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Denny Hamlin knocks Kyle Larson off pole for Bristol Night Race

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson played a late game of King of the Mountain in Friday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series time trials at Bristol Motor Speedway.

After 38 drivers made qualifying runs, it was Hamlin who was left at the top of the peak.

Larson was the 34th driver to take to the track, and his impressive lap at 129.004 mph (14.874 seconds) put him on the provisional pole for Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Larson’s stay on the pinnacle, however, lasted less than a minute, as Hamlin followed with a lap at 129.330 mph (14.848 seconds) to secure his first Busch Pole Award of the season, his fourth at the .533-mile high-banked concrete short track and the 31st of his career.

Strapped in his car as he readied for his run, Hamlin was unaware that Larson had jumped to the top of the speed chart. Even when he came to the media center for his post-qualifying interview, Hamlin thought he had beaten Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. to earn the first pole position of the season for Toyota.

“It was Larson?” Hamlin asked. “I was wondering why he was giving me the finger when he went by. I thought it was Martin—even better.”

Based on practice, though, Hamlin was confident he could make a run at the top starting position.

“I was confident, as long as the crew chief (Chris Gabehart) did his job, and I did my job, we definitely had a chance,” Hamlin said. “I’m proud of this whole team for giving me such a great car. The guys are on it right now—it’s just unbelievable with what they’re doing with these race cars.

“I’m just trying to learn every week, doing everything I can to get better, and the results are showing it.”

Hamlin has three victories this season, his most since an equal number in 2016, and he comes to Bristol riding a wave of five straight top fives and four straight top-three finishes, including a win at Pocono.

Larson, on the other hand, hopes to break a winless streak of 69 races, dating to Sept. 9, 2017 at Richmond.

“I was just a little bit too tight to kind of roll through the center like I needed to and get to the gas just a little bit sooner,” Larson said of his qualifying run. “But, overall, I’m happy with how we qualified and the grip I had in my car. In practice, I was really loose. So hopefully we’ll have a good race tomorrow and try and get my first Bristol Cup win.”

Bristol is one of Larson’s favorite tracks, and he believes that the top groove will open up during the course of Saturday’s race, whereas the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Trucks on Thursday night seemed dedicated to the lower lanes.

“We got up there enough in practice, and honestly, it felt so far the same (as in previous races),” Larson said. “But you never know how it’s going to lay rubber down up there and things like that.”

Truex (128.995 mph) will start third, followed by Kurt Busch (128.813 mph). Aric Almirola claimed the fifth spot on the grid in the fastest Ford at 128.770 mph.

Among the four drivers fighting most closely for the final two spots in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, Ryan Newman will start 14th, Daniel Suarez 18th, Clint Bowyer 20th and Jimmie Johnson 30th. Newman and Bowyer currently occupy the last two provisional Playoff berths, with Suarez six points behind Bowyer in 16th and Johnson 12 points in arrears.

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Brett Moffitt wins at Bristol as tempers flare in action-filled race

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Top-seeded Brett Moffitt held off determined 17-year-old Chandler Smith after a restart with three laps left and took home the trophy in Thursday night’s UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

With the victory in the first event of the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoffs, Moffitt, the defending series champion, gained an automatic berth in the Round of 6, as other Playoff contenders either overcame adversity or succumbed to it.

“It was tough,” Moffitt said in Victory Lane. “Our (No. 24) Silverado was strong on long runs, but it was hard to get fired off. So it was really tough just getting the first couple of laps under our belt after a restart.

“There’s no more important win than right now for the season, getting into the Round of 6, so we’ll take this and move on with it. We’re playing with house money now. We still want to go get points and ultimately win races and get Playoff points to set ourselves up with a little safety net for the next round. But now we’ll just go and race to win, and the pressure’s off.”

In his third start in the Truck Series, Smith held his own to the inside of Moffitt for one lap after the final restart, but Moffitt cleared Smith’s No. 51 Toyota on lap 199 and pulled away to win by .743 seconds. Playoff driver Ross Chastain overcame a violation for an uncontrolled tire to run third, muscling his way through the field and drawing ire from competitors along the way.

Stewart Friesen recovered from a spin off the nose of Matt Crafton’s Toyota, as the two Playoff drivers raced in close quarters around the truck of Tyler Dippel. Regular-season champion Grant Enfinger, the only driver other than Moffitt and Chastain to lead laps, ran fifth.

Sheldon Creed, Crafton, Ben Rhodes, Todd Gilliland and Playoff driver Austin Hill completed the top 10, though the latter two lost considerable ground to the Playoff leaders.

After an action-filled race that produced 12 cautions for 73 laps, Chastain was unapologetic for the aggressive style that carried him to a third-place finish.

“We put ourselves in a hole there with that one pit stop,” Chastain said. “Yeah, I hate that, but the fastest truck didn’t win tonight. Congrats to Brett… But it’s one lane—it’s the old Bristol. They took the top (of the concrete track) and ground it without telling us, or they didn’t tell me.

“So it was one lane around the bottom. That’s what built this place. You come through this tunnel, and there’s talk about rattling cages, there’s helmets thrown. If we’re going to fill these places up, the CarShield Chevy’s going to be the one that adds to the excitement.”

After the race, several crew chiefs approached Chastain to express their displeasure.

“I think the crew chiefs come down here and puff their chests out—they’re old washed-up race car drivers,” Chastain said. “I love Marcus (Richmond) and Rudy (Fugle), but, my goodness, let your drivers come handle it. And one at a time, line ‘em up, and let’s race. And let’s handle it after, outside the race car.

“Obviously, I’m no stranger to this.”

Bad luck continued to follow Playoff driver Johnny Sauter who suffered hard contact from John Hunter Nemechek’s truck on Lap 75—after Sauter turned Nemechek. After a litany of subsequent incidents, Sauter drove his battered No. 13 Ford to an 11th-place finish and is clinging to the sixth spot in the standings by three points over Hill.

Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Tyler Ankrum fared worst of all. His No. 17 Toyota developed electric problems, relegating the 18-year-old to a 20th-place result, six laps down. Ankrum heads to the Aug. 25 race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park last in the Playoff standings and 13 points behind Sauter.

If the race had plenty of contact in the heat of battle, it also had a moment of comic relief. After a wreck on Lap 182 caused the 11th caution, a wrecker attempting to push Natalie Decker’s No. 54 Toyota spun the truck instead. Decker retired from the race in 25th place.

But Moffitt finished where he started—from the pole and in the Playoff lead. He now holds a 16-point lead over Chastain in second and a free pass to the next round of the Playoff

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Kevin Harvick closes out Michigan weekend with a win

Recovering from a punctured right front tire that cost him track position early in the race, Kevin Harvick passed Joey Logano on Lap 183 of 200 and cruised to a 1.595-second victory in Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

During a closing 48-lap green-flag run that began with a restart on Lap 153, Harvick charged from seventh to first, recording his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season, his third at the 2.0-mile track and the 47th of his career.

“It was a day of a little bit of adversity that we were able to overcome,” Harvick said. “We had a really fast car all weekend. Our car handled really well today, and with the multiple lanes (thanks in part to the application of traction compound in the high grooves), we were able to run all three lanes pretty well and make our way through traffic.

“They (the team) put a really fast race car on the track, and we were able to capitalize on it, so that’s always fun.”

When Harvick crossed the finish line, leading his 22nd lap of the afternoon, Denny Hamlin was running second after Logano pitted for a splash of fuel on Lap 197. Kyle Larson ran third, followed by Martin Truex Jr. and Daniel Suarez, who re-entered the Playoff picture when two drivers on the bubble ahead of him — Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer — had disastrous days in the Irish Hills.

Thirty-one laps into the race, Harvick steered his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford onto pit road with a flat right-front tire. But with the first 60-lap stage running green from start to finish, Harvick was able to drive up to sixth by the end of the stage.

Martin Truex Jr. won Stage 1 after starting from the rear because of two pre-race inspection failures, but his No. 19 Toyota wasn’t as strong in traffic late in the race than it had been early on. Kyle Busch won Stage 2, but his car, like Truex’s, wasn’t as effective in traffic after pit stops at the end of the stage scrambled the running order.

Likewise, Hamlin’s car was best in the heat of the day on a hot, slick track, but the speed in Harvick’s car prevailed as the asphalt cooled down.

“Well, it seemed like we generally had the best-handling car when it was really hot and slick, but as the day went on and the track cooled off, the guys that had built more speed into their car, it kind of handicapped it for them. So, we were able to hang on to those Fords there at the end, and then just got — the 4 (Harvick) was trying to save fuel I’m guessing there, the 2 (pole winner Brad Keselowski) and the 22 (Logano) peeled off.

“Nothing I could really do just didn’t have enough speed. The 4 was about a half-second faster than us in qualifying, and when we were holding it wide open there at the end, just couldn’t overcome it.”

Kyle Busch ran sixth, and Ryan Preece came home seventh, posting his first career top 10 in his 28th series start. The Hendrick Motorsports trio of William Byron, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman completed the top 10.

Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson wasn’t as fortunate. On Lap 15, his No. 48 Chevrolet slapped the outside wall, severely damaging the right side of the car. Johnson finished 34th, eight laps down.

Bowyer’s misfortune came on Lap 137, after contact with the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford of Paul Menard. Bowyer’s car slammed into the Turn 3 wall, and efforts to repair the car proved futile. Bowyer retired from the race in 37th place.

Johnson dropped two places to 18th in the series standings, 12 points behind Bowyer and 12th-place finisher Ryan Newman, tied for the last Playoff-eligible position. Suarez moved past Johnson to 17th in the standings and trails Newman and Bowyer by four points with three races left before the cutoff at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

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Austin Cindric collects his second consecutive Xfinity career win at Mid-Ohio

LEXINGTON, Ohio: Austin Cindric claimed his second NASCAR Xfinity Series victory in as many weeks – earning an impressive 3.78-second win over Christopher Bell and former Monster Energy NASCAR Cup driver A.J. Allmendinger Saturday afternoon at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio.

The 20-year-old Cindric had just celebrated his career first win last week at the iconic Watkins Glen International road course and with a huge smile, effusively wondered what may be next for his No. 22 Team Penske Ford as the series heads to the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway next week. Should he win at Bristol he would become the first driver in NASCAR Xfinity Series history to earn his first three wins in consecutive races.

“It feels so good,” a smiling Cindric said after climbing out of his Ford Mustang. “These guys are the best and thanks for bringing me a great car again this year. And hell of a job by Christopher Bell keeping me honest all day.

“It feels good, two in row and going for three at Bristol. I’ll probably go crazy if I win there. Should be a lot of fun. This is great momentum for our group.”

Cindric is the seventh different winner in seven Xfinity Series races at the 2.258-mile, 13 Turn Mid-Ohio course and his day included impressive feats of both maintaining the lead and high pursuit to reclaim it between pit strategies. He won the pole position by a full three-tenths of a second and held “favorite” status before the green flag even dropped

Much of the race was spent negotiating re-starts and high speed turns with Bell on his bumper or at his door – as well as fending off another road racing star Jack Hawksworth, who actually won in class in an International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) race at Mid-Ohio already this year and made his series debut in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota.

Hawksworth started from the outside pole and challenged the frontrunners for much of the race, eventually finishing 15th and leading five laps. He actually won the second stage, which finished under caution – one of six yellow flags for 17 laps on the afternoon.

”I enjoyed it, it was a lot of fun,” Hawksworth said after the race. “I was having a lot of fun out there. I had a great time and would like to come back.”

Cindric led 46 of the 75 laps and Bell, the driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, was the only other driver in double digits out front. Bell is second in the championship standings to Tyler Reddick, who finished fourth Saturday. And after the race, the short track superstar conceded he is getting better on the road courses. Bell was second last week to Cindric as well.

“I don’t know about that, but I do know we’re going to Bristol next week and I can’t wait,” he said smiling about the road course prowess he’s shown with the back-to-back runner-up finishes.

“The last two weeks have been really great for us points-wise and road racing isn’t my strong suit.”

Reddick, Bell and Cole Custer – who finished eighth Saturday after an eventful day on track – combined to win 13 of the first 18 Xfinity Series races of the season. With Bell’s second straight runner-up showing and Reddick’s fourth place finish, the defending series champion Reddick maintains a 24-point championship lead on Bell heading to Bristol next week. Cindric joins this threesome as the only Xfinity drivers with multiple wins in 2019.

Chase Briscoe, defending race winner Justin Allgaier and rookie Noah Gragson persevered for a good day as well. Briscoe won Stage 1 and finished seventh. Allgaier, the defending race winner, rallied to a sixth-place finish after a couple of off-track excursions. And the rookie Gragson, impressed with a fifth-place finish after also being involved in some tight, full contact racing as well.

The series races next Friday night at Bristol Motor Speedway in the Food City 300. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup star Kyle Larson won the Xfinity race last year.

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Austin Hill’s win at Michigan helps Matt Crafton clinch Playoff spot

BROOKLYN, Mich. – Austin Hill’s victory in Saturday’s Corrigan Oil 200 at Michigan International Speedway provided sweet relief for two-time NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series champion Matt Crafton.

With Hill’s second victory of the season, Crafton has a chance to run for a third title, having cliched the final spot in the series Playoffs on points.

The outcome—and Crafton’s fate—weren’t decided until the final moments of a race that went five laps beyond its scheduled distance of 100 laps. For two nail-biting laps of overtime, Sheldon Creed chased Hill, edging ever closer over the last two miles.

But Hill had the advantage off the final corner and beat Creed to the finish line by .125 seconds, denying Creed the Playoff spot that went to Crafton. A victory by Creed would have knocked the two-time champion out of the postseason.

“It’s huge,” said Hill, who rebounded from a last-place finish in the previous race at Eldora Speedway. “We’ve had a struggle these last four of five races. We just keep having issues and just can’t finish these races.”

Hill’s winning No. 16 Toyota was brand new, unveiled for this race—appropriately since Hill was racing at Michigan for the first time in the series.

“When we unloaded, we had to work out some bugs in it, but we got it driving really good,” said Hill, who also won the season opener at Daytona. “I was really happy with the speed of it. Man, this race was crazy.”

A nine-car wreck moments after a restart with four laps left in regulation set up the overtime. Tyler Ankrum, the leader at the time, spun his tires, and a well-intentioned push Crafton turned him around and started the melee. The wreck collected Playoff hopeful Todd Gilliland, who had driven up to eighth after pitting for tires on Lap 88.

Needing a victory to qualify for the postseason, Gilliland had led 14 laps to that point, but the wreck ended his hopes.

Similarly, Ben Rhodes saw his Playoff chances fall apart when he had to pit under green with a cut tire with 21 laps left. Rhodes had led 15 laps before his ill fortune. He and Gilliland finished 23rd and 24th respectively.

Crafton had some nervous moments before he clinched his Playoff berth. After a restart on Lap 70, three-drivers on win-or-bust missions—Gilliland, Rhodes and Harrison Burton—were running first through third.

“When all three, the 18 (Burton), the 4 (Gilliland) and the 99 (Rhodes)… when all those guys are 1-2-3 at one point, I’m like, ‘I better get up on the saddle and dig,’” Crafton said. “I was definitely doing everything I could to shuffle them out.”

Tyler Dippel finished a career-best third, followed by Brett Moffit and Austin Wayne Self. Bayley Currey, Grant Enfinger, Stewart Friesen, Ray Ciccarelli and Crafton completed the top 10.

Enfinger clinched a spot in the Playoffs when he took the green flag. By the end of the first stage, he had locked up the regular-season title—and accompanying 15 Playoff points—with a sixth-place finish.

Crafton, the only driver with a remote chance to catch Enfinger for the regular-season championship, had to start from the rear of the field because of an engine change. The driver of the No. 88 ThorSport Racing Ford climbed to 10th by the end of the first stage, but by then, his chances of unseating his teammate were gone.

Polesitter Ross Chastain won Stage 1 wire-to-wire, but a three-truck accident on pit road cost him dearly. While exiting his stall under caution on Lap 23, Johnny Sauter collided with the No. 9 Chevrolet of Codie Rohrbaugh, knocking Rohrbaugh into the right side of Chastain’s Chevrolet.

Chastain, Sauter and Rohrbaugh all spent extra time on pit road dealing with the damage, but Chastain was the primary victim, his race over.

“It was gut-wrenching, for sure,” Chastain said after leaving the infield care center. “It was a shame, but that’s part of racing. They can’t all be great days… It’s tough to lose a race with a truck like we had today.”

Eight drivers—Chastain, Hill, Ankrum, Sauter, Enfinger, Moffitt, Friesen and Crafton—will start their potential title runs on Thursday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

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Late qualifier Brad Keselowski storms to Michigan pole

BROOKLYN, Mich. – The last qualifier in Friday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series time trials at Michigan International Speedway will be first to the green flag on Sunday afternoon.

The final driver to make an attempt, after shadows started to shroud the track, Brad Keselowski covered the 2.0-mile distance in his No. 2 Team Penske Ford in 37.801 seconds (190.471 mph) to knock Kevin Harvick off the provisional pole for Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Harvick had turned a lap in 37.877 seconds (190.089 mph) before Keselowski made it an all-Ford front row with his blistering circuit. The Busch Pole Award is Keselowski’s second of the season, his second at Michigan and the 16th of his career.

Keselowski grew up in Rochester Hills, Mich., and the pole is the first step toward winning for the first time at his home track.

“The Discount Tire Ford Mustang has been incredible since we unloaded,” Keselowski said. “We were really fast in practice, and then everybody started picking up a bunch toward the end of qualifying, and I got a little nervous.

“But (crew chief) Paul Wolfe and the team did a great job. We picked up just enough to get our second pole here. Hopefully, we can convert it into a win.”

To do so, Keselowski will have to be fast in race trim as well. With Michigan being the last non-impound event for the higher-downforce, lower-horsepower competition package introduced this season, crew chiefs have considerably more latitude in preparing the cars specifically for qualifying and then making wholesale changes for the race.

“There’s a lot you can do to optimize the car for today (in qualifying) that maybe won’t carry over to Sunday,” Keselowski said. “But still, it’s good to be starting first, and I think we’ve got a lot of knobs to get her tuned in for the race.”

Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron (189.703 mph) and Alex Bowman (189.509 mph) claimed the third and fourth starting spots, respectively. Clint Bowyer and Chase Elliott, last Sunday’s winner at Watkins Glen, will occupy the fifth and sixth positions on the grid.

Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Paul Menard and Jimmie Johnson completed the top 10 in time trials. Denny Hamlin was 14th in the fastest Toyota with a lap at 188.093 mph.

Harvick was pleased with his second-place qualifying effort.

“It was a good day for our Mobil 1 Ford Mustang,” he said. “Track position is really important everywhere we go. Coming to Michigan, it is of the utmost importance, so this is a really good start to the weekend for us.”

Bowyer is 15th in the standings, 12 points ahead of Johnson and Ryan Newman, who are currently tied for the last available spot in the Cup Series Playoffs. Newman qualified 20th, 10 positions behind Johnson.

Richard Childress Racing teammates Austin Dillon and Daniel Hemric posted the seventh and 11th fastest laps in qualifying, but their times were disallowed post-inspection because the cars were not running fully functioning alternators, as prescribed by NASCAR rules.

Dillon and Hemric will start from the rear of the field on provisionals.

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Chase Elliott goes back-to-back at Watkins Glen

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – It was a striking case of déjà vu.

In a replay of last year’s GoBowling at the Glen, Martin Truex Jr. chased pole winner Chase Elliott lap after lap around the 2.45-mile road course, using everything in his arsenal to try to deprive Elliott of his second straight victory at the track.

Nothing worked for Truex, who crossed the finish line in the wake of the winning No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, .454 seconds in arrears.

Elliott logged his second victory of the season, his second at The Glen and the fifth of his career, becoming the first Chevrolet driver to win multiple races this season.

“This is wild,” exulted Elliott, who outran Truex last year at WGI to pick up his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory. “Thank you, guys, that was pretty awesome. I’ve never been so far from home and thought I was at my house. Thank you. What a day!

“We had such a bad fast Camaro, and we stayed mistake-free. Martin was a little quicker those last two runs, but track position was king, and I didn’t mess up in (Turn) 1 this time, so that was good.”

In fact, nothing went wrong for Elliott until he ran out of fuel after his celebratory post-race burnout—same as last year.

“Sorry I ran out of gas again,” Elliott said.

Elliott swept the first and second stages and led 81 of the 90 laps, surrendering the top spot only during pit stop cycles. Truex, who led one lap by pitting one circuit later than Elliott on Lap 60, got tantalizingly close to Elliott’s rear bumper at several points during the final 25-lap green-flag run, but the 2017 series champion couldn’t mount a serious threat to overtake the winner.

“I tried to do all I could,” Truex said. “Chase did an excellent job, just not making mistakes, and really all I could do was get to two car lengths—one-and-a-half at the closest in braking—and just try to force a mistake. But he hit his marks. His car was really fast in the key areas that you need to be, leaving a few of the key corners.

“I just couldn’t get a run on him, and we just were kind of stuck there. Unfortunate, but our Bass Pro Camry was really, really fast today. We passed quite a few cars there that were fast and finished up front, just couldn’t pass that last one.”

Denny Hamlin ran a consistent-if-distant third, 11.229 seconds behind Elliott at the finish. Erik Jones started 14th and came home fourth, posting his fourth straight top-five result and solidifying his position in the standings with four races left before the cutoff for the Playoffs. Jones is 13th, 54 points to the good.

Ryan Blaney ran fifth on Sunday, followed by Matt DiBenedetto, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch. Kyle Busch finished 11th, recovering from a pit road speeding penalty and on-track dust-ups with front-row starter William Byron (21st on Sunday) and Bubba Wallace (28th).

Scoring points in both the first and second stages, Jimmie Johnson finished 19th in the debut of new crew chief Cliff Daniels and made up 12 points on Ryan Newman, who ran 25th after a flat tire forced an unscheduled pit stop, and a subsequent loose wheel compounded the problem. Newman and Johnson head for next Sunday’s race at Michigan tied for 16th, the last Playoff-eligible position.

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Austin Cindric gets first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory in duel at The Glen

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Opportunity knocked for Austin Cindric after a mechanical failure knocked Kyle Busch out of Saturday’s Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International.

And after Cindric and road course ace AJ Allmendinger traded knocks on the final two laps of the NASCAR Xfinity Series race, Cindric—on fresher tires—emerged the winner for the first time in his career.

Following post-race inspection, Allmendinger’s No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet was disqualified for a rear height violation, dropping Allmendinger to last place in the running order. But fans left the track with the memory of an intense battle over the closing laps.

When NASCAR called the sixth caution on Lap 69 of 82, Brian Wilson, crew chief on Cindric’s No. 22 Team Penske Ford, made a courageous call that later proved decisive. Wilson brought Cindric from the lead to pit road for fresh tires, dropping the 20-year-old driver to ninth in the running order for a restart on Lap 73.

An immediate caution for a pile-up in Turn 1 left Cindric in sixth for the next restart on Lap 76. When Christopher Bell was knocked sideways in Turn 2, and Justin Allgaier and Tyler Reddick lost momentum while fighting for the second spot, Cindric charged around the outside into second place and chased Allmendinger.

It took three laps for Cindric to trim Allmendinger’s advantage from 1.714 seconds to .521 seconds, and from that point, the game was on. On Lap 81, Cindric nudged Allmendinger up the track in the carousel and took the lead. Allmendinger returned the favor approaching Turn 7 and regained the top spot as Cindric was forced wide.

But Allmendinger entered Turn 7 too wide and Cindric drove back underneath to lead Lap 81. On the final circuit, he pulled away to win by 1.168 seconds and clinched a spot in the Xfinity Series Playoffs.

Cindric and Wilson had discussed the possibility of a late pit stop before the race.

“I’ve been on the other side of it,” Cindric said. “(Bell) had been pretty good all day, so it was going to be hard to hold him off depending on which lane he had on the restart.”

The only thing that went wrong was Cindric’s celebratory burnout. But it was helpful that pole winner Kyle Busch had critical issues during the race itself.

“I was kind of bummed,” Cindric said. “I broke the clutch out of it trying to do a burnout, so my guys are going to have to do a little extra work and I’ll have to buy them an even bigger dinner. We talked before the weekend, and we knew something would have to go wrong with (Kyle Busch), but I’m so blessed to be able to be here.”

After winning the first stage and pitting thereafter, Busch had just passed Ryan Blaney for the lead entering the inner loop when the upper control arm on the left front of his No. 18 Toyota broke. Busch retired from the race and opened the door for Cindric.

“As soon as KB went out, everybody’s eyes opened up, and it was like, ‘OK, here we go,’” Allmendinger said. “When you take tires like that, it’s all about getting lucky. If you get a restart where you get by a chunk of cars, it makes that strategy work—and he did it.

“Congrats to Austin. He went in there and nudged me, and that was fair. I nudged him—you race how you get raced—but that’s what racing’s all about. He deserved it. He was on it the whole race.”

With the Allmendinger disqualification, Bell inherited the runner-up spot, followed by Allgaier, who traded hard knocks with Ross Chastain, eliminating Chastain from the race after hard contact with the barrier in the carousel. Blaney and Reddick ran fourth and fifth.

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Stewart Friesen gets his first Truck win at Eldora Speedway

ROSSBURG, Ohio – First at last.

Canadian Stewart Friesen held off Sheldon Creed by .728-seconds in the Eldora Dirt Derby at Eldora Speedway to earn his first career NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series victory Thursday night.

It was a typical Eldora night of close racing, hot tempers, and high drama on the Rossburg, Ohio half-miler. Friesen, the driver of the No. 52 Halmar Friesen Racing Chevrolet took the lead on Lap 95 of the 150-lap race and held off the field despite multiple caution periods and restarts – before prevailing in a two-lap shootout to the checkered flag.

Championship points leader Grant Enfinger finished third, followed by Mike Marlar and Todd Gilliland. Defending Eldora winner Chase Briscoe, who led a race best 94 laps, finished seventh. Briscoe and Friesen were the only two race leaders.

“Oh man, thank you to all the race fans that stuck with us,” Friesen said in Victory Lane. “Today, this is the day. This is the week. Thanks to everybody. This is meant to be. We needed to get it done on the dirt. Thanks to everyone. What a special event.”

The race certainly had its share of excitement.

Briscoe, last week’s NASCAR Xfinity Series winner at Iowa, won both the first and second stages and was caught up in multiple incidents on the night. However, he managed to keep his truck racing to take a hard-earned top-10 finish.

For many of the usual frontrunners, the unique Eldora challenge presented new obstacles. It was the dirt debut for several fulltime drivers, including three-race winner Ross Chastain, who ran impressively among the top five early in the race, spun out on his own after the Stage 2 restart but rallied to a 12th-place finish.

Sunoco Rookie Harrison Burton, who was making his Eldora debut, dealt with over-heating during the brief break following the opening stage. He was running eighth when he spun and brought out the fourth caution flag of the night and then was collected in another multi-truck accident. He eventually had to retire his No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota and suffer a 31st-place finish in the 32-truck field.

As for Friesen, who had been a symbol of “coming so close” to victory, this was finally his career highlight night. He has six runner-up finishes in the last three seasons – including two earlier this year. A last place finish last weekend at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway had really put him in championship peril – dropping him to last among the current eight eligible drivers. Instead, with Thursday’s win, he has an automatic berth to contend for the title.

The series moves to Michigan International Speedway for the regular-season finale next Saturday.

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Denny Hamlin leads 1-2-3 Pocono finish for Joe Gibbs Racing

Thanks to a fast No. 11 Toyota, a feel for fuel economy and a first-ever application of traction compound to the asphalt at Pocono Raceway, Denny Hamlin rediscovered the magic at the Tricky Triangle that marked his spectacular debut in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2006.

Leading a 1-2-3 finish by Joe Gibbs Racing drivers—none of whom, surprisingly, was Kyle Busch—Hamlin passed teammate and race runner-up Erik Jones on Lap 144 and saved enough fuel to last through an overtime that carried the event three laps beyond its scheduled distance of 160 circuits.

Hamlin won for the fifth time at the 2.5-mile triangular track after a nine-year absence from Victory Lane. The victory was Hamlin’s third of the season and the 34th of his career.

After losing a last-lap battle to Kevin Harvick last Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Hamlin made what turned out to be the winning pass on the outside of turn 3, where had the PJ1 traction compound had been applied.

“You just want to know that you’re a race winner,” said Hamlin, who turned heads in his 2006 rookie season with two wins from the pole at Pocono. “You just want to know that you can contend for wins. Yeah, you’re looking for momentum, but you’re just looking for wins week-in and week-out.

“We really fought for it last week and came up short, so it feels really good to kind of redeem ourselves this week and have such a strong car. Once we got behind there, we were able to make up positions on the 19 (third-place finisher Martin Truex Jr.) and 20 (Jones).”

Hamlin last pitted for fuel under caution on Lap 115, after Ryan Preece clobbered the Turn 1 wall to bring out the fifth of seven yellows. All three of the JGR cars were saving gas during the final run.

“I was in fuel-save mode and still trying to get around those guys,” said Hamlin, who was running third behind his teammates after a restart on Lap 119. “When I got around them, I really went into conservation mode instead of stretching the lead out there.”

Hamlin passed Truex in traffic on Lap 142 to secure second place. Two laps later, he surged past Jones into the top spot.

“I got the opportunity on the outside of Turn 3,” Hamlin said. “Thank Pocono for the PJ1. Obviously, it could be hedged a little bit lower, but they at least gave us a second to race in today that we haven’t had before.”

Jones notched his runner-up finish after consecutive third-place runs at Kentucky and New Hampshire.

“Honestly, we started the race so far off today, I wasn’t sure how we were going to run,” said Jones, who moved up one position in the series standings to 13th and increased his cushion over 17th-place Jimmie Johnson to 39 points with five races left in the regular season. “We were able to turn it around halfway, get back in contention.

“There at the end, I wasn’t sure how it was all going to play out. It was nice to get some good restarts. Martin gave me a great push at the end (on the overtime restart after a wreck involving Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, Michael McDowell and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. sent the race to extra laps). We were there for a second, then the top got rolling. I couldn’t really do anything. Good to get another top-three run. We’ve just got to break through. Once we get that first (win), I think we can click a few off here.”

William Byron finished fourth after starting 31st because his qualifying time was disallowed for a post-qualifying inspection failure. Kyle Larson ran fifth after starting from the rear in a backup car, the result of a wreck in opening practice.

Kevin Harvick, Daniel Hemric, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney completed the top 10. Harvick led a race-high 62 laps, and Busch was out front for 56, but inopportune cautions spoiled their respective race strategies and left them fighting through traffic to get the results they did.

Busch won the race’s first stage, and Johnson picked up his second career stage win in the second before finishing 15th.