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Crew chief for Kurt Busch says team has ‘got to be better’

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Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch has led one lap since his season-opening victory, dealt with alternator issues in back-to-back races, and was eliminated by an accident in another race.

The result is that the five-time Bristol winner enters this weekend’s Cup race at the high-banked, half-mile track 15th in points.

“We’ve got to be better as a race team,’’ crew chief Tony Gibson said Tuesday on “Tradin’ Paint” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We don’t feel like we’re running strong enough. (Teammate Clint) Bowyer has been carrying the flag over here at our place, he’s been doing extremely well.’’

Bowyer, who joined Stewart-Haas Racing this season, is the team’s highest-ranked driver in the points. He’s ninth. Kevin Harvick is 10th, Busch 15th and Danica Patrick 29th.

Things have not gone well for Busch since his last-lap victory in the Daytona 500. After placing seventh at Atlanta, alternator issues thwarted his efforts at Las Vegas (30th) and Phoenix (25th). He placed 24th at Auto Club Speedway and was 37th after he was collected in a crash at Martinsville. He rebounded to finish 10th at Texas before Easter.

Gibson said the holiday break came at a good time for the team.

Kurt Busch celebrates with his crew after winning the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 26, 2017. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“I believe that everybody just needed to catch their breath because so many things had happened, the highs and the lows and they were coming so fast,’’ Gibson told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “You just need downtime no matter what. It’s the guys that are winning every weekend and running top five every week that don’t want the break. I felt like we were kind of middle of the road. We had two good weeks, and we had three bad weeks and another good week.’’

Gibson admits a challenge for SHR has been the switch from Chevrolet to Ford this season and understanding the car.

“We knew that there would probably be some ups and downs and we were kind of preparing ourselves for that,’’ Gibson said of the manufacturer change.“Daytona, a lot of it is luck, preparation meets opportunity, that’s luck. We did our homework there and all our cars ran really well. We dodged some bullets. We fixed some damage and won it and were on a high, but in the back of your mind, going into Atlanta and those places, it was such an unknown for us as a company what we were going to have going into some of these other racetracks.

“We know that if at least one of our cars is running good or two of them, we can do it. Our company has the capability of running up front. We’ve just got to find something. This aero balance has been really, really messing with Kurt a little bit. It’s been a different, different program for him. We’ve been in the Ford simulator a lot trying to work on balances and things to do to try to catch up.

“We are getting better. We’re learning. Went to Texas and had a great race there and a good solid day. I think we learned some things. We’ll try to take this momentum from this last race at Texas and build on that.’’

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Stats, Results for Truck Series race at Iowa Speedway

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John Hunter Nemechek led the final six laps to win the Camping World Truck Series’ M&M’s 200 at Iowa Speedway.

It’s his second win in two weeks.

Nemechek beat out Johnny Sauter, Brandon Jones, Grant Engfinger and Christopher Bell.

Click here for race results.

Johnny Sauter keeps Truck points lead, John Hunter Nemechek in eighth

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With his Stage 2 win and his second-place finish in the M&M’s 200, Johnny Sauter retains his lead in the Camping World Truck Series standings leaving Iowa Speedway.

Sauter has a 42-point lead over Christopher Bell.

Completing the top five is: Chase Briscoe (-76), Matt Crafton (-95) and Ben Rhodes (-123).

With his second win in two weeks, John Hunter Nemechek moved from ninth to eighth in the standings, 153 points back from Sauter.

Click here for the full points standings.

John Hunter Nemechek wins at Iowa, second Truck victory in a row

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At one point going four-wide on a restart with seven laps to go, John Hunter Nemechek drove from fourth to first to win the M&M’s 200 at Iowa Speedway.

It is Nemechek’s second Camping World Truck Series win in two weeks after an emotional victory at Gateway Motorsports Park. It is his fifth career win.

Nemechek passed low on Chase Briscoe and Johnny Sauter into Turn 1 and cleared them on the backstretch a lap into the final run. The No. 8 team changed four tires during the final caution. Sauter, who led 72 laps, did not pit.

“All year we felt really good about this whole stretch,” Nemechek told Fox Sports 1. “Gateway, Iowa and Kentucky. Hopefully we can go to Kentucky and make it three in a row.”

Driving the same truck he used to win last week, Nemehcek had to pass Sauter, Briscoe and Noah Gragson on the restart.

The top five was Nemechek, Sauter, Brandon Jones, Grant Enfinger and Christopher Bell.

Stage 1 winner: Christopher Bell

Stage 2 winner: Johnny Sauter

MORE: Race results

MORE: Points standings

WHO HAD A GOOD NIGHT: Brandon Jones’s third-place finish is his season best and first Truck top five since 2015 … Christopher Bell earned his sixth top five through nine races … Grant Enfinger earned his fourth top five, but it came at the expense of teammate Matt Crafton, who he caused to crash to bring out the final caution … Jesse Little finished ninth for his first career top 10 in his 11th start.

WHO HAD A BAD NIGHT: Ben Rhodes, Kaz Grala and Austin Wayne Self were in a wreck with three laps left in Stage 2 …. Ryan Truex’s night ended with 33 to go when he brought his truck to pit road for an engine problem. He finished 20th … Matt Crafton backed hard into the outside wall with 15 laps to go after being tagged by his teammate, Grant Enfinger, on his left-rear quarter panel. It is his first DNF of the year. Crafton finished 19th … Harrison Burton and Justin Haley crashed in Turn 4 coming to the checkered flag. Burton placed 11th; Haley 10th.

NOTABLE: The race was red flagged for 12 minutes and 26 seconds to clean up fluid from the three-truck crash at the end of Stage 2.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “That’s me. Four tires. That’s the man right there. Fire Alarm (Services). What do they want? They want a win and we got them one.” – Gere Kennon, crew chief for John Hunter Nemechek after winning the M&M’s 200.

WHAT’S NEXT: Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 at Kentucky Speedway at 7:30 p.m. ET on July 6 on Fox Sports 1.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s farewell tour begins at Sonoma with service dogs named in his honor

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To commemorate Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s career and his final start at the track, Sonoma Raceway gave the driver a gift he doesn’t have to take home and will benefit others for year to come.

During his Friday press conference, the track surprised Earnhardt with three Labrador Retriever puppies. Named “Dale,” “Junior” and “Amy” – after his wife – the puppies are being given to the organization Paws as Loving Support (PALS) Assistance Dogs.

Donated by Micons Labradors and Fieldstone Labradors and sponsored by the track, the puppies will be trained to help children with disabilities in the Sonoma community.

“I’d like to thank the track for their investment to make this happen,” Earnhardt said. “It really warms my heart. Amy is going to be excited but sad she is not here. We do love dogs and making a difference in people’s lives. I’m excited to maybe come back and see how the dogs are doing.”

Sonoma is the first track Earnhardt is racing at for the last time since he announced his retirement plans in April.

The puppies will take part in PALS thorough training process, including time with incarcerated youth twice a week, before being matched with a child with a disability and his/her family as a service dog or placed with a professional as a facility dog.

PALS Assistance Dogs trains dogs to help children with disabilities including Autism, Down syndrome and mobility impairments. Some are placed with professionals working with children with special needs as facility dogs. In addition, Courthouse PALS dogs provide emotional support and comfort to victims and witnesses of violent crimes before, during and at the conclusion of a trial.

“Dale has such a huge following among our fans and we wanted to find a way for his legacy to carry forward locally, well beyond his days as a driver,” said Steve Page, Sonoma Raceway president and general manager. “These three puppies – Dale, Junior and Amy – will make a meaningful difference in the lives of young people in the North Bay for years to come.”

On race day, 10,000 “Thanks, Junior” hand-held fans will be given out and the No. 88 will be written in the sky by the Patriots Jet Team.

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