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Friday 5: Is it time for tracks to adopt rain ticket policy like Texas, Pocono?

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Few things can be worse to fans than a postponed race.

While many fans return the next day despite the inconvenience, others are not as fortunate. Some are unable to go back because they must work, travel home or cannot afford to stay an extra day.

Admittedly, it’s a risk associated with attending an outdoor sporting event. But should tracks do more for fans, who can spend hundreds of dollars on tickets and then never see the race?

Most NASCAR tracks do not offer refunds or exchanges.

While a few track officials told NBC Sports that if fans called the ticket office, the track would seek to work with them on a solution, no such formal policy is listed on track websites as of today. Some track officials said they’ve allowed fans to attend both an Xfinity or Camping World Truck race and the Cup race when they’ve been scheduled for the same day instead of emptying the stands before the Cup event.

Two weeks after Martinsville Speedway’s Cup race was postponed a day by snow, the series returns to action at Texas Motor Speedway.

Those tracks offer contrasts in what they offer fans who can’t return for a rescheduled race.

Martinsville Speedway, like tracks owned by International Speedway Corp., offers no refunds and no exchanges.

All ISC-owned tracks have a partnership with TicketGuardian that, for a cost, insures a fan’s tickets, along with any other enhancements they purchase — scanner rental, prerace pit passes, premium parking, etc. A TicketGuardian spokesperson told NBC Sports that the company is extending coverage until the newly scheduled date should the event be postponed.

Texas Motor Speedway has a policy that does not cost the fan extra. If a ticket holder is unable to attend a rained-out race on its rescheduled date, they will have the ability to redeem that ticket for a future event at equal or lesser value for up to one calendar year. That policy has been in place since 2013.

The wunderground.com forecast for Sunday shows a 0 percent chance of rain in Texas, so there’s no worry of that race being rescheduled.

But the Texas policy was used in 2014 when the April Cup race was postponed a day by rain.

That is one of 11 Cup races to have been rescheduled since 2013 (a span of 186 races). That equates to a rescheduled race 5.9 percent of the time.

Eight of the 23 tracks that host a Cup race have had at least one rescheduled race since 2013. Charlotte, Bristol and Pocono have each had two Cup races rescheduled since then.

Pocono Raceway saw both its Cup races and its IndyCar race in 2016 postponed a day by rain. The track responded with what it calls the Worry-Free Weather Guarantee. It debuted in 2017 and is in place again this year.

The guarantee provides a money-back option for fans if they cannot make the rescheduled race provided they purchased an advance ticket directly from Pocono Raceway.

The only other Cup track with something comparable is Atlanta Motor Speedway with its Perfect Race Weather Guarantee.

That policy states that if the maximum high temperature for either its Saturday races or Sunday Cup race fails to reach at least 50 degrees, or if the event is postponed and a fan cannot attend on the makeup date (and has not had their ticket scanned), they can request credit for their tickets.

It is easy to suggest that every track should have a policy to provide credit or a ticket exchange for those who can’t attend a rescheduled race. The reality is each track is a business — and many are owned by publicly traded companies that must answer to shareholders.

The impact of 10,000 fans or more wanting a refund or to exchange tickets to a future race could create some financial challenges for tracks.

Yet, for a sport that espouses the benefits of going to a race — the sights, sounds and smells — having fans unable to attend a rescheduled race or recoup what they paid could cost a track a future customer.

Is there a better way to do business?

2. Future Cup schedule

The announcement of the 2019 Cup schedule this week drew little notice except for those complaining about not seeing any changes with it.

NASCAR entered five-year agreements with tracks before the 2016 season. That goes through the 2020 season. It is the 2021 season that could see a significant shake-up in tracks and be the time for NASCAR to possibly make significant changes.

3. Playoff Preview

This weekend starts a stretch where five of the next six Cup races will be held on tracks hosting playoff races. Those tracks are Texas, Richmond, Talladega, Dover and Kansas

After Kansas, which is May 12, the only other track the series will visit that hosts a playoff race is Charlotte Motor Speedway. But Charlotte’s playoff race will be on the roval, the combination road course/oval track. That will be the first time the NASCAR has run on that course.

4. NASCAR on NBC Podcast

If you’re not a subscriber to the NASCAR on NBC podcast with Nate Ryan, take the time to do so and check out many of the episodes. This week featured an informative two-part podcast with Brad Keselowski.

Previous guests have included Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Mark Martin, Cole Pearn, Rodney Childers and others.

5. FantasyLand

There’s still time to sign up in the NASCAR America Fantasy League and compete against NBC’s broadcasters and writers, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Steve Letarte, Jeff Burton, Dale Jarrett, Kyle Petty, Rick Allen and others.

You can join the league by going here.

Step forward: Jimmie Johnson made it through Vegas without wrecking

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While a 12th-place finish isn’t something Jimmie Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team normally would celebrate, Sunday’s finish was significant in one aspect.

It was the first time this year Johnson had not crashed or spun in a race.

It has been a rough start for the seven-time champion and the No. 48 team.

His bad luck began in the Clash in Daytona to open the season. He was less than half a lap from completing that event before he was collected in an incident, marking the seventh consecutive year he’s been in a crash in that race.

Things didn’t get better for Johnson in his qualifying race at Daytona a few days later. A tire issue led to his accident in that event.

Matters only got worse for Johnson when he was collected in a crash on the last lap of the first stage in the Daytona 500. It led to a 38th-place finish to open the season.

Things were not good again for Johnson the following week at Atlanta Motor Speedway. While running a lap down, Johnson spun in Turn 2. He finished 27th.

All that led to Las Vegas. Johnson avoided the troubles he had previously. Still, it was not an easy day. He fell a lap down early and lost another lap before coming back for his best finish of the season. Afterward, Johnson was asked how he got through that race.

“You just go,” he said. “There is nothing you can do. At the end of last year and even in Atlanta, I was trying too hard.  Just giving 100 percent and driving the car where it’s at and bringing it home is what I need to start doing. I have been trying to carry it, and I’ve crashed more cars in the last six months than I have really in any six-month stretch or whole year stretch. Just trying to drive it 100 percent and not step over that line.”

Sunday’s race marked just the second time in the last seven races (dating back to last year and including the Clash and his qualifying race) that Johnson had not crashed or spun in an event.

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Las Vegas team rosters: Who is working the Pennzoil 400

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NASCAR has released the weekend team rosters for the 37 teams competing in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Under a new initiative to limit at-track personnel in 2018, NASCAR is providing a list of team rosters before each race this season. In addition to the crew chief, Cup teams will be permitted 12 road crew members each weekend and a five-member pit crew (which is down a person from last year and also under new regulations).

Click here for the team rosters provided by NASCAR at Las Vegas.

Teams fielding one to two cars also are allowed three management-style spots (competition vice president, technical director, IT support). Teams fielding three to four cars get those spots plus a fourth staff member for IT.

NASCAR will monitor the rosters by scanning identification chips. It also will use rosters in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck series.

Cup teams presented the idea of having a defined number of team members to NASCAR, which helped formalize the structure.

Chase Briscoe, John Hunter Nemechek break down Xfinity debuts

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Well ahead of his Xfinity Series debut last weekend, Chase Briscoe was given a list by Ford of all 33 races the series will hold in 2018.

The 23-year-old was asked to rank them by the races he liked and thought would be the most important for him to run.

The track at the top of Briscoe’s ranking was Atlanta Motor Speedway.

A native of Mitchell, Indiana, with a dirt racing background, Briscoe wanted to get the toughest race out of the way.

“To me Atlanta was a crucial one to run just because it’s early in the year … it’s the first mile-and-a-half of the year,” Briscoe told NBC Sports. “To me it’s the toughest mile-and-a-half that we go to when it comes to slickness. You’re constantly on edge and there’s tire fall off.”

Briscoe, a Ford development driver and one of three drivers piloting Roush Fenway’s Racing’s N0. 60 Ford this season, had been to Atlanta before. Driving for Brad Keselowski Racing in the Truck Series last year, Briscoe started 25th and finished fourth in his first visit to the track.

On Saturday, he wasn’t the only rookie Xfinity driver trying to use past Atlanta experience to his advantage in their series debut.

Briscoe was joined by John Hunter Nemechek, driver of Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 Chevrolet. The two drivers had very different debuts on NASCAR’s second-biggest stage.

Nemechek, 20, made his third start on the abrasive 1.54-mile oval. The first two, for his family’s NEMCO Motorsports team in the Truck Series, included one win in 2016.

“I think it’s all the same concept of being able to manage your tires and being there at the end when it counts,” Nemechek told NBC Sports. “If I was going in blind and had never run there or in an Xfinity car, I think it’d be a little bit tougher just from the fact of knowing how you have to run there, how much to save tires … the saving factor is definitely different for the Xfinity car to the truck for sure.”

Nemechek had “butterflies” on Friday, but he expected that.

“I feel like the weekend went very well from the perspective of never being in a Xfinity car until Lap 1 of practice,” Nemechek said. “I felt really good. … We were fast Friday in practice. The guys here at Chip Ganassi Racing brought me a really fast piece and as a driver that’s all you can ask for so it’s kind of in my hands not to make a mistake.”

Nemechek was eighth fastest in first practice and Briscoe was 20th. In final practice, Nemechek topped the chart and had the best 10-lap average. Briscoe had only risen one spot to 19th.

By the end of the day, they had varying expectations for how Saturday would go.

“I still had open expectations,” Nemechek said. “My confidence was high in race runs, but I’d never done a qualifying run until the first lap in qualifying on Saturday morning.”

Chase Briscoe competes during the Rinnai 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Briscoe’s had changed significantly.

“I had every expectation that I could run up front and battle for the win,” Briscoe said. “After practice I realized it wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought. That was one of the things that’s humbling and very eye-opening how tough the field is and the depth of the field is so tough.”

The field was made tougher by the presence of four Cup drivers, including eventual race winner Kevin Harvick.

Briscoe leaned on Harvick as well as fellow Ford drivers Brad Keselowski (Briscoe’s former Truck Series owner) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for guidance.

“There’s a difference between being fast in practice and being able to race good,” Briscoe said. “So all of the guys told me, especially (with) Atlanta, you need to be tight. That’s one thing I’ve always struggled with in my career, I always like being loose compared to everybody.”

Stenhouse, who also comes from a dirt racing background, provided valuable insight in how to get around the track that hasn’t been repaved in 21 years.

“We talk the same language and some guys, typically the sprint car drivers, talk about side bite and forward bite,” Briscoe said. “If I want to get in the corner at a certain speed, I’ll actually start back peddling the throttle down the straightaway way before I get to the corner just so I can get to the corner at the speed I want and not have to go down in there wide open and lift out of the throttle and get into the brake. Stenhouse said he does the same thing, so it was just nice to reassure myself that’s what I should be doing.”

Meanwhile, Nemechek received advice from his Ganassi teammates, Larson and Jamie McMurray. He also got insight from former Cup driver Josh Wise, who works as a trainer for Ganassi.

“He’s definitely been a huge help over the offseason, being able to, I guess more of like a driver coach per say,” Nemechek said.

Wise’s advice?

“Have fun,” Nemechek said. “You want to make the most out of your opportunity. … Just being able to run all the laps and learn as much as you can.”

Nemechek ran all 163 laps. But he had to survive the two most hair-raising moments of the race to do it.

John Hunter Nemechek starts to get loose from racing with Kevin Harvick early in Saturday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway  (Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The first came within laps of the initial green flag. With his No. 42 Chevrolet hugging the line at the bottom of Turn 4, Harvick nearly made contact with his rear bumper, getting Nemechek loose and then some, but he somehow saved it.

“It’s kind of a driver’s instinct of being able to save it throughout the years,” Nemechek said. “I still think there’s some luck involved there.”

Briscoe experienced the same issues with aero in the early going.

He “limped a little bit” into Turn 1 on the first lap when he could have gone all out and was passed by three cars.

“That was probably the first one where I thought, ‘Well, you screwed that up,” Briscoe said. “The whole race is just so much different in the Xfinity car than the Truck was in dirty air. All of the first couple of laps were kind of that for me because I didn’t know what to expect being in that much air and that many cars around you.”

Nemechek’s second scare came again out of Turn 4 on Lap 11 as he raced with Cole Custer and Elliott Sadler behind him. The No. 42 drifted up in front of Sadler, who hit his rear end. That sent Nemechek down into Custer, who spun and hit the outside wall nose-first.

Cole Custer’s No. 00 Ford after his accident with John Hunter Nemechek. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

“I didn’t expect (Sadler) to hit me like that,” Nemechek said. “He had the run on the top side and Cole had a run on the bottom. I was loose as it is and had to use up all the track. They were being really aggressive and I can understand that. … Apologize to those guys. It’s kind of one of those deals, I was in the wrong spot at the wrong time and so was (Custer).”

Before the first 40-lap stage was over, Nemechek had to endure one more near-miss in the form of a shredded right-front tire. Pitting to replace it sent the Nemechek one lap down.

He was back on the lead lap following the stage-ending caution a few laps later. Nemechek failed to finish in the top 10 in the first two stages, but he kept his No. 42 safe and drove to a fourth-place finish.

Nemechek attributed his spotter Derek Kneeland and crew chief Mike Shiplett with getting him back on track.

“More or less having the spotter and crew chief keep me calm and keep me focused and make sure I’m hitting my marks and not doing anything crazy,” said Nemechek, who will next be back in the No. 42 car on March 17 at Auto Club Speedway. “Then knowing there’s a lot of race left and things can play out in your favor if you’re patient enough and don’t put yourself in bad position.”

Briscoe had an uneventful day at Atlanta before finishing 15th, one lap down. But he’ll take it. His result came a week after No. 60 teammate Austin Cindric wrecked at Daytona on Lap 11.

“It builds team morale if you come back every weekend without scratches on the car and it’s not tore up,” said Briscoe, who will drive the No. 60 next on April 7 at Texas Motor Speedway. “Obviously there’s a difference between tearing it up battling for the win and tearing it up running 20th. That goes a long way and I think Jack (Roush) respected that and he said he was proud. Fifteenth wasn’t what I wanted to run, but I think in the big scheme of things he was happy with it and hopefully we can continue to build on and get better and better as the year goes out.”

NASCAR America: Scan All recaps Kevin Harvick’s Atlanta win

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The wait is over.

With NASCAR America’s return to the airwaves comes the first edition of fan favorite segment, “Scan All.”

The feature brings you the highlights of team scanner traffic during the course of every Cup Series race.

The first “Scan All” of 2018 documents Kevin Harvick‘s win Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, his first at the track in 17 years.

Here are some highlights.

  • “That’s a really good penalty when you come to a place like this, huh?” – Kyle Larson‘s spotter, Derek Kneeland, on Martin Truex Jr’s rapid rise through the field early in the race. Truex started 35th after he failed pre-qualifying inspection. He started the race on fresh tires while everyone else started on tires that had been used in qualifying.
  • “I think the 4 car (Harvick) is getting out of the gas really early” – Earl Barban, Jimmie Johnson‘s spotter

“Where are we getting out of the gas?” – Chad Knaus, Johnson’s crew chief.

“Uh, further than that.”

  • “That 4 car is stupid fast” – Truex on Harvick’s dominant performance late in the race.

“Hallelujah, what a relief,” Harvick said after taking the checkered flag. “I’ve been waiting 17 years to do what I’m getting ready to do.”

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver held three fingers outside his window, in honor of Dale Earnhardt.

Watch the above video for more.