NASCAR moves Cup championship race to ISM Raceway

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The 2020 Cup season will finish at ISM Raceway, marking the first time since 2001 that NASCAR’s premier series has ended its year at a track other than Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The finale will be held Nov. 8. It will mark the earliest end of the Cup season has ended since 1998 when that season ended Nov. 8. The last time the season ended earlier was 1973 when the final race was Oct. 21.

The move further showcases the $178 million renovated facility near Phoenix, Arizona, but also could impact how the championship race is run. Homestead-Miami Speedway was known for multiple lanes at the 1.5-mile track. ISM Raceway’s 1-mile track is tighter and could lead to more contact.

Changing tracks for the championship race also could play a key role in who wins the Cup title.

Kyle Busch has a 2.9 average finish at ISM Raceway since 2016 — best among active drivers. Kevin Harvick is next with a 4.3 average finish. Chase Elliott follows with a 10.1 average finish. Kurt Busch, who has suggested this could be his final season, has an average finish of 10.6 there. Aric Almirola and Martin Truex Jr. are next. Each has an average finish of 10.9.

Harvick (2014), Kyle Busch (2015) and Truex (2017) won titles at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Moving the season finale could challenge some drivers. Reigning series champ Joey Logano has an 18.3 average finish since 2016 at ISM Raceway. That includes his win there in November 2016 but is offset by two finishes of 31st or worse.

Also, Kyle Larson, might not be as dominant figure at ISM Raceway as he was at Homestead (6.0 average finish since 2016). Larson has an average finish of 12.0 since 2016 at ISM Raceway. He has three top-three finishes but also a 40th-place result.

The move could dampen any hopes Jimmie Johnson has of winning a record eighth title should be advance to the championship race. While he has four wins at ISM Raceway, his last win there was in 2009.

NASCAR’s SEASON-ENDING RACES SINCE 1972 (MODERN ERA)

1972 — Texas World Speedway

1973 — North Carolina Speedway (Rockingham)

1974-80 — Ontario Motor Speedway

1981-86 — Riverside International Raceway

1987-2000 — Atlanta Motor Speedway

2001 — New Hampshire Motor Speedway (makeup race)

2002-19 — Homestead-Miami Speedway

2020 — ISM Raceway

 

Daniel Hemric fastest in final practice; Kevin Harvick second

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Daniel Hemric turned the fastest lap Friday in the final Cup practice at Kansas Speedway, turning a 177.830 mph lap in his No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.

Kevin Harvick was second followed by Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski (who paced the first practice) and Ryan Blaney.

Hemric has yet to announce a ride for 2020 after RCR announced last month that the rookie would be replaced by Tyler Reddick next season.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Suarez and Aric Almirola rounded out the top 10.

Here are the rankings speeds of the other playoff drivers: Denny Hamlin 12th; Alex Bowman 15th; Joey Logano 16th; Clint Bowyer 19th; Chase Elliott 20th; and William Byron 22nd.

Click here to see where things stand in the playoffs standings entering Sunday’s second-round cutoff race at Kansas.

Click here for speeds from the final practice at Kansas.

Click here for the speeds during the first Cup practice of the weekend at Kansas.

Ryan Preece praises team for its work after hauler fire

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Ryan Preece praised his team for converting teammate Chris Buescher’s backup car into Preece’s primary car Friday after the hauler carrying Preece’s cars and equipment caught fire this week en route to Kansas Speedway.

“I know some of the guys haven’t had much sleep, very proud of them,” Preece said.

The team’s hauler pulled over near New Columbia, Illinois, on Thursday after a fire in the rear axle area that spread to the hauler. A team spokesperson told NBC Sports that crew chief Eddie Pardue and a couple of team members flew there to take what could be salvaged before driving to Kansas City.

The team spokesperson said that the lockers and uniforms in the hauler were heavily damaged. Both cars had damage with the backup car suffering smoke damage.

NASCAR allowed JTG Daugherty Racing to enter the garage at 8 a.m. ET Friday — five hours before the garage was scheduled to open — and allowed members from both JTG Daugherty teams to work on the car. Preece said he was there with the team when it arrived and worked on the interior as the crew converted the car.

“We’re in it as a team,” Preece said. “I wasn’t going to show up later in the afternoon. I wanted them to know that I was right there with them. I wanted to help in every way I could.”

Preece said his car was loose in the first practice session Friday at Kansas Speedway. He was 32nd on the speed chart in that session, making it on track about 10 minutes after practice began.

Brad Keselowski fastest in first practice at Kansas; Kyle Busch makes big save

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Brad Keselowski turned the fastest lap with a minute remaining in Friday afternoon’s first Cup practice at Kansas Speedway.

The 176.499-mph lap by the No. 2 Ford of Team Penske nipped a 176.389 mph lap by the No. 10 Ford of Aric Almirola.

Daniel Suarez was third, followed by Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney. Kurt Busch, Paul Menard, Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick and Daniel Hemric rounded out the top 10.

Here’s how other playoff drivers fared during the practice:

Kyle Larson 11th; Joey Logano 13th; Clint Bowyer 15th; William Byron 20th; Alex Bowman 21st; Kyle Busch (who had an impressive save; video below) 22nd; Chase Elliott 23rd.

Click here to see where things stand in the playoffs standings entering Sunday’s second-round cutoff race at Kansas.

Click here for the speeds during the first Cup practice of the weekend at Kansas.

Gray Gaulding out Friday after suspected allergic reaction

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A Stewart-Haas Racing plane made an unscheduled stop in St. Louis on Friday after Gray Gaulding had a suspected allergic reaction.

SS Green Light Racing confirmed Gaulding had an issue en route to Kansas City. A Stewart-Haas Racing spokesperson confirmed that its plane made the unscheduled stop, and that emergency personnel came on board after the plane landed. Gaulding remained in St. Louis while the plane continued to Kansas City.

SS Green Light Racing stated that after arriving at the track, Gaulding went to the infield care center and was not cleared to drive Friday. Gaulding will be re-evaluated Saturday. J.J. Yeley drove the car for Gaulding in practice Friday.