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Underdogs benefit from Roval chaos

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The smoke is starting to clear on the chaotic finish to Sunday’s Cup race on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

The inaugural Cup race on the road course saw many underdog teams come out with impressive finishes, as they capitalized on the 15-car crash with six laps to go and the mayhem of the final three laps.

Here’s who emerged with something good to take back to their race shop.

AJ Allmendinger – Finished 7th: After qualifying second, Allmendinger never led a lap. He finished eighth in Stage 1 and was one of the drivers to take advantage of Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr.‘s last-turn incident. It was his first top 10 since the July Daytona race.

Matt DiBenedetto – Finished 13th: Earned his best finish of the year on a non-restrictor plate track.

Regan Smith – Finished 15th: Second top 15 in his fourth substitute race for Kasey Kahne. Finished 20th or better in three of the four races. Kahne has finished 20th or better in three of four races just once this year. He only has two top 15s in 25 starts (Daytona II, fourth), (Bristol II, 15th).

David Ragan – Finished 16th: Best finish since placing 15th in the July Daytona race.

Chris Buescher – Finished 17th: Third finish of 17th or better in the last five races.

Cole Whitt – Finished 20th: Second-best finish in 11 starts this year.

Ross Chastain – Finished 24th: Seventh finish inside the top 25 in 27 starts with Premium Motorsports.

 

Friday 5: A new way of thinking about NASCAR’s future?

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When examining NASCAR’s future are most people looking in the wrong direction?

There are those who say the schedule — 36 points races, two non-points races and the Daytona qualifying races in a 41-week stretch — is too long.

Maybe it’s not enough.

So said Brad Keselowski earlier this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

While some says less is more for the sport, Keselowski suggests that the Cup schedule should have 50-60 races a year and no weekend off in the summer.

His plan is this:

Cup should race on Sundays and the middle of the week from February to early October (instead of ending the season in November). Keselowski also says that no track should host more than one weekend race. So, a track with two dates would get a weekend date and a midweek date.

One thing he notes is that any midweek race should take no more than three hours, meaning a number of races likely would need to be shortened

Keselowski’s idea is a novel concept and presents a new way of thinking when looking ahead in NASCAR. It’s always good to be forced to look at issues in different ways. But there are many challenges to his plan.

One question is what about the costs to teams. It would be easy to see teams saying such a schedule would cost them too much with the additional travel, expenses of preparing cars and repairing cars for example.

“The race teams will adjust, they’ll figure it out,’’ Keselowski said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Here’s what most people don’t understand. When a car owner complains about money, almost every race team out there has 20 or 30 engineers that don’t build the cars that make good wages and are smart people. What that tells me is they’ve got money and they’re just deciding to allocate it.’’

That might be a harder sell to teams. Rob Kauffman, co-owner of Chip Ganassi Racing and chairman of the Race Team Alliance spoke during All-Star weekend about cost to teams.

“It’s a joint concern, so it will be a joint solution to come up with how it works,’’ Kauffman said of working with NASCAR. “To get something like that in place will require quite a bit of collaboration.’’

Another concern would be tracks. A reason why there hasn’t been a midweek race yet is because a track executive has not volunteered to be the first.

The challenge with a midweek race is that the track likely won’t draw as many fans. Track officials note that they still have a significant percentage attend their races traveling from a few hours or more away. Not as many of those fans would probably make such a trip in the middle of the week. That could be lost income for the tracks.

Those are just among some of the key issues. It is a tangled web of trying to appease, teams, tracks, media partners, sponsors and fans as NASCAR forges ahead.

While there are many challenges to Keselowski’s plan — making it seem unlikely — that doesn’t mean such thinking should be immediately dismissed. Keselowski could be right in that bold thinking is what the sport needs as it looks ahead.

2. Kyle Busch could have company

While Kyle Busch became the first driver to win at every Cup track he’s competed with his Coca-Cola 600 victory, a couple of other drivers are not far behind.

Kevin Harvick has won at all but two tracks on the circuit (not including the Roval). He has yet to win at Kentucky (0 for 7) and Pocono (0 for 34).

Jimmie Johnson has won at all but three tracks on the circuit (not including the Roval). He has yet to win at Chicagoland (0 for 16), Kentucky (0 for 7) and Watkins Glen (0 for 16).

3. Back in the Day

LeBron James made his eighth consecutive NBA Finals appearance Thursday night. The last time he wasn’t in the NBA Finals was 2010.

That season in NASCAR:

Jimmie Johnson was on his way to a fifth consecutive Cup title.

Jamie McMurray won the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and Charlotte fall race.

Denny Hamlin won a series-high eight races.

Kevin Conway was Cup Rookie of the Year.

Joey Logano had just turned 20 years old.

Brad Keselowski won the Xfinity Series title.

Kyle Busch won 13 of the 29 Xfinity races he started.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was Xfinity Rookie of the Year.

Kyle Larson finished 10th in the Chili Bowl Nationals (Cole Whitt was second to winner Kevin Swindell).

William Byron wouldn’t turn 13 until November of that year.

4. France Family Group adds to portfolio

In a recent SEC filing, International Speedway Corp. stated that the France Family Group owns 74.11 percent of the combined voting power of common stock.

The France Family Group owned 73 percent, according to ISC’s 2016 annual report.

The France Family Group owned 72 percent, according to the ISC’s 2015 annual report.

As a comparison, Bruton Smith and son Marcus own 71 percent of Speedway Motorsports Inc.’s common stock. They owned 70 percent, according to SMI’s 2016 annual report.

5. A year later …

There will be much talk this weekend about how Jimmie Johnson has gone a year — it will be a year on June 4 actually — since his last Cup victory, the longest drought of his career.

But something else to ponder: In the last 36 races (a full season’s worth), Toyota has 19 wins, Ford has 12 and Chevrolet has five.

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Ty Dillon fastest in first Cup practice at Talladega

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With a speed of 202.959 mph, Ty Dillon posted the fastest single lap in the first practice session for the Geico 500 at Talladega SuperSpeedway.

Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Daniel Suarez and Kyle Busch tied for P2 on the chart to the 1/1,000th of a second with a speed of 202.680 mph.

Teammate Denny Hamlin (202.671 mph) posted the fourth fastest time with Erik Jones (202.564) seventh. Affiliated driver Martin Truex Jr. (202.628) was also part of the Gibbs drafting pack and he landed sixth on the chart.

Ryan Newman rounded out the top five with a speed of 202.637 mph.

Rookie of the Year Darrell Wallace, Jr. (199.754) and William Byron (199.729) landed 11th and 12th on the chart respectively.

Ross Chastain, Gray Gaulding, Timmy Hill and Cole Whitt did not participate in this practice.

Denny Hamlin posted the quickest 10-lap average with a speed of 198.109 mph.

Kyle Busch was second-quick at 197.977 mph.

Final practice for the Cup series will be at 1:35 p.m. ET; qualification will be Saturday at 12:05 p.m. and will air on Fox.

Click here for complete results from practice one.

Jamie McMurray leads group of drivers with best finish of season at Texas

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Jamie McMurray was relevant for the first time this season.

After failing to finish better than 16th through the first six races, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver powered his No. 1 Chevrolet to a third-place finish in Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway.

It was his best finish since placing second in the spring race at Talladega last year.

The result came a day after he spun in the Xfinity race at the 1.5-mile track and managed to finish seventh.

“The track is pretty treacherous when you get out of the groove,” McMurray said. “Obviously, I spun out yesterday in the Xfinity race, so I learned not to go up there, but it was a really good day for our Cessna/McDonald’s Chevrolet. We really struggled this year and especially on the 1.5-mile (tracks). I’m really proud of everybody for the car that we had and to be able to put the whole race together. The off-weekend (last weekend) for us couldn’t have come at a better time.”

McMurray’s result is his first top 10 since he finished sixth at Phoenix last November.

Attrition and multiple wrecks helped McMurray and many of the drivers who finished in the top 20.

Erik Jones placed fourth for his first top five of the season and his fourth top 10.

Jones’ No. 20 Toyota led 64 laps, his most on an intermediate track.

“I don’t know that we really had enough for Kyle (Busch) or Kevin (Harvick),” Jones said. “They were really fast, but overall I thought we were a third-place car. Jamie had some tires here at the end, and we couldn’t really do much with them. We didn’t qualify where we wanted to this weekend. It was kind of a – kind of a downer coming into Sunday, but I knew we had a good race car and you know we showed that today. A big step up.”

Darrell Wallace Jr. benefited from pit strategy to finish eighth for his first top 10 since the Daytona 500.

William Byron, after starting from the rear due to an engine change, earned his first career Cup top 10, placing 10th. He is the last Hendrick Motorsports driver to earn a top 10 this season.

“It was really good for us to get a top 10,” Byron said. “Once the sun came out we weren’t quite as good, I don’t think, but (for) starting in the back this was definitely a good day for us. We had a lot of adversity and kept having to go to the back. … It obviously takes a lot of things to happen. We didn’t quite have the speed we wanted to. We were really good in practice, but I think some of our weaknesses showed up when the rubber laid down on the track a little bit on the bottom groove. Overall it was a pretty good day and we can definitely build on this.”

Other notable finishes:

Trevor Bayne, 12th: Best finish since the Daytona 500 (13th).

Ty Dillon, 13th: First top 15 of year, first since Phoenix last November.

Michael McDowell, 14th: Best finish since Daytona 500 (ninth).

Matt DiBenedetto, 16th: Best result since eighth-place finish in last season’s Brickyard 400 (eighth).

Kasey Kahne, 17th: Best finish with Leavine Family Racing.

Ross Chastain, 18th: Career-best Cup finish in eighth start.

Cole Whitt, 19th: Best finish since placing 12th in last season’s Brickyard 400.

—  Gray Gaulding, 20th: Second 20th-place finish of year (Daytona)

Landon Cassill, 21st: Best finish since placing 20th at Chicagoland last September; Ties best finish for StarCom Racing in nine races (Daytona).

Starting lineup for the Auto Club 400

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Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch will start on the front row of Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.

They will be followed by Kyle Larson, Erik Jones, Austin Dillon and Joey Logano.

Kevin Harvick will start his attempt at a fourth consecutive win from 10th.

Thirteen drivers will start from the rear after their cars failed qualifying inspection.

Click here for the starting lineup