Kevin Harvick

NASCAR: Several Chase stars avoid disaster at NHMS

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Well, this isn’t the way anyone wanted to see Tony Stewart end his career. The driver went into NASCAR’s playoffs with a roar and is on the verge of exiting with a whimper.

Stewart is in the bottom four of the Chase standings and will be eliminated Sunday at Dover International Speedway if he doesn’t pull off some sort of miracle before the field is trimmed from 16 to 12 drivers. He’s retiring at the end of this season, and all his fans wanted to see a solid run toward a fourth NASCAR title.

Instead, he opened the playoffs with a 16th-place finish at Chicago and he was 23rd on Sunday at New Hampshire. Chris Buescher is the only driver below him in the standings, and Stewart might just need to win at Dover to advance to the second round.

Kevin Harvick, who won at New Hampshire to earn an automatic berth into the second round, isn’t counting out his teammate. With Harvick secure and Kurt Busch 11th in the standings, Stewart-Haas Racing can put an emphasis on Stewart’s performance at Dover.

“He can go to any racetrack and perform. He can go to any racetrack and win,” Harvick said. “He’s Tony Stewart. I wouldn’t bet against him. We’ll do everything we can to help him get to the point where he needs to be to try to move on.”

This is hardly the position anyone thought Stewart would be in a month ago, when his fiery side began to emerge as the Chase approached. He wrecked Brian Scott at Darlington, wrecked Ryan Newman at Richmond and seemed to be in no mood to play around over the final 10 races of his NASCAR career.

But he’s not performing on the track, not at the level to race for a championship, at least, and that’s got to change Sunday or he will close his career watching the playoffs go on without him. Stewart has not finished higher than 16th in the last six races, and his average finish is 26.3 over that span.

He has three career wins at Dover, the last during his 2013 march to the title. But his average finish of 14.1 won’t get it done.

Who else could be eliminated on Sunday? A list:

CHRIS BUESCHER

If you filled out a Chase bracket, you almost certainly had Buescher eliminated in the first round. He barely made the Chase, needing to cling to 30th in the standings to be eligible, and his Front Row Motorsports team just isn’t equipped to compete with the big dogs. Buescher was 28th at Chicago, 30th at New Hampshire and is last in the 16-driver Chase field.

If it rains on Sunday, and he uses strategy to stay out and inherit the lead before the race is canceled, then he’s got a shot at avoiding elimination. That is, after all, how he won Pocono to get into the Chase.

JAMIE MCMURRAY

He is 14th in the standings, and that’s a bit of a surprise because the Chip Ganassi Racing cars had been strong headed into the Chase. McMurray was eliminated in the first round last year, and believed his team had learned enough to make it through this opening three-race stretch. But there’s no room at all for error in the Chase, and a 19th-place finish at New Hampshire simply isn’t good enough.

Ganassi teammate Kyle Larson, who many thought would go deep into the playoffs, isn’t secure, either. He’s 12th in the standings — only five points ahead of the elimination spot.

AUSTIN DILLON

He is tied with McMurray in the standings and trails Larson by five points for the transfer spot. Not because he’s been bad in the Chase, but because he’s been mediocre through the first two races.

Dillon was 14th in the opener, 16th at New Hampshire and doesn’t have a top-10 finish in six weeks. His New Hampshire race was a struggle, but Dillon felt his Richard Childress Racing team persevered and has hope for Dover.

“I never gave in, never gave up, our team never gave up,” he said. “We go to Dover and we’ve given ourselves a shot. We’ve just got to go run good there.”

EVERYONE BESIDES HARVICK AND MARTIN TRUEX JR

A win gets a driver an automatic berth to the second round, and Harvick and Truex have each punched those tickets.

But the standings are so close throughout the rest of the field that a mechanical problem, a crash or simply ailed strategy could end the Chase for any driver. Only six points separate fifth-place Joey Logano from 11th-place Kurt Busch and no one is feeling all that safe. Chase Elliott is ninth in points and finished third at Chicago, but he’s hardly breathing easy.

When asked what he expects from Dover, he was blunt: “I feel like it’s an upcoming race and we need to do a better job.”

NASCAR: Harvick wins at New Hampshire to advance to 2nd round

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LOUDON, N.H. (AP) — Kevin Harvick has thrived as NASCAR’s version of a Game 7 master, steeling his nerves and flourishing in those win-or-else races that kept a championship push alive.

His Chase off to a rocky start, Harvick injected the Chase again with a rousing finish that eliminated a must-win race for him and parked him in the next playoff round.

Harvick won Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to earn a spot in the second round of the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs, pulling away off a restart a year after a late loss at the track.

“It’s kind of like an addiction,” Harvick said. “You just love the rush of being able to be behind and be able to perform and make that happen.”

Harvick finished 20th in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship opener which stuck him 15th in the standings. With another weak finish at New Hampshire, Harvick would have faced yet another race at Dover he may have had to win to advance.

His lap times in the No. 4 Chevrolet only got faster deeper into the race and he was soon nipping at Martin Truex Jr. and Matt Kenseth at the front of the field. Kenseth dominated the second half of the race and seemed poised to win the New Hampshire race for the third straight time.

Harvick, the 2014 Sprint Cup champion, had enough juice in the Chevy to zip past Kenseth with five laps left and join Truex as the drivers locked in the next round. Truex won the Chase opener at Chicagoland and he led a race-high 141 laps at New Hampshire.

Harvick ran out of fuel late last year at New Hampshire to lose and faced a win-or-elimination race the next week at Dover. Harvick, who won for the third time this season, rallied for one of the biggest wins of his career to survive another round.

He won in a similar situation in 2014 at Phoenix when he needed a victory to advance to the championship race. Harvick won the finale and the championship at Homestead.

“The last two years we’ve kind of just worn ourselves out and really stressed out over trying to perform at this level,” he said.

At Dover, it’s up to 14 other drivers to worry about a win.

Chase drivers took the top eight spots. The 16-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field will be cut to 12 after Dover.

Kenseth led 105 of 300 laps and would have clinched with the win, just as he did last season at New Hampshire when he was in perfect position to take advantage of Harvick’s fuel foul up. Kenseth appeared to slow down just a bit off the last restart with five laps left, allowing Harvick to race side-by-side before he took off for his 11th win in 100 career starts at Stewart-Haas Racing.

“It was just a smooth restart. I just didn’t want to spin the tires,” Harvick said. “I don’t know what happened to him, or if I just timed it right.”

Kenseth won the May race at Dover and appears in solid shape to reach the second round.

“I let Kevin lay back on me, which we’re supposed to be side-by-side. I should have known better,” Kenseth said. “I should have just went really late in the zone and wait until he had to get up to my nose because he anticipated it just right and laid back. Plus, I spun the tires and I got beat through one and two and then it was over.”

Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kenseth and Kyle Busch were second and third. They were followed by Chase drivers Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Truex and Jimmie Johnson.

Other Chase results: Kyle Larson was 10th, Joey Logano 11th, Chase Elliott 13th, Denny Hamlin 15th, Austin Dillon 16th, Jamie McMurray 19th, Tony Stewart 23rd, and Chris Buescher 30th.

McMurray, Dillon, Stewart and Buescher are the bottom four drivers in the standings.

WARNING: Good news for the NASCAR PR machine — no Chase driver failed post-race inspection.

NASCAR issued a stern warning to the Sprint Cup garage before the race not to “circumvent what happens with postrace inspection.”

The sanctioning body decided not to penalize race winner Truex Jr. and Johnson for failing inspection after the opening Chase for the Sprint Cup championship race at Chicagoland Speedway. Both cars failed the laser inspection with infractions that should have drawn 10-point penalties.

NASCAR spent the week talking lasers — after spending a chunk of the season on lug nuts — instead of celebrating the playoffs.

“We ask all of you not to put it in our hands because we will react if we have to,” NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell said. “I think everybody knows what that means. We want to concentrate on the race.”

All remaining Chase cars will go through laser inspection after only nine were picked after the Chase opener.

BELIEVE IT: Danica Patrick finished 18th and actually led nine laps. Her 30 laps led this season are three more than her combined total the last three seasons.

WHAT’S NEXT

The first Chase elimination race takes place at Dover International Speedway. Harvick is the defending race winner.

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SUNDAY’S RESULTS

Lap length: 1.058 miles

(Start position in parentheses)

1. (19) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 300 laps, 115.6 rating, 44 points.

2. (8) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 300, 130.4, 40.

3. (12) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 300, 118.7, 39.

4. (11) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 300, 91.7, 38.

5. (13) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 300, 91.7, 36.

6. (1) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 300, 107.7, 36.

7. (2) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 300, 132.7, 36.

8. (4) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 300, 106.2, 33.

9. (9) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 300, 89.4, 32.

10. (6) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 300, 95.7, 31.

11. (15) Joey Logano, Ford, 300, 77.8, 30.

12. (16) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 300, 76.0, 29.

13. (10) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 300, 106.5, 29.

14. (18) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 300, 82.3, 0.

15. (5) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 300, 90.7, 26.

16. (29) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 300, 62.0, 25.

17. (26) Aric Almirola, Ford, 300, 67.9, 24.

18. (24) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 300, 67.5, 24.

19. (7) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 300, 86.7, 22.

20. (3) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 300, 79.7, 21.

21. (17) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 300, 70.2, 20.

22. (37) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 300, 47.5, 19.

23. (22) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 299, 71.8, 18.

24. (21) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 299, 57.6, 17.

25. (14) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 299, 62.5, 16.

26. (20) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 298, 56.5, 15.

27. (31) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 298, 50.0, 14.

28. (33) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 298, 39.5, 13.

29. (34) Landon Cassill, Ford, 298, 40.9, 12.

30. (28) Chris Buescher, Ford, 298, 48.8, 11.

31. (25) Brian Scott, Ford, 298, 46.0, 10.

32. (23) David Ragan, Toyota, 297, 39.5, 9.

33. (32) Greg Biffle, Ford, 297, 41.9, 8.

34. (30) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 297, 37.5, 7.

35. (36) Cole Whitt, Ford, 294, 30.8, 6.

36. (38) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 293, 28.3, 5.

37. (40) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Ford, 290, 24.8, 4.

38. (27) Trevor Bayne, Ford, accident, 282, 49.5, 3.

39. (39) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 268, 25.2, 2.

40. (35) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, garage, 236, 29.0, 1.

———

Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 109.292 mph.

Time of Race: 2 hours, 54 minutes, 15 seconds.

Margin of Victory: 0.442 seconds.

Caution Flags: 6 for 31 laps.

Lead Changes: 14 among 8 drivers.

Lap Leaders: C.Edwards 1-30; M.Truex 31-75; C.Edwards 76; Ky.Busch 77-78; B.Keselowski 79-80; M.Truex 81-124; Ky.Busch 125; M.Truex 126-166; C.Elliott 167; M.Truex 168-178; M.Kenseth 179-231; K.Harvick 232-233; D.Patrick 234-242; M.Kenseth 243-294; K.Harvick 295-300

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): M.Truex, 4 times for 137 laps; M.Kenseth, 2 times for 103 laps; C.Edwards, 2 times for 29 laps; D.Patrick, 1 time for 8 laps; K.Harvick, 2 times for 6 laps; Ky.Busch, 2 times for 1 lap; B.Keselowski, 1 time for 1 lap; C.Elliott, 1 time for 0 laps.

Wins: Ky.Busch, 4; B.Keselowski, 4; D.Hamlin, 3; M.Truex, 3; C.Edwards, 2; K.Harvick, 2; J.Johnson, 2; M.Kenseth, 2; C.Buescher, 1; Ku.Busch, 1; K.Larson, 1; J.Logano, 1; T.Stewart, 1.

Top 16 in Points: 1. M.Truex, 2050; 2. B.Keselowski, 2049; 3. Ky.Busch, 2046; 4. D.Hamlin, 2045; 5. J.Logano, 2043; 6. C.Elliott, 2039; 7. M.Kenseth, 2038; 8. J.Johnson, 2037; 9. C.Edwards, 2032; 10. Ku.Busch, 2031; 11. J.McMurray, 2030; 12. T.Stewart, 2028; 13. A.Dillon, 2027; 14. K.Harvick, 2027; 15. K.Larson, 2026; 16. C.Buescher, 2016.

NASCAR: Carl Edwards wins pole at New Hampshire

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LOUDON, N.H. (AP) — Carl Edwards has mastered the art of starting first at New Hampshire.

It’s winning the race that has caused him fits.

Edwards turned a lap of 135.453 mph to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup pole at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He took the top spot Friday for the third time in the last four New Hampshire races and he won his sixth pole of the season.

“We need to turn that into a race win,” Edwards said.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has failed to win in 24 career starts at New Hampshire. Edwards finished seventh and fifth off his two poles last season. Edwards would advance to the second round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship with a win on Sunday.

He’d rather take the checkered flag in the No. 19 Toyota and not have to worry about taking care of business next week at Dover.

“If we have a bad day here, I’m going to be real upset about it for about three or four days and then if you have a bad day at Dover, you’re going to be upset for the rest of the year,” he said.

Edwards led the way for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship drivers. Martin Truex Jr. followed his Chase win at Chicagoland Speedway with a solid qualifying run to join Edwards on the front row.

Ryan Newman will start third, followed by Chase drivers Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray, and Matt Kenseth.

Chase drivers Chris Buescher and Austin Dillon failed to advance out of the first round of qualifying. Fellow Chase drivers Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart failed to get out of the second round.

Edwards won his 22nd career pole. He had never won more than three poles in a season.

“The cars are great, but it’s not just that,” Edwards said.

It’s Toyota. It’s crew chief Dave Rogers. It’s the support of having three stellar teammates in Kenseth, Hamlin and Kyle Busch (who starts 12th).

Kenseth has won the last two New Hampshire races for JGR.

“I became a lot better certainly when I started driving there. It’s funny how that works,” he said.

Here are some other items of note from Friday at New Hampshire.

DELAY OF GAME: Inspection issues delayed several cars from taking the track in the first round of qualifying. Nearly a dozen cars were in line at the inspection station once qualifying started. Clint Bowyer spun during his lap to bring out the red flag and buy time for the rest of the cars to complete inspection.

TOUGH BREAK: Chris Buescher (28th) and Austin Dillon (29th) have the worst starting spots among Chase drivers. Dillon qualified in a back-up car following an accident in practice.

“It’s not the exact same car, it’s a little older car, but same type of car we ran here the first time and we ran pretty solid in that race,” Dillon said. “We will just go out there and drive it hard and see what it gives me.”

Buescher realized that just making the Chase because of a rain-shortened win at Pocono will stand as the highlight of his season.

“We’re playing our own game right now,” he said. “We know that if we come out of here and do the best we can, put in our maximum effort, that’s all we can do.”

THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS: NASCAR drivers have found the violent protests in Charlotte, North Carolina in the wake of the fatal shooting of a black man by police unsettling.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame in downtown Charlotte had its exterior damaged this week during violent protests.

“A lot of times when you see things like this happen it’s in a different city and you don’t recognize where it’s at, but when you see the NASCAR building getting vandalized and you see areas of the city that you know very well with just crazy things happening, it makes you sick to your gut,” Logano said.

QUALIFYING RESULTS

After Friday qualifying; race Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Loudon, N.H. Lap length: 1.058 miles (Car number in parentheses)

1. (19) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 135.453 mph.

2. (78) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 135.212.

3. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 134.896.

4. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 134.858.

5. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 134.796.

6. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 134.682.

7. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 134.477.

8. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 134.363.

9. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 134.221.

10. (24) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 133.901.

11. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 133.694.

12. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 133.445.

13. (41) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 134.359.

14. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 134.354.

15. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 134.184.

16. (21) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 134.108.

17. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 134.032.

18. (88) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 133.750.

19. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 133.717.

20. (95) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 133.133.

21. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 133.031.

22. (14) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 132.980.

23. (23) David Ragan, Toyota, 132.776.

24. (10) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 131.815.

25. (44) Brian Scott, Ford, 132.966.

26. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 132.887.

27. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 132.688.

28. (34) Chris Buescher, Ford, 132.618.

29. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 132.595.

30. (7) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 132.586.

31. (13) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 132.485.

32. (16) Greg Biffle, Ford, 132.177.

33. (83) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 131.952.

34. (38) Landon Cassill, Ford, 131.624.

35. (46) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 131.528.

36. (98) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 131.510.

37. (15) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 131.031.

38. (55) Reed Sorenson, Toyota, 130.693.

39. (30) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 129.503.

40. (32) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Ford, 127.701.

NASCAR: Martin Truex Jr. rallies to win NASCAR Chase opener

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JOLIET, Ill. (AP) — Martin Truex Jr. went from a completely unraveled tire that left him a lap down to the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup championship lead for the first time in his career.

He can thank a late caution in what has been an emotional year for the small-team driver.

Truex shot to the front after a late re-start and pulled away to give Furniture Row Racing a NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff-opening victory Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.

“I’ve had a lot of practice at it,” Truex said about the on-track obstacles. “I think my approach really changed two years ago when (girlfriend) Sherry got diagnosed with cancer. My approach to all those things changed and made me a better driver.”

NASCAR announced after the race that Truex’s No. 78 Toyota failed the laser inspection, but the infraction was not at the level of negating the victory for Chase qualification purposes. Truex is expected to receive a point penalty this week.

Rookie Chase Elliott appeared on his way to an easy win until Michael McDowell blew a tire and spun out to bring a caution with five laps left.

Elliott and Truex came in to pit for tires, with some non-Chase drivers Ryan Blaney and Kasey Kahne and Chase contender Carl Edwards staying on the track.

Truex restarted fourth and Elliott fifth, and Truex quickly got to the front and held off Joey Logano on the final lap for his third victory of the season. Truex is guaranteed to move on when the Chase field is cut from 16 to 12 in two weeks.

Truex, whose team gets technical support from Joe Gibbs Racing, made the last four in the 2015 Chase. His 2016 season started with near miss at the Daytona 500 and a Coca-Cola 600 win, while Sherry Pollex has battled ovarian cancer. She’s now in remission.

“You have to understand, this isn’t the end of the world.” Truex said of racing setbacks. “We can overcome it. That’s what we did today.”

Elliott, a rookie, finished third, followed by Blaney and Chase driver Brad Keselowski, who sits second in points.

“It’s not yours until it’s over,” the 20-year-old Elliott said. “That’s part of life, man. You’re not dumb. We’ve all watched this stuff long enough to know these races don’t go green that long.”

Truex led early in the race only to have his tire come completely unraveled. It led to an unscheduled stop that left him a lap down in the 400-mile race.

“The hard compound came off it,” Cole Pearn, Truex’s crew chief, said. “I guess (Goodyear) saw a couple other tires and came down and told us a certain sequence number had an issue.”

Truex had no other tire issues on the 1.5-mile oval and outraced Kevin Harvick, who also got into early trouble, to be in position for the free pass to the lead lap on the next caution.

Jimmie Johnson dominated the middle of the race, leading 118 laps, until Elliott got by him on lap 176 of 267.

Johnson was running second when he was caught speeding on pit road during the last green-flag stop, yelling “no way!” on his radio when told he had to serve a pass-through penalty. Johnson finished 12th, but his car also failed laser inspection and he could plummet in the points standings.

Elliott led for 75 laps in what was a clean race with only three cautions until McDowell’s late wreck changed the dynamic of the race.

“I feel for Chase. I know what he’s going through,” Truex said. “I wasn’t going to catch him.”

WHO’S HOT: Chase drivers Truex, Logano, Elliott, Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth all finished in the top 10. Jamie McMcMuray was 11th, Kurt Busch 13th, Austin Dillon 14th, Carl Edwards 15th and Tony Stewart 16th.

WHO’S NOT: Kyle Larson, who had the fastest car in Saturday’s practice, had to change a transmission and start from the back. He finished 18th. … Harvick ended up 20th amid multiple issues. … Rookie Chris Buescher fell a lap down 41 laps in and two laps down before the 100th lap. He finished 28th.

PENALTIES: Based on new rules announced last week, Johnson could receive a 10-point penalty, which would drop him into a tie for 12th in the Chase standings. Truex could be docked 15 points, but the win locks him into the second round.

DILLON SUBS: Ty Dillon finished 27th filling in for Regan Smith in the No. 7 Chevrolet. Smith left the track Friday and returned to North Carolina after his wife went into labor.

COWABUNGA: With Nickelodeon the race sponsor, the winning trophy was a gold base with the four Teenage Mutant Ninga Turtles on top in various poses. Truex plans to put it in his shop so visiting kids can get a picture with it.

UP NEXT: Two races remain before the Chase field is cut to 12. Next Sunday is a 300-mile race at New Hampshire, where Kenseth won in July.

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NASCAR: Chase usually produces temper tantrums

JOLIET, Ill. (AP) — Based on history, the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship will produce pushing and shoving, ruined cars and a whole lot of yelling and finger-pointing.

The third year of NASCAR’s elimination-style, 10-race dash for the series title begins Sunday with the 400-mile race at Chicagoland Speedway. Drivers, start your aggression.

“I just know for us, it’s kind of a one-way street,” Kevin Harvick, the 2014 champion, said of his approach. “You do what you have to do for your team, whatever that may be, and worry about the consequences later.”

In last year’s Chase opener at the 1.5-mile oval, Harvick shoved Jimmie Johnson after a contentious race. It was similar to Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski brawling in 2014 at Charlotte and Jeff Gordon and Keselowski exchanging blows at Texas.

Last year there was bad blood between Joey Logano and Kenseth that ended with Logano’s car rammed into the wall at Martinsville.

“This is a mental game,” Logano said. “It is all about what is up in your head.”

There have already been clashes over this championship race. Ryan Newman’s faint Chase hopes were dashed when Tony Stewart intentionally wrecked him in last weekend’s final qualifying race at Richmond. Newman ripped Stewart, saying he was “bipolar” and “should be retired the way he drives.” The two were called to a meeting Friday with NASCAR executives.

“They’re trying to make sure they don’t have a scenario like what they had last year with Joey and Matt,” Stewart said.

That feud last year started at Kansas when Logano wrecked Kenseth. Then at Martinsville, with Kenseth out of the running to advance and nine laps down, he wrecked Logano to end his chances to move on.

Kenseth was suspended two races, but Logano’s season was over despite a dominating stretch when he won three straight Chase races.

Kyle Busch, the 2015 champ, has led the most laps this season and is the top-seed in the 16-driver field. He’ll also start Sunday’s race from the pole after Friday’s qualifying was washed out.

There will be three rounds of eliminations before four drivers are left to contend for the title at the finale on Nov. 20 at Homestead.

The format has led to high tension and unpredictability since its 2014 debut. Jimmie Johnson, a six-time series champion, has yet to be in contention going into the final race.

“It is shocking we haven’t made it past the second round,” he said.

Johnson, the No. 8 seed, is the highest-ranked Hendrick Motorsports driver with Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota dominating the first 26 races. Practice times at Chicagoland seemed to show the gap is still there

Busch is joined by JGR teammates Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth in the Chase. And Martin Truex Jr., whose team is aligned with Gibbs, is considered a contender.

Team Penske, led by No. 2 seed and 2012 champ Brad Keselowski, and Logano, are back in the Chase, too.

“No, we aren’t going to crash each other,” Logano said of his teammate. “If that is the answer you are looking for, it isn’t what you are going to get. We would race each other hard. I don’t think it will get dirty for no reason at all. I wouldn’t want to do that to anybody. I want to win the right way.”

While NASCAR may wink at the arguments and rough racing, the sanctioning body has vowed to crack down on cheating in the garage. Penalties for cars that fail inspection could cost a driver the title.

But many drivers are too focused on their own work.

“I got the email and I hit ‘delete’ because it didn’t pertain to anything with driving the car,” Harvick said. “Really just trying to focus on what I need to do. I think everybody else is really focused on their jobs as well.”

Here are some other things to watch at Chicagoland:

STEWART’S FINALE: Retiring at the end of the season, Stewart will try to depart with his fourth title and first since 2011. “You’re not going to win the championship in this first segment, but you can sure take yourself out of an opportunity to win it,” he said.

JOHNSON: He begins his quest for a record-tying seventh title at a track where he’s never won and in a format he’s yet to master. “I guess it’s 10 years since my first championship, so there’s only four years I’ve missed,” he said. “I don’t think that’s too bad of a stat.”

YOUNGINS: The Chase includes two rookies for the first time. Chris Buescher is seeded 13th and Chase Elliott 14th.

THREE FINGERS: Others making Chase debuts include Kyle Larson, who had the fastest car in Saturday’s practice, and Austin Dillon, who has the iconic No. 3 Chevrolet in the playoffs for the first time.

BABY ALERT: Regan Smith, who is not in the Chase, returned to North Carolina with his wife in labor. Ty Dillon will replace him in the No 7 if he doesn’t get back in time.

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NASCAR: Kyle Busch wins Truck race; Hemric, Peters earn Chase spots

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JOLIET, Ill. (AP) — Kyle Busch overcame a race-record 11 cautions for his 46th career NASCAR Truck Series victory Friday night, dashing the hopes of full-time drivers needing wins to claim a spot in the debut Chase for the championship.

The Sprint Cup star’s second circuit win of the season and fifth trucks win at Chicagoland Speedway meant Daniel Hemric and Timothy Peters earned the final two spots in the eight-driver playoff field based on points.

Busch took on four tires and re-started ninth with 42 laps to go before quickly charging to the front just before Johnny Sauter clipped Ben Kennedy to ignite a crash and red flag.

There were four more cautions before Busch blew past Cameron Hayley on an overtime restart and had the lead when the final caution flew on the last lap. Busch led 95 of the 150 laps on the 1.5-mile oval for his 167th win on NASCAR’s top three circuits.

Hemric finished second, followed by Cameron Hayley and Christopher Bell.

The race began with six of the eight Chase spots already determined. John Hunter Nemechek was the last to clinch after he tangled with Cole Custer in the grass before claiming claiming a win in Canada.

Top-seeded William Byron, 2015 champion Matt Crafton, Kennedy, Sauter and Bell also were safely in.

Custer, who announced earlier Friday that he would move to the Xfinity Series next season with Stewart-Haas Racing, was penalized for speeding on pit road with 84 laps left. He still got into the top 10 late before being involved in a wreck that caused a tire rub. He finished 10th.

Spencer Gallagher earned his first pole and John Wes Townley joined him on the front row. It rekindled memories of their on-track wrestling and boxing match after an incident at Gateway Motorsports Park in June that included takedowns and punches to the face.

But mistakes kept both out of the Chase, with Townley sparking an accident that caused the final caution and Gallagher finishing sixth.

Peters qualified for the Chase by finishing eighth despite hitting the wall and having a right-front tire go down on the 67th lap.

Byron, a five-time winner, scraped the outside wall after four laps and headed to the garage. He returned 40 laps later only to again crash and finished 30th.

Kennedy’s car was destroyed and damaged the SAFER barrier, causing a 14-minute delay. He was treated and released from the infield care center.

Matt Tifft had to pit early with a loose wheel and finished 12th in his first race since undergoing surgery to remove a non-cancerous brain tumor. Tifft received applause when he was introduced in the pre-race driver meeting.

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JOLIET, Ill. (AP) — Qualifying for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway was canceled because of rain Friday for the third consecutive year.

The lineup for Sunday’s 400-mile race will be based on the playoff seeding, putting Kyle Busch on the pole with Brad Keselowski joining him on the front row.

Denny Hamlin will start third, followed by Kevin Harvick, Cal Edwards and Martin Truex Jr. The 16 drivers who qualified for the 10-race playoff will all start at the front of the field.

Busch is seeking his second straight Sprint Cup title. He’ll need to get past two elimination rounds to get into the group of four drivers eligible going into the last race Nov. 20 at Homestead.

“We kind of look at this round as don’t make any mistakes,” Busch said. “Just kind of keep preparing yourself, keep getting ready for how the pressure will continue to rise.”

Rain started falling at midday and wiped out the only Sprint Cup practice scheduled at the 1.5-mile asphalt oval before the evening qualifying. The weather later cleared and an hour Sprint Cup practice was added around dusk.

Jimmie Johnson, who will start eighth Sunday, was the fastest in that session, followed by Edwards and Denny Hamlin.

Johnson has never won at Chicagoland and hasn’t made it out of the second round in the two years of the elimination format.

“There’s a lot of optimism and a lot of great things happening,” Johnson said. “We just need to deliver consistently and execute at the track.”

Alex Bowman, filling in for Dale Earnhardt as he recovers from a concussion, spun out in the closing seconds of practice trying to get onto pit road. He didn’t appear to damage his car.

Regan Smith, who will start 33rd based on the standings, left the track to return home after his wife went into labor. Ty Dillon filled in during the practice session, but it’s possible Smith will return for Sunday’s race.

“Big thanks to everybody who helped me back and those who offered,” Smith tweeted after landing in North Carolina.

With only 40 cars entered, none were eliminated without a qualifying session. The teams are scheduled for a final practice Saturday before the 267-lap race.

NASCAR playoffs begin with amped up aggression and attitude

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — After seven months and 28 races, NASCAR has hit that part of the season that really matters. The start of the playoffs signifies a shift in attitude and aggression, and if there was any doubt the mindset had changed, Kevin Harvick posted a warning about his mood for the next 10 weeks.

It was a video of an angry bull charging into the grandstands.

And so the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship begins Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway with 16 drivers laser-focused on the big prize. It’s 10 races, three rounds of elimination, and every man for himself.

So don’t be surprised if tempers boil over, paint is traded on the track, angry words are exchanged. It’s already started, to a degree. Tony Stewart has intentionally wrecked drivers in two consecutive races, including Saturday night’s regular-season finale with contact that officially ended Ryan Newman’s shot at making the Chase.

A frustrated Newman called his former boss “bipolar” and said Stewart had anger issues. Stewart was nonchalant, said Newman had it coming after running into him three times at Richmond.

Remember, the Chase and this format can bring out the worst in even the most mild-mannered driver. Matt Kenseth tackled Brad Keselowski in a very un-Kenseth-like attack in 2014, then he earned a NASCAR suspension last year for an intentional crash that ruined Joey Logano’s title chances.

Denny Hamlin, who won Saturday night at his home track to give Joe Gibbs Racing three consecutive victories at Richmond and wins in nine of the last 15, said the jockeying for the final spots in the Chase field led to some of the recent aggression. He also speculated the length of the season could be a contributor, especially for drivers not battling for the title.

“Some guys have a care factor that’s really low right now,” Hamlin said. “I think things get a little bit tamer in the Chase because people are aware of the Chase cars. Whether they say so or not, they definitely race a little bit more careful around those guys, especially when you’re not racing for a win.”

As for the Chase drivers themselves? When the field will be trimmed by four at the end of each round, Hamlin expects to see tense racing.

“As guys get eliminated, it could definitely ramp back up again,” he said.

Harvick certainly plans to live up to his word.

The 2014 champion, the first winner under the elimination format, has never backed down from anyone or anything. His scathing assessment of his pit crew led to two changes to his race team last week. When he was flagged for speeding on pit road, driver error instead of team error, it could have been seen as a bit of karma working against Harvick for being less than politically correct about his own crew.

He doesn’t care what it takes, though, he just wants results.

“You just have to be selfish. You have to do what’s best for your team, worry about the consequences when all the dust settles,” he said. “You have to be narrow-minded, not listen to anything, and do whatever it takes to figure out how to make the best performance. Every point matters. This is a minute-by-minute battle.

“You just try to think of dotting every I and crossing every T because that’s what it’s all about, and you have to get everything out of every person that touches everything on that car at another level to win this deal.”

So now it’s about strategy and how each driver plans to attack each round.

For some, like Chris Buescher, just getting into the 16-driver field was the prize. Last year’s Xfinity Series champion made the Chase by winning a rain-shortened race at Pocono, but he doesn’t want to settle for a “happy to be here” attitude.

“We look at this first round, and we want to make it past that round. We want to move through the Chase,” Buescher said. “Then we can re-evaluate from there. If we can keep going farther and improve our program each and every weekend, that’s always going to be what we’re aiming to do.”

Stewart is also assessing his final Chase appearance before he retires at the end of the year. He slumped his way into the 2011 Chase and said his team didn’t even deserve a spot in the field.

Then he won the whole thing, his third NASCAR title.

So he’s just going to play this one by ear.

“Who knows what’s going to happen?” he said. “All I care about right now is getting ready for Chicago. Once we get through that, I’ll worry about Week 2. This is a stressful 10 weeks and you take it one week at a time. That’s what we did in ’11, and it worked.”

NASCAR: NASCAR needs a spurt of new superstars to make racing fun

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Jeff Gordon is mostly retired and Tony Stewart is almost out the door. Now Dale Earnhardt Jr. is sidelined for the rest of the year, exposing NASCAR’s glaring need for new stars to captivate the audience.

The three big names who have moved the needle for NASCAR the past two decades have a combined seven championships, 168 career Cup wins and five Daytona 500 victories. More important, they are the household names for NASCAR, the ones who move the needle and make people pay attention.

But Gordon called last year his last, only to be called back to the race car in late July when a concussion knocked Earnhardt out for the season. Stewart, meanwhile, has just 13 races left in his NASCAR driving career.

He was in vintage form Sunday night at Darlington Raceway, where he seemed to intentionally wreck Brian Scott in a move that earned him a post-race sit-down with NASCAR’s bigwigs. Stewart’s response to the incident? A wry smile and denial of culpability.

NASCAR will argue the sport is bigger than one, two or three personalities, and that the stable is full of young talent to carry stock car racing deep into the future. There’s some truth to that and it stretches beyond Kyle Busch and Joey Logano.

Kyle Larson is a week removed from his first Cup victory, a win that earned him a berth in NASCAR’s playoffs, and rookie Chase Elliott is a week away from securing his spot in the 10-race championship series. Austin Dillon could also make the Chase for the championship in next week’s regular-season finale, as could Chris Buescher, last year’s Xfinity Series champion who used a win at rain-shortened Pocono to slide into title contention.

Ryan Blaney won’t make the Chase, but the 22-year-old has been competitive and part of a new generation of drivers that NASCAR will have to rely upon once its superstars are in street clothes.

The problem, though, is that none of these new faces are the complete package. They seem fun on Snapchat and other forms of social media, but put them in a firesuit with a live television camera and all the sparkle is sucked right out of their personalities.

There are plenty of drivers with the talent of Erik Jones, William Byron or Daniel Suarez, but if they can’t make a fan base fall in love with them, then what does it matter?

Labor Day weekend has been celebrated the last two years in NASCAR as a throwback to its earlier days, when the racing was rougher and the men were tougher and drivers didn’t hide from fans or media in million dollar motorhomes. They didn’t complain about packed schedules, crowded garages or too many interview requests.

They called everything like it was and fear of sponsor backlash didn’t stifle many personalities.

So it was fitting to see Smoke mete out his own justice on Sunday, and to hear Kevin Harvick succicitly blast his crew after yet another race was lost in the pits. Across the border, on a road course in Canada, two teenagers waged a furious drag race to the checkered flag with a bid in NASCAR’s playoffs on the line for Cole Custer.

But John Hunter Nemechek didn’t care, bumped Custer’s Truck from behind, then the two bounced off each other’s doors as their trucks hurtled through the grass and to the finish line. As if that old-school finish wasn’t wonderful enough for every NASCAR fan who wistfully remembers the good ol’ days, Custer used a running start to leap into the air and knock Nemechek to the ground as Nemechek tried to collect the checkered flag.

Now watch, Custer will be punished by NASCAR for his post-race WWE impersonation, and future displays of raw emotion from young drivers will be throttled. It’s not that NASCAR needs the drama, the theatrics, the fisticuffs, to be successful. It’s just that people need a reason to care, and listening to a driver reel off a list of sponsors between praising downforce and tire wear isn’t the sexiest sell.

NASCAR needs new superstars, and NASCAR needs them to be engaging, entertaining and excited to be part of the show. Somehow, that message needs to be conveyed to these young drivers before the fan base leaves with Gordon, Stewart and all the other stars from that romantic time when NASCAR was fun.

NASCAR: Elliott Sadler holds off Denny Hamlin for first Darlington win

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DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) —  Dale Earnhardt Jr. surely needed a break from his unsettled future in racing. Elliott Sadler provided the perfect distraction Saturday with his Xfinity Series win at Darlington Raceway.

Sadler, who drives for Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports, held off Denny Hamlin over the final two laps to win at the track “Too Tough To Time” for the first time since first lining up here in 1996. It was also a joyous finish that Sadler and his team knew would please the boss, who announced Friday that his season behind the wheel was done because of concussion-like symptoms.

It wasn’t long after reaching victory lane that Earnhardt called Sadler with congratulations.

“To hear him talking on the telephone today, it’s neat to hear the excitement in his voice,” Sadler said. “It gives him something to cheer about when he’s had so much bad news. This has got to be good for him.”

Earnhardt, who’ll come to the race track Sunday to talk about his recovery, Tweeted his happiness at Sadler’s win. “I’m so proud of @Elliott—Sadler and @JRMotorsports!!!!! A win @TooToughToTame is so hard to accomplish,” Earnhardt posted.

Sadler was second in this event in 2013 and 2014, trailing Sprint Cup star Kyle Busch both times. In this one, Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Hamlin, made a late charge and nosed in front two laps from the end.

But Sadler held strong through the final turns and crossed in front to earn the checkered flag at Darlington for the first time in 32 career starts — 18 in Sprint Cup, 13 in Xfinity and one in the truck series.

“I’ve been wanting to win here for a long time,” Sadler crowed after.

Hamlin ended second after leading 47 of 147 laps. Daniel Suarez was third and Kyle Larson, last week’s Sprint Cup winner at Michigan, was fourth.

Sadler, the series points leader, took the lead from Hamlin with 35 laps to go. He had opened a wide gap on the field until Hamlin, who’s won four Xfinity races at Darlington, steadily ran him down.

It looked like Hamlin would send Sadler to another second at Darlington as Sadler bobbled near the wall with two laps left and Hamlin ducked underneath and nosed ahead.

But Sadler, who led a race-high 75 laps, found the power to keep in front.

Hamlin closed in one last time on the final lap, but again Sadler maintained his position for the victory.

Hamlin said his car struggled in second gear that cost him on restarts. “It was exciting. Wish I was on the other end of it for sure,” he said.

Larson looked like he would make it two straight victories when he passed Hamlin with 57 laps left. But 13 laps later, Larson had a flat tire and slid trying to enter pit road.

WHO’S HOT: Hamlin continues to excel when he gets behind the wheel on the Xfinity Series. At Darlington, he’s had four wins and three seconds in the past seven races. He won his only other Xfinity start of the season at Charlotte in May.

WHO’S NOT: Kevin Harvick had mechanical problems that put him behind the wall just 33 laps into the race. Harvick, who has 46 Xfinity wins, has now gone winless in his last 14 series starts dating to a victory at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, in March 2015. Harvick, though, is much hotter in the Sprint Cup series where he won two weeks ago in Bristol and will start up front after qualifying was cancelled due to Hurricane Hermine and the field was set by owner points.

THEY SAID IT: “I can’t say that,” Sadler said when asked what Earnhardt told him.

THE BIG ONE: It was mostly a clean race with Larson’s pit road spin the most game-changing caution.

UP NEXT: Richmond International Raceway, Richmond, Virginia, Sept. 9. Chase Elliott is the defending champion.

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Sport Clips Help a Hero 200

Saturday’s results from the 1.366-mile Darlington Raceway (starting position in parentheses):

1. (3) Elliott Sadler, Chevrolet, 147 laps, 0 rating, 45 points.

2. (2) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 147, 0, 0.

3. (5) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 147, 0, 38.

4. (13) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 147, 0, 0.

5. (11) Brennan Poole, Chevrolet, 147, 0, 36.

6. (10) Erik Jones, Toyota, 147, 0, 35.

7. (4) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 147, 0, 0.

8. (19) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 147, 0, 33.

9. (12) Brandon Jones, Chevrolet, 147, 0, 32.

10. (22) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 147, 0, 31.

11. (7) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 147, 0, 30.

12. (8) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 147, 0, 29.

13. (15) Ryan Reed, Ford, 147, 0, 28.

14. (21) J.J. Yeley, Toyota, 147, 0, 27.

15. (17) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 147, 0, 26.

16. (9) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 146, 0, 25.

17. (14) Darrell Wallace Jr, Ford, 145, 0, 24.

18. (18) Dakoda Armstrong, Toyota, 145, 0, 23.

19. (16) Blake Koch, Chevrolet, 145, 0, 22.

20. (1) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 145, 0, 0.

21. (24) Ray Black Jr, Chevrolet, 145, 0, 21.

22. (23) Garrett Smithley, Chevrolet, 144, 0, 19.

23. (36) David Starr, Chevrolet, 143, 0, 18.

24. (27) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 142, 0, 17.

25. (34) Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, 141, 0, 16.

26. (25) Mario Gosselin, Chevrolet, 140, 0, 15.

27. (31) Josh Berry, Chevrolet, 139, 0, 14.

28. (29) Todd Peck, Ford, 138, 0, 13.

29. (20) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, accident, 102, 0, 12.

30. (30) Jeff Green, Toyota, vibration, 74, 0, 11.

31. (33) Mike Harmon, Dodge, accident, 66, 0, 10.

32. (32) Carl Long, Toyota, accident, 60, 0, 9.

33. (28) Ryan Ellis, Ford, transmission, 51, 0, 8.

34. (37) Morgan Shepherd, Chevrolet, suspension, 45, 0, 7.

35. (6) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, engine, 33, 0, 0.

36. (35) Timmy Hill, Dodge, accident, 28, 0, 0.

37. (26) B J McLeod, Ford, accident, 20, 0, 4.

38. (39) Dexter Bean, Chevrolet, electrical, 5, 0, 3.

39. (40) John Jackson, Chevrolet, transmission, 4, 0, 0.

40. (38) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, reargear, 3, 0, 0.

———

Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 128.719 mph.

Time of Race: 1:33:36.

Margin of Victory: 0.454 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 3 for 17 laps.

Lead Changes: 8 among 6 drivers.

Lap Leaders: P. Menard 1-6; E. Sadler 7-24; R. Black Jr. 25-26; E. Sadler 27-47; D. Hamlin 48-90; K. Larson 91-102; R. Blaney 103-107; D. Hamlin 108-111; E. Sadler 112-147.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): E. Sadler 3 times for 75 laps; D. Hamlin 2 times for 47 laps; K. Larson 1 time for 12 laps; P. Menard 1 time for 6 laps; R. Blaney 1 time for 5 laps; R. Black Jr. 1 time for 2 laps.

Top 10 in Points: E. Sadler, 815; D. Suarez, 761; J. Allgaier, 750; T. Dillon, 742; B. Gaughan, 732; E. Jones, 713; B. Poole, 705; B. Jones, 684; D. Wallace, Jr., 630; R. Reed, 596.

NASCAR: Larson takes advantage of late restart for first Cup victory

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BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) — During the last couple laps of his first Sprint Cup victory, Kyle Larson was emotional.

“I think with two to go, I was starting to get choked up,” he said. “We worked really, really hard to get a win, and just haven’t done it. Finally all the hard work by everybody, hundreds of people at our race shop, people who have got me through to the Cup Series, it was all paying off.”

Larson took the lead on a restart with nine laps remaining and held off Chase Elliott at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday in a duel between two of NASCAR’s up-and-coming standouts. Elliott had a comfortable lead before a tire problem on Michael Annett’s car brought out the yellow flag. Larson had the better restart and went on to win by 1.48 seconds.

Brad Keselowski finished third.

Larson’s victory in his No. 42 Chevrolet snapped a 99-race losing streak for Chip Ganassi Racing dating to Jamie McMurray’s victory at Talladega in 2013.

Larson secured a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup with two races left in the regular season. Elliott remains winless, but is in solid shape to make the Chase field on points if need be.

It was the 99th career start for the 24-year-old Larson, who had 14 top-five finishes before Sunday but hadn’t won at the Cup level. The 20-year-old Elliott is winless in 29 starts, but this was an impressive showing for him after eight consecutive races outside the top 10.

Elliott finished second at Michigan in June as well, losing to Joey Logano.

“That’s a couple races in a row in just a few short months here at this place we had a really good car, had an opportunity,” Elliott said. “That’s one thing I try really hard to do is make the most of opportunities when they’re presented. Obviously I didn’t do a very good job of that here both trips.”

Elliott led by 2.86 seconds with 28 laps to go Sunday, and it looked as if Larson’s chance to catch him had been derailed when he lost ground passing a lapped car. The caution gave him another shot, though, and he took advantage.

“We both spun our tires really bad, and the No. 2 (Keselowski) pushed me really good,” Larson said. “He could have probably pulled underneath me and went by, but he stayed with me and got me the lead.”

There were only four cautions in the 200-lap, 400-mile race. Larson led a race-high 41 laps. Logano, the pole winner, finished 10th.

Chris Buescher, who has a victory but still needs to stay in the top 30 in points to make the Chase, finished 35th after some early engine trouble. Buescher is seven points ahead of David Ragan for 30th place on the season.

Alex Bowman, filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 car, had a problem with the ignition system and finished 30th.

Twelve drivers have wrapped up Chase berths. Tony Stewart, who has a victory, has clinched a top-30 finish in points to secure his spot.

Buescher’s situation is still uncertain, so there could end up being as many as four drivers making it in on points. Elliott is 11th in the standings, the top driver with no victories.

WHO’S HOT: Points leader Kevin Harvick followed up his win at Bristol with a fifth-place showing at Michigan. He has 11 top-five finishes in 24 starts this year.

WHO’S NOT: It was another rough day for Kyle Busch at Michigan. He’d finished out of the top 30 in five of his previous six races at the track, and he was no factor Sunday after an early spin, although he did recover well enough to come in 19th.

“We actually had a pretty fast car. We ran some really fast laps, but we just got in a bad spot there on the restart and got sucked around and wore off part of our splitter,” crew chief Adam Stevens said. “Even after that we were one of the probably five or six quickest cars on the race track and just whenever we got in the lucky-dog spot we ran there for I can’t tell you how many laps and just didn’t get a caution.”

INSPECTION: Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford failed post-race laser inspection.

SKID: Hendrick Motorsports is winless in 19 races after Elliott fell short, but there were some positive signs for the team. At the midway point, Hendrick cars were 1-2, with Jimmie Johnson leading Elliott at the front. Kasey Kahne was in fifth at that point.

Johnson ended up sixth, and Kahne finished 14th. Bowman was the only driver for Hendrick who finished way behind.

This is Hendrick’s longest losing streak since a 22-race dry spell from 1993 into 1994.

UP NEXT: Darlington Raceway, Sept. 4. Carl Edwards is the defending race winner.

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Pure Michigan 400

Sunday’s results from the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway (starting positions in parentheses):

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

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

3. (18) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 200.

4. (7) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 200.

5. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 200.

6. (2) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 200.

7. (9) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 200.

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

9. (3) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 200.

10. (1) Joey Logano, Ford, 200.

11. (22) Greg Biffle, Ford, 200.

12. (19) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 200.

13. (13) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 200.

14. (11) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 200.

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

16. (17) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 200.

17. (10) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 200.

18. (20) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 200.

19. (16) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 199.

20. (14) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 199.

21. (15) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 198.

22. (28) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 198.

23. (23) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 198.

24. (24) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 198.

25. (26) Aric Almirola, Ford, 198.

26. (31) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 198.

27. (29) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 198.

28. (30) Brian Scott, Ford, 197.

29. (32) David Ragan, Toyota, 196.

30. (6) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 195.

31. (35) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 195.

32. (34) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 195.

33. (36) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 195.

34. (37) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 194.

35. (21) Chris Buescher, Ford, 193.

36. (39) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 193.

37. (40) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Ford, 192.

38. (38) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 192.

39. (33) Landon Cassill, Ford, Suspension, 174.

40. (27) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 160.

Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 162.73 mph.

Time of Race: 2 hours, 27 minutes, 29 seconds. Margin of Victory: 1.478 seconds.

Caution Flags: 4 for 17 laps.

Lead Changes: 20 among 13 drivers.

Lap Leaders: J.Logano 1-22, R.Smith 23, J.Logano 24-25, K.Harvick 26-57, M.Truex Jr 58-64, K.Harvick 65, C.Elliott 66, B.Keselowski 67-70, J.Johnson 71-107, C.Elliott 108, B.Keselowski 109-117, C.Elliott 118-124, K.Larson 125-155, B.Keselowski 156, M.Kenseth 157-164, A.Dillon 165, R.Newman 166, C.Edwards 167, G.Biffle 168, C.Elliott 169-190, K.Larson 191-200.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): K.Larson 2 times for 41 laps, J.Johnson 1 time for 37 laps, K.Harvick 2 times for 33 laps, C.Elliott 4 times for 31 laps, J.Logano 2 times for 24 laps, B.Keselowski 3 times for 14 laps, M.Kenseth 1 time for 8 laps, M.Truex Jr 1 time for 7 laps, R.Smith 1 time for 1 lap, G.Biffle 1 time for 1 lap, C.Edwards 1 time for 1 lap, A.Dillon 1 time for 1 lap, R.Newman 1 time for 1 lap.

Top 16 in Points: K.Harvick, 799, B.Keselowski, 774, C.Edwards, 724, Kurt Busch, 721, J.Logano, 716, Kyle Busch, 696, D.Hamlin, 691, M.Truex Jr, 652, J.Johnson, 648, M.Kenseth, 633, C.Elliott, 628, A.Dillon, 622, J.Mcmurray, 616, R.Newman, 601, K.Larson, 582, K.Kahne, 564.

NASCAR: Harvick loves new Bristol Motor Speedway

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BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) — Kevin Harvick believes Bristol Motor Speedway is on to something. Now, he wants similar tracks to follow that lead.

Bristol officials used a tacky resin to “polish” the track and improve grip on the bottom lane so racers would have a two-groove layout and be able to pass down low.

Harvick used the lower groove several times to stick and move past drivers on the way to winning the rain-delayed, water-logged Sprint Cup race Sunday night.

The past few years, Harvick said there was no use taking the low side of the high-banked, concrete track because cars were three-or-four tenths of a second slower.

“Tonight, you could hold your ground, you could get past lapped cars,” he said. “It gave everybody an option to do something different and, as a driver, that’s what you want.”

Harvick pointed out a couple of other similar circuits in need of Bristol’s grippy approach.

“Martinsville needs to call Bristol and say, ‘What do we need to do to make a second lane come in?’ because they did a great job here,” he said. “I think that would be the first place I would attack and do something different.”

Drivers and fans had complained that Bristol had become a top-heavy, one-groove race track where passes were far less frequent than in the bump-and-run days of Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace and the late Intimidator, Dale Earnhardt.

Harvick gushed how Bristol’s gamble could become a blueprint to improve the on-track product.

On Friday night, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch were locked in a pass-happy duel before Busch eventually wrecked and Keselowski ran out of gas — all after 295 of 300 scheduled laps.

“I think Friday night was probably one of the beset Xfinity races I’ve ever sat and watched,” Harvick said with a grin. “Just really happy to see Bristol back where it is this weekend.”

___

Other things we’ve learned from the weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway:

BAD LUCK BUSCH: Kyle Busch was in position to win both the Sprint Cup and Xfinity races, yet left the track wrecked both times. On Friday night, he tangled with rival Brad Keselowski and wound up in the wall with five laps to go. On Sunday, Busch led a race-high 256 laps, yet got hit by Justin Allgaier after a spin. Busch threw his helmet and called both Allgaier and his spotter the “biggest moron(s) out there.”

GOOD LUCK BUESCHER: Rookie Chris Buescher, the surprise winner at Pocono earlier this month, moved into 30th in points which would qualify him for NASCAR’s Chase. Buescher left here 13 points ahead of David Ragan. Buescher has three races left before the 16-man playoffs begin.

GORDON’S FINISH: Jeff Gordon wound up 11th, his best showing in the four races he’s run in the No. 88 car replacing injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. Gordon won’t drive in Michigan because of a prior commitment. Earnhardt is scheduled for tests and Hendrick Motorsports will update his status early next week.

WHERE’S JGR?: The Joe Gibbs Racing quartet looked like it would sweep the top spots after it finished 1-2-3-5 in qualifying Friday night. It didn’t finish that way Sunday. Denny Hamlin led the way in third while pole-sitter Carl Edwards was sixth. Both Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch were caught up in accidents that ended their chances earlier than expected.

IT’S FOOTBALL TIME: Bristol now goes gridiron. Crews almost immediately started the expected 19-day process to convert the iconic NASCAR track into a frenzied football field in time for No. 9 Tennessee to face Virginia Tech. The infield will become the playing surface in a construction project that involves more than 10,000 tons of stones for the base. The Vols and Hokies play Sept. 10 and then Western Carolina and East Tennessee play a week later.

NASCAR: Kevin Harvick wins rain-delayed NASCAR race at Bristol

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BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) — Kevin Harvick wasn’t worried about his poor qualifying at Bristol Motor Speedway. In fact, starting 24th gave Harvick exactly what he wanted to win at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“It kind of motivates me,” Harvick said Sunday. “I think it’s exciting. I like to pass cars.”

Harvick made the biggest pass with 70 laps to go, sweeping by Denny Hamlin and holding on to take the rain-delayed race at the half-mile concrete track.

The victory was Harvick’s second of the season and second at Bristol — his first in 11 years. It also moved him atop the points standings and gave his program a jolt with only three races left until NASCAR’s Chase starts.

Harvick had 13 top-10 finishes in the 18 races since winning at Phoenix in March.

“It’s been one of those deals where things have just not gone exactly right,” said Harvick, who led 128 laps. “But to have the win now and just try to get that momentum before we get into the Chase and get things rolling is really what we needed.”

Fittingly for a race halted because of Saturday night storms, Harvick had to sit out one last rain delay before easily pulling away on the restart and cruising to victory.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Harvick said over the radio as he crossed the line.

Harvick enticed his car owner — and retiring driver — Tony Stewart to do burnouts with him to celebrate the three-time champion’s last race at Bristol. He wanted Stewart to share the victory lap, but “Tony and I aren’t very good at sign language from one seat to another,” he said.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was second, followed by Hamlin, Austin Dillon and Chris Buescher.

Kyle Busch, who led 256 laps, clearly had the strongest car, leading a race-high 256 laps. But he spun on Lap 358 when a part broke and Justin Allgaier, driving in relief of Michael Arnett, hit the No. 18 car flush to end the defending series champ’s race.

Busch was angered by his equipment failure and said the race shop “was going to hear about it Tuesday.” He also blasted Allgaier and his spotter, saying they should’ve seen Busch’s spin and moved clear instead of hitting him. “I don’t know. Frustrating day. Let’s go home,” Busch said.

Allgaier apologized to Busch. “That is the worst possibly scenario when the leader spins out and you hit them,” Allgaier said.

That was the sentiment of many at Bristol. The end was a welcome relief for race teams, track officials and those who came back out after last night’s soaking rains.

It was the second time in three races — Pocono’s Sunday race ended on a Monday three weeks ago — that rain impacted a Sprint Cup race and only a fraction of the 160,000 in the stands Saturday night returned for the conclusion.

The finish also meant Bristol could begin the massive conversion of its race track to a football field for No. 9 Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech, an event that track GM Jerry Caldwell expects will draw in excess of 155,000 fans.

WHO’S HOT: Austin Dillon, the surprise winner of the Xfinity race here Friday night, found himself competing for the victory on the final restart with 51 laps to go. He got as high as second before finishing fourth. The result was a boost to Dillon’s Chase chances, too, who came in as one of the drivers qualifying on points and left with that intact.

WHO’S NOT: Tony Stewart was hoping to lock up his Chase spot — he’s got a win but stands 27th in points — with a strong Bristol finish. Instead, he went behind the wall with a vibration just past the halfway point. Stewart finished 30th.

THEY SAID IT: “The person that’s really the biggest moron out there is the spotter of the 46 and driver of the 46 (Justin Allgaier). I’ve been wrecking half a lap and they just come up and clean us out. That’s stupid,” said Kyle Busch, who wrecked on lap 373 after leading 258 laps.

THE BIG ONE: It came on lap 373 on a restart after Kyle Busch was knocked out by an accident. Kurt Busch slid up and was hit by Brad Keselowski, touching off a 10-car wreck that caught up contenders Kyle Larson, Blaney, Chase Elliott and Matt Kenseth. Keselowski said Kurt Busch got loose “and by the time I saw it, I was already making contact. It was one of those Bristol things.”

UP NEXT: Michigan International Speedway, Aug. 28. Matt Kenseth is the defending champion.

Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race

Sunday’s results from the .533-mile Bristol Motor Speedway (starting position in parentheses):

1. (24) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 500 laps, 0 rating, 44 points.

2. (25) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 500, 0, 39.

3. (2) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 500, 0, 39.

4. (13) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 500, 0, 37.

5. (12) Chris Buescher, Ford, 500, 0, 36.

6. (1) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 500, 0, 36.

7. (16) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 500, 0, 34.

8. (28) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 500, 0, 33.

9. (8) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 500, 0, 32.

10. (10) Joey Logano, Ford, 500, 0, 32.

11. (11) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 500, 0, 30.

12. (22) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 500, 0, 29.

13. (19) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 500, 0, 28.

14. (17) Aric Almirola, Ford, 500, 0, 27.

15. (6) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 500, 0, 27.

16. (34) Greg Biffle, Ford, 500, 0, 25.

17. (18) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 500, 0, 24.

18. (30) Brian Scott, Ford, 499, 0, 24.

19. (26) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 499, 0, 22.

20. (32) Landon Cassill, Ford, 497, 0, 21.

21. (37) David Ragan, Toyota, 497, 0, 20.

22. (29) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 496, 0, 19.

23. (7) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 496, 0, 18.

24. (23) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 495, 0, 17.

25. (21) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 495, 0, 16.

26. (33) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 491, 0, 15.

27. (36) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 489, 0, 14.

28. (15) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 487, 0, 14.

29. (38) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Ford, 479, 0, 12.

30. (27) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 471, 0, 11.

31. (31) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 470, 0, 10.

32. (20) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 458, 0, 9.

33. (9) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 458, 0, 8.

34. (35) Cole Whitt, Ford, 442, 0, 7.

35. (4) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 437, 0, 6.

36. (40) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 416, 0, 5.

37. (5) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, accident, 373, 0, 4.

38. (14) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, accident, 372, 0, 3.

39. (3) Kyle Busch, Toyota, accident, 357, 0, 4.

40. (39) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, accident, 354, 0, 0.

———

Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 77.973 mph.

Time of Race: 3 hours, 25 minutes, 5 seconds.

Margin of Victory: 1.933 seconds.

Caution Flags: 9 for 106 laps.

Lead Changes: 20 among 8 drivers.

Lap Leaders: C.Edwards 0; D.Hamlin 1-8; C.Elliott 9-22; Ky.Busch 23-87; B.Scott 88-92; R.Newman 93-101; Ky.Busch 102-160; C.Edwards 161-189; Ky.Busch 190-226; C.Edwards 227; Ky.Busch 228-250; C.Edwards 251; Ky.Busch 252-285; K.Harvick 286-309; Ky.Busch 310-347; K.Harvick 348-366; J.Logano 367-403; K.Harvick 404-417; J.Logano 418; D.Hamlin 419-429; K.Harvick 430-500

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): Ky.Busch, 6 times for 250 laps; K.Harvick, 4 times for 124 laps; J.Logano, 2 times for 36 laps; C.Edwards, 4 times for 28 laps; D.Hamlin, 2 times for 17 laps; C.Elliott, 1 time for 13 laps; R.Newman, 1 time for 8 laps; B.Scott, 1 time for 4 laps.

Wins: Ky.Busch, 4; B.Keselowski, 4; C.Edwards, 2; D.Hamlin, 2; K.Harvick, 2; J.Johnson, 2; M.Kenseth, 2; C.Buescher, 1; Ku.Busch, 1; J.Logano, 1; T.Stewart, 1; M.Truex, 1.

Top 16 in Points: 1. K.Harvick, 762; 2. B.Keselowski, 735; 3. Ku.Busch, 692; 4. C.Edwards, 689; 5. J.Logano, 684; 6. Ky.Busch, 674; 7. D.Hamlin, 659; 8. M.Truex, 630; 9. J.Johnson, 612; 10. M.Kenseth, 604; 11. A.Dillon, 596; 12. C.Elliott, 588; 13. J.McMurray, 583; 14. R.Newman, 576; 15. T.Bayne, 541; 16. K.Kahne, 537.

NASCAR: Buescher emerges in the fog at Pocono for 1st career Cup win

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LONG POND, Pa. (AP) — Chris Buescher sat in his Ford, hoping that the fog would stick over Pocono and the cloud over the rookie’s middling season would start to lift.

Buescher idled in his car, then stood with his arms folded on pit road.

“I tried not to get my hopes up,” he said.

Buescher emerged from the fog to become a surprising winner in Monday’s shortened Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway. He is now on the verge of being in the mix for NASCAR’s championship after not finishing better than 14th all season before Monday.

Imagine a title push that kicks off with Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and little-known Buescher in the field.

“The plan was to always make the Chase,” Buescher said. “We’re that much closer now.”

He’s not there yet. Buescher is six points behind David Ragan for 30th to reach the cutoff needed to become eligible for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

Buescher, who drives for underfunded Front Row Motorsports, was the beneficiary on a rare Monday race postponed a day by rain. With nasty weather punishing the track, NASCAR called the red flag with 22 laps left and parked the cars on pit road. Buescher was as much a spectator in the No. 34 Ford as the few fans left in the stands, though NASCAR let drivers get out of their cars after about 10 minutes as they waited out gloomy conditions.

“I’m a little scared to get out,” Buescher said.

No need. He was declared the winner after about an 80-minute delay. He was doused with beer and water in a makeshift victory lane celebration inside a garage stall, his Ford covered on rainy pit road instead of bathed in confetti.

Brad Keselowski was second, followed by Regan Smith, Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart. Jeff Gordon finished 27th driving for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr.

In order to qualify for the Chase, drivers must rank 30th or better in points. Buescher will need to find a way to climb higher over Ragan in the final five races before the Chase field is set.

Buescher won twice last season in the Xfinity Series and won the series championship. He will spend 2016 as basically the fourth Jack Roush driver because of a shared technical alliance between the organizations.

He finished 30th or worse 10 times this season. Ragan had Front Row’s only victory 118 races ago in fall 2013 at Talladega.

Veteran crew chief Bob Osborne gambled with the decision to keep Buescher on the track while others made pit stops with 28 laps left. Once the cars were halted, Buescher and his crew rooted for the rain and fog to stick around. At one point, the 23-year-old Buescher, a former ARCA champion, rested against a fence and was swarmed by fans and photographers wanting a picture before the race was even called.

“I’m trying to remember every rain dance I’ve ever learned,” he said in the car.

Buescher is now on the brink of becoming the first Chase bracket buster. Led by four-time winners Busch and Keselowski, there are 11 slots seemingly set for race winners, and Buescher would make 12. Jamie McMurray, Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, and Kyle Larson are among the four winless drivers battling for the final four spots.

“This is going to change our whole year right here,” Buescher said.

Drivers with a Chase spot secured enjoyed Buescher’s feel-good victory that broke up the recent Toyota hot streak.

“I told him, ‘If I couldn’t win, it was cool to see him win,'” Keselowski said.

NASCAR defended dragging out the decision to call the race, even as severe storms hit a track where a fan was killed by a lightning strike in 2012.

“We never lost the track,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer. “I think most NASCAR fans want to see a complete race.”

Here are other items of note from Monday’s race:

SO CLOSE

With rain looming toward the halfway point, Larson and Dillon engaged in a thrilling five-lap battle for first. Larson kept his tight lead with a timely block of Dillon just two laps shy of the halfway point. Dillon dipped low and briefly snagged the lead, only for Larson to snatch it right back at the halfway point that made the race official.

But Larson and Dillon took their door-to-door battle on the high line, allowing Joey Logano to swoop low and seize the lead in one of the most exciting mid-race moves of the season. Logano, the 2015 Daytona 500 champion, pulled away in the fog — but Elliott got loose and turned Logano into the wall with 55 laps left in the race and sent his 22 to the garage.

FLAT TRUEX

Martin Truex Jr. run up front from the pole was a short one, the former Pocono winner’s race derailed by a flat right front tire. Truex led 16 laps early until the tire blew and forced him to pit road for repairs. He had multiple issues once he returned to the track and finished 38th.

Truex has one win this season and won the June 2015 Pocono race. Truex said his No. 78 Toyota was strong enough to contend for a victory.

“A lug nut spun off, hit the ground, bounced behind the wheel somehow and knocked the inner valve stem off,” he said.

GORDON’S RUN

Jeff Gordon’s track record for wins remains at six. Gordon, filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the second straight week, battled a seat belt issue and finished 27th. Earnhardt missed his third straight race because he suffers from symptoms of a concussion. Hendrick Motorsports has not said who will drive the No. 88 Chevrolet on Sunday at Watkins Glen.

UP NEXT:

Logano is the defending race winner at Watkins Glen.

___

MONDAY’S RESULTS

Lap length: 2.5 miles

(Post position in parentheses)

1. (22) Chris Buescher, Ford, 138.

2. (7) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 138.

3. (30) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 138.

4. (17) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 138.

5. (6) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 138.

6. (11) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 138.

7. (4) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 138.

8. (2) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 138.

9. (16) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 138.

10. (15) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 138.

11. (18) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 138.

12. (5) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 138.

13. (12) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 138.

14. (13) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 138.

15. (23) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 138.

16. (21) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 138.

17. (9) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 138.

18. (14) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 138.

19. (31) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 138.

20. (19) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 138.

21. (20) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 138.

22. (26) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 138.

23. (29) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 138.

24. (35) Brian Scott, Ford, 138.

25. (25) Greg Biffle, Ford, 138.

26. (28) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 138.

27. (24) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 138.

28. (34) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 138.

29. (39) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 137.

30. (32) Landon Cassill, Ford, 137.

31. (36) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 137.

32. (33) David Ragan, Toyota, 135.

33. (8) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 134.

34. (38) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 132.

35. (3) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 119.

36. (37) Jeb Burton, Ford, 117.

37. (10) Joey Logano, Ford, 115.

38. (1) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, Accident, 82.

39. (27) Aric Almirola, Ford, Accident, 66.

40. (40) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, Engine, 29.

———

Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 127.581 mph.

Time of Race: 02 Hrs, 42 Mins, 15 Secs. Margin of Victory: Caution.

Caution Flags: 7 for 31 laps.

Lead Changes: 19 among 11 drivers.

Lap Leaders: M. Truex Jr 1-16; B. Keselowski 17-18; G. Biffle 19-32; J. Logano 33-50; K. Harvick 51; J. Logano 52; A. Dillon 53; R. Newman 54; B. Keselowski 55-60; K. Harvick 61-66; K. Larson 67-77; A. Dillon 78; K. Larson 79-80; J. Logano 81-99; K. Larson 100-108; Kyle Busch 109; K. Larson 110-124; A. Dillon 125; A. Allmendinger 126; C. Buescher 127-138.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): J. Logano 3 times for 38 laps; K. Larson 4 times for 37 laps; M. Truex Jr 1 time for 16 laps; G. Biffle 1 time for 14 laps; C. Buescher 1 time for 12 laps; B. Keselowski 2 times for 8 laps; K. Harvick 2 times for 7 laps; A. Dillon 3 times for 3 laps; R. Newman 1 time for 1 lap; Kyle Busch 1 time for 1 lap; A. Allmendinger 1 time for 1 lap.

Top 16 in Points: K. Harvick, 709; B. Keselowski, 687; Kurt Busch, 658; Kyle Busch, 634; C. Edwards, 626; J. Logano, 612; J. Johnson, 577; M. Truex Jr, 577; D. Hamlin, 576; M. Kenseth, 569; A. Dillon, 549; R. Newman, 537; C. Elliott, 533; J. Mcmurray, 517; K. Larson, 508; K. Kahne, 488.

This story has been corrected to show that winning is not a requirement to qualifying for the Chase.

NASCAR: Kyle Busch wins NASACAR Xfinity Series race at Indy _ again

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Kyle Busch spent Saturday climbing in and out of brutally hot cars in Indianapolis.

All that work finally got him back to a pretty cool spot in victory lane — and some ice cold water.

After claiming two poles Saturday afternoon, Busch returned to the track and led all but one lap to win his second straight NASCAR Xfinity Series victory at the track by 0.415 seconds over hard-charging Kevin Harvick. Paul Menard was third, 1.338 seconds off the pace.

“I’d like to hope so,” the 2015 Cup season champion said after being asked if he can keep this up after earning his seventh Xfinity win this season and record-extending 83rd of his career. “I don’t know exactly how many (races) I have left, that’s changing every day. But, hopefully, with whatever we have left, we can have the same amount of success we’ve had here.”

Busch has been virtually unbeatable on Indy’s 2.5-mile oval all weekend.

He posted the fastest practice times in both the Xfinity and Sprint Cup Series on Friday, won the poles, captured the first of two heat races to establish the rest of the starting order and put himself in position second straight sweep of the two races in Indy.

No NASCAR driver has ever won both poles and both races here.

The only prize Busch didn’t get his claim Saturday was the $100,000 dash-for-cash prize, which he was ineligible for. That payout went to fifth-place finisher Justin Allgaier — who was the best of the non-Cup regulars. Allgaier said the thermometer in his car reached 137 degrees.

How dominant has Busch been?

The Joe Gibbs Racing star held off two former Brickyard 400 winners and one, Harvick, couldn’t even catch the leader after taking new tires during the final caution period, which extended the race to 63 laps.

The difference: Busch’s perfectly-timed restarts.

“New tires for those guys were good for them, not so much for us,” Busch said after completing the final 36 laps without a stop. “On the restarts, the second-to-last one was really good. The last one was OK.”

It was at least good enough.

Busch only surrendered the lead once — when he pitted after 27 laps — and retook the lead when Brendan Gaughan made his pit stop.

The only other time Busch’s lead was even in jeopardy came after rookie Roy Black Jr. hit the wall in the second turn, slid down the track and was hit by Harrison Rhodes, bringing out a caution six laps to go.

Harvick, who drives for Stewart-Haas Racing, and Kyle Larson, who drives for Chip Ganassi Racing, both stopped and changed tires. But they wound up battling one another so hard, they couldn’t catch Busch.

“Our goal was to overachieve today, and we did that,” Harvick said. “We had a couple of good restarts and wound up second. Not a bad day.”

Even if Busch’s day was much more rewarding.

“I think our chances are pretty good,” Busch said, referring to the Brickyard 400. “Starting up front means a lot here in Indy. I think our Toyota today was strong, I think our Toyota tomorrow will be even stronger.”

____

Lilly Diabetes 250

Saturday’s results from the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway (starting position in parentheses):

1. (1) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 63.

2. (4) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 63.

3. (8) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 63.

4. (3) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 63.

5. (6) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 63.

6. (9) Elliott Sadler, Chevrolet, 63.

7. (7) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 63.

8. (5) Joey Logano, Ford, 63.

9. (12) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 63.

10. (13) Brandon Jones, Chevrolet, 63.

11. (10) Brennan Poole, Chevrolet, 63.

12. (11) Jeb Burton, Ford, 63.

13. (15) Ryan Reed, Ford, 62.

14. (14) Darrell Wallace Jr, Ford, 62.

15. (17) Blake Koch, Chevrolet, 62.

16. (16) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 62.

17. (19) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 62.

18. (18) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 62.

19. (21) JJ Yeley, Toyota, 62.

20. (20) Dakoda Armstrong, Toyota, 62.

21. (22) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 62.

22. (2) Erik Jones, Toyota, 62.

23. (25) Garrett Smithley, Chevrolet, 61.

24. (30) David Starr, Chevrolet, 61.

25. (27) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 61.

26. (28) BJ McLeod, Ford, 61.

27. (26) Brandon Gdovic, Chevrolet, 60.

28. (38) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 60.

29. (32) Mario Gosselin, Chevrolet, 60.

30. (34) Ryan Ellis, Chevrolet, 60.

31. (31) Stanton Barrett, Chevrolet, 59.

32. (36) Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, 58.

33. (24) Ray Black Jr, Chevrolet, Accident, 52.

34. (29) Harrison Rhodes, Toyota, Accident, 51.

35. (33) Mike Harmon, Dodge, Too Slow, 32.

36. (23) Jeff Green, Toyota, Rear Gear, 31.

37. (35) Morgan Shepherd, Chevrolet, Handling, 17.

38. (39) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, Brakes, 13.

39. (37) Timmy Hill, Dodge, Vibration, 9.

40. (40) Todd Peck, Ford, Engine, 0.

———

Race statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 136.298 mph.

Time of Race: 1 hour, 9 minutes, 20 seconds.

Margin of Victory: 0.411 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 2 for 10 laps.

Lead Changes: 2 among 2 drivers.

Lap Leaders: K. Busch 1-27; B. Gaughan 28; K. Busch 29-63.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): K. Busch 2 times for 62 laps; B. Gaughan 1 time for 1 lap.

Top 10 in Points: D. Suarez – 608; E. Sadler – 594; T. Dillon – 558; J. Allgaier – 542; E. Jones – 539; B. Gaughan – 535; B. Jones – 520; B. Poole – 519; D. Wallace Jr – 486; R. Reed – 433.

NASCAR: Kenseth pulls away late to win Cup race at New Hampshire

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LOUDON, N.H. (AP) — Matt Kenseth was always near the front of the pack. He stalked the leaders and waited for contenders to wilt.

Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. faded down the stretch. So did Denny Hamlin.

It almost seemed like a repeat scenario for Kenseth.

Just like last fall on the same track when Kevin Harvick’s lead evaporated when he ran out of fuel, Kenseth pounced. He pulled away down the stretch to win the Sprint Cup race Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Truex and Busch each led more than 120 laps before faltering over the final 75 laps, paving the way for Kenseth to win for the second time this season.

Kenseth also won the New Hampshire race last September. He has 38th career victories.

“Last fall, we squeaked one out, a little more fuel than Kevin and a little different strategy, but not quite as good a car,” Kenseth said. “Today, I felt like we had the best car.”

NASCAR said Kenseth’s No. 20 Toyota failed the post-race laser inspection station and will be brought to the research and development center in Concord, North Carolina, for more evaluation. The penalty for that kind of failure has traditionally been a 15-point penalty. But this was the first time a race winner was busted since the lasers were instituted in 2013.

Tony Stewart finished second and strengthened his spot inside the top 30 in the points standings. Stewart has a win this season and needs to secure a spot in the top 30 in points to clinch a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. He inched from 30th to 28th in points.

Joey Logano was third, followed by Harvick and Greg Biffle.

Alex Bowman had a solid day ruined when he hit the wall late and finished 26th driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt was sidelined because he suffered from symptoms of a concussion.

Truex tumbled to 16th when his Toyota suffered a broken shifter and Busch dropped to eighth when he could never break free on late-race restarts.

“We’re doing everything right, but we’re taking some on the chin here,” Truex said.

That allowed Kenseth, Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, to cruise to the top and snatch the lead with fellow JGR teammate Denny Hamlin with 30 laps He drove away on the final restart with 11 to go in the 301-mile race and soon the traditional lobster plopped on the hood of his Toyota.

But this race could be the one remembered for truly solidifying Stewart in Chase contention. He snapped an 84-race losing streak last month at Sonoma and was fifth last week at Kentucky Speedway. Smoke is heating up this summer and could be racing for a fourth championship in his final NASCAR season.

“Everyone wants this last year to be good,” Stewart said. “Sonoma, I think really helped relax everybody.”

Kenseth became the first driver since Kurt Busch in 2004 to win consecutive starts at New Hampshire. He didn’t win in his first 27 Cup starts at the track but has three wins in his last three races at the 1.058-mile track.

“It used to be one of my worst places and now I feel like it’s one of our better places,” he said.

Here are other items of note from Sunday’s race:

___

BOWMAN’S RUN

Bowman enjoyed perhaps the final race of his Sprint Cup career, running inside the top 10 and seemingly in position for his best finish in 72 starts.

But Bowman’s run in the No. 88 Chevrolet ended with a thud when a tire issue slammed his car into the wall and he finished 26th in his first Cup race of the season.

“I’ve never got to actually race with guys like Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, all those guys,” he said. “I had a lot of fun passing really good cars.”

With four-time champion Jeff Gordon set to take the wheel next week if Earnhardt isn’t cleared, Bowman is out of options for the rest of the year.

“The result will not show what a great job @AlexBRacing and the @nationwide88 gang did this weekend. Proud of them guys,” Earnhardt tweeted.

Bowman had no top-10 finishes in 71 starts over the 2014-2015 seasons with BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing.

“I don’t think I’ve gotten out of a Cup car with a smile on my face in a while,” he said. “It’s just so much fun to be able to run up front like that. I’ve spent two years of my career wondering if I can really do this at the Cup level and today I answered that for myself.”

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UNHAPPY HARVICK

Harvick was hardly happy over his top-five finish.

He went on TV after the race and blasted his Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Chevrolet pit crew for continued poor stops that cost him a serious shot at the checkered flag.

I’m disgusted to tell you the truth. It’s the same thing every week. We just make mistake after mistake and until we clean that up we don’t have a chance to win races putting ourselves in a hole every time we make a mistake,” Harvick said.

He added, “It’s really going to have to come from the top. I mean, they are going to have to clamp down and there is no way we can win a championship like this unless they straighten some of this stuff out.”

Harvick’s crew had problems with lug nuts and the air gun on two separate spots that sunk him from contention.

“We always do something wrong,” he said.

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KEZ’S STREAK

Brad Keselowski failed in his bid to win three races. He followed wins at Daytona International Speedway and Kentucky Speedway with a 15th-place finish on Sunday.

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JUNIOR UPDATE

Team owner Rick Hendrick does not think the concussion symptoms that sidelined Earnhardt are career threatening. He hoped to have NASCAR’s most popular driver back in the car next week at the Brickyard.

Four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon will come out of retirement and drive the 88 next week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway if Earnhardt does not return. Hendrick says Gordon will likely remain in the car should Earnhardt need an extended absence.

Earnhardt will have more tests early this week. Hendrick Motorsports will likely make a decision on Earnhardt’s availability on Wednesday.

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UP NEXT

Kyle Busch heads to the Brickyard as the defending winner at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

NASCAR: Keselowski wins for 3rd time at Kentucky Speedway

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SPARTA, Ky. (AP) — Brad Keselowski’s calm demeanor was never more evident than his cool response to a tense moment.

He radioed crew chief Paul Wolfe that his No. 2 Ford was out of fuel but stayed focused, heeding instructions to milk whatever mileage he could.

Keselowski ended up having enough to become the first three-time winner at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday night, overtaking Kevin Harvick on lap 201 and holding on for the Sprint Cup Series victory.

“We ran out with about two (laps) to go,” he said. “Somehow we limped it around and stay ahead of Carl (Edwards) and bring it home. This is something I’m not going to forget.

“It’s a pretty helpless feeling being out of gas with guys behind you. But there’s nothing you can about it, and freaking out ain’t going to help anything.”

Matt Kenseth grabbed the lead with six laps remaining but soon pitted for fuel to hand the top spot back to Keselowski, who had just enough gas in reserve to edge Edwards by .175 seconds in the closest victory margin for the 400-mile race. Keselowski’s tank eventually ran dry and he needed a tow truck to get to victory lane.

Ryan Newman was third, followed by Kurt Busch and then Tony Stewart in fifth in his final Kentucky race. The three-time series champion is retiring after this season.

Keselowski led three times for a total of 75 laps on his way to his second straight win and series-best fourth of the season that clinched a spot in the Chase for the championship.

All of his Kentucky wins have come in even-numbered years — the others came in 2012 and 2014 — and his latest triumph on the 1.5 mile tri-oval might have been his most impressive in terms of strategy.

The Penske Racing driver pitted just four times after starting second and made the most of his gas tank down to the last drop, withstanding one last charge from Edwards. Those final laps were still nerve-wracking for Wolfe, but he’s been in this situation before with Keselowski and things have turned out well.

“I felt pretty good about it (fuel) until the 19 (Edwards) closed up on us,” he said. “He was able to go and I think he said, shut it off a little bit down the back and as he got into the corner it picked up. Once we were coming off (turn) 4, I saw he was still under power and I felt like we had it at that point.”

Said Edwards: “I thought he was out of fuel, but he did a good job.”

Keselowski clearly got a lot from his tires and setup, both of which were important on the resurfaced and reconfigured track featuring higher banking in turns and 1 and 2. He lamented the smoothing of front-stretch bumps he said added character to Kentucky, but quickly adapted to the improvements and new NASCAR rules that reduced downforce and sideforce.

Harvick, the pole-sitter, led for a race-high 128 laps and finished ninth.

Keselowski guided his Ford past Harvick’s Chevy on lap 201 after the race record-tying 11th caution. The race then stayed green to the end.

Accidents were the story early on. Some notable names were collected, including Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano and rookie Chase Elliott.

Some other notes from the Kentucky race:

HARD HIT: Logano’s No. 22 Ford was knocked out after hitting the wall, an impact that left him 38th and red-faced. “That was one of the hardest hits I’ve had in a while,” he said. Of his race, he added, “it doesn’t hurt. I think it’s just red.”

TIRES HOLD UP: Despite double-digit cautions that quickly made Goodyear’s tires an easy target, the package that differed from last month’s test held up well. Spokesman Mike Siberini said tires were cut by other factors, but there was no blistering like the type the company found after the June test here.

PARTING GIFT: Stewart received a Kentucky basketball jersey from former Wildcats coach Joe B. Hall and ex-players Jack “Goose” Givens and Kyle Macy from the 1978 NCAA championship team.

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SATURDAY’S RESULTS

Lap length: 1.5 miles

(Start position in parentheses)

1. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 267.

2. (5) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 267.

3. (14) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 267.

4. (3) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 267.

5. (22) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 267.

6. (23) Greg Biffle, Ford, 267.

7. (16) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 267.

8. (11) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 267.

9. (1) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 267.

10. (7) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 267.

11. (17) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 267.

12. (6) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 267.

13. (13) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 267.

14. (18) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 267.

15. (10) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 267.

16. (12) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 267.

17. (27) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 266.

18. (24) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 266.

19. (20) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 266.

20. (26) Aric Almirola, Ford, 266.

21. (36) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 266.

22. (31) David Ragan, Toyota, 265.

23. (25) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 265.

24. (40) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 264.

25. (30) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 264.

26. (37) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 264.

27. (39) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 262.

28. (38) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Ford, 262.

29. (29) Landon Cassill, Ford, 261.

30. (28) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 246.

31. (8) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 210.

32. (9) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, Accident, 208.

33. (32) Brian Scott, Ford, Accident, 151.

34. (33) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, Accident, 150.

35. (15) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 143.

36. (19) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, Accident, 103.

37. (34) Chris Buescher, Ford, Accident, 92.

38. (35) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, Accident, 79.

39. (4) Joey Logano, Ford, Accident, 52.

40. (21) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, Accident, 9.

Average Speed of Race Winner: 128.583 mph.

Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 06 Mins, 53 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.175 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 11 for 53 laps.

Lead Changes: 16 among 9 drivers.

Lap Leaders: K. Harvick 1-27; Kurt Busch 28-37; K. Harvick 38-54; B. Keselowski 55-62; M. Truex Jr. 63-82; K. Harvick 83; D. Ragan 84-85; K. Harvick 86-145; A. Dillon 146; M. Kenseth 147; D. Patrick 148-149; T. Dillon(i) 150; M. Truex Jr. 151-176; K. Harvick 177-199; B. Keselowski 200-260; M. Kenseth 261; B. Keselowski 262-267.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): K. Harvick 5 times for 128 laps; B. Keselowski 3 times for 75 laps; M. Truex Jr. 2 times for 46 laps; Kurt Busch 1 time for 10 laps; M. Kenseth 2 times for 2 laps; D. Ragan 1 time for 2 laps; D. Patrick 1 time for 2 laps; A. Dillon 1 time for 1 lap; T. Dillon(i) 1 time for 1 lap.

Top 16 in Points: K. Harvick – 599; B. Keselowski – 595; Kurt Busch – 583; C. Edwards – 566; J. Logano – 533; Kyle Busch – 521; M. Truex Jr. – 514; C. Elliott ‥ – 492; J. Johnson – 484; M. Kenseth – 477; D. Hamlin – 472; R. Newman – 463; D. Earnhardt Jr. – 461; A. Dillon – 460; J. Mcmurray – 439; T. Bayne – 429.

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.

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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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