NASCAR’s Brian France says Matt Kenseth suspended for impacting Chase

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NASCAR Chairman Brian France defended the different penalties to Matt Kenseth and Danica Patrick for their retaliations at Martinsville and said that penalties were increased to Kenseth to deter any other driver from doing the same thing again.

France, who spoke Wednesday afternoon on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, also said reiterated that contact is acceptable, mentioned Ryan Newman’s slamming of Kyle Larson at Phoenix last year to advance to the championship round as an acceptable form of racing.

NASCAR suspended Kenseth two races on Tuesday for wrecking Joey Logano while Logano led with 45 laps to go at Martinsville and was in position to advance to the championship round with a win. Kenseth was 10 laps down at the time.

France said on “Sirius Speedway” that Kenseth deserved a stiffer penalty than Patrick ($50,000 fine and docked 25 points) because her retaliation against David Gilliland involved two drivers not racing for the championship.

“They’re similar in many ways but they are very different because of the stakes that were on the line with the Chase,’’ France told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Going back to Richmond we’ve been very clear when anybody in the industry, any driver or participant intentionally tries to alter the outcome of events or championships, that crosses a different line than a racing problem between two drivers. So obviously the significance of what was on the line had to be taken into consideration.’’

France also told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that the Kenseth penalty would be used to prevent similar actions toward drivers in title contention.

“What’s important for us to make sure to deter that in the future,’’ France said. “I know there’s a lot of discussion about consistency in our penalties and there should be and that’s part of the equation.

“We issue penalties for two reasons. We’ve got to punish you for what we think you’ve done wrong, and we have to make sure that we deter somebody else from doing exactly what you did or worse. That’s why we can’t be consistent with every single penalty because sometimes we’ve got to up the ante with a penalty because we don’t believe the current remedy is a deterrent.

“That’s one of the reasons that we arrived at a two-race suspension (to Kenseth) in this particular case. It has to be a deterrent because there are clear rules of the road.’’

But France also stated that contact can be acceptable – as it was between Kenseth and Logano in the final laps at Kansas, as it was between Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon last year at Texas and between Newman and Larson at Phoenix.

“How many times have you heard me say that this is a contact sport?’’ France said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “There’s likely to be contact throughout an event, particularly late in the race. It happens all the time. It happened, as an example, Ryan Newman at Phoenix … where he leaned on pretty hard, with some contact with Kyle Larson with a lot on the line. That’s part of NASCAR. Kyle Larson got the short end in that particular exchange.

“Ryan Newman was operating within the rules of NASCAR. You can drive aggressively and if there’s a little bit of contact, then we understand that. There’s nothing new that went on at Kansas that doesn’t go on all the time.

“Now it was very unfortunate with the circumstances Matt got dealt on that particular day because he needed to win, he was trying move on in the round, we understand that. What happened, frankly, as I said before, was quintessential NASCAR.’’

France also was asked about Denny Hamlin’s comment that he questioned where the line was with what was acceptable after NASCAR’s penalty to Kenseth and if that was a valid concern.

“No,’’ France said. “The reason is we have a door that is wide open every day at the race track. Richard Buck, who is our series director … is happy to explain exactly where the lines are in NASCAR. We have 60 years of competing and having races run in a certain style. If you have any questions about that, you can walk in and he will explain it in five minutes for you. It’s very simple, it’s very easy to understand.’’

Asked if NASCAR needed to formalize a driver code, France was emphatic.

“The code of conduct is the rule book,’’ France told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Naturally, there’s all kind of things that we can’t regulate in words with a rule book that are going to happen with 43 teams out there competing on a high level, we’re going to have make some calls along the way. We can’t predict every scenario in the rule book.

“The most importing thing, there’s 60 years of experience with drivers and races and how we look at what is good, old-fashioned, great NASCAR competition, that tight, close racing that does have contact from time to time. There is a 60-year history of lines that are crossed, what’s acceptable and what’s not. It’s there for anybody to see. We try to be as consistent as we can in making calls along the way.

“Having said that, sometimes we have to increase penalties because the circumstances are much different than what they were 10 years ago. Monetary fines may not mean so much to somebody, but what we’ve got to do with any penalty is to deter somebody from doing something in the future. So we have to make sure the penalty matches the proper deterrence. That’s a balancing act for us because we want to be consistent. We don’t want to surprise people with penalties out of nowhere, but we also have to make sure that we’re looking ahead.’’

Texas Xfinity results: Noah Gragson wins playoff opener

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Noah Gragson is rolling through the NASCAR Xfinity Series like a bowling ball headed toward a strike.

Gragson won for the fourth consecutive race Saturday, taking the lead with 11 laps left and winning the 300-mile race at Texas Motor Speedway. The victory put Gragson in the second round of the playoffs.

Finishing behind him in the top five were Austin Hill, Ty Gibbs, AJ Allmendinger and Riley Herbst.

Texas Xfinity results

The race was pockmarked by wrecks, scrambling the 12-driver playoff field.

POINTS REPORT

Noah Gragson remains the points leader after his win. He has 2,107 points. AJ Allmendinger is next, 26 points behind.

Sam Mayer and Ryan Sieg hold the final two transfer spots. They are one point ahead of Riley Herbst, eight points ahead of Daniel Hemric, 13 points ahead of Brandon Jones and 29 points ahead of Jeremy Clements.

Texas Xfinity driver points

The Xfinity playoffs will continue Oct. 1 at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET, USA Network).

Noah Gragson wins Xfinity race at Texas Motor Speedway

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Noah Gragson opened the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs the same way he has run much of the season.

Gragson sidestepped a web of issues plaguing playoff drivers and won Saturday’s 300-mile race at Texas Motor Speedway, tying a decades-old Xfinity record by winning for the fourth consecutive race. Sam Ard, formerly a series mainstay, won four in a row in 1983.

Gragson, continuing to establish himself as the championship favorite, took the lead with 11 laps to go from Jeb Burton as most of the day’s leaders were running different tire and fuel strategies over the closing laps.

Gragson, 24 and set to jump to the Cup Series next season, led 85 laps. He won by 1.23 seconds.

“This number 9 team, man, they’re on fire,” Gragson told NBC Sports. “Luke Lambert (crew chief) and the boys executed a great race.”

MORE: Texas Xfinity results

The win was Gragson’s seventh of the year. Following in the top five were Austin Hill, Ty Gibbs, AJ Allmendinger and Riley Herbst.

The victory pushed Gragson into the second round of the playoffs.

A big crash at the front of the field on lap 117 changed the face of the race. John Hunter Nemechek lost control of his car on the outside and was clipped by Justin Allgaier, starting a wreck that scrambled most of the field. Damages forced playoff drivers Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones and Allgaier from the race.

“The 7 (Allgaier) chose the top behind me, and I haven’t seen the replay of it, but the 7 chose the top behind me and started pushing,” Nemechek said. “The 21 (Hill) made it three-wide on the 9 (Gragson), and I was three-wide at the top, and I think we ended up four-wide at one point, which doesn’t really work aero-wide in the pack.”

Pole winner Jones, a playoff driver taken out in the crash, said Nemechek “was pushing a little too hard. Nothing to fault him there for, but probably a little early to be going that far. It is what it is.”

Six laps earlier, another multi-car crash scattered the field and damaged the car of playoff contender and regular season champion Allmendinger.

The wreck started when Brandon Brown slipped in front of Allmendinger and went into a slide, forcing Allmendinger to the inside apron. Several cars scattered behind them trying to avoid the accident.

Allmendinger’s crew repaired his car and he later had the race lead.

Playoff driver Jeremy Clements had a tough day. He parked with what he called mysterious mechanical issues about halfway through the race.

Below the cutline after the first race are Herbst, Hemric, Jones and Clements.

Stage 1 winner: Daniel Hemric

Stage 2 winner: AJ Allmendinger

Who had a good race: Noah Gragson is threatening to turn the final weeks of the Xfinity season into a cakewalk. He clearly had the day’s dominant car Saturday in winning for the fourth race in a row. … AJ Allmendinger’s car was damaged in a wreck in heavy traffic, but his crew taped parts of the car and gave him an opening to finish fourth.

Who had a bad race: Jeremy Clements, in the playoff field, finished 36th after parking with mechanical trouble near the race’s halfway point. … Jeffrey Earnhardt crashed only 17 laps into the race and finished last.

Next: The second race in the first round of the Xfinity playoffs is scheduled Oct. 1 at 4 p.m. ET (USA Network) at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.

Cup drivers are for changing Texas but leery about making it another Atlanta

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Some Cup drivers are concerned that a reconfigured Texas Motor Speedway could create racing similar to Atlanta, adding another type of superspeedway race to the NASCAR calendar.

While Texas officials have not stated publicly any plans to make changes, some competitors feel Sunday’s playoff race (3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network) could be the final event on this track’s current layout. 

With the All-Star Race moving from Texas to North Wilkesboro next year, Texas Motor Speedway’s lone Cup race will take place Sept. 24, 2023. That could provide time for any alterations. Work on changing Atlanta began in July 2021 and was completed by December 2021. 

Reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson said work needs to be done to Texas Motor Speedway.

“I would like them to demolish this place first and then start over from scratch,” Larson said Saturday. “For one, they did a very poor job with the reconfiguration, initial reconfiguration. 

“I would like to see them change it from a mile-and-a-half to something shorter. I don’t know if that means bringing the backstretch in or whatever. 

“If I could build a track, it’d be probably a three-quarter mile Bristol basically, pavement and progressive banking. But I don’t know if that’s even possible here. I’m not sure what they have in mind, but anything would be better than what they did.”

Former Cup champion Joey Logano worries about another superspeedway race with such events at Daytona, Talladega and now Atlanta. 

“Do we need more superspeedways?” Logano asked Saturday. “Is that the type of racing fans want to see? Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back. 

“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on. They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”

Logano said he wants to have more control in how he finishes, particularly in a playoff race. 

“I want to be at tracks where I can make a difference, where my team can make a difference, and we’re not at the mercy of a wreck that happened in front of us that we couldn’t do anything about,” he said.

Discussions of changing the track follow complaints about how tough it is to pass at this 1.5-mile speedway.

“Once you get to the top, it’s almost like the bottom (lane) is very, very weak,” Daniel Suarez said.

Suarez has mixed feelings about the idea of turning Texas into another Atlanta-style race.

“Atlanta was a very good racetrack, and then they turned it into a superspeedway and it’s a lot of fun,” Suarez said. “I see it as a hybrid. I don’t think we need another racetrack like that, but it’s not my decision to make. Whatever they throw out at us, I’m going to try to be the best I can be.”

Suarez hopes that Texas can be like what it once was.

“Maybe with some work, we can get this race track to what it used to be, a very wide race track, running the bottom, running the middle, running the top,” he said.  

“As a race car driver, that’s what you want. You want that ability to run around and to show your skills. In superspeedways … everyone is bumping, everyone is pushing, and you can not show your skills as much.”

Chase Briscoe would be OK with a change to Texas, but he wants it to be more like a track other than Atlanta.

“If we’re really going to change and completely start from scratch, I would love another Homestead-type racetrack,” Briscoe said. “The problem is any time you build a new race track, it’s not going to be slick and worn out for a while. It’s trying to figure out what’s best to maximize those first couple of years to get it good by the end. 

“I think Homestead is a great model, if we’re going to build another mile and a half. I think we’re going to have to look at what they have, the progressive banking, the shape of the race track is different. I just think it’s a really good race track, and I think it always puts on really good racing. Anything we could do to try to match that, that would be my vote.”

Denny Hamlin just hopes some sort of change is made to Texas.

“I’d rather have another Atlanta than this, honestly,” Hamlin said. “Anything will be better than kind of what we have here.”

NASCAR shares prayers for Stewart-Haas Racing engineer

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FORT WORTH, Texas — The NASCAR garage is sharing its prayers for Stewart-Haas Racing engineer DJ VanderLey, who was injured Thursday night in a crash during a micro sprint Outlaw race at the Texas Motor Speedway dirt track.

He suffered several fractured vertebrae and has a spinal cord injury, according to a post from his wife Jordan on her Facebook page. 

Two GoFundMe accounts have been set up to help the family with medical costs. 

VanderLey was Chase Briscoe’s engineer for four years, and they are good friends.

“I hate that it happened to anybody,” Briscoe said Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway, “but for it to hit close to home has definitely been tough for me.”

Briscoe said he planned to visit VanderLey in the hospital on Saturday and that “I just hope that everybody continues to pray. That’s really all we can do at this point, trying to hope he gets better.”

Christopher Bell calls VanderLey among his best friends. VanderLey was Bell’s engineer at Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2016. 

Bell spent the night at the hospital and also picked up Jordan VanderLey at the airport when she arrived. 

Stewart-Haas Racing had a decal for VanderLey on Riley Herbst‘s No. 98 Xfinity car for Saturday’s race.