Watkins Glen winners and losers

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WINNERS

Chase Elliott He won both stages and the race, leading 80 of 90 laps. He led the final 28 laps with Martin Truex Jr. pressuring him most of that time. Elliott had the fastest car all weekend and took advantage of it to score his second victory of the season.

Drama — Where to begin? There was Kyle Busch vs. William Byron and then Busch vs. Bubba Wallace, who was blunt on what he thought of his former Truck Series owner’s actions on the track. You had Jimmie Johnson upset at Ryan Blaney and getting personal afterward, saying: “I couldn’t hear what (Blaney) was saying, his lips were quivering so bad.” In the Xfinity Series, Justin Allgaier dumped Ross Chastain after Chastain had wrecked him. There are a lot of angry drivers out there.

Matt DiBenedettoHis sixth-place finish was his fourth top-10 in the last seven races for Leavine Family Racing. DiBenedetto is unsure where he’ll be racing next season and admits that “I’m just fighting for my life, my career.”

Parity — Chase Elliott became the ninth different winner in the last nine races. The other winners in the stretch have been Kyle Busch (Pocono I), Joey Logano (Michigan), Martin Truex Jr. (Sonoma), Alex Bowman (Chicagoland), Justin Haley (Daytona), Kurt Busch (Kentucky), Kevin Harvick (New Hampshire), Denny Hamlin (Pocono II) and Elliott.

Austin Cindric and Brian Wilson — Wilson made the gusty call to pit Cindric from the lead with 10 laps to go and then Cindric charged through the field to challenge and pass AJ Allmendinger to score his first series win. Asked about possibly making his move too soon, Cindric said: “If you have that opportunity right in front of you to pass that guy for the win, you take it every single time.”

LOSERS

Chad Knaus — All but commanding William Byron on the radio to retaliate against Kyle Busch  – “If I see that 18 come back around here without you knocking the (expletive) out of him, we’re going to have a problem” – led to Byron’s downfall. Byron’s car slammed into the back of Busch’s car and suffered nose damage. Instead of having a car to contend for the top 10 — the Hendrick cars were fast all weekend — Byron finished 21st.

Kyle Busch — Had the best car by far in Saturday’s Xfinity race until a mechanical issue ended his day. Then in the Cup race he got into it with Millennials William Byron and Bubba Wallace. The result is that instead of contending for a win, Busch’s battered car finished 11th and was never a factor. Asked to explain what happened, Busch said only “you saw what happened” before the golf cart he was on left.

Austin DillonHis 31st-place finish marked the fourth time in the last five races he’s placed 30th or worse. He has finished 30th or worse in more than a quarter of the races this season (six of 22).

Long: Even through pain, a smile emerges from Kaulig Racing’s Chris Rice

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Chris Rice punctuates tweets with #Happy and whatever day of the week it is. Co-workers hold him accountable if he doesn’t smile because he’s always encouraging people to smile. His goal is to make everyone feel good.

Even when he hurts.

The last few months have tested Rice, president of Kaulig Racing, in ways he couldn’t have imagined.

Nick Harrison, crew chief for Justin Haley’s team, died July 21. The team’s hauler crashed Wednesday on the way to Kansas Speedway for Saturday’s Xfinity race (3 p.m. ET on NBC). A few hours later, Rice found out his family’s dog, Kiki, was missing.

“The racing is minimal to what I’ve been through this year,” he said.

Still, Rice had reason to smile this week. Both the driver and backup driver in the team’s hauler escaped serious injuries. And Kiki was found a day later about 4 miles away.

Rice says faith has helped him through such challenging times. His voice softens when he talks about how he found out Harrison had suddenly died. Rice got a call from Harrison’s phone at 8:30 a.m. Sunday, a day after the New Hampshire Xfinity race.

‘When I picked up the phone and it was not Nick, it changed my life,” Rice said.

On the phone was one of Harrison’s friends. He told Rice that Harrison had been found dead.

Rice helped Kaulig Racing grieve for Harrison while continuing with the season and the demands a racing schedule presents. His message often was that each day will get better.

Then come days like Wednesday.

The team’s hauler driver had a medical issue and the truck ran through a guardrail, went down an embankment and crashed into a wooded area in Western North Carolina.

Rice went to the crash site. Seeing the overturned hauler and debris strewn, stunned Rice. The windshield was knocked out. Wheels turned backward. The hauler smashed.

“The shock of seeing how bad it was got to me more than anything else,” he said. “The joy is that (the drivers) lived through this.

“We can replace all that other stuff. The one thing we cannot replace is life.”

Later that day, Kiki, a 12-year-old lobsta obsta that Rice and his family rescued 11 years ago, went missing.

“When I was looking for my dog, we walked and we walked and we cried and we cried,” Rice said.

Any pet is special but few are a life saver. That’s Kiki.

Rice’s wife, Tammy, is allergic to shellfish. She had an allergic reaction one night about a year ago while asleep.

“(Kiki) woke my wife up,” Rice said. “Just kept beating on her, woke her up. If not, should have never woken up.”

Tammy posted on Facebook that they had lost the dog this week. The next day, they got a call that Kiki had been found.

Even then, Rice had his doubts. There had been some foxes and coyotes in their neighborhood at times.

When they arrived at the shelter, the dog was Kiki.

It was another reason for Rice to smile.

“I don’t know what day is coming next,” Rice said. “I take what we have today and try to make the best of it. When I wake up tomorrow, I’m glad I woke up and I am going to help the next person.”

 

Daniel Hemric fastest in final practice; Kevin Harvick second

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Daniel Hemric turned the fastest lap Friday in the final Cup practice at Kansas Speedway, turning a 177.830 mph lap in his No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.

Kevin Harvick was second followed by Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski (who paced the first practice) and Ryan Blaney.

Hemric has yet to announce a ride for 2020 after RCR announced last month that the rookie would be replaced by Tyler Reddick next season.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Suarez and Aric Almirola rounded out the top 10.

Here are the rankings speeds of the other playoff drivers: Denny Hamlin 12th; Alex Bowman 15th; Joey Logano 16th; Clint Bowyer 19th; Chase Elliott 20th; and William Byron 22nd.

Click here to see where things stand in the playoffs standings entering Sunday’s second-round cutoff race at Kansas.

Click here for speeds from the final practice at Kansas.

Click here for the speeds during the first Cup practice of the weekend at Kansas.

Ryan Preece praises team for its work after hauler fire

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Ryan Preece praised his team for converting teammate Chris Buescher’s backup car into Preece’s primary car Friday after the hauler carrying Preece’s cars and equipment caught fire this week en route to Kansas Speedway.

“I know some of the guys haven’t had much sleep, very proud of them,” Preece said.

The team’s hauler pulled over near New Columbia, Illinois, on Thursday after a fire in the rear axle area that spread to the hauler. A team spokesperson told NBC Sports that crew chief Eddie Pardue and a couple of team members flew there to take what could be salvaged before driving to Kansas City.

The team spokesperson said that the lockers and uniforms in the hauler were heavily damaged. Both cars had damage with the backup car suffering smoke damage.

NASCAR allowed JTG Daugherty Racing to enter the garage at 8 a.m. ET Friday — five hours before the garage was scheduled to open — and allowed members from both JTG Daugherty teams to work on the car. Preece said he was there with the team when it arrived and worked on the interior as the crew converted the car.

“We’re in it as a team,” Preece said. “I wasn’t going to show up later in the afternoon. I wanted them to know that I was right there with them. I wanted to help in every way I could.”

Preece said his car was loose in the first practice session Friday at Kansas Speedway. He was 32nd on the speed chart in that session, making it on track about 10 minutes after practice began.

Brad Keselowski fastest in first practice at Kansas; Kyle Busch makes big save

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Brad Keselowski turned the fastest lap with a minute remaining in Friday afternoon’s first Cup practice at Kansas Speedway.

The 176.499-mph lap by the No. 2 Ford of Team Penske nipped a 176.389 mph lap by the No. 10 Ford of Aric Almirola.

Daniel Suarez was third, followed by Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney. Kurt Busch, Paul Menard, Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick and Daniel Hemric rounded out the top 10.

Here’s how other playoff drivers fared during the practice:

Kyle Larson 11th; Joey Logano 13th; Clint Bowyer 15th; William Byron 20th; Alex Bowman 21st; Kyle Busch (who had an impressive save; video below) 22nd; Chase Elliott 23rd.

Click here to see where things stand in the playoffs standings entering Sunday’s second-round cutoff race at Kansas.

Click here for the speeds during the first Cup practice of the weekend at Kansas.