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Greg Biffle in final prep for first NASCAR race since 2016

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It’s all coming back to Greg Biffle.

After two months of slow “ramping up and ramping up,” Biffle’s return to NASCAR competition has arrived.

The 49-year-old retiree will be employed once again this week as he drives Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 51 Toyota Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway. It will be Biffle’s first NASCAR race since the 2016 Cup Series finale in Miami.

“Yesterday I got my uniform on, got in the truck, helmet on, radio plugged in,” Biffle said Tuesday of his race week routine. “I had a debrief meeting a week or so ago with (crew chief) Rudy (Fugle) …. discussed what to expect, how we’re going to do practice and what not. It’s been fun to get a chance to get back into the routine so to speak.”

It won’t be the former Roush Fenway Racing’s driver first time on a NASCAR track since 2016. In March, he got to the chance to shake down Busch’s truck during practice at Texas Motor Speedway.

“I just really got an idea of what the track looked like and how his truck drove,” Biffle said. “I think that’s a huge advantage to help me for this weekend and to kind of have an idea what it drives like.”

And how does it compare to the truck Biffle last drove in 2004 in Miami?

Well, it has been 15 years.

“To be perfectly honest with you I don’t even remember what they drove like in 2004,” Biffle said. “It’s been so long ago. But I will say this: it felt more like what I’m used to driving, which was a Cup car. They’re kind of on bump stops (in the suspension), more coil bound springs, which is the way the Cup car was in ’05, ’06, ’07, ’08 when I had a lot of success at the Cup level. They drive similar to that. So it was kind of no surprise to me.”

When it comes to Texas, the 1.5-mile track is one of Biffle’s favorites and he said it was one of the “deciding factors” when he chose to compete in the race. He won there once in a Truck in 2000 and twice in Cup.

But the track has changed since Biffle’s last race there. It was repaved in 2017 and the banking in Turn 1 and 2 was reduced by four degrees and the width of the racing surface was expanded from 60 to 80 feet.

Also, the track applied a traction agent in those turns to help improve competition (but it will not this weekend). The traction agent threw Biffle off in his first time out on the track.

“Whatever they’re doing kind of looks like the (racing) line, the groove if you will,” Biffle told reporters in March. “When I come down the frontstretch and I’m kind of looking up I see that black line and so I’m like, ‘OK, that’s kind of the groove.’ Then all of a sudden you realize the corner’s over there, you’re about passed it. It took me a lap or two to figure it out and get my bearings.”

A trophy in his first race in three years isn’t the only motivation Biffle has for Friday night. The race is the first of three in a row NASCAR is calling the “Triple Truck Challenge.”

Should Biffle pull off the win, he and his team would pocket a $50,000 bonus from Gander Outdoors.

“I’ll tell you I haven’t worked in three years, so that would be great for the bank account,” Biffle said.

And what about after Friday night? In March Biffle said he “could be talked into more races, maybe.”

But Biffle said Tuesday “I don’t know exactly what I want to do.

“I’m using this opportunity to get back in the seat, work out Kyle’s schedule for him so he has a driver for this event, which he really needed,” Biffle continued. “Certainly all options are open for me. I said earlier I doubt whether I’d do a full-time Xfinity or Truck (season). I think I’m still on that page, although in the right circumstance I would consider a short return, maybe a year or two. I’m not ruling that out I guess.”

 

 

Kyle Larson injured ribs in ‘probably the hardest hit I’ve ever had’

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Kyle Larson says he plans to drive the full distance Sunday at Kansas Speedway despite injuring his ribs in “probably the hardest hit I’ve ever had.”

Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet ran into the No. 88 Chevy of Alex Bowman near the end of the second stage of Monday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway (video above).

Though the Chip Ganassi Racing driver hasn’t had an X-ray, Larson doesn’t think he broke his ribs, but they were hurting enough to require an icing after two Friday practices at Kansas. Larson posted a photo to his Instagram Story of his wrapped midsection with the caption, “Big fan of Super Speedways.”

Because everybody says there really is nothing you can do about ribs anyway,” Larson said when asked why he hadn’t gotten an X-ray. “It’s not broken. It definitely hurts to sneeze and cough, and when I’m in the seat, it’s tender. I’ve never broken a bone, but it’s definitely not broken.

Though he already has secured a spot in the third round of the Cup playoffs through his Oct. 6 victory at Dover International Speedway, Larson said he will run the 400 miles Sunday.

“Yeah, I think so,” he said after qualifying fifth Saturday, pausing to smile. “As long as I don’t hit the wall or anything. It should be fine.”

Larson also crashed in the April 28 race at Talladega, going airborne and rolling several times in a wreck that was reviewed by NASCAR.

Starting lineup for Sunday’s Cup playoff elimination race at Kansas

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Daniel Hemric will own prime real estate when the green flag drops for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup playoff race at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

Hemric, who it was announced Sept. 17 that he would not return to drive the No. 8 for Richard Childress Racing next season, captured his first career Cup pole Saturday.

Cup veteran driver David Ragan, who announced August 14 that he will be retiring from full-time competition after this season, will start alongside Hemric on the front row.

The rest of the first five rows for Sunday’s race will be Team Penske teammates Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski in Row 2, Kyle Larson and Michael McDowell in Row 3, Ryan Newman and Daniel Suarez in Row 4 and Austin Dillon and Bubba Wallace in Row 5.

Kevin Harvick failed pre-qualifying inspection and did not make a qualifying attempt. He will start Sunday’s race last in the 40-car field.

This will be the second elimination race of the 10-race playoffs. The playoff field will be reduced from 12 to eight drivers.

Click here for the starting lineup.

Kevin Harvick to start at the rear after team passes inspection, then fails

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Kevin Harvick will start at the rear of Sunday’s Cup race after his team found an issue with its car and went though inspection after having passed it previously.

Harvick enters the race at Kansas Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC) 36 points ahead of Alex Bowman, who is the first driver outside a transfer spot. Sunday’s race will cut the playoff field from 12 to eight drivers.

Harvick’s No. 4 Ford failed its first attempt in inspection before qualifying Saturday at Kansas Speedway.

The team passed the second time but then found an issue with the car and made an adjustment. By doing so, the team had to go back through inspection. That meant that the second attempt — which the team had passed — then counted as a failure. NASCAR ejected a crew member (the team’s car chief) and docked the team 15 minutes of practice next week at Martinsville.

The team then went through a third time and failed. Teams are not allowed to attempt to qualify after a third failure. Harvick’s team also lost an additional 15 minutes of practice next week at Martinsville.

Here’s how crew chief Rodney Childers explained to NBC Sports what happened:

“We went through tech the first time, the back of the decklid was like 10 (thousandths of an inch) too low, which that is on us. Everybody pushes that as much as they can at a place like this. We raised the decklid and went back through and passed and everything was fine.

“As we were pushing it back to the garage, you could feel something just barely, barely ticking … on the body as you were pushing it. We got back to the garage and looked up under the back and the weight on the driveshaft was just barely at the tunnel, the driveshaft tunnel. So we kind of stood around for 30 minutes trying to decide should we just kind of go for it and hope it doesn’t become a problem or should we just fix it. Looking back on it maybe we should have just went for it, but we voluntarily went back and through tech and fixed it and then failed right rear toe by .03.

“When you’re doing big changes like that … you’ve got to lengthen the track bar out a couple of rounds. When you lengthen the track bar out a couple of lengths, since the day I stated Cup racing, if you did the track bar two rounds, you did the slug an eighth of an inch. That’s what we did. Then we failed right rear toe.

“It’s disappointing. It was a decision we made to try to be safe and not  have a problem in the race or anything like that. The biggest disappointment is just having to start in the back over something we did voluntarily. That’s what is disappointing.

“I think everybody in this garage would vote for each other and have each other’s back so that if you found a problem on your car and you went back through voluntarily that’s on the team and not counted as a failure. I don’t think that’s right.”

Childers said starting at the rear will be a challenge.

“That’s what we didn’t want to do (start at the rear),” he said. “I hate that it turned out that way. Our car has been fast all weekend. We’ve just got to get back up there and get some stage points and do all the right things. I’m sure he can pass 20 of them in the first five laps and hopefully get up there and contend as best we can.”

Harvick didn’t express too much concern about his situation.

It’s like I’ve talked from the very beginning, you deal with the situations as they approach you,” Harvick said. “It doesn’t matter if it this is the first race or an elimination race. You go about the circumstances that you are dealt. This is why I always tell you guys you just never know what the circumstances are going to be and you have to adopt and adjust as they present themselves.”

Daniel Hemric earns first Cup pole at Kansas; Kevin Harvick fails to make attempt

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Daniel Hemric captured the first pole of his Cup career and will lead the field to green in Sunday’s playoff race at Kansas Speedway.

Hemric covered the 1.5-mile oval at a speed of 178.047 mph, the only driver to surpass 178 mph.

It’s pretty special,” Hemric told NBCSN. “I kind of felt when I got out of the car I’d be fifth to eighth. But these guys have done a great job all year. No matter what’s been thrown at us, they’ve risen to the occasion and showed up at the racetrack, ready to work.

“With so much going on around us (Hemric learned a couple weeks ago that he would not be back in the No. 8 car next year), you can get lost in the distraction of things, but to know these guys have continued to have my back through all this stuff has meant the world to me.”

David Ragan, the final driver to make a qualifying effort, will start alongside Hemric on the front row in Sunday’s race with an effort of 177.842 mph.

Team Penske teammates Ryan Blaney (177.754 mph) and Brad Keselowski (177.667 mph) qualified third and fourth, respectively.

Fifth through 10th were Kyle Larson (177.667), Michael McDowell (177.585), Ryan Newman (177.497), Daniel Suarez (177.363), Austin Dillon (177.352) and Bubba Wallace (177.328).

Several playoff drivers struggled in qualifying, including Kyle Busch (qualified 18th), Clint Bowyer (21st), Denny Hamlin (23rd), William Byron (25th), Joey Logano (29th) and Kevin Harvick (40th).

Speaking of Harvick, his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang did not make a qualifying attempt and will start Sunday’s race from the back of the 40-car field.

According to NBCSN, Harvick’s car failed the first round of pre-qualifying inspection, passed on its second try, but crew chief Rodney Childers apparently didn’t like something he saw around the drive shaft and withdrew the car from qualifying so the team could work on it. As a result, the pass became a fail and car chief Robert Smith was ejected from the track for the remainder of the weekend. The team also lost 15 minutes of practice next weekend at Martinsville.

After making repairs, the team went through inspection a third time and failed, meaning the loss of another 15 minutes of practice next week at Martinsville. The team passed on its fourth attempt, but did not take part in qualifying, leaving it to start at the back of the field for Sunday’s race.

Crew chief Rodney Childers told NBC Sports, “It’s disappointing. It was a decision we made to try to be safe and not  have a problem in the race or anything like that. The biggest disappointment is just having to start in the back over something we did voluntarily. That’s what is disappointing. I think everybody in this garage would vote for each other and have each other’s back so that if you found a problem on your car and you went back through voluntarily that’s on the team and not counted as a failure. I don’t think that’s right.”
Contributing: Dustin Long.

Click here for qualifying results.

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