NASCAR America: Pit stops have been one key to Brad Keselowski’s three-race win streak

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For all the focus put on individual drivers, NASCAR is a team sport.

In football, a quarterback needs to be able to read the defense and anticipate several plays ahead – but it is the team that helps execute his plan. NASCAR racing has some of those same elements, and according to NASCAR America’s Steve Letarte that is precisely where Brad Keselowski and the No. 2 team excel.

“Brad Keselowski has always been a very cerebral driver,” Letarte said on Monday’s edition of NASCAR America. “He’s always thought how he could do it differently. How he can do it better. More than just one corner or one lap. Whether it’s pit strategy with Paul Wolfe, whether it’s getting in and out of the pit box – he seems to always be looking for an advantage.”

That is the key to Keselowski’s recent success. He has won three of the most important races of the season: the Southern 500, Brickyard 400, and the first playoff race. And he’s won them in consecutive weeks.

The driver has done his job behind the wheel, but he’s been provided the opportunity by his team.

“He did a nice job at Darlington, managing one of the toughest racetracks on the circuit, leaving himself in a position for someone else to make a play,” Letarte said. “And that other person was his pit crew. They made the play at Darlington.

“Go to Indianapolis and once again – doesn’t have the best car, needs another team member to make a play. At Indianapolis, it was Paul Wolfe that made the play … at Indianapolis, he has the freshest tires. He did get a lucky yellow at the end, but they put themselves in a position to use those tires.”

Races are won and lost in the pits. Beating Kyle Larson out of the pits at Darlington was the key to Keselowski’s Southern 500 win. But perhaps the best example of the contribution by his crew came at Las Vegas.

“The difference at Las Vegas was that it wasn’t just a moment – it wasn’t one pit call – it wasn’t one pit stop,” Letarte said. “It was domination on pit road by that pit crew all day long that gave Brad Keselowski the chance to win.”

Keselowski regularly made up positions on pit row, leaving as the leader on Laps 112, 150, 184, 218 and 234.

“The second-place car comes off Turn 2 (in) third, sometimes fourth,” Letarte said. “We saw a lot of wheel spin and trouble on the restarts, but being the leader allowed Brad Keselowski to continue to set the tone.”

It can look like luck – or perhaps, another driver hopes it is luck so that it can be discounted.

“Brad clearly found the horseshoe. Three races in a row, he’s won – he has not had the best car,” Martin Truex Jr. said from the Las Vegas media center after finishing third to Keselowski. “Obviously he hasn’t led the most laps in any of those races, and he showed up at the end with good pit stops and good short run speed.”

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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.