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Will Joe Gibbs Racing’s rules of engagement spark more feuding at Phoenix?

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AVONDALE, Ariz. — Denny Hamlin grinned. Kyle Busch did not.

Would they move a teammate on the last lap if it meant advancing to next weekend’s championship race in Miami?

“No, I would not,’’ Hamlin said Friday at Phoenix International Raceway.

After a pause, he said: “That’s my answer today.’’

A few minutes later, Busch was asked the same question. His response?

“Absolutely.’’

There’s no way all three of Joe Gibbs Racing’s drivers can join teammate Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson in the title race next weekend in Miami.

That likely means at least one JGR driver will not be happy after Sunday’s race on NBC — maybe more.

Two spots remain to be filled for the title race. JGR’s Matt Kenseth, Busch and Hamlin are among those not yet guaranteed a spot.

“All three of us can be disappointed when we leave here,’’ Kenseth said Friday at Phoenix International Raceway. “You never know what’s going to happen Sunday.’’

Well, you might.

Kevin Harvick, who has not clinched a spot in the title race, has won five of the last six Cup races at Phoenix and would earn a spot by winning again. He’s never been eliminated since this format debuted in 2014.

If one figures on Harvick winning — and Hamlin said “off their track record … you would always just assume they’re going to win’’ — then only one spot remains for the three Gibbs drivers.

“I think there’s a very good chance that no matter what … at least two Gibbs cars will be in the final four, which would be good,’’ Hamlin said.

That would mean that Joey Logano and Kurt Busch wouldn’t make it. Busch has struggled in this round and not shown the speed needed to run with the leaders lately, but Logano has been fast and been good at Phoenix.

Yet, it could come back to racing teammates for a chance to vie for the championship for the Joe Gibbs drivers. If so, one could be upset with another.

It’s happened before. Edwards bumped Busch out of the way to win at Richmond in April. Two weeks ago, Busch was upset that Hamlin, running third at the time, fought Kenseth and Busch so hard late in the race at Martinsville. By doing so, though, Hamlin has the highest finish in this round so far among Busch and Kenseth. Should they tie, that could be what advances Hamlin.

With the chance that a Gibbs driver might not be happy with a teammate Sunday, how will the team repair any wounds?

“We have to communicate with each other,’’ Hamlin said. “That’s the main thing, you can’t keep feelings bottled up for years and years and all of a sudden, it all explodes. I think I have a great working relationship with all my teammates, and if one of them wrecks me this weekend, I’ll be mad for a couple days, and I’ll get over it. It’s just part of it.

“I respect them all enough to understand that we’re all competitors, but we’re also teammates, so it’s a fine line. You’re going to have hurt feelings here and there, we’re battling each other, which is what we all wanted to do. If we had four cars at Homestead racing for the championship, then there would be three guys pissed off. That’s what we all want to accomplish. There’s only going to be one champion, so sometimes it’s your time and sometimes it’s not.”

Even with what is at stake, Kenseth said he and his teammates shouldn’t change how they approach this weekend.

“I think that we work better together as a group than anything I’ve ever been part of,’’ he said. “So far that hasn’t changed at all over the four years that I’ve been there. So, I wouldn’t think that it would change this weekend, and I wouldn’t think it would change next weekend.

“Certainly, once the race starts, obviously, we’re all trying to get the best finishes we can for our respective teams, but I think during the weekend we all share everything we learn throughout practice, bounce ideas off of each other and try to as a group come up with the best setups that we can for Sunday.” 

Career Average Finish at Phoenix

10.3 — Kevin Harvick (eight wins)

11.1 — Denny Hamlin (one win)

13.4 — Kyle Busch (one win)

13.4 — Kurt Busch (one win)

14.0 — Joey Logano (zero wins)

16.3 — Matt Kenseth (one win)

Chase Elliott, AJ Allmendinger unveil Darlington throwback schemes

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Both Chase Elliott and AJ Allmendinger have revealed the paint schemes they’ll drive in the Sept. 3 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

Elliott will use his No. 24 Chevrolet to pay tribute to the car his father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, drove in his first Cup start.

The light blue look was on his No. 9 car when he started in the Feb. 29, 1976 race at Rockingham Speedway.

The car was revealed on Facebook in the below video.

AJ Allmendinger will pay tribute to two-time Cup champion Terry Labonte with his No. 47 Chevrolet.

The car will resemble the No. 44 Piedmont Airlines Oldsmobile that Labonte drove in during the 198 Cup season when he competed for owner Billy Hagan.

NASCAR America: Felix Sabates: ‘I’m lucky to be here’ after near-death experience from illness last year

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For nearly a month last year Felix Sabates was at death’s door.

The fears were so great that Sabates might not wake up from a coma he spent 29 days in, Chip Ganassi bought a blue suit for the possibility he might have to attend his co-owner’s funeral.

But the 71-year-old made a full recovery through a rehab process that included learning to walk again.

NASCAR America’s Kyle Petty and Sabates have a special relationship. Petty drove the No. 42 car for Sabates’ SABCO Racing for eight years in the 1980s and 1990s, winning six of his eight Cup races for the millionaire owner from Cuba.

Sabates sat down with Petty to discuss the ordeal, which began in January 2016 when Sabates began feeling ill during the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I came home and woke up the next morning and I (couldn’t) breath,” said Sabates, who drove himself to the hospital. “The minute they saw me I was in intensive care.”

Sabates was in the hospital for two and half weeks before he was released, but Sabates “should’ve know I wasn’t cured.”

The Chip Ganassi Racing co-owner returned to his usual grind until it caught up to him in August.

“My blood pressure was through the roof, my oxygen level was 55, which you should be dead then,” recalled Sabates, who has no memory of a three-month stretch. “They thought was I was brain-dead. They were pretty much going to disconnect me. So 4 o’clock in the morning, they took my tubes out.”

That’s when Sabates began the process of waking up.

“I’m lucky to be here,” said Sabates, who aside from being back at the track is also back to playing golf.

“I used to worry about little things,’ Sabates said. “Now I don’t even worry about big things.”

The full feature will air Sunday on Countdown to Green, which begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN before the Cup race at Pocono.

NASCAR America: Ryan Blaney glad Team Penske news is finally out in the open

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On Wednesday it was finally announced that Ryan Blaney would move from Wood Brothers Racing to Team Penske full-time next year in the Cup Series in the No. 12 Ford while Paul Menard will take over the No. 21 Ford.

NASCAR America’s Dave Burns caught up with Blaney on Thursday. Blaney was happy that his 2018 plans were finally public knowledge.

Blaney also acknowledged how a technical alliance between the two teams helped Wood Brothers Racing return to a competition level that allowed Blaney to get his first Cup win this season earlier this year.

“That was a big deal,” Blaney said. “That was getting us to where we could run a full-time season. That was really helpful not only to me but to (crew chief) Jeremy Bullins, will be coming with me to the 12 car.”

Blaney has been driving for Team Penske part-time in the Xfinity Series since 2012.

“It’s been nice to get the news and tell everybody finally about what we’re doing,” Blaney said. “But mainly we’re trying to finish this year out strong with the Wood Brothers, getting their 100th win, that’s really big. That’s on my bucket list for this year and getting as far as we can in the playoffs.”

The No. 21 team returns to Pocono Raceway this weekend, the site of Blaney’s first Cup win last month.

Watch the video for the full interview.

Numbers add up for Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Pocono

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Just six races remain for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to make the playoffs in his final NASCAR Cup season.

Earnhardt is ranked 22nd in the NASCAR Cup standings and there are only four open positions — that could shrink further with additional first-time winners in 2017 in the next six races — left for winless drivers to qualify for the 16-driver playoffs strictly on points.

As a result, Earnhardt and his fans know that with each passing race where the No. 88 remains winless, the urgency to win even just one race to make the 10-race playoffs increases exponentially.

Junior’s fans may be heartened to hear some positive tidbits about his chances this weekend at Pocono Raceway, courtesy of RacingInsights.com.

  • Did you know that during Junior’s nine-plus year tenure with Hendrick Motorsports, he’s earned the most top-fives at Daytona (seven in 20 starts) and … this may come as a surprise … at Pocono (seven in 18 starts).
  • Earnhardt also has six top fives both at Martinsville and Michigan (18 starts each), and five top fives at Phoenix and Talladega (also 18 starts each).
  • Of Hendrick Motorsports’ last 10 wins, Jimmie Johnson has won eight, Kasey Kahne won last Sunday’s Brickyard 400 and Earnhardt’s most recent Cup win came on Nov. 15, 2015 at Phoenix Raceway.
  • Earnhardt has gone 39 races since his last win.
  • Earnhardt won both races at Pocono in 2014. In the four races he’s been in since then, he’s finished fourth (mid-summer 2015) second (early 2016 race) — meaning he’s had four top-five finishes in his last six starts at the 2.5-mile tri-oval.
  • He also was 11th in the early 2015 race there. His only finish lower than 11th came last month at Pocono when he completed just 58 of the scheduled 160 laps before his motor expired.
  • In 34 career Cup starts at the Tricky Triangle, Earnhardt has two wins, 11 top fives, 15 top 10s and one pole.
  • Earnhardt is ranked sixth for most laps led by winless drivers this season, with 24 laps led. By comparison, Kyle Busch has led 1,040 laps, the most of all winless drivers in 2017.

Add all those elements together and could Junior’s best chance up to now to win and lock in a playoff berth come this Sunday?

We’ll soon find out.

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