NASCAR keeps group qualifying format but makes tweaks

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NASCAR sent a memo to teams in all three national series today that states that group qualifying will remain but penalties will be increased to those who do not make a lap before time expires in a round.

The changes debut this weekend with the Cup, Xfinity and Gander Outdoors Truck Series all at Texas Motor Speedway.

NASCAR stated that competitors who do not start a timed lap before the clock expires due to “excessive waiting” will have their qualifying times from earlier sessions disallowed and start at the rear. Previously, if a car failed to complete a lap before time expired, it started at the back of the group it was in. So, if it happened in the second round, the car would start no worse than 24th. If it happened in the final round, the car would start no worse than 12th.

If NASCAR determines that a competitor blocks or impedes another vehicle from taking off properly or blocks on the track, that competitor will have its posted qualifying times disallowed from earlier sessions and start at the rear.

NASCAR stated that improper staging, stopping or impeding on pit road or the track, and pit road speed “will all be strictly enforced.”

“Qualifying is an important element of the race weekend, and NASCAR has worked closely with the teams to implement a procedure that is both fair from a competition perspective and entertaining for our fans,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition, in a statement. “Starting this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, we will implement a procedural change that will be in effect for all three national series. We expect the updated procedure to result in a better outcome for drivers, fans and our track and broadcast partners.”

NASCAR vowed to make changes after all 12 Cup cars in the final round failed to complete a lap before time expired earlier this month at Auto Club Speedway.

Drivers wait as long as possible on pit road because no one wants to be among the first cars out, leading the pack. Those further back get more of an aerodynamic advantage. At Auto Club, teams waited too long before leaving pit road.

At Las Vegas, the fast times of Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman were disallowed in the final round because they did not cross the start/finish line before time expired. Had they done so, they would have started on the front row instead of 11th and 12th (the last cars in the final round of 12).

Then nobody got a time at Auto Club in the final round.

“Drivers and NASCAR have spoken,” Jimmie Johnson said earlier this month at Auto Club Speedway. “It’s not going to be perfect everywhere. We’ve known this coming into the season. … We’ve known that this situation could exist, either nobody takes the green or there’s a huge wreck. As soon as we heard multi-car qualifying with this package, (drivers told NASCAR), ‘You know what it’s going to mean?’ ”

When the Truck series had group qualifying, it had a similar situation. Ryan Blaney won the pole at Michigan in 2014 when his truck was the only one in the final round to cross the start/finish line before time expired, making his lap count.

Before NASCAR announced what it would do, drivers had various ideas this past weekend at Martinsville Speedway.

Brad Keselowski said: “Pull off (tapered spacers) and let them go run. At least for qualifying. Empty the grandstands, make (fans) go in the infield for all the tracks, and we’d put on a hell of a show. But nobody asked me, so. That’s what I’d do. You wouldn’t see any of this drafting nonsense, and you’d see cars going 215, 220 mph for one lap. But I think it’d be awesome.”

Martin Truex Jr. said: “Take the spoiler off. Take the Lexan off the spoiler. So then we can’t draft. And put it back on for practice. That’ll keep teams from having to rebuild the car after qualifying Friday for Saturday. Race trim. You do your thing. Qualifying trim, just take the Lexan off, and I promise you we won’t want to draft.”

Kyle Busch said: “I don’t know. I just follow the rules. Whatever the rules are. … We’re talking about it rather than there just being single-car qualifying and nobody is saying a damn word about it. Pick and choose your battles wisely folks.”

 

Xfinity results, points after Round of 8 begins at Kansas

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Brandon Jones may have been eliminated from advancement in the Xfinity Series playoffs after the cutoff race at Dover two weeks ago, but on Saturday he lived up to his promise that he’d still win a race in the remainder of the playoffs as the Round of 8 kicked off.

It was Jones’ first win in 134 career Xfinity Series starts. It also was his 14th top-10 finish of 2019.

Tyler Reddick finished second, followed by Chase Briscoe, Michael Annett and Justin Allgaier.

Click here for the race results.

POINTS:

Even though he finished 12th after being involved in a late race wreck with Briscoe and Garrett Smithley, Christopher Bell still maintains his lead at the top of the heap of the Xfinity Series point standings.

Bell holds an 11-point lead over Cole Custer and is 12 points ahead of Tyler Reddick.

Below the cutline are Chase Briscoe (two points behind fourth-ranked Justin Allgaier), Michael Annett (12 points behind Allgaier), Noah Gragson (-17 points) and Austin Cindric (-30 points).

We’ll have the full updated Xfinity standings shortly. Please check back.

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Cole Custer, Tyler Reddick have physical confrontation after Kansas race

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Xfinity Series championship contenders Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick got involved in a heated confrontation that quickly turned physical after Saturday’s race at Kansas Speedway.

Custer, who was angry about Reddick making contact with him, approached his rival after they parked in the pits. Custer put a hand on the shoulder of Reddick, who responded by grabbed Custer with both hands (watch the video above).

The drivers both fell to the ground as they swarmed by members of both teams. Neither driver seemed to be hurt.

“I was just frustrated that he can’t keep his car on the bottom and then runs us up into the wall,” Custer told NBC Sports. “If he wants to wreck cars and put them in the wall, that’s fine, but when it affects me, I’m not going to be very happy with him.

“I don’t know. I just want over to talk to him and say that and put my hand on him, and he just went beserk. I thought we had a good car and a shot to win.”

As he approached Reddick, Custer addressed him with “You can be a dumb (expletive).”

“I understand Cole’s frustration 100 percent,” Reddick told NBC Sports. “We’re trying to lock ourselves into Homestead, and he came up to talk after the race. He put a hand on me, I put a hand on him back, and that’s just how it’s going to be if we’re going to have a conversation that way.

“I’m out of breath. Had a fight there with some people, and it was a little bit of fun. I think a lot of Cole and his driving ability.”

Reddick finished runner-up Saturday to Brandon Jones, who won but already had been eliminated from the playoffs and wasn’t eligible to advance to the championship round. Custer finished 10th.

With two races remaining in the Xfinity playoffs at Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway, Reddick and Custer both are comfortably in position to reach the title race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“It was just heat of the moment,” Reddick said.  We’re pissed off. I’m sure we’ll talk about it here soon, maybe today, tomorrow.

“I hate that it happened to him, but we’ll try and move forward. Both of us have a lot left to lose in this deal, and if we take each other out, neither one of us get to Homestead, and I feel we both deserve to be there.”

Custer also was involved in a notable altercation after a truck race three years ago at Candian Tire Motorsport Park, where he tackled John Hunter Nemechek in anger after they collided on the last lap while racing for the lead.

Brandon Jones rallies late to earn first career Xfinity win at Kansas

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After starting from the front row next to pole sitter Christopher Bell, Brandon Jones fell backwards only to roar back late to win his first career Xfinity Series race Saturday at Kansas Speedway.

With the win, the 22-year-old Jones, who was knocked out of the playoffs after the Dover elimination race, still had an impact on how the Round of 8 began.

Jones was in the right place at the right time, taking advantage of late-race misfortune to Chase Briscoe and Bell, who were involved in a wreck with Garrett Smithley with 16 laps to go in the 200-lap event.

Equally as important was the great restart Jones got with four laps to go following another late caution that resulted from a crash that involved Joey Gase and Noah Gragson.

“This is incredible,” Jones told NBCSN. “I knew this would happen, we were going to come here and have an amazing run at the end of the day. … I’m not going to lie, my foot was literally shaking on the accelerator on the last lap, I’m not even sure I was wide open when I was doing it.

“There was a lot of nerve flow and emotion going through my mind but I saw it coming and I got pretty pumped.”

Tyler Reddick finished second, followed by Briscoe, Michael Annett and Justin Allgaier.

While Bell led 70 laps and Briscoe 33, their significant efforts were quickly derailed with 16 laps to go.

Briscoe was in the lead, with Bell right behind, when Briscoe tried to pass Garrett Smithley, who was five laps down at the time. But instead of yielding the high line on the track to Briscoe and Bell, Smithley washed up the track and Briscoe could not avoid contact, nor could Bell avoid contract with Briscoe.

Briscoe finished third, while Bell finished 12th.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Christopher Bell (18th stage win of season)

STAGE 2 WINNER: Cole Custer (eighth stage win of season)

WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: Briscoe overcame the late contact with Smithley and Bell to finish third. Also having a strong outing was Michael Annett, who potentially might have had a chance at a win if the race had gone a few more laps.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Making just his sixth start of the season, Ryan Truex had his car blow up on him after just four laps. “It sucks, that was my last race in this car (this season) and probably the best car we’ve had since Phoenix at the start of the year,” Truex told NBC. “We had a top five car for sure. That really sucks that we don’t even have a chance to show what we’ve got. … To not even have a chance is really hard to swallow.” … Harrison Burton, who on Thursday was announced that he would race full-time for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2020, made contact with Austin Cindric on Lap 70. “To me, it just felt like I flat out got wrecked,” Burton said of Cindric to NBC Sports. “It’s unfortunate and frustrating. … I guess he didn’t want to race, he just wanted to wreck.” Burton finished 34th, while Cindric was 25th.

NOTABLE: Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick were involved in a pushing and shoving match for about 20 seconds after the race, but were separated.

WHAT’S NEXT: The Xfinity Series has next weekend off. It returns to action for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway on Nov. 2 (8:30 p.m. ET start, on NBCSN).

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Kyle Larson injured ribs in ‘probably the hardest hit I’ve ever had’

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Kyle Larson says he plans to drive the full distance Sunday at Kansas Speedway despite injuring his ribs in “probably the hardest hit I’ve ever had.”

Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet ran into the No. 88 Chevy of Alex Bowman near the end of the second stage of Monday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway (video above).

Though the Chip Ganassi Racing driver hasn’t had an X-ray, Larson doesn’t think he broke his ribs, but they were hurting enough to require an icing after two Friday practices at Kansas. Larson posted a photo to his Instagram Story of his wrapped midsection with the caption, “Big fan of Super Speedways.”

Because everybody says there really is nothing you can do about ribs anyway,” Larson said when asked why he hadn’t gotten an X-ray. “It’s not broken. It definitely hurts to sneeze and cough, and when I’m in the seat, it’s tender. I’ve never broken a bone, but it’s definitely not broken.

Though he already has secured a spot in the third round of the Cup playoffs through his Oct. 6 victory at Dover International Speedway, Larson said he will run the 400 miles Sunday.

“Yeah, I think so,” he said after qualifying fifth Saturday, pausing to smile. “As long as I don’t hit the wall or anything. It should be fine.”

Larson also crashed in the April 28 race at Talladega, going airborne and rolling several times in a wreck that was reviewed by NASCAR.