Daytona provided a chance for drivers often overlooked to shine

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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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Erik Jones tops final Cup practice for Brickyard 400

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Rookie Erik Jones was fastest in the final Cup Series practice session for the Brickyard 400 with a top speed of 185.845 mph.

Jones’ top speed came on his third of nine laps around Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Completing the top five were Kevin Harvick (185.824), Ryan Blaney (185.816), Jimmie Johnson (185.487) and Jamie McMurray (185.460).

Matt Kenseth, 20th fastest, recorded the most laps in the session with 34.

Johnson had the best 10-lap average at 180.951 mph. Kyle Busch followed him at 180.864 mph.

Click here for the full practice report.

During the practice session the spotter for Harvick, Tim Fedewa, told the driver over radio that he had his hard card taken by NASCAR after the sandwich he was eating fell from his perch on the Pagoda. NASCAR confirmed it returned his hard card after practice.

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Toyotas dominate opening Cup practice at Indianapolis

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Toyotas took the top three spots and four of the top six spots in the opening Cup practice session Saturday morning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Denny Hamlin, driving a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, led the way with a lap of 187.414 mph. He was followed by Furniture Row Racing’s Martin Truex Jr., whose Toyota went 185.559 mph. JGR driver Matt Kenseth was next at 185.200 in his Toyota.

Kasey Kahne was fourth for Hendrick Motorsports, leading his Chevrolet to a lap of 185.151 mph. Kyle Larson was next at 185.002 mph in his Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. The top Ford was Ryan Blaney. He was eight in his Wood Brothers Racing ride at 184.453 mph.

There were no incidents in the 55-minute session.

Final Cup practice is scheduled to go from 11 – 11:55 a.m. ET on CNBC.

Click here for full practice report

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Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch among those penalized practice time at Indy

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NASCAR announced that the teams of Jimmie Johnson and Corey LaJoie will miss 15 minutes of practice in Saturday’s first session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for being late to inspection before last weekend’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The teams of Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon will each miss 15 minutes in Saturday’s final practice session for multiple inspection failures before last weekend’s race at New Hampshire.

Today’s Xfinity race at Indianapolis: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

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Points leader Elliott Sadler continues his quest for his first Xfinity Series championship in today’s Lilly Diabetes 250 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Sadler has made five previous Xfinity starts at the historic Brickyard. His two best finishes there have come in the last two races – fifth in 2015 and sixth last year.

Sadler holds a 45-point edge over JR Motorsports teammate William Byron and a 90-point lead on teammate Justin Allgaier.

Here are the particulars for tonight’s Xfinity race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 3:37 p.m. Green flag is set for 3:49 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 100 laps (250 miles) around the 2.5-mile speedway.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 15

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 30. Stage 2 ends on Lap 60.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: The Xfinity garage opens at 9 a.m. The driver/crew chief meeting is at 2:15 p.m. Driver introductions are at 3 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Corey Cox will perform the Anthem at 3:31 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race. Coverage begins at 3 p.m. with Countdown to Green. Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network will broadcast on radio and the Performance Racing Network at 3 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the IMSRN/PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts 90 degrees at race time with a 23 percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST YEAR: Kyle Busch started from the pole and led 62 of the race’s 63 total laps. Kevin Harvick finished second, while Paul Menard was third. Busch also won the 2015 race.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying begins at 12:45 p.m.