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Friday 5: No panic for Chase Elliott in battle for playoff spots

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SPARTA, Kentucky — Chase Elliott is quick to point out that he doesn’t feel helpless, but he knows that he and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates face challenges to secure playoff spots in the final eight regular-season races.

Hendrick drivers Jimmie Johnson, Elliott and Alex Bowman hold what would be the final three playoff positions, heading into Saturday night’s race at Kentucky Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Johnson has a 54-point lead on Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — the first driver outside a playoff spot. Elliott leads Stenhouse by 37 points and Bowman leads Stenhouse by 19 points.

“I think that we certainly have room to improve, and I think we have improved from where we started the season,” Elliott said earlier this week after unveiling the tribute throwback scheme he’ll run in the Southern 500.

“There’s been some weeks where we end practice on Saturday and we’re not in the same league as some people. What you have to do is go make the most of what you got. At the end of the day that’s sometimes the best thing. It’s easy to overreach sometimes and get yourself in more trouble than what you could have done if you just had done what you had in front of you.”

That could be an easy trap to fall in.

Hendrick Motorsports, an organization that measures success by championships, has gone nearly a year since its last Cup victory.

Jimmie Johnson is on a career-long winless streak of 41 races and Elliott seeks his first career Cup win as he nears 100 career starts. Teammate Alex Bowman makes his 100th start this weekend and looks for his first Cup win, although many of his starts were with underfunded teams, and William Byron is in his rookie season.

Elliott had scored eight consecutive finishes of 12th or better before he placed 19th at Chicagoland Speedway two weeks ago and then finished 34th at Daytona after he was eliminated by an accident.

“You can’t wig out over it,” Elliott said. “It is what it is. I had no control over the crash on Saturday night. Chicago, yes I thought I could have done a better job at the end of that race to improve our finish, sure, but this past Saturday night I don’t know what I would have done to keep that from happening. That stuff happens. Once we fall out of a  race I can’t control anything beyond that.”

2. Class by themselves

Moments after exiting a boiling car at the completion of 400 miles at Chicagoland Speedway, Brad Keselowski sat on the pit wall and wiped sweat from his face with a towel as Kyle Busch celebrated another victory.

Busch’s win two weeks ago continued a trend that has seen Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. dominate. They have won 13 of the first 18 Cup races this season and the last 12 races on 1.5-mile speedways, dating back to last year.

“It’s like there’s an A, B, C, D group,” Keselowski said of ranking the teams. “We’re in the B group. We want to go from good to great.”

He noted then that they were behind Truex, Busch and the Stewart-Haas Racing cars.

“I think the difference, as you look at those cars, they have more speed and you don’t see their mistakes because they’ve got speed to recover from it,’’ Todd Gordon, crew chief for Joey Logano, said after the Chicago race. “We’ve got to keep working on trying to find more speed in our cars.

Busch admitted his car was awful the first two stages at Chicagoland before hitting on the right changes and taking the lead on pit road.

Clint Bowyer showed how fast the Stewart-Haas cars are — Gordon said Bowyer’s car at Chicago was “stupid fast” — by finishing fifth after two speeding penalties and a third trip down pit road when he did not serve a stop-and-go penalty on his second speeding infraction.

That’s not a luxury most of the field has. They have to be perfect.

That’s the challenge Saturday night (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) at Kentucky Speedway for many teams.

3. Ruh-roh

That seems to be the common theme about the road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway (or Roval as some call it) after some teams tested there Tuesday.

Tight turns, minimal run-off areas before hitting walls or tire barriers, and the race being the cutoff event in the first round of the playoffs, should make for a wild afternoon of racing.

What that race will do, though, is put more pressure on teams to do well in the first two races — Las Vegas and Richmond — in the opening round. Have poor finishes at either of those races and be toward the bottom of the playoff standings will only add pressure on drivers at Charlotte in the Sept. 30 event.

Another key factor will be how many playoff points drivers have. That could make the difference in advancing from the first round if the race is as chaotic as some forecast.

The rest of the Cup field is scheduled to test on the Charlotte road course Tuesday.

4. Gauntlet thrown

After Ben Rhodes’ Camping World Truck Series win Thursday night at his home track of Kentucky Speedway, ThorSport Racing General Manager David Pepper had a warning to competitors.

“With five races to go in the regular season, leading into the playoffs,” Pepper said, “the rest of these teams need to look out for ThorSport. We’re going to be a factor.”

Along with Rhodes giving the team its first win of the year Thursday, ThorSport’s Matt Crafton finished third and Grant Enfinger placed sixth. ThorSport’s Myatt Snider crashed in qualifying and never had a chance to do much in his backup.

GMS Racing’s Johnny Sauter has won a series-high four times and Hattori Racing Enterprises’ Brett Moffitt has three wins.

5. Drivers to get their first win while at Joe Gibbs Racing

Erik Jones is the fifth driver to score his first career Cup victory while at Joe Gibbs Racing. He joins Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano.

Labonte’s first win came in the 1995 Coca-Cola 600. Stewart’s first win was in the September 1999 Richmond race. Hamlin’s first win was in the June 2011 Pocono race. Logano’s first victory came in June 2009 at New Hampshire.

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NASCAR America Scan All: ‘Three in a row at Vegas. Cha-ching, baby’

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In NASCAR, drivers have to be both lucky and good – something that Kyle Busch and Adam Stevens learned at Las Vegas.

After spinning on Lap 233 while running 18th, Kyle Busch was lucky that his splitter did not get torn off the car. Unfortunately, the right front tire went down in that incident.

“It’s not going to stay together,” Busch said as he limped around the track back to the pits. “We’re gonna [expletive] go a lap down.”

“There’s nobody one lap down here, so we can afford to go one down,” Stevens replied.

Their luck held. On Lap 247, teammate Denny Hamlin spun into the grass at almost the exact spot, but his splitter dug into the grass and was ripped from the car.

“We’ll be the Lucky Dog here,” Stevens told Busch over the radio. “We have a set of stickers left. I don’t think hardly anybody on the lead lap has a set of stickers.”

With fresh tires, Busch charged up to seventh.

Here are some of this week’s highlights from Scan All:

  • “Championship run starts now. We’ve got a good car; something we can win with today. Give ourselves a good shot in Miami.” – Joey Logano
  • “I am a [expletive] 10 tight. I don’t know what we’re doing to this thing, but we might as well [expletive] start over.” – Kyle Busch
  • “Listen to me. I know it’s frustrating, but we are right in the middle of this thing.” – Jeremy Bullins, Ryan Blaney’s crew chief said after Blaney and Aric Almirola made contact on the track
  • “I know. I’ll calm down.” – Blaney
  • “No you won’t, but it’s ok. I still love you.” – Bullins
  • “It don’t matter if I speed, slide into the box. It don’t [expletive] matter. We’re going to get our [expletive] kicked when we get to the pit box.” – Austin Dillon
  • “Hey. Listen here. These guys know they were slow, ok? They know. We’re talking about it.” – Danny Stockman, Dillon’s crew chief
  • “I love everybody on this team, but we’re not going to have a shot doing this.” – Dillon
  • “Guess we know what’s wrong. Piece of [expletive] tires.” – Kevin Harvick
  • “If we could have had the lead, we’d of been fine. I just got to wait for it to come to me.” – Martin Truex Jr.
  • “Three in a row at Vegas. Cha-ching, baby.” – Brad Keselowski’s spotter

For more, watch the video above.

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Long: A decision where the head won out over the heart

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LAS VEGAS — Car owner Barney Visser stood outside the Furniture Row Racing hauler Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and chatted with team members, some he had not had the chance to talk to personally since announcing that the team would cease after this season.

It was his first time back at the track since the Sept. 4 announcement. He plans to be at many of the remaining nine races as Martin Truex Jr. seeks a second consecutive Cup championship.

Each week, though, brings Visser closer to the end of a remarkable run in NASCAR that saw his organization start as a part-time team in Denver, elevate to full-time status, score its first win in the Southern 500, align with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing, expand to a second car, win the Cup title, downsize to one car and seek to repeat as champion.

Visser admits it was a hard decision — and an easy decision — to not continue the team after this season.

“You got your soul and you got your heart and you got your mind,” Visser told NBC Sports. “Two of the three are hurting, and my mind is saying you got to do this.”

(Getty Images)

The announcement in July by 5-hour Energy to leave the team and the sport after this season left Visser facing a gap of millions of dollars. With budgets already set for many companies, the likelihood of replacing 5-hour Energy’s millions with one company was slim. Visser would have to put more of his own money into the team if he wanted to continue. Then, he would need to renew deals with Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing and sign Truex to an extension. 

“The family, we had all sat down and decided together that there would be a limit on what we could put in any given year,” Visser said. “We were talking about that the last couple of years. This (gap) was so far off.”

Visser’s tale could prove cautionary for the sport. He was an outsider who came into NASCAR, built his team, won races and captured a championship. There are few such success stories in Cup in recent years.

It’s not that others don’t try but they don’t have the success for various reasons. Ron Devine and a group of investors started BK Racing in 2012, ran as many as three full-time teams, but never had the success, struggled to find sponsorship, fell behind in payments on loans and to the IRS, among others, filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy before this year’s Daytona 500 and was sold for $2.08 million to Front Row Motorsports in August.

Visser, though, doesn’t think that his exit will mean the end of outsider owners coming into NASCAR. But change will need to take place, he admits.

“Hopefully they’re going to standardize the equipment more, and they’re going to find a way to maybe protect sponsors from leaving, from going with drivers and protect the teams, just some kind of standard contract, that would be good,” Visser said, although he admits such a contract “wouldn’t have saved us” with 5-hour Energy.

“There’s not going to be a shortage of drivers in this sport, there’s going to be a shortage of quality teams. We’ve got to get that figured out.”

Standing about 30 feet from Visser on Sunday was Gene Haas, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing and also the owner of Haas F1.

He’s searching for a driver for the No. 41 car for next year and noted the importance of a driver bringing sponsorship.

Haas laments the decline in the number of teams.

“We used to have 40-50 cars showing up for some of these races and now you’re barley filling the field,” Haas told NBC Sports. “From an economic standpoint it’s not working. There’s not enough money for teams to do that.”


Can friendship carry over to the track? And should it?

The issue came up at the end of the first stage in Saturday’s Xfinity race.

Ryan Preece was two laps down after an early incident. Leader Ross Chastain, a teammate to Preece at JD Motorsports in 2016, slowed his Chip Ganassi Racing ride coming to the line to end the first stage. That allowed Preece to beat Chastain to the line and get a lap back.

“I was hoping,” Preece told NBC Sports that Chastain would allow him to get a lap back there. “That was something he didn’t have to do. I’m sure one day I’ll return the favor.”

Mike Shiplett, crew chief for Chastain, told his driver on the radio not to do that again.

He was already a couple of laps down and he was torn up,” Chastain said of letting Preece get a lap back. “I’ve been on the other side of that. I wish they would just give that little bit. I know Mike wasn’t happy, and I didn’t do it again.

“I ran as hard as I could to prove a point to him that I listened to him. If I could go back, I wouldn’t change it. I would do it again. It did let the second-place car close up to us for pit road, but our guys were so fast it didn’t matter.

“It didn’t matter if it was Preece or whoever. Those are the guys that I have raced with for years and I just wanted to be nice. Be nice every now and then. It’s not going to kill you. Just give a little bit.”

Preece got back on the lead lap less than 20 laps later when there was a caution and he got the free pass. He ended up having issues later in the race and never put himself in position to challenge for the win, but the move by Chastain to allow Preece to get a lap back could have backfired.

When he got the free pass later, I was like uh oh,” Chastain said. “I didn’t know if he was fast or what. If he comes back and beats me, I’m never going to live that down. It all worked out. I was just trying to be nice.”


When a car doesn’t have the speed to challenge the top cars, a team has to do other things to win.

Such is the case for Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 team, led by crew chief Paul Wolfe.

After each of Keselowski’s last three wins, Keselowski or Wolfe have talked about needing to find more speed. So, how have they won three races in a row?

It has helped that the Big 3 have had their issues in those races. Martin Truex Jr. was among the strongest at Darlington in the first half of the race before an uncontrolled tire put him a lap down and he didn’t get back on the lead lap until the end.

At Indy, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch had issues on pit road that kept them from leading much of the race.

At Las Vegas, Harvick crashed and Busch spun.

So in each of those races, Keselowski didn’t have to beat each of the Big 3 head-to-head on speed.

Still, Keselowski had to outrun others to win. He did it with restarts, short-run speed and pit stops.

At Las Vegas, Keselowski fended off the field on the final three restarts and was stronger on short runs than Truex, whose car was set for long runs there.

“Our car was very good on restarts, would run fast for a few laps,” Wolfe said. “I think our car had some good stability. That’s really what it comes down to those first couple laps when everyone is jammed up and you don’t have a lot of clean air is having a lot of security, and our car seemed to be able to fire off really well, and the pit crew was really flawless.”

Four times Keselowski was first off pit road, gaining positions, and a fifth time he entered pit road first and left first at Las Vegas.

At Indy, Wolfe’s pit strategy put Keselowski in position to win on a late restart because of fresher tires than Danny Hamlin.

At Darlington, Keselowski beat Kyle Larson off pit road for the lead on the final pit stop and shot out to the lead on the restart. Keselowski led the final 22 laps to win.

“We have not been the best car the last three weeks,” Keselowski said after his Las Vegas win. “This week we were probably a top‑three or ‑four car. I didn’t get to see (Kevin Harvick) before he had his issue, but I thought he was running pretty good. He was obviously in front of me at one point. And him and (Martin Truex Jr.) were very strong. 

“The 78 (Truex) was clearly the best car, and we put everything together when it counted, and kind of stole it today. Same scenario the last two weeks. 

“I thought (Larson) was the best car in Darlington, and we hit the strategy right and executed the last pit stop and that put us in position to win. 

“And in Indy, we were nowhere near probably even a top‑10 car. We were probably a 15th‑place car, and Paul Wolfe hit the strategy right, and I hit the restart right to make all the passes when it counted and won that race. With that in mind, no, I feel like we stole the last three races. We’re not complaining, but we still have a lot of work to do to go out there and win heads up without those issues.”


It has been a rough year for the No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing Xfinity team.

Austin Cindric, Chase Briscoe and Ty Majeski have shared the ride throughout the season but last weekend’s race provided an all-too-familiar scene for that team — the car hitting the wall.

Briscoe’s crash at Las Vegas marked the 10th time in 26 races this season the No. 60 car has been eliminated by an accident.

The team has had only four top-10 finishes. Its best finish is seventh at Iowa with Ty Majeski.

Briscoe’s crash at Las Vegas was eerily reminiscent of Jeff Gordon‘s crash there in 2008 before a SAFER barrier was placed on the inside wall.

“I’m really disappointed right now in this speedway for not having a soft wall back there, and even being able to get to that part of the wall,” Gordon said after the crash. “That kind of hit shouldn’t happen. It’s just uncalled for. There’s no reason why any track should have that (kind of opening).”

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Report: Brian France pleads not guilty

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Brian France, on indefinite leave from his role as NASCAR Chairman and CEO, pleaded not guilty to charges Friday in Sag Harbor (N.Y.) Village Court, according to TMZ.

France was arrested Aug. 5 for aggravated driving while intoxicated and criminal  possession of a controlled substance in the 7th degree.

Sag Habor Police stated that France was observed operating a 2017 Lexus when he failed to stop at a posted stop sign. Newsday, citing court documents, reported that France registered a blood-alcohol level of .18 percent and that he was in possession of five yellow pills later determined to be oxycodone.

The New York State Department of Motor Vehicle website lists the penalties for alcohol and drug-related violations. It states that aggravated driving while intoxicated is where an individual has a Blood Alcohol Content of .18 or higher. In New York, a person is considered driving while intoxicated if they have a Blood Alcohol Content of .08 or higher or exhibit other evidence of intoxication.

France’s next scheduled court date is Oct. 5, according to TMZ.

Sag Harbor Village is on Long Island, New York, and located about 100 miles east of New York City.

NASCAR Vice Chairman and Executive Vice President Jim France has assumed the role of interim chairman and chief executive officer in place of Brian France.

Jim France, 73, is the son of NASCAR founder William H.G. France. He was vice chairman/executive vice president of NASCAR and is chairman of the board at International Speedway Corp. Jim France founded Grand-Am Road Racing in 1999 and played a role in the merger of that series and the American Le Mans Series in 2012 into what is now known as the International Motor Sports Association.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Scan All Las Vegas, IndyCar’s Scott Dixon

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Today’s NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Carolyn Manno hosts and is joined by Kyle Petty in Stamford, Connecticut. Jeff Burton joins from his garage.

On today’s show:

  • The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs are in full swing, but today the focus is on Charlotte for NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff Media Day. We’ll hear from playoff drivers Justin Allgaier, Christopher Bell, Elliott Sadler, and others.
  • Five-time IndyCar Series Champion Scott Dixon joins the show to talk about his most recent title.
  • We review Sunday’s playoff race at Las Vegas that saw hot temperatures, high tempers, and several playoff drivers involved in accidents. It’s the latest edition of Scan All.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.