Photo: Dustin Long

Driver lineup set for Charlotte road course tests in July

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Charlotte Motor Speedway announced the driver lineup for the two days of testing that will take place in July on the track’s road course.

NASCAR created two separate test days. Tests will be July 10 and July 17. Both sessions will go from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET with a lunch break from noon to 1 p.m. ET.

The tests are open to the public.

The Cup series races on Charlotte’s road course Sept. 30 in the playoffs.

Scheduled to test on July 10

Martin Truex Jr.

Jimmie Johnson

Chase Elliott

Kevin Harvick

Clint Bowyer

Denny Hamlin

Daniel Suarez

Brad Keselowski

Paul Menard

Trevor Bayne

Jamie McMurray

Austin Dillon

Chris Buescher

Kasey Kahne

Michael McDowell

Gray Gaulding

Landon Cassill

B.J. McLeod

Scheduled to test on July 17

Kyle Busch

Erik Jones

Ryan Blaney

Joey Logano

Kyle Larson

Aric Almirola

Kurt Busch

Alex Bowman

William Byron

Bubba Wallace

Ryan Newman

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

AJ Allmendinger

Ty Dillon

Matt DiBenedetto

Corey LaJoie

David Ragan

Reed Sorenson

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Mother Nature fooled several crew chiefs late in race at Michigan

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BROOKLYN, Mich. — With victory and a playoff spot there for any team willing to gamble Sunday evening at Michigan International Speedway, only one did not pit at the end of the second stage under threatening skies.

But that gamble was short-lived after the team pitted before the ensuing restart and gave the lead to Clint Bowyer, who went on to win.

It was shocking that more teams outside the top 10 did not stay out and gamble with low-hanging clouds, rain on the way and the race past the point where it was an official event and could end at any time.

“Part of you wants to stay out, but part of you wants to play the safe bet and try to outsmart those guys another way,” said Erik Jones, who was ninth at the end of the second stage and went on to finish 15th.

Crew chiefs said they were tricked by a sneaky weather system that made it appear as if several more laps would be run. Instead, the race went only 13 more laps after the second stage before rain ended the event.

For a brief time, Kasey Kahne was in position to steal the victory. He was 24th when the second stage ended. Everybody in front of him pitted. Crew chief Travis Mack had Kahne stay out and assume the lead under the caution.

“The rain was right on top of us,’’ Mack told NBC Sports, noting he and his team monitored four different radar applications from the pit box. “We knew it was a couple of minutes. We banked on those couple of pace laps and we could ride around and hope for rain. We knew if it started sprinkling, they wouldn’t go back green. So we had a couple minute window. If it started raining, we could have won the race.

“Just trying to put ourself in an opportunity to take advantage of something like that. If (other teams are) going to try to hand it to us, we’ll take every advantage to take it.’’

Mack had gambled earlier in the race. He called for a two-tire change at the end of the first stage, putting Kahne in the lead after he had finished that stage 18th.

Kahne led nine laps until Lap 71. He steadily fell back and was 14th on Lap 80. He pitted with the field after Kyle Larson’s spin brought out the caution on Lap 87. Kahne was mired outside the top 20 after that.

When the second stage ended, Kahne’s chance arrived.

He led two laps after those in front pitted, but then he went to pit road on Lap 125 with one lap to go until the race restarted.

With the radar changing, making it seem rain would not come soon, and Kahne on older tires, Mack brought his driver in.

“We did everything we could,’’ Mack said. “We were trying to make something happen.’’

Matt Borland, crew chief for Ty Dillon, admits that staying out would have been the “right call” but said he didn’t take the gamble — even though Dillon was outside the top 20 at the end of the second stage — because “we weren’t fast enough today.

“To have 30 laps on tires and put yourself in a situation where you can’t even get to the next (fuel) window, so now you’re going to be slow, (have to) pit an extra time; you take yourself from 20th-place position to 30th, three laps down.”

Dillon finished 21st, tied for his best finish in the last five races.

The field ran three laps in the final stage before the caution came out when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. crashed after contact from Kahne. Rain fell. After four laps, NASCAR sent the cars to pit road and the race was over. Kahne finished 23rd.

Mack said he was “very surprised” nobody else tried his strategy.

Ryan Newman was 19th when the second stage ended and crew chief Luke Lambert is known for his gambling ways. Lambert’s decision not to pit late at Phoenix in March 2017 led to Newman’s most recent victory.

Lambert said Mother Nature fooled him Sunday.

We were running like two or three different weather applications and looking at everything,’’ Lambert told NBC Sports. “Honestly it was probably one of the most challenging calls to make as far as what the weather was going to do. It’s easy to make these decisions when you’ve got a clear storm front coming in and there’s a hard line on it’s going to rain and it’s this many miles out and it’s tracking at this speed and we can calculate pretty much on the point when it’s going to hit.

“This scenario was not one like that. What we had going on was there was a front to our west and it was breaking up. It looked like it was splitting to the north and the south (of the track). What we were concerned would happen ended up happening, but we couldn’t guarantee it .

“It just built right on top of us. It wasn’t something that was moving toward us at a trajectory we could anticipate. At the point in time, when we were making our decision for the last stage, it looked pretty clear like we were going to keep running.

“I did not expect … that we were going to have that short of a run and then get misted on and end the day.’’

Bubba Wallace was running outside the top 20 at the end of the second stage and crew chief Drew Blickensderfer said the radar kept him from pitting.

“The actual green stuff (signifying rain) was probably 30 miles away,’’ he told NBC Sports. “This mist wasn’t on the radar. It kind of caught us.’’

Because of that, Bowyer was able to emerge with the win due to a gamble by crew chief Mike Bugarewicz. Bowyer was second at the end of the second stage and Bugarewicz called for a two-tire change to get his driver back on track quickly.

“When we were coming on pit road, I was 100 percent sure two tires was the right call,’’ Bugarewicz said. “We got about three quarters of the way down pit road, I was about 70 percent sure. When he slid into the pit box, I was about 50 percent sure. By then, we were leaving. It was too late (to change).

“Clint asked, Are we the only one with two?

“Yeah, we’re the only one with two.’’

Bowyer held off teammate Kevin Harvick on the restart and used that pit strategy to win.

“It was a gamble on his part,’’ Bowyer said of Bugarwicz’s call. “Like I said, it was uncharacteristic for him. That’s part of growing, blossoming as a crew chief, being one of the elite. He did that today.’’

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What drivers said after Michigan race

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Clint Bowyer — Winner: “It took something crazy on a restart to be able to get Kevin (Harvick). That was a gutsy call. When we went out there on two tires, I looked in the mirror, and I was so far ahead of everybody else i was like, ‘Oh man, we are in trouble!’ The rain came just in enough time. I was trying to hold him off. I was cutting him off and taking his line away pretty bad. If it wasn’t for a win you wouldn’t be doing that. He was so much faster than me in (turns) 1 and 2. I got down in (turn) 3 and just had to take his line because that bear was coming.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished second: “It was a weird day. If you are going to have rain kind of take one from you, I would rather give it to my teammate. I am happy for Clint and all the guys on (his) team. Everyone on our car did a great job. I had a really fast car, and the pit crew was the best thing that happened all day. They were solid all day and kept us up front. That to me is the best thing that came out of today.”

Kurt Busch — Finished third: “We had an excellent day all the way through. No big mistakes, no rough moments.  Pit stops were solid. Adjustments were solid. Restarts, I’d say three quarters of the time I was on the inside lane, so that might have been a little bit where we were pinned down. But you have to make do with what you have, how the chips fall.  I’m happy with our effort today. Of course you always want to go back racing again, but to see the two cars in front of me at the end, the 4 and the 14, that’s a big day for Stewart‑Haas Racing.  It’s very special to finish 1‑2‑3.

Kyle Busch — Finished fourth: “The blue ovals (Fords) were just tough today. It wasn’t anything about (Stewart-Haas Racing). They go down the straightaway really, really fast. We have a hard time keeping up with them there, but our car through the corner was really awesome. The M&M’s Camry was really good there after yesterday’s practice. I thought we had something for them and if it was going to be a little bit hotter and sunnier today, I felt like we were going to be really good. That just wasn’t the conditions for today, so chilly and cool and lots of grip, and that was better for all those guys, but we gave it a hard fought fight and come home with what we could there – a fourth. Not too shabby. I thought we had third and then Kurt (Busch) blew my doors off on the straightaway and we’ve just got to get better there and try to make it up and be able to put on a fight here later on this year. … If it would have went green the rest of the way, I felt like we could keep up with them. I felt like our long-run speed was better than theirs and if we could have had some green flag stops and maybe made up ground on that we would have been alright.”

Paul Menard — Finished fifth: “We had a good car today and all weekend. We didn’t qualify as good as we would have hoped and went from the back and got put to the back twice. Once I sped and another time we got door slammed. I am really proud of my guys. We made a gutsy call to stay out on no tires with a bunch of laps on it. Gutsy call. We had the car to hold on though, so it worked out.’’

Joey Logano – Finished seventh: ““I got out of the car and thought, ‘Man, that was a weird day.’ It was hard to pass. I had a car that was capable of running in the top five, but the result depended on the restart. If you got a good restart, you could settle in and run pretty well. Our car took off pretty good on restarts, which was good and played into our hands a little bit. We had a good pit stop at the end that got us up to 10th, and we had a good restart at the end and got a couple cars and that is what got us to the seventh-place finish.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished eighth: “We were really fast. We got our car better all day and won that stage and kind of got back there and a lot of guys took two. We were making it back up, but then the rain came. It was a really great race car. Definitely not an eighth-place car, but unfortunately, that is where we ended up.”

Chase Elliott – Finished ninth: We had a flat tire there on one of those first cautions, and it kind of got us behind a little bit, but we were hovering right there kind of at the edge of the top 10 inside or outside depending upon the restarts and what not.  I felt like we finished about where we deserved.”

Jamie McMurray — Finished 10th: “Yeah, we had a really good car.  I struggled to pass people, and I had about 10 instances where I was a half a car length from clearing somebody, and I lost four or five positions, but we had a really good car. I feel like every week we keep getting a little bit better and super happy with the way we ran today.”

Aric Almirola – Finished 11th: “Man, I hate it for my guys. We had such a fast Ford Fusion. I’m proud of our team, and I’m looking forward to coming back to the track at Sonoma.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished 12th: “We had a really fast car. We just didn’t get to show it. Got stuck on the bottom line all but one restart and just – we just had a very good car. Just never got to get up there and race and show it and that’s frustrating, but can’t help the weather.”

William Byron – Finished 13th: “Yeah, I think that is the best car we have had this year.  We were able to run top seven or top eight.  We still need to work on a few things with the front of our car, but I think overall we really had a good balance and really just seemed to hold on pretty good.  I wanted some longer runs, but it was a pretty good race for us.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 14th: “What a wild race! It was crazy racing in the rain like that. I couldn’t even see out of my windshield because of the rain drops. Overall, we had a solid run in our Dow Salutes Veterans Camaro ZL1. By the end of Stage 2, we had one of the fastest cars on the track. We just lacked the track position. When the rain really started coming down hard, that ended the race. Our team is still trending in the right direction. We just need a little bit more to compete with the next group of cars.”

Erik Jones — Finished 15th: “We were just trying to maximize our day. Obviously, I didn’t think we had a car that was capable of winning the race, so we were just trying to do the best we could and have a solid week. It is what it is. I don’t know that we have anything for them right now, but we’re working hard to catch them and we’ll hopefully be better here soon.”

AJ Allmendinger – Finished 17th: “We maximized the day with our No. 47 Camaro. It was a tough weekend with track conditions because of the weather, and we didn’t get to have final practice on Saturday. For the race, the guys really worked on our car. We’re getting more speed out of them. On the 47 side, we’re working on having better practices, and we’re putting our heads together better and focusing on the conditions of the race. Last week and this week, I feel like our cars have been a lot more competitive. Overall, today we struggled in dirty air (traffic), but in clean air the car was pretty fast. That’s just the way it goes at Michigan. It’s something to go into the off weekend with and on to Sonoma (Raceway). We wished we had more time to gain more spots, but the rain finally got us.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 21st: “What a crazy weekend with Michigan weather. I’m glad we were able to get this race in today for all of the fans, but I’m disappointed that we didn’t get to finish it. I felt good about the balance of our Twisted Tea Camaro ZL1 after practice on Saturday, so I was confident going into today. The car was pretty good at the start of the race, but it was just too aero-tight in traffic. My crew chief Matt Borland made great adjustments throughout the day, and they really woke our car up in the second stage and what little we got to run of the final stage. We were knocking on the door of the top 20, so I really wish we could have gotten the whole thing in. I know that with the extra time to make adjustments and pick away at the cars in front of us that we could have brought home a top-20 finish. I’m proud of the work this team puts in each and every week. They did a great job today, and I’m looking forward to heading to Sonoma with them after the much-deserved off weekend.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 22nd: “Rain certainly played a big role in strategizing for this race. Early on we raced in the top 10, but as rain approached we opted for four fresh tires in hopes of making it to the end of Stage 2 in a better scenario. Instead, we realized our car did not respond well in traffic and dirty air. It pretty much bogged us down and prevented our Camaro ZL1 from making up the ground we had anticipated gaining. Then the rain finally came to end the race. It has been a tough go for us of late. Here’s hoping the off weekend will allow us to recharge and get this bad luck monkey off our back.”

David Ragan — Finished 38th: “I wish (Bubba Wallace) wasn’t able to drive away because he just kind of ran in over his head and wrecked us. You will have that sometimes. Guys make mistakes, and he made a mistake. It is unfortunate. I feel like I car was going to be OK. We made some good adjustments to our Ford for today’s race, and I was going to race hard to try to get to halfway. It is just one of those days and we will move on.”

Are more limits coming for Cup drivers in Xfinity, Truck Series?

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NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell hinted Monday that a decision could be coming soon on if to further limit Cup drivers next year in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series.

O’Donnell, chief racing development officer for NASCAR, made the comments on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Asked about any discussion on Cup drivers in those series beyond this season, O’Donnell said:

I think it’s trying to find that right balance. Some of the tracks we race on don’t have a Monster Energy race and is that a track that maybe one of those drivers could show up and race at? Perhaps.

“More and more the fans are speaking very loudly that they like the rising talent that we have in this series, we do as well, and the established veterans that are there. That is continuing on and we’ll have to make a decision really, really quickly in terms of what we do for 2019. We took a pretty bold step this year and that’s something we’ve got to evaluate and see if we want to go further.’’

NASCAR announced last August that Cup drivers with more than five years full-time experience would be limited to a maximum seven Xfinity races this season (down from 10 in 2017) and a maximum five Camping World Truck Series races (down from seven in 2017).

Also, any driver who elects to score Cup points, regardless of Cup experience, are prohibited from competing in the regular-season finale, the seven playoff races and the four Dash 4 Cash races. That means such drivers are ineligible to compete in 12 of the 33 Xfinity races this season.

Drivers who score Cup points are barred from competing in the last eight Truck races of the season — regular-season finale and the seven playoff races. That means Cup drivers cannot compete in seven of the 23 Truck races.

O’Donnell said in April on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that series officials were monitoring the reaction of fans and others in the sport about limits on Cup drivers in other national series.

“It’s one thing to say we like this, but fans need to turn out, ratings need to be there and those sorts of things,’’ O’Donnell said at the time. “That’s something that we’ll continue to monitor, but our gut tells us that’s the direction we want to continue to go, even more so in 2019 and beyond.’’

Xfinity races run so far by Cup drivers (limit 7) in 2018:

4 – Kyle Busch

4 – Ty Dillon

3 – Austin Dillon 

3 – Chase Elliott

3 – Joey Logano

3 – Jamie McMurray

2 – Ryan Blaney

2 – Kevin Harvick 

2 – Brad Keselowski

2 – Kyle Larson

1 – Aric Almirola

1 – Gray Gaulding

1 – Paul Menard 

1 – Daniel Suarez

NOTE: Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Austin Dillon, Paul Menard and Alex Bowman are on preliminary entry list for Michigan Xfinity race.

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What drivers said after Pocono race

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Martin Truex Jr. — Winner: “Getting a good restart overall was good. Once we could get clear in Turn 1 (on the final restart), we had a fast enough car in clean air that we could hold them off. Those restarts are always nerve-wracking. You never know who can get a push from behind and get a run on you. We were close to (Kyle) Larson on that last one and that could have made it a lot more difficult. Luckily, had great horsepower from TRD and I was able to get out front and make it happen.”

Kyle Larson – Finished 2nd: “Yeah, I actually liked that the (Martin Truex Jr.) tried to pull down and block me a little bit because it messed his angle up to the corner (on the final restart). I knew he would have to slow down a little more on entry, and I was hoping I could get close enough to him to get him loose. Which I did, but I also got kind of loose behind him. So I just had to tuck back in line on exit and then had to try and fight off (Kyle Busch) and (Kevin Harvick) behind me. I was just trying to stay lower than them on exit to get them tight. I am happy we finished second because we were probably a sixth- or seventh-place car today and to finish better than where you run is always a good thing.”

KYLE BUSCH — Finished 3rd: “Just real unfortunate there that once we all thought we had that caution that brought us all down pit road for what we thought was the final stop of the day, we got tires, we beat everybody off pit road and was in control of the restart and then in control of the race when we were leading there, and all of a sudden about 10, 11 laps into that run, there was a caution in Turn 1 for what looked to me to be a shoe booty.  Somebody took their booty off, I guess, and chucked it out their window. That was kind of weird that we saw a caution for that, but safety comes first, so that just kind of derailed our strategy, if you will, and we lost this race last year on not pitting in that situation and getting beat by tires, and so we pitted this year for tires and got beat by those that didn’t pit.”

 KEVIN HARVICK — Finished 4th: “We had a good car all day, just came down to really losing control of the race on the last pit stop. Really not pitting or pitting didn’t really seem to matter. We lost control to the 18 (Kyle Busch) and wound up losing a couple more spots on the restart starting on the inside, and that was the end of the day. Car was fast and everybody did a great job, it just didn’t work out.

Ryan Blaney — Finished 6th: “It was a really hard day. We didn’t start out very good and worked on it really hard. I thought we were about a fourth- or fifth-place car and we were running fifth there when the caution came out. That jumbled everyone up and we came in and put two on it and my car didn’t really drive that good on two tires. We ended up sixth. I thought we were better than a couple cars that finished in front of us. We worked on it pretty hard all day and to make gains like we did through the day is a positive.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 7th: “Man, this is a really challenging place, and I have run so bad here for six years. I just came here with an open mind and told myself I was going to study up and pay attention to what all three of my teammates did and try to learn and try to improve every practice. Qualifying we had whatever snafu we had with that set of tires and it got us set way behind starting 34th, but the guys brought me an incredible race car. I finally figured this place out I feel like.’’

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 8th: “My guys kept fighting all day long. That was a hard-fought eighth place finish. We just need to keep improving, but we’re slowly chipping away at it.”

Joey Logano — Finished 9th: “We just didn’t get the gas tank full on the first stop and ended up running out of gas and then we had to pit while the pits were closed and went down a lap and then there just weren’t any cautions to get the lap back. Once we did it was just too late. We finished ninth and at least we got back up there some but I feel like we should have finished top five with the car we had. We just shot ourselves in the foot a little bit today.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 10th: “We had a good car, I felt like it was much better than where we finished. I didn’t do a very good job on that last restart. With old tires we fell back and had to put on tires and I had too much ground to make up.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 12th: “Considering the handling issues we fought throughout the weekend, leaving here with a 12th-place finish in the Dow Camaro ZL1 isn’t too bad. Turn 3 was a challenge for us during practice, and continued to be during the race. We decided to use pit strategy to make up track position, which I felt like we needed more than handling adjustments. We stayed out longer in Stage 2 than anyone else and took two tires when we finally came in for our stop. Our Camaro ZL1 handled the best when we took two tires at a time. For the rest of the race, we tried to use that to our advantage, which got us into the top 10 during the final couple of restarts. We just couldn’t hold that spot long enough to make it to the checkered flag.”  

Matt Kenseth — Finished 13th: “It was a struggle all day for us. I felt like we got fortunate at the end with some pit strategy by Matt (Puccia) and some cautions that got us back in position to finish 13th but we didn’t run that well. I feel like we made a small amount of headway today but we still have a bunch of work to do.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 14th: “Overall it was a tough weekend. We couldn’t really get a balance on our car. We were loose throughout all the practices and then really tight in the race. We managed to finish a lot better than we ran, which is good, but we have to get the balance better and we struggled with speed all weekend. Never had speed and never had a handle on it, so we have a lot of work to do before we come back.”

David Ragan — Finished 16th: “I felt like we ran really good the first stage and got off a little on adjustments, but the team got the car driving better and a few timely cautions got us back on the lead lap. It was fun to race at the end and we probably finished a few spots higher than we should have finished but it was nice to finish on the lead lap and be close to a top-15.”

William Byron – Finished 18th: “We seemed to have a pretty good day. We just took off a little bit tight on the last restart and got stuck in some bad aero spots, but overall not bad. It was good to get a solid finish and have executed pretty well to put ourselves in a good position. We just needed probably a 15-lap run just to get spread out a little bit. But, it was not bad, and we’ll go on to Michigan.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 21st: “That was a long day. I don’t think anything worked, track bar motor, cool box, fire under the dash, got spun out on pit road and pitted the car backwards. A top 20 would have been nice. We got passed at the line there by (Clint Bowyer) but we will just keep plugging away.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 23rd: “Our GEICO Racing team played the strategy game today. We didn’t have the speed that the leaders did, but my crew chief Matt Borland made strategy calls that kept us ahead of the other cars on our lap. We took the wave-around during each stage break to get back on the lead lap, and we were able to maintain our position in the final stage. The first caution of the last stage fell perfectly into our pit strategy, and we really had the balance of our Camaro ZL1 in a better place than it had been all day. I would have loved to break into the top 20 there at the end, but we didn’t give up and kept fighting back. We had good execution today, and that is what is going to make us better.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 25th: “Overall, we made gains in qualifying again, but handling-wise we weren’t all that good. We pushed in Turn 3, which was our weakest point on the track, and were loose in Turn 2. We took advantage of the stage cautions to make major adjustments to help climb into the top 12, but we ended up being an innocent bystander at the end. I said right before that restart with 10 to go that we’d have another caution and we did. Unfortunately, we were involved, when (Erik Jones) hit the Kalahari Camaro ZL1 in the left rear. We were running 12th at the time and were hoping to gain some spots, but we had to pit for repairs and that cost us all our track position.”

BUBBA WALLACE — Finished 38th: “I made a mistake on pit road speeding again here at Pocono. We took the wave around and we were on older stuff.  (Kasey Kahne) was a little bit better than us, well, for sure better.  I just tucked in behind him so we didn’t waste too much time and kind of did like a long shift and give up a little bit of time. I did it earlier in the race around some cars and had no trouble with it. I just had too much weight and pulled to the left and went from third to second. I really hate and I have never done it before.  It’s a bummer. She screamed pretty loud for a second and that was it.”