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Could Kansas give Alex Bowman best shot at first Cup win?

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In a sense, Alex Bowman has nowhere else to go but up.

After two straight NASCAR Cup career-best second-place finishes at Talladega and this past Monday’s rain-delayed race at Dover, Bowman is knocking on the door of potentially earning his first Cup win this Saturday night in the Digital Ally 400 at Kansas Speedway.

We are coming off two great weekends,” Bowman said in a media release. “Talladega is a speedway, so there is a lot of luck involved in that one. Dover, however, is just physically exhausting. We had a shot at the win and that is all that you can ask for.

I have to give credit to (crew chief Greg Ives) and the No. 88 guys. They put a great car together last weekend and they should definitely be proud of Monday’s execution. We will continue moving forward with this momentum and try to finish one spot better on Saturday night.”

Even though he has yet to reach victory lane in a Cup car, Kansas has been a welcoming track for Bowman. His best finish there was seventh in fall 2016, driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who missed the last 18 races of that season due to a concussion. He also finished ninth in last fall’s playoff race there.

This is one of my favorite tracks to be honest,” the Tucson, Arizona native said of this weekend’s venue. “I feel like when you run at night versus during the day, the track doesn’t change much and feels really the same. The top always comes in, which makes the racing fun.

This is a race that I definitely look forward to coming to.”

This week’s Kansas Speedway venue has been historically good for Hendrick Motorsports as a whole, as well. It’s the winningest organization at Kansas with seven Cup wins: three each by NASCAR Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, as well as Chase Elliott‘s win there in last fall’s playoff race.

The 26-year-old Bowman’s back-to-back runner-up finishes in the No. 88 Chevrolet have helped him climb from 21st in the Cup standings after Richmond to 13th after Dover.

Before his two most recent finishes, Bowman’s best outings this year were a pair of 11th-place finishes in the season-opening Daytona 500 and two races later at Las Vegas, also a 1.5-mile track like Kansas Speedway.

Kansas Speedway is cool because it’s newer pavement, but it’s widened out a lot,” Bowman said. “You can run from the bottom to the top. That is one of the only newer paved places that you can do that right now. I enjoy going there as much as it widens out.”

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Oh ‘G’: Daniel Suarez looks to go from very good to great starting with Coca-Cola 600

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Daniel Suarez has a ‘G’ at the end of his Twitter handle – @Daniel_SuarezG – which stands for his other surname of Garza.

But ‘G’ also stands for what Suarez aspires for the remainder of this season – to go from very good to great – as he hopes to take things to the next level beginning with Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600.

This season has been very good so far but I’m looking to turn it into a great season,” Suarez said in a media release. “We are moving in the right direction and I’m looking forward to doing even better.

We’ve had strong cars over the last month and a half and hopefully I can do my part as the driver and make it a great race this weekend. The one thing I’ve been dreaming about from this race is the amazing vintage Coca-Cola vending machine you get if you win. I really want to bring that thing to my house.”

In addition to his pursuit of the vintage Coca-Cola vending machine, Suarez will carry a special Coca-Cola paint scheme on his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang this weekend, as he makes his third appearance in the 600.

He finished 11th in his first run in NASCAR’s longest race of the season in 2017, and was 15th in last year’s race. He also was sixth in the fall 2017 playoff race.

From an overall success standpoint so far in 2019, Suarez has one top-five and four top-10s in the first 12 races, with a best showing of third at Texas. He also has seven top-15 finishes in his last eight starts, and comes into this weekend ranked 13th in the Cup standings.

Suarez is still looking to earn his first Cup win. Sunday will mark his 85th career Cup start. He knows what is at stake in the 600, an event that is scheduled for 400 laps around the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway.

As a human being you try and perform at 100% the entire time, but when you’re running a marathon you’re not going to be as strong in the last 30 minutes, that’s normal,” Suarez said. “Fatigue is setting in, your muscles are tired, you’re running out of fluid, and you’re hungry.

Racing is the same way, especially in the Coca-Cola 600. We start running out of energy and you’re mind gets tired after four hours of racing. But I look to this race as a marathon and you have to be on top of your game for the last part of this race. So I always try to keep that in my mind when I’m in the car. This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.

It’s a combination of things. Your neck is tired, your lower back is tired, legs are tired and you’re just fatigued. You definitely feel it the next morning after a 600-mile race. You feel like you worked out a lot the day before, and you did inside the car.

One way Suarez will get through Sunday’s four-wheel marathon is to maintain a rather unique mindset.

Two-and-a-half of these 600-mile races and I could be home in Monterrey, Mexico,” he said. “It’s crazy to think of it that way.”

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NASCAR announces merger agreement with International Speedway Corp.

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International Speedway Corp. announced Wednesday morning that it has entered into an agreement and plan of merger with NASCAR. The deal is valued at approximately $2 billion.

Shareholders will receive $45 for each share.

This deal is expected to close this calendar year.

International Speedway Corp. owns 12 tracks that host NASCAR races, including Daytona International Speedway, Darlington Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway.

NASCAR issued a statement Wednesday: “We are pleased with the progress that the negotiation and execution of the merger agreement between NASCAR and ISC represents.  While important regulatory and shareholder approval processes remain, we look forward to the successful final resolution of this matter and continuing our work to grow this sport and deliver great racing experiences for our fans everywhere. With a strong vision for the future, the France family’s commitment to NASCAR and the larger motorsports industry has never been greater.”

NASCAR Chairman Jim France told competitors in the drivers meeting before the Daytona 500 that “this sport was built by families and we’re just a part of it. It’s so important that we remember that this is still a family business. Our family is committed to it.”

The agreement announced Wednesday allows NASCAR to control those tracks, along with Iowa Speedway, which it already owns. That could make it easier for NASCAR to move dates to take a date from one track to another. NASCAR President Steve Phelps has stated that the schedule is among the areas the sanctioning body is looking at making changes. NASCAR’s five-year sanctioning agreement with tracks ends after next season.

With NASCAR private, it won’t have to publicly report attendance revenue and other financials as ISC had to do as a publicly traded company.

ISC also announced that a class-action lawsuit that had been filed against it after NASCAR and ISC announced last November plans to merge will be dropped.

Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns eight tracks that host NASCAR races, including Charlotte Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway, announced April 24 that it had received a non-binding proposal from Sonic Financial Corp. to acquire all outstanding shares of common stock other than those already held by Sonic. Bruton Smith and his family own and control Sonic Financial Corp. Smith is the founder and majority stakeholder in Speedway Motorsports Inc.

The only tracks not owned by ISC or SMI that host Cup races are Pocono Raceway, Dover International Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

NBC Sports Power Rankings heading into Coca-Cola 600

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After finishing third in the All-Star Race, Kyle Busch is back atop this week’s NBC Sports Power Rankings – although it was not a unanimous decision.

The real story this week is Kyle Larson. Although it was a non-points event, Larson’s win in the All-Star Race propelled him from not even in last week’s rankings to No. 3 this week. Larson is one of three drivers who went from unranked last week to into this week’s top 10. Also making a big jump from last week was Kevin Harvick (from 7th to 2nd).

Several drivers took big drops from last week, including Chase Elliott (1st to 5th), Alex Bowman (2nd to 6th), Clint Bowyer (4th to tied for 10th) and Brad Keselowski (5th to out of the top 10).

Here’s how this week’s Power Rankings look heading into the Coca-Cola 600:

1. Kyle Busch (38 points): Finished third in All-Star Race but climbs the rankings for his rant on the radio late in the race. If you can’t win .… But he did win the Truck race and finished the year winning all five of his starts. Last week: 3rd.

2. Kevin Harvick (32 points): Once again, falls short of victory lane. Pit crew mistakes again. Will they finally get things fixed in time for the race that typically has the most pit stops of the season in it? Last week: 7th.

3. Kyle Larson (30 points): Will the $1 million man build upon his riches to earn some wins that will actually count towards the playoffs? Last week: unranked.

4. Joey Logano (24 points): Strong run at the end to secure top-five finish in All-Star Race. Could be a big factor in the 600. Last week: 8th.

5. Chase Elliott (22 points): Things didn’t go his way. Hey, he has 600 miles this weekend to make things happen. Last week: 1st.

6. Alex Bowman (17 points): With three straight runner-ups and eighth in the All-Star Race, a win could be right around the corner – perhaps as early as Sunday. Last week: 2nd.

7. Bubba Wallace (14 points): Storybook night – stage win in Open and fifth-place finish in All-Star Race – gave him an emotional boost that may lead to better things to come. Last week: unranked.

8. William Byron (10 points): Strong move to win the first stage in Monster Open and then finishes the night with a ninth-place finish in the All-Star Race. Last week: unranked.

9. Martin Truex Jr. (9 points): Fast car but then later had issues and finished 10th. Last week: 9th.

(tie) 10. Clint Bowyer (7 points): Punched his ticket to a 12th-place finish, then went out and punched Ryan Newman on pit road. Will their feud flare up again on Sunday? Last week: 4th.

(tie) 10. Kurt Busch (7 points): Late crash left him with a disappointing 17th-place finish (out of 19 drivers). Look for a big comeback in the 600. Given his consistency this season, he’s overdue for a win. Last week: 6th.

Others receiving votes: Brad Keselowski (4 points), Aric Almirola (3 points), Austin Dillon (2 points), Ross Chastain (1 point).

NASCAR America: Dale Jr. Download with Mike Helton, 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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On today’s Dale Jr. Download, which runs from 5 to 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN, Dale Earnhardt Jr. welcomes NASCAR vice chairman Mike Helton.

Earnhardt has known Helton his whole life, and while the two consider each other good friends, Junior told one story where that friendship was tested a bit. 

Here’s a brief segment of what Junior had to say about Helton:

You can be an incredible friend, but the funny thing is when you need to chew somebody’s ass, you can get that done, too. There was one time you had to get after me pretty hard at Bristol Motor Speedway. … We had a car explode a brake rotor on the race track and threw brake parts all over the place.

There was about 15 laps to go and we were running under caution. Typically, NASCAR red flags the race and I was wanting them to do that, but they didn’t. I don’t see the brake stuff, everything’s great, I’m raising hell. This was in the Bud days. Tony (Eury) Sr. was on the radio and I think he was encouraging me a little bit. Our spotter came over and said they want you and Tony Sr. to come to the truck after the race. I stopped talking immediately.

That’s when I learned that Mike Helton and the guys in the booth listen to the drivers and I was thinking, ‘Oh, man, they heard me.’ … We go up in the hauler and me and Tony Sr. still feel like we’re in the right and that we’re going to tell ‘em this and tell ‘em that, and that we’re going in there thinking we’re going to tell Helton and he’s going to say ‘you’re right, we should have red-flagged the race.’

As soon as Helton’s head comes into the door jamb, Tony Sr. and I both started pleading our case. And Mike Helton said, ‘Both of y’all hush. Y’all aren’t going to talk, I’m going to talk.’ You were so mad, so angry, and when I realized how mad you were, I was so disappointed in myself for disappointing and angering him. … I realized now what I had done.’”

Tune in to hear the rest of the story on the Dale Jr. Download (the above portion starts around 51:00).

And then stick around for the following show, IndyCar Live, from Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 6-6:30 pm ET with Kevin Lee.

If you can’t catch either of today’s shows on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.