Stage points could add new element of drama, chaos at Talladega

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TALLADEGA, Alabama — With at least five of the remaining seven transfer spots to the next round set by points, drivers are eyeing stage points this weekend at Talladega Superspeeday and how that might carry them closer to a championship run.

Martin Truex Jr. already has clinched a spot to the next round after his win last weekend at Charlotte. Eleven other drivers are contending for the seven remaining spots in the Round of 8.

Stage points already have proved pivotal in the playoffs, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. scored seven points in the first stage at Dover and that was enough to help him advance to this round

That’s led to the question of what Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET on NBC) might be like and how aggressive drivers will be to gain stage points. 

“Stage points are huge,’’ said Ryan Blaney, who enters this weekend five points out of a transfer spot. “It really hurts you when you don’t get any of those points. I think a lot of teams are going to go out there and be pretty aggressive … trying to get some stage points. I know we’re going to have to be that way for sure.

“Last year or years before when you didn’t have stage points, you’d start off the race bad and get better and you’d be pretty happy with an eighth-place finish. Now, you run 25th in the first stage and ninth in the second stage and then finish eighth and you’re like, ‘wow, we really got hurt.’ You have to start off these races so good to try to run up there and collect those points.’’

So what does more aggressive mean?

“Just think there will be more cars in the crash,’’ said Matt Kenseth, who is one point out of the final transfer spot.

The race for points could make the laps near the end of Stage 1 (Lap 55) and the end of Stage 2 (Lap 110) more chaotic.

“The stages are important, but no it’s not worth wrecking yourself getting some stage points,’’ said Chase Elliott, who is fourth in the points entering this weekend. “If you can make it work then great, but ultimately I’d like to still be part of the event when it’s over.”

That’s easy to say but things can change quickly in the pack.

“I think what happens is when one guy starts to get aggressive, the guy around him has to get aggressive to start dealing with that guy,’’ Elliott said. “And then when that happens, the guy in front has to deal with it, and so on. I think that is what happens. If it shows up and that is the kind of race it is going to be, then we will see. I definitely think there is going to be some emphasis on running well in the stages. But I just hope that everybody will want to get to the end as much as they want to have stage finishes, too.’’

Kyle Larson, who is second in the points, said a strong finish in the opening stage could lead to a strategy change for him in the next stage.

“Maybe if we finish … high up there in the first (stage), maybe you can ride in the second one or race even harder, you know you can risk more for the second stage,’’ he said. “It’s a long time from the end of the second stage to the end of the race, you could probably just hang out behind the pack and just ride around and try to get a top 20 and that would be a solid day for my team.’’

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Brad Keselowski wins Xfinity race at Charlotte in overtime finish

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CONCORD, N.C. — Brad Keselowski won the Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in an overtime finish, claiming his second win in as many starts this season.

Keselowski, who started on the pole, won over Cole Custer, Christopher Bell, Ty Dillon and Elliott Sadler.

Keselowski also won at Phoenix.

The overtime finish was setup by a debris caution with two laps left in the original 200-lap distance.

The final 28 laps were ran following a one hour rain delay.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kyle Busch

STAGE 2 WINNER: Kyle Busch

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What’s next for Danica Patrick after the Indy 500? Dreams, downtime and waffles

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INDIANAPOLIS – When Danica Patrick was a 14-year-old growing up in Roscoe, Illinois, she had a firm idea of what she’d be doing 20 years later.

A reporter from her hometown newspaper recently reminded her of that in a recent interview when he brought a prescient artifact from those teenage years – an essay that she crafted as an up and coming go-kart driver about her racing accomplishments.

“I’m breezing through it, and then at the end, it said, ‘I wanted to race Indy cars,” Patrick, 36, said Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I was 14. I told him, ‘See? If this isn’t an example of “Write that shit down,” nothing is.’

“This is manifesting. You have write it down and you have to imagine what you want. So I do that as much as I can.”

Heading into the final start of her career in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, Patrick already seems to have a solid idea of the next 20 years — in part, because of having some glimpses into her post-racing life.

There has been plenty of downtime since her final NASCAR start in the Daytona 500 three months ago. She has taken vacations (including an India trip to meet the Dalai Lama with boyfriend Aaron Rodgers) and created several new routines on her suddenly free from racing weekends.

“I make waffles on Sundays now,” she said. “That’s pretty fun.  In the summer, there’s like farmers market.  I can’t wait for that.  I mean, there’s going to be probably some new stuff that I don’t know yet.

“The one thing that I am definitely looking forward to less of is less stress.  Last weekend was awesome at the end of it all because it went well with qualifying, but I was nervous for 95% of that weekend. That’s uncomfortable.”

But testing her comfort zone is appealing to Patrick, who has spent most of her adult life testing the boundaries of gender norms in her profession. Though the pressure of race weekends might disappear, her incessant quest for challenges probably will remain.

Now that racing is over, Patrick still has a winery, a clothing line, a cookbook and a fitness manual to promote – and more is on the way.

“I just have a habit for pushing myself to uncomfortable spaces, making them comfortable for me,” she said. “At least just making them comfortable enough to be able to manage.

“As an example, I went bungee jumping a long while back, like 10 years.  I’m super scared of heights.  I’m still scared of heights.  But I just like to know that if I want to do something, I am brave enough and confident enough to do it.  That doesn’t mean I’m not still scared.  That doesn’t mean it’s not still something that’s easy to me afterward. I just like to know I can get past the fear if I have to.

“I’m OK with transitioning into other things, finding a little bit of happiness and joy each day, less colorization of emotions. I’m ready for that.”

So what specifically is on tap? Talk shows? Another book?

Patrick demurs when pressed.

“I think I have definitely big dreams and aspirations for myself, for all my companies, for the kind of emotion I want to have on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “I’m looking forward to a good, easy, happy, calm, joyful, exciting, adventurous life.  If I say I want it, there’s a very good chance that’s what I’ll get.”

In the short-term, there’s hosting an ESPN awards show that will keep her busy through July.

And after that, her schedule will free up just as Green Bay Packers training camp begins for Rodgers, the two-time MVP quarterback.

“I’m thinking I’m going to have plenty of time to write a cookbook in Green Bay,” she said.

Xfinity race at Charlotte resumes after rain delay

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CONCORD, N.C. — The Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway has resumed after a one hour rain delay. 28 laps remain in the 200-lap event.

Brad Keselowski is the leader.

The top five is completed by Daniel Hemric, Ryan Truex, Brandon Jones and Ryan Sieg.

Erik Jones fastest in final Coke 600 practice

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Erik Jones topped the final one-hour practice session for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver posted a top speed of 187.045 mph.

Jones was followed by Kyle Larson (186.664 mph), Ryan Blaney (186.104), Joey Logano (186.047) and Denny Hamlin (185.938).

Logano recorded the most laps in the session with 55.

Jones had the best 10-lap average at 184.579 mph.

The final practice session came after rain forced the cancellation of a morning session.

Click here for the practice report.