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Brad Keselowski Racing crew chief faces suspension for wheel coming off

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DOVER, Del. — Rookie Chase Briscoe’s crew chief, front tire changer and front tire carrier each face the prospect of a four-race suspension after the left front tire rolled off during Friday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Dover International Speedway.

Section 12.5.2.6.3.c of the series rule book states: “Loss of wheel(s) due to improper installation will result in a mandatory minimum four Race suspension of the crew chief, tire changer and tire carrier of the lost wheel(s).’’

NASCAR called crew chief Mike Hillman Jr. to meet with series officials after the race.

Hillman said the team had no lug nuts attached to the left front when the jack was dropped, signifying for Briscoe to leave his pit stall, which was closest to pit exit.

“I think the (air) gun was in reverse,’’ Hillman said. “Being in the first stall … you don’t have a chance to stop on pit road and fix it. You’re hollering ‘Stop! Stop! Stop!’ When he stops, the tire came off.’’

Hillman understands the rule and what he likely will face.

“It’s a safety thing,’’ he said. “We’ll see what NASCAR has to say and work through it.’’

Any penalties are expected to be announced next week.

Should NASCAR enact the suspension, Hillman, the tire changer and tire carrier would miss races at Texas Motor Speedway (June 9), Gateway Motorsports Park (June 17), Iowa Speedway (June 23) and Kentucky Speedway (July 6). They’d be eligible to return for the July 19 race at Eldora Speedway.

Briscoe, who started on the pole, finished 12th for Brad Keselowski Racing.

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Race and Sports in America: Conversations to air at 8 p.m. ET Monday

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Damon Hack will host two roundtables with athletes and former athletes for a conversation on race and sports in America. The show airs at 8 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN, Golf Channel, Olympic Channel and the NBC Sports Regional Networks.

Appearing with Hack will be Los Angeles Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, NBA superstar Steph Curry, NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, NFL player Kyle Rudolph, pro golfer Troy Mullins, former tennis player James Blake, Major League Baseball player James Rollins and Baseball Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.

Among the topics discussed are: The conversations they’ve had with family in the last few months, what they hope things will be like in a year’s time, the level of optimism vs. pessimism and their experiences.

 

 

Winners and losers from Kentucky

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WINNERS

Cole CusterHe entered Sunday’s race well out of a playoff spot at 25th in the points. He took advantage of a series of events in the final laps to score a dramatic victory and earn a playoff spot.

Martin Truex Jr.Lost the lead on the last lap but recorded his first top-five finish since his Martinsville win last month.

Matt DiBenedetto He was 18th with 14 laps to go and finished third.

Christopher BellSeventh-place finish was his fourth finish of 12th or better in the last six races.

Austin Cindric Had not won on an oval in the Xfinity Series before sweeping both series races at Kentucky Speedway.

LOSERS

Matt KensethA week after finishing runner-up at Indianapolis, he spun twice and finished 25th at Kentucky.

Ryan PreeceFinished last for the second race in a row. He was eliminated in a pit road accident at Indy and by transmission issues at Kentucky. He has failed to finish five of 17 races this season (29.4%).

Jimmie JohnsonWas third on a late restart when contact with Brad Keselowski spun him. Instead of contending for his first victory since 2017, Johnson finished 18th and had a little warning for Keselowski.

Here is how Cole Custer scored his first NASCAR Cup victory

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The seeds of Cole Custer’s first Cup victory were sown before anyone could have imagined it would be him celebrating Sunday at Kentucky Speedway and not Kevin Harvick or Martin Truex Jr.

Custer’s rise from 13th to first in the last 20 laps was a study in acuity by a driver who said he’s had days where “your eyes are sore trying to look at film, trying to figure everything out.”

He also had some good fortune. The key, though, was taking advantage of those situations, which he did.

He was 13th on the restart on Lap 249 of the 267-lap race. He restarted on the inside lane in the seventh row back. Many drivers on the inside line lost positions on restarts throughout the race but Custer moved up to 12th when Jimmie Johnson, restarting third, spun after contact with Brad Keselowski.

While the contact ruined Johnson’s race, it set Custer’s dramatic finish in motion. By gaining one spot, he was in the outside lane in the sixth row for the next restart.

When the race’s final caution waved on Lap 262 for Matt Kenseth’s spin, Custer was sixth, having gained six spots in six laps. A key move came when he went to the outside and was four-wide. Matt DiBenedetto pushed Custer past those cars.

Heading into the final restart, Custer was in the outside lane in the third row behind Harvick, who was leading, and Keselowski.

Truex started on the inside lane on the front row and had Ryan Blaney and Kurt Busch behind him.

The field heads to the green flag for the final restart. Cole Custer is on the outside of the third row. (FS1)

Keselowski explained the dilemma he (and Blaney) faced in the second row.

“All race long, not just that restart, the third- and fourth-place guys while they’re pushing if you don’t push, your lane doesn’t go  then the car behind you gets a huge run on you, and that makes it tough,” Keselowski said.

“That’s what happened to me on the last restart. I was fourth and I was pushing Kevin and Cole used his run to get to the outside.”

Keselowski said another key was what happened between he and Harvick.

I was just out of sync with Kevin on the final restart,” Keselowski said. I probably should have communicated a little better with him and that’s my fault, and that put us in a spot vulnerable to the lane behind us and they ultimately won the race.”

Custer closed to Keselowski’s rear bumper on the restart. Past the start/finish line, Custer pulled out to the right as Keselowski was no longer connected to Harvick.

Cole Custer (41) gets a push from Matt DiBenedetto (21) on the final restart and makes his move around Brad Keselowski (2) at the beginning of the final restart. (FS1)

DiBenedetto followed Custer when Custer pulled to the right.

“Cole is always a smart racer,” DiBenedetto said. “He’s one of those guys, even though he’s a rookie, he doesn’t make silly moves. He puts himself usually in pretty good spots.

“When we restarted, we made a pretty big power move on the restart before that. I got a good restart. I was curious basically what he was going to do. When he pulled to the top, I was like, Yeah, that was a good move right there.

“I just decided to shove him since I couldn’t go around him on the outside.”

The next key moment came in Turn 2. As Truex and Harvick ran side-by-side for the lead, Blaney was third and moving off the bottom lane as Custer charged on the outside. Blaney couldn’t get in front of Custer in time and was stuck watching Custer roll by.

In Turn 2 on the next-to-last lap, Ryan Blaney (12) could not move up in front of Cole Custer (41) quick enough, allowing Custer to motor by for third place. (FS1)

“Those decisions, you have to make them really quick, and it’s really hard to just hook a right right in the middle of the corner and try to get up there and things like that,” Blaney said. “So, yeah, I look back on that and will probably be kicking myself probably a little bit on that if there was time to get up. I probably wasn’t really aggressive enough on that, but I have to look. But it is really hard. 

“Sometimes your spotter will say, ‘clear,’ but it’s really hard to just let go of the wheel and just turn right because you’re going to lose speed going up the hill and if you’re six inches clear, you might close up quick … you learn from things like that and see what you do for next time.”

Harvick took the lead on the backstretch. Truex came up the track to tuck in behind Harvick but he hit Harvick in the left rear. Both cars lost momentum.

Custer charged and was squeezed between the wall and Truex’s car. They made slight contact. That slowed Custer’s momentum. Truex recovered and got beside Harvick in Turn 4, creating a draft for Custer, while Blaney raced on his inside.

“I tried to slide up behind (Harvick) off of (Turn) 2 there so I didn’t get freight trained,” Truex said. “I clipped his rear enough to turn him sideways.”

Said Harvick: “Martin just misjudged there on the backstretch and got me sideways. I got out of the gas and that just brought everybody into the picture and then we were four-wide on the front straightaway.”

Cole Custer, aided by the draft, tucks in behind Martin Truex Jr., who is running beside Kevin Harvick as Ryan Blaney runs on the bottom coming to take the white flag. (FS1)

Blaney tried to stay away from Truex, Harvick and Custer and ran low on the track before he cut through the apron on the frontstretch.

“I was just trying to get way from those three guys,” Blaney said. “I was just trying to get some room between us and not get side drafted or slowed down. I couldn’t necessarily see them, but I was told I was bottom four (wide) and that was for the lead, so obviously I’m just going to get away from (them) as much as possible because I felt like they were all going to slow each other down and maybe I’d have an edge.

“People do that all the time, cut to the apron on every type of racetrack that’s available, just none of the other ones have ramps on them.”

Or a drain. One Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran over in the 2016 race there

“I don’t understand how you can repave a place a handful of years ago and there’s a jump bigger than any track we go to, but, yeah, I didn’t even know it was there,” Blaney said. “We don’t run on it. You never run down there, and I didn’t really know it was gonna be that bad. I was lucky it didn’t wipe out all of us.” 

With the momentum from the draft, Custer darted outside of Truex. As they came to the start/finish line to begin the final lap, Blaney was on the apron with Harvick, Truex and Custer all together. The top four cars crossed the line four wide.

That’s when Blaney hit the drain. His car launched off the track and darted to the right, hitting Harvick’s car. The contact caused Harvick’s car to move up the track and forced Truex higher. That came just after Custer cleared them. At that point, Custer was focused on his first Cup win.

“I just wanted to start yelling honestly,” Custer later said of that moment.

“I was like, man, I got to wait till I get to the start/finish line because I’ll jinx this thing. At that point I kind of knew I had it.”

He did.

“It was a wild last lap,” Blaney said, “a wild last couple of laps to be honest with you.”

Cole Custer earns first career Cup win Sunday at Kentucky

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NASCAR Cup rookie Cole Custer roared from sixth place on the final restart with two laps to go to earn his first career Cup win Sunday at Kentucky Speedway.

Custer went to the outside coming to the white flag lap to get around Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick, as well as Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney, and sailed to the checkered flag.

“I’m surprised, yes,” Custer said after the race. “We’ve done a better job putting things together. It was just putting the whole picture together. But I think we’re now at the point where we can race with these guys and go to the front.”

MORE: Click here for results and standings

He then added with a chuckle, “I started yelling (coming to the white flag and taking the lead) but I didn’t want to jinx it.”

Custer becomes the first Cup rookie of the year contender to win a race since Chris Buescher did so in a rain-shortened event at Pocono Raceway in 2016. Justin Haley scored his first career Cup win last year at Daytona but was not running for rookie of the year honors.

The California native came into Sunday’s race 25th in the Cup standings, the lowest ranked of the five full-time Cup rookies. He’s the first Cup rookie this season to be locked into the playoffs.

“We were so good, our car was so good,” Custer told FS1. “That was the best car I’ve ever driven in my life. Unbelievable car. It definitely was not the start of the year we wanted, we were off in some places.”

But Custer has scored his two best finishes of his Cup career in the last eight days. He was fifth at Indianapolis last Sunday and followed that up with Sunday’s win, which also earns him a berth in Wednesday’s NASCAR All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“Everything lined up perfectly for us, we had our shot and took advantage of it,” Custer’s crew chief, Mike Shiplett, said after the race. “We put it all together today and gave it our best shot.”

Not only was it Custer’s first Cup win, it also was Shiplett’s first Cup win as a crew chief, having done so previously in both the Xfinity and Truck Series.

Truex finished second followed by Matt DiBenedetto, Harvick and Kurt Busch.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Aric Almirola (second stage win of season)

STAGE 2 WINNER: Brad Keselowski (fourth stage win of season)

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Third-place finisher Matt DiBenedetto earned his second-best showing of the season (was second earlier this year in Las Vegas). Much like Custer, DiBenedetto roared through the pack on the last lap and got past Harvick and almost caught Truex.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Jimmie Johnson tried to block Brad Keselowski on a restart with 19 laps left and Keselowski spun Johnson out of the way. Johnson finished 19th. After the race, Keselowski said of the incident: “They launched together, the inside lane Blaney and Jimmie, and they stretched and then they started to slow down and as they slowed down I just had a huge run and I made a move to the inside. I was turning down towards the grass. I might have had a foot or two, but I couldn’t go much lower, and I don’t know if he was trying to turn down to block me or if he was trying to turn down to get underneath Blaney, but he turned down and I was too far forward. There was kind of unavoidable contact at that time. I don’t know. I hate that it ruined his day. I don’t really necessarily know what to do different.”

NOTABLE: FS1 reported before the race that Zach Price, Ryan Blaney’s tire changer, suffered a fractured leg after being struck by a car on pit road last weekend at indy. Price will be sidelined indefinitely but will not require surgery, FS1 reported.

WHAT’S NEXT: NASCAR All-Star Race, Wednesday, July 15, 8:30 p.m. ET (FS1), at Bristol Motor Speedway. Will be preceded by the All-Star Open at 7 p.m. ET (FS1). The next points race is Sunday, July 19, at Texas Motor Speedway at 3 p.m. ET (NBCSN).

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