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Long: NASCAR’s Xfinity rules package at Indy leaves drivers talking

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INDIANAPOLIS —Reduced horsepower, a record number of lead changes and a rankled former champion. Was the future of NASCAR racing on display in Saturday’s Xfinity race?

NASCAR’s effort to add a spark to a sagging event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway showed promise and pitfalls, according to drivers. Whether this package is ready to be used in the Cup series at this track or anywhere else in the Xfintiy Series won’t be determined until series officials talk with drivers.

Former series champ Kyle Busch, who had not been a fan of this package, was less so afterward.

“They wanted to slow down the fastest guy here so the rest of the field could keep up and they did,’’ said Busch, who won the past two Xfintiy races at this track before finishing 12th Saturday.

A goal was to keep cars closer together and the leader from pulling away. It worked. The leader often was shadowed by at least another car throughout the 100-lap event.

William Byron held off Paul Menard over the final 10 laps, finishing .108 seconds ahead to score his third series win in the last five races.

The race also featured 16 lead changes — the former record for this event was nine. Six of those 16 lead changes Saturday were green-flag passes on the track and not related to a driver pitting under green.

“Overall, certainly pleased with what we saw on the racetrack from an eye test,’’ said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. “Definitely passing. When you look at metrics, it’s most leaders we’ve had, most lead changes, closest finish.’’

So what’s next?

“Part of our evaluation now will be can we do this in the future?’’ O’Donnell said. “Should we? And are there other racetracks with a similar layout that we may be able to use this at. That’s all future, potential but it is something you can look at for a couple of tracks as well.’’

The aero package, which was developed in an Oct. 12 session with Ryan Reed, Brandon Jones and Blake Koch, included:

  • Using the 2016 rear spoiler, which is 64 3/4 inches wide and 6 inches tall — larger than the rear spoiler used in other races this year.
  • The 2016 splitter package.
  • Aero ducts on the lower front bumper that direct air out the front wheel wells.
  • A 7/8-inch restrictor plate that is used at Daytona and Talladega and takes off about 225 horsepower from what cars run at other tracks

Joey Logano, who placed third, said the rules package changed what drivers had to do in the race.

“You just had to be smart on restarts and knowing when to race guys and when to just keep momentum because if you started losing momentum you lost five or six spots,’’ he said.

What fans saw was three-wide racing in the corner on at least one occasion and a lead change with a car passing on the outside in a turn. Previously, cars three wide in a turn resulted in a crash.

“I think anytime you make the cars … slower, they’re easier to drive,’’ said Reed, who finished sixth. “When they’re easier to drive, you’re able to put them in more difficult positions and come out the other end OK and you’re going to have a little more confidence. I think you’ve got to find a balance because at this level a high-rate of speed is what help defines the sport.

“You don’t want us to go down and run 140 miles an hour and wide open every track, otherwise who wants to watch that? Just find a balance. I think that this may be a step in the right direction. It seems like the racing was better.’’

Speed was an issue drivers mentioned. While any driver wants more horsepower and throttle control, there was the feeling that taking away the restrictor plate would be a good thing.

“That’s a start,’’ Busch said.

Speed also was an issue for Ty Dillon, who finished 10th. He’d like more of it.

Without it, drivers were closer together and blocking was prevalent. Pole-sitter Elliott Sadler forewarned that blocking would lead to a big crash in the race. It didn’t happen, but Dillon worries it could with this package.

“I think there were some guys who were a little more courteous than what they will be in the future and that worries me a little bit,’’ Dillon said. “If the fans like it, we can stick with it. I’m a fan with the original style of it but I’m good with whatever fans want.’’

So, what do you want? NASCAR is listening.

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Points leader Elliott Sadler clinches Xfinity playoff spot after finishing third at Bristol

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Even though he hasn’t won this year, Elliott Sadler earned himself a spot in the Xfinity Series playoffs Friday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Sadler is the fourth driver to qualify for the playoffs. He joins Ryan Reed, William Byron and Justin Allgaier, who clinched spots through race wins.

The JR Motorsports driver and the series points leader finished third in the Food City 300 for his ninth top five of the year.

“Man, we had a great car,” Sadler told NBCSN. “I hit the wall with like 50 to go. Then I threw my water bottle out and it got in the jack man’s way, messed us up. We’re peaking at the right time.”

Sadler has led the Xfinity Series point standings for the last 10 races and following 20 of the 22 races this year.

Following Sadler in the top five is William Byron (-110), Allgaier (-136), Brennan Poole (-186) and Daniel Hemric (-206).

Brendan Gaughan is on the playoff bubble. He is 43 points above the cutoff line. Ross Chastain is 13th on the playoff grid.

Click here for the point standings.

Results, stats for the Xfinity Series race at Bristol

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Kyle Busch won the Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway for his fifth Xfinity Series win of the year.

He led 186 laps and swept all three stages.

Completing the top five were Daniel Suarez, Elliott Sadler, Ty Dillon and Justin Allgaier.

Click here for full results.

Kyle Busch wins Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway

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Kyle Busch once again dominated a NASCAR race at Bristol Motor Speedway, winning Friday night’s Food City 300.

Busch led 186 laps on the way to the win, his fifth Xfinity Series victory of the season.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver fended off the field in a nine-lap shootout following a late caution.

The top five was completed by Daniel Suarez, Elliott Sadler, Ty Dillon and Justin Allgaier.

Busch moved one step closer to a sweep of the race week. He won Wednesday’s Camping World Truck Series race. If he wins Saturday’s Cup race, it will be the second time he’s swept all three Bristol races after doing it in 2010.

Just like Wednesday, Busch fought through the field after a mid-race speeding penalty to earn the win.

“At least I didn’t have to come through (the field) in the last stage because everybody was pretty fast there tonight in the last stage,” Busch said. “I don’t know if I would have been able to make it all the way back up through there. Suárez gave us a heck of a run there. I was trying to push hard and he was closing in on us a little bit there before that last caution came out. Once that caution came out everything cooled down and my car wasn’t even close to what it was before, so I don’t know how I held on to it. The car was just so sideways.”

The win is Busch’s 91st in the Xfinity Series.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kyle Busch

STAGE 2 WINNER: Kyle Busch

MORE: Race Results

MORE: Points standings

WHO HAD A GOOD NIGHT: Allgaier led twice for 75 laps and earned his sixth top five of the season … Sadler led once for 15 laps and clinched a spot in the playoffs … Ty Dillon earned his second top five of the season and beset finish in 19 starts … Joey Logano bounced back from a flat tire and going to two laps down to finish ninth.

WHO HAD A BAD NIGHT: Ryan Reed and Aric Almirola wrecked on Lap 25 after they pinched Spencer Gallagher on the backstretch. Almirola finished 38th. … Reed caused the following caution after damage from the previous wreck cut a tire, sending him into the wall. Reed finished 37th … Brendan Gaughan had one unscheduled pit stop for a tire rub. He was then involved in a crash with 15 to go after being tagged by Jeb Burton, who had lost a tire. He finished 30th … William Byron lost a tire with less than 10 to go and had to pit. He finished 22nd.

NOTABLE: With his win, Busch is nine wins away from reaching 100 Xfinity wins. Busch has said he’ll retire from Xfinity competition once he reaches 100 … Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 13th in his first Xfinity start of the year.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “Two weeks in a row. I know he doesn’t have a lot of race and I like him a lot normally, but right now I’m going to knock the hell out of him. The first time he gave me a flat and the second time he says he blew a tire. If you know you’ve got a tire going then don’t drive underneath somebody. The last couple of weeks I’ve been driven with no respect. We put ourselves back in a decent spot and we’re going to go to Road America and win that sucker.” – Brendan Gaughan after his late wreck with Jeb Burton.

NEXT: Johnsonville 180 at Road America at 3 p.m. ET on Aug. 27 on NBC.

Starting lineup for Cup night race at Bristol

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Erik Jones and Kyle Larson will start on the front row of the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway (coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC).

Jones starts from his first Cup pole.

Completing the top five are Kasey Kahne, Chase Elliott and Matt Kenseth.

Click here for the starting lineup.