Matt DiBenedetto

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14 Cup teams to lose practice time in final session at New Hampshire

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LOUDON, New Hampshire — More than a third of the Cup starting lineup will lose practice time today at New Hampshire Motor Speedway because of inspection issues.

Joey Logano will be forced to sit out the entire 50-minute session after failing qualifying inspection four times Friday. Logano never made it on track for qualifying and will start last in the 39-car field for Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Four teams — playoff drivers Jamie McMurray and Martin Truex Jr., along with Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones — will be forced to miss 30 minutes of the final practice.

Truex and McMurray are serving their penalties because their cars failed inspection before last weekend’s race at Chicagoland Speedway three times.

Suarez and Jones are serving their penalties because their cars failed inspection before last weekend’s Chicagoland race twice and failed inspection twice before qualifying Friday at New Hampshire.

Nine teams will miss 15 minutes of practice in the final session for failing inspection before qualifying two times Friday.

Those docked are playoff contenders Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott, Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson. Also docked 15 minutes are Danica Patrick, Ty Dillon, Corey LaJoie, Matt DiBenedetto and David Ragan.

Final practice will be from 11:30 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. today.

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NASCAR America: This week’s Pit Crew All-Stars nominees are named

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On Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America, it was time for our weekly revelation of this week’s Pit Crew All-Stars nominees.

This week’s nominees are:

  • Ray Gallahan, jackman for Joey Logano‘s No. 22 Team Penske Ford Fusion.
  • Eric Groen, rear tire carrier for Matt Kenseth‘s No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry
  • Willie Pelotte, engine tuner for Matt DiBenedetto‘s No. 32 Go Fas Racing Ford Fusion

Check out the video above to see why these three are this week’s Pit Crew All-Stars nominees.

 

 

Wood Brothers playoff run could be worth $1 million to another Cup team

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JOLIET, Illinois — Car owner Archie St. Hilaire is nine weeks away from what could be a $1 million payout after winning the equivalent of the NASCAR lottery.

When Ryan Blaney won at Pocono in June to make the playoffs, it wasn’t just the Wood Brothers who celebrated. Although Matt DiBenedetto finished 32nd for St. Hilaire’s team that day, St. Hilaire says he was “hooting and hollering’’ when Blaney held off Kevin Harvick to win.

A victory for the Wood Brothers also was a victory for St. Hilaire’s team.

Go Fas Racing benefits because it leased its charter to the Wood Brothers before the season — something teams can do once in a five-year period.

The decision to lease the charter before this season was easy for St. Hilaire. Any team that finishes in the bottom three among charter teams for three consecutive years can lose its charter to NASCAR. Last year, Go Fas Racing finished in the bottom three among charter teams.

“I think NASCAR is pretty serious of the bottom three and you’re out,’’ St. Hilaire told NBC Sports at Chicagoland Speedway. “The marketability of one being in the bottom three two years in a row probably decreases. The first year, you’re the negotiator and the second year, they’re the negotiator and you’re trying to bail out to not be in the bottom three.’’

When St. Hilaire partnered with the Wood Brothers, he admits he thought about the extra money he could receive if the Wood Brothers made the playoffs.

Charters fund Cup teams in four different ways. There’s money for entering each event, race purse, points fund and historical performance.

St. Hilaire says his team received less than $100,000 last year from the historical category. He says that total could be close to $1 million based on how well Blaney does in the playoffs. Blaney is 10th after the first of three races in the opening round. The top 12 advance to the second round.

“I’m rooting for them,’’ St. Hilaire said of Blaney and the Wood Brothers.

For a team with about a budget of about $5.5 million, adding $1 million could increase the budget by nearly 20 percent.

“That’s all funds that we’ll use to race in the future and make us a better team,’’ said St. Hilaire, whose team ranks 33rd in the owner standings heading into Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

The better Blaney does in the playoffs, the more valuable the charter becomes.

St. Hilaire, though, must decide what to do with the charter when it is returned after this season. He could keep it and take the money. Or he could sell the charter since it is worth more with the increase in the historical category.

There are a few teams that could be candidates for charters. The Wood Brothers won’t have one for next season after returning their charter to Go Fas Racing. Also, Team Penske will expand to a third car for Blaney and could use a charter. Already, JTG Daugherty has purchased a charter for the No. 37 of Chris Buescher for next season after leasing a charter from Roush Fenway Racing this year.

Should St. Hilaire sell his charter, he’ll lease one like he did this season. After leasing his charter to the Wood Brothers, St Hilaire leased a charter from Richard Petty Motorsports.

There could be many other options for St. Hilarie to lease charters next year.

“I just don’t see that being too hard to find,’’ St. Hilaire said. “We’re talking to about four people. They’re available.’’

He also said he would consider acquiring two charters to run a second team provided a driver can bring funding to the team.

Whatever St. Hilaire does with the charter, he knows what he wants to do with the expected extra money.

“We don’t even have an engineering package,’’ St. Hilaire said. “We’re checking old-fashioned tire temps, spring rates. Matt does a great job. (Crew chief Gene Nead) does a great job. That would be our next step, to get engineering help.’’

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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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NASCAR docks 15 Cup teams practice time for inspection issues

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JOLIET, Illinois — Fifteen Cup cars will be penalized time in today’s final Cup practice session at Chicagoland Speedway.

Final practice is from 2 – 2:50 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Eight teams will be docked time for inspection issues Friday. Seven will be docked time for issues last weekend at Richmond Raceway.

Five drivers will miss 30 minutes of practice. They are Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth, Daniel Suarez, Jimmie Johnson and Aric Almirola.

Jones was docked because his car failed qualifying inspection three times Friday.

Johnson and Almirola each were docked 15 minutes for failing qualifying inspection twice Friday. They each previously were to serve 15 minutes for failing qualifying inspection twice at Richmond.

Kenseth will lose 30 minutes because his car failed inspection before last weekend’s race three times. Suarez will miss 30 minutes because his car failed qualifying inspection twice and failed inspection before the race twice last weekend.

Serving 15-minute penalties will be Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ty Dillon, Kasey Kahne, Michael McDowell, Kevin Harvick, AJ Allmendinger, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr. and Matt DiBenedetto.

McDowell, Harvick, Allmendinger, Busch, Logano, Truex and DiBenedetto were docked time for failing qualifying inspection twice Friday.

Earnhardt and Dillon will lose practice time because their cars failed qualifying inspection twice at Richmond.

Kahne will lose 15 minutes because his car failed inspection before last weekend’s race twice.

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