For Johnson, Truex Jr., Dover key is speed and aggressiveness

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While the top speed in Saturday’s final Cup practice at Dover International Speedway was more than 4 mph slower than Chase Elliott’s track record set in Friday’s qualifying, that’s likely not going to mean much in Sunday’s race.

Any way you slice it, the race is going to be fast-fast-fast. If on-track incidents are kept to a minimum, it could be one of the fastest races at the 1-mile concrete oval.

Nobody is going to slow down,” Martin Truex Jr. said after Saturday’s final Cup practice. “Everyone is going to go as fast as they can. This series is tough. In order to be up front, you have to push.

It is going to be a tough race for sure. Hopefully, our car stays good and we can get it even a little better and we can go and have some fun.”

Truex has a special affinity for Dover. Not only is it the “home track” for the driver from nearby Mayetta, New Jersey, it’s also the site of his first career Cup win in 2007. He also won there in the 2017 fall playoff race.

It’s a great place and such a unique race track,” Truex said. “One of my favorites to come to for sure. It’s called the Monster for a reason, it’s mean and it’s fast and it’s big. It’s kind of crazy.

Jimmie Johnson is also looking forward to a return to Dover, which is his most successful track, with a record 11 wins there. But Dover is also the site of his last Cup win, which was in June 2017, leaving him in the midst of a 69-race winless streak, the longest of his Cup career.

It’s amazing how fast we are going after 15-20 laps still,” Johnson said after Saturday’s Happy Hour. “There is not much drop off. There is a lot of drop off when you get to a pack of cars in front of you.

I think that tall spoiler gives us a lot of confidence by ourselves, but in traffic I think we are going to have less available air and some issues there.”

Since his last win at Dover, Johnson has finished third, ninth and 36th there. While he’s downplaying any urgency of breaking his winless streak, it’s also clear that Johnson knows the best place to reach victory lane for the 84th time in his Cup career is at Dover.

Maybe I am a fool, but just every time I come here, I feel like this,” Johnson said of winning at Dover. “This is just one of those places that an athlete finds a bond with a facility or a venue that they connect with.

I don’t care if I have only three wheels on that thing, I still feel like I would have a shot to win. I just love this place.”

With the new aero package and the lightning-fast speeds seen, Johnson plans on being aggressive right from the green flag.

I think it’s the same that we have seen for a long, long time, just at a faster pace,” he said. “Pit stops, track position, good restarts – all those core values are still as important as ever.

And maybe even more important now with the big hole the cars punch in the air. All of that stuff is more of a premium, I think. You can’t really be patient.”

Truex agrees that aggressiveness will be key Sunday, but he’s also concerned about the balance of his car, which has long been a thorn in his side at Dover. But this time, the balance issue will be extrapolated because of the higher speeds.

It has always been a tough place to get the balance right,” Truex said. “That is why you see guys here that just blister the field and that is why sometimes even good cars just miss it.

It is very, very unforgiving to setups to cars that don’t handle as well to guys that maybe don’t like it, things like that. It is a very sensitive race track. You have to attack, but you have to attack with finesse. It is a lot of fun.”

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NASCAR shares prayers for Stewart-Haas Racing engineer

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FORT WORTH, Texas — The NASCAR garage is sharing its prayers for Stewart-Haas Racing engineer DJ VanderLey, who was injured Thursday night in a crash during a micro sprint Outlaw race at the Texas Motor Speedway dirt track.

He suffered several fractured vertebrae and has a spinal cord injury, according to a post from his wife Jordan on her Facebook page. 

Two GoFundMe accounts have been set up to help the family with medical costs. 

VanderLey was Chase Briscoe’s engineer for four years, and they are good friends.

“I hate that it happened to anybody,” Briscoe said Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway, “but for it to hit close to home has definitely been tough for me.”

Briscoe said he planned to visit VanderLey in the hospital on Saturday and that “I just hope that everybody continues to pray. That’s really all we can do at this point, trying to hope he gets better.”

Christopher Bell calls VanderLey among his best friends. VanderLey was Bell’s engineer at Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2016. 

Bell spent the night at the hospital and also picked up Jordan VanderLey at the airport when she arrived. 

Stewart-Haas Racing had a decal for VanderLey on Riley Herbst‘s No. 98 Xfinity car for Saturday’s race.

Starting lineup for Texas Cup race: Brad Keselowski wins pole

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Brad Keselowski will be at the front of the field to start Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 pm ET, USA Network).

Keselowski, who is not a part of the 12-driver playoff group, won the pole Saturday afternoon with a speed of 188.990, edging Joey Logano‘s 188.805.

MORE: Texas Cup starting lineup

The race is the first of three in the second round of the Cup playoffs. Round of 12 races will follow at Talladega Superspeedway Oct. 2 and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval Oct. 9.

MORE: Waffle House a headquarters for race winners

Also starting in the top five Sunday will be William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Michael McDowell. It is McDowell’s best oval start of the season and his ninth top-10 start of the year.

Brad Keselowski wins Cup pole at Texas Motor Speedway

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Brad Keselowski, hoping to extend Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing’s turnaround, won the pole Saturday for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway.

It was the second piece of good news for RFK Racing in two weeks. Chris Buescher,  Keselowski’s teammate, won last week’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the first victory for the team under the RFK banner.

Keselowski, who ran 188.990 mph, is not a part of the 12-driver playoff group. Nine of the first 14 starting positions were filled by playoff drivers.

MORE: Texas Cup qualifying results

Following in the top five Saturday were Joey Logano, William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Michael McDowell. Playoff point leader Chase Elliott will start sixth.

“Texas is a really tough track,” Keselowski told NBC Sports. “As hot as it’s going to be, that will be even tougher.”

Race-time temperatures are expected to be in the mid-90s Sunday.

The race (3:30 p.m. ET), the first event in the second round of the playoffs, will be televised by the USA Network.

Sunday Texas Cup race: Start time, TV info, weather

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The first race in the second round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs is scheduled Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

Twelve drivers are racing for eight spots in the next round. Chase Elliott leads the standings by 15 over Joey Logano entering Sunday’s 500-mile event, the only Cup points race at TMS this year. Ryan Blaney, who is in the playoff group, won the All-Star Race at the track in May.

Chase Briscoe, Alex Bowman, Daniel Suarez and Austin Cindric are below the cutline entering the 3:30 p.m. ET (USA Network) race.

MORE: Big race celebration? Try Waffle House

The playoffs will continue at Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 2) and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Oct. 9).

Details for Sunday’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway:

START: The command to start engines will be given by “Top Gun: Maverick” actors Jay Ellis and Lewis Pullman at 3:38 p.m. (ET) … Green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:49 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 12:30 p.m. … Driver introductions are at 3 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Bret Shisler of Texas Alliance Raceway Ministries at 3:30 p.m. … The 1st Cavalry Division Band will perform the anthem at 3:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 334 laps (501 miles) on the 1.5-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 105. Stage 2 ends at Lap 210.

MORE: Ryan Blaney’s team to appeal penalty

TV/RADIO: USA Network will broadcast the race at 3:30 p.m. Countdown to Green begins at 2:30 p.m. on USA Network. The post-race show will air on USA Network. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. and also will stream at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

STREAMING: NBCsports.com

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Partly cloudy skies. High of 96 with a 5% chance of rain.

LAST TIME: Kyle Larson won by .459 of a second over William Byron last October. Larson led 256 of the race’s 334 laps.

CATCH UP ON NBC SPORTS COVERAGE

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Brandon Jones wins Texas Xfinity pole

Dr. Diandra on the art and science of the pass

Red Farmer: A racer and a winner at almost 90 years old

NBC Sports Power Rankings entering Texas race