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For first time in career, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. believes he can win Daytona 500

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Winning a Cup race for the first time can do a lot to help a driver’s confidence.

Having your first two Cup wins come at restrictor-plate tracks can do wonders for your confidence in the “Great American Race.”

That’s the case for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The Roush Fenway Racing driver broke through in 2017 after four years of trying to get that elusive first Cup win. It came in the May race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Two months later, the No. 17 Ford was back in Victory Lane after the July race at Daytona after leading 17 laps, Stenhouse’s first laps led at the 2.5-mile track.

As a result, the 30-year-old driver got to experience his first NASCAR Media Tour without having to answer questions about why he hadn’t won yet.

“Not looking for our first win is nice, not having that riding on your back,” Stenhouse said Tuesday. “Now it’s what other race tracks are we gonna win at? I definitely want to win at other race tracks.”

But the first track the Cup Series visits in 2018 is the last one Stenhouse found victory at. His win under the lights in Daytona last year has completely changed his mindset ahead of the 60th Daytona 500.

“Going into the 500 I feel a lot more confident than I ever have,” Stenhouse said. “I always went into the 500 thinking, ‘Hey, let’s get off to a good start. Let’s have a good points race.’ I never thought about winning the 500. I just thought that I was competing in it and if I won that was cool, but I didn’t really feel I had the confidence that we could. After last season, I feel like going in that is the only goal that we have when we go down there is to win and not just to get a good finish out of it.”

Stenhouse was a major part of Ford’s sweep of the four restrictor-plate races last season. Kurt Busch claimed the Daytona 500 and Brad Keselowski won the fall race at Talladega.

“I think Doug (Yates) builds us great horsepower at those speedway events,” Stenhouse said. “I think each one of the Ford programs … I know you have somebody like Tony Gibson at Stewart-Haas, we’ve got Jimmy Fennig – the superspeedways are some of their bread and butter that they really enjoy working on and tuning those race cars.  It was obviously a huge benefit for us at Roush Fenway Racing, putting us in the playoffs and giving us those opportunities to go win.

“Now, the focus that we put in on those, I think, is also what’s gonna help us hopefully improve on our other areas because we saw that putting one person really focused on our speedway program could really lift it fairly quick, so we’re working on all that.”

Prior to last season, Stenhouse had one top five in nine Daytona starts and two top fives in seven Talladega starts. His DNFs in the Daytona 500 and the fall Talladega race from wrecks were his first at each track.

Until the checkered flag drops on the 500 on Feb. 18, the race is the “No. 1 priority” for the No. 17 team.

But Stenhouse is eager for the organization test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway at the end of the month. Then he’ll have a better measurement of where his team stands going into the post-Daytona schedule.

“We’ve got a new car that we’re taking out there and we’ve got other cars to kind of judge ourselves off of,” Stenhouse said. “I know (Kyle) Larson is gonna be out there, so some of those cars that were fast on the mile-and-a-half race tracks last year will be out there testing and I’m anxious to kind of see how we stack up with our new car.”

Recently, Larson expressed his desire to win the Chili Bowl Nationals more than the Daytona 500. 

Stenhouse, like Larson, rose through the racing ranks on dirt. Stenhouse explained the significance of the midget event in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“Kyle and I have been trying to win the Chili Bowl a lot longer than we’ve ever thought about winning the Daytona 500,” Stenhouse said. “I think us growing up racing sprint cars, him in California and me in Mississippi,  I raced go karts in the same building that we race the Chili Bowl in and that’s just something that we’ve always strived for and not until as of recent history or recent events that we’ve gotten opportunities to even go compete in the Daytona 500.

“In the country I would say the Daytona 500 is the biggest …  They’re both huge races.  I want to win the Daytona 500 really, really bad.  I want to win the Chili Bowl bad too, but I’m sure if you asked Larson today which one he’s looking forward to I’m sure he’s looking to the 500.

“The Chili Bowl is over.”

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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.