Friday 5: Christopher Bell taking a step in goal to ‘conquer’ Xfinity Series

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Three weeks ago, Christopher Bell said that he wanted to “conquer” the Xfinity Series and “be the guy that everyone says that (they) have got to beat.”

The 23-year-old series rookie is quickly becoming that driver.

In the past two weeks, Bell beat former Cup champion Kyle Busch at Kentucky and Brad Keselowski at New Hampshire for victories.

At Kentucky, Bell started in the rear after spinning in qualifying. Busch led 111 laps but finished third to Bell.

At New Hampshire, Bell held off a charging Keselowski late to earn his third series victory of the season. Bell won’t take full credit for the win, noting he took four tires on his last stop and Keselowski took two. Still, Bell won.

What has it meant to beat Busch and Keselowski in consecutive races?

It makes me happy,” Bell said after the New Hampshire win. “You see all this crap going around the Internet where Cup guys shouldn’t be allowed in Xfinity. Well, why? Why shouldn’t they be allowed in Xfinity?

“Ever since I was a kid growing up sprint car racing, I strived to go race with the World of Outlaws because they were the best. I strive to race with Kyle Busch and Keselowski and all those guys. I love racing with the best. I want to be the best.”

Bell, who won the Truck Series title last year, has shown he has the talent to go with the strong rides with Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Truck Series and now Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series.

Even with those benefits, he’s winning races and that’s what one has to do in such equipment if they hope to land a premier ride in NASCAR’s top series someday.

“I think if you look at Christopher’s background, he’s excelled in every series he’s ever been in, won races, so I wouldn’t say he’s outperformed (expectations), he’s doing exactly what we thought he would do,” said Steve de Souza, executive vice president at Joe Gibbs Racing, whose primary duty is overseeing the organization’s Xfinity program.

Heading into Saturday’s race at Iowa Speedway (5:20 p.m. ET on NBCSN), Bell is six points behind series leader Daniel Hemric. Bell’s three wins and three stage victories give him a series-high 18 playoff points with eight races left in the regular season.

Earlier this month at Daytona, Bell said how he needed to be better.

“I want to conquer the Xfinity Series and win more races and finish my job here,” he said. “I want to be the guy. I want to be the guy that everyone says that I’ve got to beat the 20 car. That’s what I want, and I pride myself on every step along the way I’ve become the guy to beat. I just don’t feel like I’m there yet in these Xfinity cars.”

He admits his season had not gone quite how he hoped up to that point.

“I’ve got a lot of great runs going, but it’s kind of similar to my first year in Trucks,” Bell said at Daytona. “I’ve crashed some. Got taken out some. The finishes are either really good or DNF’s. I’ve just got to put the races together and hopefully it comes together pretty quick.”

Crew chief Jason Ratcliff sees Bell developing the habits that will carry him to more success.

“I think that we started the season capable of winning races and Christopher is – he’s doing a good job of communicating what he needs with the race car each and every week,” Ratcliff said at New Hampshire. “The guys are building better race cars at the shop, so I think it’s everything all around – his ability, the race cars, the pit crews are just coming together when it counts.”

2. Team of the Decade Race

With Hendrick Motorsports in the midst of a 36-race winless streak (the second-longest winless drought in its history), Joe Gibbs Racing is pulling away in the duel to win the most Cup races this decade.

Since 2010, Joe Gibbs Racing has won 77 races. Hendrick Motorsports is next with 61 wins. Team Penske is third with 44 victories and is followed by Stewart-Haas Racing, which has 43 victories, and Roush Fenway Racing at 21 wins.

Here’s the full list:

WINS BY ORGANIZATION SINCE 2010

(308 races)

77 – Joe Gibbs Racing

61 – Hendrick Motorsports

44 – Team Penske

43 – Stewart-Haas Racing

21 – Roush Fenway Racing

19 – Richard Childress Racing

18 – Furniture Row Racing

10 – Chip Ganassi Racing

6 – Michael Waltrip Racing

3 – Richard Petty Motorsports

2 – Front Row Motorsports

2 – Wood Brothers Racing

1 – JTG Daugherty Racing

1 – Red Bull Racing

3. Pocono: The start of something good for Kyle Busch

Last July, Kyle Busch scored his first career Cup win at Pocono. Since that win, Busch has run 36 races (a full season) and his stats over that time are staggering.

In the last 36 races, Busch has a series-high 10 wins, a series-high seven poles, a series-high six runner-up finishes, a series-high 28 top-10 finishes and a series-high 1,967 laps led.

He’ll go for a sweep at Pocono this weekend. He’s entered in both the Cup and Truck race. This will be his fifth and final Truck race of the year. Cup drivers with more than five years experience are limited to seven Xfinity and five Truck races a season.

4. Looking to win again

Past the halfway mark in the Cup season, here are the drivers who scored at least one win last season who are still looking for a victory this year: Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman and Ryan Blaney.

5. $658 million in renovations

With the announcement Thursday that International Speedway Corporation will renovate the infield at Talladega Superspeedway at a cost of about $50 million, it marked the fourth major project ISC has done on one of its tracks since 2013.

Daytona International Speedway’s upgrades were estimated at $400 million for redoing the frontstretch grandstands, suites, concourses and such.

Upgrades at ISM Raceway (Phoenix) are expected to cost $178 million. That will include additional stands, a new infield fan area, a pedestrian tunnel to the infield and more. The project will be completed before this fall’s races.

Talladega Superspeedway announced upgrades that will cost about $50 million that will include new garages for Cup teams, a new fan area between the garages that allows easy access for fans to that area and a new victory lane, among other upgrades

Richmond Raceway will spend an estimated $30 million that features new Cup garages that will have a fan viewing walkway, a fan area, a new media center and a new pedestrian tunnel. That project is set to be completed in September.

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Rain postpones Cup race at Talladega until Monday at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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The Cup Series playoff race at Talladega has been postponed due to rain. The race will resume Monday at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

The race was put under a rain delay after the completion of Stage 1.

57 of 188 laps have been completed. The race is not official until the end of Stage 2 (Lap 110).

William Byron won the first stage.

The top 10 is Byron, Joey Logano, Alex Bowman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Daniel Suarez, Kurt Busch and Ryan Blaney.

Blocking a key issue at Talladega for drivers

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — The question isn’t who to race with at Talladega, manufacturers have dictated that, but it is where to race.

Run at the front and hope the wreck is behind? Run at the back and hope to avoid the carnage?

The package used at Talladega and Daytona this season punches such a big hole that drivers say the closing rate between cars is quicker than before. That gives cars trying to block less time to make their move. Be late and it can lead to a wreck.

As it has at Talladega and Daytona this year.

“There’s been many evolutions in racing and blocking is one for me that I’ve had to evolve with, but blocking is a part of our sport now on a weekly basis,” Kevin Harvick said. “It’s not just here. I mean, you see it at the mile-and-a-half race tracks. 

“You’re just going to have wrecks blocking. Sometimes you’re going to make a bad move. It’s just something that’s a little bit newer in the pace of the car that’s approaching you and the style of block and how you throw it, but we’re going to wreck from a block because it’s just become part of what we do.”

Three wrecks this year at Talladega and Daytona can be traced to blocking at the front of the field.

“When you have the smaller spoiler, you’re able to get in front of them, that lead car would get the push before that (trailing) car would actually get to the back bumper of the lead car,” Joey Logano said. “Now, it seems like the trailing car can get to the back bumper and then some (with the larger spoiler), so the blocks have to be quicker and have to be precise. Even once you block them it doesn’t mean it’s over because now they’re still on your bumper and they’re pushing you around. It’s more challenging from that standpoint.”

The late April race at Talladega debuted this package and saw a crash at the front of the field early in the event. Bubba Wallace was third when he and Ryan Blaney, running second, got out of shape and triggered a crash that damaged six cars. Wallace said the accident was a result of “the amount of runs and the force of it. All I was trying to do was just some wreck avoidance.”

The Daytona race in July saw two crashes that started at the front of the field because of blocking.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was leading when he was late on a block on Kurt Busch and they made contact, spinning Stenhouse.

Late in the race, Austin Dillon, in the lead, blocked as Clint Bowyer went low to try pass. They made contact, triggering an 18-car crash.

Dillon notes that blocking is a part of speedway racing.

“You’re going to do it,” he said. “Somebody has got a run at you at the end of the race. There’s not much else you can do. You can give up certain times of the race, but if it’s a last-lap situation you’re going to be held accountable for the actions you make and you’re going to feel bad if you go home not making the block that could win you the race … or you’re going to feel bad if you’re wrecked. I’ve been on both sides of it. It’s speedway racing. That’s all I have to say about it.”

Blocking, to Ryan Newman, is nothing new.

“What was it ’08 when (Tony) Stewart won blocking Regan Smith?” Newman said of the fall 2008 Talladega race where Smith crossed the finish line first but Stewart was given the win because Smith went below the yellow line. “Stewart got the win and blocked Regan and everything was fine. Here we are 11 years later still talking about the same thing. Does it do any good to talk about it?”

Harvick was encouraged how NASCAR reacted at the end of Saturday’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race. NASCAR penalized leader Johnny Sauter for forcing Riley Herbst below the yellow line on the final lap. Spencer Boyd was declared the winner.

“I can’t stand blocking,” Harvick said. “We didn’t use to penalize the blockers  very much. It was always the guy that was trying to make the move. So, you know, the guy had a lane … Johnny was trying to win the race. You can’t blame for him for trying to block. I like when the blockers get called. I don’t like it for Johnny Sauter. You’ve got to have a lane to race.”

 

Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega: Start time, lineup and more

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One of the first things Kyle Larson said after winning last weekend at Dover was that “everybody in this playoff field is going to be stressing at Talladega … except me.”

Talladega is here and it’s time for many drivers to stress. Except Larson, of course.

The playoff standings could be jumbled by the time the 500-mile journey at Talladega Superspeedway ends. Who will be collected in a crash? Who will get through the carnage and contend for the win?

Here is all the info for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Edward Graham, assistant VP of Operation Christmas Child for Samaritan’s Purse, will give the command to start engines at 1:48 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 2:03 p.m.

PRERACE: The Cup garage opens at 10 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at noon. Driver introductions are at 1:15 p.m. The invocation will be given at 1:41 p.m. by Dr. Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas. The National Anthem will be performed at 1:42 p.m. by the 313th United States Army Band out of Birmingham, Alabama.

DISTANCE: The race is 188 laps (500.08 miles) around the 2.66-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 55. Stage 2 ends on Lap 110.

TV/RADIO: NBC will televise the race at 2 p.m. Coverage begins with NASCAR America at 1 p.m. on NBC. Countdown to Green follows at 1:30 p.m. on NBC, leading into race coverage. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 1 p.m. and also can be heard on mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

STREAMING ONLINE: Click here for NBC’s live stream of the race.

FORECAST: Wunderground.com forecasts mostly cloudy conditions with a temperature of 68 degrees and a 0% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Chase Elliott led a 1-2-3 Chevrolet sweep in late April, finishing ahead of Alex Bowman and Ryan Preece. Aric Almirola won this playoff race a year ago, giving Ford a 1-2-3 sweep with Clint Bowyer second and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. third. 

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

Jagger Jones, grandson of Parnelli Jones, scores first NASCAR win

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Jagger Jones, the 17-year-old grandson of famed racer Parnelli Jones, scored his first NASCAR victory, taking the checkered flag in Saturday night’s K&N Pro Series West race at All American Speedway in Roseville, California.

In a statement to NBC Sports, the 86-year-old Parnelli Jones, who won the 1963 Indianapolis 500, said of his grandson’s achievement: “I just knew it was a matter of time until Jagger rose to the top and won at this level. I’m very proud of him. Jagger has worked hard on his racing skills this year and continues to improve and learn.

“Not only is Jagger a good driver but he’s a very good student. I’ve been impressed by both Jagger and Jace (his younger brother) – they continue to work hard and balance their driving with their work in the classroom. They’re outstanding young men on and off the track and I’m truly a very proud grandfather. Jagger and his team earned this win after a successful season and hopefully it’s a building block for the future.”

Hailie Deegan, who started on the pole, overcame an early spin and finished second.

This is Jones’ first season in the series. He had finished runner-up twice, scoring those finishes in his first career series race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Dirt Track in March and at Douglas County Speedway in Roseburg, Oregon, in June.

Trevor Huddleston placed third Saturday night, points leader Derek Kraus was fourth and Todd Souza was fifth.

Race results