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Christopher Bell’s car damaged by man-hole cover

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CONCORD, N.C. — There is a slightly different traffic pattern in the Xfinity Series garage this weekend after Christopher Bell‘s front end was damaged by a man-hole cover early in practice Thursday.

The splitter on Bell’s No. 20 Toyota was damaged by the man-hole cover, which is located at the end of the garage where the cars run through as they exit the garage.

Bell’s team made repairs quickly and he was able to continue. He was 10th fastest in the practice session.

As a result, NASCAR has placed traffic cones in the area to divert traffic around the area.

The man-hole cover that damaged Christopher Bell’s car (Daniel McFadin)
The traffic cones set up to keep cars from running over the man-hole cover (middle cone) (Daniel McFadin)

Preliminary entry lists for Cup, Xfinity at Charlotte

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The longest race of the NASCAR Cup season takes place Sunday with the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series is also back in action after having the last two weekends off. The NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series is off until June 7 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for this weekend’s two races:

Cup – Coca-Cola 600 (6 p.m. ET Sunday on Fox)

There will be a full 40-car field in Sunday night’s main event of the weekend.

NASCAR On NBC analyst Parker Kligerman will be making his sixth Cup start of the season, driving the No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota.

Cody Ware will make his fourth consecutive start and 10th start overall in the No. 52 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet.

BJ McLeod will make his seventh start of the season for Rick Ware Racing and will be in the No. 53 for the second consecutive weekend.

Joey Gase makes his fifth start of the season for MBM Motorsports in the No. 66 Toyota.

There is no driver listed yet for the No. 51.

Kyle Busch won last year’s race, leading 377 of 400 laps and beating Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin.

Click here for the preliminary entry list.

Xfinity – Alsco 300 (1 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1)

There are 39 cars entered for this race.

Austin Dillon is the only Cup regular who will compete in this race. He’ll drive the No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet.

Joe Nemechek makes his first Xfinity start of the season in the No. 13 MBM Motorsports Toyota.

Camden Murphy makes his second career Xfinity start, and his first since 2016, in the No. 17 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet.

Brad Keselowski won this race last year under caution, leading 77 of 204 laps, beating Cole Custer and Christopher Bell.

Click here for the preliminary entry list.

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Long: All-Star Race shows value of shorter distances for Cup events

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The All-Star Race is billed as an event that also serves as a test session.

While cars had some new parts that may be used on the Gen 7 vehicle — expected to debut in 2021 — there’s something else that can be taken from Saturday night and applied to more races.

Shorter distances.

A night that saw two stages in the Monster Open end in spectacular finishes, the All-Star Race crown a new winner and punches thrown on pit road afterward, featured 150 laps compared to the 400 laps that will be run on the same track this weekend.

While there remains room on the Cup schedule for a Daytona 500, a Coca-Cola 600 and a Southern 500, the All-Star Race showed that sometimes shorter distances can be better.

There certainly didn’t seem to be any complaints from fans Saturday night about seeing fewer laps of racing than most weekends.

Instead, the talk was about Clint Bowyer running to Ryan Newman’s car and flailing at Newman in retaliation for being wrecked on the cool-down lap.

Or the talk was about Bubba Wallace’s dramatic win in the second stage of the Monster Energy Open that saw Daniel Suarez slide off track and then Wallace finishing fifth in the All-Star Race.

Or the talk was about Kyle Larson winning is first All-Star Race and collecting $1 million after holding off Kevin Harvick at the end.

All this over an exhibition race.

Imagine what might happen if this was a points race and the winner secured a spot in the playoffs — something Larson initially wondered if he had done before being told no.

Shortening some races shouldn’t be done as a way to find younger fans that some would suggest don’t have the attention span for longer races. The sport doesn’t need to go chasing fans that way. It did that years ago and alienated its older fans.

But if some shorter distances heighten tensions in races and lead to more water cooler moments, then it’s something the sport should consider.

The notion that most races need to be marathons is outdated and outrageous. Few cars suffer mechanical failures. The downforce is so great that few cars spin, let alone crash. Racing is no longer a test of a car’s survival over long distances.

While longer races allow drivers and teams to overcome handling issues or mistakes early and contend for wins, that shouldn’t be the main reason to keep some races 400 or 500 miles.

Turn some of these races into sprints, add points and watch the pressure build. There will be no time for pleasantries. It will be about charging to the front.

Saturday night’s race provided such action. Although not every short race will capture the essence of the All-Star Race, there’s a greater chance of it happening.

Just think about what often makes a longer race special. It’s a restart at the end that forces drivers to make bold moves. In essence a late restart turns a long race into quick sprint.

Why not add a few more of those in the future?

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The All-Star Race will be in Charlotte next year but what is the event’s future?

Provided the Gen 7 car debuts in 2021 as NASCAR states, there will be no need to use the All-Star Race that season as a test session — as has been done the past two times — because teams still will be trying to figure out the car.

That would make it a good time to consider moving the All-Star Race to a different location. Nashville’s Fairgrounds Speedway would be a logical choice but there are challenges.

Provided NASCAR releases the 2021 schedule next April — the 2020 Cup, Xfinity and Truck schedules were all released by April 3 this year — it gives the folks at Bristol Motor Speedway (and Speedway Motorsports Inc.) less than 11 months to complete a deal with the city and the fair board, which oversees the track, get funding approved and make the changes that are needed to update the track.

While all of that is happening, the city will have elections in August for mayor and other city positions. With multiple candidates running for mayor, a run-off might be needed and that would be held in September.

Those in the sport who have had to work with government entities know how deals can be all but done and then suddenly change at the last minute, throwing everything in doubt. The more layers of government, the longer something takes.

Anything can happen. A deal could be completed in time and could provide the opportunity to move the All-Star Race to Nashville in 2021. If not, maybe there is another place to hold it besides Charlotte, which already has two points races.

If not Nashville, maybe Iowa Speedway or some other track that would need a limited number of upgrades to host NASCAR’s top series. It could be time to think about moving the All-Star Race to places that don’t already have a Cup event.

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Synthetic turf at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Daniel Hemric, Daniel Suarez and Ryan Newman showed during Saturday night’s races at Charlotte Motor Speedway how valuable it is for a track to have a synthetic turf instead of grass.

The track installed 88,000 square feet of synthetic turf last summer, along with a new drainage system, to replace the grass along the frontstretch. It was in place for the inaugural race on the Roval.

Hemric slid through the turf during the second stage of the Monster Energy Open after contact with Ryan Preece. Suarez spun through the turf at the end of the second stage in the Open. His car was not damaged, allowing him to continue.

Newman slid through the turf during the second stage of the All-Star Race and also suffered no damage and was able to continue.

“That was big,” Newman said. “I was able to finish my race. If there was grass down there, I wouldn’t have. That was a big deal.”

As long as vehicles have splitters, NASCAR should look to require speedways to use synthetic turf instead of grass in areas near the track to limit the damage when cars and trucks go through those areas. If not turf, then pave those areas. 

While not every accident is the same, just look at what happened to Natalie Decker in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series race earlier this month when she slid into the frontstretch grass at Kansas Speedway. Decker was eliminated because of the damage and finished 25th.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said Monday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that series officials will “continue to look at” synthetic turf in place of grass at tracks.

“While it does present some challenges at some other tracks, I think that is a system we’ll continue to look at,” he said. “Certainly performed great. It looks good from a fan perspective and certainly helps the cars when they get in the turf during a race.”

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With Kevin Harvick chasing him in the final laps, Kyle Larson did not make a mistake and give away the All-Star Race.

It was much different from the 2016 All-Star Race when he hit the wall while leading with two laps to go as Joey Logano challenged him. Logano went on to win. Larson finished 16th in the 20-car field.

Saturday night, there were no mistakes.

“This year has been different for me,” Larson said. “I’ve never worked out before, and I’ve been in the gym a little bit more this year with (trainer and former driver) Josh Wise and just working out with him, and being around him puts a lot more confidence and ease into me. I feel like I’m just more calm.

“I wasn’t nervous at all that last restart, and I think part of that is just from feeling like I am prepared. And also losing close races.  I just — I feel like I’ve done a good job of not getting stressed out, even with me losing the Chili Bowl (on the last lap to Christopher Bell in January). I felt like I was really calm until the last two laps and I gave the race away. (Saturday) I wasn’t going to let that happen.

“With those losses that I’ve had, you grow from each and every one of them. Hopefully we can continue this, and I feel like  — everybody becomes a better driver the older they get, but I feel like I’ve put more work and effort into it this year.”

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NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings heading into All-Star Race

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For the first time since after the Atlanta race, Kyle Busch is no longer atop the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Busch is out (and drops to third) and Chase Elliott is in as the unanimous pick of NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers for this week’s No. 1 spot. Elliott moves up from third place in last week’s rankings.

Clint Bowyer makes the biggest gain, going from outside the top 10 last week to a solid No. 4 this week. Also making a big jump: Alex Bowman from sixth last week to second this week.

Conversely, Dover winner Martin Truex Jr. suffered the biggest drop, falling from second last week to ninth this week. Also, Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin both dropped out of the rankings entirely.

Here’s how this week’s Power Rankings look heading into this weekend’s All-Star Race at Charlotte:

1. Chase Elliott (40 points): Has led 235 laps over the last three races and finished in the top five in each. Last week: 3rd.

2. Alex Bowman (30 points): Three 2s (runner-up finishes) for the double-8 car. That’s a full house poker hand but still leaves him short of winning. Last week: 6th.

3. Kyle Busch (29 points): It’s tough to lose the top spot in the rankings, but just like his disappointing finish at Kansas, Busch will bounce back and be a man on a mission in the Coca-Cola 600. Last week: 1st.

4. Clint Bowyer (27 points): Almost finally got that first elusive Cup win at his home track in Kansas. Is on a roll of late, with six top 10s in his last seven starts. One of the most underrated drivers out there right now. Last week: 11th (others receiving votes).

5. Brad Keselowski (24 points): Lost somewhat in all the post-race celebration is Keselowski is now tied with Kyle Busch for most wins (three each) this season. Who will wind up with the most wins by season’s end? Last week: (tie) 7th.

6. Kurt Busch (21 points): Earned his eighth top 10 of the season. Has not had consecutive finishes outside the top 10 through 12 races. Consistency has become his middle name in 2019. Just a matter of time before that consistency pays off with a win. Last week: (tie) 7th.

7. Kevin Harvick (16 points): Does Harvick have a black cloud following him? The guy can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to winning this year. But there is a silver lining to that cloud with his consistency (including five fourth-place finishes). Last week: (tie) 4th.

8. Joey Logano (13 points): Damage to car early hurt him at Kansas and had him falling down the running order and these standings. Last week: (tie) 4th.

9. Martin Truex Jr. (11 points): Followed Richmond win by finishing 20th at Talladega. Followed Dover win by placing 19th at Dover. Can you say roller coaster ride? Last week: 2nd.

10. Erik Jones (8 points): Making a strong push for a signed extension at Joe Gibbs Racing. His strong finish at Kansas will help his job security, but he needs a lot more finishes like that. Last week: 14th (others receiving votes).

Others receiving votes: Ross Chastain (3 points), Jimmie Johnson (1 point).

NBC Sports Power Rankings heading to Kansas

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Martin Truex Jr.’s win at Dover helped shake up this week’s NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Not only did Truex rocket to No. 2 – up six spots from last week – he also prevented Kyle Busch from scoring yet another unanimous No. 1 selection from the NBC Sports NASCAR writers.

Instead of a perfect 40 points, Busch earned 38 points this week; Truex had 37 points. For the first time this season, six of the top 10 spots in this week’s rankings resulted in ties.

Suffering the biggest drop in the rankings was Ryan Newman, who fell out of the rankings after being sixth last week.

Here’s how this week’s Power Rankings look:

1. Kyle Busch (38 points): Even though he had an off-week by his standards, he still tied Morgan Shepherd’s record of 11 straight top-10 finishes to start a season (a mark Busch can break Saturday at Kansas). Last week: 1st.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (37 points): He and Cole Pearn suddenly seem to have recaptured their magic. Last week: 8th.

3. Chase Elliott (28 points): Follows Talladega win by leading the most laps at Dover and finishing fifth. Momentum is building for this team. Last week: tied for 3rd.

(tie) 4. Joey Logano (25 points): The defending series champ has four straight top 10 finishes. He is keeping the momentum rolling. Last week: 2nd.

(tie) 4. Kevin Harvick (25 points): If there was a prize for finishing fourth, Harvick would run away with it: he has five fourth-place showings in the first 11 races. Unfortunately, that’s as high as he’s finished; he’s still looking for his first win of 2019. Last week: 9th.

6. Alex Bowman (14 points): Back-to-back career-best second-place finishes. While some may have considered his Talladega finish a fluke, he backed it up with a solid effort at Dover. Can a first Cup win be on tap soon? Last week: 10th.

(tie) 7. Kyle Larson (9 points): Put together a strong performance, his best of 2019. First top-five finish of season and best showing since last fall’s Phoenix playoff race (also finished third). Has he finally put the bad luck behind him? We’ll find out at Kansas. Last week: not ranked.

(tie) 7. Kurt Busch (9 points): Even though he finished 13th at Dover, his lowest outing since Daytona, he continues to have arguably the most consistent season of any driver, with the exception of younger brother Kyle. His first season at Chip Ganassi Racing remains Grade A. Last week: tied for 3rd.

(tie) 7. Denny Hamlin (9 points): Rough day at Dover. Was never a factor. Opened the season with Daytona 500 win and finished no worse than 11th in the first nine races. Now he hasn’t finished in the top 20 in the past two races. Does he right the ship at Kansas? Last week: 5th.

(tie) 7. Brad Keselowski (9 points): One top-10 finish in the last five races since his win at Martinsville has this driver trending downward. Is there cause for concern? Last week: 7th.

Others receiving votes: Clint Bowyer (8 points), Christopher Bell (6 points), William Byron (2 points), Erik Jones (1 point).