Daytona provided a chance for drivers often overlooked to shine


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — They walked away with smiles but couldn’t shake one thought.

If only.

If only they had made a different move, put the car elsewhere or just had everything come together, they could have been in victory lane instead of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway.

Still, a number of drivers who had not won this season posted their best finishes of the season.

  • Paul Menard, who has one career Cup win, placed a season-best third.
  • Michael McDowell, who has never won a Cup race, finished a career-best fourth.
  • David Ragan, who has two career wins, was a season-best sixth.
  • Brendan Gaughan, who races full-time in the Xfinity Series, was seventh for his best Cup finish since 2004.
  • Corey LaJoie recorded a career-best 11th-place result.

They were survivors in a race that had an event-record 14 cautions. Twenty-seven of the 40 drivers were involved in accidents, including Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Austin Dillon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

That’s what restrictor-plate racing can do — shake up the results and give teams and drivers a better chance of winning than they would have at many other tracks.

Ragan, who has two restrictor-plate wins, was in position for Front Row Motorsports to score his first victory since 2013 at Talladega.

He led on the final restart in overtime but Stenhouse charged by to lead the final two laps.

“I missed my mark a bit coming to the white,’’ Ragan said. “I zigged when I should have zagged. It’s tough to block two or three lanes coming to the white flag. I missed it on that run. I’m just disappointed that I couldn’t close the deal.

“I should have moved to get (Ty Dillon) a little bit of a block and get down in front of (Stenhouse). Over the years, if you’re in those situations more, you just make better decisions on the fly. That’s the first time I’ve been leading like that in a green-white-checkered at a plate race in several years. I was probably a little slow to be looking in my mirrors good enough. I just didn’t know that (Stenhouse) and (McDowell) had that good of a run.’’

With that charge, McDowell scored a top-five finish. That was big because the team needs sponsorship. The sponsor on the car, WRL General Contractors is a company owned by team owner Bob Leavine and his wife.

“It’s nice to do this week after week,’’ said McDowell, who has five top-20 finishes in the last seven races. “We’ve been putting together solid runs. At the same time, coming to the line second, I thought I had a shot at (Stenhouse) but just they had such a big run behind I couldn’t hold them off.”

For as fast as Menard was with Clint Bowyer pushing him on the final lap, it wasn’t enough.

“I really did think I was going to win for a little while,’’ Bowyer said.

“I knew you were going to win if I didn’t,’’ Menard said.

Dillon looked to be in the right position when he restarted second but fell back and finished 16th.

“I wanted to do it so bad for (team owner) Bob Germain who gave me this opportunity,” Dillon said. “That is two close ones, and if you keep getting these close ones, you will get one eventually. We work hard every week, but not every week are we contending for wins. When it’s our chance, we make the most of it. So I am proud of the way we are growing as a team and we are leading a lot of laps any way we can.

“I just feel disappointed. Nobody went with me (at the end) and so that is kind of the pains of being a rookie, but I would have been mad at myself if I didn’t make a move right there. The move cost me a good finish but didn’t really determine what our day was.”

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NASCAR America: The challenges of Martinsville Speedway

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What Martinsville Speedway lacks in size compared to other tracks it makes up in difficulty say drivers and NASCAR America’s analysts.

Landon Cassill joined Carolyn Manno, Parker Kligerman and Jeff Burton on Thursday’s show and discussed the challenges of the half-mile paperclip track.

“It can be fun when it’s going well,’’ said Cassill, who will make his Cup season debut this weekend in the No. 00 for StarCom Racing. “That place, if you’re car is not handling well, you can end up going backwards and just by the time you’ve got some clear race track the leader is right behind you. So it can be frustration. I tend to like Martinsville.’’

Kligerman calls racing in the pack at Martinsville Speedway “the most aggressive racing I’ve ever been a part of in my life.’’

Jeff Burton said: “It’s … one of the hardest race tracks we go to period because you have to do it lap after lap after lap and it’s so easy to get, quite simply, just really, really mad at the guy you’re racing with because he’s hitting you and he’s banging on you.’’

Cup drivers have their description of the track. See what NASCAR America’s analysts and Cup drivers have to say about the track that hosts Sunday’s Cup race in the video above.

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Richard Childress Racing reinstates Xfinity crew chief Nick Harrison

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Richard Childress Racing has reinstated Nick Harrison to crew chief  of the No. 3 Xfinity team after he served a five-race suspension for a violation at Daytona International Speedway. 

Harrison’s first race back will be April 8 at Texas.

Harrison was suspended after the No. 3 car of Austin Dillon had a rear suspension violation in pre-qualifying inspection. Harrison and the team’s car chief were ejected by NASCAR after the violation. RCR imposed the suspension.

“I’m looking forward to being back with my team and winning races after my five-race suspension,” Harrison said in a statement from the team.

Brandon Thomas served as the interim crew chief while Harrison was out. Austin Dillon finished a season-best fourth for the team last weekend at Auto Club Speedway.

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NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Martinsville breakdown, Aric Almirola and Bubba Wallace

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and features host Carolyn Manno and Parker Kligerman in Stamford, Connecticut, and Jeff Burton and Landon Cassill from Burton’s Garage.

Among the topics today:

  •  Prepare for paint swapping, bent fenders, and bruised egos. It’s time to go short-track racing at Martinsville Speedway! Jeff, Parker and Landon will tell you what to expect this weekend at the famous half-mile. We’ll also see what it takes to succeed there, as Parker takes us for some quick laps in the NBCSN iRacing Simulator.
  • After making the switch to Stewart-Haas Racing in the offseason, Aric Almirola is off to the best start of his Cup Series career. Currently 10th in the standings, he’ll tell Marty Snider about his early season success.
  • Since finishing second at the Daytona 500, rookie driver Bubba Wallace has cooled off. Now he faces his first Cup Series start at Martinsville in the iconic No. 43 car, and he’s feeling confident — it’s where Wallace scored his first truck series win nearly five years ago. We’ll examine the struggles he might have to work through this season and also hear his reflections on his early years of racing in the latest edition of “A Driver’s Drive.”

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you can also watch it via the online stream at http:/ 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.

Weekend schedule for NASCAR at Martinsville Speedway

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NASCAR returns to its backyard this weekend after the three week West Coast swing.

The Cup and Camping World Truck Series visit Martinsville Speedway in Southern Virginia.

The weekend is capped off by Sunday’s STP 500. It will be the first Cup race broadcast on Fox Sports 1 this year.

Here’s the full weekend schedule complete with TV and radio info.

(All times are Eastern)

Friday, March 23

8:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. — Truck garage opens

11:05 – 11:55 a.m. — Truck practice (No TV)

1:05 – 1:55 p.m. — Truck practice (Fox Sports 1)

3:05 – 3:55 p.m. — Final Truck practice (FS1)

Saturday, March 24

7 a.m. – 8 p.m. — Cup garage open

7:30 a.m. — Truck garage opens

10:05 – 10:55 a.m. — Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

11:05 a.m. — Truck qualifying; multi-truck/three rounds (FS1)

12:15 p.m. — Truck driver-crew chief meeting

12:30 – 1:20 p.m. — Final Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

1:30 p.m. — Truck driver introductions

2 p.m. — Alpha Energy Solutions 250; 250 laps/131.5 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

5:10 p.m. — Cup qualifying; multi-car/three rounds (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, March 25

9:30 a.m. — Cup garage opens

Noon — Driver-crew chief meeting

1:20 p.m. — Driver introductions

2 p.m. — STP 500; 500 laps/263 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)