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Rookie William Byron ready for new challenges in Cup

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The debate on promoting NASCAR’s young drivers and its veterans?

Rookie William Byron would be in the center of that but for all the talk he notes something most should keep in mind when debating this topic:

“We’re ultimately going to have to prove ourselves on the race track and do the things that we’re capable of,’’ he said.

Byron enters this season as among the most fascinating stories in Cup. A  20-year-old who learned to race on a computer, he comes off his Xfinity championship season to drive for one of the sport’s top teams and take over the iconic No. 24 car.

“It’s definitely going to be a big challenge,’’ Byron said. “There are a lot of new things that I have to think about and approach differently, but I think this year is going to be a really good year for us. We have a great team, and I feel like everyone at Hendrick is ready to get to the race track. There’s a lot of excitement and new things that we’re approaching.”

Byron joins a youthful Hendrick Motorsports lineup of Chase Elliott (22 years old) and Alex Bowman (24) that will be paired with seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson (42).

“This is really a dream come true to be part of the Cup series and be with a great race team that has a chance to win,’’ Byron said. “I think, for us, we’re going to try to win races. We have all the resources and tools to do that and we’re trying to focus those in the right areas to make sure we’re ready for the season.”

Byron looks to become the first rookie since Chris Buescher in 2016 to win a Cup race. Byron will be paired with crew chief Darian Grubb, who won the 2011 championship with Tony Stewart.

“He’s been with a lot of different drivers and has won with every one of them,’’ Byron said of Grubb. “You don’t find people like that very often, and I feel like he’s an asset to our organization. “I feel he’s pretty aggressive with how he approaches the weekend, and you want somebody like that.”

Byron got off to a good start at this week’s Las Vegas test, his first time in the new Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Byron was fifth on the speed chart on the final day after pacing the morning session.

Byron also is getting help from Jeff Gordon, who has talked with the youngster throughout the offseason.

“When you have guys like Jeff or Jimmie (Johnson) behind the scenes helping you become a better driver, you can’t ask for much more as a rookie,’’ Byron said. “I think I have all the chances to do it and I have all the resources I need.”

Johnson admits the young group, including Byron, is making an impact on him.

I’m excited for a fresh perspective,’’ Johnson said. “I find myself going in a cycle of looking what worked in different years, from a driver’s standpoint, there’s only a few things we can do to really be prepared.

“In talking with William, just as an example, he thinks that driving an RC car, seeing it from a different perspective, working on your hand-eye coordination from that vantage point is helpful. Hell, I’ve never thought of that. I haven’t driven an RC car since I was his age. It’s just a different way to look at things.

“I don’t know which ones are going to work for me, but it’s nice to have these different options around. I’ve kind of been through my bag of tricks year after year. Definitely excited to look at some new ideas.’’

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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 SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: 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: Qualifying is at 11:05 a.m.

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 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.