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Natalie Decker adds six Truck Series races to schedule

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Natalie Decker will race deeper into the Gander Outdoors Truck Series season with the addition of six races to her schedule, DGR-Crosley announced Tuesday.

The 21-year-old driver will compete in 17 races in the No. 54 Toyota with support from N29 Technologies.

Decker competed in the first three races of the year and earned a best finish of 13th at Las Vegas.

Her schedule includes all but four of the remaining races. Decker will not be in the truck at Eldora, Talladega, Michigan and Canada. The Truck race at Charlotte Motor Speedway will take the place of the ARCA race there.

Decker will still run the ARCA race at Talladega.

“I’m so excited to add more races with DGR-Crosley,” Decker said in a press release. “I’m very thankful for the opportunity to be with this team. David [Gilliland] does such a great job with putting the right people in the right positions, and I’m learning so much and enjoy working with Frank [Kerr, crew chief] and all my guys.

“I didn’t think that I would be racing this much this year in the Trucks, but I’m so excited that we are. I love competing in the Truck Series – it’s challenging but so fun. Looking forward to continuing to learn as much as possible and putting together solid finishes. This year is all about learning and getting experience.”

Friday 5: ‘Chaotic’ qualifying is entertaining and shouldn’t change

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Last week’s Cup qualifying at Las Vegas Motor Speedway raised the question of is qualifying more about entertainment or sport?

It was fascinating to watch cars parked on pit road and drivers waiting for someone to go because nobody wanted to be the lead car. They all wanted to be in the draft.

While that took place, spotters counted down the time remaining in the session.

It became a game of who would blink first and take off.

When it was time to go, there was chaos. Cars darted around each other. In the final round, Joey Logano went four-wide on pit road. Ricky Stenhouse passed Logano on the inside and left pit road ahead of him.

“Is chaos a bad thing?” Logano asked NBC Sports’ Jerry Bonkowski this week. “I think that’s the question we have to ask ourselves. Is it chaos? Yes. Is it entertaining? Oh yeah, it’s entertaining, there’s a lot going on. So I don’t know if it’s wrong and we should be changing much.

“I think there’s a couple safety aspects we can add to pit road while we’re jockeying around for position and stuff like that. But as far as the entertainment value, will you get the lap in before the clock runs out, will you get a big enough draft, will they all go out for a second time and you get a big pack again, are they going to knock somebody out of the round? That’s good.

“I don’t know why we would change much of that, I think it’s OK. Yeah, it’s a little chaotic, it’s crazy and none of us has it figured out or scienced out the way we want to have it yet, but that’s competition, that’s just what it is.”

Logano is right. While there was a randomness to who won the pole at Las Vegas, qualifying was as entertaining as any session in recent years.

What happened last week was reminiscent of qualifying at Talladega in October 2014. NASCAR divided teams into two groups for the opening round and each had five minutes. The top 24 overall times advanced.

Most cars stayed on pit road until they hit their cutoff mark to complete two laps. Not everyone made it. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Allgaier were among the cars that didn’t make it to the start/finish line before the session ended. Their fastest laps didn’t count. They both failed to qualify. It’s the only race Stenhouse has failed to make since his 2013 rookie Cup season.

These days, 36 chartered cars are guaranteed a starting spot. That prevents a situation Stenhouse experienced five years ago with a well-funded team.

But that doesn’t ease all the angst. Some competitors were frustrated at Las Vegas because the draft negates who has the fastest car. It’s all about being in the right place to draft and turn the quickest lap. Being in that position can be as much luck as skill.

What happens in qualifying can impact the race. Teams pick pit stalls based on their starting spot. A poor qualifying effort can lead to issues in the race.

Logano is aware of that. He qualified 27th at Atlanta and his team had limited options on where to pick their pit stall. Crew chief Todd Gordon chose a stall behind Alex Bowman’s pit and in front of Martin Truex Jr.’s pit.

Rarely do strong teams pit next to each other because they don’t want to have to go around a car to enter their stall or be blocked in by the car in front. Logano faced that situation at Atlanta. He lost more than 10 spots on each of his first two pit stops because he couldn’t get around Bowman’s car to exit his stall.

That leads back to the question of should qualifying be about entertainment or sport?

The decision today will be easy. The fastest car will be rewarded because teams are not expected to draft.

This issue that will come up again in the coming weeks, though, when the series heads to Auto Club Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway.

“Texas, I don’t know,” Logano said. “I think there’s going to be parts of the track that you want to draft and parts of the track when you’re going to want clean air. When you get to Turns 1 and 2, you’re going to want some air on the car to be able to get through the corner with as much wide open time as possible. That one’s a real question for me.

“I think Kansas is a no-brainer, you’re definitely going to be drafting. As for Fontana, it’ll be interesting. I think there’s going to be some drafting going on there, but I think it’ll be split up a little bit, kind of like the way Atlanta was, kinda 50-50.”

There’s no splitting this issue. It’s about entertainment. Let chaos reign in qualifying.

2. Second to Kyle Busch

For all the wins Kyle Busch has amassed in his NASCAR career, there is a recurring theme.

The runner-up to Busch in more than a third of the 197 races he’s won across Cup, Xfinity and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series has been one of five drivers.

Kyle Busch celebrating a NASCAR win has been a familiar sight through the years. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

The driver who has finished runner-up to Busch the most in those races is Kevin Harvick. He’s done so 18 times — five times in Cup, 10 times in Xfinity and three times in Trucks. The total equates to 9.1 percent of the time Busch has won a NASCAR race, Harvick has been second.

Carl Edwards is next on the list with 15 runner-up finishes to Busch. He’s followed by Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano with 13-runner-up finishes. Next is Kyle Larson, who has placed second to Busch eight times.

Combined, Harvick, Edwards, Keselowski, Logano and Larson have finished second to Busch in 67 of his 197 wins (34 percent).

They are among the 60 drivers who have placed second to Busch in a race he won. The list includes three NASCAR Hall of Fame members (Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Ron Hornaday Jr.), two Indianapolis 500 winners (Sam Hornish Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya) and drivers who have combined to win 48 NASCAR titles in either Cup, Xfinity or Trucks.

The list could grow this weekend. Busch is entered in both the Cup and Xfinity races at Phoenix.

Here is who has finished second to Busch in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks races and how often:

18 — Kevin Harvick

15 — Carl Edwards

13 — Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano

8 — Kyle Larson

7 — Todd Bodine, Matt Crafton

6 — Erik Jones, Johnny Sauter

5 — Greg Biffle, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Ron Hornaday Jr., Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart

4 — Jeff Burton, Austin Dillon

3 — Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Daniel Suarez, Martin Truex Jr.

2 — Mike Bliss, Terry Cook, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Mark Martin, John Hunter Nemechek, Timothy Peters, David Reutimann, Elliott Sadler

1 — Justin Allgaier, AJ Allmendinger, Marcos Ambrose, Trevor Bayne, James Buescher, Kurt Busch, Colin Braun, Jeb Burton, Brendan Gaughan, David Gilliland, Jeff Gordon, Daniel Hemric, Sam Hornish Jr., Parker Kligerman, Jason Leffler, Sterling Marlin, Jamie McMurray, Casey Mears, Brett Moffitt, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ryan Newman, Nelson Piquet Jr., Ryan Preece, Brian Scott, Reed Sorenson, Brian Vickers, Bubba Wallace, Cole Whitt

3. Multiple surgeries

Tanner Thorson, who competed in 11 Gander Outdoors Truck Series races last season, is recovering after he was involved in a highway crash early Monday morning in Modesto, California.

The 2016 U.S. Auto Club national champion had surgery Monday night for a broken left arm, according to the USAC Racing. Thorson had surgery Wednesday on his broken right foot. He also suffered a cracked sternum, broken ribs and a punctured lung, according to USAC Racing. The organization said that Thorson’s family hopes the 22-year-old can return home soon.

According to a preliminary investigation by the California Highway Patrol, Thorson was driving a 2019 Ford pickup that was towing his sprint car when he approached slower moving traffic shortly before 4 a.m. PT. Thorson’s truck struck the rear of a vehicle. KCRA, an NBC affiliate in Sacramento, reported that vehicle was a milk truck.

The impact sent the milk truck into the next lane where it was hit by another vehicle and then came back across the road and was struck another car. The driver was uninjured. A passenger in the truck was transported from the scene with minor injuries, according to the California Highway Patrol. Thorson’s vehicle came to rest on the shoulder and caught fire.

4. First time in new garages at Phoenix

ISM Raceway at Phoenix debuted its new garages and layout when NASCAR raced there in November.

One person missing that weekend was Rodney Childers, crew chief for Kevin Harvick. NASCAR suspended Childers the final two races of last year as part of penalties imposed to the No. 4 team for failing inspection after its win at Texas. So Childers missed the new look at Phoenix – until this weekend.

Childers shared his excitement of being in Phoenix on Thursday night.

5. Remarkable record

Kevin Harvick has finished in the top five in half of the 32 Cup races he’s run at Phoenix. He has nine wins there. Jimmie Johnson has 15 top-five finishes in 31 Cup races there. He has four wins there.

Despite the dominance of the two, they have combined for one win (by Harvick) in the last five races at Phoenix. The other winners in the last five races at Phoenix are Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano.

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Ty Gibbs, grandson of Joe Gibbs, to make ARCA debut Saturday

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Ty Gibbs, the 16-year-old grandson of NASCAR team owner Joe Gibbs, will make his ARCA Series debut Saturday in the Pensacola 200 at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.

The younger Gibbs will split driving duties of the No. 18 Monster Energy/ORCA Coolers Toyota this season, competing in all of ARCA’s short track races, while 2017 ARCA Rookie of the Year Riley Herbst will wheel the car at superspeedway races.

We’re obviously excited to get to Five Flags and get my season started,” Ty Gibbs said. “But we’re equally excited to get to all of the tracks we’re going to race at this season. They’re all different and every one of them has their own challenges. Mark (McFarland, crew chief) has told me a lot about all of them.”

McFarland has stepped back from his duties as co-owner of MDM Motorsports to focus on serving as Gibbs’ crew chief. MDM Motorsports announced at the end of last season that it was withdrawing after two years on the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series circuit and that it would scale back its NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and ARCA programs to just two cars in 2019.

“It’s a lot less stress this year than last year, for sure,” McFarland said. “I am back to having fun. I enjoy being a crew chief. Once I transitioned from driving to being a crew chief, I really came to enjoy working with these young drivers. It’s fun to see these guys figure things out in two or three races that might have taken me a couple years to learn.”

When he takes the green flag Saturday, Gibbs — who also competes in the K&N East Series for DGR-Crosley Racing (a team owned by NASCAR driver David Gilliland) — will be seeking his second win of the racing season. He won a late model race at Myrtle Beach (South Carolina) Speedway on February 2, with his grandfather in attendance.

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Ryan Reed to drive for David Gilliland’s truck team in Las Vegas

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Ryan Reed will return to NASCAR competition next week, driving the No. 17 Toyota Tundra for DGR-Crosley in the Strat 200 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race on March 1 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the team announced Wednesday.

DGR-Crosley’s primary team owner is NASCAR driver David Gilliland. Reed’s truck will be sponsored by Dexcom, Inc., a leader in diabetes care and management. Reed has Type 1 diabetes.

It will be only the second Truck race of Reed’s career, and it will be at the same location, LVMS. Directing him atop the pit box will be veteran crew chief Kevin “Bono” Manion.

“I’m thankful to everyone who has played a part in getting me back behind the wheel of a racecar,” Reed said in a team press release. “I was in Daytona over the weekend and it was really disappointing to be there and not be racing.

“I’m thankful for Dexcom, David (Gilliland) and DGR-Crosley for giving me the opportunity to race again. The next part of my career is all about being competitive and being in equipment I know I can win in.”

Reed spent the previous five-plus seasons racing in the Xfinity Series for Roush Fenway Racing, making 171 starts and capturing two wins at Daytona, seven top fives and 26 top-10 finishes.

“Ryan has a lot of experience behind the wheel,” Gilliland said in the press release. “We are thrilled to welcome him to our program at DGR-Crosley. Not only will he be an asset to our program and provide key feedback as we continue to grow and improve, but it’ll also be an advantage to our younger drivers (Natalie Decker and Anthony Alfredo) to have someone with his experience as their teammate.

“We’re looking forward to getting Ryan and Bono paired up in Vegas. I think it’s going to be a really strong pairing.”

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Appeals panel upholds stiff penalties vs. David Gilliland, Ty Gibbs

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The National Motorsports Appeals Panel on Wednesday reaffirmed penalties against defending NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship DGR Crosley team owner David Gilliland and driver Ty Gibbs.

However, the panel rescinded a penalty against car chief Chad Walters.

All three were originally assessed a P6 level penalty — the most severe in the K&N Series — for holding a private test on Jan. 14 at New Smyrna Speedway in Florida. While the team claimed the test was allowed because they were running an ARCA engine in the No. 17 K&N East team car, the appeals panel affirmed Gilliland and Gibbs violated NASCAR rules.

A NASCAR spokesperson told NBC Sports on the day the penalties were issued (Jan. 31) that the team used a NASCAR-approved spec engine in the test, not an ARCA engine. The use of the engine violated the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Series testing policy, which specifically prohibits testing at a sanctioned track on the 2019 K&N Pro Series East schedule.

MORE: David Gilliland, Ty Gibbs given heavy penalties for violating preseason testing rules

The penalties assessed came from the following sections in the 2019 NASCAR Rule Book: Sections 12-5.3.7 and 12-5.3.7.1.5:

* Gilliland was fined $5,000; assessed with the loss of 100 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Championship car owner points for the 2019 NKNPSE season; was suspended from the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East until the completion of the third NASCAR K&N Pro Series East event; and placed on NASCAR probation through December 31, 2019.

Per the appeals panel on Wednesday, all of the original penalties against Gilliland remain in place.

* Gibbs, the 16-year-old grandson of NASCAR Cup team owner Joe Gibbs, was fined $5,000; assessed with the loss of 100 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Championship driver points for the 2019 NKNPSE season; was suspended from the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East until the completion of the third NASCAR K&N Pro Series East event; and placed on NASCAR probation through December 31, 2019.

Per the appeals panel on Wednesday, all of the original penalties against Gibbs remain in place.

Gibbs replaced Tyler Ankrum, who led DGR Crosley to the K&N East championship last season..

* Walters was originally fined $5,000 and suspended from the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East indefinitely.

Per the appeals panel on Wednesday, the penalties against Walters were rescinded.

The three members of the appeals panel are Dixon Johnston, Bill Mullis and Dale Pinilis.

Gilliland and Gibbs have the right to further appeal Wednesday’s decision to the National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer in accordance with Section 15 of the NASCAR Rule Book.

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