Kyle Busch

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NASCAR: Keselowski becomes first repeat winner on Xfinity Series / Coca-Cola 600 Info

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CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Brad Keselowski walked into the interview room and said, “Oh, that’s nice — air conditioning.”

Keselowski overcame a humid afternoon and an hour-long rain delay Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway to become the first repeat winner on the Xfinity Series this season.

“I don’t know if I have ever been that hot in a race car,” Keselowski said. “It was smoking out there.”

Ten drivers won the previous 10 Xfinity races.

“Yeah it has been a tale of two cities compared to the Cup Series where there have been multiple repeat winners,” Keselowski said.

The Cup driver has 38 Xfinity victories, also winning the rain-delayed Phoenix race in March.

Keselowski won in overtime after the yellow flag came out for debris on the track with two laps remaining in the scheduled 200-lap race. He took off in Team Penske’s No. 22 Ford on a restart with two laps remaining and held off Cole Custer and Christopher Bell, who finished second and third respectively.

Keselowski took his final set of tires earlier than some of the drivers, a decision crew chief Brian Wilson said he later regretted. But Keselowski benefited from the handful of yellow flags in the final 40 laps that saved some wear and tear on his tires.

Bell thought he had a chance to overtake Keselowski on the final restart because he had fresher tires, but said “I just didn’t execute.”

“We probably had the right strategy but the old Cup guy just beat us,” Bell said.

Keselowski’s win comes just a few days after team owner Roger Penske was selected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

He quickly turned his attention to the upcoming Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday.

“It would be really cool to sweep Memorial Day weekend,” Keselowski said.

BUSCH’s DAY: Kyle Busch, who led a race-high 93 laps and won the first two stages of the race, wrecked with 38 laps to go after an aggressive move on a restart. The Cup star tried to take the inside line on a restart and his tires got stuck in the grass, causing his car to spin into Chase Briscoe.

SADLER’S STREAK: Points leader Elliott Sadler has been incredibly consistent this season on the Xfinity Series with nine top-fives and 10 top-10s, including a runner-up finish at Dover. He finished fifth.

However, his winless streak reached 50. His last win was at Kentucky Speedway on Sept. 24, 2016.

Sadler had a rough day with the cooling system in his car not working, causing him to overheat. During the rain delay he went to his hauler and received oxygen and fluids.

LABBE TAKEN TO HOSPITAL: Alex Labbe, the driver of the No. 36 Chevrolet, was taken to the hospital late in the race. He was not involved in a wreck. NASCAR did not immediately have an update.

LATE CRASH: Justin Allgaier was running in the top five after the rain delay when his car got away from him and headed to the top of the track, taking out Jamie McMurray and Daniel Hemric. Hemric had the least damage and was able to remain on the track.

GAZA’s DEBUT: Kaz Grala, racing for Fury Race Cars, had a solid debut finishing in 10th place.

Tony Eury Jr., the famous NASCAR crew chief, has turned owner and in doing so enlisted Grala to drive the No. 61 Fury Race Cars Ford Mustang for the next four races. Tony Eury Jr. and father Tony Eury Sr. worked as crew chiefs at Dale Earnhardt Inc. in the Cup Series and JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series.

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It’s NASCAR race day at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and we’ve got some essential information you need to get ready for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race:

START TIME: Celebrity chef Robert Irvine will instruct drivers to start their engines at 6:10 p.m. ET, followed by the green flag at 6:18 p.m. ET.

RACE DISTANCE: The Coca-Cola 400 is 600 miles and 400 laps around the 1.5-mile oval, making it NASCAR’s longest race.

RACE STAGES: After a successful run last season, NASCAR will once again be dividing races into stages and handing out points. Here are the segments for tonight’s Cup race, which, unlike other races, will be divided into four stages: Stage 1: 100 laps, Stage 2: 100 laps, Stage 3: 100 laps, Stage 4: 100 laps.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Skye Martin will perform the national anthem at 6:03 p.m. ET, and there will by a flyover featuring four F-15s from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

TV/RADIO SCHEDULE: The race will be broadcast on Fox starting at 6 p.m., with a pre-show starting at 5:30 p.m. Radio calls can be found on the Performance Racing Network and Sirius/XM NASCAR Radio.

WEATHER: The Coca-Cola 600 will begin under mostly cloudy skies with temperatures in the low 80s, dipping down into the mid 70s after sunset. The Weather Channel is calling for just a 15% chance of precipitation during the race.

LAST TIME: A fuel gamble helped Austin Dillon win the 2017 Coca-Cola 600. Martin Truex Jr. has been a dominant force at the track for years though, leading 233 laps last season, a record 392 in 2016’s win, and 131 in 2015. Truex also won last fall’s playoff race at Charlotte.

LINEUP: Kyle Busch will start first in his attempt to win at the one track he has yet to conquer in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points race. Joey Logano will start alongside Busch on the front row.

Here’s the starting lineup for tonight’s Coca-Cola 600 (car number in parentheses):

1. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota

2. (22) Joey Logano, Ford

3. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota

4. (20) Erik Jones, Toyota

5. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford

6. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet

7. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet

8. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford

9. (10) Aric Almirola, Ford

10. (19) Daniel Suarez, Toyota

11. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet

12. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet

13. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford

14. (21) Paul Menard, Ford

15. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota

16. (41) Kurt Busch, Ford

17. (6) Matt Kenseth, Ford

18. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet

19. (38) David Ragan, Ford

20. (13) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet

21. (24) William Byron, Chevrolet

22. (9) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet

23. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet

24. (43) Darrell Wallace Jr., Chevrolet

25. (15) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet

26. (95) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet

27. (88) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet

28. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford

29. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford

30. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet

31. (32) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford

32. (96) Parker Kligerman, Toyota

33. (72) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet

34. (23) Gray Gaulding, Toyota

35. (00) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet

36. (66) Timmy Hill, Toyota

37. (55) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet

38. (51) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet

39. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford

40. (7) JJ Yeley, Chevrolet

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

NASCAR: Kyle Busch looks to check off box, win at Charlotte

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Kyle Busch has won a Cup points race at every track on the NASCAR circuit except one — Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Twenty-eight starts, no checkered flags — and plenty of frustration.

The 33-year-old Busch is looking to check off that final box on his racing resume Sunday in the Coca-Cola 600, considered a crown jewel race in NASCAR.

Busch will start from the pole in the No. 18 Toyota, just as he has two other times at this track.

Bad breaks, often entirely out of his control, have kept him from making a trip to victory lane in Cup races and has become a source of irritation for him.

“It’s important to me, but I’m not sure it’s important in the grand scheme of things,” Busch said Thursday night after turning a lap 191.836 mph on the 1 1/2-mile track. “It’s certainly important to me and I would love to get that knocked out of the way and to be finished with it until another new track comes up on the circuit.”

While there is the matter of completion in winning at every track, Busch is quick to point out that he has won a Cup race here.

He captured the All-Star race here in 2017 and the $1 million prize that comes along with it. But the All-Star race is considered an exhibition and does not count toward season points.

“The last time I checked I have a trophy at home that says, ‘winner at Charlotte Motor Speedway,’ so I’ll take that to my grave with me if I do never get a points win here,” Busch said. “That will be my saving grace I guess.”

This could be the year that Busch gets it done.

He’s the Cup points leader with nine top-10 finishes and seven top-fives in 12 starts this year. He also has won three races.

His chief competitor, Kevin Harvick, who has a series-best five Cup victories, will start at the back of the field after failing inspection three times prior to qualifying.

“You can only do so much with the stuff that you’ve got and everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing has been doing a great job and working hard to put together some better stuff each and every week and to get us closer to those other guys that are a bit faster,” Busch said. “That’s all we can do is put our heads together and try to make the most of it.”

Maybe Busch is just snake-bitten here.

In 2013, a Fox Sports cable camera broke and fell on the track from overhead in the first half of the race with Busch leading. The nylon rope severely damaged his car, which was traveling at 195 mph.

Still, Busch has mostly good thoughts about coming to Charlotte, where he has won eight Xfinity and seven Truck Series races

“This is a race that you always enjoy coming to at Charlotte,” Busch said. “I haven’t won here in a points-paying event here I guess so it would certainly be nice to get that done here this weekend with the 600.”

Busch feels like he has a great car heading into the weekend.

“Overall with the speed in our race car right now, once you get the balance right, the car has speed so you just got to keep it there,” Busch said. “It seems like our box might be a little bit smaller than some other guys, but when we do get it there, it shows up.”

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

NASCAR: Kyle Busch captures pole at Charlotte; Harvick starts last

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Kyle Busch is hoping his third career pole at Charlotte Motor Speedway will help end a dubious drought at a track that has frustrated him for years.

Kevin Harvick is probably just anxious to get back on the track.

Busch took the pole Thursday night for the Coca-Cola-Cola 600 on Sunday, while NASCAR Cup Series points leader Harvick will begin in the rear. Busch has never won a Cup points race in his previous 28 starts at Charlotte, although he did win an All-Star race here.

“We have had some really good runs here in the past, but we just haven’t been able to close the deal,” Busch said, referring to his 11 top-five finishes.

Busch won his 30th career pole for NASCAR’s longest race by turning a lap of 191.836 mph at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Joey Logano will start alongside Busch on the front row.

But the big surprise was Harvick, who never got on the track after failing pre-race inspection three times. Car chief Robert Smith was ejected, and Harvick will have to sit out the first 30 minutes of practice Saturday.

Harvick has been dominant this season, winning five Cup races — including the last two — and the $1 million exhibition All-Star race Saturday.

Logano joked that with everyone chasing Harvick “it sure don’t hurt” that he has to start at the back of the field.

But he doesn’t expect that to last for long.

“Are we taking bets on how long it will take him to get up there,” Logano said. “Where is the new betting thing? Is that what we’re doing now.”

GIBBS CARS DOMINATE: Busch won’t have to look too far back in his rear view mirror to find his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates. All four of Gibbs’ Toyotas finished in the top 10 with Denny Hamlin qualifying third, Erik Jones fourth and Daniel Suarez 10th.

Suarez looked strong again after finishing second in the All-Star race here Saturday night.

“That was a tough one,” Suarez said. “When you finish fourth, fifth, third, you know you get it. You go to the next one excited, but when you finish second, that close, it hurts a little bit. But that’s part of racing. You have to learn from that and move to the next one.”

TRUEX STRUGGLES: Martin Truex Jr. failed to make the final round of qualifying and will start 15th, which is a bit of a surprise.

Truex has two wins in the last four races at the track, including one of the most dominant performances in NASCAR history in leading 392 of the 400 laps to win the 2016 Coca-Cola 600. Truex has five top-five finishes in the last six races at Charlotte.

Truex led a race best 233 laps in last year’s 600 only to finish third in a fuel mileage race won the Austin Dillon.

“No front tire grip,” Truex said of his night.

BUMPY ROAD: Logano called Charlotte Motor Speedway the bumpiest course that drivers face all year, saying it is “brutal” in the driver’s seat.

“It’s like driving down a cobblestone road,” Logano said. “It bounces your head around a lot.”

DILLON’S DAY: Austin Dillon won the last year’s race on fuel mileage. He only led two laps all night.

Dillon, who won the Daytona 500 earlier this year, will start 12th. Dillon said he thinks he has a top-5 car and can repeat.

“Yeah, really pumped about the effort that we put in to these Coke 600 cars,” Dillon said. “It paid off, obviously. … At least we’ve got a direction and we will keep working hard to get there.”

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— Six hundred miles of racing. Really? Yes.

The concept, which will be renewed in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, apparently didn’t seem that alarming in 1960 when CMS builder Bruton Smith, seeking an unusual hook for the opening of his 1.5-mile track outside Charlotte, went the extra mile — actually, 100 of them.

Five hundred was the magic number in racing in those days. The Indianapolis 500 had established the distance — 500 miles for bigger tracks and 500 laps for shorter ones — with its classic race, and NASCAR fell into that pattern. Some tracks were so in love with the number they arranged for their mailing addresses to be PO Box 500.

But Smith had bigger (longer) ideas. As originally planned, his first race would be going up against the Indy 500 for attention on Memorial Day weekend, and making it the longest race of the year would add some panache

That plan dissolved in the race’s first year when track construction delays pushed the date of the initial 600 to June 19. Smith stuck with the distance, though, and the race turned into one of the biggest fiascoes in NASCAR history.

Chunks of fresh asphalt popped out of the track surface during the marathon, damaging cars and destroying tires. NASCAR allowed teams to put makeshift screens on the front of the cars to protect radiators from the debris.

The race was something less than a thriller. Driver Jack Smith built a lead of seven laps, only to see his victory chances disappear when debris sliced a hole in his car’s fuel tank. Repairs were not successful, and Smith parked. The disappointment left him in tears.

Joe Lee Johnson rolled under the checkered flag first, five hours and 34 minutes after the start of the race. He had a four-lap lead over second-place Johnny Beauchamp, and only two other drivers were within 12 laps of the winner.

Sunday, 58 years later, they do it again. Four hundred laps. Six hundred miles. Major punishment for driver and car. In a period in which shorter races are being discussed because of shorter attention spans and limited television windows, there has been no serious talk about shortening NASCAR’s longest race.

Over the years, the team and driver approach to the 600 has changed. For a large chunk of its history, the race was mainly about survival — protect your car, make it to the end and have a shot at winning.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip won the 600 five times from 1978 to 1989.

“When I won the 1989 race, cars could run 31flat (31-second laps),” Waltrip said. “But the tires were about ready to blow out. We calculated that if we ran 32 flat that we wouldn’t have any trouble and the tires would last. It was like planning for a 24-hour race. We wanted to run 32 every lap. I didn’t run 31 flat until I had to.”

But weren’t drivers’ tongues hanging out after 600 miles?

“Our tongues hung out every week,” Waltrip said. “At the end of every race, you were exhausted. No power steering. No full-containment seats. The cars didn’t handle well. Ours were difficult to drive because of the nature of the car. Now the cars are hard to drive because they go so fast.”

Jeff Gordon, a freshly minted Hall of Famer and a three-time winner of the 600 in the mid-1990s, said approaches to the race changed from his early years (his first 600 was in 1993) after aerodynamic changes around the turn of the century made racing quite different on faster tracks.

“The first handful of years I drove in the 600, you couldn’t run hard all day because the balance of your car was so loose,” he said. “You had to think about the longevity of the race, yourself physically, the car, not being hard on the engine.

“But when the aerodynamics started to change drastically, falloff was not as bad with the tires. Then the track was repaved. The reliability of engines, tires, brakes and other components got so much better. You didn’t have to worry any more. By 2004 or so, you just went.”

The 600 now is typically so competitive that pampering cars for part of the race isn’t good strategy.

“It’s 400 laps as fast as the car will go,” said Kevin Harvick. “If you don’t do it that way, you’re going to wind up a lap down. You’re going to make a mistake throughout the day that you’re going to need a cushion to not wind up a lap down because it’s just such a long race.”

Jeff Gordon headlines nominees for NASCAR Hall of Fame

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — When Jeff Gordon’s name is presented to panel of voters for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the debate should be short and simple.

Yes, Gordon gets a slot.

Gordon is on Wednesday’s ballot for the first time and there should be zero discussion regarding his worthiness. The four-time NASCAR champion played a massive role in moving stock car racing beyond its Southern roots and into the national landscape. Business models changed because of Gordon, who appealed to Madison Avenue advertisers and stick-and-ball sports fans.

He was the star the sport needed and it certainly didn’t hurt that he won, almost all the time.

Gordon’s debut was the 1992 season finale, also Richard Petty’s final race. He was a winner in his second full season, a NASCAR champion in year three. Gordon’s 93 victories and 81 poles both rank third on NASCAR’s all-time lists, and he’s a three-time Daytona 500 winner and five-time winner at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Gordon also won at every active Cup Series track except for Kentucky, made 805 career starts and briefly came out of retirement to help Hendrick Motorsports when Dale Earnhardt Jr. was sidelined with a concussion. Gordon is only three years removed from full-time competition and just 46.

“On one hand I’m excited,” Gordon said of Wednesday’s vote. “On the other hand, I’m like too young to go into the Hall of Fame.”

Gordon said he will wait for the results of Wednesday’s voting like every other nominee. But he’s been part of past ceremonies, most recently when he helped induct his former crew chief Ray Evernham, and admitted he’s looking forward to the day his name is called.

“I’ve gone to the Hall of Fame for the inductions many times and seen some great speeches and legends in our sport, so whenever that day comes (for me) it’s a huge honor,” said Gordon. “I’m thankful that timing has definitely been on my side . and 10 or 15 years ago the Hall of Fame was not what it is today. That ceremony now, what it means to be in the Hall of Fame is on a whole other level than what it’s ever been.”

Just five of 20 nominees will be selected by the panel of 57 voters and one fan vote. The 2019 class is one of the toughest yet to predict:

— Two drivers, Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki, could potentially split voters.

Kulwicki was NASCAR’s 1992 champion and is on the ballot for the fourth year. He was rookie of the year in 1985, won five races in seven full seasons but was killed in an aviation accident five races into his championship reign at the age of 38. In his championship season, Kulwicki overcame a 278-point deficit with six races remaining to win the title. Last year, Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday Jr. beat out Kulwicki in a tie-breaking vote.

Allison is on the ballot for the second year. He won 19 times in 191 races, was the 1992 Daytona 500 winner and the 1987 rookie of the year. The son of Hall of Famer Bobby Allison, Davey was part of the famed “Alabama Gang” and part of the only father-son combo to finish 1-2 at the Daytona 500 when he followed Bobby across the finish line in 1988. He was killed in a helicopter accident in 1993. He was 32.

— Another debate could center on three current team owners, Joe Gibbs, Jack Roush and Roger Penske.

Roush is on the ballot for a third time, while Gibbs and Penske are up for consideration for just the second year. Two of their peers, Richard Childress and Rick Hendrick, were inducted in 2017 and former Roush driver Mark Martin, also inducted in 2017, has made a case for his former boss.

“Jack Roush was never about going out and finding the biggest name on the market. Instead, he employed a mindset of seeking out individuals with the desire to succeed, developing that talent, and providing people with all the tools necessary to succeed at the highest of levels,” Martin said. “In my opinion, thousands of individuals owe their career to Jack Roush and there is little doubt that almost everyone in the NASCAR community has reaped the benefits in one way or another from Jack’s drive and determination.”

Roush drivers have won 137 Cup races and championships in all three NASCAR national series. Gibbs’ 148 Cup victories rank third all-time among owners, and he has won nine national championships, four at the Cup level. Penske has five NASCAR championships, only one in Cup, and 107 Cup victories. He also built Auto Club Speedway in California and once owned Michigan International Speedway.

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More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/

NASCAR: All-Star race shakeup goes well and NASCAR should try again

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CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Something had to be done to NASCAR’s annual All-Star race, which had stopped being special years ago. A bunch of drivers circled around Charlotte Motor Speedway in cars too difficult to pass for the lead, so whoever had the clean air raced to an easy $1 million prize.

It was terrible racing and everybody knew it.

So give NASCAR and Charlotte president Marcus Smith credit for trying a radically different rules package in a grasp toward adding something to the snooze-fest. They went with restrictor plates, the choking gadgets designed to limit horsepower, which are really only used at Daytona and Talladega. But pack racing on a boring 1.5-mile oval is at minimum something different, so there was no reason for NASCAR not to give it a try.

The results were mixed, and partly because Kevin Harvick won for the third consecutive race, and sixth time this season. Five of those wins are Cup Series points victories.

The final 10 laps, which are supposed to be a rough and tumble chase for the $1 million, were instead a Harvick rout and that can dilute the results.

The reality is that the risk taken in trying a new package, and Harvick withstanding, the results it produced were at least something different.

“Kudos to NASCAR for trying something, right?” Joey Logano said. “We as competitors come into this racetrack and say, ‘The heck with it, we’ll go for anything.’ At least NASCAR has the same attitude. It’s the race that you have nothing to lose. They looked at it that way.”

NASCAR felt the same way and touted the 38 green-flag passes for the lead. Granted, Harvick led the final 11 laps and there was no dramatic sprint for the monetary prize, but there were zero green-flag passes for the lead last year. In fact, there were a combined 61 green-flag passes from 2013 through last season.

So from a statistical point of view, the package clearly was a step in the right direction.

“We’re not high-fiving,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s head of competition. “I think you judge it by the fans. I think you look down the last 10 laps, everybody is standing up. People were enthused. You saw drivers out there competing. You saw three lead changes in one lap at the end of the third stage.”

NASCAR’s in this really weird position in that it knows it needs some radical on-track improvement, but changes are expensive to the teams and disruptive to the purity of a championship season. It’s why Smith, who has to sell tickets to next week’s Coca-Cola 600, wouldn’t hesitate to bring the rules package back Sunday.

Smith loved what he saw in the All-Star race, and he understands that the 600, the longest race by 100 miles on NASCAR’s schedule, could use some spicing up. But, the drivers weren’t exactly in love with the restrictor plates.

Yes, they were on board with trying something new for the All-Star race. But long-term? It takes planning and NASCAR can’t fairly tell teams to bring the same package back to the 600 next week.

Or can they? Does there become a point of no return in which every week needs to be an on-track science experiment in NASCAR’s bid to fix a broken product?

“It’s a big ship to turn,” acknowledged Harvick, the hottest driver in NASCAR this season.

NASCAR used this package at the Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis last year, and the series will use it there again this season and at Pocono and Michigan. Where it shows up next in the Cup Series is a mystery.

What wasn’t a mystery, at least until Harvick flexed his Ford and took control of the race, was who was going to win. That wasn’t the case last year.

“I think you knew on Lap 7 that Kyle Busch had won the All-Star Race, I think we all knew that last year,” O’Donnell said of the fields’ inability to catch the leader in last year’s race.

The 600 can be just as challenging. The race that used to be an all-day affair in which the action started shortly before sundown and ended deep into the nightfall. Attrition was such a major element of the race, and just making it all 600 miles could be considered a victory to some. Austin Dillon won a fuel mileage race last year, but Martin Truex Jr. led 392 of 400 laps in 2016. Truex also led 233 laps last year until fuel mileage strategy helped Dillon win the race.

If that’s what is in store for fans next week, it’s going to be a disappointing close to what is supposed to be a magical celebration of racing. The 600 is the final event of an action-packed day of racing that begins in Monaco with Formula One, moves to the Indianapolis 500 and then closes with one of NASCAR’s crown jewel events.

NASCAR needs to at least try not to be the worst race of the day.

So now the sanctioning body reviews the data; Smith pleads his case for more innovation for his race; The teams object to added costs; The drivers want the most competitive package possible, but opinions are mixed. While most seemed to enjoy the All-Star race format, it’s not something they particularly want to do every week.

What happens next is in NASCAR’s hands.

O’Donnell said “never say never” if the package will be in a Cup race again.

“For us, we’ve got to take the time, be smart about this, really look at it, see where we can go from here,” O’Donnell said. “But I think it’s fair to say that this is something we absolutely want to look at.”

More from the All-Star Race:

QUALIFIERS: The race was for only 21 drivers, and had three spots open to winners from a qualifying event. They were claimed by Alex Bowman, Suarez, and AJ Allmendinger. It was Allmendinger who put on a shot to get into the main event, and he ran hard for the $1 million prize. He finished eighth.

Elliott won the fan vote to take the fourth and final open slot in the All-Star race.

UP NEXT

The Coca-Cola 600 on May 27. It is NASCAR’s longest race, a crown jewel on the schedule and Austin Dillon is the defending winner. The Daytona 500 winner used fuel mileage strategy to win last year’s 600, and his Daytona win came with a last-lap bump in overtime to take the checkered flag. The Coca-Cola 600 will use the traditional rules package.

NASCAR: Johnny Sauter wins third NASCAR Truck Series race of season

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CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Johnny Sauter raced to his third NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory of the season Friday night, winning for the first time in his career at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Sauter led a restart with 10 to go, quickly built a large lead and cruised to his 20th career victory. Brett Moffitt and Justin Haley were battling for second, but made contact that nearly sent Haley into the wall.

“We won at Charlotte!” Sauter said on the radio. “This is the biggest of my life.”

Sauter was the pole-setter based on owner points after the qualifying session was canceled due to rain. He led 71 of the 134 laps.

“This is a tough place,” Sauter said. “Everyone wants to win here. I never thought I’d win here. To win this race is just super special. I never thought 40 (years old) would be so good.

“This is the biggest race of my career, and I’ve won a lot of big races. We kept making adjustments on the truck all night and made it better and better.”

Sauter increased his series lead to 59 points over second-place Noah Gragson, who finished the race in eighth.

Cup Series star Kyle Busch, who was slowed by a couple of pit-road penalties, finished second, 1.340 seconds back. Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate Brandon Jones was third, getting passed with a lap remaining. Moffitt and Ben Rhodes rounded out the top five.

Moffitt picked up his first career stage win, and John Hunter Nemechek took the second stage.

Results

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

Lap length: 1.50 miles (Start position in parentheses)

1. (1) Johnny Sauter, Chevrolet, 134 laps, 0 rating, 54 points.

2. (4) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 134, 0, 0.

3. (28) Brandon Jones, Toyota, 134, 0, 0.

4. (6) Brett Moffitt, Toyota, 134, 0, 51.

5. (7) Ben Rhodes, Ford, 134, 0, 37.

6. (10) Stewart Friesen, Chevrolet, 134, 0, 31.

7. (27) Parker Kligerman, Toyota, 134, 0, 34.

8. (2) Noah Gragson, Toyota, 134, 0, 30.

9. (9) John Hunter Nemechek, Chevrolet, 134, 0, 0.

10. (3) Todd Gilliland, Toyota, 134, 0, 37.

11. (8) Matt Crafton, Ford, 134, 0, 32.

12. (5) Grant Enfinger, Ford, 134, 0, 25.

13. (14) Chris Eggleston, Toyota, 134, 0, 24.

14. (11) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 134, 0, 35.

15. (13) Myatt Snider, Ford, 134, 0, 22.

16. (24) Jesse Little, Toyota, 134, 0, 22.

17. (15) Cody Coughlin, Chevrolet, 134, 0, 20.

18. (17) Austin Hill, Chevrolet, 134, 0, 19.

19. (12) Dalton Sargeant, Chevrolet, 134, 0, 25.

20. (21) Jordan Anderson, Chevrolet, 134, 0, 17.

21. (16) Daniel Hemric, Chevrolet, 134, 0, 0.

22. (20) Wendell Chavous, Chevrolet, 134, 0, 15.

23. (23) Robby Lyons, Chevrolet, 134, 0, 14.

24. (29) Josh Reaume, Chevrolet, 132, 0, 13.

25. (22) Bayley Currey, Chevrolet, 132, 0, 12.

26. (26) Jennifer Jo Cobb, Chevrolet, 121, 0, 11.

27. (19) Austin Wayne Self, Toyota, accident, 117, 0, 10.

28. (30) Timmy Hill, Chevrolet, engine, 100, 0, 0.

29. (31) Mike Harmon, Chevrolet, 99, 0, 0.

30. (18) Justin Fontaine, Chevrolet, accident, 97, 0, 7.

31. (25) Norm Benning, Chevrolet, accident, 55, 0, 6.

32. (32) JJ Yeley, Chevrolet, transmission, 21, 0, 0.

–––

Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 112.660 mph.

Time of Race: 1 hour, 47 minutes, 2 seconds.

Margin of Victory: 1.340 seconds.

Caution Flags: 7 for 36 laps.

Lead Changes: 11 among 5 drivers.

Lap Leaders: J.Sauter 1-2; N.Gragson 3; J.Sauter 4-9; N.Gragson 10-21; J.Sauter 22-26; B.Moffitt 27-42; J.Nemechek 43-63; J.Anderson 64; B.Moffitt 65-71; J.Sauter 72-81; B.Moffitt 82-86; J.Sauter 87-134

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): J.Sauter, 5 times for 66 laps; B.Moffitt, 3 times for 25 laps; J.Nemechek, 1 time for 20 laps; N.Gragson, 2 times for 11 laps; J.Anderson, 1 time for 0 laps.

NASCAR: Kenseth returns to capture pole for All-Star race

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CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Matt Kenseth is hoping Friday night’s qualifying is a sign better times are ahead.

Kenseth’s return to racing is already paying big dividends for Roush Fenway Racing after he grabbed the pole for Saturday night’s NASCAR All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Kenseth agreed to return to race on a limited schedule this year for his original team after being dumped by Joe Gibbs Racing last year. He will start alongside RFR teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on the front row.

“I’m just getting started, so I am still in the catch-up mode,” Kenseth said. “I’m trying to get caught up to Ricky and just get running.”

Kenseth started his full-time premier series career with the Roush team in 2000 before leaving for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013.

However, his contract wasn’t renewed after struggling last season.

He agreed in April to return to Roush Fenway Racing, where he will split time in the No. 6 Ford with Trevor Bayne for the remainder of the season. Kenseth’s first race was last week at Kansas, where he wrecked with 15 laps to go.

Kenseth believes capturing the pole will be a shot in the arm for Roush, which has struggled this season to compete with the top cars.

“It’s neat to have both cars on the front row,” Kenseth said. “We have two cars coming out of the shop right now and obviously … the goal is to put the cars on the front row.”

Fords claimed six of the top 10 spots in qualifying.

Kevin Harvick, who comes in as the hottest driver in the field with five Cup Series wins including the last two, at Dover and Kansas, qualified fourth in his quest to take home the $1 million first-place prize.

RESTRICTOR PLATES: For the first time ever, cars will run a restrictor plate similar to those used on the big speedways in Talladega and Daytona.

The cars will also carry a six-inch spoiler on the rear deck, a 2014-style front splitter and aero ducts with the idea to increase the passing opportunities. NASCAR had some success with that setup in the Xfinity Series, which used a similar package on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year, producing a record-setting number of lead changes.

THE FORMAT: This year’s All-Star race will feature a four-stage format — 30 laps, 20 laps and 20 laps followed by a 10-lap shootout.

TOUGH TO REPEAT: Kyle Busch won last year’s All-Star race, but history suggests he will have a difficult time repeating. Since 1998, only four-time All-Star champion Jimmie Johnson has scored multiple victories in the event.

Busch qualified seventh.

“Way, way slower,” Busch said of his car this year. “Everything all around. I think obviously the cars are just slower to begin with, but I think I was just a little tentative to it, which is what you’d expect, I guess, with no practice. I think it’s gonna be a crapshoot on how this race goes and how it plays out.”

NEED A WIN: Former Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski is 0 for 9 in the All-Star race, while Martinsville Speedway winner Clint Bowyer is 0 for 8 and reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr. is 0 for 6.

THE FIELD: The field will include all 2017 and 2018 Cup Series race winners, plus former series champions and former All-Star race winners that are still competing full-time. The three stage winners from the Open race on Saturday will also transfer to the main event.

No stage will end under yellow flag conditions and only green flag laps count in the fourth and final stage.

___

The day’s only abbreviated practice session was so short that not all cars made it to the track during the practice, and the most active during the period completed only four laps.

Kevin Harvick had the fastest practice speed with the restricted engines – 170.406 miles per hour. Qualifying speeds at CMS typically fall in the 190 range.

Rain forced cancellation of Friday’s scheduled qualifying for the Monster Energy Open, Saturday night’s preliminary race. Winners of the three segments (20, 20 and 10 laps) in the Open will advance to the All-Star Race. The Open starting field was set by owner points.

The 21st and final starting position in the All-Star Race will be determined by a fan vote.

Saturday night’s feature will be run in segments of 30, 20, 20 and 10 laps, with a $1 million prize going to the winner.

Saturday night’s All-Star starting lineup (with best speed):

1. No. 6, Matt Kenseth, Ford, 126.915 mph

2.  No. 17 Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Ford, 126.427

3. No.14, Clint Bowyer, Ford, 126.233
4. No. 4, Kevin Harvick, 125.834

5. No. 78, Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 125.636
6. No. 12, Ryan Blaney, Ford, 125.511

7. No. 18, Kyle Busch, Toyota, 125.427

8. No. 2, Brad Keselowski, Ford, 124.962.

9. No. 3, Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 124.738
10. No. 22, Joey Logano, Ford, 124.137

11. No. 48, Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 123.624

12. No. 1, Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 123.105

13. No. 31, Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 121.031

14. No. 11, Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 119.235

15. No. 41, Kurt Busch, Ford, 119.121

16. No. 42, Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 117.582

17. No. 95, Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 111.231

NASCAR: Harvick passes Truex with 1 to go to win at Kansas Speedway

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Nobody has been able to keep pace with Kevin Harvick this season.

Not even the reigning series champion on a track where he swept both races last season.

Harvick surged past Martin Truex Jr. with one lap to go Saturday night at Kansas Speedway, winning for the fifth time in what has turned out to be a record-setting start to the year. His total matches a career high for Harvick, who still has 24 chances to win a few more Monster Energy Cup Series races.

Nobody had ever won five of the first 12 races in NASCAR’s top series.

“Man, that was wild the last few laps,” said Harvick, who deftly dodged a couple late-race cautions, then used four fresh tires to roar to the front on the final restart with 10 laps remaining.

“That was so fun,” he said, “hearing those fans screaming and yelling. It was a great race.”

Harvick made the final pass as he crossed the start-finish line to take the white flag, while Truex chased him the final lap to finish second — a strong showing after his two wins at Kansas last year.

“He just got through traffic too quick and was too fast,” Truex said. “The flip switched, I got tight, started shaking the right front tire and I knew I was in trouble. He was coming quick.”

Joey Logano finished third, and Kyle Larson rallied from a late tangle with Ryan Blaney to finish fourth. Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“Kevin was ripping there with the new tires at the end. He was the fastest,” Logano said. “My only show was those guys (Harvick and Truex) wrecking each other and they’re too good for that.”

The race was free of wrecks until the last 30 laps, when Alex Bowman and Daniel Suarez got into each other. But things really shook up a few laps later, when Harvick passed Larson on the restart to assume control, and the No. 42 car began bumping with Blaney down the front stretch.

Those two got together, sending Blaney into the wall and Larson into the pits.

“I’m definitely to blame on that,” said Blaney, who won the first stage before Larson had charged to the front to capture the second. “Just trying to side-drift too hard.”

The race had barely returned to green when William Byron triggered a heavy wreck in front of the grandstand. Local favorites Clint Bowyer and Jamie McMurray were among a half-dozen cars involved.

“That one hurt really bad, but I’m fine,” Byron said. “We took two tires and just couldn’t get it turned on the bottom. We were trying to kind of push some things there and it didn’t work out.”

The red flag set up one last sprint to the finish.

Truex used some pit strategy to restart in the lead, and quickly built a buffer. But the No. 4 car swept past Logano and Hamlin on the outside to put Truex in his sights, then Harvick closed on the lead until finally overtaking the reigning series champion with a lap to go.

“They’re hitting on all cylinders,” Truex said. “They’ve got a great balanced race car and they’re doing all the right things, and we’re just a step behind.”

LARSON’S LETDOWN

After his week started on a high with the birth of his daughter, Larson was on his way to capping it with a win. But after Harvick got around him on the restart with 25 laps left, Blaney bumped into him as they dueled on the front-stretch, sending the No. 12 car into the outside wall.

Larson needed to have his rear fender fixed, too, and a mix-up with the tire changer in the pits forced him to pit again. That left team owner Chip Ganassi kicking a pit cart in frustration, and forced Larson to restart far enough back that he couldn’t contend for the win.

“We had that we didn’t turn today into a win,” he said, “but satisfying to see how much speed our car had tonight, and good to show Chevy has some speed, at least the 42 team.”

SPEAKING OF

Chevrolet continued to struggle with only Larson breaking the stranglehold of Ford and Toyota for the top 11 spots. Chase Elliott was the next-best Chevy in 12th. Jimmie Johnson was 19th.

KENSETH’S RETURN

Matt Kenseth had a forgettable return to the Cup Series. The former series champ’s first race as part of a timeshare with Trevor Bayne in the No. 6 for Roush Fenway Racing was spent lamenting a lack of speed, and ended when Byron triggered his hard wreck with 15 laps to go.

UP NEXT

The series heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway next Saturday night for the All-Star Race. NASCAR will be using a new aerodynamic package that includes restrictor plates designed to create more side-by-side racing, similar to the three-wide racing at Daytona.

___

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race number 12 of 12
Saturday, May 12, 2018 at Kansas Speedway, Kansas City, KS
267 laps on a 1.500 mile paved track (400.5 miles)

Time of race: 2:53:38
Average Speed: 128.395 mph
Pole Speed: 188.811 mph
Cautions: 6 for 31 laps
Margin of Victory: .390 sec
Attendance: n/a
Lead changes: 13

Glossary    2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup results   /   2018 standings

Fin St # Driver Sponsor / Owner Car Laps Status Led Pts PPts
1 1 4   Kevin Harvick Busch Light   (Stewart Haas Racing) Ford 267 running 79 58 5
2 7 78   Martin Truex, Jr. 5-hour Energy / / Bass Pro Shops   (Barney Visser) Toyota 267 running 13 36 0
3 9 22   Joey Logano AAA Insurance   (Roger Penske) Ford 267 running 6 47 0
4 22 42   Kyle Larson Clover / First Data   (Chip Ganassi) Chevrolet 267 running 101 49 1
5 6 11   Denny Hamlin FedEx Freight   (Joe Gibbs) Toyota 267 running 0 36 0
6 11 21   Paul Menard Menards / Atlas   (Wood Brothers) Ford 267 running 0 31 0
7 12 20   Erik Jones Reser’s   (Joe Gibbs) Toyota 267 running 0 32 0
8 8 41   Kurt Busch Haas Automation   (Stewart Haas Racing) Ford 267 running 0 35 0
9 4 10   Aric Almirola Smithfield Prime   (Stewart Haas Racing) Ford 267 running 0 38 0
10 3 18   Kyle Busch M&M’s Caramel   (Joe Gibbs) Toyota 267 running 0 37 0
11 16 17   Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. SunnyD   (Jack Roush) Ford 267 running 10 26 0
12 17 9   Chase Elliott NAPA Auto Parts   (Rick Hendrick) Chevrolet 267 running 0 25 0
13 20 38   David Ragan MDS Trucking   (Bob Jenkins) Ford 267 running 0 24 0
14 5 2   Brad Keselowski Alliance Truck Parts   (Roger Penske) Ford 267 running 0 31 0
15 33 14   Clint Bowyer Haas 30 Years of the VF1   (Stewart Haas Racing) Ford 267 running 0 26 0
16 18 47   A.J. Allmendinger Kroger ClickList / Hellmann’s / Nature Valley   (JTG-Daugherty Racing) Chevrolet 266 running 0 21 0
17 25 3   Austin Dillon Symbicort   (Richard Childress) Chevrolet 266 running 4 20 0
18 19 88   Alex Bowman Axalta   (Rick Hendrick) Chevrolet 266 running 0 19 0
19 23 48   Jimmie Johnson Lowe’s for Pros   (Rick Hendrick) Chevrolet 265 running 0 18 0
20 36 34   Michael McDowell Love’s Travel Stops / Speedco   (Bob Jenkins) Ford 265 running 0 17 0
21 34 95   Kasey Kahne Tommy Williams Drywall   (Leavine Family Racing) Chevrolet 264 running 0 16 0
22 37 32   Matt DiBenedetto Can-Am / Wholey   (Archie St. Hilaire) Ford 263 running 0 15 0
23 21 43   Darrell Wallace, Jr. World Wide Technology   (Richard Petty Motorsports) Chevrolet 262 running 0 14 0
24 27 72   Corey LaJoie Schluter-Systems   (Bryan Smith) Chevrolet 262 running 0 13 0
25 31 00   Landon Cassill VNH Electric   (StarCom Racing) Chevrolet 260 running 0 12 0
26 28 15   Ross Chastain LowT Center   (Jay Robinson) Chevrolet 259 running 0 0 0
27 30 55   Reed Sorenson Harrah’s North Kansas City   (Jay Robinson) Chevrolet 259 running 0 10 0
28 14 19   Daniel Suarez Stanley Tools   (Joe Gibbs) Toyota 258 running 0 9 0
29 29 23   Gray Gaulding BK Racing   (BK Racing) Toyota 257 running 0 8 0
30 15 31   Ryan Newman Bass Pro Shops / Cabela’s   (Richard Childress) Chevrolet 253 crash 0 7 0
31 24 1   Jamie McMurray Cessna / Textron Off-Road   (Chip Ganassi) Chevrolet 253 crash 0 6 0
32 38 66   Timmy Hill CrashClaimsR.us   (Carl Long) Toyota 253 running 0 0 0
33 13 24   William Byron Liberty University   (Rick Hendrick) Chevrolet 252 crash 0 4 0
34 10 37   Chris Buescher Breyers 2 in 1   (JTG-Daugherty Racing) Chevrolet 252 crash 0 3 0
35 32 51   B.J. McLeod Prefund Capital   (Rick Ware) Chevrolet 251 running 0 0 0
36 35 6   Matt Kenseth Wyndham Rewards   (Jack Roush) Ford 250 crash 0 1 0
37 2 12   Ryan Blaney REV Group / Fleetwood RV   (Roger Penske) Ford 247 crash 54 19 1
38 26 13   Ty Dillon Twisted Tea   (Germain Racing) Chevrolet 247 crash 0 1 0

Top 10 in Stage 1: # 12, 4, 2, 22, 42, 10, 11, 18, 41, 14
Top 10 in Stage 2: # 42, 4, 12, 18, 22, 10, 41, 14, 20, 78

To the back:
Name Nbr Reason
Kyle Larson 42 unapproved tire change
Failed to qualify, withdrew, or driver changes:
Pos Name Nbr Sponsor Owner Car
WD Derrike Cope 99 StarCom Fiber StarCom Racing Chevrolet
Caution flag breakdown:
Condition From
Lap
To
Lap
# Of
Laps
Reason Free
Pass
1 31 31
32 35 4   competition #6
36 81 46
82 88 7   end of stage 1 #47
89 161 73
162 167 6   end of stage 2 #17
168 237 70
238 242 5   #88,19 accident backstretch #31
243 248 6
249 252 4   #12,42 accident turn 1 #38
253 253 1
254 258 5   #24,14,31,1,6,37,13 accident frontstretch #2
259 267 9
  Percent of race run under caution: 11.6%             Average green flag run: 33.7 laps

‘Lucky Dog’ recipients prior to 2009 were compiled by Jayski.com.

Lap leader breakdown:
Leader From
Lap
To
Lap
# Of
Laps
  Kevin Harvick 1 32 32
  Ryan Blaney 33 84 52
  Kevin Harvick 85 123 39
  Ryan Blaney 124 125 2
  Austin Dillon 126 129 4
  Kevin Harvick 130 130 1
  Kyle Larson 131 213 83
  Joey Logano 214 215 2
  Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. 216 225 10
  Kyle Larson 226 243 18
  Kevin Harvick 244 248 5
  Joey Logano 249 252 4
  Martin Truex, Jr. 253 265 13
  Kevin Harvick 266 267 2

 

Kevin Harvick keeps NASCAR hot streak going with Kansas pole

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Kevin Harvick had to race onto the track after finally passing through inspection just as the first round of qualifying was beginning for Saturday night’s race at Kansas Speedway.

By the time things were settled, Harvick had raced his way to the pole.

Fresh off his fourth win of the season last week at Dover, Harvick turned a best lap of 188.811 mph Friday night to easily claim the top starting spot. Ryan Blaney was a distant second in 187.825 mph, with Kyle Busch, Aric Almirola and Chase Elliott rounding out the top five.

“It really shows the experience of the race team. We’re going on our fifth year together and you look at how calm everybody stayed,” Harvick said of the pre-qualifying inspection. “That’s really what makes us tick week after week, and the guys are performing at a high level.

It was Harvick’s fourth pole at Kansas, his most at any track on the Cup Series circuit — yet the perfectionist in him was left ruing a couple of bobbles that could have made his lap even better.

“I hate when I don’t get the most out of the car. They give me really fast race cars to drive every week,” he said. “We were able to get the pole so that’s obviously a big advantage. You get that first pit stall and any advantage we can get we’ll take.”

Other drivers weren’t as fortunate getting through inspection.

There were 10 cars still trying to clear it when the first qualifying session started, and several never made it on the track by the end. That included Matt Kenseth, who is making his return this week in the No. 6 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing, and Clint Bowyer, the hometown favorite from Emporia, Kansas.

“You know, Matt’s big debut not getting on the racetrack probably isn’t very good either,” said Bowyer, who has long sought his first Cup win at Kansas. “I don’t know. It’s a pretty bad taste in my mouth right now. It’s hard not to go off because it’s pretty frustrating.”

Bowyer said the lack of clarity in getting through inspection was especially vexing.

“The body is good, then the chassis is off. It’s just super frustrating,” he said. “We were fifth-quick in practice and — really, NASCAR has a job to do and it’s hard. It’s difficult to do. And govern everybody on a fair and level playing field. But I don’t think this is the answer either.”

REAL TALK: Blaney was asked whether it was difficult to watch Harvick dominate week-in and week-out, and replied: “I wouldn’t say it’s demoralizing. They put in a bunch of effort and their cars are really fast. But it’s no joke he’s head and shoulders above everyone else right now.

OTHER TOP QUALIFIERS: Denny Hamlin will start sixth after a solid run, followed by series champion Martin Truex Jr., who won both Kansas races last season. Kurt Busch, Joey Logano and Chris Buescher will round out the top 10.

SUAREZ SPINS: Kyle Larson qualified 22nd, but he spun in Turn 4 and flat-spotted his tires. He’ll almost certainly need to change them for the race, sending him to the back for the start.

WEEPING RACETRACK: The asphalt bubbled up in one of the corners when it became saturated during a brief but heavy downpour early Friday. The weeper, as it’s called, turned into a geyser when holes were drilled to release the pressure. The whole ordeal caused about a 30-minute delay during practice.

SCHEDULE SHAKEUPS: The weeper, combined with the rain pushing back the first Truck Series practice session, made a busy Friday afternoon even tighter. The result was a single 2 1/2-hour practice session for the Cup Series guys, rather than two shorter sessions.

KC MASTERPIECE 400 LINEUP

After Friday’s qualifying from the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway (car number in parentheses):

1. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 188.811 mph.

2. (12) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 187.826 mph.

3. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 187.552 mph.

4. (10) Aric Almirola, Ford, 187.428 mph.

5. (2) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 186.748 mph.

6. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 186.445 mph.

7. (78) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 186.200 mph.

8. (41) Kurt Busch, Ford, 186.194 mph.

9. (22) Joey Logano, Ford, 185.899 mph.

10. (37) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 185.695 mph.

11. (21) Paul Menard, Ford, 185.471 mph.

12. (20) Erik Jones, Toyota, 185.128 mph.

13. (24) William Byron, Chevrolet, 185.880 mph.

14. (19) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 185.631 mph.

15. (31) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 185.605 mph.

16. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 185.561 mph.

17. (9) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 185.103 mph.

18. (47) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 184.420 mph.

19. (88) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 184.231 mph.

20. (38) David Ragan, Ford, 184.168 mph.

21. (43) Darrell Wallace Jr., Chevrolet, 183.880 mph.

22. (42) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 188.692 mph.

23. (48) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 185.650 mph.

24. (1) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 185.370 mph.

25. (3) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 184.843 mph.

26. (13) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 182.692 mph.

27. (72) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 180.343 mph.

28. (15) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 179.814 mph.

29. (23) Gray Gaulding, Toyota, 179.790 mph.

30. (55) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 178.921 mph.

31. (00) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 178.713 mph.

32. (51) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, 176.338 mph.

33. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 0.000 mph.

34. (95) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 0.000 mph.

35. (6) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 0.000 mph.

36. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford, 0.000 mph.

37. (32) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 0.000 mph.

38. (66) Timmy Hill, Toyota, 0.000 mph.

NASCAR: Harvick makes it look easy in cruising to fourth win this season

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA TODAY SPORTS)   —   DOVER, Del. – They used to run 500-mile races at Dover International Speedway.

Around a super-fast, high-banked, 1-mile track where every lap is an invitation to chaos, this was punishment not meant for mere mortals.

It perhaps explains why immortals, men such as Richard Petty, David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Sr., won most of those races.

The longest stock car race in the track’s nearly 50-year history was a 500-miler Sept. 19, 1993. Rusty Wallace won that one in a brisk 4 hours, 59 minutes. If Ol’ Rusty had been a bit slower, Dover would have had a five-hour race.

Not exactly a bragging point.

Track officials and/or NASCAR came to their senses in 1997, trimming the race length to 400 miles and making the event much more of a competition and much less of a tongue-dragging marathon.

Modern Dover races are relative sprints. Last year’s two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races here were completed in 3 hours, 52 minutes and 3 hours, 5 minutes.

None of this means that the drivers who win at Dover now would not have won when the races were longer, but it’s clear that the racing is decidedly different and that precision, aggression and performance mean much more than endurance and outlasting the other guy.

It’s not as easy to dominate Dover races as it used to be, for it often has been the case here that distance (in that other time) and huge crashes (in every time) have taken out contenders.

But on Sunday, Kevin Harvick made it look easy. He turned in the sort of overpowering performance that beat not only his rapidly running teammate, Clint Bowyer, but also every other pretender, including 11-time track winner Jimmie Johnson. Johnson had one of the better days of what has been a tough season for him, but he still wasn’t able to lead a lap and could only watch as Harvick accomplished the things Johnson once did at one of stock car racing’s toughest tracks.

It wasn’t always this way for Harvick at Dover. He raced at the track for the first time in the Cup series in 2001, barely a few months after replacing the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. in Richard Childress Racing’s top car.

Surprisingly, Harvick needed 30 races to score his first — and until Sunday, only — win here. That occurred in the second season after Harvick left Richard Childress Racing for Stewart-Haas.

There was little doubt Harvick would win Sunday if his car held up. He led big chunks of laps — 21, 14, 31, 43, 29 and 63 at the end, 201 of 400 overall.

Bowyer also was quick. He led throughout the 41-minute rain delay that threatened to end the race early but had nothing for Harvick once the weather cleared and green conditions ruled the day again. He finished second by 7.11 seconds as Stewart-Haas put three cars (Kurt Busch was fifth) in the top five, a remarkable accomplishment at a track that eats race cars.

“I want to thank everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing, everybody at Ford for just continuing to put the effort they put into these cars,” Harvick said. “Three cars in the top five says a lot about where we are as a company, but it’s fun racing your teammate. That says a lot about our company and one of your good friends as well.”

Bowyer led 40 laps but said he wasn’t in the front long enough to try to make his car better and into Harvick’s class.

“We needed a chance to adjust our car in clear air like he did,” Bowyer said. “He had that luxury all day long. I knew when he took off and the car rotated as good as it did that I was way too loose. When you’re loose in the corner here, you’re in trouble.”

Everybody who wasn’t named Kevin Harvick was in trouble Sunday. And maybe beyond Sunday.

NASCAR: Harvick takes the checkered flag at Dover for 4th win

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DOVER, Del. (AP) — Kevin Harvick was flanked by his Stewart-Haas Racing team on the victory lane stage when a photographer yelled at the group, “What are you holding up?”

“Four!” they shouted in unison.

Harvick, team owner Tony Stewart and the rest flashed their fingers Four Horsemen-style and let out a “Wooo!” before they uncorked the champagne and sprayed anyone in their sights.

The checkered flag collection keeps growing at SHR, and Harvick is leading the way.

Harvick dominated a race interrupted by rain and drove to his Cup Series-high fourth victory of the season Sunday at Dover International Speedway.

“I feel like we’re playoff-racing on a weekly basis,” Harvick said.

He reeled off three straight wins at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix earlier this season and now has the 60-pound Miles the Monster trophy to add to his collection.

His brought the trophy home following his first win at Dover in October 2015, only to have his young son break the arm on the fiberglass creature that was never cleaned from the victory celebration.

“I’m bringing it home but do not break the arm off of this one,” Harvick said he told his son. “It’s hard to explain to people why his playroom smells like beer.”

Harvick swept the first two stages and easily chased down SHR teammate Clint Bowyer in the third for the lead after a 41-minute delay. Bowyer, who won this season at Martinsville to snap a 190-race losing streak dating to 2012, had asked for a rain dance when the race was stopped with 80 laps left.

Once it resumed, Harvick waltzed his way into victory lane in the No. 4 Ford. He led 201 of 400 laps and stormed past Bowyer and took the lead for good with 62 laps left.

“You knew he was going to be the one that you were going to have to beat for the win,” Bowyer said.

Harvick’s 41st career Cup victory gives him a stout nine top-10 finishes and eight top-fives in 11 starts this season. He held four fingers out the window as he took a victory lap on the mile concrete track and won at Dover for the second time.

Bowyer was second. Daniel Suarez, Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch rounded out the top five.

SHR had three cars in the top five with Harvick, Bowyer and Busch.

“Three cars in the top five says a lot about where we are as a company,” Harvick said. “It’s fun racing your teammate.”

SHR has five wins this season and has never won more than six in its 10-year history.

“It’s days like today that builds momentum for the organization,” Stewart said. “It’s about evolution.”

NASCAR waits another week for its own transformation to happen.

The ballyhooed youth movement that was supposed to usher in NASCAR’s rebirth continues to fizzle. The Dover race program had a photo of seven drivers with one career Cup win on the cover, yet the 42-year-old Harvick continues to hold off the so-called “young guns.”

Harvick, Truex and Bowyer — all winners this year — are over 35.

One highlight, Suarez, NASCAR’s first Mexican champion in the Xfinity Series, did match his career-best finish while driving with a broken left thumb.

“I feel like I was putting a lot of pressure on myself earlier in the season, trying to put a lot of pressure on the team to get the results,” he said.

Here’s what else happened at Dover:

KYLE BUSCH OUT

Kyle Busch failed to finish a race for the first time this season because of a broken drive shaft on the No. 18 Toyota.

Busch, who had complained of a vibration for most of the race, was running third when the part finally broke and dumped oil across the track.

DOVER DATE

Dover had its earliest Cup date since it started in 1969.

“NASCAR and the networks, they have a pretty tough job of balancing everything out,” track president Mike Tatoian said. “If you look at the overall NASCAR schedule, it may be an improvement. But that means some tracks get the short end of the stick, some tracks get the benefit from it. From our perspective, if we had our choice, of course we’d go later.”

BACK IT UP

Pole sitter Kyle Larson was sent to the back of the field because his No. 42 Chevrolet failed pre-race inspection three times. Larson had won his fifth career pole and was a heavy favorite on the strength of two runner-up finishes at the track.

Alex Bowman and Austin Dillon also were sent to the rear because of inspection issues with their cars. Larson and Bowman lost their car chiefs, and both teams were docked 30 minutes of practice next week at Kansas Speedway.

BABY ON BOARD

Larson said John Hunter Nemechek is on call for Kansas in case the Larsons’ second baby is born.

BUH-BYE, BAYNE

Trevor Bayne, the 2011 Daytona 500 champion, is set to yield the No. 6 Ford next week to the returning Matt Kenseth. Kenseth, a two-time Daytona 500 winner and former Cup champion, was hired by Roush Fenway Racing to split races with Bayne.

UP NEXT

The series shifts to Kansas Speedway, where Truex is the defending race winner.

___

AAA DRIVE FOR AUTISM 400

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

1. (2) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 400 laps, 60 points.

2. (12) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 400, 45.

3. (7) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 400, 46.

4. (3) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 400, 37.

5. (9) Kurt Busch, Ford, 400, 38.

6. (8) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 400, 48.

7. (10) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 400, 30.

8. (14) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 400, 33.

9. (19) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 400, 38.

10. (1) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 400, 27.

11. (13) Aric Almirola, Ford, 400, 26.

12. (6) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 400, 32.

13. (18) Joey Logano, Ford, 400, 27.

14. (17) William Byron, Chevrolet, 399, 23.

15. (5) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 399, 22.

16. (23) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 399, 21.

17. (25) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 399, 20.

18. (11) Erik Jones, Toyota, 399, 19.

19. (22) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 398, 18.

20. (16) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 398, 17.

21. (28) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 397, 16.

22. (29) Michael McDowell, Ford, 397, 15.

23. (15) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 397, 14.

24. (30) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 396, 13.

25. (26) Darrell Wallace Jr, Chevrolet, 396, 12.

26. (27) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 395, 11.

27. (32) David Ragan, Ford, 395, 10.

28. (31) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 393, 0.

29. (24) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 392, 8.

30. (35) Gray Gaulding, Toyota, 386, 7.

31. (33) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 385, 6.

32. (34) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 382, 5.

33. (21) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 377, 4.

34. (20) Paul Menard, Ford, 354, 3.

35. (4) Kyle Busch, Toyota, garage, 271, 19.

36. (37) Cody Ware, Chevrolet, accident, 244, 0.

37. (36) Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, accident, 144, 1.

38. (38) Corey Lajoie, Chevrolet, engine, 20, 1.

RACE STATISTICS

Average Speed of Race Winner: 115.044 mph.

Time of Race: 3 hours, 28 minutes, 37 seconds.

Margin of Victory: 7.450 seconds.

Caution Flags: 8 for 48 laps.

Lead Changes: 17 among 6 drivers.

Lap Leaders: K. Harvick 1-21; A. Bowman 22-47; B. Keselowski 48-107; K. Harvick 108-121; B. Keselowski 122; K. Harvick 123-153; B. Keselowski 154-199; K. Harvick 200-242; B. Keselowski 243; K. Harvick 244-272; R. Stenhouse Jr. 273-295; C. Bowyer 296; R. Stenhouse Jr. 297; C. Bowyer 298-321; J. Logano 322; C. Bowyer 323-337; K. Harvick 338-400.

ADVERTISING

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): K. Harvick 6 times for 201 laps; B. Keselowski 4 times for 108 laps; C. Bowyer 3 times for 40 laps; A. Bowman 1 time for 26 laps; R. Stenhouse Jr. 2 times for 24 laps; J. Logano 1 time for 1 lap.

Wins: K.Harvick, 4; Ky.Busch, 3; C.Bowyer, 1; A.Dillon, 1; J.Logano, 1; M.Truex, 1.

Top 16 in Points: 1. Ky.Busch, 466; 2. J.Logano, 444; 3. K.Harvick, 426; 4. C.Bowyer, 380; 5. B.Keselowski, 365; 6. Ku.Busch, 358; 7. R.Blaney, 346; 8. D.Hamlin, 344; 9. M.Truex, 340; 10. K.Larson, 307; 11. A.Almirola, 304; 12. J.Johnson, 268; 13. E.Jones, 253; 14. A.Bowman, 252; 15. C.Elliott, 241; 16. R.Stenhouse, 239.

NASCAR: Larson wins 5th career pole, Harvick also up front at Dover

DOVER, Del. (AP) — Kyle Larson had a good week with some nice drives.

Larson enjoyed playing in a PGA Tour Pro-Am, then turned a lap of 158.103 mph on Friday to take the pole at Dover International Speedway. In winning his fifth career pole, he gave Chevrolet a needed boost and its first pole since Alex Bowman took the top spot at the Daytona 500 back in February.

“Our team hasn’t once been stressed out about the new Camaro,” Larson said. “I don’t know what other people and teams are battling. I think balance-wise I feel exactly the same as what I did last year. It hasn’t been an issue to us. I feel like speed-wise, we are close to where we were.”

Larson will try Sunday to win his first race of the season and the Chip Ganassi Racing driver should be considered a favorite. Larson was runner-up in each of the last two spring races at Dover and has a 7.9 average finish in eight career races on the mile-long track.

Kevin Harvick in his Ford will be beside Larson on the front row as the Stewart-Haas Racing star goes for his fourth win of the season. Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. completed the top five in Friday’s qualifying.

Larson is a natural behind the wheel, but the 25-year-old is still learning his way on the links. Larson only picked up golf as a hobby two years ago but he jumped at the chance Wednesday to play with Russell Henley at Quail Hollow, the Charlotte, North Carolina site of the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I love golf,” Larson said. “As each week passes by, I’ve become more obsessed with it.”

Larson said he was about as nervous as he could remember before he approached the first tee box. But he steeled himself for his first drive and — sure enough — boom: “right down the fairway.” Henley, who has three PGA Tour wins, gave Larson some needed pointers.

It was just very relaxing out there on the golf course and all the fans there didn’t really bother me at all either,” Larson said. “It was just cool to get to play with him and get to experience the whole thing.”

CHASING BETTER RESULTS

Chase Elliott, another Chevy driver who had complained last week he didn’t have help from his fellow manufacturer drivers in the closing laps, will start sixth on Sunday.

“We have made some improvements and some gains coming into the weekend that we hope improve on Sunday,” Elliott said. “Will that improve us to the point where we can go dominate the race? I don’t know, I hope so, but I think it’s more present timing as to how your performance is more so than past history at a race track.”

Jimmie Johnson starts 19th as he tries to extend his track-record win total of 11.

BUBBA SLUMP

Darrell Wallace Jr. had thrived at Dover and won two poles and had a runner-up finish in the Xfinity Series. But the driver better known as “Bubba” struggled in Cup and starts 26th.

“I’m just frustrated at how much speed we actually had and it wasn’t good enough,” he said. “I love coming to this place. I always have since 2011. And I’ve always shown decent speed. It’s frustrating.”

HOMETOWN TRACK

Truex hopes Dover — one of the many tracks that stakes a claim as Truex’s hometown track — can spark him out of a slump. The series champion has stumbled after a sizzling start (that included one win) over the last four races, finishing 37th, 30th, 14th and 26th last week at Talladega.

“I don’t even know if it’s my best track, but definitely performance-wise I think it’s up there with one of our best,” Truex said.

PIT GUNS!

The hot topic all season — such is the state of the sports — has been problems with the NASCAR-issued pit guns designed to stop bottomless team spending on developing faster, efficient air guns to speed up pit stop tire changes.

Joey Logano said pit guns were discussed this week at a driver council meeting.

“I think the pit gun thing will be fine,” he said. “There will be growing pains with some changes. There is a learning curve for the teams and NASCAR, but we have to make changes to continue growing and sometimes there will be pain when that happens.”

___

TRUCK SERIES:

DOVER, Del. (AP) — Johnny Sauter led for 137 laps, battled a teenager down the stretch and held off a fellow 40-something in a two-lap overtime restart for his second straight victory in the Truck Series race at Dover International Speedway.

Sauter narrowly split two spinning trucks with 20 laps to go and briefly lost the lead on the final regulation restart to 19-year-old Noah Gragson. But the two collided while battling for the lead with two laps remaining and Gragson backed hard into the wall.

Matt Crafton and Sauter, the last two Truck Series winners at Dover, were on the front row in overtime, and Sauter quickly pulled out to a lengthy lead for the victory on Friday.

“Johnny turned 40 this week, so he’s part of the old man crew and we’ve caught a lot of flak this week,” Crafton said. “But these two 40-year-olds showed the kids how to do it, I guess.”

Gragson, the pole-setter, led throughout the first stage and finished 20th. Justin Haley, David Gilliland and Harrison Burton completed the top five.

“We had to work for this one today,” Sauter said. “I had a good run on him (Gragson) there and he squeezed me off and I was like, ‘Well, OK, you just gave me the green light to be aggressive.'”

Following a caution with 12 laps to go, Gragson grabbed the lead after side-by-side racing. Sauter retook it six laps later on a strong run to the outside.

“So close to winning and all I could think about was just the mistake I made and I really want to get that monster,” Gragson said.

Sauter’s second victory of the season — and 19th of his career —extended his series lead to 51 points over Ben Rhodes, who took eighth. Gragson sits in third at 58.

Jesse Little, son of Chad Little, briefly took the first lead of his NASCAR career by overtaking Sauter with 79 laps left, but was penalized for pitting outside the box and finished ninth.

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More AP racing: https://racing.ap.org

NASCAR: Chevrolets look to make headway vs. Fords, Toyotas at Dover Cup race

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA TODAY SPORTS)   —   DOVER, Del. — The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season is almost one-third gone, and all indications are that Chevrolet in general and one Chevrolet team in particular have unfinished business.

Chevrolet hasn’t won a race since Austin Dillon scored in the season-opening Daytona 500. Ford has won five races and Toyota four since the February opener.

Of the top 10 drivers in laps led through 10 races, only one — Kyle Larson in sixth place — drives a Chevrolet.

Entering Sunday’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover International Speedway, the most surprising numbers in the Bowtie camp belong to perennial powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports, which is 0-for-40 with its four-driver team this year.

It isn’t necessarily surprising that relative newcomers Alex Bowman and William Byron haven’t scored a win 10 races into the schedule, but many observers assumed that Chase Elliott finally would cross the victory-lane threshold by this point. Elliott has had potentially winning cars but has been diverted at the brink of victory.

And, of course, there’s the swarm of questions surrounding seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, whose failure to win a race since last June — when he scored at Dover — continues to confuse and befuddle.

Johnson has three top 10s, and Elliott has three top fives, but the bigger rewards have remained elusive.

Johnson, now 14th in the point standings, will attack his drought this weekend from a great starting point. Dover is one of his best tracks. In fact, his win total of 11 at the Monster Mile is only one fewer than the victories totaled by all other drivers in Sunday’s field.

To master Dover, as Johnson clearly has, is to learn the ins and outs of one of the sport’s fastest one-mile tracks. Dover’s high banking keeps speeds boiling throughout the race, and drivers — most of whom seem to love the track — say the ride is very much like a roller-coaster.

Negotiating the track’s fast turns and bumpy surface is one thing; managing tires and avoiding accidents is quite another. It usually takes the full package to win at Dover.

“Dover is really a tricky place,” Johnson said. “There are usually quite a few caution flags, so you have to find a balance between a ‘green’ track for the first 10 or 15 laps to a longer run where there is a lot of rubber laid down on the track on a longer green-flag run.

“Finding your balance is probably the most challenging thing at Dover. Corner entry is everything. Concrete tracks are poured in squares just like on an interstate, so there are a bunch of expansion joints around the track and it really shakes and rattles the car. It’s bumpy, and there are bumps in turns one and three. So if your car isn’t bottoming out and your splitter isn’t hitting, you are usually OK, and it’s just part of the ride at Dover.”

Laps click off quickly at Dover. Martin Truex Jr. won the pole for last fall’s race at the track with a speed of 160.664 miles per hour — very fast for a one-mile track.

“Dover is the racetrack where you feel the sensation of speed more than anything,” said Kevin Harvick, three times a winner this year. “It’s a place where you drop off into the corner and slam into a lot of banking and then, as you come out of the corner, it’s kind of like jumping out of a hole and up onto the straightaway.

“It’s a really fun place to race. You feel that sensation of speed, and you can be really aggressive.”

Joining Johnson (83 career Cup victories) on the list of key drivers yet to win this season are Denny Hamlin (31), Ryan Blaney (1), Kyle Larson (5), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2), Kurt Busch (29) and Brad Keselowski (24).

LAPS LED LEADERS ENTERING DOVER

Driver Car Laps led
Kevin Harvick Ford 540
Kyle Busch Toyota 498
Ryan Blaney Ford 364
Martin Truex Jr. Toyota 264
Clint Bowyer Ford 260
Kyle Larson Chevrolet 254
Denny Hamlin Toyota 226
Kurt Busch Ford 217
Joey Logano Ford 201
Brad Keselowski Ford 139

Joey Logano takes NASCAR Cup race at Talladega to snap one-year winless streak

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA TODAY SPORTS)   —   TALLADEGA, Ala. — How the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway played out Sunday:

WINNER: Joey Logano held off several challengers in the final laps as Fords dominated the afternoon under sunny skies in Alabama. Ford cars took six of the top seven spots, with only Chase Elliott in a Chevrolet, spoiling the party.

Logano scored his third career Cup victory at Talladega and his first since going to victory lane at Richmond Raceway last April. Logano also won at Talladega in 2015 and 2016 whileTeam Penske drivers have now captured since of the last eight wins at NASCAR’s biggest track.

“What a fast Ford teamwork that did it today. Not only with the Team Penske Fords, but all of the Fords out there,” Logano said after climbing out of his car.

“Man, it feels so good to be back in victory lane. There’s no feeling like this. It’s been quite the weekend and a long time coming. I don’t have to worry about the playoffs anymore — we’re in!

Kurt Busch finished second, followed by Elliott, Kevin Harvick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., last year’s GEICO 500 winner. David Ragan and Aric Almirola rounded out the Ford spree in sixth and seventh.

“I felt like I needed to do something different. I needed a run from behind,” Busch said. “The 17 (Stenhouse), once he broke up Kevin (Harvick) and I, my plan was to roll with Kevin until the last lap then slingshot by him on the last lap.

“The 17, percentages say he’s going to be the strongest guy here at the end, he was there, I just needed him closer to my rear bumper to get that drive, to get that run. … I got outfoxed, didn’t quite make the right move, and it’s a shame. It was one of the best Fords I’ve ever had.”

THE BIG ONE: It arrived late in the day, but when it happened it was BIG. Jimmie Johnson lost control of his car between turns three and four, sparking the incident. Also involved among 14 drivers in a smoke-filled mess of a wreck were Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard, Brad Keselowski, William Byron, Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, Denny Hamlin and Bubba Wallace.

Kyle Busch had won the previous three races and was aiming to become the 13th driver to win at least four consecutive Cup races. Busch was still able to rebound from the crash and finish 13th.

HAMLIN IN A HURRY: Hamlin was nabbed for speeding on pit road twice within a few minutes with about 40 laps to go. After the first incident, he drove onto pit road to serve his penalty but was speeding during that trip along pit road. He returned to the pits for a stop-and-go penalty and fell a lap behind the leaders.

STAGE TWO: Menard scored the first stage win of his career as he pushed the Wood Brothers Ford to first place at the front of a long draft. Logano was second, followed by Blaney, Harvick, Stenhouse, Ragan, Johnson, Kurt Busch, Byron and Kyle Busch.

BAYNE PARKED BY CRASH: A six-car crash on lap 72 sent Trevor Bayne to the garage. Bayne, who has been in the spotlight this week because of changes at Roush Fenway Racing that will limit his schedule the rest of the year, was involved in contact with Jamie McMurray and Erik Jones during the incident. Also caught up in the backstretch crash were Martin Truex Jr., Aric Almirola and Kyle Larson.

“It stinks,” Bayne said. “You try to manage your highs and lows, though. We will move on and go to Dover (Del.) next weekend. It is frustrating because Talladega is one of the ones you know you can win at, and we wanted to do that today.”

Larson described the cars as being “really on the edge” and said drivers were being careful in the first stage as they raced mostly in single file.

STAGE ONE: Keselowski, a five-time winner at Talladega, led the way to the finish of the first stage. The stage win was his fourth of the season. Following in the top 10 and scoring points were Logano, Truex, Kyle Busch, Menard, Hamlin, Blaney, Stenhouse, Harvick and Johnson.

BOXING AND FOOTBALL: Pre-race ceremonies featured two notable celebrities. Driving the pace car was WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder, a native of Tuscaloosa, Ala. Auburn University football coach Gus Malzahn gave the “Drivers, Start Your Engines” command, tossing in a bonus “War Eagle”.

Wilder and Malzahn met before the race, and Malzahn jokingly asked the boxer if he had collegiate eligibility remaining.

NASCAR: Joey Logano snaps long losing streak with win at Talladega

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TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — Joey Logano had a clear race track in his windshield and a pack of fellow Ford drivers on his bumper. That combination helped the Team Penske driver snap a nearly yearlong losing streak.

Logano won Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway to snap a streak that dated to April 30 of last year. That win at Richmond was later disqualified because his car failed inspection, so the benefits from the victory were stripped and it cost him a spot in the playoffs.

Out front at Talladega, which is usually the worst place to be in the closing laps, Logano couldn’t be caught. His Ford teammates were committed to getting a Ford the win, and they waited patiently in line until the closing laps to make their attempt at snatching the victory away from Logano.

Only Kurt Busch was bold enough to make an early move, and he wrongly thought defending race winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. would go with him. Stenhouse didn’t get to Busch in time, Kevin Harvick wasn’t prepared for Busch to go so early, and Busch couldn’t garner enough steam to catch Logano.

Logano sailed to an easy victory at a track where he should have been forced to defend several attempts at a pass on the final lap.

“I really thought (Busch and Harvick) were the cars, no matter where they went, if they got to the outside of me, I was hosed. I knew that. That would have been the end of it for me,” Logano said. “I would have gotten passed by pretty much the whole train. I would have lost so much momentum. I knew they were going to work together, as they should. Once they got picked apart, think that was the game changer.”

It was Logano’s third career win at Talladega.

Busch finished second, his career best finish at Talladega, as Ford drivers went 1-2.

Chase Elliott was third in a Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, while Kevin Harvick was fourth in a Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was fifth, David Ragan sixth and Aric Almirola seventh as Ford drivers took six of the seven spots.

Elliott said the Fords had too strong and steady of a strategy for him to have any chance at making a move to catch Logano.

“I thought for sure one of them wanted to win more than they showed,” Elliott said. “If it was me, I would have wanted to do something or try. They were not interested in advancing. They were not going to help me move forward.”

Busch said his intention was to work with Stenhouse to help SHR get a victory from either Busch or Harvick.

“Two Stewart-Haas cars running second and third should have been able to pull this off,” Busch said. “I’m happy that a Ford won. It wasn’t the right one. Kevin was in good position. I was going to roll with him in any direction that I could. We just got broken up by Stenhouse.

“You wish you could go over and do it again. I feel like I left that one out on the table. ”

Harvick felt Busch made his move too early.

“The Fords are so fast, we had five or six lined up there, and Kurt went a lap before I was ready,” Harvick said.

Other events at Talladega:

JOHNSON LOSING STREAK:

Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson’s losing streak hit 33 races when he finished 12th.

He was part of a 14-car accident late in the race when he slid in front of teammate William Byron to start the melee that knocked out two Team Penske cars — Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney — as well as second stage winner Paul Menard.

Johnson thought as he closed in on Byron, the air was taken off his Chevrolet.

“I was in the second lane and he came up near my lane and then packed air underneath us and around it went,” Johnson said.

McMURRAY’S LONG WEEKEND:

Jamie McMurray was involved in two accidents at Talladega, including a frightening crash during a practice session in which his Chevrolet rolled several times.

He didn’t catch any breaks on Sunday and was in an early accident that led to a 28th-place finish.

HARD TO DRIVE:

The rules package NASCAR used Sunday at Talladega made the cars difficult to drive and changed the dynamic of a race that usually is marked by multiple accidents.

“The cars weren’t handling really good, so you had to be very cautious with the runs that you had and where you had them,” Johnson said.

Drivers weren’t able to make big moves or slingshot passes, and it created a lot of single-file racing.

“I think the cars are a handful to drive and I think that is why we have seen a lot of single file racing, just because everybody’s confidence in their cars isn’t as high as it has been in the past,” Kyle Larson said. “Less big moves and stuff, so I think it kind of gets single file because of that.”

UP NEXT:

Sunday’s race at Dover International Speedway in Delaware, where Johnson scored his last Cup victory last year.

___

GEICO 500 RESULTS

Sunday from the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway (starting position in parentheses):

1. (9) Joey Logano, Ford, 188 laps, 58 points.

2. (2) Kurt Busch, Ford, 188, 38.

3. (5) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 188, 34.

4. (1) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 188, 42.

5. (7) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 188, 41.

6. (12) David Ragan, Ford, 188, 36.

7. (40) Aric Almirola, Ford, 188, 30.

8. (11) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 188, 29.

9. (18) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 188, 28.

10. (14) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 188, 27.

11. (25) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 188, 26.

12. (16) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 188, 30.

13. (19) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 188, 32.

14. (4) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 188, 28.

15. (29) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 188, 22.

16. (15) Darrell Wallace Jr, Chevrolet, 188, 21.

17. (26) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 188, 20.

18. (23) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 188, 31.

19. (33) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 188, 18.

20. (31) D.J. Kennington, Toyota, 188, 17.

21. (36) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 188, 16.

22. (30) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 188, 15.

23. (32) Timothy Peters, Ford, 187, 0.

24. (37) Gray Gaulding, Toyota, 187, 13.

25. (35) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 186, 0.

26. (3) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, accident, 184, 19.

27. (34) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, engine, 178, 0.

28. (27) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 174, 9.

29. (17) William Byron, Chevrolet, accident, 165, 10.

30. (13) Paul Menard, Ford, accident, 165, 23.

31. (8) Clint Bowyer, Ford, accident, 165, 6.

32. (20) Michael McDowell, Ford, accident, 165, 5.

33. (10) Brad Keselowski, Ford, accident, 165, 14.

34. (28) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, accident, 165, 3.

35. (24) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, accident, 165, 2.

36. (39) Timmy Hill, Chevrolet, engine, 151, 0.

37. (38) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, suspension, 79, 1.

38. (21) Trevor Bayne, Ford, accident, 71, 1.

39. (6) Erik Jones, Toyota, accident, 71, 1.

40. (22) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, accident, 71, 1.

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Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 152.486 mph.

Time of Race: 3 hours, 16 minutes, 46 seconds.

Margin of Victory: 0.127 seconds.

Caution Flags: 6 for 29 laps.

Lead Changes: 25 among 16 drivers.

Lap Leaders: K.Harvick 1-12; A.Bowman 13-38; D.Wallace 39-43; B.Keselowski 44-57; A.Allmendinger 58; B.Keselowski 59-61; W.Byron 62-63; B.Keselowski 64-66; W.Byron 67; C.Buescher 68; M.DiBenedetto 69-74; J.Logano 75-96; D.Hamlin 97-104; P.Menard 105-112; B.Gaughan 113; W.Byron 114-124; Ku.Busch 125-129; A.Allmendinger 130; R.Stenhouse 131-134; D.Hamlin 135-137; J.Logano 138-140; B.Keselowski 141; J.Logano 142-144; D.Suarez 145; K.Kahne 146; J.Logano 147-188

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): J.Logano, 4 times for 66 laps; A.Bowman, 1 time for 25 laps; B.Keselowski, 4 times for 17 laps; W.Byron, 3 times for 11 laps; K.Harvick, 1 time for 11 laps; D.Hamlin, 2 times for 9 laps; P.Menard, 1 time for 7 laps; M.DiBenedetto, 1 time for 5 laps; Ku.Busch, 1 time for 4 laps; D.Wallace, 1 time for 4 laps; R.Stenhouse, 1 time for 3 laps; A.Allmendinger, 2 times for 0 laps; C.Buescher, 1 time for 0 laps; B.Gaughan, 1 time for 0 laps; K.Kahne, 1 time for 0 laps; D.Suarez, 1 time for 0 laps.

Wins: Ky.Busch, 3; K.Harvick, 3; C.Bowyer, 1; A.Dillon, 1; J.Logano, 1; M.Truex, 1.

Top 16 in Points: 1. Ky.Busch, 447; 2. J.Logano, 417; 3. K.Harvick, 366; 4. C.Bowyer, 335; 5. Ku.Busch, 320; 6. B.Keselowski, 317; 7. D.Hamlin, 314; 8. R.Blaney, 313; 9. M.Truex, 303; 10. K.Larson, 280; 11. A.Almirola, 278; 12. A.Bowman, 238; 13. E.Jones, 234; 14. J.Johnson, 230; 15. R.Stenhouse, 217; 16. R.Newman, 214.

At Talladega, expect lots of crazy things to happen on NASCAR’s biggest track

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(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today Sports)   —   TALLADEGA, Ala. — Kyle Busch tries to win a fourth consecutive race.

Kevin Harvick tries to win for the fourth time this year.

Jimmie Johnson tries to win a race, period.

Trevor Bayne tries on racing under a shadow.

Welcome to Talladega Superspeedway, where the racing normally is crazy and where it could be that and more this weekend.

Sunday’s GEICO 500 will present Busch, who is threatening to turn the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series into a personal parade, with an opportunity few drivers have reached in recent decades. Only eight Cup drivers have won four races in a row since 1972.

Harvick had his shot earlier in the season, winning at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix in a stretch of three weeks before Martin Truex Jr. ended the streak at Auto Club Speedway in California.

Busch has won at Texas, Bristol and Richmond and will be among the favorites at Talladega, despite the fact that Busch, acknowledged as one of his generation’s best racers, has won only once at NASCAR’s biggest track. His average finish there is 20.8, not a number that rings bells.

In fact, Talladega has blocked the door to a single driver dominating its landscape in recent years. Brad Keselowski is the top active winner at the track with five, and no other driver in the current field has won more than two.

Top-line drivers like Kurt Busch (Kyle’s older brother) and Truex Jr. haven’t cracked the winning code at Talladega.

“You’ve got to be able to know the draft, understand the draft, use the draft, block other guys, find holes, make holes,” said Kurt Busch. “It’s definitely a chess game because you’re always thinking three or four steps ahead. It’s tough to get caught up when you make a mistake. You’ve got to quickly get rid of that and put together a new plan.

“At the end of the race, everybody is saving their best for the end. Cars are just going everywhere. The plan you thought you had — you’ve got to make a new one. You’ve got to go on the fly.”

Johnson owns two Talladega victories, and his season of struggle has shown some signs of sunshine in recent weeks. An expert in the draft, he figures to be among the potential winners Sunday.

As for Bayne, he’ll be racing under a stronger microscope Sunday – and for the rest of the season.

Roush Fenway Racing announced Wednesday that 2003 series champion Matt Kenseth will share the team’s No. 6 Fords with Bayne the rest of this year. Kenseth’s mission is to help the team define its issues and repair them.

Kenseth, who started his career with Roush, is scheduled to debut in the No. 6 at Kansas Speedway May 12. The schedule for the rest of the year hasn’t been announced, but Bayne is expected to race in most, if not all, the races in which the No. 6 carries sponsorship from AdvoCare.

Moves made in the final 10 laps typically make the difference at Talladega, where racing comes in two varieties – huge drafting packs or long single-file lines.

Teammates can be useful both early and late in Talladega races. If a driver drops out of a single-file line to test the waters in a different lane, a teammate is more likely to let him return to the fast lane than other drivers. And, in the closing laps, teammates running bumper-to-bumper can wield significant power.

But Talladega racing is so fast and frantic that there often is little opportunity to link with teammates or even drivers who race with the same manufacturer.

“The only time it’s really relevant in a last-lap decision is if it’s going to benefit you equally,” said Jamie McMurray. “And early in the race when you’re single file, if you’re around somebody you know will let you in you’re more likely to take a chance.”

McMurray and his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Kyle Larson enter Talladega on the heels of a tiff last week at Richmond. Both were involved in a multi-car accident, and McMurray bumped Larson’s car side-to-side to show his displeasure.

Larson said he and McMurray talked after the race and settled the issue.

McMurray did not want to discuss the Richmond incident in a Wednesday interview.

At the end Sunday, Larson said, he’ll look for anybody who can assist.

“You’re just trying to get all you can get,” he said. “There’s not enough time to find your teammate and back up to them or whatever. It’s tough to do because you’re three- and four-wide for the last 10 laps, so you have nowhere to go anyway. You’re trying to get all you can get with those around you.”

NASCAR: Matt Kenseth to return to NASCAR with Roush Fenway Racing

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Matt Kenseth will return to NASCAR this season in a reunion with Roush Fenway Racing, the team that gave him his Cup start in 1998.

Kenseth will split the No. 6 Ford with Trevor Bayne, who has been the full-time driver of that car since 2015. Kenseth has sponsorship from Wyndham Hotels Resorts, and his return will come next month at Kansas Speedway. Roush did not announce Wednesday how many races Kenseth will drive.

Kenseth won a Cup championship and two Daytona 500s driving for Roush Fenway. He moved to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013 and won 15 of his 39 career victories driving for Gibbs.

Kenseth lost his ride last season when Gibbs had to let a veteran go to make room for Erik Jones and a wave of younger NASCAR drivers.

Kenseth, who turned 46 in March, is still considered among the top talents in the Cup garage but his salary made him too expensive for any of the open rides. It put him on the sidelines for the start of this season.

Bayne, also a former Daytona 500 winner, is 26th in the Cup standings through nine races. His highest finish this year was 12th at Texas, and he hasn’t led a lap yet this season.

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Matt Kenseth is officially back in NASCAR.

With his Cup Series career largely assumed to be over at the end of the 2017 season – though he wouldn’t say he was headed into retirement – the 46-year-old driver will return to the track behind the wheel of the No. 6 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing confirmed Wednesday during a press conference at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Kenseth will share the ride for the rest of the 2018 season with current driver Trevor Bayne. While the team said it is still working out the details of which specific races Kenseth will run, his first one will be at Kansas Speedway on May 12. Also, since he’s a qualified driver, he’ll compete in the exhibition All-Star Race on May 19 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I’m excited about all of it,” said Kenseth, whose experience will help Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the team’s other driver. “You kind of know when something feels right, certainly to come back and hopefully help Jack – who’s obviously done so much for my career – hopefully get Roush Fenway racing running better again. And I feel like they’ve definitely been trending in the right direction.”

Kenseth drove the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing from 2013 through the 2017 season, during which it was announced he was being replaced by Erik Jones for 2018.

For so many reasons, Kenseth is not like a lot of other NASCAR drivers. So here are five reasons the NASCAR world should be excited that he’ll be back behind the wheel.

1. His subtle but brilliant sense of humor

Kenseth has a quiet, sarcastic, deadpan sense of humor that a lot of people aren’t exposed to. It takes a minute to get a feel for it, but once you do, he’s secretly hilarious. While explaining why Kenseth has the quirkiest sense of humor among NASCAR drivers, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said last season:

” He’s gonna hate me for this, but a lot of people don’t know his personality real well, and he comes across as super duper dry. But I like his humor and a lot of times he’s telling a joke, and you have to pay attention to get it. He’s from Wisconsin, and is kind of a smart aleck about things.

2. He doesn’t take himself too seriously

Going along with his sense of humor, Kenseth makes self-deprecating comments about himself, which are funny whether or not he means them to be. Even in an intense situation – like last season when a mysterious ambulance on the track during a race almost cost him a spot in the playoffs – he tweeted a goofy photo at his own expense.

3. His career is coming full circle

Kenseth began his Cup Series driving for Jack Roush, and he drove full-time for Roush Fenway Racing from 2000-2012, winning a championship in 2003. He also won 24 races with the team, included two Daytona 500s in 2009 and 2012.

After an uncertain last few months to the 2017 season, Kenseth taking the checkered flag in Phoenix in the penultimate race of the year seemed like the perfect ending to his two-decade career in NASCAR. But reuniting with Roush Fenway – whether it’s for just a handful of races this season or beyond – seems like truly the best ending for him.

4. He’ll reclaim his spot as the oldest driver in the garage

42-year-olds Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick have to be happy about this one. They’re still the oldest full-time drivers out there – Johnson has Harvick beat by about three months – but at 46, Kenseth will be the oldest driver to compete in multiple Cup Series races this season.

5. He gives the older drivers another shot at winning

In a season that’s been dominated by the old guys, one more former champion driver in his 40s can’t be a bad thing. Despite NASCAR’s endless promotion of the “young guns,” the older drivers have proven they’re not going anywhere.

With the exception of 27-year-old Austin Dillon winning the Daytona 500, every race so far this season has been won by one of the older veterans. Coming off three consecutive wins, Kyle Busch is the next youngest and turns 33 in May, and the average age of this season’s winning drivers so far is 36. So while Kenseth won’t be working with the same equipment he had with Joe Gibbs Racing, this trend of older guys winning is good news for him.

NASCAR: Talladega could be equalizer for Busch and Harvick

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The score is tied 3-3 between Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick in the race for hottest driver in NASCAR. Each has won three races in a row and has been nearly unbeatable through the first nine races of the season.

Up next, though, is Talladega Superspeedway, a wild-card race track that could even the field.

It means Jimmie Johnson, mired in a 32-race losing streak, has a chance to snap the longest winless streak of his career.

Or Ricky Stenhouse Jr. could defend last year’s Talladega victory, the first Cup win of his career.

Austin Dillon won the season-opening Daytona 500, and he’s got as good a chance as anyone to win Sunday.

Same goes for Brad Keselowski, considered by most of his peers the best restrictor-plate racer in the field right now.

Busch goes to Alabama as the hottest driver in the series and the Cup Series points leader. He’s won the last three races — at Texas, Bristol Motor Speedway and Richmond — and has three runner-up finishes through nine races.

“Pretty cool to win three in a row,” Busch said after Saturday night’s victory at Richmond. “Next week we go to Talladega. I think it’s easier to win the Powerball than win at Talladega. We’ll give it a go anyway, see what we get.”

Talladega should be a crapshoot with zero guarantees. It was the Team Penske trio of Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney that led Speedweeks in Daytona and cemented themselves as the favorites for the 500. But Keselowski was wrecked out of the race, Blaney was lost in traffic after leading a race-high 118 laps and Logano led the Penske charge with a disappointing fourth-place finish.

With the Penske cars out of contention, the closing laps belonged to resurgent Stewart-Haas Racing. Both Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola had a shot to win the Daytona 500 in overtime and both were wrecked — Almirola by Dillon as they raced for the checkered flag.

Dillon led just one lap, the final one, to earn his Daytona 500 victory.

Because Daytona and Talladega are so similar in speed, style and the way the field races in a pack, the dominance shown so far this season by Busch and Harvick may not matter. With 16 spots up for grabs in the playoffs, this is a race where a driver can steal a postseason berth. Only five drivers have qualified for the playoffs through nine races: Harvick and Busch, then Dillon for his Daytona victory, defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. for his win in California and Clint Bowyer for his Martinsville Speedway victory.

Stenhouse, winner at Talladega last spring and Daytona in July, doesn’t mind the dominance shown so far by Busch and Harvick because it opens up playoff chances at other circuits.

“(The) less people win and the more opportunity for somebody like us to get in (to the playoffs) on points if we need to,” Stenhouse said. “It doesn’t really bother me that a couple people are winning most of the races. Those two are definitely by far the fastest cars out there right now.”

Johnson, the seven-time NASCAR champion, has not had one of the fastest cars this year and had a disastrous Speedweeks at Daytona. He crashed in every event and has yet to lead a single lap all year. He’s a two-time winner at Talladega and has every reason to believe he can be in the mix Sunday.

But like his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, he’s working with a new Camaro that has yet to show much muscle on the track. Dillon’s victory in the 500 is the only win this season for the new Chevrolet model, and Kyle Larson in 10th is the highest-ranked Chevy driver.

If there’s a chance to put an end to Busch and Harvick’s mastery so far this season, it comes Sunday with a wide-open opportunity for another driver to get to victory lane.

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More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org

Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick will take battle for NASCAR supremacy to Talladega

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(PhatzRadio Sports / USA TODAY SPORTS)  —   RICHMOND, Va. — The debate over the best driver in the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season is unlikely to be settled next Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. That’s because the Alabama track is not only the series’ largest and fastest, it’s also the most unpredictable, putting even the most talented drivers one corner away from calamity.

Still, all eyes will be on Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick as NASCAR’s two most dominant drivers battle for early season supremacy.

With Busch’s victory Saturday night at Richmond Raceway, he matched Harvick with three wins in 2018 – each coming in a streak of three races. Harvick won the season’s second through fourth races, and Busch now has prevailed at the three most recent events. Austin Dillon, at the season-opening Daytona 500, reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer have the other victories through the first nine races.

Busch may be on a dazzling roll, but he knows that is relatively meaningless when matched up to the madness of Talladega, where speed and competence can only take you so far when the field is bunched up in packs with restrictor plates on the cars.

“Pretty cool to win three in a row,” Busch said after celebrating at Richmond. “But next week we go to Talladega. I think it’s easier to win the Power Ball than win at Talladega. We’ll give it a go anyway, see what we get.”

There’s no denying that Busch and Harvick will be among the favorites next weekend even if Harvick hasn’t won at Talladega since the spring of 2010 and Busch since the spring of 2008. They have simply been that good through the first two months of the season, not only leading the series in wins, but ranking either first or second in laps led, top-five and top-10 finishes and playoff points.

Busch led only 32 laps at Richmond and didn’t take his first lead until the final stage. The fact that he drove to victory at all, given that he started 32nd, shows how strong his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team has been this season. Busch set a track record for lowest starting spot to prevail at Richmond, breaking the record that Clint Bowyer set in the spring of 2008 when he started 31st.

Harvick only paced the field for eight laps, but he too had to overcome adversity when his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team was penalized on the first pit stop, dropping Harvick to the tail end of the longest line on the restart to open Stage 2.

And yet when the checkered flag flew Saturday night, both Busch and Harvick, who finished fifth, were up front.

“We were terrible on the restarts there compared to three or four of those guys,” Harvick said. “But all of the night taken into consideration, we were way better here than we have been in the past. … Tonight, we contended, and that is a much better building block than we had coming into the weekend.”

But as Dillon proved at Daytona — the track most similar to Talladega in terms of speed and unpredictability — a dominating drive can be irrelevant in a pack race. After all, Ryan Blaney led 118 of 200 laps in February and finished seventh. Dillon led one lap – the final one – and etched his name in history.

In the most recent race at Talladega, last October, Brad Keselowski led only seven laps and passed Ryan Newman on the final lap to take the checkered flag. That race saw just 12 drivers finish on the lead lap and more than half the field suffered crash damage. When Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won at Talladega last May, he led only 14 laps and, like Keselowski, used a last-lap pass to seal the deal as he overtook Busch in overtime.

Stenhouse and Keselowski as well as Joey Logano, Keselowski’s teammate at Team Penske, should each be factors next weekend. The Ford drivers have combined to win the past six races at Talladega. But don’t be surprised if Busch and Harvick are positioned near the front as the laps dwindle. Neither ran well in the Daytona 500, so that will provide additional motivation in their battle for season supremacy.

“For me, I’d rather the No. 4 win every race, so less people win and the more opportunity for somebody like us to get in (to the playoffs) on points if we need to,” Stenhouse said. “It doesn’t really bother me that a couple people are winning most of the races, but those two are definitely by far the fastest cars out there right now.”

NASCAR: Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick among favorites to take Richmond

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA TODAY SPORTS)  —   Ford Motor Co. announced this week that it will field the Mustang model in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series next season.

The move had been rumored in NASCAR garages for months. Of the three car manufacturers racing in the Cup series, Ford has the “oldest” entry in the Fusion.

In a bit of irony, the Fusion has been out front much of this season. Ford drivers have won four of the first eight races leading into Saturday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway (Fox, 6:30 p.m. ET).

Kevin Harvick, who will be among Saturday’s favorites, has three of those victories. He said the three-quarter-mile track changes from day to night and from moderate to cool temperatures. The race is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. ET, and temperatures are expected to range from the high 50s to the mid 40s during the 400-lap race. (Unlike last week at Bristol, no snow is expected).

“Richmond is a racetrack where you have to have a plan,” Harvick said. “When I say you have to have a plan, you have to know that it’s going to be 50 degrees or high 40s as we go into the night and into the race. As you go from daytime practice where it always seems like the car is pushing, then you’ll go into the night and the car will start turning better. The next thing you know you’re starting to get loose off the corner.

“You have to anticipate where the racetrack is going to go because of the fact the tires wear out so fast. You’re going to have a certain condition of tight throughout the practice sessions, the tires wear out fast and it only seems to get tighter with the cycles on the tires. It’s a very difficult place to practice on, and you have to have a notebook that tells you what the racetrack has done consistently over the past few years.”

 Adding to the challenge for the rest of the field is the fact that Kyle Busch seems to have taken control of the series. Over the last six races, his finishes have been second, second, third, second, first, first. A victory Saturday – he has won four times at Richmond – would give Busch the second “hat trick” of his Cup career.

Busch has an average finish of 7.4 at the track, best among active drivers, but he last won at Richmond in 2012.

“We’ve kind of lost a little bit of what our handle was there a few years ago when we were really good,” Busch said of his Joe Gibbs Racing team. “More rule changes to create parity takes away advantages, and that kind of knocked us back a little bit. We haven’t quite figured out what it takes to get some of that back.”

Busch came on strong late in the race to win Monday at Bristol Motor Speedway in a race that stretched across two days because of weather conditions.

A short preparation week – teams stayed in Bristol an extra day and they’ll be racing a day earlier than in most weeks – probably will strengthen the advantages of veteran drivers and quality teams at Richmond.

Denny Hamlin, Busch’s teammate, has scored three wins at Richmond and will be racing for his first victory of the season Saturday. He has led 1,653 Richmond laps, best among active drivers.

Hamlin has run well this season but has been shut out of victory lane. He finished third in the Daytona 500 and has three other top-six runs, but he also has finished out of the top 10 four times.

Hamlin is among a relatively long list of key drivers who haven’t won this season. Among those still looking are Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott.

Also on the waiting list for a win is Ryan Blaney, who led early at Bristol but was caught up in a crash while in front. He has three top fives.

Darrell Wallace Jr. created a burst of excitement late in the Bristol race by leading six laps in the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43. It marked Wallace’s first time in the lead in a Cup race, but he faded late and finished 16th.

“We are still coming down from Bristol and that rollercoaster ride,” Wallace said. “We’re a small team but making big gains on our program. We wish we could have closed on that deal, but we’re headed to Richmond.”

Scheduled to make his Cup debut this weekend is Xfinity Series regular Daniel Hemric, who will drive a Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.

Golf Roundup: Nicklaus cautions from experience against a Masters letdown

(PhatzRadio Sports / AP)    —   Tiger Woods built his comeback around the Masters, as was the case even in healthier years. He took a step back at Augusta National, not breaking par until the final round and finishing 16 shots behind Patrick Reed, the most he has trailed the Masters winner.

Woods wasn’t alone in his disappointment.

Jordan Spieth geared his early part of the year toward being ready for the Masters, the major he says he most wants to win. He had a two-shot lead after the first round, and rounds of 74-71 meant even that closing 64 wasn’t enough.

Phil Mickelson took himself out of the hunt with a 79 in the second round.

Jack Nicklaus can understand how they feel, and his message for anyone who puts so much emphasis on a green jacket is that the show goes on.

“I had to learn that there were other tournaments in the country after Augusta,” Nicklaus said at the Masters after hitting the ceremonial first tee shot. “I played Augusta a lot of times and lost. I won in ’63, ’65 and ’66, and I just expected to win every year. I thought I would just continue to do that.”

Nicklaus missed the cut in 1967. He says that started a three-year trend in which it took him longer than it should have to get over not winning the Masters.

“That was a humbling experience to miss the cut after you’ve won it twice in a row,” he said. “But then the next couple of years, I think that it probably destroyed the rest of my year. Because I was so disappointed at not winning at Augusta that I had a downer most of the year.”

There’s some truth to that.

He didn’t go more than two tournaments before winning again after the 1963, 1964 and 1965 Masters. After he repeated at Augusta in 1966, he ran off five consecutive top fives before winning the British Open at Muirfield to complete the career Grand Slam.

But after missing the cut in 1967, he went five tournaments without winning and had one stretch of 10 straight rounds in which he failed to break 70. The following year when he tied for fifth at the Masters, Nicklaus didn’t win again until the Western Open the first weekend in August.

And after a tie for 23rd in the 1969 Masters, he didn’t win again until the Sahara Invitational in October.

“I put such a buildup to this tournament and the importance of winning that first major that it was to my detriment more times than a positive,” he said.

Nicklaus figured it out. Over the next four years, he never went more than three events after the Masters before winning again. Twice, in 1971 and 1973, he won in his next start after failing to win the Masters.

CURTIS CUP

Four years after Lucy Li qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open at age 11, the Californian is headed to her first Curtis Cup.

Li was among eight women selected for the June 8-10 matches against amateurs from Britain and Ireland at Quaker Ridge in New York. Li is the first 15-year-old to make the American team since Lexi Thompson in 2010.

The other Americans selected for the team are UCLA star Lilia Vu, Andrea Lee, Jennifer Kupcho, Kristen Gillman, U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Sophia Schubert, Lauren Stephenson and Mariel Galdiano.

Lee and Galdiano played in the most recent Curtis Cup, which Britain & Ireland won in Ireland.

AS THE WORLD TURNS

For the second time since the World Golf Championships began in 1999, the PGA Tour is converting one of its regular tournaments into one of the four WGCs with a big purse ($10 million this year) and a limited field with no cut.

Doral had been longest-running PGA Tour event on the Florida Swing until it morphed into the WGC-CA Championship in 2007.

Now it’s happening in Memphis, Tennessee.

Bridgestone chose not to renew its increasingly expensive title sponsorship of the WGC at Firestone, which had hosted an elite event since 1976. Starting next year, the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational will move to the TPC Southwind in Memphis.

That will assure the strongest field for Memphis, which dates to 1958. But much like Doral in 2007, it becomes off-limits to PGA Tour regulars.

Based on this week’s world ranking, only 16 players in the field for the St. Jude Classic last year would be eligible at a World Golf Championship.

BALANCE AT THE TOP

Each generation believes it had stronger and deeper competition, though there at least appears to be more balance.

Perhaps one way to measure that is through Tiger Woods.

When he won the 2008 U.S. Open for his 14th major, only seven other players in the top 20 in the world ranking had combined for 13 majors. Phil Mickelson (No. 2), Ernie Els (No. 5) and Vijay Singh (No. 9), each had three majors. Geoff Ogilvy (No. 4), Jim Furyk (No. 10), Padraig Harrington (No. 13) and Trevor Immelman (No. 15) each had one.

Just like then, four of the top five in the world have won majors (all but 23-year-old Jon Rahm).

However, 12 of the top 20 in the world from this week’s rankings have won majors. The top 20 includes Mickelson (now with five majors), Rory McIlroy (four majors), Jordan Spieth (three majors) and Bubba Watson (two majors). Eight other players have won at least one major.

It’s certainly younger at the top.

Woods was 32 when he won his last major, and only three players from the top 10 were in their 20s — Scott, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose. This week, seven of the top 10 in the world are in their 20s.

MANAGEMENT MOVES

Jordan Spieth’s manager has come full circle and is returning to IMG, and Jay Danzi is bringing his top client with him.

Danzi has become a partner with California-based William Morris Endeavor, which owns IMG. Included in the move is Jordan Lewites, who was handling much of Spieth’s day-to-day operations, and Laura Moses, who heads up Spieth’s foundation.

Spieth will be represented by WME and IMG.

“Jordan is a world-class talent, and we’re excited to welcome him to the family,” said Patrick Whitesell, executive chairman of Endeavor. “When you look at what he and Jay have already accomplished and consider WME and IMG’s ability to amplify Jordan’s reach across entertainment and sports, the possibilities are endless.”

Danzi previously worked for IMG as global head of recruiting for its golf business. He left the Cleveland-based agency for Wasserman, and then started his own company (Forefront Sports Group) when he signed Spieth. The centerpiece of getting Spieth was a bold endorsement with Under Armour.

Lagardere bought Forefront in 2013. Along with managing the three-time major champion, Danzi was in charge of Lagardere’s brand consulting, sales and golf consulting groups. He left Lagardere last month.

DIVOTS

Ted Potter Jr. tied for 16th in the RBC Heritage, notable because he had missed his last five cuts dating to his victory in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. … Satoshi Kodaira was the first player without PGA Tour status to win a regular PGA Tour event since Arjun Atwal at the Wyndham Championship in 2010. … Cameron Smith, a 24-year-old from Australia, tied for 32nd at Hilton Head last week and moved past Jack Nicklaus on the PGA Tour career money list. … Bryson DeChambeau moved into the top 50 in the world ranking for the first time, at No. 48. … With his tie for fifth in the Masters, Bubba Watson became the 16th player to surpass $40 million in career earnings on the PGA Tour.

STAT OF THE WEEK

Rickie Fowler has been in the top 10 on the leaderboard in 20 out of the 32 rounds he has played this season.

FINAL WORD

“I will probably not wear it every day. But it is special.” — Satoshi Kodaira on the tartan jacket he received for winning at Harbour Town.

NASCAR crew member saves pit stop by catching rogue tire in midair

(PhatzRadio Sports / AP / USA TODAY SPORTS)   —   NASCAR pit crew members are the unsung heroes of racing. They do an enormous amount of heavy lifting, they’re often blamed when something with the car goes wrong and their efficiency during a pit stop can be the difference maker in a victory.

It’s still early in this NASCAR season, but we’ve already seen a couple incredible moments from pit crew members. There was the one guy who literally sprinted up pit road with a giant replacement window in his arms, and just this weekend, we saw a team’s gasman catch on fire during a pit stop and react super casually to it.

After Monday’s Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway – it was postponed from Sunday because of rain – we have our latest hero pit crew member. What did this guy do? He caught a tire in midair, saving his team from getting a penalty.

Paul Menard and his No. 21 Ford team were pitting at the same time as pit box neighbor Ryan Newman. At the top left of the screen, there is a crew member carrying two tires in his arms, and as Newman pulls into his pit box, he hits one of the 21 team’s tires and sends it flying.

This thing is huge, and it hit the pit wall, bounced back in the pit box and looked poised to soar into traffic – which would have dealt the team an uncontrolled tire penalty (and possibly caused an accident).

But this hero crew member had the fast-acting frame of mind to pull down the rogue tire in midair. Just, wow.

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Dennis Bickmeier is days away from hosting a NASCAR weekend, and finally able to relax a bit.

For months, the president of Richmond Raceway has admittedly had days where he was afraid to go inside the track, where a $30 million renovation meant the only vehicles making laps were bulldozers, backhoes and steamrollers. Now, with the track hosting NASCAR Xfinity and Cup Series races Friday and Saturday, it’s ready.

“Patience has been a little bit tough the last couple of weeks, I would say,” Bickmeier said, new asphalt having filled a huge hole in Turn One and more recently replaced the piles of dirt in the redesigned infield. “We know we’re going to be ready to go. It’s just when you see it, when you’re living it every day, it makes you a little bit nervous sometimes, but these guys have done an amazing job on the construction side to get us to this point.”

Projects completed include a massive new garage, with a walkway that by the September race will allow 8,000 to 10,000 fans to watch teams work on the car up close. They’ll access the infield via a new pedestrian tunnel under Turn One that is almost three times as wide as the previous one.

Also, old bleachers have been redesigned into a party deck area in Turn Four. The area will be called “Climax Corner,” and, in a nod to NASCAR’s roots, is sponsored by Virginia-based Climax Moonshine. One dollar from every ticket to the party decks will be donated after the race to local fire departments, Bickmeier said.

Once the weekend is completed, much of the infield asphalt will be pulled up and incorporated into concrete that finishes off the second half of the project in time for the fall face. There will be many new amenities added, too, including a party deck overlooking Victory Lane and gathering areas along the front stretch.

Bickmeier knew the redesign would take 18 months, and make the first weekend challenging.

Especially on days when it rained, or snowed.

“We’ve all been waiting for spring to arrive and so when you come down one day and you see 135 workers on the job site or more, and you come down the next day and there’s like 15, it makes you nervous,” he said. “I’ve tried to not come in as much on those days.”

It wasn’t until last week that visitors were allowed to come into the infield without a hard hat and neon vest, and crews have spent the time since polishing the improvements to make a good first impression on race fans.

“I think they are going to be able to get better contact with the driver and with the team, and that will be an experience,” Bickmeier said. “The fans, it’s going to be a huge change for them.”

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More AP racing coverage: https://racing.ap.org

NASCAR: Kyle Busch heats up frigid Bristol with second Cup Series win in a row

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA TODAY SPORTS)   —    BRISTOL, Tenn. – Innsbruck. Lake Placid. Lillehammer. Sochi.

Bristol?

An East Tennessee visitor who just happened across Monday’s NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway might have imagined this being a Winter Olympics site.

The North Face jackets, blankets in the grandstands and drivers wrapping themselves in layers – even, shockingly, covering up sponsor logos — provided clear evidence of the cold weather and the cutting wind whipping through the turns.

There was sleet – yes, sleet – in late morning at this staple of NASCAR racing. For much of the day, temperatures floated in the 30s. This in mid-April, long after the Easter bunny’s departure and the blooms of early spring.

After snow at Martinsville Speedway on race weekend three weeks ago and Sunday-Monday’s bizarre weather at Bristol, one might begin to wonder about the advisability of racing at Southern short tracks before July 4.

Over two days of racing, BMS saw rain (sometimes heavy, sometimes just a heavy, annoying mist), sleet, what might be generously described as a wintry mix, snow, three red flags (most races have none), two cautions for rain and fans running back and forth to their cars or under the grandstands in futile attempts to outwit the aggressive, wacky weather.

It wasn’t a long day at Bristol, as 500 laps around this tough bowl-shaped track are often described. It was a long two days. Two hundred and four laps were completed on the original race day – Sunday – before NASCAR finally bowed to the inevitable and postponed the remainder of the race to Monday, when weather was predicted to be better.

It was. Occasionally.

In the end, the only winner was Kyle Busch, and that perhaps was the only thing about the whole Bristol adventure that wasn’t surprising.

Busch is a master at Bristol, even across a spectrum of weather. His Monday win was his seventh here, increasing his lead as the active leader in that category.

Although Kyle Larson (he’s still the other Kyle) led big chunks of the two-day race (200 laps total), he was basically a sitting duck while holding the lead in the final stages. Busch was on the move from second place, and Larson’s car wasn’t at its race-best.

With six laps to go, Busch bumped the rear of Larson’s car, sending it up the track between turns three and four, a perfectly executed bump-and-run. This was old-style racing at Bristol, enough to bring forth waves of nostalgia from the few thousand hardy fans sitting in the frigid grandstands.

Busch was so strong and Larson was declining so rapidly that Busch probably would have run to the front easily over the last five laps without the bump. Not wise to take chances, though, so Busch followed the logical path. Larson offered little resistance, ultimately finishing second by .62 of a second.

Busch has started the season in a big way. His record over the past six races is phenomenal — finishes of 2, 2, 3, 2, 1, 1. He leads the points by 59 and has 12 playoff points, tying Kevin Harvick for the lead in that column.

Part of that success comes from having the same core of crewmen, along with crew chief Adam Stevens, for several years.

“Our group is pretty cool,” Busch said. “I enjoy working with my guys an awful lot, and I just feel like we’re clicking on all eight cylinders right now. That’s just a great thing to have, and it gives you a lot of confidence when you can go to the racetrack with these guys.”

That led to a friendly exchange with team owner Joe Gibbs, who was sitting beside Busch. “Joe is going to have to pay them a lot in order to keep them all as a group, so that’s fortunately not my problem,” Busch said.

Gibbs was ready. “You’re making all the money; why don’t you pay them?” he said.

Busch replied that he might have to go to the “Tom Brady effect” and take a cut in order to keep the team together.

Might take a few accountants to do all the figuring.

As Busch rolled into victory lane, light snow blew across the speedway.

It was a logical meteorological finish to a strange visit to Bristol.

NASCAR: Busch brothers will start on the front row at Bristol

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BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) — Kyle and Kurt Busch haven’t always seen eye-to-eye.

But as years have passed NASCAR’s iciest sibling rivalry has thawed a little bit, at least to the point where they can joke around a little bit.

Kurt Busch did just that Friday after Kyle Busch edged him out by 0.002 seconds to take the pole for the Cup Series race Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“I can walk up to him and say, ‘Yeah, I let you have it’ and he will giggle. He will actually laugh,” Kurt Busch said.

It marks the third time the Busch brothers have started on the front row together, and the first since 2013. In all three cases, Kyle started first and Kurt second.

“He always told everybody if you think I’m good, just wait for my younger brother,” joked Kyle Busch.

Kurt Busch said he messed up in turn one, which cost him a shot at a second straight Cup Series pole.

“If I am going to get beat by somebody if I don’t hit a perfect lap I would rather it be my little brother,” Kurt Busch said.

There was a time when the Busch brothers rarely spoke at all.

But Kurt Busch said they do communicate now.

“It’s better now with age,” he said of their relationship. “Like wine, it gets better with time. You let it settle.”

Last year the Busch finished 1-2 at Sonoma with Kyle Busch holding off his older brother. There is a chance that could happen again Sunday as they were clearly the two fastest cars in all three rounds of qualifying at the half-mile track.

“It was tough years ago for a few times, but lately I guess we have been racing each other a little better,” Kyle Busch said. “Overall we just need to keep trying to make sure they are good battles and clean battles and not ugly ones.”

Things to watch at the Cup Series race on Sunday:

FORDS DOMINATE: Kyle Busch had the only Toyota in the top 10.

He was followed by four Fords, with Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ryan Blaney rounding out the top five. In all seven, Fords will start in the top 10.

HARVICK’S TOUGH BREAK: Kevin Harvick will have to start Sunday’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway at the back of the field after crashing in practice. Harvick’s suspension broke on a practice lap in the morning and his car took a right turn into the outside wall.

Under new rules installed this year Harvick will have to start at the back of the field because he went to a backup car.

“It definitely wasn’t a tire failure or anything like that, but just going in the corner as soon as I let off the gas it just hung a right, so it’s unfortunate but we’ll get another one out and do it again,” said Harvick, who is fourth in the NASCAR standings and has six top 10 finishes in seven starts.

WHAT HAPPENED THERE: Harvick has company with some other top drivers starting at the back of the field. Denny Hamlin will start 25th and Martin Truex Jr. 26th after failing to get out of the first round of qualifying.

TURN FOUR SLICK: The track was a little slick with several drivers having some trouble coming out of turn four.

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Kyle Busch: All-Star race rules ‘not what I signed up for’

BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) — Kyle Busch is growing tired of stock car racing’s governing body trying to manufacture tighter competition in the annual All-Star race at the expense of the Cup Series’ heavy hitters.

“That’s not what I signed up to be a NASCAR driver for is to scrunch the field up and take the advantage away from those guys that are fast,” said Busch, last year’s All-Star race winner.

In its seemingly never-ending quest to make the All-Star race more competitive and create more passing opportunities, NASCAR announced this week it will test a different aerodynamic package at the May 19 event at Charlotte Motor Speedway by requiring cars to have restrictor plates.

Several recent All-Star races have featured one driver getting out in front of the field while running in clean air — and not being able to be caught.

The plates are used to choke horsepower and slow speeds, thus bunching up the crowd in an effort to make the race a little more exciting for fans.

That drew a groan from the often animated and outspoken Busch, who has 44 career Cup victories.

“I’m not sure that you can fabricate racing to being anything better than what exists, you know?” said the 32-year-old Busch. “People say how great it was back in the day, but you had two guys or three guys on the lead lap sometimes. Richard Petty would win races by two laps at places and now you have 25 cars on the lead lap and competition is as close as it’s ever been. People are complaining about it that there is a lack of competition. I don’t know what you expect to be competition — you want the last-place guy to be able to be the first-place guy. There’s always going to be a last-place guy.”

The aero package was used at an Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year. There were record numbers of leaders, lead changes and green flag passes for the lead.

In an attempt to replicate that for next month’s All-Star race, each car will be fitted with aero ducts, a 6-inch-high spoiler with two 12-inch ears and a restrictor plate, among other modifications. Restrictor plates are used at Daytona and Talladega, the two biggest and fastest tracks on the schedule.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. said he’ll wait to offer an opinion until he sees how the restrictor-plate racing plays out at Charlotte.

“I think the racing will probably be a lot closer,” Stenhouse said. “I do think that when you reduce the speeds the handling isn’t as big of an issue and so I think the racing will be probably a little more intense. We’ll just have to see how the fans like it. I think that’s the biggest thing we want to do is to make sure the fans enjoy our races.”

Busch also wants to see close racing.

But he doesn’t want it to come at the expense of those who should be rewarded for the work they put in setting up their cars during the week.

“The fact of the matter is that we’re trying to orchestrate something that doesn’t quite exist,” said Busch, who is looking for his second straight Cup win on Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway after capturing the checkered flag last weekend at Texas.

Busch joked that you simply can’t make everyone happy.

“Be miserable like me — and then nothing will surprise you,” Busch said, drawing a laugh from the room full of reporters. “I think if you wanted pink ice cream with white frosting on it, you would say, ‘Man, I really wish I had white ice cream with pink frosting.’ It’s just everybody wants the opposite of what they see and what they get.”

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

 

NASCAR returns to short track at ‘streaking’ Bristol Motor Speedway

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(PhatzRadio Sports / USA TODAY SPORTS)   —   BRISTOL, Tenn. – Bristol Motor Speedway, the high-banked short track that has been a staple of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series since 1961, lends itself to streaking.

The most successful “streaker” at BMS is former Cup champion and now Fox Sports analyst Darrell Waltrip, who won seven consecutive races from 1981 to 1984. No one has come close to matching Waltrip’s accomplishment (and no one is likely to), but several current drivers have produced repeat success at Bristol.

Kurt Busch won three in a row in 2003-04, a streak that could have reached five except that Jeff Gordon got in the way, winning the fall race in 2002 after Busch won in the spring.

Kyle Busch, Kurt’s younger brother, swept the 2009 BMS races and won two more in a row after Jimmie Johnson won the spring race in 2010.

The Busch brothers will be among the favorites in Sunday’s Food City 500, the second short-track race of the Cup season.

Kyle Busch won at BMS last August, breaking a tie with Kurt for the most wins at the track by active drivers – six. That weekend was a highlight of Kyle’s season, as he won all three NASCAR races – Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck — at BMS.

Kyle said drivers typically enjoy racing at the bowl-like Bristol track, where cars reach ridiculous speeds for a half-mile course.

“You go down the straightaway and you slam it into the corners and you mash the gas and you kind of sling right back out of the corners,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun to do that. It’s kind of an art. Some guys are really good at it, and some find a knack that makes them really good at it and makes it seem easy.”

The track has tried a variety of methods to spice up competition in recent years, including grinding portions of the track surface and spreading “sticky” material across the bottom groove in attempts to encourage drivers to run there.

“It’s a grind,” AJ Allmendinger said of 500 laps at Bristol. “You never really get a breath. What they do with the VHT (material) that’s stuck on the track can help you decide what line you’re going to run, and it can affect a lot of things throughout the race.

“It’s 500 laps of holding on and knowing that it’s a challenge. But it’s a fun racetrack, and it’s one of those racetracks where if you can finish inside the top 10 or especially win the race, you really feel like you’ve accomplished something special.”

BUSCH DOMINATION

Brothers Kurt Busch, 39, and Kyle Busch, 32, are among the active leaders in many statistical categories at Bristol Motor Speedway (ranking among active drivers in parentheses):

KURT BUSCH

Races: 34

Wins: five (second)

Top five finishes: 10 (third)

Top 10 finishes: 17 (tied second)

Laps led: 1,062 (second)

*Average finish: 14.9 (fifth)

Lead-lap finishes: 20 (third)

Last win: March 2006

KYLE BUSCH

Races: 25

Wins: six (first)

Top five finishes: nine (fourth)

Top 10 finishes: 14 (fifth)

Laps led: 2,116 (first)

*Average finish: 14.6 (fourth)

Lead lap finishes: 16 (tied sixth)

Last win: August 2017

*-Minimum six races

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