Denny Hamlin tops first Coke 600 practice

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Danny Hamlin was fastest in the first practice session for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver posted a top speed of 190.134 mph around Charlotte Motor Speedway.

He was followed by Ryan Blaney (189.673 mph), Brad Keselowski (189.434), defending race winner Austin Dillon (189.414) and Erik Jones (189.261).

William Byron and Jeffrey Earnhardt recorded the most laps in the session with 10 each.

Qualifying for the Coke 600 is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. ET.

Click here for the practice report.

Cup team’s debut stirs debate on value of smaller part-time teams

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The entry of NY Racing for this weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 has stirred talk about the value of smaller teams unable to compete a full season in Cup after a comment from the chairman of the Race Team Alliance.

NY Racing is entered in its first Cup race of the year. JJ Yeley is the driver. The team announced Tuesday a multi-year deal with Steakhouse Elite as sponsor. The team is owned by John Cohen, whose previous Cup teams ran 16 races between 2012-15. His team’s best finish was 32nd in the 2015 Daytona 500 with Reed Sorenson. His teams also failed to qualify for seven races and withdrew five times.

The entry of NY Racing means one car will fail to qualify for the Coca-Cola 600. The five teams going for the four spots available for non-charter teams are those of BJ McLeod (No. 52, Rick Ware Racing), Jeffrey Earnhardt (No. 55 Premium Motorsports), Timmy Hill (No. 66, Motorsports Business Management), Parker Kligerman (No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Racing) and Yeley.

NY Racing’s entry drew the ire of Rob Kauffman, co-owner of Chip Ganassi Racing and chairman of the Race Team Alliance. Kauffman tweeted about NY Racing’s entry and then responded to a few who questioned him.

Kauffman’s tweet drew a response from Xfinity driver Tommy Joe Martins, who has been vocal about the importance of smaller teams in NASCAR’s national series and the need to raise the profiles of such teams. Martins responded to Kauffman’s comments with a series of tweets.

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NASCAR’s Avengers are here to save the day

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In case you haven’t heard, a little movie called Avengers: Infinity War was released last week and it has made all the money.

The Avengers, also known as “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes,” are a ragtag cast of characters and personalities that on paper shouldn’t work, but in reality make for drama that has captured audience’s attention for 10 years in cinemas and decades in comic books.

This raises an obvious question.

Which NASCAR Cup drivers – current and retired – would make up the Avengers?

Here’s an exhaustive (one afternoon of contemplation) evaluation of NASCAR’s best.

Send your Avengers/NASCAR recommendations to Daniel McFadin.

Nick Fury – Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, is the most visible face of NASCAR’s leadership. Now imagine that face with an eyepatch.

Iron ManAustin Dillon has that Tony Stark style and he parties like the billionaire playboy philanthropist would if he owned a barn.

Rocket Raccoon – No, Tony Stewart isn’t a talking animal. But the talking raccoon is a weapons expert who likes to make things go boom. If you’re ever in a tight spot that requires the use of a flame thrower, Stewart is your man.

Star Lord AKA Peter QuillClint Bowyer has a couple of things in common with this character. Both are from the Midwest. Bowyer hails from Kansas and Star Lord from Missouri. Also, Bowyer is the driver most likely to call someone a “turd blossom.”

Captain America/Falcon – These modern-day best friends and allies bring to mind the Ryan Blaney/Darrell Wallace Jr. duo and NASCAR’s best bromance.

Spider-Man – The youngest member of the Avengers is a tech savvy teenager just getting his feet wet in the superhero world while also attending high school. William Byron fits the mold of the webslinger as he navigates his rookie year in Cup while taking college courses.

The Incredible Hulk – Don’t make Matt Kenseth angry. He might not be physically imposing, but poke the bear enough and you’ll have to face his inner Hulk in-between haulers after a race or find yourself punted into the wall at a short track.

ThorJeffrey Earnhardt has the beard, he just needs the hammer.

Doctor Strange – The Sorcerer Supreme has the ability to manipulate time and space. When it comes to restrictor-plate racing these days, few are better than Brad Keselowski at manipulating the draft to work their magic.

Drax the Destroyer – Just like this Guardian of the Galaxy, it takes a lot to make Paul Menard smile.

Black Widow – For a long time the former Russian spy was the only woman in the Avenger boys club and Danica Patrick was in a similar position in Cup until moving on after this season’s Daytona 500.

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Landon Cassill gets Cup ride for Martinsville, Texas

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Landon Cassill will drive the No. 00 for StarCom Racing in the next two races, Martinsville and Texas, the team announced Monday.

Cassill replaces Jeffrey Earnhardt. StarCom Racing and Earnhardt parted ways after Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway.

Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway will mark Cassill’s first Cup race of the year. The 28-year-old has 259 career Cup starts and a career-best finish of fourth at Talladega in October 2014. He drove for Front Row Motorsports the past two seasons but was not retained after last year.

Cassill’s sponsor the next two races will be the United States First Responders Association, a non-profit, professional and social network of fire, EMS, rescue, law enforcement and military personnel, as well as civilian support teams.

StarCom Racing was privileged to acquire a new partnership with USFRA and Landon Cassill behind the wheel,” said Derrike Cope, team manager, in a statement. “I’m optimistic that his knowledge and experience will only help our efforts as well as the growth of our team.”

Said Cassill in a statement: “I love working with new teams. I feel like that is one of my strengths. StarCom Racing looks like they are in it for the long haul, and I am thrilled to be a part of it.” 

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Entry lists for Martinsville (updated)

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NASCAR visits a short track for the first time this season when it heads to Martinsville Speedway, the oldest track on the circuit.

The Cup Series is joined by the Camping World Truck Series, which has been off the last two weeks.

Here are the entry lists for both races.

Cup – STP 500

There are 38 cars entered.

Jeffrey Earnhardt is listed as driving StarCom Racing’s No. 00 Chevrolet, but the team announced Sunday it has parted ways with Earnhardt.

Landon Cassill will take his place this weekend and at Texas Motor Speedway.

D.J. Kennington is entered in his third race this season, driving Gaunt Brothers Racing’s No. 96 Toyota.

Ross Chastain is entered in Premium Motorsports’ No. 15 Chevrolet for the fifth time this season.

Harrison Rhodes is entered in Rick Ware Racing’s No. 51 Chevrolet. Rhodes has one start in the No. 51 at Atlanta.

JJ Yeley will drive Premium Motorsports’ N0. 55 Chevrolet. Reed Sorenson was originally listed as the driver.

Last year, Brad Keselowski won this race after leading 116 of 500 laps. He beat Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott. In the fall playoff race, Busch won over Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer.

Click here for the entry list.

Trucks – Alpha Energy Solutions 250

There are 36 trucks entered.

Todd Gilliland will make his first start of the season in Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 4 Toyota.

Kyle Benjamin is entered in DGR-Crosley’s No. 54 Toyota. It will be his first Truck start.

Timothy Peters will make his first start of the year driving Ricky Benton Racing’s No. 92 Ford. A former driver for the defunct Red Horse Racing, Peters’ last start was in the 2017 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Last year, Chase Elliott won this race over Johnny Sauter and Christopher Bell. The fall playoff race was won by Noah Gragson over Matt Crafton and Sauter.

Click here for the entry list.