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Long: A decision where the head won out over the heart

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LAS VEGAS — Car owner Barney Visser stood outside the Furniture Row Racing hauler Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and chatted with team members, some he had not had the chance to talk to personally since announcing that the team would cease after this season.

It was his first time back at the track since the Sept. 4 announcement. He plans to be at many of the remaining nine races as Martin Truex Jr. seeks a second consecutive Cup championship.

Each week, though, brings Visser closer to the end of a remarkable run in NASCAR that saw his organization start as a part-time team in Denver, elevate to full-time status, score its first win in the Southern 500, align with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing, expand to a second car, win the Cup title, downsize to one car and seek to repeat as champion.

Visser admits it was a hard decision — and an easy decision — to not continue the team after this season.

“You got your soul and you got your heart and you got your mind,” Visser told NBC Sports. “Two of the three are hurting, and my mind is saying you got to do this.”

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The announcement in July by 5-hour Energy to leave the team and the sport after this season left Visser facing a gap of millions of dollars. With budgets already set for many companies, the likelihood of replacing 5-hour Energy’s millions with one company was slim. Visser would have to put more of his own money into the team if he wanted to continue. Then, he would need to renew deals with Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing and sign Truex to an extension. 

“The family, we had all sat down and decided together that there would be a limit on what we could put in any given year,” Visser said. “We were talking about that the last couple of years. This (gap) was so far off.”

Visser’s tale could prove cautionary for the sport. He was an outsider who came into NASCAR, built his team, won races and captured a championship. There are few such success stories in Cup in recent years.

It’s not that others don’t try but they don’t have the success for various reasons. Ron Devine and a group of investors started BK Racing in 2012, ran as many as three full-time teams, but never had the success, struggled to find sponsorship, fell behind in payments on loans and to the IRS, among others, filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy before this year’s Daytona 500 and was sold for $2.08 million to Front Row Motorsports in August.

Visser, though, doesn’t think that his exit will mean the end of outsider owners coming into NASCAR. But change will need to take place, he admits.

“Hopefully they’re going to standardize the equipment more, and they’re going to find a way to maybe protect sponsors from leaving, from going with drivers and protect the teams, just some kind of standard contract, that would be good,” Visser said, although he admits such a contract “wouldn’t have saved us” with 5-hour Energy.

“There’s not going to be a shortage of drivers in this sport, there’s going to be a shortage of quality teams. We’ve got to get that figured out.”

Standing about 30 feet from Visser on Sunday was Gene Haas, co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing and also the owner of Haas F1.

He’s searching for a driver for the No. 41 car for next year and noted the importance of a driver bringing sponsorship.

Haas laments the decline in the number of teams.

“We used to have 40-50 cars showing up for some of these races and now you’re barley filling the field,” Haas told NBC Sports. “From an economic standpoint it’s not working. There’s not enough money for teams to do that.”


Can friendship carry over to the track? And should it?

The issue came up at the end of the first stage in Saturday’s Xfinity race.

Ryan Preece was two laps down after an early incident. Leader Ross Chastain, a teammate to Preece at JD Motorsports in 2016, slowed his Chip Ganassi Racing ride coming to the line to end the first stage. That allowed Preece to beat Chastain to the line and get a lap back.

“I was hoping,” Preece told NBC Sports that Chastain would allow him to get a lap back there. “That was something he didn’t have to do. I’m sure one day I’ll return the favor.”

Mike Shiplett, crew chief for Chastain, told his driver on the radio not to do that again.

He was already a couple of laps down and he was torn up,” Chastain said of letting Preece get a lap back. “I’ve been on the other side of that. I wish they would just give that little bit. I know Mike wasn’t happy, and I didn’t do it again.

“I ran as hard as I could to prove a point to him that I listened to him. If I could go back, I wouldn’t change it. I would do it again. It did let the second-place car close up to us for pit road, but our guys were so fast it didn’t matter.

“It didn’t matter if it was Preece or whoever. Those are the guys that I have raced with for years and I just wanted to be nice. Be nice every now and then. It’s not going to kill you. Just give a little bit.”

Preece got back on the lead lap less than 20 laps later when there was a caution and he got the free pass. He ended up having issues later in the race and never put himself in position to challenge for the win, but the move by Chastain to allow Preece to get a lap back could have backfired.

When he got the free pass later, I was like uh oh,” Chastain said. “I didn’t know if he was fast or what. If he comes back and beats me, I’m never going to live that down. It all worked out. I was just trying to be nice.”


When a car doesn’t have the speed to challenge the top cars, a team has to do other things to win.

Such is the case for Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 team, led by crew chief Paul Wolfe.

After each of Keselowski’s last three wins, Keselowski or Wolfe have talked about needing to find more speed. So, how have they won three races in a row?

It has helped that the Big 3 have had their issues in those races. Martin Truex Jr. was among the strongest at Darlington in the first half of the race before an uncontrolled tire put him a lap down and he didn’t get back on the lead lap until the end.

At Indy, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch had issues on pit road that kept them from leading much of the race.

At Las Vegas, Harvick crashed and Busch spun.

So in each of those races, Keselowski didn’t have to beat each of the Big 3 head-to-head on speed.

Still, Keselowski had to outrun others to win. He did it with restarts, short-run speed and pit stops.

At Las Vegas, Keselowski fended off the field on the final three restarts and was stronger on short runs than Truex, whose car was set for long runs there.

“Our car was very good on restarts, would run fast for a few laps,” Wolfe said. “I think our car had some good stability. That’s really what it comes down to those first couple laps when everyone is jammed up and you don’t have a lot of clean air is having a lot of security, and our car seemed to be able to fire off really well, and the pit crew was really flawless.”

Four times Keselowski was first off pit road, gaining positions, and a fifth time he entered pit road first and left first at Las Vegas.

At Indy, Wolfe’s pit strategy put Keselowski in position to win on a late restart because of fresher tires than Danny Hamlin.

At Darlington, Keselowski beat Kyle Larson off pit road for the lead on the final pit stop and shot out to the lead on the restart. Keselowski led the final 22 laps to win.

“We have not been the best car the last three weeks,” Keselowski said after his Las Vegas win. “This week we were probably a top‑three or ‑four car. I didn’t get to see (Kevin Harvick) before he had his issue, but I thought he was running pretty good. He was obviously in front of me at one point. And him and (Martin Truex Jr.) were very strong. 

“The 78 (Truex) was clearly the best car, and we put everything together when it counted, and kind of stole it today. Same scenario the last two weeks. 

“I thought (Larson) was the best car in Darlington, and we hit the strategy right and executed the last pit stop and that put us in position to win. 

“And in Indy, we were nowhere near probably even a top‑10 car. We were probably a 15th‑place car, and Paul Wolfe hit the strategy right, and I hit the restart right to make all the passes when it counted and won that race. With that in mind, no, I feel like we stole the last three races. We’re not complaining, but we still have a lot of work to do to go out there and win heads up without those issues.”


It has been a rough year for the No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing Xfinity team.

Austin Cindric, Chase Briscoe and Ty Majeski have shared the ride throughout the season but last weekend’s race provided an all-too-familiar scene for that team — the car hitting the wall.

Briscoe’s crash at Las Vegas marked the 10th time in 26 races this season the No. 60 car has been eliminated by an accident.

The team has had only four top-10 finishes. Its best finish is seventh at Iowa with Ty Majeski.

Briscoe’s crash at Las Vegas was eerily reminiscent of Jeff Gordon‘s crash there in 2008 before a SAFER barrier was placed on the inside wall.

“I’m really disappointed right now in this speedway for not having a soft wall back there, and even being able to get to that part of the wall,” Gordon said after the crash. “That kind of hit shouldn’t happen. It’s just uncalled for. There’s no reason why any track should have that (kind of opening).”

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Bump & Run: Who is in trouble in Cup playoffs?

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After Las Vegas, which driver(s) do you consider in trouble of not making the cut to the second round?

Nate Ryan: Anyone outside the grid now, so Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones will have to fight their way through the next two races. 

Dustin Long: Austin Dillon is 10th in the standings but his lead over some of the drivers outside a cutoff spot is slim and he’s not finished better than 13th on a short track this season heading into Richmond. There’s some work to do.  

Daniel McFadin: Despite benefitting from the bad luck of many playoff drivers Sunday and finishing 11th, I still think Austin Dillon is the most in danger of missing out. He’s never finished better than 13th at Richmond and he’s never finished in the top 10 on a road course in Cup.

Dan Beaver: Denny Hamlin took the biggest hit last week, dropping 20 points behind the cutoff line. The inconsistent finishes with the No. 11 team throughout 2018 puts him in a precarious position.

Have you bought in on Brad Keselowski joining the Big 3?

Nate Ryan: No, because as he readily admits, the speed still isn’t there. The execution has been flawless for three weeks, but that is unsustainable over the next the nine races. His No. 2 Ford will need to be a weekly top-five car by the Round of 8 to have a title shot. 

Dustin Long: No. The Big 3 was not created over three races but a much longer stretch. Keselowski’s run the last three weeks has been monumental but until he finds the speed to match the Big 3, he’s not there yet.

Daniel McFadin: Absolutely. With his win he joins Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick as the first trio of drivers to win three consecutive races in a season in NASCAR’s modern history. When you do that, you’re definitely the latest member of the “Big 4.”

Dan Beaver: Almost. Another top-five finish this week will push me over the edge, but it’s still hard to say that this is not just an incredibly successful wave of momentum. He hasn’t been particularly strong on short tracks this year with no top fives in four starts, so Richmond will be a big test.

The average number of cautions in the last five Richmond Cup races is 9.2. Are you taking the over or under on the number of cautions in Saturday night’s Cup race?

Nate Ryan: Under. I think the night races tend to be tamer at Richmond because the track has more grip. 

Dustin Long: Under. After the chaos of Las Vegas, things will calm down even with the Roval on the horizon.

Daniel McFadin: I’ll take the over. Why? Because drivers will be desperate to be anywhere near the front with the Roval on the horizon next weekend. Desperation will lead to chaos.

Dan Beaver: Seven of the 16 playoff contenders finished outside the top 20 last week and they are going to have a little extra desperation at Richmond. On a short track, that is a recipe for disaster. I’m taking the over.

What chances do you give Ross Chastain of winning two Xfinity races in a row in the No. 42 car Friday night at Richmond?

Nate Ryan: The competition will be virtually the same as at Las Vegas, so 50-50 seems about right. 

Dustin Long: Kyle Larson won the latest Xfinity short-track race in the No. 42 car at Bristol but the Joe Gibbs Racing cars have often been the class of the field at such tracks this season. Would give the JGR cars a little better chance than the No. 42 car this weekend.

Daniel McFadin: After his eye-opening performance in his first two starts at two different tracks, I’d say there’s a 85 percent chance he schools everyone like the four-year veteran he is.

Dan Beaver: Back-to-back wins are always tricky, but Chastain showed enough strength at Darlington and Las Vegas to make me believe he can win again.

NASCAR America at 6 p.m. ET: How Las Vegas impacts the championship

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Today’s NASCAR America airs from 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN, with a look back at the chaotic playoff opener at Las Vegas.

Carolyn Manno and Kyle Petty will be joined by Steve Letarte from Jeff Burton‘s garage.

  • The Monster Energy Series playoffs got underway Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and for the third consecutive week, Brad Keselowski drove his way to victory lane. The win not only secured a spot in the Round of 12 for Keselowski, it also gave team owner Roger Penske his 500th major motorsports victory.
  • Sunday’s race also had several playoff drivers – including championship favorite Kevin Harvick – involved in accidents. We’ll see how those affected the playoff leaderboard as the series heads to Richmond this weekend.
  • Plus, we’ll revisit Saturday’s Xfinity Series race where Ross Chastain gambled on himself and drove to victory lane for the very first time in his NASCAR career. What does this win mean for his future?
  • And, we’ll recap Sunday’s IndyCar Series finale at Sonoma Raceway, where Scott Dixon added to his legend by claiming his fifth championship.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Six drivers earn season-best finishes at Las Vegas

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Racing is a zero sum game. For one driver to succeed, another must fail.

The opposite is also true. When one driver fails, it creates an opportunity for another to succeed.

Heavy attrition in the South Point 400 at Las Vegas last week opened to door for six drivers to score season-best results.

12th – Regan Smith: In his second start in relief for Kasey Kahne, Smith earned his 30th career top 15 in his 215th Cup start. This was his best finish since finishing third at Pocono in 2016 (19 races for the part-time driver).

16th – Corey LaJoie: This was the second time this season LaJoie finished on the lead lap. He also went the full distance at Michigan in June’s rain-shortened race and finished 27th.

17th – JJ Yeley: He scored another top 20 (18th) earlier in the year at Daytona in the Coke Zero 400. This was Yeley’s best finish on a non-restrictor plate track since he finished third at New Hampshire in June 2008.

18th – Landon Cassill: In 20 starts in 2018, this is Cassill’s first time to finish on the lead lap. His previous best finish this year was a 20th at Bristol in April.

26th – Kyle Weatherman: In six Cup starts, this is Weatherman’s first top-30 finish. He came close to cracking the top 30 in his last two starts, however, with 31st-place results at Pocono and New Hampshire.

28th – BJ McLeod: This is McLeod’s best career finish in 20 Cup starts. It comes on the heels of another top-30 finish the previous week at Indy (30th).

Two other drivers earned their second-best finish of 2018.

Playoff contender Aric Almirola took full advantage of problems for his championship rivals and finished sixth – moving up to ninth in the standings from 14th. His best finish this year was third at New Hampshire in July.

Coming off his first career Xfinity win, Ross Chastain finished 20th at Las Vegas. His best Cup finish of 2018 was an 18th at Texas – another race with heavy attrition.

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Long: Ross Chastain’s win ‘gives all the little guys hope’

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LAS VEGAS — Garrett Smithley walked out of Victory Lane with a smile on his face.

On a day when he wrecked in qualifying and finished 18th in a backup car, he couldn’t contain his excitement for Ross Chastain, typically his teammate at JD Motorsports but not on this day.

Saturday’s Xfinity race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was one of three races this season that Chastain will run in Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 Chevrolet — a car with more funding and resources than Chastain’s regular ride.

Chastain scored a dominating win.  

Garrett Smithley hugs Ross Chastain in Victory Lane after Chastain won the Xfinity race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Photo: Dustin Long

“It gives all the little guys hope,” Smithley said of Chastain’s victory.

As if it to make sure that Chastain’s win was real and the embrace they shared in Victory Lane was not imaginary, Smithley said it again.

“It gives all the little guys hope.”

Money is king in NASCAR and the owners with it are the kingmakers.

For those without money, everything is harder. There are fewer resources to develop new parts and make cars faster. Instead, such teams rely on less reliable parts, tape measures instead of laser measurements and hand-written notebooks instead of computer simulation programs. It’s a gap that rarely can be closed.

Facing such obstacles, teams are left only with hope. It’s why crew members get up at 5 a.m. to head to the shop and why they might not leave until midnight trying to repair a car from the last race and get it ready for the next one. Instead of flying to the upcoming race like many teams, it often means long drives through the night with little sleep before the garage opens the next morning and the race for speed resumes.

For such teams, the race for 25th can be as meaningful as the race for the lead to bigger teams.

Ryan Preece knows both worlds. He drove for JD Motorsports in 2016 and had one top-10 finish for the underfunded team.

Nobody noticed him.

So he took the sponsorship money he had and went to Joe Gibbs Racing to run two races (that later became four) instead of 33.

Ryan Preece celebrates his first career Xfinity race in 2017 at Iowa Speedway. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

Preece won in his second race with Gibbs. He’s won again with the team this year. Although he says he’s focused on the remaining races with Gibbs, his gamble will likely lead to a full-time ride next season in the sport. 

Preece isn’t alone in believing less is more. Alex Bowman lost his Cup ride before the 2016 season. With no rides left, he signed to run select races with JR Motorsports that year and also served as the test driver for Hendrick Motorsports’ simulator program. That put him in position to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. after Earnhardt had to sit out the second half of that season because of symptoms from a concussion. Bowman went on to take over the No. 88 when Earnhardt retired after last season and is in the Cup playoffs.

Those moves did not unnoticed.

Matt DiBenedetto, who also had to start and park early in his career and has run for a variety of small-budget teams, announced recently that he would leave his full-time Cup ride with Go Fas Racing after this season and bet on himself like Preece did.

“I paid a whole lot of attention to those guys and what they did,” DiBenedetto told NBC Sports of Preece and Bowman. “They were a big driving force in me making this decision.”

Matt DiBenedetto hopes to be the next to follow in the success of Ryan Preece and Ross Chastain to attain a more competitive ride. (Photo: Getty Images)

DiBenedetto said he decided to follow the model Preece tried after “seeing other guys get just barely bumped above me on those lists (for rides). That was the push I needed to make this bold and risky decision.”

For Chastain, the risk was low. Jeff Carpoff, president and CEO of DC Solar, which sponsors the No. 42 Xfinity car, approached Chastain earlier this year at Auto Club Speedway as Chastain walked with helmet in hand from his Xfinity car to the Cup garage. The brief conversation led to further talk by Carpoff of putting Chastain in the No. 42 Xfinity Ganassi car at some point this season.

Chastain revealed Saturday that he’s not getting paid for these three races — he also ran the car at Darlington and makes his last start in it next week at Richmond.

“I get laughed at from inside the garage,” Chastain said of his no-money deal for these three races. “We literally bet on ourselves that we wouldn’t make any money now, but it would pay off.”

Chastain had to hold off Justin Allgaier, the regular-season champion, in a spirited duel that included contact and had Allgaier ranting on the radio at the time. Allgaier later attributed his anger to being in the moment.

But when Chastain pulled away from the field on the final restart and it became clear he would score his first career Xfinity win — in his 132nd series start — he just wanted to enjoy the moment.

Ross Chastain in Victory Lane. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

He didn’t yell or scream on the radio. He put his head down, punched the steering wheel and stayed silent.

“They were all congratulating (me) on the radio,” Chastain said of the team. “I just wanted to listen and hear it.”

It was a sound he could not have imagined when he was starting and parking early in his career because there wasn’t the money to run a full race.

“That’s not the ideal way,” Chastain said. “I wouldn’t recommend that because it’s tough, and it’s very trying. A lot of phone calls (with family) late at night. We didn’t know it was going to get better, but they kept telling me that.”

Back then, he only had hope.

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