Danica Patrick ends July by completing best stretch of racing in two years

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For the first five months of the season, almost nothing seemed to go right for Danica Patrick.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver, in her fifth full-time season in the Cup Series, recorded seven DNFs through the first 17 races of the year. Six of those were for crashes, and it seemed like each was harder than the last.

And after a particularity violent crash at Kansas that injured Aric Almirola, Patrick voiced frustration at her run of bad luck.

By the time she crashed out of the July 1 race at Daytona, Patrick had one top-10 finish (10th, Dover) – her first in two seasons – and no other finish better than 16th.

Flash forward to Sunday’s race at Pocono Raceway – the same track where a Facebook video earlier this year showed her lecturing fans after they booed her for not signing autographs – and Patrick was capping off her best four-race stretch in two seasons.

Patrick drove her No. 10 Ford to a 15th-place finish in the Overton’s 400. It was her fourth straight top-15 finish, a career first for Patrick who has 175 Cup starts since 2012.

The stretch began at Kentucky Speedway, where she also placed 15th. She followed it with a 13th at New Hampshire and an 11th at Indianapolis.

“The Code 3 Associates Ford team did a great job today getting us another top 15,” Patrick said after the race. “We have really gained some consistency over the past few weekends. I think we’re going to put together more top 15s and top 10s this season as long as we can stay out of trouble and finish the race.”

Patrick ended this stretch with an average finish of 13.5. According to Racing Insights, her previous best four-race stretch based off average finish was in March and April 2015. Patrick averaged a finish of 12.8 in races at Auto Club Speedway (19th), Martinsville (seventh), Texas (16th) and Bristol (ninth).

This current streak is also just the third time in her career she’s earned three consecutive top-20 finishes.

But Patrick almost lost out on her chance at a top 15 on the first lap of Sunday’s race.

After starting 22nd, she was one of eight cars counted in a crash in Turn 3. But the No. 10 Ford only suffered minor front end damage. But as teams executed various pit strategies in Stage 1, Patrick found herself in fourth place on Lap 27 before she pitted on Lap 30.

In Stage 2, Patrick spent much of the 50-lap segment running in 11th after restarting from a Lap 70 caution in 13th.

As leaders pitted neat the end of the stage, Patrick moved into third where she finished the stage. It was only the third time Patrick has earned stage points this season. She finished eighth in Stage 1 at Talladega, earning three points. She also finished sixth in her Daytona 500 qualifying race, earning five points.

Now Patrick heads to Watkins Glen International. In four starts at the road course, Patrick’s best finish is 17th in 2015. Last year, she led a season-high 11 laps in the race.

Kyle Busch touts support he’s received for comments at Las Vegas

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RICHMOND, Va. — Kyle Busch says he’s received support from fellow drivers, who told him “what I said is not wrong” about the ability of some competitors.

Busch was upset last weekend after running into the back of Garrett Smithley’s car and being impeded by Joey Gase in the Cup playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

After the race, Busch told NBCSN: “We’re at the top echelon of motorsports, and we’ve got guys who have never won Late Model races running on the racetrack. It’s pathetic. They don’t know where to go. What else do you do?”

Smithley responded on social media and Gase later responded on social media.

MORE: Kyle Busch’s comments address murky issue with no solution 

Busch was asked Friday at Richmond Raceway if he watched video of the incident with Smithley since last week and if his opinion changed.

“I did see video of last week,” Busch said. “It doesn’t matter what my opinion is. I get beat up on it anyway.”

Busch was encouraged by support he received.

“I’ve had multiple texts from other people that are race car drivers and non-race car drivers this week that have said what I said is not wrong, but there’s other general masses that say different,” Busch said.

Busch’s race at Las Vegas started poorly when he hit the wall in the opening laps and went down two laps. He explained what happened:

“We started out, we practiced our car and we were pretty decent in practice, but I felt like I was a tick tight, so we made some changes going into the race to free it up,” Busch said. “The first run at Vegas is always looser. And I guess I didn’t mentally prepare myself for that enough, and we were 10 numbers loose, like crashing loose.

“I got myself in trouble. I got myself into the fence. Was able to battle back from all of that throughout everything of the day and put ourselves in position for a solid finish and we just didn’t get it.”

Asked what he could have done differently, Busch said:

“I should have been prepared for it,” he said. “I actually prepared (crew chief Adam Stevens) for it, but I guess didn’t prepare myself for it. I was getting passed, guys were going by me and I was falling backwards and I was like I got to go here, I’ve got to move forward and pushed too hard.”

Busch recovered to get back on the lead lap and was running in the top five when he had the contact with Smithley. Busch finished 19th.

“For as bad as our day started, we were certainly able to make something of it and come back for a top-four run until close to the end,” Busch said when asked if his frustration hurts his performance. “People want to say because of my state of mind that’s the reason I ran into the back of a slow car, that’s funny people know how I think and what I am inside my helmet. I don’t think that had anything to do with it.”

Busch, the regular-season champion, qualified fourth for Saturday night’s Cup race at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Results, Xfinity point standings after Richmond playoff race

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Christopher Bell led a career best 238 laps Friday night on his way to winning the Xfinity playoff opener at Richmond Raceway.

It is his seventh win of the year, matching his total from 2018.

The top five was completed by Austin Cindric, Cole Custer, Justin Allgaier and Chase Briscoe.

Click here for the race results.

Playoff standings

Bell secured a spot in the second round of the playoffs with his win.

The four drivers currently below the cutline for advancing to the next round are Brandon Jones (-15 points from cutline), Ryan Sieg (-19), Justin Haley (-20) and John Hunter Nemechek (-21).

Click here for the point standings.

Christopher Bell wins Xfinity playoff opener at Richmond

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Christopher Bell put together a convincing win Friday night at Richmond Raceway to open the Xfinity Series playoffs.

Bell led 238 of 250 laps – a career high – and swept each stage to earn his seventh victory of the year, matching his total from 2018.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has now won three of the last four races at Richmond and six of the last 11 short track races.

The top five was made up of pole-sitter Austin Cindric, Cole Custer, Justin Allgaier and Chase Briscoe.

“That one was pretty special,” Bell told NBCSN. “Going 92 laps straight there is really difficult, man. We were sliding all around. I felt like if I could get to traffic I was going to be in good shape. Because my car could really move around good. I could run up, I could run down. (Cole Custer) was keeping pressure on us pretty good, but this Rheem Supra was too good.”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Christopher Bell

STAGE 2 WINNER: Christopher Bell

More: race results, point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Harrison Burton was the highest finishing non-playoff driver in sixth … Austin Cindric earned his first top five in the last four races. He finished second in both Richmond races this year … In his 300th career Xfinity start, Justin Allgaier finished fourth after he had to start from the rear for changing a tire … Chase Briscoe earned his first top five in the last five races.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Mike Marlar wasn’t able to complete the first lap of his first Xfinity start. He was involved in an incident and finished last … Vinnie Miller had a mechanical failure with 25 laps left in the first stage. He finished 35th … Tyler Matthews finished 33rd after he wrecked in Stage 1 … Playoff driver Justin Haley had a pit road penalty and finished 17th … John Hunter Nemechek finished 15th after he spun while trying to intentionally spin Joe Graf Jr. right before the race’s conclusion. It was retaliation for a bump-and-run by Graf earlier in the lap.

NOTABLE: Christopher Bell has a win percentage of 22%, third all-time in the Xfinity Series.

WHAT’S NEXT: Drive for the Cure 200 on the Charlotte Roval at 3:30 p.m. ET Sept. 28 on NBCSN

 

Provisional starting lineup for Richmond Cup race

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Playoff drivers Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick are on the provisional front row for Saturday’s Cup Series playoff race at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

The top five is completed by playoff drivers Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer.

The highest qualifying non-playoff driver is Jimmie Johnson (10th).

The lowest qualifying playoff driver was Joey Logano (28th).

The starting lineup will be made official after pre-race inspection Saturday. One failure will result in a qualifying time being disallowed.

Click here for the provisional starting lineup.