Kevin Harvick

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NASCAR: Sam Ard to be remembered with Darlington throwback

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DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) — Cole Custer is hoping that the late Sam Ard’s magic touch will help him in the Xfinity Series event at Darlington Raceway come Labor Day weekend.

The 19-year-old Xfinity rookie’s Ford Mustang will carry Ard’s red-and-white signature scheme he used on the No. 00 Oldsmobile Omega on display at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. It will be a fitting remembrance for Ard, born and raised in nearby Pamplico, and whose time in NASCAR was as remarkable for its success as for its brevity.

“Sam set the standard for dominance in NASCAR,” Custer said Wednesday.

Ard won 22 times in 92 career races on the Xfinity Series, taking what was then called the Late Model Sportsman championship in 1983 and 1984. Ard had 67 top five finishes, but stepped away from NASCAR driving after head injuries suffered in a crash at North Carolina Speedway in October 1984.

“Daddy knew it would take too long to get back to being competitive,” said Robert Ard, Sam’s 47-year-old son.

Ard suffered from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases later in life. He died on April 2 this year at age 78.

Custer had researched the history of his No. 00 car since stepping into NASCAR’s Triple-A series this season. He found that Ard was dominant, no matter what NASCAR stars were in the field. Ard won 24 poles and led 4,035 laps in three true seasons of full-time racing.

He won 10 races on the way to a series championship in 1983, then followed that the next year with eight wins and a second consecutive drivers’ title.

“He outran the Cup guys when they stepped down” to race, Robert Ard said. “These drivers like Cole, they’re finding it extremely hard to outrun Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano” when they choose to run an Xfinity race.

Custer might have some inside help come September. Robert and his sister, Melinda Ard Matthews, sat with the young driver to give him some advice their father might had he been around.

“We gave him some top secret stuff, too,” Matthews joked.

Custer took his own measure of the track last month when he turned his first laps during an Xfinity test session. Custer, like many before him, found the Darlington wall’s a daunting proposition.

“You’ve got to be up on the wall and you’ve got to pay this track respect every time out,” he said.

Custer and Ard’s children posed for photos at the start-finish line next to the decked out car with Ard’s name above the passenger side window.

Later in life, Ard brought light to drivers like himself who competed without pension plans or ways for a multi-million sport to help pioneers who put themselves at risk when he needed funds to help pay off his trailer. Stars like Harvick, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. took up Ard’s cause and raised money to help.

Ard’s family said that’s as much a part of Ard’s legacy as his racing success.

“Even when Daddy was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, the team’s, the drivers stepped up to help,” Robert Ard said. “We were honored for them to do that, remembering that these drivers put in so much of their time, their effort without any pension.”

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OTHER NASCAR NEWS:

BOSTON (AP) — Danica Patrick emerged from some recent fan encounters with a couple of bruises: One resulted in a swollen ring finger after a girl shook her hand too enthusiastically, and another left its mark on her image.

The 35-year-old NASCAR star said Wednesday that she “had a moment” when she cursed out a booing fan after qualifying for last week’s race.

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

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

In a video that went viral after the race in Pocono, Pennsylvania, Patrick stormed over to the fan and said: “I’m a person, too. I have feelings. When you boo me, it hurts my feelings.”

She explained during a stop at the “Cheers” bar to promote next month’s New Hampshire 301 that a fan in Pocono had gone through the security cordon in an attempt to get her autograph.

“I didn’t feel it was right to honor that person for disrespecting the security guard and trying to get past him by signing his stuff,” she said. “So I was put in this awkward situation.”

On Wednesday, Patrick tried to turn the jeers to Cheers.

During a student-guided tour designed to focus on influential women in history, Patrick shook or slapped every hand that was held out to her in Boston, and signed dozens of autographs for the students or other tourists who approached her along the way.

“Days like today, when you hear that you’re an inspiration, that’s the good part,” she said. “That makes the work, which is sometimes frustrating, worth it.”

Starting her day at the Warren-Prescott school in Charlestown, eight grades worth of students chanted “Da-Ni-Ca!” as she arrived, and an a capella group serenaded her. Other students performed a drum routine, and Patrick bobbed her head to the rhythm and took video on her phone.

Then, Patrick boarded a trolley with a handful of students for a tour of the city, from Bunker Hill and Faneuil Hall to the iconic swan boats that paddle through the Public Garden. The tour ended at the bar that inspired the TV show “Cheers.”

“It’s cool to see the old historical stops,” Patrick said. “We’ve seen the stops that were historical back in the 1700s and we’ve seen the ones that were historical back in the ’90s — the 1990s.”

Asked what the oldest thing in her hometown of Roscoe, Illinois, is, Patrick joked, “Me, probably, at this point.”

But she said she was eager to continue driving after her contract with Stewart-Hass Racing expires at the end of the year. Although she has been increasingly active off the track — with a food and workout book and a clothing line and even some time in the booth — she says is not ready to retire.

“The job of my life is getting more crowded,” she said. “But the racing always comes first.”

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More AP auto racing: http://racing.ap.org

 

NASCAR: Four takeaways from Ryan Blaney’s win at Pocono

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(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports)   —   LONG POND, Pa. —  Ryan Blaney was interviewed by his pseudo teammate Brad Keselowski on Sunday at Pocono Raceway, when Keselowksi took the Fox Sports microphone from pit road reporter Jamie Little in an impromptu and amusing move. Next season, Blaney and Keselowski might be full-fledged teammates.

Blaney scored his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory after passing 2015 series champion Kyle Bush during a fierce battle after a restart in the closing stages of the Pocono 400 then holding off 2014 champion Kevin Harvick in the final 10 laps.

The win was the 99th career victory for the iconic Wood Brothers team and the sixth of the season for Ford. Three of those six wins have come from Team Penske drivers — two by Keselowski and one by Joey Logano. But Blaney’s victory could also be considered a win for Team Penske.

Blaney, 23, got his break in NASCAR driving in the Camping World Truck Series for Brad Keselowski Racing, through parts of four seasons beginning in 2012. That same season, Blaney also began competing in the Xfinity Series part time for Roger Penske. Keselowsi and Penske both saw Blaney’s talent and potential, but Team Penske was a two-car operation at the Cup level, so a deal was made for Blaney to drive a Wood Brothers Ford in an alliance with the organization, beginning in 2015.

Penske told USA TODAY Sports last month during a visit in Detroit that he’d like to bring Blaney into the fold as soon as possible — possibly next year — though he would have to commit to expanding to a three-car operation, which Penske hasn’t fielded since 2010. With Blaney notching his first Cup win and booking a berth in the playoffs, that could provide more encouragement for the legendary owner.

Blaney has worked with Keselowski and Logano in the Cup Series for 68 races now, and Blaney sees Keselowski as a good friend and mentor. Blaney said it was awesome to have Keselowski come to victory lane to support him.

“I wouldn’t be here without Brad,” Blaney said. “He’s the one who gave me my start in 2012. I started driving his trucks then, which led to the Penske deal (in the Xfinity Series), which led to the Wood Brothers deal. I would be nothing if it weren’t for him taking a chance on me. He’s been a huge person I’ve looked up to.”

But for all the good vibes at the Wood Brothers and Penske — and Furniture Row Racing — Sunday was a disappointing day for two other notable teams.

Here are three additonal takeaways from Pocono:

HENDRICK TAKES IT ON THE CHIN: Hendrick Motorsports saw three of its four drivers finish 35th or worse in the 39-driver field, with all three drivers failing to finish the race. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (38th) was the first to depart with gear shifting and transmission problems after only 58 of 160 laps. Last week’s winner, Jimmie Johnson (36th), couldn’t make it to 100 laps when his brakes failed and he slammed hard into the outside wall, ending his day. Kasey Kahne (35th) followed Johnson, crashing as a result of brake failure with 20 laps remaining. Only Chase Elliott was able to race to the finish, coming home eighth.

GIBBS STILL WINLESS: Another race, another day of disappointment for Joe Gibbs Racing. Kyle Busch led a race-high 100 laps but came up empty for the 14th time in 14 races this season. Busch took his last lead on Lap 141, but couldn’t hold off Blaney and a slew of other racers who had pitted for fresh tires after a caution on Lap 142. He was caught and passed on Lap 150 and faded to ninth, declining to talk to reporters after the race. Pocono marked the third time in 2017 that Busch has  led the most laps but failed to win. His 703 laps led this season ranks second to Martin Truex Jr., who has two wins. Busch still was JGR’s top finisher at the Tricky Triangle. Matt Kenseth finished 10th, Denny Hamlin 12th and Daniel Suarez 15th. Like Busch, the other three Gibbs’ drivers still are searching for their first win of 2017.

ROOKIE RISING: Blaney wasn’t the only young driver to score a career-high finish Sunday. Rookie Erik Jones, who turned 21 on May 30, earned the first top-five finish of his young career, taking third in another strong showing for Furniture Row. Jones’ teammate Truex finished sixth for his 10th top-10 this year to retain the points lead. Jones also set a new high with 20 laps led and moved up two spots in the points to 16th.

“It feels really good to get a top-five,” Jones said, “but man, when your’e that close and you’re seeing them battle for the win and you’re right there trying to pounce and make a move, it defintely makes you eager to up there and try to get it. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come.”

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Follow Horrow on Twitter @EllenJHorrow

NASCAR: Blaney wins 1st career NASCAR Cup race at Pocono Raceway

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LONG POND, Pa. (AP) — Ryan Blaney was stationed in victory lane with a headset on as a guest pit reporter just the day before at Pocono Raceway. But to get there again, on his own in the No. 21 Ford, he’d have to zip past a pair of hardened NASCAR champions with just 10 laps left.

Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch may not be ready yet to officially pass the torch to the next generation of drivers. So it’s up to young 20-somethings like Blaney to yank that torch — that checkered flag — and knock ’em off their perch.

Driving for owners with roots steeped in NASCAR history, Blaney blazed his way down the stretch past Busch, held off a hard-charging Harvick, and won his first career NASCAR Cup race Sunday at the raceway.

That’s career win No. 99 for the Wood Brothers.

No. 1 for Blaney, well, that felt pretty good.

Blaney, a “Star Wars” nut, was tongue tied when he met actress Daisy Ridley in March. An hour or so after confetti fluttered on him in victory lane, he offered an open invitation to Ridley to join the post-race party.

The bash might last as long as a “Star Wars” marathon.

“Maybe she watched the race today,” Blaney said. “She better get on a plane right now. It’ll actually be going on all night, so she’s got plenty of time to get here.”

The 23-year-old Blaney, son of NASCAR driver Dave Blaney, grandson of dirt track star Lou Blaney, won for the first time in 68 career starts and partied again in victory lane. He was a guest reporter for Fox during the Xfinity race.

Blaney interviewed Xfinity winner Brad Keselowski in victory lane on Saturday as part of an all-driver broadcast by Fox. Keselowski finished fifth on Sunday and returned the favor by crashing the broadcast and interviewed Blaney.

“What was going through your mind? You’re in victory lane, man!” Keselowski said.

“I just didn’t want to make a mistake,” Blaney told Keselowski. “That would have been the worst thing we could do.”

He was near flawless over those final 10 laps.

“He outran two guys today that are champions,” Eddie Wood said.

It was a bit of a throwback for the Woods. Blaney’s radio was busted and he had no communication with his team after about the first 40 laps.

“It figures the one race we don’t have radio communication, we end up winning it,” Blaney said. “Maybe we should turn the radio off more often.”

The Wood Brothers have won at least one race in each of the last six decades, but none since Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500 in 2011.

Blaney is the 18th driver to win a Cup race with the Wood Brothers.

He is also part of a bumper crop of blossoming young talent that his hit NASCAR over the last couple of years. Two of those drivers were in the top 10: rookie Erik Jones was third and Chase Elliott was eighth.

Blaney joined Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Austin Dillon as first-time Cup winners this season.

“We can finally add our name to that group,” a beaming Blaney said.

Harvick, the 2014 champion, knows the new generation is coming on strong.

“These young guys have to get into victory lane to get these fans that don’t like me and Kyle,” he said. “The younger crowd has to win, and today Ryan was able to do that, so not only is it good for him, but it’s good for the whole sport.”

Blaney had a brief chat in victory lane with one of his best friends and fellow driver, Darrell Wallace Jr. Wallace finished a lap down in 26th in the first start by a black driver in the Cup series since 2006. He felt ill after the race and needed to go to the medical center. Wallace said he was embarrassed, but fine.

“It was really cool, a really fun day,” Wallace said.

The Wood Brothers share a technical alliance with team owner Roger Penske and “The Captain” would like to add Blaney to his roster, possibly next year.

Next year was a worry for another day.

“I like where I’m at,” Blaney said.

With the Wood Brothers.

And, in victory lane.

Other items of note at Pocono:

JOHNSON WRECK

Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson sat on the track to catch his breath following a fiery wreck late in the race. Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet was in flames and the cockpit billowed with smoke when his car struck the wall. Johnson was running seventh when he appeared to have an issue with his brakes that shot the car up the track and into the wall.

Last week at Dover, Johnson moved into a tie for sixth on NASCAR’s list with 83 career wins.

“I can only speculate that I got the brakes too hot and when I went to the brakes they just traveled straight to the floor,” Johnson said. “I didn’t even have a pedal to push on. At that point, I threw it in third gear and I was just trying to slow it down.”

Johnson, who had a form of skin cancer cut out of his right shoulder this week, diffused the wreck with humor.

“I just want to let my wife and kids and my mom know that I’m OK and I will go change my underwear and get ready to go home,” he said.

MCMURRAY SCARE

Jamie McMurray appeared to get caught up in the aftermath of Johnson’s wreck and his No. 1 Chevy also smacked the wall and burst into flames. McMurray, who also had brake issues, quickly climbed out of the car.

“I just started spinning and didn’t have any brakes,” he said. “It was really weird that we kind of both had the same thing happen at the same point on the racetrack, but fortunately, we are both OK.”

WINLESS JUNIOR

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s winless season stretched into Pocono when he was forced out of the race because of mechanical issues. Earnhardt, who swept Pocono in 2015, was already forced to start at the rear of the field. He said the problem in the No. 88 Chevrolet was shifting issues; he tried to go from third to fourth gear but the car went to second.

“We don’t really have an answer to it other than me just having to pay more attention,” he said.

Earnhardt, who will retire at the end of the season, has finished 30th or worse six times this season.

STAGE 2: Kyle Larson won Stage 2, which ended with a one-lap shootout following a 23-minute red flag to clean up the track for Johnson’s and McMurray’s crashes. Stage 1 winner Kyle Busch finished second, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Chase Elliott. Erik Jones, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Kahne and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top 10.

STAGE 1: Kyle Busch, who started from the pole, cruised to the win in the opening segment, which went caution free. Busch is competing without crew chief Adam Stevens, who was suspended four races after a wheel came off the No. 18 Toyota during a pit stop in last weekend’s race at Dover International Speedway. Harvick finished second, followed by Keselowski, Larson and Johnson. Elliott, Kurt Busch, Kenseth, McMurray and Austiin Dillon rounded out the top 10.

EARLY TROUBLE: Joey Logano, who started ninth, made a very early unscheduled pit stop after issues with his left rear tire. Logano changed all four tires on his No. 22 Ford after hitting pit road on Lap 6 but managed to stay on the lead lap at the 2.5-mile track.

TO THE REAR: Former Pocono winners Truex Jr., who was scheduled to line up on the front row, and Earnhardt Jr., who qualified 28th, started in the rear of the field after changing engines. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who qualifed 23rd, also went to the back after unapproved body modifications.

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NASCAR: Cup stars call the shots in NASCAR Xfinity race

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LONG POND, Pa. (AP) — Ryan Blaney was splashed with beer, accepted some handshakes and even gave a fist bump in a raucous victory lane celebration.

But with his car number nowhere on the leaderboard, the blossoming NASCAR Cup driver had to lift an ear on his headset to learn his result.

“How’d I do? It was fun. I tried not to mess up too bad,” Blaney said to his Fox TV crew.

The Fox team loved NASCAR’s pinch hitter in the pits.

Looking for a new spin on the standard telecast, Fox used eight active NASCAR Cup drivers to provide insight — from the studio to the booth to the pits — during Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Pocono Raceway.

“I got my notes ready ,” pit reporter Ricky Stenhouse Jr. said. “Gonna toss it up to Danica.”

That would be Danica Patrick, Stenhouse’s girlfriend, and one of NASCAR’s more popular drivers.

They didn’t have to worry about learning any new names at the finish: Cup regular Brad Keselowski held off the field of mostly developmental drivers to win the Xfinity race.

Fox benched its starters for one race and used the all-Cup lineup, believed to be the first time an entire broadcast team was comprised only of active athletes in their respective sport.

Kevin Harvick, who had booth experience on Xfinity and Truck telecasts, handled play-by-play and Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer were the color analysts. Erik Jones and Stenhouse served as pit reporters. Denny Hamlin and Patrick were the in-studio hosts. Blaney worked the pits and was the victory lane host.

“Wow,” Harvick said late in the race. “We have a lot going on.”

Fox announcers Shannon Spake, Larry McReynolds and Michael Waltrip opened pre-race coverage before the mics were officially turned over for the “Drivers Only” broadcast. Pit reporter Jamie Little made it official when she plopped a headset on Stenhouse.

“We’ve got a rookie out there doing an incredible job,” Patrick said of driver Kyle Benjamin.

The first-time TV crew pretty much handled themselves like seasoned pros, as well.

But there were some glitches.

Bowyer tried to speak to Benjamin over the headset and had a race question for the driver.

“What do you think?” Bowyer asked.

Silence.

Silence.

Dead air.

“This is not my fault!” Bowyer exclaimed, laughing.

Fox eventually worked out the kinks.

“Heck of a job. Keep it up,” Bowyer told the driver.

“Means a lot, coming from you,” Benjamin said.

But the foul-up, bleeps and blunders were part of the charm of the experiment that Fox surely hoped would give the sport a ratings boost. The drivers participated in Friday’s production meeting. And they all hustled to their positions following Cup practice on Saturday.

Positioned in the middle of the broadcast trio, Logano’s head spun like Regan MacNeil when he talked to Bowyer and Harvick on the pregame show. Patrick, who could transition to TV in the near future, even dropped a “boom goes the dynamite” reference.

Stenhouse, a two-time Xfinity champion, gave fans some food for thought when Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. crashed his stand-up.

“Bubba just getting his lunch. Having a little Goldfish,” Stenhouse said.

Blaney had a blast in the pits.

“There are so many people talking in my head,” he said, smiling. “We usually only have one person talking to us on the race track. The hardest part is just getting information and making sure you say it right and time it right and make it sounds like you know what you’re talking about.”

Blaney drew the victory lane assignment out of a hat in the production meeting.

Keselowski, who won for the first time in five Xfinity starts, wanted to watch the broadcast later that night.

“That oughta be hysterical,” he said.

Pam Miller, producer for “NASCAR On Fox,” said the broadcast was a success and there was a “high probability” the network would try the device again.

“They were just all spot on with everything they were doing,” she said. “It was a fun listen, even from a truck perspective.”

Austin Dillon and Regan Smith have signed on for guest analyst roles in upcoming races. But otherwise, it’s back to normal at the next race. Adam Alexander and Waltrip are usually in the booth. Little, Chris Neville and Matt Yocum are the pit reporters.

“This has been great job security for all the professional people,” Bowyer said.

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SATURDAY’S RESULTS

Lap length: 2.5 miles

(Pole position in parentheses)

1. (8) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 100 laps, 0 points.

2. (4) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 100, 46.

3. (6) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 100, 0.

4. (18) Elliott Sadler, Chevrolet, 100, 33.

5. (7) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 100, 0.

6. (11) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 100, 32.

7. (3) Cole Custer, Ford, 100, 38.

8. (15) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 100, 0.

9. (2) Daniel Hemric, Chevrolet, 100, 31.

10. (31) Matt Tifft, Toyota, 100, 29.

11. (13) Darrell Wallace Jr, Ford, 100, 30.

12. (5) William Byron, Chevrolet, 100, 29.

13. (21) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 100, 24.

14. (16) Ryan Reed, Ford, 100, 26.

15. (10) Brennan Poole, Chevrolet, 100, 28.

16. (1) Kyle Benjamin, Toyota, 100, 39.

17. (25) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 100, 20.

18. (14) Spencer Gallagher, Chevrolet, 100, 19.

19. (26) JJ Yeley, Toyota, 100, 18.

20. (22) Dakoda Armstrong, Toyota, 100, 17.

21. (40) Casey Mears, Ford, 100, 16.

22. (20) Dylan Lupton, Toyota, 100, 15.

23. (19) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 100, 14.

24. (24) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 100, 13.

25. (32) David Starr, Chevrolet, 100, 12.

26. (23) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, 100, 11.

27. (12) Blake Koch, Chevrolet, 100, 10.

28. (34) Josh Williams, Chevrolet, 99, 9.

29. (29) Tommy Joe Martins, Chevrolet, 98, 8.

30. (30) Timmy Hill, Dodge, 97, 7.

31. (9) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 97, 0.

32. (36) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 97, 5.

33. (37) Spencer Boyd, Chevrolet, 97, 4.

34. (39) Mike Harmon, Dodge, 95, 3.

35. (35) Garrett Smithley, Chevrolet, engine, 85, 2.

36. (17) Brandon Jones, Chevrolet, accident, 77, 1.

37. (27) Harrison Rhodes, Chevrolet, clutch, 49, 1.

38. (33) Morgan Shepherd, Chevrolet, handling, 16, 1.

39. (38) Carl Long, Toyota, handling, 12, 1.

40. (28) Jeff Green, Chevrolet, brakes, 7, 1.

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Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 135.583 mph.

Time of Race: 1 hour, 50 minutes, 38 seconds. Margin of Victory: 0.615 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 3 for 15 laps.

Lead Changes: 12 among 6 drivers.

Lap Leaders: K. Benjamin 1-21; B. Keselowski, 22-28; C. Custer 29-38; B. Keselowski, 39-56; K. Benjamin 57-61; B. Keselowski, 62-63; K. Benjamin 64-65; D. Suarez, 66; J. Allgaier 67-79; C. Custer 80-83; B. Keselowski, 84; K. Larson, 85-99; B. Keselowski, 100;.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): B. Keselowski, 5 times for 29 laps; K. Benjamin 3 times for 28 laps; K. Larson, 1 time for 15 laps; C. Custer 2 times for 14 laps; J. Allgaier 1 time for 13 laps; D. Suarez, 1 time for 1 lap.

NASCAR: Takeaways from Dover, from Jimmie Johnson’s historic win to fence-climber

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports)   —   DOVER, Del. – Jimmie Johnson’s third win of the season and 83rd of his career was the top story line from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Dover International Speedway on Sunday.  He tied boyhood idol Cale Yarborough for sixth on the career wins list and now has just five drivers ahead of him.

Richard Petty has 200 victories and seems untouchable. David Pearson is at 105. Former Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon, who retired from full-time driving in 2014, has 93. And Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip are tied for fourth at 84. No one knows how much longer Johnson will be behind the wheel, but at 41, it seems third place on the list is within his grasp. He averages 5.2 wins a season.

While the seven-time Cup champion continues to nab victories and grab headlines, his was not the only big moment Sunday:

–Fence climber: John Infanti, 43, of Greenwood, Del., ascended the Turn 4 fence during a green-flag run in the AAA 400. Dover police spokesperson Mark Hoffman told USA TODAY Sports in a text message that Infanti “kicked an officer in the knee while we took him into custody. … Simply running from the police is a misdemeanor, but when he kicked our officer, that makes it ‘with force.’ ”

The kick resulted in a felony charge for resisting arrest. Infanti also faces two misdemeanor counts: disorderly conduct and offensive touching of a police officer.

–Doldrums: An unsatisfying run continues for Team Penske. Brad Keselowski was racing inside the top-5 and otherwise minding his own business when Kurt Busch’s No. 41 Ford wobbled and checked him into the wall. Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford could not be repaired and he finished 38th, a week after hitting an oil slick and crashing into Chase Elliott from behind in the Coca-Cola 600. That led to a 39th-place result and he’s dropped from third to seventh in points. He’s a two-race winner and has no playoff qualification concerns, however.

Teammate Joey Logano, though, has displayed neither speed nor success since his victory at Richmond was encumbered – meaning he can’t use it to qualify for the playoffs – because of a post-race laser inspection station penalty. Logano has crashed twice, finished 21st last week at Charlotte and 25th on Sunday since the penalty.  He’s 11th in points.

–JGR not quite there: Team owner Joe Gibbs has seen his four-car contingent compete better recently but still has not managed a win. That’s a stark shortfall considering that the team had won seven of 13 races at this point last season. Toyota partner Furniture Row Racing continues to out-pace them, with two-time winner Martin Truex Jr. leading 102 of 406 laps at Dover.

Rookie Daniel Suarez led JGR with a sixth-place finish Sunday, with Denny Hamlin eighth, Matt Kenseth 13th and Kyle Busch 16th. Gibbs wouldn’t identify a shortfall compared to last year, saying the team needs “things to go our way better at the end of races,” noting that Busch has had multiple chances to win. Still, he said, being close isn’t good enough.

“I think we had a tough day today,” Gibbs said. “Until you win races up here, that’s what it’s all about. We need to be winning races. That’s our measurement stick for us. I think we showed improvement in a lot of ways, qualifying and things like that, but you’ve got to win.”

Chip Ganassi Racing’s not going away: Kyle Larson’s runner-up finish – after leading 241 of 406 laps – didn’t provide the pay-off his dominant No. 42 Chevrolet team wanted, but it was a nice recovery from a rare blip of a 33rd-place finish after crashing last week at Charlotte. Teammate Jamie McMurray finished seventh. Larson remained second in driver points, nine behind Truex, with McMurray fifth, 130 off the pace. Both have eight top-10s in 13 races.

Truex eats playoff points: The Furniture Row Racing driver claimed the first two stages of Sunday’s race, raising his series-high total to eight. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch are next with three. Truex’s trove of points to carry through to the playoffs is at a series-best 18.

Gordon Ramsay doesn’t want your track food: The celebrity chef and grand marshal suggests that fans braise some ribs and finish them on the grill rather than eating “grey burgers.”

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Follow James on Twitter @brantjames

NASCAR: Racing needs all the personalities, polite and rude

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kyle Larson lost a race he probably should have won because of a late caution.

Larson didn’t pout Sunday about the outcome at Dover International Speedway. He had a win in sight, a caution bunched the field and Jimmie Johnson beat Larson on the restart.

As disappointing as it was to Larson, he was professional in defeat.

“Jimmie is the best of our time, probably the best of all time,” Larson said. “He just has obviously a lot more experience than I do out on the front row late in races, and executed a lot better than I did. I’ve got to get better at that and maybe get some more wins.”

For those keeping score at home, Johnson won at Dover for the 11th time and his 86th career victory tied him with Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough on NASCAR’s all-time win list. Larson is in the midst of a breakout season, but has just two Cup career wins.

The entire post-race scene was a stark contrast to just one week ago, when a cranky Kyle Busch faced defeat at Charlotte Motor Speedway . He thought he had the Coca-Cola 600 won, only to learn Austin Dillon had stretched his fuel mileage to the victory. It was Dillon’s first career Cup victory, and denied Busch his first victory in a Cup car in a points race at Charlotte. He’d won a week earlier in the $1 million All-Star race for his first Cup win at Charlotte in a race that doesn’t allow him to check Charlotte off his Cup resume.

So as Busch met his required post-race media obligation, the exchange went like this:

Question: “Were you surprised that Austin could stretch it on fuel? What does it mean for Austin to get his first win?”

Busch: “I’m not surprised about anything. Congratulations.”

Moderator: “Kyle, thanks for your time.”

Busch dropped the microphone and walked out of the room.

Fans blasted him for behind boorish. Dale Earnhardt Jr. publicly encouraged Busch to never change. Brad Keselowski, who does not get along with Busch, waxed poetic about sportsmanship and class.

The entire thing is overblown.

Busch was not unprofessional during his visit to the media center. He simply lacked graciousness in defeat. He was asked a question, he answered it curtly and summed up his frustration over a winless season with Joe Gibbs Racing and an inability to knock Charlotte off his wish list. No one asked Busch a single follow-up question, either; he was excused after his mic drop because no one dared poke the bear.

There were many times in Tony Stewart’s career where he was angrily took things out on reporters or even fans. “Smoke’s in a bad mood,” the thinking went, and everyone turned a blind eye.

Why the difference in reaction between Stewart and Busch? Probably because Stewart has a charming side that he uses to disarm his critics. He would eventually come around (sometimes it took a while) and have an entire room laughing at his wicked humor and self-deprecating wit.

Busch is not Stewart. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad person.

It takes all kinds to make NASCAR go round. Sports, at its heart, is entertainment. Johnson wasn’t popular during his record run of titles because fans found him too boring. Busch and, to a larger degree, his brother, Kurt, are often criticized because they are far more like Greg Popovich than, say, Steve Kerr.

Look, Kevin Harvick has never taken losing well. Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney and many of the newcomers have shown signs of prickliness following defeat. Larson, Johnson, Keselowski are part of a group that can still be candid and polite even when disappointed.

After a crush of media followed Fernando Alonso’s every move around the Indianapolis 500 for nearly a month, and he’d done countless promotional obligations with a smile, his engine failed with 20 laps remaining in the biggest race in the world. The two-time Formula One champion finished 24th.

Rather than whine about it, Alonso made his way through a crazed fan zone, went upstairs to the media center and answered every single question posed.

When he was done, he thanked the media for his two week shadow, then toasted the assembled crowd with a carton of milk.

Drivers today can’t all be Alonso or a Busch brother. There’s a need for every type of personality, for drivers to be wired in their own unique way. It makes auto racing exciting on and off the track.

After all, if the sport could carry itself right now on the track, then six words spoken by Kyle Busch wouldn’t have taken on a life of their own.

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This Aug. 13, 2015 file photo shows Darrell Wallace Jr. during pre-race activities for the NASCAR Xfinity Series auto race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. Wallace Jr. will become the first black driver at NASCAR’s top level since 2006when he replaces Aric Almirola this weekend at Pocono Raceway. (AP Photo/Tom E. Puskar)

OTHER NASCAR NEWS:

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Darrell Wallace Jr. will become the first black driver to race at NASCAR’s top level since 2006 when he replaces injured Aric Almirola this weekend at Pocono Raceway.

Richard Petty Motorsports said Wallace, more commonly referred to by his nickname “Bubba,” will be the replacement in the No. 43 until Almirola returns.

“Driving the famed 43 car is an unbelievable opportunity for any race car driver,” said Wallace. “With all that Richard Petty has contributed to the sport, I’m honored to start my first (race) with this team.”

Wallace, 23, is only the fourth black driver in one of NASCAR’s top national series. Wendell Scott raced from 1961-73 in Cup, Willy T. Ribbs did three Cup races in 1986 and Bill Lester raced sporadically from 1999 until 2007 at all three national levels.

Wallace won the Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway in 2013 to become the first black driver to win at a national NASCAR series event since Wendell Scott earned a Cup victory on December 1, 1963.

Wallace raced in the Xfinity Series for Roush, but the team announced that he will transition from its Xfinity car to RPM. Without Wallace, Roush Fenway will suspend the No. 6 Xfinity team at Pocono.

The team and Wallace will evaluate opportunities for him to run other Xfinity races this season.

“We are very proud of Bubba and his development at Roush Fenway Racing,” team President Steve Newmark said. “We believe that Bubba has tremendous potential and will continue to excel in NASCAR’s top series. He has been a great representative of our organization both on and off the track and we’ve enjoyed being part of his growth as a driver.”

Almirola fractured a vertebra during a fiery wreck last month at Kansas Speedway and is out indefinitely. Almirola and Wallace both drive Fords.

Wallace has five years of experience in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series, and has five wins and 20 top-five finishes.

“We are excited for Bubba to get this opportunity,” said Dave Pericak, global director for Ford Performance. “We couldn’t be happier with the progress of Aric Almirola’s recovery and can’t wait to get him back. In the meantime, this is a great opportunity for Bubba to show what he can do at the top level of the sport, and we are committed to helping RPM win races.”

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More AP auto racing: http://racing.ap.org

NASCAR: Dillon earns 1st win at Coca-Cola 600

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CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Hall of Fame car owner Richard Childress finally let the emotions flow when he looked up at the Charlotte Motor Speedway’s scoring board after the Coca-Cola 600 and saw the iconic No. 3 — driven by his grandson Austin Dillon — on top.

“Can you believe it?” Childress asked. “The Coke 600, Austin Dillon and the (No.) 3.”

Dillon passed an out-of-gas Jimmie Johnson two laps from the end for his first Cup victory.

It had been a long time coming for the number made famous by the late Dale Earnhardt, who drove for Childress during six of his seven championships. The last time the two celebrated was when Earnhardt won at Talladega on Oct. 15, 2000, four months before The Intimidator’s death in a horrific crash at Daytona.

“Today is special,” Childress said.

Especially with how Dillon accomplished it. Crew chief Justin Alexander decided that while much of the field would pit with about 35 to go, Dillon would stay out and gamble he’d have enough fuel to make it.

“It didn’t make much sense to do anything else but that, really,” said Alexander, who replaced Slugger Labbe as Dillon’s crew chief last Monday.

When Dillon saw Johnson run dry right ahead, he felt relieved and excited all at once. The No. 3, Dillon said, “was the best of all time. I’m just glad to add to the legacy of it.”

Dillon held off Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr., who led the most laps in the Coca-Cola 600 for a third straight year.

“It hasn’t sunk in. I can’t believe it,” Dillon said. “We’re in the chase, baby. It’s awesome.”

Dillon did his signature belly slide celebration in the damp grass at Charlotte, outlasting a rain delay of nearly 1 hour, 40 minutes — and several established drivers to take his first checkered flag.

Dillon closed racing’s biggest day with the surprise victory, following Sebastian Vettel’s win in Formula One’s Monaco Grand Prix and Takura Sato’s victory in the Indy 500.

Truex took the lead for the final time with 67 laps left, sweeping past Busch to move out front. Truex pitted a final time with 33 laps left, confident he’d be able to hold on after everyone cycled through a last stop.

Truex has led 756 of the past 1,200 laps in the 600, yet finished shy of the checker flag two of three times. “So that’s a little tough to swallow,” he said.

Matt Kenseth was fourth, and Denny Hamlin fifth.

Kurt Busch finished sixth, followed by rookie Erik Jones, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished 10th in his final Coca-Cola 600 as a fulltime driver.

Harvick, who started on the pole, overcame wheel problems to finish in the top 10 for a seventh straight time in the Coca-Cola 600.

Johnson limped home to finish in 17th.

“I did all that I could from that point and just came up a little bit short,” he said.

Harvick may have had to work harder than the rest of the field for his seventh straight top 10 here. Harvick dealt with a loose-fitting wheel much of the first 200 laps to fall a lap down, then slipped on some slick fluid laid down by Ty Dillon to fall back further. But Harvick, who won here in 2011 and 2013, held strong to end in eighth.

Larson, the series points leader coming in, was expected to vie for his first Coca-Cola 600. Instead, he started 39th when he couldn’t take a qualifying lap Thursday because of trouble clearing inspection. Larson got as high as third during the race before scraping the wall with 153 laps left and needing three trips to the pits to correct the problems, falling to 23rd. Larson’s chances ended for good when he tagged the wall again 45 laps later, went to the garage and did not return. He was 33rd, his worst finish of the season.

Larson said he got loose in Turn 3 to end his race.

“I made a mistake,” he said.

WHO’S HOT: Kyle Busch sure does love Charlotte Motor Speedway. He won the truck race and the All-Star race here last week, then qualified second for the Cup race Sunday night. Busch nearly walked away with the Coca-Cola 600 when he moved past teammate Denny Hamlin at the start of the fourth and final stage to take the lead over Martin Truex Jr. Busch held strong until the restart with 67 laps left following a caution brought out by Danica Patrick’s brush with the wall as Truex moved back. Busch got back to second on the last lap, but ran out of raceway to chase down Dillon.

WHO’S NOT: Chase Elliott was hoping to finally land his first victory on the season at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Instead, his chances ended less than 25 laps into the race when he ran over pieces of Jeffrey Earnhardt’s crumbling car and could not gain traction as Brad Keselowski slammed into the rear of the No. 24 Chevrolet. Elliott started third and looked like a strong contender for NASCAR’s longest race. Instead, it continues an alarming downward trend for one of the sport’s youngest guns with his fourth consecutive finish of 24 or worse. “It’s just disappointing,” Elliott said.

UP NEXT: The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series moves to Dover International Speedway next Sunday.

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More AP auto racing: www.racing.ap.org

After mistake in 2012, Sato learns lesson to win Indy 500

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Takuma Sato had victory in sight once before at the Indianapolis 500. When he attempted a last-lap pass, Sato lost control of his car, crashed and Dario Franchitti went on to his third victory in “The Greatest Spectacle In Racing.”

In nearly the same position five years later, Sato leaned on lessons learned in that 2012 defeat and became the first Japanese driver to win the Indianapolis 500.

“I do feel after 2012 that I really needed to correct something I left over,” Sato said. “In 2012, going into Turn 1 with Dario was a big risk. But you always learn something from those situations, and this time we proved we had what it takes.”

In winning for just the second time in IndyCar, Sato had to hold off Helio Castroneves over the closing laps Sunday to deny the veteran a record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500 victory. The two swapped the lead, and Castroneves made one last attempt at a pass for the win that he couldn’t make stick.

“When Helio was coming with three laps to go, on a big charge into Turn 1, we went side-by-side,” Sato said. “But this time I ended up still pointing in the right direction and still leading. It was job done, and the last two laps the car worked beautifully.”

The win was the second straight for Andretti Autosport in the Indy 500 and third in the last four years. An Andretti driver has now won the 500 five times overall dating to 2005 with the late Dan Wheldon.

Last year, it was with rookie Alexander Rossi. This time it was with Sato, who joined the team this season and had largely been overlooked at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Andretti camp expanded to six cars for the 500 to add Fernando Alonso, a two-time F1 champion who brought massive European interest to the race.

Six cars never seemed to spread the team too thin, and the main issue facing Andretti Autosport was the reliability of its Honda engines. Alonso put on a thrilling show and even led 27 laps but he was sent to the paddock when his engine blew with 20 laps remaining.

Still, his race was spectacular and Alonso simply fell victim to his engine late in the race. The crowd gave the Spaniard a standing ovation as he climbed from his car.

“It’s a very nice surprise to come here with big names, big guys, the best in open-wheel racing and be competitive,” said Alonso, who didn’t rule out a return.

“The last two weeks, I came here basically to prove myself, to challenge myself,” Alonso added. “I know that I can be as quick as anyone in an F1 car. I didn’t know if I can be as quick as anyone in an Indy car.”

The Honda teams had a clear horsepower advantage over Chevrolet, but things were dicey in Indy for more than a week and certainly on race day: Before Alonso’s failure, 2014 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay lost his engine and so did Charlie Kimball. Hunter-Reay led 28 laps and was a strong contender late.

Still, Honda had the winning engine at the end and six of the top 10.

“I’m really happy for Honda. They worked really hard to get us here,” team owner Michael Andretti said. “I know how big this news is going to be tomorrow when they wake up in Japan. It’s going to be huge. I’m really happy for them, that we were able to give them a win with our Japanese driver here.”

In a Chevrolet for Team Penske, Castroneves briefly took the lead but couldn’t hold it as Sato grabbed it back. Castroneves was disappointed to fall short of the four-time winners club — particularly since it was his third runner-up finish.

“Being second again sucks, being so close to getting my fourth,” Castroneves said. “I’m really trying. I’m not giving up this dream and I know it’s going to happen.”

Ed Jones finished a career-best third and was followed by Max Chilton and Tony Kanaan, the highest finishers for Chip Ganassi Racing.

A joyful Sato dumped a bottle of 2 percent milk over his head, received a kiss from the Indy 500 Princess and raised his finger in the air. Andretti ran down pit lane to reach Sato’s crew, then rushed to hug his driver. Even Franchitti made his way to victory lane to congratulate Sato, who was eager to see the impact of his win at home in Japan.

“This is going to be mega big,” he predicted. “A lot of the Japanese fans are following the IndyCar Series and many, many flew over for the Indianapolis 500. We showed the great result today and I am very proud of it.”

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INDIANAPOLIS 500 RESULTS

Sunday from the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway (starting position in parentheses):

1. (4) Takuma Sato, Honda, 200, running.

2. (19) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 200, running.

3. (11) Ed Jones, Honda, 200, running.

4. (15) Max Chilton, Honda, 200, running.

5. (7) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 200, running.

6. (18) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 200, running.

7. (3) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 200, running.

8. (8) Marco Andretti, Honda, 200, running.

9. (25) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, 200, running.

10. (24) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 200, running.

11. (2) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 200, running.

12. (14) Graham Rahal, Honda, 200, running.

13. (13) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 200, running.

14. (23) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 200, running.

15. (31) Sebastian Saavedra, Chevrolet, 200, running.

16. (6) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 200, running.

17. (28) Pippa Mann, Honda, 199, running.

18. (29) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 194, running.

19. (22) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 186, running.

20. (33) James Davison, Honda, 183, contact.

21. (12) Oriol Servia, Honda, 183, contact.

22. (17) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 183, contact.

23. (9) Will Power, Chevrolet, 183, contact.

24. (5) Fernando Alonso, Honda, 179, mechanical.

25. (16) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 166, mechanical.

26. (32) Zach Veach, Chevrolet, 155, mechanical.

27. (10) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 136, mechanical.

28. (21) Sage Karam, Chevrolet, 125, mechanical.

29. (30) Buddy Lazier, Chevrolet, 118, contact.

30. (26) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 65, contact.

31. (27) Jack Harvey, Honda, 65, contact.

32. (1) Scott Dixon, Honda, 52, contact.

33. (20) Jay Howard, Honda, 45, contact.

Race Statistics

Winners average speed: 155.395 mph.

Time of Race: 3:13.03.3584.

Margin of Victory: .2011 seconds.

Cautions: 11 for 50 laps.

Lead changes: 35 amoung 15 drivers.

Lap Leaders: Dixon 1-5, Kanaan 6-27, Carpenter 28-29, Hildebrand 30, Montoya 31, Carpenter 32-34, Rossi 35-36, Alonso 37-42, Rossi 43-47, Alonso 48-60, Rossi 61-64, Sato 65-75, Rossi 76-78, Hunter-Reay 79-81, Power 82-83, Chilton 84-86, Hunter-Reay 87-89, Rossi 90-93, Hunter-Reay 94-95, Castroneves 96-103, Hunter-Reay 104, Rossi 105-109, Hunter-Reay 110-112, Rahal 113-114, Hunter-Reay 115-129, Alonso 130-134, Hunter-Reay 135, Alonso 136-138, Chilton 139-142, Kimball 143-147, Chilton 148-165, Davison 166-167, Hildebrand 168, Chilton 169-193, Castroneves 194, Sato 195-200.

Verizon IndyCar Series point standings: Castroneves 245, Pagenaud 234, Sato 234, Dixon 234, Rossi 190, Kanaan 188, Power 186, Newgarden 186, Jones 185, Hinchcliffe 170, Chilton 170.

NASCAR: Blaney goes last to first to win Xfinity race at Charlotte

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CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Ryan Blaney demonstrated his improving patience and made sure that Kevin Harvick’s misery at Charlotte Motor Speedway continued.

Blaney passed Harvick on a restart with three laps to go and held on to win the Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday.

Blaney went from last to first for his fifth career Xfinity victory. He had qualified third, but was sent to the back of the field to start the race because of unapproved tire changes to his No. 12 Ford.

“I have a lot better patience than I did a couple of years ago,” the 23-year-old Blaney joked when asked about starting at the back of the field. “You learn that as you run a little bit more in NASCAR. When you start in the back or something goes wrong and you lose five or six spots it’s the patience aspect of it.

“We were super patient working back up through the field. It helps when you have a really good car and you know you can be patient.”

Meanwhile, Harvick’s tough luck at Charlotte continued.

He has won 46 career Xfinity Series races, but remains winless at Charlotte.

“I just can’t seem to get to victory lane here,” said Harvick, who will start on the pole for the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday.

Austin Dillon finished third, and Christopher Bell fourth in his Xfinity Series race debut.

Blaney led the middle portion of the race and captured Stage 2. But he got boxed in on pit road with 26 laps remaining and Harvick took over the lead.

“I was pretty upset I didn’t get into my box well and didn’t do a good job of getting angled out,” Blaney said.

Suddenly, it appeared to be Harvick’s race to lose.

His drought at Charlotte might have ended had Darrell Wallace Jr. not hit the outside wall with six laps to go, bringing out the 12th caution of the race and forcing a third restart in the final 30 laps.

Harvick, who was leading at the time, chose to start on the top row on the restart rather than the bottom. He feared that Brad Keselowski, who was on the bottom side of the second row, would help push Blaney to the finish line.

“If you get the 22 (Keselowski) and the 12 (Blaney) you might get beat worse,” Harvick said. “It’s six one way and a half-dozen the other.”

Blaney stayed with Harvick on the restart until the third turn when he took the lead for good.

Blaney joins father Dave as Xfinity Series winners as Charlotte. His father won in 2006.

“It’s pretty cool to win at the same track my father did,” Blaney said.

It was impressive day for Bell, who was the top non-Cup Series finisher.

The rookie spun out on the third lap, but battled back up the field to give himself a chance for a top-five finish.

Notes: Polesitter Justin Allgaier was never a factor, quickly falling back in the field and finishing 12th. … Series points leader Elliott Sadler finished 35th after crashing into the inside wall with 19 laps remaining. Sadler walked away from the crash with no injuries. … It was Blaney’s first victory on the circuit since the 2015 season at Kentucky, a span of 14 races without a win.

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HISENSE 4K TV 300 RESULTS

Saturday at the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway (starting position in parentheses):

1. (3) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 200 laps.

2. (5) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 200.

3. (2) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 200.

4. (7) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 200.

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

6. (39) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 200.

7. (6) Cole Custer, Ford, 200.

8. (11) Brennan Poole, Chevrolet, 200.

9. (17) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 200.

10. (10) Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 200.

11. (9) Ryan Reed, Ford, 200.

12. (1) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 200.

13. (4) Daniel Hemric, Chevrolet, 200.

14. (13) William Byron, Chevrolet, 200.

15. (27) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 200.

16. (21) Brandon Jones, Chevrolet, 200.

17. (26) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 200.

18. (15) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 200.

19. (18) Blake Koch, Chevrolet, 200.

20. (40) Dakoda Armstrong, Toyota, 200.

21. (25) Casey Mears, Ford, 200.

22. (24) JJ Yeley, Toyota, 200.

23. (35) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 200.

24. (34) Garrett Smithley, Chevrolet, 200.

25. (22) Ben Kennedy, Chevrolet, 200.

26. (19) Matt Tifft, Toyota, 200.

27. (16) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 200.

28. (14) Darrell Wallace Jr., Ford, 200.

29. (31) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, 200.

30. (36) Todd Bodine, Chevrolet, 200.

31. (33) David Starr, Chevrolet, 199.

32. (32) Cale Conley, Toyota, 198.

33. (29) Alex Labbe, Chevrolet, 192.

34. (37) Harrison Rhodes, Chevrolet, 190.

35. (12) Elliott Sadler, Chevrolet, accident, 180.

36. (23) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, accident, 177.

37. (20) Spencer Gallagher, Chevrolet, accident, 166.

38. (28) Timmy Hill, Toyota, electrical, 22.

39. (38) Carl Long, Dodge, accident, 21.

40. (30) Stephen Leicht, Chevrolet, electrical, 11.

Race statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 113.72 mph.

Time of Race: 2 hours, 38 minutes, 17 seconds.

Margin of Victory: 0.244 seconds.

Caution Flags: 12 for 52 laps.

Lead Changes: 12 among 7 drivers.

Lap Leaders: J. Allgaier 1-7; K. Harvick 8-47; D. Hamlin 48; B. McLeod 49; D. Hamlin 50-52; R. Blaney 53-108; D. Wallace Jr. 109-111; R. Blaney 112-129; K. Harvick 130; R. Blaney 131-160; A. Dillon 161-180; K. Harvick 181-197; R. Blaney 198-200.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): R. Blaney 4 times for 107 laps; K. Harvick 3 times for 58 laps; A. Dillon 1 time for 20 laps; J. Allgaier 1 time for 7 laps; D. Hamlin 2 times for 4 laps; D. Wallace Jr. 1 time for 3 laps; B. McLeod 1 time for 1 lap.

NASCAR: History favors Martin Truex Jr. in Coca-Cola 600 after dominating 2016 win

CONCORD, N.C. – Last year, Martin Truex Jr. turned NASCAR’s longest race — the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway — into its easiest one.

Truex led 392 of the race’s 400 laps in winning the 600, scoring one of the season’s biggest beat-downs. It was like Truex was in a rocket ship and everyone else was pedaling tricycles.

This year’s 600-mile marathon, then, should start with Truex as the dominant force, right? If Truex thinks that is the case, he’s not showing his cards – or his car — early.

“So much has changed since then,” Truex said. “The downforce package we have (and) the tires are different. Charlotte typically changes quite a bit day to day, let alone year to year. It’s definitely still going to be a challenge.

“I think we’ll be one of the guys to beat, but so many things have to go right to win these races. There are no guarantees. We’re certainly putting the pressure on ourselves to make sure we get it all done.”

While Truex will enter Sunday’s race as a solid favorite, Kyle Busch probably will be on the radar screen.

Busch rallied in the final stage Saturday night and won the All-Star race at CMS, scoring his first victory in a Cup car at the venue.

While the format, stage length and car setup are different for the non-points event, it could give the Joe Gibbs Racing driver confidence heading into this weekend.

Busch didn’t lead a ton of laps (only the 10 in the final segment), but his three-wide move to take first place at the start of the last stage was the sort of daring and aggressive tactic that often is required for success on the tour’s 1.5-mile tracks.

“Hopefully, we can sweep it,” Busch said of Sunday’s race. “It would be nice to be added to that list of drivers that have been able to do that.

“We’ve got a little bit of work to do in order to get ourselves in position to be able to do that. Six hundred miles is a long race. Starts in the day, ends at night. There are a lot of things that can happen in that race.”

Truex, who finished 12th of 20 entries in the All-Star race, has two victories and leads the series in stage wins (five) in the first season of NASCAR’s new approach to awarding points during races. He would have collected a bundle at CMS if the system had been in place last year.

“We really haven’t forgotten about last year, how it all went down, how important the stage points are,” Truex said. “It’s going to be big. We’re going after all of them we can get.”

NASCAR has added a stage to Sunday’s 600, making the sport’s longest race its most valuable from the playoff points perspective. (Each of four stages will award 10 points each to the winner, plus 40 to the race winner). It also could make Truex’s attempt to repeat last year’s strong run more difficult.

“To be able in this day and age, with the competition level, to be able to lead that many miles, that many laps, is going to be something tough to replicate,” he said.

“Hopefully, we can do it. It would be a great time. But it’s going to be tough, for sure, especially with stages and all that. It’s going to be interesting.”

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CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — NASCAR is trying to inject some excitement into Charlotte Motor Speedway, where recent races have been relatively predictable, even dull: When a lead car breaks free from the pack, it’s been nearly impossible to catch.

Nobody could catch Kyle Larson when he was running in clean air during the first two 20-lap segments of the NASCAR All-Star race last weekend. And pole sitter Martin Truex Jr. led 392 of 400 laps in last year’s Coca-Cola 600. Those make for dominating performances, but don’t necessarily translate to the racing fans want to see.

Stock car’s governing body added a layer of traction compound called JP1 to the top groove of CMS this week in an effort to promote more passing at the Coca-Cola 600 coming up on Sunday.

The sticky substance is designed to promote better grip and has been used by NASCAR on Bristol Motor Speedway’s concrete surface, but never on an asphalt track like Charlotte.

“We talked through this opportunity with the track, teams, drivers and Goodyear,” NASCAR vice president of competition Scott Miller told The Associated Press in an email. “There was agreement that this process would enhance the racing we see at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and ultimately would make for an exciting Coca-Cola 600.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. said the Charlotte track hasn’t aged well since it was last paved. The fastest part of the track remains the lower groove and that’s where drivers generally run.

“We just run right on the bottom because that’s just the fastest way. There is really no other way about it,” Earnhardt said.

The idea behind using the compound on the upper portion of the track is to create a sticky groove that is just as fast as the lower groove, luring drivers to attempt more passes up high.

Kevin Harvick, the pole sitter for the Coca-Cola 600, called it a good plan.

“The only groove that was there for the All-Star race was the bottom groove,” Harvick said. “I went up there and tried the middle and tried the top, and while you could go through there, you just couldn’t make any speed like you could on the bottom. … It’s definitely going to make a difference and hopefully it widens the racetrack out and we can have grooves all over the track.”

Earnhardt likes the idea, too. He just questions whether it will have an impact this week.

The JP1 substance typically works its best when the temperature is hot. Since the Coca-Cola 600 starts during the day but is run mostly at night, Earnhardt said the change could have more of an impact on the October race in Charlotte, which has been moved to a day race.

“Running this race during the day is probably the best decision,” Earnhardt said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how that works out for the track. I certainly think that’s a good thing so we’ll see how it works out.”

But Earnhardt expects drivers will try out the upper groove anyway, especially if it becomes difficult to catch the leader.

“I’m sure in the race some guys will get up there and start running through there, it’s going to improve the speed in those grooves. Hopefully it does,” Earnhardt said. “… We move all over the place looking for speed and grip (at Kansas). It’s a lot of fun.”

NASCAR: Harvick wins Charlotte pole; Cup leader Larson starts last

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CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Kevin Harvick was all smiles at qualifying Thursday night at Charlotte, while NASCAR Cup Series points leader Kyle Larson was left bitter and frustrated heading into an important weekend of racing.

Harvick will start on the pole for the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday after turning a lap of 193.424 mph on the 1 1/2-mile oval, while Larson will begin NASCAR’s longest race at the rear of the field after his No. 42 Chevy failed to get through prequalifying inspection in time for him to make a qualifying lap.

“I know all of the teams hate it,” Larson said about the prequalifying system. “The teams point at NASCAR, and NASCAR points at the teams. It’s all confusing to me.”

Larson had hit the wall in practice, which didn’t help his cause because it set his crew behind working on repairs. It turns out there was nothing wrong with Larson’s car, but the crew didn’t get it on the platform right away. Once the car passed inspection, he couldn’t get the engine to start and ran out of time.

For Harvick, it was his third pole this season and 20th overall.

It’s only the second time a Ford won the pole in the last 16 Cup races at Charlotte.

“It was breathtaking because it was so edgy to drive,” Harvick said. “But loose is fast. … We have been running well and tonight was no different. It was a hairy lap but the car went well through turns three and four.”

Starting on the pole could be a good omen for Harvick.

A year ago, Martin Truex Jr. grabbed the pole and went on to lead 392 out of 400 laps to take home the Coca-Cola 600 in impressive fashion.

Kyle Busch, the All-Star race winner Saturday, will start alongside Harvick on the front row. Chase Elliott will start third, followed by Matt Kenseth, Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin.

Busch has won a combined 15 Xfinity and Trucks Series races at Charlotte, but has never won a Cups points race here. He is 0 for 26 heading into Sunday.

“It doesn’t matter where you start, it is where you finish with this long grueling race,” Busch said. “But it does give us great pit position and that will help.”

Busch won the All-Star race after a late pass on a restart to take home the $1 million prize.

Although he said he wasn’t the fastest car in the right field last week he was able to put himself in the right position at the right time. Busch said his team talked extensively about changes this week.

“We definitely unloaded with a different package,” Busch said.

The Coca-Cola 600 will feature four stage points, instead of the normal three for most NASCAR races. Harvick said while he doesn’t think it will change anyone’s strategy, it will definitely impact the points standings.

“It’s long, it’s hot and it’s a demanding race track,” Harvick said. “You better be ready physically and mentally to hold that pace for four or five hours.”

___

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Kyle Busch proved last week he could win a Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the exhibition NASCAR All-Star race.

Now he’s out to prove he can win a Cup points race and put an end a long drought.

“It felt good to get that out of the way, so now hopefully we can make it back-to-back,” Busch said Thursday.

Busch has won eight Xfinity Series races and seven Truck Series races at Charlotte, but is 0 for 26 in Cup points races. If he can get to victory lane Sunday in NASCAR’s longest race he would become the first driver to sweep the All-Star race and the Coca-Cola 600 since brother Kurt did it in 2010.

Even team owner Joe Gibbs wasn’t aware of Busch’s Cup race struggles at Charlotte, saying “To tell you the truth, I thought he had won here.”

He probably should have.

But it seems things have conspired against him in Cup races. Some of it Busch has brought on himself with poor decisions or costly driving errors, while some of it has been out of his control.

In 2013, for instance, he was going for a series-wide sweep at CMS and leading the Coca-Cola 600 more than a third of the way into the 400-lap race.

That’s when a nylon rope supporting a Fox Sports overhead television camera fell from the grandstands and got tangled up in his No. 18 Toyota. NASCAR red-flagged the race and allowed teams an opportunity to fix their cars, but Busch could never recreate the speed he had before. His night ended in frustration when his engine blew up on Lap 253.

“I just heard a big thunk on the right-front side tire and thought the right-front tire blew out,” Busch said at the time about the cable. “That’s how hard it felt. … It did have an effect slowing my car down and I could feel it like, ‘Whoa, that’s weird.’ I don’t know that anybody has ever seen that.”

But Busch knows winning the Coca-Cola 600 won’t be easy.

He called NASCAR’s longest race, a 400-lap marathon on a 1 1/2-mile course a “mental and physical grind.”

“You just get tired,” Busch said. “I wouldn’t say you fall out of the seat, but when you’re done, you’re done.”

Busch was ninth-fastest in practice Thursday and said his crew has plenty of work to do.

He knows how important it is to run out front in Charlotte in the clean air. Last year, Martin Truex Jr. got out to the lead and nobody could catch him, leading 392 of 400 laps.

The difficulty in passing at Charlotte places an added emphasis on restarts and pit stops.

Busch feels like his team has been the leader in pit stop development over the last 15 years and he showed last week he’s still a master at restarts.

With three laps remaining in the All-Star race, Busch showed his driving savvy when he took the low side of the track to pass Brad Keselowski — who was running on old tires — from the second row to beat out four-time All-Star race winner Jimmie Johnson for the $1 million prize.

Busch said he won despite not having the best car.

He said the race setup they’ve brought to Charlotte is even better.

Crew chief Adam Stevens said it’s only a matter of time before Busch finds his way to victory lane at Charlotte in a Cup points race.

“No different than Kansas, some of these other places he’s struggled at in the past,” Stevens said. “Wouldn’t say here has been a struggle, but it’s just been hard to finish it off. Hopefully (the All-Star race win) is a little bit of momentum, a little bit of wind in our sails, something we can build on.”

Said Gibbs: “I’m telling you, we feel like Kyle can win anywhere. Certainly this year he’s really been in position a bunch.”

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More AP Auto Racing: ap.racing.org

 

NASCAR: Yates, Evernham lead NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2018

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Robert Yates still remembers his college professor telling him he’d never make anything of himself.

It turns out his professor was wrong.

Yates’ 40-year career in auto racing culminated with his selection to the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Wednesday, an achievement that left him in tears.

The 74-year-old Yates admitted he wasn’t the smartest guy, but said “I knew how to work on cars.”

Yates, a NASCAR Cup champion as both an engine builder and owner, was voted in along with three-time NASCAR Cup championship crew chief Ray Evernham, drivers Red Byron and Ron Hornaday Jr. and broadcaster Ken Squier. Hornaday and driver Alan Kulwicki tied for the fifth and final spot, and Hornaday won the tiebreaker.

Yates was an overwhelming favorite, selected by 94 percent of the voters.

He grew up in Charlotte and couldn’t play baseball and football because of a heart murmur.

“So I worked on engines,” Yates said.

While Yates’ passion was engine building, he achieved most of his notoriety as an owner, with his drivers winning 57 Cup races.

After providing the power behind Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough with his engines, he started his own racing team in the late 1980s. Success came quickly with driver Davey Allison winning the 1992 Daytona 500, while finishing third in the standings. Dale Jarrett would win two more Daytona 500s and a Cup Series championship for Robert Yates Racing.

Yates is currently battling liver cancer, but said being selected into the Hall of Fame left him feeling like grabbing a jack, jumping over a pit wall and changing a tire.

“I may not sleep a wink,” he said with a wide smile.

NASCAR vice chairman Mike Helton said Yates could do it all and is well-liked in the garage.

“Having watched him from an engine builder to a crew chief to a car owner and a tutor to so many families in the sport, the contributions he has made to NASCAR — we will never be able to count them all,” Helton said

Evernham earned his fame as a crew chief.

He became synonymous with Jeff Gordon when they began working together in 1992. Evernham guided Gordon and the Rainbow Warriors team to Cup titles in 1995, ’96 and ’98. Under Evernham, the No. 24 team excelled on pit stops, becoming the envy of other NASCAR teams as they dominated the 1990s decade by winning a series-leading 47 Cup races.

Evernham was having dinner with his wife in Indianapolis when he learned of the news.

“My wife got a really big smile on her face and she said, ‘You’re in,'” Evernham said. “The emotions overwhelmed me and I have been at a loss of words since. I have never felt as overrun by emotions in my life. … This is the biggest thing that can happen in your career.”

Byron won NASCAR’s first race in 1948 on the Daytona beach and road course and went on to win NASCAR’s first championship. Byron was wounded in World War II and drove with a special brace on his pedal.

Squier, who became the definitive voice of NASCAR, called Byron “an American hero.”

“After he got shot up so bad in the war they wanted to take his leg off and he said, ‘Thank you, I’ll keep it,'” Squier said. “He became a champion who represented everything this Memorial Day weekend is all about.”

Seven-time Cup Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick were among the many young drivers who attribute Hornaday to helping them get their start in NASCAR. Hornaday let a number of drivers, including Johnson and Harvick, sleep in his couch at his Charlotte-area home while they were getting started in the sport.

“We moved and the only thing I saved was that couch,” said Hornaday, who has won four Trucks Series championships during his career. “People say why and I said, ‘Because everybody was always too drunk to go upstairs and they would always pass out on that little couch, the closest one to the door.'”

Jim France, the current chairman of International Speedway Corporation and son of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., won the Landmark Award for his contributions to NASCAR.

The induction ceremony for the Class of 2018 will be in January in Charlotte.

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More AP Auto Racing: ap.racing.org

Indy 500: Scott Dixon wins Indianapolis 500 pole with fastest speed in 21 years

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INDIANAPOLIS — Scott Dixon couldn’t believe it. The steering wheel dashboard must be broken, he thought. Because 232 mph can’t be right.

If only he could have heard the Indianapolis Motor Speedway crowd.

They would have let him know that his dashboard was working just fine.

The fans roared with approval as Dixon posted a four-lap qualifying speed of 232.164 mph — the best since Arie Luyendyk’s 236.986 mph in 1996 — to claim the pole Sunday for next weekend’s Indianapolis 500.

“I thought maybe the dash had broken on the steering wheel and brought up a fake number,” Dixon said in the post-qualifying news conference of the 232.595 mph, the fastest of his four laps. “We seriously (didn’t) think (we’d) … see the speed that we did.”

But he did, and the legend of Scott Dixon added another chapter.

MORE INDYCAR:

Team Penske falls flat in Indianapolis 500 qualifying

Column: Alonso, Rossi spur driver vs. team debate at qualifying

Davison tapped to replace Sebastien Bourdais in Indianapolis 500

Bourdais has successful pelvis surgery

Indianapolis 500 pole winners by year

PHOTOS: Scott Dixon through the years

The pole was the 26th of his career — his third at Indianapolis (2008, 2015) — and next Sunday, he will chase after his second 500 and the 41st victory of his career.

The wins, the records, the streaks, they’re only part of what make the legend. The rest is the respect and admiration he commands from his fellow drivers.

Moments after Dixon blew past that 21-year record, they began to heap on praise for the bold setup he took out onto the track.

“Scott Dixon is (expletive) man,” tweeted Graham Rahal, who qualified 14th earlier in the day. “I guarantee you that car was extremely on edge. … Legendary run.”

“Absolutely unreal,” Conor Daly tweeted. “Scott Dixon (is) legendary.”

“Wow, massive respect,” tweeted Sage Karam. “Dude is a wheelman.”

Frankly, it’s impressive there are still things Dixon can do to wow his fellow drivers. Ask most any of them about Dixon and that word — legend — is sure to come up.

Dixon wasn’t the only one to thrill the crowd and paddock Sunday. After Dixon posted his 232.164, the question on everyone’s mind was: What does Ed Carpenter have up his sleeve?

Quite a bit, actually. The fastest driver Saturday turned in a four-lap average speed of 231.664 on Sunday. It would have been good enough to become the third-best qualifying speed since Luyendyk in 1996, but it wasn’t enough to top Dixon. Instead Carpenter will start second.

But after qualifying, the driver/owner from Indianapolis wasn’t complaining about barely missing out on his third 500 pole. He, too, was in awe of what he and Dixon had accomplished and the roar of the crowd.

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“It’s cool to see the speeds going back up, to hear the crowd roar when Scott did those laps, when everyone put up big times,” Carpenter said. “It’s cool. It’s part of the mystique of this place is pushing the limits of the cars and us as drivers. So I enjoy that part of it. It’s thrilling when it goes well and when it goes poorly like we saw yesterday, but that’s part of what makes IndyCar special.”

Not to be lost in the shuffle of Dixon’s triumph was the success the drivers of Andretti Autosport enjoyed. Team owner Michael Andretti’s crew put five cars in the top 10 and three in the top five.

Alexander Rossi led the way for the Honda-powered cars. The reigning 500 champion, who will start on the front line along with Dixon and Carpenter, was a man on a mission this weekend. Rossi said Saturday that there were plenty of people who believed his 500 victory relied more on strategy than on strength of his car.

“There were a lot of stories and comments going around regarding how we won the race purely on strategy, when I know we had a fast car,” Rossi said. “We had a fast car this time around, and we were going to prove it.”

Leading the second row of cars will be Rossi’s teammate Takuma Sato, and next to him two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso in his qualifying debut.

Alonso’s success and that of his teammates was an affirmation of his choice to not only try his hand at the 500 but to do it with Andretti Autosport.

“I am lucky,” Alonso said, “that it’s probably the best team for a rookie to come in with a lot of cars on the team and a lot of experience.”

For Team Penske, which is the all-time leader in Indianapolis 500 poles with 17, it was the first time since 2011 the team hasn’t had more than one driver in the first three rows. Will Power was the only driver of the five to make the Fast Nine, and he’ll start ninth.

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SUNDAY’S INDY 500 LINEUP

Lap length: 2.5 miles

(Car number in parentheses)

1. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 2 minutes, 35.0630 seconds, 232.164 mph.

2. (20) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 02:35.3976, 231.664.

3. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 02:35.5163, 231.487.

4. (26) Takuma Sato, Honda, 02:35.5981, 231.365.

5. (29) Fernando Alonso, Honda, 02:35.6423, 231.300.

6. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 02:35.9191, 230.889.

7. (10) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 02:35.9601, 230.828.

8. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 02:36.1998, 230.474.

9. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 02:36.3859, 230.200.

10. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 02:35.5463, 231.442.

11. (19) Ed Jones, Honda, 02:36.1293, 230.578.

12. (16) Oriol Servia, Honda, 02:36.3118, 230.309.

13. (7) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 02:36.3377, 230.271.

14. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 02:36.3499, 230.253.

15. (8) Max Chilton, Honda, 02:36.4758, 230.068.

16. (83) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 02:36.5514, 229.956.

17. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 02:36.6169, 229.860.

18. (22) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 02:36.8180, 229.565.

19. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 02:36.8528, 229.515.

20. (77) Jay Howard, Honda, 02:36.9213, 229.414.

21. (24) Sage Karam, Chevrolet, 02:36.9447, 229.380.

22. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 02:37.5488, 228.501.

23. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 02:37.8303, 228.093.

24. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 02:37.9497, 227.921.

25. (88) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, 02:38.6458, 226.921.

26. (4) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 02:38.9831, 226.439.

27. (50) Jack Harvey, Honda, 02:39.4741, 225.742.

28. (63) Pippa Mann, Honda, 02:39.9944, 225.008.

29. (11) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 02:40.6768, 224.052.

30. (44) Buddy Lazier, Chevrolet, 02:41.1340, 223.417.

31. (17) Sebastian Saavedra, Chevrolet, 02:42.7911, 221.142.

32. (40) Zach Veach, Chevrolet, 02:42.8360, 221.081.

33. (18) James Davison, Honda, no time, no speed.

Ayello writes for The Indianapolis Star, part of the USA TODAY Network.

NASCAR: All-Star race shows Coca-Cola 600 could be a long slog

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — The All-Star race showed Kyle Larson is the likely favorite for the Coca-Cola 600.

It also showed that the best car doesn’t always win, and the winner will likely be aided by a heavy dose of clean air.

Translation? NASCAR’s longest race could be an epic snoozer. That’s saying a lot after Martin Truex Jr. last year led all but eight of the 400 laps.

Saturday night’s annual All-Star race gave little hope of the 600 rising to some epic event that will be talked about for years. At Charlotte Motor Speedway, the leader uses the clean air in front of him to drive away from the field. Passing is difficult at the front.

“You can’t pass anywhere,” said Ryan Blaney. “It’s not great track conditions, to be honest with you.”

Blaney raced his way into the All-Star race by winning a segment in an earlier qualifying event. He then tried to open the race with an optional set of soft tires to gain track position. That didn’t really work. Then he tried a two-tire pit stop that briefly cycled him into the lead. But that didn’t work, either.

For 40 laps over two segments, no one had anything at all for Larson. He led flag to flag in each of the two segments, and in theory should have won the race. He was the leader heading into the final pit stops, but a slow stop sent him back to the track in fourth.

The $1 million prize was going to one of 10 drivers who won a 10-lap sprint to the finish. So whichever driver took the lead on the restart would churn through that clean air all the way to victory lane.

Larson didn’t get a shot because of the slow stop.

“I think we had the car to be the winner,” he said. “You’ve got to be perfect to win a Cup race. I knew being the leader off pit road was going to be the big thing. When I could tell that the rear (tire) changer wasn’t around nearly as fast as the front, I knew we were in trouble.”

The win instead went to Kyle Busch, his first in a Cup car at Charlotte. It was his first in the All-Star race, and ended more than a decade of frustration at the local track. Busch had eight wins in the Xfinity Series, seven in the Truck Series, including Friday night’s race.

To finally get an All-Star win, he had to be bold on the final restart and dive his car deep to the bottom of the track for a three-wide pass of Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski. Busch made the pass stick then took off sailing. No one could catch him once he was in the clean air.

“I could have just sat there in the line, I could have pushed Brad, faded in the corner, watched the outside lane go by,” Busch said. “You’ve kind of got to do what you’ve got to do. Maybe it’s not one of the top five moments, but top 10 maybe, 15 probably.

“Once I got that opportunity to get there, I knew it was going to be now or never. Take advantage of the opportunity when it presented itself.”

That’s the nature of this aerodynamic sensitive racing, and opportunities to make something happen are few. Johnson couldn’t catch Busch once Busch had taken the lead, and Johnson soon had his hands full trying to hold off Larson for second place.

Larson grabbed the runner-up spot in a pass that Johnson didn’t find necessary considering the winning car is all that matters in the All-Star race.

As NASCAR tries to address its issues and improve the racing product, there’s been debate about moving the All-Star race from Charlotte. Why? Simply because of the nature of racing on an intermediate track.

“There’s no doubt that mile-and-a-half racing puts on a certain type of show,” Johnson said. “I think Charlotte Motor Speedway works as hard as they possibly can put on a great show. They’re open minded to any and every idea.”

But the seven-time NASCAR champion noted the teams are handcuffed by NASCAR’s rule book.

“We all run the same speed. The rule book is so thick, and the cars are so equal, we run the same speed,” Johnson said. “You can’t pass running the same speed. The damn rule book is too thick. There’s too much going on.”

“I don’t have the answer. Mile-and-a-half racing is mile-and-a-half racing. When all the cars are qualifying as tight as they do, we can’t pass as easily as anybody, we have to logically look at it and say, ‘Hey, we’re all going the same speed, no wonder we can’t pass.’ ”

 

NASCAR: Kyle Busch scores $1 million with All-Star race victory

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CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — In a race built on brave, bold moments, Kyle Busch used one to win NASCAR’s annual All-Star race and its $1 million prize.

Busch used an aggressive three-wide pass for the lead Saturday night to take the All-Star event for the first time.

“It was now or never,” Busch said.

Although the race does not count in the standings, it was Busch’s first Cup victory of the season and first at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Busch also won the Truck Series race Friday night, but the victory Saturday was the first time he’s ever been to victory lane at Charlotte in a Cup car.

His winning ways in lower divisions often gives fans a sour taste, but Busch was cheered as he excitedly pumped the checkered flag.

“I think they were just glad to see a new winner,” he joked.

Busch dove low around Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson on the restart to take the lead on the final 10-lap sprint. This year’s format pitted 10 drivers against each other for 10 final laps with the money on the line.

“I wouldn’t take anyone else but Kyle Busch on a restart,” said crew chief Adam Stevens.

Clean air was the difference and Busch was untouchable once out front.

“We have never won in Charlotte in a Cup car and we finally did that,” Busch said from victory lane. “We won a million dollars. There is reason to celebrate big. We are relieved, eluded and excited.”

Kyle Larson, winner of the first two 20-lap segments and the clear car to beat, finished second. He was stymied by a slow final pit stop that prevented him from restarting as the leader.

“My pit crew has been awesome all year. We came down pit road the leader and three people passed up. That was pretty much the difference,” Larson said. “With 10 laps, track position is huge and we just didn’t have it at the end. We had the best car out there for sure.”

He was highly disappointed and said finished second “sucks (expletive).”

Johnson won the second segment to advance, but let the win get away on the restart for the finale.

“I drove too hard,” Johnson said. “I saw a million dollars out the windshield and I drove too hard.”

NASCAR, Charlotte track president Marcus Smith and Goodyear officials hoped the introduction of a “bonus tire” would liven the race. The idea was that the softer tire — which was faster — could be used once at any time during the race.

Ryan Blaney and Daniel Suarez, who both raced their way into the event in an earlier qualifier Saturday, along with Chase Elliott, winner of the fan vote, all opened the race with the softer tires. It made little difference as the first segment was more like a 20-lap parade, with little action and Larson leading flag to flag.

The mandatory pit stops after the segment were a disaster for Matt Kenseth, who developed an oil leak and went to the garage.

Martin Truex Jr. was among the five drivers who took the softer tires on the pit stop, but a penalty by his team sent him to the rear of the field for the start of segment two. The softer tires had minimum influence, and no one had anything for Larson anyway. He again led the entire segment, then took his softer tires for the third segment.

Larson wasn’t the leader at the start of the second segment because Clint Bowyer and Blaney took only two tires on the pit stop to jump to the lead. Bowyer’s was a gamble because he had the softer tires on his car already, and the rule required that all four softer tires be put on the car at once.

In making just a two-tire stop, Bowyer found himself with a pair of primary tires and a pair of soft tires. NASCAR had to decide if that was legal, which it was because Bowyer had placed the four soft tires on at the same time.

“I read the entry blanks and everything before I got here, and it’s not in there,” said crew chief Mike Bugarewicz.

The move didn’t work and Bowyer plunged into the field, and he failed to advance into the final round. Blaney couldn’t hold the lead either and Johnson won the stage to earn the automatic berth into the finale.

Meanwhile, Keselowski had planned to use the softer tires in the third segment, but developed a vibration during the caution period. His team took the tires off, intending to use them in the final segment, but NASCAR refused. The tires had to be brand new when put on the car, and NASCAR ruled that even used only under caution, the tires were no longer allowed.

Larson and Johnson locked in the first two spots in the finale as stage winners, and Busch, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Jamie McMurray, Denny Hamlin, Keselowski, Elliott and Joey Logano rounded out the final 10. They earned the spots based on average finishing position.

Johnson won the race off pit, Keselowski stayed out on old tires, and Kyle Busch pounced on the restart. No driver in the final segment used the softer tires.

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SATURDAY’S RESULTS

(Start position in parentheses)

1. (2) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 70 laps, 0 rating, 0 points.

2. (1) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 70, 0, 0.

3. (4) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 70, 0, 0.

4. (5) Kurt Busch, Ford, 70, 0, 0.

5. (10) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 70, 0, 0.

6. (3) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 70, 0, 0.

7. (20) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 70, 0, 0.

8. (12) Joey Logano, Ford, 70, 0, 0.

9. (7) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 70, 0, 0.

10. (9) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 66, 0, 0.

11. (18) Ryan Blaney, Ford, garage, 60, 0, 0.

12. (14) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, garage, 60, 0, 0.

13. (17) Clint Bowyer, Ford, garage, 60, 0, 0.

14. (16) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, garage, 60, 0, 0.

15. (19) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, garage, 60, 0, 0.

16. (13) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, garage, 60, 0, 0.

17. (11) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, garage, 60, 0, 0.

18. (6) Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chevrolet, garage, 60, 0, 0.

19. (15) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, accident, 57, 0, 0.

20. (8) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, garage, 20, 0, 0.

———

Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 179.085 mph.

Time of Race: 1 hour, 12 minutes, 47 seconds.

Margin of Victory: 1.274 seconds.

Caution Flags: 3 for 3 laps.

Lead Changes: 3 among 4 drivers.

Lap Leaders: K.Larson 1-40; R.Blaney 41; J.Johnson 42-60; Ky.Busch 61-70

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): K.Larson, 1 time for 39 laps; J.Johnson, 1 time for 18 laps; Ky.Busch, 1 time for 9 laps; R.Blaney, 1 time for 0 laps.

Wins: J.Johnson, 2; B.Keselowski, 2; M.Truex, 2; Ku.Busch, 1; K.Larson, 1; J.Logano, 1; R.Newman, 1; R.Stenhouse, 1.

Top 16 in Points: 1. K.Larson, 475; 2. M.Truex, 431; 3. B.Keselowski, 408; 4. C.Elliott, 361; 5. J.McMurray, 354; 6. K.Harvick, 347; 7. Ky.Busch, 325; 8. J.Johnson, 323; 9. J.Logano, 320; 10. C.Bowyer, 317; 11. R.Blaney, 291; 12. D.Hamlin, 289; 13. R.Stenhouse, 276; 14. Ku.Busch, 246; 15. K.Kahne, 242; 16. R.Newman, 238.

NASCAR: Larson takes pole for All-Star race after Busch blunder

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CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Kyle Larson was about to discard his race suit and begin relaxing after it appeared Kurt Busch had bettered his time in qualifying for the NASCAR All-Star race.

Then came word of Busch’s penalty — thrusting Larson back into the spotlight Friday.

Larson will start on the pole Saturday night in the NASCAR All-Star race after Busch was assessed a 10-second penalty when race officials discovered he had two loose lug nuts on his No. 41 Ford following a mandatory pit stop as part of the unique three-lap qualifying event.

Larson had an average speed of 144.839 mph over three laps Friday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Kyle Busch will start alongside Larson after finishing one one-hundredth of a second behind Larson.

It was Larson’s first pole in his first attempt at All-Star qualifying. He ran in the NASCAR All-Star race last year, but the qualifying was rained out.

“It’s pretty cool,” Larson said. “We were just hoping to finish in the top eight.”

Kurt Busch was not immediately available for comment.

Larson was the slowest of the five drivers to advance to the second round.

As the first driver on the track for the second round, he set the tone with three mistake-free laps and a solid pit stop. Johnson bolted past his pit stop costing him valuable time, while first-round leader Kevin Harvick struggled with his car’s handling. Harvick qualified third, one spot ahead of Johnson.

Kurt Busch will start fifth.

Denny Hamlin will start ninth after turning to a backup car in qualifying following a wreck in practice.

“I went into turn three a little bit hesitant to try to just see what was going on with the car and it just — it was backward as soon as I let out of the gas — really weird,” Hamlin said.

Sixteen drivers participated in qualifying and are guaranteed a spot in the field, including four-time winner Johnson and last year’s champion Joey Logano. Four more drivers will be added to the field Saturday — three from the Monster Energy Open and one through a fan vote.

The 70-lap All-Star event which pays tribute to Charlotte’s “One Hot Night” of 25 years ago — the first All-Star night race at CMS — and will ultimately come down to one 10-lap shootout for the $1 million winner-take-all prize.

NASCAR has once again tweaked the rules.

Only 10 drivers will qualify to compete in the final 10-lap shootout. They’re also allowing teams to use one set of “softer tires” to use during one of the four race segments.

The strategy will be whether to use them early to get into the final 10-lap shootout or wait until the end. If a driver decides to save the tires for the final shootout, they must start at the back of the field and weave their way up front.

Larson said he isn’t sure when he will run on the softer tires.

“You have to run the tire at some point and in practice it did seem to have three- to four-tenths of more speed in it and I think it will be even more impactful when the sun goes down,” Larson said.

Kyle Busch suggested that it might not be worthwhile to use the softer tires if he makes the shootout. He said they aren’t as fast as he thought they would be in practice, giving only three-tenths of the second advantage over the older tires.

“It’s not a huge, significant difference,” Kyle Busch said.

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More AP Auto Racing: ap.racing.org

Will new, softer tire at All-Star Race be used in other NASCAR races?

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports)   —-   A first use of alternate tires in the annual non-points Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race has created the tantalizing prospect of their potential deployment in the regular season. Many drivers are openly intrigued, at least. Crew chiefs have been quietly probing Goodyear for clues about the new tool. Fans are abuzz.

But even if the softer, grippier, ostensibly more speed-producing green-labeled tires revolutionize the May exhibition, they could remain a one-off novelty both because of the difficulty in applying them to longer races, and NASCAR’s current fondness for the state of competition created by a newly reconfigured points system and the implementation of stage racing for 2017.

“I would never say we would never do it, but the thought within the industry was really to contain this for the time being around the All-Star Race, obviously hoping it would be successful, as something that could differentiate that race,” NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell told USA TODAY Sports. “When you look beyond that, there’s a lot of things we have to consider. Any time you have two different tire compounds you’ve got (to) manage, is that good at each track for the racing and what goes into that? Is it a huge tire-development costs on the teams and put some additional costs on the race teams you don’t need to?”

O’Donnell said a full conversion to the use of alternate tires is unlikely, but said their use at specific tracks could be discussed in the future.

Cup points leader Kyle Larson feels divergent strategies borne from the so-called “Prime” and “Option” tires could be beneficial in points races. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver sees the All-Star Race as a proving ground for the alternates.

“I know, if it works and I’m sure even if it doesn’t work they can figure out a way or another tire to make it work later on like getting a second attempt at it,” he said. “I think you see, honestly, every other form of motor sports has tire options and compound options and NASCAR doesn’t.  I think strategy is a big part of our sport and if we have that option tire to use throughout any point, I mean we have it really to use throughout any point of the All-Star race, but I’m talking regular season stuff, I think if we have that option it just adds strategy and excitement to the races.”

Hendrick Motorsports general manager Doug Duchardt is publicly much more cautious. The executive is concerned how much such a variable would affect the conduct of a points race.

“I think in general when you can bring strategy into the competition it brings more variables and can shake things up,” he told USA TODAY Sports. “I think we’ve seen that with the stage racing. Having said that, I’m not sure the right thing to do is throw the variable of tires into points racing. We’ll see how that race looks, how it goes, how did it go for Goodyear, how did it go for the competition and I’m sure afterwards there will be an autopsy done on it and see how it looks.”

Roger Penske talks about his love for the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix and the possibility of being inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. USA TODAY Sports

Goodyear director of race tires sales Greg Stucker said there would be much to discuss before alternate tires could be deployed for full-scale points races. Open-wheel series, including IndyCar, utilize alternate tires only on street and road courses, where compounds and construction of the quicker-degrading product is not as rigorously stressed. At lower speeds, cars with wearing or potentially failing tires can slow and reach the pits more safely than a car exerting the constant speeds and G loads an oval creates. Though the All-Star Race is held on the 1.5-mile oval at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the 20- and 10-lap segments of the race virtually assure that alternate tires would not be overly exerted over long durations, Stucker said.

“It’s a different animal when it gets to oval racing,” Stucker told USA TODAY Sports. “The flow of the race is different, pit stops are different, it would be a different strategy, so I think we would have to really sit down and talk about what we want to try to accomplish with something like that.

“I think it’s a great fit for something like the All-Star Race. It really adds a different dimension, some strategy, and I’m not saying that it couldn’t be worked into normal races, but I think we have to really sit down and flesh that out and maybe not do it exactly like everybody else does.”

The alternate tire is expected to increase speeds from three-tenths to a half second, but that and their durability have not been tested on a track. Goodyear finished laboratory tests of the optional tire in late April. They will be utilized on cars for the first time during practice on Friday at CMS. Each team will be issued a set for practice and for use during the Open or All-Star Race.

“Even if somebody were to try to leave them on for two stints, 40 laps, we feel that’s doable, within reason. That’s why this matches it up well,” Stucker said. “We think it will fall off more than the prime but it’s hard to say. It partly depends on setup. Charlotte tends to be a sensitive race track to ambient conditions.”

Stucker said crafting an optional tire for broader use was “certainly doable” for Goodyear, but suggested an alternate route could be best.

“We try to be as racy as we can pretty much everywhere we go, maybe more conservative some more than others,” he explained. “So, there’s probably not a lot of room to go with more traction or more grip in some places, so it might actually be a move the other way and create a prime that maybe has a little less and the current tire becomes the option. That could still all be worked out, but we need to work out what we want to accomplish.”

For now, that’s enlivening the All-Star Race.

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Follow James on Twitter @brantjames

Key takeaways from NASCAR Cup race at Kansas Speedway

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(PhatzRadio Sports / AP / USA Today Sports)    —    KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Martin Truex Jr. can’t imagine anyone dominating the upcoming Coca-Cola 600 any better than he did last year.

But after what he accomplished in Saturday night’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway, anything is possible.

Truex snapped five years of frustration at the 1.5-mile layout by winning at a track in which he led the most laps on in three different spring races only to come up short. On Saturday, he led a race-high 104 laps for his first win at Kansas and second of the season.

Now, the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team shifts its sights on another 1.5-mile track, Charlotte Motor Speedway, for this week’s non-points paying All-Star Race. And after that, the Coca-Cola 600 on May 28, where last year Truex led 392 of the 400 laps (an event record) and 588 miles (a NASCAR record).

“I don’t think anybody can do that again,” Truex said of last year’s Coca-Cola 600, the longest race on NASCAR’s 36-race Cup schedule. “Look how long it took. It’s pretty amazing to think about what we did, really. All the years that NASCAR has been around and the great drivers and the stories, and to do that in this day and age was incredible. Going to be tough to top that one for sure.”

Still, Truex, who is second in the points standings this season after winning a career-high four races last year, is exuding confidence.

“Man, I’ll tell you, the last two years have just been …it’s just every weekend has had that feeling,” said Truex, who has won seven races in his four seasons with Furniture Row Racing. “I know that we’ve been in position to win a lot of races.

“I’ve had a couple of the greatest years of my career with this team, and I just can’t wait to show up at every race track. It doesn’t matter where it is, Charlotte, to come off of a season like last year that we had at that racet rack, going into the All‑Star Race is exciting. That’s a race that everybody wants to win. It’s cool just to be a part of that. But to know that you have a shot going in to win that thing is special.“

Truex’s crew chief Cole Pearn is looking even farther down the road.

“This is like just a strong part of the schedule for us,” Pearn said. “I look back at the last two years, and I think from the Kansas, Charlotte, Dover, Pocono, Michigan are all really strong tracks for us, and we always kind of … we circle that time frame to know that’s our shot to capitalize just because that’s where we’ve typically run strong.

“You’ve got to continue to evolve, though. Last year is last year. That was an unbelievable night, an unbelievable accomplishment. But this field is so tough, and you just never know, two weeks from now could be a totally different pecking order in the competition, so you’ve just got to stay with it, and hopefully we’re in a good spot when we get to the 600.”

Other takeaways from Saturday’s race at Kansas:

Danica Patrick was running in the top 15, and as high as 12th at the time of the fiery crash involving Joey Logano and Aric Almirola that sent her into the wall and Almirola to the hospital. Almirola sustained a compression fracture to his T5 vertebra but is mobile, his team, Richard Petty Motorsports, said in a statement Sunday. He was released from the University of Kansas Medical Center Sunday morning after overnight observation and was scheduled to fly back to his home in Mooresville, N.C.

Patrick was upset at the timing of the incident.

“My frustration is why can’t we get to the finish line?” said Patrick, who has had five DNFs in 11 races, four of which were crashes. “Why can’t we put it all together? Why can’t we crash when we stink out there? It’s only when we are having better days, when we are looking at top 15s or maybe even a top 10 when something happens, someone crashes me, I’m in a crash … I don’t understand.”

Brad Keselowski overcame a penalty for driving through too many pit boxes on entry and finished second, but he lost points in the standings. Keselowski, who has won two races this season, entered the race in third place, 61 points behind Kyle Larson, but is now 67 points behind Larson, who finished sixth.

Blame it on Stage racing. Larson recorded 16 points in the two stages; Keselowski six.

“We finished second two or three weeks, and last week we finished seventh and lost points all three weeks because of the stages,” Keselowski said. “You have to run up front.  You have to get through the early and middle part of the race without having issues or you lose points, so that’s one of the beauties of this format is you can’t just kind of buzzard‑pick at the end.

“So we still lost points today, which is a bummer, considering that we finished second, and I think fifth or sixth in one of those stages.  But that just shows how tough the competition is and how important the stages are.”

Ryan Blaney won his first career pole and nearly his first career race only to finish fourth despite leading 83 laps. But that was a lot better than the last three weeks when he finished 33rd at Bristol, 36th at Richmond and 39th at Talladega.

Before that, Blaney had three top-10 finishes, including a second in the Daytona 500.

“It’s really just nice to be back on track,” said Blaney, 23. “The last three races have been really, really bad, and it’s just an extra kind of slap to the face that we’ve had really fast cars in all those races we had troubles in, and we shouldn’t have finished 35th. We should have had top-10s in all of them.

“So it was nice to show our muscle this weekend and prove that, like I said, this is where the 21 team deserves to be, so it’s just nice to get back on track. Going to a few race tracks that are pretty good for us, Charlotte and then we’ll keep moving on.  Of course we wanted to win, but at the same time, you look at the gains we made all weekend and really being fast all weekend, that puts us back to where we need to be for sure.”

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NASCAR’s Almirola out of hospital after fracturing vertebra

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — NASCAR driver Aric Almirola was released from the University of Kansas Medical Center on Sunday, a day after he fractured a vertebra during a fiery wreck at Kansas Speedway.

Almirola was trailing Joey Logano and Danica Patrick when a broken brake rotor on Logano’s car sent him and Patrick into the wall entering the first turn. Almirola had no time to check up and plowed into Logano’s car, the force of the impact lifting his No. 43 car into the air and nearly flipping it over.

Safety crews removed the top of Almirola’s car so they could remove him, and he was placed on a backboard and taken to the infield care center. He was then airlifted to the hospital, conscious and alert, and doctors there diagnosed a compression fracture of his T5 vertebra.

Richard Petty Motorsports said in a statement Sunday that Almirola was mobile and returning to his home in North Carolina. He will be examined further by doctors in Charlotte.

The wreck with 67 laps remaining in Saturday night’s race, which was won by Martin Truex Jr., cast such a debris field that the race was red-flagged for nearly 30 minutes. That gave plenty of other drivers a chance to contemplate the carnage that had taken place along the wall.

“That was scary,” Clint Bowyer said. “You hate to see anybody that you race against and know, know their kids and everything else, get cut out like that. It’s scary for everybody.”

Almirola’s injury is similar to one suffered by Denny Hamlin in a 2013 wreck in California, where he made contact with Logano’s car on the final lap and struck the inside wall near pit road.

Like Almirola, Hamilin’s car was lifted off the ground by the force of the impact.

Hamlin suffered a compression fracture to his L1 vertebra, which is in the lower back, while Almirola’s injury is behind his chest. It wound up keeping Hamlin out of his car for four races, and he needed a relief driver when he finally returned at Talladega.

“Feel bad,” Hamlin tweeted after hearing the diagnosis Sunday. “What makes this injury even worse is he will feel ready to return to racing before his body will allow him to.”

Richard Petty Motorsports’ statement did not indicate its plans for upcoming races. The exhibition All-Star race is Saturday at Charlotte, with the regular season resuming May 28 with the Coca-Cola 600.

The crash Saturday night occurred when the right front brake rotor caused Logano’s car to veer suddenly to the left, clipping the right rear or Patrick’s car. They both slid up the track and into the wall, and Patrick’s car was engulfed in flames before sliding to the apron.

Almirola plowed into Logano’s car, causing massive damage to both cars.

“While I’m OK, one of these times, one of these really big accidents, someone is not going to be OK,” said Patrick, who escaped her burned-up car without any injuries. “Aric is not OK and his car looked the best of everybody. You never know when it is going to be the wrong hit.”

NASCAR: Truex finally wins at Kansas Speedway after late restart

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Martin Truex Jr. finally ended his string of rotten luck at Kansas Speedway.

Danica Patrick was left to rue more bad luck of her own.

Truex pulled away from Ryan Blaney and Kevin Harvick on a late restart Saturday night, winning the NASCAR Cup Series race that he seemed to dominate every year without reaching victory lane.

“They’re all so special, honestly. These races are so hard to win,” said Truex, who had a fluke tire change problem rob him of the win after leading 172 laps last year. “Any of those restarts I could have gotten beat on. You never know what’s going to happen.”

Brad Keselowski made a pass on the final lap to take second, followed by Harvick and Blaney. Kyle Busch rounded out the top five after winning the Truck Series race Friday night.

“We were really good all day and just never had a chance to show it,” Keselowski said. “Every time we had a chance to pass cars and cycle up front, something happened, which was a real bummer.

“Toward the end we made some runs and made the most of it.”

The race was halted with 67 laps to go when a broken brake rotor turned Joey Logano’s car into Patrick, sending her hard into the fence in the first turn. Aric Almirola had nowhere to go and slammed into Logano, the force of the impact lifting his car into the air.

Logano and Patrick were treated and released from the infield care center, while Almirola was airlifted to the University of Kansas Medical Center. He was conscious and alert.

“I hope Aric is OK. He’s definitely feeling the worst of everybody,” Patrick said. “NASCAR does everything it can to make it safe for everybody but these things happen. One of these times, these accidents aren’t going to be good for me. They’re all big. I’ve been fortunate so far.”

When it comes to escaping accidents unharmed. But Patrick has had very little fortune on the track, crashing out of the last four races and failing to finish five times this season.

“Just out of nowhere. Everything was fine and then it took a hard one,” Logano said. “I hate that I’m the part of it that started it. I don’t know what I could have done.”

The race tied a track record with 15 cautions, and the last of them for a spin involving Jimmie Johnson bunched up the field with two laps to go. Truex dove to the bottom and roared from the rest of the field, ensuring there would be no more misfortune for him at Kansas.

It was Truex’s ninth career win and second this season. He also won at Las Vegas.

“I felt like if I could get out front on those restarts, I was OK,” Truex said. “If I came out second or third, it took me a long time to get around guys.”

The only race at the end was for second place. Keselowski, Harvick and Blaney went three-wide with Keselowski on the high side, and he made the move stick. Harvick finished third while Blaney was shuffled back to fourth after leading 83 laps.

“Truex had a couple of really good restarts and I didn’t, and I don’t know if I could have held him off or what,” Blaney said. “But good showing. Go out there and lead laps and run with some really good cars. That’s where this team deserves to be.”

BUSCH KEEPS ON ROLLING

After sweeping both intermediate stages and winning the Truck Series race Friday night, Busch kept his roll going by sweeping to the front on a restart and winning the first stage.

It was the first stage win for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver since the Daytona 500.

Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne were forced to start near the back because they were unable to get through qualifying inspection. But all of them quickly sliced through the field, despite an intense glare in the third and fourth corners caused by the setting sun.

The biggest drama came when Chase Elliott hit Michael McDowell trying to exit his pit, causing damage to the right from of the No. 24 car. Elliott quickly fell off the lead lap.

BLANEY BACK ON TOP

Blaney started from the pole and won his third stage of the year, leading the field across the line in his No. 21 Ford moments after Ryan Newman had an oil pump problem that forced him out.

Newman was running in the top 10 before his engine quit.

Johnson had all kinds of trouble during the stage. He was penalized for driving through too many pit boxes entering his own, then made contact with Kurt Busch that caused his tire to go down.

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SCARY CRASH: Almirola was airlifted to the University of Kansas Medical Center after a collision with Joey Logano and Danica Patrick. According to a team release, the Richard Petty Motorsports driver is in stable condition and will remain hospitalized overnight for observation. The team did not say whether Almirola had suffered any injuries. The crash was caused when something on Logano’s No. 22 Ford broke, sending him hard into Patrick’s No. 10 Ford in Turn 1 shortly after a restart on Lap 69. Almirola, who was trailing, came up on the wreck and hit both cars hard, lifting the No. 43 Ford’s back wheels off the racing surface. Almirola’s window net was lowered but safety crews continued to work to release him from the car, removing the windscreen and cutting off the top of the car. He was alert when he was pulled from the car and was placed on a board. Logano and Patrick were released from the infield care center. Patrick suffered minor burns on her fingers.

STAGE 2: Blaney captured his third stage win of the season, tying Harvick for the second-most of the season behind Truex’s five. Points leader Kyle Larson was on Blaney’s tail, followed by Truex, Jamie McMurray and Stage 1 winner Kyle Busch.

NEWMAN CONKS OUT: Ryan Newman,  a former winner at Kansas, experienced a broken engine on lap 158 and finished last. “The bottom end of the motor just broke,” Newman said. “We finally got the Chevrolet running well, not to where we needed to be, but better from how we started the race.  We knocked a hole in the grill from a spring rubber or something. I watched what I hit, but I couldn’t tell what it was. Finally got enough tape on it so it would run warm and stick a little bit better and made a whole bunch of changes to the car, but just something in the motor broke, bottom end for sure, but I’m not really sure what happened first.”

STAGE 1: Kyle Busch, winner of last year’s Go Bowling 400, won Stage 1, taking the lead from Truex on the 63rd of 80 laps. It was the second stage win of the season for Busch and first since the Daytona 500. Busch also won Friday night’s Camping World Truck Series race and has a track-most seven wins at Kansas — one in Cup, four in the Xfinity Series and two in the trucks. Truex was second in Stage 1, followed by Blaney, Larson, and two-time race winners Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson, who was promptly sent to the rear of the field after going through too many pit boxes.

ELLIOTT DAMAGED: Chase Elliott’s Chevrolet suffered damage to the right front fender while exiting his pit stall when he collided with Michael McDowell, who was entering the stall during a Stage 1 caution. Elliott’s car was repaired within the five-minute window before he would have had to go to the garage. McDowell was sent to the rear of the pack because a crew member jumped over the wall too soon.  Adding insult to the damage, Elliott was sent to the rear of the pack for having too many crew members over the wall when he came in for more repairs.

PASSING GRADES: After a season-high 11 race cars — including those driven by Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Clint Bowyer — failed inspection Friday and were unable to get on the track in time to qualify for Saturday’s race, all hands were on deck for the green flag. Logano, whose team was penalized and crew chief Todd Gordon suspended for two weeks (including this race), after failing post-race inspection following a win at Richmond, could empathize with the drivers who had to start from the rear of the field.

“I think every team pushes the limits and finds them every weekend when you roll through tech like that,” said Logano, who started on the outside of the front row alongside Blaney. “We are right on that edge. Any little discrepancy is what makes you go over the line. You have to be close to the edge. If you aren’t close to the edge you won’t be competitive. That is not just the car, that is the drivers too.

“The drivers have to be right on the edge of out of control, with the rules, we have to handle that every week. It is the same for everyone but you have to push it to the edge if you want to win. That is just part of it.”

TO THE REAR: Two cars were sent to the back of the field — McDowell because of an engine change and Matt DiBenedetto, for an unapproved tire change.

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GO BOWLING 400 RESULTS

Saturday from the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway (starting position in parentheses):

1. (3) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 267 laps, 0 rating, 57 points.

2. (17) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 267, 0, 41.

3. (8) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 267, 0, 38.

4. (1) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 267, 0, 51.

5. (5) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 267, 0, 48.

6. (9) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 267, 0, 47.

7. (15) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 267, 0, 30.

8. (12) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 267, 0, 36.

9. (30) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 267, 0, 28.

10. (16) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 267, 0, 27.

11. (4) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 267, 0, 26.

12. (14) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 267, 0, 28.

13. (35) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 267, 0, 24.

14. (22) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 267, 0, 23.

15. (31) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 267, 0, 28.

16. (11) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 267, 0, 21.

17. (34) David Ragan, Ford, 267, 0, 20.

18. (20) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 267, 0, 19.

19. (6) Kurt Busch, Ford, 267, 0, 19.

20. (33) Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chevrolet, 267, 0, 17.

21. (36) Landon Cassill, Ford, 267, 0, 16.

22. (32) Erik Jones, Toyota, 267, 0, 17.

23. (7) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 267, 0, 22.

24. (29) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 267, 0, 18.

25. (37) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 267, 0, 12.

26. (26) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 266, 0, 11.

27. (38) Corey Lajoie, Toyota, 265, 0, 10.

28. (39) Timmy Hill, Chevrolet, 259, 0, 0.

29. (10) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 258, 0, 8.

30. (21) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 257, 0, 7.

31. (40) Carl Long, Chevrolet, 256, 0, 0.

32. (23) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 243, 0, 5.

33. (27) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 243, 0, 4.

34. (25) Gray Gaulding, Toyota, 231, 0, 3.

35. (18) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, accident, 202, 0, 2.

36. (24) Danica Patrick, Ford, accident, 199, 0, 1.

37. (2) Joey Logano, Ford, accident, 199, 0, 2.

38. (13) Aric Almirola, Ford, accident, 199, 0, 1.

39. (28) Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, engine, 179, 0, 1.

40. (19) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, garage, 154, 0, 1.

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Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 117.640 mph.

Time of Race: 3 hours, 24 minutes, 16 seconds.

Margin of Victory: 1.1 seconds.

Caution Flags: 15 for 61 laps.

Lead Changes: 21 among 9 drivers.

Lap Leaders: R.Blaney 1-9; M.Truex 10-52; K.Harvick 53-62; Ky.Busch 63-82; M.Truex 83-99; Ky.Busch 100-138; R.Blaney 139; C.Bowyer 140-142; R.Blaney 143-163; Ku.Busch 164-166; R.Blaney 167-179; M.Truex 180-195; R.Blaney 196-198; M.Truex 199-204; R.Blaney 205-217; D.Earnhardt 218-219; T.Bayne 220; R.Blaney 221-242; M.Truex 243-245; E.Jones 246-247; R.Blaney 248; M.Truex 249-267

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): M.Truex, 6 times for 98 laps; R.Blaney, 8 times for 75 laps; Ky.Busch, 2 times for 57 laps; K.Harvick, 1 time for 9 laps; C.Bowyer, 1 time for 2 laps; Ku.Busch, 1 time for 2 laps; D.Earnhardt, 1 time for 1 lap; E.Jones, 1 time for 1 lap; T.Bayne, 1 time for 0 laps.

Wins: J.Johnson, 2; B.Keselowski, 2; M.Truex, 2; Ku.Busch, 1; K.Larson, 1; J.Logano, 1; R.Newman, 1; R.Stenhouse, 1.

Top 16 in Points: 1. K.Larson, 475; 2. M.Truex, 431; 3. B.Keselowski, 408; 4. C.Elliott, 361; 5. J.McMurray, 354; 6. K.Harvick, 347; 7. Ky.Busch, 325; 8. J.Johnson, 323; 9. J.Logano, 320; 10. C.Bowyer, 317; 11. R.Blaney, 291; 12. D.Hamlin, 289; 13. R.Stenhouse, 276; 14. T.Bayne, 250; 15. Ku.Busch, 246; 16. K.Kahne, 242.

Kyle Busch wins Trucks race at Kansas / Ryan Blaney takes Kansas pole

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Kyle Busch picked up right where he left off in the Truck Series at Kansas Speedway.

Only three years had passed.

Busch hopped into the No. 51 Toyota of his own Kyle Busch Motorsports and roared to the front early Friday night, winning the first two stages before taking advantage of leader Ben Rhodes’s engine trouble in the closing laps to take the checkered flag.

It was Busch’s fifth victory in his last 10 starts in the series going back to 2015, and came after a victory at Kansas in May 2014 — the last time he drove a truck at the venue.

“It was really fast out there,” said Busch, who will try to defend his Cup Series win at Kansas on Saturday night. “We tried to pick and choose whether we wanted to be fast in a straight line or have better handling, and we chose more downforce and it worked out for us.”

Rhodes, who crashed jockeying for the lead on the final lap a year ago, opened a big lead on Busch during the final stage when the Cup Series regular ran into lapped traffic. But when a puff of white smoke came out of his truck with seven laps left, Rhodes had to pull down pit lane.

Still in search of his first win, Rhodes slammed his steering wheel in frustration.

“We ran with the best tonight,” said Rhodes, who blamed a piece of debris that went through his radiator for the engine blowing up. “We did everything right but Ben Rhodes has a curse on his back or something because something always goes wrong.

“If I don’t make it in this game it won’t be from lack of effort. It’ll be from bad luck.”

Busch, who won the spring Cup race a year ago, cruised the final few laps to win once again at the track that once game him so much trouble. He stopped at the start-finish line and got the checkered flag tossed down to him, then paraded briefly along the front stretch.

Johnny Sauter avoided trouble all night to finish second and John Hunter Nemecheck was third, while Busch’s teammate, Christopher Bell, rallied from a badly timed caution to finish fourth. Chase Briscoe rounded out the top five for Brad Keselowski Racing.

The win was the 47th for Busch in the Truck Series, leaving him four back of the record set by Ron Hornaday, and one he thought belonged to Rhodes in the final laps.

“That’s one of the worst ones to swallow right there,” Busch said. “Ben had that race won. That one was his. I was trying everything I could to chase him back down, but I just didn’t have enough speed. He was just a little bit faster.”

YELLOW COLORS STAGE 1: There were five caution flags during the first 40-lap stage, including one that came out when Wendell Chavous hit the wall hard coming out of the fourth turn. All the yellows turned the stage into a six-lap sprint with Busch, who started 10th, quickly taking theead.

Bell chased him to the line in second and Sauter was third.

BELL, BUSCH DOMINATE STAGE 2: The series points leader, Bell continued to jockey with Busch throughout the second stage with Rhodes giving chase. Busch moved to the front during a long green-flag run to sweep the intermediate stages with Bell and Rhodes finishing second and third.

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Driver Jimmie Johnson (48) pulls onto pit row during practice for the NASCAR Monster Cup auto race at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan., Friday, May 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Colin E. Braley)

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Ryan Blaney was all alone atop the leaderboard Friday during qualifying at Kansas Speedway.

He probably felt all alone on the track, too.

Blaney earned his first career NASCAR Cup pole for Saturday night’s race, but only after traffic jams at inspection prevented 11 cars from getting on the track. Among the big names that failed to turn a lap were Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Clint Bowyer and Kasey Kahne.

The left just 28 cars for Blaney to beat for the right to start up front.

“It feels really good. We got better and better each round and that’s all you can ask for,” he said. “It’s so cool to sit on the pole. We’ve been working really hard at it. We’ve been getting close — qualifying hasn’t been my best suit, but we’ve been getting better and better.”

Joey Logano will start second and Martin Truex Jr. third, while drivers that failed to get through inspection will start at the back based on car owner points.

“This is just, wow. Super disappointing,” Bowyer said. “You’re off 10-thousandths of an inch? It’s ridiculous. Most people can’t even understand how little that is. I get it. If you’re off, you’re off, but I watched my guys move the car and adjust the car accordingly for it and then actually overcompensate on it because we were worried about not making it. Then they wheel it back in and fail the exact same amount? Twice? That makes no sense. None.”

NASCAR has been closely monitoring tech stations this season, resulting in several cases where numerous cars failed to take the track. But the 11 cars that sat parked in the garage at Kansas was the most this year, raising red flags at a time the sport is trying to keep and attract fans.

“The only thing I’m not too sure about is how so many cars cannot get through,” said David Ragan, whose care also failed inspection. “Everybody is not trying to cheat on the same thing.”

NASCAR changed qualifying tech procedures this year, which could be partly to blame for the trouble. Teams only go through a quick safety and fuel cell check prior to practice, though they can voluntarily go through any of the four technical areas, so many don’t know they’re out of compliance until they’re trying to get on the track for qualifying.

Teams are also required to go through the entire inspection process again if a car fails any of the stations, a time-consuming endeavor that has contributed to the long waits.

NASCAR vice president of competition Scott Miller said most of the trouble has been at the laser inspection, which is a significant performance metric and an area where teams push the limits.

“It’s fairly disappointing that they can’t present their cars to pass inspection,” Miller said, adding that there are built-in tolerances that give teams some leeway. “They want to be right on the limit and 11 of them were over the limit.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. qualified fourth after his first career win last weekend at Talladega, while Kyle Busch will start fifth and Kurt Busch sixth. Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott rounded out the top-10 on a windy, sun-splashed afternoon.

Meanwhile, Johnson and Earnhardt will be among those starting at the back.

“A lot of cars didn’t get a chance to go out and a lot of cars had trouble,” Johnson said. “I’m not the best at qualifying anyway, so this takes all the pressure off me and what I have to do behind the wheel, and I love passing cars. There’s a lot of room on this track so we’ll be just fine.”

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FULL RESULTS: Toyota Tundra 250

1. (10) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 167.
2. (3) Johnny Sauter, Chevrolet, 167.
3. (14) John H. Nemechek, Chevrolet, 167.
4. (1) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 167.
5. (11) Chase Briscoe, Ford, 167.
6. (5) Ryan Truex, Toyota, 167.
7. (7) Brett Moffitt, Toyota, 167.
8. (6) Kaz Grala, Chevrolet, 167.
9. (12) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 167.
10. (16) Austin Cindric, Ford, 167.
11. (15) Grant Enfinger, Toyota, 167.
12. (18) Regan Smith, Ford, 167.
13. (9) Timothy Peters, Toyota, 167.
14. (19) Tyler Young, Chevrolet, 167.
15. (21) Austin Self, Chevrolet, 166.
16. (2) Matt Crafton, Toyota, 166.
17. (25) Matt Mills, Chevrolet, 165.
18. (20) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 164.
19. (24) Jordan Anderson, Chevrolet, 163.
20. (30) Spencer Boyd, Chevrolet, 163.
21. (23) Kevin Donahue, Chevrolet, 163.
22. (32) Cody Ware, Chevrolet, 162.
23. (8) Ben Rhodes, Toyota, Engine, 160.
24. (27) Norm Benning, Chevrolet, 160.
25. (17) Travis Miller, Chevrolet, Vibration, 109.
26. (13) Cody Coughlin, Toyota, Transmission, 84.
27. (28) Jennifer Cobb, Chevrolet, Brakes, 82.
28. (4) Noah Gragson, Toyota, Clutch, 68.
29. (31) Todd Peck, Chevrolet, Brakes, 29.
30. (26) Camden Murphy, Chevrolet, Electrical, 27.
31. (29) Wendell Chavous, Chevrolet, Accident, 21.
32. (22) Stewart Friesen, Chevrolet, Accident, 16.

RACE STATISTICS:

Average speed of winner: 108.468 mph.
Time of race: 2 hours, 18 minutes, 34 seconds
Margin of victory: 2.622 seconds.
Caution flags: 11 for 46 laps.
Lead changes: 15 among 4 drivers.

Lap leaders: C. Bell 1-22; K. Busch 23-42; C. Bell 43; G. Enfinger 44-57; C. Bell 58-70; K. Busch 71-82; C. Bell 83; K. Busch 84-87; B. Rhodes 88-90; K. Busch 91-93; B. Rhodes 94; K. Busch 95-125; B. Rhodes 126-128; K. Busch 129-141; B. Rhodes 142-159; K. Busch 160-167.

Leaders summary (driver, times lead, laps led): K. Busch 7 times for 91 laps; C. Bell 4 times for 37 laps; B. Rhodes 4 times for 25 laps; G. Enfinger 1 time for 14 laps.

Five takeaways from NASCAR’s weekend at Talladega Superspeedway

(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)    —-    TALLADEGA, Ala. — NASCAR left Talladega Superspeedway Sunday night with a new race winner, a junkyard of crumpled race cars and a boost from a relatively large crowd on a pleasant, sunny day.

The series rolls on to Kansas Speedway for a Saturday night Mother’s Day weekend race, trailing the confetti from Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s breakthrough victory.

Five takeaways from Talladega:

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. can drive! After all the troubles, all the doubts, all the whispers at the back of garage stalls, the Mississippi driver showed skill and persistence in dueling with and passing Kyle Busch to score his first Cup victory. It took 158 races to get No. 1. The second likely will be easier.

Almost as difficult as Stenhouse’s ride to victory lane was that of his father, Ricky Stenhouse Sr. watched the race from a recreational vehicle outside the track near the backstretch. He frantically tried several avenues — including climbing a fence — to get into the track and to victory lane before being stopped by security personnel. A call to a track official resulted in Stenhouse being escorted to the celebration.

Treacherous Talladega: There is no answer to Talladega’s special brand of turmoil. Sunday’s race was stained by another in a long series of spectacular, multi-car wrecks at NASCAR’s biggest track. AJ Allmendinger and Chase Elliott took the wildest rides. No one was hurt, but the flirtation with calamity continues, emphasizing why drivers leave this track post-race with a certain level of relief.

Joe Gibbs Racing: JGR will roll into Kansas Speedway still looking for its first win of the season. Gibbs’ four drivers — Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Daniel Suarez — have scored only three stage wins in the season’s first four months. Busch and Hamlin were the top two lap leaders Sunday, however.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.: His final spring race at Talladega, one of his favorite tracks, was not one of his best. He failed to lead a lap, lost a chance to race up front late in the race when he pitted with a loose left rear wheel and finished 22nd. The recent announcement of his impending retirement, however, boosted the size of Sunday’s crowd.

More violations: Despite the fact that NASCAR has been more than willing to hit teams with serious penalties for recent rules violations, they continue. Aric Almirola’s car failed the post-race laser inspection station Sunday, and a points penalty and suspension of crew chief Drew Blickensderfer is likely this week. Almirola, winner of Saturday’s Xfinity Series race, finished fourth Sunday.

NASCAR: Stenhouse scores 1st career Cup victory with last-lap pass

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TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — It’s been a long journey for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to make his way to victory lane.

When he finally got there, in his 158th career NASCAR Cup start, his team owner and famous girlfriend were waiting.

His father? Well, he was a little late to the party.

A last-lap pass of Kyle Busch in overtime Sunday got Stenhouse the win at Talladega, which was the first for resurgent Roush Fenway Racing since 2014. Danica Patrick, who had wrecked out of the race, was in street clothes and able to lean into the car to give her boyfriend a congratulatory kiss.

“Pulling into victory lane and seeing Jack and Danica standing there together, they’re the same height, it was super special,” he said. “She’s been so supportive and knows how hard that I’ve worked, and to have her there was really awesome.”

Ricky Stenhouse Sr. needed a police escort.

The elder Stenhouse tried to climb a fence along the Talladega backstretch and cross the track to find his way to the celebration. When that didn’t work, he began running along a perimeter road. Security picked him up, placed him in a car and questioned him. Finally vetted, he was driven to victory lane to meet his son.

“My dad has done so much for me in my career,” Stenhouse said. “Everything that I’ve learned is from him, and you know, making sure that you have the right people around you is one of the things that he’s all about, making sure that you have people that respect you, that will do anything for you, and man, he sacrificed a lot for me and my career.

“Everything that I know about racing I learned from him, and I’m glad that he was able to be here in Victory Lane.

It shouldn’t have gone any other way for Stenhouse, a winner at nearly every level who has struggled mightily in Cup because of Roush’s rebuilding phase.

A two-time champion in the Xfinity Series, Stenhouse has not transferred that success to the next level. Prior to this year, he had just seven top-five finishes and led just 44 career laps.

Now he’s in the All-Star race later this month, and has earned a spot in NASCAR’s playoffs.

“We’ve been terrible for a long time, but we’ve been getting better and better every race,” said Stenhouse, who took time to note he “parked it” in victory lane for his late friend, Bryan Clauson.

“I think you go through that so long that you almost lose a little — all your confidence. There’s still things to clean up, and there’s still things to get a lot better at, but man, it feels awesome to have everybody at Roush Fenway stand behind us.”

Patrick had been packing in the couples’ motorhome, watching the race on television. She soon found herself sitting on the floor, cheering wildly over the final laps. When she reached his car, she leaned in for an admitted “big ‘ol kiss.”

“While I never want to crash out of a race ever, at least I was there for the moment when he pulled in and that’s the bright side. And I got to watch him win,” she said. “I’m just so, so proud of him. He works his butt off. He works harder than any driver I know. He works tirelessly.”

Stenhouse started from the pole and praised the power from his Doug Yates-built Ford engine for the speed. Then he used that speed to snatch the race away with a last-lap pass of Busch.

The first two stages of the race were calm, and it was the final stretch to the checkered flag that got heated.

The race was stopped for nearly 27 minutes because of an accident that saw AJ Allmendinger’s car flipped on its roof with 19 laps remaining.

When the red flag was lifted, the race restarted with 15 laps remaining and Busch as the leader. Then a caution with 10 laps remaining set up another restart.

But no one had enough to catch leader Busch as the field was setting itself up for a frantic dash to the finish. Then Ryan Newman spun with three laps remaining to send the race into overtime.

Busch was listed as the leader, followed by Stenhouse, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne and Jamie McMurray. Stenhouse got a push alongside Busch and made the pass stick for the win.

“I don’t know what his help was or anything like that, but he actually ran into the back of me, and then you’d think that that momentum would propel me forward some, and he just turned left and he went right by me,” Busch said. “That was pretty impressive, I guess, or I was just that slow and in his way.”

McMurray finished second in a Chevrolet and was followed by Busch in a Toyota, then Aric Almirola, another Ford driver and winner of the Xfinity Series race Saturday.

STAGE 1 WINNER:

Brad Keselowski won the first stage in what seemed to be a Ford rout. He beat fellow Ford driver Stenhouse to win the segment.

Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Trevor Bayne, Joey Logano, Paul Menard, Patrick, Ryan Blaney and Erik Jones rounded out the top 10.

Stenhouse started from the pole and led 13 laps — the first time he’d led laps all season.

STAGE 2 WINNER:

Denny Hamlin gave Toyota its first taste of the front of the field as he won the second stage. It was Hamlin’s first stage win of the season.

He was followed by Kevin Harvick, Blaney, Truex, Johnson, Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch, Kahne, Jones and McMurray.

UP NEXT:

A Saturday night stop at Kansas Speedway. Kyle Busch earned the victory last year — his third of the season — during a streak in which Joe Gibbs Racing won eight of the first 13 races of the season. Through 10 races this year, only Truex of sister team Furniture Row Racing has a victory in the Gibbs’ column. Truex won at Las Vegas in March.

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GEICO 500 RESULTS

Saturday from the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway (starting position in parentheses):

1. (1) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 191 laps, 0 rating, 49 points.

2. (23) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 191, 0, 36.

3. (10) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 191, 0, 42.

4. (22) Aric Almirola, Ford, 191, 0, 33.

5. (19) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 191, 0, 35.

6. (15) Kurt Busch, Ford, 191, 0, 35.

7. (3) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 191, 0, 40.

8. (30) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 191, 0, 35.

9. (9) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 191, 0, 32.

10. (29) David Ragan, Ford, 191, 0, 27.

11. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 191, 0, 36.

12. (21) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 191, 0, 30.

13. (28) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 191, 0, 24.

14. (17) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 191, 0, 23.

15. (34) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 191, 0, 22.

16. (38) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 191, 0, 21.

17. (35) Elliott Sadler, Chevrolet, 191, 0, 0.

18. (26) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 191, 0, 19.

19. (7) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 191, 0, 18.

20. (37) Gray Gaulding, Toyota, 191, 0, 17.

21. (39) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 191, 0, 0.

22. (2) Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chevrolet, 191, 0, 15.

23. (6) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 191, 0, 23.

24. (4) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 190, 0, 13.

25. (20) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, accident, 185, 0, 12.

26. (32) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 183, 0, 0.

27. (36) Corey LaJoie, Toyota, 183, 0, 10.

28. (40) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, engine, 174, 0, 9.

29. (25) Landon Cassill, Ford, transmission, 173, 0, 8.

30. (8) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, accident, 168, 0, 7.

31. (27) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, accident, 168, 0, 6.

32. (12) Joey Logano, Ford, accident, 168, 0, 10.

33. (14) Erik Jones, Toyota, accident, 168, 0, 7.

34. (24) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, accident, 168, 0, 3.

35. (13) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, accident, 168, 0, 16.

36. (18) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, accident, 168, 0, 1.

37. (5) Trevor Bayne, Ford, accident, 168, 0, 7.

38. (31) Danica Patrick, Ford, accident, 168, 0, 4.

39. (16) Ryan Blaney, Ford, accident, 160, 0, 11.

40. (33) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, accident, 72, 0, 1.

———

Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 145.659 mph.

Time of Race: 3 hours, 29 minutes, 16 seconds.

Margin of Victory: 0.095 seconds.

Caution Flags: 8 for 33 laps.

Lead Changes: 26 among 14 drivers.

Lap Leaders: R.Stenhouse 1-13; B.Keselowski 14-17; R.Newman 18; C.Bowyer 19-23; K.Harvick 24; C.Bowyer 25-27; Ky.Busch 28-33; B.Keselowski 34-57; T.Dillon 58-60; D.Hamlin 61-80; Ky.Busch 81-83; T.Bayne 84-88; R.Newman 89; C.Bowyer 90-91; D.Hamlin 92-112; P.Menard 113; M.Kenseth 114-117; D.Hamlin 118; B.Keselowski 119-121; D.Hamlin 122; K.Harvick 123-127; J.Johnson 128-130; K.Harvick 131-139; J.Logano 140-149; E.Sadler 150-151; Ky.Busch 152-190; R.Stenhouse 191

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): Ky.Busch, 3 times for 45 laps; D.Hamlin, 4 times for 39 laps; B.Keselowski, 3 times for 28 laps; K.Harvick, 3 times for 12 laps; R.Stenhouse, 2 times for 12 laps; J.Logano, 1 time for 9 laps; C.Bowyer, 3 times for 7 laps; T.Bayne, 1 time for 4 laps; M.Kenseth, 1 time for 3 laps; T.Dillon, 1 time for 2 laps; J.Johnson, 1 time for 2 laps; E.Sadler, 1 time for 1 lap; R.Newman, 2 times for 0 laps; P.Menard, 1 time for 0 laps.

Wins: J.Johnson, 2; B.Keselowski, 2; Ku.Busch, 1; K.Larson, 1; J.Logano, 1; R.Newman, 1; R.Stenhouse, 1; M.Truex, 1.

Top 16 in Points: 1. K.Larson, 428; 2. M.Truex, 374; 3. B.Keselowski, 367; 4. C.Elliott, 353; 5. J.Logano, 318; 6. J.McMurray, 318; 7. K.Harvick, 309; 8. J.Johnson, 305; 9. C.Bowyer, 289; 10. Ky.Busch, 277; 11. D.Hamlin, 267; 12. R.Stenhouse, 250; 13. R.Blaney, 240; 14. R.Newman, 237; 15. Ku.Busch, 227; 16. T.Bayne, 223.

NASCAR: Earnhardt flirts with pole before Stenhouse steals show

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TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s farewell tour has officially started.

All eyes are on NASCAR’s favorite son as he races Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, a place where he’s adored by the fans and expected to win every time he gets in his Chevrolet.

The crowd roared Saturday in qualifying when he shot to the top of the board, but it was short-lived. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the last driver to qualify, immediately bumped Earnhardt to second. Stenhouse turned a lap at 191.547 mph to put the Roush Fenway Ford on the pole.

Earnhardt leads all active drivers at Talladega with six wins, but has never started from the pole. His lap was 190.780 mph in a Chevrolet.

“I’m pretty happy,” Earnhardt said. “Great lap by Stenhouse and the Roush crew. Would have liked that pole.”

Stenhouse didn’t mind spoiling the Talladega party with his first pole in four years.

“It will be nice to lead the field to the green here,” Stenhouse said. “It’s a cool way to start the weekend.”

Earnhardt announced last week he’s retiring at the end of the season, and this first of two stops at Talladega has him nostalgic for one of his favorite race tracks.

“Thrilled with our car, good speed,” said Earnhardt, who didn’t seem to be joking when he noted a pole would make him eligible to run the preseason “Clash” at Daytona.

“Probably could have sat down and talked to Rick (Hendrick) about running the Clash or something, but let’s see if we can’t try to get another one later on this year.”

There’s some notion that Sunday is a must-win race for Earnhardt, because the start to his final season has not been great. He’s also won only one race at a track other than Daytona or Talladega since 2014. So with his playoff chances dwindling, a victory would be a big boost to this goodbye tour.

“We have had a dry spell, haven’t won a lot of races,” Earnhardt admitted. “I think if I go in thinking this is a must-win, then I’m probably going to get in there and make a few mistakes.”

Earnhardt is 24th in the standings behind five finishes of 30th or worse this season. But he’s got a strong mindset for Sunday, in which he knows he needs to be strongest and smartest in the third and final segment.

“Every move and decision, every slight turn of the wheel has to be the right decision,” he said.

Earnhardt used his 2014 victory in the Daytona 500 as the example for how he needs to race at Talladega. In that event, he had an aggressive late battle for position with Greg Biffle to earn the victory.

“The only way I could keep myself from sliding backward was to run like one inch off the door and squeeze him against the wall,” Earnhardt said of his . “It really kind of killed both of our cars. But at least he wasn’t passing me. It was a bit outside of character for me to drive so much like a jerk, I guess, but that’s what you’re got to do. You’ve got to keep on cracking the whip, keep telling yourself, ‘This is what has to happen, this is how I have to do this to make this work if I want to win.'”

THE REST OF THE FIELD:

It was a strong day for the engines built by Doug Yates. His power landed four cars in the top six, including both Roush drivers in Stenhouse and Trevor Bayne (5th). Brad Keselowski for Team Penske qualified third and Kevin Harvick was sixth for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Wedged in with Earnhardt and the Fords was Matt Kenseth, who qualified his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in fourth. Daniel Suarez, his teammate, was seventh.

“All the Fords look fast and it doesn’t really matter where you start here because it’s such a chaotic race and it’s the luck of the draw on how you finish,” said Bayne. “We know we’ve got a fast car and everybody knows we’ve got a fast car, so maybe they’ll be willing to work with us.”

RFR REBUILD:

After many lean years, Stenhouse and Bayne are enjoying a resurgence of sorts with Roush Fenway.

The team has been off the pace for several years and downsized this season to just two cars. So far. Stenhouse has a pair of top-five finishes and four top-10s. He’s just a tick off of career highs in both categories, and it’s fitting that his first pole since 2013 came at Talladega. Stenhouse failed to qualify for the Talladega race in 2014 in an embarrassing gaffe for the team.

But he said there’s been much improvement at Roush that is noticeable in all areas of the organization.

“The culture at our shop is just different. The guys want to work there. They want to show up to work and work harder,” he said. “They’re seeing that working harder is making different results for us, so it’s been a blast for Trevor and myself to drive these race cars each week.

“We plan to keep getting better and continue to bring better race cars to the track and go out there and lay it all on the line like we do every week. It’s been really fun to drive, real special. There are a lot of good people at Roush Fenway right now.”

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More AP Auto Racing: racing.ap.org

NASCAR: Brad Keselowski crew chief to serve suspension at Talladega this weekend

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Brad Keselowski’s crew chief will miss the race at Talladega Superspeedway this weekend as Team Penske fights penalties over a March 19 infraction.

Paul Wolfe initially was suspended three races and fined $65,000 because the No. 2 team failed the laser inspection station after a fifth-place finish at Phoenix Raceway. The team also was docked 35 points.

Wolfe already sat out one race, at Fontana, Calif., but Team Penske later appealed. Wolfe is permitted to work during the appeal process.

The National Motorsports Appeals Panel heard the Penske appeal on April 12 and upheld the penalties. Team Penske has gone to the last step, the final appeals officer. The appeal was supposed to be heard on April 25 but officer Bryan Moss was ill.

The hearing now is scheduled for May 9. Wolfe was with the team at Martinsville, Texas, Bristol and Richmond — races in which Keselowski finished first, sixth, 34th and second.

Sitting out Talladega is likely a preventative move for Wolfe and Penske in case Moss upholds the penalties. Wolfe would have to miss next weekend’s race at Kansas, and would be able to return for the All-Star race and Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Keselowski has won two of the last five Cup races at Talladega, including last spring’s race.

Team Penske says engineer Brian Wilson will replace Wolfe at Talladega.

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RICHMOND, Va. – Denny Hamlin had the top-five finish and the opportunity to declare Joe Gibbs Racing’s slog over.

He didn’t take it, because he doesn’t believe it, not even after two veteran teammates ran well but were undone by odd miscues. Not even after Hamlin finished third Sunday in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway. A short track, he said, proves nothing. And JGR still lacks speed.

“I think that some of the issues that you might have with speed is masked just a little bit on a short track, so by no means does this indicate that we’ve fixed anything,” said Hamlin, who produced his first top-five of the season. “I think we know that we have some shortfalls, and when I’m running out front, my balance is very, very good, where I need it to be, and we just don’t have a car that was quite fast enough.”

Hamlin, a product of nearby Chesterfield, had been victorious at the .75-mile track last fall, capping a regular season in which JGR won 11 times in 26 races. JGR has not been nearly as daunting in defending Toyota’s manufacturer’s championship, which is possibly a combination of multiple factors including mastering the nuances of the redesigned Camry. JGR drivers are winless a quarter through the season, with Kyle Busch 10th in points, Hamlin 11th, Matt Kenseth 18th and rookie Daniel Suarez 22nd. At the same point last season, now-idle Carl Edwards led the series and had two wins,  Busch was fourth (two wins), Hamlin was eighth (one win) and Kenseth 15th.

“We haven’t gotten better. We’re really right where we were,” Hamlin said of progress from earlier this season. “I mean, if we go to a mile‑and‑a‑half next week, we’re just as far off as what we were a week ago. Literally, it’s just a short track, and so driver can make a little bit more difference in aerodynamics and skew and all that stuff doesn’t matter quite as much, but it’s still an issue for us.

“You’ve still got to have raw speed. You cannot just have a better setup than those guys and go out and beat them.  You have to have a faster car, and we just ‑‑ you know, I’m optimistic. I hate to be pessimistic about today, but we’ve got to be real about it and realize, hey, it’s just a short track.  We still have a lot of work to do to catch up.”

It began encouragingly enough at Richmond, with Kenseth winning the pole and grinding away a race-high 164 laps led – including the first 163 – and capturing a Stage 1 win before sustaining a cut tire and finishing 23rd. Suarez was 12th. Busch was rounding into a late challenger but was penalized for a commitment line violation on a final stop and finished 16th.

Martin Truex Jr. of affiliate Furniture Row Racing continued to fare well in comparison to JGR, as he placed 10th Sunday to vault one spot to second in the driver standings. He wasn’t happy either, though, even after recovering from his own commitment line violation.

“We just weren’t that good today,” he said. “Just one of those days where you battle all day and hope to get a top 10 and we barely did that.”

JGR drivers had won three consecutively at RIR before Joey Logano won his first race of the season Sunday.

So what of Talladega Superspeedway, the next stop on NASCAR’s premier circuit? Hamlin has Toyota’s only win there since 2008 – in the spring of 2014 – but every driver except Suarez has won at least one restrictor-plate race. So, maybe there’s hope.

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