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(Photo by John Hunter Nemechek)

Wooooo! NASCAR driver honors wrestler Ric Flair on helmet

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John Hunter Nemechek has never met “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, but Nemechek will honor the Hall of Fame wrestler with a neon-colored helmet that features a portrait of Flair on the back. The helmet, designed by Off Axis Paint, will debut this month at Daytona International Speedway.

The 18-year-old NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver learned about Flair from his father, Joe Nemechek, who was a big fan of the wrestler.

“I always heard dad talk about Ric Flair as one of his idols,” John Hunter Nemechek told NASCAR Talk. “A bunch of the guys in the shop … pretty much everyone is a big Ric Flair fan. We’re hoping to get him out to a race at one point.”

When his dad saw the helmet, what was his reaction?

“He just smiled and laughed,” Nemechek said.

Nemechek admits that Flair, a 16-time world heavyweight champion, can provide inspiration for this upcoming season, noting Flair’s success.

“Hopefully, we can be the champs,” said Nemechek, who scored his first Truck win last year at Chicagoland Speedway and finished 12th in the points despite missing five races because he was not old enough to compete on the larger tracks at the time.

To be champion, Nemechek will have to follow one of Flair’s famous sayings: “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.”

 

Hendrick Motorsports wins and loses in Pure Michigan 400

BROOKLYN, MI - AUGUST 28:  Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, leads Chase Elliott, driver of the #24 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 28, 2016 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
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When Chase Elliott spun his tires on the final restart of the Pure Michigan 400, it set up yet another finish without Hendrick Motorsports in victory lane.

Hendrick has gone 19 races since its last victory, which matches a stretch from 1992 – 1993 for the team that has 11 Sprint Cup titles.

It led to Elliott’s second runner-up finish at Michigan this season after spinning tires on a final restart.

“My guys did such a good job today of making the most of pit road,” Elliott said. “That was the only place you could make a large sum of ground in a short period of time. They did exactly what I asked them to do. I said ‘you guys are going to have to bail me out here I messed up.’ They did they got us the lead just like I asked and I gave it away again. It’s one of those things where you do or you don’t and I didn’t.

Hendrick hasn’t won since Jimmie Johnson‘s victory at Auto Club Speedway in March. Johnson actually led 37 laps Saturday, his first since leading a lap from the pole at New Hampshire five races ago. He hadn’t led more than five laps since he led 44 at Richmond on April 24.

After Johnson qualified second, a slow pit stop due to a fueling error dropped him in the pack from the lead.

He worked his way to finish sixth after an unscheduled stop when Johnson thought he had a right-rear tire going down. It’s Johnson’s first consecutive top-10 finish since April.

“Yeah, just a very good day for all of Hendrick Motorsports,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, one of our cars didn’t win today … … To rally back and end up sixth is good. We are working hard and it’s nice to see the speed showing. There has been a lot of hard work for months and months and months going into this. We didn’t see the consistency in speed that we wanted, but this weekend we’ve had it from day one until now.”

Behind Johnson was Kasey Kahne, who finished 14th, his second consecutive top 15 and his third in four races.

The real odd-man out was Alex Bowman, who was substituting for Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the second time in six races. Driving a No. 88 car sponsored by the University of Michigan, Bowman started sixth and ran as high as fourth. But around Lap 40, Bowman began losing power and dropped to 30th as the team attempted to figure out the problem.

After a visit to the garage, which led to the repair of an ignition issue, Bowman returned to the track where he finished 35th, five laps down.

Even though Hendrick didn’t send one of its drivers to victory lane, it was represented there by one of its engines. Kyle Larson‘s No. 42 Chevrolet, though owned by Chip Ganassi Racing, is powered by a Hendrick engine.

That gave Hendrick engines a 1-2 finish at the track located in the backyard of the three major American car manufacturers.

Jeff Andrews, the head engine builder for Hendrick, tweeted his excitement over the afternoon.

Hendrick has 14 wins at Darlington Raceway, the next stop on the Sprint Cup Series.

After Bowman’s stint in the No. 88, seven-time Darlington winner Jeff Gordon will return to make his fifth substitute start for Earnhardt.

Brad Keselowski fails post-race inspection at Michigan

BROOKLYN, MI - AUGUST 28:  Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, races Greg Biffle, driver of the #16 Roush Performance Ford, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 28, 2016 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
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Brad Keselowski failed inspection after finishing third in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

The No. 2 Miller Lite Ford failed the Laser Inspection Station. Any penalties will be announced this coming week.

Race winner Kyle Larson, second-place Chase Elliott, and seventh-place Carl Edwards, the random car, all passed at-track inspection. Their three cars will be brought back to the NASCAR Research and Development Center for further inspection early this week.

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What drivers said after the Pure Michigan 400

BROOKLYN, MI - AUGUST 28:  Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, leads Chase Elliott, driver of the #24 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 28, 2016 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images
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Here’s what drivers and a crew chief said after Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

Kyle Larson — WINNER: “I was teared up that whole last few laps because I could just feel it. It was finally going to be it. This one is for the Clauson family. We really miss Bryan. We love you guys. We’re going to miss him. We parked it for him, so that’s really cool. We had a lot of work to do for that first third of the race, and got it done. (On final restart) “We both spun our tires really bad. And (Brad Keselowski) pushed me really good. He could have probably pulled underneath me and went by. But he stayed with me and got me the lead. So, thanks to him. I had a lot of fun.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 2nd: “Bummer again here. I hate to let my guys down is the biggest thing. For the second time, this has happened. I made a mistake early on in the race. I asked my guys to bail me out, and they did. Unfortunately, I didn’t do my part again.That’s a couple races in a row in just a few short months here at this place we had a really good car, had an opportunity. That’s one thing I try really hard to do is make the most of opportunities when they’re presented. Obviously I didn’t do a very good job of that here both trips. Need to do my restarts a little better. That’s obviously not a strong point, at least here at Michigan. Think about that some, and I guess take the positives. We were strong I felt like as a company today, which was encouraging. Look at that, try to get to Darlington.’’

BRAD KESELOWSKI — Finished 3rd: “It was a typical crazy restart at Michigan here at the end. It is about getting a good launch and push. It looked like Kyle (Larson) got a good launch and maybe something happened to (Chase Elliott). I was able to give him a push, a really hard push, and got sideways there and was able to get the lead. (Larson) just drove away.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 4th: “We were up towards the front most of the day, and some runs were better than others. It is kind of a decent day for us. It is nothing to complain about. I thought we were in a decent spot there that last restart, and it didn’t work out great. Congrats to (Kyle) Larson. That is cool to see a rookie winning. These are the days we need. These are the days this team deserves. We always want to win in Ford’s backyard, but we will go on to Darlington and try to get it done there.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 5th: “We just lost the handle there on the last couple of runs. For whatever reason we got really loose in and then after that on the restart we were tight on two tires. Everybody on our Jimmy John’s/Busch Beer Chevrolet did a good job we just didn’t quite have what we need to to win the race today.”

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 6th: “Just a very good day for all of Hendrick Motorsports. Unfortunately, one of our cars didn’t win today.  We had an issue with some fueling on pit road that dropped us back.  Then I thought I had a right-rear tire going down. To rally back and end up sixth is good. We are working hard, and it’s nice to see the speed showing. There has been a lot of hard work for months and months and months going into this. We didn’t see the consistency in speed that we wanted, but this weekend we’ve had it from day one until now.  It’s going in the right direction.”

Carl Edwards — Finished 7th: “We really struggled badly most of the day. Dave (Rogers, crew chief) did a great job there at the end. Just a little disappointed, I thought we would have been a lot better than that. We’ll just have to regroup, figure it out and talk to our teammates. We’ll figure it out.”

Jamie McMurray – Finished 8th: “Well I thought we were going to be better than that in practice. I thought that (Kyle Larson) and our cars were really comparable. An awesome job by him to get his first win here. I had a really good restart at the end and probably finished better than we should have and finished ahead of the guys that we needed to.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 9th: “We just struggled with speed – really a lot of little things. The car was tight then it was loose but really just lacked the speed that the leaders had for the most part. Struggled on restarts a little bit, too, on the bottom lane. Overall, we had about a fifth-place car, and we ended up in the top 10, so not too bad.”

Joey Logano — Finished 10th: “We kind of ended on a down note there. I don’t know. We lost our track position early in the race, which hurt us and then we got our car balance fixed, but it is so hard to pass. To get back up there was challenging. We came back down pit road there at the end to take four (tires) and somehow I guess (Kevin Harvick) car hooked our air gun and send the rear air gun flying, and we lost time in the pits. We were the last car on the lead lap on that last run and got back to 10th so I am proud of the effort this weekend. The pole was nice. We just weren’t as competitive as we were in the spring race. Our car drove the same, everyone just got better.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 12th: “We gave it a battle. We were just lucky with where the yellows fell to maintain our position. Overall, we just couldn’t attack because we were way too loose today. Unfortunate. Everything fell our way at the end to get a nice 12th-place finish, but we’ve got some things we need to iron out, and other things that we need to focus on for the Chase.  We’ve got a couple of weeks here, and we will be at our best come Chase time.”

AJ Allmendinger – Finished 15th: “That is the best we have been here for sure. We made a lot of gains, and our long run car was really good. Just never could get going on restarts. I couldn’t figure out where I needed to run. That last caution hurt us a lot. Just didn’t get a good restart. I didn’t get to the outside quick enough, and then we were just too loose there. I still should have gotten to the top earlier. I was trying to see what was going to happen, and I didn’t get to the outside quick enough. Just wish I would have got more there. I thought we deserved better than a 15th, but we haven’t been close to being 15th here in three years. It’s definitely a lot of gains there. Overall happy, but just in the short term, disappointed with the finish.” 

Austin Dillon – Finished 16th: “During the race, the car just wasn’t very good on takeoff but we excelled on long runs. We posted some of the fastest lap times of the race at the end of runs. I wish we had a little bit more today but overall, we’re still looking good in the point standings and even stayed out to lead a lap today. Our goal remains the same–to win a race and make it into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Hopefully, we can do that at Darlington Raceway next weekend.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 17th: “Luke Lambert and the Freightliner team definitely improved our Chevy over the course of today’s race.  They worked hard all race long to adjust to the slick conditions that were out there. We raced in the top-16 for the first half of the race but then made big gains to climb into the top-10 and to be honest, that’s really what I was expecting for our finish. On the final restart, we lined up 11th in the low line and it really hurt us. The line stalled and it resulted in a sub-par finishing position. We were a much better car than 17th. I’m looking forward to Darlington Raceway next week. It’s my favorite track so I hope it’s where we can clinch a Chase spot.”

Paul Menard – Finished 18th: “We struggled early on during a run, but this Chevy got significantly better on the longer green flag stints. On that last restart we were just too tight, and fell back a few positions crossing the line in 18th-place. We definitely deserved a top-10 today.  I’m looking forward to Darlington this upcoming weekend, and honoring Al Unser, Jr. with our Valvoline / Menards throwback scheme.”

CREW CHIEF ADAM STEVENS (Kyle Busch) — Finished 19th: “The finishing order makes it look that way, but we actually had a pretty fast car. We ran some really fast laps, but we just got in a bad spot there on the restart and got sucked around and wore off part of our splitter, but even after that, we were one of the probably five or six quickest cars on the racetrack, and just whenever we got in the lucky dog spot, we ran there for I can’t tell you how many laps and just didn’t get a caution. The leaders started lapping cars again, and we just couldn’t catch that caution to get back on the lead lap and really show what we had.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 20th: “We were never the same after that pit stop (where the left rear wasn’t on when the jack was dropped). We made a number of unscheduled stops to try to fix the problem, but the damage was just too severe to overcome.”

Tony Stewart — Finished 21st: “Everyone fought hard today.”

DANICA PATRICK — Finished 23rd: “We were hoping to have a little different outcome today, but it was extremely difficult to gain positions with the long, green runs. I have to thank (crew chief) Billy (Scott) and the guys for their hard work today. It sounds like everyone was having similar issues, and they kept telling me to remain consistent and make the moves for position when I could. I felt like I was racing the same guys all day for the same spots. I might have had a better car timewise, but it was just really difficult to get past some of those guys. We’ll keep working at it and see if we can improve next weekend in Darlington.”

Trevor Bayne — Finished 24th: “We’ll rebound from this. We just needed some help through the center of the corner all race long and those long runs really affected us trying to make up track position.”

Chris Buescher — Finished 35th: “I know it isn’t fun opening a hood of a race car that is as hot at it is and trying to work on it. Kudos to my guys for keeping their heads down and working at it and getting it fixed. Usually when you have engine trouble you are along for the ride. It ended up being something a little bit more simple than I guess we originally figured. We got back up and running and made some laps and made a really terrible day into just an OK day. Now we get to go to Darlington, and I am excited for that. I was excited for here. Even with the troubles we had the balance was really good so it is a shame we didn’t really get to participate today.”

Points shake-up after Michigan: Chris Buescher clings to 30th; Ryan Newman outside cut line

BROOKLYN, MI - AUGUST 26:  Chris Buescher, driver of the #34 Dockside Logistics Ford, waits for qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway on August 26, 2016 in Brooklyn, Michigan.  (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
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Kyle Larson‘s victory at Michigan International Speedway secured a measure for postseason security for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver while raising the uncertainty for others.

Larson, who entered the Pure Michigan 400 below the cut line for making the Chase for the Sprint Cup on points, effectively locked up a playoff spot with the inaugural win in his 99th Sprint Cup start.

With Darlington Raceway and Richmond International Raceway left in the regular season, three winless drivers are clinging to provisional spots in the Chase on points: Chase Elliott (27 points ahead of the cutoff), Austin Dillon (+21) and Jamie McMurray (+15), Larson’s teammate.

Ryan Newman, who is aiming to make the Chase for the third consecutive season at Richard Childress Racing, is out of a playoff spot by 15 points.

The points situation also changed markedly for Chris Buescher, who needs to be in the top 30 in points to make the playoffs through his win at Pocono Raceway.

Buescher battled early engine problems in his No. 34 Ford and finished 35th. Buescher remained 30th in the rankings but his margin over David Ragan fell from 13 to seven points.

“It felt more like 400 laps than 200,” Buescher told NBCSN’s Kelli Stavast. “I’m really proud of these guys. I know how bad it is to open the hood and work on an engine at operating temperature. They fought hard all day to get it back rolling. We’ll go to Darlington with a positive outlook.”

If Buescher falls outside the top 30 over the next two races, it would open up another spot for a winless driver such as Newman.

The standings:

Michigan points_Page_1