Friday 5: David Ragan says gap between ‘haves and have-nots’ has grown

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It started with a tweet.

Isn’t that often the case?

It was a few days after Travis Pastrana successfully recreated three of Evel Knievel’s iconic Las Vegas jumps earlier this month. Pastrana, who ran full-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2013, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he enjoyed his racing experience except for losing his own money.

“The best way to end up a millionaire,” Pastrana told the newspaper “is to start with two and go racing.”

David Ragan, who has made 417 career Cup starts, responded to the comment with a tweet:

In a conversation with NBC Sports a few hours before last weekend’s race at Kentucky Speedway, Ragan praised the racing, the safety of the cars and NASCAR’s marketing of drivers, but reiterated his concerns about the financial gap between Cup teams.

“The gap has gotten larger from the haves and have-nots,” Ragan said. “A team like Jasper Motorsports in the early 2000s, they could have a good weekend and a good setup and a good pit crew and they could go and run in the top five. Can Front Row Motorsports run in the top five at Kentucky on a normal weekend? No. There’s no way.

“A team like Roush Racing, they’re off right now, they can’t do it. So the distance between the haves and the have-nots are as great as they’ve ever been.”

How to solve the problem, Ragan admits he isn’t sure. He says the sport needs to be cheaper so teams don’t require as much sponsorship money to be competitive.

Richard Petty Motorsports stated before last weekend’s race at Kentucky that it continues to look for sponsorship this season for rookie Bubba Wallace. The businesses of car owners Richard Petty (Petty’s Garage) and Andrew Murstein (Medallion Bank) were the sponsors on Wallace’s car last week and will be on his car this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

“Now a team owner, when they hire a driver, the first question is ‘How much money do you have?’ or ‘Can you sell a sponsor for me?’ ” Ragan said.

Ragan admits that there are some such cases that have worked out well for team and driver.

“You look at Matt Tifft and … Brandon Jones, they bring money to the team and it’s a rent-a-ride and those kids are deserving of a ride,” Ragan said. “They do a good job, but it’s not always like that because you do have some kids – and I don’t need to name names – but there are some kids just having a good time spending their daddy’s money and that doesn’t help our sport.

“They don’t have the passion. There’s probably late model drivers, (Camping World Truck Series driver) Jordan Anderson who is passionate about our sport, who drives his truck and trailer all around the country. He deserves a top-tier ride. It all boils down to expense.”

Ragan says it is important for new people to enter the sport and the Cup level.

“What creates interest in our sport, someone from an owner or a driver that says, ‘Hey I can come in and pay my dues and be successful in a reasonable amount of time,’ ” Ragan said. “(I) think that was possible 25 years ago. I think that Bill Davis or the owner of Jasper Motorsports … someone like a Robert Yates, who is not a billionaire but who is hard worker, who is a good team leader and who has good people surrounding them, they could come and be successful. I think like Morgan-McClure, but we’ve run those teams out because this is a rich man’s hobby. If you don’t have a half a billion net worth or more, you don’t have a chance of making it in NASCAR.”

The Race Team Alliance, which Ragan’s Front Row Motorsports team is not part of by choice, has sought to help teams reduce costs through shared expenses. NASCAR repeatedly has stated that one of its prime objectives is costs and that it works with teams on cutting expenses.

One recent example is NASCAR deciding not to run the All-Star package at any other track this season after concerns from teams about the expense of a mid-season change.

Rob Kauffman, chairman of the Race Team Alliance, said on the NASCAR on NBC podcast earlier this month that the purpose of the RTA “is to promote and grow the sport of stock-car racing and pursue the long-term (common) interests of the teams.”

Kauffman said the RTA worked on cutting costs for teams. That included travel costs, working with carriers to ferry teams to tracks instead of teams needing to have their own jets (although some still do).

Still, the sport faces challenges. That’s among the reasons the charter system was created. Kauffman said on the NASCAR on NBC podcast that the RTA was involved in the negotiations on the charter system and “how the rule process works: When, how, when do changes get implemented. The teams are not against changes. I think in general they’re in favor of evolution and trying to promote and grow the sport, just change needs to be done in a reasonable and planned out and sensible fashion.”

The charter system helps Cup teams budget for a season based on an estimated earning per race. Teams still need to secure sponsorship to fund all that they want or need. A hope among owners is that as the charters mature, they will grow in value so if an owner ever decides to sell, they won’t be losing money just like Pastrana said he did.

2. Playoff battle among teammates

Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman hold the final three playoff spots heading into Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Johnson leads Elliott by 15 points and Elliott has a 42-point point advantage on Bowman, who is coming off a last-place finish at Kentucky after a brake rotor failed that caused his crash last weekend.

Bowman admits “it’s definitely crossed my mind” on how to race his teammates if they’re also battling for the final playoff spots.

“I would imagine at that point you just become competitors,” he told NBC Sports. “You’re still going to help each other. The teams are going to share information, but when it comes down to Sunday afternoon, you’re just going to become competitors and can’t race each other easy like teammates at that point.

“Hopefully it doesn’t come down to that and all three of us get in, but it will be an interesting experience and a learning process for me because, you’re right, I haven’t had an experience like that, I don’t know what to expect with that.”

3. Roval concerns

After Cup drivers tested the road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway over the past two weeks, the consensus is that playoff race there Sept. 30 should feature a lot of bumping and banging — crashing.

Over the past couple of weeks, minor adjustments were made to the track. The first test day, additional curbing  and a tire barrier were put near the backstretch chicane to keep drivers from cutting through the exit and shortening the distance to Turn 3 on the oval.

During the test this past week, rumble strips were removed from Turn 8, a left-hand turn that leads cars from the infield portion back on to the oval.

Joey Logano has another change he’d like to see but knows he likely won’t.

“I think the goal should be to try to get rid of the bus stop on the back,” Logano told NBC Sports. “Just get rid of it. Just go. Hell with it. We don’t need it any other time we’re here. There’s no passing zone there. It’s kind of hodge-podge in a way.

“It’s going to cause accidents, and there’s no room for error. Someone is going to hit the tire pylon on exit and knock the radiators out of the car. We’re going to have a big caution and a  big cleanup. It would just be better if we didn’t have it.”

That chicane is intended to prevent cars from carrying too much speed into Turns 3 and 4 on the oval. The challenge with a road course that also has high-speed banked turns is for teams to have the proper setup and Goodyear to provide the proper tire that can handle those speeds and the demands of a road course.

That’s not the only concern.

Aric Almirola noted that for the start and restarts, drivers will come down the frontstretch instead of going through the chicane. He worries about the speed drivers will carry into Turn 1, a sharp left-hand turn into the infield road course.

“Turn 1 is very sketchy, and on the restarts I think that’s going to be a really, really sketchy spot,” Almirola told NBC Sports. “We’re going to be going faster because we’re going to be restarting from the oval instead of from the chicane. That’s going to be an interesting thing to watch and see how it develops throughout the weekend. I just don’t know.

“It’s fun to do something different. I enjoy that. I wish it wasn’t a playoff race. I would love for this to be an exhibition race or to run here in May when it means a little less, but to come here for a playoff race to do something this extreme, I’m not totally in favor of it.”

Alex Bowman said that his team considered simulating a restart during their test last week but ran out of time after having parts failures that limited their track time.

4. Something new?

Martin Truex Jr. has 16 wins since the beginning of the 2016 season but he’s not won back-to-back races. Will that change this weekend?

5. Will the domination continue?

Toyota drivers have led 97.2 percent of the laps run in the last four Cup races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Toyota drivers won three of those four races. Will anyone else challenge those cars this weekend?

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Christopher Bell wins Kentucky Xfinity race after starting from rear

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Christopher Bell led the final 17 laps to win Friday’s Xfinity race at Kentucky Speedway after starting from the rear of the field.

It is Bell’s second win of his rookie year.

Bell passed Justin Allgaier to take the lead with 17 to go and held off Daniel Hemric all the way to the checkered flag.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver had to start in 40th after changing the tires on his No. 20 Toyota following a spin in qualifying.

“That was pretty special, man,” Bell told NBCSN. “I keep making mistakes and I’ve been feeling really bad for my team. Joe Gibbs Racing has been working really hard to build really fast race cars and I made another mistake there in qualifying, I didn’t know if I was going to be able to get back on this repave. … It was just really working really good on the bottom of (Turns) 3 and 4 there. Hats off to Daniel, I know he’s been trying really hard to get a NASCAR win here for a long time.”

The top five was completed by Kyle Busch, Cole Custer and Allgaier.

The win is the third of Bell’s career and gives him 10 top 10s through 17 races.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kyle Busch

STAGE 2 WINNER: John Hunter Nemechek

MORE: race results and point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: John Hunter Nemechek managed to finish seventh after he lost power during a caution in the final stage, resulting in a battery change that put him a lap down … Tyler Reddick finished sixth, rebounding from two consecutive DNFs … Ryan Reed placed eighth for his second top 10 in nine races.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Blake Jones was spun by Josh Williams on Lap 100 for the first caution for an incident. Jones finished 25th … On the following restart, Brandon Jones spun on the backstretch and hit the inside wall. He finished 36th … Ty Majeski placed 27th after spinning through the infield grass on Lap 132.

NOTABLE: Elliott Sadler finished 12th. He started the season with 12 consecutive top 10s. He has finished outside the top 10 in three of the last five races. He is now tied with Daniel Hemric for the points lead with 608 points.

WHAT’S NEXT: Lakes Region 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway at 4 p.m. ET on July 21 on NBCSN.

Tonight’s Xfinity race at Kentucky: Start time, lineup and more

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The last time the Xfinity Series raced at Kentucky Speedway, Tyler Reddick won to earn his first career series victory. Could the same thing happen in tonight’s Alsco 300? Daniel Hemric and Brandon Jones are among those hoping that is the case.

Here’s all the info for tonight’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Larry Bailey, Chairman, Bowling Green Area Convention Visitors Bureau, will give the command to start engines at 8:17 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 8:25 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 200 laps (300 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 45. Stage 2 ends on Lap 90.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at noon. Qualifying is at 5:05 p.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 6:15 p.m. Driver introductions are at 7:45 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: County music recording artist Andy Velo will perform the anthem at 8:11 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race beginning at 8 p.m. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Countdown to Green on NBCSN. Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 7:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for sunny skies with a high of 86 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Tyler Reddick won by 14.5 seconds in September, finishing ahead of Brennan Poole and Justin Allgaier. Kyle Busch won at Kentucky last July, finishing ahead of Ryan Blaney and Erik Jones.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying is at 5:05 p.m.

NASCAR Truck results, points report

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SPARTA, Kentucky – Ben Rhodes scored his first Camping World Truck Series win of the season to earn a spot in the playoffs Thursday night at Kentucky Speedway. That the victory came at the Louisville native’s home track made it even sweeter.

Stewart Friesen finished second and was followed by Matt Crafton, Brandon Jones and John Hunter Nemechek.

Click here for race results

Johnny Sauter remains the points leader despite finishing 15th. He has a 42-point lead on Noah Gragson, who placed eighth. Brett Moffitt is 91 points behind Sauter heading to Wednesday’s race at Eldora Speedway.

Click here for points report

Ben Rhodes scores Truck win at Kentucky Speedway

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SPARTA, Kentucky —  Ben Rhodes, who grew up in nearby Louisville, held off Stewart Friesen in the final laps to win Thursday’s Camping World Truck Series race at his home track, Kentucky Speedway.

“This is sweeter than my first win,” Rhodes said. “This is sweeter because of the people that are here.

“(Kentucky Speedway) doesn’t have the history that Daytona does but it has the history for me,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes had one of the strongest trucks in the 150-lap race (he won the opening stage) but was aided by fuel-only pit stop with 25 laps to go. The other leaders took two tires.

MORE: Race results, points report 

The victory was the second of Rhodes’ career. His other win came Sept. 2017 at Las Vegas. The win is Rhodes’ first of the season and earns him a spot in the playoffs.

Friesen, who started at the rear because of an engine change before the race, finished second. Matt Crafton was third and followed by Brandon Jones and John Hunter Nemechek.

Stage 1 winner: Ben Rhodes

Stage 2 winner: Noah Gragson

How Ben Rhodes won: Runner-up Stewart Friesen said he felt that he lost time to Rhodes coming on to pit road when they made their final pit stops. After that, Friesen struggled with his truck’s handling the closer he got to Rhodes before fading in the final laps.

Who had a good race: Stewart Friesen’s second-place finish marked the fourth time in the last five races on 1.5-mile tracks he’s placed sixth or better. … Matt Crafton started 30th (after nearly crashing in qualifying) and finished third for his best result since placing second at Dover in May. … Dalton Sargeant’s ninth-place result snapped a streak of eight consecutive finishes outside the top 10.

Who had a bad race: Rookie Myatt Snider had to start at the rear after crashing in qualifying and had to go to a backup. He was never a factor, finishing 26th. … Points leader Johnny Sauter was penalized for speeding on pit road and then for a commitment line violation while serving the speeding penalty. He finished 15th, two laps off the leaders.

Notable: Ben Rhodes’ win marks the fourth consecutive series victory for a driver age 25 or under. Rhodes is 21 years old.

Quote of the night: ThorSport Racing General Manager David Pepper after Ben Rhodes’ win: “With 5 races to go in the regular season, leading into the playoffs, the rest of these teams need to look out for ThorSport. We’re going to be a factor.”

Next: The series races at Eldora at 9 p.m. ET on Wednesday, July 18.

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