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Chase Elliott has one goal for Talladega: ‘Keep all four (tires) on the ground’

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MARTINSVILLE, Virginia — Kyle Larson relates to what Chase Elliott is going through with so many runner-up finishes while seeking his first career Cup win. Larson also knows what is likely in Elliott’s future.

“He will win,’’ Larson said after Elliott finished second last weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “When he wins one, he is going to win a lot, similar to kind of what I did this year.’’

After scoring four runner-up finishes in his first 99 Cup starts, Larson won at Michigan in August 2016, triggering a run that has seen Larson become one of the sport’s dominant drivers. In the 41 starts since, Larson won four times, scored 10 runner-up finishes and had 19 top-five results.

Elliott already has six runner-up finishes in 71 career Cup starts, including three in the opening four playoff races. A win in the next two weeks would advance him to the Round of 8 and move him closer to his first Cup title.
“I certainly appreciate the kind words,’’ Elliott said of Larson’s comments. “We’ve been able to start the playoffs strong. It’s been refreshing to come to the track and have the kind of runs that we’ve been having and to come down pit road and have the stops that we’re having. We just have to make sure we carry that stuff forward. We have all the ingredients to do so.’’

Elliott said there’s not been one major change that has led to his team’s turnaround — he has not finished worse than 11th in the last six races — but notes that his cars and pit crew have improved and that’s played a key role.

“A big thing is coming down pit road and having some really good pit stops,’’ Elliott said during a break in testing Tuesday at Martinsville Speedway. “It’s hard to put a price tag on that. Our guys are doing their homework, they’re doing their jobs.

“When you can have your car balanced well … you’re going to get to a point where it is going to be harder and harder to pass guys. When you come down pit road and have solid pit stops, hopefully gain a spot or two here or there throughout a day, we’ve been able to stay in front of some of those guys that we jumped. That is really the kind of things you have to do to have success.’’

Elliott’s runner-up finish at Charlotte puts him 16 points ahead of the first car outside of a transfer spot to the next round, but Elliott is not conformable with that advantage heading into the unknown that is Talladega.

(Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

In May’s race at Talladega, Elliott was turned by AJ Allmendinger and got on his side down the backstretch while Allmendinger ended up sliding on his roof in a crash that damaged 18 of the 40 cars.

“You go cross your fingers,’’ Elliott said of Sunday’s race. “The stage points are very valuable, and I think everybody knows that. So everybody is going to want to go and get stage points. There’s also a price tag with wrecking that early in the race. Hopefully, we’re not in it and we can get out of there and just keep all four on the ground this time, I’d be happy.’’

As for Tuesday, Elliott was taking part in an organizational test at Martinsville Speedway. The test continues Wednesday. Other playoff drivers taking part in the test include Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson. Also testing were Austin and Ty Dillon and Landon Cassill (Ford), Alex Bowman (Chevrolet) and Drew Herring (Toyota ).

“Just trying to find some consistency and what I’m doing behind the wheel and really some of the things I did here in the spring, I thought was my best race here,’’ said Elliott, who finished third in the spring race and had nine-time Martinsville winner Jeff Gordon at the test Tuesday helping him. “Trying to find that rhythm.’’

If he advances through this round, the Oct. 29 Cup race at Martinsville could be the one that helps him advance to the championship finale next month in Miami.

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Cup starting lineup at New Hampshire has Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch on front row

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Rivals Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch will share the front row for Sunday’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (4 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Keselowski won his 15th career pole – and first since August 2017 – on Friday. He will have Busch start next to him.

MORE: Cup starting lineup

The rivals have had numerous run-ins throughout the their career.

Kurt Busch, who won last weekend at Kentucky, qualified third and is followed by Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney.

Three drivers will start at the rear: Denny Hamlin (backup), Alex Bowman (backup) and Ryan Newman (backup).

Brad Keselowski wins Cup pole at New Hampshire

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Brad Keselowski scored his first Cup pole since 2017, taking the top spot Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Keselowski topped the field with a lap of 136.384 mph. This is Keselowski’s 15th career Cup pole and first since Michigan in August 2017, a span of 68 races.

Keselowski’s run denied Toyota its first pole of the season. Keselowski will be joined on the front row by Kyle Busch (136.311 mph).

MORE: Cup qualifying results

Kurt Busch, who won last weekend at Kentucky, will start third after a lap of 136.238 mph. Erik Jones qualified fourth with a lap of 136.189 mph.

Jones’ performance is part of a promising week for him. He stated Friday that he is “close” to signing an extension with Joe Gibbs Racing. Jones’ contract expires after this season.

Ryan Blaney completed the top five with a lap of 136.116 mph. Martin Truex Jr. qualified sixth at 136.082 mph, and Matt DiBenedetto qualified a career-best seventh at 135.990 mph. DiBenedetto’s previous best Cup start was ninth in this year’s Daytona 500.

Alex Bowman had a driveshaft failure on his qualifying run and did not complete a lap. He will start at the rear of the field.

“Just a big boom going down the front straightaway and smoke and oil everywhere,” Bowman told NBCSN.

Bowman will go to a backup car.

Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman also will start at the rear of the field because they both went to backup cars after separate incidents late in Friday’s only Cup practice session.

Andy Seuss (qualified 35th) and Austin Theriault (36th) both will be making their Cup debut Sunday.

Daniel Hemric qualified 19th. HIs car failed inspection twice before qualifying and a crew member was ejected.

 

Erik Jones ‘close’ to re-signing after meeting with Joe Gibbs this week

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LOUDON, N.H. – After meeting with team owner Joe Gibbs this week, Erik Jones believes he finally is “close” to signing an extension with the team after a few months of negotiations.

“We’ve had some good meetings, positive meetings, so we’re moving in the right direction,” Jones said during Friday afternoon’s qualifying session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “I’d love to get it done here soon. We’ve had good meetings between my guys and JGR. I’ve had good meetings with Coach talking about it and moving forward. I know I keep saying it, but I feel like we’re pretty close to getting it done.”

The uncertainty for the 2020 season seemingly has been no distraction in 2019 for Jones, who believes he is close to ending a yearlong winless streak. He has notched six top 10s in the past nine races to move into the 16th and final provisional spot for the playoffs with seven races remaining in the regular season.

The Byron, Michigan, native said he told Gibbs “I want to get (the extension) done. We both want to get it done and move forward and stop worrying about it and stop focusing on it, but we’re close. Hopefully here soon.”

An extension for Jones would mean JGR has a full lineup of four drivers signed for 2020 and shift the focus to what is next for Xfinity driver Christopher Bell, who is under contract to JGR next season.

“I think you know as much as I do,” Bell said Friday morning when asked about what series he will race next year. “Actually, you probably know a little bit more than I do. Ultimately, it’s not up to me. I can’t make the decisions, so I’m just along for the ride.”

Bell indicated his desire to move to Cup last season, and a Leavine Family Racing Toyota could be an option if JGR wants to farm him out for 2020 in NASCAR’s premier series.

“I learned early on in my career that a race car driver is only as good as the equipment,” Bell said. “I definitely want to make sure that I’m in equipment that can win.”

Jeffrey Earnhardt releases his remaining races for 2019

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Jeffrey Earnhardt announced his schedule for the rest of the season Friday.

He is scheduled to run six Xfinity races and one Cup race the rest of this season.

His Xfinity races will be Mid-Ohio (Aug. 10), Bristol (Aug. 16), Road America (Aug. 24), Darlington (Aug. 31), ISM Raceway (Nov. 9) and Miami (Nov. 16). He’ll drive the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Xfinity car at Mid-Ohio, Road America, ISM Raceway and Miami. He’ll drive the No. 81 Xtreme Concepts Racing car at Bristol and Darlington.

He’ll also drive the No. 81 Xtreme Concepts Racing Cup car at Talladega on Oct. 13.