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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.

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.

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Bump & Run: Is NASCAR returning to the Wild West in terms of justice?

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Conflict on and off the track has gained attention the past two weekends in the sport and how NASCAR responds will help set the tone for the garage the rest of the season.

Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty, who will be on NASCAR America from 5:30 – 7 p.m. ET today on NBCSN, join Nate Ryan and Dustin Long in discussing that subject and more in this week’s Bump & Run.

In the last two weeks, NASCAR did not penalize Kyle Busch and Joey Logano for an altercation on pit road, and a series official suggested this week that there might not be any additional penalties to Austin Dillon (who was parked by NASCAR) for slowly cutting across Cole Custer’s car and making contact after an incident between them in the Xfinity race. What do you make of NASCAR’s reaction to these incidents and the message it sends to the garage?

Kyle Petty: First, I will never condone the use of a race car or physical force in settling a perceived injustice. Having said that … I think NASCAR is in a little bit of a box they’ve put themselves in. We can go back to “boys have at it.’’ The stage races are just another level of that. Stage racing was designed to make every lap mean more, for drivers to race “harder” and to bring the intensity level and anticipation of the event to another level.

If that’s what you’re looking for, you can’t penalize the drivers when they react the way they do to the position the rules put them in. We’ve begged for emotion and personality from drivers, and when they give it to us there’s an outcry to penalize them. We can’t have it both ways, and the middle ground is confusing to fans and drivers alike. I guess it’s like that old saying “be careful what you wish for’’ because when you have it you don’t know what to do with it.

Dale Jarrett: I like the idea that nothing was done as far as the Kyle Busch and Joey Logano incident. This business is difficult, especially in a situation where something happened on the last lap of the race. It’s hard to expect a driver not to react in some way, shape or form. I’d rather Kyle Busch have a conversation and then if he felt it needed to go further … but he felt like he needed to talk in a different manner. I’m not opposed to that. I think you need to protect your ground and show your displeasure.

I’m not a fan even though I’ve been there and pretty much every driver has been there as far as a retaliation on the race track with the race car. I think we need to be discouraging that way more than we need to be discouraging drivers having conversations. We don’t need fights every weekend by any stretch of the imagination, but if they want to have discussions and something breaks out from there, I’m much more in favor of that than using the race cars.

Nate Ryan: The Busch-Logano reaction doesn’t surprise me. No harm was done (aside from the lone aggressor’s forehead), and I think it’s understood where the line is on drivers settling it between themselves. They have great latitude to approach each other after races, and as long as it doesn’t result in a broken jaw, there won’t be severe consequences for heated altercations between drivers (and subsequently their team members).

 The Custer-Dillon situation was slightly more surprising as NASCAR officials don’t want drivers employing their cars as weapons of revenge, particularly under caution. But some punishment was meted out in parking Dillon for the race and summoning him for a meeting. That officials will meet with Custer and Dillon together in Southern California this weekend also negates the need for further action. 

I think the message being sent is that NASCAR proactively is ensuring feuds don’t escalate to being uncontrollable but also is being careful to avoid the perception of micromanaging emotions.

Dustin Long: The days of NASCAR overseeing the drivers with the strictness of a convent school are over. That doesn’t mean that they’ll allow a driver to wreck another — as Matt Kenseth did to Joey Logano in 2015 — but for a sport that has an edgy sponsor and looks to gain the attention of more fans, slapping wrists with a ruler are long gone. The question is how far will officials go? When they react? Will it be an overreaction to get the garage back in line?

In the last seven races, dating back to last season, there have been seven different winners: Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano and Carl Edwards. Does the streak of different winners continue this weekend at Auto Club Speedway and who might be that driver?

Kyle Petty: Yes. I believe the streak continues! Larson, Elliott, Harvick. The list of drivers who have been strong so far this year is diverse. Not the usual suspects! We know Michigan was Larson’s first win and California is a sister track. Chase will contend again and has been in position to win every race this season. Harvick is Harvick, any race, any time, anywhere he can win. I will say all I know for sure is Carl Edwards won’t win!

Dale Jarrett: Yes. I think the name that probably comes to mine and everybody else’s is Kyle Larson. He was in position to win every race we’ve had so far this year. Especially with that race track, he’s done well there and it’s his type of race track. I think these new rules with less amount of downforce are really only enhancing his driving abilities. I think he will have to outrun Chase Elliott to get the checkered flag.

Nate Ryan: Yes. Kyle Busch has this place sorted (three wins, including two of the past four races), and he drives well when motivated. Though “Everything Is Great,” it won’t diminish Busch’s drive to return to victory lane and take some smug satisfaction at reclaiming the spotlight for the right reason.

(P.S. I also reserve the right to change my mind for Sunday’s pre-race Staff Picks post on nbcsports.com/nascar.)

Dustin Long: Yes. After the millennials have finished second each of the first four races (Ryan Blaney at Daytona and Kyle Larson each of the past three weeks), one of them is due to win. That includes Chase Elliott, who has two top-five finishes this season.

Watch Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty on NASCAR America today from 5:30 – 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

What drivers said after the NASCAR Cup race at Phoenix

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Here’s what most of the field had to say following the NASCAR Cup Series’ Camping World 500 at Phoenix Raceway, which was won by Ryan Newman.

RYAN NEWMAN – Winner: “I’ve lost count; that’s how long it’s been (since I’ve won). I’ve got to thank Grainger, Caterpillar, Coca-Cola, Monster Energy for supporting our series, and Chevrolet. The list goes on and on.  What a gutsy call by (crew chief) Luke (Lambert). I called for two tires and he called for none. I’ve won more races (with) no tires than I have with four. I’m just proud of these guys. We had a good car all day. We kept it out of trouble and collected in the end.”

Kyle Larson – Finished second: “Like I’ve been saying all of this early year, we’ve never had that speed.  It’s a lot of fun right now.  I’m sure, you know, if I ran second for the next eight weeks, yeah, it’s probably going to grow old.  But, yeah, it’s so cool to be one of the fastest cars every week.  I feel like I’ve got a shot to win every week at a racetrack like here and Vegas where I don’t normally run good, and challenge for wins.”

Kyle Busch – Finished third: “We had a good car and that’s what it takes. When you have a good car you can run up front like that and we kind of missed it a little bit at Atlanta and we rebounded and tried to rebound a little bit at Vegas and had a shot for a top five there, but we weren’t able to capitalize on that, but we were today thankfully. It seems like every finish that’s destined for us it seems to end in a worse finish that day.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished fourth: Brian Pattie made a lot of adjustments overnight.  We weren’t that great during practice as far as speed goes.  But I felt our car had good long run speed.  It proved that today.  I was glad we were able to get some long runs there.  Actually, it wasn’t as bad on restarts as I thought we were going to be. There at the end, I thought Brian wanted us to stay out when the caution came out. I kind of second‑guessed him. Then when I told him everybody was coming down pit road, I already kind of committed to stay out and went with his gut instinct, and it paid off.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished fifth: “We ran kind of right in that second to fifth range the whole day. We clawed away. I thought we might have had a shot at getting the win but the 18 car was just a touch better. We were all real close there. Whoever got the track position was going to run away. The clean air was so important which was a bit frustrating. There was a lot of parity today and of course the crazy finish there at the end with the yellow coming out when it did and all the different strategies.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished sixth: “We just didn’t ever get it exactly how we wanted all weekend. Luckily it is a good race track for us and we were able to battle and use all the tricks of the trade we know to get ourselves up in contention. We definitely need to do some work on this style race track with our Jimmy John’s Ford but it was a heck of a battle all day.”

Daniel Suarez – Finished seventh: “It’s a big deal because in the last two races we have struggled. We didn’t have the speed and the communication wasn’t great, but we’ve been working very hard trying to work on chemistry, communication and for sure we’ve been getting better. Yesterday in the last practice, in the happy hour, I felt very good about the car. I feel like we were going to have a shot to have some fun in the race and I wasn’t wrong. The team did a very good job.”

Erik Jones – Finished eighth: “It’s a good day. Your expectations kind of change as the day goes on. When you feel like you have a fifth-place car, you want to run fifth, but it just didn’t work out at the end. We had a lot of guys take two (tires). A lot more than I thought would. A lot more obviously than (crew chief) Chris (Gayle) thought would. We had a great restart and were able to get back up to eighth. Not too much gain, not too much loss. A solid day for us. Definitely the best day overall for the 5-Hour Energy Camry.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished ninth: “There was just a lot of chaos on the last start. No tires won, so certainly a good call on their behalf.  Our own struggles we really lacked short-run speed today, but we had great long-run speed.  The last restart I knew it wasn’t going to be favorable for us and it just didn’t turn out. But a decent performance, probably a top-five car or top-three car on the long run, just lacked too much on the short run.”

Martin Truex Jr. – Finished 11th: “We restarted third at the end, knowing that some of the guys with fresh tires would most likely pass us, but we held off a lot of them too. Had we pitted then we would again have lost a bunch of spots on pit road due to the clutch problem. We had an easy top-10 car and possibly a top five or better Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Boats Toyota, but the issues we faced made it a rough day.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 12th – “Even the really good cars had a really hard time getting to somebody, so track position was big as it always is, every week, everywhere we go and that will continue to be the case throughout the year.  So, if you don’t have it at the end of the race it is going to be an uphill battle I feel like throughout this season.  That is going to be a big trend.  Proud of our group.  We have fired off strong.  We didn’t finish strong today, but I’m happy about how we started the season and the runs we’ve had.  Nice to win a stage and get a point towards the champion this year, which is big.  Those stage wins are going to be really important come time the playoffs start.”

Clint Bowyer – Finished 13th: “It was that kind of weekend for us really. Just a little off all weekend long. We got it better Saturday and I really thought we were going to be alright there but we actually ended up racing the way we struggled all day Friday. We came full circle.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Finished 14th: “We fought the balance of the car quite a bit, but we lost quite a bit of brakes there. We were on the floor on the brake pedal and had to really… just couldn’t run hard, just had to wait. I was having the same problem the No. 22 (Joey Logano) was having. He popped a tire. So, we were just trying not to pop a tire.  Couldn’t run hard there the last probably half of the race just kind of had to sit there and keep the brake pedal from going to the floor.  You could run just hard enough to keep it from overheating the brakes, but you couldn’t really compete like you wanted to.”

Trevor Bayne – Finished 19th: “We fought hard all day. Our AdvoCare Ford was just really tight rolling through the center but my guys worked hard on it all race long and we were able to get a decent finish out of today. (Crew chief) Matt (Puccia) made that two-tire call at the end that really helped us pick up a couple of spots. Now it’s on to California where we hope for another solid run.”

Danica Patrick – Finished 22nd: “The TaxAct Ford started out loose in and tight in the center. It was alright in the middle stages of the race, but in the final segment it just took too long to come in during the runs and we lost a ton of ground. We were able to pick some spots back up late in the run and then it took off pretty good on the last restart. I have to thank the guys for doing a great job in the pits all day.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 23rd: “There was a lot of craziness out there today. I thought our car was okay in the beginning and we were trying to get it better. About halfway through the race our trackbar stopped working, which was bad. That really hurt us. That really hurt from being able to adjust our car throughout the run. That is what we needed. That really sucked when that stopped working. We take for granted those things. Then I sped on pit road and that put us in a bigger hole. We had an issue and then I compounded the issue by speeding and you can’t have that. I made a mistake on that deal.”

JOEY LOGANO – Finished 31st.: “The brakes are fine, we just blew a right front. Probably just overheated the bead. I am sure that is what it was. There is not much you can do when the right front blows out. We had a good car in the beginning of the race and then just fell off and got a pit road speeding penalty and it was hard to get back up there. We were getting closer but out long run speed was off. We have to figure out how to get faster here on the long run.”

David Ragan – Finished 35th: “Really, Trevor Bayne is the one that is kind of to blame. He tried to wreck Danica (Patrick) three of four consecutive laps. He was driving over his head and all over the race track. I was kind of a result of their shenanigans. They were bouncing off each other and I tired to go low and actually made contact with Matt DiBenedetto and had a tire rub and was going to come in that lap. Just cut our tire.”

Matt Kenseth – Finished  37th: “We just blew a front tire. We kind of struggled with our Tide PODS Camry most of the day. We got a little bit better that run, but we weren’t handling the way we needed to for sure and just ended up failing a front tire.”

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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