Landon Cassill

Longtime crew chief Nick Harrison dies at 37, team announces

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LOUDON, N.H. — Kaulig Racing announced Sunday morning that veteran crew chief Nick Harrison died. He was 37.

Harrison was the crew chief for Justin Haley‘s No. 11 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series and had called the car’s 13th-place finish Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

In a statement attributed to team owner Matt Kaulig and president Chris Rice, the team said in a tweet that “It is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of Nick Harrison, our beloved crew chief of the No. 11 car at Kaulig Racing. Please keep Nick’s family in your thoughts and prayers at this time.”

No cause of death or information on services was immediately available. A Kaulig Racing spokesperson said “further details would be provided as they come.”

NASCAR released a statement on Harrison’s death: “We are deeply saddened by the loss of longtime crew chief Nick Harrison, and offer our thoughts, prayers and support to his family, friends and Kaulig Racing colleagues.”

According to Racing-Reference.info, Harrison made his debut as an Xfinity crew chief in 2006. He was a crew chief for 184 Xfinity races (including 17 with Haley this year) and had five victories, his first with Kurt Busch in 2012 at Daytona International Speedway with James Finch’s Phoenix Racing.

He also worked 120 races as a crew chief in the Cup Series, including full seasons in 2011-12 with Phoenix Racing’s No. 51 Chevrolet. He guided Busch to a third place June 24, 2012 at Sonoma Raceway, marking Harrison’s best finish as a Cup crew chief.

Harrison also won three times in the Xfinity Series with Austin Dillon and once with Paul Menard. He also won with Dillon in the Aug. 2, 2014 truck race at Pocono Raceway, one of three truck races for Harrison as a crew chief.

During a career with several teams including Phoenix, Richard Childress Racing and Kaulig, Harrison worked with more than a dozen Cup and Xfinity drivers. The roster included Bobby Labonte, Bill Elliott, Boris Said, A.J. Allmendinger, Micahel McDowell, Regan Smith, Ryan Truex, Landon Cassill, Jamie McMurray, Ty Dillon, Jeremy Clements, Brandon Jones, Ben Kennedy and Brendan Gaughan.

Ryan Blaney fastest in final Cup practice at New Hampshire

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Ryan Blaney was fastest in the Cup Series’ final practice session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Blaney posted a top speed of 133.572 mph.

He was followed by Denny Hamlin (133.226 mph), Kyle Busch (132.739), Kevin Harvick (132.688) and Martin Truex Jr. (132.646).

Brad Keselowski (sixth) and Kurt Busch (14th) each recorded the most laps in the session with 61.

Blaney also had the best 10-lap average.

Click here for the speed chart.

Alex Bowman wrecked in Turns 1 and 2 in the middle of the session.

Bowman, who was already in a backup car after he had a driveshaft failure in qualifying Friday, will now go to a second backup car. The No. 88 team will use Jimmie Johnson‘s backup car.

Matt DiBenedetto‘s left-rear tire shredded twice during the session.

“Not a lot of warning, I’ll tell you that,” DiBenedetto told NBCSN after the first tire problem. “I went down into (Turn) 1 and I was passing (Landon Cassill), as soon as we got down into the corner I don’t know if we ran over something or what but the left rear went down in a hurry.”

DiBenedetto, who qualified seventh for Sunday’s race, was able return to the track to make a lap right before the session ended.

 

Cup practice holds at New Hampshire

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Five Cup Series teams will be held for 15 minutes of today’s final practice session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Ryan Blaney, Landon Cassill, Chris Buescher and Paul Menard will be docked 15 minutes for being late to inspection.

Daniel Hemric will be docked 15 minutes for failing inspection twice.

Daytona winners and losers

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WINNERS

Justin HaleyHis complicated relationship with Daytona took a turn no one could have expected. A year after he crossed the finish line first there in the Xfinity Series race but was penalized for going below the double yellow line and not given the win, Haley was the recipient of a well-timed lightning strike that occurred just after he assumed the lead under caution when others pitted. When rain prevented the race from resuming, Haley joined the list of winners at Daytona.

William ByronRunner-up finish was a career-high (and first top-five finish) that left him smiling but also thinking what if.

Ty DillonFourth-place finish was a career-high and marked his first top-five finish.

Corey LaJoie Avoided the big wreck late and finished a career-high sixth. He had never finished in the top 10 in 74 previous Cup starts.

Kaulig Racing — Organization scored its first Xfinity Series win Friday, sweeping both stages and going 1-2 with Ross Chastain and Justin Haley.

Stephen Leicht He crossed the finish line sixth but moved up to fifth when third-place finisher AJ Allmendinger’s car was disqualified for failing inspection after the race. That gave Leicht his first top five in the Xfinity Series since 2007.

LOSERS

Brad KeselowskiHe delivered his message in practice to William Byron and then saw his race end with an early accident that left him with a 39th-place finish and confused why his car jumped out after he said he got a “real straight push” from Kevin Harvick.

Kurt BuschRotten luck in pitting just after the field got the signal of one lap to go until the restart and then lightning stopped the race. Had the lightning happened maybe 30 seconds earlier, Busch would have stayed out and won the race and secured a playoff spot.

Landon CassillHis 11th-place finish on his 30th birthday Sunday was his best of the season so it’s hard to be critical of Cassill but he was second during the final caution and followed Busch on to pit road just before the lightning strike that delayed and eventually led to the race ending early. Cassill expressed how heartbroken he was on Twitter.

NASCAR explains decision to stop Daytona Cup race

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Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said that series officials hoped to run the final 33 laps of Sunday’s Cup race at Daytona International Speedway “but every indicator we had was that we weren’t going to be able to do that and kind of said enough is enough and for the safety and sake of everybody, unfortunately, had to call the race.”

The result was that Justin Haley, who was leading when the race was halted at 3:18 p.m. ET for a lightning strike was declared the winner when NASCAR called the event at 5:30 p.m. ET because of rain.

MORE: A look at other unlikely winners in recent NASCAR history

MORE: How signs pointed toward Justin Haley’s shocking victory 

The race had been delayed from Saturday night. O’Donnell addressed on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” why the series didn’t attempt to run the race later in the evening as it did in 2015. That race did not start until after 11 p.m. because of a rain delay and ended at 2:44 a.m.

“The time to dry the track (Saturday night) just didn’t give us the opportunity to potentially finish the race before 2, 2:30, 3 in the morning,” O’Donnell said. “We learned some hard lessons in the past of when we started a race really late, thought we had a window to finish the race, and we did but it was way too late, I think, for the competitors and for the industry. You learn as you go and not something we wanted to repeat, so we didn’t go ahead on Saturday night.

“(Sunday) again, long delay and long red flag and certainly wanted to see those last laps play out, but every indicator we had was that we weren’t going to be able to do that and kind of said enough is enough and for the safety and sake of everybody, unfortunately, had to call the race.”

Lightning delayed multiple activities throughout the weekend at Daytona International Speedway. O’Donnell explained the sport’s lightning policy.

“It’s fairly consistent for really outdoor events,” he said. “If you look at college football, they have the same policy. What that is, and it’s hard to understand if you’re sitting at home watching, but even if it’s not raining, if there is a lightning strike within 8 miles, that’s an immediate stop for us or as soon as we can get the cars stopped on track and an immediate plan for the track for them to evacuate their personnel.

“We rely on the track for that data and once that comes across our phones and notifications that it’s within 8 miles, we go into action and do that. From that strike, it’s a 30-minute minimum before we can resume activities. It’s almost like a countdown clock. You get another strike, you start the clock again. We had numerous (lightning strikes) throughout the afternoon. You saw us load the drivers back into the car and when we were about to fire the engines we had another lightning strike and that started the clock again.”

O’Donnell was asked about the key moment in the race just before the red flag. With the race under caution, series officials announced to the field that the green would come back out on the next lap. Kurt Busch led. Landon Cassill was second. Busch and Cassill pitted, allowing Haley, who was third, to assume the lead.

Shortly after that, NASCAR announced it was brining the cars down to pit road for a lightning strike. That would lead to Haley being declared the winner.

“We had obviously every indication that we were going to go back to green, but like I said, once you get an indication (of a lightning strike), you move as quickly as possible to bring the cars down pit road and red flag the race,” O’Donnell said. “We’re not watching who’s leading, who’s where in terms of when we get that indication. … We obviously put out over the radio that we were bringing the cars down pit road wherever we were on the track the next lap. This case, I think we were coming out of Turn 2 on that lap and notified everybody that we were bringing the cars down pit road.”

O’Donnell also explained how weather is monitored for NASCAR events.

“We’ve got about 20-plus people in race control ourselves with all the weather monitors,” he said. “Two doors down, the track has three or four people, all they’re doing for that race is looking at weather.

“We’re in direct contact on the phone. I was back and forth with those folks I’d say every five minutes. Very confident in the system that is in place, the alert system that is in place. Something that you never want to do, but when you’ve got safety of the fans and the industry at stake, you make that call. It’s the right call and we’re always going to do that.”

O’Donnell was asked that with only 33 laps left and the track having lights, why series officials didn’t wait out the weather and complete the race Sunday night.

“You look at when that race was supposed to start, which was the night before, already postponed,” he said. “You look at the following day when we started the race at 1 (p.m.) and the time of the red flag, how long we’ve waited for the entire industry and then what we’ve got to look at is what is a realistic time to get a race restarted and how long is right to have fans sitting around in poor elements across the board.

“All of our indicators were that was going to be an unrealistic timeline. We thought we put on a great race throughout the day and throughout the late afternoon. It’s unfortunate. We wanted to see those last 30 laps too, we thought in the interest of the safety and the fans that was the right call to make. You never know what is going to happen after make those calls but stand by it.”