Upon Further Review: NASCAR’s new speedway leader

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Car owner Roger Penske’s Sprint Cup teams never won a restrictor-plate race until the 2008 Daytona 500. Now, his organization is the dominant team on such tracks.

Joey Logano’s victory Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway — the sixth in the last nine plate races for Team Penske — evokes memories of Dale Earnhardt Inc.’s dominance and Hendrick Motorsports’ success.

Penske’s run at restrictor-plate tracks the last couple of seasons ranks as the one of the best since 2000. Only DEI, which won nine of 12 plate races from 2001-03, has a better winning percentage over multiple seasons at such tracks than Penske.

The last time any team was as strong was when Hendrick Motorsports won six of nine plate races from 2004-06.

“We have a special group of people at the shop that work all year on the restrictor-plate cars,’’ Penske told NBC Sports of the team’s reign. “You’ve really got to give a lot of credit to Ford and Roush Yates (Engines), they gave us some power.’’

The only thing surprising is that Penske’s streak didn’t continue with Brad Keselowski, who led a race-high 90 laps before his engine failed.

“He could drive up there anytime he wanted,’’ Penske said. “I remember one time he just kind of sat back and decided to go and drove right up to the front.’’

Keselowski looked as dominant as he was when he won at Daytona in July and Talladega in May. In the last three plate races, Penske cars have led 56.9 percent of the laps. Sunday, the Penske cars led 70.3 percent of the race.

It’s not just the team that has gotten better on such tracks. Penske also credits his drivers.

Logano put himself in position to win by what he did before Sunday’s race.

“You prep for each race differently but prepping for a superspeedway is probably more different than most because it’s not necessarily you’re talking about your setup, you’re talking about the changes you made in practice, it’s talking about, ‘OK this guy does this a lot of times,’ and you rewatch films, and you find some driver tendencies and which cars are good,’’ Logano told NBC Sports.

“After practice you rewatch that. You spend a lot of time with your spotter talking. I think about all that stuff, and I work on that. That’s where I can make a difference. I’ve got to understand the draft.’’

He and Keselowski both have done so. No team has won more restrictor-plate races since 2010 than Penske. Here’s that list:

7 – Team Penske

5 – Hendrick Motorsports

4 – Richard Childress Racing

3 – Joe Gibbs Racing

3 – Roush Fenway Racing

2 – Chip Ganassi Racing

1 – Front Row Motorsports

1 – Richard Petty Motorsports

1 – Stewart-Haas Racing

1 – Wood Brothers Racing

STOWAWAY

Joey Logano admits when he left his pit stall after his first stop he didn’t know that the jack was attached to the car.

“I didn’t even know when I first left the pits because of the raised ride heights on these cars, I didn’t notice it until the car kind of compressed in the corner,’’ Logano told NBC Sports. “My crew chief Todd (Gordon) told me that I’m taking a jack with me.

“I was looking. A jack? I looked in my (left-side) mirror and I couldn’t see it, and I turned my head and I saw the jack handle. I said, ‘That’s not good.’ I tried shaking it out, but I couldn’t get it to come loose.’’

Gordon told NBC Sports the plate of the jack got deeper under the car “and when you dropped the jack, the jack post slid off the backside toward the jack and lodged itself in there. It was stuck. It took three guys lifting up and somebody to really work the jack to get it back out.’’

The pit crew made up for it by getting Logano into the lead on Lap 148 after a two-tire pit stop. Logano went on to lead the final 45 laps to score his second victory of the season.

THAT CLOSE

NASCAR stated that Denny Hamlin beat Kurt Busch by .006 seconds for third place Sunday. Had Hamlin finished behind Busch, Hamlin would have not have advanced to the Round 8. Austin Dillon would have.

To compare, Hamlin beat Martin Truex Jr. for this year’s Daytona 500 by .010 seconds — the closest finish in Daytona 500 history.

PIT STOPS

Joey Logano’s win marked his sixth Chase win since 2014. He and Kevin Harvick are tied for the most Chase wins since 2014.

— Kurt Busch’s fourth-place finish was his best result since placing fourth at Kentucky in July.

— Denny Hamlin’s third-place finish marked the fifth time he’s rebounded from a penalty during a race to score a top-five result. He was caught for speeding on pit road.

— Martin Truex Jr. finished last, marking the first time since 2010 at Atlanta that the pole-winner finished last in a race.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s sixth-place finish was his first top-10 result since placing second at Bristol in August.

— How much of an equalizer can restrictor-plate racing be for a smaller team? Michael McDowell finished 16th Sunday. His average finish in the four plate races this year is 15.5. His average finish in 23 other starts is 26.7.

— Half of the remaining eight drivers in the Chase have made the championship round in Miami since the elimination format debuted 2014. They are Kevin Harvick (2014 champion), Kyle Busch (2015 champion), Denny Hamlin (’14) and Joey Logano (’14).

Ryan Reed finished 26th in his Sprint Cup debut.

Brian Scott finished a career-high second, and Richard Petty Motorsports teammate Aric Almirola (eighth) scored his first top-10 finish of the season.

NASCAR fines No. 6 Xfinity Series team crew chief for lug nut violation

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Only one penalty has emerged from this past weekend’s racing action at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

NASCAR announced on Thursday that the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Xfinity Series Ford Fusion, driven Darrell Wallace Jr., was found to be in violation of:

Sections 10.9.10.4: Tires and Wheels (lug nut not properly installed).

The penalty to crew chief Seth Barbour was a $5,000 fine.

There are no penalties against Wallace, team owners and Barbour will not be suspended.

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Full schedule for NASCAR Cup, Trucks this weekend at Martinsville

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The three-race West Coast Swing is over and NASCAR returns back east for this weekend’s racing action at Martinsville Speedway.

The half-mile, paper-clip shaped oval celebrates its 70th year of operation this weekend. Martinsville is the oldest track on the NASCAR circuit, opening in 1947.

The NASCAR Cup Series will hold its STP 500 on Sunday. The Xfinity Series is off this weekend, while the Xfinity Camping World Truck Series races for the first time in nearly a month, since March 4 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Here’s this weekend’s NASCAR schedule with TV and radio information.

All times are Eastern.

Friday, March 31

9 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. – Cup garage open

11:30 a.m. – 12:45 p.m. – Cup first practice (Fox Sports 1, Motor Racing Network)

11:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. – Truck garage open

1 – 1:55 p.m. – Truck first practice (FS1)

3 – 3:55 p.m. – Truck final practice (FS1)

4:35 p.m. – Cup qualifying (multi-vehicle, three-round) (FS1, MRN)

Saturday, April 1

7:30 a.m. – Truck garage open

8:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. – Cup garage open

10 – 10:55 p.m. – Cup second practice (FS1, MRN)

11:05 a.m. – Truck qualifying (multi-vehicle/three rounds) (FS1)

1:15 p.m. – Truck driver/crew chief meeting

1:30 p.m. – Cup final practice (FS1, MRN)

2:30 p.m. – Truck driver introductions

3 p.m. – Alpha Energy Solutions 250 Truck race (250 laps, 131.5 miles) (Fox, MRN, Sirius/XM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, April 2

8:30 a.m. – Cup garage open

12 p.m. – Cup driver/crew chief meeting

1:20 p.m. – Cup driver introductions

2 p.m. – STP 500 NASCAR Cup race (500 laps, 263 miles) (FS1, MRN, Sirius/XM NASCAR Radio)

Stewart-Haas drops appeal, Knost to fill in for Childers as Harvick crew chief at Martinsville

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Daniel Knost – former crew chief for both Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick – will fill in as crew chief for Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Fusion team for this weekend’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

SHR chose not to go forward with its appeal of a one-race suspension penalty against Rodney Childers, Harvick’s regular crew chief. Childers will sit out this weekend and pay a $25,000 fine after being penalized by NASCAR for an unapproved track bar assembly in post-race inspection March 19 following the Phoenix race.

“Basically we got in trouble for a part that was drawn a certain way and didn’t appear that way on the car,” Harvick said in a media release. “The way that NASCAR works now is you submit drawings for pretty much every part on your car. It has to meet certain specifications and that part didn’t meet it, so Rodney’s going to get to go on vacation this week.”

Harvick was also penalized 10 driver points and the No. 4 team lost 10 owner points for the infraction.

Knost is SHR’s director of vehicle dynamics. Previously, he was Busch’s crew chief for 33 races in 2014, including working together to earn a win at Martinsville in April of that year.

Knost then moved to Patrick’s team as crew chief for the last three races of 2014 and the entire 2015 season.

Harvick has one career win at Martinsville (spring 2006). But he’s struggled in the last two races at the half-mile, paper clip-sized oval, finishing 17th last spring and 20th last fall.

“I know this is probably one of the most painful weeks for (Childers) to go on vacation because Martinsville really hasn’t been our best track,” Harvick said. “… We push things and that’s what I want them to do. I want them to push everything on that car.

“Sometimes you’re going to get in trouble, but those guys have been the best in the business for the last three years. It’s kind of like growing up as a kid – sometimes you get in trouble and you have to suffer the consequences.”

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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Daniel Hemric on racing his wife, his ‘Alter ego’ and sleepovers with Dillon brothers

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As a kid growing up in Kannapolis, North Carolina, Daniel Hemric spent a lot of time with brothers Austin and Ty Dillon.

Nights were filled with games of hide-and-seek, paint ball matches and dreams.

Having first encountered each other on the Bandolero circuit, the aspiring race car drivers would stay up late into the night, conspiring about their racing futures.

“I remember sitting there talking about ‘Man, what would we do if we ever made to the top of NASCAR? Or just made it to NASCAR?’,” Hemric told NBC Sports. “Here we are trying to figure it out.”

They figured it out together, as the three have risen through the ranks of NASCAR with Hemric usually one step behind the brothers.

Hemric is now teammates with the Dillons at Richard Childress Racing, which is owned by their grandfather. While the Dillons are now both in the Cup Series full-time, Hemric is five races into his rookie campaign in the Xfinity Series driving the No. 21. His move comes after two seasons in the Camping World Truck Series, with the last season at Brad Keselowski Racing.

Though there are many veteran drivers at RCR he could consult, the 26-year-old rookie usually seeks out the Dillons.

“My crew chief Danny (Stockman) and Austin and Ty have all worked together in the past, so they have a little bit of communication there that helps me break through with Danny,” Hemric said. “Stuff that Danny’s asking or expecting of me is stuff he’s asked of them. It’s easier to go to those guys and really lean on them because they’ve been through the exact situation I’m in.”

That communication led to Hemric, who is seventh in the point standings, qualifying on the front row for last weekend’s race at Auto Club Speedway.

This Q&A had been edited and condensed:

Daniel Hemric with Darrell Wallace Jr. in the garage at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

NBC Sports: What was your first car?

Hemric: A ’95 Honda Civic, green.

NBC Sports: What kind of green? There’s good green and then there’s bad green.

Hemric: I’d say it’s probably a mix. I wouldn’t pick it for any other car if I had to have it. My mother bought the car brand new in ’95. She gave it to me and I still drive it up and down the road. … I’ve upgraded, I have a little nicer car for special occasions, but my little Honda still treats me right.

NBC Sports: Have you ever named a car, whether it be a street car or race car?

Hemric: Absolutely. I’ve had two of those. My Legends car was obviously very special to me, kind of helped me put my name on the map and her name was Sue. … We had a long-running joke with a guy I was teammates with back in the day, his mom was always a sweet lady. After we named the car we started winning a lot of races and it stuck. The other one I had a late model that I had a bunch of guys pitch in and build, a bunch of different owners were involved and the car was all white, white everything. Ran a couple races, won a couple races with it. Whenever I stripped the car and rebuilt it, went back and everything was exactly the opposite color. Everything was flat black, everything was black out. It took on the name “Alter ego.” Went on to have a lot of success with that car as well. Maybe that’s the thing, I need to start naming these stock cars.

NBC Sports: If you were to race in the Cup Series night race at Bristol, what would your intro song be?

Hemric: People probably wouldn’t believe me if I said this, but I’m actually into some old school rap. There’s an old Yung Joc song called “Hear Me Comin’.” I feel like that’s the proper language for a Bristol night race. (Writer’s note: “old school” apparently means 2006 these days.)

NBC Sports: What’s on your bucket list that’s not related to racing?

Hemric: With being more heavily involved in golf and snowboarding, I’d like to go to Vermont or somewhere more exotic snowboarding with a lot of fresh snow, that would be really cool. Playing golf in some really cool places. Pebble Beach. I know a lot of people that have played there, so maybe go play there a couple times is something I’d like to knock off the list.

NBC Sports: What’s the most emotional reaction you’ve had to a sporting event that wasn’t auto racing?

Hemric: Here recently, within the last few weeks,we got to go to one of the top five majors of tennis and I’ve never followed it, never seen a tennis match, didn’t know the rules. Here we are pretty much sitting front row at this tennis match. To feel the intensity and what these guys are playing for, Roger Federer wound up winning the match, but to be able to all of a sudden go from not a fan, not know anything about the sport to watching these guys do battle … was just an overwhelming experience. These guys laid it on the line. Just pure emotion. I thought that was a really cool experience.

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

NBC Sports: Who was your favorite driver growing up?

Hemric: Dale Earnhardt, no doubt. … Being from Kannapolis, North Carolina, it was kind of an obvious pick for me. With DEI being right down the road, with that being the pinnacle of the sport, I didn’t know anything else. My dad was a follower, all my family. It was one of those things that got kind of pushed down. As I began my own racing career and I got to choose a number, the number was three. As I started racing go karts heavily, the guy that I always pulled for, that kind of carried with me growing up.

NBC Sports: Do you remember the first time you saw your face or name on merchandise?

Hemric: The first couple of years of Truck racing, I didn’t have a whole lot of stuff. I had been out of town racing and I got got back from a Truck race late one night. My wife (Kenzie Ruston), she raced as well, she was coming from a race. We met at our house at like 3 a.m. in the morning and there’s a box on the porch. And I’m thinking, ‘What did you order now?’ She says ‘I didn’t order anything.’ We get inside and open the box up and here’s a compete (cardboard) standup of myself in this box. I unfolded this thing and it was so random, unexpected. Draw Tite, the sponsor that was a big part of my career at Brad Keselowski Racing, just sent it to me saying ‘We think this is probably the first one you’ve ever had, hope you enjoy it.’ It’s a very awkward tease that we have in our house. We try to put it in the spare bedroom so when people stay over, it tries to spook them when they open the door.

NBC Sports: Your wife races too?

Hemric: Yeah, she grew up racing as well in Legend cars. She ran a couple of ARCA races and super late models (and three seasons in the K&N Pro Series East. She’s a former member of NASCAR Next). She’s kind of on the retiring path currently trying to keep up with me. She’s a heck of a driver herself, that’s how we met.

NBC Sports: You’ve actually raced against her?

Hemric: Yeah, we actually ran numerous races against each other, a couple of times in the super late-model ranks. Her claim to fame is that she was the only female ever to win a super late-model race at Lucas Oil Raceway Park in Indianapolis. I can’t remember how it went down, but I was third, Ryan Blaney was fourth and Chase Elliott was fifth, somewhere in that order. That’s her go-to whenever you ask ‘Have you ever beat Daniel?’

Previous Xfinity Spotlight Q&A’s

Justin Allgaier

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Michael Annett

Ryan Reed

Brandon Jones

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