Ryan: The secret to Martin Truex Jr.’s success? It might be location, location, location

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In a nondescript section of northeast Denver dotted by low-slung office buildings, industrial parks and warehouses, the best team in NASCAR’s premier series was toiling away again today.

And possibly vacillating on whether it was on the verge of implosion.

Battling the inherent challenges of being two time zones and roughly 1,600 miles removed from the epicenter of NASCAR, Furniture Row Racing is making its transition from underdog to powerhouse seem a lot easier than it apparently is.

“I feel like a lot of times we’re hanging on by a thread, but it’s just the way it is,” crew chief Cole Pearn said Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway after Martin Truex Jr.’s latest dominant Cup victory.

It’s tough in Colorado. We’ve got to load a day early most weeks, so we work closely with (Joe Gibbs Racing) and obviously they’ve got a day ahead of us, so our Monday and Tuesdays are pretty much hair on fire most weeks, so it’s amazing sometimes I feel like we make it to the racetrack, but when we do, we’re generally good.”

So good, it might be time to ask if team owner Barney Visser has stumbled upon the secret to success simply by wanting to keep his team’s shop close enough to walk through from his Colorado home whenever he pleased.

Ignore the logistical problems that might create (such as team members arriving at the crack of dawn to keep with an Eastern Time-driven industry schedule).

Not only is Furniture Row Racing doing things unlike any other team in NASCAR, it’s succeeding unlike any other, too.

Truex has 13 stage wins – more than three times as many as second-ranked Kyle Busch (four) — and 28 playoff points (12 more than Jimmie Johnson). He is one point behind Kyle Larson for top spot in the regular-season standings, which is significant because the regular-season championship is worth 15 playoff points (second through 10 in the regular-season standings also award playoff points, starting from 10 for runner-up down to one for 10th).

With a few more wins and stage victories, it’s conceivable that Truex could enter the playoffs with at least 60 points – the maximum available in a race with two stages – to carry through the first three rounds of the playoffs. That would be hefty insurance against a poor finish or engine failure (which eliminated Truex at Talladega Superspeedway last year) even in the third round.

Barring a total collapse in the final 10 races, Truex would be close to a cinch to reach the championship round at Miami if his No. 78 Toyota averaged decent finishes even without winning (at least one slot among the final four drivers will be claimed on points, and Kyle Busch advanced last year by a six-point margin).

Though he hailed Saturday’s car as “probably the best I’ve had in my career,” Truex, the native of the Jersey Shore who speaks with a North Carolina Piedmont twang, also deserves credit.

“I think he’s peaking right now, and for the last year I’ve thought he was as good as anyone in the garage,” Visser said. “Now I think he’s better than anyone in the garage.  You saw what he did on that last restart, putting it down in Turn 1.  He’s just that good.

“Whatever it is, I think he was always better than people thought he was, and he’s not driving for money, he’s driving for fun.  That’s his game.”

Visser, 68, mostly seems to be in this for the competitive fun, too, resorting to team ownership after a brief career as a Late Model and Modified driver.

Though the team’s 2015-17 results surely have brought widespread exposure for his furniture chain (“You can’t find a more fun way to spend your advertising dollars,” he said in a 2008 USA TODAY interview shortly after starting the team), Visser has spent his millions on the team because he is a car enthusiast with a passion for manufacturing (his Visser Precision company machines state-of-the-art materials with aerospace and military applications).

A bluntly spoken Vietnam War veteran who shies from doing interviews, Visser’s independent streak is the foundation of the team. Its soul seems to rest mostly within Pearn, the unassuming Canadian whose judicious but acutely timed and worded tweets often are loaded with iconoclastic subtext and humor.

Usually clad in a black T-shirt with white lettering (unlike fellow crew chiefs typically clad in colorful collared shirts loaded with sponsor logos), the simple wardrobe embodies Pearn’s disarmingly loose but outspoken nature.

Pearn’s unthreatening style helped ensure a seamless move to Toyota Racing Development last year, because he immediately established the trust of Joe Gibbs Racing (which builds FRR’s chassis and shares information as a partner team).

Pearn enjoys tweeting victory selfies of the team, which one insider playfully described as having a “pirate vibe” because it’s a bunch of guys who wear black and sport scruffy looks – and who also have hijacked the series’ new wrinkle of incentivized racing.

Yes, Truex’s commanding lead in stage wins might be simply a byproduct of having the fastest car in the majority of races, but there are signs that it’s also by design. He has a habit of taking the lead late in stages (at Kentucky, it was with 12 laps left in Stage 1).

It’s enough to wonder whether it’s an overlooked positive of working far away from the pervasive groupthink among the teams based in the Charlotte area – where trade secrets get swapped over breakfast and lunch between employees who frequently migrate between teams located in close proximity.

That doesn’t happen in Furniture Row’s Denver outpost.

“We’ve got a group out there that we’ve been together for a while, and we’ve been through the lows and we’ve sucked, and we’ve had those moments where it’s tested all of us,” said Pearn, who was the team’s engineer during Truex’ 24th-place finish in the 2014 points.

“But when you stick together and you’re all out there, you’re not worrying about somebody running down the street to go to a different place for a better deal. It just breeds a lot of chemistry.  It breeds family, actually.”

That was manifested in Truex’s first season when Visser told him to take a few weeks off after girlfriend Sherry Pollex was diagnosed with ovarian cancer (she recently had a recurrence that kept her from attending Saturday’s win).

“(Visser) said, ‘We’re here for you, this is your team.  You’re going to drive this car,’” Truex said. “That meant a lot to me, and not long after that, we got things turned around. I’m sure that was part of it, just that belief that he had in me. This is a really awesome guy. I’m really lucky to be working for him, and I’m going to make sure I do all I can to get this team going in the right direction.

“He gives our guys all they need, all the tools, all the things they need to make these cars fast, and he gives them a great work environment in Denver.”

Truex rarely visits the shop but hears about its frenetic pace often during daily communication via phone calls and texts with Pearn.

“He tells me when things are kind of crazy and when things are going crazy,” Truex said. “But we have a great bunch. I can’t tell you how good our guys are at just making sure they do all the things right. They’re perfectionists, really.

“I think sometimes Cole makes them burn a little midnight oil to get the cars where he wants them, to get things the way he likes it, and sometimes they work a little more than they expected to, but they all do a great job, and they’re willing to put in the hours, and right now it’s showing up.

“It’s pretty awesome to see, and it’s definitely cool doing it in Denver out there all by ourselves.”

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Brad Keselowski’s Saturday night rant about the need to redesign the Gen 6 was jarring when juxtaposed with the debut of the low downforce rules two years earlier at Kentucky Speedway. It resulted in perhaps the most uniformly positive driver reviews of a race in NASCAR history.

But Keselowski now seems eerily prescient with two tweets posted immediately in that race’s afterglow.

It certainly seems the Team Penske driver foresaw some of his own criticism Saturday night, and it’s worth reconsidering the primary point he made: Teams had little time to prepare for the downforce package announced just a few weeks ahead of that July 2015 race in Kentucky.

Changing the rules every week isn’t advisable or feasible. But if there were a way to keep the brainpower in check at the shop (where computer simulations run abated to build the most highly engineered stock cars in history) while allowing some unharnessed ingenuity in race weekends, the results might be favorable.

The downforce stripped from chopping the spoiler to 2.3 inches this season is regained as teams apply mammoth engineering manpower to optimizing the underbody, undermining the good intentions of the low downforce initiative.

The July 2015 race at Kentucky put NASCAR firmly on a course of low downforce. The 2016 rules mimicked the package from that race, and this year’s rules were intended to go even further.

But as NASCAR senior vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell noted on last week’s NASCAR on NBC podcast, it’s brought mixed reviews behind the wheel. In their annual meeting with the sanctioning body at Daytona, the consensus among drivers was that the lower downforce last year made a big difference, but the feedback has been less positive this year.

It’s because even when the fastest cars reach the top five, they stall out trying to break through the imperceptible aerodynamic “bubble” that buffers the path of trailing cars.

While making the cars more difficult to drive put the stars’ fates back in their own hands, solving the aerodynamic quandary remains the greatest challenge. As NASCAR begins meetings in earnest this month to formulate a technologically enhanced Gen 7 car that hopefully could make its debut by 2020, this must be the primary goal.

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It wasn’t on the level of Conor McGregor declaring he would chomp on an opponent’s flesh while his “little gazelle friends” watched, but it was refreshing to hear Truex’s brusque answer when asked about Keselowski’s comments.

“He was probably just mad because he got wrecked,” Truex said in the most curt answer of his postrace interviews.

This isn’t to intimate there is some sort of feud brewing between Keselowski and Truex, but this is a small example of the swagger that subtly could go a long way to rebuilding rivalries. It shouldn’t be striking when a driver so plainly (and rather innocuously) calls out a rival, but it unfortunately is in the overly collegial world of Cup (an issue raised by NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte earlier this year).

There’s no need for MMA-style blustering in orchestrated news conferences, but Truex’s dig was a reminder there’s little harm in clashing with a competitor.

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Darrell Wallace Jr. came up one spot short of a steady four-race progression into the top 10 for Richard Petty Motorsports. After a 26th at Pocono, 19th at Michigan and 15th at Daytona, an 11th at Kentucky still was impressive.

“I damn sure wanted a top 10 today to keep the momentum going,” he said. “Hopefully, I made a name for myself.”

As the first African-American driver to race in Cup in more than a decade, there was inherent national exposure surrounding his replacing Aric Almirola in the No. 43 Ford. But the best part of his stint with Richard Petty Motorsports is that virtually all of the focus has been on his impressive acclimation to Cup.

“The biggest thing we need is if sponsors are watching, and they see, ‘Hey this kid can do it,’” Wallace said. “That’s the hard thing. I think everyone in the garage can back me up on that.”

He clearly won over his peers with the response to his tweet Monday morning, and Ford Performance unquestionably would like to see him continue racing.

But Wallace’s future is hazy with Roush Fenway Racing having shuttered his Xfinity team. When Almirola returns from a fractured back — possibly as early as this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway – Wallace will be headed to the sidelines for an indeterminate timeframe.

“I’ve got a lot of people in my corner,” Wallace said. “It’s just a matter of what comes at us at the right time. The best opportunity will present itself when the time is right.”

Even if it’s a hiatus that lasts months, there still could be hope. If Almirola leaves the No. 43 next season, RPM already might have found its replacement.

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The announcement of the Quaker State title sponsorship of Kentucky’s race being extended through 2022 was another example of business-to-business deals being the best stabilizer for racing sponsorships.

Through its Quaker State and Pennzoil brands, Shell now has title sponsorships at Kentucky and Las Vegas Motor Speedway through 2022, and it announced an extension of its sponsorship of Joey Logano’s No. 22 Ford earlier this year through 2023.

While there’s an R&D component to its business relationships with Ferrari and Team Penske, these are sponsorships that essentially pay for themselves.

The sponsorship of Penske ensures Shell’s engine lubricants are used in more than 200,000 trucks of Penske Truck Leasing and the 300 dealerships of Penske Automotive Group (which annually sells a few hundred thousand cars). That brings in major revenue of millions of gallons sold.

The deals with the Speedway Motorsports Inc. tracks of Kentucky and Las Vegas help generate a similar return on investment, said Heidi Massey-Bong, a senior business advisor at Shell, because it helps foster relationships with Sonic Automotive, the automotive dealer that shares a founder (O. Bruton Smith) with SMI. While there aren’t guarantees of Sonic buying Shell products, “it opens the door” to sales, Massey-Bong said.

“We find significant (return on investment), mostly from the business to business from these organizations,” she said. “R&D is the heart and soul of what we do in racing, but when we are able to connect that with key customers, and SMI and Penske being two of those, where we can sell our product, that’s an absolute home run.”

Though the business helps justify the sponsorships, the brands also have benefited from greater recognition. “We have jumped feet first into this,” she said. “It’s a validation of the attendance we see at races. We know media ratings are down, and we’re as concerned as others, but it’s still a good spend. We know that the core of the people watching and putting that much investment into it are true enthusiasts who care about what motor oil goes in their cars. That’s our audience.”

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With Matt Kenseth apparently forced out at Joe Gibbs Racing because of sponsorship (per teammate Kyle Busch in a SiriusXM interview Friday), the questions are what options remain for the 2003 champion. Kenseth, 45, is in peak physical condition since taking up bike riding over the past couple of years, and he doesn’t want to end his career with possibly his worst season in 10 years.

But Kenseth won’t take a middling ride to stay in Cup. There is at least one opening at Hendrick Motorsports, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. offered a general endorsement of his good friend’s ability. But if there’s no room there, it is difficult to foresee a high-caliber landing spot for Kenseth.

Just as with former teammate Greg Biffle this season, the possibility looms that Kenseth won’t exit on his own terms, barring a remarkable turnaround for the No. 20 Toyota.

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In nine races since having his Richmond victory essentially voided for a postrace violation, Joey Logano has two top 10s, and both were because of well-executed strategy and racecraft. In the first nine races of the season, he had seven top 10s (including five top fives).

The speed has been lacking in the No. 22. Yet drawing a line directly to the Richmond penalty might be reductive. While the punishment was major, garage insiders say it wasn’t necessarily a game-changing element.

Maybe the slump instead could be traced to Kansas Speedway, where Logano qualified second and was running well before a brake rotor failure triggered a fiery crash that also collected Almirola and Danica Patrick. He hasn’t seemed as fast since then.

Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott hit wall early in practice

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LOUDON, New Hampshire – Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott each hit the Turn 3 wall within minutes of each other in Friday’s opening practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Both will go to backup cars.

Johnson slammed the wall on his second lap of practice. He had recorded what was the second-fastest lap of the session on the previous lap before drifting from the top lane and bouncing off the Turn 3 wall the next time by. Johnson drove the car back to the garage but his team quickly unloaded a backup car. Johnson’s incident happened 21 minutes into the 85-minute session.

“I just got in there with a lot of speed and anticipated it sticking and it didn’t quite stick,” Johnson told NBCSN. “Definitely not the way we wanted to start.”

Elliott hit the wall less than 10 minutes after Johnson. He also drove his car back to the garage.

Elliott is without crew chief Alan Gustafson and car chief Joshua Kirk this weekend. NASCAR suspended both one race, along with docking Elliott and the team 15 points each, for modifying components to affect aerodynamic properties of the car last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.

“It’s not what we needed,” Elliott told NBCSN, adding his car also didn’t stick when he went into Turn 3. “We’re behind this weekend and that is never good.”

NBCSN’s Marty Snider reported that Elliott’s team did not plan to run the backup car in this session – the only session before qualifying today. Johnson made it on track in his backup car with less than 15 minutes left in the session.

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Cup playoff contenders docked practice time

Cup playoff contenders docked practice time
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LOUDON, New Hampshire – Playoff contenders Martin Truex Jr. and Jamie McMurray will each miss 30 minutes of practice in Saturday’s final session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for inspection issues last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.

Both are being docked practice time because each car failed inspection before the race three times at Chicagoland.

Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones each will miss 15 minutes of the 50-minute final practice session Saturday because their cars failed inspection twice before last weekend’s race at Chicagoland.

Final Cup practice will be from 11:30 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. ET Saturday.

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Friday’s schedule for New Hampshire (Cup, Trucks) and Kentucky (Xfinity)

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In what will be a busy weekend,  on-track action starts today at both New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Kentucky Speedway.

The Cup Series will have one practice and qualifying in Loudon. The Truck Series will have two practices there.

At Kentucky, the Xfinity Series will have two practice sessions in preparation for Saturday’s race there.

Here is today’s schedule for both tracks:

(All times are Eastern):

At NEW HAMPSHIRE

9 a.m. – 7 p.m. – Cup garage open

11:30 a.m. – 12:55 p.m. – Cup practice (NBCSN)

11:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. – Truck garage open

1:30 p.m. – 2:25 p.m. – First Truck practice (FoxSports1)

3:30 p.m. – 4:25 p.m. – Final Truck practice (FS1)

5:15 p.m. – Cup qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) (NBCSN, Performance Racing Network)

At KENTUCKY

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

4 – 4:55 p.m. – Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

6:30 p.m. – 7:25 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

 

Ryan: Did self-policing in NASCAR reach a new level of social media shaming after Chicagoland?

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When NASCAR announced a private testing ban three years ago, it also disclosed an intriguing twist in how it would monitor roughly 4 million square miles.

Posting 24-hour sentries at every short track in America wasn’t an option, of course. But the 24-hour omniscience of social media?

A reality of 21st century community policing in any neighborhood, especially NASCAR’s.

“The teams are not too shy about telling on one another,” chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell said at the time. “So we know it won’t be just NASCAR (enforcing the policy). We have a lot of people out there with social media.”

That was driven home by the 2017 Cup Series playoffs’ first major penalty, which was the subject of a social media firestorm long before Chase Elliott lost 15 points and crew chief Alan Gustafson this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

NASCAR officials certainly were cognizant of the potential wrongdoing to Elliott’s No. 24 Chevrolet well before the photos and video went viral in various corners of the Internet that purported to show aerodynamic modifications Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway that were deemed the reason for the punishment.

The sanctioning body has access to cameras around the track as well as the PRO system of about 50 high-definition cameras that provide nonstop observation of every pit stall. It certainly is plausible that officials were aware Elliott’s team might have been on the wrong side of the rulebook before the race even was over.

But the same knowledge also likely was available to teams, which work with manufacturers that employ photographers who take thousands of photos of cars on track during every race weekend. There are some moral stipulations that are followed for garage photos (as noted in this excellent USA TODAY Sports feature from 2015 by Mike Hembree), but the amount of on-track images taken are staggering. To ensure swift transmissions of massive data files to their home bases (and teams), manufacturers in NASCAR have benefited in recent years from tracks upgrading high-speed connectivity in every garage.

Was access to those vast troves of evidence put to use in attempting to try Elliott’s team in the court of public opinion before any penalty were announced, or even decided?

That’s what made this controversy feel different – and also harken back to how NASCAR implemented the testing ban. Just as it predicted teams would help with enforcement, NASCAR received photos of Elliott’s car from rival Cup teams. So did many in the news media.

It is natural to ponder whether the ensuing widespread distribution might have hastened NASCAR’s reaction – usually, penalties are announced after the offending teams are consulted and a fair amount of deliberation takes place.

In this instance, anyone with a Twitter account and following the right people – or any regular visitor to NASCAR Reddit – knew there was extra scrutiny on the No. 24, which was one of three cars taken to the R&D Center after the Chicagoland Speedway race.

If it was a coordinated and deliberate campaign by rival teams to disseminate the visual evidence of an infraction, it certainly seemed successful — regardless of whether the worldwide whisper campaign led to NASCAR uncovering the No. 24’s penalty.

“Self policing” in NASCAR – at least in a public setting — traditionally has fallen into the “Boys, Have at It” realm of frontier justice administered via bumper and fender by drivers who feel aggrieved.

This felt as if it were delivered via point and click by an angry army of engineers eager to drop a dime on a competitor – and perhaps deliver a warning about a new era in the fishbowl existence of these modern times.

Don’t bend that spoiler. Somebody always is watching.

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Much of the discussion around Elliott’s car centered on whether tape was applied to the spoiler. It might have seemed a relatively minor modification, but NASCAR has been warning teams for more than a year that it would punish teams for even miniscule adjustments.

In the June 7, 2016 race at Pocono Raceway, Brad Keselowski’s team was penalized for improper body modifications, and Cup series director Richard Buck warned teams later that season at the Kentucky Speedway prerace drivers meeting and again before the Kansas Speedway race in last year’s playoffs.

Buck specifically referred to “deliberately adding tape trips,” which create more downforce by altering airflow with strategically placed tiny pieces of tape. Teams also are known to slice cars’ wraps (particularly around the wheel well area) to create more downforce.

The penalty for illegal body modifications is a pit stop for repairs under yellow (which applied in Keselowski’s case) and restarting from the rear and a drive-through penalty under green.

By virtue of a second-place finish at Chicagoland, Elliott’s car received further scrutiny in a postrace teardown at the R&D Center (after which NASCAR announced the penalty). It’s worth considering, though, if a similar situation occurred in the next nine playoff races, would NASCAR consider bringing the car to the pits based off visual evidence (and possibly punishing a team with a loss of positions even if no infraction were found)?

Or might NASCAR consider randomly checking cars in the impound area where officials check for five secure lug nuts before team members are allowed near the vehicles?

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It isn’t unusual for NASCAR to seize tires for inspection during a race, but Sunday was unusual because of the appearance of a blue tent that housed the dunk tank used to check them.

The tent has been in use this season to establish some consistency in its at-track processes. Because its accommodations vary from each facility (some tracks have dedicated buildings for tire suppliers; others don’t), Goodyear began erecting the tent at the back of the garage near its hauler and tire staging area so that it could check for punctures and leaks more efficiently.

Of course, it also is used by NASCAR during races for random checks – O’Donnell noted on Twitter that it has happened five times in Cup this season.

That it happened to come to light during the 2017 playoff opener and involving the race’s two fastest cars (whose speed had drawn a heavy degree of scrutiny already during the weekend, whether fair or not) made it a major storyline during the race.

NASCAR’s stock answer to questions about Sunday’s tire inspection was “well, we always have done it this way.” Again, that is true, but it falls short of meeting the self-proclaimed higher standards of transparency that officials are striving to reach, and it also implies there was a lack of newsworthiness, which is false.

This was the first time a random tire inspection was witnessed in a conspicuous-looking tent on national TV, and the intimation is that the teams involved might have done something wrong.

A better answer from NASCAR would have been: “With the intense pressure of the playoffs beginning, we reserve the right to hold every team to the highest standard of the rules to ensure fairness. We will be doing random inspections over these 10 races because a level playing field is at a premium, and we want to guarantee that to the competitors. The tires from the 18 and 78 checked out OK.”

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There has been much debate about whether NASCAR needs to be in the business of getting embroiled in midweek penalty discussions, but somehow the debate over the illegal modifications made by Elliott’s team didn’t feel in the same vein as the taint that hung over Denny Hamlin’s Southern 500 victory.

Maybe it was because it didn’t involve a winning car, but Elliott’s penalty also seemed to say more about the heightened urgency of the playoffs. Hendrick Motorsports has lacked speed during the second half of the regular season. In the cat-and-mouse game of testing the limits allowed by officials, why shouldn’t it be worth the risk to a team desperately in search of a breakthrough?

Similarly, the discussion about NASCAR briefly confiscating the tires of Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch also didn’t detract from the race; it blended into the main storyline of the weekend, i.e. the recent dominance of Toyotas (and the grumbling it caused by Brad Keselowski).

NASCAR naturally wants to keep the focus on tight battles for position, but in a race decided by a 7.1-second margin of victory, the hunt for compelling angles can lead elsewhere. In both the instances of tires and tape that mysteriously might have been applied to the spoiler, it made for healthy discussions.

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After the Chicagoland win, Truex seems even more of a lock to reach the championship finale, but Kyle Larson slipped in another reminder that the tables might turn at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“Obviously, (Truex) is really good,” Larson told NBCSN’s Kelli Stavast after finishing fifth Sunday. “He could probably win nine out of 10, but if we get to Homestead, we’ll have a shot.”

Larson, who said on the NASCAR on NBC podcast last week that he thinks Truex “definitely” will be in the championship round, considers Miami his favorite track and with good reason. The 1.5-mile progressively banked oval favors drivers such as Larson who prefer the high lane. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver led a race-high 132 of 268 laps in a runner-up finish to champion Jimmie Johnson last season.

“I’m not surprised that Larson said that,” Truex said with a chuckle when told of Larson’s comment by NBCSports.com’s Dustin Long after his win. “He’s pretty good at Homestead, but we made some big gains there last year. That used to be one of my best racetracks. I have a feeling if we can get there, it’s going to be a hell of a battle.”

Crew chief Cole Pearn also laughed when told of what Larson said.

“I agree; I think (Larson) is the one to beat when it comes to Homestead,” Pearn told NBC Sports. “I think looking at the last couple of years, they’ve been so, so good there. So it’s definitely our weak point that we have to figure out. We’re fortunate to have a two-day test coming up in October that we can hopefully sort out some of the things that ail us there. I think if we play our cards right, we’ll have a shot at it, and that’s really our only option.

“With this one-race championship deal, you’ve got to be good at Homestead. So it’s a weak spot for us that we got to be good at when it comes time.”

Furniture Row Racing skipped the test at Miami last year, raising some eyebrows around the garage, but Truex is enthused about next month’s session. “It definitely will be big,” he said. “We’ll be there. We know what to focus on. I think we have a good game plan going on, but Homestead is a hard place to test. It’s one of those tracks that on race weekend, it’s always a lot different. You have to stay open-minded. You can’t just learn a bunch at the test, go to the track and say this is what we’re going to do no matter what because it could bite you.”

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On the latest NASCAR on NBC podcast, analyst Steve Letarte said the preponderance of visual evidence was what surprised him the most about the Elliott penalty.

“That’s why I’m really so shocked by this,” Letarte said. “What a brazen move. There was no secret there were going to be photos of this car on the racetrack. That shocked me about it.”

The former crew chief also said it was a “moral struggle” watching it unfold on social media.

“I’m not sure I like the strategy or goal of whoever it was to put those pictures out there unless they’re going to cover all 40 cars the same way with some sort of moral requirement of, ‘Hey, we’re going to be Big Brother to everyone in the field,’ ” he said. “That’s the bigger problem I have with this than anything. I struggle with this starting on a social site. I don’t want there to be a million NASCAR officials out there.”

During the podcast, Letarte also discussed Kasey Kahne‘s crew chief change and the state of Hendrick Motorsports, Kyle Busch’s pit crew swap, the strength of Toyota Racing Development and whether there was deeper motive behind Keselowski’s words last week.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here. It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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