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Kyle Larson tops the field in Cup final practice

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Barely 30 minutes after the end of the first Cup practice, drivers and teams were back on track for Happy Hour.

Kyle Larson posted the fastest single lap in the final practice session with a 120.315 mph lap. This speed came during the middle of a long run on his 32nd of 54 laps around the track. Larson also had the quickest 10-lap average of 119.110 mph.

Coming off last week’s strong run at Bristol, Darrell Wallace Jr. (119.952 mph) was second on the speed chart.

Jamie McMurray (119.904), Clint Bowyer (119.904) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (119.893) rounded out the top five.

Denny Hamlin reported to FS1 that he had suspension problems and then laid down the second-quickest 10-lap average of 119.027 mph.

In a session largely devoid of incidents, Wallace and AJ Allmendinger made slight contact in the first 10 minutes when Wallace got loose. Neither car sustained substantial damage. Allmendinger posted the 10th-fastest lap of 119.601 mph.

Click here for full results from final practice.

Qualification will get underway at 5:30 p.m. ET.

Ryan: A tale of two short tracks (and maybe two driver temperaments)

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Two short tracks with highly anticipated stops on NASCAR’s premier circuit.

Two agonizingly frustrating battles of unseasonable inclement spring weather ranging from untimely snow to bone-chilling cold (if you polled the NASCAR garage, what would be this week’s opinion on climate change?).

Two races in the tightest quarters of the 2018 season.

Two wildly differing outcomes.

Bristol Motor Speedway’s two-day spectacular was much better than Martinsville Speedway’s extraordinarily tame outing on a snow-delayed Monday two weeks earlier.

Why?

You could start with the surface. During the recent era of track treatment, rarely has a traction compound’s application drawn such universally positive reviews as Bristol this past weekend. Track officials took advice from drivers to heart and laid down PJ1 in a way that ensured the bottom groove was the fastest – which, as Jeff Burton noted on Monday’s NASCAR America, is the best version of the 0.533-mile oval.

They also weren’t shy about reapplying the sticky stuff Monday after 204 laps were run Sunday before the washout (and it is fair to ask whether midrace treatment of a track unjustly shapes the competition).

But Bristol’s success seemed less about the surface as the men trying to navigate its treacherous environs. From the jump Sunday, there was an aggressive bent behind the wheel that was missing at Martinsville.

What other factors might have been involved?

Martinsville led into one of two off-weeks this season, and the postponement already might have been cutting into preparations for precious vacation time. It doesn’t necessarily mean conscious choices were made to avoid forcing the issue on every lap, but there might have been a general complacency fostered by the cabin fever-bred anxiety of an extra day at the track (or a night in a motorhome) with spring break looming.

Bristol, meanwhile, was a cauldron of pent-up ambition that often spilled over the edge during the course of 27 hours. It felt like the first real short-track race of the season with the constant battles that have been the hallmark of Martinsville the last few seasons. There were more leaders, more lead changes and more than twice as many caution flags (subtracting the three for rain).

There’s no way to definitively explain the disparity, but Bristol and Martinsville did reinforce a commonly held axiom.

In races threatened or postponed by weather, the action usually goes one of two ways: Drivers go hell-bent for leather, or they log laps with a de-emphasis on drama.

It seemed as if we saw both sides in the season’s first two short tracks.


In his weekly appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NASCAR senior vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell gave the most lucid and succinct explanation yet in what lies at the root of the pit gun debate.

Is it about the speed of the guns … or the swiftness of the pit crews?

As O’Donnell put it, the truth lies somewhere in between – and so does the pathway forward to getting everyone on the same page – which should be the primary goal instead of pointing fingers. As noted in last week’s column, there is more than enough culpability to go around.

The first step would be agreeing on what constitutes the better compromise: Paoli bringing its guns up to the level of the most elite pit crews, or teams retraining their athletes to slow down their lightning-quick hand speeds to adapt to the new guns.

Richard Childress Racing executive Andy Petree said in a revealing interview last week on FS1 that RCR had been counseling its crews to go slower and avoid “outrunning the equipment.” In postrace comments Monday to Dustin Long, it would seem Denny Hamlin would disagree with that approach.

This essentially is the crux of the issue to be discussed at the Team Owners Council meeting this week: Is it better to ask pit crews to change their ways, or manufacturer Paoli to change its guns?


Kyle Busch’s 49 points at Bristol were the third-lowest total for a race winner this season, and it essentially was because of an intriguing decision by Busch and several other teams near the end of Stage 1.

When the caution flew with five laps remaining in the stage, Busch was in second place behind Brad Keselowski, who elected to stay on track with five others: Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and AJ Allmendinger.

Busch lined up seventh for a one-lap restart to end the stage … and promptly dropped to 11th at the green and white flag – falling from a potential nine stage points to zero.

The decision worked out slightly better for Kyle Larson, but he still had a net loss of two points (taking fifth in the stage after falling third to eighth on the stop). It obviously went well for Keselowski, who earned 10 points and a playoff point with the stage win, and Bowyer (three), Almirola (eight) and Newman (two) all gained multiple points.

The scenario was an interesting window into how much teams value stage points. With a win and in the playoffs, Busch’s team traded points for potential track position with the threat of a shortened race (though the No. 18 Toyota still finished behind Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford at the end of the second stage that made it official).

Keselowski, who still needs a win to lock up a berth, stayed out for maximum stage points and seemed pleased by the decision. “I hate to lose the track position, but that’s too many points to just throw away,” he radioed his team.

Points that could be remembered as critical when the series reaches the Brickyard in September.


As Burton and Steve Letarte alluded to on NASCAR America, there won’t necessarily be a happy ending in Cup for Ryan Preece’s Cinderella story. There is hardly room at Joe Gibbs Racing with Busch, Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez all locked in for the foreseeable future, and it’s difficult to forecast which other premier series rides could open.

But there simply must be a full-time ride at the very least in the Xfinity Series for Preece, who has two wins (including last Saturday at Bristol) over the past two seasons for JGR.

Besides being talented, the 27-year-old is articulate and relatable, and as he eloquently explained last weekend, Preece has become a hero to short-track fans and racers around the country. As Parker Kligerman (whose struggle for a full-time ride is similar to Preece’s) wrote in a column for NBCSports.com earlier this year, NASCAR still remains a breed apart from much of the ride-buying morass found in Formula One and IndyCar.

But the necessity of “pay” drivers seemingly gets worse in stock cars with each passing year, and when even championship contenders are asked to bring sponsorship, it’s problematic.

The challenge clearly lies in finding sponsorship, but at what point do teams get held accountable for a lack of hustling to find money for an attractive candidate such as Preece, choosing instead just to take another driver’s check?

If Preece starts 2019 without a fully funded ride, that’s a debate worth having.


Speaking of the Xfinity circuit, kudos to series director Wayne Auton for owning a mistakeafter Saturday’s Dash 4 Cash mixup and reinstalling Daniel Hemric’s eligibility. Though such errors must be kept to an extreme minimum, it’s understandable how this one might have occurred.

The incident occurred during an expedited postrace inspection at track to ensure the four cars eligible for the Xfinity promotion were confirmed for the following race at Richmond. Normally, such inspections take place at the R&D Center, but the goal is getting more of the postrace inspection process done at the track and avoiding the midweek announcements that often derail more compelling storylines (in all series).

If a car being incorrectly deemed illegal is a byproduct of ultimately getting to a better place with inspections, it’s worth the long-term trade-off.


It might have been overlooked because the announcement came during Monday’s resumed race at Bristol, but Eldora Speedway is doing something that might be a worthy weather contingency concept for all tracks that don’t have domes.

Giving fans six days’ notice, the track’s 65th season opener Saturday has been “flex-scheduled” to 4 p.m. – roughly three and a half hours earlier than its scheduled start – because of an ominous forecast for the Ohio dirt track.

Flex-scheduling has been used with success in the NFL to provide better competitive matchups. Eldora is trying it to optimize its schedules for fans and teams with the threat of poor weather conditions. While it might be more difficult for a series with a national TV partner, it seems at least worthy of consideration.

Kyle Busch wins Food City 500

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Kyle Busch won the Food City 500 after giving Kyle Larson a bump and passing him out of Turn 4 coming to five laps to go at Bristol Motor Speedway.

It is Busch’s second consecutive win of the year and his seventh victory at Bristol. He also won last August’s race at the track.

Busch beat Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Alex Bowman.

Busch led 117 of 500 laps from the pole while Larson led a race-high 200.

His win comes more than 24 hours after the race started and was delayed multiple times for rain, including overnight. The race finally went back to green at 1:43 p.m. ET Monday afternoon.

“Tell you what, you just got to stay focused for the entirety of it and try to keep going,” Busch to Fox. “We knew it (the car) was going to be good in the long runs. We weren’t quite as good as the 42 (Larson) on that long run before that last caution came out. I actually thought I had a tire going down. We were able to get some tires on it and go give it everything we had.”

The final run to the finish was set up by a caution with 31 laps to go when Brad Keselowski lost a left-front tire and got into the wall while running two laps down. The green flag waved with 22 laps to go.

“As soon as we restarted there I was extremely loose,” Larson told Fox. “The 17 (Stenhouse) got to my side and I just didn’t have any grip. I thought it would tighten up for me and I could get going, but it never really did. … Hate that I didn’t win. Another one at Bristol. Feel like every time I race here I almost get a win. It’s a fun race.”

Larson finished second after spinning from the lead on Lap 324. He spun from contact with the lapped car of Ryan Newman.

MORE: Points standings

MORE: Race results

STAGE 1 WINNER: Brad Keselowski

STAGE 2 WINNER: Brad Keselowski

WHO HAD GOOD DAY: Jimmie Johnson managed to earn his first top five in 14 starts … Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spun on Lap 61 and had an uncontrolled tire penalty on Lap 130 and managed to earn his first top five and top 10 of the season … Alex Bowman earned the first top five of his Cup career … Aric Almirola placed sixth for his best finish of the year.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Nine cars were involved in a wreck to bring out the caution on Lap 5, including Chase Elliott, William Byron, Martin Truex Jr, Daniel Suarez, AJ Allmendinger, Ross Chastain and Michael McDowell. McDowell and Chastain were eliminated from the race … Allmendinger brought out the caution on Lap 18 for a single-car spin. He finished 17th … Ryan Blaney was leading when he was eliminated in a five-car wreck eight laps from the end of Stage 1. He finished 35th … Trevor Bayne brought out the caution on Lap 155 when he spun into the wall. He finished 24th … After his late-race caution, Brad Keselowski finished 23rd.

NOTABLE: Darrell Wallace Jr. led six laps, marking the first laps led of his Cup career. He finished 16th … Kyle Busch earned Joe Gibbs Racing its 150th Cup win … Kyle Busch hasn’t finished worse than third in the last six races … Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has one unsecured lug nut.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We’ve been beat by Kyle (Busch) about every time we race here. That gets frustrating after a while.” – Kyle Larson to Fox after finishing second.

WHAT’S NEXT: Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway at 6:30 p.m. ET on April 21 on Fox.

Food City 500 resumes after red flag

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The Food City 500 is back underway after a red flag period that stopped the race after 49 laps. The red flag was displayed for 25 minutes and 25 seconds.

The top 10 through 49 laps was Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman, Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones, Kyle Busch and William Byron.

There have been two cautions for incidents. Michael McDowell and Ross Chastain are out after a multi-car wreck on Lap 3. That wreck involved Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Suarez, AJ Allmendinger, William Byron, David Ragan, Chad Finchum, McDowell and Chastain.

“It’s just unfortunate,” McDowell said.  “There are no excuses.  I was just racing the 19 (Suarez) and got loose underneath him.  There’s not a lot of grip.  It rained all day and that VHT just doesn’t do well without heat.  I was stuck on the bottom and that was about it.  I really hate it for my guys.  We had a fast Love’s Travel Stops Ford and just to be out this early is really heartbreaking.”

Elliott was penalized one lap after his team began working on the No. 9 Chevrolet before the red flag was lifted.

Check back for more.

 

List of songs from Bristol driver introductions

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It was a rainy morning at Bristol Motor Speedway and more could come this afternoon, but that didn’t keep the traditional driver introductions from taking place at the half-mile track before the Food City 500.

Here’s the complete list of songs drivers were introduced with. All songs were voted on by fans, who were given three options to choose from.

More than 100,000 votes were cast.

Here are the results and the percentage of the vote each song received.

Winning Fan Vote Songs

Kyle Busch – “All I Do is WIN” by DJ Khaled, 47 percent

Kurt Busch – “Outlaw State of Mind” by Chris Stapleton, 47 percent

Brad Keselowski  -“Little Deuce Coupe” by The Beach Boys, 40 percent

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – “People Back Home” by Florida Georgia Line, 44 percent

Ryan Blaney – “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash, 54 percent

Kyle Larson – “Dirt Road Anthem” by Jason Aldean, 56 percent

Paul Menard – “R.O.C.K. in the USA” by John Mellencamp, 50 percent

Alex Bowman – “Rise” by I Prevail, 60 percent

Michael McDowell – “Taken it to the Streets” by The Doobie Brothers, 66 percent

Joey Logano  -“Brass Monkey” by The Beastie Boys, 47 percent

William Byron – “Fan the Flames” by Liberty University, 41 percent

Daniel Suarez  – “Speedy Gonzalez” by Pat Boone, 50 percent

Erik Jones – “You Ain’t Seen Nothin Yet” by Bachman Turner Overdrive, 37 percent

Clint Bowyer – “Country Boy Can Survive” by Hank Williams Jr., 51 percent

Kasey Kahne – “5-1-5-0” by Dierks Bentley, 41 percent

Chase Elliott “A Crazy Racin’ Man” by Bill Elliott, 58 percent

Jimmie Johnson – “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes, 50 percent

AJ Allmendinger – “I’m Alright” by Kenny Logins, 46 percent

Aric Almirola  – “Miami Vice” 50 percent

Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. – “Into The Fire” by Asking Alexandria, 65 percent

Austin Dillon – “Cowboy” by Kid Rock, 58 percent

Chris Buescher -“Pork and Beans” by Weezer, 42 percent

David Ragan – “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by the Charlie Daniels Band, 49 percent

Matt DiBenedetto – “John Cena Theme Song,” 41 percent

Denny Hamlin – “Forever” by Drake, Kanye West, Lil Wayne & Eminem, 45 percent

Martin Truex Jr. “Nothing But The Taillights” by Clint Black, 57 percent

Ross Chastain – “Watermelon Crawl” by Tracy Byrd

Gray Gaulding – “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins

Landon Cassill – “Going to Mars” by Judah and the Lion

Ryan Newman – “Huntin, Fishin & Lovin Every Day” by Luke Bryan, 53 percent

Jamie McMurray – “One” by Metallica, 42 percent

Ty Dillon – “Walk it Like I Talk It” by Migos, 51 percent

Trevor Bayne – “Rocky Top” by the Pride of the Southland Marching Band, 60 percent

Corey LaJoie – “Walmart Yodeling Song”

DJ Kennington – “The Hockey Song”

Reed Sorenson – “Motorsport” by Migos

Harrison Rhodes – “Enter Sandman” by Metallica

Chad Finchum – “Where I Come From” by Alan Jackson, 49 percent

Kevin Harvick – “Happy” by Pharrell, 37 percent