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Upon Further Review: Bristol

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — Car owner Joe Gibbs professes that when he makes driver/crew chief changes, he’s not quite sure how the pairing will work.

While not every move leads to instant success, Gibbs has become proficient in this area. Carl Edwards is the latest example.

Edwards’ victory Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway continued his best start to a Sprint Cup season since 2008. He’s doing it in his first year with crew chief Dave Rogers.

“I truly have never worked with someone that I think is more like me and communicates the same way as I do,’’ Edwards said. “If we don’t win the championship, it will not be because of any problem between Dave and I.

“I’m not just saying this because he won this race, but he’s already like a brother. We don’t get along with everybody, but we get along with each other really well, so it’s great.’’

In the season’s first eight races, Edwards has one win, two poles, four top-five finishes and seven top-10 finishes. He also has an average finish of 6.4 and led 475 laps. The last time he had more than one victory eight races into a season was 2008. He had three wins at that point on the way to winning a career-high nine races and finishing second in the points.

While fast cars help — Joe Gibbs Racing has won the past three Cup races and four of eight this season — Rogers said the time spent with Edwards in the offseason created the comfort level each has with the other.

“I just feel really comfortable being me calling the races,’’ Rogers said. “I call them the way I want them. I don’t have to take on an adaptive personality of any sort, and it works for Carl, and likewise, I hope he feels very comfortable being Carl and communicating the way he wants to, and that’s a big deal. That’s a real big deal.’’

So is how Gibbs has altered his driver/crew chief pairings. Consider:

  • Denny Hamlin won the Daytona 500 this year in his first race with Mike Wheeler as crew chief and has three top-three finishes in eight races.
  • Kyle Busch won four of his first nine races with crew chief Adam Stevens after returning from injury last season on the way to claiming his first Sprint Cup championship.
  • Matt Kenseth won two of his first eight races with Jason Ratcliff as crew chief in 2013 on the way to winning a career-high seven events and placing second in the points.

Edwards never had worked with Rogers, and Kenseth had never worked with Ratcliff before their pairing. Stevens and Busch had success in the Xfinity Series, and Wheeler was a longtime engineer for Hamlin.

Even past history is no guarantee how a pairing will work under the pressure in the Cup series.

“It’s one of the hardest things in sports to get a great chemistry between two guys, particularly at what they do,’’ Gibbs said.

Maybe so, but he’s found the right combination often.

— Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson put on one of the most thrilling duels this season in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway, leading some to wonder if shorter races would create more of that type of racing.

The 200-lap race was preceded by two 50-lap heat races. Both heat races saw winners (Erik Jones and Austin Dillon) lead every lap. The 200-lap main event was 100 laps shorter than last year’s race (the difference with the addition of the two heat races).

Larson, who fell from first to third on the final restart, was bummed about the finish but not the racing.

“I think every race should be shorter in NASCAR,’’ he said. “Shorter races just make for more intense racing. You look at the Truck Series, every race is pretty intense when Kyle Busch isn’t in it. Every race should be shorter.’’

Larson noted the intensity of the Xfinity race also was related to the fact that Busch, who was second, had a quicker car. That kept them close as they weaved through traffic. The ending added to excitement with Jones scoring the win.

That race is not reason enough to shorten races. Just because a race is shorter does not mean similar type of action will take place.

— Only two drivers have finished in the top 10 in both short-track races this season. Carl Edwards was sixth at Martinsville and won Bristol. Ryan Newman was 10th at Martinsville and ninth at Bristol. They’ll try to keep their streak going this weekend at Richmond International Raceway.

Matt DiBenedetto finished a career-high sixth at Bristol. … Clint Bowyer finished a season-high eighth at Bristol. … Trevor Bayne’s fifth-place finish was his best Cup result since winning the 2011 Daytona 500.

— Goodyear said it would take tires that failed from the cars of Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth to its Akron, Ohio, facility to analyze why those Joe Gibbs Racing teams had issues and the rest of the field did not.

— If you missed it, you can check out what songs drivers selected to be played when they were introduced before Sunday’s race. Artists ranged from Miley Cyrus to Eric Church to the Beastie Boys.


NBC Sports Power Rankings: Denny Hamlin leads the way to Miami

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With his win at Phoenix and advancing to the Championship 4 race in Miami, Denny Hamlin is once again back on top of this week’s NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Not surprisingly, all four drivers who will battle for the championship are in the top four in this week’s rankings. Kyle Busch is second, last week’s No. 1, Kevin Harvick, drops to third, and Martin Truex Jr. is fourth, as voted on by NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers.

Hamlin made the biggest jump in the standings, going from No. 7 last week to the top of the heap this week.

Conversely, Joey Logano, who was No. 3 last week, suffers the biggest drop, down to No. 8 – and also misses on his bid to defend last year’s championship this Sunday at Miami (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

Here is this week’s Power Rankings:

1. Denny Hamlin (39 points): Entered ISM Raceway outside a transfer spot to the title race and now he might be the favorite to win it all. Or at least be co-favorite with teammate Martin Truex Jr. Last week: Seventh.

2. Kyle Busch (34 points): Could be the underdog at Miami. With everything on the line, is one of the best performers in pressure-packed situations – especially with a championship and snapping a 21-race winless streak on the line. Last week: Fourth.

3. Kevin Harvick (29 points): Lone wolf in the Joe Gibbs Racing party for the championship. But he may actually have the edge, as he has three teammates who can help him, while it’s every man for himself for the three JGR drivers. Last week: First.

4. Martin Truex Jr. (28 points): Has not finished worse than sixth in the last four races. Also has the most wins (seven) of the four championship drivers. Last week: Second.

5. Ryan Blaney (26 points): Finished fifth, eighth and third in the Round of 8 but it still wasn’t good enough to advance to the title race. Last week: Fifth.

6. Kyle Larson (22 points): Fourth-place finish was good effort but missed out on last chance to run for a championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway, one of his best tracks. Was Chevrolet’s last hope; the bow tie has not reached the Championship 4 for the last three years. Last week: Sixth.

7. Erik Jones (14 points): Has three top 10s in last four races. While showed some signs of promise during the playoffs, the fact remains he’s likely going to finish 16th (last) among all playoff qualifiers when everything is said and done after Miami. Last week: Unranked.

8. Joey Logano (9 points): So close, yet so far away. Will we ever learn what happened to his car in the final stage that cost him a chance to defend last year’s title at Miami? Last week: Third.

9. Justin Allgaier (6 points): Xfinity win at ISM Raceway was his career-best 16th consecutive top-10 finish. Could he steal the championship from the “Big Three?” Last week: Unranked.

10. Christopher Bell (4 points): With Xfinity Series-leading eight wins, enters title race as favorite. This will be his Xfinity swan song before moving to Cup next season. What better way to leave than to go out on top. Last week: Unranked.

Others receiving votes: Clint Bowyer (3 points), Brad Keselowski (2 points), Cole Custer (2 points), Stewart Friesen (1 point).

Nashville Fair Board votes to terminate contract with operator of Fairgrounds Speedway

Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway
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The Nashville Metro Fair Board voted Tuesday to terminate its contract with the operator of Fairgrounds Speedway, a track being eyed for a possible NASCAR race, according to The Tennessean.

Last December, Formosa Productions and Bristol Motor Speedway announced “an agreement to explore bringing major NASCAR racing events” back to the .596-mile track. The earliest Nashville could potentially be added to the schedule is 2021, though the schedule for that season is expected to be revealed in April.

Bristol Motor Speedway released a statement Tuesday night saying it is still interested in pursuing future involvement with the Fairgrounds Speedway.

“We appreciate all that Tony and Claire Formosa have done to sustain local racing in Nashville over the years,” said Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager for Bristol Motor Speedway. “Today’s news does not change our interest or belief that Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway can be returned to prominence to help create a true renovation of the Fairgrounds. There is huge local, regional and national interest in the future of the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. As Mayor (John) Cooper, the Fair Board and Council determine what’s next for the historic race track, we are ready to engage with them on the vision that we believe can deliver a bright future for the Fairgrounds.”

The vote to terminate the contract with Formosa Productions, operated by Tony and Claire Formosa, is in response to a claimed breach of contract, which was first raised by the city in April and includes unpaid concessions commissions and rent payments.

A fairgrounds spokesperson told The Tennessean that the Formosas would owe the city nearly $180,000 by the end of the year. The Tennessean reports the Formosas have 90 days to vacate the premises.

According to The Tennessean, Nashville Fairgrounds Director Laura Womack said she and another board member met Oct. 14 with the Formosas and asked that they provide specific contract changes and documents regarding attendance and revenue records from this year’s racing season.

A meeting where those documents were due to be delivered was rescheduled to Nov. 6 before it was canceled by the Formosas.

“This shows little to no faith that we will be paid by the end of the year,” said Fair Board member Caleb Hemmer, according to The Tennessean. “Which begs the issue that we need to start looking to the future and what we need to do as a board to ensure there’s racing next year if the (Formosas) can’t fulfill their obligations as put forth by (the contract).”

Jim Roberts, an attorney representing the Formosas, attended the meeting according to The Tennessean. Roberts believed the meeting, which was delayed two hours due to winter weather, was in violation of the opens meeting act due to it not being properly noticed.

The Formosas have operated the track since 2010 and entered into a five-year agreement in 2017 after the city chose its bid over one from Bristol Motor Speedway

The deal between Formosa Productions and Bristol Motor Speedway, which would need to be approved by the Fair Board, would focus “on a long-range plan of significant track improvements and high-profile race events that could include NASCAR events upon the facility meeting standards.”

In May, Bristol officials revealed a $60 million proposal to renovate the track.

The plan would increase seating capacity of the .596-mile short track from its current size of 15,000 to 30,000, as well as include an expanded concourse, premium seating, pedestrian tunnels and sound barriers.


Penalty report from ISM Raceway

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NASCAR has fined five crew chiefs for unsecured lug nuts on their cars after last weekend’s playoff races at ISM Raceway.

Each fine was for having a single unsecured lug nut.

In the Cup Series:

Paul Wolfe, crew chief on Brad Keselowski‘s No. 2 Ford, and Mike Hillman Sr., crew chief on J.J. Yeley‘s No. 53 Chevrolet, were each fined $10,000.

In the Xfinity Series:

Taylor Moyer, crew chief on Zane Smith‘s No. 8 Chevrolet, was fined $5,000.

In the Truck Series:

Joe Shear, Jr., crew chief on Johnny Suater’s No. 13 Chevrolet, and Trip Bruce lll, crew chief on race winner Stewart Friesen‘s No. 52 Chevrolet, were fined $2,500.

Preliminary entry lists for Championship Weekend in Miami

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NASCAR’s final race weekend of the year has arrived with the championship races for all three of its national series at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for all three races.

Cup – Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC)

A full field of 40 cars are entered into the race.

Drew Herring is entered in Gaunt Brothers Racing’s No. 96 Toyota for his Cup debut.

John Hunter Nemechek will make his third start in Front Row Motorsports’ No. 36 Ford in relief of Matt Tifft.

Joe Nemechek is entered in Premium Motorsports’ No. 15 Chevrolet.

Joey Logano won this race last year over Martin Truex Jr. to claim his first Cup title.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – Ford EcoBoost 300 (3:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)

There are 39 cars entered. One car will not qualify for the race.

Jeb Burton is entered in JR Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet.

Harrison Burton is entered in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota.

Tyler Reddick won this race last year over Cole Custer to claim the championship.

Click here for the entry list.

Trucks – Ford EcoBoost 200 (8 p.m. ET Friday on FS1)

There are 37 trucks entered. Five trucks will not qualify for the event.

K&N Pro Series West champion Derek Kraus is entered in Bill McAnally Racing’s No. 19 Toyota for his fifth start of the season.

Angela Ruch is entered in Niece Motorsports’ No. 44 Chevrolet.

Christian Eckes is entered in Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 51 Toyota.

NBC Sports analyst Parker Kligerman is entered in Henderson Motorsports’ No. 75 Chevrolet.

No drivers are listed for NEMCO Motorsports’ No. 87 Chevrolet and Reaume Brothers Racing’s No. 33 and No. 34 Toyotas.

Brett Moffitt won this race last year to claim the championship.

Click here for the entry list.