Long: Emotions boil in Phoenix, providing spark for NASCAR

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Michael McDowell’s actions can be questioned, but his explanation for the fight with Daniel Suarez on Friday was what NASCAR fans have waited to hear.

“It’s emotions,” McDowell said.

Amen.

“That’s just the way it is,” McDowell said.

Not exactly.

It was that way in NASCAR all the way to the 1990s before the sport gentrified to placate sponsors. The trade-off for money was losing one’s soul.

The sport seeks to reclaim its spirit and return to those rougher ways. That doesn’t mean going all the way back to the untamed “Wild West” days. But it’s OK for a driver to show their anger. And many have in recent years.

The fight at Phoenix between Daniel Suarez and Michael McDowell — during qualifying of all things — illustrates the heightened tensions this season.

Joey Logano predicted two weeks ago at Atlanta Motor Speedway that the new rules package, which is intended to tighten the field, “is going to cause probably more wrecks and more tempers are going to fly and more drama is going to be there.”

Other than Daytona, there haven’t been the wrecks — last week’s Las Vegas race had cautions only for the two stage breaks — but the tempers are rising.

NASCAR’s season of drama could be beginning. And that could be a good thing for fans, who want to see more emotion on and off the track.

Suarez was upset with McDowell on Friday for getting in his way during the first round of qualifying. That slowed Suarez, who failed to advance. Suarez will start 28th. McDowell starts 27th.

After the round, Suarez went to McDowell’s car to express his displeasure. McDowell, upset because he felt Suarez tried to wreck him, shoved Suarez to trigger the scuffle.

They soon became entangled before Suarez threw McDowell to the ground. McDowell’s crew chief, Drew Blickensderfer, rushed in and shoved Suarez onto the hood of McDowell’s car. Suarez tried to kick McDowell while still on the car.

Suarez said afterward that McDowell’s actions hurt him for the race. Suarez’s team now has a later pick for pit stalls, which are selected in order of starting position. And Suarez will have to start deeper in the field in what is a short race, lasting 312 miles.

Qualifying poorly and having a bad pit stall pick hurt Logano at Atlanta. His stall was between the pit stalls of Alex Bowman and Martin Truex Jr. Logano lost at least 10 spots on each of the first two pit stops.

In a short race, that could be hard to overcome. Plus, drivers talk about the challenges of the “dirty air” of running behind a competitor. Starting deeper will provide a greater challenge for Suarez.

So it was understandable why he was upset when he headed to McDowell’s car on pit road.

This is what NASCAR has sought and tried to foster since the “Boys, have at it” years to now (NASCAR did not call either driver to the hauler Friday). Fans complain that drivers are too weary of upsetting sponsors by their actions. That mattered little to McDowell or Suarez.

This is the second time this season that McDowell has angered a fellow Ford driver.

Michael McDowell and Joey Logano discuss the end of the Daytona 500. Photo: NBC Sports

Logano was mad at McDowell for pushing the Toyota of Kyle Busch on the last lap of the Daytona 500 instead of Logano. McDowell, who had not been enamored with how Ford drivers raced him in that event, said after that race that “my team doesn’t pay me to push Joey Logano to a win.”

McDowell isn’t the only driver who has been at the subject of driver frustrations.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has upset a fellow competitor in each of the first three races. Logano was angered by a move Stenhouse made during the Daytona 500 and said on his radio: “Ricky Stanhkouse. God. He sucks.”

Truex was furious with Stenhouse, who was a lap down, for not getting out of his way as Truex attempted to chase down leader (and eventual winner) Brad Keselowski at Atlanta. Truex finished second but left convinced he could have won had he been able to get around Stenhouse sooner. Stenhouse discounted Truex’s argument.

Last week, Stenhouse and Erik Jones raced each other as if they were at Martinsville instead of Las Vegas.

Friday, Truex could enjoy the show. He was a fan as he watched McDowell and Suarez rumble.

Had Truex ever seen a fight on pit road during qualifying?

“I did today,” he said.

“It was awesome.”

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Daniel Hemric fastest in first Coca-Cola 600 practice

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Daniel Hemric was fastest in the first Cup Series practice session for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600.

Hemric posted a top speed of 182.791 mph around Charlotte Motor Speedway.

He was followed by Chase Elliott (182.340 mph), William Byron (182.211), Kyle Busch (182.168) and Jimmie Johnson (182.168).

Alex Bowman was seventh to put all four Hendrick Motorsports cars in the top 10.

Austin Dillon in eighth gave Chevrolet six cars in the top 10.

Landon Cassill recorded the most laps in the session with 37. He was 32nd on the speed chart.

Click here for the speed chart.

Shane Lee to drive for new Xfinity team with Circuit City sponsorship

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Former Richard Childress Racing driver Shane Lee will compete for a new Xfinity Series team, H2 Motorsports, the team announced Thursday at Charlotte Motor speedway

Owned by 23-year-old entrepreneur and venture capitalist Matt Hurley, the team will be sponsored by Circuit City and will field Lee in the No. 28 Toyota with support from Toyota Racing Development. They’ll debut June 16 at Iowa Speedway with plans to compete for the rest of the season.

Circuit City, which is primarily an online store now, was notably a sponsor of Hut Stricklin from 1996-98 in the Cup Series.

“I grew up an avid race fan, my parents are from the Midwest and I’ve followed the sport very, very closely since I was a young kid,” Hurley said. “More recently felt like there was an opportunity to go into the sport and bring some of our invested brands back into the sport. I’ve really taken an interest in kind of trying to find a way in.

“We felt like now is the right time to enter the sport, to come in in a competitive way. … Felt like TRD was the right partner to help us do that in a competitive way.”

Lee, 25, competed in the Xfinity Series last year, making 13 starts in RCR’s No. 3 Chevrolet. His best result and only top five was a fourth-place finish at Kansas Speedway in October.

“It’s a great opportunity,” Lee said. “I met Matt at a couple races last year. We actually became pretty good friends and we weren’t really even working on a racing deal. Probably January or February we started talking about the race deal and wanting to get into racing. We sort of went from there and he got himself figured out and he really went down the line and hired some really good people.”

Lee will be paired with crew chief Pete Rondeau. Rondeau has 103 Cup races to his name, including as crew chief for Regan Smith’s 2011 Southern 500 win.

Rondeau also has one Xfinity Series win with Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Bristol in 2004.

“I’ve had a history of accepting challenges,” Rondeau said. “As we did with Furniture Row team, we worked hard and … it ended up flourishing into a championship-caliber team. To me this is no different right here. We have a good core group and I’m happy to work with them. It’s going to be fun and a whole lot of work at the same time.”

Gallery: Coca-Cola 600 patriotic paint schemes

Photos by Daniel McFadin
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With Memorial Day weekend here, many NASCAR teams will be racing patriotic paint schemes in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Here’s a look at the unique schemes that will compete in NASCAR’s longest race.

All photos by Daniel McFadin.

Landon Cassill – No. 00 Chevrolet

Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford

Ryan Newman – No. 6 Ford

Aric Almirola – No. 10 Ford

Ty Dillon – No. 13 Chevrolet

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – No. 17 Ford

William Byron – No. 24 Chevrolet

Corey LaJoie – No. 32 Ford

 

Michael McDowell – No. 34 Ford

Matt Tifft – No. 36 Ford

David Ragan – No. 36 Ford

Ryan Preece – No. 47 Chevrolet

Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet

Cody Ware – No. 51 Ford

Bayley Currey – No. 52 Ford

BJ McLeod – No. 53 Chevrolet

Alex Bowman – No. 88 Chevrolet

 

Kyle Larson wins Speed 51 Open kart race

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Kyle Larson kept his winning ways going Wednesday night when he won an Outlaw Kart race at Millbridge Speedway in Salisbury, North Carolina.

Four days after his win in the Monster Energy All-Star Race, Larson took the lead on Lap 2 of the 51-lap Speed 51 Open and led the rest of the way.

Larson held off Chase Majdic for the win, his second in the event.

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver won despite losing his muffler in the middle of the race and having to replace his left side upper wing earlier in the night after a qualifying event.

Larson has a busy weekend ahead of him with World of Outlaws races at The Dirt Track at Charlotte on Friday and Saturday night, the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday, and the Word of Outlaws’ Memorial Day Classic at Lawrenceburg Speedway in Indiana on Monday.