DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 18:  The car of Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER BOATS Toyota, goes through inspection during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 59th Annual DAYTONA 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 18, 2017 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
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Furniture Row Racing burning ‘midnight oil’ to fix template issues before Atlanta

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As soon as qualifying for the 59th Daytona 500 was over Sunday, Furniture Row Racing crew chief Cole Pearn and other team members were Denver-bound.

When their plane landed, Martin Truex Jr. said their goal was to figure out “how things got screwed up and where they went wrong.”

During the first weekend of “Speedweeks,” the No. 78 of Truex and No. 77 of Erik Jones missed significant track time in practice. Both cars experienced failed template inspection multiple times, a result of faulty template grids at their Denver shop, NBC’s Jeff Burton reported Monday.

The template issues resulted in roofs of FRR’s cars being too high and the decklids being too low.

While the issues were on their Daytona cars, Truex said Pearn and company are burning “a lot of midnight oil” preparing for the races that come after the “Great American Race.”

“Yeah, it’s been a big issue,” Truex said Wednesday at Daytona 500 Media Day. “(They) have been there working on stuff for Atlanta. … They’ve got a lot of work ahead of them, obviously, and we’ve got a good bunch of guys there at the shop, fabricators and such, so we’ll get it straightened out.”

The fixed superspeedway cars resulted in Truex putting up the fourth fastest speed in qualifying. Jones, the rookie who will drive FRR’s expansion car, was 20th fastest.

“It’s just definitely a setback that you don’t want this early in the season, especially for us,” Truex said. “We were building all new cars because we changed the body style this year (to the) 2018 Camry. Obviously going to two cars, that’s a little bit different.”

Inspection failures were a common occurrence for the No. 78 team in 2016, its first season backed by Toyota.

Pearn was suspended for the spring Phoenix race and fined $50,000 after Truex’s car was found to have a roof flap violation during inspection at Atlanta. Pearn had been on probation for a pre-race roof flap violation prior to last year’s Daytona 500.

The team failed post-race laser inspection in consecutive weekends in the regular season finale at Richmond and opening playoff race at Chicagoland, but NASCAR decided not to penalize the team for Chicago. Following pre-qualifying inspection at Talladega in October, NASCAR confiscated left front jack screws.

“At the end of the day, we have to go through inspection and pass just like everybody else,” Truex said. “The rules are the same for everyone, and obviously we’ve had our issues in the past. But I think it’s funny when you talk to Cole, he gets so angry about it because he’s like, everybody thinks that there’s this master plan, and we’re like these guys that try to get everything past NASCAR. Well, it’s really just not the case. It is what it is, but hopefully they’ll get it fixed, like I said, and we won’t have any issues going forward.”

Truex and the rest of Furniture Row Racing return to the track Thursday for practice and the Can-Am Duel.

Upon Further Review: Don’t overlook these drivers in Sprint Cup Chase

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DOVER, Del. — As the focus remains with the Toyota teams entering the second round of the Sprint Cup Chase, don’t forget about others.

Kevin Harvick already has won a race in this Chase. Jimmie Johnson was “just as good” Sunday as Dover winner Martin Truex Jr.’s team, according to crew chief Cole Pearn.

Both Harvick, who has made it to Miami each of the past two years, and Johnson will continue to be teams to watch — along with rookie Chase Elliott — but don’t ignore the Team Penske duo of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.

Keselowski finished in the top five in each of the three opening-round races, and Logano had an average finish of 6.3 in those races.

“Consistency is just as important as winning in this format,’’ Keselowski said after his fourth-place finish at Dover. “I think sometimes that gets lost. You might even say that consistency is more important.’’

Keselowski and Logano both said Sunday that their teams still have some work to do compared to the Toyota teams.

“Our execution is there,’’ Logano said. “We’re doing what we’re supposed to do. We just want to continue to build a little bit faster race cars so we can race for the win.’’

It was this round a year ago when Logano swept all three races — Charlotte, Kansas and Talladega. Keselowski had an average finish of 5.3 at those tracks earlier this year, including a win at Talladega. He and Logano have combined to win three of the last four races at Talladega, which serves as the cutoff race in the second round and will trim the field of title contenders from 12 to eight.

While history doesn’t guarantee success, the Penske duo will be worth watching these next three races.

GROWING STRONGER

Martin Truex Jr.’s third win in the last five races comes as his team’s issues on pit road have disappeared.

Slow pit stops, wayward lug nuts, and other misfortune have made pit road a challenging place for Truex and his team throughout this season.

Twice this season a lug nut created issues — knocking off the inner valve stem when he led at Pocono in August, causing a flat tire and Truex to hit the wall, and getting stuck between the brake rotor and caliper at Richmond in April.

The pit crew has had few hiccups since Michigan, the race before Truex’s streak started. During that August event, Truex led when he came for a pit stop. The car fell off the jack and the left rear wheel wasn’t attached. When the car came down, it hit the wheel and damaged the quarter panel. Instead of challenging for the win, Truex finished 20th that race.

While he has had a speeding penalty (at Richmond) since the Michigan race, pit road has been error-free for his crew.

In that same Michigan race, Jimmie Johnson’s crew had a fueling issue that slowed a stop and hurt his chances of racing for the win. He finished sixth.

Johnson’s issues on pit road have continued since that race:

  • NASCAR penalized his team for an unapproved body modification during a pit stop in the Southern 500.
  • Johnson was caught speeding on pit road at Richmond, and his team was penalized for not having control of a tire in that race.
  • In the Chase opener at Chicago, Johnson was caught speeding on pit road.
  • NASCAR penalized Johnson’s team Sunday at Dover for going over the wall too soon. The stop’s timing was thrown off when Johnson slowed on his approach to his stall to let Aric Almirola exit his stall and drive by.

“I can tell you I’ve been on the other side of that throughout my career,’’ Truex told NBC Sports. “It hurts. I know how Jimmie is feeling. I’ve lost four or five races here on similar things. I know how he feels on that.

“Certainly the pit crew has worked really hard. Michigan was a huge, huge letdown for them. That’s really where it changed. They went to work, and they didn’t point fingers. They didn’t blame anybody. They said, ‘We need to get better and we know we can be better,’ and honesty since then, they’ve been flawless.’’

FOCUSED … AND CONFIDENT

Erik Jones was frustrated throughout Sunday’s Xfinity race with the handling of his car. Things got so bad he worried about abusing his right front tire and pitted on Lap 99, out of sequence  with the field. Turned out the tire was fine, the crew reported.

The way the rest of the 200-lap race went, Jones had to pit with less than 10 laps left for two seconds of fuel to make it to the finish. He placed 16th.

He heads into Friday night’s race at Charlotte — which will reduce the Xfinity Chase field from 12 to eight — 10th in the standings. He is four points behind Brennan Poole, who holds the final transfer spot.

Jones was not pleased after Sunday’s race, saying: “Just kind of an embarrassing day overall. We want to run a lot better than that. It’s pretty embarrassing to not even be in the Chase right now for the next round. Got a lot of work to do. Got to have a good run at Charlotte. It’s just something that I would have never saw coming. Pretty disappointed.

“Got a good team. Have to do it right. We just didn’t do it. We didn’t have the car and things didn’t work out. Hopefully, we’ll have a better car next week at Charlotte and go out and, hopefully, get in into the next round. It will be a lot of work and a lot of pressure, but I think we can do it.’’

Afterward, Jones tweeted his confidence that he’ll move on to the next round.

PIT STOPS

— Sunday’s Dover race marked the 11th time in 29 races that Toyotas combined to lead more than 70 percent of the laps. In the first round of the Chase, Toyotas combined to lead 624 of the 970 laps (64.3 percent)

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s 11th-place finish was his best result since he placed second at Bristol in August.

Clint Bowyer’s 24th-place finish ended his streak of four consecutive finishes of 22nd place.

— There were seven cautions for accidents or spins in the first round of the Chase. All were listed as single-car incidents in the NASCAR race reports.

Austin Dillon was the last driver to advance to the second round of the Cup Chase by points. He had an average finish of 12.7 in the opening round. Last year, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had the lowest average finish among those who advanced to the second round via points at 13.3. In 2014, Kasey Kahne advanced with an average finish of 18.7. Kevin Harvick has lowest average finish to advance to the second round at 21.3 last year but he moved on with a win.

— If you missed it, Xfinity driver Ryan Ellis said he was taking a precaution by going to a local hospital to be further evaluated after his crash in Sunday’s race left him with a headache. He tweeted after being examined.

Kyle Busch fastest in opening Sprint Cup practice at Richmond

BRISTOL, TN - AUGUST 19:  Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's 75th Anniversary Toyota, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 19, 2016 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
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Kyle Busch posted the fastest lap in Friday morning’s Sprint Cup practice at Richmond International Raceway with a lap of 120.979 mph.

Toyota took four of the top five spots, including the first three.

Southern 500 winner Martin Truex Jr. (120.649 mph) was second, followed by Denny Hamlin (120.552), Kasey Kahne (120.439) and Matt Kenseth (120.208). Kahne’s Chevrolet was the only non-Toyota in the top five.

Toyota also went 1-2-3 with the best 10 consecutive lap average. Busch led the way with an average of 119.781 mph. He was followed by Truex (119.458) and Carl Edwards (118.840).

 

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Keselowski, Truex go from banging fenders to ‘it’s all good’

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Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. got together on the final lap of Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International.

They were both fighting for second place and Keselowski wound up spinning Truex, relegating him to an eighth-place showing. Keselowski, meanwhile, motored on to a third-place finish behind Penske teammate Joey Logano and winner Denny Hamlin.

But things didn’t end there. After they both exchanged hand gestures on the cool down lap, Truex banged fenders with Keselowski a couple of times before both parked their cars on pit road.

For as much animosity was shown on the track, it was forgotten just as quickly. As soon as Keselowski climbed out of his race car, he made a beeline to Truex’s car.

Just like that, bygones became bygones.

Here’s the extent of their conversation.

Keselowski: “It’s my fault.”

Truex: “I know it was. It’s all good.”

And that was it, over as quickly as it began.

But later, Truex seemed to still have a little bit of animosity left in him despite Keselowski’s apology.

“Hell no, it don’t help, because you’re like, ‘well, that’s awesome. Thanks for saying you’re sorry, but what do I get out of it?’ You know what I mean?'” Truex said. “That’s just racing.

“It’s like yesterday in qualifying, you know. A guy pulls out in front of you, he says I’m sorry. Well, no s— you’re sorry, but you gotta damn stop doing stupid stuff, you know what I mean? I don’t run over people all the time. I don’t pull out in front of people in qualifying. So race me like I race you is all I ask.”

In addition to the above video, here’s a few tweets from both Keselowski and Truex’s crew chief, Cole Pearn, who decided not to blast Keselowski for the incident.

Mayor’s platform: NBC’s Jeff Burton discusses Jeff Gordon, Chase Elliott and the racing this season

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Jeff Burton was nicknamed the Mayor when he raced in NASCAR for his view on many topics. Those opinions remain for the NASCAR on NBC analyst, who addressed questions about the sport, Jeff Gordon, Chase Elliot and others as the Sprint Cup Series heads to Watkins Glen this weekend for Sunday’s race on USA Network.

Here’s what Burton had to say:

Q: How good of a chance does Jeff Gordon have of winning at Watkins Glen in his third race in the No. 88 car for Dale Earnhardt Jr.?

JEFF BURTON: I don’t think you can discount Jeff’s skill. At the same time, being perfectly blunt, it wasn’t like Jeff lit it up last year. I know that Jeff won Martinsville and made it to the Chase with a real chance to win the championship, but if you look at the number of laps that they led and if you look at the year they had last year, it wasn’t great by any means. And I believe that Hendrick Motorsports isn’t the Hendrick Motorsports we’re accustomed to seeing, but you’re going to a road course race and Jeff Gordon is a really good road racer.

Everything I heard from the test was that the track is different than it used to be. I think that this race is an opportunity for a lot of people to make something happen. I don’t necessarily think that Jeff is going to go out there and outrun, just go flat outrun say the 16 people that he’s going to have to just flat outrun, but I, without a doubt, believe that they can win the race. I know he’s good enough. I know he can make enough pace to put himself in position to take advantage of some things that can happen at Watkins Glen.

When you’ve raise your hand and said ‘‘OK it’s time for someone else to do this, I’m ready to go to the next phase of my career, my life’’ and you come back, it’s a different attitude. I think we saw that with Tony Stewart, too. I think Tony had moved on. I think Tony had emotionally said, ‘‘OK, I’m not having fun, I’m ready to do the next thing.’’ They put him in the position to win at Sonoma and he executed. Boom, like it’s a whole different Tony Stewart. I think the same thing can happen to Jeff Gordon.

When you put a guy like Jeff Gordon, when you put a guy like Tony Stewart, you put a guy who is competitive in nature and has a tremendous amount of pride and has had a lot of success and is considered one of the best ever, you put that guy in the right situation and light that wick, man, fantastic stuff can happen. That’s why I say that they can win, but by far they are not my favorite. You just can’t look at a champion like Jeff Gordon, driving for Hendrick Motorsports, going to Watkins Glen and not say that those guys that those guys will have a chance to win.

Q: Chase Elliott has finished outside the top 20 in five of the last six races. Although he’s still in a Chase spot, he’s fallen in the points. What kind of concern is there with five races to go?

BURTON: I think as a young driver or an experienced driver, when you have a string of races … where you’ve been in wrecks, it forces you to have to look at things a little differently. I think he summed it up best after the race. ‘‘Hey, I’ve got to figure a way to do something different’’ is basically what he said. I think that is astute. I think that is recognizing the situation that you’re in and understanding that there is five races to go. You have a good enough point lead, you don’t have to be spectacular and don’t slow your pace down, keep your pace up but be a little more in those few moments in the race where there’s a decision to be made, error on the side of caution a little bit.

That’s hard to do. You race the way you’re comfortable racing. When you start to change that it’s easy to get you knocked off your rhythm. It’s a fine line. It’s easy for me to say in the booth to say that Chase needed to not to make that mistake because of the position he’s in. It’s much harder in that race car to change who you are as a driver. That’s how you gotten there. It’s a delicate balance, but I do think that he has to look — and not every wreck that he has been in is his fault by any means — but as a driver you have to look at every wreck that you’re in as if it were something you could have done different. Because if you don’t look at it that way, you never learn. The attitude of any driver should be I always need to be doing something different.

He clearly said after the race what I thought was 100 percent correct. People get on Chase because he’s so hard on himself and people act like that is a sign of weakness. I believe the exact opposite. It’s a sign of confidence. It’s a sign of strength. It’s a sign of ‘‘Hey, I have confidence that I can do what I need to do … I have confidence to do what I need to do just that I need to experience it.’’ That’s what he’s saying. I’d much rather hear that than just say those (drivers) around me running all over people. I’d much rather hear what he says than what some other people say.

Q: Martin Truex Jr. had awful luck at Pocono and damaged the car he dominated the Coca-Cola 600 with. Should the team not have parked it after they went to the garage instead of going back out on track, which led to further damage to the car?

BURTON: For years our sport has been about having pride in getting back on the race track and doing everything you can do to never quit. I think there’s something to be said for that. Now, it is a different time. I could fully understand someone say we have nothing to gain. I get it. I still believe that there’s experiences can be drawn from every situation. I like a team that collectively says we’re not going to quit. Also it prepares the team and the driver to go through those situations because that might the difference between you moving to the next round or not. I think having done that experience is helpful.

As far as having a magic car, I think those days are over. If you have a car that goes to Charlotte and kicks everybody’s ass and you can’t replicate that car, there’s something wrong with your system. I would say that Cole (Pearn) would say if you can’t make the next car better, something is wrong with your system. As far as destroying cars and all that, we’re in a time where with all the technology available to the teams, teams should not have a favorite car. Those days are over.

Q: Kyle Larson raced Austin Dillon cleanly for the lead at the halfway mark Monday at Pocono when competitors thought the race would end soon. It was similar to how Larson raced Matt Kenseth at Dover for the win in May. What do you see out of how Larson raced at Pocono?

BURTON: I thought Larson on Monday didn’t have as fast a car as Austin had. Austin kept putting pressure on him, kept putting pressure on him. I thought he blocked Austin and did everything he could to slow that momentum down but Austin was coming. Once he got there, he had not choice but to give him room, which is the same thing he did earlier in that run and he was able to beat Austin off Turn 3. This time it didn’t work out because Austin got loose and ran into him.

I don’t know what else (Larson) could have done. When somebody behind you is faster, you’re trying to push your car a little harder than it needs to go because that’s the only way you’re going to stay in front of him. He blocked and didn’t make it easy for Austin. Ultimately, there was nothing he could do because Austin got loose and into the side of him.

Q: What else is on your mind?

BURTON: I would say this, after leaving Indy and all the negatives from Indy, fan attendance, quality of race, the next race on a 2.5-mile flat race track was freaking awesome. If you look at the number of the people that were at the race track (at Pocono) on Sunday and you look at the number of people that came on Monday. For a day when to be honest with you not many of us thought we were going to race, then you look at the quality of the race on a 2.5-mile race track, long straightaways and flat corners, to me it shows me the state of the sport can’t be valued on one race.

There was so much negativity, although the number of people that watched on TV was awesome, but there was so much negativity leaving Indy, like leaving Pocono was a completely different feel. I don’t think we should lose sight of that. Granted, I’m the ever optimist and tend to find the good things in that stuff. You compare the state of the sport after Indy versus the state of the sport of Pocono. It’s two completely different universes. I think that is worth noting. We can’t look at our sport after one great race or after one poor race and say that’s what NASCAR is. NASCAR is a collection of races that run throughout the whole year. There’s going to be good races, there’s going to be bad races. It’s just how it is. No different than football, basketball, and baseball.

Pocono was so good to me that the guy that had the fastest car on the race track without question was Kevin Harvick. I think it’s fair to say that Kevin Harvick did not get the majority of coverage. That’s because there were so many things going on … there were so many different strategies, Kevin Harvick wasn’t the main talking point even though it appeared to me he had the dominant car. I just left Pocono thinking about Indy and it just reminded me that we as a sport, the fans, the competitors, everybody involved has to be careful not to look at the sport as one race and look the sport as the collection of races and understand there’s good days and bad days. In whole, this year has been really good.