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XFINITY

Runner-up Finish Leaves Dillon Heartbroken

With the laps winding down in Saturday night’s U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway, it appeared as though Ty Dillon was going to snap his 65-race winless streak in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

Unfortunately for Dillon, Erik Jones had other plans, snatching the lead and victory away from the driver of the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops Chevy with just 16 laps remaining.

Dillon grabbed the lead during a round of pit stops after Brandon McReynolds slammed the wall in Turn 1 with 100 laps to go. On the ensuing restart, he cleared Elliott Sadler exiting Turn 2 and began to pull away from the field. Slowly but surely, Jones, who had the most dominant car in the field and led a race-high 154 laps, began to reel in the No. 3 machine.

When Jones got to Dillon’s bumper, he started to work the high side before finally making a move to the inside of Dillon entering Turn 3. Despite a valiant effort, the No. 20 Toyota got around Dillon and cruised to victory.

“The high line wasn’t there. Every lap I was having to do everything I could to keep him behind me,” Dillon told NBC Sports after the race. “He ran a good race, and it just wore my stuff out a little more than I needed to.”

Dillon led a season-high 83 laps in Saturday’s race, the most he has led since leading 43 circuits at Kentucky Speedway last September.

“Man, I want to win so bad,” Dillon said. “That was all I had … we just came up 10 laps short this time.”

With Saturday’s race being the final standalone oval before the inaugural Xfinity Chase starts in September, a victory would’ve all but guaranteed Dillon a playoff spot. Being just close enough is becoming a similar refrain for the grandson of Richard Childress, who has finished in the top five in four of his last five Iowa starts.

“My heart’s been broken every race since Indy,” Dillon said. “I want to get to Victory Lane again. We’re close, we just got to get a little better.”

Dillon’s lone victory in the Xfinity Series came at Indianapolis in 2014. He currently sits third in the standings, 35 points behind leader Elliott Sadler.

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Categories
Commentary

Rapid Reaction: Don’t Stop Me Now

Total domination. That’s the only way to describe Kyle Busch’s weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The defending Sprint Cup Series champion totally outclassed his competition Saturday and Sunday, leading 211 of a possible 233 laps around the Brickyard, and was never passed during either race.

Busch’s performance on Sunday was one for the record books on a day that will be forever remembered as the final race at Indianapolis for Cup champions Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.

Record Year

Kyle Busch started Sunday’s Brickyard 400 with an opportunity to do something that hadn’t been done in NASCAR history — sweep both poles and races in a single weekend. After leading all but one lap en route to his 83rd career XFINITY Series win, Busch appeared poised to be the driver to beat for the second straight year.

Busch kept his No. 18 Toyota seemingly an arm’s length away from the field. In fact, the first on-track pass for the lead occurred on Lap 62, when Busch drove around Joey Logano on a restart. From that point on, it was all Kyle, all the time, as he led a record-setting 149 laps and collected the fifth Brickyard victory for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Thanks for the Memories

The biggest story line coming to Indy was knowing it would be Tony Stewart’s final NASCAR start at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. After they qualifyied third, hopes were sky high for the No. 14 team after a runner-up finish last week in New Hampshire.

In the driver’s meeting, Jeff Gordon honored Stewart before both drivers’ final race at Indy.

“I know as we’ve gotten to know one another as friends and competitors over the years what this place means to you,” Gordon said. “I think that it’s not a year about saying goodbye. It’s a year about celebrating what you’ve done on the track and off the track. I think it’s only fitting that all of us in this room, and along with all the millions of fans around the world, recognize what you’ve brought to this sport.”

Smoke made a daring three-wide pass inside Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards to grab second place on the race’s second lap. Unfortunately for Stewart, that would be the high-water mark in Sunday’s event, as tight handling conditions prevented him from racing for the win, and he came home 11th.

After the checkered flag, Stewart and Gordon, substituting for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr., performed one final lap side-by-side around IMS, a fitting tribute for two NASCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway heroes.

Maybe Next Year

Despite being the all-time leader in Indianapolis 500 wins with 16, Roger Penske came to the 23rd Brickyard 400 without a Sprint Cup win at IMS.

Knowing they likely didn’t have the speed to win the race, the teams of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski deployed an aggressive fuel mileage strategy. Both drivers stretched their first tank of fuel 42 laps, putting them in position to make the race on just three stops.

Sometimes even the best plans don’t come to fruition. That was the case Sunday, as ill-timed yellows put Keselowski in the middle of the pack, and he finished 17th. Logano restarted on the front row for overtime but dropped back to seventh at the checkers.

Penske’s teams are now a combined 0-for-44 in the Brickyard 400 with an average finish of 15.9.

One More Go Round

Five-time Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon made his highly anticipated return to NASCAR in relief for Hendrick Motorsports regular Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The four-time Sprint Cup champion started in 21st and struggled in the early going. By Lap 50, Gordon was mired back in 24th. During a round of green-flag stops, Gordon short-pitted and gained track position and was just outside the top 10. With in-car temperatures exceeding 110 degrees, Gordon’s return came in brutal conditions, and he brought the No. 88 home in 13th.

Next week Gordon will return to Pocono Raceway, where he holds the record for most victories with six.

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Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

New Hampshire Winner Kenseth Fails Inspection

After winning Sunday’s New Hampshire 301, Matt Kenseth’s No. 20 Toyota failed post-race inspection at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

According to NASCAR, Kenseth’s car failed the laser inspection station and will be taken to the NASCAR R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina for further inspection. Runner-up finisher Tony Stewart’s car passed the LIS platform after the race and will also be taken to the R&D center for evaluation, which is standard protocol.

Sunday’s win was Kenseth’s second victory of the season and third career win at New Hampshire.

Typically, the penalty for failing LIS has been 15 points and a fine for the crew chief. Kasey Kahne’s No. 5 failed after the Dover race, and Kyle Larson’s No. 42 was penalized after last month’s race at Michigan.

Categories
Commentary NASCAR Cup Series

Harvick ‘Disgusted’ with Recurring Pit Road Mistakes

After four races that featured a road course, restrictor plate racing, a repaved track and the all-new low downforce package, Sunday’s race at New Hampshire looked to be a preview of what’s to come when the Sprint Cup Series returns in September during the Chase.

Along with a return to the standard 2016 rules package and Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas dominating the top five, the New Hampshire 301 also saw the return of Kevin Harvick’s frustration on pit road.

The Bakersfield, Calif. native started in eighth and quickly worked his way into the top five. When the competition caution flew on Lap 35, Harvick found himself third behind Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr.

The No. 4 Chevrolet exited the pits in 13th after a reported problem with the rear tire changer’s air gun. When the race restarted, Harvick again worked his through the back half of the top 10 despite reporting water temperature in excess of 260 degrees.

On the second round of pit stops, Harvick came to pit road in fourth and left in 11th. Crew chief Rodney Childers radioed to his driver that the team had an issue removing the left rear tire, which caused a longer stop on pit road.

Harvick’s team did hold serve during a round of yellow-flag pit stops just after Lap 220, keeping their driver in the fifth position with an opportunity to race with the leaders down the stretch.

After a spirited battle with Kyle Busch in the closing stages, Harvick settled for a fourth-place finish in the Granite State. Most drivers would consider themselves fortunate to leave with a top-five finish after experiencing some setbacks in one of the season’s shortest races. Not Harvick.

“I’m disgusted to tell you the truth. It’s the same thing every week,” Harvick told PRN. “We just make mistake after mistake and until we clean that up we don’t have a chance to win races putting ourselves in a hole every time we make a mistake. It sucks because the cars are plenty fast, but we are just not executing.”

The numbers support Harvick’s claim, too. The 2014 Sprint Cup champion has led 829 laps, which is third behind Kyle Busch and Truex. He boasts the series’ best average finish at 8.7 and holds a 14-point gap over Brad Keselowski. Unfortunately for Harvick, that will be rendered meaningless when the Chase grid is set by wins, as he currently has just one victory in 2016.

After the race, Harvick said changes will need to be made by the organization if they want to contend for another championship.

“It’s really going to have to come from the top. I mean, they are going to have to clamp down and there is no way we can win a championship like this unless they straighten some of this stuff out.

“We just have to perform better. We under-execute as a team on a weekly basis and got to do a better job.”

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NASCAR Cup Series

Time Running Out for Early Contenders After Chase Bubble Trouble

Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway delivered plenty of drama for drivers battling on the Chase bubble.

With a new surface and reconfiguration at the 1.5-mile oval, drivers and teams alike were unsure what to expect, but less than 15 laps into the race, they had an idea of what could happen. On Lap 10, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. got into the wall exiting Turn 4. Entering Turn 3, Stenhouse appeared to have a flat right front tire and slammed the outside wall, ending his night before the competition caution.

Following his 40th-place finish, the two-time NASCAR XFINITY Series champion finds himself 50 points out of the Chase. With only eight races until the playoffs, Stenhouse will likely need his first career Sprint Cup win to make the Chase.

A restart on Lap 89 resulted in the next Chase-altering dustup. Entering Turn 3, rookies Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott were forced three-wide with Martin Truex, Jr. Blaney’s No. 21 Ford was stuck in the middle and appeared to get loose. As a result, Blaney got into the left rear quarter panel of Elliott, sending both drivers careening into the wall. After running as high as fourth, Blaney was relegated to a 35th-place finish and Elliott wound up 31st, 59 laps off the pace.

“Just got three-wide, had a bad corner there in [Turn] 2 and got us bottled up,” Elliott said. “… I guess Ryan [Blaney] just got loose and got us, but that is racing.”

“That restart was pretty hectic from the beginning with the 78 [Truex] getting loose and it kind of put everybody in a bad spot, and it wound up with us being in the middle of three-wide into three,” Blaney said. “It’s so hard to get into that corner all night with a car close to behind you and outside of you, and no one lifting either … We were both very fast tonight and it’s just a really unfortunate deal.”

Blaney entered the Bluegrass State as the last driver in the Chase, four points ahead of Jamie McMurray. He now finds himself 24 points behind McMurray for the final spot. Elliott, who has been nothing short of sensational in replacing Jeff Gordon, came to Kentucky with a 73-point cushion. The 2014 XFINITY Series champion now sits 53 points ahead of the cutoff.

Speaking of McMurray, the 2010 Daytona 500 winner came home seventh thanks to fuel strategy. The No. 1 Chevy was as high as second until McMurray reported a tire issue on Lap 192, and came in for an unscheduled pit stop. McMurray was as far back as 17th during the race’s final run before making the most of the Sunoco fuel in his tank. Thanks to a successful strategy play and a fast car, Jamie Mac now finds himself 10 points up on Trevor Bayne for the last Chase spot.

Perhaps the best fuel strategy play of all was utilized by Richard Childress Racing’s Ryan Newman. Knowing they likely didn’t have a car that could win on speed alone, crew chief Luke Lambert had his driver save fuel through the final run of the race. As the checkered flag flew, Newman found himself in third place, saving enough fuel to pick up his best finish of the season, extending his gap on the cutoff from 16 to 24 points.

As the Sprint Cup Series heads to Loudon, there are now seven drivers separated by just 51 points, including Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who remains the only winning driver from 2015 without a trip to Victory Lane in 2016.

 

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XFINITY

LEE: Daytona Finish Shows Consistent Inconsistency

For the third time in as many restrictor plate races in 2016, the NASCAR Xfinity Series had a controversial finish in Friday’s Subway Firecracker 250 at Daytona.

After taking the white flag, Aric Almirola led the field down the backstretch for the last time when all hell broke loose. David Ragan, subbing for Matt Tifft in the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, was turned sideways after contact with Jeff Green as the pair raced for fifth in the outside line.

The contact forced Ragan into the outside wall and collected several other cars, including Darrell Wallace Jr., Ryan Ellis and J.J. Yeley. With chaos erupting behind the leaders, NASCAR chose to not throw the caution flag, giving way to what looked like would be another thrilling side-by-side finish at Daytona.

However, as Justin Allgaier and Almirola raced in a dead heat out of Turn 4, NASCAR elected to display the yellow, freezing the field less than a mile from the finish line. Replays shown by NBC Sports made it too close to call for some, but after several minutes of review, NASCAR declared Almirola the winner.

If this feels familiar, it should. At Talladega, NASCAR had a similar situation when Brennan Poole took the checkered flag first, but Elliott Sadler was correctly ruled the winner after replay showed him in first place as the yellow flag waved due to a crash in the tri-oval.

Friday night’s finish was yet another example of NASCAR making things much harder than they need to be, inexplicably complicating the finish of another superspeedway race. In fact, all NASCAR needed to do was throw the caution as soon Ragan was sideways in front of oncoming traffic and there would be no controversy, and Almirola would still be celebrating in victory lane without a senseless replay.

Instead, they seemingly chose to wait it out, to see exactly how the crash was going to unfold, and if no one was injured, allow the leaders to race back to the finish. That’s fine until the what-if moment happens, as was the case when Ellis radioed to his team that he needed some medical assistance.

At that moment, NASCAR had no choice but to throw the caution to get help sent to Ellis as soon as possible. The finish left fans, media and drivers confused as they all waited for NASCAR to declare a winner. Following the race, Ellis’ mother tweeted that he had been suffering from dehydration.

Friday’s race had it all: three-wide racing, crashes, fuel strategy and a number of underdog drivers and teams near the front of the field in the closing laps. But it also had more inconsistency from NASCAR, which might be the only thing that’s consistent at Daytona.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Kyle Larson Penalized, Again

CONCORD, N.C. – After a post-race inspection penalty at Michigan, Kyle Larson and Chip Ganassi Racing have been docked 15 championship driver and owner points by NASCAR.

Following Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400, Larson’s No. 42 Target Chevrolet was found to be in violation of NASCAR sections 12-1; 20.17.3.1.2 for failing post-race laser inspection station measurements, resulting in a P3 penalty.

Interim crew chief Philip Surgen has been fined $25,000 as a result of the penalty. Full-time crew chief Chad Johnston, who was serving a one-race suspension for a lug nut penalty at Pocono, was not affected by the Michigan penalty. He remains on NASCAR probation through December 31.

Larson fell from 19th to 21st in Sprint Cup points, 38 points behind Ryan Blaney in 16th.

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News

Cole Custer Gets New Crew Chief

MOORESVILLE, N.C. – JR Motorsports announced Tuesday that Marcus Richmond will take over as crew chief for the No. 00 Haas Automation Chevrolet Silverado team driven by Cole Custer for the remainder of the 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season.

Richmond will fill the gap left by Joe Shear, Jr., who resigned from the organization earlier this month. He will begin his duties starting this weekend at Iowa Speedway. Dave McCarty, shop foreman for JRM, served as interim crew chief at Texas, where Custer finished 14th.

“Marcus is a well-known crew chief in the Truck Series garage, and we are delighted he has joined our team,” said Kelley Earnhardt Miller, general manager of JR Motorsports. “He brings a lot of experience and the kind of steady leadership that can take us to Victory Lane and into the inaugural Chase this season. Paired with Cole and the rest of the team, we are eager to see this new partnership begin at Iowa Speedway.”

In 2013, Richmond helped lead Ty Dillon to a runner-up finish in the truck series and has nine victories as a crew chief in NCWTS competition. Richmond’s most recent victory was earlier this season, when Johnny Sauter won at Daytona International Speedway for GMS Racing. In 2015 starts as crew chief, Richmond’s teams have recorded nine poles, 48 top-five finishes, and 94 top 10s.

“The main reason I came to this team is because they do what it takes to win races, and they have a driver that can win races,” said Richmond, who guided his teams to top-five points finishes in 2013-15. “I feel like this is a great opportunity to do that here at JR Motorsports, with Cole in the driver’s seat. We are going to have to evaluate where we are with everything and build on it as quickly as possible. With JRM’s knowledge and support from Gene Haas, maybe we can jump to where we need to be quickly. We want to have a good solid plan for the rest of the year.”

In 26 starts, Custer has two victories in truck series competition. He currently sits 14th in points with a season-best finish of fifth at Dover.

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Categories
XFINITY

GAS N’ GO: Kyle Busch’s School of Charm

BROOKLYN, Mich. – Daniel Suarez finally put his name on the list of first-time winners in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Saturday, passing teammate Kyle Busch coming to the white flag to win the Menards 250 at Michigan International Speedway.

Feels Like the First Time

Suarez experienced an up-and-down afternoon in the Irish Hills. During a round of pit stops, the driver of the No. 19 Arris Toyota was caught speeding on pit road, taking him from the lead to 25th at lap 29. By Lap 45, Suarez had driven all the way to ninth place, and appeared to have one of the fastest cars on track.

With 13 to go, Suarez made a three-wide pass of Paul Menard and Elliott Sadler to slide into the second position. From there, he began to cut into teammate Kyle Busch’s lead. With the pair racing off Turn 4 to take the white flag, the second-year Xfinity driver made his move, diving to the inside of Busch and taking the lead.

With the win, Suarez became the first Mexican-born driver to win any national level NASCAR race, and just the sixth foreign-born driver to win in the Xfinity Series. Saturday’s race was Suarez’s 48th Xfinity Series start and 67th start in one of NASCAR’s top three series.

Racing With a Heavy Heart

It was a bittersweet day for Joe Gibbs Racing. While Suarez celebrated the biggest day of his career, Erik Jones mourned the loss of his father. Dave Jones died Tuesday after a bout with cancer, which was revealed after Jones’ win at Bristol earlier this season.

Before the race, Erik replaced his name above the door of his No. 20 Toyota with his father’s name. Erik also penned an emotional letter to his father, which he tweeted just minutes before the start of Saturday’s race.

Jones came home in fourth place, an incredible effort given the circumstances he was facing.

Carpe Diem

In only his third Xfinity start of the season, Alex Bowman snapped Joe Gibbs Racing’s 10-race streak by earning the pole in the JR Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet Camaro. With sponsorship from Vannoy Construction, Bowman led 11 laps Saturday en route to a seventh-place finish.

Bowman was originally scheduled to make nine starts in the No. 88 for JRM this year. Through three races, the Tucson, Arizona native has made the most of his time in the car. At Dover, Bowman led 33 laps and finished third before a top ten at rain-shortened Pocono.

If Bowman’s performance continues to live up to the early standard, it will only be a matter of time before more sponsorship is found.

Say What?

Kyle Busch dominated Saturday’s race, leading 88 laps in the No. 18 NOS Energy Toyota. After the race, Busch showed a side of himself rarely seen after he comes up short by cracking a few jokes.

During his post-race interview with Fox Sports, Busch said “You never want to get beat, but it’s cool when you get beat fair and square.” Busch congratulated Suarez, who he called a graduate of the “Kyle Busch School of Charm.”

Busch was also asked about his team winning Friday night’s Camping World Truck Series race with 18-year-old William Byron, and if he was surprised his success. Busch’s reply? “No, look at their teacher.”

 

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Categories
XFINITY

RCR Names Lineup for Standalone XFINITY Races

Richard Childress Racing announced its driver lineup for the No. 2 Chevrolet Camaro in standalone NASCAR XFINITY Series races Wednesday.

Ben Kennedy will make his debut behind the wheel of the Rudd Chevrolet in the American Ethanol E15 250 Presented by Enogen at Iowa Speedway on June 19. Kennedy currently competes in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, where he has one top-10 finish in six starts this season. In three truck series starts at Iowa, Kennedy has one top-10 finish.

Sam Hornish Jr. will return to the XFINITY Series July 30 at Iowa Speedway, and is scheduled to start the No. 2 Chevrolet in the September 24 race at Kentucky Speedway. Hornish has three career wins, seven poles, and 32 top-five finishes, including a victory at Iowa in 2014.

Sprint Cup Series veteran A.J. Allmendinger will join RCR at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 13. Allmendinger last appeared in the series in 2013, when he made two starts for Team Penske, winning at Road America and Mid-Ohio.

Another Sprint Cup veteran, Michael McDowell, will pilot the No. 2 Rheem Chevrolet at Road America. Paul Menard won at Road America for RCR last season, McDowell has four starts at the Elkhart Lake, Wisc. road course, including one pole and a runner-up finish in 2012.

RCR has won the last two races at Road America with drivers Paul Menard and Brendan Gaughan.

“I’m looking forward to working with this talented group of drivers,” said Danny Stockman, crew chief for the No. 2 team. “It’s going to be great to work with Ben [Kennedy] in his XFINITY Series debut and also with all the veteran drivers. They’ll bring a lot to the table for us. I’m confident we’ll have a shot to win with all of these guys.”

“We’re working hard to put together a driver lineup that allows us to compete for the XFINITY Series owner’s championship,” said Mike Dillon, RCR’s vice president of competition. “With Ben, Sam, A.J. and Michael joining Austin [Dillon] and Paul [Menard] in the No. 2 Camaro seat, I’m confident we’ll be able to challenge for the title this season and be a threat to win in each of the races.”

Dillon and Menard will continue to share the seat of the No. 2 Chevrolet for the remainder of the 2016 season.