Kyle Busch

NASCAR: Larson holds off Logano, wins Xfinity Series race at Fontana

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FONTANA, Calif. (AP) — Kyle Larson hopes his NASCAR Xfinity race victory will catapult him to a weekend sweep at Fontana.

The way this season is going for the overall Cup series points leader, it’s tough to argue against it.

Larson held off Joey Logano on the final lap to win another Xfinity race dominated by Cup drivers on Saturday.

Larson thrived out of a late restart with smart moves and a clever lane choice on Fontana’s five-wide asphalt. The native Californian won the Xfinity race at Fontana for the second time in his Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

“It was a lot of fun with Joey there late,” Larson said. “I hope it gives us some good momentum. We’ll start from the pole and hopefully be here again (Sunday).”

Kyle Busch finished third. Erik Jones was fourth, and rookie William Byron came in fifth.

Larson earned his sixth career Xfinity victory when he kept Logano behind him off a late restart, winning by just over a car length.

Larson is also on the pole for Sunday’s race. He has finished second in three consecutive Cup races, propelling him into the overall lead without a victory.

Cup regulars Larson, Busch and Logano dominated on a cloudy day at Fontana. Busch led after each of the first two stages, but he brushed the wall in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota with 28 laps to go.

Larson overcame a speeding penalty on pit road that sent him to the back of the field midway through the race.

Logano twice rallied back from far behind and led five times for 70 laps.

He got an early speeding penalty on pit road. His car later fell off the jack during a long pit stop, but he passed 20 cars in less than two laps to get right back in it.

Despite the technical glitches, Logano had a blast.

“I vote for two races at Auto Club Speedway, I’ll be the first to say that,” Logano said. “What an awesome race track. It’s so much fun. You can run anywhere you want. The racing is great. There is tire falloff. There are bumps. There’s everything here. It’s the perfect race track. I wish we came here more often, because it’s the best race track we go to.”

Paul Menard’s car caught fire after hitting the wall with about 55 laps to go, slowing the race. About 12 laps later, Cole Custer ended up with a wrecked car for the second straight week when he hit the wall on Turn 1.

Custer blamed his wreck on “a clown move” by Ryan Sieg, who apparently got clipped by Custer on a side draft earlier. Custer and Austin Dillon got into a prolonged scrape last week at Phoenix, with Dillon running Custer into a wall under caution to retaliate.

“Last week it was all my fault, and I’ll take that all on me,” Custer said. “Today it was just a clown. I don’t understand what his reasoning was to pay us back that much, but that’s just a joke.”

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kyle-larson-runner-ups

SATURDAY’S RESULTS

At the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway (starting position in parentheses):

1. (7) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 150 laps, 0 rating, 0 points.

2. (1) Joey Logano, Ford, 150, 0, 0.

3. (16) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 150, 0, 0.

4. (3) Erik Jones, Toyota, 150, 0, 0.

5. (6) William Byron, Chevrolet, 150, 0, 39.

6. (10) Darrell Wallace Jr, Ford, 150, 0, 31.

7. (14) Elliott Sadler, Chevrolet, 150, 0, 45.

8. (13) Brennan Poole, Chevrolet, 150, 0, 35.

9. (20) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 150, 0, 28.

10. (9) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 150, 0, 0.

11. (2) Daniel Hemric, Chevrolet, 150, 0, 27.

12. (11) Blake Koch, Chevrolet, 150, 0, 25.

13. (17) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 150, 0, 24.

14. (19) Casey Mears, Ford, 150, 0, 23.

15. (15) Ryan Reed, Ford, 150, 0, 22.

16. (23) J.J. Yeley, Toyota, 150, 0, 21.

17. (22) Matt Tifft, Toyota, 150, 0, 20.

18. (26) Corey LaJoie, Toyota, 150, 0, 0.

19. (18) Spencer Gallagher, Chevrolet, 150, 0, 18.

20. (21) Dakoda Armstrong, Toyota, 150, 0, 17.

21. (25) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 150, 0, 16.

22. (28) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 150, 0, 15.

23. (27) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, 150, 0, 14.

24. (33) David Starr, Chevrolet, 150, 0, 13.

25. (34) Martin Roy, Chevrolet, 150, 0, 12.

26. (30) Garrett Smithley, Chevrolet, 150, 0, 11.

27. (31) Ray Black Jr, Chevrolet, 150, 0, 10.

28. (37) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 150, 0, 9.

29. (32) Jeff Green, Chevrolet, 150, 0, 8.

30. (36) Timmy Hill, Toyota, 150, 0, 7.

31. (29) Harrison Rhodes, Chevrolet, 150, 0, 6.

32. (8) Brandon Jones, Chevrolet, 149, 0, 5.

33. (12) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 148, 0, 4.

34. (40) Mike Harmon, Dodge, 146, 0, 3.

35. (4) Cole Custer, Ford, accident, 106, 0, 8.

36. (5) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, accident, 94, 0, 0.

37. (24) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, accident, 81, 0, 1.

38. (39) Brandon Hightower, Toyota, transmission, 72, 0, 1.

39. (38) Stephen Leicht, Chevrolet, vibration, 12, 0, 1.

40. (35) Jordan Anderson, Chevrolet, electrical, 3, 0, 0.

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Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 116.883 mph.

Time of Race: 2 hours, 34 minutes, 0 seconds.

Margin of Victory: 0.127 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 7 for 43 laps.

Lead Changes: 18 among 6 drivers.

Lap Leaders: J. Logano 1-31; J. Clements 32-33; K. Busch 34-41; K. Larson 42-48; K. Busch 49-72; J. Logano 73; K. Busch 74-77; J. Logano 78-87; K. Busch 88-90; J. Logano 91-96; R. Black Jr. 97; K. Busch 98-103; W. Byron 104; K. Larson 105-107; K. Busch 108-117; J. Logano 118-138; K. Larson 139-142; J. Logano 143; K. Larson 144-150.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): J. Logano 6 times for 70 laps; K. Busch 6 times for 55 laps; K. Larson 4 times for 21 laps; J. Clements 1 time for 2 laps; W. Byron 1 time for 1 lap; R. Black Jr. 1 time for 1 lap.

Wins: J.Allgaier, 1; K.Busch, 1; K.Larson, 1; J.Logano, 1; R.Reed, 1.

Top 10 in Points: 1. E.Sadler, 189; 2. W.Byron, 172; 3. J.Allgaier, 143; 4. R.Reed, 143; 5. D.Wallace, 140; 6. B.Poole, 133; 7. D.Hemric, 131; 8. M.Annett, 113; 9. M.Tifft, 111; 10. B.Koch, 106.

NASCAR: If Brad Keselowski’s team took a risk at Phoenix, it was a bold one

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today)   —-   If he were plumbing the edges of NASCAR’s new rules package or inspection system, crew chief Paul Wolfe might have been doing the same with the revamped points system that will determine the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion.

That’s assuming the crew chief for Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford was actually tinkering when his team was snared post-race for a rear skew beyond NASCAR tolerance after finishing fifth Sunday at Phoenix Raceway.

Team Penske said Wednesday that it was “evaluating the area in question.” If this was the result of some unforeseen circumstance, that’s unfortunate for Wolfe, but still might provide a template for navigating a season under the new systems.

NASCAR levied a hefty 35-point penalty against Keselowski and the team, assessed Wolfe a three-race suspension and fined him $65,000 in response to major post-race malfeasance discovered in a laser station inspection. That stings.

But it could be ultimately beneficial if Wolfe can more definitively define the edge of what can be exploited when the series returns to Phoenix for the next-to-last playoff race of the season. Keselowski might not still be a viable championship contender by the time the series reaches that final cut race. But maybe he will. Same goes for teammate Joey Logano. But now, there’s information in the notebook.

Trouble is, if a risk was taken, the risk might not be worth the same reward as just a year ago, when a win punched an irrevocable playoff ticket and the assurance of a virtual points reset in the playoffs.

There is a reset, with an asterisk now.

It is for certain, despite the penalty, that Keselowski will be a member of the 16-driver playoffs that commence 22 races from now. His victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway ensures that. While the rest of his season — and those of fellow winners Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman — is more than a prolonged test session because of playoff bonuses in a revamped points system, taking a chance right now would have been alluring.

In losing 35 points, Keselowski dropped from second in the driver standings to fourth. His five playoff points remain in the bank and he figures to accrue many more with stage wins or further victories after starting the season with a win and two top-5s in four races. He would currently be in line for a seven-point bonus entering the postseason as the top 10 drivers in the standings are rewarded points in a sliding scale.

But the regular-season points leader earns 15 points to carry through the playoff rounds and Keselowski is now 41 behind leader Kyle Larson. Twenty-two races gives him plenty of time to make up those points, but in a series where minuscule margins have determined advancement in recent seasons, this could have ultimately been a risky parlay. Or trading points now for a chance at another championship trophy later.

If a risk was taken, it was a bold one.

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Recap Week: Larson finishes 2nd again, takes over points lead

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kyle Larson finished second at Phoenix International Raceway and then headed to the beach for a brief family vacation.

There was no lamenting his third consecutive runner-up finish because Larson is the current points leader of NASCAR’s top series. His positioning atop the standings is almost as good as a trip to victory lane.

Larson has now finished second in four of the last five Cup races dating to last season’s finale, and he was in contention for the victory in the Daytona 500 until he ran out of gas on the final lap and finished 12th. A two-tire stop put him in position to win Sunday at Phoenix in overtime, but a slip on the restart cost him any chance of running down leader Ryan Newman in the two-lap sprint to the finish.

“I mean, I guess little mistakes or inexperience or whatever you want to call it,” Larson said of his bridesmaid status. “Hindsight is always 20/20. But I should have went a lane up in one and two. I should have known to just stay close to Newman. That’s what I wish I would have done. But, yeah, it’s weird … I finish second like every week. Maybe we’ll turn them into wins soon.”

Sure, wins would be great, but at this pace, Larson doesn’t need them. He’s using consistency to run up front and stay in contention for a spot in NASCAR’s playoffs. It’s the beauty of NASCAR’s points system that is often overlooked.

Yes, a win just about guarantees a spot in the 16-driver field. But there have not been 16 individual race winners yet in this format, and additional slots go to the highest-ranking drivers in points.

Collecting points is how Newman nearly won the championship two seasons ago despite not winning a race, so not making it to victory lane is not a deal breaker.

Of course, the way he’s running, no one expects Larson to fall short of winning a race for much longer. He’s got one career victory, but many believe he’d have more if not for his own mistakes and his desire to not ruffle any feathers. Larson wants to run clean, so when he found himself bottled with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on the restart Sunday, he didn’t force the issue.

Afterward, he admitted letting this win slip away “stings” but he wasn’t very hard on himself because it’s hard to be disappointed when you’re the points leader.

Larson is part of the rapidly changing face of NASCAR , in which young drivers are pushing toward the front and passed the veterans. Behind him in the standings are Chase Elliott (third), Joey Logano (fifth) and Ryan Blaney (sixth). At 26, Logano is the oldest of the bunch.

EVERYTHING IS GREAT

Kyle Busch dropped the phrase “everything is great” in response to every single question he was asked at Phoenix about a meeting with NASCAR to discuss a scuffle with Joey Logano. Then he said it again Sunday after finishing third in a race he likely would have won if not for a late caution brought out by — Logano.

His response channeled the attitude Marshawn Lynch often took in the NFL, when he only showed up to interviews so he wouldn’t get fined. But Busch is putting “Everything is great” to a good cause.

Busch said Monday that his charity and will sell T-shirts with “Everything is Great” across the front. The shirts are $22 — the same number as Logano’s car — and there’s no shipping or handling. Busch may have been in a lousy mood at Phoenix, but he’s at least trying to use it now to raise some money.

BIG FINISHES

There’s been so much attention on the fast starts of Larson, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Austin Dillon, that somewhat overlooked through the first NASCAR month have been the Joe Gibbs Racing rookies.

But Daniel Suarez finished seventh at Phoenix and Erik Jones was eighth in his Furniture Row Racing entry for career-best finishes for both Cup rookies. Suarez has all of four Cup starts to his name, while Jones now has seven. Suarez was aided on the late caution by a two-tire pit call.

“The guys did an amazing job,” Suarez said. “They just did exactly what they had to do: a fast pit stop, two tires and the car was almost as good as four tires.”

Jones felt like Sunday could be a good day for his team, and he’d tested at the track in early February.

“I think it helped a lot,” Jones said of the test. “It was able to at least give us a good baseline to start with. I think every time we start coming back to these tracks for the second time we’re just going to be that much better and that much stronger. It was a big deal. I hope we test somewhere else this year for sure.”

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

Story lines to watch as NASCAR heads to Auto Club Speedway

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today)   —-   The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series concludes its western spring swing Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. Here’s three storylines to watch entering the fifth race of the season.

SECOND NATURE

One of team owner Chip Ganassi’s core principles is his affection and desire for employing for winners. He likes Kyle Larson very much, too, so much so he deposed Juan Pablo Montoya from the No. 42 Chevrolet to insert the much-heralded prospect beginning in 2014.

Larson broke through with a first career Cup win at Michigan International Speedway last season and has been ultra competitive and ultra-close to victory in the first four races this season. But for a wisp of fuel, he — or  Chase Elliott or Ryan Blaney, for that matter — might have won the Daytona 500. He finished 12th. He led late at Atlanta. He finished second. Las Vegas, too — and finished second.

Larson couldn’t execute the move he needed on an overtime restart on Sunday at Phoenix Raceway, absorbing contact from Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and watching Ryan Newman bear off to victory. Still Larson finished second again.

Being the points leader is some consolation, as does being in position to win consistently, he said, but added, “It’s weird running all these seconds.  It took me, like, three years to finish second in sprint cars.  Now I finish second like every week, so…  A little weird, but maybe we’ll turn them into wins soon.”

Larson became the first driver in Cup Series history to finish as runner-up three times in the first four races of the season according to NASCAR statisticians, and could tie an unwanted record on Sunday — joining Mark Martin (1998), Harry Gant (1985), Darrell Waltrip (1983) and Richard Petty (1964) in finishing second in four consecutive races.

Before Larson, Carl Edwards (2011 playoffs) was the last driver to take second three straight times.

Good news: Edwards used that season-ending run to tie Tony Stewart atop the final standings.

Bad news: Stewart won the final at Homestead-Miami Speedway and captured his last championship on tiebreakers.

Larson finished … second in his first Cup race at Fontana in 2014, but was subsequently 26th and 39th after a wreck last season.

JIMMIE PANIC!

No need for it. Certainly, the seven-time and defending series champion is a seemingly uncharacteristic 16th in the points standings, but his recent early season performance suggests his season so far is, if not typical, is within the range of normalcy. Johnson was 26th after four races in 2014 and 22nd in 2013, when he went on to win a championship. Yes, he was third in points and had a win by this time last year but was also hurtling toward a career-long 24-race winless streak before winning the playoff race at Charlotte. So last season turned out fine.

DYNAMIC DUO:Johnson, Knaus stick together to chase history

Besides, Johnson was third before being collected in a late Daytona 500 wreck, and was competitive at times at Atlanta and Las Vegas. Still, he had begun the season without a top 10 finish for the first time in his career before a ninth-place at Phoenix ended that run.

Johnson should feel confident entering Auto Club Speedway, where he is the defending race winner and has won six times overall, most among all drivers.

HEY-GR

Joe Gibbs Racing, however, might be faced with more concern. The dominant team — in conjunction with affiliate Furniture Row Racing – for the dominant manufacturer (Toyota) last season, JGR won 16 of the 36 races, but the four-car team has collected just two top-5 finishes so far with a newly designed Camry. Furniture Row’s Martin Truex Jr. dominated in winning at Las Vegas, however.

Kyle Busch has found great success at the two-mile oval, winning two (2013-14) of the past three races he’s contested at Fontana. He finished a distant 25th last year, breaking a streak of four consecutive top-three finishes in Southern California. Teammate Matt Kenseth has three career victories and nine top-five finishes at Auto Club Speedway, but his results have been inconsistent there since a strong stretch between 2005-09.

NASCAR: Larson finishes 2nd again, takes over points lead

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kyle Larson finished second at Phoenix International Raceway and then headed to the beach for a brief family vacation.

There was no lamenting his third consecutive runner-up finish because Larson is the current points leader of NASCAR’s top series. His positioning atop the standings is almost as good as a trip to victory lane.

Larson has now finished second in four of the last five Cup races dating to last season’s finale, and he was in contention for the victory in the Daytona 500 until he ran out of gas on the final lap and finished 12th. A two-tire stop put him in position to win Sunday at Phoenix in overtime, but a slip on the restart cost him any chance of running down leader Ryan Newman in the two-lap sprint to the finish.

“I mean, I guess little mistakes or inexperience or whatever you want to call it,” Larson said of his bridesmaid status. “Hindsight is always 20/20. But I should have went a lane up in one and two. I should have known to just stay close to Newman. That’s what I wish I would have done. But, yeah, it’s weird … I finish second like every week. Maybe we’ll turn them into wins soon.”

Sure, wins would be great, but at this pace, Larson doesn’t need them. He’s using consistency to run up front and stay in contention for a spot in NASCAR’s playoffs. It’s the beauty of NASCAR’s points system that is often overlooked.

Yes, a win just about guarantees a spot in the 16-driver field. But there have not been 16 individual race winners yet in this format, and additional slots go to the highest-ranking drivers in points.

Collecting points is how Newman nearly won the championship two seasons ago despite not winning a race, so not making it to victory lane is not a deal breaker.

Of course, the way he’s running, no one expects Larson to fall short of winning a race for much longer. He’s got one career victory, but many believe he’d have more if not for his own mistakes and his desire to not ruffle any feathers. Larson wants to run clean, so when he found himself bottled with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on the restart Sunday, he didn’t force the issue.

Afterward, he admitted letting this win slip away “stings” but he wasn’t very hard on himself because it’s hard to be disappointed when you’re the points leader.

Larson is part of the rapidly changing face of NASCAR , in which young drivers are pushing toward the front and passed the veterans. Behind him in the standings are Chase Elliott (third), Joey Logano (fifth) and Ryan Blaney (sixth). At 26, Logano is the oldest of the bunch.

EVERYTHING IS GREAT

Kyle Busch dropped the phrase “everything is great” in response to every single he was question he was asked at Phoenix about a meeting with NASCAR to discuss a scuffle with Joey Logano. Then he said it again Sunday after finishing third in a race he likely would have won if not for a late caution brought out by — Logano.

His response channeled the attitude Marshawn Lynch often took in the NFL, when he only showed up to interviews so he wouldn’t get fined. But Busch is putting “Everything is great” to a good cause.

Busch said Monday that his charitable and will sell T-shirts with “Everything is Great” across the front. The shirts are $22 — the same number as Logano’s car — and there’s no shipping or handling. Busch may have been in a lousy mood at Phoenix, but he’s at least trying to use it now to raise some money.

BIG FINISHES

There’s been so much attention on the fast starts of Larson, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Austin Dillon, that somewhat overlooked through the first NASCAR month has been the Joe Gibbs Racing rookies.

But Daniel Suarez finished seventh at Phoenix and Erik Jones was eighth in his Furniture Row Race entry for career-best finishes for both Cup rookies. Suarez has all of four Cup starts to his name, while Jones now has seven. Suarez was aided on the late caution by a two-tire pit call.

“The guys did an amazing job,” Suarez said. “They just did exactly what they had to do: a fast pit stop, two tires and the car was almost as good as four tires.”

Jones felt like Sunday could be a good day for his team, and he’d tested at the track in early February.

“I think it helped a lot,” Jones said of the test. “It was able to at least give us a good baseline to start with. I think every time we start coming back to these tracks for the second time we’re just going to be that much better and that much stronger. It was a big deal. I hope we test somewhere else this year for sure.”

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

NASCAR: Newman skips late pit stop, stuns NASCAR field in Phoenix

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AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Ryan Newman gambled and skipped a tire-changing pit stop to move from seventh place to the lead and held on for the final two laps for a surprise victory in Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series race.

The 39-year-old Newman, who broke a 127-race winless streak, held off Kyle Larson, the second-place finisher for the third straight race.

Kyle Busch, the leader for nearly all of the final stage of the race, was third on a day when the temperature soared to 97 degrees at Phoenix International Raceway.

Like nearly all the rest of the field, Larson and Busch went to the pits on the late caution caused when Joey Logano’s car blew a right tire and slammed into the wall six laps from the finish.

Newman, in his first win since the 2013 Brickyard 400, gave Chevrolet its first victory of the season and ended a 112-race losing streak for Richard Childress Racing.

Once again, Logano’s misfortune foiled Busch. Last week Logano’s car knocked Busch’s into the wall on the final stretch in Las Vegas. That led Busch to storm down pit row and throw a punch at Logano, creating a scuffle with the crews and a meeting for the drivers with NASCAR officials on Friday.

Busch took the lead with a quick pit stop during a caution flag and led for 113 laps before heading to the pits after Logano’s crash.

The series of runner-up finishes gave Larson the Cup points lead, the first time Chip Ganassi Racing has led the points race this late in the season since 2002.

Larson, with two new tires on his Chevrolet, came out of the late pit stop with two new tires ahead of Busch’s Toyota and had the best chance to catch Newman. But he couldn’t find a way to get around the veteran.

Logano won the first stage and Chase Elliott the second in NASCAR’s new three-stage racing system.

Elliott dominated the second stage but lost the lead after Matt Kenseth, like Logano, blew a right front tire and slammed into the wall on the 193rd lap of the 314-lap race. In the ensuing pit stop, Busch got out quicker than Elliott to take the lead.

Blown tires were a common site on the hot pavement.

LOGANO’S WOES

Logano started on the pole and won on the same track in the next-to-last race of last season. He was in third place coming out of the pits during a caution flag between the second and third series but was penalized for speeding on pit row.

The held him back a lap and he had climbed his way through about half of the field before the tire blew.

A week ago, Busch was penalized for pit row speeding.

UP NEXT

The Cup’s “NASCAR Goes West” tour heads to Fontana, Calif., next Sunday for the finale of its three-race spring trip to the West.

CAMPING WORLD 500 RESULTS

Sunday at Phoenix Raceway (starting position in parentheses):

1. (22) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 314 laps, 0 rating, 42 points.

2. (4) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 314, 0, 53.

3. (9) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 314, 0, 47.

4. (21) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 314, 0, 33.

5. (6) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 314, 0, 46.

6. (23) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 314, 0, 32.

7. (27) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 314, 0, 30.

8. (8) Erik Jones, Toyota, 314, 0, 33.

9. (14) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 314, 0, 38.

10. (19) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 314, 0, 29.

11. (16) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 314, 0, 26.

12. (7) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 314, 0, 42.

13. (13) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 314, 0, 24.

14. (3) Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chevrolet, 314, 0, 24.

15. (5) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 314, 0, 33.

16. (15) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 314, 0, 21.

17. (28) Aric Almirola, Ford, 314, 0, 20.

18. (17) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 314, 0, 19.

19. (24) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 314, 0, 18.

20. (10) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 314, 0, 17.

21. (18) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 314, 0, 16.

22. (26) Danica Patrick, Ford, 314, 0, 15.

23. (2) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 314, 0, 21.

24. (25) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 314, 0, 13.

25. (11) Kurt Busch, Ford, 314, 0, 12.

26. (20) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 314, 0, 11.

27. (33) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 314, 0, 10.

28. (29) Landon Cassill, Ford, 313, 0, 9.

29. (30) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 313, 0, 8.

30. (35) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 312, 0, 7.

31. (1) Joey Logano, Ford, accident, 307, 0, 16.

32. (39) Timmy Hill, Chevrolet, 307, 0, 0.

33. (37) Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, 307, 0, 4.

34. (32) Cole Whitt, Ford, accident, 256, 0, 3.

35. (34) David Ragan, Ford, accident, 204, 0, 2.

36. (36) Gray Gaulding, Toyota, accident, 201, 0, 1.

37. (12) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, accident, 190, 0, 1.

38. (31) Corey Lajoie, Toyota, accident, 115, 0, 1.

39. (38) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, transmission, 9, 0, 1.

———

Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 104.271 mph.

Time of Race: 3 hours, 0 minutes, 41 seconds.

Margin of Victory: 0.312 seconds.

Caution Flags: 8 for 45 laps.

Lead Changes: 15 among 8 drivers.

Lap Leaders: J.Logano 1-29; R.Sorenson 30; J.Logano 31-78; Ku.Busch 79; J.Logano 80-84; C.Elliott 85-118; K.Larson 119; C.Elliott 120-121; K.Larson 122; C.Elliott 123-152; K.Larson 153; C.Elliott 154-193; Ky.Busch 194; C.Buescher 195; Ky.Busch 196-308; R.Newman 309-314

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): Ky.Busch, 2 times for 112 laps; C.Elliott, 4 times for 102 laps; J.Logano, 3 times for 79 laps; R.Newman, 1 time for 5 laps; K.Larson, 3 times for 0 laps; C.Buescher, 1 time for 0 laps; Ku.Busch, 1 time for 0 laps; R.Sorenson, 1 time for 0 laps.

Wins: Ku.Busch, 1; B.Keselowski, 1; R.Newman, 1; M.Truex, 1.

Top 16 in Points: 1. K.Larson, 184; 2. B.Keselowski, 178; 3. C.Elliott, 171; 4. M.Truex, 153; 5. J.Logano, 135; 6. R.Blaney, 127; 7. K.Harvick, 123; 8. J.McMurray, 119; 9. Ku.Busch, 105; 10. K.Kahne, 105; 11. R.Newman, 101; 12. T.Bayne, 100; 13. C.Bowyer, 97; 14. Ky.Busch, 97; 15. D.Hamlin, 97; 16. J.Johnson, 93.

NASCAR: Allgaier holds on to win Xfinity, his 1st victory in 5 years

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AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Justin Allgaier acknowledges there were some very down moments in his long NASCAR Xfinity victory drought.

“I’m not going to lie to you,” he said. “There are moments in my racing career when I wondered why I got up and went to the race track.”

But his family’s support kept him trying, he said, and Saturday, in scorching heat, he earned his first victory in nearly five years.

Allgaier held off Ryan Blaney and Erik Jones. Blaney, who started the day 33rd after missing the qualifying, pulled ahead of Jones before the final lap to finish second.

Jones and Blaney won the first and second stages of NASCAR’s three-stage format.

There were nine caution flags for 54 laps of the 200-lap race.

The temperature at Phoenix International Raceway in the barren hills southwest of the city was 93 degrees when the race started and 96 by the end.

Elliott Sadler finished fifth and remained the series points leader.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t driving Saturday, but he sure had a big day. Three of the cars he owns finished in the top five in NASCAR’s Xfinity race, led by Allgaier’s Camaro.

“As a team owner, you just want the guys to be competitive,” Earnhardt said, “but I was really, really happy to see how well we qualified and how well we qualified and how strong the cars were throughout the day.

“That’s our responsibility as owners, to provide our guys with the best that we can and I feel like we gave them some good stuff to work with today.”

NASCAR officials summoned Austin Dillon, his crew chief and spotter to a meeting, ordering the car off the track, after he appeared to retaliate by knocking Cole Custer’s car into the wall during the final caution. Custer tapped Dillon’s Toyota into the wall to force the caution initially.

When Custer came around during the caution flag, Dillon ran Custer’s Ford into the wall and the yellow flag became a red flag with spilled fuel on the track.

NASCAR had no immediate comment on any possible penalties.

The final restart came with four laps remaining, and Allgier said his car was “lights out.”

In an earlier restart, Dillon had driven his car low, allowing Jones to take the lead briefly but Allgaier had the fastest car at the end.

Allgaier’s crew replaced all four tires late in the race while Jones’ went with two and it made a difference on the pavement slickened by the fuel.

“It’s so hot that I think that two tires aren’t going to be as competitive here as they might have been in the past,” Allgaier’s crew chief Jason Burdett said.

Allgaier is the first Xfinity series regular driver to win this year in the three races. The first two races were won by NASCAR Cup drivers Kyle Busch and Joey Logano but no Cup veterans competed on Saturday.

The race was a preliminary to Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race.

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DC SOLAR 200 RESULTS

Saturday at Phoenix Raceway (starting position in parentheses):

1. (5) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 0 laps, 0 rating, 54 points.

2. (33) Ryan Blaney, Ford, ontrack, 0, 0, 0.

3. (2) Erik Jones, Toyota, ontrack, 0, 0, 0.

4. (1) William Byron, Chevrolet, ontrack, 0, 0, 43.

5. (6) Elliott Sadler, Chevrolet, ontrack, 0, 0, 45.

6. (7) Darrell Wallace Jr, Ford, ontrack, 0, 0, 39.

7. (35) Daniel Hemric, Chevrolet, ontrack, 0, 0, 32.

8. (17) Brennan Poole, Chevrolet, ontrack, 0, 0, 32.

9. (12) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, ontrack, 0, 0, 28.

10. (13) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, ontrack, 0, 0, 0.

11. (11) Ryan Reed, Ford, ontrack, 0, 0, 26.

12. (8) Matt Tifft, Toyota, ontrack, 0, 0, 25.

13. (4) Blake Koch, Chevrolet, ontrack, 0, 0, 26.

14. (15) Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, ontrack, 0, 0, 31.

15. (37) Brandon Jones, Chevrolet, ontrack, 0, 0, 22.

16. (18) J.J. Yeley, Toyota, ontrack, 0, 0, 21.

17. (36) Dakoda Armstrong, Toyota, ontrack, 0, 0, 20.

18. (22) Spencer Gallagher, Chevrolet, ontrack, 0, 0, 19.

19. (19) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, ontrack, 0, 0, 18.

20. (14) Drew Herring, Toyota, ontrack, 0, 0, 17.

21. (9) Cole Custer, Ford, ontrack, 0, 0, 16.

22. (38) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, ontrack, 0, 0, 15.

23. (20) Harrison Rhodes, Chevrolet, ontrack, 0, 0, 14.

24. (23) Garrett Smithley, Chevrolet, ontrack, 0, 0, 13.

25. (39) B J McLeod, Chevrolet, ontrack, 0, 0, 12.

26. (31) Timmy Hill, Toyota, ontrack, 0, 0, 11.

27. (10) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, ontrack, 0, 0, 10.

28. (28) Mario Gosselin, Chevrolet, ontrack, 0, 0, 9.

29. (21) Ray Black Jr, Chevrolet, ontrack, 0, 0, 8.

30. (24) Matt Mills, Chevrolet, ontrack, 0, 0, 0.

31. (30) Mike Harmon, Dodge, ontrack, 0, 0, 6.

32. (27) David Starr, Chevrolet, ontrack, 0, 0, 5.

33. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, accident, 190, 0, 0.

34. (16) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, accident, 189, 0, 3.

35. (25) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, accident, 151, 0, 2.

36. (29) Morgan Shepherd, Chevrolet, accident, 33, 0, 1.

37. (40) Stephen Leicht, Chevrolet, accident, 24, 0, 1.

38. (32) Carl Long, Toyota, accident, 18, 0, 1.

39. (34) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, accident, 11, 0, 0.

40. (26) Jordan Anderson, Chevrolet, accident, 3, 0, 0.

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Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 91.017 mph.

Time of Race: 2 hours, 11 minutes, 51 seconds.

Margin of Victory: 0.741 seconds.

Caution Flags: 9 for 55 laps.

Lead Changes: 13 among 6 drivers.

Lap Leaders: W.Byron 0; E.Jones 1-19; J.Allgaier 20-28; E.Jones 29-64; A.Dillon 65-81; J.Allgaier 82-109; R.Blaney 110-124; A.Dillon 125-138; J.Allgaier 139-159; M.Tifft 160-163; E.Jones 164; J.Allgaier 165-172; E.Jones 173-181; J.Allgaier 182-200

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): J.Allgaier, 5 times for 80 laps; E.Jones, 4 times for 61 laps; A.Dillon, 2 times for 29 laps; R.Blaney, 1 time for 14 laps; M.Tifft, 1 time for 3 laps; W.Byron, 1 time for 0 laps.

Wins: J.Allgaier, 1; R.Reed, 1.

Top 10 in Points: 1. E.Sadler, 144; 2. W.Byron, 133; 3. R.Reed, 121; 4. J.Allgaier, 115; 5. D.Wallace, 109; 6. D.Hemric, 104; 7. B.Poole, 98; 8. M.Tifft, 91; 9. M.Annett, 89; 10. D.Armstrong, 84.

NASCAR: Logano uses fast late lap to claim pole in Phoenix

AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Joey Logano capped a day in the spotlight with a fast late lap Friday to claim the pole for the NASCAR Camping World 500.

With the temperature in the low 90s and the sun beginning to set, Ryan Blaney qualified second to give Ford the top two spots to start Sunday’s race.

Logano and Blaney bumped Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Chevrolet out of the top spot he had held through most of the final five-minute qualifying round on Friday.

The day began for Logano with a meeting with Kyle Busch and NASCAR officials about the crash and subsequent scuffle late in last Sunday’s race in Las Vegas.

Logano had the fastest lap through two rounds but the top 12 have to start from scratch and qualify in the third round. He won with a top speed of 137.321 mph on the Phoenix International Raceway track made slick by the heat.

Busch qualified ninth.

“There’s I guess a lot of distractions that we don’t typically have,” Logano said. “It’s just a matter of managing those distractions and keeping your head back in the right spot for when it’s game time.”

Drivers waited as late as possible in all three rounds to hope for slightly cooler weather to boost their speed.

But all were prepared for a long, hot day on Sunday, when the high is predicted to hit 96 degrees.

Bring it on, Logano said.

“I think racing in the heat of the day, when it’s hot out, is the best racing, and I think maybe the whole garage may agree,” he said. “When it’s hot, the track gets wide, it’s greasy, there’s a lot more passing, tires become more important because there’s more fall-off.”

Logano won his 18th career pole but first in 17 races in Phoenix. He won the Can-Am Sprint Cup Series race on the same track last Nov. 13, the next-to-last race of the season.

“I’m just glad we finally got a pole here,” Logano said. “I don’t know what our average starting position is, but I feel like it’s really good, but we’ve never really put the whole deal together in the last run.”

Blaney, 23, qualified in the No. 2 spot for the second week in a row.

Blaney’s Wood Brothers racing team works closely with the sophisticated operation of the Penske group, where Logano is a driver.

“That’s been a huge help and the Penske group has been very open to what we need,” Blaney said, “not only on the driver side with Brad (Keselowski) and Joey, but on the team side as well.”

Defending champion Kevin Harvick, an eight-time winner in Phoenix, had trouble and qualified 23rd. He is in the first season in a Ford after driving Chevrolets his entire career.

Three cars will have 15-minute practice holds on Saturday for rules infractions detected in Friday inspections. The drivers are Ty Dillon, David Ragan and Austin Dillon.

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AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The first face-to-face meeting between Kyle Busch and Joey Logano since last week’s post-race scuffle in Las Vegas is over.

Whether the drivers feel any better about things headed into Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway is an open question.

The two were summoned to a 15-minute session Friday with NASCAR officials as everyone involved tried to put the pit road brawl to bed. Busch attempted to turn the attention to this weekend’s racing at Phoenix, saying almost nothing as he emerged from the meeting. He answered every question by repeating, “Everything’s great.”

Logano initiated a phone conversation with Busch on Tuesday. He said after Friday’s meeting it was good to sit with his former teammate and explain the on-track incident at Las Vegas was “an honest mistake.”

Are the two OK?

“I guess time will tell. We’ll see,” Logano said. “I hope he’s able to see that and know that I was sincere about it but time will tell.”

The two were racing for position Sunday at Las Vegas and Busch spun because of Logano’s hard racing. Busch stormed down pit road and threw a punch at Logano before crews intervened. Team Penske was not penalized for tackling Busch to the ground, even though Busch sustained a gash to his forehead in the scrum.

Logano said he has tried to persuade Busch with evidence he says shows he didn’t cause the wreck intentionally on the final lap.

“I really just tried to explain that I made a mistake underneath him,” Logano said. “That’s basically what it was. He asked for some data. I was able to show him that. It was pretty clear in my opinion what happened so that’s that.”

NASCAR senior executive Steve O’Donnell was in the meeting.

“The beginning of it was really to let the drivers talk about what happened, which they did,” he said. “Then we were very clear about our expectations, what we expect going forward.”

“It’s an emotional sport,” O’Donnell said. “We still view that as true racing hard for position. If that escalates beyond to something intentional on the race track, we were very clear that we’ll react.”

Busch repeated his “everything’s great” comment to five separate questions, tagging on essentially the same words: “I’m really looking forward to getting back in my race car and being here in Phoenix.”

It was far different from what he said Sunday, when he was led away from the fracas by NASCAR officials as blood from his forehead trickled down his nose.

“I got dumped,” he said then. “He flat out just drove in the corner and wrecked me. That’s how Joey races so he’s going to get it.”

The Busch incident is the latest between Logano and his former Joe Gibbs Racing team.

The Busch vs. Logano subplot adds heat to what already promised to be a sweaty race, with temperatures expected to reach the mid-90s at the track carved into the desert hills southwest of downtown Phoenix.

Kyle Larson, a fast-rising young driver on the NASCAR circuit, was asked if he was surprised that NASCAR didn’t levy any punishment in the incident.

“Our new (title) sponsor, Monster, they’re an edgy brand,” Larson said. “I think what you saw last week was edgy. I don’t know, though. It’s just hard. They used to penalize people for that and now they don’t.”

Don’t expect the diminutive Larson to ever cause this kind of ruckus.

“Look how big I am? I can’t do that,” he said to a room full of laughter. “Joey’s got probably a two-feet longer reach on me, too. I’m not the fighting type. I don’t think I’ve ever been mad enough to want to punch anybody.”

The Logano-Busch meeting came minutes before the two took to the track for practice runs.

They climbed in their cars and gave every indication they will be in the thick of things on Sunday. Logano had the fourth-fastest car, Busch the sixth.

NASCAR: Kevin Harvick to put the pedal to the metal at NASCAR Phoenix race

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(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today)   —-   Approaching the fourth race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule, it’s about time for 2014 series champion Kevin Harvick to qualify for the 10-race playoffs that cap the season.

His Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Kurt Busch, won the Daytona 500 and Harvick was in position to follow with a victory the next week at Atlanta Motor Speedway, only to ruin his run — which included leading 292 of 325 laps — because of a late pit-road speeding penalty. Phoenix Raceway should fix everything, if Harvick’s recent and long-term results continue at the 1-mile oval.

A Southern Californian, Harvick developed an affinity for Phoenix when he raced in the Copper World Classic on the Southwest Tour there before becoming a breakout NASCAR performer with Richard Childress Racing. Good memories and crew chiefs — currently Rodney Childers — able to give Harvick what he wants in a car have made him the benchmark for the series at the track.

In winning six of the past nine races at Phoenix, finishing second twice and leading 38 percent of the laps in the last 10, Harvick has accumulated more points there than any driver over each subsequent season.  The winner at Phoenix last spring, Harvick was fourth in the fall, failing to use the penultimate race of the season to leap into the final at Homestead-Miami Speedway as he’d done in 2014. That seems like a long dry spell in the desert by his standards.

Childers sounded encouraged by late developments from an organizational test at Phoenix as SHR continues its transition from Chevrolets to Ford.

“Going into it I thought we’d be competitive from his standpoint,” he said. “We’ve had a good setup there that last three years, but the test didn’t start out the way we wanted it to.  We struggled the first day and really about half the second day, and then we got going really good at the end of the second day.  We learned a lot out there and look forward to going back and, hopefully, have another shot at the victory out there.”

Here are two other drivers that should be a factor in Sunday’s Camping World 500:

Kyle Busch: The Joe Gibbs Racing driver hasn’t won at Phoenix since his first full Cup season when took Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 5 Chevrolet to victory lane in November of 2005 but has been second only to Harvick in gathering points at Phoenix in the last the two races. He finished second last fall to Joey Logano and fourth in the previous two races, so he figures to come out swinging again on Sunday.

Joey Logano: Speaking of Logano, the would-be Las Vegas brawlers figure to be vying for the same slice of desert again on Sunday. At Vegas it was third place on the final lap, at Phoenix it could be a playoff spot and bonus points. Discounting an 18th-place finish at Phoenix last spring — when a failure to fully fill the No. 22 Ford led to an unscheduled stop — Logano has been solidly a top-10 performer there since the fall of 2013, with a win and a third-place finish in November, 2015.

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Follow James on Twitter @brantjames

NASCAR does not penalize Busch or Logano for Vegas fight

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — NASCAR on Wednesday declined to penalize Kyle Busch, Joey Logano of their crews for their post-race scuffle at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

NASCAR said the sport was built on the kind of racing that Busch and Logano did on the final laps of Sunday’s race. The hard racing for position led to Busch confronting Logano after the race, and throwing a punch.

Busch was knocked to the ground by Team Penske crew members and cut his forehead in the scuffle.

“The emotions of our athletes run high, and Kyle Busch and Joey Logano are two of the most passionate and competitive drivers in the sport,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. “Both competitors are very clear on our expectations going forward and we will be meeting with them in person prior to practice on Friday in Phoenix.”

Logano told FoxSports1 on Tuesday that he and Busch have spoken since the incident.

“Obviously, we didn’t speak much there, so I got a chance to call him up earlier … to be able to talk to him a little bit and at least tell my side of the story,” Logano said. “We’re going to have two sides to the story like there is all the time, but really the bottom line is we’re two passionate race car drivers. We’re two of the best in the sport that are going to go for wins that are aggressive and we collided.”

NASCAR did issue two lug nut penalties: The teams for Martin Truex Jr. and Ty Dillon were penalized for lug nuts not being properly installed. Truex crew chief Cole Pearn and Dillon crew chief Bootie Barker were each fined $10,000.

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

NASCAR: Jimmie Johnson, Chad Knaus stick together to chase NASCAR history

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(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today)   —-  Jimmie Johnson is in a long-term relationship.

Yes, Johnson has often spoken of the support he’s received from wife Chandra, married since 2004.

But for all of his statistical accomplishments, including a record-tying seven Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championships and 80 victories heading into Sunday’s Camping World 500 at Phoenix International Raceway, none is more impressive — or unimaginable — in a volatile sport/industry than this:

Since 2002, his first full season, Johnson has had the same team owner (Rick Hendrick), the same crew chief (Chad Knaus), the same sponsor (Lowe’s), the same car chief (Ron Malec) and the same automaker (Chevrolet).

Rules, tracks, competitors, car specifications, championship formats and countless other variables over 15-plus seasons have been changed more often than the Valvoline in Johnson’s engine. Remarkably, however, not Johnson’s key ties.

Especially that with Knaus, his friend/strategist/coach/confidant over NASCAR’s marathon 36-race Cup season, which demands thousands of communications and decisions between driver and crew chief and can be an intense, emotional roller-coaster. They are now a hyphenated entity — Johnson-Knaus — inextricably bound by their success together and as they chase NASCAR’s greatest historical touchstone, an eighth Cup championship.

“As our sport evolves, the only consistent (element) is our relationship,” said Knaus, trying to set a NASCAR crew chief championship benchmark of his own.

Johnson and Knaus admit to their share of spats, including several during a winless and struggling summer of 2016, which seemed to make a championship run unlikely. Hendrick, shockingly, conceded he wondered if the duo should split: “Is this (the) time? Do we need to make a change?”

But Johnson, after starting last, tied the title totals of Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. with a victory in the season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“We’re definitely like brothers,” said Knaus, 45, whose ultra-competitive demeanor makes many regard him as the sport’s biggest workaholic. “The closer you get with your family, the more you can go through anything together. As much as we’ll fight and battle and argue from time to time, if somebody steps up and pulls him around, I’m going to sock the other guy in the nose.

“All I want to do is see him be successful. I think that’s probably the biggest reason why we’ve managed to stay together.”

jimmie-johnson-titles-021917

Johnson, 41, known for his calm public persona, says they’ve learned from the relationship of their former Hendrick teammates Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham. The landmark Gordon-Evernham combination won three Cups and 40 races in a four-year stretch but split before the end of the 1999 season.

“I’m loyal,” said Johnson, who has four Phoenix victories but only a best 11th-place result in three 2017 starts. “I’ve been accused of being loyal to a fault. The respect we have for one another has always been the glue.

“Chad and I look at what Ray and Jeff went through. We’ve had both of them tell us, ‘You can work through your problems. If we would have stayed together, who knows what we could have done?’”

Knaus, who married in 2015, describes some of his arguments with Johnson as “painful” and that “nothing is out of bounds.”

Now part of NASCAR lore is Hendrick’s late 2005 “milk and cookies” meeting with his driver and crew chief, which, perhaps, made the championships possible. The Johnson and Knaus egos were colliding in frustration after four seasons (2002-05) in which they won 18 races yet finished fifth-second-second-fifth in the point standings.

Hendrick called them into his office and said, “If you’re going to act like kids, we’re going to have some milk and cookies,” and there they were, on a table.

“I told them they were so close to success and they’d be fine if they’d just talk things out and get their problems out in the open . . . That broke the ice.”

The next year they won the first of an unprecedented five consecutive titles.

And about that eighth championship?

“Yes, I would love to do that,” said Knaus, who then tellingly added, “but I also would rather get nine.

“The way we operate is different. We don’t necessarily set goals and try to eclipse other people’s records. We set the goal to try to go make our own records. We want to win our next race. We want to be on pole for our next qualifying session. That’s how we approach life.”

Johnson said he’s “really been enjoying (title) seven,” and part of that has been spending time recently with his wife and two young daughters at their second home in Aspen, Colo., away from NASCAR’s Charlotte-area hub. “I’m trying to keep eight in a very fun and light-hearted place.

“In my younger days, I was very good at over-thinking things, and applying too much pressure on myself. The fact that I’m chasing this history, I’m not going to put extra pressure on myself to do it.”

Do it or not, it will be a Johnson-Knaus effort.

“I firmly believe,” Johnson said, “the relationship between driver and crew chief is where the magic lies.”

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Knight writes for the (Phoenix) Arizona Republic, part of the USA TODAY Network.

NASCAR: It takes a brawl for NASCAR to go mainstream

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kyle Busch had a gash on his forehead and blood running down his nose when he promised payback to Joey Logano. The two had a brief post-race pit road brawl that can be seen on TMZ, the “Today Show” and, really, just about anywhere.

The tussle shoved NASCAR into the watercooler talk Monday alongside the NCAA Tournament, and the reason why should be a wakeup call to every stakeholder in the stagnant sport because, like it or not, Busch getting pummeled by Logano’s crew is the lasting memory of the race.

NASCAR can make any format change under the sun, try gimmicks, slick marketing or the Monster Energy Girls, but its mainstream audience wants drama. Only racing fans know that a late caution nearly cost Martin Truex Jr. the win, that Brad Keselowski lost the race because of a car part failure and that his disabled race car likely led to the Busch-Logano brouhaha.

Inside the racing bubble, all of this is both a dream come true and a nightmare.

NASCAR doesn’t want to be known for brawling , and its drivers don’t particularly enjoy the scrutiny and/or punishment that comes from bad behavior. But this sport is in desperate need of rivalries, and nothing gets people talking like a bloodied face after a race.

NASCAR Chairman Brian France suggested the drivers aren’t likely to receive harsh penalties.

“We just shouldn’t come out of our chairs over this,” France said Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “The pressure on these guys today is so difficult. So it shouldn’t surprise anybody that every once in a while, somebody is going to boil over, somebody is going to think that they saw an incident in a different way and, whether it’s true or not true doesn’t matter, emotions are going to get the best of them. That’s just part of it.”

The Busch-Logano bout Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway happened in the pits.

Busch felt that Logano wrecked him as the two raced for position past Keselowski’s slowed car, so he sped down pit road, leaving the bulk of his Joe Gibbs Racing crew behind, and sought out Logano. When he found his former teammate, Busch went in swinging.

Logano insists he wasn’t hit, video is inconclusive, but Busch walking into a group of Team Penske employees was a recipe for disaster. It was the Penske crew members who pulled Busch away, got him to the ground and, in that scrum, bloodied his head.

Roger Penske has said his employees are there to defuse those situations — his drivers, Logano and Keselowski, have had their share of confrontations — but the only defusing came from one public relations employee who forcefully pulled Logano out of the fray. Most everyone else on the scene seemed all too eager to get their hands on Busch and that’s a problem for NASCAR. These are not situations where the crew should get involved. It’s for NASCAR officials to intervene, and it ultimately was a pair of NASCAR employees who pulled Busch from the pile and out of the way.

Keselowski, who was punched in the face by Jeff Gordon in a 2014 scrum of team members, noted the issue on Twitter after the race.

“Fighting in Motorsport is dumb,” Keselowski tweeted. “It always turns into a pile and your own guys hit each other. At least in hockey they are good at it.”

Well, the NHL is actually trying to curb fighting, but Keselowski’s point is valid. Driver disputes must be policed by NASCAR, not the teams.

France seemed to think everything will be taken care of because there’s precedent. Although Busch vowed to exact revenge, France believes the 2015 blowback from a long-running feud between Busch teammate Matt Kenseth and Logano will put an end to possible payback.

“There will be no retaliation,” France told Sirius. “That will not be happening. That’s not going to happen anyway. The drivers understand what we did a couple of years ago at Martinsville (suspending Matt Kenseth two races for wrecking Logano), that is unacceptable.

“So what happens on the track, good or for bad for one driver or another, that’s where it stays, and we move on to the next event.”

We’ll see. This incident certainly hasn’t hurt NASCAR, and a little bad blood could really liven up an otherwise slow start to the season.

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NASCAR: Martin Truex Jr. wins at Vegas, Kyle Busch bloodied in brawl

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Martin Truex Jr. finished speaking to reporters after winning the NASCAR Cup race Sunday and retreated into a corner of the media center where a tablet awaited with the video cued up.

Truex had to see the Kyle Busch-Joey Logano brawl, too.

“I’m sure NASCAR is going to love that one,” Truex said.

Truex passed Brad Keselowski with two laps to go and avoided a last-lap wreck and ensuing fight that left Busch’s forehead bloodied in a wild finish.

An aggressive Joey Logano got into Busch as they raced for third, sending Busch spinning down pit road at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“It was nothing intentional,” Logano said. “But obviously he thinks that.”

As Truex headed toward victory circle, Busch walked down pit road, turned right and threw a right hook at Logano’s face. Logano’s crew members brought Busch to the ground as NASCAR officials yelled for them to stop.

When they were separated and Busch got to his feet, he had a bloody gash above his right eye.

“There wasn’t much talking, just a lot of swinging,” said Logano, who said he was unhurt. “I was racing hard there at end.”

Busch, who had recovered from a speeding penalty that left him a lap down to get into contention, was escorted to the infield care center and quickly released as the track buzzed.

“I got dumped. He flat out just drove straight in the corner and wrecked me,” Busch said. “That’s how Joey races, so he’s going to get it.”

The fight overshadowed a dominating day for Truex and a tough-luck finish for Keselowski, who appeared to be pulling away after a restart and on his way to his second win in as many weeks when he ran into mechanical problems.

“I just know it was something major,” he said. “It wouldn’t turn and I lost brakes.”

Truex passed him and held on to become the first driver to win all three segments in NASCAR Cup’s new stage racing.

Kyle Larson was second, followed by Chase Elliott, Logano and Keselowski.

Truex won the first two race stages and took re-took the lead with 39 laps to go after a lengthy cycle of green-flag pit stops. After a hard-charging Keselowski went in front, Danica Patrick blew an engine, bringing out a caution.

Keselowski, who started from the pole, just beat Truex out of pit road road after their four-tire stops. He chose the outside lane on the restart and shot ahead until his car slowed at the end of the 267-lap race.

That gave Toyota a win after Ford victories in the season’s first two races.

“I’ve been on the other side of those things plenty of times, so it definitely feels good to take advantage of somebody else’s issue for once,” Truex said.

Denny Hamlin was sixth, followed by Ryan Blaney, Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenseth and Clint Bowyer.

Jimmie Johnson was 11th, marking the first time since he became a full-time driver in 2002 that he has failed to have a top-10 finish in the first three races.

As Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 16th, Kevin Harvick’s hope of bouncing back from a disappointing finish at Atlanta lasted only 68 laps. He crashed hard into the wall when his right front tire exploded.

“It started vibrating four or five laps before it blew out,” Harvick said. “I was trying to ride it to the end of the stage.”

Harvick was credited with a 38th-place finish a week after leading 292 laps a week earlier only to be caught seeding on pit road. He surrendered the points lead to Keselowski.

The 1.5-mile track was slick with the temperature in the 80s in the desert. And it was a rough homecoming for Daytona 500 champion Kurt Busch. Shortly after venting his frustration over the radio, he had to come in for a new battery with 66 laps to go and finished 30th.

NOW WHAT?: NASCAR will review the fight and issue any penalties in the coming week.

SPEEDING: Kyle Busch was one of three drivers to get caught speeding on pit road, with the pass-through penalty leaving him a lap down. Speeding has been a hot issue this season as NASCAR has gone to more precise timing lines.

LONG WAIT TIMES: Harvick was annoyed at how long it took the medical crew to get to his car and transport him to the infield care center. NASCAR for the first time this season is using a traveling set of doctors and paramedics in hopes of better consistency.

“I thought we made that better, but obviously we haven’t,” Harvick said.

TROUBLE: Patrick (rear gear change) had to start from the rear, fell a lap down in the first stage and ended up 36h after the dead engine. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished 33rd in a backup car after an axle shaft poked out of wheel.

UP NEXT: The middle race of the Western swing is next Sunday on the mile track at Phoenix.

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NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Kobalt 400 Results

At Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas

Lap length: 1.50 miles (Start position in parentheses)

1. (2) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 267 laps, 0 rating, 60 points.

2. (5) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 267, 0, 52.

3. (12) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 267, 0, 47.

4. (6) Joey Logano, Ford, 267, 0, 39.

5. (1) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 267, 0, 48.

6. (15) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 267, 0, 31.

7. (3) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 267, 0, 43.

8. (10) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 267, 0, 37.

9. (4) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 267, 0, 30.

10. (13) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 267, 0, 27.

11. (16) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 267, 0, 31.

12. (7) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 267, 0, 25.

13. (20) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 267, 0, 24.

14. (30) Aric Almirola, Ford, 267, 0, 23.

15. (8) Erik Jones, Toyota, 267, 0, 22.

16. (18) Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chevrolet, 267, 0, 26.

17. (21) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 267, 0, 22.

18. (26) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 267, 0, 19.

19. (14) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 267, 0, 18.

20. (11) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 267, 0, 17.

21. (24) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 267, 0, 16.

22. (9) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 267, 0, 18.

23. (25) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 266, 0, 14.

24. (23) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 266, 0, 13.

25. (22) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 266, 0, 12.

26. (31) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 265, 0, 11.

27. (27) Landon Cassill, Ford, 264, 0, 10.

28. (33) Cole Whitt, Ford, 264, 0, 9.

29. (32) David Ragan, Ford, 264, 0, 8.

30. (17) Kurt Busch, Ford, 263, 0, 7.

31. (37) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 262, 0, 6.

32. (36) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 261, 0, 5.

33. (29) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 261, 0, 4.

34. (35) Gray Gaulding, Toyota, 260, 0, 3.

35. (38) Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, 254, 0, 2.

36. (28) Danica Patrick, Ford, engine, 246, 0, 1.

37. (39) Timmy Hill, Chevrolet, suspension, 135, 0, 0.

38. (19) Kevin Harvick, Ford, accident, 68, 0, 1.

39. (34) Corey Lajoie, Toyota, accident, 16, 0, 1.

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Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 136.034 mph.

Time of Race: 2 hours, 56 minutes, 39 seconds.

Margin of Victory: 1.495 seconds.

Caution Flags: 6 for 34 laps.

Lead Changes: 14 among 6 drivers.

Lap Leaders: B.Keselowski 1-19; M.Truex 20-24; B.Keselowski 25-70; J.Logano 71-75; M.Truex 76-124; B.Keselowski 125-126; T.Dillon 127-128; M.McDowell 129-130; M.Truex 131-153; J.Johnson 154-156; M.Truex 157-211; J.Johnson 212-227; M.Truex 228-243; B.Keselowski 244-265; M.Truex 266-267

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): M.Truex, 6 times for 144 laps; B.Keselowski, 4 times for 85 laps; J.Johnson, 2 times for 17 laps; J.Logano, 1 time for 4 laps; T.Dillon, 1 time for 1 lap; M.McDowell, 1 time for 1 lap.

Wins: Ku.Busch, 1; B.Keselowski, 1; M.Truex, 1.

Top 16 in Points: 1. B.Keselowski, 132; 2. K.Larson, 131; 3. C.Elliott, 129; 4. M.Truex, 127; 5. J.Logano, 119; 6. R.Blaney, 106; 7. Ku.Busch, 93; 8. K.Harvick, 91; 9. K.Kahne, 88; 10. J.McMurray, 86; 11. T.Bayne, 82; 12. C.Bowyer, 73; 13. M.Kenseth, 71; 14. A.Almirola, 70; 15. D.Hamlin, 68; 16. P.Menard, 62.

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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.

NASCAR: Logano pulls away from Larson, wins Las Vegas Xfinity race

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Joey Logano believes the evolving strategy of restarts has made it one of the most challenging aspects for a NASCAR driver.

Logano got plenty of chances to test his skills Saturday in the Xfinity race, and made all the right moves.

Logano pulled away from Kyle Larson on a restart with four laps left and held on to win his 21st race in the second-tier circuit.

Logano chose the outside lane and moved in front of Larson out of the fourth turn at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for his first Xfinity victory since October at Charlotte.

“There’s so much to think about to understand restarts and making the right decisions,” Logano said. “Not only what lane to pick or getting up through the gears, but the first two laps of a restart are intense and important.”

Daniel Suarez put Cup regulars in the top three spots. Justin Allgaier was fourth, followed by Austin Dillon and Darrell Wallace Jr., who needed medical attention after the race because of illness.

NASCAR Cup regulars Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski won the first two stages of the 200-lap race.

Elliott Sadler finished 10th and retained the series lead by four points over Ryan Reed, who was ninth.

Logano, who started fourth in the Team Penske No. 12 Ford, was in front to start the final stage with 102 laps left and re-took the lead after a cycle of green-flag pit stops with 55 laps left. Logano was first out of the pits after a debris caution and held the lead on the restart with 33 laps remaining.

Logano then held on following three more cautions, the last coming when Matt Tifft ran into Spencer Gallagher and spun out.

Why did he want the inside on the restart?

“Last year in a Cup race I started from the inside as the leader and I lost the lead,” Logano said.

There was an additional wreck at the end, but not early enough to give Larson one more restart chance.

“I thought Joey and I were pretty equal, but I think clean air was big,” Larson said.

Busch started from the pole and just edged Larson to win the first 45-lap segment despite dealing with vibration issues.

Larson beat Busch out of the pits on the ensuing caution, but later gave up the lead to get new tires, as teams still work on the proper strategy for segment racing.

But the move allowed Keselowski, who will start from the pole in Sunday’s Cup race, take the second stage after 90 laps ahead of Busch.

Keselowski had an unscheduled pit stop early in the final segment because of a loose wheel and ended up 10th.

Busch, last year’s Xfinity winner on the 1.5-mile oval, finished seventh.

Wallace appeared ill at the driver meeting and went to the infield care center following the race.

It was a rough day for Brendan Gaughan at his home track. He had to go behind the wall in the second segment for a new carburetor at his home track. Not long after he returned, he spun out. Gaughan finished 35th.

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Results

Saturday At Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas

Lap length: 1.5 miles (Starting position in parentheses)

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

2. (7) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 200.

3. (3) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 200.

4. (13) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 200.

5. (5) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 200.

6. (16) Darrell Wallace Jr., Ford, 200.

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

8. (14) Elliott Sadler, Chevrolet, 200.

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

10. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 200.

11. (20) Cole Custer, Ford, 200.

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

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

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

15. (12) Brandon Jones, Chevrolet, 200.

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

17. (15) Aric Almirola, Ford, 200.

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

19. (22) Drew Herring, Toyota, 200.

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

21. (28) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 200.

22. (23) J.J. Yeley, Toyota, 200.

23. (24) Spencer Gallagher, Chevrolet, 200.

24. (9) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 199.

25. (26) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 199.

26. (25) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 198.

27. (31) Harrison Rhodes, Chevrolet, 198.

28. (37) David Starr, Chevrolet, 197.

29. (34) Garrett Smithley, Chevrolet, 197.

30. (36) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 196.

31. (29) Ray Black Jr., Chevrolet, 196.

32. (35) Martin Roy, Chevrolet, 196.

33. (32) Timmy Hill, Toyota, 195.

34. (6) Matt Tifft, Toyota, Accident, 191.

35. (17) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 189.

36. (33) Jeff Green, Chevrolet, Accident, 177.

37. (39) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, Brakes, 159.

38. (38) Brandon Hightower, Chevrolet, Vibration, 18.

39. (40) Stephen Leicht, Chevrolet, Accident, 4.

40. (30) Jordan Anderson, Chevrolet, Electrical, 1.

Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 118.525 mph.

Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 31 Mins, 52 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.602 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 9 for 44 laps.

Lead Changes: 8 among 5 drivers.

Lap Leaders: K. Busch 1-48; K. Larson 49-74; J. Logano 75; K. Larson 76-80; B. Keselowski 81-92; J. Logano 93-142; K. Larson 143-144; J. Yeley 145; J. Logano 146-200.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): J. Logano 3 times for 106 laps; K. Busch 1 time for 48 laps; K. Larson 3 times for 33 laps; B. Keselowski 1 time for 12 laps; J. Yeley 1 time for 1 lap.

NASCAR: Keselowski on pole for NASCAR Las Vegas stop, Truex Jr. 2nd

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Brad Keselowski will begin his bid for a third victory in the past four NASCAR Cup races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway from the pole after topping qualifying Friday night.

Keselowski, who also won last week’s race at Atlanta, made up ground in the final two turns and posted a top seed of 193.68 mph in his No. 2 Ford for his 13th career pole. He won at the 1.5-mile track last year and in 2014.

“We found some things we really liked here about three or four years ago and we’ve been able to kind of roll with that,” Keselowski said.

Martin Truex Jr., who was the fastest in the midday practice, will join him on the front row Sunday in the 400-mile race thanks to a speed of 193.458 mph in his No. 78 Toyota.

“We were really strong in practice and thought it would pick up quite a bit of speed tonight and it really didn’t,” Truex said. “So that threw us for a little bit of a curve and kind of hurt our setup. But it was a good recovery. We made a lot of changes throughout qualifying and got better at the end.”

Ryan Blaney will start third in his Ford, and Matt Kenseth qualified fourth on his 45th birthday.

Kyle Larson was fifth, followed by Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne, rookie Erik Jones, Las Vegas native Kyle Busch and Jamie McMurray.

Daniel Suarez will start 11th and Chase Elliott 12th.

Keselowski believes the new stage racing format this season has boosted qualifying’s importance in the race weekend. The first segment Sunday ends on the 45th lap.

“Now it matters more than ever because it gives you a prime opportunity to win that first stage and collect those points both for the season and for the playoffs,” Keselowski said.

Daytona 500 champion Kurt Busch failed to get out of the second qualifying round and will start 17th. His Stewart-Haas Racing teammate and series points leader Kevin Harvick struggled and will being 19th.

Clint Bowyer (13th) just missed getting into the last round. Defending series champion Jimmie Johnson will start 16th and teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. 18th.

Kyle Busch was the fastest in the first qualifying round and Danica Patrick (28th) was among those outside the top 25 who failed to advance. AJ Allmendinger knocked out his teammate Chris Buescher by posting a faster lap seconds before the 20-minute session ended

“I thought AJ and I were better friends than that,” joked Buescher, who will start 25th.

With only 39 cars entered, open drivers Corey LaJoie (34th), Derrike Cope (38th) and Timmy Hill (39th) all made the field.

*****

FULL LINEUP: Kobalt 400

1. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 193.68 mph.
2. (78) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 193.458.
3. (21) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 193.41.
4. (20) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 193.389.
5. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 193.161.
6. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 193.029.
7. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 193.133.
8. (77) Erik Jones, Toyota, 192.369.
9. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 192.362.
10. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 192.362.
11. (19) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 191.966.
12. (24) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 191.042.
13. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 192.623.
14. (27) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 192.431.
15. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 192.356.
16. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 192.267.
17. (41) Kurt Busch, Ford, 192.089.
18. (88) Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chevrolet, 192.068.
19. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 191.7.
20. (6) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 191.544.
21. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 191.523.
22. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 191.029.
23. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 190.638.
24. (13) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 188.864.
25. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 190.57.
26. (95) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 190.402.
27. (34) Landon Cassill, Ford, 190.208.
28. (10) Danica Patrick, Ford, 189.954.
29. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 189.553.
30. (43) Aric Almirola, Ford, 189.401.
31. (32) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 187.813.
32. (38) David Ragan, Ford, 186.716.
33. (72) Cole Whitt, Ford, 185.752.
34. (83) Corey Lajoie, Toyota, 185.554.
35. (23) Gray Gaulding, Toyota, 185.008.
36. (33) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 182.624.
37. (15) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 180.301.
38. (55) Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, 177.468.
39. (51) Timmy Hill, Chevrolet, 174.876.

Gibbs, Penske, Allison among NASCAR Hall of Fame nominees

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Championship team owners Joe Gibbs and Roger Penske as well as the late Davey Allison are among five new nominees for the 2018 NASCAR Hall of Fame class.

NASCAR announced the additions Wednesday. Three-time Late Model Sportsman and 1956 Modified champion Red Farmer and 2000 NASCAR champion Bobby Labonte also are new to the 20-person nomination class. They join 15 holdovers from last year.

Gibbs has nine car owner championships in NASCAR’S top two series. Penske has four car owner titles in the top two series. Allison won 19 times in NASCAR’s premier series, including the 1992 Daytona 500.

The returning nominees are Buddy Baker, Red Byron, Ray Evernham, Ray Fox, Ron Hornaday Jr., Harry Hyde, Alan Kulwicki, Hershel McGriff, Larry Phillips, Jack Roush, Ricky Rudd, Mike Stefanik, Ken Squier, Waddell Wilson and Robert Yates.

Five nominees will be elected May 24.

Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick, Mark Martin, Raymond Parks and Benny Parsons were elected last year and inducted in January.

Jim France and Alvin Hawkins are new additions to the list of Landmark Award nominees. France worked closely with his father, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., and is the current chairman of International Speedway Corporation. Hawkins was NASCAR’s first flagman. He established NASCAR racing at Bowman Gray Stadium with France Sr.

Potential Landmark Award recipients include competitors or those working in the sport as a member of a racing organization, track facility, race team, sponsor, media partner or being a general ambassador for the sport through a professional or non-professional role.

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — NASCAR has fined three teams for penalties tied to last weekend’s races at Atlanta Motor Speedway and hardest hit was AJ Allmendinger for loose lug nuts on his car.

NASCAR docked Allmendinger 35 points, and crew chief Randall Burnett was suspended three races. Burnett was also fined $65,000 after NASCAR found three loose lug nuts on Allmendinger’s car.

The penalty dropped Allmendinger from 11th into a tie for 34th in the standings. JTG Daugherty Racing competition director Ernie Cope will replace Burnett during the suspension.

Also penalized was Joe Gibbs Racing because Kyle Busch’s winning car was too low after the Xfinity Series race. Crew chief Scott Graves was fined $10,000 and suspended one race. JGR was docked 10 Xfinity Series owner points.

In the truck series, Chase Elliott’s entry failed post-race inspection and crew chief Jeff Stankiewicz was fined $5,000 and suspended for one race.

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Las Vegas Motor Speedway will host two top-tier NASCAR races beginning in 2018.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority board of directors approved a race sponsorship agreement with the track and parent company Speedway Motorsports Inc. on Wednesday, with this year’s race coming up Sunday. Las Vegas’ win is New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s loss, with SMI shifting one of the New England track’s two NASCAR Cup Series races to Nevada.

“Las Vegas and Las Vegas Motor Speedway have become great destinations for NASCAR fans,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. “The experience is unique to any other in our sport. We look forward to having NASCAR racing there for two race weekends in 2018.”

SMI said it will move its September race date at New Hampshire to Las Vegas to create the second race. The company will also move the Truck Series race from New Hampshire, as well as a stand-alone Xfinity Series race from Kentucky Speedway to create a triple-header weekend.

LVMS will become the first facility on the NASCAR schedule to host two yearly weekend events with all three national series. The race dates will be announced later by NASCAR as part of the full 2018 schedules.

“The fantastic support that NASCAR as a sport and the Las Vegas Motor Speedway receive from Las Vegas is phenomenal, and it really has proven to be something that we can ignore,” SMI President Marcus Smith said. Smith, tourism officials, along with brothers and Las Vegas natives Kurt and Kyle Busch participated in the deal’s announcement in Las Vegas.

The sponsorship deal is for $2.5 million per year for seven years with the option of extending the agreement three years. The convention authority is expected to pay a sponsorship fee of $1 million per race and commit to spending $500,000 annually to market both races.

The city of Las Vegas currently does not sponsor the race that comes to the city in March.

SMI owns the Las Vegas track, along with seven others, and said racing will continue in New Hampshire and Kentucky. Those facilities will host just one race weekend each year now.

“Fans and tourism officials in New Hampshire and Kentucky should know that we are still very committed to creating motorsports entertainment in those regions,” Smith said. “We will work hard to make sure the July NASCAR race weekends that we will continue to host in New Hampshire and Kentucky are bigger and better than ever before for our fans, sponsors and stakeholders.”

Las Vegas tourism officials said their 2016 race attracted more than 96,000 out-of-town guests and had an overall economic impact of more than $139 million.

LVMS first hosted a Truck Series race in 1996, added the second-tier Xfinity Series in 1997 and will mark its 20th Cup race Sunday. The first race held at the 1.5-mile oval was the Indy Racing League’s Las Vegas 500K in 1996.

Tourism officials and track leaders said they have worked on the possibility of bringing a second race to Sin City for at least six years. Wednesday’s announcement continues the expansion of Las Vegas’ sports offerings with the city recently getting an NHL team and possibly becoming the home of the Oakland Raiders.

“The big winner here is going to be the city of Las Vegas,” said Las Vegas driver Kurt Busch, the Daytona 500 winner. “Vegas has gone through many phases over the years… It started out with a family atmosphere it seemed like in the early 90s. It seemed like there was a nightclub phase, there was a restaurant phase, all along everything kept building, and now we are going through a big sports phase here in Las Vegas.”

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Follow Regina Garcia Cano on Twitter at https://twitter.com/reginagarciakNO. More of her work can be found at https://www.apnews.com/search/ReginaGarciaCano

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

NASCAR: Daytona’s marred finished

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(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today)    —   With 40 drivers in the field and last year’s Daytona 500 having the closest finish ever – a .01-second margin between first and second – what happened Sunday that left just a handful of cars in serious contention for the win?

First, there were several wrecks – including one involving 17 cars – that knocked drivers out of the race under new NASCAR collision rules. So with three laps left in the 200-lap Great American Race, there were arguably nine cars leading the way and any one of them had a chance to win.

But then drivers started to run out of gas, including winner Kurt Busch in the No. 41 Ford, whose crew chief handed him potentially race-ending news.

“With the fuel situation, he said we were half a lap shy,” Busch said after the race. “I just figured we would figure out how to gain half a lap as we raced.”

 

But these teams aren’t just winging it with how much gas is left in the tank. Slight fuel miscalculations combined with a lack of caution flags – which offer drivers the opportunity to refuel – in the final 47 laps dealt a few drivers devastating results.

During a caution flag – usually after a crash – each car’s position is frozen, allowing them to make a pit stop without falling behind. Additional new NASCAR rules break each race into three segments – two 60-lap and one 80-lap stages for the Daytona 500 – and there is a caution flag following the first two.

Although there were eight cautions throughout the race, the final one ended on lap 153, making it the first time in more than a decade without a caution flag in the final 12 laps.

Leading for 22 of the final laps, Chase Elliott’s No. 24 Chevrolet ran out of gas, and Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 Toyota took over for a lap before dropping back. And on lap 199, Kyle Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet just had to maintain his position for the win, but he, too, ran out of fuel – paving the way for Busch to take the lead for his first Daytona 500 win in 17 starts.

 AP Photo/John Raoux

AP Photo/John Raoux

“Either we were all going to come to the [finish] line together like we did, or we were going to run out together,” Busch explained. “We were on the same sequence as the majority of those cars up front. Sometimes, you’ve just got to roll with it.”

Between the numbers wrecks – that eliminated Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Danica Patrick and Kyle Busch, along with 11 others – and late-race fuel problems, just 15 drivers are credited with completing all 200 laps.

And luckily for Busch, the only real problem he had was losing his rearview mirror with 30 laps left, keeping him from seeing just how many car lengths ahead of the pack he was as he crossed the finish line.

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Fox’s broadcast of Sunday’s Daytona 500 posted that same rating as last season, although the average viewership numbers saw a modest bump.

The broadcast of Kurt Busch’s victory had a rating of 6.6. with an average viewership 11.922 million, Fox announced Monday evening. The rating was equal to last year, although the average broadcast audience in metered markets was up 5%. The race had a share of 15, meaning 15% of the televisions in use were tuned to the race.

Viewership peaked (14.031 million viewers) between 6:15-6:30 p.m. ET as Busch held on for the his first victory in 16 attempts.

The ratings remain well off their highs.

Bolstered as the lead-in to the Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy, NBC scored an 11.3 rating for the 2006 Daytona 500, and the ratings remained in double digits over the next two broadcasts of “The Great American Race.”

Fox, which has broadcast the race since 2007, reported a 16% ratings gain for its pre-race show and 21% boost of the network’s post-race show over 2016.

The network said it had a record NASCAR audience on its streaming service, Fox Sports GO, with an average audience of 39,832 people per minute streaming the broadcast.

Busch took the lead on the final lap as other contenders ran out of fuel in the season-opening race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

daytona-final-laps-v2

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NASCAR: Hype, new format didn’t equal must-watch Daytona 500

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The Daytona 500 was sold out, the grid packed with celebrities, the fan area full of activities including a motorcycle “Ball of Death.”

Owen “Lightning McQueen” Wilson was on hand, and so was Waka Flocka Flame , Gronk and nearly two dozen women decked out in scantily-clad Monster Energy outfits.

One thing NASCAR had for its season opener was a much-needed spark and an atmosphere worthy of the hype associated with its biggest race.

But for all the buzzwords — NASCAR is edgy! — star power and a Monster-fueled fervor that made the race a hot ticket, it couldn’t hide the one thing that still continues to tug at the heart of the sport.

The racing.

The sport’s leaders had worked so hard to make a splash and push the message that this was a new NASCAR. Even the drivers could feel it.

“The whole week was a lot of fun. All the media. All the buildup. The sellout,” said NASCAR’s favorite son, Dale Earnhardt Jr. “Felt like it was a new beginning of sorts in some way for the sport. It seemed like there was a new energy. I don’t know what it was. I couldn’t really put my finger on it, but it just felt good.”

Right up until go time.

NASCAR revamped the rules that turned races into segments — three, like periods in the NHL — designed to keep fans engaged from the drop of the green flag. But a series of wrecks wiped out contenders like Earnhardt and defending champion Jimmie Johnson and others, and there were lengthy red flag delays. The top 10 became loaded with drivers more familiar with the back of the pack and all that energy faded away.

Gronk can’t save them every week, either.

New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski almost overshadowed race winner Kurt Busch . Both are sponsored by Monster, NASCAR’s new title sponsor, but it was Gronk who was out until 5:30 a.m. Monday following NASCAR’s version of the Super Bowl.

The biggest race of the year was far from NASCAR’s best and the new format fell a little flat from the promised amazingness drivers insisted it will deliver. It wasn’t a dud, but it’s impossible to know after one crash-filled weekend if it’s any good.

It was wreck after wreck after wreck on Sunday, and almost all the top names were taken out early. It meant Canadian driver D.J. Kennington’s debut in the Daytona 500 produced a better finish than Earnhardt and Matt Kenseth, both two-time Daytona 500 winners, and former series champion Kyle Busch.

Cole Whitt was at one point the race leader, and before Busch stole the victory, it appeared the win could go to either Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson or Ryan Blaney — a trio with an average age of 22 and one win in a combined 209 starts.

That Busch led just one lap, the last one, was fitting for this race. It was the first time in 59 years that the winner led only the final lap.

It’s hard to know why so many drivers struggled, or if racing in stages produced the problems. The aggression on the track could be attributed to anxious drivers running their first real race following the offseason. It could be that the back half of the grid just isn’t that talented. Consider: This Daytona 500 lacked Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, featured rookies Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones and the debuts for Kennington, Corey LaJoie, Joey Gase and Jeffery Earnhardt.

AJ Allmendinger finished third and thought the stages made a difference.

“It seemed like you get five laps to go in the stage, everything would kind of amp back up,” Allmendinger said. “Everybody just gets three-wide now. It’s hard to make any moves happen. You have to get your track position. If you lose it, it’s hard to get it back.

“Over the last couple years, it’s kind of hard to make moves through the middle of the pack through the field with 20 to go. Everybody was trying to get up there and make sure they got the track position. That’s what happens here.”

Blaney, give him credit, tried to win in a backup car and didn’t shy away from pulling out of line to try to make a run at the win.

“I tried to make a move with 10 (laps) to go to see what would happen. No one really went with me,” runner-up Blaney said.

Elliott ran out of fuel. So did Larson. Same with Martin Truex Jr. And so Kurt Busch won, then Monster threw a rager to celebrate. For the cut-rate price the company is paying for naming rights — reportedly about $20 million a year — it likely recouped its initial investment on opening day based on publicity alone.

In the end, the television rating was up, the mood was mostly upbeat and Monster was as proud of Busch’s victory as it was of Gronk’s all-nighter. At Busch’s Monday winner’s breakfast, Monster vice president of sports marketing Mitch Covington noted that Gronk had put in a 24-hour shift for the company.

That a hard-partying NFL player could steal thunder from the Daytona 500 winner is a problem NASCAR has to address. The big names are getting old, and the sport is going to be in desperate need of some superstars very soon.

And if NASCAR intends to be the rock star that Monster can create, it’s going to need far better racing that it got at Daytona.

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

NASCAR: Kurt Busch steals monster victory by winning Daytona 500

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Decked in Monster gear and chugging a tall boy of the energy drink as he was flanked by scantily clad models and one of pro sports’ top partiers, Kurt Busch celebrated the biggest win of his racing career.

It was Monster Madness!

Busch used a last-lap pass to win the crash-filled Daytona 500 on Sunday in the opening race of Monster Energy’s new role as title sponsor of NASCAR’s top series. Busch, it just so happens, is also sponsored by Monster, and the company has strongly stood by him through his rocky career.

So this was a victory of redemption for Busch, who was suspended by NASCAR two days before the 2015 Daytona 500 for his off-track behavior, and for Monster, which has promised to pump new life into NASCAR’s sagging sport.

“I’ve had a lot of people that have believed in me through the years, a lot of people that have supported me,” Busch said.

Add NFL star Rob Gronkowski to Busch’s bandwagon, too.

Gronkowski celebrated with Busch and the Monster girls in victory lane. He raved about the win and seemed to really enjoy his first Daytona 500, the first for NASCAR’s new three-segment format and one filled with wrecks.

“Monster’s the best!” Gronk shouted to The Associated Press. “We picked Kurt to win and he won ’cause he’s a Monster guy. Kurt did an awesome job. Monster killed that race!”

Gronk and Busch likely will celebrate late into the night, well after the banged-up No. 41 Ford heads to the museum for its yearlong display at Daytona International Speedway.

“The more that becomes unpredictable about Daytona, the more it becomes predictable to predict unpredictability,” Busch said. “This car’s completely thrashed. There’s not a straight panel on it. The strategy today, who knew what to pit when, what segments were what. Everybody’s wrecking as soon as we’re done with the second segment.

“The more that I’ve run this race, the more that I just throw caution to the wind, let it rip and just elbows out. That’s what we did.”

It wasn’t NASCAR’s finest moment, though, as multiple accidents pared down the field and had a mismatched group of drivers racing for the win at the end.

It appeared to be pole-sitter Chase Elliott’s race to lose, then he ran out of gas. So did Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Paul Menard and Kasey Kahne. As they all slipped off the pace, Busch sailed through for his first career Daytona 500 victory in 16 tries.

It also was the first Daytona 500 win for Stewart-Haas Racing, which is co-owned by Tony Stewart. The three-time champion retired at the end of last season and watched his four cars race from the pits.

“I ran this damn race (17) years and couldn’t win it, so finally won it as an owner,” Stewart said. “It’s probably the most patient race I’ve ever watched Kurt Busch run. He definitely deserved that one for sure.”

It was a crushing defeat for Elliott, who is developing a reputation as a driver unable to immediately digest defeat. He left the track without comment in a car driven by his father, Hall of Famer Bill Elliott.

Ryan Blaney finished second in a Ford. AJ Allmendinger was third in a Chevrolet, and Aric Almirola was fourth for Richard Petty Motorsports.

“I can understand his disappointment, for sure,” Blaney said of Elliott, his friend and rival. “You’re leading the race. Looks like you’re going to win the Daytona 500. You know how he is, he’s very hard on himself. But it wasn’t his fault. You can’t help you run out of gas.”

The win was a huge boost for Ford, which lured Stewart-Haas Racing away from Chevrolet this season and celebrated the coup with its second Daytona 500 victory in three years. Joey Logano won in a Ford in 2015.

“What a great win to start off a partnership,” said Raj Nair, Ford’s chief technical officer. “We were so fast. We knew we had a good chance and Kurt hung in there after getting caught up in that crash. He didn’t give up.”

The first points race of the Monster era was run under a new format that split the 500 miles into three stages. Kyle Busch won the first stage, Kevin Harvick won the second stage and neither was a contender for the win. NASCAR also this year passed a rule that gave teams just five minutes to repair any damage on their cars or they were forced to retire.

But the race was slowed by wreck after wreck after wreck, including a 17-car accident at the start of the final stage that ended the race for seven-time and reigning series champion Jimmie Johnson and Danica Patrick. It was a particularly rough incident for Patrick and her Stewart-Haas Racing team, which had all four of its cars collected in the accident.

“Just seems like that could have been avoided and was uncalled for,” Johnson said about the aggressive racing behind him that triggered the accident.

Kurt Busch was able to continue, but most of the top contenders found themselves on the outside looking in.

“Some years I think we have it where we run here and nobody wrecks and it’s great racing,” said Brad Keselowski, “and then you have other years like this where everybody wrecks all the time.”

Roughly two hours before the race, NASCAR chairman Brian France issued drivers a stern warning about blocking.

France rarely wades into competition matters, especially in public, but stepped to the microphone to admonish the drivers. The Truck Series and Xfinity Series races were sloppy wreck-fests, and France hardly wanted the same spectacle for his Super Bowl.

“This is our biggest event,” France told the packed drivers meeting. “What I don’t normally do, and I’m going to do this today, is bring up a competition issue. This is for the drivers. And what I want you to think about. We realize blocking is part of racing. We understand that. We accept that.

“Do not look for NASCAR … when you block somebody out there. It causes almost all the big incidents. Do not look for NASCAR … you better hope there’s a Good Samaritan behind you who is going to accept that block, because they have that lane and the right to it. And I don’t often make those statements.”

Blocking or not, the race was a mess of tangled sheet metal and wrecked cars.

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Here are some other items of note from the Daytona 500:

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EARNHART’S HIT

Dale Earnhardt Jr. slammed into the wall and walked away unscathed, an early exit from the Daytona 500 that could be viewed as a positive step in his recovery process.

NASCAR’s most popular driver missed 18 races, half the season, in 2016 because of lingering concussion symptoms that included nausea as well as vision and balance issues. He got back in the car in early December and gained medical clearance to return this season.

He was looking to make a triumphant return at Daytona, the track where his famous father died, but ended up driving to the garage and parking it for the day shortly after the midway point of the 200-lap event. He finished 37th, but made progress.

“I feel good,” Earnhardt said. “I don’t have any symptoms or anything I’ve experienced in the past. It wasn’t that hard of a hit, but it still doesn’t mean you can’t get injured.”

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FORD’S BIG WIN:

It was a definite coup for Ford when it lured Stewart-Haas Racing away from Chevrolet starting this season. The hope was that the four-car organization would bolster Ford’s numbers and lead the manufacturer to victories and championships.

One race down, and this partnership seems to be a perfect pairing.

Busch gave Ford its first win in the Daytona 500 since Joey Logano won it two years ago.

“SHR in their first outing with Ford, to get this win, we could not be any happier as an organization right now,” said Dave Pericak, global director of Ford Performance.

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ELLIOTT’S HEARTBREAK:

Chase Elliott came close to victory several times last season, each defeat hitting him harder than the last.

So it was no surprise to see Elliott devastated after he ran out of gas while leading the Daytona 500. He left the track as a passenger in a car driven by his father, Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, after slipping to a 14th-place finish. Elliott was seeking to become the first driver to win the pole, a qualifying race and the 500 since his father accomplished the feat in 1985.

“I can understand his disappointment,” friend and second-place finisher Ryan Blaney said. “You’re leading the race. Looks like you’re going to win the Daytona 500. You know how he is. He’s very hard on himself.”

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WALTRIP’S FINALE

Michael Waltrip ended his racing career exactly how he hoped.

He knew a victory was unlikely, so he set a more realistic goal for his final NASCAR start: to finish in the top 10 in his 30th and last Daytona 500.

The two-time Daytona 500 winner took the checkered flag in eighth, providing him the ideal conclusion to a career that began in 1985, spanned more than three decades and included 784 Cup Series starts and four victories.

“It’s going to be a great memory,” said Waltrip, who signed a one-race deal with Premium Motorsports to say goodbye at the famed speedway that has provided him triumph and tragedy. “I’m ready for it to be my last one, so it’s going to be a good one to remember it by.”

daytona-500-with-2017-winner

 

DAYTONA 500 RESULTS

1. (8) Kurt Busch, Ford, 200 laps, 0 rating, 48 points.

2. (36) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 200, 0, 44.

3. (38) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 200, 0, 39.

4. (13) Aric Almirola, Ford, 200, 0, 33.

5. (33) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 200, 0, 32.

6. (15) Joey Logano, Ford, 200, 0, 40.

7. (26) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 200, 0, 30.

8. (30) Michael Waltrip, Toyota, 200, 0, 29.

9. (25) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 200, 0, 28.

10. (11) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 200, 0, 27.

11. (39) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 200, 0, 0.

12. (16) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 200, 0, 33.

13. (35) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 200, 0, 24.

14. (1) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 200, 0, 23.

15. (22) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 200, 0, 22.

16. (27) Landon Cassill, Ford, 199, 0, 21.

17. (4) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 199, 0, 23.

18. (17) Cole Whitt, Ford, 199, 0, 19.

19. (10) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 199, 0, 18.

20. (40) Elliott Sadler, Chevrolet, 199, 0, 0.

21. (14) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 198, 0, 18.

22. (5) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 197, 0, 34.

23. (29) Joey Gase, Toyota, 196, 0, 0.

24. (31) Corey Lajoie, Toyota, 193, 0, 13.

25. (20) David Ragan, Ford, 188, 0, 12.

26. (32) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, accident, 145, 0, 11.

27. (7) Brad Keselowski, Ford, accident, 143, 0, 24.

28. (3) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, accident, 141, 0, 13.

29. (19) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, accident, 141, 0, 8.

30. (18) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, accident, 140, 0, 7.

31. (23) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, accident, 133, 0, 6.

32. (6) Clint Bowyer, Ford, accident, 128, 0, 9.

33. (12) Danica Patrick, Ford, accident, 128, 0, 11.

34. (24) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, accident, 127, 0, 5.

35. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, accident, 127, 0, 2.

36. (28) D.J. Kennington, Toyota, accident, 127, 0, 1.

37. (2) Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chevrolet, accident, 106, 0, 7.

38. (21) Kyle Busch, Toyota, accident, 103, 0, 11.

39. (34) Erik Jones, Toyota, accident, 103, 0, 1.

40. (9) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, accident, 103, 0, 1.

Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 142.891 mph.

Time of Race: 3 hours, 29 minutes, 31 seconds.

Margin of Victory: 0.228 seconds.

Caution Flags: 8 for 40 laps.

Lead Changes: 37 among 18 drivers.

Lap Leaders: C.Elliott 1-5; J.McMurray 6-18; K.Harvick 19-22; C.Elliott 23-24; K.Harvick 25-29; B.Keselowski 30-31; K.Larson 32; K.Harvick 33-41; Ky.Busch 42; M.Truex 43; Ky.Busch 44-48; R.Blaney 49-50; Ky.Busch 51-62; A.Allmendinger 63-64; K.Larson 65-68; K.Harvick 69-72; K.Larson 73; K.Harvick 74-89; J.Johnson 90-96; D.Earnhardt 97-104; E.Sadler 105-109; K.Harvick 110-121; J.Logano 122; K.Larson 123-125; C.Elliott 126; K.Kahne 127; C.Elliott 128-135; K.Kahne 136-141; A.Dillon 142-148; J.Logano 149-151; C.Whitt 152-154; A.Almirola 155-156; K.Larson 157-162; J.Logano 163-174; C.Elliott 175-197; M.Truex 198; K.Larson 199; Ku.Busch 200

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): K.Harvick, 6 times for 44 laps; C.Elliott, 5 times for 34 laps; Ky.Busch, 3 times for 15 laps; J.Logano, 3 times for 13 laps; J.McMurray, 1 time for 12 laps; K.Larson, 6 times for 10 laps; D.Earnhardt, 1 time for 7 laps; A.Dillon, 1 time for 6 laps; J.Johnson, 1 time for 6 laps; K.Kahne, 2 times for 5 laps; E.Sadler, 1 time for 4 laps; C.Whitt, 1 time for 2 laps; A.Allmendinger, 1 time for 1 lap; A.Almirola, 1 time for 1 lap; R.Blaney, 1 time for 1 lap; B.Keselowski, 1 time for 1 lap; M.Truex, 2 times for 0 laps; Ku.Busch, 1 time for 0 laps.

Segment wins: Kyle Busch, Stage 1; Kevin Harvick, Stage 2.

NASCAR: Optimism in high gear at Daytona for NASCAR’s top teams

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Optimism abounds after the opening weekend at Daytona International Speedway, especially for NASCAR’s top teams.

Teamwork at Joe Gibbs Racing appears as solid as ever despite adding rookie Daniel Suarez to the mix, evidenced by Denny Hamlin, Suarez, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch running 1-2-3-4 for much of the Clash at Daytona.

Team Penske’s Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski look as if they could continue their recent dominance at restrictor-plate races, and with Stewart-Haas Racing switching from Chevrolet to Ford in the offseason, they now have a few extra friends — Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Danica Patrick and Clint Bowyer — to help around NASCAR’s most famous track.

Hendrick Motorsports has the Daytona 500 pole again as well as another front-row sweep.

And the usual suspects — Hamlin, Logano and Keselowski — seem to be up front at every turn.

Combine all those notable nuggets, and the 59th running of “The Great American Race” on Sunday is setting up to be another unpredictable showcase event.

Some other things we learned from the opening of Speedweeks:

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HENDRICK HORSEPOWER: Hendrick Motorsports has the Daytona 500 pole-sitter for the third consecutive season and swept the front row for the fourth time in the last eight years. It’s a clear indication Hendrick has the horsepower — as usual — to be a factor in NASCAR’s opener.

Chase Elliott landed the pole for the second time in as many years, and fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. made his triumphant return to racing by securing the No. 2 starting spot. Earnhardt missed the final 18 races of 2016 because of nausea and vision and balance issues after at least the fifth concussion of his career.

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TROUBLING TURN: Although much went right for Hendrick, the four-car team found cause for concern.

Seven-time and defending series champion Jimmie Johnson spun twice in Turn 4 during the Clash at Daytona on Sunday, adding to the team’s recent woes in the high-banked corner. Teammates Chase Elliott and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had similar issues in the 2016 Daytona 500, both crashing in the final turn.

So what may have seemed like a one-year fluke is now a full-fledged trend for Hendrick.

“It’s a concern,” said Alan Gustafson, crew chief for Elliott. “We have things in place to try to improve that, and we’re very aware of it.”

Earnhardt sounded like getting the turn straight would be a priority during the week.

“We’re looking at our notes from over the years,” Earnhardt said, pointing specifically to 2015. “We’ll look at what we did then and what we’re doing now and sort of go through the process of elimination, and that’s kind of what we’ve been doing until we fix it.”

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NEW RULES: NASCAR’s new rules received mixed results in the opening weekend.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Kyle Larson was parked with 14 laps remaining in the Clash for violating NASCAR’s new damaged-vehicle policy. Officials said Larson’s team had more than six crew members over the wall to work on his damaged No. 42 Chevrolet. NASCAR policy states that teams can’t continue in the race if they’re caught with too many men over the wall.

“I didn’t even know that was a rule,” Larson said. “It’s just confusing. We know now.”

NASCAR also got its first look at its new concussion assessment testing.

Drivers involved in a wreck that sends their car to the garage must report to the infield care center for an evaluation. Concussion assessment tests are administered if care center doctors believe there is a concern of head injury.

Former series champion Kurt Busch was the first to wreck under the new rule and praised the extra evaluation.

“There was an individual that met me out by the car, rode with me in the ambulance and again met with the doctors and just went through different sequences to check all of the different vitals and we were released,” Busch said. “It’s just a little bit of an upgrade. You can tell that they’ve made an effort and it’s nice to have that security.”

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PATRICK’S RUN: Danica Patrick did it again at Daytona.

Patrick has been solid at times at Daytona since her rookie season when she won the Daytona 500 pole and led five laps. She finished fourth at the Clash, a needed confidence boost following a dismal 2016. She finished 24th in the standings and failed to post a top-10 finish.

Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin crashed on the last lap, allowing Patrick to sneak through for the best finish of her NASCAR career.

“I will say that I got a little lucky, but there’s a lot of that in speedway racing,” she said.

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BOWMAN’S LAND: Alex Bowman’s final scheduled race for Hendrick Motorsports was a doozy.

He finished third in the No. 88 Chevrolet, his last time subbing for Earnhardt. Earnhardt was cleared to race in the 88 but let Bowman take a deserved turn for his sturdy job in part-time duty last season.

Bowman chatted with Kyle Busch on pit road after the race. Bowman worked hard to pass Busch over the final laps instead of teaming with him to chase the leaders.

Bowman said it was an honor to drive for Earnhardt and team owner Rick Hendrick. His NASCAR future is unknown.

“It’s definitely kind of like a bittersweet feeling,” he said. “I don’t really know what I have going forward, and I only know of one race for sure that I’m going to run, and it’s not a Cup race this year.”

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MONSTER DEBUT: Kurt Busch’s car was the center of attention of before the Clash. His car’s make? A Ford. The model? Try models, the bevy of Monster Energy girls who posed for pictures with bystanders.

Busch is sponsored by Monster Energy — but the energy drink company also took over this season as title sponsor for the Cup series.

Its debut was a monster dud.

Busch hit the wall a few laps into the race, the green squiggly M logo on the hood crushed as the car was towed to the garage.

Other than the Monster girls, there has been little promotion by the company. Monster isn’t selling drinks at concession stands, and there are no ads spread around the track.

There was a billboard in the fan zone promoting NBC’s television coverage that still had the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series logo plastered in the middle.

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MEDICAL IMPROVEMENTS: (USA Today)   —   The two white trucks perched alongside the track as Daytona Speedweeks kicked off this weekend marked one of the most visible changes to NASCAR’s safety protocol since Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s death on the same track 16 years ago.

The trucks — each outfitted with a doctor and paramedic — will be at each NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series weekend this season as part of a partnership with American Medical Response (AMR), announced earlier this month. The move brings NASCAR more in line with what the Verizon IndyCar Series and other major racing organizations have had for decades: dedicated traveling safety teams.

“You ask why now?” Jim Cassidy, vice president of NASCAR racing operations, told USA TODAY Sports. “We are always looking for improvements in the area of safety and this has been on our radar for a couple years. The drivers council meetings tend to focus a large amount on safety and competition. Through those conversations, we came up with a path that makes sense.”

This is the second full season for the 10-member NASCAR drivers council and founding member Denny Hamlin told reporters the addition of the safety team is a sign that series officials are “listening and they’re making changes on our behalf.”

“We’ve always advocated you have to be a little more consistent with doctors because you just never know,” Hamlin said. “Each race track has its own set of doctors, all well qualified, but maybe they don’t know our personalities as much as the traveling doctors do that go every week. I think it’s important that we have that steady staff that understands the patients and has a good relationship with them.”

The roots of modern U.S. traveling safety teams trace to the early days of CART, the open-wheel racing series that morphed into Champ Car before it merged with IndyCar in 2008.

Terry Trammell, who has been a trackside physician for more than 30 years, was one of the CART safety members credited with saving the life of Alex Zanardi after a gruesome 2001 crash that resulted in amputation of both his legs.

“I think the immediacy of care and the knowledge provided makes a difference,” Trammell told USA TODAY Sports.

AMR will staff the safety team with a small pool of about six physicians along with an unspecified number of paramedics that will rotate throughout the season. Larger tracks, like Daytona International Speedway, and road courses will have two AMR-staffed trucks, while intermediate and short tracks will have one.

NASCAR responded to the death of Earnhardt in 2001 by mandating head and neck restraints (HANS) , pushing out a stock car with safety improvements and working with tracks to add Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) barriers that cushion wall impacts.

A member of last year’s drivers council, Earnhardt’s son lauded NASCAR for another move announced Friday. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who missed the second half of the 2016 Cup season as he recovered from another concussion, called the additional concussion screening that infield care center doctors now have access to a “positive step toward protecting our drivers” on Twitter.

Physicians in the infield care center, which will continue to be staffed by local medical professionals, can use the latest version of Sport Concussion Assessment Tool (SCAT-3) that measures memory and agility along with physical symptoms that could signal a person has been concussed.

While NASCAR would not comment on what might prompt a SCAT-3 test, it said its use would still be a judgment call by the infield care doctor.

“It’s just another diagnostic tool for the infield care center,” Cassidy said.

Cassidy said NASCAR will continue to rely on the ImPACT test, which is similar to SCAT, for baseline testing of each driver before every season.

A traveling team also has one major edge vs. local medical professionals when it comes to concussion diagnosis: familiarity.

“The advantage of having a traveling crew is that they know what’s normal and not (normal) behavior,” Trammell said. “They can tell if something is way off and if a driver is acting erratically.”

While the AMR doctor will be sharing information from the crash site and ambulance ride, that physician likely will return trackside if the race is not complete. There are contingency plans in case of a catastrophic accident when a member of the AMR safety team would need to stay at the infield care center or even an area hospital to tend to an injured driver, NASCAR spokesperson Tom Bryant told USA TODAY Sports.

In another change, every driver whose car goes behind the wall – regardless of the severity of damage – must go to the infield care center to be checked by a doctor.

It’s unclear whether the SCAT-3 test was used on any of the drivers who visited the infield care center at Daytona after wrecks during the Advance Auto Parts Clash on Sunday, NASCAR’s season opening race. Bryant said federal health privacy laws preclude the series from detailing the tests conducted and can only state whether a “driver has been evaluated and released, treated and released, or transported to a local medical facility for further evaluation.”

All the drivers involved in wrecks so far were treated and released, including Kurt Busch.

“There was an individual that met me out by the car, rode with me in the ambulance and again met with the doctors and just went through different sequences to check all of the different vitals and we were released,” Busch said. “It’s just a little bit of an upgrade. You can tell that they’ve made an effort and it’s nice to have that security.”

NASCAR: Jimmie Johnson, greatest of all? He is in the mix

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — The congratulatory messages started rolling in long before Jimmie Johnson had finished his obligatory championship photos. Larry Bird. Mia Hamm. Michael Phelps. Mario Andretti. Drew Brees. The Chicago Cubs.

The list of dignitaries — and the friends and neighbors who toilet-papered his North Carolina home overnight — shows just how significant this latest milestone is for Johnson.

Greatest of all time? Maybe. He certainly deserves to be in the conversation.

Johnson joined Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt as the only drivers in NASCAR to win seven titles with a race-winning run Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. His record-tying championship came in a bizarre year for Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team, and on a day that did not belong to the iconic No. 48 Chevrolet until the final lap of the race.

Hendrick Motorsports was not good this year, and never found the speed to match Joe Gibbs Racing and its fleet of Toyotas. Johnson, for most of the season, was never even mentioned as a title contender.

The organization buckled down, improved its cars and got Johnson in position to race for his seventh title.

Then he did the rest.

When Carl Edwards wrecked Sunday night to essentially lose the championship, Johnson charged through the melee and found himself suddenly leading the two remaining title contenders. On a night when he’d started last — his team was found to have manipulated the body of his car after it had passed inspection — and clearly wasn’t as good as the other three contenders, he had somehow lucked into the lead.

He still had to earn the win, though, and did it with the restart of his life to hold off Kyle Busch and Joey Logano. He led one lap and it was the one that mattered.

“He is probably the most underrated champion in this sport,” said his crew chief, Chad Knaus. “He is a fantastic, fantastic individual, an amazing race car driver. Most people in the situation we were in just in would crumble. He didn’t even waver. He knew what he needed to do. He knew what the demands were on him at that point in time, and he made it happen.

“We’ve got a great team. We’ve got a great owner. We’ve got a great everything at Hendrick Motorsports. But the fact of the matter is the real spark in this whole thing is Jimmie.”

A fatigue perhaps set in when Johnson reeled off five consecutive titles. Fans didn’t seem to appreciate his dominance, certainly not the way they revered Petty or Earnhardt.

Almost each Johnson championship was met with a collective yawn, when they should have been celebrated for their unique achievement.

Johnson, at 41, is the youngest driver to win seven. Petty was 42 when he did it in 1979, while Earnhardt was 43 in 1994. He also collected his seven titles in a 10-year span. Earnhardt needed 14 years to do it, while Petty did it in 15 seasons.

Johnson’s 80 career victories rank seventh all time, one spot ahead of Earnhardt.

“I think the five in a row was pretty phenomenal, and I think winning seven and tying seven is pretty special,” said team owner Rick Hendrick. “It’s special to see him tie those guys. I think it’s good for the sport, and I think it draws a lot of attention to our sport. We had Gatorade, had a lot of guys like Peyton Manning telling him how neat it was, and Serena Williams. I think it’s going to be a big shot in the arm for not only Jimmie but our sport.”

Johnson will likely add to his totals. With retirement still a ways off, he has a chance to win eight titles, and as he drank a beer and ate a slice of cold pizza in a champagne-soaked firesuit, he was already being asked about the possibility of eight.

“I don’t know what the chances are, but let’s go,” he said. “I’m so excited to put that in front of myself and the team has a hurdle to get over and an accomplishment to achieve. I had a lot of fun racing for the sixth. This one and the calm nature and the way we went about business and got it done only gives me more confidence for the future.

“I honestly feel like I’m playing with house money. I never aspired to be famous. I never aspired to be a champion. I just wanted to race. I think it makes us really dangerous, and I look forward to the challenge of trying to get number eight.”

NASCAR: Jimmie Johnson seizes record-tying 7th NASCAR championship

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — Jimmie Johnson had the commemorative helmet and a photographer chronicling his every move. He had even planned to run a symbolic seven miles the night before his shot at a seventh championship.

He’s adamant he didn’t know something special was coming.

Johnson was the worst of the championship contenders in a winner-take-all season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He needed only to beat three other drivers to tie Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt as drivers with seven titles, but he was clearly not in the same league as the other finalists Sunday night.

Johnson didn’t panic, keeping the same calmness he’s had for 10 weeks of this historic march. So relaxed before this event, he canceled his “short run” and instead spent the night eating pasta.

And as he chased Carl Edwards, reigning champion Kyle Busch and Joey Logano, it sure seemed like there was not shot at No. 7.

“I’m sure the world felt like anybody but Jimmie Johnson was going to win the championship with 20 to go, and then it changed so quick,” Johnson said.

Johnson was practically gifted his seventh title when Edwards’ aggressive attempt to win the championship ended in a wreck. Johnson got the restart of his life in overtime, took the lead on the very last lap of the race, won for the first time in his career at Homestead and grabbed the final Sprint Cup trophy.

Most of the race was spent talking about backflips, repeats or a Penske sweep because Johnson just wasn’t as good as Edwards, Busch or Logano.

Then all that conversation took a back seat to a record-setting — albeit improbable — championship run. The win was the 15th for Hendrick Motorsports and seventh for crew chief Chad Knaus, who now only trails Dale Inman’s record eight.

“When I was coming to the checkered flag, I had to really look closely at it going by to make sure it was, ‘Like is this really happening?'” Johnson said.

Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet was pulled off pit road by NASCAR shortly before the race and forced to make a last-minute pass through inspection, setting Johnson up for a mind-boggling race in which he never seemed to be a legitimate contender. He had to start last because of the inspection issue and seemingly had no shot until Edwards coughed up the title.

Petty welcomed Johnson to the VIP section of NASCAR’s most exclusive club.

“They set a goal to get where they are and circumstances and fate made it a reality,” Petty said. “Jimmie is a great champion and this is really good for our sport.”

He also was feted by Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., who represented his late father in victory lane.

“I told Jimmie I wish Dad was here to shake his hand,” Earnhardt said. “Dad would think he’s such a bad-ass. He’s such a great race car driver. How he won this thing tonight, I don’t think a lot of people know, he can will himself to get (his all) out of a car when it matters. There’s a lot of circumstance that played into it, but he put himself in that position.”

Edwards was in position to win until a caution with 10 laps remaining set up a wild sequence that ruined his title hopes. Edwards tried to block Logano on the restart, wound up wrecked, and it was Johnson who drove through the carnage to take the championship lead.

Johnson withstood two more restarts and dedicated the final two attempts at the win to the late Ricky Hendrick, who was one of 10 friends and family members killed in a 2004 plane crash.

“My heart was full because I was thinking of some loved ones like Ricky Hendrick and his influence,” he said. “Something happened from above.”

Johnson drove the entire 10-race Chase with a tribute helmet to Earnhardt and Petty, the Hall of Fame drivers he’s been chasing since he won his sixth title in 2013. Immediately after the race, he gifted the helmet to three-time champion Tony Stewart, who retired at the end of the race.

Drivers have been giving Stewart special helmets the last month, but Johnson had earmarked this one for the driver forever known as “Smoke.”

“I promised him I’d give him a helmet, I wanted to wait and see if I could give him this one,” Johnson said. “He doesn’t really want it. He said if I want it back, I can have it back, but I promised I’d give him a helmet.”

The title was there for the taking for Edwards until the fateful sequence that changed history.

“I was racing for my life up to that point,” Edwards said. “I just pushed the issue as hard as I could because I figured that was the race there. I had to push it, I couldn’t go to bed tonight and think that I gave him that lane.”

The benefactor of Edwards’ error was Johnson, who darted through the wreck ahead of Busch and Logano. Knaus pumped his fists in joy, all too aware that they were suddenly in the game.

“That’s what makes a seven-time champion — someone that fights and battles and digs and never gives up,” said four-time champion Jeff Gordon, the teammate who discovered Johnson for Hendrick Motorsports. “They keep themselves in position and allowed some of those unfortunate instances to work in their favor. You can say luck, whatever you want to say, but those guys battled. They battled hard.”

Logano wasn’t giving up his effort, though, and headed to pit road to take on new tires for a final restart.

“This guy on a restart with five laps to go, I’ll take him every day of the week,” crew chief Todd Gordon said.

Logano restarted eighth but was a bull as he pushed his way through traffic and into third place, behind Johnson, after a caution forced another restart.

This time, Johnson got the start of his life and jumped into the lead. He didn’t look back, only forward at his slice of NASCAR history.

“They were nowhere all day, and just kind of ran around, I don’t know, probably, I’d guess sixth,” Busch said. “Never really showed their hand at all and didn’t really show any speed, never really led in the laps until the last one, and that’s the only one that really matters.”

___

NASCAR: Daniel Suarez captures Xfinity Series championship

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. — El campeon!

Daniel Suarez won the Xfinity Series season finale and title at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Saturday, becoming the first foreign champion in a NASCAR national series.

The 24-year-old Mexican bested fellow championship contenders Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier and Erik Jones on a botched restart with three laps to go.

“It’s very hard to put into words,” Suarez said. “I’m speechless right now. I’m just very proud of everyone and thankful to have the family that I have, my mom, my dad. They gave me all the tools to be here right now. They put me in a car even when we didn’t have the support or the racing background. They supported me, and right now we are just living a dream.”

Suarez thanked fans and his native country in Spanish in victory lane. His win was the first of the weekend for Joe Gibbs Racing, which has two drivers — Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards — vying for the Sprint Cup championship Sunday.

“For us, after two years, to be where we are tonight is amazing,” car owner Joe Gibbs said. “This is going to be a big deal for our sport. It’s huge.”

It was just Suarez’s third career victory, but the most important for obvious reasons.

Sadler, who gambled by taking two tires on the final pit stop, finished third in the race and second in the standings. The former Cup driver and sentimental favorite remained without a championship at any national level in a career spanning more than two decades.

“This is by far the hardest because I feel like this is the best team I’ve probably ever worked with,” said Sadler, who drove with an interim crew chief because his usual one was suspended. “We felt like we could come in here and compete, and we made a great pit call there at the end to get some clean air.”

Sadler asked Whitt to give him the top lane on the restart, but Whitt declined.

Allgaier finished sixth, and Jones ninth. Both got stuck behind leader Cole Whitt on the final restart, and when Whitt spun his worn-out tires, Allgaier and Jones fell way behind Suarez.

“It’s really frustrating,” Jones said. “I don’t mean to bag on the guy so much, but it’s like, ‘Hey, we’re up here racing for the championship.’ And maybe we don’t even win it if he pits and lets us move up, but at least we would have had a fair shot at it. I feel like we kind of got robbed of at least our chance to race for it. Yeah, it’s just unfortunate. It just wasn’t a great situation altogether.”

The chaos definitely benefited Suarez, who passed Sadler low and pulled away from the field. He led 133 of the 200 laps in the race.

Last year’s top rookie in the second-tier series, Suarez began racing karts in Mexico and moved to North Carolina as a teenager to pursue a career at NASCAR’s national level. He had to teach himself English by watching cartoons on American television and moved through NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program to land a job with JGR.

Suarez is the first D4D driver to win a championship.

Suarez has soared in his second season with Gibbs and benefited when teammate Jones, the pre-Chase favorite to win the title. As Jones struggled down the stretch, Suarez upped his performance. He won at Dover to move through the Round of 12 and was runner-up at Kentucky and third at Charlotte. Then, Suarez registered finishes of third (Kansas), fifth (Texas) and fifth (Phoenix) to set up his championship-clinching victory at Homestead.

This will surely make him an even bigger star back home. On a return trip to Mexico with NASCAR officials last month, he was celebrated like he was Dale Earnhardt Jr.

For Gibbs, it is his second driver championship in the Xfinity Series but first since Kyle Busch won in 2009.

The Gibbs organization also celebrated its fifth owner’s championship in the Xfinity Series.

Results

Saturday At Homestead-Miami Speedway, Homestead, Fla. Lap length: 1.5 miles Starting position in parentheses

1. (1) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 200.

2. (11) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 200.

3. (2) Elliott Sadler, Chevrolet, 200.

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

5. (5) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 200.

6. (6) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 200.

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

8. (14) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 200.

9. (3) Erik Jones Toyota, 200.

10. (15) Aric Almirola, Ford, 200.

11. (9) Darrell Wallace Jr, Ford, 200.

12. (23) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 200.

13. (19) JJ Yeley, Toyota, 200.

14. (8) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 200.

15. (10) Brandon Jones Chevrolet, 200.

16. (13) Ryan Reed, Ford, 200.

17. (18) Cole Custer, Chevrolet, 200.

18. (16) Cole Whitt, Toyota, 200.

19. (25) Dakoda Armstrong, Toyota, 199.

20. (12) Blake Koch, Chevrolet, 199.

21. (26) Ryan Preece Chevrolet, 199.

22. (20) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 199.

23. (31) Brandon Brown, Chevrolet, 198.

24. (27) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 198.

25. (39) Matt Tifft, Toyota, 197.

26. (35) Travis Kvapil, Ford, 196.

27. (17) Brennan Poole Chevrolet, 196.

28. (30) Ray Black Jr Chevrolet, 195.

29. (28) Garrett Smithley Chevrolet, 195.

30. (34) Brandon Hightower, Dodge, 195.

31. (29) BJ McLeod Ford, 195.

32. (40) Jeff Green, Ford, 194.

33. (38) Josh Reaume, Chevrolet, 193.

34. (37) Josh Bilicki, Chevrolet, 189.

35. (21) Corey LaJoie, Toyota, Oil Leak, 167.

36. (22) Jordan Anderson, Chevrolet, Accident, 134.

37. (33) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, Ignition, 87.

38. (36) Mario Gosselin, Chevrolet, Overheating, 49.

39. (32) Timmy Hill, Toyota, Brakes, 43.

40. (24) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, Vibration, 2.

Average Speed of Race Winner: 116.455 mph.

Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 34 Mins, 34 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.968 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 7 for 39 laps.

Lead Changes: 21 among 11 drivers.

Lap Leaders: D. Suarez 1-22; K. Larson 23-26; T. Kvapil 27; T. Hill 28-30; K. Larson 31-35; D. Suarez 36-79; J. Allgaier 80; R. Sieg 81; K. Larson 82-95; T. Dillon 96-99; D. Suarez 100-113; T. Dillon 114-126; D. Suarez 127-137; A. Almirola 138-142; D. Suarez 143-151; J. Allgaier 152-156; E. Jones 157-159; A. Almirola 160-163; D. Suarez 164-193; C. Whitt 194-196; E. Sadler 197; D. Suarez 198-200.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): D. Suarez 7 times for 133 laps; K. Larson 3 times for 23 laps; T. Dillon 2 times for 17 laps; A. Almirola 2 times for 9 laps; J. Allgaier 2 times for 6 laps; T. Hill 1 time for 3 laps; E. Jones 1 time for 3 laps; C. Whitt 1 time for 3 laps; T. Kvapil 1 time for 1 lap; E. Sadler 1 time for 1 lap; R. Sieg 1 time for 1 lap.

Top 10 in Points: D. Suarez – 4,040; E. Sadler – 4,038; J. Allgaier – 4,035; E. Jones – 4,032; T. Dillon – 2,214; R. Reed – 2,205; B. Koch – 2,200; B. Poole – 2,192; R. Sieg – 2,171; B. Jones – 2,168.

NASCAR championship drivers stumble in qualifying

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — Joey Logano leaned in toward Jimmie Johnson and offered a few words of comfort.

“At least we all sucked,” Logano said.

The four NASCAR Sprint Cup championship drivers all failed to get that one final boost they needed to better position themselves to win it all Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Logano, Carl Edwards, 2015 Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch and Johnson all will start outside the top five. Busch will start ninth, Edwards 10th, Logano 13th and Johnson 14th. Johnson would match Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Richard Petty for the NASCAR record with his seventh career Cup championship.

“I don’t think any of us want to start that far back,” Edwards said.

But they are bunched close enough that one TV camera can probably catch them all as they head into the first turn on the 1.5-mile track. Busch started third in the finale last season, won the race and his first career Cup title.

The foursome likely won’t lag behind the front of the field for long.

“This is a place you can pass,” Logano said.

The highest-finishing driver among the four is the 2016 champion. Under the revamped Chase format, the Homestead winner the last two years won the championship.

Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski, eliminated from title contention in earlier rounds of NASCAR’s playoffs, played spoiler and swept the front row.

“I think we’ve been the two best cars all year,” Keselowski said.

Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth and Ryan Blaney all will start ahead of the championship drivers.

The drivers out of the championship picture traditionally part to let the contenders race each other hard in the meat of the race.

“You get a little more respect from those guys,” Busch said.

Amid a heap of tributes, Tony Stewart starts 11th in the final race of his NASCAR career. Stewart is trying to race to his 50th career Cup victory and end a triumphant career in victory lane.

“There hasn’t been any part of my career that I didn’t enjoy,” Stewart said. “There are things about everything that I’ve done that I’ve liked more than others and disliked more than others. But as a whole, I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve done and the road that I’ve taken to get here.”

Edwards and Busch are each vying to win a second straight championship for Joe Gibbs Racing. Johnson could bring a 12th title to Hendrick Motorsports. Logano wants to reward Roger Penske’s 50th season in racing with another championship.

Asked what keeps him going after all these years, Penske quipped, “Trying to beat these guys.”

Harvick, the 2014 Homestead winner and Cup champion, won his second pole of the season. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver could also deliver a victory celebration for Stewart.

Johnson was antsy to chase history.

“Qualifying isn’t my strong suit, I’m much better at racing,” he said. “So let’s line them up and go racing.”

______

Johnny Sauter wins 1st Truck Series championship

HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — The fourth time, in a field of four, was the charm for Johnny Sauter.

Sauter won the inaugural Chase in the Camping World Truck Series with a strong third-place finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He beat Matt Crafton, Christopher Bell and Timothy Peters in a race in which the highest-finisher among the four drivers would win the championship.

For Sauter, who finished fourth in the standings the last three years, the format produced his first career NASCAR championship. He did it in his first year with GMS Racing after leaving Thorsport Racing.

“I think a lot of people questioned that move,” Sauter said of his move to the young race team.

He wasn’t sure he had a strong enough truck to get to the front until the last segment of the race.

“With 50, 60 (laps) to go, I was like ‘We really got something here’ and I started picking people off,” he said. “I’m just a small part of this deal. The whole team executed flawlessly tonight.”

The 38-year-old has had a career year driving the No. 21 Chevrolet for GMS Racing. He won three races, had 12 top-five finishes and a dominant run in the Chase. Sauter won back-to-back races at Martinsville and Texas, and was runner-up at Phoenix last week. Sauter’s 13 career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victories tie him for 11th most all-time in series history.

Crew chief Joe Shear Jr. moved to GMS Racing to work with Sauter and the pairing delivered a title.

“I knew they had all the pieces in the puzzle, I knew it was a great fit or I wouldn’t have done it,” Shear said. “It’s just unbelievable. This is the greatest thing in the world.”

William Byron won the race — his seventh victory of the season — to wrap up the owner championship for Kyle Busch Motorsports. It was bittersweet because it likely should have been Byron celebrating the driver title.

Byron was headed toward the win last weekend at Phoenix that would have put him in the final four, but his engine blew in the closing laps. He was eliminated from title contention after the failure.

“It feels awesome. It’s incredible,” Byron said of the win. “This team has worked hard all year. Just had an unfortunate situation last week that we couldn’t control.”

Busch collected the championship trophy for the second consecutive year and fifth overall.

“Such a spectacular season by William Bryon, they were flawless, all the way up until Phoenix,” Busch said.

Tyler Reddick, driving his final race for Brad Keselowski, finished second. He’s moving to an Xfinity Series ride next year for Chip Ganassi.

Kyle Larson finished fourth, but led a race-high 76 laps.

Crafton, a two-time Truck Series champion, was denied a third title after finishing seventh. He and Sauter waged a decent battle for position during the race, but a poor final run cost Crafton.

“I kind of figured it was a matter of time. We were just really bad on that last run for whatever reason,” he said.

Bell finished eighth in trying to win the driver title for Busch.

“Overall, it wasn’t really our year,” he said. “Just wasn’t quite good enough all year long.”

Timothy Peters was ninth and the lowest-finishing driver of the title contenders.

“Hey, all in all, we said in the beginning of Daytona that we wanted a shot,” Peters said. “We had that down here, and we came up just a little bit short. We know what we need to do over the off season, and can’t wait for Daytona.”

NASCAR: Cool keys to the title for all four Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers

This gallery contains 2 photos.

We all know the four drivers remaining in the Chase for the Sprint Cup who will duke it out at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC). Here’s a look at some details you may not know about each driver, listed in seeded order for the finale:

Joey Logano, No. 22 Ford, Team Penske

Logano, at 26 the youngest among the title hopefuls, can win his first championship at NASCAR’s highest level. While doing so, he also could help team owner Roger Penske complete a rare feat – winning the title in the top series in NASCAR and IndyCar in the same year. Simon Pagenaud brought home the open-wheel trophy in September, also in car No. 22. And the champagne corks certainly would be flying from Miami all the way to Detroit, as Penske also is celebrating his 50th year in motor sports. How might the team enjoy its victory spoils? A trip to Steak ‘n Shake can’t be far behind the checkered flag.

Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports

By now, everyone is keenly aware of the number seven and what it means to Johnson, the No. 48 team and the history books. But did you know if Johnson wins Sunday, he will reach seven championships faster than Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr.? Petty’s titles span 16 seasons and Earnhardt’s 15. Johnson would accomplish the feat in just 11.

A look at their winning years:

Petty – 1964, 1967, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1975, 1979

Earnhardt – 1980, 1986, 1987, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994

Johnson – 2006-10, 2013

johnson-titles-v3

Carl Edwards, No. 19 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing

Edwards has been here before. He was runner-up for the title in 2008 and again in 2011. The title race five years ago was epic. Edwards entered Homestead with a three-point lead on Tony Stewart. But Stewart had reeled off all four of his wins that season in the Chase, cutting into Edwards’ lead. The finale boasted some of the best pure racing seen during the Chase, a rain delay and a key piece of debris – which punched a hole in Stewart’s radiator, usually enough to park a car. But Stewart raced on and passed Edwards to win the race and his third title, on a tie-breaker (he had five wins to Edwards’ one). Now, Edwards has another chance to hoist his first Cup in Stewart’s final race at NASCAR’s highest level.

Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing 

It would be difficult for Busch to top his stunning comeback from serious injuries suffered in a crash in the season opening Xfinity Series race last year to win his first championship. But he could become the first driver to repeat in this new, elimination-style format. He also would be the first to repeat since that guy named Johnson – in 2009-10. As an added bonus, he would give team owner Joe Gibbs his fifth Cup championship. That’s two more than his three Super Bowl titles.

NASCAR: 7th title would give Chad Knaus his own spot in history

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Chad Knaus will act as if this shot at a record-tying seventh championship is just another race, and that he has barely thought of what it means for his place in the record books with Jimmie Johnson.

Knaus has already led Johnson to a record five straight titles, six overall, and is now aiming to be the first crew chief in history to win seven NASCAR titles with the same driver. Hall of Fame crew chief Dale Inman won eight, but not with one driver.

Knaus will downplay this until the bitter end — even if he hoists the championship trophy with Johnson on Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“I guess I really don’t know what I want my legacy to be,” Knaus said Wednesday. “I guess just to be remembered as a real racer, I guess, more than anything. I was a grass-roots racer from the Midwest who got an opportunity … (and) was able to work my way up methodically. For people just to remember that I started out as a racer and ended as a racer is probably my biggest goal.”

Johnson will face defending series champion Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Carl Edwards on Sunday, with the highest-finishing driver winning the championship.

If it’s Johnson, he will tie Richard Petty and the late Dale Earnhardt as the only drivers with seven titles. But he’ll have it done it with a team that Knaus built from the bottom, and the No. 48 team would be the first to win seven titles with the same driver, crew chief and sponsor.

Knaus admits that distinction would make it “even more phenomenal.”

“It’s been an honor to be able to work with Jimmie, Lowe’s and Hendrick Motorsports throughout this portion of my career,” he said. “Being able to represent this company and our associates the way that we have has been a lot of fun. To Jimmie personally, obviously he is by far one of my best friends, and to be able to have seen him grow and mature into the driver and the family man that he is has been awesome. It’s been a great ride.”

BACK-TO-BACK

Kyle Busch hand-picked Adam Stevens to be his crew chief when Joe Gibbs Racing made personnel changes after the 2014 season.

The two had clicked working together in the Xfinity Series, and Busch felt Stevens could be the one to lead him to a championship. They succeeded last year, rallying from a deep hole after Busch missed a third of the season with injuries suffered at Daytona. Now they are back in the finale trying to become the first repeat winners since Johnson reeled off five consecutive titles.

Stevens said he and Busch have not focused on the back-to-back opportunity.

“We haven’t talked about that specifically, but the chances to win a championship in this sport aren’t going to come every year,” he said. “When you get that chance, you want to make sure that you’ve turned over every stone and taken every turn that you can to try to make it happen.

“You know, back-to-back, or once every 10 years, or however often you can find yourself in this opportunity with a shot to win is colossal.”

OUTSIDERS VIEW

Dave Rogers has worked for Joe Gibbs Racing for 18 years. During that time, he watched Bobby Labonte win a championship, and was a team member on Tony Stewart’s crew when Stewart won two titles. A crew chief change at JGR moved him off of Kyle Busch’s team last year and Busch went on to win the title.

Now Rogers is finally in the championship hunt on his own, with Carl Edwards, and he’s ready to lead a team to a title he can call his own.

“There’s lots of experiences, successes and failures that prepare you for this,” Rogers said. “There’s a handful of championships that I’ve witnessed. This is obviously the first time that I’ve gone to Homestead personally as a crew chief prepared to race for the championship, but there’s a winning pedigree here at JGR and everyone’s open notebook policy has prepared me well for this weekend.”

Rogers didn’t make it to the finale as crew chief for Busch or Denny Hamlin. Edwards lost the 2011 championship to Stewart on a tie-breaker. They both feel like past experience has them prepared for Sunday.

“We’ve both been in situations where we’ve come up short, and we know what it’s like to lose,” Rogers said. “Now we want to go down there and try to figure out how to win it. I know Carl was disappointed last year that he fell short. The 11 (Hamlin team) was disappointed last year that we fell short, but now we’re teamed up together, our first year together, we’re going down there with the option to win it, and we’re just excited about it.”

LESSONS LEARNED

Joey Logano and Todd Gordon thought they were ready to win a championship when they raced for a title in 2014.

Then one bad pit stop ended their chances. With that experience behind them, Gordon believes they have the mental toughness to win the title.

“I think in 2014, that was when we went through this the first time. Not knowing what to do or what to expect or how it was going to flow out, the championship race, race weekend,” he said. “This time around … I think it’s matters as usual.

“I feel a lot of calm from his feedback and what he’s saying and what he’s doing and the mannerisms. He’s all (about) just making this another race, and I think in a great position.”

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