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Crew chiefs face many questions with tire options for All-Star Race

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CONCORD, N.C. — The question for crew chiefs tonight is when to put on the option, softer tires, during the All-Star Race.

Nobody is quite certain.

Among the questions is how beneficial the option tires — marked with green Goodyear lettering — will be. They are intended to be quicker than the regular tire but will wear sooner and likely lose speed deeper into a run.

Each team will have three regular sets and one option set for the four-stage, 70-lap race. If teams save the option tire until the final 10-lap stage, they must start behind all cars on the regular tire.

Another consideration for teams is that format. Only 10 of the 20 cars will advance to the final stage. Those that win any of the first three stages (and are on the lead lap at the end of third stage) advance. The other spots will be based on average finish in the first three stages. That could play into when crew chiefs use the option tires.

“We’re going to see some guys play with it a little bit in the opening stages I would think,’’ said Paul Wolfe, crew chief for Brad Keselowski. “We’re hoping we can get it judged from that to understand if you stay out and get the clean air, can you make it work? I think it will be interesting.’’

Ryan Newman will start 15th in the 20-car field, so strategy may be key. That will be crew chief Luke Lambert’s responsibility.

“There is a certain tradeoff point based on the length of the run,’’ Lambert said of how long the option tires are faster. “The key variable that set of tires helps you with is to go fast early in the run, which is when you can make up all the spots and get the track position and potentially drive out in front of the field. I think that is where the tires are going to prove their benefit.’’

Teams got to practice with one set of the option tires Thursday afternoon.

“I felt like our car did not like the softer tire,’’ said Keith Rodden, crew chief for Kasey Kahne. “We were a little tighter and we were going faster into the corner and it’s like we deflected more and hit the splitter and didn’t turn as good.’’

Kyle Larson, who will start on the pole, says the cooler temperatures at night could help the option tires and make them last longer and be the better choice later in the event.

“I was happy in practice that it did seem to have three to four tenths of speed in it,’’ Larson said. “It definitely felt like it had more grip for a few laps and at night time I think it’s going to be even better. I don’t know, but I think that the option tire will be more impactful when the sun goes down. We’ve just got to wait and see.’’

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Kyle Larson edges Kyle Busch for All-Star pole

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Kyle Larson nipped Kyle Busch by one-hundredth of a second to win his first Monster Energy All-Star Race pole Friday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

It was Larson’s first attempt at the qualifying format, which features three laps at a pit stop where there is no pit road speed limit.

“I knew everybody would try to push a little bit harder that last round,” Larson said of the two-round session. “I just wanted to be mistake-free. My first attempt at it was pretty cool.”

Kevin Harvick will start third and be followed by Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch.

“As you look at the lap we probably could have run a couple tenths faster there, but, all in all, our goal was to not make any huge mistakes,” Harvick said. “I feel like starting up front with the way that the tires are and the way that everything is will be a huge benefit.”

The top five advanced to the second round and that determined the pole-winner. Kurt Busch had the fastest time over three laps and a pit stop but was penalized 10 seconds for two loose lug nuts, dropping him to fifth.

Johnson overshot his pit stall and had to back up. He was assessed a five-second penalty for his crew going over the wall too soon.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start sixth in his final All-Star Race.

Ryan Newman provided a smoke show with his qualifying run. As he began his attempt to enter the pits for his mandatory four-tire pit stop, Newman lost control of his No. 31 Chevrolet and slid sideways through Turn 4, producing a cloud of smoke. But Newman regained control and rocketed down pit road to make his stop.

Newman will start 15th Saturday night after a loose lug nut was found on Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s car, knocking five seconds off his time.

Click here for All-Star qualifying results

Entry lists for All-Star events; Truck race at Charlotte

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Twenty-one drivers are entered for the NASCAR Open, seeking to either race their way in or receive the fan vote to the All-Star Race on Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Drivers who have already clinched an All-Star spot: Chris Buescher, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Martin Truex Jr.

Among those seeking to make their way through the Open are: Chase Elliott (fourth in points), Clint Bowyer (10th) and Ryan Blaney (11th).

Joey Logano won last year’s All-Star Race.

Click here for entry list for Open race

There are 33 entries for Friday’s Camping World Truck Series race at Charlotte. Among those entered are Kyle Busch and NASCAR on NBC analyst Parker Kligerman.

Matt Crafton won last year’s race. Johnny Sauter enters the event as the points leader with a two-point advantage on Christopher Bell.

Click here for Truck entry list

 

What Drivers Said after Kansas Cup race

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Here is what drivers were saying after Saturday night’s NASCAR Cup race at Kansas Speedway:

Martin Truex Jr. — Winner: “That kid (Ryan Blaney) is good, man. He’s going to win a ton of races. He’s really talented and their cars are fast right now. You do 10 restarts, eight of them you get right, two of them you screw up. You just hope the ones you screw up aren’t for the win. Today, we were able to get those ones right when it mattered. You know what can I say, just an awesome team effort.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 2nd: “We caught a couple breaks there on those restarts and made the most of them. That was good. We had a really great Freightliner Elite Support Ford, just kept getting caught in adversity there. We worked our way through it. It stinks we finished second and still lost points because we didn’t get those stage points. All in all, we had a really fast Ford and have a lot to be proud of. We will move on to the next week.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 3rd: “It was a solid night. Our Busch Light Ford was fast and we were able to come through the field and do what we needed to do.”

RYAN BLANEY — Finished 4th: “We weren’t very good on the long run. I felt that we had a great short run car tonight, and I thought that was going to play right into our hands at the end. (Martin Truex Jr.) got us on that restart somehow. I don’t know. I was super loose there on the last restarts and (Truex) got me spinning my tires a little bit. It kind of stinks. I think that it says a lot about this team to go out and lead some laps and go have a shot and win races.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 5th: “It just seemed like other guys got better than us. We tried to adjust on our car and it never really made it better. The M&M’s Camry was fast when the sun was out. We were pretty quick up there riding the high side and doing a good job. We won the first segment and then the second segment I thought we were – had a shot to win that one as well. I think we were third in that one and once it got dark out, we just kind of lost it. Actually, other guys just got faster. The delta just got greater where those guys picked up a lot of speed and we didn’t.”

Kyle Larson – Finished 6th: “The early parts of the race I thought we were okay, not great, but I thought we were like a fourth- or fifth-place car and I got into the wall on one of those later restarts after that big wreck. I just got really tight and it took off and hit the wall. Then my car was pretty tight afterwards, so I’m sure some aerodynamic issues there, but still recovered for a decent finish there. The restarts weren’t really working out for me there the last handful of them. It seemed like at the beginning of the race I could pass people no problem on restarts. There at the end, my line just kept getting choked down and stuff, but sixth place is still a good day for our Target team. The No. 2 (Brad Keselowski) finished really well so that is not great for us because I would like to be leading the points here in a few months. Still in all a good day.”

DANIEL SUÁREZ– Finished 7th: “Very proud of the way that the car worked the entire race. Scott (Graves, crew chief) and the guys they did a very good job. We had a top-10 car and that’s exactly where we ended up. Very happy for the performance of the car and looking forward to keep digging, keep working and keep learning for next weekend.”

Jamie McMurray – Finished 8th: “So, we had a really good night. We had a hard time in the pits tonight. I’m not sure if something with the set-up of the car, but we struggled in the pits, but overall, we had a really fast McDonald’s Chevy. We were pretty good on restarts, which was important, and I’m really happy to finish eighth because we restarted like 20th or something with two or three to go. It was a good finish.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 9th: “That just wasn’t very good tonight. We were kind of off all weekend. Definitely off in the race. I started off good and we were just down on rear grip. I fought loose the whole time I was out there and it seemed like everything we were doing — we were doing some fundamentally different things to try to tighten the car up. It changes the aero balance of the car and I am not too sure. Maybe we learned something tonight.”

Trevor Bayne — Finished 10th: “That was a hard-fought 10th-place finish. If you’d told me I would finish 10th after practice I would have probably kissed you on the forehead. That wasn’t a good practice for us and we still qualified 16th. It is funny how expectations change. A year ago, I would have been pumped for a 10th and now it is what we should be doing. We are getting better. Our potential is better. If we can finish 10th on a weekend like this, when we get the cars where we need them we can do business. I appreciate the hard work and execution by my team tonight.”

Michael McDowell – Finished 13th: “You know it’s tough on pit road and I would have to go back and watch it, but obviously, Chase (Elliott) took two tires there. I was following the No. 88 into the box, so I couldn’t see the No. 24 coming out at all and by the time we made contact he was at my left rear. I just didn’t see him coming in, and I don’t think his crew chief knew I was coming in either because he sent him when both the No. 88 and myself were turning into the box right in front of him. So, it just happens on pit road. It definitely wasn’t anything that I felt like I could have prevented because I didn’t even see him coming out of the box. Unfortunate I know because we got a lot of damage and obviously, it took him out for the day too. But, good recovery, everybody at LFR has been working really hard.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 14th: “Man, did this team fight hard. We struggled in the first two stages to find the perfect balance. We spun when we stayed out with old tires, but we didn’t get any damage and were able to recover. It started coming to us there in the final stage, but it was just impossible to pass cars. We really needed track position that we just didn’t have. We picked up some spots at the end with the cautions though and brought home a solid top-15 finish. We have a lot of notes to take back with us on our intermediate-track program. There is still some work to do, but we’ll get there.”

Kasey Kahne – Finished 15th: “The guys did a great job tonight. We had good pit stops and we had a good car. After the red flag the car just got really loose for whatever reason. We had a good run though until that point.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Finished 20th: “For whatever reason, the car had a lot of vibration issues. We had some loose wheels. I thought we had one early in the race, but it is questionable whether it was, but it was shaking pretty bad. We had a lot of vibrations late in the race and one in particular that was real serious. You know it’s just a judgement call whether you stay out there and the wheel comes off or you come in and get it tightened up. I don’t think we had any loose wheels after that. I don’t think we had only but one loose wheel tonight. Looking back through our notes this is a track where we all kind of complain a lot about vibrations and thinking we have loose wheels when we don’t. I know a lot of guys tonight complained a lot about it, so if I would have thought about that and kind of known that in the heat of the moment I probably wouldn’t have stayed out on the track, but we had about a 10th- to a 15th-place finish lined up.  And I came in for a vibration that wasn’t a loose wheel and we lost a lap and we got it back and ended up 20th. We had a much better car than that. Had good speed, liked the car and we had good speed in practice.”

Danica Patrick — Finished 36th: “We were having a really good race and having fun out there and had a lot of speed. I kinda felt like Wonder Woman for a little while. All I know is that I all of a sudden crashed. I definitely had a feeling it was the 22 and I am sure that the doctors in the medical center checking my neurological abilities are glad to know I was right that it was Joey. When he said he had a failure I can’t say it made me feel that much better in the moment. I am just frustrated for the lack of breaks I get. It seems like every time things are going better and something happens I get crashed or am in a crash. Especially a place like this, a brake rotor, when we are using 200-300 pounds of pressure seems odd. Unfortunately there were two of us that got collected and while I am okay, one of these times one of these really big accidents someone is not going to be okay. Aric (Almirola) is not okay and his car looked the best of everybody. You never know when it is going to be the wrong hit. I have a team that works hard and put another car on the track and I hope we are saving up for a really good run of good luck.”

Joey Logano — Finished 37th:  I’m okay. Just saying a lot of prayers for Aric (Almirola) right now. A lot of us took a hard hit. Something broke on my car, I don’t know what it was. I noticed it as I was trying to go in. I tried to back it off but you’re going 215 (mph) and it’s hard to check up. The car just took a bit step sideways into the corner and I hooked Danica (Patrick). I haven’t seen a replay yet, I don’t know what happened. I just hope everyone is okay. I hope Aric is alright. That’s the last thing you want to see, a big hit like that for anyone. It’s unfortunate for everyone.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 40th: “The bottom end of the motor just broke. We finally got the Caterpillar Chevrolet running well, not to where we needed to be, but better from how we started the race. We knocked a hole in the grill from a spring rubber or something. I watched what I hit, but I couldn’t tell what it was. Finally got enough tape on it so it would run warm and stick a little bit better and made a whole bunch of changes to the car, but just something in the motor broke, bottom end for sure, but I’m not really sure what happened first.”

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Bump & Run: Who is next driver to snap long winless drought?

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Dale Jarrett and Parker Kligerman, who appear on NASCAR America from 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. ET today, join Nate Ryan and Dustin Long, to answer this week’s questions.

This season has seen two drivers snap winless droughts of more than 90 races: Phoenix winner Ryan Newman (127-race winless drought) and Talladega winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (158-race drought). Who is next to win among drivers who have gone more than 90 starts without a Cup win? (* list below)

Parker Kligerman: Well the easiest answer here is Clint Bowyer. From the doldrums of outside top-30 equipment to now being a part of one of the top organizations in the sport, I can’t imagine a world in which Clint does not win. With that out of the way, I feel Austin Dillon could be a moderate shot of breaking a winless streak, but that may be better said as getting his first win. Lastly, Kasey Kahne is approaching 100 races winless at one of the largest, most successful race teams in the entire world. As Kyle Petty has said “Where is Kasey Kahne” I think Kasey has to be asking “Where is Victory Lane?” 

Dale Jarrett: The two that I look at are Clint Bowyer and Jamie McMurray. I think they are both performing well enough that it can happen, pretty much any place and any time. I really give the edge to Jamie McMurray. I think that team and that organization right now, with the way Kyle Larson has performed and Jamie has too, he’s performed and continued to get better. If I look at the two restrictor-plate races to this point, I think he maybe had the fastest car. I think there’s a good chance that he might win Daytona or Talladega, but I think he might win even before then. Bowyer, I believe, is going to win before the year is out.

Nate Ryan: Jamie McMurray. If they were rerunning the final 10 laps of Talladega today, he might be ending this streak now. Kansas Speedway would mark a nice homecoming of sorts, too, for the Joplin, Missouri, native who is providing confirmation that points leader Kyle Larson’s success is indicative of across-the-board improvement at Chip Ganassi Racing.

A close second for the next first-place finisher is Clint Bowyer, then Austin Dillon, Kasey Kahne, Trevor Bayne and Aric Almirola.

Dustin Long: Jamie McMurray has shown more speed and more consistency and is a good bet to be the next among this group to end a winless drought. He has six top-10 finishes in the first 10 races. Now it’s just a matter of turning those into more top fives as teammate Kyle Larson has done.

* DRIVERS WINLESS IN AT LEAST THE LAST 90 CUP RACES

Reed Sorenson (271)

Landon Cassill (233)

Michael McDowell (223)

Paul Menard (206)

Danica Patrick (164)

Clint Bowyer (159)

David Ragan (144)

Trevor Bayne (138)

Austin Dillon (131)

Jamie McMurray (122)

Cole Whitt (122)

Aric Almirola (100 races)

AJ Allmendinger (96 races)

Kasey Kahne (93 races)

NASCAR competes on 1.5-mile tracks the rest of the month with Saturday’s race at Kansas Speedway and the following two weeks at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the All-Star Race and Coca-Cola 600. What driver(s) and/or team(s) will you be watching close the rest of the month?

Parker Kligerman: This is a tough one as there are so many I will be keeping a close eye on. 

  • First would have to be Joe Gibbs Racing and seeing if they can finally get into victory lane. 
  • Second would be Ganassi. I want to see if this race team can continue to display the raw speed that they have early in this season, as the races get hotter and the tracks shift toward 1.5 miles in length. This will be the litmus test if they are truly championship material. 
  • Lastly, our newest winners in Roush Fenway Racing. Can this race team continue to show performances that warrant them being a part of the playoffs in what feels like a generation ago when they were a lock for such a berth. 

Dale Jarrett: I’m watching the drivers at Joe Gibbs Racing. What are they going to do? This has been their strong suit, especially over the six months at the end of 2015 and then all of last year, they performed at a high level at these types of tracks.

This is just in my mind thinking that it seems that they have been more to the conservative side with the skew and the rear end where others have been willing to take that chance, get their win and then maybe they back off a little from that. It just seems like they haven’t given that much to their drivers, and are they going to bite the bullet and say, ‘OK, this is what it is going to take, we’ve got to figure out a way to do this.’ I know they don’t like getting caught pushing the issue too much, but I really believe it’s going to take something like that. I’m going to keep my eye on them because Kansas and Charlotte are places that they perform well whenever their team is at their peak.

Nate Ryan: Joe Gibbs Racing. After Denny Hamlin predicted last week that Talladega would be his best chance at a win for “a few months” and identified 1.5-mile tracks as the team’s major Achilles’ heel, it naturally put some focus on how JGR does at the next three events and tracks that comprise two of the five 1.5-mile ovals in the playoffs (and two-thirds of the second round).

Kansas and Charlotte will serve as a barometer of how much teams need to improve their aerodynamics/horsepower combinations to be championship contenders four months from now.

Dustin Long: Naturally, Joe Gibbs Racing. I want to see how they perform, what kind of improvement they’ve shown on the 1.5-mile tracks. Another team I’ll keep an eye on is Hendrick Motorsports. Can Dale Earnhardt Jr. start to come back from his slow start? What about Kasey Kahne? Can Chase Elliott continue his strong runs on 1.5-mile tracks. Can Jimmie Johnson show more strength?

Watch Dale Jarrett and Parker Kligerman from 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. ET on NASCAR America on NBCSN.