Jimmie Johnson baffled by NASCAR officiating after being penalized

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AVONDALE, Ariz. — Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. both plan to talk to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series officials after each was penalized a lap for pulling up to pit during Sunday’s race at Phoenix International Raceway.

Truex, who was running 10th after starting last in a backup car, was penalized on Lap 85. He never recovered and finished last after an accident. Johnson was penalized on Lap 133 of the 324-lap race and was not a factor. He finished 38th after his car was damaged in an incident.

The penalties marked only the second time this season that NASCAR has cited Cup drivers for pulling up to pit. Kevin Harvick and Casey Mears both were penalized for the infraction at Dover in May.

Johnson was confused by NASCAR’s call and wants to make sure he understands it as he races for a championship next weekend in Miami against Carl Edwards, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch. Truex and his team also argued their penalty when it happened.

“Rumor has it that guys have been pulling up like that all weekend to go to pit lane,’’ Johnson said, looking to Busch, who feigned ignorance, during their press conference after the Can-Am 500. “In 15 years that has never been a concern, and I was always told that the last thing NASCAR wanted to do would be to penalize the leader, and as you pull off onto the apron, you accelerate to the commitment line. 

“If you are held by the pace car, you’re at a disadvantage as the leader and it allows everybody to catch you and catch up, so even in drivers’ meetings they’ve said, we know you’re going to pass the pace car; it’s okay. The majority of the tracks we go to, you naturally just gradually pull ahead of the pace car coming to pit lane. I mean, this happens all the time.

“I am still baffled, and I don’t know if I will stop being baffled, but all I can say is if they called me on it and they continue to call everybody else on it every week, then shame on me.’’

In the video that is played during the drivers’ meeting each week, competitors are told “do not pull up to pit, hold your respective track position under the yellow flag.’’

NASCAR previously warned drivers about this issue.

During the drivers meeting at Martinsville, Richard Buck, Sprint Cup director, told competitors: “Also a reminder, under caution, the leader may not pass the caution car when entering pit road.”

On NASCAR’s pit road penalty handout that is given to each crew chief, it reads for pulling up to pit: “When following the caution vehicle during a caution period, drivers must maintain their position in relation to other vehicles in the field or as otherwise directed by NASCAR, and will not be permitted to pass other vehicles or the caution vehicle when preparing to enter pit road.’’

An issue for Johnson is that earlier in the Chase at Charlotte, Matt Kenseth was second and closed the gap to Johnson as they approached pit road under caution. Kenseth took the lead from Johnson on that pit stop, only to lose it after the ensuing restart with less than 20 laps to go.

“There’s two pieces to it, the leader and his orientation to the pace car,’’ Johnson said. “Again, NASCAR has never wanted to put the leader at a disadvantage, so they allow you to once you pull down to accelerate to the line.

“If the guys behind you pull down and accelerate before the leader does, then they’re supposed to call that. So they’re two separate issues, and I guess they called (Truex) on the other issue, so if they’re going to officiate this way, then I’ll keep my mouth shut from here on out, but from my position as the leader, this is the first, and I’ve been told differently multiple times and I’ve heard it in countless drivers’ meetings being described differently than the way they officiated it today.’’

Daniel Hemric fastest in final practice; Kevin Harvick second

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Daniel Hemric turned the fastest lap Friday in the final Cup practice at Kansas Speedway, turning a 177.830 mph lap in his No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.

Kevin Harvick was second followed by Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski (who paced the first practice) and Ryan Blaney.

Hemric has yet to announce a ride for 2020 after RCR announced last month that the rookie would be replaced by Tyler Reddick next season.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Suarez and Aric Almirola rounded out the top 10.

Here are the rankings speeds of the other playoff drivers: Denny Hamlin 12th; Alex Bowman 15th; Joey Logano 16th; Clint Bowyer 19th; Chase Elliott 20th; and William Byron 22nd.

Click here to see where things stand in the playoffs standings entering Sunday’s second-round cutoff race at Kansas.

Click here for speeds from the final practice at Kansas.

Click here for the speeds during the first Cup practice of the weekend at Kansas.

Ryan Preece praises team for its work after hauler fire

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Ryan Preece praised his team for converting teammate Chris Buescher’s backup car into Preece’s primary car Friday after the hauler carrying Preece’s cars and equipment caught fire this week en route to Kansas Speedway.

“I know some of the guys haven’t had much sleep, very proud of them,” Preece said.

The team’s hauler pulled over near New Columbia, Illinois, on Thursday after a fire in the rear axle area that spread to the hauler. A team spokesperson told NBC Sports that crew chief Eddie Pardue and a couple of team members flew there to take what could be salvaged before driving to Kansas City.

The team spokesperson said that the lockers and uniforms in the hauler were heavily damaged. Both cars had damage with the backup car suffering smoke damage.

NASCAR allowed JTG Daugherty Racing to enter the garage at 8 a.m. ET Friday — five hours before the garage was scheduled to open — and allowed members from both JTG Daugherty teams to work on the car. Preece said he was there with the team when it arrived and worked on the interior as the crew converted the car.

“We’re in it as a team,” Preece said. “I wasn’t going to show up later in the afternoon. I wanted them to know that I was right there with them. I wanted to help in every way I could.”

Preece said his car was loose in the first practice session Friday at Kansas Speedway. He was 32nd on the speed chart in that session, making it on track about 10 minutes after practice began.

Brad Keselowski fastest in first practice at Kansas; Kyle Busch makes big save

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Brad Keselowski turned the fastest lap with a minute remaining in Friday afternoon’s first Cup practice at Kansas Speedway.

The 176.499-mph lap by the No. 2 Ford of Team Penske nipped a 176.389 mph lap by the No. 10 Ford of Aric Almirola.

Daniel Suarez was third, followed by Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney. Kurt Busch, Paul Menard, Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick and Daniel Hemric rounded out the top 10.

Here’s how other playoff drivers fared during the practice:

Kyle Larson 11th; Joey Logano 13th; Clint Bowyer 15th; William Byron 20th; Alex Bowman 21st; Kyle Busch (who had an impressive save; video below) 22nd; Chase Elliott 23rd.

Click here to see where things stand in the playoffs standings entering Sunday’s second-round cutoff race at Kansas.

Click here for the speeds during the first Cup practice of the weekend at Kansas.

Gray Gaulding out Friday after suspected allergic reaction

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A Stewart-Haas Racing plane made an unscheduled stop in St. Louis on Friday after Gray Gaulding had a suspected allergic reaction.

SS Green Light Racing confirmed Gaulding had an issue en route to Kansas City. A Stewart-Haas Racing spokesperson confirmed that its plane made the unscheduled stop, and that emergency personnel came on board after the plane landed. Gaulding remained in St. Louis while the plane continued to Kansas City.

SS Green Light Racing stated that after arriving at the track, Gaulding went to the infield care center and was not cleared to drive Friday. Gaulding will be re-evaluated Saturday. J.J. Yeley drove the car for Gaulding in practice Friday.