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Toyota executive: Low downforce, not new car bodies, root of early season problems

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A Toyota Racing Development executive says the manufacturer “not sweating the numbers in terms of wins” after 11 races in the NASCAR Cup season.

David Wilson, president of TRD, also said NASCAR’s new low downforce package is more to blame for the lack of wins than Toyota’s new Camry bodies, which debuted a new nose design this season.

“Overall, we’re pleased with its performance,” Wilson said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s Tradin’ Paint. “I know when we came out of the gate a little slower than normal, human nature is you point to what’s different. ‘Well, they’ve got that new Camry.’ Honestly guys, that’s really not been the biggest contributor. I think adjusting to the lower downforce stuff; our aero program the past couple of years has been so strong and the amount of work we put into more downforce, more downforce, more downforce.”

Through 11 races, Toyota has two Cup wins, both coming with Furniture Row Racing’s Martin Truex Jr., at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and last Saturday at Kansas Speedway.

Toyota’s flagship team, Joe Gibbs Racing, hasn’t visited victory lane since last fall’s race at Texas Motor Speedway with Carl Edwards.

While Truex leads the series in stage wins with five, Joe Gibbs Racing only has four combined stage wins among its four drivers.

Also, all four drivers — Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez — have combined for just seven top fives.

Wilson’s observation of the impact of the lower downforce package goes back to last season when the series tested a variation of this years’ lower downforce package in both Michigan races and at Kentucky Speedway.

In those races, JGR only recorded one top five (Carl Edwards, Kentucky) and four top 10s. Truex added a fifth for Furniture Row Racing. The Gibbs’ teams earned 46 top fives in all of 2016.

“When NASCAR cuts a thousand pounds or so off (the car), it kinds of eats into our competitive margin we spent so much time and energy building up,” Wilson said. “We’re working on a number of things. Mechanical grip, we need our cars to turn through the center of the corners a little bit better and just aero, not just downforce.”

Hamlin said two weeks ago at Richmond International Raceway that it would take more than a month for Joe Gibbs Racing’s problems to fixed.

“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,” Hamlin said.

With the next points race a week away, there are only two Toyota teams in the top 10 in points. Truex is second, 44 points behind Kyle Larson. Busch is seventh, 150 points back. Denny Hamlin the next highest Toyota driver in 12th.

“We tend to get a little frustrated because we set the bar so high,” Wilson said. “Coming off the past two seasons, we have good cause to set that bar pretty high as we ran pretty darn well.

“What we have to keep in perspective, we’re leading a lot of laps. It’s one thing if we’re not bringing the wins home at the end of the day when we’re not leading laps. It’s another when we’re leading a lot of laps, we’e just not closing. We fall victim to whether it’s a pit miscue or just bad luck. We’re not sweating the numbers in terms of wins. We’ve won as many stages as any manufacturer. Just not enough of the third stage.”

The top Toyota teams of Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing – which are part of a technical alliance – have led 1, 367 laps. Truex (536) and Busch (521) lead the series.

“On the whole, we feel pretty good about where we are,” said of the Toyota program at the All-Star break. “This next stretch, we said to ourselves before Kansas, this is a very important part of the season because we’re going to hit these tracks where we’re going to come back during the playoffs.

“So Kansas, Charlotte, Dover and that’s going to be obviously important that we do well and are able to keep our performance high, because those are going to be somewhat predictive of our playoff performance.”

The Charlotte and Dover races have swapped spots on the schedule. Last year, Truex dominated and won the Coke 600 and Kenseth then won at Dover. Toyota didn’t visit victory lane again until New Hampshire with Kenseth, six races after Charlotte.

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NASCAR America 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN: Dale Earnhardt Jr. live from NASCAR Hall

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN from the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Our special guest for the entire hour is two-time Daytona 500 winner and 14-time Most Popular Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Marty Snider hosts and will be joined by NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton.

Among the topics on today’s show:

  • We’ll talk with Dale Jr. about his last Cup race at Talladega, the emotions he went through, starting from the pole for the first time there and ultimately finishing seventh.
  • How is Earnhardt approaching the final five races of his Cup career before retiring at season’s end, the JR Nation Appreci88ion campaign, his role with NBC Sports Group next season, as well as his Hall of Fame father, Dale Earnhardt and the Earnhardt legacy. Also, what does the future hold for him?
  • Speaking of the future, we’ll also congratulate the 26-time Cup race winner on soon becoming a father for the first time with wife Amy. What kind of father does Junior expect to be?
  • You can also send in your own questions for Dale Jr, who will answer them during the show! Just send them on social media with the hashtag #AskDaleJr

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you can also watch it via the online stream at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

William Byron tops Xfinity playoff grid to start second round

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The second round of the Xfinity Series playoffs begins this weekend when the series heads to Kansas Speedway for the Kansas Lottery 300.

Following an elimination race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the series and the eight remaining playoff drivers are coming off an off week for the first time in months.

Those eight drivers are led by JR Motorsports’ William Byron, Justin Allgaier and Elliott Sadler. The three drivers have been at the top of the standings since the second race of the first round.

There was a minor adjustment after the Charlotte race. Matt Tifft was penalized 10 driver points for his car failing post-race inspection. But due to the reset in points, it had no bearing on his placement in the playoffs.

Tifft is eighth in the standings and trails Ryan Reed by one point. The bottom four drivers – Cole Custer, Brennan Poole, Reed and Tifft – are each separated by one point.

Here’s the full playoff grid.

Carl Edwards to receive Stan Musial Award for sportsmanship

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Former NASCAR Cup driver Carl Edwards is among one of more than a dozen individuals that will receive the prestigious 2017 Musial Award.

The annual ceremony will be held Nov. 18 at the Peabody Opera House in St. Louis.

The Musial Awards – named after late St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famer Stan Musial – “honor this year’s greatest moments of sportsmanship and the biggest names in sports for their class and character,” according to a media release.

Edwards will be honored for his actions in last year’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Here’s how the awards committee described what Edwards did that day:

Last November at Homestead—Miami Speedway, Edwards was among four drivers in contention for NASCAR’s Cup Series championship. He led the season finale race with 10 laps to go. But as he tried to block competitor Joey Logano from passing him on a restart, the two drivers crashed, ending Edwards’ shot for his first Cup Series title.

“Instead of losing his cool, as other athletes might have done, Edwards took the high road and showed pure class. He walked over to Logano’s pit crew, shook hands with crew chief Todd Gordon, and wished the team good luck. It was a gesture of extraordinary sportsmanship that was lauded throughout NASCAR.

“Based on the character he has shown throughout his career, it was not a surprise Edwards would take such a gracious approach. Winner of NASCAR’s Busch Series in 2011 and holder of 28 Cup Series wins, the Columbia, Mo., native’s success on the track is equaled by the class, respect and humility he has personified over time.”

Also, renowned track star Jackie Joyner-Kersee – considered by some as the greatest female athlete ever – will receive the Musial Lifetime Achievement Award, joining previous lifetime award winners Joe Torre (2014), Arnold Palmer (2015) and Cal Ripken Jr. (2016).

Other honorees include Arizona Cardinals (NFL) president Michael Bidwell, female boxer Aliyah Charbonier and LSU head baseball coach Paul Mainieri.

Preliminary entry lists for Kansas Speedway

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NASCAR’s top two series will be in action this weekend at Kansas Speedway as they hold two different stages of their playoff races.

The Cup Series has its second round elimination race with the Hollywood Casino 400. The Xfinity Series begins its second round with the Kansas Lottery 300 after an off week.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for both races:

Cup – Hollywood Casino 400

There are 41 cars entered into the race.

StarCom Racing is set to make its debut with Derrike Cope driving the No. 00 Chevrolet. Tony Furr will serve as Cope’s crew chief.

There are four cars without drivers attached to them yet: BK Racing’s No. 23 and No. 83 Toyotas, Premium Motorsports’ No. 15 Chevrolet and Rick Ware Racing’s No. 51 Chevrolet.

Gray Gaulding will driving Premium Motorsports’ No. 55 Chevrolet.

Martin Truex Jr. won the last visit to Kansas Speedway in May. He beat Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick after passing Ryan Blaney with 19 laps to go.

Harvick is the defending winner of the playoff race.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – Kansas Lottery 300

There are 41 cars entered into the race.

Cup drivers entered into the race include Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney.

Christopher Bell will driver the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Kyle Busch is the defending winner of this race. He has won the last three Xfinity races at the track.

Click here for the entry list.