Sprint Cup

NASCAR Sprint Cup News Wire
  • Notebook: Kurt Busch recalls stellar Sonoma run in 2012
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, June 24, 2017

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      SONOMA, Calif. -- Driving for Team Penske in 2011, Kurt Busch led 76 of 110 laps and beat Jeff Gordon to the checkered flag by 2.685 seconds to win the 2011 Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.

      But that dominating drive was no more impressive than Busch's third-place finish a year later in a car fielded by owner James Finch. Remarkably, the Las Vegas driver nailed down that podium finish with a broken track bar mount in his Chevrolet.

      "The track bar mount kept getting worse and worse and worse," Busch told the NASCAR Wire Service at a track-sponsored luncheon on Thursday in San Francisco. "I was trying to pass (eventual race winner Clint) Bowyer, but I felt something coming apart in the back end. I said to myself, 'It's going to look stupid if I move him out of the way, and then the part breaks. What good would that do?"

      So Busch settled for third, but some of the insights he gained with respect to racing at Sonoma still hold true.

      "The setup I had with Penske when we won in 2011, I remembered as much as I could and told the team, and they put it in the best that they could," Busch said. "We qualified eighth, and that car just came alive, just like the Penske car did around Lap 5, running better lap times than on stickers (new tires).

      "That's when you have good cars here. You run good from Lap 5 to Lap 20. That's how you win at Sonoma."

      SHRINERS HOSPITAL VISITS STILL SPECIAL TO RAGAN

      As the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series tours the United States, Front Row Motorsports driver David Ragan makes a point of visiting nearby Shriners Hospitals for Children, whose logo he carries on his No. 38 Ford.

      Ragan's pre-Sonoma weekend visit to the Shriners Hospital in Sacramento, which specializes in both orthopedics and burn treatment, was no exception.

      "Every time you get there, you think you've heard the good stories, and you've heard the success stories over the years, and you don't really think that you're going to hear something new, but I always leave with a good heartwarming story that I didn't expect," Ragan told the NASCAR Wire Service.

      "With me having kids now, it definitely puts things in perspective when you see that 3- or 4-year-old who is missing a leg or missing an arm or who is involved in an accident and is severely burned all around. The Shriners have world-class medical care and they do a lot of research to try to prevent some of the accidents from happening and genetic research to prevent some of these issues that these young kids are born with."

      RETIRED TEACHER COMPLETES BUCKET LIST WITH TRIP TO SONOMA

      Bill Silvester got hooked on racing when the North Carolina legislature banned dog tracks in the state, and the track in Currituck County transitioned from greyhounds to stock cars.

      The 71-year-old retired middle school teacher attended his first race in 1964. On Sunday at Sonoma Raceway, he will have seen a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race on every active track on the schedule.

      As he completes his bucket list, it's hard for Silvester to pick a favorite.

      "Every track has some differences, some uniqueness," he said. "I absolutely love Bristol. People in Las Vegas are just unbelievable. We were sitting in Fontana last year. I got looking around and I have a tendency to say, 'I wish we were sitting here or here or here'--and we looked around and said, 'There's not a better seat at this track than what we're in right now.'"

      Silvester's wife usually accompanies him on his journeys to race tracks--if she doesn't have to fly.

      "For the most part, it's been a family thing. My wife--she became my wife--went to the first race with me in Currituck. As a family, we have been to probably 20 race tracks.

      "She will not fly. In 2008, we went cross-country to California to visit with her college roommate, and I said, 'OK, I'll go, on one condition--we stop by Indy.' So that was the Brickyard."

      Silvester remembers his first trip to Charlotte Motor Speedway and how impressed he was at the 1.5-mile track.

      "The first time we went to Charlotte, that was an absolute palace," he said.

      Now that Charlotte will be hosting a road course race instead of an oval event in the 2018 playoff, will Silvester have to make a return visit.

      "We'll see," he said with a smile. "We'll see."

  • Larson edges teammate to claim Sonoma pole
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, June 24, 2017

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      SONOMA, Calif. -- Kyle Larson didn't think he had a pole-winning lap, especially after he wheel-hopped into Turn 11 at Sonoma Raceway and lost speed through the tight hairpin corner in Saturday's Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series knockout qualifying session.

      But Larson's lap was good enough to edge Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray for the top starting spot in Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 (3 p.m. ET on FS1) at the 1.99-mile road course in California wine country.

      "The whole lap actually felt pretty bad," said Larson, who won his third Coors Light Pole Award of the season, his first at Sonoma and the fourth of his career -- a week after winning from the pole at Michigan International Speedway. "I messed up into (Turn) 1 and into (Turn) 2 and was out a little bit too far. Yeah, I felt like I gave up enough (in Turn 11) that I wouldn't have a shot at the pole.

      "I thought maybe I'd maintain and run about the same lap time as the previous run. So I was surprised, and I was happy about that. This is cool to get a pole on a road course at my home state. This is my closest track to Sacramento or Elk Grove where I grew up. I have lots of friends and family here. We're going to celebrate with the team."

      McMurray was first out in the final round and set the target at 95.204 mph. Of the 11 drivers who followed, only Larson was able to top the driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet, and only by .091 seconds. That completed a Ganassi Racing sweep of the front row for the third time in team history.

      "I was really happy that we were able to run quicker (in the final round) than we did on stickers (new tires)," McMurray said. "And I thought I did a really good job. I don't feel like I gave up. There wasn't a corner that stuck out. The first run in Turn 7, I messed up. But overall, it was a really good lap.

      "Kyle just got a little bit more. I thought he was going to give it back to me in Turn 11. The lap tracker is painful when you go first. It's horrible to have to watch that, but that's cool. That team's been on a roll, and our whole Chip Ganassi Racing team has been pretty awesome this year."

      Martin Truex Jr. qualified third, followed by Kyle Busch and AJ Allmendinger. Danica Patrick, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Chris Buescher and Dale Earnhardt Jr. completed the top 10.

      "I overdrove the first 11 corners," Earnhardt quipped in a tweet after his final-round lap. "Way too aggressive. But still a decent starting spot."

      For the record, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series runs only nine of the 11 corners on the course. The Cup course eliminates Turns 5 and 6, but the track uses its standard nomenclature for the rest of the corners.

      NOTES: Danica Patrick's sixth-place starting spot is the third-best of her career and her best since qualifying fourth for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in May of 2014. ... Road course ace Billy Johnson qualified 26th for his Cup debut as a substitute in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, but he was only two spots behind seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson. ... Israeli driver Alon Day earned the 32nd starting spot for his Cup debut.

      Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying for Toyota/Save Mart 350

      Sonoma Raceway

      Sonoma, California

      Saturday, June 24, 2017

      1. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 95.295 mph.

      2. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 95.204 mph.

      3. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 94.947 mph.

      4. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 94.939 mph.

      5. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 94.821 mph.

      6. (10) Danica Patrick, Ford, 94.773 mph.

      7. (21) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 94.716 mph.

      8. (24) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 94.536 mph.

      9. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 94.382 mph.

      10. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 94.370 mph.

      11. (19) Daniel Suarez #, Toyota, 94.312 mph.

      12. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 94.142 mph.

      13. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 94.639 mph.

      14. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 94.330 mph.

      15. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 94.263 mph.

      16. (95) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 94.252 mph.

      17. (41) Kurt Busch, Ford, 94.214 mph.

      18. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 94.134 mph.

      19. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 94.107 mph.

      20. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 94.090 mph.

      21. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 94.056 mph.

      22. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 94.029 mph.

      23. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 93.992 mph.

      24. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 93.957 mph.

      25. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 93.920 mph.

      26. (43) Billy Johnson, Ford, 93.883 mph.

      27. (32) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 93.636 mph.

      28. (38) David Ragan, Ford, 93.634 mph.

      29. (72) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 93.519 mph.

      30. (77) Erik Jones #, Toyota, 93.467 mph.

      31. (34) Landon Cassill, Ford, 93.304 mph.

      32. (23) Alon Day, Toyota, 93.031 mph.

      33. (51) Josh Bilicki(i), Chevrolet, 92.916 mph.

      34. (33) Boris Said, Chevrolet, 92.907 mph.

      35. (13) Ty Dillon #, Chevrolet, 92.565 mph.

      36. (15) Kevin O'Connell, Chevrolet, 89.572 mph.

      37. (55) Tommy Regan, Chevrolet, 87.552 mph.

      38. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 0.000 mph.

  • Notebook: Earnhardt Jr. not ruling out Daytona 500 run
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, June 23, 2017

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      SONOMA, Calif. -- As he retires from full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racing, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has two Daytona 500 victories to credit.

      But that doesn't necessarily mean he won't ever have a third.

      During a question-and-answer session with reporters after opening practice at Sonoma Raceway, Earnhardt allowed he might consider an encore appearance in NASCAR's most prestigious race -- under the right circumstances.

      True, next week Earnhardt will compete for the last time at Daytona as the driver of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. But that doesn't mean it's the last time he'll compete at Daytona.

      "Well, you never say never," Earnhardt said. "I'm just retiring from full-time racing. I'm going to run some Xfinity races next year. I don't know that I won't ever run the Daytona 500 again, if the right deal comes along. All these tracks you have memories at, all of them, Daytona included.

      "I'm going to be coming back to these tracks, and I want to continue to be part of the sport. I don't know how it's going to affect me really. It's hard for me to put that into words, because I don't know what that is going to feel like. It will be pretty weird I think to come back to the 500. I'm going to go to the 500 whether I've got any work to do or not. It will be pretty weird to be there and not race."

      To some degree, Earnhardt can draw on the experience of his former crew chief, Steve Letarte, who left the pit box for a perch in the NBC Sports television booth.

      "When he wasn't working a race he had a hard time being there," Earnhardt said. "He had a hard time watching it and not wanting to be a part of it. ... It will be interesting I guess when we get to the 500 next year and see how that all feels emotionally."

      Earnhardt also addressed reports that he, too, might be under consideration for a broadcasting role.

      "We are certainly open to discussing the possibility of seeing what options I have," Earnhardt said. "Who wanted us, what kind of job they want me for, and we are sort of in the middle of understanding that, and that just goes along the lines of doing due diligence on everything. I'm not retiring from work. I want to keep seeking out opportunities to make a living and make money and be relevant and be a value to my partners.

      "I want to continue to be a part of the sport, and not just as an owner in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. I want to be a valuable asset to the growth of the sport and continue to help raise the bar and raise the awareness of the sport and promote the sport as much as I can. So we were just kind of looking at what opportunities there are out there for me."

      IS LIGHTNING MCQUEEN A GOOD-LUCK CHARM FOR BOWYER?

      Kyle Larson won last Sunday's Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway sporting Lightning McQueen, the lead character from the hit film "Cars 3," on his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

      This week, Lightning McQueen adorns the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford driven by Clint Bowyer, who hopes some of the good karma from Larson's win will carry over into Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway (3 p.m. ET on FS1).

      In his first year at Stewart-Haas, Bowyer is looking for his first victory this season -- and his first since winning the fall race at Charlotte in 2012.

      "Hopefully, lightning strikes again," Bowyer quipped. "The kid (Larson) won in the Lightning McQueen scheme last week, and it would be cool to take Lightning McQueen to Victory Lane again this week. We got an early showing of the movie as an industry.

      "Lorra (Bowyer's wife) took Cash (Bowyer's 2-year-old son) to it. I was out of town, and he had a ton of fun at that. They've done a good job promoting that, and it's a big deal for our sport. I'm proud to have that paint scheme on the side of my car this weekend."

      The paint job isn't the only good talisman for Bowyer, who is driving the same chassis team co-owner Tony Stewart used to win his 49th and final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Sonoma last year.

      Bowyer's own past performance at the 1.99-mile road course is another strong omen. With six top fives (including a victory in 2012) and eight top-10s in 11 starts, Bowyer has to be considered one of the favorites on Sunday.

      ERIK JONES' TOYOTA SUFFERS TKO IN DISASTROUS PRACTICE SESSION

      Erik Jones had a tire deflated during Friday's opening practice at Sonoma Raceway. That turned out to be the least of his worries.

      In the first two minutes of the second session, Jones missed a downshift and wheel-hopped into Turn 11, the hairpin. His No. 77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota slid across the corner and slammed into the tire barrier near the apex.

      "I just got some wheel hop and then got loose and hit the fence," Jones said of the accident. "I've been frustrated all day, and this just compounds that. We have to get the backup out and try to learn more and try to get some speed out of the 5-hour Energy Camry."

      As a Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender who is racing at Sonoma for the first time, Jones said he would have liked an opportunity to test at the track, other than on a simulator.

      "I don't have a lot of road course experience anyways, and then to get thrown into the fire, I wish we could do any kind of testing anywhere," he said. "It's hard to show up and get out there to do it. Just one of those things trying to learn, and you make a mistake."

      After his team prepared the backup car, Jones got back on track with roughly 25 minutes left in final practice.

      Jones, however, wasn't the only driver who had issues in practice. In the first session, road course ace Billy Johnson spun early in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford. Ty Dillon spun heading up the hill into Turn 2. The engine in Matt Kenseth's No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota expired, and the car came to rest in Turn 10.

      Practice was winding down when Chase Elliott spun near the entrance to Turn 10, all the way through the corner before nosing into the barrier beyond the exit.

      The No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team rolled out a backup car after the incident, and Elliott will have to qualify on Saturday with no laps on the car.

      Kyle Larson topped the speed chart in final practice at 94.389 mph, followed by Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and AJ Allmendinger.

  • Are most NASCAR drivers still struggling on road courses?
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, June 22, 2017

    There was a time when road racing was hazardous to a NASCAR driver's career. When the sanctioning body first returned to road racing at Watkins Glen, N.Y., in 1986 and then three years later in Sonoma, Calif., many of the drivers openly expressed their dislike for right as well as left turns. Some were replaced by "ringers" -- drivers with expertise on road courses in other types of racing.

    • Ricky Rudd, Mark Martin and Rusty Wallace stepped up to the challenge and won regularly in the absence of many other good road racers. One might say the same for Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, the dominant drivers on road courses in the most recent generation. Among current drivers, only Kyle Busch has more than one road course victory.

      In the last 10 years, five drivers have won the majority of the road races -- Busch (four victories), Stewart (three), Marcos Ambrose (two) and Juan Pablo Montoya (two).

      Does that mean the majority of their brethren struggle on the road circuits?

      Another perspective on the modern era of NASCAR road racing would be the careers of the series' most dominant drivers. Seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt Sr. took one victory at Sonoma and never won at Watkins Glen. Reigning seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson has the same record -- one victory in California and none in upstate New York.

      Having recently signed a new three-year contract with Hendrick Motorsports, Johnson will have ample opportunity to improve his road racing record, in part because a third road course is being added on the infield and road circuit at the Charlotte Motor Speedway next year.

      The road races are exciting in part because of the improvement of driving skills by those competing in what is now known as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. But perhaps there's still a dirty little secret at large. One wonders how many drivers show up at a road circuit with their only intention being not to getting hurt badly in the points standings by just keeping the car on the track.

      Driver Jamie McMurray, who has started on the pole and come close to winning at Sonoma for the team owned by Chip Ganassi, explains why it's difficult to challenge for the win at Sonoma.

      "Sonoma is just such a unique place," he said. "Not just because it is one of only two road course races for us, but because it is so technical. This is a demanding race because we run such a limited amount of right and left turns. We usually experience hot temperatures at this race and it can get crazy hot in the car, which adds to the fatigue factor. One simple mistake can ruin a lap, so you have to remain focused."

      This year's new stages are designed, in part, to force drivers to race hard. The stages will be slightly different at Sonoma due to the race being 110 laps on a course that is 1.99 miles long. The first two stages will be 25 laps each followed by a final stage of 60 laps. The majority of the field is likely to wait for pit stops until the mandatory caution period at the end of the first two stages, then take one third and final stop in the last stage. If a driver is inclined just to keep the car on the asphalt, this configuration presents a fairly reliable approach.

      Last year, Stewart won by pitting just before a caution (in an unscheduled stop). He then became the leader and got enough cushion for his fuel mileage due to the caution. There may be others who try this strategy in the last stage -- or start by pitting early in the first stage to gain track position when all others pit after Stage 1 and then try to stretch mileage in the final stage.

      "Sonoma is tricky," said Johnson, who won in 2010 shortly after brushing up on his road racing by driving in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. "Track position is important and there are all kinds of different strategies going on throughout the field which keeps the engineers on their toes. We hope to qualify well and if you can save fuel it usually creates more opportunities towards the end of the race."

      The race is another excellent opportunity for Busch to break out of his string of bad luck and get Joe Gibbs Racing into the Victory Lane for the first time this season. The Las Vegas native is head and shoulders above his peers when it comes to road racing. He swept both road course events in 2008 at the age of 23. He won at the Glen in 2013, but his biggest road course win came in 2015 at Sonoma.

      That's when Busch scored his first victory after his injurious crash in Daytona, which subsequently launched him to the championship. In the absence of Gordon, who had five career victories at Sonoma, Stewart and Carl Edwards, who was the winner for JGR at Sonoma in 2014, Busch is easily the favorite on Sunday.

      The other most recent winner at Sonoma among current drivers is Martin Truex Jr. He won in 2013 and currently holds second in overall points and first in stage points. Truex says he loves road racing -- a sure sign he'll be pushing the pace whenever possible.

      "No matter the difficulty of Sonoma's road course, I love road racing," he said. "We've not only had good runs at Sonoma but also at Watkins Glen. Actually, the first racing I ever did was on road courses in a go-kart. I had to pick it up early. You couldn't race on ovals in New Jersey until you were 18 so I raced a lot of road courses early and learned what it takes to do well on them."

      The addition of a third road course during next year's playoffs puts even more pressure on drivers, who now have access to simulators, to step up their game if they want to be a champion. This list includes current points leader Kyle Larson of the Ganassi team. He didn't road race until he got to NASCAR's Xfinity Series and finished 15th and 12th in his first two Cup races at Sonoma. He has yet to lead a lap.

      Larson co-drove to victory in the Rolex 24 with the Ganassi team in his first outing in the sports car race in 2015, but then crashed after losing his brakes the following year. He will likely be one of those trying to keep his car on the asphalt and not mess up his points standing. It will be interesting to see how he fares versus Truex. After all, there are 15 playoff bonus points available to the driver who leads the points at the end of the 26-race regular season.

  • Stage taken over by NASCAR's youth movement
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, June 19, 2017

    Is the new generation of race format -- known as stage racing -- a younger man's game?

    • So far in the first season where races have been run in stages, younger drivers are showing up in victory lane with regular, perhaps surprising, frequency.

      Martin Truex Jr., who is 36, may have the most playoff bonus points from winning race stages with 10. But drivers in their 20s have won the same number of overall victories this year in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series as the veterans in their 30s.

      Entering Sunday's race at Michigan International Speedway, drivers in their 20s had won five of the first 14 races, drivers in their 30s had won six and drivers in their 40s had won three. Although Truex Jr. may have had the fastest car, Kyle Larson brought the 20-somethings a sixth victory by taking command during the final 49 jaundiced laps, when the yellow flag waved three times.

      Not only did Larson, 24, win his second race of the season, he was followed home by two of his peers -- Chase Elliott and Joey Logano. In addition to veteran Logano, who took an encumbered victory in Richmond, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon and last week's winner, Ryan Blaney, all have broken through with their first career victories to help give NASCAR's youth movement a head of steam.

      When asked about the emergence of so many young drivers, Larson sees an upside to the coming retirement of Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- instead of a sense of impending doom given Earnhardt Jr.'s longtime official status as NASCAR's Most Popular Driver.

      "I keep saying that NASCAR is in a great, great spot," said Larson. "Even with Dale Jr. retiring this year, I think it's a huge opportunity for our sport. Dale Jr. has probably three-quarters of our fan base. You might lose a few thousand of his fans that might disappear. The rest of them are going to pick new drivers. I think new rivalries are going to be built. It's going to bring some excitement back to the racetrack."

      There are many threads to the youth movement's success on the track. Not the least are the retirements of Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards, who also left behind quite a few dedicated fans. Gordon was the first wunderkind to bring new, younger fans into the sport. But will support for the current young crop revive NASCAR or just move the needle to a different group of drivers in place of those who have retired?

      There have been other significant changes that have helped the new generation. The upsurge in Ford's support of its NASCAR teams in the last two seasons helped Blaney get a full-time ride with the Wood Brothers, which is affiliated with factory-backed Team Penske.

      Ford, too, was behind the power surge that brought Stenhouse a victory at Talladega. Chevrolet's corresponding extra support of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates in the face of the Ford onslaught has helped Larson realize his potential on a team that was previously struggling when Juan Pablo Montoya drove the No. 42 entries.

      A little luck never hurts, and it was good fortune that Dillon's team rolled the dice on fuel mileage in Charlotte and came up a winner.

      Another element in favor of the younger drivers and their teams is the ongoing and surprising fall from grace by Joe Gibbs Racing. Kyle Busch, the 2015 Cup champion, came home an unlucky second in his JGR Toyota behind Dillon in Charlotte, got beat by Blaney in the late stages at Pocono and was the leader at Michigan when the cautions started to fall. Denny Hamlin's Toyota was in the mix during the late-race restarts, but even on four fresh tires he was no match for the 20-somethings.

      Truex added two more stage victories on Sunday and was regarded by winner Larson as the class of the field. But he suffered the misfortune of not being able to get good restarts in the lower groove following the three yellow flags that began on Lap 151.

      Larson, on the other hand, restarted in the low groove next to leader Busch but made it past the Toyota with a push from his fellow youth movement driver Blaney.

      On the final restart, Larson was the leader and got a push in the high groove from Elliott, who followed him past Hamlin to get second. The younger guys, in fact, appeared to be sticking together. If misery loves company, so does success when it comes to stock car racing.

      Larson retook the points lead with the win after Furniture Row Racing's Truex, Jr., the points leader coming into the race, finished sixth.

      "I'm happy that I seem to be head of that youth movement right now," said Larson. "With Ryan Blaney getting the win last week, you look at Chase finishing second, Joey is a veteran, but he's only a couple years older than I am. Then Stenhouse, Austin Dillon, Erik Jones, (Daniel) Suarez, so many drivers in great equipment right now that are running up front.

      "It's just a great time for NASCAR. I think everybody is kind of nervous about where it's going to be, but I think a lot of us, our fan bases are going to grow as well as NASCAR's fan base."

      It would be a little weird to spy another conspiracy in the front offices of NASCAR when it comes to the stage racing and a strategy to give the youngsters a push. Nevertheless, the format has put pressure on veterans like Jimmie Johnson, Earnhardt, Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth to qualify better and adopt a different style. Instead of building on incremental chassis improvements as the race develops, they've had to run hammer down from the outset.

      Johnson, who started 13th after a practice spin damaged his front end and finished 10th, is sustaining drivers 40 or older when it comes to victories. He has all three. But Johnson has yet to win a single stage out of the 30 that have been on offer in the first 15 races. He and crew chief Chad Knaus have continued to be successful with "long haul" strategies and it remains to be seen if Johnson will suffer in the playoffs from not having bonus points that come along with stage victories. He's only eighth in the points standings, which will pay an additional playoff bonus to the top 10 drivers at the end of the regular 26-race season.

      Johnson, who has the body of man at least five years younger, is gunning for his eighth championship this year. The way the 20-something drivers are gobbling up victories and the playoff bonus points that go with them, this might be the best year for Johnson to break the tie with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. in the championship column. By next year, it might be too late.

  • Notebook: Logano elated by third-place finish at Michigan
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, June 18, 2017

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Far from being disappointed with his third-place finish in Sunday's FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway, Joey Logano was positively beaming when he walked into the media center to answer questions after the race.

      The reason? After a series of calamities and ill-handling cars over the past month or so, Logano was simply looking for a trouble-free race. On Sunday, he got it -- and then some.

      After a restart with five laps left, Logano traded paint with Denny Hamlin to secure the third spot and felt fortunate to get it.

      "We made the most possible out of our car," Logano said. "The only way we were going to do better is something crazy happening in front of me and sneak by to get the lead. That was the only way I was going to do it.

      "We had a 10th-place car. We finished third with it. Proud of that. We had a rough month and a half. We stopped the bleeding today. I'm proud of that, as well. You know, you're right, it's not a win. But all things considered, over the last month or so, it feels really nice just to stop the bleeding."

      The third-place finish boosted Logano to 10th in the series standings, 242 points behind series leader and Michigan winner Kyle Larson. Logano has one victory this season, at Richmond, but it doesn't count toward qualification for the playoffs because it's an encumbered win (accompanied by penalty).

      But Sunday's result was the next best thing to a trip to Victory Lane.

      "It feels great," Logano said. "You have no idea how good this feels. It feels like a win."

      If Logano had won the race, he would have made an announcement in the winner's circle. As it turned out, he had to resort to Twitter to inform the racing community of an upcoming blessed event.

      "Wanted to announce this in Victory Lane," Logano tweeted. "Thrilled to say (wife) Brittany and I are expecting a Little Logano on 1/11/18."

      THE BOTTOM LANE MEANS BAD BOTTOM LINE FOR TRUEX

      For much of Sunday's FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway, Martin Truex Jr. appeared likely to sweep the proceedings.

      He won the first two 60-lap stages, and he likely had the strongest car in the race. Unfortunately, Truex lined up fifth, fifth, ninth and seventh for the final four restarts of the race -- all in the bottom lane where grip through Turns 1 and 2 was almost impossible to find.

      "We had the best car out there without a doubt," Truex said. "Just inside lane restarts at the end killed us, so it just stinks when you have to race like that, you know? You get just in a bad spot, and there's nothing you can do about it.

      "We saw it the last couple restarts, so just wrong place. Probably should have took two tires that last time we pitted -- we took four. That killed us. Just wrong lane on the restart every single time all day long and couldn't use the best car to win."

      Truex led 62 laps, second only to race winner Kyle Larson's 96, but finished sixth and lost the series lead to Larson by five points.

      HAMLIN HAPPY WITH FOURTH-PLACE RUN

      Denny Hamlin feels his fortunes are on an upswing, and he had reason for optimism even before he took the green flag in the FireKeepers Casino 400.

      On Saturday afternoon, Hamlin outdueled William Byron in a side-by-side race to the finish line to take home the trophy from the Irish Hills 250 NASCAR XFINITY Series race. On Sunday, he backed that up with a satisfying fourth-place run in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event at the two-mile track.

      Hamlin was 10th for a restart on Lap 155 of 200 but worked his way forward over the final 45 laps, which were punctuated by three additional cautions.

      "Really good car," Hamlin acknowledged after the race. "Everything we needed to do we did. Had one little hiccup on pit road, but for the most part, we ran really well all day, had good speed in our Camry and pretty happy."

      The result was Hamlin's second-best result of the season, eclipsed only by his third-place run at Richmond in late April. More important, Hamlin believes he is close to getting his first win of the season -- and the first victory for Joe Gibbs Racing.

      "Yeah, definitely," he said. "I mean, you keep battling in the top five and eventually you'll have your chance."

  • FireKeepers Casino 400 results
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, June 18, 2017

    Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race - FireKeepers Casino 400

    • Michigan International Speedway

      Brooklyn, Michigan

      Sunday, June 18, 2017

      1. (1) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 200.

      2. (10) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 200.

      3. (7) Joey Logano, Ford, 200.

      4. (5) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 200.

      5. (8) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 200.

      6. (2) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 200.

      7. (4) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 200.

      8. (21) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 200.

      9. (17) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 200.

      10. (13) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 200.

      11. (9) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 200.

      12. (15) Kurt Busch, Ford, 200.

      13. (14) Erik Jones #, Toyota, 200.

      14. (11) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 200.

      15. (19) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 200.

      16. (12) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 200.

      17. (27) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 200.

      18. (25) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 200.

      19. (26) Darrell Wallace Jr.(i), Ford, 200.

      20. (37) Ty Dillon #, Chevrolet, 200.

      21. (16) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 200.

      22. (30) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 200.

      23. (22) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 200.

      24. (20) Daniel Suarez #, Toyota, 200.

      25. (6) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 200.

      26. (3) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 200.

      27. (18) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 199.

      28. (28) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 199.

      29. (29) David Ragan, Ford, 198.

      30. (32) * Corey LaJoie #, Toyota, 197.

      31. (33) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 197.

      32. (36) Landon Cassill, Ford, 196.

      33. (31) Ryan Sieg(i), Toyota, 196.

      34. (34) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 195.

      35. (35) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 195.

      36. (24) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 194.

      37. (23) Danica Patrick, Ford, Accident, 190.

      Average Speed of Race Winner: 143.369 mph.

      Time of Race: 02 Hrs, 47 Mins, 24 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.993 Seconds.

      Caution Flags: 8 for 34 laps.

      Lead Changes: 10 among 4 drivers.

      Lap Leaders: K. Larson 1-34; M. Truex Jr. 35-62; K. Larson 63-108; Kyle Busch 109-112; B. Keselowski 113-114; K. Larson 115; M. Truex Jr. 116-126; Kyle Busch 127; M. Truex Jr. 128-150; Kyle Busch 151-185; K. Larson 186-200.

      Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): K. Larson 4 times for 96 laps; M. Truex Jr. 3 times for 62 laps; Kyle Busch 3 times for 40 laps; B. Keselowski 1 time for 2 laps.

      Stage #1 Top Ten: 78,42,18,11,20,14,21,24,22,48

      Stage #2 Top Ten: 78,18,42,20,14,4,11,41,24,2

  • Michigan notebook: Johnson takes wild ride in practice
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, June 17, 2017

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Saturday morning's first practice ended early for Jimmie Johnson.

      Two laps after posting his best time of the session, Johnson lost control of his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in the middle of Turns 3 and 4 at Michigan International Speedway.

      As the car spun, the seven-time champion was able to keep it away from the outside wall, but the No. 48 shot toward the infield, and the splitter dug into the grass as soon as the car left the asphalt.

      Johnson's first inclination was that his car was damaged severely enough to require a backup, but after he drove the Chevy back to the garage, crew chief Chad Knaus opted to try to repair the primary entry.

      "I got loose into Turn 3 and fought it for a long time and unfortunately came around," Johnson said of the accident. "Did a nice job of keeping it off the outside wall, but came back down the hill and into the grass and the front end dug in pretty good.

      "I'm pretty surprised the guys feel like the damage isn't too bad, and they can get that stuff pulled back out and get the shape of the body back. So we're out for the rest of this practice and we'll get back on track for the second one. Not the way we wanted to start the day, but it is what it is."

      Not so fast. After working on the car during the NASCAR Xfinity Series qualifying session, Knaus ultimately decided that it wasn't feasible to repair the primary car.

      Accordingly, the No. 48 team rolled out the backup, and Johnson will have to start from the rear in Sunday's FireKeepers Casino 400 (3 p.m. ET on FS1) because of the post-qualifying car change.

      In the backup, Johnson was ninth fastest in final practice.

      REED ON STANDBY AS BAYNE WAITS FOR BABY

      With Trevor Bayne's wife Ashton expecting the couple's second child -- perhaps as early as this weekend -- NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Ryan Reed is on standby as a possible substitute for Bayne in Sunday's Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Michigan.

      Toward that end, Reed ran three laps in his fellow Roush Fenway Racing driver's Ford Fusion during Friday's opening Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice, just in case he has to get behind the wheel of the No. 6 Ford in Sunday's FireKeepers Casino 400.

      Reed is currently sixth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series standings, but he is not a complete novice in a Cup car. Reed started 18th and finished 26th in an RFR Ford last fall at Talladega, but should he have to fill in for Bayne on Sunday, this would be his first trip at an open-motor track.

      Bayne was 20th fastest in Saturday's first practice session and 19th in final practice.

      SHORT STROKES

      His car may be blue, but Martin Truex Jr. isn't. With a lap at 198.385 mph, Truex topped the speed chart in Saturday's first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice. Truex is running the light blue Auto-Owners Insurance paint scheme this weekend. The last time he represented that sponsor, Truex won at Kansas. ...

      Late in Saturday's final practice, Brad Keselowski surged to the top of the board with a lap at 197.401 mph. Team Penske teammate Joey Logano was fourth fastest. Those two drivers left the track considerably happier than AJ Allmendinger, who clobbered the wall near the exit from Turn 2 in the final minute of practice. "Did he kill it?" crew chief Ernie Cope radioed to spotter Coleman Pressley. The team immediately opted for a backup car, and maybe that's a good thing. Allmendinger was 28th fastest in final practice.

  • Larson edges Truex Jr. for Michigan pole
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, June 16, 2017

    By Reid Spencer

    • NASCAR Wire Service

      BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Martin Truex Jr. thought he had the pole for Sunday's FireKeepers Casino 400 -- until Kyle Larson made the last run in the final round of Friday's Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series knockout qualifying at Michigan International Speedway.

      Driving the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, Larson, who won the first Cup race of his career last August at MIS, covered the two-mile distance in 35.616 seconds (202.156 mph), edging Truex (202.117 mph) for the top starting spot by a scant .007 seconds.

      "We made some good adjustments there for that final round," said Larson, who earned his first Coors Light Pole Award at Michigan, his second of the season and the third of his career. "I was pretty good in the first round and a little bit tight in the second round. They went a step further on freeing it up for the final round and the Cars 3 Chevy drove good.

      "I could tell by the RPM and the engine it was going to be a pretty good lap, so I was happy about that to get the pole after winning here last year. So, hopefully, we can keep it going. So far, it's been a really good weekend leading in (opening) practice and then getting the quick time here. So, yeah, it's an exciting weekend, and hopefully we can keep it going."

      Truex went all-out on his lap in the money round, with his car bottoming out and trailing a stream of sparks though the corners at each end of the track.

      "You're just hoping the tires stick enough that it doesn't turn you sideways or make you get tight or whatever," Truex said of the lap. "It really feels like the car rides really rough. That's really all it is. It doesn't upset the car too much, if it's just light contact.

      "You've got to get it down to go fast, and the guys did a good job of getting it down -- that's for sure."

      As fast as his final lap was, Truex will start second for the third consecutive race, having lost poles at Dover and Pocono to Kyle Busch.

      "It's a little disappointing," Truex said. "I thought we had it there, but Kyle went out late and beat us. But, really, you're never shocked. It's really hard to put a perfect lap together. There's always something you could do a little bit better, and our lap in the third round was the same way. ... We picked up a good chunk in the third round, but, obviously, Larson picked up a tiny bit more."

      Clint Bowyer matched his best qualifying effort of the season and will start third on Sunday. Kyle Busch qualified fourth, followed by Denny Hamlin, Pocono winner Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano and Jamie McMurray.

      Kevin Harvick, who was fastest in each of the first two rounds of Friday's time trials, fell off the pace in the third round and will start 11th.

      "We just got really loose there in the last round," Harvick said. "We were really good the first two, but something changed. I like the speed in race trim. We have some work to do for Sunday."

      Chase Elliott, who will start 10th, was the only Hendrick Motorsports driver to make the final round, as seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson was bumped out of the top 12 by Matt Kenseth on the last run of the second round.

      Johnson qualified 13th, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. earned the 17th starting spot.

      In his second race in the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford as a substitute driver for injured Aric Almirola, Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr. will start 26th.

      Ty Dillon will start from the rear on Sunday after his time was disallowed because of unapproved modifications to the body of his No. 13 Chevrolet during qualifying.

  • Johnson keeps focus on racing with contract settled
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, June 16, 2017

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Don't read anything into the term of Jimmie Johnson's new contract with Hendrick Motorsports.

      Yes, Johnson signed a three-year extension with the organization that has provided him a ride for his entire Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career.

      Yes, that's shorter than the five-year deal he inked last time. At the end of the 2020 season, Johnson will be 45, a year older than his car owner and mentor, Jeff Gordon, was when he retired from full-time racing at NASCAR's highest level.

      But Johnson says passion, not age, will govern his decision to step aside -- whenever that may be.

      "I think in all fairness to the questions and to myself, any contract I sign right now with my age is probably going to raise questions," Johnson told the NASCAR Wire Service on Friday before opening practice for Sunday's FireKeepers Casino 400 (3 p.m. ET on FS1).

      "I get it, but I don't have a vision of if it's three (years), if it's five, if it's seven -- I don't know. I do know I'm having a great time, and I don't want to stop right now."

      Johnson has unfinished business, after all. His victory at Dover gave him 83 for his career, tied with NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough for sixth all-time. Right in front of Johnson are Hall of famers Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison, tied for fourth with 84 wins each.

      And, of course, there's the eighth championship. Should he win one more, Johnson would stand at the pinnacle of the sport -- alone.

      "I've never honestly been driven by stats, and I've said it so many times, but it's hard to ignore where I sit on the wins list and not let my competitive spirit kick in and want more," Johnson said. "Certainly, would love to climb further up the ladder there. Eight championships, I would love to stand alone at that ..."

      But for Johnson, the competition is paramount, and any new performance standards he accomplishes, he wants to do with crew chief Chad Knaus, whose contract is up after next year. For Johnson, that means another year to convince his long-time pit boss to stay around for the duration.

      "For me, it's really about racing," Johnson said. "I just love to race. The experience I have with my engineers, with my team, with Chad, that bond and that experience combined with the experience of driving and competing ... there is a high in that, that I've chased my entire career.

      "That's still why I get in that race car. Someday, when that fades, that's when I'll step down. It's not going to be because of stats and where I rank or how many championships I have. It's all about that experience in the car. That experience is as cool as it's ever been, and I'm really enjoying it right now."

      RYAN BLANEY: A YOUNG DRIVER WHO RESPECTS OLD-SCHOOL

      In relation to the magnitude of the moment, Ryan Blaney's victory celebration last Sunday at Pocono Raceway was positively subdued.

      Blaney had just won his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race, passing 2015 series champion Kyle Busch with nine laps left and holding off 2014 champion Kevin Harvick over the final eight circuits.

      The victory was the 99th for the Wood Brothers, the most venerable organization in NASCAR racing. Yet Blaney refrained from a celebratory burnout, preferring to keep things "old-school" in deference to his team owners.

      "This year I kind of decided that I didn't really want to do one anymore," said Blaney, who will turn 24 on New Year's Eve. "When I was younger, I used to do them and love them. They are fun to do. I just thought it was fitting not to do one in the Wood Brothers car because, traditionally, that is not how they used to do it.

      "They used to just kind of go around and wave at the fans, so I figured that is what we would do. Probably the biggest regret of not having my radio working (it was broken during the race) was I couldn't find these guys (team owners Eddie and Len Wood). I couldn't find where they were and pick them up. I didn't really see any negative things about not doing a burnout. I thought it was fitting for the Wood Brothers team."

      JOEY LOGANO: RAIN WON'T NIX TRACK RUBBERING EFFORTS

      Before race weekend at Michigan International Speedway, the tire dragon did yeoman work for roughly eight days, dragging tires around the two-mile oval in an attempt to widen the racing groove.

      A hard rain shower hit the track on Friday morning, but according to driver Joey Logano, that won't negate the efforts to "rubber-in" the racing surface.

      "On weekends when it rains it doesn't really wash away as much rubber as we really think it does," said Logano, a two-time winner at Michigan. "It will definitely wash some rubber off, but it gets laid down pretty quick. For whatever reason, maybe all the little small holes in the race track get filled up or they are already filled up, and the rain washes it away and the rubber fills them up the next time. Kansas is a good example of that.

      "I know track temperature effects things more than anything as far as widening out. The hotter it is, the more rubber will get laid down, cars make mistakes and get up by the wall and lay down rubber and the groove gets wider."

      Logano didn't get a chance to see what kind of effect the tire dragging might have had during Friday's first practice because he was concentrating on mock qualifying runs.

      "When you're in qualifying trim, you aren't really moving around the race track," he said. "You're going to go to the lane that you know is the fastest groove. Now, watching the ARCA race and Xfinity race here will help that as well and seeing how much wider it is going to get. This place usually gets to three lanes."

      And three lanes typically make for entertaining racing, giving drivers options to find the fastest way around the track for their particular setups.

  • Johnson signs extension with Hendrick through 2020
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, June 16, 2017

    Seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson signed a three-year contract extension to remain at Hendrick Motorsports through 2020, the organization announced Friday.

    • The 41-year-old Johnson, driving the No. 48 Chevrolet, won his seventh title in 2016 to tie the NASCAR record for championships held by Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

      Johnson is tied for sixth in all-time victories with 83, including three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup wins in the first 14 races of the 2017 season.

      In addition, Hendrick Motorsports announced that Lowe's Companies, Inc., agreed to extend the primary sponsorship of the team full-time through 2018.

      "Jimmie is one of the best to ever drive," Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick said in a statement. "We're so fortunate to have him as part of our organization, and I feel even luckier to call him a friend. He's a great champion, a terrific advocate for Lowe's and a true ambassador for NASCAR. There's no better person, and he's as good in the race car today as he's ever been. It's such an incredible success story."

      Johnson made his Cup debut in October 2001 with Hendrick Motorsports, making all 557 career starts with the same team and crew chief Chad Knaus. Johnson has 221 top-5 finishes and 335 top-10s. Knaus is signed through 2018.

      "My relationship with Lowe's, Hendrick Motorsports and all of my teammates means so much to me," Johnson said. "I remember hoping to just win one race. Winning seven championships and 83 races was inconceivable, and now we have the opportunity to do even more together. It says a lot to have one sponsor, one crew chief and one team for so long. I couldn't be more proud to represent everyone at Lowe's and Hendrick Motorsports, and I continue to be as grateful for the opportunity as I was when we started."

  • Wallace Jr. aims to launch career wirh substitute role
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, June 15, 2017

    It's difficult not to like Darrell "Bubba" Wallace, Jr.

    • The driver from Mobile, Ala., races hard, is a fiercely competitive guy and an interesting character.

      Time will tell if he will be able to sustain himself in NASCAR's premier series, where he is currently substituting for the injured Aric Almirola at Richard Petty Motorsports. He has the racing talent needed to make a living in stock cars, but whether he can find a front-line team to give him a chance and the equipment he needs to win is another question.

      How competitive is Wallace's personality? To hear him tell it, when he believes his performance is not up to snuff, he tends to get so angry at himself once a race is over that he momentarily loses focus and passes out.

      If you haven't heard of Wallace by now, it's likely you've been away over the past week to 10 days. His advancement to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series as a substitute at RPM is not shocking, given the dues he's paid driving Fords in the Xfinity Series and the Toyotas in the Camping World Truck Series.

      But the fact he is the first African American driver to compete at NASCAR's highest level since 2006 has garnered a lot of attention for good reason. The sport has been a bastion of white participants and has seen only one African American driver, Wendell Scott, win a race in its long and storied history.

      This angle was old news by time Wallace climbed into the RPM Ford at Pocono last weekend, because of pre-race coverage.

      Once off to the races, Wallace drove like a rookie -- trying to figure out how to go fast during his first race in the more powerful Cup cars. He broke the speed limit more than once on the pit road, which was probably as much a team and preparation error as it was a driver error.

      In this sense, his introduction to digital dashboards did not go well. Otherwise, Wallace's debut was uneventful -- except for the multitude of questions afterward by media members rightfully fascinated with Wallace's anticipated arrival in NASCAR's biggest league.

      "This was a wonderful day for me, a wonderful day for the sport," Wallace said. "I wish we could have got a little bit better finish in our Smithfield Ford, but I'm just thankful for the opportunity. I've been dreaming about this since I was a little kid, being in the Cup Series, and now it's here, and I made a name for myself.

      "I thought I ran a pretty decent race, just kind of running there by myself, passed a couple people, tried not to make anybody too mad, and hopefully earned a lot of respect from those guys out there. I definitely had a blast. At the same time, I was a little frustrated. But we'll build off of it. I'll practice more with the dash and go debrief with the team, and we'll just get better."

      The alternate news is that Wallace's time at RPM is limited from the outset. The injured Almirola likely will be back behind the wheel before the summer is out. But for an aspiring race car driver, out of sight is out of mind.

      Wallace will continue to have a lot eyes on him despite the fact his ride in the Xfinity series with Roush Fenway Racing is coming to an end.

      There is legitimate concern that Wallace did not win in the Xfinity series in two full seasons after driving trucks for Kyle Busch Motorsports, where he won five races in short order. In Xfinity cars, he tended to be a contender who never quite gets in contention often enough at race's end. By contrast, both Ryan Reed and Chris Buescher have won Xfinity events for Roush Fenway during Wallace's tenure, Reed having won at Daytona twice.

      The drivers who attract the most attention from manufacturers and team owners show themselves to be winners in the lower ranks quickly and often. The recent list includes the top rookies of the last three seasons: Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez. It has almost always been this way in motor racing.

      In the current era, being able to present one's self to fans and the media is also a prerequisite. And it didn't hurt that Elliott's father is a former NASCAR champion and Blaney's father raced for over a decade in Cup racing.

      Suarez, by contrast, is exhibit A when it comes to NASCAR's Drive for Diversity. He has admirably handled his rookie season with Joe Gibbs Racing and leads his heralded counterpart Jones in the points as well as Ty Dillon, another rookie with family connections. Every talented driver has an angle and Wallace, another member of Drive for Diversity, has the recognition and clearly knows how to engage the media, fans and his fellow drivers.

      Will that be enough for him to land a full-time ride in good enough equipment to prove himself?

      Bill Lester, the last African American driver to compete in the Cup Series, raced twice in 2006 and is the only recent example. Lester was at his best at high speed and as a public speaker. A former electrical engineer for Hewlett Packard, Lester was in many respects a sponsor's dream -- articulate, handsome and fast enough to prove he could hang with the drivers in the Cup series.

      Sponsorship never arrived because of the perceived conundrum of having a different spokesman in a sport with a predominantly white following. There was not much interest shown by manufacturers, either, who presumably sell cars to people of all colors. Nobody seemed to think it might help the sport grow if Lester got an opportunity to compete regularly. (After all, everybody's money is green.)

      NASCAR, which fully supported Lester's bid, has been developing its Drive for Diversity program ever since. Even though the program requires minorities and females to demonstrate skill and experience in driving or pit crew work, showing partiality based on skin color or gender is not necessarily popular politically. But it's the right and best method for the sport to expand its horizons if it truly wants to be considered major league.

      Here's hoping Wallace gets an opportunity to prove he can sustain himself as a contender and become a winner, because it would be good for the entire sport. If he gets the opportunity, the rest is up to him. In the short term, his ongoing drives for RPM this summer should be interesting to watch, starting with the race at Michigan on Sunday.

  • Patrick admits to having 'a moment' with booing fan
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, June 15, 2017

    Danica Patrick admitted she wished she kept walking as opposed to confronting a booing spectator after qualifying for last week's race in Pocono, Pa.

    • Alas, the 35-year-old NASCAR star didn't do what she now wished and admitted to having "a moment" when she cursed out the fan at Pocono Raceway.

      "In a perfect world, I would have never walked over there and I'd have just kept going," she said during a promotional tour in Boston on Wednesday. "That's mostly what I do, every single day, if someone boos me, is you just keep walking.

      "But every now and again, they just catch you in a moment. And I had a moment."

      In a video that went viral, Patrick was heard to say the following to the booing fan:

      "I don't appreciate the booing. It hurts my feelings. I'm a (expletive) person, you know what I mean? I'm a person too. I have feelings."

      Dale Earnhardt Jr. was quick to come to the defense of Patrick.

      "She's had a tough year. She's under tons of pressure ... I can completely relate to where she is mentally," Earnhardt said on his podcast Tuesday.

  • Blaney win continues wave of new generation's arrival
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, June 12, 2017

    Did we just see the future of NASCAR in the eastern mountains of Pennsylvania?

    • Ryan Blaney, age 23, passed one former champion to take the lead at the Pocono International Raceway, then held off another to get his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup win on Sunday.

      Erik Jones, the ever-aggressive driver who looks more like the high school kid next door than a NASCAR lead foot, finished third at age 21.

      Darrell Wallace Jr., age 23 and better known as Bubba, brought more diversity to NASCAR by becoming the first African-American to compete at NASCAR's highest level in just over a decade.

      We might have seen the past at Pocono, too. The Wood Brothers, the legacy team that launched with a modified Ford first raced by Glen Wood in 1950, fielded the winning entry for Blaney and scored its 99th career victory. And Wallace drove for Richard Petty Motorsports, which was launched in 1949 by patriarch Lee Petty, who drove a neighbor's Buick in NASCAR's first Strictly Stock race.

      Then there were the grandstands -- relatively full. While this development could be a sign of the past, it also might mean that fans may have caught on to the new stage format used by NASCAR in its Cup series. It's become pretty clear that drivers need to race from the drop of the green if they expect to be a season's champion by year's end.

      Jimmie Johnson, who is seeking an eighth title this year, raced hard enough to blow out his brakes entering Turn 1 at over 200 mph and was fortunate to walk away from a heavy crash. There was a time when drivers were more inclined to save their brakes, but stage points were on the line.

      Whatever the portents might be, this was one of the happier scenes in NASCAR's premier series in a recent while. That's because of the admiration for Blaney and the respect for the brothers Wood.

      Blaney's father, Dave, a World of Outlaws sprint car champion, switched from open-wheel racing to NASCAR in 2000, but never won a race in 14 full seasons. In addition to being likable and fast, the Blaneys have paid their dues. The team directed by Leonard and Glen Wood, meanwhile, helped build NASCAR in the 1960s, then helped sustain it when the factories pulled out in the 1970s. And here they are making a comeback worthy of Lazarus to gain their first victory since 2011.

      At the center of this maelstrom of good vibes is Ryan Blaney, slender and fresh-faced. He carries himself just short of a swagger and drives with the bravado of a getaway man. If he hadn't hustled his car all day, he might not have ever made it to fourth place on the final restart. From there he ran down Kyle Busch, who had the day's strongest car but found himself on the wrong side of worn tires.

      New leader Blaney then held off Kevin Harvick, one of the sport's slickest late-race chargers, by coolly adapting his lines and tactics, including using a downshift at the Tunnel Turn.

      Adding to the emotional leverage was the fact that Blaney has had some strong Fords from the Wood Brothers this year and last, but never could close the deal due to mishaps along the way. Now he's crossed the Rubicon and has beaten the perennial stumbling block for so many drivers -- getting that first win.

      "I think it's a great day," said Blaney. "We've had a bunch of new winners this year. Ricky (Stenhouse) got his first win this year. I think there was another -- who else? Austin (Dillon) won the 600. So, it's a huge year for the rookies, and then Bubba making his first start this weekend."

      Blaney is glad to be part of the new wave, but acknowledged that he was a bit jealous of Kyle Larson, Stenhouse and Dillion getting their wins before him.

      "I think we're all kind of coming into our own," said Blaney. "Erik Jones had a great day today. He run third. He had a super-fast car all day. So, I think it's pretty neat to just be part of the group."

      Blaney's victory is likely a tipping point. He's sure to be followed by Jones, Chase Elliott and Ty Dillon, which would establish a core group that may begin to draw the younger demographic that NASCAR so desperately needs in the face of its legacy fans dwindling.

      That's a point not lost on the "middle-aged" stars. Brad Keselowski, who gave Blaney his biggest professional break in 2012 by hiring him to drive for his NASCAR Truck team, interviewed him in Victory Lane on behalf of Fox Sports. Busch, who melted down in anger after getting beat on fuel mileage by Dillon in Charlotte, sent a congratulatory tweet, predicting it would be the first of many wins for Blaney.

      While he's not quite a legacy owner as far as NASCAR is concerned, another team with a long pedigree, the one owned by Roger Penske, had a hand in this victory. Eddie and Len Wood, the second-generation car owners, first met Penske in the early 1970s at the old Riverside, Calif., road course while working for their father's team and have remained friends and admirers of "The Captain." Penske, in fact, has Blaney under contract and has loaned him to the fellow Ford team of the Wood Brothers for the past two seasons.

      After some recent snafus by the Wood Brothers, such as broken axles that have dropped the team out of the top 10 in the points standings, Penske announced not long before the Pocono race that he would enter a third car in 2018 at Team Penske for Blaney. This reinforced the idea that Blaney is a talented, front-line driver and at the same time indicated the Wood Brothers and crew chief Jeremy Bullins had best take advantage of his presence.

      That now means focusing on the current season's championship, where Blaney has a postseason berth thanks to Sunday's victory. He also now has eight playoff bonus points and is tied with Larson for fourth among all drivers.

      "I feel like our approach this year has been the right approach of going out there and trying to win races and win stages at the same time," said Blaney, who apparently was born flat-out and sees no reason why his team can't win a title.

      A 23-year-old sophomore driver as the first Monster Energy champion under the new stage rules? Stranger things have happened. Besides, when you've just won your first NASCAR Cup race, the world is your oyster.

  • Notebook: Banner day for Rookie of the Year contender Jones
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, June 11, 2017

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      LONG POND, Pa. -- Erik Jones got a taste of the high life on Sunday at Pocono Raceway.

      Running third in the closing laps of the Axalta presents the Pocono 400, Jones watched Ryan Blaney outduel Kevin Harvick for the victory -- and wanted to be up there with them.

      Third was a career best for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender, but Jones has his sights set on loftier goals.

      "It's great to run up there and it feels really good to get a top five, but, man, when you're that close and you're seeing them battle for the win and you're right there trying to pounce and make a move, it definitely makes you eager to go up there and try to get it," Jones said.

      "Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come, and hopefully we can keep running well and keep getting in contention for more."

      The race unfolded in nearly ideal fashion for the No. 77 Furniture Row Racing team. The Toyota was a long-run car, and there were plenty of long runs in Sunday's race. And Jones held his position after the final caution on Lap 141 despite taking two tires on the last pit stop.

      "We needed a lot of green flag runs and we got that today," Jones said. "We got plenty of green flag runs. It worked out really good.

      "The late caution, I kind of thought that was going to throw a kink in our day. Obviously, I was pretty content with where we were running. Came in, luckily two tires worked out for us just fine. We were able to get clear up into third and kind of hang out there for the rest of the race."

      EARNHARDT MISSES ANOTHER SHIFT AND BOWS OUT EARLY

      Dale Earnhardt Jr. started from the rear of the field in the Axalta presents the Pocono 400 because a missed shift in practice had forced him to change engines before qualifying.

      After a restart on Lap 57, Earnhardt repeated the mistake. Trying to nudge his shifter into fourth gear from third, he hit second gear instead, over-revving the engine. With his power plant out of commission, Earnhardt rolled slowly into the garage and retired from the race in 38th place.

      In his final year of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racing, Earnhardt has six finishes of 30th or worse in 14 races. Earnhardt was at a loss to explain the cause of the mistakes that caused his engine failures at Pocono Raceway.

      "The shifter is not different, the handle is not different, the location, everything is the same," Earnhardt said. "I don't know. It's something about my motion that's not... going in the wrong gear. I wish I could blame it on something else, because this is awful, it feels awful.

      "The car was fast. We drove up into the top 15 there running great lap times. Really, really happy with the car. Wasn't really running that hard backing up the corners big-time and just cruising forward, really happy. It's just my fault. I don't know what else to ... I wish I could say that the shifter is different and something is out of line or not something I was doing last year as far as where we had the shifter mounted for Pocono."

      With a road course race at Sonoma and another trip to Pocono in the near future, it's a problem Earnhardt and his team must solve.

      "This really concerns me coming back here and the road courses, you know. But we haven't had any problems all year long, but at places where we do a lot of shifting, I don't know what is going on, what I've got to do or why this is really happening out of nowhere," Earnhardt said.

      "I don't know ... we don't really have an answer to it other than me just having to pay more attention, but I mean I've been doing this all my life, and this isn't a common issue, but it has been this weekend."

      HIGH-SPEED BRAKE FAILURE GIVES JIMMIE JOHNSON A MAJOR SCARE

      For Jimmie Johnson, Sunday's Lap 95 excursion into Turn 1 at Pocono Raceway was the scariest moment the seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion had endured since nosing into a tire barrier in a NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Watkins Glen 17 years ago.

      Johnson roared into the tight corner at more than 200 mph, but a sudden brake failure sent his No. 48 Chevrolet out of control and hurtling into the outside wall.

      "(The brake pedal) went right to the floor, and I saw a replay inside the medical center," Johnson said after exiting the infield care center. "The smoke, I think, is the brake fluid coming out of wherever it failed and onto the rotors. I can only speculate that I got the brakes too hot and when I went to the brakes they just traveled straight to the floor.

      "I didn't even have a pedal to push on. At that point, I threw it in third gear and I was just trying to slow it down. I was heading to the grass, and I was wondering why I didn't turn right and get to the wall sooner, but I'm fine. Certainly, a big scare. I haven't had a scare like that since 2000 at Watkins Glen. So, just want to let my wife and kids and my mom know that I'm OK and I will go change my underwear and get ready to go home."

      In a bizarre coincidence, Jamie McMurray's brakes failed in the same corner on the same lap. His No. 1 Chevrolet caught fire, forcing McMurray to make a hasty exit from the cockpit.

      "I didn't really even see the No. 48 (Johnson) wrecking until I just went down and I got on the brake pedal and my pedal started to go to the floor, and I had a little bit that I could kind of pump it, and I thought I was going to be OK," McMurray said.

      "And then, I don't know if I got into some oil or what happened, but I just started spinning and didn't have any brakes. So it was really weird that we kind of both had the same thing happen at the same point on the racetrack, but fortunately, we're both OK, and, yeah, move on."

  • Pocono 400 results
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, June 11, 2017

    Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race - Axalta presents the Pocono 400

    • Pocono Raceway

      Long Pond, Pennsylvania

      Sunday, June 11, 2017

      1. (4) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 160.

      2. (12) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 160.

      3. (15) Erik Jones #, Toyota, 160.

      4. (5) Kurt Busch, Ford, 160.

      5. (6) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 160.

      6. (2) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 160.

      7. (7) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 160.

      8. (25) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 160.

      9. (1) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 160.

      10. (3) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 160.

      11. (23) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 160.

      12. (18) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 160.

      13. (17) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 160.

      14. (10) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 160.

      15. (14) Daniel Suarez #, Toyota, 160.

      16. (24) Danica Patrick, Ford, 160.

      17. (20) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 160.

      18. (27) Ty Dillon #, Chevrolet, 160.

      19. (29) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 160.

      20. (13) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 160.

      21. (22) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 160.

      22. (21) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 160.

      23. (9) Joey Logano, Ford, 160.

      24. (11) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 160.

      25. (31) David Ragan, Ford, 159.

      26. (16) Darrell Wallace Jr.(i), Ford, 159.

      27. (34) Landon Cassill, Ford, 158.

      28. (35) * Corey LaJoie #, Toyota, 157.

      29. (33) Gray Gaulding #, Toyota, 156.

      30. (32) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, Engine, 155.

      31. (36) Reed Sorenson, Toyota, 154.

      32. (30) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, Drive Shaft, 153.

      33. (39) * Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, 153.

      34. (37) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, Brakes, 146.

      35. (26) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, Accident, 140.

      36. (19) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, Accident, 95.

      37. (8) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, Accident, 95.

      38. (28) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, Engine, 58.

      39. (38) * Cody Ware, Chevrolet, Vibration, 35.

      Average Speed of Race Winner: 142.292 mph.

      Time of Race: 02 Hrs, 48 Mins, 40 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.139 Seconds.

      Caution Flags: 4 for 18 laps.

      Lead Changes: 13 among 9 drivers.

      Lap Leaders: Kyle Busch 1-17; E. Jones # 18-34; Kyle Busch 35-53; R. Stenhouse Jr. 54-56; E. Jones # 57-59; Kyle Busch 60-90; D. Hamlin 91; D. Suarez # 92; K. Larson 93-101; Kyle Busch 102-124; M. Truex Jr. 125-129; B. Keselowski 130-140; Kyle Busch 141-150; R. Blaney 151-160.

      Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Kyle Busch 5 times for 100 laps; E. Jones # 2 times for 20 laps; B. Keselowski 1 time for 11 laps; R. Blaney 1 time for 10 laps; K. Larson 1 time for 9 laps; M. Truex Jr. 1 time for 5 laps; R. Stenhouse Jr. 1 time for 3 laps; D. Hamlin 1 time for 1 lap; D. Suarez # 1 time for 1 lap.

      Stage #1 Top Ten: 18,4,2,42,48,24,41,20,1,3

      Stage #2 Top Ten: 42,18,78,4,24,77,2,41,5,20

  • Pocono notebook: Newman driving like he still has something to prove
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, June 10, 2017

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Exchange

      LONG POND, Pa. -- Until he stayed out on older tires and held of the onslaught behind him at Phoenix earlier this season, Ryan Newman hadn't won a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race since he took the checkered flag at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2013.

      "Let me put it to you this way: I don't remember the last time I had a win and didn't have to worry about getting in on points," Newman said about his path to NASCAR's 10-race playoff in 2014 and 2015.

      Not that there's anything wrong with earning enough points to qualify for the postseason. In 2014, without winning a race, Newman advance to the championship event at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he finished second to race and title winner Kevin Harvick by a mere half-second.

      But victories are the surest way to qualify for the playoff, and Newman already has one this year. As long as there aren't more race winners in the first 26 events than there are spots in the playoff, Newman is in.

      "There are still no guarantees, (but) I don't see us having 17 winners in 26 races," Newman said in advance of Sunday's Axalta presents The Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway (3 p.m. ET on FS1). "It could happen, but I don't see it. And, I think that it's nice to have that off your mind, but I still feel that you have to have the mentality that you don't. You have to have the stubbornness and the racing mentality of you can't just say that we're in.

      "I've seen guys the last few years that get that (win), and they don't perform well in the first or second stage of the playoffs, and it costs them. So, I think when you race for points, no matter if you win or you don't, it is good practice for being closer to becoming a champion."

      KYLE BUSCH RESIGNED TO FOUR RACES WITHOUT HIS CREW CHIEF

      Kyle Busch won the pole for Sunday's Axalta presents the Pocono 400 without his crew chief, Adam Stevens, on the pit box, and that's a good thing -- because Busch won't have Stevens' services for the next four races.

      Last Sunday at Dover International Speedway, Busch's pit crew failed to attach the left rear tire to the No. 18 Toyota before the jack dropped. As a consequence, Busch rolled around the one-mile track on three wheels, eventually limping back to pit road.

      When a wheel falls off a car, the team draws a penalty, and part of the punishment is a four-race suspension for the crew chief. Though Busch would argue there was no intent on the part of his team to violate a rule, NASCAR doesn't infer intent when dealing with infractions that deal with safety issues.

      Joe Gibbs Racing opted not to appeal the penalty, largely because of the position of the four suspension races on the schedule.

      "When you look at the stretch, I think the biggest thing is we looked at the four races -- none of them are (playoff) races," Busch said. "I would have appealed it, because I think there was a reason to. I think there was also a reason not to with going to Pocono and Michigan, Sonoma and then Daytona. We'll do what we need to do.

      "And at least he (Stevens) can stay home with his kids more often the next couple days and not have to travel all the way out to Sonoma and miss that one. I think his wife and my wife had a wine date in Sonoma, so she's still coming but it's going to be fun. To work as hard as we do and do what we do without him, it's going to be fun because it is a challenge, but it's also sad at the same time, because you have to be without one of your main people."

      The Pocono pole, at least, is a good start to what could be a difficult month. Then again, perhaps not. Busch also topped the speed chart in Saturday's final practice, turning a lap at 175.421 mph on the triangular 2.5-mile track.

      SHORT STROKES

      Early in final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice at Pocono Raceway, the Chevrolet of Kyle Larson slipped in the Tunnel Turn and slid sideways, lighting up the tires in a dense cloud of smoke. Larson kept the car off the wall, however, and polesitter Kyle Busch, who was trailing Larson through the corner got past the spin without incident. ...

      Larson nevertheless was third fastest behind Busch (175.421 mph) and Brad Keselowski (175.285 mph) in Happy Hour, posting a lap at 175.210 mph before his spin. Chase Elliott was fourth quickest at 175.077 mph. Though Toyotas swept the top three in Friday afternoon's knockout qualifying session, Busch was the only Toyota driver in the top 10 in final practice.

  • Kyle Busch wins Pocono pole
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, June 9, 2017

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      LONG POND, Pa. -- Running his fastest lap of the day in the final round of Friday's knockout qualifying, Kyle Busch won the pole position for Sunday's Axalta presents the Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway (3 p.m. ET on FS1) by a comfortable margin.

      The only driver to top 179 mph in three rounds of time trials, Busch covered the 2.5-mile distance at the triangular track in 50.237 seconds (179.151 mph) to earn his second Coors Light Pole Award of the season, his third at Pocono and the 21st of his career.

      In the money round, Busch powered his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to a .171-second victory over fellow Camry driver Martin Truex Jr. (178.543 mph). As the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season enters its second half, Busch and Truex, the series leader, will start 1-2 for their second straight race, having qualified first and second, respectively, at Dover.

      Despite slipping slightly at the entrance to Turn 3, Busch gained substantial time through that corner.

      "I thought I got through Turn 1 pretty good," said Busch, whose crew chief, Adam Stevens, is serving a four-week suspension because the left rear tire on Busch's car fell off (because of unattached lugs) during the team's first pit stop last week at Dover. "I thought I got through Turn 2 just OK, and entering Turn 3, I felt I slipped a little too much, actually.

      "As it stopped slipping, I was like, 'Wow, it's got great grip right now -- go!' I was able to get the gas down and stick really well off Turn 3. I did notice that I was able to shift early and felt like I got a really good exit there. I didn't know how good a lap it was going to be. It took forever to pop up on my screen.

      "And once they said it was a 50.20, I said 'Well, that's faster than the last round. Hopefully, that's good enough.'"

      Matt Kenseth qualified third, as Toyotas grabbed the top three spots on the grid. The three Fords of Ryan Blaney, Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski followed in fourth through sixth. Kyle Larson, who ran the fastest lap in the first round (178.625 mph), was seventh in his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

      "The first round was really good for us," Larson said. "Our Target Chevy drove really nice. I didn't even feel like I was driving hard. So, the second round, I tried to get a little more, and I just got loose into (Turn) 1 and screwed up my whole lap.

      "And then the third round there, I backed my entry up into (Turn) 1 and still got loose in but was able to get to the bottom, and then I just got really tight off of (Turn) 1 and it killed my lap. Turns 2 and 3 are pretty good, but I just killed it there in Turn 1."

      Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman were eighth, ninth and 10th.

      Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start at the rear of the field after over-revving his engine during Friday's opening practice, necessitating a change of the power plant. Under NASCAR's one-engine rule, that means a mandatory start at the back.

      "I blew the engine up," Earnhardt explained in a tweet. "Went into 2nd gear (aiming for fourth) and grenaded it. Will have to start last Sunday... Our rev limiter is 9500. It turned 12,615 before it gave up."

      Earnhardt ran one lap in the first round of qualifying and was 28th fastest, but he will drop to the rear for the green flag.

      "If there's a race track you've got to start in the back and not have a very good pit selection, this is the one to do that at," Earnhardt said after his run. "Since we're required to start on the tires we qualify on, we really just planned on making one lap. We went out there and we had our car set-up like we are going to try to start tomorrow (for practice) in race trim.

      "We just went out there and made one single lap to really kind of get a directional idea of where we want to go tomorrow. It allowed us to take pictures of our car and know where the travels and everything is. That way we don't put anymore laps on our tires that we have to start on Sunday."

      Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying - Axalta presents the Pocono 400

      Pocono Raceway

      Long Pond, Pa.

      Friday, June 9

      1. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 179.151 mph.

      2. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 178.543 mph.

      3. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 178.108 mph.

      4. (21) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 177.897 mph.

      5. (41) Kurt Busch, Ford, 177.799 mph.

      6. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 177.792 mph.

      7. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 177.557 mph.

      8. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 177.368 mph.

      9. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 177.256 mph.

      10. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 177.026 mph.

      11. (95) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 176.918 mph.

      12. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 176.561 mph.

      13. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 176.533 mph.

      14. (19) Daniel Suarez #, Toyota, 176.460 mph.

      15. (77) Erik Jones #, Toyota, 176.211 mph.

      16. (43) Darrell Wallace Jr.(i), Ford, 176.146 mph.

      17. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 176.122 mph.

      18. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 176.049 mph.

      19. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 175.695 mph.

      20. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 175.586 mph.

      21. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 175.582 mph.

      22. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 175.469 mph.

      23. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 174.750 mph.

      24. (10) Danica Patrick, Ford, 172.665 mph.

      25. (24) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 175.223 mph.

      26. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 174.744 mph.

      27. (13) Ty Dillon #, Chevrolet, 174.186 mph.

      28. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 173.832 mph.

      29. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 173.645 mph.

      30. (32) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 173.417 mph.

      31. (38) David Ragan, Ford, 172.924 mph.

      32. (72) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 172.698 mph.

      33. (23) Gray Gaulding #, Toyota, 172.318 mph.

      34. (34) Landon Cassill, Ford, 172.255 mph.

      35. (83) Corey LaJoie #, Toyota, 170.655 mph.

      36. (15) Reed Sorenson, Toyota, 168.243 mph.

      37. (33) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 167.380 mph.

      38. (51) Cody Ware, Chevrolet, 166.334 mph.

      39. (55) Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, 161.218 mph.

  • Johnson ready to race after cancer scare
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, June 9, 2017

    Jimmie Johnson excels at driving fast around NASCAR tracks but there was something that slowed him down earlier this week.

    • Johnson had a mole on his right shoulder that was changing shape, a tell-tale sign that he had developed a form of skin cancer.

      Johnson was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma and on Monday he underwent a four-hour procedure to have the cancerous tumor removed.

      The bright side is Johnson didn't have melanoma, the dreaded form of skin cancer that spreads throughout the body.

      "Carcinoma doesn't spread. It doesn't go to the glands," Johnson told reporters Friday at Pocono Raceway prior to this Sunday's Pocono 400. "They just have to dig it out and you're good to go. Once I understood that, my reaction to the 'C' word calmed down."

      Johnson grew up in a suburb of San Diego and was always outdoors in the sun. Too many times he suffered skin damage from the sun and at age 41, he received a hard lesson about the effects.

      "I could vividly remember a lot of sunburns," Johnson said. "That sun exposure on a mole, there's just consequences."

      Johnson received 22 stitches to close the wound and went out for a bike ride on Wednesday and a run on Thursday. He said he won't be hampered on race day.

      "I'm not thinking about it," Johnson said. "I have full movement and I'm ready to get on the race track."

      Johnson won last week's race at Dover International Speedway for his 83rd career NASCAR win, which ties for sixth all-time with Cale Yarborough. His next victory will move him into a tie for fourth place with Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison.

  • Struggles continue for Joe Gibbs Racing
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, June 8, 2017

    The train-wreck season of Joe Gibbs Racing is not beyond repair.

    • A victory at Pocono on Sunday would turn the season around. But that's exactly the problem. The team no longer enters races thinking it is going to win. Instead, the mindset is "We need to win."

      The huge difference in self-imposed pressure to grab victory from the season's previous defeats may not have been the cause of Kyle Busch's disastrous pit stop at Dover, where his wheel fell off shortly after leaving the pits. But the miscommunication on the pit stop fits the picture of a team that is out of sync and having trouble finding its mojo.

      Busch had led the first 18 laps of the race from the pole, but fell out of contention after the wheel mishap. The worst news? NASCAR's doomsday rule on wheels disengaging -- put in place last year when the number of lug nuts used during races became a safety issue -- was invoked. Absent a successful appeal, Busch will be without his crew chief, Adam Stevens, for four races.

      Busch's three-wheeled adventure fits the image of a team that lost one of its main cogs when Carl Edwards suddenly elected to retire not long before the beginning of the season. Mexican driver Daniel Suarez has done a remarkable job after he was drafted into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series seat left open by Edwards. But the rookie, who is last year's Xfinity Series champion, can hardly be expected to contribute as much to the team's success week in and week out as Edwards.

      The ongoing angry displays by Busch do not seem to be helping, either.

      A symptom of the troubles resulting from anger was the recent Twitter squabble that erupted when Busch expressed his frustration at losing in Charlotte, where Austin Dillon beat him on fuel mileage. After runner-up Busch gave a curt answer to a question about Dillon's victory in the post-race media briefing, he dropped the microphone and walked out. Ford driver Brad Keselowski suggested Busch's decorum left something to be desired. Andy Graves, the technical director at Toyota Racing Development, then suggested that Keselowski shut up.

      It's the kind of thing that rarely happens to other star drivers, but seems to happen often around Busch, who explained prior to the Dover round that his anger is what it is. Although a sports psychologist has done small wonders with the same sort of anger issues demonstrated by older brother Kurt Busch, the younger driver says he'll just skip the therapy sessions.

      The JGR team members, meanwhile, probably find it difficult to totally agree with the behavior of their most talented driver and the only champion on its roster to have won a Cup title in a JGR car. It begs the question raised by Keselowski: If Busch's sometimes graceless behavior hurts the sport, doesn't it also hurt his team?

      Busch was understandably frustrated after he finally had the fastest car, but still lost on a Charlotte track where he won the Monster Energy All-Star race -- yet still has no career points victory. After the Dover escapade, Busch successfully gave the media the slip following a 16th-place finish.

      Alas, the needle always goes back to zero and Busch is headed for Pocono, the only other track where he hasn't scored a points victory. He came close in 2015, but lost that one when he ran out of gas while leading -- which handed the winner's laurels to JGR teammate Matt Kenseth.

      Because of the Pocono track's three legs and three distinct corners make it an oval where drivers often shift, the best bet for a Gibbs victory on Sunday is Denny Hamlin, who seems to have mastered the "Tricky Triangle." As a rookie, he won twice at Pocono and has four career victories at the Pennsylvania track. He has started from the pole three times.

      Prior to the weekend gathering, Hamlin gave the now obligatory comment on the need for JGR to win.

      "I've been fortunate to have some great success (at Pocono), and after scoring my first Cup Series win here, I've always felt pretty comfortable at Pocono even though it may be 'tricky.' Our team is obviously still looking for our first win this season, and it would be great to pull it off this weekend."

      It was Hamlin who identified the problem in Richmond that the JGR Toyotas had not been fast enough.

      Luck has also been a factor, such as Hamlin finishing behind the Ford of Joey Logano at Richmond, where the Team Penske driver's victory was declared encumbered and where the Team Penske car of Keselowski finished second. But there wasn't any luck involved with Busch losing the lead at Talladega in the closing laps to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The Fords and their engines were just flat-out better.

      For now, the rookie race is about the only thing JGR is winning. Suarez leads highly touted rookie Erik Jones by 17 points and has a 21-point margin on Ty Dillon. All three of these drivers are likely future winners in the Cup series, so it's no small feat for Suarez to be consistently finishing ahead of the other two despite a hasty introduction to the Cup series.

      But leading the rookie race is little consolation for a Gibbs team that won just about everything but the championship in 2016.

  • Johnson emulates Yarborough in tying idol's wins mark
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, June 5, 2017

    Jimmie Johnson's 83rd career victory in Dover, Del., on Sunday tied Cale Yarborough for sixth place on NASCAR's all-time list and brought up the usual conundrum of comparing athletes of different eras.

    • On the other hand, there's little doubt these two drivers share two common characteristics: racing hard and never giving up.

      Johnson's determination was on display once again at Dover, where he drove from the back of the field to fifth place in the first stage, then used an overtime period to beat Kyle Larson, who was the class of the field for much of the day. Amazingly, it was the third victory in the last four for Johnson where he has started at the rear, including the one at Homestead last fall that clinched his seventh championship.

      At Dover, Johnson wore a commemorative helmet in honor of the driver he was hoping to catch on the all-time list -- a driver he had admired from afar via television while growing up. Rick Hendrick, owner of Johnson's Chevrolet entries, saw Yarborough drive in races in the Southeast.

      "You know, I watched Cale -- he was one of the toughest, hardest racers that I ever watched race, fearless, and drove the car over the edge, and Jimmie does the same thing, but Jimmie makes it look smooth," Hendrick said.

      The team owner borrowed a line from former NFL coach Bill Parcells about won-loss records.

      "The way I remember Cale, they're a little bit different in their approach, but their record is the same," Hendrick said.

      Hendrick was recollecting an era from the 1960s and 1970s that was Yarborough's proving ground. Drivers used their fenders on the track and their fists off it on occasion to protect their turf.

      Hence, Yarborough's classic confrontation with the brothers Allison in 1979 on the grass in Turn 3 after the Daytona 500 in 1979. The three-way fist fight erupted after Yarborough refused to let Donnie Allison run him off the track at the exit of Turn 2 and turned back into him while fighting for the lead on the last lap.

      Johnson, who was 3 years old at the time of that incident, initially became enamored with the Hardee's paint schemes of Yarborough's No. 28 Ford entries in the latter stages of his career. When asked about his memories of Yarborough, Johnson recalled his days watching TV with his parents in El Cajon, Calif., when the family sweated out 100-degree heat instead of turning on the air conditioning to save money. On the other hand, the family found enough money to take their son to the Amateur National Motocross Championships, which helped launch his racing career.

      "I was sitting on the couch and pulling for that 28," Johnson recalled of his days watching his favorite driver race on TV. "To tie him is just mind blowing. I was very fortunate to have a similar experience when I tied him with the three consecutive championships.

      "To tie him at 83 wins, I swear to you, I only dreamed of winning a race, and to have 83 and to tie him is just absolutely mind-blowing," added Johnson, who met Yarborough at that year's awards banquet in 2008.

      The two drivers don't bear much physical resemblance, but their starts in racing have some things in common. Yarborough had to dig through the dirt to get under the fence at the Darlington Raceway as a boy without the means to buy a ticket and started his racing career after lying about his age to drive in his first Southern 500 three years before his 21st birthday. For his part, Johnson started in the dirt in motocross as a youngster, because that's what his parents could afford.

      Both drivers were hand-picked by factories early in their careers. Yarborough won a tryout with Ford, beating Benny Parsons for the factory deal in a race at the Asheville-Weaverville Speedway. Jacques Passino, who directed Ford's racing effort, made it clear what he expected from his young driver.

      Recalled Yarborough: "I remember him telling me one day, 'I don't care how many fenders is on that car, I don't care whether it's upside down, I don't care what kind of condition it's in -- as long as you were in front when it happened.' I never forgot that and I made it a point to always run up front if there was any possible way."

      Johnson was chosen for advancement by Chevy's Herb Fishel out of the Mickey Thompson Entertainment Group's stadium off-road series and eventually ended up with Hendrick Motorsports. Unlike Yarborough's career, which included two years of driving Indy cars after Ford withdrew from NASCAR competition, Johnson has had the same team owner, sponsor (Lowe's) and crew chief (Chad Knaus) throughout his career.

      Is it tougher to win races and titles now due to more competition -- or was it tougher in Yarborough's day when the 115-inch wheelbase cars had no power steering and were hotter than ovens during races? Did a driver have to be more ferocious and focused to win the title by scoring the most points over the course of a season as Yarborough did -- or over the course of a 10-race playoff?

      These are subjective judgments, one that drivers themselves tend to shy away from. But the statistics on race victories are interesting to compare and contrast.

      Johnson took 556 races to win his 83rd, compared to the 524 it took Yarborough, who won three championships. Over the course of his 560-race career, Yarborough had a better average starting position (8.2 compared to Johnson's 11.3), but Johnson now has a better average finish (12.1 compared to 12.6).

      Yarborough won four Daytona 500s and five Southern 500s; Johnson has two victories in each. Arguably, those are the two toughest races on the NASCAR schedule to win, if only because every driver wants one of the trophies from the two legendary events that began in the 1950s. While Johnson maintains an edge in championships versus Yarborough, he trails in the arena of big victories, which in Yarborough's time were considered by drivers far more important in terms of prestige and money.

      It will be interesting to see if Johnson comes up with another commemorative helmet prior to his next victory -- which will tie him with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip on the all-time list. During his campaign for a seventh title last year, he wore a helmet featuring Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt -- so why not another one featuring two drivers?

      Johnson said he wore a commemorative Yarborough helmet at Dover "to honor Cale Yarborough, to help younger fans know the name, know the face."

      It was also a reminder to Johnson himself, when he was home sitting on what he described as a "dirty old couch," watching races and dreaming of winning just one.

  • Truex wins 2 stages but denied biggest
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, June 4, 2017

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      DOVER, Del. -- Martin Truex Jr. thought he had used up all of his bad luck -- until he found himself on the wrong side of a caution on Sunday at Dover International Speedway.

      Truex led 102 laps at his home track in the AAA 400 Drive for Autism and fought Kyle Larson for the top spot throughout the afternoon. But Truex brought his No. 78 Furniture Row racing Toyota to pit road on Lap 325 -- and paid the price through no fault of his own.

      Eventual winner Jimmie Johnson stayed on the track hoping for a caution and got one on Lap 330 when Regan Smith's Ford slammed into the Turn 2 wall. The caution temporarily put Truex a lap down, but he took a wave-around after Johnson led the cars that still needed service to pit road on Lap 332.

      Truex was mired in traffic at that point and fought his way back to third, but couldn't make progress from the second row on an overtime restart before the race ended abruptly with a wreck on the backstretch that froze the field with Johnson in the lead, Larson second and Truex third.

      It wasn't an empty day for Truex, however. He won both the first and second 120-lap stages and increased his series-leading playoff point total to 18.

      "For us, the ending of the race was really all about trying to pass cars and get back to the front where we'd been all day long," Truex said. "We got caught on that caution there with, I don't know, 60 or so laps to go and we pitted. Caution came out, got trapped a lap down, had to do the wave-around and then drive up through the field from the back.

      "Definitely proud of our finish today. I thought we definitely had a shot at the win until that happened, and after we were kind of playing catch-up. At a place that's really difficult to pass, we had to come from about 15th to get to third. Definitely proud of the run, proud of the effort and the car the guys brought here today. Wish we could have had a little better shot at it towards the end there, but all in all, third is a decent day with two stage wins."

      FOR A CHANGE, FORTUNE SMILES ON PATRICK

      In the first half of Sunday's race at Dover, Danica Patrick bounced off the wall, lost a lap and was hanging out near 25th place in the running order.

      Then her day got a lot better.

      With her car not severely damaged by contact with the outside wall on Lap 146, Patrick got her lap back as the "lucky dog" under caution for Landon Cassill's accident on Lap 218. And Patrick was one of a handful of drivers still on the track when a Lap 330 caution trapped most of the front-runners a lap down.

      Patrick avoided the overtime wreck that ended the race and finished 10th, her first top 10 of the season.

      "A good day for us," Patrick said. "We got a bit lucky with staying out at the right time and catching the yellow flags. It's the stuff that hasn't been happening for us all year, and it's just nice to catch some breaks today.

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

      Tire management was an issue for Patrick, as it was for all teams, with the allotment down one set from last year.

      "We put scuffs on two or three times on pit stops," Patrick said. "It was an issue, but we saw that all weekend, a lot of yellows. We survived and caught the right breaks when we did. I'll take it."

      TY DILLON ENJOYED HIS STINT AT THE FRONT

      Ty Dillon made full use of divergent pit strategies to take the lead in Sunday's race.

      When most of the contending cars came to pit road under caution on Lap 332, Dillon kept his No. 13 Germain Racing Chevrolet on the track, along with the affiliated Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet of Ryan Newman.

      After taking the green flag in the lead on a Lap 339 restart, Dillon stayed out front for 27 circuits, conjuring the prospect of a Dillon brother in Victory Lane for the second straight week (with brother Austin Dillon having won the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte last Sunday).

      Eventually, however, Ty Dillon succumbed to stronger cars, and his race ended in a 10-car pileup on the backstretch on the first lap of overtime. Credited with 14th, Dillon was elated by his run.

      "First of all, I'm really proud of our Germain Racing team," Dillon said. "I can't thank (owner) Bob Germain enough for giving me the opportunity to come out here and race with these guys. It's a lifelong dream. To lead laps like that meant a lot to me. We had to restart fourth on old tires (in overtime), and I just think the air off the No. 31 (Newman) got me a little loose, and they left a bunch of sand there off Turn 2 and as soon as I got loose and hit that sand it was all over.

      "I feel bad for all the cars that got torn up. But, really, I don't really know what the No. 31 or myself could have done any different to stay out of that crash. Proud of our effort today. We proved to ourselves as a team that we can run up front with the big boys."

  • AAA 400 Drive for Autism results
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, June 4, 2017

    Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race -- AAA 400 Drive for Autism

    • Dover International Speedway

      Dover, Delaware

      Sunday, June 4, 2017

      1. (14) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 406.

      2. (5) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 406.

      3. (2) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 406.

      4. (13) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 406.

      5. (16) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 406.

      6. (3) Daniel Suarez #, Toyota, 406.

      7. (19) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 406.

      8. (10) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 406.

      9. (18) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 406.

      10. (31) Danica Patrick, Ford, 406.

      11. (11) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 406.

      12. (9) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 406.

      13. (4) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 406.

      14. (21) Ty Dillon #, Chevrolet, 406.

      15. (7) Erik Jones #, Toyota, Accident, 405.

      16. (1) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 405.

      17. (20) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, Accident, 404.

      18. (24) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, Accident, 404.

      19. (28) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 404.

      20. (36) Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 403.

      21. (17) Trevor Bayne, Ford, Accident, 402.

      22. (35) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, Accident, 402.

      23. (29) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 402.

      24. (32) Gray Gaulding #, Toyota, 402.

      25. (26) Joey Logano, Ford, 402.

      26. (34) * Ryan Sieg(i), Toyota, 400.

      27. (39) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 400.

      28. (37) * Timmy Hill(i), Chevrolet, 398.

      29. (25) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 397.

      30. (33) David Ragan, Ford, Accident, 393.

      31. (22) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 391.

      32. (15) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 373.

      33. (23) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, Accident, 343.

      34. (30) Regan Smith(i), Ford, Accident, 329.

      35. (38) * Cody Ware, Chevrolet, Handling, 283.

      36. (27) Landon Cassill, Ford, Accident, 257.

      37. (6) Kurt Busch, Ford, Accident, 93.

      38. (8) Brad Keselowski, Ford, Accident, 66.

      39. (12) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, Accident, 62.

      Average Speed of Race Winner: 104.955 mph.

      Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 52 Mins, 06 Secs. Margin of Victory: Caution.

      Caution Flags: 15 for 72 laps.

      Lead Changes: 17 among 9 drivers.

      Lap Leaders: Kyle Busch 1-18; R. Stenhouse Jr. 19-21; M. Truex Jr. 22-49; K. Larson 50-80; M. Truex Jr. 81-122; K. Larson 123-146; M. McDowell 147-150; K. Larson 151-194; Kyle Busch 195; K. Larson 196-211; M. Truex Jr. 212-243; K. Larson 244-326; J. McMurray 327-328; J. Johnson 329-332; R. Newman 333; T. Dillon # 334-360; K. Larson 361-403; J. Johnson 404-406.

      Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): K. Larson 6 times for 241 laps; M. Truex Jr. 3 times for 102 laps; T. Dillon # 1 time for 27 laps; Kyle Busch 2 times for 19 laps; J. Johnson 2 times for 7 laps; M. McDowell 1 time for 4 laps; R. Stenhouse Jr. 1 time for 3 laps; J. McMurray 1 time for 2 laps; R. Newman 1 time for 1 lap.

      Stage #1 Top Ten: 78,42,4,20,48,5,21,77,18,19

      Stage #2 Top Ten: 78,48,20,18,42,4,24,21,77,5

  • Dover notebook: Busch explains reaction to finishing second at Charlotte
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, June 3, 2017

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      DOVER, Del. -- Kyle Busch's post-race press conference at Charlotte Motor Speedway last Sunday was six words long and ended with a mic drop.

      After winning the pole for Sunday's AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover International Speedway (1 p.m. ET on FS1), Busch explained his surly reaction to finishing second in the Coca-Cola 600.

      Busch was going for a sweep of the Monster Energy All-Star Race and the 600. He was hoping to add the trophy from the race he considers one of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series' three majors, along with the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400.

      "There were a lot of things riding on the line that meant a lot to me, that would have been special to me," said Busch, who already has a Brickyard victory to his credit. "I guess I should care less about those things and not show that sort of emotion.

      "All in all, that's what was on the line for us, and we weren't able to achieve, so it was pretty disappointing."

      It's not that Busch isn't self-aware. Like it or not, he simply shows what he's feeling in an unfiltered way.

      "Certainly, different people show their emotions in different ways, and unfortunately for me, mine has never been very gracious, and I don't know that it ever will be," Busch said on Friday after time trials at Dover. "I'm kind of learning that as the days go on, when my son is two years old, I see where that came from. It's genetic. I'm sorry, that's just who I am. That's what I was given. If there's anyone to blame, it's probably the guy upstairs.

      "I can probably get better and go to training and classes and everything else, but I don't know. It is the way it is. I've been fortunate enough to have been blessed to be in the opportunity that I'm in. I've got great partners and sponsors that are with me, and they've stuck with me through a lot worse than what happened this week. That's through relationships.

      "Those people that are close to me understand me and know me and know who I am outside the race track as a personable person, as a friend. That's why I'm able to continue to have the relationships and the sponsorships that I do."

      SIMULATOR WORK IS PAYING OFF FOR EARNHARDT

      Dale Earnhardt Jr. has always been a "gamer." He was one of the pioneers of iRacing, often spending hours online racing against armchair drivers across the globe.

      Now Earnhardt is making full use of technology to up his game on the asphalt.

      "We went to the simulator, which is something we've been trying to infuse into our process a little bit more," Earnhardt said after qualifying 11th on Friday at Dover International Speedway. "It's been bearing some fruit and helping us out and making us feel more confident going into the race weekends.

      "We first really experienced that in Kansas and had a great practice the first day. Same thing here, we went to the simulator, picked a few things we liked, threw out some stuff that didn't work."

      That's one of the main efficiencies of simulator work -- eliminating ideas that won't work before the car gets to the track.

      "We come to the race track and we unload, and there is obviously going to be some comments about the car that we want to fix," Earnhardt said. "We know what not to mess with that is going to waste a lot of practice time, and we can just hit the things that we thought we liked in the sim.

      "They correlated really well today (in Friday's practice). We got the car better in race trim. We only made one change and then swapped over really quick (to qualifying trim). Then for qualifying, we improved the car each run. ... I'm really happy. We've been working, trying to get better."

      SHORT STROKES

      Kyle Busch followed Friday's pole-winning performance by topping the speed chart in Saturday morning's early practice session at Dover International Speedway. With a fast lap at 158.040 mph, Busch edged Ryan Blaney (157.929 mph) for bragging rights in the session. Jamie McMurray, however, had the fastest 10-consecutive-lap average, an impressive 156.448 mph from Lap 2 through 11 of the 53 circuits he ran. Chase Elliott ran the most laps in the session -- 56. ...

      McMurray's Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Kyle Larson, paced final practice with a lap at 157.411 mph in a session where the top eight drivers all exceeded 157 mph. Ten-time Dover winner Jimmie Johnson was second fastest at 157.301 mph, indicating the seven-time champion will be strong in race trim on Sunday despite a 14th-place qualifying effort.

  • Kyle Busch edges Truex Jr. for Dover pole
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, June 2, 2017

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The SportsXchange

      DOVER, Del. -- If Joe Gibbs Racing is not back, it's hard to say what "back" is.

      Kyle Busch put his No. 18 JGR Toyota on the pole for Sunday's AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover International Speedway (1 p.m. ET on FS1), edging favorite son Martin Truex Jr. for the top starting spot by .011 seconds on Friday.

      With JGR teammates Daniel Suarez (158.346 mph) earning a career-best third starting spot and Matt Kenseth (158.211 mph) qualifying fourth, the Gibbs cars appear ready to build on the momentum they gathered during Speedweeks at Charlotte, where Busch won the Monster Energy All-Star Race and finished second in last Sunday's Coca-Cola 600.

      "To sit on the pole here means a little bit for us -- it gives us a really good pit selection for Sunday and, more importantly, just gives us the track position right off the bat," said Busch, who won his first Coors Light Pole Award of the season, his first at Dover and the 20th of his career with a lap at 158.954 mph (22.648 seconds).

      "We know the 78 car (Truex) is going to be fast -- they always are -- and one of the guys we're going to have to race against. There's going to be many others that are starting farther back that we'll be racing against, too, before the end of the day, but we'll work on our Dogs Rule Pedigree Camry tomorrow in practice and make sure we get a good race setup underneath us, so we can hopefully stay up front."

      Truex (158.877 mph), the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series leader, qualified second by a razor-thin margin, even though he had an extra half-lap on his tires, having aborted his opening run in the first round of knockout qualifying after his car twitched off the corner.

      "Yeah, I screwed up a little bit that first round and got loose going into (Turn 2) and aborted, and then we had to make a re-run," Truex said. "Maybe cost us half a 10th eventually on our tires, but I don't think it really did anything. So all in all it was good. Just trying to get it all out the last round.

      "You've got be aggressive. You've got to charge and I just overcharged the entry to (Turn) 3 just a hair and lost a little time there, but all in all it was a good day for the Furniture Row Toyota."

      Kyle Larson was fifth fastest with the top Chevrolet in the final round, and Kurt Busch in sixth had the quickest Ford in the session. Austin Dillon, last week's Coca-Cola 600 winner, qualified ninth, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. nailed down the 11th starting spot to lead the Hendrick Motorsports contingent.

      Looking for his 11th victory at the Monster Mile, Jimmie Johnson will start 14th after failing to reach the final round.

      "Today was pretty challenging in the practice session trying to find the right balance," Johnson said. "Just got off a little there. We got it closer for qualifying here, but just not enough speed to transfer.

      "We're trying. Qualifying is very important to us. We're very aware of that. It is just not suiting us this year. This is my favorite track, and I know come race time we will be just fine."

      Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying - AAA 400 Drive for Autism

      Dover International Speedway

      Dover, Delaware

      Friday, June 2, 2017

      1. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 158.954 mph.

      2. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 158.877 mph.

      3. (19) Daniel Suarez #, Toyota, 158.346 mph.

      4. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 158.221 mph.

      5. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 158.179 mph.

      6. (41) Kurt Busch, Ford, 158.144 mph.

      7. (77) Erik Jones #, Toyota, 157.680 mph.

      8. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 157.384 mph.

      9. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 157.109 mph.

      10. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 157.034 mph.

      11. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 156.270 mph.

      12. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 155.999 mph.

      13. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 157.646 mph.

      14. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 157.542 mph.

      15. (21) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 157.446 mph.

      16. (24) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 157.336 mph.

      17. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 157.295 mph.

      18. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 157.260 mph.

      19. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 157.157 mph.

      20. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 157.013 mph.

      21. (13) Ty Dillon #, Chevrolet, 156.740 mph.

      22. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 156.672 mph.

      23. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 156.447 mph.

      24. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 156.420 mph.

      25. (32) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 156.406 mph.

      26. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 156.236 mph.

      27. (34) Landon Cassill, Ford, 156.203 mph.

      28. (95) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 156.067 mph.

      29. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 155.709 mph.

      30. (43) Regan Smith(i), Ford, 155.602 mph.

      31. (10) Danica Patrick, Ford, 155.427 mph.

      32. (23) Gray Gaulding #, Toyota, 154.712 mph.

      33. (38) David Ragan, Ford, 154.586 mph.

      34. (83) Ryan Sieg(i), Toyota, 153.100 mph.

      35. (72) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 151.924 mph.

      36. (15) Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 151.656 mph.

      37. (66) Timmy Hill(i), Chevrolet, 150.855 mph.

      38. (51) Cody Ware, Chevrolet, 150.075 mph.

      39. (33) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 149.775 mph.