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.”

Sam Bass, famed paint scheme and race program designer, dies

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Sam Bass, the artist known for designing many iconic NASCAR paint schemes and race programs, died Saturday.

His wife Denise confirmed Bass’ passing on Twitter. He was 57.

Bass, who designed Jeff Gordon’s striking “Rainbow Warriors” paint scheme, had spent the last few years looking for a new kidney. That was a result of a sepsis infection that originated in a blister on his left foot in 2005 and led to a below-the-knee amputation in 2008. Bass also had Type 1 diabetes, which he was diagnosed with at the age of 29.

Bass was inspired to become a NASCAR artist when he was 7 after attending his first race at Southside Speedway in suburban Richmond, Virginia.

“I was so amazed that night not only by the excitement and watching those cars run around and beat and bang on each other, but also the color – how all the cars were painted so many different colors,” Bass told NBC Sports in 2017. “I was like, ‘How cool is this?’ I couldn’t wait to get home to pull out my markers.”

The first car Bass designed was Bobby Allison’s Miller High Life car in 1988. That car went on to win the Daytona 500.

He went on to design the first Cup schemes for Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Bass first designed a race program for the 1985 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He designed programs for it and other Speedway Motorsports, Inc. tracks through 2018.

Marcus Smith, the CEO and President of SMI, issued the following statement.

“Our deepest sympathies are with Denise and her family today. Sam Bass has been a significant part of NASCAR’s history. He poured his heart, soul and talent into producing souvenir program covers at many speedways including Charlotte for more than 30 years. His work provided our fans a keepsake to treasure, and that was so appropriate, because Sam was always such a fan of our sport and he was such a treasure to the entire NASCAR family. His body of work will be a legacy that lives forever. We will miss Sam’s smile and positivity.”

NASCAR issued the following statement.

“Though he may have never turned a lap or a wrench, few captured the essence of our sport through his work more than Sam Bass. He was a consistent presence in the NASCAR garage, and his ever-present smile and endearing personality welcomed all. Though we have lost a member of the NASCAR family, his legend will continue in his art – all of which illustrated the greatness of our sport and the talent of a true friend.”

Michael McDowell leads final Daytona 500 practice

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Front Row Motorsport’s Michael McDowell was fastest in the final practice session for Sunday’s Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET on Fox).

McDowell and his No. 34 Ford recorded nine laps and a top speed of 191.440 mph.

The top five was completed by Ty Dillon (191.432 mph), pole-sitter William Byron (191.339), Alex Bowman (191.278) and Daniel Hemric (190.921).

Only 20 cars made at least one lap in the session.

Kurt Busch recorded the most laps in the session with 16 and was 11th on the speed chart at 189.741 mph.

Of four drivers to make a 10-lap run, Bowman had the best average at 190.334 mph.

There were no incidents in the session.

Click here for the practice report.

Jeffrey Earnhardt honors grandfather Dale Earnhardt with helmet design

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Xfinity Series driver Jeffrey Earnhardt is honoring the “GOAT” in his family with a helmet he’s debuting this weekend at Daytona International Speedway.

The “GOAT” – or “Greatest of All-Time” – is his grandfather, NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt.

The helmet, which you can see below, bears an image of the seven-time Cup champion riding a horse while shirtless and wearing a cowboy hat.

Next to the image is the text, “Just a goat on his horse!”

Earnhardt will have the helmet today as he starts on the front row of the Xfinity Series season opener (2:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1).

It is the first of nine Xfinity races he’ll start for Joe Gibbs Racing this season.

MORE: Jeffrey Earnhardt ready for challenge of winning in Xfinity

Today’s Xfinity race at Daytona: Start time, lineup and more

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The NASCAR Xfinity Series kicks off the 2019 season today with the NASCAR Racing Experience 300 at Daytona International Speedway.

The 38-car field will feature defending series champion Tyler Reddick, who seeks to become the first driver to defend his Xfinity championship since Ricky Stenhouse Jr., won in 2011 and repeated in 2012.

Here’s how today’s pre-race schedule looks:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Drew Patey, VIP Partner of the NASCAR Racing Experience, at 2:37 p.m. The green flag is scheduled for 2:49 p.m.

PRERACE CEREMONIES: Driver introductions begin at 2:10 p.m. The invocation will be given at 2:30 p.m. by Sonny Gallman, Pastor of Central Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Florida. The National Anthem will be at 2:31 p.m. and sung by Gina Marie Incandela.

DISTANCE: The race is 120 laps (300 miles) around the 2.5-mile track.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the race. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 2 p.m. and also can be heard at MRN.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for cloudy skies with a high of 74 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain for the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Tyler Reddick won last year’s season-opening race. He started 11th and led 11 laps en route to the victory.

TO THE REAR: Pole-sitter Tyler Reddick will start from the rear after changing a tire with an air leak. Max Tullman also will start from the rear for a tire change. Jeremy Clements, unapproved adjustments.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.