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‘Game of Thrones’ excitement grabs some in NASCAR garage but not all

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After 19 agonizing months of waiting and pondering what might happen in Westeros, fans finally get to see Sunday night what is in store for the final season of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”

“What’s that?” reigning Cup champion Joey Logano said. “Do they race cars in it?”

Uh, no.

“Then I guess I’m not a fan.”

No cars. But there are dragons, humanoid creatures called White Walkers and plenty of violence.

That’s OK if Logano isn’t a fan. There are bound to be fans in the NASCAR garage of a show that attracted 12.1 million viewers in its season seven series finale in August 2017 (the number grew to 16.5 million when including night-of streams of the show).

“Do you have to be a millennial (to like it)?” asked Richmond winner Martin Truex Jr., who is 38 years old. “Definitely too old to be a millennial if you’re asking.”

No. The show’s fan base has grown since its debut in 2011. The season seven ratings saw a 20% increase in both total viewers and in the adult 18-49 demographic.

But let’s check with someone younger that Truex, such as 22-year old Erik Jones. Is he fan of the show?

“Maybe I am and I just don’t know,” Jones said, “but I’ve never watched it.”

OK, let’s try another young driver, such as 24-year-old Chase Briscoe.

“Never seen it,” he said. “Couldn’t even tell you what it’s about.”

So nothing on Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen? OK, but Briscoe can talk about a few other shows.

“This is going to be embarrassing, but I watch ‘The Bachelor’ and ‘The Bachelorette,’ ‘American Idol.’ I used to never watch those kind of shows and now that my fiance watches them, I watch them with her.”

OK, well, there’s got to be somebody in the Cup garage who is looking forward to the final season of “Game of Thrones.”

Paul Menard.

“I’m up to date on it,” he said.

But he won’t be watching with millions of others when the show first airs.

“I’ll wait for the whole season to go and I’ll watch in the offseason,” he said.

For those who aren’t into it, Menard admits that “it is a really weird show.” But it’s one where “there’s people you can root for and people you can hate.”

He’s not alone in his interest in the show. Chris Buescher likes it but also won’t be watching Sunday night.

“I wait until it’s on DVD because I don’t have cable,” he said. “I’m not home enough (to have cable).”

Reigning Xfinity champion Tyler Reddick has cable and will have a “Game of Thrones” watch party with his girlfriend and friends.

“We’re pretty excited about it,” Reddick said.

He wasn’t a fan when the show first aired but then started watching and the show “sucked me right in.”

His interest grew at a Barnes and Noble. He went to get a book but his friends had been talking about “Game of Thrones.” So he bought the first season of the show.

“Then I bought season two, three and four,” Reddick said. “Then I’ve been caught up ever since.

“It constantly takes the turns you least expect. So it always keeps you on your toes. You never know who is going to die. You never know what is going to happen. Take the most ridiculous outcome possible and that’s what happens 90 percent of the time. It’s entertaining.”

 

Xfinity practice report at Richmond

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RICHMOND, Va. – Noah Gragson posted the fastest lap in the only practice session for the Xfinity Series on Friday at Richmond.

Gragson led the way with a lap of 119.776 mph. He was followed by Chase Briscoe (119.1968 mph), Cole Custer (118.963), Zane Smith (118.827) and Justin Haley (118.561).

Click here for practice report

John Hunter Nemechek ran the most laps at 149. He was eighth on the speed chart with a top lap of 118.452 mph.

Elliott Sadler, who is making the first of two scheduled starts this season, was 12th on the speed chart with a top lap of 117.672 mph.

Briscoe had the best average over 10 consecutive laps at 117.943 mph. He was followed by Custer (117.892) and Nemechek (117.618).

Xfinity qualifying will take place at 3:40 p.m. The race is scheduled for 7 p.m. today.

Cole Custer joins Dash 4 Cash battle at Richmond

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There will be one new face this weekend among the four Xfinity Series drivers who will compete for the Dash 4 Cash bonus at Richmond Raceway.

Cole Custer joins the repeat drivers of Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and Chase Briscoe in jostling for $100,000 in the ToyotaCare 250 Friday night (7 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1).

It will be the third time the Stewart-Haas Racing driver has been part of the Dash 4 Cash program, having been in it one time in each of the last two years.

Custer earned the spot for this weekend with a third-place finish last Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway. That was his second top five in five starts at the half-mile track. He’ll likely need another at Richmond to have a realistic shot at the $100,000.

Working against Custer is his Richmond record so far. He’s never finished higher than sixth (twice) on the .750-mile track in five starts. Outside of those two results, he hasn’t placed better than 13th. He did show promise in this race last year, leading 43 laps from the pole and placing in the top five in the first two stages.

“We’ve gotten better, I feel like, at the short tracks this year,” Custer said Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.” “It’s always kind of been not our strong suit, going to the short tracks. But we’ve had some pretty decent runs this year. Richmond’s a hard track to get a hold of. Especially since you have to worry about the long-run speed so much.”

Custer is the most tenured driver of the Dash 4 Cash participants, being in his third full-time season. Dating back to his five starts in 2016, he has four top fives and nine top 10s on short tracks. Those numbers pale compared to his record on tracks one to two miles in length (two wins, 17 top fives and 30 top 10s).

But the first seven races of 2019 have seen the 21-year-old driver improve significantly upon his performance from the first two seasons. His win at Auto Club Speedway last month marked the earliest he’s won in a season. In 2017 and ’18, his first wins came in the final three races of the year.

His four top fives so far – at Atlanta, Phoenix, Auto Club and Bristol – are three more than at the same point last year, when he went on to record 14.

Oh, and he also has three poles, half of the series-high total he earned in 2018.

He’s accomplished that with the help of new crew chief Mike Shiplett, who joined the team after Chip Ganassi Racing closed its Xfinity operation in the offseason due to a lack of sponsorship.

Cole Custer pits during Saturday’s race at Bristol (Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images).

Custer’s Auto Club win was Shiplett’s 18th as a Xfinity Series crew chief.

“We’ve been really fast,” Custer told SiriusXM. “I think there’s been a group of three or four us that have been the ones fighting for the wins. It’s just a matter of getting everything a little bit better. I think as a whole we’re going to get better as a team throughout the year, especially when we go back to tracks for the second time, just because I have a new crew chief this year and a couple of new engineers with Mike Shiplett.

“I think the more we go to tracks for a second time we’re going to have a better handle when we unload of where we want to be and how we’re going to adjust our cars throughout the weekend. It’s just a matter of getting more races under our belt.”

The No. 00 team and the rest of the series won’t make a second visit to a track until July 5 at Daytona. So Custer and his team will add race No. 8 to their record Friday night with the prospect of $100,000.

“You’re still going to approach it like a normal race weekend, giving it 100 percent, doing your homework,” Custer said. “Also, if it comes down to the last few laps at the end of a stage or whatever and you’re racing those guys and racing for the hundred grand, you’re going to push things to the limit and get a little aggressive for sure.”

Custer emphasized running “your own race” while being mindful of where Bell, Briscoe and Reddick are.

“If you’re racing right with them, you’re going to race them hard because you want the track position in front of them,” Custer said. “But you still got to run your own race and you can’t put yourself in jeopardy trying to run someone else’s race.”

Today’s Xfinity race at Bristol: Start time, lineup and more

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Today’s Dash 4 Cash event at Bristol Motor Speedway puts up an extra $100,000 for Christopher Bell, Michael Annett, Chase Briscoe or Tyler Reddick to collect.

With this being a Dash 4 Cash race, any driver who collects Cup points is prohibited from competing in this event.

Here’s all the info you need for today’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Chad George, Rooms Division Manager, The Greenbrier, will give the command to start engines at 1:08 p.m. The green flag is scheduled for 1:14 p.m.

PRERACE: Qualifying is at 9:40 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 10:45 a.m. Driver introductions begin at 12:30 p.m. The invocation will be given at 1 p.m. Emi Sunshine will perform the National Anthem at 1:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 300 laps (159.9 miles) around the .533-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 85. Stage 2 ends on Lap 170.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will televise the race. Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 12:30 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for mostly cloudy skies with a high of 65 degrees and a 7% chance of rain for the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Kyle Larson won the August race. Christopher Bell was second. Justin Allgaier placed third. Ryan Preece won this event a year ago. Allgaier was second. Daniel Hemric finished third. 

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

Xfinity Dash 4 Cash program gets underway at Bristol

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Someone’s pockets will get a little bit deeper Saturday afternoon at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The Xfinity Series’ Alsco 300 will pit 37 cars against each other for the win. But there will be a race within the race during the 300-lap event that ends with someone winning $100,000.

The race is the opening round of the annual four-race Dash 4 Cash program.

Each race sees four drivers compete for the $100K bonus. Those drivers are determined by the highest-placing series regulars in the previous race.

The lineup for Bristol – Tyler Reddick, Michael Annett, Chase Briscoe and Christopher Bell — was determined the same way last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

To top it off, no drivers who are earning points in the Cup Series are permitted to compete in the fours races, which will be held at Bristol, Richmond Raceway (April 12), Talladega Superspeedway (April 27) and Dover International Speedway (May 4).

Here’s at look at each driver’s season so far and how they’ve fared at Bristol in the past.

Chase Briscoe – Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 98 Ford

Briscoe has 23 Xfinity starts under his belt, yet he’s still classified as a rookie this year.

He’s earned two top fives this season (one in 2018) and four top 10s (four in 2018).

Saturday’s race marks his third Xfinity start at Bristol and first time competing in the Dash 4 Cash. The $100,000 is “definitely the most money” Briscoe has ever competed for.

“We’re racing three other guys and we don’t even have to win the race to win that bonus,” Briscoe said Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.” “You can’t let your emotions get the best of you early in the race because you’ve got to be there at the end. More than likely you’re going to have to win the race to win the Dash 4 Cash, but there’s that chance where you might finish 25th and the other three guys all wreck and you win the bonus.

“But you got to be there and you got to be running at the end to have a chance. You have to keep your composure and it’s so easy to lose it at Bristol. If you’re in a good race car you can normally overcome getting knocked out of the way in a corner.”

Briscoe will attempt to better his two Bristol results from last year of 23rd and 34th (wreck).

Michael Annett – JR Motorsports No. 1 Chevrolet

Michael Annett has a lot to smile about.

The veteran of 235 Xfinity races is off to the best start of his Xfinity career five races after he earned his first win at Daytona.

Revitalized in part by new crew chief Travis Mack, Annett has two top fives, his most since 2012 and four top 10s, which bests his 2018 total by one. He also has an average finish of 7.5 through six races, which trails only Reddick among series regulars.

“I have one of those $100,000 checks from 2012 (at Indianapolis), and sure would like another one to keep it company,” Annett said in a media release. “Having a chance at $100,000 is amazing, and to have it happen at Bristol is even better. We were seventh there in the fall … and that was the first top-10 finish we had with Travis Mack as crew chief. There’s a lot of good momentum for our team right now, and winning that Dash 4 Cash prize would add a bunch to that.”

Tyler Reddick – Richard Childress Racing’s No. 2 Chevrolet

After a late push in 2018 that ended with him winning the Xfinity title, Reddick is doing a good job of backing it up this year.

Reddick leads the point standings despite not earning a win through six races. He has a series-leading four top fives, five top 10s and an average finish of 6.2.

Now he takes that momentum to the high-banks of Bristol, where he has three series starts. His best finish was seventh in this race last year.

“It’s one of my most challenging tracks,” Reddick said in a media release. “Last year, I finished well but those races are just so tough. Hopefully, this year, my crew chief Randall Burnett and the team can help me have a better balance throughout the weekend. It’s tough because if your car isn’t great at Bristol, you can struggle a lot with the constant traffic you’re in while racing around.

“You really have no time to recover if you make a mistake, especially since you spend more time in the corners of the track rather than the straightaways. If things don’t go right, it can make for a long day, but with how we’ve been running lately I have faith our No. 2 Dolly Parton Chevrolet Camaro will be fast right off the hauler.”

Christopher Bell – Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Toyota.

Bell enters Saturday’s race participating in his third Dash 4 Cash.

He looks to follow-up Ryan Preece‘s winning effort in this race last year for Joe Gibbs Racing to win the $100,000 bonus.

Bell, who has four starts in “Thunder Valley” across the Xfinity and Truck Series is still seeking his first win at one of his favorite tracks. A win on Saturday would give him two on the season.

“Bristol is P1 or P2 on my favorite tracks list, that’s for sure,” Bell said in a media release. “It’s so much fun because the track is so fast, it’s so small and you have to deal with lapped traffic. You really have to think your way around Bristol and it’s an attack place, you can’t just cruise around there, which makes it a lot of fun.  I’m really excited to get back there.”