Imperfect world: Mistakes keep Cup field from beating Big 3 again

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LOUDON, N.H. — The refrain among drivers is that they have to be perfect to beat Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.

Sunday showed that the gap between NASCAR’s Big 3 and the rest of the field remains.

This time it was Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch who were among the key challengers at New Hampshire Motor Speedway but mistakes left both watching their teammate, Harvick, score another win and continue the dominance of the Big 3.

“Everybody talks about the Big 3,” Almirola said. “I felt like we were stomping them today. That’s why they are so good. They execute. They execute all race long. Unfortunately, we didn’t do it today. We had the best car. We had the speed to beat them and we didn’t do it. That’s frustrating.”

Almirola led 42 laps. He was leading when Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer brought out the final caution of the race after hitting the wall. Almirola lost the lead when the field pitted under caution. He exited third.

Almirola fell to seventh on the first lap of the restart when he spun his tires. His chances of winning were dashed. He finished third.

“Everybody has put so much into believing in me and giving me this opportunity to come here and I feel like I owe it to them to win and to prove them right that they made the right choice,” Almirola said. “I’m frustrated that I didn’t get to Victory Lane today.”

Busch led a race-high 94 laps but had to settle for an eighth-place finish.

His race was undone during a green-flag pit stop on Lap 226 of the 301-lap race. Busch entered pit road in second place. As the pole-sitter, he had the No. 1 pit stall, the stall at the end of pit road. Ryan Blaney had the pit stall behind Busch’s pit box.

Blaney was in his pit stall as Busch approached. Busch stopped beside Blaney to allow Blaney to exit but a slow pit stop left Blaney’s car motionless. For a brief moment, the two cars were parked beside each other as the race went on without them.  Busch eventually drove into his box.

The lost time proved to be too much for Busch, who could not get higher than fifth the rest of the race. He was fifth on the final restart, on the inside line behind Almirola, when Almirola spun his tires. Busch lost several positions.

“We ended up on the same lap as Blaney,” Busch said of his pit road issue. “That’s just bad luck or bad communication between two crew chiefs. And then the crew chief is like, ‘he’ll be gone by the time you get there.’ And I initially thought that, and then they were still hanging left-side tires and I was like, ‘Oh no, oh no. He’s gonna be there.’ 

“If I would have come around him, I would have blocked him huge. I would have been at a bad angle and that was just one of those we’re two guys walking down the hallway and we bumped into each other and had to hold each other up. That just kind of pushed us back too far on the final restart and I didn’t get a good last restart. If we could have come off pit road in fourth, it might have been a whole different race.”

It’s not just been at New Hampshire where teams had to be perfect to beat Busch, Harvick or Truex.

Those three drivers have combined to win eight of the last 10 points races and 15 of the 20 races this season.

They’ve been more difficult to beat lately. Harvick, Busch and Truex have all finished in the top five in four of the last five races.

“There are other cars that can lead laps, but it doesn’t seem like the right ones,” Joey Logano said before last weekend’s New Hampshire race. “It seems like (Busch, Harvick and Truex) always find a way to prevail at the end, whether it’s the speed in their car or their pit stops or restarts, whatever it may be they find themselves up front when it matters the most.

“Obviously, they can recover from mistakes pretty well because of their speed, so they’re just able to be there at the right times.”

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NASCAR America: Bubba Wallace on qualifying: ‘It’s our job to cheat the system’

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Much of the talk in NASCAR this week has been around the controversial final round of Cup qualifying at Auto Club Speedway, which saw no drivers make a qualifying run after they left pit road too late to make a lap.

Bubba Wallace didn’t advance to the final round, but he’s been in a similar situation. In 2014 at Michigan, Wallace was in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at ACS’ sister track. Qualifying for that event ended with only one truck, driven by Ryan Blaney, reaching the start-finish line in time to make a lap.

“It’s our job to cheat the system,” Wallace said on NASCAR America presents Motormouths. “In today’s world, with the package and how it works out, if you’re the front car, you’re the tow. You’re the tow truck. You’re towing everybody else behind you. You’re at a disadvantage. No one wants to be at a disadvantage.

“So we’re going to cheat the system until they do something about it. Then we’re going to find a new way to cheat the new system.”

Watch the above video to see Wallace discuss more about how he fared during the West Coast Swing.

Updated entry lists for Cup, Truck at Martinsville

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Here are the entry lists for this weekend’s races.

Cup – STP 500 (2 p.m. ET Sunday on Fox Sports 1)

Thirty-six cars are entered for the sixth Cup race of the year. D.J. Kennington is listed in the No. 77 Spire Motorsports entry.

Jeb Burton is entered in Rick Ware Racing’s No. 52 Ford.

Click here for the entry list.

Gander Outdoors Truck – Martinsville 250 (2 p.m. ET Saturday on Fox Sports 1)

Thirty-nine trucks are entered. Those also entered in the Cup race are Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon and Ross Chastain. Bubba Wallace is entered in AM Racing’s No. 22 truck.

Click here for the entry list.

NASCAR America Motormouths at 5 p.m. ET with Bubba Wallace

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America presents Motormouths airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Rutledge Wood hosts with Kyle Petty and they’ll be joined by special guest Bubba Wallace.

Fans will have the chance to call into the show to ask questions.

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.

Indy 500 analyst role part of looking forward for Danica Patrick

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It’s been 10 months since Danica Patrick last competed in an auto racing event and she is completely fine with that.

Patrick was last seen in a cockpit in last May’s Indianapolis 500, part of her mini-retirement tour from racing that also included a run in the Daytona 500.

Now she’ll be back at the track, serving as an analyst for NBC’s broadcast of the 103rd Indy 500 on May 26.

It will be an interlude to her post-racing career.

“I really don’t miss racing,” Patrick said during a teleconference Wednesday.  “I’m really happy. I selfishly set out (with) the intention I wanted to travel a lot. I’ve definitely done that. Also working on my other businesses.”

Without racing, Patrick is able to look over her “Warrior” clothing line and her Somnium wine. She’s also been a host of ESPN’s Espy Awards show.

“I’m not a look-back kind of person, I’m a look-forward (person),” Patrick said. “This is something that’s part of looking forward. This is something totally new and different for me. It’s coming at a place where I have a lot of history, but it hasn’t been my job, which is why I’m going to work really hard to make sure I’m ready, like anything else I do that’s different.

Since retiring, Patrick said she watches racing “when I can.”

“I’m not going to lie, I’m happy doing what I’m doing,” Patrick said. “It’s allowed me new opportunities like this.”

This won’t be the first time Patrick has served in an analyst role for a race. She did the same for some Xfinity Series race broadcasts in the last few years of her NASCAR career.

“It’s very good to have had that experience,” Patrick said. “Obviously I was giving my driving experience sort of perspective and that insight, which is something I’m going to be doing again. But it was a guest spot.

“This is firm and established, part of a small team of two with Mike (Tirico) and I. I think there’s going to be a lot more preparation involved, I’m going to need to know a lot more information.”

Patrick said there will be one difference in her Indy 500 experience this year compared to the eight times she competed in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

“I didn’t purposely look at the buildup of the day,” Patrick said. “I didn’t want to see the fans rolling in, all the pomp and circumstance. I really liked to keep it quiet. I wanted to just walk out there and have it be the event, not let myself get built up too much in my head with nerves, just the platform, the iconic event that it was, the millions of people. I just wanted to stay focused and go do it.

“This time, I’m sure I will see the buildup. I’m sure I’ll see the place fill in and turn from a quiet, peaceful, magical place, (and) at the shot of a cannon it’s going to start unraveling. That will be a cool perspective for me that I purposely haven’t really watched closely.”

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