Inside story of the season’s most ‘awesome finish’

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JOLIET, Ill. — Kyle Larson didn’t make the last-lap move on Kyle Busch as he hoped Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.

Oh, yes, Larson planned to hit Busch.

Larson just didn’t want to get in front of Busch so quickly.

“I wanted to slide in front of him,” Larson said. “But I knew I would be too tight and have to slow down too much to where he would just probably cross over and drive away from me.

“I did plan to go into there and get into the side of him and slow him down, which I did, but I really didn’t want to clear him before (Turn) 3 because I knew that would give him the opportunity to do that into 3.”

The result was NASCAR’s most exciting finish of the season. Busch repaid Larson for the Turn 2 contact on the final lap by shoving Larson in the rear bumper in Turn 3. That sent Larson into a sprint car slide and Busch into the wall.

Kyle Busch celebrates his win. (Getty Images)

Busch recovered, straightened his car and drove to the finish line to earn his fifth win of the year. Larson skidded to the grass, regained control of his car and finished second for the fourth time this season.

“I thought he was going to pull a slide job,’’ Busch said of Larson’s move in Turn 2. “When he didn’t try to do a slider, then I wasn’t sure what his next move was going to be.

“I was like, ‘Surely he’s not going to drive into the side of me.’ Then he did. After that point … all bets are off.”

Busch bounced off the wall in Turn 2, lost the lead down the backstretch and chased Larson. Busch’s plan was to cut under Larson when Larson slid up in Turn 3. Larson stayed on the bottom.

Busch went to his next option.

“I drove off in there as far as I could and I got into the back of him,” Busch said. “Once I did that, he was kind of sliding loose. I was just trying to get back to the start/finish line after that. It’s kind of a product of once it’s done to you, it’s fair game.”

Larson knew what he was doing when he hit Busch in Turn 2.

“I moved him first,” Larson said. “I can’t be too upset about the move into 3. I opened the door for that. I waved the green flag to run into each other. That was just a fun finish.”

Busch and Larson have had their duels — Busch and Larson have finished 1-2 eight times in Cup and Xfinity with Busch winning each time. The most recent time came in April at Bristol when Busch used a bump-and-run move to get by Larson with six laps to go and win.

“Maybe that’s what he kind of thought he had on me in Turn 2,” Busch said for Larson’s physical move. “If he would have been able to be alongside of me and raced me clean, we would have just raced through 3 and 4 and seen who could have got back to the start/finish line first.

“Once contact is made in a race, it’s kind of like OK, it’s every man for himself. Even me, when we had that race at Bristol and I got into him with (six) to go, I was like, ‘Man I thought I did that too early because he could get back to me.’ He never could get back to me.”

Larson reached Busch on Sunday at Chicagoland with help.

Both he and Busch admit that if it hadn’t been for lapped cars slowing Busch, Larson likely would not have gotten close enough to challenge for the win.

“I don’t know what position they were racing for, but they were racing very hard for it,” Busch said of the lapped cars in the final laps. “They were just side‑by‑side. When that happens, there’s just nowhere for me to go. There’s no clean air. 

“One was on the bottom. I think there was a middle lane kind of open, two on the top. I got by (Ryan) Newman, I got plugged up off of (Turn) 2, lost my momentum. Newman came to the bottom.  We were three‑wide with lapped cars in the backstretch. 

“I couldn’t turn off 3 to the bottom like I would have if he wasn’t there. I don’t think (Ricky) Stenhouse knew that. Stenhouse kind of right reared me, got me steering up the racetrack towards the wall. That killed my rear tires for the next two laps. I was just sliding for dear life. I don’t know if anybody really did anything wrong, let’s say. But there was an awful lot of lap cars that were way more gracious, let’s go with that.”

Larson put himself in position to take advantage of the lapped traffic by running the high line, as he so often does, but with a precision not always seen. While he did clip the wall once late, he constantly ran inches — “a half inch probably at times,” he quipped — without leaving a trace.

“It’s super impressive how close he can enter on the wall and how quickly he can get back to the throttle and have complete control of his car so close to the wall lap after lap,” said Busch’s crew chief, Adam Stevens, about Larson.

“I don’t think there’s ever been anybody that I can recall that’s been able to do that.  I’m sure it’s the dirt track skills and the way he grew up, what he raced growing up. It just speaks to his talent.”

As Larson closed on Busch, car owner Joe Gibbs watched helplessly.

“This is a problem,” Gibbs said watching from pit road.

Kyle Busch (left) and Kyle Larson recount their last-lap duel (Getty Images)

But in this matchup of among the sport’s most talented drivers, Busch prevailed.

After Larson finished describing the “awesome finish,” he walked to the garage stall where the makeshift Victory Lane moved to because of impending rain.

He and Busch talked.

Busch told Larson: “I thought you were going to slide me. I was all ready for that.”

“No, I didn’t have enough room. By the time you got back to my outside, I had no other choice, stall you out, I hit you.”

“You knew it was fair game after that?”

“Yeah, I knew.”

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NBC Sports Power Rankings: Denny Hamlin leads the way to Miami

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With his win at Phoenix and advancing to the Championship 4 race in Miami, Denny Hamlin is once again back on top of this week’s NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Not surprisingly, all four drivers who will battle for the championship are in the top four in this week’s rankings. Kyle Busch is second, last week’s No. 1, Kevin Harvick, drops to third, and Martin Truex Jr. is fourth, as voted on by NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers.

Hamlin made the biggest jump in the standings, going from No. 7 last week to the top of the heap this week.

Conversely, Joey Logano, who was No. 3 last week, suffers the biggest drop, down to No. 8 – and also misses on his bid to defend last year’s championship this Sunday at Miami (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

Here is this week’s Power Rankings:

1. Denny Hamlin (39 points): Entered ISM Raceway outside a transfer spot to the title race and now he might be the favorite to win it all. Or at least be co-favorite with teammate Martin Truex Jr. Last week: Seventh.

2. Kyle Busch (34 points): Could be the underdog at Miami. With everything on the line, is one of the best performers in pressure-packed situations – especially with a championship and snapping a 21-race winless streak on the line. Last week: Fourth.

3. Kevin Harvick (29 points): Lone wolf in the Joe Gibbs Racing party for the championship. But he may actually have the edge, as he has three teammates who can help him, while it’s every man for himself for the three JGR drivers. Last week: First.

4. Martin Truex Jr. (28 points): Has not finished worse than sixth in the last four races. Also has the most wins (seven) of the four championship drivers. Last week: Second.

5. Ryan Blaney (26 points): Finished fifth, eighth and third in the Round of 8 but it still wasn’t good enough to advance to the title race. Last week: Fifth.

6. Kyle Larson (22 points): Fourth-place finish was good effort but missed out on last chance to run for a championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway, one of his best tracks. Was Chevrolet’s last hope; the bow tie has not reached the Championship 4 for the last three years. Last week: Sixth.

7. Erik Jones (14 points): Has three top 10s in last four races. While showed some signs of promise during the playoffs, the fact remains he’s likely going to finish 16th (last) among all playoff qualifiers when everything is said and done after Miami. Last week: Unranked.

8. Joey Logano (9 points): So close, yet so far away. Will we ever learn what happened to his car in the final stage that cost him a chance to defend last year’s title at Miami? Last week: Third.

9. Justin Allgaier (6 points): Xfinity win at ISM Raceway was his career-best 16th consecutive top-10 finish. Could he steal the championship from the “Big Three?” Last week: Unranked.

10. Christopher Bell (4 points): With Xfinity Series-leading eight wins, enters title race as favorite. This will be his Xfinity swan song before moving to Cup next season. What better way to leave than to go out on top. Last week: Unranked.

Others receiving votes: Clint Bowyer (3 points), Brad Keselowski (2 points), Cole Custer (2 points), Stewart Friesen (1 point).

Nashville Fair Board votes to terminate contract with operator of Fairgrounds Speedway

Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway
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The Nashville Metro Fair Board voted Tuesday to terminate its contract with the operator of Fairgrounds Speedway, a track being eyed for a possible NASCAR race, according to The Tennessean.

Last December, Formosa Productions and Bristol Motor Speedway announced “an agreement to explore bringing major NASCAR racing events” back to the .596-mile track. The earliest Nashville could potentially be added to the schedule is 2021, though the schedule for that season is expected to be revealed in April.

Bristol Motor Speedway released a statement Tuesday night saying it is still interested in pursuing future involvement with the Fairgrounds Speedway.

“We appreciate all that Tony and Claire Formosa have done to sustain local racing in Nashville over the years,” said Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager for Bristol Motor Speedway. “Today’s news does not change our interest or belief that Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway can be returned to prominence to help create a true renovation of the Fairgrounds. There is huge local, regional and national interest in the future of the Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. As Mayor (John) Cooper, the Fair Board and Council determine what’s next for the historic race track, we are ready to engage with them on the vision that we believe can deliver a bright future for the Fairgrounds.”

The vote to terminate the contract with Formosa Productions, operated by Tony and Claire Formosa, is in response to a claimed breach of contract, which was first raised by the city in April and includes unpaid concessions commissions and rent payments.

A fairgrounds spokesperson told The Tennessean that the Formosas would owe the city nearly $180,000 by the end of the year. The Tennessean reports the Formosas have 90 days to vacate the premises.

According to The Tennessean, Nashville Fairgrounds Director Laura Womack said she and another board member met Oct. 14 with the Formosas and asked that they provide specific contract changes and documents regarding attendance and revenue records from this year’s racing season.

A meeting where those documents were due to be delivered was rescheduled to Nov. 6 before it was canceled by the Formosas.

“This shows little to no faith that we will be paid by the end of the year,” said Fair Board member Caleb Hemmer, according to The Tennessean. “Which begs the issue that we need to start looking to the future and what we need to do as a board to ensure there’s racing next year if the (Formosas) can’t fulfill their obligations as put forth by (the contract).”

Jim Roberts, an attorney representing the Formosas, attended the meeting according to The Tennessean. Roberts believed the meeting, which was delayed two hours due to winter weather, was in violation of the opens meeting act due to it not being properly noticed.

The Formosas have operated the track since 2010 and entered into a five-year agreement in 2017 after the city chose its bid over one from Bristol Motor Speedway

The deal between Formosa Productions and Bristol Motor Speedway, which would need to be approved by the Fair Board, would focus “on a long-range plan of significant track improvements and high-profile race events that could include NASCAR events upon the facility meeting standards.”

In May, Bristol officials revealed a $60 million proposal to renovate the track.

The plan would increase seating capacity of the .596-mile short track from its current size of 15,000 to 30,000, as well as include an expanded concourse, premium seating, pedestrian tunnels and sound barriers.

 

Penalty report from ISM Raceway

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NASCAR has fined five crew chiefs for unsecured lug nuts on their cars after last weekend’s playoff races at ISM Raceway.

Each fine was for having a single unsecured lug nut.

In the Cup Series:

Paul Wolfe, crew chief on Brad Keselowski‘s No. 2 Ford, and Mike Hillman Sr., crew chief on J.J. Yeley‘s No. 53 Chevrolet, were each fined $10,000.

In the Xfinity Series:

Taylor Moyer, crew chief on Zane Smith‘s No. 8 Chevrolet, was fined $5,000.

In the Truck Series:

Joe Shear, Jr., crew chief on Johnny Suater’s No. 13 Chevrolet, and Trip Bruce lll, crew chief on race winner Stewart Friesen‘s No. 52 Chevrolet, were fined $2,500.

Preliminary entry lists for Championship Weekend in Miami

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NASCAR’s final race weekend of the year has arrived with the championship races for all three of its national series at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for all three races.

Cup – Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC)

A full field of 40 cars are entered into the race.

Drew Herring is entered in Gaunt Brothers Racing’s No. 96 Toyota for his Cup debut.

John Hunter Nemechek will make his third start in Front Row Motorsports’ No. 36 Ford in relief of Matt Tifft.

Joe Nemechek is entered in Premium Motorsports’ No. 15 Chevrolet.

Joey Logano won this race last year over Martin Truex Jr. to claim his first Cup title.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – Ford EcoBoost 300 (3:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)

There are 39 cars entered. One car will not qualify for the race.

Jeb Burton is entered in JR Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet.

Harrison Burton is entered in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota.

Tyler Reddick won this race last year over Cole Custer to claim the championship.

Click here for the entry list.

Trucks – Ford EcoBoost 200 (8 p.m. ET Friday on FS1)

There are 37 trucks entered. Five trucks will not qualify for the event.

K&N Pro Series West champion Derek Kraus is entered in Bill McAnally Racing’s No. 19 Toyota for his fifth start of the season.

Angela Ruch is entered in Niece Motorsports’ No. 44 Chevrolet.

Christian Eckes is entered in Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 51 Toyota.

NBC Sports analyst Parker Kligerman is entered in Henderson Motorsports’ No. 75 Chevrolet.

No drivers are listed for NEMCO Motorsports’ No. 87 Chevrolet and Reaume Brothers Racing’s No. 33 and No. 34 Toyotas.

Brett Moffitt won this race last year to claim the championship.

Click here for the entry list.