Martin Truex Jr.

NASCAR America: Testing of tires during races ‘fairly common practice’ for NASCAR

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Eyebrows were raised during Sunday’s Cup Series playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway when NASCAR officials disappeared into a blue tent to test tires belonging to the teams of Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr., dunking them in water.

But Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said it is a “fairly common practice” Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”

“It’s been going on for a few years,” O’Donnell said. “It’s something we’ve done just to make sure for the competitors, everybody’s on a level playing field. It helps us with Goodyear as well to make sure the tires are legit, which we’ve always found they are.”

It’s an issue the crew chiefs for Busch and Truex are OK with.

“Usually when you’re running good, they’re going to come take them,” Cole Pearn said Sunday. “That’s fine. They’re just doing their due diligence, doing what they should be doing. No issue there.”

NASCAR America’s Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman weighed in on the story and why fans need to know about NASCAR’s practices concerning tires.

“This is something fans haven’t known about,” Petty said. “This is something maybe the guys inside that square, fenced-in area called the garage area all know about and just take for granted. But the fan … they want to know. ‘Why are you guys doing this? What’s this all about?'”

Said Kligerman: “It’s good that they’re doing this because they’re checking on the fact that teams could be trying to cheat the rules a little bit by making the airs leak out of the tires, therefore having a car on the long run that would be really fast because it would keep the right air pressure.”

Watch the above video for more.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Chicago recap, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski rivalry

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and goes over the major storylines from the playoff-opening race at Chicagoland Speedway.

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

On today’s show:

· The top seed in the Monster Energy Series Playoffs, Martin Truex Jr., secured a spot in the Round of 12 with a win at Chicagoland Speedway. We’ll examine his performance on Sunday as he overcame a pit road speeding penalty to earn his fifth series win of the year. We’ll also discuss Truex’s relationship with long-time girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, and the positive impact they’ve had on those in need.

· We’ll take a look at the current playoff leaderboard and get post-race reaction from many of the playoff drivers, including seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson.

· We’ll also discuss the latest chapter of the rivalry between Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, which made storylines in Chicago this past weekend.

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.

After Chicago, Larson, Harvick lead winless drivers in first round

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For the second year in a row, Martin Truex Jr. won the playoff-opening race at Chicagoland Speedway to advance to the second round of NASCAR Cup Series postseason.

With his win, Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick are the top-two drivers among the 15 still competing for the remaining 11 spots in the second round.

There are five drivers primarily in danger of being among the four eliminated following the next two races at New Hampshire and Dover.

Austin Dillon and Kurt Busch are tied with 2,026 points, though Dillon is listed as 12th and Busch in 13th on the grid.

Following them are Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who is four points back from Busch/Dillon, Kasey Kahne (-5) and Ryan Newman (-7).

Below is the full playoff grid following the first race of the first round.

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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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‘Best run in a long time’ helps Chase Elliott finish second

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JOLIET, Illinois — While Martin Truex Jr. celebrated his win in Sunday’s playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway, Chase Elliott could feel good about his runner-up finish and stage victory.

It has been a long summer for Hendrick Motorsports, which has not had the speed to contend for wins at many tracks. While Truex was clearly the class of the field Sunday, Elliott showed that he had a strong car, scoring his second consecutive top-10 finish. He last accomplished that feat in June.

“This is the best run we’ve had in a long time,’’ said Elliott, who continues to look for his first career Cup victory after 68 series starts. “We had the thing driving right, and we could adjust on it and make minor tweaks instead of swinging for the fence. It’s not easy by any means, but we’re getting there. Today was a step in the right direction.’’

Elliott’s performance, which included winning Stage 2, allowed him to score a race-high 53 points — the most points he’s scored in a race this year. His total was aided by 18 stage points, the most he’s earned in a race this year.

“Every race you’re scratching and clawing for every point you can get,’’ crew chief Alan Gustafson said. “The stage points we gained today were really significant. We wanted to get as many stage points as we could to help us close the gap on those guys (ahead). I think we did our job today. The one (playoff) point isn’t going to hurt.’’

The result is that Elliott climbed from 10th to sixth in the standings heading into next weekend’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He’s 33 points ahead of the cutoff with two races left in the opening round.

Elliott’s performance Sunday mirrored what happened last year in this race. Hendrick cars hadn’t been as strong entering the playoffs but Elliott excelled and finished third. Gustafson said the uptick in performance wasn’t a coincidence.

“The track is probably a decent track for us, but I think it’s more of an indication of the effort of the team and (Hendrick Motorsports) to perform better,’’ he said.

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