Kevin Harvick’s crew chief brushes aside tire accusations: ‘It’s turned into a joke. Honestly, I’m flattered. I love it.’

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. – With his championship team seemingly in the crosshairs of a NASCAR investigation into tire tampering, Rodney Childers alternately bristled and scoffed at the rumors Friday at Martinsville Speedway.

“I started racing when I was 12 years old, (and) people accused me of stuff,” the crew chief for Kevin Harvick said. “They accused me of stuff when I was 15 years old. They accused me of stuff when I was 20 years old. They’re still accusing me of stuff.”

No one has pointed the finger publicly at illegal wrongdoing during Harvick’s impressive streak of eight consecutive top-two finishes (dating to the final four races of his 2014 title campaign). Behind the scenes, though, competitors have grumbled about the source of Harvick’s speed.

But Harvick’s No. 4 Chevrolet is the only team to have its tires seized by NASCAR after the past two Sprint Cup races. NASCAR warned teams about the potential for severe penalties Friday morning at Martinsville in the wake of sending some tires for a third-party investigation this week.

Childers, who joined Stewart-Haas Racing with Harvick last season, said it’s nothing unfamiliar, though, for his team.

“I don’t think everybody realizes that they’ve taken our tires 17 times in the last 18 months,” he said. “Every time we finish first or second, our car goes back to the R&D Center with the tires we won the race on. NASCAR’s doing their jobs, and everybody else is making a big deal about it, right?”

Childers said NASCAR also had examined the team’s tires many times during races last season.

“Nobody ever talked about it,” he said. “I’m starting to get a little bit ill about it. It’s turned into a joke. Honestly, I’m flattered. I love it.”

Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon said Friday he believes that teams have found ways to “bleed” their tires, which maintains optimum air pressure during a green-flag run and keeps speeds consistent.

The situation is reminiscent of Gordon’s 1998 championship season. On the way to tying a modern-era record with 13 victories, Gordon’s tires were confiscated after an August 1998 win at Loudon, N.H., and sent for independent testing that found nothing.

“We weren’t ever doing anything like that in 1998,” Gordon said Friday. “Maybe people were speculating what we were doing, or if (crew chief) Ray (Evernham) was doing it, he never told me. But after all these years, I think I would have known about that. But I’ve heard about a lot of things with valve caps and poking holes in tires for years.”

Childers said he welcomed the scrutiny of being a successful team.

“I don’t know how Ray Evernham reacted back in the day, but that’s (NASCAR’s) job,” Childers said. “If you’ve got a car that’s on a streak like the 4 car’s been and they’ve got eight top-twos in a row, nobody’s done that since when there was 2.5 cars on the lead lap at the end of each race, it’s a big damn deal, you know? I don’t blame them at all. I’m 100% percent on their side. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to keep a level playing field.

“The only thing I don’t like is when it stirs up a bunch of drama and because there’s no need for it. But it’s part of it. You don’t want the drama surrounding your team. You want to keep them focused on what you’re doing. All in all, they’re doing their jobs.”

Childers playfully delivered a message to any competition that believes he and Harvick are bending the rules.

“They also need to look at qualifying because bleeding your tires in qualifying for one lap don’t help,” Childers said. “We beat ’em every week, so they better get working on their cars a little bit, I’d say.”

Harvick, who has started on the front row of three of five races this year, also addressed the tire controversy on Twitter.

Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas: Start time, TV channel

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The second round of the Cup playoffs begins with the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The 1.5-mile track kicks off the Round of 12. Winning the race and stage points are a premium for playoff drivers before the races at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval.

Kevin Harvick, who won at Bristol, starts from the pole.

Here is all the info for the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis at 7:07 p.m. The green flag waves at 7:17 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at Noon. Drivers report to their cars at 6:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7 p.m. by Motor Racing Outreach Chaplain, Billy Mauldin. The national anthem will be performed by Sierra Black at 7:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 267 laps (400.5 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 6 p.m with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 6:30 p.m. Race coverage begins at 7 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 6 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

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for sunny skies with a high of 96 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Kevin Harvick beat Kyle Busch to win at Bristol and claim his ninth win of the season.

LAST POINTS RACE AT LAS VEGAS: Joey Logano beat Matt DiBenedetto and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in February.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the lineup.

CATCH UP ON NBC SPORTS’ COVERAGE:

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win but without hometown fans

Michael Jordan excited for NASCAR future with Denny Hamlin

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

Germain Racing sells charter, will exit sport at end of season

Charlotte Roval to host limited number of fans

Friday 5: Team’s departure adds to ‘extremely stressful’ time

NASCAR fines Hendrick Motorsports $100,000

NTSB releases final report on Dale Jr. plane crash

Bubba Wallace to receive Stan Musial award for extraordinary character

Long: 100 days left in 2020, what else can happen?

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win, but without hometown fans

Kurt Busch
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A win by Kurt Busch in tonight’s Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) couldn’t come under more bittersweet circumstances for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver.

Should Busch claim the victory on the 1.5-mile track, he’d go from being the last driver on the playoff grid (3,001 points entering the race) to the first driver to advance to the Round of 8.

While it would be his first victory of the year, it would also be his first NASCAR win at his home track in 23 starts across the Cup and Xfinity Series.

More: Stage points critical at Vegas

“The Vegas track has definitely been one of the tough ones for me over the years with results and finishes not where I would have expected them to be,” Busch said this week. “And the teams that I’ve raced for just have never quite found that right magic set-up or combination. And then for me, it’s a track that I just have that trouble with.

“There are a few tracks like Indianapolis and Martinsville; those are a few places where I struggle. And so with Vegas, I always put that little extra hometown pressure on myself and I would love to win there.”

The 42-year-old Las Vegas-native rolls off ninth on the 1.5-mile track. It’s his fourth while driving for Ganassi.

In his 21 Cup starts in Las Vegas, Busch’s best result is third in 2005 when he competed for Roush Fenway Racing. He has just one other top five. That came in last year’s spring race when he drove a throwback paint scheme to his 1999 NASCAR Southwest Series championship.

That day he led 23 laps. It was only the seventh time he’d led laps there and just the third time he’d totaled more than six laps led.

In February, Busch finished 25th.

If Busch were to finally make it to Vegas’ Victory Lane, the celebration would be somewhat muted.

It was announced last weekend that fans would not be allowed to attend the races at Las Vegas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would love to win through the spirit of the camera and everything on NBC Sports; and I know the fans there, local, will be watching and cheering on the Busch brothers,” Busch said. “So, that’s where I would connect. And hopefully do it through the TV side of it. We’ll get fans back one day and we’ll come back and race.”

Busch enters the Round of 12 having earned just one top 10 in the first round, an eighth-place finish at Darlington. He finished 13th at Richmond and 15th at Bristol.

“What I like is we have had better lap times at all three races so far compared to maybe the five or six races leading into the playoffs,” Busch said. “We know that our cushion is gone. We ended Bristol with 33 points to the good. And now we start Vegas minus four (points behind Austin Dillon in the cutoff spot). So that’s just part of the system and now we have to be perfect. We have to get every point possible that we’re able to get on our own at Vegas, Talladega, and the Roval. And, that should help us advance.”

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

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Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan were teammates from 1982-84 at the University of North Carolina and Eastern Conference rivals throughout the 1980s and ’90s in the NBA.

But their friendship was about more than just hoops. While growing up on opposite ends of the Tar Heel State, Daugherty and Jordan both developed a passion for following NASCAR.

Tobacco Road meant fast cars and hard-driving heroes for these two North Carolina natives.

LIFELONG FAN: Michael Jordan explains why he’s partnering with Denny Hamlin

In a NASCAR on NBC feature, Daugherty recalls how NASCAR impacted his life and Jordan’s and led both into team ownership. Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin announced they will form a team to field cars for Bubba Wallace next season.

Daughterty notes in the feature that Wallace “has led a dynamic transformation as NASCAR banned Confederate flags and recommitted to inclusion amidst times of great unrest. This is a huge moment for NASCAR, a cultural momentum shift. This is people of all colors coming together to create an all-American race team already with championship lineage.

“With proper funding, equipment and crewmembers, this will be the best chance ever for a Black driver to win – and while driving for a Black owner. An opportunity to shock the world like Muhammad Ali once did.”

Watch the feature above on Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan or by clicking this link.

Las Vegas Xfinity results, driver points

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Chase Briscoe‘s victory Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway sends him into the next round of the Xfinity playoffs.

Noah Gragson led a 2-3-4 finish for JR Motorsports. Gragson was second and followed by Daniel Hemric and Justin Allgaier. Ryan Sieg finished fifth.

Briscoe dominated the race, leading 164 of the 200 laps.

Click here for Xfinity race results

POINTS

Ross Chastain finished 16th, last among the playoff drivers, and fell out of a transfer spot to the second round. He’s two points behind Harrison Burton for the final transfer spot. Michael Annett is 10 points behind Burton. Riley Herbst is 14 points behind Burton. Brandon Brown is 20 points behind Burton.

Click here for driver points report