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NASCAR Cup Series

Momentum for Almirola After Top-10 at Las Vegas

After his third start in a Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, Aric Almirola “The Cuban Missile” finally captured his first top-10 of 2018. In his new No. 10 Smithfield Ford Fusion, Almirola finished 10th in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“Finally a top-10 for our Smithfield Ford Fusion,” Almirola said. “We have had a solid string of races, and obviously everybody has been working really hard at Stewart-Haas Racing, and the cars are obviously fast.”

A “solid string of races” it is.

At Daytona, Almirola stayed out of trouble and was the leader with a lap to go until he was wrecked in the backstretch by Austin Dillon, who ended up spraying champagne in victory lane.

The following weekend at Atlanta, Almirola ran in the top-10 most of the day but finished 13th after having a hiccup on pit road.

Almirola began the weekend at Las Vegas struggling with a bad handling race car.

“Our car was not very good on Friday or Saturday morning,” Almirola said. “The guys made a lot of changes for final practice and we finally hit on something that felt good for me.”

Almirola started back in the 29th position and successfully drove his way up into the top-15 by the end of Stage 1. Throughout the race, he ran among the top-20 allowing him to finish in the tenth position.

“I am proud of everybody at Ford Performance and Stewart-Haas Racing,” Almirola said. “We had to battle back from a lot this weekend.”

Thanks to a phenomenal job by his team, Almirola could finally get the car to handle to his liking which led him to finishing the weekend off strong with momentum going into Phoenix.

The 2018 season has begun strong for Almirola and the whole Stewart-Haas Racing organization. Starting off a year, with speed and consistent runs can really guide Almirola to having a successful season.

Heading into Phoenix, Almirola sits 12th in the overall point standings. Furthermore, this is the first season that he goes on to the fourth race with a top-10 at a track other than Daytona.

During the offseason, Stewart-Haas Racing made a few changes, most notably bringing Aric Almirola over to drive Danica Patrick’s former car.

This year started off with a historic Daytona 500 and two dominant performances by Almirola’s teammate Kevin Harvick. During the offseason, many expressed concern about Ford’s performance in 2018 since a Toyota dominated the previous season and Chevy was introducing the new Camaro ZL1.

However, the Ford camp has shown early success and it’ll be interesting to see Aric Almirola evolve throughout the season with Stewart-Haas Racing.

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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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NASCAR Cup Series

NASCAR Ends Busch-Logano Feud, and “Everything’s Great”

AVONDALE, Ariz. — On Friday, NASCAR held a 15-minute meeting with Joey Logano and Kyle Busch, who were involved in a post-race fracas at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last week.

The conference’s purpose was to eliminate any further conflict between the drivers and explain what is expected from them going forward.

“I tried to explain that I made a mistake underneath [Busch]. He asked for some data, and I was able to show him that,” Logano said. “I guess time will tell. We’ll see, I hope he’s able to see that and know that I was sincere about it but time will tell.”

Logano was open with the media and emphasized that the on-track incident with Busch last week was not intentional. He believes he got through to Busch.

When Busch spoke, he was more tight-lipped about the session with NASCAR officials. He told the media, “Everything’s great!” four times when asked about his thoughts on the meeting.

Watch the video from both driver’s interviews via Fox Sports here:

http://www.foxsports.com/nascar/video/900562499871

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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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NASCAR Cup Series

Larson and Elliott Find Las Vegas Luck

LAS VEGAS — While Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was dominated by front row starters Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski, two of NASCAR’s brightest stars finished in the top five.

Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott finished second and third respectively and cited luck as the reason for their top-five results. Keselowski suffered a power issue while leading with less than three laps remaining, and both young guns were able to take advantage of it.

Larson trailed Truex to the checkered flag in his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, and when Joey Logano and Kyle Busch made contact in the final corner, Elliott snuck underneath the two to come away with third place.

“Awesome day for our Target team,” Larson said. “Second in the first stage, third in the second stage, and finished second in the race. … Hopefully, we’ll keep building off what we have, and keep contending for wins and it’ll come.

“We had a bad restart after the second stage and lost a lot of track position, but was able to get a good restart on the last one. I think Brad was blowing up [in the closing laps], so we got lucky there … back-to-back seconds. We’d like to have back-to-back wins, but this is pretty awesome.

Elliott, who started 12th, was a top-five contender all day. His Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 didn’t quite have the speed Truex or Keselowski had but felt satisfied with the third-place finish.

“We had a really good car,” Elliott told POPULAR SPEED. “We just had a bad restart there at the end and got behind. But we got lucky to end up where we did.”

Were they lucky because the race was in Las Vegas? Maybe. Regardless, Larson and Elliott are flying high as they sit second and third in the points standings, respectively, after three races.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Mechanical Failure Dooms Keselowski at Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS — With three laps remaining in Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, it appeared Brad Keselowski had his second consecutive win of the season and at the 1.5-mile track all but secured.

Then his No. 2 suffered a mechanical issue, allowing Martin Truex Jr. to claim the lead and earn his first victory of the season.

Keselowski started from the front row alongside pole winner Truex and led 89 of 267 laps. He established a cushy lead after the final restart that occurred with 10 laps to go but suddenly fell off the pace on Lap 265. He ended up with a fifth-place result.

The Team Penske driver said he wasn’t sure of what caused the failure.

“They’ll have to take [the car] apart, it has to go through inspection,” Keselowski said. “I just know it was something major. It wouldn’t turn, and I lost the brakes, so it’s a pretty good indicator.”

Last week, Keselowski took advantage of Kevin Harvick’s pit road speeding penalty at Atlanta Motor Speedway to put himself in position for the win. This time around, luck wasn’t on his side and fell just short of winning his third race at Las Vegas in four years.

“If you put yourself in position to win, good things will happen, and that’s what happened to us last week,” he said. “But it didn’t happen this week, so you pick up the pieces, you move on, and we have a lot to be proud of.”

The 2012 champion will pick up the pieces and go for his first career win at Phoenix International Raceway next week.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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.

Categories
XFINITY

Allgaier Earns First Top Five of 2017 at Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS — After finishing 30th in the first two races of the NASCAR XFINITY Series season, JR Motorsports’ Justin Allgaier earned his first top five of 2017.

Allgaier, driver of the No. 7 Chevrolet, finished fourth in Saturday’s Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and scored the most points out of all XFINITY regulars.

He also earned his first stage points under NASCAR’s new format. He scored six points in Stage 1 (finished fifth), eight points in Stage 2 (finished third) and totaled 47 points on the day.

“We got points all day, and we were a fourth-place car, and we finished fourth place, so no disappointment at all in that regard,” Allgaier said. “The pit crew was phenomenal all day, and that’s what it takes when you’re running up against these guys. But you have to have a perfect race.”

He didn’t have a stellar qualifying effort (started 13th) and made one mistake when he slid about two feet past his pit stall during a cycle of green-flag stops with 53 laps to go, but a few late cautions helped him climb back into contention for the win.

“Unfortunately, I put myself behind the eight ball and slid through the pit box there under a green-flag pit stop,” Allgaier said. “… We had a fast enough car, and we were able to rally back there.”

At Daytona, Allgaier was part of a 12-car wreck on Lap 29 and failed to finish Stage 1. In Atlanta, he made contact with the outside wall to avoid a sliding Ty Dillon on the second lap of the race but lost grip as he avoided the spin in Turn 2, damaging his racecar’s right side.

“We knew the first two races were just bad luck,” he said. “We knew we could run up front and we did that all day. That gives us momentum going into these next few West Coast races.”

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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.

Categories
XFINITY

EYE IN THE SKY: Observations From Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS — It looked like a driver named Kyle would win the race. Then it looked like Brad Keselowski’s Team Penske No. 22 was the car to beat. But in the end, it was Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate, Joey Logano, who took the checkered flag in Saturday’s Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Kyle vs. Kyle

Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson battled for the lead throughout all of Stage 1. In the closing laps of the segment, Larson was in a door-to-door fight for the lead with the Joe Gibbs Racing driver, but the JGR No. 18 led every lap and won the opening stage by six-hundredths of a second margin.

Larson finished second after leading 33 laps, and Busch finished seventh after winning the pole and leading 48 laps.

Allgaier rebounds

After a pair of 30th-place results at Daytona and Atlanta, Justin Allgaier earned his first top five of the season with a fourth-place finish. He finished fifth in Stage 1 and 3rd in Stage 2, marking the first time he earned stage points in NASCAR’s new format.

His one hiccup of the day was when he overshot his pit stall by about two feet during a cycle of green-flag stops with 53 to go, but a couple of late-race cautions helped the JR Motorsports driver climb back into contention for the win.

Trouble for the Vegas native

Thirteen laps into Stage 2, Brendan Gaughan’s No. 62 fell off the pace, and his team reported a plug wire issue. Gaughan was forced to take his Richard Childress Racing machine behind the wall, and the crew changed the carburetor. Since it was a mechanical problem, he was allowed to return to the race. With NASCAR’s new rule about damaged racecars, had he crashed, his day would have ended as soon as he entered the garage.

But with 11 laps remaining in Stage 2, Gaughan got into the Turn 2 wall and spun out onto the backstretch apron, bringing out the fourth caution of the day. He ended up 35th and 11 laps down.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

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.

Categories
XFINITY

THREE TAKEAWAYS: Boyd Gaming 300

Joey Logano survived a couple of late-race restarts and took his Team Penske Ford to Victory Lane  — this time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Logano’s stuck to his lane choice plan, that found momentum on the top would make the difference in the end.

 

Jack is Back on Track

Roush Fenway continues to show strength in the NASCAR Xfinity Series as both Ryan Reed and Darrell Wallace Jr. grabbed top-10 finishes.

The success is nearly five years in the making. The organization has struggled in the series since Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won back-to-back titles in 2011-12.

Since then, crew chief and management changes have yielded marginal results.

2017 seems to be off to a good start and they’ll look to carry the momentum to Phoenix next week, a historically strong venue for the team.

Nice to see them as part of the conversation.

 

If Nothing Changes, Nothing Changes

When NASCAR announced limiting Cup drivers with five-plus years of full-time experience in the two lower-tier National Touring Series events, it seemed like a step in the right direction.

But everything usually looks good on paper.

In reality, ten races is one-third of the season. Not every Cup driver will be in the same races, so it’s possible (not necessarily probable) that the series champion may still not win a race. But let’s hope for the best.

With budding talent like William Byron, Daniel Hemric, Cole Custer and Brandon Jones in the mix, it would be nice to see some of those faces in Victory Lane.

 

Yellow Flags Make for Great Racing

Fans used to throw their hands in the air when a race was interrupted by a caution. Teams felt the same way.

Now, it’s usually just the leader that who experiences disappointment.

For the rest of the teams it’s an opportunity to make a strategy decision or tighten up a deficit. Track position is as valuable as a strong motor.

Fans are happy too. Well, most of them.

When NASCAR implemented the double-file restart in 2009, it changed the whole game.

While it’s more significant in the later stages of the race, the four-wide-hold-your-breath chaos getting into turn one has been one of NASCAR’s best procedural decisions.

Throw in a Green-White-Checker and life is good.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Las Vegas Motor Speedway to Add Second Cup Series Race in 2018

Rumors have been swirling in the days leading up to this weekend’s Kobalt 400 that Las Vegas Motor Speedway could host a second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series weekend for the 2018 season.

On Wednesday, rumors became a reality as LVMS announced with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority that the track will indeed host a second MENCS race as part of a triple-header weekend in the fall next season that will include the Camping World Truck Series and XFINITY Series.

LVMS will become the first track in NASCAR history to host two triple-header weekends with all three national touring series in action on those weekends.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for Speedway Motorsports and Las Vegas Motor Speedway to create a NASCAR spectacle worthy of the greatest racing in the world and the Entertainment Capital of the World,” said Speedway Motorsports, Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer Marcus Smith.

“It’s taken a tremendous amount of work to make this happen, and we are very thankful to the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and NASCAR for their support in our endeavor to create a triple-header NASCAR weekend in such a world-class destination.”

LVMS President Chris Powell said a second MENCS race weekend at the track has been a long time in the making and is thankful for the opportunity.

“We’re honored that NASCAR has entrusted us with a second NASCAR weekend,” Powell said. “We’ve pursued a second NASCAR premier series race weekend for quite some time, so this news is monumental for everyone at Las Vegas Motor Speedway as well as everyone in our wonderful city.”

The second Cup Series weekend comes by way of the September Truck Series/Cup Series doubleheader at New Hampshire in September and the standalone XFINITY Series race held at Kentucky Speedway in September.

“Las Vegas and Las Vegas Motor Speedway have become great destinations for NASCAR fans,” NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell said. “The experience is unique to any other in our sport. We look forward to having NASCAR racing there for two race weekends in 2018.”

LVMS has hosted 59 races across NASCAR’s top three series with the first Cup Series race being held at the track in 1998 which was won by Mark Martin. Since then 11 different drivers have etched their name on an MENCS winner’s trophy at Las Vegas with the most recent being Brad Keselowski last season.

“Over the years, Las Vegas has become a major sports city as a popular destination for a variety of championship and professional sports events, and today we are proud to add a second NASCAR Cup race to that roster. Las Vegas, NASCAR and Las Vegas Motor Speedway have developed a strong and successful partnership, and we are certain this second race will prove to be another great success,” said Rossi Ralenkotter, President, and CEO of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

Last year’s race weekend at LVMS generated an incredible $140 million dollars in economic revenue for the city with almost 100,00 fans coming from out of town.

“Las Vegas is the ideal destination for a second NASCAR Cup race, and this addition will delight the thousands of fans who love visiting Southern Nevada to watch their favorite drivers in action,” said Lawrence Weekly, chairman of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board and Clark County commissioner. “As a city, we are uniquely positioned to provide sports fans with a top-notch experience, and our energy and passion are the perfect complements to NASCAR.”

EMAIL JUSTIN at tuckerjustin65@yahoo.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @JustinTuckerWeb
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.

 

Categories
Development Journalists

Get a Grip: Las Vegas Motor Speedway Edition

Certain expectations are brought to the table when going to Las Vegas, Nevada. Taking gambles and risks tops the list, as that’s synonymous with “Sin City.” While we don’t know whether or not drivers and teams hit the casinos, we do know they participated in some gambling on the track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Many took chances with pit stops while competitors battled side-by-side which led some to glory and others to defeat. Players on both sides make up this week’s list of the best and worst from the weekend.

Four Tires

  • It was a dominant weekend for @austindillon3 in the NASCAR XFINITY Series’ Boyd Gaming 300. He not only led 183 laps in route to victory, but topped the charts in both practice sessions and qualifying. Fans should expect more of this throughout the season as he will be a prominent face in the series.
  • One of the most interesting stories three races into the year is @MartinTruex_Jr and the Furniture Row Racing organization. They have been very impressive, posting three consecutive top-10 finishes. This includes second-place on Sunday, which is his best result since winning at Sonoma Raceway in 2013. Starting this strong indicates good things are ahead. Don’t be surprised to see this team continue to run up front and contend for victories.

Two Tires

  • @AJDinger and JTG-Daugherty Racing were another standout single-car team from the weekend. The long and grueling Kobalt 400 took its toll on many drivers, and those that made it to the finish pulled off an impressive feat. A sixth place finish is their best since taking the checkered flag at Watkins Glen International last August. The victory put them in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and another could do the same this year. However, it’s always a tough task to enter the winner’s circle. If this team stays consistent, they may have points to fall back on if needed to make the final ten races.
  • @DennyHamlin saw his great run flash before his eyes on Lap 195. Contact between @KaseyKahne and Carl Edwards sent the No. 19 Comcast Business Toyota spinning down the track, almost directly into Hamlin. The No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota only had slight damage and continued on to finish fifth. They celebrated the strong run as a much worse result could have come had he been involved in his teammate’s accident.

No Tires

  • In the late stages of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, @DaleJr seemed to be the only driver who could keep up with @KevinHarvick. On the final restart, he was able to get around the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet briefly before being passed a few laps later. When the time came to make a decision during the final round of green flag pit stops, a two-tire call by the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet team initially paid off with track position. However, the reigning series champion’s four tires eventually won out as he passed the 2014 Daytona 500 champion near the finish.
  • Unprotected walls have been the talk of the sport early in the season. After two straight weeks of cars hitting walls not equipped with the SAFER barrier system, it has placed pressure on tracks to install more around each facility. @Erik_Jones is the latest driver to hit a concrete wall as he made hard contact along the frontstretch while racing near the front during the NASCAR XFINITY Series race. This continues to highlight the issue at hand, and should show track’s that the issue needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

NASCAR’s “West Coast Swing” continues this weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. Fans will get a taste of short track racing for the first time this season as competitors will duel in the desert. Many more storylines are anticipated, and the best and worst will appear on next week’s list.

Jason Schultz is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist
EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

Categories
XFINITY

Persistence and a Positive Rep Leads Brennan Poole to NASCAR

They call Brennan Poole, “The Bull,” a fitting analogy given his gritty, hard-nosed path to NASCAR.

Despite a resume that reveals numerous victories and championships in ARCA and Late Models, Poole is not tied down to a driver development contract nor is he mentioned in any of the annual top prospect rankings.

But make no mistake, Poole is the real deal and he has the opportunity to make a huge splash on Saturday when he makes his XFINITY Series debut for HScott Motorsports at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Despite his best efforts to remain in Stock Car racing, Poole has struggled to stay in the public spotlight and maintain seat time. He hasn’t had a full-time ride in several seasons and has taken a variety of odd jobs in racing just to stay in the sport and earn one-off opportunities.

“The last couple of years has been tough,” Poole said. “I’ve been fighting to stay in the sport. I was a spotter the last couple of years and a driver coach at Venturini Motorsports, driving whenever I could.

“This is my dream, to race in the Sprint Cup Series and win races and championships, and this is just part of that dream coming true. To finally get that break and move up to this level, it’s incredible.”

Poole, 24, will drive the No. 42 DC Solar Solutions Chevrolet in 15 races this season, sharing that ride with Sprint Cup regular Kyle Larson. Like many young guns, Poole grew up wanting to race against the elite of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Given the crossover and synergy between Sprint Cup and XFINITY, Poole’s dream is seemingly set to come true.

“I’m still in shock that I’m getting to do this,” Poole said. “My whole life, all I wanted to do (is this.) You grow up and you see all these guys on the track like Kevin Harvick, Dale Jr. and Kyle Busch … and I’m just like, ‘if I can be on the track with those guys, how cool would that be?’

“It would be so awesome. To be here today, that’s truly amazing. I’m ready to go and I’m excited.”

His laid back California demeanor and everyman work ethic has made him a popular and respected figure in the garage. Current Camping World Truck Series driver Justin Boston was his teammate for two years at Venturini and offered nothing but praise and support for his former stablemate.

“I can’t think of many others who are as overdue as Brennan,” Boston said. “He has put in a lot of work to get this opportunity and I couldn’t be more pumped for him. I’ve been very fortunate to race and work with Brennan over the past few years, and he definitely is the type of guy that races you hard but races you clean at the same time.”

As a result, Boston says he will be pulling for “The Bull” on Saturday afternoon.

“I definitely won’t be surprised to see him running up front. He has been ready for this for a few years now and I’ll have my Bull shirt on for him.”

Posting results despite driving on short notice or limited seat time is nothing new for Poole. Back in 2011, he won his first ARCA race in his first start at Salem and has continued to impress despite only running in a handful of races per season.

As a result, don’t be surprised to see Poole running near the front in the closing stages on Saturday.

ARCA radio broadcaster Charles Krall has witnessed a significant portion of Poole’s career and says best attribute is his inherent ability to adapt to any situation tossed his direction.

“Short track, dirt track, superspeedway, it doesn’t matter,” Krall said. “Brennan is able to quickly adapt to whatever situation and find himself at the front of the field. And what is most impressive is that he has done it without a solid ride the past couple of years.

“To be able to climb into a car on short notice and perform at a high level is something not all drivers can do. It’s no surprise that he’s finally landed a NASCAR ride. The only surprise is that it didn’t happen sooner.”

Despite all the adversity, Poole says he’s enjoyed his journey to NASCAR even if it wasn’t the most linear path.

“It’s been a lot of fun and I’m fortunate to be here,” Poole said. “This is a part of my dream coming true and there is still a ways to go. I still have to perform but I have a bunch of great guys around me, great owners, and I just want to go out there and it get it done for them.”

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

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