Red-hot Kevin Harvick burns up Phoenix International Raceway with first career pole there


The red-hot Happy Harvick Freaky Fast Express rolls on.

Kevin Harvick, who has won the last three races and four of the last five at Phoenix International Raceway, continued his dominance there Friday by capturing the pole position for Sunday’s 500 Sprint Cup race.

Harvick, who has six career wins at PIR, earned his first career pole at the one-mile flat track with a speed of 140.751 mph.

Over his last six Sprint Cup starts, including the last three races of 2014, the defending Sprint Cup champion has three wins and three runner-up finishes. He’s going for a second straight win Sunday, having won last Sunday at Las Vegas.

“Everything can always be better, but I think everyone’s doing a great job and continuing to get better as we go from week to week, and never sitting on what you did last week, and always communicating on the little things and what you can do better,” Harvick said. “I’m just fortunate to be a part of this team and what they do.”

Joey Logano was second fastest in Friday’s qualifying (140.543), followed by Jamie McMurray (140.422), Matt Kenseth (140.072) and Ryan Newman (139.833).

“That’s three straight front row starts, so we’re proud of that,” Logano said. “We still have only one pole, which we’re not proud of. We need to find more speed there, but obviously it’s a good starting spot. … We’re going to race hard and try to win this thing.”

Kurt Busch, who is making his first start of the season after being suspended by NASCAR for the first three races, qualified eighth.

“It was fun to get back out there and feel the car in the three sessions out there,” Busch said. “Overall, it was just a pleasant day, overwhelming support from the team and the garage area. ‘Glad you’re back’ is what I hear a lot of, and I’m thankful to be back and to have this competitive car that I can put in the top 10 on the first day out.”

Also of note, the No. 83 car of Matt DiBenedetto was the only car to fail pre-qualifying inspection more than two times.

As a result, DiBenedetto will be penalized 15 minutes of practice time, which will be assessed during the first practice session next week at Auto Club Speedway. The penalty is the result of new rules set forth by NASCAR this week.

Qualifying results for the 500:

1. Kevin Harvick … 140.751 mph
2. Joey Logano … 140.543
3. Jamie McMurray … 140.422
4. Matt Kenseth … 140.072
5. Ryan Newman … 139.833
6. Brad Keselowski … 139.817
7. Carl Edwards … 139.779
8. Kurt Busch … 139.665
9. Kasey Kahne … 139.643
10. Jeff Gordon … 139.535
11. Austin Dillon … 138.969
12. Kyle Larson … 138.755
13. David Ragan … 139.157
14. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. … 139.141
15. Martin Truex Jr. … 138.884
16. Dale Earnhardt Jr. … 138.814
17. Tony Stewart … 138.718
18. Brian Vickers … 138.654
19. Greg Biffle … 138.515
20. Jimmie Johnson … 138.483
21. Paul Menard … 138.478
22. AJ Allmendinger … 138.430
23. Danica Patrick … 138.297
24. Casey Mears … 137.862
25. Denny Hamlin … 137.562
26. Alex Bowman … 137.363
27. Sam Hornish Jr. … 137.211
28. Justin Allgaier … 136.674
29. David Gilliland … 136.586
30. Clint Bowyer … 136.550
31. Michael Annett … 136.467
32. Aric Almirola … 136.405
33. Landon Cassill … 136.266
34. Josh Wise … 136.245
35. Matt DiBenedetto … 135.834
36. Trevor Bayne … 135.675
37. Mike Bliss … Owner Points
38. Brett Moffitt … Owner Points
39. Cole Whitt … Owner Points
40. JJ Yeley … Owner Points
41. Jeb Burton … Owner Points
42. Brendan Gaughan … Owner Points
43. Alex Kennedy … Owner Points

Did not qualify: Tanner Berryhill and Travis Kvapil.

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Jim France bullish on the future: ‘We’re getting some momentum back’

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In a rare interview Friday, NASCAR CEO and chairman Jim France said he’s bullish about the momentum of his racing series, particularly since last year’s ISC merger.

“Very much so,” France said when asked if he’s looking forward to the return of stock cars to Daytona International Speedway next month for Speedweeks. The Daytona 500 will kick off the Cup Series season Feb. 16.

“We’re coming off of a very good year I felt like last year where we’re really getting some momentum back,” France said. “It’s exciting now going into this coming year.”

Much of the focus has been on the discussions around a possible revamping of the 2021 schedule.

“(NASCAR President) Steve Phelps is working diligently on that,” France said with a laugh. “There’ll be announcements coming in the not-too-distant future.”

France said last year’s merger of NASCAR and International Speedway Corp., which had been publicly traded before the deal, provides more flexibility on the schedule.

“It makes a big difference,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to respond quicker to the changing environment out here with the economy and all the things that are going on that impact motorsports. It was a major big step that we needed to make probably for quite a while.”

France spoke with a small group of reporters after a major news conference at Daytona involving the IMSA Series that will create a bridge for the premier sports car classes at Daytona and Le Mans.

“The way I view it is if you ever catch the Ferrari vs. Ford movie where the cars went back and forth with Le Mans, that’s the era that we’re getting ready to enter into here is my optimistic hope,” said France, who is also the chairman of IMSA.

Kaz Grala returning to Richard Childress Racing for select Xfinity races

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Kaz Grala will return to compete for Richard Childress Racing in the Xfinity Series this year in select races, the team announced Friday.

Grala, 21, will be one of three drivers to pilot the No. 21 Chevrolet during the full season, joining Myatt Snider and Anthony Alfredo.

Grala made five starts in the No. 21 in 2019, earning a best result of fifth at Road America.

“I learned a lot as a driver working with RCR last year, so I feel confident that our existing chemistry as a team will lead to even better results in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this season,” Grala said in a press release. “RCR’s Xfinity Series program is top-notch, and with the No. 21 car running all year, I am excited to be a part of the team chasing yet another owner’s championship. I’m very grateful to Richard Childress for giving me this opportunity to further my career.”

No sponsors were part of the announcement.

“Kaz showed quite a bit of speed and promise in the No. 21 car last year for RCR,” Richard Childress said in a press release. “I’m confident the results will show in 2020, especially after a year under his belt in our proven Xfinity program.”

A ‘crucial’ year for Hailie Deegan’s career begins today at Daytona

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Hailie Deegan will be racing a sports car today at Daytona International Speedway with an eye toward her future in stock cars.

Signed by Ford Performance to a developmental deal that will put her in a full-time ARCA car (and possibly a truck race or two) this season, Deegan was surprised when the manufacturer also expressed a desire to put her in a few IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge events.

The first will be Friday’s season-opening BMW Endurance Challenge, a four-hour warmup race at Daytona International Speedway ahead of Saturday’s Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.

Deegan and Xfinity Series veteran Chase Briscoe will start 20th in the No. 22 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4.

MEET HAILIE DEEGAN: ‘I put my helmet on the same way as everyone else’

“I originally never planned on this, but (Ford) came to me and were like ‘we want to get you on our IMSA program,’” Deegan said. “’That’s what we did with Briscoe, (Cole) Custer, (Austin) Cindric. All the guys that came through the ranks with Ford.’

“When they told me that, I was excited because more road courses will be in the NASCAR world, and there already are quite a few. I think what makes an all-around good driver are the ones that are good at every single type of track.”

There’s been much talk of adding road and street races to the Cup schedule in the next few years, and the Xfinity Series schedule just expanded to five road courses with the move from the oval at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The No. 22 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4 that will be driven by Hailie Deegan and Chase Briscoe.

Deegan, 18, still remains a long way from the top two national series, but they are her goal, which makes 2020 critical for earning results.

“This is the year that’s very important and crucial to my career because it decides contracts for years out with sponsors getting behind you for the higher levels,” said Deegan, who had three K&N Series victories in 2018-19. “If we can do good this year, I feel I can get more people behind me so we can go in the top three level series (of NASCAR), and have sponsors that want to stay with me full time while I’m there.

“My goal is to win a few races in the ARCA Series, which is going to be hard. There are a lot of good guys, good cars this year.”

Aside from running full time in ARCA for DGR-Crosley, Deegan would “love to do a truck race” if the sponsorship materializes, “but funding right now is all focused on ARCA so we can try to work toward those championships and winning races. I know I want to be in a good car with good people behind me. If we can focus on that, hopefully everything else will come along.”

Click here to read the full version of this story from NBC Sports’ MotorSportsTalk.

2020 Rolex 24 at Daytona: Start time, TV schedule, lineup and more

Speedy Cash expands deal with Front Row Motorsports, John Hunter Nemechek

John Hunter Nemechek
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After sponsoring John Hunter Nemechek in two of his first three Cup Series starts last year, Speed Cash has expanded its backing of Nemechek for the 2020 season, Front Row Motorsports announced Friday.

Speedy Cash, an omni-channel financial services provider specializing in short-term loans, will be on Nemechek’s No. 38 Ford for multiple races, including events at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.

It will serve as an associate sponsor throughout the year for both Nemechek and Michael McDowell and his No. 34 Ford Mustang team.

Speedy Cash sponsored Nemechek last November in his Cup debut at Texas Motor Speedway and in the season finale at Miami. Nemechek finished 21st at Texas, the best of his three starts filling in for Matt Tifft in the No. 36 Ford after he stepped out of the car due to suffering a seizure.

Nemechek will be part of a deep rookie class in Cup this year after he raced full-time for GMS Racing in the Xfinity Series in 2019.

“As a driver, partnerships like this one with Speedy Cash are so important to our entire team,” Nemechek said in a press release. “It’s always great to see partners expanding their involvement in the sport. For me, Speedy Cash is pretty cool. If you need cash, there are so many easy ways you can get it using their services. I enjoyed getting to know them in the last few races of the 2019 season and we’re going to work hard to make them proud in 2020.”