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Fast lap at Talladega concerns Ryan Newman

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Ryan Newman posted the fastest lap in Friday’s final Cup practice session, but he didn’t leave Talladega Superspeedway’s garage encouraged.

Instead, he walked out concerned.

Newman ran a lap of 204.157 mph in the final practice session. He recorded that speed after he led a single-file group of cars as it caught another pack, gaining the draft.

“Pretty much any car could have done that,” Newman told NBC Sports of his lap.

He then continued: “204 is way too fast. We’ve established that over the last 10 years. That’s when cars get airborne. They raised the back of the cars up an inch and it just packs more air underneath them.

“I hope we keep them on the ground and get lucky because I don’t think they’ve done a good job of keeping them on the ground or making an effort to keep them on the ground. We’ve got Daytona behind us without getting any cars airborne, at least to my knowledge or recollection. I hope we can keep the string going.”

Asked if anything could be changed for this weekend, Newman, who has gone airborne multiple times in his career, said:

“No. Nothing now. They gave us a straight piece of metal (for a wicker atop the rear spoiler) and told us to bend it up and that’s our piece to work with for the weekend. … That’s poor preparation on their part.”

Through the years, NASCAR has added roof flaps, hood flaps and deck fins to reduce the chance of a car getting airborne. Those were implemented after NASCAR researched vehicle liftoff, car design and did wind tunnel testing. NASCAR stated to NBC Sports that its research has shown that most incidents of the Gen-6 car leaving the racing surface are related to contact from another vehicle.

NASCAR also stated that the no-ride height rule last year was a direct result of aero liftoff testing and significantly decreased the possibility of aero liftoff occurring.

NASCAR mandated two changes for Friday’s final practice — including the addition of the wicker on the rear spoiler — after Kurt Busch posted the fastest lap of 202.671 mph in the opening session.

While six cars topped 204 mph in the final practice session, all of them were in the same group that caught the draft of another pack of cars.

Series officials consulted with several drivers after the final practice session and no further changes were announced Friday night.

Competitors said while they felt the overall lap speeds were slower in the final practice session, the closing rate on cars seemed faster.

“That’s surprising,” Jimmie Johnson, who went 201.706 mph in the final practice session, told NBC Sports. “Here you add a 9-inch spoiler and you add that little wicker, it’s pretty small on the scale of the rest of it. There’s usually a bubble (of air) when you get a couple of feet away from a (rear) bumper and that bubble is gone. You go right to their bumper.”

Ryan Blaney, whose top lap in the final practice session was 195.492 mph, also told NBC Sports that he felt the runs were “a little bit bigger. You could draft up to cars faster. That was noticeable. Other than that, going a little bit slower, which is what they wanted.

“It will be an interesting race. We haven’t gotten runs like this ever since I’ve been running the Cup stuff. I don’t think you’ll see any of that leader blocking both lanes just because that air bubble is pretty much gone. You get massive runs.”

Asked if he was concerned about the closing speed, Brad Keselowski said: “Just concerned about winning.”

Rookie Matt Tifft, who was fourth in the final practice session with a lap of 204.092 mph, also noticed the change in closing speed. But something else also stood out to him in practice.

“You could be the trail car and fall three car lengths (behind) and if they were two-wide you could catch right back up,” Tifft told NBC Sports. “Normally, you would be in jeopardy, but I felt like you could catch back up a little bit easier because of the drag off the other cars.”

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.