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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.

Steve Letarte on pro athlete socializing in pregame: ‘Nothing irritates me more’


During the latest episode of his podcast, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said NASCAR “doesn’t want a bunch of buddies out there racing around.”

His former crew chief expressed the same sentiment on the latest NASCAR on NBC podcast.

“Nothing irritates me more than going to a football or basketball game early and seeing two superstars from separate teams speak to each other pre-event,” NASCAR on NBC analyst Steve Letarte said on the episode released Wednesday. “Post-event is different. But pre-event, nothing is more frustrating. I want to turn my ticket in and leave.

“I’m a sports fan. I hate the Yankees. I’m a Red Sox fan. The last thing I want to do is go to Fenway Park and see the starting pitcher from the Red Sox chum it up with the Yankees. Nah, man. Take my ticket back. I’m leaving.”

The podcast also prompted a Wednesday night discussion on NASCAR America (VIDEO ABOVE) with Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman weighing in on the topic.

Letarte, who was the crew chief for Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet from 2011-14, suggested NASCAR needs to consider reconfiguring its driver introductions.

“When I see prerace, these drivers hanging out, there is a responsibility to be civil,” Letarte said. “We jam them in this pen. I wish all that changed. I wish they wouldn’t even give them the opportunity to hang out with one another.

“As a sport, we do a disservice to our drivers when we put them in this holding pen behind driver introductions. I think it should be there’s a reason there are locker rooms on two sides of the stadium. They personally don’t want your paths to cross before battle.

“I wish there was a creative way to do that for race car drivers. Because I don’t like to see them hanging out and being buddies. I want them to beat the crap out of each other on the racetrack. Our fans are that way. Why shouldn’t the competitors be that way?”

The dynamic of driver relationships has changed since two decades ago with the introduction of motorhomes that created a virtual infield neighborhood that put stars inches apart all the time.

But Letarte believes precedents have shown that rivalries can exist despite friendships.

Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Sr. had major businesses together,” Letarte said. “They had more respect for each other than anyone I’ve ever seen. Yet when that helmet strap went on, they hated each other. So it’s not too much. It’s been proven it can be done. So do it. I think you can live two lives and to be a professional sports star, you must.

“If you’re Kyle Larson who wants to play golf with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick and hang out because they all like sprint cars and have a lot in common, that’s fine. Until the day Kyle Larson doesn’t want to put the bumper to Ricky Stenhouse because he’s going to have to see him at the dirt track later.”

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone. It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.


NASCAR America: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. talks Phoenix finish, racing roots

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. joins NASCAR America to go over his fourth-place finish at Phoenix Raceway.

The Roush Fenway Racing driver also shares his racing origins in Mississippi and the hobbies he and girlfriend Danica Patrick share with each other.

Stenhouse is in his fifth full-time year competing in the NASCAR Cup Series with Roush Fenway Racing.

Sandy Wexler, AKA Adam Sandler, crashes Cup Series garage to promote new movie

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A couple weeks ago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the NASCAR Cup Series garage had a noteworthy visitor.

Sandy Wexler, a low-level talent manager from Los Angeles, swooped through the garage trying to sign his next big client.

Wexler said he was asked by NASCAR to stop by the track to talk to drivers and “make them better racers and make them better people.”

His targets included Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

In reality, it was just actor Adam Sandler in character to promote his next movie, Sandy Wexler, which premieres April 14 on Netflix.

This isn’t the first time Sandler has been seen at a NASCAR track. Sandler has given the command to start engines at three different Cup races.

Watch the video below to see if Wexler lands some NASCAR talent.

 and on Facebook

Fourth-place finish at Phoenix almost as good as a win for Stenhouse

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Given the struggles he’s had this season, Ricky Stenhouse wound up with a fourth-place win in Sunday’s Camping World 500 at Phoenix Raceway.

True, Stenhouse didn’t get to victory lane, but it was almost as good as a win. It was his best NASCAR Cup finish thus far this season – and his top finish, and the best overall showing for Roush Fenway Racing, since Stenhouse ended up second at Bristol last summer.

“We have had some bad luck but today was fun,” said Stenhouse, who started 2017 with finishes of 31st (Daytona), 13th (Atlanta) and 33rd (Las Vegas). “I thought we made our car better throughout the race and it has been awhile since we’ve done that so I was pretty happy.”

Stenhouse was the highest-finishing Ford driver at Phoenix, ahead of Brad Keselowski (fifth) and Kevin Harvick (sixth).

The key to Stenhouse’s strong finish was a gutsy strategy call late in the race by crew chief Brian Pattie. When Joey Logano wrecked with six laps left in regulation, Pattie told Stenhouse to stay on-track instead of pitting.

Stenhouse was one of three drivers that stayed out, as well as eventual race winner Ryan Newman.

“There at the end, I thought (Pattie) wanted us to stay out and I kind of second guessed him,” Stenhouse said. “When I told him everyone was coming down pit road, I had already committed to stay out and that paid off.

“We made the car better throughout the race and we stuck with it, passed a lot of race cars today and made it pretty fun.”

It was a satisfying showing for a car that gave Stenhouse problems during practice on Friday and Saturday, as well as early on in Sunday’s race.

“We weren’t that great during practice as far as speed goes, but I thought our car had good long run speed and we proved that today when we were able to get some long runs,” Stenhouse said. “We weren’t as bad on restarts as I thought we were going to be.”

It’s been a rough last few years for Roush Fenway Racing, which has not reached victory lane in the Cup Series since former driver Carl Edwards’ two wins in 2014.

But Dave Pericak, Director of Ford Performance, never gave up on RFR or its abilities. That confidence paid off Sunday, Stenhouse said.

“I have definitely seen a difference in the quality,” Stenhouse said of his team’s efforts thus far in 2017. “We still have a long way to go but we have made a big improvement from last year, especially the end of last year.

“… I think our cars and the attitude at the shop is really good. Trevor (Bayne) has some solid finishes here in the first few races and that is something encouraging and something to build off of. I feel like we have had speed, just haven’t gotten the finishes for the speed we have. It is better to have speed and have to figure out how to get the finishes.

“Today I thought we had a 10th-place car on the long run and took a gamble and were able to get a better finish there at the end.”

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