NBC Sports Power Rankings heading to Fontana

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For the second time in three weeks, Kyle Busch is the unanimous pick by NBC Sports’ writers for the No. 1 spot atop the weekly Power Rankings.

Busch is coming off a perfect weekend that saw him take the checkered flag in both the Xfinity and NASCAR Cup races.

And for the third consecutive week, Busch remains atop the standings, either all alone (after Atlanta and Phoenix) or tied for first (after Las Vegas).

Making the biggest jump after Phoenix was Martin Truex Jr., who moves into second in the rankings from a tie for seventh after Las Vegas.

On the flip side, Atlanta winner Brad Keselowski suffered the biggest drop, falling from a tie with Busch for first after Las Vegas to seventh after Phoenix.

Here’s how this week’s Power Rankings look:

1. Kyle Busch (40 points): In a league of his own. With his Phoenix win, he’s the only driver to place in the top six in every Cup race. He’s also won five of the eight races he’s entered in all three national series. Last week: 1st (tie).

2. Martin Truex Jr. (33 points): Has come on strong in the last three races with runner-ups at Atlanta and Phoenix and eighth at Las Vegas. Has only led four laps (all at Atlanta) but he’s going to one of his strengths in Fontana. Last week: 7th (tie)

3. Joey Logano (24 points): Has three consecutive top 10s, including his win at Las Vegas. One of six drivers with three top 10s in four races. He and Denny Hamlin are the only drivers among those six with wins. Last week: 3rd.

4. Kurt Busch (22 points): Placed seventh for his third straight top 10 after earning consecutive top fives. Off to his best start of a season since the impressive 2013 run with Furniture Row Racing. Last week: 5th.

5. Kevin Harvick (21 points): Even with a ninth-place finish at Phoenix, his worst showing since Daytona, he’s still extremely solid; the driver and team are just a few small areas short of winning weekly. Last week: 4th.

6. Denny Hamlin (18 points): Earned his first top five since Daytona. His fifth at Phoenix means he has yet to finish worse than his car number this year. Last week: 6th.

7. Brad Keselowski (16 points): Earned worst finish of year (19th) after a mechanical failure resulted in a wreck early in Phoenix. Last week: 1st (tie).

8. Aric Almirola (15 points): Another strong, steady effort with first top five of the season. He has bettered his finish in every race so far. Last week: 9th.

9. Ryan Blaney (13 points): Strong performance at Phoenix to make up for a disappointing start to the season for the No. 12 team. Finally earned a finish that matched the car he had, finishing third after leading 94 laps and winning Stage 1. Last week: Did not rank.

10. Kyle Larson (10 points): The high way was his way on restarts at Phoenix, leading to a season-best sixth. Last week: 10th.

Others receiving votes: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (8 points. Last week: tied for 7th).

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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