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Xfinity set to reach new track winner mark for first time in 22 years

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Unless Joe Nemechek, who hasn’t won a NASCAR Xfinity race since 2004, wins Saturday’s Xfinity event at Atlanta Motor Speedway (4 p.m. ET on FS1), the series will accomplish something that hasn’t been done since Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s first championship season in the series

A non-Nemechek winner will become the fifth driver to earn their first victory at a track in the opening five races of the season.

They’ll have Brandon Jones to thank.

When Jones passed Kyle Busch with 20 laps to go on his way to a win at Phoenix Raceway last weekend, he kept Busch from claiming his 12th series victory on the 1-mile track.

While it was Jones’ second career Xfinity win, it was his first at Phoenix.

Jones followed Noah Gragson‘s first career win to open the year at Daytona, Chase Briscoe‘s first win at Las Vegas and Harrison Burton‘s first career victory at Auto Club Speedway.

Now here’s where we make you feel old.

The Xfinity Series has not seen a new track winner in each of the first five races of a season since 1998. That year, the first 10 races of the year featured new track winners, including the first career wins of Earnhardt and Matt Kenseth.

The streak is primarily a sign of the times. The trio of Cole Custer, Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell, who won 34 of 99 Xfinity races over the previous three seasons, have moved to the Cup Series.

It’s also a result of NASCAR limiting drivers who earn points in the Cup Series to five Xfinity starts a year.

Busch isn’t scheduled to make another Xfinity start until May 23 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, with six races between starts. Brad Keselowski also competed in Phoenix, but a Team Penske spokesperson said the team hasn’t solidified the remaining schedule for its No. 12 car.

The streak could continue next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

None of the current full-time Xfinity drivers have won there. Even though Earnhardt is slated to compete in the March 21 race, he hasn’t won there in five career starts.

What’s the next track the Xfinity Series will visit where one of its full-time drivers has already won?

The May 2 race at Dover International Speedway. Justin Allgaier won the spring 2018 race there.

Bump and Run: West Coast swing takeaways

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What are your takeaways from the West Coast swing?

Nate Ryan: Hendrick Motorsports is back. Paul Wolfe and Joey Logano are a winning combination. Joe Gibbs Racing needs to regroup but isn’t out of the ballgame by any stretch.

Dustin Long: How Goodyear’s ability to bring a tire that wears more is changing the game. Hendrick Motorsports’ performance. The speed of Martin Truex Jr.’s car and how he’ll be a factor once he avoids the various issues that plagued him. Harrison Burton’s performance in Xfinity, which included a win and three top fives during this swing.

Daniel McFadin: Despite Ford and Joey Logano winning two of the three races, it doesn’t feel like any team or manufacturer has an outright advantage over everyone else. The races at Phoenix and Auto Club had a distinct energy to them that they’ve lacked in general over the years. The season has a some momentum behind it, let’s hope it stays on track in Atlanta.

Jerry Bonkowski: First, we’re seeing Chevrolet teams starting to shake off the struggles of the new Camaro at Daytona and Las Vegas and are coming back to prominence quickly if Fontana and Phoenix are any indication. Second, Ford continues to show its mastery over Toyota and Chevy. This could be a huge season for Fords if the current trend continues. Lastly, Toyota is uncharacteristically struggling with little consistency between teams (other than perhaps Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin). 

 

Who scores their first career Cup win next: Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron, Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, Cole Custer or someone else?

Nate Ryan: William Byron.

Dustin Long: Matt DiBenedetto. He will give the Wood Brothers their 100th Cup victory.

Daniel McFadin: William Byron. While DiBenedetto is the most experienced in Cup of the group, Byron has more time in quality equipment, from the Truck Series up through Cup. DiBenedetto hasn’t shown us a complete race in the No. 21 yet as he re-calibrates his talent and knowledge to what he has to work with.

Jerry Bonkowski: This is a tough question because all of the drivers listed have the ability, they just need some luck. But if I had to pick one, it would probably be Tyler Reddick. Even though he had a disappointing outing at Phoenix, he still has been the best-performing rookie in Cup this season and has even outshined his veteran teammate, Austin Dillon, at times. 

Do you think anyone will beat Kyle Busch to collect any of the bounties in the Truck Series this weekend at Atlanta?

Nate Ryan: No. Kyle Busch knows best when he says Kyle Larson is his main threat at Homestead-Miami Speedway a week later.

Dustin Long: No. Kyle Busch wins this weekend.

Daniel McFadin: My heart says yes, but my gut says no. Chase Elliott will be the primary challenger, but this will be his first Truck Series start since 2017. Meanwhile, Busch has won in five of his 11 Truck Series starts at Atlanta since 2005. Regardless, this is the most excited I’ve been for a Truck Series race not held on dirt or a road course since … let me get back to you on that.

Jerry Bonkowski: Unless Busch wrecks or suffers mechanical problems, I don’t believe anyone takes the bounty in Atlanta. Rather, I believe Kyle Larson has the best chance to do so the following week in Miami.

Tyler Reddick: ‘Good learning experience’ competing up front in Phoenix

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Tyler Reddick caught many off guard with his performance Sunday in the Cup Series’ race at Phoenix Raceway, including himself.

At one point in the second stage, the rookie driver was in the top five and being told by his crew chief the only other car keeping pace with him was Brad Keselowski.

“I’m honestly concerned how I’m the fastest car on the race track,” Reddick recalled thinking. “We’re at Phoenix, this just doesn’t make sense to me.”

The Richard Childress Racing driver appeared on SiriusXM NASCAR Radios’ “On Track” Monday to discuss a surprising, but disappointing outing in the fourth Cup race of the year.

The two-time defending Xfinity Series champion started the day 29th and ran as high as second before a tire on his No. 8 Chevy went down on Lap 265, sending him into the wall and to a 33rd-place finish, his worst of the year.

Reddick said it was a “mystery” what caused the tire to go down, but added it was “odd” the same problem occurred to his teammate, Austin Dillon, on Lap 131.

“We had some positives and it’s nice to know a place I had a lot of questions marks going into, especially starting 29th on the day, how is it going to stack up and how could I improve and improve a lot going back for it in November,” Reddick said. “It seems like we’re not as bad as we thought. We’ve definitely got something to work off of.”

After qualifying 29th Saturday, Reddick said he was “very concerned” about how hard it would be to pass cars after watching the Xfinity Series race.

But on Sunday, he was ninth by the end of the first stage, having discovered he could “kind of sling (the car) in there, dive bomb people to get around them. So it actually worked out OK.”

However, he learned early on not to be too aggressive.

“I made a few mistakes early racing a little too hard at times with guys like (Ricky) Stenhouse (Jr.),” Reddick told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “He didn’t appreciate it, I got it. No issues going forward. I’m just trying to get to the front and figured out early in the race, ‘OK, I don’t want to get too aggressive with these guys and send the wrong message.'”

Reddick said it’s important to him when he gets opportunities to race near the front that “you’re not just knocking guys out of the way, you want to make sure that you pass them right.”

That was what was on his mind on Lap 208 when he was in second and suddenly got out of shape and dropped back to 10th.

“It was fun racing with (Martin) Truex (Jr.), it was fun racing with Kyle Busch,” Reddick said. “Didn’t get to race against Kevin (Harvick) a whole lot. But at one time I was at the top of three wide, I really didn’t want to give him room, but I didn’t want to be the guy who squeezed two champions down going into Turn 3 and causes a big wreck. I slid up and lost a lot of track position, unfortunately. It was a good learning experience racing with those guys, knowing I can do it.”

Despite earning nine stage points, Reddick’s 33rd-place finish dropped him from 23rd to 25th in the point standings. He has a five-point advantage over fellowing rookie John Hunter Nemechek. He takes that to the race this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

At 325 laps/500 miles around the 1.5-mile track, it will be the longest race of his career (he’s crashed out of both of his Daytona 500 appearances).

“Normally it takes me about 400 laps for me to figure out what I’m doing out there,” Reddick told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Places like Atlanta, I love. The longer the races goes, the more comfortable I get there. Places like Darlington, Homestead.

“As aggressive as I seem as a driver, I actually do ease into at those kind of places, whether it looks like it or not. I think the longer race will help me. I’m curious how this car will drive. I know how I want to get around this race track in a Xfinity car, with more power and less downforce. Now with this car I don’t know whether I’ll be able to do the same things to go fast around there. We’ve got to figure that out in practice. We’re back to that game of drivers that are trimmed out are going to look good for 15 laps. The ones that have downforce built into their cars won’t.”

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What drivers said after Phoenix Cup race

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Here’s what drivers had to say after Sunday’s Cup race at Phoenix Raceway:

Joey Logano – winner: “Everybody learned something out there today just whether it’s racing, the way this traction compound is, the awesome sauce up there, how that worked out, played throughout the race.  There’s a lot learned, for sure. We learned that this No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford team is just stout and is not going to get beat if we have the opportunity. We tried everything we could to regain our track position and get control back of the race. I knew that last restart was going to be crazy. It was cool to see two Fords on the front row at the end of a race like that. This is a motor racetrack as much as we don’t think it is. Proud of the team effort today to make this one come.”

Kevin Harvick – finished 2nd: ”(Logano) just had control of the race. After we pitted there, I got stuck behind a couple of cars there, lost five or six spots. He got by and got control of the race. He got to restart where he wanted to. Our Jimmy John’s Ford was better, especially when we could put it in front of his. We just didn’t get the control of the race back there, and he was able to get by us on that restart where I got hung up.”

Kyle Busch – finished 3rd: “We unloaded and we weren’t very good, I didn’t think. I wasn’t too optimistic for the race and rightfully so. I think we probably had a sixth or seventh place car, but we had a lot of strategy there at the end with tires and all that sort of stuff – good restarts and being able to make time up on the bottom. Once you get that close to the front, you can’t make up that time anymore so that’s kind of where we lost our ground there. It’s good to come home third.

“(What did you think of the package for this track overall?) It was okay, just different. There at the end obviously, making up some good spots on the bottom when everybody would get bottled up there mid-pack, but once you get closer to the front, it’s hard to make up those spots anymore on the bottom anymore like we were. Just want to thank everybody on this Sport Clips Camry. The guys did a great job. We weren’t very good when we unloaded, we made a lot of ground, but still not enough ground as I would have wanted to race with some of the top guys. I felt like we were a fifth or sixth place car probably and we were able to come out with a third. Good for us with that effort. We need some points right now. We have to climb the ladder back and get back where we need to be.

“(Did you think you had a shot for the win late in the race?) I wouldn’t say we had a shot, we never had fire-off speed today. We were really slow to fire-off and later in the going we were getting better with longevity, but still we were a ways off. Felt like that when we unloaded and we made some ground on it and got it a heck of a lot better, but just couldn’t get it where we needed it there throughout the race. The 2 (Brad Keselowski) was probably the fastest car. The 22 (Joey Logano) was pretty quick and the 4 (Kevin Harvick) was pretty quick.”

Kyle Larson – finished 4th: “(Did you think you had a chance at the win?) I was just hoping that I could do something and maybe they’d mess up. The 18 (Kyle Busch) went really low and I was just trying to run the bottom, and didn’t make up much ground. If they were to get bottled up at the top, I would have enough momentum I could drive in front of them. But it didn’t work out that way, obviously. We still got a top five, so it was a nice day for us. We fought back from a really bad car from the first run and tuned on it to come away with a top five, so that was good.

“(Did you like the way the cars raced with the new aero package?) Yeah, I thought it was better racing than we had last year. Maybe they can work on it some more and get the racing even a little better, and have a great championship race to end our season.

“(How important was this run for the team?) It was good. The first handful of laps, I thought we weren’t as bad as I thought we would be. I just continued to get tight. I was thankful the cautions came out to allow us to work on it. We got it closer, but it still wasn’t where we needed to be. But we were close enough that we could race.”

Clint Bowyer – finished 5th: “As you go through this West Coast swing, you are lying in the bed you made. We saw that all the time and it really is true. You come out here and these cars are prepared before we get out here. Certainly we are looking forward to getting back home and reevaluating some things. I can’t seem to figure out how to get the front end to turn. There is a new mentality with (crew chief) John (Klausmeier) all his engineers. All in all to grind it out on Sunday when the money is on the line, it was a good effort and some momentum going into Atlanta, a fun race track for me that I really enjoy. The Mobil 1 Ford is beat up a little bit as I look over your shoulder there. Hell, that is what this track is all about.”

Kurt Busch – finished 6th: “I feel like we battled the best that we could have. We didn’t have much for any kind of spectacular stat, other than perseverance. We didn’t have good short-run speed or long-run speed. Sixth is better than we ran all day, so we’ll take that. We really have to look hard at what we believe led to all of this. But at one point we were running 17th without a scratch on the car.

“With Larson fourth and us sixth, that’s better than what we ran all day. I feel like we struggled quite a bit, so we’ll take that. Any time you can finish better than where you run, you have to cash those points. We survived all those last restarts, we just weren’t on offense. We just couldn’t attack. I was just kind of slip-sliding around a bit too much today.

“(Did you like the car’s handling compared to last year’s package, and now with two top-10s in a row, how do you feel the team is progressing?) Yeah, for sure. You just still have to find that right balance and I think we at Ganassi had some things that weren’t quite set right for anything. I didn’t have short run speed, I didn’t have long run speed, but we finished sixth. So, I can’t complain. We have to put that in the bank, learn from it and then head to the short tracks later on at Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond coming up. We were just inches away from another top five. There are things that we have to face ourselves with on what led to the lack of speed today. Even though we finished sixth, we’ll cash that in. But we have to learn from. Chip (Ganassi) has two really good drivers getting everything out of those two cars that we can. It’s fun. Larson and I have a really good read on each other on-track and we just have to get a better read communicated to the engineer staff to help our handling.”

Chase Elliott – finished 7th: “We will build off of it for sure. Kevin (Harvick) was probably a tick- better than us I thought. But we’ll go to work. (You have the most stage points four races into the season. How important is that?) Stage wins are really important this time of year, so those are what you want. … It’s just something to build off of. Hopefully we can come back and we’ll be better.”

Aric Almirola – finished 8th: “That was a decent day for us. We scored stage points in both stages and ran competitively. I thought after practice we were a fourth to eighth-place car and quite honestly that is about where we ran all day. The pit crew did a good job there the second half of the race keeping us in the game. I am proud of that. We just continue to build. We just keep knocking off these top-10’s in a row after last weekend and this weekend. Then you slowly progress to trying to run in the top five and that is where you find yourself in position to win races. We need to continue to build on this.

“(What happened in the contact with Martin Truex Jr.?) Honestly it was just a mistake. We got down into Turn 1 there and he checked up slightly sooner than I expected him to and I was literally an inch or two off his bumper through the dogleg getting down into (Turn) 1. Just the slight delay from the time that he got on the brakes to when I got on the brakes, I got into the back of him and crashed him. We race around each other a lot, all day. We raced around each other and raced each other clean and I had fun racing with him. We swapped positions back and forth and never touched each other and then had that mistake right there. Certainly not intentional but that doesn’t help him.”

Cole Custer – finished 9th: “This was huge. It is a huge boost in our step to have a really solid day and fast Mustang. We overcame obstacles all weekend and hopefully we can continue to carry that all through the year. I think we get better every single race, so it is just a matter of continuing that and doing that every single weekend.”

William Byron – finished 10th: “I’m really proud of the effort by the team. We didn’t have the best execution, but we had pretty decent execution throughout the day. I hate that we got into the 6 (Ross Chastain) there. We had a little bit of damage, but overall, not bad. We fought really hard. A top 10 is good for how the day was overall. We’ll move on from it and go to Atlanta.

“We just have to work on our car turning. We just couldn’t really ever get the car to turn, especially on a short run. We just have to work on that. But it seemed like it was OK after that. There was a lot of tire fall off. For us, it really just created vibrations because we were wearing the right-front (tire) out so hard. I think, overall, it was getting better and closer to 2018. A top 10 is good from where we ran. I think we ran 12th to 17th all day and to finish 10th is a good result for us. I’m proud of that, for sure.”

Jimmie Johnson – finished 12th: “Definitely not the day we wanted but we fought like hell all day long. The guys had a great pitstops … we have a lot to build on. I am so proud of this team.”

Daniel Suarez – finished 21st: “The result looked really good, on paper. We just need to keep working to get more speed. The balance of the car wasn’t even close to what we wanted, so we have a lot of work to do. It was a crazy race, but that’s short-track racing. We did the best with what we had. We just need to keep working and find some more speed.”

MARTIN TRUEX JR. – finished 32nd: “(What happened with that incident?) I just got ran over. He ran into the back of me earlier getting into (turn) one. I hung on to it. These restarts are crazy, it’s fanned out. The 48 (Jimmie Johnson) was in front of me. I wasn’t sure if he was going to come up in front of me on the short chute or not. Then the 10 (Aric Almirola) ran into us. Can’t finish a race, it sucks.”

Tyler Reddick – finished 33rd: “We lost a tire there in (Turns) 1 and 2. I really don’t know what led to that. I don’t know if I just caught something on the race track or it just wasn’t meant to be. Our I Am Second Chevrolet was really, really good today. I just made a couple of mistakes there that cost us track position. I don’t know if that’s what ultimately would have kept us from cutting a tire, but we were in really good shape there and I just made a rookie mistake and fell back to the back half of the top 10 and from there we had our flat tire, and that was the end of our day unfortunately.”

Austin Dillon — finished 36th: “We started pretty far back in the field today at Phoenix Raceway but Justin Alexander and everyone on the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Off Road Chevrolet ZL1 1LE team did a great job of putting a solid plan together to get us up front. We started off the race with a loose-handling Chevrolet but adjustments on pit road definitely helped and combined with strategy, we raced our way into the top 10. We had to make an unscheduled pit stop for tires after leaving a lug nut loose, which put us a lap down but we were running really fast and I knew that we would be able to get back on the lead lap. Unfortunately, we cut a tire and ended up in the wall, ending our day well before we wanted it to end. It’s a disappointing finish, but I’m really proud of the speed that Richard Childress Racing has had so far this year and I know we will rebound.”

Ryan Blaney – finished 37th: “From the car I couldn’t really see (what led to the wreck with Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski). A couple of us were three-wide. I was happy to be on the top. I thought we were going to roll the top pretty good through three and four there. It looks like (Hamlin) tried to send it in there below (Keselowski) and got loose and hit him and then overcorrected and got us. We got up in the dirt and we just ran right into the fence. Just an innocent bystander there. It sucks to have it end so early like that and have that happen so early in the race. I do really hate it for Menards and Tarkett and Ford. We didn’t even have a chance to work on our car. We weren’t great the first run but we made a big swing at it and we don’t know how that change was. It stinks when you are taken out like that. We will just go on to Atlanta and see what we can do.”

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Joey Logano wins Phoenix Cup race in overtime

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Joey Logano won Sunday’s Cup Series race at Phoenix Raceway in an overtime finish, beating Kevin Harvick to score his second win of 2020.

Logano is the first repeat winner of the season.

Logano held on to win over Harvick, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson and Clint Bowyer.

The Team Penske driver bounced back from an uncontrolled tire penalty in Stage 2, as well as a slow pit stop due to a broken jack. Logano led 60 of the race’s 316 laps. It is his second Cup win at Phoenix.

“Boy, we had more things go wrong today, unfortunate situation with the jack breaking, nobody’s fault,” Logano told Fox. “Had some good restarts to get ourselves back up there, being aggressive and having some tires there towards the end. I knew racing Kevin was going to be hard.  I was figuring I was going to get hit, so I throttled up in the corner so much, I thought he was going to give me the bump‑n‑run, which I expected, wouldn’t blame him for.  I’m out of breath.

“That was a pretty intense last 30 minutes or hour of the race.  A lot going on.  Couldn’t be more proud of this team.  Two wins already in the books.  We’ve got to keep this thing rocking.”

The overtime finish was set up by an incident involving Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and John Hunter Nemechek with three laps left in the original 312-lap distance.

Harvick’s second-place finish comes after he led 67 laps. Harvick remains the only driver to finish in the top 10 in all four races this year. Harvick also earned his 14th consecutive top-10 finish at Phoenix, a track record.

“(Logano) got by and got control of the race,” Harvick told Fox. “He got to restart where he wanted to. “Our Jimmy John’s Ford was better, especially when we could put it in front of his.  We just didn’t get the control of the race back there, and he was able to get by us on that restart where I got hung up.”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kevin Harvick

STAGE 2 WINNER: Brad Keselowski

More: race results, point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Kyle Larson and Clint Bowyer each earned their first top-five finish of the season. Bowyer snapped a string of 23 straight race at Phoenix without a top five.  … Chase Elliott bounced back from an unscheduled pit stop for a loose tire to finish seventh. He also led a race-high 93 laps … Cole Custer placed ninth for his first Cup Series top 10 in his seventh start.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished 22nd after he wrecked in Turn 2 on Lap 58, in addition to the incident that created overtime … Points leader Ryan Blaney was eliminated in a three-car incident with Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski on a Lap 64 restartAustin Dillon finished 36th after he hit the wall on Lap 131, not long after an unscheduled pit stop for a loose wheel. … Erik Jones placed 28th after he wrecked in Turn 1 with 60 laps to go … After running in the top 10 most of the day, Tyler Reddick placed 33rd after he was eliminated in a wreck with 48 laps to go … Martin Truex Jr. was eliminated when he wrecked on a restart with 30 laps to go. It was the culmination of a long weekend for Truex, who had to start from the rear after an engine change.

NOTABLE: Seventeen different drivers have finished in the top five through four races in 2020, tied with 2001 for the most ever through four races in a season.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “This was huge. It is a huge boost in our step to have a really solid day and fast Mustang. We overcame obstacles all weekend and hopefully we can continue to carry that all through the year. I think we get better every single race, so it is just a matter of continuing that and doing that every single weekend.” – Cole Custer after placing ninth for his first career Cup top 10.

WHAT’S NEXT: Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway at 2 p.m. ET on March 15 on Fox