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Kyle Larson fastest in final Sprint Cup practice at Martinsville

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Kyle Larson was fastest in the final Sprint Cup practice Saturday at Martinsville Speedway.

Larson covered the .526-mile paperclip short track, the oldest in the Sprint Cup Series, at a speed of 96.088 mph.

Tony Stewart was second-fastest (96.019 mph), followed by Paul Menard (95.845), David Ragan (95.781) and Kyle Busch (95.748).

The younger Busch brother was the fastest of the eight remaining Chase drivers. Other Chase drivers and their position and speed were: Joey Logano, eighth (95.622); Kevin Harvick, 10th (95.603); Kurt Busch, 12th (95.501); Matt Kenseth, 15th (95.468); Denny Hamlin, 16th (95.371); Jimmie Johnson, 20th (95.261) and Carl Edwards, 27th (95.013).

The Goody’s Fast Relief 500 will be held Sunday at 12:30 pm ET. The race will be the first of the three-race “Round of 8” semifinals of the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

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What drivers said after Coke Zero 400 at Daytona


Here’s what many of the drivers had to say after Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway:

Brad Keselowski – Winner: “It’s been a kick in the you-know-what (not having won before at Daytona). I got down on myself here. We came down here for the 500 (in February) and quite honestly we ran like dog crap, but my team worked on it. I didn’t give up on them. I believe in my team and my team believes in me and we went to work and we put together a better car, and it really showed today with a great effort from the whole team. I’m really proud of everybody.”

Kyle Busch – Finished 2nd: “It was a tough night but, man, you had to have a whole lot of help to get by that 2 (Brad Keselowski) car. He was just so strong today. Strong at Talladega too, we finished second to him there. There was just so much going on and there wasn’t enough of a run that I could get (in the final two laps) in order to get enough alongside of him or pin him down or pin him up – whichever way it might have been. He could make his car really, really wide and hold us off. … To race a backup car and finish second there is a true testament to this team and Joe Gibbs Racing and everyone back at the shop.”

Trevor Bayne – Finished 3rd: “I owe the guys behind me that were pushing me. I had a lot of help. The race was really crazy today. Just watching some of the guys working the middle you knew there would be trouble at some point. It was a tough night. I am really proud of this Roush Fenway team. We had a pole this weekend, three cars in the top-10, two in the top-five.”

Joey Logano – Finished 4th: “It was hard fought for sure. Anytime you have an opportunity to win and you are in the top four or five or six on the last restart you know you have a shot at it. I was able to get Brad a good push to clear and get a Penske car to victory lane, which is really cool. … Overall a solid day for us. The 2 was the fastest car and he deserved to win the race. We need to find a little more speed in our race car.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished 5th: “It was wild out there. The Roush Fenway guys worked really hard and Jack has put a lot of confidence in everyone to get our cars better each week. We have really improved on the speedways.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 6th: “I had a decent run. … I knew the last couple of laps were going to be hairy. So, me messing up on the backstretch probably ruined our shot at a win, but we still finished at Daytona, so that’s good.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 7th: “These are wild and crazy races. To come home seventh on all four this year is better than upside down (flew into the catchfence in last year’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona). We had a good day. I’ve got to thank the good Lord for taking care of us and we’ll keep working.”

Greg Biffle – Finished 8th: “It was a rough night after we got in that wreck. We got shuffled out of line and that will happen with speedway racing. … We got pretty severe damage and were able to come back and finish eighth. We had a pretty fast car and the 2 car was unbelievably fast. We have some work to do still but I am so proud of my guys.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 9th: “Yeah, a solid night.  You always want to do better and there were a couple times there where I would have, could have, should have. Its one of those deals where you know if you take action you know that the chances of crashing are far greater than not.  I just kind of was watching to see and what happened, happened. … Certainly needed a little bit more speed but 10th is always a good run for us.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 10th: “I was wishing I started on the outside lane (on the final restart). It was a still great night. When you restart top five, you want to be able to stay up there. I don’t know anything I could have done different other than when (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) was coming on the inside, try to block that. By the time I saw him coming, it would have been a mess if I would have tried to do it.”

Casey Mears — Finished 12th: “I’m disappointed because we ran so well. To be able to salvage a 12th place finish out of a night like this is pretty good, I guess. It was good to be competitive all night long and have fun and get to run up front and show people what we’re capable of. Hopefully this gives us a little something to build from going into the second half of the season. It’s indescribable how odd this year has been. We’ve had some of the best cars we’ve ever had and the team is the best it’s ever been and we’re just getting terrible results. It was nice to have a good night tonight.”

AJ Allmendinger — Finished 13th: “I kind of just rode around for the first 80 laps like we planned and I was fortunate.  We were just kind of in the right place when the wreck happened to not really have to feel like I was in any trouble. From there it was just trying to pick the right lane.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 14th: “It was a long night, that’s for sure. We had a really fast car, I’ll say that. All of the Fords were really fast. It’s cool to see Brad win it. That’s awesome. … Unfortunately we couldn’t get out with a finish we deserve. I thought we were a top five. But not bad.”

David Ragan – Finished 16th: “We really had a car that drove well. I think that we needed a little bit more speed to contend for the win but our car drove nice and on the long runs we were really good. We just needed to restart on the outside lane those last two restarts — starting fifth and seventh we were just kind of a sitting duck on the bottom. Unless you restart on the front row the bottom is not that good of a choice. … It was a fun race and I’m glad to be in one piece.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. — Finished 21st: “I just rode around. I couldn’t get in there and get two and three-wide because the car needed a couple lanes to run well.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 23rd: “We positioned ourselves to be the car to get a good run off the bottom. It just didn’t work out with him (Joey Logano) trying to drive straight through us. And it would have worked out better if he would have pushed us. We could have had a shot at the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski). And with just the way that it turned out, I feel disappointed that I didn’t get the win for (Tony) Gibson (crew chief) and all these guy that work for our team. We did everything right tonight except cross the line where we were supposed to.”

Tony Stewart – Finished 26th: I got loose into one, hadn’t been loose all day, then I just over corrected for it and drove it into the fence, so it was definitely my fault. … I don’t know why I got loose, but I got loose.”

Matt Kenseth – Finished 28th: “I was just trying to make my way back toward the front a little bit there. We had a bad pit stop exchange and came out way, way behind everybody. Carl (Edwards) was up towards the front and we were running with him before the pit stop. I probably should have just hung in the back, in hindsight, but who knows when they’re going to wreck, you never know if they’re going to wreck. Just trying to get back towards the front and there was a wreck somewhere a few rows up in front of me and just nowhere really to go.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 29th: “We were right smack in the middle of this unnecessary accident (the 22-car ‘big one’) and took big-time hits from all different directions. Someone just made a questionable move out there and a lot of other people paid the price. We happened to be one of those teams. We did the best we could to fix the car, but it took a severe beating.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 32nd: “Once you see everybody start checking up you really can’t see much when you are in the pack like that. So you just kind of try to slow down and hope that there might be a way to get out. Unfortunately we were getting in the corner obviously everything is going to go straight at that point. I hate it. I had such a good car tonight. I felt like by far that was the best-ever plate car I have ever had at either Daytona or Talladega.”

Jamie McMurray – Finished 34th: “I think somebody might have gotten into my left rear. I don’t know if that cut the tire down or what but after I felt that happen, I just didn’t have any control any more. It seemed like a tire maybe went down and it actually felt like I hit oil. I think the contact with the No. 42 (Kyle Larson) might have cut the tire because I just didn’t have any control of the car there. It is unfortunate but it is just part of plate racing. I rode back in the ambulance with all those guys and we just talked about it is part of plate racing.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 35th: “I was in the middle and something happened to the No. 1 (Jamie McMurray) and he went to the right and then he chased it, was in a slide and came back down in front of me, hit the No. 42 (Kyle Larson) door-to-door, kind of light contact. I thought we were fine, but I eventually turned him sideways and the whole thing happened. I don’t know what happened to the No. 1 to change lanes as fast as he did from the outside, but we are all dealing with a matter of inches and once that started, it just collected everybody.”

Paul Menard – Finished 36th: “I saw the No. 1 (Jamie McMurray) get squirrely over a couple hundred yards down the tri-oval. I don’t know if Jamie had a problem; he thought maybe he might have had a tire problem. He wasn’t sure. Typical plate racing.”

Brian Scott – Finished 37th: “I didn’t see a lot. I was on the outside and our lane seemed to get a good run entering turn 1 and I saw guys check-up and hands out the windows so I started checking up. Then the check-up kept going and it became an accordion effect. We were in the wall and jacked up and I guess the 4 came up under me and drove underneath my car and then I was up in the air. It was a pinball effect. It is an unfortunate end.”

Regan Smith – Finished 38th: “It’s just that everybody has to be so aggressive up front on their blocking that its not up front where it’s a problem, it trickles back into the field and that is where you get into a situation. The blocking is getting a little crazier than it has been, and it may be just this package, but you have to do what you have to do to stay up there. Nobody is to blame, just somebody eventually messes up and a lot of cars crash.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 39th: “We started in the middle of the pack and dropped to the back and as we pitted there and we knew we wanted to work our way back to the front. We stayed connected to that front pack and then we had a little bit of a handling problem that we had to address during the next pit stop. Those guys got tangled up there in front and we were in the middle of it. We had one car on our roof and everybody else just kept piling in. I don’t know who that was. It was just one of those things that just doesn’t take much for it all to go south here at these superspeedways. It is what it is.”

Chris Buescher – Finished 40th: “It all happened in front of us. I tried to get on the brakes and just slid right in to it. There was nowhere to go. I tried to go up the middle. There seemed to be fewer cars there at the time but by the time we got there the hole filled up and we ended up in it. It was a really tough day.”

Joey Logano earns second pole of season; Tony Stewart with best start of year

Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images
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After just missing the pole the past two weeks, Joey Logano earned the top starting spot Friday at Michigan International Speedway.

“It just feels really good because the last couple of weeks we’ve come in second in the final round,” Logano told FS1 after winning his second pole of the year and 16th of his Sprint Cup career. “It’s nice to break through and get a pole.”

Logano will be joined by Martin Truex Jr. on the front row for Sunday’s race.

Tony Stewart starts third. It’s his best start of the season. It’s also Stewart’s best start since he qualified third at Watkins Glen last August.

“I’m glad that was the last time I had to do that today,” Stewart said. “It felt really good.  We were really loose in practice and Mike (Bugarewicz, crew chief) did a great job in the break there of making some big changes to get us caught up. It got my confidence back there and made me feel like I finally had the right-rear (tire) in the track there.  Now we can hustle a little bit.”

Kurt Busch, who won Monday’s race at Pocono and this race a year ago, starts 17th.

The first round of qualifying was delayed 15 minutes because so many teams had not gotten through inspection. When qualifying began, FS1 reported that the cars of Brad Keselowski, Michael Annett, Greg Biffle and Truex were still in inspection.

The first round was halted by two cautions. One was for debris and the other was for David Ragan‘s crash. Both times Kevin Harvick was on the track seeking to make his qualifying lap and could not complete the lap. When he finally got the chance, he did not advance to the second round. Harvick will start 29th in the 40-car field.

“Common sense was pretty low on when to throw the caution,” Harvick told FS1 in regards to the debris caution. “Debris up out of the groove. We’ll be fine. There’s really not much you can do about that.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start 27th. It marks the fourth time he has started 25th or worse this season.

“We were  pretty good in practice,” Earnhardt told FS1. “We got really loose into Turn 3 on the first run. We made some adjustments that really just didn’t help us any. Went out there and it was worse. We’ll be all right. It’s a good wide racetrack. It’s frustrating because when we showed up we had good speed. Just trying to get qualifying a little bit better.”


BB Michi Cup round 1

NASCAR America: David Ragan visits children at Shriners Hospital


NASCAR racer David Ragan made some time to hang out with children recovering at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Houston, TX.

5 Sprint Cup drivers who need help heading to back-to-back short tracks

(All photos: Getty Images)

The 36-race NASCAR Sprint Cup season still is two races shy of the one-quarter mark.

However, the next two races could be among the most important of 2016 thus far for several drivers who have struggled and need major bounce backs if they hope to salvage their seasons.

This Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway and the April 24 Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway could go a long way toward making or breaking these five drivers’ overall 2016 campaigns:


1. Clint Bowyer

Clint Bowyer continues to go from bad to worse.

Although he’ll replace Tony Stewart in 2017 at Stewart-Haas Racing, for now Bowyer is a forgotten man in his single-season stint with HScott Motorsports.

Sitting 32nd in the standings, Bowyer is off to one of the worst starts of his Sprint Cup career. He’s finished 30th or lower in four of the first seven races of 2016, including a season-worst finish of 38th at Texas (also his first DNF of the year).

His best finish is 18th (Fontana), which is also his only top-20 showing thus far. His average start is 32.0 and average finish is 28.9.

He also hasn’t won a race since 2012.

Based on past history, Bowyer has a better chance of doing better at Richmond in two weeks at Bristol:

* Bowyer’s career record at Bristol: 20 starts, 0 wins, six top-fives, nine top 10s.

* His career record at Richmond: 20 starts, two wins, four top-fives and 12 top 10s.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 - Practice

2. Greg Biffle

The 2016 season was supposed to be a big comeback year for Roush Fenway Racing, especially for its most veteran driver, Greg Biffle.

Unfortunately, instead of things getting better, they’ve gotten worse – and we’re through only the first seven races.

Biffle currently sits 27th in the Sprint Cup standings. His best finish has been 12th (Martinsville), but he has finished 20th or worse five other times, including a season-worst 39th Saturday at Texas.

The Vancouver, Washington, native has had a decent average start (16.9), but his average finish of 25.1 – if it continues – is on track to be the worst of his 15-year Sprint Cup career.

Biffle has not won a Sprint Cup race since 2013. His season finishes have plummeted from fifth in 2012, to ninth in 2013, 14th in 2014 and tied his career-worst showing (20th) in 2015.

Biffle has a markedly better record at Bristol than he does at Richmond:

* Bristol: 26 starts, zero wins, six top-fives, 13 top-10s.

* Richmond: 27 starts, zero wins, two top-fives, six top-10s.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 - Practice

3. David Ragan

David Ragan was expected to lead BK Racing to new heights when he joined up for the 2016 season.

Unfortunately, the 30-year-old Georgia native seems as if he’s been stuck in first gear in the first seven races. His best finish has been 21st, while his worst showing was 33rd, incurred Saturday night at Texas.

He has an average start of 30.0 and an average finish of 27.6.

Unfortunately, if past experience is any indicator, Ragan’s struggles are likely to continue – at least at Bristol, where he has just one top-10 finish to show for in 18 career Cup starts there.

His chances may be a bit better at Richmond, where he has three top-fives in 18 starts – though the last in 2011.

Daytona 500 - Practice

4. Brian Scott

Though improvement was expected when he came on board, things haven’t gone much better for Brian Scott than with his predecessor at Richard Petty Motorsports, Sam Hornish Jr.

Scott is 25th in the standings. All but one of his finishes in the first seven races have been 24th or worse. He’s had just one top-20 finish, 12th at Fontana.

Scott’s average start in his first full Sprint Cup is 25.9, while his average finish is 24.9.

Even though he has 24 career Sprint Cup starts, Scott hasn’t raced in the series at Bristol and only once at Richmond (22nd, last summer).

Like fellow rookie Chris Buescher, Scott has made a number of starts in the Xfinity Series at Bristol (13 starts, five top-10 finishes) and Richmond (13 starts, four top-5s and five top-10s).

While the same kind of optimism about Scott coming into the season remains after seven races he definitely has his work cut out in the next two races – let alone the rest of the season.


5. Chris Buescher

While so much attention has been focused on two of the other three Sprint Cup rookies this season – Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney – Chris Buescher has been a forgotten man.

The defending Xfinity Series champion sits a lowly 36th in his first full season in the Sprint Cup Series. He’s finished 30th or worse in four of the first seven races.

His best finish to date has been 26th (Las Vegas), and he’s coming off a 28th in the most recent race at Texas this past Saturday.

Buescher has a 27.3 average start and a 31.0 average finish in 2016.

Some might question whether Buescher was ready for the jump to Sprint Cup. Maybe he would have been better off spending at least one more season in the Xfinity Series.

But when the opportunity arose to join Front Row Motorsports and make the jump to the big show, the Sprint Cup Series, Buescher really didn’t have much of a choice. If he passed on the shot and remained in the Xfinity Series, some other driver gladly would have taken the Cup ride. And Buescher remains under contract to Roush Fenway Racing, which might have a Cup opening for him in the future.

There is a sense of optimism for Buescher in the next two races:

* Bristol: In one prior Sprint Cup start, he finished 25th. But in the Xfinity Series, he has one top-five and three top-10 finishes at the half-mile bullring.

* Richmond: No prior Cup starts, but in five Xfinity races, he has three top-10 finishes.

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