LAS VEGAS — Seven months into the NASCAR Cup series season, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are dead-even atop the standings. Defending champion Martin Truex Jr. is right behind them, and the other 13 drivers in the playoff field are desperate just to keep up.

Even after the occasional predictability of a regular season dominated by the Big Three drivers, the stage is set for an intriguing playoff push. It all starts Sunday in the 98-degree heat of Las Vegas, where every event just [...]

LAS VEGAS — Seven months into the NASCAR Cup series season, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are dead-even atop the standings. Defending champion Martin Truex Jr. is right behind them, and the other 13 drivers in the playoff field are desperate just to keep up.

Even after the occasional predictability of a regular season dominated by the Big Three drivers, the stage is set for an intriguing playoff push. It all starts Sunday in the 98-degree heat of Las Vegas, where every event just seems bigger.

"You can feel the energy from the teams and the drivers before this playoff, even more so than you have in years past," said Kurt Busch, a Las Vegas native. "There's so much energy and so much attention with it being in Vegas for the first time. It just makes everything more exciting."

NASCAR's playoff stretch is kicking off for the first time at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which also got a second race for the first time this season after years of strong public support for the sport. While the temperatures on the slick track will bear constant monitoring, most drivers aren't as worried about the heat as the stakes when this season hits the home stretch.

The playoffs add another element to the season-long rivalry among Harvick, Truex and Kyle Busch. Those three drivers' joint dominance — they've combined for 17 victories and 51 top-five finishes while leading more than 42 percent of the laps over the entire season — has been the overriding theme of the season.

With 10 races still to go, the front-runners are eyeing each other warily. Nothing will be decided in Vegas, but a major mistake — particularly by Truex, whose playoff points cushion isn't as big as his fellow leaders — could change the championship chase.

"My favorite part about where we're at is that I feel we've been in championship form all year," said Harvick, who won on this track in March. "I don't feel like there is a switch we have to go flip. We've been in the middle of the headlines and noise and all the things that come with the success we've had this year. The moment is not going to surprise anybody on my team. It should be business as usual as you start this weekend, and the goal is to win. Win the race in Las Vegas and go from there."

Newman to leave RCR

Ryan Newman announced via his Twitter social media account that he would not be returning to the Richard Childress Racing team in 2019. He has competed for the organization since 2014. Newman, 40, assured fans he will be competing fulltime in the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, but that he was not able to share the details of that new ride yet.

Enfinger wins Trucks race

Grant Enfinger won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race late Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after leader Brett Moffit ran out of fuel on the third overtime shootout attempt. Enfinger advanced to the second round of the playoffs with his second career victory. "There's only two of us comfortable going into Talladega, and I'm one of those two," Enfinger said.

Hamilton on F1 pole

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton took a brilliant pole position for the Singapore Grand Prix ahead of Red Bull's Max Verstappen under floodlights. Hamilton produced something special to set a blistering time and secure a record-extending 79th pole position in Formula One and a 200th for a British driver.