NASCAR calls mistake in penalizing Jimmie Johnson’s team ‘unacceptable’

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FORT WORTH, Texas — NASCAR admitted that it made a mistake in penalizing Jimmie Johnson before Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, an error that NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell said was “unacceptable on our part.”

NASCAR ordered Johnson to relinquish his 23rd starting spot and start the race at the rear. NASCAR officials believed Johnson’s car had failed inspection before the race three times. Instead, Johnson’s car had failed twice and should not have been ordered to the rear.

O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, was asked afterward how such a mistake could have happened.

“First you talk to the team and you apologize to the 48 for what happened,’’ he said. “It’s unacceptable on our part. Communication breakdown that happened right before the start between kind of our inspection area on the ground and race control where I think there was an assumption that there was a third failure and there wasn’t. There were only two. In that case, the 48 shouldn’t have started in the back.

“At this point, what we can do is put processes in place to fix that so it never happens again. It’s disappointing. It’s not something you can fix during the race, unfortunately. So all we can do is own up to it and fix it.”

Crew chief Chad Knaus said he was not aware that the team had to go to the rear until engines were fired. NASCAR had announced the penalty on its radio channel before that and announced to the media the penalty to Johnson’s team.

“It’s unfortunate,” Knaus said after he and other Hendrick Motorsports officials, including Jeff Gordon met with NASCAR officials after the race. “It put us in a bad situation, kind of put us behind the eight-ball and had to try to struggle back through.”

Johnson finished 15th.

O’Donnell said there was no call up to race control of a third failure on Johnson’s car. O’Donnell said it was written down that way.

“At that point, no one in the garage is assuming that the 48 is going to the back,” O’Donnell said since there was no radio call of such a penalty. “The inspector is not telling the crew chief (that) ‘you’re going to the back’ because he’s not aware of a penalty. So a lot of those processes in place were missed along the way.”

O’Donnell said that “once we recognized in race control that a mistake had happened, we had already started the race. That’s part of the things we’ve got to go back and review.”

Knaus said he talked to NASCAR about having a better system of communication for teams to reach out to NASCAR officials.

“As an industry we need to try to figure out how to make that happen a little better,” Knaus said. “We’re doing so many things to eliminate the dangers of pit road with officials and limiting all of that and … being able to communicate with the tower is more difficult now than what it has ever been. They’re looking into a way to try to make it to where we can have a direct line of communication, whether that be electronically, whether it be messaging or an audio radio channel.”

Johnson raised a similar concern after the race.

“There is no format for the teams to communicate to the tower,” he said. “So, whatever the tower says is the way it is. This is just one of a few calls that have been wrong due to that situation. I don’t know how they do it. Here we have a minute and a half under caution, but at Bristol you’ve got 30 seconds. I don’t think it’s a perfect environment for them to get it right all the time.”

Results, point standings after Truck race at Las Vegas

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Austin Hill won Friday night’s Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for his second win of 2020.

He beat Sheldon Creed for the victory.

The top five was completed by Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith.

IndyCar driver Conor Daly finished 18th and Travis Pastrana was 21st.

Click here for the race results.

Point Standings

With his win, Austin Hill is the first driver to advance to the second round of the playoffs.

Todd Gilliland is last in the playoff standings with 2,050 points. He is 13 points behind Ben Rhodes.

Click here for the standings.

Austin Hill wins Las Vegas Truck race

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Austin Hill won Friday night’s Truck Series playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, leading the final 39 laps to score the victory.

Hill took the lead on a restart and held off charges from Sheldon Creed over the final 20 laps.

Creed’s progress was slowed with 11 laps to go when he got loose and scraped the wall in Turn 1. He was never able to get close enough to Hill to make a challenge.

Creed dominated the early portion of the race, leading 89 laps before he struggled to get going on the final restart and briefly fell to seventh.

The win is the second of the year for Hill. He’s the first playoff driver to win in the postseason and it come after he finished 25th at Bristol.

“We didn’t have the best truck tonight by no means,” Hill told FS1. “Pit crew did a hell of job on that last pit stop getting me into the position I needed to. I just had to go out there and get it. … Sheldon was definitely way faster than me. … I was probably looking in my mirror more than I was our front. I knew he was better than we were.”

The top five was completed by Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith.

More: Race results and point standings

STAGE 1 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

STAGE 2 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith all matched their best results of the season … While he was the first driver to finish one lap down, IndyCar driver Conor Daly placed 18th in his first career Truck Series start … Travis Pastrana placed 21st in his second start of the season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Rachael Lessard finished 20th after he had to pit early in the race following contact with the wall … Ben Rhodes finished 23rd after he spun from contact with Stewart Friesen and hit the inside wall on Lap 84 … Jordan Anderson’s engine expired on the ensuing restart. He finished 32nd.

NOTABLE: Natalie Decker, who was not medically cleared to compete Friday night, was treated and released from the infield care center.

WHAT’S NEXT: Race at Talladega Superspeedway, 1 p.m. ET Oct. 3 on FS1

 

Natalie Decker not medically cleared for Las Vegas Truck race

Natalie Decker
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NASCAR announced right before Friday night’s Truck Series race that Natalie Decker hadn’t been medically cleared to compete.

No details were provided about the issue that prevented Decker from being cleared. During the final stage of the race, NASCAR announced she had been treated and released from the infield medical center.

The Niece Motorsports driver would have started 23rd. Due to her No. 44 truck having cleared inspection and having been placed on the starting grid she was credited with a last-place finish.

Decker has made 11 starts this year. She missed the June 28 race at Pocono after she was hospitalized due to bile duct complications related to her gallbladder removal in December.

Brandon Brown hopes to shed underdog role in Xfinity playoffs

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Brandon Brown knows the odds are against him advancing beyond the first round of the Xfinity playoffs.

“If I went out and we did a survey and we asked 1,000 NASCAR fans to create a playoff bracket, I guarantee that 90 to 99 percent of them have me getting eliminated in the first round,” he told NBC Sports.

But that’s not stopping him.

Brown is in the Xfinity playoffs for the first time, earning the final spot last weekend with his family-run team. He enters Saturday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) last in the 12-driver field. Brown has 2,000 points and is 10 points behind Ross Chastain, who holds the final transfer spot, entering the first round.

MORE: Saturday’s Xfinity race start time, lineup, forecast

Regardless where he is in the standings, Brown still met the team’s preseason goal of making the playoffs.

“It’s hard to put it into words,” the 27-year-old said of making the playoffs. “It’s so exciting and so thrilling. We’re just happy. Life is good. We’re seeing the fruits of our labor.”

Much of the Xfinity playoff focus will be on Chase Briscoe, who enters with a series-high seven wins. Or Austin Cindric, who won the regular-season title. Or Justin Allgaier, who has won three of the last seven races and could be the favorite if he makes it to the championship race at Phoenix Raceway.

Brown, who is in his second full season in the series, has four consecutive top-20 finishes going into this weekend. He knows the challenge he faces.

He said a key for this weekend is to have no mistakes, be running at the end and try to take advantage of any mistakes other playoff drivers have.

Then, he’ll look to Talladega. He’ll have an upgraded Earnhardt Childress Racing engine for that race, the team spending the extra money for the engine upgrade.

“I go into that track with confidence,” he said. “I need to go out there and make it happen, go win and make an name and go ahead and punch my ticket.”

While Brown knows most look at him as the underdog of these playoffs, he hopes to drop that title someday.

“The goal will be to get rid of that underdog title and to build that program that is going to be looked on as a powerhouse of the NASCAR Xfinity Series,” he said. “I enjoy the ride (as underdog), but now I’m ready to advance past it.”

Points entering Xfinity playoffs 

2,050 – Chase Briscoe

2,050 – Austin Cindric

2,033 – Justin Allgaier

2,025 – Noah Gragson

2,020 – Brandon Jones

2,018 – Justin Haley

2,014 – Harrison Burton

2,010 – Ross Chastain

2,002 – Ryan Sieg

2,002 – Michael Annett

2,001 – Riley Herbst

2,000 – Brandon Brown

First Round races

Sept. 26 – Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Oct. 3 – Talladega Superspeedway (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Oct. 10 – Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC)