Pressure, prestige, mistakes mark Daytona 500’s glory and consequences

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Brad Keselowski compares racing in the Daytona 500 with attending your first day of school and taking a final exam.

On the same day.

“The biggest race is also the first race of the season,” the 2012 Cup champion said during Daytona 500 Media Day. “With it comes all the pressure and opportunity that comes with that to really set the stage for your season but also all the new faces and first-day jitters you have to work out with your team.

“There also is a lot of unpredictability and a lot of things that can go wrong. You make one mistake in this race, especially in those late stages and you find yourself out of it.”

That happened to Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2015 when he made a mistake on a restart with 20 laps to go that essentially cost him a shot at back-to-back victories in the Great American Race.

Joey Logano took advantage, executing a series of perfect maneuvers in his No. 22 Ford over the final 20 laps and holding off a squadron of challengers without teammate Keselowski (whose engine expired earlier).

“It’s exhausting because there’s a lot going on,” Logano said. “If you’re trying to race up front the whole time, it’s an exhausting race.  If you’re running around in the back, which I don’t think anyone is going to do now with the new format, but there’s a lot going through your mind.

“You have to try to see what’s going on a lap ahead all the time, and that’s really hard to put all of that together because to be able to do that you have to have great information from behind and what your spotter sees, and you have to have that communication really well, and then you have to see runs forming, and you have to know who you’re racing against and what type of moves they’re prone to making.  You have to process all of that information before you make that split-second move when that opportunity comes up to make that big pass.”

Jimmie Johnson said it doesn’t always come down to just one mistake and added that a rules tweak (a smaller restrictor plate) will have an impact this year.

“It’s much more difficult to pass for the lead, so the pit stop or two prior to the end of the race and how you come off of pit road and how you line up on the ensuing restarts has more to do with it,” he said. “So we might be able to now kind of find a moment in time like, ‘Man, messed up on pit road, I got a bad restart.’ So it’s starting to develop now, and spending time watching last year’s 500, once you get the lead, it’s hard to lose it. It has to be the perfect storm behind you to create the opportunity to pass.”

Keselowski, who crashed Sunday with defending Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin while batting for the lead on the last lap of The Clash, believes the chips are ready to fall his way.

“A lot of things that you can’t control with respect to getting your car back up front, a lot of things you can’t control with getting cars to work with you at the right time,” he said. “There’s a lot of timing involved in these races. I feel like in some ways plate racing is almost like playing cards. You stack the odds and know you haven’t gotten a card in a long time. We haven’t caught any breaks at Daytona as a team in a long time.

“I know we have the car that can win this race this year. We have the speed. I feel I have the knowledge and intuition of the right moves to make. The last few years, we haven’t caught any breaks. And that pendulum is going to swing and we’re going to catch some good breaks. I believe that in my heart, and I believe this is the year to do it.”

Race results, Truck Series point standings after Gateway

Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images
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Justin Haley survived two late-race restarts to win his first career Camping World Truck Series race in the Eaton 200 at Gateway Motorsports Park.

His victory was aided by a push into turn one by rookie Todd Gilliland, who finished second.

Johnny Sauter finished third to score his 10th top-five finish in 10 races.

Myatt Snider and Zane Smith rounded out the top five. Smith was making his first career Truck start.

Click here for complete results.

Johnny Sauter maintained his points lead with a third-place finish, extending the advantage to 73 points over Noah Gragson, who finished 10th.

Brett Moffitt is third in the standings and has two wins to his credit.

Grant Enfinger and Stewart Friesen round out the top five

Hayley climbed from eighth to sixth in the standings with his win, but more importantly that victory gets him a berth into the playoffs.

Click here for the complete points standings.

 

Justin Haley wins first Truck race at Gateway

Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images
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Justin Haley won his first career Camping World Truck Series in a three-lap shootout at the end of the Eaton 200 at Gateway Motorsports Park.

With seven laps remaining, then-leader Noah Gragson took the bottom line on a restart. That lined Todd Gilliland up behind Haley and proved to be the difference for both drivers on the front row. Gilliland pushed Haley hard into turn one, but contact between Gragson and Gilliland allowed Haley to gain the advantage.

A quick caution for debris forced Haley to survive one more restart – this time with Johnny Sauter lined up beside him. In a three-lap shootout to the end, Haley held onto the top spot.

Gilliland got around Sauter for second. Sauter finished third.

Myatt Snider finished fourth with Zane Smith rounding out the top five in his first career Truck start.

The race was red flagged on lap 119 to clean up fluid from John Hunter Nemechek. He ran over a piece of debris that punctured an oil line. Justin Fontaine spun in the oil with Tate Fogleman sliding in as well.

The incident had lasting ramifications. On lap 132, Brett Moffitt and Ben Rhodes were battling for fifth. Neither driver wanted to go high into turn one because of the speedy dry. Rhodes crowded Moffitt and both made contact with the wall. Rhodes stayed on track. Moffitt pitted, but was able to climb back into contention for a top 10.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Grant Enfinger

STAGE 2 WINNER: Christian Eckes

HOW JUSTIN HALEY WON: Haley lined up in the outside groove with seven laps to go and got a bump from Todd Gilliland that pushed him to the lead. From there, it was simply a matter of surviving one more restart with the veteran Johnny Sauter lined up to his inside as Haley led the final laps.

WHO HAD A GOOD NIGHT: In his Truck debut, Riley Herbst scored a top-10 finish in eighth. … Jesse Little finished seventh, which was his fourth top-10 finish in the last five races. … In just his third Truck start and first since 2015, Chad Finley managed to stay out of trouble and finished a career-best sixth.

WHO HAD A BAD NIGHT: Dalton Sargeant cut a left front tire and pounded the wall with two laps remaining in stage one after contact from Todd Gilliland. … Matt Crafton developed an alternator issue at the end of stage two; they changed a battery and resumed racing, four laps off the pace. … On lap 76, Stewart Friesen got loose underneath Christian Eckes and spun him into the wall. … Battling for sixth on lap 98, Friesen and Johnny Sauter made contact on exiting turn two and Friesen spun into the inside wall. … Grant Enfinger started on the pole, led every lap of the first stage, but cut a tire in the closing laps and finished seven laps off the pace in 21st.

NOTABLE: It was a difficult night for Young Guns. In his second career Truck start, 17-year-old Eckes was wrecked during segment two after contact with Friesen. Making his first start in the Tuck series, 18-year-old Fogleman was collected in an accident triggered by Nemechek’s blown engine.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “We had to change the battery. The alternator’s done. I don’t know; they’re still trying to science it out I guess. You know, it’s a big cost for something we spend a lot of money on – and there’s just no excuse for it. Our day is pretty much over. We’ll use it as a test, go to Chicago and try to kick their ass there.” – Matt Crafton’s crew chief Junior Joiner after an electrical problem plagued them at the end of stage two.

WHAT’S NEXT: Overton’s 225 at Chicagoland Speedway at 9 p.m. ET on June 29 on FS1.

NASCAR broadcaster struck by car while jogging, suffers skull fracture

Photo: Performance Racing Network
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Performance Racing Network broadcaster Wendy Venturini is recovering in a hospital after she was struck by a car while jogging Saturday morning in Novato, California.

Venturini suffered a skull fracture and a concussion, Doug Rice, president and general manager of PRN, told NBC Sports on Saturday night.

Rice told NBC Sports that Venturini’s prognosis “is very good. I was there (at Marin General Hospital) and heard the doctor tell her that.”

Rice also said: “She’s completely coherent and conversational, and I have talked to her on two occasions today. They told her she would have a really good headache for a couple of days.”

Rice said that Venturini is expected to be hospitalized for a day or two.

Venturini became the first female to serve as a co-anchor for a NASCAR Cup race in September 2014 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. She was in California to be a pit reporter for PRN’s radio broadcast of Sunday’s Cup race at Sonoma Raceway. She also has served as a booth analyst for PRN broadcasts this season.

Venturini became the first female broadcaster to call an entire race on a national level during the July 2007 Cup race at Sonoma Raceway for DirecTV. She also has reported on NASCAR for Speed Channel and Fox Sports 1.

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Grant Enfinger wins Truck pole at Gateway

Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images
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With a speed of 138.867 mph, Grant Enfinger scored his second career Camping World Truck Series pole and will lead the field to green tonight for the Eaton 200. His first pole came on the restrictor plate Daytona International Speedway in February 2016.

Noah Gragson set a track record in round two of qualification with a speed of 139.035 mph. He slipped to third in the running order during round three.

Enfinger beat Christian Eckes (138.594 mph) by .064 seconds. Eckes is making only his second start in the Truck series. Last week he started ninth and finished eighth at Iowa Speedway.

Gragson (138.402), Justin Haley (138.325) and Ben Rhodes (138.211) rounded out the top five.

Johnny Sauter (137.358) failed to advance to the final round of qualification and will start 13th.

Camden Murphy and BJ McLeod failed to qualify.

Click here for the complete lineup.