Rain Man: Justin Marks masters the elements, Mid-Ohio for first Xfinity Series win

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Justin Marks didn’t have the best car under dry conditions, but he was the best driver when Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course was covered in rain.

The part-time driver of the No. 42 for Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet used his years of sports car racing to lead a race high 43 laps – the first of his career – to earn his first NASCAR Xfinity Series win on Saturday.

Marks victory in his 25th start came in a race filled with eight cautions for 32 laps and countless cars going off track -including Marks on Lap 32 – as rain came and went over the Lexington, Ohio, road course. It returned in its hardest form on the final lap around the 13-turn road course, as Marks managed a healthy distance over the field to finish with a 3.7 second lead.

It could have been worse. Marks had a 24-second lead when the race’s final caution waved on Lap 72.

“These are as tough conditions as you could put drivers in,” Marks told NBC Sports. “My specialty is road racing in the rain in these stock cars. I don’t get much of an opportunity to do it.  When that opportunity presents itself, you really have to take advantage of it.”

Marks gave CGR its second win of the year after Kyle Larson won at Pocono Raceway,  a race that was shortened by rain.

“It means the world,” said an increasingly emotional Marks, who has 64 starts across NASCAR’s top three divisions and is co-owner of HScott Motorsports’ K&N series teams. “I’m not a big time race car driver, I’ve had a big career with a lot of rides and stuff. Just means a lot to be able to get an opportunity with Chip Ganassi Racing and to get a win. I wish my family was here.”

MORE: Justin Marks more than a part-time driver

Marks has made 12 starts this season in the No. 42 car. Before 2016 he had never made more than five starts in any of his previous six seasons. His previous best finish was sixth at Mid-Ohio in 2014.

“My hat’s off to Justin Marks,” said Sam Hornish Jr, who started from the pole and led eight laps.  “I generally hold myself as a pretty decent rain racer, even given the opportunity there at the end I couldn’t do anything with him.”

The top five was filled by Marks, Hornish, Ryan Blaney, Ty Dillon and Justin Allgaier.

MORE: Mid-Ohio race results

MORE: Xfinity point standings

HOW JUSTIN MARKS WON: Justin Marks stayed on-track and sped away from the field in the rain on a restart with three laps to go, finishing more than three seconds ahead of Sam Hornish Jr.

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY:   Pole-sitter Sam Hornish Jr. fell from second to 20th after spinning twice on Lap 19, the second restart under wet conditions. The Ohio native then went off course into the dirt on Lap 20 and almost got stuck, bringing out the caution. Hornish fought back to finish second for his second top-three finish in his three starts this year … Ryan Blaney finished third in his first start at Mid-Ohio … Brendan Gaughan finished eighth after being involved in a Lap 33 restart crash that tore the right side sheet metal off his car and being in multiple spins … Erik Jones finished sixth with a mashed up right-rear quarter panel after the five-car accident on Lap 33

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Owen Kelly, competing in his first race of any kind in three years, took the lead on a Lap 10 restart on rain tires then spun going through the esses. Kelly later briefly led under caution, but finished 16th … TJ Bell brought out the second caution when he was the first driver to get stuck in the dirt after sliding off track on Lap 15. Bell would bring out the eighth and final caution after getting stuck in the dirt … On Lap 29, Daniel Suarez brought out the fourth caution for getting stuck in the dirt. The No. 19 finished 23rd, a lap down … On the restart on Lap 33, Erik Jones made contact with Andy Lally, spinning them both. Jones than was ran into by Nelson Piquet Jr, damaging both cars. Piquet finished 38thKenny Habul was involved in multiple accidents before getting permanently stuck in the first with 20 to go, finishing 36th.

NOTABLE: Justin Marks is the fourth different winner in the first four Xfinity races at Mid-Ohio. Marks is also the second first-time Xfinity winner this season after Daniel Suarez’ win at Michigan. In Xfinity Series history, Marks is the 11th driver to earn his first win on a road course.

Quote of the Day: “In the dry, I feel like we could win, but Justin just went out there and was a monster in the wet.” – Sam Hornish Jr. after finished second.

NEXT: Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway on Aug. 19 at 7:30 p.m. ET on USA Network.

Kurt Busch eyes racing in Cup through 2021, another IndyCar effort

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Kurt Busch said talks are progressing with Chip Ganassi Racing on a contract extension and that he also has talked with the team about possibly running another IndyCar race.

Busch, who signed a one-year contract with the Ganassi before this season, said he’s excited about the Next Gen car in Cup that will debut in 2021 and that driving that car is “part of my decision-making with trying to extend my contract with Ganassi.”

The 2004 Cup champion said talks with the team are “headed in a good direction.”

Busch also said that “some of my talks with Ganassi are about an IndyCar.”

He was the 2014 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year after finishing sixth for Andretti Autosport. Busch also noted that with talk of a possible IndyCar/NASCAR weekend in the future, he would be interested in running that IndyCar race, depending on where it would be.

Chip Ganassi Racing is scheduled to field full-time IndyCar entries in 2020 for Scott Dixon, Felix Rosenqvist and Marcus Ericsson.

Busch, 41, isn’t the only Cup driver who is interested in driving an IndyCar at some point. Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson has expressed an interest in running an IndyCar on a road course. Kyle Busch also has expressed an interest in running an IndyCar.

Today’s Xfinity race at Kansas: Start time, lineup and more

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The first race of the round that will determine the championship field of the 2019 Xfinity Series playoffs will take place today at Kansas Speedway.

The eight drivers who are vying for the Xfinity title are: Christopher Bell, Cole Custer, Tyler Reddick, Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett, Noah Gragson, Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe.

Here’s the information for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: : Stephen Durrell, executive director of the Kansas Lottery, will give the command to start engines at 3:02 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:13 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage opens at 10 a.m. Qualifying is 12:05 p.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 1:15 p.m. Driver introductions are at 2:30 p.m. The invocation will be given by Captain Bill Petree, Whiteman Air Force Base at 2:55 p.m. The National Anthem will be performed at 2:56 p.m. by Joshua Morgan.

DISTANCE: The race is 200 laps (300 miles) around the 1.5-mile oval.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 45. Stage 2 ends on Lap 90.

TV/RADIO: NBC will televise the race. Coverage will begin at 2:30 p.m. with Countdown to Green, with the race broadcast beginning at 3 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast will begin at 2:30 p.m. and also can be heard on mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

WATCH ONLINE: Click here for NBC’s live stream of the race.

FORECAST: Wunderground.com forecasts mostly cloudy skies with a temperature of 60 degrees and a 3% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: John Hunter Nemechek led the final 30 laps to win here a year ago.

STARTING LINEUP: Check back after the conclusion of Xfinity qualifying at 1 p.m. ET.

Saturday schedule at Kansas Speedway

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The playoff race weekend continues at Kansas Speedway today.

Cup teams will qualify for Sunday’s race (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC) today while the Xfinity Series begins its Round of 8.

wunderground.com forecasts partly sunny skies, a temperature of 64 degrees and a 20% chance of rain at the start time of the Xfinity Series race.

Here’s the day’s schedule with TV and radio info.

All times are Eastern.

Saturday, Oct. 19

9 a.m. – 3 p.m. – Cup garage open

10 a.m. – Xfinity garage opens

12:05 p.m. – Xfinity qualifying; single car/one lap (NBC Sports App)

1:15 p.m. – Xfinity driver-crew chief meeting

1:35 p.m. – Cup qualifying; single car/one lap (NBCSN, Motor Racing Netowrk, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

2:30 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions

3 p.m. – Kansas Lottery 300; 200 laps/300 miles (NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Long: Even through pain, a smile emerges from Kaulig Racing’s Chris Rice

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Chris Rice punctuates tweets with #Happy and whatever day of the week it is. Co-workers hold him accountable if he doesn’t smile because he’s always encouraging people to smile. His goal is to make everyone feel good.

Even when he hurts.

The last few months have tested Rice, president of Kaulig Racing, in ways he couldn’t have imagined.

Nick Harrison, crew chief for Justin Haley’s team, died July 21. The team’s hauler crashed Wednesday on the way to Kansas Speedway for Saturday’s Xfinity race (3 p.m. ET on NBC). A few hours later, Rice found out his family’s dog, Kiki, was missing.

“The racing is minimal to what I’ve been through this year,” he said.

Still, Rice had reason to smile this week. Both the driver and backup driver in the team’s hauler escaped serious injuries. And Kiki was found a day later about 4 miles away.

Rice says faith has helped him through such challenging times. His voice softens when he talks about how he found out Harrison had suddenly died. Rice got a call from Harrison’s phone at 8:30 a.m. Sunday, a day after the New Hampshire Xfinity race.

‘When I picked up the phone and it was not Nick, it changed my life,” Rice said.

On the phone was one of Harrison’s friends. He told Rice that Harrison had been found dead.

Rice helped Kaulig Racing grieve for Harrison while continuing with the season and the demands a racing schedule presents. His message often was that each day will get better.

Then come days like Wednesday.

The team’s hauler driver had a medical issue and the truck ran through a guardrail, went down an embankment and crashed into a wooded area in Western North Carolina.

Rice went to the crash site. Seeing the overturned hauler and debris strewn, stunned Rice. The windshield was knocked out. Wheels turned backward. The hauler smashed.

“The shock of seeing how bad it was got to me more than anything else,” he said. “The joy is that (the drivers) lived through this.

“We can replace all that other stuff. The one thing we cannot replace is life.”

Later that day, Kiki, a 12-year-old lobsta obsta that Rice and his family rescued 11 years ago, went missing.

“When I was looking for my dog, we walked and we walked and we cried and we cried,” Rice said.

Any pet is special but few are a life saver. That’s Kiki.

Rice’s wife, Tammy, is allergic to shellfish. She had an allergic reaction one night about a year ago while asleep.

“(Kiki) woke my wife up,” Rice said. “Just kept beating on her, woke her up. If not, should have never woken up.”

Tammy posted on Facebook that they had lost the dog this week. The next day, they got a call that Kiki had been found.

Even then, Rice had his doubts. There had been some foxes and coyotes in their neighborhood at times.

When they arrived at the shelter, the dog was Kiki.

It was another reason for Rice to smile.

“I don’t know what day is coming next,” Rice said. “I take what we have today and try to make the best of it. When I wake up tomorrow, I’m glad I woke up and I am going to help the next person.”