NASCAR America: Some drivers stood out at Dover for making mistakes

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Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. stood out last week at Dover International Speedway in the AAA 400, but not for the reasons they would have wanted.

With competition being so tight throughout the field, success is increasingly defined by drivers eliminating mistakes, according to NASCAR America analysts Dale Jarrett and Parker Kligerman.

Larson was hit with two penalties during the race weekend – one that dropped him to the back of the field and forced him to give up his pole position and one that cost him two laps for an uncontrolled tire.

“Generally as (the race track widens out) it makes passing easier, but that wasn’t the case (Sunday),” Jarrett said. “Things were just different there. And I think it’s all year you’re seeing this. That’s why it’s so important that these teams stop making mistakes on pit road.”

“One thing that’s adding to this is we’re not seeing a lot of cautions these days,” Kligerman added. “It just seems to be a lot of green flag racing, so when you make a mistake and you’re having to come back through the field, cautions help you, right? They group the field back; you can get a good pit stop to make up for that last one; make up a couple of spots there. But when it’s green flag and it’s purely down to speed and your ability to pass – and we saw from Martin Truex that he wasn’t able to do that when he got back in the pack.”

For more, watch the above video.

NASCAR in ‘good place’ with Harrison Burton, Noah Gragson after fight

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Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, says that series officials will keep an eye on Harrison Burton and Noah Gragson moving forward but that the sanctioning body feels it is in a “good place” with those drivers after their fight last weekend at Kentucky Speedway.

Gragson punched Burton after Burton repeatedly shoved him in the garage area as they discussed their contact on the track late in Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Kentucky Speedway. A NASCAR spokesperson said Friday night that no penalties were anticipated.

Asked about where matters stood between NASCAR and the two drivers, Miller told “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Monday morning:

“I personally wasn’t in the post-race conversations. (NASCAR Xfinity Series Managing Director) Wayne Auton does a great job with that and the report that I got from him is he talked to some of the crew members that were involved and obviously both of the drivers. I think we got to a good place. They’re going to have some words this week and try to make sure we’re in a good spot when we start the weekend next weekend in Texas. We feel like we’re OK.

“This is an emotional sport and there’s going to be things like that that crop up. It’s not a great situation for us to deal with as a sanctioning body, but we also want the emotion in the sport. That’s what makes it so special. Those things are unfortunate, but we do know from time to time those are going to happen. If we feel good about the conversations we’ve had, in a lot of cases we’re going to move on from that and keep an eye on those individuals moving forward.”

Race and Sports in America: Conversations to air at 8 p.m. ET Monday

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Damon Hack will host two roundtables with athletes and former athletes for a conversation on race and sports in America. The show airs at 8 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN, Golf Channel, Olympic Channel and the NBC Sports Regional Networks.

Appearing with Hack will be Los Angeles Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, NBA superstar Steph Curry, NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, NFL player Kyle Rudolph, pro golfer Troy Mullins, former tennis player James Blake, Major League Baseball player James Rollins and Baseball Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.

Among the topics discussed are: The conversations they’ve had with family in the last few months, what they hope things will be like in a year’s time, the level of optimism vs. pessimism and their experiences.

 

 

Winners and losers from Kentucky

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WINNERS

Cole CusterHe entered Sunday’s race well out of a playoff spot at 25th in the points. He took advantage of a series of events in the final laps to score a dramatic victory and earn a playoff spot.

Martin Truex Jr.Lost the lead on the last lap but recorded his first top-five finish since his Martinsville win last month.

Matt DiBenedetto He was 18th with 14 laps to go and finished third.

Christopher BellSeventh-place finish was his fourth finish of 12th or better in the last six races.

Austin Cindric Had not won on an oval in the Xfinity Series before sweeping both series races at Kentucky Speedway.

LOSERS

Matt KensethA week after finishing runner-up at Indianapolis, he spun twice and finished 25th at Kentucky.

Ryan PreeceFinished last for the second race in a row. He was eliminated in a pit road accident at Indy and by transmission issues at Kentucky. He has failed to finish five of 17 races this season (29.4%).

Jimmie JohnsonWas third on a late restart when contact with Brad Keselowski spun him. Instead of contending for his first victory since 2017, Johnson finished 18th and had a little warning for Keselowski.

Here is how Cole Custer scored his first NASCAR Cup victory

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The seeds of Cole Custer’s first Cup victory were sown before anyone could have imagined it would be him celebrating Sunday at Kentucky Speedway and not Kevin Harvick or Martin Truex Jr.

Custer’s rise from 13th to first in the last 20 laps was a study in acuity by a driver who said he’s had days where “your eyes are sore trying to look at film, trying to figure everything out.”

He also had some good fortune. The key, though, was taking advantage of those situations, which he did.

He was 13th on the restart on Lap 249 of the 267-lap race. He restarted on the inside lane in the seventh row back. Many drivers on the inside line lost positions on restarts throughout the race but Custer moved up to 12th when Jimmie Johnson, restarting third, spun after contact with Brad Keselowski.

While the contact ruined Johnson’s race, it set Custer’s dramatic finish in motion. By gaining one spot, he was in the outside lane in the sixth row for the next restart.

When the race’s final caution waved on Lap 262 for Matt Kenseth’s spin, Custer was sixth, having gained six spots in six laps. A key move came when he went to the outside and was four-wide. Matt DiBenedetto pushed Custer past those cars.

Heading into the final restart, Custer was in the outside lane in the third row behind Harvick, who was leading, and Keselowski.

Truex started on the inside lane on the front row and had Ryan Blaney and Kurt Busch behind him.

The field heads to the green flag for the final restart. Cole Custer is on the outside of the third row. (FS1)

Keselowski explained the dilemma he (and Blaney) faced in the second row.

“All race long, not just that restart, the third- and fourth-place guys while they’re pushing if you don’t push, your lane doesn’t go  then the car behind you gets a huge run on you, and that makes it tough,” Keselowski said.

“That’s what happened to me on the last restart. I was fourth and I was pushing Kevin and Cole used his run to get to the outside.”

Keselowski said another key was what happened between he and Harvick.

I was just out of sync with Kevin on the final restart,” Keselowski said. I probably should have communicated a little better with him and that’s my fault, and that put us in a spot vulnerable to the lane behind us and they ultimately won the race.”

Custer closed to Keselowski’s rear bumper on the restart. Past the start/finish line, Custer pulled out to the right as Keselowski was no longer connected to Harvick.

Cole Custer (41) gets a push from Matt DiBenedetto (21) on the final restart and makes his move around Brad Keselowski (2) at the beginning of the final restart. (FS1)

DiBenedetto followed Custer when Custer pulled to the right.

“Cole is always a smart racer,” DiBenedetto said. “He’s one of those guys, even though he’s a rookie, he doesn’t make silly moves. He puts himself usually in pretty good spots.

“When we restarted, we made a pretty big power move on the restart before that. I got a good restart. I was curious basically what he was going to do. When he pulled to the top, I was like, Yeah, that was a good move right there.

“I just decided to shove him since I couldn’t go around him on the outside.”

The next key moment came in Turn 2. As Truex and Harvick ran side-by-side for the lead, Blaney was third and moving off the bottom lane as Custer charged on the outside. Blaney couldn’t get in front of Custer in time and was stuck watching Custer roll by.

In Turn 2 on the next-to-last lap, Ryan Blaney (12) could not move up in front of Cole Custer (41) quick enough, allowing Custer to motor by for third place. (FS1)

“Those decisions, you have to make them really quick, and it’s really hard to just hook a right right in the middle of the corner and try to get up there and things like that,” Blaney said. “So, yeah, I look back on that and will probably be kicking myself probably a little bit on that if there was time to get up. I probably wasn’t really aggressive enough on that, but I have to look. But it is really hard. 

“Sometimes your spotter will say, ‘clear,’ but it’s really hard to just let go of the wheel and just turn right because you’re going to lose speed going up the hill and if you’re six inches clear, you might close up quick … you learn from things like that and see what you do for next time.”

Harvick took the lead on the backstretch. Truex came up the track to tuck in behind Harvick but he hit Harvick in the left rear. Both cars lost momentum.

Custer charged and was squeezed between the wall and Truex’s car. They made slight contact. That slowed Custer’s momentum. Truex recovered and got beside Harvick in Turn 4, creating a draft for Custer, while Blaney raced on his inside.

“I tried to slide up behind (Harvick) off of (Turn) 2 there so I didn’t get freight trained,” Truex said. “I clipped his rear enough to turn him sideways.”

Said Harvick: “Martin just misjudged there on the backstretch and got me sideways. I got out of the gas and that just brought everybody into the picture and then we were four-wide on the front straightaway.”

Cole Custer, aided by the draft, tucks in behind Martin Truex Jr., who is running beside Kevin Harvick as Ryan Blaney runs on the bottom coming to take the white flag. (FS1)

Blaney tried to stay away from Truex, Harvick and Custer and ran low on the track before he cut through the apron on the frontstretch.

“I was just trying to get way from those three guys,” Blaney said. “I was just trying to get some room between us and not get side drafted or slowed down. I couldn’t necessarily see them, but I was told I was bottom four (wide) and that was for the lead, so obviously I’m just going to get away from (them) as much as possible because I felt like they were all going to slow each other down and maybe I’d have an edge.

“People do that all the time, cut to the apron on every type of racetrack that’s available, just none of the other ones have ramps on them.”

Or a drain. One Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran over in the 2016 race there

“I don’t understand how you can repave a place a handful of years ago and there’s a jump bigger than any track we go to, but, yeah, I didn’t even know it was there,” Blaney said. “We don’t run on it. You never run down there, and I didn’t really know it was gonna be that bad. I was lucky it didn’t wipe out all of us.” 

With the momentum from the draft, Custer darted outside of Truex. As they came to the start/finish line to begin the final lap, Blaney was on the apron with Harvick, Truex and Custer all together. The top four cars crossed the line four wide.

That’s when Blaney hit the drain. His car launched off the track and darted to the right, hitting Harvick’s car. The contact caused Harvick’s car to move up the track and forced Truex higher. That came just after Custer cleared them. At that point, Custer was focused on his first Cup win.

“I just wanted to start yelling honestly,” Custer later said of that moment.

“I was like, man, I got to wait till I get to the start/finish line because I’ll jinx this thing. At that point I kind of knew I had it.”

He did.

“It was a wild last lap,” Blaney said, “a wild last couple of laps to be honest with you.”