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Kligerman: Everyone Should Try Attending the Daytona 500 because . . . America!

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Let’s face it: Big events are terrible.

More than 100,000 people descending on a destination laughably unfit for the attention. Bursting at the seams of its infrastructure and mobility. Anything you attempt to do will be greeted by a line. A line to move, a line to eat, a line to see, a line to pee.

Always in a line. And lines are awful.

The Daytona 500 should be no different. But it is.

Because most events attract 100,000-plus people because everyone wants to be there. The Daytona 500, on the other hand, has commentators, writers, outsiders and other sports aficionados telling you that no one wanted to be there.

The problem is they were there –  the forgotten, post-majority, God-fearing Trump voter. The people whose existence continues to be debated by the coasts. They do exist, and their existence is proven at the 500.

Sure, when you see the crowd and clientele in this incredible amphitheater location, it will trigger every stereotype you have been fed into your psyche.

Rednecks, hillbillies and cowboys. Overweight, toothless and uneducated. Surrounded by Southern, snakeskin-cowboy, industrial opulence.

But that’s because you want to see those things. You’ve been told to be prejudiced at the perceived fan base.

And that is much like heading to China and only seeing communists.

You’re judging by what you’ve been told and selling yourself on what you see.

The key in an event such as the Daytona 500 is to talk, which is impossible in the normal sense of using words and sounds. Most of the time it is so loud, hearing damage seems the only outcome.

But you will talk — via gestures, glances, pointing and jumping.

It’s all very primal, but it allows you to connect with the man who has had too many Budweisers and looks as if he spent the last day on the surface of the sun. The woman to your right who looks like the 1980’s stole every bit of life from her and left a deflated, gray-straw hair, coughing corpse in its wake. In a sleeveless Dale Earnhardt Jr. T-Shirt.

This isn’t Americana stoic in a museum. This is Americana in motion at 200 mph, and you’re a part of it.

You won’t find that at the Super Bowl, no matter which team is playing or where it’s located. You will get the wealthiest, most-educated and best fans that city has to offer. Because a ticket costs more than an Ivy League education and stadium capacity is limited to roughly 80,000, it’s a select few who can afford the privilege.

At the Daytona 500, you get the fans, the people, the Americans. They can’t afford to go, but they are there. Separated by a mere single railing from a successful oil executive grand poobah, drinking a Budweiser in a five-figure suite. It’s a rite of passage, it is near and dear to their hearts, and it compels them to revel in the high-octane experience.

And because of this, there never has been a better time for you to go. (EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s been only a month since the end of the most recent Daytona 500, but it’s never too early to plan a trip for the 60th running in 2018.)

I was sitting at a bar in the Daytona airport when a man burst in, and the bartender asked how he was doing. The man – balding with olive-hue skin and wrinkled like an old piece of leather because of a lifetime of tobacco products – responded “@#%&ing terrible, I gotta head back to Connecticut”

He wants to stay in the sun. He agrees with what’s here. He tells the bartender, “This is the worst year yet, I was talking to a couple bar owners, and they are all preparing for Bike Week. No one under 35 likes NASCAR anymore. No one.”

The guy to his left agrees, adding “seems a lot of sports are having this problem.”

At this time, I had to leave. But the message was clear: Our perception is our reality and therefore there never has been a better time to attend.

Among the aging, graying, empty-nesters, and Medicaid-addled fan base sits a sport ripe for the young, vibrant and independent to make it what they want. It’s ours for the taking.

The NFL won’t listen to you, nor will the NBA, but NASCAR will — and through all its negative press, perceived fallacies and ridicule.

I ask you to find me a more American form of sport. You can’t.

Attend next year’s Daytona 500 (or any year) at least once for America, and you will see. It’s a big event worth attending, and the best time to go is right now.

Saturday’s NASCAR Cup, Xfinity schedule at Richmond

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Today is the midpoint of the racing weekend at Richmond International Raceway.

The NASCAR Cup Series will have two practice sessions, while the NASCAR Xfinity Series will have qualifying and then race in the Toyota Care 250.

Here’s how today’s schedule shapes up (all times are Eastern):

6:30 a.m. – Xfinity garage opens

7:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. – Cup garage open

9 – 9:55 a.m. – Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

10:05 a.m. – Xfinity qualifying; three rounds/multi-car (FS1)

11:15 a.m. – Xfinity driver-crew chief meeting

11:30 a.m. – 12:20 p.m. – Final Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

12:30 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions

1 p.m. – Toyota Care 250; 250 laps/187.5 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Starting grid for Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond

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The Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway will begin Sunday with Matt Kenseth and Ryan Blaney on the front row.

They will lead a 38-car field to green in the ninth race of the Cup season.

Filling out the top five is Martin Truex Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Joey Logano.

Click here for the full starting grid.

Denny Hamlin: Joe Gibbs Racing’s rebound won’t happen ‘overnight’ or ‘in a month’

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With NASCAR visiting a track where Joe Gibbs Racing has won the last three races, one of its drivers admits the issues that have plagued the team so far in 2017 won’t be remedied quickly.

“I think we are slowly getting better, we’re gaining more knowledge trying to figure out what it is that we need to work on,” Denny Hamlin said Friday at Richmond International Raceway. “It’s not going to happen overnight, it’s not going to happen this week, it won’t happen in a month. Some things are going to take a long time for us to get better at, but I’m very confident that when push comes to shove, we’re in September starting the (playoffs), we should be hopefully back where we were, if not better.”

Entering the Toyota Owners 400, Joe Gibbs Racing has yet to win race through eight events. All four of its drivers sit outside the top 10 in points. Hamlin was the last active JGR driver to win, winning last years’ regular season finale at Richmond.

The 2016 Daytona 500 winner is 15th in the standings and has yet to finish in the top five. By this point in each of the last two seasons, Hamlin had three top fives and one win.

“It’s always taken me a long time to get over winter break,” Hamlin said. “For whatever reason, it’s taking 10 races or whatever into the season to kind of hit my stride. I’m not really sure what it is. I try just as hard at the beginning as I do at the end. It just seems like that break in the offseason, it takes myself a little while to get over that hump, get in the flow of things. I’m not really sure.”

JGR is still learning about its new 2018 Camry bodies, which Toyota introduced this year. Furniture Row Racing, which is in a technical alliance with JGR, has one win with Martin Truex Jr. (Las Vegas), who is also third in points. Erik Jones is 13th in the standings with just one top 10.

Truex and Jones claimed the top spots in Friday’s only Cup practice session.

“We all get the same information,” Truex said Friday. “I guess at the end of the day it’s how you use it, how you put it to use. I think our team, (crew chief) Cole (Pearn), (engineer) Jazzy (Jeff Curtis), (competition director) Pete (Rondeau), our guys in general are just – right now we’re just clicking. We have a lot of confidence. Things are going well.”

Through eight races, there have been six different winners. NASCAR America analyst Steve Letarte has called this Sunday’s race “pivotal” for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“I think our competition also did a phenomenal job over the off‑season of getting better,” Hamlin said. “They just showed up this year with just more raw speed than what they had at the end of last year. It’s the same drivers, same crew chiefs, but their cars are faster. That makes their job a whole lot easier. But these are the trying times, you could say, that defines your character. It makes you work hard. We were on top for probably a year and a half, every week having four out of five of the fastest cars each week. Sometimes we won, sometimes we didn’t. But we’re going to get better. We’re not on top right now, so we’ve got to work extra hard to get there.”

One piece of the JGR puzzle who has had to work harder is Daniel Suarez.

The defending Xfinity Series champion enters the ninth race of his rookie season 22nd in points. The biggest road block for him has been working with two crew chiefs. His initial partner, Dave Rogers, took an indefinite leave of absence following the West Coast Swing. Since then, the No. 19 team has been led by Scott Graves, who was Suarez’ crew chief last year during his title campaign.

“It’s been a lot going on for sure,” Suarez said Friday. “I felt like we were going in a good direction maybe a month and a half ago and then we had some changes that were out of our hands and I feel like we had to start again on these processes in the Cup car. Scott, he’s a very smart crew chief, he knows a lot and he has won two championships in a row in the Xfinity Series, but in the Cup car it’s different and he knows that and I’m learning that. I believe now we are learning together instead of I’m just learning myself.”

All of these comments were made Friday morning and afternoon. In the evening, Matt Kenseth did his part to turn things around for JGR by winning the pole for Sunday’s race.

It’s the first pole for JGR since the Kenseth claimed it last fall at Kansas Speedway.

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Matt Kenseth wins first pole of year for Toyota Owners 400

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For one afternoon at least, Matt Kenseth changed the conversation about Joe Gibbs Racing’s early season problems by winning the pole for the Toyota Owners 400.

Kenseth won his first pole of 2017 with a speed of 121.076 mph around Richmond International Raceway. It’s also the first pole for Toyota this season.

It’s Kenseth’s 19th Cup pole and his second at the .75-mile track (spring 2013). Kenseth’s previous best start this season was fourth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“Those guys did really a job adjusting between rounds,” Kenseth told Fox Sports 1. “We had enough speed in out Circle K Camry that we only had to do one lap in each of the first two rounds to get into the third round. … This year has not been a good year for us, obviously so far. … We haven’t been getting any stage points, we’re buried in the points back there. We finally got a decent finish last week (at Bristol).

“Hopefully this week we can start up front, stay up front and collect some stage points.”

Kenseth will try to extend JGR’s win streak at Richmond to four races.

Ryan Blaney qualified second with a speed of 120.854 mph.

“The last lap of the last section we moved up (the track),” Blaney told FS1. “I wish I had done it both laps of the last session. so I knew how hard to go. I was in there little bit shallow the second lap and I knew I regretted it right away … I guess a bunch other cars did that and they picked up. I don’t know where (Kenseth) ran. It was a solid effort.”

It will be Blaney’s third start from second this season, which is a fact that annoys the sophomore driver in the No. 21 Ford.

“I really want to race the Clash at Daytona, that’s like my biggest thing right now,” Blaney said. “It’s upsetting me that we can’t get a pole.”

Filling out the top five for Sunday’s race is Martin Truex Jr., Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Joey Logano.

In his first race since announce his retirement following this season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start 12th.

Other notable starting spots: Chase Elliott (14th) Brad Keselowski (15th), Denny Hamlin (16th) Jimmie Johnson (17th) and Kyle Larson (18th).

Austin Dillon will start last as a penalty for failing pre-race laser inspection five times last week at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Click here for full qualifying results.