Chase Elliott roars back from 37th to 1st in final 44 laps to win Roval race

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After wrecking while in the lead and then falling back to 37th with 44 laps to go, Chase Elliott roared back to win Sunday’s Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, ending the first round of the NASCAR Cup playoffs with the elimination of four drivers from further advancement.

It was Elliott’s third win of the season and sixth of his Cup career.

“Did you all like that?” Elliott asked to fans, who responded with a big round of cheers, while being interviewed on NBC Sports.

MORE: Results, points from playoff elimination race at Charlotte

While leading on a restart with 45 laps left and shortly after winning Stage 2, Elliott came into Turn 1 and drove straight into the wall. It appeared Elliott was carrying too much speed into the turn and also applied the brakes too late, missing the turn and going straight ahead into the tire wall.

“What a mistake,” Elliott told NBC Sports. “Talk about messing something up. … I pretty well blew it and had the cautions fall at the right time and we were able to bring it back home.”

Elliott’s tangle with the tire wall was very similar to how Brad Keselowski, also while in the lead, went into the wall in last year’s Roval race. However, several other drivers were collected in that wreck, while Elliott’s crash Sunday was a solo incident.

After repairs on pit road, Elliott returned to the race in 37th place, but flew back up to 14th 10 laps later, up to eighth on Lap 85, fourth on Lap 95, third with nine laps to go and second with five laps to go before overtaking Kevin Harvick in the closing laps to take the checkered flag.

Teammate Alex Bowman finished second, followed by Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Brad Keselowski.

Seven races now remain in the playoffs. Things now move on to the Round of 12 but will do so without Erik Jones, Ryan Newman, Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch, who were all eliminated after being the lowest-scoring drivers in the opening round.

The eliminations began with three laps to go in Stage 1 when several drivers made contact going into Turn 1, including Kurt Busch, Chris Buescher, Erik Jones, Alex Bowman, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson. All but Jones’ car were able to continue. Jones took his car to the garage with a punctured radiator, ending his hopes of advancing to the second round of the playoffs.

It’s unfortunate,” Jones told NBC Sports. “We just had three really bad weeks, some of our own doing, today not really of our own doing. … I’d love to be moving forward and challenging for the championship … It’s just the nature of the playoffs. We’ll keep racing all year and next year come back and improve all we can.”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kyle Larson.

STAGE 2 WINNER: Chase Elliott (by winning the stage, locked himself into Round of 12 on points).

WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: William Byron led 24 laps and finished sixth. … Martin Truex Jr., who won the first two races of the opening round of the playoffs, started from the back of the field due to an engine change but roared back to finish seventh.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: With 19 laps to go, Ryan Newman stalled his car after a pit stop, losing several positions and dropping below the cutline in the running points chart. … Being three laps down to the leaders and sitting in 37th place, Kyle Busch took his car out of the race during the red flag stoppage with seven laps to go. It’s the second time Busch has finished 37th in the last four races and the regular season champion has now dropped to seventh in the standings after the first three playoff races.

NOTABLE: Alex Bowman was taken to the infield medical center after the race, reportedly for exhaustion. … Ryan Blaney limped his car around the track for much of the second half of the race with a broken left rear strut. He was able to hold on to advance to the playoffs. … Two days after being hospitalized with a kidney stone, Michael McDowell had a strong race Sunday, including running in the top five at times before finishing 12th. … With seven laps to go, the race was red-flagged for 8 minutes, 22 seconds due to fluid that needed to be cleaned up on the race track.

WHAT’S NEXT: The second round of the NASCAR Cup playoffs – also known as the Round of 12 – will begin Sunday, Oct. 5 at Dover International Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

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Joe Nemechek to break Richard Petty’s starts record tonight

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Veteran NASCAR driver Joe Nemechek is set to break Richard Petty’s all-time starts record in tonight’s Ford EcoBoost 200 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Petty and Nemechek both have 1,185 combined starts in NASCAR’s national series. The man with the colorful nickname of “Front Row Joe,” will pass “The King” as soon as he takes the green flag.

“That just shows, man, I’ve started a lot of races,” Nemechek said with a laugh in a recent interview with NBC Sports. “You don’t think about that as a racer, man. When you get done with one, you’re focused on the next one.”

As recently as two weeks ago, Nemechek wasn’t even aware he was close to breaking Petty’s mark.

“I had no idea about that,” he told NBC Sports.

He tied Petty’s mark by starting last weekend’s Cup race at ISM Raceway near Phoenix.

“Getting up there and tying Richard Petty’s all-time start record is pretty cool,” Nemechek said. “To me, Richard Petty is a legend. I was just starting when he was kinda getting done, the first couple years of my career.”

For the record, Petty’s starts all came in NASCAR’s premier series, ending when it was known as the Winston Cup Series. He has 15 additional starts in the old Convertible Series in 1958 and 1959, but those starts are not included in the combined starts mark.

Nemechek, meanwhile, amassed his 1,185 starts with 673 starts in Cup, 444 starts in the Xfinity Series and 68 in the Truck Series.

Once he passes The King, don’t expect the 56-year-old Nemechek to be slowing down any time soon. He plans on putting some distance between himself and Petty.

“I’ve had a great career, I’ve won races, I still enjoy it and there’s a lot of stuff going on in my schedule for next year where people want me to come drive, so we’ll surpass whatever it is,” said Nemechek, who has made a combined 27 starts this season with two more left to go (tonight’s Truck race and Sunday’s Cup season finale).

There is one current driver who is only 35 starts away from reaching 1,185 starts: Cup Championship 4 driver Kevin Harvick has 1,150 starts heading into Sunday’s season finale. Kyle Busch is sixth on the NASCAR all-time combined starts list with 1,035 starts.

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UPDATE: Truck qualifying, Cup and Xfinity practices rained out at Miami

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UPDATE:

Rain continues to be a stubborn thorn in the side of NASCAR at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The final scheduled NASCAR Cup practice session has been cancelled due to rain. That makes four sessions cancelled thus far today: the two Cup practices, the final Xfinity practice and qualifying for tonight’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200 championship race.

Cup teams will get nearly one hour of practice Saturday from 2:05 – 2:55 p.m. ET to make up for losing both practices Friday. As a result, there will be no qualifying session for Cup drivers. The starting lineup for Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 Cup championship will be set by the NASCAR Rule Book with the four Championship 4 drivers to start at the front of the field.

The Truck Race is still on track to run, with driver introductions scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. ET, and the race itself is slated to begin shortly after 8 p.m. ET.

Track drying efforts continue at the 1.5-mile oval.

We’ll update you as more information becomes available.

ORIGINAL STORY?

Rain punctuated with thunder and lightning has forced NASCAR to cancel three of today’s segments at Homestead-Miami Speedway:

* The NASCAR Cup opening practice, which was scheduled to go from 3:35 – 4:25 p.m. ET.

* The NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series qualifying, which was slated to start at 4:35 p.m. ET.

* The NASCAR Xfinity Series final practice, which was scheduled for 5:35 – 6:25 p.m. ET.

As of 5:15 p.m. ET, the final NASCAR Cup practice session was still slated to run from 6:30 – 7:20 p.m., while the Ford EcoBoost 200 Truck Series championship race is slated to take the green flag shortly after 8 p.m. ET.

Because qualifying was rained out, the Truck Series starting lineup will be determined by owner points. The four Championship 4 drivers will start this way: Stewart Friesen on the pole, Ross Chastain third, defending series champion Brett Moffitt fourth and Matt Crafton will start ninth, according to NASCAR.

According to wunderground.com, the forecast for tonight calls for a temperature of 72 degrees and a 41% chance of rain to continue at the time the Truck race is set to start.

We’ll keep you updated on the conditions as more information becomes available. Please check back.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

‘Disappointed’ Daniel Suarez says he secured ‘millions’ to keep SHR ride

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Daniel Suarez was “disappointed” and “extremely surprised” about losing his ride at Stewart-Haas Racing after his business team apparently delivered “several millions” in sponsorship that the team wanted.

“A lot of people have worked very hard on this team to try to put everything together and unfortunately it wasn’t enough,” Suarez said Friday before Cup practice at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “We needed a few months. We had to find a big amount of money to keep the ride for next year.

“My group of people, friends and a lot of people at Stewart-Haas Racing went to work and we actually did a pretty good job. We pretty much got the goal but unfortunately part of the money wasn’t on the table at this point. It was going to come a few months later, and it wasn’t enough. It was a little unfortunate. It was a surprise. I was as shocked as you guys are probably right now.”

Suarez said he learned Monday night about SHR’s decision to replace him with Xfinity driver Cole Custer after meeting with the team earlier that day.

In interviews over the past two months, he generally had provided positive updates on his chances of retaining his seat in the No. 41 Ford.

“I am pretty sure that most of you saw me very confident because I knew where we were,” he said. “I was 95 percent sure that we were in. I was extremely surprised. A lot of people at Stewart-Haas Racing worked very hard to put everything together. It was disappointing to see that. Tony Stewart was pushing for me so hard. Brett Frood, a lot of people in Stewart-Haas Racing. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out with Haas.”

Team owner Gene Haas created the No. 41 in 2014 for Kurt Busch (mostly without the knowledge of co-owner Tony Stewart, who was hospitalized with a broken leg during much of the decision-making).

“Gene actually controls the 41 car, but we’re all comfortable with the decision,” Stewart said. “I spoke to Gene a lot about it.  We feel like Cole has done a great job this year, and Cole has earned his right to be in the Cup Series next year, with seven wins and running for a championship.  He deserves it. You know, it ultimately is Gene’s decision, but like I said, this is something that as a company we all agreed with and feel like that Cole has earned his right to be in the series and have an opportunity like this.

“We still want to try to figure out how to help Daniel.  I think he deserves to be in the Cup Series. It’s just a matter of how do we fit it all in, and when you’ve got a feeder series and you’ve got your own program to work young drivers up through there, sometimes you get in scenarios like this where you’ve got more drivers than you have cars. ….We wish we could have five cars, but we can’t, so it puts us in this odd position to have to make a change like that. It’s bittersweet.”

Suarez, who is wrapping up his third season in Cup, joined SHR this season after getting dumped last year by Joe Gibbs Racing for Martin Truex Jr. The Monterrey, Mexico, native said he talked with Stewart earlier Friday, but “I don’t know what I am going to do yet.

“This is the position we are in now, but I think good things happen to good people and I am sure good things are going to line up for me,” Suarez said. “Tony is a great guy. In the last six months I have learned that he is a very good friend. In the last week I have been talking to him a lot. He was talking to a lot of people, and he was pushing very hard for me.

“Unfortunately the 41 team, and especially the 41, he doesn’t have a lot that he can do with that car because the 41 is not his car. He pushed. I am sure that he pushed as hard as he could, like a lot of people at Stewart-Haas Racing did. It just didn’t work out.”

Suarez said his business team had gone from being far short of SHR’s sponsorship requirement six weeks ago to near the number a few weeks ago.

“We were in good shape. It is very hard to just write a check and put it on somebody’s desk,” he said. “It doesn’t work like that. It is impossible. They put the bar very high for me and my group to find money but we did it. But just the timing wasn’t right.””

He also said he wasn’t angry but just felt blindsided by SHR’s decision. The 2016 Xfinity Series champion also met Friday with Ford Performance executive Mark Rushbrook. With the sponsorship, he also could be a candidate at Richard Childress Racing, which had been mentioned as a possibility last year before he landed at SHR.

“Richard is a great guy,” Suarez said. “He is a very honest and straightforward person. I haven’t talked to him in weeks but in years past we have had several conversations but not lately. Right now I really haven’t done a lot. I just wanted to get back on my feet and go racing and try to kick their butt.”

Suarez seemed unsure of whether he would remain in NASCAR, noting he had achieved his goal of winning races and title in the Xfinity Series.. He is ranked a career-best 17th in the points standings with a career-high four top fives heading into the finale and just missed qualifying for the 16-driver playoff field this season.

“Maybe a lot of people don’t believe this, but this wasn’t a problem of results,” Suarez said. “This wasn’t because we didn’t perform. (Teammate) Kevin Harvick is an amazing driver with an amazing team and has been doing an amazing job and that is why he is here today, fighting for a championship.

“But if you think about it, we have been racing along the other two cars very even the whole year even though we were a new team. We have had issues with the pit crew and changed the pit crew around several times this year to improve. That is the sad part for myself, that I have spent a lot of time working with my team to make my team better and changed the pit crew many times and moved people around and the spotter and a couple other things. I felt like we finally got everything clicking better the last month, month-and-a-half to be stronger. Now everything is coming apart.”

Xfinity practice report from Miami

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Championship contender Tyler Reddick led a rain-shortened opening practice for the Xfinity Series Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Reddick paced the field with a lap of 165.674 mph. Four of the top five were title contenders: Christopher Bell was second with a lap of 165.178 mph, Justin Allgaier was fourth at 164.704 mph and Cole Custer was fifth at 163.820 mph. Austin Cindric was the only driver in the top five not racing for a championship. He was third on the speed chart with a lap of 164.815 mph.

Click here for practice results

Allgaier had some drama early in the session.

David Starr and Allgaier made contact after Starr drifted up the track and hit the left side of Allgaier’s car. Allgaier completed only five laps before the incident.

“Just disappointing,” Allgaier told NBCSN. “I’m pretty laid back this weekend. I’ve focused a lot on just going out there and doing our thing and be patient and felt like we were doing that. (Starr) had kind of committed to the bottom. I was going to go to the bottom and then he kind of started moving up. I thought he will still give me plenty of room on corner exit. He ran right into the side of us. Disappointed to tear my car up.”

Final Xfinity practice was canceled by rain Friday. The series races Saturday.