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Kevin Harvick wins Cup pole at Richmond

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Kevin Harvick won the pole for Saturday night’s Cup race at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) with a top qualifying speed of 121.880 mph.

Harvick led 10 of the 16 playoff drivers in qualifying in the top 12.

It is Harvick’s third pole of the year.

“We ended our last race run (in practice), I was really happy with the car,” Harvick told NBCSN. “Didn’t know what we had for qualifying there. But just a huge credit to the race team for putting a qualifying setup underneath it. Obviously, Aric (Almirola) came here and tested and kind of had a baseline for where we needed to shoot for for targets.”

The top five was filled out by Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney and Daniel Suarez, a non-playoff driver.

The top 12 was completed by Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski, Erik Jones, Kyle Larson, Cole Custer and Kyle Busch

Custer, driving Rick Ware Racing’s No. 51 Ford – in a car prepped by Stewart-Haas Racing, is making his third-career start. This is his last Cup race of the season.

Where the rest of the playoff field qualified:

Joey Logano (13th), Alex Bowman (14th), Chase Elliott (19th), Jimmie Johnson (22nd), Clint Bowyer (25th) and Austin Dillon (28th).

The starting lineup will be finalized tomorrow after inspection.

Click here for results.

Brad Keselowski posts fastest lap in final Cup practice at Richmond

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RICHMOND, Va. – Brad Keselowski, who is seeking to win his fourth consecutive Cup race, posted the fastest lap in Friday’s final practice at Richmond Raceway.

Keselowski recorded a lap of 120.224 mph. He was followed by Martin Truex Jr. (120.133 mph), Austin Dillon (119.458), Ty Dillon (119.390) and Ryan Newman (119.305).

Joey Logano ran the most laps in the session at 83.

Daniel Suarez had the best average over 10 consecutive laps (118.141 mph). He was followed by Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Clint Bowyer (117.729), Kurt Busch (117.729) and Kevin Harvick (117.552).

There were no incidents in the session.

Click here for final practice report

Four Cup cars to be penalized practice time Friday at Richmond

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RICHMOND, Va. – Cup playoff drivers Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer are among four drivers who will be docked practice time Friday, NASCAR announced.

Bowyer and Jamie McMurray will be penalized 15 minutes of practice for being late to inspection before last weekend’s race at Las Vegas.

Busch will be docked 15 minutes of practice time because his car failed inspection twice before last weekend’s race.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will be penalized 30 minutes for failing inspection before last weekend’s race three times.

Cup teams practice is from 1:30 – 2:20 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

In the Xfinity Series, eight cars will be docked practice time in the opening session. Missing 30 minutes will be Matt Tifft and Brandon Jones for failing inspection three or more times before last weekend’s race at Las Vegas.

Missing 15 minutes for failing inspection twice last weekend will be Cole Custer, Michael Annett, Ryan Truex, Timmy Hill, Ryan Preece and Daniel Hemric.

 

Friday 5: A final quest at a ‘childhood dream’

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Elliott Sadler is blunt when he considers his NASCAR career ending without a championship.

“(It) would be a huge void in my life,” he said.

The 43-year-old driver, in his 22nd and final full-time NASCAR season, makes his last run at an Xfinity title beginning with tonight’s playoff opener at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Four times in the last seven years Sadler finished runner-up for the Xfinity crown, including last season when he lost the title in the final laps to JR Motorsports teammate William Byron.

“Last year really hurt,” Sadler said. “Really, really hurt. We were in position to win that championship. I don’t know if I’m 100 percent over it yet.”

Sadler was upset last year with Ryan Preece, who slowed Sadler by challenging him for position as Sadler tried to hold off Byron with 10 laps left. Byron got by Sadler. Any hopes Sadler had for a title ended when he made contact with Preece’s car and cut a right front tire. 

Sadler’s anger bubbled after the race and he yelled at Preece on pit road as NASCAR officials stood between them.

Sadler, who competed full-time in Cup from 1999-2010, has called it a “childhood dream” to win a NASCAR championship.

“If we’re not able to win a championship, it would definitely be a scar in my mind of not being a NASCAR champion after putting 20 years of effort into it, after being a kid and a fan and dreaming of being a part of this sport,” he said. “Now, that will not define me as a dad or define me as a person. I’ll still be able, hopefully, to do good things in my community, but it will definitely leave a mark.”

Before he gets to that point, he will have to get through his final race at his home track tonight. Richmond Raceway will honor the Emporia, Virginia, native by having Sadler’s children help with the command to start engines.

Even better for him would be going to Victory Lane with his family. Sadler has never won at Richmond in 56 starts in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks. Asked to recall his biggest moment at the track, he instantly brings up the 2005 Xfinity race when Carl Edwards bumped him out of the lead on the last lap to win.

“I’m probably more nervous about going to Richmond, trying to win the race than I am trying to make it to Homestead,” Sadler said.

When the season ends in two months, don’t expect to see Sadler at the track often in the future.

“I don’t see myself involved in any racing at all,” Sadler said of his post-driving career. “I’ve been offered a job to come do TV, but I don’t see traveling away from home to talk about racing.”

Instead he’ll coach youth sports teams.

“My dad was a huge coach growing up,” Sadler said. “My brother is a wonderful coach and I’ve been doing it for 15 years. I love it. We’re at the facility every night hopefully changing kids’ lives. It would be hard for me to do both at 100 percent. It’s not really that I’m retiring from racing, I’m retiring to coaching and to my kids.”

2. What might have been

Jimmie Johnson has witnessed how fine a line it is between winning and finishing in the pack the past two weeks.

At Indianapolis and Las Vegas, Johnson ran with Brad Keselowski during parts of those races only to see Keselowski win both and Johnson finish far behind.

After the end of stage 2 at Indianapolis, Keselowski was 16th and Johnson was 17th. About 30 laps later, Keselowski was third and Johnson fifth. Keselowski went on to win and Johnson finished 16th.

At Las Vegas, Keselowski was sixth and Johnson seventh with just over 100 laps left. Keselowski won. Johnson was headed for a top-five finish before contact late in the race with Kurt Busch’s car cut a tire and forced Johnson to pit. Johnson finished 22nd.

Keselowski has said that he has not had the fastest car in each of the three races he’s won heading into Saturday night’s race at Richmond (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team seek to perform the way Keselowski’s team has.

“Drivers make mistakes,” Johnson said. “Pit stops can go wrong. Unfortunate racing luck can happen. To get all of that to rise together, it takes a little bit of time. We have made a nice jump in speed. I still think we have some room to go there, but now we need to execute on all levels and take advantages of those opportunities that (Keselowski) has.”

While the team seeks to find that speed and execute, Johnson has gone winless in a career-long 50 races.

“I’ve been in a deeper hole before, my own personal experiences in motorsports,” Johnson said, referring to early in his career in off-road racing and then in NASCAR when he “risked it all” and moved to North Carolina to pursue a career in stock car racing.

“I didn’t have as big a spotlight on me and wasn’t a seven-time champion, so nobody really remembers those except me. So I know I will get through this. I’ve been through worse.

“We are moving the right direction. I believe we have hit the valley and are climbing back out.”

He’ll need to do so to advance to the next round of the playoffs. Johnson enters Richmond six points behind teammate Alex Bowman for the final cutoff spot to the second round.

3. Cole Custer’s self-assessment

With no driver announced for the No. 41 Cup car next year at Stewart-Haas Racing, it was easy for some to think that Cole Custer could move up to that ride.

Car owner Gene Haas seemed to quell such talk last weekend at Las Vegas. While saying he believes Custer “is a good talent,” Haas said of the young driver: “He needs to prove that he can win consistently in Xfinity before I think we’ll consider him for a Cup ride.”

Custer has one Xfinity victory in 64 career series starts. He’s placed second or third in five races this season.

So where does Custer believe he needs to improve?

“I think there are little things that I can do better,” he said. “Having the Cup experience this year has helped me with what happens in that series.

“I think for the most part I have speed every single weekend (in Xfinity). It’s just a matter getting the restarts right and working traffic better and controlling the race when you have the fastest car.”

Custer, who is in the Xfinity playoffs, also will run in Saturday’s Cup race. He’ll drive the No. 51 for Rick Ware Racing. It will be Custer’s third career Cup start.

4. Going for 4 in a row

Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are the only drivers to win four consecutive Cup races in the last 20 years. That’s the feat Brad Keselowski will seek to equal Saturday night at Richmond.

Since NSACAR’s modern era (1972), eight drivers have won four consecutive races: Cale Yarborough (1976), Darrell Waltrip (1981), Dale Earnhardt (1987), Harry Gant (1991), Bill Elliott (1992), Mark Martin (1993), Gordon (1998) and Johnson (2007).

5. NASCAR’s 5th President

Steve Phelps will become the fifth president in NASCAR’s history on Oct. 1.

Bill France Sr. held the position from 1948-72. Bill France Jr. took over from his father until 2000. Mike Helton was in that role from 2000-2015 before he was promoted to Vice Chairman of NASCAR.

The president’s position was not filled after Helton’s promotion until Brent Dewar took over that role July 13, 2017. Phelps is replacing Dewar, who will remain with NASCAR through the end of the season and transition to a senior consulting and advisory role in 2019.

Phelps will oversee all competition and business operations for the sanctioning body in his new role.

He has been more visible at races lately and presented Kyle Busch the regular-season champion’s trophy at two weeks ago at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

In January, Phelps, as NASCAR’s chief global sales and marketing officer at the time, was thrust into the controversy about how NASCAR marketed younger drivers after Busch complained about the tactics and Clint Bowyer raised questions about the sanctioning body’s actions.

In July, Phelps defended the sport’s ability to attract sponsors.

“I think there’s a misconception out there that sponsorship in NASCAR is not doing well, and that’s not true,” he said at Pocono Raceway during an announcement that Gander Mountain will sponsor the Truck Series beginning in 2019. “We have more sponsors in this sport today than we’ve ever had. We’ve got almost half the Fortune 100, almost a third of the Fortune 500. It’s a lot of large companies who are in the sport not because it would be really cool to go racing. It’s because it works.

“So people tend to focus on, ‘Oh, my gosh, sponsor A left and sponsor B left,’ and for us, it’s like, ‘Okay, well, C, D, E and F also came on board as brand new sponsors.’ And then a plethora of others have renewed or extended for a period of time.

“I think this industry tends to focus on the negative. I’m not really sure why.”

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How Dale Earnhardt Jr. reignited Justin Allgaier’s competitive fire

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CONCORD, N.C. — With 12 races left in the 2015 Cup season, Justin Allgaier was ready to tap out of racing.

The 29-year-old’s enthusiasm for competing had worn thin after two years of middling results driving the No. 51 Chevrolet for HScott Motorsports. His best result through 60 races was eighth earlier that spring at Bristol.

It had already been announced he wouldn’t return to the team in 2016. His spot would be taken by Clint Bowyer.

Allgaier, who had three Xfinity wins at the time, called it one of the “darker” periods of his career. It was a long way from 2018, where he enters this weekend’s Xfinity playoff opener at Richmond as the No. 1 seed.

“I was ready to walk away,” Allgaier said Tuesday at the Xfinity Playoff Media Day. “At the end of that season I was trying to figure out an exit strategy, right? What does the future hold, where do you go from here?”

All this weighed on Allgaier on Sept. 6, the day of the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

Then Allgaier climbed in the bed of a truck with Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Allgaier doesn’t know if it was the result of an “abnormally bad” qualifying effort for Earnhardt or a “fantastic effort” by himself.

Either way, Allgaier was set to start the Southern 500 in 27th, right next to the Hendrick Motorsports driver.

Through that, the two were paired in the same truck to take them around the 1.366-mile track following driver introductions.

By the end of their trip from the start-finish line to pit road, Allgaier said “there was a fire lit” underneath him.

Earnhardt told NBC Sports he doesn’t remember exactly what he told him that day, but Allgaier recalled what the sport’s 15-time most popular driver discussed with him as they waved to fans waiting for the race.

“Dale’s big thing to me was, ‘Man, I’m sorry that things didn’t work out the way they wanted them to. … It wasn’t for a lack of effort. … I really thought if you guys could get something figured out you guys would be a lot better. … I’ve been impressed with what you’ve done on the race track and how you’ve driven the car … In the right situation you would excel.'”

Justin Allgaier races against Carl Edwards during the 2015 Southern 500. (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)

As they slowly traversed the “Lady in Black,” Allgaier said they covered “20 years of life in that one lap.”

“He had a lot of confidence in me in a time when I promise you I didn’t have the confidence in myself to go out there and think we could run good in anything,” Allgaier said. “It was like everything that I had thought that I needed somebody to say, God just put it right in Dale’s mouth to say it.  I heard everything I needed to hear.”

Allgaier doesn’t remember where he finished the Southern 500 (33rd), but he knows he had a bad race.

“It was one of those days where you want to forget it,” Allgaier said. “I didn’t care. It didn’t matter. I was in a better place, I was happy. I was ready to go.”

Within two weeks Allgaier was having discussions with Earnhardt and JR Motorsports about joining their Xfinity Series team with sponsorship in tow from Brandt, which had sponsored Allgaier in Cup and Xfinity since 2011.

About a month after that, Allgaier was “signed, sealed, delivered (and) ready to race” for JRM.

“I didn’t want to fail again,” Allgaier said. “And I knew I had the tools to go do it and I had the people around me and we’ve been lucky enough to do that. This year’s kind of the year that it all perfectly came together and everything worked.”

Justin Allgaier and wife Ashley pose with their daughter Harper after the Lilly Diabetes 250 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sept. 10 (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images).

Three years and four days after the Darlington conversation, Allgaier, now 32, sat on the frontstretch of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

He and JRM’s No. 7 team had just won the Lilly Diabetes 250.

In his third year with JRM, it was Allgaier’s fifth Xfinity win of 2018, a career-best. It also gave him seven wins in the last two seasons.

Now he and his family were about to kiss the bricks on the start-finish line, a tradition for winners at the historic track.

His wife, Ashley, looked at their daughter, Harper Grace.

“I hope one day you realize the gravity of what you’re about to do,” Allgaier recalled her saying.

“It hit me,” Allgaier said. “‘Oh man, I might not be able to do this. I might not be able to bend down here and kiss these bricks.’ That was a cool moment. That was something special.

“That’s probably what’s kept me in this sport. There was a time in my life where I was ready to quit racing and go home and not ever get back behind the wheel of a race car ever again. To have those moments now, I think (Harper Grace) very clearly understands that it is hard to win in this sport and I think she’s enjoying these Victory Lane moments when she can because you don’t know when the next one may or may not come.”

Allgaier will look to make more special moments in the playoffs, which begins Friday at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

“It’s taken me almost 10 years to win five races, then this year alone we’ve won five,” Allgaier said. “That’s special. That doesn’t happen because I changed who I was. Right? I didn’t all of sudden learn how to drive at the beginning of 2018 and say, ‘Hey, let’s go win a bunch of races.’ That’s not all what happened. Everything has clicked.”

Allgaier added, “We’re doing our jobs together in harmony and we’re executing and that’s what makes the difference. It’s every piece of the puzzle that goes together and it’s just been fun.”

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