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NASCAR executive says it promotes drivers in ‘balanced way’

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — NASCAR’s “wake-up call” about marketing its drivers didn’t come from Kyle Busch on Tuesday.

It came on Feb. 20, 2011 via Trevor Bayne.

That was the day Bayne, a relatively unknown 20-year-old driver from Knoxville,Tennessee, won the Daytona 500 in his second Cup start.

NASCAR was not prepared.

According to Steve Phelps, the sanctioning body’s chief global sales and marketing officer, NASCAR’s marketing at the time was focused on “racing itself and pretty pictures around the racing.” Not the stars.

“With the media’s help frankly, that week leading up to (Bayne’s win), and Jeff Gordon (who pushed Bayne into position to win) and the fact that they were a good tandem, that helped us, but we never wanted to put ourselves in that position again,” Phelps said in a teleconference Wednesday to address the issue of marketing drivers triggered by Busch’s comments this week.

MORE: Darrell Wallace Jr. calls Kyle Busch’s comments “dumb” and “stupid”

Seven years later, NASCAR has multiple programs in place to promote its young drivers. From Drive 4 Diversity and NASCAR Next to coverage of their accomplishments in the K&N Pro, Truck and Xfinity Series.

“When they finally get up to the Monster Energy Series, they are known quantities,” Phelps said. “They’re winners.”

According to Busch, the marketing strategy doesn’t benefit him and fellow veterans.

“It is bothersome,” Busch said during the NASCAR Media Tour. “We’ve paid our dues, and our sponsors have and everything else, and all you’re doing is advertising all these younger guys for fans to figure out and pick up on and choose as their favorite driver. I think it’s stupid. But I don’t know, I’m not the marketing genius that’s behind this deal. You know, I just do what I can do, and my part of it is what my part is.

“I guess one thing that can be said is probably the younger guys are bullied into doing more things than the older guys are because we say no a lot more because we’ve been there, done that and have families, things like that, and want to spend as much time as we can at home. You know, maybe that’s some of it. … Some of these marketing campaigns and things like that, pushing these younger drivers, is I wouldn’t say all that fair.”

Phelps said the comments by the Joe Gibbs Racing driver could be applied to how Busch was lightly promoted during his early years in Cup in the mid-2000s, but they’re not reflective of how NASCAR markets its talent in 2018.

“Do I think that’s fair that when he came into the sport and started winning right off the bat?” Phelps said.  “Yeah, I think it’s a fair statement that we did not give that kind of support.”

Phelps said he had a conversation with Busch about marketing late last year.

“We know what we’re trying to do from a marketing perspective, and we believe that we are promoting those drivers in a balanced way, and there are things that some veteran drivers are not interested in doing, and we understand that,” Phelps said.

He was referring to comments made by Ryan Blaney on Wednesday in response to Busch. The Team Penske driver was critical of Busch’s willingness to do some marketing projects.

“We’ve got these fantastic drivers in all these national series who have the opportunity to connect with a fan, and that’s what we want them to do,” Phelps said. “Kyle does a lot for our sport. I think we expose Kyle in a good, meaningful way … Toyota does, as well, M&M’s does, working with the Gibbs guys, and that’s important for us.

“So it’s not about veterans complaining about they’re not getting their fair share … it’s an education process and collaborating together, and Kyle is on the driver council, and if this is a topic that they’re interested in bringing up there or just in person, we’re happy to listen to what he has to say.”

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Brad Keselowski wins pole for New Hampshire Xfinity race

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Brad Keselowski will start first in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Keselowski claimed the pole for the Lakes Region 200 (4 p.m. ET on NBCSN) with a speed of 130.296 mph.

It’s his second pole in three starts this season and his fifth pole in 10 starts at the 1-mile track.

Keselowski is trying to win his fourth straight Xfinity race.

The Team Penske driver will be joined on the front row by Christopher Bell (130.126 mph).

The top five is completed by Ryan Preece, Cole Custer and John Hunter Nemechek.

Ryan Truex, Matt Tifft, Austin Cindric, Kaz Grala, Jeremy Clements, Michael Annett and Ross Chastain did not advance out of the second round.

During the first round the red flag came out with 6:25 left due to fluid on the track from Ryan Reed‘s No. 16 Ford.

Reed will start last.

Click here for qualifying results.

 

Today’s Xfinity race at New Hampshire: Start time, lineup and more

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Last year, Ryan Preece finished second to Kyle Busch in this race. Preece takes over the car that beat him last year and hopes to improve by one position. He’ll have to beat Cup regulars Brad Keselowski and Austin Dillon to do so.

Here’s all the info for today’s Xfinity race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 4:07 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 4:16 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 200 laps (211.6 miles) around the 1.05-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 45. Stage 2 ends on Lap 90.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 7 a.m. Qualifying is at 11:05 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 1:30 p.m. Driver introductions are at 3:30 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Boston Sports Team Vocalist John Robert Murphy will perform the anthem at 4:01 p.m. The Canadian National Anthem will be performed by Jodie Cunningham at 3:58 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race beginning at 3 p.m. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. with Countdown to Green on NBCSN. Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 2:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 78 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Kyle Busch beat his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Ryan Preece by more than 10 seconds. William Byron came home third, with Cup regulars Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski rounding out the top five.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

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.