Brennan Poole

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Friday 5: NASCAR’s decision to compete stands out among other sports

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UPDATE: NASCAR announced at 11:37 a.m. ET Friday that this weekend’s races at Atlanta Motor Speedway and next weekend’s races at Homestead-Miami Speedway have been postponed. No makeup dates have been set. 

MORE: President Trump to declare national emergency to combat coronavirus 

By the time the clock hit midnight, ending an unprecedented day and beginning a Friday the 13th, a new reality emerged because of COVID-19.

No NCAA Tournament. No Major League Baseball. No NBA. No NHL. No MLS. No Formula One race in Australia.

What was left? Primarily NASCAR and IndyCar.

While some NASCAR fans bristle at the notion that their sport be more similar to stick-and-ball sports, on this day, NASCAR was not.

With other sports postponing or canceling events, NASCAR announced plans to compete beginning today at Atlanta Motor Speedway with the Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series. No fans will be allowed to attend. Same for IndyCar in St. Pete.

Thursday night, though, the NTT IndyCar Series announced that it had eliminated Friday’s two 45-minute practice sessions. Instead, the weekend will begin Saturday for that series. At the end of its release on the updated weekend schedule, IndyCar stated: “Due to the fluidity of the situation, more modifications may be forthcoming and will be announced at the appropriate time.”

Things can change. NASCAR’s statement Thursday announcing plans to race without fans started: “At this time …” and ended with: “We will work with public health officials as we determine future scheduling beyond these events.”

Plans remain for next weekend’s NASCAR races at Homestead-Miami Speedway to be held without fans.

But how much longer can this go? Or will this go? There are indications that other sports are prepared to be idle for weeks.

In a letter to fans Thursday night, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver stated: “This hiatus will last at least 30 days and we intend to resume the season, if and when, it becomes safe for. all concerned.”

Major League Baseball announced Thursday that it would delay the regular season “by at least two weeks due to the national emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic.” Opening day had been scheduled for March 26.

The NCAA canceled the men’s and women’s basketball tournament, turning March Madness into March Sadness, and all spring sport championships, including some events that would not be held until after Memorial Day.

PGA Golf, which stated Thursday that The Players Championship would continue with no fans, reversed course and announced at 10 p.m. ET that it was canceling the event. That means every PGA Tour event is canceled up to the Masters, which is scheduled from April 9-12.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated Thursday that there were 1,215 total cases of COVID-19 (both confirmed and presumptive awaiting test results) in the United States with 36 deaths. The CDC stated that 42 states and the District of Columbia reported cases.

The CDC stated that Georgia, where NASCAR races this weekend, had reported 31 cases of COVID-19 (both confirmed and presumptive pending test results). Only Washington (366 cases), New York (217), California (175), Massachusetts (95) and Colorado (34) had more cases than Georgia.

Should NASCAR race this weekend and be one of the few sports to compete? To some sports-starved fans, NASCAR (and IndyCar) will be viewed as a hero for doing so. Others, though, may question both sports for holding an event during a pandemic.

Either way, today begins with NASCAR competitors scheduled to be on track at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

2. What’s next?

Once the NBA announced Wednesday night it was suspending its season because of COVID-19, momentum began to build for other sports to follow, leading to Thursday’s string of cancellations and postponements.

With NASCAR continuing, many questions remain. Beyond plans to race at Atlanta and Miami the next two weeks, then what?

Both Texas Motor Speedway, which will host the Cup race on March 29, and Bristol Motor Speedway, which will host the Cup race on April 5, issued statements via social media. Texas Motor Speedway’s statement noted that track officials are “closely monitoring facts and in frequent communications with public health officials. We are currently preparing to host our regularly scheduled events and will continue consulting with officials on best practices and recommendations.”

Bristol Motor Speedway stated Thursday that “there are no changes to our NASCAR race weekend April 2-5. Bristol Motor Speedway is working closely with our state and local health officials in preparation for our events.”

3. Bounty Race

With NASCAR stating it will race this weekend, the focus will turn to what is one of the most anticipated Truck Series races in years.

Kevin Harvick started the excitement by offering a $50,000 bonus for any Cup driver who could beat Kyle Busch in a Truck race. Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Gander RV and Outdoors, added another $50,000.

Busch has won his last seven Truck starts.

To collect the $100,000, a full-time Cup driver does not have to win. They only have to finish better than Busch but cannot do so by unfairly roughing him up. If more than one full-time Cup driver places ahead of Busch, the one who finishes highest wins all the money.

Cup regulars entered in Saturday’s Truck race at Atlanta are Chase Elliott, John Hunter Nemechek and Brennan Poole.

But that bounty left Truck series regulars out. So, Halmar International and truck owner Chris Larsen are putting up a $50,000 bounty for any Truck series regular.

To collect the $50,000 from Larsen, a Truck series regular needs to win the race. Also, Busch must be running at the finish. The bounty is for Atlanta but would continue to Busch’s next race, Homestead, if he wins.

Should Busch win at Atlanta, Larsen and Hal-mar will donate $25,000 to the Bundle of Joy fund, which is a part of the Kyle Busch Foundation and provides funds for families struggling to conceive.

4. Ready to collect

Although Johnny Sauter could collect a $50,000 bonus for beating Kyle Busch and winning Saturday’s Truck race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, he’s not focused on the bounty.

Johnny Sauter has finished second, third and third in his last three Atlanta Truck races. (Photo by Adrian Garcia/Getty Images)

“There’s no greater thing in the world or feeling,” Sauter told NBC Sports of winning. “Even though I’ve been fortunate enough to win a lot of races, it never gets old. … That’s what we do this for, at least that’s what I do it for. It’s not for bounty money or anything else. Winning races is awesome. So when you have trucks that are capable of doing it, especially where we’re at right now, I feel like we’re going to win quite a few races this year.”

Sauter, the 2016 Truck champion, has finished no worse than third in the last three Truck races at Atlanta. He’s also off to a strong start this season, placing seventh at Daytona and second to Busch at Las Vegas.

While there will be plenty of attention on Busch, Sauter doesn’t focus on such things.

“It’s just another person to beat,” Sauter said. “There’s no question that Kyle brings his ‘A’ game, not only with himself but with the program and the whole deal. A lot of people, I think, it bothers them that he runs in the Truck Series. Me personally, it doesn’t matter to me one way or the other. I know why he does it, and I think it’s good for his business and his company to run the Truck Series personally.

“When I look at him, he’s beatable. We’ve beaten him before. There’s no question to beat him you’re going to have to have everything going the way it needs to go. But at the end of the day when you do beat him, it feels good, but I like beating everybody.”

If not Sauter, another candidate among the Truck Series regulars to beat Busch would be 2018 champion Brett Moffitt.

Moffitt won at Atlanta in 2018 — the last time a Truck Series regular won there (Busch won last year’s truck race there).

Brett Moffitt won the 2018 Atlanta Truck race. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

“To have a shot for us to go win 50 grand from Chris Larsen, I think that makes it all the more exciting,” Moffitt told NBC Sports. “I think it’s kind of Chris Larsen’s way of saying our guys are talented too … that they can run with any of the Cup guys that come down here.

“Obviously we haven’t done a good job of that in the last seven races that Kyle has been in, but I feel it can be done.

“I have confidence that we can beat him on the right day. With his talent and the amount of effort he puts into his organization at KBM, that Toyota helps him out with, it’s a tough combination to beat. He’s proven that.

“I think it can be done. I’ve had a few races over the last couple of years with him where I feel like if things would have fallen a little differently, I would have a shot at it, but I’m sure many others have felt the same way. We have yet to deliver on it and I understand that. We’ll just keep putting our best foot forward and go after it.”

5. Streakin’

Brad Keselowski has finished no worse than second in the last three Atlanta Cup races. He won in 2017, finished second in 2018 and won again last year.

Team Penske already has won two races this season with Joey Logano at Las Vegas and Phoenix. Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney has had among the best cars in three of the first four races. Could it be Keselowski’s time to shine this weekend?

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Preliminary entry lists for NASCAR at Atlanta

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After three weekends on the West Coast, NASCAR returns to the Southeast this weekend to race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

All three national series will be in action, with the Gander RV & Outdoors Series racing for the first time since Las Vegas.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for all three series.

Cup – Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (2 p.m. ET Sunday on Fox)

Thirty-eight cars are entered in the race.

Ross Chastain is entered in his fourth race in Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 6 Ford as Ryan Newman continues to recover from a head injury.

Brad Keselowski won this race last year over Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – EchoPark 250 (4 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1)

Thirty-six cars are entered for the race.

Myatt Snider is entered in Richard Childress Racing’s No. 21 Chevrolet.

Jeffrey Earnhardt is entered in JD Motorsports’ No. 15 Chevrolet for his first start of the year.

Christopher Bell won this race last year over Cole Custer and Justin Allgaier.

Click here for the entry list.

Trucks – Vet Tix Camping World 200 (1:30 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1)

It’s officially bounty week in Truck Series.

Among the 38 trucks entered into the event (only 32 will qualify for it) are three full-time Cup Series drivers who will attempt to earn the $100,000 bounty placed against Kyle Busch by Kevin Harvick and Marcus Lemonis, the CEO of the series sponsor.

The trio of bounty hunters include:

Chase Elliott, who is entered in GMS Racing’s No. 24 Chevrolet.

John Hunter Nemechek, entered in NEMCO Motorsports’ No. 8 Chevrolet

Brennan Poole, entered in On Point Motorsports’ No. 29 Toyota.

If any of the drivers are able to finish ahead of Busch in the race, he will claim the bounty. If none of them do, Kyle Larson and Erik Jones will get a shot a Busch and the $100,000 next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Also entered in the race is Ryan Truex in Niece Motorsports’ No. 40 Chevrolet.

Busch won this race last year over Johnny Sauter and Grant Enfinger.

Click here for the entry list.

Tyler Reddick is top Cup rookie so far — but it hasn’t been easy

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Like most NASCAR Cup rookies, Tyler Reddick knew it would be a difficult transition from success in the Xfinity Series to similar success in the top echelon Cup Series.

Reddick has a bit of an edge on many of his fellow Cup rookies this season, having won the last two Xfinity Series championships.

But for a guy who is used to wins or at least top-five finishes, moving up to the Cup level has had its challenges not just for Reddick but also all other members of the 2020 Cup rookie class. Still, Reddick has made the upgrade more successful than his counterparts, being the top finishing rookie in each of the last two races, including just barely missing a top-10 showing (he finished 11th) last Sunday at Fontana.

“It’s a huge jump,” Reddick said Friday during a media session at Phoenix Raceway. “I feel like what would have been battling for top two or three in the Xfinity side is what you’re dealing with when you’re just trying to get inside the top 15 (in Cup).

“(There are) a lot of good drivers. It’s pretty crazy. You have a lot of guys who are very successful that you’re racing around.

“It’s just tough. It’s just part of it. But it’s been a lot of fun and makes the racing fun and it’s really cool to race those guys. But still, even guys like them, they have bad days and we just have to capitalize on it and make the most of those days and try to get good finishes.

Heading into Sunday’s race at Phoenix, Reddick – at 23rd place – is the highest-ranked member of the Cup rookie class of 2020. John Hunter Nemechek is right behind in 24th, Cole Custer is 26th, Brennan Poole is 29th, Christopher Bell is 32nd and Quin Houff is 34th.

Breaking down how those six rookies have finished in the first three races:

* Daytona: Nemechek (11th), Poole (16th), Bell (21st), Reddick (28th), Custer (37th), Houff (39th).

* Las Vegas: Reddick (18th), Custer (19th), Nemechek (24th), Poole (29th), Houff (32nd) and Bell (33rd).

* Fontana: Reddick (11th), Custer (18th), Nemechek (25th), Poole (32nd), Houff (35th) and Bell (last place, 38th).

This Sunday, Reddick is looking to continue his upward climb in the final results , but knows that will be easier said than done.

“You’re probably going to out-run some good cars on days even when you aren’t running that good yourself,” Reddick said. “That just goes to show how tough it is.”

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Today’s Las Vegas Cup race: Start time, lineup and more

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One down and only 35 to go.

With the Daytona 500 now in the record books, the NASCAR Cup Series moves on to its second race of the season – and the start of the three-race western swing.

Can Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin make it back-to-back wins to start the 2020 season?

How about defending Cup Series champ Kyle Busch, looking for his second career Cup win in his hometown? What about older brother Kurt Busch, still searching for his first career hometown Cup triumph?

Here is all the info for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The 1980 U.S. Men’s Olympic “Miracle” hockey team will give the command to start engines at 3:37 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:46 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage opens at 11:30 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 1:30 p.m. Driver introductions are at 3 p.m. The invocation will be given by Motor Racing Outreach chaplain Billy Mauldin at 3:30 p.m. The National Anthem will be performed by Carnell Johnson at 3:31 p.m., followed by a flyover by four F-16 “Vipers” from the 57th Wing Adversary Tactics Group from Nellis Air Force Base at 3:32 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 267 laps (400.5 miles) around the 1.5-mile speedway.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 25

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160.

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the race with coverage beginning at 3:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s broadcast begins at 2:30 p.m. and can also be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: The Wunderground.com forecast calls for sunny skies with a high of 68 degrees and a 0% chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Joey Logano won this race last year, followed by teammate Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch. Martin Truex Jr. won last September’s playoff race, followed by Kevin Harvick and Keselowski.

TO THE REAR: Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell will start from the rear after L1 level infractions in qualifying inspection. Garrett Smithley will start from the rear due to three inspections failures. Brennan Poole will start at the rear for engine change at Daytona (single-engine rule)

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

MORE: Xfinity race to be completed after today’s Cup race 

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Practice holds for Cup, Xfinity teams at Las Vegas

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UPDATED with inspection issues in Cup Friday …

Six Cup and 12 Xfinity teams will miss practice Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for inspection issues last week at Daytona.

NASCAR announced Friday that the Cup teams of Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Erik Jones and Christopher Bell will each have 15-minute holds in practice because those teams used bondo to change the manufacturer’s shape of the fender.

Earlier, t he Cup, the teams of Hamlin and Brennan Poole each will miss 15 minutes of opening practice for failing inspection twice at Daytona.

MORE: NASCAR penalizes four Truck teams for inspection issues at Las Vegas

In Xfinity, the teams of Daytona winner Noah Gragson, Matt Mills, David Starr, Robby Lyons II, Joe Nemechek, Vinnie Miller, Josh Williams, Mason Massey and the No. 74 car of Mike Harmon Racing each will miss 15 minutes of practice for being late to inspection at Daytona.

The Xfinity cars of Justin Haley and Joey Gase each will miss 15 minutes of practice for failing inspection twice.

The Xfinity car of Stephen Leicht will miss 30 minutes of practice for being late and failing inspection twice.

Xfinity practice is from 2:35 – 3:55 p.m. ET Friday. Opening Cup practice is from 4:05 – 4:55 p.m. ET Friday.