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Matt DiBenedetto fastest in final Cup practice at Bristol

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Matt DiBenedetto claimed the fastest single lap in the Cup Series’ final practice session Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

DiBenedetto posted a top speed of 128.848 mph around the half-mile track.

The top five was completed by Ryan Blaney (128.245 mph), Aric Almirola (128.228), Chase Elliott (128.219) and Alex Bowman (128.168).

Blaney had the best five and 10-lap averages (125.660 mph). Erik Jones and DiBenedetto followed in the 10-lap category.

Joey Logano recorded the most laps in the session with 116.

Click here for the speed chart.

The red flag was displayed with eight minutes left for fluid put on the track by Blaney, whose power steering pump failed.

After cleanup was completed the session was extended by 12 minutes.

Front Row Motorsports’ Matt Tifft was relieved for final practice by Xfinity Series driver Chase Briscoe after Tifft experienced symptom of vertigo during first practice. Tifft will be reevaluated before qualifying.

 

Brian Pattie not returning to Roush Fenway Racing next season

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Brian Pattie, crew chief on Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s No. 17 Ford, will not return to Roush Fenway Racing next year, the team confirmed to NBC Sports.

SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s Claire B. Lang first reported the news.

Pattie has been with Roush Fenway since 2016 when he was crew chief for Greg Biffle. He’s been paired with Stenhouse the last three seasons.

News of Pattie’s departure after this season comes after the news that Chris Buescher will drive the No. 17 next year and with Stenhouse moving to JTG Daugherty Racing.

Pattie has six wins in 416 Cup races as a crew chief since 1999. Two came with Stenhouse in 2015 at Talladega and Daytona.

Stenhouse and Pattie failed to make the playoffs the last two seasons.

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Jimmie Johnson says Hendrick will know his future within 4-6 months

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Jimmie Johnson has heard questions about his NASCAR future throughout this career-worst season, especially since a recent extension of primary sponsor Ally came without a new driver deal.

Soon, he knows the definitive question about how much longer the seven-time champion will drive the No. 48 Chevrolet in Cup will come from the most important person of all: team owner Rick Hendrick.

“I’ve got to start spending some time on it first and foremost, because in the next four to six months, Rick is going to start asking me,” Johnson told NASCAR on NBC’s Jeff Burton in an exclusive sitdown interview that will air Sunday on NBC before the race at Kansas Speedway (coverage will begin at 1 p.m. ET). “I know it’s out there.”

Has the Hendrick Motorsports owner asked about whether Johnson’s future will include racing in Cup beyond the end of his current contract (which expires after the 2020 season)?

“He’s hinted,” said Johnson, who turned 44 last month. “He hasn’t put the true pressure on me yet. I’m very thankful to have Rick as an owner and to be in this position with Ally that, ‘Hey look, we’re going to (sponsor the car). We want you as long as you want to drive.’

“I don’t think many drivers get that opportunity. So I’m so thankful for that. I want to keep racing. I’d like to not race 38 times a year at some point in the next couple of years. I love racing in general. I love our sport. I want to be involved in our sport. I also love other types of racing. I’ve got to balance family, the schedule and then some other goals that I have to complete in other series, too, at the same time and make a decision on all that within four to six months.”

Johnson said on Wednesday night’s NASCAR America Motor Mouths that he remains interested in running IndyCar races on road courses.

He told Burton that he would make the decision with the input of Jeff Gordon (who hand-picked Johnson to drive for Hendrick); longtime friends such as Rick Johnson; his wife, Chandra and their two young daughters, Genevieve, 9, and Lydia, 6.

“My kids, in this next phase of my life, need to have a seat at the table when we have that conversation. All that is going to be very difficult to communicate with a 6-year-old. I don’t know how that’s going to work out, but I want her to be a part of it.

And of course, he also will rely on the advice of Hendrick, whom he has driven for since entering the Cup Series in 2002.

“He’s like a dad, and everybody who has worked for him knows that,” Johnson said. “In some ways, that takes a lot of pressure off. In other ways, it puts pressure on.

“It’s a big decision that I know he doesn’t want to put unneeded pressure on me for, and I feel like through his experiences with drivers retiring, he doesn’t want to push on a driver staying any longer than they feel like they want to, so I think we’re in a good spot, and we’ll just see where it ends up here. Hopefully, I can defer as long as I can and wait maybe nine months, but I don’t think that’s really going to happen.”

Processing the decision probably will be tabled until after the final five races of the 2019 season.

Johnson said he is most focused on ending a 90-race winless drought that dates to June 4, 2017 at Dover International Speedway. He is encouraged that his qualifying and finishing averages are “way up” since the arrival of crew chief Cliff Daniels two months ago.

“I really feel like there aren’t any big obstacles ahead of us,” Johnson said. “Cliff has really brought me back up and has me so excited and so ready for each and every week, that I’m in the best place I’ve been mentally for years. So, absolutely, I am ready for this fight.

“I expect to win this year.”

Johnson, who has 83 career victories, missed the playoffs this year for the first time since NASCAR introduced the postseason structure in 2004. On Motor Mouths, he told Kyle Petty and Marty Snider about the lack of respect he feels he’s received from playoff drivers (video below).

“I used to be feared on the track and there was a certain level of respect that took place,” he said. “That hasn’t been there in a couple of years. I’ve been used up way more (by other drivers), and I’ve let it slide. I’m not where I should be. I get it.

“But when my car is right, I expect that same respect back. And I’m not getting that respect back. And I just have to go fight for it.”

Austin Theriault not medically cleared by NASCAR to race at Kansas

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Austin Theriault announced Thursday morning he has not been medically cleared by NASCAR to compete in this weekend’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway after his involvement in a wreck in Monday’s race at Talladega.

Theriault, 25, competes for Rick Ware Racing and was set to drive its No. 52 Chevrolet this weekend. Theriault said Garrett Smithley will take his place.

A NASCAR spokesperson said its policy is to not discuss a competitor’s medical information.

A spokesperson for Rick Ware Racing told NBC Sports all info on Theriault would be released by the driver on social media or by NASCAR. The team said “we expect to have Austin back in the car very soon.”

The native of Fort Kent, Maine, has missed races due to medical issues before.

In 2015, while racing part-time for Brad Keselowski Racing in the Truck Series, he suffered a 10% compression fracture in his back in a wreck at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after his HANS device broke.

Theriault missed several races before returning in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Since 2015 he has made five Cup starts, three Xfinity starts and four Truck Series starts.

Updated entry lists for Kansas Speedway’s playoff weekend

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The NASCAR playoffs continue this weekend with the second visit of the year to Kansas Speedway.

The Cup Series holds its second elimination race as the playoff field will be cut to eight drivers.

After a week off, the Xfinity Series will open its second playoff round.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for both races.

Cup – Hollywood Casino 400 (2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC)

There are 40 cars entered.

Parker Kligerman is entered in Gaunt Brothers Racing’s No. 96 Toyota.

Reed Sorenson is listed for Premium Motorsports’ No. 27 Chevrolet.

Austin Theriault  was originally entered in Rick Ware Racing’s No. 52 car. Theriault announced Thursday morning he had not been cleared by NASCAR to compete Saturday following his wreck in Monday’s Cup race at Talladega and that Garrett Smithley would take his place.

Chase Elliott won this race last year over Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson. Brad Keselowski won the May race over Alex Bowman and Erik Jones.

Click here for the updated entry list.

Xfinity – Kansas Lottery 300 (3 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC)

There are 39 entries.

Ryan Truex is entered in JR Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet.

Ross Chastain is entered in Kaulig Racing’s No. 10 Chevrolet. It’ll be his fifth start with the team this season.

Harrison Burton is entered in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota for the seventh time this season.

Bobby Earnhardt, the oldest son of Kerry Earnhardt, is entered in MBM Motorsports’ No. 66 Toyota. It will be his fifth career start and first since the Texas playoff race last year.

Joe Nemechek is now entered in Mike Harmon Racing’s No. 74 Chevrolet

Dillon Bassett is now entered in DGM Racing’s No. 92 Chevrolet

John Hunter Nemechek won this race last year over Daniel Hemric and Elliott Sadler.

Click here for the entry list.