What is the NASCAR Cup Series playoff picture?
With three races remaining in the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series regular season, things are becoming clear.
Ten drivers have clinched a playoff spot as long as they remain eligible: Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Alex Bowman, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, William Byron, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch.
Three more drivers have wins but with it still being mathematically possible that race winners could be eliminated. All three of them and Denny Hamlin would clinch a spot if Hamlin or a repeat/ineligible driver can win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course this weekend. If a new eligible driver wins, then Christopher Bell (+173) and Michael McDowell (+66) can clinch if they end Indy up 120 points on Aric Almirola or the Indy winner if they are ranked below Almirola in points.
Keep an eye on Chase Briscoe this weekend. Briscoe has gotten all three of his Cup top-10 finishes at the last four road course events, and he’s going to be driven to make a splash this week at his home race.
Is North Wilkesboro Speedway coming back?
I went to our state capital today with @MarcusSMI to continue to nurture the relationship North Carolina has with motorsports. What I saw today makes me proud to be a North Carolinian! pic.twitter.com/WQ9YIg8WzH
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) August 11, 2021
A bill that has gone through the North Carolina House of Representatives has ended on a good note for race fans.
While the state Senate still needs to pass the final bill, aka Senate Bill 105 (page 348 for the motorsports section), part of the bill further outlines the news earlier this summer that Gov. Roy Cooper will dedicate money earmarked to the state for the COVID recovery bill that was passed earlier this year by the federal government.
Instead of Charlotte Motor Speedway, Rockingham Speedway and North Wilkesboro Speedway each receiving $10 million, Charlotte will instead receive $15 million and Wilkesboro will receive $20 million. There is also a $5 million event grant that will be available for all three tracks, plus any tracks in the state sanctioned by NASCAR, the NHRA and the IHRA.
With Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Marcus Smith on hand personally at the capital Aug. 11, it has now become crystal clear that North Wilkesboro has a future of some kind. $10 million was not enough to fix the racetrack up. Neither is $20 million, but it would have been very easy for Smith to say no and focus on the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway project or lobby to get the Wilkesboro money transferred to Charlotte. The fact they even wanted more money for North Wilkesboro, let alone getting double what was originally allocated to them, is basically a greenlight for that project to proceed going forward and that Sonic Group/other companies such as Camping World are ready to put their money where their mouth is on that track.
That is, of course, as long as it survives the Senate.
What does next year bring for the NTT IndyCar Series?
The news that IndyCar’s new television contract with NBC was signed is old hat at this point. However, it’s still worthy of discussion.
My biggest question with this deal is how much it is worth. The reality is that IndyCar, as well as it has done in ratings this year, isn’t a property popular enough to command the money that would match its channel slots under the contract.
One huge question next year as well is how well it will do on year two of Jimmie Johnson. There’s no doubt that Johnson’s presence has attracted a number of NASCAR fans that are curious to see how he does. Next year, after a very rough rookie campaign and the uniqueness of one of NASCAR’s greatest ever competing in the series becomes more routine, the ratings this year may well be a bump.
There has been a lot of talk about two races being exclusive to Peacock next year. That’s just routine; we’re 13 months away from Amazon Prime being the exclusive home of one primetime NFL game each week. The actual streaming wars are over; the consumer lost. Netflix just has a bunch of terrible movies now. It’s like freaking out in 1976 about the Vietnam War and how America could win a war that had been over for years. And anybody who doesn’t think the next NASCAR TV contracts won’t have a fairly large streaming presence is delusional at this point.
What to make of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course this weekend?
Martinsville Speedway is generally described as two drag strips with four tight corners in between.
The Indianapolis road course is a bit of the same. Only instead of four tight corners, there are a series of esses and an awkward tight right turn transitioning in and out of the legendary IMS oval.
It will be interesting to watch practice for both the Cup and Xfinity series. Both are only 50 minutes for a track that has around 90-second lap times, so it’s going to be crucial for the teams to maximize their time on track this week — especially the Cup drivers, of whom only a handful drove in the NXS race last year on the configuration.
There’s been a lot of talk this week from drivers and pundits alike about how the race is undervalued now that it is on the road course.
Actually, I have the opposite view: having every race at Indianapolis on the road course except for the Indianapolis 500 actually makes the 500 more special.
The NASCAR oval race has had enough good races to fit on one hand and has been dead on arrival since 2008 attendance-wise. And it really wasn’t this time honored tradition. Jeff Gordon won the inaugural race. Of the 43 drivers inducted in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, 30 had already ended their racing careers by the time of the 1994 event. It’s better to try something than to just serve the same junk for over 25 years.
This will be the final NXS race with planned qualifying until the season finale at Phoenix Raceway in November, so it will be the final shot for MBM Motorsports’ No. 13 team to get into the top 40 in owner points and thus in every race for the next three months. The top 38 in owner points have already locked in a spot in every race between Indianapolis and Phoenix.
In 39th is Mike Harmon Racing’s No. 47, which is 42 points ahead of the No. 13 and is all but certain to stay ahead as long as it makes the race on Saturday morning. In 40th is the Jimmy Means-owned No. 52, which has had a disappointing season and is 25 points ahead of the No. 13. This may seem like quite a task for a team that has scored just 92 points this season, but keep in mind that it finished 15th (worth 22 points) back in May at Charlotte.
About the author
Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.
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