Kevin Harvick

NASCAR: Tony Stewart wins at Sonoma to snap 84-race drought

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SONOMA, Calif. (AP) — For at least one weekend, Smoke was back.

Tony Stewart returned to victory lane for the first time in three years in vintage fashion — refusing to let Denny Hamlin steal a win at Sonoma Raceway away from him on the final lap Sunday.

Now he’s probably got a shot to run for a fourth NASCAR championship in his final season before retirement.

Stewart, mired in an 84-race losing streak dating to 2013, finally won to stop a slide of poor performances, injuries and personal turmoil that has tarnished the end of his career. He missed the first eight races of this season, his last as a NASCAR driver, with a back injury suffered in an off-road vehicle accident one week before the season opened.

It meant Stewart would have to win a race and crack the top 30 in points to have one last shot at glory before he stepped out of the No. 14 Chevrolet for good. It was a long shot considered the way he has run the last three years, but those who know Stewart knew not to count him out.

“My guys have been through this whole disastrous roller-coaster the last three or four years and never backed down. They’ve never quit on me. There’s days I’ve quit on myself,” Stewart said. “In this day of social media where everybody is a cricket … on social media, they sit there and chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp until they are in front of you and then they don’t say a damned word. (So) I and listened to people say I’m old and washed up — I know how old I am, I know I haven’t ran good for the last three years. But I’ve felt like if we got things right, that it was still there.”

Anyone who has followed his career knows that Stewart is best when he’s in a bad mood, and Smoke was ornery all weekend in the picturesque wine country.

He complained about young drivers, snarked that NASCAR will be without any tough guys once he retires and grumbled he has no fun driving a Cup car anymore.

Well, he sure had fun on Sunday.

The 45-year-old took the lead on fuel strategy during a caution with 24 laps to go, and had to hold on after another yellow flag stalled the race. The final restart came with 14 laps remaining — the same number as Stewart’s car — and he held off a trio of Toyota drivers for his third career victory at Sonoma.

Hamlin made it interesting by pouncing on a Stewart mistake to snatch the lead away from Stewart in the seventh turn of the final lap. Stewart grabbed it back in tricky Turn 11, where he dove to the inside of Hamlin and as the two raced side-by-side, Stewart pushed Hamlin toward the wall.

Stewart got past Hamlin and charged to the checkered flag with the entire side of his car crumpled and his tires slightly smoking from the contact with Hamlin.

“I made mistakes the last two laps, I had just a little bit too much rear brake for Turn 7, and wheel-hopped it two laps in a row,” Stewart said. “I felt a nudge when I got down there and he knew where it was and he did the right thing doing it there, but if I could get to him, he knew what was coming.”

It was Stewart’s 49th career Cup win and eighth on a road course, one shy of Jeff Gordon’s record. Gordon, who retired at the end of last year, made his way to victory lane from the broadcast booth to congratulate his longtime rival.

Dozens of drivers then pumped their fists out their window to salute Stewart on his victory lap while his father, Nelson, wiped away tears. Crew members lined the wall to slap his hand, and teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch were among the drivers to rush to speak to Stewart while he was still inside his car.

So did Hamlin, a former teammate of Stewart’s who has become somewhat of a protector to his one-time mentor. As leader of the Driver Council, Hamlin got the council to split the cost of a $35,000 fine Stewart received this year for criticizing NASCAR.

“He told me he was proud of me, he knows what it means,” an exhausted and emotional Stewart said in victory lane. After chugging a Coca-Cola, he slumped to the ground and sat alongside his car.

“We were teammates for a long time and we respect each other a lot.”

Hamlin, meanwhile, didn’t indicate he gave the win to Stewart but chalked it up to his own mistake to allow Stewart to snatch the lead away from him.

“Looking in the rearview more than looking out front,” Hamlin said. “I just slid up a little bit in the middle and allowed him to get inside me. I knew he was going to put me in the wall. All is fair in love and war.”

Hamlin finished second in a Toyota and was followed by Joey Logano in a Ford, pole-sitter Carl Edwards and Martin Truex Jr. as Toyota drivers took three of the top-five spots.

Harvick was sixth, Kyle Busch seventh, while Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch rounded out the top 10.

Other Notes of Interest from Sunday’s race:

ALL HAIL SMOKE: The reception for Stewart by his peers was similar to the reaction the late Dale Earnhardt received when Earnhardt finally won the Daytona 500. As drivers decompressed after their own day, many offered words about Stewart’s win.

“To have three cars in the Chase, to have Tony’s confidence up, to have him battle Denny Hamlin like that this is the best way for a champion like him to go out,” teammate Kurt Busch said. “He deserves this now.”

Added six-time champion Jimmie Johnson: “Just stoked for him. He is a great friend and has been through so much. I hope there is a big smile on his face right now.”

tony-stewart-career-june-26-2016

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ALLMENDINGER ERROR: AJ Allmendinger was a contender, as usual, on the road course until a mistake by his pit crew cost him a shot to race for the win.

Allmendinger exited pit road after his final stop and lined up sixth, but NASCAR penalized his team for losing control of a tire during the stop. It dropped him deep into the field but he powered back to a 14th-place finish.

“It’s racing, you know you are not guaranteed anything until the checkered flag,” Allmendinger said. “It is part of life we win and lose as a team. We have to get our stuff straight if we actually want to be a Chase team and consider ourselves a Chase team. Another fast race car that is all I can ask for.”

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UP NEXT: Saturday night’s race at Daytona International Speedway, an event that ended last year with a frightening accident that sent Austin Dillon airborne into the fence. He was not hurt.

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SUNDAY’S RESULTS

1. (10) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 110.

2. (6) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 110.

3. (7) Joey Logano, Ford, 110.

4. (1) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 110.

5. (3) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 110.

6. (25) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 110.

7. (8) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 110.

8. (17) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 110.

9. (19) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 110.

10. (4) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 110.

11. (13) Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chevrolet, 110.

12. (5) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 110.

13. (15) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 110.

14. (2) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 110.

15. (12) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 110.

16. (9) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 110.

17. (21) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 110.

18. (32) Greg Biffle, Ford, 110.

19. (11) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 110.

20. (23) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 110.

21. (16) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 110.

22. (24) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 110.

23. (26) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 110.

24. (14) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 110.

25. (28) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 110.

26. (27) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 110.

27. (29) Aric Almirola, Ford, 110.

28. (31) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 110.

29. (37) Landon Cassill, Ford, 110.

30. (36) Chris Buescher, Ford, 110.

31. (33) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 110.

32. (30) David Ragan, Toyota, 110.

33. (22) Brian Scott, Ford, 110.

34. (35) Cole Whitt, Toyota, 110.

35. (38) Dylan Lupton(i), Toyota, 110.

36. (40) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 109.

37. (34) Patrick Carpentier, Ford, 108.

38. (39) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, Engine, 97.

39. (20) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, Rear Gear, 91.

40. (18) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, Electrical, 5.

Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 80.966 mph.

Time of Race: 02 Hrs, 42 Mins, 13 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.625 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 4 for 10 laps.

Lead Changes: 12 among 8 drivers.

Lap Leaders: C. Edwards 1-8; A. Allmendinger 9-24; P. Menard 25-27; K. Harvick 28-30; C. Edwards 31-46; A. Allmendinger 47; Kyle Busch 48-49; D. Hamlin 50-70; A. Allmendinger 71-72; D. Patrick 73-75; D. Hamlin 76-87; A. Allmendinger 88; T. Stewart 89-110.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): D. Hamlin 2 times for 33 laps; C. Edwards 2 times for 24 laps; T. Stewart 1 time for 22 laps; A. Allmendinger 4 times for 20 laps; D. Patrick 1 time for 3 laps; P. Menard 1 time for 3 laps; K. Harvick 1 time for 3 laps; Kyle Busch 1 time for 2 laps.

Top 16 in Points: K. Harvick, 562; Kurt Busch, 527; C. Edwards, 510; B. Keselowski, 506; J. Logano, 493; C. Elliott, 473; J. Johnson, 469; M. Truex Jr, 469; Kyle Busch, 452; M. Kenseth, 430; D. Hamlin, 421; D. Earnhardt Jr, 413; R. Newman, 402; A. Dillon, 400; J. Mcmurray, 398; K. Kahne, 385.

NASCAR: Drivers applaud new NASCAR package at Michigan but expect more changes

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(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today)    —   BROOKLYN, Mich. — NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers said immediately after the FireKeepers Casino 400 that they liked the low downforce package used at Michigan International Speedway today.

“I absolutely love it,” said Tony Stewart, who finished seventh. “The package is good. The aero package is starting to catch up now, the whole equation to this to make it all where everybody wants it to be are tires and aero. Up to this point, Goodyear has been way ahead of NASCAR. NASCAR is finally catching up. So, now we are all getting the split between the two groups closed up.

“The good thing is Goodyear is primed and ready to do all the stuff they need to do. They have been waiting on NASCAR. It’s coming around. It’s going back to … you know how today we got to drive the cars. We got to make a difference in the cars and manipulate things. That is what we have all been wanting. We are not running Mach 12 around here in the middle of the corner. I don’t know what everybody else is going to say, but I thought it was pretty good. It may not be perfect yet, but it is more than definitely going in the right direction for sure.”

Kasey Kahne, who finished 13th, said it was “definitely hairy” driving in traffic.

“If you chose the right spot or got put in the right spot you were good,” he said. “If you didn’t you were in bad shape. There was a lot going on with this package for sure. We are going to test Kentucky the next two days so hopefully we can make a few gains and understand it a little better for that race. That surface is going to be very interesting I would imagine.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was involved in a multi-car accident on Lap 60, didn’t have much to say: “It’s not a whole lot different than the other package. I think we talk about packages too much.”

Carl Edwards, who finished sixth, said the package was a work in progress.

“I applaud NASCAR for taking downforce away and the speeds are still so high because the surface is good and the Goodyear tires are good and everybody is working hard on their cars,” Edwards said. “They just keep working in this direction and we’re going to keep having better and better races. Those restarts, as crazy as they were, they were actually kind of fun.”

Joey Logano, who piloted his Ford to victory, described the cars as “out of control”. But that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“I remember after qualifying. … I was signing an autograph and my hand was shaking,” he said. “I couldn’t even write my name. That’s cool. That’s how on edge you have to be to go fast, and it was like that for 400 miles today, you know, and that’s awesome. We don’t want to – I don’t want to drive slow. That ain’t no fun. That’s the sport part of this. It should be a challenge. It should be on the edge. It shouldn’t be easy, and at this level it definitely isn’t.”

Sipple writes for the Detroit Free Press, part of the USA TODAY NETWORK

NASCAR: Martin Truex Jr. dominates NASCAR race in Charlotte

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CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Martin Truex Jr. didn’t avoid ladders or black cats, never worried about cracking mirrors or stepping on cracks. He knew his bad luck on the Sprint Cup circuit would change.

Truex showed that in a big way Sunday night, leading a NASCAR-record 588 of 600 miles to win the Coca-Cola 600 — and break free of the bad luck that seemed to hit him when dominating races.

“The whole weekend was one of those fairytale weekends,” said Truex, who started from the pole. “But even leading at the end, I thought, ‘All right, when’s the caution going to hit.’ Amnd it didn’t.”

Especially when things have gone as wrong as they had for Truex and his single-car Furniture Row team the past year.

He led 141 laps at Texas, yet got strung up by poor pit strategy and finished sixth. In Kansas this month, he was out front for 172 laps until a loose wheel knocked him back to 14th.

A year ago here, Truex led the most laps at 131, but fell to fifth when he pitted for fuel late and four cars, including winner Carl Edwards, stayed out.

Truex never let it get to him.

“I had confidence. I had faith,” Truex said.

Truex won the fourth time on the series and the first time since last June at Pocono.

“We’re going to keep pushing hard and work toward that championship goal,” Truex said.

Kevin Harvick was second, followed by Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch.

Truex’s win finished Memorial Day weekend’s mega-day of high-end racing that began with Lewis Hamilton’s win at the Monaco Grand Prix and continued with American rookie Alexander Rossi’s surprise triumph in the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.

Truex took the surprise out of this one early and was barely touched by the field. He was passed by Johnson on a restart 55 laps from the end, but Truex went back in front a lap later and was not pushed again.

He bettered Jim Paschal’s mark of leading 335 laps to win at Charlotte in 1967.

Truex’s single-car Furniture Row Racing team outclassed the armada of multi-car Sprint Cup powerhouses.

Four-time Coca-Cola 600 winner Johnson was on Truex’s door a handful of times on restarts, then would fade back. Harvick, who won here in 2011 and 2013, was the best of rest as he got by Johnson 44 laps from the end — yet never made a serious run at the top.

“I mean they have had a few runs where they have just been the class of the field and things have kept them from Victory Lane,” Johnson said. “Tonight he wasn’t going to be denied there was no way around that.”

Owner Roger Penske, who had a disappointing day at Indianapolis, hoped to rebound with his NASCAR duo of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, who won the All-Star race at the track last weekend.

But Logano was set back by a pit road penalty and Keselowski could never make a serious challenge.

Hamlin, who won the Xfinity event Saturday, topped the Joe Gibbs Racing entries, with Matt Kenseth in seventh.

WHO’S HOT: Martin Truex Jr. finally cashed in win a victory when he had the most dominant car. Truex locked up a spot in Chase for a Championship and marked himself as a car to beat heading into the summer.

WHO’S NOT: Kyle Busch has suddenly gone cold with his second straight finish in the 30s after spending much of the season in the top five. Busch wound up 33rd at Charlotte after finishing 30th at Dover. He had nine top-five finishes, including three victories, in the first 11 races.

WHAT WRECKS?: NASCAR’s longest race of the season was also among its cleanest, with just four cautions — and one of those was to check tire wear over the first 25 laps. The four caution periods took up just 19 laps, leading to Charlotte records for fastest average speed (160.644 mph) and fastest race (three hours, 44 minutes, eight seconds). Both marks eclipsed records from 2012 (average speed of 1555.687 mph; time of three hours, 51 minutes, 15 seconds)

THEY SAID IT: “I kind of felt like he was playing with us. He was so fast” — Johnson on Truex’s showing.

DID YOU SEE THAT? The biggest wow moments probably came pre-race when the United States military put on a Memorial Day weekend display for the large crowd. There were tanks, soldiers marching down the steps of the stands, a flyover and a paratrooper display.

UP NEXT: Pocono Raceway, June 5. Truex is the defending race winner.

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Coca-Cola 600

Sunday’s results from the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway (starting position in parentheses):

1. (1) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 400.

2. (8) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 400.

3. (7) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 400.

4. (4) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 400.

5. (5) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 400.

6. (13) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 400.

7. (27) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 400.

8. (12) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 400.

9. (2) Joey Logano, Ford, 400.

10. (14) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 400.

11. (6) Greg Biffle, Ford, 400.

12. (28) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 400.

13. (24) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 400.

14. (25) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 400.

15. (3) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 400.

16. (15) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 399.

17. (11) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 399.

18. (9) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 399.

19. (23) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 399.

20. (18) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 397.

21. (19) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 396.

22. (29) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 395.

23. (26) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 395.

24. (21) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 395.

25. (10) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 395.

26. (20) Aric Almirola, Ford, 395.

27. (33) Landon Cassill, Ford, 395.

28. (31) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 395.

29. (30) Brian Scott, Ford, 394.

30. (17) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 394.

31. (35) David Ragan, Toyota, 393.

32. (34) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 393.

33. (16) Kyle Busch, Toyota, Accident, 392.

34. (32) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 391.

35. (36) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 391.

36. (38) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 390.

37. (22) Chris Buescher, Ford, 388.

38. (37) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 387.

39. (39) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Ford, 382.

40. (40) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, Clutch, 200.

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Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 160.655 mph.

Time of Race: 3 Hours, 44 Minutes, 5 Seconds.

Margin of Victory: 2.572 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 4 for 19 laps.

Lead Changes: 9 among 4 drivers.

Lap Leaders: M. Truex Jr. 1-77; J. Johnson 78-79; M. Truex Jr. 80-164; J. Johnson 165; J. Logano 166; M. Truex Jr. 167-298; P. Menard 299-300; M. Truex Jr. 301-343; J. Johnson 344-345; M. Truex Jr. 346-400.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): M. Truex Jr. 5 times for 392 laps; J. Johnson 3 times for 5 laps; P. Menard 1 time for 2 laps; J. Logano 1 time for 1 lap.

Top 16 in Points: K. Harvick – 457; Kurt Busch – 421; J. Johnson – 409; Kyle Busch – 405; C. Edwards – 404; B. Keselowski – 404; M. Truex Jr. – 381; C. Elliott – 374; J. Logano – 373; M. Kenseth – 347; D. Hamlin – 345; A. Dillon – 344; D. Earnhardt Jr. – 341; J. Mcmurray – 318; . Blaney – 309; R. Newman – 309.

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Martin Truex Jr poses with the trophy after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., Sunday, May 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Matthew Bishop)

NASCAR: Kyle Busch finally gets first Sprint Cup win at Kansas

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Kyle Busch has seemingly dozens of reasons to despise Kansas Speedway, from the two times he crashed out of Chase races to the innumerable misfortunes in other series.

Now he has one big reason to speak fondly of it.

Busch sailed away from Kevin Harvick after a late wreck collected several of the leaders Saturday night, and finally won a NASCAR Sprint Cup race at one of three tracks that had eluded him.

“I didn’t know we’d have that much speed in our race car. I guess I should have known,” said Busch, who still needs to win at Charlotte and Pocono to knock off every current track in the series. “We had a top-five car in the middle part of the race. We kept making improvements to it, kept making it better.”

Busch won for the third time this season, and gave team owner Joe Gibbs his sixth victory already this season. But this one may have been the sweetest given Busch’s history at Kansas.

“This is a place that’s been tough on me over the years, and probably almost caused me to go into retirement,” Busch said, laughing. “There’s been a lot of rough days at Kansas, that’s for sure.”

Harvick was second after making major changes to his car following a poor qualifying effort. Kurt Busch was third, Matt Kenseth finished fourth and Ryan Blaney wound up fifth.

“You know, it’s our best finish of the year. That’s the bright side,” said Kenseth, who was alongside Busch on the final restart with 19 laps to go. “I thought we were as good as the 18 if we could have had position, but it was tough restarting on that bottom.”

Martin Truex Jr. won his first pole in two years and looked like he’d be the one to finally get the victory that has eluded him at Kansas, drawing away for big leads on every restart.

He still had a comfortable lead entering the final round of scheduled stops with 54 laps to go, but Truex radioed to his team that he had a loose wheel after leaving his stall. He had to come down pit road again and dropped off the lead lap, another late-race gaffe costing him a chance to win.

Truex led 95 laps at Kansas last spring, but fuel and tire strategy conspired left him ninth. His team also made a strategic mistake that cost him earlier this season at Texas.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “Went around 1 and 2 and was like, ‘Damn, the wheel is loose.’ I kept telling myself maybe it’s not. … Frustrating but that’s how it goes.”

Tony Stewart briefly took the lead in his return to the No. 14 full-time, but everything changed when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. slapped the wall moments later. That bunched up the field and ultimately led to the only major wreck after last weekend’s crash-filled race at Talladega.

Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin got sideways going through a corner, and that forced Kyle Larson into the wall. Joey Logano had nowhere to go, slamming into Hamlin and ending both of their nights.

“I was just going for it. We got to win. It’s win or nothing with this type of format, so why not go in there and take a chance?” said Hamlin, who admitted to pressing the issue after two speeding penalties on pit road cost him track position. “I have to get better on pit lane to give us a chance.”

Logano was strong once again after winning two of the past three races at Kansas.

“It’s just racing, the end of a race,” he said. “It kind of stinks, two weeks in a row I’m walking out of the infield care center. … It’s just racing. Things happen.”

Busch elected to stay on the track to protect his position, rather than pit for tires, hoping that the clean air of running in front would pay off. It was a risky gamble by crew chief Adam Stevens, but one that he was willing to make to change his team’s fortunes at Kansas.

“It’s always cool to get to Victory Lane, but to knock off another place we haven’t won at is really special,” Stevens said. “He’s had a really storied career and done a lot of great things, and to help him accomplish one of the things he hadn’t done is really cool.”

NASCAR’s Talladega wreckfest comes at a price

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TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — Nobody needs to be reminded that racing is inherently dangerous. We all know drivers assume the risks. It’s understood that no one forces a driver to compete.

That shoulder-shrug approach doesn’t make the scorecard from Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway any easier to accept.

The delicate line between sport and entertainment was dangerously straddled by 40 drivers roaring along in a pack of cars at 200 mph. When the dust settled, 35 cars had been involved in at least one accident and two cars went airborne. When Kevin Harvick’s car lifted off the track in a last-lap crash, it finally put an end to the chaos.

Yes, driver after driver exited their race car unharmed. Save for some bruises to her arms and legs and soreness when she took her breath, Danica Patrick scrambled to safety following the most frightening crash of her career.

So, yes, we celebrate on Monday that no one was injured, and better yet, no one died in the carnage that was a typical Talladega race.

But all that wrecking came at a price.

The cost of damaged race cars on Sunday neared $10 million in losses across the grid, according to an informal survey Monday by The Associated Press of five top race teams. Within that series-wide estimate, some teams estimated they lost $500,000 per car — total loss situations — while others estimated $250,000 without including any engine damage.

Those losses, the terrifying tumbles taken by Chris Buescher and Matt Kenseth, the hard licks into the wall, the parking-lot effect from a 21-car accident, all of it is accepted as part of the show. Racing at Daytona and Talladega, the only two tracks in NASCAR that require the use of horsepower-sapping restrictor plates to slow the cars, simply is what it is.

That’s all fine and well because everybody knows what they signed up for, right?

Not exactly.

Cars should not be going airborne anymore. IndyCar faced this same issue in the buildup to the Indianapolis 500 last year, when three cars took flight in terrifying crashes. Rules were immediately implemented to keep the cars on the track, and IndyCar again issued a mandate in car design for this month’s race.

NASCAR is in the same position and went to work Monday studying the wrecks to see what can be altered to keep cars from lifting off the track.

“We never want to see cars get up in the air,” Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, told AP.

Improved communication between NASCAR, owners and drivers should lead to solutions. O’Donnell said the new collaboration gives NASCAR a new “ability to work with the race teams and their top engineers” on how to keep cars on the track.

Kyle Busch, who broke his leg and foot in a crash at Daytona last year, said after his second-place finish Sunday that he’d rather stay home than participate in plate races. Third-place finisher Austin Dillon admitted: “We all have to do it; I don’t know how many really love it.”

Dillon walked away from a frightening airborne accident on the last lap of last July’s race at Daytona, an incident he said is “not a fun thing to be a part of.” He has faith that NASCAR understands the drivers’ concerns.

“I know NASCAR will put their efforts toward fixing it,” he said. “They’ve made the car safer. That’s the reason why we’re walking away from these crashes. I think as a group, all of us want it to be where we’re not leaving the ground.”

It’s important to put Sunday’s demolition derby in at least a little bit of perspective. Yes, the destruction was unusually high. But the threat of rain played a huge role in the multiple accidents.

Normally, the aggression in plate races doesn’t come until about 30 laps remain and many drivers spend most of the race riding around in the hope they can stay out of trouble to make a late run for the win. They couldn’t wait Sunday because rain could have ended the race with no notice.

It meant the pace was much faster from start to finish.

“It was almost like the entire race was overtime,” O’Donnell said. “Everybody was on the gas each and every lap. There was one point where we had weather 100 yards away, four laps to go until the halfway point and two laps to go in the fuel runs. That certainly produced three-wide racing from start to finish.”

Plate racing isn’t going away anytime soon, though various measures could be taken to reduce the pack element — remove the restrictor-plates, slow the cars, knock down the banking at Daytona and Talladega — nothing should be eliminated from conversation as NASCAR tries to “fix” the issues plaguing the four events each year.

Not everyone is convinced the racing needs to be fixed. Brad Keselowski picked up his fourth Talladega victory and had few complaints after the race.

Of course, he ran up front and ahead of much of the chaos.

“I’m a capitalist,” he said. “There’s people still paying to sit in the stands, there’s sponsors still on the cars, drivers still willing to get in them. Kind of sounds like it’s self-policing, and there’s enough interest to keep going, so we’ll keep going.”

NASCAR: Edwards passes Kyle Busch on last lap to win at Richmond

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Carl Edwards had been grinding for 30 laps, doing everything he could to catch Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch in a two-way breakaway from the pack at Richmond International Raceway.

When he finally caught him on the last lap Sunday, and in the final turn, he had no time to think about what would be the prudent thing to do. Instead, Edwards focused on the reason they are racing: to win.

Edwards bumped his sometimes-volatile teammate off his racing line in the last turn and passed him to win his second consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, and the fourth in a row for the Gibbs racing stable.

NASCAR said it was the first last-lap pass for a victory in the history of the premier series at the track, a span of 120 races.

“I wish it was anybody but my teammate that we had to race like that with, but big picture to me is we’ve both got some wins, we’re in the Chase, and it’s fun to have to race your teammate for the win,” Edwards said. “If the roles were reversed, I would have expected him to bump me the same way.”

Then in a bid to throw a bone to Busch, whose car was sponsored by Banfield Pet Hospital, he said: “If my cat ever gets sick, I don’t care how much it costs, I will take it to the Banfield Pet Hospital, if that helps.”

Gibbs said there’s no game plan for how to handle the next team meeting.

“What you do is you just start out and work your way through it, and that’s what we’ll do,” he said.

Edwards, who had fallen nearly 1.5 seconds behind after a restart with 36 laps to go, gradually ran him down, catching him on the final lap. Then he slipped underneath Busch, a master blocker in late-race situations, and nudged him just enough to allow Edwards to get inside him for his second consecutive victory. It was also the fourth in a row for the Gibbs stable, and fifth in nine races.

“Kyle’s an amazing teammate and it’s like he got really slow there at the end,” Edwards said. “Something happened that last lap, it’s like his rear tires went off or something, and he went down into (Turn) one and I dove it in and I got to him, and I thought, ‘Man, I’ve got something here.’ Then he went to get down to the bottom to park it in three and four and I’d already decided to go down there, so I thought, ‘Man, I’m going to give him a little nudge.’

“We’ve both got wins. We’re racing for fun and getting these trophies. Just an awesome day.”

After falling so far behind, Edwards was surprised to find himself in position to challenge for the victory.

“Man, I didn’t think we had anything. Kyle was just so good for that run. I was just doing everything I could. He never spun his tires,” he said. “If Dave (crew chief Rogers) hadn’t screamed at me to just go get him, I don’t know if I would have dove it in there that hard.”

Busch seemed less than amused after being denied his third victory in the last four races.

“We just kind of gave it up a little bit there on the last lap, but I guess that’s racing and we move on,” he said. “… We had a really great car. … We were fast, maybe not as good as Carl was on the long runs, but we did everything right, everything we were supposed to do.”

Jimmie Johnson finished third, follow by Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne and pole-sitter Kevin Harvick. Gibbs placed all four of its drivers in the top seven, with Denny Hamlin sixth and Matt Kenseth seventh.

The race was the first scheduled for during the day at Richmond since 1997, and the racing made a huge fan of Johnson.

“We had multiple lanes that laid the rubber in the race track and we didn’t have all those marbles built up on the outside, where it really limited your opportunities up high,” he said. “It was fun. The cars were slipping and sliding; there was a ton of fall-off. I enjoyed the long runs. I really like sizing-up guys that I’m racing with and seeing how that works out. And then, at the end we had a bunch of short runs.”

Kahne was trying to hang on to a good finish at the end and missed the drama ahead of him.

“I didn’t watch. I wish I would have. It sounded like a great battle,” he said.

Edwards dominated the first half of the race, leading 120 of the first 200 laps, and he continued to lead until Kevin Harvick slipped underneath him with 170 laps to go. Edwards faded for a time, but wound up leading seven times for a race-high 151 laps. The race featured 23 lead changes, the most here since 2007.

Seven other drivers also led, with Busch, Harvick, Kurt Busch and Johnson also leading for at least 44 laps.

Notes: Johnson has three career victories at Richmond, but none since September 2008. … Gibbs cars have won five of the first nine races. … The race went green for the first 157 laps, the longest green-flag run to start a race at Richmond since 1979, and only the fourth time in the last 47 races in the premier series on the 0.75-mile oval that the first 100 laps were run caution-free.

_________

RESULTS

Lap length: .75 miles

(Start position in parentheses)

1. (4) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 400 laps, 45 points.

2. (9) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 400, 40.

3. (3) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 400, 39.

4. (8) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 400, 37.

5. (1) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 400, 37.

6. (5) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 400, 36.

7. (13) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 400, 35.

8. (2) Joey Logano, Ford, 400, 33.

9. (22) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 400, 32.

10. (7) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 400, 32.

11. (6) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 400, 31.

12. (23) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 400, 29.

13. (16) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 400, 28.

14. (19) Greg Biffle, Ford, 400, 27.

15. (15) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 400, 26.

16. (27) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 400, 25.

17. (17) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 400, 24.

18. (14) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 400, 23.

19. (18) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 400, 22.

20. (11) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 400, 21.

21. (24) Aric Almirola, Ford, 400, 20.

22. (26) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 400, 19.

23. (30) David Ragan, Toyota, 400, 18.

24. (21) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 400, 17.

25. (10) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 400, 16.

26. (12) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 400, 15.

27. (28) Landon Cassill, Ford, 399, 14.

28. (29) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 399, 13.

29. (25) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 399, 12.

30. (36) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 399, 11.

31. (32) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 399, 10.

32. (34) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 399, 9.

33. (39) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 398, 8.

34. (33) Chris Buescher, Ford, 396, 7.

35. (20) Brian Scott, Ford, 395, 6.

36. (40) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 394, 5.

37. (37) Ryan Ellis, Toyota, 393, 0.

38. (38) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Ford, 392, 3.

39. (31) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 390, 2.

40. (35) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 390, 1.

———

Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 97.070 mph.

Time of Race: 3 hours, 5 minutes, 26 seconds.

Margin of Victory: 0.675 seconds.

Caution Flags: 8 for 49 laps.

Lead Changes: 23 among 8 drivers.

Lap Leaders: K.Harvick 1-21; J.Johnson 22-63; C.Edwards 64; J.Johnson 65; C.Edwards 66-89; D.Hamlin 90; J.Johnson 91; M.Kenseth 92-93; C.Edwards 94-157; Ky.Busch 158-168; C.Edwards 169-196; Ky.Busch 197; C.Edwards 198-229; K.Harvick 230-270; B.Keselowski 271-273; K.Harvick 274; B.Keselowski 275-277; Ku.Busch 278-286; Ky.Busch 287-314; Ku.Busch 315-360; Ky.Busch 361-363; C.Edwards 364; Ky.Busch 365-399; C.Edwards 400.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): C.Edwards, 7 times for 151 laps; Ky.Busch, 5 times for 78 laps; K.Harvick, 3 times for 63 laps; Ku.Busch, 2 times for 55 laps; J.Johnson, 3 times for 44 laps; B.Keselowski, 2 times for 6 laps; M.Kenseth, 1 time for 2 laps; D.Hamlin, 1 time for 1 lap.

Wins: Ky.Busch, 2; C.Edwards, 2; J.Johnson, 2; D.Hamlin, 1; K.Harvick, 1; B.Keselowski, 1.

Top 16 in Points: 1. C.Edwards, 331; 2. K.Harvick, 324; 3. J.Johnson, 310; 4. Ky.Busch, 302; 5. J.Logano, 299; 6. Ku.Busch, 279; 7. D.Earnhardt Jr., 278; 8. D.Hamlin, 258; 9. B.Keselowski, 255; 10. M.Truex Jr., 246; 11. C.Elliott, 234; 12. A.Dillon, 234; 13. J.McMurray, 224; 14. K.Kahne, 222; 15. M.Kenseth, 212; 16. R.Newman, 205.

________

Carl Edwards celebrates after winning the Sprint Cup auto race at Richmond International Raceway in Richmond, Va., Sunday, April 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Chet Strange)

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