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Former champions concerned about how quickly ambulances transport drivers

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Two former Cup champions raised concerns Wednesday about ambulances not reaching the infield care center in a timely fashion this season.

Former champion Kevin Harvick was outspoken about the issue during Wednesday’s playoff media day at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“The ambulances, for whatever reason this year, have been a little more of an issue as far as getting to the accident, getting back from the accident (and) getting lost in many circumstances going back to the infield care center,’’ Harvick said.

“That’s been an issue not only for myself, twice, but several other drivers as they’ve had their trips to the infield care center. I know they’re continuously working on trying to make that better. But the ambulances need to know where they’re going.’’

Former champion Matt Kenseth, who was involved in an incident last weekend at Richmond Raceway when an ambulance stopped at the entrance of pit road, said he also has had two similar issues as Harvick.

“I think it was actually the spring Richmond race,’’ Kenseth said. “I was (riding) around the infield for about five minutes with him and he was lost and couldn’t find the infield care center, so thankfully I wasn’t bleeding to death.

“Then the other one, it was after California or something like that, he drove so recklessly it threw me off the bench and I almost hit my head in the ambulance, so yeah, there’s been a couple of instances this year actually.’’

NASCAR issued a statement about the concerns raised by drivers.

“The follow-up discussions that centered around the ambulance issue at Richmond went well beyond where it parked and the procedure that led us to that point. It was all-encompassing, and we’ll continue to work with the tracks and safety teams to improve in every aspect of support.

“Safety is paramount, and it’s something we work hard at all year long, from the season-opening Summit to intensive weekly reviews of every incident response to continual training for crews. We hold ourselves to a very high standard of excellence.”

Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson has not had any such issues but says it has been discussed in the Cup Drivers Council.

“The times drivers have expressed their concern, NASCAR has been quick to make change, make sure that the person is not there and it doesn’t happen again,’’ Johnson said. “There’s a fine balance in trying to use active ER people and through the checks and balances of a  race weekend, working on routes, especially routes on the day of. As the weekend progresses, fences close, roads aren’t accessible, motorhomes get parked in different areas, the Xfinity cars leave and now’s there a new access point there. It does need to be looked at.

“Unfortunately, there’s been some learning experiences that we wish we didn’t have along the way. Thankfully, those guys have brought it up and they weren’t critical situations where those few precious minutes were needed. Everybody is trying hard. That’s the one good thing about the councils we have and the discussions that take place. Believe me, honesty is there in those conversations. There’s no sugar-coating anything.’’

Denny Hamlin said the issue was brought up in the Drivers Council after Aric Almriola’s crash at Kansas Speedway.

I think one example is Aric Almirola,’’ Hamlin said. I think his ambulance got lost inside the race track and he had a serious injury. That was an issue, for sure. I know they’re trying to do the best they can.’’

Hamlin said some suggest a traveling safety team and others state a safety team familiar with one particular track is best.

I don’t know what the correct answer is, but, we, for sure, can get better because we’re not good right now.’’

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Truck practice report at Atlanta

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Justin Haley was the fastest in the first of two practices Friday for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He had a top lap of 178.029 mph.

Daytona winner Johnny Sauter was second with a lap of 177.040 mph. He was followed by Myatt Snider (177.040 mph), Stewart Friesen (176.995) and Noah Gragson (176.589).

There were no incidents in the session.

Final Truck practice will be from 4:05 – 4:50 p.m. ET.

Click here for Truck 1 practice

Police investigating vandalism, theft at North Wilkesboro Speedway

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The Wilkes County Sheriff’s Office is investigating a report of vandalism and theft at North Wilkesboro Speedway.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, the track, which last hosted a NASCAR Cup race in 1996, suffered damage of about $10,000 when several trespassers were on the grounds last weekend. No arrests have been made.

The report states that several windows were broken and other damage was done to the structures. Also, large amounts of electrical wire and circuit breakers were reported missing.

The investigation continues.

North Wilkesboro Speedway hosted NASCAR Cup races from 1949-96. Winners included Fireball Roberts, Buck Baker, Junior Johnson, Lee Petty, Richard Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Terry Labonte, Rusty Wallace and Jeff Gordon, who won the final race there.

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Others’ predictions motivating Austin Dillon after Daytona 500 win: ‘I guess they don’t believe it yet’

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HAMPTON, Ga. – Fresh off the greatest victory of his NASCAR career, Austin Dillon already has motivation to win the next.

The Richard Childress Racing driver heard others predict this week that the Daytona 500 would be his only victory this season.

“I think on Race Hub, Brad (Keselowski) and Chad (Knaus, crew chief for Jimmie Johnson) saying that we weren’t going to win again,” Dillon said Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. “So, that was good to hear. That was something to get me fired up a little bit more and our team, get those competitive juices flowing again. So, we will just keep rocking it however we can. We still have a lot to work on.”

Prior to Daytona, Dillon’s lone win in four seasons as a full-time Cup driver came in the 2017 Coca-Cola 600. His No. 3 Chevrolet qualified for the playoffs the past two seasons, but his top 10s (13 to four) and average finish (15.9 to 18.6) slipped demonstrably from 2016 to ’17.

“So yesterday in my group text with my buddies they watched Chad Knaus and Brad Keselowski, and it was like, ‘All right, it’s time to keep knocking them down, I guess they don’t believe it yet,’” Dillon said. “We’ve got to step up though at RCR. We’ve still got a lot to prove. It’s a speedway race, even though it’s the biggest race in our deal, it’s a speedway race.  We’ve got a lot more to prove.

“(Competition executive) Andy Petree and all the guys are RCR are working hard. I think coming down to a two-car team move is big for us. We’ve got to take advantage of that. I’m not going to lie, I’m tired right now, but we are going to kick butt this weekend and get back regrouped and get in the groove and try and gain as many bonus points as we can.”

But qualifying for the playoffs by winning the season opener should be a morale booster that avoids any letdown.

“The one thing they don’t have right now that we have is a win,” Dillon said. “So, we are on top right now, and no matter what they can’t take that away, and we are going to keep working.  I don’t expect us to lay down at all. I feel like now more than ever we need to go head on and go after it.”

Xfinity practice report from Atlanta

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Christopher Bell posted the fastest lap in the first of two Xfinity practice sessions Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Bell posted a lap of 178.447 mph. He was followed by Joey Logano (177.323 mph), Cole Custer (175.933), Ryan Reed (175.688) and Kevin Harvick (175.487). Daytona winner Tyler Reddick (175.388) was sixth on the speed chart.

There were no incidents in the session.

Final Xfinity practice will be from 3:05 – 3:55 p.m. ET

Click here for practice 1 report