Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Xfinity practice report from Miami

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Final Practice

Ryan Reed posted the fastest lap in final practice for the Xfinity race at Miami with a speed of 166.451 mph.

He beat Austin Cindric (166.195 mph) by .050 seconds. Cindric was also second in the first practice session.

Elliott Sadler (165.873) posted the third fastest time.

Playoff contenders Tyler Reddick (165.766) and Christopher Bell (165.710) rounded out the top five.

Playoff contender Cole Custer (165.578) scraped the wall late in the session, but not before posted the sixth fastest time. His damage was not sufficient enough to force him to roll out a backup car.

“I just tried to get too much into Turn 3,” Custer told NBCSN’s Marty Snider at the end of the session. ” I started trying to run the top to get comfortable a little bit and I  just kind of crossed over the line.”

Daniel Hemric (164.289) was the slowest of the contenders.

Bell (163.311) posted the quickest 10-lap average in final practice followed by fellow contender Custer at 162.920.

Reddick was fourth-best on this chart with Hemric seventh among 21 drivers who posted at least 10 consecutive laps.

Click here for complete results.

First Practice

Christopher Bell posted the fastest lap in Friday’s first practice for the Miami Xfinity race with a speed of 167.193 mph. Bell was docked 30 minutes of practice time for failing inspection three times at Phoenix.

He beat Austin Cindric (166.410) by .152 seconds.

Playoff contenders Daniel Hemric (165.431) and Cole Custer (165.375) were third and fourth respectively.

John Hunter Nemechek (165.006) rounded out the top five.

In seventh, Tyler Reddick (164.394) was the slowest among the playoff contenders.

Nemechek posted the quickest 10-lap average in this session with a speed of 162.254.

Bell (161.658) had the second-best 10-lap average. Reddick (161.567) was third on this chart.

Click here for complete results.

 

Long: Why must-win situation was no pressure for Christopher Bell

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AVONDALE, Ariz. — In a season where Christopher Bell battled Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski to score Xfinity wins in back-to-back races in July and faced a must-win situation at Phoenix last weekend to advance to the Championship 4, such pressure situations don’t phase him.

“I feel like my mentors have just done such a good job of raising me throughout my young racing career and preparing me for moments like this,” Bell said after his victory last weekend at ISM Raceway. “I put so much pressure on myself for really any racing that we go do. Whenever I line up for the Chili Bowl heat race, I’m literally throwing up and that’s the most nervous, most pressure I feel of any race just because of what that race means to me. Today was nothing compared to that Chili Bowl heat race.”

Before people start bad-mouthing Bell for talking about dirt track racing over his main job in NASCAR, a couple of things.

One, there doesn’t need to be divide. This notion, which has been forced upon Kyle Larson after he’s talked about his fondness of racing in the World of Outlaws, is parochial.

NASCAR President Steve Phelps said in September that Larson should freely speak about his love of dirt track racing.

“We may be at the pinnacle of (short-track) racing from a popularity standpoint, but we can learn from them, they can learn from us, and we can promote each other in a far better way,” Phelps said. “So this notion of NASCAR trying to muzzle Kyle Larson and his love of racing couldn’t be further from the truth.

“We want Kyle Larson to talk about NASCAR racing and dirt racing and things that are his passion. We think he can bring his fan base from other forms of racing that he’s doing to us. And we can take our fans and bring them down to that racing as well, so we all get stronger by doing something.”

Second, so you understand. The way the Chili Bowl is set up, if one has a bad heat race, it can make a driver’s path to the A main on the final night infinitely harder. And the next chance to overcome something like that doesn’t happen for a year. So that’s why Bell, an Oklahoma native and two-time reigning champion of the event in his home state, feels such pressure for that event.

So he could be somewhat relaxed entering last weekend’s race at Phoenix. Bell said he had accepted the notion that he might not advance to the Xfinity championship race and that freed him from the shackles of pressure.

“For me, I have a problem of beating myself so if I sit here and say, ‘Hey, I have to win, my season’s on the line,’ then I’m more likely to beat myself,” he said. “We’ve won six races before today and it was a great year. Whenever I go into a season, my two goals are to win races and compete for the championship and we won races and we competed for the championship all the way up until things that were outside of our control happened. It was still a successful season in my standards. I’m happy that I’m still alive.”


There are many key decisions for NASCAR in the coming months from how long will Jim France serve as interim Chairman to finding ways to make teams more viable financially and ways to ensure close, competitive racing

Next season will be headlined by rule changes intended to improve the races, but NASCAR has signaled that there could be more dramatic moves in 2020, particularly to the schedule.

As NASCAR contemplates mid-week races, different venues, and ending the season sooner so there’s less conflict with football, here’s a little help to take one thing off the agenda.

There’s no need to change the final two races of the season.

Phoenix is the right track to be the last race before the season finale. It provides the short-track flair without having speeds so slow that it could create an endless amount of cautions late in the race as drivers bump their way to the front.

Even with the speeds, there have been memorable moments including Ryan Newman diving under Kyle Larson’s car, hitting it and using it to get through the final corner of the last lap to gain the position and advance to the title race in 2014. Last year, Matt Kenseth scored an emotional win, beating Chase Elliott, who exacted revenge against Denny Hamlin late in that race for Hamlin’s contact at Martinsville.

Phoenix allows the driver to be more of a factor than at many 1.5-mile tracks. Just look at Saturday’s Xfinity race where Austin Cindric, who had to win, was aggressive. At one point Cindric and Christopher Bell were dueling before Bell backed out and then worked his way back around Cindric. On a 1.5-mile track, where aerodynamics is so important, Bell might not have been able to have been as patient.

And there’s no need to change the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, which has provided among the best racing at a 1.5-mile track with its progressive banking on a consistent basis. The races have been dramatic and the track provides multiple lanes for drivers to work.

So NASCAR can play around with the schedule as much as it wants, but there’s no need to change the final two races of the schedule.


On the first day of trading since the news Friday that NASCAR had made a bid to purchase all outstanding shares of Class A and Class B common stock of International Speedway Corp., the stock price for ISC closed 8.78 percent higher than it opened. The closing price was $42.49. It is the highest the stock has closed since Oct. 1.


For the second weekend in a row, one organization swept the Xfinity and Cup races.

Stewart-Haas Racing did it at Texas with Cole Custer winning the Xfinity race and Kevin Harvick the Cup race.

Joe Gibbs Racing did it at Phoenix with Christopher Bell winning the Xfinity race and Kyle Busch the Cup race.

Christopher Bell wins at Phoenix to clinch spot in Xfinity title race

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Facing a must-win situation, Christopher Bell did just that, winning Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at ISM Raceway to clinch a spot in the Championship 4 at Miami.

Bell entered the race 34 points out from the final transfer spot. He started 38th after his No. 20 Toyota did not get through inspection in time to qualify.

The rookie marched through the field and took the lead for good on Lap 108 when he passed John Hunter Nemechek.

Bell led 94 laps and beat Daniel Hemric, Matt Tifft, Austin Cindric and Ryan Preece.

It is Bell’s seventh win of the season, a rookie record.

“I’ll be honest after (DNFs at) Kansas and Texas I kind of just accepted we wouldn’t be able to get there,” Bell told NBC. “Just came over here with a ‘Let’s have fun attitude.’ … We didn’t really make our way up front that fast. I kind of got stalled out once I got into the top 15. I knew this thing was really fast because yesterday in practice it was really good. That clean air just meant so much. My pit crew did an amazing job … We’re going to (Miami), baby.”

Justin Allgaier, who won five races this season, was eliminated from title contention. He placed 24th, one laps down after he lost his brakes with about 20 laps to go.

Elliott Sadler, who will not compete full-time after the end of the season, was also eliminated.

Austin Cindric and Matt Tifft were the other drivers eliminated.

The Championship 4 will be Cole Custer, Bell, Hemric and Tyler Reddick

STAGE 1 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

STAGE 2 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

MORE: Race results, point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Daniel Hemric earned his fifth runner-up finish without a Xfinity win … Matt Tifft placed third, his best result since he finished second at Road America … Austin Cindric earned his third top five in the last five races.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Akinori Ogata extended the series’ streak of incidents on Lap 1 to three races when he wrecked in Turn 3. He finished 33rd … After winning the first two stages, Justin Allgaier placed 24th, one lap down. He suffered damage from contact with John Hunter Nemechek on Lap 145. He then lost his brakes with about 20 laps to go, but finished the race.

NOTABLE: Chevrolet clinched its 19th manufacturer championship in the series at the start of the race … Christopher Bell’s seven wins are the most by a non-Cup driver in Xfinity since Dale Earnhardt Jr. won seven times in 1998.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: ”Disappointment. At the end of the day we did everything right this year. We had a great season. Today we did everything right at the beginning part of the race. That was probably the most frustrating part. We led a lot of laps. We won both stages. All things considered it was going to be a great day. Ultimately at the end, getting ourselves in that bad position, getting caught up in that little of a crash and losing brakes. At that point it was survival, gain as many points as we can gain.” – Justin Allgaier after he was eliminated for title contention.

WHAT’S NEXT: Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway at 3:30 p.m. ET on Nov. 17 on NBCSN

 

Austin Cindric to race in Xfinity for Team Penske in 2019

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Team Penske announced Thursday that Austin Cindric will drive the No. 22 Xfinity car full-time next season.

The team announced that MoneyLion will expand its sponsorship and serve as Cindric’s primary sponsor for 18 Xfinity races next year. MoneyLion also will be a primary sponsor on Joey Logano‘s Cup car next year at Talladega in April and at Watkins Glen in August. MoneyLion will be the primary sponsor on Ryan Blaney‘s Cup car next March at Phoenix.

As part of its sponsorship, MoneyLion will give its members 5 percent cash back on NASCAR tickets, at-track purchases and all purchases on NASCAR.com.

Cindric, who has split his time between Team Penske and Roush Fenway Racing this season, is in the Xfinity playoffs. He must win Saturday’s race at Phoenix (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC) to advance to the championship race in Miami.

“I feel like everything I’ve been able to learn and put together has been leading up to this,” Cindric said Thursday night.

Team Penske also announced that it will continue to run the No. 12 Xfinity car on a limited basis in 2019 with Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Paul Menard sharing the driving duties.

 

Long: Tony Stewart suggests way to change NASCAR inspections

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Shortly after his Stewart-Haas Racing organization completed its sweep of the Xfinity and Cup races at Texas last weekend, assuring Cole Custer and Kevin Harvick a spot in their respective championships, Tony Stewart was asked about NASCAR mistakenly sending Jimmie Johnson to the rear for the start because officials in race control were led to believe Johnson’s car failed inspection three times before the event.

Stewart unleashed a blunt missive.

“I still don’t understand why we have to worry about failing three times,” he said. “Bring your car, roll it through tech, you either pass or you don’t. I don’t know why we screw around, jack around with one, two, three times. It’s ridiculous to me.

“Only series in the world where you get to go through tech three times and fail twice, they still let you go through a third time. We got to figure it out. Got to make it simpler than this. Shouldn’t be this difficult.

“Half the time you don’t know what the penalty is supposed to be. I’m a car owner and I don’t know what the penalty is supposed to be. As a fan, I don’t know how the fans can keep up with it either. If you start rolling cars through one time, they don’t pass, they go to the back, I bet you there would be a lot less cars fail tech the next week. Who knows.

“I’m with you, I think it needs to be a less complicated way of doing it, for sure.”

It’s not a new thought. NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan wrote in May that NASCAR needs to “find a way to shrink the rulebook and open up the manufacturer competition again.”

That wasn’t the only issue that some questioned this weekend.

Clint Bowyer was penalized for having a crew member over the wall too soon when he came in to have has gas tank topped with fuel. Only the gas man went over the wall, but the penalty was not on him. It was on a pit crew member who sat on the wall with his feet touching pit road. The crew member never moved from that location during the few seconds Bowyer’s car was in the pit box.

Still, NASCAR called the penalty.

In a pit road handout NASCAR makes available to all teams it states for crew member(s) over the wall too soon: “A crew member’s foot must not touch the pit road surface before the vehicle is one pit box away from its assigned pit box or the equivalent marked distance.”

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, was asked after the race about the penalty to Bowyer’s team.

“That’s the rule,” O’Donnell said. “I know people don’t necessarily like all the rules. That’s the rule. If we don’t make that call, I think you guys would be asking why we didn’t.”

So, if the crew member’s feet had been dangling over – but not touching the pit road surface – there would have been no penalty.


It was no surprise that Kevin Harvick won Sunday at Texas. Talk in the garage before the race was how fast his car was. This time he and his team delivered.

Harvick has had the fastest green-flag speed in all three races on 1.5-mile tracks in the playoffs but had yet to win in the playoffs. The speed is a good sign for Harvick with the championship finale in Miami on a 1.5-mile track.

Harvick’s dominance is greater than 2014 when he ranked in the top three in green-flag speed in the 1.5-mile playoff races leading up to the finale in Miami. Harvick won the championship that year.


The two winningest drivers in the Xfinity Series this season might not race for a championship.

Christopher Bell (six wins this season) and Justin Allgaier (five) are both outside a transfer spot heading into Saturday’s Xfinity race at Phoenix (3:30 p.m. on NBC).

“That’s tough,” Allgaier said of he and Bell possibly not racing for a title despite their success all year. “That’s what this format is all about.”

Allgaier is 12 points out of the last transfer spot. Bell is 34 points back.

“I think you’re going to have to have somebody have a problem, whether that is a mistake or get caught up in something and not beat yourself,” Allgaier said of what it will take for him to advance. “On the flip side of that, if anybody could go there and win, I think Christopher is the guy that could easily go there and win. He was strong there in the spring. He finished fourth. We finished second. My hope is we battle it out for the win and we come out on top.”

Bell is in this spot after being involved in Lap 1 incidents the first two races of the round. His Texas race ended after contact with Austin Cindric sent Bell into the wall.

“The good thing we have going for us is that we’re competitive and we can fight for the win every single week,” Bell said. “I love Phoenix and have run good there in the past. I think we’ll have a really good shot at it. If it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be. I’ve got another shot next year.”


Bell’s comment above is in reference that he’ll be back in Xfinity next season at Joe Gibbs Racing even though he said in August that “I don’t feel like I need another year of Xfinity.”

While no surprise, Cole Custer made it known this past weekend that he’ll be back next season in the Xfinity Series for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Also, Gray Gaulding announced this past weekend that he’ll drive in the Xfinity Series for SS Green Light Racing next year.