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Heat is on as Chase regulars Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle try to get back to playoffs

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Once regulars in the Chase, both Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle face missing the Sprint Cup playoffs for a second consecutive year.

Kahne enters Sunday’s race at Michigan International Speedway 39 points — nearly a full race back — out of the final transfer spot. Biffle is 135 points out of the final transfer spot, meaning he must win at either Michigan, Darlington or Richmond or he’ll miss the playoffs.

Kahne got off to a good start Friday. He was eighth on the speed chart in practice, while Biffle was 23rd.

Both drivers have made the Chase three of the last four seasons. Kahne’s best finish of fourth came in 2012, his first year with Hendrick Motorsports. Biffle’s best finish came in 2005 when he placed second to Tony Stewart for the title.

Kahne is seeking to make the Chase despite declining results, something Hendrick Motorsports has faced this season.

Kahne is worse in green-flag speed (he was 13th last year compared to 19th this year), has run fewer laps in the top 15 (60 percent last year compared to 50.1 percent this year) and has yet to led a lap this year.

“That’s terrible,’’ Kahne said of not having led any of the 6,401 laps run this season. “You can lead a lap easily. You don’t have to be fast to lead a lap. It’s terrible not to lead a lap in this series, as good a team we have and the company that we race for. We need to. We need to figure out how to lead laps. We need to figure out how to do a lot of things. We’re not going to end the year with no laps led.’’

Kahne has solace in that two years ago Martin Truex Jr. led one lap the entire season. This season, Truex has led 1,006 laps this season, second only to Kyle Busch (1,243 laps led) and has a playoff spot set.

While Truex and his Toyota teammates have excelled this year, Kahne and his Hendrick teammates have struggled with speed this year.

“The speed of your car is what you’ve got,’’ said Kahne, whose average finish is 17.0. “We’re working hard to go faster. Right now we’re consistently 13th to 16th or 13th to 18th. It’s definitely not good enough.’’

Kahne’s performance has led to questions about his status with Hendrick Motorsports, which recently signed William Byron to drive in the Xfinity Series for JR Motorsports next year. Kahne’s contract with Hendrick Motorsports goes through 2018 but Kahne’s focus is on improving the performance and not the contract’s length.

“If I haven’t performed by 2018, I need to leave,’’ Kahne said. “It’s pretty simple.’’

As for Biffle, his contract expires after next season, but he sees progress. Roush Fenway Racing is markedly better than last year but still has work to do to return among the sport’s elites.

Biffle ran in the top 15 in 20.7 percent of the last laps last season. This year, he’s up to 37.1 percent. An issue has been finishing races. He’s failed to finish five races and has an average finish of 21.3. His average finish last year was 20.0 and he was running at the end of every points race.

“Last year was like give me a razor blade,’’ Biffle said. “It was bad. What is the frustrating part of last year was that everybody was working so dang hard. That happens when you run bad or you don’t have fast cars, you work three times as hard and three times as much as every other team. When you’re running good and having success, it seems like you’ve got a tenth of the work because you’re walking around like ‘We’ve got this. You’re fine-tuning.’’’

Biffle saw the progress when he placed eighth at Daytona in July, sixth at Kentucky and fifth at New Hampshire. He’s hopeful that progress returns this weekend at Michigan — site of Biffle’s most recent series win in 2013. He also has the most wins, four, among active drivers at Michigan.

“I feel good,’’ Biffle said. “I feel good about the speed of our cars and the opportunity to win these next two weeks. We were really fast last year at Darlington. I feel good about it. I really do. This year at Michigan … we didn’t qualify that good, drove all the way up to 10th or 11th, I think 10th and on the green flag pit cycle. We pit (Lap 102) and caution comes out (103) and I’m on the bumper of (Jimmie Johnson) to pass him to get on the lead lap. It’s just been that type of year for us. If it could happen, it does. It’s just a matter of catching the break right.’’

For both Biffle and Kahne, their chance of making the Chase becomes more challenging as the series moves closer to Richmond.

Nashville Fair Board votes to terminate contract with operator of Fairgrounds Speedway

Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway
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The Nashville Metro Fair Board voted Tuesday to terminate its contract with the operator of Fairgrounds Speedway, a track being eyed for a possible NASCAR race, according to The Tennessean.

Last December, Formosa Productions and Bristol Motor Speedway announced “an agreement to explore bringing major NASCAR racing events” back to the .596-mile track. The earliest Nashville could potentially be added to the schedule is 2021, though the schedule for that season is expected to be revealed in April.

Bristol Motor Speedway released a statement Tuesday night saying it is still interested in pursuing future involvement with the Fairgrounds Speedway.

“We appreciate all that Tony and Claire Formosa have done to sustain local racing in Nashville over the years,” said Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager for Bristol Motor Speedway. “Today’s news does not change our interest or belief that Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway can be returned to prominence to help create a true renovation of the Fairgrounds. There is huge local, regional and national interest in the future of the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. As Mayor (John) Cooper, the Fair Board and Council determine what’s next for the historic race track, we are ready to engage with them on the vision that we believe can deliver a bright future for the Fairgrounds.”

The vote to terminate the contract with Formosa Productions, operated by Tony and Claire Formosa, is in response to a claimed breach of contract, which was first raised by the city in April and includes unpaid concessions commissions and rent payments.

A fairgrounds spokesperson told The Tennessean that the Formosas would owe the city nearly $180,000 by the end of the year. The Tennessean reports the Formosas have 90 days to vacate the premises.

According to The Tennessean, Nashville Fairgrounds Director Laura Womack said she and another board member met Oct. 14 with the Formosas and asked that they provide specific contract changes and documents regarding attendance and revenue records from this year’s racing season.

A meeting where those documents were due to be delivered was rescheduled to Nov. 6 before it was canceled by the Formosas.

“This shows little to no faith that we will be paid by the end of the year,” said Fair Board member Caleb Hemmer, according to The Tennessean. “Which begs the issue that we need to start looking to the future and what we need to do as a board to ensure there’s racing next year if the (Formosas) can’t fulfill their obligations as put forth by (the contract).”

Jim Roberts, an attorney representing the Formosas, attended the meeting according to The Tennessean. Roberts believed the meeting, which was delayed two hours due to winter weather, was in violation of the opens meeting act due to it not being properly noticed.

The Formosas have operated the track since 2010 and entered into a five-year agreement in 2017 after the city chose its bid over one from Bristol Motor Speedway

The deal between Formosa Productions and Bristol Motor Speedway, which would need to be approved by the Fair Board, would focus “on a long-range plan of significant track improvements and high-profile race events that could include NASCAR events upon the facility meeting standards.”

In May, Bristol officials revealed a $60 million proposal to renovate the track.

The plan would increase seating capacity of the .596-mile short track from its current size of 15,000 to 30,000, as well as include an expanded concourse, premium seating, pedestrian tunnels and sound barriers.

 

Penalty report from ISM Raceway

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NASCAR has fined five crew chiefs for unsecured lug nuts on their cars after last weekend’s playoff races at ISM Raceway.

Each fine was for having a single unsecured lug nut.

In the Cup Series:

Paul Wolfe, crew chief on Brad Keselowski‘s No. 2 Ford, and Mike Hillman Sr., crew chief on J.J. Yeley‘s No. 53 Chevrolet, were each fined $10,000.

In the Xfinity Series:

Taylor Moyer, crew chief on Zane Smith‘s No. 8 Chevrolet, was fined $5,000.

In the Truck Series:

Joe Shear, Jr., crew chief on Johnny Suater’s No. 13 Chevrolet, and Trip Bruce lll, crew chief on race winner Stewart Friesen‘s No. 52 Chevrolet, were fined $2,500.

Preliminary entry lists for Championship Weekend in Miami

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NASCAR’s final race weekend of the year has arrived with the championship races for all three of its national series at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for all three races.

Cup – Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC)

A full field of 40 cars are entered into the race.

Drew Herring is entered in Gaunt Brothers Racing’s No. 96 Toyota for his Cup debut.

John Hunter Nemechek will make his third start in Front Row Motorsports’ No. 36 Ford in relief of Matt Tifft.

Joe Nemechek is entered in Premium Motorsports’ No. 15 Chevrolet.

Joey Logano won this race last year over Martin Truex Jr. to claim his first Cup title.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – Ford EcoBoost 300 (3:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)

There are 39 cars entered. One car will not qualify for the race.

Jeb Burton is entered in JR Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet.

Harrison Burton is entered in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota.

Tyler Reddick won this race last year over Cole Custer to claim the championship.

Click here for the entry list.

Trucks – Ford EcoBoost 200 (8 p.m. ET Friday on FS1)

There are 37 trucks entered. Five trucks will not qualify for the event.

K&N Pro Series West champion Derek Kraus is entered in Bill McAnally Racing’s No. 19 Toyota for his fifth start of the season.

Angela Ruch is entered in Niece Motorsports’ No. 44 Chevrolet.

Christian Eckes is entered in Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 51 Toyota.

NBC Sports analyst Parker Kligerman is entered in Henderson Motorsports’ No. 75 Chevrolet.

No drivers are listed for NEMCO Motorsports’ No. 87 Chevrolet and Reaume Brothers Racing’s No. 33 and No. 34 Toyotas.

Brett Moffitt won this race last year to claim the championship.

Click here for the entry list.

JJL Motorsports announces new team owner

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JJL Motorsports, Jesse Little‘s Gander Outdoors Truck Series team, announced Tuesday it has sold its assets to Logan Puckett, president of Diversified Utility Group, a turnkey general contractor specializing in fiber optic telecommunications construction.

The company will sponsor Little in Friday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway (8 p.m. ET on FS1).

Puckett will re-brand the team as Diversified Motorsports Enterprises in 2020 with plans to compete part-time with Little as its primary driver.

Little, 22, has made eight starts in the Truck Series this year in his No. 97 Ford.

More: Jesse Little to compete full-time for JD Motorsports in 2020

The team announced in early September that its assets were up for sale.

“I’m honored to represent Diversified Utility Group this weekend at Homestead,” Little said in a press release. “Logan has been so excited about the opportunity to enter the Truck Series as an owner in 2020, but to have his company be a part of our last race under the JJL Motorsports banner as a sponsor is even more awesome.

“Hopefully we can have a good performance for him on Friday night before looking ahead to 2020.”

Said Puckett: “I am really looking forward to taking over an outstanding program that JJL has put together as it provides a great foundation to build on and hopefully grow. I think the growth potential is what excites me the most.

“I am certainly looking forward to the challenge that this provides, and I hope that I can bring some value to the team and ultimately it would be awesome if I can bring value to the sport as a young owner with a fresh outlook.”