Ricky Stenhouse Jr. responds to Martin Truex Jr.’s criticism from Atlanta

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. countered Martin Truex Jr.’s claims that Stenhouse, running a lap behind the leaders, held Truex up late in last weekend’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Stenhouse told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Wednesday that he was “confused” by Truex’s assertion and wondered if Truex thought that “lapped cars have dirtier air coming off the car (than those on the lead lap).”

Truex was upset with Stenhouse after the race, saying Stenhouse should have gotten out of the way sooner. 

“(Stenhouse) rode there in front of us forever and ever, running the bottom,” Truex said after the race. “I kept telling him I needed the bottom, and these cars are just so bad in dirty air that he was holding me up really bad.”

Of lapped cars, Truex said: “They just have no respect for the leaders running for the win. It’s completely uncalled for, ridiculous. It’s a shame.”

Stenhouse didn’t see things that way, telling Claire B. Lang on “Dialed In” on Wednesday:

“To me I didn’t feel like we really held him off. If he was that fast, then he could have closed up to us. If leaders get within five car lengths of me, I let them go. Mike Herman Jr., my spotter, was updating me how far back (Truex) was. We were racing to try to get back on the lead lap.

“I felt like there at a moment we were going to be able to catch (Brad Keselowski, who led the final 33 laps to win). We were running faster lap times than he was. So, we were thinking, ‘hey, let’s just old school get our lap back (by passing the leader) and see how it falls.’

“But also (Keselowski) was catching (Chase Elliott) and was going to put him a lap down, and we wanted to make sure that if (Elliott) got lapped that we could get by him as quick as possible in case the caution came out and we could get the lucky dog that way as well.

“The way I see it, if Truex is fast enough and that much faster than me, then he could have caught us. If he would have caught us and got to within five car lengths, I would have let him go. He didn’t have any problem getting within five car lengths of (Keselowski).

“He talks about dirty air and things like that. I don’t know if he thinks that lapped cars have dirtier air coming off the car. Kind of confused me. Brad Keselowski, he restarted behind me, actually nose to tail with Truex and he passed us on the outside.

“Generally, when I have a faster car, I just drive around the lapped cars that I’m lapping. It’s one of those things that I felt like me and my spotter and our team did the right thing for what we had going on.

“Once I slipped up a little bit, Truex closed within five car lengths and I pulled almost on the apron on the back straightaway to give him whatever lane he wanted and slowed up for him. That’s the way I play it. When the leaders get to me, I give them a lane one way or the other when they get close, but he wasn’t close enough to just give up our whole lap or the positions I was racing for either.”

Issues began when there was a caution during a green-flag pit cycle for Ryan Preece running into the back of B.J. McLeod’s car on pit road. McLeod’s car spun, injuring a member of Chris Buescher’s pit crew.

Joey Logano and Kurt Busch were the only cars on the lead lap that hadn’t pitted. They restarted on the front row. Per the NASCAR Rule Book, cars one or more laps down restart next.

That put Stenhouse, a lap down, inside of the second row with Jimmie Johnson to his outside. The third row had Bubba Wallace on the inside and Ty Dillon. Both were two laps down.

Keselowski, who received the free pass, was positioned on the inside of the fourth row for the restart, ahead of cars that had pitted and did the wave around. Truex restarted on the inside of the fifth row, directly behind Keselowski.

Keselowski maneuvered by the four lapped cars ahead of him quickly after the restart. Truex did not.

Fueler suffers broken fibula, torn ACL in pit road incident

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Anthony Pasut, fueler for Chris Buescher‘s team, suffered a broken fibula, torn ACL and other injuries to his right leg during a pit road incident in Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Pasut is a Hendrick Motorsports pit crew member. JTG Daugherty Racing gets its pit crews from Hendrick Motorsports.

Pasut was injured when JTG Daugherty driver Ryan Preece ran into the back of B.J. McLeod’s car on pit road. McLeod’s car spun into Buescher’s pit and injured Pasut.

A timeline for his return has not been determined. A replacement will be determined later this week.

Cody Ware explains his side of bizarre pit-road crash in Daytona 500

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There were many wrecked race cars at the end of Sunday’s Daytona 500, but some were damaged in an unusual place for a restrictor-plate race — the pits.

The five-car incident occurred with 41 laps left in the midst of green-flag stops, starting as Rick Ware Racing teammates Cody Ware and B.J. McLeod made contact near the entrance to pit road.

That set off a chain reaction that collected the cars of Jimmie Johnson, Tyler Reddick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Every car except Ware’s was able to continue.

Ware, who finished 39th, took to Twitter to explain Wednesday how the wreck unfolded from his perspective in the No. 52 Chevrolet. He blamed other teams for miscommunication.

Denny Hamlin holds on to win second Daytona 500

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Denny Hamlin stayed ahead of three wrecks in the final 17 laps — including a 21-car crash — to hold on for an overtime win in Sunday’s Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.

It was Hamlin’s second win in The Great American Race in the last four years, having also taken the checkered flag in 2016. He led a 1-2-3 Joe Gibbs Racing finish with Kyle Busch second and Erik Jones third.  Joey Logano and Michael McDowell finished fourth and fifth, respectively.

“What happened here is really unreal,” Joe Gibbs said to Fox, referring to the memory of his son J.D., who passed away last month. “I’m emotionally shot …. I’m just saying, what happened here is really unreal. …. I think J.D. had the best view of everything.”

MORE: Click here for Daytona 500 results, NASCAR Cup point standings

Said Hamlin, who got his break with Joe Gibbs Racing from J.D. Gibbs: “The whole family, they’ve done so much for me over the course of my career. This one’s for J.D. We’re desperately going to miss him for the rest of our lives. His legacy still lives on through Joe Gibbs Racing.”

It was Hamlin’s first NASCAR Cup win since Darlington in 2017, snapping a 47-race winless streak.

Although he earned his highest career finish in the 500 (previous best was third in 2016), Kyle Busch failed to win the 500 for the 14th time in his career, leaving him somewhat disappointed.

“It’s awesome to see a JGR car in victory lane for Joe and J.D. and everything that’s gone this offseason with all that, but it’s bittersweet … for all my team guys and us and trying to get our Daytona 500 victory,” Busch said. “(Hamlin) has two and I’ve got none, but that’s a part of it sometimes. We just have to move on and go to the next time.”

Ty Dillon finished sixth, followed by Kyle Larson, rookie Ryan Preece, Jimmie Johnson and Ross Chastain.

On Lap 191, the seemingly inevitable Big One occurred. Paul Menard bump-drafted Matt DiBenedetto, triggering the massive wreck that brought out a red flag race stoppage.

Another seven-car wreck occurred on Lap 194 involving Ricky Stenhouse, Alex Bowman and teammate Chase Elliott, among others. And then with two laps to go in regulation time, the race was sent to overtime after another wreck.

This was the final restrictor plate race in NASCAR history. Tapered spacers will replace plates at both Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway.

Stage 1 winner: Kyle Busch. Stage 2 winner: Ryan Blaney.

Who had a good race: Even though his day ended 17 laps short of the finish due to being caught in a 21-car wreck, Matt DiBenedetto (finished 28th) had a great debut for Leavine Family Racing, leading a race-high 49 laps. … And then there was Ryan Preece’s outstanding 8th-place finish in his Daytona 500 debut.

Who had a bad race: Bubba Wallace, who finished second in last year’s 500, finished 38th Sunday after being involved in a wreck. … Daniel Hemric was parked for the final 17 laps after driving after the red flag fell following the Lap 191 crash.

Notable: Jimmie Johnson was penalized two laps after being assessed an illegal fueling penalty following a wreck on the entrance to pit road on Lap 159. NASCAR ruled that the fueler, who is allowed only to fuel the car, took part in repairs, which is not allowed. Johnson rallied to make up the two-lap penalty to finish ninth.

Quote of the day: “It just felt like it was one of those days when it was meant to be.” — Denny Hamlin.

What’s next: The NASCAR Cup Series moves to Atlanta Motor Speedway for next Sunday’s Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500.

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Friday 5: Jeffrey Earnhardt ready for challenge of winning Xfinity races

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HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — Jeffrey Earnhardt sighs and says “too long.”

He rests his head in his hand and stares ahead.

“It’s been too long,” Earnhardt says since he last won a race. “Hell, I can’t remember. That’s pretty sad. It’s been a while.”

A journey that started with racing a Yugo — yes, a Yugo — and later moved from small team to small team in NASCAR, now has its reward more than a decade later.

Earnhardt will drive in nine Xfinity races for Joe Gibbs Racing this season, beginning with the Feb. 16 season opener at Daytona International Speedway. 

The expectations are high — “it’s wins or nothing” he saidbut the pressure can’t compare to what Earnhardt faced to reach this point.

“The pressure to go and get in a car that is capable of winning, that’s the pressure I’ve been looking for my whole life,” he said, wearing a black Joe Gibbs Racing T-shirt in a conference room at the team’s Cup headquarters.

Instead, the pressure has been to survive in the sport. Beginning with the Yugo.

He begged his father for a couple of years to let him race. His dad eventually relented, saying Earnhardt could compete if he found a car and sponsorship to pay for it. Earnhardt got the Yugo and sponsorship for it.

He never won in that car. But he didn’t drive it long.

“I ended up flipping it,” Earnhardt said of a race at Wythe Raceway in Rural Retreat, Virginia. “Because it was so slow. A guy shoved me off in the corner and turned me sideways and another car came and hit the front end of the car … and turned me head-on into the outside wall. Flipped. Landed on its roof.

“I was like, ‘Man, this thing is going to catch on fire.’ I’d seen too many movies. I ended up getting my shoelace hung on the brake pedal and didn’t think I was going to make it out alive. Everyone was like, ‘You’re fine, we’ve got you.’ ”

He thought everything would be fine when he joined Dale Earnhardt Inc. and drove in what is now the K&N Pro Series East Series in 2007-08.

“Signed a four-year contract at 17 years old and thought, this is going to be a walk in the park,” Earnhardt told NBC Sports. “Everything is going to be taken care of.”

But his ride went away after DEI merged with Chip Ganassi Racing in November 2008. The struggle to find rides began. Earnhardt ran one K&N Pro Series East race and two Xfinity races in 2009. He ran five Truck races in 2010. In 2011, he drove in two Xfinity races and five Truck races.

Earnhardt fought in one MMA bout in 2012 — he won — but realized afterward that he still wanted to race.

“I did the MMA thing to try to find something that gave me that rush that I get in a race car and it still wasn’t the equivalent,” Earnhardt said.

He continued to search for rides.

“What my grandfather did and his legacy means the world to me,” Earnhardt said of the late Dale Earnhardt. “I would hate to not think that I gave literally everything I possibly could to make it continue.”

He’s driven in 151 races in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks but never with a team that could compete for wins. His best Xfinity finish is 12th at Bristol (2014) and Talladega (2015). His best Cup finish is 11th in last July’s Daytona race.

With JGR, top 10s should be common. Earnhardt will drive the No. 18, a car that won twice last year with Ryan Preece at Bristol and Kyle Busch at Pocono and saw Noah Gragson finish second with in his Xfinity debut at Richmond last year.

“I was talking on the phone with my manager and I was like, I’ve gone from the struggle of trying to keep the car under me for the whole entire race and not wreck to now the struggle is going to be those late-race restarts when you’re on the front row,” Earnhardt said. “That’s a new challenge, it’s a good challenge.”

2. Reversal of fortune

What would have happened had NASCAR disqualified cars last year that failed inspection after a race instead of doing it this season?

Two Cup races would have had different winners.

Kyle Busch would have finished the season with a series-high nine wins instead of being tied with Kevin Harvick at eight.

Harvick would have lost his win at Las Vegas after his car was found to have an issue with the rear window during an inspection at NASCAR’s R&D Center. That would have given Busch, the runner-up, the win.

Also, Harvick would have lost his Texas win for an issue with the spoiler — also discovered at the R&D Center. But runner-up Ryan Blaney was penalized because his car failed inspection and the win would have gone to Joey Logano, who finished third in that race.

Nine cars that finished in the top four in a Cup race last year failed inspection after the event and would have been disqualified under this year’s rules.

3. Disqualification penalty appeals

Should a vehicle be disqualified after failing inspection after the race, the team can appeal. They will have to pay a non-refundable appeal filing fee of $5,000.

Unlike a regular appeal, which features a panel of three people, the race disqualification appeal will be heard by one person. It could be one of the 28 people listed in the rule book as appeal panelists or it could be the Final Appeal Officer or their alternate.

One thing to note in this particular type of case is that the decision of that one panelist is final. The decision cannot be appealed to the Final Appeal Officer.

4. Charter transfers

With a new season, comes the transfer of charters in Cup.

Six of the 36 charters have changed teams for this season.

The charter that was with BK Racing’s No. 23 car last year, which Front Row Motorsports purchased, will be with the No. 38 car of David Ragan.

The charter that had been with Ragan’s team goes to teammate Matt Tifft. Front Row Motorsports added a car, growing to a third team this season.

The charter with Richard Petty Motorsport’s No. 43 car with Bubba Wallace goes to Rick Ware Racing and will be aligned with the No. 51 car and driven by B.J. McLeod in the Daytona 500.

The charter that was with Rick Ware Racing’s No. 51 car last year goes to RPM’s No. 43 car this season.

Furniture Row Racing’s charter was purchased by Spire Motorsports and be used with the No. 77 car. That will be No. 40 for Jamie McMurray in the Daytona 500 and then go back to No. 77 the rest of the season. 

The charter that had been with the No. 72 car of TriStar Motorsports moves to the No. 52 car at Rick Ware Racing.

5. Rule changes

NASCAR came out with a bulletin this week that updated its rule book.

Among some of the changes:

— Drivers must have all four tires below the orange box at the commitment line to enter pit road. That had been the case last year at all tracks except Martinsville. Drivers needed to only put two tires under the orange box there. Now, they will have to adjust at Martinsville.

— A pit crew member’s foot must not touch pit road before the vehicle is one pit box away from its assigned pit box or the equivalent marked distance. Should a crew member’s foot or both feet touch the pit road surface too early, the pit crew member can re-establish their position back to or behind the pit wall before servicing the car to avoid a penalty.

— A sixth person can go over the wall during a pit stop but that person’s duties are limited to servicing the driver in their health and well-being, assisting with safety systems, window net, helmet and cooling ventilation hose, radio system replacement, steering wheel wiring, providing personal medical supplies and cleaning the windshield. Such a person, though, is not allowed to help repair the body and/or mechanical components on the car.

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