Tony Stewart smiling again after fifth, but his thoughts are with Bryan Clauson and family

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – In the bright sunshine of a late Sunday afternoon at Watkins Glen International, it was all smiles for Tony Stewart after exiting the No. 14 Chevrolet.

The three-time series champion joked about benefiting from the overly aggressive tactics of his peers, beamed about his team grinding out its fourth top five in five races and bantered about a NASCAR.com reporter’s forearm-length postage stamp tattoo.

“That’s awesome,” Stewart said. “I might borrow that idea if it’s all right and do Columbus, Indiana, on it. That way they know where to send me back if something happens.”

But his mood turned serious when asked about how difficult it was to climb into the No. 14 Chevrolet a few hours earlier while burdened with the knowledge of good friend Bryan Clauson clinging to life after a wicked crash in a Midget race Saturday night.

“It was hard to start the day today in the car,” he said. “It sucks when it’s anybody in racing. It’s hard when you lose them, but it’s even worse when they’re somebody as close to you as Bryan was.

“I feel for Lauren (Clauson’s fiancée) today and Bryan’s parents and his sister, and I hope to be able to see them soon, but just thinking about them more than anything right now.”

Clauson ran for the 2010 USAC Silver Crown championship with Tony Stewart Racing, one of several teams he won with during a storied open-wheel career. He also is a three-time Indianapolis 500 starter and ran in the NASCAR Xfinity Series from 2007-08 with Chip Ganassi Racing (several in the NASCAR industry, including Stewart, expressed their support of Clauson before Sunday’s race).

“Terrible thoughts,” Stewart said when asked about Clauson’s crash in Belleville, Kansas. “It’s a tragedy. That kid drove for us for a long time and did a great job. I don’t care what happened, no matter how bad his day was, he always found a way to smile with it. Him and Lauren being engaged; kid had such a bright future.”

Stewart would be seeing many in the sprint car community soon, heading Sunday night from Watkins Glen to the Knoxville Nationals in Iowa to begin the last off-week of his final season in Sprint Cup.

His fifth top five in 14 starts this season came in a race when he avoided trouble that found many other veterans, particularly in the closing laps.

“The spotter was telling me pairs of guys that were mad at each other,” he said. “I was like, ‘For once I’m not mad at anybody with six laps to go.’ So that was a nice position to be. When you get 10 to go like that, you get restarts, it’s going to be pretty hectic and guys are going to be running into each other and pushing each other out of the way. I’m pretty happy to come out of it with a top five.”

He gave much of the credit to rookie crew chief Mike Bugarweicz, who crafted a solid strategy after Stewart fell all the way to 32nd at the midpoint after serving a stop-and-go penalty for missing the inner loop of the track.

“It wasn’t pretty,” Stewart said. “I faded a little at the beginning and had some problems with our brakes getting hot at the first run there. We kind of just stuck to our strategy, and I’m so impressed with Buga. He’s so good at figuring out the strategy.

“He’s real good at being able to … analyze where we’re at and what we need to do to get where we need to be. I’m pretty excited about how good he is at calling a race like that.”

After missing the first eight races with a fractured back, Stewart has climbed from 40th to 26th in the points and is solidly in the playoffs (thanks to his Sonoma victory) with four races remaining in the regular season. He is ahead of nine drivers who have started every race.

“We just keep being consistent, even on days we don’t have a top 10 or top five car,” he said. “We’re finding ways to make top fives out of it. That’s what you’ve got to do in the Chase. You’ve got to be able to make something out of nothing, and these guys are doing a great job out of that.”

Longtime crew chief Nick Harrison dies at 37, team announces

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LOUDON, N.H. — Kaulig Racing announced Sunday morning that veteran crew chief Nick Harrison died. He was 37.

Harrison was the crew chief for Justin Haley‘s No. 11 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series and had called the car’s 13th-place finish Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

In a statement attributed to team owner Matt Kaulig and president Chris Rice, the team said in a tweet that “It is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of Nick Harrison, our beloved crew chief of the No. 11 car at Kaulig Racing. Please keep Nick’s family in your thoughts and prayers at this time.”

No cause of death or information on services was immediately available. A Kaulig Racing spokesperson said “further details would be provided as they come.”

NASCAR released a statement on Harrison’s death: “We are deeply saddened by the loss of longtime crew chief Nick Harrison, and offer our thoughts, prayers and support to his family, friends and Kaulig Racing colleagues.”

According to Racing-Reference.info, Harrison made his debut as an Xfinity crew chief in 2006. He was a crew chief for 184 Xfinity races (including 17 with Haley this year) and had five victories, his first with Kurt Busch in 2012 at Daytona International Speedway with James Finch’s Phoenix Racing.

He also worked 120 races as a crew chief in the Cup Series, including full seasons in 2011-12 with Phoenix Racing’s No. 51 Chevrolet. He guided Busch to a third place June 24, 2012 at Sonoma Raceway, marking Harrison’s best finish as a Cup crew chief.

Harrison also won three times in the Xfinity Series with Austin Dillon and once with Paul Menard. He also won with Dillon in the Aug. 2, 2014 truck race at Pocono Raceway, one of three truck races for Harrison as a crew chief.

During a career with several teams including Phoenix, Richard Childress Racing and Kaulig, Harrison worked with more than a dozen Cup and Xfinity drivers. The roster included Bobby Labonte, Bill Elliott, Boris Said, A.J. Allmendinger, Micahel McDowell, Regan Smith, Ryan Truex, Landon Cassill, Jamie McMurray, Ty Dillon, Jeremy Clements, Brandon Jones, Ben Kennedy and Brendan Gaughan.

Today’s Cup race at New Hampshire: Start time, lineup and more

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After a harrowing series of practice sessions for some teams at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, NASCAR’s premier series is scheduled for 301 laps Sunday at the Magic Mile.

Five drivers — Alex Bowman, William Byron, Kyle Larson, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin — will start from the rear in backup cars after crashes the past two days.

Brad Keselowski will start first after capturing his first pole position since October 2017.

Here’s all the info for today’s event:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The green flag is scheduled for 3:15 p.m.

PRERACE: The garage will open at 9:30 a.m. The driver/crew chief meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. Driver introductions will begin at 2:30 p.m. The national anthem will be performed by Whitney Doucet at 3:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 301 laps (318.46 miles) around the 1.058-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 75. Stage 2 ends on Lap 150

TV/RADIO: Prerace coverage will begin at 1:30 p.m. with NASCAR America on NBCSN, followed by  Countdown to Green at 2:30 on NBCSN and the race broadcast at 3 on NBCSN. Performance Racing Network will broadcast the race. PRN’s coverage begins at 2 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry PRN’s broadcast, which is also available at goprn.com.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for mostly cloudy skies with a high of 90 degrees and a 24% chance of scattered thunderstorms for the start of the race. 

LAST TIME: Kevin Harvick bumped Kyle Busch from the lead on Lap 295 of 301. Aric Almirola finished third. 

TO THE REAR: Alex Bowman, William Byron, Kyle Larson, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin will drop to the back because they are in backup cars.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

Harrison Burton, Paul Menard exchange words after trading hits

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LOUDON, N.H. – There’s a 20-year gap between Paul Menard and Harrison Burton and seemingly just as wide a gulf in how they viewed their incident Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Burton, 18, finished 29th in the Xfinity Series race after being wrecked by Menard, 38, with 45 laps remaining.

Parking his No. 18 Toyota after completing 169 of 200 laps, Burton waited for more than 20 minutes until the race ended and then strode purposefully from the entrance of the Xfinity garage to the pits and confronted Menard for a terse but civil conversation.

“I wanted to get across to him that I got wrecked for no reason,” said Burton, who competes full-time in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series and was making the third start of his Xfinity career and the first on a track at least a mile in length. “I barely touched him. There’s barely a mark on his door. I don’t know if he’s heard of NASCAR before, but this isn’t F1 where if you touch someone, there’s a 5-second penalty.

“I barely touched him, and I got wrecked. He says that I got into him on the restart. I’m on the apron, and he comes down across my nose and then gets mad about it. When he watches the film, I think he’ll see that. I think that we just worked our butts off and didn’t get the result we deserve. We’ll just come back and race harder and beat him next time.”

Menard said he was justified to tap Burton in the left rear and spin the Joe Gibbs Racing driver into the Turn 1 wall.

“He ran into me a couple of times,” said the driver of the No. 12 Ford for Team Penske. “So I voiced my displeasure. He’s a young kid. He’s got a long time in this sport. He’s got to figure that stuff out pretty early. As he races more in Xfinity, and especially if he gets to the Cup level, they don’t put up with that stuff. I felt it was my place to tell him that’s not cool.

“A lot of these kids are good clean racers. He kind of stood out from the crowd. He had a fast enough car he could have been clean. I hate tearing up race cars. I didn’t really want to tear up his race car, that’s for sure. But sometimes enough is enough.”

Menard singled out Chase Briscoe and Noah Gragson, both in their early to mid-20s, for having raced him cleaner than Burton.

“Some of these kids are really fun to race with, and some of them just don’t get it,” said Menard, a veteran of 14 seasons in the Cup series who was teamed with Burton’s father (and NASCAR on NBC analyst), Jeff, for three seasons at Richard Childress Racing. “So I think you have to cut that shit out at an early age.”

“Some of these kids have a lot of talent and don’t have to run into you to try to pass you. Harrison, I’ve never met the kid before. I know his dad really well. I’ve got a lot of respect for Jeff. Really good man. But the kid ran into me a couple of times, and that was enough of that.”

Though he had the chance to air his grievances, Burton was skeptical it would make any difference with how Menard would race him in the future.

“He doesn’t care,” Burton said. “He doesn’t care about anyone else but himself. But I’m going to just go out and beat him on the racetrack like I was going to today. I was driving away from him. I was gone.

“We were going to beat him on the racetrack, and that’s all you can do is just beat people on the racetrack and show them you’re going to outwork them. I’m fired up and ready to go for the next one.”

Results, points after Xfinity race at New Hampshire

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Christopher Bell led 186 of 200 laps on his way to winning Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Bell beat Cole Custer to claim his fifth of the year.

The top five was completed by Justin Allgaier, Tyler Reddick and Paul Menard.

Click here for the race results.

Points

Tyler Reddick continues to lead the standings despite having two few wins than Bell and Custer.

He has a 56-point lead over Bell and 76-point advantage over Custer in third.

The top five is completed by Justin Allgaier (-146 points) and Austin Cindric (-163 points).

Click here for the full standings.