Drivers Council features new faces

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DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — Reigning Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. and youngsters Ty Dillon and William Byron are the newest members of the Drivers Council, NBC Sports has confirmed.

They replace Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott.

Returning members of the Drivers Council are Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Aric Almirola, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney.

The Council meets with NASCAR officials throughout the season to discuss issues that range from competition and marketing to safety and security measures, among other items. Some decisions can lead to significant changes in the sport. The Drivers Council was a part of the discussion on stage racing before its implementation in 2017.

Typically, the Council rotates about three new people in each year. It seeks a balance between veteran drivers and younger drivers. Council members report back to the all the drivers.

“I’m excited just because (inclusion) was voted on by drivers,” Ty Dillon said. “That means a lot to be voted on by your peers. I care a lot about the sport; it’s been a part of my whole life. Hopefully, I can add to the conversation.”

Harvick and Logano are the only members who have been on the Council all four years. The Council debuted at Dover International Speedway, meeting with NASCAR officials on May 30, 2015. Harvick notes it is important to rotate drivers into the Council.

 “You have some of these young guys that come in and see it’s not just about racing, it’s also teaching them about the politics of the sport and just the fundamentals of how things work,” he said. “It’s not just about driving the car, it’s about the teams having a balance with NASCAR and NASCAR having a balance with the drivers and the drivers having a relationship with their owner.

“There are just a lot of pieces to the puzzle that come into play, and I think the council is a good spot for everybody to help stay informed more than anything and help react to some of the things that may be coming down the pipeline from a driver’s perspective to help put that in play when NASCAR and the teams are deciding what they think is right.”

This is the third year on the Council for Busch, Johnson and Keselowski. This is the second year on the Council for Almirola and Blaney.

“Part of being a leader is seeing things from different views,” Keselowski said. “I think that’s really important and that environment lends itself to just that, which is good. I’ve enjoyed playing a role in it and hope to see it grow and become stronger year over year.”

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Cup starting lineup at New Hampshire has Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch on front row

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
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Rivals Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch will share the front row for Sunday’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (4 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Keselowski won his 15th career pole – and first since August 2017 – on Friday. He will have Busch start next to him.

MORE: Cup starting lineup

The rivals have had numerous run-ins throughout the their career.

Kurt Busch, who won last weekend at Kentucky, qualified third and is followed by Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney.

Three drivers will start at the rear: Denny Hamlin (backup), Alex Bowman (backup) and Ryan Newman (backup).

Brad Keselowski wins Cup pole at New Hampshire

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Brad Keselowski scored his first Cup pole since 2017, taking the top spot Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Keselowski topped the field with a lap of 136.384 mph. This is Keselowski’s 15th career Cup pole and first since Michigan in August 2017, a span of 68 races.

Keselowski’s run denied Toyota its first pole of the season. Keselowski will be joined on the front row by Kyle Busch (136.311 mph).

MORE: Cup qualifying results

Kurt Busch, who won last weekend at Kentucky, will start third after a lap of 136.238 mph. Erik Jones qualified fourth with a lap of 136.189 mph.

Jones’ performance is part of a promising week for him. He stated Friday that he is “close” to signing an extension with Joe Gibbs Racing. Jones’ contract expires after this season.

Ryan Blaney completed the top five with a lap of 136.116 mph. Martin Truex Jr. qualified sixth at 136.082 mph, and Matt DiBenedetto qualified a career-best seventh at 135.990 mph. DiBenedetto’s previous best Cup start was ninth in this year’s Daytona 500.

Alex Bowman had a driveshaft failure on his qualifying run and did not complete a lap. He will start at the rear of the field.

“Just a big boom going down the front straightaway and smoke and oil everywhere,” Bowman told NBCSN.

Bowman will go to a backup car.

Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman also will start at the rear of the field because they both went to backup cars after separate incidents late in Friday’s only Cup practice session.

Andy Seuss (qualified 35th) and Austin Theriault (36th) both will be making their Cup debut Sunday.

Daniel Hemric qualified 19th. HIs car failed inspection twice before qualifying and a crew member was ejected.

 

Erik Jones ‘close’ to re-signing after meeting with Joe Gibbs this week

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LOUDON, N.H. – After meeting with team owner Joe Gibbs this week, Erik Jones believes he finally is “close” to signing an extension with the team after a few months of negotiations.

“We’ve had some good meetings, positive meetings, so we’re moving in the right direction,” Jones said during Friday afternoon’s qualifying session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “I’d love to get it done here soon. We’ve had good meetings between my guys and JGR. I’ve had good meetings with Coach talking about it and moving forward. I know I keep saying it, but I feel like we’re pretty close to getting it done.”

The uncertainty for the 2020 season seemingly has been no distraction in 2019 for Jones, who believes he is close to ending a yearlong winless streak. He has notched six top 10s in the past nine races to move into the 16th and final provisional spot for the playoffs with seven races remaining in the regular season.

The Byron, Michigan, native said he told Gibbs “I want to get (the extension) done. We both want to get it done and move forward and stop worrying about it and stop focusing on it, but we’re close. Hopefully here soon.”

An extension for Jones would mean JGR has a full lineup of four drivers signed for 2020 and shift the focus to what is next for Xfinity driver Christopher Bell, who is under contract to JGR next season.

“I think you know as much as I do,” Bell said Friday morning when asked about what series he will race next year. “Actually, you probably know a little bit more than I do. Ultimately, it’s not up to me. I can’t make the decisions, so I’m just along for the ride.”

Bell indicated his desire to move to Cup last season, and a Leavine Family Racing Toyota could be an option if JGR wants to farm him out for 2020 in NASCAR’s premier series.

“I learned early on in my career that a race car driver is only as good as the equipment,” Bell said. “I definitely want to make sure that I’m in equipment that can win.”

Jeffrey Earnhardt releases his remaining races for 2019

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Jeffrey Earnhardt announced his schedule for the rest of the season Friday.

He is scheduled to run six Xfinity races and one Cup race the rest of this season.

His Xfinity races will be Mid-Ohio (Aug. 10), Bristol (Aug. 16), Road America (Aug. 24), Darlington (Aug. 31), ISM Raceway (Nov. 9) and Miami (Nov. 16). He’ll drive the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Xfinity car at Mid-Ohio, Road America, ISM Raceway and Miami. He’ll drive the No. 81 Xtreme Concepts Racing car at Bristol and Darlington.

He’ll also drive the No. 81 Xtreme Concepts Racing Cup car at Talladega on Oct. 13.