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Jimmie Johnson spins in practice: Martin Truex Jr. posts fastest lap

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Jimmie Johnson spun during Saturday morning’s Cup practice at Michigan International Speedway but won’t need to go to a backup car.

Johnson lost control of the car in Turn 4 and slid into the grass. He drove the car back to the garage.

“I got loose into Turn 3 and fought it for a long time and unfortunately came around,” Johnson said. “Did a nice job of keeping it off the outside wall, but came back down the hill and into the grass and the front end dug in pretty good.  I’m pretty surprised the guys feel like the damage isn’t too bad and they can get that stuff pulled back out and get the shape of the body back. So, we are out for the rest of this practice and we will get back on-track for the second one. Not the way we wanted to start the day, but it is what it is.”

Martin Truex Jr. posted the fastest lap at 198.385 mph. He was followed by Kyle Busch (197.938 mph), Johnson (197.341), Ryan Blaney (197.320) and Kevin Harvick (197.287).

Busch had the best average over 10 consecutive laps at 196.876 mph. He was followed by Kyle Larson (196.095 mph) and Denny Hamlin (195.901).

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Former NASCAR racer Robby Gordon banned from racing in Australia

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Former NASCAR, IndyCar and off-road star Robby Gordon has been banned from racing in Australia after a weekend on-street incident in the town of Darwin.

According to Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, Gordon performed a couple of burnouts on the main thoroughfare (Mitchell Street) in Darwin.

When Australian racing authorities found out about the incident, of which a video is contained in the Daily Telegraph’s online story, they banned Gordon from racing in the country.

Gordon owns and operates the Stadium Super Trucks Series, which has become very popular in Australia. It’s unclear if Gordon’s situation will impact the series from returning to the country for scheduled future competitions.

“We had a truck on display, I asked the two security guards, ‘Hey, you think I could flip a couple of doughies (donuts)?’ They said, ‘I don’t care’,” Gordon said, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Local judge Richard Coats did care, telling Gordon, “It’s one of the busiest streets in Darwin, I don’t believe the professional driving skills are an excuse. I wish I could take away your professional license, but unfortunately I don’t have the power to do that.”

Gordon was cited by local police for several driving offenses, including driving in a dangerous manner. He was fined $4,000 after appearing in Darwin Local Court on Monday.

Coats said he “would have considered sentencing Gordon to jail time for the stunt if he had been in trouble before.”

Less than 24 hours after the on-street display, Gordon finished second in a SST race at Darwin’s Hidden Valley Raceway, which was part of the weekend’s V8 Supercars race there.

Citing the incident and charges against Gordon, the Confederation of Australian Motorsport (CAMS) – which oversees racing competition in the country – said it will indefinitely keep Gordon from obtaining a competition visa on health and safety reasons.

“With CAMS actively engaging more than ever with local communities, government, and corporate Australia to grow and promote our sport, so-called ‘hoon’ behavior on public roads is not reflective of our values, nor our member base, and will not be tolerated,” chief executive Eugene Arocca said in a statement.

Arocca added, “It is unfortunate that such actions have taken place after an otherwise professional and well organized event at Hidden Valley Raceway, and such behavior is not reflective of the organizing committee of that event or Supercars.

“We are disappointed that this incident is not demonstrative of the requisite level of professionalism demanded by modern motorsport.”

Gordon downplayed the incident after his court appearance, telling local media in Darwin, “I think I did two doughnuts … not to make excuses, but maybe less than five kilometers an hour (just over 3 mph).

“Obviously the wheels were faster than that, but I did two doughnuts and put it back on the trailer.”

It’s unclear if Gordon will legally challenge his banishment.

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NASCAR America live at 5:30 p.m. ET: Can Dale Jr. win at Sonoma, My Home Track finale

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs for 90 minutes beginning at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and continues to preview the weekend’s action at Sonoma Raceway.

Krista Voda hosts from our Stamford, Connecticut studio. Steve Letarte, NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett and Max Papis join us from NBC Charlotte.

On today’s show:

  • With only 11 regular season races remaining, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to wine country in Northern California wine for some road-course action. Will we see the 11th different race winner this season and will that driver be Dale Earnhardt Jr.?
  • Veteran racer and road-course specialist Max Papis joins the show to help us navigate the twists and turns of Sonoma Raceway. Our panel will also weigh in with their Sonoma experiences.
  • Plus, Parker Kligerman will hop into the simulator to take us on a lap of Sonoma.
  • The My Home Track: 50 States in 50 Shows comes to conclusion today with stops in Wisconsin and Wyoming. We’ll also have a recap of our journey across the short tracks of America.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you also can 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 5:30 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Ryan: How did debris yellows get a green flag? Tracking trash over the past 16 years

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Debris or not debris?

The question plaguing NASCAR after Tony Stewart’s accusation of heavy-handed officiating teetering on race orchestration is a tangled mess to navigate, breaching the lines of credibility, entertainment and safety.

There is a clear line of demarcation indicating when the debris caution trend began, however.

Research by NBCSports.com of every Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race report since 1990 (the first season in which caution reasons were listed for every race on Racing-Reference.info) shows the 2001 season is when yellow flags for unsafe track conditions became standard practice in race officiating.

Since the 2001 Daytona 500, which marked the first race in a new era of national TV contracts and the most recent race in which a driver was killed in NASCAR’s premier series, NASCAR has averaged nearly 63 debris yellows per season, reaching a high of 85 in 2005.

Compare that to the 11-season stretch from 1990-2000, which produced an average of 15 debris cautions per season with a high of 20 in 1994 and a low of 11 in 1999.

That means there have been more than four times the number of debris cautions annually in 21st century NASCAR over the previous century’s final decade.

There haven’t been fewer than 40 debris yellows in a season since 2001 when there were 27 in the 35 races after Dale Earnhardt became the fourth prominent NASCAR driver to die of a skull fracture in 10 months. That helped spur a raft of safety advancements that included SAFER barriers, mandatory HANS device usage and enhanced driver cocoons with carbon-fiber seats and energy-absorbing foam.

But mostly overlooked is that NASCAR also took the liberty of being more aggressive in pausing races to clear the track of perceived hazards.

Where once only debris as blatant as a brake rotor lying in the groove might have necessitated a caution, the standards have expanded to include water bottles, balloons and garbage bags – with officials adamantly defending their decisions by noting they always would err on the side of safety.

It hasn’t quelled accusations from drivers – both publicly and privately – about the capriciousness of debris yellows and whether there’s an ulterior motive to keep the racing tight by re-racking the field for a double-file restart. The final yellow was thrown for debris in five of 13 season finales at Homestead-Miami Speedway (and two of the past three) since the advent of the playoffs.

Stewart’s Twitter outburst Sunday isn’t the first time the three-time champion has assailed NASCAR for debris yellows – in a noted April 2007 rant, he compared the officiating with pro wrestling and said officials were “playing God” – but the timing is notably different.

A decade ago, Stewart was angry after a Phoenix race with four debris cautions, which came on the heels of the only consecutive seasons with 80-plus yellows for debris.

Yet in 2017, NASCAR is on pace for possibly its lowest debris caution total since before Earnhardt’s death.

Through 15 races there have been 12 debris yellows – the lowest number to start a season in 14 years.

Subtract Texas Motor Speedway (which holds the all-time track trash record of seven debris cautions in the November 2014 race and is the annual leader with an average of 2.5 over the past 29 races), and there have been eight debris yellows in 2017, which is on par with the average of 7.8 over the first 15 races in the 1990-2000 seasons. The 2016 season also marked a six-year low for debris yellows with 51.

So is Stewart’s ire still justified in light of these declines?

Yes, because debris cautions should be on the wane regardless.

The debut of stage racing in ’17 has guaranteed at least two caution periods per race (and perhaps more next season) that ostensibly is to award points to the top 10 but also could be used to clear the track. Those yellows essentially produce the same outcome as a debris cautions – a pause in the action (not because a car was damaged) followed by a restart.

It’s reasonable for drivers and teams to expect NASCAR to be more inclined to let a race naturally unfold with two predetermined breaks that allow for track maintenance. With the addition of a 5-minute clock on repairing damaged cars, it also is logical there should be fewer wounded cars littering the track with jagged sheet metal or busted parts.

As noted by Steve Letarte and Parker Kligerman in a NASCAR America discussion Monday, it also is valid to ask whether NASCAR is using the most optimized technology to locate and classify debris on track. If transparency would help defuse the implication (by Stewart and others) that officials are tampering with a race’s rhythm to produce more scintillating action, NASCAR should consider releasing detailed explanations of the debris, possibly with visual evidence.

But the easiest way to end the controversy over debris yellows simply is by reducing them – and living with consequences that might be negligible anyway. Managing risk makes sense, but it also is a tricky line to walk with auto racing’s inherent danger.

How many times have drivers or fans been injured over the past 16 years by a piece of debris being hit – or in the 52 prior years when cautions to clean the track were much more infrequent?

Applying consistent criteria is difficult because debris cautions always will remain a judgment call – but there is opportunity to use greater discretion in keeping the yellow flag holstered unless incontrovertible evidence exists of a lurking danger, particularly late in the race.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: How do you strike the most judicious balance between upholding the sanctity of races while ensuring the safety of drivers?

That is the question.

XXX

After being critical of Kyle Larson’s inability to close out races on restarts earlier this season here, kudos to the Chip Ganassi Racing driver for pulling it off from the nonpreferrred line at Michigan International Speedway.

The ineffectiveness of the bottom lane on the 2-mile oval Sunday did illustrate an unintended consequence of track treatment in the current era of VHT and tire-dragging machines to improve traction. It seems all of the work on the Michigan surface might have made the outside line too good Sunday.

That bears remembering as tracks continue to be proactive with trying to facilitate passing.

XXX

Nothing says peaceful like a relaxing weekend of wine tasting in the picturesque solace of Napa Valley – but in NASCAR, this is usually the time of the year when the chatter over contracts gets cranked up.

Silly Season has hit a fever pitch before in Sonoma, where a more limited schedule of track activity, along with increased access and time for a bottle of Cab, seems conducive to setting tongues to wagging.

In 2008, word began to leak that Mark Martin was headed to Hendrick Motorsports to replace Casey Mears. Five years ago, news began to spread on race day about Matt Kenseth’s impending departure from Roush Fenway Racing (which broke a few days later).

There are no imminent signs of wildfire breaking this week, but there are enough possibilities (and beat reporters Jenna Fryer and Bob Pockrass floated a few more this week) to watch the kindling while the vino flows around the bonfires this weekend.

XXX

Jeff Gordon (a record nine road-course victories) and Tony Stewart (seven) have retired. Marcos Ambrose (two-time winner at the Glen) and Carl Edwards (Sonoma 2014 winner) are gone.

Who are the Cup road course experts now?

AJ Allmendinger would rank high on the list, but it’s hard to look past Joey Logano, who has four straight top fives on road courses (including a 2015 win at Watkins Glen International), Kyle Busch (four road-course wins) and Denny Hamlin, who was a final-turn mistake away from sweeping the road courses in 2016.

The right-turn narrative centered (with good reason) on Gordon and Stewart for so long, it seems odd to put that trio in the conversation for road-course greatness, but their results prove they deserve it.

XXX

If you’re keeping track – and we can’t blame you for having lost count given the preponderance of binkies, diapers and strollers in the motorhome lot over the past decade – the birth of Trevor Bayne’s second child and the impending arrival of Logano’s first will push the number of kids born to active Cup drivers since 2007 to more than 30 by the end of the season.

During the baby boom, 19 drivers have become fathers while racing in Cup. The first in that timeframe was Jeff Gordon, whose daughter, Ella, turned 10 this week.

NASCAR weekend racing schedule at Sonoma (Cup), Iowa (Trucks, Xfinity)

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Once again, the three major NASCAR series will race in two separate locations this weekend.

While the NASCAR Cup Series will be at Sonoma Raceway for the Toyota/Save Mart 350, both the NASCAR Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series will be racing halfway across the country at Iowa Speedway.

Tony Stewart is the defending winner of Sunday’s Cup race, which was the 49th and last win of his NASCAR premier series career. Stewart retired from racing in the Cup series after last season.

Iowa Speedway will host the M&Ms 200 Truck race on Friday night, and the American Ethanol e15 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race Saturday night.

William Byron won last year’s Truck race at Iowa, while Sam Hornish Jr., won the Xfinity race there. Erik Jones returned to Iowa several weeks later to win the mid-summer Xfinity race there.

Hornish will once again return to Iowa and attempt to defend last year’s win, racing for Team Penske.

Here’s the full weekend schedule for both Iowa and Sonoma:

(All times are Eastern)

Friday, June 23, at Sonoma

12:30 p.m. – 10 p.m. Cup garage open

3 p.m. – 4:55 p.m. – Cup first practice (FS1)

6:30 p.m. – 7:55 p.m. – Cup final practice (FS1)

Friday, June 23, at Iowa

8 a.m. – Truck garage opens

10 a.m. – 11:25 a.m. – Truck first practice (FS1)

11:30 a.m. – 8:30 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

12:15 p.m. – 1:15 p.m. – Truck final practice (FS1)

2 – 2:55 p.m. – Xfinity first practice (FS1)

5 – 5:55 p.m. – Xfinity final practice (FS1)

6:05 p.m. – Truck qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) (No TV)

7:30 p.m. – Truck driver/crew chief meeting

8 p.m. – Truck driver introductions

8:30 p.m. – M&M’s 200 Truck race (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR radio

Saturday, June 24, at Sonoma

10 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. Cup garage open

2:45 p.m. – Cup qualifying (multi-vehicle, two rounds) (FS1, Performance Racing Network)

Saturday, June 24, at Iowa

2:30 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

6:15 p.m. – Xfinity qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) (Tape delayed at 7 p.m. ET on FS1)

7:30 p.m. – Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting

8 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions

8:30 p.m. – American Ethanol e15 200 Xfinity Series race (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR radio)

Sunday, June 25, at Sonoma

10 a.m. – Cup garage open

1 p.m. – Driver/crew chief meeting

2:20 p.m. – Driver introductions

3 p.m. – Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Cup race (110 laps, 218.9 miles) (FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR radio)


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