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Larson on Allmendinger: ‘Flat Out Stupid’

Kyle Larson had  a promising day going during the Cheez-It 335 at Watkins Glen – till the final corner on the last lap.

He started second and was poised for a solid finish until disaster struck.  Larson’s potential top five finish was ruined in a matter of seconds after A.J. Allmendinger spun him out coming into turn 7.  Rather than finishing fourth, Larson finished 29th. 

“We were about a 10th place car, and we were going to get a top five day out it,” Larson said. “We were running sixth coming to turn 7; the No. 47 was behind me. He is always aggressive. I figured he would be smart. Obviously, the No. 78 (Martin Truex Jr) was spinning in front of us. That is a free spot for both of us, and he just dumped me.”       

Allmendinger was not pleased with himself after the race, apologizing to Larson,  saying he did not mean to turn him on purpose.    

“The No. 78 started to spin, and Kyle and I were racing for fifth there,” he said. “He defended on the inside, which he should have. And I  tried to cut under him off of the last corner, and No. 78 was coming back across the race track. I was under him. He turned. And I just clipped him.”

The apology didn’t mean anything to Larson, who made it clear that payback would be coming.

“He wrecked me earlier in the year at Vegas,” Larson said. “He has ran me hard, but we always race pretty well, but today was flat out stupid. It just sucks they are going to have start building some more race cars because he has got a few coming.”

Following his first finish outside the top-20 since Kansas, Larson is 16th in the NASCAR Chase for the Championship Sprint Cup Series standings, only eight points ahead of Trevor Bayne for the last spot. It’s worth noting if Chris Buescher crack the top-30 in points, Larson will drop outside of the Chase to 17th due to Buescher having a win this year. Notably, the Chip Ganassi team lost 25 points because of the spin.  

Despite Sunday’s disappointment, the No. 42 team should not hit the panic button just yet as with only four races to go before the Chase starts it is still possible for the team to make it in on points. But if he could win, it’d be a blessing as it’d take the pressure off with him being locked in.

Larson is still searching for his first win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and could get it in the next two races  Bristol and Michigan. His best finish at Bristol is seventh, and his best finish at Michigan came back in June when he finished third.

Emily Spink is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist.

EMAIL EMILY AT emily.spink@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Milestone Weekend Ahead for Gordon

Jeff Gordon will make his 800th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start, a number that began all the way back in 1992 when he made his first career start at Atlanta.

Gordon retired at the end of last season, nearly winning the championship, but was called on by Rick Hendrick a few weeks ago to fill in driving duties for Dale Earnhardt Jr., as he was not cleared to race due to lingering concussion-like symptoms.

This Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International will mark Gordon’s third week filling in for the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Before his substitution role this year, his previous 797 starts all came in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, now piloted by a rookie, Chase Elliott.

“I’m looking at this as a temporary thing,” Gordon said. “I’m more excited right now about helping everybody find out where we can be better and how we can be more competitive, more so than driving the racecar. But being in the car helps me do a better job with that.”

Hendrick Motorsports is in a drought, having not won a race since March, so the organization as a whole is looking to end the streak this weekend.

Gordon has found much success at Watkins Glen, and road courses in general throughout his career. He has four wins at Watkins Glen, one short of Tony Stewart’s track record, and nine road course victories overall.

“A big focus will be to make sure we don’t have any brake failures,” he said. “I have concerns with the aero package having less downforce and less drag. On a new surface like Watkins Glen, you’re going to have to drive into the corners much deeper and use a lot more brake. We’ve already seen brake temps be an issue at some of the tracks this year,” he told MRN.com.

Among all active drivers, Gordon has the most career starts, and he sits ninth on the all-time list.

Gordon will also have a commemorative sticker adorning the No. 88, reading “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much,” a quote from Helen Keller.

Gordon plans to drive at Bristol on Aug. 20, but no further plans have been announced for the four-time champion.

Shane Carlson is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL SHANE AT shane.carlson@popularspeed.com
TWITTER: @ShaneCarlson4

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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TRUEX: “This is Where I Want to Be”

Martin Truex Jr. has found a home to his liking at Furniture Row Racing, as he signed a two-year contract extension set to take effect next season.

The Mayetta, N.J. native finished a career-best fourth in the standings last season and is coming off of the best season of his career.

“I am pleased that we are going to continue our momentum from this season,” Truex stated. “This is where I want to be, driving the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota. We’ve come a long way in a short period of time. There are many reasons to feel excited and optimistic about the future of our racing program starting with the commitment from our team owner Barney Visser, the support from Toyota, the technical alliance from Joe Gibbs Racing and the Bass Pro Shops sponsorship. We definitely have the resources and talent to go after victories and championships.”

Bass Pro Shops has also upped their primary sponsorship role, going from 12 races in 2016 to 16 races in the upcoming two seasons.

FRR President Joe Garrone said in a prepared statement on Thursday evening, “The signing of Martin Truex Jr. to a new contract and Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats adding more races to its primary sponsorship package are signs of strength and confidence for the future of Furniture Row Racing.”

Truex, a 13-year veteran on the Sprint Cup circuit has a longstanding history with Bass Pro Shops and Tracker Boats. They were the primary sponsor for Truex’s first three seasons of Cup racing when he raced for Dale Earnhardt, Inc., as well as the  main sponsorship for his two XFINITY Series titles in 2004 and 2005.

The driver of the No. 78 has come into his own at FRR the last two seasons, despite heaps of plain bad racing luck.

“Martin has proved over and over that he is one of the blue-chip drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and we are elated that he will continue to drive our No. 78 Toyota,” Garrone said.

2016 marks Truex’s third season as the driver of the Denver-based race team after coming over from Michael Waltrip Racing. To date, Truex has two wins, 12 top fives, and 36 top 10s since joining FRR.

After battling for the championship last season in Miami, Truex again has his sights set on the trophy, but there have been many changes since then in the No. 78 camp.

FRR switched manufacturers from Chevrolet to Toyota in the offseason, aligning with Joe Gibbs Racing.

With his win at Charlotte in the Coke 600, Truex has locked himself into this season’s Chase for the Sprint Cup. Along with the one win, he has three top fives, nine top 10s, three poles and he has also led the most laps, with 1,005.

Truex currently finds himself eighth in the standings heading into this weekend’s race at Watkins Glen International, where he owns five top 10s to his credit.

Shane Carlson is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL SHANE AT shane.carlson@popularspeed.com
TWITTER: @ShaneCarlson4

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Larson Heats Up In Indy

It was a good week to be Kyle Larson.

On Wednesday, Larson took home a win at Eldora in the Camping World Truck Series, then contended for the win in the XFINITY Series on Saturday and finished fourth. Then on Sunday, the 23-year-old ended up fifth in the Sprint Cup Series race.

Entering Sunday, Larson needed a solid day as he was coming off a stretch of two races with finishes outside the top 15. The No.42 spent the majority of the event inside the top 10 and avoided the late race incidents.

“I don’t know that I was expecting much more than a top five,” Larson said. “I didn’t know we’d have that speed in our car. And we were probably a fifth- or seventh-place car. But I was able to get some good restarts there at the end. It was just a solid day for the whole Target team. The Energizer Chevy was good from the start, which helps. We qualified good for once, and it was just a solid weekend.”

The fifth-place finish serves as a majoring stepping stone for both Larson and Chip Ganassi Racing as a whole. Larson has not only erased a 25-point gap to the Chase cutoff, but currently qualifies for the Chase with a 10-point advantage over Kasey Kahne. So for the time being, CGR has both Larson and Jamie McMurray in the Chase.

With just six races remaining to the cutoff, a story to watch will be whether the Ganassi teammates end up making the Chase. Larson and McMurray have five top 10s each in 2016. However, in two full-time seasons, Larson has yet to make the Chase. Perhaps this will be his year.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Dirt Derby to Feature Schrader, Larson

On Wednesday, the most-anticipated Truck Series race of the season will feature two drivers not regularly on the Truck circuit. Ken Schrader and Kyle Larson will both field entries in the Aspen Dental Eldora Dirt Derby from Eldora Speedway, now in its fourth year.

Schrader will wheel the No. 71 Toyota Tundra entry for Contreras Motorsports with sponsorship from Hunt Brothers Pizza for his fourth start in the lone dirt race on the schedule, an event where he’s had moderate success.

He has qualified inside the top 10 in his three previous starts, including a pole in 2013’s inaugural race at Eldora. Schrader has one top five, which came in 2014, but he is still chasing the elusive win in one of racing’s crown jewels.

“I believe we have a great combination of team and sponsor, and I am looking forward to seeing what we can make happen,” Schrader posted on his website. “This event is high-energy, from the trucks on the track to the fans in the grandstands – truly a midsummer classic.”

He has reason to be optimistic: along with earning a pole at Eldora in the Trucks, Schrader also owns the record for the fastest truck lap at Eldora – 19.709 seconds – which came back in 2013. As for what he has been doing outside of NASCAR this year, he has 20 top fives, along with nine runner-up finishes and a victory in his Modified.

The aforementioned Larson is set to make his third start at Eldora in the Truck Series, and second start for 2016 driving the No. 24 DC Solar GMS Chevrolet Silverado.

Larson comes from a dirt background, and he’s no stranger to Rossburg, Ohio’s Eldora Speedway. In 2011, Larson became just the second driver in history to win all three races in one night of the Four Crown Nationals, one of Eldora’s premier events.

In his two Truck starts at The Big E, he has had good runs. He finished second in 2013, but a late crash battling for the win in 2014 relegated him to 26th place. He’s hoping to take home another Eldora trophy Wednesday, this time in the form of a Golden Shovel.

“It’s a cool, historic racetrack with very prestigious races going on there … If I could win a Truck race there it would be pretty special,” he told NASCAR.com. “GMS is a really good team, they have really great trucks, great people there.”

The Aspen Dental Eldora Dirt Derby is scheduled for Wednesday, July 20th at 9 p.m. ET. (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM)

Shane Carlson is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL SHANE AT shane.carlson@popularspeed.com
TWITTER: @ShaneCarlson4

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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A Step In the Right Direction

Is history repeating itself for Richard Childress?

Despite not yet winning a race in 2016, the organization has been showing improvements among its Sprint Cup counterparts. Last Saturday’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway was another step in the right direction for the team.

Thanks to a successful fuel mileage gamble by crew chief Luke Lambert, Ryan Newman scored his first top-five finish of the season at Kentucky. Two years ago, Newman came up just one position short of winning the championship. Coincidentally, Newman also scored his first top five of that season at Kentucky. While a fuel-mileage-driven third place may not seem like a big deal, it was a much-needed “small victory” for the 2008 Daytona 500 champion and the No. 31 team.

 All three RCR cars showcased a solid night for most of the race. At several points during the race, the organization’s three cars were all running in the top 10. At several points during the race, including the final green-flag run of the night, all three cars were in the top 10 before late stops cost Austin Dillon and Paul Menard chances at deserving finishes.

After his best finish of the season, the driver of the No. 31 CAT Chevrolet talked about what has changed lately in the Richard Childress Racing camp.

“We have definitely been building and making improvements. We started the season off decent but not where we wanted to be or where we thought we should’ve been.” Newman stated.  “I think the cars and the engines are getting better. We have been more competitive.” 

While the team has been making some improvements and becoming more competitive, Newman acknowledges they’ve still got plenty of room to improve.

“We’ve still got some more work to do. We’re not leading a bunch of laps, or leading the most laps in a given race and talking about how we didn’t win. We’re talking about how we can finish in the top five,” Newman said. “We’ve got some work to do, don’t get me wrong, but I’m proud of the effort that went into tonight.”

So far this season, the organization as a whole has scored only four top-five and 15 top-ten finishes. Dillon leads these categories with three top-five and eight top-ten finishes. Ryan Newman’s statistics for this season are identical to his 2014 season: one top five and six top tens.

With eight races remaining in the regular season, two of the three RCR drivers are currently in the Chase. Ryan Newman is 12th, and Austin Dillon is 14th in the standings.  Paul Menard is well outside the cutoff in the 23rd position.

Emily Spink is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist.

EMAIL EMILY AT emily.spink@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Repave Sets Up Kentucky for Success

This year’s Battle in the Bluegrass is going to be one wild show.

No, I am not talking about the Kentucky Wildcats vs. the Louisville Cardinals. I am talking about 43 machines taking on one of the most difficult tracks in NASCAR on July 9. Drivers and race fans will experience something completely different at Kentucky Speedway.

Last year, NASCAR debuted the new low downforce package at Kentucky. NASCAR knew they were onto something and competitors raved, saying it was the most exciting race of the season.

With an aging and bumpy surface that was criticized by several Sprint Cup Series drivers, Kentucky Speedway officials announced it was time to repave the roughest track on the circuit.

Besides a complete repave, the track has a new drainage system and has been reconfigured. The banking in Turns 1 and 2 has been increased from 14 degrees to 17 degrees, and the racing surface has been narrowed on that end of the speedway. Fourteen teams were able to test out the renovated track earlier this month as part of a NASCAR-sanctioned test.

Tim Bray, Director of Communications of Kentucky Speedway gave his thoughts about the upcoming race. He is just as excited as race fans.

“I think it is going to be fast, very fast. The drivers are all in awe because of the fact it is nothing like the old track,” Bray told POPULAR SPEED. “Turns 1 and 2 are only 54-feet wide, turns 3 and 4 are much flatter and wider”

NASCAR is bringing the lower downforce package that debuted at Michigan. The goal with the new package is to not only reduce downforce, but to lower sideforce produced by the cars, essentially allowing drivers to pass and be less dependent on aerodynamics.

“Drivers and crew chiefs are going to have to make some decisions as to how they are going to set up their cars, and it all has do with the new package,” Bray said.

Another important aspect of the race is going to be which tire Goodyear and NASCAR chooses.

“They brought a tire from Vegas, and we want Goodyear to bring that tire back for the race,” Bray explained. “Goodyear has some decisions to make, but I think the biggest tire will be the one they use during the race.”

According to Bray, the low groove is already established, so the main task now is to widen that groove so that fans will see side-by-side racing. Bray is hopeful the reconfiguration will help Kentucky maintain its reputation as a one-of-a-kind oval.

“We want the track to live up to what it is, a unique mile-and-a-half on the circuit,” Bray said.

Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch took part in the 14-team test, and the two most recent cup series champions offered their take on the revamped facility.

“You won’t leave here with a headache that is the best part.” Harvick chuckled.

The Stewart Haas Racing driver also praised the new drainage system.

“That was one of the biggest problems. Drying the track and not losing track time and making the fans sit around for no reason,” said Harvick. “The effort into spending the money on something like this shows the commitment Kentucky Speedway and SMI have.”

According to Bray, the defending race winner at Kentucky spent a lot of time working on restarts and trying different grooves around the track. With so many new factors, Busch isn’t sure what to expect come race time.

“It is going to be interesting. The biggest thing I see is the groove goes from so wide coming out of turn four onto the straightaway it narrows going into turn 1,” Busch said. “We are trying our best to get it rubbered in. The tires seem to be reacting well in turns one and two, but in three and four it has been a trying process.”

Emily Spink is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist.

EMAIL EMILY AT emily.spink@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Rookie of the Year Clash is Far from Being Settled

With 15 races completed, NASCAR’s Rookie of the Year battle continues to be an impressive contest. Two of the top rookie contenders currently sit in the top 16 in the Sprint Cup point standings.

Not only is there an Elliott competing with a Blaney, but it’s also Hendrick Motorsports versus the Wood Bros. Does it get any more iconic than that?

Chase Elliott currently leads the ROTY battle and sits sixth in the points standings, higher than any of his Hendrick teammates. As a rookie that has taken over the famous No. 24 car, he has not had a bad start to his Sprint Cup Series career.

Although the first Cup win still eludes him, the rookie has scored six top-five and 11 top-10 finishes so far this season.

Elliott is sitting in some of the best equipment at one of the best organizations in NASCAR. The question is not if he will get a win this year, but when it is going to happen?

Ryan Blaney is currently second in the ROTY Battle and sits 16th in the Sprint Cup point standings. The 22-year-old has scored one top-five finish and six top-10 finishes this season.

Wood Bros. hasn’t run full time in the series since 2006, and one may question how they can compete with Hendrick Motorsports. The Wood Bros. have an alliance with Penske Racing, which facilitates the cars being built at the Penske shop and managed by their personnel.

These two drivers display consistency, but despite their youth, they’ve shown maturity both on and off the track. They race their competitors respectfully and present themselves well during post-race interviews. Showing maturity is one of the key components to having good races and coming home with solid finishes.

The other rookies have struggled this season.

Brian Scott, driving for Richard Petty Motorsports, is third in the ROTY standings. He’s had one DNF this season, and no top-five or top-10 finishes.

Chris Buescher, piloting the No. 34 for Front Row Motorsports, has an average finish of 28.8, and his best finish was 18th at Dover.

Another rookie with a famous last name, Jeffrey Earnhardt. He is currently last in the rookie standings. His average finish is 36.0, with a best finish of 32nd at Bristol in April.

The current point standings for the 2016 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Battle after Michigan:

  • Chase Elliott: 216
  • Ryan Blaney: 167
  • Brian Scott: 133
  • Chris Buescher: 130
  • Jeffrey Earnhardt: 65

There is still a good amount of racing left in the 2016 season. And with the talent the top duo have displayed, the ROTY prize is still up for grabs.

Emily Spink is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist.

EMAIL EMILY AT emily.spink@popularspeed.com

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Four Weeks of Woes for Kyle Busch

It has been either feast or famine throughout the 2016 Sprint Cup Series season for the defending champ. And for the fourth-straight race, Kyle Busch ended up with a finish outside of the top 30.

A blown motor on Lap 53 forced Busch to the garage early in Michigan on Sunday and left him with a 40th-place finish. Busch was one of many drivers who picked up debris on their grills in the opening laps of the FireKeepers Casino 400.

Since his win in Kansas last month, Busch has had trouble just finishing races. In Dover, he finished 30th after he was involved in an 18-car pileup. He crashed again in Charlotte and ended up 33rd. Last week at Pocono, yet another accident left the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team with a 31st-place finish.

The silver lining for the M&Ms team is that Busch has been performing well, he’s just had terrible luck over the past month. Aside from his six finishes of 25th or worse, Busch has placed fifth or better in every other race, and he has three wins.

Under the current Chase system, drivers with wins are locked in and can afford poor finishes in the “regular season,” But if Busch hopes to defend his championship in the fall, he’ll need to work on finishing races.

 

Jordan Burnett is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL JORDAN AT jordan.burnett@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @jrdnburnett

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Bell’s Rough Luck Continues In Texas

The Rattlesnake 400 lived up to its name Friday Night as one of NASCAR’s rising stars was “snake bit” by issues right from the start.

As the green flag flew, Christopher Bell’s No.4 JBL Toyota Tundra lost its oomph, as he pulled off the race track and into the garage without finishing the first lap of the 167-lap race. The 21-year-old’s day was over almost before it started and he settled for a last-place finish.

“Just a rookie mistake, just missed a shift there,” Bell said. “First time I’ve ever done it, went from third to second instead of third to fourth. I just hate it for my guys. This JBL Tundra has been really fast all week and felt we had something to compete, which we desperately need to get into the Chase. I hate it for my guys. It’s such a shame.”

The rough night in Texas was the latest serving of rotten luck for Bell and his Kyle Busch Motorsports team. Despite having three top 10s, Bell’s first full-time season in the Camping World Truck Series has been highlighted by the negatives, including a flip at Daytona and a crash at Atlanta.

The good news for Bell? The next race on the schedule is Iowa, a track where he owns two top fives — one in the CWTS and one in the K&N Pro Series West.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com