Noah Gragson

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Cole Custer takes pole for this afternoon’s Xfinity race at Dover

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Cole Custer earned his second Xfinity Series pole of the season and will lead the field to the green in this afternoon’s Allied Steel Buildings 200 at Dover International Speedway.

Driving the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang, Custer covered the 1-mile, concrete track at 157.329 mph. It was his eighth pole of his Xfinity career.

“I think (single car qualifying) is exciting, but it’s stressful as a driver, at least for me,” Custer told Fox Sports 1. “You’re going down that long pit road, especially if you’re going out late, and you’re just psyching yourself out the whole time, should I drive in this deep or this deep.

“You just have to stay focused with what you’re doing. I think there’s going to be some good guys out there, but we definitely have a good car that could be here for a win.”

Justin Allgaier, who failed pre-qualifying inspection three times, leading to the ejection from the speedway of his car chief, bounced back to join Custer on the front row with a speed of 157.219 mph.

Third through 10th were Austin Cindric (157.054 mph), Christopher Bell (157.048), Tyler Reddick (157.034), Zane Smith (156.461), Chase Briscoe (156.386), Brandon Jones (156.162), Noah Gragson (156.114) and Ross Chastain (156.074).

The race is slated to begin later this afternoon at 1:30 p.m. ET.

Click here for the full qualifying report.

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Tyler Reddick, Austin Cindric are fastest in two Xfinity practices at Dover

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Austin Cindric was fastest in Friday’s second and final Xfinity Series practice at Dover International Speedway.

Cindric was one of only two Ford-powered drivers in the top seven, with a best speed 152.749 mph, tops among the 33 cars that took to the track for the session. However, Cindric’s speed was more than 3 mph slower than Tyler Reddick‘s field-leading speed in the first practice session earlier in the day.

Riley Herbst was second fastest (152.698 mph), followed by Justin Haley (152.659 mph), Tyler Reddick (152.297 mph), who was fastest in the first practice earlier in the day, and Zane Smith (152.233 mph).

Sixth through 10th were Cole Custer (152.033 mph), Noah Gragson (151.515), Justin Allgaier (151.496), John Hunter Nemechek (151.330) and Brandon Brown (151.286).

Qualifying takes place Saturday, prior to the Allied Steel Buildings 200 Xfinity Series race.

Click here for the full speed chart.

FIRST PRACTICE SESSION:

Tyler Reddick was fastest in the first of Friday’s two Xfinity Series practices at Dover International Speedway.

Reddick, in a Chevrolet, was the only driver over 155 mph, covering the one-mile concrete oval at 155.918 mph, hitting that speed in the closing minutes of the session.

Cole Custer and his Ford were second fastest (154.579 mph), followed by Kaz Grala’s Chevrolet (154.540 mph), Zane Smith’s Chevy (154.222) and Austin Cindric’s Ford (153.899 mph)

Sixth through 10th were Justin Allgaier (153.715 mph), Chase Briscoe (153.636), Christopher Bell (153.309), Michael Annett (152.834) and Noah Gragson (152.672).

A total of 33 drivers took to the track. A 34th driver, Tommy Joe Martins, did not record a speed.

Click here for the speed chart from Friday’s first practice.

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Friday 5: Is time running out for Cup playoff hopefuls?

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While the Cup playoff field won’t be set for another four months, there is a shrinking window for those not already in the top 16 in points as the series heads this weekend to Dover International Speedway.

Since 2017 — when stage racing and stage points were added — 84.3 percent of the drivers who were in a playoff spot after 10 races made the playoffs that year.

Take out those who already had wins to be playoff eligible at this point in the season and 81.8 percent of the remaining drivers in a playoff spot after 10 races made it to NASCAR’s postseason the previous two years.

That’s good news for the drivers in the top 16 in points now. Last weekend’s race at Talladega Superspeedway was the 10th of the Cup season.

What’s also telling is that 13 of last year’s 16 playoff drivers are in the top 16 at this point in the season. That’s despite rule changes intended to make the racing tighter and possibly give more drivers chances for better finishes or wins.

The three drivers in a playoff spot this year who were not in that position at this time last year are Chase Elliott (seventh in points this season), Daniel Suarez (12th) and Austin Dillon (14th). They replace Kyle Larson, Erik Jones and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who were all in a playoff spot at this time last year.

So far, those who have earned a playoff spot with a win this season (provided they start every race) are Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. and Elliott.

With NASCAR’s system of win and you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen. A fuel-mileage race can create a surprise winner or a pit gamble can help someone score an unexpected victory. Maybe a rain-shortened race leads to a new winner.

But it doesn’t always work that way. Last season, no driver outside a playoff spot won any of the final 16 regular-season races.

In 2017, two drivers outside playoff spots won in the final 16 regular-season races to make the postseason. Dillon was 22nd in points entering the Coca-Cola 600 and won that race on a fuel-mileage gamble. Kasey Kahne was 22nd in points later that season entering the Brickyard 400. He won that race in the second overtime.

The question becomes how much will those not in a playoff spot now gamble to score a win and secure a spot instead of having to rely on points to make it? This will be worth watching in the coming weeks.

2. A year later

Talladega winner Chase Elliott has made the biggest jump in the standings compared to where he was after 10 races last year.

A year ago, Elliott was 18th. He is seventh this year, moving up 11 spots. Other big gainers among the top 30 from last year are: Daniel Suarez (up nine spots to 12th this year), Ty Dillon (up five spots to 22nd), Denny Hamlin (up four spots to third) and Austin Dillon (up three spots to 14th).

Those who have fallen the most this year from this point last season: Kyle Larson (dropped 11 spots to 21st), Clint Bowyer (down six spots to 10th this year), Bubba Wallace (down six spots to 28th this year), Erik Jones (down five spots to 18th this season) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (down five spots to 20th this season).

3. Familiar ground

It has been nearly two years since Jimmie Johnson last won a Cup race, but he’s back this weekend at Dover International Speedway, the site of his most recent victory.

Jimmie Johnson winning at Dover in 2017. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Johnson won his 83rd career Cup race June 4, 2017, at Dover to tie him with Cale Yarborough for sixth on the career victory list. That win was Johnson’s 11th at Dover, most of any driver.

In the 69 races since, Johnson has four top-five finishes and 21 top-10 finishes. He’s led 149 laps during that time. His best finish since that last win is third. He placed third at the fall Dover race in 2017 and third at the spring Bristol race last year. His best finish this season is fifth at Texas. He has four top-10 finishes in the first 10 races of this year.

“The first couple of downforce races we were not where we needed to be,” Johnson said of this season. “I think we’ve kind of rallied back and put some speed in our cars and are going the right way. Based on performance, I would say we are at a ‘C’ but I know the distance we’ve made up here recently.

“If there’s an effort score, I want to score my team really high because we’re working really hard to get there. But at the end of the day, the results are results and we know we’ve got to get better. I feel like we’re headed into ‘B’ territory right now.”

4. Tight rookie battle 

In the Xfinity Series, the rookie race features a tie for first. John Hunter Nemechek and Chase Briscoe are tied for first with 295 points each. Noah Gragson is third with 284 points. Justin Haley is next with 273 points. Brandon Brown completes the top five with 180 points.

5. All for some popcorn?

According to LehighValleyLive.com, two eighth graders have been accused of arson after lighting an abandoned building at Nazareth Speedway on fire last weekend.

Nazareth Speedway hosted what is now the Xfinity Series from 1988-2004 but has sat abandoned since. Martin Truex Jr. won the last NASCAR race there.

Police said that the boys, one age 14 and the other 15, showed up on Snapchat recorded by one of the boys at the scene as the fire burned. According to police, the story says that before the fire, one of the boys stole lighter fluid, a lighter and Jiffy Pop popcorn from a nearby supermarket. According to police, the boys attempted to heat the Jiffy Pop from the fire.

 and on Facebook

Sieg, Chastain fastest in two Xfinity practices at Talladega

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Ryan Sieg was fastest in Friday’s second and final Xfinity Series practice at Talladega Superspeedway.

Sieg recorded a speed of 187.824 mph, followed by Ross Chastain (187.108 mph), who was fastest in the first practice earlier in the day.

Third through fifth fastest were John Hunter Nemechek (184.754), Josh Williams (184.726) and Timmy Hill (184.324).

Only 13 drivers took to the track for the session. As was the case in the first practice, Chevrolet dominated the second practice with eight Camaros in the top 10.

Qualifying and the MoneyLion 300 race will take place Saturday.

Click here for the full second practice speed chart.

In Friday’s first practice:

Ross Chastain was fastest in the first Xfinity practice session Friday.

Chastain, driving the No. 10 Chevrolet, was the only driver to turn a lap over 193 mph around the 2.66-mile superspeedway, at 193.779 mph.

In addition to Chastain, four of the next five fastest cars were also Chevrolets: Noah Gragson was second (192.874 mph), Justin Haley was fourth (192.820), Justin Allgaier was fifth (192.451) and Tyler Reddick was sixth (192.235).

The only non-Chevy driver in the top 6 was Ford pilot Chase Briscoe, who was third-fastest at 192.823 mph.

Toyotas struggled for speed, with 12th-ranked Timmy Hill the fastest at 191.172 mph.

Thirty-five cars took to the track for the session.

Click here for the full first practice speed chart.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Speed Tweets: ‘Fog cannons,’ pre-crash selfies, Martinsville black holes

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There’s friendly competitor ribbing, then there’s just downright roasting.

Ryan Blaney and Bubba Wallace offered a prime example of this on Thursday.

While golfing, Wallace took a picture of a golf cart identified by the No. 12, which happens to be Blaney’s car number.

Wallace took the opportunity to poke fun at Blaney’s late-race struggles this season.

Blaney didn’t take it lying down, but may be regretting his response after finishing two laps down Saturday in Richmond.

Some big space news was announced earlier this week when the first picture of a black hole was revealed.

But according to Martinsville Speedway’s Twitter account, you can see plenty of black holes on the half-mile short track if you look closely enough.

Driver introductions are a spectacle these days.

The lights! The music! The crowd! The lasers! (There are lasers, right? There should totally be lasers.)

But there’s also “fog cannons.”

All this might be exciting for some, but it may not be the most kid-friendly scenario.

You know the saying, “Don’t selfie and cycle”?

Oh, well, you do now thanks to Noah Gragson.

In NASCAR if two people share the same unique last name, there’s a good chance they might be related.

Well, that’s not the case with the Moffitts.

Brett Moffitt, the defending Gander Outdoors Truck Series champion, wants everyone to know he is not related to ARCA driver Thad Moffitt.

If he were, he’d be a member of Richard Petty’s family.

Jimmie Johnson had an uneventful Saturday night in Richmond, which he’s probably OK with. Rain didn’t delay the Cup race at all as he finished 12th. That means his effort to compete in Monday’s Boston Marathon won’t be hindered and he gets a full day of rest.