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Loose wheels and missing lug nuts in the search for speed: ‘Everybody is just pushing it’

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Fewer lug nuts seemingly are meaning more loose wheels in the Sprint Cup series this season.

Carl Edwards was among the victims Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway, where he started from the pole and led a race-high 124 laps before fading to seventh after a wheel problem necessitated a green-flag pit stop.

During a Wednesday interview on SiriusXM NASCAR’s “The Morning Drive,” Edwards conceded that such errors are a byproduct of pit crews electing to hit fewer than five lug nuts in order to accelerate their stops.

“Everybody is just pushing it,” Edwards said. “I’ve got a really amazing pit crew. These guys take a lot of pride in being the fastest guys on pit road and not making those mistakes … We usually don’t have problems. My guys will learn from it.

“They never stop. At the end of the year, having that mistake there, as painful as it was for all of us having it go down like that, it might help us in the long run. You’ve got to perform at that level. I don’t want my guys to slow down. If we learn from the mistake and figure out how to be better, we’re going to be awesome.”

In the switch to a more technologically driven officiating system in the pits last season, NASCAR stopped monitoring and penalizing teams for failing to hit all five lug nuts. It’s given teams the options of skipping a lug nut to gain the fractions of seconds that can make a difference in winning a race.

Four lugnuts might be sufficient. Most drivers say they are uncomfortable if a crew hits only three, and it seems to be happening more often as teams search for the limit.

Edwards wasn’t the only driver who was burned by haste at Texas. Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth also was among those who suffered a loose wheel.

Keith Rodden, crew chief for Kasey Kahne, said some of the mistakes result from uneven choreography.

“It’s risk vs. reward,” Rodden said on SiriusXM NASCAR. “We’re pushing our guys. It all starts with getting the tire off, and the carrier hanging the (new) one. The longer the carrier stays there, especially in the front, the more time it takes to get back to the wall and get the left-front tire.

“So these guys are bailing out quick. They’re not always sticking with their changer. So if you don’t hang it exactly perfect, you miss it a tiny bit, and you hit three to four lug nuts, it’s not going to get tight. You play with fire, man. You’ll have some great pit stops, but you can put yourself at a disadvantage. I think it’s what your comfort level is with that. … When you come down third and want to leave first and you’re on your guys, it’s how brave do you want to be?”

Asked with whether it might leave him feeling unsafe to be making 200-mph laps with fewer than five lugnuts, Edwards said he trusts his team.

“I’m comfortable with whatever (crew chief) Dave Rogers and my (tire) changers say,” Edwards said. “I trust in those guys. If someone on my pit crew looks up at Dave Rogers after the stop and says, ‘Man, I don’t feel good about this.’ We’ll come back (to the pits). We’ll change it.

“It’s really trusting those guys. They are the experts. The guys who go over the wall have so much experience with every single thing that can go wrong. They understand what needs to be done on those stops. If they say I’m good, I’m good with it.”

Results, point standings after Truck race at Las Vegas

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Austin Hill won Friday night’s Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for his second win of 2020.

He beat Sheldon Creed for the victory.

The top five was completed by Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith.

IndyCar driver Conor Daly finished 18th and Travis Pastrana was 21st.

Click here for the race results.

Point Standings

With his win, Austin Hill is the first driver to advance to the second round of the playoffs.

Todd Gilliland is last in the playoff standings with 2,050 points. He is 13 points behind Ben Rhodes.

Click here for the standings.

Austin Hill wins Las Vegas Truck race

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Austin Hill won Friday night’s Truck Series playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, leading the final 39 laps to score the victory.

Hill took the lead on a restart and held off charges from Sheldon Creed over the final 20 laps.

Creed’s progress was slowed with 11 laps to go when he got loose and scraped the wall in Turn 1. He was never able to get close enough to Hill to make a challenge.

Creed dominated the early portion of the race, leading 89 laps before he struggled to get going on the final restart and briefly fell to seventh.

The win is the second of the year for Hill. He’s the first playoff driver to win in the postseason and it come after he finished 25th at Bristol.

“We didn’t have the best truck tonight by no means,” Hill told FS1. “Pit crew did a hell of job on that last pit stop getting me into the position I needed to. I just had to go out there and get it. … Sheldon was definitely way faster than me. … I was probably looking in my mirror more than I was our front. I knew he was better than we were.”

The top five was completed by Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith.

More: Race results and point standings

STAGE 1 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

STAGE 2 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith all matched their best results of the season … While he was the first driver to finish one lap down, IndyCar driver Conor Daly placed 18th in his first career Truck Series start … Travis Pastrana placed 21st in his second start of the season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Rachael Lessard finished 20th after he had to pit early in the race following contact with the wall … Ben Rhodes finished 23rd after he spun from contact with Stewart Friesen and hit the inside wall on Lap 84 … Jordan Anderson’s engine expired on the ensuing restart. He finished 32nd.

NOTABLE: Natalie Decker, who was not medically cleared to compete Friday night, was treated and released from the infield care center.

WHAT’S NEXT: Race at Talladega Superspeedway, 1 p.m. ET Oct. 3 on FS1


Natalie Decker not medically cleared for Las Vegas Truck race

Natalie Decker
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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.

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)