Long: Sunday drive right move for three of JGR cars

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — It went against every tenet a sport of speed is built upon.

It went against every instinct drivers have.

It worked just as Joe Gibbs Racing planned.

Run at the back of the pack.

With three JGR cars not needing a top-20 finish to clinch a spot in the Round of 8, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch fell to the back Sunday before the green flag at Talladega Superspeedway and stayed there until the checkered flag.

“The easiest thing in the world is to just say, ‘Hell with it, we’re going to go race, we’re going to do everything we can and not worry about it,’ but that’s foolish,’’ Edwards said after finishing 29th, sandwiched between Kenseth (28th) and Busch (30th). “This is the format. We have to do what it takes to advance.’’

Kenseth, Edwards and Busch joined teammate Denny Hamlin, who had to race his way into a transfer spot with a third-place finish, as among the eight drivers left competing for the Sprint Cup title.

Among those who failed to advance Sunday were Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski. Each has won four races, tied with Busch and Kevin Harvick for most victories this season. That doesn’t matter. Blown engines kept Truex and Keselowski, who led a race-high 90 laps, from advancing.

So two drivers who raced at the front Sunday no longer have a shot to win the title, and three drivers who ran at the back still do.

Don’t blame Joe Gibbs Racing for a strategy that some fans will view as a travesty. After eight crashes at this track in the May 1 race, Edwards, Kenseth and Busch did the smart thing by riding in the back, looking to avoid the massive pileup that often happens but didn’t this time.

Even if they had run at the front, there was no guarantee they would avoid trouble. More than half of the crashes that took place in the previous five Talladega races started within the top 10 of the field.

“It wasn’t really the most fun way to race, but it’s kind of what we had to do,’’ Kenseth said.

“Honestly, it’s probably one of the unintended consequences of the way this Chase works with eliminations, especially being at Talladega. Most tracks, except restrictor-plate tracks, you’re as safe riding in eighth place and racing pretty hard as you are in 25th place. It’s really just unique to Daytona and Talladega.

People upset with what the JGR cars did should be upset that a restrictor-plate race is in the Chase.

Of course, that’s not going to change. Talladega is in the Chase for a reason — many fans like it.

They like the close racing, the sense of danger and the unknown that can lead to a surprise winner or chaotic finish. While there wasn’t a surprise winner — Joey Logano won this event for a second year in a row — and there wasn’t the chaos a last-lap crash can cause, there was close racing throughout.

So, what’s the solution to the Sunday drive by Edwards, Kenseth and Busch?

It might come next year when Talladega is no longer an elimination race. It swaps places with Kansas Speedway and will be the middle race in this round.

“It will change the dynamic a little bit,’’ Hamlin said of the move. “Being the second race, it for sure will entice those guys to race all day, I think.’’

Hamlin concedes that some drivers still might want to run at the back for part of the race next year, but that has happened for years.  

“That’s the way they want to play the game,’’ he said. “Everyone can play it how they want. You just got to get to the checkered flag in time.’’

Edwards, Kenseth and Busch did.

Asked if it was the greatest 30th-place finish he ever had earned, Busch smiled as he stood on pit road: “Pretty much. We accomplished all we needed to accomplish. We’ll take it and move on. We didn’t get paid very well today, but we’ll get paid very well in about four weeks when we’re hoisting a (championship) trophy.’’

Now the series heads next to Martinsville Speedway. There will be no hiding in the back there or the rest of the Chase.

Now it’s time to race.

NASCAR America: Scan All from the Brickyard 400

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Kasey Kahne has dreamed of winning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway ever since he first visited the track in 1999 as a kid fresh from his home in Washington.

The dream came true on Sunday with his victory in the Brickyard 400.

Kahne recounts how he won Sunday’s race in this week’s “Scan All,” which again presents the best scanner traffic from the 24th Brickyard 400.

The highlights include.

  • “That will make for a fun Tuesday.” – Matt Kenseth‘s reaction to the Lap 111 crash involved his teammate Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. Tuesdays are when Joe Gibbs Racing holds a weekly meeting between drivers. It’s also happens to be the day “Scan All” airs.
  • “The 41 is melting down right now.” – Jame McMurray’s assessment of Kurt Busch after a bit of close racing between the two of them on a restart. Busch sarcastically clapped as McMurray drove by him under caution.
  • “(Expletive) Danica! (Expletive) her!” – Clint Bowyer‘s reaction his hard crash that involved Kurt Busch and Erik Jones. Patrick, who was running in front of Bowyer, wasn’t involved in the crash.
  • “Damn it, we had that thing won!” – Jimmie Johnson after his crash in Turn 3 on Lap 158 while racing three-wide with Kahne and Brad Keselowski.

Watch the above video for the full “Scan All” experience.

Landon Cassill: ‘Still haven’t really wrapped my head around’ Brickyard penalty for disobeying red flag

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Landon Cassill said Tuesday he is still trying to understand the situation that resulted in his Brickyard 400 ending in the garage after NASCAR parked his No. 34 Ford for not heeding a red flag during the overtime period of the race.

Cassill was parked on Lap 162 after he continued to pit road when the red flag had been displayed for a wreck on the first overtime restart. The field was stopped in Turn 4.

After the race Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said Cassill was parked because he “disobeyed a red flag.”

NASCAR’s official infraction report says Cassill was parked for “pulling up to pit.”

Cassill, taking part in a Goodyear tire test at Dover International Speedway, said he, his crew chief Seth Barbour and the team’s two spotters did not see the red flag displayed.

“I still haven’t really wrapped my head around it completely,” Cassill said. “They themselves did not see the red flag while I was rolling, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t out, I guess. The button they push in timing and scoring to trigger the red (flag) in their system is different than the flag man actually displaying the red flag. The flag man displaying the flag is what we have to work off of as drivers. It could have been the flag man had the red flag out the whole and the four of us as a team just missed it. That’s kind of why I kept rolling. I am very understanding of the rule and why it is what it is.”

With Cassill parked, the race ended on Lap 167. The Front Row Motorsports driver placed 22nd with his third DNF of the season.

Despite how it ended, Cassill earned his best result at a track other than a restrictor-plate track since he finished 21st at Kansas Speedway in May.

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NASCAR America airs live 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN: Brad Keselowski extension, Scan All

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs for an hour beginning at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN and continues to breakdown all the big stories from the Brickyard 400.

Carolyn Manno hosts with Steve Letarte, Slugger Labbe and Parker Kligerman in Stamford, Connecticut.

On today’s show:

· The Silly Season brings more news for next season. Brad Keselowski will stay with Team Penske after agreeing to a multi-year contract extension. How does this impact others drivers potentially needing rides for 2018?

· Kasey Kahne became the 12th driver to virtually guarantee himself a playoff spot due to his Brickyard 400 win. Steve and Slugger will see how Kahne’s win impacted the playoff picture and focus on those drivers who have to clinch a spot.

· If you thought the Brickyard 400 was chaotic. Just wait until you see the race from the teams’ point of view in today’s edition of Scan All: Indianapolis.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you can also watch it via the online stream at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com

If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. defends crew chief Greg Ives’ performance

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he had heard enough “chatter” from fans about crew chief Greg Ives that he needed to tell them to “shut THAT (expletive) down.’’

Earnhardt, in his final full-time season driving in Cup, sent the tweet after exiting Sunday’s Brickyard 400 because of contact on a restart damaged his car. He finished 36th.

Some fans were upset about Ives’ pit strategy before the incident. Earnhardt could have stayed out on a caution at Lap 72 with others. Had he done so, Earnhardt would have restarted fifth. Instead, Ives called him to pit road and Earnhardt restarted 24th.

Ives told NBC Sports that it was an easy call because of what he felt was the difference between old tires and new tires. With what he thought would be a limited cushion of cars between Earnhardt and those with new tires on the restart, Ives said it was best to pit.

On the restart, the field got jumbled and Earnhardt ran into the back of Trevor Bayne’s car, damaging the radiator on Earnhardt’s Chevrolet.

It was another disappointing finish for Earnhardt, who needs a win to make the playoffs. He is 22nd in the points with one top five and four top-10 finishes in 20 races. He’s led 24 laps this season. 

As some fans complained about the strategy, Earnhardt reacted with the tweet.

Earnhardt explained during a break in tire testing Tuesday at Dover International Speedway why he sent the note to his fans.

“I just have heard the chatter over the season,’’ Earnhardt said. “We’ve had a difficult year and there’s just been a little rumbling in the background from the fans. They just love to target the crew chief. Our struggles are no one individual’s responsibility.

“I think that being my crew chief, we have such a very passionate fan base, very large fan base, it’s a challenging position for anybody. I’ve seen that with all the guys that I’ve worked with and they’ve all had to deal with criticism, was it the right call this week, what about the next week? They just get really picked apart.

“This is our last season. We’ve had some pretty difficult results and had opportunity to be frustrated and miserable, but I don’t want this season to be remembered by my crew chief, by myself, by my guys as a miserable time. The fans have an influence on that. They can definitely ease up a little bit on Greg and realize that he’s extremely talented, he’s in that position for a reason.’’

Ives has been praised for how he kept the team together after Earnhardt was out 18 races because of concussion symptoms. Jeff Gordon and Alex Bowman drove the No. 88 Chevrolet in Earnhardt’s absence. Hendrick Motorsports announced last week that Bowman will take over Earnhardt’s ride next season.

Earnhardt, who will join NBC Sports’ broadcast team next year, said he can’t wait to watch Bowman and Ives next year.

“He’s going to have incredible success beyond my driving career as a crew chief at HMS, and I look forward to seeing that happen as soon as next season with Alex,’’ Earnhardt said Tuesday of Ives. “He was able to work with Alex in a matter of a few weeks and have Alex up to speed, confident and fast and almost winning races. (Ives) won a championship with Chase (Elliot) in the Xfinity Series. He won five championships with Jimmie Johnson as the lead engineer.

“Maybe Twitter ain’t the place to be drawing attention to things like that. You just hear enough chatter through the course of a long period of time. It wasn’t something that happened that particular weekend. … It’s not OK to be a fan and dog the crew. You’re a fan of the team. I know it’s important that they embrace the crew chief, the guys on the crew, the mechanics, the tire changers, they’ve got to embrace the whole thing.’’

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