Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Race Notes

  • Elliott recovered to finish sixth after radio problems plagued him in the early stages of the race.

 

  • After winning the second stage, Hamlin made contact with the wall, forcing him to pit road. He eventually recovered to a 15th-place finish and currently holds one of the championship spots by 20 points.

 

  • Prior to the race, the small, socially distanced crowd paid tribute to Kansas native Clint Bowyer, the retiring driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. Bowyer, winner of 10 Cup Series races and the 2008 Nationwide (now Xfinity) Series title, moved to the front of the field before the green flag flew. Bowyer finished 26th, capping off his Kansas ledger with three top-five and eight top-ten finishes in 25 starts at his home track.

 

  • Playoff driver Kurt Busch’s title chances took a major hit when he lost his engine at lap 198. At 73 points behind the cutoff, Busch more than likely will need to win of the two remaining pre-Phoenix races at Texas or Martinsville to contend for a championship.

 

  • Bowyer’s fellow retiree Matt Kenseth also endured a tough day, bringing out the caution with a wreck at lap 144.

For full results, click here

For full standings, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: Kevin Harvick closes playoffs’ first round with another win

Kevin Harvick

In front of 30,000 fans at Bristol, Kevin Harvick ended the first round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs on a victorious note.

Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series race featured a dozen winners, as these select names moved on to the second round of the circuit’s postseason. Alas, only one familiar face will have his name etched onto the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Kevin Harvick held of Kyle Busch to win his ninth race of the 2020 season. His win came in front of 30,000 socially distanced fans, the best-attended regular season race since the circuit returned from the COVID-19 induced pause.

Saturday was the final portion of the three-race opening round to the 2020 playoffs consisting of 16 drivers. Harvick had already clinched his spot in the upcoming second-round with a win in the first leg at Darlington Raceway two weekends ago. The bottom four drivers were eliminated from championship contention. Harvick is a healthy 62 points ahead of the cutoff to the next round of eight men.

I hadn’t been to too many races where I’ve been that jacked up getting in the race car,” Harvick said about seeing fans in the stands. “The fans were so enthusiastic tonight and I don’t know if we’ve just been away from them for that long, but you could feel the enthusiasm in the stadium tonight. I think as I was getting in the car, I was just wound up and just really, really ready to race, and then after the race, just the excitement that you could hear and the cheering from the crowd just made me excited.”

“I haven’t felt that in a while, and when you look at Bristol, it’s always very enthusiastic, but tonight these people were so wound up. I think we’re all tired of sitting at home and not really knowing what to do. But tonight they all let it loose, and that gave me a lot of excitement, as well.”

Harvick and Busch united to lead 385 of 500 laps on Saturday, with the former’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford pacing 226 of that tally. The two battled for the lead over the final 82 laps, all but 10 led by Harvick. He eventually held off Busch by a 0.31-second margin to take home another win.

By earning the 58th win of his Cup Series career, Harvick slightly distanced himself from Busch (56 Cup wins) for seventh-place on the all-time wins list.

“I’m just fortunate to be able to still be doing this for 20 years now and be successful, and we got to nine, so that’s one step closer than we were at eight,” Harvick said of the potential of a ten-win campaign. “I don’t know if we’ll make it to ten, but we’re going to keep trying to do the best we can every week, and it’s just been an unbelievable year.”

The win was a team effort all around for the No. 4 unit. Harvick praised spotter Tim Fedewa for helping him navigate through lapped traffic and crew chief Rodney Childers for setting the car up right. He also credited them both for helping avoid a potentially disastrous situation, when Austin Dillon and James Davison wrecked in front of him with 93 laps to go as Harvick was attempting to make his final stop of the night.

“Timmy was on it tonight,” Harvick said of Fedewa. “He was one step ahead of me, and that really helps because you can’t really see all the way out of the corner when you’re entering the corner and headed to the center of the corner, you can’t really tell.”

“The biggest turning point of the night was when we were coming to pit road, cars beside me spun out and we stayed on the racetrack and without clipping the box or anything and put a bunch of them a lap down, so that was definitely a big moment.”

Second place and clinching a second-round spot was no consolation to Busch. The defending Cup Series champion and driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has yet to win a race at the Cup Series level. Saturday saw him work through several issues en route to the runner-up spot.

A failed prerace inspection forced him to start from the rear of the field. When the caution came out on lap 29 to account for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s accident, a pit road run-in with Daniel Suarez forced him to restart 25th. Busch was able to make it back to second place behind Chase Elliott at the end of the first 125-lap stage. After winning the ensuing race off pit road, Busch led all but two of the next 150 circuits.

Busch briefly took the lead from Harvick, but the No. 4 used its speed and maneuverability around lapped traffic to secure the win. The defending champion was highly displeased with the slower vehicles afterward, namely the underfunded cars of Joey Gase and Garrett Smithley, as well as former fellow champion Joey Logano. The stall only added to his frustration over his fourth runner-up placement of the season.

“You always try to race hard and race clean and get the job done right,” Busch remarked when asked if he considered pulling the Bristol tradition of bumping Harvick out of the lead. “Some of them (expletive) kids don’t know what the hell they’re doing or where they’re at and can’t stay out of the way. Nothing like a Gase and a Smithley.”

Busch’s teammate and non-playoff driver Erik Jones finished third and rookie Tyler Reddick came home fourth. Aric Almirola secured his playoff spot by round out the top five. A Harvick teammate, Clint Bowyer, was the final of only six lead lap cars, securing a second-round spot of his own in the process.

The next three-race stage of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs gets underway in primetime next Sunday night with the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN). Other locales in the next round include Talladega Superspeedway and the “roval” at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Race Notes

  • William Byron and his team saw their championship dream ended when the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet’s front end was damaged after reported contact with Christopher Bell on lap 233. The get-together was reportedly brought on in an attempt to avoid Gase’s slow car. Byron referred to Gase as “an idiot” over the radio upon his race retirement. The No. 24 had been running in the top ten prior to the wreck and was three points out of the next round entering the race.

 

  • Other drivers that entered Saturday secure in the next round included Brad Keselowski (win at Richmond last week) and Denny Hamlin (points).

 

  • In addition to Busch, Logano, Dillon, Elliott, Almirola, and Bowyer, three more drivers clinched their second-round spot via points. That group included Martin Truex Jr., Alex Bowman, and Kurt Busch.

 

  • Three more drivers were eliminated, including Ryan Blaney, Matt DiBenedetto, and rookie Cole Custer.

For full results, click here

For full standings, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: Brad Keselowski advances with dominant win at Richmond

Brad Keselowski, Nascar

Brad Keselowski advanced to the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs’ Round of 12 with a dominant win at Richmond Raceway.

In an attempt to make the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs a three-man headliner, Brad Keselowski made sure he was the only driver taking care of business at Richmond Raceway on Saturday night.

Keselowski’s No. 2 Team Penske Ford led 192 of 400 laps, including the final 48 en route to victory at the Federated Auto Parts 400. The No. 2 team gained automatic entry to the next round of the Cup Series playoffs with its fourth win over the season. One more race remains in the opening round of 16 drivers, with the bottom four in the standings eliminated next weekend. Only Kevin Harvick (8) and Denny Hamlin (6) have won more races this season.

With his 33rd career Cup Series win, Keselowski ties Fireball Roberts for 24th-place all-time.

“I’ve got a long way to go to catch up to a lot of the greats in the sport,” the 2012 Cup champion said. “I really wish I was winning five to ten races a year because that’s what it’s going to take to do that, but I’m trying to also be grateful for what I have and to have won four races to date this year.  But I want to be the best, and to be the best you’ve got to have those 5-10 win seasons consistently and I’ve been having 3-4 win seasons.”

Keselowski, seeking his second Cup Series title, took his first lead of the day on lap 121, passing teammate Joey Logano and leading the next 42 circuits before hitting pit road. Once stops cycled through, Keselowski coasted to a stage victory, his sixth of the season. With the win in both the race and the stages, Keselowski has an extra six-point cushion going into the next round.

“A race like tonight I think easily gets sold as there weren’t any wrecks. These drivers are just good,” Keselowski said of the clean race. “These cars all drove so bad with that little bitty spoiler on them, a lot of horsepower, and you had guys with new tires and old tires sliding around, and it’s so easy to get in trouble and to wreck. These drivers are just freaking good, and they didn’t do that. To win a race against drivers that are this good is pretty cool.  It’s something I’m very proud of, and I’m going to try to soak it up.”

The No. 2’s main competition for victory was the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet of Austin Dillon. After opening the playoffs with a runner-up finish at Darlington, Dillon drove the fastest car in the field for a majority of the evening. He led a career-best 55 laps despite numerous calamities on pit road. He came home second in the opening 80-lap stage behind Denny Hamlin, but a speeding penalty during the ensuing yellow flag put him at the rear. Dillon would recover also finish second in the middle stage.

Attempting to make his final stop with 65 laps to go, Dillon missed pit road, costing him precious seconds on the racetrack. He was able to briefly regain the lead before Keselowski took over the rest of the way. Dillon wound finishing fourth behind Martin Truex Jr. and Logano, earning consecutive top-five finishes for the first time in his Cup Series career. Chase Elliott rounded out the top five.

Dillon owns a 36-point advantage over the cutoff line at 13th place, currently occupied by William Byron.

The opening round of the Cup Series playoffs ends next weekend with the Bass Pro Shops Night Race on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN). Keselowski won the first visit to Bristol back in May.

Race Notes

  • Playoff drivers occupied each of the top ten spots. Tyler Reddick was top finishing non-qualifier in 11th.

 

  • Hamlin (12th) never recovered from a speeding penalty of his own after the second stage, but he nonetheless mathematically clinched a spot in the Round of 12 with a 61-point advantage over 13th. Points leader Harvick (7th) clinched his spot with a win at Darlington last weekend.

 

  • Team Penske’s playoff trio had one missing link, as Ryan Blaney struggled for the second consecutive week. Blaney (19th) finished two laps down and currently sits in 16th and last place in the playoff standings, 27 points behind 12th man Clint Bowyer (10th). A win would help Blaney clinch automatically.

 

  • Save for stage pauses, Saturday’s race featured no caution flags. It’s the third such race since stages were introduced in 2017 and the first since the road course event at Sonoma in June 2019. The last, and likely final, race to be completely caution-free was the October 2002 event at Talladega.

 

  • Timmy Hill (mechanical) was the only driver who failed to finish.

 

  • Truex (2nd) had won each of the prior two events at Richmond. His runner-up finish is his third over the last five races.

 

  • Keselowski’s win at night capped off a strong day of racing for team owner Roger Penske. Earlier on the IndyCar Series circuit, Will Power led all but nine laps at the Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to win his first race of 2020.

For full results, click here

For full standings, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: Late drama allows Kevin Harvick to steal another win

Kevin Harvick

The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs began the same way many races in the regular season ended: with Kevin Harvick in victory lane.

NASCAR’s annual Labor Day weekend excursion to Darlington Raceway has recently been celebrated by the unveiling of paint schemes that reference or pay homage to popular cars of the past. The most recent visit to the Myrtle Beach staple, however, kept a very modern trend going.

Drama at the front of the field allowed Kevin Harvick to win Sunday’s Cook Out Southern 500, his eighth victory of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season. Harvick was running third when front-runners Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. incapacitated each other through contact with 13 laps to go. From that point on, Harvick held off Austin Dillon to win the 57th race of his Cup career. Such a victory puts him in sole possession of ninth place on the all-time wins list.

“When you start looking around the win list and you start seeing the names that you’re around, you just start thinking to yourself, man, these are some of the greatest drivers that ever came through our sport.,” Harvick said in his place in history. “There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with that. You’ve got to do your part and, hopefully, we can keep doing what we’re doing on the racetrack and keep climbing up there.”

He and his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford team also earn automatic advancement to the next leg of the NASCAR Playoffs, which began at Darlington with 16 drivers. Four will be eliminated after short track races over the next two weeks at Richmond and Bristol.

A tally of 57 playoff points during the regular season made sure that Harvick didn’t have to worry too much about securing points to make the next round. But that didn’t stop him and crew chief Rodney Childers. Harvick finished in the top ten in each of the first two stages, but different pit strategies from Childers allowed him to stay at the upper-half of the field. Properly timed cautions also played in the hands of the No. 4 team.

We’re more or less just trying to do what’s right for us and be consistent and do the best we can every week,” Childers said. “We just felt like that was the best thing for us.  With our car kind of falling off too much and cording the right rear, we really didn’t have another option. We were just trying to do what was best, and it kind of worked out in both of those last two stages and we got a caution when we were up there at the lead.”

Harvick was also pleased to win the race in front of an adoring public, as Darlington welcomed in a limited crowd to witness Sunday’s race. It marked his third win at “The Track Too Tough to Tame”, the prior one coming at NASCAR’s return from a coronavirus-induced pause in May. No fans were able to witness that win (his first of the 2020 season), so Harvick was sure to take the reaction in. It’s his first win in the Southern 500, an event that dates back to 1950.

“That’s the first race that I’ve won this year that anybody has been here,” Harvick noted. “But I think back to the first race here, and for me, that was really the moment that put it all into perspective of where we were and what we were doing and how drastic of a situation it was when you have all that enthusiasm to share with nobody and just dead silence.  It felt really, really good to have some cheering fans in the grandstands and be able to experience that again.”

Truex and Elliott united to lead 310 of the race’s 367 laps, the former’s No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota winning each of the first two stages. With Elliott’s No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet leading after a caution to remove debris from the frontstretch, Truex made an aggressive move in search of his second win of the season. Attempting to close the door and clear the No. 9, Truex instead made contact, damaging each of their playoff rides. The encounter forced them each to pit road relegated Elliott to a 20th-place finish and Truex to 22nd.

It served as unfortunate deja vu for Elliott. A prior 2020 event at Darlington ended in an Elliott after he was bumped by another Joe Gibbs driver, Kyle Busch, while fighting for the lead in the race’s dying stages.

Dillon finished in the runner-up spot. The No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet worked its way to the front after being forced to start from the rear due to unapproved adjustments. Joey Logano finished third while Erik Jones was the highest-finishing non-playoff driver in fourth. Another playoff man, William Byron, rounded out the top five.

The second round of the Round of 16 will run on Saturday night at Richmond Raceway’s Federated Auto Parts 400 (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Race Notes

  • Playoff drivers took 12 of the top 13 starts in the final running order.

 

  • It was a tough start to the playoffs for Ryan Blaney and the No. 12 Team Penske Ford. Blaney was forced to start from the rear for failing prerace inspection due to an improperly-mounted ballast. The violation cost him 10 points and the services of crew chief Todd Gordon, who was suspended. Blaney finished a lap off the pace in 24th and sits 17 points behind the 12th-place cutoff.

 

  • Bubba Wallace’s transmission issues forced him to retire early, while John Hunter Nemechek’s No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford was lost to an accident. Corey LaJoie also sustained damage and was retired when he took his car directly to the garage area rather than pit road.

For full results, click here

For full standings, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags