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Ryan Blaney poised to join Penske’s ‘win club’ in Phoenix

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The track is smaller and the speeds are slower than the last two race weekends, but one thing hasn’t changed for the Cup Series with its visit to ISM Raceway in Phoenix – Team Penske is fast.

Entering today’s TicketGuardian 500, the three-team squad at Penske has picked up where it left off last week in Las Vegas when Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski finished 1-2.

It has dominated the speed charts in practice, with at least two Penske drivers in the top three in all three sessions.

On top of that, the team earned its first pole of the year with Ryan Blaney.

“Maybe we haven’t reached our peak,” Logano said Friday. “You can’t be peaking too soon if you didn’t get to your own peak. That’s my opinion. No, it’s so early in the season things are going to be changing week after week of who the dominant car is. What I will say is, yeah, we came out of the gates pretty strong and I’m super-proud of that, but I wouldn’t say we’re peaking too soon. No way. I wouldn’t want to think that way if we were.”

If anyone doesn’t want Penske to have peaked already, it’s Blaney, who finished 22nd in the last two races.

On top of his pole, Blaney was the most consistent of the Penske drivers over the last two days, appearing in the top three in every practice, including leading Friday’s session.

All of this is good news for Blaney, who is ready “to be part of the win club” that’s formed with Keselowski and Logano with their back-to-back wins.

But Blaney lagging behind his teammates goes back to last year.

While Penske has won eight of the last 15 Cup races dating back to the Southern 500 last September, Blaney accounts for just one of those. That came on the Charlotte Roval and was made possible by the last-lap contact between Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson.

Now Blaney will try to give Penske three straight wins for the second time in 16 races. But he’ll have to do it on a track he’s never finished better than eighth at in six starts.

“We just have to clean some stuff up, it’s been unfortunate,” Blaney said Friday of his results at Atlanta and Las Vegas. “While it’s nice to have Penske winning and obviously I’m selfish and I want to win, but it’s good to have our cars really fast and our finishes definitely don’t reflect how we’ve been running. We’ve been really fast this year at all three places so far.”

A shredded tire at Atlanta and a tire going down at Las Vegas resulted in him finishing 22nd in both races.

“We didn’t even really get to race at Vegas,” Blaney said. “Just trying to clean up some stuff and maybe get a little bit of luck on our side. The best thing we can do is control the things we can control and if we keep bring fast cars to the race track hopefully it will work out for you one of these times.”

Should he luck out and win today, he’d join a small Phoenix club.

Only once in the last 16 races has the pole-sitter went on to win.

 

Kyle Busch has idea for NASCAR’s Xfinity, Truck limits

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Kyle Busch would entertain the opportunity to pursue the one NASCAR championship that has eluded him – in the Gander Outdoor Truck Series – when his Cup career is over.

But he’s got an idea that would allow him to run both series concurrently and address the limits on Cup drivers running in lower series.

“Why don’t you let us run as many races as we want to run and then once we miss one, we’re done?” Busch pondered after his victory Saturday in the TruNorth Global 250 truck race at Martinsville Speedway. “So if I go all the way to (the June 15 race at Iowa Speedway) in the trucks and run 10 races and can’t go to Iowa, I’m done.

“You can race for points or whatever and so if that ever came down to that, then maybe there’d be an opportunity years down the road that then you can run multiple series and try to go after a championship that way.”

What was NASCAR’s reaction to the plan?

“That’s probably the first time I’ve said that or thought about it,” Busch said with a laugh. “Now that it’s out there … there’s not a damn fan that’s ever going to let it happen.”

Indeed, Busch’s 201st career victory in a NASCAR national series drew the usual outrage on social media Saturday, both from his Rowdy Nation legion of fans and those who vehemently believe he should be limited beyond the NASCAR cap of five truck races and seven Xfinity races allowed for full-time Cup drivers.

Busch has won in seven of 11 starts in trucks, Xfinity and Cup this season.

“Could have been nine or 10 (victories) probably, that’s what the scary part is if it wasn’t for simple mistakes,” Busch said. “Overall, it’s been fun. It’s a damn shame I’m only allowed five and seven.”

Busch has two 2019 starts left in trucks: at Texas Motor Speedway next week and Charlotte Motor Speedway in May.

He said the chances are solid for going 5 for 5.

“I’d like to think Texas is a good place,” he said. “I think our guys have a good baseline. Charlotte is always one of my best tracks, favorite tracks and enjoy running there with the trucks, especially. There’s a good opportunity.

“It’s kind of an expectation (to win every race). We just go out, work hard and smart, and today we let the race play itself out and come to us.”

Busch won the 2009 Xfinity championship in the last season in which he ran full time in NASCAR’s top two series. He has focused solely on Cup full time since then, and NASCAR has changed rules over the past eight years limiting the ability to run for more than one title.

Despite 148 starts (and 54 victories), he is yet to run a full truck season, but the 2015 Cup champion has said he’d like to become the first driver to win a championship in each of NASCAR’s top three series.

Three Cup cars fail prerace inspection at Martinsville Speedway

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — The cars of William Byron, DJ Kennington and Jeb Burton failed inspection Sunday morning at Martinsville Speedway.

Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet failed mechanical measurements. His sixth-place qualifying time will be disallowed, and he will have to start from the rear.

Kennington failed the OSS. He qualified 34th.

Burton had qualified 33rd.

The three cars will officially start behind those that passed inspection. Cars that qualified behind them will move up one spot.

The No. 24 suffered a right-front tire problem in the opening minutes of first practice Saturday morning, and the team made repairs to put the car back on track.

Today’s Cup race at Martinsville Speedway: Start time, lineup, more

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MARTINSVILLE — High downforce could bring hot tempers to Martinsville Speedway, where today’s STP 500 will mark the first short track of the 2019 Cup schedule.

In the last visit to the 0.526-mile oval, Joey Logano bumped Martin Truex Jr. aside entering the last two corners in one of the most thrilling finishes of the 2018 season.

Here’s the pertinent information for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Robert DeRidder, the senior vice president and general manager of Energizer Holdings Inc. (owners of STP), will give the command to start engines at 2:01 p.m. The green flag is scheduled for 2:07 p.m.

PRERACE: The crew chief and drivers meeting is at noon. Driver introductions will begin at 1:20 p.m. The invocation will be given by track chaplain Mike Hatfield at 1:54 p.m. The 380th Army Band will perform the national anthem at 1:55 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 500 laps (263 miles) around the 0.526-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 130. Stage 2 ends on Lap 260.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race with coverage beginning at 12:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network will broadcast the race. MRN’s coverage begins at 1 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast, which is also available at MRN.com.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 63 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain for the start of the race.

LAST TIME: In a race delayed to Monday by a snowstorm, Clint Bowyer scored his first victory for Stewart-Haas Racing. Kyle Busch finished second. Ryan Blaney placed third. Joey Logano won at Martinsville last fall. Denny Hamlin placed second. Martin Truex Jr. was third. 

TO THE REAR: William Byron (mechanical measurements), DJ Kennington (OSS) and Jeb Burton will start from the rear after failing inspection Sunday morning.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

Cup starting lineup at Martinsville

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Fords flexed their muscle during Saturday’s qualifying, grabbing the first four spots and six of the first 11 for Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Joey Logano will start from the pole, alongside Aric Almirola. Brad Keselowski will start in Row 2, alongside Kevin Harvick.

Row 3 will have Denny Hamlin and William Byron. Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott make up Row 4, while Martin Truex Jr. and Daniel Suarez will start from Row 5.

Click here for the full row-by-row Cup starting lineup.

Note that the starting lineup is provisional until Sunday morning’s pre-race inspection. Any car that fails inspection will lose its starting spot and move to the back of the field.

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