Does NASCAR need more dirt races in the wake of Eldora Speedway success with trucks?

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ROSSBURG, Ohio – Through four editions of the Aspen Dental Dirt Derby, Eldora Speedway has answered one question – can a NASCAR national series deliver an entertaining show on dirt?

Wednesday night’s compelling drive by winner Kyle Larson (who rallied from a lap down) and the redoubtable effort by relative unknown Bobby Pierce (who nearly won a year after finishing second) were the latest examples of how and why Tony Stewart’s historic half-mile oval annually has churned out heroic storylines since its 2013 debut minted Norm Benning as a social-media folk hero.

But the success of the compelling Camping World Truck Series race has prompted a new question: Should there be more dirt races on that circuit’s schedule – or of another NASCAR series?

The top three finishers at the half-mile oval Wednesday night concurred that the idea has merit but with certain modifications and qualifiers.

Larson, who outdueled Pierce and staved off 2015 winner Christopher Bell for the stirring victory, doesn’t want to see dirt races in the Xfinity and Sprint Cup series but believes there are other venues that would work for the truck circuit.

“I think it’s pretty special it’s a truck-only thing,” he said. “There are a lot of other great dirt facilities out there that would be really cool for the truck series.  Knoxville (Raceway in Iowa), for sure, would be an awesome place. They have the (National Sprint Car) Hall of Fame there with suites, so all the rich pavement fans can go there and stay clean. But then the racetrack is cool, too.”

But Bell warned discretion would be necessary in selecting other tracks, noting that the windshields necessary for stock cars are a limiting factor. Because water is necessary to help prep a dirt track, windshields limit the ability to keep a surface wet because of concerns over getting mud on the windshield. In the open-cockpit vehicles that are hosted nearly exclusively by dirt tracks, a few dozen laminated tearoffs help drivers keep their visors clear, and races sometimes are stopped to permit helmet changes.

“Having one (truck) race on dirt definitely helps keep the prestige of the dirt racing going,” Bell said. “If they have more than one race, they’d have to be really careful where they took the trucks because there’s not a lot of places they could go that would race well on dirt. Eldora’s just a really unique place that fits well within the guidelines.”

Third-place finisher Rico Abreu, who calls Eldora “by far, my favorite track in the entire world,” believes NASCAR has latitude in adding dirt races.

“I feel like they can do whatever they want,” he said. “They just have to pick and choose wisely on races that put on good racing. I feel like the trucks are very sensitive to moisture on the surfaces, and you need a track wide enough to make big arcs where you can get the trucks to turn. Eldora is the smallest track the trucks go to besides Martinsville. I feel there’s a few tracks out there they can bounce around off of, but I don’t think the racing is going to get any better than it is here.”

The trucks also have shown that faster isn’t necessarily better on dirt, either. Abreu turned a 12.7-second lap last year in qualifying for an open-wheel race at Eldora. He was in the 21-second bracket Wednesday night in his Toyota.

“Trucks are slower, less power and a lot heavier,” he said. “I think anytime I get to race, I’m happy. I’m in my comfort zone. To run a truck around here is its own feeling. There’s nothing else I ever felt as far as the slowness, the wheelspin and sliding all four tires.”

Larson’s average speed over 150 laps was 41.9 mph, which he joked was his slowest victory since running a box stock go kart as a 7-year-old.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver believes the NASCAR experience could be duplicated on dirt elsewhere but favors cautious growth.

“There are a lot of other dirt tracks that have nice facilities, just like Eldora does,” he said. “But I think if you get too many of them on the schedule, it takes away from how special they are. Or at least this event. If it happened to just stay Eldora (as) for the only dirt race on the schedule, I think it would be cool also.”

Kyle Busch dominates to Truck win at Las Vegas

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Kyle Busch extended his NASCAR Truck Series victory record to 57 in his hometown Friday night, leading 108 of 134 laps at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion swept both stages and finished 5.958 seconds ahead of Johnny Sauter. Busch has won seven straight races in the series, including all five he entered last season.

Austin Hill was third, followed by defending series champion Matt Crafton and Ben Rhodes. Grrant Enfinger, who opened the season with an overtime victory at Daytona, did not finish after an accident with 43 laps to go.

Christian Eckes was right behind Busch in the opening two stages, but he finished 23rd after an early final-stage wreck.

Results

Driver standings

Jimmie Johnson tops final Cup practice at Las Vegas

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Jimmie Johnson was the fastest driver in Friday’s second and final NASCAR Cup practice of the weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The seven-time Cup champion hasn’t won a race since 2017, but showed plenty of speed, pacing the 38 cars that took to the 1.5-mile track, clocking a best speed of 179.432 mph.

Johnson and his Chevrolet were followed by five Fords.

Clint Bowyer, who was second-fastest in the first practice earlier in the day, was once again second-fast in the final session at 179.271 mph.

Aric Almirola, who was fastest in the first practice, was third-fastest in the final session at 179.170 mph.

Rounding out the top-5 were Kevin Harvick (179.015 mph) and Matt DiBenedetto (178.814 mph).

Sixth through 10th were Ross Chastain (178.660 mph), who will be filling in for the injured Ryan Newman in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400, followed by Kyle Larson (178.424), Ryan Blaney (178.359), John Hunter Nemechek (178.259) and Alex Bowman (178.089).

Final Cup practice results

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Next goals for Daytona winner Denny Hamlin: double-digit wins, Cup crown

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There was a time when Denny Hamlin’s best memories of the Daytona 500 were to just go home relatively unscathed.

Consider this: In Hamlin’s first six appearances in the Great American Race, his highest finish was 17th.

But after a breakthrough 4th-place finish in 2012, he has become the best overall performer in the 500 among active drivers.

“I don’t know what it is, but I think I started studying more about superspeedway racing around that time because I had been so unsuccessful for a very long time,” Hamlin said Friday during a media session at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“We went a long time and I’ve won a lot of the Clashes and Duel races, but not many like Talladega – I think I have one win there – but it just seems like it’s that seven or eight years ago that the car came around and whatever techniques I use or I’ve adapted to this car have seemed to work.”

In the last seven editions of the 500, Hamlin has finished 2nd (2014), 4th (2015), 1st (2016), 17th (2017), 3rd (2018), 1st (2019) and 1st again this past Monday.

Do the math and that’s three wins – making him only the sixth driver in NASCAR history to win the 500 three or more times – and seven overall top-5 finishes in the last nine season openers.

Hamlin knew that getting his second 500 win in a row – both outcomes being the closest finishes in the race’s 62-year history – and third in the last five years was basically going to come down to a battle between him, Ryan Newman and Ryan Blaney.

With emphasis on Newman, that is, before he was involved in that horrific last lap crash on the front stretch heading toward the checkered flag.

“I pulled the block on (Newman) coming to the white (flag) and I stayed in front and I knew he was going to back up to (Blaney),” Hamlin said. “I was trying to back up myself, but once (Newman) was attached (to Blaney), I knew they were going to come with a run I could not stop.

“I just held my line because if I started going sideways, the next thing you know (Newman) starts moving sideways and (Blaney) is already hooked to him, so he’s probably going to push him sideways into me.

“I just wanted to hold a straight line to let them know hey, pass this way, and when I did I was able to back to (Blaney) and was able to unattach him from (Newman). When I slowed his momentum, that allowed me to really tuck in right behind him. I don’t know if he checked up to keep us attached but once we got attached, I knew we were going to have a run back on (Newman).

“I knew he was going to get there, I didn’t know what was going to happen when he did get there, but certainly it worked out in my favor. I thought I was going to get back around (Blaney) at the (finish) line if there was no crash, but I wasn’t sure I was going to get all the way back to (Newman). I knew those two were going to jostle and I was just hoping to be in the right place when it happened and I was.”

Not having any 500 wins of his own, Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch is envious of Hamlin’s three triumphs.

“Denny has really gotten way better ever since this car,” Busch said of Hamlin and how he’s adapted to the Gen 6 car in recent years. “He was always an aggressive plate racer, one that would make moves that you’re kind of, ‘Man, if he would just stay in line, I think this would turn out better.’

“He still does that today, but he’s making it work for himself, that not staying in line is better for Denny. I think since this car came though, he’s been a real good plate racer.

“He’s been fantastic at the game, he’s understood it, he’s made moves that I sometimes wouldn’t make that have worked, he’s able to pass a guy to get in line. … He’s very knowledgeable and skillful In making his moves and passes.”

Going forward from Daytona, Hamlin said his next goal is double-digit wins this season. If so, he’d become the first driver to earn 10 or more wins in a season since Jimmie Johnson did so in 2007 when the seven-time champ won 10 races.

“I’d be satisfied with that and then beyond that would be nice,” Hamlin said. “I think that the championship is an easy goal that anyone just throws out – win a championship, but that comes down to one race.

“If you can win a significant amount of races, it shows a bigger picture of your full year. If you make it to the Final Four, that’s a bigger picture of your entire year (Hamlin has reached the final four just twice since the format was introduced in 2014 — third that year and fourth last season). I think the championship – a successful year is making the Final Four. Anything after that is just whatever it is.

“Certainly we set lofty goals. I think everyone sets huge and lofty goals, but certainly we’re going to push ourselves to better what we did last year and it starts with Daytona and we’re able to repeat there so then let’s get a win now before we get to Texas to keep ourselves on pace or better from last year.”

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Johnny Sauter on pole for tonight’s Truck race in Las Vegas

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Johnny Sauter will start from the pole in tonight’s Strat 200 Gander RV and Outdoors Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Sauter earned the eighth career pole of his Truck Series career – and first since 2018 – by topping the other 34 drivers that made qualifying attempts with a speed of 177.836 mph.

Sheldon Creed (177.643 mph) will start alongside Sauter on the front row for tonight’s race.

The rest of the top 10 qualifiers were Kyle Busch (177.282 mph), making his first Truck Series start of the season, followed by Christian Eckes (177.189 mph), Ty Majeski (177.189), Austin Hill (176.788 mph), Tyler Ankrum (176.275), Raphael Lessard (176.056), Grant Enfinger (176.010) and Brett Moffitt (175.890).

Tonight’s race starts shortly after 9 p.m. ET (FS1, Performance Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Trucks qualifying results

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