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Furniture Row Racing burning ‘midnight oil’ to fix template issues before Atlanta

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As soon as qualifying for the 59th Daytona 500 was over Sunday, Furniture Row Racing crew chief Cole Pearn and other team members were Denver-bound.

When their plane landed, Martin Truex Jr. said their goal was to figure out “how things got screwed up and where they went wrong.”

During the first weekend of “Speedweeks,” the No. 78 of Truex and No. 77 of Erik Jones missed significant track time in practice. Both cars experienced failed template inspection multiple times, a result of faulty template grids at their Denver shop, NBC’s Jeff Burton reported Monday.

The template issues resulted in roofs of FRR’s cars being too high and the decklids being too low.

While the issues were on their Daytona cars, Truex said Pearn and company are burning “a lot of midnight oil” preparing for the races that come after the “Great American Race.”

“Yeah, it’s been a big issue,” Truex said Wednesday at Daytona 500 Media Day. “(They) have been there working on stuff for Atlanta. … They’ve got a lot of work ahead of them, obviously, and we’ve got a good bunch of guys there at the shop, fabricators and such, so we’ll get it straightened out.”

The fixed superspeedway cars resulted in Truex putting up the fourth fastest speed in qualifying. Jones, the rookie who will drive FRR’s expansion car, was 20th fastest.

“It’s just definitely a setback that you don’t want this early in the season, especially for us,” Truex said. “We were building all new cars because we changed the body style this year (to the) 2018 Camry. Obviously going to two cars, that’s a little bit different.”

Inspection failures were a common occurrence for the No. 78 team in 2016, its first season backed by Toyota.

Pearn was suspended for the spring Phoenix race and fined $50,000 after Truex’s car was found to have a roof flap violation during inspection at Atlanta. Pearn had been on probation for a pre-race roof flap violation prior to last year’s Daytona 500.

The team failed post-race laser inspection in consecutive weekends in the regular season finale at Richmond and opening playoff race at Chicagoland, but NASCAR decided not to penalize the team for Chicago. Following pre-qualifying inspection at Talladega in October, NASCAR confiscated left front jack screws.

“At the end of the day, we have to go through inspection and pass just like everybody else,” Truex said. “The rules are the same for everyone, and obviously we’ve had our issues in the past. But I think it’s funny when you talk to Cole, he gets so angry about it because he’s like, everybody thinks that there’s this master plan, and we’re like these guys that try to get everything past NASCAR. Well, it’s really just not the case. It is what it is, but hopefully they’ll get it fixed, like I said, and we won’t have any issues going forward.”

Truex and the rest of Furniture Row Racing return to the track Thursday for practice and the Can-Am Duel.

Atlanta Motor Speedway to delay repave at least a year

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The cries of drivers have been heard. Atlanta Motor Speedway will not repave its track as previously scheduled. Instead, track officials will evaluate the surface following the 2018 race there.

Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns the track, had planned to have the track surface repaved beginning in late March. It would have been the first repave there since 1997.

Engineers examined the track after the March 5 race to determine if the track surface could last another year with modest repairs. Track officials also consulted with Goodyear and others.

“There’s no question that the surface is worn out, but probably the most powerful lobby this side of Washington, D.C., was the biggest influence,” Ed Clark, president of Atlanta Motor Speedway, told NBC Sports of the drivers. “They kind of put the pressure on. I understand.”

After winning there, Brad Keselowski made his pitch not to repave the track.

“Drivers hate repaves,” he said. “We want to see the surfaces last as long as they can.  But the reality is nothing lasts forever, and this surface has made it a really, really long time, 20 years, I think, this season, and they should be really proud of that.

“My hope is they can get another year or two out of it, and I understand if they can’t, and you have to kind of leave it to their expertise and so forth.”

Clark said that work will need to be done to the track before next year’s race.

“The worst part is down the frontstretch in front of the grandstands,” Clark told NBC Sports. “There’s a lot of issues there. We’re actually going to have to cut a few areas and patch … to make it last through 2018. We consulted with Goodyear on that. They don’t think, as long as it is on the straightaway, it is a big issue from a tire standpoint.”

Clark said that the track surface will be sealed in October and should have the patching done before then.

“Let them go ahead and slip and slide one more time in 2018,” Clark said.

Clark said that while anything can change, he doesn’t foresee being talked out of a repave job too many more times.

“You have to see how the weekend goes and what happens,” Clark told NBC Sports. “We had to patch some places after the Saturday events this year, small places. Hey, if we could go two more, great. All you’ve got to do is walk out there and look at it. It is absolutely worn out. But if the drivers say, hey our choice is to race on this surface as it is.

“There comes a point (when a repave is needed). We do have a few drainage issues we do need to correct, some other things when the time comes. Right now, we’re going to get through 2018 and evaluate and see if that is the time or when is it.”

Clark said that when the track is repaved, Goodyear has expressed interest in having two test sessions to determine the proper tire for that 1.5-mile track instead of the customary one because of the track’s challenging surface.

Clark warns that with the excitement of Tuesday’s news, the day is still coming when the track will have to be repaved.

“I can’t see this going two more seasons, maybe only one,” Clark said.

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NASCAR America — My Home Track: 50 States In 50 Shows — Arkansas

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On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, we continued our series of My Home Track: 50 States in 50 Shows as our trucks rolled into Arkansas!

We visited two short tracks in the state that produced President Bill Clinton and Basketball Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen.

Plus we talked to NASCAR Hall of Famer and Arkansas native Mark Martin about racing in his home state.

NASCAR America: Is there cause for concern with Jimmie Johnson’s performance thus far?

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It’s no secret that Jimmie Johnson is off to a slow start in 2017.

The defending and seven-time NASCAR Cup champion has a starting average of 21.8 and a finishing average of 18.8 in the first five races of this season.

He has just one top-10 finish (ninth at Phoenix), along with 34th at Daytona, 19th at Atlanta, 11th at Las Vegas and 21st Sunday at Fontana.

And let’s not forget he’s 17th in the NASCAR Cup standings heading to one of his strongest tracks, Martinsville Speedway, this Sunday.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, we discussed this: After such a slow start to the season, is there a cause for concern over Johnson’s performance?

NASCAR America: Mark Martin is definitely a Kyle Larson fan

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On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin shared his experience of racing in his home state of Arkansas, as well as the excitement he feels watching  Kyle Larson compete in the Cup series.