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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.”

 

 

Cup starting lineup at New Hampshire has Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch on front row

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Rivals Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch will share the front row for Sunday’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (4 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Keselowski won his 15th career pole – and first since August 2017 – on Friday. He will have Busch start next to him.

MORE: Cup starting lineup

The rivals have had numerous run-ins throughout the their career.

Kurt Busch, who won last weekend at Kentucky, qualified third and is followed by Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney.

Three drivers will start at the rear: Denny Hamlin (backup), Alex Bowman (backup) and Ryan Newman (backup).

Brad Keselowski wins Cup pole at New Hampshire

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Brad Keselowski scored his first Cup pole since 2017, taking the top spot Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Keselowski topped the field with a lap of 136.384 mph. This is Keselowski’s 15th career Cup pole and first since Michigan in August 2017, a span of 68 races.

Keselowski’s run denied Toyota its first pole of the season. Keselowski will be joined on the front row by Kyle Busch (136.311 mph).

MORE: Cup qualifying results

Kurt Busch, who won last weekend at Kentucky, will start third after a lap of 136.238 mph. Erik Jones qualified fourth with a lap of 136.189 mph.

Jones’ performance is part of a promising week for him. He stated Friday that he is “close” to signing an extension with Joe Gibbs Racing. Jones’ contract expires after this season.

Ryan Blaney completed the top five with a lap of 136.116 mph. Martin Truex Jr. qualified sixth at 136.082 mph, and Matt DiBenedetto qualified a career-best seventh at 135.990 mph. DiBenedetto’s previous best Cup start was ninth in this year’s Daytona 500.

Alex Bowman had a driveshaft failure on his qualifying run and did not complete a lap. He will start at the rear of the field.

“Just a big boom going down the front straightaway and smoke and oil everywhere,” Bowman told NBCSN.

Bowman will go to a backup car.

Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman also will start at the rear of the field because they both went to backup cars after separate incidents late in Friday’s only Cup practice session.

Andy Seuss (qualified 35th) and Austin Theriault (36th) both will be making their Cup debut Sunday.

Daniel Hemric qualified 19th. HIs car failed inspection twice before qualifying and a crew member was ejected.

 

Erik Jones ‘close’ to re-signing after meeting with Joe Gibbs this week

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LOUDON, N.H. – After meeting with team owner Joe Gibbs this week, Erik Jones believes he finally is “close” to signing an extension with the team after a few months of negotiations.

“We’ve had some good meetings, positive meetings, so we’re moving in the right direction,” Jones said during Friday afternoon’s qualifying session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “I’d love to get it done here soon. We’ve had good meetings between my guys and JGR. I’ve had good meetings with Coach talking about it and moving forward. I know I keep saying it, but I feel like we’re pretty close to getting it done.”

The uncertainty for the 2020 season seemingly has been no distraction in 2019 for Jones, who believes he is close to ending a yearlong winless streak. He has notched six top 10s in the past nine races to move into the 16th and final provisional spot for the playoffs with seven races remaining in the regular season.

The Byron, Michigan, native said he told Gibbs “I want to get (the extension) done. We both want to get it done and move forward and stop worrying about it and stop focusing on it, but we’re close. Hopefully here soon.”

An extension for Jones would mean JGR has a full lineup of four drivers signed for 2020 and shift the focus to what is next for Xfinity driver Christopher Bell, who is under contract to JGR next season.

“I think you know as much as I do,” Bell said Friday morning when asked about what series he will race next year. “Actually, you probably know a little bit more than I do. Ultimately, it’s not up to me. I can’t make the decisions, so I’m just along for the ride.”

Bell indicated his desire to move to Cup last season, and a Leavine Family Racing Toyota could be an option if JGR wants to farm him out for 2020 in NASCAR’s premier series.

“I learned early on in my career that a race car driver is only as good as the equipment,” Bell said. “I definitely want to make sure that I’m in equipment that can win.”

Jeffrey Earnhardt releases his remaining races for 2019

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Jeffrey Earnhardt announced his schedule for the rest of the season Friday.

He is scheduled to run six Xfinity races and one Cup race the rest of this season.

His Xfinity races will be Mid-Ohio (Aug. 10), Bristol (Aug. 16), Road America (Aug. 24), Darlington (Aug. 31), ISM Raceway (Nov. 9) and Miami (Nov. 16). He’ll drive the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Xfinity car at Mid-Ohio, Road America, ISM Raceway and Miami. He’ll drive the No. 81 Xtreme Concepts Racing car at Bristol and Darlington.

He’ll also drive the No. 81 Xtreme Concepts Racing Cup car at Talladega on Oct. 13.