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Danica Patrick explains why she isn’t racing in The Clash

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Danica Patrick answered the question before it was even asked.

Introduced as “a former pole winner” in a news conference Saturday morning about her final NASCAR start in the Daytona 500, Patrick immediately interrupted the moderator.

“Being a former pole winner and watching myself not out there in Clash practice, you mean?” Patrick asked, glancing at a TV monitor showing cars turning laps at Daytona International Speedway for Sunday’s season-opening exhibition race.

Well, yes. Exactly.

Patrick, who became the first woman to win a pole position and lead laps in NASCAR’s premier series when she qualified first for the 2013 Daytona 500, is eligible for The Clash, and the 75-lap warmup on the 2.5-mile oval provides a good refresher for drivers getting re-acclimated to the draft.

But the No. 7 Chevrolet is here only for the Great American Race, a fact that Patrick recently was lamenting.

“A couple of days ago I was thinking to myself that we should have run the backup car in the Clash,” said Patrick, who had made four consecutive starts in The Clash with a best finish of fourth last year. “We don’t want to crash the primary anyway, so we are going to be careful in the (Can-Am Duel qualifying races Thursday), then you don’t have to worry about practicing too hard because you will have already had The Clash race.

“I was like, ‘Man, where was I on that one?’ It would have just been a good gamble to use the backup but didn’t think of it soon enough and was honestly just really concerned about the work getting done to put the primary car out there for the 500. Just came together too late and thought of it too late. It would have been good practice. It always is. It’s good for these guys too.  It’s good for everybody.”

A sponsorship deal with GoDaddy to close her racing career with Daytona and the Indianapolis 500 was announced last month and was followed by confirmation of Premium Motorsports as the NASCAR team fielding her car. Patrick has said the hunt for funding took longer than expected and The Clash wasn’t offered as part of the sponsorship package.

“It was really just to do Daytona and Indy and The Clash wasn’t a priority,” she said. “If it would have come together sooner, I’m sure that we would have been able to put something together for The Clash. But I’m sure it would have been extra, you know what I mean? It’s not free. Turning a wheel, turning the engine on, it’s never free.

“So, we would have surely found a way to put something together, but it just didn’t come together fast enough.”

Because NASCAR is using a new optical scanning inspection system, the team also considered it prudent to focus on car preparation for the one-off.

“There was no time to really worry too much about anything other than the primary (car),” Patrick said.

Patrick will have the comfort of being reunited with Tony Eury Jr., her 2010-12 crew chief with JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series.

“It should all be familiar, but it’s a new team, and it is new stuff to sit in,” she said. “It should all be really, really, close, but hopefully it feels familiar and I slip right into it.”

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.