Jimmie Johnson leads Hendrick onslaught, holds off Kevin Harvick to win at Kansas

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In a show of Hendrick Motorsports muscle, Jimmie Johnson held off a strong last-lap charge by Kevin Harvick to win Saturday night’s SpongeBob SquarePants 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Harvick finished second, followed by two other HMS drivers, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon, as well as pole-sitter Joey Logano.

It was Johnson’s 73rd career win and third of the season. He also set a NASCAR record by recording his 23rd career victory on a 1.-5 mile track. It was also Johnson’s third career win at Kansas Speedway, tying him with Gordon for most wins there.

The key for the HMS onslaught was all three drivers (along with Kurt Busch) not pitting during the final caution of the race after Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wrecked with 12 laps left. The track position they maintained was the difference in allowing the three HMS drivers to finish in the top-5.

Finishing sixth through 10th were Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman.

How Johnson won: With 12 laps left, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. blew a tire and wrecked. Johnson, Earnhardt Jr., Gordon and Kurt Busch all decided to stay out on track, while the majority of the other leaders came in for fuel and at least two tires, except for Truex, who came in just for fuel. That was the difference in the race. Johnson led just the final 10 laps of the 267-lap event. “It was a long hard night of racing and fighting for track position,” Johnson said. “Once we got up front, we were able to hang on for the final eight or nine laps, whatever it was.”

Who else had a good day: Martin Truex Jr. appeared headed for his first win of the season, leading a race-high 95 laps, but after pitting for fuel following Stenhouse’s wreck (did not take tires), trailed back in the closing laps. Still, he wound up with a top-10 finish (9th). “I hate fuel mileage racing,” Truex said. “Because of that, I’ve never come out once in my career on the right side of one of these deals. … We’re going to get one (win). We just need to keep digging.” … Other strong efforts came from Matt Kenseth (6th), Busch (8th) and Sam Hornish Jr. (16th), in his first race with new crew chief Kevin Manion.

Who had a bad day: Wrecks left Tony Stewart (39th), Erik Jones (40th) and Denny Hamlin (41st). Jones was making his Sprint Cup debut and drove smart until he lost control of his car and wrecked, ending his day early. Meanwhile, Stewart’s horrible season continues. … In his debut for Michael Waltrip Racing, David Ragan also was involved in a wreck that left him with a 33rd place finish.

Notables: Carl Edwards led 12 laps but couldn’t get quite enough forward drive, ending up 20th. … Brad Keselowski led 43 laps and at one point appeared poised to make it a 1-2 finish with teammate Joey Logano, but pitting on the final caution pushed Keselowski back to his eventual 7th place finish. Speaking of Logano, he led 29 laps. … The race was delayed by 2 hours, 16 minutes due to rain that started falling, bringing out a red flag race stoppage after the first 98 laps.

Quote of the day: “They didn’t throw a caution until like seven seconds after I wrecked. Luckily, nobody hit us in the door.” – Denny Hamlin, unhappy that it took NASCAR so long to throw a caution after his spin and wreck on Lap 208. Hamlin wrecked hard and his car suffered major damage.

What’s next: May 16, 7 pm ET, Sprint All-Star Race (non-points race), Charlotte Motor Speedway. The next points-paying race is the Coca-Cola 600, May 24, 6 pm ET, also at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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NASCAR America MotorMouths: Is Kyle Busch the Tiger Woods of NASCAR?

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On Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America’s MotorMouths, a caller — “Texas Tommy” from Corpus Christi, Texas — offered a question that got analysts Kyle Petty and Steve Letarte thinking and talking.

Given how Tiger Woods won The Masters this past Sunday in dramatic fashion, and also given how much success Woods has had in his career, “Texas Tommy” wanted to know whether Petty and Letarte agreed if Kyle Busch — with all the success he’s had — is the Tiger Woods of NASCAR?

He’s about the best driver NASCAR has and (most) dedicated of races he’s put in in the Cup, Truck and Xfinity Series,” “Texas Tommy” said. “He’s about the best driver that I can come up with next to Jimmie Johnson. He’s shown promise in every series and he has no stop in him.”

Tiger Woods, after winning The Masters this past Sunday. Is Kyle Busch the Tiger Woods of NASCAR?

Petty both agreed and disagreed.

That’s a valid point if we look at wins and what he does on the racetrack,” Petty said of Busch. “Yes, (Busch) has those numbers. Tiger Woods won his fifth Masters and 15th major, all that. You look at all that and what Kyle Busch has done at a relatively young age, Tiger Woods did the same thing at a young age.

The problem is, and the difference is, Tiger Woods has the entire sport of golf on his shoulders. It grows, it falls, it goes to the left, to the right. Everything Tiger does, every fan that follows golf is watching, whether you like Tiger Woods or not.

Kyle Busch doesn’t have that. He isn’t that way, he doesn’t have that connection to the fans, for whatever reason. People love to boo him, but if they boo him, they’re not going to follow him. I don’t know if we have that Tiger Woods personality or person (in NASCAR). I think Kyle (Busch) moves the needle for me. What he does on the racetrack, what he does in the garage area or on the radio, he moves the needle. Jeff Gordon moved the needle, then Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. moved the needle, and then there’s been nobody since.”

Letarte, former crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr., agreed with Petty, yet also added he believes Chase Elliott has the potential to become NASCAR’s version of Tiger Woods – but with a caveat.

“Tiger Woods doesn’t move the golf needle, he moves the needle outside of golf,” Letarte said. “That’s really what we’re talking about. Let’s be clear. There are very few people in any sport that transcend their sport. Tiger Woods is one of them.

“Jeff Gordon was on Saturday Night Live, he was outside of NASCAR. In the current world of NASCAR, Clint Bowyer has a great personality, but doesn’t have Tiger Woods numbers on the race track. Kyle Busch, I’m not going to say he has Tiger Woods numbers, but he’s one of a few that have great numbers but lacks the relatability, the needle, outside the sport. You can’t generate it, something has to cross.

You have to have someone like perhaps Chase Elliott, someone who has the opportunity and the image and the ability.”

And then came the caveat from Letarte:

“But then Chase Elliott has to deliver the numbers that we’ve never seen before, because that’s what Tiger Woods did. You’ve got to start talking 10-win seasons and championships. … There is no recipe. It just happens.”

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All-Star Race features longer final stage, technical changes

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The Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race will feature a longer final stage for $1 million and some technical changes that could be implemented in the Gen 7 car.

NASCAR announced the technical guidelines and race format Wednesday night.

The two technical changes for the May 18 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway will be:

# A single-piece carbon fiber splitter/pan that is expected to offer improvements in ride height sensitivity for drivers. This is expected to provide a more stable aero platform and create more consistent performance in traffic.

# The car will be configured with a radiator duct that exits through the hood as opposed to the current design, which exits into the engine component. This feature is expected to create improved aerodynamic parity and reduce engine temperatures.

“Throughout its history, the Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race has provided a platform to try new and innovative ideas, some of which we have incorporated on a full-time basis,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. “Last year’s all-star rules package resulted in one of the most exciting all-star races in history. With a similar package, and added elements that we could see in the next generation race car, we expect another must-watch event.”

The format for the race is similar to last year with the exception of the final stage. That stage will be 15 laps — five laps longer than last year’s race. That will make the race 85 laps total.

The first stage will be 30 laps and the next two stages will be 20 laps each. Green flag and yellow flag laps will count in the first three stages. Only green flag laps will count in the final stage.

Each stage must end under green. Overtime procedures will be in place for each stage. If the race is restarted with two laps or less in the final stage, there will be unlimited attempts at a green, white, checkered finish.

As was the case last year, there is no mandatory pit strategy.

The Monster Energy Open, which also will be held May 18, will be three stages. The first two stages will be 20 laps. The final stage will be 10 laps. That is the same as last year.

Each stage winner in the Monster Energy Open advances to the All-Star Race.

Those eligible for the All-Star Race are winners from last season and this season, previous all-star winners who are competing full-time in the series, Cup champions who are running full-time in the series, the three stage winners from the Monster Energy Open and the winner of the fan vote, which is underway at nascar.com/fanvote.

Drivers who are eligible to compete are:

Aric Almirola

Ryan Blaney

Clint Bowyer

Kurt Busch

Kyle Busch

Austin Dillon

Chase Elliott

Denny Hamlin

Kevin Harvick

Jimmie Johnson

Erik Jones

Brad Keselowski

Joey Logano

Ryan Newman

Martin Truex Jr.

Kevin Harvick won last year’s All-Star Race. Alex Bowman, Daniel Suarez and AJ Allmendinger advanced to last year’s All-Star Race by winning a stage in the Open. Chase Elliott was the fan vote winner.

Also, the format for All-Star qualifying will remain the same. Qualifying will include a pit stop.

Weekend passes for the All-Star Race are $79 per person and include admission to the May 17 Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Charlotte, All-Star qualifying, the Monster Energy Open on May 18 and the All-Star Race after that. Kids 13 and under get in free on May 17 and for $10 with an adult purchase on May 18. For more ticket information, call 1-800-455-FANS or visit CharlotteMotorSpeedway.com.

 

Two-day Xfinity Series tire test concludes at Iowa Speedway

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While the Xfinity Series — as well as the Trucks and Cup teams — are off this weekend for Easter, five Xfinity teams were still in action Tuesday and Wednesday for a Goodyear tire test at Iowa Speedway.

The test on the 7/8-mile oval was in preparation for the speedway’s race weekend on June 15-16.

Teams that took part in the test were the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford (driver: Cole Custer), the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet (Tyler Reddick), the No. 11 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet (Justin Haley), the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (Christopher Bell) and the No. 23 GMS Racing Chevrolet (John Hunter Nemechek).

Custer, Bell and Nemechek are all past winners at Iowa. Custer, who won there in the K&N East Series, is looking forward to returning to the track in hopes of securing another win there.

We were able to do a lot of different things and I think we found a little bit, for sure,” Custer said. “Our team has always struggled a little bit on short tracks so to get to come and test at one is a huge deal for us and I think it will help us a ton when we come for the race. We still have to get it a little better to be with that 20 car (Christopher Bell), but we’re right in the ballpark and just need a few more adjustments.

Everybody has worked so hard to get us where we are right now. Every single track we go to, we can compete for wins. I love the surface here, it’s so bumpy and so wore out it makes for good racing. It’s one of the best tracks we go to.”

Rain threatened to disrupt Wednesday’s action, but held off until the session was completed.

“It’s a good thing we came and did this tire test because we would have rolled into this race a good bit off the pace of the guys we need to compete with for the championship this year,” Reddick said. “We know we have to work on something and hopefully with all this data we were able to acquire, we’ll have a good sense of direction in the next coming weeks.

We found out we have some work to do compared to Cole (Custer) and Chris (Bell), especially. They were just able to be a lot more consistent and fire off faster and end the run faster, almost faster than we could start ours. That’s not very good for us but gives us something to chase after and work for.”

The next Xfinity Series race is the Dash 4 Cash event at Talladega Superspeedway on Saturday, April 27. Custer, Reddick, Austin Cindric and Justin Allgaier will compete for the $100,000 bonus to the highest-finishing driver in that race.

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NASCAR America MotorMouths at 5 p.m. ET with special guest Ryan Newman

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America MotorMouths airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN, with Krista Voda, Steve Letarte, Kyle Petty and Nate Ryan.

Cup driver Ryan Newman will be a call-in guest.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Also, immediately afterward, tune in to the NASCAR America Debrief show on the NBC Sports’ YouTube channel at 6 p.m. ET with Ryan, Letarte and Petty.