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Truex is Stage 1 leader of Kobalt 400 in Las Vegas; Harvick wrecks out

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Martin Truex Jr. is the leader after Stage 1 (Laps 1-80) of Sunday’s Kobalt 400 NASCAR Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Kyle Larson is running second, followed by Ryan Blaney, pole-sitter and defending race winner Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott.

The 267-lap, 400.5 mile race began with Keselowski leading the first 19 laps before Truex beat him out of the pits following stops under caution.

That didn’t stop Keselowski; he regained the lead on the ensuing restart on Lap 25 and once again put the rest of the 39-car field in his rearview mirror until teammate Joey Logano took the lead from Laps 71-75 and then Truex for the remainder of the stage.

There have been four lead changes thus far in the race, along with three caution periods.

On Lap 18, rookie Corey LaJoie incurred heavy damage when he bounced off the outside wall and across the track into the inside wall, ending his day.

On Lap 69, Kevin Harvick was running sixth when he appeared to have a right front tire blow out near the end of the front stretch heading into Turn, and the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford hit the wall hard. Harvick, who was the NASCAR Cup points leader coming into the race and had led the most laps this season, was also one of three drivers who had earned points in every stage in each of the first two races of the season.

“It started vibrating about four, five laps there before it blew out, and I was just trying to ride it to the end of the stage there and obviously it didn’t make it,” Harvick told Fox. “It either just cut the tire, came apart or melted the bead. I’m fine.”

Harvick was critical of the response of the safety team to reach him, telling Fox, “The worst part was the medical response took them forever to get to the car. I thought we had made that better, but obviously we haven’t.”

Logano did not pit during the ensuing caution following Harvick’s wreck and assumed the lead on Lap 71 but had a rough restart on Lap 75, allowing Truex to again regain the lead.

Stage 2 will be from Lap 81 through 160 and the final stage will be Laps 161 through 267.

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Starting grid for the NASCAR Cup Series’ Auto Club 400

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With the second pole of his NASCAR Cup Series career, Kyle Larson will lead the field to green Sunday in the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.

Joining Larson the front row is Denny Hamlin.

Filling out the top five is Brad Keselowski, Martin Treux Jr. and Ryan Newman.

Click here for the starting grid.

Kyle Larson wins pole for Auto Club 400, second Cup pole of career

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Kyle Larson ended a three-year drought by winning the pole for the NASCAR Cup Series’ Auto Club 400.

Larson won his second Cup Series pole with a speed of 187.047 mph around Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. His first pole came in the August 2013 race at Pocono Raceway.

The pole continues Larson’s impressive start to 2017. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver leads the point standings after earning three consecutive second-place finishes.

“I felt like messed up there in Turn 1 and 2 and I got a little bit loose off the wall on the entry and it got me to split the seam in (Turn) 1 and 2,” Larson told Fox Sports. “I was able to commit to (being) wide open off (Turn) 1 and 2. I hadn’t ran up high in (Turn) 3 and 4 at all in practice or qualifying here. Didn’t really know what I would have out there but ran a good ways and it stuck. … Our Target team has been really amazing to start the season and to get a pole is great. … Got a little team dinner tonight, so this will be a good thing to celebrate.”

Larson’s run knocked Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin from the top spot. As Larson drove down pit road, a Fox Sports camera caught Hamlin playfully showing his dissatisfaction by emptying a cup of ice in the direction of the No. 42.

“This is No. 1 on my list of track I want to win,” Hamlin told Fox Sports. “It’s bitten me mentally and physically … definitely one I want to check off.”

Filling out the top five is Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr and Ryan Newman.

Daniel Suarez qualified 10th for his best career Cup start.

No Hendrick Motorsports entries will start in the top 10. Kasey Kahne was the top qualifier in 12th, followed by Chase Elliott.

Five cars did not make qualifying attempts, with one of them being by choice. Jimmie Johnson’s team elected not to make an attempt following his accident in practice. He will start 37th.

Joining Johnson at the back of the field will be Joey Logano, Trevor Bayne, Matt DiBenedetto and Gray Gaulding. All of their cars did not make it through inspection in time to qualifying.

Click here for qualifying results.

Jimmie Johnson’s team elects not to make qualifying run after accident in practice

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Following Jimmie Johnson’s accident in practice early Friday, Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 48 team chose not to qualify with a backup car at Auto Club Speedway.

Johnson, a six-time winner at Auto Club Speedway, will start 37th in Sunday’s Auto Club 400.

Four other cars, including those of Joey Logano and Trevor Bayne, will start in the back after they did not make qualifying attempts. Their cars failed to get through inspection in time. Rookie Gray Gaulding and Matt DiBenedetto also did not qualify because their cars failed to get through inspection.

Johnson explained his team’s decision.

“We had a tough practice session and mid-pack was probably going to be our goal anyway,” he said. “So, to take our lumps here, at a track that’s really wide with a lot of lanes, a long race; we’ll just take our lumps and get the car right where we can take advantage of the precious minutes that we have in Saturday’s practice session and go from there. Pit road is going to be a problem. We’re not going to have a great pick there. We’re definitely not in a position we want to be in, so we’d rather take the time now and make sure we get everything right and get this car right; and also kind of control our risk factor.”

With ACS being such a wide race track with plenty of passing opportunities, Johnson is not in as bad a position to start Sunday’s race as he would be at more narrow track.

Crew chief Chad Knaus told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s Claire B. Lang he wasn’t comfortable forcing Johnson to “hustle” to qualify a car he hadn’t practiced in.

Joey Logano completes sweep of Xfinity practices at Auto Club Speedway

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Joey Logano was fastest in the final Xfinity Series practice session at Auto Club Speedway for the Service King 300.

Driving Team Penske’s No. 22 Ford, Logano put up a speed of 176.804 mph on his 19th of 35 laps in the session

The top five as made up of Erik Jones (176.744), Paul Menard (176.587), Brandon Jones (176.475) and Kyle Larson (176.039).

William Byron and Brennan Poole recorded the most laps in the session with 37 each.

Logan also had the best 10-lap average at 174.889 mph.

Click here for the full practice report.