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Cup qualifying headed to Saturday on more consistent basis in future?

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After two consecutive weekends of Cup teams qualifying shortly before they raced, are fans likely to see more of that next year?

Cup teams qualified on Saturday after the Xfinity race last month at Indianapolis. Cup teams qualified a few hours before they raced the past two weekends at Pocono and Watkins Glen.

The experiment is part of NASCAR shortening the weekend schedule. NASCAR has added a fan fest to compensate for one less day of track activity for the Cup Series. That could become more common next year.

“I think the key for us is to really create some fun activities for the fans with more driver access on Fridays if we can,’’ Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Monday.

“Tend to like the qualifying, if we’re going to move it, on Saturday. I think that is a really good experience for fans in terms of having that support race and being able to see the Monster Energy Series drivers qualify. So we’ll probably continue to look that way. The biggest thing for us is to creating those unique, fun fan experiences around the drivers and open up the access as much as we can.’’

Cup teams will qualify and race on the same day once more this year — at Martinsville in the playoffs. This weekend, Cup teams will qualify on Friday at Michigan and race on Sunday, the typical weekend schedule.

O’Donnell told “The Morning Drive” that there have been some questions raised by competitors about qualifying and racing on the same day.

“I think some of the feedback from some folks in the garage is that still is really tough to qualify, get ready for the race,’’ he said. “Folks like it, but I also think Saturday also gives you the opportunity maybe to plan a little bit more on race prep that you need for the car. It will be a balance as we look at both of those to see what is the best solution going forward for the teams.’’

Todd Gordon, crew chief for Joey Logano, told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Monday that he’s glad to go back to a schedule where qualifying and the race won’t be on the same day this weekend.

Gordon noted the “anxiety” in how much preparation has to be done to the backup car in case a driver crashes in qualifying.

“If you were to wreck in qualifying, you had two hours to get a car back together ready to race,’’ he said.

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Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch among 5 drivers docked 30 minutes of practice

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Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch are among nine Cup drivers who will lose practice time in today’s final session at Watkins Glen International, NASCAR announced. Final practice is from 12:30 – 1:20 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Larson will lose 30 minutes of final practice for a burnout on pit road after lug nut inspection last weekend at Pocono Raceway.

Busch, Danica Patrick, Chris Buescher and Erik Jones each will lose 30 minutes of practice in today’s final session for failing qualifying/pre-race inspection three times last weekend at Pocono.

Johnson, Ty Dillon, Ryan Newman and Cole Whitt each will lose 15 minutes of practice in today’s final session for failing qualifying/pre-race inspection twice last weekend at Pocono.

No teams will lose any practice for today’s first session, which goes from 10 – 10:55 a.m. ET on NBCSN.

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Chase for playoff points looms larger with five races left in regular season

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As Kyle Busch and his team found so many ways to lose races, it wasn’t the lack of victories that proved worrisome but the loss of playoff points.

“It was a huge concern,’’ crew chief Adam Stevens said.

It’s not a stretch to believe Busch could have eight victories at this moment, giving him at least 40 playoff points and a path through part of the playoffs — if not all the way to the championship race in Miami.

Instead, he scored his first Cup win of the year Sunday at Pocono Raceway. He has 13 playoff points, trailing Martin Truex Jr. (29 playoff points) and Jimmie Johnson (16).

All those lost opportunities for Busch could impact the playoffs. Each stage victory is worth one playoff point. Each race win is worth five playoff points. Those points carry through the first three rounds as long as the driver remains in contention for the championship.

“I don’t think any of us truly understand how important (playoff points) are,’’ seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson said.

They’ll begin to find out when the playoffs open Sept. 17 at Chicagoland Speedway.

Stage racing and playoff points have created extra layers in the races this season. Those changes have forced crew chiefs to plot differing strategies and drivers to be more aggressive. It was evident at Pocono. 

Martin Truex Jr. pitted from the lead Sunday shortly before the end of the second stage. He and crew chief Cole Pearn were going for the race win instead of the stage victory. Many followed. Clint Bowyer stayed out to win the stage and collect the one playoff point and 10 bonus points. Bowyer, who is not in a playoff spot, needs all those bonus points.

While teams created models on what it might take to advance in the playoffs, no one knows for sure. It’s reminiscence of 2004 when NASCAR changed the way the championship was decided by implementing the 10-race Chase instead of having the title determined over the entire season. There were many theories of how to run the final 10 races but no one knew what strategy would work.

Drivers and teams that have lost races worry how their missed opportunities this season might impact their title hopes.

Brad Keselowski was the leader for the final restart at Indianapolis last month. He lost the race — and five playoff points — to Kasey Kahne. Could those points be the difference in Keselowski advancing another round in the playoffs?

He rues missed chances for more playoff points this season.

“I wouldn’t say that it was just Indy that I felt that way,’’ Keselowski said. “I felt that way at Richmond and Vegas where we finished second, had a shot of winning, were leading and it fell apart at the end.

“There’s other races where we won. Atlanta, Kevin (Harvick) was probably the best car there. Sometimes you win when you shouldn’t have and sometimes you don’t win where you probably should have. You hope to be on the better side of that. Steal more than you have stolen. Never feels like you are. That’s the bigger picture look that I have at.’’

Another key will be the bonus points the top 10 teams in points receive after the regular season ends next month. Barring a collapse or severe penalty, Truex is on pace to win the regular-season title and collect 15 playoff points. He has 29 playoff points and the regular-season title bonus would put him at 44 — and five races remain for him to score more playoff points.

To put those 44 points into context, when the playoffs start, every driver contending for the title will have their point total reset to 2,000 and have their playoff points added. It’s possible that Truex will lead some drivers by more than 40 points before the opening round begins.

That likely will help him advance to the second round (if he doesn’t win a race in the first round). He would then carry all those bonus points with him after the point totals are reset to 3,000 for the remaining title contenders. Truex still could have a big enough cushion over some title hopefuls that he could advance to the third round even if he struggles some in those three races.

While Truex appears to be in a good spot, these next five races could be critical to Kyle Larson.

He was leading the points after Daytona last month but a 35-point penalty and four finishes outside the top 25 in the last six races has dropped him to second in the season standings with Harvick and Busch closing. Should both pass Larson and he finishes the regular season fourth, he will have lost eight playoff points by fading from first (15 playoff points) to fourth (seven).

Those eight points could be significant in the playoffs.

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NASCAR America: Scan All from Pocono Raceway

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“The 18 is coming like a bat out of hell.”

Those words from crew chief Rodney Childers to Kevin Harvick proved to be a predictor of how Sunday’s Cup race at Pocono Raceway would end, with Kyle Busch smoking the field for his first win of the year.

It’s one of the highlights of this week’s edition of “Scan All,” giving you the best scanner traffic from the race while Busch narrates how he drove to the win.

Other highlights include:

  • “Holy cow, I don’t know how we got through that.” – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after narrowly avoiding a eight-car accident on the first lap of the race.
  • “I don’t know what happened, this thing is ****ing sideways.” – Busch after his No. 18 got wicked loose in Turn 1 late in the race, causing him to lose a hand full of spots in the field.
  • “I did everything I could to gain time and I’m a short chute behind those [REDACTED] in front of us.” – Kyle Busch lamenting his position on the track.
  • “Go find David Ragan‘s spotter and punch him in the face for me.” – Martin Truex Jr. after Ragan’s slow entry to pit road slowed down Truex’s progress on the track.

Watch the above video for the full feature.

 

NASCAR suspends crew chief Chris Gayle two races, fines him $50,000 (video)

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NASCAR suspended crew chief Chris Gayle two races and fined him $50,000 along with docking Erik Jones 25 driver points and Furniture Row Racing 25 owner points for a violation discovered at the NASCAR R&D Center this week. Jones’ eighth-place finish at Pocono is an encumbered finish.

NASCAR penalized the No. 77 team for violating Section 20.14.2 – Rear suspension. The truck trailing arm spacer/pinion angle shim mating surface must be planar and must be in complete contact with corresponding mating surfaces at all points and at all times.

Joe Garone, president of Furniture Row Racing issued a statement Wednesday.

“We understand and accept NASCAR’s penalty to our No. 77 team. We will not appeal the unintentional infraction with the rear suspension and will move on with team engineer James Small taking over as the interim crew chief for the next two races.”

The L1 infraction is the same Joey Logano’s team was penalized for after its Richmond win in the spring.

The penalty drops Jones from 16th to 18th in the season standings. He had been 125 points out of the final playoff spot, meaning he needed a win to make the playoffs even before the penalty.

Jones was the random selected to have his car taken to the R&D Center for further inspection. NASCAR typically takes the race winner, runner-up and a random to the R&D Center for additional inspection after Cup races.

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