No time to wait: ‘We’re just going all in’ on Lap 1 at Darlington

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Tyler Reddick’s response is immediate. Asked to describe what the opening lap in Sunday’s race at Darlington Raceway might be like, the Cup rookie says: “Frustrating.”

It’s not because it will be the first lap of competition in a Cup car at Darlington for Reddick — and six other drivers in the 40-car field.

Or that competitors will have had no practice or qualifying before racing at arguably NASCAR’s toughest track.

Or that it will have been 71 days since Reddick and his fellow drivers last competed in a Cup race because of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Reddick users the word “frustrating” because of where he’ll start. A combination of owner points and random draw set the field. Reddick’s season has had more struggles than success and he enters the race 26th in points. That meant he was eligible to start in positions 25-36 through the random draw. He will start 29th.

“I’m going to be around a lot of cars that I’ve got to be smart around and get around on a tight racetrack like Darlington,” Reddick told NBC Sports.

But it’s not just the first lap that concerns him.

“Quite honestly,” Reddick said, “I’m terrified that somebody is going to wreck big and take half the field out in like the first 15 laps. We’re just going all in, right at the drop of the green. That’s just the situation we’re in.”

Every driver will be challenged. But those with experience should adapt quickly— even Matt Kenseth. Although he last competed in a Cup race in the 2018 season finale and has never driven the high downforce and low horsepower package that will be used Sunday, no active Cup driver has run more race laps at Darlington than Kenseth at 8,455. His Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Kurt Busch, is next with 7,970 race laps at that track.

Cup rookie John Hunter Nemechek, though, will make his first Cup start at Darlington this weekend. He’s run at the track once, finishing 21st in last year’s Xfinity race. He will start 34th Sunday.

One thought is foremost to him about the start.

“You have to go into it with the mentality of don’t make a mistake the first lap and learn every lap,” Nemechek told NBC Sports. “Every lap that you’re on the racetrack, you’re learning, so continue to progress through the race, continue to get faster through the race. Just take your time getting up to speed, but at the same time you can’t take too much time or you end up going laps down.

“It’s hard. It’s one of the things where you’re trying to soak up as much information as possible and trying to apply it in a very short amount of time with no track time.”

Along with Reddick and Nemechek, others who have not run a lap at Darlington in a Cup car are Cole Custer (starting 14th), Quin Houff (27th), Christopher Bell (28th), Brennan Poole (35th) and Josh Bilicki (40th).

Custer returns to Darlington a winner. He finished second in last year’s Xfinity race but was declared the victor when Denny Hamlin’s winning car failed inspection after the race.

It’s a nice accomplishment but one that won’t mean much when Custer goes into Turn 1 side-by-side with another car for his first Cup lap at the track.

“It’s going be exciting,” Custer told NBC Sports.

For him or fans watching on TV?

“Probably for both,” Custer said with a chuckle. “It’s probably the hardest track to run around with other cars out there. Once the tires wear out, it’s one of the hardest tracks to run on. You try to put as much as you can into trying to watch (race) videos and (be) in the simulator and just try to get yourself prepared for what to expect, but you really don’t know what to expect before you make those first few laps.”

Making the start more challenging is that even though all 40 drivers will want to be conservative at the start, once the green  flag waves, that thinking could go away quickly.

“That’s the problem,” Custer said. “I think everybody would want to start the race off conservative and just kind of make sure we make it through the first few laps and then get going and get a feel for it, but the problem is that, especially with this package, you can’t put yourself behind on a restart or anything like that.

“You might not be making those really daring moves and everything, but I think you’re going to have some people that are going to be aggressive, trying to make passes early on and trying to pick some spots off because that’s probably your best opportunity to make them.”

Bell’s plan is to avoid the temptation of making bold moves in the opening laps.

“Lap 1 is definitely going to be calm, steady and no mistakes,” Bell told NBC Sports. “That’s going to be the motto of my race the entire time.

“I’ve got to make sure I get to the last lap.”

First, he and the rest of the field must get through the first lap.

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All-Star Race, Open entry lists

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It’s officially All-Star Race week.

For the first time the annual exhibition event that awards $1 million will be held at Bristol Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET Wednesday on FS1).

Twenty drivers will compete in the 140-lap, four-stage main event. Sixteen drivers currently make up the field following Cole Custer’s win Sunday at Kentucky Speedway.

Three drivers will qualify for the main event via the All-Star Open, the 85-lap preliminary race that’s divided into three stages. The winners of all three stages will advance. The remaining driver will advance via a fan vote.

Here are the entry lists for each race.

All-Star Race 

Drivers who automatically qualified for the All-Star Race: Those who won points races in 2019-20, past All-Star Race winners and previous Cup champions.

Drivers who have clinched an All-Star Race spot: Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Cole Custer, Chase Elliott, Justin Haley, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr.

Click here for the entry list.

All-Star Open

Twenty-two drivers are entered in the preliminary race.

Notable drivers include Clint Bowyer, Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron, rookies Tyler Reddick, William Byron and John Hunter Nemechek, as well as Bubba Wallace.

Click here for the entry list.

NASCAR in ‘good place’ with Harrison Burton, Noah Gragson after fight

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Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, says that series officials will keep an eye on Harrison Burton and Noah Gragson moving forward but that the sanctioning body feels it is in a “good place” with those drivers after their fight last weekend at Kentucky Speedway.

Gragson punched Burton after Burton repeatedly shoved him in the garage area as they discussed their contact on the track late in Friday night’s Xfinity Series race at Kentucky Speedway. A NASCAR spokesperson said Friday night that no penalties were anticipated.

Asked about where matters stood between NASCAR and the two drivers, Miller told “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Monday morning:

“I personally wasn’t in the post-race conversations. (NASCAR Xfinity Series Managing Director) Wayne Auton does a great job with that and the report that I got from him is he talked to some of the crew members that were involved and obviously both of the drivers. I think we got to a good place. They’re going to have some words this week and try to make sure we’re in a good spot when we start the weekend next weekend in Texas. We feel like we’re OK.

“This is an emotional sport and there’s going to be things like that that crop up. It’s not a great situation for us to deal with as a sanctioning body, but we also want the emotion in the sport. That’s what makes it so special. Those things are unfortunate, but we do know from time to time those are going to happen. If we feel good about the conversations we’ve had, in a lot of cases we’re going to move on from that and keep an eye on those individuals moving forward.”

Race and Sports in America: Conversations to air at 8 p.m. ET Monday

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Damon Hack will host two roundtables with athletes and former athletes for a conversation on race and sports in America. The show airs at 8 p.m. ET Monday on NBCSN, Golf Channel, Olympic Channel and the NBC Sports Regional Networks.

Appearing with Hack will be Los Angeles Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, NBA superstar Steph Curry, NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, NFL player Kyle Rudolph, pro golfer Troy Mullins, former tennis player James Blake, Major League Baseball player James Rollins and Baseball Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith.

Among the topics discussed are: The conversations they’ve had with family in the last few months, what they hope things will be like in a year’s time, the level of optimism vs. pessimism and their experiences.



Winners and losers from Kentucky

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Cole CusterHe entered Sunday’s race well out of a playoff spot at 25th in the points. He took advantage of a series of events in the final laps to score a dramatic victory and earn a playoff spot.

Martin Truex Jr.Lost the lead on the last lap but recorded his first top-five finish since his Martinsville win last month.

Matt DiBenedetto He was 18th with 14 laps to go and finished third.

Christopher BellSeventh-place finish was his fourth finish of 12th or better in the last six races.

Austin Cindric Had not won on an oval in the Xfinity Series before sweeping both series races at Kentucky Speedway.


Matt KensethA week after finishing runner-up at Indianapolis, he spun twice and finished 25th at Kentucky.

Ryan PreeceFinished last for the second race in a row. He was eliminated in a pit road accident at Indy and by transmission issues at Kentucky. He has failed to finish five of 17 races this season (29.4%).

Jimmie JohnsonWas third on a late restart when contact with Brad Keselowski spun him. Instead of contending for his first victory since 2017, Johnson finished 18th and had a little warning for Keselowski.