Blaney’s back: fourth-place finish at Kansas ends run of bad luck

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For the three races prior to Saturday night’s Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway, Ryan Blaney seemed as if he had been on a merry-go-round.

Three races, three finishes of 33rd or worse: 33rd at Bristol, 36th at Richmond (crash) and 39th last Sunday at Talladega (crash).

During that three-race span, he fell from sixth to 13th in the NASCAR Cup standings.

But Blaney’s bad luck of late finally turned good Saturday night. He was the No. 1 qualifier, led 83 of the race’s 267 laps and appeared headed to what potentially would have been his first career NASCAR Cup win.

Unfortunately, Blaney fell short of victory lane, but not by much, finishing fourth, his second-best finish of the season to a runner-up showing in the Daytona 500. He also moved back up two spots in the standings to 11th.

“It’s nice to have a good run today,” Blaney said. “Yeah, of course we wanted to win, but at the same time, you look at the gains we made all weekend and really being fast all weekend, that puts us back to where we need to be for sure.”

While he didn’t reach his ultimate goal of victory lane, Blaney still took a great deal of positives out of not only his finish, but also of his and his team’s cumulative performance.

“(It was) a good showing, going out there and leading laps and running with some really good cars,” Blaney said. “That’s where this team deserves to be, and that’s where they hopefully will stay.

“So (if) we keep bringing fast cars to the racetrack like that, you never know when maybe one might fall our way.”

Despite a loose race car for much of the race, Blaney kept his composure and either stayed at or near the front of the field.

“I felt like we were the best car from maybe 15, 20 laps, especially if we were out front,” Blaney said. “We got that caution at the end and beat the 78 (eventual winner Martin Truex Jr.) off pit road.

“I thought we were in a pretty good spot, and he made a really good move on that restart and was able to pass us, and then we had a couple more opportunities towards the end of that race, and he got a couple really good restarts and I didn’t, and that was kind of the deciding factor.”

With those three bad finishes behind him, it’s now time for Blaney to build upon his Kansas finish and go out to earn several good race finishes in a row at upcoming tracks such as Charlotte, Dover, Pocono and Michigan.

“It’s really just nice to be back on track to be honest with you,” Blaney said. “The last three races have been really, really bad, and it’s just an extra kind of slap to the face that we’ve had really fast cars in all those races we had troubles in, and we shouldn’t have finished 35th.

“We should have had top 10s in all of them. So it was nice to show our muscle this weekend and prove that this is where the 21 team deserves to be.”

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Ford chooses Sebastien Bourdais replacement for Le Mans (and it isn’t Tony Stewart … yet)

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CONCORD, N.C. —  Ford has chosen a replacement for injured Sebastien Bourdais at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and is expected to announce the driver soon – but don’t hold your breath NASCAR fans.

It isn’t Tony Stewart, who has indicated his desire to run the renowned event.

While taping an upcoming episode Thursday of the NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ford Performance director Dave Pericak said the three time champion who returned from NASCAR’s premier series last year still is lobbying “every time he sees us” to race a Ford GT car.

“We love Tony, and he wants to get behind the wheel of that GT but not at LeMans” in 2017, Pericak told NBC Sports at the Ford Performance Technical Center.

However, the new co-driver will be relatively inexperienced on the famous Circuit de la Sarthe road course in France. Pericak said Ford’s high-tech simulator (which mainly is used for NASCAR but also is used for sports cars and street models) at its North Carolina facility would help prepare the replacement.

“We will be using the simulator heavily between now and then for that driver to become fully up to speed not only in the GT but at Le Mans,” Pericak said. “There’s a great example of where we’re going to get tons of hours behind the wheel before that driver gets on an airplanes and heads over the France.

“The realism is unbelieveable. It’s a fantastic tool to have with this situation. Otherwise, you pick a driver, send him to Le Mans and take your chances. We’re going to be much more prepared. We already have the simulator ready to run that track because we ran it all last year.”

Returning to France last year, Ford won the 24 Hours of Le Mans with a Chip Ganassi Racing GT driven by Bourdais, Joey Hand and Dirk Muller.

Bourdais, who suffered pelvic fractures and a fractured right hip in an Indianapolis 500 qualifying crash last Saturday, was released from an Indianapolis hospital Thursday.

“Thank God, he’s going to be OK,” Pericak said. “We’ve talked to him, he’s in good spirits, but we’re really pleased he’s going to make a full recovery.”

Pericak said an announcement of Bourdais’ replacement was likely Thursday or Friday.

NASCAR suspends Camping World Truck crew chief one race

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NASCAR has suspended Camping World Truck Series crew chief Kevin Bellicourt one Truck event and fined him $5,000 because Justin Haley‘s truck failed minimum height requirements after last weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The L1 penalty also docked Haley 10 points and the team 10 owner points. He finished 17th in an encumbered finish.

NASCAR also announced Thursday that Joseph P. Light has been reinstated after successfully completing NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program. He was indefinitely suspended March 16.

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Stewart-Haas Racing, Nature’s Bakery reach tentative settlement

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Counsel for Stewart-Haas Racing reported to North Carolina Superior Court on Wednesday that it has executed settlement documents with Nature’s Bakery.

A status report was pushed back 21 days to June 23 in the event the that the parties have not filed a stipulation of dismissal by that date.

No details of the settlement documents were detailed to the court.

Stewart-Haas Racing filed a $31 million breach of contract lawsuit against Nature’s Bakery on Feb. 3. Nature’s Bakery had two years remaining on a three-year contract to sponsor Danica Patrick’s team when the company sent the team a notice of termination on Jan. 19 . Nature’s Bakery was to have paid $15,212,000 each season to sponsor the team.

Nature’s Bakery filed a counterclaim Feb. 25 stating it did not see the return it was led to believe in sponsoring Patrick’s team.

Click here to read court document

Thursday’s schedule for NASCAR Cup, Xfinity at Charlotte

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Charlotte Motor Speedway kicks off its weekend leading up to Sunday’s main event, the Coca-Cola 600, with today’s action.

The Xfinity Series will hold two practices, while the NASCAR Cup Series has one practice and qualifies in the evening.

Here is today’s schedule:

(All Times Eastern)

11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. – Cup garage open

1:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

2 p.m. – 3:25 p.m. – First Cup practice (Fox Sports 1)

4 p.m. – 4:55 p.m. – First Xfinity practice (FS1)

6 p.m. – 6:55 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (FS1)

7:15 p.m. – Cup qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) (FS1, Performance Racing Network)