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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Kaulig Racing hauler involved in accident on way to Kansas Speedway

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Kaulig Racing announced Wednesday night the hauler for its No. 10 team was involved in an accident on the way to Kansas Speedway for Saturday’s Xfinity Series race.

Team president Chris Rice said in a statement released on social media that Kaulig’s two drivers for the hauler were alert and had been transported to a hospital for evaluation.

According to 13 WLOS, the accident occurred around 5 p.m. ET, and a state trooper said the truck’s driver and passenger were taken to Mission Hospital by ambulance with serious but non-life threatening injuries.

According to told Fox Carolina, the North Carolina Highway Patrol said the hauler was traveling westbound on I-40 in McDowell County when it went off the right side of the road near mile marker 93. It went through a guard rail and down an embankment before stopping in the woods.

Rice said the team still planned to field two cars in Saturday’s race.

Ross Chastain is entered in the No. 10 Chevrolet this weekend for his fifth start of the year with the team. Chastain was announced Tuesday as the full-time driver of the car next season.

Kaulig also will field the No. 11 Chevy of Justin Haley in Saturday’s race.

Silly Season scorecard: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finds new home in JTG Daugherty Racing

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was without a 2020 Cup ride for less than 25 days.

Only a few weeks after Roush Fenway Racing announced it was parting ways with Stenhouse in favor of Chris Buescher, Stenhouse has landed in Buescher’s old ride at JTG Daugherty Racing in a multi-year deal.

Stenhouse will have Ryan Preece as a teammate in his first full-time year with a new team in a decade.

Here are where things stand with Silly Season:

OPEN RIDES ANNOUNCED FOR 2020

No. 38: Front Row Motorsports must replace David Ragan, who stated Aug. 14 that 2019 would be his final season running a full schedule.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2020

No. 8: Richard Childress Racing made it official Oct. 2 that Tyler Reddick will move to Cup in 2020 and drive the No. 8 car.

No. 10: Aric Almirola confirmed Oct. 11 he signed an extension to race for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 13: Ty Dillon posted a video Sept. 6 on Instagram refuting rumors that he would retire after this season. He has a contract with Germain Racing through 2020.

No. 17: Chris Buescher will take over the Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 ride in 2020 after the team announced Sept. 25 that it would part ways with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after this season.

No. 20: Joe Gibbs Racing announced Sept. 6 that it had signed Erik Jones to an extension. It is a one-year extension for the 2020 season.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto replaces Paul Menard at Wood Brothers Racing (announcement made Sept. 10). DiBenedetto’s deal is for 2020 only.

No. 95: Christopher Bell moves to Cup in 2020 and will drive for Leavine Family Racing (announcement made Sept. 24).

JTG Daugherty Racing: It was announced Oct. 16 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will join Ryan Reece at the two-car team, essentially swapping seats with Chris Buescher.

AMONG THOSE YET TO ANNOUNCE DEALS FOR 2020

Clint Bowyer His contract expires after this season with the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing team. Take it whatever way you want but Bowyer stated Sept. 20 that he did a commercial shoot in September with Kevin Harvick for next season.

Kurt Busch His contract expires after this season. Car owner Chip Ganassi has suggested in media reports that a deal will be done. Busch declined to discuss much about his contract status before the Sept. 29 race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, stating: “We haven’t really started talks. I felt like it was good to get the playoffs underway and go as far as we could comfortably. Man, there’s a lot going on and we’ll see how things play out. Again, it’s all about all the stars lining up with Chevrolet, Monster Energy, myself, Chip. For me, I feel like things haven’t progressed because of the focus on the playoffs.”

Daniel Suarez He has said that both he and the team have an option on his contract for next year. He has remained confident that he will return to Stewart-Haas Racing to drive the No. 41 car.

Xfinity Series

Ross Chastain – Kaulig Racing announced Oct. 15 he would compete full-time for the team in 2020 driving the No. 10 Chevrolet.

NASCAR America presents MotorMouths at 5 p.m. ET with Jimmie Johnson

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Seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson is the guest of honor on this week’s episode of NASCAR America presents MotorMouths, which airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Johnson joins Marty Snider and Kyle Petty. Together they’ll discuss this week’s storylines and take fan phone calls.

You can call in at 844-NASCAR-NBC or reach out on Twitter via #LetMeSayThis.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch 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.

Tanner Gray to make Truck Series debut at Martinsville

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Former NHRA Pro Stock champion Tanner Gray will make his Gander Outdoors Truck Series debut in the Oct. 26 race at Martinsville Speedway, DGR-Crosley announced Wednesday.

Gray, 20, will drive the No. 15 Toyota in the final three Truck Series races of the season.

This is Gray’s first season in NASCAR competition after also racing in super late models.

Gray competed full-time in the K&N Pro Series East this season for DGR-Crosley, where he earned one win, six top fives and nine top-10 finishes. He also claimed one pole on his way to finishing third in the point standings. He made three starts in the K&N West Series and earned two poles and three top fives.

MORE: Tanner Gray embracing NASCAR after drag racing career

“I’m excited to make the step up to the Truck Series,” Gray said in a press release. “I think it’s going to be challenging, but I’m ready to take the next step with my DGR-Crosley guys. We’ve been preparing for this all season, and I think the best way to learn is to go out and do it. Between testing and spending time in the Toyota simulator, I think I have a good feel for Martinsville and will be able to adapt quickly. We will have three practice sessions to get acclimated and get the truck where it needs to be. We just need to keep our nose clean in the race and have a solid day on pit road.”

Gray’s K&N team will make the transition to the Truck Series with him for the remainder of the season. Seth Smith will serve as crew chief duties while veteran Eddie D’Hondt will be his spotter.

“I’m really looking forward to Tanner’s Truck debut after the building season that he’s had,” Smith said in a press release. “He’s learned a lot from where he started at the beginning of the season to where he’s at now. We tested at Martinsville and I feel like we had a really successful test session.”