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Good news, race fans: few conflicts with NFL games during 2017 NASCAR playoffs

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For the most part, NASCAR and the NFL won’t butt heads in the same cities too much when it comes to the 10 NASCAR Cup playoff weekends this year.

The NFL released its 2017 regular season schedule Thursday night, and with a few exceptions, racetracks in or near NFL teams are fairly in the clear when it comes to going head-to-head against their gridiron counterparts.

The most notable matchup will come on Sunday, November 5, a date Texas Motor Speedway boss Eddie Gossage is probably cursing about now.

While TMS’s NASCAR race begins at 2 p.m. ET that day, about 2 ½ hours and 30 miles down the road in Arlington, Texas, America’s Team – the Dallas Cowboys – will play host to the Kansas City Chiefs.

One other conflict of note – more so because of sentimental reasons – is September 24, when the New England Patriots host the Houston Texans, while New Hampshire Motor Speedway will host its last fall race (its race date is being moved to Las Vegas starting next season).

There’s also October 1, when Dover International Speedway hosts the third race of the playoffs. And while the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins are on the road, the Baltimore Ravens have a big game against the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers.

Here’s how NASCAR stacks up against the NFL during the 10-week NASCAR Cup playoffs:

Sept. 17 — Playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway – no conflict as Chicago Bears play at Tampa Bay.

Sept. 24 — New Hampshire Motor Speedway – moderate conflict – New England Patriots host the Houston Texans about 110 miles away. However, Pats fans who are also NASCAR fans may decide to skip the game to attend what will be the last fall race at NHMS for sentimental reasons.

Oct. 1 — Dover International Speedway – minor conflict – Baltimore Ravens host the Pittsburgh Steelers 90 miles away. However, other nearby teams play on the road: Philadelphia Eagles play at Los Angeles Chargers and the Washington Redskins play at the Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 2 (Monday Night Football).

Oct. 8 — Charlotte Motor Speedway – no conflict – Carolina Panthers play at Detroit Lions

Oct. 15 — Talladega Superspeedway – minor conflict – Atlanta Falcons host the Miami Dolphins, but that’s about 110 miles and two hours away.

Oct. 22 — Kansas Speedway – no conflict – Kansas City Chiefs play at Oakland Raiders on October 19 (Thursday Night Football).

Oct. 29 — Martinsville Speedway – no conflict – (Carolina Panthers are at New York Jets, but Washington Redskins host Dallas Cowboys four hours and nearly 300 miles away).

Nov. 5 — Texas Motor Speedway – MAJOR conflict – NASCAR race starts at 2 p.m. ET, while Dallas Cowboys host the Kansas City Chiefs at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, at 4:30 p.m. ET (and 30 miles from TMS).

Nov. 12 — Phoenix Raceway – no conflict – the Phoenix Cardinals host the Seattle Seahawks, but that game will be held on November 9 (Thursday Night Football).

Nov. 19 — Homestead Miami Speedway – no conflict – the Dolphins enjoy a bye week (don’t be surprised if several players wind up at the NASCAR race).

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NASCAR Stock Market: Who’s up and who’s down from last year

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No Cup driver has had a better turnaround in the last year than Clint Bowyer.

The Stewart-Haas racer is one of five who are 10 or more spots better in the points than they were a year ago. Bowyer, who is ninth in the standings, is 23 spots better than he was at this time last year.

The change is not a surprise. Bowyer was with HScott Motorsports, which ceased operations after last year, and now is with one of the sport’s elite teams.

“There is nothing in this sport at this level that comes easy,’’ Bowyer said earlier this month at Texas Motor Speedway. “It doesn’t matter the racetrack or circumstances, it is always hard because there is always the next guy working every bit as hard to accomplish the same goal. That being said, I knew it would be a positive move.’’

Bowyer has two top-10 finishes, which is one shy his total last season. He also has five top-15 finishes in the first seven Cup races of the season.

On the opposite side, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is 20th in points, 14 spots worse than he was at this time a year ago. He is coming off a season-best fifth-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway.

Earnhardt’s challenge, in part, has been coming back after missing the last 18 races of last season because of issues related to a concussion.

“I figured we would get one sooner or later, but it’s nice,’’ he said after the Texas race. “I know our fans are really pulling for us. 

Here’s a look at the drivers who have gained the most spots in the points since this time a year ago and the drivers who have fallen the most in the same time.

MOST POSITIONS GAINED

23 — Clint Bowyer (9th in standings this year)

17 — Kyle Larson (1st)

14 — Ryan Blaney (6th)

12 — Chase Elliott (2nd)

11 — Trevor Bayne (12th)

9 — Chris Buescher (27th)

8 — Martin Truex Jr. (3rd)

6 — Ryan Newman (13th)

6 — Cole Whitt (31st)

5 — Brad Keselowski (4th)

5 — Jamie McMurray (8th)

5 — Michael McDowell (28th)

MOST POSITIONS LOST

14 — Dale Earnhardt Jr. (20th in standings this year)

11 — Austin Dillon (21st)

10 — Matt Kenseth (22nd)

10 — AJ Allmendinger (25th)

9 — Jimmie Johnson (11th)

8 — Kurt Busch (15th)

8 — Denny Hamlin (16th)

7 — Kevin Harvick (10th)

6 — Kyle Busch (7th)

5 — Paul Menard (26th)

5 — Danica Patrick (29th)

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Kevin Harvick: Most 500-mile races should be shorter

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Kevin Harvick “100 percent” believes 500-mile races like last Sunday’s at Texas Motor Speedway and other non-“crown jewel” races should be shorter.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver made the comments Tuesday night on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show, “Happy Hours.”

Harvick thinks race distances should be adjusted to fit the current landscape of NASCAR racing and fan attention spans.

There are eight 500-mile races on the schedule.

“I think the 500-mile race is a long time,” Harvick said. “I think with the stage racing and the things that we have going now and the attention spans of what people want to watch, I think that there should be the Coke 600, the Daytona 500, the Southern 500, the crown jewel events should have those distances, and I think everything else should be shorter.”

Sunday’s race in Texas was 334 laps and finished in three hours, 24 minutes and 18 seconds. It was the fourth Cup race through the first seven of the year to last longer than three hours and 20 minutes.

Last years’ spring Texas race was 3 hours, 37 minutes and 16 seconds. In 2015, it was three hours, 33 minutes and 57 seconds.

Five of the first seven races this year have been longer time wise than last year, that includes the Daytona 500 (three hours, 29 minutes and 31 seconds) and the 500-mile Atlanta race (three hours, 33 minutes and eight seconds).

Some tracks have shortened races in the last few years. In 2012, Pocono Raceway shortened both its races from 500 to 400 miles. In 2010, Auto Club Speedway did the same and Dover International Speedway went to 400-mile races back in 1997.

Phoenix Raceway briefly extended is spring race from 500 to 600 kilometers in 2010 before reverting to its original length the next year.

But the idea of Texas Motor Speedway shortening its two 500-mile races might be a pipe dream, at least as long as general manager and president Eddie Gossage has a say in the matter.

“I can tell you that the fans do not want shorter races,” Gossage told ESPN in 2015. “Period. End of story.

“The only people that want shorter races are the people that run the races — the teams. I guess I’d like to get work less and still get paid the same.”

In that same ESPN article two years ago Gossage said he hadn’t heard any talk about shortening races, especially from fans. But he had heard of discussions about “format and things like halftimes and quarters.

“… I don’t know how serious anybody is about that.”

Turns out, very.

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NASCAR America: Scan All from Texas Motor Speedway

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Even before the green flag dropped on the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 on Sunday, one driver had reason to put the censors to work on this week’s Scan All.

“Something just broke ya’ll,” Austin Dillon informed his team before going to the garage with a broke track bar. “I’m not (redacted), something broke.”

Before long, drivers and team members were cursing the track, the wind and everyone else.

“The wind has picked up here pretty good,” said the spotter for Clint Bowyer. “Good thing (Stewart-Haas Racing competition director Greg Zipadelli) gives me hazarded pay for this.”

“You mean we pay you?” joked team owner Tony Stewart.

At one point Kyle Busch became angered by the driving of Derrike Cope

“NASCAR, can we ****ing park the 55, please. He can’t even hold his own lane, that’s ****.”

Watch the video to enjoy the rest of the best scanner communication from Sunday’s race.

Hendrick solves performance issues, but Joe Gibbs Racing still puzzled

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With Jimmie Johnson winning and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finishing fifth in Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, the naysayers finally can stop asking “what’s wrong with Hendrick Motorsports?”

But those same naysayers can continue asking “what’s wrong with Joe Gibbs Racing?”

Sunday marked the second time this season that JGR has failed to have even one of its NASCAR Cup drivers finish in the top 10 (the other time was the Daytona 500).

Kyle Busch was the highest Texas finisher for the Gibbs camp at 15th place. Matt Kenseth was 16th, Daniel Suarez was 19th and Denny Hamlin was 25th.

That’s very uncharacteristic for a team that has six wins, 24 top-fives and 42 top-10s in 96 overall starts at the 1.5-mile speedway.

In addition to not having any wins in 2017, JGR has just one stage win. This, in comparison to 2016, when it had at least one top-10 in all 36 races.

Also in 2016, JGR won three of the first seven races, and seven of the first 12, en route to 12 total wins for the entire season.

Even team owner Joe Gibbs is mystified at what’s happened to his four-team NASCAR Cup operation.

“We just have a lot of issues,” Gibbs told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “This was as tough a day as we’ve had. I think Kyle [Busch] felt he had a chance early, and then we adjusted a little bit, and it went away.

“Denny was off. I think our other two cars were, too. So, what it really says is we’re off. We got a lot of work to do.”

Gibbs did not point to the recent repave at TMS as one of the reasons why his team struggled Sunday, he said to the Star-Telegram.

“It’s the same for everybody,” he said. “It was a real test of nobody having any information going in. It was who could handle it the best. Obviously, we didn’t.”

But what isn’t the same for everybody is how far and how quickly JGR has fallen. In 2015 and 2016, the organization led all of its peers with 26 combined wins. No other rival organization had more than 14 wins during the same period.

In 2014, JGR managed just two wins in the entire season, one apiece by Busch and Hamlin.

In addition, the last time JGR went without at least one victory in the first seven races of a season was back in 2007, when it didn’t notch its first win until July 1 at New Hampshire, the 17th race of that season.

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