Decision to pit or not dramatically altered Las Vegas Cup race

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Crew chief Todd Gordon apologized to Ryan Blaney for pitting from the lead before the final restart in Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I should have left you out,” Gordon radioed Blaney after the race. “My gut told me to. I didn’t. My bad.”

Instead of celebrating a victory, Blaney walked away with an 11th-place finish. It was his teammate, Joey Logano, who celebrated after not pitting.

A caution on Lap 262 for Ross Chastain created consternation among crew chiefs on pit road and dramatically altered the finish of the season’s second race.

With a two-lap shootout for the win expected once the caution car collected the field and cars pitted, crew chiefs were left to decide if to pit for tires or stay out and gain track position.

For some, the crew chief’s decision worked brilliantly.

  • Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who did not pit, finished third for his best result at Las Vegas and JTG Daugherty Racing’s best performance at Las Vegas.
  • Austin Dillon, who did not pit, placed fourth for his best result at Las Vegas.
  • Jimmie Johnson, who pitted for two tires, was fifth, scoring his first top five since the rain-shortened race at Daytona in July.
  • Bubba Wallace, who did not pit, placed sixth, marking his best result on a 1.5-mile track.
  • Ty Dillon, who pitted for four tires, was 10th for his first top-10 on a 1.5-mile track.

Here is how the results changed in the final five laps:

When the caution waved for Chastain’s spin, Blaney led.

This was the running order:

  1. Ryan Blaney
  2. Alex Bowman
  3. Joey Logano
  4. William Byron
  5. Kevin Harvick
  6. Brad Keselowski
  7. Matt DiBenedetto
  8. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  9. Kyle Larson
  10. Jimmie Johnson
  11. Kyle Busch
  12. John Hunter Nemechek
  13. Tyler Reddick
  14. Denny Hamlin
  15. Austin Dillon
  16. Martin Truex Jr.
  17. Chris Buescher
  18. Erik Jones
  19. Ty Dillon
  20. Bubba Wallace

Blaney and Bowman both relinquished their spots at the front of the field to pit.

Logano stayed out and moved from third to first.

Crew chief Paul Wolfe said he understood why some pitted but felt the decision not to pit was worth it for he and his team.

“The tires were wearing some,” Wolfe said. “Obviously, that’s why we saw a lot of guys pit from the lead. It seemed like the left-side wear was more accelerated than what we we’ve seen in the past. I think that was making guys favor wanting tires, but really, still, the falloff, if you looked at the start of a run to the end, it wasn’t extreme.

“In practice we were out there on older tires … and seemed to re-fire and have decent speed. It was kind of what we talked about. If you can get to the front row and get the clean air, it’s worth the gamble. Obviously we had a lot of cars behind us. I felt pretty good as long as he executed the restart. The guys on [new] tires weren’t going to catch you in two laps. There just wasn’t enough time.”

Byron also stayed out and moved from fourth to second.

Harvick gave up fifth to pit for four tires, Keselowski relinquished sixth to pit for two tires.

DiBenedetto stayed out and moved from seventh to third. Stenhouse also did not pit, going from eighth to fourth for the restart. Larson gave up ninth to pit for four tires. Johnson gave up 10th place to pit for two tires.

As the field lined up to take the green with two laps to go, the lineup was (with the top seven cars not pitting):

  1. Joey Logano
  2. William Byron
  3. Matt DiBenedetto
  4. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  5. Tyler Reddick
  6. Austin Dillon
  7. Bubba Wallace
  8. Brad Keselowski (first car to pit; two tires)
  9. Jimmie Johnson (two tires)
  10. Martin Truex Jr. (two tires)
  11. Erik Jones (two tires)
  12. Ryan Blaney (four tires)
  13. Kevin Harvick (four tires)
  14. Alex Bowman (four tires)
  15. Kyle Busch (four tires)
  16. Kyle Larson (four tires)

Having six cars between he and the first car that had stopped for tires helped Logano.

“A lot of cars stayed out and that was key to that move,” Logano said.

A crash after the leaders took the white flag to begin the last lap, ended the race and left many of those who had pitted seeing their hopes for a strong finish end.

Blaney was stuck and couldn’t move up before the crash, finishing outside the top 10 in a race he looked as if he’d win before Chastain’s caution.

“It was just a crappy situation,” Blaney said. “We fight our butts off to get the lead there from third and get it.  I had a good shot of holding the 88 off. I thought we could have once we got in clean air I thought our car was pretty decent. The caution came out and we pitted, some guys didn’t, some guys took two and we just end up getting absolutely destroyed with people not knowing how many cars were to the outside of them.  It’s easy to look back on it and say we should have stayed out.  That’s a tough call for Todd Gordon in his position, but I’ve got to thank him for giving me a really good car.”

Bowman also placed outside the top 10 after he appeared to be headed for a runner-up finish and maybe a chance to challenge Blaney for the lead.

“Dang it,” Bowman said in a video he posted on social media after the race. “Man, we had such a good car there at the end. Obviously running down (Blaney) pretty quickly, at least looking at a second-place finish, if not battling for a win there.

“Our car was so good and caution came out and we read it just a little bit wrong, so bummer that we didn’t get the finish that we probably deserved, but, at the same time, I’m just so proud of my guys. We had such a good race car today. We made it better all day. Obviously had it rolling there at the end. … Obviously bummed out to finish 13th after staring at a second place or a win, but it’s part of it.”

While Blaney and Bowman lamented their results, others were more fortunate.

“Luckily, we got the outside (on the final restart),” Austin Dillon said. “Our teammate (Reddick) was doomed on the bottom. The bottom (lane) just seemed to lose spots all day unless you were the leader.”

Said Wallace of the decision not to pit: “It was just a good gamble.”

This is how they finished (and if they pitted before the final restart/positions gained or lost from final restart):

  1. Joey Logano (did not pit/maintained lead)
  2. Matt DiBenedetto (did not pit/gained one spot)
  3. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (did not pit/gained one spot)
  4. Austin Dillon (did not pit/gained two spots)
  5. Jimmie Johnson (pitted for two tires/gained four spots)
  6. Bubba Wallace (did not pit/gained one spot)
  7. Brad Keselowski (pitted for two tires/gained one spot)
  8. Kevin Harvick (pitted for four tires/gained five spots)
  9. Kyle Larson (pitted for four tires/gained seven spots)
  10. Ty Dillon (pitted for four tires/gained 10 spots)

eNASCAR Pro Invitational Qualifier to be streamed online

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The qualifying race for Sunday’s eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series event at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway will be streamed on enascar.com/live, NASCAR announced.

The qualifier features Xfinity, Truck and regional series drivers looking to advance to the eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series race that will be at 1 p.m. ET Sunday on Fox, FS1 and the Fox Sports App. At this time, four drivers from the qualifier will advance. That number could change depending on any late additions or drops to the race featuring Cup drivers.

MORE: Roush, Greg Biffle reunite for eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series race

MORE: North Wilkesboro to make its comeback on iRacing 

MORE: eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series reminds Clint Bowyer of being a rookie

The qualifier is scheduled to take place at 11:02 a.m. ET and have 34 drivers battling for those four transfer spots.

The qualifier will be 30 laps at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway. The race will have no cautions.

Practice begins at 10:30 a.m. ET. Qualifying begins at 10:55 a.m., lasting five minutes, followed by the race.

Last week, six drivers advanced from the qualifier to the main event. They were: Anthony Alfredo, Justin Allgaier, Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric, Ty Majeski and Ryan Truex.

Drivers scheduled to compete in Sunday’s qualifier at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway are (with car number):

02 – Spencer Boyd

7 – Justin Allgaier

08 – Jeb Burton

15 – Brennan Poole

16 – Justin Haley

22 – Austin Cindric

23 – Sam Mayer

26 – Tyler Ankrum

27 – Ruben Garcia

29  – Kaz Grala

29a – Trevor Bayne

33 – Anthony Alfredo

35 – Todd Gilliland

36 – Jesse Iwuji

40 – Ryan Truex

45 – Ty Majeski

46 – Chandler Smith

50 – Jeffrey Earnhardt

52 – Stewart Friesen

53 – Joey Gase

54 – Kyle Weatherman

63 – Scott Stenzel

68 – Brandon Brown

74 – Sheldon Creed

78 – Ryan Ellis

80 – Joe Graf Jr.

81 – Christian Eckes

90 – Alex Labbe

93 – Myatt Snider

98 – Chase Briscoe

99 – Harrison Burton

TBD – Derek Kraus

TBD – Drew Dollar

TBD – JJ Yeley

March 28 in NASCAR history: Texas Terry Labonte gets a home win

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Terry Labonte’s last two Cup Series wins were anything but forgettable.

The last one, in 2003, came in the Southern 500. That was the same race he earned his first Cup win in way back in 1980.

But four years earlier, the two-time champion got a home win.

A native of Corpus Christi, Texas, the driver nicknamed “Texas Terry” claimed a victory in the 1999 race at Texas Motor Speedway. It was just the third Cup race held at the facility after it opened in 1997.

Labonte started fourth and would lead 124 of 334 laps around the 1.5-mile track, including the final 12 after he passed Dale Jarrett on the outside going into Turn 1 for the lead.

Jarrett wouldn’t get a chance to fight for the lead again. With four laps to go, Jimmy Spencer crashed on the frontstretch to bring out the caution. Labonte took the checkered and yellow flags together for his 21st Cup win.

“We picked places to go test this year and I said ‘I want to go here cause this is a race I want to win,” Labonte told CBS. “Besides Daytona, coming here to Texas is awesome.”

Making the day even better for the Labonte family was Terry’s younger brother, Bobby, placing third.

Also on this day:

1954: The premier series held two races on different sides of the country. Dick Rathmann won a 125-mile race at Oakland Speedway in California after starting last. In Georgia, Al Keller won his first career race at Savannah’s Oglethorpe Speedway.

1982: Sam Ard claimed his first career Xfinity Series win in a race at Martinsville Speedway. Ard would go on to win 22 Xfinity races and the championships in 1983 and 1984.

1992: Robert Pressley passed Harry Gant on the last lap to win the Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway.

1993: Dale Earnhardt came back from a lap down to win at Darlington Raceway. It was his first win since the Coca-Cola 600 10 months earlier. Alan Kulwicki finished sixth in what would be his last race before his death in a plane crash on April 1.

2004: Kurt Busch won at Bristol for his third consecutive victory on the half-mile track.

Roush, Biffle reunite for eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series race

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After four years, Roush Fenway Racing and Greg Biffle are getting the band back together … digitally.

Roush Fenway Racing announced its former driver will compete in Sunday’s eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series event on a digital Texas Motor Speedway.

Like he did in the Cup Series from 2003-2016, Biffle will pilot a No. 16 Ford in the race (1 p.m. ET on Fox and FS1).

“How exciting is it to get back behind the wheel of the No. 16,” Biffle said in a press release. “I watched the iRace last week on TV and I was really impressed with the overall quality of the broadcast and the racing. It was just a lot of fun and I’m really looking forward to being a part of the show this weekend.

“We are running a really cool Castrol scheme on the car. I think it’s going to show up really well. My plan is to log a ton of practice time leading up to the race, so hopefully we can have a strong showing and you’ll see a lot of the Castrol green and red on the broadcast.”

This will be Biffle’s iRacing event debut.

After parting ways with Roush Fenway Racing after the 2016 season, Biffle returned to NASCAR last year for a one-off Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway with Kyle Busch Motorsports, which he won.

NASCAR teams impacted by North Carolina stay at home order

Robert Willett/The News & Observer via AP
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North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced a stay at home order for the entire state of North Carolina, beginning at 5 p.m. ET Monday because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The order is for 30 days.

The move impacts all NASCAR teams based in North Carolina.

“These are tough directives, but I need you to take them seriously,” Gov. Cooper said in afternoon news briefing.

MORE: N.C. Governor enlists Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson for COVID-19 PSA

MORE: North Carolina stay at home order

The order bans gatherings of more than 10 people and directs everyone to stay at least six feet away from each other. The order requires all residents to stay at home except for essential activities. The order states: “non-essential business and operations must cease.”

The order also states that among the definitions for an essential business and operation is “Businesses that meet Social Distancing Requirements. Businesses, not-for-profit organizations or educational institutions that conduct operations while maintaining Social Distancing Requirements:

a. Between and among its employees; and

b. Between and among employees and customers except at the point of sale or purchase.”

Mecklenburg County and Cabarrus County, which are home to such race teams as Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing, Roush Fenway Racing and JTG Daugherty Racing, were already under a stay at home order through April 16.

By the end of the week, more than 20 states will have issued stay at home orders, including California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey and Ohio.