Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Michael Waltrip pace first Sprint Cup practice at Talladega

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Fords and Toyotas dominated the first 10 positions in the first of two Sprint Cup practice sessions Friday afternoon at Talladega Superspeedway.

Four Fords, four Toyotas and just two Chevrolets made up the top 10 positions.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was the fastest, being one of three drivers to crack the 200 mph barrier at 200.780 mph.

Michael Waltrip was second-fastest at 200.742 mph, followed by Chris Buescher (200.268), Denny Hamlin (199.675), David Ragan (199.662), Danica Patrick (199.641), Kasey Kahne (199.621), Clint Bowyer (199.542), Trevor Bayne (199.467) and Michael McDowell (198.924).

The second Sprint Cup practice session of the day takes place at 4:30 pm ET.

Here’s how Friday’s first practice session played out:

1 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. … 200.780 mph … 32 laps

2 Michael Waltrip … 200.742 … 13 laps

3 Chris Buescher … 200.268 … 29 laps

4 Denny Hamlin … 199.675 … 33 laps

5 David Ragan … 199.662 … 28 laps

6 Danica Patrick … 199.641 … 21 laps

7 Kasey Kahne … 199.621 … 32 laps

8 Clint Bowyer … 199.542 … 17 laps

9 Trevor Bayne … 199.467 … 28 laps

10 Michael McDowell … 198.924 … 11 laps

11 AJ Allmendinger … 198.858 … 13 laps

12 Paul Menard … 198.837 … 31 laps

13 Carl Edwards … 198.808 … 20 laps

14 Brad Keselowski … 198.619 … 32 laps

15 Joey Logano … 198.610 … 27 laps

16 Dale Earnhardt Jr. … 198.240 … 32 laps

17 Kyle Larson … 198.134 … 28 laps

18 Tony Stewart … 198.101 … 26 laps

19 Jeff Gordon … 197.872 … 22 laps

20 Matt Kenseth … 197.594 … 22 laps

21 Michael Annett … 197.451 … 23 laps

22 Kurt Busch … 197.342 … 25 laps

23 Greg Biffle … 197.224 … 23 laps

24 David Gilliland … 197.191 … 22 laps

25 Ryan Blaney … 197.163 … 20 laps

26 Cole Whitt … 197.122 … 18 laps

27 Aric Almirola … 197.069 … 15 laps

28 Justin Allgaier … 197.045 … 23 laps

29 Jamie McMurray … 196.835 … 25 laps

30 Martin Truex Jr. … 197.798 … 14 laps

31 Kevin Harvick … 196.758 … 24 laps

32 Landon Cassill … 196.653 … 17 laps

33 Ryan Newman … 196.540 … 17 laps

34 Austin Dillon … 196.342 … 14 laps

35 Jimmie Johnson … 192.023 … 20 laps

36 Sam Hornish Jr. … 191.191 … 9 laps

37 Brian Scott … 190.810 … 12 laps

38 Josh Wise … 190.219 … 8 laps

39 Bobby Labonte … 189.740 … 12 laps

40 Alex Bowman … 189.646 … 6 laps

41 Casey Mears … 189.635 … 14 laps

42 JJ Yeley … 188.482 … 5 laps

43 Brendan Gaughan … 188.330 … 4 laps

44 Matt DiBenedetto … 187.141 … 2 laps

45 Jeb Burton … 187.024 … 12 laps

 

Best 10 Consecutive Lap Average:

1 David Ragan … 196.969

2 Kasey Kahne … 196.830

3 Carl Edwards … 196.642

4 Dale Earnhardt Jr. … 196.598

5 Jeff Gordon … 196.384

6 Joey Logano … 196.297

7 Kurt Busch … 196.098

8 Chris Buescher … 195.519

9 Greg Biffle … 195.467

10 Trevor Bayne … 195.417

11 Landon Cassill … 195.308

12 Paul Menard … 195.250

13 Justin Allgaier … 195.231

14 Michael McDowell … 194.985

15 Denny Hamlin … 193.516

16 Kyle Larson … 191.969

17 Michael Waltrip … 191.544

18 Ryan Blaney … 191.310

19 Ryan Newman … 191.225

20 Matt Kenseth … 188.560

21 Michael Annett … 184.424

22 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. … 184.240

23 Brad Keselowski … 183.838

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Long: All-Star Race shows value of shorter distances for Cup events

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The All-Star Race is billed as an event that also serves as a test session.

While cars had some new parts that may be used on the Gen 7 vehicle — expected to debut in 2021 — there’s something else that can be taken from Saturday night and applied to more races.

Shorter distances.

A night that saw two stages in the Monster Open end in spectacular finishes, the All-Star Race crown a new winner and punches thrown on pit road afterward, featured 150 laps compared to the 400 laps that will be run on the same track this weekend.

While there remains room on the Cup schedule for a Daytona 500, a Coca-Cola 600 and a Southern 500, the All-Star Race showed that sometimes shorter distances can be better.

There certainly didn’t seem to be any complaints from fans Saturday night about seeing fewer laps of racing than most weekends.

Instead, the talk was about Clint Bowyer running to Ryan Newman’s car and flailing at Newman in retaliation for being wrecked on the cool-down lap.

Or the talk was about Bubba Wallace’s dramatic win in the second stage of the Monster Energy Open that saw Daniel Suarez slide off track and then Wallace finishing fifth in the All-Star Race.

Or the talk was about Kyle Larson winning is first All-Star Race and collecting $1 million after holding off Kevin Harvick at the end.

All this over an exhibition race.

Imagine what might happen if this was a points race and the winner secured a spot in the playoffs — something Larson initially wondered if he had done before being told no.

Shortening some races shouldn’t be done as a way to find younger fans that some would suggest don’t have the attention span for longer races. The sport doesn’t need to go chasing fans that way. It did that years ago and alienated its older fans.

But if some shorter distances heighten tensions in races and lead to more water cooler moments, then it’s something the sport should consider.

The notion that most races need to be marathons is outdated and outrageous. Few cars suffer mechanical failures. The downforce is so great that few cars spin, let alone crash. Racing is no longer a test of a car’s survival over long distances.

While longer races allow drivers and teams to overcome handling issues or mistakes early and contend for wins, that shouldn’t be the main reason to keep some races 400 or 500 miles.

Turn some of these races into sprints, add points and watch the pressure build. There will be no time for pleasantries. It will be about charging to the front.

Saturday night’s race provided such action. Although not every short race will capture the essence of the All-Star Race, there’s a greater chance of it happening.

Just think about what often makes a longer race special. It’s a restart at the end that forces drivers to make bold moves. In essence a late restart turns a long race into quick sprint.

Why not add a few more of those in the future?

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The All-Star Race will be in Charlotte next year but what is the event’s future?

Provided the Gen 7 car debuts in 2021 as NASCAR states, there will be no need to use the All-Star Race that season as a test session — as has been done the past two times — because teams still will be trying to figure out the car.

That would make it a good time to consider moving the All-Star Race to a different location. Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway would be a logical choice but there are challenges.

Provided NASCAR releases the 2021 schedule next April — the 2020 Cup, Xfinity and Truck schedules were all released by April 3 this year — it gives the folks at Bristol Motor Speedway (and Speedway Motorsports Inc.) less than 11 months to complete a deal with the city and the fair board, which oversees the track, get funding approved and make the changes that are needed to update the track.

While all of that is happening, the city will have elections in August for mayor and other city positions. With multiple candidates running for mayor, a run-off might be needed and that would be held in September.

Those in the sport who have had to work with government entities know how deals can be all but done and then suddenly change at the last minute, throwing everything in doubt. The more layers of government, the longer something takes.

Anything can happen. A deal could be completed in time and could provide the opportunity to move the All-Star Race to Nashville in 2021. If not, maybe there is another place to hold it besides Charlotte, which already has two points races.

If not Nashville, maybe Iowa Speedway or some other track that would need a limited number of upgrades to host NASCAR’s top series. It could be time to think about moving the All-Star Race to places that don’t already have a Cup event.

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Synthetic turf at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Both Daniel Suarez and Ryan Newman showed during Saturday night’s races at Charlotte Motor Speedway how valuable it is for a track to have a synthetic turf instead of grass.

The track installed 88,000 square feet of synthetic turf last summer, along with a new drainage system, to replace the grass along the frontstretch. It was in place for the inaugural race on the Roval.

Suarez spun through the turf at the end of the second stage in the Monster Open. His car was not damaged, allowing him to continue.

Newman slid through the turf during the second stage of the All-Star Race and also suffered no damage and was able to continue.

“That was big,” Newman said. “I was able to finish my race. If there was grass down there, I wouldn’t have. That was a big deal.”

As long as vehicles have splitters, NASCAR should look to require speedways to use synthetic turf instead of grass in areas near the track to limit the damage when cars and trucks go through those areas. If not turf, then pave those areas. 

While not every accident is the same, just look at what happened to Natalie Decker in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series race earlier this month when she slid into the frontstretch grass at Kansas Speedway. Decker was eliminated because of the damage and finished 25th.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said Monday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that series officials will “continue to look at” synthetic turf in place of grass at tracks.

“While it does present some challenges at some other tracks, I think that is a system we’ll continue to look at,” he said. “Certainly performed great. It looks good from a fan perspective and certainly helps the cars when they get in the turf during a race.”

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With Kevin Harvick chasing him in the final laps, Kyle Larson did not make a mistake and give away the All-Star Race.

It was much different from the 2016 All-Star Race when he hit the wall while leading with two laps to go as Joey Logano challenged him. Logano went on to win. Larson finished 16th in the 20-car field.

Saturday night, there were no mistakes.

“This year has been different for me,” Larson said. “I’ve never worked out before, and I’ve been in the gym a little bit more this year with (trainer and former driver) Josh Wise and just working out with him, and being around him puts a lot more confidence and ease into me. I feel like I’m just more calm.

“I wasn’t nervous at all that last restart, and I think part of that is just from feeling like I am prepared. And also losing close races.  I just — I feel like I’ve done a good job of not getting stressed out, even with me losing the Chili Bowl (on the last lap to Christopher Bell in January). I felt like I was really calm until the last two laps and I gave the race away. (Saturday) I wasn’t going to let that happen.

“With those losses that I’ve had, you grow from each and every one of them. Hopefully we can continue this, and I feel like  — everybody becomes a better driver the older they get, but I feel like I’ve put more work and effort into it this year.”

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eNASCAR Heat Pro League season begins Sunday in Charlotte

NASCAR Heat Pro Leage
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While the Coca-Cola 600 is set to go green just after 6 p.m. ET on Sunday, the racing festivities will actually begin a few hours earlier at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Sunday also marks the start of the inaugural eNASCAR Heat Pro League season.

The season-opener comes two months after 14 NASCAR teams drafted 28 players to compete on two separate consoles.

MORE: Meet the No. 1 draft picks for NASCAR Heat Pro League

The races, which will be on the virtual Charlotte Motor Speedway, will be held at the NASCAR Trackside Live stage and will be streamed on NASCAR’s Facebook and 704Games’ Twitch channel.

Green flag for the Xbox One race will be at 3:30 p.m. ET. The PlayStation 4 race is set to start at 4 p.m. ET.

Each race will be approximately 30 minutes in length on each console. The number of laps will change from track to track as a result. There are no stages but there will be a mid-race caution. Points will not be awarded for finishing order at the time of the mid-race caution.

Fans can tune-in starting at 3 p.m. ET for pre-race coverage.

The second race of the season is scheduled for Wednesday, May 29. The full 16-race schedule will be announced at the end of the week.

Here are the full driver rosters for each console.

Xbox One Drivers/Teams:

Greg Matarazzo / Chip Ganassi Gaming

Nicholas Vroman / Leavine Family Gaming

Tyler Dohar / JR Motorsports

Brian Tedeschi / Team Penske Esports

Nick Walker / Roush Fenway Gaming

Diego Alvarado / Petty Esports

Josh Shoemaker / Stewart-Haas Gaming

Sam Morris / Hendrick Motorsports Gaming Club

Daniel Buttafuoco / Gibbs Gaming

Justin Brooks/ JTG Daugherty Throttlers

Matt Heale / GoFas Gaming (GoFas Racing)

Jordan McGraw / RCR Esports (Richard Childress Racing)

Jacob Kerr / Germain Gaming (Germain Racing)

Casey Gomme / Wood Brothers Gaming

 

PlayStation 4 Drivers/Teams:

Slade Gravitt / Wood Brothers Gaming

William Arnold / Germain Gaming

Joey Stone / RCR Esports (Richard Childress Racing)

Hunter Mullins / GoFas Gaming (GoFas Racing)

Zach Onson / JTG Daugherty Throttlers

TJ McGowan / Gibbs Gaming

Nick Jobes / Hendrick Motorsports Gaming Club

Brandyn Gritton / Stewart-Haas Gaming

Mike Braas / Petty Esports

Cody Giles / Roush Fenway Gaming

Corey Rothgeb / Team Penske Esports

Jason Keffer / JR Motorsports

Josh Harbin / Leavine Family Gaming

Josh Parker / Chip Ganassi Gaming

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Dick Trickle statue dedicated in Wisconsin hometown

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After six years of work and the dedication of volunteers and donations, a life-size statue of the late Dick Trickle was erected on Sunday in the former NASCAR driver’s hometown in Rudolph, Wisconsin.

The statue, which depicts Trickle with his arms above his head acknowledging an unseen roaring crowd, was dedicated in a park at an unfinished memorial to the driver.

Source: Sue Trickle-Martin on Facebook

Held in the rain, the dedication came during a seven-hour celebration of Trickle that was attended by hundreds of fans and friends of the driver, in addition to his brother, sisters and daughter.

“It’s amazing what they did,” Chuck Trickle, the driver’s brother told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I got here Monday at 5 o’clock. The guys were still here. We sat and had a beer, and I gave ’em all a hug and I looked at this thing and I got tears in my eyes.

“It really means a lot to our family and myself.”

The dedication of the statue comes six years after Trickle’s death at the age of 71 from a self-inflicted gunshot.

Trickle, the 1989 Cup rookie of the year, made 303 Cup starts from 1970 – 2002. His only two national series wins came in the Xfinity Series at Hickory Motor Speedway in 1997 and Darlington Raceway in 1998.

The memorial to Trickle is expected to be completed next year.

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All-Star winners & losers

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WINNERS

Kyle LarsonHe joked that by running in the Monster Open he was in the B Main, but he won the final stage to advance to the All-Star Race and then went on to win the main event. He became only the fourth driver in All-Star history to win the event after transferring in from the preliminary race.

Bubba Wallace It was the night he needed. He’s referenced recently how tough things have been on him in his life. After losing the opening stage of the Monster Open, a “pissed off” Wallace won the next stage in a tight finish to advance to the All-Star Race and get a big hug from Ryan Blaney. Wallace went on to finish fifth in the All-Star Race and beamed afterward. “I honestly haven’t had this much fun in a long time,” Wallace said.

Fans — They saw spectacular finishes in the first two stages of the Monster Open, saw three-wide racing at times during the night, saw a different winner this season in Kyle Larson, and saw Clint Bowyer run to Ryan Newman’s car and start swinging at Newman, who remained in the car, in retaliation for contact that sent Bowyer into the wall on the cool-down lap. What more do you want?

LOSERS

Erik JonesThe best thing that can be said about his rough night was that it was a non-points race so his last-place finish didn’t hurt him in his bid to make the playoffs.

Kevin Harvick’s pit crew — Harvick was not happy with how his pit crew performed after his second-place finish. After winning the second stage, Harvick lost six spots on pit road and then had a loose wheel a few laps into the run. Said Harvick of his crew: “They just need to be ready to race. They’ve done it all year. You can’t just show up and have it be a disaster. They’ve been great all year. Tonight wasn’t great.”

Fabricators — The All-Star Race promotes beating and banging and there was a good bit of it Saturday. There were five incidents in the 150 laps of racing on the night for incidents, involving nine different cars. Many others also were beat up. Of course, imagine if they held an All-Star Race on a short track.