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‘This will look unlike any NASCAR season in our history — by a mile’

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Chris Gabehart doesn’t know what the remainder of the 2020 Cup schedule will look like, but the crew chief for Denny Hamlin knows how it will unfold.

And as the plan for finishing the season continues to move “from liquid to solid,” Gabehart said he is “antsy, excited, focused and apprehensive” of what the final 32 races will hold.

“This is going to look unlike any NASCAR season in our history — by a mile,” Gabehart said during a new episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast. “Obviously being a crew chief, I’m a major part of building a plan and unfolding that logistically. Crew chiefs have enough variables to deal with on a daily basis under normal circumstances. This will be an amount of variables that are completely unparalleled.

“You’re going to see a lot like a year ago when the new rules package was unfolded. There was so much uncertainty, you never know who’s going to be up front when or why. Well, this is going to be very similar but in a different way because we’re dealing with so many unknowns about how to prepare for a race.”

There could be fewer unknows soon as NASCAR seems to be closing in on announcing a finalized schedule for the remainder of May that likely would start at Darlington Raceway and include the Coca-Cola 600.

There could be multiple trips to Darlington and Charlotte Motor Speedway and tracks within driving distance such as Martinsville Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway are being given priority.

In part because there likely will be midweek races between weekend races, it’s expected there will be no practice and possibly qualifying for one-day events that will send teams directly into the race.

“If we go Wednesday racing, not only are we not going to get practice or qualify, but our prep time’s cut in half because you’ll be racing Sunday, then Wednesday, then Sunday, then Wednesday,” Gabehart said. “It’s just a lot of differences. So there’s a lot to keep track of as a crew chief right now. Certainly, the planning side of it is starting to actually matter. There was a while there for a few weeks where it didn’t do good to do a whole lot, because (the schedule was) just going to change 10 minutes from now anyway. But we’re certainly past that. So it’s exciting.”

Gabehart said Joe Gibbs Racing has had planning meetings have been happening for weeks via videoconferencing. Employees will begin entering the team’s Huntersville, North Carolina, shop “any day now.

“And it’s going to happen in waves of essential personnel, nonessential personnel and all the things we need to do to stay safe,” Gabehart said. “But there’s been work going on behind the scenes, no doubt. And everybody’s looking forward to getting back to the shop and try to get going with our lives again to try to establish a new normal.”

JGR and other teams already had cars prepared for Atlanta Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway, which both were scheduled to hold races before the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic put the NASCAR season on hold.

“We do have a little bit of a backstop in terms of inventory, but again, our cycle time is not seven days a week,” Gabehart said. “Now it’ll be three days a week of putting another car on the racetrack and then that car has to go back in the system and get ready to go race again. So that’s going to be a challenge.”

So will social distancing, as teams will be limited as far as how many crewmembers are at the track and how they are allowed to assemble cars around the shop.

“Certainly as we go back to work, all the race teams are going to practice much different social distancing techniques than we ever have before,” Gabehart said. “Well, that’s going to be very unfamiliar, so it’s going to slow productivity down until we figure out how to maximize that. So you’ve got the schedule accelerating on prep time. And productivity decelerating because of social distancing. That’s really going to be a challenge balancing that.

“And then the other side of it of course is in these races where we’re going to unload with very little to no track time prior to the first lap of the race. We’re counting score right away. How do you prepare for that best? Who hits it the best? How do your drivers get locked in right away? That first run establishes track position. That’s going to be the week-to-week challenge that you guys are going to get to see unfold on TV.”

Hamlin got off to a strong start in 2020, winning his second consecutive Daytona 500, and Gabehart likes how the revised schedule could lay out for his driver.

“These are racetracks that are in right Denny Hamlin’s wheelhouse,” said Gabehart, who reached the 2019 championship round in his first season with Hamlin. “So honestly I couldn’t be more excited about the schedule that sounds like is laying in front of us, because I think there’s a ton of opportunity for us to wrap our hands firmly around this season, and I look forward to doing it.

“One thing I love about our sport, no matter the challenges, at the end of the day, whether it be a Saturday night or a Sunday or maybe even some Wednesdays here. They’re going to hand out a checkered flag and a trophy, and that signifies whoever did it the best on that day, and I don’t care what the rules or circumstances were. That’s our report card.”

During the podcast, Gabehart also discussed his involvement and support of Hamlin’s iRacing this season.

A winner in the Super Late Model ranks before becoming a crew chief, Gabehart has been practicing with Hamlin before races during the week and learning more about how to tune his No. 11 Toyota. Through the magic of Twitch, he also has seen a new side of Hamlin by watching his driver’s eyes and mannerisms in the way he stays focused and manages races.

“It’s been really neat the Twitch broadcasts are a lot of these drivers are doing, and Denny in particular,” Gabehart said. “I’ve really enjoyed watching that as much or more than the race because it allows me to evaluate how he works in more than just watching the 11 car go around the racetrack and every now and then, he keys the button and talks to me. I visually can watch how he thinks, what he looks at, how he reacts.

“It just gives me a whole new aspect, getting to visit inside Denny Hamlin’s mind while he’s doing the real deal, which is as close to it as can be without the fear side of it. He’s not worried about crashing into a wall at 190 mph, but you’re getting to really experience what it is he’s going through and how he thinks.”

During the podcast, Gabehart also discusses:

–His passion for iRacing and how long he’s been involved;

–His background as a real driver in Super Late Models;

–How iRacing can build the communication between Gabehart and Hamlin as NASCAR restarts without practice this season.

You can listen to Gabehart’s appearance on the new NASCAR on NBC Podcast episode by clicking on the embed above, or downloading at Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play or wherever you get your podcasts.

Xfinity race results, point standings after Bristol

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Chase Briscoe led the final six laps and won Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol for his seventh win of the season.

Briscoe beat Ross Chastain for the win. The top five was completed by Austin Cindric, Harrison Burton and Justin Allgaier.

Click here for the race results.

Playoff standings

The 12-driver field for the playoffs has been set with Briscoe’s win in the regular-season finale.

Brandon Brown placed 12th and clinched the 12th and final spot.

Here are the re-seeded point standings entering the playoffs.

Chase Briscoe – 2,050 points

Austin Cindric – 2,050

Justin Allgaier – 2,033

Noah Gragson – 2,025

Brandon Jones – 2,020

Justin Haley – 2,018

Harrison Burton – 2,014

Ross Chastain – 2,010

Ryan Sieg – 2,002

Michael Annett – 2,002

Riley Herbst – 2,001

Brandon Brown – 2,000

Click here for the re-seeded standings.

Click here for the normal point standings.

Chase Briscoe wins Xfinity race at Bristol Motor Speedway

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Chase Briscoe took the lead with six laps to go and won Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway, which marked the end of the regular season.

Briscoe passed Austin Cindric to assume the lead and went unchallenged to the checkered flag. The victory is his series-leading seventh of the season.

“I was so mad after last week (at Richmond),” Briscoe told NBCSN. “I told all the guys there ain’t no way we’re getting beat today. I was so mad after how we ran last week and I get on the internet all the time and see guys count us out after one bad race and I know what this team is capable. … I finished second here the last two races and I wanted to win here so bad and it’s awesome that I can actually celebrate it with all these race fans.”

The top five was completed by Ross Chastain, Cindric, Harrison Burton and Justin Allgaier.

More: Race results, playoff standings

Allgaier dominated the early portion of the race, leading 126 laps and winning the first two stages. But he lost the lead for good in the pits during the Stage 2 break.

Brandon Brown finished 12th and clinched the 12th and final playoff spot.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

STAGE 2 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ross Chastain led three times for 117 laps, but had to settle for his fifth runner-up finish of the season without a win … Austin Cindric earned his 13th top-10 finish in the last 14 races … Harrison Burton earned his 13th top five of the season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Brett Moffitt finished 27th after he had to pit three times in the opening laps and was penalized for taking fuel before the competition caution … BJ McLeod finished 34th after he was eliminated in a multi-car wreck that began when he made contact with teammate Jeffrey EarnhardtMichael Annett finished 31st and Joe Graf Jr. placed 27th after they were involved in an incident on Lap 120.

QUOTE OF THE RACE: “I hit pit road and I wanted to cry.” – Ross Chastain after he finished second for the fifth time this year. He is winless entering the playoffs.

WHAT’S NEXT: The Xfinity playoffs open at Las Vegas Motor Speedway at 7:30 p.m. ET on Sept. 26 on NBCSN.

 

Fans not allowed at Las Vegas races

Fans not allowed
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Spectators will be not be allowed for any of the NASCAR playoff races next weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the track announced Friday night.

A press release said only essential personnel will be allowed to attend the Cup, Xfinity and Truck playoff races there.

“To say we’re disappointed that we will conduct the South Point 400 playoff weekend without fans would be a gross understatement,” said Las Vegas Motor Speedway President Chris Powell. “Our staff has been working – many of them remotely – since the February Pennzoil 400 to prepare the speedway for our playoff tripleheader.

“But we must adhere to Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak’s directive that limits gatherings due to COVID-19.  While we disagree with this policy, we have no choice but to oblige.  We certainly regret this situation for the thousands of race fans who won’t be able to attend our NASCAR-weekend events.”

Nevada’s re-opening plan does not permit fans at sporting events, concerts. Groups are limited to 50 or fewer people.

The Las Vegas Raiders announced last month that they would not have fans at any of the team’s home games in its inaugural season there.

The Truck playoff race will be at 9 p.m. ET Sept. 25 on FS1. The Xfinity playoff opener will be at  7:30 p.m. ET Sept. 26 on NBCSN. The Cup playoff race will be 7 p.m. ET Sept. 27 on NBCSN.

Fans holding tickets for those events will be contacted by the speedway ticket services department to discuss credits for future races or refunds.

Pit crew change for Alex Bowman, Jimmie Johnson teams

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Hendrick Motorsports teammates Alex Bowman and Jimmie Johnson each will have a pit crew change for Saturday night’s playoff race at Bristol.

The change is the result of an injury to one pit crew member.

Dustin Lineback, jackman for Bowman’s team is out with an injury, the team stated. Kyle Tudor, who has been Johnson’s jackman, moves over to that role for Bowman’s team. Eric Ludwig, a backup for Hendrick Motorsports, moves up to be the jackman for Johnson.

MORE: Saturday Cup race at Bristol: Start time, forecast, lineup

Bowman enters the elimination race 27 points ahead of teammate William Byron, the first driver outside a transfer spot to the second round. Bowman opened the playoffs by finishing sixth in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. He followed that by placing ninth at Richmond. Bowman was collected in a crash and finished 37th in the May Bristol race.

Johnson, who is in his final full-time Cup season, seeks his first victory of the season. He finished third at Bristol in May.