Playoff bubble growing more intense

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BROOKLYN, Mich. — Even with all the reassurances from his team that he had enough fuel, Daniel Suarez worried.

Others ahead of him had to pit in the final laps of Sunday’s race at Michigan International Speedway. Suarez was headed for a top-five finish … or a finish outside the top 20 if he ran out of fuel. With every point critical in his bid to make the playoffs, the final laps left Suarez on edge.

“Even when they are telling me we think you are good to go, that always makes me a little nervous,” Suarez said.

He had enough fuel and finished fifth.

Ryan Newman, also fighting for one of the final playoff spots, ran out. But he ran out of fuel off Turn 4 on the final lap and finished 12th.

Newman’s run moved him to 15th in the standings with three races left in the regular season. He has a 10-point lead on Clint Bowyer, who holds the 16th and final playoff spot.

Suarez is next, six points behind Bowyer. Jimmie Johnson, who hit the wall early, fell to 12 points behind Bowyer.

“I think it was a solid run,” Suarez said of his run. “We didn’t have a clean day. Stage 2 we’re not sure what happened there, a bad set of tires or something, but the car went from being in the top 10 to 30th. We put on a different set of tires and a little adjustment and the car was back. It wasn’t like we had a perfect day, but we were able to overcome.”

That’s what the weekend was about for Suarez. His incident in Saturday’s final practice session damaged the right rear of the car. That incident was triggered by a punctured tire.

“We were extremely lucky the way it hit,” crew chief Billy Scott said of Suarez’s crash on Saturday. “It wasn’t major damage. It was a quarter panel and bumper cover, and it actually bent the spoiler but did not damage the deck lid, and that’s a big difference.”

The team made repairs instead of going to a backup car and having to start at the rear.

“Everybody did a great job of getting it back real close,” Scott said. “I feel like the car was just as good as it was (Saturday).”

Newman continues to grind out finishes to keep him in the hunt for a playoff spot.

“We’re taking advantage of their misfortune,” crew chief Scott Graves said of the incidents that Bowyer and Johnson had. “It wasn’t the day we were hoping for or thought we would have after practice (Saturday). Because of that, it was hard to catch any track position. We had a plan, obviously, being aggressive like everyone else, trying to get some of that track position.”

Graves noted that with the problems to Bowyer and Johnson, he changed to a more conservative tactic. It worked.

Newman was 15th when the caution came out. He pitted with the field. Newman came back down pit road on the next lap to top off on fuel.

That proved to be the key call, allowing him to finish the race as he ran out instead of running out a lap earlier and losing several positions.

Others were not as fortunate. Bowyer was hit from behind by Paul Menard and sent into the wall. Bowyer finished 37th in the 38-car field.

“As soon as it happened, I was just along for the ride,” Bowyer said. “I don’t know. We have to get something figured out with these race tracks. We are really fast by ourselves, practice and qualifying really well, in the top five almost every single time but then we start the race and don’t make the grip we need to compete.

“We definitely need to find some things out. You can talk about the bubble and worrying about points, but I am way more worried about getting established and running up front at these types of race tracks. If you make the playoffs and can’t compete in it, then what is the use? We have some things to work out. We have some time. We have some good racetracks for us including Bristol coming up. We have plenty of racing, but we have to get some things figured out.”

Jesse Iwuji apologizes for wreck in Charlotte Truck race

Jesse Iwuji
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Tuesday night’s Truck Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway was eventful for Jesse Iwuji, but for all the wrong reasons.

The 32-year-old driver and U.S. Navy officer was put under a microscope due to a crash he triggered on Lap 81.

Iwuji, who was making his first Truck Series start of the year, was racing toward Turn 1 when his No. 33 truck moved up the track and made contact with the No. 52 of Stewart Friesen. The contact turned Iwuji into the No. 30 of Brennan Poole. The wreck also included the No. 26 of Tyler Ankrum. Poole and Iwuji were eliminated while Friesen finished 30th.

On Wednesday, Iwuji posted a lengthy explanation for the crash and an apology to Poole and Friesen, saying in a tweet, “1st time in over 2 yrs where our mistake collected someone else in a race, can’t let it happen again.”

Iwuji cited a “bad vantage point” for his spotter looking up the frontstretch and bad timing leading to the contact and crash.

While Iwuji said he reached out to Friesen and Poole privately on Instagram, Poole responded on Twitter, saying “Things happen. I know what It feels like to be doing everything you can with limited resources. I admire your perseverance and dedication to this sport. Never quit chasing what you love.”

Read Iwuji’s full post below.

 

Thursday’s Cup race at Charlotte: Start time, forecast and more

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Let’s try this again.

So is the motto for NASCAR after rain postponed Wednesday night’s Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway to Thursday night. This is the fourth Cup race in a 14-day period.

Kevin Harvick won the first race in this stretch May 17 at Darlington Raceway. Denny Hamlin then won the May 20 Darlington race. Brad Keselowski won last weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte.

Thursday’s starting lineup inverts the top 20 finishers from Sunday’s race, meaning Keselowski will start 20th in the 310-mile race. William Byron, who finished 20th on Sunday, starts on the pole.

Here is the info for Thursday night’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Atrium Health Sports Medicine Teammates will give the command to start engines at 7:13 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 7:25 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage access health screening begins at 2:50 p.m. (teams are assigned specific times). Drivers report to their cars at 6:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7:05 p.m. by CH (LTC) Brian Koyn, 82nd Airborne Division Chaplain. The National Anthem will be performed at 7:06 p.m. by Season 3 winner of “The Voice” and Grammy-nominated singer Cassadee Pope.

PACE LAPS: At the direction of race control, drivers will have the opportunity to run one pace lap down pit road before the green flag for a pit road speed check. If a driver stops in the pit box for any reason, pull over or slow down, they will start at the rear of the field.

DISTANCE: The race is 208 laps (312 miles) around the 1.5-mile oval.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 20

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 55. Stage 2 ends on Lap 115.

To the Rear Cars: Josh Bilicki (driver change from Sunday’s 600) and Reed Sorenson (driver change from Sunday’s 600)

TV/RADIO: FS1 will televise the race. Performance Racing Network will broadcast the race and also can be heard at goprn.com and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for showers with a high of 77 degrees and a 52% chance of rain at the race’s start.

LAST RACE: Brad Keselowski led the final five laps to win Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, which was extended to overtime. Jimmie Johnson finished second, but his car failed inspection after the race and was disqualified. Chase Elliott was scored second. Ryan Blaney was scored third.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for Cup starting lineup

CATCHING UP TO SPEED WITH NBC SPORTS COVERAGE:

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NASCAR suspends members of Denny Hamlin’s team for four races 

Bump and Run: Key connection between recent Cup winners 

Kyle Busch: Wearing a mask is way to “take care of our neighbor”

NBC Sports Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick remains unanimous No. 1

Take a bow: Chase Elliott celebrates Truck win Kyle Busch style 

Bristol Xfinity race rescheduled to 7 p.m. ET Monday

Xfinity Series
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The postponement of Wednesday’s Cup Series race at Charlotte to Thursday due to rain has impacted the scheduling of this weekend’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

NASCAR announced that due to travel and setup challenges, the Bristol Xfinity race has been moved from Saturday afternoon to 7 p.m. ET Monday on FS1.

“In a year that’s been filled with unprecedented times, I think a lot of us have learned that patience and flexibility are keys to success in 2020, but we know that the best is yet to come when night racing at Bristol arrives early this year,” said Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway. “With the Alsco Uniforms 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway being rained out tonight, we’re looking forward to tuning into tomorrow to watch their Cup race. Then we’ll welcome the Food City presents SUPERMARKET HEROES 500 on Sunday at 3:30 followed by the Cheddar’s 300 presented by Alsco Xfinity Series race on Monday night June 1 at 7 p.m. ET under the lights. Tune in to both races on FS1, PRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio.”

The race will be the Xfinity Series’ third since it returned to competition last week at Darlington.

More: Procedures for next five NASCAR race tracks

Charlotte Cup race postponed to Thursday

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Rain forced NASCAR to postpone Wednesday’s Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway to 7 p.m. ET Thursday.

The race will air on FS1, Performance Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

The wunderground.com forecast for the start time Thursday calls for scattered thunderstorms with a high of 77 degrees and a 45% chance of rain.

NASCAR also announced that Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway has been moved to 7 p.m. ET Monday and will be on FS1, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

William Byron is set to start on the pole for the race after NASCAR inverted the top 20 finishers from Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600.

It rained throughout the day Wednesday, including heavy at times in the evening at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

NASCAR announced on Wednesday that all cars had passed pre-race inspection without any penalties.

This was a look at track conditions 15 minutes before the announcement was made that the race had been postponed: