Dustin Long

Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images

Today’s Xfinity race at Auto Club Speedway: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

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After four races, Xfinity Series regulars have won twice (Ryan Reed at Daytona and Justin Allgaier at Phoenix) and Cup drivers have won twice (Kyle Busch at Atlanta and Joey Logano at Las Vegas). The Xfinity Series regulars will look to take the lead in that category at Auto Club Speedway.

Here are the particulars for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Stu Crum, COO of Service King, will give the command for drivers to start engines at 4:07 p.m. ET. The green flag is scheduled for 4:16 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 150 laps (300 miles) around the 2-mile oval.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: The Xfinity garage opens at 10 a.m. The drivers meeting is at 2:15 p.m. Driver introductions are at 3:35 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Karen Waldrup will perform the Anthem at 4:01 p.m.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the race at 4 p.m. Its coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network will broadcast the race on radio and at mrn.com. MRN’s coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts 63 degrees at race time with a 7 percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST YEAR: Austin Dillon took the lead on a wild final lap and went on to win. Kyle Busch led and cut a tire. Daniel Suarez took the lead but ran out of fuel. Busch managed to retake the lead. Dillon got by Busch for the lead in Turn 4 after hitting the wall. Busch finished second and Darrell Wallace Jr. was third.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying at 12:30 p.m.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. moving closer to being ready to discuss contract extension with Hendrick

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
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Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he is “getting closer and closer” to talks with Hendrick Motorsports about a contract extension after saying last month he wanted to gain confidence in his health before he looked beyond this year.

Earnhardt’s contract expires after this season. He told reporters last month at Daytona International Speedway that he wanted to wait to “get some races under my belt and get confidence in my health before I can commit’’ to more years with the team.

“I don’t want to make any promises I can’t deliver on,’’ Earnhardt said at the time.

MORE: Jimmie Johnson on where things stands with his contract extension

Earnhardt, the 14-time most popular driver, was asked Friday at Auto Club Speedway where he stood with his future in the sport.

“It’s only been a few races, but I feel really good and we have had some discussions about planning to get together,’’ Earnhardt said of talks with car owner Rick Hendrick. “It’s not something I’ve put on the shelf for sure. We’re getting closer and closer.

“I feel good and have made some good adjustments in my car in the offseason. I had some meetings with NASCAR safety about things that I can do better for myself and make my car safer. I’m mad that I didn’t think about doing that sooner, but it takes something to make you proactive. I’ve done some things that I think have really given me a lot of confidence in the car and in my ability to continue to race.

“I’m not in any hurry to sit down and have those discussions, but we have been chit-chatting a little about when we need to go ahead and start heading in that direction.’’

The 42-year-old Earnhardt is in his 10th season at Hendrick Motorsports. He missed the final 18 races of last season because of concussion symptoms. He also missed two races in 2012 because of concussion symptoms. He enters Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway 23rd in the points.

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Kyle Larson fastest in opening Cup practice at Auto Club Speedway

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Kyle Larson posted the fastest lap in practice Friday at Auto Club Speedway at 189.071 mph. He was followed by Denny Hamlin (188.462 mph), Kevin Harvick (188.344), Jamie McMurray (187.940) and Joey Logano (187.588).

Defending race winner Jimmie Johnson had to go to a backup car after losing control in Turn 4 and sliding into the infield grass. The front of his car dug into the ground and was damaged. That was the only incident in the session involving cars. The session was stopped briefly for an owl on the track.

Cup teams will qualify at 7:05 p.m. ET (4:05 p.m. Pacific)

Click here for results of Cup practice


Jimmie Johnson expects to have contract extension with Hendrick announced ‘before long’

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Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson says he’s not worried about his contract with Hendrick Motorsports expiring after this season.

“We are always talking and working on the details,’’ Johnson said Friday at Auto Club Speedway. “We don’t have anything ready yet, but I’m sure we will announce before long.  As you can tell, I’m not overly concerned. I feel very confident we will get something put together with Lowe’s as our primary sponsor. 

“Hendrick is my home, so I’m not worried about where that stuff will actually be executed and what point the season it will be executed, but I know it will happen soon.”

Hendrick Motorsports announced in Sept. 2015 that Johnson and Lowe’s had signed contact extensions through the 2017 season. Crew chief Chad Knaus’ contract with Hendrick Motorsports goes through 2018.

Johnson, the reigning series champion, has spent his entire Cup career driving for Hendrick Motorsports. Lowe’s has been with him from the beginning.

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Bristol again will treat track with compound to add grip; Martinsville won’t do so

Dustin Long
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After positive comments from drivers last August, Bristol Motor Speedway again will add grip to the bottom groove, Jerry Caldwell, the track’s general manager, told NBC Sports on Friday.

Track officials added a chemical compound on 18 inches of the bottom groove in the corners to help cars get through there quicker.

“I know what we did worked,’’ Caldwell said. “We liked what we saw, and the drivers all seemed to like it, the fans liked it, why not continue to do that?’’

The result was two-wide racing in August. The 20 lead changes in that Cup race ranked second for most lead changes at Bristol in the past eight races there. NASCAR stated that there were 2,454 green-flag passes in that race, ranking fourth at the track since the statistic was first kept in 2005.

Caldwell said the compound will be added to the track within the next 10 days. The track then will have a tire machine run through the lower groove to help provide more grip. The Xfinity Series races there April 22, and the Cup Series races April 23. Caldwell said the process is similar to what was done last before last year’s event.

One issue that arose last year was that the Camping World Truck Series teams were hesitant to use the bottom groove in the first practice session in August. They moved to the lower groove in the second session and times were quicker.

“We believe that there were a few things that were going on in August when we first put that on,’’ Caldwell said. “One, everyone was a bit unsure. You don’t have any confidence when you go down. I think that was part of the reason they stayed off of it. They wanted somebody else to try it first. The other is all of our races, good Lord willing, with the weather cooperating … we expect the track temperatures to be hotter during the day. The other is that the modifieds had run on that track and put rubber down on that lower portion with a different type of tire. We think that also had something to do with the fact that it felt slick when (Truck teams) first went down there. When you got that rubber off, it was more tacky.’’

Xfinity and Cup drivers had no issues when they got on the track a couple of days later. Drivers liked it so much that some Cup drivers requested that another coating of the compound, which is similar to what is used on a dragway to aid traction at the starting line, be applied before the Cup race. NASCAR and track officials did so.

Kevin Harvick suggested last year that Martinsville Speedway could be another track to treat the corners in a similar fashion to help the top groove, but it won’t happen for next weekend’s Cup and Camping World Truck Series races, Clay Campbell, track president told NBC Sports.

“It’s always been a one-groove racetrack,’’ Campbell said of the track that is celebrating its 70th anniversary. “Fans like that and that style of racing. That’s what makes this place what it is. I don’t want to want to take a chance on altering the way that the races are run here.’’

Campbell said the track tested a substance to aid traction last year “with mixed results.

“I think it depends on who you talk to as to whether it was a positive or a negative. In my view, the racing has never been bad here. You go back through history, it’s always been the same style of racing even though we’ve gone from asphalt to concrete in the corners. If something it not broken, I don’t know why we need to fix it.’’

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