Kyle Busch

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NASCAR: On a night for underdogs, William Byron reigns at Iowa Speedway

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NEWTON, Iowa (AP) — It took rookie William Byron just a week to get over one of the most brutal losses of his young career.

The 19-year-old Byron grabbed the lead with just over 20 laps left and won the NASCAR Xfinity race at Iowa Speedway on Saturday night for his first series victory.

A seven-time winner last year in the Truck Series, Byron broke through just a week after an agonizingly close loss to Monster Energy Cup star Denny Hamlin at Michigan.

“Last week was just exciting to be that close to a win,” said Byron, who won the Truck race at Iowa in 2016. “It gave us a lot of momentum going into this week.”

Ryan Sieg was second in the stand-alone race with the Cup regulars in Sonoma for Sunday’s race. Tyler Reddick was third, followed by Ross Chastain and Dakoda Armstrong.

Christopher Bell led 152 laps in just his second career start in the series before a late wreck cost relegated him to 16th. He led a race-high 99 laps in the Truck race Friday night.

Sieg, also in search of his first win, was on Byron’s tail on the final restart and nearly overtook him.

But this time Byron, who led 78 laps in JR Motorsports’ No. 9 Chevrolet, was the driver with just enough to hang on.

“I gave him all I could give,” Sieg said. “He was just a little stronger, a little faster. I did all I could do.”

For Byron, the victory was quick redemption after Hamlin beat him by 0.012 seconds.,

“To get second last week kind of hurt because we were that close. But I feel like it gave us extra motivation,” Byron said.

As for Bell, he suffered bad fortune for the second night in a row.

Bell, who finished fourth in his debut at Charlotte, won the pole and the first stage. But early in the second stage, Sam Hornish Jr. — who was hoping to win at Iowa in his season debut like he did in 2016 — rubbed fenders with Bell.

Hornish popped a tire and slammed backward into the wall, ending his night.

“I felt like we were heading in the direction we needed,” said Hornish, who’ll return to Iowa Speedway with Team Penske next month. “This is not how we wanted it to go at all.”

Brendan Gaughan took advantage of a late restart to win the second stage and pick up his first playoff points of the season. Bell soon regained control, but he was clipped by Brennan Poole and sustained heavy damage.

Series leader Elliott Sadler, making his 800th career start, qualified fourth but was sent to the back of the field for an unapproved adjustment. Sadler finished eighth after an up and down night.

Matt Tifft was 22nd in his return to Iowa, the first race he missed in 2016 after being diagnosed with a brain tumor.

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SONOMA, Calif. (AP) — Chip Ganassi likes winners, and his drivers have him in prime position to celebrate another victory.

Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray swept the front row in Saturday qualifying at Sonoma Raceway to give Chip Ganassi Racing a 1-2 start on the wine country road course.

Larson turned a lap at 95.295 mph Saturday and just nipped his teammate, who ran his qualifying lap at 95.204 in the Ganassi Chevrolet. McMurray is seeking his first win of the season.

Larson is coming off a Cup win last week at Michigan — where he also started from the pole — and is looking to make it two consecutive wins. In fact, Larson is on an incredible hot streak and, including his sprint car races, has four total wins in the last two weeks.

He planned to be a spectator Saturday night at Calistoga Speedway, where best friend Rico Abreu was hosing a charity sprint car race that featured Abreu, Tony Stewart and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. As much as he wished he could get out and play with his friends in the dirt, the focus is Sunday for the Monster Energy Series points leader.

“The whole lap actually felt pretty bad,” he said. “I felt like I gave up enough there that I wouldn’t have a shot at the pole. So, I was surprised and I was happy about that. This is cool to get a pole on a road course at my home state. This is my closest track to Sacramento, or Elk Grove, where I grew up. I have lots of friends and family here, we’re going to celebrate with the team, and then we’re going to head out to Calistoga and go watch some Sprint Car racing. So, I’m excited about that.”

McMurray noted Ganassi had left Sonoma to return to the IndyCar event in Wisconsin, but the car owner would be reaching out to his drivers shortly.

Martin Truex Jr., the most consistent driver this season, qualified third in a Toyota for Furniture Row Racing, and Kyle Busch was fourth in a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.

AJ Allmendinger was fifth for JTG Daugherty Racing, and Danica Patrick was sixth for Stewart-Haas Racing in her best qualifying run of the season. She was also the highest qualifying Ford.

“Let’s be honest, I just love the area,” Patrick said. “And I had a glass of my wine before I made my lap. That’s a joke. But I am really comfortable here.”

Ryan Blaney was seventh and followed by Chase Elliott, who is in a backup car following a Friday wreck. Chris Buescher was ninth and the rest of the final round of qualifying was rounded out by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Daniel Suarez — a rookie driving the car that Carl Edwards won the pole in last year — and Kevin Harvick.

NASCAR at Sonoma: 5 drivers who could use the win

(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)    —-    SONOMA, Calif. – When NASCAR debuted a win-and-you’re-almost-assuredly-in-the-postseason system in 2014, road course races became an immediate source of intrigue. A driver especially gifted in the rigorous discipline, so went the theory, could exploit one win away from the non-ovals that dominate the schedule to emerge as a completely unrepresentative postseason-qualifier.

In practice, that theory was tempered because Cup drivers as a group have progressed greatly on road courses the past decade. And the fabled road course ringers sometimes employed as specialists were never as successful as their legend would suggest.

Then A.J. Allmendinger won his only Cup race at Watkins Glen in 2014 to qualify for the playoffs. There’s a wrinkle. Even so, entering Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway, there is less of a chance of a surprise driver wresting away a victory and a playoff spot than there is an established all-around performer.

Part of the reason in this unusual season where 10 different drivers have won in 15 races, is that numerous drivers would have historically multiple races remain winless. But of course, there’s a few variables, here, too.

Kyle Busch: The 2015 series champion has not win since the Brickyard 400 last season. He’s finished second twice. He’s led the second-most laps in the series. He fumed, he’s roiled and he keeps getting close. Third in points, Busch won at Sonoma in his title season and he would be no surprise to claim a first victory for himself and Joe Gibbs Racing this season.

Joey Logano (with an asterisk): The Team Penske driver won at Richmond but a postrace Laser Inspection Station penalty prevents him from using the win to qualify for the playoffs, so his history at Sonoma is important. Both of his top-5s there came in the last two years, when he was fifth in 2015 and third last season.

Kevin Harvick: Still winless since Stewart-Haas Racing switched to Ford this season, the 2014 series champion has never won at Sonoma but has been close on numerous occasions, finishing third twice and second in 2007 and leading 23 laps in 2014 before a wreck relegated him to 20th

Kasey Kahne: He won at Sonoma in 2009 and has posted four consecutive top-10s. Languishing at 21st in points and seemingly adrift competitively having not won since 2014, Kahne could quake the playoff envelop with a win, eliminating another points transfer spot from deep in the standings.

Clint Bowyer: The Stewart-Haas Racing driver hasn’t won since 2012 – when one of his three came at Sonoma – but his No. 14 then-Chevrolet was muscled to victory lane last season by owner Tony Stewart at the expanse of Denny Hamlin on the last lap. Bowyer has fallen from ninth to 12 in points by finishing 31st at Dover, 17th at Pocono and 26th at Michigan. A strong finish at Sonoma – where he has six top-5s in 11 starts – could re-establish a balance, and a win could change everything.

NASCAR: Kyle Larson’s win at Michigan highlights NASCAR’s lack of outsize personalities

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Corrections and clarifications: In an earlier version of this story, the names of drivers Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez and Chase Elliott were misspelled.

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports)    —-    BROOKLYN, Mich. — They’re handing out participation trophies in NASCAR now. Or what amounts to them, anyway.

Such is the state of America’s top stock-car racing circuit that the leader of each stage of the race — they’re divided into threes — earns bonus points toward the end-of-the-season playoffs. On Sunday afternoon at Michigan International Speedway, Martin Truex Jr. led after the first two stages — 60 laps and then 120 laps.

Nevermind that he didn’t win the FireKeepers Casino 400. That honor went to Kyle Larson, but more on him in a minute.

Dividing the races into stages and awarding points is new to NASCAR this season, and it smells like desperation. The thinking is that race fans will follow more intently.

Really?

What the sport needs is rivalries and personalities. Until NASCAR develops them, the new rules are nothing more than empty calories, like a box of stale Twinkies.

The problem is that in a world increasingly fond of made-from-scratch maple-bacon donuts, racing fans crave something more substantial. Larson may or may not be one of those drivers.

The 24-year-old California native is talented and backed by Chevrolet and Chip Ganassi Racing, blue-blood lineage for sure. True to stereotype, he sat on the dais for his post-race interview Sunday evening and talked about relaxing in California next week and sipping wine. (The series next heads to Sonoma Raceway in California wine country, where the race winner drinks from a goblet of wine in victory lane.)

Look, I’m not suggesting a worldly and gifted young driver should tell us he’s gonna go out and beer-pong a 12-pack of Natural Light. (Though that would add a little grit to the headline, no?) What I am suggesting is that NASCAR continues to have an identity problem.

And Larson is a poster boy for it.

All you had to do was take a walk around the MIS grounds Sunday to see it. Or to see what wasn’t there: fans.

At least not near as many as there used to be. Anecdotally, the stands are half of what they were even 10 years ago; the track doesn’t release attendance figures. On this Sunday, the wide swaths of unoccupied bleachers were even starker.

Now, on a micro-level, the race started later — 3 p.m. ET — than it has in the past and a couple of thunderheads rolled over the Irish Hills in the morning. And on the macro-level? All sports leagues are competing with seemingly infinite entertainment options.

In other words, this isn’t just a NASCAR issue.

Which means that more than ever, fans need to be compelled to buy tickets, to turn on the television, to flip on the radio. When stock car racing was humming and had spread beyond its niche roots — from the early 90s to the mid-2000s — personalities dominated the circuit.

One by one, however, those drivers have either retired or faded into irrelevance. The latest name, Dale Earnhardt Jr. — and the sport’s biggest star — announced that this year would be his last. And when he is gone, NASCAR won’t have a single driver whose celebrity spreads beyond the racing pages.

Obviously, this is a blow to the folks trying to keep stock car racing relevant. Though not everyone sees it that way.

“It’s a great time for NASCAR,” said Larson, whose victory Sunday was the third of his career. “I think everybody is kind of nervous about where it’s going, but … I think our fan base is going to grow.”

Why?

Youth, of course.

Larson is part of a new crop of young drivers that, at least on the track, offer talent, grit, fearlessness and confidence. They include Chase Elliott, who took second Sunday; Joey Logano, who took third; Erik Jones, Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Blaney and Daniel Suarez.

They are fast. They ooze self-belief. They are also a long way from the outsized personalities that connected Richard Petty to Earnhardt Jr. The trick for NASCAR is to make sure casual race fans — or even sports fans — come to recognize those names.

Larson was quick to admit that Earnhardt Jr. is the driver for “probably three-quarters of our fan base.”

Yet he doesn’t see his imminent retirement as a death blow. He sees it as an opportunity.

Sure, “you might lose a few thousand of (Earnhardt Jr.’s) fans — they might disappear. But the rest of them are going to pick new drivers. I think new rivalries are going to be built. It’s going to bring some excitement back to the racetrack.”

Excitement being the key word here.

A decade ago, the encampment at MIS turned into a four-day Mardi Gras the size of Ann Arbor. Some 150,000 jammed the grounds and sent a jolt that could be felt throughout the region.

It was a happening, even if it was a very specific kind of happening. You could feel it. Sense it.

Larson is right. Rivalries and new talent could certainly stir those emotions again.

Dennis Gennaro, for one, can imagine it. The 44-year-old Windsor, Ontario, resident makes the trek to Irish Hills twice a summer to catch the races. Earnhardt Jr. has long been his favorite driver.

On Sunday evening, after most of the fans had gone and a few crew members were locking up their rigs, Gennaro clung to a chain-link fence hoping to get a final glimpse of any late-leaving drivers. He wore a gray, T-shirt emblazoned with Earnhardt Jr.’s image.

“I’m excited about the young guys,” he said. “Right now, I’m deciding between Chase Elliott and Larson. They’re both good guys.”

Fun guys, he said.

And maybe that’s the key: fun.

Now, if they learn to dislike each other a little bit — or even a lot — the circuit might really have something.

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Windsor writes for the Detroit Free Press, part of the USA TODAY Network.

NASCAR: Kyle Larson outlasts Chase Elliott at Michigan again

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BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) — Three times, Kyle Larson needed to outrace the rest of the contenders on late restarts.

That’s a task he’s proven he can handle at Michigan International Speedway.

Larson took control on a restart with five laps remaining and held off Chase Elliott on Sunday for his second NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season. The finish was similar to the race at Michigan last August, when Larson took the lead on a restart with nine laps left en route to his first Cup win.

Larson won this year at Fontana and has five second-place finishes. He also was second in the All-Star race, which doesn’t count in the standings.

“We’ve been so close to so many other wins,” the 24-year-old Larson said. “This is our second Cup win of the year, but we’ve had six second-place finishes. All in all, it’s a good season so far and we’ll continue to keep building on what we’ve got.”

It was the third Cup win of Larson’s career and 14th by Chip Ganassi Racing. Elliott was second in both Michigan races last year, and again this time. He’s winless in 56 career Cup races, but he’s fifth in points in 2017.

“We had a couple of opportunities to get the lead, and unfortunately, it just didn’t work out, but we’ll move on. Congratulations to Kyle,” the 21-year-old Elliott said. “He had a fast car today and we’ll try to go get ’em next week.”

Joey Logano finished third. He beat Elliott in last June’s race at MIS. Then Elliott was leading the August race comfortably before a yellow flag gave Larson a boost .

This time, there were three cautions toward the end. The first was for debris, and Larson beat Kyle Busch on the inside for the lead on the restart with 15 laps to go.

Then Clint Bowyer went into the wall, bringing out another caution flag. Larson was first off that restart too, only to be slowed by another caution after a multicar incident on the backstretch that included Danica Patrick being knocked off the track and into the wall.

Finally, with five laps remaining, the race restarted, and Larson took the lead on the outside. He won by 0.993 seconds in his No. 42 Chevrolet.

Martin Truex Jr. won the first two stages of the race but finished sixth, ceding the points lead to Larson. Truex has 10 stage victories this year. Nobody else has more than four.

Truex and Larson were 1-2 in the points standings coming into the race, and Truex was second to Larson in qualifying Friday . Their dominance carried over to the race Sunday, at least at the start. They were the only drivers to lead during the first half of the 200-lap, 400-mile race.

Denny Hamlin, who won Saturday’s Xfinity event, finished fourth Sunday, followed by Jamie McMurray and Truex. Busch ended up seventh, followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jimmie Johnson, who started at the back after going to his backup car, finished 10th.

Some other things to note from Sunday’s race:

HIS TYPE OF TRACK

Larson’s three Cup victories have all come at 2-mile tracks, although there are some differences between racing at MIS and Fontana.

“Michigan and Fontana are very, very similar in shape and size, but the racing surface is way different,” Larson said. “Fontana’s rough and bumpy, and it’s wore-out surface — you have to really, really take care of your tires and move around, find different lanes that work. Here at Michigan, your tires don’t wear out quite as bad, not nearly as bad, and your line doesn’t move around a ton, but it’s really fast, got a lot of grip.

“They’re both a lot of fun.”

FROM THE FRONT

This was the fifth time in the past eight races at Michigan that the pole winner also won the race. It has happened three times in the Cup Series this year — Larson also did it at Fontana, and Stenhouse pulled it off at Talladega last month.

Still, Larson didn’t feel he had the dominant car Sunday.

“The 78 (Truex) was by far the class of the field, I thought,” Larson said. “I thought the 18 (Busch) was next best, the 20 (Matt Kenseth) was better than I was on the long run. I thought we were probably a third- or fourth-place car, and then to come out a winner, it makes it that much more exciting, I guess.”

BACK IN THE PACK

Brad Keselowski finished 16th and is still winless in Cup races at his home state’s track. This was his worst finish since June of 2011 and snapped a streak of six straight top-10 finishes at MIS.

There’s been some chatter about Keselowski’s future lately, but he said recently he’d have no reason to want to leave Team Penske. A team spokesman confirmed this weekend that Paul Wolfe, Keselowski’s crew chief, has signed an extension with Penske.

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SUNDAY’S RESULTS

Lap length: (oval, 2 miles)

(Starting position in parentheses)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RACE STATISTICS

Average Speed of Race Winner: 143.369 mph.

Time of Race: 2 hours, 47 minutes, 24 seconds. Margin of Victory: 0.993 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 8 for 34 laps.

Lead Changes: 10 among 4 drivers.

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

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

NASCAR: Hamlin edges Byron in thrilling Xfinity finish at Michigan

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BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) — The Xfinity race at Michigan began with instant drama — contact between Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch that sent Busch spinning.

The ending was just as compelling.

Denny Hamlin inched ahead of William Byron on the final turn and nosed out the rookie at the finish line, winning Saturday in the closest NASCAR Xfinity race at Michigan International Speedway since the advent of electronic scoring in the series.

“We went so low down the back straightaway that there was dust and stuff flying off the tires,” Hamlin said.

It was Hamlin’s 16th career Xfinity victory and first in three starts this year, but the 19-year-old Byron made him earn it. Byron led after a restart with two laps remaining, but Hamlin pressured him the rest of the way , and the Cup Series veteran eventually prevailed by 0.012 seconds in his No. 20 Toyota.

The two cars crossed the finish line next to each other, with Hamlin barely ahead on the inside.

“It was a lot of fun,” Byron said. “He just had enough air down there to get to the side of us, and it was just a race to the line after that.”

The previous track record for closest victory margin was 0.192 seconds by Todd Bodine on Aug. 19, 2000.

Elliott Sadler was also in the mix during the final lap and finished third in the 125-lap, 250-mile race. He took over the series points lead from Justin Allgaier.

Busch and Keselowski were 1-2 after qualifying, giving this Xfinity race a couple of big names at the front. Seconds after the start, Busch drifted slightly to the right, and Keselowski made contact from behind on the outside.

“I don’t think he knew I was there,” Keselowski said. “I lifted the best I could, I guess I just didn’t do a good enough job lifting. I was already pulling up alongside of him.”

Keselowski finished fourth and Busch was fifth. Keselowski and Sadler were in first place after the first and second stages, at 30 laps and 60.

Hamlin was ahead by about three seconds before a late caution for debris, and the restart with nine laps remaining kicked off a wild finish. Byron came away with the lead, only for another caution to come when Matt Tifft went spinning.

Byron held on gamely after the last restart, but the 36-year-old Hamlin was too tough.

“Super glad to have the experienced guy in the seat,” said Chris Gabehart, Hamlin’s crew chief. “William Byron, with years, will gain that, but a guy like Denny Hamlin is able to think through every second of that at 190 miles an hour and know exactly where he needs to be at each second, and that’s why we’re here today.

“We had a fast car, and think we were going to win it either way, but when it came down to experience at the end, I’ll take him.”

Hamlin will try to add another win for Joe Gibbs Racing when he competes in Sunday’s Cup race. Byron, meanwhile, will have to keep trying for his first Xfinity win. His best previous finish was fourth, and this effort earned him quite a bit of respect.

“Let’s see: I was 19, I think I was working at Subway making sandwiches. That or working at my dad’s trailer shop,” Hamlin said. “I can’t relate, honestly. To be at this level at the age that he is, it’s a huge advantage for him for the next 20 years, 25 years. He’s going to be starting his curve a lot earlier. … I’m sure by the time he’s 24, 25, he’ll be contending for Cup championships.”

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SATURDAY’S RESULTS

Lap length: 2 miles

(Starting position in parentheses)

1. (5) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 125 laps.

2. (4) William Byron, Chevrolet, 125.

3. (3) Elliott Sadler, Chevrolet, 125.

4. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 125.

5. (1) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 125.

6. (17) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 125.

7. (10) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 125.

8. (20) Ryan Reed, Ford, 125.

9. (11) Brandon Jones, Chevrolet, 125.

10. (7) Cole Custer, Ford, 125.

11. (15) Brennan Poole, Chevrolet, 125.

12. (16) Daniel Hemric, Chevrolet, 125.

13. (6) Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 125.

14. (23) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 125.

15. (18) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 125.

16. (22) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 125.

17. (13) Blake Koch, Chevrolet, 125.

18. (8) Spencer Gallagher, Chevrolet, 125.

19. (24) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 125.

20. (28) Dakoda Armstrong, Toyota, 125.

21. (38) David Starr, Chevrolet, 125.

22. (27) Harrison Rhodes, Chevrolet, 125.

23. (19) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 125.

24. (30) Dylan Lupton, Toyota, 125.

25. (35) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 124.

26. (14) Matt Tifft, Toyota, 124.

27. (32) Josh Bilicki, Chevrolet, 123.

28. (34) Tommy Joe Martins, Chevrolet, 122.

29. (26) Garrett Smithley, Chevrolet, 122.

30. (29) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, 122.

31. (33) Korbin Forrister, Chevrolet, 122.

32. (40) Mike Harmon, Dodge, 120.

33. (31) Brandon Brown, Chevrolet, 118.

34. (36) Josh Williams, Chevrolet, electrical, 66.

35. (25) Jeff Green, Chevrolet, vibration, 44.

36. (12) Ben Kennedy, Chevrolet, accident, 41.

37. (9) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, accident, 38.

38. (21) JJ Yeley, Toyota, accident, 37.

39. (39) Timmy Hill, Toyota, steering, 20.

40. (37) Morgan Shepherd, Chevrolet, suspension, 19.

Average Speed of Race Winner: 124.671 mph.

Time of Race: 2 hours, 0 minutes, 19 seconds.

Margin of Victory: 0.012-seconds.

Caution Flags: 7 for 32 laps.

Lead Changes: 10 among 5 drivers.

Lap Leaders: B. Keselowski 1-32; D. Hamlin 33; C. Custer 34-48; B. Keselowski 49-57; E. Sadler 58-70; B. Keselowski 71-83; E. Sadler 84; D. Hamlin 85-116; W. Byron 117-124; D. Hamlin 125.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): B. Keselowski 3 times for 54 laps; D. Hamlin 3 times for 34 laps; C. Custer 1 time for 15 laps; E. Sadler 2 times for 14 laps; W. Byron 1 time for 8 laps.

NASCAR: Larson, Truex take top 2 spots in Michigan qualifying

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BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) — Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. are neck and neck at the top of the NASCAR Cup Series standings.

Now, they’re set to start at the front for this weekend’s race at Michigan International Speedway.

Larson won the pole Friday and Truex qualified second, another impressive showing for the duo that’s been so consistently strong this season. Truex is first in the standings, one point ahead of Larson. Everyone else is over 100 points behind.

Larson also had the fastest car in practice Friday, and he won at this track last August after finishing third in June.

“Hopefully, we can keep it going,” he said. “So far it’s been a really good weekend leading in practice and then getting the quick time here.”

Larson won his second pole of the season and third of his career. This will be his fourth chance to start from the pole this year, but two of them came when qualifying was called off because of the weather.

Larson posted a lap of 202.156 mph in his No. 42 Chevrolet.

Truex is first in the points standings despite being without a pole this year. He started second in the past two races at Pocono and Dover, and earlier in the season at Las Vegas.

“We’ve got to figure out how to go from second to first,” Truex said. “Really all year long, I think we’ve had a really good qualifying average. Guys have done a really good job on Fridays.”

Clint Bowyer was third in qualifying, followed by Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney, last week’s winner .

The victory by Larson at Michigan last year was his first on NASCAR’s top circuit. He added another this season at Fontana and has six top-five finishes in 2017.

“I think I’ve probably grown a little bit as a driver. I feel like our race team has gotten even better. Our race cars have been a lot faster,” Larson said. “They were pretty fast leading up to Michigan last year, but I feel like since Michigan when we got that win we have just continued to make them better and had a great offseason — and started the year off really good. I think we have just kind of continued to gel and continued to build on what we currently have and it has been showing on Sundays a lot.”

Other noteworthy developments at MIS:

HIGH SPEEDS

Drivers routinely exceed 200 mph at MIS, and Larson didn’t come close to Jeff Gordon’s track qualifying record of 206.558, set in 2014. Larson said the ride at those high speeds is reasonably comfortable at MIS.

“Here, you know you’re going fast, but I get more of a sensation at, say, Dover or Bristol on going fast, just because it’s bumpy, the straightaways are narrow,” he said. “Here, the straightaways are smooth, wide, and you’re not bouncing around a lot.”

ENCOURAGED

Busch won at MIS in 2011 but hasn’t started higher than sixth at this track since 2009. Now he’s fourth after qualifying.

“This is a decent starting spot for us for Sunday and Michigan is not one of our best tracks or favorite tracks, but we try to get it better here each and every time and right now I feel pretty good about it,” Busch said. “Just missed the balance a little bit there in that final round. It was just a little too free, a little too tight — just different areas of the race track — so we’ve got to fine-tune that balance.”

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

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Follow Noah Trister at www.Twitter.com/noahtrister

NASCAR: Sam Ard to be remembered with Darlington throwback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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OTHER NASCAR NEWS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are three additonal takeaways from Pocono:

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

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

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

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

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Follow Horrow on Twitter @EllenJHorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was near flawless over those final 10 laps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next year was a worry for another day.

“I like where I’m at,” Blaney said.

With the Wood Brothers.

And, in victory lane.

Other items of note at Pocono:

JOHNSON WRECK

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

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

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

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

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

MCMURRAY SCARE

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

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

WINLESS JUNIOR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Follow James on Twitter @brantjames

NASCAR: Racing needs all the personalities, polite and rude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moderator: “Kyle, thanks for your time.”

Busch dropped the microphone and walked out of the room.

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

The entire thing is overblown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OTHER NASCAR NEWS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NASCAR: Johnson extends track record with 11th win at Dover

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DOVER, Del. (AP) — Hooked on NASCAR as a kid, there was something about Cale Yarborough that made a fan out of Jimmie Johnson. Johnson was glued to the set as he sat on a dirty old couch at home in El Cajon, California. He loved Yarborough’s fearlessness and the way the Hall of Fame driver kind of reminded Johnson of his grandfather.

Johnson even stopped at a Hardee’s on a road trip because he believed the fast-food joint and Yarborough’s sponsor was the race shop. There was one more part of Yarborough that Johnson admired:

“His winning,” Johnson said.

Oh, Yarborough won — 83 times.

The same number in the record book as that California kid who grew up to become even better than his idol.

Johnson sped off on the final restart Sunday and earned another slice of NASCAR history, winning in overtime at Dover International Speedway for the 11th time and moving into a tie for sixth on the career victories list.

He then tipped his cap — more like, his tribute helmet — toward Yarborough.

“Cale, you’re the man,” Johnson said.

Johnson again made an impact at his favorite track — and he worked hard to take this checkered flag. He was forced to start from the rear of the field because of a gear change, then zipped past Kyle Larson in overtime on the restart.

“You put that route in front of me and I’ll chase it down,” Johnson said.

Johnson and Yarborough are tied for sixth on the career wins list.

Johnson may have had a sense history was ahead in the No. 48 Chevrolet. He wore a helmet painted in tribute to Yarborough. He tweeted this weekend, “Growing up in El Cajon I never imagined I would have a chance to tie Cale in wins.”

Johnson, the seven-time NASCAR champion, has racked up a Hall of Fame resume all with team owner Rick Hendrick and crew chief Chad Knaus. He plopped his helmet on top of the Chevy in victory lane and swapped it out for a throwback No. 28 Hardee’s Chevrolet Yarborough hat.

“I remember going to a race in Oklahoma with my parents, my brother, we’re driving across the country and we pull into a Hardee’s,” Johnson said. “I had no idea it was a burger stand. I really thought when I walked in the door that I was going to Cale Yarborough’s race shop. I was very disappointed. I had a burger and left and understood the world of sponsorship.”

Johnson and the 78-year-old Yarborough are the only drivers in NASCAR history to win three consecutive championships.

Johnson, who won for the third time this season, is on a drive for a record eighth. With more wins like this one, Johnson just may pass Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty and get No. 8. He drove the entire 10-race Chase last season with a tribute helmet to Earnhardt and Petty.

“Drivers have always used helmets as their voice,” Johnson said.

His says loud and clear he has a deep respect for NASCAR’s greats.

Larson was second, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman and Chase Elliott. Truex won the first two stages on the 10-year anniversary of his first career Cup victory, also at Dover.

Larson had his second win of the season in his grasp until he spun the tires on the restart.

“Jimmie’s the best of our time,” Larson said. “Probably the best of all time.”

There was a multi-car wreck on the final lap that brought the race under caution, but Johnson had hit the line needed to make the race official and he coasted to the finish.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver swept Dover in 2002 and 2009 and also won races in 2005, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Johnson also joined NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty (Martinsville-15, North Wilkesboro-15, Richmond-13, Rockingham-11) and Darrell Waltrip (Bristol-12, Martinsville-11) as drivers to win 11 races at a single track.

Waltrip and Bobby Allison are next on the wins list with 84.

At this rate, Johnson could pass them by the end of the season.

“You have to say he’s one of the greatest to race in this sport,” Hendrick said.

Here are some other happenings from Sunday’s race:

LOOSE TIRE

Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Toyota lost a tire as it exited pit road on the first stop. Busch, who started from the pole, suffered damage to the left rear fender when the wheel became dislodged. Busch’s crew chief could face major penalties for the detached wheel.

EARLY EXITS

Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. all made early exits. Busch got loose and connected with Keselowski in the first stage with both runners inside the top five. Keselowski smacked the wall and went straight to the garage. Busch continued with heavy damage until he retired following another wreck about 30 laps later.

Keselowski finished 38th a week after he also wrecked out of the Coca-Cola 600 and was 39th.

“I don’t know if it was Kurt’s fault, just one of them racing deals,” Keselowski said. “We line-up double-file and somebody got loose and just took us out. What a bummer.”

UP NEXT

NASCAR heads to Pocono Raceway for the first of its two stops at the triangle track. Kurt Busch is the defending race winner.

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AAA DRIVE FOR AUTISM 400 RESULTS

Sunday from the 1-mile Dover International Speedway (starting position in parentheses):

1. (14) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 406 laps, 0 rating, 55 points.

2. (5) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 406, 0, 50.

3. (2) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 406, 0, 54.

4. (13) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 406, 0, 33.

5. (16) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 406, 0, 36.

6. (3) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 406, 0, 32.

7. (19) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 406, 0, 30.

8. (10) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 406, 0, 29.

9. (18) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 406, 0, 41.

10. (31) Danica Patrick, Ford, 406, 0, 27.

11. (11) Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chevrolet, 406, 0, 26.

12. (9) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 406, 0, 25.

13. (4) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 406, 0, 39.

14. (21) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 406, 0, 23.

15. (7) Erik Jones, Toyota, accident, 405, 0, 27.

16. (1) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 405, 0, 30.

17. (20) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, accident, 404, 0, 26.

18. (24) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, accident, 404, 0, 19.

19. (28) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 404, 0, 18.

20. (36) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 403, 0, 0.

21. (17) Trevor Bayne, Ford, accident, 402, 0, 16.

22. (35) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, accident, 402, 0, 15.

23. (29) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 402, 0, 14.

24. (32) Gray Gaulding, Toyota, 402, 0, 13.

25. (26) Joey Logano, Ford, 402, 0, 12.

26. (34) Ryan Sieg, Toyota, 400, 0, 0.

27. (39) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 400, 0, 10.

28. (37) Timmy Hill, Chevrolet, 398, 0, 0.

29. (25) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 397, 0, 8.

30. (33) David Ragan, Ford, accident, 393, 0, 7.

31. (22) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 391, 0, 6.

32. (15) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 373, 0, 12.

33. (23) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, accident, 343, 0, 4.

34. (30) Regan Smith, Ford, accident, 329, 0, 0.

35. (38) Cody Ware, Chevrolet, handling, 283, 0, 2.

36. (27) Landon Cassill, Ford, accident, 257, 0, 1.

37. (6) Kurt Busch, Ford, accident, 93, 0, 1.

38. (8) Brad Keselowski, Ford, accident, 66, 0, 1.

39. (12) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, accident, 62, 0, 1.

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Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 104.953 mph.

Time of Race: 3 hours, 52 minutes, 6 seconds.

Margin of Victory: Under Caution.

Caution Flags: 15 for 72 laps.

Lead Changes: 17 among 9 drivers.

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

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): K.Larson, 6 times for 235 laps; M.Truex, 3 times for 99 laps; T.Dillon, 1 time for 26 laps; Ky.Busch, 2 times for 17 laps; J.Johnson, 2 times for 5 laps; M.McDowell, 1 time for 3 laps; R.Stenhouse, 1 time for 2 laps; J.McMurray, 1 time for 1 lap; R.Newman, 1 time for 0 laps.

Wins: J.Johnson, 3; B.Keselowski, 2; M.Truex, 2; Ku.Busch, 1; A.Dillon, 1; K.Larson, 1; J.Logano, 1; R.Newman, 1; R.Stenhouse, 1.

Top 16 in Points: 1. M.Truex, 545; 2. K.Larson, 536; 3. K.Harvick, 429; 4. Ky.Busch, 416; 5. J.McMurray, 415; 6. J.Johnson, 414; 7. B.Keselowski, 410; 8. C.Elliott, 398; 9. D.Hamlin, 361; 10. C.Bowyer, 349; 11. J.Logano, 348; 12. M.Kenseth, 327; 13. R.Blaney, 320; 14. R.Newman, 299; 15. R.Stenhouse, 299; 16. Ku.Busch, 291.

NASCAR: Kyle Busch wins pole for NASCAR Cup race at Dover

DOVER, Del. (AP) — Kyle Busch may be ornery and he may be controversial, but there is no debate he is one of the best in NASCAR — mic drop and all.

Busch turned a lap of 158.954 mph Friday to win the pole at Dover International Speedway as he tries to drive the No. 18 Toyota to victory lane for the first time this season.

He has three straight top-five finishes and was runner-up to Austin Dillon last week in the Coca-Cola 600. But that near miss has gnawed at Busch, who won the All-Star race and then lost the spotlight at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Asked about Dillon’s win, Busch gruffly replied, “I’m not surprised about anything . Congratulations.” With no more questions, he dropped the microphone and left, his conduct quickly parodied and criticized .

Busch was angry. And after years of trying to convince the public he had rehabbed his tempestuous image, the 32-year-old married father of one son realized he may never change.

“Certainly, different people show their emotion in different ways and unfortunately for me, mine has never been very gracious and I don’t know that it ever will be,” Busch said. “I’m kind of learning that as the days go on when my son (Brexton) is 2 years old; I see where it came from. It’s genetic. I’m sorry. That’s just who I am. … That’s what I was given. If there was anyone to blame it’s probably the guy upstairs. I can probably get better and go to training and classes and everything else, but I don’t know. It is the way it is.”

Busch has a resume NASCAR Hall of Famers would envy, with a NASCAR championship, 173 wins over three series and an elite ride for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Just no wins this season, and he’s not alone at JGR. Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and rookie Daniel Suarez are also winless, a startling skid for one of NASCAR’s heavyweight organizations that could end at Dover.

Led by Busch, Toyota had the first four drivers Friday in the qualifying session. Martin Truex Jr. was second, followed by Suarez and Kenseth. Erik Jones was seventh and Hamlin was 10th to give Toyota six of the top 10.

Busch’s terse response made waves but the top story inside the JGR shop was how to build off its best race of the season. Busch was there at the end, and Kenseth finished fourth and Hamlin fifth to place three drivers inside the top five for the first time this season. Suarez, who replaced Carl Edwards, was a solid 11th.

Busch also earned a needed boost with a win two weeks ago in the $1 million All-Star race.

“There were a lot of things on the line that meant a lot to me and would have been special to me, but I guess I should care less about those sort of things and not show that sort of emotion,” he said.

JGR won seven of the first 12 races last season and Carl Edwards was 10 laps away from a possible championship when he crashed out in the finale.

A four-time winner last season, Busch has gone a whopping 28 races without a Cup victory dating to the Brickyard 400. His only wins on the concrete mile track at Dover came in 2008 and 2010. Busch, with three wins at this point last year, was second in at least one of the two Dover races each of the last two seasons.

Kenseth, who won the Dover spring race last year, and Suarez wouldn’t even make NASCAR’s playoffs right now, based on points.

“I do realize that we have three of four DNFs and haven’t really had a great year, so I realize we’re probably not very far up in the points from where we park every week, so we need that win,” Kenseth said. “I feel like we have a great race team and hasn’t been a great start to the season and we’re already in June.”

Richard Childress Racing and Roush Fenway Racing have unexpected wins this season. Hamlin, now 11th in the standings, could be on the outside without a win.

Few expect the winless drought to last much longer.

“I’ve never taken my guard down from the Gibbs drivers,” seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson said. “They’re a great organization. They have great crew chiefs and great drivers. And from living it on my own, it doesn’t take much to be off a tenth of a second; and a tenth takes you from first to tenth.”

So why the slump?

It’s not all on Toyota. Truex has a pair of wins driving for Furniture Row Racing — which shares a technical alliance with JGR — and Dillon won his first career Cup race last week for RCR. The Toyota Camry did have a new nose design for this season, but JGR has brushed that off as the root of the issue and instead pinned the woes on adapting to the low downforce package ushered in this season.

Also, the impact of losing a veteran winner like Edwards should not be sold short.

Busch wants to make JGR a winner again — for himself, and those who cut through the turmoil and stand by him.

“That’s through relationships, those people that are close to me understand me, know me and know who I am outside the race track as a personable person, as a friend,” he said.

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NASCAR: Kyle Larson wins Dover Xfinity race for 2nd straight victory

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DOVER, Del. (AP) — Kyle Larson earned respect around the garage for his refusal last year to bump the race leader down the stretch for a win in the NASCAR Cup race at Dover.

A year later, Larson had no concerns about adhering to an unwritten race code. Larson started from the pole and easily won the Xfinity race at Dover International Speedway for his second straight victory in NASCAR’s second-tier series.

Larson led 137 of 200 laps in the No. 42 Chevrolet and won for the third time in six races this season. Larson, a Cup regular, continued to shine for team owner Chip Ganassi.

Larson’s Xfinity dominance is reminiscent of another Kyle — Kyle Busch — who would drop down from Cup and gobble up wins against NASCAR’s developmental drivers.

“I’m trying to think of something smartass to say like he would,” Larson said, laughing at the comparison.

Larson failed to pull off a bump-and-run on winner Matt Kenseth last year that could have sent him to victory lane. He could be a contender again; he topped the speed chart earlier in the day in the final practice for Sunday’s race.

“I get all the credit but it’s everyone at the shop that deserves all the credit,” Larson said.

He was followed by Ryan Blaney, Daniel Suarez, Cole Custer and Ryan Reed.

“We want to be winning races but you have to put the work in to get there,” Blaney said. “They’ve definitely done that. Just a little bit more is what we need.”

William Byron finished sixth and picked up a $100,000 sponsor bonus as the top driver in the “Dash 4 Cash” program. The 19-year-old Byron is a Liberty University freshman and is widely considered one of the top prospects in NASCAR. The cash could buy a lot of books.

“Yeah, I guess,” he said, laughing. “I don’t know if that’s how I’ll spend it. But for sure, it can definitely buy a good education.”

Byron, who won seven Truck Series races last season, is on the shortlist of drivers considered to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Chevrolet next season at Hendrick Motorsports. Earnhardt will retire at the end of the season. Team owner Rick Hendrick needs a fourth driver to join a driver lineup that includes seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott and Kasey Kahne.

Byron said he didn’t know if he’d get promoted to Cup next season or in 2019.

For now, he’ll mix working on his studies and his setups. He takes online classes at Liberty, which also sponsors his No. 9 Chevrolet.

“It’s been an interesting challenge but I think that because Liberty University has been a sponsor of mine for so long, they really work well with me,” he said. “They balance the classes. They know what my schedule is like. It’s kind of neat to be a normal kid sometimes.”

Series points leader Elliott Sadler was seventh. Defending race winner Erik Jones was forced out after 100 laps because of engine failure.

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NASCAR: Indy 500 champ Takuma Sato still baring his soul

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(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)    —   Regardless of the racing series, the most recent winner’s celebrations are usually cut short as the drivers jet around the country for a victory tour filled with media appearances before prepping for the next weekend’s race.

In a wonderful coincidence at a New York airport, the winners of the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600, Takuma Sato and Austin Dillon, ran into each and showed off their flashy, new rings.

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NEW YORK (AP) — There is no rest for Indianapolis 500 champion Takuma Sato, and that’s OK.

Still ecstatic on Tuesday at his new place in history as the first Japanese driver to win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” Sato posed for photos atop the Empire State Building, rang the Nasdaq opening bell in New York City’s Times Square, and continued to bare his soul as he pondered his accomplishment.

“It’s a fantastic feeling, not only my personal feeling but the whole team — Andretti Autosport — did a fantastic job,” Sato said. “It means a lot to the sponsor, it means a lot to the fans, it means a lot to Japan, too.”

Sato used his appearances to again raise awareness for the thousands of people in Japan who remain displaced from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 15,000 people.

“There are still 250,000 people living in temporary housing, so this is definitely a great acceleration to support them,” said Sato, who normally has worn a special helmet for the Indy 500 that he would later auction to raise money for the relief funds in Japan.

Sato also spoke for the first time since Terry Frei, a veteran sports writer for The Denver Post, was fired for posting on Twitter that he was “uncomfortable with a Japanese driver winning the Indianapolis 500 during Memorial Day weekend.” Frei apologized and said his tweet occurred during an emotional time when he was honoring his late father, who was a World War II pilot in the fight against Japan.

Sato called it unfortunate that a writer had lost his job but said he appreciates the support he’s received from those who thought Frei’s comments were inappropriate.

“I do respect The Denver Post decision,” Sato said.

Sato, a former Formula One driver, is in his eighth season in the IndyCar Series. He had one previous victory, the 2013 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, and had developed a reputation for crashing. His victory Sunday helped erase the heart-breaking finish of the 2012 Indy 500 , when he wrecked while trying to pass eventual winner Dario Franchitti on the final lap.

This year, in part due to his long relationship with Honda, Sato landed with a top-tier team for the first time since moving to the American open-wheel series. He’s in a three-way tie for second place in the IndyCar standings with defending champion Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske and Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing. The trio is just 11 points behind leader Helio Castroneves of Penske.

“Well, now we achieved the big dream and achievement,” Sato said. “Now we are concentrating on the rest of the season, try to get as many points as possible to challenge for the championship.”

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NASCAR – Family affair: Dillon brings iconic No. 3 to victory lane

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Richard Childress wasn’t going to let just anyone drive the iconic black No. 3 Chevrolet following the death of the legendary Dale Earnhardt 16 years ago.

It had to be someone special.

“To put my grandson in that car was unbelievable,” Childress said.

Four years after that emotional and somewhat controversial decision to bring the No. 3 back, Austin Dillon delivered with his first Series Cup victory early Monday at the Coca-Cola 600, a victory that resonated with Earnhardt fans across the country and left his grandfather on the verge of tears.

Childress said the moment didn’t sink in until he looked up at the board after the race.

“When I saw the 3 on top, that is when I got emotional,” Childress said. “It’s so special to see that 3 on top of the board and know that my grandson is in the car.”

Dillon said capturing his first Cup Series win in the No. 3 car took some pressure off him.

“He was the best of all time,” Dillon said of Earnhardt. “And I am glad to add to the legacy of it. And I want to keep adding.”

Childress said he never doubted the decision to bring back the No. 3 and rarely goes anywhere without fans telling him how thankful they are he made the decision.

“Nothing will ever replace Dale Earnhardt, but we wanted to carry it over for the fans,” Childress said.

Some things we learned from the Coca-Cola 600:

TOUGH LUCK TRUEX: Martin Truex Jr. has dominated the Coca-Cola 600 the last three years, but only has one win to show for it.

Truex has led 63 percent (756 of 1,200) of the laps at Charlotte Motor Speedway the last three years, but has lost twice on fuel mileage.

“This is the third year in a row we led the most laps and felt like we had a chance to win and two out of the three we lost on fuel mileage,” Truex said. “So that’s a little tough to swallow. But I can’t say enough about my team. It’s tough to come up short on fuel mileage, but we have been on this side of it before.”

LARSON’S TOUGH WEEK: Kyle Larson’s 10-day stay in Charlotte was filled with disappointment.

The Cup Series points leader’s run at a Coca-Cola 600 championship ended late in the third stage when he hit the wall in turn three at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Larson had only one finish outside of the top 25 this season until Sunday when he finished 33rd.

“I made a mistake and got loose,” Larson said.

Larson’s struggles started in qualifying when he failed to pass pre-race inspection and was forced to start at the back of the field.

Larson also had some bad luck at the All-Star race last week. He won the first two segments and appeared to be set up to take home the $1 million prize before a slow pit stop cost him valuable position in the 10-lap shootout portion of the race.

BUSCH ANGRY: Kyle Busch was noticeably upset in the press room after finishing second to Dillon and failing to win his first Cup Series race at Charlotte.

When asked if he’s surprised that Dillon had enough gas to reach the finish line, Busch said, “I’m not surprised by anything.”

Busch is now 0 for 27 in Cup races here.

THE WRECK: Some of the pre-race favorites were eliminated early as Brad Keselowski crashed into the back of Chase Elliott’s car just 20 laps into the race, ending the night for both drivers. The chain reaction occurred after metal debris from Jeffrey Earnhardt’s car flew into Elliott’s car causing his car to catch fire. Keselowski couldn’t avoid Elliott because of the oil on the track.

EARNHARDT A NON-FACTOR

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was hoping for his first Cup Series win at Charlotte — a place that had holds fond memories for him — but was not a major factor. He ran in the teens most of the night before finishing 10th.

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NASCAR – Coke 600: Five takeaways begin with Austin Dillon’s important win

CHARLOTTE – Five things we learned from the Coca-Cola 600:

Spreading it around: Austin Dillon became the second driver to win their first career race in 2017, securing one of 16 playoff spots. Granted, Dillon’s qualification is not incredibly surprising given that he did so on points last season. He was well outside the playoff boundary at 26th in points before winning, however. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s victory at Talladega on May 7 represented a leap in performance. And although he has made the playoffs on points before – finishing second although winless in 2014 – Ryan Newman’s tire gambit win at Phoenix on March 19 secured another automatic spot that some hopefuls might have considered in play. Nine different drivers have won races, although Joey Logano’s April 30 Richmond victory cannot be counted for playoff qualification because of a post-race penalty. He figures to nab another somewhere given Team Penske’s consistency. With 13 races left in the season, there’s plenty of mystery and a likelihood of anxiety over the automatic berths.

Kevin Harvick (fourth in points) and Kyle Busch (fifth) are securely inside the playoff zone but winless. If they each collect the win their statistics suggest is coming, two more spots will be down. Expect a first Cup win for Chase Elliott. That’s 12. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth are also winless but Hamlin has won in every full-time season and Kenseth in five of his last six. That’s 14.

That leaves little margin for error for Jamie McMurray, who’s sixth in points but winless since 2013; Clint Bowyer (last win 2012, ninth in points); the promising Ryan Blaney (no Cup wins, 12th in points); and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in his final Cup season but 23rd in points.

► Ganassi Racing motors on: Kyle Larson had two encounters with the wall and lost the points lead with a season-low 33rd-place finish, but he had a fast car again. Teammate McMurray also had a fast car, using his to finish 12th. It was a rare week when both drivers didn’t parlay consistently good cars into results, though the trend line continues strong for the organization.

► JGR is getting closer: The team is still collectively winless, but had arguably its best collective performance in the Coca-Cola 600. Busch led 63 laps and finished second, Kenseth fourth, Hamlin fifth, and rookie Daniel Suarez 11th. That’s still not up to their collective pace of 2016 – when they had won seven by now –  but the organization finally found some speed in the Toyotas.

“Our speed is better and we still have some work to do, especially with my car to get it driving better,” Kenseth said. “I still can’t run with the 78 and the (Kyle Busch) if they’re out in front of me, they’re still better than us. We still have some work to do, but we do have more speed and that’s encouraging.”

► Team Penske had an unfulfilling Memorial Day weekend: Helio Castroneves’ bid for a record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500 win came up one place short. Otherwise, it was a sub-optimal day for a team that has won IndyCar’s greatest race a record 16 times and has developed into one of the most consistently productive Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series programs. Juan Pablo Montoya finished sixth but Will Power crashed and defending series champion Simon Pagenaud was 14th as the team concluded a frustrating month. At Charlotte, former series champion Brad Keselowski was caught in an oil slick and rammed the hobbled No. 24 Chevrolet of Chase Elliott on Lap 19 of 400. He finished 39th of 40. Joey Logano had to re-pit after the rain delay because of a loose wheel and needed to top with fuel late to finish 23rd.

► Sticky situation: Cars able to burst out alone in undisturbed air controlled play in the 600, as usual. Generally, that car belonged to Truex Jr., who led seven times for 233 of 400 laps but finished third to Dillon and his fuel gamble. Truex Jr. said the VHT resin applied to attempt to open a top groove helped the situation at Charlotte. That might have been more apparent to competitors than observers and paying customers, but Truex Jr. called it a “good addition” after a staid all-star race at Charlotte.

“I think it was a huge factor,” he said. “I think last weekend the middle groove, middle to high middle, was nonexistent. It was the slickest part of the racetrack.  Tonight for 375 laps of the 400 it was the main groove. Where typically there is the least grip on this racetrack, it was the most tonight. It definitely played a factor. It changed the race quite a bit.

“I think the downforce rules this year changed it quite a bit as well. The bottom of the racetrack is so bumpy and so slick, I’m telling you after 10 laps it’s all you can do to make laps without crashing down there.”

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CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — The horde of 20-somethings and teenagers like Chase Elliott, Erik Jones and William Byron poised to take over NASCAR seems to grow larger every week. It might be time to add an older name in Austin Dillon to the “Who’s next?” breakout list.

Dillon, a NASCAR veteran at 27, pulled off a stunning upset at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday night, staying out of the pit on the final laps to make up ground and capture the Coca Cola 600 with established winners Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. charging hard. Dillon had enough fuel to last to the checkered flag after sweeping past out-of-gas Jimmie Johnson two laps from the end.

The win gave Dillon his first trophy in the Cup series, brought the iconic No. 3 back to Victory Lane for the first time in 17 years and gave a boost to the team owned by his grandfather, Hall of Famer Richard Childress. Did it also put Dillon front and center among the next wave of racers supplanting retired or departing stars like Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and, after this season, Dale Earnhardt Jr.?

Dillon is not sure.

“It’s all about performance. Those guys are performing, so they’re going to talk about them,” Dillon said. “I knew we could do it, we’ve just got to do it more consistently. When we do, they’ll talk about us, too.”

Dillon’s performance at Charlotte had lots of people talking.

His new crew chief, Justin Alexander, saw no other strategy for Dillon at the end than to stay out while most other contenders pitted with 35 laps or so left. No one, Alexander reasoned, would outrun Truex’s car with fresh tires and lots of gas, so their best chance was to not give up position.

It was a gutsy move from Alexander, helming his first race with Dillon after being tapped for the job last Monday.

“That was a hell of a call, Justin,” Childress said, smiling.

Childress made some difficult calls to get here, as well. Two of the biggest were backing Austin in the No. 3 car that last took the checkered flag with the late Dale Earnhardt driving at Talladega in 2000. Childress heard critics pick apart his grandson’s skills and demeanor the past four seasons, with some claiming it was an embarrassment to sit him in the same numbered car that Earnhardt led to six of seven championships.

“I want to meet some of them in the parking lot,” said Childress, sounding like a protective granddad.

While there’s a long way for Dillon’s team to go, the win heartened everyone that better, more winning days, could be ahead. The victory most likely locks Dillon into the 16-team playoff at the end of the season for a second straight year. And it gives the team the rest of the regular season to test setups and packages that might succeed in those final 10 races.

“That’s pretty cool,” Dillon said.

It might also put him near the top of the pack for a younger group of NASCAR fans looking for a charismatic, fast-moving star to latch onto. With so many past champions and celebrated drivers leaving the series, Dillon understands that to rebuild the fan base, spectators must connect with the drivers they follow, so much so that they’ll block off a Saturday night or Sunday to spend at a track.

Dillon knows he took a major step toward that and brought together all fans of Earnhardt’s No. 3 with his win in Charlotte.

“I think it shows he deserved to be in the 3,” Childress said. “He doesn’t show emotion and pressure, but I can tell you away from the track and in talks, he knew how much he wanted to win for all the (No.) 3 fans.”

Dillon does not compare himself to Earnhardt, only to wanting success while driving the number he made famous.

“That was the best of all time,” Dillon said of Earnhardt’s run. “I’m just glad to add to the legacy, and I want to keep adding to it.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Today is special,” Childress said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Kenseth was fourth, and Denny Hamlin fifth.

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

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

Johnson limped home to finish in 17th.

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

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

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

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

“I made a mistake,” he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He probably should have.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Busch said he won despite not having the best car.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

“It was now or never,” Busch said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SATURDAY’S RESULTS

(Start position in parentheses)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 179.085 mph.

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

Margin of Victory: 1.274 seconds.

Caution Flags: 3 for 3 laps.

Lead Changes: 3 among 4 drivers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kurt Busch was not immediately available for comment.

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

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

Kurt Busch will start fifth.

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

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

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

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

NASCAR has once again tweaked the rules.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NASCAR: Kyle Busch wins Truck race at Charlotte Motor Speedway

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Kyle Busch raced to his second straight NASCAR Truck Series victory Friday night, leading 90 of 134 laps in a dominating run at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Busch has 48 career Truck victories — three short of Ron Hornaday Jr.’s series record — and 173 wins overall in NASCAR’s top three series, also winning 38 Cup races and 87 Xfinity events.

“Hopefully I can pass Ron on the Trucks side and when I am all said and done I will run my retirement series on the Truck Series and get the trifecta,” said Busch, who has already won Cup and Xfinity championships.

That’s probably still a long way down the road for the 32-year-old Busch, the winner last week at Kansas.

But at this rate, it won’t take long for him to fly past Hornaday, just as he did the rest of the field Friday night.

Busch led all three stages en route to his seventh Truck Series win at Charlotte.

Points leader Johnny Sauter was second. Christopher Bell, Busch’s teammate who started on the pole, battled back from a lap down to finish third. Ryan Truex was fourth, followed by Timothy Peters and Matt Crafton.

Busch provided the highlight of the night when he went from fifth to first on one lap, taking the lead when he pulled off a nifty move by squeezing in between Crafton and Sauter to take control of the race.

“I thought the middle was going to close up, but Crafton left me a lane in the middle and I was able to blow by both of them,” Busch said.

Busch began to pull away with 25 laps remaining building nearly a 3 second lead before a caution came out with seven laps remaining.

But Busch ended any potential drama by steadily driving away on the restart. Sauter said he did everything he could to catch Busch on the final restart but it was useless.

“He just kept pulling away,” Sauter said. “That No. 51 is fast.”

It was Sauter’s third second place finish of the season.

“We’re knocking on that door,” Sauter said. “We’re getting close.”

Bell said he was “bummed” that he finished third in what he called a “second-place car.”

But Bell had to overcome a spinout on the second lap of the race when a tire went down.

He spent most of the race trying to get back on the lead lap. Once he did, he flew through the field to challenge the lead pack of drivers.

“I’m just glad my boss won,” Bell said.

Austin Cindric, an 18-year-old who graduated from a Charlotte-area high school earlier in the day, spun out on lap 32, but rallied to finish 13th.

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RESULTS

Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Concord, N.C.

Lap length: 1.50 miles (Start position in parentheses)

1. (4) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 134 laps, 0 rating, 0 points.

2. (3) Johnny Sauter, Chevrolet, 134, 0, 53.

3. (1) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 134, 0, 40.

4. (11) Ryan Truex, Toyota, 134, 0, 41.

5. (10) Timothy Peters, Toyota, 134, 0, 36.

6. (6) Matt Crafton, Toyota, 134, 0, 46.

7. (16) Grant Enfinger, Toyota, 134, 0, 30.

8. (5) Ben Rhodes, Toyota, 134, 0, 41.

9. (15) Noah Gragson, Toyota, 134, 0, 32.

10. (9) Parker Kligerman, Toyota, 134, 0, 27.

11. (2) Chase Briscoe, Ford, 134, 0, 36.

12. (19) Austin Wayne Self, Toyota, 134, 0, 25.

13. (8) Austin Cindric, Ford, 134, 0, 24.

14. (26) T.J. Bell, Chevrolet, 134, 0, 23.

15. (22) JJ Yeley, Chevrolet, 134, 0, 0.

16. (17) Cody Coughlin, Toyota, 134, 0, 21.

17. (23) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 134, 0, 20.

18. (7) Brett Moffitt, Toyota, 134, 0, 19.

19. (18) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 133, 0, 0.

20. (27) Spencer Boyd, Chevrolet, 133, 0, 17.

21. (25) Jordan Anderson, Chevrolet, 133, 0, 16.

22. (13) John Hunter Nemechek, Chevrolet, 132, 0, 23.

23. (28) Stewart Friesen, Chevrolet, 132, 0, 14.

24. (24) Matt Mills, Chevrolet, 132, 0, 0.

25. (14) Austin Hill, Chevrolet, 130, 0, 13.

26. (30) Norm Benning, Chevrolet, 130, 0, 11.

27. (31) Jennifer Jo Cobb, Chevrolet, 130, 0, 10.

28. (29) Wendell Chavous, Chevrolet, garage, 106, 0, 9.

29. (20) Regan Smith, Ford, accident, 101, 0, 8.

30. (12) Kaz Grala, Chevrolet, accident, 70, 0, 7.

31. (21) Brandon Jones, Chevrolet, accident, 62, 0, 0.

32. (32) Todd Peck, Chevrolet, electrical, 4, 0, 5.

———

Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 110.099 mph.

Time of Race: 1 hour, 49 minutes, 32 seconds.

Margin of Victory: 0.986 seconds.

Caution Flags: 9 for 38 laps.

Lead Changes: 10 among 8 drivers.

Lap Leaders: C.Bell 1-2; K.Busch 3-42; R.Chastain 43-45; B.Jones 46-48; P.Kligerman 49-54; J.Sauter 55-74; M.Crafton 75; J.Sauter 76-77; K.Busch 78-82; A.Cindric 83-89; K.Busch 90-134

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): K.Busch, 3 times for 87 laps; J.Sauter, 2 times for 20 laps; A.Cindric, 1 time for 6 laps; P.Kligerman, 1 time for 5 laps; R.Chastain, 1 time for 2 laps; B.Jones, 1 time for 2 laps; C.Bell, 1 time for 1 lap; M.Crafton, 1 time for 0 laps.

Wins: K.Busch, 2; C.Bell, 1; K.Grala, 1.

Top 10 in Points: 1. J.Sauter, 242; 2. C.Bell, 227; 3. M.Crafton, 191; 4. C.Briscoe, 171; 5. T.Peters, 170; 6. B.Rhodes, 170; 7. G.Enfinger, 147; 8. K.Grala, 139; 9. R.Truex, 139; 10. B.Moffitt, 126.

———

NASCAR Driver Rating Formula

A maximum of 150 points can be attained in a race.

The formula combines the following categories: Wins, Finishes, Top-15 Finishes, Average Running Position While on Lead Lap, Average Speed Under Green, Fastest Lap, Led Most Laps, Lead-Lap Finish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

____

Follow James on Twitter @brantjames

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