AJ Allmendinger feels optimistic about a Texas turnaround

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AJ Allmendinger knows what it feels like to abruptly go from good fortune to misfortune.

The driver of the No. 47 JTG-Daugherty Racing Chevrolet was ranked as high as fifth in the Sprint Cup standings after the third (Las Vegas) and fourth (Phoenix) races of the 2015 season.

But after the following two races at Fontana and Martinsville, Allmendinger has plummeted to 19th in the standings, a drop he hopes to put the brakes on in Saturday night’s Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

At Fontana, Allmendinger finished 34th. The following week at Martinsville, he finished a season-low 43rd. Both poor showings were due to problems with ECR engines that JTG-D receives as part of its technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing.

“It’s been tough because really up until the last three weeks, I have never had an engine problem over really the first 40 races since doing the alliance last year,” Allmendinger said in a JTG-D media release.

“The guys at ECR have just been spot on with great horsepower, great reliance and just everything that you need in a motor. The last three weeks have been tough. So, they have worked hard on it. We went over the problems. … They have diagnosed all of it and are working hard and we think they have a solution heading into this weekend.”

Allmendinger enters Texas with an average start of 20.5 and an average finish of 21.2 this season. The team had the off-week to regroup after the poor showing at Martinsville (which was caused by an oil leak).

“I try to take the positives out of it,” Allmendinger said. “We had a fast race car at Martinsville. We were battling inside the top five when it happened.

“The cars are fast. I know the guys at ECR are working hard. They have had great horsepower. Hopefully, they have got the problem fixed. They felt so bad and I got so many phone calls from so many different people inside the ECR program and RCR in general to apologize to us. It’s not good for anybody. We will just look forward and go on to Texas.”

Allmendinger’s crew chief, Brian Burns, also is confident that the engine issues have been resolved.

“Even though we have had misfortune with engine issues the last few weeks, the positive is that we have had a good car every race weekend,” Burns said. “I feel like now we can run in the top-10 any track we go to. We are definitely more rounded this season.”

Said team co-owner Tad Geschickter: “We’ve shown a lot of speed over the last several weeks and I feel like we are capable of finishing in the top-10 consistently now. We’ve really come on strong early in the season.

“Our biggest weakness last season was mile-and-a-half tracks and that has really changed this year, which makes me excited going into Texas Motor Speedway. I’m proud of all the effort these guys have put into this program. This is just the beginning of our journey and we will continue to push ourselves to excel.”

Another reason why Allmendinger is optimistic about Texas is it will be the third 1.5-mile track for the Sprint Cup Series through seven races.

Allmendinger finished seventh at Atlanta and sixth the following week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. At Texas, he has a best finish of 10th twice in 12 starts.

“After the first two mile-and-a-half tracks this season, I’m pumped up going (to Texas),” Allmendinger said. “With what we have already learned, it makes me more excited than I have probably been to go to Texas Motor Speedway knowing the speed that we’ve shown.”

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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.

Charlotte Roval to host limited number of fans

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Charlotte Motor Speedway will host fans for its NASCAR Xfinity and Cup races and its IMSA race on the Roval Oct. 10-11, the track announced Friday.

The announcement comes after North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper stated this week that outdoor sports venues with a capacity in excess of 10,000 could have up to 7% capacity.

The track stated that because of the limited capacity allowed, no additional tickets will be sold for the Oct. 11 Cup playoff race. Remaining ticket holders will have the option to receive a 120% credit toward a 2021 event or a refund for the full purchase amount.

Tickets remain for the Oct. 10 Xfinity playoff race and the IMSA WeatherTech  SportsCar GT Championship Series event. Adult tickets are $50. Tickets are available by calling 800-455-FANS (3267) or online at www.charlottemotorspeedway.com. Kids 13 and under get in free.

“Throughout the summer, we’ve been working with local and state officials to bring fans to the Bank of America Roval 400 weekend for what promises to be one of the season’s most anticipated events,” said Charlotte Motor Speedway Executive Vice President and General Manager Greg Walter in a statement. “While we regret that we cannot accommodate every fan who would like to be part of this spectacular race weekend, we are committed to providing the best and safest experience possible for those who are able to attend.”

Among the safety protocols for the events:

  • Mandatory temperature checks at entry gates
  • Contactless ticketing
  • Socially distanced grandstand seating
  • Cashless souvenir and concession purchases.
  • Fans and staff must wear approved face coverings at all times, except while eating and drinking.
  • Limited grandstand seating will be in groups of up to six people properly socially distant from any other group.

Fans can bring food and unopened beverages in a soft-sided clear bag no larger than 14 inches on its longest side. To limit contact, cash will not be accepted.