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Exclusive: Danica Patrick dishes on new crew chief Billy Scott

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CHARLOTTE – Danica Patrick didn’t have input in choosing new crew chief Billy Scott, but a few days around him in the Stewart-Haas Racing shop last week have her encouraged.

“Billy’s great; I feel like he has a lot of common sense about everything,” Patrick told NASCAR Talk Saturday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in her first public comments about Scott, whose hiring was announced Nov. 30. “I feel he’s going to do a really great job. He’s crafting a good team.”

Scott will become the third crew chief in three seasons for Patrick, whose No. 10 Chevrolet team was involved in an offseason overhaul at SHR that also ushered in a new crew chief (Michael Bugarewicz) for teammate Tony Stewart.

In her lone full season with Daniel Knost, Patrick finished a career-best 24th in the Sprint Cup points standings. But she slipped to two top 10s (from three in 2014, including a career-best sixth at Atlanta Motor Speedway) and didn’t finish higher than 15th after the May 31 race at Dover International Speedway.

Knost, who has a doctorate in engineering, will remain at SHR as manager of vehicle dynamics. He took over from Tony Gibson in October 2014 after Patrick had indicated to SHR that she wanted more of an engineering-based approach more similar to her background in IndyCar.

Scott, a 2005 graduate of UNC Charlotte, also is a degreed engineer, but Patrick said she wasn’t involved in his hiring process.

“I really left it up to the team,” Patrick said. “I did everything I could last year to make the most with Daniel wholeheartedly, and the team just thought that it would be a better fit and good adjustment to change that.

“I trust them. I have to; that’s what they do. I drive the car. The best thing I can do is make the most of every weekend. When they ask my opinion on things, I give them the opinion on what I think is good, what I think is bad, and let them do their job.”

Though she hasn’t worked with Scott yet at the track (testing is banned in the offseason), Patrick said their rapport already is solid.

“We’re not into too much setup stuff yet,” she said. “The cars are just being built, and it’s the big items right now, but once that gets closer, I fully intend to spend the time talking to him about those things.

“I’m sure he’s already kind of looked at setups from what I ran last year, and he’s got an idea for sure of what I like, so he’s not just starting from scratch.”

Scott, who worked Clint Bowyer, David Ragan, Brian Vickers and Michael Waltrip as a Michael Waltrip Racing crew chief last season, will be working with engineer William Lee, one of several holdovers from last year’s No. 10 team.

Patrick said the continuity should ease Scott’s transition.

“We’ve changed a couple of players within the team — not too many — but everybody that we’ve shifted has been a great fit,” she said. “I feel like we already are having a lot of fun in the shop just standing around the car talking and things like that. (Scott’s) a really relatable guy, realistic, cool, and he’s a hard worker.”

Scott also has a good working relationship with fellow workaholic crew chief Rodney Childers, who left MWR two years ago to join Kevin Harvick’s 2014 championship team at SHR.

“Billy and Rodney were talking about who left the shop later the other night,” Patrick said with a chuckle.

Natalie Decker not medically cleared for Las Vegas Truck race

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NASCAR announced right before Friday night’s Truck Series race that Natalie Decker hadn’t been medically cleared to compete.

No details were provided about the issue that prevented Decker from being cleared. During the final stage of the race, NASCAR announced she had been treated and released from the infield medical center.

The Niece Motorsports driver would have started 23rd. Due to her No. 44 truck having cleared inspection and having been placed on the starting grid she was credited with a last-place finish.

Decker has made 11 starts this year. She missed the June 28 race at Pocono after she was hospitalized due to bile duct complications related to her gallbladder removal in December.

Check back for more.

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.