Sprint Cup

NASCAR penalizes Brad Keselowski, crew chief for Michigan infraction

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Brad Keselowski was docked 10 points Wednesday and crew chief Paul Wolfe was fined $15,000 after the No. 2 car failed NASCAR’s post-race laser inspection station following a third-place finish Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.

The penalty is somewhat in line with three similar infractions earlier in the season, although to a lesser degree. Matt Kenseth (New Hampshire), Kasey Kahne (Dover) and Kyle Larson (June Michigan race) all lost 15 points and saw their crew chiefs fined $25,000 following post-race inspection failures.

Keselowski remains second in the Sprint Cup Series point standings following the penalty, which has no bearing on the upcoming Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff.


BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) — When Kyle Larson was trying to hold off Chase Elliott at Michigan International Speedway last weekend, this much was certain: One of them was going to win a Sprint Cup race for the first time.

The next generation of NASCAR standouts has quite an opportunity over these next couple months. With Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart fading from prominence and Dale Earnhardt Jr. sidelined with concussion problems, a handful of younger drivers have emerged in impressive fashion of late.

The 24-year-old Larson ended up winning at Michigan, with the 20-year-old Elliott coming in second. Ryan Blaney was fourth, equaling the highest finish of the 22-year-old’s career.

“When we took that last restart I saw three guys up there that hadn’t won before,” six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson said. “In my mind I thought, ‘Man, I hope one of these guys gets it.'”

Larson wrapped up a spot in the Chase with his victory at Michigan, and Elliott seems likely to get in, too. Chris Buescher has a berth waiting for him if the 23-year-old can remain in the top 30 in points. His victory at Pocono was the first of his career.

Last year’s Chase did not include a single driver under 25.

Gordon retired at the end of last season, although he’s been back behind the wheel recently to replace the injured Earnhardt. Elliott has replaced Gordon in the No. 24 car and has 12 top-10 finishes this year, an encouraging sign amid a tough year for Hendrick Motorsports.

Gordon’s retirement as a full-time driver and Earnhardt’s concussion problems have driven home the fact that NASCAR won’t be able to rely on its biggest names forever. Stewart plans to retire after this season, and even Johnson is all the way down in ninth place in the standings.

The first race at Michigan back in June had the youngest top three in Sprint Cup history, with Joey Logano (26) finishing ahead of Elliott and Larson. Last weekend, it was Larson and Elliott going 1-2. Both were driving Chevrolets.

“Chevy has had a fortunate lineup of drivers and team owners, some of the very best in the industry,” said Jim Campbell, vice president of performance vehicles and motorsports for Chevrolet. “As some of them retire, and we are working with our team owners to bring guys in like Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson, it really bodes well for the future. We’re proud of those guys. They’re incredibly talented and surrounded by great teams.”

Larson’s victory snapped a 99-race losing skid for Chip Ganassi Racing, and the owner expressed confidence that his young driver wouldn’t be making a jump to another team any time soon.

“His contract came up one time. I said, ‘What do you think about these other teams that are talking to you?’ I’ll never forget his answer. He said, ‘They all had a shot at me the first time around and they passed,'” Ganassi said. “To say he’s the foundation of the team, sure. Any time you have a young guy come along that can win, sure, you want to rally around that.”

Larson was the first graduate of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity and NASCAR Next programs to win a Sprint Cup race. It happened in his 99th start.

“I wouldn’t have been surprised if he won in his first two or three starts, and wouldn’t be surprised if it took him 10 years. There’s no guarantees at this level,” said Brad Keselowski, who finished third Sunday. “There’s too many pieces. Being a great driver alone is not enough to guarantee success. Everything has to come together. … I look forward to racing him and Chase and Ryan Blaney and all those guys for years to come.”

NASCAR: Chase for the Sprint Cup bubble tightens with Kyle Larson win

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(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today)    —-   BROOKLYN, Mich. — After Kyle Larson’s victory Sunday and Tony Stewart’s clinching of a top-30 spot in the standings, there are 12 drivers who have secured Chase for the Sprint Cup berths with two races remaining in the regular season.

Here’s a look at who is in the remaining spots (for now), who is on the bubble and who is out after the stop at Michigan International Speedway:


Elliott is in and likely to stay there. The rookie barely missed a victory Sunday, but he’s still 27 points ahead of Ryan Newman for the final Chase position as the top non-winning driver in the points.


Larson’s win turned the heat up on Dillon a little bit. He’s now only 21 points ahead of Richard Childress Racing teammate Newman for the last spot on points, which lessens the margin for error.


McMurray slid down to the Chase bubble position when Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Larson won Sunday. Newman is 15 points behind, which means McMurray has to have solid runs at Darlington Raceway and Richmond International Raceway while hoping there’s no surprise winner at either track.


By far the biggest loser Sunday, Newman goes from comfortably inside the Chase to completely out of it. He now either needs to catch one of the aforementioned drivers on points or hope Chris Buescher falls out of the top 30 to open another spot.


It’s win-or-nothing for those drivers in the next two races. If they don’t win, they won’t make the Chase.


Here’s the tricky part of this whole scenario: Buescher has a win but needs to stay in the top 30. However, his lead is only seven points over David Ragan, currently 31st. The rookie will have to avoid a bad night at Darlington for starters.


Following Sunday’s race at Michigan International Speedway, Jamie McMurray, front, would be the last driver to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, while Kasey Kahne would be on the outside looking in.(Photo: Josh Hedges, Getty Images)

NASCAR: Harvick loves new Bristol Motor Speedway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

NASCAR: Will high grip in low lane give Bristol missing drama?

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(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today)     —-   The bottom lane of Bristol Motor Speedway’s half-mile track looks like a child took a large black crayon and colored the concrete.

Hey, whatever works.

Bristol’s attempt to change how the track races seems to have paid off – at least for now – and it should provide Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race with some intrigue (8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network).

Exactly how is unclear. Will the bottom lane, covered with rubber and a tacky substance, be the preferred line as it was during Wednesday night’s Camping World Truck Series race? Or will the top lane get faster, as has been the case in recent years?

If the changes make the track race anything like the “old” Bristol, fans should be happy.

Ever since Bristol reconfigured its surface in 2007, fans have complained they miss the former version. That was when there was a single preferred lane on the bottom of the track and drivers often impatiently bumped one another out of the way to pass.

It created sparks and crashes, fostered drama and tempers – and lots of ticket sales. The Bristol night race was once the hottest ticket in sports, and Bristol sold out for 55 straight races overall until 2010.

That’s not the case anymore. Attendance at Bristol’s race in April was particularly jarring, as cars raced around in front of tens of thousands of empty seats in the 146,000-seat venue.

Bristol tried something different for this week, though. It used what industry types are calling the “tire dragon” or “tire monster” – a machine that drags tires on the track and forcibly lays rubber down to create grip.

In addition, acting on the advice of several top drivers, Bristol covered the lower lane with a sealant called PJ1 TrackBite (formerly known as VHT). The substance is used at NHRA tracks to increase grip and, according to a product description on Jegs.com, it “achieves added traction by means of adhesion and does not soften tires.”

When the Truck Series drivers unlocked its potential this week, the lower lane was more than a half-second faster per lap than the high line.

But what’s the difference between a single-file lane on the low side and a single-file lane on the high side? For one thing, it was nearly impossible to bump someone out of the way on the high side; after all, there was nowhere to go. If the low line is the place to be, perhaps the old bump-and-run (or spin-and-run) will return.

That’s not pure racing, which most fans think of as side-by-side battles and clean passing. But Bristol isn’t about purity and gentlemanly conduct, which is what track officials overlooked when they listened to the drivers and created a track with progressive banking.

People come to Bristol for the action, the excitement, the anger. They want to see Tony Stewart get so mad that he throws his helmet (as he did at Matt Kenseth in 2012) or hear Brad Keselowski call Kyle Busch a bad name on the track’s public address system (as he did during driver introductions in 2010). That’s why the track’s nickname is the “Last Great Colosseum” – gladiators don’t battle with manners and respect.

Bristol’s upcoming college football game between Virginia Tech and Tennessee can’t hog all the big hits and wow-worthy moments; NASCAR used to have a monopoly on those things in the Tennessee hills.

So if a bunch of rubber and a sticky substance helps Make Bristol Great Again, then fans are in for a fun weekend of racing.

NASCAR: Carl Edwards still chasing elusive championship

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(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today)    —    BOSTON — When Carl Edwards won four races and finished third in Sprint Cup points in 2005, his first full-time season at stock car racing’s highest level, he earned a place in the somewhat short line of presumptive future champions.

With a list of skills that included performing backflips off his winning vehicles and an engaging personality that made him attractive to sponsors, Edwards needed only to prove himself on track against major-league competition. He did that quickly, enhancing the race wins in 2005 by challenging eventual champion Tony Stewart and second-place Greg Biffle at the top of the standings.

Eleven years have passed, however, and Edwards still sits outside the throne room. He’ll turn 37 in August. Like many others who watched him in the early years of his NASCAR journey, Edwards figured he’d have that first title in hand this deep into his career.

After finishing third in 2005, he was second to Jimmie Johnson in 2008 and second to Stewart in 2011, a title decided in Stewart’s favor using a tiebreaker. (Those championships were determined before NASCAR switched to the current elimination system in the Chase).

“I was really close in those three years,” Edwards told USA TODAY Sports. “Looking back, I could have won the championship in any one of those years. It’s going to make the championship really special when I get it. I’m not sure I would have appreciated it in 2005.”

Edwards has won 27 Sprint Cup races and established himself as one of the best drivers of his generation. The championship remains the flag not taken, though.

“To begin with, my goal was to make a living driving a race car,” he said. “I thought that would be great. Then when Jack Roush gave me an opportunity in the Cup series, I thought just winning a race would be spectacular. Now that I’ve won a bunch of races, my goal is simply to win the championship. That’s it.”

Edwards made the difficult decision two years ago to leave Roush Fenway Racing, which was (and still is) having performance issues, and move to Joe Gibbs Racing, a team on the rise. He landed in Toyotas in a Sprint Cup environment which demands more of its champions in a difficult playoff format.

“The goal is still out there,” Edwards said. “I’ve learned a lot. I’m a lot more prepared to battle for it now. I think I’m as good as I’ve ever been, and I think I have the best opportunity I’ve ever had.”


Carl Edwards, right, lost the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship to Tony Stewart, left, on a tiebreaker.(Photo: Chuck Burton, AP)

Follow Hembree on Twitter @mikehembree

NASCAR adds penalties for teams that ignore lug nuts

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — NASCAR has added mandatory fines and other penalties for teams caught without five lug nuts on each wheel.

The move announced Monday comes less than a week after three-time series champion Tony Stewart urged NASCAR to take action. The series had stopped monitoring lug nuts during pit stops, and some teams were using fewer than five, allowing them to send cars out faster in hopes of getting better position and a better finish.

NASCAR can only check for every lug nut before and after a race, but may call a car back to pit road during a race.

The series said a tire falling off in a Sprint Cup race due to “improper installation” would mean a minimum four-race suspension of the crew chief and other pit crew members involved. If lug nuts are found missing after a race, Cup teams face at least a $20,000 fine and a one-race suspension for the crew chief.

Veteran crew chief Rodney Childers, who works with 2014 NASCAR champion Kevin Harvick, reacted to the change on Twitter by saying “I will sit at home for a week at some point.” Childers noted that rarely does his car end a race with all 20 lug nuts still attached.

The penalties are less for the Xfinity and Truck series, but still substantial for the lower-funded teams.

“Our job is whenever there’s a safety improvement to make or a policy to enhance things, we will just do that,” NASCAR CEO Brian France said Monday during an interview with SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “It’s as simple as that. There’s not a controversial thing. Our whole system is based on safe and competitive racing. If we can make an adjustment to make things safer, we just simply will.”

Stewart was fined $35,000 for his criticism, and that fine stands.

NASCAR said a “long-term solution” was in the works.

“They’re just trying to get it right and we’re trying to get it right,” France said. “And, by the way, we will. We have for 60 years and we will always sort out, especially when it comes to safety — you can mark that down — that we will get to the right to the right place as fast as we can. That’s Job 1 for us.”


Tony Stewart takes on gas and gets new tires during a pit stop during the Sprint Cup auto race at Richmond International Raceway in Richmond, Va., Sunday, April 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Chet Strange)

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