‘Big 3’ look to get groove back at Las Vegas

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Las Vegas Motor Speedway could awaken sleeping giants this weekend, giants called the “Big 3.”

Vegas, a 1.5-mile circuit, is the type of track Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch have held sway over for the last two years.

They’ve combined to win the last 13 races at 1.5-mile tracks, including this year’s seven races.

Harvick and Busch have combined to lead 1,171 laps on 1.5-mile tracks in 2018 (55 percent of laps).

But after the last month, all three drivers could use Vegas to get back in a championship groove as the playoffs begin on Sunday (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Despite combining to win 17 of the season’s 26 races so far, the three have hit a rut of sorts.

Harvick’s (seven wins) last victory came on Aug. 12 at Michigan. Since then he’s placed 10th, fourth and fourth.

Busch, who won the regular-season title on the back of six victories, last won at Pocono on July 29. In the five races since he’s placed third, third, 20th, seventh and eighth.

Truex, who has four wins, enters Las Vegas following a last-place finish in Indianapolis (brake rotor). In the seven races since his last win (Kentucky), he has two top fives. But he has failed to place better than 11th in the four races since he finished runner-up at Watkins Glen.

Together, all three drivers have been unable to win a stage in the last three races.

The Cup Series will visit four 1.5-mile tracks in the playoffs: Las Vegas, Kansas, Texas and Miami.

Here’s what each of the “Big 3” has going for them ahead of Sunday’s race.

Kevin Harvick

  • Won the spring race at Las Vegas, leading 214 laps and sweeping every stage.
  • Finished in the top 10 in four of last six Las Vegas races, including two wins.
  • Finished in the top 10 in 19 of the last 21 races on 1.5-mile tracks.
  • Second all-time with 13 wins on the West Coast (Jimmie Johnson, 15)
  • Fourth all-time in wins on 1.5-mile track with 14, tied with Dale Earnhardt.

Kyle Busch

  • The only driver to finish in the top 10 in all seven races at 1.5-mile tracks this season.
  • Has an average finish of 3.7 on 1.5-mile tracks in 2018, the best of all drivers.
  • Tied with Harvick with 10 top-2 finishes this season.
  • Streak of eight consecutive top 10s on 1.5-mile tracks, dating back to 2017, is a career-best and is longest active streak among drivers.

Martin Truex Jr.

  • The most recent winner at a 1.5-mile track (Kentucky). Led 174 laps and swept every stage.
  • Won the last two playoff openers, which were held at Chicagoland Speedway, a 1.5-mile track.
  • In four West Coast races in 2018, has best avg finish of 2.8.
  • Series-leading six wins on 1.5-mile tracks since 2017 Coke 600

Coffee with Kyle: Richard Petty: Racing ‘took us to the real world’

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Before auto racing came along, cousins Richard Petty and Dale Inman lived within a half-mile of each other in Level Cross, North Carolina.

“I lived on a paved road, he lived on a dirt road,” Inman told Kyle Petty in the latest episode of “Coffee with Kyle.” “No telephones, no televisions, no indoor plumbing.”

Said Richard Petty: “We didn’t know that existed until daddy (Lee Petty) started racing and took us to the real world. Then we realized we was no poorer than the guy living next door. So it was plain country people, growing up during the second World War.”

Eventually their world got bigger, as Petty and Inman became a driver and crew chief combination that won seven Cup titles and 171 races with Petty Enterprises.

But it all started with the racing career of Lee Petty, who made his first Cup start on June 19, 1949 at the old Charlotte Speedway dirt track.

“My dad borrowed a car from some guys at a service station where he hung out,” Richard Petty recalled. “When we got there, he went into a Texaco station, pulled it up on the rack, took the muffler off of it, took the hub caps off of it. I think he knocked some holes in the floor board and put a seat belt in. That was it. That’s basically the way it started.”

Watch the above video for more from the first of three “Coffee with Kyle” episodes with Richard Petty and Inman.

The episode can be found on the NBC Sports YouTube page.

Click here to watch the “Coffee with Kyle” episode with Tony Stewart.

 

Long: A championship five seasons in the making for Joey Logano’s pit crew

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. — When the champagne bottles were passed out to Joey Logano’s team after he won the Cup championship Sunday night, Ray Gallahan found a place to sit at the back of the stage to watch his teammates spray each other.

“I’m not a heavy drinker, and I don’t like being too sticky,” Gallahan told NBC Sports. “I usually bow out for the champagne part.’’

Ray Gallahan (seated) watches his teammates spray each other with champagne after Joey Logano won the Cup title. (Photo: Dustin Long)

The celebration was poignant for Gallahan, who served his final race as Logano’s fueler Sunday. The 35-year-old Gallahan will move into a role as an assistant pit coach for Team Penske.

But this victory had extra meaning for Gallahan. He was Logano’s jackman in 2014 when the car fell off the jack with less than 20 laps to go in that championship race, all but ending Logano’s title hopes.

“That crumbled me up pretty hard because I was supposed to be the guy that didn’t mess up,” Gallahan said.

The team returned to the championship race in 2016. Logano’s title hopes faded when he went to pass Carl Edwards on a late restart and Edwards blocked, leading to contact that eliminated Edwards and damaged Logano’s car.

Sunday, Logano’s pit crew gained him two spots on the final pit stop, allowing him to restart third and charge to the win. It was pretty much the same unit that had been there in 2014 and ’16.

Front tire changer Thomas Hatcher, rear tire changer Zachary Price and tire carrier Dylan Dowell had been on the team since 2014. The only new member was jackman Graham Stoddard, who had been teammate Ryan Blaney’s jackman but moved to Logano’s team after Blaney was eliminated in the playoffs at Kansas.

That four of the five pit crew members remained since 2014 is a remarkable achievement in an era where changes to pit crews can be common. This unit excelled late in the playoffs, playing a key role in helping Logano win at Martinsville, and having a strong performance in the championship race.

“I think the longer you are together, the more you learn what to expect from the other guy, so it actually makes you faster,” Dowell told NBC Sports.

Having experienced the lows of the title race — and missing the playoffs last year — it allowed the team to appreciate its accomplishment.

“It definitely made it sweeter,” Hatcher told NBC Sports. “It definitely made it sweeter.”


Morgan Shepherd had Landon Cassill drive his Xfinity car for him last weekend in Miami, but Shepherd says he plans to be back.

“This is 51 years for us,” the 77-year-old Shepherd told NBC Sports at Homestead-Miami Speedway, “and I’ve started on my next. If I can get it in, I’ll only be 127 (years old). We’ll see where we land.”

Morgan Shepherd (Photo Getty Images)

Isn’t it time for retirement?

“Nah,” Shepherd said as he sat on the pit wall. “I’m just a servant. I might not be able to help myself but I can help other people with what we’re doing. Our charity is 32 years old. … We’ll go as long as the Lord wants me to go.”

Shepherd understands that change will come at some point.

“We definitely would be better with a younger driver and build it around him,” Shepherd said. “We’ll see where it goes. We haven’t quit yet.”


Crew chief Luke Lambert told NBC Sports he’s signed a new deal with Richard Childress Racing and will serve as rookie Daniel Hemric’s crew chief on the No. 31 car next season.

It will make the first time Lambert has worked with a young driver. He’s previously worked with veteran drivers Jeff Burton and Ryan Newman. Lambert had been with Newman the past five seasons. Newman moves to Roush Fenway Racing for 2019.

“It will be different in ways,” Lambert said of working with a rookie. “I’ve been around situations with young drivers a lot so I’m very familiar with what sort of things need to be done differently. Ultimately, it’s going to be about learning each other and what he needs different to be successful and for me to help figure out ways to provide that for him.”

Miami win gives Team Penske victories on all active Cup tracks

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Even before Joey Logano won Sunday’s Cup season finale and his first Cup title, 2018 had been a big year for Team Penske.

The organization fielded three full-time cars in Cup for the first time since 2010.

Brad Keselowski gave the organization its second Southern 500 win and first overall win at Darlington Raceway since 1975. He followed that up a week later with Penske’s first Brickyard 400 victory.

Keselowski’s third consecutive victory, in the playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, not only marked Penske’s 500th overall win in motorsports, but the first time the team had three drivers finish in the top five of a Cup race.

Logano capped the season off with Penske’s second Cup title after Keselowski won it in 2012.

But Logano also delivered Penske its first victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 43 starts.

Combined with Keselowski’s Brickyard win and Ryan Blaney‘s triumph in the inaugural race on the Charlotte Roval, Team Penske is now the only organization with wins on every active track on the Cup schedule.

Team Penske finished the year with 111 wins in Cup points races since 1972. 103 of those have come on the 24 tracks that currently make up the schedule.

At defunct tracks, the organization has wins at Rockingham (three), Riverside (two), North Wilkesboro (two) and Ontario (one).

Here’s a look at the tracks the other major Cup organizations have yet to win at.

Kentucky Speedway is notable, as a Chevrolet team has yet to win in eight races on the 1.5-mile track.

Hendrick Motorsports (252 Cup wins) – Winless at Kentucky and Charlotte Roval

Joe Gibbs Racing (157 Cup wins) – Winless at Charlotte Roval

Roush Fenway Racing (137 Cup wins) – Winless at Indianapolis, Charlotte Roval, Chicagoland and Kentucky

Richard Childress Racing (108 Cup wins) – Winless at Charlotte Roval, Kentucky, Miami and Las Vegas

Wood Brothers Racing (99 Cup wins) – Winless at Phoenix, Sonoma, Kentucky, Charlotte Roval, Auto Club Speedway, Chicago, Texas, New Hampshire, Las Vegas, Kansas, Miami and Indianapolis.

Stewart-Haas Racing (51 Cup wins) – Winless at Charlotte Roval and Kentucky

Chip Ganassi Racing (16 Cup wins) – Winless at Pocono, Phoenix, Martinsville, Bristol, Charlotte Roval, Chicago, Dover, Texas, Miami, Kansas, Kentucky, New Hampshire and Atlanta

 

NASCAR America: An emotional end to 2018 for Martin Truex Jr.

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The 2018 season was an emotional one for Martin Truex Jr.

Last year’s championship was a fairy tale for a team located in Denver, Colorado – far from NASCAR’s epicenter in North Carolina.

This season was much different. Furniture Row Racing found out midseason that its primary sponsor would not return after this year, which caused car owner Barney Visser to decide to shut down the team after the final race.

With that looming closure came the inevitable questions of if the No. 78 team would lose focus.

MORE: What went wrong for Kyle Busch in Miami?
MORE: Kevin Harvick failed to keep up with Miami

Then came late-race incidents at the Charlotte Roval and Martinsville when Truex was knocked out of the lead on the final corner by Jimmie Johnson and Joey Logano respectively. 

“They just didn’t have that short run speed to beat the 22 (of Logano at Miami), but they put up a heck of a fight,” NASCAR America analyst Parker Kligerman said on Monday’s edition of the show. “They did all of this under the cloud of knowing that that organization was shutting down at the end of this last race.”

For more, watch the video above.

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