Jeff Gordon dominant so far in his final Daytona 500

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Pole sitter Jeff Gordon is aiming to win in his final Daytona 500 and led at the halfway point of today’s Great American Race after leading 77 of the first 100 laps.

Prior to today, the most laps he had led at Daytona was 72 en route to his 1995 summer victory.

Under partly cloudy skies, the 500 got underway with Gordon leading the opening lap, ensuring the 18th time he has led at least one lap in the Great American Race according to NASCAR. His Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jimmie Johnson, then took over the point at Lap 2.

But at Lap 14, Johnson was shuffled out of the lead as Gordon moved back up front with defending 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Team Penske’s Joey Logano becoming his closest pursuers. Johnson settled in the lower reaches of the Top 10 after gathering up his No. 48 Chevrolet.

On Lap 19, the first caution of the day came out when Landon Cassill suffered a smoky engine failure coming out of Turn 2.

“It was sudden,” Cassill said. “Just a typical engine failure where you never see it coming. Really unfortunate for my team because we really worked hard on this car and for this race.”

Gordon led the front-runners into the pits and led them all out ahead of the Lap 25 restart. As the second stint progressed, Gordon remained up front leading Earnhardt, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Logano.

Then on Lap 41, Tony Stewart slid up coming out of Turn 4 and made contact with rookie Ryan Blaney. Stewart went into the outside wall as a result, and directly behind them, Matt Kenseth did the same after Michael Waltrip knocked into him.

Stewart took blame for the incident over his team radio. His Stewart-Haas Racing team also reported that in addition to right-front damage, his steering on the No. 14 had also been compromised:

Both Stewart and Kenseth were still on pit road undergoing repairs when the green came back out at Lap 46; Kenseth would return to action but Stewart ended up going to the garage. Meanwhile, off the restart, Logano became the first Ford driver to lead today’s event with Johnson coming up to take second position.

He would lead six laps before Gordon side-drafted him on the outside coming off Turn 4 on Lap 52 and went into the lead again. Earnhardt again slipped into second place, while dark horse Martin Truex Jr. got third spot. Logano fell back to about fifth.

Green flag stops ensued at Lap 87, with Gordon and Earnhardt giving up first and second respectively. During the cycle, multiple front-runners were hit with pit road penalties including Edwards, Truex, and Kyle Larson for speeding, and Johnson for his crew going over the wall too soon.

At cycle’s end, Gordon was in the lead once again ahead of Hendrick teammates Kahne and Earnhardt and two Richard Childress Racing drivers, rookie Ty Dillon and Paul Menard.

Natalie Decker not medically cleared for Las Vegas Truck race

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NASCAR announced right before Friday night’s Truck Series race that Natalie Decker hadn’t been medically cleared to compete.

No details were provided about the issue that prevented Decker from being cleared. During the final stage of the race, NASCAR announced she had been treated and released from the infield medical center.

The Niece Motorsports driver would have started 23rd. Due to her No. 44 truck having cleared inspection and having been placed on the starting grid she was credited with a last-place finish.

Decker has made 11 starts this year. She missed the June 28 race at Pocono after she was hospitalized due to bile duct complications related to her gallbladder removal in December.

Check back for more.

Brandon Brown hopes to shed underdog role in Xfinity playoffs

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Brandon Brown knows the odds are against him advancing beyond the first round of the Xfinity playoffs.

“If I went out and we did a survey and we asked 1,000 NASCAR fans to create a playoff bracket, I guarantee that 90 to 99 percent of them have me getting eliminated in the first round,” he told NBC Sports.

But that’s not stopping him.

Brown is in the Xfinity playoffs for the first time, earning the final spot last weekend with his family-run team. He enters Saturday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) last in the 12-driver field. Brown has 2,000 points and is 10 points behind Ross Chastain, who holds the final transfer spot, entering the first round.

MORE: Saturday’s Xfinity race start time, lineup, forecast

Regardless where he is in the standings, Brown still met the team’s preseason goal of making the playoffs.

“It’s hard to put it into words,” the 27-year-old said of making the playoffs. “It’s so exciting and so thrilling. We’re just happy. Life is good. We’re seeing the fruits of our labor.”

Much of the Xfinity playoff focus will be on Chase Briscoe, who enters with a series-high seven wins. Or Austin Cindric, who won the regular-season title. Or Justin Allgaier, who has won three of the last seven races and could be the favorite if he makes it to the championship race at Phoenix Raceway.

Brown, who is in his second full season in the series, has four consecutive top-20 finishes going into this weekend. He knows the challenge he faces.

He said a key for this weekend is to have no mistakes, be running at the end and try to take advantage of any mistakes other playoff drivers have.

Then, he’ll look to Talladega. He’ll have an upgraded Earnhardt Childress Racing engine for that race, the team spending the extra money for the engine upgrade.

“I go into that track with confidence,” he said. “I need to go out there and make it happen, go win and make an name and go ahead and punch my ticket.”

While Brown knows most look at him as the underdog of these playoffs, he hopes to drop that title someday.

“The goal will be to get rid of that underdog title and to build that program that is going to be looked on as a powerhouse of the NASCAR Xfinity Series,” he said. “I enjoy the ride (as underdog), but now I’m ready to advance past it.”

Points entering Xfinity playoffs 

2,050 – Chase Briscoe

2,050 – Austin Cindric

2,033 – Justin Allgaier

2,025 – Noah Gragson

2,020 – Brandon Jones

2,018 – Justin Haley

2,014 – Harrison Burton

2,010 – Ross Chastain

2,002 – Ryan Sieg

2,002 – Michael Annett

2,001 – Riley Herbst

2,000 – Brandon Brown

First Round races

Sept. 26 – Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Oct. 3 – Talladega Superspeedway (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Oct. 10 – Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC)

Saturday Las Vegas Xfinity race: Start time, TV channel

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The NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs get underway with the Saturday Xfinity race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The race is the first of seven to determine the champion.

Chase Briscoe is on the pole after his win last weekend at Bristol

Here is all the info for the Saturday Las Vegas Xfinity race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 7:38 p.m by Cup driver Bubba Wallace. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 7:47 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at 1 p.m. Drivers report to their cars at 7:20 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7:30 p.m. by Motor Racing Outreach Chaplain, Billy Mauldin. The national anthem will be performed by Mackenzie Mackey at 7:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 200 laps (300 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 45. Stage 2 ends on Lap 90.

TV/RADIO: Coverage begins on NBCSN with Countdown to Green at 7 p.m. Race broadcast begins at 7:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 7 p.m.. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App. Click here for the link.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for clear skies with a high of 95 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Chase Briscoe beat Ross Chastain and Austin Cindric at Bristol.

LAST RACE AT LAS VEGAS: Chase Briscoe beat Austin Cindric and Ryan Sieg for the win.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for Xfinity starting lineup

General Motors announces leadership for technical center

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General Motors has announced the leadership for its new performance and racing technical center in Concord, North Carolina.

GM has tapped Dr. Eric Warren of Richard Childress Racing to be the director of NASCAR operations at the facility, which was unveiled in January.

Warren will be responsible for competition duties for NASCAR programs, “as well as expanding the involvement of GM’s product development resources in the technical strategy for the Chevrolet race teams,” GM said in a statement.

GM’s 75,000-square-foot facility will feature Driver-in-the-Loop simulators, vehicle simulation, aero development and other practices designed to advance racing and production capabilities.

Warren had been RCR’s Chief Technology Officer since 2017 and part of the team since 2012.

GM also named Mark Stielow to its new Director of Motorsports Competition Engineering position. Stielow will be responsible for overall engineering and technical direction for the NHRA, IndyCar, IMSA and Motorsports Operations. He will have a direct link to GM’s vehicle integration organization.