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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 second Xfinity race at Kentucky

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Austin Cindric dominated to win Friday night’s Xfinity race at Kentucky Speedway, leading 130 of 200 laps.

He completed a sweep of the series’ doubleheader races at the 1.5-mile track.

The top five was completed by Chase Briscoe, Justin Haley, Ross Chastain and Justin Allgaier.

Click here for the results.

Check back for the point standings.

Noah Gragson, Harrison Burton fight after Xfinity race

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Noah Gragson punched Harrison Burton after Burton repeatedly shoved him in the garage area as they discussed their contact on the track late in Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Kentucky Speedway.

Gragson and Burton were battling for fourth on Lap 188 of the 200-lap race when Gragson, on in the inside of Burton, drifted up the track into Burton’s car. Both cars hit the wall. There was no caution and both fell back. Gragson finished seventh. Burton finished 12th. Austin Cindric won for the second consecutive night.

FS1 cameras caught Burton and Gragson having a discussion after the race. The cameras caught Burton pushing Gragson away. They continued to talk when Burton shoved Gragson again and Gragson punched Burton. Crew members jumped in. NASCAR officials broke up the fight.

A NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports that series officials spoke with both drivers and that no penalties are anticipated.

Burton told FS1: “Just frustrated. That’s two times since we’ve come back after the COVID-19 pandemic on restarts, same situation. We rallied all night to get … (into) fourth place and (Gragson) happens to start in third and just, I don’t know, forgets what racetrack we’re at or what. Both times puts us in the fence, Charlotte and now here. I had a lot of people coming up to me afterwards saying that was a long time coming, so I guess that was a popular move. But honestly, it’s about these guys that work on these racecars and give me fast racecars.”

Gragson told FS1: “This track is so much about track position and restarts. … We’ll go on to Texas and rebound.”

FS1’s Jamie Little told Gragson that Burton noted their incident at Charlotte and asked if he saw what happened Friday coming: “Not really. We’re all racing hard. Us teammates are beating and banging for the finishes at the end and whatnot. I really don’t have a comment.”

Austin Cindric completes Xfinity sweep at Kentucky

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A night after claiming his first oval track win in NASCAR, Austin Cindric followed it up with a victory in Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Kentucky Speedway.

The Team Penske driver completed a sweep of the series’ doubleheader races on the 1.5-mile track, dominating with a stage win and leading 130 of 200 laps.

Cindric crossed the finish line with a 2.2-second advantage over runner-up Chase Briscoe.

The top five was completed by Justin Haley, Ross Chastain and Justin Allgaier.

Unlike Thursday night, Cindric celebrated with a burnout on the frontstretch.

“I hope I laid enough rubber down to make up for Watkins Glen last year, that was pathetic,” Cindric told FS1. “I’m just so excited. … what we did tonight was really impressive. Because we ran one setup last night and won the race. We came with another setup and won the race again. That happens at the shop, that happens with the guys on the (pit box).”

Later in his press conference, Cindric said a change in setup was in part due to the tracks that are coming up, at Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway.

“Obviously with mile-and-half-tracks being really important in the second round of our playoffs with Texas and Kansas, our next two races being Texas and Kansas, and the question of having practice or not is looming very big for me,” Cindric said. “Obviously, Phoenix (site of the championship race) is the most important race of the year, but you’ve got to get there first. I feel like those are two really important steps other than Martinsville to get there. So deciding on what we want to run at those race tracks given those characteristics and more … that’s why we decided to change the game tonight.”

After the race, Harrison Burton and Noah Gragson got into a scuffle. They had made contact on a restart with 13 laps to go. Gragson finished seventh and and Burton placed 12th.

STAGE 1: Noah Gragson

STAGE 2: Austin Cindric

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Chase Briscoe finished in the top two for the seventh time in 15 races this season … Justin Allgaier finished in the top five after he spent just 33 of 200 laps on the lead lap after a flat tire brought him to pit road early in the race and put him a lap down … Ross Chastain placed fourth for his 13th top-10 finish of 2020, most of all drivers.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Ryan Sieg spun in Turn 2 on Lap 3. He finished 35th … Riley Herbst finished 10th after he was caught speeding on pit road with 52 laps to go … Brandon Jones spun and wrecked with 22 laps to go while racing for second with Daniel Hemric. It’s his fourth consecutive DNF.

NOTABLE: Cindric is the first driver since Richard Petty in July 1971 in Cup to win races in the same series in consecutive days.

WHAT’S NEXT: Race at Texas Motor Speedway at 3 p.m. ET July 18 on NBCSN

NASCAR to teams: Address ‘complacency’ to COVID-19 mask protocols

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NASCAR sent a memo to teams earlier this week advising them to address “pockets of complacency” toward its COVID-19 mask protocols.

The memo was first reported by WCNC, NBC’s Charlotte affiliate.

In the memo, NASCAR said it was “seeing more and more van loads of crew members rolling up to the track without masks on, and people wearing their mask down around their chin.”

The memo stated that further flouting of the protocols “will threaten our ability to continue racing.”

“More people in our industry are going to contract the virus,” the memo added. “The key is limiting it.”

“It is important for everyone to do their part ALL THE TIME. One cluster outbreak can derail our season.”

In May, NASCAR issued a bulletin stating failure to comply with COVID-19 rules could result in a $50,000 fine.

The memo comes after seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson tested positive for COVID-19 last week, forcing him to miss the Brickyard 400. Earlier this week Johnson had two negative tests, allowing him to be cleared for Sunday’s race at Kentucky Speedway.

Previously, Stewart-Haas Racing had two employees test positive for virus and Team Penske had one employee test positive.

In North Carolina, where most NASCAR teams are based, the state now has 81,000 cases and it has reached 1,000 hospitalizations for the first time.

The Cup Series is scheduled to hold its All-Star Race on Wednesday at Bristol Motor Speedway in Northeast Tennessee. Tennessee has just over 59,000 confirmed cases and has had 86 deaths since Sunday, a single-week record.

NASCAR is scheduled to compete next weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Texas has more than 235,000 cases and almost 3,000 deaths. On Thursday, it recorded 10,000 new daily cases for the second time.