Austin Dillon wins pole for today’s Xfinity Series season opener at Daytona

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Former NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Austin Dillon has won the pole for the series’ season opener this afternoon at Daytona International Speedway.

Dillon, who is starting his second full-time season in the Sprint Cup Series but will also run the majority of this year’s Xfinity races, captured his 11th career pole in NASCAR’s junior league.

“Luckily, I was 12th [to start] that last group and was kind of staying back, watching how things played out,” Dillon told Fox Sports1. “I didn’t want to be the last car because I knew if there was too much of a gap, we wouldn’t make it around [to start a timed lap]. But it worked out. … Hopefully, we’ll have some fun in this Xfinity race.”

A big surprise next to Dillon on the front row is Justin Marks, who took the No. 29 RAB Racing Toyota to second on the grid – the best starting position that he’s ever had in Xfinity competition. Marks will try to improve upon his best career Xfinity finish, a sixth last season on the road course at Mid-Ohio.

Chad Boat and Brendan Gaughan will make up the second row for the Alert Today Florida 300, followed by Aric Almirola and Eric Jones in Row 3. Dakoda Armstrong and Ryan Reed are in Row 4, and Row 5 features J.J. Yeley and Chris Buescher.

Defending race winner Regan Smith rolls off 12th alongside Elliott Sadler in Row 6, while Smith’s JR Motorsports teammate and reigning Xfinity Series champion, Chase Elliott, failed to get out of the first round and will start back in 35th.

The first round was slowed by a six-car crash in the second of four groups and then a subsequent brief rain shower. The crash was triggered by contact between Blake Koch and Daniel Suarez, and ended up collecting Landon Cassill, Carlos Contreras, Tanner Berryhill, and Harrison Rhodes as well.

As a result, Rhodes, Contreras, and Berryhill were among the seven drivers that failed to make today’s 120-lap race. Also going home are Scott Lagasse Jr., former Daytona 500 winner Derrike Cope, Bobby Gerhart, and Joe Nemechek.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was part of Group 2 in the first round and avoided the crash when it took place. But he had a slower time as a result and will start last on the grid – 40th – using the champion’s provisional (he won the Xfinity Series titles in 1998 and 1999).

Earnhardt took it in stride, joking about it with a pair of tweets:

NASCAR Xfinity Series
Alert Today Florida 300
Starting Lineup

Row 1: Austin Dillon, Justin Marks
Row 2: Chad Boat, Brendan Gaughan
Row 3: Aric Almirola, Erik Jones
Row 4: Dakoda Armstrong, Ryan Reed
Row 5: J.J. Yeley, Chris Buescher
Row 6: Elliott Sadler, Regan Smith
Row 7: Jeffrey Earnhardt, Brad Keselowski
Row 8: Brian Scott, Ryan Sieg
Row 9: Cale Conley, David Starr
Row 10: Mike Harmon, Chris Cockrum
Row 11: Ross Chastain, Jeff Green
Row 12: Jeremy Clements, Josh Reaume
Row 13: Eric McClure, Joey Gase
Row 14: Kyle Larson, Darrell Wallace Jr.
Row 15: John Wes Townley, Dexter Bean
Row 16: Mike Wallace, Kyle Busch
Row 17: Derek White, Ty Dillon
Row 18: Chase Elliott, Daniel Suarez
Row 19: Mario Gosselin, Blake Koch
Row 20: Landon Cassill, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Failed to Qualify
Harrison Rhodes, Carlos Contreras, Tanner Berryhill, Scott Lagasse Jr., Derrike Cope, Bobby Gerhart, Joe Nemechek

Denny Hamlin hopes teams don’t shoot selves in feet with pit guns

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Denny Hamlin is the hottest driver on the Cup circuit. He has two wins – including Saturday night at Bristol – as well as two runner-ups, and a third- and fifth-place finish in the last six races. He’s also moved up to third in the rankings in that string.

But Hamlin isn’t taking anything to chance, particularly some of the smallest details – such as loose lug nuts and wheels.

Hamlin appeared Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “On-Track” show and was asked about how not only his team, but also other Cup teams, can overcome the loose lug nuts and wheels issues.

Hamlin said a significant part of the problem – particularly at a place like Bristol Motor Speedway – is pit guns, which are allocated and issued in a pre-race lottery by NASCAR, rather than have teams use their own guns.

MORE: Denny Hamlin earns hard-fought win over Matt DiBenedetto at Bristol

Hamlin does not like that system and explained why:

“(Bristol) puts probably some of the biggest loads we have on our tires. Truth be told, over the last two years since we’ve had these guns issued to us, they’re not capable of getting all the wheels tight, they really aren’t.

“It’s a lottery whether you get a gun that’s good enough to get ‘em tight. Through JGR, Stewart-Haas and other teams that have documented it, in the spring race there were over 20 loose wheels. This is not just a team thing. It’s just that the equipment is not quite up to par as far as what it’s capable of.

“We keep track of all the guns and how good they are and how bad they are. It’s a lottery system of whether you’re going to get (a good or bad one). It doesn’t matter how fast you go, you can hold the gun on there and it’s just not going to get the torque quite tight enough.”

Hamlin experienced a loose wheel that forced him to pit under green on Lap 186 of Saturday night’s race at Bristol, leaving him two laps behind the leaders. Hamlin had another loose wheel on Lap 374 and pitted while running 10th.

Thus far this season, in addition to several loose wheels in races, Hamlin’s team has also been penalized four times for loose lug nuts after races: Fontana, Bristol spring race, Chicagoland and the July race at Pocono.

This isn’t the first time Hamlin has publicly complained about pit guns and loose lug nuts and wheels.

NBC Sports has reached out to NASCAR for comment.

Check out what Hamlin said about that after Saturday night’s race in the video above (Hamlin talks about this issue starting around the 6:00 mark).

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Preliminary entry lists for Xfinity, Trucks this weekend

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While the NASCAR Cup Series will be off this weekend, that doesn’t mean there won’t be any racing.

On the contrary, the Xfinity Series will be racing Saturday at Road America and the Truck Series will compete Sunday at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

Here are the entry lists for both series:

Xfinity – CTECH Manufacturing 180 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

There are 39 cars entered.

Regan Smith will be in the No. 8 J.R. Motorsports Chevrolet.

A.J. Allmendinger will drive the No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet.

Saturday’s Cup runner-up, Matt DiBenedetto, will drive the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

There is no driver listed yet for the No. 117 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet.

Click here for the entry list.

Trucks – Chevrolet Silverado 250 (2:30 p.m. ET FS1)

There are only 28 Trucks listed for the entry list.

All seats are filled.

Click here for the entry list.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Dale Earnhardt Jr. thanks all who have ‘lifted us up’ since plane crash

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. issued his first public comments Monday since he and his family survived a plane crash last Thursday afternoon at Elizabethton (Tennessee) Municipal Airport.

Earnhardt offered thanks to “everyone who has lifted us up with phone calls, messages and prayer since last Thursday. We are truly blessed that all on board escaped with no serious injuries, including our daughter, our two pilots and our dog Gus.”

Earnhardt also thanked the pilots, emergency personnel, law enforcement and hospital staff.

He stated that wife “Amy and I continue to be very appreciative of the privacy extended to us to process everything. It has been important to do that together and on our own time.”

Earnhardt stated that because of the ongoing investigation “we will not be speculating or discussing the cause of the accident.”

A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board is expected this week. Ralph Hicks, a senior investigator for the NTSB said in a briefing last Friday that “the airplane basically bounced at least twice before coming down hard on the right wing landing gear. You can actually see the right wing landing gear collapsing on the video (from nearby buildings). The airplane continued down the runway, off to the end, through a fence and came to a stop … on highway 91.”

Both pilots have been interviewed and Hicks stated that what they said was “very consistent” with what the video showed. Hicks also said investigators had talked to the Earnhardt family.

NASCAR America 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN: Recapping Hamlin’s Bristol win

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs on NBCSN at a special time, from 6-7 p.m. ET, and will recap Denny Hamlin’s win at Bristol.

Steve Letarte will be joined by NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett and A.J. Allmendinger to discuss Hamlin’s win and other storylines.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here for the special start time at 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.