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NASCAR penalty report from Phoenix

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NASCAR has fined two crew chiefs for unsecured lug nuts last weekend at ISM Raceway.

In the Cup Series, Luke Lambert was fined $10,000 for one unsecured lug nut on Ryan Newman‘s No. 31 Chevrolet.

In the Xfinity Series, David Elenz was fined $5,000 for one unsecured lug nut on Tyler Reddick‘s No. 9 Chevrolet.

There were no other penalties announced.

Denny Hamlin hears from Chase Elliott fans upset about Phoenix, offers retort

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On Lap 269 last week at Phoenix, Denny Hamlin tangled with Kurt Busch, while racing for the lead. Chase Elliott was collected in the incident, all but ending his hopes of advancing to this weekend’s championship race in Miami (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC).

Some Elliott fans criticized Hamlin for the incident.

On Tuesday Hamlin fired back, saying in a tweet: “Apparently while racing for the lead with 30 to go I thought hmm how can I end his chances, oh yea. Get hooked in the (right rear) down the straight and send Kurt down the track. That’ll get him.”

Hamlin and Elliott may have buried the hatchet following last year’s incident at Martinsville (and the payback at Phoenix). Elliott fans are much less forgiving.

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.

Long: Cinderella is a Disney movie, not a Cup championship contender

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AVONDALE, Ariz. —  After a topsy-turvy Sunday that saw championship hopes fluctuate much like the highs and lows of the season, NASCAR fans are left with the best Cup championship field in Miami since the elimination format began in 2014.

For most of the season, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. — the Big 3 — have dominated and they all advanced to race Joey Logano for the Cup title.

“I would predict this is the best four, the closest four that have been in our sport in a long time,” Kyle Busch said after winning at Phoenix.

Busch wasn’t boasting. He was just telling it like it is.

Busch (eight wins), Harvick (eight), Truex (four) and Logano (two) have combined to win more than 60 percent of the races this season. Never have the Championship 4 drivers won more than 50 percent of the races that season.

“You always want to go up against the best of the best, and the strength of the season has kind of been the top three guys, the best three, which has been (Harvick), us and (Truex), and (Logano),” Busch said. “(Logano) has been solid. He’s been consistent, and he’s been good, especially these last nine weeks, eight weeks, I guess.

“So I think that this is a good group of four that we’re going to race for a championship with.”

One can argue about the playoff format and say that it rewards only those who get hot late, but Busch, Harvick and Truex did what was expected by advancing. They showed the value of dominating the regular season and building a treasure trove of playoff points that proved valuable.

Even with those advantages, they still had to squirm in this round.

Harvick celebrated his berth in the Championship 4 last weekend after winning at Texas only to find out three days later that NASCAR had taken it away because of a violation so egregious that series officials also suspended Harvick’s crew chief and car chief for the rest of the playoffs and penalized Harvick 40 points.

Instead of being assured a spot in Miami, Harvick entered Sunday’s race three points ahead of teammate Kurt Busch for the final transfer spot.

As he often does when under pressure, Harvick thrived, winning the pole and showing he had the fastest car in Saturday’s final practice. Nothing changed Sunday when he led the opening 72 laps before what a Goodyear official said was “quite possibly” a puncture that caused Harvick’s right front tire to deflate. Harvick had to pit before the end of first stage on Lap 75 and did so when pit road was closed. He lost a lap and the penalty meant he couldn’t take the wave-around on that caution to get back on the lead lap.

“My main job was to try to get it back to the pits without crashing into the wall or having a tire blow out and rip the fenders off,” Harvick said after placing fifth. “I felt it go down going into Turn 1 and just kind of tried to nurse it into Turn 3 and back around. 

“I couldn’t get down over there, and I just drug everything all the way around. I drug the splitter off. It never really handled as good after that, but we made some adjustments to our car and got ourselves back in contention there in the second stage staying out, and it worked out okay.”

Harvick was back on the lead lap less than 30 laps later when Logano had a left rear tire go down and spun.

With less than 80 laps left, Harvick led Busch by only one point. That would change when Busch wrecked after contact from Denny Hamlin as they raced for the lead with 44 laps to go.

That incident nearly ended Truex’s day. Truex has not been as strong recently as he was in the middle of the year. He was 10th on that restart and nearly hit Alex Bowman’s spinning car amid the smoke and chaos.

“There was cars, smoke everywhere,” Truex said after finishing 14th. “I just basically stopped going into Turn 3 and was lucky to find a hole to get through. Just a little bit of good fortune, a little bit of the right place, right time, and the rest of the day we just battled and got what we could out of the car and did what we had to.”

Busch was steady all day. He wasn’t spectacular but put himself in a position to win and did just that.

Now, the focus turns to Miami where the four best race for a title.

And Cinderella is nowhere to be found.

Denny Hamlin remorseful about incident with Kurt Busch

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AVONDALE, Ariz. — Denny Hamlin expressed remorse about making contact with Kurt Busch and triggering an accident that ended the title hopes for Busch and Chase Elliott.

A frustrated Busch — who entered Sunday three points behind Kevin Harvick for the final transfer spot — was consoled by car owner Tony Stewart on pit road after dropping out of the race.

“He was just helping me out as a driver, owner,” Busch said of Stewart. “That’s what Tony Stewart does. He’s a good individual that knows how to pat somebody on the back and create clarity from the outside on what went on because I only see what happens from the inside of the car.”

Hamlin and Busch were racing for the lead after a restart 44 laps from the finish when Hamlin’s car got loose and came up the track in Turn 1. Hamlin’s car made contact with Busch’s car. That sent Busch’s car into the wall and triggered the multi-car crash.

“I just chased it up the track and he was up there,” Hamlin said after his 13th-place finish. “To me, it’s just a racing thing. It was obviously noting intentional on my part. I’m a huge Kurt Busch fan.”

Hamlin also noted that “I’ve never had one incident (with Busch). He’s as fair to me as anyone out there. I hate it for him. Trust me I was rooting for him.”

Busch, who finished 32nd described the incident from his viewpoint: “Erik Jones was on my inside when we restarted, and I just wanted to make sure I didn’t slip through the new (Turn) 1 and 2. If I could have been to somebody’s outside off (Turn) 2, then I thought we had a good shot of maintaining the lead, and I just got cleaned out. I flat out got cleaned out.”

Busch was at the front because he did not pit under that caution. He, Jones and Hamlin did not pit while the rest of the lead-lap cars were on fresher tires.

“I thought it was the right decision on staying out,” Busch said. “I’m not going to look back on it.”

Busch was on a different strategy after overcoming a penalty for passing the pace car while entering pit road on Lap 136. NASCAR specifically reminded competitors in the drivers meeting that they could not pass the car entering pit road.

“If the rule earlier in the race on the pit road of passing the pace car is black and white, I just need to get brushed up on my rulebook,” Busch said after the race. “I didn’t gain anything by doing what I did other than just digging from behind all day.”