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Starting grid for the NASCAR Cup Series’ Auto Club 400

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With the second pole of his NASCAR Cup Series career, Kyle Larson will lead the field to green Sunday in the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.

Joining Larson the front row is Denny Hamlin.

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

Click here for the starting grid.

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.

Bristol again will treat track with compound to add grip; Martinsville won’t do so

Dustin Long
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After positive comments from drivers last August, Bristol Motor Speedway again will add grip to the bottom groove, Jerry Caldwell, the track’s general manager, told NBC Sports on Friday.

Track officials added a chemical compound on 18 inches of the bottom groove in the corners to help cars get through there quicker.

“I know what we did worked,’’ Caldwell said. “We liked what we saw, and the drivers all seemed to like it, the fans liked it, why not continue to do that?’’

The result was two-wide racing in August. The 20 lead changes in that Cup race ranked second for most lead changes at Bristol in the past eight races there. NASCAR stated that there were 2,454 green-flag passes in that race, ranking fourth at the track since the statistic was first kept in 2005.

Caldwell said the compound will be added to the track within the next 10 days. The track then will have a tire machine run through the lower groove to help provide more grip. The Xfinity Series races there April 22, and the Cup Series races April 23. Caldwell said the process is similar to what was done last before last year’s event.

One issue that arose last year was that the Camping World Truck Series teams were hesitant to use the bottom groove in the first practice session in August. They moved to the lower groove in the second session and times were quicker.

“We believe that there were a few things that were going on in August when we first put that on,’’ Caldwell said. “One, everyone was a bit unsure. You don’t have any confidence when you go down. I think that was part of the reason they stayed off of it. They wanted somebody else to try it first. The other is all of our races, good Lord willing, with the weather cooperating … we expect the track temperatures to be hotter during the day. The other is that the modifieds had run on that track and put rubber down on that lower portion with a different type of tire. We think that also had something to do with the fact that it felt slick when (Truck teams) first went down there. When you got that rubber off, it was more tacky.’’

Xfinity and Cup drivers had no issues when they got on the track a couple of days later. Drivers liked it so much that some Cup drivers requested that another coating of the compound, which is similar to what is used on a dragway to aid traction at the starting line, be applied before the Cup race. NASCAR and track officials did so.

Kevin Harvick suggested last year that Martinsville Speedway could be another track to treat the corners in a similar fashion to help the top groove, but it won’t happen for next weekend’s Cup and Camping World Truck Series races, Clay Campbell, track president told NBC Sports.

“It’s always been a one-groove racetrack,’’ Campbell said of the track that is celebrating its 70th anniversary. “Fans like that and that style of racing. That’s what makes this place what it is. I don’t want to want to take a chance on altering the way that the races are run here.’’

Campbell said the track tested a substance to aid traction last year “with mixed results.

“I think it depends on who you talk to as to whether it was a positive or a negative. In my view, the racing has never been bad here. You go back through history, it’s always been the same style of racing even though we’ve gone from asphalt to concrete in the corners. If something it not broken, I don’t know why we need to fix it.’’

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Chase Elliott fastest in first of two Saturday Cup practices at Phoenix

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Chase Elliott continues to have a stellar weekend at Phoenix Raceway.

After being fastest in Friday’s lone NASCAR Cup practice session, Elliott doubled up by also being fastest in Saturday’s first of two Cup practices.

Elliott paced the field with a top speed of 135.977 mph.

Pole-sitter Joey Logano was second-fastest at 135.466 mph, followed by Kyle Larson (135.323), Las Vegas winner Martin Truex Jr. (135.206), Brad Keselowski (135.171), eight-time Phoenix Cup race winner Kevin Harvick (135.089), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (134.988), Kasey Kahne (134.902), Ryan Blaney (134.887) and Kyle Busch (134.852).

The third and final Cup practice is early this afternoon, followed by the DC Solar 200 NASCAR Xfinity Series race.

Sunday marks the main event of the weekend, the Camping World 500 NASCAR Cup race.

Click here for the full grid from the first of Saturday’s two practices.

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Stewart-Haas Racing responds to Nature’s Bakery claim about not seeing a bigger return in sponsoring Danica Patrick

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What is the value a sponsor can receive in its affiliation with a NASCAR driver and team?

Stewart-Haas Racing states in court documents filed this week that Nature’s Bakery received about $11.5 million in media exposure as Danica Patrick’s sponsor in 2016.

Stewart-Haas Racing cited those figures in response to Nature’s Bakery claim that it did not see the return it was led to believe it would experience as Patrick’s sponsor. Nature’s Bakery terminated its three-year sponsorship agreement with the team in January even though two years remained on the deal.

Stewart-Haas Racing filed a $31 million breach of contract lawsuit Feb. 3 against Nature’s Bakery. The amount comes from $15.2 million Nature’s Bakery was to have paid to sponsor Patrick in 2017 and 2018, along with other costs. Nature’s Bakery sponsored Patrick only in 2016.

In its response, Nature’s Bakery stated in court documents Feb. 24 that “SHR’s promises were illusory and misleading. There was no massive increase in sales. … As a result, the Sponsorship came nowhere close to fulfilling its promises, nor justifying the more than $17 million Nature’s Bakery paid SHR in 2016.’’

In response to those claims, Stewart-Haas Racing stated in court documents this week that:

  • The MVP Index of 2016 driver and sponsor rankings stated that Patrick had a higher sponsor integration into her social media platforms than Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Nationwide, Brad Keselowski and Miller Lite, Kasey Kahne and Farmers Insurance, Kevin Harvick and Jimmy John’s and Chase Elliott and NAPA.
  • From Jan. 1, 2016 to Aug. 31, 2016, Patrick and Nature’s Bakery generated the fifth most impressions of any NASCAR brand.
  • Patrick appeared in Coca-Cola and Mobil 1 TV commercials in her Nature’s Bakery firesuit. She also was in national campaigns for Goodyear, Chevrolet in her Nature’s Bakery firesuit.
  • According to TVEyes, television news exposures generated about $4.5 million in media exposure value.
  • According to the Meltwater clipping service, the estimated internet media exposures generated for Nature’s Bakery was almost $7 million.

Read Stewart-Haas Racing’s court filing detailing media exposure for Nature’s Bakery

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