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Long: How rules package, hard tire played key role in Denny Hamlin’s win

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Any other year, Denny Hamlin likely doesn’t win. But a new rules package, combined with key strategy calls and a tire that didn’t fall off much, allowed Hamlin to rally from two pit road penalties to win Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway.

No driver had come back from two pit road penalties in the same race to win since Brad Keselowski did it in October 2014 at Talladega. But that was restrictor-plate racing, and Keselowski’s penalties came during the same caution period a third of the way through that race.

Hamlin faced a much different situation at Texas.

The first half of Hamlin’s race was a mess. He missed pit road on Lap 63 and was speeding on pit road when he made it there on Lap 64.

“I was just beating my head against the steering wheel thinking, ‘Man, we’re going to finish bad with a really fast car,’“ Hamlin said.

An uncontrolled tire on Lap 173 of the 334-lap race sent Hamlin to the back.

“It was a very rough day,” crew chief Chris Gabehart said.

Just as Gabehart’s pit calls helped Hamlin win the Daytona 500, Gabehart again guided his driver to victory Sunday.

Gabehart could do so because of the rules and the tire.

The new rules package is intended to keep the field closer together. That creates more opportunities to pass. Previously, the fields at Texas Motor Speedway would spread out, making it harder to gain ground a few laps after a restart.

Denny Hamlin pits for fuel in the final laps at Texas Motor Speedway. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Gabehart said that this was not a track position race because how cars could move through the field. Just as important was that the tires did not have a significant drop off in time during the course of a run. Had these been tires that wore, Gabehart would not have been able to call for no-tire stops. He would have had to change four tires each stop and Hamlin would not have been able to leapfrog some cars through strategy.

A no-tire stop put Hamlin in the lead on Lap 156, and he won the second stage, which ended at Lap 170. Hamlin came down pit road during that caution for four tires. He was penalized for the uncontrolled tire during that stop, dropping him outside the top 15.

Gabehart called for a no-tire stop a second time during caution on Lap 256. Hamlin restarted sixth behind three cars that did not pit and two others that also did not take tires. 

“For our scenario each time, it just made the most sense,” Gabehart said of the no-tire calls.

Hamlin took the lead on Lap 303 from teammate Erik Jones when Jones pitted for two tires and fuel. Hamlin relinquished the lead on Lap 319 for enough fuel to make it to the end. When the field cycled through, Hamlin was back in front because of how little time he had spent on pit road.

“This is a complete different style of racing than what I used to do in the past,” Hamlin said. “I have to adapt. Seems like I’m adapting quickly.”

As is Gabehart.


Rarely do you hear NASCAR officials so candid and raw as Steve O’Donnell was Monday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

The topic was group qualifying and the issues that have pervaded the sport the past month.

Cars parked on pit road during qualifying at Texas. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Asked if he was angered by the controversy, O’Donnell said: “I think it’s ridiculous, candidly. I know the drivers did not like this qualifying before the season. Part of you says, ‘Are (they) doing this on purpose to get rid of it?’ “

O’Donnell’s comments were part of an offensive that series officials have gone on since Auto Club Speedway last month when all 12 cars failed to complete a lap before time expired in the final round.

Driver complaints about the qualifying have been constant since.

NASCAR President Steve Phelps appeared on “The Dale Jr. Download” (5:30 – 6:30 p.m. ET Tuesday on NBCSN) and was vocal about what has happened in qualifying.

“That was unacceptable if I was a race fan and unacceptable if I was at the race track,” Phelps said of this past weekend.

Scott Miller, senior vice president of competition, expressed his displeasure with what happened March 15 at Auto Club Speedway, saying the actions of drivers made “a mockery” of qualifying. Miller also said of the drivers not completing a lap in time: “It surprised me that they weren’t smart enough to go out.”

Last weekend at Texas, Jay Fabian, Cup series director, also raised questions about the drivers’ actions, saying: “Some of it is a little confusing because they say they don’t want to go out first … but (Daniel Suarez) went out by himself and transferred twice by himself. They say you got to follow somebody, but they chose to not follow him. I don’t understand why they didn’t.”

Since Auto Club Speedway, various NASCAR officials have used the term “mockery,” “ridiculous,” and “unacceptable” in discussing qualifying, and O’Donnell even said it makes one wonder if the drivers are doing this on purpose to get rid of the format.

Strong words but the time will come for action. The draft won’t be a factor in qualifying until Kansas next month (Talladega already has single-car qualifying) so NASCAR has some time to address the matter. The question is how strong will NASCAR’s response be?


The driver who might have had the most reason to be upset with NASCAR moving the championship race from Miami to ISM Raceway in 2020 would be Kyle Larson, but he wasn’t.

Miami is one of Larson’s best tracks and had he qualified for the championship race, he likely would have been the favorite regardless of who the other contenders were.

“Even though Homestead has been a track where I can lead a bunch of laps and also challenge for the win, I’ve always felt like it needs to go somewhere else,” Larson said. “I would like to see it go … to a different track every year.


Kyle Busch has one more race left this season in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series. Busch, who has won his first four starts this season, is limited to five races in that series because of his Cup experience.

Busch’s remaining race is next month’s event at Charlotte. It will mark the earliest his Truck season has ended. Part of the reason he races in the Truck series is to help improve his equipment at Kyle Busch Motorsports for his other drivers. With being done so early in the season, how will that impact the organization’s performance the rest of the year?

Kyle Busch has won all four Truck races he’s entered this season. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

“For us, we aren’t a Cup team and so we move a lot slower than the Cup teams do,” Busch said. “You all talked about how when everybody got done with the West Coast swing, the first time people would have updates to their cars would be Texas. I don’t think we would see an update to our stuff for two months. It just takes a bit longer to kind of get all that instilled into our stuff.

“If you look at me running the front side of the season and running as much as I do right now, we’ve been building some notes, and we’ve been building some things that we can work on and get better and do a little bit differently, so when we get to say July, August – that’s when you’ll start seeing some stuff coming out.

“That will be the brunt of the season, kind of closing in for the playoffs and then the playoff push. I’d like to run more or maybe I’d like to run a little bit later, but I just don’t know that the races fall, especially with me – like going to Iowa, I’ve never been to Iowa. Gateway, those places, I don’t need to go to those places, so it doesn’t make any sense for me to go to those places.”


Tyler Ankrum was excited after his sixth-place finish in Friday night’s Truck race. It was just the fourth career start in the series for the 18-year-old. That tied his career-high finish. He also placed sixth at ISM Raceway but Friday’s run was special because it was his first race on a 1.5-mile speedway.

“It’s kind of still surreal,” Ankrum said after the race. “I”m racing against (Matt) Crafton, Kyle Busch and (Johnny) Sauter. It’s crazy. I even passed Sauter on the outside! I don’t think you realize how important that is for me. I had a ton of fun and can’t wait to come back.”

He wasn’t the only driver who had a memorable weekend. Saturday’s Xfinity race saw Jeb Burton finish fifth in his first start of the season for JR Motorsports (Burton is back in the car next month in Charlotte).

As Burton talked about his finish to Performance Racing Network, he got emotional.

Other notable finishes from the weekend: William Byron‘s sixth-place finish matched his career-best result in Cup. Ryan Sieg won his first stage in the Xfinity Series on Saturday. Ronnie Bassett Jr. finished 15th in the Xfinity race, the second-career start for the 23-year-old.

Jesse Iwuji apologizes for wreck in Charlotte Truck race

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Tuesday night’s Truck Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway was eventful for Jesse Iwuji, but for all the wrong reasons.

The 32-year-old driver and U.S. Navy officer was put under a microscope due to a crash he triggered on Lap 81.

Iwuji, who was making his first Truck Series start of the year, was racing toward Turn 1 when his No. 33 truck moved up the track and made contact with the No. 52 of Stewart Friesen. The contact turned Iwuji into the No. 30 of Brennan Poole. The wreck also included the No. 26 of Tyler Ankrum. Poole and Iwuji were eliminated while Friesen finished 30th.

On Wednesday, Iwuji posted a lengthy explanation for the crash and an apology to Poole and Friesen, saying in a tweet, “1st time in over 2 yrs where our mistake collected someone else in a race, can’t let it happen again.”

Iwuji cited a “bad vantage point” for his spotter looking up the frontstretch and bad timing leading to the contact and crash.

While Iwuji said he reached out to Friesen and Poole privately on Instagram, Poole responded on Twitter, saying “Things happen. I know what It feels like to be doing everything you can with limited resources. I admire your perseverance and dedication to this sport. Never quit chasing what you love.”

Read Iwuji’s full post below.

 

Thursday’s Cup race at Charlotte: Start time, forecast and more

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Let’s try this again.

So is the motto for NASCAR after rain postponed Wednesday night’s Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway to Thursday night. This is the fourth Cup race in a 14-day period.

Kevin Harvick won the first race in this stretch May 17 at Darlington Raceway. Denny Hamlin then won the May 20 Darlington race. Brad Keselowski won last weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.

Thursday’s starting lineup inverts the top 20 finishers from Sunday’s race, meaning Keselowski will start 20th in the 310-mile race. William Byron, who finished 20th on Sunday, starts on the pole.

Here is the info for Thursday night’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Atrium Health Sports Medicine Teammates will give the command to start engines at 7:13 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 7:25 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at 2:50 p.m. (teams are assigned specific times). Drivers report to their cars at 6:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7:05 p.m. by CH (LTC) Brian Koyn, 82nd Airborne Division Chaplain. The National Anthem will be performed at 7:06 p.m. by Season 3 winner of “The Voice” and Grammy-nominated singer Cassadee Pope.

PACE LAPS: At the direction of race control, drivers will have the opportunity to run one pace lap down pit road before the green flag for a pit road speed check. If a driver stops in the pit box for any reason, pull over or slow down, they will start at the rear of the field.

DISTANCE: The race is 208 laps (312 miles) around the 1.5-mile oval.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 20

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 55. Stage 2 ends on Lap 115.

To the Rear Cars: Josh Bilicki (driver change from Sunday’s 600) and Reed Sorenson (driver change from Sunday’s 600)

TV/RADIO: FS1 will televise the race. Performance Racing Network will broadcast the race and also can be heard at goprn.com and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for showers with a high of 77 degrees and a 52% chance of rain at the race’s start.

LAST RACE: Brad Keselowski led the final five laps to win Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, which was extended to overtime. Jimmie Johnson finished second, but his car failed inspection after the race and was disqualified. Chase Elliott was scored second. Ryan Blaney was scored third.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for Cup starting lineup

CATCHING UP TO SPEED WITH NBC SPORTS COVERAGE:

Brad Keselowski savors Coke 600 win while contemplating future

NASCAR suspends members of Denny Hamlin’s team for four races 

Bump and Run: Key connection between recent Cup winners 

Kyle Busch: Wearing a mask is way to “take care of our neighbor”

NBC Sports Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick remains unanimous No. 1

Take a bow: Chase Elliott celebrates Truck win Kyle Busch style 

Bristol Xfinity race rescheduled to 7 p.m. ET Monday

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The postponement of Wednesday’s Cup Series race at Charlotte to Thursday due to rain has impacted the scheduling of this weekend’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

NASCAR announced that due to travel and setup challenges, the Bristol Xfinity race has been moved from Saturday afternoon to 7 p.m. ET Monday on FS1.

“In a year that’s been filled with unprecedented times, I think a lot of us have learned that patience and flexibility are keys to success in 2020, but we know that the best is yet to come when night racing at Bristol arrives early this year,” said Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway. “With the Alsco Uniforms 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway being rained out tonight, we’re looking forward to tuning into tomorrow to watch their Cup race. Then we’ll welcome the Food City presents SUPERMARKET HEROES 500 on Sunday at 3:30 followed by the Cheddar’s 300 presented by Alsco Xfinity Series race on Monday night June 1 at 7 p.m. ET under the lights. Tune in to both races on FS1, PRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio.”

The race will be the Xfinity Series’ third since it returned to competition last week at Darlington.

More: Procedures for next five NASCAR race tracks

Charlotte Cup race postponed to Thursday

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Rain forced NASCAR to postpone Wednesday’s Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway to 7 p.m. ET Thursday.

The race will air on FS1, Performance Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

The wunderground.com forecast for the start time Thursday calls for scattered thunderstorms with a high of 77 degrees and a 45% chance of rain.

NASCAR also announced that Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway has been moved to 7 p.m. ET Monday and will be on FS1, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

William Byron is set to start on the pole for the race after NASCAR inverted the top 20 finishers from Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600.

It rained throughout the day Wednesday, including heavy at times in the evening at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

NASCAR announced on Wednesday that all cars had passed pre-race inspection without any penalties.

This was a look at track conditions 15 minutes before the announcement was made that the race had been postponed: