Matt Crafton captures Eldora Dirt Derby with late surge

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ROSSBURG, Ohio – Matt Crafton picked a fine time for his first victory on a dirt track.

The two-time Camping World Truck Series champion took the lead with 16 laps remaining and ended a yearlong winless drought with a victory Wednesday night at Eldora Speedway.

“This definitely wasn’t the one that I thought was going to put us in the playoffs, without a doubt,” Crafton said. “I was looking to come in here and have a top five – a good solid top-five run.  Kept searching and finally found something at the end.”

Crafton seized first from runner-up Stewart Friesen, who started on the pole position and led a race-high 93 of 150 laps in the Eldora Dirt Derby. Chase Briscoe was third, followed by Grant Enfinger and John Hunter Nemechek.

It snapped a 27-race winless streak for Crafton, who hadn’t won since May 21, 2016 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It was the 14th career victory for the ThorSport Racing driver, who has finished in the top 10 in all five races at Eldora (though Wednesday was his first top five here).

It was only the 15th career start for Friesen, who has struggled in his first full-time season racing in the trucks. He had finished outside the top 25 six times in the first 10 races and withdrawn from two events.

“It would have been super important,” the Canadian veteran of dirt Modifieds and the World of Outlaws series said of breaking through for a NASCAR win. “The first seven races probably are the most frustrating I ever have been a part of in my life. To run good and be in the top five is good, I just wanted to close it out. It’s a little bit of a silver lining but not much.”

The Canadian continued a trend in which dirt-track veterans have excelled against the truck regulars on the half-mile clay oval, but some said Eldora raced differently.

Briscoe, another sprint car veteran, said the bottom groove worked well enough that drivers weren’t as on the edge of out of control and sliding off the corners.

“There wasn’t as much of a cushion you had to hustle,” Briscoe said. “That’s where the dirt guy has an advantage over the non-dirt guys.”

Crafton has turned himself into a “dirt guy,” investing his own money in running a Modified on dirt tracks this year. He rebuilt a car with his father earlier this year and studied the nuances of running up against the wall.

“It helped a lot,” he said. “Just learning what the track does. In the years past, I didn’t know what I was looking at to be totally honest. Just kept studying and kept studying.

“Since I was a kid, I always heard about Eldora and watching the guys the last few years put the thing on the fence. I came committed to run the top and give up the bottom. I’m going to run the top when it matters. It’s one of the greatest wins I’ve had because it’s something so out of the ordinary.”

STAGE WINNERS:  Crafton won a caution-plagued first stage. Friesen was in front at the end of the second stage.

HOW CRAFTON WON: His No. 88 Toyota avoided a multitude of wrecks that collected more than a dozen drivers in the field, powering past Friesen on the outside lane.

WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: Christopher Bell, who won here in 2015 and finished second last year, rebounded to finish ninth after sustaining heavy-right side damage from losing control of his No. 4 Toyota off the third turn on the 36th lap. “We had the truck to win, and I made a mistake that cost us,” Bell said. … Bobby Pierce, who led a race-high 102 laps last year and was the 2015 runner-up to Bell, placed sixth despite being involved in two crashes in the first 20 laps (after also wrecking during a qualifying heat).

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Ben Rhodes finished a season-worst 29th after getting caught in a wreck on Lap 43. … Rookie Kaz Grala was 31st after a wreck near the end of the first stage.

NOTABLE: Bell and Pierce had combined to lead 247 of 300 laps in the past two races at Eldora but led 22 on Wednesday. … The race was slowed by 10 cautions for 59 laps (just off the record of 61 yellow-flag laps for 13 cautions in 2015).

QUOTE OF THE RACE: “It should be called the demolition derby not the dirt derby because our truck is destroyed.” – Rhodes, who was involved in a wreck near the beginning of the second stage.

WHAT’S NEXT: The Overton’s 150 will take place July 29 at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania.

Woman arrested for stalking, intimidation, terroristic mischief vs. Tony Stewart, family

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A Florida woman who allegedly felt spurned when Tony Stewart did not give her an autograph is under arrest and facing several felony charges including intimidation, stalking and terroristic mischief.

Sixty-eight year old Kathi Kathleen Russell – who also goes by the name Mary Kathleen Russell – of Cape Coral, Florida, is being held in the Lee County, Fla. Jail, awaiting extradition to Marion County, Indiana to face those charges – as well as violating an order of protection.

Kathi Kathleen Russell (Photo courtesy Lee County, Florida Sheriffs Office)

Russell’s arrest and the charges against her was first reported by Indianapolis TV station WRTV.

According to the criminal complaint and probable cause affidavit cited by WRTV, Russell allegedly harassed Stewart, his family and employees from March 2016 through last month after he did not sign a piece of memorabilia at an unspecified race she attended. Among the things Russell is accused of:

* Made a total of 333 phone calls to Stewart, his mother, sister, sponsors and several of his businesses, according to WRTV. Those calls came at all hours of the day and night, according to the complaint.

* Many of those calls were also allegedly threatening in nature, according to the WRTV report. Russell is also accused of playing threatening audio clips and song clips during several of those calls, according to the complaint and WRTV’s on-air and online stories.

* On Sept. 27, according to the WRTV reports, Russell allegedly sent an envelope containing a white powder to the Indianapolis office of Stewart’s attorneys, Ice Miller LLP. The scare prompted the evacuation of the One America Building in downtown Indianapolis, which houses Ice Miller’s offices. The white powder was eventually determined to be baking soda, according to WRTV’s online report.

NBC Sports reached out to Stewart. In an email reply, a spokesman for the former NASCAR Cup driver and current co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing said: “We’re going to decline comment and let the legal process run its course.”

It’s unclear when Russell will be extradited to Indiana to face the charges against her. NBC Sports reached out to the Marion County (Indiana) Superior Court, Marion County Sheriff’s Office and Marion County Prosecutor’s Office, but has not received replies as yet.

Questions and answers about NASCAR’s pit crew cut, at-track roster limits

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NASCAR announced Wednesday a reduction in pit crew members and limits to the at-track rosters beginning in 2018. Here’s a look at what that means and other questions about the changes.

What is NASCAR doing?

NASCAR will cut pit crew members from six to five. NASCAR will set limits on how many team members can be at the track, starting next season.

Why the change?

It’s viewed as a cost-cutting method for most teams, although some small teams likely won’t save much money because they typically don’t reach the limits that will be set. NASCAR will make crew lists available to help promote these people. NASCAR also views reducing the number of pit crew members as a safety factor by having fewer crew members go over the wall.

What position will be eliminated on the pit crew?

Likely a tire carrier position. What you probably will see is a tire changer carry their own tire. So, a pit crew in 2018 likely will have two tire changers, a jackman, a tire carrier and a fueler.

Anything else different about the pit crew for 2018?

Yes, a fueler can only fuel the car. No longer can a fueler help remove a tire or make adjustments to the car.

How much will this slow pit stops?

We’ve yet to see, but it is likely to slow the stop. As the season progresses, teams will become more proficient in what they do but it seems those 10-second pit stops are gone.

Any other changes on pit road for 2018?

Yes. Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said Wednesday morning that series officials are looking at teams using a standardized pit gun to change tires with in 2018. Teams are responsible for their own pit guns and more effort has been put into that area in recent years. Teams have had engineers dedicated to making pit guns faster to provide an advantage. A standardized pit gun will take away that advantage some teams have.

What about these crew limits?

In Cup, teams will be limited to 20 or 21 people per car. For an organization that has one or two Cup cars, it will be allowed to have three people in the organizational category, 12 in the roster category and five pit crew members. For an organization with more than two cars, they can have four organization people. Cup teams will be able to have an additional road crew position for the three road courses and Indianapolis.

So what are the classifications: Organizational, road crew and pit crew?

Organizational category includes the competition director, team manager, technical director, IT specialists, etc.

Road crew category includes crew chief, car chief, engineers, mechanics, shock specialist, tire specialist and aero specialists.

Pit crew category includes the over-the-wall members.

What about the limits for Xfinity and Truck teams?

Xfinity and Trucks teams will be allowed one organizational member each and five pit crew members each. Xfinity teams will be allowed up to seven road crew members. Truck teams will be allowed up to six road crew members. Xfinity teams get an additional road crew member for up to 10 races. They can choose the 10 races. Truck teams are allowed an additional road crew member for up to five races. They can choose which races.

Who is exempt from these lists?

Team executives, public relations personnel, etc. The crew limits are for those who directly work on the vehicle.

At Homestead, a crew member from Kyle Busch’s team worked on Martin Truex Jr.’s car after he hit the wall in practice. Will that still be allowed?

For that to happen in 2018, the crew member would have to be listed on the roster for both teams. Otherwise, they would not be allowed to work on the car. If they did, it would be a penalty.

What is the penalty for a crew member working on a car they’re not assigned to?

That has yet to be determined, but O’Donnell said: “It will have some teeth to it. I think the teams and NASCAR are in agreement that this is something that we want to work for all the race teams and there needs to be a penalty behind this when it is violated. We’ll make that clear to the media and the fans as we head into (the 2018 season).

What happens when there is a crew chief suspension or car chief suspension or other team member suspension? Will the team be able to replace that position or will they lose a spot for each suspension on its at-track limit?

This also is to be determined, O’Donnell said. He added: “Still working through some of those details. We’ll have prior to the Daytona 500 … what the final aspects are.’’

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Oh, baby: Ty and Haley Dillon welcome first child, daughter Oakley Ray

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Brothers Austin and Ty Dillon have long called Richard Childress “pop pop” as an affectionate alternative term for “grandfather.”

But as of Tuesday, Childress may soon come to be called “great pop pop,” as Ty and wife Haley announced the birth of their first child – and Childress’ first great grandchild.

Daughter Oakley Ray Dillon weighed in at nine pounds, eight ounces, and was 21.5 inches long, according to an Instagram post by Haley.

“Our baby girl waited just in time for her daddy to get home from Homestead to make her grand entrance,” Haley wrote in her post.

Ty Dillon recently agreed to a contract extension to continue driving the No. 13 Chevrolet for Germain Racing in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Four other NASCAR drivers and their wives or girlfriends will soon be part of the NASCAR baby boom.

Brittany and Joey Logano are expecting their first child in January, while DeLana and Kevin Harvick are expecting their second child the same month.

Due in May is the first child for Amy and Dale Earnhardt Jr., and the second child for Katelyn Sweet and Kyle Larson.

NASCAR reduces pit crew members, sets at-track roster limits for 2018

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NASCAR will enforce crew limits for its three national series next season and reduce how many will go over the wall, the sanctioning body announced Wednesday.

Pit crews will be reduced from six to five beginning next season as part of a cost-cutting measure for teams.

Rosters will be divided into three categories: Organizational, road crew and pit crew.

Organizational includes the competition director, team manager, technical director, IT specialists, etc. Cup organizations with no more than two cars will be limited to three people in this category. Cup organizations with more than two cars will be allowed four people in this category. In Xfinity and the Camping World Truck Series, each team will be limited to one person in this position.

Road crew includes the crew chief, car chief, engineers, mechanics, shock specialist, tire specialist and aero specialists. Cup teams will be limited to 12 people. Xfinity teams will be limited to seven people, and Camping World Truck Series teams will be limited to six. Cup teams will be allowed an additional road crew spot at road courses and at Indianapolis. Xfinity teams will be allowed an additional road crew spot at up to 10 races. Truck teams will be allowed an additional road crew spot at up to five races.

Pit crew represents over-the-wall crew members. Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck teams will be limited to five individuals. Also, NASCAR announced that the fueler can only perform the task of fueling the vehicle beginning next season. Previously, fuelers could help with removing the left rear tire, making adjustments or some other role if the team was not fueling the car on a stop.

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