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Looking at top 10 race start totals among active, full-time NASCAR Cup drivers

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Last Sunday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. made his 600th career start in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, finishing 16th in the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.

That achievement made Earnhardt just the second active driver to the reach the mark, following Matt Kenseth, who has 619 starts after the Auto Club 400.

How do those numbers compare to the rest of their competitors? Who is the next driver that will reach a big start mark?

Here’s a look at the top 10 active full-time Cup drivers when it comes to starts in NASCAR’s premier series:

Matt Kenseth – 619 starts

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 600 starts

Kurt Busch – 581 starts (would make 600th start on Aug. 19 in the Bass Pro Shops / NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway)

Kevin Harvick – 579 starts (would make 600th start on Sept. 9 in Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway)

Ryan Newman – 553 starts

Jimmie Johnson – 548 starts

Jamie McMurray – 515 starts

Kasey Kahne – 473 starts

Kyle Busch – 431 starts

Martin Truex Jr. – 410 starts

NASCAR’s preliminary entry lists for Martinsville Speedway

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With NASCAR’s “West Coast Swing” over, the sport returns east this weekend with a visit to Martinsville Speedway.

While the Xfinity Series takes a week off, the Camping World Truck Series returns for its first race since March 4 at Atlanta.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and the Truck Series.

Cup Series – STP 500

There are 38 cars on the entry lists for the first Cup race of the year at Martinsville Speedway. A full field would be 40 cars. The last four races have had 39 entries.

Jimmie Johnson won in the Cup Series’ last visit to the half-mile track last October. Kyle Busch is the defending winner of the STP 500. Busch led 352 of 500 laps to earn his first Cup win at the short track.

Click here for the full entry list.

Truck Series – Alpha Energy Solutions 250

There are 32 entries on the Truck Series’ preliminary entry list. Four entries, the No. 12, the No. 63, the No. 83 and No. 99 do not have drivers attached yet.

Chase Elliott is the only Cup Series driver in the field. He will drive the No. 23 for GMS Racing. It’s his second Truck race of the year.

Justin Haley will make his first Truck start of the year driving the No. 24 for GMS Racing. Joe Nemechek makes his third start of the year in the No. 87.

Johnny Sauter won the Truck Series’ last Martinsville visit in October. Busch is the defending winner of this race. Busch started second and led 123 of 255 laps on the way to the victory.

Click here for the full entry list.

Kyle Larson wins pole for Auto Club 400, second Cup pole of career

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Kyle Larson ended a three-year drought by winning the pole for the NASCAR Cup Series’ Auto Club 400.

Larson won his second Cup Series pole with a speed of 187.047 mph around Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. His first pole came in the August 2013 race at Pocono Raceway.

The pole continues Larson’s impressive start to 2017. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver leads the point standings after earning three consecutive second-place finishes.

“I felt like messed up there in Turn 1 and 2 and I got a little bit loose off the wall on the entry and it got me to split the seam in (Turn) 1 and 2,” Larson told Fox Sports. “I was able to commit to (being) wide open off (Turn) 1 and 2. I hadn’t ran up high in (Turn) 3 and 4 at all in practice or qualifying here. Didn’t really know what I would have out there but ran a good ways and it stuck. … Our Target team has been really amazing to start the season and to get a pole is great. … Got a little team dinner tonight, so this will be a good thing to celebrate.”

Larson’s run knocked Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin from the top spot. As Larson drove down pit road, a Fox Sports camera caught Hamlin playfully showing his dissatisfaction by emptying a cup of ice in the direction of the No. 42.

“This is No. 1 on my list of track I want to win,” Hamlin told Fox Sports. “It’s bitten me mentally and physically … definitely one I want to check off.”

Filling out the top five is Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr and Ryan Newman.

Daniel Suarez qualified 10th for his best career Cup start.

No Hendrick Motorsports entries will start in the top 10. Kasey Kahne was the top qualifier in 12th, followed by Chase Elliott.

Five cars did not make qualifying attempts, with one of them being by choice. Jimmie Johnson’s team elected not to make an attempt following his accident in practice. He will start 37th.

Joining Johnson at the back of the field will be Joey Logano, Trevor Bayne, Matt DiBenedetto and Gray Gaulding. All of their cars did not make it through inspection in time to qualifying.

Click here for qualifying results.

Brave owl stops NASCAR Cup practice at Auto Club Speedway

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Every once in a while something odd will stop NASCAR track activity.

On Friday, it was either the bravest or dumbest owl in the world.

In the middle of the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice at Auto Club Speedway, the session was red flagged to remove the owl from the track surface.

The owl sat near the middle of the track on the fronstretch, not far from the exit to pit road, as cars sped by at full speed in the top groove.

The bird eventually took flight as track workers attempted to corral it.

This isn’t the first time an animal has been gotten in the way at a NASCAR track. Last year at Michigan International Speedway, a groundhog forced a pause in the middle of Xfinity Series practice. Track workers valiantly caught the animal … until it got away.

Last August, the Camping World Truck Series fell victim to another furry friend. A rabbit somehow found its way inside Bristol Motor Speedway and forced the red flag to come out during a practice session.

Last years’ Cup weekend at Sonoma Raceway had an animal encounter that ended tragically. During a practice session, Kyle Busch was unable to avoid a jackrabbit that ran in front of his No. 18 car.

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What drivers said after the NASCAR Cup race at Phoenix

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Here’s what most of the field had to say following the NASCAR Cup Series’ Camping World 500 at Phoenix Raceway, which was won by Ryan Newman.

RYAN NEWMAN – Winner: “I’ve lost count; that’s how long it’s been (since I’ve won). I’ve got to thank Grainger, Caterpillar, Coca-Cola, Monster Energy for supporting our series, and Chevrolet. The list goes on and on.  What a gutsy call by (crew chief) Luke (Lambert). I called for two tires and he called for none. I’ve won more races (with) no tires than I have with four. I’m just proud of these guys. We had a good car all day. We kept it out of trouble and collected in the end.”

Kyle Larson – Finished second: “Like I’ve been saying all of this early year, we’ve never had that speed.  It’s a lot of fun right now.  I’m sure, you know, if I ran second for the next eight weeks, yeah, it’s probably going to grow old.  But, yeah, it’s so cool to be one of the fastest cars every week.  I feel like I’ve got a shot to win every week at a racetrack like here and Vegas where I don’t normally run good, and challenge for wins.”

Kyle Busch – Finished third: “We had a good car and that’s what it takes. When you have a good car you can run up front like that and we kind of missed it a little bit at Atlanta and we rebounded and tried to rebound a little bit at Vegas and had a shot for a top five there, but we weren’t able to capitalize on that, but we were today thankfully. It seems like every finish that’s destined for us it seems to end in a worse finish that day.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished fourth: Brian Pattie made a lot of adjustments overnight.  We weren’t that great during practice as far as speed goes.  But I felt our car had good long run speed.  It proved that today.  I was glad we were able to get some long runs there.  Actually, it wasn’t as bad on restarts as I thought we were going to be. There at the end, I thought Brian wanted us to stay out when the caution came out. I kind of second‑guessed him. Then when I told him everybody was coming down pit road, I already kind of committed to stay out and went with his gut instinct, and it paid off.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished fifth: “We ran kind of right in that second to fifth range the whole day. We clawed away. I thought we might have had a shot at getting the win but the 18 car was just a touch better. We were all real close there. Whoever got the track position was going to run away. The clean air was so important which was a bit frustrating. There was a lot of parity today and of course the crazy finish there at the end with the yellow coming out when it did and all the different strategies.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished sixth: “We just didn’t ever get it exactly how we wanted all weekend. Luckily it is a good race track for us and we were able to battle and use all the tricks of the trade we know to get ourselves up in contention. We definitely need to do some work on this style race track with our Jimmy John’s Ford but it was a heck of a battle all day.”

Daniel Suarez – Finished seventh: “It’s a big deal because in the last two races we have struggled. We didn’t have the speed and the communication wasn’t great, but we’ve been working very hard trying to work on chemistry, communication and for sure we’ve been getting better. Yesterday in the last practice, in the happy hour, I felt very good about the car. I feel like we were going to have a shot to have some fun in the race and I wasn’t wrong. The team did a very good job.”

Erik Jones – Finished eighth: “It’s a good day. Your expectations kind of change as the day goes on. When you feel like you have a fifth-place car, you want to run fifth, but it just didn’t work out at the end. We had a lot of guys take two (tires). A lot more than I thought would. A lot more obviously than (crew chief) Chris (Gayle) thought would. We had a great restart and were able to get back up to eighth. Not too much gain, not too much loss. A solid day for us. Definitely the best day overall for the 5-Hour Energy Camry.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished ninth: “There was just a lot of chaos on the last start. No tires won, so certainly a good call on their behalf.  Our own struggles we really lacked short-run speed today, but we had great long-run speed.  The last restart I knew it wasn’t going to be favorable for us and it just didn’t turn out. But a decent performance, probably a top-five car or top-three car on the long run, just lacked too much on the short run.”

Martin Truex Jr. – Finished 11th: “We restarted third at the end, knowing that some of the guys with fresh tires would most likely pass us, but we held off a lot of them too. Had we pitted then we would again have lost a bunch of spots on pit road due to the clutch problem. We had an easy top-10 car and possibly a top five or better Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Boats Toyota, but the issues we faced made it a rough day.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 12th – “Even the really good cars had a really hard time getting to somebody, so track position was big as it always is, every week, everywhere we go and that will continue to be the case throughout the year.  So, if you don’t have it at the end of the race it is going to be an uphill battle I feel like throughout this season.  That is going to be a big trend.  Proud of our group.  We have fired off strong.  We didn’t finish strong today, but I’m happy about how we started the season and the runs we’ve had.  Nice to win a stage and get a point towards the champion this year, which is big.  Those stage wins are going to be really important come time the playoffs start.”

Clint Bowyer – Finished 13th: “It was that kind of weekend for us really. Just a little off all weekend long. We got it better Saturday and I really thought we were going to be alright there but we actually ended up racing the way we struggled all day Friday. We came full circle.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Finished 14th: “We fought the balance of the car quite a bit, but we lost quite a bit of brakes there. We were on the floor on the brake pedal and had to really… just couldn’t run hard, just had to wait. I was having the same problem the No. 22 (Joey Logano) was having. He popped a tire. So, we were just trying not to pop a tire.  Couldn’t run hard there the last probably half of the race just kind of had to sit there and keep the brake pedal from going to the floor.  You could run just hard enough to keep it from overheating the brakes, but you couldn’t really compete like you wanted to.”

Trevor Bayne – Finished 19th: “We fought hard all day. Our AdvoCare Ford was just really tight rolling through the center but my guys worked hard on it all race long and we were able to get a decent finish out of today. (Crew chief) Matt (Puccia) made that two-tire call at the end that really helped us pick up a couple of spots. Now it’s on to California where we hope for another solid run.”

Danica Patrick – Finished 22nd: “The TaxAct Ford started out loose in and tight in the center. It was alright in the middle stages of the race, but in the final segment it just took too long to come in during the runs and we lost a ton of ground. We were able to pick some spots back up late in the run and then it took off pretty good on the last restart. I have to thank the guys for doing a great job in the pits all day.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 23rd: “There was a lot of craziness out there today. I thought our car was okay in the beginning and we were trying to get it better. About halfway through the race our trackbar stopped working, which was bad. That really hurt us. That really hurt from being able to adjust our car throughout the run. That is what we needed. That really sucked when that stopped working. We take for granted those things. Then I sped on pit road and that put us in a bigger hole. We had an issue and then I compounded the issue by speeding and you can’t have that. I made a mistake on that deal.”

JOEY LOGANO – Finished 31st.: “The brakes are fine, we just blew a right front. Probably just overheated the bead. I am sure that is what it was. There is not much you can do when the right front blows out. We had a good car in the beginning of the race and then just fell off and got a pit road speeding penalty and it was hard to get back up there. We were getting closer but out long run speed was off. We have to figure out how to get faster here on the long run.”

David Ragan – Finished 35th: “Really, Trevor Bayne is the one that is kind of to blame. He tried to wreck Danica (Patrick) three of four consecutive laps. He was driving over his head and all over the race track. I was kind of a result of their shenanigans. They were bouncing off each other and I tired to go low and actually made contact with Matt DiBenedetto and had a tire rub and was going to come in that lap. Just cut our tire.”

Matt Kenseth – Finished  37th: “We just blew a front tire. We kind of struggled with our Tide PODS Camry most of the day. We got a little bit better that run, but we weren’t handling the way we needed to for sure and just ended up failing a front tire.”