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.”

Today’s Cup race at Miami: Start time, lineup and more

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The NASCAR season comes to a close today with the Cup Series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and defending champion Martin Truex Jr. will decide the title.

Whoever has the best finish, wins the championship.

Here’s all the info you need for the season finale.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Actor Josh Dallas of NBC’s “Manifest” will give the command to start engines at 3:11 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:20 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 267 laps (400.5 miles) around the 1.5-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 9 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 12:30 p.m. Driver introductions are at 2:30 p.m. Moment of silence for David Pearson at 3:03 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Sr. Master Sergeant Ryan Carson will perform the anthem at 3:05 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBC will broadcast the race beginning at 3 p.m. Coverage begins at 1 p.m. with NASCAR America on NBCSN and switches to NBC at 1:30 p.m. Countdown to Green beings at 2 p.m. on NBC. Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 1:30 p.m. and also can be heard at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have MRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 82 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Martin Truex Jr. led the final 51 laps to win the race and championship over Kyle Busch.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the complete starting grid.

Tony Stewart says JGR made ‘very smart decision’ on pit stall picks

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Tony Stewart, whose organization will compete against Joe Gibbs Racing for the Cup title Sunday, said he has no problems with JGR’s decision to have Denny Hamlin’s team not take the No. 1 pit stall so Kyle Busch, who is racing for the crown, can have it.

Hamlin’s team had the first pick of pit stalls after winning the pole but did not choose the No. 1 stall since that team is not running for a title. Busch, who starts second and whose team had the second pick, then took the No. 1 stall.

MORE: Denny Hamlin reacts to giving up the No. 1 pit stall to Kyle Busch

MORE: Cup pit stall assignments

“It’s a smart decision,” said Stewart, who will have Kevin Harvick racing for the Cup crown Sunday. “If we were in the same position, I would hope we would be smart enough to do the same thing. I’ve already seen all the drama and the people complaining either way.

“These four teams are here to win a championship and if your organization can help you do that and give you every tool available to get that done, you’re stupid to not do it.

“I’m behind what JGR did 100 percent. You have to do that. You have to put yourself in the best position to win the race and the championship. They made a very, very smart decision.”

Car owner Joe Gibbs defended his decision because Busch is running for a championship and Hamlin.

“We’re going to do everything we can to win the race there, but we also, for us, have a championship on the line and what we would love to do is win that championship,” Gibbs said. “That’s how the decision was made for us.

“I think if there is any criticism, it goes to me.”

Xfinity race results, final point standings after Miami

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Tyler Reddick claimed the Xfinity Series title with his win in Saturday’s season finale.

Reddick led 44 laps, including the final 37, on his way to his third career win.

Reddick beat Cole Custer, John Hunter Nemechek, Daniel Hemric and Austin Cindric.

Christopher Bell finished 11th, a lap down after he pit with 10 laps to go for a flat tire.

Click here for Xfinity race results

Elliott Sadler ended his final full-time season fifth in the standings.

Click here for Xfinity points report

Tyler Reddick wins Xfinity race in Miami, championship

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Tyler Reddick won Saturday’s Xfinity race at Homestead-Miami Speedway to claim the Xfinity Series championship.

The win is the first for the JR Motorsports rookie since he won the season opener at Daytona.

Reddick led 44 of 200 laps and defeated Cole Custer (second), Daniel Hemric (fourth) and Christopher Bell (11th) for the title.

Custer led a race-high 95 laps but lost the lead in the final stage during green-flag pit stops after he stayed out a few laps longer than Reddick and Bell.

Reddick took the lead when he passed Bell out of Turn 4 with 37 laps to go. He spent nearly the entire final run driving against the outside wall.

“The year wasn’t the smoothest for us, but I knew coming in here if we just made it to Homestead, this is a great track for me,” Reddick told NBCSN. “It rewards my aggression. Tonight we hit the wall a lot, but the car kept in one piece long enough to get to the end.”

The race was Reddick’s last for JRM before moving to Richard Childress Racing for 2019.

Bell, who won a rookie record seven races this season, had to pit for a flat tire with 10 laps to go.

“We just weren’t good enough,” Bell told NBCSN. “Bottom line, I wasn’t fast enough. Once the tires started wearing away, those guys just drove right back by me.”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Cole Custer

STAGE 2 WINNER: Cole Custer

MORE: Race results, points report

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: With his title, Tyler Reddick also claimed the Rookie of the Year award over Christopher Bell.

OWNERS TITLE: Cole Custer’s second place finish earned Stewart-Haas Racing the owners championship.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: John Hunter Nemechek led 52 laps and finished third … Ryan Preece placed sixth in his last start for Joe Gibbs Racing … Ross Chastain placed 16th in his last start for JD Motorsports before moving to Chip Ganassi Racing full-time in next season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Elliott Sadler finished 14th, a lap off the lead in his final full-time start after he pit with 20 laps to go for a vibration … Caesar Bacarella placed 34th after he spun on the final lap of Stage 1.

NOTABLE: Tyler Reddick is the first driver to win the first and last race of the season in the Xfinity Series … All three of JR Motorsports’ Xfinity titles have come with the No. 9 car … Reddick joins Chase Elliott (2014) and William Byron (2017) as the third rookie to win the title … Reddick gave crew chief David Elenz his second consecutive Xfinity title after he won with Byron last year.

QUOTE OF THE RACE No. 1: “We just stuck to our plan. I’m not honestly second-guessing it. Our lap times over the course of the race, we were as good as we were the whole race at the end of the race. (Tyler Reddick) found a lot of speed at the end.” – Crew chief Jeff Meendering to NBC Sports on the pit strategy to not stop immediately after Tyler Reddick made his final stop.

QUOTE OF THE RACE No. 2: “I couldn’t do it. I don’t know, I think that’s just something I need to practice I guess. I’m at a loss for words for that.” Cole Custer to NBCSN on not being able to catch Tyler Reddick in the closing laps while running against the wall.

WHAT’S NEXT: The 2019 season opener at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, Feb. 16.