Dale Earnhardt Jr. says Hendrick teams focused on returning to top of mountain

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LONG POND, Pa. – As Joe Gibbs Racing has excelled the last few weeks, it has come at the expense of Hendrick Motorsports.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the only Hendrick driver with a top-five finish in the last three Sprint Cup races. Hendrick drivers have combined to lead two laps in the last three races.

While Hendrick drivers have struggled, JGR’s Kyle Busch has won the last three races and four of the last five. Gibbs placed all four of its cars in the top five at Kentucky, and Carl Edwards won the pole the past two events heading into Friday’s qualifying at Pocono.

That doesn’t sit well with car owner Rick Hendrick and the rest of the organization.source: Getty Images

“From Rick on down, you get the impression that things need to be better and everybody needs to work harder,’’ Earnhardt said Friday at Pocono Raceway.

“I think you’ve got to be honest with yourself. The Gibbs guys have found more speed. They look over the last coupe of weeks to be a lot stronger and that we’re not on top of the mountain anymore by ourselves.

“We had a bit of an advantage last year, particularly on the engines, and it looks like a lot of things have changed. We can say it’s partly because of the rules, but you’ve got to give some of these manufactures credit. You’ve go to keep working and keep finding that advantage. That’s a never-ending pursuit to build the fastest racecar week in and week out. It looks like right now it’s a mad scramble to get ready for the Chase.’’

Earnhardt admits last weekend’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was frustrating. He placed 22nd after issues on pit road.

Earnhardt said the entire team met Tuesday. The agenda’s meeting focused on what happened at Indy.

“We lay everything on the table, anybody got a problem, anybody see where we can be better, do different, improve,’’ Earnhardt said of what happens in such meetings. “There’s a lot of communication. We just didn’t go home pissed off and then just show up at Pocono hoping everything was fine.’’

Friday had its struggles. Earnhardt was 14th in practice.

“Our car came off the trailer today with some issues and we were working to try to figure that out,’’ he said. “We worked on race trim for about two or three runs and really struggled trying to get the car where it needs to be. We’ve been real competitive since they repaved this track. I don’t think we’ve come here and not been quick, so I was a little frustrated with this morning and how we showed up.

“We think we learned what we were missing for race trim, but we needed to switch over to qualifying to get some opportunities to make some qualifying runs because time was running short. We felt like that what we did to the car for qualifying is going to help our race trim stuff and the balance of our car came back in our mock qualifying runs, so that made me feel better.

“I’m real, real anxious to get ourselves back into race trim for those practices (Saturday) so we can sort our stuff out and see where we really are.’’

Cup teams practice from 9-9:50 a.m. and 11:35 a.m. – 12:25 p.m. Saturday.

 

 

Kevin Harvick wins Bristol night race

Kevin Harvick Bristol
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Kevin Harvick held off Kyle Busch to win Saturday’s Cup night race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Harvick came out on top after a spirited battle with Busch over the last forty laps of the race. Harvick claimed his ninth win of the season, a career-best mark. He previous high was eight wins in 2018.

The top five was completed by Erik Jones, Tyler Reddick and Aric Almirola. Clint Bowyer finished sixth and was the last car on the lead lap.

Harvick’s nine victories has him on pace to become the first driver to win at least 10 Cup races in a season in more than a decade and only the third driver to reach that mark in the past quarter century.

Jimmie Johnson is the last driver to accomplish the feat. He won 10 races in 2007. The only other driver to reach that mark in the last 25 years is Jeff Gordon. He won 13 races in 1998 and 10 races each in 1996 and ’97.

The last driver not from Hendrick Motorsports to reach at least 10 wins in a season was Rusty Wallace. He won 10 times in 1993 for car owner Roger Penske.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Chase Elliott

STAGE 2 WINNER: Kyle Busch

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished last after he was eliminated in a crash on Lap 29 after he made contact with Jimmie Johnson … Matt DiBenedetto‘s chances of advancing in the playoffs were dashed when he had to pit for loose right-rear tire on Lap 187 and then was caught speeding on pit road after returning to the lead lap. He finished 19th …. Martin Truex Jr. finished 24th after he had to pit for a tire issue on Lap 214 … Denny Hamlin finished 21st after he rammed into the back of Truex moments after he exited pit road following his stop … William Byron was eliminated from the race and playoff contention late in Stage 2 after he ran into the back of Christopher Bell … Pole-sitter Brad Keselowski placed 34th after he lost power steering early in the final stage and was black flagged for not meeting minimum speeding. After a lengthy stay in the garage, Keselowski returned to the race with about 105 laps left in the race.

WHAT’S NEXT: Round of 12 opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway at 7 p.m. ET Sept. 27 on NBCSN.

Check back for more.

William Byron’s title hopes end in Bristol incident

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William Byron‘s playoffs ended when he ran into the back of a car shortly before halfway in Saturday night’s Cup playoff race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Byron was running 10th and in position to advance to the second round after Saturday’s elimination race before the incident.

Byron told NBCSN’s Marty Snider that Joey Gase‘s car slowed on a straightaway and Byron ran into the back of Christopher Bell‘s car.

“I literally had nowhere to go,” Byron said. “Just ridiculous that’s what takes us out.”

Byron said he was running behind Bell, who was behind Gase, on the high side. Byron said he had Aric Almirola on his inside and could not move down there.

Byron entered the race the first driver outside the final transfer spot to the second round. He entered the race trailing Clint Bowyer by three points.

 

 

 

Three Joe Gibbs Racing cars going to rear for inspection violations

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The cars of Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Erik Jones will start at the rear after each car failed inspection twice before Saturday’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Busch enters the race 18 points above the cutline to transfer to the second round of the Cup playoffs. Saturday’s race (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). Busch was to have started ninth.

This is the second playoff race in a row that Busch’s team has failed inspection twice before the race and had to start at the rear. Busch started at the rear last weekend at Richmond. He finished sixth.

Hamlin has already advanced to the second round via points. He was to have started seventh.

“We’ve got 500 laps,” he said. “If we’re good enough, we’ll get to the front. Not really too worried about it in that sense.”

Jones is not in the playoffs. He would have started 20th.

NASCAR also announced that the cars of Corey LaJoie and Bubba Wallace will start at the rear for unapproved adjustments. JJ Yeley will go to the rear for a driver change since he was not listed on the preliminary entry list for the No. 15 car.

Wallace was to have started 27th. LaJoie was to have started 30th. The No. 15 was to have started 32nd with Brennan Poole as the driver.

 

Saturday Cup race at Bristol: Start time, TV channel

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Four drivers will be eliminated from the Cup playoffs after Saturday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

This marks the first time the track has been in the playoffs. The Saturday Cup race at Bristol will end the first round. The 16-driver field will be cut to 12.

William Byron (3 points behind the cutline), Cole Custer (-8), Matt DiBenedetto (-25) and Ryan Blaney (-27) are the four drivers out of a playoff spot. Clint Bowyer holds the final transfer spot.

Here is all the info for the Saturday Cup race at Bristol:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines is at 7:38 p.m. The green flag waves at 7:45 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup haulers enter the garage (screening and equipment unload) at 10:30 a.m. Garage access health screening begins at 12:30 p.m. Garage opens at 12:30 p.m. Drivers report to their cars at 7:10 p.m. Driver introductions will be at 7:15 p.m. The invocation is at 7:30 p.m. The national anthem will be performed by Joe Nichols, three-time Grammy nominee, at 7:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 500 laps (266.5 miles) around the .533-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 125. Stage 2 ends on Lap 250

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 7 p.m. Race coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 6:30 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 partly cloudy skies with a high of 62 degrees and a 3% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Brad Keselowski won at Richmond. Martin Truex Jr. finished second. Joey Logano placed third for the second race in a row.

LAST POINTS RACE AT BRISTOL: Brad Keselowski won in May after Denny Hamlin lost the lead when he hit the wall. Chase Elliott ran into Joey Logano as they battled for the lead late in the event.

TO THE REAR: Denny Hamlin (two inspection failures), Kyle Busch (two inspection failures), Erik Jones (two inspection failures), Corey LaJoie (unapproved adjustments), Bubba Wallace (unapproved adjustments), JJ Yeley (driver change).

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for Cup starting lineup

CATCH UP ON NBC SPORTS’ COVERAGE:

Three Joe Gibbs Racing cars going to the rear for inspection violations

Bubble drivers brace for Bristol battle

Pit crew change for teams of Alex Bowman and Jimmie Johnson

Friday 5: The thin line between aggressive and dirty driving

Matt DiBenedetto, Ryan Blaney seek NASCAR history to advance

What upcoming Cup playoff races NASCAR fans can attend

Trevor Bayne says the fire remains to run more races