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Talladega as the regular-season finale? It’s been suggested by drivers

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CHARLOTTE – Talladega Superspeedway’s move from cutoff to middle race of the Round of 12 has been well-received, but Cup drivers have been lobbying for another move with the race.

Denny Hamlin, who founded the Drivers Council that regularly meets with NASCAR, said “it’s been floated” to move the 2.66-mile oval to the regular-season finale.

“I think it should be the last race before the playoffs,” Hamlin told NBC Sports and NASCAR.com Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, where he unveiled a Martinsville Speedway paint scheme on his No. 11 Toyota that highlights a new partnership between FedEx and Walgreens. “That is the ultimate wild-card spot. If you want to see the craziest Talladega race ever, it would be right before the playoffs started. Probably 28 cars or so with their last opportunity to make it in the playoffs. To me, it’s a no-brainer where it should be in the schedule, but getting the tracks to agree is going to be very hard.

“It would be the ultimate cutoff race. Not knowing whether you’re in or not until the last lap, that would be the ultimate race. (Talladega) should want it. Even over being in the playoffs itself, (the regular-season finale) is a bigger event. I’m all for changing schedules around, but you really should put the racetracks where I think they’d thrive, and I think a cutoff Talladega race would be amazing.”

Any move wouldn’t happen until at least 2019. NASCAR already has announced the 2018 schedule with Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the regular-season finale (replacing Richmond International Raceway, which played host to the race from 2004-2017).

With another added layer of playoff points, Sunday’s race already is shaping up differently than 2016 when the Joe Gibbs Racing cars of Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards protected their points leads by intentionally running at the rear.

That left Hamlin, who needed a win to advance, trying to run for the lead with no help from his teammates.

“It really hurt me because I was on an island trying to race up front with no teammates where all the other teammates were working together and all mine were in the back,” said Hamlin, who finished third and was eliminated in the Round of 12 for the second consecutive season. “I understood where they were and said I’d be doing the same thing (in their position), but it certainly hurt our efforts to get a good finish.”

Hamlin said having Talladega as the second race in the Round of 12 is “better. No doubt about it. Talladega in the playoffs is sketchy anyway, but to have it as a cutoff race like it was last year is a little over the top.”

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who is ranked fifth in the points and 13 points above the cutoff, is expecting Sunday to resemble most Talladega races of recent memory, though stage points will discourage laying back.

“I don’t think it’ll get crazy until the last half of the race,” he said. “I think everyone is going to race up front. It’s going to do all the things they wanted it to do, competition-wise. There’s no laying back, there’s no, ‘Let’s ride this day out.’ Obviously it’s going to make for exciting ends of stages in my opinion. That’s where you have to be aware of the wrecks that can happen.

“I don’t think it’ll be as aggressive because people still want to stick around and need to be around at the end.”

Denny Hamlin posts fastest lap in Saturday morning Cup practice

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LOUDON, N.H. – Denny Hamlin had the fastest lap in Saturday morning’s Cup practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, leading the field with a lap of 132.942 mph.

He was followed by Ryan Blaney (132.526 mph), Martin Truex Jr. (132.462), Kyle Busch (132.406) and Kevin Harvick (132.356).

Harvick ran the most laps at 50. Harvick told NASCAR on NBC broadcaster Rick Allen in the garage that he ran so many laps to see how much the speed falls off as the tires wear. Jimmie Johnson was next with 42 laps run.

There were no incidents in the 50-minute session.

Ryan Blaney had the best 10-lap average at 131.767 mph.

Click here for the speed chart.

Start time of Sunday’s Cup race moved up to 1 pm ET

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LOUDON, N.H. – The start time for Sunday’s Cup race has been moved up to 1 p.m. ET because of the threat of rain, NASCAR announced.

NBCSN will broadcast the race. NBCSN’s coverage begins at noon ET.

The wunderground.com forecast for 1 p.m. ET Sunday calls for a 49 percent chance of scattered thunderstorms. There is a threat of rain throughout the day.

Kurt Busch won the pole for Sunday’s race.

Two Cup teams to be penalized practice time Saturday at New Hampshire

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LOUDON, N.H. – Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne each will miss 15 minutes of Saturday’s final practice session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for inspection issues, NASCAR announced.

Hamlin is being penalized for failing pre-qualifying inspection twice last weekend at Kentucky. Kahne is being penalized for failing pre-qualifying inspection twice Friday at New Hampshire.

Final practice is scheduled to go from 12:35 – 1:25 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

NASCAR’s Saturday schedule for New Hampshire Motor Speedway

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Today’s schedule at New Hampshire Motor Speedway includes two Cup practice sessions and the Xfinity Series race at the “Magic Mile.”

Here’s the full schedule with TV and radio info.

(All times are Eastern)

Saturday, July 21

7 a.m. — Xfinity garage opens

8:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. — Cup garage open

10:05 – 10:55 a.m. — Cup practice (CNBC)

11:05 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying; multi-vehicle/three rounds (CNBC)

12:35 – 1:25 p.m. — Final Cup practice (NBCSN)

1:30 p.m. — Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting

3:30 p.m. — Xfinity driver introductions

4 p.m. — Lakes Region 200 Xfinity race; 200 laps/211.6 miles (NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)