Sprint Cup

NASCAR Sprint Cup News Wire
  • Sponsoring greatness: Larson, Ganassi get top marks
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, August 14, 2017

    Imagine walking into a meeting with potential sponsors after your driver has just scored a third consecutive victory at a prominent speedway.

    • Team owner Chip Ganassi, sponsor hunting for 2018, surely must have been thinking of this scenario after his driver, Kyle Larson, blasted to the front in the final laps to win at the Michigan International Speedway on Sunday.

      But wait, it gets better. Imagine you're walking into that same sponsors meeting and your winning driver was already the most talked about and admired driver in America the morning of the Michigan race -- before he performed a magic act to win the NASCAR Cup race in the closing laps.

      No wonder Ganassi celebrated after Sunday's race with such enthusiasm, shaking crew chief Chad Johnston's shoulders hard enough to make him look like a bobble head doll before leaving the team's pit cart.

      Ganassi may be losing longtime sponsor Target, which adorned the winning No. 42 entry, but he's now very well-positioned to sign up a replacement during the ongoing silly season. Given that Larson beat Martin Truex Jr., this year's presumptive championship front-runner, Ganassi can also easily imagine Larson bringing his team its first NASCAR title as well. Sponsors love the prospect of backing a reigning champion.

      If you're headed to Las Vegas in the coming week, you may want to check with Ganassi to see if he's available to tag along. His decisions this past week have all paid off big time.

      First, Ganassi allowed Larson to run the Knoxville Nationals, the world's biggest sprint car race held annually in Iowa. Racing around midnight on Saturday night, Larson staged a closing lap charge and almost beat Donny Schatz, who became a 10-time winner of the prestigious event. Fans on both sides of the aisle that runs between stock car racing and open wheel racing loved seeing a prominent NASCAR driver return to his roots -- and then almost win an event where hundreds of drivers were entered.

      The Twitter-verse was hopping with praise. "I don't know what's cooler @KyleLarsonRacin winning today or him running 2nd last night Knoxville Nationals," tweeted Hall of Fame stock car driver Mark Martin. "Or @GanassiChip allowing him."

      On the open wheel side, Knoxville winner Schatz declared himself a Larson fan in Victory Lane.

      "It (stinks) that he's got a different career to do," said Schatz. "I'm just glad he comes back and does this because he loves it, just like the rest of us do."

      Ganassi relented to the request of Larson, who won his qualifying race on Wednesday night, to race the night before the Michigan event for two reasons. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race wasn't starting until 3:15 p.m., which gave Larson time to get a full night's rest. Plus, the president of Chip Ganassi Racing and former marketing man Steve Lauletta reminded him that a little exposure never hurts when it comes to wooing sponsors.

      It all paid off for Ganassi, who clearly was relieved.

      "When you're in my position of this past week's activities with all the talk about Knoxville and going to Knoxville last night and not getting back here until two o'clock in the morning, I'm out on the end of the diving board there a lot of times," he said. "So, I appreciate when Kyle steps up and does what he did today; it makes it all worthwhile, obviously."

      The team owner had a direct role in the Michigan win. As the teams lined up for the final restart, he told Larson, whom he called "Slick," that he had permission to make it "three-wide" going into Turn 1.

      Starting third behind Truex, who spun his cold tires, Larson used his Chevy's nose to bump the leading Toyota, then side-drafted alongside. The Toyota of Erik Jones was beneath him in the lower lane.

      Whether Ganassi actually gave Larson a suggestion or an order is a matter of debate. But Larson indeed squeezed between two other cars before emerging from Turn 1 in first. Only David Pearson and Bill Elliott have won three in a row at Michigan before Larson. When he returns to the Irish Hills next year, Larson will get a chance to tie Elliott's record of four straight set in 1985-86.

      Larson described his final restart as "bad-a__" and felt like he had beaten the house odds.

      "This win feels amazing to steal one in a way," he said. "My other three wins, I felt like we had the first or second-best car, but today at times I didn't think we were a top-10 car. But to get the win that way is awesome."

      Ganassi worried that maybe his driver was tired midway in the race and began to question his judgment when Larson couldn't advance beyond seventh place in the first two stages.

      "So yeah, I mean, I had concerns, and I was getting ready to take a lot of heat in the media for that if we didn't have a good day," Ganassi said.

      Two cautions and one red flag period near the end of 400 miles gave Larson the opportunity he needed to advance.

      A former part owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Ganassi is wary of putting the brakes on an athlete, especially the Japanese-American driver now on the cusp of super stardom as one of America's best all-around talents. After his win at Michigan in June, Larson won two straight All Star Circuit of Champions sprint car events in Ohio, giving him three victories in three days. He eventually won five straight in sprint cars.

      "The thing when you're a team owner in any sport, it's easy to -- it's easy to brake your star athlete," said Ganassi. "It's easy to brake them and slow them down, you know. It's a lot harder to speed them up. I just don't want to do something that's going to slow him down, you know."

      One of Ganassi's fellow team owners, Tony Stewart, is a reminder that sprint cars can seriously injure a driver, even a veteran. Ganassi himself was nearly killed in an Indy car crash at Michigan in 1984 that ended his driving career before he could fully recovered from a head injury.

      In order to concentrate on the Cup playoffs, there won't be any more sprint car events for Larson this year. But Ganassi's not about to say anything to discourage or put the brakes on his young star when it comes to the future.

      "I've never been a team owner to keep my drivers from driving other kinds of cars," said Ganassi, "and obviously, you want to do the best you can for the guy all the time and do what you can do, and hopefully we can continue to do it."

      But he stopped short of a blanket commitment to letting his driver sling sprint cars on dirt whenever he likes.

      "I don't want to make any promises," said the team owner who had no worries on this late Sunday afternoon.

  • NASCAR notebook: Logano knows time is short to make playoffs
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, August 13, 2017

    By Matt Crossman, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      BROOKLYN, Mich.-- With three races left before the playoffs start, Joey Logano is on the outside looking in. His failure to qualify so far is arguably the biggest surprise of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season in terms of performance.

      He admitted at Michigan International Speedway to feeling desperate, but he sees the closing stretch of regular-season races as really good for him, particularly Bristol and Richmond.

      "Bristol is probably one of our best racetracks as well, especially in the fall race," said Logano, driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford Fusion.

      He has two career wins at Bristol in 17 starts. He also has two wins at Richmond. He won there in the spring, but a rules violation meant the win was declared encumbered, so it does not lock him into the playoffs. Darlington is the only weak spot in the group. His average finish there is 18.4, and he has just two top 5 finishes in eight starts.

      "I don't look at that race track (Darlington) and say we don't have a chance," he said. "I feel like we'll still be fine there, it just might be a little bit different."

      Logano is too far back to points-race his way in, so his team is likely to take aggressive chances to try to grab a win.

      "Every moment becomes more and more important on the racetrack, and that's OK," he says. "That's where you find out what you're made of, so I'm all right with that."

      Rookie Daniel Suarez's top 10 streak ends at Michigan

      Coming into this weekend, Joe Gibbs Racing's Daniel Suarez was on a streak of four consecutive top-10 finishes in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and was looking to make it five. Unfortunately his day was cut short after tangling with Kasey Kahne late in the race.

      Kahne, driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet SS, was attempting to pass Daniel Suarez for position on Lap 139. But he pulled up before he cleared Suarez. The contact slammed Kahne's right side into the outside wall just past Turn 2 ending his day. He finished 38th.

      "We had to fight from the back and had a good LIFTMASTER Chevrolet," Kahne said. "We kept working to get up there. Daniel (Suarez) was going backwards and I was going by and I ran the bottom. I expected we could be close off the corner, and I was just coming off and then we hit."

      Suarez was having another good run in the first stage of the race in the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry, but in the final stage he started to struggle with a tight racecar before the incident.

      "I was trying to give him some room, but actually I got out of the throttle at that point, but I don't know if he was told it was already time to go up -- I don't know. It's just unfortunate because we came from a streak of top-10s, and now this is going to be the end of it," said Suarez, who finished 37th. "We're going to regroup and come back stronger next week."

      Michigan's Erik Jones ponders a win at his home track

      Of course Erik Jones thought about it. How could he not?

      With the race halted by a red flag for a little over five minutes with just two green flag laps left in the Pure Michigan 400 on Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, Jones let his mind wander to what it would be like to win the race.

      Not only would it have been the first win of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career and lock him into the postseason, but it would have come at his home town track. A native of Byron, Mich., Jones grew up 99 miles from the racetrack.

      "(The red flag) gives you a lot of time to play through scenarios on the restart and how you want it to work out. It's very rare it ever works out the way you picture it in your head," he said. And this one didn't, either. Instead, Jones settled for third.

      He would have had to beat his teammate to get that win. Jones was second on the final restart alongside his Furniture Row Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr.

      Before the question could even be asked, Truex said flatly Furniture Row Racing does not have so-called "team orders" and that there was no chance he would let Jones win.

      Jones cannot make the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs on points, and will have to win one of the next three races to make the postseason.

  • Pure Michigan 400 results
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, August 13, 2017

    Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race -- Pure Michigan 400

    • Michigan International Speedway

      Brooklyn, Michigan

      Sunday, August 13, 2017

      1. (9) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 202.

      2. (13) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 202.

      3. (8) Erik Jones #, Toyota, 202.

      4. (25) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 202.

      5. (21) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 202.

      6. (20) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 202.

      7. (17) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 202.

      8. (5) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 202.

      9. (7) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 202.

      10. (6) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 202.

      11. (15) Kurt Busch, Ford, 202.

      12. (24) Aric Almirola, Ford, 202.

      13. (3) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 202.

      14. (19) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 202.

      15. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 202.

      16. (10) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 202.

      17. (1) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 202.

      18. (14) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 202.

      19. (22) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 202.

      20. (29) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 202.

      21. (33) Ty Dillon #, Chevrolet, 202.

      22. (18) Danica Patrick, Ford, 202.

      23. (11) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 202.

      24. (4) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 202.

      25. (32) Landon Cassill, Ford, 200.

      26. (27) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 200.

      27. (26) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 200.

      28. (2) Joey Logano, Ford, 200.

      29. (31) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 199.

      30. (28) David Ragan, Ford, 199.

      31. (34) Corey LaJoie #, Toyota, 199.

      32. (35) * Brett Moffitt(i), Toyota, 198.

      33. (38) * Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 197.

      34. (30) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, Accident, 196.

      35. (36) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 196.

      36. (39) * BJ McLeod(i), Chevrolet, 178.

      37. (16) Daniel Suarez #, Toyota, Accident, 138.

      38. (23) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, Accident, 138.

      39. (37) Derrike Cope, Toyota, Engine, 107.

      Average Speed of Race Winner: 150.903 mph.

      Time of Race: 02 Hrs, 40 Mins, 38 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.310 Seconds.

      Caution Flags: 5 for 28 laps.

      Lead Changes: 14 among 7 drivers.

      Lap Leaders: B. Keselowski 1-42; E. Jones # 43-46; B. Keselowski 47-63; D. Suarez # 64-66; B. Keselowski 67-110; Kyle Busch 111-113; M. Truex Jr. 114-127; B. Keselowski 128; M. Truex Jr. 129-159; E. Jones # 160; B. Keselowski 161; D. Hamlin 162-177; Kyle Busch 178-188; M. Truex Jr. 189-200; K. Larson 201-202.

      Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): B. Keselowski 5 times for 105 laps; M. Truex Jr. 3 times for 57 laps; D. Hamlin 1 time for 16 laps; Kyle Busch 2 times for 14 laps; E. Jones # 2 times for 5 laps; D. Suarez # 1 time for 3 laps; K. Larson 1 time for 2 laps.

      Stage #1 Top Ten: 2,4,24,78,77,22,20,18,42,11

      Stage #2 Top Ten: 78,2,4,77,19,21,1,42,18,11

  • Michigan notebook: Earnhardt Jr. reminisces about his time at Michigan
    By The Sports Xchange / Saturday, August 12, 2017

    By Matt Crossman, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      BROOKLYN, Mich. -- This weekend marks the last time the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series' most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., will compete in the series at Michigan International Speedway.

      And while Michigan is one of many tracks Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be saying good-bye to this season, he thinks the two-mile track in the Irish Hills is one of the best.

      "This place here is, to me, the standard for the 1.5-mile or two-mile race track," he said on Friday, two days before the Pure Michigan 400 (Sunday, Aug. 13 on NBCSN at 3 p.m. ET). "This place is so much fun to race on for a driver. It's a great race track."

      Some of Junior's fondest memories from his racing career came at Michigan. And they're not all wins. He won here twice in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and twice in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. But one of his strongest memories comes from a race he lost -- the 1999 IROC race, the end of which he has rewatched numerous times. Alas, the outcome has not changed.

      Coming out of Turn 4 toward the checkered flag, he and his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., were battling for the win. Rusty Wallace came up behind them. Wallace could have pushed Junior to the win -- which would have been poetically perfect, Junior said.

      Wallace and Earnhardt Sr. flipped between friends and rivals throughout their careers. That was true on and off the track. If one of them bought a plane, the other one bought a bigger plane. So Junior thought that if Wallace pushed the son past the father for the win, Wallace would have been able to hold that over Earnhardt Sr.'s head forever. But Wallace didn't get behind either one of them, and the elder Earnhardt won the race.

      Junior said, half-jokingly, that he's still mad at Wallace, 19 years later, for not helping him.

      KAHNE ON THE SEARCH FOR A RIDE NEXT SEASON

      Kasey Kahne's job hunt started soon after it was announced that he would not return in 2018 to the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

      Kahne has won six races in his nearly six years at Hendrick Motorsports and 18 in his career. He is widely considered to have underperformed in his time at Hendrick. He hopes he will be able to land a ride in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and that the new job will rejuvenate his career.

      "I think that it's all about people," Kahne said. "If you can get the people behind you and believe in you and then I believe in them, and we work together for the same goal to win races. It's a competitive series it is a super tough series to win in and so many things have to go right for the entire race weekend and then throughout the race."

      Team owner Rick Hendrick shouldered the blame for the No. 5 team's subpar performance and says he will help Kahne get a new ride.

      "To have him behind you is a really good thing," Kahne said. "I respect him a ton. Yeah, I hope we can build something out of that, but I also have been working in my own direction as well on certain things to make sure I just check out everything that is out there for sure."

      DIBENEDETTO WILL RETURN TO GO FAS RACING IN 2018

      Matt DiBenedetto will return to the No. 32 Go Fas Racing Ford, he and team general manager Mason St. Hilaire announced on Saturday at Michigan International Speedway. Amid a flurry of silly season moves, this is the rare one that affords a driver and his team to build on consistency.

      "Our business model in the beginning was be able to survive," St. Hilaire said. "We had a revolving door of drivers for a long time, and it kept the doors open, and it kept people working, and I wouldn't take it back for anything."

      Still, working with DiBenedetto and crew chief Gene Nead has given the team stability, and with that stability has come improvement. The team's average finish this year (26.1) is more than six spots better than the team's historical average.

      The team has its first two top 10s this season--in the season opening Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400. "We had some little growing pans and had a couple little issues happen a few (races) in a row, but we've had that speed there all year and the more we go along, the more that we're prepared and keep bringing better racecars to the racetrack," DiBenedetto said.

      HENDRICK TEAMMATES WILL GO TO BACKUP CARS

      Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Kahne will start the Pure Michigan 400 in backup cars after both were involved in separate incidents during the two practices on Saturday at Michigan International Speedway.

  • Michigan's Keselowski wins pole at home track
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, August 11, 2017

    By Matt Crossman, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Brad Keselowski will start on the pole for Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 (at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN) after taking the top spot from fellow Ford driver Ryan Blaney.

      Blaney had posted the fastest times to that point but bobbled twice in his run in the final qualifying round on Friday at Michigan International Speedway.

      Keselowski grew up in Rochester Hills, Mich., a Detroit suburb 99 miles from Michigan International Speedway. He is a big fan of Detroit and University of Michigan sports teams and long has said how badly he wants to win at MIS. He has five top-five finishes, but no wins at his home track.

      Keselowski has often said a win here would be of similar importance to winning the biggest races in the sport. He joked that if he followed up Friday's success with a win on Sunday that the victory celebration would be the type for which he has to ask for forgiveness.

      "When I saw that we were going to win the pole, those last few seconds of qualifying, it sent chills down my body. It's a special track for me to have any kind of success at," he said.

      Clouds moving in and out affected the speeds dramatically -- the more clouds, the faster the cars go. Because of changes in the cloud cover, and the fact his team had made last-second changes to the car, Keselowski was skeptical when he pulled onto the track for his final lap.

      But the changes made his car faster, and his time of 35.451 seconds (203.097 mph) stood up as the best of the final 12. It is the 14th pole of his career, his second of 2017 and his first in 17 tries at Michigan.

      "A driver's home track, where his family and friends are all present, it just feels like a bigger event. Michigan, for me, feels like a bigger event," Keselowski said. "You want to make those people proud when you have the opportunity. When you have the smallest sliver of success, it feels magnified. It feels bigger. That's what today is for me."

      Keselowski will be joined on the front row by Team Penske teammate Joey Logano. Keselowski is locked into the playoffs, but Logano isn't. He is 18th in points and an insurmountable 95 points out of the 16th and final playoff spot. With just four Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races left in the regular season, he is in a must-win situation.

      "I think you do get a little bit desperate," Logano said after qualifying. "You've got to win. There is no second option, so the intensity is very, very high. You have to be on-point all the time. Every change has to be a good one. Every lap has to be a good one."

      Earlier this season, Logano finished third and Keselowski finished 16th at Michigan.

      Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying -- Pure Michigan 400

      Michigan International Speedway

      Brooklyn, Mich.

      Friday, August 11, 2017

      1. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 203.097 mph.

      2. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 203.063 mph.

      3. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 202.788 mph.

      4. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 202.577 mph.

      5. (24) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 202.429 mph.

      6. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 201.998 mph.

      7. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 201.884 mph.

      8. (77) Erik Jones #, Toyota, 201.805 mph.

      9. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 201.765 mph.

      10. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 201.698 mph.

      11. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 201.602 mph.

      12. (21) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 201.235 mph.

      13. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 201.263 mph.

      14. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 200.842 mph.

      15. (41) Kurt Busch, Ford, 200.607 mph.

      16. (19) Daniel Suarez #, Toyota, 200.468 mph.

      17. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 200.306 mph.

      18. (10) Danica Patrick, Ford, 200.256 mph.

      19. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 200.178 mph.

      20. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 199.551 mph.

      21. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 199.363 mph.

      22. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 199.325 mph.

      23. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 199.302 mph.

      24. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 198.659 mph.

      25. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 197.759 mph.

      26. (95) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 197.596 mph.

      27. (32) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 197.450 mph.

      28. (38) David Ragan, Ford, 196.990 mph.

      29. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 196.630 mph.

      30. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 195.860 mph.

      31. (72) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 195.164 mph.

      32. (34) Landon Cassill, Ford, 195.117 mph.

      33. (13) Ty Dillon #, Chevrolet, 194.779 mph.

      34. (23) Corey LaJoie #, Toyota, 194.516 mph.

      35. (83) Brett Moffitt(i), Toyota, 194.227 mph.

      36. (33) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 190.426 mph.

      37. (15) Derrike Cope, Toyota, 188.132 mph.

      38. (55) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 187.169 mph.

      39. (51) BJ McLeod(i), Chevrolet, 185.998 mph.

  • Michigan notebook: Bowyer feels playoff pressure
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, August 11, 2017

    By Matt Crossman, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      Clint Bowyer enters Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway (on NBCSN at 3 p.m. ET) 17th in points, 28 behind Matt Kenseth for the final playoff spot in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points race.

      To qualify for the postseason, he must either pass Kenseth and hope nobody below him wins, or win himself.

      With four races left until the postseason starts, intensity is amped-up at Michigan International Speedway, the 2-mile oval an hour-plus from the birthplace of America's automotive industry.

      "There's always pressure," Bowyer said. "There's pressure in the Daytona 500 to go out there and perform and try to win that race. It's no different now. You still focus on the task at hand. You focus on unloading a fast racecar, making good downforce, making good horsepower."

      But a fast car that handles well might not be enough. Bowyer and his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford team will likely take big chances to try to steal a win.

      "I'm the hunter not the hunted, so it's a lot of fun to go into this weekend knowing that you've got to go out there and chase that guy down, or chase those guys down and hopefully pop off a win here."

      In Bowyer's 23 series starts at Michigan, he has posted 11 top-10 finishes.

      LARSON'S ACTION-PACKED SCHEDULE ISN'T SLOWING

      After a dominating win on Wednesday night at Knoxville Nationals, Kyle Larson faced a dilemma.

      He had qualified for the prestigious A-main finals of one of the premiere dirt races in the world. The problem was the race was set for Saturday night, and his contract with Chip Ganassi Racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series forbids him from racing on dirt the day before he has to drive the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, be it qualifying, practice or the race.

      On Thursday, he appeared with Ganassi at an event in downtown Detroit unveiling the Camaro ZL1 as Chevrolet's entry in next year's 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

      On the drive to the airport afterward, Larson tried to talk Ganassi into allowing an exception. The team owner voiced his concerns -- the contract language exists to make sure Larson is fresh and to give the team time to find a replacement if he gets injured.

      With Larson and other team officials pleading Larson's case, Ganassi ultimately relented, and now Larson will race in the event in Knoxville, Iowa on Saturday to try to put an exclamation point at the end of what he calls his favorite week of racing of the year. He finished fifth in the event last year.

      "I'm thankful for Chip to even allow me to do what I get to do right now," Larson says. "It's especially nice that he's making an exception for Saturday night."

      Larson expects to fly to Iowa after his responsibilities at Michigan International Speedway end on Saturday afternoon. He will race at night and fly back to Michigan after that. He doesn't have to be anywhere at MIS until 11:30 Sunday morning. "I'll still be able to get plenty of sleep and be ready," he said.

      Larson has won two races in a row at Michigan.

      LOGANO, WIFE LOOKING FORWARD TO BEING PARENTS

      Joey Logano is on the outside looking in of the playoffs, and as such he has a lot on his mind. Shocks, springs, camber, downforce, diapers, dump trucks, ice cream cravings ...

      In addition to fighting to salvage his season, Logano and his wife, Brittany, are expecting their first child, a son. Logano's teammate Brad Keselowski bought Logano a book, "Dude, You're Gonna Be a Dad!" by John Pfeiffer. In addition to reading that, Logano has been immersed in the pre-dad life.

      "We did the registering, which was way more than I ever thought it would be and way harder than I thought it would be," Logano said on Friday at Michigan International Speedway. "I was over in the corner scanning all the toys. 'Cool, a dump truck. He needs a dump truck.'"

      He said Brittany has been craving ice cream, of all flavors, which is fine by him because he eats it, too.

      "It's gonna be fun, but really, you don't know what you don't know sometimes," Logano said. "Just like when I started Cup racing. I didn't know what I was doing, and this is gonna kind of be the same thing. I don't know if any parent really knows exactly what they're doing the first time they had a kid."

  • Weekend preview: Elliott has high hopes in Michigan
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, August 10, 2017

    Staff Report, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      When Chase Elliott travels to Michigan International Speedway, he must feel like Sisyphus -- the king in Greek mythology forced to roll a boulder up a hill, and when he reaches the pinnacle, the boulder rolls off, forcing him to repeat the process for all of eternity.

      The No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports driver has made three Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series starts in the Wolverine State and has finished second all three times.

      "It's great," Elliott said about the two-mile track, which hosts Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN). "It's also frustrating to have run second every time we have been there. It's good I guess that we are inside the top five the past few times we have been there, but at the same time that is frustrating to have been pretty close to having a shot to win there, which would have been very big if we could have pulled that out.

      Elliott enters Sunday's contest coming off a series of solid, yet unspectacular performances. He placed 13th last week at Watkins Glen, 10th at Pocono, 39th at Indianapolis due to engine trouble and 11th at New Hampshire. Still he ranks 14th on the playoff grid, 39 points ahead of Clint Bowyer on the cutoff line. Elliott has little margin of error when it comes to making the postseason, but can guarantee himself a playoff berth by grabbing a win at Michigan.

      "I like Michigan, I've always liked going up there," Elliott said. "I really love that area. It's just a cool part of the United States to go to. I like it up there -- it's a nice area and that is kind of why I like going."

      Sadler hopes to visit Victory Lane at Mid-Ohio

      Elliott Sadler is sitting high and mighty atop the NASCAR Xfinity Series standings right now -- 52 points ahead of William Byron.

      He leads the circuit with five stage wins, but hasn't visited Victory Lane at the end of a race this season. As a result, he trails the three-race, two-stage winner Byron by 12 playoff points.

      A win in Saturday's Mid-Ohio Challenge at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) would help Sadler close the gap and increase his odds of capturing his first NASCAR Xfinity Series championship.

      Sadler has finished in the top 10 in all four of his career starts at Mid-Ohio. He has a high finish of sixth at the 13-turn road course (2013, 2015) -- the second of three road course races on the Xfinity schedule. The No. 1 Chevrolet driver placed 18th in the first road-course race at Watkins Glen last Saturday.

      "Last weekend, we got a good look at what our road course program will be like for these next couple of races," Sadler said. "With the first road race under our belt, we now know what we can expect. We can really dial in on the handling of our Chevrolet and our strategy. We had a fast car last weekend, just had a little bit of bad luck. I like Mid-Ohio -- this weekend should be fun."

      Bell can notch fifth win at Michigan

      --No driver in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is running better than Christopher Bell right now.

      The Oklahoman has won three of the last six races, including two of the last three. In 12 starts this season, Bell boasts four wins, eight top-5s, 11 top 10s and a 5.6 average finish. He ranks first in the Camping World Truck Series standings -- 18 points ahead of second-place Johnny Sauter.

      Bell will go for a fifth victory in Saturday's LTI Printing 200 at Michigan International Speedway (1 p.m. ET on FS1). He finished 24th in his lone start at the two-mile track last year after an incident on Lap 75.

      "I ran really well at Michigan last year until I crashed going for the lead late in the race, so I'm looking forward to going back there this year and trying to redeem myself," Bell said. "Rudy (Fugle, crew chief) had a really fast Tundra there last year with William (Byron) -- he and I worked really well together and were able to stay up front most of the race. Michigan is a place that you can't really drive away from people, so you have to make sure that your truck handles well in the draft. Using all the aero techniques that you have in your arsenal is going to be the key to success this weekend."

      Race Weekend Guide

      Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

      Race: Pure Michigan 400

      Place: Michigan International Speedway

      Date and Time: Sunday, at 3 p.m. ET

      Tune-in: NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

      Distance: 400 miles (200 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 60), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 120), Final Stage (Ends on lap 200)

      What to Watch For: Kyle Larson goes for his third straight Michigan win. ... Martin Truex Jr. attempts to earn a second consecutive victory and add to his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series-high four wins. ... Dale Earnhardt Jr. needs a win to get into the playoffs and has triumphed twice at Michigan. ... Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth lead active drivers with three Michigan victories. ... Brad Keselowski tries to get his first checkered at his home track. ... Daniel Suarez can build on his career-best third-place finish from last weekend at Watkins Glen.

      NASCAR Xfinity Series

      Race: Mid-Ohio Challenge

      Place: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course

      Date and Time: Saturday, at 3:30 p.m. ET

      Tune-in: NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

      Distance: 169.35 miles (75 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 20), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 40), Final Stage (Ends on lap 75)

      What To Watch For: Mid-Ohio marks the second of three road course races for the NASCAR Xfinity Series this month. ... Four different drivers have won the four NASCAR Xfinity Series races held at Mid-Ohio. Former winners in Saturday's field include Regan Smith (2015) and defending victor Justin Marks. ... William Byron attempts to add to his series-leading 17 playoff points, and cap off a week that included his announced promotion to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2018 to driver the No. 5 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.

      NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

      Race: LTI Printing 200

      Place: Michigan International Speedway

      Date and Time: Saturday, at 1 p.m. ET

      Tune-in: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

      Distance: 200 miles (100 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 30), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 60), Final Stage (Ends on lap 100)

      What To Watch For: Four races remain until the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoffs. Barring more than eight winners, five of the eight playoff berths have been clinched by Christopher Bell, John Hunter Nemechek, Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton and Kaz Grala. ... Darrell Wallace Jr. returns to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, driving the No. 99 truck for Matthew Miller. Wallace has five career NCWTS wins. ... Fifteen different drivers have won the 17 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races at Michigan. Greg Biffle is the only repeat winner.

  • NASCAR youth movement helps solve sponsor, money issues
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, August 10, 2017

    Perhaps we should be referring to William Byron as the fourth. At the age of 19, the North Carolinian has been announced by team owner Rick Hendrick as one of his drivers next year in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

    • Byron becomes the fourth young driver to join one of the major teams for next season, hence William the Fourth.

      It may seem as though Byron is being coronated before ever stepping into a Cup car after winning seven races in the Camping World Truck Series in his first season and three during his current rookie year in the Xfinity Series. Those are impressive stats and unprecedented, so he deserves his opportunity to move to the big leagues. (Joey Logano's stumble when he arrived at age 18 is still a fresh memory, but Byron will be 20 by the end of this season.)

      For all his talent, Byron is part of the broader movement toward younger drivers by the front-line teams. Hendrick previously signed 24-year-old Alex Bowman to replace Dale Earnhardt, Jr.; Team Penske has called in its option on the services of 23-year-old Ryan Blaney; and Joe Gibbs Racing has done likewise with Erik Jones, who is 21.

      Byron presents himself as confident, but not cocky. Don't expect motor racing's version of Bryce Harper.

      "It's definitely surprising," Byron said of his rapid success. "I didn't expect it out of myself. I feel like I've put the work into it and I'm learning on the job. That's been the biggest thing for me, to learn from the best people I can have around me."

      The switch to younger drivers is inevitable, but particularly timely when it comes to the current sponsorship landscape. Teams are receiving less money from sponsors as a result of external and internal influences. In the current market, sponsors have a multitude of choices in various racing venues and other sports. And, when they look at NASCAR, they see a series where TV ratings and attendance have declined.

      For team owners, the sponsor numbers, when it comes to how many millions are paid, look better with a younger driver in the seat. The younger drivers are inclined to accept more old-fashioned deals, like a percentage of the purse, and forgo the recent trend of retainers priced well into seven figures.

      There are no specific figures available from the contract of Byron. But his team owner in the Xfinity Series, Earnhardt Jr., has confirmed the retainers are not what they used to be. As NASCAR's Most Popular Driver, who has enjoyed taking home a retainer for much of his career, Earnhardt Jr. should know. (It's all relative. It was Hendrick who started the trend when he signed Jeff Gordon and lured him away from Ford with a $750,000 offer in 1992. Byron has probably received a retainer better than that, but not anywhere close to what a driver in a similar circumstance might have been offered five years ago.)

      The NASCAR TV numbers are still strong -- an average viewership in the millions and nearly half the events on the schedule have decent attendance figures. But perception about future returns is everything in business, so sponsorships are being pegged to current numbers and likely with various options for the future. Future success, meanwhile, now depends more than ever on the fresh, young faces in NASCAR.

      The sponsorship problems explain why a high-paid former champion, Matt Kenseth, is on the market after being replaced by Jones. There was a time when champion status was golden, a circumstance that describes the career of Kurt Busch. A lot of pundits thought Roger Penske was making a mistake when he signed former champion Busch to succeed Rusty Wallace, himself a champion. Sponsor Miller Lite wanted a champion and Penske wanted Kenseth, who elected not to leave the team of Jack Roush. So, Penske hired Busch instead.

      The hot ticket currently is accomplished youth. It helps that 25-year-old Kyle Larson has hit his stride and Logano finally came into his own in his mid-20s. Along with Blaney, who scored his maiden victory this year, they prove the young drivers can not only win races, they can become dominant players and championship contenders, which is a sponsor's dream.

      The young drivers obviously offer an opportunity for sponsors to engage a younger fan base, which is money in the bank for marketing programs. But the youngsters are also cost-effective for team owners now living in the charter system. Hendrick looks to be balkanizing his current sponsorship by splitting Axalta between the No. 88 of Bowman and the No. 5 car to be driven by Byron, who will also have backing from Liberty University. It gives the appearance of a smaller budget than this year behind the departing Kasey Kahne, whose sponsors are also leaving.

      Hendrick will also continue to pay Kahne's retainer in 2018 during the final year of his contract and looks to be forming an alliance with a team where Kahne will drive and earn his purse percentage.

      The owner of Hendrick Automotive Group, Hendrick has on occasion likened his racing team to the car business. "I know the bad times are coming sooner or later," he once said, "and I want to be ready for them." Well, the bad times have arrived in terms of sponsorship.

      It's also a problem vexing others, such as Stewart-Haas Racing, Richard Childress Racing and Richard Petty Motosports. They are all holding out hope that come this fall they'll be able to announce new sponsors and a full slate of entries. Meanwhile, the careers of veterans Kenseth, Busch and Danica Patrick, plus new arrivals Ty Dillon and Darrell "Bubba" Wallace hang in the balance until the sponsorship picture comes into focus for these teams.

      After Byron won the Xfinity race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in July, Hendrick was asked about the teenager's future in the Cup.

      "We're not ready to cross that bridge yet," he replied. But after Kahne won the Brickyard 400 the following day, qualifying him for the playoffs, and Bowman was signed up to represent Nationwide Insurance in the No. 88 Chevy, the timing was right to announce the arrival of Byron.

      The driver, who started competing in the online iRacing series before he was old enough for a driver's license, gives every appearance of living up to the opportunity presented by Hendrick Motorsports, where he will join a relatively young lineup that includes Chase Elliott and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson.

      "His character is unbelievable," said Hendrick "Very, very bright. He spends all his time either studying, or iRacing, in a simulator or in a racecar. His rapid rate of success has just blown us all away."

  • Auto Racing Glance
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, August 9, 2017

    MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES: PURE MICHIGAN 400 (200 laps, 400 miles on 2-mile oval), Michigan International Speedway; Brooklyn, Mich.

    • TV: Sunday, 3 p.m. ET -- NBCSN (Radio: Motor Racing Network/SiriusXM NASCAR radio).

      THIS WEEK: This will be the 97th NASCAR Cup race at MIS. Since its repaving in 2012, MIS has become the fastest track on the circuit. ... Kyle Larson has won the last two races at MIS. His win last August was the first of his Cup career. He then returned this past June to win again. ... Cale Yarborough won the first Cup race at MIS in 1969. ... Martin Truex Jr. won last Sunday's race at Watkins Glen, his series-leading fourth victory of the season. ... Earlier this week, Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch learned they will not be returning to their respective rides after this season, leaving them as free agents. ... Hendrick Motorsports named 19-year-old William Byron to replace Kahne in the No. 5 NASCAR Cup car in 2018. ... Former Cup team owner Harry Scott Jr. passed away last Wednesday at the age of 51. ... Truex Jr. (881 points) continues to lead the NASCAR Cup standings after Watkins Glen. Kyle Busch moved into second (765), followed by Larson (759), Kevin Harvick (746), Denny Hamlin (687), Brad Keselowski (681), Chase Elliott (648), Jamie McMurray (643), Matt Kenseth (637) and Clint Bowyer (609).

      NASCAR XFINITY SERIES: MID-OHIO CHALLENGE (75 laps, 169.35 miles around a 2.258-mile road course), Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course; Lexington, Ohio.

      TV: Saturday, August 12, 3:30 p.m. ET -- NBCSN (Radio: Motor Racing Network /SiriusXM Channel 90).

      THIS WEEK: This will be the fifth Xfinity Series race at Mid-Ohio. ... Justin Marks won this race last year. ... A.J. Allmendinger won the first Xfinity race there in 2013, while Chris Buescher won in 2014 and Regan Smith in 2015. ... Kyle Busch won last weekend's Xfinity race at Watkins Glen. ... Elliott Sadler (732 points) remains No. 1 in the Xfinity driver rankings. Byron remains second (680), followed by Justin Allgaier (608), Brennan Poole (541), Daniel Hemric (520), Cole Custer (503), Matt Tifft (460), Ryan Reed (446), Dakoda Armstrong (404) and Blake Koch (394).

      NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES: LTI PRINTING 200 (100 laps, 200 miles around a 2-mile oval), Michigan International Speedway; Brooklyn, Mich.

      TV: Saturday, 1 p.m. ET -- Fox Sports 1 (Radio: Motor Racing Network /SiriusXM Channel 90).

      THIS WEEK: The series was off last weekend. Christopher Bell won the most recent Truck Series race, held two weeks ago at Pocono Raceway. It was Bell's fourth win, eighth top-5 and 11th top-10 finish in 12 Truck Series starts this season. ... With his win at Pocono, Bell took over the points lead (528 points) in the Truck Series, overtaking previous points leader Johnny Sauter (510). Third through 10th are Chase Briscoe (470), Matt Crafton (464), John Hunter Nemechek (396), Ben Rhodes (387), Ryan Truex (386), Grant Enfinger (382), Noah Gragson (345) and Austin Cindric (324).

      VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES: The series is off this weekend. The next race is the ABC Supply 500, Aug. 20, at Pocono Raceway.

      THIS WEEK: Josef Newgarden won the most recent race nearly two weeks ago at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. It was Newgarden's second win in a row (he also won two weeks earlier at Toronto) and his third overall win in his first season with Team Penske, which has now won seven of the first 13 IndyCar races, with four races remaining on the schedule. ... Rumors began at Mid-Ohio that Helio Castroneves may not be back in an IndyCar for Team Penske next season, even if he were to win this season's championship. However, even if Castroneves does not race for Penske in IndyCar next season, he'll likely remain with the team and shift over to sports car racing for the team with Juan Pablo Montoya. ... Winners of the first 13 races have been Sebastien Bourdais (St. Petersburg), James Hinchcliffe (Long Beach), Newgarden (Alabama, Toronto, Mid-Ohio) Simon Pagenaud (Phoenix), Will Power (IndyCar Grand Prix), Takuma Sato (Indy 500), Graham Rahal (both Belle Isle races), Power (Texas), Scott Dixon (Road America) and Castroneves (Iowa). ... Dixon (423 points) remains No. 1 in the IndyCar standings, followed by Castroneves (420 points), Pagenaud (404), Newgarden (400), Power (359), Rahal (359), Sato (351), Alexander Rossi (330), Tony Kanaan (306) and Hinchcliffe (297). ... With his win at Mid-Ohio, Newgarden jumped into the lead in the IndyCar points standings. He has 453 points, seven points ahead of No. 2-ranked Castroneves (446 points). Third through 10th are Dixon (445 points, Pagenaud (436), Power (401), Rahal (395), Sato (381), Rossi (358), Kanaan (320) and Hinchcliffe (316).

      NATIONAL HOT ROD ASSOCIATION, MELLO YELLO DRAG RACING SERIES: The series is off this weekend. The next race is the Lucas Oil Nationals, Aug. 17-20, at Brainerd International Raceway in Brainerd, Minn.

      THIS WEEK: Last weekend's NHRA Northwest Nationals in suburban Seattle completed the three-week "West Coast Swing" for the NHRA. ... Northwest Nationals winners were Antron Brown (Top Fuel), Robert Hight (Funny Car), Drew Skillman (Pro Stock). ... Points leaders: Top Fuel -- Antron Brown (1,418), Steve Torrence (1,405), Leah Pritchett (1,329), Tony Schumacher (1,064) and Brittany Force (992); Funny Car -- Ron Capps (1,330), Matt Hagan (1,172), Robert Hight (1,164), Jack Beckman (1,104) and Tommy Johnson Jr. (1,081); Pro Stock -- Bo Butner (1,423), Greg Anderson (1,183), Tanner Gray (1,174), Jason Line (1,045) and Drew Skillman (1,035); Pro Stock Motorcycle -- L.E. Tonglet (780), Eddie Krawiec (636), Hector Arana Jr. (567), Jerry Savoie (535) and Matt Smith (499).

  • Hendrick Motorsports tabs Byron to replace Kahne
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, August 9, 2017

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      William Byron summed up his future at Hendrick Motorsports in two words: "I'm ready."

      That was the answer Byron gave team owner Rick Hendrick on Sunday night, when Hendrick first broached the possibility of the 19-year-old moving up to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2018.

      "He didn't know why we were meeting," Hendrick said on Wednesday during a conference call with reporters. "I said, 'William, how'd you like to drive in Cup next year?' And he said, 'I'm ready.' There was no hesitation.

      "We're just really excited. It was a special moment. ... Just to see his face and the excitement there, those are real special moments when you can break the news."

      On Wednesday morning, Hendrick Motorsports made that news official. Byron will drive the No. 5 Chevrolet in the Monster Energy Series next season, with primary sponsorship from existing partners Axalta and Liberty University filling most of the race dates. Byron replaces Kasey Kahne, who will leave the car with one year remaining on his contract.

      "We haven't gotten the job done," Hendrick said of the results from the No. 5 car. "I take full responsibility for that. For whatever reason, we weren't getting it."

      Though Byron has never driven a Monster Energy Series car in competition, he has shown enormous talent at every level of racing, winning seven times in his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rookie season last year and winning three times in 20 NASCAR Xfinity Series starts this season. Byron currently is second to JR Motorsports teammate Elliott Sadler in the Xfinity standings.

      "As a kid, this is the race shop that I would drive by and look in the windows," Byron said of his early affinity for Hendrick Motorsports. "Actually, at the 5/24 (shop), they have the window there, and I would walk up to that, and it's pretty cool to be on the other side of it next year. ...

      "I feel like I've put the work into it, and I feel like I'm learning on the job, and that's been the biggest thing for me, to learn from the best people I can have around me. Just looking forward to the future."

      With 24-year-old Alex Bowman recently announced as the successor to Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Chevrolet, the shift to Byron from Kahne further reduces the age and experience of the Hendrick roster. Second-year driver Chase Elliott, who replaced Jeff Gordon into the No. 24 car last year, is 22.

      That leaves seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who will turn 42 in September, as the only veteran in the Hendrick camp.

      "Jimmie Johnson will be a mentor to all three of them," Hendrick said. "We still have Jeff Gordon involved, and Dale Earnhardt's going to be involved. He's still going to be involved with the team, so we've got a lot of coaches. But the main thing is just not putting too much pressure on them and let them go out and learn."

      Hendrick said he is also trying to help Kahne take the next step in his career. Kahne has spent six years in the No. 5 car and recently qualified for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs with a victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

      "I have an obligation to Kasey, so I'm paying two drivers next year," Hendrick said. "And I'm also trying to help Kasey in another situation that we could be involved with helping another team.

      "So therefore, it's not so much about money. It's about the future and building for the future, getting a fresh start."

      That's precisely what Hendrick hopes and expects from Byron.

  • Suarez surging with four top-10 finishes in a row
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, August 6, 2017

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- Daniel Suarez didn't seem particularly elated about finishing third at Watkins Glen International, even though he had just achieved a career best in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

      Perhaps that's because the Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender is growing accustomed to success.

      Consider this: Suarez received a battlefield promotion into the Monster Energy Series when Carl Edwards announced his sudden, unexpected exit from the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in the offseason. After a rough start to his rookie season, Suarez has posted four straight top 10s. The third-place finish at Watkins Glen was the first top five of his career.

      In Sunday's I Love New York 355, Suarez also collected his first stage win of the season, blocking Martin Truex Jr. through the final corner and holding off the eventual race winner for the playoff point.

      But to Suarez, the success is merely a reflection of steady progress, mirroring his 2016 NASCAR Xfinity Series season, where he started slowly and finished with the championship.

      "I think I mentioned in the beginning of the year that I was so looking forward to the second half of the year, as well, because I knew that the second half of the year we were going to be more competitive," Suarez said.

      "All the hard work from my team and from everyone in the 19 group and from Joe Gibbs Racing, TRD (Toyota Racing Development), Toyota, it's paying off. In the beginning of the year, we were not like that. I wasn't the same driver, either, and now I feel like we are moving in the right direction.

      "We have speed pretty much every weekend now where we are running in the top 10. I don't think it's a surprise anymore to run in the top 10. We just have to keep it up. We have to keep ourselves calm, and hopefully we can catch a break in the next few weeks, month or so, to try to make it in the playoffs."

      Currently 15th in the standings and 129 points out of the last playoff-eligible position in points, Suarez would have to win one of the next four races to accomplish that goal.

      Keslowski, Kyle Busch go another round

      Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch, who swapped sheet metal and post-race barbs at Watkins Glen in 2011 before both drivers finished behind race winner Marcos Ambrose, renewed their rivalry on Lap 45 of the I Love New York 355 at the 2.45-mile road course.

      After winning the first 20-lap stage, Busch came to pit road twice under caution during the stage break, the second time to remedy a loose left front wheel from the first stop.

      Restarting near the rear of the field on Lap 25, Busch charged through the field and finished ninth in Stage 2. But shortly after a restart on Lap 45, his Toyota collided with Keselowski's Ford in the bus stop chicane, and both cars spun off the track.

      Busch recovered to finish seventh. Keselowski rallied to run at the front of the field from Laps 77 through 86 but had to pit for fuel four laps from the end and finished 15th after a pit road penalty on his final stop.

      Neither driver was thrilled with the outcome.

      "I was going into the corner and I had the 47 (AJ Allmendinger) behind me, and when I got into the corner, the 18 was next to me," Keselowski said. "My spotter called it, but we were already in the corner. It was too much for me to avoid. We got into each other and that hurt everybody.

      "This is a track where you fight for inches, and we both are probably not willing to give in on it. Nobody is happy when you have contact. It didn’t help my day at all either, I can tell you that. I wasn't looking to get into him and I don't think he was looking to get into me.

      "He probably had the dominant car. He didn't need any trouble. Neither did I."

      Earnhardt makes early exit in final trip around Watkins Glen

      Perhaps it was only fitting that Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race on a road course came to an abrupt and abbreviated end.

      The engine in Earnhardt's No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet expired after 22 laps of the I Love New York 355 at Watkins Glen International, bringing a merciful end to a weekend in which Earnhardt and his team searched in vain for a semblance of speed in the car.

      "We had a problem with the valve train, and we can't fix it," Earnhardt said after taking the car to the garage. "It's been a really difficult week. We've been way down on speed, and we had a pretty good car at Sonoma (in June), so I was kind of looking forward to coming here.

      "But the guys worked really hard. We changed this car inside and out twice this weekend. And we had made it better, and we were kind of hanging in there. I think we had a shot at maybe a top 20 at best. But man, we showed up and we were about four seconds off."

      Set to retire from Monster Energy Series racing at the end of the season, Earnhardt tried to put the best face on his early exit and last-place finish but had difficulty doing so.

      "It is no more disappointing than any other race that you don't run good in," he said. "But we have some more events the rest of the year. We were having a good time out there, trying to enjoy myself even though the car wasn't as good as we wanted it to be.

      "Still trying to enjoy it, knowing it is the last trip. So I'm a little disappointed I can't be out there competing and making all the laps. That's all you really want these last several races is to be out there and finishing."

  • I Love New York 355 at the Glen results
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, August 6, 2017

    Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race

    • I Love New York 355 at The Glen

      Watkins Glen International

      Watkins Glen, New York

      Sunday, August 6, 2017

      1. (3) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 90.

      2. (15) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 90.

      3. (5) Daniel Suarez #, Toyota, 90.

      4. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 90.

      5. (12) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 90.

      6. (18) Kurt Busch, Ford, 90.

      7. (1) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 90.

      8. (16) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 90.

      9. (7) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 90.

      10. (6) Erik Jones #, Toyota, 90.

      11. (17) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 90.

      12. (14) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 90.

      13. (4) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 90.

      14. (9) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 90.

      15. (8) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 90.

      16. (19) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 90.

      17. (20) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 90.

      18. (21) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 90.

      19. (24) Ty Dillon #, Chevrolet, 90.

      20. (22) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 90.

      21. (29) Aric Almirola, Ford, 90.

      22. (25) Danica Patrick, Ford, 90.

      23. (2) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 90.

      24. (13) Joey Logano, Ford, 90.

      25. (23) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 90.

      26. (27) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 90.

      27. (31) David Ragan, Ford, 90.

      28. (37) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 90.

      29. (10) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 90.

      30. (35) Boris Said, Chevrolet, 89.

      31. (34) Gary Klutt, Chevrolet, 89.

      32. (33) * Brett Moffitt(i), Toyota, 89.

      33. (36) Corey LaJoie #, Toyota, 89.

      34. (26) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 81.

      35. (30) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 80.

      36. (32) Landon Cassill, Ford, 78.

      37. (28) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, Engine, 22.

      Average Speed of Race Winner: 104.132 mph.

      Time of Race: 2 hours, 7 minutes, 3 seconds.

      Margin of Victory: 0.414 seconds.

      Caution Flags: 3 for 8 laps.

      Lead Changes: 9 among 6 drivers.

      Lap Leaders: Kyle Busch 1-21; C. Elliott 22-30; D. Suarez # 31-44; M. Truex Jr. 45-52; R. Blaney 53; B. Keselowski 54-63; M. Truex Jr. 64-76; B. Keselowski 77-86; R. Blaney 87; M. Truex Jr. 88-90.

      Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): M. Truex Jr. 3 times for 24 laps; Kyle Busch 1 time for 21 laps; B. Keselowski 2 times for 20 laps; D. Suarez # 1 time for 14 laps; C. Elliott 1 time for 9 laps; R. Blaney 2 times for 2 laps.

      Stage #1 Top Ten: 18,78,24,42,2,1,22,47,5,17

      Stage #2 Top Ten: 19,78,20,21,77,11,2,41,18,47

  • NASCAR notebook: Logano eyes favorable schedule
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, August 4, 2017

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- The current five-race portion of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule couldn't come at a better time for Joey Logano.

      That at least, is the hope that buoys the driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Ford as he tries to force his way into NASCAR's playoffs.

      After a mistake-laden performance last Sunday at Pocono Raceway, where Logano finished 27th after multiple pit road penalties, the 2016 series runner-up is 13th in the standings. He resides 69 points behind ninth-place Matt Kenseth. the last driver, as things stand now, who would qualify for the playoff without a victory.

      Logano has a win, from Richmond in April, but an infraction involving the rear housing of his Ford, discovered after the race, means that victory is encumbered and doesn't count toward qualification for the playoffs.

      But the next five regular-season races, give Logano reason for optimism.

      "I don't think we're at that point yet, but we're close to the point where we're going to have to win," Logano told reporters on Tuesday night at a screening of the Steven Soderbergh film Logan Lucky, in which Logano has a cameo role as a security guard. "The positive side is that the next four out of five races (are at tracks) we've won at before.

      "We've won at Richmond this year. Bristol's one of our best tracks that we always run up front at. Michigan's a really good track, but the fastest tracks haven't really been our forte, at least not this year. And Watkins Glen has been one of my best tracks, honestly, for a couple of years. We finished second last year and won the year before. Our best shot might be this weekend. But we'll fire away at it and see what happens."

      Logano is right about the Glen -- the site of Sunday's I LOVE NEW YORK 355 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN). In addition to his two most recent Monster Energy finishes at the 2.45-mile road course, Logano is the two-time defending winner of the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at WGI. That track and Bristol, where he has won two straight Night Races, probably constitute Logano's best chances to get to Victory Lane.

      "Speed has been an issue," Logano said. "At Indy (where he finished fourth two weeks ago) we had decent speed, and we were in a position to possibly win that race with the right race strategy, cautions going the right way and all that.

      "The speed we had at Pocono, I don't think you can put the right strategy and think we were going to win the race. We were going to fight for 10th. We've got to get faster. No doubt. We've got to get faster."

      GAUGHAN SET TO ENJOY HIS FAVORITE MONTH OF RACING

      If Brendan Gaughan qualifies for the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoff, the month of August likely will play a large part in his success.

      Three of the next four Xfinity races take place on road courses, broken up only by a short-track event at Bristol. But this weekend's Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International, followed by trips to Mid-Ohio (Aug. 12) and Road America (Aug. 27 after Bristol) are the events that have Gaughan's attention.

      In qualifying for last year's playoff, Gaughan finished eighth at Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio before posting a runner-up finish at Road America. The latter two races were settled in the rain.

      "Everybody knows I love me my road racing," said Gaughan, who drives the No. 62 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. "I circle this month at the start of the season and say, 'This is what I look forward to.' I love starting it at Watkins Glen. I love Mid-Ohio. Road America, of course, one of my favorites in the country.

      "This month to me is one of the coolest months of racing NASCAR's ever come up with. If it rains, that doesn't bother me much at all. I will be very, very happy if it rains."

      Gaughan, 41, is currently 12th in the series standings, squarely on the playoff bubble.

      SHORT STROKES

      Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano topped the speed charts, respectively, in Friday's first and second NASCAR Xfinity Series practices at Watkins Glen International. Keselowski had the fastest lap of the day at the 2.45-mile road course, running 122.200 mph in the first session. Keselowski was the only driver to top 122 mph in either practice. ... Seeking his 90th Xfinity Series victory, Kyle Busch was second fastest in both practice sessions, running a best lap at 122.586 mph in the opening session. ... Englishman Stephen Young, making his NASCAR debut in Saturday's Zippo 200, had the fastest 10-lap average in Happy Hour -- because he was the only driver to run 10 consecutive laps.

  • Allmendinger attempts to clinch playoff spot at Watkins Glen
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, August 3, 2017

    Staff Report, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      Win and you're in is the name of the game in NASCAR these days. A visit to Victory Lane earns a driver a spot in the sport's playoffs.

      With five races left in the regular season, only three playoff berths remain.

      Road course ace AJ Allmendinger -- who at 27th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings cannot get into the playoffs on points -- will attempt to clinch a postseason bid in Sunday's I LOVE NEW YORK 335 at Watkins Glen International (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

      The feat wouldn't be unprecedented for Allmendinger, who captured his first career victory and playoff berth at Watkins Glen in 2014.

      "Obviously, getting my first Cup win there is very special," Allmendinger said about the Central New York road course. "It will be a place that no matter what I do the rest of my career will always be right at the top. Just a fun road course, very fast, I call it kind of the 1.5-mile of road courses. A lot of speed around there, especially since they repaved it last year."

      Allmendinger's 2014 win was no fluke. In eight career starts at Watkins Glen, he has one victory, three top fives, five top 10s and a 9.4 average finish in eight starts. The No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing driver finished fourth in last year's race.

      "(Watkins Glen is) a place that I really enjoy, but more than anything, every time I pull through under the tunnel there into the race track I go back to 2014, getting my first Cup win, our team's first Cup win and just what that meant," Allmendinger said. "That always pushes me a little bit harder knowing that feeling in Victory Lane and wanting to experience that again. We will go there, put on a show, get back into Victory Lane and have another giant party."

      Custer hopes to continue recent success at The Glen

      Youth hasn't been a hindrance for 19-year-old Cole Custer this season.

      The youngest NASCAR XFINITY Series regular -- and the only full-time driver born in 1998 -- ranks sixth in the series standings on the strength of four top-five and nine top-10 finishes. He is currently riding a streak of four straight top-11 finishes.

      Custer hopes to continue his recent success in Saturday's Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN) -- the series' first of three road course races this month.

      The No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing driver has never competed at Watkins Glen in the XFINITY Series, but finished third there last year in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East contest. Custer placed runner-up in his most-recent road course race -- a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park last September.

      "I've been trying to get back into road-course racing a bit," Custer said. "We tested some sports cars at Mid-Ohio, so that helped me get used to the sharp corners and get back in the flow of road courses. Our Haas Automation team has never raced before at a road course, but we definitely have a lot of smart guys that know how to set up a car, so we should be pretty strong this weekend."

      Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

      Race: I LOVE NEW YORK 355 at The Glen

      Place: Watkins Glen International

      Date and Time: Sunday, August 6 at 3 p.m. ET

      Tune-In: NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

      Distance: 220.6 miles (90 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 20), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 40), Final Stage (Ends on lap 90)

      What To Watch For: Kevin Harvick tries to become the first driver since Kyle Busch in 2008 to sweep the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series road courses. ... Pocono winner Kyle Busch goes for his second straight win. ... Ten different drivers have won the last 10 races. ... 2015 Watkins Glen winner Joey Logano attempts to clinch a playoff spot by visiting Victory Lane on Sunday. ... Martin Truex Jr. readies to extend his points and playoff points leads in the I LOVE NEW YORK 335.

      NASCAR XFINITY Series

      Race: Zippo 200 at The Glen

      Place: Watkins Glen International

      Date and Time: Saturday, August 5 at 2 p.m. ET

      Tune-in: NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

      Distance: 200.9 miles (82 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 20), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 40), Final Stage (Ends on lap 82)

      What To Watch For: Joey Logano will attempt to become the first driver to win three consecutive NASCAR XFINITY Series Watkins Glen races from the pole. ... Five NASCAR Next alumni are competing in Saturday's race: Cole Custer, Erik Jones, Matt Tifft, William Byron and Kyle Larson. ... Elliott Sadler tries to extend his 54-point lead in the series standings over second-place William Byron. Byron leads the series with 17 playoff points, followed by Justin Allgaier (eight) and Sadler (five).

  • Postseason chances getting slim for Earnhardt Jr.
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, August 3, 2017

    Dale Earnhardt, Jr. needs to win a race. If he wins one of the next five events and makes it to the postseason, the celebration by Junior Nation will be deafening.

    • But what are the realistic chances of a victory by Earnhardt? He has not won a race since 2015, when he won four, and has yet to visit Victory Lane with his current crew chief, Greg Ives.

      So far in his final season at Hendrick Motorsports, Earnhardt has one top five finish -- fifth-place in Texas -- and one pole at the summer event in Daytona.

      Last week's event at Pocono, where Earnhardt swept both races in 2014, offered no tonic.

      This weekend, he'll return to the road course at Watkins Glen, where he has yet to score a victory or be a contender. It's often cloudy above the serpentine circuit in upstate New York's Schuyler County and Junior Nation can be forgiven for looking for a silver lining. A victory for No. 88 on a track where drivers turn mostly right would be a stunner.

      Earnhardt and Ives, in the meantime, are looking for needed speed after the Pocono race.

      "We got it a little bit better as the race went on," said Earnhardt, who finished 12th. "But man, I don't know where the speed is that the front three or four have and they've got it every week. We don't have that and we are not going to find it in that garage on Friday or Saturday. If we don't show up with it we ain't going to find it. That is somewhere in the shop. ... So we will have to keep working back there."

      The leaders of the No. 88 team may not get much help from their brethren at Hendrick.

      Jimmie Johnson, who won three races earlier in the season, is in a mild slump.

      Kasey Kahne won the Brickyard 400 with a determined effort -- aided by clever pit strategy that got him into the clean air at race's end.

      Chase Elliott may have two playoff bonus points from stage wins and six top five finishes, which makes him the leading candidate to make the playoffs on points. But Elliott has led only four laps in the last 15 races.

      There's no doubting that the No. 88 Chevy of Earnhardt has not maintained the pace of this year's front-running drivers -- Martin Truex, Jr., Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. Even if he makes the playoffs, the prospects for a championship in his final season would be dim. And that's a shame.

      Invariably honest and willing to share self-assessments in ways that few NASCAR drivers ever seem to muster, Earnhardt may be missing what's needed to post a win. It's not necessarily a conscious thing, but when drivers know they are nearing the end of their careers the mettle to get on the ragged edge required for speed begins to ebb.

      Indeed, the recent retirements of Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart as well as the sudden departure of Carl Edwards probably reflect their realizations that they were no longer as willing to push the limit. They made exits before rim-riding to victory became a little too dicey.

      For Earnhardt, there's the double whammy of having already incurred a serious injury, the concussion syndrome that sidelined him last season. Given that shadow, more than just Junior Nation are willing to bid him a fond farewell even in the absence of that victory needed for the playoffs.

      It seems like Earnhardt is playing the hand dealt him.

      Assuming that 17 different drivers don't win a race before the playoffs start -- which would also leave out Earnhardt since he's mired so deeply in the points -- there are three good upcoming opportunities on the schedule. He's won twice at Michigan, once at Bristol and three times at Richmond. Sunday's race on the road circuit at the Glen poses far longer odds as does the throwback night race at Darlington.

      Earnhardt could still get a final victory during the playoffs even if he's not in them. The Hendrick team bounced back from the summer doldrums last year to help Johnson win a seventh championship in the fall.

      Earnhardt has won at six of the 10 tracks slated for the postseason -- Chicago, Dover, Martinsville, Talladega, Texas and Phoenix. Nothing precludes Earnhardt, Jr. from winning on other tracks, either. But it's all water cooler discussion if the driver and his crew chief don't come up with more speed.

      Even Johnson is looking for something to put him back among the race leaders. His last victory came eight races ago in Dover. He has not posted a result in the top five since then.

      "It helps knowing that you are locked in (the playoffs), but at the same time I think we are missing a little bit of speed," Johnson said after Pocono. "And then to have luck kind of not go our way the last few weeks. I mean, we want the momentum going the right direction for us. We are getting close to the end of the regular season, so ideally, we would like to get things rolling."

      Last year, it appeared the Hendrick team's development plan didn't arrive until the playoffs and a new set of rules enforcement guidelines by NASCAR for rear suspensions. Given that a significant number of playoff bonus points are still up for grabs this year, it does not seem likely that Hendrick is holding back new developments until Round 1 of the postseason in Chicago.

      More likely, the timing and circumstances of Earnhardt Jr.'s planned retirement are conspiring against him when it comes to exiting like Gordon, Stewart and Edwards before him -- as a championship contender.

  • Busch gears for title run after Pocono victory
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, July 31, 2017

    Kyle Busch is smiling. Beware fellow competitors.

    • After dominating at Pocono Raceway with relative ease -- except for one slide through Turn 1 that ultimately showed off his car control -- Busch pronounced himself relieved that his losing streak in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup was over. He and his team had found a garden variety of ways to fumble away potential victories this year until Sunday, when Busch won the pole and then led the most laps.

      Given his performance at Pocono, where he had not won previously, Busch and his Joe Gibbs team presented themselves as contenders for the championship versus the season's other two dominant drivers -- Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson.

      "I think our stats and our runs and our speed shows for itself," said Busch, who is second only to Truex in laps led this year with 1,114. "Those guys have just been able to capitalize on race victories. That's what we haven't been able to capitalize on."

      Earlier in the week, the Gibbs camp wasn't smiling much. Team owner Joe Gibbs suspended two members of Truex's pit crew for an imbroglio that occurred at Indy -- after Truex Jr.'s contact with Busch on a re-start wiped out another strong performance. If this sounds a bit wacky, the Gibbs team provides the pit crew for the aligned Toyota team of Truex and his Furniture Row Racing team.

      At Indy, the two sides didn't act like teammates or even aligned teams when Busch's crew chief, Adam Stevens, came calling in the Furniture Row pits after the incident and was told by the two offending crew men to leave in fiercely indelicate terms. They have been replaced for three races by backups.

      Everything sent smoothly in the pits for Busch and Truex and on the track Sunday, including their side-by-side race start. But it would not be surprising if the Furniture Row team was still smarting for getting called out by the boss of another team. The JGR squad of Busch, meanwhile, swept through practice, qualifying and the race as if on a mission.

      It wasn't for lack of team psychology that Gibbs won three Super Bowls during his days as the head coach for the Washington Redskins. His racing team currently has four Cup titles.

      Were it not for the even-keeled personalities of Furniture Row team owner Barney Visser and his driver, it would be tempting to say a title feud might develop -- despite the alliance. As it was, Busch and Truex were the two fastest drivers on Sunday. In the final stage, Furniture Row crew chief Cole Pearn blinked. He short-pitted his driver from the lead for two tires with 34 laps to go, hoping to gain enough ground on fresh tires to stay ahead of Busch, who was in third after his wayward trip through Turn 1 had cost him track position.

      Stevens waited nine laps, then put four tires on his driver's Toyota. Busch proceeded to blow everybody away on his fresh rubber, including a "pardon me" nudge of Kevin Harvick in Turn 3. He was pulling away at the finish. Truex settled for third after getting stuck in traffic.

      Earlier in the year, the JGR Toyotas -- in contrast to Furniture Row -- lacked enough speed to close the deal at the end of races. Given that rookie Daniel Suarez has scored three consecutive top-10 finishes for Gibbs and that Denny Hamlin is headed to the playoffs after his victory in New Hampshire's lobster country, JGR has found its groove. It's not for a lack of speed, said Busch, that it took him 36 races before he returned to Victory Lane.

      "We've certainly figured out a lot of different ways to lose those races this year," said Busch. "It feels really good to finally capitalize on finally having a fast car -- Adam making a really good decision to kind of long stint that last run, put tires on late. It really paid off for us."

      This might be a prelude to Busch proceeding to dominate at this crucial juncture of the season, when playoff bonus points are at stake as well as that hoary favorite known as momentum. After his 39th career victory, Busch said that he'll leave the prognostications to others about who will come out on top in the championship bout at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

      "We just methodically go about our races, that's our mentality," he said. "When it works for us, we go to Victory Lane. That's how we get to Homestead."

      The statistics are starting to speak volumes for Busch. His victory gave Toyota 100 in the Cup ranks, of which 35 belong to Busch. In all, Busch has 166 victories in NASCAR's three major touring series after starting his career at the Chevy team of Hendrick Motorsports.

      There's also a rub in the stats. Busch brought Toyota its first title in his extraordinary comeback season of 2015. But the number of championships do not seem to add up to what one might expect from the number of victories, poles (24) and career laps led (13,470).

      This year could be different for Busch, who now has 13 bonus playoff points. With the exception of an angry meltdown at Charlotte, Busch has handled a rather incredible string of snafus and plain bad luck with relative equanimity, returning each week with a fresh attitude.

      There's also been relatively less calling out of guilty parties on his own team -- or Truex for that matter after their incident at Indy. In years past, Busch has tended to blame others or wilt under the inevitable adverse conditions known as professional racing.

      It was Jimmie Johnson who bounced back from setbacks at Homestead last year to be in position to take his seventh title after Joey Logano and Carl Edwards came to tears. It might have been Busch collecting a second straight.

      Given that the Toyotas of Gibbs and Furniture Row occupied six of the top 10 positions at Pocono, they appear poised at the right time to charge through the playoffs. Busch himself appears more poised than ever.

  • NASCAR notebook: Pocono jinx clobbers Johnson again
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, July 30, 2017

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      LONG POND, Pa. -- What used to be an excellent track for Jimmie Johnson has turned into a jinx of late.

      The seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion has three victories at the Tricky Triangle, but in the last four races at the 2.5-mile speedway, Johnson has crashed out three times.

      Sunday's Overton's 400 brought the second straight DNF for the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. On Lap 57, one go-around after the second stage went green, Johnson took a spin into the Turn 3 wall off the nose of teammate Kasey Kahne's Chevy.

      Before Johnson's race ended in that corner, he had already collided with Ryan Blaney after an earlier restart.

      "I was in the outside lane and losing some spots," Johnson said of the wreck. "I think the No. 5 washed up into me and kind of finished me off over there in Turn 3.

      "It's definitely not the day we wanted to have, but I don't think either one of those situations were intentional by any stretch. It's just a bummer day for this whole Lowe's team, and we'll get our Chevy ready for next week and go do it again."

      In his last four starts at Pocono, Johnson has finished 35th, 16th, 36th and 35th. He hasn't had a result better than 10th since he picked up his third victory of the season on June 4 at Dover.

      BOWYER PICKS UP STAGE WIN WITH CONTRARIAN STRATEGY

      When every car running ahead of Clint Bowyer came to pit road on Lap 96 -- in a group that included race winner Kyle Busch, runner-up Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Chase Elliott, Bowyer inherited the lead.

      Four laps later, Bowyer collected his first stage win and first playoff point of the season.

      But that wasn't the highlight of Bowyer's day. Forced to pit under caution at the end of the stage, Bowyer restarted 11th and never advanced higher than fifth during the final 60 laps of the race. He finished sixth, after Brad Keselowski passed him for the fifth position in the closing laps.

      Bowyer, who is fighting for a spot in NASCAR's playoff, was pleased with the speed in his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.

      "It was a big pit strategy day, for sure, and you know that going into a race like this," Bowyer said. "Our car was good all weekend. We unloaded a fast car. This is the best car that we've unloaded in quite some time.

      "A little bit different build. Hopefully, this is what we're looking for, what I'm looking for and (we can) build on this."

      TRUEX SACRIFICES STAGE WIN FOR CHANCE TO WIN RACE

      On Lap 96 of Sunday's Overton's 400 monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event at Pocono Raceway, Martin Truex Jr. brought his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota to pit road -- giving up the lead just four laps away from what would have been his 15th stage win of the season.

      It was a case of long-range thinking by Truex and his crew chief, Cole Pearn. The idea was to set up a race-winning strategy by pitting early and regaining track position when those who stayed out for the stage points pitted under caution at the end of the stage.

      But Truex lost the lead to Kevin Harvick in traffic and never regained it. After Kyle Busch stormed through the field on fresher tires to win the race, Truex arrived at the finish line in third place.

      "The thought there was, if we didn't pit there, we probably weren't going to have a shot at winning the race," Truex said. "That was the gamble. That was our mind-set before the race. We figured if we felt like we were good enough to possibly win the race, we'd have to pit before the end of that second stage.

      "Just stuck to our plan. That's kind of what we talked about before the race, hoping to get the overall win. It didn't work out, so obviously now I wish we would have stayed out and won that stage."

      Truex already has 29 playoff points, 15 from his three race victories and 14 from the stages. Jimmie Johnson is second with 16 playoff points.

  • NASCAR notebook: Truex eyes success at Pocono
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, July 28, 2017

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      LONG POND, Pa. -- Martin Truex Jr. is enjoying life at the top of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series pyramid.

      He's the series leader in points. Entering Sunday's Overton's 400 at Pocono Raceway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN), he's tied for the series lead in victories with three. And he's the runaway leader in playoff points with 29, a whopping 14 coming from stage wins.

      Truex is at the top of his game, with a team that's a perfect fit for his personality and driving style. Just don't forget that it took him 10 years to get there.

      That's why Truex's younger brother Ryan, who is racing in Saturday's Overton's 150 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event, isn't overly concerned with the state of his career.

      Ryan Truex is seven years into a NASCAR journey that has taken him from the K&N Pro Series to sporadic starts in all three of the sanctioning body's top touring series. This year is the first time, however, that Truex has enjoyed a full-time ride with an established team and a solid, consistent crew.

      "Honestly, it's motivation more than anything," Ryan said of his brother's success with Furniture Row Racing. "Just to see everything he's gone through. When he came into this sport, it kind of seemed like it all came pretty easily for him. In the Xfinity Series and up to the (Monster Energy NASCAR) Cup Series, he was just able to progress really quickly and run really well.

      "Then he started to struggle in the later DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) days, when it transitioned to Earnhardt Ganassi. Then, when he went to MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) with (sponsor) NAPA, things were starting to look up. He finally won that race (at Sonoma in 2013) that got the monkey off his back and made the Chase."

      But the roller coaster ride was far from over. When MWR was penalized for manipulating the outcome of the 2013 regular-season finale at Richmond, Truex lost his spot in the playoff and NAPA left the organization, leaving Truex without a job.

      "He didn't know if he'd even have a ride after that year," said Ryan, who at 25 is 12 years younger than his brother. "But, honestly, it might be the best thing that ever happened to him, because he went to Furniture Row ...

      "Seeing all that, it's taken him 10 years to get all that stuff lined up, for the stars to all align. So when I look at my career and how I've kind of jumped around -- starting my career, I kind of moved up really quick -- and kind of hit the Xfinity Series at the wrong time."

      Ryan was 18 when he ran seven Xfinity races for MWR in 2010. Racing for team owner Shigeaki Hattori this season, he's currently eighth in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series standings, fighting for one of eight available spots in the playoffs.

      "I've been racing in NASCAR for seven years, and I'm finally full-time," Ryan said. "Seeing him (Martin) go through that and finally, 10 years later, getting what he needed to go out and be a contender for a championship, it motivates me and keeps me comfortable in knowing that I've got time."

      TURNS AT POCONO ARE ALWAYS A COMPROMISE

      Pocono is truly one of a kind.

      The Tricky Triangle earns its name from the three distinct corners that bear no resemblance to each other. Turn 1 is tight, but banked. Turn 2 is a sweeping corner that's deceptively difficult, and Turn 3 is a flat corner that sets up a run down the longest straightaway in NASCAR racing.

      So is it better to set a car up for one particular corner or to try to achieve a balance that gives up something -- but not too much -- in each of the three?

      "I feel like there's compromise on the whole track, not just the three corners," says Grant Enfinger, who will make his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start at Pocono after eight races in an ARCA car. "There are certain times that you can do something that helps you through the corners there -- gets you off of Turn 3 a little bit better -- but it hurts you on the straightaway. These trucks are really, really draggy.

      "There's compromise over the whole track. Turn 1 has a lot of banking that'll hold you a little bit. The Tunnel Turn (Turn 2) is its own animal, and Turn 3 is really, really flat, so it's definitely a compromise over the whole track."

      A contender for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors, Enfinger is driving the No. 98 ThorSport Racing Toyota. In his eight ARCA starts, he posted a victory, two runner-up finishes and seven top 10s -- for an average result of 6.9.

      PREECE HOPES TO RIDE MOMENTUM AT IOWA

      What can Ryan Preece possibly do for an encore?

      Two weeks ago at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, in his first NASCAR Xfinity Series start in a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Preece finished second to teammate Kyle Busch, the all-time leader in Xfinity wins.

      On Saturday at Iowa Speedway, Preece will get his second chance to drive the No. 20 Camry -- with little room for improvement.

      "It's great -- I get a second shot at this," Preece said during a question-and-answer session at Iowa Speedway. "So it's a great opportunity. But what I'm really looking forward to is going over notes with my crew chief, Chris (Gabehart), and the team."

      When teammate Christopher Bell made his second NASCAR Xfinity Series start at Iowa in June, he won the pole and led 152 laps before falling victim to a late wreck and finishing 16th.

      "Christopher Bell had a really good race car here, so just kind of looking at the characteristics he fought from practice... and just looking for forward drive. That's going to be huge. Just going to be looking for that grip, and hopefully we can back up what we did at Loudon."

      The bad news for Preece this week? He can only gain one position from his finish at New Hampshire. Everything else is downside.

      The good news? Kyle Busch is otherwise occupied with the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event at Pocono.

  • Earnhardt Jr. seeks to nab playoff slot at Pocono
    By The Sports Xchange / Thursday, July 27, 2017

    Staff report, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      Kasey Kahne proved at Indy that all hope is not lost for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers who are low in the point standings. Without even a top-15 finish to show in his previous eight races, Kahne battled his way to a win at the Brickyard and earned the automatic playoff berth that comes with one.

      Sitting 22nd in the point standings -- 213 points below Matt Kenseth on the cutoff line -- Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s playoff hopes seem bleak at first glance. When looking at the upcoming schedule, Earnhardt and his massive fan base should have at least a glimmer of hope he can make the postseason in his final full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series campaign.

      The No. 88 Chevrolet driver claims a combined eight wins at the remaining six tracks on the regular season docket, including two at Pocono Raceway -- the site of Sunday's Overton's 400 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

      "I feel bad for all the fans because they've been really supporting us and this has been a difficult season for them to see us not compete like we should or like we have in the past," Earnhardt said. "I'm hoping that I can turn that around for all our sakes really soon."

      In addition to his two victories, the 14-time most popular driver has 11 top-five and 15 top-10 finishes in 34 career starts at Pocono. He has finished fifth or better in six of his last eight races at the Tricky Triangle.

      If Earnhardt can't pull through at Pocono, he can potentially triumph at Watkins Glen, where he's never won, Michigan (two wins), Bristol (one), Darlington (zero) and Richmond (three). He is particularly fond of Richmond because its layout is similar to Myrtle Beach Speedway where he grew up racing.

      "We'll go to the next race -- Pocono -- and keep digging," Earnhardt said. "This is not the worst season by any stretch of the imagination -- at least the cars have speed in them, we've just had some really bad luck. We've got a busy week coming up, but I'm so ready for Pocono."

      BYRON HOPES TO CONTINUE DOMINANT RUN AT IOWA

      There aren't many constants in NASCAR. A driver can visit Victory Lane one week and go winless for another two years. A competitor can lead 99 percent of the laps in a race and still lose.

      There has been one constant the last couple years on the NASCAR national series circuit -- William Byron piling up wins.

      The 19-year-old Charlotte native, who amassed a Sunoco Rookie-record seven wins in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series last season, has taken the checkered flag in three of the last five NASCAR Xfinity Series events. He's also been the highest-finishing full-time Xfinity Series driver in the last six races.

      After visiting Victory Lane at Indy last Saturday, Byron will go for his second consecutive triumph in Saturday's U.S. Cellular 250 (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC) -- the place where he kicked off his run of wins in June.

      He'll try to join Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2011) as the only driver to sweep the season's races in The Hawkeye State.

      "Every time I go to Iowa Speedway, I feel like there are always guys that are better than me," Byron said. "By the end of the race though, I feel like our team gets there. The last 50 laps we are really there and we have a pretty good shot at the win. This time around it is going to take more of the same and it is going to take an even-keeled mindset to win this race."

      CONSISTENT GRAGSON MAKING PLAYOFF PUSH

      Consistency has been key for NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Noah Gragson.

      After placing 28th at Kansas on May 12, the 19-year-old Las Vegas native has racked up seven straight top-10 finishes. He's jumped from 13th in the points standings to ninth, where he sits eight points behind Ben Rhodes for the final playoff spot.

      Gragson will attempt to continue his playoff push in Saturday's Overton's 150 at Pocono Raceway (1 p.m. ET on FOX). The Kyle Busch Motorsports driver has never raced at Pocono, but will try to match William Byron, who won his first career start at the Tricky Triangle for KBM last year.

      "I really think we are going to be good this weekend at Pocono," Gragson said. "I am going to treat it like a road course and make the straightaways as long as possible. I was watching film this week and it just seems like there is a lot of drafting down the long straightaways, and with three different corners it seems more like a road course than a normal oval."

      Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

      Race: Overton's 400

      Place: Pocono Raceway

      Date and Time: Sunday, July 30 at 3 p.m. ET

      Tune-in: NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

      Distance: 400 miles (160 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 50), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 100), Final Stage (Ends on lap 160)

      What to Watch for: June Pocono winner Ryan Blaney attempts to become the eighth driver to sweep the Tricky Triangle. ... Indy winner Kasey Kahne goes for his second straight victory. ... Pocono often produces surprise finishes, so a 14th different winner of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season is a possibility. ... Six races remain for drivers to qualify for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. ... Pocono is one of two active tracks where Kyle Busch has never won. The other track is Charlotte.

      NASCAR XFINITY Series

      Race: U.S. Cellular 250

      Place: Iowa Speedway

      Date and Time: Saturday, July 29 at 3:30 p.m. ET

      Tune-in: NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

      Distance: 218.75 miles (250 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 60), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 120), Final Stage (Ends on lap 250)

      What to Watch for: NASCAR Next alumnus Ryan Preece makes his second start of the season for Joe Gibbs Racing after finishing second at New Hampshire. ... A mere eight races remain to qualify for the 12-driver NASCAR XFINITY Series playoffs. ... NASCAR Next driver Ty Majeski makes his second career XFINITY Series start for Roush Fenway Racing. ... Two-time Iowa winner Sam Hornish Jr. takes the wheel for Team Penske.

      NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

      Race: Overton's 150

      Place: Pocono Raceway

      Date and Time: Saturday, July 29 at 1 p.m. ET

      Tune-in: FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

      Distance: 150 miles (60 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 15), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 30), Final Stage (Ends on lap 60)

      What to Watch for: Three-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton goes for his second straight win. ... Five races remain until the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoffs. Christopher Bell, John Hunter Nemechek, Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton and Kaz Gala have virtually earned berths in the eight-driver field by winning races. ... Only two points separate leader Chase Briscoe and second-place Grant Enfinger in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings.

  • Keselowski signs extension with Penske
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, July 25, 2017

    Brad Keselowski agreed to a contract extension with Team Penske, following the lead of crew chief Paul Wolfe, who signed a new contract in June.

    • Terms of the deal were not disclosed but Team Penske said the agreement covers several years.

      Since joining Penske in 2010, Keselowski has 22 victories and won the Sprint Cup title in 2012.

      "In the time that Brad has driven for Team Penske, he has risen to the top echelon of stars in NASCAR," Roger Penske said in a statement. "Brad and Paul have established a terrific, winning combination and they are both real leaders within our team.

      "More than just wins and championships, Brad is an important part (of) our relationship with Ford Performance and his work with (his) Checkered Flag Foundation shows what kind of person he is away from the track. There is no question he continues to be a great fit for our organization."

      Keselowski and teammate Joey Logano are now both locked up "well into the future," per Penske's release.

      The Miller Lite-sponsored Keselowski, 33, is currently fourth in the NASCAR playoffs standings which include the top 16 drivers.

      "Roger and everyone at Team Penske have given me everything we need to win championships at the highest levels of NASCAR," Keselowski said. "As I have said all along, Team Penske is where I want to be and I am thrilled to continue with the organization well into the future. I have a lot of years left in the sport and I truly feel our best years are ahead of us."

  • Even after kissing bricks, rocky road awaits Kahne
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, July 24, 2017

    No matter how much they had been slathered in oil from crashes and racing's equivalent of sawdust from the cleanup, no matter how many tiny shards of metal might have been embedded in them, the yard of bricks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are always ripe for a kiss from the winners.

    • Even when the winners of this year's Brickyard 400 had to wait through 6 1/2 hours of red flags, 14 cautions and two overtimes.

      In a race that seemingly began in the Paleolithic era before ending near sunset, winner Kasey Kahne was so exhausted that he was barely able to stand after breaking his 102-race winless streak. He was able to kneel alongside team owner Rick Hendrick for the ceremonial kissing of the bricks at the start-finish line.

      Perhaps he even whispered, "Boss, does this mean I can keep my job?"

      Nothing about who will drive the No. 5 Chevy next year has been decided -- that's the official line at Hendrick Motorsports, which won the annual trek by NASCAR's "taxi cabs" for a 10th time at the track hallowed for its open-wheel tradition. Kahne's position is in doubt due to his losing streak and sponsorship concerns.

      Up-and-coming Hendrick driver William Byron won the Saturday matinee Xfinity Series race for his third victory as a rookie in the understudy series. But Hendrick said before the race there are no plans to advance him next year. Veteran Matt Kenseth, meanwhile, is on the market and tends to attract sponsors due to his status as a NASCAR champion.

      After crashing out of five of the previous seven races despite showing some front-running speed, Kahne finally had the twists of fate turn in his direction. Seventeen of the 36 starters ended up failing to finish due to crashes. But Kahne and crew chief Keith Rodden managed to make it to the clean air at the front with a savvy pit call 11 laps from the finish.

      Kahne survived three restarts to get the victory as several cars spun and crashed behind him on the backstretch in the second overtime period. It looked like the ending to a Marvel or D.C. Comics movie.

      Journalists questioned the call by NASCAR officials, who waited for Kahne to cross the overtime line before throwing the caution -- making the race official instead of trying to go for another restart. By then, the sun had almost set and everybody was ready to go home. The umps may have called a ball a third strike to put everybody out of their misery -- including cleanup crews, who would not have had enough time to clear the track before darkness fell. It was all academic given the Speedway has no lights -- except that it's not the first time NASCAR has played fast and loose with the overtime line.

      Thus, Kahne's losing streak ended and the career-record losing streak of Kyle Busch was extended to 36 races, an entire season's worth. Busch hasn't won since claiming his second straight Brickyard 400 a year ago. His Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was parked after fellow Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr. took him out on a restart. Until that point, Busch had led 87 of the 111 laps.

      Busch's bad luck is getting to the point where the usual troll types who take exception to him may even be shaking their heads in wonder. But there's still time for NASCAR's most talented driver under the age of 40 to hit a winning streak before the season is out.

      Rubbing is considered racing for the fendered NASCAR guys. But when they arrived at the Brickyard in this year's low downforce cars, that formula turned into blocking and tackling. The biggest loser was Clint Bowyer, who was relieved of duty 12 laps from the finish in a multi-car crash, with his Ford being the first to break loose. With Kahne advancing from deep in the points race into the playoffs with his victory, Bowyer fell out of the top 16 candidates. It was a case of bad track position at the end of a race meaning a bad result.

      Two of the red flags were for late cleanups and the longest for thunder, lightning and rain shortly after the race began. That initial break added more steamy heat on an already hot day on the Midwestern plains. Drivers were forced to sit in their cars during the two late-race red flags, only adding to the malaise. The cars are sealed up for as much aerodynamic slickness as possible on the long straights at Indy, helping to add to the plight of some drivers, including Kahne, who complained of cramps and appeared to be dehydrated when he first exited his car.

      Known for his workout regimen, the slender driver quickly rebounded, apparently revived by placing his lips on the bricks.

      "I was really happy," he said. "Unbelievable to win at Indianapolis. Unbelievable to win a Cup race. It's been awhile. It feels really good for myself and my confidence. I know it's great for our team. We needed it as a team."

      It was a bit of a homecoming for the driver from Enumclaw, Wash., who moved to Indianapolis to pursue an open-wheel career before taking up stock cars.

      "I moved here in 1999, lived here for three summers, raced Sprint cars, midgets all around the area," said Kahne. "This was the track that I always wanted to win at, and dreamed of racing at."

      Eighteen years after riding a bus around the track with his father, Kahne finally got the victory where he had come close on two previous occasions. He now has another major NASCAR title to add to his two Coca-Cola 600 wins in Charlotte. All three were major endurance races.

  • Earnhardt Jr. to join NBC booth in 2018
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, July 24, 2017

    NASCAR Cup Series driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. will move to the television booth after retiring this season, signing a multi-year contract with NBC that will take effect in 2018.

    • NASCAR's 14-time Most Popular Driver will be part of the NBC broadcast team that includes his former crew chief, Steve Letarte, who entered the booth in 2015.

      "It is a tremendous honor not only to join NBC Sports next year but to begin a new career alongside people who love NASCAR as much as I do," Earnhardt said in a statement Monday. "To be reunited with Steve Letarte, to be able to call legends like (NBC analysts) Jeff Burton, Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty teammates rather than just friends, to be able to continue going to the track and connecting with race fans, it's a privilege I don't take lightly.

      "I will devote my heart and soul to this broadcast team and pledge my very best to the millions who watch it."

      The 42-year-old Earnhardt, a two-time Daytona 500 winner with 26 Cup victories, announced his retirement in April that 2017 would be his last full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. He raced in his final Brickyard 400 on Sunday in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, lasting just 76 laps after he was involved in a multi-car crash. He finished 36th in Indianapolis and fell to 22nd in the NASCAR Cup standings.

      According to a news release from NBC Sports Group, the deal will give Earnhardt opportunities in other areas, such as movies, television and podcasts. His exact duties during the telecasts are still to be determined.

      Earnhardt told reporters later during a conference call that he will be a part of the NASCAR Cup race broadcast but may not have a role in the Xfinity Series telecasts because he owns a race team in the series.

      "I've always just drove race cars. So this is probably the first real job I've had in 20 years," Earnhardt said on the conference call. "The thrill of actually calling the race in the booth is something that's hard to explain until you do it."

      NBC carries the second half of NASCAR's Monster Energy and Xfinity series seasons through 2024.

      "We are excited to welcome Dale Jr. to our team -- both on and off the track," Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Broadcasting and Sports, said in the release. "As a company, NBCUniversal allows for talent to stretch themselves across not just their field of expertise, but across other areas of their interests in the media world."

      NBC beat out Fox Sports, which covers the first half of the NASCAR season, to land Earnhardt. He worked for both Fox and NBC in previous capacities, helping call an Xfinity Series race on Fox in June 2016, and being in the NBC booth for two Cup races in 2016 when he was unable to race due to concussion symptoms.

      Earnhardt made his debut in the NASCAR Cup Series in 1999, two years before his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., died in a crash during the final lap of the Daytona 500.

  • Brickyard 400 notebook: Earnhardt exits early after chain-reaction crash
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, July 24, 2017

    By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

    • Distributed by The Sports Xchange

      SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a fast, competitive race car on Sunday, a rare occurrence in his star-crossed last full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.

      And for once, Earnhardt was enjoying himself behind the wheel of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

      But Earnhardt's hopes for a strong finish in what is likely to be his final race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway came to an abrupt and jarring end just short of the halfway point in Sunday's Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400.

      After a restart on Lap 76 of a scheduled 160, the field checked up in front of Earnhardt, and his car couldn't avoid slamming into the back of Trevor Bayne's Ford.

      The wreck was terminal, and a disappointed Earnhardt pulled into the garage.

      "There were just a bunch of cars slowing down and stopping, and it was a chain reaction, and we got into the back of the No. 6 (Bayne)," Earnhardt said. "I guess they were all kind of running into each other, and it just knocked the radiator out of it. We hit the No. 2 car (Brad Keselowski) earlier in the race kind of doing the same thing, and it damaged the front end and I think it knocked the bumper bar out of it then, so we really had no protection after that.

      "But we had a great car, and I was having a lot of fun. The car was fast. We had a top-10 car, for sure. It's kind of frustrating, because I was really enjoying being out there. Hopefully, our luck's going to turn around. It's been pretty tough, and this is a difficult one to put up with."

      RESTART WRECK ELIMINATES THE TWO FASTEST CARS

      For most of Sunday's race, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. had been cooperative combatants.

      After all, they were the clear class of the field in the Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400.

      Under a gentlemen's agreement arranged between drivers, crew chiefs and spotters, Busch or Truex would restart in the outside lane as the race leader, and whichever of the two was on the bottom lane would hold up the low line to make sure the leader could clear the field through the first and second corners.

      The arrangement worked well until Lap 111, when the teams decided it was time to race for the win, with neither wanting to sacrifice track position. Truex, then the leader, chose the bottom lane for a restart, putting Busch on the outside.

      As they raced side-by-side for the lead through the first corner, Truex's No. 78 Toyota got loose, nicked the apron and slid sideways into Busch's No. 18 Toyota. Both cars were destroyed, with Truex's No. 78 erupting into flames as it sat against the outside wall.

      Truex escaped without injury.

      "I just got loose and wrecked him -- totally my fault," Truex said. "Didn't really know what to expect in that position, and didn't really realize that he was going to drive in that deep and suck me around. I will take the blame for that, and obviously it was my fault.

      "I hate it for Kyle. He had a great car and we did as well, but that's racing. Glad I was able to get out -- fire was bad. I had no brakes and I had to run into the wall a second time just to get it to stop so I could get out. Fortunately, I'm okay and we'll live to race another day."

      For Busch, whose winless streak extended to 36 races, it was another disappointment in a litany of frustrating outcomes.

      "I guess we could have continued to play the teammate game and try to settle it on a green flag pit stop, but he could be that much faster than me and 'yard' me by three seconds on a run with the clean air," said Busch, who led a race-high 87 laps in an attempt to win the Brickyard 400 for the third straight time. "Then I would never be able to get the opportunity to pass him back even if we had to settle it on a pit stop.

      "That's the way it goes. Just chalk it up to another one that we figure out how to lose these things by. It's very frustrating, and I hate it for my guys. They build such fast Toyota Camrys and the Skittles Camry was really good again today. Had wanted to go out there and put ourselves in the record books for three in a row -- but not happening."

      BAYNE COMES TANTALIZINGLY CLOSE TO VICTORY

      Roush Fenway Racing driver Trevor Bayne had a realistic chance to win for the first time since his stunning triumph in the 2011 Daytona 500.

      With 11 laps left in Sunday's Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400, Bayne was running third behind Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson, but those two drivers were running short on fuel, and pit stops were imminent.

      Bayne had enough gas to go the distance. The suspense lay in whether Matt Kenseth, on new tires, would be able to make up an 11-second deficit over the final 11 laps and overtake Bayne for the lead.

      But those calculations became moot when a multi-car wreck on the frontstretch brought out the 10th caution of the race on Lap 150 and negated Bayne's fuel strategy. After pit stops, his hopes for a strong finish disappeared in a frontstretch crash moments after the first overtime restart.

      "I was kissing the bricks in my head," Bayne said of his state of mind before the Lap 150 caution. "I know it's a long way to go, but really we had a big enough lead, and I was saving fuel and really making good lap times. A lot of times you watch Kyle Busch and he lifts early here and makes good lap times, so I studied that this week and it really paid off. But with fuel strategy you save and you're going pretty fast and saving the tires and we had a huge lead over the 20 (Kenseth).

      "He was coming, but I think I could have held him off. Man, you don't really get many opportunities for strategy like that to play out, and it was, but when the caution came out, I might have bent my steering wheel a little bit, and then after that the one on the frontstretch you're like, 'What a day.'

      "It's just really frustrating. We're waiting on a break. We've been running really well, and we want to get those results for everybody."

  • Brickyard 400 results
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, July 23, 2017

    Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race -- Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400

    • Indianapolis Motor Speedway

      Speedway, Indiana

      Sunday, July 23, 2017

      1. (19) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 167.

      2. (11) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 167.

      3. (8) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 167.

      4. (7) Joey Logano, Ford, 167.

      5. (14) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 167.

      6. (2) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 167.

      7. (15) Daniel Suarez #, Toyota, 167.

      8. (27) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 167.

      9. (26) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 167.

      10. (39) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 167.

      11. (23) Danica Patrick, Ford, 167.

      12. (34) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 167.

      13. (29) Aric Almirola, Ford, 167.

      14. (37) * Timmy Hill(i), Chevrolet, 167.

      15. (3) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 167.

      16. (17) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 167.

      17. (5) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 166.

      18. (24) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 166.

      19. (28) Ty Dillon #, Chevrolet, 165.

      20. (22) Trevor Bayne, Ford, Accident, 162.

      21. (20) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, Accident, 162.

      22. (31) Landon Cassill, Ford, Parked, 162.

      23. (10) Ryan Blaney, Ford, Accident, 162.

      24. (35) * Gray Gaulding #, Chevrolet, Accident, 162.

      25. (38) Joey Gase(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 162.

      26. (36) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 162.

      27. (4) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, Accident, 158.

      28. (25) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, Accident, 154.

      29. (12) Kurt Busch, Ford, Accident, 149.

      30. (18) Clint Bowyer, Ford, Accident, 148.

      31. (9) Erik Jones #, Toyota, Accident, 148.

      32. (40) * BJ McLeod(i), Chevrolet, 135.

      33. (6) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, Accident, 110.

      34. (1) Kyle Busch, Toyota, Accident, 110.

      35. (21) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, Accident, 106.

      36. (13) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, Accident, 76.

      37. (33) * JJ Yeley(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 70.

      38. (30) David Ragan, Ford, Accident, 56.

      39. (16) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, Engine, 43.

      40. (32) Corey LaJoie #, Toyota, Accident, 9.

      Average Speed of Race Winner: 114.384 mph.

      Time of Race: 03 Hrs, 39 Mins, 00 Secs. Margin of Victory: Caution.

      Caution Flags: 14 for 55 laps.

      Lead Changes: 10 among 7 drivers.

      Lap Leaders: Kyle Busch 1-71; E. Jones # 72-80; R. Blaney 81-86; Kyle Busch 87-102; M. Truex Jr. 103-110; M. Kenseth 111-131; E. Jones # 132; B. Keselowski 133-151; K. Kahne 152-161; B. Keselowski 162-165; K. Kahne 166-167.

      Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Kyle Busch 2 times for 87 laps; B. Keselowski 2 times for 23 laps; M. Kenseth 1 time for 21 laps; K. Kahne 2 times for 12 laps; E. Jones # 2 times for 10 laps; M. Truex Jr. 1 time for 8 laps; R. Blaney 1 time for 6 laps.

      Stage #1 Top Ten: 18,78,21,4,22,20,1,42,48,88

      Stage #2 Top Ten: 18,78,21,77,4,20,22,11,2,1

  • Brickyard 400 resumes after weather delay
    By The Sports Xchange / Sunday, July 23, 2017

    SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- The Brickyard 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway resumed Sunday after a weather-related delay of nearly two hours with Kyle Busch in the lead, Martin Truex Jr. in second and Kevin Harvick in third.

    • The race was red-flagged on lap 12 at 3 p.m. ET when lightning was reported in the area. Then rain extended the delay. The race already was under caution for a Corey LaJoie spin.

      After the track was dried, the race ran under caution for a few more laps before restarting on lap 17. Busch led all laps before the red flag after starting on the pole.

      When the race restarted, Busch pulled out to a significant lead. Harvick, meanwhile, dropped to fifth.

      As a result of the red flag, a competition caution, originally scheduled for lap 20, was rescheduled for lap 30.

      NOTES: Kyle Busch won the 2015 and 2016 Brickyard 400s, but he's winless so far in 2017. His 2016 Brickyard 400 win was his most recent Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory. ... Jimmie Johnson qualified fourth but had to start in the back because of a rear gear change after qualifying. Cole Whitt also started in the back because of a rear gear change, and Joey Gase started in the rear after an engine change. ... Johnson leads active drivers with four Brickyard 400 wins, trailing all-time Brickyard 400 wins leader Jeff Gordon by one. ... The 2017 Brickyard 400 was the first edition of the race without Gordon in the field, but he was the honorary pace car driver. The 2015 Brickyard 400 was expected to be Gordon's last, but he returned last year to drive the No. 88 as a substitute for the sidelined Dale Earnhardt Jr. ... Busch led a race-high 44 laps in the 100-lap NASCAR Xfinity Series race on Saturday but finished 12th. Cup Series regulars Paul Menard and Joey Logano finished in the top three. Busch won the Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2015 and 2016.