(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

Rico Abreu kisses the wall, then chance at first win goodbye

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FORT WORTH, TEXAS — Rico Abreu hopped down from his No. 98 Toyota and was immediately met by two crew members.

As William Byron conducted his second victory burnout of the year on the Texas Motor Speedway front stretch, they helped the 4-foot-4 Abreu remove his helmet and safety equipment and told him there was no reason to be mad.

Minutes before, Abreu had gone from running second with three laps to go in the Rattlesnake 400 to finishing ninth, his best result in nine Camping World Truck Series starts.

As Byron drove his No. 9 truck past where Abreu stood on pit road, on the way to victory lane, one crew member told the Abreu he had just experienced some of the most fun he’d ever had.

When Byron passed Matt Crafton with five laps to go, Abreu soon followed. The native of St. Helena, California, spent the next two laps driving like he had for most of the race and his whole career – staying as close to the Texas Motor Speedway wall as possible.

“When it gets hot and slick like that, your tires get wore out; I just felt so comfortable up there,” Abreu said of the area of the track and style of racing he mastered while rising through the ranks on dirt tracks.

The driver Abreu was chasing down had the same strategy. However, Byron, who won his first race at Kansas Speedway last month, “wasn’t paying attention much” to Abreu as he bore down on him.

“I was still running the top, because that’s what I was running (all night),” Byron said. “Then they said ‘two back’ and I was like ‘Man, we’ve got to figure something out here, so I got to make sure I hit both corners right.'”

Byron did that, taking away Abreu’s racing line, which Byron called the “name of the game” Friday night.

“A couple of guys took my line away and got me into the wall a bit, but you just can’t give up on it,” Byron said. “That outside gives you such huge momentum down the frontstretch.”

Abreu took the momentum he had and reached Byron’s bumper as they came down to two laps to go. But as they entered Turn 1, Abreu’s favorite place on the track became very uncomfortable.

“I figured I maybe could have cleared him off of (Turn) 4, maybe coming to the white,” Abreu said. “But I just got too tight behind him and got into the wall. Can’t have that stuff happening.”

Abreu kept his speed up enough that teammate Matt Crafton, who was running in third, believed Abreu would have “definitely” finished second.

But those chances ended after the white flag when Abreu once again impacted the wall in Turn 2. This time, he didn’t leave the wall until he was on the backstretch.

“That shows how much heart he had that he wanted to win the race,” said Crafton, who led a race-high 133 laps. “He likes that high, wide and handsome stuff and it bit him right there.”

The loss didn’t shake the confidence of Abreu, who started the night in 13th. But he felt bad for the crew members that met him after the best night of his short Truck career.

“They built a great truck this weekend and I just smashed it all,” Abreu said. “I got speed, I just got to put a whole damn night together. I haven’t figured that part out yet.”

Austin Theriault not medically cleared by NASCAR to race at Kansas

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Austin Theriault announced Thursday morning he has not been medically cleared by NASCAR to compete in this weekend’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway after his involvement in a wreck in Monday’s race at Talladega.

Theriault, 25, competes for Rick Ware Racing and was set to drive its No. 52 Chevrolet this weekend. Theriault said Garrett Smithley will take his place.

A NASCAR spokesperson said its policy is to not discuss a competitor’s medical information.

A spokesperson for Rick Ware Racing told NBC Sports all info on Theriault would be released by the driver on social media or by NASCAR. The team said “we expect to have Austin back in the car very soon.”

The native of Fort Kent, Maine, has missed races due to medical issues before.

In 2015, while racing part-time for Brad Keselowski Racing in the Truck Series, he suffered a 10% compression fracture in his back in a wreck at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after his HANS device broke.

Theriault missed several races before returning in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Since 2015 he has made five Cup starts, three Xfinity starts and four Truck Series starts.

Updated entry lists for Kansas Speedway’s playoff weekend

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The NASCAR playoffs continue this weekend with the second visit of the year to Kansas Speedway.

The Cup Series holds its second elimination race as the playoff field will be cut to eight drivers.

After a week off, the Xfinity Series will open its second playoff round.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for both races.

Cup – Hollywood Casino 400 (2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC)

There are 40 cars entered.

Parker Kligerman is entered in Gaunt Brothers Racing’s No. 96 Toyota.

Reed Sorenson is listed for Premium Motorsports’ No. 27 Chevrolet.

Austin Theriault  was originally entered in Rick Ware Racing’s No. 52 car. Theriault announced Thursday morning he had not been cleared by NASCAR to compete Saturday following his wreck in Monday’s Cup race at Talladega and that Garrett Smithley would take his place.

Chase Elliott won this race last year over Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson. Brad Keselowski won the May race over Alex Bowman and Erik Jones.

Click here for the updated entry list.

Xfinity – Kansas Lottery 300 (3 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC)

There are 39 entries.

Ryan Truex is entered in JR Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet.

Ross Chastain is entered in Kaulig Racing’s No. 10 Chevrolet. It’ll be his fifth start with the team this season.

Harrison Burton is entered in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota for the seventh time this season.

Bobby Earnhardt, the oldest son of Kerry Earnhardt, is entered in MBM Motorsports’ No. 66 Toyota. It will be his fifth career start and first since the Texas playoff race last year.

Joe Nemechek is now entered in Mike Harmon Racing’s No. 74 Chevrolet

Dillon Bassett is now entered in DGM Racing’s No. 92 Chevrolet

John Hunter Nemechek won this race last year over Daniel Hemric and Elliott Sadler.

Click here for the entry list.

 

Harrison Burton to drive Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Xfinity car full-time next year

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Harrison Burton will drive Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Xfinity car full-time in 2020, the team announced Thursday morning.

Burton, the son of NBC Sports analysts Jeff Burton, will succeed Christopher Bell in the No. 20.

Burton competes full-time in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports. He is set to make his seventh start in JGR’s No. 18 Xfinity car this Saturday at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

“Next year is going to be a really cool opportunity for me because I grew up watching my dad race in the Xfinity Series, Burton said in a press release. “Making my first start at Bristol this year was really surreal. I remember being a little kid and watching (Jeff Burton) race there and now, I will have the opportunity to compete for the Xfinity Series championship next year.

“On top of that I’ve got Dex Imaging continuing their support of me for a majority of races next season. That’s really cool because I’ve had them as a sponsor since I was 13 and to bring them from pro-late models all the way to the Xfinity Series is pretty wild. I want to finish this season strong, but I’m excited to get 2020 started. My time with JGR this season will really help me because I’ve already gotten to know so many people there and it’s such a great team and organization. They have a long history of helping to develop drivers and this is big for the next step in my career.”

In his six Xfinity starts, Burton has three top 10s and a best finish of fourth at Iowa Speedway.

In 35 Truck Series starts since 2016, Burton has 11 top fives and 17 top-10 finishes. This year he has seven top fives and 10 top 10s. He and teammate Todd Gilliland both failed to make the playoffs.

“As Harrison (Burton) moves up to the next level of his career, we’re happy to have him join JGR fulltime and go behind the wheel of the No. 20 Supra,” said Steve DeSouza, Executive Vice President of Xfinity Series and Development for Joe Gibbs Racing in a press release. “Harrison has continued to show progress this season in his limited starts and I know that will only continue to develop with more seat time while contending for the Xfinity Series championship.”

The crew chief for the No. 20 will be announced at a later time.

JTG Daugherty Racing’s No. 47 hauler experiences fire on way to Kansas

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JTG Daugherty Racing announced on social media Thursday morning that the hauler for Ryan Preece‘s No. 47 Chevrolet experienced a fire on its way to Kansas Speedway for this weekend’s Cup race.

In a statement, team owner Tad Geschickter said both its hauler drivers were “okay.”

He said the team is “assessing the damage to our trailer and race cars and will have more information as it becomes available.”

More: Kaulig Racing hauler involved in accident on way to Kansas