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Friday 5: Could further limit on Cup drivers in Xfinity take place?

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For the second week in a row, the NASCAR Xfinity Series will run a race without any drivers who score points in the Cup series.

Cup regulars are barred from competing in Dash 4 Cash races, which pay $100,000 to the top Xfinity drivers in each of four events.

The result last weekend at Bristol was a race where Xfinity drivers battled for the win and to be eligible for the Dash 4 Cash bonus tonight at Richmond Raceway. Ryan Preece won the race and the bonus at Bristol. He isn’t entered for tonight’s race. Competing for the Dash 4 Cash bonus will be Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler, Spencer Gallagher and Daniel Hemric.

Along with Dash 4 Cash races, any driver who scores Cup points is barred from competing in the final eight races of the Xfinity season (regular-season finale and seven playoff races). Cup drivers with more than five years of experience are limited to seven Xfinity races in a season.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, hinted earlier this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that more changes could be made to limit Cup driver participations in Xfinity races.

“We’ll continue to monitor what do our fans think, what do our partners think in terms of what they’re seeing on the race track and the storylines,’’ O’Donnell said.

“It’s one thing to say we like this, but fans need to turn out, ratings need to be there and those sorts of things. Only one race, but we saw some really good indictions in terms of the TV rating for that event. That’s something that we’ll continue to monitor, but our gut tells us that’s the direction we want to continue to go, even more so in 2019 and beyond.’’

2. Dominance

Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick have ruled the beginning of the season, combining to win five of the first eight races and finishing runner-up four times.

The two also have combined to lead 37.2 percent of the 2,645 laps run this season.

Busch heads into Saturday night’s race at Richmond having scored six consecutive top-three finishes, including back-to-back wins at Texas and Bristol.

The last time two drivers won three Cup races in a row in the same season was 2015 when Busch won Daytona, New Hampshire and Indianapolis, and Joey Logano won Charlotte, Kansas and Talladega in the playoffs.

3. The race within the race

While multi-car teams garner much attention, single-car teams shouldn’t be ignored.

Here’s a look at how single-car teams have performed relative to each other in the first eight races of the season.

Not surprisingly, Furniture Row Racing and Martin Truex Jr. have been the top-finishing single-car team in five of the first eight races. Darrell Wallace Jr.’s Richard Petty Motorsports team has been the top finishing single-car team twice, and the Wood Brothers and Paul Menard have been the top-finishing car in class once.

Menard has finished second among single-car teams five times. Wallace, Leavine Family Racing’s Kasey Kahne and Germain Racing’s Ty Dillon have each finished second in class once.

The last two races have been good to single-car teams. Nine single-car teams finished in the top 22 at Texas, led by Wallace’s eighth-place finish, Dillon’s 13th-place finish and Matt DiBenedetto placing 16th for Go Fas Racing.

Three single-car teams placed in the top 20 at Bristol — Menard was 13th, Wallace 16th and Landon Cassill gave StarCom Racing its best career finish at 20th.

4. No need for announcement

When teams announce long-term sponsor extensions, it can come with news of an extension to the driver’s contract to match that time.

The news this week that Roush Fenway Racing had extended sponsor deals through 2021 with Fastenal, Fifth Third Bank and Sunny D didn’t include any news about Stenhouse’s contract.

Didn’t need to.

“Ricky’s contract was already extended that far and we didn’t need to do anything else on that front,’’ Steve Newmark, president of Roush Fenway Racing, told NBC Sports.

5. HUGE news!

Matt Tifft wrote those words in a tweet this week followed not by a sponsor announcement or anything related to racing but that doctors say the area of his brain where a low-grade tumor was removed in July 2016 is stable. He now only needs to have an MRI checkup every six months instead of sooner.

Tifft enters tonight’s Xfinity race at Richmond 11th in the points.

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

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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.