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Kyle Busch tops first Cup practice at New Hampshire

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The winner of last fall’s New Hampshire Motor Speedway race, Kyle Busch posted the fastest lap in the first practice session with a speed of 134.292 mph.

He beat Chevrolet driver Kyle Larson (133.788 mph) by .107 seconds.

Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin (133.759) and Erik Jones (133.625) landed third and fourth on the speed chart.

The fastest Ford belonged to Ryan Blaney (133.469), who posted the fifth fastest lap.

Making his Cup debut, Blake Jones was the only driver to run 10 or more laps. His fastest lap of 121.956 mph was the slowest of the 37 cars that took time; his 10-lap average speed was 120.645 mph.

Click here for the complete practice report.

Joe Gibbs Racing returns to New Hampshire, where dominance began last July

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The 2017 Cup season was not too kind to Joe Gibbs Racing through its first 18 races.

Then the series went to New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

After entering last year’s July event at the 1-mile track winless, the race served as a launching pad for JGR, which leads the series in every major stat category in the 36 races since.

Counting Denny Hamlin‘s win in the July 16 race, the four-car team has won 14 times in the following year, which leads all other teams by five victories.

JGR closed out 2017 with eight wins in 19 races, compared to the Martin Truex Jr.‘s six wins in the same span.

Thanks to Racing Insights, here’s a look at JGR’s success against the competition since last July’s race at New Hampshire.

Ten of JGR’s wins in the last year belong to Kyle Busch, including the September playoff race in New Hampshire.

The rest belong to Denny Hamlin (two wins), Matt Kenseth (one) and Erik Jones (one).

Busch is one of six active drivers who have three wins at New Hampshire, including Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Hamlin and Kenseth.

Kyle Busch is the only one of those drivers with a win this season.

New Hampshire has been very kind to Busch and his fellow Toyota drivers.

In the last 11 races at the flat, 1-mile track, Toyota has won eight of them. In the last four races in Loudon, Toyota has led 1,168 laps (97.2 percent) out of a possible 1,202 laps. Chevrolet has led 31 and Ford has led 3.

Chevrolet has the only non-Toyota win in the last six New Hampshire races. That was won by Kevin Harvick in 2016 before Stewart-Haas Racing moved to Ford.

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5-hour Energy to end NASCAR involvement at end of season

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Furniture Row Racing announced Wednesday that it is seeking sponsorship of the No. 78 car for next season with the announcement that 5-hour Energy will not return after this year.

5-hour Energy became the major co-primary sponsor this season on the No. 78 team with Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats for 30 Cup races. 5-hour Energy joined Furniture Row Racing in 2017, serving as a majority primary sponsor on the No. 77 car with Erik Jones.

Wednesday’s announcement comes just days after reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr. won at Kentucky Speedway for his fourth Cup win of the year.

5-hour Energy has been a primary sponsor in NASCAR for nearly a decade, including the seven in Cup.

Rise’ Meguiar, President of Sales for Living Essentials, parent company of 5-hour ENERGY, issued a statement on the business decision.

“Since joining Furniture Row Racing in 2017, the team has delivered on every promise. In addition to being a championship team, winning races and putting 5-hour ENERGY in victory lane multiple times, they have also become part of our family.  We cannot thank Barney Visser, Joe Garone, Martin and the entire Furniture Row Racing team enough for the pride they have given us.  They are a first-class group on and off the track.  Although 5-hour ENERGY has made the business decision to leave NASCAR, we will be fans and friends for life, and we look forward to finishing strong in 2018.”

Said Joe Garone, president of Furniture Row Racing, in a statement:

“I want to first send a sincere thank you to everyone at 5-hour Energy for being an excellent and loyal partner. The way 5-hour Energy has activated its programs over the years demonstrated a commitment and creativity as a NASCAR race team sponsor. We understand that companies do change business strategies, but friendships last forever and that’s how we feel about 5-hour Energy.”

“Being a perennial championship contending team with a talented driver in Martin, Furniture Row Racing continues to be committed in offering a new sponsor not only success on the racetrack but also the benefit of a strong marketing platform with our powerful team of partners – Bass Pro Shops, Auto-Owners Insurance, Toyota, Furniture Row and Denver Mattress.”

This decision by 5-hour Energy comes as Truex’s contract with Furniture Row Racing ends after this season. He was asked last weekend at Kentucky about where things stood with a new contract.

“We’ve got some stuff to figure out, for sure,” Truex said. “I don’t plan on doing anything different. Just give the team some time to figure things out. We’re all kind of trying to figure it all out together so we can make it happen.”

So what needed to be figured out?

“Just sponsorship commitments and all the stuff that goes along with that,” Truex said. “Figuring out how much money we have to spend, when do we get it, how much are we getting and where can we spend it. Just trying to figure out all the details honestly. There’s a lot of puzzle pieces to be put together that we haven’t finished yet. Honestly, we haven’t been in a big hurry to get it done. In due time.”

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Turns 3, 4 proves treacherous during Charlotte road course test

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CONCORD, N.C. – A second batch of drivers got to shake down the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course Tuesday, a week after the first open test on the 17-turn, 2.28-mile road course that will host its first Cup race on Sept. 30.

This test was more eventful than the first, with multiple incidents over the course of its eight-hour run.

The session had three incidents in the morning. Alex Bowman spun in Turns 3 and 4 of the infield road course – a sweeping right hander – and hit a tire barrier. His No. 88 Chevrolet received minor damage and the team replaced his splitter.

“It looks fast in a Legend Car but in a Cup car you’re barely on the throttle for most of the infield,” Bowman said. “It’s just different.”

Ryan Blaney went to a backup car after he wrecked in the same turn, damaging his left rear when he hit the tire barrier.

Erik Jones also spun in the same turns, but didn’t hit anything.

Joey Logano described the sequence of turns as “sketchy.”

“It’s an off-camber, downhill entry to Turn 3 and it’s pretty tough,” Logano said. “I was actually here last week doing something for Snap-On and had an old Cobra here running around. I went into Turn 3 and chased it up the race track in that thing. I said, ‘This is pretty loose corner. I wonder if we’re going to fight that in our cars?’ Pretty quickly I realized, ‘Yes, we are going to fight that quite a bit.’ The corner itself, you’re turning right, no banking and you’re going downhill and the car’s super, super loose there.”

Clint Bowyer echoed Logano in calling Turn 3 “sketchy.”

“I think I would use sketchy,” Bowyer told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “Scary? I won’t go any further than that. It’s just sketchy. From the time you get on the race track to the time you’re getting off it, you’re just tip-toeing. There’s no room for error at all. The grip level, you get to sliding. Like in (Turn) 3, you get into sliding a little bit getting in there and you’re looking over at them tires and there’s no room.

“If that thing comes out from underneath of you … you’re going to hit hard. It’s not something you’re going to limp away from and finish the race. Your day is done. Game over. It’s the same for everybody. We’re kind of inching on it more and more.  …
“It’s going to wad up a lot of cars. There’s just not a lot of room to get out-of-the-way.”

The biggest wreck of the day came an hour into the afternoon session when William Byron lost brake pressure and plowed into the tire barriers located in Turn 1. Unlike Blaney, Byron did not have a backup car for the test and was done for the day.

The test was briefly stopped in the morning in order to remove a set of rumble strips from Turn 8, which exits from the infield section onto the oval’s Turn 1.

The strip was in place to help define the turn, but drivers ran over them as if there weren’t there, just like last week with the chicane on the backstretch.

“I think those rumble strips probably weren’t doing any favors to the tire, anyway,” Logano said. “Getting those out is probably good. It probably gives Goodyear a margin to work with, which is a good thing. We’re going to run the same line anyway.”

Also part of the test was AJ Allmendinger. The JTG Daugherty Racing driver was the first to experience the Roval in its earliest form in January 2017.

A year-and-a-half later, the former open-wheel and sports car driver said “I have no advantage here” due to every team getting the opportunity to test on the road course.

Allmendinger expects a race filled with contact.

“Through the infield, it’s fairly narrow,” Allmendinger said. “Maybe once you get all the cars here, whether it’s Xfinity, Cup, (it will) kind of clean up both lines through the infield, because right now if you just miss your apex a little bit, you slide all the way through the corners. … But in general, through the infield I think there’s going to be a lot of contact.”

Allmendinger wasn’t the only driver getting a second taste of the road course.

Roush Fenway Racing’s Trevor Bayne took part after being in a test back in March.

“From that test to today they’ve added a lot of high-risk situations to the race track,” Bayne told NASCAR.com. “You’ve got a (tire) barrier back there between the chicane and what’s the oval Turn 3 and 4. That barrier is pretty risky. Used to, when you went through the chicane too fast you kind of just went off the curb, went straight, no big deal and you actually found you could make speed doing that.”

Bayne said the road course “does not provide a lot of opportunity to catch your breath, get your switches right or talk on the radio. Every part of the race track has some kind of a spot that can bite you pretty fast, so you have to be careful.”

TOP TIMES FROM TUESDAY’S TEST

1:16.9 – Kyle Busch

1:17.1 – Joey Logano

1:17.4 – AJ Allmendinger

1:17.4 – Ryan Blaney

1:17.4 – Clint Bowyer

Who’s hot, who’s not heading into New Hampshire

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NASCAR heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for its only Cup race weekend of the year at the “Magic Mile.”

Thanks to Racing Insights, here’s a look at who is hot and not entering the 20th race of the season.

Who is Hot

Kevin Harvick
• Finished 5th at Kentucky (2nd in Stage 1, 4th in Stage 2)
• Finished in Top 5 in 5 of last 6 races
• In 19 races in 2018, 15 finishes of 7th or better (including 5 wins) & 4 finishes of 19th or worse
• Finished in the Top 5 in 18 of last 22 races, dating back to last season
• Finished in Top 5 in 5 of the last 7 New Hampshire races, including win in Sept. 2016
• In last year’s race: Started 12th, 13th in Stage 1, 3rd in Stage 2, finished 5th.

Kyle Busch
• Finished 4th at Kentucky (3rd in Stage 1, 2nd in Stage 2)
• Finished in top 5 in 6 of last 7 races
• Finished in the top 10 in 7 of last 8 races
• Finished in the top 5 in 13 of 19 races this season
• Finished 8th or better in 8 of last 10 New Hampshire races
• Finished in top 3 in 6 of last 10 New Hampshire races, including wins in July 2015 & Sept. 2017
• Led 749 laps in last 12 New Hampshire races
• Last year’s race: Started 7th, 5th in Stage 1, 1st in Stage 2, 95 laps led, finished 12th after two speeding penalties

Erik Jones
• Finished 7th at Kentucky (11th in Stage 1, 9th in Stage 2)
• Finished top 10 in 4 straight races
• Finished 39th (July) and 6th (Sept.) at New Hampshire in 2017, his only starts at the track
• Last year’s race: Started 6th, 39th in Stages 1 & 2, finished 39th: DNF – lost left-rear tire on restart on Lap
41 while running 7th (cut due to contact on pit road under caution)

Martin Truex Jr.
• Won at Kentucky (1st in Stage 1, 1st in Stage 2, 174 laps led)
• Won 3 of last 6 races
• Finished 4th or better in 4 straight races
• Finished in the top 5 in 8 of last 9 races
• Finished top 10 in 4 of last 5 New Hampshire races
• Led over 100 laps in the last four New Hampshire races
• Hasn’t finished worse than 17th in last 14 New Hampshire races
• Last year’s race: Started 1st, 1st in Stage 1, 6th in Stage 2; 137 laps led, finished 3rd in this race one year ago; pit from lead with flat right-front tire on lap 218

Who is Not

Jamie McMurray
• Finished 17th at Kentucky (12th in Stage 1, 20th in Stage 2)
• Finished 12th or worse in 4 straight races
• Finished 15th or worse in 15 of 19 races this season
• One finish better than 14th in last 6 New Hampshire races (6th – July 2016)
• Last year’s race: Started 4th, 4th in Stage 1, 14th in Stage 2, finished 17th

Austin Dillon
• Finished 22nd at Kentucky (22nd in Stage 1, 21st in Stage 2); pit on Lap 22 to address vibration
• Finished 12th or worse in 13 of last 14 races
• Finished outside top 10 in 16 of 18 races since Daytona 500 win
• One top 10 in 8 career starts at New Hampshire (8th – July 2015)
• Last year’s race: Started 26th, 23rd in Stage 1, 24th in Stage 2, finished 15th in this race one year ago; spun in Turn 4 after contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on lap 88 while running 15th

Matt Kenseth
• Finished 19th at Kentucky (16th in Stage 1, 19th in Stage 2)
• Finished 13th or worse in 5 starts in 2018
• Finished 6th or better in 6 straight New Hampshire races, including wins in Sept. 2015 & July 2016
• Finished in top 10 in 9 of last 10 New Hampshire races (all with JGR)
• Last year’s race: Started 3rd, 2nd in Stage 1, 7th in Stage 2, 4 laps led, finished 4th.

Chase Elliott
• Finished 13th at Kentucky (10th in Stage 1, 13th in Stage 2)
• Finished 13th or worse in last 3 races
• Finished 11th or worse in 6 of last 9 races
• Never finished better than 11th in 4 career starts at New Hampshire
• Last year’s race: Started 11th, 10th in Stage 1, 12th in Stage 2, finished 11th.

Denny Hamlin
• Finished 16th at Kentucky (13th in Stage 1, 16th in Stage 2); started 36th after not making a qualifying
attempt (inspection issues); reported brake issues on Lap 30
• Finished 16th or worse in last two races
• Finished 12th or worse in 4 of last 6 races
• Finished 9th or better in 3 of last 5 New Hampshire races, including win in July 2017
• Finished in top 10 in 14 of 24 career starts at New Hampshire
• Last year’s race: Started 8th, 9th in Stage 1, 2nd in Stage 2, 54 laps led, won; went to a backup car after hitting inside wall in practice