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Two crew chiefs fined for loose lug nuts at Kentucky

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NASCAR has issued two fines to crew chiefs for loose lug nuts last weekend at Kentucky Speedway.

Brian Wilson, crew chief for Paul Menard in the Xfinity race, was fined $5,000 for a loose lug nut. Menard finished ninth.

Kevin Bellicourt, crew chief for Justin Haley in the Camping World Truck Series, was fined $2,500 for a loose lug nut. Haley finished 10th.

There were no other penalties.

Justin Haley: ‘In my belief, I still won – unofficially’

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NASCAR had dramatic finishes in back-to-back weeks at Chicagoland Speedway in Cup and Daytona International Speedway in the Xfinity series.

One will be part of the Cup highlight reels for decades. The other might be used by NASCAR to illustrate the yellow line rule.

Justin Haley’s last-lap pass on Kyle Larson and Elliott Sadler was deemed illegal when the left-side tires of his Chevrolet crossed over the double yellow line. Larson, who crossed the finish line behind Haley, was crowned the winner, but one week later Haley still thinks the trophy should be his.

“I did cross the start/finish line first, so in my belief, I still won – unofficially,” Haley said in Kentucky Speedway’s media center after posting the fastest lap in Thursday’s final truck practice for the Buckle Up in Your Truck 225.

On the final restart at Daytona, Haley pushed Justin Allgaier in the outside groove. Haley remained dedicated to the outside lane as Larson pushed Allgaier out of position. Exiting Turn 4 on the white flag lap, Haley was momentarily shuffled to fourth, but that gave him a clear space through traffic to the bottom groove. Like a Jack-in-the-Box, he popped out of the pack and shot past the leaders. – but his momentum carried him across the double yellow line and out of bounds on a restrictor-plate track.

“I don’t know when it sunk in. It’s just kind of how it went. I don’t get the opportunity to go over there in Xfinity much.”

More: Justin Haley says it was ‘BS call’ by NASCAR to nullify win 

In order to progress up NASCAR’s ladder system from the Camping World Truck Series, Haley was given three opportunities with GMS Racing in the Xfinity series. He finished 12th at Iowa Speedway and came within inches of winning Daytona. His last scheduled opportunity will come at Watkins Glen International.

“Those were kind of my three shots to make something happen and if I didn’t, I wasn’t going to go too far in my career. So, I had to make the most of it and I think I have to this point.”

Follow Dan Beaver on Twitter.

Truck practice report at Kentucky

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FINAL PRACTICE

Ben Rhodes bounded to the top of the speed chart in the final minutes of the final practice session with a lap of 182.834 mph.

He beat Grant Enfinger (181.873 mph) by .151 seconds – nearly a full mile per hour.

Chris Eggleston (181.622), Matt Crafton (181.232) and Brandon Jones (181.190) rounded out the top five.

Noah Gragson appeared to blow an engine during final practice, causing an extended delay for cleanup. NASCAR extended the session to noon (five minutes) as a result. He was fourth on the speed chart at the time with a speed of 180.977 mph. His speed eventually landed seventh on the chart.

Justin Haley – who was fastest in the first session – was unable to back up his speed and posted the 15th fastest lap (180.000) in final practice.

Johnny Sauter had the quickest 10 lap average of 179.411 mph.

Click here for the complete practice report.

FIRST PRACTICE

Haley posted the fastest single lap in the first practice session for the Buckle Up in Your Truck 225 at Kentucky Speedway with a speed of 182.076 mph.

He beat Stewart Friesen (181.788) by .047 seconds.

Myatt Snider (181.616), Brandon Jones (181.336) and Dalton Sargeant (180.947) rounded out the top five.

Gragson had the quickest 10 lap average of 180.112 mph

Justin Fontaine (176.840) posted the most laps with 33.

Click here for the complete practice report.

Ryan: Plate race insanity needs more common sense driving

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Before delving into an analysis of something inherently irrational, let’s revisit some timeless wisdom from an Australian sage named Marcos Ambrose.

“This is crazy racing. We can legitimize it all we want, but it’s insanity on four wheels.”

It might be the finest encapsulation to date of restrictor-plate racing — and the sheer madness has only gotten worse since Ambrose’s brutal honesty after the April 26, 2009 race at Talladega Superspeedway that ended with a car in the catchfence and seven injured fans.

Now compounded by stage racing, playoff berth implications and the Peltzman Effect (the Cup Series has never seemed safer, and thus drivers naturally are inclined to be riskier than ever), this might be the most aggressive era in the 30-year history of plate racing.

The exorbitant costs of overtime hours in fabrication shop tell that story, as do the box score incident reports (“2,3,4,9,10,11,12,13,14,17,19,21,22,41,42,43,48,88,95,72,78,1,7,15,32,34 accident turn 3”) that read like a drunken night of bingo

There were six major wrecks involving an aggregate 70 cars in two races at Daytona International Speedway this season, and all happened within roughly 10 yards of the lead.

That’s unacceptable, even by the often untenable circumstances mandated by plate racing.

Spare us the righteous indignation about the “proper” methods of blocking. It stirs echoes of what Ambrose told us about the logic of applying behavioral norms to lunacy.

Just drive better, guys.

Or maybe smarter.

This isn’t aimed solely at Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who took the brunt of the criticism for another less than stellar display of driving Saturday night. The wrecks were a replay of several ill-conceived moves made at the Daytona 500, and not all of them involved Stenhouse.

He was the first to note that he couldn’t take umbrage at William Byron for a block that started the chain reaction in Saturday night’s first crash because the Roush Fenway Racing driver had done the same thing in February.

In both Daytona races this year, there often seemed a rush to go … nowhere. Though some of the moves were driven by midrace points being at stake, there still were a disproportionate number of contenders eliminated by crashes within the first two stages.

Wrecks are part and parcel to plate racing, which is built around large packs running inches apart, but the pileups historically have started because of bobbles deep within the long trains of cars.

Now they often begin at the front because of an overarching belief that plate races can won only by dictating the action from the point.

“To win these races, you really need to be the leader,” Stenhouse said after leading a race-high 51 laps. “To win the stages and really kind of control the field. I felt like when I was in the front, I could really kind of control the field and make them do what I wanted to do. That’s why everybody was so aggressive trying to get to the front.”

The absurd conventions of plate racing often make drivers take bizarre actions, such as slamming into each other in the corners at 200 mph. NBCSN analyst Kyle Petty once referred to that bump drafting era of the mid-2000 as Cup drivers’ “meth habit”, and the single-minded, hell-bent desire to stay up front constantly in 2018 seems just as addicting.

There’s a fine line between “managing” lanes of traffic and blocking them, yes.

There also is a fine line between reasoning and rationalization.

It seems in the rush to lead every lap if possible, what’s been lost is that drivers have options, even if they are less than perfect.

Instead of throwing a late block on a car closing at more than 200 mph, you can choose to stay in your lane and swallow the loss of positions.

Instead of staying in the accelerator when a car darts in front, you can choose to lift off and pull out of line.

Of course, there are the consequences of losing several spots, but it doesn’t guarantee that you will lose the race. Yes, it’s harder to claw back to the front with the current horsepower/spoiler package (a handling combination endorsed by drivers, by the way), but it isn’t impossible.

Race winner Erik Jones rallied from a lap down from crash damage (and also fell backward after missing his stall on the first pit stop). Runner-up Martin Truex Jr. lost the draft midway through Daytona and yet was in the lead for the final restart.

They earned the rewards available after many of their peers took unnecessary and early risks that did little but damage their series’ reputation for showcasing elite talent.

“NASCAR is built on beating and banging, but I think what you’d like to see is aggressive moves that don’t result in the incidents we saw,” NASCAR chief racing development officer and senior vice president Steve O’Donnell said. “Certainly we like the aggressiveness of drivers going for wins, that’s what the sport is founded on, but you hope you can avoid some of the contact we saw Saturday.

There are conflicted feelings about the results of the Coke Zero Sugar 400, which produced the best postrace interview of the season in first-time winner Jones and also a litany of underdog finishers. The final two laps were just as scintillating even with 80% of the field essentially eliminated from contention.

But it isn’t a good look for NASCAR’s alleged 40 greatest drivers to turn their vehicles into battering rams with all of the precision and skill of a group of fourth-graders in bumper cars.

And then make those same mistakes time and again at the world’s most famous racetrack in hopes of a better outcome.

It sounds like another way to define insanity, actually.


Another contributing factor to the craziness of plate races? The rule outlawing advancing position by running beneath the yellow line, which restricts the amount of real estate with an imaginary boundary that drivers treat like a wall to help pin the competition.

The rule was created to stem the preponderance of multicar crashes that resulted from drivers racing on the apron and often off Turn 2 onto the backstretch.

But it receives much more attention when it determines race winners as it did Friday after Justin Haley dipped below the line to take a checkered flag that was awarded to Kyle Larson.

O’Donnell said drivers were informally polled about the yellow line rule last year, and the feedback was unanimous in wanting to keep it.

“Chaos would ensue” without it, O’Donnell said. “You never want to have to make that call (that decides a win), but that’s the rule.”

There almost certainly will be further discussion of the yellow line between NASCAR and drivers in the wake of the Daytona call (Ryan Newman, who has long challenged the validity of a racetrack with an out-of-bounds line, raised questions about in Saturday’s drivers meeting about the legality of Haley’s pass), but expect things to remain status quo.

The rule can’t be enforced arbitrarily, allowing last-lap passes that heretofore weren’t legal would undermine the integrity of a race.


It appears the rules for the cars also will remain static when NASCAR returns to Talladega Superspeedway in three months after a lackluster visit to the 2.66-mile oval in the spring.

NASCAR increased the width of the spoiler by a few inches on both sides at Daytona and also returned horsepower to where it had been in Speedweeks.

O’Donnell said driver feedback was positive about the impact on being able to maneuver, which should bode well after drivability had been a major problem at Talladega.


Saturday night was a major reminder that plate driving is the biggest weakness in Truex’s game, but the defending series champion almost seemed relieved despite letting the win slip away on the final restart.

“All in all, I think for us it was a good night, and did all the things we needed to do,” he said. “I’ve just got to work on my mirror driving skills. I’m not real good at it. And just happy to get through here alive and finish.  I joked all week that I hadn’t finished this race in eight or ten years, and that’s not ‑‑ I mean, it’s kind of funny but it’s not really.  It’s true and sad.”

Actually, it had been only four years since Truex had finished on the lead lap of a July race at Daytona, but the results probably run together in his 0-for-54 streak in plate races.

He has joked before that he needs to be “more of a jerk” to win at Daytona and Talladega. But if the Kryptonite in your stock-car skillset is being unable to guess how to drive like the annoying masses who refuse to merge and hog the left lane of every highway in America … well, we can think of worse deficiencies.


An overlooked nugget from Saturday night: Was that the last time we’ll see an Earnhardt race at Daytona?

After seven Cup starts this season, Jeffrey Earnhardt has no races scheduled after his 11th Saturday. He hung around for an extended selfie session he held in the pits with friends and sponsors. “We might have abused our pass limit, but thankfully we got NASCAR to allow us to bring all these guys out here,” he joked.

It could be remembered as apropos goodbye as a salute to a family legacy that became synonymous with the 2.5-mile oval in triumph and tragedy.

With 10-year-old car set to be retired, Kaz Grala earns first top five for Fury Race Cars

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Before going to Daytona International Speedway last week, Kaz Grala and Fury Race Cars made Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi-DenBeste a promise.

They promised to return a decade-old car with minimal racing history to the team unscratched.

They did this not knowing Friday’s Xfinity race at the restrictor-plate track would include multi-car incidents involving 17 and nine vehicles respectively.

Fury Race Cars, a team only five races old and racing week-to-week, had secured sponsorship for Daytona. But among the fleet of cars given to it by Grala’s former team JGL Racing, there wasn’t a superspeedway car.

“About two weeks ago we started making phone calls and putting feelers out saying, ‘Hey, this is the last race these steel-bodied cars could even be legal to run on a restrictor-plate track, does anyone have some extra ones, backup cars?” Grala told NBC Sports two days after he finished fifth at Daytona. “We weren’t thinking show cars at the time, but just any spare car they didn’t plan on running that weekend that would be obsolete after this weekend.”

Enter Stewart-Haas Racing with Biagi-DenBeste.

They had a car. One that traced its origins back to Evernham Motorsports, a team that ceased to exist after 2008. From there it was owned by Richard Petty Motorsports. Then it went to Biagi-DenBeste Racing and finally Stewart-Haas Racing, who entered a partnership with Biagi-DenBeste in the Xfinity Series this season.

The car had never run a lap for SHR and with steel bodied cars in Xfinity going extinct after Saturday’s race, the team was prepping to turn it into a show car.

“I was excited about it because it was a car,” Grala said. “It might have been a show car, but Biagi and obviously Stewart-Haas always have good plate track cars so I knew it had potential. … As long we stayed out of the carnage … It’s just a lot easier to think about it beforehand than to actually get it done.”

After starting 38th due to qualifying being cancelled, Grala finished 13th in Stage 1. He then dodged his first bullet on Lap 82 when he managed to navigate his No. 61 Ford through a 17-car wreck that took “5 years off my life.”

After a Lap 88 restart, the caution returned a lap later for a three-car incident. Grala was ninth. But the 19-year-old driver felt something wrong with his car, which was loose under caution. Determining his right-rear tire was done and so was his race, he slowed to pit road speed as the rest of the field returned to racing speed.

Grala returned to the track in 24th with the field bearing down on him.

“That pack was getting a lot larger in my mirror and I was just praying that something was going to happen and there’d be a caution,” Grala said. “Sure enough my spotter said, ‘Oh, they’re wrecking behind you.’ I look in my mirror and I see smoke and sparks and a caution’s out.”

A nine-car wreck with three laps left in regulation led to Grala restarting 15th in overtime. On the last lap, he moved from the bottom to the high lane, which “panned out really good” for Grala, as momentum allowed him to push Christopher Bell and Justin Haley to the front and him to a fifth-place finish in a spotless car.

It was his second top five of the season and the first for Fury Race Cars.

“Looking at it from our organization and what we were able to do with that old show car, fifth is good no matter what,” Grala said. “We didn’t have a single scratch on our car. We didn’t even have so much as a donut. (The flat tire) must have been a stroke of bad luck, but you say that, but it’s hard to say whether it was a blessing in a disguise or not. Because obviously there was that big wreck. Whose to say whether we would have been ahead of it, behind it, in the middle of it had we been where we should have been. It’s easy to look back on it and say ‘I think we would have been better off.’ Who knows?

“All I know is that the way it did work out, it worked out for us.”

Grala announced on Twitter Tuesday his team was unable to secure sponsorship for this weekend’s race at Kentucky Speedway, but that Fury has sponsorship for the July 21 race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Without attempting to qualifying for every race this season, Grala will be ineligible for the payoffs were he to be inside the cutoff line at the end of the regular season. He left Daytona 14th in the standings. Twelve drivers make the playoffs.