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Martinsville Cup schedule to mirror those used elsewhere this season

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NASCAR announced Tuesday that “enhanced” two-day weekend schedules would return this year and be used for 12 of the 36 Cup Series races.

The first is this weekend at Martinsville Speedway. Qualifying for the STP 500 will be held Saturday after the Camping World Truck Series race. Qualifying was held on Sunday for last October’s playoff race.

The schedules feature two days of Cup action to go with three total days of on-track activity (Camping World Truck Series teams practice Friday at Martinsville, for example). The weekends also will have a rotating schedule of Cup drivers participating in interactive opportunities for fans.

Enhanced schedules are set for both Martinsville races and the following race weekends:

Richmond I and II,  Kansas (May), Chicagoland, Kentucky, Pocono (July), Watkins Glen, Bristol (August), Indianapolis and Talladega (October).

The concept of such race weekends for Cup was implemented in the second half of last year at Martinsville, Indianapolis, Pocono and Watkins Glen.

Also, the Kansas race in May, the September Richmond race, the Kentucky race in July, and the Bristol race in August had Cup cars on track two days those weekends.

AAA extends sponsorship of Joey Logano’s team

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Auto Club of Southern California and AAA has signed a multi-year extension to sponsor Joey Logano‘s No. 22 Ford for three Monster Energy Cup races annually, Team Penske announced Sunday.

AAA will sponsor Logano at Auto Club Speedway in March, Kansas Speedway in May and Texas Motor Speedway in November.

AAA also signed a multi-year renewal to be the entitlement sponsor of the playoff Cup race at Texas.


Two Xfinity Series crew chiefs fined for lug nut violations at Kansas

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There were no penalties assessed to NASCAR Cup teams from Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway.

However, NASCAR assessed monetary fines to two Xfinity Series crew chiefs for unsecured lug nut violations in last Saturday’s race at Kansas.

The No. 22 and No. 19 teams were penalized for violating: Sections Tires and Wheels Note: Lug nut(s) not properly installed.

Greg Erwin, crew chief of the Team Penske No. 22 Ford of third-place finishing driver Ryan Blaney, was fined $5,000.

Also fined $5,000 was Dave Rogers, crew chief of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of eighth-place finisher Matt Tifft.

NASCAR explains why only Martin Truex Jr. was penalized on restart

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas — A NASCAR executive said that series officials clarified a rule on starts and restarts after drivers came to them with concerns before Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway.

The result was Richard Buck, managing director of the Cup Series, telling competitors in the drivers meeting: “A reminder to stay in your lane until you cross the start-finish line. The front row establishes the lanes and the inside lane must be established above the inside painted line.’’

Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn admitted they missed the directions in the meeting. Truex was penalized on a restart when he went below the white line. Kevin Harvick followed Truex below the white line but was not penalized.

Steve O’Donnell, executive vice president and chief racing development officer for NASCAR, explained the rule Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and why Truex was penalized and Harvick wasn’t.

“We had some discussions early on with some of the competitors on Sunday morning about the fact that not necessarily just the inside lane, but if the inside car dropped below the white line it would force, potentially, the outside row or one of the drivers in the outside row to change lanes and the fear of being penalized,’’ O’Donnell said.

“We were asked to see if we could clarify that. That was why the language was put in place in the drivers meeting. Clearly communicated by Richard (Buck) to stay above the while line. It was really the first row of drivers that set that line so anyone who is following them was going to be put in a tough position because they had to stay in line, so that was why the penalty was called on (Truex) and not the drivers that dropped below behind (Truex).’’

Harvick, who said he didn’t realize he went below the white line following Truex on the restart, said Buck’s order stood out to him.

“I’ve been to a lot of drivers meetings, and I listen and watch it every week, and when you hear something different, it sticks out like a sore thumb,’’ Harvick said. “When I heard them say that you have to establish a lane above the white line, that was new to me. Usually it’s you can’t beat the leader on the original start and all the normal stuff. That was different. I’ve never heard that before.’’

O’Donnell also addressed the penalty that ended Matt Kenseth’s race.

After suffering crash damage, Kenseth was on the five-minute clock for repairs. Section 10.9.9.h of the Cup Rule Book states: “In addition to the five-minute time limit described above, six or fewer crew members are permitted in the vehicle’s assigned pit box for repairs to a damaged vehicle. An additional person (i.e. seventh crew member) is only permitted to service the driver and clean the windshield. If a vehicle exceeds the crew member limit, the vehicle will not be scored or permitted to return to the Race.’’

O’Donnell explained on “The Morning Drive” the situation with Kenseth’s team.

“It’s one of those that obviously we hate to have to make that call, but it is an established rule,’’ O’Donnell said. “It’s one that we worked with all the race teams at the beginning of the year to put in place. The reason for it was if we didn’t put some parameters around it, I think the industry collectively knew you would have potentially 30 or 40 people over the wall, especially around a championship scenario where a car had to get back in. That was the situation we wanted to avoid and why the rule was put in place. In this case, we try to give everybody the benefit of the doubt. It was unfortunate that seven were identified working on the car and that’s an automatic end of the race for a driver unfortunately.’’

Jason Ratcliff, Kenseth’s crew chief, stated what happened:

“That’s one thing about that pit stall (closest to pit entrance), makes it difficult,’’ he said. “You get to pit road really quick. You have a little less time to communicate. Thankfully we don’t fall under the damaged vehicle policy that much. Other than last week at Talladega we did. We missed a head count there.

“Two of (the crew members) were holding tires (but were over the wall). We have a gameplan. We have a gameplan that has worked really good for us all year and … I don’t know if someone missed the call there or I didn’t communicate properly. Typically it boils down to communication and that’s what happened there.’’

But Ratcliff said it might be time to look at changing the penalty on that rule.

“It’s a shame that that’s a rule that takes competitors out of an opportunity for a championship,’’ he said Sunday. “I think it’s one rule that needed to be implemented this year as far as damage vehicle policy, but I think it really needs some restructuring and some work now that its been in place. I don’t think it’s doing what they intended it for it to do. I think today is a perfect example of that.’’

Will NASCAR possibly change this rule for next season?

“We always look after the end of the season, we look at what happened and different rules,’’ O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “In this case, Scott Miller (senior vice president of competition), I think, personally had conversations with all the teams that were still a part of the championship again reminding everyone every race that this is part of it and don’t put yourself in that position. We get the frustration. You wouldn’t be a competitor if you weren’t frustrated in this situation.

“Certainly something we can look at, but I think it was a rule that was established by the industry so we look at that collectively.’’

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Ryan Blaney advances in playoffs after best result in four months

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Ryan Blaney‘s day started with his No. 21 Ford in last and uncertainty surrounding his chances of advancing in the Cup playoffs.

Blaney started 40th after his car failed post-inspection qualifying Friday.

The day ended with the Wood Brothers Racing driver earning his first top five since June and securing a spot in the Round of 8.

Blaney placed third, his best result since winning at Pocono Raceway on June 11.

“We had a good car right off the bat,” Blaney told NBCSN. “We weren’t the great at the end before the competition caution (on Lap 30).”

Blaney went from 40th to 17th by the time the competition caution waved. Following another caution on Lap 48, Blaney kept his car on track and only fell to fourth by the end of the first 80-lap stage. He placed eighth in the second stage.

“Then there was a mixup with some strategy stuff and pit calls and it felt like we were kind of at the back part of that but we were able to recover and miss that (14-car) wreck (on Lap 198) which was big for us,” Blaney said. “We ran strong enough all day that we should have been in with where we ran. I am really proud of my team for the effort and we will move on to the next round and Martinsville.”

Blaney’s result is also just his third top 10 in the last eight races. The result keeps hope alive for the Wood Brothers, who are seeking their first Cup championship since winning the 1963 owners title.

He heads to Martinsville Speedway seeded seventh in the eight-driver field with 4,009 points.