Long: Kansas a warning sign for Martin Truex Jr.?

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas — The voice did little to mask the frustration, confusion and level of desperation.

For much of the season, Martin Truex Jr. has been in control, and at times dominant, winning four races and finishing in the top five in 17 of the first 31 starts entering last weekend’s race at Kansas Speedway.

But little went right for Truex on Sunday.

That the team finished fifth — in the odd stat category, all 18 of Truex’s top-10 finishes this year have been top fives — was a testament to its ability to persevere but the question is if that will be enough in this round? It helps that he has plenty of playoff points but that almost wasn’t enough to keep his title hopes alive beyond Kansas.

The issues they had with the car Saturday in practice weren’t resolved in the race. That proved frustrating for Truex and the team.

At the completion of the first stage on Lap 80, Truex radioed crew chief Cole Pearn: “I don’t know what to do. Maybe I just need to tighten this thing up and run the wall.”

Pearn responded: “We’re not making any ground with what we’re doing.”

About 25 laps later, Pearn asked Truex what he needed to run better near the wall. Truex said: “Everything. It does the same thing on the bottom. Won’t turn.”

Twice in the first 120 laps, Pearn brought Truex in early to start a wave of green-flag pit stops. Pearn did that with the hope that having fresh tires sooner would help the No. 78 leapfrog a few cars. The gain proved minimal.

On Lap 140, Truex, running 11th, told Pearn: “I’m so bad in traffic. It’s ridiculous.”

On Lap 165, Pearn told Truex, who was running sixth, that the points were tight and that “you’ve got to race as hard as you can.”

Truex said: “Doing all I can right now.”

He did enough to advance.

We had to dig deep,” Truex said afterward. “A lot of pressure and a bad situation and we were able to come out looking good. That being said, we’ve had a lot of headwind that we’ve had to battle through the playoffs, we haven’t had much go our way.

“We had a few races like that this year, we had a few like that last year. Seems like this year they’ve been a little bit more frequent but again we finished fifth. You can’t complain too much. At the end of the day, we’re still searching a little bit at certain race tracks.”

One of the things that Truex can take away is how strong his pit crew was Sunday. Twice he gained four spots on pit road. The second time came after the end of the second stage and allowed Truex to restart sixth.

Even with his struggles, that track position was critical. He never ran worse than seventh in the final 100 laps and finished high enough to advance to third round and continue his quest for back-to-back Cup titles.


Don’t expect to see another Roval on the schedule at this point. Marcus Smith, chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports Inc. and creator of the Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway, said after the event there that he was not looking at having another Roval at any of SMI’s other tracks.

“I feel like this is unique to Charlotte, and we’ve got other speedways out there that produce their own unique action,” Smith said.

International Speedway Corp., which owns 12 tracks that host Cup races, also does not have any plans at this point of turning one of its oval races into a Roval event.

Lesa France Kennedy, chief executive officer of ISC, praised Smith for the Roval.

“I think Marcus Smith did an amazing job of taking his idea from start to finish … to get to the point that he did,” Kennedy said this past weekend at Kansas Speedway. “I think the fan reaction was amazing. I think it’s created a lot of hype and attention to the sport and I really applaud him and his team’s efforts. I think everybody is paying attention.”


John Hunter Nemecheck’s victory in Saturday’s Xfinity race was celebrated throughout pit road among title contenders.

Nemechek was not eligible for the playoffs since he didn’t run the full season. His victory takes away an automatic spot to the championship finale in Miami and means at least two of the four contenders will advance via points.

“It was big because that keeps us all in play where it doesn’t give anybody an advantage for Homestead where you can work on your stuff (early) for that particular race,” Elliott Sadler told NBC Sports after the race.

A first-lap crash triggered by playoff contender Justin Allgaier took him out along with title contenders Christopher Bell and Austin Cindric. The incident also damaged playoff contender Cole Custer’s car. 

The Xfinity Series is off this weekend. Teams are back in action Nov. 3 at Texas Motor Speedway.


NASCAR is expected to issue its penalty report Wednesday. Daniel Hemric‘s Xfinity car was found to be too low in post-race inspection. The likely L1 penalty will cost Hemric 10 points. If so, that will drop him out of the lead. He currently leads Elliott Sadler by nine points.

Should Hemric lose 10 points, it will put the top six drivers within 18 points.


NASCAR examined why the hood flew off Ross Chastain‘s Xfinity car during Saturday’s race. The car suffered front-end damage in an earlier incident.

NASCAR also planned to review this week why a caution was not called when Chastain’s hood flew off near Turn 3. It was run over and broken into smaller pieces.

 

NASCAR’s Friday schedule at Kansas Speedway

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The NASCAR playoff race weekend at Kansas Speedway begins today.

Cup and Xfinity Series teams will each hold two practice sessions.

The wunderground.com forecast predicts a high of 74 degrees, partly sunny skies and a 10% chance of rain.

Here’s the day’s schedule.

(All times are Eastern)

Noon – 11 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

1 p.m. – 10:30 p.m. – Cup garage open

3:05 – 3:55 p.m.  – Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

4:05 – 4:55 – Cup practice (NBCSN, Motor Racing Network)

5:05 – 5:55 – Final Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

7:05-7:55 p.m. – Final Cup practice (NBCSN, MRN)

 

Friday 5: Is this Kyle Busch’s time?

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Will this become the fall of Kyle Busch?

Not fall as in stumble but fall as in season — when he takes control of the Cup playoffs.

Busch, the regular-season champion, has been many things this postseason — moody, controversial and mistake-prone — but he’s not been a dominant figure on the track.

His average finish in the first half of these playoffs is 16.6 — marking the fourth time since 2015 he’s had an average finish of 14th or worse halfway through the postseason.

Busch, though, made it to the championship race each of those four years, winning the title in 2015.

But with Busch, there’s always something more.

Instead of a streak of Championship 4 appearances, it is his winless streak that draws more attention. Busch has failed to win in the past 17 races, his longest drought since going 36 races between Cup victories in 2016-17.

Since Busch last won at Pocono in early June — before Justin Haley’s improbable win at Daytona, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. losing his ride at Roush Fenway Racing and then signing with JTG Daugherty Racing and Bubba Wallace and Busch beating and banging at Watkins Glen — he’s seen Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones all win.

Miscues have hindered Busch’s playoffs. He hit the wall on Lap 3 of the opener at Las Vegas. Busch rallied from two laps down to be back on the lead lap before running into the rear of Garrett Smithley’s car. After the race, Busch called out Smithley and Joey Gase, questioning their credentials to be in the Cup Series.

Busch’s Dover run was hurt by a speeding penalty. He had a flat tire after contact with Kyle Larson on a restart at the Charlotte Roval and had to pit. A suspension issued later led to his day ending. Several laps down and with nothing to gain, Busch drove the car back to the garage during a red flag. His Talladega race was impacted by an accident, just like about every other driver. The only playoff driver not involved in an incident in the race was winner Ryan Blaney.

But things could be changing for Busch.

For all his struggles, he’s finished second three times during his winless drought and had six top-five results. Only Hamlin (10 top fives), Truex (eight) and Kevin Harvick (seven) have had more top fives than Busch in this stretch.

Provided Busch advances — he is 41 points Alex Bowman, the first driver outside a transfer spot — he’ll likely be the points leader heading into the Round of 8 after Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

The Round of 8 begins at Martinsville Speedway. Busch finished third there in the spring. He’s not placed worse than eighth in any of the five short track races this season. He led 66 laps before finishing 10th at Texas and won at ISM Raceway near Phoenix, leading 177 of 312 laps.

Get Busch to Miami (again) and he could leave as a two-time champion.

2. Tough challenge for hopefuls 

The most likely way Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer or William Byron — the four drivers outside a playoff race — will advance to the next round will be to win Sunday’s elimination race at Kansas Speedway.

Bowman trails Joey Logano, who holds the final transfer spot by 18 points. Elliott trails Logano by 22 points. Bowyer trails Logano by 24 points, and Byron trails Logano by 27 points.

The only time Byron and Bowyer outscored Logano in a race by as many points as they trail was at Dover in the playoffs when Logano spent the first 24 laps in the garage.

Bowman has outscored Logano by 18 points in three races this year: Dover playoff race, Talladega in April (Bowman was second) and Kansas in May (Bowman was second)

Elliott has had better results. He has outscored Logano by 22 or more points in a race five times this year: Martinsville in March (Elliott outscored Logano by 28 points), Talladega in April (22 points), Kansas in May (29 points), Watkins Glen (46 points) in August and the Bristol night race (25 points) in August. Elliott won at Talladega and Watkins Glen. He was second at Martinsville, fourth at Kansas and fifth at Bristol.

That’s the challenge those four drivers face this weekend trying to knock Logano out of the final playoff spot.

3. Looking to help 

Brad Keselowski expressed his concern about team members who will be or could be losing their jobs in the near future as the sport goes through change.

He recently sent this tweet:

So what can Keselowski do?

“I haven’t gotten an answer to it yet, but I’m looking at it, trying to think about what ideas there might be” Keselowski said. “I haven’t come up with a solution yet. I just wanted those people to know that are affected by it that I cared about it. I can’t employ the couple of hundred people that are probably going to get laid off in the next few weeks, but I’m sure I can do something for someone.”

4. Youth movement?

The last three races have been won by three of the five youngest drivers in the playoffs: Chase Elliott (Charlotte Roval), Kyle Larson (Dover) and Ryan Blaney (Talladega).

Elliott is 23, Larson is 27 and Blaney is 25. The playoffs also include William Byron (21 years old) and Alex Bowman (26). Erik Jones (23) was eliminated in the first round.

5. Drought busters

Five drivers have ended winless streaks of 30 or more races this season: Kyle Larson (75 races) Denny Hamlin (45), Erik Jones (42), Ryan Blaney (37) and Kurt Busch (30).

Among drivers with long winless droughts: Paul Menard (299 races), David Ragan (237), Chris Buescher (118), Ryan Newman (99), Jimmie Johnson (90), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (86), Austin Dillon (66), Clint Bowyer (52), Aric Almirola (36),

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2019 Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award finalists announced

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Comcast has announced the three finalists for this year’s Community Champion of the Year Award, which recognizes the philanthropic efforts of individuals within the NASCAR industry.

Through the award Comcast has donated $600,000 to 15 different NASCAR-affiliated organizations to honor their efforts and help further the impact of their causes.

The three finalists are:

  • Artie Kempner, NASCAR on FOX Coordinating Director and Co-Founder of Autism Delaware
  • David Ragan, Cup Series driver and Ambassador for Shriners Hospitals for Children
  • Mike Tatoian, President and CEO of Dover International Speedway and USO Delaware Chairman

The award winner will be selected by a panel composed of Comcast and NASCAR executives, as well as defending Cup Series champion Joey Logano, who won the award in 2018. Comcast will award $60,000 to the winner’s affiliated charity, and $30,000 to each of the two remaining finalists’ selected charities.

The winner will be announced Nov. 14 at W. South Beach Hotel in Miami in conjunction with the NASCAR Championship Weekend.

Artie Kempner (Wilmington, Delaware) – In 1998, a small group of parents got together in the living room of Marcy and Artie Kempner’s house in Wilmington, Delaware. The Kempner’s had three boys and their middle son, Ethan, had been diagnosed with autism a year earlier. All of the parents at the table had children on the autism spectrum. That gathering was the beginning of Autism Delaware and Artie became the group’s first president. The organization started as a simple support group, but 20+ years later it’s a statewide service agency, fielding more than 1,500 calls from families annually, offering lifespan services, as well as social and recreational program for families in a safe and welcoming environment.

Kempner’s work on the Drive for Autism Celebrity-Am Golf Outing, helped the group raise the necessary money to launch its critically acclaimed adult vocational and employment program known as POW&R, Productive Opportunities for Work & Recreation. Now in its 11th year, POW&R assesses an individual’s strengths and vocational goals, and matches them with community-based employment, volunteer and recreational opportunities. Today, the program serves over 150 adults with autism in paid employment.

David Ragan (Unadilla, Georgia) – Since 2012, Front Row Motorsports driver David Ragan has been dedicated to supporting Shriners Hospital for Children as a part of their ambassador program. Ragan spends much of his off-time visiting hospitals, fundraising, as well as inviting patients to the race track for once-in-a-lifetime experiences at NASCAR events. Ragan’s passion for the hospital goes beyond just the bare-minimum appearance, he makes an effort to remember each patient’s name + story and will continue to stay in touch long after he meets them. Ragan knows the children and families he meets are likely struggling and wants to do what he can to put a smile on their face. His association with the Shriners, as well as being a Shriner himself, has not only brought attention to the hospitals and the great work they are doing, but has increased donations from race fans and team partners. Many people aren’t aware of the great work that the Shriners do, but Ragan has been a strong voice for them for the past 10 years and has changed countless lives because of his great work.

Mike Tatoian (Dover, Delaware) – Mike Tatoian has been a staple of the Delaware and mid-Atlantic charitable communities, particularly with local military organizations at Dover (Del.) Air Force Base, since he began his tenure at the “Monster Mile” in 2007. One of his longest commitments has been with United Service Organizations. Established during World War II, the USO supports U.S. service members wherever they are, including on-base, deployed abroad, passing through an airport or in local communities at more than 200 locations around the world. One-particular duty that distinguishes USO Delaware is it’s the only USO in the world that shares the responsibility of bringing home fallen service members, working alongside other units such as the Air Force Mortuary Affairs, Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, the Joint Personal Effects Depot and the Families of the Fallen. For 13 years, Tatoian has assisted USO Delaware with countless programs and currently serves as the Chairman of the Advisory Council for the organization.

NASCAR America’s The MotorSports Hour live at 5 p.m. ET

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This week’s episode of NASCAR America’s The Motorsports Hour airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Krista Voda is joined by Parker Kligerman and AJ Allmendinger as they discuss the major storylines in multiple racing disciplines, including NASCAR.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.