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Chad Knaus: ‘We’ve got a couple more years left in us’

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Chad Knaus said it would “difficult” both emotionally and financially for him to walk away from NASCAR if he and Jimmie Johnson won a record eighth Cup Series title.

The financial aspect likely only impacts the crew chief.

“I’ve got a mortgage, man,” Knaus said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint” on Wednesday. “I’ve got to keep a job. Jimmie can probably scoot on out without a huge financial burden. But I can’t.”

Joking aside, Knaus said the prospect of pursuing yet another title after a hypothetical eighth would be too much to ignore.

“We’ve got a couple more years left in us I feel,” Knaus said. “I think Jimmie’s far from being done. I think he’s still got a lot of talent left inside his body to go out there and extract. I think Hendrick Motorsports provides us with such a great opportunity to go out there and make it happen. If you get eight, naturally you’d want to go try and get another one. We’ve just got to go out there and just race and that’s what we do.”

Johnson and Knaus are not kids anymore. They earned their seventh titles last November at the ages of 41 and 45 respectively. But the majority of the team that supports the No. 48 is new to the game.

“Our big group with the 48 car, they’re just getting mature now,” Knaus told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “A lot of our guys are fairly young and maybe in only their second or third year. These guys are just reaching their full potential. I think 2017 is going to be a fantastic year for this team to come into its own.”

They’ll be doing so under NASCAR’s new race and points format.

Knaus and company have adapted to every format NASCAR has used since 2004, though Johnson was eliminated from contention in the first round in 2015 after a part failure at Dover International Speedway.

Knaus believes a similar situation could still “take you out of the whole ball game.”

“It’s just getting in there and figuring out what it is,” Knaus said of the new format. “I think you’re going to see unique opportunities for guys to get bonus points, or playoff points, that they would not ordinarily have gotten. There’s going to be some uniqueness to that standpoint. You’re going to see a lot of guys get stage wins that maybe don’t get race wins, right? Those guys are going to get more points and potentially put themselves into a position to go out there and transfer into the (playoffs) where maybe they would not have.”

Knaus and Johnson will begin figuring out their latest obstacle to a championship in the Feb. 26 Daytona 500.

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Matt Kenseth wrecks out of Auto Club 400 on late restart

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Matt Kenseth crashed out of the Auto Club 400 on a restart with 16 laps remaining in the race at Auto Club Speedway.

Kenseth had restarted fourth following a caution for an incident involving Gray Gaulding.

Kenseth was in the middle groove exiting Turn 2 when he was tapped from behind by Martin Truex Jr. and slid toward the inside wall, which his No. 20 Toyota hit hard. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was cleared and released from the infield care center.

It is Kenseth’s third DNF in the first five races of the season and his second in as many races. He had four in all of 2016.

Kenseth entered the race 20th in the point standings.

Martin Truex Jr. has commanding performance in Stage 2 win at Fontana

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Martin Truex Jr. has taken over as the most dominating driver in today’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

After pole-sitter Kyle Larson won the first 60-lap stage, Truex won Stage 2. During the session, Truex’s car showed supremacy with nearly a seven-second lead in the closing laps of the stage.

Truex has now won three of the last six stages, having captured both stages two weeks ago en route to his overall race win at Las Vegas.

Larson is in second place, followed by Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer, Erik Jones, Jamie McMurray, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski.

There has been just two cautions in the race – both coming in Stage 1.

We now move to the final stage, an 80-lap shootout to determine the race winner.

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Kyle Larson wins Stage 1 of Auto Club 400 at Fontana

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Pole-sitter Kyle Larson is almost one-third of the way to winning Sunday’s Auto Club 400. The California native won Stage 1 of the race at his home-state Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, about 50 miles east of Los Angeles.

Larson (43 laps) and Martin Truex Jr. (12 laps) have led the majority of the laps during the opening 60-lap segment. That segment will be followed by another 60-lap segment, and then an 80-lap final section for 200 laps (400 miles) around the 2-mile low-banked track.

It was Larson’s first stage win of the 2017 season under the new enhanced scoring format in the NASCAR Cup Series. Larson has finished runner-up in each of the last three races and four of the last five (dating back to the 2016 season finale). He has just one career Cup win, last year at Michigan.

Truex is running second, followed by Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray and Kyle Busch.

Sixth through 10th are Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin.

Each of the top 10 finishers in Stage 1 will earn stage points in the NASCAR Cup standings.

Two incidents of note occurred early in the race, both involving Brad Keselowski:

* On the first lap, Keselowski’s car suffered left rear damage when several cars were involved in an accordion-like wreck. Others involved included Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin, but there was no caution called.

* Keselowski continued on without repairing the damage and was spun out on Lap 3 when he was hit from behind by Jimmie Johnson, causing further damage to Keselowski’s Ford Fusion. The caution came out for Laps 5 through 7. Johnson claimed there was little or no damage over his team radio, but Johnson has continued to have struggles this weekend. He’s running 32nd, one lap down.

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Bad race start results in damaged cars for Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick

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A bad start by the inside lane at the beginning of the Auto Club 400 resulted in damage to the cars of Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman.

Denny Hamlin struggled to get to speed at the drop of the green flag, causing the first few rows of cars to bunch up. It resulted in Newman making contact with Keselowski’s left rear and causing damage. Harvick then ran into Newman as the inside bottlenecked.

On Lap 4, after falling back to 17th, Keselowski was hit from behind by Jimmie Johnson on the front stretch, which sent the No. 2 car spinning through the infield grass. Keselowski, the Atlanta winner, was 19th and the first car a lap down when the first stage ended.

During pit stops in the resulting caution, large amounts of tape were put on the front bumper and grille of Harvick’s car and the right-front fender of Newman’s.

With 35 laps left in the first 60-lap stage, Harvick was forced to pit for a flat right-rear tire. He now runs in 28th, a lap down. Newman, who won last week at Phoenix, a lap down in 22nd.

Johnson, a six-time Auto Club winner and the defending winner, was told his No. 48 had damage that could easily be fixed in the pits.  He runs in 20th a lap down. Johnson is winless this season.