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Austin Cindric wins IMSA Pilot Challenge race at Road Atlanta

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If you’re Austin Cindric and you have your first weekend off from your full-time Xfinity Series job in 15 weeks, how do you spend it?

You go run a race and win, of course.

The Team Penske driver competed in and won the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race at Road Atlanta on Friday, driving Multimatic Motorsports’ No. 15 Ford Mustang GT4 with teammate Seb Priaulx.

It is Cindric’s second career Pilot Challenge win and his second start this year.

The 21-year-old Cindric has competed in IMSA races since 2014.

“I’ve had a lot of fun when Ford Performance brings over the NASCAR Xfinity guys and we get to do some of these races in the GT4 cars,” said Cindric. “Multimatic kind of kickstarted my career. It took off in a lot of different directions and I wouldn’t be where I am without them. I see the same thing with Seb. They believe in him and he’s done an awesome job.”

Priaulx, 18, is the son of three-time World Touring Car Cup champion Andy Priaulx, and was making his North American racing debut.

“Thanks to Austin, he did a great job to get the car home in first place,” said Priaulx. “It was a good race. We had good pace at the start, not to get the P1 spot but it was good enough to win the race today, so I’m really happy. Thanks to Multimatic and Ford Performance to give me a chance to race this car and with Austin.”

You can watch Cindric’s win at 7 p.m. ET Oct. 18 on NBCSN.

Friday 5: Will 2021 Cup schedule add more short tracks, road courses?

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With the 2020 Cup schedule receiving positive reviews from many fans, the expectations for the 2021 schedule grow bigger.

While there will be talk of ending the season sooner, whether any tracks lose dates and if doubleheaders will be used more often, just as big of a question will be where the short track and road course events come from that fans want to see more of in the future?

Iowa Speedway could be an option. And there’s plenty of talk about Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tennessee. But are there others that are feasible and could make the upgrades necessary to host NASCAR’s top series?

What about road courses? Would Indianapolis Motor Speedway be better off holding its Cup race on the road course? Or would it make sense to put a Cup race at Mid-Ohio or Road America or Canadian Tire Motorsports Park?

There’s excitement with the 2020 schedule because NASCAR mixed up the races among the same tracks. That’s all NASCAR could do because the five-year sanctioning agreements with tracks go through the 2020 season. After that year, NASCAR has the ability to make more radical changes to the schedule.

Denny Hamlin says that as NASCAR looks at revamping the schedule, one thing must remain constant.

“I love the idea of more short track racing for sure,” Hamlin told NBC Sports. “I just want to make sure that the tracks are investing the proper money to make sure their facilities are good.”

In other words, make sure there are premier facilities for the premier series in NASCAR.

“It’s hard to sell this is big time if it doesn’t appear that way,” he said.

2. Will Texas be a true indication of the top teams?

Now that teams have had a little time to take what they learned from the West Coast swing and work on their cars, will the gap between Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing to the rest of the field shrink?

NBC Sports analyst Jeff Burton suggests on this week’s NASCAR on NBC podcast with Nate Ryan that some teams could close the margin.

“I heard Clint Bowyer make a comment on the West Coast swing and he’s like, ‘Look we know we’ve got to get better, but it’s going to be hard to do it now. There’s things that we can’t evolve in our cars, there’s not enough time,’ ” Burton said. “So I think potentially that Texas is a place where you can see not just Stewart-Haas Racing but other teams improve as well. … They learned at Vegas. They learned at Atlanta. They learned at (Auto Club), and I think you’ll see teams pop up.”

Among the teams to watch this weekend:

Will this be the weekend Stewart-Haas Racing scores its first victory of the season. The organization has had at least one car finish in the top five in each race since the Daytona 500.

Hendrick Motorsports has not had a car finish better than ninth at Atlanta (1.5-mile track), Las Vegas (1.5) and Auto Club Speedway (2-mile track) this season. Can that organization get a car into the top five at Texas?

Richard Childress Racing has shown speed — Austin Dillon won the pole at Auto Club Speedway and started fourth at Las Vegas — but can that translate into stronger runs? Dillon finished 20th Las Vegas and overcame illness to finish 10th at Auto Club.

JTG Daugherty Racing’s Chris Buescher placed ninth at Atlanta, 18th at Las Vegas and 16th at Auto Club Speedway. That’s been a good start for that organization but how much better can it be?

“We spent a lot more time, a lot of resources and at JTG getting everything ready to hit the ground running to make sure we were prepared for this season,” he said. “It worked out really good to start. We’ve got to stay ahead of it. I promise, nobody is sitting idle at this point. We’re still trying to figure out how to make our cars better each and every week.”

3. Same old, same old?

NASCAR announced modifications to group qualifying this week. The biggest change was an incentive to make a lap in each round after all 12 cars in the final round at Auto Club Speedway failed to complete a lap before time expired.

Cars sit on pit road during the final round of Cup qualifying at Auto Club Speedway. Photo: Fox Sports

Now, if a car fails to record a lap in a round of qualifying because the team waited too long, the car will start at the back of the field.

With the draft still a factor, will the rule make much of a difference this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway?

“I don’t think it will be much different from what we’ve seen in the past,” Denny Hamlin told NBC Sports about what he expects qualifying to look like today. “I don’t know that it will be such a detriment to be the first car out because I think Turn 1 and 2, they are so quirky in the sense that it’s really one lane. I don’t know if you will want to be back in the pack or so. 

“I think (Turns) 3 and 4 will be … more wide open and you’ve got all the grip you need so you want to be behind someone. I’m not sure you want to be behind someone in (Turns) 1 and 2. It’s such a flat corner. It really depends on whether that (traction compound) works the way we think.

“My general feeling is that teams will overreact and make sure we leave extra early, and then there will be an opportunity for us, the guys that really push the limit will get the pole, the ones that decide to lay back.”

4. Back behind the wheel

Greg Biffle, who last competed in Cup in 2016, ran 14 laps Thursday at Texas Motor Speedway in Kyle Busch’s truck. Biffle did this as preparation for the June 7 Gander Outdoors Truck Series race he’ll compete in for Kyle Busch Motorsports. He and Busch had talked for a while about doing this. 

As of now, it’s a one-race opportunity.

Greg Biffle talks to the media after running 14 laps in the first of two Truck practice sessions Thursday for Kyle Busch Motorsports. (Photo: Dustin Long)

“I could be talked into some more,” said Biffle, a former Truck and Xfinity series champion. 

While he might consider running more Truck races, he’ll need to fit it into his schedule of racing.

He will compete in the SVRA vintage and historic event this weekend at Road Atlanta and a couple of others this season. He also will take part in four off-road competitions with his UTV sand drag.

He’ll also drive in the 24 Hours of Lemons race April 27-28 at Carolina Motorsports Park in Kershaw, South Carolina. Those are races with cars that have been bought and track-prepared for $500 or less (not including safety equipment, brakes and wheels/tires).

“The last 24-hour race I did was the Rolex 24 in Daytona (in 2005 where his team finished 15th overall), so this will be a lot of fun,” Biffle said. “I don’t know why I wanted to do it, but it just sounded like a lot of fun.”

5. Racing for a bonus 

The top four finishers in Saturday’s Xfinity race at Texas Motor Speedway will qualify for the first Dash 4 Cash event the following weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The highest finishing eligible driver in a Dash 4 Cash race wins a $100,000 bonus. The four Dash 4 Cash races will be Bristol, Richmond, Talladega and Dover. Also, any driver that collects points in the Cup series is not eligible to compete in Dash 4 Cash races.

Nate Ryan contributed to this report 

Bill Elliott, Ray Evernham back behind the wheel at Road Atlanta for Georgia Speedfest

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NASCAR may be enjoying its first off week of 2018, but that doesn’t mean you can’t see some NASCAR legends wheeling it around a track this weekend.

If you’re in the vicinity of Braselton, Georgia, you can see NASCAR Hall of Famers Bill Elliott and Ray Evernham in action.

The Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli is racing at Road Atlanta this weekend as part of Georgia Speedfest, and Elliott and Evernham are taking part.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a real Bill Elliott comeback if the native of Dawsonville, Georgia, wasn’t behind the wheel of the No. 9.