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NASCAR vows to do ‘whatever steps we have to’ to address qualifying

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FORT WORTH, Texas — After more complaints from drivers about group qualifying Friday, a NASCAR official said the sanctioning body would do “whatever steps we have to to clean it up so we don’t have this problem again.”

Confusion, chaos and consternation were the themes of a Cup qualifying session at Texas Motor Speedway that ended with Jimmie Johnson on the pole, Clint Bowyer upset and others raising questions about NASCAR’s officiating.

Jay Fabian, Cup managing series director, said series officials would look at all options after making some tweaks earlier this week to the format.

“We’re obviously disappointed with what happened,” Fabian said. “We’re disappointed with what we saw. Nobody deserves to see that. Our fans don’t deserve it. We’re going to take whatever steps we have to to clean it up so we don’t have this problem again. Pretty much everything is on the table as far as what we’ll do moving forward.”

Fabian explained what he was disappointed with.

“It’s disappointed that they sit out there (on pit road) as long as they do,” he said. “It’s disappointing that they give reasons why they don’t go and then someone goes and they choose to not follow them. A lot of what they say doesn’t add up with their actions on pit road. That’s the disappointing part. When you see someone roll, you would assume that somebody would follow them and they chose not to.”

With the series headed to Bristol and Richmond the next two weeks and then a weekend off for Easter, NASCAR has time to decide what to do. At short tracks, drivers are not waiting to go out in groups because drafting is not as important as it is on bigger tracks. Earlier Friday, Landon Cassill said he went more than three tenths of a second quicker in practice when he was in a draft as opposed to running on the track alone.

Bowyer was furious after he failed to advance from the first round and will start 25th.

“I guess this is a make-up-the-rules-as-we-go event in qualifying,” Bowyer said. “It’s sad. Those people up (in the stands) there paid a lot of money to bring their families here and watch a qualifying sessions and people try to go out and do their best. You’re just sitting around (on pit road) and waiting because you only know your best is good enough if the guy in front of you does a good job. That’s not qualifying.”

What can be done?

“Learn from your mistakes,” Bowyer said. “That’s how you get better. Learn from your mistakes. We already had this failure and here we are doing it again. Come on.”

Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Aric Almirola were among those who said they were confused by how NASCAR officiated the cars on pit road. NASCAR stated earlier this week that cars stopped on pit road had to leave a middle lane for others to pass by. But some drivers complained the middle got clogged when many tried to go at once and questioned NASCAR not penalizing anyone.

“I learned some things today,” Almirola said. “I learned that we can clog the middle and that’s OK, and they’re not going to enforce that and they won’t penalize anybody for that, which I thought was going to be pretty strictly enforced, especially this weekend with the new rules rolled out. I’m confused.”

Said Harvick: “You just can’t qualify these cars this way. I love group qualifying, but I just laughed all the way out to the race track.”

Reigning series champion Joey Logano said he’s fine with the format.

“Who said there’s a problem? That’s my opinion,” Logano said. “I think it’s entertaining. There’s a lot to talk about for you guys.  You guys all have microphones out and there’s a lot to talk about, so I think it’s OK. There’s a lot of action and it all happens very, very quick. Maybe the biggest problem is how you show it on TV. That might be really hard to do because there is so much action happening at one time. I don’t see how a camera can get it all, but outside of that I think there’s a lot going on.”

Daniel Suarez will start fourth. He advanced from the second round by running by himself. While the rest of the cars were stopped in two lanes on pit road, Suarez drove between them to cheers of the crowd and advanced without the help of a draft.

“I knew my car was fast enough to make it to the last round,” Suarez said. “I was not surprised (anyone followed him on to the track). They were shutting (their engines off) when I was going. That was the plan.”

Chase Elliot said “there were just more rules to think about. As we create rules, we tend to create complication. I get the end goal of making everybody go, which it did, everybody made a lap. So I guess making the rules was good. Hopefully it was entertaining.”

eNASCAR Pro Invitational Qualifier to be streamed online

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The qualifying race for Sunday’s eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series event at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway will be streamed on enascar.com/live, NASCAR announced.

The qualifier features Xfinity, Truck and regional series drivers looking to advance to the eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series race that will be at 1 p.m. ET Sunday on Fox, FS1 and the Fox Sports App. At this time, four drivers from the qualifier will advance. That number could change depending on any late additions or drops to the race featuring Cup drivers.

MORE: Roush, Greg Biffle reunite for eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series race

MORE: North Wilkesboro to make its comeback on iRacing 

MORE: eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series reminds Clint Bowyer of being a rookie

The qualifier is scheduled to take place at 11:02 a.m. ET and have 34 drivers battling for those four transfer spots.

The qualifier will be 30 laps at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway. The race will have no cautions.

Practice begins at 10:30 a.m. ET. Qualifying begins at 10:55 a.m., lasting five minutes, followed by the race.

Last week, six drivers advanced from the qualifier to the main event. They were: Anthony Alfredo, Justin Allgaier, Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric, Ty Majeski and Ryan Truex.

Drivers scheduled to compete in Sunday’s qualifier at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway are (with car number):

02 – Spencer Boyd

7 – Justin Allgaier

08 – Jeb Burton

15 – Brennan Poole

16 – Justin Haley

22 – Austin Cindric

23 – Sam Mayer

26 – Tyler Ankrum

27 – Ruben Garcia

29  – Kaz Grala

29a – Trevor Bayne

33 – Anthony Alfredo

35 – Todd Gilliland

36 – Jesse Iwuji

40 – Ryan Truex

45 – Ty Majeski

46 – Chandler Smith

50 – Jeffrey Earnhardt

52 – Stewart Friesen

53 – Joey Gase

54 – Kyle Weatherman

63 – Scott Stenzel

68 – Brandon Brown

74 – Sheldon Creed

78 – Ryan Ellis

80 – Joe Graf Jr.

81 – Christian Eckes

90 – Alex Labbe

93 – Myatt Snider

98 – Chase Briscoe

99 – Harrison Burton

TBD – Derek Kraus

TBD – Drew Dollar

TBD – JJ Yeley

March 28 in NASCAR history: Texas Terry Labonte gets a home win

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Terry Labonte’s last two Cup Series wins were anything but forgettable.

The last one, in 2003, came in the Southern 500. That was the same race he earned his first Cup win in way back in 1980.

But four years earlier, the two-time champion got a home win.

A native of Corpus Christi, Texas, the driver nicknamed “Texas Terry” claimed a victory in the 1999 race at Texas Motor Speedway. It was just the third Cup race held at the facility after it opened in 1997.

Labonte started fourth and would lead 124 of 334 laps around the 1.5-mile track, including the final 12 after he passed Dale Jarrett on the outside going into Turn 1 for the lead.

Jarrett wouldn’t get a chance to fight for the lead again. With four laps to go, Jimmy Spencer crashed on the frontstretch to bring out the caution. Labonte took the checkered and yellow flags together for his 21st Cup win.

“We picked places to go test this year and I said ‘I want to go here cause this is a race I want to win,” Labonte told CBS. “Besides Daytona, coming here to Texas is awesome.”

Making the day even better for the Labonte family was Terry’s younger brother, Bobby, placing third.

Also on this day:

1954: The premier series held two races on different sides of the country. Dick Rathmann won a 125-mile race at Oakland Speedway in California after starting last. In Georgia, Al Keller won his first career race at Savannah’s Oglethorpe Speedway.

1982: Sam Ard claimed his first career Xfinity Series win in a race at Martinsville Speedway. Ard would go on to win 22 Xfinity races and the championships in 1983 and 1984.

1992: Robert Pressley passed Harry Gant on the last lap to win the Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway.

1993: Dale Earnhardt came back from a lap down to win at Darlington Raceway. It was his first win since the Coca-Cola 600 10 months earlier. Alan Kulwicki finished sixth in what would be his last race before his death in a plane crash on April 1.

2004: Kurt Busch won at Bristol for his third consecutive victory on the half-mile track.

Roush, Biffle reunite for eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series race

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After four years, Roush Fenway Racing and Greg Biffle are getting the band back together … digitally.

Roush Fenway Racing announced its former driver will compete in Sunday’s eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series event on a digital Texas Motor Speedway.

Like he did in the Cup Series from 2003-2016, Biffle will pilot a No. 16 Ford in the race (1 p.m. ET on Fox and FS1).

“How exciting is it to get back behind the wheel of the No. 16,” Biffle said in a press release. “I watched the iRace last week on TV and I was really impressed with the overall quality of the broadcast and the racing. It was just a lot of fun and I’m really looking forward to being a part of the show this weekend.

“We are running a really cool Castrol scheme on the car. I think it’s going to show up really well. My plan is to log a ton of practice time leading up to the race, so hopefully we can have a strong showing and you’ll see a lot of the Castrol green and red on the broadcast.”

This will be Biffle’s iRacing event debut.

After parting ways with Roush Fenway Racing after the 2016 season, Biffle returned to NASCAR last year for a one-off Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway with Kyle Busch Motorsports, which he won.

NASCAR teams impacted by North Carolina stay at home order

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North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced a stay at home order for the entire state of North Carolina, beginning at 5 p.m. ET Monday because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The order is for 30 days.

The move impacts all NASCAR teams based in North Carolina.

“These are tough directives, but I need you to take them seriously,” Gov. Cooper said in afternoon news briefing.

MORE: N.C. Governor enlists Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson for COVID-19 PSA

MORE: North Carolina stay at home order

The order bans gatherings of more than 10 people and directs everyone to stay at least six feet away from each other. The order requires all residents to stay at home except for essential activities. The order states: “non-essential business and operations must cease.”

The order also states that among the definitions for an essential business and operation is “Businesses that meet Social Distancing Requirements. Businesses, not-for-profit organizations or educational institutions that conduct operations while maintaining Social Distancing Requirements:

a. Between and among its employees; and

b. Between and among employees and customers except at the point of sale or purchase.”

Mecklenburg County and Cabarrus County, which are home to such race teams as Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing, Roush Fenway Racing and JTG Daugherty Racing, were already under a stay at home order through April 16.

By the end of the week, more than 20 states will have issued stay at home orders, including California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey and Ohio.