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Here’s everything you need to know about Xfinity Series playoff opener at Kentucky

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The NASCAR Xfinity Series kicks off its seven-race playoffs Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway in the VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300.

Thanks to our friends at Racing Insights, here’s a primer on the race, the 12 drivers that have qualified for the playoffs, and the history of Kentucky Speedway:

Kentucky Notes

  • This weekend’s race is the 23rd NXS event at Kentucky Speedway and the first of the 2017 Playoffs
  • The stage end laps for this weekend’s race are lap 45, lap 90 and lap 200
  • 2017 is the sixth season where the NXS will race twice a year at Kentucky, Kentucky will host only one race in 2018
  • The first NXS race at Kentucky was in June 2001 and was won by Kevin Harvick
  • The last eight races at Kentucky were won from a top-seven starting position
  • 20 of the 22 NXS Kentucky races were won from a top-10 starting position including eight from pole
  • Kyle Busch, with two, is the only repeat winner at Kentucky in the last seven races
  • Joe Gibbs Racing drivers won the pole for the last four races at Kentucky with three different drivers
  • Joe Gibbs Racing (five), Team Penske (five), Richard Childress Racing (three) and JR Motorsports (two) combined won the last 15 NXS races at Kentucky
  • The pass for the win came in the final nine laps in five of the last seven races at Kentucky
  • The winner of only two of the last 10 races at Kentucky got his first win of the season
  • Two races at Kentucky ended in an overtime finish (9/15 and 7/16)
  • The driver leading the most laps won only two of the last seven races at Kentucky
  • There were 12 cautions in this race last year, the most ever in a NXS race at Kentucky, the average green flag stretch was 10 laps
  • The track record set July 2016 of 187.318 mph (28.828 seconds) by Kyle Busch was over six MPH faster than the prior track record set in June 2005 by Carl Edwards (181.287 mph, 28.787 seconds)
  • Eight of the last 11 poles at Kentucky were won by Non-Cup Competitors
  • 11 of the 22 NXS Kentucky races were won by Non-Cup Competitors including six of the last 11
  • Elliott Sadler led only 11 laps when he won at Kentucky last September, the fewest led by a winner in the last 16 races there
  • The final green flag stretch was nine laps or less in seven of the last nine races at Kentucky
  • Austin Dillon, 2012, is the only driver to sweep both races at Kentucky in a season; his first two NXS wins came at Kentucky in 2012
  • There were eight speeding penalties at Kentucky in July, more than the prior three races at Kentucky combined
  • The last driver to recover from an in race infraction at Kentucky to go on to win was Joey Logano in June 2009 who rebounded from a speeding penalty to win
  • Joe Gibbs Racing drivers led 437 of the 601 laps raced at Kentucky since the repave prior to 2016 (73%)
  • Ryan Blaney is the only driver to finish in the top-10 in all three races at Kentucky since the reconfiguration

1.5 Mile Track Highlights

  • This weekend’s race is seventh race on a 1.5 mile track in 2017
  • Five of the seven Playoff races in 2017 are on 1.5 mile tracks
  • Justin Allgaier won at Chicagoland last week from a starting position of 14th, the only race won from outside a top-10 starting position on a 1.5 mile track in the last 24 races
  • Five drivers won the six races on 1.5 mile tracks in 2017, Kyle Busch with two is the only repeat winner
  • Only two of the last 10 races on 1.5 mile tracks were won by Non-Cup competitors (Justin Allgaier at Chicagoland in 2017 and Daniel Suarez at Homestead in 2016)

Who is Hot Entering Kentucky:

No. 20 Ryan Preece

  • Won at Iowa and finished second at New Hampshire in his two starts in 2017, both with JGR
  • Finished 15th and 30th in his two NXS Kentucky starts
  • 15th place finish at Kentucky in July 2016 is his best finish on a 1.5 mile track

No. 3 Brian Scott

  • Finished third at Iowa in 2017 in his only start of 2017
  • Finished Kentucky best second in September 2014, one of two top-10 finishes at the track
  • Finished top-10 in each of his last two starts on 1.5 mile tracks but his last was at Homestead in Nov. 2015

No. 22 Sam Hornish Jr.

  • Won two of his last seven starts including a win at Mid-Ohio in his last
  • Finished top-10 in five of his six NXS Kentucky starts with a best finish of second in September 2012
  • Making his first NXS start on a 1.5 mile track since finishing fourth in this race last year

No. 7 Justin Allgaier (Second in playoffs)

  • 13 top-10s in 2017 with two wins (Phoenix and Chicagoland)
  • 495 laps led in 2017 are his most ever in a single season
  • Finished top-10 in five of the last seven races of 2017
  • Six top-10 finishes in 10 NXS Kentucky starts
  • Top-10 finishes in three of the last five races on 1.5 mile tracks including his win at Chicagoland last race

No. 9 William Byron (First in playoffs)

  • Won three of the last 13 races of 2017
  • Finished in the top-10 in 11 of the last 14 races (finished 25th at Mid-Ohio, 22nd at Bristol and 33rd at Chicagoland)
  • Finished seventh at Kentucky in July in his only NXS start at the track
  • Won the 2016 Truck race at Kentucky
  • Best finish in the NXS on a 1.5 mile track is seventh (three times)

No. 00 Cole Custer (Eighth in playoffs)

  • 13 top-10 finishes in 2017 including four top-five finishes
  • Finished top-10 in seven of the last 10 races of 2017
  • Led 41 laps last race at Chicagoland, more than he had in his career prior
  • Has never finished in the top-10 at Kentucky (finished 32nd and 11th in his two NXS starts there and 14th in his only Truck start there)
  • Five top-10 finishes in 10 starts on 1.5 mile tracks with a best of fourth at Charlotte in May 2016

No. 1 Elliott Sadler (Third in playoffs)

  • 19 top-10 finishes and 11 top-five finishes in 2017 lead all drivers
  • Regular season champion
  • One win (9/16) and eight top-10 finishes at Kentucky in 12 starts
  • Finished third at Chicagoland last race, his 11th top-10 finish on a 1.5 mile track in the last 13 races

No. 48 Brennan Poole (Fifth in playoffs)

  • Finished top-10 in seven of the last 10 races of 2017, 12 times total
  • Won his first NXS pole at Daytona-2
  • Two top-10 finishes in five NXS Kentucky starts
  • 2014 ARCA win at Kentucky
  • Only one top-10 finish on a 1.5 mile track this season (eighth at Charlotte)

No. 21 Daniel Hemric (Fourth in playoffs)

  • Finished top-10 in 12 of his 26 NXS starts with a best finish of second at Mid-Ohio
  • Finished top-10 in six of the last nine races of 2017
  • Three of his five top-five finishes in 2017 came in the last six races
  • Three top-10s in the six races on 1.5 mile tracks in 2017 (best of fourth at Chicagoland last race)
  • Finished ninth at Kentucky in July in his only NXS start at the track

Not Hot Entering Kentucky:

No. 42 Tyler Reddick

  • Three top-10 finishes in 2017 in 14 starts but none in his last five starts
  • Finished 10th at Kentucky in July in his only start at the track in the NXS, it was his last top-10 finish
  • Finished 10th in two of his three NXS stats on 1.5 mile tracks

No. 62 Brendan Gaughan (11th in Playoffs)

  • Only seven top-10 finishes in 2017, had 13 through 26 races in 2016
  • Matched his best finish of 2017 at Road America (fifth)
  • Eight top-10 finishes at Kentucky are his most of all tracks
  • Last NXS win came at Kentucky in this race in 2014
  • Finished ninth at Charlotte, only top-10 finish on a 1.5 mile track this season

No. 5 Michael Annett (12th in Playoffs)

  • Finished NXS best second at Road America but it is his only finish better than 12th in the last 12 races
  • Only three stage top-10 finishes in 2017, all three on plate tracks
  • Five top-10 finishes at Kentucky are his most on a track
  • Only two top-15 finishes on 1.5 mile tracks this season

No. 23 Spencer Gallagher

  • Finished 10th at Richmond in April, his second career top-10 finish, but has only four top-15 finishes this season
  • Finished 14th at Chicagoland, his best finish in the last 10 races
  • Finished 13th at Kentucky in July in his only NXS start there, his second best finish of 2017
  • Finished top-14 in three of the last four races on 1.5 mile tracks

No. 33 Brandon Jones

  • Only three top-10 finishes in 2017 and none in the last seven races
  • Had 11 top-10 finishes after 26 races in 2017 and was in the playoffs
  • Finished 12th at Chicagoland, his best finish in the last seven races of 2017
  • Finished fifth at Kentucky in September 2015, his only top-10 finish in four starts
  • Only one top-10 finish in the last 11 races on 1.5 mile tracks

No. 16 Ryan Reed (Sixth in playoffs)

  • Has a win and five top-10 finishes in 2017
  • Finished 12th at Richmond, his best finish in his last eight races
  • Finished seventh in this race last year, his best finish in seven Kentucky starts
  • Only two top-10 finishes on 1.5 mile tracks but both came in the last 11 races

Warm Entering Kentucky:

No. 11 Blake Koch (Ninth in Playoffs)

  • Only four top-10 finishes in 2017 but three of the four came in the last eight races
  • Finished top-14 in seven of the last eight races of 2017 including the last six
  • 11 NXS Kentucky starts with a best finish of 11th in this race last year
  • Two top-10 finishes on 1.5 mile tracks (ninth at Kansas in 10/16 and ninth at Chicagoland 9/17)

No. 19 Matt Tifft (10th in playoffs)

  • Seven top-10 finishes in 2017
  • Finished top-10 in three of the last six races of 2017 including his career best finish of third (twice)
  • Finished top-15 in all three starts at Kentucky, his most of all-tracks, including two top-10s (best of fifth in this race last year)
  • Six top-10 finishes in 12 starts on 1.5 mile tracks

No. 18 Kyle Benjamin

  • Started on the front-row in all four NXS starts but has only one top-15 finish (second at Iowa2)
  • Making his first NXS start on a 1.5 mile track

Also in playoffs:

No. 51 Jeremy Clements (7th in playoffs)

• Win at Road America put him into the Playoffs and gave him his five Playoff points
• Finished the regular season 17th in points
• One top-five finish and two top-10 finishes in 2017 (win at Road America, seventh at Iowa1)
• 13 NXS Kentucky starts with a best finish of 12th (twice) including this race last year
• Best NXS final season point ranking prior to 2017 was 14th in 2012 and 2015

Recent NXS Trends

  • 14 different drivers won the 26 races in 2017
  • Nine races in 2017 were won by Non-Cup Competitors, five of the nine were won by JR Motorsports drivers
  • Seven of the last 13 races of 2017 were won by Non-Cup Competitors
  • The driver leading the most laps failed to win in seven of the last 11 races including the last four
  • 15 of the last 17 races of 2017 were won from a top-eight starting position, Jeremy Clements won from 24th at Road America (the lowest starting position of a race winner this season) and Justin Allgaier won from 14th at Chicagoland last race
  • Six of the last 11 races of 2017 were won from pole
  • The final green flag stretch was eight laps or less in six of the last eight races of 2017
  • The final green flag stretch at New Hampshire was 104 laps, the longest green flag stretch in a race this season
  • Five races in 2017 were won by drivers rebounding from pit road infractions: Ryan Reed at Daytona (Crew over wall too soon), Kyle Larson at Auto Club Speedway (Speeding), Erik Jones at Bristol (Speeding), Kyle Busch at Watkins Glen (Drove thru too many boxes) and Kyle Busch at Bristol-2 (Speeding)
  • Two races in 2017 were won from drivers starting in the rear under penalty: Ryan Blaney at Charlotte and William Byron at Daytona2
  • Sam Hornish Jr.’s pole time at Mid-Ohio set a new track record, Brad Keselowski’s round one time set a new track record at Las Vegas, Kyle Larson’s pole winning time at Bristol set a new track record
  • 19 stages in 2017 were won by NXS eligible drivers: Elliott Sadler (five), Justin Allgiaer (three), William Byron, Daniel Hemric and Blake Koch (two), Darrell Wallace Jr. , Brendan Gaughan, Ryan Preece, Sam Hornish Jr. and James Davison (one)
  • Nine of the 26 races in 2017 were slowed due to red flags
  • There were 12 cautions at Charlotte, most in a race this season
  • There were only three cautions at Pocono, New Hampshire and Richmond2, the fewest in a race this season
  • Five races in 2017 ended with an overtime finish (Daytona-1, Richmond, Daytona-2, Iowa-2 and Darlington)
  • 11 of the 25 poles in 2017 were won by Non-Cup competitors
  • Eight drivers won their first pole in 2017, only one driver got his first pole in 2016 and only two in 2015
  • The pass for the win came in the final 10 laps in 10 of the 26 races this season and in the final four laps seven times
  • Two races in 2017 ended with a last lap pass for the win (Pocono and Michigan)
  • Four races in 2017 had issues with weather: Bristol (slowed mid-race), Daytona2 (started one day, completed another and slowed mid-race), Kentucky (postponed from Friday night to Saturday), New Hampshire (slowed mid-race)
  • Only twice has a driver swept both stages and won the race: Brad Keselowski at Pocono and Kyle Busch at Bristol-2

NXS 2017 Season Breakdown:

* Different Winners: 14
* Different Pole Winners: 15
* Non Cup Winners: 6 (William Byron-3, Justin Allgaier -2, Sam Hornish Jr., Ryan Preece, Ryan Reed and Jeremy Clements-1)
* Most Wins: 5- Kyle Busch
* Most Poles: 7- Kyle Busch
* Most Runner Ups: 5 – Ryan Blaney
* Most Top-fives: 11 – Elliott Sadler
* Most Top-10s: 19 –Elliott Sadler
* Most Laps Led: 731 – Kyle Busch

Among NXS Eligible Drivers

* Most Stage Wins: 5- Elliott Sadler (Brad Keselowski has the most of all drivers with eight)
* Most Stage Top-fives: 24 – Elliott Sadler
* Most Stage Top-10s: 36 –Elliott Sadler

Best Finishing NXS Driver in each Race:
* Daytona: Ryan Reed 1st
* Atlanta: Elliott Sadler 5th
* Las Vegas: Justin Allgaier 4th
* Phoenix: Justin Allgaier 1st
* Auto Club Speedway: William Byron 5th
* Texas: Cole Custer 5th
* Bristol: Elliott Sadler 4th
* Richmond: Justin Allgaier 2nd
* Talladega: Elliott Sadler 2nd
* Charlotte: Cole Custer 7th
* Dover: Cole Custer 4th
* Pocono: Justin Allgaier 2nd
* Michigan: William Byron 2nd
* Iowa: William Byron 1st
* Daytona: William Byron 1st
* Kentucky: William Byron 7th
* New Hampshire: Ryan Preece 2nd
* Indianapolis: William Byron 1st
* Iowa: Ryan Preece 1st
* Watkins Glen: Justin Allgaier 4th
* Mid-Ohio: Sam Hornish Jr. 1st
* Bristol2: Elliott Sadler 3rd
* Road America: Jeremy Clements 1st
* Darlington: William Byron 5th
* Richmond: Daniel Hemric 4th
* Chicagoland: Justin Allgaier 1st

Track History

  • The founder and developer of Kentucky Speedway was Jerry Carroll the former owner of Turfway Park. The speedway is located in Sparta KY the county seat of Gallatin County the smallest county by land area in Kentucky. The county has under 9,000 residents. Sparta has an area of 5.6 square miles and a population under 300.The track has hosted the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series since the 2000 season and the NASCAR Nationwide Series since 2001. Indy Car races were held from 2000 to 2011.
  • Constructed on 850 acres, 63 miles from Louisville, 35 miles from Cincinnati, and 150 miles from Indianapolis, Kentucky Speedway is a 1.5-mile tri-oval with 14-degree banking in the turns and a 1,600-foot backstretch. The tri-oval is 57-feet wide and includes a 12-foot apron. The facility also includes a paved quarter-mile track. Ground was broke July 18, 1998; Opened June 16, 2000; Cost: $153,000,000. Was the largest excavation project ever in Kentucky. Nearly 7 million people live within a 100-mile radius
  • Kentucky Speedway opened with 66,000 seats, went to 106,000 Seats in 2011 and to 86,000 seats in 2017.
  • Parking For More Than 50,000 Cars (was 30,000 in 2011)
  • After many years of campaigning for a Cup race, the track was sold to Speedway Motorsports, Inc. (SMI) on January 1, 2009 for $78.3 million. On August 10, 2010, NASCAR announced a Sprint Cup Race at Kentucky Speedway in 2011 as part of a triple header weekend. The weekend took the place of the Chicagoland Speedway date, which moved to September to be the leadoff race in the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup. It was the first Cup race awarded to a track since 2001.
  • In June 2012 the State of Kentucky completed projects that expanded Kentucky Highway 35 to seven lanes, widened the I-71 ramp to Ky. Hwy. 35 to three lanes and constructed a pedestrian tunnel that connects the massive Ford Parking lot east of Ky. Hwy. 35 to Kentucky Speedway. In addition to acquiring and engineering 170 new acres for the Ford Parking lot, Kentucky Speedway converted 50 new acres of previously unusable land to parking and added gravel aisles to 100 acres of previously all-grass parking. In total, the projects yielded parking for an additional 20,000 vehicles compared to 2011 bringing the total to 50,000. These changes eliminated the horrendous traffic/parking snafus from the inaugural race in 2011.
  • Kentucky Speedway did a complete repave of the track for the 2016 season, and also reconfigured turns 1-2.
  • — Turn 1-2 banking changed from 14 degrees to 17 degrees
  • — Turn 1-2 narrowed from 74 feet to 56 feet
  • — Banking in the tri-oval was changed from 8 degrees to 8-10 degrees
  • — 3,200 feet of SAFER-Barrier was added
  • Kentucky Speedway added an additional surface repave in October 2016

Kentucky State Factoids

  • The Kentucky Derby is the oldest continuously held horse race in the country. It is held at Churchill Downs in Louisville on the first Saturday in May.
  • Chevrolet Corvettes are manufactured in Bowling Green.
  • The first Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant owned and operated by Colonel Sanders is located in Corbin, KY.

 

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Toyota executive calls Truck Series ‘critical step’ in developing drivers

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A Toyota Racing Development executive says that the manufacturer would accept a spec engine in the Camping World Truck Series, noting how valuable that series is for the development of drivers.

David Wilson, president of TRD, made the comments Friday on “Tradin’ Paint” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

NASCAR tested a spec engine for the Truck series multiple times last year and it is expected to be optional this season.

Wilson admits the spec engine idea has raised concerns among manufacturers.

“It is a little bit of a sensitive issue with all the manufactures,’’ Wilson said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Arguably the biggest single piece of (intellectual property) in any car or truck is the engine, so certainly that’s important to us.

“By the same token we understand the bigger picture. We have been working with NASCAR, all the (manufacturers) have been working with NASCAR to make sure that we keep this series going because here’s the bottom line — while our motivation to run in Trucks has changed over the years, it remains an absolute critical step in how we as an industry develop drivers.

“The leap from ARCA or K&N or Super Late Models straight to Xfinity, that’s too big of a leap. You need a step and that Truck Series is a very important step. You look the drivers that have come through just in our camp — Erik Jones, Christopher Bell, Daniel Suarez — that experience in the Truck garage has been absolutely critical in preparing them to be successful in Xfinity and ultimately in Cup. We’re going to continue to take a big picture approach with the Truck Series and work with our friends at NASCAR. If there are some spec engines that have to be under a Tundra hood, so be it, we’ll be OK.’’

Last year’s Xfinity champion and rookie of the year, William Byron, ran a full season in Trucks in 2016. Erik Jones, the 2016 Xfinity rookie of the year, ran 17 Truck races before his Xfinity debut. Daniel Suarez, the 2017 Xfinity rookie of the year, had run only one Truck race before his Xfinity rookie season but he also ran 13 Truck races while competing in Xfinity that first year.

Those young drivers also illustrate Toyota’s emphasis on new talent. But with only five seats — four with Joe Gibbs Racing and one with Furniture Row Racing —  with Cup teams partnered with TRD, Toyota is having a hard time finding spots for all its drivers.

Wilson said the manufacturer remains committed to developing drivers.

“It’s a commitment that Toyota has made to NASCAR and to motorsports,’’ he said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We enjoy a tremendous amount of value. NASCAR is simply a phenomenal place for us to race. This is part of our payback.

“We feel like we have the social responsibility to give back to the series. We know we’ll lose as many of these young guys and gals as we’ll be able to keep because we simply won’t have enough seats for them. That’s just simple math. It’s already been proven out by William Byron (who raced for Kyle Busch Motorsports in Trucks before moving to Chevrolet in Xfinity and now Cup). We’ll be racing against William, who used to be in a Toyota.

“Bottom line this sport still benefits. As I’ve said before, getting to know these young kids and getting to know their parents at a young age and as they’re coming up in the sport, I believe that will pay dividends. These kids can have a career that spans decades. Who’s to say that we won’t cross paths again? By us building that relationship early on, showing them who we are … the responsibly we have to their well-being, I think it’s a sound investment.’’

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WATCH: Sneak preview of the Hall of Fame induction at 8 p.m. on NBCSN

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The NASCAR Hall of Fame’s ninth class of inductees won’t be remembered so much for the imprint left on the record books as on the revolutions in stock-car racing.

In a video essay that will be shown during tonight’s induction ceremony (which will begin at 8 p.m. on NBCSN), Robert Yates, Ray Evernham, Red Byron, Ken Squier and Ron Hornaday Jr. are saluted as much for what they achieved as how they accomplished it – and their lasting effects on the machines and people that they touched.

–Yates’ ingenuity with engines ranked him among the greatest engine builders. But along with the wins and championships, he also imparted life lessons and knowledge to the apt pupils who are carrying on his successful legacy.

— A crew chief with three Cup championships and 47 wins, Evernham transformed how races and teams were managed, from innovative car designs to clever tire strategies to finely tuned pit crews.

–As the premier series’ first champion, Byron raced with a special brace connecting his leg (which was injured in World War II) to the clutch pedal, embodying the self-determination and grit of NASAR.

–“The Great American Race” was coined by Squier, whose pitch-perfect wordsmithing helped make him a broadcasting legend whose dulcet tones described some watershed moments in evocative and remarkable detail.

–Four championships made Hornaday synonymous with the truck series, but he indirectly played a role in eight Cup titles, turning his couch into “Camp Hornaday” for fellow California natives and budding stars Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson.

You can watch the video essay above or by clicking here.

Tune in at 8 p.m. for TV coverage of a ceremony that should feature special moments and some surprises.

The Hall of Fame ceremony also can be viewed 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 8 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

The moral choice that Kyle Larson made in the closing laps at Miami

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CHARLOTTE – Every NASCAR driver has a code of ethics, and the closing laps of last season’s finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway presented a quandary for Kyle Larson.

If you can’t pass two title contenders with a championship on the line, does discretion become the better part of valor in choosing to pass neither?

It did for Larson, who reflected on his most recent Cup race this week.

With eventual champion Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch dueling ahead of him in the final 20 laps, Larson elected to stay in third place and let them settle the title instead of passing Busch and then taking a shot at Truex with his No. 42 Chevrolet, which led a race-high 145 laps.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver, who has led the most laps at Miami the past two years, said his only option in vying for a victory would have been having the consistent speed to assure he could overtake Truex and Busch.

“I think there were some laps I was faster than them,” he told NBC Sports during a Tuesday announcement to announce DC Solar as an expanded primary sponsor in Cup for 2018. “I obviously didn’t want to affect the outcome of the race. The only negative part of the (playoff) format is when you’re not in the final four, you can’t race your hardest.

“I don’t know if I would have won. I think I could have got to second and potentially the lead. I wanted to pass both of them quickly. I didn’t want to pass Kyle and then stall out for three laps and have him be upset or whatever.”

Indeed, Busch was upset with another driver, expressing frustration that he believed Joey Logano blocked him while trying to take fourth after the final restart.

Though Larson made a conscious choice to avoid separating Truex and Busch, he also dispelled the notion that he still wasn’t trying to muster the speed to win.

“I was driving my ass off,” Larson said. “Obviously, I ran into the wall a few times trying to pass them or get the run to pass both of them quickly, but I could never get it going. So no, I didn’t let (Truex) win or whatever. I was still racing hard.”

Larson, who scored a career-best four wins last year, seemed a good bet to be racing for a title until an engine failure at Kansas Speedway. After a busy offseason of racing sprint cars around the world, a refreshed Larson returned to his team’s NASCAR shop this week and ready to reset his focus.

“I don’t even think about NASCAR until now,” he said. “I feel like today is Day 2 of my offseason. I’m just now getting back into the swing of things.

Larson is enthused about a Jan. 31-Feb. 1 test of Chevrolet’s new Camaro at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (“You can kind of get an idea of how the start of your season will be there.”) before heading to Daytona International Speedway for Speedweeks.

“Last year, I didn’t know we were going to be that good, and then we started the year off really good, and we maintained that consistency and competitiveness,” said Larson, who led the points standings after the fourth through 11th races of the 2017 schedule. “I hope that we can do that again. I feel like when you get close like we did last year, it pushes everybody to be as good or better than what we were.

“I expect that we’ll be contenders again, but it’s hard saying with the new body and stuff like that. I’m sure there’ll be growing pains throughout it, but I definitely feel we have an extremely smart group of people who can do what it takes to get our cars better every week to have a shot.”

Daytona International Speedway releases Speedweeks schedule

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Daytona International Speedway has released the schedule for Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck teams for Speedweeks.

Cup teams will have one practice of 1 hour and 20 minutes for the Clash (down from 1 hour, 50 minutes for Clash teams last year).

Cup teams will have five practices for a total of 4 hours, 10 minutes in preparation for the Feb. 18 Daytona 500. Last year, Cup teams had seven practices for a total of 6 hours, 25 minutes before the Daytona 500. The two Cup practices the day of the Duel qualifying races have been eliminated this year.

Xfinity will have the same amount of practice as last year. Camping World Truck Series will have one more practice this year for an extra 1 hour, 20 minutes of track time this year.

Here is the track schedule for Speedweeks.

SPEEDWEEKS SCHEDULE

*subject to change

SATURDAY, Feb. 10

10:35 – 11:55 a.m. — Practice only for teams in Advance Auto Parts Clash

1:05 – 1:55 p.m. — Cup practice (for all teams)

3:05 – 3:55 p.m. — Cup practice (for all teams)

4:45 p.m. — ARCA race

SUNDAY, Feb. 11

12:15 p.m. — Daytona 500 qualifying

3 p.m. — Advance Auto Parts Clash

MONDAY, Feb. 12

No track activity

TUESDAY, Feb. 13

No track activity

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 14

No track activity

THURSDAY, Feb. 15

11:35 a.m. – 12:55 p.m. — Camping World Truck Series practice

2:25 – 3:25 p.m. — Camping World Truck Series practice

4:35 – 5:25 p.m. — Final Camping World Truck Series practice

7 p.m. — Can-Am Duel 1

9 p.m. — Can-Am Duel 2

FRIDAY, Feb. 16

12:05 – 12:55 p.m. — Xfinity practice

1:05 – 1:55 p.m. — Cup practice

2:05 – 2:55 p.m. — Final Xfinity practice

3:05 – 3:55 p.m. — Cup practice

4:30 p.m. — Camping World Truck Series qualifying

7:30 p.m. — Camping World Truck Series race NextEra Energy Resources 250

SATURDAY, Feb. 17

9:35 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying

12:05 – 12:55 p.m. — Final Cup practice

2:30 p.m. — Xfinity race PowerShares QQQ 300

SUNDAY, Feb. 18

2:30 p.m. — Daytona 500

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