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NASCAR explains why only Martin Truex Jr. was penalized on restart

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas — A NASCAR executive said that series officials clarified a rule on starts and restarts after drivers came to them with concerns before Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway.

The result was Richard Buck, managing director of the Cup Series, telling competitors in the drivers meeting: “A reminder to stay in your lane until you cross the start-finish line. The front row establishes the lanes and the inside lane must be established above the inside painted line.’’

Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn admitted they missed the directions in the meeting. Truex was penalized on a restart when he went below the white line. Kevin Harvick followed Truex below the white line but was not penalized.

Steve O’Donnell, executive vice president and chief racing development officer for NASCAR, explained the rule Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and why Truex was penalized and Harvick wasn’t.

“We had some discussions early on with some of the competitors on Sunday morning about the fact that not necessarily just the inside lane, but if the inside car dropped below the white line it would force, potentially, the outside row or one of the drivers in the outside row to change lanes and the fear of being penalized,’’ O’Donnell said.

“We were asked to see if we could clarify that. That was why the language was put in place in the drivers meeting. Clearly communicated by Richard (Buck) to stay above the while line. It was really the first row of drivers that set that line so anyone who is following them was going to be put in a tough position because they had to stay in line, so that was why the penalty was called on (Truex) and not the drivers that dropped below behind (Truex).’’

Harvick, who said he didn’t realize he went below the white line following Truex on the restart, said Buck’s order stood out to him.

“I’ve been to a lot of drivers meetings, and I listen and watch it every week, and when you hear something different, it sticks out like a sore thumb,’’ Harvick said. “When I heard them say that you have to establish a lane above the white line, that was new to me. Usually it’s you can’t beat the leader on the original start and all the normal stuff. That was different. I’ve never heard that before.’’

O’Donnell also addressed the penalty that ended Matt Kenseth’s race.

After suffering crash damage, Kenseth was on the five-minute clock for repairs. Section 10.9.9.h of the Cup Rule Book states: “In addition to the five-minute time limit described above, six or fewer crew members are permitted in the vehicle’s assigned pit box for repairs to a damaged vehicle. An additional person (i.e. seventh crew member) is only permitted to service the driver and clean the windshield. If a vehicle exceeds the crew member limit, the vehicle will not be scored or permitted to return to the Race.’’

O’Donnell explained on “The Morning Drive” the situation with Kenseth’s team.

“It’s one of those that obviously we hate to have to make that call, but it is an established rule,’’ O’Donnell said. “It’s one that we worked with all the race teams at the beginning of the year to put in place. The reason for it was if we didn’t put some parameters around it, I think the industry collectively knew you would have potentially 30 or 40 people over the wall, especially around a championship scenario where a car had to get back in. That was the situation we wanted to avoid and why the rule was put in place. In this case, we try to give everybody the benefit of the doubt. It was unfortunate that seven were identified working on the car and that’s an automatic end of the race for a driver unfortunately.’’

Jason Ratcliff, Kenseth’s crew chief, stated what happened:

“That’s one thing about that pit stall (closest to pit entrance), makes it difficult,’’ he said. “You get to pit road really quick. You have a little less time to communicate. Thankfully we don’t fall under the damaged vehicle policy that much. Other than last week at Talladega we did. We missed a head count there.

“Two of (the crew members) were holding tires (but were over the wall). We have a gameplan. We have a gameplan that has worked really good for us all year and … I don’t know if someone missed the call there or I didn’t communicate properly. Typically it boils down to communication and that’s what happened there.’’

But Ratcliff said it might be time to look at changing the penalty on that rule.

“It’s a shame that that’s a rule that takes competitors out of an opportunity for a championship,’’ he said Sunday. “I think it’s one rule that needed to be implemented this year as far as damage vehicle policy, but I think it really needs some restructuring and some work now that its been in place. I don’t think it’s doing what they intended it for it to do. I think today is a perfect example of that.’’

Will NASCAR possibly change this rule for next season?

“We always look after the end of the season, we look at what happened and different rules,’’ O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “In this case, Scott Miller (senior vice president of competition), I think, personally had conversations with all the teams that were still a part of the championship again reminding everyone every race that this is part of it and don’t put yourself in that position. We get the frustration. You wouldn’t be a competitor if you weren’t frustrated in this situation.

“Certainly something we can look at, but I think it was a rule that was established by the industry so we look at that collectively.’’

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Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth to start at rear at Kentucky

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Martin Truex Jr. and Matt Kenseth each will start at the rear in Sunday’s Cup race at Kentucky Speedway after their cars failed pre-race inspection twice.

Truex was to have started ninth. Kenseth was to have started 17th in the 38-car field.

Truex has won two of the last three races at Kentucky. Kenseth is coming off a runner-up finish last weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Sunday’s Cup race at Kentucky: Start time, lineup and more

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The final 10-race stretch of the regular season begins for the Cup Series Sunday at Kentucky Speedway.

After years of mostly only racing under the lights there, the series will race in the daytime.

Can Kyle Busch, who starts from the pole, earn his first Cup win of 2020?

Here’s all the info you need for Sunday’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START:  The command to start engines is at 2:43 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 2:54 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at 7:30 a.m. (teams are assigned specific times). Engine prime and final adjustments at 12:30 p.m. Drivers report to their cars at 2:20 p.m. The invocation will be given at 2:35 p.m by Darrell and Stevie Waltrip. The national anthem will be performed at 2:36 p.m. by Robert Randolph.

DISTANCE: The race is 267 laps (400.5 miles) around the 1.5-mile speedway.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 25

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will televise the race. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 1:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for scattered thunderstorms with a high of 79 degrees and a 58% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Kevin Harvick beat Matt Kenseth to win the Brickyard 400.

LAST RACE AT KENTUCKY: Kurt Busch defeated younger brother Kyle Busch for the win.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

Catch up on NBC Sports’ coverage:

Front Row Motorsports reaching new heights without practice

NASCAR to team: Address “complacency” toward COVID-19 protocols

Jimmie Johnson: ‘I’m smarter, stronger’ after COVID-19 episode

Stage is set for Cup teams in race for points

Glow in the dark: Cup cars get new look for All-Star Race

Here is what upcoming NASCAR Cup races fans can attend

NASCAR reveals schedule through end of Cup regular season

Harvick takes hot streak to Kentucky, one of his last winless tracks

Power Rankings after Indianapolis: Kevin Harvick back to No. 1

Zach Price, Ryan Blaney’s injured tire changer, to miss Kentucky

 

Racing community mourns driver killed after crash at Langley Speedway

Photo: Mark Wertz
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Shawn Balluzzo, an 11-time track champion at Langley Speedway, died after a crash in a modified race Saturday night, the track confirmed. Balluzzo was 64.

Balluzzo, who won 16 of the Hampton, Virginia track’s 17 modified races in 2019, died after his car went over the hood of another and hit the Turn 2 wall at about 70 mph, according to The Virginian-Pilot. The newspaper reported that safety personnel cut the roof of Balluzzo’s car off to extricate him.

Saturday’s twin modified races were the first of the season for that series at the track. Belluzzo finished second in the opening race.

Balluzzo and his daughter Bryce were featured last year by WAVY TV 10, which chronicled Bryce’s battle with leukemia.

 

Tributes to Shawn Balluzzo were abundant Sunday morning and came from throughout the racing community.

 

Cole Custer ready for encore of first career Cup top-5 finish

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Sunday’s Cup race at Kentucky Speedway will be a night and day difference.

In recent years, the Cup race at the 1.5-mile Sparta, Kentucky track has primarily been a nighttime affair. Teams have compiled big notebooks of data from racing under the lights.

That won’t be the case Sunday, as the green flag is slated to drop at 2:54 p.m. ET.

While this will be his first career Cup start at Kentucky, rookie Cole Custer is no stranger to the track, having won last summer’s Xfinity race there – and scored consecutive fifth-place finishes in the two preceding races in 2017 and 2018.

“It’s something that you definitely see a difference in the track, I feel like, when it’s day and when it goes to night,” Custer said in a media teleconference. “So trying to figure out how you want to adjust your car to kind of a slicker track is gonna be pretty important.

“And also the biggest difference is we don’t have all the practice sessions before the race to work in the track. You saw that Thursday night with the Xfinity race, there was dust all over. The bottom lane was not worked in very well, so it’s gonna take a little while for that bottom lane to work in. We’re gonna see how worked in it is by the time we get to our race.

“There’s a lot of differences, honestly, but, at the same time it’s still the same track. It’s a really edgy racetrack because it’s new pavement, it’s a repave, so the tires are a little bit harder. The track takes a little bit of time to get worked in and you have that PJ1 (traction compound), so you’re able to take things from the Xfinity car – what lines kind of worked there and how it changed throughout the weekend – so basic characteristics with the track you’re able to kind of carry over. But at the same time, the feel in the car is completely different and how you work traffic and things like that.”

Custer enters Sunday’s race ranked 25th in the Cup standings, the lowest position of the four major drivers in this year’s Cup rookie class (Tyler Reddick is 18th, John Hunter Nemechek is 22nd and Christopher Bell is 24th).

“There’s definitely been a lot of learning, for sure,” Custer said. “Obviously, these cars are a lot different than what the Xfinity cars were, so trying to wrap your head around that and figure out how to effect every little thing, whether it’s passing or restarts or how to work traffic or pit road, just anything about it, you’re trying to make sure you’re getting 100 percent out of it.

“It’s always going to be challenging being a rookie, but at the same time it’s probably been a little bit more challenging this year because you don’t have practice, we didn’t have rookie testing, and these cars are a big difference from the Xfinity Series. It’s hard to do that without the practice time.

“I think it pushes all of us to be better because we all want to compete against each other and make sure we’re not falling behind too much. I think it’s just a matter of you still have to focus on yourself most of the time. If you’re focused on other people, you’re not gonna be making yourself better and working on your own problems. But at the same time it does push you to make sure you’re pushing yourself as much as you can.”

Custer is coming off his first top-five finish of the season at Indianapolis last weekend. He  has just one other top 10 in the first 16 races.

Still, Custer’s finish at Indy, which included pushing Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick to the win, leaves Custer optimistic heading into this weekend.

“At that point, my best shot was to push Kevin and that might have got me in a better position to try and maybe make a move to try to win the race also,” Custer said. “It’s definitely nerve-wracking. I mean, you’re coming to that line and you’re like, ‘I’ve got to do this right. This is important right here. We need this.’

“So I’ve been in those situations before where you’ve got to push people if you’re running up front in the Xfinity cars or the Truck Series or whatever it is, so you have experience doing that kind of stuff, but doing it at this level puts that much more pressure on it and you’re at the Brickyard 400 so you want to make it happen. It was definitely nerve-wracking, but it was something that we were able to kind of control those nerves and make sure that we do our jobs right.

“Now I feel like we’re at a good point where we’re putting it all together and get close to affect all those little things. But you have to do it on a consistent basis and I think we’re gaining on that.”

The driver of the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang has his work cut out for himself Sunday, starting 29th.

“I feel like I’ve already spent hours trying to figure that out,” Custer quipped. “It’s definitely gonna be a tough race.

“It looks like it’s gonna be a really dominant top lane kind of race, so that makes it a little bit tough to pass. But at the same time, the track is gonna be changing throughout the whole weekend, so it’s hard to tell exactly what our race is gonna be like yet.

“You’re trying to work through all the different possibilities in your mind of what our race might look like. But overall I feel like it’s gonna be a track position race. You’re gonna want to try to get towards the front on restarts and on pit road, and from there you’re just trying to run a solid race without having mistakes.”

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