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Sprint Cup Drivers Council delivers message to NASCAR on Tony Stewart fine


RICHMOND, Va. — Denny Hamlin said that the Sprint Cup Drivers Council wanted to send a message Thursday night with its statement about NASCAR fining Tony Stewart $35,000.

“We don’t want to be so politically correct all the time and filter our thoughts,’’ Hamlin said Friday at Richmond International Raceway. “Sometimes you just want to say what you feel, and we feel you should able to do that at times.

“I think (the statement) was a way for us to send a message back to NASCAR … that ‘Hey, we just believe we should have the right to speak our opinion.’ ’’

Stewart did and NASCAR reacted.

Other than issuing the fine, NASCAR has not commented on Stewart’s plea for officials to address the matter of teams not tightening five lug nuts on each wheel during a pit stop. Hamlin said he’s not heard from series officials since issuing the statement to NBC Sports late Thursday night.

The statement by the Drivers Council marked the first time that the 11-month old group has directed a comment against NASCAR on any matter.

The group was formed last May to work with NASCAR on various issues to make the sport better. As the group develops, it’s expanding its reach.

“It just shows solidarity that we’re all in this together as drivers and we want to have one voice because that one voice is going to be, obviously, a little bit louder and clearer to NASCAR when we go into meetings, talking about where the sport is going to head,’’ Hamlin said.

Some drivers not on the Council said they appreciated the group’s stance defending Stewart and agreeing to pay his fine.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. told NBC Sports on Friday that the Council continues to work with NASCAR on issues despite this disagreement. Earnhardt, a Council member, said the group is scheduled to meet with NASCAR next weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

“I don’t think we are trying to go to battle with NASCAR over anything in particular,’’ Earnhardt said. “The statement says it pretty clearly. We’re got a meeting coming up and … we’re still looking forward to talking out a lot of things we’ve been working on.

“Still some good dialogue going on to prepare for that meeting between us and NASCAR. I don’t think this was really anything other than what the statement said. I don’t think it was us putting our foot down or trying to get in NASCAR’s way. We just didn’t really agree with what they did there in that particular instance.’’

NASCAR fined Stewart a day after he made comments about loose wheels because not all lug nuts are being tightened.

While NASCAR has not regulated how many lug nuts teams need to tighten since the beginning of last year, the issue of loose wheels has grown the past two weeks with teams of Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards, among others, having such issues.

“I’m P.O.’d at NASCAR about it, to be honest,’’ Stewart said this week. “For all the work and everything and all the bulletins and all the new stuff that we have to do to superspeedway cars and all these other things that they want us to do for safety, but we can’t even make sure that we put five lug nuts on the wheel. It’s not even mandatory anymore.

“It used to be mandatory. Now all of a sudden, it’s a smart thing to not dictate. I mean, you don’t have to have but one on there if you don’t want. It’s however many you think you can get away with. So we’re putting the drivers in jeopardy to get track position at the end. It’s not bit anybody yet, but I guarantee you that envelope is going to keep getting pushed until somebody gets hurt.’’

While NASCAR fined Stewart, it had no action for Greg Biffle, who  called the issue of teams not tightening all five lug nuts a “ticking time bomb’’ in an interview Thursday with SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Biffle told NBC Sports on Friday that he had not been contacted by any NASCAR officials about his comments.

“It’s my opinion,’’ said Biffle, who was a Sprint Cup Drivers Council member last year but is not this year. “I’m just concerned about a wheel coming off like everybody else is and I really don’t feel it’s a competitiveness thing if we all have to have five or we all have to have three, there’s no advantage to that, or four.’’

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.

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 SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App. Click here for the link.

FORECAST: The 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.