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Long: Rivalry NASCAR needs but fans might have to wait to see

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The rivalry NASCAR needs most won’t take place until 2020. At the earliest.

Until then, fans will have to enjoy the limited times Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell race each other in midget cars. That might be it because their NASCAR schedules may not intersect much this year.

Bell, who won a rookie record seven Xfinity Series races last year, returns for a second season even though he said in August he was ready for CupLarson enters his sixth season in Cup. The only way they will race each other in NASCAR this year will be if Toyota runs Bell in some Cup races or Larson finds a ride for select Xfinity races. Nothing has been announced for either at this point.

If they don’t compete in the same NASCAR race this year, fans will lose. This is among the best rivalries in motorsports and is one fueled not by hate but by competition.

Saturday night’s Chili Bowl Nationals added to a growing list of Larson-Bell duels that have become must-see viewing in recent months.

“These guys race each other, but they know how to race each other,’’ said Keith Kunz, whose midget car team has won the past five Chili Bowl Nationals, including the last three with Bell. “You watch all the races for the last three or four years, they expect the slide job, they see it coming, they know how to cross over and counter maneuver. They do things that I don’t think any of us have seen anybody do in a long time between the two of them.”

That makes for edge-of-the-seat viewing when Bell and Larson race together. Just like this past weekend.

Bell passed Larson on the final lap after contact between them to win his third consecutive Chili Bowl title. Afterward, Larson lamented how he let Bell chase him down but said he was “more upset” with the contact he made with Bell in Turn 3 when trying to reclaim the lead.

“I try to pride myself and not race like that and that’s twice now that I’ve done that on the last lap,” Larson said. “Just a little desperation out of myself. Got to not do that in the future.”

Larson made contact with Bell on the last lap of the Turkey Night Grand Prix midget race in November at Ventura (California) Raceway. Bell took the lead with 12 laps to go. Larson challenged Bell but couldn’t get by on the final lap. 

And in August at Bristol, Larson and Bell dueled in the Xfinity race. With less than 50 laps to go, Bell hounded Larson for the lead while they ran through lapped traffic. During a caution that interrupted the battle, Bell radioed crew chief Jason Ratcliff and said: “This is pretty fun right here.” Ratcliff responded: “Looks like it.”

Larson won that race and Bell finished second. Larson won four of his six Xfinity starts last year. Bell finished second twice in those races and third another time. 

Both Larson and Bell were excited after Bristol about racing each other for the lead in a NASCAR event.

“I’ve been waiting a long time for that – me and Kyle to race,” Bell said that day. “It seems like whenever we’re dirt racing, we’re racing each other a lot, but we haven’t really got to race each other on pavement yet. It was really fun to be able to race really hard with him.”

Larson said after the Bristol win that he looked forward to competing against Bell for more NASCAR wins.

“It’s been the Kyle (Busch) and Kyle show at a lot of places,” Larson said, “but with Chris’ driving style and mine, I think it’s going to be the Kyle, Kyle and Chris show at a lot of these places, especially Bristol for a long time. I’m excited for him to get his Cup opportunity whenever that may arise.”

When Bell gets a full-time Cup ride will be among the key stories this season. Joe Gibbs Racing enters this year with Busch, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Erik Jones. Provided that lineup remains the same for 2020, then Bell could go to Leavine Family Racing, which switched to Toyota after last year, and is aligned with JGR.

The key for Toyota is to not lose Bell as it lost Larson. With no place to put Larson, Toyota saw the talented open-wheel racer sign with a Chevrolet Xfinity team for the 2013 season, leading Larson to a Cup ride at Chip Ganassi Racing in 2014.

When Bell reaches Cup, he and Larson could provide NASCAR fans with thrills for years.

“Me and Kyle were talking about this the other day,” Bell said on a recent episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast. “It’s kind of weird. It seems like if Kyle and I are in the same race together we seem to elevate each other. Kyle has been my No. 1 supporter and it all started at Little Rock, Arkansas, at the Short Track Nationals back in, I think, 2012. … That was my first time I got on the national scene and Kyle was on Twitter saying this kid’s the next big thing. Basically since day one, Kyle has been trying to promote me and telling people I’m good and stuff like that.”

While there are others in Cup and Xfinity who raise each other’s level when they race one another, there hasn’t been that rivalry — friendly or not — that has been consistent. Even last year when Kevin Harvick, Busch and Truex Jr. dominated, there were few times they battled each other for wins late in a race. 

Bell and Larson often seem to find each other at the front when they race together.

It’s just a matter of getting them in the same NASCAR races this season because 2020 is too long to wait to watch these two duel for the win.

Truck practice report at Miami

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Championship contender Stewart Friesen posted the fastest lap in Friday’s final Gander Outdoors Truck Series practice session at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Friesen led the way with a lap of 165.320 mph. He was followed by Jesse Little (165.239 mph) and Christian Eckes (164.124).

Friesen was the only one of the four championship contenders in the top 10. Matt Crafton was 18th (160.901 mph), Brett Moffitt was 27th (159.250) and Ross Chastain was 28th (159.193).

Truck teams are limited to six sets of tires for today. The track wears tires, bringing speeds down. Teams save their tires for qualifying and the race.

 

Truck qualifying is scheduled for 4:35 p.m. ET today. The race is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET today.

FIRST PRACTICE

Grant Enfinger posted the fastest lap in the first of two practice sessions Friday for the Gander Outdoors Truck Series at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Enfinger paced the field with a lap of 168.010 mph. Next was reigning series champ Brett Moffitt, one of the four championship contenders in tonight’s race, with a lap of 167.639 mph. Austin Hill was third with a lap of 167.162 mph.

Championship contender Ross Chastain ranked fourth (167.141 mph). Moffitt and Chastain were the only title contenders in the top 10. Matt Crafton, seeking his third series crown, was 11th on the speed chart at 165.042 mph. Title contender Stewart Friesen was 13th on the speed chart at 164.404 mph.

Truck teams will have another practice and then qualifying before tonight’s season-ending race.

Friday’s NASCAR schedule at Miami

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The final NASCAR championship weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway kicks off today with the first champion to be crowned in tonight’s season-ending Truck Series race.

The day gets going early with back-to-back Truck Series practices in the morning, followed by two Xfinity Series and two Cup practices, Truck qualifying and then the evening’s main event, the Ford EcoBoost 200.

Stewart Friesen, Ross Chastain, Matt Crafton and defending Truck Series champion Brett Moffitt will battle it out for the championship.

The wunderground.com site forecasts a temperature of 75 degrees, partly cloudy skies and a 14% chance of race for the start of the Truck Series race.

Here’s how today’s schedule shapes up:

(All times are Eastern)

7:30 a.m. – Truck Series garage opens

9:05 – 9:55 a.m. – Truck Series practice (No TV)

10:35 – 11:25 a.m. – Final Truck practice (No TV)

11 a.m. – 9 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

12:30 – 10 p.m. – Cup garage open

2:35 – 3:25 p.m. – Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

3:35 – 4:25 p.m. – Cup practice (NBCSN, Motor Racing Network)

4:35 p.m. – Truck Series qualifying; single truck/one lap (FS1)

5:35 – 6:25 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

6:15 p.m. – Truck Series driver-crew chief meeting

6:30 – 7:20 p.m. – Final Cup practice (NBCSN, MRN)

7:30 p.m. – Truck Series driver introductions

8 p.m. – Ford EcoBoost 200; 134 laps/201 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Dover President honored as Comcast Community Champion of the Year

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Comcast has announced that Dover International Speedway President & CEO Mike Tatoian as the fifth annual Comcast Community Champion of the Year. Comcast established the prestigious award in 2015 to honor NASCAR industry members for their philanthropic efforts and with this year’s contributions, Comcast has donated more than a half million dollars ($600,000) to charitable organizations in the NASCAR community through the program.

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.

“We’re all fortunate to be involved in this great sport and privileged to give back as well; the spirit we recognize throughout NASCAR is the same spirit behind our community impact programs at Comcast,”  said Matt Lederer, Comcast Vice President of Brand Partnerships. “It’s an honor to recognize Mike Tatoian as the 2019 Comcast Community Champion of the Year, he has leveraged his platform within the sport to bring awareness to his genuine passion of supporting the military community.”

MORE: A soldier he never knew inspired track president to do more

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.

Tatoian was chosen by a panel comprised of Comcast and NASCAR executives, as well as defending NASCAR Cup Series champion, Joey Logano, who won the award in 2018. NASCAR on FOX Coordinating Director, Artie Kempner, and NASCAR driver, David Ragan, nominated as finalists for the award, were each awarded $30,000 toward the amazing work they do with Autism Delaware and Shriners Hospital for Children, respectively.

Kempner started Autism Delaware out of his living room in 1998 after his son, Ethan, had been diagnosed with autism a year earlier, and 20+ years later it’s a statewide service agency offering lifespan services, as well as social and recreational program for families in a safe and welcoming environment. Ragan has been dedicated to supporting Shriners Hospital for Children as a part of their ambassador program since 2012. 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.

Comcast has a long track record of community service, aiding in the advancement of local organizations, developing programs and partnerships, mobilizing resources to connect people and inspiring positive and substantive change. To learn more about the Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award, please visit ComcastCommunityChampion.com.

Four Cup teams docked practice in Miami

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The Cup cars of Chase Elliott, William Byron, Matt DiBenedetto and Joe Nemechek each will miss 15 minutes of Friday’s opening Cup practice at Homestead-Miami Speedway for failing inspection twice last weekend at ISM Raceway, NASCAR announced.

First Cup practice is scheduled from 3:35 – 4:25 p.m. ET today on NBCSN.

In the Xfinity Series, the cars of Ryan Sieg, Bobby Earnhardt and Brandon Brown will each miss 15 minutes of opening practice for being late to inspection previously.

Xfinity opening practice is scheduled from 2:35 – 3:25 p.m. ET on NBCSN.