2020 NSCA Youtube Cup Series Race Reports

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jacobc62

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Jun 25, 2017
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It's About Damn Time......... Cody Llamas Gets it Done at Homestead!

It was a hot summer night at Homestead, and 3 teams dominated the top 10 seemingly all night long - Hendrick Motorsports, Craigo Racing Inc., and Steven Merzlak Racing. Throughout the night, Cody Llamas and Steven Merzlak traded the lead back and forth - Merzlak getting the most laps led - and both drivers' cars seemed to be somewhat even in speed. But in the end, Cody Llamas broke a winless streak that dates back to 2018. He's been close a few times this season, but wasn't able to pull it off until now, and after the horrendous start to the season, now finds himself locked into the Playoff Grid with only 5 races remaining until the Playoffs begin.

The race also had an above-average number of leaders and lead changes, and a mixture of strategy and pit stop cycles allowed drivers we haven't normally seen up near the front lead the field. Team Penske also had a great day as both drivers cracked the top 10 by the end of the race, steadily improving after a dismal 2019 season. Darien Arnsdorff also scored his first career Playoff Point with a tenth place finish.







Cody Llamas as I said earlier locks himself into the Playoff Grid with now just 5 races remaining. Miles Lionheart falls outside of the top 12 in points with a dismal 27th place showing at the checkered flag. Jennifer Legacy hangs onto a Playoff spot as she remains in 23rd position with an average night, finishing 17th. Meanwhile, the number of drivers within 2 races' worth of points (250) drops, with whose on the fringes of the top 25 being over 3 races' worth of points out.
 

jacobc62

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Jun 25, 2017
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CAUTION. FREE. Steven Merzlak gets his 3rd win of the season at Orlando!

Orlando International Speedway, a 3-mile long, clock-wise, tri-oval that has high banking, and high speeds. One of the more unique challenges for the drivers of the NSCA Cup Series as we remain in Florida in back-to-back weeks. John Mullen got Chevy their 7th pole of the season. That didn't last long, however, as Chris Gibbs, a driver usually seen near the back of the field, had a surprisingly stellar qualifying time, quickly went for the lead. The race went caution free, with the only notable incidents being mechanical failures that ended the nights of Elana Keero and DJ Harris early, whom were right on the cut-line bubble for the Playoff Grid entering this event.

Heading into the final lap, Gibbs led while Maddox was hot on his tail, Merzlak was a bit aways behind dealing with lapped traffic. Coming off of turn 2, Maddox completed the pass to take the lead, but Merzlak had cleared the lapped cars and had a head full of steam entering turn 3. Gibbs tried to make a run for 2nd on the outside but came up just 0.002 seconds short of 2nd place. 4th place Ryan Vaughan was behind a slew of lapped cars with no hope to try and catch the leaders himself, but he does come out of this race currently mathematically locked into his Playoff position as he his well over 125 points ahead of John Mullen. Merzlak of course extended his points lead with his win, as Jacob Craigo finished in the lower half of the top 10.







Jennifer Legacy is ever more in greater danger of losing her Playoff berth as she slips to 24th in points. Despite a 40th place finish, DJ Harris just barely hangs on to a spot in the Playoffs, just 11 points ahead of Mullen. Thanks to Keero's and Harris' troubles, the number of drivers within 2 race's worth of points did expand by one position. 4 races left until the Playoffs.
 
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jacobc62

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Late Race Drama Allows Hoefflin to Steal the Win in New Jersey

Sean English began the night on pole position, but that didn't last long as Cody Llamas blew past him to lead the opening laps of the event. Despite starting mid-pack, Steven Merzlak found himself within the top ten before the end of lap 16. There were several incidents throughout the event, the largest being one the earliest as DJ Harris, Rei Takita, and Ricki Fawxson all got caught up in a wreck on lap 279. This actually damaged DJ's Playoff hopes as this would result in him now sitting on the outside looking in in terms of the Playoff Grid with just 3 races left until the Playoffs begin.

The back half of the event quickly turned into a caution-fest as a multitude of single and double car spins happened. One of these incidents would lead to a caution being called with only a few laps to go, taking the race into overtime. However, on the restart, Eugene Demax was sent spinning in turn 1, bringing out the yellow for a second Overtime attempt. On the restart, Steven Merzlak got the jump, but Travis Hoefflin sent it into the inside going into turn 3, and completed the pass entering turn 1 after taking the white flag. Jacob Craigo came from 6th on the final restart to finish 3rd, rounding out the podium.

After the checkered flag, Jackie Tang spun another driver on the cool down lap, which resulted in several cars being collected. NSCA officials penalized the #81 team with a loss of Tang's point for the event, with Jackie being put on probation until the end of the year.

No screenshot of the finish due to me forgetting to save a replay of the finish.....




With three races remaining until the Playoffs, the amount of drivers with a realistic shot of making the grid decreases substantially. At this point, everyone 22nd or worse (with exception to Jennifer Legacy, who actually increases her position to 23rd) needs to win and remain in the Top 25 to be Playoff Eligible. Ryan Vaughan continues to be soft-locked into the Playoffs now nearly 2 full races worth of points ahead of the cutoff line. The gap on either side of the cut line is the largest it's been since I started doing these, more than double the previous largest gap. With Indy, Armory Digital SS, and Richmond coming up, it will be interesting to see who will make the Playoffs.
 
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jacobc62

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Jun 25, 2017
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Action at Indy - Merzlak takes 4th win of season, Playoffs Loom Ahead

It was a big day for the sport as the famed and historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway was returning to the schedule after a few years of absence. Speculation, hype, and anticipation were in the air as the field of 41 cars rolled off of pit lane for the formation lap. Austin Spencer started on pole, with DJ Harris alongside. It didn't take long for the action to ramp up, however, as off of turn 4 on the first lap of the event, Ricki Fawxson was turned by Leland Hill, creating a large wreck in the process. It didn't take long for a second wreck to occur after that, as a second Big One happened on lap 14. The rest of the race was run with very little in the way of trouble, though there were a few handful of incidents here and there.

The late battle would be between the drivers who've headlined the season thus far - fitting for such a historic race - with your eventual podium finishers duking it out for the race win. Steven Merzlak and Hunter Keero had dominated the race - having led 84 of the 160 laps combined. Hoefflin made a late charge for the win, getting past Keero with 2 laps to go, and getting right to the bumper of Merzlak in turn 2 of the final lap. Merzlak of course continues his incredible streak of podium finishes, having finished no worse than 2nd since Valkenburg.





5 drivers with a realistic shot at the Playoffs, with 5 more who have an outside chance, but arguably capable of making it in with a hail mary. Everyone outside the top 19 (with exception to Legacy, who sits 24th) now needs to win and remain in the top 25 in points (or bust their way into the top 25) in order to make the Playoffs. Jennifer Legacy just needs to survive the next couple of races, maybe finish decently as well, and she makes it through as well.....

... 2 races remain. How will Armory Digital Superspeedway and Richmond Raceway affect the Playoff grid?
 
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Rollo75

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Dec 1, 2018
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No.
Pontiac power does seem abnormally well represented in the Playoff zone.

Maybe Merzlak has particularly good engineering?
 

jacobc62

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Jun 25, 2017
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Coleman Earns First Career Victory - Playoff Grid Closed Off

A blistering heatwave blew through the Seattle area as the NSCA Cup Series rolled into the famed Armory Digital Superspeedway. A staggeringly high 102°F was the temp as the field roared out of the restart zone at the drop of the green flag. Austin Spencer was the pole sitter, but as has been the case moreso in recent races, he wasn't the leader at the end of Lap 1. The very wide surface allowed for clean racing for much of the day, only 5 cautions were brought out and none of them were for wrecks! Three drivers faced mechanical issues, however, and the other two cautions were brought out for debris.

As the field raced towards the finish, each of the podium drivers only led one lap each - The final 3 laps to be precise. Hunter Keero led as they came to 2 laps to go. Calvin Richards took the White Flag in the lead, but he wasn't able to hold off Trey Coleman, who held off a charge back from Keero to take the victory. This is Trey Coleman's first career victory, the second time this season a driver has earned their first (the other being Tyler Bladerunner at Phoenix). Coleman becomes the 90th driver to add his name to the All-Time winner list.





Due to how everyone finished, the Playoff Grid closed right up, with John Mullen effectively locked into the Playoffs mathematically. However, there is still one race left, and anything can happen. Hell, Jennifer Legacy sits right at 25th place, and is only 22 points clear of Austin Spencer in 26th. Richmond is known for it's prevalence in last-minute Playoff shakeups, so we will have to see how everything plays out!

PLAYOFF CLINCHING SCENARIOS:
Jennifer Legacy | 25th Place (1 win) - Finish the race while scoring NO LESS than 21 points behind Austin Spencer

John Mullen | 9th Place (0 wins) - Hope that everyone vying for the spot he currently occupies fails to win, AND/OR Jennifer Legacy fails to remain in top 25 in points should there be a new winner

Austin Spencer | 26th Place - WIN THE RACE while scoring AT LEAST 22 points MORE than Jennifer Legacy AND/OR 27 points MORE than Elana Keshiel

EVERYONE from DJ Harris (12th Place) through Elana Keshiel (24th Place) - WIN THE RACE

Everyone who has won a race (with exception to Jennifer Legacy) has already locked themselves into the Playoffs by remaining within the top 11 in the standings (up to this point). Ryan Vaughan's consistency with great finishes rewarded him with a mathematical lock after Armory Digital SS.

This effectively means we have 2 Playoff spots up for grabs, marked in yellow in the above graphic​
 
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jacobc62

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What's this? Two posts in a single day?



Playoff Grid is set! - Merzlak Steals Win in Richmond

For 10 drivers, all they needed to do was get through this race as clean as possible. Their focus set not on this race, but the next at Bristol. For 16 others, it was time to drop the hammer. John Mullen and Jennifer Legacy sat above the cutline, John in on points while Jennifer hung on to a top 25 points position with a win. Everyone in between them that wasn't already locked into the Playoffs had one goal: Win. Mullen sat on pole, and dominated the first 1/4 of the race. Miles Lionheart dropped out early with a mechanical failure, his issue negligible thanks to his position in the Grid. The only other car to drop out with an issue was Cody Haner. During the middle portion of the race, Cody Llamas and Steven Merzlak would trade the lead back and forth with each other, only interrupted by a cycle of green flag pit stops.

A caution would be called during the pit cycle, however, as a near miss from a spin by William Montoya as he was nearing the entrance for pit road. This gave the lead to Elana Keero, who went on to dominate most of the last 1/3 of the event, until another cycle of green flag stops was again met with another caution in the middle of it all. John Mullen inherited the lead once again, and would lead a small handful of laps before the final caution would come out. With 12 laps to go at the green, it looked like Mullen would take the win.

That was, until he and a few others dived to pit road just just a few laps to go.

Mullen, Joy Ravenhurst, Alan Bledsoe, and others had to dive to pit road as they had miscalculated on the pit strategy. This gave the lead not to Elana Keero, but to Steven Merzlak, whom had charged from 8th place on the final restart to take 2nd place right as Mullen dived for pit road. Elana Keero wasn't able to keep up, having trouble dealing with the lapped traffic that remained between herself and Merzlak. Luckily for Keero, Cody Llamas was having issues dealing with lapped traffic himself, and couldn't catch the #29 in time, having to settle for 3rd behind Keero and Merzlak.

As we had a repeat winner, and Jennifer Legacy finished well above where she needed to in order to remain in the top 25 in points, the Playoff Grid effectively remains unchanged from how it was prior to the start of the race. John Mullen was only in danger of falling out of Playoff contention if we had a new winner (which we nearly had). Merzlak also now ties a record that the NSCA has kept track of since the start of the 2010s: Most wins in a single season. The record has stood at 5 wins, and has been tied by multiple drivers throughout the past 11 seasons, including today. Should Merzlak go on to continue the performance he has shown since the All-Star race, he could easily break that record.







Here's how the Playoff Adjustment works: First, all 12 drivers have their points adjusted to 2000 points. Next, all 12 drivers are then awarded their earned Playoff Points during the season (everyone who earned playoff points this season will receive them, even if they failed to make the playoffs). After that, the 12 Playoff drivers will earn "Position Points", which are additional points meant to close the Playoff gap a little bit. There are awarded equal to your pre-adjustment points position (11th = 11 points, 21st = 21st points, etc.). After all of these are calculated in, here's how the official points look as the Cup Series gears up for the beginning of the Playoffs:
 
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jacobc62

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Me to the AI every 30 seconds:


Playoff Begin in the WORST Way Possible - Elana Keero Takes Victory due to Merzlak's Engine Woes

The first race of 5 in the 2020 Playoffs began with hope for great action, and hype for a decent championship battle. Fans may get that championship battle, but the quality of racing was atrocious (at best) on track.

24 cautions. TWENTY FOUR! For nearly a quarter of the race - 121 laps of 500 - we were behind the Pace Car. The only other car to have led more laps was the #4 driven by Steven Merzlak, and he didn't even finish the race!


Talking OoC for a moment, I'm thoroughly convinced there is no such thing as a decent Bristol for AI to run at without causing a caution every 3-10 laps. This race was my 6th attempt at doing so, even switching the AI strength from 103% down to 98%, and then back up to 100%. That's not to say we didn't get longer green flag runs, as we did get two - one for 100ish laps and another for a good 60ish more - but the fact of the matter is, I was internally screaming at the AI the entire time I was simulating the event the meme at the beginning of this post.....

Anyways, here's Wonder Wall the results and standings for the event:


 

jacobc62

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Jun 25, 2017
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Talladega Troubles - Hendrick 1-2 With Other Playoff Contenders Floundering

Talladega Superspeedway is hallowed grounds in the NSCA, home to one of the largest known fanbases in sports. 188 laps around the 2.66 miles long tri-oval saw a mixture of close racing, large wrecks, and an amazing comeback the likes we haven't seen since the days of Eric Reinhardt. Early on in the race, John Mullen was turned by Calvin Richards, which led to the #25 Chevy nearly rolling over onto it's roof due to the sudden change in direction, a noticeable issue that the Gen 5 car has had since it's introduction in 2014. Richards would pull his car behind the wall as a result, but Mullen would soldier on.

The big one struck on lap 109, but interestingly nearly everyone involved was able to continue on with varying degrees of damage to their cars. The only drivers to retire as a direct result of damage received in the wreck were Chris Gibbs, whom was the only retiree under the caution, and DJ Harris, whom pulled into the garage 13 laps from the finish due to suspension damage (though he was scored as retiring because of the wreck). Since most of the field had damage, only a good 4 or 5 cars really had a realistic shot to win as long as they kept out of trouble. These drivers being Cody Llamas, William Montoya, and Ryan Adema. Even with damage received in earlier wrecks, John Mullen and Elana Keero were able to remain in striking distance should the opportunity present itself. Tyler Bladerunner was able to hang with the lead pack, but had troubles getting onto the lead lap until the field came around to the white flag, where he was able to just barely remain in front of the leaders as they crossed the finish line. Adema got held up by lapped traffic, and wasn't able to gain any momentum or drafting help to catch back up to the lead group. Despite the damage to his near-roll, Mullen was able to push his teammate Cody Llamas to the win. Monyota briefly held the lead exiting turn 2, but the Hendrick duo was too much to block, and we all know what happens when a driver leading on the last lap tries to block the #48 when the #25 is pushing......

..... Dale Jr and Jimmie Johnson get turned by Brian Vickers, and Jr Nation goes to Spain without the "S"......

.... Real life references aside, Zen Lengathan was able to pull a top 10 out of his ass, adding Wolfpack Racing to the Team Championship board.



 

jacobc62

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Chaos at Charlotte - Fawxson Joins History Books with Win in Inaugural Roval Race

Despite many of the race teams being located in or near the Charlotte area, Charlotte Motor Speedway hadn't been part of the Cup Series schedule since the 2017 Doctor Who 600, won by Elena Rose. The track is of course owned by SMI, along with Bristol, Sonoma, Texas, Atlanta, Las Vegas, North Wilkesboro, New Hampshire, and Kentucky. SMI has had a troubled history with the NSCA, which was escalated in 2006 with the death of Eddie Kline during a tire test at Kentucky, which the NSCA pinned most of the blame on SMI for not adopting the track safety standards such as increased safety personnel and the SAFER Barrier as quickly as other facilities.

Despite the disagreements throughout the past 15 years, both companies continued to work together to hold races for the NSCA's touring series, though more recent contractual disagreements has seen a more strained relationship between the two. However, SMI presented the idea of having Cup Series competition return to Charlotte using the infield road course instead of the full oval. Both parties agreed, and two years later, we find ourselves with that idea turned reality, with promise of an action-packed race that would bring a great finish.

Not everything went according to plan.... 23 cautions was a bit too much, and the finish saw the winner have 3 lapped cars between her and 2nd place. But the fans seemed to enjoy it, so it was still counted as a win for both the NSCA and SMI. Speaking of the winner, Ricki Fawxson earned her first career win after dominating the second half of the race. DJ Harris had the best run he's had since the start of the season at Daytona, and William Montoya survived the carnage to take back-to-back 3rd place finishes. O the other end of the spectrum, Steffie Plaxco and Alex Miller saw themselves being disqualified post-race after it was revealed that they had refused to pull off the track after failing to make minimum speed, despite warnings from officials to either repair their cars enough to make the speed, or park it in the garage and end the day early.





Realistically, anyone within the top 5 still has a decent shot at the championship with 2 races remaining. 6th through 9th have an outside shot of it, but could still take it with decent finishes should those ahead do poorly. English, Lionheart, and Vaughan need near-perfect days (and everyone ahead to do poorly) to even get anywhere near a lick of the points lead. Hell, Vaughan is just about mathematically eliminated already, being 1 point away from that.​
 
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jacobc62

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Keero Dominates Milwaukee; 9 Drivers Can Still Win Championship in Finale at Atlanta

The penultimate race of the season, and Cody Llamas earned his 5th pole this season. Despite getting to an early lead, Llamas would lose it to Hunter Keero. about mid-way through the first quarter of the race. A very long green flag run had gone on, with other drivers taking peaks at the lead, while much of the field saw themselves significantly off pace compared to the leaders. By the time of the first pit stop cycle, roughly half of the field had seen themselves trapped at least one lap down. That number was further increased once the cycle had ended, with Llamas inheriting the lead once again ahead of a hard-charging Steven Merzlak. Merzlak would snatch the lead away as the field raced to the first caution of the day for debris. The middle portion of the race saw a small hint of a wreckfest as drivers were scrambling to either stay on the lead lap, or get back onto it.

Despite things calming down, it was apparent that mechanical wear would be an issue as multiple cars in the span of just 77 laps were driven (or pushed in a couple of cases) behind the wall. These included our points leaders heading into the race - Llamas and Tyler Bladerunner - which proved to be critical later on as the rest of the Playoff drivers tried to remain within the 125 point threshold in order to have a shot at the championship next week at Atlanta. With 26 laps to go, John Mullen joined Llamas and Bladerunner behind the wall, giving Joseph Onesto and Alan Bledsoe a bit of a worry as Onesto is of course the third Hendrick car, and Bledsoe's team is affiliated with HMS. In the end though, it would be Hunter Keero taking the win, with Travis Hoefflin in 2nd, and Steven Merzlak returning to the podium after a poor start to the Playoffs.





So as we head into Atlanta, here's how our Championship hopefuls can win the 2020 Cup Series championship:

Steven Merzlak: Finish ahead of Keero and Bladerunner, AS WELL AS finish higher than the positions "no higher than" what's listed for the Top 3 below.

Hunter Keero: Finish ahead of Merzlak and Bladerunner, AS WELL AS finish higher than the positions "no higher than" what's listed for the Top 3 below.

Tyler Bladerunner: Finish ahead of Merzlak and Keero, AS WELL AS finish higher than the positions "no higher than" what's listed for the Top 3 below.

Travis Hoefflin: Finish high enough to out-score the top 3, but remain within 33 points of Llamas OR finish no lower than 4th if Llamas wins

Cody Llamas: Finish high enough to out-score the top 4, but otherwise finish within 5 points of Craigo (Realistically must finish ahead of Craigo)

Jacob Craigo: Win the race should no one in Top 3 finish higher than 9th, OR be the highest finishing Playoff driver and score more than 5 points than Llamas, and more than 38 points than Hoefflin

John Mullen: Win the race, with the Top 3 finishing no higher than 11th, and with Craigo *and* Llamas no higher than 3rd or 4th (in either order)

Sean English: Win the race, with the Top 3 finishing no higher than 12th, Craigo no higher than 3rd, Llamas no higher than 4th, and Hoefflin no higher than 9th

Trey Coleman: Win the race with Top 3 finishing no higher than 17th, English or Mullen no higher than 3rd, Craigo no higher than 5th, Llamas no higher than 6th, and Hoefflin no higher than 13th

Miles Lionheart, Ryan Vaughan, and Jennifer Legacy can NOT win the championship, as they are outside 125 points behind Merlzak.​
 

jacobc62

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Jun 25, 2017
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Championship Fight Goes Down to the Wire in Atlanta

A beautiful Atlanta afternoon was the setting for the season finale of the 2020 NSCA Cup Series. Entering the race, 9 drivers still had a chance to win, though realistically only about 6 actually had a legitimate shot to take victory. Sean English led much of the race, with the only other driver to get close to matching being Steven Merzlak. It was tight racing all throughout the field, as even if a driver could break away from the pack, the chasing cars could still run them back down.



Several drivers held onto the points lead throughout the race. Jacob Craigo, Sean English, Cody Llamas, Hunter Keero, and Travis Hoefflin all held the top spot at varying points, as did John Mullen, despite having to visited victory lane all year (All-Star Challenge notwithstanding). But in the end, Steven Merzlak was able to rally back from a bad pitstop to finish high enough to secure the 2020 championship, Hunter Keero finished right behind him, and would hang on to 2nd place in the standings.



Steven Merzlak is your 2020 National Stock-Car Association Youtube Cup Series Champion



Steven Merzlak Racing took the top spot in the 2020 Team Championship



Calvin Richards claims the 2020 Rookie of the Year award, even with Ricki Fawxson's victory at the Roval



Despite SMR's dominance of the 2nd half of the season, Ford takes the Manufacturer's championship thanks to Pathfinder Racing's and English Motorsport's early season efforts

 

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