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Denny Hamlin on another mediocre finish: ‘We were just bad all day’

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RICHMOND, Va. — There’s a good chance that Denny Hamlin will fail to advance from the first round of the playoffs for the first time in his career.

And that might be the least of the Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s concerns now.

“I’m not worried about the playoffs,” Hamlin said after finishing 16th at Richmond Raceway. “I’m just worried about running better. With our teammate winning, and us running like a bag of shit, it’s just disappointing every week. We were just bad all day.”

After qualifying second, Hamlin was forced to make a green-flag pit stop on Lap 55 after nearly spinning from contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. He rebounded quickly by unlapping himself after only 27 laps, gaining two points with a ninth in Stage 1.

But that would be the highlight at the hometown track for the Chesterfield, Va., native, who struggled in traffic for the rest of the 400-lap race that was won by teammate Kyle Busch.

In six of the past eight races, Hamlin has qualified in the top three. His best finish in those races is eighth, and he’s placed outside the top 10 in the past three.

“It just seems like once we get in race trim, I can’t get the car to do anything that it’s supposed to do,” he said. “I can make it go fast for a lap in qualifying, just not do the things that it’s supposed to do around the racetrack. And the things that I watch (Busch) doing successfully. It’s just really disappointing.

“I thought after practice we’d be quite a bit better, but as soon as we dropped the green, the car just didn’t have a good feel to it. I knew we were in trouble the first 10 laps.”

After opening the playoffs with a 32nd at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Hamlin is ranked last among the 16 playoff drivers heading into the Sept. 30 cutoff race, which will mark the Cup debut for Charlotte Motor Speedway’s road course.  The No. 11 Toyota trails the 12th and final provisional spot by 29 points.

“We probably need to go there and win,” he said.

Daniel Hemric fastest in final practice; Kevin Harvick second

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Daniel Hemric turned the fastest lap Friday in the final Cup practice at Kansas Speedway, turning a 177.830 mph lap in his No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.

Kevin Harvick was second followed by Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski (who paced the first practice) and Ryan Blaney.

Hemric has yet to announce a ride for 2020 after RCR announced last month that the rookie would be replaced by Tyler Reddick next season.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Suarez and Aric Almirola rounded out the top 10.

Here are the rankings speeds of the other playoff drivers: Denny Hamlin 12th; Alex Bowman 15th; Joey Logano 16th; Clint Bowyer 19th; Chase Elliott 20th; and William Byron 22nd.

Click here to see where things stand in the playoffs standings entering Sunday’s second-round cutoff race at Kansas.

Click here for speeds from the final practice at Kansas.

Click here for the speeds during the first Cup practice of the weekend at Kansas.

Ryan Preece praises team for its work after hauler fire

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Ryan Preece praised his team for converting teammate Chris Buescher’s backup car into Preece’s primary car Friday after the hauler carrying Preece’s cars and equipment caught fire this week en route to Kansas Speedway.

“I know some of the guys haven’t had much sleep, very proud of them,” Preece said.

The team’s hauler pulled over near New Columbia, Illinois, on Thursday after a fire in the rear axle area that spread to the hauler. A team spokesperson told NBC Sports that crew chief Eddie Pardue and a couple of team members flew there to take what could be salvaged before driving to Kansas City.

The team spokesperson said that the lockers and uniforms in the hauler were heavily damaged. Both cars had damage with the backup car suffering smoke damage.

NASCAR allowed JTG Daugherty Racing to enter the garage at 8 a.m. ET Friday — five hours before the garage was scheduled to open — and allowed members from both JTG Daugherty teams to work on the car. Preece said he was there with the team when it arrived and worked on the interior as the crew converted the car.

“We’re in it as a team,” Preece said. “I wasn’t going to show up later in the afternoon. I wanted them to know that I was right there with them. I wanted to help in every way I could.”

Preece said his car was loose in the first practice session Friday at Kansas Speedway. He was 32nd on the speed chart in that session, making it on track about 10 minutes after practice began.

Brad Keselowski fastest in first practice at Kansas; Kyle Busch makes big save

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Brad Keselowski turned the fastest lap with a minute remaining in Friday afternoon’s first Cup practice at Kansas Speedway.

The 176.499-mph lap by the No. 2 Ford of Team Penske nipped a 176.389 mph lap by the No. 10 Ford of Aric Almirola.

Daniel Suarez was third, followed by Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney. Kurt Busch, Paul Menard, Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick and Daniel Hemric rounded out the top 10.

Here’s how other playoff drivers fared during the practice:

Kyle Larson 11th; Joey Logano 13th; Clint Bowyer 15th; William Byron 20th; Alex Bowman 21st; Kyle Busch (who had an impressive save; video below) 22nd; Chase Elliott 23rd.

Click here to see where things stand in the playoffs standings entering Sunday’s second-round cutoff race at Kansas.

Click here for the speeds during the first Cup practice of the weekend at Kansas.

Gray Gaulding out Friday after suspected allergic reaction

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A Stewart-Haas Racing plane made an unscheduled stop in St. Louis on Friday after Gray Gaulding had a suspected allergic reaction.

SS Green Light Racing confirmed Gaulding had an issue en route to Kansas City. A Stewart-Haas Racing spokesperson confirmed that its plane made the unscheduled stop, and that emergency personnel came on board after the plane landed. Gaulding remained in St. Louis while the plane continued to Kansas City.

SS Green Light Racing stated that after arriving at the track, Gaulding went to the infield care center and was not cleared to drive Friday. Gaulding will be re-evaluated Saturday. J.J. Yeley drove the car for Gaulding in practice Friday.