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13 biggest surprises of first 13 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races

The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season has reached the halfway point — 13 races down, 13 more to go before the 16-driver field is set for the 10-race, season-ending playoffs that will determine this year’s champion.

With that in mind, here are the 13 biggest surprises from the first 13 races of the Cup season.

Without question, Kurt Busch is one of the sport’s elite drivers, but prior to winning the Daytona 500, he was 0-for-63 at restrictor-plate tracks. And Busch won the 500 by leading only the final lap.

Kevin Harvick led 292 of 325 laps at Atlanta, but an uncharacteristic late-race speeding penalty on pit road cost him a victory and allowed Brad Keselowski to win.

Goodyear, NASCAR and Charlotte Motor Speedway kicked up something really cool for the Monster Energy All-Star Race: A super-soft option tire that was up to half a second faster than the prime tire but wore out much quicker. The idea was to give teams a chance to mix things up strategy-wise with the soft tires, which had green lettering instead of the standard yellow. Alas, it didn’t really work in the race, but it was a good try.

Stewart-Haas Racing sued Nature’s Bakery for $31 million after the fig-bar maker didn’t pay its 2017 sponsorship fee to be on Danica Patrick’s car. Nature’s Bakery countersued, and the two sides eventually settled out of court, with the sponsor agreeing to go on Patrick’s car for two races and Clint Bowyer’s for another two.

Joey Logano won at Richmond, but his Team Penske Ford flunked post-race tech causing NASCAR to declare the victory “encumbered.” That means Logano can’t count the win as a victory that locks him in the playoffs. He’ll almost certainly make it in anyway, but the penalty didn’t help.

How many people would have guessed that Chip Ganassi Racing would be the only Cup team with two drivers in the top five in points halfway through the regular season? Not me.

When a team goes 112 races without winning, as Richard Childress Racing had, or a driver goes 0-for-127, as Ryan Newman had, doubts creep in. Those doubts were put to rest at Phoenix, where Newman and RCR ended their respective streaks of futility with a stirring late-race victory.

Early in the season, the big question was, “What’s wrong with Jimmie Johnson?” In the first six races of the year, Johnson had only one top-10 finish, a ninth-place run at Phoenix Raceway. Since then, though, he’s won three of the next seven races and is back to championship form.

It’s been a breakout season so far for Kyle Larson, who followed up consecutive runner-up finishes at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix with a victory at Auto Club Speedway. Larson, who drives for Chip Ganassi Racing, also finished second at Dover.

It took Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 158 attempts to win his first Cup race, but he broke through in a big way, winning at Talladega Superspeedway in the spring. It was the first race victory for team owner Jack Roush since 2014.

Since NASCAR introduced stage racing for 2017, nobody’s done a better job with it than Martin Truex Jr., driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota. Truex has won eight stages and amassed a series-high 18 playoff points. No other driver has won more than three stages. Truex stands to have a huge amount of points banked for the playoffs.

What a difference a year makes. In 2016, Martin Truex Jr. won the Coca-Cola 600 by leading 392 of 400 laps. In 2017, Austin Dillon won the Coca-Cola 600 by leading 2 of 400 laps — the last two. It was Dillon’s first Cup win in 133 career starts.

Without question, the biggest shock of the first 13 races of the year is that Joe Gibbs Racing hasn’t won any of them. Last year at this time, the team had already won seven races, and in the first 13 races of 2015, JGR won three times. The JGR Toyotas have come close several times, but they’ve been unable to seal the deal so far.

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Brad Keselowski showed a champion is heart at Pocono Raceway in 2011

Obviously, it takes great skill to succeed as a driver in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series or any other top-level form of motorsports.

Along with talent and a good work ethic, it takes courage and toughness, two under-appreciated personality traits. And one of the most impressive displays of those attributes came at Pocono Raceway, site of Sunday’s Pocono 400 (1:30 p.m. ET, FS1).

At the three-turn, 2.5-mile Pennsylvania track, Brad Keselowski had a career-defining moment.

 

It came in August 2011, when Keselowski’s career was still in its early stages. At that time,  Keselowski did something that he’d only done twice in 73 prior attempts: Win a race in NASCAR’s top division.

At Pocono, Keselowski didn’t simply win. He won with one broken ankle, one cut ankle, myriad bruises and bumps, and a right hand that was cut and blistered.

Four days prior to the Pocono race, Keselowski’s Penske Racing Dodge had a mechanical failure at Road Atlanta, where he hit a concrete wall head on at 100 miles per hour during a test of his road-course car.

The impact broke Keselowski’s left ankle and left it grotesquely swollen and discolored. The crash also left the driver bruised and sore all over his body.

And yet when race day rolled around, Keselowski refused to get out of his car and yield to a replacement driver.

Keselowski somehow went out and won at Pocono, a track where the left foot is busy all race long shifting and braking.

It was a true display of guts.

After the race, Keselowski was in so much pain he could barely lift the trophy. But when the race was on the line, the Michigan native came up huge at exactly the right time.

“I came here to win,” Keselowski said after his improbable victory. “When you let the pain get into your head that far that you don’t believe you can win anymore, you’ll never win. And I woke up this morning feeling like we could win the race. … If you don’t feel that way, you’re never going to win at anything you do.”

On that day at Pocono, Keselowski pushed on through the pain to score a historic victory and little more than a year later, he became a champion. Talent was part of Keselowski success, but he proved to the world that toughness was, too.

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What drivers are saying about the Tricky Triangle

Monster Energy Series drivers and teams will be making the first of two trips to Pocono Raceway this weekend.

Ahead of Sunday’s Axalta presents the Pocono 400, see what Monster Energy Series drivers think about the keys to winning at the Tricky Triangle.

“We’ve been good at Pocono the past couple of years, just had some weird things happen to us,” said Truex, who captured the pole in the second Pocono race last year. “The guys who are good there make their cars work in all three turns. If one turn is off, you better figure out a way not to mess up the other turns. I always look forward to Pocono. Got some good fishing holes up there as well.”

“We typically run pretty good at Pocono, so hopefully we can build on our strong runs in the past and try to get our second win of the year this weekend,” Larson said. “I like tracks that have some character, and Pocono definitely has that, so excited to get there.”

“Pocono is such a unique place,” said Johnson. “We’re always stuck in an engineering kind of mindset of is it better to be faster on the straightaways or through the corners or how you set the car’s ride heights; the drag or downforce you might put in the car due to the ride heights. From a driver’s standpoint, it’s frustrating because a small loss of time through the center of the corner after you have almost a mile-long front straightaway, you can look at a stopwatch and be five, six, or seven-tenths off and think wow, we’re really out of it.

“And there are some awesome cycling runs, so I’ll have fun,” he added.

“Just corner exit,” Elliott said. “The straightaways are so long a little mistake on corner exit lasts for such a long time, especially off (Turn) 3 and out of (Turn) 1. I think just really making sure you have some good forward drive in your car and you are able to maximize the straightaway’s because just a little bit can go a long way because it carries you down the long straightaway.

With the constant shifting, it also serves as good practice for Sonoma Raceway in a couple weeks.

“I really enjoy racing at Pocono,” said Blaney. “It’s a fun racetrack because we drivers are constantly shifting going in and out of those three tricky corners and that’s something we don’t get to do that often.”

“Pocono has been a difficult track for us overall,” Stenhouse said. “This year though I feel like our Fords are much stronger so I’m looking forward to this weekend. After our misfortunes, last week, it is important for us to have a strong run this weekend.”

Newman will have to improve on his pair of 12th-place finishes at Pocono last year if he wants to accomplish that goal this weekend. 

“Pocono is all about horsepower,” Newman said. “It has those super long straightaways. Getting your car to turn through the Tunnel Turn has also been important to having a good run. Just in general, you need to get off Turn 3 and use all your horsepower down the straightaway. There is nothing that handles better than plenty of horsepower.”

“Pocono is definitely a challenging track,” said Bayne. “With the added element of shifting through the corners, you really need to be on your toes every lap. I’m confident that we will unload this weekend with a fast Ford and be able to have a solid run on Sunday afternoon.”

“We finished second there in ARCA and second again last year in the (NASCAR) XFINITY Series, so I guess the secret is to figure out what it takes to win at Pocono,” Jones said. “I’ve been fortunate in that the big speeds we run there felt natural from the beginning so I’ve always been comfortable racing there. The long straightaways and the way you have to make speed on those types of tracks just came natural to me.

“Pocono is so different from any track that we go to all year as it has just three turns,” the rookie driver said. “The straightaways are really long and each turn is really different. With that being said, I really enjoyed racing at Pocono last year and have been looking forward to making my return since we left a year ago.”

“I really like going to Pennsylvania to race,” Kahne said. “There are a ton of race fans up there. The track is very unique since it only has three turns and they are all totally different. It’s a wide track and people block there a lot, so the restarts can be especially tricky going into Turn 1.”

“I think you need to be good off of Turn 1 and off of Turn 3,” Dillon said. “If you can make it somewhat down Turn 2 it will make it, but truthfully, you’ve got to be pretty good in all of them. I’ve been bad in one of the turns and it hurt me, so I think you’ve got to be pretty good in all of them.”

“Pocono is a good track for us,” Earnhardt said. “I like both Pocono and Michigan, so we have some solid tracks coming up for the (No.) 88 gang. We were in the simulator this week working on Pocono. We’ve been working really, really hard the last three weeks. It’s been going great – the cars have gotten better in practice and we’re seeing some good improvements, so we’re going to keep grinding. We’re going in the right direction.”

“Yeah, I think you try to focus on (Turns) 1 and 3, those are the longer straightaways that you have coming off of those two corners,” Dillon said. “The Tunnel Turn is something that, as a driver, you can work on throughout the day to make your car get through there a little bit better. Ran pretty well there last year, with the Levine Family Racing and that effort, so looking forward to going back there. I really enjoy racing at Pocono. It’s one of my favorite tracks, one of my favorite areas to go to. Looking forward to having a shot there.”

But Pocono has been a struggle for Menard over the years. To get a good finish, Menard knows he’ll have to tame the tricky turns.

“You have try your best to find a setup that allows you to be good in all three corners to be successful at Pocono,” Menard said. “You have to hit all three corners perfectly. Turn 1 is very important because it leads into the second-longest straightaway, and Turn 3 is obviously important because it takes you into the longest straightaway of the track. You would think that Turn 2 is the least important, but it seems like time is really made and lost in that turn by hitting your mark. If you miss it by even just a foot, your lap time really suffers. So, it’s important to hit all three corners.”

In what’s been a frustrating season so far, Buescher is hoping for more luck at the Tricky Triangle.

“Pocono is a tough place,” Buescher said. “It’s challenging. I love going there. We were able to pull off the win there last year and pull off a little bit of strategy and that’s always going to be a big part of Pocono and racing in general. It’s going to be a matter of how to figure out how to make it to the end and keeps the fenders on. It’s been pretty treacherous the last couple of races so we’ve got to figure out how to keep our Scott Products Chevrolet clean.”

“I love Pocono, because it’s a lot like a road race,” McDowell said. “There are three corners that are completely different. I like the fact that you actually have to downshift. That helps me with rhythm and getting the car to feel good. I feel like we have a bit of an edge more so than other places just because of the rhythm you get into shifting.

McDowell is also focused on the strategy involved in running well.

“The good thing about Pocono is there is a lot of strategy, and also the track is so long that you’re not really fighting to stay on the lead lap, so you can be pretty aggressive with your strategy,” he added. “That makes for a lot of fun during the race and some crazy restarts.”

“Pocono is one of those tracks that you can – depending on where you are running with the leader or close to the leader – you can pit and stay on the lead lap,” Allmendinger said. “Strategy there with the stage racing is really going to be critical to how it plays out when you pit. If you’re maybe not in position to get points in that stage, you can still pit and stay on the lead lap and restart up front. There is going to be a lot of strategy we are going to have to play through as the race evolves, keeps changing.”

“It’s called the Tricky Triangle for a reason,” he said. “We’ve had some decent runs there. I think that’s about as much as I can say on that. It’s one of those places where it always needs a little bit more work on my end to come back and be better each year. 

“I’ve been leaning on some guys for this Cup start coming up, to make sure I can get all I can out of the car, figure out what we need to do,” he added. “I’ve been on the simulator at Ford to log laps, get comfortable with shifting, get a rhythm down. It’s all about timing there, making the most of that, trying to figure out where you can capitalize on some guys where they’re slacking.”

 

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See Kasey Kahne is new Microsoft paint scheme for Sonoma Raceway

Kasey Kahne’s No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet will sport a new look at Sonoma Raceway.

The team unveiled the brand-new paint scheme Kahne will race in the June 25 Toyota/Save Mart 350 (3 p.m. ET, FS1), which features Microsoft Windows 10 sponsorship.

Kahne is currently 20th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points standings mid-way through the regular season.

Check out his slick new scheme for Sonoma below.

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Adam Stevens, 2 JGR crewmen suspended for 4 races

Adam Stevens, tire changer Jacob Seminara and tire carrier Kenneth Barber have been suspended for four races each after a wheel came off of Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Sunday at Dover International Speedway in the AAA 400 Drive for Autism Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.

So, too, was, Mike Hillman Jr., the crew chief for Chase Briscoe’s Brad Keselowski Racing Ford in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Briscoe also had a tire come off after a pit in last Friday’s Truck Series race at Dover. Along with Hillman, tire changer Wesley McPherson and tire carrier Eric Pinkiert were also suspended for four races each.

NASCAR rules call for a mandatory four-race suspension for the crew chief, tire changer and tire carrier if a wheel comes off on track.

Officially, the penalties fall under Sections 10.9.10.4.c: Tires and Wheels; 12.5.2.6.3.c Minimum Safety Penalty Options Note: Improperly installed wheel. Wheel came off vehicle following a pit stop.

The JGR team members have been suspended through July 3, while the BKR crewmembers have been suspended through July 9. The Cup and Truck series operate on different schedules.

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8 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series winners looking for first victory of 2017

The pressure is slowly starting to ratchet up in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, where the regular season has reached the halfway point.

In the first 13 races of the 2017 season, nine different drivers have won races, including Jimmie Johnson, the only three-time winner so far this season, and two-time winners Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr.

But a lot of star drivers are still winless this year. Here are the eight drivers with the most career Cup victories who’ve yet to win in 2017.

Fifth in points halfway through the Cup regular season, McMurray is having a stellar 2017 campaign, with a best finish of second at Talladega. But his last race win was October 2013.

It’s been a solid first season with Stewart-Haas Racing for Bowyer, who is 10th in points. But he’s hungry to find Victory Lane again, as his winless streak has reached 162 races.

It’s been nearly three years since Kahne last won a race, and he was surely hoping to be higher than 20thin points right now.

Now in his final season, Earnhardt is a disappointing 26th in points, but after protracted struggles, the last two weekends have produced finishes of 10th at Charlotte and 11that Dover.

 

In the last six Cup races, Hamlin has moved from 16th to ninth in points, a good indicator that Joe Gibbs Racing has found some speed in its Toyotas recently. That said, none of the four JGR drivers has won so far this year.

Six times in the last seven races, Harvick has finished ninth or better, so you know he’s not far off the pace in this, Stewart-Haas Racing’s first year with Ford. Harvick has also led laps in six of the seven most recent races, another favorable indicator that a victory could be close.

Hard to believe, perhaps, but the last time Busch won a Cup race was the Brickyard 400 last July. Busch has been the best of the Joe Gibbs Racing drivers this season and is ranked fourth in points right now, but the winning combination of speed, execution and racing luck has not been there for him yet.

The 2003 Cup champion has had his share of bad luck this season, for sure, although like the rest of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, he seems to be gaining on it lately. It should be a question of when Kenseth will win this season, not if he will.

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Radioactive from Dover International Speedway:‘He’s gotta be losing his (expletive)’

Another highly-entertaining edition of Radioactive aired on “NASCAR Race Hub” on Tuesday, featuring plenty of bantering between Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers, their spotters and crew chiefs.

And as usual, fans got to vote via Connect Live during the show on the week’s “Radio Sweetheart” after listening into the rants of the likes of drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Blaney, Danica Patrick and others. Earnhardt even went on his own personal Periscope rant after the race, good-naturedly imploring fans NOT to vote for him once they heard it.

Then there was Derek Kneeland, the spotter for driver Kyle Larson who took note of the likely mental state of Kyle Busch after a tire literally fell off the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota being driven by Busch.

“He’s gotta be losing his (expletive),” Kneeland said after suggesting listening to Busch’s radio at that moment might provide for some pretty good entertainment.

Busch, after all, is the leader in the clubhouse at this point in the season as far as being voted Radio Sweetheart, having earned that distinction four times. Earnhardt has been named it twice, as has Ryan Blaney now that Blaney received the honor this week.

What did Blaney do to earn it? You’ll have to listen in to find out.

Check out the video above to hear the full force of this week’s Radioactive.

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Clint Bowyer takes aim at Victory Lane in Daytona International Speedway

Take cover, folks. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Clint Bowyer has been making the rounds with a bow-and-arrow.

Actually, Bowyer is an avid outdoorsman who can be trusted with the weapon — as he ably demonstrated during an archery exhibition he put on Tuesday at Daytona International Speedway.

Bowyer was joined in the archery exhibition by some media members and the staff from a nearby Bass Pro Shops store.

 

And when he was done with all that, Bowyer related how he can’t wait to get back to Daytona for the Coke Zero 400 on July 1. In his first season driving the No. 14 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing, Bowyer is still seeking his first win since October of 2012 at Charlotte.

He has three more chances to get one before the Daytona race — at Pocono this weekend (1:30 p.m. ET on FS1), followed by Michigan and Sonoma. But regardless of what happens between now and July 1, Bowyer made it clear that getting to Victory Lane at Daytona could be, well, more than special.

“To win at Daytona is ultra-special,” Bowyer said. “The sense of accomplishment at restrictor-plate tracks is so genuine because so many things have to go right. It’s not only you, but your spotter, your teammates, your manufacturer teammates.”

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20 drivers with the most wins in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series history

With Jimmie Johnson recording his 83rd career victory in NASCAR’s Premier Series last Sunday at Dover, now is the perfect time to take a closer look at the drivers with the most wins at the sport’s highest level of competition.

Check out the full list of the top 20 drivers with the most wins in NASCAR history:

He has the most wins among active drivers with a career average of one win in every seven races. Considering that, Johnson could conceivably reach the 100-win total in four years.

He’s The King for a reason. Richard Petty has the most career wins and is tied with Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson for the most championships at seven. He raced in over 1,000 races in his 35-year career and it’s likely nobody will ever touch his 200 wins.

 

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Scan All: The best sounds and sights from Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway

In just under six minutes, we bring you some of the best elements of Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway — the end of the first half of the 26-race NASCAR Cup regular season — with our popular “Scan All” series.

We start out this week’s edition on NASCAR America with some of the difficulties — and his sometimes frustrated responses — of Dale Earnhardt Jr. He tried everything but struggled for much of the 406-lap race (scheduled for 400 laps, plus six additional laps of overtime).

Then we revisited the embarrassing loss of a left rear wheel on Kyle Busch‘s car after the tire was not attached properly with lug nuts.

Among the most notable — and humorous — exchanges on team radios was that of Clint Bowyer.

First, Bowyer missed a trip to pit road. He responded by telling his crew chief, “Were we supposed to pit there? I was daydreaming. Spotter must have been signing autographs.”

Then, when oil appeared under Bowyer’s car during a pit stop, it ultimately ended his day with a blow engine.

To which Clint deadpanned, “We run like Jack the Bear … blowed up!”

Listen to the best sounds from drivers and crews as Jimmie Johnson fought his way into victory lane at Dover.

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Darrell Wallace Jr to make Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut in No. 43 at Pocono Raceway

NASCAR XFINITY Series regular Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. will make his Monster Energy Cup Series debut this weekend at Pocono Raceway.

Wallace will replace the injured Aric Almirola in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford Fusion.

Wallace will be the first African-American driver to race in Cup since Bill Lester drove the No. 23 Bill Davis Racing entry at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Michigan International Speedway in 2006.

Roush Fenway Racing also announced that it will suspend the No. 6 XFINITY Series team following this Saturday’s race at Pocono Raceway. Wallace is currently fourth in the XFINITY points standings with seven top fives on the year.

“We are very proud of Bubba and his development at Roush Fenway Racing,” said RFR team president Steve Newmark. “We believe that Bubba has tremendous potential and will continue to excel in NASCAR’s top series. He has been a great representative of our organization both on and off the track and we’ve enjoyed being part of his growth as a driver. Our entire team is excited to see him take the next step in his career and make his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut in the No. 43.”

Roush Fenway and Wallace will continue to evaluate additional potential opportunities for Wallace to run in NXS races in the future, the team also stated in a press release.

“We are excited for Bubba to get this opportunity to drive the iconic No. 43 Fusion for Richard Petty Motorsports,” said Dave Pericak, global director, Ford Performance. “We couldn’t be happier with the progress of Aric Almirola’s recovery and can’t wait to get him back. In the meantime, this is a great opportunity for Bubba to show what he can do at the top level of the sport and we are committed to helping RPM win races.”

Wallace also has four career wins in 44 Camping World Truck Series starts.

Regan Smith, Camping World Truck Series regular and a frequent guest on FS1’s “NASCAR Race Hub,” has subbed for Almirola the past two points races, earning a 22nd-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte and a 34th-place at Dover.

Almirola continues to recover from a compression fracture in his T5 vertebra after a violent crash in the Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway in early May.

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What was said by drivers after Dover International Speedway demolition derby

Jimmie Johnson won the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on Sunday after an ending that more resembled a good, old-fashioned demoiltion derby at the local county fair than a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.

Here were 10 things drivers had to say after the race that included a wild, multi-car wreck that punctuated the overtime finish:

“We lined up double-file (for an early restart) and somebody got loose and just took us out,” Keselowski said. “What a bummer. Just one of them racing deals.”

“I got loose on a restart; it’s my bad as a driver. My bad. We had good speed in our car and just couldn’t finish,” said Busch, who took the blame for taking Keselowski out. “You can’t make mistakes out here and we did.”

“It looks like the oil tank cracked right by the fitting. A freak deal. It’s a shame,” Bowyer said. “We needed a good race. We had gotten a little bit behind and then had the freak deal happen. Not our day.”

“We weren’t the fastest car … and I’m not sure we were a top-10 car. A lot of times we have been a 10th-place car and weren’t able to get the finish we needed,” Patrick said. “I’ll take the lucky days anytime I can because there has been plenty of times where it went the other way.”

“This win means a lot to me,” said Johnson in Victory Lane after securing career win No. 83, tying Cale Yarborough for sixth on the all-time NASCAR Cup Series list. “When I was growing up in southern California racing dirt bikes I was a big Cale Yarborough fan. We traveled across the country to race in the Amateur Nationals. Heading to Oklahoma, we stopped at a Hardee’s. I walked in thinking I would meet Cale Yarborough, and left with a burger.”

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NASCAR is Scott Miller comments on Kyle Busch is Dover International Speedway loose wheel incident

NASCAR competition director Scott Miller says the sanctioning body is investigating a pair of loose wheel issues from the race weekend at Dover International Speedway.

The first incident occurred during Friday’s Camping World Truck Series race, where a tire fell off of Chase Briscoe’s No. 29 Brad Keselowski Racing Ford F-150.

The second happened during the first round of pit stops in Sunday’s Monster Energy Series race involving Kyle Busch and the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team.

 

Miller discussed the two incidents during Monday’s edition of Sirius XM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive,” stating that intent could be considered when determining what penalties, if at all, should be assessed.

“It’s possible that we will,” Miller said. “But, certainly, we will review everything that we have.”

According to the NASCAR rule book, if a team loses a wheel during the race, it’s an automatic four-race suspension for the crew chief, tire changer and tire carrier for improper installation.

But Miller indicated from what they have noticed so far, the intent of both teams was not to purposely leave pit road with improperly-installed lug nuts.

“From what we’ve seen so far, it wasn’t trying to go back on the racetrack with two lug nuts,” Miller added. “It was obviously human error in both cases. But, like I said, there’s a lot of discussions internally that have to happen on how we’re going to rule on that.”

Miller stated the process of investigating those two incidents will start later Monday afternoon.

Any penalties stemming from the Dover race weekend will likely be handed down by NASCAR Tuesday or Wednesday.

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5 things we learned from a crazy race at the Monster Mile

Crazy. That’s the only way to describe Sunday’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover International Speedway. 

The bottom line — Jimmie Johnson winning here for the 11th time — was as predictable as death and taxes, but absolutely nothing else was on a long afternoon. While it’s true that Johnson is money at the Monster Mile, this was hardly a dominating performance.

In a 406-lap race, Johnson led just seven laps, passing Kyle Larson on the final overtime restart to take his third victory in the first 13 races of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.

Here are five things we learned at the Monster Mile.

During the first two days at Dover, it looked like the weekend was shaping up for a Toyota blowout, as drivers from Joe Gibbs Racing swept the top four qualifying spots on Friday and were consistently fast in practice.

But the race wound up with the Chevrolets of Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Larson 1-2, with Ryan Newman and Chase Elliott fourth and fifth in two more Chevys. Third-place Martin Truex Jr. was the only Toyota driver in the top five, while the best Ford finisher was Kevin Harvick in ninth.

Three drivers who didn’t win but deserve props might surprise you: Danica Patrick, Michael McDowell and Daniel Suarez. Patrick finished 10th to earn her first top-10 Cup finish since Bristol in 2015. 

McDowell, who drives for the small, single-car Leavine Family Racing team posted his third consecutive top-20 finish. That’s the first time in 226 career Cup starts that McDowell has finished in the top 20 three times in a row.

Suarez, meanwhile, set career-bests for qualifying (third) and finishing (sixth) in a Cup race. Congrats to all three drivers.

Kyle Larson led the most laps and finished second, while Martin Truex Jr. won the first two stages and finished third. Truex and Larson are 1-2 in points and have been fast all year. Despite the fact that neither driver beat Johnson, they are both legitimate championship contenders. They’re that good.

Dover was the best of times and the worst of times for several drivers. Chase Elliott broke a streak of four bad finishes with a much-needed fifth-place finish. On the other hand, Joe Gibbs Racing is still winless in 2017 and since winning at Richmond, Joey Logano hasn’t finished in the top 20 in any of the last four races.

If there’s a lesson to take away from this race, it’s don’t ever count Jimmie Johnson out, especially not here. This is the third time since the final race of last season that Johnson has won a race where he started at the back of the field, including Homestead-Miami Speedway last November when he came from last to win the race and his record-tying seventh Cup championship. If he’s not the best ever, he’s darn close.

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Dale Jr salvages decent finish with car that ‘really wasn’t very good’

Dale Earnhardt Jr. managed an 11th-place finish despite riding the struggle bus all day at Dover International Speedway.

After taking off 11th in Sunday’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism, Earnhardt was able to climb back up to break even by finishing where he started.

Earnhardt avoided a huge multi-car pile-up on the backstretch coming to the white-flag lap. The incident allowed Earnhardt’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jimmie Johnson, to cruise to his 83rd career victory while tying Cale Yarborough on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series all-time wins list.

“I don’t know what happened at the end there were just cars crashing everywhere,” Earnhardt said. “Our car really wasn’t very good all day.”

The task of clawing his way to a decent result was made even harder after Earnhardt was nailed with a pit-road speeding penalty.

“We ran around 15th to 20th, we got lucky on staying out on a green flag run there and got some track position and I sped on pit road some freaking how,” Earnhardt added.

Between the speeding penalty, which has posed a problem for the No. 88 team this season, and an ill-handling race car, Earnhardt didn’t have an enjoyable time in his second-to-last race at the Monster Mile.

“We have had a lot of speeding penalties this year, so I don’t know what is going on with that, but it was a long day,” Earnhardt said. “Not any fun at all.”

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Kyle Larson frustrated after another one slips away at Dover International Speedway

For Kyle Larson, if you’re not first you’re second.

Larson led a race-high 241 laps on Sunday in the AAA 400 Drive for Autism and looked poised to bring home his second win of the season and first win at the Monster Mile.

Once again, Larson didn’t close the deal with a win and instead recorded his fifth second-place finish of the season.

With five laps to go, David Ragan cut a tire and hit hard into the wall bringing out the last thing Larson wanted to see – a caution.

“I needed it to stay green there at the end,” Larson said in his post-race interview. “I was a lot better than Jimmie (Johnson) was. He just did a better job than I did on that final restart.”

As Larson and Jimmie Johnson lined up side-by-side for the final restart, both played games with each other as they headed to the green flag.

Larson waited on the restart but then Johnson got the better jump and won the race into the first turn. As Johnson cleared Larson on the backstretch, Ty Dillon got turned by Ryan Newman which brought out the caution and ended the race as Johnson already crossed the overtime line.

“(Jimmie Johnson) did what he had to do to get the best launch he could,” Larson said. “We were both playing games a little bit. He just took off better than I did. I wasn’t really complaining about the restart. (Johnson) did a good job. He’s a seven-time champion for a reason. He’s got a golden horseshoe somewhere and he’s really good at executing.”

And that’s what Larson admitted he needs to improve, his execution.

“I have get better at (executing),” Larson said. “I had a dominant car all day. We had a couple runs where we got off, maybe some bad tires but we were able to rebound from those struggles. I fought hard all race long. I felt like we were on defense the whole race. Even though I led a lot of laps, I felt like we were on defense the whole time.”

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Jimmie Johnson earns 83rd career victory at Dover International Speedway to tie Cale Yarborough

Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson took turns dominating at the Monster Mile on Sunday, but Jimmie Johnson came on strong to win here again.

Truex and his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota captured the first two stages in the AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover International Speedway, where Larson led the most laps.

When the race was on the line, though, Johnson passed Larson on an overtime restart to win his record 11th race at the Monster Mile.

 

Johnson led just seven laps, but he won his 83rd career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, tying Cale Yarborough for sixth overall on the victory list. Larson finished second in his Chip Ganassi Chevrolet ahead of Truex.

“I never thought I would end up here in NASCAR as a kid racing in the dirt out in Southern California. I was a big Cale Yarborough fan,” said Johnson.”

Johnson raced with Yarborough tribute helmet.

“To be here and tie him at 83 wins is amazing,” Johnson said of Yarborough. “We just got the tribute helmet. I wasn’t sure how quickly we’d be, or if we’d be able to go there, and get it done. But, Cale, you’re the man. Thank you for all you have done for our sport.”

Larson led a race-high 241 laps and was disappointed, but philosophical about finishing second.

“Jimmie’s the best of our time, probably the best of all time,” said Larson. “… He did a better job on the restart.”

It was a wild afternoon at Dover.

Toyotas swept the first two rows in qualifying with Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota flanked on Row 1 by Truex in the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Camry.

Once the race got started, Busch immediately jumped into the lead. But on his first pit stop, the left-rear wheel and tire fell off Busch’s car, sending him to the end of the lead lap.

At the end of the first 120-lap stage, Truex was first, winning his seventh different stage at his sixth different track so far this year. Truex led 69 of the first 120 laps in Stage 1.

When the caution came out to end Stage 1, the top 12 cars stayed out, with Larson inheriting the lead when Truex pitted. Larson led most of the stage, but on Lap 212, Truex went underneath him to take the lead and win his eighth stage of the year.

Once Stage 3 began, Larson went back out front, with a fantastic lead battle as he was pursued by Truex and Johnson.

Most of the leaders pitted with about 75 laps to go, when a crash by Regan Smith on Lap 331 changed the outcome of the race. Ty Dillon was one of a handful of drivers who hadn’t stopped for tires and fuel, and he suddenly found himself in the lead for only the third time this season.

With brother Austin having won last week, it seemed for an instant as if lightning might strike twice for the Dillon brothers.

Alas, it was not to be.

With 49 laps to go, Johnson passed Ryan Newman to take second place, as he set sail after Dillon.

Five laps later, Larson went high to wrestle away the second spot from Johnson.

And with 40 laps to go, Larson took the outside line again to pass Dillon for the lead. At that point, it appeared Larson was in prime position.

But then drama. With four laps to go, David Ragan popped a tire to bring out a caution and set up overtime.

On the restart, Johnson got past Larson, but behind him the field crashed hard in a huge multi-car pile-up — sealing the win for Johnson.

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Dale Jr on periscope:Fallen soldier helped him on restarts

Here are some of the highlights from it, as he talked about not only his second top-10 run of his final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season — but also what he likes in a hot sauce, why Jimmie Johnson is such a great teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, and how he thought the fallen soldier whose name was on the windshield of his No. 88 Chevrolet helped him in the 600.

 

“What am I drinkin’? Right now I’m drinking a Miller Lite. … We have every kind of beer you would want. We’ve got Dale’s Pale Ale, Coors Light, Bud Light, Miller Lite,” he told his fans.

“That’s still not where we want to be. I’ve always felt like we were a top-5 team … but it’s still good to see some gains. I felt good for my guys because they were getting beaten up pretty bad.”

“He would bring papers with our driver traces on ‘em, which basically shows his steering compared to my steering and where we’re using the throttle and stuff. Just a really impressive example of what being a teammate is all about.”

“You ever have any Slap Ya Mama?” he asked. “It’s a Cjaun hot seasoning. It’s really just Cayenne peppers. It’s really hot, but it’s really good. I like everything really hot.”

“I’m getting texts from Jeffrey,” Earnhardt said. “He’s really upset because he ruined the race for the 24 and the 2. He’s wanting to get their numbers so he can call them. That’s the kind of stuff that goes on behind the scenes. Jeffrey’s a good boy. I’m real proud of him.”

“I was hoping Marco (Andretti) could win or (Graham) Rahal.,” he said. “Me and Rahal are pretty good friends, plus Steak-n-Shake is just damn good stuff. How can you not pull for the Steak-n-Shake car?”

 

“The 3 back in Victory Lane … that’s pretty specialm” he said. “I was real happy when they talked about bringing that number back, so obviously I’m real happy to see it back in Victory Lane.

“Happy for Austin. He’s a good guy. Him and Ty are both pretty good kids … happy for that whole company. I compete against them so I don’t want to see them win when I’m trying to win, and I want my teammates to win but it’s really cool to see Richard Childress go back to Victory Lane.”

“I met the family of McClamrock,the solider who was on the windshield of the car,” Dale Jr. said. “I met his mom was telling me a bunch about him and she kept repeating things like, ‘No fear’ and ‘Have no fear.’ Those were mottos of either his company or things that he really believed in and stood for.

“And so I was thinking when we were on these restarts, especially when I was on the outside – because you can use the third groove at Charlotte – that I would try to have no fear because McClamrock was on the windshield and he would make sure it all worked out. And it did. All you need is that confidence, and she really gave it to me.”

“Meeting that family was an incredible honor,” Earnhardt added. “They’re from Mooresville and know some of my relatives. For the drivers to be able to carry the name of a fallen soldier on the windshield all night, it means a lot to the drivers and the families. …

“I’m not trying to compare the two – but when I lost my dad, all I cared about is that people didn’t forget who he was and tht they would remember him forever. So I imagine when those families come to the racetrack all they want you to do is know who their kid was and know a little bit about him. They want him to be remembered, right? That’s the way I kind of felt about it all day.”

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Rodney Childers, Kevin Harvick’s crew chief, fined $10,000

The loose lug nut discovered by NASCAR on the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford of driver Kevin Harvick following the Coca-Cola 600 has resulted in a $10,000 fine for crew chief Rodney Childers.

NASCAR’s weekly penalty report came out Wednesday, with the Childers fine the only violation reported this week. There were not driver or owner’s points deducted from the team for the violation, nor will Childers need to serve any suspension.

Harvick finished eighth in the race that was won by Austin Dillon in the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.

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Ryan Sieg to make Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut at Dover International Speedway

Ryan Sieg will drive the No. 83 Toyota for BK Racing this weekend at Dover International Speedway, the team announced Wednesday.

He replaces Corey LaJoie, who will be back in the car next weekend at Pocono Raceway, according to team owner Ron Devine.

This will mark the Cup debut for the 29-year-0ld Sieg, who currently ranks 14th in the XFINITY  points standings after a 27th-place finish last Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

 

“I’m so happy to be making my Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut for BK Racing this weekend in Dover,” Sieg said in a statement released by the team. “Ron Devine has given so many drivers an opportunity in the past, and I’m thankful to have that same chance as so many others. I have never driven a Cup car in my life, so I just want to run as many laps as possible and learn as much as I can.”

Devine said he has been keeping an eye on Sieg for a long time, but was quick to add that he is not giving up on LaJoie, either. LaJoie has struggled this season and currently is 34th in the Cup points standings. His best finish is 24th, which he achieved in both the season-opening Daytona 500 and at Bristol.

“I have been watching Ryan race for a number of years and have been really impressed by his driving skills,” Devine said. “I believe that this is the right time to put Ryan in one of our cars to see what he can do,” Devine said. “Corey will be back in the car beginning next week at Pocono, and he is a very important part of BK Racing’s bright future.”

Devine added that if Sieg shows the type of Cup potential that he believes he will, there is a chance BK Racing could add another car to its stable. It ran three cars at times last season, but this year has scaled back to the two cars — the No. 83 driven thus far by LaJoie, and the No. 23 currently driven by Gray Gaulding that also was piloted by Joey Gase for one race.

“If things work out with Ryan for the long run, we may see the No. 93 car return,” Devine said. “A big part of BK Racing has always been seeking out young talent and giving them a chance in the premier racing series, so I’m proud to be able to give Ryan that chance as I did for Corey, Joey Gase, and Gray Gaulding already this season.”

Sieg has six top-10 finishes in 113 career XFINITY starts. He finished ninth in the XFINITY points standings last year.

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Austin Dillon’s awesome day in New York with Takuma Sato

Austin Dillon is having himself quite a week.

It began when he won the rain-delayed Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and continued Tuesday when he traveled to New York City to ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange.

Then, as he waited at the airport for the flight back to North Carolina, he randomly encountered another guy who is having a fine week — Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato. They shot some photos together, showing off their handsome new jewelry.

Check out other social media posts from Dillon’s awesome day in New York City:

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12 greatest hairstyles in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series through the years

That makes it a great time to look back on some of the best hairdos and facial hair NASCAR drivers have sported over the years.

It might be brand new, but Jones tried way too hard with this mullet for it to not appear on this list. It looks pretty aerodynamically-sound, too.

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Erik Jones celebrates 21st birthday, shows off new mullet

It’s been an exciting week for Erik Jones.

On Sunday night, the rookie Furniture Row Racing driver recorded an impressive seventh-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Jones followed that up by celebrating a special milestone on Tuesday — his 21st birthday — with a little help from primary sponsor 5-Hour Energy.

Amidst his birthday celebration, Jones also showed off a new hairstyle he’s been working on for some time now.

It’s great to see Jones channeling his inner Joe Dirt.

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Scan All Coca-Cola 600 from Charlotte Motor Speedway

“Yeah, baby! I dodged all of that. That was awesome!”

That was Jimmie Johnson‘s reaction after he narrowly drove his No. 48 Chevrolet through a Lap 20 crash in the Coca-Cola 600.

It’s one of the many highlights from this week’s edition of “Scan All,” which culminates with Austin Dillon winning his first Cup race.

The race was stopped for 1 hour and 40 minutes due to a passing storm that covered the track in rain.

Before the jet dryers and Air Titans took the track, jokes were being made at the expense of former Cup driver Juan Pablo Montoya, who infamously crashed into a jet dryer during the 2012 Daytona 500.

“You think now would be the appropriate time for a jet dryer joke?” asked Clint Bowyer‘s crew chief, Mike Bugarewicz. “How many cars does it take to take out a jet dryer? Just Juan.”

During the race, the crew chief for Jimmie Johnson and Erik Jones grew increasingly irritated with how the other team’s drivers positioned their cars in the adjoining pit stalls.

“The ****ing crew chief on the 77, I cannot wait to pay him back for this ****,” Chad Knaus said.

“He’s got my blood pressure up, you’re going to have to calm me down,” Jones’ crew chief, Chris Gayle said.

One of the main storylines this week has been Kyle Busch’s very brief post-race press conference after he finished second. His frustration didn’t begin there.

As the checkered flag waved over the race, Busch yelled and cursed in anger over once again not winning a points race at Charlotte.

Watch the video for more scanner highlights from the Coca-Cola 600.

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Tony Stewart enjoys ‘amazing weekend with memories that will last forever’

Tony Stewart enjoyed an extremely special Memorial Day weekend in his home state of Indiana.

The Rushville native first competed in the Little 500, a 410 non-winged sprint car event held the night before the Indianapolis 500.

Stewart finished third in the race held at Anderson Speedway, a quarter-mile asphalt oval located about an hour northeast of Indy.

The three-time NASCAR champion was also joined by Leonard Wood, co-founder of the famed Wood Brothers Racing.

Smoke’s weekend was then capped off by hanging out at the Indy 500, where he drove AJ Foyt’s historic Bowes Seal Fast Watson roadster, which won the iconic race in 1961.

On top of that, his Stewart-Haas Racing team had three drivers — Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer — in the top 15 in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Check out photos Stewart shared from his fun-filled weekend.

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Martin Truex Jr. on falling short after leading 233 laps at Charlotte Motor Speedway

CONCORD, N.C. — As the third-place finisher in last Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, Martin Truex Jr. did not have to say a whole lot to top the act that preceded him in the media center after the race.

He took the podium after second-place finisher Kyle Busch uttered one sentence, one more word, dropped the mic and left the building.

Despite the fact that he led a race-high 233 laps and did not win, either, Truex was more accommodating and philosophical about coming out on the wrong end of a fuel-mileage gambit that was won by first-time race winner Austin Dillon.

Dillon led only the last two laps, taking the point when then-leader Jimmie Johnson ran dry on fuel. Dillon then ran out of gas himself in his No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet right after taking the checkered flag.

Truex had plenty of gas left in his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toytoa. Like Busch, he simply ran out of time to run Dillon down.

“I guess it depends how you look at it. It’s kind of bittersweet,” Truex said. “… We had a shot at it again. That’s the third year in a row we led the most laps (in the 600). Two out of three he we lost it on fuel mileage.  That’s tough to swallow.

“But I can’t say enough about my team, what they continue to do. So I’m really proud of them.”

Truex was the defending race winner coming in, having dominated the 2016 Coca-Cola 600 by leading 392 of 400 laps and the most miles of any driver in any race in NASCAR history. The year before that, he led 131 but finished fifth.

That’s 756 laps led – or 1,134 miles – for Truex over the last three Coca-Cola 600s. But he has just one win to show for it.

Again, though, he tried to be philosophical about it. The fact that he already has two wins this season – at Las Vegas and Kansas – helps because he’s already locked into the playoffs and he knows his cars are consistently fast.

“It stinks to come up on the short end of fuel mileage, but we’ve been on this side of it plenty of times,” Truex said. “Sometimes it just doesn’t go your way.

“All in all, it was a great night. We have fast cars, we’ll keep coming back with them, and hopefully get some more wins.”

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Austin Dillon celebrates first win by performing burnout in barn at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Austin Dillon wasn’t able to perform a burnout after winning his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in the Coca-Cola 600.

Dillon ran out of fuel while crossing the finish line in Sunday night’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, which didn’t leave anything in the tank to smoke it up for the crowd and his No. 3 Richard Childress Racing team.

But that didn’t stop Dillon from finding an interesting place to burn the tires down anyway.

 

Watch Dillon tear it up in a slick gold Chevrolet Camaro — in his barn of all places.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BUuDg5Fjies/embed/captioned/?cr=1&v=7#%7B%22ci%22%3A0%2C%22os%22%3A30860.755%7D

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Toyota Racing exec to Brad Keselowski:Keep ‘your mouth shut’ about Kyle Busch

 Kyle Busch wasn’t in a great mood after finishing second in Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Busch’s frustration was understandable; the Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing dominated the marathon race, but Austin Dillon won by gambling on fuel mileage, leading only the final two laps to win over Busch and Martin Truex Jr.

That prompted an interesting discussion on Twitter involving long-time Busch rival Brad Keselowski and Andy Graves, the group vice president, technical director at TRD, U.S.A., Toyota’s racing arm.

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Coca-Cola 600 leaves Toyota drivers encouraged and frustrated at same time from Charlotte Motor Speedway

Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway was a great night for the Toyota contingent up until the time it wasn’t.

To recap NASCAR’s longest races, Toyotas dominated the evening, leading 306 of 400 laps, but Austin Dillon gambled on fuel mileage and won by being out front for just the final two laps. The six affiliated Toyotas were all fast — some really fast — but none of them won.

And the addition of a fourth stage makes sorting out the good and the bad from the standpoint of Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing, Toyota’s two top-line teams even more complicated.

So was the long night a case of the glass being half full for Toyota or half empty? It’s an interesting question to ponder.

Let’s break down some of the individual pieces of the race from the perspective of the JGR and Furniture Row drivers.

The 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion won the first stage, led 63 laps, got points in all three stages and got more points (61) than anyone else in the race, including Dillon, who only got 45. But Busch wound up second and was understandably miffed afterward that he didn’t win.

“I don’t know. It’s a frustrating night, man,” said Busch. “I am so, so disappointed. I don’t know – there’s nothing we could’ve done different.”

For the third consecutive year, Truex led the most laps — 233 this time — in this event and got 60 points, second only to Kyle Busch’s 62. During the last three Coca-Cola 600s, Truex has led a staggering 756 laps. But he’s only won of those three races. On the other hand, Truex finished third in the No. 78 Furniture Row Toyota and took over the points lead after Kyle Larson crashed out of the event. Still, on a night when led almost 60 percent of the laps and got points in all three stages, Truex didn’t win.

“It’s two out of three. Last three years, that’s two of them we lost on full mileage, so that kind of stinks, but big picture-wise it was a good night,” said Truex. “I mean, the Bass Pro Toyota was fast.”

Although he didn’t lead a lap, Kenseth piled up points in all three stages, finishing fourth and getting 55 points as he took home his third top-five finish of the season for JGR. “All our cars were faster as a group, you know, which is encouraging to look at the scoreboard,” said Kenseth. “I think they’re all up there, fairly close to the front. You know our car didn’t drive perfect tonight by any means, but yet we had good speed. … We still got some work to do.”

The Virginia driver made it four Toyotas in the top five with a fifth-place finish in his JGR No. 11. Hamlin won Stage 3 and earned almost as many points (43) as race-winner Austin Dillon (45).

You know we had a really fast car, I think better than a fifth-place car, but we went through a bunch of adversity,” said Hamlin, who posted just his second top-five finish of the season. “And I just had one really bad restart with 70 to go and that just – this late in the game when the track cools off, it’s too hard to pass to lose that many positions and just tried to do the best I could to battle back from there.”

The rookie Furniture Row driver finished seventh, his best result in 15 Cup starts so far, picking up 39 points. Still, damage from an on-track incident not of his making hurt Jones’ efforts at contending for a victory.

“Getting that damage early kind of put us behind the eight-ball,” Jones said. “I don’t know if we ever had the same race car we had at the start. I think we had a car that would contend up there with probably Martin (Truex Jr.) and Kyle (Busch) .”

An 11th-place finish wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad for the rookie JGR driver.  “I felt like we had an eighth to a 10th place car all night long,” said Suarez, who picked up 29 points for his efforts. “We were not the best on the long runs, but we were good on the short runs. Just a little behind there at the end with it being a fuel mileage race, we gambled a little bit there and it didn’t quite work out 100 percent.”

 

 

Check out this video as the FOX Sports’ “NASCAR Race Hub” crew reacts to Kyle Busch’s very brief post-race appearance in the Charlotte Motor Speedway media center

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6 things you need to know about the No 3 in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Austin Dillon’s victory in Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway returned the No. 3 to the winner’s circle in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race for the first time since Oct. 15, 2000, when Dale Earnhardt won at Talladega Superspeedway.

In honor of the victory by Dillon and the Richard Childress Racing team, here are some numbers pertaining to the No. 3 in the NASCAR Cup Series.

As of the completion of the Coca-Cola 600, the No. 3 has appeared in 1,257 Cup races, with 98 victories, 375 top fives, 628 top 1os, 70 poles and 30,411 laps led.

The 98 race victories rank the No. 3 third all time in terms of Cup wins by car number. The No. 43 is second with 199 victories and the No. 11 is No. 1, having won an amazing 209 races.

Ten drivers already in the NASCAR Hall of Fame competed in at least one race in the No. 3 in what is now known as the Sprint Cup Series: Tim Flock, Cotton Owens, Fireball Roberts, Junior Johnson, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Buck Baker, Fred Lorenzen, Richard Childress and Dale Earnhardt.

A total of 67 of Dale Earnhardt’s 76 Cup race victories came in the No. 3. Junior Johnson won nine races in the No. 3.  No other driver won more than five times with this car number.

The first driver to win a race in the No. 3 in what is now the Cup Series was Dick Rathman who drove the No. 3 Hudson Hornet to victory at Oakland Stadium on March 28th, 1954. Rathman won $1,000 for claiming the race.

The first of the 78 drivers to compete in the No. 3 in  NASCAR’s top series? That would be Bill Snowden, who finished fifth in his No. 3 Nash at Occoneechee (N.C.) Speedway on Aug. 7, 1949. Back then, it was called the NASCAR Strictly Stock Series, and ’49 was its first year.

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6 points for NASCAR fans to ponder on Memorial Day weekend

It’s been quite a week already and the best is yet to come for auto racing fans, with Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 (FOX, 5:30 p.m. ET) at Charlotte Motor Speedway capping off the greatest day in racing all year.

But already, this has been a huge week — crazy in some respects — but huge nevertheless. Most of the news has been good, and there has been a lot of it. Here are half dozen points to ponder this Memorial Day weekend.

The 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule is out and it features a lot of positive changes, most notably Las Vegas and Richmond being the first two races of the playoffs next year, with the Brickyard 400 becoming the last race of the Cup regular season.

Oh, and the fall Charlotte playoff race with be run on the “roval” infield/oval course and it will be an elimination race. There didn’t seem to be a lot of enthusiasm for the roval among drivers, but we’ll see how it works in practice.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2018 is stellar: Robert Yates, Red Byron, Ray Evernham, Ken Squier and Ron Hornaday Jr.  All are excellent choices, although I was surprised that Davey Allison didn’t get in and that Hornaday defeated Alan Kulwicki in a tiebreaker vote. Still, the highlight of the day was seeing the look on Robert Yates’ face when he got in. Yates, who is fighting liver cancer, was all smiles, while a lot of others were in tears.

Next year, Jeff Gordon will be a first-ballot Class of 2019 inductee, and I’d like to see Davey Allison, Alan Kulwicki, Buddy Baker and Jack Roush go in with Gordon. 

There was plenty of news this week: Red Horse Racing shut down its Camping World Truck Series team and Regan Smith will be in the No. 43 replacing the injured Aric Almirola for the second week in a row.

On a happier note, Stewart-Haas Racing and Nature’s Bakery settled their differences, so you’ll see fig bars sponsoring Danica Patrick for two races and Clint Bowyer for two more. All legal action between the team and sponsor has been dropped.

The Greatest Day in Racing is almost here. Sunday will see the Monaco Grand Prix in the morning, the Indianapolis 500 mid-day and the Coca-Cola 600 in the evening, starting at 5:30 p.m. ET on FOX. Yes, I am one of the 2 percent hardcore fans who watches all three races, and what a glorious experience it is.

When cars practice during the day and race at night, it makes picking a winner an awfully difficult task. That said, the Stewart-Haas Fords, particularly Kevin Harvick, and the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas have looked fast so far, but the Penske Fords haven’t.

And I think the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets will be better in the race than they’ve shown so far. After a dreadful all-star race, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was much more upbeat about his car this weekend and Jimmie Johnson is always a threat to win here.

Last but emphatically not least, I’d like to use this opportunity to thank the brave men and women who given their lives in service of our country, as well as give thanks to their families. We all know that freedom is anything but free. So we will use this weekend to celebrate and salute you

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Nature is Bakery to sponsor Danica Patrick,Clint Bowyer

Wow. How about this for a holiday weekend Friday afternoon shocker? Stewart-Haas Racing has dropped its $31 million lawsuit against Nature’s Bakery and the Reno, Nevada-based fig bar sponsor will again have its logos on the team’s cars.

“Stewart-Haas Racing has reached an equitable agreement with Nature’s Bakery that will see the maker of on-the-go snacks serve as a primary sponsor for four Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races split between drivers Danica Patrick and Clint Bowyer,” the team said in a press release issued Friday afternoon.

“The races where Nature’s Bakery will adorn Patrick’s No. 10 Ford Fusion and Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford Fusion will be announced at a later date.”

All lawsuits between Stewart-Haas Racing and Nature’s Bakery have been dropped.

“It’s gratifying to see a difficult situation get resolved in a professional manner that suits all parties,” said Brett Frood, President, Stewart-Haas Racing. “Together, we worked diligently to find an equitable solution to our collective challenges.”

“I am a longtime motorsports fan and, particularly, a fan of NASCAR,” said Dave Marson, founder of Nature’s Bakery. “Our partnership with Stewart-Haas Racing began with direct, open conversations and that foundation allowed us to reach this agreement.”

SHR sued Nature’s Bakery for $31 million in February, accusing the company of refusing to pay its bills to sponsor Patrick.

“Nature’s Bakery is in material breach of its contract with Stewart-Haas Racing,” the team said then. “It is an unfortunate situation, as the team has delivered on all aspects of its contract and was prepared to do so again in 2017. Ultimately, this is a situation that will be resolved in a court of law.”

But after mediation, the two parties were able to reach agreement on a settlement, so they will work together again.

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How Eddie Wood campaigned to get Robert Yates in the NASCAR Hall of Fame

Sometimes, a story just flat out needs to be told. This is one of those times.

On Wednesday afternoon in Charlotte, more than 50 members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Panel gathered to select the five individuals who would be inducted into the hall’s Class of 2018.

The panel members consist of everyone from NASCAR CEO Brian France to track operators, former racers, representatives of the three automakers in NASCAR, broadcast partners and journalists. Each of the panel members gets a single vote and they all count the same.

The process goes like this: For about 2 hours of so, the floor is open for any member of the Voting Panel to advocate on behalf of any of the 20 Hall of Fame nominees. Basically, any of us on the panel — and I am one of the members — can talk about why we think one or more individuals belong in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The discussions occasionally become contentious and often you’ll see members lobby for the same candidate year after year. No one is rushed or hurried, and anyone who wants to speak can.

The main rules are this: No one is allowed to post to social media during the discussion and everything said in that room remains in the room. When you think about it, that’s really the only way to make certain people feel safe to speak their minds.

That said, on Wednesday, Wood Brothers Racing co-owner Eddie Wood gave a stirring speech on behalf of Robert Yates, who wound up being elected along with Red Byron, Ray Evernham, Ken Squier and Ron Hornaday Jr.

So impressive was Eddie’s speech that I asked him after the event was over if he’d share some thoughts on Robert with me. He agreed.

Eddie and his brother Len recently went up to visit Robert at his farm in Wilkes County, N.C., not far from where Junior Johnson’s race team used to be based.

Eddie said he and Len didn’t know what to say since Yates was battling liver cancer and was obviously not in good health. Still, the three had a good visit.

“Given what he’s going through, you didn’t know what to say when you got there,” said Wood. “You didn’t know how he was going to be. You just didn’t know.

“But when we got there, he was Robert. He was good. He just was so upbeat. He was just like the last the last time we saw him. He was Robert.”

And so after the visit, Wood was inspired to speak on Robert’s behalf. What follows are some of the things he said during his speech, which he reiterated to me the following day after Cup practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“If you look at him from the 1960s forward, he did every job in this garage except drive,” Wood said of Yates. “From driving the truck — everything. Working on the car, pit stops. He’d jack the car, he gassed the car, all of that.”

More than that, though, Wood was impressed with how Yates was dealing with his cancer.

“It reminded me of years ago when NASCAR would make a rule change,” said Wood. “You could race on Sunday, and on Monday or Tuesday, there could be a rule change. It could be something as simple as cutting your spoiler or raising the height of your car. If the Fords were doing really well, they might raise ‘em up half an inch, just trying to keep the playing field level.

“But in those days, you didn’t have all the tools to go work on your car,” said Wood. “And back then, the quickest way to get your performance back after a rule change was to get more horsepower.”

And that’s where Yates, one of the sport’s best engine builders in history came in.

“Robert would go in his shop and lock the door and he would have Doug (his son) and a couple of others in there with him,” said Wood. “But nobody left until they came up with more power. They may be in there a day. They may be in there three days.

“But he stayed in there until he got it done,” said Wood. “When he’d come out of there, he might have 15 or 20 more horsepower. But he fixed it. And that’s what I see in him now battling cancer.”

Wood said Yates has not backed down from the fight.

“This sickness he’s had has been thrown at him, blindsided him,” said Wood. “He’s going to fix it. He’s going to work through it. He talked about his treatments. He tried one thing and he wasn’t sure that was going to work, so he had a new treatment he was working on.

“He was very upbeat about it and like, ‘I’m going to beat it. I’m going to fix it.’ Just like he went and found horsepower when there was a rules change. His attitude was so positive and upbeat.”

That kind of strength is one of many reasons Yates is going into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. We can hope he his successful in his latest battle.

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We make our picks for Monaco, the Indy 500 and Coke 600

Ferrari’s speed has improved this season and closed the gap with Mercedes. Because of that, I’m going with Sebastian Vettel to score his third win of the season by breaking Ferrari’s 16-year drought at Monaco. Vettel’s shown great speed so far in practice and topped the charts in Thursday’s session.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jimmie Johnson leads ride to honor Nicky Hayden’s memory

Racers are a close-knit community, and when there’s a loss in that community, they close ranks.

Such is the case this week after the death of former Moto GP champion Nicky Hayden, who died earlier this week after being hit by a car while bicycling in Italy.

Hayden, known as the “Kentucky Kid,” was popular with fans and fellow racers alike and his loss was felt deeply.

To honor Hayden’s memory seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson organized a 69-mile bicycle ride in Charlotte Friday morning, the No. 69 being Hayden’s number.  

It was a fitting and classy way to pay tribute to a fallen comrade.

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Rescue Ranch unveils Earnhardt Family Playground

There was no action at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Friday, but about 50 miles north in Statesville, N.C., some members of the NASCAR community gathered at Ryan and Krissie Newman’s Rescue Ranch N.C. for the dedication of the Earnhardt Family Playground.

NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton was there and so was team owner Richard Childress. The Earnhardt family was well represented with Dale Jr. and wife Amy, Kelley Earnhardt Miller and Kerry Earnhardt. Also there was Martin Truex Jr. and Sherry Pollex, who donated a swing set to the project.

The Earnhardt Family Playground is designed to be inclusive for use by children with and without disabilities. The soft surface makes it easy for wheelchairs to roll on, and is energy absorbent to make impact easier if a child falls. The new playground is one of the few of its kind in the state of North Carolina.

Here’s what some in attendance had to say about the project:

The mastermind of the program is Krissie Newman, wife of NASCAR driver Ryan Newman. “We want to teach kids and have them have fun while they’re here, and have a good experience and hopefully take a piece of Rescue Ranch away and make it part of their story,” Krissie said. “A lot of people remember where they went on field trips as a kid and I want Rescue Ranch to be one of those places in the future — that they learned how to take care of animals better, respect the environment and just have a different level of compassion and empathy for living things in general.”

Newman, who drives for Richard Childress Racing, has been very active in philanthropic endeavors, especially this facility. The playground is the newest addition to the 177-acre Rescue Ranch. “It’s all-inclusive, so handicapped kids and non-handicapped kids can enjoy it together or families that have one of each,” Newman said of the playground. “We can have whole schools here and include everybody. It’s their recess while their using the animal education center. It gives them the opportunity to have full day programs instead of half-day programs, which is important.”

The donation of the Earnhardt Family Playground really was a family affair funded by the Dale Jr. Foundation. “They (Ryan and Krissie Newman) told us about their plans for the playground and what that would mean for the community. We always look for great opportunities to give back to our communities and sort of leave a mark here, for everything we’ve been given. It’s always fun to give back. This was just a really unique opportunity to grow Rescue Ranch. They’re doing some amazing things and they’re such a blessing to have. We’re excited and honored, actually, to be a part of it.”

Like her siblings, Miller was enthused to see the children enjoy the Earnhardt Family Playground. “What’s really cool is to see the kids who don’t have this kind of opportunity to participate,” she said. “I see them over here just laughing and their hands are going wild and they’re just so excited to have a place to swing. They can be in a seat that’s safe for them.”

The eldest Earnhardt and his family worked very closely with Rescue Ranch even before the playground project. “It was neat to see this opportunity come about,” he said. “They do so much for kids and animals and now with a playground, these kids have an opportunity to do things they’ve never done before. It’s awesome to see the kids on top of the slide and jumping up and down and screaming and kids in the chairs sliding.  It’s pretty awesome.”

Few couples embody the philanthropic spirit of the NASCAR community more than Truex and longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex, who have done so much work for pediatric cancer. “This is so needed in the area,” Truex said of the playground. “Kids from Mooresville (N.C.) and south of Mooresville and this area are going to have to come here to use this type of playground because it’s the only one in the area. It’s definitely something that’s needed in the community.”

Pollex and Martin Truex Jr. were thrilled to be a part of this project. “It’s really cool for us because we do so much work with kids all the time through our foundation and for pediatric cancer,” said Pollex. “But to be able to give back to Rescue Ranch and be a part of this playground and do something for our friends Ryan and Krissie Newman — we’re really proud of what they’ve done here. And we donated the swing set, so it’s cool for us to be able to help kids with all disabilities, not just what we’re used to, which is kids with pediatric cancer. So it’s been a really neat day for us. I’m glad we’re here.” 

 

 

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Dale Jr. doesn’t get too caught up on numbers,usually at Charlotte Motor Speedway

The main takeaway — Earnhardt doesn’t care much about numbers or years when it comes to accomplishments or shortcomings.

“I couldn’t have told you what year it was,” Earnhardt said. “It doesn’t really weigh on me that much. It was tough to get over for a few weeks, but I believe Steve Letarte might still talk about it today, but a lot of things, a lot of water under the bridge since then. I grew up here and went to all the races here when I was a little kid. Some of the first memories of being at a 1.5-mile race track that is here at Charlotte. 

“So, been coming here a long time and have never won a point race here. I thought, considering we’ve had some decent success in the sport, I would have guessed I’d have got a win here in a point race at some point, but it just hasn’t happened. We’ve had some close ones, but the way we ran out of the gate as a rookie, we ran pretty good. We led a lot of laps that night and came up short on the victory, but I thought that this would be a good track for us, but since the repave, for whatever reason it’s really been tough for me. We just really haven’t been able to hit on how to get around here.  Either how to set the car up or what I’m looking for or what I need to be doing with the car driving it. But, we will keep digging this weekend and see what we can make out of this weekend.”

He mentioned Lionel giving him the first diecast of his 2014 Daytona 500 win but took a moment to think about the year.

“(Lionel) gave me the number one serial number for I guess it’s the bestselling diecast of all time, our race win version of the 2015 Daytona 500… wait, 2014,” Earnhardt said after thinking about it for a second. “I guess they’ve never given a number one serial number to a diecast before. They keep them all in this room. But for whatever reason, they wanted to give me that. So, I’ll hang onto it forever. That’s pretty cool.”

“I have a habit of looking at the drivers,” Earnhardt said when answering a question about his thoughts on the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2018. “I’ll admit that I look through the list of all-time winners and look at the ones that are in the Hall of Fame and look where my name is and see how many guys are in front of me and how many are probably going to get in, will I ever get in and all that stuff. You know it must be a tremendous emotional piece of relief and satisfaction to get that kind of reward. I watched really closely when Mark (Martin) got going in there last year and it just seemed to really validate all the work.”

“I’m not a big fan of the roval,” Earnhardt said. “But you’ve got to be open-minded to it because what if it does do really well? I anticipate it will be more spread out than what we see at Sonoma and The Glen. Once these cars come out of the road course and go onto the track, they’re just going to distance from each other and so I don’t know, really, what a race like that is going to look like for stock cars. But, they’re going to try it. We’ve got a lot of other race tracks that are rovals as well, and if it happens to work, there are opportunities for them other tracks to do the same. As far as how they move these races around and stuff, that seemed to be all decent ideas there. And it’s a little unfortunate for the New Hampshire folks because there are tons of race fans up there and a lot of die-heart short track modified racers and families up there that like to come to the Cup race and it’s unfortunate that they lose an event. But, Vegas is certainly a great market for us; and one of the West Coast markets that works really well. And I like the Vegas race track. It’s a fun 1.5-mile.”

“Well, they’re going to run that road course next year, so that tells you how desperate they are. I got in it by accident,” Earnhardt said. “I got loose into (Turn) 3 and ended up there. They say it takes some heat to activate and for it to really get grippy. You don’t really sense it when you’re up there today in it. But, I’m sure in the race some guys will get up there and start running through there, it’s going to improve the speed in those grooves. Hopefully, it does. If you look at Kansas and if you look at this track and Kansas was repaved afterward, Kansas has really aged well. It’s very gray. We move all over the place looking for speed and grip. It’s a lot of fun. This was the first track they’ve paved with the new polymers, that new technology of using rubber polymers in the race show; and boy, they much have really poured the coal to it because it’s like tire on tire.”

Earnhardt on the importance of the Truck and XFINITY Series to bring drivers up to Cup and how to balance the finances of it all.

“Yeah, we moved our Truck team up to the Xfinity Series to make another team there,” Earnhardt said. “When I was in the series we went to South Boston and places like that and I miss watching those races. They were great races. I don’t know if the business model works to be able to go back and undo everything we’ve done, but I’d rather tune-in and watch them run the beach or the fairgrounds. Man!  I’d love to go run a Xfinity race at the fairgrounds, in our cars. That would be at the top of my list if it was on the schedule. I run Richmond and Bristol. That’s the only ones I’m running this year because that’s the only short track action you can find. But, the 1.5-miles just aren’t that fun. We run too many of them for it to be fun. We rarely run the short tracks. So, you try to get as much of that as you can. Not everybody is the same. This is just me talking. I don’t know if all the drivers like short tracks that much. But, I would certainly tune-in. I’d tune-in and watch them trucks run at South Boston or the beach or the fairgrounds. I’d rather tune-in and watch them do that than a lot of these other tracks they run on.”

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Kevin Harvick: ‘Reinvest from the bottom up’ to improve Truck Series

The abrupt closure of Red Horse Racing from the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has spurred a lot of discussion about what changes need to be made for the benefit of the sport.

Kevin Harvick doesn’t shy away from comments, especially with his new “Happy Hour” radio show on SiriusXM NASCAR.

After making comments about the Truck Series schedule going back to its grassroots nature on the latest episode, Harvick fielded questions after winning the pole for the Coca-Cola 600 (Sunday, 5:30 p.m. ET on FOX) at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

 

“I can’t walk anywhere and not have somebody talk to me about the Truck Series schedule,” Harvick said. “I think it’s something that a lot of people want to say and haven’t said, but I think it’s definitely time to look at the grassroots side of things and I think the Truck Series is a grassroots division.”

Harvick went beyond general comments and gave examples for how to improve the Truck Series schedule.

“If you could just for example take it somewhere like Nashville Speedway and pair it up with the All-American 400 and put the All-American 400 in Nashville back on the map with a Truck Series race with some SAFER barriers, get the city of Nashville involved and that’s just one race,” Harvick said. “I think it would be very interesting and I feel like that regionally is a big touring race.  You go up to Oxford, Maine, but getting the TV to these cars and these local racers and these people and the enthusiasm that it brings to a local market, that’s what the Truck Series does.

“When you look at Eldora and you look at the road race in Canada, you look at these one-off events and every one of them are well attended, every one of them are exciting and well attended.”

Harvick’s plan not only takes the Truck Series to more exciting races for fans but he pairs the idea with local series being at the tracks to truly embrace the grassroots nature of NASCAR.

If NASCAR put the lower tiers of racing on television alongside the Truck Series, then the door is open for fans to have more knowledge about drivers who are climbing their way through the ranks.

“It would be interesting to revive the Copper Classic and start the season with the Trucks out there and see the sprint cars show back up and TV is gonna be there to cover it, so now you can film all these races and put these guys on TV,” Harvick said. “All of a sudden there’s TV there and they can get better sponsorship, so there’s a lot of things that you could do and, like you say, it has to be something that everybody buys into that is worried about making money.”

The issue with broadcasting these lower series comes down to the television money and how contracts are negotiated.

One of the biggest moves would have to come from tracks that pair Truck Series races with the same weekend as Monster Energy Series events.

“TV money is still how everyone survives,” Harvick said. “That’s the reason a lot of these race tracks take these Truck races now because the TV money went up, so there’s a reason that they want to keep them.  But there are ways to make all of this work.  Everybody doesn’t need to have their hand out, they need to be thinking from the bottom up and how do we make this better.”

One of the best examples for the Truck Series performing well at a standalone event is when they head to his Stewart-Haas Racing boss, Tony Stewart’s track, Eldora Speedway.

“We need events and I think it’s a great way to reinvest from the bottom up in different facilities and you could sit here and name a bunch of them,” Harvick said. “What better way to show them you care than by putting soft walls up at the race track somehow and some way to get the cities involved and the race track and work on getting those sanctioning fees down and get them to places where they can knock the fenders off of each other and put on a great show, much like they do at Eldora.  I mean, it’s got 20-some thousand people there every time we show up and everybody loves watching on a Wednesday night.”

None of these proposals directly offer a plan to cut down on team cost for the Truck Series but seem to focus on a bigger picture move to revitalize the health of the sport.

With so much locked in place with the schedule through the next several years, it might be awhile before there’s an opportunity to make these changes.

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Active drivers with most points race wins at Charlotte Motor Speedway

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series prepares for its longest race of the season with the Coca-Cola 600 (Sunday, 5:30 p.m. ET on FOX) at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

With two points races at the track each season and the All-Star Race, there’s a lot of seat time for drivers at CMS.

Check out the drivers with the most points race wins at Charlotte:

 

It’s appropriate that Charlotte Motor Speedway used to be Lowe’s Motor Speedway with the dominance Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet have in his boss, Rick Hendrick’s backyard. 

Johnson won the most recent points race at Charlotte, the Bank of America 500 in the playoffs last season.

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NASCAR community reacts to Kevin Harvick’s pole performance at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Thursday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kevin Harvick put the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Fusion on the pole for Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (5:30 p.m. ET, FOX).

Here’s what the racers had to say on social media following qualifying for the longest race on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule.

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Kevin Harvick grabs his first Coca-Cola 600 pole at Charlotte Motor Speedway

CONCORD, N.C. — The cream always seems to rise to the top in the biggest races, and such was the case in qualifying for Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where Kevin Harvick took his third pole of the season.

Harvick posted a fast lap of 193.424 miles per hour in his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford during the third and final round, good enough to claim the top qualifying spot and the crucial No. 1 pit stall that goes with it.

The pole was Harvick’s 20th in 586 career starts. And he said his car was challenging to drive.

 

“The cars in qualifying were a lot looser than they were in practice and just based on past experience here it was a handful through (Turns) 1 and 2,” said Harvick. “I just about lost it the first run, but the car was so good in three and four I didn’t want to over-adjust on it.”

Starting on the outside of Row 1 for the longest race on the NASCAR schedule will be Kyle Busch, last week’s winner of the Monster Energy All-Star Race. Busch wheeled his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to a qualifying lap of 192.513 mph.

“We’ve got performance right now, so we just got to put it all together,” said Busch, who like Harvick is looking for his first victory of the season. “It’s a long, long day. Starting up front doesn’t necessarily mean anything right now.”

Row 2 will consist of Chase Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and Busch’s teammate, Matt Kenseth. Erik Jones completed the top five in the first of the Furniture Row Racing Toyotas.

In his last Coca-Cola 600, Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified 19th. Earnhardt’s teammate, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson was 14th.

“They were a lot different than what we anticipated,” said Johnson. “So, we just didn’t get the balance right from practice to Q (qualifying). We thought we had a good idea of what to go on based on last week and it just didn’t repeat for us like we thought, so we just missed it a little bit there.”

As has been the case on several occasions this year, pre-qualifying inspection was again an issue for some teams. The biggest name to miss qualifying was points leader Kyle Larson, who didn’t get to make an attempt because his Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet never made it through tech.

The track is dark tomorrow, but there will be two practices on Saturday, the first at 9 a.m. ET and the second at 11:30 a.m. Both practices will be televised live on FS1.

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Qualifying results, starting lineup for Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Here is  where all 40 drivers qualified for the big Memorial Day weekend race:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Derrike Cope

Cope has made 28 Cup points-race starts at Charlotte, earning a best points finish of sixth in 1989

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VHT compound ‘unchartered waters’ at Charlotte Motor Speedway

VHT compound has become a familiar term with NASCAR fans as the sticky substance has become a mainstay on the lower groove at Bristol Motor Speedway in recent years.

After an All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway that lacked much passing, the compound has been added to the 1.5-mile surface for the Coca-Cola 600 (Sunday, 5:30 p.m. ET on FOX).

In the opening practice on Thursday at Charlotte, drivers got their first test of the substance at a speedway. Although, it was a limited one as most drivers ran mock qualifying attempts for the hour and a half session.

“I got into a little bit there in Turns 3 and 4 coming to the green for qualifying runs,” Kyle Busch said of the VHT compound. “The track was really light to begin with. They run the tire dragon around here and it doesn’t give much to the track, maybe they need to add more pressure. The cars were starting to put the rubber down as practice progressed. You get outside of that black and it’s pretty slick. I’m not sure we can groom (the VHT) in here in one weekend.”

One of the biggest issues with the substance is that it needs heat to work and when it’s out of the preferred line, drivers have to simply trust that it’ll hold for them.

“You don’t know how that substance they use is going to combine with asphalt,” Ryan Blaney said. “I’m curious to see how that does and its very heat-activated. At Bristol, we’re going to be running the bottom regardless. That’s why it worked so well on the bottom there and here I’m wondering what it’s gonna be like when we’re running 200 miles an hour into the top lane and hoping it’s hot enough to stick. That’s gonna be a little sketchy at first, but, like I said before, I thought NASCAR had to make a move on that side of it to get us off the bottom of the race track or at least give you options.”

The addition of options to make racing better is always a move in the right direction for NASCAR and according to Kurt Busch, there weren’t many other options.

“You have (extra grip) on entry but you lose it on the apex,” Kurt Busch said. “We go back to tracks and VHT is added and you say ‘make better tires’ but there’s nothing wrong with the tires. It turns into drag racing. You have to warm it up and put heat into it. It makes it inconsistent if you’re running through it and then not running through it.”

The opening practice session didn’t provide much additional information on how it’ll come in at night with more cars on track so it’s a waiting game for everyone on how it’ll work.

“We’ll find out. It’s kind of unchartered waters, to be honest with you. Bristol is a lot different, a lot shorter race track, we’re not going as fast, a concrete race track,” Blaney said. “Like I said, we saw it in the All-Star Race where it was just bottom-feeding. This will hopefully help it out, but I don’t know much about it.”

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Dale Jr. on help from the No. 48 team: ‘We are leaning on them pretty hard’

CONCORD, N.C. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. continues to search for answers in this, his final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.

But they continue to be elusive as Earnhardt prepares for his last Coca-Cola 600 this Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway (5:30 p.m. ET on FOX).

In Thursday’s lone Cup practice at the 1.5-mile track, the best Earnhardt could manage in his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was a top lap of 190.389 miles per hour that ranked 22nd fastest out of the 40-car field.

The really frustrating part of it for Earnhardt was that he ran the same setup as Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson, who was second-fastest at 192.472 mph.

“We totally eighty-sixed all that stuff we ran last week and we put in Jimmie’s set-up just like him,” said Earnhardt, who announced earlier this year that this will be his final Cup season. “I was just asking (crew chief) Greg (Ives) how are we just like him if he ran a (nearly 28-second) flat (lap) and we ran a (28.363) in practice?”

Earnhardt did say he appreciates all the help the No. 48 team of seven-time and defending Cup champion Johnson, and Johnson’s crew chief Chad Knaus, have attempted to give Earnhardt and his team.

“Greg and Chad got real close this week and me and Jimmie have been in communication,” Earnhardt said. “Jimmie has come by the car a couple of times in practice already looking at notes and printing out our driver traces and trying to figure out whatever we can do to help me.

“One of the things about Jimmie that I’ve always thought was pretty cool was he was always open to looking at other drivers’ traces and adjusting how he drives. If he sees a guy go through the corner who does something different with the gas or the brake, he will try it. And he encourages me or any other teammate to do the same thing.”

In other words, there are little adjustments and techniques to Johnson’s driving style that are always evolving. And he has encouraged Earnhardt to remain open to all those possibilities as the No. 88 team tries to turn around its thus-far disappointing season.

Through the first 11 points races, Earnhardt has only one top-10 finish. He sits 24th in the current point standings — and he was horrible in last Saturday night’s Monster Energy All-Star Race at Charlotte, finishing next-to-last in the 20-car field.

Johnson finished third in the All-Star Race after contending for the win.

“(Johnson) comes over with these printouts and says, ‘This is what I’m doing with the gas and this is what you’re doing and this is where the time is getting loose and maybe try this and that and the other.’ “ Earnhardt said. “He is a super teammate. I’m lucky to be able to work in the same shop with him. He has certainly been an influence on my success and my enjoyment in the sport.

“Yeah, we are leaning on them pretty hard this weekend. Considering how we ran and how they ran last weekend at the All-Star Race, we are leaning on them pretty hard.”

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Kyle Busch talks about real cost of going racing from Charlotte Motor Speedway

For the most part, the subject of money isn’t discussed openly much in NASCAR anymore, so when a team owner throws out a real number, ears perk up.

Such was the case Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway when 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion driver Kyle Busch was asked about the economic health of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, where Busch is the team owner for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Busch was blunt about the economics of owning a truck team when asked about Red Horse Racing closing its doors earlier this week.

 

“Our cost is 3.2. That’s how much it takes to run a full operation of a truck team, and that number should be around 2,” said Busch. And by 3.2 he meant $3.2 million to field one competitive truck for one season.

Busch said he pays out of his own pocket to keep his Toyota Tundras on track.

“I know that I put money in myself,” said Busch. “You know, I wouldn’t say that the model is working for us. I just think that we’re content with the amount of money that we are spending. That makes it worth our while.”

According to Busch, discussions are ongoing to come up with cheaper engines and bodies for the truck teams. “We’re only hitting it about a half a million (dollars) by doing that,” he said. “Your biggest expense is your people, and that’s where it all comes from.”

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Ryan Blaney talks beer,Star Wars — and why he’d love to win at Charlotte Motor Speedway

“I was go from the moment of the green flag dropping and had a couple close calls with the fence and I look up and they’re like, ‘Alright, we’re halfway. Lap 200,’ ” Blaney said. “And I’m like, ‘Oh man, I’ve got to do this for another 300 miles,’ and I think I ended up knocking the fence down a few times.”

Blaney did end up out of that race after Lap 281 because of engine issues. On Thursday, he talked about his preparations for this Sunday’s race and much more during an entertaining session with the media at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Here are the highlights:

 

“I don’t drink as much beer as I usually do, so that probably helps,” said a laughing Blaney in response to a question about whether or not he prepares any differently for NASCAR’s only 600-mile race.

On a more serious note, he added: “No, I don’t really do anything different week to week. You stay hydrated the best you can and try to eat well. I’ve never really had an issue in 600 miles. There are some people who do special things to try to prepare themselves, but I just kind of stick to what I know. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

 

“You don’t really find a lot of old Star Wars T-shirts,” he said. “It’s not like racing stuff. They used to make tons and tons of old racing T-shirts and you could find your favorite driver (years later), but I haven’t really found a lot of old Star Wars shirts.

“I just try to collect them when I can whenever I go to Disney or something like that. I was walking through the Concord Mills Mall (near the Charlotte track) and I passed a Disney Store and I didn’t know what was in there, so I was like, ‘Well, maybe they’ve got either a Cars 3 shirt or some Star Wars stuff,’ and when I walked in I didn’t know the max age limit in there was like seven, so, one, I felt really weird.

“I was in sweat pants and a T-shirt with all these kids in there, searching and looking.  I would even take like a kids’ XL. I felt like that would fit me, but they didn’t have any of those, so that was a little weird.” 

“It was fun,” Blaney said. “I can’t say anything about the movie or I’ll get in really big trouble, but that was really neat to be part of Cars 3.

“The first one came out, I believe, when I was 11 or 12 and that was really neat. I enjoyed that movie as a kid and it was really, really special to be a part of one now.” 

“He was a friend of my engine tuner, Darren Russell, and it means a lot,” Blaney said. “NASCAR does a great job supporting the troops every single weekend. I feel like we do the best in all of sports of showing our support to the military, but this weekend is something just a little bit extra.”

“They’re hectic, for sure,” Blaney said. “If you’re not aggressive on these restarts nowadays, you’re gonna get passed and probably by two or three cars. So I feel like if you’re playing defense on restarts, you’re already behind. You kind of have to be on the offensive on all those restarts.”

“Pit stops are huge,” Blaney said. “They’re the easiest spots, to be honest with you, to gain or lose.  We talk about restarts being an easy spot to get spots or lose spots. Pit road is very easy as well because we’re all bunched up just like a restart and it comes down to a small point of how you get in your box, but the pit crews are a big point. If you lose a second on pit road, that’s two or three spots and that’s big. That can win or lose you a race.”

“It’s not only long for us to drive, that’s a long time sitting in the stands or watching on TV,” he said. “I think that’s gonna benefit and, one, you’ll see more restarts, which fans like, and things like that. You kind of have a little break to talk to your family or something like that, so that will be nice, too.”

The 24-year-old Blaney wasn’t born yet, so he’s well aware of how special it would be to put his No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford in Victory Lane this Sunday.

“The Wood Brothers are all about history,’ Blaney said. “We broke a 13- or 14-year drought of them getting a pole at Kansas. I’d love to break another drought of their last 600 win. … Doing it on the 30thanniversary of when Kyle won it would be even more special.” 

 

Blaney added that winning at Charlotte Motor Speedway, his home track, also is high on his racing bucket list when it comes to helping the Wood Brothers get back to Victory Lane.

“There are three racetracks where I really want to win at for them — and it’s Daytona, here and Darlington,” Blaney said.

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Erik Jones tops opening Coca-Cola 600 practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Practice for the longest race on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule began Thursday afternoon with an 85-minute session in advance of Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (5:30 p.m. ET, FOX).

And when it was all said and done, it was a strong showing for the Toyota contingent, led by Erik Jones at 192.713 miles per hour. Jones’ speed was the best of practice.

Second fast was seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who turned a best lap of 192.472 mph in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Cup series points leader Kyle Larson was third at 192.465 mph in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

 

Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick completed the top five.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s struggles continued, as he was just 22nd in practice for his final Coca-Cola 600.

Two drivers had minor wall bangers in the session, Clint Bowyer about halfway through practice and Larson with less than 10 minutes left.

Qualifying is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. ET tonight, with coverage on FS1.

The track is dark tomorrow, but there will be two practices on Saturday, the first at 9 a.m. and the second at 11:30 a.m.

Check out the full practice results below.

Practice report

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Why Ron Hornaday made the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2018

A reader sent me a message this morning, wondering how it was that Ron Hornaday Jr. was voted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2018 ahead of Alan Kulwicki.

The short answer is simple: Hornaday absolutely belongs. It’s the NASCAR Hall of Fame, not the Monster Energy Cup Series Hall of Fame.

The Hall already has NASCAR XFINITY and Modified Series racers in and given that Hornaday is the greatest NASCAR Camping Truck Series driver of all-time, he needs to be in the Hall, too.

 

 

 

How good is Hornaday?

Well, he holds the series records for championships (4), race victories (51) top fives (158) and top 10s (234). In 2009, Hornaday won five consecutive races, making him one of only four drivers in NASCAR national series history to win that many in a row.

By any objective measure, Hornaday unquestionably belongs.

 

But there’s a subjective element to Hornaday, too: Hornaday and his wife Lindy famously opened their home to many aspiring young racers, including future champions Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick, both of whom, like Hornaday, are California natives.

“He and Lindy just had open arms and told me, if you are ever in North Carolina we will give you a place to stay, come stay with us,” said Johnson, who voted for Hornaday. “It wasn’t two or three months later I had an opportunity to come to the East Coast.”

That opportunity was to test a late-model stock car for Hendrick Motorsports.

“I needed a couch to sleep on. I moved in,” Johnson said. “They wouldn’t let me move out. I stayed there for six months until Ron on one of his Harley rides found a home that he thought I could afford and seemed like a good buy and I bought my first house.

“They have been amazing to me and to many others in the sport, not just drivers,” said Johnson. “There are officials walking up and down pit road that have all bunked at his home, crew members from all over the place. … Ron’s contribution to our sport, not only includes the amazing things he did on the track but so many things off the track. I think he is going to be a great fit in the Hall (of Fame) and be very entertaining as the months go by and we are able to induct him.”