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Upon Further Review: Listening to good advice

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AVONDALE, Ariz. — Enough of the lessons, Joey Logano says, he’s ready to win a championship.

Two years ago, he was told to treat the title race at Homestead-Miami Speedway like any other race.

“I said, yeah, OK,’’ Logano said in a disbelieving manner.

Instead of following the advice, he hyperfocused on the task, constantly seeking to game plan with crew Todd Gordon.

“You’re looking at every little detail, as you should, but you’ve also got to be able to turn it off, and that’s where I didn’t do that before,’’ Logano said after his win Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway put him in the title race for the second time in three years.

He’s learned that the words given to him two years ago are what he should be following.

“We race to win every week; why should we race differently for a championship, right?’’ said Logano, who seeks his first series title. “We’re racing to win that race, and that’s ultimately going to have a championship attached to that. 

“We’ve just got to do the same thing we did this weekend. We’ve got momentum. We’ve won multiple races. We’ve got on rolls before where you’ve got that momentum and that confidence and it just keeps stacking up like it did last year, and we’re in good position to do that again.’’

Two years ago, Kevin Harvick won the championship and Logano was consoled by those who told him his time would come.

“After the race, everyone told me, you’ve got to lose one to win one, and I thought that was the biggest crock of crap I’ve ever heard in my life,” he said. “But you know what, it’s not the fact that you have to lose one to win one, it’s the fact that maybe it really helped me to just live through it once, and since then, we’ve been in those situations.

“We raced (Sunday) for a championship. We raced in Talladega for a championship. We’ve done this before.

“Homestead (in 2014) was the first time we ever had to do that.  You think about the way that Chase went, you know, we’ve won races in each round, where we never really had our back against the wall or anything. These last few years we’ve been in the position that we’ve had our back up against the wall and had to win, and we’ve been able to do that this year a couple times.’’

NOT A HAIL MARY

While it is easy to label the decision not to pit Denny Hamlin late in Sunday’s race a tremendous gamble, that’s not how crew chief Mike Wheeler saw it. Instead, he viewed it as a move they had to make.

Hamlin was running sixth when the caution flag waved for Martin Truex Jr.’s accident on Lap 257. Hamlin trailed Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch — drivers he was racing for a spot in the title race.

Wheeler decided to keep Hamlin on track, while the rest of the field pitted. Hamlin restarted in the lead with Kenseth second, Logano sixth and Busch seventh.

Hamlin fell to second off the restart and stayed there until a debris caution on Lap 267. After that restart, Hamlin fell back, while Kenseth moved into the lead and Logano took second. Hamlin later pitted during overtime because he was close on fuel. He finished seventh, failing to make it to the championship round.

Wheeler explained the decision not to pit on Lap 257:

“At the end of the day we were behind the guys,’’ Wheeler said of those they were racing to make it to the championship round, “so we had to do something different to get ahead of them. We were too equal to beat them straight up without some kind of off-sequence deal.

“We talked about it beforehand. We knew that this was one of those places that tires didn’t matter that much. I think if we don’t get multiple cautions, we actually make it. We ran second that stint. We don’t get any more cautions, we finish second or third and we probably make it in. I don’t say it’s a Hail Mary but it’s definitely an aggressive move to gain track position.’’

THREE LONG YEARS

Phoenix marked the three-year anniversary since Richard Childress Racing last won a Sprint Cup race. The organization is winless in its last 108 Cup races.

RCR’s last win came with Kevin Harvick on Nov. 10, 2013. Austin Dillon has yet to win a Cup race for the organization, Ryan Newman also has not won with the organization, and Paul Menard’s lone victory came in the 2011 Brickyard 400 for the team.

Menard was the team’s top driver Sunday, placing 10th. RCR has placed one driver in the top 10 in six of the nine Chase races.

Car owner Richard Childress acknowledges that work remains for his company.

“We have been disappointed with some of our finishes but the things we have worked on the last several months, I have seen a real good gain in the speed in our cars,’’ he said. “We have been in the right position several times for a win but just couldn’t pull it off.

“I think the people that Eric Warren (director of competition) and Mike Dillon (vice president of competition) have gone out and found and been able to bring in is going to make a huge difference in our competition.

“I think we will be in really good shape next year and we have added Matt Borland (to be Menard’s crew chief in 2017), and we have added two or three new engineers. We also have stepped it up in our engine program in Cup.”

MAKING PROGRESS

Kyle Larson’s third-place finish Sunday marked his best run in the Chase and his second top-10 result in the last five races.

Although eliminated from title contention after the first round, Larson has made progress this season.

His average finish was 22.6 in the season’s first 11 races. Twice he failed to finish races.

In the 11 races since his victory at Michigan, his average finish is 11.9.

“We were so bad to start the year that I felt like our gains were extremely noticeable throughout the first third of the year,’’ Larson said. “Then up until I won at Michigan and a little bit after, I feel like we haven’t gained as much each week as we did earlier in the year.

“We’ve made gains but they haven’t been as big of gains because we’re closer to where we need to be. We haven’t had a whole lot of luck in the last eight races that we’ve run, but we’ve continued to stay positive, work hard and try to make our stuff faster to build the notebook for the offseason and start of next season.”

PIT STOPS

Erik Jones seeks to become the first driver to win a Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series title in back-to-back years this weekend in Miami.

Michael McDowell’s incident after a blown tire set up the overtime finish Sunday at Phoenix. It marked the second time in this Chase he has had an incident that sent a race into overtime. It also happened at Chicagoland Speedway in the Chase opener. In both cases, the driver leading when McDowell had his incident did not win the race in overtime.

— Joey Logano’s victory Sunday was his third of the year. He is the eighth different driver this season to win at least three races. The last time that has happened was 1962.

— Joey Logano also recorded his seventh Chase win since 2014. That is more than any other driver in that period.

— Kevin Harvick’s fourth-place finish was his seventh consecutive top-five result at Phoenix.

Ryan Blaney’s eighth-place finish was his first top-10 result since the opening Chase race at Chicagoland Speedway.

— Average age for the four drivers competing championship round in the Sprint Cup Series is 33.8.

— Average age for the four drivers competing championship round in the Camping World Truck Series is 33.8.

  Average age for the four drivers competing championship round in the Xfinity Series is 28.8

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.”