Las Vegas leaves many title contenders in major trouble

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LAS VEGAS — The debut of Las Vegas Motor Speedway as the Cup Series playoff opener came up snake eyes for several championship hopefuls Sunday.

More than half of the 16-driver playoff field were involved in incidents Sunday during the South Point 400 with Kevin Harvick (39th), Erik Jones (40th), Chase Elliott (36th) and Denny Hamlin (32nd) all finishing outside the top 30.

Finishing outside the top 20 were: Kurt Busch (21st), Jimmie Johnson (22nd) and Clint Bowyer (23rd), all of whom slapped the wall in the final 20 laps.

Kyle Busch (seventh) and Alex Bowman (19th) also hit the wall during the closing laps of the race, which was extended five laps beyond its scheduled 267-lap distance into overtime because of several late cautions.

Kyle Larson (second) also rebounded from an early tire problem that left him a lap down early in the race.

There are two races remaining — Richmond and the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course — before the first round ends, and the bottom four contenders are eliminated.

Those slots are occupied now by Johnson, Elliott, Jones and Hamlin, who brought out the caution when he spun off Turn 4 and through the grass on Lap 247.

“Trying to get more than the car was capable of,” said Hamlin, who is ranked last in the standings and 20 points behind Alex Bowman in the 12th-place transfer spot. “We should have just finished 15th or 10th or wherever we were at the time, but trying to get more and the car won’t handle it. No grip and just a bad day overall.”

Harvick and Jones were involved in the first major incident on Lap 148. Harvick’s No. 4 Ford suffered a right-front tire problem and slammed into the outside SAFER barrier, collecting Jones’ No. 20 Toyota.

“Well, there was something wrong from the time we put the tires on,” said Harvick, who fell to fourth in the points standings but still is 38 points above the cutoff with two races remaining in the first round. “It was like Russian roulette every time you put these piece of crap tires on and try to drive around the racetrack.”

Jones fell to 15th in the points standings and 21 points behind the current transfer spot entering Saturday’s race at Richmond Raceway.

“Not the situation we needed to be in,” he said. “We didn’t have any bonus points, and we’ve got some work to do now. I don’t think we have to win, but we definitely need to run really well here at Richmond and the Roval (regular-season finale), so we’ll keep at it, but it’s just unfortunate that had to happen.”

Elliott was caught in a crash with just more than 50 laps to go when Jamie McMurray had a tire go flat and slammed the outside barrier with his No. 1 Chevrolet.

Elliott’s No. 9 Chevy nearly missed the crash but had significant contact with the left side of McMurray’s car. Though he complained of shoulder pain immediately after the wreck, Elliott later told NBCSN’s Marty Snider that he was fine.

“I guess it just got caught in the wheel,” said the Hendrick Motorsports driver who fell to 14th in the standings, nine points behind teammate Bowman. “But it popped really big, and then I kind of got stopped and got to messing with it, and it popped really big again. So, all good now and we’ll try to rebound next week.

“We had a really good car today and yeah, almost, just barely clipped (McMurray).  I just hate it. So many guys fell out today. I feel like half the top 16 has crashed.”

For the playoff drivers who swept the top seven spots, it was a little dizzying to keep track of the dizzying turns of events from inside the cockpit.

“You see the big screen (in the field),” third-place finisher Martin Truex Jr. said. “You see (Harvick) parked on the backstretch. I saw (Jones) in that wreck with him. They told me (Hamlin) spun. I saw (Elliott) against the wall, parked. It was like, ‘Man that’s not a good way to start.’

“We were happy to be up front in a somewhat safe spot all day.”

Tyler Ankrum joins DGR-Crosley to contend for Rookie Truck honors

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images for NASCAR
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Tyler Ankrum will move to the Gander Outdoors Truck Series in 2019 to compete for Rookie of the Year honors with DGR-Crosley, the driver and team announced on Twitter.

In 2018, Ankrum won the K&N East Championship with DGR-Crosley through four wins, nine top fives and 12 top 10s in 14 starts. Ankrum won three consecutive races at Thompson (CT) Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Iowa Speedway during the summer. His other victory came in May at South Boston (VA) Speedway.

Ankrum made two starts in the Truck series last year – scoring a top 10 in one of those races. He finished sixth at ISM Raceway.

“Taking the next step of my racing career is mind blowing,” Ankrum said in a tweet. “And I’m lucky enough to do it again with DGR-Crosley and Toyota Racing in 2019.”

Last year’s K&N Championship came in his rookie campaign in that series.

 

Vote for best 2018 Cup paint schemes

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It’s time to take stock of the 2018 Cup season.

That means voting in the best paint schemes of the year tournament.

The NBC Sports tournament has now reached its final four.

Here’s the bracket so far.

Bubba Wallace, RPM reinlist US Air Force as two-race sponsor

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Richard Petty Motorsports will continue to receive support from the United States military. On Friday, they announced the US Air Force will continue as a primary sponsor in 2019 as well as a major associate sponsor throughout the season on Bubba Wallace’s No. 43.

The two races for which the Air Force will be the primary sponsor are Saturday, July 6 at Daytona International Speedway (4th of July weekend) and Sunday, Nov. 10 (Veteran’s Day weekend) at ISM Raceway. Last year during his rookie campaign, Wallace finished in the top 15 in both of those races. He was 14th in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona and 10th at ISM.

“The Air Force continues to see benefits from our partnership with Richard Petty Motorsports and driver, Bubba Wallace,” said Major Ross McKnight, Chief, Air Force National Events Branch at Air Force Recruiting Service in a press release. “Wallace Jr. and his personality align well with our target audience’s interests and the Air Force’s commitment to teamwork and technology. The combination of Bubba Wallace and the iconic No. 43 provides a continuing sponsorship opportunity that reflects our Air Force core values of Integrity, Service and Excellence, as well as has a positive impact on generating public awareness about the U.S. Air Force, our people and our mission.

“Like NASCAR, much of our work is based on science, technology, engineering and math principles combined with teamwork and training. This sponsorship is a great way to highlight that connection.”

Last year, Wallace visited four Air Force bases. He participated in drills at each and flew in an F-16 with the 77th Fighter Squadron “Gamblers” at Shaw AFB in South Carolina.

“I was really impressed with all the different aspects of the Air Force, and the different opportunities they offer,” said Wallace Jr. “I was able to visit different bases and see the Airmen in action and actually participate myself. That gets me excited and then I’m able to talk to inspiring students who are looking at a career in the Air Force. I’m pretty humbled to represent the Air Force.”

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John Hunter Nemechek, Chase Briscoe approved to run for Xfinity Rookie of the Year

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NASCAR has approved John Hunter Nemechek and Chase Briscoe to compete for the Xfinity Series Rookie of the Year title in 2019, NBC Sports has confirmed.

Nemechek made 18 Xfinity starts in 2018 with Chip Ganassi Racing while Briscoe made 17 with Stewart-Haas Racing and Roush Fenway Racing.

Nemechek will compete for GMS Racing in the No. 23 Chevrolet. Briscoe will drive the No. 98 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing.

When Nemechek was announced on Dec. 6 as joining GMS Racing, a team press release said he would compete for Rookie of the Year. But a NASCAR spokesperson said his eligibility had not been decided on at the time.

The Rookie of the Year title was not mentioned in SHR’s Nov. 27 press release about Briscoe going full-time.

The Xfinity rookie field next year will include Nemechek, Briscoe, Noah Gragson in JR Motorsports’ No. 1 Chevrolet and Justin Haley in Kaulig Racing’s No. 11 Chevrolet.

Briscoe said in an Q&A on Reddit he was “honestly surprised” he was approved.

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