NASCAR ‘disappointed’ in Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act

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NASCAR became the latest sports organization to issue a statement about Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signing into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which takes effect July 1.

The act prohibits laws that “substantially burden” a person’s freedom of religion unless the government can prove a compelling interest in imposing that burden.

The law has drawn sharp criticism from gay and LGBT groups, some corporations and leagues. Pence said in a news conference Tuesday morning that he wants legislation added that makes it clear that business have no rights to deny service to anyone under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

NASCAR’s Brett Jewkes, senior vice president and chief communications officer, issued a statement as Pence spoke Tuesday.

“NASCAR is disappointed by the recent legislation passed in Indiana. We will not embrace nor participate in exclusion or intolerance. We are committed to diversity and inclusion within our sport and therefore will continue to welcome all competitors and fans at our events in the state of Indiana and anywhere else we race.”

Indianapolis Motor Speedway also issued a statement Tuesday.

“For 105 years the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has engaged millions who want to celebrate the true spirit of American racing. IMS will continue to warmly welcome all who share our enthusiasm for motorsports – employees, participants and fans.”

The NBA, WNBA and Indiana Pacers issued a joint statement Saturday: “The game of basketball is grounded in long established principles of inclusion and mutual respect. We will continue to ensure that all fans, players and employees feel welcome at all NBA and WNBA events in Indiana and elsewhere.”

The NCAA, which has its Final Four men’s basketball tournament games in Indianapolis this weekend, issued a statement last week from President Mark Emmert:

“The NCAA national office and our members are deeply committed to providing an inclusive environment for all our events.  We are especially concerned about how this legislation could affect our student-athletes and employees.  We will work diligently to assure student-athletes competing in, and visitors attending, (this) week’s Men’s Final Four in Indianapolis are not impacted negatively by this bill. Moving forward, we intend to closely examine the implications of this bill and how it might affect future events as well as our workforce.”

Indiana is the 20th state with existing Religious Freedom Restoration Act legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. NASCAR holds Sprint Cup races in 12 of those states. Arizona is included in that list. It passed a bill in 2012 but was vetoed in 2014.

NASCAR’s Xfinity and Sprint Cup Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Xfinity race is July 25. The Cup series races there July 26.

 

Today’s Cup race at New Hampshire: Start time, lineup and more

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The Cup Series holds its only race of the year at New Hampshire Motor Speedway today with the Foxwoods Resort & Casino 301.

Kurt Busch starts on the pole and Martin Truex Jr. starts second.

Here’s all the info you need for today’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Jean Swift, treasurer of Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Counsel, at 12:51 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 1 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 301 laps (318.46 miles) around the 1.058-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 75. Stage 2 ends on Lap 150.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 35

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 7:30 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 11 a.m. Driver introductions are at 12:05 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Vanessa Salvucci will perform the anthem at 12:45 p.m. The Canadian National Anthem will be performed by Kirk Young at 12:42 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race beginning at 1 p.m. Coverage begins at noon with Countdown to Green on NBCSN. Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at noon p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for a high of 70 degrees and a 78 percent chance of rain and storms at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Denny Hamlin won this race last year over Kyle Larson. Kyle Busch won the playoff race over Larson.

TO THE REAR: Landon Cassill (backup) and Michael McDowell (backup).

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the complete starting lineup.

Long: No idea seems too wild these days in NASCAR

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LOUDON, N.H. — A sea of change is brewing in NASCAR and no idea seems far-fetched anymore.

A Cup race incorporating Charlotte Motor Speedway’s infield road course would have been mocked. Such a race is about two months from happening.

A Cup race on a dirt track? It seems more plausible but still a few years away.

And the idea one driver has of turning a 1.5-mile track into a short track doesn’t seem as farcical as it would have been years earlier.

While the action on the track remains a key focus for NASCAR, the race to retain and reach out to more fans also is key. That’s opened conversation to changes, particularly what venues should hold Cup races.

“To me, if you go to a track that is smaller, it’s better for the fans,” Ryan Newman told NBC Sports. “If you go to a track that is slicker, it’s better for the fans. If you go to a track that is different, it’s better for the fans.

“At this point in our sport, different is good because we’ve done so much of the same in the last 18 years that I’ve been involved as a competitor. I would say as a fan it has become somewhat redundant.”

Camping World Truck teams on the dirt at Eldora Speedway. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Newman competed in Wednesday’s Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway and likes the idea of a Cup race on dirt. Cup last ran on dirt Sept. 30, 1970 at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh. Richard Petty won.

Is it time for Cup to return to its roots?

“The Cup Series was not above racing on dirt 40 years ago, 50 years ago,” Newman said. “Dirt is where we get our food from. There’s nothing wrong with racing on it.”

Not everyone agrees.

In the race by public opinion to change the sport, Kyle Larson is pumping the brakes on one idea.

“I wouldn’t like to see Cup on dirt,” Larson said Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, echoing comments he made two years ago. “To me, Cup belongs on pavement and real road course tracks.”

Asked what could be done to make Cup racing on dirt a better idea to him, Larson noted improved tires for that surface and more horsepower. He then stopped himself and said: “I don’t really know how to answer the question without making people mad.”

One thing that is becoming evident is there are few bad ideas.

The notion of racing at different tracks is gaining momentum. The last track added to the Cup schedule was Kentucky Speedway in 2011.

“I think that new venues always add excitement,” Denny Hamlin said Friday. “I mean, that’s what really, in my opinion, boomed the popularity in the 2000s, was going to these new race tracks. You know, Kentucky was awesome for the first time and then it’s just kind of – it fizzled out and it’s still the same old Kentucky that it’s always been.

Kasey Kahne tests on the Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Photo by Dustin Long)

“If you want to talk about a road course, there’s some amazing tracks just north of the border in Canada that are awesome – Montreal and tracks that are made for road course racing. The (Charlotte) roval is a little bit different of a beast because I don’t know how much architect went into coming up with passing zones and the lay of the land.

“It’s certainly a wildcard race and maybe that’s what the fans want. If it is, then we can – we’ll do that every week, but I definitely like the idea of going to new venues because there’s always a level of excitement.’’

But Hamlin also knows change will be slow.

For those wanting races at different venues, NASCAR signed five-year sanctioning agreements with tracks that go through the 2020 season. The 2019 schedule already has been announced. So unless something dramatic happens, there won’t be anything new until 2021.

If then.

“None of this is ever going to happen,” Hamlin said of the many venue changes fans and those in the sport support. “Not until these tracks and NASCAR get together and are willing to make changes.”

But fans and those in the sport can dream. While thinking about the possibilities, David Ragan has an idea for his home track of Atlanta Motor Speedway. The track’s rough surface, praised by drivers, likely will need to be repaved soon and with it will be the fear that the multi-lane racing will disappear.

Ragan has a solution for Atlanta. Don’t repave. Rebuild.

“Whenever they go to pave Atlanta Motor Speedway, they need to reduce the size of the track to three-quarters of a mile and build it like Iowa,” Ragan told NBC Sports. “I think they would make a big mistake if they would just repave it.”

It’s a wild idea that doesn’t seem likely to happen. Then again, who had ever heard of a roval two years ago?

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Results, Xfinity point standings after New Hampshire

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Christopher Bell triumphed over Brad Keselowski to win Saturday’s Xfinity race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and claim his third win of the season.

The top five was rounded out by Ryan Preece, John Hunter Nemechek and Matt Tifft.

Click here for race results.

Points

Despite Christopher Bell claiming a stage win and the race victory, Daniel Hemric left the “Magic Mile” with the points leads.

Hemric has a six-point lead over Bell and a seven-point lead over Elliott Sadler, who had led the standings following 15 of the first 17 races of the season.

The top five is completed by Cole Custer (-13 points) and Justin Allgaier (-48).

Click here for the full standings.

Christopher Bell wins New Hampshire Xfinity race

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Christopher Bell held off Brad Keselowski and Ryan Preece over the final 18 laps to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Bell took the lead from Keselowski on the final restart with 18 laps to go. Bell was on four fresh tires while Keselowski was on two.

Keselowski hounded the rear bumper of Bell’s No. 20 Toyota for the last five laps but was unable to make a pass attempt.

“The better tires, they didn’t hurt us that’s for sure,” Bell told NBCSN. “(Crew chief) Jason (Ratcliff) was able to put four (tires) on there and, man, we got going there that long green flag run and I was getting really nervous because I didn’t have a (tachometer), so I didn’t really know how I was going to get down pit road, but luckily I’ve got the best spotter on the roof, man, and Tony (Hirschman) was able to kind of guide me and let me know, ‘Alright, I think you can pick it up a little bit,’ and then a couple times he told me to slow it down, so it worked out for us. We were able to take four tires there and that was a big deal.”

It is Bell’s third win of the season and second in a row. He led 93 of 200 laps around the 1-mile track.

The top five was completed by John Hunter Nemechek and Matt Tifft.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Christopher Bell earned his third stage win of the year.

STAGE 2 WINNER: Brad Keselowski

More: Race results, point standings

POST-RACE INSPECTION: NASCAR announced that the cars of Ryan Preece and John Hunter Nemechek failed heights in inspection after the race. Penalties will be announced next week.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Keselowski led 72 laps and came in second after he had to start from the rear for being late to the driver-crew chief meeting … Matt Tifft earned his second top five of the season … Ryan Preece has finished in the top five in three of five starts this season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Ross Chastain finished 26th after wrecking by himself on Lap 80 … Ryan Truex was spun by Ryan Reed with six laps to go in Stage 2. The incident also involved Justin Allgaier. Truex finished 13th and Allgaier placed seventh … A wreck involving Chad Finchum and Garrett Smithley caused a caution with 23 laps to go … Austin Cindric wrecked coming to the checkered flag. He finished 17th.

NOTABLE: There was a 7 minutes and 30 second red flag period to fix sand barrels knocked over by Jeremy Clements at the start of pit road with 34 laps to go … After contending up front for much of the race, Daniel Hemric placed 11th, ending a career-best streak of eight straight top 10s.

QUOTE OF THE DAY:  “I think we would have won today on four (tires), but that’s not the way it played out.” – Brad Keselowski.

WHAT’S NEXT: U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway at 3:30 p.m. ET on July 28 on NBCSN