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Souvenir haulers may return to some NASCAR races as merchandise program evolves

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. raised a few eyebrows when he said on Periscope after Sunday’s race at Talladega that team souvenir trailers could be returning to NASCAR.

“I heard a little rumor that the big souvenir tent’s going away and the trailers are coming back,” Earnhardt said. “I don’t know if anyone heard that. That’ll be cool.”

Adam Stern of SportsBusinessDaily.com reported that driver souvenir trailers are coming back – but not in the way they had previously spread out at tracks.

Stern wrote Monday that Fanatics, which signed a 10-year agreement with NASCAR in August 2015 to host a trackside superstore tent that carries driver merchandise, will make modifications to its business model in the coming weeks and months.

A NASCAR official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, exclusively told NBC Sports: “We’re not going to see the tent replaced by haulers. That’s not going to happen. It’s going to be different based on every track. You may see more haulers at the track, at some tracks it may be a different configuration, but it’s always been from Day One that (how merchandise is sold at tracks is) going to evolve and change over time based on the shopping habits of our fans.

“They’re basically adjusting to the marketplace. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach with the tent, they’re going to say that on a road course, it may make sense not to have the tent at all, that it may make more sense to have just in-venue or we’ll just bring haulers to this one or we’re just testing it out. They’re working with the tracks to find the what that right mix is, just like any store is.”

Ergo, the 60,000-square-foot tent, which hasn’t been popular with fans who liked the old driver souvenir hauler stands better, will be replaced with smaller satellite sites both within and outside of various racetracks.

Said the NASCAR official to NBC Sports, “I don’t think you’re going to see the big tent anymore, but you’re going to see a mix of maybe smaller tents, in-venue stores, haulers, other things and other ways – who knows what Fanatics is going to come up with.”

Changes are already on the near horizon for both this weekend’s races at Kansas Speedway, and the following two weekends at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the NASCAR All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600.

It’s possible that fans will see additional trailers dedicated to specific drivers at Charlotte, but the NASCAR official cautioned to NBC Sports, “I wouldn’t read into what you’re going to see at Charlotte or Kansas or wherever as the new thing.”

According to the NASCAR official, Fanatics is working on revised business plans with individual racetracks, but the sense is that instead of a one-size-fits-all tent at all tracks, the kind of merchandise tents, trailers and satellite booths will vary from track to track.

There also may be more driver-specific merchandise offerings at certain tracks that correspond to the drivers being from the surrounding area. For example, there may be more (Illinois native) Danica Patrick or (Wisconsin native) Matt Kenseth merchandise at Chicagoland Speedway when this year’s playoffs begin.

Or another possibility – and pretty much a no-brainer – will be to flood Homestead-Miami Speedway with Dale Earnhardt Jr. merchandise to mark the final NASCAR Cup race of his career.

Stern noted that “despite lower overall sales, sources said that NASCAR has seen upticks in merchandise sales for some key up-and-coming drivers this year, including Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney.”

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Here’s the row-by-row starting lineup for Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville

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Fords flexed their muscle during Saturday’s qualifying, grabbing the first four spots and six of the first 11 for Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Joey Logano will start from the pole, alongside Aric Almirola. Brad Keselowski will start in Row 2, alongside Kevin Harvick.

Row 3 will have Denny Hamlin and William Byron. Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott make up Row 4, while Martin Truex Jr. and Daniel Suarez will start from Row 5.

Click here for the full row-by-row Cup starting lineup.

Note that the starting lineup is provisional until Sunday morning’s pre-race inspection. Any car that fails inspection will lose its starting spot and move to the back of the field.

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Joey Logano holds off Aric Almirola for Martinsville pole

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Led by defending NASCAR Cup Series champion and pole sitter Joey Logano, Fords dominated qualifying, capturing the four top spots for Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Logano covered the .526-mile oval with a speed of 97.830 mph, earning the 21st pole of his Cup career — with five of those now coming at Martinsville.

“You just have to be so precise and pushing yourself so hard in the corners, and a mistake is such a penalty,” Logano told Fox Sports 1. “It was awesome to get another pole here at Martinsville and hopefully we can top it off with … another win in the books.”

Aric Almirola was second fastest (97.643 mph), followed by Brad Keselowski (97.458), Kevin Harvick (97.832), Denny Hamlin (97.362), William Byron (97.202), Kyle Larson (97.098), Chase Elliott (97.053), Martin Truex Jr. (97.018), Daniel Suarez (96.830), Clint Bowyer (96.706) and Jimmie Johnson (96.573).

It appeared as if Almirola might take the pole, but Logano overtook him with just 34 seconds remaining in the final round.

“I just barely missed it by a little bit, and that’s all it takes,” Almirola told FS1. “We came up close, but just not enough.”

Kyle Busch failed to advance to the final round of qualifying. He’ll take the green flag Sunday from the 14th position in the 1,000th overall NASCAR start of his career. Just before Cup qualifying, Busch won the 201st race of his NASCAR career in the Truck Series race.

Click here for full qualifying results.

NOTES:

* The starting lineup is provisional until Sunday morning’s pre-race inspection. Any car that fails inspection will lose its starting spot and move to the back of the field.

* Daniel Suarez was penalized for speeding on pit road during the final round, but managed to bounce back for another try to earn the 10th starting spot.

* Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s first qualifying attempt was disallowed for speeding on pit road. He came back on-track to try again before the session expired, but could go no faster than 25th, failing to advance to the second round. “I didn’t feel I was going that fast (on pit road),” Stenhouse Jr. told Fox Sports 1. “Either way, our first or second time wasn’t good enough to make it. Definitely not the qualifying effort we wanted.”

* Cody Ware and Cory LaJoie did not make qualifying attempts, having to work on their race cars after being involved in wrecks during Saturday’s practice sessions.

* Sunday’s STP 500 (500 laps/263 miles) will take the green flag shortly after 2 p.m. ET (Fox Sports 1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

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Kyle Busch dominates en route to Truck win at Martinsville

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Less than a week after earning his 200th career NASCAR win, Kyle Busch began working on his next 200, capturing Saturday’s TruNorth Global 250 Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway.

Busch dominated the 32-truck event, leading 174 of the 250 laps around the .526-mile paper-clip shaped oval, winning under caution after Reid Wilson spun on the final lap. It was Busch’s third Truck start and win of 2019 – he also won at Atlanta and Las Vegas – and the 54th of his career.

Busch has two more Truck races left on his schedule this year (NASCAR limits full-time Cup drivers to a maximum of five starts in the Truck Series per year): Texas next Friday and Charlotte in May. If he wins those two races, he will have won all five this year and six in a row dating back to his last Truck start of 2018 at Pocono.

What’s more, Busch now has seven wins in 11 starts across all three NASCAR series thus far this season. He goes for career win No. 202 when he makes his 1,000th career NASCAR start in Sunday’s STP 500 NASCAR Cup race.

“We made wholesale changes to this thing all weekend long, to make it faster,” Busch told Fox Sports. “We had enough tire at the end to hold them off.”

Ben Rhodes finished second, followed by Brett Moffitt, Ross Chastain, pole sitter Stewart Friesen, Myatt Snider, Grant Enfinger, Matt Crafton, Johnny Sauter and Bubba Wallace.

“We just needed a little something more, we got beat by the best in the business,” Rhodes said of Busch to Fox Sports. “Overall, it was a good, happy day. We’ve got some momentum going and we go on to the next race and see if we can beat him the next time.”

Click here for full results.

Click here for updated point standings.

The only significant caution of note in the race occurred with eight laps to go in the first stage, when the No. 12 Chevrolet of Gus Dean went up in flames – possibly from an oil fire. He was uninjured.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kyle Busch

STAGE 2 WINNER: Ross Chastain

WHAT’S NEXT: Vankor 350, March 29 at 9 p.m. ET, Texas Motor Speedway.

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Chase Elliott leads Hendrick Chevy sweep of top three in final practice

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Chase Elliott paced the final Cup practice Saturday at Martinsville Speedway, turning a 97.542 mph lap on the 0.526-mile oval.

Teammate Alex Bowman was second fastest, and Jimmie Johnson made it a sweep of the top three speeds for Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets, which have been winless since Elliott’s win last October at Kansas Speedway..

Austin Dillon and Paul Menard rounded out the top five in the 50-minute session.

The rest of the top 10 were comprised of Ty Dillon, Daniel Hemric, Kevin Harvick, Erik Jones (the highest-ranked Toyota) and Martin Truex Jr.

Clint Bowyer, who won at Martinsville a year ago, was fastest in the first practice Saturday morning when Chris Buescher was the fastest Chevy in seventh.

The practice ended under a red flag after a crash for Cody Ware.

Qualifying for the STP 500 will be at 5:10 p.m. on FS1.

Click here for speeds during the final practice at Martinsville.