Monster Energy Cup Series News

Monster Energy Cup Series News (17459)

Kyle Busch looked simultaneously relaxed in his hometown of Las Vegas on Thursday afternoon and ready to get after it. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs begin with Sunday’s South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) and as the regular season champion, Busch starts the 10-race championship push as the top-seed among the 16 Playoff drivers. On-track action begins Friday with opening Cup practice.

Busch’s only Cup victory at the Las Vegas track came in 2009, but he and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin have paced the season with four wins each. And Busch conceded that having the extra 15 points for winning the regular season championship may turn into a huge benefit – if needed.

“It’s kind of an insurance policy,’’ Busch said Thursday during Playoff Media Day at the South Point Hotel and Casino. “We all pay for insurance to hopefully never have to use it, but it’s there just in case.

“For us, we’ve done a great job of being able to build those points up throughout the regular season and it’s nice to be able to have that point structure in place to kind of give you the opportunity to have your early season success help you through the postseason.

“I think it’s the most fair structure that we’ve had through the Playoff era. Looking forward to not having to use those points, but if need be, there’s some that are there."

Having said that, Busch reiterated that having those 15 bonus points doesn’t fundamentally change his approach to the championship run.

“First and foremost, we try to figure out how we can win each and every week," Busch said. “Then as the races go on, we then kind of figure out what the points look like and where the cutoff is for guys that are or are not going to make it.’’

Busch said he’s not overly concerned about this No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team even though the last of its four victories came 13 races ago at Pocono. Last week, he suffered the worst finish (37th) of the season after his car had engine problems at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway regular season finale.

“It’s execution, it’s circumstantial,’’ Busch said. “There’s certain things that have kept us out (of victory lane). ... It’s just a matter of track position these days and how things happen throughout the event.’’

 

UP THE INTENSITY

Defending Las Vegas race winner Brad Keselowski is among those expecting the intensity to increase this weekend with the Playoff opener. A three-time winner at Vegas, Keselowski is a favorite this weekend and conceded that he’s fully prepared to do whatever is necessary to earn one of the coveted winner’s trophies en route to the Homestead-Miami Speedway Championship finale.

However, he cautioned that “aggressive” behavior on track isn’t so much a result of the Playoff intensity, but a necessary mode in winning races, period.

“The racing is always changing and evolving,’’ said Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford. “If it didn’t, it would always be really boring. The cars keep getting after it and the drivers push them and each other harder. Combine that with the rules on the cars making it so important to make your passes on the restarts, you really have such a narrow window of time to make something happen that you throw more desperate punches, so to speak.

“Sometimes I certainly challenge myself to be more aggressive than years prior. That is a different challenge, but a good one.’’

Keselowski’s teammate, 25-year old Ryan Blaney is making his third consecutive Playoff appearance. He won last year’s Charlotte Roval Playoff race and finished 10th in the championship standings. For him, the Playoff portion of the season is about consistency not necessarily changing the intensity.

“Honestly, I don’t really like to change up kind of the way you go about things in the playoffs," said Blaney, who drives the No. 12 Team Penske Ford. “Honestly, if you get to playoff time and then you start driving 110 percent now, I try to do that all year.

“Yeah, the intensity level picks up in some scenarios but I just try to be the same because at the end of the day it is the same goal all year. Racing and winning races and getting points. You know what the end goal is. You can’t have mistakes."

 

HENDRICK THREESOME

For the first time in 16 years Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson won’t be a part of NASCAR’s championship Playoff run, however his three young teammates will. Chase Elliott, 23, paced the championship organization with two wins – at Talladega and Watkins Glen – this season and heads into Sunday’s Playoff opener ranked seventh.

The driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet is a perfect 4-for-4 in qualifying for the Cup Playoffs. His best championship finish was fifth in 2017 – his second year at the Cup level.

Alex Bowman, 26, driver of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, earned his career first Cup victory at Chicago this summer to secure his second consecutive Playoff run. He’s ranked ninth heading into the Vegas opener.

And the series’ youngest Cup driver, 21-year-old William Byron, brings the famed No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet back to the Playoffs. He’s ranked 13th in the Playoffs’ points re-set and is already turning in a career year in top-fives (three) and top-10s (nine). He has won a team-best four pole positions too. And while it may seem like a stretch for the driver to have earned a Playoff bid in only his second Cup season, Byron said that was actually the expectation.

“I think for our team we at least expected to make it for a while now,’’ Byron said. “We don’t feel like we’re just sneaking into the Playoffs of anything. We locked it in a couple races ago. So I feel good about that. I think the next step is just how do we perform in the Playoffs and how do we get to the next level of our progression as a program.’’

And with so much buzz surrounding the three Joe Gibbs Racing teammates – Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. - or the title talk about Penske Racing’s high expectations to earn a second consecutive Cup title, Byron said he doesn’t mind making his first playoff run perhaps a little more under the radar.

“It’s a little bit of an advantage to have that lack of pressure on our team,’’ Byron said. “Our goal was obviously to make the Playoffs and to accomplish that has been really good. I feel like now we can focus more on executing the first three races and try to get through that round. So yeah, I don’t think it really matters either way, but it does help that we don’t really have that pressure on us.’’

 

MULTI-TIME CHAMP?

With seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson not a part of this season’s Playoff picture, there is a good chance that NASCAR could crown its first multi-time champion since Johnson earned his seventh title in 2016. He is the only active driver with more than one championship.

Among those vying for their second champion’s trophy is Kyle Busch (2015), Joey Logano (2018), Martin Truex Jr. (2017), Brad Keselowski(2012), Kevin Harvick (2014) and Kurt Busch (2004).

Should defending champion Logano earn a second straight he would be the first driver to do so the start of Johnson’s amazing string of five consecutive trophies from 2006-2010.

Keselowski made no bones about the importance of his pursuit of a second championship.

“It would be a huge mark for me personally,’’ Keselowski said. “I think there is a big difference between drivers that have won one championship and two, that is my own personal barometer.

“There is quite a long list of drivers in the sport now and past that won a single championship. The ones that I think get mentioned or thought of the most are the drivers that have won multiples.

“Certainly winning a championship is a legacy. Winning a second championship is an elite legacy in the sport. Something I certainly hope to do and have put a lot of emphasis on and probably the biggest thing I want to do in the sport. That opportunity is in front of us over these 10 weeks.’’

 

THE CHAMPIONSHIP FAVORITE?

Sports books in Las Vegas have decided one of the city’s native - Kyle Busch – is the odds on favorite to win both this weekend’s South Point 400 as well as the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup championship.

Busch, driver of the No. 18 JGR Toyota, is the regular season champ and a four-race winner in 2019. The casino’s sportsbook puts him as a 9-2 favorite to win Sunday’s Playoff opener and a 7-2 favorite to win the Cup championship. Defending race winner Brad Keselowski has the next most favorable odds to win again at Vegas.

Reigning series champion, Team Penske's Logano has the second best odds 5-1 to repeat as champion, followed by Harvick, Keselowski, Hamlin and Truex.

Its been a little less than a week since Brad Keselowski went for a weird ride at Indianapolis Motor Speedway that saw his car sitting on the tire barrier and he having to crawl from the car as it sat nearly on its side.

In the advent of the SAFER barrier tracks are relying less and less on these old barriers and moving towards covering nearly every inch of track wall with SAFER to reduce injuries to drivers.

Keselowski for his part following the incident has spoken with officials at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on his incident there.

“I didn’t talk to NASCAR on it I’ve talked a little more to the track which is good as I think they are more in charge.” Said Keselowski

Safety is something that Keselowski would like to see more of an evolution in the next couple of years and coupled with the new Gen-7 car that is due in the sport it might be perfect timing for that to happen.

“I’d like to see the cars continue to evolve; I’d like to see the safety equipment continue to evolve. It continues to get better and I think there is a lot more we can continue to do on the concussion side.” continues Keselowski

“I’d like to see the road courses step up some more as I think they are a little behind everyone else.”

Keselowski for his part sees the tire barriers as a bit of antiquated safety protection and “band-aids to suboptimal wall angles”. Instead he would be in favor of seeing the poor walling be fixed for the detail that goes into the Cup Series events.

As the focus now shifts to the Playoffs, Keselowski and Penske racing head into Las Vegas this weekend to kick everything off with the second round coming next weekend at Richmond Raceway.

As Keselowski reflects on the No. 2 car and Penske Racing’s success at the track it’s something, he’s never felt pressure from Penske to go and win instead as he says its been about as a driver coming into an event and putting pressure on yourself to win.

 “Richmond is a short track and such a cool track.”

However, when it comes to putting down some sort of track substance to open the racing grooves that he’s “okay with whatever the tracks want, I’ll just go out and race it and be the best I can be.”

As the playoffs begin this weekend in Las Vegas its but a short ten week stretch that will crown a champion in the Cup Series. For Keselowski he’s looking long term in what it will take to be there in Homestead and contend for his second championship.

“It’s a tough ten race stretch, glad to have the opportunity to win the championship. We got to make it count, we’ve got to have the speed, execution and luck on our side. We haven’t had that over the last few years.”

While earlier this week Penske Racing added a new driver into the fold of their organization through their affiliation with Wood Brothers Racing announcing the Matt DiBenedetto will pilot the famous No. 21 machine in 2020.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for Matt. Its good to see for him as he’s caught some bad breaks and some good breaks. Its good to see him catch a good break.” continued Keselowski

Richmond for its part since moving into the Playoffs is a tough track to drive with a such few opportunities for passing. For him to go to victory lane next Saturday night Keselowski and his team are looking for some more long run speed.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs kick off the weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday at 7 P.M. on NBCSN then moving to Richmond Raceway under the lights on Saturday, Sept. 21st.

 

 

 

After 26 races of hard-nosed determination and hard-knocks competition, the 16-driver field for the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs is set and the drivers begin their final trophy hunt in Sunday’s South Point Casino 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Kyle Busch wrapped up his second consecutive regular season championship two weeks ago at Darlington and the 2015 series champ begins pursuit of his second Monster Energy Series title this week at his hometown track. The 15-point bonus he received for winning the regular season turned out to be a well-timed boost for the four-time winner this season. His last of those four victories came all the way back on June 2 at Pocono, Pa.

After his worst showing of the season at Indy last week – a blown engine relegated him to 37th-place finish – Busch is hopeful the overwhelmingly good vibes of 2019 return for this 10-race Playoff stretch. The driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota won races at ISM Raceway, Fontana, Bristol-1 and Pocono-1, he leads the series in top-10s (21) and he is tied with his JGR teammate - and fellow four-race winner – Denny Hamlin for top-five finishes (13).

He and the rest of the field fully anticipate having to beat reigning series champion Joey Logano and Logano’s Team Penske Ford teammates Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney when it comes to competing at Vegas. Busch has a series best seven top-five finishes at the track, but it’s been primarily a Penske show in Vegas for the past few seasons.

Keselowski is the defending winner of this Playoff opener. Logano won at Vegas this March and the 25-year old Blaney boasts one of the best average finishes (10.7) in this Sunday’s field.

Among the Playoff drivers, Busch has had the longest span since his win at the track in 2009. Keselowski boasts the most wins (three) among the championship-eligible drivers with trophies in 2014, 2016 and 2018. Last week’s Indianapolis regular season finale winner Kevin Harvick – a three-race winner this year – is the only other Playoff driver in the field with multiple Las Vegas wins (2015 and 2018). And JGR’s Truex won at Vegas en route to his 2017 Monster Energy Series championship.

Also among those to watch out for is JGR driver Denny Hamlin, who begins the Playoffs ranked right below his teammate Busch and full of positive momentum. After winning his second Daytona 500 in the 2019 season-opener, Hamlin has been steady and successful all year – winning again at Texas and Pocono-2 and then again only three weeks ago at Bristol from the pole position. With 13 top-fives already he’s on good pace to eclipse his previous best mark of 15 (2009 and 2017) and his 17 top-10 finishes is also on pace to be a new personal record. In 2016 and 2017 he had 22 top-10s.

What Hamlin seeks most, however, is that championship trophy. The driver of the No. 11 JGR Toyota was runner-up to seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson in 2010 and third behind the champion Kevin Harvick in 2014.

Four times the winner of the Playoff opening race has gone on to celebrate a championship - Kurt Busch (2004), Tony Stewart (2011), Keselowski (2012) and Truex (2017).

 

XFINITY SERIES WRAPS UP REGULAR SEASON, SETS PLAYOFF FIELD

This Saturday’s Rhino Pro Truck Outfitters 300 (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) brings the regular season to a close and formalizes the 2019 Playoff lineup. And while three drivers – defending series champion Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer – have absolutely dominated the win column, none of the three has won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway before in this series.

Reddick won the 2016 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Vegas, but has not hoisted an Xfinity Series trophy there. Yet. He’s highly motivated coming off his worst showing of the season last week (30th) following an accident with fellow title contender Christopher Bell in the final laps of the Indianapolis race. Bell finished 29th.

And still the Richard Childress Racing driver’s consistency this season – 19 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes through the opening 25 races – will likely land him the regular season championship (he needs to earn 11 points this weekend to clinch). Reddick holds a 50-point lead over Joe Gibbs Racing’s Bell and an insurmountable 113-point edge over Stewart-Haas Racing’s Custer heading into this week’s season finale.

Certainly the top of the standings is a known quantity with these three accounting for 16 victories already – Reddick (four), Bell (six) and Custer (six). But the Playoffs present a sort of reset.

The 12 drivers currently holding postseason spots are clinched on points, but this regular season finale could prove interesting if a driver outside that group of 12 wins the race and the automatic Playoff spot that accompanies. RSS Racing’s Ryan Sieg currently sits in that precarious 12th  position.

The other drivers who have clinched a postseason bid are Team Penske’s Austin Cindric, Stewart-Haas Racing with Fred Biagi’s Chase Briscoe, JR Motorsports teammates Michael Annett, Justin Allgaier and Noah Gragson, and Kaulig Racing’s Justin Haley. In position to clinch this week are Brandon Jones, rookie John Hunter Nemechek and Sieg.

Of note, Haley will have a celebrated teammate at Kaulig Racing this week as longtime Xfinity Series championship challenger Elliott Sadler will make his final NASCAR national series start. Sadler – a three-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race winner and 13-time Xfinity Series winner – retired from fulltime competition last year and has announced his race Saturday will be his last in NASCAR’s highest tiers of competition. He has four top-fives in 13 Las Vegas Xfinity Series starts.

 

GANDER TRUCKS DRIVERS FACE PLAYOFF CUTOFF

The first elimination of the 2019 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoffs happens this week following Friday night’s World of Westgate 200 (9 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

2016 Gander Trucks champion Johnny Sauter is on the wrong side of the cutoff, however this is a tightly packed playoff field – only six points separating third-place Stewart Friesen and seventh-place Sauter with six drivers advancing to the second round of the Playoffs.

Brett Moffitt has reminded everyone why he’s the defending series champion, winning the first two Playoff races – at the Bristol half-miler and the Bowmanville, Ontario road course – and he’s technically the only racer with a sure bet spot in the next round. He has never won a truck race on this week’s 1.5-mile Las Vegas high banks, however. And regular season champion Grant Enfinger is actually the defending winner of this September race.

Ross Chastain, a three-time winner this season, won the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Las Vegas last fall and is currently second to Moffitt in the championship standings by 22 points.

Freisen is third, 44 points behind Moffitt with two-time series champ Matt Crafton on his heels, just one point off Friesen. Austin Hill is fifth in the title run, only a point behind Crafton and Enfinger is only two points behind Hill. Sauter is two points behind Enfinger and Tyler Ankrum is 12 points behind Enfinger, who holds that sixth and final cut-off position.

Moffitt finished runner-up to Kyle Busch in the March truck race at Vegas with Crafton and Friesen in third and fourth place. Sauter was eighth, Chastain 10th and Hill 30th. At that point in the early season, the now 18-year-old Ankrum wasn’t old enough to compete on the 1.5-mile speedway.

Among the championship eight, only Enfinger (last year) and Sauter (in 2009) have celebrated in Las Vegas’ victory lane. Ben Rhodes joins the pair as the only other driver entered this weekend who has won at Vegas.

News and Notes
 

Feeling Lucky – The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) has officially entered the final 10 races of the 2019 season and Ty Dillon and the GEICO Racing team are ready to roll the dice at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (LVMS) for the South Point 400. The No. 13 Camaro ZL1 will hit the 1.5-mile track on Friday for two practice sessions, before qualifying on Saturday afternoon. The green flag for the 400-mile event will wave at 7:00 p.m. ET on Sunday evening.   
 
Dillon at Las Vegas – Dillon has four career MENCS starts at LVMS, all of which have been behind the wheel of the No. 13 Germain Racing Chevrolet. The 27-year-old has also competed in five NASCAR Xfinity Series races, notching one pole and four top-11 finishes. In addition, Dillon has made two starts in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series, earning one pole, one top-five and two top-10 results.
 
Rearview Mirror – One week ago, Dillon and the GEICO team took to the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Brickyard 400. After two successful practice sessions and securing a 25th-place starting position, the Germain Racing team fine-tuned the handling during the 400-mile race, while Dillon used his impressive driving skills to miss numerous cautions and move through the field. The GEICO Chevrolet crossed the finish line in the 13th position, recording the team’s fourth consecutive top-20 finish.
 
Most Popular Driver – Voting for the 2019 NASCAR MENCS Most Popular Driver has opened! Fans can cast one vote for their favorite driver once a day at nascar.com/mostpopulardriver or on the NASCAR Mobile App. Voting will close on Tuesday, December 4 at 12:00 p.m. ET, and votes on Facebook and/or Twitter count double.
 
Tickets and Tune In – The South Point 400 will take place on Sunday, September 15 at 7:00 p.m. ET. The 267-lap event can be watched live on NBCSN, while Performance Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the live radio broadcast. Tickets to Las Vegas Motor Speedway can be purchased at NASCAR.com/tickets.

From the Driver’s Seat: Quote from Ty Dillon
 
What do you expect from Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway?  
“When we went to Las Vegas earlier this season, our GEICO Racing team was still trying to figure out this new package and we didn’t have a ton of notes of how our Camaro ZL1 would react to certain changes. Restarts and the first 10-15 laps of a run are still going to be a key in having a strong finish, but at the same time, handling will be important for the long runs. Drivers know that the easiest time to make up ground is on the restarts though. We have continued to make strides in our program this season and the last few weeks have been another step in the right direction. I’m looking forward to getting on track and hopefully we can keep the momentum of our last month.”

Germain Racing PR

For just 13 days, visitors to the NASCAR Hall of Fame will have the rare opportunity to view two historical Daytona 500-winning cars in person—Dale Earnhardt’s 1998 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet and Austin Dillon’s 2018 Dow Chevrolet as part of the existing "RCR 50: Only in America" exhibit from Tuesday, Sept. 17 through Sunday, Sept. 29. This will be the first time Earnhardt's 1998 Daytona 500-winning Chevrolet has ever left the RCR Museum in Welcome, North Carolina. The cars will join Kevin Harvick’s 2007 Pennzoil Chevrolet putting all three of RCR’s Daytona 500-winning cars together in one place.

"During the planning stages of the development of the "RCR 50: Only in America" exhibit, we were thinking of artifacts that we believed our fans would appreciate the most," said Richard Childress, chairman and CEO, Richard Childress Racing. "Matching up two of RCR’s most memorable winning cars, especially Dale’s ’98 car since it has not left our RCR Museum in over 20 years, should provide the fans a unique opportunity to pay a visit to the NASCAR Hall of Fame."

In honor of this historical moment, fans are invited to attend a special event at the Hall on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. The intimate event will include a complimentary printed photo of fans with the cars, facilitated exhibit experience with members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame curatorial team, access to RCR storytelling sessions and additional programming in the High Octane Theater. Tickets are on sale now. Click here to purchase tickets.

"Few moments stand out in NASCAR fans' memories like Dale Earnhardt’s 1998 and Austin Dillon’s 2018 Daytona 500 wins," said Kevin Schlesier, Director, Exhibits, NASCAR Hall of Fame. "The cars that these drivers drove are some of the sport's most treasured artifacts, and we are incredibly honored that Richard Childress Racing has entrusted us to share them with guests who come to the NASCAR Hall of Fame."

The NASCAR Hall of Fame’s temporary exhibit, "RCR 50: Only in America," honors the 50th anniversary of Richard Childress Racing. Artifacts, race cars, images and audio/video displays chronicle the story of Richard Childress Racing, long one of NASCAR’s elite teams. The exhibit celebrates five decades of RCR’s success, honoring the accomplishments of 2017 Hall of Famer Richard Childress, his family, his team members and the many people who helped build a NASCAR dynasty.

Follow #RCR50 on social media for more information about Richard Childress Racing's 50th anniversary celebration activities.

For more details on the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the "RCR 50: Only in America" special exhibit, visit nascarhall.com and follow @NASCARHall on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

NHOF PR

As Paul Menard begins to wind down his full-time Cup Series career, he and the Menards/Monster team have one main goal in mind – to deliver the Wood Brothers their 100th Cup victory.

That campaign kicks off this weekend as Menard and the No. 21 Menards/Monster Mustang take on Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which statistically is Menard’s best track.

In 14 career starts on the 1.5-mile Vegas oval, with a best finish of third in 2014 and four other top-10 finishes including two in his past three races there, both of which were aboard the Wood’s No. 21 Ford.

Menard and his Greg Erwin-led team are heading to Vegas having put together two strong performances in the past two weeks – a ninth-place finish in the Southern 500 at Darlington followed by a 10th-place run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where Menard set the pace in final practice and started the Brickyard 400 from the outside pole.
 
Eddie Wood said he has a good feeling about his race team as the Cup series heads into the final 10 races of 2019.

 “The past couple of weeks we’ve seen things start to come together,” Wood said. “The car’s had a lot of speed, and the team is getting some momentum going.”

 Wood said there will be some unknowns this weekend as a lot has changed in the Cup series since the first Vegas race of 2019 back in early March.
 
“Everybody knows a lot more about what the cars want with the new handling package,” he said. “And it’s going to be a lot hotter this weekend than it was in March, so that will throw another element into it.

 “It’ll be harder on the drivers, but Paul handles the heat really well.”
 
Qualifying for the South Point 400 is set for Saturday at 1:05 p.m. (4:05 Eastern Time), and the race is scheduled to get the green flag on Sunday just after 4 p.m. (7 p.m. Eastern Time) with TV coverage on NBCSN.

WBR PR

The Top 16 NASCAR drivers will kick off the 2019 Playoffs with a show-stopping display of burnouts on the Las Vegas Strip, as NBC Sports presents the NASCAR America Burnout Boulevard Driven by Goodyear this Thursday at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. The live hour-long special will showcase burnouts from all 16 NASCAR Playoff drivers as fans line Las Vegas Boulevard to get an up-close look at how they celebrate a win.

NBC Sports NASCAR pit reporter Kelli Stavast will host the high-octane hour and judge each driver’s burnout alongside analysts Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Letarte. NBC Sports’ Parker Kligerman will kick things off leading the pack down the boulevard in the NBC Sports’ Toyota on-track car. Marty Snider will also be on hand to conduct driver interviews before and after their burnouts.

WATCH: Highlights of last year’s event featuring Clint Bowyer’s burnout.

Thursday’s coverage from Las Vegas kicks off at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN with live coverage of the NASCAR Media Day from the South Point Hotel Casino and Spa. Krista Voda will host the program alongside analyst Jeff Burton, Marty Snider and NBCSports.com lead motorsports reporter Nate Ryan, which will feature interviews with drivers as they prepare for the Playoffs.

Drivers that will be taking part in the festivities:

Kyle Busch
Denny Hamlin
Martin Truex Jr.
Kevin Harvick
Joey Logano
Brad Keselowski
Chase Elliott
Kurt Busch
Alex Bowman
Erik Jones
Kyle Larson
Ryan Blaney
William Byron
Aric Almirola
Clint Bowyer
Ryan Newman

NBC SPORTS’ NASCAR COVERAGE

The official home of the NASCAR Playoffs, NBC Sports will present the final 20 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races, final 19 NASCAR Xfinity Series races, and select NASCAR Regional & Touring Series events in 2019. NBC Sports’ NASCAR programming also includes NBCSN’s daily motorsports show NASCAR America, coverage of NASCAR’s Awards Ceremonies, the annual NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony, as well as original programming specials.

NBC Sports PR

Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), knows that consistency will be the key to success if he is to advance to the Round of 12 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, which begin this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. 

 

Almirola finished in the top-10 in all three of his Las Vegas starts since joining SHR for an average finish of 7.6. They’re his first and only top-10s in 11 career starts at the 1.5-mile oval. The first came in March 2018 when he started 29th and raced his Smithfield Ford Mustang to 10th by the time the checkered flag waved. 

 

The 14th position Almirola occupies in this year’s initial playoff standings mirrors his start to last year’s playoffs, during which he advanced to the Round of 8 and nearly reached the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

 

“Last year, we didn’t have much of an expectation going into the playoffs,” he said. “We were a new team and were really getting acquainted with each other still. After going through the playoffs and almost making it to the championship at Homestead and finishing fifth in the points, I feel like we have set expectations and a standard. First off, we expected to be in the playoffs – anything less would be a disappointment. Now, our standard from last year is what we’re shooting for. We want to win races in the playoffs and advance through the rounds. We want to do better. If we don’t, it wouldn’t necessarily be a disappointment, but we have high hopes to achieve more success than we did last year.”

 

It’s been a challenge for the No. 10 team to maintain its position in the top-16 since the middle part of the season. But with the beginning of the playoffs, Almirola and his team plan to flip a switch similar to last year, when they knocked down seven top-10s, three top-fives and a win during their 10-race playoff run. 

 

“The playoffs are about being at your best every second, every minute, every hour and every day,” he said. “We’re ready to do that.”

 

Sunday’s 400-mile race at Las Vegas marks the 23rd points-paying event during which the Smithfield livery has adorned Almirola’s No. 10 Ford Mustang this year. Smithfield, a brand of Smithfield Foods, based in Smithfield, Virginia, is in its eighth season with Almirola and its second with SHR. Founded in 1936, Smithfield is a leading provider of high-quality pork products, with a vast product portfolio including smoked meats, hams, bacon, sausage, ribs, and a wide variety of fresh pork cuts. 

 

As the playoffs ramp up this weekend, fans can get VIP, behind-the-scenes access in following “Aric ‘Beyond the 10’” by subscribing to his YouTube channel. Episodes showcase never-before-seen footage of Almirola at the racetrack, on family trips, and “A Day in the Life” during the week, as well as all that goes into a NASCAR Cup Series driver’s season. Tune in this weekend for full access to Almirola’s playoff media day, NASCAR Burnout Boulevard and the Vegas race weekend. Click hereto subscribe on YouTube and watch the latest episode.

 

On Monday, Almirola and Smithfield announced the “Racin’ for Bacon” 1 million slice giveaway program. If Almirola pilots the No. 10 Ford to victory lane Oct. 13 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, 10 lucky fans will earn 100,000 slices of bacon. To sign up, visit www.racinforbacongiveaway.com

 

In addition to his Cup Series starts, Almirola has four NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at Las Vegas, where he’s never finished outside the top-17 or started outside the top-15. The Cuban American has also made three starts in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series at Las Vegas and completed all three events inside the top-10.

 

From his 14th in the championship standings, Almirola’s 2,001 points place him 44 markers behind leader Kyle Busch and three points behind the cutoff line to advance to the Round of 12.

TSC PR

Daniel Suárez and the No. 41 Haas Automation Mustang team for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) heads out west for Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The SHR driver will pilot the traditional red-and-black Haas livery for this season's 27th race.

 

Last weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was the final regular-season event with Suárez among the drivers vying for last two of 16 playoff spots. Suárez’s 11th-place finish in the race was not enough to earn him his first playoff berth, leaving him just four points shy of the 16th and final spot. So, moving forward, he’ll still devote his on-track efforts to finish the best Cup Series season of his young career. Currently 17th in the point standings with 10 races remaining in the season, Suárez has accumulated three top-five finishes and nine top-10s, along with 105 laps led. He has an average start of 15.1 and an average finish of 14.8.

 

This weekend marks the second and final time this season the Cup Series will race at Las Vegas. In the March race at the 1.5-mile oval, Suárez started 22nd, led 12 laps, earned two bonus points, and ultimately earned a 17th-place finish.

 

The 27-year-old has four career Cup Series starts at Las Vegas with a best starting position of 11th earned in March 2017 and a best finish of eighth in September 2018. He has an average Las Vegas start of 17.5 and an average finish of 17.8, and has completed 99.6 percent of all possible laps.   

 

Sunday kicks off Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States and, appropriately enough, approximately 500 “Daniel’s Amigos” guests will be at the Las Vegas track to support the Monterrey, Mexico driver. “Daniel’s Amigos” is a fan-focused movement to engage and celebrate with the Latino community with support from Coca-Cola, NASCAR, International Speedway Corporation, Speedway Motorsports Incorporated and SHR. This weekend marks the third time this year the “Daniel’s Amigos” experience has been hosted at-track. The final “Daniel’s Amigos” experience of the season will be held in November at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.

 

Additionally, fans will have the opportunity to view Suárez’s perspective from inside the Haas Automation Mustang while he makes laps at Las Vegas via his helmet camera courtesy of Coca-Cola.

 

In addition to his four Cup Series starts at Las Vegas, the Ford driver also has three NASCAR Xfinity Series starts there. He twice earned a best starting position of third, and a best finish of second. He’s accumulated an average start of 7.0 and an average finish of 5.0, along with three laps led and 100 percent of laps completed.

 

Haas Automation, founded in 1983 by SHR co-owner Gene Haas, is America’s leading builder of CNC machine tools. The company manufactures a complete line of vertical and horizontal machining centers, turning centers and rotary tables and indexers. All Haas products are constructed in the company’s 1.1-million-square-foot manufacturing facility in Oxnard, California, and distributed through a worldwide network of Haas Factory Outlets.

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Playoff time is finally here and Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 14 Toco Warranty Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), is on a roll.

 

Three consecutive top-seven finishes moved Bowyer from outside to inside the playoffs and prepared him for the most important stretch of the season. The first round of NASCAR’s 10-race, 16-driver playoffs begin this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

 

For Bowyer it’s the moment he’s circled since trekking to Las Vegas for a January preseason test of the sport’s new rules package.  

 

“With all the rules changes and everything in 2019, we started a little bit slow out of the box, but everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) put their heads down and we’ve been running better of late with three top-seven finishes,” said Bowyer, who finished second in the playoffs once and in the top-five three times during his career.

 

“This weekend is where it all begins,” he continued. “It’s a new season. There’s nothing routine about what starts this weekend in Las Vegas. The pay window is open and it’s time we start racing for a championship. It’s why we are here and why I joined this organization.”

 

Bowyer begins the playoffs 15th in the reset standings with 2,000 points thanks to a fifth-place finish in last Sunday’s final regular-season race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. To advance to Round 2 of the playoffs, Bowyer needs to remain in the top-12 in points through Round 1. That makes running well Sunday at Las Vegas, Sept. 21 at Richmond (Va.) Raceway, and Sept. 29 on the road course at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway imperative to a chance for the title.

 

“I’ve always thought the first round is the toughest,” he said. “You have to be ready to go right out of the box. You can’t have any mistakes. You sure as heck can’t afford to get behind.”

 

Bowyer might not have had the regular season he wanted, but it wasn’t a bad year. He earned six top-five finishes and 12 top-10s in 26 regular-season races. But the regular season is over and he has a simple strategy for this year’s playoffs.

 

“We have 10 races, and look at the last three races where they have been single-digit finishes for us,” Bowyer said. “That will get you a round or maybe two and builds confidence and momentum with our race team. That is what it takes. We are doing the right things and putting ourselves in the right situations to capitalize on other people’s mishaps instead of being the one that makes the mishap.”

 

He’ll lead a three-Mustang contingent of SHR driver in the playoffs as he joins teammates Kevin Harvick and Aric Almirola. Daniel Suarez fell just four points shy of earning a playoff berth. It would have marked the second consecutive year SHR place all four drivers in the playoffs.

 

At Las Vegas this weekend, Bowyer will carry the colors of Toco Warranty, whose Toco All-Star Sweepstakes offers fans a chance to get to Homestead. One lucky winner and guest will attend the season finales of the World of Outlaws World Finals Nov. 8 to 9 at The Dirt Track near Charlotte, North Carolina, as guests of Tony Stewart Racing (TSR) before jetting off to South Florida to see the NASCAR season finale Nov. 16 and 17 in Homestead with Bowyer and SHR. 

 

To register, fans simply need to go to www.TocoWarranty.com. A winner will be drawn this weekend.

 

Toco Warranty partnered with SHR and TSR earlier this year. The provider of pay-as-you-go vehicle repair coverage is a primary partner of Bowyer and the No. 14 team of SHR and the co-primary partner of Donny Schatz and TSR’s No. 15 Winged Sprint car. Toco Warranty is also an associate sponsor of Tony Stewart, who is competing in more than 90 Winged Sprint car races this year.

 

Bowyer hopes he can create lots of attention for Toco at the fast, 1.5-mile Las Vegas oval. It marks his 15th start at Las Vegas, where he owns a top-five finish and four top-10s in 14 races. Bowyer finished 14th when the Cup Series last visited the 1.5-mile oval in March. 

 

“All that doesn’t matter anymore,” Bowyer said. “The next 10 races will define everyone’s season.”

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“This is undoubtedly one of the toughest announcements that I've ever personally had to make. But after the accident in Turn 4 at the end of the Daytona 500, we've lost Dale Earnhardt.” Mike Helton

Those are the inevitable words that came after the 2001 Daytona 500 shocking the world.

While Michael Waltrip went to victory lane that fateful day for Dale Earnhardt Incorporated, Dale Sr. him self would be involved in a last lap, turn four incident that claimed the life of the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion.

Blink of an Eye recounts the day through the eyes of Michael Waltrip who would celebrate with his team and the win at Daytona mindful of what had occurred before the news broke on the passing of Dale Sr.

Waltrip came into the event with a 462-race losing streak which would be broken that day. The win would also be the first of his two Daytona 500 victories.

Filmmaker Paul Taublieb using work from Waltrip’s book “In the Blink of an Eye: Dale, Daytona, and the Day that Changed Everything” along with archive footage from the day of the incident weaved together the triumph of a team who would win yet experience pain in the passing of Dale Sr. who owned the team.

Through the film fans are given an insider perspective in which Waltrip would live out his career in the shadows of older brother Darrell Waltrip, the lead announcer that day calling Michael home to his victory at Daytona. Michael himself would later go on to join Fox Sports and his brother on the network covering the sport from the TV side.

Fans can catch the film in theaters for a one-day special showing on Sept. 12. To see the theater nearest you for the special showing fans can check out Fathom Events website at https://www.fathomevents.com/events/blink-of-an-eye?date=2019-09-12.

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