A quiet moment among a chaotic scene

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JOLIET, Illinois — Amid the celebration, there was a moment of reflection for Martin Truex Jr.

A day after former NASCAR modified champion Ted Christopher died in a plane crash, Truex won the Cup playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway.

Christopher, 59, and a pilot were killed when their plane went down in a wooded area near Guilford, Connecticut. They were the only people onboard.

Truex, who is from New Jersey, raced against Christopher and credited Christopher with helping him.

“I definitely thought about him,’’ Truex told NBC Sports. “It was such shocking news to hear it. I initially thought back to the days racing with him and thought of the respect I had for him and what he means to short track racing in the Northeast where I grew up and where I cut my teeth.

“Racing with guys like him is what gave me the opportunity and skills to move to North Carolina and get hired to drive cars for a living. I flashed back to my Busch North days initially and remembered racing with him at Stafford and New Hampshire and Thompson and all those places we got to race with him.

“Even before I started racing, watching him race modifieds and knowing how much he meant to Northeastern motorsports and the kind of driver he was. He was definitely a hard-nosed driver and somebody you had to respect on the race track or he would show you. Definitely cool to win and say that we were thinking about his friends and family, and hopefully they can find some peace and celebrate him as a person.’’

STEADY AS THEY GO

While a number of playoff teams and drivers had mistakes or misfortune, reigning champion Jimmie Johnson drove a steady race and finished eighth.

It tied for his best finish since his June 4 win at Dover.

Johnson’s run Sunday was not spectacular but it wasn’t hurt by some sort of issue that plagued so many of his competitors (Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon had pit road penalties, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. hit the wall and had a commitment line violation, Jamie McMurray spun.) He ran between eighth and 12th much of the day and scored the finish he needed. For that, it was a win for Johnson, who is 20 points ahead of the cutoff with two races to go.

“Playoff pressure gets everybody at some point (but) we’re usually not as sensitive as others,’’ Johnson told NBC Sports.

His finish Sunday was his best at Chicagoland Speedway since a fifth-place result in 2013 — when he won the sixth of his seven titles. Johnson finished 12th last year on the way to winning the crown.

HALF FULL AND HALF EMPTY LOOK

Jamie McMurray said he thought he had a fifth-place car.

He finished 10th.

So a loss there, but McMurray spun after contact with Ryan Newman’s car with just under 100 laps left.

“The backstretch is curved here and I think I just didn’t leave Ryan enough room,’’ McMurray said. “I really wasn’t racing anybody. It was a restart and you’re just trying to get all situated. I knew he was there, I could see him. I guess I didn’t leave him enough room.’’

After falling back to 16th for the restart, McMurray scored his third top-10 result in the last five races.

So, it was a win in that sense.

It helped that there weren’t many cars on the lead lap after his spin and that McMurray said he had a good car on restarts.

By gaining six spots — and six points — McMurray is five points ahead of the cutoff with two races to go. He has 2,031 points. Austin Dillon and Kurt Busch each have 2,026 points after Chicagoland.

That’s significant for McMurray, who has never made it out of the first round of the playoffs and entered this year’s postseason with the fewest playoff points (three) of the 16 drivers.

PIT STOPS

Landon Cassill’s 20th-place finish was his first top-20 at a non-restrictor-plate track this season. In the last three races, Cassill has finished 21st (Darlington), 39th (Richmond) and 20th (Chicagoland) … Seven drivers were caught speeding on pit road Sunday: Corey LaJoie (twice), Martin Truex Jr., Austin Dillon, Erik Jones, Matt DiBenedetto, Kurt Busch and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

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NASCAR: Will Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch advance in playoffs?

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The last two drivers to win NASCAR Cup titles are in precarious positions ahead of the Round of 12 elimination race at Kansas Speedway.

Kyle Busch, the 2015 champion, is outside the top eight in ninth. He sits seven points behind defending champion Jimmie Johnson.

NASCAR America analysts Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman debated who they think had the best chance to advance to the Third round after Sunday.

Petty put his money behind Busch, who has finished in the top five in each of his last five starts at the 1.5-mile track.

“He’s one of the big three: Truex, Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson,” Petty said. “I don’t see where these (last) two races (Charlotte, Talladega) have changed anything. The one thing Kyle Busch brings into Kansas City … he brings speed. These guys have had speed all year-long.”

Johnson on the other hand has produced only four top fives all season and just one since he won at Dover in June.

But Kligerman explained why he thinks the seven-time champion will prevail on Sunday.

“Jimmie Johnson knows how to pass and that is what has become evident throughout this season,” Kligerman said. “No, they have not had the fastest cars at Hendrick Motorsports. No, they have not qualified well. They’ve actually been sort of abysmal at qualifying of late.

“… He has three wins this year. Two of those he started at the back.”

Watch the video for more.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN: Daniel Hemric, Daniel Suarez’ racing roots

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America begins at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN and continues to preview the Round of 12 elimination race at Kansas Speedway.

Carolyn Manno hosts with Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman from Stamford, Connecticut.

On the show:

  • We’ll debate which past Cup Series champion will advance to the Round of 8. Defending champion Jimmie Johnson currently leads 2015 champ Kyle Busch by only seven points for the final transfer spot. Who has the edge going into Kansas this Sunday? This elimination race will be a heated competition just to finish above the cut line. Log on to NBCSports.com/NASCARVote and weigh in!
  • Xfinity Series playoff driver Daniel Hemric calls into the show to talk about his chances of advancing to the championship four in Miami. He’ll also describe his experience being one of the four drivers to participate in the recent tire test at the Charlotte Motor Speedway “Roval.”
  • We take a look at the Daniel Suarez’s Racing Roots and discuss his transition from Xfinity Series champion to Monster Energy Cup Series rookie.
  • Parker Kligerman hops into the iRacing simulator to preview Sunday’s elimination race at Kansas, as well as the Formula 1 race in Austin, Texas.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you can also watch it via the online stream at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Daniel Hemric gets unexpected introduction to Cup car at Charlotte road course test (video)

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Being a native of Kannapolis, North Carolina, a lot of Daniel Hemric‘s racing firsts are connected to Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The 26-year-old Xfinity Series driver got another one this week when an unexpected call shortened a vacation to Mexico and put him in a Cup car for the first time.

Hemric, who drives Richard Childress Racing’s No. 21 Chevrolet in his rookie season, was visiting the country as part of a birthday vacation for his wife, Kenzie.

“As soon as the wheels touched down I got a call from some guys a RCR asking ‘Hey, would you mind driving a Cup car Tuesday at a test?'” Hemric said Wednesday.

“Do I need to fly home right now or what?” Hemric responded.

Come Tuesday morning, Hemric was sitting in the cockpit of Ryan Newman‘s No. 31 Chevrolet as one of four drivers taking part in the first Goodyear tire test on the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course, a 2.42-mile, 18-turn circuit made up of most of the original 1.5-mile track and the infield road course.

MORE: Cup drivers share thoughts on Charlotte road course

The two-day test could give Hemric a step up on his Xfinity competition as the series also will run on the road course next year.

“The first two or three runs was about getting me acclimated (to the car) but since then I think we’ve done a good job of communicating with Goodyear and trying to figure what we need to be able to make sure fans will be able to see racing and side-by-side racing and a lot of action, which I think you’re going to see.”

Added Hemric: “These Cup cars get up to speed so quick compared to the Xfinity car, with such low downforce and high horsepower. It’s been fun to figure out how to get that laid down here around the roval.”

Luckily, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Jamie McMurray were all experiencing the road course for the first time.

“Obviously, being my first time in (a Cup car), you’re trying to be aware of what you’re doing yourself,” Hemric said. “But to be able to lean on those guys, have the same thoughts as them, really collaborate with NASCAR and the race track to figure out where we should place those chicanes and all that stuff. I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress working as a group.”

MORE: Daniel Hemric returning to RCR in 2018

 

Spencer Boyd will compete in Xfinity full-time in 2018 for SS Green Light Racing

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SS Green Light Racing announced Thursday Spencer Boyd will compete full-time for it next season in the Xfinity Series.

Boyd will drive the No. 76 Chevrolet sponsored by Grunt Style, a veteran-owned lifestyle brand.

Boyd, 22, has made four starts for the team this year in the No. 07 Chevrolet, which has primarily been driven by Ray Black Jr.

“This is the day I’ve been waiting for my whole life,” Boyd said in a press release.  “I’ve been racing something since I was 5 years old with the dream of making racing my career. Grunt Style has made my dreams come true.”

A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Boyd has 12 starts between the Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series. In six Xfinity starts, including the four this year, his best result is 27th at New Hampshire.

Jason Miller will serve as the crew chief on the car that is owned by Bobby Dotter. Dotter has fielded cars in 116 races in the Xfinity Series since 1995 and 305 Truck Series entries since 2004.

“(Spencer) is one of the hardest working drivers I’ve seen,” Dotter said in the press release. “He is at the shop everyday helping with the cars and making the guys laugh.  Our organization is better because the team believes it when he says this is a team sport.  We are looking forward to a great 2018 season.”