“Big 3” driv­ers lap­ping would-be com­pe­ti­tion

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Larry Lage

MICH» The BROOK­LYN,

“Big 3” of NASCAR have es­sen­tially lapped the com­pe­ti­tion.

Kyle Busch, Kevin Har­vick and Martin Truex Jr. have com­bined to win 16 of 22 races and haven’t al­lowed the field to win con­sec­u­tive races with points at stake this year. Of the other 56 driv­ers who have started a race, only Clint Bowyer has won twice.

That could po­ten­tially change Sun­day in the Con­sumers En­ergy 400 be­cause Chase El­liott won last week at Watkins Glen.

Chances are, though, one of the se­ries’ top three driv­ers will fin­ish first.

Busch and Truex drive a Toy­ota while Har­vick is in a Ford. Clearly, it helps to have one of those man­u­fac­tur­ers on your side this sea­son.

Toy­ota driv­ers have won 11 races and Ford has nine first-place fin­ishes.

“They got ev­ery­thing to­gether,” Ryan New­man, who drives the No. 31 Chevy, said on Sat­ur­day af­ter prac­tice. “They’ve got great down­force, horse­power, tires. Driv­ers are do­ing their job and col­lec­tively their or­ga­ni­za­tions are strong.

“Ste­wart-haas Rac­ing as well as the Toy­ota camp seems to be strong right now and have been all year.”

Chevro­let, mean­while, has won just two races and Karl Lar­son, who is eighth in points, is its only driver among the top 10 in the stand­ings.

“We’re try­ing to catch up,” said New­man, who will start sixth. We were pre­pared as well as we thought we needed to be.

“As it turns out, we needed to be more pre­pared and you can see the re­sults across the Chevro­let camp.”

Some other things to know for the Cup race:

Best of rest: Bowyer, who will start 16th, has a chance to get closer to the Big 3 and cre­ate more sep­a­ra­tion from the pack. He won his sec­ond race at the se­ries’ pre­vi­ous stop at Michi­gan In­ter­na­tional Speed­way in June. Four other driv­ers have won one race this year.

“It is al­ways ex­cit­ing to go to any race track for the sec­ond time, es­pe­cially when you have had some suc­cess to see how you will stack up when you load again,” Bowyer said.

Streaking: Hamlin hopes to fin­ish where he’ll start — first — to earn a vic­tory for a 13th straight year. He is on the pole for a sec­ond straight week.

“We’re start­ing to turn back the other way and be pretty fast again,” Hamlin said. “We’ve re­ally worked on the right things to get us to this point and noth­ing is more frus­trat­ing than work­ing as hard as I have and the team has over the last two months and not get­ting any re­sults.”

Hamlin won at Michi­gan in 2010 and 2011. Chase’s chance: El­liott won his first Cup race last week, in his 99th start, to put him in the play­offs.

“I’ve been on the other end of the stick these past two years and it’s such a nice feel­ing to come into these last few races and know that you’re locked-in to the deal,” he said.

El­liott has had three run­ner-up fin­ishes at MIS.

FA frenzy: Many driv­ers have been men­tioned as pos­si­ble free agents af­ter the sea­son. Chip Ganassi in­sisted he wants Jamie Mcmur­ray back on his team next year af­ter Mo­tor­sport.com re­ported he would be re­placed by Kurt Busch.

Does New­man have a deal for 2019?

“Work­ing on it,” he said.

On the low: NASCAR does not plan to make in­terim CEO and chair­man Jim France avail­able for in­ter­views. France was ap­proached by re­porters Sat­ur­day and de­clined to say much.

He has a larger role in the fam­ily busi­ness be­cause nephew Brian France took an in­def­i­nite leave af­ter he was ar­rested on charges of driv­ing while in­tox­i­cated and crim­i­nal pos­ses­sion of oxy­codone nearly a week ago.

Jim France is per­haps lead­ing by ex­am­ple be­cause in­ter­view re­quests for Kyle Busch, Har­vick, Truex, Hamlin, Jim­mie John­son and Jamie Mcmur­ray were de­nied Sat­ur­day.

Paul Sancya, The As­so­ci­ated Press

Martin Truex Jr. watches his crew work dur­ing prac­tice Sat­ur­day for the Con­sumers En­ergy 400 at Michi­gan In­ter­na­tional.

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